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The Warrior

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Summary: Xander meets the demon who gave Spike his soul back, in Africa. And what would have happened if Harris had gone through the portal that night to meet the Shadow Men, instead of Buffy? Things get crazy! Short Chapter 16!

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Seven DaystohonomikeFR151636,63667067,29411 Nov 0511 Oct 07No

The Warrior

The Way of the Warrior

Author: Starway Man Tohonomike, the Sequel Chapters

Date written: Mon 12 Apr 2004, and Sequel Chapters September 2005 onward.

Disclaimer: All BTVS characters are copyright Joss Whedon, UPN, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui, Sandollar and probably a whole bunch of others as well. No profit will be made from this work, besides that of getting feedback in any way, shape or form.

Continuity: This story initially takes place in what would have been BTVS season 8 (late Angel season 5), and then in an AU season 7.

Category: Alternate Universe, Action, Adventure

Spoilers: There are references to many things through to the end of BTVS season 7, and Angel season 5.

Main characters: Xander, Faith, Buffy... Angel The Series Character thereafter

Warnings: Some overt violence, character death, language and sexual references are present.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to www.buffyworld.com for the transcripts, without which much of this story couldn't have been written.

Summary: Xander meets the demon who gave Spike his soul back, in Africa. And what would have happened if Harris had gone through the portal that night to meet the Shadow Men, instead of Buffy?

Thank you Theo for letting me continue this story posted on the XanderZone originally! --tohonomike.

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Chapter 1

"Blood and vengeance

My sword is singing

Through bone and flesh

The way of the warrior

Is ever death"

(Conan of Cimmeria, CONAN THE BARBARIAN)

"Love is sacrifice."

(Insect-like demon, ANGEL)

"Man, Buffy! My whole life just flashed before my eyes. I gotta get me a life!"

(Xander Harris, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER)

*****

Senegal, Africa. Late February, 2004

Alexander Lavelle Harris, age 23, was so. Very. Tired.

The life of the one-eyed man hadn't been easy lately, as Xander had been on the Dark Continent for quite a while now. And despite being dressed in the traditional garb of the 'great white hunter', he looked both weary and totally stressed out.

That was because after a mystical scythe and his best friend Willow Rosenberg had activated every potential vampire Slayer in the world the previous year, he and his people - the survivors of the so-called Scooby gang - had scattered all over the planet to find and train the Chosen, for their new destiny.

Or at least warn them what was the what in their lives now, anyway.

Harris had found at least 25 teenage Slayers in his travels, so far. Most of the meetings hadn't been pleasant; and having to deal with the tears and angry relatives, not to mention the language barriers, had definitely been no barrel of laughs either.

That night as he walked along in the hot, sandy environment of a nameless desert village, Xander glanced at his companion...Faith, the vampire Slayer.

Dressed in uncharacteristically conservative clothes the brunette woman, for her part, wasn't feeling too great either. Basically because after her boyfriend named Robin Wood had died as a complication of wounds received the day of the mass Slayer activation, she hadn't really cared much about anything - including her appearance.

But surviving was a hard habit to break, given the life she had led up until now; ghetto chick, Chosen One, and former prison convict. And so, Faith carried on with her duties - but without any of the old fire, the enthusiasm for life and slaying that had made Xander eye her with such awe and lust back in 1998.

As they walked along the path through the primitive huts, the two former lovers were stopped by a villager who cried out, "Toyenza coyengara! Erio mtuwana."

Faith looked at the man beside her. "What's he saying, stud?"

Xander briefly glanced at the dark Slayer, briefly unsettled by the old nickname. He then looked through a pocket dictionary they had bought upon entering the country, "Something about...danger. Death?"

Faith just shrugged. "Not like we don't deal with that every day." Then she started walking again towards her target, not caring if Xander followed or not.

The villager said insistently, "Ymirira! Odja kufa! Ymirira!" holding Harris by the arm. But the former Zeppo - seeing Faith getting further and further away - just gave up, shook him off and followed after her.

The African knew he would never see the brunette couple alive again. Only one man in living memory had ever entered the cave of the dark demon close by, and left it intact afterwards...and that was because the bleached-blonde creature in black leather hadn't really been a man, after all.

*****

Faith and Xander arrived at the cave entrance; the residence of something they had heard had been killing people in the area for centuries. The woman looked around, "Wait here, while I look for Demon Boy. If I'm not out in five-"

Xander instantly objected to that plan. "That's crazy, Faith! Look, we should stick together-"

"Just do as I say, boy toy," the Slayer interrupted in a bad mood, before walking in.

"Sure," Xander muttered to himself. "Just doing my job here..."

FLASHBACK

Bath, England. Summer, 2003

Xander Harris and Rupert Giles were talking alone, in the Englishman's family home. "Well, I must say," Giles began with a sigh, "we certainly have a big job ahead of us. Finding and guiding all the new Slayers in the world..."

Xander replied, "Yeah, about that - I got something I need to tell you, Giles."

"Oh, really? What?" his companion asked, somewhat distracted as he looked through his desk.

"That that's your job, not mine. I've made a decision; I'll help you find those girls and tell them the situation, even train them if I get the opportunity - but then, that's it. I'm out of the Slayage business."

Giles was stunned; he had thought that after the last seven years, his surrogate son would never just throw in the towel like this. The de facto head of the Council stopped what he was doing at once, "What on earth are you talking about?"

Xander replied in a monotone, "I said I'll assist you to clean up the mess I helped make, thrusting God-knows-how-many girls into danger from demons and vamps without their informed consent - by finding and telling them what happened. And where they can go for training and guidance, if they want. But after that, I'm quitting."

Rupert, who was still stunned, then asked, "Xander, may-may I ask what brought this on? And, and where were you planning to go-?"

Harris just smiled softly, looking out the window at the glorious English countryside. "Lemme ask you something, G-man. You ever seen that movie, 'The Shawshank Redemption'?"

Giles fought down his irritation at the old nickname. "No, I haven't. Why?"

Xander briefly explained, "It's a film about a guy sent to jail for life, over a crime he didn't even commit. And in the end, all he wants is to escape that hellhole he's been trapped in for twenty years, and live out the rest of his days in Mexico. If I recall correctly, 'in a warm place with no memories of what's come before'." He smiled, again without humour. "Sounds like a plan to me."

Giles frowned. "You still haven't explained why. And for Heaven's sake, the girls won't want you to leave-"

Xander snorted, startling his former high school librarian. "Why? I'll tell you why..."

He turned around, and took off the black eyepatch around his left eye, instantly causing Giles to look away.

Harris just smirked, "*That's* why in a nutshell, G-man. Haven't you noticed lately how Buffy, in particular, can't bring herself to really look at me? Because now that the excitement's over, I'm just an unpleasant reminder of the past. Kinda hard to believe in your great decision-making ability, constantly seeing the results of it - right? Besides, Anya's gone now. And it's long past time I started living my own life."

Even though he thought Xander was making a mistake, Giles didn't argue the point. And anyway, he thought that it was more likely than not Willow, Buffy's sister Dawn and maybe even Willow's girlfriend Kennedy would soon talk Xander out of this... "Very well. So, uh, wh-where do you want to go to scout out the new Slayers?"

The former class clown looked at the Watcher, and said bitterly after putting the eyepatch back on, "Like I said, Giles, somewhere warm. It's not like I can stay in this country much longer, what with the frickin' weather you have over here. Do you have any idea what it's like, when a blast of cold air hits my empty eye socket?"

Giles just shook his head as the American went on, "It's like...like an ice-pick stabbing me directly in my brain! And it's summer right now. I don't even want to think about the nightmare that'll happen, when Christmas rolls up around here..."

The Watcher winced, he hadn't thought of that. "Africa suit you, then?"

Xander accepted with remarkable brevity, "Thanks."

Rupert nodded and then added, "Well, I-I wish you good luck, Xander-"

Harris interrupted and quickly replied, "You're welcome, Giles. But I'm just doing my job here."

END FLASHBACK

Xander pulled out of his little trance, waiting at the cave entrance after thinking about the past.

Thinking about how he'd felt, over so many things. Losing his eye. Losing Anya Jenkins, his former fiancée. Losing touch with everyone except Giles, who'd sent Faith to find him - when he hadn't reported in to anyone, in months. Except to send a mbuna fish to the guy called Andrew Wells...

The young man chuckled at the memory. He and Faith had been at Lake Malawi, located in the southeastern corner of the continent; the ninth largest lake in the world, that straddled the borders of the countries Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. They had found and trained a few new Slayers in the region, and one of them had given him said fish from the lake as a token of thanks.

