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Forever White Knight - Knight Gallery

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This story is No. 3 in the series "Forever White Knight". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Start of second story "Family Problems"

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Xander-Centered > Theme: HalloweenDanaShortFR15281,210102620,17425 Apr 0614 Aug 06Yes

Knight Gallery Story One - Family Portrait

Welcome back. Or if this your first time reading something I wrote, simply Welcome.

For those of you who have not read my work before, let me apologize, but I think you may have more fun if I give you some homework before you begin. My writing is not so great that you can come into the middle of a story and expect to understand all that is going on. So you must go.

Go here:

http://www.tthfanfic.org/wholestory.php?no=7225#chapter1

and here:

http://www.tthfanfic.org/wholestory.php?no=8261#chapter1

Now that everyone is up to speed, I'll just take a moment to remind all the readers that for the most part as far as this story goes, I own nothing. I don't own the bulk of the concepts, locations, or characters appearing within this story. Those are owned by those who invented them, and/or the commercial interests to whom they have been sold, licensed, or transferred. None of which are me, as this is entirely a non-profit work, which is in no way intended to defray or detract from the actual value of the intellectual property employed within. In every case, the characters and situations depicted within are derived from my mind but are admittedly based very strongly on the original works of others. About the only character here who is wholly original is Cat. I honestly have no clue where she came from. (Ok, I suppose I do know that when a Mommy Goddess and a Daddy God love each other very much then sometimes... Aw, nevermind.)

Knight Gallery will consist of an anthology of semi-stand-alone stories, covering about a years worth of events. Each story will be posted as a separate "Chapter", but in reality each complete chapter will comprise a complete story.

Finally, remember this is just Chapter 1, there are MANY more Capters to come, each a complete (though hopefully not as large as this one) story.

Now, with the History, Referrals, and Disclaimers behind me, I suppose I should start the actual story. But, as the title of this Arc may have led some of you to expect, someone needs to do an introduction first...

---===(Cut here to detach actual story from stupid disclaimer.)===---

Forever White Knight Arc 3, Knight Gallery

Chapter One, Family Portrait.


The hallway is dark and vanishes in the infinite distance both before and behind. There is a sense of stillness which permeates everything. Not a sound can be heard from beyond the innumerable doors which line both sides.

The silence and gloom is suddenly shattered however, by the sound of a click, as the latch opens and one of the doors swings open, revealing a new room, this one even darker, making the infinite hallway seem almost cheery by comparison.

Through the open door, shadowed in darkness a figure can barely be made out. It is male, of indeterminate age, and bears a striking resemblance to a familiar face from the old black and white days – Rod Serling. The figure looks up, and steps forward into a relative pool of light, and it is indeed Rod Serling. "Welcome," he says, gesturing towards the darkness beyond his open door, "to the Night Gallery."

Shadowed portraits can be seen mostly by their unlight outlines here and there suspended in the air amidst the darkness.

Rod gestures at one of them, and slowly it's light up, revealing what looks like a family portrait, showing four people, apparently oldest to youngest, left to right, and back to front.

The young brunette woman in the front, right of the image had a speculative look upon her face, an expression showing neither contentment, nor discontent in her almost black eyes. Behind her was a shorter Blonde, her own eyes almost a glowing green color, remisent of a cat's. Behind her was a young brunette man, a determined look upon his face. And peering over his shoulder, an older man, his open mouth disconcertingly displaying a set of vampiric fangs, and his lambent yellow eyes seemingly somehow reptilian in appearance.

"Allow me to present this evenings first offering, a picture simply titled, 'Family portrait'. It may not look it, but it is indeed that of a Mother and a Father, their adopted Daughter, and her Grandfather. One may consider that a family with High School Seniors as the parents, a freshman for the daughter, to be somewhat unusual. But the truth behind this family is stranger still, as the Mother of this little clan is truly the eldest, by far, and yet while only a bit more than twice the age of their adoptive daughter, her husband matches her in experience. The daughter is a mystically empowered warrior known as a Vampire Slayer, while her adoptive grandfather is a truly ancient Vampire himself. Confusing? Perhaps. Let us look then into the history behind this painting. Let us look into the past, and see how they came together, to form this, rather unusual, Family Portrait."

Illustration


=+=


Darkness lays across the small Californian town of Sunnydale. And in the shadows of the darkness, demons and vampires move. But as the trio approaches all falls to stillness, for the forces of evil know to fear the ones who walk calmly through this night, even if just one or two of the faces are familiar to those who peer at them as they pass.

The oldest looking of the three, a young man of perhaps twenty years of age, but more likely eighteen, is looking around as though lost in memories. And those few who remember him know who it is they most fear. For others, their more recent acquaintance of the young, hot looking brunette draws their caution and fear. None know enough yet to fear the smallest of the three, the young blonde of indeterminate age who trails the other two, watching them as they move along the familiar streets.

"So Faith," Cat asked, "How old are you?"

Cat had been following Faith and Xander through the darkened streets of Sunnydale since leaving the graveyard, and while she could feel that her husband was thoroughly distracted by the flood of long forgotten childhood memories being evoked by the nighttime sights around them, Cat was finding herself evermore intrigued by the child before her.

She'd never met a Slayer before her brief encounter with Buffy at her wedding a few days before. But this girl, Faith was as different from Buffy as was night from day.

Buffy had seemed to be a happy cheerful person from a solid loving family. She felt a flash memory of Joyce, Buffy's mother pass through her head, buffered by a distant flood of Xander's fond memories of the woman he thought of as more of a mother than the woman who had birthed him. But Faith, as seen through Cat's new sensitivity to the thoughts and emotions of those around her, while trying to appear hard as nails was so torn up on the inside it almost made Cat want to cry.

The brunette Slayer stumbled a moment as the out of the blue question from the diminutive blonde struck her literally off balance. "Huh?"

"Old. How old are you?" Cat asked again, smiling at the girl.

Faith shrugged, "Old enough."

Cat nodded. "I suppose. You've been a slayer for what, almost a year now?"

Faith nodded, "Yeah, I was back in Boston, before my watcher went to an, er, retreat, and sent me here to hang with B and Jeeves."

Cat stopped walking and looked at Faith sternly. "Faith, there's something you should know about Xander and I."

Faith stopped as well, Xander slowing to a halt a few moments later and looking in his mind, then in Cat's for the memories of the conversation he'd apparently been so lost in his own recollections that he'd missed so far.

"What's that?" Faith asked.

"Never try to lie to either one of us. You can't." Cat said.

Faith quirked an eyebrow, "What, like if I try I'll turn to salt or something?"

"No, but we'll know. It's hard to explain, but just now, you told the truth about having been in Boston. But you lied about your Watcher. But not about her sending you here."

Faith frowned, "How'd you know my Watcher was a she?"

Cat shrugged. "It's a Goddess thing, I suppose you could say. Though for me it's kind of a new twist. I see the color of your, not thoughts - those are deeper and require an effort to touch, it's more like your mind. The color of it simply told me you were lying, and that your Watcher was a mother figure to you. And just now it seems to indicate that she's gone, and you miss her."

Faith was pissed. Or at least that's how she tried to look. In reality she was scared and hurt. "What the fuck is it to you? And who gave you permission to look inside my fucking head in the first place?"

Cat raised a hand and shook her head, "I didn't. That's what I'm trying to tell you. It's not something either I or Xander do consciously, it's just the way we are. When I look at you, I see all of you, not just the color of your hair, eyes, skin, and clothes, but the color of your mind and soul. And those change as you talk, or even think. If you know what you are seeing, you can easily tell how someone feels about something or if they are lying or not. When someone looks at a person's aura, they see some of the same thing, although depending on how you look a person's aura can tell you a whole lot more, or less. But what I want you to understand is that lying to us isn't just a bad idea, its futile. Because we'll not only know you are lying, but probably be able to guess why. Now, what happened to your watcher?"

Faith's face flushed red, whether from anger or embarrassment, Xander wasn't sure. Finally, after gaining a hold of her emotions she managed to get out, "I let her get killed." Faith's voice was barely a whisper as she said it, but in the stillness of the nighttime Sunnydale street, she may as well have shouted.

Both Cat, and now that he noticed it Xander blinked at the statement, and the blindingly obvious pain behind it.

Xander spoke for the first time, softly asking, "How, Faith?"

Faith whirled on him, "How what?"

"How did she die? And how can you believe it's your fault?" Xander asked. "I've only known you for a few minutes, but even so you don't strike me as someone who'd simply let someone get killed, especially not someone you obviously cared for as much as you did for this woman."

Faith fought back tears, refusing to let these two strangers see her cry, "Kakistos. He and his flunky Trick, they captured us, chained me to a wall. They made me watch. She screamed." Faith failed, and the tears broke, even before she noticed, she was being sandwiched between the other two, Xander on one side, strong and hard, providing an unexpected comfort which was in no way sexual, but was extremely powerful nonetheless; on the other side, Cat was holding her just as supportively, her smaller, softer, and very feminine frame pressing against Faith's, and she found herself flooded with unexpected emotional strength, so she took a breath and went on, almost unable to stop even had she wanted, "I was chained, I couldn't get loose, I tried. Oh, how I tried. I almost pulled my arms off, but all I managed to do was bleed. And make the fucking vampires laugh. All while Linda screamed. It was only after she'd finally died, her screams mercifully fading away that the bastards made their mistake, they were taking her down, from where she'd been hung next to me, so close, yet so far, they loosened the bolts holding down the chains, and I felt my own chains slip, just a bit. So I jerked, so hard I was sure I'd pull my arm off. But I didn't, instead I pulled the whole fucking mess out of the wall. And with one arm free, even if it had a length of chain on it, it wasn't hard for me to kill the fuckers in the room. The chain helped, it's not hard to decapitate a vamp if you swing a length of stele chains fast enough. I got my other arm free, then levered myself off the wall, and I made them pay for what they did to Linda. Every last one of those bastards, they paid. But Kakistos and Trick, they got away." The tears were flowing so hard now she couldn't see anymore, her limbs so weak that if Xander and Cat hadn't been holding her up, she'd have fallen to the sidewalk. But they held her, and they didn't say a thing as she cried, finally mourning the loss of the only person ever to give a fuck about her in her whole life, the only decent person she'd ever loved. Finally the tears slowed down, and she spoke again, "The last thing she said to me before we were captured, when they were still chasing after us, was that if I managed to get away that I was to come to California and find Buffy Summers and Rupert Giles. It was kinda her last request. I had to do it. So I left," her voice broke again, and she took a shuddering breath, then continued again, "I left Linda there, buried in a grave I dug her myself in the woods, in a place I knew she liked. I left her, and I came out here. Had to bum rides and scam cash for bus tickets and food, but I made it, I came out here, got a room at the Motor Lodge, and hooked up with B and her gang."

Faith reached up and wiped the last of the tears out of her eyes. She took another deep breath, then forced her face to take on a more resolved composure before looking at the short Blonde beside her. "Is that what you wanted to hear?" she asked, an edge of anger creeping back into her voice as her emotional defenses came back online.

Cat nodded, "I suppose so."

Xander however wasn't satisfied. "No." he said, softly.

Faith whirled on him, the strength returning to her limbs in a surge of adrenalin triggered by a surge of genuine anger. "What?"

"I still didn't hear how you let Linda die. I heard how you were chained to a wall, unable to do a damn thing while the one person you cared about was murdered beside you, but I didn't hear how you could have done anything more than you did, how you were the one who allowed her to die. So I want to know why you feel like it was your fault?"

Faith's anger fled as she felt a chasm of futility open in her soul, "Because I'm the Slayer! The One Girl in all the world with the strength and power to fight the fucking forces of darkness. And I couldn't do a damn thing!"

"Exactly, Not didn't, couldn't. And if you're the one girl, then what's Buffy? Sliced cheese?" Xander asked.

Faith almost smiled at his lame attempt at a joke, but she got his point, and as she did so, she felt the chasm in he soul slam shut, and an enormous weight she hadn't even realized was there lift from her heart. She took a deep breath, and realizing how much better she suddenly felt, glanced over at Cat and returned her smile. "More like sliced bologna, she's so full of it."

Xander actually laughed at that, a fond smile playing over his face as he hugged the brunette Slayer he still held in one arm, and Cat squeezed her from the other side at the same time. "Better now?" she asked softly, looking up into Faith's eyes.

For a moment, Faith forgot about just how vulnerable she'd been moments before, as she looked down into toe smaller woman's almost glowing green eyes. "Yeah." She said in full honesty, feeling surprised at her own answer.

"Good. Now, back to my first question, how old are you?" Cat asked, grinning at her in such a way that Faith found her defenses crumbling again, but this time in a somehow happy way.

"I just turned fifteen two months ago. Linda got me a leather jacket for my birthday." She said, indicating the black jacket she currently had on, "It's all I have left from her."

Cat shook her had, "Not true. I told you not to try and lie to us, even if you aren't aware of it. You still have all the good memories of her in your heart. The ones which make your mind all golden and happy when you think about her. And you'd better not let them die away, because I'm sure she wouldn't be at all happy with you if you did."

Faith thought about that, then smiled yet again. "You're right. Damn, Cat, how'd you get so smart?"

Cat shrugged, "Seven thousand years of experience, I suppose. Although most of that time I spent being protected by my Mom, my brothers, and my Uncles, one of whom turned out to be the Father who's identity I never knew."

"Father you never knew? You mean like your Mom's brother knocked her up and everyone tried to pretend it didn't happen or something? That'd suck." Faith asked.

Cat just laughed, the musical tinkle of her laughter sounding odd in the otherwise quiet downtown area they had stopped in seemingly so long ago. "No. But it sucked anyhow. See, there was this prophecy."

Faith scowled and Xander laughed as well at her expression. "Yeah, I hate 'em too, but I think Cat's got the best reason to dislike the things."

"Anyhow, in order to try and avoid it, they gave me a name with no word associated to it, it was just an ideogram, because the prophecy said the man who spoke my name would take me from my father's hand and consume me, binding me to himself forever."

Faith's eyes opened at that, "So they never told you who your father was, and never really gave you a name?"

Xander spoke again, "Bast's Daughter. That was the only name used for her."

Faith shook her head, "And I thought I had it bad, at least she mostly just ignored me, when she was straight enough to notice me at all that is."

Cat shrugged. "I knew my family loved me, so it wasn't as bad as all that. But still, all my life I only wanted one thing, a name. They never told ME about the prophecy of course, so I never knew why my real name was just a funny picture. And whenever I asked about my father, all they would say was he loved me very much, but because of that he had to stay away. Uncle Janus, who turned out to really be my Dad almost filled that role, but for one thing, he'd never hold me. He'd hardly touch me, because he was afraid if he held me in his hands, someone would come and speak my name and take me from him, 'cause that was the prophecy."

"Damn." Faith said, shaking her head.

"Then one day I got a little too independent, and went out on my own, without my Mom or my older Brother Maahes along. And the next thing I knew, I'd been snatched and had a locking spell put on me, trapping me in cat form, and been literally dragged to Hell."

Faith's eyes widened again, "Damn. I mean, I heard you'd been in Hell, but just like that?"

Cat nodded, "I was to be a sacrifice. There was this Demon Lord, and he planned to literally eat me, so as to consume my power for his own. It wouldn't have worked, not completely, but it would have given him a significant boost. He'd apparently heard of the prophecy though, and thought it'd work better with me than with others."

"So what happened?" Faith asked.

Cat grinned fondly and looked t her Husband, "He happened. I was chained to an alter, bound both physically and mystically so that I couldn't use any of my powers, or even change my shape, and he came in, swinging that sword of his, and killing everything in sight, including the Demon Lord about to eat me, before cutting off my chains and carrying me out of there. But that wasn't the important thing, not to me."

Faith looked back and forth between Xander and Cat, then asked, "So what was the important thing, if saving your ass wasn't the biggie?"

Cat grinned, "After I opened a portal for us to take us wherever he belonged, we ended up in some woods. And a truck came by and offered to give Xander a ride to town. I showed up, and the driver asked him about me. And he told the guy I was part of the same deal which had gotten him stranded in the middle of a forest in filthy, stinky clothes which looked nothing like modern people would wear. And he told the driver my name was Snowball."

Faith looked confused, "Huh?"

Xander spoke up again, "She was still a cat. I didn't know she wasn't just a cat. She makes a really cute cat though."

There was a flash, and a pure white cat with green eyes looked up at Faith and blinked, before opening its mouth to ask, "Merow?"

Xander bent down and lovingly lifted the cat into his arms, "See?" At Faith's nod he went on, "Anyhow, here's this pretty white kitty I'd just snatched from the depths of Hell, and the driver asked me what her name was. What else could I call her? I mean, think about the odds?"

Faith got it and started laughing. This was a serious laugh, and was so hard Xander had to drop Cat and grab Faith to steady her. Cat looked up at them for a moment, then flashed back to her human form. "And that's how we met, and how I fell in love with him."

Faith frowned, "But wait, you said there was a prophecy?"

Cat nodded, "Yeah. He said my name, he later took me from my Father's hand, when we got married, and afterwards, well, the result is that we are literally one person, on a mystical level. I'm still me, and he's still him, but what he is, I am, and what I am, he is, and we'll both be together for eternity."

Faith's eyes grew at that, then she started laughing again. "So the prophecy, the thing your family feared for what, five thousand years,"

"More like Seven Thousand." Cat corrected.

"Right, Seven Thousand years." Faith laughed, starting to loose it again, "Was that you'd get hitched to the X-Man here?"

Cat grinned, "Yeah, it was supposed to be a good fortune, but it got misinterpreted. Like most of the stupid things."

Finally getting a hold of herself, Faith stifled the rest of her laughter, and offered her new friend a grin, "That's totally cool. Thanks for sharing your story with me."

Cat smiled, "And thanks for sharing your story with us."

Faith remembered what she'd managed to suppress about the first part of their conversation suddenly, but this time, it didn't hurt so much. Which was both surprising and good. "You're welcome. Damn, you won't tell anyone though, will you?" she asked, a sudden surge of fear shooting through her.

Cat shook her head, "No. We'll keep your secret. And you'll keep mine. Very few people know my True Name, and it's important to keep it that way, because names have power. With my Name I can be both summoned and bound against my will. So please don't spread it around, ok?"

Realizing the level of trust Cat had placed in her shocked Faith, who simply nodded. "Ok. I promise."

Cat smiled as Xander nodded, then he gestured down the street towards the High School barely visible in the distance. "Good. Now then, about your entrance, how'd you like to play a little joke on Buffy and Giles?"

At Faith's expression, Xander bowed down and started whispering conspiratorially in her ear, outlining his little plan to get one back on the Scooby Gang for surprising him at his wedding.

=+=

Buffy felt the ping of something powerful on her slaydar and had already turned towards the library doors before Faith kicked them open and proceeded inside, a curved sword, like a skinny scimitar, or more like a katana held in one hand, and a dead body tossed over her shoulder.

She made her way into the room before unceremoniously dumping the dead body, face down on one of the library tables, and waving the sword around. "Hey B, Jeeves. I found this really bad-ass demon in Shadyrest, he wouldn't stay dead no matter what I did to him, 'till I took away his shiny sword and stabbed him with it. That seemed to do the trick, but I brought him along so's you could ID him and tell me if I need to look for more. There's something weird about the sword though, it's driving my Slayer Senses wild.

Buffy, ignoring the dead demon, moved over to examine the sword Faith was waving closer "Is it some sort of magic sword?"

Faith shrugged, "I dunno. All I know is when he was trying to use it on me he kept missing. I swear one time he should have slashed me in half, but somehow he missed, just like the others. It worked fine for me though."

"I say!" a heretofore unnoticed middle aged woman said as she stepped forward from where she had been speaking with Giles before being interrupted by Faith's entrance.

Giles, forgetting entirely about his guest reached out to tentatively take the sword from her hand, and as he lifted it, there was a sudden flash of light in the center of the library, right over the Hellmouth, and a figure appeared.

She was blonde, and shorter then Buffy, and while her face was distorted in the palpable anger which could be felt rolling off her in waves it was nonetheless familiar to the two core Scoobies present.

"Who DARES to lay hands upon my husband!" Cat shouted, lifting a hand and summoning Kusanagi from Faith's hands and straight into her own.

Everyone but Faith took a step back at that point, leaving the Slayer almost alone before the fury of the angry Goddess.

"Who's your husband, and what are you doing with my new sword?" Faith demanded indignantly, striding towards the new arrival.

Cat on the other hand was doing her best to retain a stern expression as she took in the expressions of dawning horror on the faces of the two Scoobies.

Buffy, following a hunch took in the general shape of the form still draped face down on the table, before darting back to Cat and the blade she now held, then returning with even greater concern to the still form on the table.

Giles's guest was entirely clueless, but she was the next to speak, saying harshly, "Mr. Giles, what is going on here?"

Giles, not having caught on yet, looked over at the scowling goddess who was now threatening one of his slayers with a familiar looking blade, and spoke himself, "Cat, is that you?"

Buffy finally reached out to the body on the table and gently rolled the form over onto its back.

The still face of Xander Harris was thus exposed as he lay unmoving on the table.

Giles looked over his shoulder, and taking in the countenance now visible on the body on the table uttered a heartfelt "Good lord!"

Cat just looked at Xander laying on the table, and felt his own efforts at remaining still and not melting down into uncontrollable laughter as the situation played out and the other two realized just who the 'Demon' was that Faith found.

Buffy reached out a hand and ran it sadly along Xander's cheek, but jerked it back when she felt his face move slightly at the unexpected contact.

Xander, giving up the charade opened his eyes and grinned sheepishly up at his friend.

Cat started giggling, and that was it for Faith, as she also lost it, bending over and dissolving into laughter for the second time that evening.

Xander sat up and slid off the table, then gathered the still shocked Buffy in a tight hug, whispering to her, "I really missed you guys. Even just in the last few days."

Giles was at a loss for words, as he looked from the giggling Goddess, to his laughing Slayer, to the obviously not dead Xander who was hugging his other Slayer as if he hadn't seen her in years, which wasn't the case, as they had all been together a few weeks before for the wedding.

Xander had been worried about pulling this trick on the others, but now he knew that finally all was right with the world. Then Buffy smacked him in the back of the head. HARD.

"That's for scaring me like that." She said sternly. "What was the idea?"

Xander shrugged, "Other than Faith's actually attacking me on sight when I got here, which gave me the idea, and wanting to get back at you guys for not letting us know you were there for our wedding until afterwards."

"Hey! So not our fault!" Buffy broke in, "The Snyder Demon, Maahes, wouldn't let us talk to you. It was one of his conditions for bringing us in the first place. Said he wanted it to be a surprise."

Xander shrugged and smiled at her sheepishly, "Well it was, but my only regret during the ceremony was that the people who meant the most to me in my life weren't there to be a part of it. If I'd have just known you guys WERE there, I could have worried about something less important!"

Buffy nodded, understanding the logic only Xander could produce.

Giles's guest took that moment to interrupt, "Mr. Giles, perhaps you could introduce me to my Slayer, if you wouldn't mind?"

Giles, who was looking between Cat and Xander, trying to reconcile what apparently had only been some sort of childish prank with the impending disaster he'd felt coming a few moments before finally turned to the woman and nodded, embarrassed by his gaffe. "Of course, Ms. Post."

"Faith, I'd like to introduce you to Mrs. Gwendolyn Post, your new Watcher." Giles said after first clearing his throat.

Faith looked at Mrs. Post then back at Giles, then shot a glance at Cat and at Xander before looking back at Mrs. Post. "I don't need a new Watcher."

"Be that as it may, the Council is aware of your last Watcher's, er, demise, and I wish you had been more forthcoming with us about that, but in any case, Mrs. Post here is to be Ms. Pryce's replacement."

Faith looked at Giles, then back at the new woman and shook her head, "Nope. Not gonna happen. I have a problem with authority figures, they tend to get dead."

Mrs. Post's expression darkened and she spoke again, "Well fortunately its not up to you. I am your new Watcher, and that's all there is to it."

Cat, who had been silent up until now spoke up for the first time. Her voice was soft, yet firm as she said, "Wrong."

Giles looked up abruptly, and he said, "Beg pardon?"

Xander, who had extracted himself from Buffy was making his way towards his wife spoke next, "She's lying."

Giles looked at him in confusion. "Who's lying?"

"This Mrs. Post." Cat answered.

Mrs. Post had had enough at this point, "And who, exactly are you to challenge my authority? One of the council's concerns is that there are far too many people involved here with the Slayers. They are very disappointed with Mr. Giles in that regard, you should know."

Cat nodded, "That is one of the first true things I've heard you say." She glanced as Giles and shook hear head, "But she's lying about being Faith's Watcher."

"Look, Miss, I appreciate your trying to support your little friend here, but your opinion as to my veracity is meaningless. I am a member of the Council, and was sent here to be Mrs. Lehane's new watcher, and that's all there is to it, whether you chose to believe me or not." Mrs. Post tried again.

Xander, standing behind her made a game show buzzer sound, "Barhuhaaa" then shook his head. "Try again. Mrs. Post. But I gotta warn you, that was your second strike. One more and just like in Baseball, you're outa here."

Mrs. Post whirled on him, her eyes flashing in anger, "Now see here! I don't know about Mr. Giles, but I will NOT put up with your childish and immature behavior on my watch!"

Xander shrugged, "That may be, but as far as I can tell, you have no watch, other than the one on your wrist. Now, would you like to tell us what you are doing here on your own, or will we need to help you?"

Giles, not understanding what Xander and Cat were talking about, and halfway thinking they may be joking around again interjected, "Alexander, I assure you I personally checked Mrs. Post's credentials, and they are indeed authentic. Furthermore, the Post family has been involved with the Council for several generations, and I have met with Mrs. Post herself here on more than one occasion. I know for a fact that she is a fully qualified field watcher."

Xander shrugged. "Even so G-Man, she's still lying about being Faith's Watcher. And about being a member of the Council. Granted, I might not've noticed if Cat hadn't pointed it out, but now that I'm paying attention I can see her lies as easily as I can see the tweed of your jacket."

Giles involuntarily glanced down at his jacket for a moment, before returning his gaze to Xander. "I've looked at her paperwork, Xander. I am competent to read documents you know, and everything is in perfect order. There is no question that she's who she says she is."

Xander met Mrs. Post with a hard gaze, "Did you call England?"

Giles glanced towards the phone, a thread of doubt actually entering his mind, as he decided that it wouldn't hurt to place a quick call to headquarters, at least to let them know that Mrs. Post had arrived safely.

Mrs. Post flinched slightly at that, her skin starting to go pale, before flushing with a surge of indignant anger, "I do not have to stand for this!" she declared coldly before turning to the door, "Mr. Giles, trust me that I will be filing a detailed report on this entire episode. It is obvious the concerns regarding civilian interference in matters dealing with the Slayers were not only well grounded, but were underestimated in their effect."

Xander shook his head, "Third strike." He said, moving to block the woman from leaving the library.

"I say, what do you think you're doing?" Mrs. Post demanded.

Xander frowned, "I asked you to come clean on your own. You refused. Now, Sit down." Xander gestured at one of the chairs around the table he had previously been lying on.

Moving like an automaton, Mrs. Post made her way stiffly to the chair and seated herself.

Giles looked over in concern as the other Scoobies simply watched in stunned silence. They remembered Xander's ability to hypnotize people from before, but this display of power was far beyond the simple Jedi Mind tricks they'd seen from him in the past.



Cat moved over to stand between her husband and Faith, reaching out and silently placing a hand on Faith's shoulder and squeezing it in a show of support which meant more to the Slayer than she would have expected.

Xander hept his gaze fixed on the woman seated unmoving in the chair before him as he asked, "Who are you?"

The woman opened her mouth, then closed it, then opened it again, and replied, "Gwendolyn Post."

Xander nodded, "What is your affiliation with the Watchers?"

Mrs. Post once more opened her mouth as if to answer but simply froze, as though unable to speak for some reason. After a few tries she finally answered, "I was a field Watcher, training a Potential, but after a review where they determined I had been abusing Dark Magics, I was summarily dismissed."

Giles, who had been moving forward to try and intervene in the apparent interrogation of a fellow Watcher suddenly stopped and took a step back as he murmured a "Good Lord!"

Faith shook her head as Buffy narrowed her gaze on the woman.

Cat was the next to speak. "What is your interest in Faith?"

Mrs. Post didn't hesitate this time. She immediately answered, "She's vulnerable, and in the chaos caused by the disappearance of Mrs. Price and her sudden unexpected appearance here with Mrs. Summers, whom Quinton had been most insistent she never even meet, I saw an opportunity to take control of her."

Faith started forward, but Cat's hand which was still on her shoulder softly tightened its grip, firmly restraining the first violent impulse of the young Slayer.

"What did you want with her?" Xander asked.

Mrs. Post opened her mouth and paused for a few moments, once more almost fighting before answering, "To get me the glove."

"What glove?" Xander asked.

"The Glove of Myneghon. I heard a demon named Lagos was coming to the Hellmouth to obtain the Glove from some tomb somewhere here in Sunnydale. I want it for myself. With it, I can stop worrying about the sanctimonious bastards from the Council and do as I please." Mrs. Post answered, this time without pause.

"And Faith? What about her?" Cat asked, "What were your plans for Faith after you had obtained this glove?"

Mrs. Post answered immediately, "A Slayer would be a useful asset. I planned to take her with me when I left. She would be easy to manipulate and manage, and once away from here the Council would have no opportunity to regain control of her."

Faith surged forward again, but was once more restrained by Cat's hand. Buffy's expression darkened, but it was Giles who actually responded, "Bitch!" he muttered, his old Ripper persona briefly surfacing as he moved forward towards the calmly seated woman. Xander looked up and met his eyes, and he stopped, wondering why for a moment.

Finally Xander spoke, "What should we do about this, G-Man? Is there some sort of Watcher Jail that we can send her to?"

Giles shook his head, "The Watchers are more of a training, research and oversight organization, we don't maintain prisons."

Cat however had a speculative look in her eye. She looked over at Faith, who was still seething, the hurt from the intended betrayal outlined by the woman's intentions plainly visible on her face. "Actually, Mr. Giles, I think you had the right idea." Cat said.

Everyone, other than Mrs. Post turned to her and she shrugged, "You called her a bitch. I'm thinking miniature poodle. That should keep her out of the way. And even if she should somehow regain human form again, it should provide plenty of warning to keep away from Faith and the rest of us."

With that, Cat stared at Mrs. Post, and concentrated. There was a brief shimmer in the air, and where the woman had been seated on the chair, now a ridiculous miniature pink poodle with a ribbon on its head was there instead. The dog looked around, as though suddenly wakening then fell over on its side when it tried to move. It looked at itself, then at the people gathered around it, and it whined as it stood wobbling on all four legs looking up at them from its vantage point on the seat of the chair.

Xander looked down at the dog and frowned, "Mrs. Post, I warned you to cooperate. You have been found guilty of inhumane actions and intentions, and have been sentenced to the loss of your humanity. Be grateful it wasn't the loss of your life. You will leave this place and never return. You will never attempt to contact anyone involved with either this group or the Watchers again, nor will you seek any sort of vengeance. Failure to follow these instructions will have consequences more grave than anything you can imagine. You asked who my wife is. I will tell you, she is the daughter of the Egyptian Goddess Bast, who is well known for her tendency to ruthlessly vanquish any foes who threatened those under her protection. Her older brother, Maahes, the Leonine Lord of Slaughter is also well known for his violent protectiveness. What is less known is that both her Mother and her Brother are the more lenient ones when compared to Cat. There aren't any stories about those she's dealt with, because there usually aren't any survivors to tell stories. I have seen her destroy an entire world as easily as breathing. I have seen her with a careless burst of anger melt an area sixty miles across to bubbling glass, just to destroy the enemies it held. Whether you believe me or not I don't care. But the fact is that Faith is under her protection, as well as my own. And no harm will come to her, either by intent or neglect. Bear that in mind for the rest of your existence, and bear in mind the fact that this sentence she has passed on you was nothing more than a warning. Don't make her reconsider her actions. Trust me, you wouldn't like the consequences." Xander stepped aside and pointed towards the still open doors of the library before ordering, "Now, get out."

The poodle which had once been Mrs. Post whined and leaped clumsily from the chair, skidded along the floor of the library, bounced off a leg of the table, and fled out the door as fast as it could.

Buffy and Giles were staring in shock at the whole thing, but Faith was the most stunned. Not only because what she'd just seen Cat do, but also because of what Xander had just said. She'd only met them a short time ago, but somehow in that time they had come to mean more to her than she could have ever imagined. And they cared about her. No one ever gave a fuck about her before, other than Linda. But somehow she knew that for whatever reason these two newcomers actually did care. About her.

Buffy looked at the open door of the library and was the first to speak, "Um, will she be ok?"

As everyone focused their attention on her she squirmed and tried to explain. "I mean, you guys just turned her into a dog. What'll happen to her?"

Xander shrugged, "If she's smart, she'll leave town. Perhaps head somewhere else and find a nice family to adopt her. If not, then some dog catcher will find her and she'll end up in the pound. Or, some car might hit her, or something eat her. I don't really care whichever way. At least this way she's got a chance. The only other option would have been to kill her. Anything else would have been unacceptably dangerous."

Buffy looked back at Xander and wondered if she still knew him. The Xander she knew wouldn't have been so casual about literally turning someone into a dog and then tossing them out on their own. Not that that woman didn't deserve it, but still, it wasn't something she would have expected from her best male friend.

Giles on the other hand was simply amazed by the casual display of power from Cat, coupled with the information he'd so casually dropped during his warning, about Cat's effortlessly destroying a whole world, or blasting an area larger than most cities into melted glass. It worried him what else she may be able to do.

Then Cat looked back at the spot where she'd first appeared and frowned. "Xander, do you feel that?" she asked.

Xander looked where she was looking and nodded, "Yeah, I wasn't so sensitive to it before, but it's familiar. It's just the Hellmouth."

Cat shook her head, "It's just an improperly closed portal. Why would someone leave it open like that?" She closed her eyes a moment, and everyone present felt something fundamental shift in the environment around them, almost like when your ears pop and suddenly everything is so much louder and clearer then what had previously seemed to be perfectly normal before. A weight of something was lifted and everything was sharper and cleaner. "There. That's better." She said with a grin.

Xander just stared at her in horror, "Cat, what have you done?" he asked.

=+=

Mayor Richard Wilkens, the First, Second, and Third, sat in his office going over some final paperwork for the evening, when he felt the change.

At this distance it was more subtle than it had been for those in the library, but the sudden loss of pressure, the dissipation of ambient magical energy, and the disappearance of the demonic beacon which made Sunnydale so unique was unmistakable. "Oh dear.", he said as he reached for the phone, "This won't do, this won't do at all."

He swiftly dialed Principal Snyder's home number, he needed to know what had happened to the Hellmouth, and how to fix it immediately. Without the ambient magical energy provided by the dormant dimensional gateway his Ascension wouldn't work as planned, and having already selected the demon he was to Ascend into, it wasn’t a question of simply increasing the number of sacrifices, although if he were to say, somehow sacrifice all the souls in Los Angeles or something, he might still be able to pull the transformation off. But it was too long a shot, especially at this late a stage in the process. No, his Ascension depended on the Hellmouth, so he'd just have to find a way to fix it, even if he did have to somehow kill the whole state to do so.

=+=

Cat looked at the horrified expression on her husband's face, and felt the surge of panic radiating from the echo of him inside her mind, and realized that perhaps closing that annoying portal properly might not have been a good idea. "I closed the portal. It was bothering me. Was that a bad thing?"

Xander shook his head, even as Buffy and Giles started to smile at the idea of the Hellmouth actually being dealt with on a permanent basis. "Yes! Don't you remember what The Creator told us?"

Giles dropped his glasses. "The Creator?" he asked.

Cat looked confused, "He said we couldn't interfere in people's accomplishing their destinies, that while we could help we couldn't do things for them which they may be able to do themselves, and we shouldn't affect the balance of power."

"Well, I think that sealing the Hellmouth might count as a shift in the balance of power. I sure hope I'm wrong, but I'm really worried about just how much trouble me may be in with the guys upstairs." Xander replied.

Giles spoke up, "I don't know about this balance of power, but if the Hellmouth is genuinely sealed, then a major danger to this world has been eliminated. How could that be anything other than a good thing?"

A new voice spoke sternly from the doorway, deep and male, and full of restrained fury, "Because the dimensional plane upon which Hell exists and the one for this series of realities intersect at an angle. And the native energy state of Hell is significantly higher than that of this reality, which means that breaches between the two will inevitably occur. The controlled breach of the closed Hellmouth acted as a safety valve, allowing the energy differential to balance. Additionally, the presence of an existing portal connecting this reality to Hell precluded any of the lesser demons from opening a portal of there own, the lowest path of resistance naturally being the pre-existing path. And since the opening on this end was crimped closed, the only way out from the other end was through the sideband portal, which lead to another Hell Dimension, one with an even lower energy state than Earth, and the actual destination of most of the energy channeled by the Hellmouth. Now there is nothing to preclude a lower level demon in Hell from opening a portal to this area, not only that but the building pressure will cause one of the other Hellmouths to become active in order to vent it and prevent an apocalyptic dimensional breach which would allow all of Hell free access to this Earth."

Xander turned to look behind him and recognized the warrior face of Janus. "Alexander, did you do this?" his Patron asked, turning it's stern gaze fully on him.

Xander actually flinched under the look and replied, "Not personally, no."

Janus then turned his head around, revealing the fatherly face he'd displayed at the wedding, and settled it on his daughter. "Cat, I though you would have known better?"

Cat nodded, "It was icky, I just thought I was cleaning up something someone left by mistake."

Janus shook his head, "No. I was the one who created the Hellmouths in the first place. And I did so in order to protect this series of realities from full scale demonic incursion."

Buffy broke in, "Yeah, like leaving a doorway anyone could open up to Hell is such a good idea to forestall the Apocalypse."

Janus shook his head, "Anyone on THIS SIDE. The main danger are the full Demons in Hell. If they were able to access this domain freely then it would be like the old times all over again, before they were cast out and the Hellmouths created to keep them out."

"Yeah, but there are plenty of demons on this side who would like nothing better than to open the Hellmouth and let all their buddies back in." Buffy defended.

Janus shook his head, "Ms. Summers, you have never seen a Demon. All you have seen are half-breeds and minor demonic entities. A True Demon would be so powerful that a Slayer wouldn't qualify as more than a minor snack on its way to dinner. They tend to be large, so much so that a large Dinosaur could be considered a full meal, for some of the smaller ones. And that is just their physical presence. Mystically they could make the greatest human magic users of history look like carnival sideshow hacks by comparison. Trust me, you don't want any of them around here. And if the minor so-called demons with which you deal understood just how far down the food chain they'd fall, they wouldn't want them around either. It is a simple misguided belief that somehow they'll be rewarded for their assistance that encourages them to try. The reality is that any creatures who are stupid enough to open the mouth from this side are generally eaten by Tiamat and the mouth closed before any significant invasions can occur."

"Tiamat, that's the hydra thing which showed up when the Master opened the Hellmouth?" Buffy asked.

Janus nodded, "Yes. Tiamat is the unofficial guardian of this Hellmouths other ends in Hell. She lives there and eats anything which approaches. And if for some reason the opening here becomes accessible, she eats anything here as well, which is usually the ones responsible for opening it in the first place. She also eats any creatures trying to pass through the sideband portals between Hell and the other Hell Dimensions."

Buffy asked, "What's the difference between Hell, and a Hell Dimension?"

Cat answered, "A Hell Dimension is one which is still freely accessible by Hellgods and full Demons. Hell is where they all came from in the first place, where we were, and where Lucifer holds full authority, a single reality where all the doomed souls from all the realities are consigned to face their punishments. There are many realities, several of them Hell Dimensions, but there is only one Hell, and only one Heaven."

Janus nodded, "Precisely. Which is why you should have realized that a standing portal to Hell was there for a reason. Now, since you were the one which removed it, I want you to put it back, before something bad can happen. Already the Hellmouth in Cleveland is becoming active. With nothing and no one in place to guard against an increase in demonic activity, the results there could be catastrophic for those who live in that city."

Buffy's eyes widened as she realized perhaps the Hellmouth here wasn't as bad a thing as she'd first thought.

Cat closed her eyes and concentrated, a glowing portal opening in the air before her and the head of a Hydra shooting through it to snap at her.

