Vengeance Satisfied is Justice Served

Author: 3D Master <jg.temolder1[at]>


Rating: R

Keywords: X-over BtVS/The Crow, drama, action, death.

Time frame: S7, starts during 'Dirty Girls'.

Summary: Buffy has a choice to make: Xander or Spike? Who gets to live? XanderZone Challenge response.

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its characters do not belong to me, but to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions. The Crow and related concepts are created by James O'Barr.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Buffy, Faith, and Spike enter the Summers house through the front door. "Everything looks the same," Faith commented looking around the house. In the living room Giles and Dawn get up grimly.

"Everything got destroyed, so it's kind of newish," Buffy answered the dark-haired Slayer, as Spike walked onward to his own place without a word.

Giles and Dawn glared at Faith, and Dawn called, "Buffy."

Faith is perturbed, and tries to cover it, "Well, look at that, the squirt, all grown up and woman-like." Faith hated herself in that moment. She didn't know why exactly, but she was falling back into old habits. Back in LA while helping to get Angel back she had felt scared: taking on a rock monster and the Scourge of Europe weren't things not to get scared about. But she had also been confident in her own abilities, and most importantly confident in who exactly she was, and what she was not. But now that she was here, once again, in Sunnydale, the place where her descent into darkness all began, where the people she had wronged the most all lived. She felt as insecure, out of place, and terrified as when she first got here, and she was once again trying to cover that insecurity up with boasts and an all-chipper-here attitude.

Dawn added, "Does she have to stay here? Can't she go to a hotel where they take tried-to-kill-your-sister types?"

Faith is pained, but brings up a smile and says, "Come on, we can play monopoly together."

Xander arrived from the dining room behind Buffy and Faith, and he mutters, surprised, but mostly uninterested, "Faith."

"Oh, hey X-man," Faith said nervously turning around. "If the squirt won't let me sleep in her bed, I can always join you in yours, right?"

Silence reigns for a few moments, as Xander's neutral gaze bores into Faith's eyes. Trying to kill him had left an impression, a big one. Xander wasn't able to just push it aside and pretend nothing happened, but neither could he ignore the pained expression on Faith's face. Oh, she managed to hide it will, but he knew that look far too well, it was too often in the mirror. He could see the scared, little girl hiding there, of course he could also see that scared, little girl hiding in those eyes when she tried to strangle him, but there is where his inability to ignore her turning herself into the cops and spending years in prison came up. *Ah, well,* Xander thought bitterly, *If Buffy can be with Spike and go 'he's a good guy, #he's# got a soul now,' I might as well.* He's mouth quirked up just a bit, and said with a mostly flat voice, "Right."

Faith felt an enormous pain, as well as relief flooding through her being. It was obvious she wasn't forgiven, and Xander didn't seem to be inclined to do it anytime soon, but at least it didn't seem she had completely burned that bridge down to absolutely nothing. There was still hope.

Buffy meanwhile turned to Dawn and Giles and said, "I've got to go to the hospital check up on this wounded girl that . . ."

Giles nodded, saying, "Willow called, she says she's staying in the hospital."

"I'll go with you," Xander offered to Buffy.

The blonde nodded her approval, and called out loudly, "SPIKE!" Giles gaze narrowed.

The blonde vampire called back a 'what' from somewhere, as Faith watched Xander's seemingly unmoved face. Faith knew better, she'd seen enough masks in the mirror. With a moment of shook she realized that Xander was anything but unmoved. Right there, in his eyes, deep, there was a hard core that was . . . burning anger? Faith wasn't sure, the moment she had been able to discern anything from Xander's eyes it had been no more than a flicker.

"Come along, we're going to go see the girl in the hospital!" Buffy finished her summons as she turned around and opened the door. Xander started putting on his coat in silence, as Spike breezed by with his typical air of indifference, and Xander followed him out. On impulse Faith joined the trio, and closed the door behind her.


The four of them were walking through one of Sunnydale's parks: a shortcut to the hospital. Buffy and Xander walked next to each other silently. Faith was walking behind them, next to Spike, and had pretty much decided early on in their walk that apologies were out until after they beat this First Evil thing; if she started apologizing now, she'd still be busy apologizing by the time the Earth had become a living hell. Faith felt chills running down her spine as she saw one half of a once invincible team walk next to each other without anything to say. And this wasn't a nice comfortable silence between friends, their body language betrayed that much; Faith had enough time learning to read body language inside prison. How could things have gotten this bad? This just couldn't be all this First Evil's doing.

"You know all the tension back there wasn't just you," Spike explained suddenly, casually.

*Duh, Sherlock,* Faith thought, but held her tongue. *I may not be the brightest here, but I'm not stupid.*

"Giles was part of a plot to try and kill me for Buffy's own good," Spike finished, tossing away his cigarette bud casually, trampling it out a moment later with his left foot. His tone made it obvious he didn't believe one moment his death could be for Buffy's good.

*Giles thought Spike should die?* Faith thought, thinking over the implications. Faith thought more and less of Giles at the same time. On the one hand, the fact that he somewhat stood up to Buffy and decided to do something on his own raised her opinion of him, on the other, he failed in his endeavor to kill one measly vampire, who he had access to twenty-four hours in a day every day. It shouldn't be so hard to dust him. Spike may now have a soul, but Faith knew that meant diddly squat if someone is determined to be evil: case in point, herself. *And he needed to go behind Buffy's back to do it? She's protective of this bastard? I haven't seen him act particularly like a good guy.* That was bad, really bad, and probably also where the rift between Xander and Buffy came from. Xander hated vampires, she knew, hated them with a passion, and now Buffy hadn't just shacked up with one, but with two it seemed; an unsouled one even, and took him back the moment he said he had a soul, letting him slaughter people on some hunch it wasn't really him, finding out he had a trigger installed and just letting him wander around the house anyway, endangering everyone. No wonder Xander was pissed off. (What the fuck was wrong with her anyway!?) Willow really was a blabber mouth, then again, Faith figured it was some pretty need to know info, so she was forgiven. The dark Slayer briefly wondered what Buffy would do if she dusted the peroxide addict right here and now. Probably not something good, so she dismissed the notion. Besides, what if Buffy was right and they were wrong? She decided to keep her thoughts to herself, and said, "That makes it feel better about me, worse about Giles, and . . . kinda shaky about you." Spike looked at her as they walked along, and then shrugged his shoulders. He couldn't care less what the dark Slayer thought of him, as long as the blonde one loved him. "So, what's with him?" Faith asked casually.

Spike shrugged, "He's like that, ever since he found out Buffy was sleeping with me." Faith kept silent, walking along. "Envy I guess," Spike drawled on, uninterested in the way Faith reacted to his story. "He's his typically useless self. Can smash a nail into a broken window well, but other than that? No strength, fighting ability, dead weight. Never bothered with learning anything that could help Buffy in her fight. But me, you see, I went to get my soul for Buffy, I really love her."

"I guess," Faith answered, while seething inside. There weren't many things she knew about the Scooby Gang as they once called themselves, but there was one thing she did know. Xander was anything but dead weight, and while he had tried to reach out to her, she had tried to kill him. She still didn't know how to apologize to him, let alone how to act around him. Quietly she decided she would never turn her back on Spike, the way he talked made her skin crawl, like he was some obsessed psychopath, sounded a bit like herself once - she shivered at that observation - and unlike Buffy, she decided she would dust him if he gave her but one sliver of an excuse.

Suddenly a net dropped down from the trees and enveloped Faith. The net was extremely heavy, enforced with metal, and the slayer went down from the unexpected impact rolling back. The heavy sound, and Spike's surprised outcry of, 'What the bloody hell!?' caused Buffy and Xander to turn around as well and look surprised for a moment. Someone took advantage of their distraction, and from the trees a whole battalion of tall, and strong looking demons dropped down. They had horns and were a dull light blue, a total of sixteen of them, four for each person. A seventeenth larger demon, light purple, wearing some kind of impressive looking embroidered armor, and holding an impressive looking spear, dropped down right after that. The spear seemed to exude raw power, even though nobody could see that power.

The demons didn't waste time with chitchat and attacked with everything they had. Four of them started kicking and smashing blunt weapons at the bound Faith, who unsuccessfully tried to get away. Another four attacked Spike with swords, sharp enough to sever his head, and Spike was forced to avoid the first swings desperately before mounting an ineffective counter attack.

When the first demon attacked her, Buffy avoided it, while making a backward roundhouse kick and sending a demon flying.

Xander ducked underneath the first demon's punch, he flicked out a knife and rammed it in the demon's gut. In shock and pain the demon was sent to the ground, to its knees. Xander twisted around, smashed aside a punch, while slicing open the first demon's throat at the same time, causing it to keel over lifeless. He then kicked his foot into the shins of another demon, and got knocked hard in the back. He stumbled forward, and was only just barely able to keep himself upright and swat aside another fist before sticking his knife into a demon's heart. He wished he had brought a sword, or a gun.

Faith in the mean time, ripped apart the net keeping her from attacking her opponents with a roar. Immediately she jumped up over another kick. Faith went ballistic; memories of the beast smashing her about like she was a rag dol, and other beatings, sent her completely over the edge. One stake disappeared into one heart, while a second stake, held by her other hand, was rammed into one of the demon's eyes, causing it to roar out in pain, and run away.

Spike had managed to tear out the throat of one of the demons attacking him, and broken the sword arm of another, when one of the demons managed to run him through his stomach, and he stumbled to his knees. Even as he fell he vamped out, and pushed himself aside, ripping the sword from the demon's grasp, and rammed a stake in the fourth demon's gut, causing it to double over and stumble away.

Buffy had snapped one demon's neck, staked a second, and now pummeled a third after avoiding one of its kicks. Doubling the demon over with a punch, she stuck her stack through the back of its neck. It gurgled and fell to the ground. She was aware of the demon that she had kicked away sneaking up on her from behind. She jumped, circled in air and delivered a snap kick to its nose, which sent the nose bone crashing into its brain. It keeled over dead a moment later.

Buffy turned to the leader of the bunch, still holding the spear up, and she growled at him, "Nice spear, I'll look nice sticking through your chest."

The demon simply shook his head, lowered his spear somewhat, and a finger from the hand wrapped around the handle pointed. He said, "Choose." Then he moved his finger over to the other side pointing at something else, and with an evil grin he said, "The vampire, or the human, who shall live."

Buffy's eyes widened in shock, and she whirled around. Three dead demons lay around Xander, who had a sword hovering above his chest, directly above his heart. The final demon holding the sword. To Buffy's right, there was Spike, bleeding from a multiple stab wounds, looking fearfully up. The last demon held his sword above him, directly next to Spike's neck. One slice and his head came away from his body. Buffy felt her heart breaking. For a moment it seemed as if the whole world and time stood still, the moment in which she had to choose. Xander or Spike, living or dead, human or vampire. Buffy chose.

Time sped up again as Buffy ran for the demon. The sword came down, and she jumped, ramming herself into the demon, and pushing it aside from its intended victim. She and the demon crashed to the floor, even as she smashed the stake she was holding through its heart. She quickly pried the sword away from the demon's dead fingers.

At the same time the sword plunged downward, and sliced through Xander's heart. He looked up at the demon, stunned. He dipped his head, looked over at Buffy getting up from the demon corpse and sped to him, pain and rage written on her face. She chose him, the vampire, she chose to save a corpse over her living friend. How can a Slayer, a supposed hero, a champion for humanity have so skewed priorities? How could she possibly be trusted to defeat the greatest of evils if she consistently chose vampires, chose evil, above good? Xander could understand Angel, after all she met him and fell for him before she knew he was a vamp, and he had a soul from the get go. In a way he could understand last year's rompadomp with the Spike, but he had no soul then, he had tried to rape her, and yet now she takes him back, and he could see no difference in Spike's behavior before the alleged re-ensouling, reducing Buffy to a sick, ridiculous, puppy-dog-eyed going 'but he has a soul now' over and over. It made him wonder if the sick bastard really had a soul or if it was just one big lie, after all, how does one detect a soul? And even if he had one, he was still the same old Spike, so he got a blank soul, or William before being turned was just as bad as the soulless monster. Either way, the bastard had gone on and on about how bad he had been treated, and he shouldn't have been so confused he'd tried to rape her, as if he was the victim when he made the try. Earlier, when he had lain potentially bleeding to death, and he saw Buffy go check up on the immortal vampire Spike who had nothing but a few scratches something had sparked within him; an annoyance, an anger, and pity that the once great Buffy Summers the Vampire Slayer had let herself be reduced to a battered wife or girlfriend and necrophiliac. Now, there was nothing but anger, boiling rage, and hate toward Spike, and to her. The little blonde bitch that would sacrifice anyone and anything, her friends, her precious potential slayer army, her sister, but not the half-wit vampire who was nothing but excess weight, utterly useless, who needed to be told what to do in a fight every step of the way or he would let people die. As life fled Xander, and darkness claimed his soul, his arms clenched, his hands turned to fists, a burning rage and hate fusing into every part of his being, then turned to a small ball of raging inferno as he finally died.

Right at the moment Xander lost his life, Buffy decapitated the demon that had taken that very life. "It's done. The contract is fulfilled," the lead demon grinned evilly. It turned around and walked away, and then walked off the ground, as if he walked up an invisible staircase, before simply fading from view.

"XANDER! XANDER!" Buffy screamed out in pain, tears staining her eyes. Spike and Faith reached the grisly scene moments later, right as the demon corpses started dissolving. Buffy knelt down and pushed on his chest, causing more blood to gush from the large wound. She pulled his head back, and squeezed his nose. She dipped her head down, put her lips to his, and blew air into his lungs. "Come one, Xan!" she yelled as tears streamed down her cheeks. She blew air in again, before starting five pushes on his chest. "You brought me back like this, don't die. Come back to me!"

But Xander did not come back. Faith watched Buffy pitifully trying to revive Xander. Her own eyes were misty, a few tears flowed from them. She quickly wiped them away, and forced herself not to cry. Not now, not when the blonde seemed to be breaking apart, and a vampire was apparently trusted above a living man. She watched how with every push more blood welled up from Xander's chest, and she knelt down on Xander's other side. With misty eyes, she grabbed the blonde Slayer's wrists, and pleaded, "B. He's dead, B!"

"NO! He's not dead, he'll come back, I came back, he can come back!" Buffy yelled out, trying to push down again, but Faith restrained her. She tried to dip down to blow more air into Xander's lungs, but with her arms restrained that didn't work well either. "Let me go!"

"Buffy!" Faith yelled at her, shaking her once, getting Buffy's attention. The blonde looked her in the eyes. "You're just pushing blood out his chest, B. He's dead."

Buffy looked up at Spike with teary eyes. The vampire watched the proceedings without much interest, and simply nodded to Buffy that Faith was right. Buffy got shakily to her feet, and then took the two steps to Spike and wrapped her arms around his waist, burying her face into his chest, and cried. Spike wrapped his arms around his slayer and murmured soothing words, thinking, *Why did that fucking bastard have to die? Look how he upset my precious.* Buffy dug deeper into his chest as he tightened his hug, and amended his former thought, *Then again, this might not be so bad.*

Faith watched the scene with disgust, shock, and dread, until she felt bile threatening to come up. She turned away and looked at Xander's body, the scent of his blood, the sight of his body and the hole it, didn't stem the flow one bit. She turned away, heaved, crawled away, not feeling like she should throw up so close to his dead body. She heaved again, and couldn't keep things together by the third heave, and threw up in the grass. Two more heaves dredged up stuff she ate, and pored it out of her body.


Summers residence back garden

Buffy threw the final heap of earth down upon the newly dug grave, right next to Chloe's, and then placed the shovel in the dirt. Buffy turned to look at the people gathered here. They were all there, Giles, Willow, Faith, Anya, Dawn, Spike, Robin Wood, Andrew and the potentials. Buffy glowered at them, her face showing her anger, and she said, "Xander died because he wasn't prepared, all four of us weren't prepared. We won't make that mistake again. Tomorrow we'll check out the information our newest member gave us. A preacher named Caleb says he has something that belongs to me . . . well, we're going to get it. We'll find out where he is, and take him and the rest of the bastards out once and for all. Now go get some sleep, you'll need it." Buffy then stalked past the group of people toward the house, Spike easily followed her in.

The potentials looked sadly, and painfully at the two graves. Slowly bit by bit they left, and went back inside the house. Andrew, crying, followed them. Of the potentials only Kennedy was left outside, hugging a crying Willow. The potential slayer felt saddened, and helpless. From the moment Willow had heard the news she had cried, and hadn't stopped crying. Buffy had stopped crying already, if they were going to fight the First Evil effectively, then - she figured - they needed their strongest ally one hundred percent, but far more than that, she hated seeing Willow sad. She wanted to see the redhead smile, because she had such a beautiful smile, but the only thing it seemed she could do, was hold her and hope she would be done crying sooner or later.

Dawn was standing next to the lesbian couple, tears freely ran down her cheeks. "It-it can't be," she whimpered, sniffing sadly. "He can't be dead, he just can't be. Not him too." The sixteen-year-old turned around and wrapped her arms around Giles.

The Watcher held her head as she cried into his chest, and gave her a fatherly kiss on the top of her head. "He was a remarkable young man," he said, his voice breaking, a tear forming at his right eye and running down his cheek. "Perhaps even the best of all of us." Dawn started crying harder, remembering the encouragement words he gave her only weeks earlier. She wanted him back. The reason why she had the strength to go on, and face her uncaring sister and still try to think of her as the once loving sister, was him. "Come on, Dawn," Giles slowly muttered, and pulled her along. She slowly led herself be taken along.

Anya stood, standing there. Unable to grasp the concept. "He can't be dead," she whispered again, for the umpteenth time since the news had reached her. "He just can't be dead. He isn't dead." She slowly turned around and walked to the house.

Robin looked around rather surprised. He knew the young man had to have been someone important, but from the group who had known him longest there was more than just emotional attachment. Dawn seemed completely helpless, more than just in grief. Giles calling Xander the best of all of them was unexpected, and he didn't feel like it was an exaggeration because he had just died. "Faith," he tried. The brunette was beautiful, a slayer, a broken girl. He briefly wondered if his mother ever was like her, but he couldn't remember, she died when he was too young, he could only remember what she looked like, her face engraved in his memory, and the bastard who had killed her, the bastard who even now wore his mother's coat like a trophy, and everyone trusted him to be some good guy. He was hoping this Slayer might have a different perspective, he was hoping he could make a connection with her, hopefully more than just that, because she was just beautiful, even in pain like she was now.

"Go away," Faith told him flatly. Robin nodded respectfully and left.

Only Faith, Willow and Kennedy remained. Willow crying, having induced tears from Kennedy as well. Faith just stared at the grave, her eyes slowly bit by bit misting up.

"This is so wrong. Goddess, this is so wrong," Willow suddenly piped up through her sobs.

"I know," Kennedy said soothing.

Willow shook her head. "No, not Xander dying . . . at least not just him dying . . . This, just a shallow hole . . . My god, it felt wrong with Chloe, but it was Buffy, I didn't want to go against her, I'm never right, she always is . . . she isn't right."

Faith blinked and looked up at Willow, similar thoughts about to wrongness of a mere shallow hole as a grave, but who the hell was Chloe? "Chloe?" she prompted.

The lesbians pointed at the looser ground next to it, a nice square. It almost seemed like just ground, but the signs of digging were still visible; Faith hadn't paid attention to it before. "We put her there," Kennedy said softly. "The First got to her, she killed herself."

Willow nodded, "I can see it now . . . now that Xander's there . . . what are we going to tell her parents when they come around and ask about her? 'Oh, she killed herself, we put her in the ground there, she made good fertilizer?'" Willow broke down in cries again. She turned around and put her face in Kennedy's shoulder, hugging the brunette potential tightly to her. "I can't believe . . . Buffy just . . . put Xander in that hole . . . like he's inconsequential . . . just collateral damage." Kennedy tightened grip, feeling her own grief welling up as Willow cried. She had kind of liked Xander, even though she hadn't really talked to him. Now that she was gone, she wished she had, she had no idea the guy was this important to Willow. "He was my best friend, Ken," Willow cried out. "Knew him from kindergarten . . . he saved Buffy's life, and mine several times over . . . stopped me from killing everyone on the planet . . . he was the heart of our group . . . he was the heart in the enjoining spell we used to defeat Adam . . . now he's dead . . . and Buffy just dumps him in a hole . . . not even a wooden stick to mark it."

Kennedy blinked away her tears. Willow was right! This was wrong, so very wrong. How could Buffy be so callous? She thought she could look up to the Slayer, from all the stories it seemed she could, but she knew now, that something had happened to the vibrant heroine people told about in those stories. She hadn't seen Buffy vibrant for one moment when she was here, and this . . . Kennedy had an idea. Slowly she disentangled herself from Willow, and gently pushed her away. Willow looked questioningly at her girlfriend. Kennedy gave her a sad, but reassuring smile. Willow turned around as Kennedy walked past her. The potential went further into the garden, searching for something it seemed. Moments later she returned, holding sticks, each about a meter long, in both hands. The first she stuck with force into the head of Xander's grave, the second she stuck into Chloe's. Willow looked at her now sadly smiling girlfriend gratefully, and then broke down crying again. Kennedy quickly walked over and held Willow close again.

A minute later a few drops of rain started falling, and Kennedy murmured, "We should go inside, Willow. Don't want to catch a cold, and we should go to sleep, we need it." Willow nodded dumbly, and let herself be taken away. Kennedy stopped and turned to the dark Slayer, still staring intently at Xander's grave. "You coming, Faith?" Faith shook her head and waved them inside.

Faith looked at the grave, starting to cry uncontrollably now that she was alone, and she no longer needed to keep up appearances, and she remembered LA through her tears.


Angel and Faith stood on the Hyperion's balcony, looking out over the city, and he suddenly asked her, "Faith, if it ever came down to choosing between saving my life or say Gunn's who would you save?" Faith looked stricken, even more so when Angel turned to regard her. How could he ask her that question? "Who?" Angel prompted gravely.

Faith looked at him, that answer she knew, but she was afraid he was going to hate her. "G-gunn," she answered with a trembling voice.

A small smile adorned Angel, and then he said, lighter, but still grave, "Good, that's the right answer. Soul or no soul, at the end of the day I'm a walking corpse, I'm already dead. If you have to choose, you choose life, not death." He pauzed for a moment, and then added, somewhat sternly, "That goes for you too. You are alive, I'm not." Faith blinked, and looked at him mildly uncomprehending. Angel reached for the pocket in her jacket he knew contained a stake. Faith watched him, as he pulled out the stake and placed it in her right hand, then brought the pointy end to his heart. "I'm not Angelus, if he ever rears his ugly head again I'm dead, doubly dead. He's just another vampire you kill every night. No more stunts like that to re-ensoul me. You're the Slayer, you are beyond a simple champion, you're too important. In short: dust . . . Understood?" Faith nodded. "Good," Angel told her, then smiled.


##Choose!## The demon's words still echoed through Faith's mind as she looked at Xander's grave. She remembered watching in horror how Buffy went to save a vampire's life. She had run toward Xander and the demon, but she had simply been too far away. Later Buffy had said by mere accidental explanation that Spike was stronger, that he was more valuable to the mission. But Xander had killed three of the demons before he had been overwhelmed, the same amount that Spike had killed before that, and even then, what in blazes could a vampire do against an intangible evil older than the universe itself? Spike's fists would just pass straight through it. An energy blaster might work against the First, or some form of spell, this being the origin of evil, it would probably take something that was the opposite of evil; love, heart, a spell that needed a heart in the middle as a focus? Didn't Willow just say that? God, Buffy chose death over life, she chose a dead vampire over a living man who could just be the focus a witch like Willow needed to defeat whatever was coming.

A man that had saved everyone's life several times over, hers, and Faith's included. A man who had saved the world, a man who had been there for her all through her life here, protected her, guarded her, had her back every step of the way, and she chose a vampire. Mother of god what had happened here? How could Buffy choose Spike over Xander? Just how screwed up was her mind to chose that peroxide vampire, that had tried to kill her several times over already? Soul or no soul, he was already dead, but Xander was alive!

Faith sank to her knees, crying, as the rain slowly started to pick up. She smashed her fists in the dirt, and started talking to no one. "This isn't supposed to be like this! God, I'm supposed to help, just be on the sidelines, survive this shit, beat the apocalypse and apologize, make up, if not during, then after this fight. How can I apologize if you're dead? You save my life, you tried to save it a second time, and I tried to kill you for it. Damn it! How can everything be so screwed up like this? Did you know? Did you know, Xander? That things were this screwed up? . . . Of course you knew, that's why you were so distant from Buffy. The potentials follow Buffy like good soldiers, they wouldn't dare an uprising without more help. Robin is completely out, Giles is following Buffy's lead because he doesn't want alienate her even more, Spike is good little puppy boy, Willow is too screwed up to go up against Buffy. Hell, she always would follow B straight into hell, and Dawn . . . Dawn is too young, too desperate to get attention from her sister . . ."

Faith cried into the dirt, looking down at it. "I'm no leader, Xan . . . I can't do this . . . the students followed you to fight the Mayor, I know that much, you brought the rocket launcher to defeat the judge, you're the leader. You can't be dead, you're needed . . . you could get the others organized, I know Buffy is too far gone to listen to reason, but the others . . . What happened here? What in blazes happened here?"

Faith slowly brought herself back under control, and got up as the rain became a full blown tropical storm, even though Sunnydale was not in a tropical climate. Lightning flashed in the distance. Faith looked and counted until the thunder followed. It was still three miles away. Slowly Faith turned around and walked back into the house, locking the door behind her. She went to the room that she was assigned to, sleeping among ten potentials all crammed together. She took off her clothes, leaving only her panties, and slipped, eyes still teary, into the sleeping bag. She tucked the back around, and curled up into a fetus position, shivering, feeling lonely. The sound of the heavy rain was no comfort to her. The sound of lightning and thunder slowly coming closer wasn't either.

Down the hall, Willow lay in Kennedy's arms, crying herself to sleep. A lightning flash and thunder sounded at the same time, but they ignored it, and so did everyone else. In another room, Buffy lay comfortably in her attempted rapist's arms, drawing strength from the vampire's embrace, allowing her to fall asleep. Spike held Buffy comfortingly, looking down at the blonde hair, as lightning from outside illuminated her hair. He smiled, oh yes, Xander's death was a good thing, he had his Slayer in his arms, already, much more so than that time on the couch. This time she was actually comfortable enough with to sleep. Soon, soon she would be his completely again, loving him, like things were meant to be. A slayer in the arms of her attempted rapist and attempted killer vampire; just how much more romantic could this be?


Outside, in the garden, the lightning had flashed, thunder rolling at the same time. The lightning struck straight into the ground were Xander lay buried, instantly forming a tube of glass where it struck, smoke rising from the ground. A large pitch black bird arrived a moment later landing on a branch of the tree above the grave. It cawed several times, waiting patiently. The dirt of Xander's grave moved a little, as if pushed up from below . . . then, suddenly a hand stuck out from the dirt, and opened, reaching desperately for the air.

Chapter 2
Beyond Death

Xander pulled himself from the hole that had served as his grave. He gasped for breath and looked around dazed. What happened? Where was he? Who was he? He pulled along the wet dirt, smearing himself with the mud. He looked back and looked uncomprehending at the grave that he had come from. His eyes were no longer the beautiful hazel, but they were darker, black almost and there was a sheen on it, bird-like, foreboding, dangerous eyes.

A squawk called to his attention, and the crow flew right over him. He followed the bird with his gaze as it settled on the drain of the house, uncaring about the heavy rain. He looked down, and saw the house. As a jolt of pain and flashes of memory hot through his brain, he squinted his eyes shut and grabbed his head.

["You know that I love you, right?" a blonde girl asked hopefully.]

[That same blonde girl letting him bleed to death on the ground, while it checked up on something he instinctively knew as a barely wounded immortal being, her attempted rapist no less.]

[The sword descending down, slicing into his chest, watching the same girl saving the vampire's life. He hated vampires! Why he didn't know, but seeing that scene sent Earth shattering feelings of rage, betrayal, and pure hate burning through his being.]

Xander pulled aside his shirt which still had a hole in them, but his chest only had a scar. Slowly Xander looked up at the house, more images entered his mind, these much more gentle. *Alexander LaVelle Harris,* a voice sounded in his mind.

"Xander," he corrected automatically without thinking about it, somehow knowing it was the bird that had spoken to him. He grabbed his head again as new memories flooded his brain.

["Xander!" a sweet, little, redheaded girl called out, a boy behind her.]

[That same boy, but older taunting him, trying to persuade him to do something, while he sported a deformed face. The boy, Jesse he now knew, attacked and he held up a wooden stake, the boy turning to dust right there, followed by a terrible sadness.]

[Kissing a beautiful brunette. 'Cordy' clicked somewhere.]

[The death of a beautiful woman, Jenny, at the hands of another deformed monster, but the blonde refusing to do what he did with Jesse. Resentment, a lie to finally get the blonde to do her duty.]

[The blonde - Buffy his mind supplied - hiding the return of the monster. A kiss with Willow, the redhead.]

[Two new blondes, one happy to kiss and even fuck him anywhere any place. A wedding, a fake future shown of him beating up Anya, then ending the wedding.]

[Finding Buffy assaulted, knowing that the blonde vampire psychopath, had raped her, or at least tried to.]

[The redhead now having black hair, with black eyes, and black streaks in her skin dropping to her knees in his arms; the red hair returning.]

Xander removed the hand from his head and slowly got up. *Remember now?* the voice sounded, accompanied by a caw. A low growl came from Xander's throat, a grimace on his face. Xander nodded, and said, "Oh, yes." Xander's gaze settled on the house. The vampire was in there he knew, the blonde one, the sickening bastard. He took a step forward, but was interrupted by the crow's caw.

Xander frowned, "What do you want?"

It cawed again, and lifted in the air. *Follow me.* Xander hesitated, he much rather go inside, and tear the vampire limb from limb and then seeing what he could do to the bitch. Finally he gave in, figuring that the bird might have something useful to show him, after all, it seemed it knew a lot about him, and its prompting had allowed him to remember.

He jumped up without thought, and was rather surprise when he landed halfway up the roof without effort, hardly making a sound. He grinned as he took a step, and jumped, following the bird, sailing clear across the street beneath him, and landed just as softly on the house across the street. *WOW!* Xander thought with gleeful surprise. This was awesome! He felt incredibly strong. He jumped from house to house, occasionally across a street, following the black bird, and speeding across Sunnydale. *Buffy isn't this fast!* Xander realized with a shock. He noticed the bird again, and got curious. "What are you anyway?" Xander asked.

The bird looked over its wings for a moment, and cawed. 'I'm a crow.'

"You're pretty big for a crow," Xander told it with venom, the hate quickly returning.

The crow squawked. 'I'm not a normal crow.'

Xander's mind got assaulted with a memory again, his head hurt. How he kept running and jumping, following the crow was a mystery to him, but he managed to anyway as the memory returned to his brain.


Darkness descended upon Xander. Hate, and raged burned through him, as he looked around the darkness. Dark colors swirling around here and there. *So much for the white light,* Xander thought venomously, and realized he suddenly had two sets of memories during a four year period. Surprised he saw a big black crow streak by him, cawing at him, pointing in a direction. A faint orange light in the distance. "Fuck you!" Xander snarled at the bird and started clawing against a pull that was growing stronger. "Never! I'm going back!" he yelled angrily. "That bitch is going to help destroy the world! I won't let it happen! That stinking bitch and the vampire need to pay! PAY!"

Somehow Xander got a handhold of nothingness, and although the pull from the orange light increased, he was no longer pulled a long. Carefully step by step - how he could make steps when there was nothing to put his feet on was beyond him - he walked back to where he thought he came from.

The crow cawed, and circled him for a moment, as if assessing him, and then the pull went away. "Wolf," a thunderous voice sounded. Xander spun around and looked directly in a blob of energy that had a vaguely humanoid shape.

"What!?" Xander asked in surprise.

"LaVelle, that is your name is it not?" the shape told him, with a normal voice this time.

"Xander," he corrected angrily, the shape nodded. "Who the hell are you?"

"I don't have a name," the shape answered gruffly. "But I can explain. Once there was nothing, nothing but three beings. One was chaos, darkness, feminine, yin, the other was order, light, male, yang, those two joined, and in their joining they formed the universe . . . except they couldn't. They were too much apart to be able to, they required a third, a mediator, both female and male, yet being neither, chaos and order, yet neither, darkness and light yet neither, yin and yang yet neither; they required balance to join together and form the universe. I am that balance."

Xander looked at the energy, and his eyes widened. "Fuck!" he cursed. "You're like the First Evil. I take it that bastard was chaos?"

"Bingo," balance answered him, with what Xander swore was a smile. "The universe came into existence, with its own set of rules and forces to govern it; it simply is. Our destruction won't affect it at all. In fact, once the universe came into existence, it stretched back in time, to the beginning, and beyond, pushing us somewhat outside of it. The universe has always exited, and always will - that rather surprising event caused me to philosophize whether we created the universe, or the universe created us in order to be created . . ." The entity trailed off when it saw Xander look at him with venom in his eyes. "Of course that is another story. Me and order, we loved this place. It's fantastic, anything can happen, and anything will. When you say, 'that's not possible', it won't take long for the universe to prove you wrong. And Him, well, He enjoys trying to make everything bend to His will, as in, make everything be orderly, follow order. He created a bunch of gods under His command as well, fun guy. A lot of people would consider Him to be just as evil as the First Evil himself, though."

"Can we get to a friggin' point?" Xander snapped angrily. He didn't quite know why he didn't just leave the halfwit alone, and try to get back to where he wanted to be. Alive and well to deliver righteous pain and suffering.

"Right. #She# is different, #she# got scared," Balance explained, sternly once again. "The universe changes, it grows, it evolves, and all the creatures that burst forth from it as well . . . Unlike us, we simple are, and the way we are, we always will be. #She# got scared that one day a being will evolve with such vast powers that it could destroy her with a simple snap of its fingers . . . and so she created the demons, with the express purpose to destroy everything, to destroy the universe she had given birth to. Of course me and Him, put a stop to her, as best as we could. Problem is, he's found a weakness that allows him full access to the world. The bringers no longer need to give him access. Me and Him though, can't use the same weakness, we are impotent to stop him from whatever he wants to do."

"Why the hell are you telling me all this?" Xander asked growing annoyed again.

"Because those who live in the world can stop her, because you needed to know, you'll remember this, guaranteed," Balance told him with an unseen grin. "And she's gone too far this time, she needs to be stopped, preferably destroyed."

"Ok, huh?" Xander commented confused.

Balance pointed at the impatient black bird. "The crow, you must know. You've read through plenty of books during research." Xander looked at him blankly. Balance started, "People once believed . . ."

Xander's eyes widened in recognition, and continued with missing a beat, ". . . that a crow guided a soul to heaven. But sometimes something so terrible happened during life, that a soul feels such pain it cannot rest . . . and sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to set the wrong things right. It's going to resurrect me?"

Balance laughed hard. "No, after death the crow can only guide you to where you need to go. A human being resurrects him- or herself. At the moment of death, if the pain is great enough, the synapses firing are powerful enough to send the body in a form of stasis, allowing it to repair the damage, and then a few months to a year, on a very rare occasion centuries, when enough has been built . . . tada. On a very rare occasion, if the body has gotten a big electric surge, this can happen much sooner, as quick as a few hours."

The crow cawed, it's impatience growing. Its dark eyes turned to Balance, piercing the being, and if Xander wasn't mistaken, the being shivered. "Forces rule this universe, Mr. Harris, forces of nature. One such force is a balancing force, it's why I like it so much, that force is Vengeance. Vengeance is a living thing, it transcends space and time and dimensions. It knows no remorse, no regret, no mercy. That force and the crow are joined. The crow can become its agent, and it will give those returned souls added strength, fighting ability, agility, speed, and makes it virtually indestructible, practically immortal for as long as the crow lives. That's what you will become when you go down there, you will be the embodiment of that force, you will be #vengeance# #incarnate#.

"You can choose to stay on Earth for an eternity, or you can tell the crow to go, or you can kill it, and you'll be a mortal man, you can live out your life naturally, most go back into their graves willingly, end their lives after they've done their tasks, because they don't feel there is anything to live for," Balance explained rapidly. He took a deep breath. "Now go, Protector of Man, the Wolf Harris, for Vengeance is getting impatient, I don't want it to turn on me." The being that turned around and quickly moved off.

Xander blinked several times, more confused than ever, until the crow cawed angrily at him. He looked at the bird, and remembered how he had gotten here, and what he wanted to do. Rage and hate gripped his being, and nodded to the crow. The crow flew in the opposite direction this time, the direction from whence Xander came, and he followed after it quickly.


Xander casually landed on a roof, and ran across it, seeing the crow in front of him. His rage and anger burned even fiercer now. The First Evil, he had almost forgotten about it, which had made him angrier. It wanted to destroy mankind, which was much more important than his vengeance, plus Xander knew he would never be able to savor his revenge properly if it was still busy trying to destroy the world.

"Where are we going?" Xander asked gruffly. He was tired of this, he needed action.

*There,* came the reply. Xander saw the hospital and was confused. Wasn't he supposed to be invulnerable now? The crow lowered and Xander followed. A short time later he was on the ground and walked into the hospital through the front door. Everything was quiet, nobody really was there, except a night time nurse at the check-in counter. Xander remembered this place, from several of his less pleasant memories. The bird flew along and landed smoothly on the counter, cawing. The nurse looked up at the bird in surprise, and then looked onward to see the dirty, unkept Xander standing in the middle of the lobby. Dying and clawing out of your own grave does that to you.

*The monks,* the crow told Xander as he took another step forward, *they couldn't comprehend how a normal, non-magical, non-religious guy could be of any help. Their spell reflected that. They were making preparation spells for the big one that created Dawn over a year before they did that last big one. It changed you, your memories. We need them back, all of them.*

Xander's foot touched the ground, and he was thrown back, and to the side as he grabbed his head and screamed in pain, as his crow souped up abilities tore through his mind, ripping open magically induced memories, and finding those that were stored beneath them. He banged against a wall, and then again after trying to get up. Finally he sank to his knees, screaming in pain as flashes of memory entered his mind.

[The very same hospital, in the very same place. Angelus is standing there, facing Dawn. Xander looks on in awe from the side. "You listen, you dipshit," the eleven-year-old told the demon. "The only way you get to Buffy is through me. And you know as well as I do, that soul or no soul, demon or no demon, you hurt me - Buffy's own sister - that sick or not sick, she'll tear you limb from limb before dusting your ass!"

Angelus growled in frustration, the kid was right. The rage and hatred coursing through Buffy's body after killing Dawn would make her pretty much unstoppable. He handed the flowers over to Dawn, and said with a sweet voice, "Please give these to Buffy, will you Dawn? I don't want to leave the impression I didn't care." And Angelus turned around and ran off.

"I did it! I did it!" Dawn screamed out excitedly, her heart racing a thousand times a minute, in a mixture of terror and excitement. "I got rid of Angelus!"

"You sure did, Dawnie," Xander told the little girl in awe, picking her up and hugging her close. "What would we do without you? Better not tell Buffy what you did, she'll kill me first and then you." Dawn nodded happily.]

At the same time, as Xander screamed and twisted about, and the nurse got to him with concern, a different memory shone through the first.

["Why don't you come back during the day?" Xander told Angelus with a hint of danger. "Oh, no wait, I guess you can't."

Angelus looked into Xander's eyes, and told him, "If I decide to walk into Buffy's room, do you think for even one microsecond that you could stop me?"

"Maybe not," Xander told him calmly. "May those cops couldn't either, or those security guards, or the orderlies. But I'm kind of curious to find out; you game?"

Angelus snorted, "Buffy's White Knight. You still lover her." He took a small step closer, and added, "It must just eat you up that I got there first."

Xander's eyes grew colder, and he told the vampire, "You're gonna die . . . and I'm gonna be there."

"Tell her I stopped by," Angelus said, and then turned around and walked away.]

Once the first memory not altered by the monks' spell was free the rest returned to Xander in a giant cascade. Memories of actually standing up to Buffy instead of just nodding his head yes and obeying. Once all of the memories were restored to him, Xander looked into the nurses eyes, and then past them, behind her. The nurse checked his reflexes with concern. His wits returned to him, Xander - still covered in dirt - got up abruptly, and turned to the exit.

"Hey, I don't think you should be out there. We can help you here," the nurse tried.

Xander answered calmly, too calmly, "That won't be necessary."

"Where do you think you're going?" the nurse called after him, as he exited the hospital.

"Kill a few people," Xander answered, before running off at inhuman speeds and disappearing.

The nurse blinked, and then muttered, "Just a trick of the light, can't be anything else."


Xander ran along. He knew where he was going: his apartment. He came past a male clothes shop and skidded to a halt. There a dummy was wearing a fantastic long leather coat with a high collar. Xander grinned, and pulled his arm back, then smashed his fist through the window, which shattered easily. Xander looked at the cuts on his hand, healing almost instantly: the blood running back into his hand and then the wound closing. Xander grinned and pulled the coat out. He quickly went inside and found black pants and a black sleeveless shirt.

The crow landed on his shoulder and cawed. "I know," Xander answered and ran back outside toward his next destination, the bird flying from his shoulder and flying along above him. Xander quickly reached the costume shop and broke in there as well, as before ignoring the alarm. Xander knew the Sunnydale cops were smart enough not to get out of the car at night, so he took his leisure time. It didn't take long before he found the pots containing face paint, and took them with him. One white, one black, one blood red.

A short while later he reached his apartment, putting the new clothes on his bed and took off the ruined ones. He went into the shower and looked at his body. It was muscle, all muscle. Luckily the halfwit monks hadn't kept him from staying in shape, why he had hid it under loose clothes he didn't know, must have had something to do with the spell. "Fucking monks!" Xander cursed with rage. "If they weren't dead already, I'd kill them all." He then took a shower, quickly washing away the grime of his dirt grave.

He returned to his bedroom and put on his new clothes. He rummaged through the closet and found his black army boots, putting them on as well. Then he went to sit in front of a mirror and looked into his dark eyes, glittering like a crow's. As he watched himself like that, he felt the pain, rage and anger course through him. Angrily he grabbed the pots with face paint. He took the white face paint and painted his entire face with it. The he used black on his eyelids, the skin surrounding his eyes, and his lips, extending a line from the corners of them, gently curving upward. He took blood red, and drew two lines up from the middle of his eyes, and then directly below them, two lines until they intersected the lines from his mouth.

He stood up abruptly, kneeled down by his bed and reached underneath it. He pulled out a large green chest, and opened it. He looked inside, a cruel smile forming on his face. The chest contained the rocket launcher Buffy once used on the Judge, as well as a shotgun without much ammo, several large caliber pistols, and an assortment of knives and stakes. He took a few stakes and put them in his new coat, then grabbed two guns and put a clip in each, then took two spare clips, which were also his last ones. Xander cocked his head like a bird toward the crow. "First, the bastards who attacked us," Xander hissed enraged, and showed the guns to the bird sitting on his night stand, "a resupply run to the military base, then the First Evil and his henchmen, and finally Spike and Buffy. That way those two can be pure, raw, no worry of the world to cloud the sensation of making them pay." The crow cocked its own head and gave an approving squawk. "Guide me, find me the ones who killed me," Xander finished with a cruel smile.

The crow squawked, and flew to the window. Xander joined it, opening the window, and then bolted from it, after the crow who had flown out. Retribution would come this night.

Chapter 3
Righting the First Wrong

The crow soared over the roofs of Sunnydale. Xander followed it, easily. He ran over the roofs with great speed, but without making much sound. When he jumped he flew across any distance, even streets, with ease. He was giddy; this was just awesome. He felt like he was flying, seeing through the crow's eyes increased that illusion even more - the sound of the coat whipping through the air added the illusion of flapping wings.

Finally the crow flew through the open window of a warehouse. Xander understood, he landed on the roof without sound, and settled down, seeing and hearing what the craw saw and heard.

The purple leader of the demons was there, he was obviously frustrated. Throughout the warehouse, which was filled with tools, boxes and other stuff there were more of the blue demons. The crow and thus Xander did a quick count: twenty-five in total.

"This is unacceptable," one of the demons closest to the leader criticized. "Of seventeen, fifteen of us were killed. You said the boy and the vampire were easy, you said if we split up the group the slayers wouldn't be that much of a problem either! All of this to kill one boy, who apparently isn't just a boy! We deserve more pay if nothing else."

"Don't you think I feel the same way? I'll take that up with our contractor, the moment he gets here, he was the one who told us they weren't good fighters!" the leader hissed back at his subordinate.

Xander had had enough, and he stalked into the warehouse. Moments later he was standing high on top a stack of crates, and he called out, "And who, pray tell, is your contractor?" The demons that needed to whirled around to look at him, other just whipped around their heads. Non really recognized him with his painted face. "Come now," Xander sneered, anger burning through his being. He jumped down gracefully, landing on the floor in between them. "You killed me earlier tonight, the name's Xander Harris."

"Kill him!" the lead demon ordered, with small undercurrent of fear in his voice.

Xander jumped down from the stacks, smashing his foot into the closest demon's face on his way down. The demon crashed back in pain, colliding with one of his brethren and both fell to the floor. From Xander's left a demon came at him, swinging his sword. Xander stepped forward and grabbed the demon's wrists, and then kicked the demon in his stomach with all his might, making sure to grab a hold of the sword. When the demon flew back, groaning in pain, accompanied by the sound of some of his ribs breaking, Xander took the sword from him. The demons were advancing all at once, apparently they didn't make the classical kung fu mistake of fighting one at a time. No matter, Xander took one step forward, pushed off and flew at the closing circle, in the direction of the demon leader. In flight he started to screw around his own axis, sword out, thus decapitating four demons in one go. When he landed he stuck the sword forward into the gut of another demon, rapidly turned around - far faster than any of the demons could hope to come close to - and threw the sword like a spear. It sliced through a demon's head, right in the middle, and it fell over dead.

In the mean time Xander had grabbed another advancing demon's shoulder, and smashed his right fist into its stomach, doubling him over. With a quick change in position, and a good yank the demon's neck broke, and it fell down like a sack of potatoes. Xander took the demon's axe, and hacked it into the demon behind his latest victim's chest. As the demon sank to the floor to bleed to death, Xander felt a sharp pain in his right shoulder. He looked and saw a crossbow bolt sticking out. He reached over with his left arm and yanked the crossbow bolt free, pulling along some of his flesh and blood. He turned around and looked at the demons advancing on him. They stopped moving in shock, as they saw the hole the bolt had made close up right in front of their eyes.

"You've already lost," Xander told them with a predatory grin, and attacked them. There momentary stupor gave him the opportunity to decapitate in quick succession another the three demons. When the demons came back into action, Xander made a roundhouse kick backward, hitting one demon in its face sending it dazed to the floor. Xander renewed the kick, kicking a demon three quarters of the way in its throat, causing it to grab its throat and gasp for breath, coughing up blood; he wouldn't last long. A demon came at Xander in anger, letting an axe descend with all its might. Xander saw it from the corner of his eyes, and turned half around, raising his left hand, blocking the blow at the demon's wrists. He then moved forward, turning around to face the demon, yanking the demon's arms down with his left. The demon's arms twisted around, their and the demon's momentum causing him to tumble forward, bent over, running straight into the onrushing axe getting it stuck in his stomach.

Xander left the axe there, moving forward to intercept another demon coming at him. He pulled a stake from his coat and rammed it into the demon's chest and heart. He twisted around, and rammed the stake into the side another's neck. Xander took the crossbow from the dying demon and turned to face the group. With a grin he shot the first bolt, loaded the second, fired it, then the third that was on the bow, and fired that one as well. Three demons went down as a result. He then backed up, raising his arms, with a movement a wrist mounted small crossbow shot from his sleeves and he fired both of them. As another two demons died, Xander jumped and swivelled in the air. He kicked out with a devastating kicked, landing his foot into the face of the final demon behind him. The crack of bone in the demon's face demonstrated he wasn't going to survive. The fact confirmed when the demon shot off to its left, crashing into a stack of craters, destroying them, and sending several plastic tons filled with whatever chemicals tumbling noisily to the floor. The demon smacked painfully to the floor, its neck in an unnatural angle.

That left two demons - both of which slowly and dazedly got up from the floor - and the leader. Xander cocked his head to the leader, and calmly walked toward him, starting up the few stair cases leading the slightly elevated platform that he was standing on. The demon back up slightly, fear evident in his face.

"Enough, we're on the same side," a Brooklyn accented voice stated. Xander turned around, facing right and back and looked at a scrawny mane, only Xander new instantly it wasn't a man.

"I take it you're the contractor. Just who the #fuck# are you?" Xander spat out at the demon.

"Name's Whistler, I'm a balance demon," he introduced himself.

"Whistler?" Xander stated darkly, something clicking in his head. "You mean 'let's bring Angel to meat Buffy so he can be a hero, but instead tries to end the world'-Whistler?"

The balance demon sighed. "I admit not one of my best works, I'm also the one who explained to Buffy how to close the vortex," he defended himself.

Xander's eyes narrowed, and with a low dangerous voice he asked, "So why did you have them attack us, and kill me, if you're on our side?"

"Simple," Whistler started his explanation. "He told me to prove to the guys upstairs that the Slayer had lost her way. It was a test. Separate Faith from the rest of you, bring down you and Spike and have Buffy choose. If she chose you all's well, and one souled, but evil psychotic vampire is dust. If she chose him, proof delivered. The sword's were magically imbued, allowing me to resurrect you, and give you some boost in power. A win, win scenario. It worked perfectly . . . other than the fact that you did your own resurrecting and killed several of the good guys."

Xander looked at him, sniggered, laughed. "It seems I'm not the only one not fooled by Sparky's all soulful act, I suppose that should be consolation," Xander said slowly, then looked down at one of the corpses. He bent down and picked up one of the swords. "This one?" Xander asked with a scary grin.

"Yes," Whistler answered taking an involuntary step back.

"I suppose you know what I am, why I'm; to put the wrong things right," Xander said, looking directly at him, and took a step toward him talking onward, "You sent dead boy into Buffy's path, making her dig his all mysterious, soulful - coward - act before she even knew he was a vampire. Without Angel, she'd never be into Spike now. That's a very wrong thing. If it weren't you messing with us, manipulating us - which is a wrong thing in and off itself - we wouldn't be here, with a necrophiliac Slayer. Then you go and attack us with demons, have me killed, more manipulations, that too is a very wrong thing." Xander had slowly advanced on the balance demon during his speech, gently cocking his head from left to right, giving him a very bird-like appearance.

"Listen man, you don't want to do this," Whistle burst out, starting to realize just what Xander was planning. "I work for Him, the One, he'll punish you if you kill one of his people."

Xander just deepened his smile a little, remembering the balance's entity fear of the crow and what it represented. Then he suddenly sped up, and rapidly stuck the sword through Whistler's heart. The balance demon looked astonished at the sword stuck in his chest. "Now I'm putting them right," Xander hissed out, Whistler looking up at him, groaning in pain. With a swift movement of his right arm Xander pulled the sword free, and swung it, severing Whistler's head. The head fell to the floor left, and then a gusher of orange fluorescent blood sprang from the demon's neck. A final blood curdle came from Whistler's mouth as his head bounced on the floor, then his body started dissolving, the orange bubbling blood consuming the body from the inside out, until only a large puddle of the orange stuff was left.

"Shit!" Xander heard one of the remaining demons mutter. When no divine retribution came, no lightning bolts, no floods, no volcano opening underneath Xander's feet, the demons decided they're employment had ended and ran for their lives.

Xander turned around and watched them go, taking a peak at where the leader had been. He was gone already, apparently he had come to the same conclusion as his subjects, only a good while sooner. Xander took a running start and threw the sword. It twisted through the air, and neatly sliced through the former to last demon. In the same motion Xander got out one of his guns, aimed, and fired once. The bullet entered the last demon's head, a splash of blood and brain exiting from the entrance and exit wound. The demon collapsed to his knees and then keeled over dead. Xander hadn't slowed down thought, he was already running again, the crow's caw entering his mind. He gained double vision, seeing through the bird's eyes as well as his own. The bird's view showing him where the last demon was running. Xander ran out the building, and turned to his right. He ran as he saw the demon running up ahead, and grinned. He raised the gun, aimed and fired thrice, his inhuman strength allowing him to easily keep the gun steady. The demon screamed in pain, and grabbed to his upper leg, where the first bullet imbedded itself. The second shattered the knee on the same leg, and the third entered the demon's other leg. Instantly the monster crumpled to the ground.

Xander grinned and calmly turned around and walked back into the warehouse. He went back to the puddle of orange blood that once was Whistler and dipped his hand in it. He looked at it dripping from his hand for a moment, and then grinned. He walked a few meters away and started drawing. He had to get back to the puddle twice more, but after that an outline of a crow was drawn in fluorescent orange on the floor of the warehouse. Xander then took one of the previously tumbled about canisters, and went back outside.

Moments later he arrived back with the leader, who had managed to move only a short distance, with the canister and a pack of matches in his other hand. The demon understood what Xander was planning, and he started pleading, "No, please don't. We're on the same side!"

Xander unscrewed the cap of the can, and then poured the gasoline down all over the demon, which closed its eyes and sputtered the liquid away from his face. "You're not on my side, you're a mercenary, you're on the side of whoever happens to be the highest bidder," Xander told it, finishing drowsing the demon in the flammable liquid. He screwed the cap back on the still mostly full can and threw it aside, not wanting it to go up in flames as well.

"Please! Please no! Not like this! Please no! Let me live! Shoot me! Anything, not this!" the demon pleaded with terror in his eyes, as he looked up at the serenely smiling Xander.

Xander lit a match and held it above the demon, and he said, "Since the guy who killed me is already dead . . . you'll have to do." Xander turned around and started walking away at the same time he let the match stick fall.

"NOOO!" the demon screamed, until the burning match stick reached the gasoline fumes and it igniting setting the demon ablaze. "AAAAAAHHH!!!!" Xander's grin deepened as he heard the demon scream in unimaginable pain, burning to death alive. He calmly kept walking, swooping the cannister with gasoline off the street in a smooth motion, behind him the demon screamed trying to turn off the flames by rolling around, but the gasoline was burning too hot.

"Time for a supply run," Xander told himself, as the crow landed on his shoulder and cawed with satisfaction.


As Xander once again soared over the rooftops of Sunnydale, this time on his way toward the military base, he suddenly took in a peculiar sight. The sun was starting to come up, a lighter ridge on the horizon, Xander took in the sight of a family packing their car and a small wagon hooked behind it. Xander stopped running for a moment, frowned and then jumped down. He walked up to the family of four, father, mother and two small kids who were looking at their mother and father busying about in wonder. When the mother caught sight of Xander she shrieked and took a step back. Her reaction made him remember how he was made up, so quickly he raised his arms disarming, one of them holding the cannister, and said friendly, "Coming from a costume party, went out of gas, not gonna hurt you, just wondering what you are doing."

The woman sighed in relief, and relaxed more when her husband reached her. "We're leaving," she answered.

"Leaving?" Xander asked dumbfounded.

"Come on, you must know," the man answered him. "This place is bad, I mean there have been some pretty freaky things happening hear of the years, but this . . ." The woman shuddered during his pause, and he tightened his embrace. " . . . this is worse, you must feel it to, it's as if . . . as if . . . there's a black hole here sucking away every notion of good."

"It's the last straw," the woman answered, and then returned to do her tasks.

Xander nodded, and looked over into the garage, and his eyes widened at the sight of an off-road bike. *I'm stupid, I'm never going to be able to carry everything all at once,* he thought at the crow, who he knew was around somewhere. He only got a mental caw in return. "What about the bike?" Xander asked casually, pointing at it with his thumb. "You're not taking it with you?"

The man stood up after placing something in the car's trunk and he looked wistfully at the dirt bike. "Doesn't fit, and it isn't that important."

"Could I have it?" Xander asked with a smile, and indicated his cannister with gasoline. "For starters, it would get me to my car a lot faster."

"I don't know," the man said fumbling his key chain in indecision. Suddenly his wife came along, grabbed the key chain from him. "Hey!" the man protested. "We might return one day."

As she took off a key she said, "You promised me you wouldn't ride that death trap again." The man looked sadly as his wife handed the key to Xander with a big smile on her face, "Now it's certain."

Xander took the key, smiling broadly and answered, "Thanks."

"Are you a clown?" a girl's voice sounded and the adults looked down at the five year old girl, who was looking with big hopeful eyes at Xander.

Xander looked astonished at her for a moment, and then smirked. "Yeah, I suppose I am . . . a very bad one thought, with very bad jokes." Xander pouted at her, eliciting a giggle, "I can't seem to make anyone laugh, perhaps it's the clothes, wrong color." The girl giggled again, longer this time. "No, that's not it, I thinks it's that I'm too healthy." Xander tapped his nose, smiling. "Seen their red noses? I never get a big enough cold." Xander gave her a smile and an even bigger pout, and she laughed out loud.

"You're funny," the girl said while still laughing a little, the parents gave Xander a grateful smile.

"Not everybody thinks that," Xander said lightly and then went to the bike. Moments later he had started it and rode out the garage, the man looked sadly at his beloved possession. "Don't worry, I'll take good care of her, perhaps I'll return it to you later," Xander told him smirking.

"Please don't," the woman pleaded, just before Xander rode off.

As Xander rode through Sunnydale he looked left and right, he needed something to put his supplies into. It didn't help much, the garages were all closed, once again the Crow offered assistance. As it flew from one garage to another it looked through the windows, allowing Xander to see as well. "Bingo," Xander said with a grin. He went to the garage, got off his bike, and using his strength he quickly pried open the door. Moments later he came out with a small car, and rope. He bound the car to the saddle of the big, wrapping rope around it a good number of times. He tested his handiwork by yanking the car good several times, when it didn't budge it was satisfied. He placed the cannister in the car, before quickly mounting the bike again and sped off.


The bike made quite some noise as Xander sped through the forest across the dirt road. Jumping a small incline the car went ride along with it, and banged back to the floor. The cannister bounced around a only barely stayed inside. *I really shouldn't do that on the way back,* Xander thought making a mental node of his thought. Eventually he had to turn off the little road, and entered the forest itself. He didn't get far before he couldn't go on with the car, and so he stopped. He couldn't go much farther without the engine alerting anyone on the base anyway, so that was alright. He peered in the distance and could just make out the fence surrounding the army base. He grinned, with his speed he could easily run the distance back and forth a few times.

As he started running the crow went up ahead, cawing happily. The bird quickly reached the base, having a much easier time navigating the trees with its size. It flew up on a roof, checking the buildings contents. It paddled over to the edge and looked down, seeing a guard pull a magnetic strip card through a reader and type in the number 5, 2, 9, 6. With a click the armory door opened and the guard went inside to inspect the place.