The southern Californian had just graciously said "thank you", and then sent it off to the biggest surviving dork of Sunnydale to get rid of the creature; he'd only later learned that mbuna fish needed to live in a group environment, or they didn't survive long.

Exactly like Slayers...

Xander looked at his watch, and noticed Faith had been gone longer than five minutes. He was about to enter and charge to the rescue - just like the White Knight that the vampire called Angelus had once sneeringly dubbed him as - when he got an idea, that would never occur to a Slayer. "Hello, Mr. Demon? Can I come in?"

There was a short silence, and the only son of Anthony and Jessica Harris felt like a fool. But then a sibilant voice hissed, "Enter."

He did so, holding up a flashlight to light his way. Xander then saw paintings on the cave walls. Images of people's faces in pain, bodies with blood pouring out of them, skulls littering everywhere.

Then his flashlight went out, the mystical place offended by his use of modern technology. "Hello?"

"You seek me, human?"

Xander whirled around, and saw a shape in the darkness. Two shapes, actually - and sprinting madly, the former Halloween soldier quickly found Faith on the ground. Dead.

He knelt to examine her, then looked up and screamed at the owner of the voice, "You lousy bastard! You killed her!?"

The demon was unmoved. "Your woman failed the trials that all must undergo, upon entering this sacred place. She was supposed to be a legendary warrior? She was nothing but a pathetic excuse for a Slayer..."

"Trials?" Xander asked emotionlessly, just as a distraction while he worked out the best way to kill this thing in the shortest time necessary.

The ancient, hideous-looking demon replied, "Judgments of worthiness. For it is within my power, to accomplish almost anything I wish. Be it restoring life to the dead, the soul to a vampire-"

Xander was thunderstruck, and briefly distracted. "YOU were the one who gave Spike his soul back?"

The demon, that had been moving away, quickly looked back with those glowing green eyes. "You know of the vampire with a human soul?"

Xander stood up. "Sure, both of them. Now, I'm gonna have to kill you for what you did to Faith; you do know that, right?" He brought up the shotgun he'd bought illegally on the black market, and aimed it at the demon's head.

The evil thing backed off, suddenly somewhat nervous. "If I die, your woman remains lost forever. I can bring her back..."

Xander shook his head. "She's not *my* woman, not anymore. And resurrecting a Slayer? Been there, done that. Never works out well. Yeah, time for you to die..."

The one-eyed man opened fire at the demon. But ducking madly, the supernatural creature avoided the deadly hail of bullets; and the duo had a merry old chase around the cave, until the human was out of ammo. The demon then jumped him, but Xander stabbed at it with a knife; they fought madly and viciously, until eventually the resident of the cave held Harris immobile down on the floor.

It purred, "You have been an amusing distraction, little man-"

Xander got even more pissed at those words, as they reminded him of the troll called Olaf; the former husband of his lost Anya. "Glad I provided entertainment value."

The demon then said in a different tone, "It is time for you enter the trials. You wish to save your friend as your reward?"

Harris fought to get loose. "No thanks, to both things. Because if there's one thing I've learned in the last few years, it's that I never test well - and you don't raise the dead without consequences."

The demon considered that. "True enough. Yes, you are not quite...*normal* for a human, are you? The supernatural world has touched you deeply..."

Xander was still trying desperately to get free. "Well, guess that's what you get...after that darn hyena possession, Halloween joyride, and hanging with Slayers for the last eight years..."

The enemy shook its ugly head. "No. I refer to the life-force of the Earth within you. The quantity you possess...is unimaginably high. I can sense it, just from touch-"

It took Xander a few seconds to realize what the creature was referring to, as he inadvertently stopped struggling. "You mean two years ago, when Willow tried to kill me on Kingman's Bluff in Sunnydale?"

The demon abruptly squeezed tighter. "Enough chatter. Forfeiting the trials, your death is mandatory..." It then plunged its fist into Xander's stomach, releasing a howl of agony from the human as his entrails spilled out onto the ground.

But that wasn't all.

A green light, the same one that Willow had shot into Xander while trying to destroy the world with Proserpexa's effigy, poured out up the demon's arm - and for the first time in millennia, the creature screamed in pain.

Because in all the universe, there are balances.

You can't have an up without a down. A left without a right. A north without a south, and so on.

The fact was the demon had killed Faith, a warrior for the Light, and that act had been duly noted by the Powers That Be...along with the fact that there were currently no potential Slayers, to take over for her. So their ally the life-force of the Earth decided to take steps to both avenge her murder and rectify the situation, after a miniscule part of it emerged from its dead meat prison, after all this time.

Somehow, impossibly, the world simply stopped turning on its axis. And then, equally impossibly, the planet started rotating backwards; retracing its path around the sun, completing one solar orbit over the course of a year. Rewinding and erasing the lives of all those present above or beneath its surface, living or undead.

And when it was done, the Earth started moving in the right direction again, as history resumed.

*****

Sunnydale, California. Late February, 2003

The war against the First Evil was not going well, as the creature continued its plans to exterminate the Slayer line and legacy; as well as both Chosen Ones. That was why the original vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers, had declared an emergency and used the contents of an "emergency kit" belonging to one of her predecessors.

Dawn Summers, her teenage brunette sister, looked in awe at a bright blue portal of light - something that had been generated, as the result of an ancient Sumerian ritual.

Xander Harris, who at this point in his life still had both eyes intact, voiced the exact same question. "But what does it mean?"

Buffy looked adamant. "It means I have to go in there."

Willow, who felt more than a little panicky at that, instantly disagreed. "No, it doesn't! Where does it say that? It doesn't say that!"

Robin Wood, currently principal at Sunnydale High and son of the 1977 Slayer Nikki Wood said simply, "Buffy, you don't even know what you're exchanging. You don't know if you're ready yet-"

The blonde woman remained unmoved. "That's the point."

The redhead pleaded with her friend, "No. Buffy, we don't know where you're going or how we'll get you back!"

Xander nodded. "Buffy, you can't."

Willow then voiced a question that was more relevant, seeing how the oldest Slayer had already made up her mind, "How will we get you back?"

Buffy said simply, "Find a way." She then attempted to leap through the window of light; but this time around, the portal seemed reluctant to cooperate - and bouncing against what seemed a solid barrier, the Chosen One hit the floor. "Ouch! Well, that didn't go as planned."

Anya Jenkins, the former vengeance demon known as Anyanka, could not help smiling at this - as she hadn't enjoyed listening to Buffy's 'everyone sucks but me' speech, earlier that night. "Guess someone wasn't worthy?"

Buffy just sent her a mean stare, as Dawn helped her sister up. "Whatever. Well, anybody else got any bright ideas?"

Xander suddenly cocked his head. "What is that?"

The gang looked around in consternation, as no one else could hear anything; the sounds of the tribal drumbeat of the spell from earlier had disappeared, after the portal had been activated.

"Come on, can't you people hear it? The chanting - I don't understand what it's saying, but I feel...damn weird..." Xander quickly walked up to the portal, and then turned around. "I think it wants me to enter-"

Both Anya and Willow shouted at once, "NO!"

Buffy quickly agreed, "It's too dangerous, Xander, there's no telling what you'll find on the other side-"

Xander just looked at her, unsure if she was being serious. "And yet, it was just peachy for *you* to go in there, just now?"

Buffy glared daggers at him. "I'm the Slayer. You're not."

Xander definitely didn't like the superiority act that his first love had developed tonight. "And you never, ever get tired of reminding me of that, obviously..."

Buffy said nothing, just staring at her friend. Xander got even more annoyed and disregarding the danger quickly said, "Well, at least *I* have an invitation. So, see you all later!"

"Xander, don't!" Dawn shouted, but it was too late and he'd jumped through.

Willow stared after him and said simply, "He's gone."

Anya had a question. "What was that about an exchange?"

There was a flash of light - and a huge, growling demon appeared. It quickly started to throw people around, and tear 1630 Revello Drive apart; before it got tired of the sport, and left the house.

Buffy got up, groaning. "Well, that was fun - not! Spike, come on, we got ourselves a demon to kill. Willow, find a spell to reopen that portal, so that we can exchange them and get Xander back."

"What?" Willow asked in disbelief. "How, exactly?"

The brunette girl called Kennedy, who at this time was still just a Slayer-in-training, frowned. "You've got the magic. Use it."

Her sort-of girlfriend replied, "I-I-I don't even know what magic to use!"

