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

Summary: The Scoobies activating the Potentials is going to have many repercussions, some of which they didn't anticipate at all.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Highlander > Andrew-CenteredGreywizardFR18115,4960155,9277 Feb 117 Feb 11Yes
Rating: FR18.

Disclaimer: They all belong to Crack-Head Joss and ME. Deal with it. I have.

Time Frame: Immediately follows my earlier story, 'A Second Chance To Get It Right.'

Spoilers: None intended, but if you don’t know what happened up to this point, why are you reading this story?

Character Bashing: None.

Feedback: Of course!

Archiving: Talk to me first, please.

Author’s Note 1: Many thanks to Bill Haden and Theo (Starway_Man) for beta-ing this story.

As usual, “word” indicates speech, :: word :: indicates mental communication and { word } indicates a character's thoughts.

~~~

Previously, in 'A Second Chance To Get It Right':


Tapping into the well of power now available to her, Dawn took a moment to focus her new awareness and then she gestured and a rift opened before her, revealing the rocky cavern containing her sister and the other now-empowered women who had willingly set themselves against almost insurmountable odds, and who were now engaged in a literal life-or-death struggle with the uber-vamps they'd come to destroy.

"It's okay, guys," Dawn reassured her fellow warriors as she and Xander stepped through the gap and moved to join the desperate battle before them. "Fall back – I'll take care of this!"

Turning her gaze to the stone ceiling above them while Buffy, Xander and the other Slayers formed a ring of protection around her, Dawn frowned as she took a brief moment to look around and determine everyone’s positions, then focused her attention again and another aperture opened up to allow the blazing brilliance of the desert sun to shine down onto the vampiric hordes threatening them. Off to one side, Spike was far enough away from the area she’d chosen to illuminate that he was relatively safe from the lethal solar radiation pouring down from above.

Bestial screams of agony rang out and filled the cavern as the ragtag group gathered by the Seal’s opening watched as their opponents began to combust under the unbearable light of day, and within the span of a few minutes, the vampiric army that had threatened the surface world was reduced to ashes and bits of bone.

***

And now, in 'Repercussions':

An enormous cavern accessed
through the Sunnydale High basement

May 20, 2003


"What else do you think we should do, Buffy? 'Cause I'm not sure that's going to be enough to make sure the First is stopped," Dawn announced, a worried frown marring her classically beautiful features as she gazed as the drifting motes of dust which only moments before had been an army of Turok-Han.

"As long as that Seal of Danthazar is here, the First is still gonna have a potential gateway back through the school for any troops it finds," she pointed out.

"Yeah, but that's only if the gateway's not already blocked off, Nibblet," Spike pointed out, joining the other Scoobies now that the blazing aperture that Dawn had used to destroy the First's army of feral, prehistoric vampires had been dismissed.

"And that's exactly what this little trinket is supposed to be used for, innit?" the peroxide blonde vampire asked as he indicated the amulet hanging around his neck

"No, Spike! You don't have to do that now!"

"No, that's not necessary, Spike! We can find some other way to close the seal up!"

"That so? Well, I'm open to any other suggestions anyone might have," the vampiric poet noted as he resolutely ignored both Buffy's and Dawn's reflexive emotional protests as he looked around at the other members of their group, focusing his attention on Xander and Faith specifically.

"Both my girls're gonna need looking after, Droopy," Spike stated as he locked his gaze on Xander's single remaining brown eye.

"And seeing as how the Tweed Wonder's more'n likely gonna be up to his arse in alligators setting up this new Council he's been talking about lately, to support the Slayers, it looks like I'm gonna have to depend on you to do it," the vampire once referred to as William the Bloody Awful Poet shook his head and smirked, not wanting to ruin his tough guy image with a display of any maudlin sentiments.

"Seeing as they're my girls, too, seems like I've been doing that for the past seven years already, Not All That Evil Dead, " Xander grinned back as he held out his hand and took his semi-friend/semi-antagonist's hand in a firm grip. "Even helped defend Buffy against *you*, a couple of times back in the day, remember?

"Don't worry, though – nothing's gonna change," Xander vowed, nodding his head as if to emphasize his promise.

"Right-o. See that it doesn't," Spike nodded back while fending off Buffy’s wild attempt to grab the amulet from him and then turning his attention to Faith.

"We both know Blondie's not listened to a single bloody word I said," Spike observed as he then locked eyes with the dark-haired Slayer, just as he'd done with Xander a moment earlier, while indicating Buffy with a tilt of his head. "And she can't be hanging about, either, 'cause the Nibblet needs her more than ever now, what with Joyce being gone and all.

"She's probably gonna raise merry hell once I start doing what I'm gonna do, and anyone who helps me is gonna be number one on her shite list," he warned with another of his usual smirks, pointedly ignoring Buffy's scowl as she pushed herself up off the cavern floor where he'd shoved her.

"'S nothing new when it comes to me and B," Faith shrugged nonchalantly. "Girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, right?"

"You take care of all of them, now, ya hear me? Even Droopy," Spike ordered, before then adding, "I'm gonna owe you for this."

"Yeah, you are, Fang Junior. Gonna owe me *big* time," Faith agreed, with her own insolent grin for the peroxide blond ensouled vampire, who was so different from, and yet so similar to, her mentor.

"Oi, don’t be comparing me to the big ol' Poof, now, all right?" Spike complained, rolling his eyes theatrically at Faith's comment. "I'm a legend in me own right, ya know."

"Sure you are, chip-boy."

"Damned right, I am! I've helped save this sodding world several times over. Just ask Droopy or the librarian – there's plenty they can tell you about me," Spike declared. "And if you want to learn even more, ask them to show you the Council's books.

"If you ask real nice, they might even read them out loud to you, so you don't have to try to sound out the big words and all, Slayer," Spike grinned nastily at her.

"Okay then, Fangless, have it your way – you're a regular friggin' bloodsucking boy scout," Faith shrugged. "And, if we’ve got everything settled now, let's do this," she added a moment later.

So saying, the second most experienced Slayer in the world abruptly spun and slammed her fist into Buffy's stomach, doubling her mystical sibling over with the unexpected blow, while Spike followed up and drove his own fist against the blonde's jaw, stunning her for a moment.

"The Nibblet's beaten them down and saved the world for the moment, luv," Spike said as he bent down and murmured in a barely semi-conscious Buffy's ear. "Now, it’s up to me to do the cleanup. I kinda doubt I'll be walking away from this, so I'm saying good-bye, now.

"All right! Everyone! Get out of here! Now! There's no time for lollygagging," the second vampire with a soul then yelled to the mini-Slayers as he grasped the amulet and turned to face the stairway carved into the wall they'd descended earlier, with its access back to the basement above, which had been created by the Seal at its summit.

Faith grabbed the still stunned Buffy and tossed her over her shoulder as she hollered orders at the wide-eyed and goggling newly-activated mini-Slayers.

"Everybody! Get your ass outta here! Now!" she echoed Spike's command.

Xander had already grabbed hold of a momentarily shocked and wide-eyed Dawn, wrapping his right arm around her upper body to pin her arms to her sides and preclude any attempts to fight him while he scooped her legs up with his left arm, and he quickly turned and bolted towards the stone steps, ignoring Dawn's angered and frustrated struggles and screams of protest as he carried her to the stairway.

"Spike!" Xander called out, glancing back over his shoulder as he carried Dawn through the opening to safety. The blond vampire was now shining with an unearthly aura, the part-time carpenter and full-time demon fighter saw, much the same as the entrance formed by the Seal of Danthazar was doing, and Xander saw Spike look over towards the source of the summons.

"Thanks for saving my friends!" the Founding Scooby yelled. "And the world, too!

"We won't ever forget this!" he promised, his words carrying clearly down through the opening in the Seal to the now brightly glowing Champion, before the entrance in the Seal abruptly disappeared and was replaced by the pentagram which had originally filled the sigil.

A few seconds later, before the eyes of a warily watching group of Scoobies and mini-Slayers, a weeping brunette teenager and a woozy blonde Slayer, the entire silver symbol glowed brightly for an instant and then slowly evaporated into nothingness.

As the subdued and downcast group looked at each other, most of them clearly uncertain about what they should do next, a vague, slowly mounting rumbling from the ground beneath them triggered innate reflexes and prompted all of the California natives to leap to their feet and begin urging their companions to head to the surface, the newly activated Slayers helping their injured sisters where needed.

"Everybody! Get outside! Now!"

The physically and emotionally fatigued group of demons fighters had barely managed to collect their companions from within the school and escape to the courtyard outside before the entire school building began shaking and the roof began caving in.

Wide-eyed with recognition of the newest impending catastrophe facing them, the entire group rushed towards the parking lot as the recently rebuilt Sunnydale High School began collapsing in upon itself in a final act of self-destruction.

"Everyone, head for the buses! WE'RE GETTING THE HELL OUT OF HERE!"

~~~

A bemused group stared out the rear windows in aghast and dismayed shock as they watched the entire town of Sunnydale slowly implode and collapse into an ever-growing crater behind them. For her part, Anya floored the accelerator of the clichéd and stereotypical school bus Principal Woods had 'borrowed' from the school district for their use and drove hell for leather towards the city limits and, hopefully, safety.