*Well,* Xander thought amused, as he reached the fence, and jumped over it smoothly, checking whether nobody was there to see him while in motion. *At least they've upgraded security somewhat.*

He quickly snuck around the building, taking care to avoid being discovered, and flattened himself against the corner. He waited. Not long after, the guard came back outside and walked passed the corner Xander was. Rapidly Xander wrapped his arms around the man's neck in a sleeper hold, squeezing, cutting off the man's ability to call for help. Xander yanked him about, pulling him back toward the fence, cutting off his oxygen supply. When Xander reached the rear of the building he felt the soldier slump in his arms, and Xander quickly put the unconscious man down, and took his keycard. "Sorry about that, but I need this," Xander whispered to him, and quickly snuck back to the front. He pulled the card through the reader, typed in the code, and the door clicked open. Grinning Xander went inside, and looking at the crates, he smiled as the door closed behind him.

"Oh, yeah," Xander whispered, his dark eyes gleaming. "This is heaven." He rapidly went through the stock, some of the more dangerous stuff locked behind safety doors. Definitely improved upon security. He tried the card and code, but it didn't work on those, apparently the lowly guard didn't have the clearance. Most definitely improved, some people in this world apparently learned from their mistakes, a stolen rocket launcher probably was something too big to ignore. Xander smirked, no matter.

He quickly broke open a few crates. An M16, with several cases filled with lines of ammo. He took two standard .45 pistols, and took another 4 in reserve, just in case, and several hard metal cases filled with clips for them. He balanced it all underneath his arms, and on his shoulders wrapped tight by his coat, which he kept caught beneath his arms. He quickly went outside and jumped over the fence again, barely this time, the load holding him back. When he landed he sank to his knees and felt tendons snap. He winced at the pain, then ignored it, standing up, feeling the pain ebb away as they knit back together. He ran to his bike, and quickly put his new armory neatly in the car. He ran back again, jumped over the fence and reached the guard just as he was coming to. "Tell me," Xander whispered, grabbing the man's head gently. "Who has access to the high security sections in the armory?" The soldier of course wouldn't answer Xander, but it wasn't necessary, the thought following the question was enough. Xander's touch telepathy pulled the information instantly from the soldier's mind, and Xander told him, "Sorry about his." With a well aimed punch the soldier's lights went out again.

Xander looked up to the roof of the armory, directly into the eyes of the crow so very similar to his own now. "Go fetch," Xander whispered.

*I'm not a dog,* was the crow's annoyed and amused answer, even as it flew off to do what was asked of him.

Xander grinned, as he went back into the armory, and found himself ammo for shotguns, and quickly took out several cases. His eye fell on another crate and he grinned. After opening it he took out a shotgun, one that was fully automatic and could be put in semi-automatic and manual. He pulled out his own meager normal shotgun, and whispered, "Oh, I so love upgrades." He placed his own back into his coat, it wasn't smart to leave evidence lying around after all. He took a few of the new shotguns, and looked around. Satisfied he had everything he needed except the heavier stuff, he took his new acquisitions and brought them to his bike again. Upon return he reopened the armory and waited. A short while later the crow arrived, and Xander opened the door. The crow flew inside, and after Xander closed the door it flew to him and dropped the security card in his beak into Xander's right hand.

"Took you long enough," Xander commented with a grin.

*Next time I'll transport the weapons, and you can squeeze through a ten centimeter by ten centimeter hole,* the crow mentally deadpanned back.

Xander grinned as he walked over to a security door, thinking back, *First time I meet someone who can keep up with me verbally.* He slid the card through the first reader on a security door, a flash of a hand typing in the code seen through the hand's owner's eyes went through his mind and he typed in the same code. The door opened revealing flame throwers. Xander smirked, and told his companion, "We're going to have put in a trip back to the warehouse to get some more gasoline." The crow squawked, and Xander pulled out one flame throwing unit. He opened the other security doors one by one. From one he got five more rockets for the rocket launcher he still had at home, from another he took several cases filled with high explosives.

"All set," Xander said with a smile. He went back outside, opening the door, and then heard a gasp. Xander turned around looking into the surprised face of the guard he had knocked out twice already. In once hand he held a walkie talkie, ready to sound the alarm. The soldier took Xander in with the same surprise, checking out what Xander was carrying.

In his haste the soldier dropped his communicator, and grabbed his gun from the holster around his waste, and then pointed it directly at Xander's head. "Don't move," the voice ordered nervously. Xander grinned, and slowly put his shopping down. He then took a step forward, getting the gun directly on his forehead.

"You're nuts," the soldier told him timidly, looking in the twinkling dark eyes of Xander.

"Perhaps, and perhaps I just dead," Xander answered with a grin. Rapidly he moved his hand took the gun from the soldier who looked at him astonished. "Again, I'm sorry, but it's for a good cause," Xander said, then knocked the soldier out a third time. "Three times' a charm," Xander said with a sigh, and quickly gathered his stuff, before heading off to his bike.

Chapter 4

The sun was up already, and Xander was meticulously inspecting, and cleaning all of his loot; it wouldn't do to have one of the things blow up in his face, killing his bird and himself in one effective go. As he sat there, doing his work, that would in total take hours, his thoughts continued to wander back to his newly acquired old memories, and the way he lost them, what it did to him. Was Buffy, and her recent behavior nothing more but another victim of some overzealous monks? But why in blazes would the monks who were trying to protect the key in the form of a little sister make Buffy crave dead, demon animated flesh; blood-drinking, murdering vampires? That was rather counter productive - it made no sense. Plus when he was dead, he had both sets of memories, that would mean Buffy had both sets as well when she was in heaven, didn't she? And if she can remember being in heaven, wouldn't that mean she must remember that second set of memories? All those questions and no answers.

He was here to set the wrong things right. He got up abruptly, leaving the inspection to be finished later. He went to his bathroom and wiped the make-up from his face. He needed to right a very import important wrong, right now.


"Willow?" Kennedy asked uncertain from the door to Willow's room. It was an unfamiliar sensation to the potential slayer: uncertainty. Kennedy wasn't ever really uncertain, she was secure. Secure in her abilities, secure of her view of the world, secure in her sexuality, secure about her place in this army that Buffy had raised, hell she was even secure about her chosen girlfriend. She was however completely insecure about what to do about how that girlfriend was inconsolable. Death of a loved one was new to her, and she had no idea how to comfort someone that was going through it.

The redheaded witch sat on her pillow, her legs pulled up, silently sobbing. She looked up, and looked at her girlfriend, and said, "I'll join you . . . in a minute . . . Ken, I just wanna . . . wanna be alone a . . . little longer . . . ok?"

Kennedy decided she did not like being uncertain. Should she go to her, or oblige her wish? She felt so - so empty, so useless, so unimportant. She knew it wasn't fair, Willow knew Xander since they were little children, but she resented Willow somewhat for being so down, so not with her! She was also angry at Xander for dying. He was not supposed to die. He was part of the core group that ran all this, the guy had fought the darkness for seven years straight, those kinds of people weren't supposed to die, were they? Especially not when their presence was needed to help others, him being the only living male here that had been here all the time, he kind of had become the referee for some of the other potentials. His seeming lame jokes diffused situations that threatened to become childish 'she started it' arguments in no time. Those feelings of anger and resentment toward a dead man and her girlfriend in turn bred guilt. Which was once again a whole new territory; Kennedy had been guilty of a lot of things in her short life - no real bad things, but there were lies, the occasional shoplift on a dare - but she never felt guilty about any of that. That in turn painfully drove home the fact that she was very wrong about thinking she knew everything; she did not know everything, she probably didn't know anything at all - which in turn made her even more uncertain. No, Kennedy definitely did not like feeling insecure, she hoped she never would be again, and then she left Willow alone.

Willow sat on the bad, the sobs threatening to become cries of anguish again. Xander, of all the people that could die, why him? All the pleasant memories of him from kindergarten onward rushed back again, and the damn broke once more. Willow cried out loud, realizing she would never have such moments with Xander again.

Suddenly there was a ticking. An insistent ticking that just wouldn't go away. Willow looked up and saw a large black bird sitting in front of the window, ticking its beak against it. "Shoo, go away," Willow called out through her cries. But the bird kept ticking, and ticking, and ticking. Annoyed Willow got up off the bed and walked over to the window. She pulled the window open, and the moment the window was open wide enough, the bird flew into the room, squawking its approval. "Hey!" Willow called indignant as she completed opening the window fully. She turned around and watched the bird swoop through her room, and land on the lamp on her night stand. "Get out," Willow said somewhat perturbed, no real emotion in her voice.

"Hey, Will," a voice sounded that she would recognize from a mile away. It sounded right at the moment she was aware of someone suddenly standing behind her, as if he teleported in. She whirled around and looked up until he saw his face. She stood ramrod straight, shocked in place. This couldn't be! She'd seen his corpse. Xander smiled at her and casually walked around her, until she was the one at the window side, not him. But those dark eyes. Wait! What was she thinking of course it was possible! He was a vampire, had to be, but Buffy hadn't said anything of a vampire attack. Come to think of it, neither of the three survivors had talked much about what had happened.

Xander smiled, and looked into Willow's shocked eyes. "How are you doing?" he asked softly, very gently.

Fire magic! But magic was useless Willow realized, her heart was racing too hard, her thoughts colliding at a million miles per minute, she just couldn't focus enough to do it, and if she did manage it, she couldn't do it without blowing up herself and the house along with it. Willow's head turned right and left, and saw a stake lying on the dresser right next to her. Oh, thank Kennedy's sloppiness. She grabbed the stake and raised it to strike, and hesitated. This was Xander! NO! This was the thing that killed him! Rage erupted through Willow when she thought of the body standing in front of her in that way, and she plunged the stake down toward Xander's heart.

Xander could easily catch Willow's plunging hand, but he was just in too much human shock to react. The only thought racing through his mind was: 'She thinks I'm a vamprie.' He had never considered that possibility, he really should have. The stake plunged home, he felt it tear through his skin and flesh. Pain blossomed from it, he groaned and took a step backward. "Willow," he said as he grabbed the stake and pulled it out. "I'm not a vampire."

Willow's eyes widened in fear as Xander didn't turn to dust. She watched him pull the stake free, tell her something she only fleetingly registered, and then the blood pulled back into Xander's wound and it closed right in front of her eyes. She looked up at him, fear growing, she needed a Slayer here to take down whatever demon Xander had become, but since both were out, she had to settle for a bleached blonde vampire and an army of potentials.

When Xander realized Willow was going to scream, he rapidly crossed the distance and covered her mouth with his hand. The scream was muffled completely. "Ssh!" Xander said, looking into Willow's giant fear-filled eyes. "I'm not a vampire, Willow. I'm not a demon either, I still have my soul. I did die, but I came back from the dead, all on my own. Resurrected is the term, we did with Buffy, remember? I'm here to put the wrong things right." Xander cocked his head at the crow, while he continued, "He did soup me up some though, so I could perform that task. I'm still one of the good guys, ok?"

Throughout his speech Willow's fear was ebbing away, for one thing, since Xander was touching her, that other possibility she had missed earlier - him being the First Evil - was proven quite false. Willow blinked, could it really be? Slowly, very slowly she felt the hand covering her mouth move away. "Xanderisthatreallyyou?Howcomeyoureyesaresodark?"

"Yeah, it's me," Xander answered and pointed at the Crow. "Eyes are his doing, I guess."

Suddenly Willow surged forward, wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her head in his chest, Xander embraced her happily. There her sobbing babbling sounding even less intelligible than usual, "OhXanderIthoughtIlostyou.Nowyou'reback.I'msohappy.What happpened?Whyareyouhere?Whichwrongthings?You'reback!You'reback!You'reback!"

"Ssh, Willow," Xander said gently, having understood only half of what she said. She took a breath and relaxed, then looked up, loosening her hug somewhat. "Let's sit down, you can't tell anyone I'm back ok?" Xander said, gently leading her, and sat down upon the bed with her. "I'll explain," Xander said, and gave her a quick recap of meeting balance, and his resurrection.

"So, you're like an angel, then?" Willow asked with large eyes.

Xander smiled wistfully at her, and answered, "An Angel of Death, perhaps."

"What happened?" Willow asked with a sniff. "How did you die exactly? Buffy and Spike, you know them . . . and Faith won't talk either. She's even freakier than usual? All I got from her was 'You don't want to know.'"

"I think she's right, for now at least. I don't think you should know just yet," Xander answered her softly smiling. "I have a favor to ask Willow. When I came back my memories were restored, Willow. Those without Dawn, the ones that were altered by the monks who made her. I've got two sets of memories now. I'm still the same guy, mostly, but there are some key differences." Willow looked at him uncomprehending. Xander continued, gently, "I know you don't like doing magic anymore, Willow, but do you think you could find a spell to do the same for you, Buffy, Giles, Faith, and Spike? It's important."

"Ok, I could do that, it'll take me some time to find or make a spell that does it, but I can do it," she said gently.

Xander smiled at her, wanting to talk some more, but the crow cawed and then started flying. Xander cocked his head once, and then turned back to Willow. "Sorry, Will, someone's coming," he said as he stood up, give her cheek a quick brush. "Don't tell anyone. Oh, have people touch each other regularly, keeps the FE out." Willow nodded - her eyes widened 'we we're stupid' written all over her face - and watched as Xander dove out the window, but instead of falling he turned upward and climbed up the wall.

A moment later the door opened and Kennedy tentatively walked in, searching for Willow. "Willow?" she asked uncertain. A moment later a red whirlwind attacked her and kissed her deeply and passionately. When they broke apart, Kennedy looked astonished at the broadly smiling Willow. "How?"

"A birdie talked to me," Willow answered happily, earning her a concerned and worried looked from Kennedy. Willow laughed, kissed her girlfriend again, and said, "Wanna help me research a spell?"

"Oh, ok," Kennedy said even more uncertain, following Willow as the redhead brushed past her. They fell in step together, and the raven-haired girl asked, "You're not turning Xander into a zombie are you?" Willow laughed again as she pulled the other girl along.


The crow sat perched on the window sill, looking through the window of the small stone window and listening. Back in his apartment Xander was busy with cleaning a gun, and preparing everything so he could just grab what he needed and go along the way.

With the crow and thus Xander watching, Caleb was there, picking up a goblet with red whine and drank from it. He then wondered about the color of the whine and what would have happened if they had chosen to drink white whine at the last supper, after which he went on and on about trying to find god in all the wrong places.

"Then you showed me the light," Caleb said, and turned around looking at a dark shadow.

The First as Buffy walks from it and asked, "Do you think I'm god?"

"No. No I don't, I'm beyond such concepts," Caleb answered him, smiling.

Xander looked grim at his task and Caleb through the Crow's eyes, and said, "Don't you worry your pretty little head about god, preacher boy. One of his messengers is coming for you."

FirstBuffy looked amused and said, "You still wear the outfit."

"I can't just turn my back on where I come from," Caleb said, his voice thick with his southern accent.

"Do you like what I'm wearing," the First asked, and did a lovely twirl.

Xander watched and listened calmly but uninterested to the sickening two's conversation, until they came to an interesting part. Caleb saying that the First had never shown him the Slayer throughout his time organizing the Bringers and blowing up the Watcher's Council.

"Buffy isn't The Slayer you stupid halfwit," Xander hissed as he furiously polished the gun in his hands. "You're going down, little coward."

Xander heard the Crow caw and then it flew away from the window, and looked down at the scene below it in the forest. Faith and Buffy were there following a lone Bringer.

"No eyes . . . look at him go! Do they have sonar or something?" Faith said incredulously looking at the Bringer walk toward the vineyard.

"They're usually not like this one, they work in threes," Buffy explains to Faith.

Faith continued to track the Bringer, and said, "Makes me think this is a trap." Faith listened to Buffy hiss about how she was done sitting around, and Faith got a little scared. It probably was better to wait until they found out what and where they were. Then Buffy started about avenging Xander's death. First Faith felt a bitter taste in her mouth, as she remembered Buffy not helping Xander, why was she so adamant about avenging Xander's death? But that soon was dispersed by blinding anger, wanting to get to the fuckers who had killed one of the few friends - however tenuously - she had.

Xander tuned out when the two Slayers started talking about their old rivalries and Angel. The crow cawed a short time later and he watched and listened when the Slayers saw the Bringer reach the vineyard, then turn around talking about getting the potentials.

Xander put his work down, thinking over that. He couldn't believe they weren't even going to check out the building, entrance ways and exit ways, let alone how many Bringers there were, whether Caleb was even there. For all they knew they could storm into the place later, find absolutely nothing until the whole place exploded by a ticking bomb. Faith even called it for the trap it was. Fine you can go in knowing something is a trap, but you better be prepared then, expect a trap, and only looking at the walls of the fortress wasn't going to help you one bit. He really wanted to believe they had some kind of plan, but he couldn't. Growling in frustration he got up, put his make-up back on and disappeared into the night.


The Bringer entered the vineyard and walked down the steps, then knelt down in front of Caleb and the First.

"Did they follow?" Caleb asked mildly amused.

'Yes, master,' came the answer, it wasn't a voice, it wasn't exactly telepathy, but the answer was there nonetheless.

"Good," Caleb stated with a grin.

'I have some disturbing information, sir,' the Bringer 'said' for lack of better word.

"What is it?" Caleb added.

'Some of the demons, even the toughest kind, are scared. They say something very, very bad arrived here last night,' the Bringer answered the southern priest. 'Some of them have even decided to flee. They say it's something ancient, something . . . dark.'

"Of course," Caleb answered smugly.

'Not you, sir, not the great master either, the demons said it was something worse. They said it arrived during the sudden storm last night, since then the whole town as been saturated with what they termed as "pitch black" and the more perceptive called a "promise of pain and suffering for the unjust",' the Bringer explained, a little nervously.

"That's preposterous," Caleb exclaimed with conviction. "There is nothing worse than our beloved." Caleb wanted to point at the FE but it was gone. It had left a little earlier, walking through a wall, and looking out into nothingness.

"No," it said softly, breathlessly. "Not you, I won't let you beat me."


Xander sat calmly on the branch in the tree, watching the vineyard. "'Lots of yelling?' That's the signal?" Xander shook his head. "What if the place dampens sound, dimwit? Ever heard of Walkie Talkies? You can find them in every toy store." Faith and a group of SiTs were hanging back outside, while Buffy with Spike at her side - which caused Xander to grimace - and some more SiTs went inside the building. Xander bit his teeth together as the crow once again flew down to the window sill to allow him to watch the proceedings inside. He couldn't believe it. Until now he had been willing to give Buffy the benefit of the doubt, that her brain wasn't completely fried, that she had some plan, some essence of recon on beforehand, but no. The just entered a potentially heavily fortified position, facing potentially heavily superior numbers, through one single narrow entrance way. If one knows something is a trap, or can't for some reason have any intelligence, you make sure the enemy can never close you in, in short: make some more entrance and exit ways, like blowing a hole in each wall, thus you have four wide exit ways, as well as a potential to surround whoever is inside. Xander shook his head, this just couldn't be true.


Buffy, Spike, Molly, Kennedy, Rona and Choa-Ahn came down the chairs of the vineyard, followed by a three more SiTs.

"What is this place?" Molly asked looking around the damp, stone-walled place, large barrels of wine lining the walls.

"Looks like an old vineyard," Buffy commented looking around the place.

Kennedy put her two cents in, "An evil vineyard, huh?"

"Like Falcon Crest," Spike mumbled, looking around.

"Stay alert you guys. Bringers are here somewhere. Just need to find out where," Buffy stated, looking into the shadows trying to see.

Suddenly the Bringers came out of the shadows and from behind the barrels, and attacked. Buffy's group defended themselves, getting a few hits in, but so did the Bringers. The two groups were basically even, neither getting a handle on the other. Buffy threw one aside, and Spike sent a second Bringer sprawling with a punch to the face. Just as suddenly as the Bringers arrived, they stepped back into the shadows. Buffy's group was perturbed, but Buffy hid it quickly, exuding with confidence, as Caleb, in his priest robe stepped out into the light.

Caleb smiled, as he stood in the middle, and said, "Well, now, you girls are just burning with righteousness, aren't you? Problem is, you think you're blazing like suns, when really you're burning like matchsticks in the face of darkness. You having fun? Now, I hope my boys haven't worn you out too much - I need you fit for when I purify you."

Buffy got angry at that, took a step forward and told him, "Save the sermon, Padre, I hear you have something of mine."

Caleb gave a chuckle, before answering, "Well, I do now. You liked my little message, did you? You know, I ruined a perfectly good knife on that girl. Got her soiled blood all over the place. I may have to get a new truck." Buffy was taken aback by his statement, this guy had no human feelings at all it seemed. Caleb continued his tale undisturbed, "So, you're the Slayer. The Slayer. The strongest, the fastest, the most aflame with that most precious invention of all mankind - the notion of goodness. The slayer must indeed be powerful." Caleb seemingly casually threw a backhanded punch that connected solidly with Buffy's jaw, and she was sent speeding through the air, not hitting the ground until five meters further, and then rolling around several times before stopping. "So," Caleb stated superiorly, "what else you got?"

Everyone was stunned for a moment, then Spike vamped out and attacked the priest. Caleb grabbed the vampire easily and held him down. With a smile he gave Spike a head but and then casually tossed him aside. Spike flew through the air and crashed into a large wine tank, which splinted on his impact, wine pored down over the vampire and he was washed aside.

"Let's go!" Kennedy commanded, finally shaking herself free of her shock, and surged forward at Caleb. The other potentials followed, but before Kennedy could reach Caleb the Bringers returned to the fray and one of them intercepted her. As Kennedy struggled with the Bringer, she managed to disarm him of his knife, at which point Caleb punched her in the face and sent her reeling back into a few wine barrels, bruises quickly forming.

"Kennedy!" Rona exclaimed worried, and went to help the raven-haired girl. Caleb intercepted her though, and she swung her spiked bat at him.

Caleb easily caught the bat, and said casually, "Now, miss, I do believe you have your own problems you should be worrying about." Caleb grabbed the black girl's arm, and snapped it with ease. Rona screamed in pain, staggering back. Caleb gave a chuckle and bent down to retrieve the knife that Kennedy knocked from the Bringer's hands. He tossed it to the Bringer who lost it, and the Bringer caught it, then plunged it toward Rona. The potential twisted her body and so the knife only got stuck in her shoulder instead of her heart. She screamed at the pain, but then got relief when the Bringer's arm got skewered by the sword of a newly arrived potential, which made him need to pull himself free and he sank to the floor.

The second team had arrived, and Caleb said happily, "Oh good, there's more of you."

Faith held two knives, advancing on Caleb, as potentials fought with Bringers behind and around her. She attacked Caleb, but he easily avoided her blows and slices. She paused, and Caleb looked her up and down, and casually remarked, "You're the other one, aren't you? You're Cain to her Abel." Faith threw a knife at him, but he once again easily avoided it. "No offense meant to Cain, of course."

Faith attacked Caleb with her other knife, but he grabbed her arm, twisted it, and crossed it with her other one. Faith looked directly into Caleb's eyes, but she couldn't move. He squeezed her hands until she was forced to drop the knife. Faith grunted at him and kneed him in the crotch, causing Caleb to let go of her just enough that she could escape his grasp. Then she backhanded him across the face.

Gritting her teeth, Faith said, "Never was much for the good book."

Caleb grabbed Faith's arm and twisted it painfully behind her back, causing her to double over. She fell to her knees as he twisted and pulled her arm. He walked around to the front of her, going on another sermon, "Oh, it has its moments. Paul had some good stuff, for instance. But overall I find it a tad complicated." He gave Faith a hard slap, pausing his speech for the moment, but quickly continued, "I like to keep things simple." He kicked Faith across the room into a stack of wine barrels, making him pause his speech once more. "Good folk, bad folk . . ." he continued, grabbing the sword from long-haired raven potential who had swung it at him. He then grabbed onto her face, adding, " . . . clean folk, dirty folk." Caleb snapped the potential's neck with a casual flick of his wrist and dropped her to the ground.

Molly watched Caleb kill her fellow sister potential, and screamed out, "NO!"

Her outburst drew Caleb to her, and he said, "Yes." Caleb continued menacingly toward Molly, who backed up slowly, frozen with fear. Across from Caleb a Bringer started fighting with the once again risen Kennedy, but it was obvious Caleb's earlier hit, weakened her physically as well as mentally. The Bringer was starting to win. Molly raised her arm to stab Caleb with her knife, but he grabbed her wrist, then her neck. Behind Caleb another potential got pummeled by a Bringer. Closer to where Buffy slowly came to, a Bringer threw Amanda against a wall and continued his attack on her. Buffy stood up just as Caleb squeezed Molly's neck, lifting her off the floor. Caleb took Molly's own knife from her and held it up. "What can I say? I work in mysterious ways," he said, and was about to plunge the knife in when a small bolt penetrated his knife hand. Across from him a same bolt penetrated the Bringer's forearm who was about to stab Kennedy in her heart, causing it to drop his knife.

"Ah!" Caleb yelled out, grabbing the painful hand with his right one, letting go of Molly, and she fell to the floor. Angry he looked at the bolt and pulled it free, looking up to where it came from. There on the steps, on the plateau in the shadowed corner stood a man, dressed all in black, it seemed as if darkness itself had enveloped him. His long flowy, black, leather coat still whirled around him, obviously he had just landed there, and had turned around and shot the bolts from the two wrist mounted crossbows in one move, and his aim had been perfect. His longish hair was flowing around his head and face, and with the long standing up collar of the coat it kept most of it obscured, increasing the fearful effect when he looked at someone allowing that someone to see his face. That face was the most striking aspect of him; pale like death, Caleb couldn't discern whether that was make-up or his natural color. His eyes were black around, and his irises were so dark brown it almost looked black, and from Caleb's position it seemed black. Blood red stripes were in the middle of his eyes, above and below, the ones below went all the way down where it intersected with black lightly curved upward lines coming from his lips, which were completely black as well.

"Retreat! Now!" came Xander's command, even as Caleb watched him pull two guns from beneath his coat. The command had effect, because Caleb was vaguely aware of Molly scampering away from him, toward the exit, and so did other potentials. His main attention though was on Xander, who fired both guns twice, his aim switching in between shots, one of the shots directly aimed at him. Caleb twisted his head and body back, only narrowly avoiding the bullet that shot right past him. Around him, three Bringers dropped dead, each having a whole to their heads.

Caleb looked back in anger at the mean, and for a moment, as all the good guys started their difficult retreat, their gazes locked. Caleb felt a shiver go up his spine when he saw those eyes - these #were# burning like the sun, with anger, rage, desire to inflict pain, and righteousness, righteous revenge. An unsaid understanding passed between the two: they would meet again, and for at least one of them it wouldn't be pretty. It was then that Caleb recognized him. "The one who sees," he whispered in surprise, as he watched Xander dash up the stairs.

A few seconds later only Caleb, and the Bringers were left in the vineyard. "Well," Caleb stated flippantly. "That was unexpected. Mr. Harris has decided to branch out on his own, and take up modern weapons again. This changes things . . . not much, but it changes things." Caleb turned half around and looked at the First who arrived just then, it didn't look happy. "Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing," the First answered flatly before stalking off.


"Who was that guy?" Amanda asked breathlessly as the whole group was back safely out in the woods.

"Don't know, didn't get a look on him," Molly answered with a quivering lip, still afraid because of her near death experience. "He sounded familiar though."

"Who told anybody to obey him?" Buffy suddenly blurted out looking around the group. "We can't start obeying strangers!"

"You did too," Faith pointed out logically.

"That's because everyone else was going, I can't fight them all at the same time," Buffy answered her fellow Slayer, a haunted look in her eyes.

"From where I'm standing," Rona commented with difficulty, hanging onto Kennedy with her good arm, "he saved all our lives."

"Yeah, B, I think you know it was time to retreat as well, you're just got your panties in a bunch because someone else voiced it first," Faith added, trying to keep the peace. *And got a good few kills in while all of us combined got nothing,* Faith added silently, remembering the frightening accuracy of the shots, killing three Bringers with ease from such a distance. She also remembered her gun battle with Angelus, and wondered how much of her and him avoiding the shots was luck and bad aim, and how much was speed and agility.

Nobody noticed Spike stare off in the distance, he knew who the mystery man was. He had smelled him. Harris! There was something strange to his scent, but it was still unmistakably him. How he could still be alive he didn't know. And he could still smell him now, but he couldn't pinpoint him. Suddenly without warning he felt a hand wrap around his mouth, and another around his waist and was yanked away and pulled along as if he weighed no more that a match stick.

"SPIKE!" Buffy exclaimed in fright and concern as without warning the vampire was dragged off into the woods and nobody had been able to do anything about it. "We have to go help him!" she said afterwards with wide eyes.

"Broken arm, stab wounds, and lots of other injuries all around," Rona remarked dryly, "and we don't have Speedy Gonzales healing."

Buffy took in her words, and realized Rona was right. "Faith, you take them to hospital, I'll go rescue Spike." Then Buffy ran off in the general direction Spike was pulled into.

Faith blinked at that, took a breath, and said, "You heard the general, let's get you all to the hospital."


Spike slammed against a tree and landed on his ass, then looked up at the black figure, with the pale face. Filled with false bravado he said, "Well, hello, Droopy. Nice paint job - didn't know you were an artist. Do you want the same treatment as Wood?"

Xander didn't answer, he just stared down at Spike with those dark, dark eyes. It didn't require an empath to feel the hate radiating from him. "Come on, Harris, do it." Spike paused and gave a chuckle, "Buffy's little lapdog, that's what you always were, can't do anything without her permission."

"Wrong," Xander answered, his voice was so cold and filled with hate that Spike felt a chill run up his already cool spine.

Spike continued with his taunting though, "You don't have the guts. You kill me and Buffy's going to kill you, and you know it. You just may have the balls to fight me, but never your precious Buffy."

Spike felt the animal blood he'd been feeding off drain from his face as he saw the cold and cruel smile form on Xander's face. Suddenly Xander shot forward as he bent down. Spike's eyes widened, realizing he was much to late to stop him from doing from whatever he was going to do. He felt Xander's hands - warm to Spike's surprise - grab his head. Suddenly there was a flash that shot through his dead brain. He didn't know what it was, but Xander took a step back. "You son of a bitch," Xander muttered, looking down at Spike. "You're even worse than I thought." Spike stayed silent, gritting his teeth.

In the distance, coming closer, Buffy's voice sounded, calling for Spike, asking him to shout if he could. Xander cocked his head in the same direction, then back at Spike. "Don't worry, Sparky," Xander stated icily cold. "When I'm done with the First and his crony, I'm coming for you. And I'm going to make you suffer." Then Xander shot away into the night.

Chapter 5
Angel of Death

Willow walked into the hospital room that the nurse had said contained the most potentials. Of the thirteen potentials Buffy had taken, six were heavily wounded, one was dead, and two more mildly wounded. Who was who though, Willow didn't know. Willow's heart broke when she saw the state they were in, they had their asses handed to them. Rona to the left had a broken arm, and she had a stab wound in her shoulder. There were several more stab wounds, and one broken leg. Willow felt sad, hollow. She could have been there, her magic probably would have allowed to kick this priest's ass, at the very least offer equal footing, but she was tuck protecting the ones left in the house.

Then she saw Kennedy, sitting next to Rona - the most heavily wounded - of them all. When Willow saw that Kennedy was basically ok, relief flooded her and she quickly went over to her girlfriend. Willow felt that Kennedy's presence there wasn't just lending strength to Rona, all of the other potentials benefitted from it. Where was Buffy though? She had heard about Spike getting attacked, but he was back at the house already, and she had met Faith on the way down here, she was pacing outside the operating room where one of the SiTs with internal bleeding had been wheeled off too. She'd seen the haunted look in the raven-haired slayer, and she'd surprised herself when she had given Faith a hug, almost ending the world had a way of looking differently at the relatively mild crimes of the Slayer, and she'd had lots more excuses and reasons behind her behavior.

When Willow reached Kennedy she quickly wrapped her arms around the potential, and held her very close. "Thank the goddess," Willow whispered, as Kennedy's arms wrapped around her. Willow then pulled her head from Kennedy's shoulder and looked at the other potentials. "Mind if I steal her from you guys for a few moment?" They smiled and made shooing gestures. Willow smiled back and pulled Kennedy out of the room.

The two of them walked a short distance until they found a small space with some privacy. Willow caught Kennedy's lips in a quick, but passionate kiss. "I was so worried," Willow whispered with relief.

"Only me?" Kennedy choked out.

Willow looked up and saw her girlfriend's eyes misting up. "Of course not, but you're special," Willow told her softly.

"Doesn't help Jennifer any, her neck is still broken," Kennedy choked out before breaking down crying on Willow's shoulder. The redhead held her close, making soothing sounds with her mouth, and gently pulled the raven-haired girl over to a few chairs, and sat down with her. "God, Willow, we were so completely unprepared. Nobody even knew what the insides looked like. Th-this C-Caleb, he smacked slayers around like they were nothing. The only reason why the rest of us are still here is because we got lucky: some guy came to help us."

"Some guy?" Willow asked, already having a good idea who that was.

"Used guns," Kenned whimpered, a bitter tone slipping in. "I didn't even know they could be effective against these things. Four shots, three Bringers dead. Ordered us to retreat and we luckily did. He was all in black, I-I think is face was painted."

"Xander," Willow whispered, recognizing the 'all in black' from that morning, and then realizing her screw up. Kennedy jerked back and looked at Willow, searching her features not knowing what to think. Willow decided to come clean. "The man who saved you was Xander. He came to me this morning, he's been resurrected, sent back to the world to set the wrong things right, he said," Willow said softly, a big smile on her face and in her eyes. Kennedy looked perturbed. "Trust me, Ken, I know Xander. He's not evil, and he's not a demon, he's not a vampire either . . . I checked, staked him but good, no harm to him at all."

"Y-you sure?" Kennedy asked, a mixture of doubt, elation, fright and optimism running across her face, and laced in her voice.

Willow nodded, and said, "But don't tell anyone else yet. Xander's asked me to do that spell we've been searching for. I think he's planning something that requires the others not to know yet he's back."

Kennedy looked into Willow's eyes, and slowly felt a smile creep up her face, which then lowered again, when she was reminded of her sadness. "Will, it was so hard in there, in their room. I had to be there for them, keep smiling reassuring them everything was going to be fine, and all I wanted to do was cry myself."

"I know, that's why I took you out of there for a while," Willow mumbled, tightening her embrace a little. "I felt so proud of you standing there giving them your strength." Willow felt Kennedy tighten the hug, and she felt gratified by it. "We're going to win this, don't worry. Now that Xander is back Caleb and the First won't stand a chance."

Kennedy nodded, and they shared another kiss, before the two walked back to the room with potentials. "Have you seen Buffy?" Willow asked worried.

"Not really," Kennedy answered Willow. "I know she's around somewhere, I've seen her peek past the door but nothing else." Willow nodded, when a brightly smiling Faith came bounding down the corridor. "She's . . .?" Kennedy let the question hang there. Faith nodded as she pulled the other two women along, and they reached the room with the potentials soon after.

"Guys, good news," Faith said with a grin, the potentials looked up at her with home. "Brenda is going to be fine, she won't be able to fight with us anymore, but she's going to be fine. Apparently the hospital is going to evacuate, because the rest of the Sunnydale population is doing the same, and they'll take her along." There were several howls of happiness and relief coming from the potentials, which were rudely interrupted when a scowling Buffy entered the room.

"What's all the yelling about?" she asked darkly.

"Brenda is going to be fine," Rona answered automatically.

Buffy nodded, "Good, she can concentrate on healing up, like you should too, we're going to need every able bodied fighter." The Buffy turned around and started walking away.

"She won't," Faith said bitterly. "Brenda won't heal up quickly enough to fight. She'll be taken out of Sunnydale when the town evacuates." Buffy turned her head slightly to her right, looking half to the floor, and half and Faith, then nodded and walked away. After rounding a corner Buffy held her stomach, as sobs wracked her body, wishing Xander was still alive to comfort her.


Dawn walked along the street. The sun had just come up. She hadn't gotten a lot of sleep, researching the priest where he got his strength from, and anything on the identification of the mysterious stranger that had apparently saved all of their lives . . . except Jennifer's. It wasn't fair, why did everyone who Dawn liked have to die? Her mother, Tara, Xander, and now Jennifer. She had enjoyed the black-haired girl's company, had started to consider her a friend even. Dawn felt tears flowing from her eyes, once again. She wondered if she could ever run out of them. Finally in the morning she come to the startling realization that nobody had gone to Xander's apartment yet, everyone wrapped up in stopping the Apocalypse . . . if that was even what the First wanted. Nobody had gone to see if he might have had something useful lying around in his apartment, or any mementos . . . a will.

When she was close enough to Xander's apartment building she looked at his room and was startled when she saw light burning in one window. It couldn't be Willow, she knew she was still in the house, apparently extremely excited about some kind of spell she had found, Dawn hadn't really payed attention. She knew Anya was busy teaching the SITs something, who was left who had a key? Buffy? Nah, her sister was just too much wrapped up in her vampire fantasy boyfriend. Perhaps she shouldn't have threatened to make Spike wake up ablaze, and simply have done it. Dawn shook the pleasant fantasy away, the light was the important thing. She could go get Buffy, better yet Faith . . . Dawn shook her head, and put her hand in her coat. She fingered the cross, the holy water and took a hold of the stake. She could do this alone. As she cautiously moved forward, she missed the big black bird up above, squawking.


Xander grinned as he saw the girl stalking along through the crow's eyes, and then continued with his internet search on his laptop. Several minutes later the door swung open. "Who's there!?" Dawn's voice called out. Xander smiled a proud smile; he was devoid of his make-up. "I'm armed, I know how to kick ass, and dust vampires!"

"In the living room, Dawnster!" Xander called out, mirth in his voice.

Dawn froze, feeling chills run down her spine. It couldn't be him, but she'd recognized his voice. Several possibilities entered her mind, none of them good, as she stalked forward, taking careful steps until she found him sitting on the couch, casually taking a sip from a mug, and looking at his laptop. He looked up, and greeted, "Hey, Dawn. And before you try to stake me like Willow did, I'm not a vampire, or a demon. I'm resurrected." Xander then stood up and took a step toward, then stayed standing there.

Dawn stayed still fully on guard, thinking it over. Then she very slowly inched her way forward lifting a tentative finger, until she realized that if he wasn't the First, doing this would only help him, and the First couldn't hurt her anyway. Rapidly she took a few steps forward, poked Xander in the chest, causing him to yelp, and then backed up again. Dawn blinked, seeing Xander rub his chest, and she said, "You're not the First."

"Nope, I'm not," Xander answered with an amused smile, and with a caw the crow fluttered into the living room and landed on the counter next to Dawn, then cawed again. Dawn looked at it, fear coursing through her body, a warning voice constantly screaming, 'Demon! Run!' Somehow though something kept her there, something told her things weren't that easy. "Pet him," Xander told her friendly, sitting back down. "Likes it."

Dawn didn't know why, but the crow had a soothing effect, and she tentatively reached for it, and then stroked its head and the feathers on its back. The crow moved its head against her head, almost like a cat. Dawn didn't think a bird like this would do that, but then this didn't seem like any old, normal bird. Dawn stopped her stroking of the bird and turned back to Xander, eyes wide, seeing the mostly black clothes, the coat hanging over a chair across from him. "That's really you, isn't it Xander?" Dawn whispered in awe. Xander nodded. Her sister came back from the dead, now Xander, only Tara and her mother to go and she'd have the set complete. Suddenly something klicked, and Dawn said, "You're the mysterious stranger who saved them last night!"

Xander nodded, saying, "Yes, I wish I was on time for Jennifer, I know you liked her. Please don't tell anyone else I'm back though. Not quite ready yet."

Only moments after Xander finished speaking, Dawn crashed into him, wrapping her arms across his neck and crushing him in a hug. "You're back! You're really back!" Dawn cried out, half in disbelief, half utter joy, and then started planting (chaste) kisses all over Xander's face. "You're back!" she cried out again in joy.

"Yeah, I'm back, Dawnie," Xander answered with a smile, hugging her tightly. "Just not one of the extraordinary people anymore. Blackie here souped me up." The crow cawed in indignation at his newly acquired nickname. "I'm one of the degenerates now."

Dawn pushed herself away from him, and took a good look of him. "Uh, uh," Dawn said, shaking her head. "You might be powered up, but you'll never be a degenerate."

Xander smiled, "Thanks, Dawn. That does resurrected guys good."

"So, this Caleb-dude," Dawn asked, as she laid her head on Xander's chest, and he stroked her hair. "Can you take him?"

Dawn looked up and saw something she didn't think she'd ever see; a feral, predatory smile crept up Xander's face. It didn't frighten her one bit, she only felt a sense of satisfaction that the bastard who had taken away two friends already was going to get his. Xander's answer satisfied her even more, "#Soon#, he'll pay." Xander looked down at her, smiled, and said, "How about we go back to Casa del Summers, and check if Willow is done with her spell already, hmm?"

"What's the spell about?" Dawn asked interested as she got up.

"Memory restoration, the memories without you, they'll need them, both sets," Xander explained shortly, getting up out of the couch. Dawn was a little down, but she nodded in understanding.


The potentials were sitting in the living room, along with Faith, Giles, Robin, Anya, and Andrew. Buffy and Spike entered the place, and Faith asked, characteristically gruff, "So why did you all call us here?"

"Where's Willow, Dawn, and Kennedy?" Buffy asked looking around the gathering.

The potentials looked blankly. Giles answered, "Don't know where Dawn is. Willow and Kennedy have been cooped up in their room quite a lot."

"No matter," Buffy said shrugging it off. "We have new enemy . . ."

"We know about Caleb," Vi answered timidly.

"Yeah," Rona said with resentment, she lifted her broken arm in a sling. "I got to see his handiwork up close and personal remember."

"On top of Caleb," Buffy answered bitterly, her face practically blank. The potentials' eyes widened fearfully, and they muttered among themselves. "Calm down!" Buffy ordered, looking around the circle. "We keep calm and we can beat Caleb and this new guy." Giles lightly averted his head, so did Faith. With a haughty air, Buffy continued, "The man who fired the guns last night, who ordered the retreat, that you all followed without question; he attacked Spike afterwards. Spike got a few good hits in, freeing himself, but he's known him from before his soul, were pals once. The guy is pure evil."

The potentials looked blankly, as Robin got the first hit in, "Exactly how does attacking a Spike equate evil?" Buffy looked blankly at Robin, not understanding the question.

"Exactly, B," Faith said, getting up with a dismissive air, some of her anger spilling over. "From where I'm standing he saved our lives, took out some bad guys, and attacked a vampire. In my book that means he's a good guy. If you expect me to go hunt down a potential ally just because the bleached, wonder corpse over there said so, you can forget about it."

"I thought you of all people should now false pretenses in order to lure people into someone's clutches," Buffy bit back at the former rogue Slayer.

"Yeah, B, I do," Faith told Buffy with a huffy air about herself, she pointed both index fingers at Spike and said, "Now unlike him, the guy actually showed he cared about us. All I get from his major blonde Slayer obsession, and apart from him and you telling me I haven't seen #anything# that shows me he's got a soul. I've faced Angelus, and I know Angel - night and day - haven't seen anything like that in him."

"What is that supposed to mean?!" Spike asked out loud.

Faith flicked her eyes to the door behind Buffy and Spike for a moment as Dawn entered, then returned her gaze to Spike and said, "It means, Sparky, you better not come too close to me without warning, if you don't want to be food for the dust buster." Faith then turned to the stairs and walked toward it, angry, berating herself for letting herself go like that. But circumstances were closing in on her, she didn't really know a way out, and that was grating on her.

She was stopped when a very excited Kennedy came down the stairs. She smiled as she looked at the gathering and said, "Buffy, Faith, Giles, Anya, and Spike follow me. Willow's got something. The rest of you guys wait here." Kennedy then turned around and started walking back up the stairs, apparently expecting everyone to obey her without question. The group mentioned looked at each other for a moment, and then Buffy tried to protest. "No! Come! This is important!" Kennedy cut her off, and as the rest of the group started filing up the stairs, she too followed.

"I'm coming with you," Dawn stated firmly, and she too went up the stairs.

Some moments later the group entered Kennedy and Willow's room and found the witch sitting on the floor of the room, candles burned brightly around her in a distinct pattern, and her eyes were jet back.

"Take a seat," Willow told them calmly.

Not daring to interrupt the super powerful witch who was obviously in deep concentration and channeling an enormous amount of power they carefully sat down. As Dawn sat herself down on the bed, next to a smiling Kennedy, she noticed the crow sitting outside the window, looking in. "Good," Willow stated, and started chanting, "From beyond time and space I call for thee, that which was must return to us, memories altered, memories return, here my call, make the wrong right." Willow went rigid, and a sphere of energy pulsed from her. She felt it hit her own mind first, and as it did its work, she was vaguely aware of it hitting the other people present. Except Kennedy, and Dawn, all went rigid, their eyes flung open as the energy entered their minds. The energy found the real memories that were still there hidden, and brought them to the fore.

A few moments later the energy dissipated, and Willow smiled a wide smile as she went over her real memories. "What the bloody hell!?" Spike asked irritated. "You restored our real memories, exactly how is that going to help us fight the First?"

"Exactly," Buffy started, equally annoyed, but Faith interrupted her.

"You're fake!" Faith accused at Dawn. "The squirt isn't real."

Dawn got up and spit at Faith, "I AM REAL! Just any memories of me before three years ago are fake!"

"Hey, chill, kid. Sorry, I didn't mean it that way," Faith apologized, with her hands up to show her innocense.

"This is so cool!" Anya called out with a wide grin. "Double the orgasm memories." The people and non-person groaned out in frustration. "What? Don't tell you haven't thought the same thing!" Anya defended herself.

"I haven't," Buffy stated, as she got up. "Why are you wasting our time with this, Willow? We've got real important stuff to do."

"I-I . . ." Willow tried, not knowing what to say, her eyes misting up.

Kennedy was slowly getting fed up with Buffy's putting down of her girlfriend and she got up, saying angrily, "Willow rightly thought there might have been something in the unaltered memories to allow us to beat the First. So apparently there's nothing there in that regard . . . big deal, it isn't as if this took that long, nor is it somehow intervening with any of the other research going on - which results by the way are exactly the same: squat!"

Willow looked from her best friend to her girlfriend, and placed a calming hand above Kennedy's knee. "It's OK, Ken. Calm down," Willow requested sadly. Kennedy looked down at Willow, feeling sad for her, as the rest of the people present just looked at Kennedy and Buffy to see if the argument would continue.

Buffy looked at Kennedy, seemingly unaffected, except an harder edge in her eyes, then spun around, saying, "Come on, Spike. This was a waste of time, I've got to find your attacker, seeing as everyone else refuses to kill evil things lately." Spike snorted in agreement, and followed the blonde Slayer out.


"Nothing," Xander whispered bitterly from his position on the branch in the tree. "Buffy is still Spikey wikey wuv you. No difference what so every." The crow flew from its position in the house and went to a place where it could look at Buffy and Spike, and found the first in the latter's arms in her room. Spike was soothing her, and Buffy was complaining that nobody but him understood her, and that the others didn't understand the hardship she had to go through. After a few moments she was calmed down, and she said she was going out to try and find the man she once called her best friend, and who was sitting in a tree watching her. Xander shook her head. "Bitch," he whispered, when the crow cawed. It suddenly flew up and entered an open window.

Xander blinked, and waited, looking through the crow's eyes as it hid on occasion to avoid being seen. Eventually it found a pile of photographs, and the potential studying them left to go get a drink and a short break. The crow flew over to the table, picked up one picture and then flew the same way back. Eventually it landed on Xander's shoulder and let the picture fall in his hands.

Xander looked at the picture, seeing a round imprint in a wooden beam, and he looked closer at it. "Imprint of Caleb's ring," Xander whispered, seeing a few cracks leading from the imprint. *#She# is different, #she# got scared,* Xander remembered the words of the eternal entity talking to him beyond death. "My, my, Caleb, what has got you so riled up you smashed your fist there. What are you afraid of?" Xander mused, and then pulled out a lighter and lit the photograph. He watched it burn, and didn't let go. He looked disinterested as the fire burned his hand, although the pain did cause him to wince. He let the ashes fall and looked at his hand healing rapidly, then decided to follow Buffy.


Dawn stalked out of the room, Faith casually following her. The others slowly filed out of Willow's room as well. Dawn entered her own room upset, one potential who was there doing whatever she was doing, took one look at Dawn's angry face and quickly left the room. Faith entered a moment later. "I'm sorry," she said softly.

"For what?" Dawn spat at her. "For calling me fake?"

"No, for everything," Faith answered subdued. "Even the things I now know I didn't do, 'cause I know if you had been there, I would have done them."

Dawn laughed, and then said, "That's a little late, isn't it? I know you didn't do it, but that doesn't mean I don't remember being stuck in the hall closet, crying as loud as possible, while you were doing who knows what with my mother!" Faith hung her head in shame. "You've been here three days, and all you've done is give me lip; 'Look I'm the Slayer, miss Tough Girl', and #now# you apologize are playing nice? What's the matter? Think we're not going to make it?" Faith's eyes flickered, and she looked up fleetingly. "Oh, god," Dawn said and gave a amused, condescending laugh. "That's exactly it. Xander's dead, you can't apologize to him anymore, so now you're quickly working off the rest of us and hope the balance goes over to the other side. You're apologizing because you think we're all going to die, show the man upstairs your good intentions, so he'll choose to send you up to bliss, instead of down to the fires." Dawn shook her head, and then she got angry and walked over to Faith and started pushing her out of the room, yelling, "Get out! And stay out!" When Faith was pushed out into the hall, Dawn added, "And for your information we're not going to lose."

With a heavy heart, Faith asked, "Got that much confidence in Buffy?"

"No," Dawn answered Faith, as she started slamming the door shut. "Not Buffy."

Faith looked at the door and then stalked away, angry with herself. Several SiTs she met on the way to the garden, quickly stepped aside for fear of becoming the object of that anger. Outside Faith took several deep breaths and then started a heavy work out, imagining an opponent to fight. She had gotten good at that during her prison time. At the moment she hated herself, because Dawn was right, partially. She had apologized to her because of Xander's death, because she had failed to do so on time with him, because she did think they were all going to die . . . And because she thought of herself as a coward. Why didn't she tell everyone what happened when Xander died? After last night's fiasco it seemed the SiTs were no longer so willing to follow the holier-than-thou one everywhere, and Red seemed willing to at least think on her own to feet. But how could she go against Buffy after all she put her through? Plus she was too scared of what would happen to the SiTs if she was wrong, they did boot her out, and she wasn't here anymore to help protect them.

"My, you are still poetry in motion," a voice called, and Faith jerked to face . . . the Mayor.

Faith blinked, several feelings of compassion and daughterly love flooded her being, before she quickly stomped them out, being replaced with repulse and hate. The Mayor was dead, this wasn't him, this was the First, and even if it was, the Mayor was evil. "What the fuck do you want?" Faith stated angrily.

MayorFirst smiled, and took several steps forward, letting his hand slide down next to her cheek, as if he could still touch her. Angrily Fait instinctively tried to swat the arm away, but her own just past through. The Mayor smiled, "Ah, my spitfire, I've missed you."

"You're not him, you just look like him, do you think I don't know? That I'm stupid or something?" Faith asked angrily.

"You're wrong Faith," the Mayor said, but his voice was different, it was that of Xander Harris. Faith took in a sharp breath, her throat choking up, as she saw the Mayor transform in Xander Harris. "I may be the First, but I'm more than that. I actually am the person I change into, I #am# Xander Harris."

"What do you want from me? I'm just muscle, shouldn't you go pester Buffy? Or the great redeemed Spike?" Faith asked, her voice heavy.

XanderFirst gave her his familiar lopsided grin, "And not talk to the #real# Slayer around here? I don't think so. You were having fun weren't you, practicing how to kill."

"How to fight," Faith correcting uncertainly. "And I kill demons."

"Hmm, mm," XanderFirst agreed mockingly. "Right, you actually think you can keep those dark impulses in check, my beautiful? You belong with me, in the darkness. You don't have any friends, none of them care about you, but you know I do." The First changed back into the Mayor, saying, "How could I not?" After that he turned back into Xander, "You didn't even apologize. 'I'm sorry', is that so much to ask, Faith? I know why you didn't apologize, because deep down you feel like you didn't do anything wrong, that they deserved everything they got from you, and more."

"No," Faith whispered, her heart beating hard in her chest. "That's not true."

"Isn't it? Didn't you have the urge to smash your fist into that ungrateful brat's face?" XanderFirst taunted. Faith took a step back, she did have that impulse for a moment, when Dawn accused her of being things she wasn't. "Except it, Faith, the only thing you are good for is good lay, a nice way to lose my virginity. Do you think I'd bother saving you if I didn't think you were that? You haven't actually convinced yourself you were wrong in my motivations when I came to talk to you did you? Why would anyone good want to bring a skank's ass like you into the light? You look so much better draped in darkness, nicely bent over the bed."

"Stop it!" Faith told the First with quivering lips, tears threatening to spill from her eyes.

XanderFirst laughed, and added, "I hate you Faith, don't you get that yet? Do you think that little greeting I gave you was anything but to make sure the potentials didn't see anymore disagreement in the ranks? Dawn always was a blabbermouth. You actually think #I# would forgive you for trying to kill me? Then Angel really got to you with his redemption crap. There will #never# be redemption for someone as sickening as you."

Faith stood nailed to the ground, sobs threatening to poor forth from her, joining the few tears that were already streaming down from her face. "I'm so sorry, Faith," the Mayor's voice sounded. "I'm so sorry. Xander's hatred of you got the better of me. I'm so sorry, I love you, you know that, I should have stopped it sooner. I'll leave you now, my presence won't do you any good, right now. Again I'm so sorry."

Without a sound the First disappeared, and Faith started to sobbing in earnest, unable to keep her emotions bottled up. She took a few steps toward Xander's former grave, and sank down onto her knees. She saw the stick had fallen over and crying she crawled to it, picked it up, and rammed it back in to the ground. She placed her hand on the soil, and whispered, "It can't be true, it can't be. Please, don't hate me, Xander."

A few moments later a voice roused Faith back to some of her senses. "I take it that was the First. Some of the potentials were wondering," Robin said gently. Faith whipped her head around, looking up at him, and she nodded, hastily trying to dry her tears. "He got to you good didn't he? Who was he?"

As she stood up, Faith debated whether she answer the him, finally deciding for it. "A former employer of mine, he was kind of a father figure."

"Some employer," Robin answered her gently.

"And Xander," Faith added, her lip quivering again as she remembered his words.

Robin nodded, telling her, "Well, you're one of the big leagues now. He only comes to them."

"He came to you?" she prompted weakly.

Robin nodded, "As my mother."

"Do you think what it says is true?" Faith asked hopefully.

Robin only thought half about his answer, and replied, "He hasn't told any lies yet."

Tears sprung instantly from Faith's face. She took a step forward and latched onto Robin, crying, shaking her head as she tried to deny to herself the First had told the truth.


Buffy stalked along Sunnydale, seeing people everywhere leaving the town, but not the person she was looking for. A person she wanted to kill for threatening her Spike. That was no surprise, the bird of said person flew undetected above her, and the person was following her at a discrete distance. Ironically the man she was searching for, was also the man on her mind. Buffy was sad, depressed, dejected and more. Xander was dead, she'd led the SiTs in what she knew could be a trap and they paid the price. In her mind though, there had been no other possible action, not even now. It simply wasn't in her capabilities to do so. She was the Slayer, Slayers attacked the demons and killed them. That was the way things were. Leading a large group of people in a battle, considering alternative attack scenarios, strategies, tactics, weapon usages was simply beyond her. Of course as a human being she might have been able to do those things, if she bothered to stop and think about things, considered educating herself in modern weapons, explosives, reading up on wartime strategies. But she was too consumed in her role as Slayer, her own superiority complex stemming from that, to bother with a simple thing called common sense.

Eventually she passed by the highschool and decided to walk into the empty building. She walked through it, until finally reaching her desk, still holding her stuff, even though she was fired from her job.

She looked at the items on it, finding a picture of herself, Willow and Xander in happier times, holding each other and smiling sitting on a patch of grass somewhere. She picked up the picture, and tears started falling from her eyes, Willow wasn't a vibrant smiling girl anymore, Xander was dead, Tara was dead, all because they knew her, all because she was the Slayer, and because she screwed up several times. She let her hands move over the smiling faces of Willow and Xander, and went over her decision again. She knew it was the right decision, it had to be the right decision. How could it not? Spike was the better fighter, they needed the better fighter. She couldn't save her friend only for him to die right along with the rest of the world, that would be selfish. She'd let Angelus kill people because she was selfish once, she wouldn't be selfish again. So Xander had to die, and Spike had to live . . . only there was a nagging little voice in the back of her head, that said, 'Yeah, but Spike is conveniently the guy you're in love with. Look, he went to get a soul for you, you made him what he is today, how could you deny him!? He deserves it! Question is, which choice was the selfish one?'

"Oh, now look," a southern voice sounded, bring Buffy out of her reverie. She looked up to see Caleb standing there. "Things don't go exactly your way, so here come the waterworks. Ain't that just like a woman?"

"Get out of here," Buffy told him enraged. How did Caleb have the guts to come in here, breaching her privacy like that?

"Now, now, little girl. Manners," Caleb told her in a condescending tone. "I do imagine that firebrand tongue of yours has inflamed many a man, weak as they are." Caleb looked around casually for a moment, and continued, "This here's a, uh . . . public school, ain't it? Kinda deserted. Only just, I suppose. Folks work so hard at keepin' the Lord out, and look what happens in return." Buffy backed up slowly, until she found herself against a filing cabinet, as Caleb continued his diatribe, "He abandons you." Buffy reached for a drawer in the cabinet, searching with her hands. "Not that He could do you much good now, anyway . . ." Caleb told her, and turned to see Buffy trying to reach into the cabinet for something. "Ah, ah, ah. Wouldn't do that were I you, swee' pea. Fightin' back didn't do you much good last time, did it? And how is poor, sweet Rona, and Molly? Let's not forget Molly. Let them know they're in my prayers, and any time they're willin', I'm ready to . . ." Caleb pauzed to make a poking gesture, before continuing, " . . . finish the job."

Buffy was fed up with the annoying priest, and snarled at him, "Go near them again, and I will end you."

Caleb overturned Buffy's desk with frightening violence, and walked briskly to Buffy, "Mind your manners. I do believe I did warn you once. You're angry . . . frustrated, scared. I like that in a girl. You really should relax a little. Look at where you are. History's gonna look back at you, at me, at this place, and they're gonna see the glory. Great things are happenin' now, right here. This school, the seal . . . it's all gonna be a part of the great sweepin' tide of change, and you're gonna be a part of it. Now, why would you wanna miss that? More importantly, why would you want to get in its way?"

