Willow's Zany Plan

Author: eddy29456 <tc40sbenn[at]prodigy.net>

Rating: PG? R? No worse than Tenhawk?

Feedback: Please (see Author's note)

Archiving : As you wish

Disclaimer : Buffy, etc. not my property, no copyright infringement intended.

LONG Author's note : Last night I was discussing, in a calm and rational manner, why eight pages of "Xander, the Vampire Slayer" was still in betaread. My betareader, also my sister, responded with a suspicious comment about red ink shortage, and suggested that I send out something else that was unbeta'd while I waited.

"Well," I said, "I have started a Highlander crossover, tentatively titled 'There Can Be Only One Giles' and have a story of what my version of the final episode of Buffy would be like in the daydream stage, but neither are Xander-centric so I don't know what list I would send them to."

"I would like you to consider a BX romantic fiction."

"I don't know, sis, that sounds a bit angsty and depressing. Pairing Xander, one of whose characteristics is an overwhelming concern for those close to him and dogged loyalty with a woman who has never had a successful romantic relationship even on those occasions when she dated the living, who is statistically nearly certain to die horribly seems like it would be terribly depressing."

"Actually, in BX romantic fiction, the relationship is considered a good and positive thing."

"Really? How in the world do the writers sell that?"

"Well, think of the fan-fiction writers you consider good. Many of them have written BX fiction, true."

"Well, Lori Bush has, and Cyclone, and Beleg Cuthalion. I guess." "How do they manage to sell this improbability?"

"Lori does it with dialog so well constructed, that sounds so much like the characters that you ignore the impending disaster, Cyclone uses a series of quick plot twists to focus your attention on the changing plots rather than the improbability of the relationship, and Beleg Cuthalion uses a near poetic sequence of words to blind you to the future pain and sorrow."

"See, it works for them."

"Yes, but at least with Lori and Cyclone they started with lesser improbabilities, such as Joxer from Xena as a romantic lead or Xander seducing lesbians. They didn't just jump into writing such improbabilities as a stable romantic relationship involving Buffy. I, on the other hand, could not convince my audience that Xander, faced with the death of Buffy and being enspelled by Willow to violate his deepest principles, might consider suicide. I don't think I have the skills to make this work."

"You cannot make yourself succeed, you can only make yourself try. Not trying is automatic failure."

"How will you betaread this, sis?"

"I will not. Send it out in parts, and read the replies. You will have to encourage responses."

"I can write an author's note and offer to send 'There Can Be Only One Giles' and my final Buffy version to those who provide feedback, unless they specifically request I not."

"That will certainly let you know who read the author's note," my sister said in the voice she uses for snide sarcasm.

So, without further ado, because typing all this ado makes my fingers sore, let "Willow's Zany Plan" commence.

Timeframe: Summer after season six

##thoughts in here##

Latest addition

Part 1

"Dammit, Will, it's gone too far," Buffy fumed. Willow looked on in awe. ##I skinned a man alive and didn't look that upset,## Willow thought, flinching inwardly. "He jumped into a group of five vampires while he was with me on patrol. Since he dumped Anya, he's gone from brave to suicidal." ##I try to destroy the world, animate skeletons to kill you, and decide not to destroy the world because I'd have to hurt Xander. Two months later, you bitch to me about Xander, expecting me to take your part. There are times when your blindness exceeds Xander's.##

"Maybe he needs time to adjust."

"It won't do any good to let him 'adjust' if he dies before he finishes 'adjusting.' What do we do?"

##We? We? YOU!## Willow gritted her teeth. "I see two alternatives, Buffy. You," the subtle emphasis was lost on the Slayer, "can do the adult, mature thing. You," ##irony on Buffy - irresistible but pointless##, "can sit down with Xander, and calmly tell him the truth. 'Xander, your judgment lately is flawed. You need to gain some perspective and return to the slaying later.'"

"I'd feel . . . funny about that. What's plan B?"

"I come up with some zany, emotionally manipulative plan so you get Xander to play it safe without having to speak honestly to him."

"Plan B for Buffy - can you come up with it before you go to England?"

##Of course, my preparations for a mystical ordeal that might well kill me or leave me a mindless husk can go on hold so you don't have to deal honestly with someone who risked his life for yours on several occasions.##

Teeth, gritted too often, can stress fracture, popping loose bits of enamel. Willow consciously relaxed her jaw.

"Sure Buffy - no problem."

One serious problem with fighting fiends nightly is that you begin to feel that anything not trying to claw your heart out is happy with you. Mere verbal sarcasm simply sails past unnoticed.

The next day, Willow fidgeted in Buffy's living room. She wondered about the plan she had come up with. ##Is it too obvious that this 'Plan B' won't work? Will Buffy catch on that I expect her to reject it, making her confront Xander honestly? My girlfriend's dead, I skinned a man alive, and I'm facing a mystical ordeal that has a possibility of worse than killing me. My focus may be off. ##

Buffy arrived, with Giles. Willow made herself meet Giles' eyes. ## Ok, I blew off years of his trying to teach me respect for majik, twice mind-raping my girlfriend, once dragging my best friend from heaven, and once trying to kill the whole world. He lied about his involvement in majik, almost got his girlfriend killed, released the demon Igon into the world and, . . . ok- my walk on the dark side a bit worse than Giles'. Xander likes me better though. ##

"I don't have time to fill you in on the plan. Back me up, Giles, ok?"

"Of course," said the Englishman. He was actually looking forward to this.

Willow had been so teary, droopy. Giles had honestly been fearful she would give up. But now, confident, forceful, resolved Willow.

Xander came in. "Hey, all - why the grimness?"

Willow laughed. ##Was that laugh obviously forced enough that Xander knows it was forced? He is sometimes frighteningly perceptive, and sometimes frighteningly oblivious. ## "No problem, Xand, just . . . I need to talk to you. Buffy, could you get Xander some lemonade please?"

"Sure, it'll be just a bit."

Willow could tell Buffy was hiding around the corner. Xander, however, could not see the shadow.

"Xander, Buffy is in big trouble. You remember the test Buffy went through on her 18th birthday?"

"Of course, so?"

"Well, the reason for forcing the Slayer to deal with vampires without her powers is that later in the Slayer's life - if she lives that long - she goes through a short period where her powers become unreliable - subject to momentary fading."

"Oh god, she could be killed!"

"Yah, nice of the council not to tell us until Giles noticed symptoms and asked them. 'Usually this comes later for slayers,'"" Willow finished in a pompous English accent. Giles desperately regretted his contacts. No glasses to clean. "Anyway, you will have to back her up. Giles will train you, and I'll 'Buffy, I need company' to keep her from patrolling until you're ready to cover her. And, Xander, no heroics. No more throwing yourself into the fight. You've got to hang back, because if you're in action when Buffy has a moment, she'll die. There's no time to waste - Giles, Xander, go, train."

"My lemonade . . ."

"I'll tell Buffy something came up."

Buffy walked around the corner as soon as Giles and Xander went out the door. "And what is this going to do?"

"One - no Xander for a week while he 'trains.' Two - Xander hanging back, terrified of getting into the fight for fear he'll fail you. Three - a month or two of him terrified for your safety while he recovers his will to live."

"Oh." Willow was horrified to see a grin break out on Buffy's face. ##No, no, no, this is where you tell me the idea is so stupid you'll just tell Xander the truth. ## "Xander worrying about me, let him see how it feels."

#No, no, no, this is a bad idea. Must convince Buffy. Assault her vanity. ## "You know, Buffy, for this to work right you're gonna hafta have a few . . . moments." ##Buffy play the wilting female in front of Xander? Not in this lifetime. ##

"No problem. Oh . . . Xander . . . I feel faint. You must save me Xander, please . . . ah." With a huge sigh Buffy sank to the floor, finishing a performance hammier than Willow's upbringing would allow her to contemplate.

"Um - yeah." Willow practiced not gritting her teeth. ##No, no, no, well, she'll never be able to keep it up. And I'll be gone when she tells Xander the truth. ##

The next day Willow stopped by The Magic Box. "Giles, how's the 'training' going."

"Startlingly well. Xander actually has some natural aptitude for the job of Watcher. He'll never be mistaken for Bruce Lee, but he is getting good enough to help train the Slayer. Why is this idiocy happening?"

"Xander's taking extraordinary risks 'helping' Buffy lately. I had hoped this obvious farce would inspire her to talk straight with Xander about it."

"No such luck."

"Not yet. But Buffy hasn't spent a week patrolling with a concerned Xander nudging her to be cautious with that famous Xander subtlety. I don't think it will take any longer than that. She'll sit down and tell him he can't take risks patrolling."

"Or she'll kill him."

Giles, Buffy doesn't kill people unless they attack her, like the zoo guy, Ted the robot. Or, she believes she's in a fantasy world and needs to kill her best friends to escape. Or, . . . well, she won't kill Xander."

"No, she won't. Well, back to training Xander."

"More hand to hand?"

"No, research techniques."


"We'll be gone, and in an emergency the research team while we're away will be Buffy and Xander."

"Goddess, I hope nothing comes up."

Seven days later

Xander followed Buffy, his stomach tightening. ##I've patrolled hundreds of times. The summer Buffy ran away, I was patrolling with just Oz and Willow for backup. The summer Buffy was dead, I went through the cemeteries with a rewired sexbot. Why am I scared? Because now I'm responsible. ##

Xander looked around, remembering what Giles had told him. "Vampires, Xander, posture and pose to cause fear. The demon in them loves the fear, the panic. Remaining calm, acting instead of reacting - that is one of the secrets of the Slayers." It sounded so convincing in the brightly lit Magic Box. Not as convincing in a dark cemetery at night.

Suddenly Xander noticed a rustle in the bushes. Giles' lecture came back to him. "The obvious rustle before a vampire attacks is a technique usually used by hunting groups. One makes the noise, and when the victim turns the rest of the group grabs from behind."

Buffy was moving, not toward or away from the sound, but to her right. The vamps ahead and behind would thus have to move so they were in the same direction from her, not getting a back shot.

Xander, in the approved manner, moved in the opposite direction from Buffy, so that the vamps would either have to divide their forces or offer one of the two hunters a back shot.

Five vamps sprang forward to attack Buffy, and the one who made the noise moved on Xander.

Xander feinted with a kick at the vampire's shin. As the vampire postured and growled, Xander moved past it, and slammed the wooden backspike on his axe into the vampire's chest. The vampire dusted. ##Good, hope Buffy's ok. ##

Buffy had nailed two vampires in the short time it had taken Xander to get one. She swung a stake at one of the remaining three, narrowly missing the vampire.

##I saw that coming. Do I need to step in? ##

As Xander agonized, the smallest vampire made a diving tackle at Buffy. Buffy's dodge took her mostly out of range. Mostly.

##Damn, ## thought Buffy, as the little vampire's hand intercepting her heel took her down. She slapped and flipped up, the showy move bringing her face right up into the largest vampire's fist. Buffy kept her feet, but at the cost of staggering away.

"Back, creatures of the night!" Xander's voice made it obvious he was afraid. His axeblade made the downed little vampire dust.

The two remaining vampires were unable to resist the sound of fear. "Remember, Xander, the vampire is a demonically animated corpse. Where humans have a life instinct impelling them to survive, vamps have a demon compelling them to inflict pain. Given a choice between causing pain and being destroyed or killing painlessly and not being destroyed, the vampires demon will tend them toward the first choice. If they have time to think about it the self preservation from their human personality will overrule but . . . " "Time, Giles, excess word count. Cliff notes version." "Vampires will die to hurt you. Use it to trick them." Xander smiled inwardly at the memory. ##I've actually dusted more vamps than won arguments with Giles. ## The vampires moved in. ##Of course, Giles doesn't rip open your throat with his teeth if you lose. ##

Xander pulled out a large crucifix. "Back, I say." The vampires were momentarily stopped by the cross. Xander knew that the vampire backed off by the crucifix was one of those ideas with bad films behind it and nothing else. Oh, sure crucifixes scared vampires, and burned vampires with long enough contact. But Xander knew from personal experience neither of these factors would stop a park bench a vampire hurled at you.

Buffy, meanwhile, was using the distraction to move behind the largest vampire. While Bubba looked for a handy item to throw, Buffy nailed him in the heart with her stake. The other vampire immediately moved on her, throwing kicks and punches furiously. Buffy waited for Xander to nail the vampire from behind.

Xander started forward, then checked himself. ##The noise of fighting will attract vamps, so if Buffy is in a one-on-one fight (and not fainting) let her do the fighting and keep watch for vampires. ## Xander scanned the area, senses alert for incoming vampires.

Buffy was winning, of course, but the shot to the face had left her a little slow. Not much, but this guy was good. After taking a shot to the ribs that would have left Xander with broken bones, she decided Xander should help. After a punch to the temple caused a momentary flash in her vision, she decided he should help right now.

##It isn't that I can't take this guy, but Xander needs to 'save me' sometime, why not now? ## Buffy staggered and groaned, a performance that would not have done Mariah Carey proud, and Xander rushed in and staked the vamp from behind with the sharpened butt of his axe.