Seeing the rate of the ground breaking up behind them slowing and then apparently stop, Anya slowed the bus and pulled off to the side of the deserted highway, and the awed, but undaunted, group of demon fighters quickly disembarked, to stare at the plumes of black smoke rising from the massive crater that had engulfed the entire town.

Some dozen yards distant, the large green sign bearing the motto, 'Welcome to Sunnydale!', swayed precariously for a moment on the edge of the newly created basin, before then tilting backwards a final time and disappearing into the pit.

"Well, damn," Xander could be heard clearly in the silence that now enveloped the area as the crowd of mini-Slayers gathered around the core group of Scoobies and stared back at what had previously been a once-thriving community and metropolitan suburb of Los Angeles.

"Gotta give Spike credit – this is a whole level of magnitude bigger than anything *we* ever did, guys," he declared, plainly impressed by the scale of destruction evident for everyone to see.

"Yeah," Willow agreed with clear wonder evident in her voice, too.

"Even with that whole facing off with ADAM and destroying the Initiative thing, we still left the buildings standing when we were done," she noted offhandedly, her comment drawing any number of curious and semi-apprehensive glances from the mini-Slayers, most of whom had no real in-depth knowledge of the Scoobies' achievements and accomplishments over the past seven years, despite Andrew's ongoing efforts to chronicle and celebrate their work over the past few weeks.

"Indeed, Spike has unquestionably achieved his goal of gaining redemption for his past transgressions," the computer nerd and self-proclaimed Scooby Gang scribe and historian declared, somewhat pompously, "and it is up to us now to make sure that his sacrifice – to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the world and the unsuspecting masses which comprise it – will not be in vain.

"For now, though, we may confidently declare that, thanks to the ongoing yet lamentably unacknowledged work of so many selfless and dedicated individuals seeking to keep the world safe from the demonic forces scheming against it, the Hellmouth is officially closed for business," Andrew announced, staring up at the smoke-occluded sky with what he obviously believed was a noble and stalwart expression on his face.

"Oh, for chrissakes. Can I push him in?" Faith asked with a small inclination of her head towards Andrew, her voice betraying her complete and near-total exhaustion resulting from the day's endeavors.

"Ordinarily, you'd have my vote," Xander nodded, "but since I don't want to be the one stuck trying to keep track of what everyone said and did about everything that led up to this point, how about we make Andrew here the official Keeper of the Scooby Notes?

"That way, once the government shows up asking questions, we can just point them at him, and then we can run away and hide until they leave," he explained, sounding more than a bit fatigued.

"When you put it that way, X, how could I even think of arguing with you?" Faith replied with a tired nod of agreement. "Okay, Nerd-Boy, you're the go-to guy, once the government suits start coming around.

"Tell them whatever it is they want to hear," she advised.

"Unless it's gonna get us in trouble," Faith then qualified her instruction after a moment's consideration.

"If that happens, then lie your geeky ass off!"

***

Off to the side, Buffy and Dawn stood quietly, neither saying anything but simply enjoying the momentary peace and tranquility and the fact that the majority of their family and friends were alive, while also mourning the loss of the man who'd sacrificed himself to ensure their safety and well-being.

"There's no way he could have survived down there," Dawn finally said, breaking the silence that had ruled the area around them for the last few minutes.

"From what I could see, it looked like Spike was glowing – he was shining like the sun," she described the last glimpse she'd had of their savior, "and we both know sunlight and vampires aren't mix-y type things.

"But I guess it's not really that much of a surprise that he'd do something like that for us, is it?"

"No, it's not," Buffy agreed pensively, still staring at the crater that their hometown had become. "It's just – I figured that *I'd* be the one not making it out.

"I was the only reason the First even had the chance to go on this rampage, remember?" the blonde Champion added despondently. "So, I kinda figured that it would be only fitting that I be the one to not make it out, this time around."

"No, Buffy!" Dawn exclaimed, distressed and horrified at what she'd just heard, and reaching out to grab hold of her sister. "I need you here! With me!"

"Actually, what you need most right now is training, sweetie," they heard a familiar female voice reply, and the two sisters, as well as everyone else present, spun around to look at the source of that pronouncement.

"Tara?" Willow choked out, her eyes wide and incredulous as she stared at what appeared to be her dead lover.

"Hi, honey," the ethereal-looking blonde smiled as she glanced over at the witch and then at Kennedy – Willow’s new girlfriend, and Tara’s replacement. Focusing back on the redhead, the ghost said, "You really impressed a lot of people up there, what with the way you used the Scythe to activate all of the Potentials the way you did.

"In fact, you proved to a great many people up here that you're still the same Champion that you were before you had your breakdown," the new arrival informed the dumbly staring redhead.

“Tara...” Willow started to say, even though she had no idea what to say next.

“No offense, Tara – if that really is you – but before we listen to anything you say, we kinda need you to prove that you’re not the First,” Xander spoke up, a hard look in his one remaining eye. He hated having to be the one who said it, especially after the way Willow glanced in his direction, but he also knew that he wasn’t the only one here considering the possibility.

“The Powers That Be were pretty much expecting you to say that, so they made me corporeal, for as long as I’m here,” Tara replied, holding out her arm.

Giles reached over and touched her gently. “She, she’s solid,” he verified with more than a trace of wonder, which instantly caused everyone present to accept Tara’s shade as the real deal.

"I'm sorry I can't stay with you guys, for very long," Tara said as she turned to address the other Scoobies, who were staring her in much the same dumbfounded way Willow was doing, "but since my time here is limited, I need to try to get Dawn to understand what she needs to do next."

"Me?" Dawn's voice was a bit short of a high-pitched squeak as she responded to the blonde's statement. "I, uh, Tara, wh-why do you need to talk to me about training?"

"Because you have so much power available to you right now, Dawn, you, you could very easily cause major damage to the planet if you aren't careful when you're using it," the newcomer responded in a calm and reasonable tone of voice – which contrasted vividly with the "WHAT?" that erupted from a dozen throats.

"Willow's activating the Potentials activated Dawn's latent Slayer heritage, too," Tara informed her audience, "and that, in turn, allowed her access to the energies of the Key that were previously bound inside her.

"Unfortunately, however, Dawn hasn't had any of the training she would have received if she had apprenticed herself to Willow or one of the Coven witches Giles knows, the way the Powers originally intended to happen," the newcomer revealed.

"However, just like the way things usually happen with you guys," the blonde chuckled with obvious amusement, "things didn't go the way either the Powers or the First's representatives had expected. Not only did you guys not use the amulet the way they thought you would, to destroy the Turok-Han – Willow used the Scythe to channel Gaia's power and activated a significant percentage of Potentials Slayers, first – something which has now altered the situation in a way no one ever expected.

"But the best thing about the situation, though, is the fact that since you obtained the amulet from a properly authorized representative of Wolfram and Hart as a result of their own efforts to get it to you, everything you've accomplished is now considered as falling completely within the rules all the various factions agreed to abide by," Tara's smile grew even wider now as she conveyed this bit of information. "So, no matter how loudly the First and its representatives might scream and rage about the results, they can't do anything to change things back to the way they were previously. The Imbalance has been rectified, so the First is once again barred from this world, the way it was before."

"Uh, excuse me for interrupting you, Tara," Giles broke in, "but, but exactly what did you mean about our not using the amulet the way the Powers and the other side anticipated us using it?

"And exactly how *did* they expect us to use it?" he asked, voicing the question that everyone present was obviously thinking.

"Well, basically, the amulet is an amplifier for the most heartfelt desires of its wearer," the blonde replied, "and pretty much all of the parties involved expected Buffy to give it to Xander to wear, since the instructions that accompany it specify that it be used by ‘someone whose heart is stronger than human,’ and that pretty much describes Xander to a tee."

"Uh, Angel told me that it had 'a cleansing power,' or something like that, and that it was supposed to be given to 'someone ensouled, but stronger than human – a champion,'" Buffy spoke up, repeating what Angel had told her the previous night when he'd given her the amulet.

"Hmm, is that so? Well then, I suppose we should all be grateful that, somehow, something must have interfered with getting those instructions translated correctly then, shouldn't we?" Tara grinned as her friends wondered whether the mischievous glint in the blonde ghost's eyes hinted at deeds best not mentioned.

"In any event, just your giving the amulet to Spike wouldn't have changed things nearly as drastically as they did, if you hadn't also thought of activating the Potentials, so that they could help you fight the Turok-Han, Buffy," Tara went on.

"And since Spike was also thinking about that while he was wearing the amulet, it amplified Willow's capacity to tap into Gaia's energy and let her channel all of that energy through the Scythe and activate all of the Potentials within the ages of sixteen to nineteen," the blonde phantom told her listeners. "Which means that she activated approximately one percent of one percent of one percent of the world's female population – that's three thousand, two hundred and ninety-five young girls throughout the world who are now Slayers, guys.

"And don't forget – you're now responsible for finding them and making sure that they learn who they are, what's expected of them and how they can keep themselves and their families safe," she reminded the Scoobies.

"Unfortunately, however, getting back to the reason I showed up here, Dawn does desperately need to get that training I mentioned if she's going to be able to control her new powers properly," the blonde ghost went on.

"That's the reason why I've been allowed to come here – to make sure she gets it before she makes any major mistakes that can't be resolved as easily as this one can," Tara informed the intently listening crowd. "And we're trying to get this accomplished before the other side fully realizes what's happened to Dawn and tries to make any sort of attempt to kill her."