Buffy scowled, and replied, "I guess I'm just ornery." Then she lashed out and punched Caleb in the face.

Caleb laughed, and said, "Oh, I knew you'd be a wild one . . ." Buffy kicked him, but he grabbed her leg and pushed her down. She kicked his shins, but he picked her up off the ground by her neck. Caleb looks her in her frightened eyes, and said, "I'm gonna take such sweet pleasure in taming you." Then he threw Buffy through the window; she lands across the hall, unconscious. Caleb then walked through the office into the corridor, and stood over her.

Just as he was about to say something useless to the unconscious Buffy before leaving, the sound of doors swinging coupled with a loud voice distracted him. "Hmm, mm, mm, well, look at that," Xander said out loud. Caleb looked at him with a frown. The man all in black, casually, but briskly walked through the corridor toward, closing the distance quickly. He made grand gestures as he continued his speech while he walked, "the great priest standing over the little girl. One super powered man, easily three times the girl's strength, double her weight, much taller, greater reach. What an achievement, how stupendous a battle it must have been, what merit, how . . . utterly pathetic." Xander stopped right in front of the priest, the two on equal height, Xander might just be even somewhat taller.

"Mind your manners, boy," Caleb told him angrily. "Left the girly make up at home I see."

Xander grinned at him without fear, and said, "Yeah, I head a prior social engagement. Didn't want to scare away the other guests. You know how it is, it's why you guys where those pointed hats that obscure more than half your faces, right? You know, the ones with the eye-openings? I always wondered about that fashion statement."

"I don't just kill black folk," Caleb hissed at Xander, his air of superiority still present. "I kill all folk."

"Correction, you kill defenseless girls," Xander replied, their gazes locked on each other. "You don't have the guts to take on someone your own size and strength."

"How do you know that?" Caleb asked in surprise.

"A big black bird told me," Xander answered, with a wide grin. "Don't worry, you'll meet him soon enough."

Caleb snarled, then remembered who he had in front of himself, and calmed down, before saying, "So you actually are going to do this, hm? Stand up to the big, bad priest who can beat up the Slayer five times your strength with just one punch?"

"Why not? I've been facing off against things ten times more powerful for seven years," Xander answered with a smile. He lifted his hands outward, and offered, "I'm still here, they're all dead. I must me doing something right, I'll take my chances." Caleb narrowed his eyes at Xander's lopsided smile, and Xander added, "But then, taking on something equally strong than you, or stronger is an alien concept to you, isn't it, preacher boy? You didn't come here to fight the Slayer on your own terms, nooooo . . . hillbilly went to big bad, untouchable bitch to get himself super powers first. Coward."

"You shouldn't talk to your superiors like that," Caleb told him angry, even as he lashed out a right fist directly across Xander's right cheek. Xander staggered back several steps, before putting his right leg back, and sliding back a few more centimeters before coming to a stop. Caleb's eyes widened in surprise, a punch like that should have put him in at least a coma.

"Watch out, the floor is slippery," Xander answered smiling, feeling his jaw. "Pretty nice right hook you got there." Xander walked back to the Caleb, casually saying, "But you misunderstand, you're not my superior, I'm yours." Caleb watched with wide eyes at the once again standing close Xander. Xander casually added, "Well, I suppose it's my turn to hit you now, hm."

"Why should I let you?" Caleb grinned back, getting his confidence back. This had to be just a fluke, the boy could never handle a full hit from him. He must have slid his hand over Xander or something, instead of actually hitting him.

"Oh, please, don't tell me you don't know?" Xander asked him mockingly, seeing the anger flicker in the priest's eyes. "An eye for an eye, an ear for an ear? It's one of the simple things from the good book, simple enough even simpletons like you understand it." Xander watched Caleb's eyes start to boil with rage. "You know," Xander stated grinning. He indicated himself with both his hands, badly mimicking Caleb's accent, "Good folk . . ." Xander turned his hands to indicate the unconscious Buffy. " . . . bad folk . . ." He repeated the process, saying, " . . . clean folk, dirty folk . . ." Finally Xander gestured at Caleb and finished, " . . . half-witted, cowards folk." Caleb growled, pulling his lips back and baring his teeth, but before he could do anything else Xander's right fist lashed out, directly across the priest's left cheek. Completely unprepared for the power of the blow, Caleb was launched off his feet, landed on his ass, and slid back a short distance. "Well, now," Xander mimicked one of Caleb's catch phrases, "It seems we're even, don't you think?"

Caleb got up, extremely angry, ready to charge Xander, and then thought better of it, remembering the plan he had to carry out. He shook his head, pointed at Xander and told him, "You'll pay for this, soon." Then he turned around and left.

Xander grinned deeply, and called after him. "That's right coward! Go to your little bitch! And tell her I'm coming for her too! Go cry on her shoulder! Oh, wait, you can't! She's incorporeal! What a bummer, huh cry baby!" Xander laughed hard after seeing the priest jerk at every insult thrown at him. He snickered a few more times, and then looked down at Buffy. The crow landed on his shoulder then. It had kept itself out of the way for the physical brawl. It cawed, and then Xander gently bent down, and placed his hand on her head. The telepathic contact established, he instantly got glimpses at Buffy's mind. Xander got up, sneered at Buffy in disgust, and whispered, "You too are worse than I thought. You're going to pay soon, bitch. Soon." Then Xander turned around and walked back to where he came from.


It was dark, and Buffy was back at her house, looking at it. She took a deep breath, she knew what to do now. He walked into the house, and looked around the room. Several potentials were strayed around the living room. Buffy quickly went into the room. A sad Faith saw here enter from the kitchen, seeing Buffy's intense gaze, she went inside the room. Giles followed from behind her. Buffy asked a potential who's name she didn't know, "Where's Kennedy and Vi?"

"I think Vi is with Rona, and Kennedy is keeping Willow company," the girl answered somewhat intimidated.

"Spike!" Buffy called down to the cellar, the vampire grunted a response. "Get up here."

Several moments later, almost the whole group was in the room. Anya and Dawn were also absent, Andrew entered in the last moment. "Where's Dawn, and Anya?" Buffy asked absentmindedly.

"W-with Xander's grave," Andrew answered timidly.

Buffy nodded. That didn't matter they weren't combatants anyway. "Guys, I know nobody liked the vineyard, but we're going back in." Shocked silence reigned over the room. "Look, I know what you're thinking, but I had a visit today in school from Caleb. I - I figured something out. He kept making all this noise about the school."

"Do we need to shut the seal again?" Andrew asked fearfully. "C-cause I can probably cry again w-without bodily harm?"

Buffy shook her head, and explained, "No, that's just it. We've spent all this time worrying about the seal and the hellmouth. Why isn't Caleb guarding them? Why doesn't he have someone there protecting it? Why is he camped out at the vineyard? The bad guys always go where the power is. So if the seal was so important to Caleb and the First, they would be there right now. They're protecting the vineyard or something at the vineyard. I say it's their power, and I say it's time we go in and take it away from them."

"O-or they're just there b-b-because it's easily defendable," Amanda countered weakly, she shrunk back from Buffy when she turned to look at her. "I'm just s-saying, your f-f-flash of insssssight - potentially due to brain t-t-trauma from Caleb's punches - is an awful little to be gambling our lives on."

Buffy looked angrily into Amanda's eyes, who shrunk back, and said, "Trust me, I've done this for seven years, and I'm still around, I'm right about this."

Robin saw Faith opening her mouth to speak, but then closed it, and turned her head away, while she remembered FirstXander's words, 'There will #never# be redemption for someone as sickening as you.' She thought to herself, *I guess this is one last time onto the breach then.*

"We don't even know they're still in the vineyard, and where are the new weapons? Where are the guns, because you know, it would be nice to just shoot Bringers from afar," one potential said bitterly.

Wood hated to mention this now, but he had to. "Not enough time," he said with a hake of his head. "Guns take time to learn, we don't have that time. We just give you a gun and tell you point and shoot, you'll probably end up shooting yourself or some of your own people." Buffy nodded.

"Buffy, you have nothing on this, nothing but empty ideas, you can't just . . ." Giles tried.

"I can! And I will," Buffy commanded him, her eyes looking at him in anger. "You have nothing to say here." Giles shrank back some, Buffy preemptively glared at Robin Wood. She looked around the room, and added, "Does anyone have a better idea? Well?" There was no answer. "Then who is with me?" Buffy asked angrily.

"I am of course," Spike stated, lending his support. Giles and Wood glared at him.

Faith stood up from leaning against the wall, and nodded. "I am," she said softly, the conversation with ghost of Xander Harris once again returning to her. Xander, and Wood looked at her with shocked surprise, and she looked away from them. The potentials looked at each other, and then reluctantly nodded.

"Good, get the weapons, time to mount up," Buffy stated. "Kennedy! Vi!" Buffy called up loudly. "Let's go! Come on! We've got some bad guys to slay!" Buffy went on with her preparations.

Shortly after Kennedy and Vi came down, and they asked, "Where are we going?"

"Back to the vineyard," a potential answered shakily. Kennedy and Vi gave each other a look, they searched for Faith, and found her getting ready, avoiding their looks.


In the vineyard the First in Buffy's guise asked Caleb, "Did you lay the proper groundwork?"

Caleb answered with a big grin, "That I did. Reckon she got the message, even if she doesn't know it yet. So now the big strong slayer goes back to those girls . . . she's just so ready to walk them right into it."

There was a loud crack, and then a Bringer with a horribly twisted neck came tumbling down the stairs. "Yeah," Xander's voice sounded as he calmly walked down the stairs. "Except you're not going to be alive long enough to see her do it." Xander reached the bottom of the stairs and turned to face Caleb, the First and a whole bunch of Bringers, revealing his once-again painted face and he said, "Nice welcome comity up there, not they could say 'Welcome,' or that they can do anything else anymore." Caleb growled. Xander grinned, "Didn't tell'em about me did ya?" Xander looked around, silently counting the amount of Bringers, and added, "Do they come from a conveyer belt or something?"

Then Caleb gave a chuckle, and said, "Now look, we have a trap here for a whole army, and you think you can just walk in here on your own and win? There are too many of us here, even with your guns."

Xander grinned widely, and answered, "There's only one way to find out, isn't there?" Xander pulled two guns from out of his coat and ran forward, pulling the triggers. Each shot was aimed at a different Bringer, when he reached Caleb he ran out. At that point Xander jumped forward, high in the air, two empty clips clanging to the floor. In flight Xander rapidly put two new clips in, went into a complex screw that would make a gymnast jealous, and started firing rapidly. Gunshot after gunshot sounded. When he landed he was no longer firing. He bent through his knees and slid backward across the loose dust covering the floor. He stopped right at the end, got up, pointed the guns right to his left and right, at each side a Bringer stood. Xander fired both guns simultaneously, and the two fell down, only moments after almost all of the bringers dropped to the floor dead. Only five of them were left alive, three were behind the barrels. The guns nozzles were pulled back, showing they were empty. Xander looked around with a smile, and commented at the shocked Caleb, and angry First, "Forty-eight shots, forty-three kills, while doing 10.0 Olympic jump. I'd say that's a good average, landing could have been better though." With the flick of his wrists the clips fell to the floor, and then he put the guns away.

"You should have brought more bullets," Caleb sneered angrily.

Xander grinned, pulled out a shotgun, and with a blast destroyed a small wine barrel. "I did," he said, and put the gun away. "But shooting someone is so impersonal, don't you agree? Every halfwit can pull a trigger, and I want to enjoy killing you." Caleb growled, and Xander walked forward, explaining, "A sword is good, nice and artistic, but not quite as up close as a knife. Strangling someone is almost the way to go, feeling your victim lose his life, seeing it eb away from his eyes, the fear present, aah . . . but there just isn't anything quite like ripping the heart out of his chest with bare hands, to feel the life blood gushing over your fingers, to shower in, to see not only the life but even the blood flowing from his eyes . . . mmh, there just isn't anything like it, don't you agree?" Xander stopped right in front of Caleb, and grinned evilly at him, his make-up made him look even more scary.

"You're crazy," Caleb answered, just the hint of a quiver in his voice.

"Oh, I forgot, you kill the girls first, and then cut them up, too scared to look into their eyes and discover hatred. Ah, well . . ." Xander kept his smile, and looked directly into Caleb's eyes. Oh yes, fear was starting there. He wouldn't just take vengeance for his friends, he would take vengeance on him for every girl he'd ever killed. Xander was going to make Caleb pay by experiencing the exact same thing, have a mad man slowly kill him. Xander was going to instill terror in him before he died. "Until now I've only done it with demons, but I guess there's a first for everything. Tell me, Caleb, is it just as much fun to do with a human being? Perhaps you can give me a few pointers."

Caleb felt fear creeping up on him, and it made him angry, enraged. "Get this mess cleaned up," he ordered the remaining Bringers. "I want to have some room when I kill him." The Bringers scurried about, quickly pulling the corpses aside.

Xander grinned, and then used two fingers of his right hand to beckon Caleb to him. Caleb attacked, Xander blocked the first blow, and got hit in his stomach by the second. He hardly felt it, and landed a punch squarely on Caleb's cheek, which he quickly shrugged off. He got into Xander's guard and rammed several punches on his chest. Xander grabbed one of Caleb's punches and he twisted underneath the arm. He continued his movement, yanking hard, flipping Caleb around in the air. He let go and kicked Caleb straight in the face, while he was still twisting around. Caleb quickly rolled back on his feet, and slammed his feet in Xander's face, staggering him back. Caleb ran forward, and grabbed Xander by his shoulders. He whirled around and threw Xander into one of the big wine tanks. It shattered, sending wood shards everywhere. Xander got up instantly, and threw a massive punch, sending Caleb flying through the air, and crashing to the floor, banging to a halt with his head against a wine tank.

Caleb quickly got up, and said, "I'm fed up with this!" He quickly stalked forward, and blocked one Xander's kicks. He held Xander's legs, and Xander's widened at his predicament. Caleb grinned evilly, grabbing Xander's face with his left hand, holding his thumb in front of Xander's eye right eye. "So you're the guy who sees everything. Let's remedy that," Caleb said evilly, then pressed his thumb through Xander's eye. Xander screamed out. Caleb let go of Xander's leg, and did the same with his other eye using his right hand. Then he grabbed Xander by his shoulders, threw him up, and smashed both his hands in Xander's stomach, launching him into the debris of the tank Xander was thrown into earlier. One sticking out piece of wood with a sharp point, sliced through Xander's chest, and he slumped over.

"Well, now," Caleb stated with a superior grin, placing his hands behind his back. "That wasn't so hard now was it. I'm actually disappointed." He turned and started walked to the back of the vineyard, wondering what to do about the trap. After a few steps, Caleb stopped his movement, eyes widening when he heard chuckling. It was not his, not the First's and the Bringers had their mouths sowed shut. He looked back at Xander, not wanting to believe his ears, when the chuckling turned to a snickering and finally into laughter.

"Actually I have a lot difficulty with dying," Xander stated through his laughter. He stopped his laughing and got up, the wood smoothly sliding out of his chest, his eyes still closed. "And I do hate to disappoint," he added, and walked back to the middle of the vineyard. He turned to face Caleb, and opened his eyes. Caleb took in a sharp breathe when he saw those dark, dark eyes staring back at him, as if he never pressed his thumbs through them. "Scared yet?" Xander asked, an evil grin once again on his face. Then he beckoned Caleb with both his hands, cocked his head, and said, "Round two, padre. Let's go."

With a roar Caleb launched himself at Xander, but the dark-haired supernatural warrior blocked each and every one of them, grinning madly all the way. Suddenly he pushed two of Caleb's hands aside and smashed both his open palms into Caleb's stomach, doubling him over. Caleb gasped looking into Xander's scary face, and he said, "My, my. It seems your little bitch . . ." Xander cocked his head at the observing First. " . . . forgot to give you speed and agility, all that strength and you can't even hit me." Xander send the priest flying with an uppercut, and calmly walked to where Caleb had landed.

Caleb struggled to his feet with a growl and swung his fists. Xander ducked, supported himself with his hands, and kicked out with both feet. The double kick connected, and sent Caleb flying through the air until he crashed into the back wine tank. A water pipe broke behind the tank, and some water flowed from it, the pipe sticking out. Caleb got up, and saw Xander advancing on him, fear was now definitely etched in his face. He attacked wildly, and Xander turned sideways, fighting Caleb with just one hand. Blocking one blow, circling the arm, thus blocking his ability to throw his other hand. Xander gave Caleb a punch in his face, all the while grinning evilly at the priest. He blocked another punch with the back of his hand and wrist, than moved the hand over to Caleb's advancing right fist, and grabbed him by his wrist. "You know," Xander commented smiling bloodthirsty, "whenever I watch a kung fu movie that has this in it, I wanna do it myself. Because it just looks so damn cool."

Caleb roared and gave Xander a mighty headbutt, drawing blood and causing Xander to stagger back. The blood instantly drew back into the wound and closed up, just in time Xander to jump up, swing around, and smash his right foot into Caleb's face, springing open a blood vessel, and sending the priest staggering to the floor. Caleb saw a knife of one of the Bringers Xander had killed lying on the floor. He picked up and wildly attacked Xander. Xander just stretched out his hands, making him look like a scare crow, or Jesus on the cross, and took the knife into his throat. Xander choked up blood, but kept smiling as he grabbed Caleb's wrist and squeezed. And squeezed. Caleb yelled out in pain, and finally let go of the knife. Xander let go, and smiled a bigger smile. Caleb looked up in disbelief, holding his painful wrist, breathing heavy, as she saw the knife moving backward out of Xander's throat of its own accord. The blood withdrew back into Xander's mouth. At the last moment Xander pulled out the knife, and the wound closed smoothly.

Xander studied the knife, and commented, "This isn't a knife." He tossed the knife away, and pulled out a bigger, more dangerous looking knife with a serrated edge on one side. "This is a knife," Xander said, seeing the priest's eyes grow wide with terror. "Oh, yes," Xander whispered, "that's the look I was going for. Do you feel it? Feel the fear." Xander paused for just a moment, and roared, "FEEL THE TERROR!?"

Xander attacked, stabbed the knife in Caleb's abdomen. He locked gazes with Caleb, and whispered, "Is this what you did with those girls, preacher boy? Did you stab them like this? Did you kill them slowly?" Enraged Xander stabbed Caleb again, and then again through his shoulder, more in his abdomen, in his arms and legs, making sure not hit any of the vitals. Xander yelled through it all, "HOW DOES IT FEEL, CALEB? HOW DO YOU LIKE IT? IS IT FUN? THIS IS WHAT THOSE GIRLS FELT WHEN YOU KILLED THEM!!" Xander sliced and diced some more, finally sticking the knife in Caleb's tummy, looking deep into his eyes. "You believe in god yet?" Xander asked sweetly, "Do you think he's put a nice place for you in hell on hold?" Xander sliced the knife up, making a long deep gash bubbling up blood all the way to Caleb's neck. Xander casually put the knife away, and as Caleb staggered back, he said, grinning widely, "Death has a lovely color."

Xander suddenly surged forward, grabbed Caleb by his priestly collar and ran forward with him, impaling the priest, and then himself on the water pipe that had stuck out. Caleb looked with complete terror at the pipe sticking through his tormenters body, but it didn't slow him down any. He looked back up into that terrifying face, in those dark eyes of death, and that horrifying grin. "Well? Understand yet what I am?" Xander asked eerily, his eyes boring into Caleb's as he coughed up blood. He was in such pain, that couldn't keep tears from poring out of his eyes. "I'm god's messenger, I'm the Angel of Death!" Xander hissed, and rammed his hands fingers first into the slash he had made, pushing forward until he touched Caleb's ribs, never once taking his eyes from the priests. Caleb looked back, in shock, pain, horror, and complete terror. "You're wrong! I'm more than that, I'm the thing that brings retribution, I'm the one that sets the wrong things right! I don't serve a measly little god." Xander pulled, tearing open Caleb's chest, his ribs cracked as they broke open. Blood spurt from Caleb's chest, marring Xander's face, more terror flooded Caleb's face as he finally, truly realized he wasn't going to survive this. "I serve a force of nature, of the universe itself. I'm the destroyer of evil! Bringer of justice!" Xander finished tearing open Caleb's chest, the ribs standing out, his heart now beating unprotected. "I am . . ." Xander hissed as he rammed his right hand into the soft tissue, wrapping it around Caleb's heart. He pulled and tore it out, still beating in his hand, he held it out for Caleb to see, as blood gushed from the veins splattering all over Xander. " . . . VENGEANCE INCARNATE!" Xander finished, squashing the heart in his hand, and finally with nothing but horror on his face and his mind, Caleb died, the light dimming in his eyes, and he slumped over.

Xander laughed hard as dropped the heart to the floor, and stepped back, off the pipe. As the wound in his belly closed, he looked back at the terrified Bringers, and whispered, "Anyone else?" The Bringers suddenly scrambled to life, and ran from the vineyard with every last bit of speed they possessed.

Xander grinned, and then walked over to a water faucet with a hose attached in a corner, and proceeded to wash himself free of the blood before it coagulated, and it became impossible to get it off. Done with that he walked back to the middle, and mentally called the crow. He then started searching around, and quickly found a hatch. The crow perched on his shoulder. Still hyped up on the adrenaline rush, Xander was in no mood to figure out how the hatch worked. He pulled out his shotgun, and blew the wood to splinters with one shot. Then he lowered himself down into it, and walked down some steps. Ten bringers were around, most of them busy with every rock hacking tool in the world, trying to get out a shiny red and silver weapon. Xander smiled and casually started firing his shotgun; it didn't take long before the Bringers were all dead or dying.

A few moments later Xander reached a small pillar, or pedestal of rock, with the axe stuck in some black obsidian. Xander grinned, at which point a familiar voice he hadn't heard in years, said, "Well, that just sucks, Xan." Xander whirled around and gasped as he saw Jesse standing in front of him, casually looking around at the dead bringers. "I must admit," the First continued in his guise of Jesse. "Upstairs had a certain flare of drama, and artistic impression, but this."

For a moment Xander hesitated, even his mannerisms were the same. Then he shook his head and commented, "So this is what you wanted Buffy to come get, huh?" Jesse's eyes widened in surprise and annoyance. "What's so special about it?"

Jesse laughed affectionately, and Xander couldn't help but smile back. "I suppose it doesn't really matter if I tell you now, you'll find out sooner or later anyway. Damn, Xan, you always were the blunt one were you?"

"I always thought that was you," Xander returned, turning back around, looking at the pillar of stone. He grabbed the handle and pulled. Then he pulled harder, but it wouldn't budge.

The First smiled, and added, "It's the Slayer's weapon, killed the last true demon on this planet before they got their heinies kicked out. Demon decided that if he was going to die, he was going to take the Slayer with him. She was buried alive with him right here, along with her weapon. It's been here ever since."

"How intriguing," Xander answered with a bored tone, and knelt down. He started to tab the stone gently, testing it.

Jesse crossed his hands over his chest, and walked straight through Xander and the pillar, he turned around and asked, "So, you got an idea about getting out? They certainly didn't."

Xander continued with his tapping all around the pillar. He grinned, moved back to the front, and pulled an explosive from his coat. Kneeling down again, he placed directly in the middle, than pulled some the C4 out of the device, making sure the charge wouldn't be too large.

He took several steps back, pulled out a small black device with a red button, and told the vision of his old friend, "Watch and learn," Xander said, and pressed. The explosive exploded, and the pillar was pulverized. The axe swung gently through the air, and clanged to the floor, still stuck in the obsidian.

Xander's smile faltered. "I'll be damned," Xander muttered with a perturbed pout, and the First laughed out loud.

"Don't feel bad, #I# can't get it out either, and created it, the pillar, you, the whole fucking universe," the First answered him. Xander walked over and tried to pick up the axe, but the obsidian had glued itself to the rocky bottom of the cave. The first laughed again, and said, "I guess you're not taking it anywhere wither."

Suddenly the crow perched on Xander's shoulder fluttered down, and smashed it's beak against the obsidian. It circled the weapon, pecking at the black material. Xander walked over and looked with raised eyebrows. Once the bird had picked at every part, the material suddenly burst open, and crumbled away. Xander reached down and picked up the weapon, as the crow flew back to land on his shoulder. The first looked extremely angry at Xander, while Xander commented, "You couldn't have done that sooner?"

*You seemed to be having fun,* the crow answered him, a sly smile in his mental voice.

Suddenly Xander lashed out with the axe, and sliced it through the JesseFirst. Nothing happened, and the First angrily growled, "You didn't really think that would do anything, did you?"

Xander shrugged, "It's a magical weapon, it was worth a shot. Where's Jennifer's body? It better still be intact, you sick son of a bitch."

Jesse gave a terrifying smile, and answered, "Behind one of the tanks, didn't have time for it yet." As Xander nodded, Jesse walked up to him, and growled, "You think I don't know how to kill you, boy? I kill that bird and you're as mortal as everyone else."

Xander grinned back at him, and said, "True, but unless your Bringers stop peeing themselves and learn how to fly, what are you going to do about it?"

The first suddenly morphed into Xander himself, complete with crow make up, and looked the real Xander straight in the eye, "You won't beat me, boy. I know all your weaknesses, all your insecurities . . ." Xander turned around and walked away, ignoring the First. "Hey! I was talking!" the First shouted out in frustration.

"Blah, blah, blah, boring," Xander returned and went back upstairs.


Buffy, Faith, the potentials, Spike, and Robin sat hunched behind bushes, looking at the vineyard. "Any activity," Robin asked neutrally.

"Nothing," Kennedy answered, worriedly. The building itself caused her to feel fear coursing through her veins. Now that it was so unnaturally silent, it was even more fear inducing.

"Ok," Buffy stated, hefting her sword better. "Let's go."

Everybody stayed put for a moment, before Faith took the initiative, cautiously crouching forward. Suddenly she stopped thinking of something, causing everybody behind her to do the same. She searched on the ground and found a few stones, which she threw in different directions and distances. She stalked forward again.

Buffy caught up with her, and asked softly, "What was that about?"

"No minefield. Probably didn't think it necessary," Faith replied equally soft as the crouched forward.

Gently they and the others moved forward. Halfway from the edge of the clearing to the vineyard, there was suddenly a big explosion, knocking both Buffy and Faith back and off their feet, as well as many others. They sat back up, and looked at the vineyard, nothing left of the outer wall, and what was once its insides, was nothing but fire. The blaze sent a plume of smoke up into the air. "Shit!" Faith called out incredulously, looking at the destruction.

Buffy just looked stunned. Kennedy and Amanda walked up next to them, both standing up straight. "W-well, there goes #that# theory," Amanda commented dryly, as the others slowly gathered around.

"'There's something important there, because they are holed up there,'" Kennedy parroted what Buffy had said to her on the way over, when she had tried to argue, and eventually relented when she realized the decision had been made and most of the rest had accepted the decision. "#They#. #Blew#. #It#. #Up#, Buffy. #Really# important."

Buffy looked even more stunned. "Hold on," Spike drawled out. "We only know somebody blew it up, not who."

"Right," Buffy confirmed, and quickly got up. Faith did the same. "Fan out, search, see if you can find something."

"In pairs," Robin commanded quickly. "One with a short range weapon, and one long range." Buffy looked a little annoyed at Robin but nodded her approval.

"You come up against Caleb come back here, screaming bloody murder," Spike added for good measure, and the potentials fanned out to do just that, circling around the burned ruins.

Buffy stalked forward to the building itself. It didn't take long before one pair of potentials screamed out in terror. Moments later the others arrived on the scene, finding one of the potentials throwing up. There it was: the pipe, still stuck through the remains of Caleb, was standing upright. The squished heart was mounted on top of the pipe, and Caleb's entrails were wrapped around his body, still in his torn priestly robes, and he was missing his head. On the ground, drawn with a stick, and filled with Caleb's blood was the sign of the crow.

"Shit!" Kennedy called out in shock.

Amanda, Vi, and Molly quickly ran to the bushes and joined the one potential in throwing up their dinner.

"Fuck, he really pissed of the wrong guy," Faith commented, while Buffy next to her, was holding a hand in front of her mouth, fighting not to join the other three.

"I haven't seen a bloody artwork like that since one of Peaches' exploits," Spike commented slightly in awe. "Well, ok, I've seen Silence of the Lambs, but you know what I bloody well mean."

Buffy grimaced, and then walked back to the destroyed vineyard, determined to search through it. She wouldn't find anything.

Chapter 6
Faithful Reunion

Xander sat in one of the trees and looked incredulously at the group lead by the two Slayers stalking forward to the vineyard. He shook his head, clinging the magical axe between his stomach and knees. He pulled the small detonation device from his coat and pushed the button. With a big explosion the entire vineyard went up in flames. Several strategically placed charges would collapse the hewn out cave in on itself, completely destroying the place.

He watched the Slayers and some of the others fall to the floor from the shockwave. Then he put the detonator back, hefted the axe, and with Jennifer's dead body slung over his right shoulder he jumped to the next tree, lowered himself to the ground, and ran after the crow.

Some time later he arrived at the morgue. Getting into the deserted, and left open building was easy. Xander went to the cold storage, and placed Jennifer's corpse inside. Xander took a deeply saddened breath, before turning around and leaving. There was another person that deserved a proper burial.


Back at the Summers' place, the group that had gone out to fight Caleb a second time had just returned to the house. A few of the potentials sat shakily in the living room, still reeling from the puking they did after seeing the remains of Caleb.

Buffy stood in the middle of the group of people; everyone was present, from Andrew to Robin, and from Anya to Willow. "All right, listen up," Buffy stated forcefully. "The guy who 'saved' us a few nights ago, the same guy that attacked Spike has shown his true colors now. He hit the vineyard first, and killed Caleb. And when I say killed think Hannibal Lector killed, decorated with guts, decapitated, heart cut out, the whole enchilada. He's even drawn a sign of a bird with Caleb's own blood. He's evil, nobody good can do something like that, at the very least he's a psycho." Anya perked up at Buffy's statement, and started going a little white.

Willow got uncomfortable and became doubtful. "Uhm," Dawn spoke up strongly, and coldly, lifting a finger, interrupting Buffy's speech. "This guy is evil because he killed a disciple of the First Evil? From where I'm standing Caleb got what he deserved, doesn't really make the guy evil." Dawn's eyes flickered to Spike, a moment of hate burning in them, she'd never forget what he tried to do to her sister. She was good, and there were times she dreamed of doing to Spike what Caleb had gotten done to him. Willow looked over at the stern Dawn, and she felt her uncertainty diminishing a little. She felt Kennedy's hands around her waist tightening, and she looked at her girlfriend.

"Yeah, Buffy," Kennedy answered vehemently. "After what that bastard did to Jennifer, I wish I'd be the one who had wrapped his guts around his neck."

Buffy sighed, and continued, much more strongly now, "Whatever was present at the vineyard, which I was right about being there, is now in this guy's hands to do with, whatever he pleases. Spike said he was evil, he knew the guy. What's so difficult to understand? One bad guy slaughtered, nothing left at the vineyard; the guy blew up all the evidence. Obviously he's evil, and we need to find him, and stop him, as fast as possible!"

With a loud sound, the front window of the living room shattered, and with several thuds something round bounced off the table, then the floor, until it finally landed right smack in the middle of the room, right at Buffy's feet. Buffy looked at the plastic bag, along with everyone else. She bent down, and pulled the plastic aside, revealing Caleb's head. Buffy gasped, pulled back, and took an involuntary step backward. The other people present looked shocked at first, and then all of them looked out the shattered window.

Moments earlier, outside the window, after Xander threw the head through, he pulled out a match box, and lit one. He let it drop and the grass around him that he had soaked in gasoline lit up in flames. He grabbed the cannister and jumped high, and landed softly on the roof of the Summers' residence.

The people inside had completely missed Xander, and only saw the fire burning. They went to take a look, and saw the sign of the bird they had seen at Caleb's remains, but now in fire. The moment Anya saw it, she screamed, turned even paler, and stumbled back, until she tumbled over a chair.

Outside Xander walked over the roof, until he reached the garden. While everyone else was still wrapped up in the spectacle, he reached into Chloe's grave and effortlessly pulled her decomposing body out of the ground. Xander took a deep sad breath, and then jumped over the backyard fence, disappearing into the night.

Inside everyone looked astonished at the terrified Anya. "Wh-what's wrong?" Willow was the first to ask.

"Th-that's th-the s-s-sign of th-the Crow," Anya stuttered out fearfully.

Most people looked blankly, but Giles looked up in recognition, and recited, "People once believed that a crow carried the souls of the deceased to heaven. But sometimes something so terrible happens that a soul cannot rest, and just sometimes the crow can bring that soul back to set the wrong things right."

"So, it's kind of like a vengeance demon then?" Faith asked, translating to normal English.

Anya looked incredulously. "Quite," Giles confirmed.

"So why are you so scared? You were one yourself?" Buffy asked Anya dumbfounded, everyone else looked silently and expectantly at ex-demoness.

Anya stood up, angry now, but still afraid. "Are you insane!? That thing is not a demon, and certainly not a justice demon as we call ourselves!" Anya exclaimed, eyes wide. "It's far worse. Do you know how we distinguish ourselves?" Everybody looked at her without an answer, most didn't really understand the question. Any continued, "When we enact our 'vengeance' - our 'justice' - it's contained to just the guilty parties, very few exceptions aside. The Crow's different."

"How is it different?" Willow asked intrigued, but not really believing Anya's hysterics.

"You need to ask?" Anya asked sheet white. "The Crow is not a demon, it's the embodiment of vengeance, and vengeance isn't simple payback, which is what we were all about. Vengeance is a force of nature, it's a living thing, it transcends generations. I once saw a crow slaughter the reincarnations of the ones who hurt her, two centuries down the line, three of them were just as bad. The fourth was innocent, had never done a single thing wrong in his life, the Crow slaughtered him anyway. Vengeance kills, it knows no mercy, no remorse, and no compassion. The Crow is virtually indestructible, immortal really, it will go through anyone, and anything - be it children or demons - to set the wrong things right, which usually comes down to brutally killing some people . . . and it absolutely, will not, ever stop until it's finished with what it came here to do . . ." Anya trailed off, and looked down at the head, then out the window at the now scorched crow sign. "It wants someone in here, it sent a message," she whispered fearfully.

"See! I'm right! This thing is evil, and we've got to kill it," Buffy exclaimed triumphantly.

"EVIL!?" Anya shrieked out. "HAVEN'T YOU BEEN LISTENING!? This thing isn't evil, it's beyond evil, beyond good. It's empowered by a force of nature that has most gods on both sides quivering in fear! You can't go up against it! It'll kill you all! It even uses guns for Christ' sakes! You all go up against it, and you'll be dead before you're even halfway to him!"

Dawn remembered the way Xander had held her, and with crossed arms she said strongly, "I don't believe it. Crow yes, remorseless no, merciless no. He would have killed us by now if that was the case. Besides, he's been saving all our asses, I'm not fighting this guy, whoever he is."

While the discussion burst loose, Faith looked distracted at the wall across her, a frown on her face. ˜Choose!˜ she remembered, then seeing the sword slice through Xander's chest. ˜ . . . something so terrible happens that a soul cannot rest.˜ Would having your best friend, supposed savior of the world, choosing to save a dead thing over you qualify? Stealthily she slipped from the living room, her heart beating hard in her chest, not daring to articulate in a thought what she was hoping for fervently.

She went into the backyard, and carefully walked over to Xander's grave. The stick was still standing, unlike that afternoon. She stood in front of the grave, not daring to do what she wanted to do. She shook her head; it was nuts. Then she sank through her knees, and quickly dug into the soil. Deeper and deeper her arms went, she rolled up her sleeves and continued, only after mulling in the sand far deeper than Xander could have been lying did she stop. *He isn't in his grave,* she thought, her heart beating even harder in her chest. She became dizzy as the implications hit her hard, and she looked over to Chloe's grave noticing the stick lying on the ground. Faith's eyes widened and she dug again; empty as well.

Faith stopped, and just stared ahead for a few seconds as her heart beat harder than she could ever remember. Then she stood up and quickly went back into the washing room, that lay adjacent to the kitchen. Quickly she found a faucet, and listening to the discussion becoming more and more intense in the living room, she quickly washed away the dirt on her hands and arms. Finished she went back outside, ran, and jumped straight over the fence, then she continued her run: straight toward Xander's apartment.


The mental caw alerted Xander from his reverie. He was only just back from putting Chloe in the cold storage along with Jennifer, and he had been thinking about how exactly to proceed next. He smiled at seeing Faith running across the street with her Slayer speed. With a mental summons, the crow started its return flight, answering audibly.

Not long later the crow streaked through an open window and landed on Xander's shoulder. He stood calmly in the middle of his apartment waiting. A minute later the door to his apartment opened, and he said, "Hello, Faith. How's it going?"

Faith was shocked, in more ways then one. It was Xander's voice al right, but was it also Xander? Could be the First, and part of her had continued to doubt her own hunch. But how in blazes did Xander know it was her. She walked onward circumventing a corner and came face to face with the smiling, and scary looking Xander, painted deathly pale, with several darker lines that make him look like sadness, rage and death all rolled into one. The scary bird cocking its head at her, only enhanced the effect. "'S that really you?" Faith whispered in awe. Xander nodded, and walked forward.

The crow flew off Xander's shoulder and placed himself on a counter. Xander cocked his head, giving the bird a weird look for just a moment, but quickly returned his look toward Faith, who stood rooted to the floor looking at him not knowing what to do. Xander reached out his hand and said, "Just in case you're thinking I'm the First." He grabbed the side of her face lightly, thumb on her cheek, and the rest of his fingers underneath her jaw. "AAH!" he screamed out suddenly, pulling back from Faith as mental images assaulted his mind. The crow cocked its head, following Xander as he stumbled back until finally falling on his ass and against a chair.

"Xander? What's wrong?" Faith called out shocked, and deeply hurt.

"You could've warned me!" Xander groaned on in frustration as he rode out the mental assault, realizing the bird had known what was going to happen.

Faith walked to him, feeling hurt by the accusation, "Warned you? What do you mean?"

"Not you," Xander said, then opened his eyes and looked up at Faith with wide eyes. Faith looked around confused, completely not understanding what had happened, and who else Xander could have been talking to.

"What's going on?" Faith whispered as she saw him get up, and look at her with infinite sad eyes.

Tears started falling from Xander's eyes, and he started saying, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry! I had no idea." He suddenly lurched forward, and took the confused and somewhat terrified Slayer in a fierce hug. "I'm so sorry. We screwed up, we should have payed more attention to you. I should have visited you sooner, I should have noticed the hell hole you were in when I was there, I should've . . ."

"Please stop," Faith whimpered, feeling guilty and undeserving. "I killed people, I did much worse than anything you did. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry I tried to kill you . . ."

Xander pulled back from her, holding her by her shoulders gently, and looking her deep in her eyes, saying, "We could have payed attention, help you, instead of ignoring you. You would never have . . . What you went through, the loneliness, the horrors before you even came to Sunnydale. Makes my parents look like Angels."

"How . . .?" Faith looked down at the place where Xander had just sat.

"Telepathy, clearvoyance on touch, I get these flashes from things and people," Xander whispered in explanation. "I can't control it, it just happens."

"Do you hate me?" Faith asked softly, fearfully, her lips quivering and eyes glazing over.

"Hate you!?" Xander asked incredulously, amazement written on his face. "Where does this come from?"

Faith looked with a mixture of relief, happiness, and fear and uncertainty at Xander. She said softly, bottom lip still quivering with barely contained emotion, "The First . . . it came to me . . . as you. I-It said it was you, t-that it d-didn't just take your appearance . . . y-you said you hated me, t-that you couldn't possibly forgive m-me, t-that I was sickening, and there was no redemption for me."

"Faith, I'm right here," Xander answered her, gently, than continued more forcibly. "See, right here, I've been here since only a few hours after I died. How could the First possibly be me, if I've been right here all this time?" Faith looked at him, revelation on her face, somewhat shocked. "It lies Faith. Even if its telling the truth it isn't true. You get that? You shouldn't let anything the First says get to you. Even if it does access a small part of me floating around out there somewhere, it's lying through its teeth. I don't hate you, I've never truly hated you. You needed to be stopped, resentment, anger, yes, but hate you? No. Best way to deal with the First and anything it says is to just ignore it." Faith stared into his eyes, feeling herself fill with elation. "You went to jail for what you did, you've shown repentance, there were a lot of mitigating circumstances . . . I've already forgiven you."

Faith felt the happiness make her soar, and then her mood came crashing down again. She wrenched herself free from his hands still holding her shoulders supportively. She hugged herself, and said, "I don't deserve this. I'm evil, I still am, only just now I had the urge to kill Dawn."

Xander laughed out loud, and Faith looked at him in surprise. "You think I haven't had the urge to smash my fist through her skull on occasion, or many other people's? Sometimes people get on your nerves, and you get urges, and flashes of fantasies. Nothing evil about that Faith, it's human nature. Evil would be acting out those urges." Faith watched him for a moment, and she couldn't control the onrush of emotions. Tears came from her eyes, not just from grief, a tidal wave of repressed emotions poured forth and she started crying again. Xander took her in a gentle hug, pressing her against his chest, and he held her hand, stroking her hair gently. He shushed her with soothing sounds as Faith broke down against him in her relief.

After a short but heavy cry, Faith mumbled, "Look at me, I'm pathetic. I promised myself I wouldn't do this, I promised myself I would stay cool. Nothing the matter, just me breezing back in town and helping to save the world. Nobody would notice anything about me, I'd be support, and muscle gal all the way . . . this the second time in one day I'm crying like a little girl."

Xander gave her a gentle kiss on top of her forehead, and told her, "You're not pathetic, Faith. Is being a little girl for once in your life really so bad?"

Faith couldn't help but smile, and she commented, "It is according to feminism. Needing big strong men to comfort you promotes ancient gender roles that should be abolished."

Xander chuckled, "When did you start placing yourself in little boxes?" He could feel her indecision, on the one hand she really wanted her independence, her strong unflappable self; on the other for a rare occasion she just wanted to bask in indulgence. Xander made the decision for her, tightening the hug, and he felt her smile deepening against him. For a few minutes they stood there, drawing strength from each other. It had been ages for both of them to just hug someone like that, neither could really remember when, not even Robin's comforting holding earlier was quite like this. Faith wondered if she had ever been hugged quite like that. Finally the two broke apart, and Faith for one was actually embarrassed.

Xander just grinned, and said, "I have a present for you." He walked back to the center of the living room, with Faith watching him in curiosity. He reached behind the couch and pulled out the magical weapon he liberated from the vineyard. Faith's eyes widened when she saw it, some primal recognition flowing through her. Xander twirled the Axe and stake combination once as he walked back to Faith and presented it to her, "I believe this belongs to you."

Faith stared at the weapon in awe for a few moments, and said to Xander, "Wow, i-it's like its calling to me." Xander nodded, and urged her to take it with a gesture. Faith reached out, hesitated for a moment, and then took the weapon from Xander's grasp. "Whoa," Faith whispered as she tested the weapon, she twirled it around, and looked at it with reverence. "This is weird," she said softly. "It belongs to me, I somehow know it."

"I took it from the vineyard," Xander explained casually. Faith looked up, and was struck with how unthreatening the fearful paint mask was now. The spite his much darker eyes, they were still as gentle as when she had first looked into them. "Be very careful with it, the First and Caleb taunted Buffy to come get it several times over. It wanted Buffy to have it, so don't do anything drastic with it, it's probably exactly what the First wants to happen."

Faith nodded, and then looked up at Xander. "Come back to the house," she suggested. He raised his eyebrows at her pleading look. "Please," she almost begged. "I think Buffy is insane, the rest don't know what to do, moral is at an all-time low, and I certainly am no leader."

"Is it really that bad?" Xander asked, and Faith nodded. He sighed, "I was planning on pushing a few more of Spike's and Buffy's buttons. I'm gong to make them pay for what they've done," Xander growled out the last part, and Faith was struck with the intensity of it. His face darkened even more, to an almost scary level, and he continue to growl, "Some people who've wronged you and every other living being - most notably their so-called friends and family - so much, they deserve everything they get."

Faith kind of agreed on the Spike part. It was obvious the little bastard had been lying just to save his own ass, and apparently couldn't care if the whole world went to hell because of it. "You could push their buttons there as well, I think."

Xander grinned, the dark gaze was gone instantly, and he told her, "True, but keeping myself in the dark makes the threat so much more unknown, and that always heightens the fear." He looked at Faith's pleading look, and said, "Yeah, I was planning on saving the world before I make them pay, better do it properly and teach a bunch of kids several valuable lessons on the way. Lessons we had to learn the hard way, except Buffy, she doesn't seem capable of learning anything." Faith grinned, relief flooding through her, things were finally looking up. "You go on ahead, I've got to put on some clothes that aren't riddled with holes."

"Can't I stay?" Faith pouted.

Xander grinned, "And get your free jollies seeing me naked? Don't think so." Faith gave him a comical, mocking disappointed face, and then turned around.

"Hurry," Faith said with a smile disappearing out the door.

As Faith walked back to the Summers household, a calm settled over her. A calm she hadn't felt since she left LA. With every step she took she became more confident, the magical Axe sending an additional comfort through her body. Her inner walls rebuilt themselves, not to keep things in, but to keep things like the First Evil out.

Chapter 7

Back in Buffy's living room the discussion about crows and all manner of things was still going on, and Buffy was fed up with it. "QUIET!" she yelled out, silencing everyone. "I'm in charge here, I'm the Slayer, I am the law, therefor we will find this evil crow . . ."

"Bullshit," a collected voice interrupted Buffy. It was Faith, who had walked back in the room, the axe slung casually over her shoulder. Buffy whirled around, and looked at the cool Faith. There was something about her stance that reminded Buffy of the Faith she knew four years earlier, at the same time she seemed far less like she was four years earlier that she did in the past few days. "You're not the law, neither am I. We're slayers, we kill the bad things, we do not decide everything else." Everyone looked surprised at Faith, Willow most of all. In recent days she had figured that the way she had seen Faith back in LA was a fluke, and that she had returned to her true self. But her stance now, the way she talked, seemed exactly like then.

Buffy's gaze was drawn to the weapon on Faith's shoulder. Faith twirled it and asked, "Like it, B? Is it calling to you as it called to me?" Buffy nodded, somewhat in awe of the weapon. "It's what was in the vineyard, it's what the 'evil' crow took from Caleb and the First."

"You knew who it was?" Buffy asked struck with a mixture of betrayal, surprise, and jealousy.

Faith smiled, as she replied, "No, only figured it out just now."

"So," Buffy concluded with some envy, "you killed him, and took it from him?"

Faith shook her head. "He gave it to me." Everyone looked at Faith with anticipation, and confusion. Dawn and Willow though, gave a small smile, which they hid from everyone else. "He's not evil, Buffy, in fact he's coming here as we speak, I think it will be an interesting meet."

"So you've gone evil again," Buffy stated angrily, going into a half battle stance. There was a gasp from most of the people there, most in disbelief some of shock.

Faith gaped at Buffy in disbelief, and then shaking her head she said, "No, and neither he is."

"He is evil, he's just faking it when he gave you that weapon!" Buffy yelled out in anger in frustration.

"Why? Because you say so?" Willow asked incredulously.

"Yes!" Buffy answered desperately, seeing the accusation in her best friends eyes, and feeling how the tension in the room got squarely directed at her. "I've been doing this for seven years! Making all the hard decisions! We're still here, I'm right!"

Faith sniggered, and the whole room turned to look at her, somewhat surprised at Faith's cool way of handling things. "Yeah, tough decisions all right," Faith said with a mocking. "Like oh, say, saving a living being versus a dead, animated corpse. Bleach boy, or Xander, the thing that attempted to kill you several times over, kill all of your friends, murdered countless people, raped countless girls . . ."

"Don't forget attempted to rape Buffy herself," Dawn interrupted suddenly with a grave tone her arms folded across her chest.

The whole room looked with shock from Buffy to Spike and back again, disgust written over some of the girls, horror over some others, most notably Faith. Buffy stood rooted in her position, feeling the illusion of control over the situation slipping away from her. Faith shook her head, "Let's not forget that, versus the guy who stood by you for seven years, had your back every step of the way, saved your and all of our lives undoubtedly several times over, your best male friend, what a difficult decision! Really not! That would be easy, the living over death, quite easy to me. The fucking demons that attacked us gave you a choice, they paused in their actions and told you to choose between them, YOU CHOSE TO SAVE A FUCKIN' CORPSE!"

Seen only by Kennedy, Willow slowly shook her head in disbelief. "I had to!" Buffy defended herself, half angry. "Spike is the better fighter, we need him more. That's the way it is." Kennedy watched Willow stop shaking her head, jaw open, and she knew something was happening with her girlfriend.

"Newsflash, Buffy, the First is INCORPOREAL!" Faith yelled back going toe to toe with Buffy. "You're little vamp will do nothing to it, his fist will go straight through! While Xander has been the focus of a spell, the heart as Willow called it to beat back a big evil. Magic is the only thing that could possibly harm the First, making your raping sex toy useless, and Xander all the more important. Even if that weren't the case, Xander killed three demons, and so did Spike before they got overwhelmed. Sorry, to disappoint you, but where I'm standing Xander is just as capable a fighter as Spike."

With shock Kennedy saw Willow's eyes turn black, and the redhead hissed, "Bitch!" Everyone looked over at Willow's, whose hair was starting to whirl with energy.

"Willow, please don't," Kennedy pleaded, blocking her girlfriend's path. She didn't really care about what would happen to Buffy, but she didn't like seeing Willow going down this path.

Willow's magical power became more intense, a cone of invisible energy surrounded her audibly, and pushed people aside. The heavy sound was impressive, and electrical discharges started shooting through Willow's hair. "Out of my way!" Willow growled out. "That bitch killed Xander, she'll pay!"

"Willow, this is not the way," Kennedy pleaded, but got flung aside, not very gently, but not harmfully either.

Willow advanced on Buffy with boiling determination, "You're going to feel pain, Buffy. Hell will seem like a picnic to you. You had Xander killed."

"Willow, please don't!" Kennedy cried out desperately, getting up from her place.

Buffy took a fearful step back; Willow seemed more powerful now than a year earlier, and back then it wasn't all focused on her and her alone. "Willow, don't, please!" Dawn tried to stop Willow, grabbing the redhead's left arm. The younger Summers wasn't exactly thrilled with her treatment by Buffy, but it was still her sister. With the flick of a wrist, Dawn was flung aside. Spike vamped out and attacked Willow, as the rest of the room looked with shock at the fully powered-up witch. Willow's right arm shot out, and before Spike could reach her, he was shot backward until he slammed into the door frame and continued to hang there. "Wait your turn," Willow hissed, and focused back on Buffy. "You filthy bitch, you had him killed, you him placed in an unmarked shallow grave, you made him what he is, you marked him with all that pain!"

Most of the SiTs present were even more confused now than ever. Faith was backing up with an instinctive fear as well, wondering how Xander had found the guts to go up against this, and come out victorious. Buffy was too wrapped up in her own survival to notice the strange wording. "It needed to be done, Willow!" Buffy pleaded desperately. "Why are you being like this? This is how I've always saved the day! I make these hard decisions, nobody else does, nobody else can. Please."

"I can see it in his eyes, Buffy," Willow hissed ignoring Buffy's pleas as she raised her arms, ready to release deadly magic. "I've known Xander for to long not to. The pain! You did that to him! You killed him!" Willow's hands started to glow.

"Willow don't." The statement was calm, soft almost, there was no pleading in it, no command, and yet there was no way one couldn't deny that the statement had to be followed to the letter. While before people had pleaded, and screamed, and physically tried to restrain Willow and failed miserably, now Willow's power drained away instantly. With normal eyes she looked over at Xander standing in the kitchen doorway. Spike dropped unceremoniously to the floor, yelling out in annoyance.

Xander smiled, and jumped, over a few potentials and landed smoothly on the back table, crouching instantly in a bird-like pose. The crow not once changed its position from Xander's right shoulder. "Xander," Willow whispered a little shocked as she saw Xander's painted face. Xander cocked his head. Throughout the room there were gasps of shock, followed by whisperings, more than a few laced with a little fear. Spike had his face crunched up with frustration.

"You wouldn't want to take away my vengeance, would you?" Xander asked, and then gave a cock toward Kennedy who was getting up. Willow looked over at her girlfriend and quickly ran over to her, whispering apologies, as she hugged her close. Xander slowly moved his head back and bored his eyes into Buffy's who had turned around and was looking shocked at her once best friend. A grin slowly spread upon Xnader's face, the make-up making it look infinitely more scary. "So . . . I'm evil, huh? And you always made the hard decisions, always made the right ones, and nobody else can make them?"

Buffy swallowed. This couldn't be happening. Xander wasn't supposed to come back to life, and if he did, he was supposed to be helping her, bring up morale, get everyone ready to fight the big final fight, not be an evil, murdering machine. Xander laughed then, hard. "I didn't know you still had it in you, Buffy," Xander said deceptively friendly. "An actual sense of humor." Buffy's jaw dropped at that statement. Xander jumped off the table lightly, and landed right in front of Buffy. "You've hardly ever made a hard decision in your life, and the few who you did make, you made wrong. You walked into every trap that was ever set for you. A prophecy said you were going to face the Master alone and die, and you promptly went to him alone to die. A smart person would have brought us all along and kicked his ass. Next hard decision: kill Angelus, the soulless-monster-stripped-of-his-soul version of your love, Angel. Oh, wait, you let him live and kill and torture for several months until you had no choice left. Sending the newly re-ensouled Angel to hell; sorry, that one was easy, send him to hell, or let all of us go to hell, including him. One or one plus all, kind of simple matter of math to me."

"That's . . . I . . ." Buffy muttered shocked, feeling a pain welling up inside her.

"What? You did more tough decisions?" Xander asked incredulously. "When we fought the mayor? Don't you remember how I planned and executed most of that plan, along with some help from Giles? Your first idea was nice, but the way you wanted to execute it, would have gotten us all killed. Key guy, remember that? You were smart enough back then to trust my judgement more than your own. You should remember it all clearly now, Willow restored your true memories after all, not that was any different in the altered memories." Buffy looked up at him like a deer caught in headlights. "Against Adam, my blurted out idea that allowed Giles and Willow to get the enjoining spell, remember when you were moaning about Riley being the only one that had your back then? Kinda like Spike now: completely wrong both times. Glory, that was all four of us together, and even Anya helped out with that plan, never just you. Last year, well, you were too much moping about to make any sane decision. I stopped Willow from killing everyone on the planet, not you." Willow looked pained, and a few of the SiTs who hadn't heard the story yet, looked over at her. "Please, tell me again, decisions you alone can make . . .?"

"You're evil! You're the First!" Buffy accused him.

"Whoa, a Slayer with just a few working brain cells, now there's a rarity. No offense, Faith," Xander stated with a grin.

"None taken," Faith answered with a wide grin.

Xander grinned, and spread out his arms, making him look like a scarecrow with a coat flowing around him. The crow was not scared one bit though, and even squawked its approval. Xander continued, "Touch me, all of you." A lot of the SiTs and Buffy came forward and touched the very solid form of Xander Harris.

"You're still evil," Buffy accused angrily. "You killed Caleb straight out of Silence of the Lambs." Buffy gestured at Anya who had done nothing but slack-jawed looked on in fear at the crow and Xander. "Anya said so, Spike said so, you even attacked him, and I know it too. You're evil. You came back evil."

Xander laughed out loud, and said, "Buffy, how can you think that of me!? You know I'm not capable of something like that. I didn't kill Caleb."

"You didn't?" Buffy asked confused, as confused as most of the people in the room were, looking at their resurrected confidante deny the very thing they hoped he had done.

"Of course not," Xander said sincerely. "And I can prove it too."

Buffy's eyes brightened, and she looked him in his eyes, "You can?"

Xander nodded, and took a step forward, standing right in front of Buffy, and he bent forward, until his face was nearly touching Buffy's. His eyes bored into Buffy's, and with a sly grin, that sent shivers of fear down Buffy's spine, he said, "I have a soul." Buffy frowned, as Xander took a small step back righting himself. She was confused, and a few snickers came from the mostly SiT audience.

How could Xander do this to her? Buffy couldn't understand it as the implication of what Xander had said sank into her. How dare he! How dare Xander come back to life, come here, and use the bond she and Spike had so callously. Buffy pulled her fist back, and threw it at Xander's face. Xander's left hand whipped up, and caught her wrist easily, surprising Buffy. Xander's grin faded rapidly and he pushed Buffy back, making her stumble a few steps before stopping.

Xander looked at the slack-jawed blonde slayer with disgust. He shook his head, and said, "I cannot believe you would dare say you always make great decisions after two fiasco's in a row. If I weren't there the first time, a whole lot more girls would have died, and the second time you're lucky I took out the bastard and his minions before you got there or you would have walked right back into another trap.

"You know it's a trap," he continued, sneering with disgust, "and yet you just walk right into it. You go into a building you have no knowledge of, have no idea what's inside, how many enemies there are, and you go down one narrow little entrance with a big group of hardly trained girls. If you had any sense of tactics or strategy, you would make sure there is more than one exit. I know you're not smart enough to understand any tactic and weapon of the past century or two, but come on . . . China, fourth of July: fireworks, they are called explosives, Buffy, gunpowder, it's been around for only oh, say two thousand years. And even if you couldn't get your hands on them, which you could, there's always a witch here with enough power to magically explode holes in the walls."

"I left her here to protect those I left behind," Buffy whimpered weakly in defense.

"No, you left her here because she's not a bleached blonde vampire as stupid as you," Xander bit back at her. "And you didn't feel the need to keep an eye on her, like you did with Faith. You could have defeated that halfwit Caleb with ease. Blow open those walls, you'd kill several Bringers with the get go. First wave attacks with crossbows from all sides, surrounding the ones inside. Still dazed Bringers you take out, second wave follows with swords, as the Bringers see their companions die in front of them, they wouldn't be ready. The first wave has time to reload and join the second, by which time there's only Caleb left if he wasn't dead with the explosions already. Caleb may be strong and fast, but not even he can fight off 20 bolts coming at him at the same time. But one would require some tactical insight, some strategic insight to think of that, and you don't have any, right, Buffy?"

"I-I do," Buffy managed, disbelieving how this was going. The whole group of fighters for good looked breathlessly at the confrontation.

"Really? Is that why you chose to save that thing, instead of one of your two best friends, who've been at your side for seven years?" Xander spit out.

"Yes," Buffy whispered, not understanding how things had gotten to this point.