As the vampire dusted, Xander felt relieved. "Well, that was . . . bracing,"

"Um, ya . . . thanks for the save," Buffy mumbled.

The rest of the patrol passed without incident. As they reached Giles' place, Buffy said, "Can I catch a ride home?"


Xander drove Buffy to her house and let her out. He walked her to her door.

"You want to come in?"

"Nah. Gotta get up for work in the morning."

"You headed for your apartment?"

"Nu-uh. Staying at Gile's place. Gotta reading list to finish."

##Reading list?!?!? ## "Um . . . Reading list?"

"Yah, Giles idea. After all, you told the council to . . . " seeing Dawn headed toward the door "go jump, Willow needs to avoid the occult, your training regime makes it difficult for you . . . Hi Dawn."

"Hey Xander - watcha doin'?"

"Saying 'Goodnight Buffy.' Goodnight Buffy. Goodnight Dawn."



Xander walked back to his car.

"Bed. Now."

"Buffy . . . it's Friday."

"Oh. How was your date?"

"He's unstaked . . . and unslaked."


"I didn't do anything I didn't want to do, and he was cool about it. On the whole, I'd rather date guys who . . . er . . . have non-Platonic . . . interest in me . . . as long as they're . . . restrained enough not to push."

"My little sister . . . and restrained men . . . there goes my parental figure of the year award."

"Buffy! How was your date anyway?"

"My date was patrolling with Xander . . . not a date."

"Yah. Wandering through the dark with a cute guy facing immanent death together to protect the innocent - surely much less romantic than sitting in a teen club listening to a pimply thrash - metal cover band. Then again, you're older, and too much excitement wouldn't be good for you."

"How fortunate that I am so successful at avoiding excitement in my advanced years."

"True, if I'd been out with Xander . . . "

"I am," Buffy interrupted, "far too young to hear you finish that thought. Bed. Now."

"You know, it's odd how, when you get upset, you stop using verbs . . ."


Dawn hurried up to bed. Buffy sat and thought about her life. Then, the doorbell rang.

"Spike," said the Slayer. "How . . . nice to see you." It was hard to keep the sarcasm from her voice.

Ironically, a good Spike was a bad Spike. With the return of his soul, his feelings of remorse were overwhelming. ## It took Angel 80 years to get over his guilt to the point he was more than a waste of space. I'll be dead before Spike is fit for company.##

Spike was, as usual, sobbing. "Buffy, you don't understand. How can I live with what I've done? I've killed, tortured, maimed . . . " ##BORED!## "How do I make it through the day?" ##Sleep, you twerp!##

"Spike, you did all those things, but you did them lacking a soul. You had no restraint on the demon. Did you, when you were human, never want to hurt someone? Your soul stopped you, and without your soul you would have done evil." ##Banality, the balm of Victorians.## "Every human being has darkness within, and they must deal with it. And every human being has made choices that they realize later were evil or selfish, and must deal with that." ##And every human being deals without moaning to me daily about it. Only the damned whiny souled vampires do that. I think that's why the council doesn't try to give them souls. If they were all like this humans would spend so much time listening to sniveling they'd not have time to raise food, etc.##

After a few more platitudes Spike finally left.

In the blessed quiet, Buffy thought, ## Spike is nicer than he was and I'm not interested. Xander's always been a nice guy, I've never been interested. Riley was a nice guy. I pushed Riley away. Scott was a nice guy, didn't last. I mourned more over Parker, a one night stand who played me, than I did about Riley who loved me. Willow the lesbian (!) had a crush on Giles, and I never noticed him. I'm a cliche - the girl who loves the bad boys. Something must be done. ##

Bright and early the next morning, Buffy - slept through the alarm. She finally awakened, went downstairs, and saw Dawn.

"Hi," Dawn chirped.

## No human is this cheerful in the morning. Dawn has been replaced by a demon. I should kill it. ## "Hi."

"I made coffee."

## Keep demon. Demon makes coffee. Kill sister. ## "Thanks."

"How you doing?"

"I've decided to seduce Xander and marry him."


"We'll get cool bridesmaid dresses. I'm thinking a small wedding - no big church thing - no Xander family."


"I'm kidding, Dawn. But suppose I weren't. That's why you need to stop messing in my life."

"Buffy, you . . . "

"Make bad romantic choices habitually? Mess up my love life routinely? Destroy any small chance of happiness I have? Feel free to say 'Buffy, we've both gotten the point.'"

"Buffy, we've . . . old joke."

"OK, off to school."

"In July, on Saturday? I'd feel lonely there."

"Xander, hi."

"Hi, Buffy, Hi Dawn."

"I thought you were working."

"I was. Four drywall seams sanded and mudded. Twenty minutes of work that pushes completion date 1 day if not done, costing McGuire Construction 500 dollars plus. They pay me four hours of overtime, I do twenty minutes worth of work, everyone's happy."

"Cool," said Dawn.

"You're looking very nice this morning, Dawn."

"Brunch and mall hanging."

"Ah, the rigorous time schedules of today's youth. And will the infamous Kevin be there?"

"Well, that is the plan. But you know, if you come to your senses and offer to run off to Mexico with me, I'll drop him."


"That sounded much less sleazy in my head."

"I'm always suave in my head too. Darn reality."

"Don't encourage her, Xander."

"Well, yah, don't want beautiful girls to flirt with me because . . . losing the thread here. Why was that again?"

"Because the beautiful underage girl's sister would castrate you barehanded."

"No more flirting, Dawn."

Dawn grinned. "There's my ride."

"Don't do anything Buffy wouldn't do."

"Cool - I can sleep with vampires. Bye."

Part 2

Buffy watched with horror as the car full of teenagers left. She looked at Xander and vented, "How can you watch her go off with those guys? Look at how they're driving!"

"Um . . . Better than you, actually, Buff. See the car stopping at the red octagonal sign? You're actually supposed to do that. And the blinking light on the back in the direction they're turning? There's a lever on the steering wheel you move to cause that, and . . ." Xander shut up as he noticed Buffy was wearing her 'Buffy, the Xander Slayer' look.

"Do you think this is funny, Xander?"

"If I apologize for my entirely inappropriate humor at the expense of a woman who, five years ago, went off to face a master vampire, knowing it would mean her death, without telling her mother, now in a berserker rage about her sister going to the mall with boys, can I go unslain?"

"Okay, no more Giles lectures for you, young man."

"I was afraid you'd go into snide withdrawal."

Against her will Buffy found herself smiling, "The horrors. Thank you, thank you, for saving me."


"So, what's the good news?"

"News, well, I got an e-mail from Giles."

"Hey, why didn't he send one to me?"

"This is business. My unofficial watcher position may become official."

"You gonna be my watcher for good?"

"No, Faith's - maybe."

"Faith's." Buffy's tone was suddenly much less amused banter and much more ready to kill.

"Apparently Faith was on the 'let's not disembowel the guard' side of a prison dispute. She was injured so she won't be out for a little while. When she's out, I'm gonna be her watcher, maybe."

"Well, won't that be fun. You get to battle evil with evil at your back."

"Um, Buffy, I killed several people by summoning a song and dance demon. My ex-fiancé killed literally tens of thousands. Giles summoned a murderous orgy demon.. My best friend summoned a murderous orgy demon. And I dimly recall being tied up in a basement by someone who was going to feed me to a demon."

"That social worker was right. I'm not providing Dawn with a healthy supportive environment. Seriously, though, there are differences between us and Faith. We were good people who did bad things. Second, we didn't dress as tacky."

"Ah, the true difference in good and evil being tasteful clothing selection. You have obviously been possessed by Cordelia. I can perform an exorcism - we must burn a Neiman-Marcus ad lit by a tweety-bird lighter while chanting 'Th-Th-That's all folks.'"

Buffy laughed, until she was struck by a thought. ## How Often have my boyfriend's intentionally made me laugh. I don't date guys who make me happy. Then I complain when I'm sad. No more dour guys. ##

"Serious look, Buff."

"Serious thought. Back to Faith. Do you really want to be her Watcher?"

"The real question, Buffy, is 'Do I trust the fabulous watchers?'" Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, Quenton Travers, Gweneth Post, Rupert Giles - 25% chance of a good one. If I don't become Faith's watcher, how will I feel if she kills someone?"

"It's not your job, Xander. You don't have to do it."

"I'm the Slayer. Mystically empowered to fight the fight. 'The one girl in all the world with the power . . . yadda, yadda, yadda.'"

"And I'm the Xander. A totally unique individual, with a unique set of abilities, attitudes, and skills, in the battle of my own free will, the same as you. If Faith kills someone, or a demon kills her and goes on to hurt others, I won't feel I did what I could."

"'A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do?'"

"See, now, if I simplified something that, Giles would say something snotty."

Buffy laughed again. "You seem pretty eager to do this."

"Not really. I'm not sure how comfortable I'm going to be with Faith."

"The whole 'she tried to kill you' issue?"

"No, if you recall my life, the only girl who showed romantic interest in me, without spells, was Cordelia." ## My god my life sucks. ## "I just . . . have Faith issues."

"I know what you mean. Can you deal?"

"I guess. There's a Watcher who's gonna come talk to Faith and I. He'll give the final approval. Meeting him tomorrow. You wanna come? See the beautiful California penal system up close and personal?"

"I'm not touching that."

"Various inappropriate comments spring to mind. I'll leave before I make them."

"See you at nine.

Part 3

"Ah, a beautiful Saturday summer evening in Sunnydale. The moon shining down brightly, but not full enough to bring out the werewolves. And . . ." Xander stopped his banter as the phase "Oooh, he's got a cross." drifted to them. Buffy slid silently to the side, and downwind, to flank the vampires.

Xander staggered forward in an imitation of drunkenness. ## This is how drunks walk, I know, I've seen it. If anyone had told me I'd be voluntarily calling up memories of family reunions when I was sixteen, I'd have called them a liar. ##

Xander staggered into a small clearing, just in time to see a vampire throw a bottle at the cross, knocking it from the man's hand. "No fair," Xander called out.

"Excuse me," said a vampire. "What do you mean 'no fair?'"

"When I tried that cross thing, you guys threw a park bench. But you knocked his cross from his hands with a bottle."

"But, we have never seen you before. General Semantics discusses the error of assuming vampire (1) is equal to vampire (2), and . . . " the vampire dusted as Buffy's stake penetrated its dead heart. She spun and kicked another, knocking him down. She continued spinning and knocked the final vampire's feet from under him. She stopped spinning, dove on the vampire, using one hand to stake him and the other to push her dive into a flip. She landed on the vampire she had knocked away with one leg across his upper shoulders and one across his waist. The stake in her hand slammed into his heart, ending the unholy thing's horrid existence.

"Are you all right?" Buffy asked the man.

"Indeed I am," said the man. "My name is Michael Thorton, and you would be Buffy Summers and Alexander Harris."

"Please, call me Xander. Mr. Giles said you were coming, but said nothing about you coming out to meet us at night."

"Actually, I was on my way for some ice cream."

"And decided to walk out, in Sunnydale, at night?" Buffy sounded incredulous.

"Looking back, not the best decision, but . . . "

"Well, we've finished patrolling, so I guess we can give you a ride back to your hotel."

On the way to the car, Buffy said, "So, you're here to evaluate Xander's watcher skills to see if he can be Faith's watcher?"

"I'm sure he can, Mr. Giles speaks highly of him. And as you pointed out to Quentin Travers, he has a considerable amount of field experience."

"And volunteers for the position of watcher get scarce for a slayer who tied her last watcher to a chair and tortured him," Buffy's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"It was felt that Faith . . . might be more suited to an American watcher."

"Where is your hotel, Mr. Thorton," asked Xander.

"Actually. If it is okay with Ms. Summers, I'd like to discuss some things with her before I go to bed. I could take a cab from her place," said Michael.

"Sure, ok," said Buffy.

"Casa de Summers it is," said Xander.

"So, how many vampires did you see tonight," Michael.

"Just the ones you met," said Buffy. "Summer seems to be the slow season. Maybe because the days are longer."

As they arrived, Xander said, "Well, off to bed for me. Tomorrow."

After Xander pulled out of the driveway, Michael said, "You seem to get along well with him."

"Yes, he's great. One of my best friends."

"How do you feel about him becoming a watcher?"

"I think Xander would make a fine watcher. I don't really want him to be Faith's Watcher."

"You dislike Faith."

"I hate Faith. Faith is evil. She murders."

"Yes, she did murder. But, since then, she's attempted reform, and she risked her life to save another."

"Yes, and that has happened before. She killed Finch, wigged, tried to run, I found her, vampires attacked us, and she killed one to save me. Then she sold us out. Faith lies badly, but her fake remorse can fool Giles."

"Do you think Faith attempting to kill him is overly affecting his opinions on Faith?"

"No, I think the attempted murder has underly affected his opinion. I think her popping his cherry has overly affected his opinion."

"Xander was too forgiving of Faith?"

"Up until he found out she threatened Willow, yes."

"And that turned him against her?"