"So who, exactly, is going to be giving Dawn this training you say she needs so desperately?" Buffy demanded suspiciously, her protective nature going into overdrive at any hint of a threat to her little sister.

"Me, to begin with," Tara replied with a serene expression, "and then later, once she's got a better grasp of the basics she needs to learn, other people will take over her training and help her develop her abilities to the fullest."

"Y’know, this is all just a little too convenient for my liking – that just as Dawn gets access to this power which allowed us to stop the First's plans," Buffy declared, "you suddenly show up just a couple minutes later, telling her she needs to leave us and go off with you right away."

"I can understand your concerns completely, Buffy," Tara (or the being who resembled her, at least) agreed with a small smile, "and you're right to be suspicious and all. But…"

"But what she's saying is true, Buffy," Dawn confided quietly to her sister. "When I opened that portal to take me and Xander to join you guys inside the Seal, it's not like I knew exactly what it was I was doing; it was more like I knew I could do that, but I really don’t know *how* I did it.

"And it was the same way when I opened that second portal to let the sunshine in," she confessed. "I just knew what I wanted to do, and I did it.

"But just like with the first portal, I didn't how I was doing what I was doing, I just thought about what I wanted to do, and tried to do it. What if it hadn’t worked, or – or the First had come up with a way to block me somehow? Right now, we could all be dead or something!"

“Dawn, we’re talking about you leaving and being on your own for God only knows how long! At least when I got Xander to take you away from Sunnydale the other night for your own good, I made him promise that he’d stay with you!” Buffy insisted.

“And thank you so much for that little trip down Memory Lane,” Xander muttered grouchily. The electric shock from that taser had *hurt*. “So, what does everyone else think?”

"If you want, I'll give you my opinion, Dawnie," Willow offered as she, Giles and Xander joined the pair, partially blocking them off from the rest of the group, with Faith and Andrew interposing themselves behind them as additional barriers to any possible intrusion or eavesdropping. "But I'll only tell you what it is if you want me to."

"Yeah, Willow, I do," Dawn immediately nodded. "You've got a lot more experience with magic than I do.

"And so do you, Giles," she said as she turned her head to look up at her surrogate father. "What do you guys think I should do?"

"Well, I, ah, personally, Dawn, given that the, uh, experiences I had in my youth concerning arcane power that I, ah, had acquired under what I'd have to describe as 'less than optimal conditions for proper guidance' ended very badly for the majority of the group I was associated with," the Watcher reminded the young brunette, "I would be remiss if I didn't encourage you to acquire whatever training you can, so as to best learn how to avoid the same sort of mistakes which I made back then."

"Yeah, that's what I was gonna say, too, Dawnie," Willow said, a pensive look on her face as she spoke to the younger woman.

"See, I didn't realize it at the time, but I hadn't gotten anywhere near enough training in the basics from Ms. Calendar when I started using magic," she said ruefully, not realizing that Tara was watching her with an approving smile at her admission. "I just started trying to do different things, to see if I could pull if off, and when I was successful, I just tried to do something else, and I just kept on doing things like that without having any basic framework that would help me understand how and why I could do what I was doing.

"And we all know how well that eventually worked out," the redhead concluded with a mix of regret, guilt and remorse on her face.

"Yeah,” the Key nodded, a pensive expression on her own face. That time period had been a bad time in both their lives. Even though Dawn had done her best to avoid Willow after her arm had been broken the night the witch had gotten her fix from that scumbag Rack, they had still lived in the same house and the young brunette had occasionally seen the redhead vomiting black bile during her cold turkey phase of getting off the magicks.

"So, what do you think I should do, Buffy?" Dawn said as she turned to look at her sister.

"I don't want you to leave, Dawn," Buffy immediately replied as she reached out and pulled her sister tightly against her.

"But that's just me being selfish," she went on right away, giving the younger girl a crooked smile as she continued to hug her tightly.

"After seeing what you just did down there," Buffy continued, "it's obvious that you're way powerful now, and one thing that I've learned about being around a Hellmouth for the last seven years is that you need to know as much as you can, about as much as you can, if you want to avoid screwing things up.

"Or at least, screwing them up as little as you can manage," Buffy gave a short, pained laugh as she spoke as she looked around at her fellow Scoobies, who all nodded at her words while wearing the same weary half-smile the blonde Slayer did.

"I don't want to leave, either," Dawn murmured in a barely audible voice as she hugged Buffy back just as fiercely. "But I also know that I *really* need to learn what it is I can do, and how to control it, so that I don't end up messing things really, really bad.

"I love you, Buffy," Dawn said as she reluctantly pulled herself away fro her big sister.

"And I love you guys, too," she said as she turned and threw herself at the others, giving Willow, Giles and Xander a fierce hug.

Dawn paused during her embrace with Xander and a devilish smile crossed her face a moment as she looked up at him – before she pulled his head down to give him a fervent and passionate kiss, releasing him only after a handful of seconds had passed, and then only a moment before she expected her sister to interfere.

“HEY!!” Anya’s outraged voice could be heard from not far away, as even though she’d been casually excluded from this little confab – said fact being realized far too late by the core Scoobies, to their everlasting regret – but Anya still had eyes, and she could *see* what Little Miss Jail Bait was doing. “Dawn, you keep your tongue out of Xander’s mouth!”

Ignoring Anya completely, Dawn’s smile only grew wider as she saw the somewhat dazzled look on her long-time crush's face, and she whispered in his ear, "We’re going to talk, once I get back," before releasing him completely and moving on to the rest of the group.

Faith looked both pleased and the least bit embarrassed at the younger girl's embrace, although she grinned and crowed, "You got the right idea there, Little D! Get it while you can!" as she glanced over at a somewhat self-conscious Xander, while Andrew smiled when Dawn hugged him and was almost incomprehensible in his instructions for her to not only match, but exceed, the skill sets of various superheroes apparently only he was familiar with.

Anya, on the other hand, merely informed Dawn that she was not to let anything "serious or stupid" happen to her, on pain of making the former vengeance demon angry with her. It went without saying that Anya’s definition of “serious or stupid” included putting the moves on her ex-fiancé again, without her permission.