"Why are you supposed to be in charge, Buffy. Could you explain that to me?" Xander asked calmly.

"I'm the Slayer," Buffy answered with some conviction.

Rona, one of the SiTs noticed something, and started saying, "You're n- . . ."

"Quiet," Xander interrupted her, still calm. Rona looked surprised but kept her mouth shut. Xander turned back to Buffy, and asked, "So, what improvements do you have over a normal human being as a Slayer then. Stop me if I'm wrong; strength, speed, agility, speedier healing, killer instincts, that about it?"

"Yes," Buffy answered not getting where Xander was going with this, as her heart tore further in two inside of her. Xander Harris, her best friend, the guy who had been there for almost all this time, was tearing systematically into her like he had never before, only threatening to kill her if Willow got hurt was more harsh, but even that was one small moment, it never been anything like this.

Xander smiled, as he said, "So what you're saying is, that if you're the strongest you get to lead?"

"Yes," Buffy answered uncertain.

Xander nodded, then turned to his left, and held out his left hand. "Kim, can I borrow your sword?" Everyone looked with surprise and confusion at Xander. Hesitantly the potential nodded and handed over the sword. Xander grabbed it with his outstretched hand and lifted it calmly.

Buffy took an involuntary step back, several concerned shouts, and a very angry one from Spike sounded, but non could do anything in time. The sword sliced easily through flesh . . . it came out the back of Xander's own torso; it had gone straight through his own belly. Sounds of shock moved loudly through the room, and then Xander smoothly pulled the sword back out. Everyone saw the wound close right in front of their eyes.

Xander held the sword in his left hand, and with a deep grin he said - his sinister eyes boring into Buffy's, "I'm Immortal, more so than any vampire could hope to be." Rapidly Xander took a step forward, and swung his right arm, smashing a backhanded punch directly across Buffy's right cheek before she could even react. Their was a moan of pain as she shot backward through the air, a light crack indicating the bone in her face got hurt. The SiTs parted aside smoothly, as Buffy landed painfully on the low table in front of the tv and tumbled onward. The motion sent Caleb's head, lying on that very same table, rolling to the floor. Buffy smashed into the couch, which started keeling backward, until it collided with the wall and bounced back. Buffy rolled back off the couch banging her head painfully on the table, before dropping to the floor in pain. She moaned out, tears streaming down her eyes, as she moved her head to look up.

Xander casually walked forward, smiling. Spike vamped out, and got ready to attack Xander, but he just nailed Spike to the floor with a terrifying gaze, a big smile present. He told the vampire, "Go ahead, make my day." Spike stayed put, his demonic visage retreated. "That's a good boy, too self-centered to help your loved one, right, Spike?" Spike growled but stayed put. Xander laughed and reached Buffy. He casually pointed at Caleb's head, the crow still on his shoulder cawed in satisfaction, and ruffled its feathers. "That says I have killer instincts as well, that's three out of five already, as for speed, did you see me light the crow out there?" Xander nodded his head to the scorched lawn outside the broken window. Buffy looked up at him with tears in her eyes, sobbing lightly. "I don't think holding a gymnastics contest is necessary anymore, but rest assured, I am also more agile than you are. Well, Buffy, I guess that means I'm in charge then."

Xander then turned around with a grand gesture, and asked, "Now who here thinks Buffy is smarter than me, that she has greater tactical and strategic insights than I do?"

Nobody answered, except Spike who thought this was a safe time to show his support for the girl he had wrapped around his finger. He lifted his right hand and said, "I . . ." He didn't get further than that. Xander smoothly switched the sword to his right hand, and lashed out, cutting off Spike's raised hand at the wrist. With a scream of pain Spike staggered back, as the severed hand dusted before it hit the floor. Everyone looked at the downed vampire in shock, most had barely seen Xander move.

"Nobody at all," Xander stated and turned around to look at the shocked Buffy, who was looking at Spike nursing his handless wrist. "I'm not surprised." Xander stepped over the low table, crouched down and put his made-up face directly in front of the face of the weeping Buffy. "Just to make it clear, Buff. That little immature bully behavior, showing off who's stronger here, has absolutely nothing to do with who's supposed to be in charge." Xander tapped his right index finger against the side of his head, and added, "When it comes to the leader, only what's up in here counts, and with you there's nothing, nothing but an immature, selfish, little bitch." Buffy looked shocked and pained at Xander's accusation. "You like to save the world, but only as long as it compliments your ego, and as long as your present boyfriends looks good. You have no capacity to second guess your opponents, to handle uncertainty; and that's exactly what it means to be mature: handling uncertainty. You plan for it, you deliberately do something to out maneuver the uncertainty, but you always, always know that no matter what you do there will always be uncertainty, things might go wrong, so on before hand you decide what to do when things do go wrong. But you can't do that, the only thing on you mind is: 'Huh, I Slayer, I kick down door, I swing fists, I kill demon.' That you could get your head blown off charging in without knowing what's there doesn't even enter in your pitiful mind. You're nothing but a foot soldier, the only leading you should be doing is cheerleading." Buffy looked up in the enraged, dark eyes of Xander, and watched as the crow cawed. Somehow Buffy knew the crow was not being friendly. She broke down in sobs and crying, lowering her face to the floor ignoring the pain and the healing tingle in her jaw and cheek bone.

Xander held out his hand, and said, "Riley's number, give it to me."

Buffy weakly shook her head. "In my room," she muttered almost inaudibly.

"When you're done crying like a little girl, go fetch it," Xander told her none too friendly, and then he got up, and stepped back over the table. He smiled at Kim, and handed her her sword, "Thanks for lending it too me." Kim nodded with awe on her face, and took the sword back.

"All right then," Xander said looking around the room. "Are we ready to stop getting our asses kicked?" There were several enthusiastic whoops. Xander smiled, and asked a little louder, "Are we ready to kick some intangible ass instead?" Now the whole room of SiTs burst into a loud roar of approval, even Faith and Dawn joined in. The more seasoned members looked rather astounded.

"Good, settle down," Xander called out, a smile on his face, looking around the room. "First we'll honor two of our comrades with a proper burial, then we go see about the First and his little plans, so get yourselves ready."

The atmosphere dampened a little, but quickly the SiTs nodded enthusiastically and they started up the stairs to their rooms, leaving only the Scoobies, the new non-potential fighters, Kennedy staying close to Willow for now, and Spike. Kennedy looked at Willow and then stalked off. Xander noticed but didn't comment. "Faith, Wood," Xander called, then turned to Spike, and walked over to him. "How's your hand?" Xander asked with an evil grin at the vampire still sitting on his ass nursing his healing wrist. Spike looked up at Xander with hatred, and Xander grinned deeper checking out Spike's remaining hand. "Seem's just fine to me." Xander bent down and pulled Spike off the ground and marched him toward the entrance to the basement.

"Bloody hell! I've got a soul now, and I beat the trigger," Spike wined, his feet kicking at empty air trying to find a foot hold.

"I don't care. I'm going to torture you to death, you sick son of a bitch, that's a promise," Xander said and casually dropped him down the stairs, watching with a big grin as the blonde vampire tumbled painfully down the stairs.

"He's mine," Robin hissed coldly.

"No, he's mine," Xander stated casually, and looked over at the black man. "He only killed your mother . . ."

Robin got angry and was about to interrupt, Faith gave him an angry look, and said, "Let him finish."

Xander inclined his head bird-like in thanks, and continued, "I had to live with him for four years, while my self-esteem, and self-worth was taken from me by some damn monks, and he got me, ME, killed. Indirectly, but still. Besides, I'm not in the mood for petty revenge at the moment, we've got bigger things to worry about, like righting the biggest wrong here: the First Evil. We'll deal with the vamp after we're finished with the First . . . Tell you what though, I let you watch, and perhaps even let you help me out."

Robin's angry face suddenly turned into a big grin, "Deal."

"Come on," Xander said and casually hopped down the stairs. Behind him several of the others watched with uncertainty. Robin and Faith followed him down, where Xander was rapidly chaining Spike to a wall.

When he was done, Xander turned around and said, "Faith, you're in charge of keeping him guarded. Make sure whoever it is knows to stay away from the sneaky bastard, and absolutely not talk to him. They need to have a way to sound giant alarm if he manages to get loose, got it?" Faith nodded. "Good." Xander turned to Wood. "You keep an eye on him as well, but that's all you'll be doing, understood?" He nodded as well. Then Xander nodded in satisfaction, and went back up the stairs.


As Robin, Xander, and Faith went downstairs Willow watched Kennedy walk away to the kitchen. Andrew standing off to the left, just looked around nervously, hoping the scary version of Xander Harris didn't have an axe to grind with him too. Willow was torn for a moment, and then followed her girlfriend into the kitchen. She saw Kennedy stand in front of the kitchen window, arms folded in front of her chest. "Kennedy," Willow said softly, uncertain. She walked over to the dark-haired potential, and added, "I'm sorry."

Kennedy didn't say a thing, she just kept staring, and Willow stayed silent, waiting nervously. Finally Kennedy turned, smiled at Willow, and said, "Apology accepted." Willow was about to say something, but Kennedy put her arms away from her chest, and said, "I have to say, I found it very shocking you pushed me aside while two words from a guy can bring you to a standstill." Again Willow wanted to say something, but Kennedy shook her head, and continued, "I understand. He's your best friend, you've known him for over fifteen years, and you've known me for only a few months. I hope one day I'll mean that much to you."

Willow stayed silent, she saw in Kennedy's eyes she wanted to say more. She took a step forward, looked Willow straight in the eyes, and said, "I'm a brat."

"N-no, of course . . ." Willow started wanting to reassure her girlfriend she was a good person.

Kennedy shook her head, and said, "No, Willow, I am, or at least I was." Kennedy sighed at her own introspection. "I've been sure of everything all my life, Willow . . . until Xander died and I had no idea about how to cheer you up. I even resented you for it." Willow looked a little stunned at Kennedy's confession, and stayed silent. Kennedy spoke onward, "I was cocky, self-absorbed, thought I was oh so mature, and then the world bashed me over the head with a giant sledge hammer several times. People I cared about died, that was a first for me, the slayer I practically idolized turned out not to be such an idol . . . Did I sent Chloe to her death?"

"We all did," Willow answered softly. "We should have taught all of you much sooner ways to not fall for its manipulations."

Kennedy nodded weakly, "I was far too eager to take Buffy's explanation: Chloe was stupid." Kennedy shook her head. "I screwed up. First time I admit that."

"We've all screwed up, some more than others," Willow replied, her eyes filled with a mixture of emotions that Kennedy couldn't fully decipher.

Kennedy walked over to the redhead and gently wrapped her arms around her neck, and looked deeply into her eyes. "Something Xander just said struck me," Kennedy started, and Willow listened intently. "He said that maturity is the ability to handle uncertainty, to plan for it, to accept it. I've been extremely immature. Uncertainty didn't exist for me, I wished I would never be uncertain again. Uncertainty is only going to grow isn't it? You're previous lovers, Oz and Tara, what I know of them . . . they are the exact opposite of what I am. Mature, calm, collected, wise beyond their years, humble; perhaps I'm better for you, perhaps only now, perhaps you'll outgrow the need for me in a few years, months even?"

"Ken . . ." Willow tried to say something.

Kennedy smiled as she interrupted Willow, "I don't mind." Willow looked into the dark-haired girl's eyes, and saw the rawness there. "It's time I grew up, isn't it? We'll take things one day at a time."

"Careful," Willow said with a smile. "Don't want to get to mature and collected, or I'll have to dumb you for one of the younger, childish models to corrupt and have fun with."

Kennedy laughed out loud, "Oh, don't worry, baby. I'm not turning into a stick in the mud anytime soon." She then leaned forward and ferociously kissed Willow. Willow kissed her back with the same fiery passion.


Xander, Faith, and Robin came back into the living room, and Xander saw Buffy still sobbing on the floor, Dawn and Giles trying to comfort her. "Stop crying like you're a little girl," Xander spat out angrily. Buffy looked up weakly. "Go upstairs and change, or are you not even going to be at the funeral of the girls you sent their deaths?"

Buffy nodded weakly and got up, walking toward the stairs. Xander casually followed her with his gaze. Faith and Robin looked at Xander. "Aren't you being a little harsh?" Robin asked perturbed. "Staying harsh I mean, isn't the whole lesson thing over?"

Xander turned his head, much farther than an ordinary human should be able to, and smiled eerily at Robin. Once again the make-up sent a thrill through his nervous system. "I'm not nearly harsh enough," he told Robin. Xander looked around the living room and noticed Anya sitting there in a chair, pale, and looking with fear at Xander. Xander raised his eyebrows, and asked gently, "Anya? Is something wrong?" Anya seemed to go rigid and tried to push further back, but since the chair was standing against a wall she accomplished nothing. "Anya?" Xander asked again and took a step toward, which seemed to make her try harder to get away.

Dawn joined Xander and she told him softly, "She thinks you're evil, every crow being evil."

Xander blinked, and then thought to the crow, *Leave us for a while, go patrol the perimeter.* The crow cawed, and flew away from Xander's shoulder. He then slowly walked toward Anya, kneeling down. "Hey, Anya," Xander whispered gently, placing a hand on one of hers. She pulled it back fearfully. "Don't worry, I'm not evil, I won't hurt you."

"You're worse than evil," Anya squealed out hysterically. "Leave me alone, you disgusting thing!"

"It's me, Xander, you're ex-fiancee," Xander tried, feeling his heart break at the fear with which the woman he once loved, and still very deeply cared for looked at him.

Anya shook her head, "You're not him. You've twisted him! My Xander would never turn into a sick thing like you."

Xander looked back at Faith, and said, "Faith, get me a wet towel." The Slayer nodded, and bolted up the stairs with huge strides.

"I don't think you can convince her, what does it matter?" Giles asked somewhat emotionlessly.

Xander looked up at him, and answered with narrowed eyes, "We can't afford someone on our side so scared of the leader she can't get up out of a chair." A moment later Faith arrived back down, and handed the wet towel to Xander, who promptly wiped the make up from his face. "Anya, see? That's just make up. I came back from the dead to set the wrong things right, yes, but I'm not sickening or evil." Anya shook her head in disbelief. "If I were evil, Ahn, you and everybody in here would have already been dead." Anya looked down at Xander, wondering for a moment. "I can show you," Xander said gently, reaching out for her head, holding his hand still far away. "You know this is me, look at me with you human senses and instincts, baby. Throw away that demon conditioning, and really look at me, look into my eyes, look past the surface." Anya blinked, and looked, but shied away again. "Trust me, I can show you." Slowly Xander continued the motion of his hand, and Anya looked with fear at it, but did not turn away. Xander placed his hand gently on her forehead, and then pored into her his impressions of the last few days, before taking it away.

Dawn sighed with relief when she noticed Anya not running and screaming around like a mad woman. The blonde just looked on, eyes wide in shock, and then looked over at Xander. "That can't lie," Xander told her.

Anya looked closer at Xander, frowning, and then she shot forward wrapping her arms around Xander's neck. "Oh, Xander, that really is you, you're not evil?" Xander gave a confirmation, and suddenly Anya's happiness faded, and she hissed, "That bitch!"

"I know, don't worry, she'll get hers," Xander told her and then slowly let her go. "You ok?" Anya nodded. "Good, get ready for a funeral then." Xander got back up, and told his shadows, "Go fetch the others, I want to talk to Willow, and then we'll go to the cemetery."

Xander walked into the kitchen and found Willow and Kennedy kissing. He smiled, and said, "Sorry to interrupt, but can I cut in?"

The witch and the potential broke apart, and smiled back at him. Kennedy broke away from Willow and walked over to Xander, and looked up at him somewhat intimidated. Xander raised his eyebrows at her, but then Kennedy reached up and gave him a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you for saving my life, and saving all of ours by stepping in here," Kennedy told him with an intense look.

"No problem, Kennedy, although I know a better way to thank me: also requires the use of your lips," he returned with a grin, and gave her a wiggle with his eyebrows.

"Xander!" Willow half shrieked. "Not only is she my girlfriend, she's also a lesbian!" Kennedy laughed out loud.

"Exactly, no chance of getting slapped," Xander answered Willow's protest, the grin growing even wider, as Kennedy left the kitchen still snickering.

Xander took several steps and placed himself on a stool at the table, his grin fading. "That wasn't a very nice performance out there, Willow."

The witch looked down in shame, and slowly walked forward and sat down on her own stool. "It got to me, you and I, we've stood by her, protected her, fought side by side her every step of the way, and then she chooses that . . . that . . . vampire above you, and thus above me, and her sister, and . . ." Willow trailed off and looked up at Xander. "I just wanted her to pay . . ."

"Nothing wrong with that," Xander told her gently. "Those very feelings are part of what brought me back from the dead. Using magic isn't bad either, what is bad is losing so much control you ignore your friends, and bash your girlfriend aside." Willow looked down in shame again. "Do you know why you have so little self-control?"

Willow looked up in some surprise, and whispered, "No."

"You lack balance," Xander stated calmly, smiling lightly. "You've always been focusing on one type of magic, one type of use for magic, one type of emotion to unleash it. Tara was no slouch with magic, and not weak either, have you ever seen her eyes go black?" Willow shook her head. "This is what I want you to try, Willow. Research the different modes of magic, try to find a way to tap into your magic without your eyes going black, try to find that balance, once you have that, I'll bet you'll no longer lose yourself into it so easily anymore. Can you do that for me, Willow?"

"Yeah, I can try," Willow answered, looking up at the smiling Xander. "Since when did you get so wise?"

"I died and resurrected so fast Jesus is pissed off I broke his record. That's quite a philosophical event," Xander half-joked, smiling widely. "Met this entity on the other side, he was the balance to the FE's yin and His yang - whoever the hell that is - whose enjoining created the universe, apparently. Guy kept on talking and talking, I told him to get to a point, now that I look back at it, I realize he probably didn't utter word that wasn't a point in and of itself."

Willow blinked and digested that information, and then asked, "Xander? Have you ever wondered why we resurrected Buffy?"

"Actually . . . no. Why?" Xander answered intrigued.

"Because," Willow started her explanation empathically, getting worked up, "I've been thinking about this, ever since I did the memory restoration spell, I admit I've followed Buffy around like a puppy for some time, but I always had at least somewhat a sense of myself. Then Dawn arrives, and neither of us give a peep when Buffy decided to keep what she knew about Dawn between her and Giles, like we're somehow inferior and need to be protected from the big bad world out there, while only months before we had a giant fight over that very issue.

"Just months before we resurrected Buffy, we were lecturing Dawn why you don't resurrect people. And voila, we're resurrecting her, moaning constantly about how we needed her. But why did we need her? I hurt Glory, a god, while Buffy didn't even put a scratch on her, I was already more powerful, and more deadly than Buffy could ever hope to be. You were no slouch with fighting either, Tara had quite some magic ability, and then there was Spike; as long as we made sure it was in his best interests to work with us, he would follow us like a good little puppy. Hell, I could have given him his soul back then . . ."

"Which wouldn't have changed a thing as far as Spike is concerned," Xander interrupted for a moment. "Think about it, when has the bastard shown even one moment of change. He's still wants to be in Buffy's pants and he still doesn't care about anything else. Soul, or no soul, Spike is evil to the core of his existence."

"I suppose, yeah, I haven't really seen a change," Willow thought it over, before continuing. "Add the Buffybot, and answer me, why would we need Buffy to fight battles for us? Why were we so blinded, so utterly needy, and dependent that we'd breach the very rule we'd been teaching Dawn only months before?"

"Those monks," Xander hissed.

"No," Willow stated immediately. "What would the monks need with totally needy, pathetic fighters protecting their precious key? I do think they've messed with our loyalty quite a bit, but I don't really remember being that needy of Buffy before her death, or after her resurrection. This was caused by a different spell, one we did about the same time."

"The enjoining ritual," Xander said with revelation. "The First Slayer came after us because we tapped into her power."

Willow nodded vigorously, "But we were never supposed to, even though we talked about it like we did. Remember the idea you blurted out." Xander nodded. "We were meant to be enjoined, of the First Slayer was never mentioned. Giles and I, or just me, or just him, we screwed up the spell, we pulled upon power and beings that were long dead." Willow then quickly recited a spell, after a small light show, she asked, "What do you see?" Xander watched at Willow, seeing black blotches throughout her body.

Xander looked at Willow questioningly, and wondered out loud, "You're black magic trip?"

Willow pulled a small mirror from a pocket in her clothes and held it up. Xander saw the same blotches in himself, then she pointed at the living room. Xander turned around, pushed open the door slightly, and looked, he saw Giles, having the same black blotches, and then Kennedy and a few more potentials coming down the stairs, ready for the funeral; they had one tiny little black dot right on their foreheads, then Faith; completely black. Xander turned back to Willow with wide eyes. She recited a spell and his vision returned to normal. "The Slayer Essence," Xander whispered.

"This wasn't supposed to happen, Xander, it's why we've got this telepathic connection with each other, somehow during the enjoining, we didn't just fuse with Buffy, something of the Slayer fused with us, and it did not properly return, it got fragmented over us," Willow explained timidly. "I screwed it up again."

"Two slayers, then we fragment the Slayer Essence even more, Buffy dies - probably restoring some of the balance - but we're somehow still connected, the pieces of Slayer Essence inside of us screamed to be reunited, so we resurrected her, shattering any semblance of balance," Xander stated in revelation.

Willow nodded and replied, "Exactly, that's probably the imbalance that eye explained to Giles and Anya."

"Then I go die and resurrect myself, that couldn't be good for the Slayer Essence either. Explains why they haven't just blown up the house like they did the Watchers' Council, or why the Ubervamp left Buffy alive: kill us, kill Buffy, and you remove the imbalance," Xander mused, quite taken aback by the implications. Willow nodded her head in agreement. "We have to restore it, put it all back into one Slayer."

"You want to make Buffy the only slayer again?" Willow asked somewhat taken aback. "Put Faith's stuff back into Buffy?"

Xander looked at her, shook his head, and said, "Hey! Stop with the Buffy butt monkey already! Of course not, we take Buffy's, mine, yours, and Giles' stuff and put it all in Faith. Buffy was six foot under, she's already shown she has no sense of tactics . . . and Faith was supposed to be the one and only Slayer anyway."

Willow nodded, saying, "You're right, of course you're right."

"The Slayer Essence," Xander mused, frowning, "what was it that Buffy had said those men did to create the Slayer?"

"The heart of a demon, they placed the essence of a demon inside the girl," Willow answered timidly.

Xander looked intently at Willow, thinking it over. "I know putting all of our pieces of the puzzle in Faith is a tall order already, for someone who doesn't want to do magic," Xander argued gently, "but Willow, do you think you can purify the Slayer Essence at the same time? Throw out all the demonic stuff, and make it human, souled, without sacrificing any of the strength, speed, agility, predatory instincts, and prophetic dreams of the Slayers?"

"I, I . . . I don't know," Willow answered daunted. "I would have to do lots of research."

Xander grabbed Willow's hands gently, lending her his strength, "Do it, and keep this secret, the First hasn't been visible to everyone while he was around, don't want him finding out while he's walking around the house invisible to everyone." Willow nodded, feeling more confident with Xander's intent, strength sharing gaze.

Willow was struck by her best friend's clean face, and the difference it held with the painted mask he had worn earlier. She reached out with her right hand and let her fingers slide along his cheek. "This looks much better. Why did you paint that mask on you, anyway? I thought you hated clowns?"

Xander looked surprised, and remembered the little girl and her question. He smiled ruefully, and answered, "Strange, I never really saw it as a clown mask, I thought of it as a mask of Pain, of Sorrow, of Grief, of Rage . . . of Death, I just wanted my face to permanently reflect what I was feeling, and I painted that."

Willow gave him a sad smile, then they hugged for a moment.

Dawn had just opened the door and looked at the two of them, and interrupted them, as she asked, "Xander, can I talk to you alone?"

Xander looked at Willow. She nodded and got up, leaving the other two alone. Xander smiled, "Well, Dawnster, what do you want to talk to me about?"

Dawn stayed standing, and said, "Buffy." Xander's face immediately went sour. "I heard what you want to do to Spike, and about him I say 'Go, Xander', but . . . Look, I know she's been stupid, she's self-absorbed . . . I felt it too, and I know you and others have been hurt by her far more then I was, but . . ." Dawn hesitated, looking into Xander's dark eyes, his head cocked to the side. ". . . . She's still my sister, Xan; please don't kill her."

Xander got up slowly, and answered, "I'm going to make her pay. I haven't figured out yet just how I punish her best, but rest assured; I won't kill her, and I won't torture her to death . . . I won't be that lenient." Then Xander walked off into the living room, leaving a stunned Dawn.

He walked over to the considerable number of potentials, all wearing black, waiting for him and the rest. Buffy came down the stairs weakly. She watched Xander scrutinize her coldly, and hold out a hand. She placed the paper with Riley's number in his outstretched hand and Xander looked at it, realizing something. "Buffy," he prompted. The blonde looked up at him with empty eyes. "When you had Spike's chip removed, who was there?"

"A-a, uh, a squadron of soldiers, why?" Buffy asked with an empty voice.

"Armed?" Xander asked. Buffy nodded. "Did Riley give them any orders?"

Buffy frowned and thought back. "They had to follow my judgement."

Xander looked at her incredulously, "Are you telling me, that you had a squadron of armed to the teeth soldiers, experience demon hunters, under your command? That you could have asked them to stay and fight with us, get us supplies, perhaps even more soldiers to join us, and they would follow your orders? You constantly are harping on and on about being a general and turn these girls into an army, and you had an actual real army, experienced demon hunters, fully armed at your command, and you just sent them away?" Buffy looked up at him, saying noting, doing nothing. When he put it that way, it seemed rather weird. She had never thought of it back then. "They mopped up your little blondie bear, and then you just sent them away?" Buffy looked at him with resentment, as she felt the other potentials look at her with anger; she practically felt the daggers slice into her body. Xander chuckled, then laughed. The tone of his laughter filled with disbelief and disgust, as he shook his head with the same emotions.

He quickly went to a private room and picked up the phone. Someone sounding decidedly not military picked up. "Look," Xander interrupted the woman harshly. "This is Harris. Tell Agent Finn we need a full compliment of demon hunters, armed to the teeth, and with full supplies here, it would be nice if he and his wife came along as well. Tell him this is the big leagues, tell him something worse than the devil himself wishes to end the world." The woman hadn't been able to get a word in, and now she didn't have time to utter a reply before Xander hung up the phone. He returned to the main living room, and looked at everybody present. "Everyone ready? Let's go then."

Chapter 8
The Power of Three

Xander had just finished digging the graves using the small, tracked, digging machine. The potentials were around, watching. The crow was doing his magic on the marble gravestones pecking away the writing.

Faith stood watching the crow go at, and commented, "Kind of looks like a woodpecker, doing that." The crow suddenly stopped, and turned his head to look directly at Faith's eyes. She blinked, oblivious to the danger.

"Faith," Xander commented gently as he arrived back at the gathering. Faith acknowledged her name, and Xander said, "A piece of advice. Don't ever call him a woodpecker again; he doesn't like it."

"How do you know?" Faith asked confused.

Xander smiled, saying, "Telepathic connection with the beast, again, I advice you don't do it again. Apologizing would be a good idea."

"Oh, okay. I'm sorry," Faith told the crow, feeling ridiculous. The bird inclined his head, turned it, and resumed hacking away at the headstone.

A few moments later two hearses arrived; a deserted town, including deserted funeral homes had their advantages. Wood got out of one car, and Giles out of the other. Then they went back to open the back. Xander nodded to Willow who walked to the back of the cars nervously. Once there she recited a spell, and then the coffins came floating out, and slowly hovered toward the graves. "Uhm, which is which?" Willow asked, and Wood answered. Willow then directed the coffins to the right grave.

When the coffins floated over the graves, the crow finished its hacking and flew away, landing on Xander's right shoulder. Xander walked to in the middle of the graves, then turned around to regard the gathered half-circle of potentials, the Scoobies, Andrew, Wood, and Anya. Buffy stood off to the side, shunned by everyone else but Dawn, who was standing with her trying to lend some form of support.

"We're together here today, to bury to girls. Two girls who were our comrades in arms. Some of you didn't know Chloe Ashton, you arrived after her death, but you should know she was as brave as all of you. Jennifer Evans you all knew, she went to fight an evil far more powerful then herself without fear. These two girls were some of the bravest I've ever met, and both their deaths were needless. Let these graves remind us just how much we screwed up, some more than others, but this all our faults," Xander gave the speech, and saw many of the girls have tears flow from their eyes. He gave a nod to Willow, and with a flick of her wrist the caskets started descending. "But we're not going to stand here and do nothing. These are two wrongs that none of us can right, but we can equal things out. We will demand retribution from the thing responsible." The caskets reached the bottom, and with a new gestures and whispering of a spell, the ground started being shoved into the holes. "We will make sure their deaths weren't for nothing. We will fight the first and greatest evil this universe has ever seen, and bring it to its, and it won't get a funeral." Once the sand was pushed in and stomped tight the headstones were placed deep into the ground marking the graves.

Chloe's read, 'Chloe Ashton, 2-25-1988 ? 3-15-2003, One of the brightest souls under the sun.', and Jennifer's read, 'Jennifer Evens, 13-7-2086 ? 5-2-2003, Lived bravely, fought bravely, died bravely.' Beneath that, both headstones carried the sentence, 'Gave her life for all of ours.'

Xander placed his hand on Chloe's headstone, his eyes misted up, as he whispered, barely audible only to the Slayers, "I wish I'd died sooner." Then Xander switched to Jennifer's grave, and whispered, "I'm sorry I was late."

Xander slowly walked forward and joined Willow, Andrew, Faith, and a few of the other non-potentials. Xander waited calmly as the potentials - Kennedy went first, taking Willow along and spent more time at Chloe's grave - paid their own personal respects to their fallen comrades. When everyone was halfway through, Chloe's loud voice interrupted them all. "Well, well, well, so you bothered with giving me a funeral after all, how nice of you. Truly, this soooo makes up for leaving me rotting in a shallow grave for two months," the First Evil sarcastically remarked and casually walked into the middle of the group, passing straight through several potentials. Some of them looked shocked at their comrade's reappearance, others just looked apprehensive. "I'm going to have so much fun seeing you all be torn apart," FirstChloe gloated around, then turned into Jennifer. Looking at Faith, she said, "If not her, I will."

"You really are sick, disrupting a funeral like this, a double funeral no less. Trust me when I say, I look forward to the soon to be day you get yours," Xander hissed out, and then turned away from the graves and walked toward the exit of the cemetery. "Come on, guys, we're leaving." Half of the group immediately followed him. Xander slowed his pace and added, "Come on, you can pay your respects when that bitch isn't defiling it." The remaining potentials looked from the First to the graves and then nodded as they followed Xander.

"Hey, you can't just leave!" the First protested.

"We can, and we are," Faith stated with a evil grin on her face.

"Listen, I . . ."

"Blah!" Xander called out loud.

The rest of the them followed suited, turning into a unified throng of voice, "Blah, blah, boring."

The First vanished from site, and reappeared in front of Xander as Jesse, and snarled, "THIS IS YOUR DOING!" FirstJesse accused, but the Xander and the group didn't stop, they simply walked straight through the First Evil. The FE turned around and raged after Xander, "I WILL MAKE YOU PAY FOR THIS, HARRIS! MARK MY WORDS, I WILL DO IT PERSONALLY!!" It got no reply before it vanished to wherever.


"All right, everybody, gather around, and listen up," Xander called out in the Summers living room. The living room filled with people, and they looked with astounding at the weapons Xander had placed inside. The flamethrower and rocket launchers packed against the wall. The shotguns and a few pistols laying in wait, as well as the ammunition. Andrew and Robin who had helped get it all here still could hardly believe what they saw. "With Caleb's death, the First will have to regroup and bring in reinforcements before it can do much else, which means that we have several days time before it can start anything big." Xander turned toward Robin, and said, "I've heard you know a little thing or two about guns?"

"Not much, but a little, yeah," Robin answered somewhat.

"Good," Xander said with some finality. "You take a few potentials and find the gun shops in Sunnydale. They're either deserted, or someone will be left who will most likely be willing to help. Empty them out of everything useful, and start teaching the girls enough they won't blow their own brains out, or that of any of us." Robin nodded, and waited for more.

Xander turned to Willow, and commanded, "You and Giles find anything you can about Faith's new shiny toy. Scour the internet, books, any remaining contacts, I don't care if you have to hack the INS, I want to know just exactly what the thing is, and what it can do. The First said that it belonged to the Slayer that killed the last real demon with it before they left this realm. Unfortunately the demon's corpse dropped onto the slayer which killed her. It took a mountain along with it and the weapon has remained buried ever since. So I doubt you'll find anything concrete, but every little bit helps."

"All right," Giles answered with a face that spoke of relief.

"Uhm, Xan," Willow replied up a little embarrassed. "I don't think I'm really capable of hacking anymore, I haven't done it in a long time."

"I can," Andrew piped up timidly.

Xander looked over at the geek, and nodded, "Help them out." Andrew smiled widely, glad he could finally help.

"Anya," Xander said, turning over to his ex-fiance. The ex-demon looked up expectantly. "Same mission, find whatever you can about the axe in any demon circles you still have contact with. You have two to three days, so you can take a car and leave Sunnydale if need be. Faith . . ." Xander turned around to face the dark-haired slayer, " . . .if Anya needs to go out, you go with for protection."

"Yes, sir," Faith answered with a big smile, as Anya nodded.

Xander nodded, and then continued, "Buffy . . ." Buffy's head jerked up in surprise that her name was called. " . . . you and Faith - if she doesn't need to leave with Anya - will teach the potentials hand to hand, and short range weapons. Practicality, no fancy or standardized moves, got that?" Buffy nodded. "Dawn," Xander turned to the last of the people he had instructions for, remember Buffy had already been teaching her sister in last years summer vacation, and the time before the potentials arrived. "Help teach the potentials, and learn whatever Buffy and Faith are teaching them that you don't know yet."

"Yes, sir," Dawn answered with a big grin, glad she wasn't overlooked for a change.

"All right then, now that that's out of the way, the big announcement," Xander said with a confident face. "I've got a plan on how to beat this bitch. I can't risk telling you what the plan is, in case the First is watching and listening to us invisibly. But to make the plan work I'll have to go out of town to collect some ingredients." The potentials seemed disappointed and a little scared. "Don't get scared, you guys can handle yourself. Until I get back, Willow is in charge. Faith, Giles, Robin, and Dawn, you'll be her lieutenants." Willow looked somewhat shocked at her appointment, but then quickly recovered, and looking determined. "Finally, the First needs Buffy alive, she's the origin of the imbalance that the bitch is capitalizing on. So as long as she's inside of this house, they won't dare blow it up. They might come in here individually, but they won't dare to take out the whole place. Everybody understand?" The group of people answered positive. "Also what their tasks are?" Once again everyone answered positive. "Good, then I'll be off."

Xander started walking toward the front door when Giles asked, "Are you certain your plan will work? Can we beat the First?"

Xander turned back around, and walked over to Giles. He looked him square in the eyes, and smiling he said, "No, Giles, not beat the First; kill the First, destroy the First, wipe it off the face of existence, oblivion. Get it?" The other group of people looked somewhat confused at the scene. Giles nodded in reply. Xander again turned around and walked out the front door. He turned around said, "Cheer up girls, I will be back. Don't worry, see you all in a day or two." He turned back around and walked toward his car, and then Faith quickly bolted from her position, to say her personal goodbyes. Slowly Willow followed her, deciding she too wanted to say a private goodbye.

"Hey, Xander," Faith called. Xander halted and turned around. He looked at her questioningly and she caught up to him outside the house and looked up into his eyes. "Thank you," she whispered throatily, and Xander's eyebrows raised questioningly. "For everything."

Xander frowned and grinned at the same time. "I didn't do that much," he answered confused.

Faith smiled. She couldn't believe this, here she was actually developing feelings for the goofball Xander Harris. He'd always seemed fuckable, but the lightness she felt coursing through her she had never expected, least of all for him. She cared for him, yes, she had tried to kill him while he tried to be a good friend. Something like that is not something that a repented criminal who had been wracked with guilt like her easily forgets. But these kinds of emotions? Now? In the middle of the battle for the whole universe? That just wasn't her, and yet, there was no denying it. It concerned her, sent fear going through her body. Every instinct inside of her told her to run as far as way and as fast as she could . . . but she couldn't. She couldn't help but admire at him. Here was a guy, just a normal guy with no special powers, and he fought this fight along side his friends and family. This guy who had killed who knew exactly how many demons, probably more than some Slayers. Saved who knew how many lives, one thing was for sure; she, Buffy, Willow and the whole world were part of it - two of which were super powered, chosen to fight the darkness. Than the greatest evil of all kind rears its changeable head, and he finally falls - not one on one, but against one to four odds. But does he stay dead? Nope he resurrects himself, digs himself out of his grave - newly super powered - because he can't bear to see his friends lose the fight. Then he proceeds with saving even more lives, and brings a new structure, hope, and philosophy - life above death, and not a necrophiliac philosophy - to the good guy team, and all he had to say is 'I didn't do that much'.

Dang it, he was like this back then as well. Always humble, never one to toot his own horn, unless it was absolutely necessary. Faith winced inside, wishing she had bothered to take a closer look at Xander Harris years before, perhaps then she hadn't tried to kill him, and averted her subsequent downfall. Faith pushed it away, she had fantasized enough 'what if' scenarios in jail. Faith looked up at him, uncertain about what to do next.

Willow - coming out of the house moments earlier - looked at the pair, and was struck with how uncharacteristically quiet, and gentle Faith stood there, then watched with astounding, and strangely a sense of elation, as Faith inclined her head, and lifted herself toward Xander's face.

Xander pulled back, and looked somewhat angrily at the brunette. Faith closed off immediately, a flash of hurt coursing over her face. "You want some more flesh?" Xander asked, his own resentment taking over. Back in his mind he knew why Faith had been the way she had been, he had sensed it himself, but that hadn't really curved his own pain.

"No," Faith answered, half surprising herself. Obviously part of her wanted Xander like that, but she wanted more, most of her she found, just wanted to be held, to kiss him. "I want more."

"Why now?" Xander asked bitterly. "Because I'm strong now? 'Cause I'm important?"

"How about I'm not locked away behind steel bars?" Faith bit at him angrily, the life long betrayal she felt taking over her thinking. She turned on her heel, and started stalking toward the house in anger. She was stopped almost instantly at the loud sound.

Willow looked up astonished, as Faith did the same. Moments later a lot of the SITs came out and joined the others looking up. Then two large helicopters arrived. Military transport helicopters, with two large rotor blades on top: the Chinook. They turned and hovered over the front lawn. Sliding doors opened on both helicopters, followed by two ropes, and fully packed soldiers came sliding down them. Once down, one of the soldiers walked briskly over to Xander, while the soldiers behind him united into two squadrons.

"Who's in charge here?" the soldier asked.

"I am," Xander answered, in a military command tone, taken from his soldier memories. "Alexander Lavelle Harris."

The soldier give a quick salute, and answered, "Sergeant Eliott Powell, reporting for duty, sir."

"Good, what have you got here?" Xander asked, indicating the soldiers with a nod.

"Army, Marines, Navy Seals, you name it," Powell answered quickly, "We're a special case, sir."

"I'll give you a quick briefing," Xander stated with force, the sergeant and the soldiers were at immediate attention. "We're facing the First Evil. An incorporeal force of chaos, darkness, and evil, and it wishes to destroy the universe. It can't touch you, or hurt you, or vice versa but it can appear as any dead person, that means fallen teammates, your dead relatives, anyone or anything. Every fifteen minutes you touch whoever is nearest to you, anyone talking to you strangely, or dejectedly, you touch, you can actually touch them you know it isn't the First."

"Yes, sir," the soldiers answered in chorus, as the potentials, and even Willow looked with astonishment at the precise answer.

Xander continued, "Normally this thing can't even come into this realm without three of his minions summoning him, chanting in a nice ritual, but there's been a weakness, an imbalance, in the Slayer line. Know about the Slayers?"

"We've been briefed," the sergeant replied curtly.

Xander nodded, "It's been trying to wipe out the Slayers, it's been killing potential Slayers until now. Somehow the imbalance has something to do with Buffy, and the First needs her alive; as long as she is in the house, we don't have to worry about the house being blown up. There could be a more personal attack, he's got a way to summon pre-historic vampires from a seal underneath the highschool. There faster, and stronger than any of the vampires you've met before. Stake hardly helps, they've got a cartilage around their hearts as protection, you get a stake through, that stake will also be ruined."

"Understood, sir," the sergeant stated. He looked back and ordered, "Establish a perimeter around the house, corporals."

"Yes, sir," one woman, and a man answered. The two made some orders and then the squadrons dispersed, rapidly, and with purpose. One of the corporals made hand signals to the helicopters, and they lowered down again. Sandbags were tossed from the helicopters, and the soldiers started picking them up and carrying them to open places. Then the helicopters left.

The potentials looked with wide eyes as the smooth operating of the squadron, working like clockwork. "Now that's an army," Kennedy whispered to Willow at the sight.

The sergeant returned to face Xander, and asked, "Anything else, sir?"

"Anyone else coming?" Xander asked sternly.

"Yes, sir, we're just the first batch, the rest is coming over land. We even have some tanks," the sergeant answered smoothly, then a smirk crept up his face. "You said, you needed everything, sir. Agent Finn and her husband are coming in later as well, they're still tied up with a little demon nest in South America."

The other soldiers smiled as they we're busy with their jobs, but Xander didn't get it, asking, "I thought Sam kept her maiden name?"

"She did," Powell answered, his grin deepening, showing teeth. Behind him the soldiers made different degrees of amusement audible; some chuckled, others laughed out loud.

Xander got the joke, and laughed. When he stopped laughing, he added, "One last thing: I have to leave, pick up some ingredients. In the mean time, Willow Rosenberg, the redhead witch over there is in charge, she fill you in on all the details, you will also take orders from Faith over there, as well as Rupert Giles and Robin Wood. The potentials still need lots of weapons training, I think some of you will be able to assist Wood with that."

"Yes, sir, but I don't think its wise for the commanding officer to leave in the middle of a war," the sergeant replied.

"It isn't," Xander conceded with a neutral look. "But I'm the only one who can get the ingredients, and we absolutely need those ingredients. Don't ask, it's a magic thing."

"I hate magic," Powell replied nodding thoughtfully.

Xander nodded an acknowledgment and walked past the sergeant. "Xan!" Willow called out, and Xander turned around. "Be careful."

Xander smiled. Nodding, he answered, "Always."

"Bye, Xan," Dawn added, waving her heard.

Xander waved lightly back, and answered, "I'll be back soon, Dawn." Then Xander turned around and left the house.


Some time later

The potentials under Robin Wood's lead had just returned, and had placed their loot - weapons in all shapes and sizes - neatly in several rooms. They had gone to bed afterward, they needed their sleep, and it was well after midnight already. Faith was sitting at the table in the kitchen, casually twirling with a knife. She was restless, her Slayer constitution and instincts telling her to go outside and hunt. That very same constitution also allowed her to get by with far less sleep, so she wasn't in danger in keeling over during a battle some time later, which allowed her to just sit. She liked some of the soldiers, others not so, one of the women she had had quite a conversation with.

A handful of soldiers were holed up in the living room. Some of them were sleeping on mattresses, in sleeping begs right next to some of the potentials. A few of them were awake. The rest of the soldiers were outside, keeping watch out of sight. Willow sleepily came down the stairs, and reached the kitchen, rubbing at her face. "Hey, Red," Faith greeted casually. "What are you doing up?"

"Bathroom," Willow commented barely awake. "Hungry."

Faith grinned, and offered, "Let me fix you a sandwich, I'm bored to death, I need the distraction."

Willow nodded, replying, "Nice, thanks." She plopped herself down on a stool and watched as Faith started fixing her sandwich by taking out a bread knife, and the bread first. Willow watched sleepily, fighting to keep her eyes open.

"Hi, honey," Tara's voice sounded. Willow was instantly awake, cold chills running down her back. As Faith started whistling some kind of tune, Willow whirled around on her stool and looked into the face of her dead love.

"Tara," Willow whispered in disbelief.

"How are you, sweety?" Tara asked and took a step forward, closing the distance.

"F-Fine," Willow answered softly, hoping her voice didn't carry over Faith's whistling. Willow knew this wasn't Tara, that it was just the First, but she wanted to drink in Tara's visage one last time so badly.

"I should never have gone back to you," Tara whispered hatefully in Willow's right ear. A tear instantly sprung from the redhead's eyes as Tara continued. "I would still be alive, and I wouldn't have fallen for a lying, stinking, raping bitch." Willow's heart broke even more. "I've stopped using magic, look at you now. Tried to end the world, and still with the magic." Willow looked at the blonde in anguish, her body almost starting to wrack with sobs. "Better yet, I wouldn't be burning in hell, you people, you Jews with your bible are right, Willow. My family was right. All magic users end up in Hell, we're nothing but demons."

"Hey, Red, your sandwich is ready," Faith's voice interrupted Willow's desperate spiral toward towards oblivion. The witch's eyes widened, and she got up from the stool. Briskly she walked over to Faith and took the sandwich.

"Hell, Willow," the First said again, and then Willow started humming out loud, lightly surprising Faith. The redhead put two fingers in her ears, and humming loudly she started walking back the way she came. "Listen to me, Willow, you still have a chance," Tara called out, walking after Willow after the witch had walked straight through. The soldiers looked up in surprise as they saw the humming girl stomp through the room. They were unable to see the First following her, saying, "Stop the magic now, and you might still go to heaven." Her words were futile, Willow heard nothing, humming her jaunty tune through her full mouth - on occasion taking a hand from her ears to take a bit from her sandwich - Willow resolutely walking up the stairs. The First didn't follow her up, a grin spreading on her face.

"Well, that's one way to do it," one soldier commented, realizing why Willow was doing that, and he followed the humming Willow with his eyes.

"Effective to," Faith added. She was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, and too following the witch. She shrugged and turned around, going back to be bored in the kitchen, not really caring if the First appeared to her once again.

Sergeant Powell was inspecting his machine gun. "Hello, Sarge," a voice spoke suddenly, and Powell looked up, looking straight in the face of a dead fellow soldier, except he seemed quite alive. He looked around quickly and the others didn't seem to see his once friend. "You've been promoted huh?" the dead man taunted.

"I know what you are, so bug off," Powell stated and returned to inspect his gun. His fellow soldiers looked up at his statement, but didn't see anything.

"Oh, I'm not the First Evil, and you don't get away from me that easy, you left me for dead, you son of a bitch," his dead friend hissed.

"Mark, you were already dead. If I had stayed, not only would you be dead, but so would I, and the entire squadron," Powell returned, a lump forming in his throat.

"Sir," one of the soldiers called. "What's going on?"

"And what about me?" a new ghost from Powell's past asked, materializing next to 'Mark'.

"And me?" another asked, and another, and another. More and more of them arrived, people he killed, or couldn't save, or chose not to save, they rapidly filled up the room. Powell's eyes widened with shock, and took a step back.

He pointed his gun at some of them, thinking his couldn't be the First, so many at the same time. "Stay back," he warned scared, but the ghosts advanced on him, twisting into horrible demonic versions of themselves, ready it seemed to tear apart Powell.

"Sarge, there's no one here!" a soldier called out desperately, as they tried to stay out of the way of the gun, and try to wake some of the those asleep so they wouldn't be caught unaware.

"It's this First Evil thing, remember?" another soldier called out. "It's not real."

The demonic ghosts charged Powell, and he pulled the trigger. All hell broke loose. Those asleep were instantly awake, some of them screaming in pain. One soldier went down, clutching his leg, while some of the others charged the sergeant, trying to stop him. "Stay back!" he screamed, pulling the trigger again, causing them to dive to the floor.

Faith was a whirlwind, even as Powell warned to stay back again, she reached him. Faster than his eyes could follow she had squatted aside his gun, and forced him down to the floor. "GET A GRIP!" she screamed in rage, and even fear at him. A bullet could hurt her just as easily as anyone else. "WHATEVER YOU'RE SEEING IS NOT REAL!!" Powell reached for his handgun tucked behind his belt. One of his men grabbed the arm and pulled it back, Faith did the same with the other. Both of them held the crazed sergeant down. "GET A FUCKIN' GRIP!" Faith screamed again, as several of the soldiers who were outside came charging in, a medic pulled out his medical kit and went to the injured. Powell looked up, and saw the demonic ghosts laugh out loud, and then disappear all at the same time, and he calmed down.

"I-I'm alright," he answered weakly.

Faith took his handgun and tossed it to another soldier. "Rope," she commanded as she pulled Powell off the floor and placed him roughly on the couch. Potentials, one witch and the others came down the stairs and looked around in shock at the devastation.

One soldier pulled rope from his luggage, and handed it to Faith, after which she proceeded to bind the sergeant. "That's not necessary," Powell said weakly.

Faith stared straight in his eyes, and said, "Fuck you." She turned around when the task was finished, and looked in horror at the wounded, and people trying to help them. One soldier with a med kit walked over to her, and pulled out some implements. "I'm alright," Faith answered and tried to wave him off, at which time she felt a sharp pain shoot through her upper arm. She looked and saw blood poor out of a wound, flesh torn. The bullet had only grazed her upper arm, but the damage was done. Until just now the adrenaline had masked the pain. She swallowed, wincing in occasional pain, as the soldier proceeded with treating the wound. Before noon, Faith knew, there wouldn't be anything left of the wound, but now it hurt like a son of a bitch.

A short while later, Giles came to report to Willow and Faith, "Three dead, one potential, two soldiers. Eight wounded, two serious."


"Ma'am?" one soldier asked nervously. Faith turned around to look at him with blazing anger. "The sarge said there were more than one . . . how exactly do we know the difference between an actual vampire, and a fake one? We might be wasting ammo, if this First Evil decides to send two fake versions along with every real one."

Faith blinked, she hadn't thought of that, and neither had Xander it seemed. They had all mostly assumed the First could only at one place at a time. "I'll make a spell, marking the fake ones," Willow answered, sleep once again coming crashing down upon her, now that the adrenaline rush of the fear was gone. "But I'll do it tomorrow, I don't want to try spell being this tired, might end up blowing us all up."

The group looked around at each other, slowing coming to grips with the events, and then the soldiers got the three bodies and took them outside. Faith stalked back to the kitchen, grinding her teeth together in frustration, and feeling a sadness and pain starting to consume her.


As the plane went to land, Xander looked out the window, seeing the Crow sit on the plane's wing. Xander had no idea how the bird could have been sitting there, but it was. He wondered if anyone else had seen it. Just before the plane was about to land the bird flew away. Xander smiled, as he heard the captain announce they had reached Detroit.

An hour later Xander was following the Crow across the rooftops of the big city, and he went over what the Crow had told him during the flight; his name was Eric Draven, he was killed by a few bastards, while they rapid his fiance, who lasted another thirty hours of anguish in the hospital before dying. Like Xander, his pain had been so great, that he had come back from the dead. Unlike Xander, it had been a year since the event.


Inside the almost empty church, a black man was perched in a side niche, high up. He lifted his sniper rifle, and a crow came in the viewer. Suddenly an additional weight to his gun threw off his aim. A squawk accompanied it, and he opened his eye, seeing another crow sitting on his end of the barrel. "What the . . .?" he muttered, before the crow fluttered off. The moment it was gone a large black form, with a white face landing on the ledge he was using for support for his gun. The man grabbed the barrel of his gun and put pressure on it. As the barrel slowly bent upward, the man spoke, in terrifying low voice, "Didn't you know? We crows never come alone, we come in murders."

Before the assassin could even react, Xander's hand slashed out and tore out his throat. Xander jumped down, as his opponent staggered back. With a quick motion he snapped the man's neck, and he dropped to the floor dead. Xander looked down at the man with a grin.

Down below one man, in similar make-up than Xander stood at the front of the church benches. A man in long hair and pompous clothes, having a sword strapped to his back, came out from behind where the organ should be. "Come on, shoot it!" he called out, when the expected shot didn't arrive.

Eric Draven looked around, a little confused. A caw and a second crow landed on the opposite benches as the first crow sat. Top Dollar frowned, at the arrival. Then a sound and both Eric and Top Dollar watched Xander sail through the air, and land on his feet. The second crow squawked, and flew over, landing on the new arrival's right shoulder. "I'm sorry," Xander said, theatrically turning around, revealing his painted face, "but your associate had an unfortunate accident: I tore out his throat, and broke his neck."

"Now that's just not fair," Top Dollar commented, as Eric Draven's painted face returned to face him with a murderous grin. Eric's kick lashed out, and hit Top Dollar in his chest, sending him flying backward until he crashed into the wall behind him. He tried to move, but the much faster Crow was already on him, holding the man's face.

"I've been holding on to something I long need. Thirty hours of pain, and you get all of it at once," Eric hissed out in anger, and then pored his fiance's last moments deep into the criminal's mind, who screamed out in horror. Finished with that, Eric pulled back. Top Dollar looked up, terror written on his face. With a powerful uppercut, directly under the nose, Eric drove Top Dollar's nose bone straight up into his brain. Several moments later he was dead.

The doors to the church sprung open, and both Eric and Xander turned around to look at a black man enter the church, wielding a shotgun. Xander grinned. The man took in the scene, and then said, "Shit, now there are two of you?"

"Albrecht," Eric greeted with a grin.

A short scream took their attention away. Instantly the three men came into action, Xander being the closest to the door leading to the scream was the first to enter the narrow stairway. He bounded up the stairs, and moments later caught up with the source. An somewhat Asian woman was holding a gun to the head of a little girl. Eric and Albrecht caught up behind Xander. "STOP!" ordered the woman, and added, "Or I'll kill her." Eric and Albrecht froze. Xander smiled and slowly continued up the stairs. "Didn't you hear me?" the woman asked desperately.

"Damn it, stop!" Eric called out pleadingly.

"I heard ya, bitch, I just don't give a damn," Xander stated, smiling evilly all the while. "Really, you have but two options: kill her and I'll tear out your guts and feed them to you, or push the girl down the stairs, make me have to catch her, and hope I don't consider you important enough I'll make sure to catch up to you."

The woman slowly backed up, thinking over Xander's words. Suddenly she threw the girl over the railing down the long hole. Xander immediately dove over the railing, and since he was lower on the staircase he intercepted the girl. He took a hold of her collar with his right hand, and grabbed the rope with his left. Bells started ringing as Xander and the girl went up and down with the rope and bells.

Eric leaned over the railing and called, "Sarah!"

"I'm fine, just go get the bitch!" the girl yelled back. Eric nodded, and sped off in pursuit.

"Well, Sarah," Xander said as he started climbing upward, using his feet predominantly, "nice to meet you, I'm Xander. You're not afraid of flying, are you?"

"No," she answered a little confused.

"Good," Xander looked up at Albrecht, and asked, "can you catch?"

Albrecht put his shotgun against the wall, and while nodding, said, "Yeah." Xander pulled Sarah up, and rapidly moved his right hand onward, then letting go, making the girl sail through the air and lending in Albrecht's arms. He staggered back, and then landed against the wall, holding on to Sarah, before putting her on the ground.

Xander smiled, and then started swinging the rope back and forth, making the bell ring again. Suddenly he let go, and with a somersault he landed on the stairs. "Fuck man, you played with her life," Albrecht admonished Xander.

Xander shook his hand, and replied, "No, she played with her life, no matter what I'd done, Sarah here, would have always been in the same danger of dying."

A high pitched scream sounded, and then the Asian woman came falling through the shaft, banging against the railings on occasion. There was a sickening thud as she landed, and then her screaming stopped. Xander looked over the railing, and then ushered the two back down. Once back down below, they waited, Eric arrived moments later.

"Eric Draven, I presume," Xander answered with a smile. "My name is Xander Harris, and I need your help."

Eric shook his head, and said, "I'm done, it's finished."

Xander's smile deepened and explained, "I'm facing the First Evil. It's an incorporeal entity that wishes to destroy the whole universe. Only with your help, and one other can I beat this thing."

Albrecht and Sarah looked a little disappointed when Eric answered, "I've had enough, I just want to see Shelly."

Xander nodded, "Well, I tried." Xander turned around, and faced the dead body of Top Dollar, while Albrecht and Sarah didn't know what to think. Xander bent down and pulled the katana from the Top Dollar's back, admiring it, as Eric slowly slogged away. "Oh, one more thing, you hear me say he wishes to destroy the universe, did you?" Xander asked faking intrigue. "That includes heaven or wherever your Shelley is. When he gets there, he'll destroy her soul along with everything else."

Eric suddenly went rigid, and turned around, looking at Xander inspecting the blade. Xander clanged the blade to a metal piece, and his eyebrows raised at the sound. "Damn," he said with surprise. "This is a real one, battle ready, worth sixty thousand dollars, at least."

Eric reached Xander, and asked, "Shelly?" Xander nodded. "I'm in," Eric answered him.

"Great, I knew I could count on you," Xander answered, inspecting the handle of the sword. "No number, probably means it was a new sword, not an actually used antique."

"Why? What's the number?" Sarah asked somewhat intrigued.

Xander grinned, explaining, "Back in the day, they did a test, they lined up prisoners and chopped. The number they engraved in the handle, were the amount of heads severed with one stroke. Five or six was considered very good, if the sword couldn't decapitate one person it was considered useless." The three of them looked at Xander as he made a practice swipe and smoothly cut through a church bench. "Great, now all I need is a permit, then we'll go find the third one."

"You know who?" Eric asked darkly, already envisioning killing the thing that was threatening his fiancee even now.

"Yeah, Alex Corvis," Xander answered with a smile.


Back in Sunnydale

The First stood in front of the grave. A few bringers behind her. She grinned, reading the name on the gravestone that was inconsequential. "If they think a vampire is the only demon that can animate a corpse, they've got another thing coming," the First, in his true monstrous form said with a smile. She reached out her clawed hand, and started mumbling words that hadn't been spoken in billions of years. Her hand glowed, and a black missed came from it, and pored itself into the grave.

Moments later a delicate hand shot out from the grave, followed by another, and finally the entire body of the blonde female appeared. She stood in front of the First, and whispered, "Master?"

The First grinned, and said, "Yes, I'm your master." She looked into the blonde's pitch black eyes, not even white eyeball was left. The eyes seemed to be dumb, that of a dimwit, but rapidly they filled with intelligence. "Now listen to me, my sweet, you will have to lead my troops, while I make preparation to bring in a true demon."

The blonde girl inclined her head, and she did the equivalent of vamping out. She grew somewhat in size, her skin turned orange, and rough, hard, her fingers gained sharp nails, turning them into claws, several metallic spikes formed on her arms. Two horns grew on her head, a long, thick, round slithered from her mouth, and she gained fangs easily five centimeters long, and gave deep, dangerous growl. "As you command, master," the orange demon, still with the blonde hair, ground out.