"Oh, yeah. Save his life, save the world, whatever you do, as soon as Xander sees you as a threat to Willow, he'll kill you."

"Do you think he's capable of being fair to Faith?"

"As long as she doesn't seem to be threatening Willow, sure. He forgave Anya."

Ah, yes. Now, Anyanka."

"She needs to be killed," Buffy said emphatically.

"Is there any point? Humans who will trade their souls for eternal life and vengeance gratification are too many, she'd just be replaced within a day."

"So we shouldn't kill vampires 'cause they'll just sire more?"

"A point. Do you think the time and resources invested in defeating Anyanka would save more or less lives used against more conventional threats like vampires?"

"After my mind finishes boggling at 'vampires, the more conventional threat, I'll probably give you a point."

"So why the anti-Anyanka . . . "

"She hurt Xander!"

"How did she hurt Xander?"

"She slept with Spike."

"Didn't you, ah, sleep with Spike?"

"Alright, yes, I did, geez, you a psychologist?"

"Who else would they send to evaluate Xander's fitness as a watcher?"

"Where were you when Wesley was sent out?"

"If you're referring to Mr. Wyndham-Price, his family connections somehow got him field qualified without psych review."

"Bad idea."

"The council is of the same opinion - now."

"Too bad you don't get to veto slayers, huh?"

"It would make life much easier sometimes, perhaps. Although in actual fact, we do some report analysis, our group doesn't even provide treatment to slayers. The conflict of interest involved in having a therapist be a watcher would be too great."

"The council provides therapists to slayers?" Giles never told me that."

"Rupert Giles has certain ideas from his upbringing that, well, if you'd told him you thought you needed therapy he'd have requested it, but he wouldn't volunteer the opinion."

"I'm not licensed in this country. But therapy will have some problems. The real problem is the lack of recovery time in a secure space."

"A padded cell?"

"No, a space where you feel secure and not threatened. Mr. Harris's analysis linking your problems in late 1999 and early 2000 to your staying in Sunnydale over the summer instead of visiting your Father on weekends and holidays was full of psychobabble, but insightful nonetheless."

"Xander wrote an analysis?"

"He discussed his opinion with Rupert Giles, who had him write it up for our analysis. Unfortunately, it was not given an urgency code, and analysis was delayed until late into the Glory debacle, when time off would have been hard to arrange. Of course, that difficulty increased when you were dead. Had anyone notified the psych department that you were alive, we would have acted. We're kept in the dark far too much."

"Xander figured out what was wrong."


"Was that when you guys started looking at him as a possible watcher?"

"Yes. And, may I add, we're very grateful to you for doing this whole weakness charade."

"Oh, yeah, that."

"I wonder if you would be so kind as to arrange an 'episode' while I'm watching?"

"I'll try."

"Thank you. I'd best call that cab."

After the watcher left, Buffy went to bed.

The next day, Xander again asked Buffy, "Want to come see Faith?"

"Why the interest in having me come along," Buffy asked.

"I assure you, it has everything to do with enjoying your company. Absolutely nothing to do with nervousness about going to meet a superhumanly strong person who tried to strangle me. Nothing to do with nervousness around the watcher. Nope, just the joy of wanting to be with one of my favorite people."

"Okay, okay, I'll go."

The drive to the prison was boring. After they arrived, Xander was the first to talk to Faith. "Hey, Faith."

"Hey. Hear we may be working together."

"Yeah, if you're past the whole 'I'd like to strangle Xander' thing."

Faith grinned, an honest smile. "Are you past the whole 'wanna do Faith' thing?"


"Damn. You know, a girl, just out of prison, able to be with guys again after a looong time with just girls, she might get taken advantage of. Lead into wicked ways if not closely, very closely, supervised. Someone really committed to her . . . reform, would probably . . . supervise her . . . romantic activities very, very closely. Up close and personal, even."

"Unless, of course, that someone trusted her, and wanted to make sure that she always had a friend available she could trust."

** Good one, X-man,** Faith thought.

Faith asked, "Did I see Buffy with you?"

"Yeah, she kept me company on the way down here."

"'Kept company?' Is that a code phrase for fucking?"

"No, it's a code phrase for 'interrupting the watcher when he starts to lecture.'"

"Oh. Okay, fine."

"Faith, I'm not doing well with the whole Anya thing. I'm seriously not ready for a girlfriend. And I don't do the one night stand thing well."

"You've had some problems."

"I'm dealing."

"Okay. Buffy gonna talk to me?"

"I can ask. No promises."

Xander left, and the watcher took his place.

"So, Faith, this Friday you're out. A free woman."

"You obviously haven't ever looked at California probation requirements."

"True, true. We've arranged a position for you. Data entry - very easy. Have you rethought your position on Sunnydale?"

"I want to go to Sunnydale."

"Sunnydale has some problems."

"That's why they need me."

"Sunnydale has some people who are ambivalent about you."


"Not sure how they feel."

"Maybe. But it's got Buffy, and she hates me."

"Well, . . . "

"Don't tell me you were in a car with Buffy, on your way to see me, and 'Faith is bad' never came up."

"Buffy has some issues, but her main concern was how you and Xander would get along."




The two discussed Faith's job requirements and other things, and the guard entered. "You've got another visitor waiting, Faith."

The guard showed the smaller Slayer in and Buffy sat down across from Faith.

"Buffy, hi."

"Hello, Faith."

"So, what's new with you?"


"Aw, c'mon Buffy, let's get some chatter going. Nothing is going on in my life. What's up with yours? How's Willow? How's Giles? I know Xander's a wreck, how's everyone else doing?"

"Xander's a wreck?"

"Well, you know, yeah."

"How do you know this?"

"We talk, Buffy. You've heard of it. Where words come out of your mouth to tell how you feel, not just clever quips."

"Oh, really, Faith, how does Xander feel?"

"Hell, Buffy, he summoned a demon that killed people. Danced 'em to death. Found out because of it he'd helped hurt a really good friend of his by pulling her out of heaven. Left his fiancé at the altar, while still in love with her, she slept with a vampire and went back to being a vengeance demon. As little as I know him, I can say, 'Not good.'"


"I'd ask if you'd noticed, but the clueless look on your face tells me you didn't."

"I was in a bad place."

"I know. Spike? Another vampire?"

"Xander brought that up?"

"As one of his fuckups. Said he could have stopped both Spike and Angel, 'if he'd told you the truth.'"

"What truth?"

"I don't know, he wouldn't talk about it. Buffy, are you doing Xander?"




"I'm thinking maybe I want him."


"Well, you know, he's nice looking, and kinda sweet, and okay with the murderer thing, which some guys have issues with . . ."

"How odd."

"Yeah. He's also okay with the super-powered mystical being fighter, which, you know, some guys also have issues with."

"I've seen that. So you're going to jump him as soon as you're out?"

"Nah, he's not ready. I'm not ready. Giver me a while to get settled, get him calmer, and then it's 'Rid'em, cowboy.'"

"I don't think that's going to work."

"Well, maybe you're right. I've had straight guys reject me before. Wait, no I haven't."

"Xander's kinda unique."

"Yeah, well."

"You know, Wills won't be as accepting as me."

"Why not? She accepted Anya."


Faith turned a bit more serious. "Buffy, you were pretty clear about not wanting to hear me say I was sorry. But, I know I was wrong. And I know why it was wrong. And I know why I did . . . what I did, and it won't happen again. What more can I say?"

"Nothing. Now it's all about what you do."

"See you Buffy."

"See you, Faith."

On the way to Buffy's after Michael was dropped off, Xander said, "You and Faith get everything straightened out."

"Differences were aired. Issues got discussed. Speaking of which, Faith said something I wondered about."


"What truth could you have told me that would have kept me from Angel and Spike?"

Xander looked away.

"Is it not important now?" Buffy was curious. Even if it wasn't important, she wanted to know.

Xander sighed. "Maybe not. But it could be. Okay, here's the thing. Remember sophomore year, when I was a hyena?"

"Yes. I'd already guessed you remembered it. And lied because you were embarrassed about trashing Willow and threatening me."

"Uh, huh. Well, you know, sorta."


"Well, see, you know I had a crush on Willow back then."

"Actually, no."

"Oh, yeah, had it bad. Woke up from naked Willow dreams with . . ."

Buffy interrupted. "Willow crushage stipulated. Resume narrative."

"Well, I tried to find out if Willow was interested in me by showing an interest in you."


"Well, I couldn't just ask Willow if she was interested, 'cause she would have said yes so she didn't hurt my feelings."

Buffy began to feel like she'd stepped through the looking glass. "So you told Willow you were interested in me, to see if she got jealous?"

"Yeah. Well, anyway, she was so totally ok with it I new she was not interested in me, but I told myself 'She's just playing it cool.'"

"So you weren't interested in me at all?"

"Well, you were very good looking, and nice, but, you know, Willow . . . she was kinda . . . "

"You preferred Willow. Resume narrative."

"Well, so, I'm hyena-lad, nose extraordinaire, and I can smell horniness. And Willow's not. I mean, I turn her on less than time in the girls' locker room. Which I'm really ok with now, but took really badly then."

"So that's why the attack on Willow."

"I was very disappointed and hurt."

"Why the remark about 'Willow kidding herself?'"

"I . . . it sounded better if I weren't interested in her than she not interested in me."

"So how would this have kept me from dating Spike and Angel?"

"Well, when I was talking to you, and threatening you, . . . "


"You were scared, and you were mad, but . . . I could smell horniness, Buffy. You were turned on."

Buffy was uncomfortable suddenly. "So you told us you didn't remember."

"Buffy, I'd known you a few weeks. I hadn't really understood what you went through with the slaying before we met, and I wasn't comfortable enough with you to say, 'Hello, you sexual responses are in one of the Kinsey Report's single digit categories. What's up with that?' And then Angel, and then Angelus, and then you've run away, and then Angel, and, excuses again, but I never really felt comfortable with discussing it."

"Xander, if it makes you feel any better, I realized this about myself, for myself, freshmen year in college, and still wound up with Spike."

"Well, that's something."

"Not much, from your tone."

"I should have told you anyway."

"Probably." Buffy said, uncomfortable with deep conversation, "Say, why did you ask me to the spring fling, if you were showing interest to check Willow out?"

"Well, you were fairly nice."

"If you couldn't have Willow. Any other deep secrets you've been hiding?"

Buffy was shocked to see Xander flush and turn away.

"Well, I was kidding, but now I want to know. Talk, Xander."

"Buffy, you remember when you were going after Angel, the last time, the whole Acathla thing?"

"Dimly," said the Slayer sarcastically.

"Remember when I told you Willow said, 'Kick his ass?'"


"She actually said to tell you she was trying the spell again."


"I'm really sorry, Buffy. It was wrong."

"You really think so? Why?" Buffy's voice was cold.

"Why? Whaddya mean, 'why?'"

"Well, Xander, you've thought about this for a bit. Enough to know it was wrong. So I'll make you a deal. You tell me why I'm so upset about it, the reason. Try."

"It was wrong because it was lying," Xander said.

"Bad answer," said Buffy. "You told me yesterday you thought I was a natural blonde."

"It was wrong because it might have had you kill Angel when you didn't have too."

"Closer. If I were a better person, that might be the answer. But this isn't a 'could of,' this is a 'did.'"

"I . . . didn't trust you to do what had to be done if you had hope for Angel."

"Bingo. You didn't trust me. You said, 'Buffy can fight and die for me, but I don't trust her enough to tell her the facts about the fight that could save her life, and help her win.' When I say, 'You really should be part of the Watcher's Council,' don't think it's a compliment."


"Yes. But unfair?"

"Well, no. But harsh."

"Do you know how long you'd live if you did that to Faith?"

"I've done some wrong things, Buffy, but I've learned."

"Hope so." The Slayer sounded doubtful.

Dawn entered. "Hi, guys."

"Dawn, hi. Good to see you," said Xander.

"Hi, Dawn," said Buffy.

Dawn took in the rather intense looks. "Am I interrupting anything?"

"Well, I just pissed Buffy off, and I think she doesn't want to beat me to death with you here. But gosh, look at the time, I'm sure you two have lots of family issues to talk about, so I'll just go."

Dawn smiled. "Bye, Xander."

Xander said, "Bye Dawn. Buffy."

Buffy glared.

Xander left.

"Mad at Xander?"


"Want to talk about it?"


"Okay. Whadja do today?"

"Really? If you're still in a masochistic mood you could model clothes and let me tell you how you look in them."

"Not the time for teasing Dawn."

"Okay, you know, Xander didn't mean to hurt you, whatever it was."


"Let's eat."


"Buffy was still bothered by Xander's explanation. Something did not sound true. She thought about it during dinner, and afterwards, until Xander arrived for patrol.

Part 4

After Xander arrived at the house, Buffy confronted him.

"Xander," said Buffy, "I wonder if there is something you're not telling me."

"Yes, there is."

"What is it?"

"Well, there are many things. Did I mention that I had naked sex dreams about Cordelia about three weeks ago?"