Xander moved in less than an eye blink, Kusanagi flashing into his hand from Cat's as he appeared before his wife and sliced the blade through the neck of the head reaching for Cat.

The head fell to the floor of the library and started to melt, while the severed neck pulled back into the opening, only to be replaced by another.

Janus shook his head and said, "It needs to be aligned with the floor, Cat. And you need to crimp this end closed, like the old one was. Also, it needs to be a lot bigger. Try again."

The portal vanished and Cat opened her eyes and frowned at her father. Giles spoke up, "Is it really necessary to open the portal? We've been trying to avoid that event you know."

Janus nodded, "Yes. In order to create a stable portal it must be fully opened, so the energy flows between the differing states on the various ends can be tapped to power it."

"But what if something gets through?" Buffy asked.

Janus shrugged, "We kill it."

Cat closed her eyes again, and this time the entire floor of the library started to glow. And a portal started to spin open from the compass in the center of the room. People stepped back as the glowing vortex continued to expand, a chair, and then an entire table falling into the maw of the expanding disk.

Once more the hydra started poking heads into the room, this time looking around before moving to attack. Upon spotting Janus standing by the door, all the heads whipped around to face him and hiss menacingly, before withdrawing once more into the glowing disk, which had finally stopped growing.


"Good", Janus said, looking at what Cat was doing. "Now use the energy flow to anchor the portal. Feel how much more force there is coming from Hell than there is on either this or the other ends? Now use that force to hold the portal open. Anchor the far end of the sideband, then crimp this end closed so nothing can fit through.

Xander felt Cat drawing far more force than he ever had before, he noticeably felt the energy she was directing as she attempted to anchor all three ends of the portal, and support them with the flow of energy through them, instead of from her own will. He closed his own eyes and reached into the echo of Cat in his mind, joining with her to help.

To everyone in the library, Xander suddenly vanished in a flash of light, Cat's form flashing as well briefly, then they felt a pop of pressure as something indefinable changed.

Janus smiled and nodded, "That's it. Now crimp down this end so nothing can come through. Don't quite close it, just like it was before."

The gaping maw of the Hellmouth slowly dwindled, the vortex of energy shrinking until finally it vanished. But that previously unnoticed omnipresent overpressure of indefinable energy was back. The Hellmouth was restored.

Cat opened her eyes and looked around, a faint frown on her lips. "Is that right?" she asked her father.

As Janus nodded, Cat's form flashed and Xander reappeared, standing beside her once more.

"I say, what just happened?" Giles asked, picking his glasses up from the floor and starting to clean them.

Janus looked at him then turning his head around and looking at the young couple with a proud motherly face replied, "My daughter just did something only I have ever been able to do before. She created a Hellmouth."

"But what happened to Xander? Why'd he disappear?" Faith asked, speaking up for the first time.

Cat looked over at Xander, who looked back at Cat before answering, "She needed my help. That was, hard. I almost didn't think we could do it."

Buffy asked, "We?"

Janus nodded, turning his warrior's face towards Buffy as he explained, "You recall the prophecy? How the Undestined Godling would consume my daughter and keep her for all eternity? Well, Xander was that Godling, or rather, they are now the Undestined God. In some ways, Xander and Cat are the same being. One of the more powerful deities around, in fact. Separately each of their aspects are powerful, but together they are almost the equal of some of the Elder Gods. When Cat created the Hellmouth, the power required everything they both had, so they merged to do it. I had hoped they could manage, but hadn't been sure."

"So this was a test?" Faith asked.

Janus shrugged, "Not exactly. I knew Cat could create the Hellmouth, even if the combined power of the Undestined God wasn't enough, since Xander is still my Champion, he can draw on my power if need be, and since Cat is a part of him, as he is of her, she could also draw on it if she needed to. But I wanted to know if they had enough power to do so without drawing on mine. And they did."

Giles suddenly asked, "Alexander is a God?"

At Janus's nod he fell back into his chair with a murmured "good lord.", an ashen expression on his face as the events of the previous few minutes finally caught up with him.

"What do you mean Xander is a God? I mean, I understood he was like all super vampire like and stuff, and I understood that he was marrying Cat, and she's supposed to be this Egyptian Goddess, but how does that make Xander a God?" Buffy asked.

Janus turned a wizened old man's face towards the slayer and explained, "Even before he joined with my daughter, Alexander had quite a bit more power than just some sort of super vampire. He had started with quite a bit, more than even I had realized when I chose him as my champion, and he increased that several fold while stuck in Hell for all those years. Every time he drained a demon, he not only absorbed their taint, which weakened him, but their power, which strengthened him at the same time. In many ways, he was as powerful as Cat, although his strengths and gifts differed from hers significantly. When they joined, those strengths were added together, accessible by both of them equally. Making them both more than they were before. And Cat was a powerful Goddess by herself before she was joined to Alexander. So how can Alexander now be anything less?"

Three sets of eyes fixed on Xander as Buffy, Faith, and Giles looked at him for some sign of Godliness. But he still looked more or less Xander-like, although now that they paid attention to him, they all noticed that the palm trees on his Hawaiian Shirt were waving softly in a breeze while slow breakers rolled up on the sunset lighted beach. It was a subtle effect, one you may not even notice unless you stared at the overly-colorful shirt, something the mortal eye distained to do.

Faith smirked at him and asked, "So how's it working, being a God and all? Any cool bennies?"

Xander shrugged, uncomfortable under their stares, but replied, "I guess it's easier to replace broken things." With that he waved at the vacant floor of the library and a new table and several matching chairs appeared to replace the ones which fell into the Hellmouth. "But other than that, there's not that much to it."

Buffy goggled at the newly created furniture, while Faith just grinned and sat on one of the chairs, looking at her two new friends.

Janus turned to Xander with his stern warrior's face, and spoke again, "The Creator and I have spoken about you, and your place here. He wishes me to remind you not to cripple your friends with dependency on you, to let them make their own way, and to moderate your effects. We also spoke about your position as my Champion. After serious consideration on both our parts, and a through examination of the Compact, all noted violations, and the results thereof. In no way does it specify or infer that a Champion can't be a god or goddess, and in the past several powerful mortal and non-mortal beings have been selected as champions, both by single deities, or more often, by power groups, such as the Powers that Be, or specific pantheons. None have been anywhere close to your current levels of power though, and none had even been chosen by an Elder God and allowed to draw upon their patron for power. But seeing as your selection as my Champion has been in effect for a considerable amount of time, and while your power level and recognizable status has evolved, your fundamental nature is still as it was before I even selected you, we can see no reason why you have to resign your position. It is expected that there will be complaints, especially from the Powers that Be, once they realize what the situation is, but that said, it has already been decided that you will be allowed to remain as my chosen Champion and representative, able to act on my behalf and as my Avatar as required, until such a time as you wish to resign the position, or I fund a more worthy candidate. And I really don't expect that to happen."

Giles rose from his seat and addressed Janus, asking, "Janus, is it really wise, taunting the Powers that Be, after all they are the Protectors of Humanity."

Janus's twisted around, fixing Giles with the face of an angry young man as he sneered, "Protectors of Humanity? More like Puppeteers of Humanity. They lead their champions around carelessly at best, guiding them with bare hints and clues, as though everything was some stupid adventure game, setting up various scenarios and complex plots, then whining when something crops up that they didn't expect. Such as when Alexander rescued Elizabeth here. Had things gone to plan, Liam would have hidden in his apartment, mourning the soon to be death of his crush, while Giles similarly mourned his Slayer's predetermined end at the hands of the Master. Once the Master had escaped his cave, he was to have come here, killed the Watcher and several students, then been eaten by Tiamat upon opening the Hellmouth. Liam would then have gone to Los Angeles in a mire of despair, all the contacts he'd forged with Humanity destroyed, and he would have begun pursuit of the Shanshu prophecy. Instead, Alexander forced the cowardly vampire to lead him into the tunnels, revived Elisabeth, who is now a free agent, no longer the Chosen One of the Slayer Line, that title having been passed to Kendra upon her death. And after that their plans fell apart like the half baked concepts they really were, Liam slept with Elizabeth, lost his soul, killed several people, failed to save others from perils the Powers nudged them into since he wasn't in Los Angeles, or even in this reality for a long time. They sent their new Slayer, Kendra after Alexander, and she was lost to darkness, becoming the new Great Evil her watcher had foretold rising. When she was finally dispatched, Faith here was called, and they still haven't learned, since they tried to send her after Alexander as well. No, the Powers are not the Protectors of Humanity."

"But the Watcher's Council has it on good authority that." Giles started.

Janus turned his head, presenting the warrior face and cut him off, "The Watcher's Council? The bunch of stuck up old money English prats who send children to their deaths against Vampires because it is their so called Destiny then if they live long enough murder them with their so called Cruciamentum ritual on their eighteenth birthday? Be very glad I don't see you as one of their number, Mr. Giles. Be very glad indeed."

"What's a Cruciamentum?" Buffy asked, concerned as her eighteenth birthday was only a month or so away.

"It's nothing." Giles tried to reply, but the Janus turned his Fatherly face towards Buffy and responded, "When a Slayer turns eighteen, the council drugs her to suppress her strength, speed, and reflexes, making her slower and weaker than most humans, then they lock her unarmed in a room with a powerful master vampire and let him kill her. Oh, on the odd chance she somehow survives, she is declared to have passed her Cruciamentum and is supposed to be allowed to chose her own actions in regards to Slaying from that point on. But of the few children to live that long in the first place, almost none of them pass that barbaric test. And since most of those who do immediately turn against the Council, going 'Rogue' as they put it, they are generally hunted down and killed by a Council assassination squad."

Buffy turned her eyes on Giles and demanded, "You wouldn't let them do that to me, would you?"

Giles flushed red, as he had been worrying over just this issue for several nights of list sleep of late, and had yet to make up his mind fully on how to balance the responsibility he felt both to Buffy, as well as to the Council and Tradition. "Of course not!" Realizing from something Janus had said he continued with genuine relief flooding through his system, "Why would I, as Janus has said, you're not really The Slayer, so why should you have to face the Cruciamentum?"

Faith however looked at him stricken, "What about me, Jeeves?"

Giles blush redoubled, as he hadn't even considered the Cruciamentum in regards to Faith, but he responded honestly, "It won't even be an issue for several years. But honestly, I can't say as I haven't pondered the moral quandary as much as I had in regards to Buffy."

Faith physically flinched at that, but Buffy jumped in, whining, "You mean you considered it? You actually thought about drugging me and throwing me to my death in a cage with a master vampire?"

Giles sighed and replied, "In my nightmares, yes. I saw myself doing just that, over and over. And when I wasn't sleeping, I was trying to think of a way to avoid doing so. It's not like I can just refuse, Travers would just send a team to insure it was done anyhow, and likely to remove me from the equation permanently."

Janus nodded, "That is likely true." he told the Slayer, "Quentin has been somewhat, dissatisfied, with Rupert's performance for some time, particularly once he learned of the involvement of your friends. He had hoped you would not last long, and had actually celebrated when he learned Kendra had been Called. He drank a prime bottle of Champaign in celebration of once more having a 'properly trained' Slayer. When later he learned you still lived he was almost crushed, but he decided that two Slayers, even if one was a mongrel bitch, as he put it, was better than just the one. When Kendra went bad, he was desolate, refusing to believe the reports. Then when Faith was later called, he actually asked what Gods he had angered to be so abused, that he now had not one, but two mongrels to deal with. I was sorely tempted to answer him."

Faith had grown as angry as Buffy as Janus spoke about the Head Watcher. While she wasn't B's best friend, to hear that some asshole had actually celebrated her death. Then to learn that the bastard thought of her as just as bad. If that Travers guy was here right now, she'd hurt him bad. Really bad.

Giles interjected, "Surely Mr. Travers wouldn't be that prejudiced against Ms. Summers and Ms. Lehane!"

Janus turned back to glare at him with the stern visage of the older warrior, "Do you doubt my word, Mortal?"

Giles took a swallow and stepped back from the face of the angry God, "Uh, no sir."

Janus shifted his face back to a friendlier one and smiled, "Good. Well, I must take my leave."

He walked over to Cat and gathered her into his arms, "It's good to see you daughter. And better to be able to claim you as such after all these years." Kissing her on the cheek he stepped back, and turned to Xander, grabbing him into a tight hug as well, "And Alexander, I hope you continue to make me as proud as you have already. Never doubt that you are my Chosen Champion. And now my son, in all the ways that count."

Janus stepped back, and then simply vanished, leaving the room as though he had never even been there in the first place.

Xander looked over at Cat and smiled, reaching out and taking his wife's hand in his.

Just then the library doors slammed open, and Principal Snyder came barging in, looking disheveled.

=+=

Snyder looked around the library with his customary sneer on his face. As his eyes passed over Xander however, they widened and he took a step back, fumbling in his coat and withdrawing a largish cross. "Harris!" he cried in obvious fear. "Wha, what are you doing here?"

Xander moved from his position beside Cat towards the door and Snyder, his movements both slow and measured, "I just got back. Surprised to see me?" he asked.

Snyder lifted the cross and said, "Stay back! I, I know how to deal with you!"

Xander looked at the cross and almost laughed. "Uh, yeah, right. So, what brings you by this evening? I'd figured I'd have to come by in the morning to catch you."

Snyder backed against the wall, his cross held out ahead of himself, the fear on his face evident as he cried out, "Summers, do something! You can't just stand there and let it kill me!"

Xander stepped right up to Snyder, a smile on his face as hs asked, "And why would I do that? I don't want to kill you, I want you to schedule some placement exams for myself and my wife, so we can graduate with the rest of the senior class."

"Graduate? But, you're dead. That Jamaican bitch Kendra and her pedophilic associate Angelus killed you last year. Everyone knows that." Snyder whimpered.

"I didn't die, I just went to Hell. But now I'm back. And I want back in school, with the rest of my class. And you're going to help me with that. And that's why I don't want you dead." Xander said, reaching out and gently plucking the cross from Snyder's hand. "See, I'm not a Vampire." he said, then his eyes started to glow, and his fangs dropped, "I'm much, much worse. At least I am if you get me angry. You don't want to see me angry, do you?"

Snyder was shaking, his hands held up ineffectually in an attempt to ward off Xander as he whimpered, "Nnno. I don't want to see you angry, Aaalexander. I want you to be very happy. But I can't just readmit you to the school. I need documentation for where you were, and, tests. There'd have to be placement tests. You missed the last month of last year, and all of this year so far, you, you mmmight ha-have to be held back half a grade, or, or even a whole grade ta-to make up."

Xander frowned, "Documentation. For where I was. Yeah. I suppose. But I can't very well ask Lucifer for a note." Xander suddenly grinned and stifled a giggle, "Well, actually I suppose I could, and who knows, he may well give it to me, but I still don't think that would work. No, I need a cover story. Somewhere I could have been taken, somewhere that no one would question, as long as I had the documentation. Somewhere Cat could have come from as well."

Buffy spoke suddenly, "Russia."

Everyone looked over at her and she shrugged, "Cat. It could be short for Katrina. A Russian name. And Russia, it's like way far away, and while it's not all full of spies and stuff, it does have a Mafia. So what if you said they kidnapped you, held you hostage or something, and you met Cat, escaped, fell in love, got married, and came back here. It's almost all the truth, all but being in Russia instead of Hell. And its so weird that no one would think it was fake."

Snyder frowned, "I can't purport rate a hoax on the school board like that, Summers."

Xander reached out with his mind, and touched the quivering oily mass which was the Principal's brain, and started to twist. "But it's the truth. Cat and I were in, Russia. we'll bring the documents tomorrow. You will arrange placement tests and when we pass them you will enroll us in the senior class, so we can graduate along with my friends."

Snyder's face went blank, and to the amazement of Faith, Buffy, and Giles, Snyder repeated in a dull monotone, "You and Cat were in Russia. You will bring me documentation tomorrow and I will arrange placement tests then schedule you for classes with the senior class."

"Good. Now, why are you here?" Xander asked, while he still held Snyder's slimy mind firmly in his mental grip.

"The Mayor. He was worried about the Hellmouth. He said something had happened to it, and to find out what was going on. To see if the Slayers or the Watcher were involved." Snyder replied, still in a monotone.

"You will tell him there was a battle, that something tried to destroy the Hellmouth, but the Scoobies fought it and restored the Hellmouth. Now, why would the Mayor want to know about the Hellmouth?" Xander asked.

Snyder's face looked confused for a moment, then he replied, "He knows about everything in town. He always has, even when I was a kid. He just wants the best for Sunnydale and its citizens. I have to do anything I can to help the Mayor. He is the greatest person in the world. We all owe him. I owe him everything. I need to do whatever he asks, and not ask questions. I don't want to know what is really going on if I don't have to. I need to keep an eye on the Watcher and the Slayer, make sure they don't start worrying about anything important. Keep them busy with the demons, vampires, and school. After all, a good education is the cornerstone for a productive future." His voice actually lost its flat intonations as he said this, sounding almost like a dead on imitation of Mayor Wilkens by the last sentence.

"Mayor Wilkens wants to insure I have a good education?" Buffy asked. "Me specifically?"

Snyder just stood there like a statue, staring into Xander's eyes. "Did the Mayor give you specific orders about Buffy and Faith?"

Snyder replied, again in a dead-on impersonation of the Mayor's voice cheerfully replying. "That Summers girl is trouble. But she does do a good job of keeping the riffraff in line. Keep an eye on her. Don't let her slack off and let her grades slip. Education is important in building a future, after all." His voice changed, losing some of its cheerfulness, the pacing and pitch changing as though a different conversation was taking place as Snyder continued imitating the Mayor, "Try to get that new Slayer, Faith back into school. It's a shame that such a lovely young girl is already a dropout living in a den of hookers. Something must be done about it. Perhaps there's some way to get her on our side. Keep an eye out for any opportunities."

"Fuck that shit" Faith said, "I don't need school, it's not like I'm gonna live long enough for it to matter anyhow. Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse. That's me."

Cat speared her with a concerned gaze as she said that, then shook her head, mentally communing with her husband as she did so.

Xander refocused on Snyder, even as he conversed in his head with Cat about the young Slayer. "Ok, you will go back to your office and report to the Mayor that the situation here has been taken care of by the Slayers again. Also let him know you heard us talking about how Cat and I just returned from Russia and will be returning to school tomorrow. Recommend that it'll allow you to keep a better eye on us if the school board agrees to readmitting us. It is your own idea and you are all for it. You will forget you ever entered the Library and spoke to us tonight."

Once more in a flat monotone, Snyder replied, "I will return to my office and call the Mayor. I will tell him the situation has been taken care of by the Slayers, and that you and a girl named Cat have just returned from Russia and will be coming by the school tomorrow. I will recommend we readmit you and ask the Mayor to mention the idea to the school board. I like the idea of having you here where I can keep a better eye on you. I will forget I ever spoke to you tonight."

Xander nodded, then stepped back from the unblinking Snyder, then he gestured at the door. "Now go." he ordered, slowly relaxing the grip on the man's mind.

With almost robotic movements, Snyder turned and made his way through the door, exiting into the hall and disappearing down it.

Turning back to the awestruck Buffy and Giles, Xander just blinked as Faith smirked at him, saying "Cool. Jedi mind trick. Can you teach me?"

Cat just laughed and said, "I don't think so, there's more to it than you would think."

Faith just frowned as Buffy said, "Wow. I've seen you do stuff like that before, but never so, extreme. Is that part of being a God or something?"

"Actually, I think he had that ability long before he met me. I've noticed that since Xander and I joined, that I've had much greater mental influence and perceptions. So much so that at first I didn't realize how much I had changed. But before the wedding even, he'd managed to brainwash a whole bunch of vampire enforcers. At one point, he held everyone in the club the wedding was at under his command. And that was before we were married. I think that's part of what Janus meant when he said Xander was as powerful in his own ways as I was before we were joined." Cat explained.

Xander nodded, "Yeah, it's the same Whammy as before, but I got lots better at it after decades of practice. Or perhaps as I grew more powerful. I dunno. I just do it."

Giles shook his head, "Well, I hope you refrain from doing it often. It's quite disconcerting to observe."

Xander shrugged, "I generally don't, actually. It feels kinda icky whenever I use it, especially tonight, Snyder's got a filthy mind, and not in the dirty thoughts kind of way, I mean his mind oozes nastiness. Like a demon almost, but still human."

"So no slaying the troll?" Buffy asked with a fake pout.

"No slaying the troll. He's not a troll, he's a human, unfortunately." Xander agreed.

Cat smirked, "I can fix that, if you want."

Xander shook his head, "That's ok, dear. We need him anyhow, so we can get in school."

Cat looked confused at that, "Why do you want to go back to school?"

Xander shrugged, "I always regretted that I never got to graduate and prove that troll and my parents wrong. And since the time I spent in Hell apparently hasn't passed here, that means I can still do that. Still show them they were wrong. Still graduate and hold up my diploma and say, 'See! I'm not a looser!' And if I'm going to do that, well, I want you at my side. I always want you at my side, wherever I am and whatever I'm doing, and I always will." With that he recrossed the room and kissed Cat soundly. "So, will you be my High School Sweetheart?"

"I don't know. Will you take me to the Prom?" Cat asked, with a coy smile.

"In a horse drawn carriage, like Cinderella going to the ball, milady." He replied, bowing before her and sweeping an arm out to the side dramatically.

Cat dissolved into laughter as the others smiled at Xander's antics, then regaining her control, she answered, "Then I'll go to school with you, my Husband." And she leaned up and kissed him.

=+=

Xander turned his gaze upon Faith, and asked her, "Faith, where are you staying? I know you said you'd spent the first night here in Sunnydale at the Motor Lodge, but where has the G-Man got you at now?"

Giles suddenly flushed red, while Faith just met his eyes and said, "Still there. I got a weekly rate, like the regulars."

Xander looked up in shock at the Watcher, then glanced over at Buffy, and after making eye contact with her, almost ordered her mentally to head for Giles's office. Returning his gaze on the Watcher, he said, "Giles, we need to talk. Your office. Now."

Buffy was already making her way inside, surprised at the mental command from her best male friend, and also at the quiet anger simmering behind it.

As Xander and Giles followed her in, Cat moved over to Faith, and grabbing one of the newly created chairs sat down and started talking to her quietly.

=+=

"What the fuck!" Xander shouted as he closed the door behind himself and casually using a tick from Cat's mind tossed a shield around the room which would prevent any intrusion, or any sounds from inside the room getting out.

Giles looked flummoxed, and Buffy confused at Xander's outburst.

"What's the problem, Xander?" Buffy asked.

Xander leveled a gaze which could have melted titanium on the watcher and he demanded coldly, "How the hell can you let a fifteen year old girl live in a fucking hooker hotel?"

Buffy squeeked, "Fifteen?" as Giles just stepped back from Xander's glare and sank into the chair behind his desk.

"I was unaware of the circumstances, I assure you." Giles responded after a moment.

Xander's gaze fell on Buffy, and he just waited.

"Fifteen? I thought she was our age, seventeen, maybe eighteen even. I mean, the way she dresses and stuff." Buffy whined.

"How old were you when you were Called?" he asked.

Buffy blinked. "Fifteen." She replied after a moment.

"And Kendra, how old was she?" Xander asked.

Buffy shrugged, "I don't know, I think about sixteen, like a year younger than us?"

Xander nodded, then turned to Giles. "And how old are most Slayers when they are called?"

Giles removed his glasses and started cleaning them. "I'd say on average, fifteen. No younger than fourteen as far as I know, and no older than sixteen, either."

"So it never occurred to either one of you to ask how old she was?" Xander asked, slowly calming himself down, Cat doing her best to soothe him in the background even as she talked to Faith about her experiences since coming to Sunnydale.

"Well, I must admit it never really crossed my mind to enquire. I mean. She'd informed us that she was just here for a visit, under the direction of her Watcher, and, well, much as it shames me to admit it, I never questioned her word on the matter."

Looking back to Buffy, she shrugged and said, "Yeah, like he said. I actually thought she was like, older than me. And I never asked her where she was staying. I just assumed." Buffy's voice trailed off.

Xander shook his head, deciding it wasn't deliberate neglect that had left Faith where she was. It was still criminal, but at least not deliberate. And Faith and the persona she portrayed was as much to blame as they were for falling for it. "Well, she's not staying there anymore. Cat and I are going to take her home with us to Toronto tonight. Tomorrow we'll see about a more permanent solution."

"Don't you think you should ask Cat before you invite a hot brunette to come spend the night with you, Xan?" Buffy asked, half teasing.

Xander shrugged, "It was Cat's idea, actually. She's working on getting Faith to agree to it right now, in fact."

Buffy blinked at that, then muttered, "Oh, yeah, I forgot, you two have like that link thing. Must be nice, always knowing what each other is thinking. I wish Angel and I had that."

Xander picked up on something from what she just said, and asked, "He's back?"

Buffy shot to her feet, her face going red. "Uh, no! I didn't say that. I mean had had that. Like before."

Xander released the field sealing the room, and moved over to open the door. "Do the others know, or only you?" he asked Buffy, as Giles just sat there looking confused.

Buffy shook her head, "Stop that! I thought you were my friend, Xander! I wouldn't go reading your mind if I had the opportunity. Don't go around reading mine!"

Xander smiled at her, "I'm not reading your mind, Buffy. But as Cat pointed out to Faith earlier this evening, it's a waste of everyone's time to try lying to us. It's almost like a big flashing sign lights up around you saying 'Partial Lie' or 'Total Lie' or 'Changing the Subject' or whatever. Nothing I do, its just there."

Buffy looked behind her at Giles, still sitting at his desk in his office as they approached Cat and Faith, and asked, "But I hadn't even said anything."

Cat looked up and smiled, "No, but when you mentioned him, that sign light up, and it said a lot. And Xander put two and two together."

Xander just shrugged, "Then when you tried to lie, that told me the rest." Turning to Faith, he said, "Faith, Please don't take this the wrong way, but there is no way I am letting you spend one more night in that douche bag motel. I will give you two choices, first, you stay with either Giles or Buffy tonight. Second, you come with Cat and I, and spend the night at our place. We'll work something out so you can have your own room, and there won't be any strings attached. But I'll blast that damn motel to the ground and drag you kicking and screaming to Child Protective Services before I'll let you go back to that bug infested piece of crap. Even living with my parents would have been better than that."

Faith stood up, her face flushing with anger, "Who the hell died and made you God?"

Cat giggled, and Buffy just stared at Xander once more in shock at his sudden shift in conversation, having expected to get a long 'Angel is evil' lecture from him, not have him start in on Faith about her hotel. How bad a place could it be?

"Well, I guess I did, at some point or another, if you want to get technical about it. But seriously, Faith, I know we just met you earlier this evening, but what we told that bitch earlier is true, Cat and I care about you, and I'd like to think of you as a friend. And there is no way in hell, and I speak from personal experience here when I say that, that I am letting one of my friends live in the Sunnydale Motor Lodge." Xander explained.

"And what, I don't get a say in my own life?" Faith asked, still steamed.

"Yes you get a say. You can say if you want to stay with Giles, or Buffy, or us, or CPS. What you DON'T get is to stay in a filthy bug infested room sandwiched between a pair of hookers, their johns, and their drug addicted boyfriends and or pimps. How you've managed not to kill at least one of the pimps so far for trying to add you to his herd I don't know, but I'm sure it'd happen sooner or later." Xander explained.

"What if I want to be added to the herd." Faith demanded.

"Then when you turn eighteen you move to Nevada and you sign up at the best bordello you can find, after checking the various pay scales and benefits packages they offer, like any other intelligent, independent self respecting woman who wants to sell herself would do. It's your life, and your choice. But that's not the issue at the moment. The issue right now is where you are sleeping tonight, not if you are going to become a prostitute should you so choose." Xander replied with a grin.

Cat looked up at her and spoke softly, "Faith, I know you want to keep your independence. But this isn't about independence, it's about quality of life. From what Xander remembers about the Motor Lodge, its not someplace I'd want people I don't like living in. How can we let someone we like stay there, especially when there's no reason for it. Like Xander said, if you want to come back with us for the night, we'll only ask that you not kill the neighbors. Then tomorrow we can try ad work something out. Ok?"

Faith looked back and forth between Xander and Cat, glancing occasionally over at Buffy, before suddenly slumping and sinking back down into the chair. "Ok. I'll crash at your pad for tonight."

Buffy smiled, surprised the other Slayer had agreed, and silently wondering if one of the other two had used some of their mojo on her to make her agree, before dismissing the idea.

"Cool." Xander said, as Cat reached over and gave the other girl a supportive hug.

Turning to Buffy he asked, "He's still got his soul?"

Buffy was momentarily confused by the question, then realized what he was asking, and silently nodded.

"Good. Try and keep it that way. And I'd recommend telling the others before they find out on their own. Best case it'll cause problems, worst someone may stake him before they know better." Xander said, gathering her in a one armed hug.

Releasing Buffy, Xander turned to Faith and Cat and asked, "Ok. Shall we head home?"

Cat nodded and Xander closed his eyes for a moment, a portal spinning into existence in the middle of the library before him.

"Woah, what's that?" Faith asked.

"Portal." Buffy replied, shocked at having seen Xander open it. She knew intellectually what he'd become, but she was still having a hard time relating it to her once missing friend.

"Uh, where's it go?" Faith asked, standing up to look at it carefully, noting how it seemed to vanish when seen edge on.

Buffy looked over at her friend and asked, "Torronto?"

Xander met her gaze and nodded with a lopsided grin.

Suddenly something Xander had said clicked, and she said, "Ooh!"

Faith turned to look at her in puzzlement.

"I know what Xander meant now about killing the neighbors. They're Vamps." Buffy explained.

Faith's eyes widened and she took a step back from the disk in response. "What?"

"No, it's Ok, I think. They're not like here. Like totally different vampires. They're, not evil?" Buffy tried to explain.

"A vamp's a vamp. Only good ones are dusty." Faith declared.

"I don't think they dust." Buffy said. "I mean, if you stake them. They don't go 'poof' like ours do. Like I said, they're totally different."

Faith was confused, "All vamps dust when you stake 'em. Well, other than Kakistos. I went to stake that bastard and my stake broke."

"No, they're like Xander. Like he was at first. Look, did you ever see a TV show called 'Forever Knight', about a vampire cop?" Buffy tried again while Xander and Cat just shared amused grins.

Faith smirked, "Yeah. That Gerard guy, the one who played the vampire Nick, he was kinda cute. I had a little crush on him back in the day, before I learned the truth about Vampires."

Buffy nodded, "I never watched the show, not before. But yeah. Nick's kinda cute. I met him and Nat after the wedding. See, the thing is, where Xander's apartment is, it's that show."

Now faith was totally lost. "What show?"

"Forever Knight. They live over the Raven." Buffy explained, rolling her eyes.

"You mean the club they used in the show?" Faith asked, "That's kinda cool."

Buffy shook her head, "No, the one ON the show. That old roman guy is their landlord. I think Xander and Cat work in the club too. And like I said, I met Nick and his girlfriend at Xander's wedding. Those are the vampires I'm talking about."

"The ones on TV?" Faith asked, not sure she understood. Looking at the smirking Xander and Cat she asked, "Is she joshing me, you guys live in a TV show?"

Xander shook his head, "Not exactly. It's not a TV show, not there. There it’s all real. Here, it's a TV show. But the TV show is about them, although they aren't exactly like the show, for example, since the wedding at least, Tracy knows Nick's a vampire. She never found that out on the show. But yeah, those are the neighbors you can't kill. No staking the Landlord, or any of the customers from the club. At least not unless they attack you, ok? If they make a move, then all bets are off. But try and keep a low profile."

Faith shrugged and said, "Ok, I guess."

Cat smiled and led the way, walking through the portal and vanishing into the shimmering surface. Faith gave Buffy a last glance, then followed the short blonde.

Xander smiled one last time at Buffy, reached out and gave her a tight hug, whispering "It's good to be back. Tell Wills I'll see her tomorrow, ok?"

Buffy nodded, squeezing him back with full Slayer Strength, feeling his ribs compress, but not break, then she let him go, and with a final wave, he stepped through the disk and vanished. A moment later the disk collapsed, leaving the room darker by its absence.

=+=

Elsewhere...

"Brother?" the ethereal female Oracle asked.

"Yes, Sister, what is it?" her brother replied, not really caring why she was interrupting him this time, just silently wishing she wouldn't. What he was working on, trying to plot a way to get Angel out of Sunnydale and back to Los Angeles so he could follow the Shanshu prophecy, and they could get their long-term plans back on track.

"I, I can't see anything in Sunnydale. Not for several hours. And I can't find the Slayer anywhere." His sister said, concerned.

"Don't be ridiculous" her brother admonished, setting his task of probing potential futures aside for a moment and turning his attention to the Hellmouth. Then, had he had a heart, it would have skipped a beat. She was right.

Starting several hours earlier, the area around the Hellmouth suddenly became, opaque was the only way to describe it. He couldn't look at its present. He couldn't look at its futures, and he couldn't look at its near past. This was unprecedented. Impossible even. Time was the domain of himself and his sister. They could see the past, the present, and the futures with ease. They could even roll the present back into the past with a bit of effort, to force a different path towards the futures. They were among the most powerful of the Powers that Be, and as such were amongst the leaders. Nothing could stand against their will, and yet, Sunnydale was opaque. Sunnydale, where the Slayer, the Pretender, and the Ensouled Vampire were all located, may as well not exist according to their powers. "Get me Skip or Whistler." He ordered.

=+=

LaCroix looked up as he felt the presence in the apartment upstairs.

It had been several weeks since Alexander and Cat had vanished on their honeymoon. He hadn't been overly worried at first, after all he understood there were ways they could have left the hotel room other than through the door, and he knew perfectly well that replacing clothes wouldn't be an issue for Cat. Since no mention of Alexander's sword being left behind was made, and there was no actual damage to the hotel room, LaCroix assumed they had merely left unobserved for some reason, and hadn't bothered to return.

But as the weeks rolled by, his concern grew. While he had only known the young couple for a few all too brief days, they had grown on him to an annoying degree. He actually found in retrospect that he looked upon young Alexander as he would a Childe, no, more than that, more like a flesh and blood child of his own. The actual Son he never had. The fact that he could see parts of himself at times in the young man's personality, and he knew the boy's mind held a copy of his own had caused him to open his heart to the child in a way he never had before, not even with Nichola.

And as for his bride, Cat, he had liked her from the start for some reason. And it had been truly interesting dealing with the details for the wedding, especially when her mother, Bast had become involved right at the end and changed everything.

He had finally made an effort to contact Bast, and she had come at his behest, after explaining his concerns she had departed for a bit, then returned to explain to him that the children were fine, they had simply ended up elsewhere, and time was not parallel there, so she couldn't say when they would return, but was certain tat sooner or later they would.

Once assured, he had stopped actually worrying about them. Nichola had agreed with the Las Vegas police to keep an eye open for them, as the legend of the Missing Honeymooners had already become well established in as Vegas. Apparently when the couple wouldn't respond to the repeated knocks on the door and calls on the phone as the Bell Service tried to deliver their luggage from the plane, they had finally had Security open the door. Inside the room they found an unmade bed, and two piles of clothes, one of which included all of Xander's identification. Security had checked the cameras from the hallway and had insisted that the couple had entered the room, and had never left. No camera, and they checked them all over the following days, showed even a glimpse of the couple after they had gone into their room early that morning. The inaugural Honeymoon couple had checked in, gone to their room, and vanished without a trace from a locked room, leaving even their clothes behind. It was certain to be a story retold several times over the coming years.

But now, based on the surge of power he had just felt from upstairs, it looked like they were back. He hoped.

LaCroix swiftly made his way out of the club and around to the inside stairs. He had to see for himself.

=+=

Faith felt a weird tingle throughout her body as she exited the portal following Cat.

She found herself in the living room of a small two bedroom apartment, the nearby bar and table both covered with literally piles of odd items. But the thing which immediately drew her attention was the head. There was an honest to goodness head in a glass box sitting on the breakfast bar, and while it wasn't making a sound, it was apparently shouting at them.

Following her gaze, Cat grinned, "Oh, don't mind him, he's just mad."

"Who, or what is it?" Faith asked, feeling a strong desire to stake whatever it was.

"That's Lucifer, better known as Satan or the Devil. He and Xander got into an argument, and he sort of lost his head, so we kept it." Cat explained.

Faith walked closer to the box and peered inside, meeting the eyes of the head which was now quietly looking back at her. "So, does that mean that the rest of him is running around without a head?" she asked.

Cat shook her head as Xander came through the portal and it closed behind him, leaving the room in darkness while Cat reached out and flipped a light switch. "No, he made a whole new body, so really this is just an extra head. He doesn't need it, and well, I thought it was kinda funny to keep it around."

Faith looked into the eyes of the Devil, meeting his gaze as she asked, "So, is he aware of what goes on here then?"

Xander answered, "Yeah. I mean, it is his head. Or one of them at least. From what I can tell, he knows whatever he knows wherever his head or heads may be. Cat made the box soundproof, but only one way. While we can't hear him, he can hear whatever we say, so you should keep in mind that anything you say will be head by the Devil. But that's always true, no matter where you are, if for whatever reason he may be paying attention to you. At least here you know for sure he's listening."

Faith suddenly whirled to twards the door of the apartment as a knock sounded from beyond it. "There's something out there." She cautioned.

Xander nodded, and walked over to the door and opened it, reviealing the smiling face of Lucien LaCroix.

"Woah" Faith muttered mostly to herself, "He looks just like the old guy from that TV show."

"Alexander, my dear Cat,." LaCroix greeted as he stepped across the threshold into the room, closing the door behind himself. "welcome back."

Moving his gaze to rest on Faith, he asked, "And who, if I may inquire, is this lovely young lady?"

"Lucien LaCroix, may I introduce to Faith Lehane, Vampire Slayer." Xander said with a flourish inspired by LaCroix's manners.

LaCroix didn't even blink an eye as he bowed slightly before her and said, "Charmed, I'm sure."

Returning his gaze to Xander he asked, "I trust your Honeymoon went well?"

Xander grinned sheepishly as he responded, "Well, uh, about that."

"The Las Vegas police are quite concerned, you know. It seems a pair of honeymooners vanished from a locked suite on their wedding night, leaving only their clothes behind. They have been searching for any clues as to what may have happened to them, but are quite baffled by the circumstances of the, disappearance. They have yet to rule out foul play."

"Yeah, well, I uh, sorta-turned-into-a-cat." Xander babbled.

LaCroix blinked at that, then turned to Cat and enquired, "A Cat? I thought that was your peculiarity?"

Cat grinned, "It was. But it seems that we're not just soul mates anymore, we somehow merged and now we're literally the same being, on some levels."

"And this caused Alexander to become a cat?" LaCroix asked, amused.

Xander shrugged, "Yeah. I became a cat. Opened a portal. Showed up on the other side in my underware. Had to fight evil, meet the Creator, fight more evil, and find my way home. Now, we're back, with a guest for the night. By the way, how long has it been here, for us it's been about four days, but for the folks in Sunnydale it'd been more like a month,"

LaCroix smiled at the obviously avoided story as he replied, "It has been about three weeks here. I've been hoping you would return and resume your shift at work. Wile the recent surge of clients looking for you has faded, there are still several inquiries each night about when you, and surprisingly your charming wife will return to work."

Xander glanced over at the clock in the kitchen, and noting that it was just seven in the evening, replied, I suppose I could work tonight. Let me get Faith settled, then get changed and I'll be down in a bit."

"Very good. I will see you shortly then. I shall inform Miklos of your return.", glancing back at the other two ha offered a slight bow, "Ladies." he said, then headed out the door.

"Wow." Faith said. "He looked just like the guy from TV. Sounded like him too. You guys weren't kidding, were you?"

Cat just grinned, and said, "Come on, let me show you your room, then if you want we'll get you something to wear in case you want to come downstairs while Xander and I are working."

Faith stopped and looked over at her, confused, "I could do that? I thought it was a night club, would they let me in?"

Cat shrugged, "I could give you an ID. As long as you don't go around trying to kill the clients, I doubt if Lucien would mind."

"Wicked." Faith said as she followed Cat into the second bedroom.

Xander on the other hand made his way into his and Cat's room, where he opened the huge closet like piece of furniture Cat had made for him, and looked over the selection of clothes inside, trying to decide what would be appropriate for the evening. It was only as he was reaching towards a solid navy blue silk shirt that he realized he was being silly, and closing his eyes, simply replaced his clothes with the ones he had selected. He shook his head at himself as he looked over all the items in the cupboards he really didn't need anymore. This was going to take more than a little getting used to, he decided.