"Go. Lead," the First said with a grin, and then laughed out loud as the newly risen demon joined the Bringers, ready to lead them. The First disappeared, and the demon and the bringers walked away, leaving the grave the name engraved on the stone: Tara McClay.


With heavy rumbling the three tanks rolled in front of the Summers home, humvees pulled next to them. A few moments later several new squadrons of heavily armed soldiers arrived. They walked to the house, and realizing it was rather full, they asked if they could set up tents in the front lawn and the back. Willow approved.

Half an hour later, Faith was pacing through the Summers' living room like a caged animal. "I need to do something," she hissed at nobody in particular. The room was filled with people, some just waiting, others reading, or doing something else to pass the time. Powell was still tied up on the couch. Some of the new arrivals had looked strangely. One higher ranked soldier had questioned why, and got a good solid answer from Faith, and enough innuendo he didn't dare question the wisdom. "I feel like I'm going to explode."

"Xander told us to wait, Faith. So we wait, there's nothing to be done about it," Rhona answered the agitated Slayer with a snippy tone.

"He never said that," Willow cut it. "He said I was in charge till he gets back." The redhead walked to the center of the room. In a corner, Buffy looked with sad eyes, feeling useless and dejected. When she noticed she was sitting next to Andrew, who smiled at her, her mood went downhill fast. Willow continued, "He did not tell us we couldn't get him some more information, or take out some important part of the First's organization."

The soldiers perked up; they were asked here apparently for the big final fight, and all they had been doing was lazying about. Faith too looked with giant expectant eyes at Willow. "The question is, does anyone have any ideas?" Willow asked interestingly.

"We could check out the Seal?" Rhona suggested.

"No," Willow replied. "That won't do anything. The seal is closed, it's just sitting there. And the First doesn't seem particularly interested in it. It wants to do something else entirely, the seal seems to be just one little cog in his plan."

Heads nodded. Faith then made her own suggestion, "We could kidnap a bringer and make it talk."

"Now that is a good idea," Willow replied with a little command in her tone. She thought she was getting the hang of it.

"Exactly how are we going to find any Bringers when they don't want to be found?" Anya asked around room. "I mean, ever since Xander kicked Caleb's ass, and did the same to a bunch of Bringers, I really haven't seen any around, have you?"

"That shouldn't be a problem," the female Corporal who first arrived with Powell stated. She lifted up a portable computer and held the screen toward the group. "This isn't a bringer isn't it?"

"Yeah, that's a bringer," Giles answered in surprise that she had them in their little gadgets.

The Corporal nodded, and explained, "We came across a group of them a little over a year ago in the jungles of Africa. We were hunting a very different demon. Either way, they were looking for some kind of weapon if I remember correctly. We captured one, killed the others, we put them in the scanner. This will lead us to one or more without much trouble."

"Africa, a year ago?" Dawn asked intrigued. "What could they have been doing there? A weapon you said?"

Faith pulled her axe from behind her back, where she had it strapped, and asked, "Something like this?"

"No, wasn't it a dagger?" the woman asked one of her team mates.

"Yeah, a dagger, one of them got away with it," one of her soldiers answered.

Willow looked at Kennedy, and she nodded. She disappeared, and returned quickly, holding the dagger Andrew had used to open the Seal. "This one?" Willow asked.

"God damn, yeah," the corporal answered, recognizing it now, surprised it was here. The woman shook her head, freeing herself from her surprise, and said, "We have a problem though. Bringers have no tongue, it was cut out."

"That's not a problem," Willow answered with a smile. "I know a spell that will circumvent that."


Catching a Bringer had been easy, and they had it chained to the wall of the basement. Willow was busy with a spell. The female corporal, Giles, Kennedy and Andrew were present as well.

"Speak to us," Willow commanded once she was done with the spell.

Andrew commented, "Maybe I should rough him up a little."

"Andrew!" Denise, the female corporal hissed. She had known the annoying troll barely a day, and already she preferred to tear of his head and bathe in his blood.

For good measure Kennedy, added, "Quiet!"

Giles and Willow starred at the bringer, and Willow said, "Weird, that should have worked."

Andrew spoke up, sounding strange in soft and monotonous tone, "I am a drone in the mind that is evil."

Denise stated with extreme irritation, "Could you just shut up?"

Andrew calmly added, "I say I'm part of the great darkness."

Kennedy rolled her eyes in annoyance and said, "Somebody needs a reality check."

"Or a muzzle," Denise suggested.

Giles looked over at Andrew, and said lowly, "Wait."

Andrew added, "I'm only a fragment of the We. We work as one to serve the First."

Denise and Kennedy stood up and backed away from the table where Andrew was sitting. Giles and Willow stood up as well, and they all stared at Andrew. Willow than asked, "OK, what do you - the We - do for the First?

Andrew, who everyone now understood was speaking for the bringer, answered, "We work to prepare for the inevitable battle."

Kennedy grabbed the Bringer's knife off the table and held it to the Bringer's throat. She demanded, "How? Tell me exactly what the Bringers are doing."

"Kennedy, he can't see the knife," Giles said.

Andrew replied, "We can feel the knife."

Giles held out his and, and prompted, "Kennedy?" She got up, standing away from the Bringer, and after a moment's hesitation gave the knife to Giles.

"We attend to the needs of the infinite evil. We exterminate girls and destroy the legacy of the slayer. We build an arsenal beneath the dirt," Andrew droned out.

"What do you mean, 'beneath the dirt'?" Denise asked rapidly.

Andrew slowly looked at her, and replied, "We build weapons to prepare for the coming war . . . at the farthest edge of town. We are everywhere. We are like the ocean's waves. We watch your efforts and are not scared. We will laugh at you as you die."

Giles suddenly lashed out with the Bringer's knife and slit the Bringer's throat with it. The Bringer went limp, almost instantly.

Andrew, once again himself, stood up, and exclaimed, "What the bananas?! You are so lucky that you did not just . . . magically decapitate me."

Giles turned to Willow, and said, "We've got enough here. We need to find a subterranean space large enough to house an armory."

As everyone else except Andrew started to leave, Denise looked at the Bringer, a nagging sensation that that went to easy, but then decided to ignore it, and followed the others. Andrew followed after her, and complained, "I feel used and violated, and . . ." He held his throat gingerly, before finishing, " . . . I need a lozenge."


A squadron of soldiers, Willow, Faith, and a group of potentials stood in front of the cave entrance. The soldiers were armed with their guns, Faith with her new magic weapon, and the potentials with crossbows, and stakes and swords, two of them also carried guns. They were fifteen in total.

They stalked into the cave, the soldiers in a formation that made all the guns point outward, the potentials in the middle and point. "Dark here," one potential commented. Before Willow could utter the spell to illuminate the place, several soldiers had already turned on powerful flash lights and the cave was instantly alight.

"Onward," Faith ordered, and the group continued, going down winding patterns, Willow holding up the map. The soldiers GPS units mapped the place at the same time. Halfway to their destination they got too deep and the connection with the satellite was severed, leaving the machine only to map, but not able to show where they were, and how to get out. until they reached the end of the tunnel. Eventually they reached an end, with an opening leaning to a large room to the right. Before they could find out what was behind it, Bringers dropped onto them from above. Gunfire sounded, several bringers went down. Faith sliced two in half with one swipe of the axe, and the potentials staked, or skewered a few, then all was quiet. Faith looked around confused, so did the potentials.

Faith decided to looking into the room to the right, but Willow - veteran in practical battle situations - stopped her, bye saying, "No, Faith, this way too easy. This is a trap."

"She's right," one of the soldiers stated, more toward the potentials than to anyone else, most of the soldiers, each combat veterans themselves, recognized a trap just as well. "Move! We need to get out of here, now."

The soldiers turned around, when they noticed the potentials, a little confused weren't coming with them immediately they grabbed them by their upper arms, and pulled them along. Soon the whole troop was running for their lives. Faith quickly found point with her superior skill, and with her Slayer sense of direction lead the group back up. Halfway up, the GPS devices beeped, indicating they had reconnected to the satellites, but none bothered with getting them out, realizing that Faith was leading unerringly back to the surface. A few moments later the explosion sounded, and the caves rumbled. But they were far enough away not to be threatened by the explosion by then.

Just as the they reached the surface, a whole Turok-Han appeared at the entrance. "Shit," Kennedy muttered, and before she even finished talking one soldier fired a grenade from his large machine gun / grenade launcher combo, and hit a Turok-Han dead on. The explosion ripped the ancient vampire into a thousand pieces, which dusted a moment later. The fire caught to more vampires and they caught fire. They flailed around before they dusted as well.

Faith staked one vampire, with the stake part of her weapon. The magic imbued weapon sliced through the cartilage like a hot knife through butter, and the thing dusted a moment later. Soldiers opened fire on the Turok-Han, aiming for there heads. The things jerked under the barrage of the automatic weapons, and once so many bullets were pumped into their heads, they were more lead then flesh, they burst into dust. Kennedy slid underneath a Turok-Han's swipe, and sliced her sword through its knee, sending it crashing down. As she got up, she commented, "Strong, fast, but dumb, just the way I like 'em." With a swipe she severed its head, and it too burned to dust.

Next to her, Faith sliced two Turok-Han in two, with one slice. As both of them turned to dust, Faith commented, "God, I love this weapon."

"Ignis," Willow said, with black eyes, for fire balls left her hands, and a moment later four Turok-Han burst into flames, screaming in pain, and then they turned to dust.

"Was that all?" a soldier commented dryly. "I was lead to believe things were supposed to be tough. I've faced much tougher." The others soldiers nodded, along with Willow, and Faith.

"Yeah," Faith added admiring her Axe, as the group trudged outside. "I wish I had this thing with me when I faced the Beast. The thing was all rock, practically invulnerable. I'll bet this would have sliced through his hide with ease."

"That wasn't everything," a melodious voice said, as the troop reached the forest. They turned around, and looked straight at the demon animated corpse of Tara McClay, her black eyes peering at them. "I'm glad to help you get rid of your disappointment."

"Tara," Willow whispered in shock.

The soldiers instinctively opened fire, as Faith yelled, "No, it's the First." To her shock, the bullets ricocheted off of a blue shield surrounding the lovely form of Tara McClay. Willow looked in shock, she knew that spell.

A grenade had the same effect on the shield as the bullets, and Tara started to casually walk forward, saying, "You should look better. If I were a form of the master, do you think I would have these?" Tara pointed at her black eyes. The potentials got scared, really scared. Faith gnawed her teeth together in anger, and ran over to the demon, swinging her axe with great strength. It sliced through Tara's shield, as it lighted up at the strain. But before the axe could hit the demon, Tara grabbed its handle, and said as she morphed into her bigger demon-guise, "Sharp weapon, but you'll have to hit me with it in order to cause me damage." Halfway the sentence her voice had turned to a permanent growl. With one punch she sent Faith and her axe flying off to the right. She didn't stop until she smashed into a tree.

The demon Tara pounced and a moment later she was at Willow, who was in the center of the group. "Hi, lover, how have you been? I missed you," the demon growled, and then laughed out loud. She grabbed Willow then, who got zapped by the shield continuously when the demon held her up. "I want you so much again, Willow," the demon growled, and its thick tongue licked across Willow's throat. Her hand whipped down into her pants and felt around. "And you're already wet for me," Tara added with a chuckle.

"Get your stinking hands off my girlfriend!" Kennedy raged and hacked her axe at the demonic Tara. The axe got imbedded in the shield, and Kennedy was instantly shuddering, as if being electrocuted, then she shot away from the demon and landed painfully on her back.

"You really are stupid, aren't you?" Tara asked with laughter in her voice at the fallen potential. The other potentials decided it was best to back away. The soldiers looked stunned, not really knowing what to do about the force field. "Wait, you're not wet for me, you're wait for her," Tara hissed out at the redhead in her hands still being wracked by the energy from the shield. "You little unfaithful bitch," Tara hissed at her former lover.

"You are not my Tara," Willow hissed out, as her eyes blackened. She stretched out her hands toward the demon with difficulty. She mumbled a few words, and then a shockwave came from her hands, sending the demon staggering back, and Willow flying backward, hitting a tree.

Tara roared out in frustration, and stabbed to her left, slicing her metallic protrusions on her arm through a soldiers neck. He fell to the floor to bleed to death. Tara turned around grabbed a potential, and easily snapped her neck, throwing her aside. The soldiers fired again, but the shield held, allowing Tara to bash aside a female soldier, and kill another male one.

Willow put herself to her hands and knees, and concentrated. She snapped open her eyes, when she found the source of the shield. Her eyes went black, and she weakly stretched out a hand, mumbling several unintelligible words, and a fireball formed in her hands, then fired it.

Tara was about to laugh at Willow's pathetic attempt, until she noticed the fireball streaking past her, directly at . . . "Damn it," Tara cursed. The fireball streaked through the woods, directly on target, a group of three Bringers chanting around a wildly dancing fire. The fireball smashed directly into the fire and exploded mightily, shredding the Bringers instantly, and throwing them apart.

The shield around Tara flickered, and was gone. Kennedy noticed it, and got back up, with a primal scream she swung her axe imbedding it in Tara's chest. It sliced in one centimeter, before it stopped completely, and stayed stuck. Tara roared in pain. Kennedy pulled, but the axe wouldn't come out. Gunshots rang out moments later, each bullet imbedding themselves into Tara's body, making her scream out in pain. Then she jumped over the combatants, landed and ran off, yelling back, "We're not finished yet!"

Kennedy ran over to the Willow and held the now crying redhead. "You all right, Willow?" Kennedy asked concerned. Soon the surviving members of the group joined around, and looked at the couple. Faith looked as well, feeling defeated.


Not long after they were standing at Tara's grave. Despite the answer given by the turn up ground, Faith, and a few soldiers dug with shovels. They found the casket empty.

Willow broke down in crying once again, and held onto Kennedy tightly. "It's a demon, Willow, like a vampire it animated her corpse. It's not really her," she whispered soothingly.


San Antonio, Texas

Eric Draven and Xander ran across the rooftops. Xander with a certain enjoyment. "Man," Eric Draven commented with anger, "Being framed for the murder of your girlfriend and being given the chair . . . they really did a number on him."

"Yeah, you can't get much worse," Xander answered, his new katana strapped to his back, "No wonder he came back."

The two quickly reached the building of their destination, their crows circling in the air for a few moments, until they settled on their shoulders.

"Parking garage, huh?" Eric asked. Xander nodded unnecessarily, by now, Eric's crow had filled the musician in on everything. Or perhaps Xander's crow had, Xander wasn't sure, despite his telepathic connection, the birds remained mysterious.

"Let's go," Xander said, and the jumped down.


Erin Randall ran. She was scared. Her sister had been murdered three years earlier, and up until a few nights ago, she was lead to believe her sister's boyfriend had committed the crime. Now she knew better. The real murderer was right behind her, and despite the fact she knew that Alex was still back there somewhere, she had no idea whether he could get to her on time.

She dove behind a car, and ducked. She looked back, when she didn't see him, she ran onward and rounded a corner, and bumped into someone. She was about to scream, when a hand clamped around her mouth. She looked up, into a scary visage. The man was painted white, his mouth was painted black, and two curved lines flowed from it. His eyes were painted black, with two short lines running down the middle of his eyes. He placed a finger in front of his mouth, and said, "SSSSHHHhh." Then he smiled broadly.

Erin's eyes stayed wide, as he slowly released her mouth. "You're like Alex," she whispered.

He nodded, and said, "Eric Draven." Then he turned around and pointed.

The Chief of police came stalking down the parking garage, a gun in hand. "Erin, come her Erin, I won't hurt you," the man said, a little fear slipping in his voice. A sound made him jump to his right, and he saw a dark man, pale white face, black eyes, black mouth, and two long, sad, blood-red lines through his eyes, down to the lines around his mouth squatting down on the hood of his car.

The man cocked his head bird like, and said, "You're so screwed."

The Chief instantly raised his gun at him, and Xander laughed. He jumped smoothly off the hood and walked forward, stopping inches short of the gun. "You think that'll help?" Xander asked casually.

"BASTARD!" A voice called out, and moments later Alex Corvis came into view, holding a metal pipe like a club. His mouth too was black, with elongated lines. His eyes were similarly black, and four lines ran across his eyes. Two from the middle, ran all the way down his mouth lines. Two shorter ones lightly curved on the outer sides of the longer lines. He had brown hair, and an average build. "What the . . . ?" he muttered as he saw Xander standing there, the police Chief couldn't keep his gun hand steady. One of them was bad enough . . . "Huh?" Alex said, and blinked. The Chief looked over, and Erin came walking into view - a murderous smile on her face - behind a third guy. He too had make-up on.

"He's all yours, friend," Xander commented, and gestured at the police chief. Three crows arrived, each landing on the hood of a car, and cawed.

Alex broke into a grin, and raised the pipe. "Wait," Erin said, interrupting Alex. "I have a better idea."


Eric and Xander watched dispassionately as the Chief fried in the very same chair that killed Alex. The other crow watched with glee, Erin was - quite surprisingly to the two outsiders - the one who had pulled the switch.

Once the murderer was dead, Alex turned to the two others like him, their crows on their shoulders, and asked, "I take it your not here to see him fry."

"No," Xander stated neutrally. "The First Evil, ancient entity that helped create the universe, wishes to destroy it. He's one of the wrongs I have to right. It requires three of us to destroy him."

Alex absorbed the information. Part of him wanted to dismiss the guy as a lunatic, but he had been resurrected from death, who was he to argue with what was and wasn't possible. He looked up at Erin, the only remaining living direct relative of the girlfriend he loved more than life itself. If this thing succeeded . . . "I'm in," he stated.

"Great," Xander said, with a smile. "You'll have to get rid of the make-up while we're on the plane."

Alex looked at him, and said, "It's not make-up. It got burned into my skin when I was in there."

Xander smiled, and said, "Then we'll have to cover it up." Xander turned around, ready to leave, and Alex saw the katana really for the first time.

"What's so special about a katana anyway?" Alex asked without thinking about it. "I've always wanted to know."

Xander chuckled, and turned back around. "What happens if you throw a handkerchief in the air, and hack at it with a sword?"

Alex raised his shoulders, and guessed, "You pull aside the handkerchief?"

"Correct," Xander grinned, and called out, "Hey, Erin, you have handkerchief?"

The girl climbed down from the controls confused, and pulled out a handkerchief. "Here. Why?"

Xander grinned, he threw up the handkerchief, and in one smooth motion drew the katana and sliced the sword through the air. A moment later there were two pieces of handkerchief whirled downward to the ground. Xander plucked the two pieces from the air, and gave them to Alex. "That's what's so special about a katana," Xander answered, and then turned around and started walking. A grinning Eric joined him, and Xander said, "Come on, we don't have much time."


Sunnydale A day later

"Damn it," Andrew uncharacteristically cursed out loud, looking at the screen. Giles, Willow, Faith, and Buffy were present, sitting in Willow's bedroom. Willow was still somewhat in shock at the demon version of her lover, but she had already vowed she would destroy it, and giver Tara peace. "I can't find anything."

"That isn't too surprising," Willow commented looking at the screen. "Xander didn't really expect there would be any information on it." Willow tapped the axe that was lying on the desk.

"I know, but I had hoped . . ." Andrew sadly trailed off, scrolling down a web page, and found a link, of which the color indicated he hadn't followed it yet. The picture belonging to it represented an 'm' like thing. He frowned, and clicked on it. A new web page came up, with descriptions of weapons, and in the middle once again the same symbol. "What's that? Looks like an 'm' question mark," he asked.

"That's an ancient symbol," Giles answered looking at it. "Hieroglyphs, I'm remembering something. 'M' plus glottal stop that's what it is, it's commonly thought to symbolize a sickle or scythe, it's in thousands of carvings. In Egypt, throughout the ancient world."

"Carvings like you'd find in a Pagan temple?" Willow asked intrigued. "Like the one we found out was buried beneath the vineyard?"

"Perhaps we should find out where these pagans buried their dead," Giles commented with raised eyebrows. Buffy watched dejected, wishing she could do something, wishing to be trusted again.

Faith was about to speak up, but Andrew exclaimed excitedly, "That's easy." He opened another browser window, and flicked through several quick searches, slipping through a few firewalls. "There," he said proudly, an old map of the area on screen. He tapped in a few commands, and quickly found a description of a pyramidal tomb in one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries. Something was bugging Andrew though, something about the former page. Why hadn't he found it a day earlier for example? He returned to it, his mind on the problem, practically ignoring what went around him, and he started hacking.

"So what do we do now?" Faith asked, to no one in particular. "So we have a demon animated Tara, Xander isn't here, and a friggin' pyramid. Exactly what could we hope to find in a pyramid? Something . . . I don't know . . ."

Buffy's hand snaked out, and grabbed the magical Weapon. Everybody called out in shock, rousing even Andrew from his work. "Don't!" Willow and Faith called in unison.

"No!" Buffy stated at them, holding up the weapon. "I'm going to show you, I'm not useless. I'm going to get the answers to this thing."

"Damn it!" Faith cursed out loud. "You will stay here with that weapon." Buffy didn't listen and ran out the door. Faith was about to follow her, when Andrew stopped her by calling out his name.

Faith was torn between catching up to Buffy and staying here, and decided she better be the smart one. Turning back, she hissed, "What in blazes does the stupid slut think she's going to do at a pyramid all alone anyway? It isn't like she can read any of the damn writing, she would need an entire entourage of language experts to figure them out! What is it, Andrew!? And hurry up!"

"I thought this was too convenient," Andrew explained rapidly, with the internet he was in his element, and confident. "Two days of searching and we find nothing, and then suddenly there's a link I missed that had all the pieces of the puzzle right there? I went back, hacked the page." Andrew pointed at a modified date.

"That's today, two hours ago," Willow muttered looking at the date.

Andrew nodded, and said, "The page with the information was made around the same time. This is a trap."

"And Buffy is walking right into it," Giles stated shocked.

"As usual!" Faith exclaimed in irritation. She was about to turn back toward where Buffy had run off to, when a loud caw interrupted her. The whole group looked and saw, a crow sitting in the window, and then flew off.

"I think Xander is on it," Willow said, looking at the group. Faith nodded.


Somewhere in Sunnydale

Six Bringers were sitting in a circle, the First Evil was smiling evilly. "'What are you going to about it?' 'Blah, blah, blah, boring!' 'Your Bringers need to learn how to fly.' I'll show him!" she hissed out angrily.

The First stretched out her arm, and started chanting. The Bringers joined in, and suddenly they went rigid. They groaned, and then screamed, as if there very essence was burning up. Which was exactly what was happening. Flames burst from them, shooting up like pillars, their very spirits the fuel. Soon there was nothing left of the bringers but energy, and it formed into a big ball in the First's hands. Grinning evilly, she chanted onward, stretched out her hand, and the energy shot forward.



Lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled. The place was a wasteland. In the distance volcanoes constantly shot out fire. Rivers of lava flowed everywhere. A being jumped past, and ran. Despite its rocky hide, and rocky, not so expressive face, fear was clearly seen on its face. The thing was big, and bulky and seemed downright indestructible.

"Where are you going?" a voice asked, and the figure that the voice belonged to landed in front of the beast. It skit to a halt, and looked with fear at he figure. It was almost twice as tall almost three meters altogether, and it had large leathery bat-like wings on its back. Its hide though was black; a shiny black obsidian. Its eyes were blazing, bright yellow - just short of actually giving off light - with red pupils. Its teeth - visible as it smiled in a predatory grin - were all razor sharp points, of the same black obsidian as its hide. It wore a red loincloth, and red boots.

The rock beast roared, and threw a punch. It landed on the obsidian demon . . . and did absolutely nothing. "You pathetic bastard, you went over to the other side, and you expected not be punished?" the black demon growled out.

"It wasn't me! That was just someone of the same species, I'm not even related to the bastard!" the beast roared out plaintively.

"I don't care, you all must pay," the demon growled out, and landed a punch on the beast's chest. It was flung back, and roared out in pain as cracks formed in its rock hide. Lava flowed from the cracks, the beast's blood, and it would heal the cracks, providing it lived that long.

The beast pushed back, sliding over the hard rock of the surface, as the black demon walked over with slow, deliberate steps. The beast got up, and threw two desperate punches. The black demon grabbed both fists, and squeezed. The beast sank to its knees, roaring in pain. "Pathetic," the demon hissed and let go. He slammed his hands on either side of the beast's head, its eyes bulged with fear and pain. The black demon pulled the beast up, and squeezed, and squeezed. Once again the beast roared in pain, as his head slowly deformed, and cracks formed in the rock, revealing lava inside again. The black demon grinned evilly, and put the beast back down. It looked up in the blazing yellow eyes with a look that showed he had given up hope. With powerful punch, the black demon bashed his fist straight through the rock hide, and into the beast's gut, cracks scissoring out from where there hand disappeared into the beast's body. Lava flowed out from the wound, the hot orange substance coating the black demon's arm as it flowed out and down.

The demon laughed, pulled its hand out, and backhanded the beast, sending it sprawling to the floor. The demon grinned, and placed his hands forward, pointing at the beast, who was just moaning in pain. The hands revealed two yellow see-through spots in the middle of the palms, and they were starting to glow. They gained brightness quickly, and then two short beams of bright yellow energy shot from them, straight at the beast. On impact they exploded, sending pieces of the beast flying everywhere, leaving nothing but the lower legs, and a partial head, which quickly destroyed themselves in a spectacular show of fireworks. The demon laughed, and then looked dejected. "Way too easy," it muttered disappointed.

Suddenly a wind whipped up, and the demon turned around, looking astounded at a bright green light quickly growing bigger. The wind picked up more. "Wha . . .?" the demon muttered and started backing off. But the light blossomed open in a gateway, and its pull was much too great. Instantly the demon was pulled off its fleet and he went headfirst into the maw of the hole in space and time.


Back in Sunnydale the demon tumbled from the hole and was dumped on the ground. The hole closed quickly behind him. "Who dares . . .?" the demon roared as it got up, and then saw the First Evil. The demon's eyes widened in shocked surprise, and then it knelt down. "Master," it said.

The First laughed.


Chapter 9

"Fuck," Xander commented, flooring the pedal all the way down. His executive car drove with great speed across the road just outside of Sunnydale. "Jumping off the wing of a plane and sweeping down, has its shortcut advantages," he added in irritation.

"Can't this go faster?" Alex asked with the same annoyance, he had his crow visage back on once again. The moment they had gotten in the car, he had wiped away the irritating make-up and wondered how the other two managed to put the face on every time.

"Why didn't you buy a sports car?" Eric added. All three of them had seen what Xander's crow had seen and neither liked it. The other two birds were sitting patiently on their charge's laps.

"One of you wouldn't have fit?" Xander suggested. The other two resurrected beings looked at each other for a moment, and then shrugged their ascension.


Buffy walked through the cemetery that was on the map, and she was carrying the scythe. A tumult of emotions boiling into her. She knew she had made some mistakes, but she was determined to show everyone, Xander predominantly that she wasn't useless. She hated sitting at the sidelines, she was better than that. She opened a gate and walked up to a pyramid shaped tomb and then kicked down the door.

She walked into the tomb carefully, looking around, going down a few steps. The tomb was dimly lit, and all kinds of hieroglyphs and other writing was all over the walls. She walked onward, and noticed a sarcophagus in the middle. There were drapes on one side, they didn't quite meet, allowing a glimpse of a bed behind them.

"I'd forgotten. I'd forgotten how young you would be," a woman's voice suddenly came from behind the drapes. The drapes were pushed aside, and a very old woman with long white hair emerged. She spoke onward, "Comes from the waiting. Mind plays tricks. I see you've found our weapon."

Neither woman noticed a crow land on a crossbeam higher up. Buffy simply asked, "Who are you?"

The woman answered cryptically, "One of many. Well . . .time was. Now I'm alone in the world."

Buffy didn't quite understand, so she asked, "So what are you? Some kind of ghost?"

The woman chuckled softly, and shook her head, before answering, "Nope. I'm as real as you are. Just . . . well . . . let me put it this way - I look good for my age. I've been waiting." The women held out her hands, and Buffy handed over the Scythe, laying it in the woman's hands. "You pulled it out of the rock. I was one of those who was present when it was lost in there."

"What is it?" Buffy asked, feeling hopeful. Here was someone who was helping, someone who didn't dismiss her as useless, perhaps she could prove to her friends she hadn't lost it after all.

The woman admired the scythe, as she answered, "A weapon. A scythe. Forged in secrecy for one like you who - I'm sorry. What's your name?"

Buffy blinked once, and answered, "Buffy."

"No, really?" the woman answered a little surprised. Buffy shrugged. The woman once again continued, "We forged it in secrecy and kept it hidden from the Shadow Men, who . . ."

Buffy interrupted her, with a sour tone, "Yeah. Met those guys. Didn't really care too much for 'em."

The woman smiled, and added, "Ahh, yes. Then you know. And they became the watchers. And the watchers watched the slayers. But we were watching them."

"Oh!" Buffy exclaimed, her eyes widened with revelation and good cheer, and then they went down again. "So, you're like . . . what are you?"

"Guardians. Women who want to help and protect you. We forged this centuries ago, halfway around the world," the old woman answered patiently.

"Hence, the Luxor Casino theme," Buffy quipped, feeling good about actually making a witty comeback again.

The woman nodded, and added, "Forged there, it was put to use right here . . . to kill the last pure demon . . ."

"Yes, yes," Buffy interrupted tiredly, somewhat annoyed at once more old news, "but the demon took the Slayer with it, buried beneath rock, where it lay until the First dug it up. I know all this . . . How is it possible that we didn't know any of this?"

The woman handed the weapon back to Buffy and answered calmly, "We hid, too. We had to until now. We're the last sur . . ." With an audible snap, the woman's head was yanked to Buffy's right, and she slumped to the floor. Buffy looked down in shock, and then more when the drapes parted to admit the demonized Tara, in her orange demon form.

"Oops," she said in mock shock, looking down at the body for a moment, before looking back up to Buffy. "Ever since I crawled out of my grave, I forget my own strength. Really sorry about that, were you two having a pleasant conversation?" Buffy backed up, looking at Tara in shock. She had heard of the demonized Tara's power, how it had beaten Faith even if she did have the weapon she now held in her hand. She hoped the demon hadn't brought another three bringers chanting a shield spell outside. "I know what you're thinking, Buffy," Tara told her, as she slowly stepped forward, Buffy backing up in response until she hit the sarcophagus. "Did she come here with a new shield or not? The question you've got be asking yourself, bitch, is this: do you feel lucky?" Tara laughed out loud. The horrible demonic laugh echoed throughout the pyramid. "I've always wanted to say that. Let me put your mind at ease, no shield. Master told me it wasn't necessary to take you out . . . oh, darn, there goes the ease."

Tara lunged, and Buffy trapped by the sarcophagus was unable to get out of the way. The back of the demon's hand connected with Buffy's face, and she was launched up and over the sarcophagus. Pain blossomed in the blond Slayer's cheek as she sailed through the air, and crashed to the floor. She skidded along until she slammed into a pillar; a new source of pain coursing through her spine.

"The mighty slayer, how pitiful," Tara hissed, as she walked around the stone coffin. Buffy looked up weakly, and saw the demon charge her. She rolled aside just in time, and the punch missed her, but hit the stone pillar. It shattered, and a large hole formed. A whole side of the pillar crumbled to the floor. Tara turned around, and looked down at Buffy, and said, "If I knew you were this weak while I was still alive, I'd have kicked your ass back then."

Buffy's face changed to one of anger. She jumped up smoothly, and swung the axe with all her might at the demonic Tara. The demon casually grabbed the handle before the axe could hit home. Tara grinned, and ripped the magical weapon from Buffy's hand. The slayer stepped back in shock, as Tara commented, "This belongs to the master."

Tara swung the weapon at Buffy, and the Slayer ducked beneath the swing, and then with a powerful yell of rage she kicked Tara against her upper leg, and continued with a quick combination of punches across the demon's face and torso, before jumping out of the Scythe's range. Buffy looked with astonishment as Tara laughed. "Was that all you have to offer?" the demon asked mockingly, then tsked at Buffy. The orange demon charged, and hacked the axe down. Buffy swerved to the side, grabbed Tara's arm that was holding the weapon, and then kicked with all her might at the wrist. Tara grunted, and the grip loosened just enough for Buffy to yank the weapon out of Tara's hand.

"Now, you're going down," Buffy hissed out at the overextended Tara, and swung her axe. "You won't defile her body anymore!"

Tara's eyes widened. Quickly she pointed her hand, and mumbled a spell. An instant later an pink energy ball shot from her hand, straight at Buffy. Instinctively Buffy brought the axe down to block the blast. The energy impacted, and did nothing to the weapon, and thus nothing to Buffy, except that the following explosion was powerful enough to throw Buffy off her feet and send her flying through the air, until she landed painfully on the stone floor.

Tara walked over to Buffy, and said sweetly, "When you're out of the way, me and Willow will be an item again. A witch and her demon; it's so romantic. Just like a Slayer and her vampire. Don't you agree?" Tara raised her foot, sharp nails came through the front of her shoes, like a cat's. "Time to die, bitch," she whispered eerily.

"Hey!" Tara was surprised at the voice, and turned toward it. Still standing on only one foot, she was imbalanced. All she saw was a fist sailing at her face. The impact was mild, but already imbalanced, she staggered back, away from Buffy, and then dropped to the floor.

Buffy looked up, and saw Angel standing there, a smile on his face. He helped her to her feet, saying, "I never liked orange."

"Angel," Buffy said with a mixture of emotions.

"You look good," Angel said, smiling down at her.

Buffy smiled, it was good to see someone of old who didn't think she was an idiot. "You look timely. And also good."

"Heard maybe you needed a hand," Angel replied with a smile. Tara rose to her feet with a growl, and Angel looks over at her. He started toward her, but Buffy stopped him with a grave face. Angel looked over at her, and said in understanding, "Ah, one of those things you have to finish yourself."

"Willow's dead girlfriend, animated by a demon," Buffy explained gravely, looking over at Tara. "It really kinda is." Angel nodded. He slunk over to a pillar, leaned against it, and crossed his arms over his chest, looking gravely.

Buffy walked over to Tara, and the demon smiled down at her. "If you think the vampire will make a difference, you're dead wrong."

"No difference, you're going to die either way," Buffy stated vehemently, and kicked against Tara's knee with everything she had. Tara grunted, and Buffy grinned in triumph. She lunged the stake end of the weapon at Tara. The demon raised her arm in defense, and the magical stake sliced into the demon's arm with ease. Tara roared out, and threw her arm wildly, catching Buffy in her face. The Slayer staggered back under the onslaught, losing grip of the axe. She stopped when she bumped against the wall. Tara yanked the weapon free from her body with her other arm.

"You will pay for that," Tara hissed and charged forward with the stake end of the weapon. Buffy jerked aside just in time, and the weapon got lodged deeply into the wall. Tara yanked, but the weapon wouldn't come out with the first lunge. With a yell Buffy kicked into Tara's stomach, and she staggered back some.

"God, I missed watching this," Angel told himself with a small smile, conscious of Buffy having to face a former friend. Buffy ripped the weapon from the wall, and in one smooth motion sliced it across Tara's belly. The demon looked shocked at the large gash across her stomach, and then green blood welled up from her mouth, while it poured from the large wound.

"Th-th-that's n-n-not f-fair," Tara answered and slumped to the ground.

Buffy walked back over to Angel, and looked at him. "Under control," she whispered hauntedly.

Angel walks forward to Buffy himself, and said, "It never gets easier facing a possessed friend, does it?"

Buffy shook her head, and then threw the weapon to the floor. She wrapped her arms around Angel's neck and kissed him deeply, and passionately.

Laughter. It echoed throughout the tomb, and Buffy and Angel broke the kiss, looking over at the drapes from where the woman had come from earlier. "Xander," Buffy whispered, seeing her black-clad friend - or once friend at least - leaning with crossed arms against a pillar.

Xander shook his head, and said, "Look at that. I'm gone not three days, and you're already indulging your necrophiliac urges with the next vampire." Xander stood straight, unfolding his arms, and started sauntering over to the two. Buffy looked with anger, and resentment at him. "You know, Buff," Xander continued casually, "I think you should just dig up a corpse and have your fun with it. At least it won't turn into a soulless, sadistic, killing machine after you get your happy."

"You fucking bastard," she hissed at him.

"Harris," Angel growled at the same time.

Xander stopped in front of the two, and bore his gaze into Angel's eyes for a moment, and then looked back at Buffy. "And while your happily kissing your ex-dead-boyfriend, we drop one of the most powerful, magical weapons, that the First Evil himself dug up, to the floor like it's worth shit. So while you're indulging yourself, oblivious to the world, one of his minions could push you off balance," Xander pushed, sending the two who were still loosely holding onto each other staggering back. Xander then rapidly picked up the Scythe, adding, ". . . pick up the weapon and slice both your heads off with one move . . ." Xander demonstrated, swinging the axe viscously, stopping short only barely from Buffy's neck. " . . . and casually walk out of here, secure in the knowledge he's won." The two looked at Xander with wide eyes, filled with fear and mortification. "I know you're stupid, Buffy," Xander told her with a subdued growl, "but you really keep surprising me by lowering yourself steadily down, right when I think you just can't sink any lower."

The corner's of Buffy's mouth were pulled down, tears threatening to slip from her eyes. Angel came to his ex's defense, growling, "Harris, who do you think you are? Last time I checked, she's still the slayer."

"Last time I checked, you don't belong here anymore," Xander answered coldly, lowering the weapon down. "And last time I checked, I'm in charge here, right, Buffy? I do believe I told you to stay in the house, because the First wouldn't dare blow it up while you're there." Buffy shrank back into Angel's arm. "If they're all dead when we get there, I will torture you for the next eighty years and beyond." Angel's head was spinning, he had no idea what was going on here. "Oh, and Angel, you're wrong, she's just a wannabe. Faith is the Slayer."

Buffy shook her head weakly. "Caleb told Shannon he had a message for me, the real Slayer."

"Yeah, and he also stabbed her in the exact same place you stabbed Faith, dimwit. You're not the Slayer after lying dead six feet under ground for several months. The First was toying around with you, but you don't notice anything do you? Anything that isn't 'All hail, Buffy' is just ignored," Xander said angrily.

"Now listen here," Angel started to say angrily.

"Shut up, bitch," Xander interrupted him with blazing eyes, "since when do I give a damn about what a vampire says?"

"ALL RIGHT, THAT'S IT!!" Tara's voice roared out, and everyone looked over. The orange demon was standing again, with no wound on her. "I DON'T CARE WHO'LL BE FIRST, BUT YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!"

Buffy and Angel got ready to fight, but Xander swivelled the weapon and held it out to her. "Take it, and give it back to who it belongs to," Xander ordered, leaving no room for negotiations. Buffy took the weapon gingerly, and then Xander added, "Now the both of you; Get out!"

"What? No guns?" Buffy asked half mockingly, half surprised.

"No time to pick them up," Xander answered with a determined look, as he turned around, "And unlike ancient weapons, it's practically impossible to bring guns along in the luggage for your plane trip, believe me."

"Now, Xander . . ." Angel started.

"GET OUT!" Xander yelled looking back at them, and then walking toward Tara, who took a deep satisfied breath. Buffy grabbed Angel's hand and pulled him along, somewhat afraid of Xander's wrath.

"He'll never be . . ." Angel started, as Xander walked over to Tara.

"Things have changed," Buffy cut him off as she started up the stairs. Angel looked over and his eyes widened in surprise as he saw Xander landed a devastating punch to Tara's abdomen, doubling her over, and adding an uppercut that sent her flying through the air.

Tara growled, her black eyes glowed with an unholy non-existent light, and mumbled a spell. A powerful blast of energy left her hands, and impact with Xander. He flow back, screaming in pain, as he felt his entire body burn. He smacked against the wall and hung there, the skin of his face horribly burned, blackened in places even. When the wounds disappeared almost instantly, Angel uncharacteristically muttered, "Fuck."

A moment later Xander landed back on the floor, and Tara looked surprised. "You heal fast," she stated sourly.

Xander walked over, looked into Tara's face. Sad at first, and then his face contorted in rage. "You're going down," he growled, and charged.

Surprised by the straight up charge, Tara didn't react, and got a vicious knee into her stomach. Xander rammed his hands on her back, sending her down, before adding an uppercut to her chin, which made her fly up into the air and landed on her back a meter further. Xander jumped toward her, but she had managed to raise her leg, and kick Xander in the face. He stumbled back. Tara had joined her hands, and made an arc with them, intending to bash Xander in the head with them. Xander managed to jerk back, and she missed, hitting the sarcophagus instead. The stone coffin shattered, leaving only a small little bit of it standing, revealing the remains of an old woman. Mummified once, some of her long white (and now dusty) hair was still visible.

Xander got up, and charged forward. He grabbed Tara by her collar, picked her up, and ran forward. With a roar he rammed her into a pillar, shattering it. Tara retaliated with a double handed uppercut, that sent Xander staggering back. She lashed out with her claws, and opened up large gashes on Xander's face. He grunted in pain, and then the wounds closed almost instantly. Tara mumbled another spell, and this one Xander deftly avoided. Tara threw herself forward, and grabbed Xander. The two grappled with each other for a few moments, before Xander yanked them a quarter of a circle to the left, and pushed her away from him. Tara's arms were apart, trying to keep her balance, and Xander saw the opening. Instantly he pulled the katana from within his long leather coat, and stuck it right where her heart should be.

Shocked, Tara looked down at the curved blade. It was in only a few centimeters, and the blood that came flowing from the wound was nowhere near enough to really kill her.

With a grin, Xander told her, "Tough hide you got there."

Tara laughed out loud, and grumbled, "Did you really think a simple sword could take me out?"

Xander grinned at her, saying, "This isn't a simple sword, let me demonstrate the difference." Xander adjusted his grip, and pushed suddenly. The sword sliced deeper inside Tara's body, and then emerged on the other side. The demon looked even more shocked, then she groaned, and slowly sank to her knees. She looked up, as she transformed down to Tara's normal look, with the exception of the black in black eyes. She coughed, and green blood welled up from her mouth, and oozed out. Then her eyes widened, and they returned to her normal look.

Xander looked shocked at the dying demon. He saw the life flow from her eyes almost physically, and now that the black was gone, she looked so much like an actually souled, living Tara. "X-x-xand . . ." she whispered, tears flowing from her eyes. Xander's eyes widened in shock at her words, through the connection with her via the sword, he got a mild sensation; her soul, this was not a demon faking. " . . . T-t-tor . . . f-f . . ." Tara coughed, red blood now coming from her mouth, and leaking from the sword down, " . . . i-in h-h-el-hell . . . t-t-tri-tried . . . k-k-ki . . . W-w-w-will-will . . . why?"

"Ssh, don't speak, it'll be over soon, no more pain then," Xander soothed, anguished tears flowing from his eyes. How could anyone be so cruel to return a soul to a dead body only to have it animated and controlled by a demon.

Tara's eyes widened somewhat in revelation, more tears flowing from her eyes, "D-d-dem-m-mo . . . deca-ca-capi . . . o-o-or . . . r-re-re-ret-t-ret . . ."

"I understand," Xander whispered gently stroking her hair. "I'll set you free," Xander whispered. Her eyes became less anguished, and radiated with relief. Xander became overwhelmed with grief, realizing he never got the chance to grieve for her; first there was psycho Willow, then there was arranging Tara's funeral, mixed with and followed by bringing Buffy and Dawn back to some semblance of normal, apparently he failed with Buffy. Xander pulled the sword from her body, and lifted it above his head. "Goodbye," he whispered. Tara kept smiling serenely, silently encouraging him with her eyes. And then, with a powerful stroke, he severed her head. He jumped back to avoid the geyser of blood, as her head bounced once on the floor of the tomb.

Xander staggered back, and maneuvered himself to a pillar, and sank down against it, tears flowing freely, not just for Tara, but for the whole mess he found himself in. He felt both relieved, and burdened with greater sadness when he noticed her body did not turn to dust, or dissolved in some other manner.

Some flapping of wings signaled the arrival of his two fellow crow's, who he had told to stay behind for this one. They arrived from behind the drapes, having used the same entrance as Xander and earlier Tara had. He looked up at them, and asked, "Her name is Tara McClay. The cemetery in which she lay buried is one mile due east. Would you two lay her back to rest for us? I have to deal with them." Xander made a motion with his head in the direction of the exit through which Buffy and Angel had left.

"No problem," Eric answered, and then he gently picked up the body, while Alex did the same with the head.

Xander watched Tara's body rise of the floor, and he was suddenly gripped with fury over what was done to her. He got up, and growled out, "That fucking bitch went too far!! Now, I'm going to make her SUFFER before we kill her!!"

His companions nodded, and then they left with the body. Then Xander picked up his sword, put it away, and stalked to the exit, his fury at everything and everyone mounting with every step.


Angel and Buffy emerged from the pyramid, where he questioned, somewhat confused, "What's going on?"

"Things have changed," Buffy repeated to him weakly.

"I don't remember Xander being like that, he was always an annoying prick, but never like this, so . . . so . . ." Angel tried, as they walked slowly to the fence surrounding the pyramid.

"Confident? In charge? Confrontational?" Buffy supplied painfully, going over her real memories and the fake ones.

"Exactly," Angel said, confused. "You're the Slayer, you're the champion, why are you following his orders?"

The two leaned against the fence. Buffy took a deep breath, and then answered, "He took over."

"Took over?"

Buffy looked up at her ex, and answered, "Took over, as in kicked my but, told everyone I'm stupid, and put himself in charge."

"That ungratef-" Angel started, but Buffy put a halting hand on the arm he had clenched in a face.

"Don't, I got people killed, I walked into traps, he's probably right, so don't piss him off. He would beat you into a pulp without breaking a sweat anyway," Buffy told him beseeching. When Angel looked at her with a questioning gaze, Buffy explained, "He died, but he didn't stay dead." Angel looked at her quite shocked. "Apparently his soul carried so much pain inside of him he couldn't rest, and so a crow returned his soul to his body, and he got resurrected. He's a spirit of vengeance now, here to set the wrong things right."

"A vengeance demon? Him?" Angel questioned incredulously.

"No demon, something else altogether," Buffy answered, and then looked down at her feet. She stayed silent for a moment, and then piped up, "He has his memories back." Angel looked at her, confused once again. "Dawn isn't real, she was an interdimensional key given form. We didn't tell you, because we thought it'd be safer for her and you, if you didn't know. Every memory you have of her before three years ago are fake, she didn't exist back then. Xander has his memories back, so do I, and the others. Xander got it from dying and being resurrected, Willow performed a spell on the rest of us . . ."

"What has that got to do with anything?" Angel asked gently.

Buffy looked up, somewhat anguished. "This is him, the real Xander. The fake history, and the real history; we weren't that much affected, but Xander . . . you remember the fake somewhat subdued Xander, but this is the real one. I remember him . . . exactly like this, self-sacrificing, strong, fighting-capable, not afraid to speak his mind . . ."

After a few moments of silence, Angel spoke up again. "So, what's going on here, anyway? Xander mentioned the First Evil? The thing that tried to get me to kill myself?"

Buffy nodded, saying, "It's got more ambitious. It's raising an army."

Angel pulled a yellow envelope from his coat, and offered it to Buffy. "I found this."

Buffy took it gently, and asked, "Reliable source?"

"Not remotely," Angel had to admit. Buffy nodded, her face drawn, the stress visible. "I, uh, I brought something else." He rummaged in one of his pockets, and then pulled out a medallion on a chain, in its middle a sparkling crystal. Buffy looked at him questioningly, not offering one of the quips that sparked in her mind, with Xander fighting Tara inside, she didn't feel like joking. "I don't know everything. It's very powerful and probably very dangerous. It has a purifying power, a cleansing power, possibly scrubbing bubbles. The translation is, uh - anyway, it bestows strength to the right person who wears it."

"And the right person is?" Buffy questioned, holding out her hand. He handed over the medallion for her to look at.

Angel answered her a little reluctantly, "Someone ensouled, but stronger than human. A champion. As in me."

"Or me," Buffy replied, thinking it over. Angel was about to protest, when she added, "Or Faith, or Xander . . . or Spike."

"He's got a soul!?" Angel asked incredulously, a hint of jealousy slipping in. "Are you and him . . . I mean Xander said . . . and I can smell him on you."

Buffy was about to comment on grossing out over the smelling thing, when she noticed two figures, carrying something speeding away from the crypt. Both he and Buffy stood straight, more alert, and Buffy said distractedly, "We're not, but he's in my heart. Xander has him chained in the basement, wants to torture him to death later, I think he's making a mistake: Spike is good now, he could make a difference."

Xander's laughter brought both their heads down to the figure stalking out of the pyramid. "Yeah, he'll stab us in the back, and help the First to victory, there's a difference."

"How do you know that? He could be a good man," Buffy told him, as Xander reached the two.

He grinned and explained, "I've seen his mind. There's no difference in his thought patterns, before are after the soul. He thinks the same, his wants are the same, to such an extend he himself doesn't notice any difference, he doesn't even think he has a soul. He has one though, and it's as black as his demon." Xander switched his attention to Angel, and asked him with a grin, "Well, hello, Dead Boy. Tell me, just who gave you that little trinket."

Angel looked at him with resentment. "Dead Boy?"

Xander grinned, "Yeah, loved that nickname, too bad I got to use it only once, but then you wouldn't remember even that one time, would you?"

Angel growled, and started forward, but Buffy restrained him with a gentle hand. "Tell us," Buffy demanded softly.

He looked down at her for a moment, and then answered, "Lilah deMorgan . . ." Buffy and Xander frowned, wracking their brain when they heard the familiar voice. Willow had named it, so did Cordelia when Xander had her on the phone, or via e-mail on occasion. What was it again? "Yes, she's the Wolfram & Hart lawyer."

"The company that wishes to destroy the world?" Xander asked incredulously.

"I already told Buffy it was from an unreliable source," Angel defended himself.

Xander gave a laugh. "Unreliable he says, I think it's a bit more than unreliable, don't you think?"

"What's your point?" Angel bit at him, while Buffy examined the crystal in her hand.

"My point is," Xander told him with a grim smile. "I find it a little too convenient for an evil company to hand over the key to victory over evil in the bottom of the ninth . . . She wouldn't have been dead by any chance now, would she?"

Angel's eyes widened with surprise, saying, "How did you know that? She died earlier, decapitated to be certain she wouldn't rise. Wolfram & Hart resurrected her, she had a contract beyond death." Xander laughed, and shook his head in disgust.

Buffy suddenly looked with different eyes at the trinket, and whispered, "The First." She then threw the medallion to the floor, and she crushed it beneath her heal. A quick flash of energy escaped, indicating the destruction of the medallion.

"My god, Buffy, the prophecy says . . ." Angel started out in shock.

Xander interrupted him with a snort and said, "According to the Codex it's wrong, because Buffy is dead and six feet under." He turned toward Buffy, and said, "So there's still one working brain cell left, huh?"

"That's it!" Angel growled angrily. "I will not have you abuse her anymore." He lashed out with his right fist, which Xander casually blocked, smiling.

"AAAH!" Xander screamed out, staggering back, and grabbing his head as he received another flash. He steadied himself, as Angel looked shocked and Buffy looked astonished. Xander looked down with wide eyes as the flash took his course, and then he looked up, at Angel. "You, stinking bastard," Xander whispered out in disbelief.

Angel took a step back in disbelief. "Not possible, you can't do that. Vampire demon, no reflection, no telepathy possible."

"Physical contact doesn't require a reflection, you filthy piece of shit," Xander whispered in disbelief, and mounting anger. "You killed your own son," Xander stated in disbelief.

Buffy turned to face Angel and looked at him in shock, and asked, "You killed Connor?"

"Part of a deal, he was resurrected," Angel defended himself, and Buffy looked shocked.

"Resurrected?" Xander exclaimed incredulously. "He has no knowledge of you, lives with a family, no longer has the little trace demon DNA. That isn't Connor, that's just someone else wearing his first name and face. You killed your own son, just because he was a little difficult to deal with.

"You really are some piece of work, you sickening asshole," Xander continued in disbelief. "You had the minds of your friends wiped of him. You raped the minds of your friends, and tore out their memories. And you call yourself their friend?"

"H-how do you two know?" Angel asked weakly, not knowing what to say. "Nobody should know."

Buffy figured it out. "Willow's memory restoration spell, it restored all broken memories, not just the one's the monks created."

Xander continued onward, his eyes blazing with anger, "Now you run Wolfram & Hart. I wonder what Cordelia would say, but then she's conveniently in a coma, isn't she?"

"I won't be judged by . . ." Angel retorted angrily, more than a little niffed at the truth in Xander's words.

"SHUT UP!!" Xander roared out, silencing the vampire. "You will leave here," Xander growled, pointing an accusing finger at Angel. "I don't need you around here. You're in luck I've got more important things to do than dust you, which means you have a chance to right the part of the wrongs you can right. You'll restore their memories, and see if they still consider you a friend. Once I'm done here, I'll come wake up Cordelia. If you haven't cleaned up your own mess by then, I will clean it up for you . . . and my preferred cleaning tool is the dust buster, if you know what I mean." Angel nodded, and backed away some.

Xander whipped his head around, and looked at Buffy, "As for you, what in blazes did you think you could do here without someone that can read ancient writing?" Buffy shrank back, at Xander's blazing eyes. He was fed up with this, every step he took forward, Buffy tried to take a thousand steps back. "Did you expect them to magically turn into English or something? Look, I'm the Slayer, so of course ancient chalk will rearrange itself for me to read it?"

"It helped, didn't it? I talked to the old woman, the guardian?" Buffy tried.

"Oh, for crying out loud, just when there was some hope, there fries the last brain cell," Xander muttered out in irritation. "Exactly what did she tell you we didn't already know?" Buffy's mouth opened, and then closed, having no answer. "And exactly what has she been guarding, a tomb?" Xander asked bitterly. Buffy stayed silent. "Watching the watchers, she said, who? Her? She was locked in a damn tomb, Buffy, she was the only one left. If she was the Slayer's guardian, please tell me where she was in the past seven years when we fought off one apocalypse after another?" Buffy didn't have an answer. "She was sitting in her little tomb, doing nothing, apparently for centuries, or even millennia, waiting to go extinct. That's not a guardian, that's a coward."

"I . . ." Buffy tried but faltered.

"Pay attention, Buffy," Xander continued, raising his right index finger warningly. "So I can spell it out for you. You come here, to a nice little tomb, that's conveniently housing an old woman. Tell me something, where did she get her food, her drink, her cable hookup?" Buffy looked over at the pyramid and then returned to Xander. "If she wanted to stay alive Buffy, she'd had to have been going out for everything out there, just how likely is it she's here right at the moment you arrive?" Buffy stayed silent, wheels turning in her head, and looking up with a little shock at Xander. "Then just as she's about to give some useful information, the First's minion arrives and snaps her neck. Now just how did she now you'd be right here, right now?" Xander waved a hand in front of Buffy's face, "Hello, somebody awake in there? It was a trap, Buffy. It was the First, Buffy. Don't believe me, go find her corpse, you'll notice it isn't lying at the place where her neck got snapped."

"But Tara touched her, she held the Scythe," Buffy said confused.

"The little bitch can fake being touched, fake dying, I saw her do it for Caleb, let him relive one of his kills," Xander answered her. "As for the magical weapon, she probably didn't hold the metal, she held the magic."

Buffy kept her eyes locked on his for a few more moments, and then ran passed him, back into the pyramid. Her corpse wasn't present. That was, until Buffy looked over at the destroyed sarcophagus, and saw the skeleton, and the wisps of long white hair still attached to the skull. Buffy stayed there, staring for several long moments, until she realized something else. She quickly walked back out the pyramid, and said urgently, "Tara's body is gone."

"I know, she being put back in her grave, now move, go back home, QUICKLY!" Xander ordered her, running out of patience. Buffy nodded, and started running off toward the house. Xander watched her go for a moment, then turned his head back to Angel. "You still here?" Angel looked up, and then quickly left as well.

When both of them were gone, his crow rejoined him, landing on his shoulder. Xander took a deep, calming breath through his nose, and then ran off, also toward Tara's grave.


Buffy ran toward the house. Half-way there she slowed down to a jog, tears streaming from her eyes. She slowed down even more, and stopped, holding her stomach and bending over in an effort to quench the hollow, queasy feeling.

"So, now you're all alone," her own voice called to her. She looked up, looking into the face of the First wearing her own body.

"Go away," she whimpered, and started walking.

The First laughed. "Ah, poor thing. All alone, and nobody to talk to. Your friends don't like you, hate you, or just think you're stupid - which you are - or all of the above," the First mocked her, grinning. "Now you finally really are the Slayer. All alone and hunting the demons without help or backup. There's no hope anymore now. My plan went perfect, now that you're separated from your friends, all hope is lost."

"Shut up," Buffy told it.

The First morphed into Xander, paint and all, and added, "He killed my right arm, and he killed my left arm. But then I don't need arms, I've got armies. And you all alone, and unable to stop it. Or do you think a few tanks can stop me? Or your little wanna-slay pals, huh?" Buffy's lower lip pulled down in anguish, looking at the First in Xander's guise, who just stood there grinning. "Those sluts will never know power unless you are dead. You know the drill; Into every generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, yada, yada, yada."

"Go away!!" Buffy yelled, and then ran onward.

"I'll be seeing you in hell when I destroy it!" the First called after her, then laughed and disappeared.

After a few more meters, certain the First was gone, Buffy slowed down, and then got an epiphany. Her face lighted up, and she said, "We're gonna win." Then she ran onward.


The three resurrected beings lowered themselves to the roof of the unfinished building and peeked over the edge. Down below was the construction site. Xander held a pair of binoculars in front of his eyes, and peered down. Down below there was the obsidian black demon, the First's native monstrous form next to him. All around were smaller demons, some flying, with similar bat-like wings as the bigger one. Xander offered the binoculars to Alex, and he peered down as well, noticed large egg-shaped objects on the ground all around.

"Shit," Alex whispered, seeing all the demons. If someone would have asked him a week earlier if he thought demons were real, he would have answered no. Now he was going to take them on. "What do you think?"

Alex passed the binoculars onto Eric, who peered down as well. Xander whispered in answer, "I think the bitch wants to kill our birds and then kill us."

"Yeah, how did you know they were here anyway?" Eric asked, and then looked as one of the eggs cracked open, and one of the demons emerged.

Xander answered with a proud smile, "Gave Willow a call with the old cell phone to reassure her about Tara. She gave me the location, they haven't just been sitting still in the few days I was gone."

Eric nodded, and then handed the binoculars back to Xander, as he asked, "What do you think of the demon?"

