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Agents of Grey

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Hard Man". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Follow up to "A Walk On the Hellmouth". Xander continues to try and make his way in the world. A simple missing persons case leads to more trouble than it's worth, however, and more dangers than anyone should face in one lifetime.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > Fantasy > Author: Simon GreenthegoodfightFR18748,4657158,07316 Mar 1018 Mar 10No

Chapter 5

Chapter 5


It was depressingly easy to walk through the halls of the high school without being noticed. It helped that classes were in session but there were still some students milling about either because they had a free period or were skipping class altogether. Those that saw Xander and Buffy decided not to pay them close attention. If anyone recognized him, they weren't in a hurry to ask him how he'd been. Xander doubted that it had anything to do with any sort of intimidating vibe he may or may not be giving off but more with the famous Sunnydale Syndrome. It was much easier to ignore him then to figure out where he had been or why he was back. That was perfectly fine with him.

Buffy hadn't bothered to let Xander walk through the library doors on his own, or even check to see who was in there. Grabbing onto his elbow, she pulled him along and into the room. Thankfully, no one was there at the moment, at least not in the main area. Even though he had been there only a few nights ago, Xander took a moment to look around in the daylight. He had almost been hoping that he would feel a stab of sadness over the place that he had spent so many days and nights with his friends, their safe haven of sorts, but the only thing he felt was uncomfortable. The air was stale and slightly stuffy with the sunlight streaming in through the high windows. The place was too bright now. Too, dare he say it, cheerful in its own way. He seriously doubted that he would be able to concentrate here for any length of time without getting extremely upset and possibly violent with the first person who started to get on his nerves.

"Giles!" Buffy called out refusing to take her hands off of Xander.

It only took a second before Giles popped his head out of his office. At first he looked confused and slightly relieved when he caught sight of Buffy. That look quickly became one of shock which was instantly replaced with a stony glare when he saw Xander. Stepping out, Giles walked cautiously over to them.

"Xander," the older man greeted his voice monotone.

"Giles," Xander replied.

The two men stared at each other a moment. Giles wanting to see if Xander had given away anything to Buffy, while Xander himself kept his face carefully devoid of any tells. Finally realizing that he wasn't going to find out anything by staring at him, Giles turned to Buffy, asking, "Are you alright?"

"Just peachy," Buffy grumbled. "If you count being attacked by faceless goons, being brought to some creepy warlocks…house, or shop, or whatever the hell it was, and being brought twelve hours into the future, than yeah, I'm fine."

Turning to Xander, Giles narrowed his eyes while keeping his expression passive. "And Xander's presence here can only mean that he got you involved in…whatever it was that kept you last night? We were worried sick. Willow told your mother you were staying at her house for the night, studying. We tried reaching Angel to see if he had heard anything but he wasn't home. We were about to go out searching for you if we hadn't heard from you by tonight."

The words were meant for Buffy but the guilt was directed at Xander. It made him feel bad for his former friend, it really did. He didn't want to cause her or any of them any more grief than he already had but he knew that he wasn't to blame for what happened. Well, maybe he was. But that was only because whoever sent the Harrowing had done so to get him. Not to mention that it had been his idea to hide out in Rack's place. OK, so maybe he was slightly more to blame than he was letting on, but he wouldn't say that. Instead he met Giles stare without blinking.

"Things got hairy for a bit," Xander said with a shrug.

"Hairy? That was a bit more than 'hairy'. What the hell were those things, anyway?" Buffy said. Seeing Xander start to speak, she quickly tightened her grip. "No more stalling. You said once we got here, now spill."

With Giles looking like he wanted to attack him and Buffy squeezing his arm tight enough to bruise him, Xander wanted nothing more than to walk away. Run, was more like it, but walking made it more dignified. If he really tried he could have gotten away but it would have been messy as well as complicated. Technically he was working a case for Giles at the moment, something he would make sure not to let slip unless the Watcher did first. It would be easier to simply talk and leave later on. Besides, there was a part of him that believed that maybe, just maybe, he might be able to begin patching things up between him and Buffy and everyone. Not to the point that they would ever be buddy-buddy again, but maybe better terms than 'Slay on sight'.