"Really more than I wanted to hear."

"See, now, I really do want to hear about any naked sex dreams you've had about Cordelia. That's because I'm interested in your life, as any friend should be."

"I was thinking about the spell Willow was casting, that you lied to me about."


"I was wondering if the reason you gave me for lying was the only reason," Buffy continued.

"What other reason could I have had?"

"I wonder if some part of the reason you lied to me was so I would kill Angel and save Willow from doing the spell."

"Um, no," said Xander. "I didn't know what would have happened had Willow done the spell with Angel gone. It could have killed her automatically."

"Then why . . . "

"And the only way that would have made a difference is if you were holding back out of hope of Angel surviving. If you didn't hold back, it wouldn't have affected Willow's survival chances," Xander interrupted, harshly.

"Touch a nerve, there, Xander? Feel bad about that?"

"Yeah, Buff. I weighed the life of my best friend against the survival of the world and made a choice I would have died not to have had to make. It would be cool if I hadn't faced it. I'd definitely sleep better at nights. But I believe that if I told Willow, 'I had a choice of risking your life, or the life of everyone in the world, and I decided to risk everyone in the world to avoid losing you,' Willow would kick my ass. I think you'd kick my ass too, if I told you that, except more painfully 'cause of the whole Slayer thing."

"So, you don't think you did anything morally wrong? Or insulting, or demeaning?"

"Oh, sure I did," said Xander. "Sorry. I did what I thought was best at the time, and I was mistaken. My apologies."

Buffy looked at him.

Later the two entered the first cemetery on their patrol.

"Where are we going, Xand?"

"To the gravesite of Helen Fischer."


"Any time the obituary lists 'natural causes' on a twenty-year old coed, I suspect vampire, in this town," Xander said.

"Why would she be turned?"

"According to her pictures, she's quite pretty."

"You think a vampire would turn her because she's a hottie?" Buffy was incredulous.

"Most vampires, Buffy, are really stupid. It's usually explained by de Kuypner's theorem, the 'Theory of Unnatural Selection.'"

"Never heard of it," said Buffy.

"Really? It's in the recommended curriculum for Slayers. Well, stated really simply, vampires sire other vampires to be minions so they can boss 'em around. It's hard to boss around people who are smarter than you for centuries, so vamps usually try to pick people not as smart as they are, or otherwise deficient."

"That's pretty obvious, when you think about it."

"The commentaries and arguments Giles had me read," Xander paused briefly as he noted the small hand signal Buffy made, "ran over 1100 words." He looked in the direction Buffy had indicated, but saw no signs of an ambush. He continued, "That's why, actually, Harmony Kendell is so dangerous." Buffy was signaling there were additional forces behind the Slayer and her temporary watcher as well. "Harmony is the sort of moron who would turn Willow so she had somebody to hack for her, not realizing that Willow would soon dominate her completely."

Suddenly the vampires, five of them, stood up from their concealment. Xander and Buffy were standing back to back, surrounded. Buffy knew now was not the time for a fainting episode.

Three vampires rushed Buffy, and two attacked Xander. The good news was, Xander was more proficient than either of them. More good news, the two had obviously never trained together. The bad news was that Xander was facing two enemies, each of whom had superior strength and reflexes.

He blocked a punch from one, and managed to turn so that the other's kick glanced off his thigh, his arm underneath the vampire's leg forcing it up and the vampire off balance. Superior strength is useless if your feet don't touch the ground. As Xander levered the second vampire off his feet, the first vampire punched again. Xander barely managed to move his head enough to lessen the force of the blow. He still saw a flash in his vision, and knew he was in trouble.

Buffy had already staked one vampire. She was working on the other two. Only rarely had Buffy faced a coordinated set of vampire opponents. Vampires did not as a rule practice fighting, nor practice fighting together. Two of hers apparently had. Regrettably, it was the two left. Buffy knew that Xander could not hold off his two forever.

Xander, meanwhile, was crowing inwardly. Oh, sure, he doubtless had a mild concussion, but the vampire after punching his head had gotten excited and tried to grab him to rip his throat out. Xander remembered Giles yet again. <Vampires, Xander, like to drain their blood from the living. They may move to close combat before you are dead, and they frequently fight to disable rather than kill so they can feed from a living human.> As the vampire grabbed him, Xander grabbed a stake from a sleeve sheath and ended the undead monster's existence.

His joy was short-lived, however, as the other jumped up. Slightly concussed, one leg severely bruised, he would have had trouble with a human opponent, much less a vampire. Luckily, it was a clumsy vampire. It tried a punch. Xander blocked. Before getting punched in the head, Xander would have countered with his stake and ended the vampire's unlife, but he knew his reaction time hadn't recovered enough for that.

But his thinking was getting less fuzzy, and he knew that if he had a bit to recover his reflexes would improve. He was a bit taller than the vampire, the former Brittany Schrader.

Brittany had been his partner in dance class in seventh grade gym, and Cordelia had made fun of them because Brittany was, at that time, several inches taller than Xander. Brittany had also been rather clumsy, actually stepping on Xander twice. Very nice though, and quite pretty. He wished now he'd checked into her death.

Buffy, meanwhile, had not been so lucky. She had jumped into the air to avoid a sweep kick at her legs, and had been unable to twist away completely from a punch. She'd blocked it away with her forearm, but being in the air at the time, the transferred momentum had moved her down and back. Down was actually good, but back knocked her into Xander.

Xander stumbled forward, terrified. ##Has Buffy had a moment?##

Ironically, his stumble made him reflexively throw his hands forward. The hand holding the stake caught the former Brittany Schrader in the stomach, the stake entering her abdomen.

Brittany screamed. Vampiric senses were more acute than human. Pain actually hurt more than when she was alive. She startled back from Xander, giving him time to draw another stake from his sleeve and regain his balance.

Buffy, grounded, recovered even faster. The sweep kicking opponent was still couched on the ground, bringing his leg underneath him to spring to his feet. Both hands were down to allow him to support himself more securely and put more power and speed into the kick - leaving him unable to block or dodge a thrown stake. Every vampire makes a last mistake.

His partner evaluated the situation and reached a quick decision. He was not going to face an alert, aware Slayer on his own. He turned and ran. Buffy watched him until he was far enough away she could whirl to help Xander. The corpse formerly known as Brittany screamed in rage and charged Xander, who simply let the vampire's momentum ram the stake he held into its heart.

"Well, that was bracing," said Xander.

"Yeah, you ok? 'Cause, you know, your head is bleeding."

"I'll live," said Xander applying pressure to the scalp wound.

"I think we should get you to a hospital," said Buffy.

"I think you should slay Heather first," Xander said, motioning behind her.

Buffy whirled and staked the newbie.

"Okay, to the hospital," said Buffy.

"Good thought," said Xander. "Let's go." Xander set off.

Buffy said, "Xander? Um, the car is this way."

Xander looked at Buffy. "And? I mean, I just got hit in the head. I don't think I should drive."

"I was thinking maybe I could . . ."


"Why will nobody ride with me?"

"Self preservation."

"I'm not that bad a driver," Buffy insisted.

"Buffy, you had an accident leaving the parking lot at your driving test."

"Hey, it was partially his fault," Buffy said as she began to walk with Xander to the hospital. "He didn't have his lights on."

"It was three P.M."

"Plus, the tester guy made me nervous."

"And I'm sure you're calm and adrenaline free after a battle with vampires."

The two friends bickered amicably as they went to the hospital. Once there, they were advised not to let Xander sleep for 24 hours.

When the two got home, Dawn was waiting up for them.

"Where have you two been?" Dawn did not sound happy.

"We were out vampire hunting, and Xander got hurt, so we had to go the hospital," said Buffy.

"And you didn't think to call," Dawn said.

"You're supposed to be in bed," said Buffy.

"I can't sleep. I was so worried," Dawn admitted.

"Well, now you can sleep, because you know we're all right," said Buffy. "Well, except for Xander's possible concussion."

"Whoa, you really are becoming a Watcher. You got hit in the head," Dawn teased.

"But I wasn't knocked unconscious," said Xander.

"Well, Giles may not have been knocked unconscious the first dozen or so times he was hit in the head. Rome wasn't built in a day. Soon, though, you'll be knocked unconscious weekly," Dawn said.

"I can hardly wait," said Xander.

"Dawn, you need to go to bed." Buffy had been working on her stern parenting voice.

"Um, that's not really going to happen," said Dawn.

"And why not?"

"You remember that can of instant cappuccino we had?"


"Yes, I, sorta, drank it."

"You drank an entire can of instant cappuccino? Dawn, how could you?"

"I was worried."

"There was no reason to be worried. We were staking out a grave site. We could have been there until just before dawn," said Buffy.

Xander thought he heard the beginnings of a Buffy rant. His head was really not in condition for a Buffy rant. So, he interrupted. "Say, why do we always wait for the vampire to rise?"

"What?" Buffy was non-plussed by the non sequitur.

"I mean, instead of waiting by the grave for the newbie to rise, so that any vampire can tie us up for a whole night by turning someone, why don't we dig the body up, chop off the head, rebury it, and go on to patrolling? I mean, I've always wondered."

"The possibility of police interference is one thing," said Buffy.

"Hmm, yes. I can see the Sunnydale police department interfering in after dark cemetery activities. Oh, wait, that's the concussion talking."

"Plus, I tried that in LA and it didn't turn out well."

"You were attacked while digging?"

"Broke a nail."

"You broke a nail?" Buffy, hearing a hint of disapproval in Xander's voice, nodded vigorously.

"Plus," Buffy added, to make her argument even stronger, "I got calluses."

"We've been sitting beside graves waiting for these guys to rise for hours so your nails stay pretty and your hands un-callused?"

"Okay. Now you're doing the Watcher sarcasm bit. I hate the Watcher sarcasm bit," Buffy said petulantly. "Dawn, back to the subject before the concussed Watcher started with the off-track nonsense. How will you get to sleep with an entire can of instant cappuccino mix in you?"

Dawn said, "Well, it's actually, kinda, worse than that."

Buffy, feeling the fascination of a motorist near a wreck, asked in captivated horror, "How?"

"Well, I didn't read the directions, and, um, I thought it was a flavored creamer."

"A flavored creamer."

"So I added it to coffee."

"You added the instant cappuccino to coffee?"


"You may not sleep tonight."

"Probably not. Especially since I can't go more than 45 minutes before I need to use the bathroom."

"You can stay up with Xander then," said Buffy. "I'm going to bed. Xander, I'll see you in the morning."

"I have to leave for work at 6 A.M.," said Xander. "We've got a concrete pour in the morning."

"You can't go into work, Xander," Buffy said. "You'll be too tired."

"My backup is Tiny. Last concrete pour the company let Tiny handle, he didn't anchor the embeds to the forms and they all floated away," Xander said. Seeing the lack of comprehension from his audience, he clarified, "A stupid, amateurish mistake that cost $20,000 and two weeks to fix."

Dawn asked, "Tiny?"

Xander explained, "6'-5" tall, 350 pounds."


"Well, Dawn, keep him awake. G'night, Xander."

"'Night, Buffy."

"Xander, I think we should talk," said Dawn.

"Okay, what about?"

"Buffy. And you."

"What about Buffy?"

"Why are you not dating Buffy?"

"Um, because it's been too short a time since Anya and I broke up. Because I'm not Buffy's idea of a boyfriend. And Buffy sees that I'm not her ideal boyfriend."

Buffy, overhearing the two's conversation, thought, ##Xander is so perceptive.##

Xander continued, "And, Buffy isn't really my ideal girlfriend either."

Buffy, still eavesdropping, thought, ##Xander's really a blind idiot.##

Dawn asked, "Why not?" Buffy eagerly echoed the question in her head.

"Buffy likes guys who . . ." Xander, thinking about it, decided he did not want to discuss Buffy's need for threat from her lovers with Dawn. He desperately searched for something else, another issue. ##Power? No - Parker, Owen, Billy Ford, Scott Hope. Evil? No - Owen, Scott Hope. Aha!## "Who know her without her having to tell them about her."

"Really," said Dawn.

##What's he talking about?##, thought Buffy.

"What do you mean?" continued Dawn.

"Well, Angel, 200+ years old, with vampire senses, could tell when she was happy, scared, etc. Riley was a psych TA as far as she knew when they started dating. Spike, Parker, master manipulators, knew exactly how she felt. Of course , they used that for their own ends, but, they knew. That's important to Buffy."

"And you can't do that?"

"I'm not really sure I want to, Dawn. That was the cool thing about both Cordelia and Anya. They were always honest about their feelings. I didn't have to analyze every conversation for hidden meanings, clues to their feelings. When Cordy or Anya were mad at you, you knew it. And you knew why."

"When Cordy or Anya were mad at you, Sunnydale knew it," Dawn said, grinning.

"Well, yeah. But I liked that about them. If I dated Buffy, I'd be spending more time worrying about 'How is Buffy really feeling?' than enjoying her company. I never had to do that with either Cordelia or Anya. If they had something they wanted you to know, they told you straight out."

"Very straight, and really out there."