Xander looked down, and watched as the demon lay another egg. "I pissed the First off, I think it's safe to expect the very worst. That hide of his seems pretty much impenetrable."

"Yeah," Alex commented annoyed. "Unlike his kids though, I guess they haven't reached puberty yet."

"Have you noticed the wings?" Eric asked softly, a grin on his face. Xander and Alex looked at him. "They're folded up, he needs to spread them in order to fly, so it's safe to assume they don't just look leathery."

Xander smiled broadly, nodding, and said, "Which means they're not impenetrable." The three of them nodded, each sporting a grim smile.


"The seed has been planted," the monstrous First told his new big shot. With the demon he didn't need to look human.

"Do you think they will fall for it?" the demon asked for it.

"The blonde bitch will, but I doubt that for the others. The death and resurrection of that Harris saw to that. Still, it couldn't hurt to try anyway," the First answered introspectively.

The demon tilted his head, and asked, "Then how do you propose to complete it."

The First's face twisted into a grin, and said, "Simple, just because Willow is the only one on the planet powerful enough to perform such a spell, doesn't mean I can't get several people who can perform the spell together. They probably won't survive, but then I don't really care. You just get that weapon, get the blonde alive, and slaughter the rest."

"Of course, master," the demon answered respectfully.


Buffy walked into the yard, the soldiers on guard looked at her with poison in the eyes. But Buffy didn't care, she had the solution to all their problems. She quickly went up to the door and opened it, revealing Faith, Dawn, Giles and Willow standing there. Dawn and Faith had their hands crossed over their chests. Faith reached out her right and waited.

Buffy reluctantly handed over the magical weapon. "What were you thinking!?" Willow demanded.

"I . . ."

"Save it!" Faith called out with authority. "We've got more important things to do that bicker over spilled milk. I'm certain Xander has already rubbed her nose in it."

"I have an idea," Buffy stated forcefully. Everyone looked at her. "I know how we can even the odds, call the potentials, that way I can explain it."

"All right," said Giles, before the others had a chance to say something and then Giles went off to do exactly that. Buffy smiled.


A short while later Xander arrived at the house as well, the crow perched on his shoulder, Eric and Alex beside him. The female corporal who had arrived first, Denise Badcock, stepped up to him. "Sir, permission to speak freely?" she asked respectfully. Xander gave her a nod. "Just how much do you trust Rupert Giles?"

"With my life. Why?" Xander answered while a smile crept up on his face.

"We captured a Bringer, sir, for interrogation. We went to destroy an arsenal, it was a trap. Obviously, really, in retrospect," she explained in quick short points, "the Bringer said he was part of a whole, as if the Bringers have a hive mind, in constant telepathic connection. Mr. Giles killed the Bringer too early and abruptly for my liking, sir. We should have asked more, allowing us time to understand what it meant with what it said."

Xander nodded, "Yeah, that sounds about right." Both she and the soldiers around them looked taken aback. She reached out and touched Xander: no First. "Next time touch me before talking, you don't want to divulge any sensitive information, do you?" Xander added, a little sternly.

"Yes, sir," Denise answered, going rigid.

Xander turned to his two companions and said, "You two go in the back, I'll take the front." The two nodded, and quickly went.


Buffy stood in the middle of the living room, surrounded by the potentials and the rest, of the soldiers there was only a handful. "I know how we can even the playing field," Buffy said enthusiastically, most people present just looked annoyed. "For millennia there has been only one Slayer because a few men - who have been dead for thousands of years - said so. Well, Willow here is more powerful that all of them combined. She can use Scythe to activate all of you." There were several skeptically raised eyebrows. "Don't you see? With all of us active, all of us Slayers, you'd be like me and Faith. You'd be strong, powerful, we'd defeat them."

Giles who was sitting by the window said, "It's a lot more than that." He got up and walked over to the middle, to Buffy, and continued, "Buffy, what you said, it - it flies in the face of everything we've ever - every generation has ever done in the fight against evil." Suddenly he broke into a big smile, and finished, "I think it's bloody brilliant."

"Yeah, Giles, you would," Xander voice called out, and everyone looked over to see him. He had slipped in characteristically silent, and was leaning against a door post. Xander straightened and casually walked through the crowd, to join Buffy and Giles. The crow on his shoulder cawed once, and then flew over to the mantel and placed himself there, surveying the room. "Would you explain this to her, Willow?"

"Buffy," Willow started, exasperated, and also horrified, "you can't do that, I won't do that. The First would win, I would do exactly what he wants me to do. The Slayer essence is damaged, imbalanced. I split it up even more than it already is, and I completely destroy whatever little balance that still exists, and the First wins."

"We have to do the exact opposite, than what you want to do, Buffy," Xander added as clarification, shaking his head at Buffy.

"Worse," Willow picked back up, seeing Buffy looking anguished, "you always hated being the Slayer, when you returned from your trip to the Shadow Men, you said they did this against the girl's will, you said they basically raped her. Now you want me to commit mass rape, rape every innocent potential, however many, that are still out there? You want me to push part of a demon inside all those girls? I won't do that, ever."

"Which leads us to you, Giles," Xander said, turning around to face the watcher. "Exactly why do you think handing victory over to the First is 'bloody brilliant'?" Giles didn't answer. "You know," Xander went onward, taking a step closer to Giles, "the Giles I know wouldn't have made an elaborate scheme to get a revenge driven guy in one room with Spike, he would simply have set the bastard ablaze, or staked him and be done with it. Hell, the Giles I know wouldn't have gone out of his way to get that trinket to get rid of Spike's trigger, he would have dusted him right away. The Giles I know, wouldn't have been so quiet while took over this place, he would have said at least something, pro- or againt. The Giles I know wouldn't have cut short a Bringer's interrogation by abruptly killing him.

"You know what I think, Giles?" Xander finished, stepping right up to the watcher. "I don't think you're Giles, Giles." There was a shocked silence in the room at that statement. "Or should I call you The First?"

"Oh, bloody hell, not this again," Giles told him, somewhat annoyed. He touched Xander, then rapped his knuckles on the wood of the chair he was standing next. "Have you finally lost your mind, Boy? I'm not the First, see?"

Xander smiled, and then suddenly both his hands shot out, and grabbed Giles on either side of his head. Giles screamed as Xander pored his telepathic abilities in his mind, and sank to his knees. "Xander, no!" Buffy called, and several similar sentiments came from the people in the room, amidst yells of shock, and surprise. Some of them went for Xander, trying to stop the 'insane' man. Smoothly Eric and Alex got in between Xander and the mob. Alex - the only one with his (non-painted) crow face on - wiggled his finger warningly at Buffy who was the most adamant about Xander stopping hurting Giles. Their two birds joined Xander's own on the mantel.

"Xander, please!" Buffy yelled, taking a step back, afraid of the two crows, knowing what kind of power they had. "You can't do this, stop hurting him."

Xander didn't listen, his gaze became more intense, his grip tightened, and he bared his teeth. Giles screamed in ever mounting pain. Finally a shimmering light started to detach from Giles, and people quieted down, shocked. Giles screams increased, and slowly the light got a humanoid shape, and a second screaming came from the figure, simultaneous with the first. Finally, with a defiant scream, the energetic figure detached from Giles, stumbled back, and then fell straight through the floor until it was lying on his ass, only the upper part of its rump visible. Xander loosened his grip, Giles screams went away, and he slumped forward into Xander's arms exhausted.

Everyone looked with dropped jaws, as the First got up from his undignified position with a growl, morphing into a painted Xander. "You, fucking bastard," the First growled out in anger. "You think this changes anything? You think you're going to win now that you've forced me out of him? You will lose, fool, you have no idea of what's coming for you!"

"Black guy with wings, goodbye," Xander answered, waving a hand.

The First growled, and then morphed into a beautiful woman, looking over at Eric. "Shelly," Draven whispered.

"Please, Eric," ShellyFirst pleaded him, as Eric took several steps forward to her. "Why are you not with me? Don't you love me anymore?"

"No, of course I still love you," Eric answered anguished, the pain on his face silenced everyone instantly

"That's not Shelly, Eric, you know this," Xander told him forcibly, but Eric didn't seem to listen.

"I'm waiting for you, come back to me," the First said with feeling. Eric's crow cawed, as Eric's complexion paled, and he started to slump, a happy smile formed on his face.

*He's dying,* Xander realized helplessly. Eric was going to his grave, he was falling for it.

Eric reached out for the First's hand, and his passed through it. Eric jerked back up straight, his eyes widened, as the flash passed through his system. Then his face contorted in anger, and hate. "YOU ARE NOT SHELLY!!" he raged, his weakness gone instantly.

Shelly laughed an evil laugh and then morphed into another girl, turned to a shocked Alex, and said, "Well, look at that. So you're still here huh? Killer of my killers. How pathetic. If I really loved you, if I thought you were anything of worth, if I thought you could protect me, don't you think I would have told you about what I was doing? And then killing innocent men too, raped and stabbed to death, best orgasms I've ever had . . ." the First turned into a bloodied version of herself, blood oozing from multiple stab marks, and she rubbed a hand suggestively across her crotch.

"Lauren," Alex said shocked, losing his resolve, and he started to slump as well.

The First added, " . . . something you could never help me with."

Alex went rigid, and took a step forward. With blazing eyes, he growled at the First, "You will pay."

"Ah, well, was worth a shot," the bloodied girl said casually, and then the First morphed into the Mayor. He turned to face Faith, and pointing, he said friendly, "Faith, you'll join me in hell soon, I'm looking forward to it already." Faith paled, and then the mayor laughed, and disappeared.

Eric turned to Xander, and said, "Suffering isn't enough."

Alex nodded in ascent, and added, "That thing must feel pain like no one has ever felt before or will after." Xander nodded his ascent. Then the two crows stalked out of the room, so they could contemplate their encounters in private.

Xander slowly helped Giles up, who finally looked into Xander's eyes, and said, "Thank you."

Xander nodded, and said, "Sorry, I couldn't do that before. I wanted to mess with the bitch's mind the same way it was messing with ours."

Giles grinned a scary smiled, that could only have come from the Ripper within him, and said, "Glad to able to have been of help." Then Giles steadied himself fully and looked over to the shaken Faith, saying, "Faith, he's bloody well lying, even if you were to die, you won't go to hell." Faith looked grateful over at him, and pulled herself back together, then everyone was silent.

"All right," Xander called out. "Now that the excitement is over, everybody go get a little time to cool down, and rest. We'll reconvene here later, to go over our battle plan for tomorrow."

Chapter 10

"So, how's the spell coming?" Xander asked gently of Willow. They were sitting in the kitchen, like everyone else taking a breather. Giles was sitting next to them, Kennedy as well, an arm slung around the redhead's waist. Faith was sitting across from Giles.

Willow shook her head, enjoying the feel of Kennedy's arm tightening in support. "Sorry, Xan, I haven't yet figured it out. I'm working on it though," Willow was forced to admit.

"No matter, you'll figure it out, I know it. Restoring the Slayer line isn't a priority anyway," Xander answered Willow softly. "The damage of the imbalance is already done, the First is here without the need of his Bringers giving him that ability. The only thing restoring the Slayer line now will do, is remove the ability to activate all the potentials, and since we're not going to do that, it won't change much."

"Except eliminate the First's ability to win," Giles cut in somewhat disapproving. "I would say that makes it a priority."

"No," Xander replied, and looking around the little room. He checked back an forth, making sure nobody was listening in, and then said softly. "There's another way to restore the balance." The group around him frowned and tried to think of what he meant.

"If Buffy's dead . . ." Kennedy figured it out first, "the imbalance started with her, and it ends with her."

Xander nodded, the others stayed silent, contemplating the consequences. Xander turned and looked at Faith. She leaned back a bit, as she realized what Xander was asking, but didn't want to acknowledge it. The others looked over at Faith, with a similar look. "Y-you want me to kill Buffy?" Faith asked weakly.

"If it starts to show we're going to lose the battle," Xander said softly, the concept felt like a big giant anvil hanging above them by a thin thread. "If one of the crows is destroyed . . . kill Buffy . . . with her gone, the First can't do what it wants. It's army can always be wiped out with heavier weapons . . ." Xander paused a little, that sunk into everyone's minds. What Xander meant with his euphemism was that the entire town of Sunnydale, and everyone and everything in it, could be vaporized with a nuclear bomb. "The world's militaries, our own in particular will be watching, but it might take a little time dispatching the proper weaponry, and getting clearance. If the First gets to use Buffy the way he wants to in the mean time . . . we can't afford that happening."

"And this isn't because you want Buffy dead anyway?" Kennedy had to ask, there was no accusation just a calm appraising.

Giles raised his eyebrows questioningly. "You know me," Xander stated.

Willow shook her head, "No, to Xander his own needs and desires have always come second place to the big picture, although on occasion they may have fallen in sync." Willow and Xander locked gazes, and volumes were spoken, that the others couldn't understand, but Willow and Xander smiled at each other afterwards, as if some kink in their friendship had been ironed out.

Xander turned back to Faith, and the dark slayer gave a hesitant nod.

There was knock on the door, and before they could bid whoever in, the door flew open, emitting an excited Dawn. "He's here," she told them.

"Well, it's about damn time," Xander returned with a grin, and the group got up from their seats. They entered the living room, with a lot of potentials and soldiers relaxing, and through the window they saw a newly arrived humvee, and a familiar figure who had just gotten out, along with one less familiar figure, and two completely unknowns.

Xander smiled, and the group quickly crossed the room. Buffy who was hiding in a corner, saw it too, and tentatively walked along, but didn't dare go along with them all the way. Xander left the house and walked toward the blonde man. "Well, well, if it isn't Riley 'Cornbred' Finn himself," Xander said sourly. Some of the soldiers perched in the tents around them snickered with amusement. Although they called one of their highest officer's similar nicknames, always with respect, none dared to say it to his face.

"Nice to see you too, Xander 'I like to electrocute myself' Harris," Riley returned the insult with dark face. They sized each other up, while the others, most notably the women looked somewhat shocked. Then they broke in smiles, and clasped hands.

"It's been awhile Riley, about a year," Xander said with a smile. "And Mrs. Sam Finn, always a pleasure to meet you," Xander added and took her gloved hand and put a kiss on the back of it.

"Why thank you, sir," Sam answered somewhat flattered, while Dawn rolled her eyes.

"Watch it, Harris," Riley commented with a grin. "You try to seduce my wife, and I will have to beat you up."

Xander chuckled amongst female groans, and said, "You couldn't hit me if you tried."

"Men," the women said in unison.

"You think so?" Riley asked with a predatory grin. Xander shrugged.

"Guys, this is not the time . . ." Giles tried, but Riley's fist already flew at Xander. He grabbed it though, and squeezed until Riley groaned. After letting go Xander shook his hand to get circulation going again, looking surprised at the smiling Xander.

"Dying and resurrecting has its perks," Xander commented.

Riley's eyes widened, and then he grumbled, "All right, that's it, if you people ever send me an invitation for a funeral, I'm not coming, because you'll be up and about in no time."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Dawn said and then took a step forward and hugged the blonde man.

Riley returned the hug, and said, "Hey, squirt, how have you been."

"Pretty good."

"I would suggest a little respect for the resident Sumerian expert, Mr. Finn," Giles said with impeccable pronunciation, resetting his glasses.

Dawn removed herself from his hug, and Willow added, as she hugged Riley as well, "Yeah, do not use her as a sex object."

"Spoil sport," Dawn said with mock resentment.

Sam looked at her and added, "You must understand, if you try anything with my husband, I will have to gouge out your eyes."

Riley and Xander shared a look, then made Giles part of it, and all three said, "And they complain about us."

As Willow and Sam went to their greeting, Riley asked, "So . . . where's Buffy?" The faces of the people in front of him went sour. His face suddenly lost the smile, and said, "She isn't . . .?"

"No, she's inside," Xander answered with a grim tone, "she's a great fighter and all, but she's no general."

"And since Giles over there pushed her into being a general," Dawn added pointing at Giles, "let's just say results were disastrous."

Giles raised his hand, and answered deadpan, "I plead innocent on the count of being possessed, literally." Riley and Sam looked at the group with astonishment.

"So I had no choice but to take over," Xander added, and turned around, starting to go inside.

"Instead of going with the flow, and accepting it, she's wallowing in self-pity. Just ignore her," Willow suggested with a pained face, "probably better for her that way."

Sam walked over to Willow, as the group turned around to go back inside the house. Riley joined Dawn, as he looked painfully at her, combined with his smile to Dawn, his face looked more than a little awkward. Sam took in Kennedy, and asked Willow, "You and Tara broke up?"

Willow's face blanched, and looked down in pain. Kennedy slung her arm around Willow's shoulder and answered for her, just a little bitter, "No, Tara is one person that didn't get resurrected."

"Oh," Sam said - a 'sorry' that felt patronizing wrapped in that one word - realizing Riley's tactless joke about funerals and resurrections probably hurt Willow more than she had let on. A hurt that she was pretty certain this new friend - and even girlfriend? - had been keenly aware of.


"So," Riley said, looking at Buffy sitting in her room. He was due for the briefing of the commanders, and he was aware that Buffy was not invited to that meeting. She was expected to be present at the briefings the commanders gave to the sub-sections of warriors. Buffy looked up and at him, then returned to staring at the floor. "It's safe to say, things didn't work out for you." He gently walked into the room, and sat down next to her.

"What happened?" he asked, after a few moments of silence. "They told me of some of your decisions, and . . ."

"They're stupid," Buffy said with bitterness. "I know what they think, I suppose you agree with them."

Riley shrugged, and said tenderly, "You took a unit into a house that was almost certainly a trap, which had only one narrow entrance and exit."

"My decisions could have been better, don't you think I know that?" Buffy complained half crying. "Xander's been bashing me over the head with it every chance he gets."

"But I don't get it," Riley told her, still gentle, but defensive. "You never made such mistakes when I was here."

"I did," Buffy whispered almost imperceptibly.


Buffy looked up and looked at him. "I did, on occasion, but I still listened to my friends then," Buffy choked on her confession, tears streaming fully down her face now. "I pushed them away, stopped listening to their advice, because I didn't think I should, because I didn't think they would . . . because I'm the Slayer, and I'm supposed to be saving them, protecting them, leading them . . ."

"Buffy," Riley started.

"Go," Buffy interrupted him. "Just go, you still belong there, making decisions . . . I . . . just go."

"Okay," Riley said and got up off the bed, and walked away, throwing one last look at his ex.


"Any suggestions, comments, questions or improvements: now is the time to voice them, not when we're in thick of it," Xander started out inside Willow's room where the commanders had gathered. Denise was there, as well as Riley, Sam, Willow, Giles, Wood, Dawn, Kennedy and Faith. The other two crows were sitting on a chair in a corner, several more army commanders were there, as well as three mages from the army, who had already gotten acquainted with Willow and been put under her command. They were rounded around a small table. They all nodded. Xander continued, "The First has reinforced his army. It's got a nice big black obsidian demon with bat-like wings. We don't have time to go research every book in existence to see if anyone knows it. We'll have to take it out with common sense. We have to expect it to be at least bullet-proof. I wouldn't be surprised if its armored hide is enough to take a few shells, and the First has seen our tanks, it's not stupid, this thing will have ranged striking ability." Xander pauzed for a moment, and looked around the group of people sworn to defend the Earth, letting that tidbit seep in. "The biggest problem is, that it's been laying eggs, and its babies are about one meter fifty tall, and have some nasty claws. Luckily they don't have the same hide yet. Most of them haven't yet hatched though, and the First isn't yet ready to open the Seal, for one thing, it doesn't have a souled being it can bleed out over it."

"Why don't we attack them right now?" one of the military commanders asked.

"Too well fortified," Xander answered calmly, the other crows nodded. "Plus we need the tactical advantage of the sun, at night we have too many disadvantages. Robin, how are the potentials coming along with the guns?"

"They can't hit an eye on a fly at fifty meters," Robin answered with a confident smile, "but they won't be blowing their own, or any of our heads off."

"Good. You, Dawn, and Faith will each be leading a squadron of them," Xander explained, and Dawn perked up, not quite believing what had just been said, and finally understanding why she was here. "A fourth and final one will be part of the protection for Willow, the mages, and the other magic users, giving them time to do their spells, than one will be lead by Kennedy."

"Do we really need the little girls?" one of the commander's asked.

"Yes, we need the girls," Sam bit at him, a little annoyed. A few of the other women gave the guy an evil eye as well.

"Hey, a few are barely fourteen, it's not gender," he defended himself.

Xander looked at the guy, and told him calmly, "They're tough. Some of those 'girls' watched their parents get slaughtered in front of their eyes, and managed to escape a grown demon twice their strength with their hides in tact. When you guys arrived here they could have decided to get the heck out of here, and leave everything to the people with the big guns, but their still here, some of them itching for some payback, and risking their lives for their and all of our lives. They're ready. If you have more doubts, remember that when I, and Willow here was their age, we were facing apocalypses on a weekly basis and guess what? You're still alive."

The man shut up.

"Good," Xander said, and looked around the group for more objections. None came. "There are a few possibilities, depending on the First's actions. Now I've antagonized the bitch, messed with her mind some, so I'm pretty sure I know what she'll do, but we'll keep any of her other actions in mind. With every scenario, there's one thing we have to do first." Xander folded open the map on the table, and then tapped the highschool. "The Seal, we'll have to take it and Turok-Han it contains out."

"Wait," Riley spoke up. "You want to open up that thing, setting ten thousand of them free, in order to take them out and make sure they can't be set free?"

Xander looked at him, "Exactly. If our battle with the First's forces takes till dusk, and that bitch can open the seal then, we'll get ten thousand of the buggers attacking us in the back. They have to be taken out. That's one you don't have to worry about. Me, Alex, and Eric will take that one."

The whole group looked astonished, and Giles was the one to ask, "Three of you against ten thousand if not more of them?"

"Yep," Eric grinned from the corner. "All ten thousand to the slaughter."

Alex added, his visage adding to the frightening concept, "Don't expect there to be anything left of the school though."

"No," Wood moaned. "I just built the damn place."

"Sorry, Robin, it's got to go," Xander told him with an amused evil grin. "We can't rule out the possibility that the First might try to open up the Hellmouth itself during the battle, if that happens, the Turok-Han have to be gone by then . . . god, I'm probably the only guy on the planet who gets to blow up his highschool twice." Willow grinned widely at that, part of her wishes she had a greater part in the destruction of the Sunnydale High this time as well.

The group surround Xander looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Did I ever tell you, you're a lucky bastard, Xander," Riley commented at last.

"I died, painfully I might add," Xander returned deadpan.

Riley shrugged. "Lucky dead bastard," he corrected himself. There were several laughs, and chuckles.

"Wait," one of the mages piped up, "Isn't the seal the Hellmouth?"

Giles shook his head, "The Hellmouth is at ground level, the Seal is several meters below."

"Hmm," one of the mages hummed in a drone. "My sources say there should be an ancient Pagan temple there."

"Transformed into a church, and bulldozed away to make room for the new school's foundations," Xander replied to him.

"It's where the Master got stuck," Willow explained. "Ancient vampire that wanted to open the Hellmouth seventy years. He got stuck until he arose seven years ago. We took care of him. The Seal actually solves a little riddle I never had an answer too. I never quite figure out why the Master got stuck in first place. He didn't seem like someone in a rush and screw up a spell, he probably didn't know about the Seal he was practically on top of when he did his magic . . ."

"Willow, you're babbling," Xander said with an amused smile. She looked up at him shocked, and then looked down mortified and gave an apology.

"Shit, this is getting more problematic by the moment," one commander commented. "Hellmouth, and a Seal? With ten thousand pre-historic vampires locked inside. Wonder why they just didn't dig themselves out?"

"They're prehistoric, thus stupid?" Faith dead panned.

Willow shook her head, "No, the Seal, and its magic, produces a barrier they can't pass, they can't reach the floors or the walls. I feel bad for whoever served as bait to get them in there. Whoever built the seal needed a perpetual energy source to keep it functioning long after they were dead, so they had the Seal siphon power off the Hellmouth; which leads back to the Master. When he did his magic it interacted with the Seal's magic, the Seal was built to contain vampires, Master is a vampire, so the magical barrier extended upward and sealed him the same way it sealed the Turok-Han below . . ."

"Honey," Kennedy prompted Willow who seemed about ready to go off on another tangent. "Are you quite finished making everyone else here feel stupid using your superior intellect and magic knowledge?"

Willow jolted a little in surprise, then looked around the room, and apologized, "S-sorry, I babble when I'm n-nervous."

"Ok, after that history lesson," Xander started up, giving Willow a smile. "Let's continue first with something I think can stay universal in all our scenarios. Fall back positions." Xander moved his hand over the map and put his finger on one. "Sunnydale Memorial Hospital, we can bring the wounded there as well, the doctors left most of the stuff behind. Medics will drool, the best field hospital ever, and its well-defendable. We'll need to secure it, keep it under guard before the battle starts."

"I think Lieutenant Grymes and his unit are best suited for that job," Riley interjected, giving a nod to the man in question. Xander looked over, and Grymes nodded his acceptance.

"What about the First?' one commander put in. "Do we something for him yet?"

"Yes," Xander answered him. "But that's classified. Willow knows, she's the main thrust for the First. Non-magic users don't need to know. I can't risk the First being able to shake those demons that animated Tara from his wrists, and an animated corpse of one of you telling the First our plans for him." The man nodded, accepting that answer, as did the others.

"All right then," Xander continued, "Now we can start on some real strategies . . ."


A short while later in the kitchen after the briefing with the commanders, and their briefings to the soldiers below was over. Dawn had just finished her briefing to her unit, several of them had decided to go to bed, the people still present couldn't sleep they had said. Anya too was present, although she wasn't part of Dawn's unit; she even wouldn't be fighting tomorrow, she'd be a nurse in the hospital, helping the medics, along with Andrew. To Dawn's surprise, and good spirits, the potentials took her as their commander without protest or even a snide look, but her good spirits were now being crushed by other concerns. "This just isn't fair," Dawn complained, to the people present, a few potentials from other units had joined the kitchen group in the mean time. "Tomorrow I go into a battle with oh, only the First Evil. I command the unit, I'm going to be prime target, I'm probably going to die facing off against the most horrible monsters the bitch could come up with, and I'm still a virgin."

"What?" Vi asked a little surprised Dawn would come up with this now: with them. It wasn't exactly uncommon knowledge that Dawn didn't really like the potentials, one or two exceptions aside, even if she was their commander now.

"Yeah, I mean, none of the soldiers would do it, they'd be too afraid they get put in jail afterwards," Dawn complained more. "So here I am, healthy sixteen-year-old girl, lots of hormones, and I'm probably not even going to get the best experience in life. My number just has to come up, three years running, three apocalypses, no special powers, no guardian angels, I'm doomed, and me still a virgin."

"I know what you mean," Anya practically wailed, "Xander has been busy making battle plans, and I just know Faith wants him, I know that look she gives him. I used to look at him like that, heck, sometimes I still do. The look of a predator . . ." Everyone looked at her astounded. "I so shouldn't have called it break-up sex, I should have called it tying-me-over-so-we-can-start-again sex. Now, I'm sitting here, at the end of the world, and no sex for little old me!"

"What the hell are you talking about!?" Dawn told her angrily. "You're twelve hundred, not twelve. Any of those soldiers can legally fuck your brains out."

"But I don't know any of them," Anya complained.

"So what?" Molly asked equally incredulous. "Dawn here is a proper virgin and she's willing to screw one of the soldiers, and you're telling me, that after all the sex you sprout from your mouth, you wouldn't have sex with a perfectly good, patriotic, heroic soldier!?"

Anya opened her mouth to speak, closed it to think, repeated the process, and then said, "You have a point." Anya got up and walked through the door to the living room. The people in the kitchen could easily here Anya's loud cry, "Who here wants to have sex with me? Can we do it in one of the tents? Always wanted to do it in a tent another time. Xander brought me to ten orgasms in a tent."

Dawn dropped her head to the kitchen table in frustration, her hands moved to a strangling position. "Sometimes," she groaned out.

The others chuckled until Vi said timidly, "I-I'm in the same predicament . . . I'm n-not a lesbian or anything, b-but this might be my last night, a-and I-I s-say . . . well, why not?"

Dawn looked up and over at Vi incredulously. Then she frowned and seriously started thinking about it. "Uh . . . no, sorry," Dawn said, kicking herself for chickening out. Casual lesbian sex was just too much too handle, even if she was going to die.

"Hey, there's always Andrew," Molly suggested innocently.

Dawn snapped her head to her left, looking at Molly, her mouth half open, and then said, "I'm so gonna die a virgin."

"B-besides," Amanda said from the other side of the table, listening into the conversation with interest. "A-Andrew would have the same problems the soldiers have."

Molly turned her head to Amanda, and asked surprised, "He's not fourteen?"

Amanda shook her head, "Nineteen."

"You're kidding me, right?" Molly asked in disbelief. "The guy who thinks a vulcanologist is someone who studies Vulcans and not volcanoes? That childish, little twit is nineteen?"

"Yep," Amanda answered, and then got an idea. She looked over at Vi, and said, blushing deeply, "You know, I'm a v-v-virgin, a-and . . . uh . . . w-w-will . . . uh . . ." Vi looked over at Amanda, blinked, and then smiled, her eyes widening. She jumped off her stool, walked to onto the walking space, and held out her hand. Amanda quickly jumped off her stool and hurried over, grabbing Vi's hand. The two looked nervously at each other, and then went off to find a private place.

"Well," Molly commented with an evil grin, "You blew that one."

"Don't I know it," Dawn groaned out.


Xander undressed in his room, getting ready for bed. He still needed sleep it seemed, although Xander was certain he could last without it, at the moment he just felt like sleeping. His crow was sitting on the night stand, picking away at something to eat Xander had gotten for him. Xander doubted the bird needed to eat, but like himself, it seemed to want to eat.

There was a knock on the door, and it opened, revealing Faith. Xander looked at her, and said, "I thought I told everyone except the guards to go to sleep. Everyone needs to be fresh tomorrow."

"Not everyone can sleep right now, Xander, and I need less sleep anyhow, we should smash some vending machines and get some energy drinks in the morning," Faith answered, smiling weakly, incapable of letting her eyes wander over his naked torso. "I want to talk to you."

"What about?" Xander asked curtly, as he sat down on the bed.

"Your accusation, I'm not a power tripping psychopath, Xander," she told him with some certainty. She took a few steps forward and continued, "I admit, your resurrection and saving our lives drove home just how fantastic a man you really are - yes, man - but I've come to that conclusion a long time ago." Faith took a little break, looking at Xander's face, gauging his reaction. He stayed cool somewhat. "You spend three years in jail, and you have a lot of time contemplating things, Xander, I suppose that's the point. I've known for a few years now, I was stupid to consider you just another male - which to me equated loser back then - who wanted a go and then a second one - last week has only showed me I was certifiable back then already." Faith paused and then gently walked over to the bed. Looking carefully for a negative reaction she sat down next to him. "Xan, I know I would have tried mending my friendship with you without your super powers, and down the line, who knows . . . if Anya weren't in the way . . ."

Faith looked up into Xander's eyes, and felt his brown, much darker now, eyes pierce her soul. *Damn, those eyes,* she thought, they seemed just too all seeing, she didn't dare omit even a small part. "At least," she started her confession, finishing it with some confidence, "if I had worked up the guts to talk to you, and apologize." She pulled something from her pocket and handed it to Xander.

He looked at it, his eyebrows raised in confusion, and asked, "An unopened pack of cigarettes?"

"Yeah, I got them from a vending machine outside the hospital, on my way to find Buffy after me and Willow dropped Shannon off," she explained coolly.

"You smoke?" Xander prompted, completely not understanding.

"No," Faith answered, and realized Xander just didn't understand. "Look, it's like this, I come past this vending machine, right? I see the smokes, realize I still have a few coins in my pocket and I think; 'Buffy and the others will never let me smoke around the squirt, in prison people smoke, good reason why I do now, I can just smoke and I'm forced away, into the basement, or out into the garden, and I don't have do the whole awkward meeting and apologizing thing with you all, until after this whole mess is settled.' So I buy the smokes, next thing I know you've got a sword through your chest, and me and everyone is on such an emotional, and physical roller coaster ride that I completely forgot about them."

Xander looked down at the cigarettes again, then at Faith, then down at the cigarettes, and then back at Faith. Faith had her eyebrows raised, waiting somewhat in anticipation on his reaction. The reaction she got was one she had never seen coming; Xander laughed. He wanted from looking at her to a full blown hysterical belly laugh in one go.

"What?" Faith asked, somewhat hurt and not amused.

Xander fell back on the bed, and screamed out with laughter, tears forming in his eyes. "I'm back bad Slayer Faith," Xander spluttered out through his laughter, "I buy cigarettes . . . risking cancer . . ." Xander laughed harder, before suddenly stopping. He frowned and asked, "Do Slayers get cancer?" Then he laughed again, harder then ever, and he barely managed, " . . . because I'm afraid to talk and apologize."

"That's not funny," Faith answered, crossing her arms and pouting like a little child.

Xander saw her trying to get up, and fell back again, laughing harder, spluttering out further, "Look at me, tough super chick, but I'm really just a coward, a big, fat, yellow chicken." Xander mimicked a chicken, most horribly through his laughter. "So I smoke to turn everyone away from me, away from my smelly breath."

Xander's laughter was catching, and no matter how hard Faith tried to resisted, a few hiccups slipped through her composure, and before she knew it, she was laughing as hard as Xander. Two laid there, just laughing, and laughing. Finally the crow was fed up with it, and cawed loudly, disapproving of the ridiculous scene.

Xander sat up some leaning back on his arm, and told the bird, "Spoil sport." Faith's laughter was reduced to hiccups slowly and she too sat up. The heads of both of them came closer unconsciously, and Xander looked down at her turning away from the bird. Faith and Xander were caught in the moment, the laughter had relieved most of both their gloomy moods, most of Xander's almost perpetual anger and fury. For a moment he just looked at her face, matured since last time he had seen her, and he realized she was more beautiful now then ever, and not just her looks. The pathological bad girl was gone, in its place was a matured woman who had seen the deepest pits, and had climbed from it. He couldn't resist and dipped down, gently kissing her lips, closing his eyes for a moment to savor the taste.

Faith looked into his eyes, surprised. This was so not what she had expected. Not when she left prison, not now. Xander Harris? She wondered. She hadn't thought he'd even be interested, she hadn't thought a guy like that could possibly still be free . . . or free again as the case may be. She hadn't thought she would even be attracted to the guy, still or again. Lust had once been the only attracting factor, like it was with all guys back then, just a good lay, that was all a guy could be. But now, emotions raced through her body she had never contemplated, emotions she previously would have ruthlessly pushed aside.

Xander was equally surprised. He had thought he resented this woman too much to ever be interested in her again. An occasional friendship letter to the prison not withstanding. Yet here he was. The looked into each other's eyes, disbelieving, and then they kissed again. Their kissed deepened, soon tongue was involved, and they crowded closer together. The Crow shook his head, and then flew off doing who knows what, as Faith started taking off her shirt. The two moved sideways, so they actually lay along with the bed's long side, and they shimmied up to the pillows. Faith threw her shirt away, landing behind the bad. Too used to being on top, out of the fear of being down below, she gently pushed him down, and curled on top of him.

She sat up, reaching for the button of her pants, and she said, "This time, we're going to take it slower. I want you so bad right now."

Still fuddling with her pants, Faith dipped down, ready to kiss Xander on the lips. Something gripped Xander, a cold sweat, a panic, a terror. He went rigid, and Faith didn't notice it. Something inside of him acted of its own accord. His legs pulled up rapidly, underneath Faith's stomach, and as his legs pushed upward, he yelled out, "GET OFF ME!"

Faith sailed through the air, shocked, and crashed against the wall. She slumped down, and got up, looking at Xander, who was sitting up, and looking over at her in shock. Faith swallowed, but was unable to get away the grief that was welling up inside her. Tears streamed from her face, and she grabbed her shirt. She walked toward the door, halfway she turned to face a still shocked Xander. "I-I suppose I deserved that." Then Faith left.

"Faith, wait," Xander tried, coming to life, struggling off the bed. "Faith! DAMN IT!" Xander clenched his hands into fists, and threw them down. He sat back on the bed in defeat, wondering about what to do.


Kennedy moaned, as her orgasm shuddered through her body. A moment later Willow's head appeared from under the blankets, her lips still glistening. Kennedy grinned and kissed Willow deeply. Then Willow lay next to her and they embraced.

"Better go to sleep now," Kennedy started with a smile. "If Xander finds out we disobeyed orders, he'll lynch us."

"Mmh," Willow answered with a bright grin, and snuggled closer. But asleep she wouldn't fall, and Kennedy noticed.

"Still thinking about the restoration of the balance spell?" Kennedy whispered concerned.

Willow looked up, and in Kennedy's eyes, and then whimpered, "I can't do it. We've been researching, and researching, and combining spells, and . . . still nothing that would do the trick."

"Well, how about making it from scratch?" Kennedy asked Willow.

Willow lifted herself on her elbows and looked shocked at Kenned. "From scratch?"

"Yeah," Kennedy asked, looking into Willow's eyes, "I mean whoever performed the first spell . . . ever, he or she must have created that spell from scratch right?"

"Do you know how difficult is to just combine existing spells, especially lots of them to create a big one?" Willow asked incredulously. "A super spell like this, from scratch? I can't do that. I don't think anyone has ever done that; big spells are all recombinations of smaller ones."

"You can do it, Willow, I know you can," Kennedy assured her with pride in her eyes. "You can do anything."

"I don't know," Willow said.

"Yes, you can. Remember what you told me about not getting black eyes?" Kennedy asked the scared redhead.

Willow nodded, "Xander suggested that."

"This is the perfect opportunity. Tomorrow after the battle, you'll make this spell, powerful, but all different than you're used to," Kennedy said softly, Willow blinked. "We've been searching in all this black magics . . ."

"But," Willow interrupted the dark-haired girl. "Slayer, big dark magics, weapon big dark magics . . ."

"Exactly," Kennedy interrupted again, her confident smile never wavering, "that's what we're going to change isn't it? No more demon Slayer, now a hunter from light, so we go with magics the exact opposite, drenched in light, and nature." Willow shook her head uncertainly. "You can do it, Will. You're my girlfriend," Kennedy said excited. "Look, I don't want to lose you. So you try, if you really, really can't make the spell, fine, but we're not giving up before we even try. If you've made it, and you say it really, really is too dangerous to try and cast, fine, then so be it. We go back, and go less modest, I'm certain just putting the slayer essence into Faith, but leaving it demonic in nature is much less difficult."

Willow nodded, and lowered herself to Kennedy. "What if I burn out? Tear the magic in me asunder? If it's too much and I try anyway," Willow whispered a little scared.

"Why do you ask?" Kennedy asked. Willow shrugged. "You afraid I'm going to leave you or something?"

Willow shrugged again. "You seem, well . . . excited . . . when I use it."

Kennedy looked at Willow, hurt, "I can't be proud of my girlfriend's abilities?" Willow shrugged, looking apologetically. "I'm not a power junky, Willow," Kennedy told her a little sourly. "Especially not after last week. I've seen what Buffy has become, I've seen glimpses of what this power did to you, and Xander . . ."

"What about Xander?" Willow prompted somewhat taken aback.

"He's fantastic Willow, I'm certain he's going to lead us to victory, but he isn't exactly Mr. Sunshine anymore, is he?" Kennedy said softly, looking deeply into Willow's eyes. "He's in this state of perpetual fury, so angry, I've hardly seen him laugh, or smile, or make jokes, and when he does . . . I don't know, there's something missing, there's something in his eyes . . . something cold . . . something calculating." Willow nodded, she'd seen it too, but hadn't really been willing to accept it. Kennedy finished up, "Anyway, the power doesn't matter to me, it's just an add on. I want you, I didn't go after you with a vengeance because of your black eyes . . . I might as well admit it, the only thing that matters to me is lips that can make me come like a freight train, and the moment I saw yours . . . I just knew I had to try them out, so just don't fall into a coma. You're in a coma, and I'll dumb you in an eye blink to go find some new lips . . . got it?"

Willow chuckled, and then laughed a little, "Got it. I'm staying awake ma'am, to service your vagina's every whim."

"Good," and then both girls giggled, and snuggled closer, Kennedy's hand wandered down.

"Let's go to sleep, Ken, tomorrow is a long day, especially if I got to make that spell," Willow murmured, and Kennedy retracted her hand, and smiled.


Faith stalked through the kitchen, tears streaming down her face. Dawn, Molly, Dominique, and Bryn, another potential, sat at the table playing Monopoly. Faith stalked by them without noticing and went outside. Dawn looked up at her, fist clenching, fighting to make a decision. "Hey, Dawn," Molly called out, when Dawn didn't take her turn. "Hey, commander in chief or whatever the bloody hell you yanks call it, it's your turn."

"Daw?" Bryn asked.

*Damn it,* Dawn thought to herself. *I've got the hero syndrom, I just know it. I've been around bonafide heroes for too long. I hate her, I should just be able to enjoy seeing her in pain, but noooo. Xander, why the hell did you have to call me extraordinary?* With a sigh, ignoring the others she got up and walked after Faith.

"Uh, ok then," Dominique said, and then looked at the board. "I'll throw for you, ok? Right then."

Dominique picked up the dice and threw it. Then she picked up Dawn's shoe, and started moving it, "One, two, three, look at that, right on top of my hotel, damn, Dawn, how unlucky, you'll have to pay up."

"But there are four dots," Bryn said confused looking at the dice.

Dominique moved her finger to the dice and pointed at dot for dot, counting, while Molly grinned evilly, "One, two, three, three dots."

"You forgot that one," Bryn said pointing at the fourth dot. Dominique looked at her with an annoyed look.

"Piss off, Bryn," Molly told the other girl, how looked taken aback. She picked up the dice and threw it. "One, two, three, four . . ." Molly counted. She saw she was standing on Dawn's four houses, "five." She grinned evilly at Bryn, and said, "Your turn."

Bryn blinked, and then her face brightened, getting the idea.


"What's going on?" Dawn questioned the dark Slayer outside in the garden.

"None of your business," Faith spat.

Dawn stayed behind Faith, and said, "Fellow commander in the army of life, worried about performance, I think it is my business."

"Don't worry, this won't affect my performance," Faith told her a little angrily.

"What happened?" Dawn demanded, fed up of being pushed aside by the 'special' people. Xander had showed her she was more than the girl sitting in the corner doing nothing, except read.

Faith sighed, and turned around, explaining, "Xander decided exact his revenge on me and give me my dues. Nothing the matter, I deserved it, moving on."

"Faith, you're crying like a little girl," Dawn told her. Faith turned her head away, no matter how hard she tried, the tears kept coming. She cursed her traitorous eyes. "Now what happened, details."

"He faked being interested in me, kissed me and everything," Faith started, still looking away, not noticing the pain flickering in Dawn's eyes. "Took off my shirt, and just as . . . he just kicked me off him, made it very clear he wanted nothing to do with me. I get it, ok, I hurt him, I shouldn't have put my hopes up for any kind of rekindling of friendship, let alone thought he really was interested in a sickening thing like me. You don't have to rub it in."

Dawn shook her head, annoyed as hell. "You're no fucking better then the rest of them . . . were," Dawn amended the last part, having seen their reaction to her and her being their commander. They seemed to have gotten better. Faith looked at her pained. Dawn shook her head as she encircled Faith, saying, "Me, me, me, me, me, all about me, because I'm chosen, and I'm this, and I'm that, and it's all about me. It couldn't possibly be about anyone else." Dawn turned around, now on Faith's other side. Faith herself turned around herself, and looked shocked at Dawn. "Nothing but a selfish, uncaring bitch. No capacity to place herself into someone else's shoes, because after all that's not necessary, it's always about me. Puke."

"What are you talking about?" Faith blurted out without comprehension, her eyes drying up as she was shocked out of her crying.

Dawn shook her head in annoyance, crossing her arms across her chest. Faith was struck how much she looked like Buffy who often liked to take on a similar pose. "I suppose you were straddling him, if he kicked you off him, right?" Dawn asked her angrily. Faith nodded. "Tell me something, last time you two really met, before you returned, when was that?" Dawn positively spat out.

Faith was taken aback, trying to answer, "I . . . we were . . . I . . ."

"Strangling him to death?" Dawn prompted. Faith nodded. "You were straddling him, right? Sitting on him, your hands down, wrapped around his throat and squeezing." Dawn mimicked strangling someone down below.

"H-how do you know that?" Faith asked incredulously.

"We talk, about everything. I've become more than Buffy's sister to him, I'm his friend. I'm the only one he could talk to, and vice versa, because Willow was busy wallowing and self pity, and the rest of them were all basking in their 'look, at me, I'm chosen' moods. Who could possibly care about a few 'normal' people, fighting this fight for seven years on, eh?" Dawn told Faith bitterly. "He dismissed it as a joke, you know that?" Faith shook her head. "He never talked to anyone about it, no one ever bothered to talk to him about it, or hold him, or comfort him, or anything. I was too young back then, but the others . . . It was just Xander getting himself strangled, right? He just carried on, ignoring it. But do you think, it would have no affect on a man, if something, or someone five times stronger than him sits on him, and casually and slowly squeezes the life out of him?"

"I . . . they . . . he never?" Faith whispered, the respect he had for him growing even more.

Dawn took a step closer and looked Faith directly in her eyes, "Answer me, do you think it might be possible, that he might have been so afraid back then, he gained a trauma? Think it might be possible, that somewhere in his subconscious, in the memory of his very body, there laid that trauma dormant? And then you with your insensitive horndog mood went to sit on him, in the exact same way you sat on him when you were strangling him to death, somewhere there was an instinctive fear, and terror released that screamed 'death, bad, get her off', and he just lashed out instinctively, hmm?"

"Oh, god," Faith whispered.

Dawn never took her angry gaze off of Faith's eyes, and she said, "Yes, 'oh, god', and then you run out on him, woe is me, and left him there trying to make sense of everything, living in some half then, half now state. Real nice of you. Selfish."

Faith's head slumped, guilt running through her body. Dawn looked at her, and felt her bottom jaw tremble, as she took the girl in. She shook her head 'no'. It wasn't supposed to be like this. But she'd be just as selfish wouldn't she? Damn, she was his friend first. "You could be good for him, you know," Dawn said softly, trembling.

Faith looked up, shocked, looking into Dawn's pained eyes. "You love him," she whispered.

Dawn nodded. "Do you?" she whispered almost imperceptibly.

Faith struggled, trying to figure out how to answer. Finally she settled on, "Don't know . . . I could."

"Fun girl, can be not serious, similar background as him, same bad youth, and abusive parents," Dawn was still half reasoning for herself. She had to do this, hoping she made the right choice. "You're selfish though. You want him to be your rock. You don't want a father figure anymore, like the Mayor back then. You don't want someone fawning over you, taking care of you like a little girl, buying you gives, you want something else. You want someone who can hold you, can protect you, can guard you. Someone who would never stop reminding you of what you once were, always there to catch you if you should threaten to fall. A rock, am I right?" Faith looked questioningly at her. "When you sit in a corner doing nothing, you have a lot of time on your hands to just look," Dawn explained to the slayer. "I'm right, aren't I?"

Faith nodded. Dawn lifted her head a little, and asked, "You know what the problem is with a rock? Enough time passes by, enough water flows around it, and it erodes, and then cracks. Seven years, Faith. Seven years he's been everyone's rock, he can't take much more."

Faith shook her head violently, "No, he's strong, he's not going to . . ."

"Oh, god," Dawn interrupted the Slayer, running on an adrenaline streak she hadn't expected she could muster. "You've idolized him, you think him super human or something? Underneath the immortality he's just a human being, Faith. Like you, like me, like Buffy, like everyone else in that house, except Spike." Faith looked at her, part of her not willing to believe what the other part had already known. "Wake up, Faith. He died, and was so filled with pain, grieve, anger, hate, and rage that he brought himself from the dead. The only way for you to be right, they only way he can't be ready to crack is if he's cracked already!"

Dawn took a deep breath, steadying herself. "Faith, if you want him, if you want it to last, if you want to make something out of you two, you will have to become his rock."

"What!?" Faith blurted out. "I can't do that, I can't even . . . I can't . . . I'm not . . ."

"Then don't bother, you'll only end up destroying him, yourself, or the both of you," Dawn told her sternly. "You wanna have a relationship with him Faith, it'll have to go both ways. You'll have to take care of him, the same way he takes care of you. Equal partnership. If you can't do that, than you need friends and lots of therapy, not a lover."

"Since when did you get to be an expert on relationships?" Faith asked dumbly.

Dawn snorted, answering, "I'm Buffy Summers' sister." She left it at that, as if that explained everything, and Faith seemed to take it in stride. Dawn took one final step closer, and looked Faith straight in the eyes, narrowed her own and said in a low voice, "One final thing: you hurt him, I'll hurt you, worse than anyone or anything has ever done before."

Suddenly there was pain in Faith's eyes, and she said, "I won't hurt him, not ever again. I've spent three years in jail for what I did, and I would have stayed there much longer. I turned myself in for what I did, I've spent three years contemplating my every move, my every decision. Apart from those I killed, I hurt Xander more than anyone else, how could you possibly think I would ever dare hurt him again?" Dawn was at a loss, for one thing she wanted to cut into what sounded like a load of bullshit, and yet the girl's eyes . . . "I'm sorry," Faith restarted. "I know I sounded like a whiny kid, and I know I deserve your mistrust, but it just hurts. It hurts, that's all. God, that sounds even worse. I'm sorry, ok? I know you're the ones who really got hurt, not me, I know it. I will not hurt him." Faith didn't wait for an answer, she turned around and started walking.

"Faith!" Dawn called out suddenly. Seeing the pain in Faith's eyes had left a profound impact on her. Faith hesitated and then turned around. Dawn took a step forward, and then very slowly reached out her right hand. Faith looked up at Dawn, her eyes filling with emotion. This girl that she had hurt so much . . . or at least would have hurt so much if she had been present then, but who remembers and feels as if it did all happen to her, was offering he friendship. Faith took the offered hand, and Dawn shook it with a grudging respect. "Think about what I said," Dawn said, and then let go of Faith's hand and went back inside.

Faith stared ahead, thinking. Could she? Could she be his rock? His confidante? Could she live with seeing the broken side of him? The human, vulnerable, weak side? Or did she really need an inhuman man who never hurt, and would always be there for her, no matter what? Should she just try? No, she had to be more certain, she wouldn't hurt him again, she wouldn't crash and burn their relationship just because she had hoped for the best. Without warning she flashed back to when she first found him as his resurrected self, the hug they shared, so intense, so . . . mutual. "I can do it, I'll learn along the way," she whispered, in her mind's eye still seeing her hug him.

She turned around, and went back into the kitchen, noticing the foursome playing their game. "YOU'VE BEEN CHEATING!" Dawn accused in angry shock, pointing at her three companions.

"Prove it," one of them commented.

"Give me that dice!" Dawn called out loud, grabbing the cube-shaped object. "You will lose," she stated ominously, "and you will the know shame of not being able to beat me even while cheating! You will be humiliated, and degraded, and you will live with your shame for the next eighty years till the day you die!" Dawn's finger rose into the air as if she was about to say 'Eureka' and state the smartest thing ever, instead she said loudly, "FOR I AM THE MONOPOLY QUEEN! And tomorrow you will grovel, you will kneel, and beg mercy from your goddess, namely me!" The SiTs laughed out loud. "Yes, laugh it up! Go ahead, while you still can!"

Faith shook her head, smiling, and wondering how the girl could go from so smart, to . . . that.


Xander sat on his bed, mind numb, still trying to figure out just how it could have gone that bad. He noticed the door to his room opening, and saw Faith slowly walking in. She was so beautiful, that nervous smile of her. "Hi," she said, her cheeks still a little puffy from her earlier tears.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean . . ." Xander started hopeful.

"I know," Faith interrupted and slowly walked over. "Dawn put some things in perspective for me. Since when did she get so smart? Or for that matter so scary?"

Xander grinned, give chuckle, and said, "I don't know. She can read Sumerian too." Faith's eyebrows raised. Xander looked up at her, "That's a girl with many hidden talents, mostly I think, because most of us forgot to look, even I'm guilty of that, until this year. She was just Buffy's annoying little sister, and we never bothered to see her as anything else, while she grew up completely unnoticed."

Faith walked over to Xander and sat down next to him. She slung her arm around his waist, startling Xander a little. He looked at her, and she said, "I guess we lay off on the sex for now, until your body's reacquainted with me, and it's learned I'm not out to kill you, huh?"

"I suppose," Xander answered, feeling very uncomfortable. He had no idea what to make of this.

"Wanna talk about it?" Faith asked, feeling equally uncomfortable, no idea if she was doing the right thing.

"Must be torture for you," Xander said taking a guess. Faith raised her eyebrows. "Three years in prison, no man to please you, now you're out, nothing but hunks around you, and the one guy you're interested in, the biggest hunk of all, is so scared of you he kicks you across the room. You must be ready to pop."

Faith smiled at him, and said, "I'm sorry, Xan, but have you seen that sergeant sitting in the couch, ooh. And I've seen Wesley, all rough stubble, smoking! Then Gunn, all black and bald head, made me wonder if what they say about bald men is real, made me wonder what they say about black men is real, made me wonder what in blazes a combo does to a girl. Nope, sorry to shatter your illusions, X, but you're no where near the hottest guy in the region."

Xander folded his arms across his chest, and pouted, "Well, see if my body gets less scared anytime soon with that attitude." Xander wiggled a scolding finger at Faith, and added, "No sex for you any time soon, missy."

"No matter, I've got fingers, and I've got the biggest hunk of all in my hand; Angel himself," Faith said joking, and roared out a mocking scream of pleasure. She looked at Xander and saw his face completely bland. "Oh, sorry, I shouldn't have, not him, I . . ." Faith tried to apologize.

"No," Xander cut her off, holding up a halting hand. "It would have been funny, if I hadn't met the bastard today."

"He was here?" Faith asked surprised.

"Killed his own son, Faith," Xander told her. "Did some very bad things, yeah. Was going to do a very bad thing, but fuck it, the guy grew up in a hell dimension. He was screwed in the head, but he could still have been reached. Had him reincarnated, he's out there, somewhere. Worse, he killed more for his own selfish gains, he wanted his own little gang back, so he wiped their minds of all memories of Connor. He just tore out their minds, so they were before the gang was so split, so he could have them back, because he wanted to see them 'shine' again." Xander made a face, and shook his head.

"No, he wouldn't . . ." Faith whispered in disbelief.

"Now he runs Wolfram & Hart," Xander added coldly.

Faith looked up at him despair. Xander looked over at her, saying, "This doesn't reflect on you, Faith. It was his choice, he was the bastard. He's not you, even if he did put all the effort in reaching you. You're not him, you won't slide back, you don't have a demon inside of you."

"Yes, I do," Faith told him almost accusingly.

"No, you've got the essence, not an actual self-thinking demon," Xander reassured her.

Faith was silent, shaking her head a little, and then said, "I know a diversionary tactic when I see one, Xander. Used them myself often enough, we were going to talk about something."

"What was that again?" Xander asked innocently.

"Your body's reaction to me," Faith provided.

Xander sighed, and said, "I don't want to talk about it. It just is, it'll pass."

"Ok, some other time then," Faith told him, a sneaky smile on her face.

Xander smiled, and shook his head, "So, tell me, what did I miss while I was away?"


Later that night

"Hey, Kim!" Spike whispered to the potential on guard at the top of the stairs. "Please, talk to me, pet. I'm one of you, one of the bloody good guys, one of the white hats, one for all, and all for one, and all that."

"Shut up," she told him softly.

"Please, Kim, Xander is wrong, I'm not evil," he whispered softly. "I've got a soul, remember? I'm misunderstood."

"You said Xander was evil, you saw him, you knew who he was, you lied," Kim accused, not noticing she was already falling for it.

"I did it for you, for all of you, for Buffy," Spike pleaded sweetly, while he thought, *Jackpot, finally one who doesn't just keep her mouth shut apart from an occasional 'shut up.'*.

"Don't you understand? I saw a guy who was supposed to be dead. Most likely demon-animated, probably a minion of the First. I felt for the whelp, Kim. It broke my heart; most likely his body was defiled and he was working for the side of evil, and he would want me to take him out, or he was a good guy after all. But considering his actions, how could I possibly risk him infiltrating in our group and kill us all? I couldn't take that risk, Kim." Spike's voice broke perfectly. "It was such a hard decision, but in my view, it was better to potentially kill one innocent, than hope for that off chance, and let you all meet him, lull you in a false sense of safety, and then watch him kill you all. I couldn't bear the to see you all get killed. I admit it freely, I was wrong, he really is one of us, but I'm not evil."

Kim peered down in the darkness and contemplated his words; they made sense. Could she have made such a hard decision? And Buffy had said he was one of the good guys. Granted, she had been proven wrong on many occasions, but certainly not her lover?

"Kim, I can prove it, please," Spike pleaded with puppy dog eyes. "If you come down here I can prove it, luv."

"I don't know," Kim whispered.

"You better know, Kim," Spike said, his voice changed to a confidence building one. "Tomorrow you'll be fighting the big bad of big bads. You have to make decisions yourself. Think about it, I prove I'm a good guy, and Xander will be pleased, so will Buffy, and Faith, and there will be another fantastic fighter ready to fight for the mission. Isn't that incredibly important?"

Kim thought it over, and then said, "You better not try anything." Slowly Kim came down the stairs, turning on the light down below. Spike flinched back at the sudden brightness, and started to furiously blink. When Kim reached him, he had managed to adjust.

"Ok, so how are you going to prove this?" Kim asked him.

"You have to get closer," Spike told her. He had backed up as far as he could go, making the distance he could reach seem much smaller. "Closer, closer Kim." Kim came closer. "In an inner pocket in my coat, Kim, there's the proof reach for it." Kim nodded, shuffled forward, and reached her hand behind the collar of his called.

Suddenly, faster than she could react, Spike vamped out, lunged forward and bit her in her neck. Kim's eyes widened in shock, as Spike dragged her down. Just as she was starting to scream, she went below him, and he dropped himself over her, muffling her screams with his body. He drank, and drank, savoring the blood of the innocent little girl. He gulped it down with greed. Finally, when he felt her life giving away, well after she stopped screamed, he sat back up in the narrow confines of his movability. He pushed back, the changes restricting his movements. "Come on," he whispered looking back, check just how close he was to the small nail staking out of the wood. With one final shove he felt the sharp point enter the back of his neck. Instantly he felt copious amounts of blood flow from the wound. Grinned he leaned back over, and let the stream of blood drop right on Kim's mouth. "Come on, pet," Spike whispered hopefully. "Drink, you're my last chance." He watched the blood poor into the girl's mouth, and then finally a swallowing motion. Kim did it instinctively, not even realizing she was doing it, even so close to death her body was fighting for life it could no longer keep, and it didn't want to drown.