Taking his arm from Buffy, a feat only done because she let him, Xander rubbed the tiredness out of his face while he collected his thoughts. Thinking about all of this was tough for him. It meant reliving some moments from John's life that still made his back break out in a cold sweat while laying in bed.

"I don't suppose you have anything a bit stronger than tea, do you?" Xander asked hopefully.

"No," Buffy replied sharply.

Grumbling, Xander took a few steps towards the middle table but didn't sit down. "Their called the Harrowing. At least that's what I've always heard them be called. They're old enemies of John's from the Nightside, something that shouldn't be here."

"What were they though?" Buffy asked. Her voice was still demanding but it had softened just a bit. "I punched one of them and it was like my fist just…just started to get sucked into it. Almost as if it was about to suck all of me in."

"They can't be hurt, not easily anyway. It takes someone with a lot more power than you or me to take these things down. The only time John was ever able to beat them was because they were weakened by Merlin's defenses," Xander said grimly. "Every other time John simply ran or something bigger and meaner got to them first."

"Merlin?" Buffy asked. "The Merlin? Round table Merlin?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Don't believe the stories. Merlin was…Christ, just forget about him. He's dead now, for good most likely. Then again, you can never really tell with him."

A moment passed before Giles spoke. "Wizards aside, why are they after you? You said that they were gone. Not only that, but they were sent after Taylor."

"And who sent them after him anyway? Cause it's a safe bet that it's probably the same guy," Buffy added.

"Trust me, it's not them. They…they couldn't. They don't even know about me," Xander said. His voice grew softer as he remembered the vision of the future that John had seen. John's friends and enemies alike sending back reanimated corpses imbued with magic back in time to kill John. It wasn't pleasant to think about and if he started to dwell on it to much he was sure that his knees would give out on him from fear. Logically, he knew that those things couldn't touch him anymore. But, that was always the problem with things from the Nightside. Logic need not always apply. Case in point, the Harrowing showing up in Sunnydale.

Shaking his head, Xander said, "Listen, don't worry about it, alright? These things aren't your concern."

"Not my concern? Those things nearly stabbed me last night and God only knows what else those things will do! Don't tell me that it's not my concern, Xander." Buffy was breathing hard, angry at his casual dismissal of her.

"They'll come after me," Xander told her. "They won't go after anyone who isn't with me or getting in their way. The further you are, the safer you'll be."

"And what happens if they come after you when you're out around people, huh? Do you think running away will save anyone from getting hurt then?"

"So I should stay and fight like you did? Cause you were so effective!"

"At least I did more than run away from my problems!"

Tensing, ready for a fight, Xander pushed away from the table. "I don't have time for this. It was stupid to think that anything had changed."

"Things have changed," Buffy said, stepping in to block his path. "You've changed. I don't know what you are, but you're not Xander. The Xander I know wouldn't let innocent people get hurt because he was too scared to fight. He wouldn't be making back ally deals with demons and warlocks or whatever the hell that Rack guy was."

"The Xander you knew grew up," he told her. "Now move."

"No."

Taking another step closer, Xander stood over the blonde. He knew that just because she was tiny, she wasn't going to be intimidated by him. She could still kick his ass six ways from Sunday without breaking a sweat. But, he wasn't planning on fighting her, not physically anyway and not if he didn't have to. "I'm not asking you, Buffy. I meant it when I said that I had things that I had to do. Some of us have jobs. Important ones."

Xander watched Giles tense out of the corner of his eye. Well, tensing more so than he already was. It was what he was hoping for and he knew that he would get away without a scratch on him. It wasn't really that hard to do even. Giles just needed a quick reminder that without him, he wouldn't be able to find out what happened to his sister. It was a cheap shot, Xander admitted, but it was effective and that's all that mattered. The two men knew that the more time he was in the library, the less time he was spending tracking down Abby. The only real problem that Xander had seen would be if Giles thought that the Harrowing were more important than finding Abby. The man was brave and clearly logical when it came to most things, but Xander was willing to bet that when it came to his family, his baby sister, that his logic ran out.