Hugs and tear-filled goodbyes with the other teens filled the next few minutes, and all too soon, Dawn moved to stand next to a peacefully waiting Tara, to reach out and take the blonde's hand, and then abruptly disappear.

~~~

Hyperion Hotel
Los Angeles, CA

Xander's suite

May 20, 2003
Late evening


Looking around at the various faces currently staring at him with a varying degree of concern, apprehension or simply mere curiosity, Xander dropped his gaze and let a small sigh escape his lips.

He sincerely hoped that this discussion he was about to start wasn't going to be the beginning of yet another possibly demonic problem involving him and his friends – his true family, even if they weren't all related to him by blood.

{ I wish Ahn were here to hear this, too, } he reflected momentarily, a momentary look of sadness flitting across his face when he thought about Anya's departure. { I’m gonna miss her – a lot.}

{ And she also might have some sort of idea about what's happened to me. }

The former vengeance demon had, in fact, departed their company shortly after their arrival here at the no-longer-used hotel which had housed Angel's private investigation firm – at least, until the Fang Gang had apparently decided to accept employment with what was allegedly a demonic law firm – known to some as Evil, Incorporated and others as Wolfram & Hart.

Turning to her former boyfriend, Anya had given him a small smile as she'd said in her own blunt and completely honest way, "Xander, I'm leaving.

“WHAT?!” Harris had exclaimed, staring at his ex as if she’d grown an extra head. “What are you talking about? Ahn, you can’t leave now! I mean, we just –”

“Listen to me, Xander! I really do care about you, and I know you care about me, too, but things are different now.”

“This is about Dawn macking on me before she and Tara disappeared a few hours ago, isn’t it? Look, Anya, I promise you-”

“It’s not about that, you big dummy! It’s about how you somehow managed to get these strange new powers which you now have, and how you're going to be even more involved with all the craziness and Slayage than you were previously, and how I can't deal with that anymore – no matter how incredible the orgasms you can give me are," Anya had said, before pulling Xander down into a passionate kiss that had several of the baby Slayers watching enviously.

Somewhat dazed, when the kiss was over Xander had appeared ready to continue his argument – but that was before Anya had given him the Look. The look that said that even though they still had a connection, that simply didn’t mean much anymore – that there was a reason why she hadn’t been able to look him in the face, during the recent sex-a-thon at Buffy’s house.

His heart feeling like it was shattering apart, Xander had then done something that he’d truly hated with every fiber of his being. Something which was best summarized by the immortal song lyrics...

‘If you love somebody, set them free.’

"I'd like to say I enjoyed all the time we spent together, but we all know that that wouldn't be true, so I'll just say that I hope you continue being successful in your efforts to keep the world safe," Anya had said with her characteristic honesty when she'd turned to the other Scoobies after she was sure that Xander understood the situation.

"Good luck and try to stay alive for as long as you can," Anya had said as a last goodbye, as the cab she'd called had pulled up in front of the building. "I will miss most of you."

And after Xander had loaded the two duffle bags she'd brought outside with her into the cab's backseat with her, she'd given him a final kiss and ridden off, into the metaphorical sunset.

It was some time after she'd left that Xander had noticed that Anya had also left a second pair of duffle bags behind with a note addressed to the core Scoobies, with a post script cautioning them to only open the bags somewhere private.

After he'd gathered Buffy, Willow, Giles and Faith together in Giles' suite, they'd opened the bags, only to discover them stuffed completely full with assorted bundles of one-, five-, ten-, twenty- and fifty-dollar bills.

The typed, unsigned note accompanying the bags had simply read, 'It would have been a crime to let all the money in the Sunnydale National Bank vaults go to waste, so I decided to requisition it for more practical uses.

'Accordingly, since we more or less acted as a team for the past five years and you people saved my life on more than one occasion, this is your share of the proceeds as well as my final act of assistance in apocalypse prevention. Goodbye and good luck.'

Shaking his head to dismiss his reminiscences, Xander realized that everyone was staring at him expectantly and he quickly gathered his wandering thoughts.

"Look, I, uh, I'm sorry to be bothering you guys at this time of night, especially since we just saved the world again this afternoon," he began.

"'Cause I know we all usually just take the night off after the world save-age so that we can relax and unwind, but I just discovered something that's kinda got me freaking out on a major scale, and I'm not at all completely sure whether it's gonna be a real problem or not, but usually, when freaky things start happening to me, it's not a good thing at all, and in fact, it's usually un-good on a scale that ranges from merely horrific to potentially apocalyptic, so I'm inclined to think that this might be a *really* big problem –"

"Can you cut the bullshit out and get to the part where you tell us what the hell this problem you think you've found out about is, X?" Faith interrupted the former carpenter's monologue, which had looked to be one that might possibly approach one of Red's epic, she-hasn't-taken-a-breath-for-nearly-five-minutes babbles. "'Cause some of us might have other things we'd be interested in doing than listening to you blab, y'know."

"Sure, Faith. Sorry about that, guys," Xander nodded, giving everyone present – Faith, Buffy, Willow and Giles – an embarrassed, semi-apologetic half-grin before lifting his hand to his eyepatch and pulling it off completely. "Here's what I was talking about."

Buffy reflexively began turning her face away from him in self-assigned guilt, still blaming herself for the horrific, disfiguring injury Xander had sustained in the Shadow Valley vineyard as a result of her own not completely thought-out plan allowing the First's minion, Caleb, to kill or maim several members of their group, but she froze in stunned shock upon seeing Xander blinking *two* uninjured and apparently completely normal eyes at the group.

"What – how –"

"Xander? You, you got your eye back?!"

"Good Lord!"

"What the fuck, X?"

The chaos that ensued for the next few moments was pretty much everything he'd thought it would probably be, although the tear-filled hugs exclamations of joy and happiness from Willow and Buffy and the somewhat more restrained words of elation and congratulations from Giles and Faith at the seemingly miraculous regeneration of his eye was definitely something to be appreciated.

Once things calmed down to a slightly more restrained level of emotion, the former carpenter began recounting to the others the details of his discovery.

"I'm not exactly sure about the when – although I'm pretty sure that it happened after I got that power-up you sent through the Scythe, Will – but I noticed my eye socket stopped throbbing the way it's been doing the past couple days," Xander explained, giving Buffy a reassuring nod and smile as she again reflexively flinched at his mention of his horrendous injury, "and it sorta shifted to that not-quite-as-bad type of ache that you feel when you're healing.

"You all know what I mean, right?" Xander inquired as he glanced around at his audience's faces, then continued after seeing nods of agreement, especially from both Slayers.

"Anyway, I do remember that when I got hit by the spell, it kinda felt like I was hit by a lightning bolt for a moment – especially in my left eye, 'cause it was like I got an extra jolt there – but I figured that that was just part of the whole Xander-mojo-non-mix-y thingy we all know and love. Other than that, my eye's felt sorta itchy and tingly pretty much all day, but I really didn't give it all that much thought.

"It was only when I was getting ready to check my eye socket and clean it out, the way I've had to do each night since it happened, that I saw – this," Xander concluded his explanation by pointing to his now intact and apparently fully functional left eye.

"You said your eye felt tingly, Xand," Buffy spoke up slowly, a hesitant look on her face. "Did you mean, it sorta felt like a really mild electrical shock kind of thing?"

"Uh yeah, I guess you could describe it like that, Buff," Xander agreed after a moment's consideration. "How come you're asking?"

"Uh, because some Turok-Han stabbed me with a sword all the way through my stomach this afternoon, right after Willow did her spell," Buffy answered, "and I felt something that was sorta like an electric shock where it stabbed me after it pulled the sword away, but even though I thought it was really serious – I, I felt like I could still keep on fighting, so I did.

"But then later, after the battle was over, when I checked to see how bad the cut might be, I couldn’t even find a scar," Buffy said hesitantly, "so I just kinda figured that Willow's doing the spell must have supercharged my Slayer healing, or something like that."

"Hmm." Giles' hum of concern made all four of the younger Scoobies look over at him with concerned expressions on their faces.

"Something wrong with what B just said, Jeeves?" Faith asked.

"Uh, truthfully, Faith, I'm not sure," Giles replied thoughtfully. "Although, I must admit that we are now traversing completely unknown waters.

"As you're all aware, I, I have no recollection of anyone ever even attempting a spell such as Willow performed earlier today," he stated, "so Buffy's hypothesis about the spell amplifying and enhancing her Slayer healing appears to be just as valid as anything I might offer as an explanation, at this point in time.

"And I must also point out that both Xander's and my own enhancement and receipt of Slayer abilities as an, uh, apparent parallel offshoot of the spell is, is something else which has no known precedent, either," he went on.

"At this point in time, all I can suggest is that we keep close track of any other apparent irregularities any of us might notice regarding any strange or unusual occurrences we might stumble upon during the course of our duties," the current pro-tem chairman of the Watchers Council said with a minor shrug.

"Yeah, 'cause we really don’t run into all that many of *those* kinds of things that often, do we, Giles?" Buffy snarked at their mentor's suggestion.

~~~

A place where nothing need be what it seems
A time meaningless to mortal minds


Xander opened his eyes and looked around, more than a little bewildered at the sight of his surroundings, since he was quite certain that the last thing he clearly remembered doing was getting ready for bed after the Scoobies had finally dispersed following the group discussion of the revelation of both the regeneration of his gouged-out left eye and Buffy's apparently newly supercharged healing factor.

No way was he expecting to find himself in a place that looked like it had been decorated to resemble the main hold of the Millennium Falcon as seen in “A New Hope”, and he also didn't remember anyone suggesting that he or the other Scoobies get dressed up in any kind of costumes – especially not any outfits that *definitely* resembled those of the various Star Wars characters. Although, Xander did have to admit that there certainly appeared to be obvious correlations between the Scoobies and the characters they were currently dressed as.

The apparently golden-metallic-skinned figure with the 'N-DRU-P-O' designation etched on his torso where his shirt pocket would be (if he'd been wearing a shirt), and who was currently leaning over one of the various control panels off to one side of the room, looked exactly like the C-3PO version of Andrew.

Xander had to repress a laugh, when he saw Faith in a white silk blouse, black leather vest and black pants with the red Corellian blood stripe down the outside seams examining a futuristic-looking pistol crossbow she'd pulled from the holster strapped to her leg, although the fact that she had the same black and white face paint, disheveled and unkempt hair and extremely feral expression he'd seen the First Slayer wearing in that dream he'd shared with Buffy, Willow and Giles three years earlier allowed him to repress the laugh with a surprising amount of ease.

The fact that Robin Woods was standing next to Faith, dressed like Lando Calrissian in the uniform of a New Republic general with a full set of hair and mustache, and he had had a massive, extremely lethal-looking blaster rifle casually slung over his right shoulder, was quite interesting, too, as was the sight of Kennedy, Vi, Rona, Chao-Ahn and Caridad gathered together in front of the pair, all of them also dressed in New Republic uniforms, but with the addition of a black vest identical to the one Faith wore and with a much lighter version of the same face paint she wore, and all of them giving complete attention to whatever it was the dark-haired Slayer was saying.

Checking out the rest of the room, Xander saw that he, Buffy, Willow and Giles were all seated around a small table off to one side, somewhat separated from the others, and while the sight of his three friends dressed in the typical tan tunic and pants and brown robes favored by the Jedi Order was somewhat surprising, finding *himself* dressed in similar attire was definitely a bit of an eye-opener – and his inner sci-fi geek wanted to start jumping up and down in glee, and do the Snoopy dance out of sheer exhilaration.

As the four of them made small talk around the table, something else Xander noticed about their get-together was that they each were either holding or had hanging from the belt securing their tunics, a sword which seem to crackle with blue-white lightning. Not a light saber, as one might have expected given the whole Star Wars theme around here, but normal, run-of-the-mill swords. Except for the glowing blue-white part, of course. Plus, all four of the – Jedi Knights – also had random white streaks through their hair and faintly glowing white eyes, similar to what Willow demonstrated while channeling her magic.

But the next moment, what caught Xander’s attention was a droid – looking exactly like R2-D2 -– wheeling itself across the room and stopping directly in front of him. Then a life-size holographic image suddenly shimmered into existence right in front of the diminutive R2-D2.