"That's it, drink it all, drink more, drink all of it. I don't want you lying here for three days before you wake up," Spike whispered with an unholy twinkle in his demonic eyes. "That's my girl, swallow it all." Then her body stopped swallowing, and then it stopped breathing.

Spike sat back, and waited, hoping he wouldn't have lost too much blood before his wound healed up.

An hour later, Kim vamped out, her yellow eyes opened and she sat up. She looked left and right, and said, "Sire?"

"Yes, I'm your sire, your master," Spike whispered with glee. "Ssh."

"We kill, so much life upstairs. It will be a slaughter," Kim whispered.

"No, free me first," Spike hissed softly. "They can't hear us, we'll hunt, we'll kill, but later. You know better, you know those upstairs can kill us, they have too great numbers, too much firepower."

Kim seemed confused at first, shook her head, and said, "Right." She stood up, and as she started work on Spike's bonds she asked, "Why am I having difficulty thinking? Kiilll. Bllood."

"You haven't fed yet, you hardly have blood in your system, we'll change that, soon, just hurry up, pet," Spike whispered urgently.

Another fifteen minutes and Kim had freed Spike. "Good, luv, now we do some sneaking," Spike whispered to her.

Slowly, silently the two vampires went up the stairs, wincing at every creak. Spike very gently pushed open the door, and looked around. Nobody awake in sight. Slowly they crept into the living room, and Spike knew this is where things got critical. They went around, the stairs, and Spike froze when he heard a loud grumbling. He looked back, and Kim gestured to her stomach, and shrugged. Nobody stirred, Spike felt relief going through him, relief that humans didn't have as sensitive ears as vampires. Slowly they crept up the second stairs, and then snuck toward the bathroom. A light came on under a door, and Spike's eyes widened. Rapidly, and silently he went over, pulling Kim along, and went into bathroom. He closed the door just in time and listened.

He heard the girl murmur half asleep, and the sound as if she was rubbing her eyes. Her footsteps were getting closer and closer. Suddenly Spike's eyes widened in revelation. "Bollocks," he whispered in irritation, "She needs to pee, or take a dump."

Spike looked around, at the window leading out. "Why don't we just eat her?" Kim asked, far louder than Spike would have liked.

"Sssss, come on," Spike hissed, and went to the window. He opened it gently, and looked out. He pulled his head back just in time or a soldier would have noticed him. The girl's footsteps kept getting closer and closer. "Why are they looking up?" Spike whispered in frustration.

"Demons with wings," Kim clarified softly.

Spike looked over, and whispered, "Bloody hell." He looked at the door, and the approaching footsteps. He looked back out the window at the soldiers, and where they were looking. "Out, to the roof, now," Spike hissed, pushing Kim out the window. She deftly grabbed the wall to the right with her claws. Spike dove out, and did the same to the left, just as the door to the bathroom opened.

Spike heard the girl yawn, and then murmur sleepily, "Who left the window open?" Spike's eyes widened, and started climbing quickly. He gestured heavily to Kim, who took her leisure time. Finally she looked over to him, when he over took her, and he made desperate gestures for her to hurry. Spike pulled himself on the roof, and flattened himself, just as he heard the window slide closed loudly. Next to him Kim pulled herself onto the roof. Down below, Spike heard the rapid movement of someone turning around who was standing on grass, undoubtedly looking up to check out the sound of the window closing. He held his breath, good thing he didn't actually need to do any breathing, because the clock was ticking. He sighed in relief when he heard the soldier look back around.

Spike looked over to Kim in irritation and gestured wildly for her to follow him. She shrugged. They shimmied quickly to the other side of the roof, stopping right behind the chimney, and Spike checked out the looking patterns of the soldiers below, and the ones sitting in the trees. "When I gesture go," Spike whispered, "we jump across to the other roof, make no sound, and hide behind the other chimney, got that?"

Kim nodded. Spike nodded once in satisfaction, and then made a gesture. Immediately the two gestures got up, and jumped. The made the distance easily, landed, a small noise, and immediately ducked low. Spike heard a few soldiers jerk around, but no alarm sounded. He sighed in relief. The quickly moved across the roof to the other side. Now only those in the trees could spot them, and those down below if they lowered themselves too soon. They performed the jump-and-duck routine twice more, before lowering themselves behind a hedge, and snuck away.


Vi, and Amanda came stumbling down the stairs in the morning and watched Faith and Xander preparing their breakfast.

"Oh, hi," Amanda mumbled a little uncertain.

"My, my, you two are glowy this morning," Faith told the two, sipping her coffee. They blushed deeply. Xander looked back at them, and smiled.

"W-we, uh . . ." Vi tried, blushing deeper.

"Had sex?" Xander supplied with raised eyebrows.

Both of them went beet red, and then Amanda muttered, "Y-you're not mad?"

"Why would I be?" Xander asked confused, just as he finished smearing a sandwich.

"I . . . that is . . . uh," Amanda blurted out and her sentence crashed and burned, along with her composure.

Vi came to the rescue, asking, "How about you two? Slept well?"

"Fantastic," Faith said with a serene smile. "We slept together," she added casually.

"You slept together?" Amanda asked incredulously at Faith's casual tone.

Vi erupted afterward, "And you talk about it like it's nothing . . . He's that bad? I thought Anya said he was a Viking in bed? Or was that a King?"

Xander turned around, shaking his head, he clarified, "We lay next to each other, unconscious; thank you very much." Faith looked over her shoulder at Xander and raised her eyebrows, mouthing, 'Viking?' Then her smile widened in secret anticipation, while Xander almost imperceptibly shook his head. Their quick interaction went on simultaneously with the following.

"Ohhhhhh!" Vi exclaimed in revelation, and then blinked, quickly getting mortified.

"You slept together," Amanda added, wide-eyed with revelation, and then started to go red.

"Oops, sorry," Vi murmured at Xander apologizing for her goof, and the resulting insult.

"God damn, Xan," Faith commented with mock horror. "One lesbian two-woman orgy, and their minds plunged right into the gutter. It's disgusting!" Vi and Amanda went right back to beet red, and beyond.

"I know," Xander added, shaking his head disapproving. "Really, it should be forbidden. It will be destruction of us all. Every teenager thinking about lesbian sex should be locked away." He tsked several times, and Faith nodded gravely. Vi and Amanda had no idea what to say, they just sputtered something.

"Hey, we're just messing with you two. Lighten up," Faith reassured them with an amused smile, then sipped more from her coffee, as Xander bit into his sandwich. Unable to get rid of their blush, the two teenagers went about getting themselves breakfast, with a smiling Faith and Xander watching them.


Later, around noon

The living room was filled with everyone who could fit. In the middle Xander, Willow, Giles, Faith and Riley stood, looking around the room with mounting confidence. Eric, and Alex were two who were off to the side. All three crows had their faces back on, ready for the fight, giving scary visages, that made everyone glad they were on their side.

Xander took in Willow's face, and Giles's. Both were ready, he could see it, he had fought along side them to often not to know there looks. They were confident they were going to win. "Good," Xander said, looking over the crowd one final time. "So everyone know what he or she has to do?"

Buffy detached herself from a wall, and wormed herself to the middle, "I don't. I've been with the meetings and all, know what needs to be done, but I don't know where I belong."

"Nobody told you?" Xander asked a little surprised. He went over all his decisions, and all the things that were to be done, and suddenly realized it had slipped. She was supposed to be in Faith's unit, but several people's objections, among others his own, even though he hadn't voiced them before it came from others, not even to himself, had lead to the decision that Buffy would not be fighting in the battle, but be part of the medical crew. Problem was, the medical crew by then was set, and knew what to be done, and he realized they all had forgotten to add Buffy to the crew roster. "Oh, sorry, Buffy, we had a slip up, I think. You're part of the medical crew, you'll be in the hospital, nursing along with Anya and Andrew." Anya gave Buffy a smile and a quick wave as she looked over shocked.

"Wh-what?" Buffy asked incredulously, feeling hollow. "No, I'm the Slayer, I belong in this fight."

"No, you don't," Xander stated calmly, the heat of this discussion without her had passed long last night, he wouldn't get worked up over it. "Yesterday, Buffy, you've shown without a shadow of a doubt, you are unable to be a team player. You can't follow orders, you go off on your own endangering others. You'll be nothing but a liability. You're in the hospital, nursing the wounded, very important work as wall."

Buffy felt as if a chasm opened up beneath her, and she fell down, and down. This couldn't be happening! She was the Slayer, she needed to fight, she had to fight. "No, Xander," Buffy said, tears forming. "I have to fight. I'm the Slayer, I belong in this fight. I have to fight, it's my duty." Buffy shook her head in denial, Xander was going to say something, but she went first, "I've been doing this for almost eight years! This is more that Slayer destiny! I need to fight, I can't sit back, I'm a Slayer for Christ sakes!"

She looked pleadingly at Willow, but she looked away. Then at Giles, who gave her a cool stair back. "Riley, tell 'em!" Buffy went to her last hope. Some people watching the spectacle were looking with sadistic glee, others - Faith and Dawn among them - looked away, not really able to look at the humiliating spectacle.

"Sorry, Buffy," Riley answered her calmly. "I was one of those who was against putting in the hospital, but this is a team sport, under a hierarchy. Your unit comes first, and the decision is made, and even I can't say there is no merit in the decision what so ever."

Buffy looked at him with pain in her eyes, she heard the words, but she couldn't fully comprehend them. She shook her head. "No! I have to fight, please?" Buffy asked feeling worthless.

Xander looked away from her, and then looked at the stairs leading to the basement. He remembered how he felt when the others tried to shun him out of this. There was no way he wasn't going to make Buffy pay, but he realized now was not the time. This wasn't making her pay, this was nothing. And there was still a very powerful weapon in that basement that could make a difference, but had no wielder, because he was packed with weapons already, Alex and Eric would be flying, and Faith had her Scythe. Plus a sadistic side of him, realized the questions he would have to ask, would be humiliating in their own right. He looked back at Buffy, he was the only one who could change the decision. "Can you follow orders?" Xander asked coldly.

"Yes! Yes, I can follow orders!" Buffy exclaimed hopefully.

"Every order? You can't go off on your own, you stick with your unit, you fight alongside them, you can't see them as normal people, you have to see them as equals, as Slayers, no ordering them around unless your unit commander is dead, got that?" Xander asked her again.

"Yes, I promise, I swear I will follow orders," Buffy answered him, the room stayed quiet at the spectacle.

"You'd be in Faith's unit Buffy, you'll have to follow her orders," Xander told her forcefully, pointing at the dark-haired slayer. Buffy looked over, and Xander added, "If she orders you, to take off your clothes and have sex with a few Bringers in order to distract them, would you?" There was sniggering all around, and Xander chose to ignore them, focusing on Buffy who looked back at him shocked. "Because if she does give you that order, you're expected to follow it to the letter."

"I will follow that order," Buffy stated both weak and strong at the same time.

"Than go down to the basement, Buffy," Xander told her. "There's a Troll God Hammer there. You remember it, don't you? The weapon that could bring down a Hellgod, albeit weakened? It still needs a wielder strong enough to actually be able to pick it up."

Buffy nodded, happy, and humiliated all at once. "Yes, sir," she answered, and quickly went to the stairs. She was glad Xander didn't decide to rub it in, humiliate her even more in front of the others, but she had felt the stinging of the questions, the cold anger in those frightening eyes. That weapon had brought down a god. If she had taken it with her to Caleb, she could have smashed him to a pulp with a few, if not one well-aimed swing. Once more dwelling on just how bad she had screwed up, and how Xander managed to take her down another peg when she thought she couldn't be taken down anymore, she failed to notice Spike's absence. She focused on finding the weapon, and realized that the others had put it here somewhere after her death. She wracked her brain, and remembered where they had put it before the fight with Glory. She went over and found it was in the same place. She pulled the hammer out of the box and admired it for a moment, taking several practice swings. She turned around, going back to the stairs, and her eyes went over the chains that had held Spike.

Buffy's eyes widened, and then charged up the chairs, just hearing Kennedy state that she was missing one person, Kim, undoubtedly after Xander had asked if everyone was accounted for. Buffy burst back into the room, and called out loud, "Spike's gone!"

Xander turned and looked her directly in her eyes, while Faith said, "Kim guarded Spike last night, the last shift. I forgot to assign someone else this morning."

"SON OF A BITCH!!" Xander roared out in anger, and smashed his fist through the table unconsciously.

"I cannot believe you underestimated him," Riley stated, not with malice, but not without accusation either. "Why didn't you just dust him?"

"Why didn't you? I had my reasons, I did not underestimate him," Xander spat at him, while his fury rose and rose. "I overestimated the potential . . . I underestimated Buffy's brainwashing with 'he has a soul now.'" Xander turned around and lifted a pay-attention finger in the air, "LISTEN UP! EVERY VAMPIRE IS EVIL, SOUL OR NO SOUL, YOU FINALLY GET IT YET!? I KNOW OF ONLY ONE SOULED EXCEPTION THAT STATES THE RULE, AND TRUST ME, EVEN THOUGH HE'S PROBABLY NOT PURE EVIL, HE'S NO LESS OF A SICK SON OF A BITCH!!"

Then Xander stalked over to the door angrily, and told his fellow Crows, "Let's go." The people remaining in the room gave each other a look.


The humvee rode along the road straight for Sunnydale's military base. "Ok, are you two certain you can fly those things?"

In the back, Eric and Alex grinned, sending a shiver down the driver's spine. "You haven't been listening, we're certain we can not fly those things," Eric answered him.

"Right, but the pilots who have flown them do," the Lieutenant - one Dennis Stiles - driving the vehicle repeated their words for them. He shook his head. This was nuts - little teenage girls fighting along side them, teenagers successfully fighting apocalypses on a weekly basis for seven years straight, and now two of them were going to fly helicopters they had never flown before, hell they had never flown any helicopter before - what had he gotten himself into? Perhaps he should have accepted that transfer after all.

"You have to distract them," Alex said, unnecessarily really, but with urgence. "They've quadrupled the guards, placed them everywhere, there's no way we can get to them unseen without them focused on something else. We don't have to worry about bullets, but the gunships do."

"Don't worry, distraction is my specialty," he told them. The crows them opened the door and jumped out of the moving vehicle, closing the door behind them, and casually running onward as their feet touched the floor. "Damn," Stiles muttered seeing them do that. He put the pedal all the way down and drove straight at the main gate of the military installation. The guard got out of his little cubicle and waved at him, he already saw several guard towers swivel their guns at him. He rammed the break all the way down, and the came to a sliding halt.

He leant in full uniform out the window displaying a plastic name tag, and yelled, "What's wrong with you man, open up!? This is of vital importance to national security!"

"Uh, who are you again, sir?" the guard asked dumbfounded, holding a registry.

"Who am . . .!? I'm lieutenant Stiles of course!" he barked out as an order. "Now let me in!"

"Uh, sir, you're not on my list, in fact there's nobody on my list," the guard said befuddled.

"WHAT!?" Stiles yelled out in utter shock. "Damn it, man, let me in. This is of vital importance, this is no time the follow every single little rule."

"Sorry, sir, but you must be cleared first, didn't . . ."

"Listen, private!" Stiles barked at him, authority dripping from every syllable, "I've got clearance, those halfwit bureaucrats just forgot to call it in. Now let me, or do you want me to harass the president with details like this!?"

"N-n-no, sir . . . actually sir, yes, I do, orders from the base commander, sir," the soldier answered timidly.

Stiles opened the door to his car, got out, and before the guard knew what was happening, he was lifted off the floor by his collar. "HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND!? We could be headed to the biggest catastrophe since nine eleven, and you're asking me for a measly clearance call!?"

"Sorry," the man whimpered.

Stiles put him down and roared out in frustration. He reached through the open window for his cell phone, and while inside he peaked through the windows, noticing several guards were already showing interest in just what was going on. He came back out, turned on his phone, and dialed a random number. Just as the non-existent tone was about to become audible, he yelled out, "GOD DAMNED BUREAUCRATS!" He hung up at the same time, keeping the phone on though. "Pick up, damn it!"

"Get me the president!" Stiles roared into the phone. "I'm Stiles halfwit, I'm the guy in charge of the California situation!

"What do you mean he's not available!? What could be so important he's . . . SEX WITH HIS WIFE!? It's noon!! And California is on the fritz!?!?!" Stiles roared out, in frustration and rage. "LUNCH BREAK!!?!?!? PULL HIM OFF THE OLD HAG, HE'LL BE GLAD!!"

Stiles growled, with the guard next him looking completely dumbfounded, having no way what to make of it. "Then get me the Secretary of Defense, get me the general, get me anyone of those halfwits sitting on their asses!!!! JUST GET ME SOMEONE THIS IS OF NATIONAL IMPORTANCE!!" Stiles lowered his phone, and screamed, "FUCK!" Stiles walked over to the hood of the humvee and theatrically let himself fall forward, banging his hand gently on the metal. "HALFWITS! ASSHOLES! Sometimes I could just shoot them all!" He pulled out his gun and pointed it straight in the air and as a demonstration, fired off a shot.

"SIR!" the guard said urgently, gesturing calm with his hands, getting a little afraid. "Perhaps you should just calm down."

"CALM DOWN!?" Stiles roared out, and got up, getting right in the guard's face, his eyes darted around suspiciously covering that he was checking the process of drawing all the guard's attention to him. "HAVE YOU NOT SEEN THE NEWS!? LA CUT OFF EXCEPT OUTGOING SIGNALS!? REPORTS OF BLOTTING OUT THE SUN, THAT JASMINE BITCH!? DIDN'T YOU SEE HER ARABIAN COMPLEXION!? WAKE UP, MAN, MUSLIM EXTREMISTS!"

"Uh, seen some . . ." the guard tried.


Suddenly Stiles switched to a suspicious glare and said softly, "Say, you're not letting me in, you want me to calm down, you could still be brainwashed, you could be Al Qaeda."

"I'm not man, just following commander's orders," the guard said starting to freak out.

"Perhaps he is Al Qaeda," Stiles said with suspicion.

"No, man, we got robbed, that's why the . . ." the guard started.

Stiles whirled around, grabbed him by the collar and with insane eyes, he yelled, "YOU LET AL QAEDA ROB THE NUKES!? I KNEW IT! THEY HAVE NUKES, WE'RE DOOMED IF YOU DON'T LET ME IN, MAN!"

"We don't have any nukes!" the guard answered desperately.


"Some guns, a few explo . . ."



Eric and Alex in the mean time, had snuck into the hangar. The diversion had gone perfectly, everyone only had eyes for the maniac at the gate. They had tranquilized the people in the hangar with darts, after a touch on one of technicians heads they had proceeded with rapidly arming two Apaches. Their superior strength allowing them to move the armaments rapidly and on their own. "Damn, that guy is good," Alex commented shaking his head, his crow giving a soft caw of approval.

"Yeah," Eric answered, as they climbed into the cockpits. Their birds sat perched on the machines tails waiting. As they touched the controls a flash tore through their minds. They closed the cockpits, put on the helmets with the mikes, and Eric said, "It's annoying as hell, but sometimes this touch telepathy stuff really comes in handy."

"Most definitely," Alex agreed, as they went through the pre-flight check, then started the Apaches. Alex quickly got out of the cockpit, letting the machine start up, and went over and pushed the button that started opening the roof up, and the rapidly returned to the helicopter.



The guard and the guards suddenly looked dumbfounded to the hanger and saw the roof opening. They heavy sounds of the rotor blades echoing in the hangar almost deafening by now, as the machines rose into a view.

"Catch," Stiles said, and threw the phone. The guard turned around and startle he reached out and caught the phone, even as Stiles got back into the humvee. He gave the guard a smile and a wave as he started the engine, and then sped off backwards. He used the hand break to throw the car around, and then sped off.

"ALARM!!" the guard roared realizing they'd been had, as the Apaches flew away over the fence.


Xander stood above the seal. His Crow perched on his shoulder. He nodded a few times, and then stretched out his hand. He pulled out a knife, and made dip on his finger, and wiped the blood away with the knife before it could be pulled back into the wound. He felt the wound close instantly, and he shook the knife until the drop of blood fell down, and landed on the seal. That was all that was needed from his potent super charged blood, and the seal flowed open instantly, emitting light until it was completely open.

He walked down the newly visible chairs, and continued till he was at an edge. Down below there was a large cave filled with the Ubervamps. He got a hand grenade from his coat, pulled the pin out and threw it down. It exploded right at head height, and several of the Turok-Han were blown to bits and then dust instantly.

The things roared, and looked up as Xander lifted one hand above his head and waved, yelling out, "Hey, screw heads, I'm up here!" The things roared and started up the winding stairs, as well as climb the walls. Xander grinned and then started running back, pulling his Katana from its sheath on his back.

Back out the Seal, he turned around and waited. A minute later the first Turok-Han reared its ugly head, and Xander lopped it off. As he did with the next, and then the next. The vamps pressed themselves through the seal with ever greater numbers, and Xander was forced to do a dance routine, severing a head there, stabbing the sword through a heart there, keeping it out of the fight for a short while, a severed arm there, a leg turning to dust there, a vamp backhanded across the room on the other side. But mostly it were heads that rolled, or at least would if they didn't turn to dust before they hit the floor.

Eventually though, the numbers were too great, and Xander turned around and walked through a narrow corridor and up a first set of stairs. He unslung his M16 from his shoulder, standing on a platform half-way the full height of the stairs, that wrapped around and went up in the opposite direction and he waited. A moment later the Turok-Han arrived, and Xander let loose as they tried to come up the stairs. The machine gun fired an enormous stream of bullets, and Xander aimed for the neck and heads of the monsters. A bullet didn't take them out, but twenty bullets utterly destroying their necks and heads was enough to dust even the toughest vampires. Turok-Han died, and died, and died. It was a slaughter, as Xander calmly kept pumping the bullets in the prehistoric vampires. Xander noticed with a grim smile that hardly any Turok-Han was going for any of the catacombs, too consumed in their hatred for him it seemed, and the those that did go, probably were searching for a way around to get him, not flee away. Not that the very few who did mattered, the sun was out, if they tried to get out they'd burn, the few who would stay inside till nightfall would hardly make a difference and could be hunted down later.

After several minutes of continued fire his gun was out of ammunition, and he threw the gun away into the onrushing vampires. He pulled his sword back out, and sliced off another head. He went backwards up the stairs quickly, the blade singing through the air, happily slicing and dicing Turok-Han.

Xander reached the exit, a red-orange door, and passed through it, slamming it shut behind him. The Turok-Han slammed into it but he was too strong. He saw a few small groups of them who had found away around coming at him from either side. He pulled the rigged crossbeam down quickly, trapping the ones behind the door for now, and sliced into the other onrushing monsters. Several were dust before they even knew what happened, but more came as banging on the door increased signaling it wouldn't hold long. As Xander sliced down, severing a leg, he pulled out a shotgun from his gun with his other hand. He put it on a Turok-Han's chest, and it looked at it questioningly. Xander pulled the triggering, and shredded heart and cartilage spread from its back, before the hole that was left was too much and it turned to dust. Xander slung the gun over his shoulder, while he severed a claw from its arm. He pulled the trigger and one vampire's head exploded, causing it to go dust. Xander whirled around, and decapitated a few more of them, before turning and running down the corner, faster than the Turok-Han could follow.

Down the corridor, a rocket launcher stood waiting and he picked it up, and laid it over his shoulder. He turned around facing the Turok-Han and waited. The door tore open, and then the beam broke and broke down, just as new groups of them came rounding the corners on either side of the door. Xander grinned, "Bye, bye." He pushed the firing button, and the rocket shot away. The beasts looked astonished at the projectile and then it hit the main group right at the door. With a powerful explosion a dozen of them were dusted instantly, others were shredded half-way to death, and others were tossed around like rag dolls. A hole lot of the tumbled down the stairs. Quickly Xander got one of the three remaining and waiting rockets and loaded it. Again he fired, a little over the Turok-Han this time, so it crashed right into stairs. With another explosion, more monsters died, and the stair case crumbled down. Xander loaded another rocket and fired right into the advancing vampires, and blew away another dozen of them.

They were getting to close now, and Xander pulled out a pistol, and fired at where he knew the gas line leaning to the chemistry room lay behind the wall. Xander grinned evilly, it payed off to know the blueprints by heart, having built the place. The gas exploded and giant stream of fire flushed out across the hallway, burning up Tuok-Hans left and right. Xander gained time to pick up the last rocket and load it. He pulled out his sword with one hand, and killed two Turok-Han who had been just past they inferno when it erupted. Xander turned around and ran, putting some distance between himself and vampires. He whirled around and knelt, the weapon back on his shoulder. The prehistoric monsters were ducking underneath the stream of flame, but most of them just tore through a wall on either side of the flame, went around the flame, and crashed through a door flowing back into the hallway from both sides. Xander pushed the button, and another explosion followed not much later.

Xander threw the now useless rocket launcher into the crowd, turned around, and ran again. A little further the next weapon lay waiting in the middle of the corridor. He pulled up the nozzle and turned to face the vampires. As they got closer, Xander fired, a large plume of flame came from flame thrower setting the Turok-Han ablaze and dusting them not much later. Xander moved from left to right, blanketing the entire hallway, making it impossible for the beasts to come to him. But they decided on the same tactic as before, tearing through the wall. Just as Xander was going to be surrounded by the monsters returning to the hallway behind him, he dropped the nuzzle, turned around and ran. The vampires returned to the hallway, while others moved across the now free hallway, apart from the fires, which killed some of them. Xander pulled his gun back out, and looked back, aimed and fired at the gas cannister of the flamethrower. It exploded and a new sea of fire killed dozens of Turok-Han.

Xander had finally reached the end of the hallway, and leaned back against the closed blinded double doors. "Come on!" Xander taunted the Turok-Han who had paused finally realizing Xander had run out of weapons, and they wanted to savor killing the thing that had killed so many of them. Then the mass of them surged forward, roaring out their lust for the kill. Just as they were about to reach Xander, he pushed back, the doors opened, and he stood right outside of the threshold. The sun came poring in, lighting up about five meters of the corridor, and the vampires roared in pain, as the sunlight erupted them in flames and killed them.

Xander's crow, waiting for him, sitting on a fence behind him, cawed his approval. Xander grinned as the Turok-Hans who were standing just outside of the suns reach. The things roared in anger, and then Xander pulled out the trigger. He waved them goodbye, and pushed it. The first explosion sounded, followed by the rumbling of the second, and then the third. Xander quickly turned around and walked away from the danger zone, and then turned back around. He saw some of the vampires being shredded by the explosions, before the insides of the school crashed down, and not long after the entire school crumbled down.

"Oh, yeah," Xander commented looking at the smoking ruins. He looked at the trigger, and its second button. Xander grinned, and looked back at the school. If he had set the explosives right, and he had, the second set wouldn't have gone up with the first. He pushed the trigger again, and there was a giant explosion, and then a cone of rock, debris, and dirt shot upward, and out from the middle of the school, and then came down around him.

The debris had been shot outward, to make sure it didn't refill the newly created crater, which exposed the seal to the sun above. The seal which was still open, now had sunlight streaming inside it, and not a single one of the remaining thousands of Turok-Han that were inside the Seal cave could get out without burning to death instantly.

Xander turned around at the approaching sound, and said, "Perfect timing." The two Apaches flew over Xander, the crows detaching themselves from the tail, and hovered in the air. Xander's own crow joined them.

The helicopters hovered over the exposed seal, and started firing. Missile after missile streaked down, entered the opening and then shot downward along the stairs and down into the cave. Explosion after explosion rocked the cave, destroying hundreds Turok-Han with everyone. After a minute, the helicopters stopped their firing. Then two bigger missiles detached themselves and went down the seal. They did not go down to the Turok-Han but hit the now weakened rock walls. With two might explosions the walls came crumbling down. Two more smaller missiles came from the gunships, one from each, hit the edge of the seal, and the explosions completely obliterated it. Then the helicopters backed off, as the rumbling grew.

Xander grinned as debris was thrown up, and then pulled down. The Seal cave lost its structural integrity, and started collapsing in on itself. Whatever Turok-Han were still alive would be completely crushed as giant pieces of rock dropped on top of them. The school was pulled down, and down, and Xander had some difficulty remaining standing, but eventually it stopped. Where the school once stood, now was a shallow crater, filled with debris in all shapes and sizes. Xander grinned at it, and noticed, *Perfect cover.*

He looked up and over at the two Apaches and gave them a thumbs-up sign. From somewhere a black shape came into view and arrived in the middle of the two helicopters. The demon punched one hand in either helicopters side, and tore it open. The helicopters veered off, and went down, crashing down close together, in a garden on a house across the street. A few explosions, and fire, and the wrecks stayed put. The giant demon casually walked to the street. Xander jogged onto the street as well. Eric and Alex freed themselves without much difficulty and jogged over to Xander before turned around to look at where the demon remained. Their crows came circling above them, as the demon laughed heartily.

There in the street, about ten meters away from the three crows, several hundred of the things kids were flapping in the air. Just behind him a small army of Bringers stood, bearing modern weapons. Behind them two portals opened, and poured out more and more of them.

Alex cocked his head, and commented, "I think we may have underestimated the number of his ground forces."

"Ya think?" Xander asked deadpan, and Alex shrugged.

The First appeared next to the demon, and with a triumphant grin mocked, "You killed my army of Turok-Han, oh whatever will I do." Then it cackled evilly.

"We still in the game," Eric asked softly and calmly.

Xander grinned, cocked his head to Eric and said softly, "Notice how the new arrivals don't carry modern weapon, probably because they don't exist in whatever dimension he pulled them from."

The First yapped on, "I knew you little bastards wouldn't be able to resist taking out the Turok-Han all on your own. Damn crows, always so damn adamant about righting the wrongs." The First laughed out loud, "So now there are only the three of you. With you three gone, the rest will be easy pickings."

The Crows grinned as they saw on two taller houses on either side of the street, a soldier come into view, each carrying a rocket launcher on their shoulders. "WRONG!" Xander yelled out loud. Soldiers rose from behind cover in the debris field of the school, having snuck there after it was thoroughly destroyed. From side streets the different units of potentials and soldiers emerged, all armed to the teeth, both before the First's army, and also behind it.

On the side of evil, everyone looked a little surprised, but by no means worried. At that moment the soldiers with the rocket launchers fired, and two rockets streaked straight at the demon's back, and his folded wings. "What!?" the black, giant demon with his gold eyes exclaimed, looking back at one of the two launchers, but missing the second. The rockets impacted on the things back and exploded, shredding its wings and sitting it afire. The demon roared its pain and sank to its knees, its babies screeching out in indignation, and the Bringers growled from their throats at their wounded commander. The First was so enraged it seemed she was going to explode, and then disappeared. The demon sat up, and checked the charred, and still burning remains of his wings, but other than that he hardly had any damage; a few scratches, and a little singed hide - not that that was visible on its black shiny skin. "YOU BASTARDS!!" it roared out in rage, "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LONG IT TAKES TO REGROW THEM!!?"

Xander took a step forward, and said, "Mmmh, let me guess, just long enough for us to kick your ass?"

"Was that smart?" Alex asked as the demon sucked in breath through his nose like a bull.

"We'll know in a minute," was Xander's answer.

The demon pointed up at a subsection of about fifty of his children and roared, "YOU KILL THE BIRDS!!"

*Go,* Xander thought up at the crows, and they turned and flew off in a direction, the demons in pursuit.

"The rest of you, ATTACK! KILL THEM ALL FOR THIS INSOLENCE!!" the demon roared out in indignation.

Xander felt the units of soldiers and potentials tense, as the Bringers came forth. Gunshots rang out, and the Demon looked over, seeing the children he sent after the crows being fired upon from the roof tops. After three hits, one of them went down, and golden plasma erupted from his wounds and soon consumed him. It impacted on the street as a yellow fiery ball that quickly vaporized.

Xander looked over at Riley, and he gave a nod, the order had been given.. One of the rocket launchers fired a new rocket, this time at one of the advancing children, and it got blown to bits. The demon grumbled and pointed his hands at the rooftops.

"Three . . . two . . . one . . ." Xander counted down. There was a rumble, and a crash. And the demon looked down, the advancing Bringers slowed down, looking around at the sound. Suddenly there was another crash, and the walls of the nearest houses shattered, one tank coming from each hole. The flew a short distance to the air, and then crashed down, crushing Bringers. They drove onward, driving over a large amount of Bringers, who desperately ran for their lives, and dove aside. The two tanks crossed each other, and circled the demon, killing a large amount of the modernly armed Bringers with their action. Now they were in between the Crows and the demon, and their turrets turned to point directly at the demon. It just sneered. "Now we found out just how tough this thing is," Xander said with a grin as the gunfire in the direction of the crows increased, as well as the painful shrieks from the flying demons.

Both tanks fired together, right on target. The shells exploded, and with a roar the demon was thrown back. It landing in the midst of the Bringers, crushing two of them. It got up though. There was some visible damage to the thing's outer skin, but it seemed to only make him more angry. It growled, its eyes glowed with maliciousness, as two more of the flying demons were shot down with missiles. It pointed its hands at both tanks, and the golden dots in his hand glowed. Two bolts shot out, and with two mighty explosions the tanks were reduced to rubble.

"Shit," Xander commented as he pulled two pistols from his coat, his fellow crows did the same. Xander then yelled with everything he had, "ATTACK!!! Riley! Heavy weapons concentrate on it! Keep the tanks moving!" Riley nodded and he gave the less loud orders through his microphone to everyone, while at the same time people with guns popped up from hiding places and started to fire. The already visible units did the same. The flying demons shrieked and dove forward, shooting same golden energy bolts from their hands as did the big demon. Although far less powerful they were effective anti-personal weapons none the less. A few of them were shot down, as the crows' gunshots started taking out Bringers and the children alike.

The Bringers had to fight outward diagonally, a large portion of them going toward the debris of the school. As they past building that the tank came through, windows were smashed outward in it in two levels, and moments later crossbow bolts came shooting from it, hitting the Bringers, who returned fire with their own crossbow bolts, a few gunshots, and also fired those bolts in arcs through the air at the people shooting at them from behind cover. Faith and Buffy came walking out of the hole, and Faith sliced Bringers to pieces with her magic axe, and with one arc from the Troll hammer several Bringers heads were smashed in, while others were thrown meters and meters through the air in deadly arcs.

The big, black demon growled as he saw that most of the Bringers were being slaughtered, good thing there were a lot of them. His children did better shooting down soldiers but they too were being killed. Xander and the crows in the mean time had reached the bringers and shot them, or broke them with their bare hands, and Xander using his sword as well. The black demon casually pointed his hands at the house from which Dawn's unit was firing. The Summers girl noticed it and yelled, "Run!" Her unit started dispersing, but Xander knew they'd never made it. At that moment a rocket hit the demon, and imbalanced it. It roared in frustration as a second missile hit it, and then a third.

The final two tanks could be heard, and from side streets, their shots rang out. The demon staggered under the assault. It got up and looked angrily from where the shots came from, but the tanks had already moved on rearming for a new assault.

The heavier weapons were rearming, and finally the demon got some relief. It had been kept imbalanced, but by no means was it slowing down. It laughed evilly now, and pointed his hands at the roofs holding the rocket launchers.

"Buffy!" Faith called out to her fellow slayer, who looked over. "Test out that weapon of yours on him, keep him busy while they rearm." Buffy nodded, mowing aside several bringers with the Troll God weapon, and then she reached the demon. With a blood curdling scream she swung the weapon with all her might. The demon was startled and looked at her, and smiled at the silly hammer. The hammer hit it, and it roared in pain as the almost three meter giant was thrown across battlefield several meters, crushing a few of the bringers going the other way. The Bringers quickly dispersed and focused on the potentials shooting and stabbing at them. One potential got stabbed in her heart and went down instantly.

The demon sat up half, holding the side of the body where the hammer had struck. Buffy roared, and smashed her hammer across its face, its head snapping back at the impact, and slid back another meter. Buffy got optimistic, and she felt good too. It was nice not to worry, not to think, just let loose. Xander was probably right in his assessment that Slayers were foot soldiers, not generals. She grinned and swung the hammer in an overhead strike, when the demon sat up. With just his torso up, his head was still level with Buffy's, and it grabbed the hammer part of the hammer with its hand. It seemed to wince for a moment, but it had the hammer in a solid grip, Buffy couldn't budge it. She looked in shock as cracks started forming in the hammer. "THAT'S IT! The demon growled in irritation, as the hammer was crushed more, and he yanked it effortlessly from the Slayer's hands. He grabbed the hammer with both hands and squeezed, the hammer got crushed, it's handle broke, and at the same time it said, "YOU INSIGNIFICANT INSECTS! I'M GOING TO CRUSH ALL YOU LIKE THE BUGS YOU ARE!!!" Luckily for Buffy he was sitting in an awkward position, so he could make his threat literal. Instead he just punched, and his fist hit her face. Buffy didn't even get the opportunity to scream in pain, as facial bones crushed on impact. Her head snapped back with such force the tendons in her neck were pulled so tight she couldn't open her mouth. She was catapulted across the battle field, bounced across the street several times, breaking bones, and finally smashed in the outer wall of a house. The stone cracked, and so did Buffy's rips. She slumped to the ground where darkness claimed her. Were she a normal human, she'd be dead.

"BUFFY!" Dawn yelled out in shock, and angrily started shooting down more of the flying demons. Several others had seen Buffy's defeat as well, including Xander.

The demon was standing again, and marched to the middle of the road, and stretched out its arms to either side. The yellow orbs in his palm charging with a low wine. The tanks came into view from side streets on either side of the demon, exactly were he was aiming. It had listened to the tell tale sound of the tanks' tracks, and it had guessed right. It fired its energy bolts, and moments later both tanks were blown up. The demon immediately aimed up at a roof that held a soldier with a rocket launcher and fired. The resulting explosion blew away half the roof. Down below, Sam and Riley Finn were taking out Bringers with machine guns, and one block of wall came crashing down, right on top of Riley. Sam was pushed aside and fell down. She scrambled up, calling out, "Riley? Riley?" When she finally so him, his body crushed underneath the large amount of stone, she knew he hadn't survived. "NO!" she roared and continued firing at the bringers.

The demon chuckled as it casually walked a few steps toward the debris field of the school, pointed one hand and fired. The bolt flew impact somewhere in the middle and exploded, killing a large amount of soldiers with on blast. It turned around, and pointed a hand at the house that Faith's unit had used for cover. A good amount were out in the streets fighting Bringers on a personal note but there were still girls in there. A lot of them ran out, but as the house was almost completely destroyed many of them lost their lives.

Dawn's unit had reached that side of the battle, having killed most of the lesser amount of Bringers who had gone their way. Part of her unit was constantly firing up at the flying demons, the rest focusing on the ground forces of the First. The debris from the house came flying about, and Vi saw a particular large piece flying directly at them. She grabbed Amanda and pulled her along. "Come on!" she urged, and the other girl complied. They ran, and dove behind a piece of debris from the school, narrowly avoiding the piece of concrete. Vi came up, pistol aiming at the Bringers from behind the rock and fired. "We got them, come on Amanda!" Vi shouted firing away, and then reloading her gun. "Amanda?" She looked down, and saw Amanda lying there lifeless, blood from the corner of her mouth, and several charred holes in her body. Vi stayed silent for a moment, looking down at her, disbelieving, and then with a scream she took Amanda's gun and started firing at the demons above her that had gotten her first. The fury propelled her adrenaline rush, and her aim was true. Demon after demon she shot through their heads and the came falling down. Out of bullets, she looked around, and pulled a shotgun, with a hand still attached to her. She removed the hand and continued firing. Aware of Bringers coming at her she fired at them to. But there were to many of them, and her shotgun did not fire on automatic. When they were almost on top of her, she became aware of presences next to her. Automatic gunfire, and the Bringers started dying in front of her. She looked up, and saw Wood whose unit had just come in fire away. Vi quickly returned to shooting.

In the mean time the demon was chuckling. Soon they would all fall. Xander reached him, the other crows close as well. Xander rammed a kneed in the things upper leg, and felt his knee shatter, and immediately start healing up. With a growl the demon looked down. "The blonde bitch was mine," Xander hissed up at him, and jumped up in an uppercut. His fist hit him in the chin and he was forced to take a step back. Xander ignored his shattered hand, which was healing already. Alex and Eric came from the side and both did a leg sweep. The demon growled in indignation as it was pushed off its legs and it landed on its ass. The crows ignored their own mending broken bones and attacked the demon.

It roared and lashed out its hands, sending Eric and Alex flying through the air. It was up surprisingly quick for its size and bulk, and pulled Xander by his shoulders off the floor. With a roar it smashed its knee into Xander's gut . . . and straight through. It came out the other and, and the demon laughed, as Xander weakly looked up. "I guess this means your little birdy is dead, huh?" the demon laughed, pulled his kneed out, and bashed Xander casually aside.

The demon looked around, his attacks and turned the tide he knew, and looked up to find the last remaining rocket launchers. "I'm not done with you yet," Xander's voice called out, and the demon looked back amused. He watched Xander get up from his position amongst the Bringers and warriors for light fighting each other. Xander snapped the neck of one, and then advanced on the demon, his wound closing up.

"What the heaven?" the demon looked astounded as Xander straightened and walked better with every moment as his wound healed. Xander threw a punch, and the demon grabbed. "I'll take care of you when your bird really is dead," it said, and casually cost Xander aside.

The demon saw the new group arrive at the school debris, and pointed his hand that way. With a mighty explosion, something impacted on the demon's hide. It staggered, annoyed and looked over at the sours. Some house away a shield shimmered, and a redhead with black eyes looked directly at him. The cavalry had arrived. The other mages were firing energy bolts mostly at the black demon's kids and their aim was true.

"Little witch," the demon hissed and took a step toward the witch, who was charging another attack mumbling in some other language. The pink with purple, and orange ball grew larger and larger in Willow's hand. Finally she fired it, and the demon didn't even bother trying to avoid it. The blast rocketed the best, it yelled out at the pain, and welcomed it. Once the blast was over it grinned, he had been hurt a little, but still nothing came close to bringing him down. He laughed and pointed his hands at the group of magic users, and his golden dots glowed.

"Behind me, now!" Willow screamed, and a lot of soldiers fighting just in front of her and the mages, obeyed immediately. The golden blast of the demon shot across the distance and impacted on Willow's shield. She took a step back at the powerful impact. She looked out, and saw the blast had taken out some Bringers, but equally soldiers who had not made it behind her shield. Right then, the blast form the demon's other hand impacted, and Willow staggered back, trying to keep her balance.

Willow's eyes turned black again, and she started charging another ball, as the demon laughed and fired bolt after bolt. "Help me," she ordered, as the blasts on her shield wracked her body. The mages stopped firing at the flying demons, and focused their magic on the shield. Immediately they staggered under the onslaught of the demon's raw power. Willow lost control of the ball of energy and it sizzled out, and she was forced to focus her power on the shield.

"We can't keep this up forever," one of the mages warned. The firing stopped, and Willow looked. Her eyes widened. The demon was laughing heartily, and had both of his hands out, slowly charging a large ball of energy.

"Oh, my god," Willow whispered in fear.

Xander staggered to his feet, a Bringer stuck a knife in his gut and looked surprised - however far that's possible without eyes - when Xander seemed to feel nothing. He grabbed its head, snapped its neck and then pulled the knife free. He looked over and saw the demon charging the ball of energy, laughing, and then over at the frightened magic users behind the shield. He needed an answer, he needed it now. He surveyed the battle scene, people were dying, demons were dying, and then his eyes felt on the nearby half destroyed Apaches. He pulled his sword out, and ran killing several Bringers. Then he jumped over the Bringers and landed next to the two wrecks. He killed a few Bringers that were in his way, and grabbed the M230 Chain Gun from the least damaged helicopter, and pushed it around facing the battle. "Come on," he hissed, as he reached in the half-destroyed cockpit. He switched the buttons for the gun, nothing happened. "Work," he sad giving the machine a good beat with his hand, denting the outer skin. "Come on, baby," he said trying again, but nothing happened.

He dropped the gun, and went over to the other gunship. Once again he reached into the cockpit, and started switching the activation button for the chain gun. "Please, sweetheart, don't fail us now, you're not fighting other creators here, but demons, come on," Xander whispered. Somewhere deep in the wreckage something rumbled, the battery came to life. The gun sparked with electricity. "Yess," he hissed giving the helicopter an appreciative pat. He pulled the gun, but it wouldn't turn. He tore, and the gun was ripped from its mounting, and Xander took a step and turned himself toward the demon, his back against the wreck.

*Return,* Xander said with confidence, and called out, "HEY! YOU! BLACK FELLA! I TOLD YOU I WASN'T DONE WITH YOU YET!!"


Close by the crows heard the mental summons. They had been leading the demons around, giving strategically placed soldiers on roofs the opportunity to shoot them down. From fifty-five only fourteen demons were left. The crows had had several close calls, and one of them got singe by one of the blasts, but they were just too agile. Now they turned around and flew right at the demons. For a moment they hesitated, surprised at the turn of events. The crows twisted around the demons, all three scratched the eyes out of one. In panic they started firing wild, while the crows flew right in the middle of the others. Some of the others tried to hit the crows, another set of them tried to hit the blinded ones who were now threatening their lives. It was chaos. When the crows had come out the crowd of demons of the other end, nine were falling down from the sky their internal plasma burning them up. The remaining five were picked off by the soldiers not long after.


*Damn it,* Xander thought, the damn thing was standing turned away from him. Not even his strength, Xander knew, would be able to keep the gun steady. He needed a wider target, he needed the thing to face him. "YO! YOU WITH THE STUMPS!" Did Xander saw him react a little. He grinned and said, "STUMP BOY!"

The demon's energy ball disappeared as its hands balled into fists and turned slowly around. "WHAT DID YOU CALL ME!?" the demon growled out in rage.

"YOU ARE HARD OF HEARING, AREN'T YOU, STUMPY?" Xander called out at the top his lungs, seeing the demon turn further toward him and started to advance. Several soldiers in the way who recognized the gun, and knew what it was capable of started walking out of its line of fire, dragging any potentials who had no idea what was coming along.

"YOU INSIGNIFICANT, HOW DARE YOU!!!?" the demon raged slowly walked toward Xander in barely contained fury. It raised his hands and started charging new energy blasts.

"Ever had depleted uranium for lunch, stump boy?!" Xander asked out loud, and he moved a free electrical wire to make contact with the wire that sent the signal to fire from the cockpit. The gun went off with a deafening roar, Xander struggled to keep it straight, being pushed back against the helicopter. His spine was being crushed, and it hurt but he wouldn't let go. At 625 slides per minute, 30 mm depleted uranium incendiary rounds were fired across the distance to the demon. Bringers that were in the way, were shredded like tissue paper, pieces of them shooting left, other pieces right. The rounds, the most powerful armor piercing rounds to date, smacked into the demon's chest and exploded with a blossom of fire, and yet even they could not pierce the demon's skin, but every impact created small star-shaped cracks on it. At over ten rounds per second, the demon had no way to answer or get out of the way. More and more starship cracks formed on its armor, and he backed up, staggering back under the onslaught, yelling out in pain. Ten seconds after Xander started firing the gun and the helicopter gave up, and fired no more, but that were still over a hundred rounds.

The demon staggered back further, and then sank to its knees growling out in pain. Xander threw the gun aside and walked forward, overlooking the battle. "FAITH! NOW, SEVER ITS HEAD!!" Xander then made eye contact with both Alex and Eric, and they gave a nod.

Faith heard Xander's calling, while she was fully in her element of killing one Bringer after another. Almost annoyed she looked up, and looked around, and watched the demon who was completely out of it. She hacked a Bringer aside, kicked one to the ground and used it as a step up. She jumped, high over the bringers and turned around her axis in mid air. The demon, still holding his chest in pain, looked up, and muttered, "And Axe? What do . . .?" That's as far as it came, when Faith's axe sliced through its neck like a hot knife through butter. The head sliced clean off, and sailed through the air. Faith grinned predatory at the body, and saw the golden plasma spray gently from the neck, and also start coming from the cracks on its chest. The head gave a groan, and then exploded with a small bang. Faith looked back at the body. Where his children were still soft, and could be consumed by their internal energy, his body was hard, and the pressure was great. Faith's eyes widened, turned back, and ran, screaming, "TAKE COVER!! IT'S GONNA BLOW!!"

Bringers and humans alike, took one look at the ticking time bomb, and ran for their lives. Xander saw it, and ran into the crowd toward the demon. He grabbed Dawn, and two more girls and turned around shielding them with his body. Alex grabbed two soldiers, while Eric pulled Faith off her feet and did the same. Then the demon exploded with a mighty explosion, the shockwave sending everyone down to the ground. Eric got a piece of the demon's hide stuck in his back that would have killed Faith, and the other ones protected by the crows were similarly protected, since most living beings in range (which were mostly Bringers) were dead now.

Faith pulled the piece of armor from Eric's back, and he sat up, saying, "Thanks, I don't think I could have reached it."

Faith grinned at him, and said, "Thanks, I don't think I could have survived it."

"No problem," he said, and got up. He walked over toward Xander pulled out his guns and starting to kill the still numerous demons in the sky. Faith too returned to hacking and slashing the Bringers to pieces.

Xander got up, and pulled Dawn to her feet. "We got it," she commented with a grin, he face smudged with blood, and several slashes from where her own blood seemed in her torso and arms.

"There are still too many," Xander commented, looking around and seeing the demons fire from above, and the Bringers fight below. He saw several more soldiers fall, and took several steps toward the middle.

"Exactly, you've lost, Harris, he's done too much damage already," his own voice commented from his side. He turned around and looked the First in his own form, except the First's face painting was still perfect, while most of his was smudged out. "You and your crows will slaughter all my bringers, and all his children, but that won't do you any good. I'm not here to kill you or your army, I want the weapon. And you know as well as I do that Faith won't last much longer. Too many of my minions, and unlike you she will grow fatigued sooner or later. Only one of them have to walk away with the weapon, and you will all lose." The First laughed after his taunting.

Xander watched Alex and Eric come closer reach him and the first, and he pushed Dawn and the potentials away, gesturing for them to rejoin the fighting behind his back. They obeyed and left, while Xander stayed quiet. "What's the matter? No more wisecracks?" the First said with a wide grin.

"Nope," Xander stated in a defeated tone, while he saw the two crows behind the first grin evilly.

"Well, this is unexpected, don't think this is as much fun . . . Oh, well," the First replied, and then grinned evilly again. "Doesn't matter . . ."

"Boo," Eric called, with his widest most insidious grin.

"Am I supposed to be scared," the First asked mockingly turning to face the other two. There was flapping of wings, and all of them looked up to see the crows circle right above the four.

*Now, Willow,* Xander thought, sending the thought across the battlefield.

On the other side, Willow looked over, and grinned. She stretched out one arm, and outstretched her hand. Her eyes turned black and she said powerfully, her voice carrying ominously across the battlefield, "Sha ka ri, timas grinadanos, tandro."

An energy dome flickered into existence around the First and the three crows, surrounding him. "What?" the First called out, and tried to teleport. He stayed put, right where he was.

Xander's grin returned full, and he spoke, "You are afraid a being would evolve powerful enough to kill you, but you fail to understand, we're already here." Xander's grin widened, as the First smashed his force against the shield.

On the other side of the battlefield Willow staggered, but kept her hand pointed at the First. The First looked, and the Bringers turned to face Willow and the mages as one. "Keep them off of, Willow," Kennedy ordered, as she and the potentials under her command moved forward, and pointed their guns and the Bringers charged.

Xander finished his speech, "We transcended death, we're beyond you now."

The First bashed against the dome again, and it flickered under his power. Willow staggered, and her telepathic voice reached Xander, *Hurry, Xan, I can't keep this up much longer.*

Eric grinned evilly, as the three crows raised their hands in the air, and stood on equal distance in a circle. He told the First with a wide grin, "You're Bringers aren't the only power of three that can summon something." Energy started charging between the three crows hands, first as red bolt-like discharges, which arced up dome-like. Then the space between the bolts filled with red energy moving upward serenely, joining together between the three birds who were busy with a complex flying pattern.

The First bashed against the dome again, and then another time. A ball of energy formed between the crows and increased in size. Then something came through, that quickly grew bigger, and formed, yet formless. Twin golden orbs that seemed like eyes, but seemed to dull to belong to something aware of itself formed in the mass of energy. Feather-like constructs of energy formed around, something that looked like a beak, yet a mouth, and yet a snout was there as well. It had a crow-like quality, and yet it was more of just ball of energy. Then a growl came from the energy ball, as if it came from the very fabric of space and time itself, and it carried far beyond the battlefield. The First looked up at the sound, and her eyes widened in shock. "Meet vengeance," Alex answered with a grin.

"Goodbye, bitch," Xander told the First, and then the crows dove down with a caw, moving through the First and curled outward before slamming into the ground. Vengeance itself followed the crows, and plunged into the First Evil. She screamed, the sound carried in itself pain, and terror, and suffering and horror the likes of which no human could comprehend. The scream went through bone and marrow and stopped the battle cold in an instant. It traveled onward, carried on by the energy being that was the first, and the energy making the molecules vibrate to produce the sound, the scream was carried around the world in an instant. No being on the planet did not here the scream, no being could not feel the horrors that the scream entailed, and yet none could fathom its true pain. The scream even penetrated the veils of several dimensional realms close by Earth's dimension, and beings there heard it. And then the First's form was shredded, and exploded outward, the coherent form reduced to blotches of energy. The dome of energy generated by Willow shattered as if it were a child's toy, and the remains of the First showered the battlefield like fireworks before disappearing into nothingness.

As her magical dome collapsed, Willow felt the jolt. She grabbed her hand in pain and she staggered forward, threatening to tumble over. Kennedy caught her just in time, and as she steadied the redhead, she asked worried, "You ok?"

"Fine, I'll be fine in a minute, just a little exhausted that's all," Willow replied weakly, smiling at Ken, and unable to resist giving her a quick kiss on the nose. Then they looked back at the battlefield, startled at the screams. The Bringers had grabbed their heads, and screamed to the heavens. Then their brains exploded, it burst open their eyelids, and splatted out the back of their heads, and then they dropped to the floor, all dead.

"Unexpected," Xander commented looking at the gory mess, lots of the human fighters were covered in the Bringer brains, "but pleasant."

"Ya think?" Alex told him with raised eyebrows, as their respective crows landed on their shoulders. Then a roar of joy and victory erupted from the fighters for the side of light. The only ones that were left, were the remaining fifty or so children of the black demon. Their wings flapped, and they just looked down at the battlefield. Then they gave each other look, then shrieked and fled. Flying away.

The humans watched them go for a moment, wondering what to do. Xander called out, "HUNT THEM DOWN, LEAVE NONE ALIVE, THEY ARE TOO DANGEROUS AS ADULTS!!"

The fighters gave an approving sound, and started running to their vehicles two streets away to give chase.

Chapter 11

Stiles drove his humvee into the abandoned town, putting the pedal to the medal. He knew that with the speed of those helicopters, they'd have been there ages ago. Hell, he wouldn't be surprised if the battle was over with already. He had to know if they had won or not, and if the battle was still going, well . . . he looked in the rearview mirror and grinned at the three vehicles pursuing him. The cavalry was coming. He looked back onto the rood and saw the humanoid shapes with wings. They were coming straight for him. Fifty of 'em, perhaps a little more. They were fleeing, he realized, oh, yeah they had won. He drove onward until he figured they were in firing range, and hit the breaks to the max.

He pulled the machine gun from the seat next to him and got out. He opened the window and used the door to steady his gun. He aimed and fired, as next to him two of the three pursuers came to screeching halt, the third did the same behind him. After a hits, one of the demons went to a fiery death, and he aimed for the next one. That one too went down, and then he suddenly stood up and looked from side to side, seeing the soldiers looking mouth agape. "SHOOT THEM, YOU DIMWITS!!" he screamed in frustration. "SHOOT THEM!!"

Suddenly the soldiers on the roof of the vehicles behind the big guns mounted on top of them, jerked and looked at him. "Uh, right, yes, sir," one of them answered, cocked the heavy machine gun, and fired away. Stiles joined them moments later. And the things started falling from the sky at an ever greater rate.


Xander surveyed the battle field with a satisfied, but sad grin. So many of them had died, he wished there had been a way to take out the black demon faster. Most of the SiTs, and Xander's direct group of people were still here, not pursuing the escaping flying demons, simply because they had no means of transportation.

Xander watched Faith run toward him, jumping over the dead carcasses of mostly Bringers. Eric, Alex, and the remaining members of Faith's unit sauntered after her. Dawn closer to him, reached him first though, most of the unit that she commanded somewhat scattered behind her, but closing in. Al of them covered in different kinds of blood, some of it there own.

Faith reached him, and jumped up, clinging with her arms around his neck, and her legs around his waist. She gave him a powerful kiss on his lips, but not using any tongue. "Boy," Xander commented with a grin. "You really need to get laid, don't you?"

"Can't a girl just be happy?" Faith asked him with a cool smile.

"Xander, it's a good thing you and Anya are over, because she's been a bad influence of you," Willow's scolding voice sounded from his right. He looked over and saw the redhead shaking her head, unable to keep the smile off her. Kennedy was clinging to Willow, her unit that had protected the mages was standing behind her, a little bit uneasy.

Faith lowered herself from Xander, as Dawn commented, "Be glad, Willow, that he didn't describe exactly how he's planning on using his tongue . . ."

"Dawn!" Xander said somewhat surprised.

"What!?" Dawn asked innocently. "I'm seventeen . . . soon . . . and I have been present during most of Anya's talking."

Giles, demon blood running from several places on his body, an axe slung on his shoulder reached the small gathering, and eyes still shining with blood thirst and said, "Well, Harris, this is what I call a bloody good battle."

The SiTs gaped in surprise, not during his possession, and even less so afterwards, had Giles shown to be anything else but a well-mannered in control person, and now this. "Kennedy, guys," Willow said ruefully, a smile on her face. "Meet Ripper."

"Oh, piss off, Willow," Giles told her gruffly, but with a twinkle and a small smile. "You talk like I've got multiple personalities."

Dawn turned around, aware of Kennedy and the SiTs across from her looking behind her. Vi came slowly walking to them, tears flowing from her eyes, carrying Amanda in her arms. Reaching them, she sank to her knees, the scarred holes in Amanda's body very visible. "Oh, god, Amanda," Dawn mumbled, and then quickly crossed to living member of her team. She quickly slung her arms around Vi, as she noticed the others from her unit, and the SiTs not of her unit growing sad. The very visible death rapidly dampened their good spirits over the victory, and they started remembering the others they lost that day. Dawn whispered in Vi's ear, something very private, "At least you didn't let her die a virgin."