=+=

Faith was kicking it in the leather outfit Cat had made for her.

She had taken over a booth near the center of the room, where she could easily watch both Xander at the bar, and Cat as she made her way amongst the tables, taking orders and serving drinks to the clientele. What really amazed her was that she could feel all the vampires in the club, not just like she sensed the Vamps back home, but in a totally different way. She could feel their strengths, which varied from vampire to vampire she had swiftly found. But more, she could sense, not exactly their intensions, but perhaps their personalities. Somehow through her Slayer Senses she knew instinctively which could be trusted, and which could not. Which ones were killers, and which ones tried to avoid killing.

It had taken it a while for her to figure it out, but she'd decided that part of the differences were how old the Vampires were, but there was more to it than just that.

But all these new, she could almost call them colors, or flavors, these Vampires displayed to her Slayer senses were really cool. It was like suddenly finding an old TV show being broadcast in color after always having seen it in Black and White. She wondered why the demons back home didn't show as much variation as these did here. But whatever the reason for it, it was cool. Especially watching as they interacted.

"Aren't you a little young to be all alone in a place like this?" a soft male voice with a faint Spanish accent asked from just beside her.

Faith jumped, not having seen the vampire approach, and she frowned a bit as she turned her gaze on him and took him in.

He was old, not as old as some of the Vampires in this place, but far older than most of them. He was one of the ones who could be trusted, and felt like one of those that seemed to try and avoid killing. And more interesting, he had a different, color, she supposed to his vampireness. Unique amongst all the vampires she had seen so far, other than the other blonde waitress, who she thought was named Urs.

Noting her frown, ha offered a slight bow to her, "My apologies. I am Javier Vachon."

"Faith." She said in reply, smiling slightly at his manners. "Go ahead, take a load off." She said, gesturing at the far side of her booth.

Vachon looked around for a moment, then slipped into the booth opposite her, and looked into her eyes. "You really shouldn't be here, you know." He said, his voice taking on a slow, almost hypnotic tone to it, "It isn't safe. You should go home and not return."

Faith shrugged at him, not even noticing his attempt at influence as she replied, "Yeah, well, nowhere's really safe, is it? Besides, I can take care of myself."

Javier blinked. Just what he needed, the girl was a resistor. "Yeah, well, some places are a lot less safe than others, and this is one of them." He tried reasoning. "Lots of bad things can happen to young girls if they are alone here."

"You trying to pick me up, or scare me away from the nasty Vampires, Mr. Vachon?" Faith asked with a smirk.

Javier sighed. He should have expected that a resistor in here might be aware of what was going on. But that just made the situation even more dangerous for her, if any Enforcers wandered by. Not that many had frequented the Raven in the past month, ever since Xander had dealt with them so humiliatingly that one night. "So if you know about the danger, why are you here?" he asked.

Faith shrugged, "I'm just chilling, waiting for my friends to get done. I'm not sleepy, and I've got nothing better to do. How about you?"

Javier sighed, "I am here to play. I'm a part of the house band."

Faith just smirked at him, "Cool. One of my friends back in Sunny-D is in a band, 'Dingos Ate My Baby', a guy named Oz. He plays the guitar. What about you?"

Javier blinked, he had no idea where this Sunny-D was, but he replied, "That's what I play as well."

"Wicked. Maybe some time we could get you two together. A band with a Werewolf and a Vampire in it, would be cool, we'd just need a Frankenstein and a Mummy with maybe a Witch to round out the set. Like a Village People, only supernatural. I wonder if Amy or Willow are any good at singing?" Faith mused aloud.

Javier narrowed his gaze on her, "How do you know I'm a Vampire?" he asked quietly, so as to not draw attention. Despite the music and background noise, there were several pairs of ears more than close enough to follow the entire conversation, if their interest were piqued somehow.

Faith just shrugged, "Part of the job description. By the way, what's different about you from all the rest? Your not quite the same as any of the others, except perhaps Urs."

Javier looked at her in confusion, "What kind of job? And what do you mean different?"

Faith shrugged, "I'm the Slayer. And your flavor or color or whatever, the thing about you which marks you as a vampire is different. Kina like the fat guy over there, but he's more like the others than you are."

Javier followed her gesture and noted a familiar face watching them intently. Apparently at least one pair of ears had had their attention piqued, and worse, despite his previous thoughts, the man she'd indicated was an Enforcer. However it was the first part of what she said that drew his attention, "Slayer? That's a myth, a legend told to fledglings to scare them into following their Sire's instructions. There is no such thing as a human who is stronger, faster, and has better senses than a vampire. And while some humans, such as yourself can resist the compulsions from most vampires, there isn't such a thing as a human who can turn the compulsion against a vampire, or strip them of their powers."

Faith smirked, "I don't know about stripping, but I can kick anyone's ass. Demon, Vamp, you name it, I'll kill it. What's this compulsion thing though, is that like the Jedi Mind Trick Xander does?"

Javier lost his train of thought for a moment before asking "You know Xander?"

"The God behind the bar serving drinks to the vampires? Yeah. I'm crashing with him and Cat, the blond goddess waiting tables over there." Faith replied with another smirk.

"So, Xander is really a God? He had denied it, to some extent, although there were rumors. How well do you know him? Javier asked, forgetting about the Slayer issue for a moment.

Faith shrugged, "I know his friends from Sunny-D, where he grew up. Him I just met tonight. But he seems like a stand-up kinda guy. I trust him, and there aren't a whole lot of people I would say that about." She narrowed her gaze on him and asked in a somewhat less friendly tone, "Why do you ask?"

Javier found himself answering before he had though about it, "Because I'm worried about my friends. He's an unknown element, and I was worried he may be dangerous."

Realizing he had just spoken without even intending to do so, he tried to shift the conversation back to an earlier topic. "So what about myself and the man you pointed out that’s different from the others, exactly?"

Faith frowned, then looked again at the fat Enforcer "Him, he's old. He's slimy, and he's stronger than the others who seem about the same age. You, you're old as well. You don't seem dangerous or slimy, and also are a lot stronger than you should be for your age. Also, you don't have the same feel as any of the others. He does. But while he's a different shade, you're almost a different color. More pure, somehow."

Javier wasn't sure what to make of that. Although he remembered her mentioning his Childe, Urs as being the same. "It may be my Sire. She was a South American vampire, while all the others are descended from European vampires, I think. I wasn't aware that there was that great a difference though." he said, deliberately not mentioning his and his Childe's apparent immunity to holy items, as that was a closely guarded secret.

"Yeah, well what about the fat guy?" she asked, "Any idea why he'd be different as well, though not in the same way?"

Javier sighed, "Possibly. He is what is known as an Enforcer. The real boogiemen for Vampires, unlike the mythical Slayer. Enforcers are responsible for preventing mortals from learning about vampires. They are supposed to either erase the memories of mortals who find out, or failing that, kill them. They also tend to kill the ones responsible for the discovery. And considering the way he's been watching us at least ever since you pointed him out to me, means he's planning on taking care of you."

Faith grinned at him then met the steady gaze of the fat enforcer in question before ignoring him and looking back at Javier. "Well, I don't do fat vampires. So he'll have to go elsewhere to get his jollies tonight."

Javier took a breath before he replied, "You don't have a clue how dangerous this is, do you?"

Faith shrugged, "Look if he tries anything, I'll kick his ass. If for some reason I can't, or he has too many friends for me to deal with, I'm sure Cat and Xander will help me kick his ass. From what I've seen there's not much those two couldn't deal with. I saw the X-Man chop the head off a huge ass demon earlier tonight as easy as could be."

Javier flashed back to the encounter between Xander and the Enforcers a month ago and shuddered at the thought of facing Xander if he was mad about something, "I suppose so. But just knowing Xander isn't going to be like some sort of get out of jail free card, you know."

"Never said it was. I can take care of myself." Faith replied.

Javier looked over at the staring Enforcer and shook his head, "I hope so." As he thought about it, the fat vampire hadn’t been around when Xander had been here. He idly wondered if the other vampire had any clue what kind of mess he may find himself in if he tangled with the bartender. "Well, I need to go get ready for my set. I'll see you around, ok?"

Faith nodded, "See ya, and don't worry. Like I said, I can take care of myself."

With that Javier rose from the booth, and with one last glance back at the young girl he made his way to the stage to get ready.

=+=

Skip shimmered into Sunnydale looking for answers. By the time he'd reported to the Oracles, they were once more able to view Sunnydale. But they could no longer find their Slayer. While that wimp, or was it pimp, Whistler went to check on his pet Vampire, Angelus, Skip was assigned to find out what had blocked the Oracles from the area, and more importantly, what had happened to their Slayer.

Deciding his best bet for quick information was the local Demon population, Skip sought out the highest concentration of diverse demonic signatures. He ended up at Willies, the local Demon bar.

As he came in he noticed the place was in the middle of some sort of party. "What's going on?" he asked, setting down at the bar.

The mousy human owner looked over at him and gave him a toothy grin, "I'm not sure, something about the Hellmouth. They say it went away earlier tonight, but then came back, possibly even opened once or twice, then settled down just like it normal."

Skip filed that away as possibly valuable. Anything able to block the Oracles from viewing an event had to be pretty strong, stronger than any demon or god he'd ever heard of, other than perhaps an Archangel, one of the Elder Gods, or a top level Demon. Even then he'd never heard of such an effect. Deciding to go right to the heart of the matter, he asked the bartender, "You know anything about the Slayer, where she might be?"

Willie looked him over for a moment, then shrugged, "Depends. Which one you askin' about?"

Skip frowned, "There's only one Slayer. Brunette chick, about fifteen."

Willie nodded, "The new one. Only person I've heard mentioning her was Ronk. Big green guy over there, he was saying something about seeing the Slayer and Harris this evening, which is impossible, since Harris has been gone for months."

"Who's Harris?" Skip asked.

"Some local Hunter. Got juiced up by some God, I think Janus, about a year ago, and spent the next few months killing more demons and vampires than the Slayer. He was messed up with that whole Angelus Kendra thing with Acaltha last summer, and something happened to him. What I heard was he got sucked into a portal straight to Hell, the real one, not just some Hell Dimension. But that's just whet folks said, so don't put too much stock into it." Willie answered.

Heading over to the corner, he approached the large green demon. "Hi. Name's Skip. Mind if I buy you a drink?"

The green behemoth looked over at him and growled, "I bon't swing bat way, fugger."

Skip held up his hands, "Woah there, that's not what I meant at all. I was just being friendly. Look, I heard you may have some info on the Slayer, what happened to her tonight. Would you mind sharing it with me?"

The green demon sneered, "Whots in it bor me?"

Skip looked around, "Well, the folks I work for might be willing to offer a small, very small, mind you, reward if it helps us track her down. So, is there anything you can tell me?"

The green demon shrugged, "I saw her an' Harris. Bhey were walkink bown be street width some blonde. Bhey stobbed to talk bor a bit, bhen bhey went to be high school. Be Hellmouth, I bhink. Bhis wus right before it all went weird for a while."

"You sure it was BEFORE the Hellmouth opened?" Skip asked.

"You bhink I can't feel bhe Hellmouth? Or you bhink I'm too dumb to remember bhe order bhings happen in?" Ronk growled, rising to tower over Skip's large frame.

"Uh, no, just checking. I'd heard Harris was in Hell, so if the Hellmouth opened, he may have come back through it somehow."

Ronk sat down, growling, "No. Bhey neber left bhough. Bhe obber Slayer, and bhe Watcher, and bhe Mayor's flunky, bhey all left. Bhe Blonde, Harris, and bhe Brunette Slayer, bhey were gone after bhe Hellmoth opened. If bhey went bhrough, it was bhe other way." He sat quietly for a moment, then he spoke once more, "Bhree kittens."

Skip was confused, "What?" he asked.

"Bhree kittens. Bhat's what I want from your bosses. Bhen I'll help yhou brak her down."

Skip shook his head, "Ok, I'll let them know. If they agree I'll come back and get you."

Ronk nodded, "Ok. I'll be here bhonight and bomorrow night. After bhat, add another kitten each day."

Skip shrugged, "Will do. And thanks. You sure you don't want that drink?"

Ronk just growled at him so Skip shimmered out, heading back to LA to speak with the Oricals. If Harris, whoever he was had indeed taken their Slayer to Hell, they were not going to be pleased. Not at all.

=+=

Faith was enjoying the music. Cat had come by and made her some food. Literally, she'd looked around, then set a big juicy steak on the table in front of Faith from her empty drink tray, saying "I checked with Lucien, and he doesn't mind if I feed you. You want anything to drink, non-alcoholic of course."

Faith shrugged, "Dr. P, if ya got it."

Cat just grinned and set a fizzy soda down next to the steak. "Don't spill it. It'll make a huge mess if you leave it tipped over." she said before walking away.

Faith didn't understand what she was talking about 'till she set the still full glass back down on the table after having sucked enough through the straw to drain at least a third of the glass in a single draught.

"Fucking awesome." She murmured while stirring the ice around in the glass almost an hour later. The ice didn't melt, the carbonation seemed to keep fizzing, and the level never dropped. She really liked hanging with Cat and Xander. And the band wasn't bad either. The blonde vampire waitress, Urs, had joined the others on the small stage and was singing and dancing along with the music. Faith had to admit the chick was good. She knew how to move, and her voice had a sexy, smoky tone to it, like vocal viagra.

It was as the band was going into their last set of the evening, that Faith's pleasant mood was broken by the arrival of an unwanted visitor to her table.

The fat, "Enforcer" vampire slid into the booth opposite her, and just sat there, staring at her.

Finally, turning away from the music she glared at him, "What?"

"Impertinent mortal, aren't you?" he said with a scowl of his own.

"No, just short tempered with rude assholes who invite themselves to my table then just stare at me for no reason. Now, go away, I was listening to the music." she said dismissively.

He shook his head, "I can't. I was listening earlier, and I heard that you know what we are. I even hear the Spaniard tell you of our rules, and my place amongst them, the fool. I'll deal with him later, but first I will take care of his mess."

Faith rolled her eyes and looked back at the overweight vampire. "Look, I couldn't care less about your stupid rules and your supposed place. All I want is to relax and enjoy the music. Then I'll go to sleep, and tomorrow I'll head back to Sunny-D. I promised Cat and X not to kill any of their neighbors, so count yourself lucky and go away. Otherwise I'm going to have to break a promise and I really don't want to do that."

Sighing he looked into her eyes and in a calm, monotone voice said, "You will be silent and come with me."

"Fuck you. I'm not going anywhere." Faith said, probably a little louder then she intended. "If you think I'm going to go anywhere with you, you can just go home and fuck yourself."

Most of the vampires, and several of the nearby patrons turned towards Faith's table at her outburst, and Cat started moving towards Faith's table in case the brunette Slayer needed help of any sort. However she had only taken a few steps before the vampire had risen from the table and started walking almost mechanically towards the door. Deciding that the incident, whatever it was had been resolved, Cat resumed her patrol of the tables.

=+=

Javier watched with dismay as the Enforcer seated himself at Faith's table during the last number. But he was shocked enough that he almost missed a chord when after Faith shouted at him the Enforcer stood and moved absentmindedly out the door.

It was all he could do to keep his curiosity in check while the song finished up, and he shut off his Guitar and put it away.

Moving down off the stage, he made his way over to the girl's table. As she looked up at his approach he offered her a soft smile, "Hey."

"Hey." She said back. "Have a seat."

Vachon sank into the booth opposite her, and looked at her face. She had calmed down significantly since her minor outburst during the song, but the stress of the brief altercation still showed in her face.

"Did you like the music?" he asked, trying to set her at ease.

"Yeah, it was five by five. Your group is actually a bit better than the Dingos. Although considering that all of you are at least over a hundred, it's not that surprising that you could be so good with all that practice time." she replied.

Javier shook his head, and asked, "You've got to tell me how a mortal like you knows who is a vampire and how old they are, most of our fledglings can't even do that for several years."

Faith shrugged, "Told you, it's part of the Job Description. You've got to know your enemy to kick their ass."

Javier smiled at that, "Well, I hope I'm not your enemy."

Faith shook her head, "Nah. Once I got my head around the idea that you guys aren't like the vamps back home, it wasn't too hard to suppress the automatic 'it's a vampire, kill it' reflex. Especially since I figured out how to tell which ones of you are killers, and which ones are not. Most of the vamps here are fine, even if I hadn't promised X I'd leave them alone. There's just three or four I've seen who I really want to stake to a cross outside in the middle of a sunny lot some afternoon, then liberally hose down with holy water so they don't catch on fire. The rest of you guys are safe."

Javier shuddered at the mental image then asked, "So what happened to the Enforcer?"

Faith looked towards the front door of the club and shrugged, "I don't really know. He tried to get me to go with him somewhere, and I told him to fuck off, and he left. Didn't seem all that scary to me."

Javier was even more confused now, but let it pass, seeing as Cat was making her way over to the table.

Cat looked speculatively at Javier as she came up and asked Faith, "Faith, is Vachon bothering you?"

Faith grinned back at her and shook her head, "Nah. Just keeping me company 'till I'm ready to crash. By the way, I don't think I told you and X thanks for offering to let me crash at your pad tonight. Not that X gave me much of a choice, but I appreciate it anyhow."

Cat smiled at her and said, "You are very welcome Faith. Don't worry about it. And tomorrow we'll work something more permanent out, ok?"

Faith smothered a yawn as she nodded. "Yeah. Say, you got a key to the door? I think I'm goanna go ahead and crash now, if that's ok."

Cat smiled and held a small keychain with three keys on it to Faith. "Here you go. Silver one is for the outside door, in the alley. The gold one is for our front door. And the whiteish one is for your room. Don't loose that one, it's the only one I made."

Faith took the keys and looked at them for a second, before looking back up at Cat and smiling, "Thanks, Cat." Turning to Javier, she said "Well, I'll be seeing you later. Thanks for the music." and with that she crossed the club and disappeared through the door to the inside stairs.

Cat watched her go then turned towards Vashon. "Do you have any idea what that episode earlier was all about?"

Javier shrugged, "He was an Enforcer. Faith said she told him to leave, and he did."

Cat giggled, "That's not exactly what she told him. But it surprises me that an Enforcer would give up so easily. Unless he realized that Faith was under our protection and backed off."

Javier looked speculatively at the door through which the brunette teenager disappeared. "Well, he might have been confused when his whammy didn't work. She's a powerful resistor, you know."

Cat looked confused for a moment, then her expression hardened. "And just how would you know that?"

Javier shrugged, "I told her this was a dangerous place, and then tried to make her go home and not return. She didn't even notice my effort. I'm generally more successful than most when it comes to compulsion. So if I couldn't even dent her, then an Enforcer probably wouldn't have much luck either, even though they are supposed to be stronger at such things than average. He may have given up to regroup when he tried to compel her and it didn't work, other than to make her mad at him."

Cat shrugged, "I suppose. If it becomes an issue we'll deal with it. Worst case, we let Faith kill him as an object lesson to the others."

Javier blinked at that, then asked, "Let faith kill him? But she's a Mortal. She'd never stand a chance against a normal Vampire, let alone an older Enforcer."

Cat just grinned and Javier made a mental note never to get her mad at him. "Yeah, but Faith's a Slayer. And killing vampires, even powerful ones is what she does."

Javier just looked at her for a moment, then asked, "You mean she was serious? About being a Slayer? I mean, she told me she was a Slayer, but I thought she was joking. Everyone knows that the Slayer is just a myth."

Cat grinned, and replied, "A myth here, perhaps. But Faith, she's not from around here. And yeah, while the Vampires she deals with are different, she's a Chosen Slayer, so pretty much whatever it takes to kick the asses of the local bad guys, she can do. It's part of how they're made."

Javier thought about the myth of the Slayer, then asked, "So she can really cancel a Vampire's powers, just like that?"

Cat shrugged, "I'm not sure what a Slayer can and can't do, exactly. I know they're strong, and fast, and able to use just about any weapon with master level skills even before they start training on it. But as far as mystical abilities, I've never really paid attention."

Javier nodded, then said "Well at least it explains how she was able to pick us out and know who was a vampire and how old we all are and such."

Cat grinned, "Yeah, I think that's a part of the Slayer package, the ability to sense Vampires and other demons. I know that's why she jumped on Xander when we first met her, she sensed his power and decided he was a new bad guy coming to conquer the Hellmouth."

"Hellmouth?" Javier asked.

Cat nodded, "A stable portal to the True Hell, generally kept mostly closed, but always connected for various reasons I learned earlier tonight."

Javier decided he'd had enough for one evening, and so shook his head, saying "Ok, well, I've got to go. Will you and Xander be working tomorrow night?"

Cat shrugged, "I don't know. I think he wants us to go to his school and enroll there. I'm not sure exactly how the time differentials will work out. But probably at one point or another we'll be here, whether we're working or not."

Javier nodded, then said, "Then I'll see you then. Good night, Cat."

"Good night." Cat replied, before resuming her rounds of the tables.

=+=

Elsewhere...

"We shall have to Call a new Slayer." The male declared.

"But isn't that a bit rash, Brother? What if Harris returns her?" the female oracle asked.

"Can you feel her at all? I can't. And even if she WERE in Hell, we should be able to detect one of our Champions." He replied. "I had hoped we'd been done with Xander Harris once we sent him to Hell. But apparently even that wasn't enough to keep him from messing with our plans. Have you noticed that almost EVERY destiny in Sunnydale is now in chaos? Somehow while he was blanking our observations out he managed to twist the futures of that entire town. Such a thing shouldn't even be possible. No, we need a new Slayer, and we need one now. And we need to be ready to send her and every other agent we can muster after Harris in case he comes back again."

The female nodded. "I suppose you are right. We can't abide by his interference. Especially if over his sojourn in Hell his influence has grown so great. Eliminating him must be made a top priority, should he return from Hell again."

The male agreed, and so the call was sent out to gather their Agents and any Champions for the Powers. One of them they knew, Angel, was already in place in Sunnydale, and according to Whistler hadn't heard a thing of Harris's return. The male Oracle idly wondered if their retrieving of Angel had somehow also freed Harris from Hell. While there were many ways out of Hell for those with enough power, Harris didn't have anywhere near enough power to shimmer, orb, or teleport. Which meant someone had to open a portal for him, or he had to have gotten from Hell to a Hell Dimension, and somehow from there back to Sunnydale, like they had done with the Vampire. It was possible that Harris had followed their Champion and his guides somehow. But why he would then kidnap their Slayer and then return to Hell voluntarily he could not imagine. It was likely that the Slayer had attacked him, but his taking her with him, or returning to Hell voluntarily, these made no sense at all. Neither did whatever he did to obscure his actions from the Powers. That should not be possible either, knowing of events was the greatest strength he and his sister shared.

Since they were directly descended from a child of an Elder God, they were both quite powerful when it came to dealing with events, be they past, present, or future. And they were amongst the few deities able to manipulate time, when working together they could even roll it back, resetting events to an earlier point.

But even their attempt to roll back events in Sunnydale had failed. They could neither see what had happened, nor could they make it unhappen. And this was entirely unacceptable. Since they had formed the conglomeration of deities known collectively as The Powers That Be, their will had been almost unchallenged. Indeed, the first time in recent history that their plans had gone awry was when Harris had somehow revived the ex-Slayer after she had died according to plan.

How that had happened even they hadn't figured out. Granted, they hadn't had any specific plan in place for him, but there shouldn't have been any need for one either, seeing as how he was a normal powerless human at that point in time. His actions that evening should have had no effect whatsoever on the greater skein of time. But somehow he managed to get their future Champion, Angel, to leave his apartment where he was supposed to be mourning his loss of the Slayer, and forced the vampire to take him into the tunnels where he somehow revived the dead girl.

It had taken them over a year to get things almost back on track after that single event. Granted, after Janus chose the foolish Human as his Champion last October, things in Sunnydale had gone completely off track again, and they had had no luck in regaining control until they managed to arrange events so that Harris ended up being sent to Hell, unfortunately along with their future Champion as well, but that was an acceptable temporary loss.

But now, almost six months later, Harris had somehow returned from Hell, and in only a few hours had managed to throw the destinies of the entire town so far off track once more that in many cases their fates seemed to be entirely undeterminable, and that included that of their future Champion. And such interference was as unacceptable as it was inconceivable. So Harris would have to be destroyed. They had agreed on that a year ago, and recent events showed that if anything, he was even more of a danger to their carefully structured plans than he was before.

=+=

Xander and Cat had been considering what to do about Faith all evening. Even as Xander worked the bar, mixing and delivering drinks to the vampire, and occasional human customers, and Cat had been circulating amongst the tables, taking orders and delivering drinks, the two had been involved in an almost continuous mental conversation about how they could best help the young girl they had met earlier that night.

Cat had swiftly developed a soft spot for the child, and Xander, still feeling faint echoes of his one time crush on Buffy, combined with the never-lost guilt for his part in Kendra's Turning, felt an almost compulsive need to protect and help the Slayer. When his feelings were combined with Cats, the result was an almost parental desire to take care of and protect the brash young girl.

So it was that by the end of the evening, they had formulated a plan, one whereby they could offer the support, protection, and guidance the child would need if she were to survive her situation and become the successful adult they both saw she could grow into, given half a chance.

=+=

Faith awoke to the smell of food.

She lay in the comfortable, soft, warm, yet unfamiliar bed in the dark, windowless room for several minutes, trying to recall where she was. The first thing she noticed was that she felt safe. And that was a feeling she couldn't remember having since she was very young. She could hear soft, domestic voices filtering through the walls of her room, the quiet conversation of a pair of voices, one male and the other female, both speaking quietly, likely to avoid waking her.

But it hadn't been the voices which had dragged her out of her pleasant slumber, it had been the smell of coffee, eggs, and bacon which had done it.

Throwing the blankets off her, her slayer enhanced eyesight had no problem making out the layout of the room from just the faint light filtering in beneath and around the closed door. She sat up on the bed and reached out to the lamp shape sitting on the table beside it, fumbling along it's base and side until she found the twist-switch near the top and turned it, closing her eyes against the instant blaze of light initiated by the soft click of the switch.

Opening her eyes once again, slowly so they could adjust to the new levels of illumination, Faith took in the soft off white walls, the basic wooden furniture, and the pile of clean clothes on the corner of the dresser close to the door. She also noted the pile of discarded clothes strewn on the floor along a path from it to her bed. As she looked down at herself and took in the single oversized white T-Shirt she was wearing, she shrugged, then stood up, her bare feet pressing a pair of leather pants into the cream colored shag carpet of the room beneath her as she did so.

Walking blearily towards the door, she reached out and gently turned the knob, finding it unlocked. As quietly as she could, she pulled the door inwards, opening it to reveal a short hallway, a bathroom to her left, and a closed door to her right. At the end of the hallway she could make out a living room, and it was from beyond that, somewhere to the right based on the voices, that the smells of food were emanating.

However, a greater demand than hunger made itself known from the region of her bladder, so gathering the clean pile of clothes off the dresser beside her, she exited the room and made her way into the bathroom, quietly closing the door behind herself, even as she reached out to turn on the lights.

Faith looked at her sleep bedraggled form in the bathroom mirror over the sink, taking in her tangled hair and smeared face, apparently she'd been too tired last night to do more than strip down and throw on the T-Shirt before falling into the bed.

Pulling the t-shirt off over hear head, she lifted the lid and sat on the toilet, relieved herself, then stepped into the shower.

As the warm, needle sharp spray played over her body, she idly reviewed events of the previous day. Waking up in the crappy hotel, a quick rinse under the sputtering spray of lukewarm water she had been able to coax out of the shower, then dressing in her least grungy clothes, reminding herself again that she needed to get some cash somehow so she could do some laundry. She needed to remember to mug some of the Vamps before dusting their worthless asses that evening.

What money she did have she traded for some watered down coffee and a bland, if filling late morning breakfast at the greasy spoon down the street from the motel, before making her way over to the library to do some reading.

She wouldn't let any of B's fan club catch her at it, but she'd always enjoyed reading. Especially historical dramas, and travelogues. She spent most of the afternoon reading before sneaking back out a bit before 3 to head over to the School and kick it with B and her gang.

As the sun had sunk in the west, she'd made her excuses and headed out for an early patrol, where she managed to mug three Vamps, earning almost eighty bucks before she came across the X-man and his wife.

The events after that, talking to them about shit she never told anyone, pranking B and Jeeves, watching as X used that wicked cool blade to kick demon ass while Cat opened the freaking Hellmouth, or rather rebuilt the freaking Hellmouth while a genuine God watched them, then coming here, to a fucking TV show where she had a killer steak dinner, got to chill to some cool tunes played by a vampire band, then after the one down spot, dealing with that slimy informer vampire, calling it an evening and coming back up to the apartment and crashing.

Fully awake and now up to speed, she climbed out of the shower, dried off, and dressed in the new, clean clothes Cat had literally plucked out of thin air for her the night before, one of two sets she'd offered the Slayer as a change if she wanted to spiff up before hanging in the club downstairs. Cat was so cool. She kinda thought X-man was as well, but she still didn't trust him 100%, after all, he was a man, and that meant he really only wanted one thing in Faith's experience. And once they got that, they couldn't give a shit about you.

Faith shut the lights off in the bathroom as she exited it, leaving the door open behind herself, and tossing the t-shirt through the door onto the floor of the room she'd crashed in the night before, making a mental note to clean it up right after breakfast.

=+=

Xander looked up as Faith wandered into the kitchen, glancing over at the veritable buffet of food he and Cat had both cooked from scratch, Cat watching Xander as he did so, and conjured up to fill in vacancies for things they lacked, having been gone for several weeks and not having had a chance to restock their fridge since their return. Xander still wasn't sure if it was morally right to magically whip things up instead of buying them like everyone else had to, but he'd agreed with Cat's recent compromise, buying what one could, then only resorting to the mojo to fill in the gaps, or for things you needed but just couldn't get at the moment, or otherwise couldn't afford. He'd really liked that car she'd made for him, so how could he complain.

"Good morning, Faith." he said as the Slayer wandered into the room, eyes wide open as she took in the stacks of pancakes, piles of eggs, bacon, sliced ham, and pictures of Milk, Coffee, and Orange Juice. "We made you some breakfast."

"Actually, Xander made it. I just watched. He cooked most of it himself. I get to try tomorrow." Cat interjected with a smile at her husband.

Faith just nodded, then said, "Damn X. Where'd you get all this?"

Xander gave her a lopsided grin as he shrugged and replied, "Well, some of it was in the cupboards, like the Pancake mix, and the cereal. Since Cat's cooking tomorrow, you might want to save that for then. The juice we had in the freezer, and the rest, Cat made me whip up for practice."

Faith looked at him confused, then she grinned and nodded, "Like the table and chairs last night in the Library, or the Steak and soda Cat gave me for dinner last night?"

Xander nodded, "Yeah, but no bottomless beverages today. I understood why Cat zapped that up for you last night, but in retrospect it probably wasn't the best idea. I told her next time to make you a sipper type cup, with a lid and a straw. That way it doesn't end up in the kitchen causing confusion as they try to dump it down the sink and it just keeps pouring until the dishwasher panics and drops the glass, shattering it in the sink."

Faith had a mental image of someone trying to pour out the endless soda Cat had whipped up for her the night before, and almost broke out in laughter at the thought. She managed to hold it down to just a smile though, as she picked up a plate and started piling it with portions of the various foods on the table, finishing by grabbing the pitcher of milk and filling a large glass. She carried the plate over to the now clear bar which sat between the kitchen and the living room, and settled herself on one of the barstools before happily digging in to the meal.

She was so busy scarfing down the grub that she didn't notice how Xander and Cat exchanged another glance at her actions, Xander nodding slowly while Cat smiled with a determined glint in her eyes behind him.

=+=

Angel heard the sound upstairs as someone stepped onto the porch of the Mansion.

It was shortly after sunrise, and he had retreated to the safety of the basement to avoid the danger of the sun's rays. But if his sanctuary was to be disturbed, he preferred to meet his intruder or intruders head on, rather than cower in the dark like some sort of human cockroach.

Stealthily he made his way up the stairs, opening the basement door and peering out at the hallway leading towards the front.

None of the morning light was coming in at an angle where it would catch him in the hall, so he emerged from the darkened doorway and crept towards his now open front door.

Arriving at the end of the hall, he looked towards the figure standing just inside the entryway, looking wordily around. As he identified her, his heart released the worry it had held since Whistler's second visit the night before, and he dashed across the room to gather the girl in a tight hug, irregardless of the danger posed by the light flooding into the room from the various ill-covered windows.

"Bufy! You're all right! I was so worried" he called out as he lifted the small slayer off the ground in a tight hug.

"As he set her back down she looked up at him in confusion. "Why wouldn't I be?" she asked.

"Whistler. Last night, he came by. He told me that Harris had returned, that he'd kidnapped the Slayer and taken her to Hell." Angel explained.

"Toronto's not that bad. I mean, sure it's full of super-powerful vampires you aren't allowed to stake, and he has the creepy devil head always yelling at you from inside that box, but I wouldn't call it Hell." Buffy replied, confusion evident on her face.

"Toronto?" Angel asked, having gotten lost himself, something which happened to him quite often when talking to Buffy or many of her friends.

"Yes, where Cat and Xander took Faith last night after they rebuilt the Hellmouth." Buffy explained.

"Rebuilt the Hellmouth? Why would they rebuild the Hellmouth? Why would they have to rebuild the Hellmouth?" Angel asked, his confusion only growing,. "And who is Cat?"

Buffy rolled her eyes as she looked at her boyfriend. Some times she wondered why she liked him. Sure, he had that dangerously attractive thing going, but he seemed so dense at times. "Cat closed the Hellmouth. Then Xander yelled at her, and then her Dad, Janus came and told her to put it back, otherwise Hell would break through at random and there would be no way to stop an invasion. So she and Xander fixed it, replaced the furniture that went to Hell, and then took Faith to Toronto. Did you know she was living in that skanky motel just off the highway? The one with all the hookers? Or that she's just fifteen? I mean, I thought she was at least as old as I am, but no. She's almost three years younger. And she was living with a bunch of hookers. I felt so ashamed of myself when Xander yelled at me about letting her stay there. Because I hadn't even thought about it."

"So faith was staying at the Motor Lodge, that's not that bad. And you didn't know, so why feel guilty about it? But Buffy, you didn't tell me who Cat is, and how did Xander get back, and did you know that he did something to block the Powers That Be, so they couldn't even see what was happening here?" Angel asked again.

Buffy sighed. "Cat is Xander's wife. She's some sort of Egyptian goddess, her mother is the cat goddess Best, and her father is Janus. As for how he got back, he got out of Hell a while ago, we all went to his wedding in Toronto about a month before you got out of Hell. And are you sure it was him blocking the Powers That Be?"

Angel shrugged. "Not sure. But that's what Whistler told me. He said that if I saw him I should do whatever it took to stop him, that he was dangerous, that he'd somehow messed up every destiny in Sunnydale last night. They also told me that he'd kidnapped the Slayer and opened the Hellmouth and taken her somewhere that they couldn't find her, that they suspected he'd taken he back to Hell with him for some reason. I was so worried he'd gotten you too."

Buffy shook her head, "No. Cat and Xander took Faith to Toronto. They'll be back today to register for School. And Faith wasn't kidnapped, she went voluntarily, although Xander did tell her she wasn't spending another night at that motel. But he gave her the option of staying with either myself or Giles, or crashing at his place, and she chose his place."

Angel was really confused. He had two totally different stories, one from Whistler, who he trusted, and the other from Buffy, who he also trusted. Of the two, Buffy seemed to know more about what actually happened, but Whistler was an agent for the Powers That Be, the ones who had offered him a shot at genuine redemption if he would agree to become their Champion. Also the ones who generally knew everything that was going on, often years before it ever happened. But from what Buffy was saying, she was actually there. But if Faith was just in Toronto, wait. "Buffy, how did they get to Toronto?"

Buffy sighed, "Xander opened a portal. The same way Giles, Willow, and everyone else, including myself got there. Although that wasn't Xander who opened that portal, that had been the Snyder Demon, Moms or something like that."

Angel ran his hand through his hair as he tried to follow Buffy's logic, "A Demon opened a portal to Toronto?"

Buffy shook her head, "No, I told you, he was some god named Moms or something like that. Best's son. The one who was straight."

"Straight?" Angel asked, regretting it even as the syllable left his mouth.

Buffy nodded, "Yeah, we met her other son, the one who's only Cat's half-brother, at the wedding, he gave us a fruit drink, Amnesia I think he called it, if I remember right. It tasted funny. Anyhow, they said he was the god of perfume."

Angel was now totally lost, so he just gave up. "So, why are you here?" he asked.

Buffy shrugged, "I just, wanted to see you before I went to school. Make sure you were ok, that no one had seen you. Xander knows you are back, and he told me I should let the rest of the gang know before they find out on their own. I just wanted to tell you I was going to tell them today at school. Get everyone together and let them all know at once."

Angel nodded, "I suppose that is a good idea. Especially considering all the trouble I was causing just before I went away." Thinking about that brought up another idea, so he asked, "Buffy, are you sure it was really Xander you saw last night, and not some demon pretending to be him?"

Buffy nodded, "Yeah, I'm sure. I hugged him and felt his heart beat. I smacked him, and I saw his smile. Besides, only Xander would wear a moving Hawaiian shirt."

Angel didn't understand that last bit, but he believed Buffy was sure of her friend's identity, "And he didn't open the Hellmouth?"

Buffy shook her head. "Nope. He did chop a head off that monster though, the one that always seems to poke its heads through whenever the Hellmouth is opened. Chiapet."

"Tiamat?" Angel asked. At Buffy's nod he considered. "Well I suppose Whistler's people got things wrong somehow then. He did say that the Oracles had been blocked, so they had to rely on second hand information. I won't worry about it for now." He looked at his watch and cringed, noting the time, "You should get going, you don't want to be late for school."

Buffy nodded and gave him a quick kiss before heading towards the front door.

Angel barely ducked around the corner in time to avoid getting burned as she opened the door and headed back out into the sunlight. He looked carefully around the corner admiring the golden gleam of the light in her hair. The light he could never join her in, and he once more considered his agreement to go to Los Angeles and become a Champion for the Powers That Be. It would be the best thing for everyone. He could seek his redemption, and Buffy could find someone else. Someone who could stand beside her looking at the sun.

He decided to let Whistler know of his decision the next time he returned. Leaving Buffy would hurt, but in the long run it would be better for both of them.

=+=

It was only as she finished off literally the last of the food that Faith noticed the strange way both Xander and Cat were looking at her, both with faint smiles of satisfaction on their faces.

"What?" she asked, "I was hungry."

Xander just offered her a grin, then exchanged a glance with his wife, who nodded slightly, before asking, "Faith, how'd you like to stay with us permanently?"

Faith suddenly felt the previously warm, filing breakfast turn to clammy lumpy clay in her stomach. She should have known better than to relax. She knew there was always a price. She thought back over her last few months, ever since Linda'd, no, she wasn't going to think about that right now, but ever since then, she'd been on her own again. She'd been able to take care of herself, more or less. She had gotten food, maybe not good food, but food. And she'd scored enough cash to be able to afford a room somewhere almost every night. Granted mostly in dives, but still, better than sleeping on the streets. Last night was the first time she could remember since Linda that she'd been in a comfortable bed. And this morning was the first morning, again, since Linda, that she'd woken up happy, and had a GOOD breakfast.

Faith took a deep breath and met Xander's eyes. "What's the catch?"

Xander grinned happily and shrugged, "At least D's, But I hope for some A's and B's as well, I think you can pull it off, despite taking the time for Slaying."

Faith was totally lost. She looked over at Cat's apparently hopeful smile and articulately asked, "Huh?"

Cat giggled and shook her head, "School. If you're going to stay here, you need to go back to school, I mean, if I have to go, then so do you, it's only fair. And if you are going to go, we want you to at least pass every class. If you get all A's and B's we'll celebrate appropriately, but at a minimum, you will need to at least pass. If you are willing to do that, we'll make it official, set up some appropriate identities today while we're in Sunnydale, and adopt you."

Faith frowned, "Heh, you guys aren't old enough to adopt anyone, like you said, X's still in school."

Xander shrugged, "I am, it's true. But I'm older than I look, and remember, I have all those memories of that really old version of me in my head as well. Cat, well, she's even older than my memories, so I think we can provide a stable environment for you. If you're willing."

