What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted

Author: eckles71 <eckles71[at]bigpond.com>

Sequel to Icewing's "A Letter from the Heart" found on B/X Fanfic Site, Message No# 12460.

Dedicated to Icewing; Stephen Howe; Gabrielle Harris & Serenity Goddess.

Disclaimer: All BtVS & Angel Characters are the property of Joss Whedon.

Couples: B/X...eventually, slight X/D-bet that got your attention :-).

Summery : After 5 years of wandering the world, trying to recover emotionally from the damage set in "A Letter from the Heart", Xander Harris returns to Sunnydale to face those that had hurt him.

Note : <> is to represent thoughts.

The Return of the Wayward.

<Dear God, this place hasn't changed a bit. You'd think that after all this time something would be different. I mean, it's the same colour scheme, same uniforms, same staff, hell, there's even the same old customers. It's like everything was as I left it 5 years ago. Creepy, scary cree***>.

The exaggerated chirpyness of Megan Harrison intruded upon the scruffy strangers private thoughts. As always, his first impulse was to react aggressively. He had to fight the wish to grabbing this unknown person from the front of her starched uniform and pin her to the opposite wall until she apologised, for what, he didn't care, truth was, he hadn't been listening to a word she said. But she resembled 'her', even if it was only a little bit around the eyes, nose & mouth, and that, as far as he was concerned, was enough. Yet those day's where such a reaction would have been common were long gone, he was better now, he was better physically, mentally and emotionally. He proved as much to himself when he walked by that god awful, and cheery "Welcome to Sunnydale, Cal." Sign. He was back, and he had returned with the purpose of moving on with his life. The rage, and darkness that inhabited his soul needed to be exercised, or it would eventually drive him insane. For four years, he had traveled the planet, going places few dared, with only the simple desire to find inner peace. It was therefore ironic, that with all he had accomplished, all the lives he had saved, and with all the skills he had picked up in his journey's. It took the last surving member of the Tran'dolki Clan, an Empath Demon in Singapore, to inform him that which he already knew. He had to return home, and face, in his mind, a different demon, one with blonde hair. "Sorry?"

"I said 'What can I get you sir?" Megan had been serving Pastries, Donuts and Coffee to the good people of Sunnydale for close to eight years. In that time she had witnessed many frightening things, mainly during the day's she had to work the nightshift. Her only protection, a 15 year-old baseball bat behind the counter, a silent alarm that rarely worked, and a consistent Police presence banking up on free donuts and Java. In that time she had been robbed a dozen times, and even assulted twice from Gang members on PCP. She knew fear, what it was and how it looked. But the young man sitting infront of her, well, she could tell from his eyes, his dead brown eyes, that thou she knew fear, this stranger was intimate with it, he made fear his 'bitch'. And that frightened her more than any drugged up Gang member ever could.

"Uuummmmmm, a Dozen Jellies to go, and a Cup of Coffee, Black, three sugars to drink here thanks". As Megan left, the stranger patted down his long black hair, tying it at the back with a rubber-band he picked up from the counter. True he was still 'scruffy', he was wearing cloths that hadn't been washed in three days, and sporting a face that hadn't touched a razor in the same amount of time, but with any luck this woman, a person whom he didn't know, or even care about, will no longer pull the same expression as she did when his order was taken.

As goods, currency and a generous tip changed hands, the stranger once again returned to his private thoughts.

<I have to be careful; I cannot do this on thier terms. It has to be mine. I'm at peace with the person I've become; I cannot let them try and make me who I was. I'm nolonger the whipped loser of the group, I'm my own man. I'm here for me, not them. I know what they think of me, well now it's time they know what I think of them.>

As the front door opened and closed the bell attached broke the wandereer from out of his trance like state, he peered down and observed the now empty coffee cup in his hand. He could have requested a free re-fill, he was tempted, but that would only have delayed the inevitable.

Peering at his battered watch, he read the time 08:23am to himself silently. He then estimated the walking distance and it's duration to his next stop. <Perfect>.

Slinging his duffle bag over his right shoulder, and picking up the paperbag of 12 Jelly filled Donuts he slipped himself off the stool, and made his way to the exit of the Diner.

With the crisp californian morning air enveloping him, and the wafting aroma a Jelly Donuts attacking his senses. He began on one of the hardest walks of his life. With each step he played the possible reaction of his unannounced return in his mind, and provided possible counter reactions. By 08:49am, he stood before a door he remembered opening so many times before. But not once during any of those experiences did he have within him the same feeling of anxiety as he did now. Tentatively he lifted his right hand, closed his knuckes into a ball and knocked on the hardwood surface offering his 'shave-and-a-hair-cut-two-bits tap'.

He was startled as he heard movement behind the door, and had to steele himself from making a quick dash for parts unknown.

The person began speaking even before the door was fully opened and thier visitor spied "I was expecting you much later, it is a Sunday after all, you can all sleep in if you wan***........Xan...,Xander?"

"Hey G-Man, long time no see"

And with that, a very dishevelled middle-aged Englishman, tackled AleXander Lavelle Harris to the ground.

Chapter 1
"Donuts & Regrets"

Of all the reunion senerios that had played through the mind of Xander Harris in the past 20 minutes, regarding the expected greeting he was to recieve from the man he had thought akin to a father. Being tackled to the bricked paving of in the courtyard of said "father's" apartment complex was not one of them.

"Giles?...Giles, can you get off me? Because if you don't, I think your nieghbours are going to start wondering just how good a friends we are." At these words, the now flustered former Libarian, hastily pushed himself off the young man, and began to scope his surrounding for any signs that his "exhuberance" had been observed by prying eyes.

"Thanks Giles, you were beginning to crush my donuts." This statement was followed by a perplexed look upon the Englishman, it was one of those true 'Kodac Moments', however this look was momentary removed when the Englishman spied the now jam stained paperbag still firmly held in the 'runaway's' left hand.

Spotting Xander's crooked smile and his realisation of how foolished they must have both looked to the casual observer, Giles released a polite chuckle, followed by the first words spoken to this young man in five years. "OK Xander, I'll let you up - only if you give me your word of honor that you won't leave?"

"Honor? I haven't had that in a while Giles, but you have my word....until I decide to leave"

Xander was then basked in the stern features of Rupert "Ripper" Giles, and decided to add to his last statement would probably be the best coarse of action <no point in aggrevatine the situation anymore> "I wouldn't be here Giles if I didn't want to be"

With a conseding nod Giles gestured his "wayward son" into his home.

<Yep, just as I thought, nothing has changed, sofa & coffee table still in the same position, same paintings and still's on the wall, I bet he even still has an entire shelf of his pantry dedicated "Earl Grey" only>

Placing his duffel bag by the frount door and stolling to the coffee table, Xander ripped open the paper bag, sat down on the sofa and began to lick the excess jam off his fingers. "They're still good, I think we can save 'em Capt'n." Xander's humor, however was lost on the Watcher, as the realisation to the identity of who it was that was now sitting in his Lounge Room struck him. This arwkardness quickly entrapped both men, until Xander felt obligated to break the spell.


"Xander where in God's name have you been, I've...we've, been worried sick. Do you have any idea what you have put us all through? Willows late night computer searches. My Lord even Angel has been looking for you, and he has enough on his plate at the moment*"

"OoooKkkayyy, so this is how's it's going to be huh? No - I'm glad your alright, what have you been upto Xander for the last 5 years, or why are you even here? It just going to be about you guys huh? Man, why should I even be surprised at that!"

The bitterness of Xanders words hit it's mark "Your right Xander, I'm sorry, you don't have to explain yourself, or your actions to me. It's just your letter had everyone so concerned, and when we didn't hear further from you, well, I guess we let our imaginations get the best of us, and we began to interpet it's meaning ... differently"

"Really? How 'differently' did you interpet it Giles?"

"....as a suicial note", as their eyes met, Xander could not contain it any longer, and for the first time in 2 and a half years <give or take a month> he burst out in genuine laughter.

After he had calmed down, Xander addressed the stunned Watcher "A suicide note? Well, I guess I could see how you would have thought that, it wasn't exactly a raye of sunshine, huh? No Giles, as you can see it wasn't a suicide note, it was just the ramblings of a guy in a very 'bad place', trust me, if I wanted to be dead, I think even 'the Zeppo' could be capable of pulling that off without screwing it up.

"The Letter, Giles, was what I said it was, a Goodbye."

"If it was a Goodbye Xander, then why are you here?"

"Simple G-man - Closure. The circumstances of my ...departure, weren't ideal. I had just overheard two people I loved and cared most in the entire world agree that I was useless, a distraction and hinderence, even an annoyance at times. This has plagued me for the past 5 years, it's been like a growth on my soul, and if I don't settle it up soon, it's either going to drive me insane, or someone is going to die - and it won't be me."

It was Xanders last 10 words that took Giles by surprise, and he felt the immediate need to absolve his charges of any responsibility "You could have come to me - to us, we could have talk this out, you didn't have to runaway".

Before Giles could continue Xander rose from his sitting position with the speed of a striking snake, and stood before the seated Watcher utering restrained words that made his blood chill "Let's understand one thing Giles, I-DON'T-RUN-FROM-ANYTHING, I walked away. I wasn't needed, or wanted, so I left. Hell, you think it's the first time I've been called useless, my Mom and Dad have been calling me that my entire life. But atleast they had the courtesy to do that to my face. Willow and 'Her', did it behind my back in the dead of night in a cemetery. For 8-minutes my world crumbled around me as I heard them conspire, yeah, that's right Giles - conspire, to limit my involvement in the group to the point where I would eventually be doing nothing at all. So who was I suppose to go to Giles - you?" The passion of his words were almost lost to Giles, as he was drawn to the steele gaze of his once mirthful young friend

"You could have Xander, I would have been there for you and*"

"And you would have still taken her side, like you have on oh so many occassion's" Slowly Xander reseated himself on the couch, never once swaying his cold gaze from it's target.

"Let me provide you with some examples shall I? How about when Angel came back from Hell, I was alone Giles, I know you agreed with me, with everything I said. I drew a line in the sand, saying what she did was wrong, and with the exception of Cordy I had no support. 'She' should have told us Angel had returned, and she didn't. I was in the right, she was in the wrong, and I had no- one to back me up. So what happens - I come across looking like some jealous jerk"

"I did agree with you Xander, infact I told her how disappointed I was in her after you all left*"

"Emphasis on 'AFTER' Giles. And that's not the first time, what about the Sisterhood of the Jhe, or better yet when you, Angel, and the Slayer did that sting on Faith and the Mayor. I so enjoyed taking pain killers for the following three weeks, as the left-side of my face healed from being nearly caved in by Angels fist. Or how about, man, I have a dozen of them. Events where I was left to take the brunt, and didn't recieve so much as a thankyou, or sorry."

"Your.....right Xander, we took you for granted, and if it's any consulation, that was something we did eventually pay for. When you....walked away, things changed. The girls were beside themselves with grief - of coarse that was because they, we, thought you had killed yourself. Willow, well, she abandoned magic and her studies, and reverted back to who she was when I first met her. The confident young lady disappeared, and was replaced by the timid wallflower. As for Buffy, she couldn't cope at all, but unlike Willow, she decided not to withdraw from college. She still attended the lectures, but her mind and concentration were elsewhere. She eventually failed too many subjects, and was uncermoniously kicked-out.

"Her duties as the Slayer also suffered, in the first two weeks of your absence, she was nearly a killed a dozen times over. If not for the presence of myself, Rielly, and yes, even Spike, she would have met her maker long ago. Sadly her depression didn't improve, within three months, Rielly left her, not bareing to continue watching her mental health decline further. I'm sad to say this provided Spike an excellent opportunity*"

"He didn't hurt her, did he?"

Softness enveloped Giles features as he acknowledged for the first time in ten minutes the obvious concern in the young man "No he didn't 'hurt' her, just the opposite to infact"

"What do you mean Giles?" a stunned expression accompanied this question.

"I mean, the two of them since have been ...involved*"

"What! Are you telling me, she is quite happy knocking boots with a remorseless mass murdering SOB, yet she wouldn't even give me the time of day. Dammit; I was there for her every step of the way, I loved her... I truely loved her. When she was down in the Master's Lair, I risked everything to find her, I bought her back when everyone was content to let her die. But did I even recieve a thanks, the closest I got was to be used by her in an attempt to make Angel jealous, what is it with her? She's not interested unless your absent a pulse?

For years she made choices - bad ones, regarding relationships, and as always I was there to pick up the pieces. How could this happen Giles, why didn't you stop this?"

"Don't you think I, we, tried. We used everything at our disposal, logic and reason, on both of them, we even tried threatening Spike with a sound staking. He just said that if that was how we felt he'd happily walk away, and leave the Hellmouth for good. Unfortunatley with Angel in LA; and Buffy still not at 100%, we needed Spikes extra 'muscle'*"


"Of coarse not, but Tara did an enchantment and it revealed no spell or force had been used on her, everything was of her own free will"

This final statement was welcomed by the sullen features of Xander Harris, as her tried to seperated the girl he knew from the woman she had become.

"If it's any consulation Xander, the only apparent emotions in this 'relationship' are from Spike. For Buffy it is simply a physical act"

"Thanks G-Man, but that's no consulation at all, atleast with Angel, Parker & Rielly I knew there was SOME emotion supporting her decisions, with this ..... Why?"

"I believe, and bare in mind this is just a theory. She is doing this as some kind of punishment - quite possibly because of her involvement in driving you awa*"

"Ohhh Noooo! Don't you dare try and pin this crap on me, this is all down to her. She's a grown woman, capable of making her own decisions and own mistakes. Or have you all forgotten that? Anybody else screws up, they take responsibility, with her it's 'She's the Slayer, She's got the Whole bleeding World resting on her shoulders'. Well Giles, as I remember it, she wasn't alone, there were seven of us. Her, you, me, Angel, Willow, Oz & Cordy, her burden wasn't hers alone, it belonged to all of us. She just enjoyed playing the martyr"

Realising that this was a discussion best suited for another time, Giles altered the topic as quickly and as smoothly as he could "Well recently our compliment has changed slightly, it now consists of Buffy, Spike-of coarse, Myself, Willow & Tara, Dawn and Christian"

"Okay Giles I'll bite, who are Christain & Dawn? Oohhh and good save by the way" At this the two men share a sad smile.