Buffy said roughly, "Then figure it out, use whatever and whoever you need to. Like I said before, the situation's desperate. Now let's get going, people!"

*****

Unknown desert dimension. The same time

Xander Harris tumbled out of the portal, and found himself in the desert of his dreams - that night that the First Slayer had tried to tear out his heart, after a magic spell to defeat the cyber-demonoid creature called ADAM. "Oh, I remember this place. This can't be good..."

Then he heard chanting again, and without any other plan Harris went off to find the source of it. Xander soon arrived at a group of three men dressed in tribal fashion, each holding a tall staff and wearing different colored headdresses. "Hello? Who are you guys? And, uh, where are we?"

The so-called Shadow Men looked at one another, and then at him. The trio then started speaking in some incomprehensible language...that for some reason, Xander easily understood.

"You are not supposed to be here," the Red Hat Shadow Man said, interrupting his thoughts.

"This place is for the Slayer alone," added the Black Hat Shadow Man.

"Your presence now has forever altered the balance," finished up the Brown Hat Shadow Man.

Xander just shrugged, feeling somewhat embarrassed. "Well, hey, you guys invited me here, right?" There was no response. "Well, someone did anyway!"

The Shadow Men got up, and started circling around him. After a few moments, Mr. Red Hat nodded in understanding. "Gaia guided you here. The life-force of the Earth."

Xander was completely confused. "Huh? What?"

Mr. Black Hat dismissed his concerns. "It is irrelevant now, even though one day you will learn the truth of the matter. For the moment, there are other things which should concern you."

Xander nodded. "Right. Uh, just curious..." he looked around at the open desert. "But, um, I feel like I know this place. Why does it feel so familiar?"

"This is where your people were born, long before the First Slayer walked the Earth," was the reply from Mr. Brown Hat.

"No kidding?" an astonished Xander looked at the trio, before pulling himself together. "Yeah, never mind. Look, we sorta got ourselves a situation back home-"

Mr. Red Hat cut him off, "All that, we already know. We have been here since the beginning."

Mr. Black Hat added, "And now, we are almost at the end. We have no information to give you, though. All we can offer is power."

Xander thought about that. "What sorta power? You mean like, X-ray vision? Or something useful, something to fight the First?"

The three Shadow Men looked at each other again, briefly. "We cannot make you a Slayer like your friend, the last guardian of the Hellmouth-" Mr. Brown Hat started to say.

Xander interrupted, "You mean Buffy. And, uh, did this magic translation thingy just go on the fritz, or what? 'Cause you meant to say latest, right?"

Mr. Red Hat shook his head. "No."

Xander thought in horror.

The trio all started banging their staffs onto the earth. "But we have learned much, since the First Slayer was created. Do you accept the power we offer?" the Shadow Man asked.

Xander thought about it for a while. All of it, the pros and cons.

Thus, in the end Harris nodded. "If it helps defeat the First, okay."

One of the Shadow Men instantly whacked him unconscious with his cane.

*****

Xander woke up, finding himself sitting on the ground; shackled at the wrists and chained to the Earth - just as Buffy would have been, in another possible reality. "Hey! What the fu-"

Mr. Brown Hat interrupted his tirade, "We are at the beginning. The primal wellspring of power. Now prepare yourself."

Xander stopped struggling against his captivity, as the Shadow Men started banging their staffs onto the ground again. Mr. Red Hat then took the lid off of a box Xander hadn't noticed before; black smoke came out in long tentacles, dancing around the cave as if it was sentient. Alive.

The men keep tapping their staves rhythmically as Mr. Red Hat said, "Here is the source of your new strength."

"The energy of a demon. Its heart and its spirit," Mr. Black Hat added.

"It must become one with you," Mr. Brown Hat finished up.

Xander shook his head in horror. "Forget that! I didn't sign up for this, demon magnet or otherwise. What'll that stuff do to me, anyway?"

Mr. Red Hat responded, "This will make you ready for the final battle."

Mr. Black Hat added, "This is how it was then, with the First Slayer. How it must be now, even though you cannot become one of the Chosen."

Mr. Brown Hat then said, "This is all there is for us to give."

Xander kept struggling as the black smoke came towards him, entering his body through his nose and ears. "No!"

Mr. Red Hat said sternly, "Do not fight this. Or your journey here will have been in vain."

Xander wasn't Buffy; he couldn't resist that argument. And that moment of hesitation was all that the demonic power needed to also enter through his mouth, and circulate all throughout his body.

The guy screamed in pain, thrashing about as his eyes were filled with a black, oily substance. Then as his eyeballs went back to their normal white and chocolate brown color, Xander Harris fainted.

But the Xandman soon woke up, feeling angrier than he'd ever been in his whole life.

More angry than when he'd learned Buffy was irrevocably destined to die, and no one but him was gonna do something about it.

Or when Buffy had been willing to risk the whole world, just to give Angelus his soul back.

Or when his ex-girlfriend Cordelia Chase had constantly humiliated him, after they'd broken up during senior year.

Or when the Scooby Gang had drifted apart and left him behind, after high school was over.

Or when Joyce Summers had died, after the doctors had basically just kicked her out of that hospital way too soon.

Or when he'd seen Spike and Anyanka having sex, witnessing the whole beautiful show live on TV, and later learning the vampire had been shagging Buffy as well.

Or when Buffy had tried to kill Anyanka after a moment's thought, because she wasn't the mass-murdering demon that the Slayer had been boning for months and, therefore, it wasn't a completely gray area for her.

Xander then noticed the Shadow Men standing there, just watching him; so Harris furiously tugged at his restraints.

The effect was amazing. The chains snapped in half, and were instantly ripped out of the ground as well. Xander saw that and calming down a little, he whispered in amazement, "Wow!" Then he turned to the trio, "Hey, just for the record? You didn't tell me it would hurt so much!"

Mr. Red Hat said calmly, "You did not ask."

Xander groaned and rolled his eyes. "Great, comedians. So, anything else you should tell me that I don't know!?"

The African seemed to consider that. "Yes..." He then held his hand up to Xander's head - and gave him a nightmare vision of the current situation.

*****

Sunnydale, California. A short while later

Willow attempted an arcane ritual and began shouting, "Via, concursus, tempus, spatium, audi me ut imperio. Screw it! Mighty forces, I suck at Latin, okay? But that's not the issue. I'm the one in charge, and I'm telling you open up, portal, now!"

Magic enveloped her, and sucked power out of Anya and Kennedy to activate the mystical gateway. Buffy and Spike, who had the dead demon carcass waiting, then threw the corpse into the portal - and as they'd hoped, Xander came tumbling out afterwards.

Spike immediately demanded answers. "What happened, whelp? Where'd you go? What did ya learn?"

Xander ignored him though, having a freaked look on his face. The platinum-blonde vampire, impatient after the gruesome fight he and Buffy had gone through to get him back, then grabbed Harris by the shoulder. "Look, Droopy Boy-"

What happened next, absolutely no one was expecting.

Xander Harris - the weak one, the powerless one, the donut delivery boy and Mr. Window Replacer of the group - grabbed Spike by the duster and threw him across the room, making William the Bloody crash into the wall and slide down in a bloody heap.

"SPIKE!!!" Buffy screamed in panic, and went to check out her former lover. Once she was assured he was okay, the Slayer arose with bloodlust a-plenty in her eyes. "All right, who are you - and what have you done with Xander?"

The man now with demon corpuscles throughout his system just looked at her, bearing a poker face his old high school friend named Oz would have envied. "It's really me, Buffy."

"Bull! The real Xander can't do something like that!"

The empty expression didn't change in the slightest. "Ampata wasn't evil. And I had you to bring me back..."

Ms. Summers froze, hearing her own half-forgotten words from 1997 repeated to her. She rapidly became convinced, "Xander? It's really you...but how did you - what did you-"

He just looked around at the others. "I'll explain everything later, but right now we got eight miles of bad road comin'. On account of there's an army of Turok-Han über-vamps, just waiting to be released from underneath that seal at the high school..."

*****

Sunnydale, California. Late March, 2003

The stress of the situation didn't decrease, just because Xander came back a lot stronger than he had ever been before. The First Evil continued to gather its forces, with war inevitable.

And in addition, a...situation came up - regarding Spike.

It was discovered the British vampire still had a post-hypnotic trigger within him, that the First had used to make him kill - without even being aware of it. However, Buffy was certain Spike could and would overcome it, and Willow had to head off to Los Angeles; so Robin and Giles took matters into their own hands.