The image was of a gorgeous brunette woman wearing her long hair in a plait down one side of her head, and wearing nothing but a skimpy gold metallic bikini, a stereotypical image that had been burned into the sweaty subconscious of legions of Star Wars fanboys ever since 1983 – Princess Leia. Even though *this* Rebel princess had the face of someone that Xander knew personally, and indeed, back in high school, had once begged to wear this very same outfit whilst they’d been dating.

Xander let out a surprised, "Cordy?" a moment before the image looked up at him and loudly announced in his ex-girlfriend's voice, "Obi-wan Xand-obi, you're my only hope!"

An instant later, the holographic projection of Cordelia Chase shook its head and declared in an equally loud voice, "Oh my God! If that really is true, doofus, I am *so* screwed!"

"Cordelia?" Xander managed to squeak out a moment later. "Is, is that really you?"

"Time's running out for all of us, Xander," the incredibly stunning and gorgeous brunette told him as she stared him in the eye, and then a montage of fragmentary images suddenly started running through Xander’s mind.

** A handful of small jagged crystals all sliding towards a common center and merging into a single circular gemstone, which abruptly glitters with a scintillating light **

** A dark-haired man with a self-righteous expression on his face and clothes which were over a decade out of style, holding the stone up to stare at it while declaring, "The Methuselah Stone – perfect health and immortality to the one who possesses it!" **

** Two groups of people, armed with swords and modern firearms, fighting each other with single-minded intensity **

** An explosion, the shockwave making the Methuselah Stone burst apart and both the man who had been holding it and all the crystal fragments save one falling into a river **

** Willow standing on the bridge where the explosion had taken place, her arms outstretched and her eyes closed, before all the missing pieces of the Methuselah Stone come flying out of the water and into her hands **

** Himself in a heated argument with a dark-haired and bearded man, different from the man seen earlier, the Vatican Museum clearly visible behind them as the man reluctantly hands over the last missing piece of the Methuselah Stone **

** Cordy and himself in some sort of hospital room as he adds the last piece to the others and the Methuselah Stone reforms again, attaching itself to Cordelia’s sternum and refusing to let his hand go, both himself and his ex-girlfriend screaming as eye-searingly brilliant rays of light emanate from the circular stone connecting the two of them **

Darkness as the medley of scenes disappeared and a final plea echoed in his mind:

"Find the stone, Obi-wan Xand-obi. Save the cheerleader, so she can help save the world."

~~~

Hyperion Hotel
Los Angeles, CA

One of the smaller hotel dining rooms
Adjacent to the lobby

May 21, 2003
Early morning


"Uh, Buff, you've had Slayer dreams quite a few times over the years," Xander stated, rather than asked, as he set an extra-large styrofoam cup of double-strength mochachino and two large cherry Danish pastries in front of the petite blonde as she sat glaring moodily at the table in front of her, a cup of the instant coffee swill they'd found the previous night in the small kitchen annex off the main lobby in front of her.

"Yeah, I have, Xand. More often than I'd like to remember, actually," Buffy agreed as she looked up at her best friend while also immediately taking possession of the delightful ambrosia offered to her and bringing it closer to her face so that she could appreciate its heavenly aroma. "And you already know that.

"So, why are you asking me about them now?"

"Uh, 'cause I had a really, *really* strange dream last night, and I'm wondering if it might have been a Slayer-type dream," Xander confessed as he took the chair opposite her and stared down at his own styrofoam cup.

"Right. Well, tell me about it, and maybe I can help you figure out whether it really was a Slayer dream," Buffy suggested as she took a long sip of her coffee and then leaned back in her chair with a wide smile now on her face.

"Okay," Xander agreed, the least bit reluctantly, "but remember – I said it was really, really strange.

"You see, first off I dreamed that I opened my eyes and I found myself in…"

***

"Seriously? 'Save the cheerleader, so she can help save the world'?" Buffy repeated with a small grin on her face, once Xander had finished describing his dream from the previous night to her.

"Yeah. Sounds like the catch phrase for some sci-fi TV show or something, doesn't it?" Xander grinned back, more than a little relieved that Buffy hadn't immediately denied the possibility of his dream being some sort of prescient warning.

"Yeah, it kinda does," the diminutive blonde agreed as she took another sip of her drink.

"But it's also definitively cryptic enough that it could be a Slayer-type dream," she noted. "Maybe you should talk to Faith about it.

"And maybe Giles, too."

"Uh, yeah, I suppose. You'll be there to help figure things out, too, right?"

"Sure, Xand. And we should ask Willow to sit in on this, too; since she seemed to play such a big role in the dream. She should be pretty good with figuring out all that psychoanalytical stuff, what with her parents being psychiatrists and everything, right?"

***

"I gotta say right up front, Boytoy, I have absolutely *no* fuckin' idea what the hell your dream could possibly mean," Faith declared emphatically, once Xander had completed reiterating the potential vision he'd received to the once-again gathered group of Sunnydale survivors, with her statement being followed by any number of affirmative head nods from the mini-Slayers.

Robin's suggestion that the newly Called Slayers be allowed to sit in, so that they could watch and, hopefully, learn more about one of the more vaguely described Slayer powers had been reluctantly agreed to by Xander – and since that would have left Andrew as the only Sunnydale survivor not participating in the meeting, he'd been invited to sit in, too.

Andrew's excited squeal of joy at being asked to sit in had left all of the Slayers, as well as the three newly empowered Scoobies, with ringing ears, and had prompted Faith to immediately warn him that the next time something like that occurred, she would perform surgery on him which would ensure that he would always speak in that frequency, henceforth – a warning the nerd had quickly acknowledged with only a wide-eyed nod of panic, as his hands were clamped over his mouth as a safety measure.

"Okay. Any of you guys have any ideas about what my dream might mean?" Xander asked semi-plaintively as he looked around at the other members of their group.

"Giles? Willow? Any comments or observations you guys might have would be majorly of the good," he noted, "'cause right now, I got bupkis."

"Unfortunately, Xander," Giles replied, the frown on his face revealing the intense concentration he was focusing on the information they'd been given, "at this moment, aside from concurring with your stated desire that you and Willow locate and recover this so-called 'Methuselah Stone' as quickly as possible in order to help heal Cordelia, I have no idea what additional course of action I might possibly recommend you follow.

"And as far as deciphering the initial segment of your dream is concerned," Giles went on, "I must admit that I am at a complete loss when it comes to any viable interpretation.

"Unless, of course, you might have some suggestion, Willow?" Giles suggested as he turned to look over at the former hacker.

"Uh-uh," the witch shook her head as she shrugged her shoulders with helpless frustration. "Sorry, guys, but I have absolutely no idea what us being dressed as Star Wars characters might mean as far as what we should be doing."

Seeing how Andrew was practically vibrating in place as he frantically waved his hand to catch their attention while his upper teeth were also almost biting through his lower lip (so as to not annoy Faith and possibly initiate the aforesaid bout of surgery), Buffy repressed a smirk and asked, "Do you think you might have an explanation about what Xander's dream might mean, Andy?"

"Uh, yeah, sure! I mean, I do," the blond-haired nerd nodded enthusiastically, smiling with relief that he now had Buffy's permission to speak up.

Tuning to address Xander directly, he asked, "In your vision, were you or any of the other 'Original Scoobies,'" – the capitalization of his phrase identifying Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles obvious to everyone present – "wearing a padawan braid?"

"Uh, now that I think about it," Xander answered, a thoughtful expression on his face as he reviewed the dream he'd experienced. "I'd have to say, no, none of us had any sort of braided hair.

"We all looked pretty much just like we do, right now," the one-time carpenter declared after giving his description of the Scoobies' dream appearances, only for his response to be interrupted by a high-pitched, triumphant "YES!" from Andrew, who was practically falling out of his chair as he tried not to bounce with excitement.

"Why's that matter, Andrew? Why would our being dressed like we were in one of the Star Wars movies and having our hair braided be important? I mean, it's not like the Force really exists," Willow instantly chimed in, her curiosity clearly piqued at the hacker's question.

"Well, at least, not like George Lucas showed it did in his movies," the witch quickly clarified her comment. "'Cause everything really is connected together, you know – just not like it was presented in that Episode II movie last year, with the Light and Dark sides and the Jedi and the Sith and the midichlorians –

"And I'm totally getting away from the point here, so I'm just gonna shut up now," Willow concluded with an embarrassed grimace, and everyone refocused their attention on Andrew.

"Uhm, well, uh," Andrew managed to stammer as he realized he was once again the focus of everyone's consideration, "uh, as Mr. Giles was saying, a-all of the Slayer dreams which Buffy and Faith have had are always extremely symbolic, so, uh, for Xander to have seen the people in his dream dressed in a manner significantly different from that which they usually preferred would seem to indicate that those images must be of some importance to the future missions with which Fate and the Powers are entrusting this group of intrepid adventurers, and that they desire that we recognize this fact."

"Aw, shit," Faith groaned from her position draped across one of the easy chairs off to one side of the room. "I *really* fuckin' hate saying this, but it sounds like Nerd-Boy is actually making some sense, for once. The only time either B or me have gotten Slayer dreams is when the Powers are actually trying to help us not get bent over and boned by whatever evil bastard is looking to start pounding in between our ass cheeks."

"Indeed," Giles nodded his own reluctant agreement with Faith's statement. "Symbolism has always been a central aspect of the Slayer dreams which both Buffy and Faith have experienced, a-a-and we would be foolish to not pay attention to any warnings to which they might be trying to alert us. So, I believe it’s the group's consensus now that what Xander experienced last night *was* a Slayer dream, yes?"

There were a number of nods all around the room. Clearing his throat, and plainly uncomfortable with what he was about to say, Giles then tuned to Andrew and went on, "Seeing as you are obviously the one most familiar and conversant with the subject matter which Xander saw in the first half of his dream, would you, uh, care to share your views on what you believe the depiction of the various members of this group might mean?"

Buffy, Willow and Xander all tried to hide their smirks as Andrew almost visibly beamed upon hearing Giles' question, and the geek only just managed to keep his voice in the normal human audible range as he squeaked, "I’d be delighted to do so, sir!"

After taking a moment to get his near-hyperventilating breathing under control, Andrew schooled his features into what he imagined was a dignified expression and began his explanation.

"As I have noted any number of times in discussions with various people, the Great One's epics are not only magnificent compositions of the cinematic art, but are also intended to serve as allegories for the common man, as representations of abstract or spiritual concepts to which we can but aspire to one day approach in their beauty and nobility," the blonde youth began his exposition, Andrew's eyes focused on some point on the opposite wall and apparently on some entity or concept visible only to him.

A few loudly cleared throats served to bring his focus back to the here and now before Wells ventured off on some only peripherally related tangent and he gave the Scoobies a quick semi-guilty glance before continuing on what he believed was a valid and accurate interpretation of Xander's vision.

"Since the first things you said you noticed in your vision were myself and Master Slayer Faith, Principal Woods and the new Slayers that the Red Witch awakened using the Slayer Scythe, I think it would be best to address that aspect of the dream, first," Andrew stated.

"Xander, your envisioning me as an analogue to See-Threepio, who was a protocol droid fluent in over six million forms of communication and an indisputably invaluable and pivotal member of the group which helped change the universe around them, convinces me that it is my calling to help you in your effort to create this New Council you have been discussing, Mr. Giles," he declared with an almost religious fervor.

"And your description of seeing Slayer Faith attired in the uniform of Han Solo is quite interesting and especially evocative," the blond computer enthusiast stated emphatically.

"According to all of the chronicles available, Han Solo was a self-described 'very practical guy' and 'a materialist,'" Andrew informed his now clearly fascinated listeners, "who not only expended his best efforts into helping those he cared about to survive the actions of their foes, but who repeatedly ignored actions which would best serve his own interests and positioned himself in the face of danger so as to protect those could not defend themselves against those who would prey on them, just as Faith has done, time and again, in her role as the Slayer.

"Additionally," Andrew went on, ignoring the dangerous and narrow-eyed look Faith was giving him as he enthusiastically described her past actions, "the description of Faith's features as resembling those of the First Slayer, Sineya, in Xander's vision would seem further confirmation that Slayer Faith is, indeed, the current avatar of the Slayer line."

Seeing the surprise and shock on various faces that his statement evoked, Andrew abruptly seemed to realize what the implications of his words might have with regard to Buffy, and he quickly scrambled to try to ameliorate the emotional damage his words might have inflicted.

"Oh no! Please don't misunderstand me, Prime Slayer Buffy!" the current Scooby Gang nerd-in-residence cried out in panic as he turned to look over at the petite blonde with an appalled expression on his face. "I, uh, I wasn't trying to say that you aren’t really a Slayer, I-I-I honestly wasn't!"

"Relax, Andrew," Buffy told him as she raised her hands in a 'peace' gesture, even as she tried to wipe the flabbergasted look off her own face. "I'm not gonna kill you or anything.

"But I am interested in hearing why you said that you think that Faith is the current avatar for Sineya, and not me," she added a moment later.

"Well, uh, you see, it's partially because Faith was Called when your successor, Kendra, was killed by the vampiress Drusilla, and partially because no other Slayer was called when you died the second time, saving Dawn from the depredations of the deranged hellgod, Glory," Wells explained. "If you were still the current avatar of the Slayer, it would be expected that another Slayer would have been Called upon your death back in 2001, and again when Warren shot you last year and your heartbeat flat-lined before the Red Witch brought you back – and from everything you and others have said, none were on both occasions.

"Adding that to Xander's description of Slayer Faith's appearance as closely resembling those of the First Slayer's in his vision, it would almost certainly signify that she is the current avatar of Sineya," Andrew finished up, noting Giles' frown and reluctant nod of apparent agreement at the younger man's observation.

"Huh," Buffy said, her voice sounding a bit weak as she spoke, "looks like you're the Big Cheese here, after all, Faith."

"But, but that's not to say that the Powers That Be don't have a specific destiny for you that you are yet to fulfill, Buffy," Andrew quickly added in an obvious effort to alleviate the sting of his previous statement.

"What do you mean by that, Nerd-Boy?" Faith demanded, a frown of anger creasing her normally good-humored features. "Are you saying that the PTB's aren’t done with their screwing B over, yet?"

"Uh, no, no, I was referring to the fact that the Prime Slayer, the Red Witch, the White Knight and their mentor, the Slayer's Sage, were all shown in the guise of Jedi in Xander's Slayer dream," Andrew replied.

"As I'm sure you all already know, Mr. Lucas envisioned the Jedi Knights as an order of warrior monks, who would serve as the guardians of peace and justice throughout the galaxy," he stated, "beings who had both embraced and trained in how to best apply the Force in their dealings with others, and who could be trusted to not allow the power they possessed to corrupt them.

"There were several rankings in the Jedi Order," Andrew informed his intently listening audience, "the younglings, who were also known as 'initiates,' and who received the most basic instruction in controlling the Force; the padawans, who were initiates who had successfully completed their training and who had been taken as apprentices for additional training by a Jedi Knight or a Jedi Master; and the Jedi Knights, who were determined and experienced veterans of the Order, who had either successfully undertaken all of the five tests – the Trial of Skill, the Trial of Courage, the Trial of the Flesh, the Trial of Spirit, and the Trial of Insight or Knowledge – or who had performed extraordinary acts that demonstrated their exceptional spirit, courage or nobility.

"In addition," he then added thoughtfully, "I should note that the term ‘Jedi Master’ was typically applied only to those who had a seat on the twelve-member Jedi Council, and Jedi Knights who had taken at least one padawan as an apprentice and trained him or her to Jedi Knight level."

"Hang on a second!" Xander interrupted before Andrew could expand any further on the topic.

"You're saying that my dream is telling us that us four" – here, he gestured to indicate himself, Buffy, Willow and Giles – "are supposed to be, like, Jedi Knights now?" he demanded incredulously.

"Exactly!" Andrew eagerly agreed, delighted that someone else had recognized the same idea that he had perceived when Xander had described his dream to them a few minutes earlier.

"Your description of each of you possessing a glowing sword would indicate that your dream-selves had successfully completed their efforts to create their own versions of a light saber, and thus attained full Knight status," the blond-haired geek exclaimed, elated with his companions' apparent achievements.

"And while I will acknowledge that the Force does not exist in this world in precisely the same fashion as the Great One depicted it throughout his epic movies," Andrew went on, "I would venture that the white streaks through each of your dream-selves' hair, together with the white eyes that you mentioned each of you possessed in your vision would suggest that you will each eventually begin showing some indications of some type magical ability which could correspond to the Force abilities shown in the series."

"Wait a minute!! Are you seriously telling me that B and Red are gonna turn into some sort of female Luke Skywalkers, and my old boy toy is gonna turn out to be a younger version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Geek Boy?" Faith asked with a wide grin, before she burst out laughing.

"'Cause if you are, that probably means that Giles is gonna turn out to be Yoda or something!"

~~~

Hyperion Hotel
Los Angeles, CA

May 22, 2003

The hotel's former restaurant


"Okay, guys, everyone's got their new cellphone, courtesy of the donation Anya got from the Sunnydale National Bank, right?" Xander asked as he surveyed his fellow Hellmouth refugees, who were all seated around the various tables and staring at him expectantly.

After receiving affirmative nods or responses from everyone, the currently retired carpenter nodded and looked down at the various bundles of cash that were sitting on the table in front of him and muttered, "Reminds me of payday Friday back at Sloames-Henderson," before turning his attention back to the eager faces focused on him, and then repressing a small shiver at the intensity of the various gazes he could see.

"Before he skipped out and left me as the one stuck doing this," Xander noted parenthetically to himself, "Giles authorized for all of you guys to be issued twenty-five hundred dollars each out of the money Ahn left for us, to use for clothes and whatever else you feel you might need – and he also told me to tell you, specifically, that that includes any luggage you purchase, Buff – and another five hundred dollars to cover any other food and/or recreational expenses you might have over the next four days and nights.

"Aside from that," Xander said, "everyone has the next four days to relax and unwind and do whatever you want.

"All of you guys who aren't eighteen yet, Giles said to tell you that he expects you to let one of us adults – and yeah, that does include Buffy and Faith, even if they don’t act like it," he added with a grin, ignoring Faith's single-finger salute and Buffy's narrow-eyed glare at his comment, "know where you'll be and what you're doing if you're not going to be back at the hotel here by ten o'clock.

"Hey, hey, hey! No shooting the messenger! Remember, I'm not the bad guy here, ladies! I'm just passing on the orders from the guy in charge," Xander reminded the girls, holding up his hands in a 'peace' gesture at the plethora of frowns that announcement generated.