Faith looked suspiciously at him. Cat she could almost trust, but she knew about guys, and knew that at their core, they only wanted one thing, and once they got that they didn't give a crap about you anymore. She'd learned that lesson a long time ago, the night her stepfather had touched her more than he had before, the night her mother had come home and caught him, and had gotten mad at him, not because of what he was doing to her daughter, but because she'd made a deal with that slimy old guy who she got her drugs from. Faith had hidden in her room listening to her mother yelling at him and had cried. She's left the next day, thirteen years old and more willing to starve and possibly freeze in the late winter streets of Boston than to be touched that way again, or traded by her mother to that old man for some drugs.

She looked back at Cat and wondered though if she would really want to let X screw her. She seemed to really care about Faith, the image of Cat and the fake watcher from the night before flashed through her mind, the anger visibly rolling off the short blonde as Xander told the newly formed poodle that Faith was under Cat's protection. But would that protection extend to her husband as well? Where would her allegiance lie? What would happen if he used the same line her stepfather had tried on her mother, 'The bitch came on to me'? Would she side with her husband and turn against Faith? Could she take that chance?

Slowly faith shook her head, "I, I don't think I want to. I appreciate the offer, but I don't, want to. I can take care of myself."

Cat frowned, then she looked at Xander. Xander shrugged, apparently responding to something Cat had thought at him, it was kinda creepy how they did that sometimes. The Xander looked back at Faith and said sadly, "Look, Cat wants to talk to you alone. I'm goanna go out for a bit, go to the store and get some groceries. Yeah, I'm going to go shopping. I'll be back in a bit, you two talk."

Faith watched as Xander stalked out of the apartment, softly closing the door behind himself.

She turned her eyes back to Cat, who simply stepped forward and without warning gathered Faith into a hug. Faith returned it almost instinctively for a moment, then gained control over herself and pushed her away. "What the fuck?" she asked.

Cat just stepped back and looked at her. "Faith, remember what I told you last night about lying? I don't know what it was that happened, and I won't dig in your head to find out, but whatever it was that hurt you so bad, I want you to know that if its in my power to prevent, nothing like it will ever happen to you again."

Faith heard the caring sincerity in the other woman's voice. And she thought about sharing what had happened when she was thirteen, only two years, yet at the same time oh so long ago. But she didn't. She just shook her head, "You wouldn't understand. Besides, it doesn't matter."

Cat looked at her sadly, "Whether I would or wouldn't understand, it matters. We both know you are afraid of Xander. Xander isn't sure what he did to make you afraid of him, but we both saw it was because of him that you said no. That’s why he left, he's hoping you'll talk to me about it, and that we can show you you don't need to be worried about him."

Faith looked back at Cat, and honestly wondered if she didn't understand. "He's a guy. That's all."

Cat frowned. "Yeah?"

Faith shrugged, "You know what he wants. What all guys want."

"Twinkies?" Cat asked with a smile.

Faith snorted, then sobered, "Not unless that's your special name for it. Sex. It's ll they care about."

Cat shook her head. "That's not true. It's not true of lots of guys, but I know for a fact it's not true of Xander."

Faith scowled at her and asked, "How do you know?"

Cat smiled softly, "Because I have him right here," she said, pointing at her head, "every thought, every dream, and especially every desire. His entire mind is in the back of my head all the time, as mine is in the back of his. We told you that we are the same being, on certain level, didn't we?"

Faith nodded, "Yeah."

"Well that is literal in many ways. We have two bodies, two personalities, and even two minds. But at the same time, we really are the same person. What Xander knows, I know. What he thinks, I hear. What he feels, I feel. And the same goes for him. No matter where he is, or what he's doing, we are connected. So I know what he thinks about. And I can tell you, most of the time he is not thinking about sex. And," she said with a grin, "Most of the time when he is, he's thinking about it with me."

Her face grew more somber. "He did think you were hot looking when he first saw you. He still thinks you are pretty attractive, but he isn't thinking of you as someone he wants to get into the sack. More along the lines of protecting you from all the other guys who he knows will want to get you into the sack. He's already thinking of you as a part of his family. Like he thinks of Buffy, who he also thinks is hot, but now sees more as a sister than a potential lover, just like he does with Willow. In fact, the only thought he's had about sleeping with any of the women from Sunnydale he's had since we were together was a brief consideration about someone he calls Cordy, and that only after watching a TV show where they showed Xander and Cordy in a relationship."

Faith smirked at that, "X was on TV?"

Cat shook her head, giggling, "Not exactly. The show was about a different Xander, he was still from Sunnydale, still knew Buffy and Willow, but he apparently dressed up as a soldier for Halloween, not as an Immortal, likely because Immortals were not a part of that universe's fiction, they were real. Also, in that story, he actually WAS an Immortal, but one who had had yet to die his first death. He ended up getting killed for the first time by a Slayer-turned-vampire, by the name of Faith. He became a hybrid vampire-immortal, the two supernatural effects synergising, and gifting him with the benefits of a vampire, few of the deficits, other than a need for blood, as well as the ability to fly."

"Wait, a Slayer-turned-vampire named Faith? Is that supposed to be me?" Faith interrupted.

Cat shook her head, "No. Not exactly. It was likely a version of you though. We hadn't met you yet, remember? I hadn't even considered that the Slayer-Vampire might be you. You know your predecessor was turned, right? And that Xander blames himself for it's happening?"

Faith nodded, "B had said something about how some Slayer named Kendra got turned. Not that Xander did it though." Faith frowned.

"Xander didn't do it, and it wasn't his fault, despite what he believes. She attacked him, they fought, she almost killed him, he knocked her out and went home to lick his wounds. But he left her unconscious in the middle of a graveyard at night in Sunnydale. Apparently whatever vampire came by and found her thought she'd make a better minion than just as snack, so they turned her. And she became a super-powered Vampire, with more strength and speed than even Xander had at the time. He fought her until he finally killed her the same night he went to Hell." Cat explained.

"The same night I was Called." Faith whispered.

Cat nodded, "Yeah, why the Powers didn't select a new Slayer until then I still don't understand, a Vampire is the last creature they should want as an agent. But I think they were so focused on killing Xander that they ignored everything else, including the damage Kendra was causing, or the danger to the entire world she represented. But we've strayed way off course. We were talking about what men want, and more specifically, what Xander wants."

Faith frowned and looked down at her feet, stretched out before her as she sat on the couch next to Cat. She silently realized she hadn't even noticed crossing the room and sitting down, but she felt like she'd been sitting for a while already.

When Faith didn't answer, Cat reached out and pulled one of the girl's hands from her lap, and gave it a slight squeeze, causing the girl to turn and meet her eyes. "Talk to me Faith. Please tell me what it is that you are afraid of?"

Faith closed her eyes, blocking out the fixed green gaze of the smaller woman, and leaned her head back against the wall behind the couch. She sat that way for several moments, before finally taking a deep breath and answering, "That you'd choose him, instead of me."

Cat was confused, "Why would I have to? Xander is my husband, a part of my very being. And you are someone to cherish, someone to guide, to help grow up like a daughter, if you will let me. If that is too much to ask, you already are a friend. So what is the choice?"

Faith opened her eyes, staring at the ceiling, then lowering her gaze to the table before the couch. For the first time that morning, her eyes came to rest on the head in the glass box. It was silent for once, it's gaze fixed on her. Waiting, listening, it's expression solemn. She suddenly thought of everything which she and Cat had said so far, and of what she'd been about to share, and she felt her cheeks turn red with embarrassment.

Following her gaze, Cat met the eyes of the Devil Head in the box, which had looked away from Faith when Cat's attention shifted to it. A brief silent communication seemed to pas between the two before Cat turned to the embarrassed Slayer and said softly, "Whatever it is, he likely already knows. After all, it was likely something evil, and that is his domain."

Faith looked back at the solemn head in the box, and it somehow nodded at her, as though confirming what Cat had said. Shaking her head and deciding 'what the fuck', Faith kept her gaze on the head as she said softly, "My mom chose the bastard who first raped me, over me. Granted, she was more mad that he'd been the first rather than that he'd done it, but when he said that I came on to him, she believed him and called me a slut. I was afraid that when Xander did the same thing, when he told me it was time to pay for my room and board, that afterwards you would side with him and turn against me. And having you support me last night was." She trailed off, unable to articulate what she wanted to say, and slightly distracted by the look of vengeful anger on the face of the head in the box.

Cat followed Faith's gaze back to the Devil's head, then looked back at the child. "He's mad. Not at you, even the devil has some things that he considers unacceptable, at least when he isn't the cause. Don't get me wrong, he's a nasty, evil bastard who gets joy from causing pain, but apparently even he's not happy with what he's just heard. Which likely spells bad things for your mother and stepfather once they reach Lucifer's domain, which from what you've told me they surely will."

Faith looked at the calm, yet angry eyes of the devil's head, and shuddered inside, feeling sorry for her one time parents for the first time in as long as she could remember. But only a very little bit, she still had too much pain to really forgive either one of them yet.

"I don't get why you keep it here." Faith said.

The head just looked at Cat and waited for her reply, "So he remembers that there are some people he shouldn't screw with, ever. He tried to make me think Xander didn't love me, and never would." She said glaring at the head.

"But I thought you said he was inside your mind, always a part of you? How could you not know if he loved you or not if that was the case?" Faith asked, not understanding.

"This was before we were married. We already had a link of some sort, but we weren’t like we are now, not by a long shot. And Lucifer, he took everything Xander did and said, and he twisted it. Remember this, Faith, if you ever talk to the Devil; he never lies, and every word he says is the truth, but still nothing he says is correct. It's a game he plays, deceiving people with only the facts and the truth, so never trust him. No matter what."

The head was smiling evilly now inside the box, as though proud of what Cat had just said, but that expression slipped as she went on, "And if he ever does try to convince you of anything, let myself or Xander know, because as we told that bitch last night, whether you decide to live with us or not, you ARE under our protection, and that extends even to the Devil himself."

Faith watched as the head started yelling mutely at Cat again, before silently getting up and going into the bedroom she'd used the night before to gather up the strewn clothes she'd carelessly left on the floor on her way to bed the previous night and think about what Cat had said.

When she bent over to pick up the leather pants next to the bed, however, a wave of dizziness passed over her briefly, her whole body shivering momentarily from a sudden chill as she sneezed. But as soon as whatever it was had hit, it had passed, and she continued to clean up the clothes without comment.

=+=

"It is done." The male Oracle said.

"The new Slayer is Called. And the Council should be happy, since she's one of the ones they've trained this time." The female said.

"If they were properly grateful, they would send us a gift." The male said.

"Something pretty and shiny." The female said.

=+=

Faith had just returned from the bedroom a while later when she saw Cat sitting on the couch with a strange expression on her face, as the head continued to shout in silence about something.

"Hey Cat, what's up?" she asked, hoping to avid the morning's topic.

Cat looked away from the shouting head and met Faith's eyes, her own looking as though she was trying to stifle a bout of laughter. "Xander's almost back."

Faith felt a bit of worry pass over her, "Is he alright?" she asked.

Cat nodded, a small giggle coming out as she did so, "Yeah. More or less. Um, Xander had an idea. I'm trying to be supportive."

Faith narrowed her eyes, "What kind of idea?" she asked.

Cat shrugged, "You'll see."

The door opened and a figure stepped in, carrying several bags of groceries.

It was only as the door swung closed behind them that Faith started to notice that there was something wrong with the picture, namely whoever it was that was carrying the groceries, they weren't Xander.

It was a young woman, perhaps eighteen or twenty. She had short, dark hair and large brown eyes and a rather tall, skinny, and shapeless body. She wasn't ugly, but neither was she pretty. Plain would be the best description for her. Someone you would tend to overlook in a library. Oh yeah, she looked like she belonged in a library. She was dressed in a pair of new looking somewhat loose fitting dark slacks, with a beige blouse which downplaid her smallish breasts. All she really needed was a pair of glasses and she could be a total nerd.

Cat was looking at her with interest, the obvious laughter in her eyes being studiously blocked from her face as she asked, "Are you sure about this?"

The strange woman nodded, then after a glance at Faith said in a soft alto, "If it'll make Faith more comfortable, then yes. I'm sure."

Faith's eyes shot open and she gasped, "Xander?"

=+=

Cat couldn't take it anymore, and she fell back on the couch laughing.

"Yes, Faith. Look, I know what you told Cat, and well, if this is what it takes to make you comfortable enough to stay here, then I'll do it. Granted, I'll have to change back when not in the apartment a lot of the time, like when I'm working or at school, but I don't mind."

Faith didn't know what to say. Granted, she'd never even considered that a guy might turn himself into a chick, especially not for her. It just wasn't the kind of thing guys did.

Or, she corrected herself, most guys. But then, most guys didn't have the power to change themselves, and those that might have, probably didn't already have a chick living in their head, if she understood what Cat had been telling her about Xander, and based on the fact that Xander did this while he was gone, or was that she was gone, now, anyhow, the point was that while still gone, Xander had known what she'd told Cat, and understood it enough to do this. For her. And she didn't have a fucking clue what to say about that, because this was way beyond, well, anything. She trusted Cat. And from what she understood, Xander and Cat were really the same person in some weird way. So that meant, and she realized it was true, she trusted Xander. "Damn" she finally said.

Xander looked at her as she started putting the groceries away, all but a box of Twinkies which she deliberately left out on the counter. Seeing the box, Faith flashed back to her earlier conversation with Cat, and how when she had told Cat, 'You know what he wants. What all guys want.' Cat had replied with 'Twinkies?'

Apparently that was what Xander wanted, even as a chick. Faith couldn't help it, she started giggling too, and soon both Cat and Faith were laughing hysterically as Xander stared at them in confusion. "I don't get it." She said, before opening the box of Twinkies and pulling one of the cakes out. Faith fell off the stool onto the floor.

About the time Xander had finished eating her Twinkie, Faith had gained enough control to climb to her feet again, the laughter swallowed for the moment, although a giggle still escaped as her eyes crossed the still open Twinkie box. Finally she looked at Xander and said, "Ok. I'll move in. And you don't have to be a girl for me to do so. I trust Cat. And you are Cat, or Cat is you, or some shit like that. You are both the same. So I should trust you too. And I'm willing to give it a shot. But I get one F. Just in case."

There was a flash of light, an a beaming, normal, male looking Xander stood before her, extending a hand, "Then let's shake on it."

Faith reached back out and took the offered hand and shook it.

Xander met her gaze with a gentle intensity she'd never seen in his eyes before, and he said, "One F. But try not to use it. In fact, I'll do you one better. For every A, you can bank an F, PE excluded. Both from the A's, and the F's."

"Why Exclude PE?" Faith asked.

"Slayer strength," he noted and she realized just how hard she was squeezing his hand at the moment.

"Oh! I'm sorry!" she exclaimed, starting to release her grip, only to find her hand still held firmly.

"No, not what I meant, but you should be careful about that. What I meant was that I know you could Ace PE if you used your Slayer Strength to do so, and I realize that refusing to do so in the face of an insistent coach could get you that F, so if you end up blowing PE for that reason, it won't count. Although if you blow it because you blew it off or something, then we'll have to talk."

Xander released her hand and Faith found herself once more being hugged by Cat. She was starting to like getting Cat hugs.

"Well, I think we need to get ready to go back to school. What do you two think?" Xander asked from behind them.

Faith just smiled at him over Cat's shoulder. Who ever thought she'd be fucking happy to go back to some school?

=+=

Principal Snyder looked up as the three teenagers wandered past his secretary's desk and into his office, not even stopping to check in.

"Yes, can I help you?" he said, warily taking in the faces of Alexander Harris, Slayer Faith Lehane, and that short blonde he'd seen the night before.

"Good morning, Principal Snyder" Harris said, stepping forward. "We're here to register for classes, and to take some placement tests to see where we should be fit in. I'm hoping that Katrina and I can qualify as Seniors, and Faith is supposed to be a freshman, but as for whether she should be in remedial, or AP classes, or somewhere in between, we're not really sure and are hoping you can figure it out."

Snyder peered over at the uncharacteristically smiling Slayer and felt a knot form in his stomach. He knew what the Mayor would say, he would want Snyder to do whatever it took to get the Slayer into classes. Partly to distract her, and partly because he genuinely seemed to think education was important for these future McDonalds peons. As for Harris and his friend, he himself had called the Mayor to recommend that they smoothed the road for the return of the Lost Scooby to the school, having decided that it would be far easier to keep an eye on the miscreant if he was in classes than if he was wandering around at large doing who knows what.

"Very well. I trust you have your scholastic record from wherever it was you went last year when you left here?" he asked Harris, knowing full well that Harris had apparently been kidnapped and transported to Russia or something like that, from what he'd heard the night before while eavesdropping on the conversation in the library at the Mayor's behest.

Harris actually looked embarrassed for a moment, before the short blonde next to him whispered in his ear and withdrew a large worn envelope from her purse to hand to him.

"Me, no. I, uh, I wasn't in any school last year. I know it'll seem like some sort of made-up story, but the truth is I was Kidnapped last year." Harris said, rumpling the already worn envelope in his hands.

"Kidnapped?" Snyder asked, pretending not to already know what had happened.

Harris nodded. "Yeah. And taken to Russia. Where they locked me up. No one ever did learn why, but let me tell you, it was Hell."

The Slayer snickered at that, but a glance from the blonde and surprisingly she settled right down.

"Russia. I hope you have some sort of proof of this?" Snyder asked, allowing his contempt for the youth to creep into his voice.

"Uh, yeah. Right here." The boy said tossing the now very rumpled envelope onto Snyder's desk as though it was suddenly on fire. No wait, burning down schools was his friend Summers's trademark, not Harris's.

"Also is my transcripts." The blonde said in a soft, flat accent less alto, as though she had spent a lot of time practicing the accent, but not as much practicing the syntax.

He looked up at her and asked, "And you are?"

She smiled at him, a very pretty smile as she glanced at Harris and replied, "Katrina Harris." She glanced again at Harris and beamed as she added softly, "I am wife."

Snyder frowned, "Students should not be married, they're too young. I will not tolerate any inappropriate behavior from you two, is that clear?"

The blonde nodded softly replying "Da, uh," then a little louder, "Yes Sir."

Snyder looked through the papers from the envelope. In it were several documents in Russian, along with what looked like translations provided by the US State Department.

It was one of the stand alone documents which really gathered his attention though. 'Only Harris' he thought as he read through the document, a report summarizing the events surrounding the kidnapping and transportation across international borders of one US citizen, an Alexander Harris. It went on to detail how he had been held hostage, apparently without the issuance of any demands for several months. How towards the end of his ordeal a Russian citizen, one Katrina Bastdadura had also been kidnapped, and the two prisoners held locked together, chained up to opposite sided of a darkened room. How she had apparently drawn Alexander back from the brink of insanity by talking to him in the darkness as they waited for the infrequent visits by their captors. Reading the event actually stirred a wisp of sympathy for Harris's plight somewhere deep inside Snyder, but he swiftly quashed it, and continued on reading through the summary. Apparently, after one visit by their captors, Harris had been insufficiently rechained, and shortly after their departure had managed to free himself. He had made his way across the unlight room to where Katrina was being held, and had managed somehow to free her as well, although she was unable to walk at that point due to injuries. He had carried her out and through the open countryside for several miles before stealing a car, and driving her to a hospital in a local town. There were references to copies of the relevant court documents covering his confession regarding his theft of the automobile, and the subsequent dismissal of the charges due to extenuating circumstances. The kidnappers had fled the location by the time the local police could arrive to investigate, but plenty of physical evidence was collected, and an investigation was apparently ongoing. Harris and Katrina apparently refused to be separated, and were married by a Russian Judge at their request, allowing Katrina, who's family had been apparently killed when she was captured, to apply for US citizenship and return with her new husband. Included was Katrina's entire scholastic record, translated into English, as well as copies of the marriage certificate, and the various documents pertaining to the repatriation of Harris, and the immigration of his wife.

Snyder looked up from the documents and said flatly, "Well, it all seems in order. We're going to need to make copies of all this. As far as class placement, you are right, we're going to have to administer several placement tests to see where both of you lay, scholastically. I suppose we can administer a test to Faith, I believe he said your name was?" Snyder asked, looking at Lehane.

The Slayer nodded silently.

Snyder frowned, and asked her, "I believe I've seen you around here before, haven't I?"

Harris spoke up again, preempting any reply the Slayer may have been about to make, "She was a runaway, and had dropped out of school at the time. She was recently adopted though , and her new parents insisted she return to school. They asked us to keep an eye on her, make sure there were no problems." Suddenly Harris's voice took on an almost hypnotic quality as he continued, "There will be no problems."

Snyder blinked, almost like coming out of a trance as he answered, "No, of course there won't be any problems. I'll have Ms. Wintmore set you up for several placement exams right away. I'll be just a moment."

With that Snyder left the three teenagers in his office as he went in search of his wayward secretary. He had to set everything up and make sure there wouldn't be any problems No problems at all, the Mayor wouldn't like it if there were problems, after all.

=+=

"It's happened again, Sister." the male Oracle said, looking across the room at his eternal sibling.

His sister almost didn't hear him, she was concentrating so hard on ways to restore their plan to the proper track now that they no longer have Slayer Faith, who wasn't supposed to die for another eight months, when she was to play a pivotal role in ensuring the failure of the Mayor's Ascension, as well as the death of the Pretender, thus freeing their future Champion to leave Sunnydale and move to Los Angeles where he could resume his destiny in the defeat of the Circle of the Black Thorn several years hence. "What's that, Brother?" she asked, still somewhat distracted.

"Sunnydale. It's being blocked again, it seems to have started several hours ago, but I hadn't noticed until I tried to check on out future Champion again. And when I noticed I once more couldn't see anything from the region of the Hellmouth, I started looking backwards, and the block seems to have started earlier this morning."

She turned her own senses towards the nearby Hellmouth, only to find nothing. It was as though the Hellmouth and its environs had ceased to exist, or more accurately like they had never existed in the first place. It was quite, disconcerting.

"Get the demons over there. We need to send Whistler to check on the vampire. The last thing we need right now is for Harris to kidnap him and take him back to Hell with him as well. Also, have Skip find and neutralize Harris. This interference must end." she commanded.

Her brother nodded, summoning their agents, even as his sister began contacting the other Powers, summing them to a conclave, they must have consensus on this and task every agent and Champion they have to eliminating Harris and stopping his interference in their plans.

=+=

"Willow!" Buffy's excited voice called out across the lunch room.

The redhead turned to see an unusually excited Buffy pushing her way through the milling students in order to get to her. "Have you seen him yet?" she asked, sliding into the seat across from the young apprentice Witch.

"Seen who?" Willow asked, confused.

Buffy's eyes suddenly shot open and she started a babble worthy of the redhead it was directed towards. "Oh-my-god-I-forgot-to-call-you-last-night-I'm-so-sorry!" Taking a breath she continued, speeding back up to a babble, "Xander's back. Or-at-least-he-was-last-night-and-he-said-he'd-be-coming-back-to-school-today-for-good."

Willow shot to her feet, looking around the cafeteria for any sign of her absent childhood friend. "Where is he? Why didn't he call me?" settling her gaze on her embarrassed looking friend she asked, "How could you forget to call me?"

Buffy looked down at the table, then back up, meeting the hurt eyes of her redheaded best friend, "I was distracted."

Willow sank back into her seat, pinning her friend with her gaze, "By what?"

Buffy's blush deepened and she took a deep breath, "Willow, there's something I need to tell you." She paused a few seconds, gathering her courage, then continued, "Angel's back."

Willow's already pale complexion suddenly faded several shads, going past a milky white, to a sickly greenish tinge "Wha? Oh-my-god! We-have-to-get-Giles! We'll-need-stakes, lots-of-stakes, and-oh-holy-water."

Buffy reached out and caught one of Willow's waving hands and held it gently as she said, "Willow, breathe. And it's OK. The spell you guys did last year, apparently it worked. He's Angel, not Angelus. But he's not well, apparently he was in Hell for over a hundred years, and it wasn't a pleasant stay."

Willow's color was slowly returning to her face as she asked, "Over a hundred years? But Xander was gone almost as long, and he said it was closer to twenty or twenty five years. How could it have been over a hundred for Angel? That makes no sense."

Buffy shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe Xander was lying, you know how he tries to downplay things sometimes. Or maybe time runs really differently in Hell, I don't know. We know it does run differently, since it was only months here, and they both thought it was years there.

Willow nodded at that, agreeing with the basic concept of differing rates of perceptual time across various realities.

"But, when did he get back? Did Xander bring him?" Willow asked.

Buffy's blush deepened yet again, and she mumbled something almost incomprehensible. Willow just looked at her and asked, "What?"

Buffy took a deep breath and said again, a bit louder, "Last week." At Willows look she explained, "I found him incoherent and almost naked in a graveyard on patrol. I carried him back to the mansion he'd been using on Crawford Street, and got him some blood. I've been feeding him ever since then. He's a lot better now, almost back to full strength, and he's almost completely recovered from the experience, although he's still kind of distant. I didn't say anything because I wasn't sure how you guys would react. I mean, afterwards, after we'd lost Xander, you guys seemed to think it was all Angel's fault, and I didn't want to get into all of that, I was just happy he was finally back."

Willow was frowning at Buffy as she said softly, "You should have told us. What if he didn't still have his soul? We would all have been in danger, and wouldn't have known at all."

Buffy shook her head, "No, he's fine. He's really Angel, not Angelus."

Willow's scowl turned to a hurt expression as she plaintively asked, "So, because of Angel you were too distracted to tell me my best friend since forever was coming back to school today?"

Buffy frowned, "I'd meant to call you last night, but things were so hectic after they left with Cat, Giles kept worrying about the Hellmouth and I had to dispose of the Hydra Head, and then it was too late to call, so I decided I'd catch you this morning, but then when I went to see Angel on my way to school he told me that the Powers That Be thought that Xander had kidnapped Faith and taken her to Hell for some reason, and that Xander was evil. Then I was late for class, and well, this was the first time I saw you all day. I'm a bad friend. I'm sorry." Buffy pouted as she looked down at her hands folded before her on the table.

Willow took a deep breath to scold her friend again, but then let it go, suddenly distracted by something Buffy said, "Hellmouth and Hydra Head? Did the Hellmouth open last night?"

Buffy shrugged, "Sort of. Cat came back with Xander, of course. Well Faith and her pulled this prank on Giles and me. They pretended Faith had killed Xander, but then I noticed he was still alive, and there was this evil fake watcher who wanted to take charge of Faith, and Cat turned her into a pink poodle, then she somehow got rid of the Hellmouth, and Xander yelled at her, and that weird roman God Janus came and yelled at her too, and made Cat recreate the Hellmouth, and she opened up a portal, and the Hydra came through and tried to eat Cat, and Xander cut the head off, then she closed the portal and opened another one on the floor, like the Hellmouth had been, and all the furniture fell in, and Xander disappeared, and Cat closed the Hellmouth, and then Xander came back, and made new furniture, and then the God left, and Xander and Cat told Faith, did you know she's just fifteen, with them to Toronto, saying they'd be back today for school."

Willow blinked as she digested her friend's report. At least she could understand how Buffy may have been too distracted to call her if all that was going on the night before. But several things demanded more investigation, "Did you say Xander replaced the furniture? How?"

Buffy shrugged, "He's a god. Or I think He and Cat are a god, somehow. It's confusing, I don't think even Giles really understands it. But apparently he's like a really powerful god. And he's still Janus's Champion, so he can also call on Janus's power if he needs to."

Willow's head spun as she considered her best friend since kindergarten as an actual God, like all the ones at his wedding. But she moved on to the next point, "There was an evil Watcher? And she was trying to take Faith? Slutbomb-skank Faith?"

Buffy looked around then said softly, "Don't let Xander or Cat hear you call her that. Xander was totally pissed off at Giles and me last night because we were letting her live at the Sunnydale Motor Loge."

Willow grinned, "Hooker central?" she nodded as she continued, "That's just so, appropriate for her somehow."

Buffy shook her head, "Wills, she's just fifteen, like I was when I was called two years ago. Xander had a point, she shouldn't be living there. No matter how she acts or dresses."

Willow digested that for a moment. "Xander was mad?"

Buffy nodded, "I thought he was going to explode, and not just emotionally. He was seething mad, and at the same time he was icy cold. Like he could kill either of us without any fuss. But when we told him we didn't know, he calmed right down, he just went back out and told Faith she wasn't going back to the Motel, and that she could either stay with me, Giles, or go with him and Cat last night. I almost got mad at him for volunteering my like that but then I thought about it, and I suddenly felt so guilty for not even wondering how old she was, or where she was living. Did you know she lied to us, her real Watcher isn't on some retreat, she's dead. Faith came here looking for help, and we just called her a slut and ignored her. I pictured what I'd have done if I hadn't had my Mom and Dad when Merrick died, and I'd made my way across the whole country to find another Slayer, and they treated me like we've treated Faith, and I felt so bad I almost wished Xander had killed me in Giles's office. "

Willow thought about it, and a flush of embarrassment heated her own cheeks momentarily. "I suppose so. I'll apologize to her. How would Angel know that the Powers That Be thought Xander kidnapped Faith and took her to hell?"

Buffy shrugged, "Apparently someone called Whistle told him. They know Xander was here somehow, and that the Hellmouth opened, and afterwards, they couldn't find Faith, to apparently they figured that Xander had somehow kidnapped her and taken her through the Hellmouth to Hell."

Willow nodded at that, it made sense, she supposed. "Ok. So, when was he supposed to be here?"

Buffy shrugged, "He told Snyder, he was there last night by the way, apparently the Mayor sent him to check on the Hellmouth for some reason, but Xander told Snyder he and Cat were going to be coming in today to re-enroll in school, and he used some Jedi Mind Trick to make Snyder think it was his idea to get Xander back into school with us."

Willow grinned, "I remember him doing that a few times after Halloween. He wasn't very good at it though."

Buffy grinned, "Well apparently he's a whole lot better now, 'cause Snyder told him everything he asked, then left Just like Xander told him to."

Willow shook her head. "Ok. Well, I'm going to swing by the office and see if they know anything then." She put on her Resolve Face "But we're talking later about not telling us about Angel. You got that Missy?"

Buffy just nodded, looking down at her hands once more.

"Ok. I'll go check at the office. If he shows up here, don't let him leave. I'll be back unless I find him." Willow ordered as she moved off, her half eaten lunch totally forgotten behind her on the table.

=+=

Snyder sneered as he came into the room. Originally he'd had mixed feelings when he'd seen the results of Harris's and Bastdadura's placement tests. It had been his idea, after all to insure that Harris was readmitted to Sunnydale High, where it would be easier to keep an eye on him. But the evidence of cheating was so blatantly obvious that the attack dog inside Snyder's core was unrestrainable when presented with the opportunity. Besides, he could still readmit Harris, but it would be on HIS terms now, with the student on probation and under as many restrictions as Snyder could think of.

"Harris, I don't know how you did it, but I know you cheated on these tests." He said, waving the exams in the air to prove his point.

Xander blinked in confusion at the man, barely restraining his urge to slip inside the petty administrator's mind to see what he was gloating about. Instead he simply opted for asking, "Huh?"

Snyder slapped the tests down on the table. "Identical scores. That's what I'm talking about. I know you copied off of Bastdadura's tests. There's no other way you two could get the same answers right and wrong on both of your tests."

Xander sighed, then looked at Snyder in annoyance, "Did it occur to you that perhaps we studied together?"

Snyder gave Xander an evil grin at that reply, then looked towards the door where the instructor who had administered the tests was standing. "I asked Mrs. Jensen about that, and she said it wouldn't be enough to cause a perfect match. No, you cheated, and as soon as we figure out how, your ass is mine."

Xander looked over at the obviously harried math teacher, "Mrs. Jensen, where was I sitting in the room?"

Mrs. Jensen shrugged, "You were in the front, by my desk."

"And where was Cat?" He asked, looking over at his smirking wife.

"She was also in the front, at the other side of the room, by the door."

"And how many rows of chairs were there between us?" Xander asked.

"There were five rows, and before you ask, Ms. Lehane was in the center seat, between both of you. So I don't know how you could have shared answers." Mrs. Jensen answered.

"One more question. Were they the same tests?" Xander asked.

Mrs. Jensen blinked at the question, then answered, "Of course they were. Standard Placement Tests."

Xander shook his head, "I mean, the questions. Were they the same?"

Mrs. Jensen nodded, "Of course. Each of the SHSPTs tests the same body of knowledge. I mean, they mix the order of the questions and the answers up, but the tests are all identical."

"Right, but the actual tests are different. Same information, but different order." Xander clarified.

Snyder frowned as Mrs. Jensen nodded, "Yes. I already said that."

Turning to Snyder, Xander explained, "So if I had somehow copied my answers off of Cat's test, I would have probably missed more answers than if I'd just randomly filled in a response for every question."

Mrs. Jensen nodded, "Of course. That's why they are set up that way, so students can't just copy the answers from the student next to them."

Locking eyes with Snyder, Xander replied in a soft tone, "So it is impossible for me to have copied off of Cat's test, or for her to have copied off of mine. Our answers are the same because we studied together, and know the same things."

Snyder blinked and replied, "Ok, so you studied together and knew the same things. You also didn't know the same things. But overall you scored well enough to qualify for AP cources, and to graduate at the end of the year, if you pass all the classes. But I'll be keeping my eyes on you, Harris." Shifting his beady gaze to Cat he added, "And you too, Ms. Bastdadura."

Cat frowned at him, "That's Mrs. Harris, Mr. Snyder. Please use my proper name."

Snyder sneered, "Not in my school. I refuse to acknowledge a marriage between two of my students. You're both too young." Looking now at the silent Faith who was standing between both Xander and Cat, he added, "Oh, and Ms. Lehane, you will be admitted as a Freshman. Your scores were rather low, and you will be taking Remedial Math, but otherwise they were sufficient that I can see you graduating in three years, if you buckle down and work hard. You will go see the councilors now so they can issue you a class schedule. It's too late for you to start today, but all three of you will be back here on time tomorrow for your first period at 8:10. Is that understood?"

Faith nodded, swallowing the retort she wanted to make as Cat softly squeezed her arm, reminding her that she wasn't alone in her distaste for the principal, but that this was not a fight she should get into at the moment.

"Thanks, Mr. Snyder." Cat said.

Glancing at the retreating form of Mrs. Jensen, Snyder admonished, "That's Principal Snyder, Ms. Bastdadura."

"That's Mrs. Harris, Mr. Snyder. I refuse to acknowledge any title worthy of respect to any one who won't acknowledge my legal marriage to my husband."

Snyder sneered and growled at her, "You're already on my list, Ms. Bastdadura due to your association with Harris and the hooligans he hangs out with. You really don't want me to move you to the top of it."

Cat smiled sweetly at him as she replied, "And you don't want to get on my list at all, Mr. Snyder. Because the people who end up on it don't stay there for long."

Snyder was cut off from replying as the door closed behind the small blonde, leaving him alone in his office.

=+=

"They left" Willow whined as she came up to Buffy in the hallway after the last class of the day.

Buffy turned a confused gaze on Willow and asked, "Who left?"

"Xander! He was here with Cat AND Faith. I was told they were taking placement tests when I went by at Lunch. I tried to wait around, incase they finished, but they never came out, and then the bell rang, and I had to go to class. But I just went by the office, and they told me that they all three left, over an hour ago! Just like that!" Willow explained.

Amy and Jonathan were making their way down the hall towards the other two Scoobies, even as Buffy started leading the upset Willow towards the Library. "Well, what would you expect them to do?"

Willow pouted, "Wait around and say 'Hi' would be nice. Xander hasn't even tried to call me. I thought he was my best friend, why is he avoiding me? Did I say something wrong at his wedding?"

Buffy blinked at her friend as she tried to think of a reply. "No, I don't think he's avoiding you, Willow. It's just that there were other things going on. I'm sure he'll be happy to see you again."

"When?" Willow asked.

Buffy just shrugged, "Perhaps we'll go Bronzing tonight? That'd be cool. The whole gang back together again."

Willow looked hopeful, "You think so?"

Buffy just shrugged. "I'm sure he wants to see you as much as you want to see him."

Willow smiled as they walked into the library together, Amy and Jonathan trailing silently along behind them.

=+=

Giles looked up as his children shuffled into the room. He'd been hoping it would be either Faith or Xander and his wife, but he was equally glad to see Buffy, Willow, Amy and Jonathan coming into the room. "Good afternoon." He said, lifting his teacup at them in greeting.

Buffy was the first to speak. "Hey Giles. You hear from Xander yet?"

Giles just shook his head in a negative, "Other than learning that he and Cat, who's apparently using the name Katrina Bastdadura Harris, as well as Faith have registered for school starting tomorrow. Both Cat and Xander are to be attending as Seniors, and are scheduled to graduate this June with the rest of you, while Faith, who for some reason is using the last name Januson, will be attending as a Freshman."

"Januson?" Willow asked, confused.

A deep voice spoke from the doorway behind them, startling everyone in the room as it said, "Yes. Januson, her new last name, since Kitty and I have adopted the girl legally. We shall be moving into a basement apartment just across the street, in fact, providing our daughter with easy access to her classes, and her friends with a convenient place to stop by after school."

Everyone whirled to gaze at the newcomers, Giles actually dropping his teacup to the floor in his surprise to the unexpected interruption.

Standing in the door were two strangers and Faith. The brunette Slayer was bracketed by a tall middle-aged brunette man, and a rather curvy and short blonde woman in her late twenties or early thirties.

Giles was a bit put off by something about the man before him, and he asked warily, "And you are?"

The man smiled and extended his hand, "Lex. Lex and Kitty Januson. And of course, you know our daughter Faith."

Willow's eyes narrowed and she asked softly, "Xander?"

Suddenly there was a flash of light, and the older man was replaced by the form of her familiar, and long absent friend who just gave her a goofy grin as he said happily, "Hey Wills. Miss me?"

A red-headed missile launched herself on a ballistic trajectory across the room, only to be caught in Xander's arms as she giggled in happiness at finally seeing her friend.

Cat, still in the persona of Kitty Januson, looked on with a happy smile on her own face as she felt the utter happiness radiating from her husband to fill her own mind with it's joy.

Giles cleared his throat, catching Cat's, or rather, Kitty's eye and asked, "Is the subterfuge really necessary?"

Kitty nodded and replied, "There is no way they would allow a pair of seventeen, or even eighteen year olds to adopt a fifteen year old girl, and we wanted to make it official. So we're going to see about creating a stable portal between the basement storeroom of the apartments across the street, and our inside apartment in Toronto. Anyone who doesn't know the truth shouldn't be surprised by the lack of windows in the apartment, as they will believe it to be downstairs, under ground. Unless they go out the actual front door and find themselves above the club there shouldn't be any problems. And it solves several other concerns. Xander and I will be registered as living there as well, which will explain why he doesn't reside with his parents, the plans for the building will now show the living space instead of the storage area, the actual area will be used for the new Guest Suite, where Xander and Cat will allegedly be living, somewhat separated from the kitchen entryway, and both the Master Bedroom and Faith's room, which are in the Toronto apartment. Since we bought the building, there shouldn't be any questions about why we would choose to live there, either."

With another flash of light, Kitty was replaced by the far more youthful looking Cat, and she continued, "And it'll allow you guys to come visit us whenever you want, as well as let Faith patrol here in Sunnydale, since she can't very well go around Toronto killing vampires."

"Bought the building? How did you manage to do that?" Giles asked, looking at Cat then over at Xander to see signs of secret wealth.

Faith was the one who answered, however, grinning as she replied, "They fucking ripped off the Mob. It was so cool!"

Cat frowned at Faith as she replied in a somewhat mockingly-sharp tone, "Now faith, we did not rip off the Mob. What was it Xander said, oh yeah, we diverted numerous unmarked liquid assets from several cartels, directing each of their attentions towards their various rivals."

Faith just grinned and shook her head. "They fucking ripped off the Mob. And made them think it was other dealers who did it. A whole bunch of them got busted with extra drugs, the drugs the cash was paying for, so the ones who got ripped think the ones who got busted did it."

Giles frowned, but Xander relaxed his grip on Willow and interjected, "And the ones who didn't get ripped off, got busted, so they lost both their cash and their drugs. It won't stop things, but it should cause a huge logjam in their delivery train. And we were able to siphon off several million dollars with which we purchased the apartments across from the school, and set up college funds for you guys, as well as a trust fund for Faith."