They set up a plan to get rid of the potentially deadly security risk, once and for all. Giles distracted his Slayer, while Wood fought Spike; but it didn't work. William the Bloody was de-triggered, and nearly killed Robin; Buffy got there too late at the last minute, after she realized what her former Watcher was up to.

And that night, a showdown outside Buffy's bedroom took place. Giles said, "Buffy...I-I understand your anger. Please believe me, we did what we-"

Ms. Summers could not bear to even look at him. "He's alive. Spike's alive. Wood failed."

The Englishman hesitated. "Well, that doesn't change anything. What I told you is still true. You need to learn-"

Finally, the blonde Slayer looked at her betrayer and said coldly, "No. I think you've taught me everything I need to know."

And just as she was about to slam the door in his face, Xander arrived onto the scene. "BUFFY!" he shouted.

The young woman frowned. "Xander? What is it?"

The guy demanded, "What the hell's just happened?"

Buffy didn't want to talk. "Go away, all right? I'm not in the mood at the moment, for a deep and meaningful!"

Harris came into her room anyway as she turned around, and Giles followed - closing the door behind them. Because ever since the meeting with the Shadow Men, Xander had gained in confidence - as he now had the physical strength to back up the courage of his convictions, as well as a much smaller tolerance for the foibles of others.

The construction worker said at once, "I spoke to Wood, and I also spoke to Spike. Now, I wanna speak to you about what happened this evening."

The Slayer was confused at that. "Why? It sounds like you already know everything-"

Stone-faced, Xander replied, "Yeah, and that's what's gotten me wigged here. Now, did Woody tell me the truth? That if he tried to stake his mother's murderer again, Spike'll kill him - and you'll let that Billy Idol lookalike do it?"

Buffy was almost uncomfortable for a moment. "Yeah, but so what? Because I mean, Spike's the most valuable asset we've got-" She then shut up, as a look of disbelief played across Xander's face. "What?"

The man born in Sunnydale asked slowly, "Who are you? 'Cause I swear to God, you aren't the Buffy Summers I knew anymore."

The Chosen One was instantly angry again. "What the hell's *that* supposed to mean?"

But Xander only got completely pissed. "It means, *Slayer*, that you've crossed a line you can't ever come back from. The precedent's been set; you've willingly consented in turning a blind eye to murder! I mean, who'll be next? Anyone who pisses you off, or who wants Spike dead? Like Giles? Me?" A pause. "How about Dawn?"

"JUST SHUT UP, XANDER!!"

"I don't think so. This shoulda been said a *long* time ago, Slay-gal. And to be honest, I'm damn glad Joyce didn't live to see this-"

Livid and furious, Buffy completely lost her head and went to punch his lights out. But Xander caught her fist in his right hand - and then he squeezed. Hard.

Giles looked on in shock, as the blonde Champion screamed and cradled her hand in incredulity, whilst staring at him. "You broke my hand, you son of a bitch!"

Xander just stared back at her. "I didn't squeeze that hard. And Slayer healing factor, you'll be fine by morning. Whereas if I'd let you hit me, I'd be in the hospital for days with a broken jaw! Or else another snack for Spike?"

Buffy looked away for a moment, then glared at him again. "You'd just love an excuse to hurt him too, wouldn't you?"

Harris just looked exasperated. "I don't believe this, is that all you can think about? Open your eyes and take a look at the big picture, already! Morale stinks around here; all the SITs think you don't give a rat's ass about them-"

The Slayer was honestly outraged to hear that. "Yes I do!"

"You got a damned funny way to show it, then. After all - he's definitely shown to still be under the First's control with that trigger, a danger to everyone however you want to paint it, and what do you do? Unchain Spike at the first opportunity, for him to chow down on the potentials if the First Evil shows up!"

"That's not how it-"

Xander ignored her interruption, "And while we're on the subject, let's not forget when you forced Spike down my throat, made me live with him - just because you decided Mr. Fangless shouldn't be left alone in the high school basement? Did I ever *once* hear an apology from you for putting my life in danger, just 'cause you've developed fluffy bunny feelings for your British undead lover?"

Buffy was stunned silent by that accusation, as Xander turned to the other occupant of the room. "Which brings us to you, Giles..." he took a deep breath. "You don't know how much you've disappointed the shit outta me, G-man."

"Now see here-" Giles started to say.

"No, you're gonna shut the hell up until I've said my piece. Unless you want a trip to Sunnydale General, to treat a couple of broken arms!"

Xander looked deadly serious, and Giles couldn't believe *he* was being threatened like this. The carpenter then said, "Now, when you arrived with Kennedy, Molly and Annabelle last December, did you or did you not put Buffy in charge of this whole mess?"

"Xander, you don't understand-"

"It's a real simple question, Giles, yes or no?" And as Rupert took off his spectacles, Xander added, "And don't try to avoid me by polishing your goddamn glasses! After seven years, I know *all* your tricks and stall tactics!"

The former Watcher couldn't believe Xander's animosity, almost as much as his Slayer. "Well, yes."

"Then I got news for you, British man. You don't try to stab your commanding officer in the back like that, especially during war time like this!"

"Xander-" he tried to say.

"You thought Spike was a big danger. You thought Buffy wasn't taking that danger seriously. Fine, I even agree with you on that much. But if you felt that goddamn strongly about it, you shoulda just quit the army and staked Spike on your way outta town! Or asked me to talk to Buffy! Or something, *anything* but the betrayal you just perpetrated!"

Harris stared at his so-called friends. "Now both of you, listen up. It's too late to try to keep this quiet, I betcha by this time tomorrow morning almost everyone will have heard the news - so we gotta try to put some sorta positive spin on all this. Tell all the girls that Spike's been cured, and he's not a danger anymore - thanks to the efforts of the united Scooby gang. So you two are gonna be civil to each other in public, in order for them to believe it, okay? Or I will get *very* unhappy with you both!"

He turned to leave, before adding, "We don't have time for personal feuds, people. We got a war to win, and we can't afford to fight amongst ourselves. So don't make me have to mention this, ever again!" Xander then slammed the door behind him, leaving Buffy and Giles to just stare at each other.

*****

Sunnydale, California. April, 2003

Faith the vampire Slayer was in the backyard of 1630 Revello Drive, doing gymnastics and treating herself to a grand old workout.

Having recently escaped from the prison in Stockton at the behest of her former Watcher Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, she had helped the original vampire with a soul named Angel become one of the good guys again. And after Willow had shown up in LA to re-ensoul Angelus, she had decided to accompany the witch back to the Hellmouth, where she was most needed.

The welcome home party hadn't exactly been something to cheer about, but then again with her past record here - that wasn't exactly unexpected.

Suddenly, Faith's Slayer-sense went crazy as she felt a supernatural entity close by. She whirled around, and saw Andrew and all the SITs staring at her from the rear window of the house. But she ignored them - as Faith knew there was a demon nearby...

Then Xander Harris, of all people, stepped out of the bushes to join her. He stared briefly at the others in the kitchen, who took the hint and quickly disappeared. Then the dark-haired man guy turned to face the brunette woman, "Hey, Faith. I heard you were back-"

The Slayer barely even glanced his way. "Hey yourself, stud. Listen, don't want to alarm you, but I just felt a demon close by - we gotta-" Xander interrupted her, "Yeah, that was probably me arriving here, I just got back in town. Guess Buffy and Willow didn't tell you what happened to my ass a few months ago, huh?"

"No," Faith frowned, staring at him. "In fact...B's never even mentioned your name, if I recall right. What's up with that?"

Harris sighed, and briefly explained the situation. "So you see, those Shadow Men dudes gave me the energy of a demon, which is why I show up on your Slay-dar..."

Faith chuckled. "Slay-dar?"

Xander looked annoyed. "Whatever you wanna call it! But ever since then, Buffy's pulled away from me completely."

"Why?" the Chosen One was confused, as in the old days she'd thought their bond was unbreakable.

"Maybe because I'm technically stronger than she is? Which doesn't mean squat, of course; all those guys gave me was the strength. No fighting skills, no supernatural agility, so Slayer healing..." He snorted. "You know what I basically am? The muscle in a cheap Hollywood B-movie!"

The Chosen One moved closer. "Unreal. So, why didn't G train you?"

A shrug. "Giles tried, whenever the guy had time in between looking for potential Slayers and bringing them here. But I'm still the same old klutz I ever was. Ask anyone!"

Faith smirked. "Then let's have ourselves a workout. I wanna see what you can do..."