<I'm not really like that. Am I really like that? Why isn't Dawn arguing with him?> Buffy's thoughts were whirling.

"But, Xander," Dawn said, "you never made it work with either one. And I know why."

"Oh, why?"

"Buffy believes you're in the fight because of her. She believes that if she left, you'd go become a responsible suburbanite with a normal life and 2.3 children," Dawn answered. "But, you see, I know that's ridiculous, because I know that when Buffy actually was gone, twice, you continued the fight both times."

"Both times?" Buffy mentally echoed Xander's question.

"When she was dead, and when she ran away. Buffy's a little self- centered, Xander. She thinks you fight against the vampires and stuff that goes bump in the night because you're her friend. But when Buffy ran away, you didn't pull a Giles and run off searching for her. You patrolled against vampires."

"So . . . "

"You aren't fighting the fight to be around Buffy. You're around Buffy because you're both fighting the fight. And this is why you had trouble with both Cordelia and Anya. Because you knew you would drag them into this and get them killed. So you sabotaged your relationships with them. But you won't get Buffy killed that way, 'cause she's in the fight with or without you."

"Hey, according to your theory, Buffy could have dated Riley successfully."

"Yes, while he was part of the Initiative. And she did date him before he left the Initiative perfectly well. It was only after he left the Initiative and she subconsciously felt that she was dragging him to his death that she pulled away," Dawn patiently explained.

"And Parker?"

"C'mon Xand, Buffy dates a total user she could never stay with, and goes all, 'My Heart Can't Go On' when he dumps her, avoiding other guys, and agonizing over him. If he'd tried to stay, she'd have pushed him away. 'I'm really trying to have a romance, but the guy I picked manipulated me so obviously a five year old would have seen through it, and now I'm heartsick for the bastard.'"

"Okay, that's a really bad Buffy voice," said Xander.

##My hero,## Buffy thought.

"Yeah, but you see what I mean," Dawn said.

"I think you're trying to fit everything into a complicated psychological rationale you've thought up. And to make it fit, you've given Buffy and I subconsciouses that are incredibly intelligent and perceptive. So now, all of a sudden, Buffy realizes for some reason that I'm not fighting vampires just for her and her 'Xander, one of the girls' attitude she's held for six years changes overnight to 'gotta get some Xanderlovin'?'"

##Go, Xander,## Buffy thought.

"Not overnight, Xander, but I expect when the Faith watcher thing sinks in, Buffy will start to realize that you're in the fight for yourself, not for her. Then it will occur to her that she never really realized you had X, and how in her next boyfriend she wants X. And more and more X's will occur to her and . . ."

"Ridiculous, Dawn. You're heading for a fall, I'm afraid."

"Maybe. Say, Xander, can I ask a question?"


"That whole emotional openness thing? Faith has that, doesn't she?"

"I can testify that you will know if you upset Faith," said Xander. "Everyone in town will know if you upset Faith."

"Gee, I wonder why you decided to be her watcher, then, since that will mean you can't date her? Well I've got cappuccino issues to take care of. I think they're rerunning the mermaid episode of "Charmed" on one channel or another."

"You're only saying that so I look for Alyssa Milano in a bikini instead of falling asleep," Xander said.

"If you don't check, you won't know for sure, though," Dawn shot back.

"Evil woman," Xander muttered, clicking through the channels on the remote.

"I heard that," yelled Dawn.

"You were supposed to," Xander called back to the retreating younger Summers as he kept his eyes fixed on the screen, so as not to miss any shots of Alyssa Milano in a bikini.

##Okay,## Buffy thought, ##Dawn was wrong about me thinking Xander was going to quit the fight if I left. I know Xander wouldn't leave the fight. And Parker, well, was stupid on my part, but I wasn't with him because he knew what I was thinking without me telling him, or to give me an excuse to avoid dating I was with him because he made me feel, well, special. I do not push people out of my life because I might get them killed, and I do not push people away because I don't want to admit to my feelings. Glad that's settled. Time for bed.## Buffy proceeded to sleep the sleep of the just, or at least, justified.

Part 5

Monday night

Buffy picked up the telephone. "Hello?"

"Ms. Summers, I hate to do this, but I'm afraid I can't make it to patrol tonight. I'm still trying to collate the notes from my interview with Faith."

"Gee, a trained psychologist evaluates Faith and the write-up takes longer than he expected before he met her. I'm . . . shocked."

Michael laughed. "Yes, well, I confess, I'm having trouble with the wording."

"A no obscenities rule?"

"It's a matter of precision."

"Yes, well, we probably will not be patrolling anyway. Xander was injured last night."

"Nothing serious, I hope?"

"Well," Buffy said, "possible mild concussion. And he had a start early, end late day at work."

"Well, it's good he's okay. May I accompany you tomorrow?"

"That would be great."

When Xander swung by a little later, Buffy looked at him, a bit upset. "You're late."

"Sorry. Tiny misread the drawings and didn't put in a expansion joint. We had to tear down and put together a section of forms really fast 'cause the concrete was on the way."

"And, of course, you had to actually do some of the work, rather than just sitting back and supervising," Buffy said, upset.

"My job's too dangerous, and you worry about me?" There was just the slightest trace of sarcasm in Xander's voice.

"Slaying is different. Nobody dies if you aren't there with them in construction," insisted Buffy.

"I think you have an overly optimistic view of my crew's conformance to safety rules when not supervised," said Xander.

It's not your job, Xander . . ." Xander laughed and Buffy realized that, well, yes it was. "Okay, it is your job. But you were not well, you shouldn't have been doing it."

"Buffy, I remember having to drag a girl to the hospital with a raging fever because she was determined to hunt down a vampire, though she was near delirious."

"Okay, now, that was high school. And I really don't like hospitals," Buffy said in her 'I'm rationalizing and I know it' tone of voice.

"I also recall somebody who got her ass kicked by a vampire her first few days in college going back to fight again."

"That was just post high school. And she broke my umbrella," Buffy continued in the same tone.

"The point, Buff, is that you won't let people die when you can prevent it, and neither will I. It's just not right," Xander said, earnestly.

"Well, I'm not patrolling tonight, so you go home and go to bed," Buffy insisted.

"'night, Buffy. Tell Dawn I said 'Hi.'"

"'night, Xander."

## It's cool to have someone around who sees me as a hero, ## thought Buffy. ## All right, a stubborn, unreasonable hero, but hey, hero. Time for bed. ##


Tuesday night

The next night, Xander and Buffy met at Buffy's.

"Ready for your evaluation, Xander?"

"Well prepped. I shall dazzle the watcher evaluator with my elrudness."

"Um, I think you mean eruditeness. Which I'm not sure is a word," Dawn chimed in, a bit doubtfully.

"Well, it should be. How can he be dazzled by something that's not even a word?"

"Um, yeah. Say, speaking of the dazzling evening you two will be having out together, as compared to my loneliness here by myself . . ."

"Oh, Dawn, that's great," interrupted Buffy.

"It is?" said Dawn, suddenly suspecting a trap.

"Yes, Spike really needs the company. He feels the need to confess his sins, and you listening to him would be great for him."

"But, Buffy . . ."

"I'll call him and tell him to come right over," Buffy continued on blithely, as though she could not see the panic forming on her sister's face.

"Um, I just remembered, I owe a penpal an e-mail," said Dawn hurriedly.

"Well, then I'll just tell Spike to stay downstairs until you finish it. Of course, if you finish it before we return, as shown by you, say, having guests over, then Spike will have an opportunity for some pleasant social interaction."

Xander was fascinated. He could see the thought of Spike telling his story about the Polish nunnery to Dawn's friends on Dawn's face. ## Okay, in her head she's up to Spike's attempt to reproduce the sounds the novice made while Spike was tearing out her guts to try to use them to strangle the Mother Superior with. No matter how many times we tell him that was pre-soul, he still feels bad about it. And he should. And he shouldn't try to make those sounds, it's disturbing. ##

"But, Buffy, . . . "

"Dawn, do you really think anything you say will work on someone raised by your mother?" the carpenter/potential Watcher asked, honestly curious about Dawn's response.

Dawn merely glared at Buffy.

"Go write your e-mail."

After the two left the house, Xander said, "That was rather cruel."

"Did she tell you her date tried to talk her into sex on Friday?"


"Well, Dawn didn't actually say sex. Just that he asked for more than she wanted to do."


"So it could be that he wanted to kiss her and she didn't want to kiss him. Still, I feel better with Spike there."


Xander was fairly silent until they reached Michael's hotel.

"So, Mr. Harris, Ms. Summers, ready to show off the great Sunnydale nightlife?"

"Ah, yes," said Xander, "beautiful Sunnydale. Just when it gets so boring you think you'll die, night falls, and it becomes so exciting you . . . think you'll die."

##Xander really is destined to be a watcher,## thought Buffy. ##Chipper-ness about hunting demonically animated corpses is too rare a talent to go to waste.##

Michael made a polite noise that could be taken as laughter. "Yes, well, shall we?"

"After you," said Buffy.

"No, no, Ms. Summers, ladies first," said the psychologist.

As the three got out of the car at the Greenwood cemetery, the mood darkened, however. There were three vampires standing around the grave Xander had thought might be a possible vampire rising site.

"You called it right," whispered Buffy.

"Not really tricky," Xander whispered back. "Willow put an monitoring program into the morgue computers that e-mails a notification to a Yahoo address when an autopsy shows blood in the digestive tract."

"Nobody told me," Buffy whispered.

"You were dead at the time, Buffy."

"You guys did all the fun stuff while I was dead," Buffy mock pouted.

"Yep, that'll teach you not to die on us, little lady," Xander responded, mock sternly.

"Sorry. I only did it the once. Okay, okay, twice," Buffy apologized.

"Well, don't let it happen again," ordered Xander. "Now, do you think we should kill the vampires before the newbie rises?"

"Oh, yes, I do. Those older vampires would likely lead him into bad activities, like fighting, if we don't," said Buffy.

The three moved into position, Michael observing both Buffy and Xander, standing slightly to the right of Xander. His major attention was on Xander.

Ironically, Michael's group of psychologists, though officially existing for Slayer support, actually spent more time on Watcher support. Slayers tended to die too young, and there really wasn't too much you could do as a psychologist. You could restrict Watchers from field activities, (if they weren't connected enough politically to have you overruled) but the Council couldn't retire a Slayer except by killing her.

But was this young man cut out to be a Watcher? Frankly, no. It would be too difficult for Xander to watch Faith die. But there really wasn't anyone else they could turn to. Trying to get a qualified Watcher to come work with Faith was simply not possible.

"Hello, I know you're busy raising a potential Slayer who might be called at any time, but we'd like you to go be the Watcher for a killer. Just drop the girl that you've raised from near birth, leave it to us to get her prepped in case the call comes, and go work with this killer. Oh, and her last Watcher tried to send her to the Council for trial for murder, so she has some minor trust issues." That's definitely a winning recruitment speech.

So, it was either Xander or someone who made Wesley look competent for Faith. And the boy was doing okay. Alert, ready to step in, but out of the fight because of the need to support his Slayer. Michael could tell that Xander really wanted to join the fight, but was holding back. Once he was a Watcher, and committed, he could be told the truth, that the Slayer hunted alone because she needed to. It was hard, Michael knew, for anyone raised in a culture with a concept of chivalry, to watch a woman die in battle. But, if he had to, Xander could do it.

Michael caught Buffy's eye and gave a slight nod. Michael knew that in the time he'd spent watching Xander and thinking, Buffy could have killed the vampires several times over. Watchers made jokes about how long their slayers took to stake vampires. It was somewhat cruel, the way the Slayers would toy with the monsters before staking them.

At his nod, Buffy did a completely unconvincing fainting act. Xander rushed forward to help, staking a vampire and struggling with another. The third suddenly reached into its pocket and pulled out a device that it threw on the ground. There was a bright flash of light.

Suddenly, Michael was no longer an observer. He now had his very own vampire to fight. Michael decided to not worry that he was going to deprive a Slayer of a psychologically essential need. He was just going to stake the monster ASAP.

The monster, formally Kathy McIves, second runner up in the 1983 homecoming queen race at Sunnydale High (and first among those whose parents weren't rich enough to buy them cars, it would point out), was not cooperating.

It was doing its level best to kill him. Michael's cross had backed the monster off, so it was throwing headstones at him. Neither combatant appreciated the irony of using memorial markers in an attempt to kill someone. The former second runner up missed it because even in life she'd had little sense of humor, (a larger reason than poverty for her not becoming queen), and the Watcher missed it because dodging hundred pound projectiles hurled by a superhumanly strong, blood drinking monster on a dark night requires focus.

Michael had lost focus on the rest of the fight. He did realized that the vampire attacking him was not the only new addition to the fight. Had he realized that eight more vampires had been added, he would have been very concerned.

Buffy was very concerned. Not for herself, she could jump the cemetery wall and run away faster than the vampires could follow. But that would mean abandoning Xander and Michael.