"Christain is a young Druid, since Willow stopped participating in magical rites, it has focused the responsibility onto Tara. Christian's arrival was a God Sent. And Dawn, well, she's Buffy's sister*"

"Whhoooaa, what, when did this happen?"

"A couple of years ago. Dawn was originaly and ancient deminsional key, but her monk charges, felt that they could not successfully keep her safe. So they placed her in Buffy's care. Using Buffy's genetic pattern to simulate what a younger sibling would appear like the monks created her a form and implanted false memories via magic to those familiar, and living close too the Summers family. If you were still here, there is agood chance that you also would have been effected."

"Excuse me Giles, but doesn't that mean that this Dawn is more of a clone? I mean if you use a genetic strand as a marker, and create life based on the DNA of that strand, doesn't that mean regardless of the appearence, that creation is astually a clone of it's donar? What? You think I've been living in a cave the last five years, I've been reading, I know stuff"

A whisper of a smile escaped across Giles lips "As you have bought up the subject, what exactly have you been doing the last five years?"

Running his figers through his hair, Xander exhaled and replied in a wearry voice "That Giles, is a long Story, too long to tell for this tired traveller." Glancing at his beatened, yet faithful, digital watch he stood up and began to make his way to the front door. Slinging his Duffel Bag again over his right shoulder, Xander proceeded to leave "I'll tell you about it after a desent sleep, and Giles, I'd appreciate you not tell the others I'm back yet, I'd hate to have to kill you" This last statement, earlier, would have sent chills down his spine, but Giles felt real progress had been made since his arrival, and was confident that it was infact an attempt at levity, a very poor attempt at levity.

"You have my Word and an Englishman, that I will utter not one syllable of your presence - yet" Again the men shared a smile. "Xander if you don't mind my enquiring mind, where are you going?"

"To find a bed, a place to crash. I came straight here from the road"

"Don't be so foolish, save whatever resources you have available. I have a spare room, it's not in use at the moment, so it's yours if you want it, for however long you need it. That is if you wish it?"

"I wish" peering up the 14 steps to the second story landing, Xander commented "You aren't making me this offer to keep an eye on me, and to make sure I don't go anywhere prematurely are you?"

"Whatever gave you that idea?"

"Just paranoid I guess, oh and Giles, my condition still stands, I don't want them to know about me yet"

"Well then, if that's your wish, you had best, get yourself hidden away, as I expect them all here for a debriefing of last nights patrols in 30-40 minutes."

"Thanks Giles" and with steady rythmic pacing Xander Harris ascended the staircase to a welcome bed. Not noticing the grateful smile now creeping across the Watchers face.

Chapter 2a

Giles couldn't restrain the grin on his face no matter how much he tried. Xander was back, Xander was alive, Xander was now sleeping in his spare bedroom. The only cloud on his horizon, was his pledge to the young man to hold his tongue regarding his presence.

Not an easy feat, especially considering sharing Xander's return was his first reaction upon seeing Willow, Christian, Dawn and eventually Buffy when they walked through his front door. The same door Xander had strolled through no more than an hour earlier, but his word was given, and as his father had alway's instructed him "An Englishman's word is his bond". And if there was any hopes of returning the life essence back to the 'Scoobies' <Good Lord, we haven't referred ourselves to that name in years>, he had to display to Xander that he, they, could all be trusted.

But if he was truely honest with himself, he had to admit he felt a little bit apprehensive towards Buffy and Willow discovering the truth. After more then 4 years of believing they were responsible for his 'suicide' they have only now just begun to recover and move on from thier guilt. His recent discussion with Xander revealled that there was still a certain amount of bitterness directed towards the former Wicca, and Slayer, and he couldn't help but fear for the eventual one-on-one that was to follow. Especially with Buffy, whom Xander had never referred to by name, and seemed to hold the most responsible for his... 'walking away'.

"Geez Giles, you look like the cat who swallowed the canary, what happen, you get a little luvin' last night?"

<Sigh> "No Dawn, I just had a ... visit from a dear old friend, you just missed them actually, thier trying to get some rest upstairs, so I would appreciate it if you all kept your din to a minimum". With this request Giles scanned the faces of those in the room, to make sure that quiet was now the watchword of the day. After recieving nods from all present he waved his hands at the four young people and they then broke themselves off to thier typical sitting locations, whilst Giles retired to the kitchen to place some water on the boil in order to make some fresh tea for his guests.

"Oooooo Donuts, just the perfect nutritional supplement after battling the army of darkness all night" cooed Willow from her cornered seat on the sofa.

"Will, I don't think dusting two newby vamps qualify as an army, it barely qualifies as exercise". Buffy responded in a dry tone with only a hint of mirth in her voice.

Willow just gently squeezed Buffy's right hand, and offered a small smile. This level of interaction was still arkward for them both, after all the tears, the anger, and the heated word's shared between the two, over the last number of years on who was more guilty, or more responsible, and who hurt the most as a result. Despite how Willow felt, she knew Buffy would win on all counts. So to ease the pain, both made a consious effort not to ever speak his name aloud, it bought up to many unhappy memories.

"So Giles, did your 'old friend' bring the energy food" Dawn drew preverse pleasure in baiting the Watcher, she remembered, well she didn't actually remember, her memories were subjegated from others and her presence was imposed upon them, but as far as she was concerned - they were hers, the Dark Haired Youth 'Whose-name-is- never-spoken' being able to get Giles to pinch the bridge of his nose 6 times in a minute, out of annoyance and frustration. Dawns record thus far has only been 4. But she was confident, that at her current rate she'd break his record by the years end.

"As a matter of fact they did Dawn"

"Excellent way to reboot the old reserves after a morning of hot, sweaty, sex". Willow, Buffy & Christian exchanged looks, they knew this game well. And the best way to move on from Dawn's baiting, was to just ride it out.

"How many times do I have to tell you Dawn, I have not had sex"

"Ever, Giles?.......If you don't mind me saying, that's just soooo sad" <Off come the glasses, up comes the left hand - pinch, SCORE>

The Gaze leveled off by the englishman could have turned milk, the 20 year old just offered her patented 'I'm the most innocent and loveable thing in creation' smiles, and skipped to the other end of the couch and straddled the corner in a simular fashion that her sister was doing at the other end.

At her arrival, Christian, who was sitting on the cushion section beside her begain to fidget, after diving his hand between the sections of the sofa, he retreaved a beaten, worn wallet. "Giles is this your Guest's?"

Panic consumed the Watcher as he had to acknowledge the possibility, that the Wallet did indeed belong to his visitor. As Christian was sitting in the exact same place Xander had earlier. Thrusting out his hand to retrieve the wallet from the young Druid before he could open it and announce to all present identity of it's owner. "Thank you Christain, I'll make sure he get's it when he awakens"

"He, Giles? <Glasses, Pinch -*2*>, I didn't know that you kink, sorry slip of the tongue, were interested in that kind of thing? <Pinch - *3* - go for your record girl>."

"I mean*"

"That's enough young lady, if your intending to open your mouth, might I suggest it be too consume one of the Jelly Donuts, it would be definetley much more healthier for you then anyother alternative use for it at this time" With those stone words Giles retired to the kitchen to place the now boiled water in a civilized teapot, and to conceal the wallet he had just successfully stealed away with.

With Giles absences Christian began to ponder the wallet he had just had fished out of his hand. Chris, was an avid mystery reader, nothing gave him greater pleasure then to solve a problem well in advanced to the solution being revealed. This, balanced with his obvious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, made him unbearable to be around when he could not get the answers he seeked "Curious"

Willow & Buffy exchanged a knowing look, and Dawn, who also knew what was to come sought Giles company in his kitchen (she still had 10 more seconds to break her record after all).

"Curious & Strange...."

Willow was the first to crack "OK Chris, what's so curious and strange" <as if I didn't need to ask>.

"Mr Giles Male-Sex-Friend's Wallet" this statement illicted a snort and a giggle from both girls, as they imagined Giles reation to such a title if he was still here in the Lounge Room "It was hand made, with alot of care put into it's craft. It was obviously made for this person especially, perhaps as a token of respect &/or Love."

"And......." Buffy egged the young Druid on, by rotating both her hands around.

"And...he has intentionally defaced his own property, the second letter of his initials have recieved serious defacment via, repeated scratching."

"Maybe, it's just that he doesn't like the Wallet?" Willow offered.

"Then why keep it? It obviously hold some sentimental value. It looked like a L, or and upper case I....no, no, I think it is definetley and L.

"Willow, Buffy, do you know anyone whom Giles might consider a close, old friend with the initials X.L.H?"

3 seconds later, pandemonium broke loose in the Lounge Room of Rupert Giles Apartment.

Chapter 2b
"The comicial & the disturbing"

***** The opening takes place in the Kitchen of Giles apartment 10 seconds before the end of the last Chapter (2a) *****

<4 - YES! Seven seconds left, one more time and you have yourself a new record girl> "So Giles, I was wondering*"

"OhgodOhgodOhgod etc..............."

<Nnoooooooooooooooooooooo! Dammit Willow!>

Polietly, yet as firmly as possible Giles moved Dawn from his path as he made to the exit of the kitchen and peered around the corner into the lounge. The sight that welcomed him, and Dawn (who had just then decided to abandon her attempt at breaking her record), could best be described as comical and disturbing.

Willow was flapping her hands as if they were on fire, twirling around in place in full panic mode, whilst honoring God over and over again, this was the comical. The disturbing, was sitting beside her - motionless. Buffy appeared to be niether distracted or aware of the animated antics beside her from her red-haired companion. She was in her own little world.

As Dawn drew her eyes upwards; preparing to make one of her infamous dry comments to the reserved Englishman, about the events before them. She was shocked by the face he had just pulled, she would later describe it to Christian 'that it resembled, what she thought a Deer must look like in the High-beams of a Semi-Trailer Truck as it bared down on them'.

After her 6th to 50th twirl Willow began to slow down and calmly hyperventilate. Upon getting her bareings, after an obvious dizzy spell, her eyes sought out the Watcher. As thier gazes locked with one another, volumes were spoken between them without the single exchange of words. As if slowly breaking from a spell, Willow raised her gaze to the second story landing, there her look held for a number of seconds. Then -SNAP- her eyes darted once more, and fell upon Giles. The race was now on.

Willow was closer to the stairs, but Giles had the benifit of taking longer strides. He also didn't have the complication of navigating around the Lounge Suite and one catonic Slayer. Still regardless of the obsticals in Willow's path he still only made it to the foot of the stairs with a second to spare. This precious second was richly needed as it gave him just enough time plant his feet as the red-headed wicca barrelled into him. (Have you ever wondered what would happen if an immovable object met with an irrestible force. What took place next would have been a fine illustration.) Willow was the first to recover from the impact, and began to crawl over the stunned Watcher. Despiration to meeting the 'Stranger' in the guestroom fueling her forward. Her objective was only 5-10 seconds to being achieved. What happened next caused her heart to sink, as she felt the vise-like grip of two male hands upon her ankles. Despite two mule like kicks to encourage her release, the resident father figure refused to yield. After several more seconds, Willow had to concede that Giles would let her progress no further.

<So close, I'm so close> She could contain her anguish no longer as violent tears escaped her emerald eyes. Giles drew her into a fatherly embraced, and guided her down the seven stairs to the ground floor. With her face buried in Giles chest, and choking back her sobs, she slowly rose her face to meet Rupert Giles concerned expression. She needed an answer, she knew what she expected, and she knew her instincts were true, but the 'nerd' in her needed confirmation. Drawing as much composure she had in reserve she spoke in a ragged, whispered voice "Giles....please".

Two words, not a question, but it's intent was understood by both. Cupping Willows chin inbetween his left index finger and thumb Giles adjusted the angle of her head and sought out Willow's eyes through welled up tears. When they were focused on his face, he released a smile and a gentle nod.

It took afew seconds for Willow to realise what had just be communicated, and when she did she drew a deep breath, and began to cry again, only this time it was tears of pure joy.

For the next two-minutes Giles held Willow as she used his freshly ironed shirt as tissue paper. He didn't mind, it was a happy sacrifice. This moment was shattered, when Buffy approached the pair, she moved like someone sleepwalking. At her arrival, Willow hastily released Giles and rapped her arms around the once again motionless Slayer. "He's back, he's alive, he's back and he's here" was all Willow could whisper into Buffy's left ear, before she got her second wind and begun to cry anew.

If Giles was expecting a visible reaction from his Slayer to this revelation he would be sorely mistaken. She just stood there before him like a statue. Believing that the moment had past, and that there were now urgent things to discuss, he led both girls back to the Lounge Room. Sitting them next to eachother on the couch, and sitting on the edge of the coffee table facing both of them, he scanned the room for Christian and Dawn. To his surprised they were both in the corner of the room, Christian was standing and Dawn was sitting atop of the Weapons Chest, niether made an effort to join the Core members. They were content to just stand vigil over what was to take place.

When Giles spoke it was barely a whisper, whether it was a subconsious decission or not he didn't know. He just knew he was about to betray a confidence he swore to himself no more then 5- minutes earlier he would not do. "Yes, Xander is back, he is here sleeping up stairs."

"Why didn't you tell us he was back? We have a right to kno*"

Without letting Buffy complete her question Willow interupted "Is he alright Giles?"

At Willow's question, Giles noticed Buffy close her eyes and bow her head, he could only assume she was rebuking herself over how selfish her question was in repects to Willow's.

"Physically he appears fine Willow"

"Physically? What do you mean physically?"

"I mean, physically he appeared in good health"

"Well what about mentally and emotionally?"

"We only had a brief conversation before he retired to bed, I don't truely know about his state of mind and well being Willow."

"But, but, you must know something, anything?"

"Will, settle down, you can't expect Giles to know these things from a brief conversation, right?" Buffy offered as she rubbed Willow's back.

"Yes that right. I wish I could put your mind at rest, but..."

"Well how does he still feel about us, you must have touched on that subject?" With this question all eyes in the room were drawn to the Watcher.