"Now that that's taken care of, just form an orderly line in front of the table here, so you can each sign for your expense money," he then continued on with his instructions, "and then the only thing you have to do after that, is make sure you're here on the morning of the 27th, so that you can get your assignments."

The next few minutes, spent handing out the expense money, only reinforced in Xander's mind the fact that he was eternally grateful that *he* wasn't going to be the one overseeing the newly Called Slayers, once the new Council headquarters was established in Cleveland.

"So, what are you guys doing with your cut of the loot Anya left us?" he asked as he looked over at his fellow Scooby Gang members.

"Well, the first thing I'm doing is heading over to The Grove for a new wardrobe! I've been wearing these jeans for three days now, and I'm afraid they're going to get up and walk away by themselves!" Buffy proclaimed emphatically. "And once I finally have some clothes I'm not embarrassed to be seen in, then I'm going to get a couple full sets of bath oils, shampoos and bath soaps that I won't have to share with a dozen people!

"And then, after that, I'm coming back here and taking a l-o-o-o-n-n-g soak in one of those giant tubs that are in those suites upstairs, and I'm not getting out until either the hotel runs out of hot water or I grow gills," the blonde Champion declared with a dreamy smile on her face.

"Ken and I are gonna go do some shopping and then grab some dinner at some nice restaurant she knows downtown, and after that, we're gonna come back here and take advantage of the privacy we've finally got now," Willow announced with her own smile.

"I'm gonna head over to this comic and gaming store – it’s called ‘Thwak!’ by the way – and see what's available there," Andrew stated with a pensive, semi-kicked-puppy look on his face. "I lost all my stuff 'cause we didn't have everything packed to go, and we were short on space on the bus when we did leave."

"I'm gonna hit the nearest leather store and get some new duds, and then find the nearest liquor store and pick up a couple bottles of Jack," Faith said from her position sprawled on the nearest couch. "And after that, I'm gonna come back and follow B's suggestion about taking a long hot bath.

"Wes told me a few weeks ago there’s a couple of tubs in this place that can fit a couple people, easy. Wanna see if that's true, beefcake?" she smirked as she looked over at Robin Wood.

"I suppose it might be worthwhile to try and verify the accuracy of those claims," Woods replied coolly as he gave the brunette Slayer an even gaze.

"What're you planning on doing, Xand?" Willow inquired when she noticed that her childhood friend hadn't said anything about his own plans.

"Oh, I'm gonna pick up some things, and, uh, take care of some other things," Xander shrugged nonchalantly. "And after that, I figured maybe I'd just come back here and enjoy the quiet," he added with a small grin.

"So I guess I'll see you guys later, then," the Slayers' White Knight said as he got up from behind the table and started gathering up the various papers he'd been working from, earlier.

{ I really doubt that anybody wanted to hear how I'm gonna head on over to that private hospital that Deadboy said Evil, Incorporated owns, and that he said they put Cordy in, so I can see how she's doing, } Xander thought to himself as he put the papers back in the proper cases and then locked the cabinets.

{ I know I didn't. }

~~~

Hyperion Hotel
Los Angeles, CA

One of the conference rooms on the first floor

May 27, 2003
Late morning


"All right then, does anyone have any questions about what they're to do, or where they're headed?" Giles asked as he looked over both his charges and his new fellow Watchers Council board members.

"Yo, Tweed-Man," Faith immediately chimed in, "I still don't get it – why's it so important that me and Robin head over Cleveland? Even if that really is where the new Hellmouth is located, no one, demon or otherwise, would ever want to go to Drew Carey country voluntarily.

"I passed through there when I was first headed to Sunnydale, way back when," the brunette Chosen One informed her companions, "and I gotta tell ya, if God was ever gonna give the world an enema, he'd be sticking the tube in Cleveland, for sure!" And that had been in early fall, she recalled – she'd sure as hell hate to see the place under a couple of feet of lake-effect snow!

"Thank you for that exceedingly vivid description of your impression of the city, Faith," Giles responded, his voice dry enough to turn the Amazon Basin into a desert, while the others present giggled or laughed at her comments, "but I feel I must continue to insist that you and Robin, accompanied by Rona and Shannon, head there nonetheless, since if it truly is the location of a nascent Hellmouth, we will need to establish a Slayer presence as near to the site as possible, and as early as possible.

"Given Robin's credentials as both a teacher and a school administrator," the new head of the Watchers Council elaborated, "it will prove a much simpler matter for him to establish the basics of our cover story as an exclusive preparatory academy than it would for anyone else, were we to attempt to do the same."

Turning to address the newly assigned Directors of the Council's Information Acquisition and Compilation Division and the Technology Assimilation and Integration Division, Giles then continued, "Willow, Andrew, as I've already explained, I, I'd greatly appreciate your heading to Gotham City, together with Kennedy and Vi, and taking possession of that book collection which was left to me by a former colleague in his will."

"While you're there in the city, I'd also like you to investigate the possibility that the city could possibly be the site of an incipient Hellmouth, as Ambrose had hypothesized it very well might be, during several of our phone calls," Rupert went on, clarifying his request.

"While the old Council under Quentin's leadership may have discounted the possibility of a second Hellmouth spontaneously developing there, I'm not willing to completely ignore any potential risks of such an occurrence arising," he stated firmly.

"We’ll be glad to look into it, Giles," Willow nodded her agreement with a smile, while Andrew declared in a burst of unwelcome geekiness, "Indeed, Lord Chairman, we will expend our best efforts to ensure that the unsuspecting populace of that fair metropolis shall never be unfortunate enough to awaken and discover that the demons which populate their nightmares are not merely the figments of imagination they currently believe them to be."

"Erm, thank you, Andrew," Giles nodded a vague acknowledgement of the younger man's declaration, while simultaneously ignoring the eye rolls, snorts and smirks some of the others present made, before turning to address the sole remaining male member of the group.

"As long as we're gonna be on the East Coast and things aren't too busy, I'd like to take the opportunity to stop by the Washington metropolitan area and see if I could maybe spend a day or so visiting my uncle," Vi commented to Andrew, as the general topic of travel was discussed. "I haven't seen him much over the past couple years, but we were pretty close, up until my aunt and cousin died in a car crash, and I kinda lost touch with him after that."

"That doesn't sound at all unreasonable, Vi," Andrew immediately agreed. "As long as no new apocalypses occur, we should be able to at least stop by and see how your uncle is doing."

"I, ah, I understand your desire to handle your inquiries here in L.A. by yourself, Xander," Giles stated quietly as he turned to address another, up to this point silent, member of the group, "but I would be more than willing to delay any of the others' departures by a few days, i-if you think it might improve your chances of discovering the information you seek."

"Thanks for the offer, Giles," Xander replied, even as he immediately shook his head, "but it's really not necessary.

"I know exactly where I need to go and who I need to talk to, at least initially, if I'm gonna find out exactly what happened to Cordy," he said. After talking it over with Willow, Xander had decided that the search for the Methuselah Stone – which according to their Internet searches over the past few days, was merely rumor and legend and did not actually exist – could wait until after the redhead’s trip to Gotham City, since that excursion would only take a couple days.

Turning to look over at Buffy, he went on, "And for the record, Buff – I really appreciate your not getting upset about me not just taking Angel's word for it on everything he told us happened to her."

"Well, I know how I'd feel if something like that had happened to Angel, Xand," the blonde Slayer replied, a sympathetic and understanding expression on her beautiful features as she looked over at her friend and long-time supporter. "I'd want to make damn sure that I knew about everything that'd happened to him, even if other people thought I didn't need to know.

"Cordy and I might not have ever been the best of friends back in high school," Buffy added, "but she *was* one of my friends and she helped us out a lot when she didn't have to, so I don't want you to think that I don't care about what happened to her.

"If it should turn out that things didn't happen the way Angel said they did, then I want to know about that, too," she told him sadly.

"Because no one deserves to have that sort of thing happen to them after fighting the good fight for all those years," Buffy declared, and it appeared to the others present that her eyes almost seemed to flash for a moment as she spoke.

"Cordy was one of us, and we take care of our own, no matter what."

Willow's "Amen", Giles' "Indeed" and Faith's "Damn straight!" echoed immediately after Buffy's impassioned statement and the now semi-retired carpenter smiled, albeit somewhat somberly, at the show of support offered.

"Thanks, guys," Xander said, "I really appreciate hearing you say that. Hopefully, you and Giles won't have to come flying back from England to help kick anyone's ass, Buff.

"And since Europe's really not all that far away from London town, I'm guessing that you're gonna be spending at least some time searching for any new Slayers that might be hiding in whatever shoe stores you can find in Paris or Rome, huh?" he grinned, teasing his friend about the various comments she'd made about her hopes for opportunities to visit various cities on the continent.

"Well, I can't just arbitrarily eliminate those places to look just because *you* wouldn't go there, Xander," Buffy returned his grin. "After all, apart from you and Giles, Slayers are girls – and if they’ve got the same sort of tastes that I do, then it'd be far more likely for me to find them in Gucci or other shops like that, than in the comic book shops *you'd* be checking out!"

"Guess that means that once we get to Cleveland, I oughta start checking out the Harley dealers and maybe some of the leather shops, too, once we get things settled, huh, beefcake?" Faith declared as she gave Robin a lascivious smile.

"That doesn't sound all that unreasonable to me, Faith," Robin answered with a calm expression as he glanced over at her. "Maybe I should come along and watch your back while you're doing that," he then suggested with the hint of a smile on his face.

"If we could hopefully leave unspoken the remainder of the possible double entendres those comments might engender – at least until I've left the room," Giles interrupted before Faith, or anyone else, could respond to Robin's comment, "I would suggest that we all now adjourn and return to our respective quarters to complete whatever packing might need completion."

“Right. And Giles, don’t forget your passport before you head for LAX – they won’t let you British types leave the country without one, y’know,” Buffy said to her Watcher teasingly, as she briefly thought of Spike and said a sad final farewell to his memory.

“This world is most definitely doomed,” Giles muttered under his breath – a few days later than when it had originally been destined to happen, but then, better late than never.

With no one bringing up other topics to discuss, everyone quickly moved away from the table and out of the meeting room, either heading back to their rooms to finish packing, as suggested, or to run whatever last minute errands they thought needed to be done.