This meant that she had to take out ten vampires. Xander and Michael were keeping one apiece busy, so all she had to do was dust eight vamps and then help them out. At that thought, Buffy moved into the mode Xander had seen her in when Riley left, becoming a vampire dusting process rather than a person. He couldn't even see a halt from when one vamp was dusted to the next, and the dust got so thick, it was threatening to make him sneeze.

Xander's vampire was momentarily distracted, so he staked it. He wasn't getting anywhere near Buffy the way she was moving, so he moved in and staked the former Kathy McIves, much to Michael's relief.

Buffy came up to them. "You guys okay?"

"Yeah," said Xander.

"Yes," said Michael.

"That was weird," said Buffy.

"It was an ambush," said Xander.


"Vampires waiting around a grave, more vampires in hiding, all attacking on a signal, not a coincidence, Buffy," Xander said.

"So they know about me?"

"They at least knew something was out here and set a trap for it."

"Well, we killed them all," said Buffy.

"Yeah, all that attacked us," said Xander, slowly.

"What do you mean?" Buffy asked.

"If I had set this up, I'd have put an observer in a position to see everything, with orders to stay out of the fight and report back on what he saw." Xander did not sound too hopeful about he possibility that whatever had set this up would not have thought of that idea, too.

"Well, I think I've had enough excitement for one night," said Michael. "I think I'll go to the hotel room and pack and sleep."

"I need to go to bed, too. We've killed ten vampires and I've got another concrete pour tomorrow," said Xander.

"Is Tiny helping?"

"No, unfortunately," said Xander. "Tiny's in court, so Mickey is second in charge."

"Unfortunately?" Buffy sounded disbelieving.

"Tiny doesn't always read the drawings, specifications, or instructions right, but he does try to do what they say. Mickey just kinda builds it like he wants to."

"Get some sleep, Xand."



Buffy hung up the phone angrily. "He's not coming."

"Who's not coming?" Dawn asked.


"See, I told you. Some other woman, one with sense and taste, doubtless saw our Xander and offered him a night away from wandering through dark cemeteries looking for corpses and lured him away," teased Dawn.

"He's pouring concrete."

"That's an interesting euphemism."

"No, seriously, the concrete pour is still going on. After it started, they found cracks in the Seventh Street bridge, and the concrete trucks had to route around."

"You're serious?"

"Do you want me to repeat Xander's rant about how much it costs to keep a pump truck waiting on an hourly basis?"

"So, what are you going to do?"

"Patrol without him, I guess."

Buffy went out on patrol, once again leaving Dawn in the capable, if maudlin, care of Spike.

It was, therefore, the dismal ensouled vampire who greeted Xander. Now Xander was not in a good mood, anyway. Going to bed at one in the morning after being beaten up by vampires, getting up at four to be to work in time for a concrete pour, and having the pour stop for three hours in the middle because of cracks in a bridge is not a lark for anyone. Seeing Spike made him less happy.

"Xander," Spike said. "Have I ever said how sorry I was for . . . "

"Everything from trying to kill me parent-teacher night, to kidnapping Willow and me, to a huge number of remarks you made when we were sharing my basement. Remarks, by the way, that I had successfully repressed until you apologized for them. Where's Buffy?"

"She's out on patrol."

"Out on patrol? But . . . " It occurred to the suddenly terrified Xander that even if Spike's soul had been verified to be present by Willow before she left, not knowing if Spike had an 'out' clause like Angel for his soul, or what that 'out' clause might be if Spike did, that he should not share the information that Buffy had a problem that could make her an easy target with the vampire that had already killed two unimpaired Slayers. " . . . she was supposed to wait for me."

"Maybe she forgot . . . eww."

"What, Spike?"

"I know that smell. Someone killed a Morganth demon."

"They 'die easily, but cover the area in foul smelling waste,' according to Mellan's," Xander recited from his reading.

"Yes," said Spike.

"I think I can smell it now too," said Xander.

The smell got stronger, and the two heard the hose running outside.

"Why would someone kill a Morganth demon?"

"Well, you could mistake one for a Strontoff demon," said Spike. "Easy to do, they look alike."

"I thought the Morganth had shorter claws."

Spike in his current ensouled condition did not snap out a sarcastic remark at Xander. Instead, he said, as gently as he could, "It can be hard to judge relative claw length when the claws are trying to shred you. And when a Morganth is interrupted in the middle of a meal, well, they can be aggressive."

"They eat carrion don't they? Really old carrion?"

"Actually, they won't eat any carrion with too much blood in it. They like their meat well-bled. Like a vampire kill, say."

"Never thought of that."

"Oh, yeah, Darla tried to turn a fellow one time, and came back to find a Morganth demon chowing on him. We didn't know what it was, so Angelus stepped up and punched it. The explosion covered him with Morganth, um . . . "

"Ah," said Xander. There was too much between the two, Xander's unwitting magical love spell on Drusilla, Spike's seduction of Anya, etc. for them to be comfortable with each other. Still, the thought of Angelus covered in demon shit was a cheery one for both of them.

"It took days before we learned that distilled alcohol would remove the . . . material. Angelus was unhappy."

"I'm sure."

Buffy stepped through the door. "Not a word," she said threateningly.

The smell had Xander gasping. "Bye, Buffy, see you tomorrow," he said as he ran.

"Distilled alcohol, like brandy, whisky, or vodka will take that out," said Spike, turning to leave.

"Thanks for the tip," said Buffy. She went to the pantry and pulled out a bottle of vodka. She then went upstairs to bathe.

Xander went home, worried. Buffy was patrolling without him. Willow had been able to confirm the presence of Spike's soul, but not to tell whether it was permanent or temporary, whether it could be lost, or what the trigger for losing it might be. Xander did not want to share the information about Buffy's moments of weakness with Spike. But who else would patrol with her if he couldn't be there? Although Buffy had Faith issues, it would be much better if he could get Buffy and Faith to patrol together. He resolved to talk to her about it tomorrow, and went to bed.

The next day, Xander met Buffy at her house.

"Hey, Buffy," said Xander.

"Hey, Xander," said Buffy.

"Look, um, I think, that is, well, given everything, it's not a good idea for you to patrol alone," Xander said.

"I've patrolled alone a whole lot," the Slayer responded.

"Yes, you have. But it's different now."


"Um, moments of . . . let's talk outside."

"What can't we talk about in here?"

"What Willow and Giles talked to us about that I'd rather not discuss where Spike or Dawn could hear."

Buffy was confused. What was Xander talking about? Then she remembered that she was supposedly subject to moments of weakness. "Oh."

They went out to Xander's car. Once inside, Buffy said, "I'm sorry, Xander, I didn't think."

Xander thought to himself that perhaps he had had too little sympathy for Giles. Then he thought that he would soon be responsible for making sure Faith did nothing stupid. He decided to try patience. "Buffy, I worry about you, and that can make me a little short tempered. I just don't want you to take risks you don't have to."

"Xander, I'm..." Buffy was upset. The whole plan wasn't working right. She had wanted Xander to see how it was to have to worry about her, and he was. But now he wanted her to avoid fighting so he didn't worry. That was just so unfair. "I'm sorry. But, if I don't patrol, people are going to die."

"Yes. But, Buff, if you die on patrol, more people are going to die. Or even if you're just laid up for a while."

Buffy flared, "Well, soon they'll have Faith to save them."

Xander ran out of patience. "Sure, Buffy, 'cause directly out of prison, with no training for two years, Faith's gonna do as good a job as you do. And with you dead, or worse, turned, I'm gonna be such a great Watcher for her. Of course, I won't be distracted at all. And Giles, he'll be just fine too, and Giles and I will be getting along so well after he left me responsible for you and I got you killed. Willow won't feel bad at all for dragging Giles away from you during this time, and Dawn will be fine with you dead. Buffy, part of the whole friends and family deal is these people hurt when you hurt."

"Xander, I'm the Slayer. I have responsibilities. And . . . "

"Buffy," Xander interrupted, "you have responsibilities that go beyond Slaying. For example, Dawn. Do you really want her raised by me, Giles, Willow, and Faith?"

Buffy considered that. This argument was very unfair. After all, she wasn't in any real danger, she'd faked the fainting spells. Maybe she should tell Xander that. She looked at Xander and pictured the scene. 'Yes, Xander, you've been terrified by my fainting spells, well, they were just a trick to show you how it felt to worry about me. Pretty funny, huh?' Buffy thought about it and decided that confession might make Xander really upset, and gosh, it would be bad to have him really upset when he needed to focus on watching out for Faith, who would undoubtedly betray him and try to kill him. No, for his own good, she had to continue the charade. "I don't like that idea," she said, referring to both that crew raising Dawn (Willow was a goody-two-shoes who would never know when Dawn was acting up, Faith would doubtless encourage Dawn on the path of evil, and Xander and Giles would be typical men, convinced that teenaged girls were delicate flowers who would do no wrong if protected from the real world) and also the 'Buffy tells Xander the truth' scenario.

"So you won't go out alone and patrol again until Giles checks you out and says this is over," Xander pressed.

"Okay," Buffy pouted.

Buffy was upset, and spoke very little to Xander during the patrol. She was even more upset that they met no vampires.

#Stupid vamps. When I've got a date they're all over the place, and I wind up battered, bruised, hair all astray, and with broken nails. But let me be upset and need some ass to kick and they're all hidey. Wimps. ##

She was still upset when Xander told her goodnight at the door. "See you tomorrow," he said.

"See ya," Buffy grumped.

Buffy closed the door sharply, but did not slam it. "Buffy, what's wrong," Buffy's younger sister asked.

"Go to bed, Dawn, I don't want to talk about it."

"We'll talk when you're less . . . upset," Dawn said, going up to bed. Spike, observing the byplay, correctly reasoned that he should leave.

Buffy went to bed, still angry.

The next day, Buffy avoided a discussion with Dawn by the subtle means of pretending to be asleep until Dawn left. She then got up and got ready for work, thinking how she was going to handle the discussion.

So, she was prepared when she arrived home. Buffy had decided to tell Dawn the truth. That way, Dawn would know what was going on, and wouldn't be frightened if Xander were to blurt something out. She walked to Dawn's bedroom and yelled, "Dawn, we need to talk!"

Dawn came out of her room. "Buffy, I think there's something you should know."

"Okay, after I explain about last night," Buffy continued. "You see, since the breakup between Anya and Xander, Xander's been patrolling with me more. And, when Xander's unhappy, like when Cordelia dumped him in high school, he starts taking chances. And I didn't want him to get hurt, so Willow came up with the idea to tell him I was having spells where my Slayer strength was fading. So, Xander has been hanging back from the fighting so he can watch my back. And when I went out and patrolled alone last night, Xander got all snarky, and I got mad. So that's why I was mad last night. Now, what did you want to say?"

"Faith got released, is here waiting for Xander, and was standing behind you listening to this," said Dawn.

"Hiya, B," a familiar voice rang out from behind Buffy.


Chapter 6

Buffy turned to look at Faith. "Hello, Faith."

"Well, B, what's this 'bout Xander?"

"Buffy," Dawn interrupted, "I'm going elsewhere. But we will discuss things later." Dawn left, staying as far from Faith as she could.

"Buffy," Faith continued, in a manner Buffy interpreted as unfriendly, "What's going on?"

"Long story," said Buffy.

"I'll make time."

"Xander split up with his girlfriend, Anya."

"Knew that."

"Just like last time, with Cordelia, Xander's been taking chances in the slaying. It seems to be something he does when romantically disappointed. Normally, he's. . . careful, but when he is depressed


"Wonder what he did after me?"

"Actually, I always classed you as post Cordelia risk taking," Buffy said coldly. She didn't feel at all guilty when Faith started.

"Ow, that time of the month, B?"

Buffy shrugged.

"So why didn't you just tell him?"

"I should have said, 'Hey, dude, you're off your game. Come around again when your head's on straight,' Faith?"

"Well, I wouldn't use 'dude' if I were you, but, yeah."

"Faith, do you have any guy friends? Not people you sleep with, but actual friends, who would still talk to you even if there were no chance they'd get in your pants?"

Faith thought of Angel. "Yes."

"Do you tell them when they can't do what they usually can?"

"Not been a problem, it's never come up," the younger Slayer admitted. "I find I can always get men to their peak performance."

"I'm not talking sex." In the interests of peace, quiet, and minimizing property damage, Buffy stopped before uttering the phrase 'you slut,' though it made her jaw ache a bit. Or maybe that was just Faith. "I'm talking about anything. Guys don't like that."

"Buffy, Xander's not some Neanderthal jerk who thinks women need to be sweet, shy, retiring, defenseless kids or they're a threat to his being a guy. Be straight with him. Tell him the truth, that you think he's taking too many chances in the slaying. He'll understand."

"Faith,. . . " Buffy started.

"B," Faith interrupted. "Let me explain it in small words for those who rode the little bus to school. Xander is my Watcher. I will not lie to my Watcher. You will come clean with him, or I will. I'd rather you did it, 'cause he'll be wicked mad, and I'll make you out to be the Bitch Queen of the West if I have to explain this."