"Buffy," Giles said quietly. "Let him go."

"What?" Buffy asked, snapping her head towards the Watcher.

Clearing his throat, Giles stepped forward placing a hand on his charges shoulder. "Hitting Xander won't solve anything, Buffy. He's made his choice, he knows the danger he's putting the people around him in. But keeping him here won't solve anything."

"You can't be serious!" Buffy exclaimed. "Giles, he knows more than he's saying, you know that!"

"You could say that again," Xander replied softly.

Glaring at the young man, Giles said, "I'm sure that Xander, even after everything that has happened, wouldn't be stupid enough to put people in undo risk unless he had a good reason."

"So we just let him go?" Buffy demanded still not moving.

"You heard the man," Xander said with a smile.

Xander knew that he was risking it by mocking Buffy, but he couldn't help himself. It was a confrontation in his mind and it needed to be done right. Surprisingly, he didn't mind it all that much though. Not as much as he thought he should have. He also didn't care about using Giles emotions to get himself out of Buffy's one track hit-first-ask-later MO. Again, he probably should be bothered by it but he wasn't. If anything, he was bothered by the fact that it didn't bother him, which was getting a tad bit confusing at the moment.

Watching Buffy tense, preparing to most likely punch him, Xander didn't let himself flinch. If she hit him, it would hurt. A lot. But she wouldn't kill him. Luckily, she never got the chance. Giles tightened his grip on her shoulder. It wasn't nearly enough to cause her pain, but it did reaffirm her Watcher's wishes. She didn't unwind, but she didn't stop him when Xander stepped around her.

"I'll let you know if I hear anything," Xander called over his shoulder. It was directed at both of them, different reasons of course.

As Xander was about to push through the doors and leave, he was prepared to compliment himself on getting out of there in one piece. No one had been hurt, not physically anyway, and Buffy had gotten a lesson in the fact that she wasn't always going to get her way and that he wasn't the same person she knew. Of course, congratulating himself was probably the last thing he should have done before he had left.

The door swung towards him, and would have smacked him flat in the face if he hadn't put his foot out to stop it. This, unfortunately for whoever was trying to come in, stopped the door from opening which said person was completely unprepared for. They walked right into the door with enough force to knock them backwards and, if the "oomph" of exhaling air was to be taken as a clue, onto the floor.

Stepping out of the way, Xander grabbed the door with his hand and pulled it open, freezing when he looked down. It didn't matter what changed in him, what he had done and what had been done to him. The person on the floor would always have a way of making him freeze up like a little boy getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar when she gave him a hurt expression. As Willow sat on the floor, her eyes went wide as she realized that it was him and Xander knew that he was screwed.

Instinctually, he offered her his hand and, probably out of reflex, she took it and let him pull her up. She stepped back from him then, her face a mixture of emotions ranging from shock, anger, and, Xander was certain, fear. He let her make the first move, to say first words and set the tone for the confrontation that was sure to happen. Buffy and Giles seemed to share his thoughts and stayed quiet, watching for the time being.

The silence had an almost physical quality to it but no one said anything to break it. Xander made sure keep his face neutral, but not blank. Any kind of emotion he let slip through might be misconstrued and the last thing he wanted was to give her the wrong impression. Not that there was really a right impression at this point, but he'd prefer to avoid doing the wrong thing if he could. The look that Willow was giving him was quickly breaking down his defenses, though. Finally, his face fell and he moved towards her but stopped when he saw Willow step back.