Faith just grinned, "The fucking Mob is paying me to get good grades. They just don't know it."

Giles looked in confusion to Xander who shrugged, "Carrot and Stick We made an agreement with Faith this morning, she returned to school, and didn't fail any classes, "

"Hey, I get to fail one, remember!" Faith interjected, "And if I get an A, I can get another F somewhere else as well."

Xander nodded, "True. Ok, she can't fail many classes. But that was the stick. The carrot is for every actual A she gets, that isn't in Gym, she also gets to draw a thousand dollars from her trust fund for whatever she wants. If she gets three A's, she can draw three grand. Otherwise, it just sits there until she graduates college. Then she gets the interest. She can't touch the principal until she can match it out of her own funds, at which point she gets it all."

Giles took off his glasses and started to clean them. Buffy pouted and said, "Why don't I get any money for getting A's?"

Willow interjected, "Buffy, you don't get any A's. Just B's, C's and D's. Mostly C's."

Buffy looked pointedly at Xander and said, "I might if I got a thousand dollar bonus for every A."

Xander shook his head, "You might, but you won't from me. I'm your friend, Buff. Not your Father. Cat and I wanted to insure that Faith was taken care of in case anything happened to us somehow. With the college funds and trust fund we set up for her today, she should be able to set herself up successfully in life. And the matching funds clause to release the principal on the trust gives her a reason to strive for that success, because she'll have to save quite a bit of money to match the original principal."

Faith just grinned, "Yeah, but when I do, I'll be the richest fucking slayer ever."

Xander nodded. "True, with two million in liquid assets, and the experience which allowed her to gather the second million on her own, she shouldn't squander it away once she has control of the full amount. Or so I would hope. But at that point it's hers to do with as she chooses in any case."

Faith just grinned. "Did I mention that they actually adopted me? Legal and all. Went to the court this morning, and bamboozled a Judge. He signed papers and everything."

Cat grinned and shook her head, "We didn't bamboozle him, Faith, we just convinced him that we were fit parents, that you were an acceptable candidate for adoption, despite being a runaway, and that there wasn't a need for CPS or Welfare to worry about things like they normally would in such a case. Nothing we told him was untrue, and he made his own decisions. We just cut a few corners so we could do it now, rather than drag it out over several months worth of inspections, investigations, and hearings which would have all required special efforts to manage."

Faith just grinned, "They bamboozled a fucking Judge, and ripped off the Mob. For me." She reached out and grabbed Cat in one arm and squeezed the smaller girl with enough force to have killed a mortal woman. But Cat just returned the hug, although with a bit less force, so as to avoid damaging the girl. "I've got fucking cool parents."

Cat just smiled up at her new daughter. Softly she whispered into Faith's ears, so quietly that even Buffy's Slayer Hearing didn't pick it up, "Faith, one request, please try and cut down on the language, for me?"

Faith's smile didn't waver as she considered the request, and the way it was worded, and then nodded slightly, whispering back, "No prob. I'll try."

Buffy quirked an eyebrow as she barely made out Faith's reply and realizing she'd missed something, but not sure what.

Willow had finally released Xander, and now her expression changed, becoming stern as she reached out and smacked him on the arm as hard as she could. "Why didn't you call me yesterday, or today?"

Xander looked down at his friend, his new senses taking in the pain radiating through her being at her question and he frowned sadly. "I'm sorry, Wills. There was just so much going on last night, and this morning you were in classes, then we had things to take care of before tomorrow, and well, I didn't have a chance. Besides, I wanted to SEE you, not just talk to you on the phone."

Willow felt the sincerity in his voice and wiping a tear away from the corner of her eye nodded at him quietly, accepting his apology.

Xander looked around and grinned, "But that brings up something I wanted to discuss with you guys." Looking over he met Cat's eyes for a moment before continuing, "One reason I couldn't call Willow today was she didn't have a phone. And neither did I. Cat and I thought about a lot of things last night, which is when we figured out how we think we can set up the stationary portal between Toronto and here, basically by making it like the Hellmouth, and powering it off the energy differential between there and here. And then we were thinking about phones, and we came up with an idea. So we're getting a set of regular cell phones, one for each of you, but we're going to replace them with ones that should be able to call across the portal, so whether we are here or there your phones should be able to get a hold of us."

Cat nodded and continued, "Which means in an emergency you can always get us, as long as we're either here or in Toronto."

Xander took over when she paused, "But there's something we need to go over with you guys right now, which might be hard for you guys to understand at first."

Looking around the room he took in the faces of those present. "Is Cordy still hanging out with you guys? And what about Oz? I know they were both at our wedding, are they around? And I think Mrs. Calendar, Mrs. Summers, and Liam should be here as well." Xander said.

"Liam?" Jonathan asked.

Xander glanced over at Buffy, who'd gone pale at the name, realizing exactly who he was referring to. Softly she replied, "Angel. It's his original name."

Xander shook his head, "No, it's the name of the soul. And that's who I am referring to. Liam is not Angelus, and he needs to understand that as well as the rest of you guys do."

Giles looked alarmed, "I say, has Angelus escaped from Hell as well?"

Xander shook his head, "No. At least not technically. But Liam is back."

Jenny Calendar, who had just entered the library lost the smile she'd been starting to form at the sight of the once missing Scooby as the words he was saying sunk in.

"He's back?" she asked.

Looking over at her Xander smiled a greeting, "Yeah, I think so. But the curse you guys did, it worked. We talked a bit in Hell before we got separated in a fight. I was able to, not reconcile with him, but in reflection I decided that he's wrong, and if anyone should know that, it's me."

"Wrong about what?" Jenny asked.

"Wrong about feeling guilty. Wrong about the need to seek redemption." Xander explained.

"How could he possibly be wrong about that? Angelus is a monster, one of the worst demons to rampage across Europe and Asia in recorded history." Giles asked.

Xander nodded, "True. But that's where he's wrong. You see, Liam is not Angelus. Granted, they share the same memories, and some of the same personality traits, but they are not the same being. I should know, your memories are a guide, a framework which shapes your actions and reactions. But you are not just the sum of those memories. I have many memories which are not mine in any way. They are all a part of me, and they provide a framework from which to work, a perspective to use in forming judgments. But I shouldn't feel guilt over the actions of some demon who's memories I absorbed during my stay in Hell, after all, I never did the things that demon did, nor would I take those actins, even if I were placed in those exact circumstances. So why should I feel guilt over them? Because I can remember the pleasure the demon felt at the other's pain? It wasn't my pleasure, so no. And if it's true for me, then it should be equally true for Liam. The only thing he's guilty of is the weakness which first gave birth to Angelus. But after that the crimes Angelus committed, are Angelus's, not Liam's. At worst he's an accessory, but he's not the murderer. And that's what I need to explain to Liam. I need to make him understand that he is NOT Angelus."

Jenny blinked at that, then stated, "But Angel is Angelus, just with a soul."

"But the soul is who you are. You, the true you, is the soul. Angelus isn't Liam without a soul. Liam without a soul is a dead body, rotting in the ground. Angelus is a demon infesting that dead body, a demon formed and guided by the memories of Liam's life, but a demon all the same. And Angelus does not have a soul." Xander tried to explain.

"If you want to place names, call the body Angel. It's not, it's just a body, and without a force animating it it's nothing but a lump of material. But for the sake of identification, we'll give it the name Angel. Now, the soul which was born into that body, and lived in it for over twenty years, he was called Liam. And Liam was never a murdering serial rapist. The worst thing I can think of him is a tendency towards pedophilia, and the weakness of will which led to his death. When Liam was killed by Darla, she created a demon called Angelus. Angelus was not Liam in any way. Oh, he had Liam's face, and his memories, shared his likes and dislikes, more or less, but they were not the same person at all. Because Liam was not evil, just weak and stupid. Angelus was evil by every definition of the word, he reveled in it. Because he's a demon, and that's what most of them do."

Giles paused in cleaning his glasses and asked, "So you are saying that despite sharing the same body and memories, they are distinctly separate individuals?"

Xander nodded, "You got it G-Man. Yes, Liam was a drunk and a coward, Angelus was a demon which reveled in causing pain. And when the Gypsies cursed Angel by dragging Liam back to earth and shoving him into the demon's body, he shouldn't have validated the actions of the demon by assuming the guilt for them. Yes, the memories of what the monster with his face using what had once been his body had done are likely horrid and nightmarish, especially recalling the joy causing such pain provided the demon. But unless Liam shared that joy, rather than shuddering in horror at the memories, he had no reason to feel any guilt over the other being's actions. The only actions he should be ashamed of are those he himself took, either during his original life, or after he was returned."

Buffy smiled and asked, "So you don't think Angel should feel bad about what the vampire did? You forgive him?"

Xander frowned, "No, I don't forgive him. No more than I forgive Jonathan for Willow's stealing my last Twinkie the day before I went to Hell."

Willow frowned at that, remembering how she'd jokingly taken the cake from her friend's lunch tray when he wasn't looking. She hadn't realized at the time that she was taking the last Twinkie he'd see for several years. Suddenly she felt a surge of guilt for what had seemed at the time a harmless prank, something she would have forgotten about herself by now, if it hadn't been the last time they'd eaten together before she lost him.

"I had nothing to do with that!" Jonathan said suddenly, "I wasn't even there, I was home sick that day! In fact, it wasn't until after you were gone that I even knew about it!"

Xander nodded, and replied, "My point exactly. So how can I forgive you for something you had no involvement in?" His eyes shifted to the suddenly stricken looking redhead at his side and he hugged her reassuringly, "And I forgave you for that that very day, even if I did regret missing that Twinkie several times over the years. It was the last happy memory I had of my bestest bud, of you smiling at me, your cheeks bulging with cake, filling on your lips as you said, "What Twinkie?" with such false sincerity, that the memory always made me smile."

Willow smiled back at him as she leaned into his hug, her sudden wash of guilt fading as she smiled herself now at the memory. Then she nodded, "So because Liam didn't do the things Angelus did, you can't forgive him because he's not involved."

Xander nodded, "Yep. Liam may as well have been home sick, while Angelus was doing his deeds. And that's what I need to get the idiot to realize."

Centering his gaze on the Slayer, he asked, "So, can you go get your Mom, then swing by wherever Angel is, and bring them both back here, so Cat and I can go over some stuff we need you all to understand now, rather than later?" At Buffy's nod he shifted his gaze to Willow, "And can you go find Oz, and maybe Cordy, and get them both back here by say, five thirty? We'll all meet back here at five thirty, and then Cat and I have some explaining to do. Then we'll go pull a quick patrol, and have some fun. Cat and I are going to go try and set up that static portal to Toronto in the meantime."

Everyone seemed to nod, and with that Xander gave Willow a final hug, then moved over to his wife and new daughter. "Well, let's go see about setting up a permanent doorway between here and home."

Cat nodded, and Faith quietly followed the two as they headed across the street, quietly chatting with each other about if they could manage a stable wormhole instead of a portal, so they didn't have to worry about a sideband.

=+=

"Buffy, are you sure Xander isn't evil?" Angel asked as he followed the slayer to her mother's car.

Joyce's expression was a frozen mask of politeness as she watched her daughter lead the vampire towards her. As Buffy reached out to open the door, Joyce said calmly, "He sits in the back. And you are in the front." Inside Joyce was in a state of turmoil. When it had come out that Buffy's "Tutor" had really been a two hundred plus year old vampire, one which had slept with her child, and had subsequently turned evil, and had resulted in that nice young man Xander, who Joyce had always secretly hoped Buffy may take a liking to, going to hell, or worse, she'd been livid. But she had managed, barely, to keep from lashing out at her daughter, and had reconciled herself with the knowledge that the entire incident was in the past, and there was no use arguing about something neither of them could change at this point. But seeing that, creature, once more, all the repressed anger at the mere thought of that, thing touching her daughter flooded back once more to the front of her mind, and it was all she could do to control herself, and simply drive the car to the High school.

=+=

Cordelia Chase, cheer captain and unarguable top of the High School social circle looked at the losers and misfits clustered around her in the library, and once more wondered why she was there. What was it about these, geeks, that kept dragging her into the midst of their weirdness? In the beginning it had been part curiosity, and part gratitude which had enticed her into spending time with them, but that phase had passed long ago. But somehow she had by that time become a part of their group, somehow, even if just as a remote auxiliary, and so she still found herself asked to attend the occasional meeting, or provide support while the rest of the misfits did what they did to save the world, and how could she refuse, she did like living in the world after all, and if Armageddon were to occur, it would play hell with her social schedule, car worse than the occasional incursions the so called "Scoobies" imposed.

At least this meeting was about something important, namely the return of Xander, and the apparent forthcoming attendance of that blonde chick he'd married starting tomorrow, if her sources were right. Of course those sources also stated that that skank Faith was going to be attending Sunnydale as well. She was going to be a freshman though, apparently she'd missed so much school that they were throwing her in at the bottom, which Cordelia considered, was where trailer trash like her likely belonged.

She looked up as Willow came into the library along with her boyfriend, Oz. Cordelia was still trying to adjust to the concept that he was a werewolf. Like grows fur and pointy teeth every full moon kind of werewolf. It was just the kind of weirdness to be expected from these geeks. Gods, she was the only actual normal one there. Sometimes she thought they wanted her around more as a mascot than anything else.

Buffy, her mother, and ... Cordelia actually screamed and leapt back as she recognized Angel following the diminutive blonde slayer through the library door.

All eyes in the room turned towards her at the sudden commotion, but as they followed her tremulously pointing finger it was soon apparent why she was so startled.

=+=

Angel looked at the accumulated Scoobies, and felt a flush of guilt over his actions so long ago, when as Angelus he played cruel mind games with every one of them, and actively tried to kill or turn most of them as well.

He longed to melt back into the shadows and hide, but before he could do so much as move, a long forgotten voice spoke up from behind him, "Move it, Deadboy, we've got a meeting to hold."

Angel turned and made out the lopsided grin of the man he'd last seen in Hell almost a hundred years before. "Harri, Xander?" he asked, as if unsure of the identity of the still young looking man before him.

Xander just shook his head and reached out and pushed Angel lowly off to the side, allowing the two women with him, one of whom felt like a Slayer, to brush past and into the library proper.

Angel thought he recognized the older looking of the two, the brunette, as the Slayer, Faith, whom Xander had supposedly kidnapped and taken to either Toronto, or Hell, depending on if you listened to Buffy or Whistler. Based on the girl's apparent condition, Angel was willing to give more credence to Buffy, at the moment.

With an unneeded sigh, Angel continued into the library, and selected the most remote chair he could, still feeling the accusatory glares of most of the room's occupants despite the distraction provided by Xander and the two young women he'd arrived with.

Somehow he had the feeling this was going to be a long night.

=+=

Xander looked around the room and smiled at the familiar faces.

Stepping to the center of the open area made by the relative positions of most of the room's occupants, Xander took a deep breath and put on a big smile. "I suppose you are wondering why I've called you all here today?"

As confused glances passed amongst the gathered attendees Xander laughed happily, then calmed himself, "Dang, I've been waiting for years for a chance to say that."

Looking around once more he continued, "But I'm glad you all could be here. And I'm even more glad I could be here. But as for the reason I asked us all to get together, there are several things we need to go over, and rather than do it over and over again, I figured it would be most efficient to get everyone together so we'd only have to go over it one time. First of all, for those of you with really short term memories, or who were busy in Hell at the time, I'd like to introduce my wife, Cat. Cat incase anyone didn't know is a genuine Goddess, descended from both my own patron God, Janus, and the Egyptian goddess, Bast. She has two brothers, one, Maahes, with whom she shares both her parents, and a half-brother Nefertem. And in case any of you haven't met her yet, I'd also like to introduce you to our newly adopted daughter, Faith."

Joyce cleared her throat and sat up, a look of concern on her face, "Xander, don't you think you two are a bit too close in age to Faith to consider 'adopting' her?"

Xander shrugged, and replied, "Not really. Cat herself is several thousands of years old."


Joyce looked skeptically at the small blonde girl she had only seen briefly at the wedding, and considered that the oldest person in the room also appeared to be the youngest, but she shifted her gaze back to her own daughter's contemporary and asked him, "And what about you, Xander?"

Xander shrugged again, "Well, I was seventeen when I went to Hell. I spent at least twenty years there, likely as much as twenty five or possibly even thirty, I wasn't really able to keep a calendar after all. So that would make me at least thirty seven, or as much as forty years old. I know I don't look it, but that's my physical age. But on top of that I still have not only over three thousand years of memories from the Immortal Alexander persona I inherited that Halloween, but also the almost two thousand years of experiences from LaCroix, and several hundreds more of other experiences from various other sources to draw upon. I think I can make rational and mature enough decisions that I can assist Faith in becoming the best person she can be. And for times when a more, mature, appearance is required," Xander vanished in a flash of light, an almost strobe effect filling the room as Cat vanished a moment later, both figures being replaced instants later by older looking people. The man, who bore a vague resemblance to Xander spoke first, "We can handle that as well, using our fully documented personas as Lex and Kitty Januson, Faith Januson's legal parents, and not coincidentally, the new owners of the apartment complex across the street, where we shall reside in the basement."

Cat, or rather Kitty, broke in, "Although most of the Apartment, other than the guest room and some storage areas will actually be in Toronto."

Two more strobe effects later, and Xander and Cat were back to normal. "Any more questions?" Xander asked.

Faith, who had settled next to Cordelia whispered, "I have the best fu, er, parents."

Jenny spoke up, "Xander, how did you just do that? I am well aware of your abilities before your, er, stay in Hell, and I don't recall actual transformation amongst them, only rudimentary illusions. The surge of power I felt when you changed was significant."

"He's a God now." Cat explained with a proud smile.

Angel was in shock. "Harris is a God?" he asked, "Did you say Xander is an actual god? I know he married you, but just because you’re a goddess doesn't mean he becomes an actual God, does it?" he looked towards Giles and Jenny in confusion.

"Er," Xander said, flushing with embarrassment "Yeah. Well, I suppose that brings us to the second part of why you are all here. Um, see, when Cat and I got married, well, you know how they say that the two become one in the services sometimes? Well, uh, for us, that's kind of how it worked."

Cat grinned and took over, "Xander and I merged, he became a part of me, as I did of him, and our powers were joined as well. Technically, I think Xander and I are only one God, even though there are two of us, but it doesn't really matter unless we are trying to do something really hard."

Buffy said softly, "They rebuilt the Hellmouth, from scratch last night. I think that was hard for them, 'cause Xander disappeared."

All the eyes turned to her, then in confusion back to Xander and Cat.

Willow was the first to speak this time, "Why?"

Xander shrugged, "Cat got rid of it. Turns out it's kind of important, unless you want a spontaneous breach to Hell just opening at random somewhere, or a higher level demon deciding to open a portal here to earth whenever they feel like invading. So we had to replace it. And it wasn't the opening that was as hard as the setting it to be self-sustaining. But it was a good lesson, we learned how to make a permanent portal, like the one we set up earlier this evening from here to Toronto."

"So you guys are welcome to come hang any time you want. And instead of just Bronzing it, we can hang at that really cool club they live over. They have a killer band." Faith said. Leaning over to speak more quietly to Oz, she added, "Vampires. It'd totally rock if you jammed with them sometime, though. They played some bitchin music last night."

Oz nodded speculatively, then turned his attention back to Cat and Xander.

"But the real reason I wanted all of you here was because of incidents like last night with the Hellmouth. When Janus came by, he reminded us both that the Creator had some valid reservations about our even returning here at all. Reservations we can understand, and don't want to bring to fruition. So we need to lay down some ground rules. It may sound mean, or selfish, or cruel, but they are not negotiable. And rule one is we can't help at least not significantly."

Cat spoke up, expanding a bit on what Xander had said, "It's possible that we could eliminate every demon and vampire in Sunnydale."

Xander smirked, "Possible? Cat, there's a sixty mile crater in a desert which indicates we could do a pretty good job if we didn't care about collateral damage."

Cat gave an embarrassed shrug but went on, ignoring the interruption, "But we won't. We won't even consider it, so don't ask. The sad truth is that it's up to you guys to face and defeat the challenges here in Sunnydale. And if we faced them for you we'd be denying you the chance to do so on your own. Does that mean we're going to sit back and just watch, no. We'll help where and when we can, we'll even patrol with the rest of you, but we won't jump in and save the day just because we can, even if you beg us to. We can't."

Xander smiled sadly and added, "In other words, the next time an apocalypse threatens, don't ask us to just make it go away. Please. Because in order for us to be here at all, we had to agree not to alter the Balance. See, a long time ago people asked the Gods for help all the time. And mostly they got it. Over time, the requests came for help on smaller and smaller things, until it reached the point that all most people knew how to do was ask a God for help. Then one day the Gods realized what they were doing to the people, and stopped helping. And it was bad."

Cat took up, "Most of the people died. For no reason, other than they had no idea how to feed and clothe themselves, not even how to build houses, or do pretty much anything other than pray to their gods. My Mom was around back then, and her people, few that they were, were some of that minority who survived, but mostly because Mom would refuse to help more often than not. Her rule was simple, and I think it's the one we'll have to use, cruel as it can be. 'If there is any way they can do it themselves, let them try, even if they fail.' For Xander and I it means he's going to have to stand there and watch his friends risk their lives to fight demons we could kill without any risk at all. The greater challenge for us will be not to intervene. But if we did, over time we'd begin to cripple you. We can't always be everywhere, and that means that no matter what we do, sometime, somewhere, someone is going to face a situation without us to help them. And if you've become dependant on us jumping in to help, then the odds are without us there you'll die, whereas had you still been at the top of your games, you would have won. Which means we would have helped alright, but helped to kill you by making you less than you should have been."

"So what, you're just going to stand back and watch Buffy take on a gang of demons?" Angel asked, suddenly angry at them, as well as feeling guilt over having done exactly that himself, and that was as Angel, not when the demon was in control.

Xander answered, "No. We'll likely fight. But only on a purely physical level. I won't hesitate to use Kusanagi to help you guys face any threat, but at the same time I won't do more than I could have last year, after Halloween. Because if Cat and I start tilting the balance of power, the other side will compensate, to balance the scales, but they usually tend to overcompensate, and that would be bad for everyone."

Buffy had to ask, "So you will help, but you won't do it for us, is that what your saying?"

Xander and Cat shared a glance before both nodding. "Yes." Cat said.

"Where we can, as long as all we're doing is helping, and not doing it for you, or worse, overdoing it and giving the other side a reason to send in some higher powered players." Xander added.

"This is bullshit." Jonathan said softly.

"Why?" Faith asked bristling at his tone.

"Because, like they said, they could take care of whatever monsters came along without breaking a sweat. But instead they're going to sit back and let people die while they watch us go out and try to stop them." Jonathan exclaimed.

Xander opened his mouth, but Cat cut him off, "Not quite. We'll help. But your right, there may well come a time when we sit on our asses letting people die who we could have saved, possibly even some of you. But that's because the alternative, essentially reducing you all to the status of pets is unacceptable."

Xander added, "If, and this is a big if, we think there is no other way, we'll help. But we'll let you do the lifting if we think you can, even if there is a good chance you'll get crushed in the process. Not because we don't care, but because as was pointed out to us, to do otherwise is unfair. It's unfair to you, for us to steal the possibility of an accomplishment out of the fear you might not succeed. That said though, if your monsters are dumb enough to cross our paths, we won't hesitate to take them down. In fact, we've specifically been authorized to destroy anything which challenges us directly. But we won't go out hunting for them. Patrolling yes, searching for a specific demon or group of demons, no. This isn't something I want to do. Trust me on that, but all the same it's something we have to. Either that, or we have to leave. The Creator offered us basically three choices. First, sign the compact. That's what most gods and higher powers have done, on both sides of the equation surprisingly enough. If we did that, then we couldn't participate directly, instead we would have to chose a champion, and empower them to act on our behalf, like Janus has done with me. Our second choice was stay away. He assured us that there are plenty of realities where our interference would be welcomed. But that would mean never seeing you guys again, or if we did, doing so elsewhere or for really brief periods of time. The final, grudging option, the most difficult, is the one we've chosen. To try and minimize our impact on your lives, and unfortunately, your eventual deaths. Yes, we can and will act to save people, but we have to walk a tightrope every time we do so. The Creator recommended we not exceed the capabilities of our opponents in any given conflict, but agreed that we could get by as long as we set simple limits on how much and what types of power we will use, and stick to them. It was agreed that as long as we remained within the boundaries of what I was capable of before going to Hell, that it shouldn't upset the balance enough that those who back the demonic interests would be able to toss in a new Champion. But this is not something we can budge on, because by its very nature its a slippery slope, where our refusal to assist could only lead to hard feelings, so once more, please don't ask us to do anything. If we can, we will. If we can't we won't, but asking us will just mean we'll have to refuse. So please, just don't."

"Ok, Xander. We won't ask you for help, even if we're dying." Jonathan said, his dissatisfaction apparent to everyone in the room.

"Good. And now that that's out of the way," Xande looked over to Cat who grinned and pulled a bag seemingly out of nowhere. "we have some presents for all of you, which will let you call us when you aren't dying, or have a question about some new demon you've just encountered. No one said anything about not sharing information with you guys, and after my time in Hell, I'm familiar with quite an amazing number of demon types, and can tell you guys a lot about them, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, how to kill them,"

"What they taste like." Faith interjected with a grin.

"Yes, well, the answer to that is generally nasty. But back to the point, these phones are designed to allow you to call us both here in Sunnydale, and in Toronto. They also have local service here in Sunnydale, but the speed-dial connection to each other bypasses that and uses a special channel, which will literally work anywhere in both worlds, even at the bottom of a cave. Not that any of us ever find ourselves in such locations. But to work across a dimensional boundary there has to be an open portal or other connection for them to work, so if Cat or I go elsewhere, we will most likely be out of touch until our return. Also, you may want to carry a spare fully charged battery with you at all times. They won't work without power."

Faith grinned as she held her own sleek black flip phone up to show it off, sliding a second battery out of her back pocket as well.

As Xander and Cat carefully passed the phones around, Xander added, "They are set to vibrate, not to ring. If you want them to ring, you have to open the flip and push the button on the screen to un-mute the phone. This is so that an incoming call won't draw attention to you by making noise."

The various Scoobies were still looking at their identical phones, each with their name and a local number impressed on the plastic cover for identification. Joyce was the first to speak, "Xander, we can't take these."

Xander fixed her with a gaze and said, "Yes you can. Look, communications can make the difference between life and death. While we can't go around fighting your fights for you, there's nothing that says we can't give you tools to help you do your jobs. And that's all these are, tools. If someone gets lost, you guys can track them through their phone. Cat and I could just go to them, but that could be a destabilizing use of power. However there's nothing in these phones, other than the phone-to-phone connections, which isn't simple human technology, and that includes the GPS and mini-PCs. Granted, most of it's only on a drawing board here and now, but in other realities it's quite common, or even obsolete. So take the phones."

"But these numbers, they have local service. That means some company is providing them. Who's paying for that?" Joyce asked.

"We are." Xander said with a shrug.

"Well, that's why we can't take them. You two have enough expenses, especially if you're adopting Faith, you can't afford to pay for phones for all of us as well." Joyce explained.

Xander shook his head and replied, "Well, that's not quite true."

Faith smirked and replied, "They ripped off the Mob and set up trust funds."

As all eyes swiveled back towards Xander and Cat, a few expressions of surprise on the faces of those who hadn't been there earlier, Cat sighed and shook her head, "It wasn't the Mob, Faith."

Xander nodded, "That's right. It was several drug cartels." Seeing the confused faces he explained, "Last night, Cat and I were discussing the need for money here if we were going to take care of Faith. We'd need a physical address at a minimum, not to mention it's morally better to buy things than to just make them, unless, like these phones, you can't buy them because they don't exist. So we were considering what we could do for easy cash. And we stumbled upon the idea of doing a good deed, and getting paid at the same time. We selected several drug cartels which had shipments in progress, of either cash or drugs. From several we removed their cash, replacing it with mostly blank paper, and with their drugs we transferred them to other cartel's shipments, which we then insured would be intercepted. Any marked cash was also bundled with another cartel's money, any unmarked or untraceable bills removed, and those shipments were also flagged for interceptions. The net result today was several major drug busts, several failed deliveries, the belief on the pert of the ones who lost shipments entirely that the other cartel ripped them off, the belief on the parts of the ones who were busted being that someone in their organization was double dealing, and in both cases that there is a mole or leak of some sort, either to the competition or the police. We expect three to be several fatal adjustments to their structures, as well as the long-term ramifications of losing their conduits, and the resources represented by those shipments. It won't put the cartels out of business, but it will hurt them. And we ended up with several millions of dollars with which to fund our needs here in Sunnydale."

Cat smiled and added, "And that brings us to the last piece of business for tonight. All you kids are going to college. We've set up a Scholarship Trust Fund for each of you which will cover tuition, housing, living expenses, books, materials, and transportation for up to eight years."

Joyce, who had been worried about how she was going to finance Buffy's school next year was torn by both relief and worry at the same time, "Xander, Cat, I don't think they can accept the money, I mean, it's stolen."

Xander shrugged, "More redirected. Look, if we hadn't intercepted it, it would have gone to reward the drug cartels. As it is, instead they have increased expenses and lowered profits. If we could make that a permanent condition, I bet they'd close up shop and go away. If we had left it with the marked or traceable funds, the government would have seized it, and eventually destroyed it, like they do the rest of the money they confiscate. This way it's doing some good. It allows us to productively participate in the local economy, it allows the kids to get the educations they deserve, if for no other reason than as a thank-you for risking their lives to help others."

Joyce looked around the room again, locking eyes for a bit with Giles and Jenny before nodding reluctantly, "Ok. I suppose it's ok. But you really shouldn't make a habit of it."

Xander shrugged, "We won't. It would be just as bad to make everyone here dependant on us for money as it would be to make them dependant on us for help in other ways. The only one here who will be getting more than just the scholarship is Faith. Just in case anything happens to us, we set her up with a trust fund, but to draw more than the interest, she'll have to match the principal herself."

"How much is the principal?" Cordelia asked, glancing over at the brunette slayer.

"One million dollars. If she shows the trustees she has one million, she can have full control of the fund. But she has to obtain that million on her own." Xander explained.

Cordelia's eyes widened as she considered that Faith was rich, but only if Faith managed to get rich first. In a way that sucked. You couldn't have the money unless you didn't need it.

"Well, I think that's all for now. Unless anyone has any questions?" Xander asked.

Everyone looked at one another but there were no queries so Xander grinned. "Ok then, We're going to do a quick patrol then head in to work. Cat and I have to be there by six PM, Toronto time, which is about ten thirty locally. Since we've set up the permanent portal the timeframes should stay synched, which means to be at school by eight in the morning here, we need to be up and out of there by four thirty local time. Since we work 'till three, it'll make for some short nights. Fortunately we don't need that much sleep. And if we do, we can always break the portal and reconnect it later, angling it so it connects to about the same time we broke it in the first place."

Jonathan asked, "Does that mean you could open a portal to previous time, like a time machine?"

Xander nodded, "Sort of. But what you'd end up doing is splitting a new reality off, one which you visited, and the one you didn't. You can't go where you weren't, the only way to do that is to make a new place where you went when you did."

Angel frowned, "I'm confused. Harris, what are you babbling about?"

Willow bounced, "Ooh, I get it! If you go to a time in the past which you hadn't been to before you went, you really go to a variation of that time, because any effect you have would change the future and cause a paradox, so instead your arrival causes a whole new reality!"

Xander nodded. "Exactly."

Angel frowned, "But if it's a whole other reality then you aren't really going to the past. Argh, my head hurts. I'm going back to the mansion. Glad to see you survived Hell, Harris. When I felt guilty at the thought of having left you there somewhere. Of course I hoped you were lucky and had been destroyed, since I hadn't heard of you in so long, and hadn't seen you in even longer."

"Yeah, about that. What happened to you in that fight where we got separated?" Xander asked, looking into the eyes of the vampire.

Angel shrugged, "I tried to find your body, then when I failed, I left. I'd seen you get killed and I figured something had eaten you something."

Xander nodded, "I had. Been killed. But I got better, as I tend to do these days. I looked around, but the camp was cleaned out, nothing was left."

Angel shrugged, "I assumed you were dead, so I took everything and moved on. It wasn't until years later that I started hearing stories about the human running around Hell killing demons and eating them. You were quite famous for a while there."

Xander looked skeptical, "And yet you never tried to contact me?"

Angel shook his head, "Not really, whenever I heard about you, it was always how someone or another had defeated you, or how you had defeated some powerful Hell Lord, which was unlikely, I just assumed most of the stories were false. I mean, I knew you, and you shouldn't have lasted as long as you did before I saw you killed."

"You mean you were afraid to risk your neck to see if I was still around. What did you do, just hide in a cave all the time? I never heard about you at all." Xander asked.

Angel flashed back to the crevice he'd spent almost a hundred years in, only venturing out to feed when the Hunger overtook him and tried to change the subject, "You know the Powers That Be think you kidnapped Faith and took her to Hell with you."

Xander, sensing what the vampire was trying decided to let him off the hook, and asked, "Why?"

"They couldn't see anything that happened last night. Or most of today, from what Whistler told me when he woke me up this afternoon. All they knew was that you were seen with Faith, that the Hellmouth opened, and that neither of you were around afterwards. They had to choose a new Slayer. Some Australian girl, from what I hear."

"What?" was echoed at once by Faith, Buffy, Giles, Jenny, and Joyce. Willow, Oz, Amy, and a still upset Jonathan looked over from where they had been talking to Cat at the outburst.

"Well, they thought Xander had stolen the Slayer. So they Choose a new one, to replace her. Faith's not The Slayer anymore. Just a normal girl again." Angel explained.

Faith frowned at that, silently testing her Slayer Senses, which if anything seemed sharper than ever. Turning to Buffy, she asked, "B, you wanna test that theory with a little Arm Wrestling?"

Buffy shrugged, and made her way over to the table. Everyone gathered around as the two girls settled at opposite sides of the table and linked hands. "Ready?" Buffy asked. At Faith's nod she said, "Go."

Immediately Faith's hand was pushed back several inches, but then it stopped. And as everyone watched, Faith pushed Buffy's hand back the other way, crossing the starting point and slowly forcing it down until the back of her wrist gently touched the table. Faith smirked as she relaxed the pressure slowly, letting go of Buffy's hand. "Nope, still got it."

Buffy pouted. "You beat me."

Faith smirked. "Yep."

Suddenly Buffy looked confused, "But, last time, I beat you."

Faith recalled that contest. After several minutes of each girl moving back and forth a few inches off center, Faith had been distracted by a vampire entering the Bronze, and her attention had wavered long enough for Buffy to slam her hand onto the table. "Yeah, no vamps, other than Fang over there to distract me this time."

Willow shook her head though, "No, last time, you two were at it like forever. You just beat Buffy. Almost like it wasn't a real contest."

Xander frowned at that and looked at his new daughter, then across the table at Buffy. "Buff, can I try that?"

Buffy frowned, "Um, Xan, you were faster, but not stronger, remember?"

Xander grinned, "That was before, trust me Buff, you don't have to worry about that. I just want to compare your top strength against Faith's. See how much, if any of a difference there is."

Buffy shrugged and placed her arm on the table again. Xander sunk down opposite her, and met her grasp. "Ready?" Xander asked. At Buffy's nod, he said, "Go." and just sat there, holding Buffy's hand. Buffy frowned and her look of concentration deepened. The table creaked, and Buffy's chair slid across the floor a bit, but their hands never moved. Finally Xander nodded, "Ok Buff. That's enough."

Buffy scowled as she relaxed and let go of Xander's hand.

"What just happened?" Amy asked.

Willow whispered in awe, "Xander just sat there and let Buffy push his hand as hard as she could. He didn't even try to push back, just hold position."

Amy was shocked at the casual show of strength. "Wow."

Xander on the other hand was now looking at his smirking daughter. "Faith, your turn."

Faith shrugged, and settled herself across the table in the seat Buffy had just vacated.

She reached out and grabbed Xander's hand and asked with a grin, "Ready, Pops?"

Xander simply nodded, so Faith surged her arm, muscles flexing, and chair scraping along the floor as she grunted out, "Go!" but the only movement was from Faith. Xander's arm remained in the same spot, as though it were a fixed point in the universe.

The table started to creak again, and Faith's chair was slowly twisting, when Xander finally said, "Ok, that's good enough Faith. Thanks."

Faith frowned as she relaxed, letting go of Xander's hand and massaging her arm.

Everyone was looking at Xander however, noting the look of intrigue on his face, a look matched by Cat across the room. Finally he spoke, "Faith's stronger. Not by a whole lot, but where Buffy seems about ten times as strong as a powerful man, Faith is closer to eleven times as strong. I don't know why that should be though."

"If Faith was indeed replaced as the Slayer, then she should have lost her strength at that time. As best as the council could determine, the only reason Buffy has continued to exhibit her gifts was because she was dead when Kendra was Chosen, so her powers were not stripped. But Faith hasn't died, so she should have been stripped, even were she in some alternate reality, as soon as she returned here her powers would have been stripped. There is actually a record of that happening once to a slayer long ago, she went through a portal in pursuit of some demons, and upon her return her powers were gone, as another Slayer had been called in her absence." Giles said.

Faith frowned, "But instead I got stronger?" She looked over at the perplexed looking Xander and Cat and asked, "You guys didn't do anything to me, did you?"

Xander shook his head as Cat just shrugged before replying, "I don’t think so. We didn't Empower you if that's what you're asking."

"Empower her?" Joyce asked.

"When a God or Demon chooses a Champion, they share some of their essence with them, allowing their Chosen One to tap a portion of their power. That process is called Empowering. When a Slayer is Called, the same thing happens, the Slayer Essence being drawn to the person marked as the Chosen One, and Empowering them. But if another is Chosen, then the Empowerment is withdrawn, returning them to their normal state. If indeed a new Slayer has been Called, then Faith should have lost her Empowerment, but instead she seems to have gained a more powerful one somehow."

Faith was the one to break the ensuing silence, softly asking "What if, there was like another Slayer Essence out there? A different one entirely."

Giles frowned, "There's just the one. Buffy is an exception for some reason, but there isn't more than one Slayer Essence in this reality."

Faith nodded, "Yeah, but what about another reality?"

"What do you mean? Are you referring to Xander's Toronto?", Giles asked.

Faith nodded, "Yeah."

Giles shook his head, "That doesn't make sense. Buffy was there as well, for Xander's wedding. It didn't make her any stronger, although come to think of it, her healing has been remarkably enhanced since around that time. But nothing else."

Faith shook her head, "Yeah, but like they said, Buffy's not really The Slayer, I was. Not anymore, apparently, but I was when I went there. And when I did, I felt all shivery for a moment, right after I arrived. Then I felt all full of energy, despite it being when I normally would crash. Then, when I was downstairs, I was talking to these Vampires, and they were telling me that the Slayer was just a legend and shit. But what if there just wasn't a slayer there, so that's why they didn't know. No one had Chosen a Slayer so the Slayer Essence was just waiting for a Slayer to show up. Then I showed up, all Slayery, and so the Essence Empowered me, then the Pricks That Be chose a new slayer here, but not there, so maybe I lost the Slayer Essence from here, but I still have the one from there, and that's why I'm stronger. Because aren't their Vamps supposed to be stronger or something than ours?"

Cat had a proud look on her face as she answered, "Faith, honey, that makes sense. Yes, the vampires there are stronger than the ones here. Faster too, and able to fly."

Faith got a dreamy expression on her face as she asked, "Woah, would that mean I could fly?"

Cat shrugged, "I don't really know. We'd have to research it and see. No jumping off buildings until you know if and more importantly how to fly, do you got that young lady?"

Faith just nodded while Buffy pouted, softly complaining to Willow, "I was there first. Why didn't I get bonus power?"

=+=

Angel had headed back to brood in his Mansion and try to figure out what to tell Whistler when the Powers That Be's Balance Demon came by to check in with him the next time.

He expected a visit soon, because as long as Xander was here, it seemed that the PTB couldn't see anything going on in town. At least that was Angel's theory, based on the times Xander showed up yesterday and today, the times he and Cat had apparently left town to "rip off the Mob" as Faith liked to put it.