<I wish to God you didn't ask me that Willow> "Willow... his feelings towards you and Buffy are ... complicated. And I would rather not misleed you into believing that your reunion, and yes there will be a reunion <even if I have to bag him, and gag him myself>, will be roses and chocolates. He still has issues"

"Does he hate us?"

"No Willow, he doesn't hate you <I don't think>, but he's just still very angry at the both of you. Anger - I have no doubt, Hate - definatley not <Lord please don't make me a liar>."

With this last statement he observed the glimmer of hope envelop Willows face, she then offered a sad smile to everyone present.

Buffy who had remained silent for most of the conversation felt compelled to offer her own question at this point "Can we see him Giles?"

"No Buffy"

"Why not?"

"Because he wished his arrival to remain a secret, from all of you. And to ensure that it remained so, he asked for my help to keep it from you"

"Good Job Giles <Pinch 5 - YES!. No! Arrruuggghh - 1>"

"Dawn, please!"


"Alright Giles, how long do you think it will be until he contacts us, hours, days, weeks?" Buffy asks cocking her head to the side and ticked it twice to where the door Spare Room was.

"He had alot to digest Buffy"

"What do you mean Giles?"

"In my 'brief discussion' we touched on how we all dealt with his absence, the current line-up, about Dawn, Christian .... and Spike"

Buffy's eyes, which had been downcast through most of Giles Q & A were suddenly raised in fear. "What does he know about Spike?" the Slayer choked out.

"Alot more then he wanted to Buffy"

At this statement Buffy removed Willow's reassuring grip from her hand, and slowly raised herself off the couch, she stood up and glared down at her Watcher. The topic of her and Spike was a forbidden one, none had dared raise it in over three years "How could you?"

"Coincidently enough Buffy, Xander asked the same question, I couldn't give him a satisfying answer either."

With this Buffy stepped outside the comfort zone created by Willow and sat at the corner of the couch trapped in the memories of her own self made hell.

The shocked expression that was now on Willow's face was not lost to the Watcher "He would have found out eventually, if I hadn't told him, or if either of you didn't let it slip out, you could guarenttee that Spike would not miss the opportunity to brag about it infront of him. Remember Angel? It's better he found out about it as soon as possible, to recover from the shock, before bridges get mended. Don't you agree?"

Willow closed her eyes and nodded her agreement. At this Giles searched the room for the quite sentries in the corner. They too nodded thier agreement.

"Right now everybody, Buffy, Buffy, BUFFY! When Xander does make contact, it's important that you all play dumb. No one is to let on that this conversation took place - is that clear. He left town the last time because he believed his friendship was betrayed. If he knew that I also betrayed his trust*"

"You think he'll leave again?"

"It's a likely scenerio"

"So are we all in agreement ........ Good. Now there is very little you can do here, so why don't you all go home and try and enjoy the rest of your weekend. Dawn I want to seen you bight and early at the shop tommorrow, clear, good"

As Giles led, and closed the door on the four young people, he turned around and his heart nearly stopped as he saw who was sitting on the bottem step of his polished staircase.

"Y'know an Englishman's Word really isn't what it used to be, huh Giles".

Chapter 3a
"Do you want a Muffin with your heartache?"

***** The opening takes up after the new Scoobies have left Giles Apartment (B,W,D & C) and are walking with eachother down Montrose, as they process the events of the previous 10-minutes *****

"No doubt about it Will, you are definately a woman of layers." Dawn could not help but gain pleasure at seeing her long-time friend behave in such a giddy-girl fashion. "I mean one second your acting as thou your the star of your own Greek Tragedy, the next your acting like you've just recieved your first kiss from a bo-,... errr girl". It bought joy back to her heart, to see the spark that was always present in Willow's eyes but which had been dulled by pain, to have returned with a vengence.

At this Willow turned on her heels, crossed her forearms to resemble a cross and boomed at Dawn "Quite Devil Child!". She then hastliy ruffled Christopher's abnormally well groomed hair, and made a quick dash out of his arm's reach, never once allowing the cherub-like smile remove itself from her face.

Since leaving Giles, Buffy maintained a respectful distance from the trio. Thou she was indeed smiling, and laughing at Willow's antics and Dawns barbs, her amusement wasn't once betrayed in her eyes. She was in that untouchable place of eternal regret and sorrow, a room in her mind she visited as often as she could. Just as watching Willow's behaviour bought Dawn pleasure, witnessing Buffy go through-the-motions of living and interacting with others delivered to her nothing but sorrow.

Hoping to involve Buffy in a dialogue, other then the typical nod's, half-smiles, and grunts. Dawn took the offensive, and engaged the Slayer in conversation. "What's your take on this walking embarrasement infront of us Sis? Should we act like we don't know her, she's not there, or join in? Please state your answer in the form of a question"

"She's happy Dawn, why don't you cut her some slack and let her be happy"

It was with this statement that Willow came to a stand still, thereby ceasing all progress down Montrose for her, and her friends. She slowly turns around and faced this 'Horror to the Night'. It was moments like these that made the reputation of Buffy Anne Summers, the greatest Vampire Slayer in the history of, well ... history, almost laughable. How alone she now looked, alone, yet surrounded by friends and people that loved her. How frail she appeared to the realisation that an old pain may, within the next few day's be finally healed. Did Buffy love her sorrow so much that she would selfishly gaurd it from others who may try to take it way from her?

"Let US be happy Buffy. Don't you understand, Xander's back." Her hug of Buffy, was unlike the one in Giles Apartment. First, Buffy was hugging back, and second it was a different degree of hugging as before, this was support, earlier was relief. "Oooohhhh, I wonder if he has a goatee now", turning her head to face Christopher and Dawn, Willow extended to them an explanation "Xander was alway's promising that he was going to do that one day".

From Willow's right shoulder came a sobbed chuckle, as she recalled Xander's pledge to 'his favorite girls'. At this moment Buffy released her first tears since her mother died. For five-mintues Willow held Buffy, as she realeased a backlog of sorrow, anguish and disappointment. During this time Dawn led Christopher further down Montrose too offer both girls an opportunity to express themselves away from prying ears. When they were a sufficient distance, Willow leaned out of the embrace, and looked upon the Slayer with gentle eyes.

Buffy couldn't help but offer a small smile as she considered how fortunate she truely was to have in her life such dear friends. Her predecessors were only permitted contact with a Watcher, everything else was considered a distraction. How different her life would have been if not for Willow, Dawn, Chris, Cordy, Gunn, Wes, Giles, and even Angel. They provided her life balance, and what little hope and happiness she had. If not for all of them she would have died that first year when it was foretold that she would perish at the hands of the Mast* - Xander. How many times did he save my life? Certanly more times then I had ever thanked him. With this realisation Buffy bit back more tears as she spoke into Willow's chest "I'm a Bitch, I'm a self-centred, self-obsessed, can-my-skirt-get-any-higher-without-being-arrested Bitch"

"Uuummmmm, do you want me to offer you reassurence, or be honest, cause I don't think I can do both, especially about the skirt bit". This comment earned Willow another sobbed chuckle. "Everything is going to get better from this point out Buffy - I promise."

"I wish I had your confidence Will, you heard Giles, Xander hates us."

"No Slayer, I didn't hear that at all. I heard that Xander was ANGRY with us, that's all."

"Anger, Hate, what's the difference Will, I mean*"

"* The difference Buffy is that Xander can't stay angry at anybody, it's not in his nature, not in his sweet-Xander-forgiving nature."

"Still Will, five-years is a long time to stay just angry."

"I'm not niave Buffy, Giles is right, it's not going to be a picnic. Xander will have baggage, and yes - it will be rough, I know this. But Buffy, the hardest part has already been done, and Xander was the one to do it, he made the first and probably hardest gesture, he's returned. After half a decade, he's come home. He's reaching out to us Buffy, and I for one want to fix this, I want his friendship back ... don't you?"

"More then anything Will, but will he want mine? I've lived that night a hundred times aday since. He did so much for us, for me. But I have to be honest Willow, if the roles were reversed, I don't think I could forgive the things that we said. And I don't think I could survive his rejection now that I know that he's alive"

Linking her arm in Buffy's, they both began to catch-up to thier errant friends "I know. I never told you this Buffy, no-one actually and I mean it, but that night ... at the crypt, I thought I heard something outside when we were having our 'discussion'. I didn't make the connection from that to Xander not being around. I thought you and Rielly must have told him to spare me the turmoil of confronting him with you guys. It wasn't until I read Giles Letter, that... <sigh> ...Buffy I lost my best friend that night. When we were little we both pinky swore that we would never do anything too eachother that would intentionaly hurt the other in anyway. That night I broke a promise that I, we, both kept sacred for 14 years. How will he ever forgive you?... Buffy how can he ever forgive me? I don't know the answer, but see this <Willow pulls her resolve face> I don't intend to let him leave Sunnydale until I've made it up to him."

As Buffy and Willow approached Christopher and Dawn, it became obvious too both that a discussion was taking place, one which Dawn wanted no part in "... haven't I heard mention of Mr Harris before now? His mere presence has seriously disrupted the harmony of the group. We need to discus*** Buffy, Willow, can you please help me understand why a man who deserted you both, is able to maintain your reverence... *"

"* How dare you judge Xander, you don't even know him. Throwing words like 'Desert' trying to make him sound like a coward. Xander is no coward. He is the kindest... *"

"Will, Will...settle. Chris didn't mean anything by it, did you Chris?" To Dawn's assistance, the Druid vigouresley nod's in agreement, he has never seen the red-head express so many emotions in such a short period of time. To one who's entire practice in life and religion is to maintain a balance in all things, her unpredictable reactions frighten's him. "See. Look guys, 'Chapels' is just around the corner, why don't we grab ourselves some overpriced coffee, muffins, etc, and talk about some ... stuff. Because no matter what Giles thinks, I really doubt we will be able to relax and enjoy the weekend until we've talked about some ... 'stuff', what do you all think?" As no one objected to Dawn's suggestion the group slowly steered itself to the small, overpriced and trendy coffee shop.

Once seated, with the orders taken, served and the waitress removing herself to a discrete distance away to the counter 'stuff' begun to be discussed within the quartet.

"Willow, I meant no disrespect to your frie*"

"No Chris, you don't have to apologise, I over reacted, you have questions and no answers, knowing you the way I do, this must be very ... disconcerting"

"Thank you Willow for understanding. I was hoping you or Buffy might shed some light on Mr Harris, as Dawn was most reluctant to do so without your presence or permission."


"From what I have observed at Giles Home, and your reactions to the news of his return, you where all very close." Willow, Dawn and Buffy all nod in agreement "If that was so, then why did he abandon you?"

As Willow began to prepare a response in her mind, she heard a voice whisper out "Because we abandoned him first." The voice belonged to the blonde haired slayer, who suddenly drew a startled look across her face as she realised she had just spoken her thoughts out loud.

"Buffy, would you like me, or you to do this. I don't mind - really."

"No Will, I can do it. OK Chris, you want the dirt, well here it is. The night he left, Xander overheard Willow and I have a conversation about him, and we weren't...no - I wasn't kind." At this point Buffy stared longingly into the whipped cream that had been doloped into her 'Hot Chocolate Express'. Collecting her thoughts for what must have been number 49 of her 100 quota, her eyes met Dawn's, she then burst into silent tears "God, I was such a Bitch, why wasn't I able to see it. Xander didn't deserve to be told that ... to hear that. He wasn't useless, or a liability. He was, is, one of the bravest people I know. He wasn't afraid to stand up to anyone if he knew he was right...even me. I could have kicked his arse to L.A. and back, and he knew it too, but that would never stop him if he thought what I was doing was wrong or he thought he was right. And dammit, he always ended up being right."

It seemed to Christopher at this moment that this 'discussion' could provide him not only with the answers he sought, but may also provide some level of therapy for his friends, whom he now thought could all do with some release. "Why weren't you gentle Buffy?"

Willow decided to field this answer to provide the Slayer the opportunity to compose herself before continuing "She had just started seeing someone, and he belonged to the "Gung-ho" club, a real over-achiever."

"You are refering to Agent Finn, I take it"

"Yeah...Rielly" Buffy's voice was dripping with Bile. Since Chris had joined Buffy's group, Chris had met Finn, three times. To Buffy, they were three times too many, thou she never let it interfer with what had to be done on each mission, the tension between each group was so thick a person could choke on it.

"Rielly Finn" Willow continued "was Buffy's first Boyfriend post- Angel, and she was still in that 'gushy-girlfriend-stage' and*"

"*And..." Buffy interrupted, taking over from Willow "...Rielly could do no wrong. He said Xander, was a liability, useless, and a danger to himself and others in battle.

"Of coarse it didn't help that Rielly could support his 'I-know-what- I'm-talking-about' speech. He could challenge me in single combat and was able to hold his own against slayer strength, reflexes, hand- eye coordination, stamina, speed and dexterity. It wasn't until later ... much later, we all found out that it was because of the 'special vitamins' that he and his men took. So of coarse Xander was going to look so much 'less' physically compared to these guys. I'm sure if the Government Doped him-up as well, Xan could have done equally as well, if not better then the G.I. Joe- wannabes. Except even if they were offered he would never do that, he respected his body too much. But knowing about the 'vitamin's' came too little too late for Xander, the damage was done - he was gone.

"That fact that Agent Finn was also a possessive asshole, who wasn't yet completely satisied with being welcomed into my bed and my life. He had to have the whole package - my mind, heart, body, and soul, it all had to be his. He saw my friendship with Xander as a threat to his 'claim'. So he had me distance myself from him, in the worst way possible. Xander warned me to take it slow with him, and not to rush into anything to soon, and again - he was right."

"So Agent Finn was responsible" relief swept over the young man at the booth as he realised his two friends had just been absolved for thier behaviour.

"No Chris, Finn may have loaded the gun, but I fired it. I could have disagreed with him, I could have refused to listen to his put- downs, but I didn't, and we all paid the price for it."

"So he left that night?"

"Yeah, I think he might have, maybe...I don't know" Buffy straightened herself up in the booth and peered out the window of the 'Chapels Coffee House'. "I pray to God he did, I'd hate to think he was waiting at home for Will and I to come around and hang-out, knowing what he knew, just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"We didn't hear from him, in over a week. I just assumed that he got another job working strange hours. At any rate, he wasn't showing up to the briefing's or going on patrols with me. Which is what Rielly wanted anyway, soooo my ex-boyfriend was really happy there.