"Willow," Xander breathed. "I-"

His next words were cut off with Willow smacking him across the face. It stung, especially since Xander didn't turn with the slap, but it didn't hurt nearly as much as it could have. Her hands were tiny after all, and Willow wasn't exactly known for her physical strength. She raised her hand and hit him a second time, hurting more this time since it was in the same spot but still, Xander didn't turn from it. He deserved it, more in fact. From her. From Buffy. From everyone. This wasn't the worse that he had endured physically, not by far. But emotionally, it was killing him to see the look in his ex-best friend's eyes.

The two slaps seemed to be all that the young girl could muster. Willow stood there, shaking with anger and raw emotion. Her eyes brimming with tears, her face red and breathing ragged. Xander got the message. She didn't have anything to say to him for him to understand that she wanted nothing to do with now. He wasn't going to stay if they didn't want him, he wouldn't put up with it, not even for Willow. Besides, he could try to deny it but when he was alone at night or when he his back was against the wall, he had become too much like John. He was a monster and monsters belonged with their own kind, something that Willow and Buffy certainly weren't and also couldn't understand.

Stepping around Willow, Xander quickly left the library without a single look behind him.

*******************

Storming into the apartment, Xander made his way straight into the kitchen and violently opening up the cabinet over the sink. Grabbing a glass and a bottle of scotch from the next cabinet, he poured a generous amount and quickly drank it down. Without hesitating he poured another glass but instead of downing it, he only took a large sip, spilling some of it down his chin as he coughed on the harsh drink. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he tried to settle himself. His hands may not have been shaking but his nerves were shot. He hadn't been expecting any of that today, not that he had much of plan besides grabbing some quick cash, but like the rest of his life it just got messed up.

"What the hell was I thinking?" Xander wondered. "What in the hell made me think that I could do this, huh? I don't belong here. I don't know where the hell I belong." Turning to the doorway, Xander looked to Angel who had been standing there since he started slamming the cabinets open, he added, "How the hell did you do it for so long without going insane?"

Folding his arms over his chest, Angel asked, "Do what?"

"Stay here. Stay and pretend that you were anything more than what you really are."

Nodding his head in understanding, Angel sighed. "What happened?"

Clenching his fist around the glass, Xander tried to will all of his frustration into the glass but to do so would only end up with him needed stitches and having shards of glass being removed from his hand. Slamming the glass down on the counter, which was about the best he could do at the moment, he snarled, "Ran into Buffy last night." Raising his eyebrows, Angel remained silent prompting Xander to explain. "I didn't even mean to, God knows I wasn't looking for her. It just…happened."

"Is she…?"

"She's fine," Xander said dismissively. "I've got more pressing matters than any of them at the moment anyway."

"Wait, what?" Angel asked surprised. He had been expecting a rant or at least explosive violence from Xander at the mention of seeing Buffy again, though the plural caused him to wonder who else he had run into. "Xander, this isn't something you should be keeping to yourself. I know that you haven't exactly been sharing a lot since Halloween, but this is different. Trust me, even Giles sister can wait for a moment."

"It's not his sister," Xander told him.

"Fine, than whatever else it is, it can wait, can't it?" Angel asked him.

Looking the in-souled vampire in the eyes, Xander downed the last of the scotch, using it to build up his courage a bit. "The Harrowing paid me a little visit last night when I was with Buffy. We only barely made it away from them."

"The Harrowing? You've mentioned them before, haven't you?" Angel asked trying to place the name.

"Yeah, I have."

As quickly as he could he reminded Angel of exactly who and what the Harrowing were. It didn't take long for him to recall their previous conversation about them, instantly realizing why Xander was so adamant about dealing with this above all else. The stories that Xander had shared before made the Harrowing sound more like a force of nature than actual flesh and blood enemies.

"Worst part is that I've got no clue who sent them," Xander told him when he finished going over the events of last night. "The major players from that future shouldn't even exist anymore, they couldn't have done it. The last time John was there they barely had enough power to send John back. Besides, even if they were still around they couldn't possibly know about me."

"OK, let's try working this out," Angel said furrowing his brow in thought. "Someone or a group of someone's sent the Harrowing after you last night."