A short time later, they circled each other carefully. "So why didn't you ask B to help actualize your potential, or whatever the in-phrase is these days?" Faith asked, still smirking.

Xander shrugged briefly and said without malice, "Because Spike is the only guy she has time for anymore. So unless you wanna kill me, guess I'm stuck with you."

That stung, as the smirk was wiped from her face. But as they sparred, Faith had to admit he hadn't been kidding; Xander was nowhere near the level of a vamp or herself, when it came to fighting ability-

WHAM!!

Faith flew back in disbelief, as the guy she had once bedded out of feeling hungry and horny got in a lucky punch. She felt a rib fracture, and landed on the grass twenty feet away. "Ah, shit!"

Xander rushed over at once, "Are you okay? I'm sorry, Faith, I-"

The woman just swept his legs out from under him, and straddled the guy once he was on the ground. "Lesson number one; never drop your guard, for anybody!"

On his back, Xander looked at her and laughed once he understood the Chosen One was basically all right. "You always did like being on top, as I recall..."

Faith couldn't help it; she blushed and quickly got off him. They sat next to one another on the lawn as she asked, "So, what's the story with you and the former demon girl already? Red mentioned a little of what happened, during the drive from LA..."

Xander looked away and sighed. "You mean Anya. What can I say? I royally screwed up there, Faith. Nowadays, that's over - for good. Ever since I became the new and improved model Xander Harris, my temper's gotten a whole lot worse; probably due to the demon influence. We've had a number of horrible fights since then..." he broke off.

The junior Slayer said uncomfortably, "Look, stud, I've been meaning to mention it ever since I got back. About what happened that night, in my motel room-"

He cut her off, "What, when you tried to kill me? I got news for you, Faith, you weren't the first woman to do that; or the last. And since I forgave Dark Willow trying to blast me into little pieces last year, I figure it'd be darn hypocritical of me not to extend the same courtesy to you. Besides, this is no time to be hanging onto old animosities..."

They got up, and Xander held out his hand. "Fresh start, what do you say?"

The raven-haired Slayer shook it at once. "Deal."

*****

Sunnydale, California. May, 2003

In the Summers residence, Rupert Giles was studying photographs of a mission located north of the Hellmouth, near a place called Gilroy. His aim was to uncover information about the new Big Bad that had blown into town; the fallen preacher called Caleb, that was a minion for the First.

And their former hostage named Andrew Wells, continually whining about his food being stolen, was not making that task any easier.

So Giles just said to the youth irritably, "Shut up. Pay attention." He then held a magnifying glass over one particular photo, "Dawn, what do you see?"

The former Key was confused. "What am I looking for?"

Rupert said patiently, "On the back wall, a...knothole."

Through the magnifying glass, Dawn saw an imprint of what looked like Caleb's trademark ring in the wood, on a wall next to a statue of the Virgin Mary. "That's not a knothole!"

The former Watcher nodded. He said to a Slayer-in-training, "Amanda, would you go down to the basement and get Spike?"

Dawn mused, "Maybe this'll help...if this does bring us closer to Caleb."

Faith walked into the room eating a pastry, with Xander not far behind her; a situation which was getting more and more usual, these days. "Sounded like there was news..." she said.

Andrew glared at her thievery, but she just ignored the nerd like everyone else. Spike then walked into the room and drawled, "What's up...Rupert?"

Giles ignored the sarcasm. "Spike, I have a mission for you."

William the Bloody sneered, "Oh, really? 'Cause, you know, sometimes our missions end up with you trying to kill me. I'm not fond of those."

His compatriot said simply, "This is bona fide...with real ramifications. Take a look at this." He handed Spike the photo and the magnifying glass, who examined the thing - as did Xander, after he was done.

Spike looked at Giles. "Looks like our boy's been here. You want me to go check it out?"

Rupert nodded. "I need someone who can take care of themselves, in case Caleb has...left some souvenirs. It's a mission near Gilroy-" he went to hand over the address.

Xander interrupted him. "Maybe I should do it? It'll be quicker - on account of I'm not limited to only travelling at night, like him."

Giles looked at the vampire, who just shrugged, and then nodded at Harris. "Very well." Xander quickly got started for the door, when Faith called out, "Hey, wait up!"

She went over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, as well as a knowing grin. "Just for luck, ya know?"

Andrew ignored their antics and said with that whining tone, "Are we gonna get to the food-stealing issue soon?"

Giles called out to the heart of the Scooby gang, "Take Andrew."

Both Andrew and Xander said simultaneously and incredulously, "What?!"

Dawn shrugged at the former member of the Trio. "Well, you are always saying you wanna get out of the house more."

Andrew didn't look happy, having experienced the sharp end of Xander's temper tantrums lately. "Yeah, but-"

The former 'Ripper' then said to Xander, "There may be demons...lurking about. You never know. He's a demon expert. He can help."

The former high school student rolled his eyes. "Yeah, G-man, I'm sure!"

Giles never faltered in his plan to get rid of the human annoyance. "Well, he can bring his pan flute thing along. Excellent. Off you go." He then pushed Andrew out of the chair, and the sycophantic guy quickly followed Xander out the door.

*****

California. A short while later

Xander and Andrew were talking in the older guy's car, as they sped along up north. Or rather, Andrew was talking nervously - while Xander was busy wishing he'd just shut up, already.

"You sure you don't wanna stop and pick up some burgers or something, you know, road trip food?" the demon summoner asked.

The X-man frowned. "It's not a road trip, you loser. This is a covert operation. Think Sergeant Fury and the Howling Commandos approaching Hitler's secret bunker, or the Rebel Alliance during their time on Endor..."

Andrew nodded, but kept going. "Right. Right. Gotcha." He then paused for a few seconds. "I, I bet even covert operatives eat curly fries though. They're really good."

Xander swore silently in his head, his blood pressure soaring. "Can't you think of anything besides food? God, and they call me the human trash compactor..."

"Well, what do you wanna talk about? Cars? Sports? Oooh, I know, women! We could talk about that!"

Harris gripped the steering wheel tightly. "There is no way in hell I'm talking about that subject, with *you*!"

Andrew shrugged. "I think Faith really likes you-"

The car tires squealed, as Xander slammed down on the brakes and pulled the vehicle over onto the side of the road. He snarled, "That's it. Andrew, listen up! Open your mouth just once more here, just one more time - and I will rip out your entire goddamn brain stem!"

The younger brother of Tucker Wells shrank back, his eyes growing huge.

Xander then backed off, trying to calm down. "Sorry, I can't control my temper so good these days. Look, the truth is there's only one thing I'd like to know about you; now whether you answer or not, is totally up to yourself. So, here it is. Why the hell did you ever get involved with that asshole Warren, two years ago?!"

Andrew was extremely uncomfortable, not knowing what to say for once. He eventually stammered, "It, it, it wasn't supposed to be like it all ended up, y'know? We were gonna get rich and powerful, a-and nobody was supposed to get killed-"

"Yeah, well, newsflash pal; people get killed all the time in this world, that can't be helped. But, there's a big difference between killers and murderers. If you wanna fight the good fight here, Andrew, you gotta learn that."

Mr. Wells looked ashamed. "I'm not a fighter, or a warrior, or whatever. I'm just some guy who's most likely gonna be dead, when all this is over..."

Xander stared at him, as he started up the car again. "Seven years I've been fighting alongside Buffy, did you know that? And if I'd thought that way, I'd have been pushing up daisies or worse ages ago! You wanna live? Concentrate on helping out as best you can, and maybe you might make it through this..."

*****

Near Gilroy, California. A few hours later

The duo finally arrived; Xander pushed open the creaky front door to the mission, as Andrew fidgeted nervously behind him. The man sighed in contempt and just walked in, followed by his companion.

Andrew looked nervous. "No one's here. Xander? These kinda places make me feel all funny inside..."

Xander nodded. "I'll buy into that. Keep an eye out though, in case someone-"

And of course, just then someone jumped out of a closet as they walked past, grabbing Andrew and pushing him against the wall. The nerd screamed, "Xander!"

The Slayerette pulled the robed man off of Andrew, and the man punched his so-called attacker. They started to fight; but trying to restrain himself Xander just pushed the guy against the wall, and he fell to the ground.

The Sunnydalian, who should have lost his left eye by now but hadn't, then pushed the hood off of the other man's face - to reveal a burn mark on the guy's cheek. The mark looked like something Caleb had often made with his ring...

And both visitors to the mission recognized the shape of the robed man's scar, intensely visible before them. Xander bent down to get a better look, "Hey, tell me about that mark you got here!"