~~~

The remains of Sunnydale, CA

June 8, 2003

An hour before sunset


Xander had been living in L.A. to investigate in greater detail what had happened to Cordy, and to try to determine how she might be healed from her comatose state without the Methuselah Stone – even if that was damned unlikely, given Cordelia’s frantic appeal to him in that prophetic Slayer dream he’d had. In the course of these investigations, though, Xander had met the Fang Gang’s liaison to the Senior Partners, the immortal child of the Wolf, Ram and Hart named Eve.

Harris hadn’t liked the brunette woman from the moment he’d laid eyes – { And that's plural again, thank you so very much, Slayer healing }, he reflected to himself again – on Eve No-Last-Name-Offered. It was obvious (to him, at least) that Evil Inc. was hoping Eve would serve as a distraction to Angel, and make him forget all about Cordelia rotting in that private hospital she’d been set up in.

Xander didn’t think it was likely that something like that would happen, but then he’d been wrong about Angel before, so it behooved him to keep a close eye on his ex-girlfriend. It had been rather disheartening to see how little she’d been visited by both Deadboy and her L.A. family over the past two weeks.

Sure, Xander knew that taking over an evil law firm and flushing out all the spies and villains and whatnot took up a lot of time, but that was no excuse to *never* visit in his book. If they weren’t careful, Angel’s Avengers were going to get themselves blacklisted out of the good guy camp, and he'd honestly not be able to protest it.

In any event, a few days ago, Xander had tailed Eve out of Cordy’s hospital room to a nondescript apartment building. She had stayed there for a while, before heading back to Wolfram & Hart’s office building on Spring Street. Curious as what might have brought what he figured was most definitely a fifth columnist in Angel's group to such a place, Xander had bribed the building supervisor to tell him which apartment the beautiful brunette had gone to – he’d figured that man of all people would know.

The super didn’t know much; only that the tenant was a young man who kept to himself, and the name on the lease forms was Alan Francis Doyle.

The name had struck a bell in Xander’s memory, from one of the letters he’d gotten from Cordelia in L.A. – shortly after she'd left Sunnydale and before he and Anya had gotten serious and Ms. Chase had receded from his life. ‘Doyle’ was the name of Cordelia’s predecessor, if he recalled things properly, Angel’s first half-demon seer who had died for the cause over three years ago.

Xander had initially been tempted to let the new CEO of Evil, Incorporated in on what he’d learned. But then, Harris had to admit, he really didn’t know all that much; and if he knew Captain Hair Gel at all, Angel would instantly try to push him aside and try to figure it all out himself.

So, Xander had kept watch on the apartment building, and this morning he’d followed this ‘Doyle’ in his car at a discreet distance. Upon realizing that the man was heading for the remains of Sunnydale, Xander had sped up and overtaken ‘Doyle’, getting there first so as to avoid any possibility of suspicion about his showing up there. He’d blended in well with the tourists who had come to see California’s version of the Grand Canyon, and when ‘Doyle’ had shown up, Xander had followed him down into the crater and watched as the dark-haired man had unerringly made his way to where the Sunnydale High School had once stood and then begun digging his way to where the school's basement had once been.

“Mr. Doyle! I'm quite certain that amulet doesn’t belong to you,” Xander said in a flat, no-nonsense tone as he came out of hiding upon seeing the prize ‘Doyle’ was holding in his hand.

‘Doyle’ – who was actually a man named Lindsey MacDonald, and Angel’s sworn nemesis – just stared at Xander. “And who the hell are you, buddy?”

“My name’s Xander Harris. Now I don’t know what exactly it is you’re up to here, but since I know it involves the L.A. branch of Wolfram & Hart in some way, I’m kinda willing to go out on a limb and guess it’s nothing good,” the former carpenter replied.

Lindsey stared at the man opposite him. Dark hair, average height, some decent muscles but not the kind a brawler or a professional killer would possess. No gun or any other weapons visible, either. “You’re not with the firm in any official capacity, are you?”

He didn’t know what inspired him, but Xander suddenly decided to play a hunch. “Actually, I’m an old friend of the new CEO – a vampire named Angel. You might have heard of him, I'm guessing?”

{ Bingo, } Xander then thought to himself in satisfaction as he saw ‘Doyle’ tighten up and clutch the amulet more tightly. “Now I hate to be all cliché, but we can either do this the easy way or –”

Lindsey's hand darted into his coat pocket and reappeared with a collapsible sword, which quickly extended to its full length.

“– the hard way,” Xander managed to utter with a resigned sigh, before the fight was on.

Ducking underneath the slashing sword, Xander reacted automatically and did a spinning reverse side-kick to parry the next blow. Still moving on autopilot, Xander then jabbed an elbow into Lindsey’s throat and grabbed his sword hand; while the former lawyer was choking and spluttering, Xander brought his knee up and slammed it onto Lindsey’s hand, forcing him to drop the sword to the ground.

“Who, who the hell are you? You’re not part of that bastard vampire’s crew,” Lindsey panted as Xander pinned his arm behind his back, the attorney finally getting his breath back.

“Like I said before, the name’s Xander,” Harris said reasonably, tightening the arm lock. “Now hand over the amulet, and I’ll let you go.”

“You don’t lie very well, I’m afraid. I mean, you didn’t really think I was going to believe that, did you?” Lindsey grunted, trying to get free.

The other man was obviously much stronger than a normal human the carpenter turned demon fighter realized, but, then again, so was he now, and the newly-enhanced Scooby managed to counter most of his opponent's attempts to break his hold.

“That’s the thing about us good guys, we tend to keep our promises – damn it, hold still!” Xander complained, even as Lindsey managed to shove him away and the fight was on again.

Kick, block, punch, lean back, parry, head butt – the Slayer aspect within Xander guided his actions instinctively, in much the same way that Dawn had known how to create those portals all those weeks ago. But Xander quickly realized that that was a mistake – ‘Doyle’ was a better fighter than he was, and the instinctive martial arts moves were pretty predictable to anyone who actually knew what they were doing. If this kept going on much longer, Harris knew he’d lose when one of Lindsey’s lethal attacks got through his defenses.

So Xander did something unexpected. Instead of thinking like a Slayer, he tried to think like the man he’d been for most of his life – the so-called Zeppo, who’d once stopped a gang of zombies all by his powerless lonesome, and that was when he got an idea.

In the midst of battle, Harris ducked past Lindsey and stooped to grab the abandoned sword. The renegade attorney smiled at the unexpected opportunity presented to him, seeing Xander’s exposed back – so he immediately leaped forward, only to feel the sword bladed pierce him all the way through his abdomen.

“Old Klingon battle tactic,” Xander said, turning around and trying to get his breath under control. He brought the sword out from underneath his armpit, yanked it out of Lindsey’s body and threw it to the ground.

“You’ve, you’ve ruined...“ Lindsey gasped out, blood trickling out the sides of his mouth from the various veins and arteries severed by his sword. “Not s'posed to be like this...shoulda been Angel, not – not one of his flunkies...”

“What can I say, Mr. Doyle – if that’s even your real name, which I kinda doubt,” Xander said tiredly. “I’m no one’s flunky. Not anymore.”

And then Lindsey MacDonald died atop the shattered remains of the Hellmouth, his soul forfeit to the Senior Partners as per the agreement he'd so eagerly signed long ago.

Xander retrieved the amulet Spike had worn just a few weeks ago from out of the dead man’s jacket pocket, and stared at it briefly.

{ I guess I should send this to Buffy and Giles in England, } Xander eventually decided, as he left Lindsey’s cooling body for the scavengers that would no doubt come out after sunset. { I'm sure the Buffster would want to have it – it’s all that’s left of Spike, after all. }

{ And given that this 'Doyle' character was almost certainly sent by Eve Evil-Skank-Woman to retrieve this little bauble, I don't think we oughta have it any place where she and her fellow co-conspirators, if any, might have a chance of getting their hands on it, } he resolved after a moment's further consideration.

{ Yep, England, it is. }

And if Xander could only have known what would have happened if he’d simply let Lindsey mail the amulet to Angel, as the evil ex-lawyer had originally intended, a great many events would have occurred quite differently ...


FIN

The End

You have reached the end of "Repercussions". This story is complete.

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