"I thought you weren't going to lie to Xander?" Buffy said sarcastically.

"It's not lying if I truly believe it. By tomorrow night, Xander's gonna know the truth. Because either you've told him, or I have.

Your choice."

Faith left, and Dawn came back in. "You're more careful around Faith than you are around Harmony," Buffy observed.

"I think Faith's killed more people," said Dawn, a bit absently as she grabbed a soda from the fridge and the bag of chips from the cabinet next to it.

"Um, Dawn, where did you think Harmony got those 'minions' of hers," Buffy asked. "On the other hand, though, how many people did Faith kill we don't know about?"

"Well, as interesting and fun as Faith bashing always is, I think we really need to talk about you lying to Xander," Dawn said. "Why *did*you lie to Xander?"

"So I wouldn't hurt his feelings."

"Buffy, if you were so worried about his feelings, you'd tell him you liked his taste in clothes. The truth, if you don't mind." Dawn was a relentless interrogator, courtesy of large numbers of police dramas.

"So he wouldn't leave me!"

"You think Xander would get so pissed off you were worried about him that he would leave you?"

"He'd think I didn't need him any more, and he'd leave." Buffy was practically crying as she admitted that fact to her sister.

"Buffy, Xander won't leave just because you don't need him."

"All guys leave me when they think I won't need them, Dawn," said Buffy. "Dad thought I was grown up enough to not need him, so he left. Angel thought I didn't need him, so he left. Riley thought I didn't need him, so he left. Giles thought I didn't need him, so he left."

"Um, Buffy, Dad left 'cause he and Mom couldn't be in the same room without fighting. Angel left 'cause he thought he was bad for you. Giles left 'cause he thought he was bad for you."

"How do you know why Angel and Giles left?"

"Xander explained why Angel left to me when he was over here right after you guys blew up the high school, and you were all-tear-y, all-the-time. He didn't want me giving you any additional grief, then, although I think that was more because he didn't want me saying the wrong thing and ending up in the hospital because you took offense at something I said. Giles sent me an e-mail and explained why he went. He didn't want me thinking it was because of me."

"He didn't explain to me!"

"Buffy, Giles did not leave you because he thought you didn't need him, he left you because he thought he was hurting you. Xander will not leave you unless he thinks you don't want him around, or he thinks he's hurting you. Tell Xander."

"I have to, anyway," said Buffy. "Faith's gonna tell him if I don't. When it's a problem for me if she's bad, she's out killing people who have information needed to save lives, shooting my boyfriend with poisoned arrows, accusing me to MY watcher of a murder she committed, strangling Xander, trying to sleep with my boyfriend to cost him his soul, sleeping with my boyfriend in MY body, and working for demons. But now, the one time I need her to bend ethical rules she's all like, 'I can't LIE to my watcher.'"

"Um... not to support Faith, 'cause I really don't like her all that much, but just possibly she is trying to do the right thing here. I doubt it myself, but it is possible," said Dawn, her reluctance evident on her face as she offered that opinion.

"You really don't like Faith, do you?"

"Faith knew... Well, you know I had a little crush on Xander when I was younger, right?"

"There were hints," Buffy said, trying not to smile.

"Well, Faith knew, 'cause I told her. Before she slept with Xander."


"I thought she liked me, Buffy, until she. . . "

"I'm sure she didn't mean to hurt you, Dawn. And how did you find out about it?"

"'Oz, I don't think Willow got upset that Xander slept with Faith because she is still interested in him. I think she was upset because it was the second really large life event thingy that Xander didn't share with her, and she sees herself growing apart from her childhood best friend'."

"I don't think I said 'thingy' Dawn. And that was a private phone call."

"Sorry," said Dawn, very insincerely in Buffy's opinion.

"The point is," Dawn continued, "that you have to level with Xander. How are you going to tell him?"

"Flat out," said Buffy.

"Good," said Dawn. "Call him and talk."


"Will it be easier later?"

"A vampire might kill me."

"Very unlikely," said Dawn.

"I'll call," said Buffy.

Buffy picked up the phone and dialed. "Hi, Xander, it's Buffy. I have to talk to you."


"It's not an over the phone talk. Can I come over?"


"It's not an in front of Dawn talk."


"No, Xander, I'm not dying again."

(...) "I'll be over in a few. See ya."

"I've already heard what you're gonna tell him," Dawn observed.

"True, but you haven't heard the construction worker's response."

"You think he'll be that upset? He forgave Faith for trying to kill him, and Willow for trying to kill him."

"Willow was his childhood best friend, and Faith slept with him."

"You could do worse."


"Actually, I'm trying to think of when you've done better. Or even as well. . . "

"LA, LA, LA, LA! I'm not listening to Dawnie," Buffy sang/shouted as she walked out, her fingers in her ears.

Buffy was unhappy as she went to Xander's apartment.

## Darn Willow, ## she thought. ## Why'd she come up with this stupid idea anyway. I should have just told Xander the truth to begin with. ## Buffy reflected some more. ## Okay, Willow did try to get me to tell the truth. I guess it is my fault. ##

Going into the apartment Buffy trembled a bit.

## I've gone to my death, twice, and not been this nervous either time, ## she thought. ## This is stupid. Xander's not gonna kill me. At worst, he'll be mad and not be my friend any more. Not as bad as being killed, is it? ##

Buffy resolutely ignored the voice inside that told her that death was neither as long lasting nor uncomfortable as Xander-mad and smiled at her friend.

"Hi," said Buffy.

"Buffster, welcome. Tell me the news that was not tell-able via Mr. Bell's wonderful invention."

"Xander, you know the bouts of weakness I've been having? The ones where I have had to have you run in and save me?"


"I've been faking."

"Oh," said Xander, his face suddenly going dead. Buffy looked at his expression. It showed no anger, but no friendliness.

"I didn't want you to get hurt," Buffy said.

"So you faked me into positions where I had to fight vampires? I'm thinking that someone scoring under a thousand on the SATs could point out logical flaws in that idea."

Now Buffy was seeing some anger in his face.

"I had you fight vampires when I knew you could handle it, and I could back you up," said Buffy. "Except for last night, when I actually did need the help."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Xander's voice was even and level.

"I was scared you'd get upset!" Buffy was really not happy with the path the argument was taking. This was not the way Xander spats usually went. Someone pissed Xander off, he yelled at them. He carried a grudge for a while, and then forgave them. Okay, if they weren't friends, maybe he didn't forgive them.

"So it's okay if I fight vampires, I just need to do exactly as you direct under your eyes."

"Yes, just like Willow or Giles. Giles has been studying how to fight vampires since before I was born. Willow could cast a spell to make it so that I had never been born. But they follow my orders in the field. Because I have the experience."

"And I don't follow orders?"

"Most of the time you do, Xander. Most of the time I can count on you to do the right thing. But when you and Cordelia broke up, and now after Anya, you're acting like you can't be hurt. Or like you don't mind being hurt."

"It's my life, Buffy."

Buffy sighed. "Yes. It is your life. And maybe Dawn's, and maybe mine, and maybe the world."

"The world?"

"Xander, have you considered what Willow is gonna do if you die out on patrol with me?"


"Please try to avoid any risks, okay?"

"Okay. But you could have told me you thought I was taking too many risks."

"Things. . . haven't been too great between us since. . . "

"Since we dragged you out of heaven," said Xander, tiredly.

"I didn't want to say that," said Buffy.

"Buffy, we've all apologized about that. And you've seemed to say you have no grudge. And, if I couldn't stand to be reminded about my mistakes, I'd have never managed to hang out with Willow for eleven years before I met you."

"Okay. Look, here's the thing. I'm sorry I lied to you. I didn't want to get in your face when you didn't want to share. I didn't want you to die. I felt I could count on you to stay alive if you thought I needed you. And I do need you, Xander."

"Well, I'm upset, especially after the 'lying shows a lack of respect' shouting you were doing a few days ago. But I'll live."

## Not shouting, ## thought Buffy. ## Speaking firmly. ##

"Good. We ok?"

"Yes," said Xander, "we're ok."

Later, Xander came over to the Summers' House. When Dawn answered the door, he asked, "You wanted to see me, Dawn?"

"I wanted to talk to you about the Buffy revelation," the teen responded. "You okay with her?"

"A bit upset, but okay," said Xander. "It's hard to stay upset with somebody who'd die for you."

"That's the problem I have dealing with Buffy," admitted Dawn. "She can be really aggravating, but. . . well, she's Buffy."

"Yeah," said Xander.

"What did Buffy tell you?"

"That she made up the whole weakness thing so I'd hang back in combat."

"Did she say why she copped to lying?"

"'Copped to lying?' You're watching too many police dramas."

"Beside the point. Did she say why?"

"Um,. . . no."

"She told me what she had been doing, and Faith overheard."


"Faith wasn't happy. Told Buffy that Buffy told you or Faith told you."

"Oh. So Buffy wasn't motivated by guilt at lying to me, just fear of getting caught?"

"One interpretation. I think, from talking to her before she knew Faith was there, that she did feel guilty."

"Just not guilty enough to tell me the truth."


"That," Xander observed Dawn and decided to moderate his language, "is really disappointing."

"The reason I'm telling you this, Xander, is I know that Faith will check to make sure Buffy really told you, and you'll probably find out that Faith knew and. . . " Dawn searched for the right phrase, "encouraged Buffy to tell you."

"And you thought I'd yell at Buffy?"

"You have. . . objected quite loudly, in the past, when you thought Buffy was behaving badly. I love my sister like a, well, sister, but I can understand, and sympathize, with people who feel Buffy ignores them unless they shout."

"Really," Xander said dryly.

"Well, yeah, 'cause Buffy ignores me even when I shout a lot of the time. But it would really hurt Buffy's feelings if you shouted at her in front of Faith."

"I'd sure hate to hurt BUFFY'S feelings," Xander said.

"Actually, once you got over being upset, you would," said Dawn. "But while you were in the moment, you could very well be. . . harsher than you would be after you thought about it."

"So you thought you'd prep me so I was calm when this came up?"

"Yeah. Did it work?"

"I guess."

Xander heard discussion outside, two bickering female voices. "I think Buffy and Faith are here."

"My cue to leave," said Dawn, leaving.

As the two young women came in, Faith was saying to Buffy, "You've always been something of an idiot, B, but. . . "

"Excuse me," said Xander, "we have places to go, bar owners to threaten."

"Bar owners to threaten?" asked Faith.

"Specifically, Willy," said Xander. "We ran into a gang of vampires who were using intelligent, planned tactics. Set a good trap.

Personally, I think we should put them down before they set a good enough trap, but maybe I'm overreacting."

"Didn't know about this," Faith said, looking in an annoyed way at Buffy.

"And now you do," Xander said. "Let's go."

The car was quiet on the drive over. As they got out near Willy's place, Xander said, "Buffy and I will go in. Faith, you stay here, in the car."

"Why?" The brunette's tone was anything but cordial.

"So there is less chance they will know that you're out of prison and back around here. Most likely, any information Willy has is gonna be info the gang dropped to set us up for a trap. Our advantage is, we have an additional player they don't know about. Give them a chance to bail, or revise plans to account for you and we lose our edge," said Xander.

"Cool, I'm the edge," said Faith.

Xander and Buffy walked into Willy's, Xander trying not to listen to the Buffy monologue about how she "should be the edge, I'm senior Slayer, that should make me the edge."

Once inside, Buffy glared at the bar patrons, both of them. Xander walked over to Willy. Buffy followed.

"Willy," said Buffy, "we need to talk."

"About what?" The barman looked genuinely puzzled.

"About a new gang of vampires in town," said Buffy.

"Oh, yeah, right," said Willy. "I really was gonna tell you, something's been destroying most of the older vampires in town. And a couple of Radnickt demons came into town planning to use the hellmouth energies to spawn, and were found with their legs cut off.

"Willy," Xander said, "any idea where the vamp gang hides out?"

"I heard a vamp say he'd trailed the Radnickt's scent to the warehouse on Twentieth and Ellis," said Willy.

"There are three warehouses there. Any idea which one?" asked Xander.

"I don't know any more," said Willy. "You know what I know."

"How do you know there are three warehouses on that corner?" Buffy asked.

"The fourth building's a strip club," said Willy.

"Oh," said Buffy, glaring at Xander, unsure of the reason he would know the layout of that part of town.

As the car pulled into the strip club parking lot, Buffy asked, "Why are we here?"

Xander responded, "Because it's an inconspicuous place to park, Buffy."

"What's the plan?" Faith asked.

"Buffy looks around the warehouses for vampires. We stay here," Xander said. He handed Buffy a cell-phone.

"Call you if I find something?" Buffy sounded a little sarcastic.

"It's already phoned to this one," Xander said, holding up another phone. "We'll hear anything you say, so we can get you if you're in trouble."

"And I'll hear anything you say, so I can rescue you," Buffy said.

"Um, yeah, if you listen to the cell phone instead of to what's going on around you," said Xander.

"Bad plan," said Buffy.

"Ya think?" Faith asked. Xander glared at her.

Buffy left.