"Y'know, it's kind of funny, living in a town where every ghoul, and vamp, knows who you are on sight. Xander was one of my longest and dearest friends, I didn't hear from him in 9 days' straight, do I worry, nooooooooo - I'm having sex with my boyfriend, yay-me!." Buffy's sarcasm could not be mistaken as she twirled her finger for empasis. "Xander could have been dead, turned or worse and I didn't know or cared to know - the great Rielly Finn was there to offer me sex. Of coarse when Giles provided me with a copy of Xander's letter, I did care, I cared a great deal."

"You didn't try to seek him out?"

This question earned Christopher 'you-have-just-grown-a-third-head- ontop-of-your-second-head-look'. "Of coarse we tried looking for him. That's all we did for three weeks straight, no patrols - nearly. I had a few bad run-ins, and Giles got nervous, had Spike and Rielly take over my duties, until I was ready to return to the Hunt.

"Anyway, we called in markers from anybody and everybody, people who owed the slayer, Giles or 'Ripper' any favors. When those sources dried up, we used Angel, members of 'The Watchers Council' who were sympathetic to Giles stand with me against Traver's on my 18th. The 'Initiative', who wanted my involvement in Project EVE, ADAM was bad enough, I said I'd consider it on the evidence that their effort were soley responsible for finding him and returning him to us. They used every Intell source around the globe. Willy the Snitch offered to help out, free of charge, he said he always liked Xander. Anyway he provided us with every concievable Above & Underworld contacts that might have been able to find him. Nothing."


"What?" Buffy couldn't help but querry Christophers, one-word statement.

"I said Buffy, Mr Xander Harris, sounds very resourceful. To be able to avoid identification and detection from so many independent avenues of enquiry ... I mean 'The Watchers Council' alone would be impressive enough, but added with the resources of the 'Initiative'as well..."

"Yeah, when the chips are down, and your back is against the wall, AleXander Levalle Harris will really surprise you."

At that Moment in Rupert Giles Apartment

Giles searched the floor for anything he could use as a defense against his attacker, not that it would have done much good, as the Englishman would not be able to grasp any weapon even if there was one readily available. His breathing was laboured and pained, his vision - misty, his ears where producing a high pitch whine that was unbearable, and he was aching in places he no longer thought he possessed. The only good new's was there didn't appear to be bleeding, curious?

The pain was unlike any he had experienced before, his muscles felt as thou they had been ripped to shreds. His organs felt swelled to capacity and too tender too even touch. The slightest movement offered his joints the opportunity to express their immense displeasure to thier user. Yet all this sensory data were secondary, compaired to the raging fire that seemed to consume the very flesh from his bones. Giles knew pain, how to deal with it & block it out. He has been worked-over by some of the best, or worst, depending upon you perspective, history could offer, and without a doubt this youth could teach them all a thing or two.

As the young man casually walked up to Giles place on the floor, the best the semi-concious man could offer in way mobility without getting up, and then again being shoved back down. Was to offer his best imitation of a 'soldier crab', and crawl backward, this would only delay the inevitable - Giles knew that, but he daren't allow his eyes to stray from this man. Each second wasted was a second gained for the Boy he loved like a son. Each precious moment lent itself to hope that the dark haired youth would be able to snap himself out of his Red Haze.

As the young man slowly lowered himself to squat infount of him. Giles became lost in his own musing, for years he alway's inwardly referred to Buffy and her friends as his surrogate children. Once upon a time he accounted this young man, as one of thier numbers. Even now after the pain he has inflicted upon his person, this man is still his 'child'. But not the child of Rupert Giles - respected Shop Owner and distinguished Englishman, no - this man is the proud offspring, if it were possible, of 'Ripper'.

Chapter 3b

Rupert Giles has been in this position many times before, and has learnt all too well the importance of not revealing ones hand to an enemy too soon. He had just been aroused from unconciousness mere moments earlier from the activity, he presumes, coming from the kitchen. As one experienced in being abducted and/or rendered unconcious by an enemy of 'The Slayer', he hastily begins to take a mental account of his situation and injuries. Whilst at the same time trying not to draw the attention of his attacker to his awareness.

As best as the Englishman can detirmine, he is laying on his sofa, with a pillow placed under his head, and blankets over his body. A particuarly unusual development considering the only person he know's who would have done such a thing, is the same person who had rendered him into a pained unconciousness earlier. The only physical discomfort he can detect is a slight headache, sore throat, and numbness along the left-side of his body. He cannot identify any broken bones, or other injuries. The burning sensation which preyed upon his flesh, pained organs, joints and breathing that had assulted his person earlier in the day, were now absent <Something is not right with this picture?>. Unfortunatley before he could process this information further, he is startled by the voice of his wouldbe torturer.

"Giles, a little bit of advice if you ever plan to play-possum again in the future - keep your breathing regulated; always a dead give away"

Realising that the 'gig' was up, Giles reluctantly opened his eyes. The sight which welcomed him revealed just how long he had been 'asleep'. Standing before him with a cup of tea in his hand stood Xander Harris. But this was not the scruffy individual that knocked on his door earlier that day <was it still Sunday?>, or the man who stood over him as he whimmpered to the pain which had been inflicted upon him. This man resembled the Xander of old, and not the transient, he was wearing blue jeans, and a cotton white shirt that seemed to emphasis the youth's athletic frame.

The Watcher estimated that he was unconsious for approx. 2 hours, long enough for a shave, a shower, and for his visitor too change his clothes. This was confirmed as Giles peered over to the Grandfather clock by his doorway <1:25pm>, he also could not help but notice the furniture, books and other items that he had turned over in his earlier despiration to avoid the visible fury of this same young man, had all been returned to thier original position.

As Giles returned his head to face the 27-year old man, Xander extended the teacup he was holding in his left hand "Earl Grey, one sugar with a twist of lemon ...if I remember correctly." This statement was followed by the trademark Harris crooked grin.

Reluctantly the Englishman accepted the offering and tried to speak, what followed from his lips was a hoarse whisper.

"UUummm Yeah, your voice will return shortly Giles, relax. I have a brilliant idea, while we're waiting why don't I tell you a story - a long one...." This reference wasn't lost on Rupert as he recalled his earlier conversation with the man. Not allowing his gaze leave the almost vacent deadeyes facing him, Giles nodded for Xander to proceed. "...and I think your lack of speaking will avoid any chance of me getting through this in a reasonable time frame" this was followed by a light smile.

Xander then turned around and slowly paced towards the terrace, peering out the closed sliding glass door and drawing the blinds. After several deep breaths Xander spoke "Y'know I realise that I'm probably not your favorite person at the moment Giles, your probably thinking all kinds of nasty thoughts about what you want to do to me - and I don't blame you. I regret having to hurt you, but it was necessary." Taking another deep breath, Xander turned to face the seated figure, steadied himself and continued "I've come to realise that there thing's that have to be done, you know - the bad stuff, the ugly stuff, the stuff that if there was a choice no one with any sanity in them would ever consider doing. And that's what I've been doing and that's why I'm here.

"I won't rehash that night to you, I will say I didn't leave there and then. I stuck around for acouple of day's waiting in my parent's basement. Waiting for both of them, or one of them, to come over and put their 'plan' into effect" Drawning his hands through his long grown hair, Xander paused as he relived his thoughts "I had it all worked out Giles, I had heard thier reasoning, and I was prepared. For every argument they where going to present to kick me out, I had two couter arguments to keep me in. 48 Hours - two scoobie meetings in a row I didn't attend, and still no- one showed up, or phoned to see if I was alive, or alright, I mean this is SunnyDale for christ sake - the 'Hellmouth', anything could have happened to me in two day's, and they didn't care enough to even check if I was still one of the living. That was it, the last straw. I sold up everything I could sell for quick cash, and bought a Bus Ticket to Somewhere; in the State of Anywhere but here".

Now sitting down beside Giles, Xander closed his eyes and continued his story "I did alot of thinking between Towns Giles, and I was content to just disappear into the night. But I couldn't do that to you, them sure, you - No. We had grown closer, you and I, while the girls and Oz were exploring college life, we - I think, became good friends. And I couldn't leave my ONLY good friend in the dark. So at one of our rest-stops I sat down and wrote you that letter explaining why I left. A little bit after that, is when the fun started.

"You remember Helloween 1998, when I became 'Soldier Guy', did it ever nore on you that I was able to remember the experiences post that night, when everybody else forgot?" Giles nodded his head in silence "Well so did I, but it didn't occur until later why, and by then all I could do is go into damage control.

"As I said, I had the opportunity to do alot of thinking between towns, by the time the Bus reached the end of the Line, I was ... different. My Helloween Costume, unlike many others bought from Raynes Store was pretty non-specific, it was just green faigues, no ID or insignia, I could have belonged to any military unit. When Ethen did his thing, my consiousness was assulted by experiences of every worldwide military organisation. It just so happened that 'Soldier - Recon - Guy' was the only one my mind could process and accept. The rest stayed in my subconcious.... and when the spell was broken only 'Soldier Guy' vacated, the rest got stuck."

At this point Giles spoke his first word "How?", it was rough and strained but understood.

"Well G-Man, picture an empty Wine Bottle - this is my subconsious, now start placing little pebbles, seeds, whatever, in it's top until it is full. Now these pebbles symbolise a single military identity and experience. You follow me so far?" Giles nods his head. "Good. At the breaking of the Helloween Spell, pour the contents of the bottle out. You might get two, or three identities slipping out, but the rest will get caught in the bottles neck - stuck. Simplified I know, but it works, and by the end of my trip they were all loose."

"How?" again was the only question Giles voice posed

"I guess we go back to the Bottle Giles, now how would you get the contents free if you couldn't pour them out. The quickest and easiest way - you break it! And there's your answer Giles - I broke, snapped, went GaGa. Everything I did, I did for you guy's, for her. I mean how many times did I risk my life, coming through at the eleventh hour? The Judge - that was me, my plan. Organising the Students to battle the Mayor - Me, constructing a bomb made out of fertilizer which killed the Mayor - again, ME! And then I hear that I'm considered useless. It was to much Giles ... I broke."

Giles couldn't help but place a sympathetic hand on the shoulder of the young man seated beside him. The pain he experienced earlier was only temporary, Xander's pain was obviously much worse in comparison. "What ... happened?" was all he could encourage from his voice.

"I don't remember too much Giles, but apparently I made quite the seen. Going back and forth form experiences, speaking various languages, threatening civ* the public. It took three squads to take me down, without killing me, and that was barely. And like any good soldier, when placed behind 'enemy lines' I disposed, and destroyed all evidence of my identity in the event of my capture. With no Police Record, ID or missing persons report - guess you guy's hadn't gotten around to filing one at that time. I was designated "John Doe #187648" and place in the 'loving arm's' of people who were paid to look after delusional messes like me"

Giles was almost afraid to ask, knowing what the answer might be "Where did you go?"

"A Mental Ward"

Chapter 3c

As Xander's words echoed through Giles soul, the Watcher casts his mind back to one month post the young mans 'departure'.

<RG - Willow, maybe it would be worth investigating alternate area's of the Hospital Data Bases other then Emergency Room in/out patient registration and current Morgue residents. WR - But that's what we alway's use Giles. RG - I know Willow. But I would just prefer if we are indeed going depend on this damnable contraption to locate Xander, we not leave any stone unturned, thats all. WR - OK, just remind me tommorrow, and I'll Hack and add the other Nationwide Hospital Departments into Xander's Search Program. BS - Giles, I promise I'll ... we'll, find him. And when we do, I guarantee we'll chain him up in my basement, so he doesn't do something so incredibly stupid like this ever again (*Giles offers Buffy Summers a sad smile*). >

"Xander, I...*" As Giles tried to find the word's to express his regret, as well as mentally kicked himself for failing to remind Willow all those years ago as he had promised he would, Xander interrupted his line of thought.

"* Don't you dare apologise Giles...". Xander's voice thou strong, and uncomprimising held in it's tone a sense of mirth "... cause if you do, I'm just going to have to beat you down again. And this time I won't be using Pressure Points and Nerve Clusters."

<Of coarse, no wonder there wasn't any permanent injuries. But it would have taken years of concentrated effort to become that apt in delivery. Where & What have you been up to Xander?>

Knowing all to well, from his earlier experience that Xander was indeed capable of inflicting harm. Giles quickly reintroduced a different line of questioning "I was *cough*, going to say *ahem*, I wish that we *ahem*, had known. We could have organised private *cough* care through the Council" Giles throat was still raw, but the Englishman was proud that he had been able to make it through the sentences.

"You might Giles, I don't." at this Xander began to rub both of his wrists "I mean I still had my pride, if nothing else."

"It was *ahem*, your damn pride that encouraged you to leave. If you had stayed*..."

"... *If I had stayed I would have had nothing, no friends, no purpose, no respect!" At this statement, Xander removed himself from the couch and approached the glass sliding door again, all the while rubbing his wrists vigorously. "I admit, there were times that I fantasied that you guy's would rescue me from Purgatory. That's what it was you know, Purgatory, Limbo, a place of nothing. A Place where your body was kept numb and your mind clouded by continious medication. Trust me, Purgatory is worse then any Hell you could imagine, cause atleast in Hell you'd feel something.

"At my best, you would have found me drooling into my Fruit Cup, at my worst ... restrained and strapped to my cot".

Realisation dawned on the Watcher as he now made the connection to the subconsious rubbing of the young mans wrists and forearm's to that statement.

"They only did this when my 'delussion attacks' were particulary violent and unpredictable." Xander offered to the startled face of the Englishman. "Unfortunaley, sometimes these 'attacks' would last for day's. And no one would dare approach me just in case I went Lecter on them. So I would lay there in my own ... 'filth' until it all passed."

Xander then turned and faced the Watcher, and Giles could have sworn he saw evidence of tears mounting up in the 27 year-old eyes. "Night time was the worst, they would give you seditives to help you sleep. I would dream of battlefields, wars and carnage. I lived a thousand life experiences, and died a thousand deaths every night" Xander then offered a hollow chuckle as he attempted to discreetly wipe a stray tear from his eye before Giles noticed. "If I wasn't already in the Looney Bin this would have sent me there.