And then there was Faith, the supposedly ex-Slayer who seemed stronger than ever. What would they make of that? Should he even mention her, other than the fact that she was back, and indeed hadn't gone to Hell, but rather to Toronto, however, not Toronto on this Earth, as he had first assumed, but an alternate Toronto, somewhere else.

He was standing in the kitchen, drinking from a jar of slightly stale blood Buffy had brought for him from the butcher when he heard the sounds of Whistler's arrival in the livingroom. Setting the jar back into the refrigerator, he turned to make his way to the front of the house to meet his contact.

=+=

Oz had headed to the Bronze for the evening, the Dingos being scheduled to perform that evening, Joyce was back at home, Giles and Jenny were in the library with the "Coven", which consisted of Amy, Willow, and Jonathan, and Faith, Buffy, Cat, and Xander were out on patrol.

It was a rather boring patrol. The four were making too much noise to be able to sneak up on anything, and when they were spotted by the local nightlife, the vampires and demons generally made tracks in the opposite direction as fast as they could, the older ones recognizing the returned Harris, and having heard stories already about his recent visit, followed by a voluntary return to Hell, others recognizing the taller blonde with him as the Slayer, and a few of them simply concerned by any group that could get away with making that much noise out at night in a place like Sunnydale. So it was only the very new, or the very foolish which approached the quartet of hunters, and none of them lasted long enough to regret their decision. Those who didn't meet a swift end as Kusanagi flashed through their neck, or weren't literally shredded as a result of falling within Cat's reach, were impaled by one of the other two girls on their matching stakes.

Faith was really happy with her stake, even though she hadn't thought up a wicked cool name for it like Buffy had for hers. Of course Buffy had had a long time to think up the name for her stake, Xander's Big Point. It was the last stake Xander had carved for her before his trip to Hell. She had carried it with her from that night on, thinking of it as her Lucky Stake, and it had never failed her, until the night she faced the Snyder Demon, a six foot tall heavily muscled version of the High School Principal, who was in reality an Egyptian war god named Maahes, and Cat's older brother. When Buffy had tried to stake the apparent demonic principal with the weapon it had shattered, and Buffy had practically burst into tears on the spot, her conflict with the demon almost forgotten with the destruction of her last memento of her lost friend. As a sort of apology for his part in the weapon's destruction, Maahes had recreated it from its scattered components, lending some of his essence as well, blessing it and making it a genuine Holy Weapon, able to destroy Vampires with just a scratch, since Maahes was a Sun God, and thus his blessing carried with it the power of the sun. The weapon was also almost indestructible now, having been recreated and blessed by one of the more powerful gods out there, making it Buffy's most prized possession. Cat, upon learning the full history of Xander's Big Point (and stifling any smirks brought on by alternate connotations of the weapon's name) had promptly crafted her daughter a similar stake, fitting it's grip, as Xander had done, to the exact contours of the girl's hand, then, as her brother had done imbuing it with her blessing, and the power of the sun, making it, just like Xander's Big Point an almost indestructible Holy Weapon, and thus incredibly deadly to any vampire or demonic essence.

They had finished their sweep of the sixth graveyard, having only encountered seven fledglings and a single aggressive demon, and were making their way towards the seventh graveyard when Xander spotted the bar. "Let's drop in on Willie, and see if he's herd anything useful, what do you say, girls?"

"Who is Willie?" Cat asked, rather than simply looking into her husband's mind for the information.

Buffy smirked, "Willie is a local bar owner. Thing is he runs a Demon Bar, catering to the local demons. We have an arrangement. He keeps me informed, and I keep from killing all his patrons and tearing his place down."

Xander smirked, "Buffy, remember what we decided? Willie would provide a valuable community service even if he didn't act as a snitch, every demon that's in his place is one less demon that's at large causing problems. If a Vampire wants to buy it's blood from Willie instead of eating people, that’s a GOOD thing, and should be encouraged. I hope you haven't been killing his patrons again like you did that first time."

Buffy looked away from her friend, a slight blush rising to her cheeks as she replied, "Only when they attacked me. That's ok, isn't it? I mean, if they attacked me it was ok for me to slay them, wasn't it?"

Xander nodded, "Yeah, and it proves a point on occasion. As long as you don't start making the Alibi Room an unsafe place to be, which would discourage demons from hanging out there, that's fine. Anyhow, let's go see what Willie has to say."

=+=

Willie looked up as four people came in the door of his bar.

His first instinct was to run. His second was to piss himself. Instead he managed to just stand there like a statue.

While he didn't recognize all four of the newcomers, he did recognize three of them, and that was bad enough.

The first to draw his attention, always the first to draw his attention was the taller of the two blondes, the Slayer, Buffy Summers, feature performer in both his erotic dreams, and nightmares.

To her left was a shorter, younger looking blonde girl whom Willie had never seen before. Nor was he aware of anyone new running with the Slayer.

On her right, was a taller brunette, who although he had never met her, Willie knew she had to be the impossible Second Slayer he'd been hearing about lately. Apparently she'd been making a name for herself for almost six months on the east coast before heading out here to Sunnydale for some unknown reason.

It was the man behind the three beautiful women though which caused Willie's blood to turn to ice in his veins, made his heart seize up, and caused his head to go all dizzy with the release of adrenalin. While Willie hadn't seen his face in over six months, that hadn't been long enough for him to forget what Xander Harris looked like. So Willie knew perfectly well who had just walked into his bar with two Slayers. And which of the three was likely to be the most dangerous. Sure, Buffy killed the odd demon and vampire here or there when they annoyed her during her visits. But the first time, the only time Harris had visited the Alibi Room there had been more dust to clean up than after a dozen of Buffy's visits. Xander hadn't attacked any of his victims that night, they'd all gone after him, first one, then three, then an even dozen. And none of his sixteen assailants had lasted longer than it took them to get within the apparent human's reach. Apparent because it was later determined that not only was he faster and stronger than a Vamp, but somehow Harris could fly. Rumor had it he was Chosen Champion for a god, possibly Janus, and thus was not someone to cross, or annoy. And now he was here. Willie wished he'd gone on that vacation he'd been thinking about.

"Willie." Buffy said, slinking up to the bar. "How's it going?"

All attention had turned to the newcomers, some drawn from the bartender's reaction, others drawn by the sudden focus by those around them. But within moments all sound in the bar had ceased as everyone took in the scene.

"Slayer." Willie said softly.

The brunette grinned and cocked a him as she said, "Didn't know ya knew me. So you're Willie."

Willie blinked at her then reluctantly nodded.

"Well, my name's Faith. And B's been filling me in on your little place here." The brunette said.

The shorter blonde spoke up, her voice a soft unaccented alto as she said, "Faith, be nice to the poor man."

Faith just smirked then shrugged. "Ok."

Harris cleared his throat, drawing Willie's, as well as the rest of the patrons attention to himself. "I just wanted to drop in and say, 'Hi', let everyone know I'm back, and that it would be a really good idea for folks to behave themselves in here, instead of getting into trouble out there somewhere."

Buffy nodded and added, "Although it almost looks like the word had already gotten out, it's been so quiet tonight." She paused a beat and asked softly, "Any reason why that would be?"

Willie swallowed, then looked slowly around his bar. Everyone knew that Willie couldn't keep a secret. Hell, everyone knew that Willie wouldn't even try. Yet for some reason everyone seemed to tell Willie the Snitch all sorts of things, almost as though they wanted him to know, so he could pass it on. It had made him a successful owner of a Demon Bar, despite being no more than a normal human, something most of his clients would consider for lunch. But sometimes he wished that whatever it was about him that made people share their secrets with him, whatever it was that made the demons not want to eat him, but rather trust him despite knowing better, didn't exist. Times like this with the whole place waiting to hear what he had to say. "Um, all I know is that the Powers are looking for your friend Harris there. They say he came through the Hellmouth last night, kidnapped the Brunette Slayer, Faith, and dragged her back through the Hellmouth to Hell. And then they said he came back again today, possibly to finish off a set by grabbing you, or possibly by grabbing Angelus, who is also supposed to have returned from Hell somehow."

Gasps circulated the room, as various beings shifted uncomfortably in response to the declaration. No one wanted anything to do with something powerful enough to come and go as it pleased from Hell. After all, they may be demons, but they weren't stupid.

Buffy nodded, "Well they're half right. Obviously Xan's back. Bt he didn't take Faith to Hell. And he's not here for Angel or me. Any idea where these Powers may be?"

Willie shrugged, "I haven't seen their guy tonight. He was in here last night, lookin' for Faith, but he hasn't been back since then. I've just heard from folks here and there that he's nosin' about today lookin' for Harris."

Xander smiled then handed Willie a card. "Here. If he comes in, call me. I'll come by and help him find me." He looked at the board on the back wall and smiled. "In fact, I'll put a few copies of my card on the board, there." He raised his voice, not that he needed to, as everyone present could clearly hear everything, the bar was so uncharacteristically silent, "A few of you might want to take the number down. Keep it with you. I know not all Demons are out to cause trouble, some of you want to just be left alone, some even might want to help folks out now and then. Well, if any of you stumble on something I or the Slayers should know about feel free to call and leave me a message. It'll help keep those of you who frequent this place on our good side, if we get the occasional tip from you folks which helps us save the world now and then."

Xander walked to the board and stapled a stack of cards to it, using the same trick Cat had done the night before with the soda, so that however many were pulled off the stack, there would always be five or more left. The stack could grow as deep as ten, if no one tore one off for a while.

All eyes in the bar tracked him as he made his way back towards the girls, reaching an arm out to encircle the shorter blonde. "Let's go." He said softly.

The blonde bounced up and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before turning towards Willie and asking softly, "This agent of the Powers who's looking for my Husband, what's he look like?"

"Big. Silver. Covered in metal looking horns and armor. You can't miss him." Willie replied.

The blonde nodded, then turned towards the door as well, the two Slayers following behind.

As the door closed behind them, voices started up again in the bar. Most of the conversations seemed to center around the latest bit of information, namely that Harris was indeed back, and he now had a wife.

=+=

After checking two more cemeteries, dusting one more vampire and chopping up a single demon which leapt out at them from some bushes, the group turned for the library.

It was as they were crossing the school's lawn that they finally encountered trouble, or rather, trouble encountered them. The previously described silver demon suddenly stepped out of the bushes alongside the building and smiled at them. "Good evening. My name's Skip. I'm sorry to say I'm here to kill you."

Buffy moved into a ready position, her stake firmly grasped in her hand as she said, "Well, Skippy, I don't want to die, so how about I just kill you instead."

The silver demon barely glanced at the blonde, shaking his head dismissively, "Not you, Pretender. I'm here to kill him." He said, nodding at Xander.

"Um, why?" Xander asked.

"Well let's see. First, you seem to have disrupted nearly every destiny in this entire town. Second, you kidnapped the Slayer, so the Powers had to choose a new one. Hi Faith, sorry about the loss of your powers, but we really thought he'd taken you back to Hell for some reason, and we need a Slayer here, you know. If you keep a low profile though, you can probably lead a normal life now." Skip replied in a friendly tone.

Faith, who had sunk into a posture mirroring Buffy's just smiled, "It's no big deal, seems I got a better Empowerment somehow to replace it. I'm stronger than B now. And I might be able to fly and shit. We don't know yet."

Skip blinked at that revelation before looking back at Xander, "What demonic designs did you ply upon this girl while you had her in Hell, Harris?"

Xander shook his head, "Look, there's been some sort of misunderstanding. I have no arguments with the Powers That Be, other than the fact that their flunkies keep trying to kill me that is. But heh, if they'd leave me alone, I'd leave them alone as well, and that goes for you too."

Skip shook his head sadly, "Sorry pal, no can do. I've got my orders. Kill you before you cause any more damage to The Plan. Kill the Pretender if she gets in the way or has allied herself with you, and kill the ex-Slayer if she's been corrupted as well, which it looks like she has."

Cat spoke up for the first time, asking softly in a dangerous voice, "And what about me?"

Skip looked over at the tiny blonde and shrugged with a smile, "They didn't say anything about you. Who are you, anyhow?"

Cat smiled coldly at the friendly seeming demon, "I'm his wife, Cat."

Skip shrugged, "Then I suppose I should kill you too, just to be sure you don’t cause a problem later somehow."

Xander drew Kusanagi in a flash of movement so fast no one present could follow it, despite their various natures. The blade was at Skip's throat in less than an instant, as Xander hissed out, "Never threaten my wife." His eyes narrowed as he added, "In fact, never threaten my daughter either, or my friends. It could be bad for your health."

Skip rolled his eyes. "Look, I know your new to this, so let me explain something. I'm an Agent for the Powers. That means my natural abilities have been enhanced, much like when a human is Chosen as a Champion. Since I'm a Schoolnik demon to start with, that makes me pretty much impervious to damage from bullets, knifes, and even shiny swords like your little toy there. The only way to hurt me is to first break through my shell. And that's just about impossible. Now, will you just settle down and let me kill you so I can get back to what I was doing before the Powers summoned me?"

Buffy moved first, lunging forward and sweeping Skip's feet, causing him to drop down, leaving Xander holding Kusanagi against empty air. As Buffy plunged down towards the silver demon, she pointed her elbow so it would hit first, theoretically fracturing the plate over his chest and allowing her to stake him. Instead she screamed in pain as her elbow fractured, and a knife like blade shot out of Skip's arm and impaled her in the side.

Buffy rolled off the demon and curled into a ball, bleeding on the ground.

Faith was moving only instants after Buffy had started her attack, only she led with her new stake, not her elbow, and had thrown her entire body forward like a human missile. As a result she passed over Skip's prone form, but not unscathed, as with inhuman speed Skip had shot his other arm up and sliced Faith's torso and stomach open as she passed over him.

Cat moved forward at that instant and grasped the demon by the arm, jerking hard.

There was a crack and a splatter as the demon's left arm suddenly tore off, his chitinous shell fracturing under the unimaginable stress, caused between his base inertia and the energy involved in Cat's jerk.

Skip looked in shock at the gore spewing tear where his left arm used to be as he said in a strangely detached voice, "I'm almost impervious to damage. This isn't supposed to happen." As he slowly climbed to his feet.

"Well, what about this?" snarled Xander as he whipped Kusanagi back and then brought him around in a swing which clearly demonstrated his Immortal heritage as the blow cleanly decapitated the silver demon.

Skip's head flew through the air in a graceful arc, landing to roll to a stop on the ground several feet away as the now headless body crumpled to the ground.

Cat had already discarded the arm and had practically teleported to Faith's side, where she was busy turning her new daughter over.

Xander on the other hand swiftly resheathed Kusanagi, and dove for Buffy's prone form, reaching his hands out to cover the wound in her side.

Buffy's pain filled eyes were open as she whimpered and tried to flinch away from Xander's touch. She opened and closed her mouth a few times before she croaked out, "You get him?"

Xander simply nodded and continued to work his hands against her skin, covering the bleeding wound with his palms. "Hold still Buff, this is goanna hurt." He said softly, meeting her eye with his own.

Buffy's eye suddenly shot wide open as an electrical shock seemed to surge from Xander's hands into her body, most of the pain centered around the gash in her side, but also orbiting around her shattered elbow. She opened her mouth to scream, but her lungs would not work as every muscle in her body suddenly locked up and then the world went dark.

=+=

Cat rolled Faith over onto her back, her eyes narrowing as she took in the long, deep gash in her daughter's stomach. She felt the surge of power as Xander poured his energy into Buffy, working to heal her wounds, even as Cat rested her own hands on Faith's still form. She could feel no sign of life from the girl beneath her, but didn't let that dissuade her from focusing her energy on the girl's wounds. As the quickening like force surged into the body beneath her hands, she felt Xander throw himself into her completely, strengthening her efforts enormously as she worked to heal the wound and restore life to the body beneath her hands.

Faith's back arched up off the ground and a cry of anguish emerged from her mouth as the lighting cascaded over her body, then she fell silent and slumped back to lay still once more on the grass before the High School.

=+=

The noise outside had drawn the attention of those in the library, so it was that the rest of the Scooby gang came rushing out to see Cat bent over Faith's prone form, Buffy's still body laying alone on the grass rolled into a ball, and the decapitated demon which was starting to melt into an ooze which would be gone in a few minutes.

"Buffy!" Willow cried out, rushing to her friend's side, alarmed at the amount of blood on and around her.

Giles started to move forward as well, but was distracted as he heard Faith scream out in pain, her body arching off the ground as a halo of bluish electricity crawled over her skin.

As the girl fell back to the grass, Cat sagged on top of her, and this drew the watcher's first priority, Willow having already made her way to his other Slayer.

Jenny shook her head, trying to clear it from the surge of power she'd just felt, a blast several magnitudes greater than any spell she'd ever encountered before, almost mystically blinding in its intensity.

Giles gently rolled Cat off of Faith's body and reached out to feel for a pulse, taking in the blood soaked and shredded clothes and the unblemished clothed beneath them. He sat back in relief a moment later as he detected a strong, steady beat beneath his fingers. Turning to the unconscious blond goddess, straitened her out so she was laying in what looked like a more comfortable position, before rising and making his way to Willow and his original Slayer.

Willow looked up in confusion at his approach, "She's all bloody, but there's no wound. She seems to be unconscious. What happened? Where's Xander?"

Giles took off his glasses as he straightened Buffy's body out leaving her head resting in Willow's lap. "I don't know. I suspect they had some sort of altercation with that demon over there, it appears to have been a Schoolnik, although what could have damaged it to such an extent I don't know, they are nearly impervious to damage, requiring a powerful focused blow to crack their chitin shell before you can injure the demon itself. It looks like something tore it's arm off, and then sliced off it's head."

Cat's voice came from over his shoulder, startling him. "I did that. The arm part. Xander was the head-cutter."

There was a flash of light and Xander stood there, looking around before moving over to Faith's side and leaning down to run his hand along her cheek, straitening out her mussed hair. He then closed his eyes and Faith's body seemed to flicker for a moment, after which her clothes had been replaced by new, clean, undamaged ones. Her leather pants had been replaced by a pair of tight denim jeans, and her shredded crop top had been replaced by a simple black T-shirt. Considering Xander was the source, the fashion selection wasn't as bad as it could have been.

"Wow." Amy said, having felt the surge of energy as Xander manifested the new clothes.

"Yeah, must save a ton on laundry costs." Jonathan muttered.

Cat reached down and grasped Buffy's blouse, and a moment later it was also intact and free of blood, but unlike Faith who had ended up wearing completely different clothes, Buffy was still dressed as she had been earlier that evening.

Buffy stirred with a groan and moved around. "Xan?" she asked softly in confusion.

Willow looked down at her friend's face with concern and asked, "Buffy? You ok?"

Buffy's eyes opened and she locked them on Willows concerned green orbs. "Yeah" she murmered, "I think so. What happened?"

"We were hoping you could tell us." Giles said wryly.

Buffy reached down and touched her uninjured side, running her hand over her undamaged blouse and scrunched her face in confusion, "I thought I got stabbed, by some silvery demon. I was dying, I think."

Giles looked over at the now almost featureless blob of ex-demon and shook his head, "If so then someone did a remarkable job of fixing you up."

Buffy made to sit up looking around, "Xander. He did it, he said it would hurt, and it really did." She said rubbing her hand in wonder over her uninjured elbow. "Then I think I blacked out."

=+=

Faith started to move, her mouth scrunching up as she struggled back to consciousness, guided by the soft voices nearby.

Opening her eyes she was grateful for the darkness in the sky above her, each star seeming like an impossibly sharp point of light as it punched painfully into her brain. Her head hurt. Her muscles ached. But most importantly, she was alive. And she knew for damn sure she'd been dead. She'd felt it as that demon sliced her from throat to stomach, and hadn't felt herself land on the grass, even. She should be gone, but she was still here. With Xander, her new father looking down at her with a look of worried relief on his face. "Hey Faith" he said softly, as though realizing how hyper-active all her senses were at the moment. "How you doing?"

Faith groaned as she sat up on the grass, taking in the concerned faces of the Scoobies all around her. "I'm alive?" she asked in confusion.

Xander nodded. "Yeah. We know that much. How you feeling?" he asked, his voice still so soft it was almost hard to hear.

"I hurt. But it's ok. How's B?" Faith asked.

Xander glanced over his shoulder and grinned back at her, "Doing fine. You want me to help you up? Want a drink or anything?"

Faith just shook her head and painfully pulled herself to her feet, swaying momentarily as a wave of dizziness passed over her. Xander reached out and steadied her then led her over to the other girl, who was still sitting on the grass, next to Willow with Cat and Giles standing around her.

Cat moved over silently with a huge smile and gave Faith a gentle hug which made her insides somehow feel better, the aches retreating before a wash of warmth. "Hey B, how are you? I saw that shiny guy stick you pretty bad."

Buffy nodded, "Yeah, but Xander fixed it." Buffy looked closer at her friend and her face scrunched up in thought, "Did you change your clothes?" she asked.

Faith frowned and looked down at herself, noting the simple black T-Shirt and black jeans which had replaced the kick-ass pair of leather pants Cat had made for her the night before, and the black tank top she'd had on earlier. She looked over at Cat, who silently indicated Xander with her eyes and shrugged, and Faith smiled and said, "Yeah, B, my old ones were pretty trashed, I think."

Buffy smiled, "It’s a simpler look for you, but it's nice."

Faith frowned as she looked down again at the T-Shirt and Jeans, then shrugged. "I suppose." Starting to feel better, Faith asked her new friend a question, "Say, B, wanna come hang with me at the Vampire Club tonight? I'm not dead, and I wanna celebrate."

Buffy glanced at her Watcher, then looked over at Willow who shrugged. "Sure. But just for a while. I've still got school tomorrow, and well, I'm not a hundred percent myself at the moment, but yeah, I'm not dead either, and that's of the good. And the Vampire club sounds, interesting."

Willow looked hopefully at Faith and asked in a tiny voice, "Can I come?"

Faith just laughed and reached down to offer the redhead a hand up, "Of course you can come, Red. So can Melinda and Gandolph if they want."

Buffy looked confused at that for a moment before spotting Amy and Jonathan behind Faith also looking confused, then it clicked in her head, a witch and a wizard. "Cool. What do you say, Amy, Jono?"

The other two members of the 'Coven' looked at one another then shrugged, Amy answering for the couple, "Sure. Might be cool, and what the heck, we're not dead either."

Faith grinned and said "Cool. Let's go then. While Mom and Pop go to work, we'll have ourselves a 'Not Dead' party in the Vampire club. See if I can get Don Quixote and his band to sing for us."

"Don Quixote?" Buffy asked again not following Faith's code name.

"Yeah, this really cool vampire hottie. He's Spanish I think, and he's in a band. Real boyscout type, tried to warn me off from the nasty vampires in the club. I wanna get Wolfie to jam with them some time. It'd be wicked cool. Come on, I'll show you the way, and let you check out my new crib."

With that, like a pied piper, Faith led the way across the street, the other teenagers following her, as Giles and Jenny stayed behind watching, along with Cat and Xander.

Cat looked at Xander and asked, "Will LaCroix be okay with a gang of teenagers in his club?"

Xander shrugged, "I'm more worried about if the club will be ok with two apprentice witches, a pair of Slayers, and an up-and-coming wizard celebrating not being dead in it."

Cat just grinned as Jenny frowned at the thought of the type of mischief her charges may get into in her absence.

=+=

"This is the living room", Faith explained as they made their way into the underground apartment across the street from the school.

Although all of the Scoobies had seen the Toronto apartment a few weeks before at the wedding, this part was new, literally, being as how it was in Sunnydale and not in Toronto at all.

The door at the end of the steps leading under the apartments opened into a large nicely furnished room with three doors and one open arch leading out of it. The first door was the Front Door, which lay behind them. The second door was situated on the other side of the room, with the arch-way off to the right, a well lit den and kitchen, both familiar to the Scoobies from before, visible on the other side. And the final door was on the third wall.

"This door leads to Lex and Kitty's bedroom." Faith explained as she led the way across the living room towards the closed door.

The bedroom had a large bed, a walk in closet filled with clothes apparently meant for the older couple, and a huge bathroom, the main feature of which was a combination multi-head shower and roman style Jacuzzi tub, enclosed by a pair of sliding glass doors.

"Woah" Amy muttered looking at the decadent bathtub.

"Yeah, I guess they figured they should make the most of the extra room. Don't know how exactly they are planning on using both this bedroom and the other one though, Ma and Pa didn't say." Faith smirked before leading the way back through the bedroom to the Sunnydale livingroom.

"That's the actual Guest Room, although Ma did say I could have it if I wanted. I haven't decided if I want to sleep here or there. Who knows, I may do like the 'rents and keep both rooms, depending on what I feel like. Of course, the bathroom is over there." Faith indicated waving through the arch at the hallway with the small bathroom visible at it's far end. "What's cool is that both bedrooms have closets that open into the area here behind the arch. So this side has lots of extra room no one would ever look for, since they can see it through the arch. The 'rents were talkin' about setting up a secret training room and armory or something. Might be where we'll start meeting after you guys are out of school next year, unless Jeeves stays as Book-Man at Sunny-D." Faith said, indicating the open door which lead to a smallish bedroom beyond.

Jonathan studied the open archway leading to the familiar part of the apartment, which he knew from memory was actually in Toronto. Visually he couldn't see a thing to clue him in that what lay on the other side of the arch wasn't in this reality at all. But as Faith led the girls through the arch, and presumably through the stationary portal it contained, he did notice something odd, once through while he could see them, he couldn't hear a thing.

Finally shrugging, he followed the four girls across the threshold and into the alternate Toronto, noticing that there was no sensation at all to indicate he'd just traversed realities.

"..inda cool, in a weird Adams Family kind of way, I mean all he does is look at you and make faces. But as Cat pointed out, at least you know he's paying attention to you when you're here, he can, and apparently does spy on whoever he wants any time and place he wants and no one can tell." Faith was saying as she looked at the head which was looking back at her from it's clear box.

"But why are they keeping it at all?" Buffy asked.

Faith shrugged, "Apparently so he remembers not to tick off Ma or X again. Don't know if it's working or not, but they had a point, he's not likely to forget what happened the last time he got them mad at him. Not as long as he's got a head sitting in a box. And who knows, it might be useful to be able to get his attention whenever you really need it for some reason. Cat said that while you can't trust him, he never lies, always keeps his word, and isn't pure evil like some creatures."

The boxed head offered a friendly smile at the gathered teens at that but didn't try to speak, well aware of the futility of being heard outside its box, at least at the moment.

Jonathan turned away from the tour again and resumed his study of the interdimensional portal hidden in the archway. The design was interesting, a circular opening, cut off by the floor, with glass wings notching out a rectangle to either side which framed the opening, making it look and feel much larger than it really was. Assuming the actual portal was the size of the circle, the actual portal went a good three feet below the floor here. What fascinated him though was the spell he could feel on the glass and along the surface of the portal. While he couldn't detect the portal itself, which surprised him, he could detect the twinned illusion spells which hid the portal and made the two realities appear to be the same. Tracing the threads of magic, he felt how the spell here, which covered the entire wall along the plane of the piece of glass, seemed to scry on the other reality which appeared to be just on the far side of the wall. He could feel the threads of the spell reaching out and then bending in some way he literally couldn't follow, probably as they shot off across realities to Sunnydale. Also, along the wall here, he could feel the traces of the Sunnydale side of the illusion, although their presence was so faint he really had to concentrate to pick them out, amongst the almost loud traces of the scrying spell's visible side. All in all he was impressed. The combined effects of the two spells really did provide the illusion that the two realities really were the same place. Intrigued, Jonathan experimentally stepped into the center of the plane where he assumed the portal lay, and slowly turned himself, one half of his body in each reality as he tried to sense the portal in any way, and failed. All he could detect were the two sides of the scrying spells, which almost tickled his magical senses as he stood between them.

"Jonothan!" a voice heard only on his right side shouted in startlement.

Jonathan jerked and leapt away from the voice instinctively, ending up entirely back in Sunnydale, and he looked back through the spell and saw Amy shouting, presumably at him about something while the others looked on in sudden worry.

Stepping forward through the portal once more, he heard "..nk about it at all?"

At his confused look she demanded, "Well?"

Jonathan shrugged and said, "Sorry, I didn't hear you after your first shout, sound doesn't cross the portal. What were you upset about?"

Amy just scowled but Willow helped out by explaining, "You were standing in the middle of the portal, half here and half there. She was worried about what would happen to you if the portal had any problems or closed. You'd be sliced in half!"

Jonathan frowned as he considered that, he really hadn't thought about the fact that he was risking his life by examining the portal that way. "I hadn't thought about it. I was just trying to see if I could detect it at all. The only thing I can feel are the spells which hide it. And those are pretty cool by themselves. I didn't know Xander or Cat could do actual spells."

Faith shrugged and said, "I don't know if they do or not."

Willow, always an expert on Xander, although not anywhere as up to date as she used to be piped up, "He used to be able to do some. Before, I mean, you know. Mostly illusions and stuff. Nothing really useful though."

"Well this is an illusion spell, but I can't find what's keeping it up. It's almost like it's an appliance that's been plugged into something for power. It's really cool. Maybe we could have them show us how they did it?" Jonathan explained, hoping to dispel Amy's anger at him for risking himself by challenging her with something new to learn.

For Willow it seemed to work, the redhead looking over at the portal with new interest, but Amy wasn’t so easily deterred. "Well, no standing in the middle of dimensional boundaries while trying to figure it out, ok? I mean, you were just standing there, turning around in circles. I was scared something had happened to you."

Jonathan smiled at her and nodded, "Ok. No more lingering on the edges of realities. I promise."

Amy reneged at that and moved forward to give her boyfriend a deep and passionate kiss, making Jonathan almost regret his vow not to repeat the experiment if this was the result.

It was at that point that the front door banged open, revealing a familiar face from their previous trip to this reality, that of the Master Vampire, Lucien LaCroix.

"What is going on here?" he asked, looking around the room at the five gathered teens, his gaze passing over the arch to the other reality, then returning to it a look of confusion passing over his face as he did so.

Faith just smiled at him and said, "Hey Gramps." Turning to the others she asked, "Have you all met my new Grandfather, Lucien La-Claw?"

"LaCroix" the elder vampire returned absentmindedly then his focus suddenly sharpened upon the brunette once more his eyes briefly flashing gold as he demanded, "What did you say?"

=+=

Xander and Cat watched as Faith led her friends down the steps and into the apartment.

"Well, we should be getting over there too. It's almost time for us to go to work, and we still need to fill LaCroix in on both the modification we made to the apartment, and on the fact that Faith will be staying with us permanently." Xander explained to the two faculty members.

"You aren't going anywhere at the moment, we need to talk." A stern voice spoke from behind them.

Cat whirled around with a smile on her face, "Uncle Mike!" she cried as she launched herself between Giles and Jenny at the figure beyond them.

The Archangel smiled as he caught the diminutive goddess in his arms and returned her spontaneous hug. "Hey there Kiddo. How's the married life treating you?"

Cat just beamed at her favorite not-relative and replied, "We just adopted a kid. Go figure, less than a month, and already a family."

Mike frowned at that and said softly, "That's part of why I'm here. You know The Creator's been keeping an eye on you two, not that he hasn’t always, but even more so lately. And he's concerned."

Cat frowned, "Concerned?"

Xander moved up next to his wife and silently wrapped an arm around her waist as Mike explained, "You do recall his worry about either disrupting the balance of power here, or worse, of stealing people's opportunities for successfully meeting the challenges which come before them, don't you?"

Cat nodded as Xander answered, "Yes. We just had a talk with our friends about it this evening, some of them weren't happy at the idea we would do less than we could to help."

Mike nodded, "I know. And that's the reason for the concern. You assigned yourselves limits. But already you exceeded them, in regards to your daughter and your Champion."

"What are you talking about?" Cat demanded.

"This evening, without your intervention, both girls would have died. Your daughter did die, in fact. Had you two been even slightly less powerful you would not have been able to bring her back on your own. But such an action far exceeds the limits you set and acknowledged only a few hours ago." Mike explained.

Cat frowned, "I, I couldn't let her die. You know that Uncle Mike, it wasn't her time. Not yet, not even close."

Mike nodded, "I know. Neither of the girls would have been injured tonight had it not been for events altered by your presence. Such is your natures, has always been, to a lesser extent, but it doesn’t change the simple fact, you failed to constrain yourselves in this situation. I'm not condemning you, even The Creator understands the reasons behind your actions in this instance, and acknowledges that being who you are, you could do no less than you did. But it raises a flag, a reminder of just how difficult a task you have set before you."

Giles stepped forward, gaining all three's attention as he asked, "Would it be possible to perhaps bind their powers somehow, limiting their actions when on this plane, or in this reality?"

Mike shook his head, "Possible, yes. But only they themselves could do so, and thus they could break it under stress. And that is when they would be most likely to overstep themselves, as they did tonight."

Xander frowned as he considered the issue. He fully understood the concern being raised, and could see exactly how their actions earlier had indeed violated the constraints they had agreed to. Prior to his decent to Hell, he had not projected his Quickening to heal another, indeed throughout all of Alexander's memories he had never even tried such a task. While that didn't mean it would have been beyond him, the fact was that the first time he'd ever even considered the idea was when he faced the dying ex-host of the Goa'uld which stole Bast's name.

"So, what do you, or The Creator recommend we do?" Xander asked.

Mike shrugged, "The same as before, you could sign the Compact, or not, and either way allow your Champion to face her challenges alone, you could leave, so as not to be tempted, or you can try and be more faithful to your self-imposed limitations. Knowing the both of you, that's what you'll try. I was just supposed to stop by and point out just how easily you had already strayed. This incident was not a problem, you didn't act until they had both tried, and failed, and the event was not one they had been meant to face in any case. But it should be a good warning for both of you."

Xander nodded, and was about to thank the Archangel for reminding them to be more careful when Jenny spoke for the first time. "You keep referring to their Champion, we were wondering how it was that Faith after having been replaced as the Slayer was actually stronger than she had been before. Did Xander and Cat somehow do that?"

Mike shook his head, "No, she is Empowered by an ancient Slayer Essence, one which has laid untapped for centuries on the world where Xander and Cat were married. Once, long ago they had a Slayer who kept their Vampires in line, hunting down and eliminating the ones who preyed on mortals for sport, or who had become truly evil. But the line of potentials died out, several of the girls dying, or becoming Vampire without issue, until one day there were no more. The Vampires were forced to adapt, those who had once been Slayers taking upon themselves the task of enforcing a strict code, forming a core group which to this day refer to themselves as Enforcers. Faith, since she was an actual Slayer when she first visited that reality attracted the long lost Essence to herself. When the Powers here stripped her, they only stripped the local Essence, being both unaware of and unable to effect the foreign spirit. The Champion of the Undestined God is the other girl, the one Alexander revived and Empowered when the Powers discarded her with his own breath and life essence, the one who had already accepted the mantle of Champion from her friend, Ms. Summers."

Both Giles and Xander frowned at this, "But that was before anything had happened to me." Xander said, even as Giles removed his glasses with a "Good lord."

Mike shook his head, "Alexander, you should know by now that time is not linear. The Undestined God has always been, it shall always be. The fact that you and Cat had yet to meet, had yet to join, didn't mean you could not have a Chosen Champion. Answer me honestly, what were you doing in the cave that evening?"

"Saving Buffy. I, I couldn't let her just go off and die like that, no matter what everyone else said." Xander answered while Giles, Cat, and Jenny looked on.

Mike nodded, then asked, "And when you found her drowned in the pool, what did you do?"

"I pulled her out. I gave her CPR and Mouth-to-Mouth respiration, until she came back to life." Xander recalled.

Mike smiled, "So you shared your Essence with her, breathed your own life into her form and with all your will pulled her back from death. And how did you see her?"

Xander's eyes widened "As my hero, my protector, my, champion."

"Exactly. And so you selected her. Is it any surprise that a god who's primary power is to disrupt pre-planned events could empower their Champion even before knowing they existed? I mean, such an act is entirely within your nature, as is your link to Chaos, and Order through Janus. How could it be any other way?" Mike asked with a grin.

Then he smiled and pointed across the street, "And you two should get going, you're both late for work."

With that Mike was gone, as though he had never been there in the first place.

=+=

"I said you were my new Grandfather." The brunette mortal explained.

The ancient Vampire looked at the mortal girl he had met briefly the night before and pondered how she could possibly have come to such an unlikely conclusion. The girl didn't seem insane at first glance. Nor did her acquaintances, all friends of Alexander as he recalled, seem to find such a claim of kinship to be unusual. Rather than try to fathom the mystery of the child's statement however, he instead asked the question at the top of his mind, "Do you know where Alexander is this evening? I was expecting him, and had given Miklos the night off, if I need to call him in I would rather do so now, than wait until we are open and actually have customers awaiting service."

The girl, Faith, if he recalled, glanced towards the door visible through the arch into the room which couldn't be there and shrugged, "They were right behind us, I thought. You want me to go find them?"

LaCroix had no sooner opened his mouth than the door beyond opened, and four people walked briskly through it, appearing to be caught up in an animated discussion of some sort, however despite his quite acute hearing LaCroix could not detect any sound from beyond the impossible arch.

However as Alexander and Cat crossed the threshold into the front room of the apartment, their voices, footsteps, and heartbeats became immediately apparent, proving that it was something to do with the impossible room which had effected his senses and not anything else.

"Alexander, Cat, were you planning on attending to your duties this evening?" LaCroix asked, a little perturbed.

Xander nodded, "Yeah, sorry we're late. There was this demon which attacked, Faith and Buffy were injured. Then afterwards, we had a visit from Mike, you remember him from our wedding?"

LaCroix flinched inwardly at the memory of the Archangel who's very presence had caused himself and the other vampires present pain greater than any holy relic they had ever encountered. "I do believe so. He isn't coming here again, is he?" LaCroix asked with a slight frown.

Xander shook his head, "No. He just wanted to point out we'd exceeded some self-imposed limits regarding what we would do in Sunnydale, and he also provided us with some, interesting information regarding both Faith and Buffy.

LaCroix quirked an eyebrow, then glanced back at the brunette teenager and asked, "Indeed. Would it explain her attempting to claim kinship with me, perhaps?"

Xander frowned at that, "Um, I don’t think so. No, he simply confirmed that she's this world's Slayer. Not that we know exactly what that means."

LaCroix turned around once more pinning the girl in question with his full attention. "An actual Slayer? After all this time? How can it be, they died out here long ago."

Faith had looked over as she determined they were talking about her, and was now walking over, the other four kids following silently behind.

"Well, perhaps because she's not from this world. And in her line, the Slayers didn't die out. We didn't ask Mike about that, because we were more distracted by what he told us about Buffy."

Buffy perked up at that, "What? Who are you talking about?"

Xander stepped over to the blonde girl and smiled at her, "He told us why you didn't loose your Empowerment after you drowned and Kendra was Called."

Buffy's face scrunched up and she asked, "Why?" She was never really happy talking about the night she'd drowned. She didn't like thinking about the fact that she had been dead, and would have stayed that way had Angel not brought Xander along to help save her.

Xander smiled, "Well, it turns out you did loose your Empowerment that night. But it was replaced. I'm not sure exactly how, Mike was confusing when he explained it, but you were chosen as a Champion by a single god, and Empowered by them."

Buffy frowned and asked, "Who?"

Cat spoke up softly, "You're not the Slayer, which we all knew. What you are is the Champion of the Undestined God."

Faith recognized the name, and before anyone else could respond simply said, "Damn.", the surprise evident in her voice.

=+=

"It's back, Brother." The female Oracle said to her brother.

"So I note. He has taken the Pretender this time, not that she's any loss. Can you detect the demon Skip?" the male asked.

The female Oracle searched for any trace of their agent, but any time she tried to locate any thread of existence after they last dispatched him to locate Harris and eliminate him, she failed. It was as though, like the Slayer and the Pretender, he had simply ceased to exist, indeed had never existed in the first place.

"You won't find him." A voice spoke from the darkness of their domain.

Both Oracles whirled to meet the unexpected intrusion to their private domain.

They relaxed somewhat as they identified the source, the Archangel Michael, twin brother to Lucifer. They could tell by the glow of his aura which of the two he was however, Michael having a far brighter appearance, due to his constant joy in serving The Creator, unlike his brother's, which was dark and murky due to his own grudging service to the same being.

"What brings you here, Archangel?" the brother asked.

"And without a gift." his sister noted with a frown.

Michael smiled grimly at the pair and said, "Who said I had no gift. Granted, I have not come as a supplicant, so have not come to add a trinket to your collection, but I have nonetheless brought you a gift, one of great value, the gift of knowledge."