"Not just anyone. Whoever did it has to be steeped in power, serious power."

Watching Xander prepare to pour himself another glass, Angel moved over and snatched the bottle from his hand. "You've pissed off enough people and demons in this town that any one of them would be looking for a little pay back but as far as power goes, that narrows down the list. What about the Mayor, could he have done it?"

"He wishes," Xander snorted. "If the Mayor had enough power to send the Harrowing after me then he wouldn't need to make deals with people in the Nightside or with Wolfram and Hart."

Quirking his eyebrow up, Angel said, "That's an idea. You did make that woman who hired you go back empty handed and probably got three of their men killed. From what we've heard of them, they could definitely have that kind of pull."

Glaring at Angel for taking away the scotch, Xander nodded his head. "That's true. Wolfram and Hart could do it, that's for sure, though there are too many holes with that theory."

"Namely, how would they even know about the Harrowing or anything like that," Angel told him. "Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. But the problem is that out of everyone, there the only people with enough power and reach to get it done. Unless you want to start considering anyone from the Nightside but if we start in on that then we won't get anywhere."

"No," Xander replied strongly. "Let's leave that alone for now anyway. I doubt anyone in the Nightside would know about me just like Wolfram and Hart would know about my connection to John."

"Still, they are a pretty good for this," Angel told him.

"So what are you saying? Walk right up to Wolfram and Harts front doors and start asking questions? John may have been able to do that, but that was only because of who he is. Besides, even he'd think twice about it and wouldn't show up unless it was absolutely necessary."

"And this isn't? The Harrowing don't sound like the type to give up."

"They aren't. But for all their power, all their terrible skill, they're still just puppets. Stop the puppeteer and the puppets fall. I just have to keep them off my back for the time being."

"Will it be that easy to keep them away from us?"

Tilting his head to the said, Xander gave Angel a quizzical look. "There's that 'we' stuff again."

"I told you, if things went bad I'm backing you up. The Harrowing showing up in Sunnydale seems pretty damn bad to me. Besides, far as I can tell you're going need me to back your play when you make it let alone keep the Harrowing from taking you beforehand."

He wanted to argue, but the more Xander thought about it, the more it made sense. With some unknown person or persons out to get him, it would be better to have someone along with him. Plus, he knew that Angel was good in a fight and the near immortality that a vampire possessed could come in handy. But things could get dicey, even without the Harrowing. There was still the matter of Abigail Giles to figure out and, despite not wanting to do so he had to get on that.

"Have you found anything out about Giles sister?" Xander said changing the subject suddenly.

Shaking his head, he replied, "Nothing yet but it's only been a few days. I don't know when we'll be able to get the information. Besides, don't you think we should be focusing more on the Harrowing than her?"

Grinning fiercely, Xander said, "Don't worry. I'm sure that they'll find us and try to do something horrible to us."

"You almost seem to be enjoying that."

Turning to the back room, Xander called over his shoulder, "Get whatever you need. We leave at sundown."

*************

"Oh God, I'm horrible. I'm worse than horrible, I'm scum. I'm worse than scum!"

Buffy frowned as Willow, once again, started crying on her shoulder. The two of them had been sitting on the stairs leading to the stacks since Xander had left and almost the whole time Willow had been a mess. When she wasn't crying she was going on about how she had treated him, how Xander probably hated her at this point. Aside from offering her a little bit of comfort and soothing words, Buffy was at a loss. Even though she may not feel Willow's pain at having treated Xander harshly, in fact she felt he deserved much worse at this point in her opinion, she didn't want to see Willow like this. The young woman was so distraught over the whole situation that she had missed all of her classes, not leaving where she had been sitting the whole time. What angered Buffy about the whole thing was that she was actually thinking that Willow had finally gotten past all that had happened between them and Xander but now it was as if she was back where she had been when he had first left.