"I lived, loved, and lost those who were stangers to me, but yet people I knew better then I did my own name."

Silence now echoed the room as Giles tried to comprehend the horror this once innocent boy endured. "Xander, *cough* how did you get released if it was as bad as you said?"

Smiling, Xander replied "You could say I had an epiphany, a moment of blinding clarity. Instead for fighting the 'attacks' I embraced them. True, I spent more time in restraints, and the less said about electro-shock treatments the better. But I began to work through the personas. The reason they hadn't left me, as I said before, was because they were stuck. But now they were free, yet they still hung around like a bad smell, so I got to thinkng ...*"

"Not the *ahem* Wine Bottle again?"

"No G-Man, a different metaphor - String. The various identities all got messed and tangled. They were all knotted together. So I began to mentally undo the knots, tracing back any inconsistencies, until I had a straight life experience. When that happened -poof- all gone. But like watching a movie, or the same TV episode over, and over again. After awhile each scene and moment sticks in your head. I maintained the memories and skills, but lost the emotional connection to them. It took just over 11 months, but I did it. All out and All me" With this last claim, Xander took a theatrical bow to Giles sorrowed expression.

<Eleven month's, not counting the time prior, Dear God!> "Xander, that doesn't *ahem* answer the question on how you got released."

"My Uncle Alvin got me discharged into his care."

"I thought you weren't all that *cough* close to your family?"

"Uncle Al isn't blood. He's kind of a surrogate gaurdian of mine. He introduced himself to me when I was three, and I kind of looked up to him."

"So you contacted him?" The hurt in Giles voice could not be misinterpreted.

"No, he just showed up one day". Xander couldn't help silently chuckle at Giles surprised expression at this answer. "Uncle Al's really good at finding things that are really hard to find.

"After he signed the papers accepting responsibility for everybodies favorite phycotic. We left. He had some friends in Asia, and we decided that the change of scenery and lifestyle might do me a world of good.

"So there we have it - my story."

"Not all of it Xander *cough*, where did you pick up those disabling techniques."

"Oh, you know, around ... Vietnam I think?" Xander then approached the seated Englishman, accepted the now empty teacup from the Watcher hand, and made his was back to the kitchen. "I guess that now they know I'm here, I might as well get the 'Meet-&-Greet' out of the way. Is 'she' living with Ms Summers?"

"Joyce passed away a few years ago, but yes, she's still living there with Dawn. Christopher occupies the basement area and payes rent which addresses the morgage repayments."

Xander drew a pained expression "Was it quick?"


"Ms Summ...Joyce, she didn't suffer...I mean ... what got her?"

"No, no, nothing like that, Thank God. That would have definately been the icing on the cake. No, it was natural causes".

"Well then, I guess I'm going for a walk down memory lane" and with this Xander picked up a brown leather jacket that was draped over the stair railing and made for the front door of Rupert Giles Apartment.

********** What Xander Didn't Tell Giles **********

"Uncle Al, what are you doing here?"

With the application of the final signature on the offered Forms. The 5'3" man beamed at the confused 'nephew' as he was escorted to him by two very large Wardsmen "Getting you out of here ya big Dummy, what does it look like"

As Xander hugged his 'Uncle' like a life-line to reality, Al returned the gesture with as much affection as he could. Then began to lead him out of the Hospital. "C'mon ya big Dope, let's get ourselves a stiff drink".

"Ohhh good idea Uncle Al, let's get the crazyman all drunk."

Turning on his heels, Alvin Theodore Simon addressed his young charge. "Listen here Xander, your not crazy...your special. Haven't I alway's told you that. Look, everything happens for a reason, you don't see it yet, but you will ... soon. And for 'Christs' sake stop calling me Uncle Al. You make me feel ancient, and I'm not that old - yet. Just call me 'Whistler'!".

Chapter 4a
"Hello Stranger"

As Dawn Summers rounded the bend from Milberry onto her own street, she glanced down to her left wrist and took a mental note of the time on her StopWatch function. It wasn't her best effort, but it was definetley one of her better runs. Slowly she began decelerate her pacing to an even walk as she began to approach her home.

In the distance, some 100metres, she observed a lone figure before the letter box and path leading to the front door of the Summer's Residence.

Dawn loved Chris to death, but ever since word spread within the SunnyDale Wicca/Worlock Community that a 'True Blood' Druid was in residence. Pilgrimages would be made to thier home address to seek his blessing, council and assistance in all matters mystical. It was interesting, boarding on facinating the first couple of months, to observe the reverence the boy/man received from these strangers. Now however, after two years, it just became an annoyance. As visits would occur at any hour of the day - or night.

The donations recieved for the services offered by Chrisopher in his capacity as a 'True Blood' went a longway in covering the daily expences of owning a home in SunnyHell. So for this sake the two sisters just tolerated the constant intrusion, but because they tolerated it, it did not mean that they had to like it.

As Dawn neared her abode, the stranger, who was obviously caught between indecision. Finally decided to caste his 'fear' aside and approached the front door.

Dawn called out as her feet met the Summer's footpath "Your going to be disappointed - He's not in. He's went to commune, so try again in a couple of day's". The event's of the morning had disturbed Christopher's 'inner peace'. Whenever this happened he would excuse himself from SunnyDale, and return to nature until his 'balance' had been restored. The last time Dawn had seen Chris as distressed as he was this morning, he was gone three day's. Willow behaviour had really freaked him out big time.

Slowly, the stranger turned to face the voice of the young woman who had just addressed him. His features betrayed a hard worldlyness, and his eyes a cold wisdom. Dawn was sightly taken aback as she observed his appearence, his body, as well as the very vibe that seem to be expelled from him <My God, What a Hottie! In an Adrian Paul 'There-Can-Be-Only-One' Way>. "Sorry?"

"Druid Chris isn't in, he's ... Xander ... Oh My God, it's, it's you isn't it!" When Giles told Dawn, and the others, he was back, she was expecting to see a facimile of the young man who had left. What stood before her now was a man. A man, who, to her, had set the standard for all other males in her life. Xander was the yard- stick to whom all were measured, his sensitivity, courage, humor, and compassion to date none other had ever come close. And there he was - standing before her, with not a hint of recognition of what he secretly meant to her.

Extending his hand, Xander offered "That's me, you must be Dawn? Giles told me a very interesting story about you, I'm curious if it all true."

"That's me, little Miss Interesting, ... or Dawn Patrol depending on who's talking, but I answer to Dawn <Oh God, I sound like I'm six again, way to make an impression>". Wishing to undo her blathering Dawn swipped Xander's hand aside and embraced her oblivious crush in a very sweaty hug.

Dawn held fast, arms streached around the man's broad shouder's, and face pressed against his solid chest. Not wishing to let go. That was of coarse until she began to notice the coolness of his cotten shirt upon her cheek. Slowly drawing her head back, she observed a damp sweat-filled impression upon Xander's chest. She then hastily apologised to the stunned visitor "I'm so sorry, so, so very sorry".

"Don't let it get to you down, trust me - there are worst things in life then being hugged by a beutiful woman."

<He think's I'm Beutiful, and he called me a WOMAN, not a girl, a WOMAN>. 'Remembering' the flirtation battles he used to engage in with her elder sister, Dawn could not resist the opportunity to participate with a true master. Placing her key in the front door lock, and opening the door, gesturing him to enter. She challenged Xander as coyly as possible "What's worse then?"

"...Not being hugged by one." With this he offered her his trademark grin, and a wink as he navigated pass her to the entrance hall of 'Cassa del Summers'.

"Well then, the least I can do, is to get my sweat stain out - so how about you strip off, and I'll give them a good... going over"

"What say we don't, ...for the moment" <Good Lord, I got him to Blush>

Once inside, Dawn satisfaction to her accomplishment began to deflate as she then felt a pang of nervousness. She had to admit to herself that Xander was not here to see her. No matter how much she may have wished it, he was here to have it out with Buffy. "She's...not here either Xander. She had to see someone, and settle somethings."

"This ... someone, wouldn't happen to allergic to sunlight, and has a fondness for bleaching his hair would they?" Dawn just offered a forced smile, "Well then, I guess she'll have to wait. I was hoping to get this out of the way, before things got ... uncomfortable"

Fearing that this news would only have him leave, she ran-skipped to the telephone on the sidetable infront of her "I could call her on her mobile, tell her to get home, like - NOW." She was in the process of dialling Buffy's mobile number, when a callous hand removed the reciever from her's and put it down in the cradle.

"We wouldn't want to inturrupt anything the two of them are doing now, would we?"

"Hell Yeah! It's my plan to do so at every conceivable opportunity"

"Y'know Dawn ... I love the way you think. But it wouldn't be right, she's made her choice."

<First I'm Beutiful, then he thinks of me as a grown Woman and not a little girl like Giles, Buffy and the rest. And now he's appreciating my Mind - And here I am all sweaty like. The PTB sure have a really wacked sense of humor>.

"Ummm, What about Willow? You can talk to her can't you?"

Carefully pondering her question, Xander had to admit, that if he couldn't speak to the Slayer, Willow would have to do, thou her betrayal may have hurt him more then 'her's'. "Maybe my Will, would be the better place to start all of this. Dawn you couldn't by chance give me her address, I didn't bother asking Giles."

Smiling Dawn replied "I take it from your tone, your prepared to forgive-and-forget?"

"No, I'm PREPARED to let them explain themselves, and thier reasonings. This is all about closure Dawn, to move on with all our lives. I can't forget, and as to forgiveness ... I'll see if they deserve it. Thier motives ... this doubt has been eating at me for far too long, and I'm afraid I can't put it off any longer - I need to be whole again."

Effortlessly Dawn began to press in Willow's and Tara Home Phone Number.

Tara - He..Hello?

Dawn - Hey Tara, is Willow there?

Tara - Ummmm, Yes, but she's in the er middle (giggles) of something.

Dawn - I can only imagine. Come home alittle friskier then usual did she?

Tara - No, she's just, ... y'know in the middle of something that's all.

Dawn - It's important Tara, trust me (Dawn glances over her shoulder, and observes Xander checking out the photoes on the Lounge mantal).

Willow - This better be damn good Dawn, I was just in the middle of doing something.

Dawn - So I hear. Listen Willow I just got back from my run ...

Willow - Good for you, bye now ...

Dawn - Wait! Anyway I bumped into an old friend, we started talking with eachother, one thing led to another and ...

Willow - Dawn, your 22-years of age, you and Buffy I'm sure have already had this talk ...

Dawn - Not that - (in a voiced whisper) I wish. We were just talking and the topic steered to 'His Will'...


Dawn - Will... Will... Willow are you still there?

Smiling to herself as she places the phone reciever down "Well that was rude." Dawn then turns to the lounge and joins Xander. "I don't think you have to bother going to her, I'm almost pretty certain she'll be here shortly"

"How long am I looking at before 'Typhoon Wicca' hit's?"

Slapping Xander's shoulders, the former dimensional Key began to accuse her male victem, "You...you knew, you were awake this morning weren't you, you saw that entire scene didn't you?"

Providing a mirthful smile "Of coarse I saw it, I don't sleep anymore, I just meditate, and even if I was you could have woken Angel up with that racket. So again, how long am I looking at?"

"Well Willow lives a ten-minute drive away, so I would expect her here in about two-minutes"

Chapter 4b
Flawed Conclusions.

Willow nervously drummed the dashboard of Tara's car as they were once again delayed in thier journey with another crimson light. Through gritted teeth, the popular rhetorical question was posed from the front passenger seat "Why is it, that whenever your in a hurry all you get are Reds?"

Behind the steering wheel Tara offered her frantic mate a sympathetic smile. As alway's, Willow's 'Life-Partner' was the picture of serine beauty. Tara knew the importance of Xander's return to the group. A Group she now considered her family, and she knew that no word's of assurence would ease the battle of emotions now being waged within one she loved so dearly.

Tara had only been introduced to Xander once, and it was the briefest of introductions as Willow was still hesitant of the feelings she was developing for another female. But in that moment, Tara sensed that a noble soul lay within the 18-year-old boy. This was later confirmed in the week's, and month's of his departure, as she observed with an outsider's perspective the emotional aftermath.

She prayed that the confrontation between the two childhood friends, and Buffy would not re-open old wounds, as she doubted that either women would survive grief a second time. She recalled with horrific clarity the number of times she rocked her Willow to sleep, or the time she discovered Buffy bleeding from the wrists due to a failed suicide attempted. Only the Slayers advanced healing prevented her death. By morning the next day, there wasn't as much as a scar to be seen.

That following day Tara heard the confession of the Slayer. Buffy spoke with rare passion regarding how lost she felt without Xander, even with Willow, Giles, Riley, Spike, and Angel in her life, she now felt life-less, and the guilt she carried for driving him away was to much for her to bare. Tara gave this feeling a name, and it remained hers and Buffy's secret ever since. It was Love. Buffy Summers Loved Xander Harris. This and the suicide attempt had stayed in 'the vault' ever since. Tara hoped that with Buffys realisation, she could pick up the pieces of her life and heart and move on. Instead, she regressed from embracing life and began to embrace death - to embrace Spike. It was then that Tara decided to play a more active role within the group, by assuming the void left by Xander's disappearence. She became it's 'Heart'. And thou her effort's were always appreciated, she recognised the pain it bought the founding members.

As the light finally fell to Green, Tara was drawn from her thought's and proceeded on 'Automatic Piolt' to the familiar abode of the Slayer. As she turned into Revello Drive, and proceeded to number 1630, the Wicca behind the wheel began to feel 'odd'.

It was as though she was swimming in an Ocean of anxiety and despair, and with the passing of each home she felt as if she was drowning. Tara had alway's been sensitive to the energies surrounding her, it was one of the reason's she made such a powerful spellcaster. But she hadn't felt anything this intense since Glory.

As she neared the Summer's residence her heart sank, as she was now able to identify with certainty the 'Oceans' origin.

If Willow hadn't, in her excited state, been fumbling with her seatbelt clasp, Tara doubted she would have been able to grab her arm before she exited the car.