The male Oracle scowled, "We are the Oracles. Knowledge is our domain, as is time. What knowledge could you have brought us that we would not already have?"

Mike took a breath and counseled himself to patience. He was here under orders, so he would follow his instructions, despite his preference to simply leave this pair to their arrogant folly. "For one, the knowledge of what happened to your agent, Skip."

The two Oracles simply stood there in their separate pools of light, awaiting the promised information. After a few moments of silence, Mike shrugged and turned away, preparing to leave.

"Halt!" the male commanded imperiously, "You have failed to provide the information you promised."

Mike stopped and turned back to them, a scowl on his face, "You didn't ask for it. You still haven't."

The female tried a softer approach, "Archangel Michael, could you tell us the fate of our agent Skip?"

Mike paused and looked at her, then with a smirk he replied, "I already told you I could. All you need to do is ask."

Silence started to stretch again, before the female sighed and asked, "Please tell us the fate of our agent Skip."

Mike smiled suddenly and muttered, "See, you can be polite if you try. Skip's dead. He attacked the Undestined God, and was destroyed."

The male frowned and demanded, "What is this Undestined God, what is their domain and affiliation? I have never heard of them before."

Mike offered him a smirk, "I thought information was your domain? Looks like your not doing so good there these days. I guess that's why I was sent here to tell you about it. Very well, take careful notes. The domain of the Undestined God is free will. Destiny becomes moot in the presence of the Undestined God. As for affiliation, it has none, although it is related to Chaos and Order, has walked in Heaven and Hell, and generally opposes evil and repression. Death springs from its whim, and even time bows before it. Where it passes, nothing shall be as it would have been, be the changes for the better or the worse, freedom and choice will be unleashed."

The female Oracle asked, "The blockage of our powers in Sunnydale, this is being caused by this Undestined God?"

Mike nodded, "You see through Destiny. Which ceases to exist in the presence of the Undestined God. This makes you blind when you seek to oppose it."

The male spoke, anger in his voice, "It destroyed one of our strongest agents, how can it be eliminated?"

Mike shook his head and replied, "I can't tell you that. But I do have a piece of advice, don't even try to oppose it, because if you do you will be destroyed. None of the Powers can stand against it's wrath, and you would b wise to avoid incurring it."

The male Oracle scowled, "So you advise that we allow a force which seeks to topple all we have built free reign to destroy as it chooses?"

Mike shrugged, "If you want advice, I'd recommend you leave Alexander Harris and those he associates with alone. Not that you're likely to listen. Well, I've delivered my message. I'll go let the Boss know you've been warned." With that Mike turned away once more, and was gone.

The female Oracle looked over at her brother and asked, "What has Harris to do with this, unless he is an agent of this new God?"

The male Oracle shook his head, "He is naught but a lower being, one which has been a thorn in our sides almost since his birth. Almost every plan in which he has come into contact has been damaged almost beyond repair. He needs to be eliminated, regardless of what the Archangel says."

"We need to learn more of this Undestined God, where it came from and what it wants." The female oracle said.

"Fine. You do that. I shall seek to learn what Harris has done to our plans this time." The male grumbled.

=+=

"Who is the, ooh!" Willow said, her eyes shooting wide as she looked between Xander and Cat. "Is that your official title? I didn't know."

Buffy was starting to get upset. "What? If I'm some stupid god's champion, I should know about it! Who is this god, and where are they?"

Xander grinned at his friend as he softly told her, "We're right here, Buff. It's Cat and I. I mean, I'm Xander, and Cat is Cat, but together we're the Undestined God."

Buffy turned around and looked at her friend. "Um. Ok. How?"

Xander thought about that, translating it as best he could before he answered, "When I brought you back. Apparently this god thing isn't necessarily linear, somehow Cat and I, er, reached back and Empowered you. Or something like that. Mike didn't exactly go into technical details. I suppose we could go and try to find his Boss, Mr. Whoopie is pretty good about explaining things, especially when he uses his blackboard."

Jonathan piped in at that point, "Mr. Whoopie, from those old cartoons with the penguin and the seal?"

"Walrus." Xander replied, then grinned at Jonathan and pointed out, "And don't forget you're in a TV show at the moment, so is going to a cartoon reality really that hard to imagine?"

Jonathan just swallowed, loosing his smirk at that.

"Mr. Whoopie is The Creator?" Giles asked, remembering the TV show from when he was young and would occasionally watch American telly when he was stoned.

"Phinaes J. Whppoie is The Greatest." Xander explained, starting to laugh.

Cat stepped in and added, "Actually, he was an aspect of The Creator. Only an Elder God an Archangel can survive a face to face meeting with The Creator. But apparently he can interact through aspects in some realities. We told you he spoke to us about going to Sunnydale, that it was he who was worried about us causing problems if Xander went home."

Jonathan asked softly, "You mean that wasn't all bullshit about not being able to help?"

Jenny looked at him and sighed, "Apparently not. After you guys left, the Archangel Michael just happened to stop by and point out that in dealing with Skip and then healing both Faith and Buffy that they had exceeded their intended limits on their first night out."

Jonathan frowned, then looked down at his feet, he looked up again and met Amy's eyes and he flushed, then he softly said, "Sorry guys. I, I didn't really think that God would get mad if you were trying to do the right thing."

Xander answered him softly, "He wouldn't. But sometimes what seems like the right thing from one perspective isn't the right thing from another. And in the case of the challenges one meets in life, there has to be the chance of failure for success to have any value. And in some cases, failure means death."

Cat looked a little sad at the thought but shrugged, "But by now you should all know that death does not mean the end. It just means a big change for the one who dies, and a loss for the ones who don't."

LaCroix glanced at his watch and frowned, "That is all well and good, but The Raven is opening in five minutes and the bar has yet to be prepped."

Xander closed his eyes for a moment then looked back at LaCroix and asked, "It hasn't?"

LaCroix frowned and silently turned towards the door, already half suspecting that Xander had somehow managed to do the work despite his absence.

As Xander and Cat followed him out, Buffy walked over to Giles and asked softly, "If, if I'm like Xan's Champion instead of the Slayer, does that mean I still have to patrol?"

Giles frowned as he considered the girl's question. Technically, although the council had no idea of the fact, neither Buffy or Faith fell under their purview any longer, but at the same time he couldn't bring himself to contact them and inform them of the fact, for if they accepted his assertion, they would at best simply withdraw any support for the two supernatural warriors, and Giles couldn't let that happen, although he should inform them in regards to Buffy's status at least prior to the scheduled Cruciamentum. "I would think so. Especially if Cat and Xander are still patrolling. It just means that technically you don't fall under the council's jurisdiction, a fact of which I have yet to inform them, I might mention, as they may recall me for reassignment upon learning they have no duty to provide you with a watcher for support."

Buffy frowned and asked, "What, they'll take you away? Why?"

"Buffy, the Watcher's Council was started to provide support for the Slayer. While they do support several of their own hunter teams, they are not in the habit of providing support for outside factions. I dare say that once they learn you are no longer an actual Slayer, they will have to withdraw all support from you, which includes myself and my resources."

Buffy looked thoughtful, "No more dusty books?" she asked.

Giles shook his head sadly, "No more dusty books."

Buffy pouted, "But no more Watcherly advice either?"

"No more Watcherly advice." Giles confirmed.

"Not fair." Buffy complained. "What about Faith? She's still a Slayer. Won't she need dusty books and a Watcher?"

Giles pursed his lips as he considered, "She is a slayer, but she's not the Council's Slayer, she's a Slayer for another world, this one to be exact. I have to wonder though if there is still a council here, since their Slayer Line has been extinct for so long. It's something to look into later. But as for Faith, I think I can overlook the distinction for now, perhaps lead them to believe your Champion status is a new development, which led to the Calling of the new Slayer in Australia. That way I may perchance be able to remain to provide her with support, at least for the next couple of years." An idle thought passed through his head, and Giles briefly wondered if the Cruciamentum drugs would even have an effect on either girl, seeing as how their Empowerments differed from that of the true Slayer. Would drugs mystically designed to suppress the Slayer Essence work the same on either a Champion or a Slayer with a foreign Essence from the one it had been designed for? If not, perhaps he could allow the girls to accept the test, he'd have to insure that that prat Travers or one of his lackeys administered the drugs, while Xander and Cat monitored for any double crossing on the part of the Council, but if the drugs were ineffectual on the girl, she should have a good shot at passing the test, and continuing to qualify for Council support even after she turned eighteen. He's have to remember to speak confidentially to Xander about it at soon so he could decide what to do. All he was sure of was there was no way he was throwing a handicapped slayer in a cage with a vampire.

"Giles?" Buffy was saying, drawing back his attention.

"Yes? Oh, I'm sorry Buffy, I was distracted by something. What were you saying?" Giles responded.

"I was asking if we could go downstairs. I mean, that is the whole reason we came. Is it ok is we go?" Buffy asked, looking at the still open hallway door, Amy, Jonathan, Willow, and Faith clustered behind her while Jenny was looking at him with an odd expression on her own face.

"Yes. Of course. I don't know however if they will allow you inside, I'm not sure what the rules are for a nightclub in Toronto, I'm afraid." Giles replied.

Faith grinned as she moved out to lead the way down the inside stairs, "Oh, don't worry about that, Jeeves. If anyone gives them any grief, I'm sure I can get my Ma to scare up some IDs for them. Heck, with my folks running the bar, you don't even have to worry about them getting anything they shouldn't to drink."

"I daresay that isn't exactly the attitude a daughter should hold towards their mother, no matter what their ages." Giles commented to Jenny as he watched the teenagers disappear into the hall, leaving the two of them alone in the apartment.

"What, the joyful confidence in her Mother's ability to regulate their ability to consume alcohol, or her apparent expectation that her mother will provide false identification to her friends at need?" Jenny asked with a smile.

"Either one, actually, however it is the second which truly concerns me. I still find it hard to picture Xander as a mature enough adult that he could help raise a teenage girl like Faith. And Cat's appearance doesn't lead to an automatic assumption of maturity either. Put together, I'd be hard pressed to imagine a more unlikely pair to adopt a teenage slayer as their daughter, let alone have any hope of enforcing any discipline and providing for the structured support she will need." Rupert said, looking around the apartment in more than a bit of curiosity. "On another note, I rather like what they've done with this place, the merger of the two locations seems perfectly seamless. Had you even noted the Portal when you crossed it?"

Jenny shook her head, "No, all I detected were some sort of scrying spells, I think to hide the actual portal and provide the two 'windows' on either side. They certainly open up the space though, it feels like a much larger place, one I could call homey even."

Giles nodded, then catching a glimpse of the head in a box, sitting in the open on the coffee table he grimaced to notice it watching him with the most peculiar expression. "Ah, Jenny, that box sitting beside that awful head, please tell me that isn't the Lament Configuration?"

Jenny looked and noted the black and gold box which Lucifer had given to Xander and Cat as a wedding gift sitting next to the transparent box holding the demonic head. "It looks like it. Hadn't we boxed it up in several layers, each warning Xander not to open it until he checked with us?"

Giles nodded, "Apparently he chose to, ignore the warnings."

"We should go speak with him about it while we're here." Jenny said.

"That would be a good idea." Giles agreed. "Plus, it would allow us to maintain a more vigilant watch over our, er, charges."

Jenny smiled and as they turned towards the door themselves she asked, "Would those also include Xander and Cat?"

"I dare say I'd be remiss not to do so, at least for now. Young Alexander has yet to demonstrate that he's changed significantly from the reckless youth I knew him to be prior to his sojourn in Hell, and as for Cat, my impression is that despite her age, she has lead a rather, sheltered, existence up until now. Not to mention what sort of influence extended close contact to Xander could have had on her." Giles replied as he pulled the door closed behind them, neither one of them noting the hand which crawled slowly out from beneath the couch and made its way over to the base of the coffee table.

=+=

Faith led her friends, she paused for a moment to consider that thought, but yes, as unusual as it was for her, they were indeed her friends, to 'her' booth, the one she'd claimed the night before which provided some seclusion, but a decent view of the door, the bar, and the rest of the club, with a excellent view of the small stage where the vampire band had preformed.

Cat looked up as they crossed the room, but she continued working with Urs on setting the club up, taking the last of the chairs down off the tables and double checking that every sugar container was topped up with the normal selection.

Behind the bar, Xander was involved in a silent conversation with LaCroix, which even Faith's heightened Slayer hearing couldn't make out.

A few minutes after the teens had settled at the table, LaCroix, with a passing glance at the booth filled with teenagers, made his way to the doors and unlocked them, informally declaring The Raven open for yet another night of business.

He swung over to the kid's table on his way back from the now unlocked door and stopped in front of the unusually crowded booth. "You five are all aware of the unusual nature of most of our clientele, I understand?"

As the kids nodded, Faith said, "Yeah, Gramps, we know. Sunlight challenged liquid diet. We promise not to dust 'em if they don't try to add us to their diets." She said, meeting every one of the Scoobie's eyes to insure they also understood the rules.

LaCroix frowned at the girl's use of the term Gramps, but let it slide for the moment, wanting to insure there would be no problems. "If you interact with my customers, you will be polite, you will also NOT leave this room without first checking with myself, Cat, or Alexander, even to visit the restroom. And I assume you know you will not be served any adult beverages this evening. I am not in the business of providing drinks to minors, indeed, I am only barely in the business of providing drinks for mortals, our primary purpose being to provide a place for the local Community to meet."

The five teenagers all nodded respectfully at him so he turned away, still unsure what to think about the unexpected company Alexander had brought with him. When he'd offered the apartment to the young man, he had believed the occupants would be restricted to Xander and his cat. When Cat turned out not to actually be a cat, LaCroix had decided to accept the situation without comment, after all, there were still the same two occupants, only the nature of one of them had seemingly changed. And he'd decided that first night he really liked having Alexander around.

LaCrois was not particularly pleased with the apparent structural changes wrought on the apartment without his permission however. And he was as yet undecided as to the addition of the rude young lady, who despite the sheer incredulity of the concept, Alexander claimed to be the Slayer. Now the child was bringing her friends to his club. The night before she had almost made a scene, he had been set to intervene when he had spotted a new Enforcer speaking with the young lady, but before he could act, the Enforcer had left on his own for some reason. He was loathe to think what the repercussions of having a small herd of mortals present would be. While the initial reaction of the Community to Alexander and Cat had been one of amused novelty, which had thankfully faded to simple acceptance, he was concerned that the Enforcers would feel the need to respond to such a blatant and worse, escalating violations of The Code. A pair of beings which defiantly weren't mortals, even if they weren't really Vampires either was bad enough, but the simple fact was that both Cat and Alexander had so much basic power that no vampire, or even any reasonable group of vampires could pose a serious challenge to them. But the children they had brought here, they would not be as easily protected.

He made a mental note to keep a close eye on things this evening. He would use a taped show for his broadcast tonight, he decided. If nothing else, the events should prove, interesting.

=+=

Cat came by and gave each of the kids a sipper cup filled with their choice of soda, each closed glass clinking with ice, and Faith grinned as she made a mental bet on how long it would take the Scoobies to notice that the glasses remained filled no matter how much they each drank.

She also took orders for food, most of the kids opting for pizza, and soon the table was piled with plates as the official 'Not Dead' party got underway.

=+=

Xander looked up as a concerned looking Giles followed by a worried looking Jenny came through the door from the back.

He glanced across the just-opened, yet still empty club towards the table occupied by the kids, wondering if somehow they had done something already to cause such an expression on Giles's face, but they seemed happy, still eagerly chowing down on the food Cat had made for them.

"What's up G-Man, can I get you two a drink or something?" he asked as Rupert came up to his spot at the bar.

"No thank you, Xander, we were concerned why you not only opened, but left the Lament Configuration on the table after we cautioned you of its danger?"

Xander frowned and shook his head, "Uh, what's a Lament Configuration, and when did you caution he about it?"

Giles rolled his eyes and looked over to Jenny for support. "The Lament Configuration is that box the devil gave you and Cat for a wedding present, and we cautioned you on the several boxes it was wrapped up in. We had also meant to leave you a letter, but had forgotten to do so. It is sitting on the coffee table beside that dreadful head you seem so attached to."

Jenny offered a description, "It's the black and gold puzzlebox?"

Xander shook his head, "Haven't even seen it. We haven't had a chance to go through the gifts yet, we only got back last night as you may recall, and after working our shifts here, spent some time discussing Faith, then making plans for dealing with a permanent presence in Sunnydale as well as here, then we got a bit of sleep before making Faith breakfast. After that we've been running around all day today, getting funds, obtaining the building, creating the new parts of the apartment, then meeting with you guys and patrolling." after a few moments of silence he went on, "And Cat hasn't seen it either. Where did you say it was?"

"On your coffee table, next to the box with the devil head inside." Giles repeated.

Xander frowned, then looked around the still empty club. "Ok. Cat's goanna come over and keep an eye on the bar for me for a moment, I'll pop upstairs and check it out, see what it is you're talking about. The only thing I can think is that Faith may have opened it, but I really don't see where she'd have had a chance either, she's been with either Cat or myself pretty much constantly, other than last night when she went up to go to bed while we were still down here working. After I take a look at it, Cat can swing by her table and check with her, just to be sure."

Giles nodded, but before he could start to reply, Xander was literally gone.

Jenny started as the young man vanished into thin air, looking around.

"He'll be right back." Cat said, walking up behind them, a somewhat distracted look on her face as she monitored her husband inside her mind. Suddenly she frowned and murmured a soft "Oh."

Giles exchanged a glance with Jenny before asking, "Oh?"

Cat focused on them completely and said, "I think there may be an explanation."

=+=

Xander blinked into existence in the middle of his living room, standing before the coffee table, as he looked for the strange black and gold box Jenny had described to him.

But even as he spotted the box, his attention was diverted by a flash of movement from the top of the much larger, clear box beside it, holding the head he'd sliced off of Lucifer when he'd tried to kill the devil the day of his wedding.

Perched on the flat, clear top of the box rested another remnant of that fight, a severed right hand sliced off shortly before the head.

Thinking quickly, Xander delved into his wife's memories of what exactly she'd done when creating the impenetrable box which housed the detached head, and with a bit of concentration, reversed the process, dissolving the box and allowing the severed hand to fall with a muted slap onto the top of the silently staring head.

As quickly as he could, Xander created a new, slightly larger and more complicated box, using almost all of his available power.

A new, transparent cube came into existence enclosing the silver serving tray, the demonic head on top of it, and the once more moving severed hand, which was falling to the tray in front of the devil's face.

The new, slightly larger box also featured a small silver panel on the bottom right side of the front face, one which contained three buttons. If Xander had created it right, those buttons would allow the box to be sealed completely, blanking out both sound and light from either entering or leaving the box, just preventing sound from leaving, but allowing light to travel both ways, and sound to enter, as the old box had, or allowing both sound and light to travel both ways, allowing one to converse with the head, should they so wish.

Taking in the suddenly satisfied smile on the devil's face as the severed hand busily scratched at its nose, Xander took a final look at the black and gold cube laying on the table beside the devil's head and vanished back to the bar below.

=+=

Vashon pushed through the front door of the Raven a bit before seven. While the band didn't have any sets until eight, he liked to get there early to visit with his childe Urs, and make sure everything was set up beforehand. Plus this evening he was accompanied by his recent mortal acquaintance Detective Tracy Vetter, who was planning on spending her night off with him so they could catch up, not having had much time together since Tracy learned Nick's secret a month before at the wedding.

As he stepped into the club, he glanced towards the table where he's seen that girl who Cat and Xander seemed to think was a Slayer night before, and found himself frozen in mid stride, as he took in the fact that the girl, Faith, as he recalled, had apparently decided not only to return, but to bring some friends, three other girls and a boy, all mortals of about her age. This would not be good. This is why they had the Code, after all, to keep mortals from finding out about their kind. And most mortals were incapable of maintaining the secret about vampires.

He must have been standing there longer than he realized, as suddenly Tracy was pushing him forcibly out of her way so she could come the rest of the way into the club.

"Vashon, what's the matter?" Tracy asked, looking at him in concern.

Vashon frowned and nodded towards the booth. "Problems. If any of them are resistors, we're really in trouble."

Tracy followed his gaze, a scowl settling on her face as she noted the booth filled with obvious teenagers. "Are they?" she started to ask.

"No, all mortals." Vashon replied to her half stated question.

"But, they've all got to be underage. How did they get in here in the first place?" Tracy asked, staring at the youths.

"The brunette, I think her name is Faith was here last night. She seemed to already know about us, and she's a Resister. Somehow she even managed to resist an enforcer, I saw him talking to her and then he just left. She must have invited the rest to check the place out or something. I hope she hasn't mentioned Vampires to them, or no matter what she told the enforcer last night, they'll probably kill them all, resistors or not."

Two of the girls, the one he'd met the night before, Faith, and a shorter blonde had turned and were staring at them as though they could hear the conversation despite the distance. Tracy frowned as she watched the girl's expressions changing as he spoke softly to her. "Are you sure they're not vampires?" she asked.

"Positive. We can sense one another, and even from here I can hear five sets of heartbeats coming from that table." He frowned and went on, "In fact, I hear at least ten sets of heartbeats in here at the moment. There's more mortals in the room than vampires!" Vashon explained.

As he said that, both girls who seemed to be listening looked around the room, as though counting, then they both looked at one another and grinned. Vashon noted the action and silently agreed with Tracy, even if the girl's claim the night before of being 'the slayer' was as erroneous as he still thought it had to be despite her ability to identify vampires, whatever she, and apparently her friend, were, they weren't normal humans. Deciding to find out what exactly was going on, he made his way over to the table, Tracy following silently behind him.

The brunette teen grinned as he approached, turning to her friends, "Hey, this is the guy I was telling you guys about, the one from the band." She looked at him and seemed to pause, "Damn, D-Q, I'm sorry, but I've spaced on your name, all I can think is Fashion, and I know that ain't it."

Tracy started giggling behind him as Vashon frowned

Finally Tracy stopped giggling long enough to ask, "DQ?"

The teenager shrugged, " Don Quixote. He's Spanish, really old, and like a gallant knight, tried to save me from the evil vampires last night. Plus, I can't call him Fashion, even if he does dress better than my dad."

Vashon's scowl deepened and he said, "My name is Vashon. Please don't call me Don Quixote. What are you and your friends doing here anyways?"

Faith smiled and nodded at the blonde who had also appeared to have heard them clear across the room earlier, "B and I are celebrating not being dead, as apparently I got killed, and B came damn close earlier tonight. But my folks saved us and fixed us up, thus the party. And I wanted to show the rest of the Scoobs my new crib. And your band."

Tracy frowned, "Your folks?" she asked.

Faith extended her hand, "Cat and the X-Man are my parents." she explained, nodding towards the couple at the bar.

"So are you a goddess?" Tracy asked, thinking back to the wedding a month earlier.

There were snorts from the other kids as Faith just grinned and shook her head, "Nah, I'm adopted. I actually just met them yesterday, but they grow on ya fast, like kudsu. I'm the Slayer."

"What, or who is the slayer?" Tracy asked.

"One girl in all the world given the strength and speed to fight vampires and stop the spread of their evil, yada yada yada. Ya want to know the whole scoop, go see the g-man in tweed over by the bar." Faith explained.

Vashon frowned, "That's not quite right, that's just what they said in the stupid movie. Actually, the Slayer was a girl from a special family who policed our kind before the Enforcers. She was stronger and faster than any vampire, but was still a mortal. She had the ability to strip a vampire's powers, leaving them as less than a normal mortal, as they still retained all their weaknesses. If a vampire became a threat to humanity, she would eliminate it, or worse, simply strip it and leave it to die."

One of the other girls, a red-head looked over at Faith and asked, "You can strip a vampire's powers?"

Faith shrugged and replied, "Don't know, Red. If I can, I don't know how." Turning back to Vashon she asked with a grin, "Say, can the Slayer fly like the vamps here can?"

Vashon frowned, what a stupid question, "Not that I know of, I mean, she was just a mortal. As far as I recall, and remember, the Slayers were not only before my time, they were only in Europe, but they were just like any other mortal, just really strong and fast, able to sense and somehow read vampires, able to turn the compulsion back upon a vampire who tried to use it on them, and able to strip a vampire's powers. But doing so didn't give them that vampire's powers. But it doesn't matter, there aren't any more Slayers, they died out almost a thousand years ago."

Faith rolled her eyes and said, "Yeah, well Dad said I'm now your guys Slayer. And X has been straight with me so far, so I believe him." Faith's expression shifted through shock for a moment as she realized that what she said was true, she actually trusted the guy she'd just met the day before. Why and how Cat and Xander had gotten through her defenses so fast and so thoroughly she didn't know, but in just a bit over a day they had completely changed her. Not just how and where she was living physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. She wasn't a scared teenaged dropout living alone in a hotel full of whores and druggies off of money she got from mugging the undead before staking them, instead she was enrolled in school again, living in a caring home, with she had to admit kick-ass parents who actually seemed to give a fuck about her, hell, X had been willing to turn himself into a chick around her if it would make her more comfortable, what other guy would do that even if they could, and she actually had friends. She hadn't realized it before, but at some point the Scoobies had accepted her, and they also seemed to care about her, after all, while this 'not dead' party was for both her and B, it was her who had, she shuddered for a moment as she thought about it, who had died. And Cat had brought her back. And that was the last piece of the construction which totally shifted her reality from her old life to her new life, because that's what this was, a whole new life, and she was a whole new Faith, a better Faith, a Faith who could actually be, happy. What a trip.

The Vampire had said something she realized, and she'd been so lost in her own revelation that she'd totally missed it. "Huh?" she articulated.

Vashon glanced at the blonde chick beside him then looked back at her, "I said didn't you think it might be a bad idea to bring your friends here, even if Xander and Cat are your guardians? You do recall the nature of the clients here, don't you?"

Faith shook her head, "It's cool, DQ. See, they all know the sitch. B used to be the Slayer, but now she's X's and Cat's Champion somehow. Red and Glinda are witches. And Gandolph is an up-and-coming wizard, so none of us are exactly mainstream. As for the old fogies by the bar, Jeeves is a Watcher, and the Pinup Babe is like this kick ass techno-witch, she's the one teaching the mojo to the coven."

Vashon was confused. "Uh, that's nice and all, but you are all still mortal humans. I really don't think that the Enforcers are going to approve of you having a party here."

Tracy spoke up as well, "Not to mention that you're all under aged. They shouldn't even let you in the front door."

Faith rolled her eyes, "Look, Gramps owns the joint, and he said it was cool. We aren't drinking, I mean, how could we, X is running the bar, and Cat is one of the waitresses – I suppose I could ask Blondie to try and run us some drinks, but I doubt she'd get them past X, even if she tried. 'Sides, this isn't about getting wasted, it's about not being dead, and chillin' with friends. If the Cops come around, we'll scare up some IDs and that should take care of it, K?"

Turning back to Vashon she added, "And your babe here's not a Vamp either, so I don't see the problem with my friends."

Vashon frowned, realizing the girl had a point, but a single mortal resistor who had actually been helpful to the Community, such as Tracy or Natalie was one thing, a whole gang of mortal teenagers was another order of magnitude more likely to become a problem. "Yes, Tracy's a mortal, but the local Community also knows her, and that she's helped them out on several occasions. They don't know you, so they won't be as accepting."

Faith shrugged, "Then they can get to know me. And if they don't like it, fuck 'em. As long as my buds and my family are happy, I couldn't give a shit about what anyone else thinks."

Vashon sighed and tried again, "I tried to warn you last night, the Enforcers will kill to protect the community. They will kill any vampire who's actions threaten to disclose us, and they'll certainly kill any mortal who does so. That means if they find out about you and your little friends, you are all dead."

Faith's eyes narrowed and a chill seemed to settle over the area as she said coldly, "Look, I promised my folks not to go around staking the locals here." With a sudden movement of her arm a sharp wooden stake appeared in her hand, revolving swiftly as she twirled it on her fingertips with obvious practiced familiarity, "But if one of 'em tries shit with my buds, I'll dust 'em so fast they won't know what happened. I'm the Slayer, it's what I do, after all."

Vashon blinked at the appearance of weapon in the girl's hand. Something about it was actually painful, like looking at a cross or holy icon. He had no doubt that the piece of wood she was wielding could hurt one of his kind, but only a fledgling could be permanently dispatched with a stake, any vampire more than fifty or sixty years old would revive as soon a it was withdrawn, and some of the really ancient ones, like LaCroix, could probably manage to maintain consciousness even with the thing stuck in their chests. "I don't think you understand. Look, what did the Enforcer say to you last night?"

Faith rolled her eyes and replied, "He said he was goanna take care of me, then take care of you, and tried to tell me to go outside with him, I told him to fuck off, and he left. I told you that last night, remember?"

Vashon frowned, "Yes, but that doesn't make sense. He wouldn't just leave just because he couldn't compel you to go outside with him, unless he went looking for reinforcements. And since he didn't come back last night, he'll probably be back tonight. With, as I said, reinforcements. So it's imperative you and your friends aren't here when they come."

Faith shrugged, "Like I said, they give me shit, I'll take 'em out. They leave me alone, I'll leave them alone, but I sure as shit ain't going anywhere with a sleezeball like him."

Vashon sighed, realizing the futility of this conversation. Perhaps he'd have better luck with the girl's guardians. "Ok, but if they come in and try to kill you all tonight, don't blame me, ok?"

Faith shrugged, "Ok. So, when ya goanna start playing? You guys were wicked cool last night, and with Gandolph here tonight, I plan on getting in some dancing, assuming Glinda will let me borrow him for a bit. And if not, I'll just snag the cutest other guy I can find. I've got to celebrate not bein' dead."

Tracy looked from her friend to the teenager and grinned, "Their first set is in about an hour. And I'm sure we can find someone to dance with you. I think Nick was planning on coming by tonight, he'd mentioned hearing that Xander and Cat were back, and wanting to see them about their disappearing act 'Vegas last month."

Faith frowned, "Who's Nick, is he cute?"

Tracy shrugged, "My partner, and Nat seems to think so, although if those two ever get together it'll be a miracle."

Faith looked speculative for a moment, until Willow touched her on the arm, "Nick's cute. We saw him at the wedding. If you ever saw the show, he's the blonde guy it was all about."

Tracy frowned at that, wondering what show the girl was talking about. She assumed the wedding she mentioned was Xander's and Cat's, perhaps there was a video or something, but why would it center on Nick? Noticing that Vashon was halfway across the club already, heading towards the bar, Tracy just shrugged and with a polite wave at the children turned to catch up with her friend, swerving a bit so as not to bump into a pretty redheaded young woman who had just come into the bar. She failed to notice the scowel the woman turned on her at her passing, nor the frown the woman gave the rest of the bar as she looked around.

=+=

LaCroix turned towards the door as he felt the arrival of someone even older than himself.

The new arrival was physically in her mid twenties, with long red hair, and an impressively shaped, yet obviously athletic figure. Her beauty was unusual even for a Vampire, but it was the palpable aura of age and sheer power which drew his attention.

There were very few vampires of his age, and even fewer who were older. Yet this woman felt almost like Xander had the one time he'd dropped whatever it was that hid his vampiric essence.

LaCroix noticed her scowl as Detective Vetter passed her, then he saw her frown deepen a she swept the room, likely at the number of mortal heartbeats present. If she truly was as ancient as she seemed, she would likely find the presence of so many mortals in a supposed vampire club to be entirely unacceptable.

Frowning himself LaCroix moved forward to greet his new guest, hoping to find out the reason for her presence, and forestall any incidents.

=+=

Ila frowned as she entered the local Community's main gathering place, a Vampire Club named 'The Raven'.

She had received several reports a month before about supposed disturbances in this place, including some conflicting reports from the local Enforcers, which had led her to reassign several of them over the past month. But after the initial flurry of complaints about several violations of The Code, most of the furor had died down. There were still persistent reports of several mortals who were known to be aware of the Community's existence, including a doctor who apparently had been instrumental in combating some sort of disease a while back. Vampire diseases. Only in the last few years had the world changed so much that such a thing was even conceivable. She was starting to wonder if all her efforts over the past millennia were going to go to waste. She hoped not.

The night before, she had received another set of messages, first notifying her of the return of the two possibly mortal, possibly not, employees of the club, and also a disturbing report of a third mortal, a young girl, who claimed to be a Slayer. It was because of her that she had crossed the world. As soon as the reports reached her the previous day, she had had herself placed in a container and flown to Toronto on a private plane, as swiftly as possible, because the report had to be mistaken. There had been no Slayers in almost a thousand years. She knew this for a fact, because she had followed the Slayers her entire life. After all, they were her family, and the Last Slayer had been one of her direct descendants. A great-granddaughter several generations removed. Of course, most of the Slayers from the last two thousand years had been descended from her, as her line had been one of the most successful of the Slayer lines. Probably because of her and her other kin, who had guarded their successors, aiding them when they could, and eventually forming the Enforcers to take their place after the Last Slayer had fallen.

The reports of a new Slayer were enough to draw her attention all by themselves. But when coupled with the troubling reports out of this city from the month, and even years before, to not come in person would have been unthinkable.

And apparently the reports were correct. For already inside this supposed Vampire Club she detected at least ten mortal heartbeats. A Mortal had practically tripped over her as she came in. There were three Mortals at the bar, as well as a fourth behind it, apparently working. And finally, there was a booth filled with five mortal children, one of whom was probably the supposed Slayer.

Such a flagrant violation of The Code which had stood the Communities well for over three thousand years hadn't been seen since the discovery of the New World, over five hundred years before. Something would have to be done, and she'd have to be the one to do it.

=+=

LaCroix forced himself to remain calm as he approached the Ancient Vampiress.

She spoke first, her soft smoky voice holding a faint tinge of a Gaelic accent as she inquired, "General Lucien LaCroix, Elder of Toronto?"

At his silent nod she continued her tone taking on a flat, icy quality which sent actual shivers of wory down his spine, "I am Enforcer Ila. Can you explain the infestation of Mortals in your establishment, and apparent flagrant violations of The Code to me?"

Lucien opened his mouth to explain, but before he could say another word, Ila had started to move towards the bar, where Cat and Xander were quietly discussing something with the two elder Sunnydale mortals. "The man behind the bar, here, in what is supposedly one of OUR establishments is not one of us. Neither are the ones with whom he is speaking. The woman who almost tripped me as I entered, another Mortal. And I am not even counting the five mortal CHILDREN sitting at the table having a pizza party. In my entire three thousand years of existence, I have never seen such a flagrant disregard for the rules which protect our society from destruction. One of your age should be well aware of not only the Code, but of all it's reasons for being."

LaCroix however wasn't even given a chance to reply as she continued to march across the club towards the bar and the group gathered before it.

=+=

Vachon had just come up and started a campaign to convince both Cat and himself to order the Scoobies to leave, while LaCroix had been distracted by a powerful feeling vampire who was clearly not happy about something.

Xander looked up as the woman approached and came to a stop before himself and the others. He felt the concern flowing across the faint link he shared with LaCroix, the trace of kinship the two shared, an echo almost of a standard Sire/Childe bond, but not quite. Since Xander had met the elder Vampire the link had slowly, almost imperceptibly strengthened over time. What was more, he could feel the same link stirring within Cat's mind as well, something neither one of them had noticed before. The two echoes of the single faint link seemed to resonate together though, disproportionately strengthening the effects it had upon them both.

Now the vampires was storming up to him and his friends. She looked him over, then turned to examine the others, one at a time, first examining Jenny, then the newly arrived Tracy, followed by Giles, and finally Cat. Turning back to LaCroix, who looked like he was trying to find just the right words for some sort of statement or reply, and demanded, "And why are most of these Mortals children?"

A spike of anger shot through Xander as Cat frowned and cut in to the conversation, "Who are you calling a child?"

The redhead glanced down at Cat dismissively before turning her back on her as she focused her gaze on LaCroix once more. "They will all have to either be killed or brought across tonight. To do otherwise is an inexcusable violation of the rules which have served us for over a thousand years."

Xander was now frowning as well, "Excuse me, but what are you two talking about?"

Sparing him barely a glance the woman continued, "After this mess has been dealt with, I think a full review of this situation and the leadership, both of the local Enforcers who allowed this to happen in the first place, and of this Community in general will be called for, and strict sanctions may need to be considered. I would advise you prepare an argument on you own behalf."

Xander was feeling the chill radiating from his odd link to LaCroix resonating through both Cat's mind and his own, but instead of engendering concern as it was in LaCroix's case, in both of theirs it was generating an almost palpable rage.

Reaching out mentally to his equally annoyed wife for support, Xander tried one last time to interrupt the odd redhead's tirade. "Who are you, and who do you think you are to come in to this place and address LaCroix in such a manner?"

The redhead looked at him scornfully and said, "I am Ila, the chief Enforcer for the Vampire race, and in this case I am the final adjudicator on violations of our Code."

Xander's copies of LaCroix's memories supplied more than enough information to evaluate the situation, and he realized that the events from before his wedding had likely combined with whatever that Enforcer who had pestered Faith the night before had reported, resulting in the arrival of the woman before him. Opening up his senses, he evaluated her on all levels. She was a true Master Vampire, ancient by the standards of their kind, yet somehow even stronger, as all Enforcers had been, then would be normal, even for one of her age. That added strength and greater age made her more than a match for any vampire either himself or LaCroix had ever met. He could understand the reason for LaCroix's concern. But at the same time, here was the top of the pecking order. If he, his family and friends were to ever get comfortable here in Toronto, this was the best opportunity. Grabbing onto that concept, he used it as a point of stability to restrain both his and Cat's raging hostility towards the annoying and pushy vampire. Taking a deep breath he asked, "And by what right are you the final adjudicator?"

The woman frowned, no one had dared challenge her or her sisters since they formed the Enforcers almost a millennia ago. Oh, there had been several challenges to the idea at first, but her and her sisters, along with their childer had been more than able to demonstrate the futility of any resistance. And now she was being questioned by a mortal. It was almost inconceivable. "By the right of tradition, of morality, and responsibility. In my mortal life I was a Slayer, and when the Last Slayer died, it was I and my fellow ex-Slayers who took up the burden of policing our kind to preserve our existence. Due to our heritage, we were the most powerful of our kind, and understood the need to instill restraints that we could avoid becoming targets of the Mortals."

Xander was calming now, Cat having shifted her entire focus to supporting him, almost drawing the rage away from his mind somehow and while not really bottling it up in her own, walling it away so he could concentrate more easily on dealing with the woman in a non-violent way. "So since you were stronger than the others, you got to make the rules?" Xander asked softly.

Giles and Jenny were silent as they watched Xander behave in a way neither one of them would have expected, no sign of the immature teenager they almost expected to see visible to them at all. Even had they had something to add to the conversation their amazement at this totally un-Xander like Xander would likely have held them mute.

Tracy, who had less experience with Xander stepped up to Vachon, and lightly touched his shoulder, not quite following the import of this woman's presence.

For his own part, Vachon was more than a little frightened for his friend, as well as for the children in the booth across the club, this was worse than even his greatest fears. At least the Enforcer had said that the mortals would either be brought across or destroyed, not just killed outright, as was the most expedient solution.

Ila smiled at the child, "We made the rules because they had to be made. We enforced them because we had made them. And this is a violation of those rules. One which MUST end."

Xander looked at her and slowly reached out to brush her mind, not to make any changes or enforce his will, but rather to gauge her intentions and how best to steer her towards his point of view. "I see. But, even you must admit that there are exceptions to every rule. Nothing can be purely black-and-white."

Ila frowned, "There have been some rare exceptions to The Code over the centuries, where a specific Mortal found out about our kind, but was both willing and able to maintain our secrecy, and was more useful to us as a Mortal than they would be as a Vampire." She couldn't help but flash mentally through the exceptions she and her sisters had authorized over the years, some of which she had argued in favor of herself. "The Doctor here, Nancy, is perhaps one of them."

Xander nodded, "Natalie Lambert. Yes, she should be. She saved the Community in this city from a plague, one which had it spread unchecked, could have wiped your kind from the face of the earth. Tracy here is another of those. Her position as Nick's partner allows the two of them to handle any situations with the local law enforcement with discretion."

Ila nodded again, feeling the boy's words resonate with an argument she herself had made several hundred years ago regarding a gendarme in France who knew of their existence, and to protect Ila herself, whom he had married, had helped their Community to become one of the largest and safest of it's time. The large number of vampires here in Toronto was likely a result of the still large Parisian Community which she herself lived in to this day. "A case could be made, yes."