"Defending B again, Xander?" Faith's tone was sarcastic.

"Did you hear about Willow?" Xander asked.

"Went crazy. Killed people," replied Faith.

"Yeah. In England, coming back. Not your greatest fan. It would be good if Buffy would vouch for you to her. Much likelier if you quit pissing Buffy off."

"Okay. It's just. . . "


"Xander?" Faith asked.


"You and me not happening, is it because of Buffy?"

"No," said Xander. "I don't think Buffy's ever moving past the friend stage, and right now I'm not sure I'd want her too."

"Is it the Watcher thing?"

"No. Well, yes to some extent. But I wouldn't have taken the Watcher post if I was planning to hook up with you."

"Then why?"

"Faith. . . " Xander looked like he was thinking hard. "I dated Anya for a time. And Cordelia. And I think, maybe a relationship where I know the other person spent eleven hundred years killing people, or ten years being a bitch, maybe that's not something I'm good at."

"So it's about my working for the mayor? Or trying to strangle you?"

"No, it's about my knowing you worked for the mayor and tried to strangle me. Faith, I saw the report on what you did for the guard you saved. You could have taken less damage if you'd killed the other inmates, but you didn't do that, either. You're not the girl who didn't think about what she was doing anymore. You're a new Faith. And you deserve someone who knows the new Faith first."

"Where do I meet this guy?"

"Bars, work, you'll meet someone real quick. Ooh, that's trouble."

"What's that," Faith asked, relieved at the possibility of a fight coming up.

"That's Mitch and Kelly kissing."

"Which is a problem because?"

"Mitch is Brenda's boyfriend, and she has a jealousy problem."

"Um, Xander, how often do you come to this bar, anyway?"

"It's a popular hangout for the people at work. After Anya left, I came maybe two or three times a week."

"Hate to interrupt, guys," the phone said in Buffy's voice, "but I've found our villains' lair. Come over quietly and we'll raid."

Faith and Xander made their way over to where Buffy was.

"So," Faith asked, "you've found the lair?"

"Probably. It has vampires in it," Buffy replied.

"Let's go," said Faith.

"Faith, you're our reserve big gun that they don't know about remember?" Xander was firm.

"So, no go?"

"You stay in reserve unless we need you," Xander said.

Xander and Buffy snuck into the warehouse and saw the vampires. The two hunters saw the vampires and leapt into battle. Outnumbered five to two, Xander and Buffy wound up back to back, Buffy trying to stake her opponents, Xander trying to guard her back.

Buffy blocked the former Mrs. Ted Martin's swing with ease. Had Buffy been fighting Mrs. Martin alone, she would have been able to use the momentum of the swing to spin the former third grade teacher, trip her, and stake her. But it would have meant stepping away from Xander, and giving the other vampire a shot at Xander's back.

Xander, meanwhile, was doing his best to defend against three vampires attacking him simultaneously.

"Jump," he yelled as one vampire tried a leg sweep. Buffy leapt up, as did Xander, and the leg passed beneath them both. Xander tried, while in midair, to swing his axe into another of the vampires crowding him. The vampire jumped back, and Xander's swing continued into the head of the vampire trying the leg sweep.

The blow was startling, but unfortunately, not disabling. Xander was in midair when he swung, and at a bad angle to cause damage. A slight cut on the vampire's head was the only result. The combination of the blow and the vampire's unsuccessful flinch unbalanced the vampire, sending it sprawling out on the floor.

In what seemed later, to Xander, like a scene right out of a bad martial arts flick, the downed vampire actually tripped the third vampire, which was charging into battle. Two of the vampires were now lying face down in front of him.

As with Pavlov's dogs, conditioned reflex took over. Seeing two downed, momentarily helpless vampires, Xander staked them both. The third vampire, seeing Xander bent over, simply kicked him in the face.

Ironically, the blow hurt Buffy more than Xander. Xander lost consciousness when the foot hit his face. Buffy was struck, and knocked down by a flying Xander.

Buffy flipped up, spun, and looked at the scene before her.

One opponent, who had kicked Xander, was fairly close to the now-unconscious Watcher-in-training. The two that had been menacing Buffy were dust, and she didn't see the other two that were fighting Xander. Four more vampires were charging her, and so was Faith, behind the vampires.

Buffy chose to hope Faith was on her side. If Faith were fighting for the bad guys again, Buffy would almost certainly die trying to save Xander. Not that she had any particular fear of death anymore, but the thought of how Dawn would turn out if raised by Willow and Giles alone was too frightening to contemplate.

Buffy ran at the vampire that had kicked Xander. She had no time to lose; she had to engage quickly to keep them off balance. Had Xander not been there, she would have run and rested before facing the other vampires. But Xander's presence, and the let up of pressure from her running, might let the vamps use him as a hostage.

Buffy slammed into the vampire. On of the odd things about vampires was that they were much lighter than when they were alive. Buffy had actually outweighed both of her vampire boyfriends, which they were each careful not to mention. Thus, the blow from Buffy hitting the vampire with her shoulder sent her victim careening into one of the advancing vampires.

Buffy became a whirlwind of motion, leaping into the midst of the vampires with kicks and punches. Faith was enthusiastically punching vampires as well, and shouted, "You don't get to kill them all yourself, B."

Buffy responded, "I'm getting Xander out of here," as she grabbed the Watcher and tried to exit the melee, intending to return when she had Xander safely on the sidelines.

Faith jabbed with her stake, trying to stake the vampire in front of her. The vampire moved, and the arm holding the stake went a short distance past the vampire's chest. The demon immediately stepped in toward Faith a bit, swinging its arm so as to catch Faith's elbow in the crook of its elbow. The swing pressed Faith's arm against the demon's side. It continued the swing, hyper-extending Faith's elbow.

If Faith had been a normal human, the move would have torn the ligaments and cartilage. Instead, it severely stressed them both.

Faith dropped the stake and screamed in rage and pain. The torque on her arm impelled her to her left, and she tripped and fell over a vampire she had, ironically, just knocked down.

Buffy turned from where she was carrying Xander and decided she had moved him far enough from the fight. She ran at the vampires, drawing a stake as she ran. She slammed the stake into the back of a vampire, then crouched to take the legs from another with a leg sweep.

Meanwhile, Faith flipped herself back up and began to fight the vampire that'd thrown her. Her right arm was currently useless, but she did her best.

Buffy rolled across the vampire her leg sweep had dropped, not needing to pause as she plunged her stake into its heart.

Faith took another blow from a vampire. Even with Buffy having staked two, there were still three. Three vampires versus two slayers was an easy victory for the slayers. Usually. If the slayers had to watch all three vampires and not let them make a break for their downed friend, and one slayer had an injured arm, it was much more even.

Angry at both her assailant and the need to be more cautious while attacking in order to safeguard Xander, Faith drew a stake with her left hand and moved forward to stake the vampire. Dodging a vampire kick threw her off balance and she fell.

As she did, her stake thrust out farther and lower than Faith had intended. It would have gone into the leg of the vampire she'd attacked, if Buffy had not stepped between them to defend her.

Faith tried to stop her forward momentum, to no avail.

As Buffy screamed, Faith thought, ## Oops. I just staked Buffy in the butt. ##

Part of the problem with Slayer survival is the training techniques the Watchers use. What the Council has never understood is that the Slayer's increased strength and reflexes are not some constant attribute that the Slayer has, but a reaction to emotional upset.

Training techniques designed for normal humans are designed to allow them to manage their emotions during combat, denying the Slayer the boost of adrenaline that increases their strength and speed from 'slightly above vampire' to 'staggering a hellgod.'

This is why Buffy was able to fight the 'trained from infancy' Kendra to a draw.

This is why Faith was able to fight Buffy despite Buffy being four times as experienced.

This is why the vampires in back of the suck house Riley Finn was frequenting died so quickly.

And, after Buffy was stabbed in the butt by Faith, this is why the vampires who had, up to now, been holding their own against two Slayers, suddenly were no more 'fighting' Buffy than grass 'fights' a lawn mower.

By the time Faith was up, Buffy had taken out her aggression on the now dusted vampires. Faith realized, looking at Buffy, that apparently the vampires had been dusted before the anger was all gone.

"Um, B, sorry about the, um, accident," said Faith.

In the background Xander groaned. Buffy's face immediately lost the 'berserk Christopher Walken' look as she rushed to her friend's side.

It was Faith's opinion for the rest of her life, despite Buffy's protests, that her Watcher had saved her from a life or death battle with the elder Slayer.

"Xander, are you okay?" asked Buffy.

"To heck with tradition - I'm getting a helmet," said Xander. "With a face plate."

"Lie down, we'll call an ambulance," said Buffy. Faith proceeded to make the call.

Later, waiting for Xander to get out of the emergency room, Faith and Buffy took a moment to talk.

"Buffy, I'm really sorry about..." Faith gestured at Buffy's bandaged butt.

"Well," said Buffy, "the wound wasn't deep, so I should be okay by tomorrow with the whole Slayer healing thing."

"I hope Xander's not too mad at me," said Faith. "It was an accident."

"You hope Xander's not too mad at you? Not hoping that I'M not pissed?" asked Buffy, her inability to sit down making her a bit cranky.

"Oh, you'll get over it," said Faith. "Xander loves you though, so he's gonna be mad at me for a while."

"Xander loves me, but he's mad at me too," said Buffy. "The whole lying to him thing."

"He'll get over that Buffy," said Faith.

"You're sure?"

"Buffy, Xander's always gonna see the girl who went to her death, knowing she'd die, 'cause it might save some people. He'll pretty much give you a free pass because of that."

"As opposed to say, you," said Buffy.

"Yep, never a free pass for me," said Faith.

"Um, Faith, you tried to kill him. He forgave you and stood up to the Watchers for you."

"Okay, maybe an occasional reduced price ticket." Faith shrugged. "I'll deal."

A nurse brought them the news that Xander was conscious. The two went to see him.

"Hey, Watcher mine," said Faith.

"Hi, Xander," said Buffy.

"Hey," said Xander.

"You okay?" asked Faith.

"Oh, yeah," said Xander. "I'll be leaving in the morning."

"Faith, I'd like to talk to Xander alone," said Buffy.

"Hey, stabbing you in the butt was an accident!" Faith protested loudly.

"Yes, Faith, it was an accident. You're no longer evil, just clumsy. Now go," Buffy said firmly.

Faith stomped out of the room.

Buffy looked down at Xander. "Xander, I gotta say, when you got hurt, I felt really bad. Really, really bad. Please don't get hurt any more."

"I'm certainly going to make every effort to avoid it. Oh, god, that was droll," the brunet observed, his eyes growing wide with horror as he listened to his response to the Slayer. "Being a Watcher makes you droll. Maybe being a Watcher makes you English. What if I'm becoming English, Buffy?"

"I think maybe someone who avoids embarrassing emotional moments with humor is just being avoid-y. However," Buffy said with a sigh, "if you start wearing tweed and pronouncing schedule as 'shed-dual' or lieutenant as 'left-tenant' I promise to drive a stake through your heart and cut off your head."

"Thanks, Buff," said Xander.

"Continuing on," said Buffy, "I have noticed, recently, that since you broke up with Anya, my feelings about you have, um, changed."


"Well, not exactly changed so much as, been added to. I have additional feelings for my Xander shaped friend that, um. . . "

"She wants to jump your bones, stud," Faith interrupted. "Tell her okay so we can go get the car."

"Faith, obviously some part of 'private' confused you," yelled the furious Buffy.

"Forgive me. I just got out of a place where they watch you pee. Now come on, we need to get the car."

"We'll talk later," Buffy said to Xander.

As they left Xander turned on the TV and switched to the Food Network, reassuring himself that the English chef, Jamie Oliver, was still unintelligible.


A few miles away, two vampires were watching a videotape, reassuring them that the Slayers had killed their enemies. Well, actually, Jonathan was reassuring himself, and Harmony was wondering if the vampires on the tape never thought of asking each other whether what they were wearing made them look bad.

"The last of them are dead," said Jon. "We're safe now. But don't sire anyone else without my permission, Harmony. Understand me?"

"How are we gonna kill two slayers with no minions?" Harmony asked petulantly.

"A bomb, a long distance sniper shot, whatever. The point is, we don't want to kill them yet."

"Why not?"

Jon would have sighed, had he still breathed. "Because Willow Rosenberg is still alive. And Willow would hunt us down and kill us. First we kill Willow, then the Slayers."

"Okay," said Harmony absently, her attention back on her nails as she debated changing nail polish colors.

Jon's mind was wandering to the part of the plan that he had not shared with Harmony. Vampires have a huge disadvantage. Their lack of souls makes them much less powerful at magic. And gaining a soul makes them, well, depressed. But what if they gained an evil soul? A soul that could burn the flesh off a man with magic? A soul that tolerated killing an innocent, and the owner's best friends, for power? With a soul, powerful already in magic, that did not conflict with his demon, and infinite life to study magic, perhaps when the true demons returned they would be bowing down to him.

Jonathan plotted his conquest of the world as the night turned to day.

The End