With shock in her eyes, Willow glared at her Lover expecting a better- then-average answer for this additional delay.

"Willow, do you feel that?"

"No, what am I suppose to feel other then angry that you won't let me go to Xander?"

Hestently she replied "I feel a ... presence", with this statement Tara nodded her head to the Summer's house.

"No, no, no, no, NO!" Willow shock her head trying to deny what was being relayed to her "Only Dawn and Xander are in there."

"Willow, are we certain it's really him, Xander I mean, you told me that only Giles has spoken to him. And Dawn, well, she's never really MET him has she."

With fresh eyes the Redheaded companion stared at the innocent front door, she then returned those eyes back to thier initial target "What are you trying to say Tara?" Her word's were said with an icy resolve that betrayed her understanding, she knew exactly what her Lover was saying - "Shapeshifter, Glamor Spells?".

Apologeticaly Tara conceded in agreement "We've dealt with them in the past, from experience they can be very convincing. Last year with that Shapeshifter, it fooled us for an entire week into thinking it was Giles. But why Xander of all people?"

"I think I know." The ice that was carried on her words were now replaced with flames as Willow attempted to contain her anger "If you were planning on infiltrating a group, who better then someone you would welcome with open arms. With a gap in time to cover any inconsistencies of habits and 'forgetfulness'. Giles said this morning that 'Xander' didn't tell him much about himself, and that he did most of the talking - 'Xander' was drilling Giles for information."

As far as Willow was concered, there were three things she would never doubt in this reality, 1) Gravity; 2) Tara would never lie to her; & 3) When the 'Hellmouth' is too quite, it mean's something big is brewing. And the Hellmouth has been waaayyy too quite the last few months. 'Xanders' arrival was just too perfect. They all should have suspected something was fishy - Why after five years of no contact does 'he' decide to show up now?

"Tara, what your feeling, how evil is it?"

"I, I ... I can't tell whether it's a good or evil presense, it feel's as thou it's a ... balance of the two. We should get Buffy"

"She's breaking up with Spike - Again"

"We could go back home and do a 'Lift-the-viel Spell', it will reveal the identity of this 'Xander'."

"No Spell - that will take to long, and it's probably already waiting for us to show. If we don't, it might get suspicious and hurt Dawn."

"Then we better get Buffy!"

"NO! She wouldn't be able to do it, she couldn't with Angelus." Willow steadied her emotions while she contemplated her motives "That animal is wearing Xander's face, my Xander. If anybody kills it - it's going to be me."

"B-B-But what if it's a human, and it's just using a glamor spell?"

"Then it's still an animal!"

Panic now entered Tara's voice as she knew that at this moment in time, her Willow was more then capable of taking anothers life to protect the memory of a friend from being tarnished. "Willow, you can't kill another human being". With concern echoing in her voice Tara layed her gentle eyes over her enraged mate, and as alway's they succeeded in softening the Redheads temper.

"Fine, but only if it's human. If it's a glamor, when I strike 'Xander' it should be enough to break it's concentration and reveal itself, if it doesn't - we kill the Shapeshifting Bastard - Agreed."

Reluctantly Tara nodded. They then both made their way out of the car and proceeded to approach the front door. With each detirmined step, Willow began to explain the simple strategy to her partner "We go in and act as natural as possible given the circumstances. When it's gaurd is down and it's back turned, we start on this SOB, and we don't stop until it reveal's it's true identity or is dead." With this final statement Willow knocked on the door.

Chapter 4c
"Wha'cha talkin' about Willow?"


<This is a moment I have dreamt and dreaded. She stands before me, and I don't know her, but then again she doesn't know me either - not anymore. I'm torn between two impulses. One to embrace her, the other, well, the other I'm not as proud of. I want to introduce her to pain unimagined. I can feel the growl of my soul and I know there will be little provocation for what is growing within me to be released.

<These day's it takes more inner strength then I have in reserve to restrain myself from action. Giles was the perfect example, the guy is - was, like a father to me, he offered me his hand of friendship and I nearly tore it off and beat him to death with it. All for something I planned to happen, leaving my wallet on the couch cushion was a risk, but I had to know where everybody stood towards my return. Willow's reaction didn't surprise me, neither did the Slayer. Will was always highly emotional, and as for Summers Snr, I couldn't see her, but I could hear the questions she posed to Giles, and as always it was how it affects her. No one surprised me.

<But this does, Willow and her friend are up to something.

<How stupid do they think I am - really? From the moment they walked into the room I could smell a 'set-up'. It's obvious; the plastered smiles, the hesitant gestures, the unsubtle way the pair had maneuvered me between them, the tense eye contact. When you have willingly walked into as many ambushes as I have over the years you don't have to think whether or not there is a trap in place, it becomes instinctual, you can sense it a mile off and a week early.

They're probably congratulating themselves on how very covert and clever they are; the truth is I'm embarrassed for them. If my Soldier personas hadn't already been banished, they would be laughing their asses off right about now. It's a wonder how they managed to survive on the Hellmouth with this ... arrogance.

Look at them both. Willow, my Willow; she's grown her hair long again, to bad, I liked it short - she looked spunky with it short. She's fidgeting, anxious, nervous ... that's good, people who are nervous are vulnerable to mistakes. Whatever she, and this ... Tara, have cooking they have obviously planned on doing it as a team.

<Willow is the first to speak, she was never the patient type, some things never change I guess. I'm not really paying attention; I'm more focused on her body language, as well as her phrasing - the human science. She's speaking formally, very placid, and that's when I knew for certain something was going to happen - no doubts. After her reaction this morning at Giles, I would have been expecting tears, a treble in her voice - something. Instead it's ... methodical, dry, accusing. I don't trust her; I never thought I would ever say those words, even after everything that's happened, I never thought I could not ever rely on Will in a pinch ... but I guess time truly does change things, and people.

<Her driving companion, Tara, is harder to get a handle on. She hasn't said much. She's standing off to the side, between me ... and Dawn. Whatever is about to go down, it's obvious that Dawn is not apart of it. They're trying to protect her. That's a relief, I like her, she reminds me of her mother. Giles mentioned that this Tara is a Spell-caster. Magic users, they're unpredictable, but lazy - typically they're far too reliant on Hocus Pocus to get them out of bother, that's why so many go bad. It's easier to draw on the Dark-Side then the White. Judging from her age, she's a third level at best. She's also keeping a respectful distance from me, just enough room to make any accompanying gestures - she's the one true threat in the room.

If thing's go South, I'll have to take her out of the equation first.

<Now that I know where I stand, I had better start to engage in conversation before they get suspicious.>

"Xander, where have you been?"

"Around. Places."

"OK, ummm what have you been up to?"

"Things." <She maybe smiling, but I can see how flustered she's becoming to my stonewalling. It's priceless, well worth the cost of admission.>

"Are you going to answer any of my questions? Or are you going to keep on being ... vague?" <She's on the edge now, time to push her over.>

"Are you OK Willow, you're looking a little distracted?" <Surprise them with concern, and then pull the world out from under them.>

"...H, having you back, safe and healthy, has kind of thrown me - well everybody, for an emotional loop, that's all. I've got so many questions Xand*"

"*And I only have one Willow - Why?" <As I ask the question, even I can hear the hurt in my voice; I really need to work on that.

You have to laugh, look at her; this girl who could babble at a second's notice is stumped for an answer. She's going to lie to me, I just know it. I hate it when people deceive me.>


<Why? Why? Because I was a self-centered idiot, who valued Buffys opinion and friendship more then yours, that's why.

<Wait a minute. What am I doing? This isn't Xander. Xander is dead. Gone. This is an imposter, a Shape shifter, a changeling ... this isn't Xander! Tara wouldn't lie to me, not about this, never about this. But he look's so much like him, sure he's leaner, more defined, kind of ...no, it's not him, there's nothing in his eyes, the shine he always had is absent. They're dead to any life. You couldn't imitate that, could you, you Bastard.

<I don't owe this fraud any explanation, my reasons are mine, and I don't owe this doppelganger anything>

"Because, it was all true Xander. You were a founding member of the Scooby's, but in all that time you didn't once try or pick up a skill that could be useful in battle, or research. You were a liability to us all Xander, and if we didn't send you away, you would have gotten yourself, one of us, or everybody killed"

"WILLOW!" From across the Lounge, Dawn's startled yell vibrated off the walls as she made determine strides to the standing trio. "How can you, why are ... what are you doing?" When the redhead refused to reply, the twenty-something younger sister to the Slayer faced the Scooby's partner in life and love. "Tara why is she saying this?" Again she received no response.

Fearing the jeopardy this placed upon her teenage crushes removal from her home and her life, Dawn pleaded to the uncompromising still features of the vagabond. "Xander that's not true, you weren't a liability, she's lying. Believe me, she's lying. I don't know why, but she's lying"

In as gentle a tone as the man known as Xander Harris was capable of he turned to the hazel haired beauty and whispered a reply "I know Dawn." This was followed by another half smile and a wink, and suddenly the anxiety that had built up within her since she welcomed this forgotten man into her home was gone, she felt safe, and comforted.

Drawing himself away from the young woman the wanderer returned his steady stone gaze back to his childhood friend. "Let's try this again Will, the truth this time, or I walk. I have no time for liars. WHY?"

Biting her lower lip, the former Wicca began to answer "We didn't want to see you hur*" This was as far as she got, as she was then interrupted by a hollow chucked from the man in front of her.

"* That's it, that's the best you can come up with. That old Chestnut. I may have been naive to have believed it in High School Will, and maybe back then it was true. But I don't believe you now. And like I said, I don't have time for liars" With this comment AleXander Harris turned his back on this 'friend' a second time in five years. "When your ready to be honest, let me know"

And for the second time in five years Willow Rosenberg betrayed a trust. As the drifter made his way to the front door, she grasped the only instrument of harm present. With fingers raped around the handle of a Copper Fireplace Stoker she raised it above her head.

But before she could lower it with any force and fury. She was halted by her intended target. Without turning his head to face her, he said a word. A single word which turned her bones to ice - "Don't" Her heart caught in her throat, and she hesitated. Unfortunately Tara didn't.

The White Wicca had barely spoken a single syllable of her 'Restraining Spell' when she was stuck, it was a sharp well placed blow to her throat, and she began to gasp for air and cough frantically.

At this point, whatever hesitation Willow was in possession of, was immediately abandoned as she saw her lover harmed. With a roar of rage and the Stoker once more raised, she again approached the 'imposter'.

Dawn was stunned as she viewed what followed; it was as thou she was witnessing a professional dancer. Xander bought his left hand forward and caught the furious Redhead's arm as it lowered itself in a fatal arc. Where most would have tried to deflect the swing, Xander just shifted himself further to the his right and added his own momentum to Willow's blow - the result was the former Witch clumsily staggering forward and tripping over her kneeled girlfriend as she still struggled to overcome the shock of Xander's karate chop.

Within a period of two seconds, both women were effectively neutralized. Before Willow could gain any bearings to what had happened, Xander grabbed the fireplace tool from her grasp, and raised it in the same threatening manner Willow had done five seconds earlier.

"XANDER DON'T!" Dawn didn't know why she knew AleXander Lavelle Harris would do as she said, after what she had just seen; she knew she wouldn't have been able to stop him if he tried. She just knew he wouldn't if she asked him not to.

With his arm visibly shaking, either from the adrenaline or the will to overpower his more violent urges, Xander dropped the copper instrument to the floor and kicked it over to Dawn. Never once pulling himself away from the eye contact he had established with the once again fearful childhood companion.

Leaning in to the terrified features of Mr. & Mrs. Rosenberg's only daughter the Drifter spoke in a voice that hissed his contempt "Appreciate this woman Will. From this day forward, appreciate her."

Shakily Dawn tried to defuse the tension that was growing within the room "Oookkkaaayyy, why don't we all just settle down a bit huh? Something has just happened, I don't know what exactly, but nothing is going to be solved with glares and threats*"

Holding her lover in a comforting embrace as she still struggled with her breathing Willow declared "Dawn run, get Buffy - this isn't Xander, it's an imposter"

With this statement the word "What" was echoed out by the only two standing individuals in the room, for one it was a question, the other was an exclamation.

With new eye's Dawn looked at 'Xander' and took three very tentative steps backwards.

Xander just squatted before his accuser "Tell me Will, how did you come to that truly FUCKED UP conclusion, I'm really, very curious."

"Tara sensed it, she felt an overwhelming presence. Xander is human; the potency of power this house was giving off was not."

"And who the Hell is Tara, to claim I'm not me. I don't even know her*"

"* Wrong, you do know her, you met her once before you left*"

"Once? Once? Hate to break it to you Will, but I don't think she made a memorable impression on me then. The only time I met her was five years ago, and your surprised I don't remember her? If this wasn't so screwed up, it'll be funny." With this Xander once again stood up and towered over the fallen two, all the while unbuckling a band on his left wrist. Once the action was completed, the former Xander-Shaped-Friend flung it into the lap of the floor bound Willow.

Curiously she inspected the item. It was a watch, a cheap digital watch. But that's not what made her eyes grow wide with unshed tears; it was what was on the Watch Face. An over inflated head of a yellow bird, anxiously she turned it over.

There, scratched with a child's hand was the worn inscription 'X - 12 B-Day love W & J'

Equally curious of the item 'Xander' had deposited, Dawn approached her fellow Scooby friend "What is it Will?"

Drawing her gaze from the watch to Xander, to Dawn, and then back to Xander, Willow found her voice "It's...it's a Tweedy Bird Watch.


"Oh God, Xander I'm so sorry, please*"

"*Save it. The Truth Willow - Now!"

"I...I" realizing that she may have irrevocably damaged any chances in repairing the harm done all those years ago; Willow was able to release the now growing tears. "I...didn't mean it Xander. I was scared, and I needed Buffy to support me, and I thought...."

"What Willow, tell me now or you'll never see me again, I promise you that."

Fearing the earnest tone in his voice, Willow searched Tara's face, thou still rubbing the area of the blow on her throat; she smiled and patted the top of Willow's left hand. This simple gesture provided by her lover was enough for the Redhead to draw on new strength. Stilling her tears, and wiping the old from her face, she looked up to Xander and said "I needed Buff's support .... I'm Gay!"