The monk, for that was what he was, tried to move back. "Oh..." He then covered the scar with his hand.

Xander got impatient. "Look, fella, I'd like some answers! Are you part of Caleb's group, or what? We don't have all night here-"

The holy man shook his head at once. "No! No!"

"Then just tell me what happened," was the reply.

The monk said weakly, fear evident in his voice, "I c-can't."

Andrew bent down to get in his face. "'Can't' is a four-letter word! I'm Andrew, I'll be your bad cop this evening. You don't start singing, my associate here-"

Xander said roughly, "Shut up! Look, mister, we're trying to fight him - Caleb, I mean. Bottom line, to do that...we're gonna need your help."

Andrew stood up as the monk said hopelessly, "You can't fight him. You can't stop him. You can only run."

The shorter interrogator who loved Star Trek bent down to get into the prisoner's face again. "'Run' is a four-letter wor-" Andrew paused, catching himself. "A three-letter word."

Xander got up, ignoring the annoying virgin as he did so too. "Come on. We're not gonna hurt ya! Talk."

Gaining courage after not getting hurt or killed, the monk said, "I'll do better. I'll show you." As he got to his feet and the trio walked off, he started talking, "One night, some time ago, a man arrived at our doors-"

Harris said sarcastically, "And you said what, "come on in, tear the place apart and kill us all"?"

The cleric looked sheepish. "We are - we are a benevolent Order, and, yes, we welcomed him. We offered to feed him...but he had come for something else."

The holy man walked up to the statue of the Virgin Mary in an alcove, the same one on the picture that had led the Sunnydale duo here in the first place. The missionary touched a secret lever, causing the statue to swing out of the way, and revealing a secret compartment behind it. "Behind this, he revealed something even we didn't know was here. A secret room..."

He walked in, with Xander and Andrew bringing up the rear. "He was excited, talking the whole time...destiny, that sort of thing," the robed guy branded like cattle then said.

Xander nodded. "Yeah. That's our Reverend I-Hate-Women; I hear he's a real smooth talker!"

The monk took a tapestry off the wall, revealing an inscription behind it. "He was going on about this ancient inscription."

Andrew was obviously thrilled. "Neat!"

The priest went on, "He read it...and he didn't like what it said. His temper...he was the purest evil I've ever seen. He burned his mark upon me. And then I ran, and I hid...and I listened to the others die."

Mr. Wells at least looked sympathetic. "Running away...saved your life." He then noticed Xander taking a candelabra that the monk had been holding, and walking up to the inscription. "What does it say?"

The inscription was in Latin, but written with Greek letters: 'Non tibi est. Ei solae tractare licet'. Xander looked at it and shrugged, "Not a clue. You guys got any idea?"

They both shook their heads, and Harris sighed. "Any research materials you got here that we can use, padre?"

And when the monk again shook his head no, Xander looked annoyed. "Fine, I guess we gotta wait till morning - find the nearest town, and wait for the public library to open up. In the meantime, we'd better explore this place, see if there's anything else to be learned here..."

*****

Sunnydale, California. The next night

Xander and Andrew finally arrived home at 1630 Revello Drive, after exploring the mission and finding nothing else of importance; and finally figuring out the inscription. Which basically translated to, "It is not for thee. It is for her alone to wield."

Andrew shouted out as they walked in through the front door, "We're back!"

Xander walked into the kitchen and looked around the room, as he left the nerd behind with his longer stride. "Hey, guys."

Giles nodded, "Xander. Good to have you back."

Harris shrugged. "Yeah. There's no place like home, even if it's situated on a Hellmouth..."

Andrew finally walked into the room as well. "Hi, everybody. I missed you guys a lot. Sorry it took so long to get back from our mission-mission, but we had to do research. Well, I think our mission went very well. I, uh, I got to drive Xander's car for a short part of the trip, which was very cool, and, uh...uh, we played some amusing road travel games along the way, and - oh! We got some new information. You know what? I really need to urinate!" He then quickly walked out of the room.

Xander scowled. "Giles, one day I'm gonna pay you back in spades, for saddling me with that dorkhead!" He sighed, "So, like he said, I think we got a lead. Where's Buffy?"

Dawn said nervously, "Um..." Then she looked away. "She's not here right now."

Xander frowned. "She's with Faith scouting for Bringers, or that Caleb asshole?"

The young woman's lips started trembling. "No."

The so-called White Knight instantly knew something was wrong, so he grabbed Dawn by the arm and took her onto the front porch for privacy. "Okay, Dawn-patrol. Spill! What's going on?"

The teenager started to explain what had happened the previous night. "Buffy outlined a plan for everyone to follow her back to that vineyard..."

Xander shuddered at hearing that, remembering the recent past; how Willow, Buffy, Spike and Faith had led their potential Slayer army into the enemy stronghold...while leaving him, Robin and Giles behind to guard the home, and the rest of the SITs. He'd argued strenuously against that...

But it was painfully obvious Buffy didn't trust him to watch her back anymore, thanks to the big speech he'd made that night when Spike had munched on the principal. And the Slayer had cleverly used his own arguments against him; saying if he didn't want to be a hypocrite like Giles, to just do what the person in charge said.

Of course, the blonde's plan getting nearly a dozen potential Slayers dead hadn't put Xander in a good mood afterwards, and they'd had a horrendously vicious shouting match over that - before he'd left her in complete disgust, in that hospital room.

Focusing back on the present, Xander then heard Buffy's sister say, "Well, basically, Faith sorta led all the objections to that idea. Then, then everything totally spiraled outta control, after that..."

A pause. "Spike called us all a bunch of 'sad ungrateful traitors', and so I told him to shut up! And then he told me to just stay out of the grown-up talk...so I, I sorta called him "Mr. Attempted Rape" in front of everyone..."

Xander winced, correctly guessing the reactions *that* little piece of news had engendered.

Dawn confirmed it, "Yeah, lots of people got pretty upset at hearing that. Buffy started saying that was all before Spike got a soul, but then Faith asked what difference that was supposed to make? She had a soul, she'd still killed people back in the day. Then Giles demanded to know what exactly had happened..."

This time, Dawn winced. "Buffy said...in a really nasty way...for him to butt out, because he wasn't in charge around here. Then Anya - she made this big speech about Buffy's worthiness to be the leader, that she hadn't done anything to deserve it, and in the end...uh, everyone wanted to vote for Faith to take over instead..."

Xander's eyes went wide as Ms. Summers finished up, "So, um, Buffy left when it was either quit or be fired. I told Spike to follow her, and keep her safe - 'cause I think some people were about to bring out crossbows and stakes, to use on him! And I haven't seen either of them since last night - no one has."

Xander thought dazedly.

Then he reconsidered; with his temper lately, Harris suspected he would have just made everything much worse. "Dawnie, find Willow for me. And I gotta talk to Giles..."

So they separated, and went back inside the house. Later that night, Andrew ended up channeling a Bringer during an interrogation, while Xander tracked down Buffy and Spike after Ms. Rosenberg did a locator spell.

But he failed to convince them to come back to the Slayage HQ, with Spike ordering the visitor to go tell "all those pathetic, useless betrayers to bloody well ram themselves up the arse!" Even the news of his discovery in Gilroy didn't elicit much interest.

By the time he got back to the house, Xander was kinda tired. He went to find Faith in order to touch base with her before hitting the sack, and overheard an interesting conversation - with someone who sounded a great deal like the late Mayor Richard Wilkins III...

"Deep down, you always wanted Buffy to accept you, to love you even. Why do you think that is?" Xander heard the male voice say, as Robin Wood saw him - and decided to go to the kitchen for a snack.

Faith sounded flippant, "You a shrink now?"

The Mayor/First started pacing. "You keep looking for love and acceptance from these people, these friends of yours, but you're never gonna find it. Not even from young Mr. Harris! The truth is, nobody will ever love you. Not the way I love you."

The Slayer instantly said, "Get out."

The First Evil said as an effective parting shot, "They'll forever see you as a killer. Even him..."

The Chosen One simply replied, "I said, get out."

And just before it disappeared in a flash of light, the Mayor/First said lovingly, "I'll always be with you, firecracker, in everything you do."

Xander figured that was his cue, and touched Faith's shoulder when he reached her. "Faith?"

The girl was instantly startled. "Jeez it, boy toy, you shouldn't sneak up like that! I almost took your head off!"

The man smiled. "Sorry."

Faith looked away. "So, what'd you see and hear?"