Vi laughed, and smiled, happiness radiating from her face of the victory, and over Dawn's words and the truth in that, and yet the tears wouldn't stop falling. The pain of losing that very good friend, the bond deepened from their first sexual encounter was just too great to just be removed by some good cheer.

Dawn stood up, and mumbled, "Buffy." The absolute, overpowering joy of having won the greatest battle against darkness in recent history had made her forget about her sister for a moment, but the dead Amanda had reawakened more pressing needs. "I'm going to find her," Dawn said, and ran off toward where her sister had been bashed to.

"All right, people," Xander said with a commanding tone, the murmurs and conversations among him, quieting instantly. "Basking in winning cheer moment over, let's find the wounded; the dead can wait for now." Xander then turned his head to Vi, and said gently, "I don't think Amanda would want people to die who could be saved because of her dead body."

Vi nodded, and gave Amanda a peck on her forehead, and then gently put her down on the ground, "I'll be back for you." Then she got up and they all dispersed.

Xander held back for a moment, and looked across the battle field, and said grimly, "Two wrongs righted, three to go." Then he too went to look for wounded.

Several minutes later, Dawn called out, "XANDER! IT'S BUFFY, SHE'S STILL ALIVE!"

Xander turned to her and jogged over, calling back, "Obviously. The thing wasn't allowed to kill her, so he made sure he didn't. He didn't crush her legs arms and legs first so she could get away or kill herself did he?"

"No, but I think her face is mush," Dawn told him, gently going over her sister's unconscious body.


"You that way, and you there!" Anya called out with authority, and some annoyance. She was behind the hospital counter, managing where patients had to go. "Damn, demon hunters, fighting they can do, but an efficient schedule? NO! Leave that to the retail shop owners," she added in a huff. "Room 13!" The person about to ask something closed his mouth and wheeled the stretcher along.

Xander and Faith were putting pressure on a soldier's wounds, while one of the medics was trying to save his life. Faith looked and him, and he looked back, smiling, and he explained, "She's annoying, brutal, has no tact, a vengeful streak from here to Tokyo, but deep down, where it matters, she's got a heart of gold."

"I'm glad you pointed that out to me, and seeing her in action," Faith told him with a wide grin, "now I know not to give into the urge to knock her unconscious."

The medic pushed Xander's hand aside, held the wound he was putting under pleasure closed and sowed it shut. The soldier winced, since the medic didn't have time for an analgesic. Finished with that wound, the medic went on to the wound Faith was holding. When he was done, the medic said, "You can wheel him into a room, he's going to need surgery later on, but he'll live till then."

"Thanks, doc," the soldier commented sarcastically, and Xander and Faith started wheeling the patient to a room. The two of them had figured to stick together, and not bother anyone with their lack of medical knowledge. Around them everyone was busy with some wounded survivor, so if anyone needed one of them, they'd come get them, most notably the hub of managing activities Anya herself.

Halfway into a corridor, a wounded soldier was in a wheel chair being wheeled in the opposite direction by a potential. He made a gesture to Xander and they all stopped next to each other. "Harris, sir, you were right. These girls can fight with me anytime."

"Obviously," Xander commented dryly, while the girl exclaimed, "What?"

Faith grinned and said, "This would be Mr. 'Leave the little girls at home'."

"I should've just let that Bringer have his jollies before killing it," the girl said with a huff.

"Sorry?" the man tried.

"Oh, fine," the potential said and started pushing again.

Xander and Faith watched the couple move away from them, as they started to argue. "That could be the start of a beautiful friendship," Xander commented with a grin.

"You're sick, Xan, sometimes I wonder why I'm falling in love with you," Faith told him, and started to push the stretcher along again.

Xander followed her and took a guess, "You're sicker?"

Faith whipped her head around, and looked at him darkly for a moment, and then grumbled with a breaking smile, "That could be it."


"Hey," Dawn said softly, as she pushed the drapes aside keeping Buffy away from the other patients in the room. She looked Buffy's bandaged face. Buffy looked through the slits that left her eyes open.

Buffy picked up her board and pen, and wrote something. She held up the plastic board, and Dawn read, 'Hi.'

"How do you feel?" Dawn asked concerned.

Buffy made gesture with her head that seemed to indicated rolling her eyes, and winced at the movement. She wiped the board clean with a little lever, and wrote something on it. She held it up, and Dawn read, 'Ass kicked.'

Dawn smiled, and said, "You know, the doctor said that if everything he heard about Slayer healing is true, the bandages could come off in a day or two. You'd be one hundred percent fine within a week, although your face could feel a little delicate."

Buffy wrote, 'Good.'

"So, great battle huh? First destroyed, for good. Turok-han all dead. Bringers all dead. Flying demons all dead. I think evil is going to think twice before trying us on again," Dawn spoke with a smile. "I guess that means we can relax a couple of months. What do you say we go grab a movie when you're out of here? It'd be great, the Summers sisters out on the town, together. No man would feel safe."

'Sounds great,' Buffy wrote, and then added, 'Can I be alone now?'

Dawn's smile faltered, and she asked, "Why?"

'You wouldn't understand,' Buffy wrote and held up.

"Why wouldn't I?" Dawn returned, half angry, half depressed. "I'm your sister. Why can't I keep my hospitalized sister company?" Buffy held up the same text. "The fucking battle is over, all you've done on before hand is ignore me, and now it's over and you still . . . Fine, Xander and Faith will come by soon, perhaps another powered super slutty heroine can understand." Dawn then stormed out of the room, leaving a distraught Buffy.


Two days later

At one of Sunnydale car sales stores, still abandoned, the three crows stood. One of the cars that had been left behind was running, and its front doors was open. Xander looked at his fellow crows, and told them, "Thank you. I am greatly indebted to the both of you." He pulled out two tickets from his coat and handed one to each. "As promised, a plane ticket back to your homes, you can go back to your graves, get rid of your crows and live the rest of your lives as mortal human beings . . . or decide to stick around for as long as your crows live."

Eric and Alex took the tickets, and Alex stuck out his hand. Xander shook it, and Alex said, "It's been an honor, Xander."

Then Xander shook Eric's hand, both staying silently. The two crows got in the car, and drove off.


Another two days later

Xander watched the funeral take place. Faith was standing next to him, and Faith's arm was slung around his waist. Many new graves were added to the cemetery. Most SiTs, but a few of the soldiers as well. The other dead soldiers were going back to their birthplace and families. The priest that had come with the initiative - it was always good to be able to turn a river into holy water for a few minutes, see those vamps boil - was doing the whole ceremony. There was quite a few of the survivors grieving, and a few townsfolk was watching it out of curiosity. A part of population had returned to Sunnydale after the military had given the statement that situation that had made them flee was dealt with and all was well in the quiet, little town where nothing ever happened, and more were coming back in.

When the ceremony was over, Xander got an idea and he went over to the priest, Faith trailing behind him. "Say, padre," Xander asked with a smile. The priest looked at him questioningly. "I need a little holy water . . . in fact, I need a lot of holy water."

"Point me to the water," the priest told him.


Later that day Landing strip Sunnydale Military base

"I'm still sorry," Xander told Sam, as Riley's coffin was loaded in the cargo bay of the large plane.

Sam shook her head, tears flowing from her eyes again, "If he had to go early, this is the way he would have wanted to go: making a difference in a big, crucial battle like this. I just don't know what I'm going to tell his family. I can't tell them the truth, I can't tell them a lie."

The rest of the gang said their goodbyes. Sam then got on the plane, and it took off. "So," Molly asked, who had become good friends with Dawn in the past few days. She was standing next to her new friend, as she finished, "We just kicked the First's rear end, and his army all the way back to the moon. What are we going to do now?"

Xander got a deep grin, as he started walking away from them, and said, "I've got Captain Peroxide to find."

"I'm coming with you," Faith said, quickly catching up.

Xander's grin faded, and turned around to face her. "Uh, Faith, I want to do this alone," Xander told her.

She placed her hands in her sides, and asked, "You think you can keep me away from you?"

Xander sighed, and then said, "So how good are you on a bike?"

"Are you kidding me?" Faith asked him with a wide grin.

"Off-road bike," Xander added, as he turned around and went on his way

Faith frowned, as she joined him and asked, "Nothing more stylish?"


Faith sighed theatrically.


The two off-road bikes came to a standstill in front the hotel. The two riders were armed to the teeth, both in black get ups. Above them Xander's crow cawed. Faith looked at Xander questioningly. "No danger, nobody home, as expected," Xander relayed to the Slayer.

Faith smiled, and then two rode onto the lot. The two of them put their bikes away, and Faith used her key to get inside. They two of them checked the place out, and went to find a room to their liking. Faith went into Angel's room, and called Xander in. She let herself fall on the big bed, and said, "Look, Angel's bed. I'll bet you'd like to piss Angel off by using his . . ." Faith raised her head, looking at a smiling Xander in the doorway, and added, " . . . especially by having sex on it?"

Xander crunched up his face in disgust and said, "Ew, make love in a bed that a corpse laid in? Imagine the germs, and the bacteria, and the cooties. I understand for someone who hugs a corpse on a regular it ain't that big a deal, but . . . eew."

"Very funny," Faith said, but quickly got up off the bed. "What would you care anyway? You're dead too."

Xander shook his head with a smile, answering, "Nope, very much alive. Was dead, alive now, you can check my heartbeat you know. You did notice the warm body temperature the last few days lying next to me, didn't you?"

"You've got answer for everything, don't you?" Faith asked sourly.

"Of course," he answered.

"Hey! You're immortal! Little bacteria can't hurt you!" Faith suddenly exclaimed.

Xander shook his head, as he turned around to go look at the other rooms, and said, "Doesn't make it any less disgusting."

"All right, fine!" Faith exclaimed with mock annoyance as she went after him. "But I'm telling ya, you won't find a finer bed in this entire hotel."

Xander grinned and entered a different room, also sporting a double bed. Xander walked over and let himself fall on it on his back. "What about his?" Xander asked casually.

Faith raised her eyebrows, took a critical look, and then said, "Spring check." She jumped and landed stomach first on top off Xander before he even knew what she was up to.

"Oof!" Xander exclaimed as the bed sprung smoothly up and down.

Faith grinded herself into Xander, and murmured, "Mmh, I should have known, you are the finest bed here."

"As much as I like to be your bed, Faith," Xander commented with some difficulty. "We've got work to do, and you're heavy."

"Are you saying I'm fat!?" Faith asked incredulously.

"Very, sitting on your ass in prison hasn't done you good," Xander told her with a wide grin. "You need a diet girl."

"Why you!" she exclaimed. Then she bent down and gave him a quick kiss on his lips. After that she got off him, and said, "You're forgiven this once, Alexander Lavelle Harris, next time you joke about your girlfriend's figure, or weight, or both; you're gonna get it."

"Looking forward to it already," Xander grinned at her as he got up. Then he was all business, "Okay, after I put on the face, we go exploring this city, and see if he's here."

"Are you really sure he's here?" Faith asked him.

"Not one hundred percent," Xander replied her. "But it's the closest big city, quickest way to disappear into anonymity if he wants to hide, and enough victims to turn if he decides he can't hide from me and wants to fight it out. And Spike isn't smart enough to be unpredictable."


Their bikes slowed down. A newspaper they had gotten, talking about several missing people, speculated to be linked to the Jasmine incident, not more recent arrivals, had taken them in this part of the city.

The two looked around and saw purple-skinned demon enter a bar. Faith and Xander looked at each other once, and gave a nod. Apparently once Jasmine was gone, the demons had come back out of hiding, or exile, or just migrated from other places to the big city near the Hellmouth. The crow above them stayed outside for now to do some patrol.

Xander and Faith walked into the demon bar, and they looked around. Demons in all shapes and sizes sat everywhere. Xander and Faith calmly walked toward the bar itself, while the demons looked up, and studied them. Some with surprise, some with bloodlust, some with caution, some with hate, all kinds of scrutinizing was going one. Xander's painted face wasn't lost on any of them - the smarter ones realized just how far Xander had to be to paint his face like that, and would wisely stay away from someone with so little to lose - and the fact that his female companion walked there as if she owned the place could really only mean one of three things: Slayer, the guy was so good she had no doubt they weren't going to walk away, or both. None were very favorable to the demons.

The demon behind the bar - pale dark blue, bordering on grey - asked them, "What'll it be?"

"Information," Xander answered him calmly, boring his eyes in the demon's sockets. "I'm looking for a vampire named Spike."

One big red demon, with goat legs, and a big beard got up from his chair, and said, "And why should we give up one of our own to the likes of a stinking human like you?" The demon took his steps forward, his muscled arms rippling. Other demons quickly dipped their head down, either embarrassed or not wanting to draw the attention of the two humans to them, or again both.

A smaller green demon a companion of the red one, got up as well, and said, "Danir, I don't think this is a good idea."

The big demon bellowed out, as he reached the human couple, and said, "Marro, don't tell me you are afraid of a few puny humans."

"Damn it, that's a girl that came in here, no fear, don't you think she could be the Slayer?" the green demon tried to reason with the bigger one, looking apprehensively at Xander and Faith, who were both turned to the demon and regarding him calmly.

The big red demon laughed, and said, "Don't tell me you actually believe that old wive's tale: the Slayer, hah!" He gave a disdainful snort, and looked back at Xander and Faith. "I believe I asked you why we should answer?"

Xander gave Faith a look, and then she shrugged, and offered, "We don't kill you?"

The demon laughed out loud and then growled menacingly, "You think you're boyfriends make-up is going to scare me? We've got actual faces like that! He just looks like a wimp to me."

The guy's green friend tried to talk some sense into him, "Fuck, man, unlike the vampire you're so desperate to protect it seems, you're not immortal. One properly aimed bullet will kill you, and they could have a hundred guns underneath their clothes."

There was a squawk, and a moment later the Crow fluttered in from a crack in the ceiling and then landed on the bar. It cawed again, and cocked his head around. Xander himself give his head a cock as well, smiling deeply. "Fuck me," the green demon said, and several other demons gave a quick exclaims of various degrees of uncomfortable emotions. "Shit man, he's a crow," the green demon said taking a few steps back, "Immortal, embodiment of vengeance, strong as hell, resurrected from the dead, stop this foolishness man."

The red demon laughed out loud again, and said, "You can't be serious. Not only do you believe in the Slayer you actually believe that? Dead is dead my friend, he's nothing."

"I find your lack of faith disturbing," Xander told him, capturing the red demon's eyes with his own dark ones. The demo roared with laughter. Xander grabbed the demon's right hand with his left almost casually, but incredibly fast, then squeezed hard, and twisted the hand back. The laughter turned to a roar of pain. The demon screamed out and slowly sank to his knees. Xander casually looked over to Faith, paying the demon no heed it seemed, smiled, and told her, "I've always wanted to say that."

Faith laughed out hard, as the demons looked with greater disturbance at the couple. After all the power increase, and rage and hatred toward those that had hurt him, he was still a scifi nut underneath it all. She was in love with a scifi nut! She didn't know whether that meant she had gone up in the world or down, but she didn't really care.

"To bad I don't have any telekinetic powers, but a hand will do just fine," Xander added, and then his right hand shot out and wrapped itself as best as it could around the demon's thick neck. Then he squeezed, and squeezed. The demon's eyes started to bulge out, and wheezed as it tried to get air. Xander calmly looked it in its eyes, and slowly the demon realized he was not going to survive this. Suddenly Xander yanked, and the with a loud crack the demon's neck was broken. Its body spasmed, his leg shuddered, as its electrical signals went haywire for a moment, and then it started to slump. Xander let go, and the demon dropped to the floor. The whole bar looked at the body incredulously. It was killed that easily.

"I suppose I get to clean that up," the bartender said bitterly seeing the dead body on his floor. Xander looked over at the demon, and he took a step back, his hands up, waving him off. "No offense," the bartender said a little fearfully.

Xander calmly surveyed the bar, and said, "So, Spike, vampire, bleached blonde, likes long leather coats, kind of like mine, I gave his back to the son of one of the Slayers he's killed, he probably has gotten himself a new one by now. More detail, if we have to believe his stories Billy Idol wanted to be him, and copied his look. Anyone?"

The demons looked nervously around, no one had an answer. Until finally one demon in a far corner lifted his arm. "There's a new master in town," the demon said, somewhat nervously, and then pointed in a direction left from him. "A mile that way, and into the sewers, when you're down there it shouldn't take you long to find his lair. He's been turning lots of people, gathering an army it seems. Don't know if it's your boy; I hate vampires, avoided them the moment I saw them go in there."

"Thanks," Xander told him, and then looked around. No further answers were forthcoming. The crow fluttered over and landed on Xander's shoulder, and then he and Faith walked toward the exit. "Oh," Xander said, waiting at the door. "I find any of you did have information, and didn't say, or if I find out any of you harmed a human after today, I will hunt you all down, and kill you all . . . I don't care if you're a vegetarian or not, innocent or not, I will kill you all, so keep an eye on the others, and stop them from doing anything stupid."

Xander went outside, and Faith turned around following him walking backward, and added, "That goes double for me."


The two have them had taken the demons tip, and were searching through the sewers a mile onward. The demon had been right. It hadn't taken long before they ran into a vampire, and unseen followed her along. She went into a circular tunnel, and Xander and Faith looked at each other. They waited a bit, and then went into the tunnel.

Barely in, voice could be heard, lots of them. They gave each other another look, and Xander pulled out the infrared, and ultraviolet binoculars that he got from the initiative. He looked through it from here, making sure none of the voices could see them. "Fuck," Xander whispered, and removed the binoculars from his eyes. "There are at least a hundred, if not more, none have body heat."

"Vampires," Faith whispered, half shocked. "A hundred? How?"

Xander looked over at her, and answered, "Nobody notices homeless people go missing."

Faith nodded, and said, "Spike or not, we've got to dust them, especially the master."

Xander nodded, and then pointed to the other end. Slowly they snuck forward and then looked out the other end. The square room, two sewage drains running through it was filled with vampires, and was about two meters down, and extended another meter above the pipe they were in. There at the head, one vampire was sitting on a throne: his bleach-blonde hair unmistakable. "Spike," Xander whispered with boiling anger. "Nice guy huh? Kills a hundred people, but it's alright, 'cause 'I've got a soul now'. Ugh."

Faith nodded gently, and then pointed back. Xander nodded, and they snuck away. Back out of the pipe, Faith whispered a little louder, "So how are we going to do this?"

"We?" Xander asked a little in disbelief. "You mean me."

"I'm not letting you do this alone," Faith told him stubbornly.

Xander sighed, and he said, "Over a hundred, Faith. I'm out of explosives, I have no contacts here in this city, no rocket launchers, no way to just burn the whole place out. I'm immortal, you're not. I'll leave the bird with you, and there's nothing they can do to kill me."

"Except sever your head," Faith returned with an annoyed look. "No offense Xan, but I don't want to have to come down here, and find out heads don't grow back, not even on Crows. Besides, do you have any idea what happens when a vampire drinks of your souped up blood? Might work like holy water, might also turn them in a power house of a vampire than will make a Turok-Han look like a sweet little bunny. And if Spike . . ." Faith let the implication hang there. Spike may have been a dimwit, and a sickening evil thing, he had also already killed two Slayers without strength even beyond that of a vampire.

"Listen, Faith, what . . ." Xander paused and took a look at the pipe they just crawled in, and saw a similar pipe going into the same room only a small distance to the right of the one they went into. Suddenly he had an idea. He turned back to Faith and looked at her waiting with curiosity at what he had come up with. "Faith, just how good are you with that bike?"

"Uh, I can ride it, I can jump it . . . why?" Faith asked him intrigued.

Xander grinned, and turned around, walking back the way they came. "I don't suppose there's a stunt bike rider in this city I can touch for a moment and share with you, is there?"

"Uh, big city," Faith answered sneaking after him.

Xander nodded, "We'll find one. Tomorrow morning after dawn we attack, limit his escape routes."

"How are you going to get the bikes down here?" Faith asked softly, and a little excited, not yet fully understanding Xander's plan, but knowing it would be great.

"We'll find a hole big enough," Xander answered with confidence, and turned to look at her with a twinkle in his dark eyes, "or we make a hole big enough."


Once they were finished with the preparations the two of them returned to the hotel, and their room. They went to take off their clothes to go to bed. Xander watched silently, as Faith on the other side of her bed took off shirt. It revealed a black bra. Moments later her leather pants dropped, and matching to the bra a black g-string was revealed. Xander drank in the almost naked form of the girl on the opposite side of the bed, as she turned around. Creamy thighs, taunt tummy, lovely breasts, although they weren't fully visible; she seemed even more beautiful than he remembered - of course the lights were out back then, and they were on now.

Faith turned around, and looked at him, took in his muscles, his boxer shorts, his chest and his face. She smiled, before tonight they had slept together with their clothes on, and he looked as good as she remembered - of course the lights were out back then, and they were on now, so he could be looking much better than then - heavy construction work and all. Strangely self-conscious she got into the bed, and so did Xander. He snuggled close to her, and gently wrapped her arms around the waste. He placed a light kiss in her neck, which sent shivers down her spine, and told her, "You're beautiful."

"And you're hot," she said with a content smile. Oh, yes, she was more than ready to pop.

"Think so?" Xander asked her, snuggling closer, and he felt himself go erect.

Faith's eyes widened as she felt something grow. *Oh, god, am I ready to pop,* Faith thought, but kept the comment to herself. She wasn't going to push, as she knew he wouldn't if the roles were reversed. "Yeah, very much so," she said, and gently pushed her ass back till it rubbed against his crotch. *Of course, that doesn't mean I can't show him I'm available if he is ready,* she thought wickedly, as she felt herself moisten. as she felt Xander turn her gently around, Faith breathed in deep, and thought, *Oh, god.* Facing him, he placed a gentle kiss on her lips, and then part her lips with his. A moment later they were gently tonguing each other. Their arms were wrapped around each other, and gently rubbed and caressed the other. Xander then gently pushed her back, onto her back, and continued kissing for a few seconds. He broke the kiss, and looked into Faith's eyes, as his left hand waited just above her panties. Faith eyes got caught in her throat - this was it! He was silently asking her permission, and she understood; he would make love to her, he would be on top. Faith couldn't remember the last time a guy was on top, but she probably hadn't 'let him'. She hesitated for a moment, and then remembered just what kind of an amazing man was with her, and she gave him a nod.

Xander resumed kissing her, as his left hand disappeared under her panties and quickly found and stimulated her wet vagina, as his right hand opened her bra.


The planks were ready. Diagonally up the heightened parts, so they could ride up it and jump into the pipes. Both of them were sitting on their bikes, feet to the ground, holding their helmets in front of them; Xander on the right, Faith to the left.

"Whatever you do, Faith, don't die," he told her with the smile.

"You do the same," Faith retorted, and they gave each other a nod. Then they put on their helmets, strapped them on good, and started their engines with a kick down on the start pedal. They gave each other one last look, and closed the wind shields of their helmets. They revved the gas a few times, and then rod off full throttle at the same time.


Spike was sitting on his throne contently. His army was swelling, he already had enough he thought to keep that bloody git of a crow Xander of his back, all he had to do were have his gun-bearing minions shoot his crow, and he'd be lunch. With him gone, Spike knew he could take the rest, then Buffy would be his again, all his. This place was perfect, the guy would have to come in some way, and when he did, he'd be surrounded quickly by too overwhelming odds and no way out.

The sounds that started echoing in his sewer throne room were at first unrecognizable. As confused as his minions, he looked around, trying to find out where the sounds were coming from, but they echoed just too much. Just when he thought he identified the sounds as off-road bikes, he was proven right. Two bikes jumped out of the upper pipes and he looked astonished. The riders pulled shotguns from somewhere he hadn't seen, and the shots rang out. His minions already confused were even more so now. The shotgun hits were mostly in the head, and as his minions' heads exploded, so did his minions: to dust. To Spike's anger he recognized Xander, but no crow, and to his even greater anger the shotgun blasts were all aimed at his gun-bearing minions.

Spike watched in astonishment as the bikes reached all the way across the room, and landed with their wheels against the wall. As the bikes started to fall, the riders twisted the bikes around, so their front wheel pointed down, and then they bounced off the wall, to land on both wheels. By the time they had landed, both riders had put their shotguns back in their bikes, and pulled bladed weapons from their backs. Xander a katana, and now that Spike recognized her, Faith her magical, Slayer weapon. Full throttle, the bikes drove off again, right into the crowd of vampires, the weapons at average neck height. Heads were severed instantly, the riders kicked at vampires, and drove over them, the weapons flashed rapidly. Vampires were dusted left and right, and were quickly diminished in numbers. A few of his minions got off shots, but not surprisingly, apart from a few jerks nothing happened to Xander. When Spike saw Faith get a slug in her chest, and do equally nothing more but jerk, and he saw his minions were confused and in disarray, and used as slaughter practice he decided not to stick around. He got up off his throne, quickly jumped in a higher pipe, and ran.

Faith and Xander twisted their bikes around rapidly when they reached the other side of the room, bashing aside a few vampires behind them. They then drove back into the crowd, hacking and slashing, and Faith occasionally driving the stake end of the weapon into heads or chests dusting the vamps easily. So completely in disarray now that panic started to take over, the vampires no longer stood a chance. Faith watched as Xander started finishing off the last few of the remaining vamps, and she decided to go after Spike. She drove up the throne, which backed over and leaned against the wall. She pulled up her bike, landing against the wall, her hands on the break so the moment she touched the wall the wheels would be still. Then she pulled the gas open full, and the boost allowed her to jump neatly into the pipe that Spike had jumped into. She sped off the moment she was in the pipe.

Spike turned around as he heard the sound, and turned his head to look behind him. The bike became very visible, and Spike cursed, "Bloody hell." He started running as fast as possible, the bike rapidly caught up with him.

"Hey, Spikey!" he heard Faith's muffled voice call out loud. "Fancy meeting you here! How's it hanging?" Spike dared another look back, and saw the bike driving straight at him on only the back wheel, the front wheel in the air coming straight for his head. His eyes widened but he was too late, the front wheel rammed into his head and he went down. Half turned he turned onward, landing on his back, and the wheel forcing him painfully to the ground. Faith hit the breaks, the heavy bike painfully pinning Spike's upper body. "And exactly where do you think you're going?" Faith asked him with a sneer.

A new bike engine sound filled the pipe, and not long after Xander joined his girlfriend. "Well, Spike, it seems you're in a tight spot," he told him.

"I have a soul!" Spike called out in protest.

Xander and Faith chuckled. "Yeah, you do, didn't stop you from killing at least a hundred people, now did it?" Xander told him. Then the butt of a shotgun came down at Spike, and all went black for him.


Back in Sunnydale Just before dawn, the next day

"I will do this alone, Faith, just me, Spike and Robin," Xander told the Slayer as they pauzed for a moment after they came past the welcome sign of Sunnydale. Spike was tied and gagged to the bike behind Xander.

Faith looked at him, and said sourly, "What? You don't want me to see your dark side? Think . . ."

"No!" Xander told her forcefully. "This is private, just the guy who was one of the two major causes of my death, the guy whose mother got killed, and me. Got it?" Faith nodded. She lent over, and Xander did the same, giving her a quick kiss.


Three hours later in the Summers home, Buffy looked out the window and saw Robin take off in his car. "Where is Robin going?" Buffy asked to no one in particular.

"Who cares?" Kennedy commented jovially from her position on the chair next to Willow. The witch was in good spirits as well, and was enjoying her breakfast quite a bit.

Faith slowly came down the stairs, yawning widely, and said, "There's nothing like two hours sleep to get a Slayer going again."

Dawn also enjoying her breakfast in the living room, along with the SiTs who didn't have a home or family to go home to, commented, "Really? I must have missed where yawning is considered going again."

"Very funny," Faith told her, and Dawn smiled.

Suddenly Buffy realized something, and asked, "You're back? Where's Xander? Did you find Spike?" Faith nodded. Suddenly her head whipped back to the window, and she exclaimed in revelation, "ROBIN! He went to Xander, they're going torture Spike to death!"

"Yep," Faith replied calmly, and went to the kitchen to get some food.

Buffy got up. "My God! We have to stop them! We can't let that happen!"

"Why not?" Giles asked calmly as he entered from the kitchen.

"He's got a soul now!" Buffy yelled out in exasperation.

Faith sighed heavily, and told her, "Oh, for fuck's sake, Buffy. The guy killed at least a hundred people and turned them into vampires. The bastard is evil!"

"Self-defense!" Buffy answered her quickly. "What choice did he have? Tortured or fight back!? Besides, even if Spike's evil; Xander torturing a souled being her!? Not good, in the category 'I tried to kill every living thing on the planet'-category! We have to stop him." Buffy then ran out, leaving a protesting crowd behind. Moments later she drove off in what was once mom's car, and then the rest of them followed quickly in their own transportation.


"The first place in Sunnydale you came to, is the last place in Sunnydale you're going to be," Xander said, looking around the half-destroyed factory. Spike was restrained, completely nude on a table. His missing hand gave the scene an extra air of morbid. The metal clamps around his neck, wrists, waist, and legs kept him securely restrained. "I thought it was properly round circle, don't you agree?" Xander asked with a wide grin.

"You're sick!" Spike told him, looking at the painted, terrifying face.

Xander suddenly came close, and said, "Yeah, but I'm not the one who killed a hundred people."

"Oh, yeah," Robin's voice sounded coming in on the scene. A lamp above Spike's body illuminated the scene, Xander's face just inside the sign.

"Ah! The scorned son has arrived! Let the party begin!" Xander yelled out, and then laughed insanely. The next moment a stake was rammed into Spike's right shoulder, and he screamed out in pain. "Oh, did that hurt?" Xander laughed. "Here, some water will sooth it," Xander told Spike and opened a plastic, liter bottle of water, and let some of it poor on the stake. The moment it hit Spike's skin it sizzled and smoked, and Spike screamed out in pain, and terror. "Wanna have a go?" Xander suggested to Robin, licking his lips and teeth.

Robin gave an approved growl, and Xander threw a stake at the man who caught it. "Remember though, not the heart, not just yet," Xander warned Robin with a wiggling finger.

"Don't worry, I'd like to see him suffer first," Robin said, looking over Spike. Suddenly he swung the stake and rammed it right in Spike's belly. The vampire screamed, and howled at the pain, and tears flowed from his eyes.

"Oh, is Spikey wikey in pain? Is little baby crying?" Xander asked, and a new stake was rammed into Spike's left shoulder.

"AAAH, FUCK YOU, BASTARD!!" Spike screamed out.

Xander placed his face right above Spike, and said, as he poured some holy water on the wound, "Spike, I'm going to make you pay, not just for the things you did to me, or to Dawn, or to Willow, or Buffy. Not even for what you did to Robin and his mother, or the other Slayer. No, I'm going to make you pay for every child you raped, every woman you killed, every man you ate." Spike didn't stop screaming as the holy water slowly burned away his skin on his shoulder, slowly bit by bit reaching bone. "If you ever go to hell, Spike, you'll think it's heaven compared to what I'm going to do to you!"

Xander pulled the away the holy water, stood back, and then wheeled over something. "Spike, until now holy water only came from outside." The thing he wheeled over became visible. It was a large metal bowl, and Spike couldn't see what was in it from his position, where he groaned and grunted in pain. "Now it goes inside," Xander said, and the sound of water was heard as Xander dipped a hand in. He suddenly moved up his hand, splattering some water over and it landed on Spike's body where it sizzled his flesh and he screamed out more. When he saw the new stake in Xander's hand, both still dripping with water, he screamed out in terror, "NO! NO! NOO, NO, NO, NOOOO!!"

To no avail, the stake came down and was rammed into Spike's right lung, where there followed an immediate sizzling. Spike's scream was horrendous, it tore through the entire factory, as Spike's flesh was eaten by the holy water from the inside out.

"SPIKE!!" Buffy's desperate scream sounded through the entire factory. She arrived at the room in the middle, seeing Spike lie there, smoke coming from his sizzling flesh, screaming out in pain.

"Oh, look at that, Miss Stuck Up, Bitch," Xander said hatefully, and then looked over at Robin. "You let yourself be followed?"

Buffy barged into the room, tears flowing from eyes at Spike's predicament, and then looked over at Xander hatefully. "What are you doing!? He's got a soul! You can't do this! He can be a good man."

"Ugh," Xander said, shaking his head in disbelief, and then his anger and rage took over. "He killed over a hundred people, Buffy, one of them a potential Slayer! And this time there was no trigger. He did it all on his own!"

"It was self-defense, you were coming after him!" Buffy told him desperately, as she watched Xander casually pull out another holy water soaked stake. Robin just looked on at the spectacle, no knowing what to do. "Xander, stop torturing Spike, put that stake down! Even if he's evil, he's not a soulless demon anymore!"

"NO! You're right, he's worse!" Xander accused with anger and rammed the new stake in Spike's left arm, causing a new scream of pain. At that moment the others arrived behind Buffy.

"Oh, my," Giles muttered, a perverse glint in his eye.

Xander grabbed a new stake and rammed it just below the first as he tiraded onward, "Not only is he soulless demon, he's also a human being, both equally evil!" He grabbed a new stake, and rammed it into Spike's elbow joined, as he talked onward, "He's woman obsessed psychopath before turning, after turning and after the re-ensouling, right Spike?" Another stake came down smashing just below the elbow, as Buffy looked in shock nailed to the floor. "You transformed yourself into a poet for Cicely, you became a 'good boy' for your mother - until she stopped wanting to be your lapdog and you staked her, you were a count for Elizabeth, until she found out of course you were no count at all, a brutal murderer for Drusilla . . ." Xander never once paused his tirade, or his staking of Spike's arm with the holy water stakes, until the arm was full, and he continued with Spike's left leg. " . . . for Buffy first Dawn's protector and worm yourself into the sister's mind, then you were the sympathetic ear, the one to hold the secrets only to threaten to unveil them, then you became her soulful hurt boy, until she claimed she needed the killer more, and presto, there's the killer." The stake accompanying the final words embedded in Spike's left knee. "Don't you get it yet, Buffy!? I already told you, he doesn't see a difference pre- and post-soul, because there is no difference." He grabbed a bottle of holy water and sloshed it out over Spike's body increasing his screams. Xander held the bottle then calmly over Spike's crotch, gave everyone a look, and then very slowly let a trickle out. The scream of pain that came from Spike was the worst yet.

"Don't worry, Sparkey, it's gonna get worse," Xander told the vamp, before turning away casually, and picking up another holly water soaked stake.

"NO! This is wrong!" Buffy yelled and went to attack Xander, but with one punch sent her flying against a side wall where she sagged down in shock. The others looked on in shock, too shocked, and too enraptured by what Xander was saying to interfere.

"You still don't get it, do you?" Xander asked Buffy, and casually went over to Spike's right side, pulling the bowl with water and stakes along. "There's no difference because there was nothing good for the demon to corrupt, isn't that right, Spike?" Spike whimpered, and groaned and moaned in pain. "The only thing the demon added onto you is a blood thirst for anyone or anything that has no connection with your present obsession, which happens to be you now, Buf." Xander reached the height of Spike's groin and gave him an evil grin. Spike shook his head throughout his wails, and then casually Xander rammed the stake through Spike's right testicle. The scream following bounced off of the walls, and went through bone and marrow.

"Now we get to you, right Buffy?" Xander asked, grabbed a new stake and rammed it through Spike's right knee, the flesh sizzling and Spike screamed again. "Miss Look at me, I'm the cheerleader captain, miss Slayer, Miss Superiority. You are almost as bad, as this bastard himself. You've considered yourself superior to the whole lot of us from the start, at least back then there was still some humanity left in you, some compassion for human beings, but now? When you save a human being, it's just for the ego boost." Xander laughed out loud, and rammed another stake into Spike's leg. "You learn absolutely nothing, you've been on a degenerating path from the start. Oh, look, Master kills me, Xander drags that coward down in the catacombs, Xander saves my life, good boy Xander, but I'm still sooo infinitely better. Hell, Cordettes, Slayerettes, Willow had us pegged the way you saw us, huh, Buffy? Sheep, that's what we were. Oh, we were the sheep you loved as pets, that actually saw as friends, but still, there was always that thought of 'look how superior I am, I've got my own followers.' Granted, we helped along, forgave you when we should have made you grovel, but you know what they say about hindsight. Then there was Angel, the great and mighty vampire with a soul, who cares what the rest thought. Look how superior I am, I'm not like all the other Slayers, nooo, I can be better than them, I can love my enemy, oooh."

Xander grabbed a few stakes and rammed them one after another into Spike's leg, and the last one in his right hand. "Surprised?" Xander asked the dumbfounded Buffy. "I took a little peak in your mind, after Caleb clobbered you in the school. Interesting sights. Angel kills, but I love my enemy. Angel comes back, don't tell anyone, because I love my enemy, and they don't understand the great love of loving my enemy, 'cause I'm superior, and they're not and they don't understand. Never mind that going hump will bring back a soulless killing monster back, because I'm superior. When you saw Faith stuck in that hell hole of motel room, you felt good about yourself. See, I've got friends and family, I'm the superior slayer. Willow, Giles and me, we screwed up with her Buffy, we screwed it up but good never going to see her, never seeing where she lived and get her out, but at least we acknowledge we screwed up. You still don't think you did anything wrong. You threw Finch to Faith, Buffy, you basically told her 'Here, vamp, dust him', and she did. Then you constantly talked into her, our responsibility this, our fault that. It was an accident, Buffy, the halfwit walked into a fight between vampires and slayers, he was practically begging for it. But it was never about his death so much as your fault, right Buffy? Because your superior, and you couldn't possibly do that, noo, cause a death, Buffy Summers, nooo! So the moment Giles gives you his accident speech you're off the hook, right Buffy?"

Giles spoke up at that point, not liking the implication of his guilt, "Now, wait a . . ."

"SHUT UP!" Xander yelled out in raw anger, and bored his eyes into Giles's. The man gulped and back off. Xander continued, "Throwing Finch was just an accident, not your fault, don't need to take responsibility for that anymore, but tell that to Faith: 'Faith it's all right, it was just an accident, understand? Could have happened to everyone.' Hell no, 'Faith you need to take responsibility for your actions, because I'm superior, mine was just accident, but you killed a man, Faith.'"

Xander got more and more worked up, and rammed a few more stakes into Spike's arm, and ignored his screaming. "Oh, let's go to college. Friends just pretty much created the whole battle plan against the mayor, made your idea into something that could actually work - let's ignore my friends, because I'm superior. I don't need their help, no, shiny new initiative and boyfriend can replace them, except we had to defeat the very initiative and their creation, all together, without me no idea, without Willow and Giles no spell, giant blow up between us. You can't be neglecting us was the whole ante and conclusion. Year after, Dawn comes along, you find out she's fake, what shall we do? Of course, even in our altered memories in virtually all cases we still saved your butt and came up with ideas to beat things you couldn't possibly conceive of - remember rocket launcher? - but hey, even Dracula came for me, obviously I'm superior, I can handle the truth, but my friends? No, we don't tell our friends, we might have come up with lots of stuff much earlier on if we knew about Dawn's real state, but they're just the inferior sheep who can follow orders on occasion, never mind that later on we once again show that we were all needed to built a proper battle plan to which you had input to . . . zero, a few bits and pieces? I got the crane, Willow the magics and the robot, and Anya the hammer."

Xander rammed stakes into Spike's chest now, "Let's not even start about last year, but ah damn, can't leave that out. I'm brought back from the dead. Months earlier, to you the same day, we once again proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can handle everything that comes our way - let's fuck a soulless demon instead, much better reasoning."

Buffy cried out, the words cutting into her, and she wailed, "I was pulled from heaven."

"Boohoo," Xander told her, and Buffy got shocked. "The problems you had, didn't come from heaven, Buff, they came from thinking you're superior. Granted, we screwed it up. We should have left you dead, resist the slayer essence's urges to revive you, and bringing you from the dead probably sent you the message 'I'm indispensable, I'm so, so needed, and even superior' but if you didn't think you were superior to begin with, you would never have taken it to the next level. You could have come to us, you could have cried on our shoulders every damn step of the way, we would have gotten you out of your depression, but a superior person doesn't need weak inferior friends, no, she needs an equally superior - as in physically powerful - soulless demon, right, Buffy? Which where the souled version of our friend comes in - look at him, demon who went to get a soul for superior Buffy. Oh, how superior I am now, right, Buffy? And a superior demon getting a soul for her superior slayer - attempting raping or not - couldn't possibly be an inferior, purely evil thing. Hell no! He's more superior than the friends who've been saving my butt and fighting alongside me for seven years straight. More superior than my own sister. And we couldn't possibly understand your pain, because we're so inferior, and so we don't even get to talk to you anymore, and we couldn't possibly have your back even though we've been having that since you got here, so you choose to save and guard and protect an evil thing over your friends and we can just go and die. You know what Buffy," Xander rammed a stake straight through Spike's throat and everyone watched the gurgling vampire's neck sizzle. "You the biggest piece of inferior trash I've ever seen in my entire life. Take a good long last look at your superior boyfriend, Buffy."

Xander took several steps, pulled a white cord, and a large reservoir was released above Spike. The water came down, splashed on Spike, and he gurgled his screams, sizzling and crackling came from the body. Once the water had pored down, Spike was a mess, flesh half dissolved, in many places the bone could be seen.

"Do the honors, Robin, the red cord," Xander said, with a sadistic smile on his face taking in Spike's state.

Robin turned around, swallowed at the sight, and pulled the cord. A window above opened and sunlight streamed in. Spike's messy body caught a flame almost instantly. Jittering in pain and gurgling Spike's body caught aflame, an additional wave of pain at burning to death, and then Spike was no more.

Willow looked over at Buffy with a shocked face, and so did all the others. "That's how you feel about us? Sheep? Inferior?" Buffy just sat there sobbing, tears running down her cheeks.

"Shit, B, I knew you were fucked up, but this . . ." Faith said from the side position in the crowd.

Xander's shadow covered Buffy as he reached her, and he looked down upon her. "Felt good, finally letting all of that out," Xander said cooly, looking down at Buffy. Buffy looked up, and slowly realized Xander was going to do something to her. "I'm not done with you yet, I'm going to give you something, Buffy. I'm going to give you pain, our pain, I'm going to give you all the pain we've had because of you." Xander squatted down, and grabbed her forehead, "Chloe's pain, the way she felt, the she died, the way you disrespected her, even after her death!" Buffy's eyes went wide as the blast of memories and emotions got blasted into her brain. "All the SiTs pain of your neglect of them, Jennifer's pain as she got her neck snapped, because you couldn't think of anything better to do that walk into a trap. Willow's pain of your neglecting her, the fact you told us she was nothing, and a demon animated corpse had your back, Robin's pain of you shacking up with his mother's killer and telling him you'd let Spike kill him. Here's me dying, the pain of my hero choosing a vampire over me, here's me waking up from a shallow hole in the ground, here's my feelings over your neglect, here's me realizing just how low you've sunk after looking into your mind. And last, but certainly not least, your sisters pain, watching her own sister going on a 'I am the law', everyone bow down to me trip, neglecting YOUR OWN FUCKING SISTER OVER CUDDLES WITH A CORPSE!! And you get to live with hit, for the rest of your life." Xander let go, and Buffy just stared up blankly. Xander grinned, and said, "And to finish it, I'm going to give you the stinking thing that you betrayed us for." Xander grabbed Buffy's forehead again, and grunted, "Here, see just how purely evil that thing was, and you laid in his arms over coming to us!!"

Xander let go, and looked into the horrified eyes of his erstwhile hero. "Nice guy, huh?" Xander asked her, as Buffy started to sob. Xander shook his head, as he felt tears well up in himself. He forced them away, and told her, "If there's anything left of the girl I once considered my hero, if there's anything left of the humanity that was still in you then . . . perhaps you'll learn something."

Xander slowly and heavily got up to his feet, and looked back at the small group of people. He breathed heavily, as if something just died inside of him. He took a few steps forward, and just as Faith was about to catch him, and support him, a loud caw rang out. Xander looked up, and looked at the bird sitting on the crossbeam. Xander nodded, as Faith slung a supportive arm around, and then he said, "Right, almost forgot. Now that we're all here, Will, did you . . .?"

"Uh . . . yes, I managed it," Willow answered.

"Managed what?" Giles asked surprised, the rest of group looking questioningly, Faith included.

"Restoring the balance," Willow explained. "The imbalance that allowed the First to do what it did. I know how to restore it, I will need the weapon though."

"How?" Giles asked her.

"One Slayer, there has to be only one Slayer again," Willow replied, and looked around the room. Kennedy walked over to her with a grave face. Nobody felt like smiling right no.

"Can you do it here?" Xander asked, wanting to get this over with. Willow nodded. "Give her the weapon, Faith," Xander told the dark Slayer. Faith looked at him uncertain, and he gave her a nod. Faith pulled the weapon from her back and tossed it to Willow.

Willow caught it, laid it on both her hands, and held in front of her, chest height. "Here goes," Willow muttered, while everyone looked with fascination and a little trepidation. Willow went into a trance, she looked onward into nothing it seemed, and then her eyes lid up light blue. "What has shattered become whole again, what is lost in the wrong people, return. The spirit is shattered, the spirit must be mended." Willow went a little rigid, and suddenly a flock of black blotches left her mouth, ears, nose, and eyes. Both Xander and Giles went rigid as well, and similar black mists came from them. All three the mists were pulled into the magical weapon on Willow's hands. "One has it still, unjustly - twice dead, the spirit should be gone, reunite it with its missing pieces."

Buffy groaned out, and everyone looked over at her. A thick black, oily mist started pouring forth from her cavities, forming a flowing icky thing. Once all of it was out of Buffy it suddenly shot forward and entered the weapon. Willow took a deep breath, and then seemed to deepen the trance, looking up lightly, as wind and power started whipping up around her. "Mother Earth, hear my plea, once many times ago, the land was covered in darkness. People died by the darkness. People saw only the darkness, and its strength. They feared the darkness. They were blinded by the darkness. Campion against that darkness, they created from the darkness. The champion's weapon the same way." The power grew, the astonished people's hair present whipped about their faces. A gentle rumble started coming from the ground, even as dark clouds formed overhead. "Mother Earth, you were offended by our actions, but we learned from our mistakes, hear our plea." The bowl with holy water ignited in fire, and the same happened with several more bowls around the room. "The essence of the slayer, the spirit of the champion, the spirit of darkness is here, it needs to be cleansed." Small fountains of water suddenly erupted around Willow, and she was standing in a pool of water a moment later.

"Whoa," Dawn muttered, as the rest looked on in astonishment.

Willow continued undisturbed, "Cleansed of darkness, purified of the demonic, the champion of the Earth can be greater still. A hero you, Mother Earth, can be proud of. She still needs strength, and power. The instincts of the tiger." Willow's body went rigid, and suddenly a tiger's head detached itself from Willow's face, and quickly expanded. The spirit roared, and then dove right into weapon. A screech came from the axe, and a dark oily mist tried to dislodge itself, but suddenly there was the roar of the tiger, and its head became visible and sank its teeth into the black thing, and grappled with it, not letting it escape. "Nobility of the wolf." A wolf spirit detached itself from Willow, and then dove into the weapon, joining his tiger brother. "Sight of the eagle." A majestic eagle spirt rose above Willow, and then with a loud call dove in. The screeching from the weapon increased, and its black missed started pulling and tearing. The weapon vibrated, and the sounds of the animal spirits became triumphant. Willow seemed to pull onto something, and suddenly the Earth around moved, and made a ridge through the pool of water, and then ants came crawling out of the ground, they marched up the ridge and then up Willow.

"You certain this is safe, being so close?" Faith whispered in awe at Xander.

She felt his arm around her squeeze reassuringly while answering, equally in awe, "If Willow says she can do it here, it's safe."

"Endurance of the polar bear," Willow intoned, and a whit bear spirit arose, roared and dove into the weapon, as the ants reached her arm, and marched over it toward the weapon. "Smell of the hyena," Willow intoned with greater intensity, nearing the end. A hyena spirit detached itself from Willow, laughed, and then burst into the weapon. "Strength of the ant." The ants coiled around the weapon, a mass of black shapes as if they were squeezing. Amidst the screeching there seemed to be coming a cracking, and the ants transformed air and a twister suddenly howled around the weapon before disappearing into it. A snake swam up out of the water, and coiled itself around Willow's legs. When it reached the weapon, Willow intoned, "Agility of the snake." The snake wrapped itself around the weapon completely. It cut itself on the blade only when it wanted to, at same time as it sank its poisonous fangs into it. Instead of blood, there was fire, which consumed the snake, and then the newly formed fire snake disappeared into the weapon. "Healing of the salamander," Willow intoned, and from the bowl on fire a salamander jumped. As it came into contact with the slayer weapon it turned into water, and then washed around it, before disappearing into it. "Sensitivity of the fly," Willow intoned again, and a fly suddenly flew to above the weapon, turned into sand dropped on the weapon and disappeared into it.

Willow took a deep breath, and slowly rose the weapon above her head. There was lighting and thunder, and the a piece of the roof was blown away. Some dust came falling down but that was. "Mother Earth," Willow intoned with finality, and pleading. "Hear our call, purify this spirit, and the weapon. Cleanse it of the demonic, remove the darkness, reborn into light, rebear it for this Earth." Everybody looked up through the hole, and saw lightning being pulled to a point above the hole. Some took an involuntary step back. Then suddenly, from the point, a power lighting strike struck down, directly onto the weapon. Willow shuddered as her power rose protectively around herself. The wind blew with incredible strength, and the power of the lightning bold nailed everyone to the floor. As quickly as it came, the lightning stopped, and the storm above slowly started to dissolve.

Willow lowered the weapon - which now glowed with a serene inner light - back down to chest level. Once again Willow took a deep breath. Only one thing left to do. "Cleansed of darkness, this spirit misses a vessel, misses a purpose. Unify it with the old, destroy the its darkness, find the bearer of the first, and make her whole." A similar mist as before rose from the weapon, encircling and folding on itself, only this time it was glowing white. The moment it was fully detached from the weapon, the blue glow disappeared from Willow's eyes, and she staggered back and dropped to her ass. Kennedy quickly went over and helped her sit up. The white spirit slowly and gently even fluttered over to Faith, who took an involuntary step back.

"Don't worry, Faith," Willow groaned out in her normal voice. "Just relax and let it happen."

Suddenly the mist seemed to latch onto the Dark Slayer and it shot forward, poring into her eyes, nose, ears and mouth. Shocked Faith felt the energy flow into her. When it had all entered, a darker shape seemed to vibrate into her, and suddenly she screamed out, "AAAH!" She doubled over, grabbing her stomach, "It hurts!"

"Faith, don't try to fight it!" Willow called out.

Xander placed a hand on her head gently, and said, "Don't fight, Faith."

Faith seemed to relax, but still groaned out. The darker shape inside her slowly became less dark. It became lighter and lighter, then there was a quick light flashing in her, and two shapes were seen to muse. "OH!" Faith called out, and suddenly stood up, rigid, her eyes glowed white. "Oh, my," she said, and then there was an explosion of light. A sphere of energy burst from the Slayer and rapidly expanded outward. As it passed by potentials, they shuddered, and went rigid a dark point on their foreheads became visible, and then turned to a bright white light, before going invisible again.

"It's done," Willow said and awe, as the sphere rapidly went outward. First Sunnydale, then Los Angeles, San Francisco, the sphere expanded in all directions, making people look in shock as the sphere past them by, mostly untouched, a few who's dark spot turned bright white. Outside of LA it had expanded so much it was no longer visible, but that didn't mean it wasn't still expanding, and eventually would go around the entire world.


Baseball field Somewhere

"Listen, all bases are loaded, we need good solid hit, not a home run. If the pitch is perfect for one, go for it, but if not, just hit that ball somewhere in left field. We can win this, Marlina, just don't screw this up," the coach said, and then sent the girl to the plate. He felt guilty for saying that last part, he shouldn't have, but it hat just come out. She was just a kid, a kid with potential, but just too much impulsiveness.

*I'll show him! I'll show him! Screw this up, hmpf. I've hit the most home runs of them all,* Marlina thought ready at the plate, a nervousness running through her. The pitch came, she swung the bat with all her might and . . . missed.

"STRIKE ONE!" the umpire called out.

Marlina, all of fourteen years old, hated this. Guys telling her this, guys telling her that. She had always felt a need to show everyone up, the need to attack, not just to hit. Suddenly a weird sensation went through her, the boys and a few girls on the field told themselves they just saw a black point on her forehead appear, turn bright white, and then disappear again. With the little demonic essence gone, replaced by a predator of nature, a calmer voice spoke, *Yeah, but you're also the one with the lowest batting average, because you always go for the home run . . . and he is the coach.*

Marlina blinked once, and there came the pitch. She swung, and it hit. The ball sailed low over the ground to the left right through the middle. Boys of the opposite team ran for it, tried to grab it but missed. Marlina was already halfway to the first base, as she looked back and saw her fellow team mate sprinting toward home, while the crowd of friends and parents screamed out their encouraging and approval. The coach made a fist, hissing 'yes', while the rest of the team in the primitive dug out were on their feet and cheering as the first of the three team mates reached home. In the small stands, on Marlina's mother's forehead a black dot appeared as well, and turned bright white before going away.


The man's fist connected with the slightly pudgy young woman and she crashed to the floor. She cried as her husband called her names and beat her, and kicked her some more. "NOW DO AS I TOLD YOU!" he yelled at her, and went back to his chair.

The woman slowly got up, crying. Many women stay with these kinds of men because they have no self esteem, or because their version of a holy book says it isn't proper to get a divorce, or for several other reasons. Not this young woman, in this young woman a small thing sat, and was festering, a demonic essence thriving on pain and suffering. That demonic spirit lit up as it got attacked by a much greater thing, and then crushed, replaced by a bright white spirit of nature. The young woman went away to the kitchen, 'to do as her husband said', picking her husband's cell phone from a table on the way. She went out the back door, ran. The demonic thing no longer there, she had no reason to stay. She called 911, after that she called an old friend her husband had forbidden her to ever see again. She would testify on trial, and the man would go to jail for a very long time.


Across the world similar cases happened, girls and women guided by a piece of demon embedded deep within them, suddenly coming to their senses as a whole new piece filled a void they never knew they had. But the people in Sunnydale would never know it. Willow though did feel the potentials darkness aligning to light. "Wow," she said, "there are hundreds of them. All changing."

Faith came down from her ordeal, somewhat dizzy, and Xander supported her, grinning.

"Wha-what did you do?" Buffy asked with teary eyes. She got up, wobbled, and tested her strength by picking up an iron bar. She managed to pick it up, but she was straining.

"Sorry, Buffy, but it had to be done, I wish there was another way," Willow said, as Kennedy helped her up to her feet. "I took your Slayerness, your Slayer spirit or essence, and I gave it to Faith after purifying it from the demon. It was the only way to restore the balance that was so completely shattered, the only way to make sure no one could try to make use of it another time." Willow turned to Faith and Xander and said, "Faith, be careful. With two slayer essences merged back to one, and purifying it off the demonic, and strengthening it with nature, you should be a lot stronger now. Somewhere halfway between what you were before, and Xander's strength. So be carefully picking things up, and grabbing a hold of people until you've gotten used to it."

"Okay," Faith said a little shaken, her legs still trembling.

"Xander, did you see?" Willow asked with a smile, pointing at her eyes. "No black eyes." Then she hugged Kennedy tightly to her.

"Yeah, I saw," Xander said, and turned to look at the dumbfounded Buffy. "That means Buffy, no more killer instincts, no more boosted strength, no more added speed, no more super agility, no faster healing, and since you never really learned any combat skill, just let the Slayer essence guide you, it probably also means no more fighting skills. The SiTs could probably kick your butt, and so could Dawn. You're just a girl, just like you always wanted."

"What? No!" Buffy whimpered in shock.

"You really can't make up your mind, can you?" Xander asked, and then walked toward Dawn, gently pushing Faith along. He placed a hand on Dawn's shoulder, and with a pained expression he softly said, "Take care of her, Dawn. She'll need it. And get her into therapy, lots of it."

Dawn, misty eyed, asked weakly, "You are going to come back, aren't you?"

"Of course, especially since there's one good thing about being buried in the back yard, nobody knows I died. Means I still got my job and identity and everything." Xander gave her a big grin, and squeezed her shoulder supportively. "I'll help out when I get back, but I have an ex-girlfriend to wake from a coma. Last thing on the list, then all the wrongs have been righted."

Dawn smiled and nodded, before going over to her sister. Xander gave his greetings to the others, explaining quickly about Cordelia, and very briefly about the situation at Wolfram & Hart last he knew about it, and then he went outside, Faith by his side. "So, you're coming with me huh?" Xander asked the brunette. She nodded. "You're not going to go all jealous when I wake her up? I'll be hugging her undoubtedly," Xander asked her grinning widely.

"As long as she doesn't try to kill me in a jealous rage and it stays with harmless hugging and a few kisses, there's nothing to worry about," Faith told him, as they slowly walked toward their bikes. The crow was already sitting on Xander's saddle, waiting.

Xander sagged somewhat, and Faith caught him. "Sorry," he said calmly, "facing Buffy fully finally, and seeing her so . . . it took more out of me."

"Xander," Faith replied with sensitive tone. "I don't want to be your hero, just let me be your rock, ok?" He looked at her strangely, and she said smiling, "It's something Dawn told me, so you can trust the source, alright?"

Xander nodded, "All right, Faith, you're stubborn enough to be a rock."

"Bastard," Faith retorted with a smile.

The End

Author's Notes: Oof. Finished, finally. I will not write a sequel, why not? In order to write the anger-filled CrowXander I had to tap into pieces of myself that have left me drained. It's no wonder James O'Barr made his Crow comic after his girlfriend died in an accident with a drunk driver, and took him years and years before he wrote another one. Odly, on top of feeling drained I also feel refreshed, and ready to write the next Buffy Z part. I've never really felt so psyched about it as now. Somehow writing this became a cleansing experience, and I somehow must have wrote something (probably my hatred for S7, still hate it though) off of me while I did this, and so I am completely not capable of writing Xander waking up Cordelia. I'm done with CrowXander.

If anyone wants to write the sequel, go ahead. Originally there was meant to be an epilogue behind here, that limited the scope of any sequels, which was scratched the moment I realized I was going to be crashed by the end of the story. So what happens to Xander? Does his relationship with Faith last, can he have kids still, or does he have to give up his immortality to do so? Will he? Or does he find it more important to keep saving people? How long with Faith live before a demon gets her, or will she live to a ripe old age? I don't know, if you do, feel free to write it. All I ask is acknowledging this as the first one, and send me a heads up that you're going to do it. If more than one comes, I can send those who come after the first to him/her, so you can see if you want to collaborate in some way, whatever way, or not.