Wisely, Giles had chosen not to get involved. It wasn't out of a lack of concern or empathy for Willow, but the man simply wasn't that good with any of the emotional stuff. After helping Willow to the stairs, making her a cup of tea, and offering her a comforting squeeze on the shoulder, he excused himself leaving Buffy alone with Willow. He kept to his office keeping the door closed to give them a modicum of privacy while letting them know that he was there should they need him.

"God, what's wrong with me?" Willow moaned through tears.

"Nothing's wrong with you," Buffy said soothingly. "You did nothing wrong."

"Nothing wrong? I-I-I hit him! I didn't even say anything, I just glared at him and then attacked!"

"You were angry. It was only natural that you would blow up at him." Buffy looked into Willow's eyes forcing the young woman to stop for a moment. "Any one of us would have done the same thing. I told you, I almost took his head of myself. It's normal."

Red eyes stared back at Buffy, filled with hurt and remorse. "But...but it shouldn't be, Buffy. H-h-he's been hurt so much, worse than we know. We shouldn't be forcing him away, hurting him worse."

Buffy bit back her initial retort knowing that it would only set Willow off more. "I don't think anything we can do would make him feel better."

"But we made him worse. I made him worse!"

At this exclamation, Willow broke down again. Buffy closed her eyes, wishing that she could do something to calm her friend down, to somehow make it better. But for all of the things that she could do, Buffy wasn't able to do a damn thing. That, above all else, was the most frustrating. If there was just someone she could hit it would make things a whole lot simpler.

Turning when the doors to the library opened, Buffy watched Oz walk in, concern and confusion showing on his usually passive face. He hadn't come in all day and was probably wondering what had happened with Buffy last night and with Willow being missing from class, he had to have been worried. Now that he saw the state Willow was in, whatever his worries were seemed to be confirmed as he made his way to the two girls.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Xander," Buffy told him. The question had been poised to Willow, but she clearly wasn't in any state to answer him.

The young man instantly darkened at the mention of Xander. Oz had never met him aside from the day he had been shot saving Willow but he had certainly heard enough about the Xander. All of it had been slightly skewed since it was everything he had heard had been after the incident with Spike, Kendra and, obviously, Halloween. Willow was always slightly more understanding of what had happened with Xander but Buffy had never shied away from thinking that he could have done more and that it was his own fault things were so bad. Oz seemed to make up his mind based solely on how Willow always reacted whenever he was mentioned. If it hurt Willow than Oz wanted to make it stop doing so. With that in mind, he didn't think too kindly of Xander.

Noticing Oz, Willow instantly let go of Buffy and wrapped her arms around him, though it seemed like she was done crying for the moment.

"Yeah, I heard," Oz said stroking Willows hair.

Standing up to stretch her legs a bit, Buffy ran a hand through her hair. "Great, now we'll have the rumor mill running about."

"Didn't think you'd be concerned with the masses," Oz said over Willow's head with a raised eyebrow.

"I'm not. I'm more concerned about when certain people hear about it. The last thing we need to deal with at the moment is Cordelia." Buffy sighed feeling the stress getting to her. She really didn't want to have to take on Cordelia's two hundred questions and comments when it came to Xander.

Nodding his head in agreement, Oz asked, "Why? What else is going on?"

Willow looked at Oz, her face red and blotchy from all the crying. "He's in trouble."

When Oz looked at the two girls questioningly, Buffy said, "There are these...things going after Xander. Real nasty and real serious. I ran into them last night after I bumped into Xander."

"Just Xander?" Oz asked.

Willow may have missed it but Buffy knew that what he was really asking was if they were caring about what was going on. If it was only Xander that was in danger, were they supposed to care? It was hard for Buffy to say at the moment, so she didn't.

Shaking her head, Buffy said, "Could be bad. Xander certainly seems to think so. I didn't even make a dent in them though. And the creep factor on them was way high."

"So what's the plan?"