Xander shrugged, "Enough. More-or-less exactly what I was expecting, when I figured out the First was gonna target you. But don't believe its lies, Faith - please. I'm beggin' you here!"

Faith noticed her hand was trembling, and held it up for him to see. "Man, look at that. My hand's shaking. Demons, vampires, women in the penitentiary system - none of that freaks me out. But seeing him again? Actin' just like a big baby!"

Harris said comfortingly, "Yeah, according to Willow that's exactly what the First does - finds your weak spot, and then goes for the jugular. But don't sweat it, Faith-y - my opinion, you did fine. Better than fine."

The girl born in South Boston looked angry, though. "I'm just so pissed off at myself, Xan. I knew it was all a trick, but still..."

Xander knew he should dispense some sort of benevolent wisdom to reassure her, even though he had no idea how. "Listen - nobody wants to be alone, Faith. We all want someone who cares, to be touched somewhere deep down inside. With the shitty kind of home life we both had, I...I can guess what the Mayor musta meant to you. And different circumstances, back then - that coulda been me..."

The Slayer instantly disagreed. "No way, stud. Angel had you pegged right, all the way back from the start; as well as when him and B played me that night. You're the White Knight - straight arrow, through and through."

Xander grinned. "Amongst other things, these days."

Faith stood up. "Whatever. But, uh, you heard how the First told me to watch out for Buffy, right? That she's dangerous-"

Xander interrupted, "Faith? Like I said before, don't believe a thing it says. Maybe that's why it's never appeared to me - the damned incorporeal ass knows it'd just be a waste of time and effort, no matter what dead person's face it wears."

The brunette woman started to pace around in the bedroom. "Could be. But I mean, we've given D's sis pretty good reason to get pissed off. And you know what's the really messed-up thing? The First is telling me to worry about her, and I just wish she was here. In a couple hours, I'm gonna lead these girls into some serious crap, and she's the only one-"

Harris was getting completely exasperated, now. "Hello? Buffy's *not* the only one! You're a Slayer too, remember? And ever since you came back into the fold, I think you've been one hell of a woman to work with."

The prison escapee looked down. "I'm a killer, who betrayed you all back in high school."

Xander never hesitated. "Ancient history. And keep in mind, the Powers That Be looked down at over a billion teenage girls back when Kendra died, and out of them all...*you* were the one chosen for this big mystical warrior deal. Look, Faith, maybe I'm kinda biased - since you were my first, and everything. But you've paid for past mistakes, and if Buffy's the only leader Spike would willingly follow into Hell...*you* are the only one now, who fills that position for me."

Faith just stared at him, before releasing a huge smile. "Damn, boy toy, but you really did turn into one silver-tongued bastard..." She then pulled Xander closer to her, and the man could suddenly smell her intoxicating scent. "It's been a while, and there's still the issue of our...last encounter. So am I out of line here?"

Xander shook his head. "No. I trust you."

Faith looked almost moved to tears, at hearing those three little words. The young couple then kissed intensely, as he lifted her up in his arms and she pushed Harris back onto the bed. Xander then started pulling on her shirt, as they passionately made out...

And what happened in that bedroom for the rest of the night, as they got naked underneath the sheets, was no one's business except their own.

*****

Sunnydale, California. The next night

Xander was following Buffy, as the blonde made her way towards a pyramid-like tomb with the mystical Slayer scythe, and reflected briefly what a hectic 24 hours it had all been.

After waking up with Faith, for the first time ever since the wedding debacle with Anya...the young man had finally felt content with his life. Able to believe there was a brighter future in store, for the both of them.

But Harris had been unable to dwell on such thoughts for long; for as said, the brunette Slayer had to get up and lead a group of potentials on a deadly mission.

A mission that had turned out to be a trap, and one which they'd been saved from by Buffy - after she'd found and claimed the scythe from Caleb within the Shadow Valley vineyard, and which Willow would soon use to activate Slayers everywhere throughout the world.

In any case, Buffy and Spike returned into the bosom of the group - and now, Xander suddenly noticed William the Bloody also following his beloved but staying out of sight, ready to step in if she needed him. The English vampire then followed her into the tomb, as they both vanished from view.

Harris stopped, and decided to just stand guard here and keep a lookout for any possible intruders. He had no way to know that Caleb was already waiting inside the pyramid, ready to reclaim the scythe at the right time; but in any case, that wasn't his business. Spike and Buffy would take care of him.

Xander's job tonight was related to the other ensouled vampire from LA, known as Angel.

"Hello, Xander. Long time no see..."

The young man whirled around in surprise, and also annoyed that he had let someone sneak up on him. "Gahhh! Angel? I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Someone needs to put a bell on you!" He then relaxed slightly, when he saw his old rival for Buffy's heart wasn't going to rip his throat out or anything.

The former Irishman snorted. "Yeah. I've missed your sense of humour, Harris, believe it or not..."

Xander looked at the vamp that he had once despised more than anything else in the whole world. When to his great surprise, he suddenly discovered...that the old hatred simply wasn't there anymore. Instead, there was only a semi-sentimental feeling of knowing when things had been *so* much simpler.

As the fact was that during high school he'd thought only in terms of black or white, without all those annoyingly pesky shades of grey that growing up eventually forces upon you.

the Xandman then thought to himself. Finally, Xander raised his eyebrows. "What are you doing back in town? Did you hear about Faith?"

Angel's good mood vanished, as he came closer. "What about her? What's happ-" He then broke off, and took a deep sniff. "I can smell her all over you," he said, almost accusingly.

Xander said nothing, as his eyes became slits; but the Champion for the Powers then relaxed. "When did you two get...closer?" the vampire asked.

"Last night." A pause. "You have a problem with that?"

"No. I guess not," the former Angelus said before adding with narrowed eyes, "But if you hurt her in any way, I'll kill you. Faith means a helluva lot to me..."

Xander regarded the vampire calmly, and to Angel's surprise he could smell no fear coming from the other man at all. There was only anger, that was quickly damped down.

Harris said frostily, "I know you'd *try*. She's told me what happened, with that magical mind-trip you guys did together..." he trailed off before adding, "Anyway, so what brings ya to the Hellmouth?"

"First, tell me what happened to Faith!" Angel demanded.

The human shrugged. "We had a situation today, there was an explosion in the sewers - but Giles is taking care of her, and she'll be fine soon. We had to fight some Bringers of the First Evil, see, and some Turok-Han-"

"The First Evil? That thing which tried to get me to kill myself, a few years ago? And TUROK-HAN?! Xander, they don't exist, they're just a myth!"

The guy just shook his head. "Sorry, Deadboy, but I'm afraid you're myth-taken. They're plenty real. I've seen them. I've fought them. And there's an entire legion of the darn things underneath our feet, even as we speak..."

Angel looked even whiter than his usual vamp paleness. "Xander, the Turok-Han - they're, they're the vampires that other vampires fear. Why didn't you guys call me to help?"

Xander looked away with a sigh, he'd known this part of the conversation was coming from the start; but that didn't mean he had to like it. "Look, Dea- sorry, Angel. It's just - things have really changed around here, since the good ol' days. So much so, I don't even know where to start-"

Angel brushed that aside. "It can wait. I need to find Buffy." He then started to move off, still able to track her scent even after all this time.

"Uh..." Xander's hesitant voice stopped him in his tracks. "That may not be such a bright idea right now, kimosabe. She's with Spike in that tomb, over yonder. Might be best for you of all people not to disturb them, given how they're alone together..."

The former Scourge of Europe was confused. "Why? What could they possibly be doing-" The look on Xander's face then gave him a clue, but Angel refused to believe it. "No. Xander, that's not - c'mon, that is *not* a possibility!"

But seeing the human male's expression remain intact, Angel instantly charged off.

The ensouled vampire returned a short while later though, with a stunned look on his face. Harris asked delicately, "What happened?"

"They, they were kissing," Spike's grandsire said in complete shock. "There was a dead body on the floor, wearing a priest suit-"

"Caleb's dead? Well, praise the Lord!" Xander said, almost to himself.

But Angel kept right on going. "He wasn't - Spike wasn't forcing himself on her, she was willingly making out with him. What the hell...I thought they were gonna do it right then and there, for a second! So, what, he's her boyfriend these days?"

Xander shrugged again. "I honestly don't know anymore, it's real complicated. And no offense, but either way - is it really your business? She's made it clear enough it's not mine, that's for sure!"

The new arrival insisted though, "So, you think she's in love with him? Come on, Xander, this is a real curve ball for me. I mean, we *are* talking about Spike here!"