Silently Xander processed this information; seconds seemed to drag on for minutes as all eyes in the room were focused on how he was going to react. Rubbing his chin, the Loner finally found his voice to reply "So?"

"Xander, I said I was Gay."

"I know Will, I've known since your Vamp-Dimensional-Twin paid us a visit in Senior Year. Remember what Dead boy said? I knew you were gay ... or at least Bi"

"Yo...You knew?"

"Well, no, I didn't know exactly, but it's not a surprise. Especially when you show up with this one in toe." Pointing to Tara. "When Dawn told me the two of you lived together, I put two and two together. But that still doesn't expl* .... Do you mind if I sprout a theory, and correct me if I'm wrong."

Stunned at the casualness the mid-20 year old was treating the situation, especially considering he was in a mood no more then five-minutes earlier to make the Plastic Surgeons of Sunnydale very rich men, all nodded dumbly.

"You wanted the Slayer to owe you something, you support her getting rid of me, and she supports you when you come out of the closet. Tit-for-Tat so to speak" When he was met with silence, Xander knew he had hit the mark "Tell me Will, did she?

Support you I mean?" This was met with more silence.

Tara whom was slowly recovering from her injury was at last able to voice a hoarse whisper "b, buffy was going through some difficult t...times, y...you leaving*"

"*I'll take that as a No then." Turning and walking to the mantle, Xander removed a photograph, and stared at it for a few moments. He then re-approached the seated Redhead, and presented the photograph to her. It was of Joyce Summers "Was it worth it Will, the collusion? I never got the chance to say goodbye, or to tell her how much I appreciated her, or what a great mother she was, or how much I wished she was mine." A simmering fury was growing with every word, until he ordered the retired Wicca "Stand Up!"

Hesitantly Willow fumbled herself up off the floor, passing the framed photograph to the girl seated beside her. With red-tearful-eyes she faced the man she loved like a brother. She didn't see the blow that struck her, but like Tara it was quick. She felt like someone had placed a vice on her nose, as she collapsed once again beside her startled Girlfriend. "That's not for then, that's for taking away my chance to say a Final Goodbye to a woman I loved more then my own mother."

AleXander Harris then proceeds to remove the Brown Leather Jacket he had hooked by the front door. "Tonight between the changing of Ice Packs, you think about that, as to whether I forgive you, I'm going to let you decide. Do you truly believe you deserve to be forgiven?" With this closing comment, he then walks out of 'Costa Del Summers' with Dawn angrily in pursuit.

"HEY! HEY! Mr. Neanderthal where do you think your going"

Xander continues to walk down the footpath, ignoring Dawn's cries, he had just reached the letterbox, when she aggressively grabs his arm and turns him to face her. "Where the Hell do you think your going, you probably just broke Will's nose!"

A feral smile then graced the young man's lips as he replied "Y'know, a Partra Demon in India once grabbed me like that - Once!"

Reluctantly and as gently as possible, Dawn released her grasp on his arm, and made a mental note to look up Partra Demons tomorrow at Giles Store "And what do you mean - Probably?"

"You just hit Willow, Xander. You just hit her ... not self-defense like before, you just hit her. She's your friend."

"Some friend. Attack first, ask questions later."

"OK granted, not the brightest of moves, but did yo*"

"Yes I did! Do you have any idea what has been taken away from me because of them. They go about their lives, doing the whole 'La-De-La-Di-Dah' thing, and I'm..." Xander's anger begins to boarder on tears. After the harsh stone like display inside, Dawn felt truly uncomfortable, and at the same time fortunate as she realized this was a side of himself he would never show to anyone. He was exposing his vulnerability to her "I ... do you have any idea what I've sacrificed, what I've gone through over the years. Your mother was one of the truly golden memories I took with me. When I started to believe what they said about me that night. I would remember how she treated me, and I didn't feel worthless anymore, empty. And she - Willow, took your mother's last moments away from me because she realized she was Gay."

Inching closer to the downcast man, Dawn questioned "You really loved her didn't you?"

"She seemed at times to be the only one who understood me, the only one who could see past the jokes. She once said 'I was the Son she never had and always wanted.' Do you have any idea, how that made me feel, coming from the screwed up home life I had, to be told that?"

"No, no I don't ... for as far back as I can remember I always had Mom. But I can tell you this ... she loved you too, she took it worse then any of us when we thought you had committed suic*"

"Oh God, No! She...she thought that?"

"We all did Xander, but she knew you were in heaven - that helped us. Mom said you were an earthbound Angel, who just went home. When she found out she was terminal, she said she'd send you our love. She did love you Xander, and I think that knowing she might be joining you made what was to come so much easier for her.

"I...I'll always love you for that"

Searching her eyes and stroking her hair, Xander felt entranced by this young sirens sincerity "Dawn, you don't even know me, I'm ...I'm not the kind of guy a person can love, there are things about me that ... that*"

"Hey, I don't want to marry you, I just want you to know you can always talk to me, like you could talk to mom."

"I don't know."

"Tomorrow, after work - Magic Box, Main Street, we start 'Project: Get to Know The New Xander'. You up for that?"

A gentle smile was her reply "You, ummm, better get back in there, and drive Will to the hospital."

This statement was returned with her own smile, as she turned and begun to run up her footpath to her front door. When she got to the first of the four steps that led to her front porch she turned and yelled at the lone man still standing by the letterbox "It's a Date then." She then walked up the steps, and entered her home.

As the young man walked down the Revello, lost in his own thoughts of the day, he felt the presence of another walking in time with him. The Drifter, didn't slow his stride or turn his head to face the person who was accompanying him "The Wicca sensed you Al; you've got to be more careful."


Stopping mid-step "Whoops? That's all you got to say. I had a situation in there, one that nearly didn't end up so good."

"You're exaggerating; I don't see any Coroner or Body- Bags being wheeled out."

"Not through lack of trying though."

"What stopped ya?"

"I stopped myself."

"Nah Kid, I know you, when you're in the zone nothing short of divine intervention could stop you.... It was kid wasn't it Dumbo, she got to you."

Steadying his gaze upon the Balance Demon "I...I can't explain it, one moment I'm about to bury a stoker in Willow's head, the next...?"

"It's called Shame, you were ashamed ... and that's good, before you wouldn't have batted an eye. Being back, being closer to*"

"*I've never done anything to be ashamed of"

"OK Kid, how about regretted, will you give me that at least?" A nod was returned as Xander began walking again with his adopted 'Uncle' beside him. "So...the Slayer wasn't home?"

"She was with her Boyfriend."



"How does that make you feel?"

"Indifferent, she doesn't owe me any thing, certainly nothing that I gave away free of charge."

"You want to kill something don't you?"


"Demon or Vamp?"

"Does it Matter?"

"Probably not. Look, there's a nest of 15 Vamp's at the Warehouse on Dustan and Brant, that's the best I can offer you at short notice. The Night-Life have picked up something Big is on the horizon, the small fish are moving away, and the Sharks will be coming to feed and check it out. You better be careful Kid, with your temper and reputation, when they get wind your in town ... neon target time"

"I'll be careful"

Handing over a machete tucked firmly in a sheath, the demon known as Whistler continues walking down the street whistling a jaunty tune as Xander begins to make his way to the Warehouse to release some frustrations.

Chapter 5a

The SunnyDale Memorial Hospital - Emergency Room.

Under the soft florescent light of the Emergency Room at the Sunnydale Memorial Hospital, Dawn Carol Summers began to fill out the Insurance questionnaire for her friend Willow Rosenberg.

Dawn eagerly did her best to distract herself from the sniffing and the upset voice of the person she loved like a sister seated beside her, but she couldn't. If it had been anyone else who had harmed her Red-Headed friend, or Tara, she would be the first at their defense. But this was Xander. XAN-DER! She could understand their shock, Xander's fist came out of no-where, and it was unprovoked. Sure Willow and Tara tried to kill him a moment earlier, but that was proven to be a misunderstanding. One Xander appeared to have quickly moved on from. What had upset him the most was that he was denied the opportunity to say good bye to Joyce Summers before she passed on. She knew her mother always looked fondly on Xander, but not for a moment did she suspect that the former Scooby returned those feelings to that scale. Impatiently Dawn got up and moved further away from the wailing Willow, trying to get some distance and peace to complete the Hospital Form's.

This effort was not unnoticed by Tara, who followed the twenty year old a moment later and sat beside the sister of the Slayer.

After chewing on the top of her pen for several seconds Dawn turned to face the 'Soul' of the Vampire Hunting Unit. "Why did you do it Tara?"

"We honestly thought it wasn't Xander Dawn."

"Bull, you didn't even give him a chance. You came in with your minds made up didn't you?"

At this question Tara reluctantly nodded her head. "W---we could have handled it better. But we were afraid for you; we thought you might have been in danger."

Softly the Dimensional Key replied the Wicca "I know. It's just hard to distinguish Xander as a threat. I mean he's Xander, and I don't mean that he can't take care of himself; I mean we saw him do just that tonight right? I mean that he always, y'know, looked out for us." Dawn stared at the Form's in her hands and said something that surprised even her. "She deserved it."


In a whisper she answered so that the founding member of the Scooby's did not overhear her three rows back. "Yeah, whatever you might think Tara. Willow had that coming; in fact I think she might have gotten off light considering. What she did to Xan was flat- out wrong. If she agreed with Buffy that was one thing, but she didn't. She did it to get in my sister's good books for when she finally 'Came-out'. She broke Xander's heart Tara for stupid popularity."

Even Tara had to admit that what Willow did that night's years earlier was ill-conceived "I know." The Wicca gently took Dawns stray left hand in hers and continued "You care for him very much don't you?"

Dawn nodded "Funny, considering he's never set eyes on me before, huh." Dawn smiled slightly; it was her first genuine smile of the evening. "But I've got all these memories of him in my head, and they never happened. I know his favorite color, his favorite Movie, his favorite food, his favorite --- everything.

"He was - is, I suppose my first and all time crush."

This declaration imminently got the Wicca's attention, as she still held Buffy's secret close to the chest that the Slayer had also loved Xander. Tara quickly pondered this thought for a moment, she guess she shouldn't have been surprised at Dawn's infatuation, after all the Monks did create her from Buffy. Maybe Buffy's subconscious wish to be with Xander was included in the creation of Dawn's form and identity.

Dawn placed the Hospital Documents on the vacant chair beside her as Tara sat silently beside her, and inwardly cast her mind back to a time that never really happened, except in her memories. A time when she first fell in love with Xander Harris.

She had always liked Xander - he was the goofy one, the guy who always had the encouraging word and an extra Twinkie in his pocket. But she never noticed him - not in that way at least, until one magical night. A night that still played center stage in most of her dreams.

It was Valentines Day, and she recalled Buffy announcing with pride as Xander descended the stairs of her home. Xander had a big, romantic evening planned with Cordelia that night. And he wanted it to be perfect, so he enlisted the aid of his Slayer friend. It was a project Buffy eagerly accepted, and it distracted her from the horrors of Angelus for that lone night. They were both in Buffy's room for over an hour doing the mix-&-match thing. Most mothers wouldn't have let that happen, two teenagers of the opposite sex in the same room, no supervision, going through clothes together. But Joyce trusted Xander enough to know he would never do anything ungentlemanly or inappropriate.

Gone was his ecliptic wardrobe that he was famous for. He came into view and her heart skipped a dozen beats. He 'styled' down the steps doing his best model-runway walk. This was the moment her crush manifested itself. When he got to the bottom of the stairs he did a quick twirl and Sean Connery impression to an approving female audience, consisting of herself, her mother and Buffy.

He bowed gracefully and took the twelve year old's hand and asked if she could be his first dance of the evening. Buffy was amused. Mom thought it was cute. For thirty seconds he held her in his arms as they danced to unheard music, at the end Xander once more bowed and lent forward to kiss the back of Dawn's hand. It was a childish impulse, but she wanted to kiss him properly. As Dawn leaned forward to meet his lips he had already raised himself from his bow.

And there she was, eye's closed, lips pursed pressing themselves against nothing. Slowly she opened her eyes to witness Buffy suppressing a giggling fit, whilst trying her best to maintain a mature expression, and her mother offering a sad smile. But its sadness evaporated away with a gentle nod. This gesture wasn't directed to her, but to the young man standing before her.

It was so much like Xander to seek approval and permission. Under the gaze of a mother who was about to lose her little girl he lent forward. He didn't bow down in a fashion that would have reeked of condescension, emphasizing the great difference in both their heights - he leaned forward. Dawn careened her neck back slowly, and allowed his lips to grace hers. It wasn't passionate - it was tender, it wasn't drawn out - it was as long as it had to be. In short, it was perfection for first time kissage.

When it was over she looked once more at her mother and received an approving smile, she then looked to Buffy, and Buffy was now no longer laughing, in fact she looked slightly distressed. But that was understandable, considering her kissing partner was then a Vampire King.

Dawn shock that cherished memory from her mind - it didn't happen. The Xander who came to her house that day was different. He had changed over the years, but he was no less sensitive. He proved that to her when he expressed himself outside her home. Her 'Xander' was still in there; she just needed to find him. And find him she would.


Cnr of Dustan & Brant

The lone figure approached the Warehouse with the tread of a born predator. 'Whistler' had told him there were approximately a dozen Vampires in side. 'Whistler', in his humble opinion needed to get better informants. There were twenty + easy, he could tell by the different voices. With a right hand clasped around the handle of his machete he thumped repeatedly on the entrance door and awaited a response. A moment later the Door opened.

"Yeah?" the Vampire said without sporting his Game-Face.



"Avon calling, Can I interest you in a demonstration with what I've got?"

A toothy smile played across the vampires lips. "Sure, come in. And please don't mind the mess; we were just about to go out to dinner."

The man calmly looked up at his host. "If I'm intruding on your plan's this evening*"

"*No, no--- Delivery suits us just as well."

With this, the front door slammed shut and a latch could be heard fastening. From out of the shadows of the Warehouse 22 vampires revealed themselves from their hiding places. The Host was expecting to hear screams and bargaining from the 'Avon Representative' what he saw was a sadistic smile that dwarfed his own. And then HE was afraid.