"The plan? Right, the plan," Buffy said tiredly. She hadn't slept in a while, not that she needed it at the moment, but it would be nice to rest for a bit. "As much as I hate to say it, we need to track down Xander or at least find out where he is. If these things do come back after him they might do it when he's out and around people. They didn't exactly seem too concerned about hurting me when I got in their way and I doubt they'd feel any different when it comes to other people."

"Absolutely not," Giles said from the office door, startling everyone. "I told you before, Buffy, we aren't getting involved in this, not unless we're sure that other people may be in danger."

"You don't think that people are going to get hurt with those things running around after him?" Buffy faced Giles completely feeling the anger rising inside of her again.

Giles didn't back down. "That's if they go back after him. There's no telling why the Harrowing attacked Xander. I-it could have been an isolated incident or simply something that came after him because of something he did or had. We can't say for certain why they came after him. There simply isn't enough information to go running into this."

"These things are evil, Giles. I'm the Slayer, the girl that destroys evil things. Not really seeing a problem with this."

"I've told you, Buffy. Even if these things are going after Xander, they're part of the Nightside. The Council, and on this point I agree with them, do not touch anything having to do with the Nightside, you know that."

Buffy eyed Giles and resisted the urge to blow up at him. He was being very adamant about not going after Xander and it was beginning to make her suspicious. Of what, she didn't know, just generally wary. Normally when Giles didn't think she should do something, he would make his reasons known calmly or at least tell her that there was a better way to do what she wanted. This time he just seemed to be telling her that he didn't want her to do it and when she argued he tried to bring in his authority as her Watcher, something he hadn't done since they had first meant. It hadn't worked then, which he had quickly learned, and had thus stopped trying and instead used reason or, at rare times, emotion with her.

Butting heads with him now wouldn't get them anywhere though except into a knock down drag out argument. The only thing that would do would waste time which if they wanted to find Xander before nightfall, they couldn't afford. Calming herself down, Buffy gave Giles a hard look.

"So what do you think we should do? Wait till bodies start piling up?" Buffy asked.

"I never said that," Giles told her. "If people start getting hurt, by all means I think we should intervene. But for the time being its best that we leave Xander be, especially after the confrontation that took place earlier. The last thing that we need at the moment is to force a fight between ourselves and Xander."

"So we sit around and wait?"

"No, not at all," Giles said thoughtfully. "Patrol, keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary and report back to me. But, Buffy, I'm serious about this. Under no circumstances do I want you, any of you, to go in search of Xander for the time being. Are we clear?"

"Crystal," Buffy replied with a tight forced smile.

Buffy packed up her bag while Oz helped Willow grab her own books. The three teenagers left the library remaining silent until they were well into the hall and moving with the throng of other students.

"So, patrol?" Oz asked.

"Definitely," Buffy responded.

"What about Xander?" Willow asked.

"We patrol, just like Giles said," Buffy told her. "I'm just thinking that it might be a good idea to expand the route a little bit."

"Maybe start earlier too?" Willow asked her eyes still red and puffy from crying.

Giving her a comforting smile, Buffy nodded her head in agreement. "Alright, here's the plan. Go home, get changed and rest up for a bit. Can you guys meet me at my house in about two hours?"

"Shouldn't be a problem," Oz said looking to Willow for confirmation.

"Yeah," Willow said looking a little bit brighter. "I should get cleaned up. Being all blotchy probably wouldn't be good for looking intimidating, huh?"

"I don't know. I think blotchy looks cute." Oz tried trying to reassure her.

Smiling, she said, "Thanks. You're lying, but thanks."

"Two hours," Buffy reminded them.

Letting the Willow and Oz go off on their own, Buffy started for her locker to put away her books and grab whatever she would need from it. She needed some time to get her own head straight and check in with her mom, make sure she really believed Willow's story about the all night study session. After that though, she would make sure that they found out not only where Xander was, but what was going on. There was more to what had happened last night than she knew and Giles arguing with her and letting Xander go was really bugging her. Hopefully she would get at least some answers tonight and without too much trouble. As she closed her locker with a dull clang, part of her really doubted it.
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