The son of two drunks hesitated. "Whatever my opinion, Buffy thinks...that he's different. From back when him and Dru were trying to kill us all, I mean. Because of the fact that Spike got himself a soul and all, even though Slay-gal was sleeping with him long before *that* happened..."

Angel looked stunned all over again, at hearing that piece of news. "Oh. Well. Huh. You know, I-I started it, the whole having-a-soul deal. Before it was all the cool new thing..."

Xander had forgotten just how jealous Angel could get of Buffy's boyfriends. "You want my advice? Let it go. Let *her* go. She's moved on, man, it happens. I promise you, the way things are right now - it's probably all for the best."

But the other male just mumbled, "I gave her up, so she could find someone that could give her a future - children - and Captain Peroxide takes my place? That doesn't exactly rock my world, Harris..."

"Well, I *have* heard Spike say that you can never go back, after getting a taste of vamp lovin'..." Faith's new boyfriend quickly decided to change the subject, at Angel's expression. "So, uh, how's your little Fang Gang doing these days? Especially Cordy, Willow said she saw her laid up in bed when she was last there-"

He then stopped, after seeing Angel's head snap around. "What?"

The new head of Wolfram & Hart's LA branch suddenly couldn't meet Xander's eyes. "Cordelia's...very sick. She's in a coma..."

"WHAT?!?" Even though he was with Faith now, along with Anya Ms. Chase still held a very special place in Xander's heart.

"I know, I know, and before you ask - it's a long story. But everything that can possibly be done for her, *is* being done. I promise you, Xander, I'll do everything in my power to make her get better. She's very special to me!"

Harris nodded, sensing his sincerity. "Right. Okay. Well, uh, before I forget again - what brought you to town? Was it just to see Buffy?"

"No. I, um, brought something for her. Something I was told was necessary to win this battle, that you guys have got going here..."

He took an amulet out of his pocket, and held it up for Xander to see. It looked like a two-inch diameter crystal pendant in a silver starburst setting, hung from a coarse silver chain. Xander looked at it and asked, "What is that?"

Angel replied uncertainly, "I don't know for sure. It's very powerful, and probably very dangerous, and comes from a source not even remotely reliable. But it has a purifying power, a cleansing power...possibly scrubbing bubbles. The translation is, uh - anyway, it bestows strength to the right person who wears it."

Xander frowned. "And the right person is?"

Angel looked down, as he put away the pendant. "Someone ensouled, but stronger than human. Someone like a Slayer, or me. Or, I suppose, Spike..."

Xander got a funny expression on his face. "Would I qualify? I'm probably the most expendable one around here if this thing turns out to be lethal, anyway..."

The male vamp from the Order of Aurelius tried to find a polite way to say that Xander had gone crazy. "Er, well, that thing about being stronger than human..."

The young man then interrupted, "Yeah, I was meaning to tell you...no, on second thoughts it'll be quicker if I just show you. So I'm gonna hit you in the stomach, and I want you to prepare yourself, okay? It's probably gonna hurt a little-"

The bloodsucker decided to just humour his companion. "Sure. You got it."

But when the demon strength bestowed by the Shadow Men hit him, Angel flew backwards ten feet and collided with a tree. "Ow, damn it! That really hurt!" he shouted, as the vamp rubbed his head from where it had smashed into the bark.

The former Key Guy quickly joined him. "What happened? I didn't hit you all that hard!"

Angel looked ashamed. "Sorry, I didn't take you seriously. And yeah, I now think you qualify - in spades. How did you-?"

Xander briefly looked away. "Kind of a long story, like with you and Cordy. If we survive the upcoming apocalypse - I promise Faith and I will come to LA, and tell you all about it."

"Yeah, you do that. And, Xander? If you two were to decide to stay...I can offer you a job on my team, any time you like. That punch was pretty damn effective!"

Amazingly, Xander just smiled and said, "I'll think about it." He accepted the talisman gift from his former mortal enemy, as he and Angel quickly walked off into the night in different directions...for now.

*****

Sunnydale, California. Two days later

Deep within the Hellmouth, the final conflict had begun.

After Angel had gone, Xander had eventually found Buffy and Spike, and told them the situation. And after Buffy had had a visitation from the First, who was using Caleb's face and form, the blonde Slayer had had an epiphany on how to win - and so the plan to activate every Slayer-in-waiting was set in motion.

As it had always been destined to be.

Xander had been wearing the amulet as he, Buffy, Faith, Spike and the potential Slayers had shed blood upon the seal of Danthazar, and then descended underground. No one was quite sure what was gonna happen - but the only thing everyone *knew*, was that this was definitely gonna get ugly before it was over.

The Turok-Han had spotted them, and were charging along to kill the white hats - when Willow worked her mojo, and a blast wave of power hit the young women. And finally endowed with super-strength, all thirty-odd Slayers truly began fighting the enemy; but they were also getting overwhelmed by sheer numbers-

"Buffy! Whatever this thing does, I think it's-" Xander broke off, as the pendant started to activate itself, and he started groaning in pain.

A bright blue light shot up from the amulet, tearing open a hole in the ceiling and going up through the floor of the principal's office - past Willow, and through to the open sky. The light then turned a warm orange color, as Xander whispered, "Merciful Zeus..."

Faith heard him screaming in agony and shouted, "Xander!"

But before the brunette Slayer could go to his side, the amulet refracted the orange light out into the Hellmouth cavern, like rays of sunshine - but with concentrated intensity - being channeled like a laser.

And in amazement, Faith saw the Turok-Han army dusting in all directions, exploding apart as an earthquake started. Buffy, seeing the situation and making a command decision, called out to her people, "Everybody out, now! Spike, get 'em moving!"

The last eight Slayers started to rush to the stairs that led up to the seal, but Faith ran to Xander's side. "Come on! I'm not leaving you behind!"

Xander shook his head, as the pain subsided enough for him to speak. "Sorry, sweetheart. But I got a job to do, and I can't quit now till it's done. Not like you would do any different-"

Faith was looking frantic. "NO! No, you've done enough. I just got you back, damn it, I'm not gonna lose you now!"

The walls started crumbling down around them and Buffy called down to her sister Slayer, "Faith, come on! There's nothing more we can do here!"

"NO!!!" the second oldest Slayer screamed. "I, I, I love-"

Xander smiled through the ever-increasing pain. "I love you too, Faith. So like Buffy once said to Dawn, live for me. NOW GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!!"

Faith recoiled at the anger and tortured strain in his voice, and sharing a long look of anguish with her lover - she turned around, and ran up the stairs.

All around the town, the earthquakes were getting worse as the entire empty city started to get sucked underground - and the yellow school bus bearing the good guys desperately tried to outrace getting scrunched. But inside the Hellmouth, Xander stood with a feral snarl of exultation on his face.

This was his final revenge upon la Boca del Infierno, Harris could feel it; the entire thing was falling apart, sealing off the passageway leading into Hell.

Xander was in incredible agony, and knew he was about to die for the cause in a blaze of glory - as his right hand caught on fire, and the rest of him followed suit. But he had no way to know that in 19 days, he would be brought back in LA as a ghost...

Then something *truly* amazing happened.

Xander started to glow with a green halo, as a tiny part of the life-force of the Earth departed its vessel - and supplied memories of another reality to its host, as a farewell gift. And the human then *understood*.

That all this hadn't been about him. It had *never* been about him. The whole thing with the demonic power from the Shadow Men...it had been part of a plan with a helluva lot of scope, for Gaia to prevent Faith's death...

And now that the brunette Slayer would never accompany him to Africa - would stay with Angel in Los Angeles, as a result of the offer he'd told her about - she was safe. Xander remembered his conversation with that trio of black men months ago, and oh dear God - it suddenly all made so much sense...

He'd been a puppet, all along. A mere pawn of cosmic forces. But as the black mist of the demon and the white light of the soul started to be sucked into the amulet's interior, the young man found that he didn't care - as he quickly burned to death.

Giles had given him a book on martial arts months ago, and the White Knight remembered a passage on what was called 'bushido' - which roughly translated from the Japanese as, 'the way of the warrior'. And it stated that the true warrior sacrifices everything about himself for the greater good - even his own life, if it comes to that.

As the Hellmouth disintegrated and the First screamed in rage - Xander Harris died alone, surrounded by the ashes of humanity's enemies. But he died laughing at them. Both Gaia and the Powers heard him do it.

And then the young Champion knew nothing more, until the time of his resurrection was at hand.

The End of The First Chapter/Storyline, Way of the Warrior
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