Outside the Warehouse on the Cnr of Dustan & Brant

Buffy Summers was staking out a possible Nest of Vampires, a tip off she got from Spike, when she noticed a man walk determinedly down the street. She concealed herself in a nearby alleyway to avoid discovery. It was too dark for her to see him clearly, but the suspected Vamp's had let him in to their Hideout. This was confirmed when she heard the front door bolt close.

The Slayer cursed herself for allowing the stranger to approach the Warehouse as she dashed from the alleyway to the entrance. With stake in hand, she was about to use her superhuman strength to force the door open when she heard two dozen screaming voices, each one ending abruptly.

She didn't know who was in there, but there was only one way out - through that door. And she wasn't going to let him get past her.

Chapter 5b

Warehouse on the corner of Dustan & Brant

The night was silent. Silent, but not still. Xander Harris stood at the exit of the now habitant-free warehouse and watched the shadow that crept under the only door move back and forth. The outside street lights had cast a dark night image upon the ground surface. This image - fortunately, also touched the half inch gap between the bottom of the solitary door and the floor.

Xander smiled at the ineptitude of some vampires - It's hard to lay an ambush when the quarry knows where you are and what you are planning. Another evil smile passed over his lips as he quietly watched the shadow impatiently pace.


Buffy Anne Summers was not well known for her patience. By her estimate it had been close to 5-minutes since she had heard the last merciful scream within. What - who ever entered earlier was obviously finished meting out their violent act, so why were they not leaving? The Slayer continued to pace, trying to figure out the motives of this unseen individual. Dead Vampires were a good thing, but anyone who could dispatch as many as she suspected lay within the building earlier still needed to be treated as a possible threat. After all, on how many occasions did they come across a person or group whose intentions appeared to be in synch with her own only to discover that they were the new BigBad in town.

Her anxiety over this person was only heightened by the news of the day that Xander had returned. It had been a rough twelve hours. And she still did not know exactly how she should feel about that. She was elated beyond words that he was alive, yet terrified of what he would say to her when they were finally face-to- face. For years she had mistakenly mourned him, for years she had lived her life as though its worth was nothing.

The only and greatest regret in that chasm of time was Spike. She went to him because she needed the love he showed her, she did not return those feelings, but the chipped Vampire did not mind. The Sex was a physical release, and it disgusted her. Xander was back. And Giles had told him about them. XANDER - how often has her thought's strayed to him. His courage, humor, wisdom, faith, and love kept her moving forward when all she wanted to do was crawl-up into a ball and cry in the corner of her room. He was worth a hundred Riley Finn's and a thousand Spike's. She had memorized Xander's last words - the Letter he had written to Giles five years earlier, and her heart still wept at each pained sentence. She knew his worth, but ignored his contribution. Finn was her world back then, but that world crumbed into dust when Xander left Sunnydale.

Giles was right, meeting Xander again was not going to be 'Chocolates and Flowers', it was going to be a Herculean feat. She had a lot of repairing of bridges to do, but like Willow she was going to face him with her 'Resolve Face'. She had too much she needed to tell him, and too much time too make up for.


Xander could see the shadow's dance quicken. Whoever was on the other side of the door was becoming more anxious with the passing of the seconds.

The former Scooby lent quietly forward and unfastened the door bolt. The sound echoed throughout the earlier battle-zone, and a sinister glint entered his eyes as he pondered if the thing waiting for him would be stupid enough to take the obvious bait.


*Shlunk* pained the night air as the Slayer heard the Door-Bolt withdraw. This was followed by a high pitched squeal as that same door slowly drew itself inwards a couple of inches.

Buffy's grip on Mr. Pointy tightened as she waited for the person responsible for the earlier mercy screams of the Vampires to step forward.

Nobody did.

The still and jarred door before her seemed to mock her with its obvious invitation. She quickly pondered the risks, and just as quickly ignored them. She just wanted to call it a night, go home, and get a descent night sleep so she could look her best if Xander called around tomorrow.

A warm feeling overwhelmed her, and her heart quickened with excitement at that thought.

Buffy then proceeded to carefully, and guardedly taking her steps foreword. One step, two steps, three st*.


{God - Sunnydale breeds them dumb - present company excluded of course.} From behind the door the Vagabond observed the non- descriptive shadow grow and push the door forward abit further.

When the 'shadow' had successfully placed itself between the edge of the door and its frame - Xander acted.


The door slammed into the blonde and wedged her between the Hard-wood wall frame and its partner. The door then repeated the blow, forcing air to escape her lungs. This caused instant disorientation, a disorientation that continued with repeated impacts. Each contact with the slamming door caused her to keel over that bit more to the assault. Until her body could no longer stand up to the attack and collapsed.


Through the door Xander felt the figure slump to the ground. With a loose grip upon the handle of his machete - ready for immediate action, he drew back the door. What he saw lying at his feet amused, excited and repelled him.

With the sharpened side of the thick blade he touched her neck.

The fair skin was then applied pressure as he directed and navigated her chin upwards to face him.


Buffy felt the cold blade as it lightly dug into her throat. As one of her senses adjusted to the darkness, she felt the metal angleize her face upwards 60-degrees. Her eyes desperately searching out the face of the one who seemed moments away from taking her life.

When she saw whose hand held the weapon her heart stilled and her eyes widened. "Xander?!?"


Xander looked down upon the person who was once the golden center of his universe and fought hard to keep his face passive and indifferent. "I remember you being better than this Slayer.

I guess I was wrong."

Buffy repeated the name in disbelief as her eyes scanned the interior of the Warehouse. What she spied were over a dozen individual piles of ash. "Xander?"

The returned Sunnydalian placed his weapon quickly in its sheath.

Only when it had been slid into the leather holder did he breathe a sigh of relief. {I MUST be getting better, she's in front of me and I was still able to put the blade away.}

Buffy tried to stand but the door had, she suspected, caused the cracking of her ribs. She extended her hands towards Xander for some assistance as she struggled up the door frame - using it as support, but he offered her no cooperation.

When she was once more on her feet she looked upon him again in disbelief. "Xander*"

The man before her cast his eyes aside and interrupted "* I gotta go, I'll speak to you later." With this statement the transient passed the stunned Slayer.

Buffy couldn't believe her ears or her eyes for that matter as she once again spied the aftermath of the Vampires. The evidence of the fallen Undead where all around her, but to associate Xander with the achievement of dispatching them was next to impossible for her to do. One or two vampires - Sure, but twenty? She shook her head as she steadied herself, HE was here - HE did this, and HE just left as if it was nothing. Left her again, like SHE was nothing.

Buffy exited the Warehouse and allowed her eyes to follow his hunched form up the street. Almost against her will her feet then followed after him.

"Xander, XANDER! Wait --- please."

Buffy felt like an annoying blonde haired Terrier nipping at the heels of a stranger, the look she received from her ancient and lost friend also seemed to correspond with that thought.

"What is it Summer's?"

"I---I thought we could, y'know, talk?"

Xander turned and continued to quicken his pace "I said 'I'll speak to you later', or didn't you hear me?"

"I heard you Xander. I just want you to*"

"*WHAT?" The moment he had given her was more then he could personally stand. He was giving her an opportunity to walk away - couldn't she see that. He had hurt too many people today, Giles then Willow. If it wasn't for Dawn, or the fear of how she would react, he would have easily have turned on the Slayer as well.

Buffy headed Xander off and stood defiantly in his path "Why are you being such an Arsehole - I'm trying to talk to you." Buffy quickly then bought her hands to her mouth, scarcely believing the words she had uttered. She desperately wanted to talk to him, not cuss him out. "Sorry Xander, I didn't mean for that to come out like it did."

"Like I care. Question, Slayer - What if I don't want to talk to you? Hell, does that matter - has anything I've wanted EVER mattered to you?"

Xander could see a shimmering reflection of the half-moon in the Slayer's eyes, and he knew she was seconds away from tears.

Shame, the emotion that stayed his hand earlier this evening returned and represented itself again. He pondered that he should be glad, he thought he was devoid of those feelings, only the dark ones seemed to exist these day's.

"It matters Xander. You matter. You matter to me, but---but if you don't want to talk to me, I'll walk away. Just promise me, please, that WE will talk."

Xander scanned the face of his adversary as her first tear fell.

A crying Buffy Summers. To Superman it was kryptonite, to him it was this. As much as he wanted to turn around, walk away and scream out for her to go to Hell - he couldn't. He had to admit that her apology and her offer to walk away seemed sincere. And for a moment as she spoke to him the dark storm that dwelled within his being quieten. With soft words he replied "You want to talk - talk."

Buffy wiped the tears from her now brightened eyes, and drew in the cool night air to her lungs. She felt a pain as she breathed, but she didn't care as she looked frantically around for a seat, a café - anything!

In the distance was a Bus Stop, with a seat. The Slayer preceded to lead the man she cared for so much to the humble arrangement.

As they both sat down, Buffy became lost to what she wanted to say, she once more looked to Xander again, away from the shadows of the night street. She saw him clearly now. For the first time in uncountable days she was seeing her Xander-shaped-friend again. He was thinner then the last time she had seen him, but it wasn't an unhealthy thinnest. He was lean and presented a vibe akin to a coiled spring. A person able to jump to action in a half-second notice. His face had also lost some weight; his cheek bones were more prominent. But it was his eyes that drew her, where once they sparkled with mirth and life they were now dead and dull like an off-colored stone.

The 'Chosen One' tried to read him; she tried to attempt to understand how to approach this delicate moment. But the Scooby- retired was unreadable. "I---I don't know where to start."

His voice was flat and automatic "Start at the beginning."

"That night, huh?"

"If you think that's where this all started, I personally think it began long before that."

Buffy looked at him again in the street light, and then once more returned her gaze to her feet. "Your right. It started long before then, I didn't mean it to, but it did. Xander, before I continue I want you to know that you are one of the most important people in my life. I really mean that. I cannot express how much not having you in my life these past few years has crippled my soul. I know what I did - done, hurt you, and I cannot say sorry enough times for that. But I want you to know that in hurting you - I hurt myself more. Can you ever forgive me?" The Slayer returned her eyes to the dark haired Warrior, hoping him to give the affirmative.

In an unwavering voice he responded "We'll come back to that, I want reasons. Why?"

"I can only say I was in love, or I thought I was in love. Riley made a convincing case and*"

"*Those are his reasons, not yours - What were yours?"

Buffy head shot back at the sharp tone, Xander's voice was almost threatening.

"Mine? They were that, that I --- I couldn't take it any more Xander. How many times had we fought together, and you got hurt? More then I care to remember, that's how many. You're brave Xander. You didn't have to keep proving that to me. And I was afraid that if we continued, your insane desire to impress me with your courage would have only gotten yourself killed. And if you got killed, I don't think I would have recovered." Buffy fought hard to hold back her tears again, and turned her head away so he could not witness her vulnerability.

"Riley was right, you were undisciplined, you were reckless in the field, and you were unpredictable. But those same qualities that made you a liability have also saved my life, Willows, and Giles on countless occasions."

'Then Why?"

"Because --- I --- I --- couldn't take it anymore. You were always jumping into danger, making yourself a human shield - as if nothing could kill you. But your not invulnerable Xander, every time you did that --- every time you took a blow meant for me --- or Willow, or Giles, it hurt me. I'm the Slayer; it's my job to protect the World."

"I live in the World Slayer, what effects you will eventually affects me as well. And I don't need your permission to choose who I fight, and who I don't. I can take care of myself."

Buffy was silent for a moment. Allowing Xander's words to hang in the air. "Xander I never wanted to imply that you couldn't take care of yourself. I just didn't want to see you get hurt anymore because of me."

Xander bore his eyes into the blonde on his left. "Well congratulations Slayer, I was hurt AND it was because of you."

Buffy Anne Summers nodded fearing the continuation of the topic. "Xander, about Spike*"

"*None of my business."

"No, I want to tell you*"

"*Well, I don't want to hear it. The thought of you and Spike, I'm not going to lie - it repels me. Giles told me why, or rather his idea as to why, but it doesn't matter. The fact is you wanted it. You wanted Spike. Vampires and Jerks. I thought you would have learnt you lesson after Angel and Parker.

I mean there are plenty of nice normal guys out there Buffy *"

Xander froze, he just said her name. He hadn't said her name in years, less then one day he was already back into type. He couldn't let that happen, he was stronger then he was. He had a destiny that damned him, and he had to fulfill it. The Old Xander would buckle; the one he had created over the last three years was uncompromising and would stand strong to his fate. He came back to Sunnydale so that everyone could move on, him especially - he did not need this baggage of doubt.

Xander stood up quickly, as if someone had poured hot water into his lap. "Forgiveness, Buffy? You want forgiveness? I'll offer you the same deal I offered Willow. You think about everything I've done for you over the years. The Big things and the little things. And tomorrow, after a night of contemplation you tell me whether you deserve forgiveness. You Judge yourself."

"You've already seen Willow?"

'Earlier - at your place."

"Willow was at my home?"

"I actually went there to see you first, but you were with your boyfriend." Buffy was about to vigorously object to the reference and once again attempt to explain that she had just concluded that relationship hours earlier, but something in Xander's Dead eyes told her to remain quiet. "She came over with her 'partner'. Your --- 'sister', Dawn."

Buffy once more nodded her head to the mention. "I like her, she's - -- sweet, and honest. We're meeting tomorrow, she called it a Date, it's just a talk though."

"W---why are you telling me this?" Buffy began to flush at the thought of her little sister dating Xander.

"Because I wanted you to know that my intentions are honorable, and not vindictive. I have agreed to see her again because of who she is - not because of who she is 'related' to. I like her.

I don't want you to think that this is some plan of mine to get revenge on you for hurting me, by me hurting Dawn. I would never do that - she's innocent in this."

"Th---thank you."

Xander nodded and then began to walk away from the Bus Stop. Buffy stood up; wanting to follow him once more, but a little voice at the back of her head warned her curb her intent. It was hauntingly familiar. She watched Xander take step after step onwards into the night as she tried to figure out its identity.

Then she heard it again, it wasn't a warning this time but a remembered statement 'Death is your gift.' It was the First Slayer. But what did the First Slayer have to do with Xander?