"The rest, they don't count at all." Xander finished.

Ila frowned at that, as did Giles and Jenny. "Why would that be?"

"Because they are not from here. They literally come from another world, and are outside your jurisdiction." Xander tried to explain.

Ila was shocked by the insane stupidity of the child she had been talking with. "You are all Mortals. My jurisdiction covers any Mortals who interact with Vampires. And the code is clear, any Mortals who learn of us must be made to forget. Failing that they must be either brought across, or destroyed. To fail to do so puts the entire Community at risk."

Xander shook his head, "I am not a Mortal. Neither is my wife."

Ila looked the boy up and down. According to the impossible stories she had heard, she knew what he was going to try and claim next, that he was some sort of God. Vampires had religion, one could not be so touched and not know that there was more to the world than the simple life and death experienced by Mortals. If there were no higher powers, Crosses and other Holy Icons would have no power over Vampires. Yet any number of Holy Relics, from any number of religions could damage a Vampire. The Vampire didn't need to be aware of the icon's significance, and the effect wasn't limited to crosses as popular mythology seemed to support, almost any object held at some time as holy could cause a Vampire pain, it was just that crosses were the most common of these objects.

More importantly, as a Slayer, she herself had fought the occasional but very rare Supernatural entity, such as Werewolves, Mages, and the occasional Demon or other evil which preyed upon the Humanity she'd been destined to protect.

But she'd never encountered a God. Mages and delusional Vampires or Mortals claiming to be Gods, yes, but genuine Gods, such as the beings of ancient legend, never. Nor had there been any records referring to the existence of such beings.

And finally, she had been studying the boy since her arrival, and had not detected the slightest hint of any sort of power from him. Which proved that the reports had all been mistaken. "So if you are not Mortals, what are you?"

Xander smiled at her, feeling the 'Win' coming if he could spin this just right. He'd felt her memories flash over her occasional encounters with this world's apparently rare supernatural denizens. He'd felt her go over her memories of the various conflicting reports, some of which claimed he was a Vampire, some a Mortal, and most a God, which at the time hadn't really been true, at least not in his own mind. And he knew that if he could convince her that he was more than he seemed, and genuinely beyond her jurisdiction, he might be able to stretch that immunity to include his companions from Sunnydale, and even more importantly Faith.

With a shrug and a goofy grin he admitted what she knew not to be true, "I'm a God. Alexander Harris, Undestined God and Champion of the Elder God Janus at your service. Call me Xander, and can I pour you a drink?"

=+=

Faith looked over at the bar where her new 'rents were talking with the Jeeves and Pinup, along with DQ and his friend, and Gramps and some really old and powerful red-headed vampire hottie who'd just come in. At first she'd thought there might be a problem, but the red-head was laughing at something, so she figured everything was five-by-five.

Turning back to her buds, she snaked the last piece of pizza from B, who had just begun reaching for it and after a celebratory bite just grinned at her friend. "So, ya goanna borrow Gandolf too, or ya goanna pick up some local beefcake to get your groove on with?"

Jonathan frowned, "What, I don't get a say in who I dance with?"

All four girls looked at him and chorused at once, "No."

Slumping into the seat a bit Jonathan realized the error of being the only male amongst a large group of females. Then he smiled, at least they were all hot. And the jocks called him a looser. Idiots.

=+=

Ila couldn't help it, as the mortal made his expected declaration of godhood, she burst out laughing at the sheer incredulity of the situation. Slowly regaining her composure, she looked at the other three mortals around her, taking in the older looking man and the dark beauty of the woman beside him, as well as she extremely young looking busty blonde girl. "And these others, I suppose they are gods as well?"

The boy, 'Xander', as he asked to be called shrugged, "Well, my wife is a goddess, has been since birth. She's the daughter of Bast and Janus. The other two, no. Giles is a Watcher, one of those who's sacred duty is to guide and train the Slayer in her duties, and Jenny is an expert in several forms of magic, adapted towards modern life. I believe she calls herself a Techno-pagan."

Shaking her head Ila looked over the supposed Watcher and witch, or whatever, then down at the still frowning blonde girl before meeting Xander's eyes across the bar and asking calmly, "And you can prove all of this?"

Xander shrugged, "Depends on the level of proof you need, but yes. So, we golden?"


Ila shook her head, her mirth slipping away, "I had planned on bringing you across, allowing you to join the Community as Vampires, but I honestly think you believe what you are saying. And an insane vampire is the last thing the Enforcers need to deal with. I'm afraid I'm going to have to kill you all."

She was unprepared for what happened next.

In a moment she found a sword at her throat, the edge slicing a good quarter inch into the flesh of her neck as she looked into the cold, suddenly silvery glowing eyes of the man, no, being, before her.

Unlike before, the bartender no longer felt even remotely human to her senses. As a Slayer she'd felt demons before, and knew how they compared to the various vampires she normally encountered these days. She and her fellow former Slayers had retained their sensing ability along with the enhanced strength they inherited from having been Slayers before becoming vampires themselves. And while up until now those senses had shown the man before her as nothing more than a mortal of ambiguous age, but perhaps somewhere around twenty, now the feeling she got from him was almost painful to her esoteric senses. First was his age. He was OLD. Older than her, older than any vampire she had ever met. And strong. The strength of his vampyric presence by far eclipsed that of the most powerful of her kind she had ever encountered, that of the now long gone eldest ex-slayer, the vampire who had counseled her in regards to her choice of giving up her mortal life as a Slayer and becoming one of the very beings she policed. Gail had pointed out that if she allowed her lover of the time, a vampire named Anthony to bring her across, that another Slayer would be called, so it wasn't like the world would be endangered by her choice, but rather, since she herself would continue, although as a Vampire rather than the Slayer, it would be even better protected in the future. Gail had been very old, several thousands of years, so many in fact that she herself had no real idea. But compared to this boy, Gail had been a fledgling child. Suddenly the stories about a Vampire God in Toronto didn't seem as unbelievable as they had a few moments ago.

=+=

Xander frowned at the woman before him. He had thought he was doing a pretty good job, talking her around. He could tell she wasn't completely buying his claim of being a God, but at least she'd been listening, and she had agreed with him in regards to Nat and Tracy, which was a good foundation to build on for the others. But he'd been wrong. Since he'd been limiting himself to the flavor of her mind, rather than following her actual thoughts, her apparent decision to simply kill himself and his friends had taken both himself and Cat by surprise. So much so that Cat momentarily lost her grip on their irrational anger towards this woman, and before he knew it, Xander had found himself drawing Kusanagi from the sheath on his back and swinging it in a practiced move to decapitate his foe. It was all he could do to stop be blade from slicing clean through the woman's neck.

At the same time, the careful hold both he and Cat had been keeping over their auras, an almost subconscious act for Xander built from Alexander's centuries of continuously reigning in the effect of his Quickening and taught the evening before to Cat and maintained so that Faith would be comfortable in their presence, slipped, releasing their combined presence in full force.

Together, both Xander and Cat fought to quash the heightened anger brought on by LaCroix's sudden concern as he saw Xander's blade at the neck of conceivably the most influential and important vampire in the world. LaCroix had no idea his own concerns were effecting Xander's actions, his fears generating aggression through the echo of the Sire-Childe bond they technically shouldn't, but nonetheless did share.

Taking a deep breath, Xander forced his voice to remain calm as he asked the suddenly frightened vampire before him, "Are you sure you wouldn't like to reconsider your position?"

=+=

Her vision almost swam as she felt the trickle of cold blood flow down her neck and under her collar. Ila was locked into complete immobility as the being before her demanded in a voice devoid of any of the emotion it had shown before, , "Are you sure you wouldn't like to reconsider your position?"

Looking into those terrifying glowing silver eyes, so like a vampires, and yet not, she forced herself to take a breath before replying as steadily as she could, "I think there may be grounds for further, investigation."

The man nodded and slid the blade from her neck, glancing at it and somehow making the blood along the black blade vanish as though it had never been there in the first place, before sliding the blade into the scabbard she suddenly realized he'd been wearing on his back the entire time.

"Sorry about that." He said with a faint shrug, "When someone threatens my friends or family though, I tend to loose it sometimes." Turning to the elder vampire by her side he continued, "And LaCroix, please try to calm down. Your concern is engendering an almost uncontrollable aggressive feeling in both myself and Cat, making us want to destroy whatever threatens our Sire."

Ila blinked at that and asked, "Sire?"

Xander nodded, the emotional tones slowly slipping back into his voice as he explained, "I was, er, effected by an avatar of LaCroix. I and my friends do not come from this world, or rather from this Reality. Where we come from everything here is a TV show. In fact, where we come from is almost like a movie you have here. Have you ever seen the film 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer?' that came out a few years ago?"

Ila nodded, her interest had been more than piqued due to the reference to the Slayer, although most of what they said in the movie was wrong, and the pitiful bumpy faced evil vampires almost comical, she'd seen the film several times.

Xander gestured over to the table with the children at it, "The blonde in the middle, that's Buffy. Her first watcher was named Merrick, and she burned down her high school gym to eliminate the vampire who killed him."

Ila looked at the blonde girl quizzically, "She doesn't look like the girl from the movie."

Xander shook his head, "She's not. But the events in the film could have been modeled after her life a few years ago. Before she came to Sunnydale and met myself and Willow, the redhead sitting beside her."

Ila was confused but willing to listen, she realized there was far more going on now than she had been willing to credit before, the sheer power still pouring off the man before her would convince her of that if nothing else.

"After we met Buffy, I ended up having to stake my best friend, he'd been killed and turned the same night we met and learned about the Slayer. The vampires in Sunnydale, they have no souls. They are not people, but rather are demon animated corpses. Very different from the vampires here, who retain most of their humanity. The only things the creatures back home retain are the physical appearance and the memories of the person who was killed to create them. They also burst into dust when you kill them and destroy the demon. Well, one Halloween a mage decided to change people into their costumes, hoping to stir up some fun. I dressed as an Immortal version of myself, based on a TV show. Someone else, I don't know who, dressed as LaCroix, based on another TV show, which centers around his son Nichola. During the course of the evening, my immortal persona was dying, and LaCroix's avatar decided he would make a good Vampire. So he tried to bring me across. But it didn't quite work, there was a bit more involved, but the result was that I became a hybrid, mixing some suppressed traits remaining from a possession with the traits of the Immortal persona, combined with the Vampire LaCroixs Avatar tried to create. So, in a way I am his Childe, although the LaCroix who tried to bring me across comes from a future which will never be here, but a bond exists all the same."

Ila frowned, "So you are a Vampire?"

Xander's silver eyes took on a golden hue, and fangs dropped visibly in his partly open mouth, "Part of my, heritage, I suppose you could say."

"And your, wife?" she asked, looking over at the blonde girl.

She just glared at Ila as Xander shook his head, "In a way. When we married we shared everything we both were. So, I suppose if I was part Vampire, she is now as well. And partly because she was a Goddess, I am now a God, as weird as that is for me to accept. Although the more accurate statement I think is that we together are a God. But it's really hard to explain."

"On a metaphysical level, both Alexander and Cat are the same being, the Undestined God, whatever that exactly is." Giles said, speaking for the first time.

"Ok, maybe not so hard." Xander admitted.

Ila was starting to feel overwhelmed, an experience she hadn't felt in thousands of years. "And you are supposed to be a Watcher? I had a watcher, when I was mortal."

Giles nodded, "I am. I was Buffy's watcher, assigned to replace Merrick, but now I suppose I'm Faith's Watcher, if I'm anyone's. Is there still an active Council here?"

Ila shook her head, "No, they were destroyed shortly before the Last Slayer was called. She avenged them though, and saved the world in doing so, but then she lost her life, and there was no Slayer called after her. Which led us to form the Enforcers, as we saw that without a check, a few insane vampires could lead to the destruction of us all."

Jenny asked, "What happened that there were no more Slayers?"

"There was a group of Demons, one of the last large tribes left in the world, who decided to kill all the humans and take over the planet. But the Slayer has always been the protector of humanity, as well as being the final authority for Vampires. So they sought to destroy the families from which the Slayer was called. At the same time they attacked the Watchers, killing them all. They Slayers fought back, often dying, until finally there was the last one, a young girl barely twelve years old when she was called, the youngest Slayer anyone had ever heard of, in fact. She lasted almost five years, and was the most successful of all time in decimating the Demons. They knew they were losing, so they tried a ceremony which would supposedly open a gateway directly to Hell itself, allowing more Demons to come and wipe out humanity. As the gateway started to form, she slew the last of the demons, despite being mortally wounded at the time, and without the focus, the gate closed back up and faded away. She smiled as she died, and I never felt more proud of one of my descendants as I did of Sara. But after her death, we couldn't find the next Slayer. And in all the time since then, no girl has been Called. In truth, it was the ridiculous report from an Enforcer last night of some girl claiming to be a Slayer which prompted my journey, just on the off chance that it may be true."

Xander's eyes narrowed and his voice was once more chill as he asked, "And what, exactly is your interest in Faith?"

Ila suppressed the urge to shrink back from the man before her as she replied, "If she is really a Slayer? To see that she gets the training and support she needs to do her job. Since the Watcher's were destroyed, someone needs to do it. Also to find out where she came from, and if there's any way to insure that when she eventually falls, that another girl will be able to take her place. I am the last Vampire who had been a Slayer in her mortal life. When I am gone, the strength of the new Enforcers will be significantly lessoned, we learned long ago that while those we Sired were stronger and faster than other Vampires, that our Childer didn't have our ability to read other vampires or to detect demons and other supernatural beings. That was something only ex-Slayers seemed to have. And when our Childer created vampires of their own, the next generation was only slightly stronger and faster than the average, whatever it was of our essence we were able to pass to our offspring that made them better than their fellows seems to be rapidly lost. The result is that when I am gone, the Enforcers will loose their edge, becoming little if any stronger than the ones the are assigned to police, and over time may fail in their mission to protect our kind from discovery through the actions of careless and arrogant vampires. We need the Slayer if we are to survive, and to have a Slayer, we will need her line to continue."

Xander calmed down as it became evident that this vampire wasn't planning on being a threat to his newly adopted daughter. Rather the opposite. In his mind, he felt the waves of anger which Cat had been holding back slowly fading, as both LaCroix calmed himself, and Cat and himself determined that the woman was not really a threat. Already he could feel Cat relaxing under the burden she had assumed as the pressure lessoned. Nodding he answered, "Faith is a Slayer."

Ila looked at him, willing for the moment to take his word, but she couldn't help the query which slipped from her lips, "How?"

Xander shrugged, "As I said, the reality we come from is not the same as this one. Buffy had been the Slayer up until her death a year and a half ago. When she died, another girl named Kendra was called, even though I had brought Buffy back through CPR. What no one knew at the time was that as the Slayer essence left Buffy, it was replaced with an Empowerment as the Champion for the Undestined God. I'm not sure exactly how that happened, but I have it from a really good authority that it did. The Powers Tat Be, a group of supernatural beings in charge of selecting the Slayer in the Sunnydale reality sent their new Slayer, Kendra to kill me, fearing my disruptions of their plans. We fought, and I left her beaten in a graveyard when I limped home to lick my wounds. One of the local Demonic Vampires killed her and Turned her, but the Powers, still wanting me eliminated left the Slayer Spirit within her corpse, enhancing the resulting Vampire to the level that it was a serious threat. When I finally eliminated the vampire Kendra, Faith was Chosen. I brought Faith here last night, and at some point while she was here, the Powers apparently Chose a new Slayer in the Sunnydale reality, and the local Slayer Essence replaced the essence they removed from her. So Faith is now the Slayer for this reality. As far as the Slayer Line goes, I have no clue what would happen were she to die. And I really don't care to find out."

Giles cleared his throat, "Actually, Xander, she already has."

All eyes turned to him as he continued, "Earlier, before Cat revived her, she was dead. At least that's how I understood what the Archangel said to you."

Cat nodded, having calmed down enough to finally speak without going off the handle due to the irrational anger they had been feeling towards the ex-Slayer. "Yeah, she was. I had to pull her back, she would have been gone if I hadn't. But, I didn't feel any other spirits or essences when I did so. I don't know if it's bonded with her soul, or if it wasn't there at the time, but I didn’t notice anything other than Faith herself, not that I was really paying attention."

Giles frowned as he took that in, then he asked, "Do you know how an Empowerment works, does it reside separately from the individual, or become a part of them?"

Cat shrugged. "I have no idea. I know most Champions retain their status even after death, until a new one is chosen, but if that's because the essence becomes a part of them or just follows their soul wherever it goes I don't know. No one ever really explained it to me. My Mother has several Champions in various realities, I've met some of them even, but I don't think either of my brothers have ever selected a Champion, and while Xander and I have Buffy, there wasn't anything I did, or even Xander, that we can recall."

Xander was also frowning, as he recalled that night in the cave, "I just wanted her to live. To be my hero again, I couldn't let her go, prophecy or no prophecy. She was so light, so still, and it wasn't right. I gave her CPR while Angel just stood around watching, and finally I felt her move, she took a breath, and then she was back, and everything was right with the world again."

"Somehow, you must have channeled the essence into her while giving her CPR." Jenny observed. "In a way, you did with Buffy what Cat did with Faith tonight, you breathed life back into her and drew her back from Death."

"Yah, but I wasn't anything special back then. It still doesn't make any sense how I could empower her and make her stronger than she'd been before." Xander said.

"I wouldn't say that, Xander. You had already been possessed by the Hyena, and we know that the Primal Spirit never really left you, since it ended up being a catalyst in the change you experienced during Halloween. And even without that, you were always special, how many others would have chosen to aid Buffy in her fight like you did?"

Xander shrugged, "I don't know. But that's not the same thing."

"A lot of magic is symbolic, manipulating a symbol to effect a change elsewhere. And from what Michael said, even though you hadn't met Cat and become what you are, you already existed somehow, so perhaps by breathing life back into Buffy, you breathed in the essence as well." Jenny speculated.

Xander shrugged, "When Janus Choose me as his Champion, I just had a dream. Of course, there was all the craziness of the costume spell at the time, but I really don't think he breathed on me at any point. Or touched me in any way, even."

Giles's eyes widened. "The Bust."

"Excuse me?" Jenny asked, glancing involuntarily down at her own chest.

Giles explained, "When Alexander broke the spell, he was holding the Bust. An empowered bust of Janus, the focus for Ethan's spell. Perhaps that was the point of contact which allowed Janus to select Xander as his Champion. It makes me feel woefully negligent to realize we never really examined the mechanism whereby Xander was chosen to act on Janus's behalf, simply accepting the fact and adapting our structure to include his expanded abilities in our actions to protect Sunnydale."

Ila shook her head, "If I had doubted his claim you were a Watcher before, I couldn't any more. You act so much like my old Watcher it's almost scary. "

Giles looked up, shocked out of his musings to peer into the eyes of the redheaded Vampire. "I beg your pardon?"

"My watcher, before I gave up my calling, he'd been my mentor for all my life, and was like a second father to me. He was the only one who strongly argued against my relationship with Anthony, and after I gave up my calling, he refused to speak with me again, which hurt me deeply. Loosing his friendship was my only regret for leaving my Mortal life behind at the time."

Giles frowned, "I advised Buffy against her liaison with the vampire Angel, but I didn't abandon her, even after her actions broke the curse and released the demon Angelus."

"I thought you said vampires in your world were like the ones from that movie, soulless demons?" Ila asked, glancing across the room towards Buffy with a frown.

"Angel was, is different. He has a soul. As long as he didn't experience a moment of true happiness, he was more like one of your kind of vampires than ours, the demon's desires constrained by his mortal soul. But I suppose because Kendra wasn't causing enough problems, on Buffy's seventeenth birthday, she decided to sleep with him. And she broke the curse, banishing his soul once more, and putting the demon back in charge of the body." Xander explained. "Finally a new curse was placed on him, restoring the soul even as he and Kendra tried to suck our entire world into Hell. I killed Kendra, the soul spell went into effect, and the two of us ended up in Hell instead of the rest of the world."

Ila looked speculatively at him, "You were in Hell?"

Xander grinned and nodded, "The best thing that ever happened to me - it's where I met my wife."

Cat grinned at that and bounced up over the bar top to kiss him before settling back on her feet with a happy smile, all the remaining anger banished by the simple reaffirmation of their love. "Yeah, but don't downplay the years you spent wandering the wastes feeding off of demons and trying to help tortured souls."

Xander shrugged, "It sucked, but it's over with. And considering the prize I got at the end, it really was all worth it." Turning back to the vampires he asked, "So, are we going to have a problem with the Enforcers? I really don't want to have to fight a war or something over my friends. But I am not going to let anyone hurt them."

Ila sobered at the change of subject, looking over first the adults gathered around her, then over at the children at the table, talking about something she couldn't make out at this distance, even with her slayer-enhanced vampire hearing. "What about the other children. You said Buffy was once a Slayer but is now your Champion, and Faith is the current Slayer? What about the other blonde, the redhead, and the boy?"

Xander shrugged, "All from my world, so really not your concern. But to answer your question, they are all three Mages of one caliber or another. Willow and Amy are studying to be witches, and Jonathan is already a somewhat competent wizard, if he can only learn to focus more and avoid distractions."

Ila blinked, the idea of so many magic users in one place almost scaring her. During her tenure as Slayer, she had faced both witches and sorcerers, never a wizard, which was essentially a sorcerer who used his own life force and other naturally occurring sources of energy to power his spells, as opposed to a sorcerer who drew his power from others, usually from unwilling sacrifices. "As long as they don't cause any problems, I will declare that they are exempted from The Code then. But you will be responsible for their conduct. If they spread the knowledge of our kind in this world, I will withdraw any protections. Understood?"

Xander nodded, the last of his own worries and tensions leaving as he heard the answer he'd been hoping for. "Thank you, Enforcer Ila." Looking up he noted several patrons had entered the club, but were staying far away from the bar, likely concerned by the power they felt both rolling off himself and Ila as well. With a mental effort, Xander once more reigned in his signature, suppressing any emissions until on a mystical level he appeared to be no more than any other human.

Ila shook her head and asked, "How do you do that?"

Xander shrugged, "Thousands of years of practice. The Immortal version of myself, created during that costume spell had hidden his quickening so as to avoid conflicts with his fellow Immortals. It was almost a habit with him, and one I adopted. I taught it to Cat the other night, because we were freaking Faith out when we first met her. But I couldn't explain what I do, not with words. It's just a thing, like meditating in a way."

Ila nodded, thinking she understood what he was saying.

"What are you talking about?" Giles asked.

Jenny smiled as she replied, "I think Xander and Cat are hiding their signatures, so that they won't show up on other being's radar. Remember how right after the change, Xander and Buffy practiced his going 'stealth' as they put it?"

Giles nodded, "So you have been hiding your, er, abilities from the vampires here?"

Xander shrugged, "I suppose. I mean, I uncloaked a few times, when I needed to make a point, but yeah, normally I suppress it, it's just a habit."

"Perhaps this is why the young lady here did not believe your claim then, don't you suppose?" Giles asked.

Xander's eyes widened, and he unintentionally scanned Ila's mind for a second, seeing that indeed the reason she had refused to believe Xander's claim was his perfectly normal Mortal feel, even to her Slayer senses. Feeling a need to apologize for some reason he lookedat her and shrugged, "I'm sorry, I hadn't even thought about that as why you didn't believe me."

Ila shrugged, still amazed at the story they had told her. A Mortal from another world, who through a spell became a sort of hybrid vampire, then went to the actual Hell, and eventually became a God. And she'd thought she'd seen it all over the past two thousand years.

"It's ok. I just found it hard to credit the story of your being an actual god."

Xander nodded, then gestured at the crowd of nervous vampires on the other side of the room, "Perhaps we should break this up, let me pour some drinks for the customers, and we can talk more later.

Ila nodded, then turned away from the bar, making her way towards one of the Enforcers she recognized in the milling group of vampires reluctant to approach.

LaCroix turned away as well, heading towards his office, and some of his private stock. The preceding encounter had frayed his ancient nerves more than any incident he could recall, including when Nichola tried to kill him several years before.

Cat, after another quick kiss with Xander, made her way over to Urs to tell her that the bar was indeed open, while Tracy decided to drag Giles and Jenny off to a table to interrogate them about Xander and Cat, and vampires in general, as well as ask them about that TV show she had heard mentioned, leaving Vachon alone with Xander at the bar.

Xander looked at the Spanish vampire and asked, "House special?"

At the vampire's nod, Xander poured him a glass, then turned towards the approaching crowd of vampires, ready to take their orders as well, his immediate attention focused back on work, and away from his adopted daughter and his friends for a time.

=+=

The party had slowed through the evening, the three more normal Scoobies tiring after several turns on the dance floor, Buffy and Faith selecting the occasional bemused male Vampire continued to dance, but as the evening wore on, the dark haired Slayer felt the need for some alone time, a surprisingly new desire, considering that up until the day before that was just about all she had, the time she spent hanging out with the others being a rarity.

She also craved a cigarette, a habit she was suddenly feeling guilty about, as she had no idea what her new parents would think when they found out she smoked, but since neither of them seemed to do so, would probably disapprove, and that made her want to quit.

But that was in the future, right at the moment she needed a break, and smoking a cigarette would give her the opportunity to take that break.

Excusing herself from her new buds, she scanned the club looking for the old vampire who owned the joint, figuring telling him she was stepping outside was easier than it would be to tell either of the 'rents.

LaCroix was hanging with that ref-headed vampire with the wicked powerful aura, though nothing like Xan's had been when he'd light up while they were talking earlier.

Pushing through the milling crowd of vampires, and the occasional rare human she crossed the room.

She could hear LaCroix's distinctive, cultured tones softly declare "...accommodation with your organization.".

The babe raised an eyebrow at that, a flicker of her eyes taking in the form of the approaching Slayer and replied something so softly that even Faith's hearing couldn't quite make most of it out over the noise of the club. "...est as soon as possible... ...to know... …sistance is important to her."

Coming to a rest a short distance away to provide an illusion of privacy, she softly cleared her throat so they would know she was there and wanted some attention.

LaCroix turned slowly to face the girl behind him, not having heard her approach, a fact which somewhat surprised him despite the background noise of the club, and asked the girl, "Yes, Faith?"

"You said you wanted to know if we went outside. I'm going out back for a smoke." She replied, nodding towards the door which lead to the back of the club, the offices, and the inside stairs. "I'll just be out back if anyone wants me, K?"

LaCroix frowned slightly at her declaration, "That is a disgusting habit for a lady as young as you are to have already, Faith."

Faith shrugged, "Yeah, well, it was part of the rep, ya know? I'm thinking about quittin', but that in the future. In the now I'm jonsin for a smoke, and some alone time, it's cool havin' buds ta hang with and all, but I need to think about stuff for a bit too, so I'm goanna step out back and chill for a while."

LaCroix nodded, understanding the girl's need for some time by herself, thinking back on the changes the past day had wrought on this child's life, he could well understand her need for quiet contemplation. "Very well. Be careful out there though, I would hate to have to tell Alexander or Cat if anything happened to you."

"Will do, Gramps. See ya." Faith replied with a wave to the red-head, and darted out the door.

"She is an impetous child, I can believe the claim she is a Slayer." Ila said as she watched the girl disappear into the corridor. "If I may ask, why did she refer to you as 'Gramps'?"

LaCroix frowned, "I am unsure. She introduced me to her friends as her grandfather, so I don't believe it is simply a slight against my age, however I do need to correct her lack of respect before it becomes a habit."

"If she really is a Slayer, it may already be too late." Ila commented with a slight chuckle, "I remember one of my descendants, a girl much like this Faith, she was irrepressibly irreverent."

"Well, perhaps we should adjourn to the roof to keep an eye on the young lady." LaCroix recommended with a nod towards the same door the young Slayer had vanished through a few moments before.

Ila looked at the old Roman General for a few moments, evaluating the man before nodding, "Let's."

=+=

Faith was kicking it in the alley behind the Raven. Her enhanced senses could still hear the noise from inside the club, a soft undertone to the louder nocturnal sounds of Toronto.

It was chilly outside, far closer to the weather she'd had back in Boston than what she had adapted to lately in Southern California, but nowhere near cold yet.

She exhaled a deep breath filled with spent smoke, watching with her preternaturally sensitive eyes as her gray breath dissipated in the darkness of the unlit alleyway.

She had been reflecting on the past day and the future it promised since stepping out the door. For one thing, she realized she wasn't as jealous of B any more, even if she did have a wicked nice Mom and a cool Watcher and a ton of buds. She was already accepting Cat and X as her 'rents. X was like one of the only straight guys she'd ever met which she didn't think wanted to jump her bones, although she hadn't caught Gramps givin' her the eye yet, but he was really old, if he hadn't been makin' time with that red-headed hottie she'd think maybe he'd just given up on gals. Compared to Mrs. S, Cat was totally lacking in the Mrs. Cleaver skills, at least as far as she could tell, but despite that lack, Faith was sure she was goanna make a wicked cool Mom. Even if Cat could pass for Faith's younger cousin most of the time, Faith knew on an instinctive level that both Cat and X actually cared for her, something she'd only felt once before, with Linda her watcher. And unlike poor Linda, Cat and X were like actual Gods, Kakistos wasn't goanna come along and torture them to death while she was forced to watch.

Putting that event out of her mind, she again considered B and her new Buds. When Faith had first run to Sunny-D, it was 'cause Linda told her to find the other Slayer.

She'd played it cool when she'd hit town, deciding not to let them know how totally scared she was that Kakistos would follow her to the west coast and pick up where he'd left off. But fortunately there'd been no sign of the freakish looking vampire since her arrival. However, she realized with a grin, she wasn't even in that world at the moment. Kakistos and his minions couldn't touch her here. And even if he did show up in Sunnydale, she somehow didn't think he'd be as able to systematically devastate her world as he had back in Boston.

She took a final deep drag of the cigarette as she tried again to figure out how her whole world had changed so much in just a day. It was fucking amazing, the differences were so extreme, but she supposed when dealing with deities that was to be expected. She idly wondered what she'd done that they would actually seem to give a shit about her like they did. She had accepted that they really didn't want anything kinky from her, hell, if they'd wanted shit like that they could have just done it, both X and Cat were wicked powerful. When she first learned she was the Slayer, her first thought was along the lines of "Cool. No one can fuck with me or give me shit anymore." Kakistos had shown her the error of that thought - just because she was stronger and faster then most Vamps, didn't mean there weren't demons out there even stronger and faster than her. Meaning while most thugs and assholes couldn't lay a hand on her without her permission anymore, there were still creatures which could kick her ass, or worse, if they so chose. And she realized that Cat and X were among those, with a vengeance. But they didn't want to kick her ass, instead they seemed to give a shit about that ass, and not in a sexual way like most folks who cared about her ass, but rather, like the parents they'd so swiftly become for her.

And she realized that was why she had latched on to those strangers so swiftly, despite the defenses she'd built up over years of abuse. She'd already known X's home life had sucked from conversations with B, Red, and the rest of the Scoobs. They had all seemed to get a kick out of talking about their missing friend, and she'd spent hours hanging with them listening to their stories, Red especially. So many that she'd almost felt like she knew the guy. But the X she met wasn't the lovable jokester they had described. He was more like a force of nature, a strong, fierce, protective personality which made you believe he'd jump in front of a bullet for you if that's what it took, and he showed a level of maturity which Faith couldn't help looking up to and respecting. Cat was so similar she had no problem believing they were literally the same being on a cosmic scale. Cat was like everything Faith wanted to be when she was growing up, strong, beautiful, intelligent, and caring, with that same fierce protective streak, hell, Cat had literally brought her back to fucking life earlier that evening. What more could be said? So when she considered the two together, she had no problem picturing them as a great pair of parents. The only thing she had a problem with was picturing them as her's. But she wanted them to be hers so damn much it hurt. And even though she had a hard time believing it, they seemed to want her as well for some unfathomable reason.

Faith tossed the stub of the cigarette to the asphalt, smashing it to some fluff and a few shreds of paper with the toe of her boot, when she heard a sound echo through the alley from something moving on top of the building across the way.

Peering up into the darkness, her Slayer senses identified a familiar Vampire signature, the same slimy and off-color aura from that fat Enforcer dude the night before.

She watched as he stepped off the edge of the roof and floated to the ground, coming to rest on the asphault with a slight crunch of gravel.

The Enforcer sneered at her as he said, "I don't know what you did to me last night bitch, but at least you're outside and alone tonight, so I can take care of you as I should have yesterday."

Faith frowned at the vampire, and reached behind her for the Stake Cat had made her, pulling it from her waistband and spinning it across her fingertips in a baton-like twirl. "Look, I promised the 'rents I wouldn't slay the neighbors. Why don't you just go away and leave me the fuck alone?"

The Enforcer sneered and looked at the twirling piece of wood with derision, "What, or you'll hit me with your stick? I'm sorry little girl, but you know about us, and that means you have to die, even if you hadn't humiliated me yesterday, it's my job."

"Your funeral, I'm warning you, I'm the Slayer, and if you try shit, I'm dusting your ass, promise or not." Faith frowned.

Suddenly the Vampire snarled, his eyes flashing a golden color as fangs appeared in his mouth, but to Faith's surprise no Gameface as she expected appeared on him as he lunged forward.

With practiced effortlessness, Faith's stake flashed out to meet the charging Vamp, the point driving it's way smoothly into his chest straight to the heart. The Vampire's eyes widened as he gasped in pain, then reached feebly for his chest before falling over backwards onto the street dead, his body sliding off the stake still held by the shocked Faith.

Faith looked down, watching as the man's aura swirled and ebbed, centering on the wound in his chest, which was slowly closing before Faith's astonished eyes. He hadn't dusted. The fucker hadn't dusted. How could a vampire not dust when you staked them?

Suddenly the body on the ground shuddered the eyes shooting open as he jerked back to life with a pained scream.

Clawing his way back to his feet he glared at the mortal girl before him and ghasped out, "What the fuck was that you bitch? It felt like a fucking cross or something clawing at my heart!" Surging forward towards her again, Faith looked down at the stake and raised it before her, watching as the Vampire shied away from it, like any other vamp would from a cross. Of course, Cat had made it, and it was a Holy Weapon, from the Goddess Cat.

Swinging the stake around again, she plunged it towards his chest once more, but this time he moved with surprising speed, flashing up into the air so her strike merely imbedded itself in his stomach.

He reached out for Faith again, and she released her grip on the weapon, which was actually smoldering in his body, before grabbing both of his grasping hands.

Faith met and countered his inhuman strength with her own, his eyes widening in shock as this seeming mortal girl bested his vampiric abilities. Faith realized that she could do more than see the Vampire's power and age, she could somehow feel it, touch it. Not really understanding how she did so, Faith grasped on the Vampire's strength and power, and pulled it from him.

A core of energy seemed to tug from the body of the man struggling before her, and as it did so, he fell like a dead weight to the ground once more, the wound in his stomach still smoking, but no longer healing.

The Enforcer screamed out in mortal pain at the sudden loss of his strength and power of flight, the wound in his stomach feeling tens of times more painful as the wood embedded in his smoldering body caused mortal damage to his stomach, intestines, and other organs.

Faith bent down and retrieved her stake, wiping the sizzling blood off on his shirt before returning the weapon to it's customary place in her waistband. She stood there looking at the whimpering man, curled into a ball of torment centered around the wound in his stomach.

She was so focused on him that she didn't notice the other two figures landing in the alley behind her until a feminine voice with a hint of an accent asked, "Why don't you finish him off, Lass?"

Startled, Faith whirled around to see LaCroix and the Redhead he'd been talking to earlier standing behind her. "Huh?" she asked with great articulation.

"You stripped his power, Slayer. He won't heal, he is as vulnerable to damage now as any Mortal. And that wound in his stomach is certainly fatal. It would be a mercy to snap his neck and put him out of his misery. Why won't you finish him off?" the woman explained.

"He, he didn't dust." Faith said, as if that explained everything.

"Dust?" LaCroix asked.

"Yeah, when you stake a vamp, they go 'poof' and turn to dust." Faith explained.

Both vampires frowned at the girl before LaCroix replied, "We most certainly do not go 'poof' and turn to dust. We may die, but unless you cremate us, we can potentially recover from just about any damage. Although if we've been stripped of our essence, as that poor creature has, then when we die that'd be it for us, I suppose." He looked at his companion as he said that last.

She nodded, "Yes, once stripped, a vampire can not be revived, no matter who's or how much blood they're exposed to."

LaCroix nodded at this confirmation before glancing at the dying vampire on the ground then meeting Faith's eyes once more and asking, "Really Child, was he so bad that you want him to suffer?"

Faith shuddered and looked down at the screaming creature, watching as it writhed in agony clutching the burnt wreck where it's stomach once was. With a quick motion she shot forward again, drawing the stake and smashing it down into the creature's chest, impaling its heart once more, leaving a smoldering wound behind as she withdrew the stake from the now still body.

Glancing back she was surprised to see looks of approval on the faces of both Vampires. "Happy now?" she asked, feeling a rush of anger at their seeming insistence that she end the other Vampire's life.

LaCroix shrugged, "Not particularly. But it was cruel to leave a mortally wounded enemy to die like that. Why did your stake burn his flesh?"

Faith offered the piece of wood to the two vampires, both of whom edged slightly back from the piece of wood covered in bubbling and smoking blood. "I think it's 'cause Cat made it to be a Holy Weapon, so it's like a cross, only with a point. I think I'll call it 'Cat's Claw', by the way, since B calls the one X gave her 'Xander's Big Point' the asshole there said it was like being clawed in the chest with fire or some shit."

The redhead looked at Faith and said softly, "Lass, do you know you are the first Slayer in almost a thousand years?"

Faith frowned, "Nah, I mean, B was a Slayer, and there was some chick between u, oh, you mean here. Uh, yeah, I'd heard you guys don't have Slayers here anymore. But X said I'm like the slayer for here now somehow."

The redheaded vampire nodded, "I am Ila. I was once The Slayer, before I gave up my calling to be with my lover of the time, a Vampire. Of the Vampires who had been Slayers, I am the last."

Faith looked at the woman before her with new interest, taking in the similarity in her aura and that of the guy she'd just killed. "Um, are you an Enforcer too?"

Ila nodded, "I am the head of the Enforcers."

Faith swallowed, "You aren't pissed I offed your flunky?"

Ila shook her head, "He was tainted. Had I encountered him I would have eliminated him myself. He had allowed himself to become corrupted by his power and position, a failing some Enforcers unfortunately fall in to from time to time."

"Cool. So, we're five-by-five?" Faith asked, bending down over the body once more to wipe her stake off on his clothes before returning it once more to her waistband.

Ila tried to determine what the girl meant as she watched the girl frown down at the body of the vampire she'd just slain, in more ways than one proving herself to the ancient vampire as a true Slayer. Headlights suddenly flashed the length of the alley as a car pulled into it from the far end. Moments later there was a screech of tires as the car came to a sudden halt. A few seconds later a spotlight flashed onto them as a voice spoke over a PA "Freeze, Police!"

Faith glanced down at the body literally at her feet and said the only thing she could think of, "Oh crap!"

=+=

As he worked the bar, Xander noted Faith making her way across the club to LaCroix, and after a brief conversation, he watched her duck through the door leading to the apartments, offices, and back alley.

Cat altered her own course to swing by the kids table, just to insure that Faith was ok, while Xander watched as LaCroix and Ila followed Faith through the door a few moments later.

From Cat he knew Faith had just stepped outside for a bit, having claimed to need a smoke. He frowned at the thought of the girl smoking, but realized that it was a habit she'd had before they ever met, and as such was a part of the Faith he and Cat had accepted into their hearts and home. He made a mental note to discus the issue with Cat and make sure that one of them talked about it with Faith, but whoever it was that they didn't present a disapproving countenance in the conversation, just a supportive one and an offer to help her quit, if she wanted.

Xander busied himself serving drinks for the next several minutes, the almost constant demand of the bemused vampires requesting blood based drinks from the seeming mortal who was rumored to be a god of some sort keeping him hopping as it had since his first night on the job. However a sudden spike of concern from LaCroix drew his attention a bit later. It wasn't serious though, just a minor worry, so both he and Cat pushed it aside and continued their tasks.

A while later there seemed to be almost a surge of pride, or at least satisfaction from the Vampire, but it was shortly followed by an almost tangible flash of concern.

Xander frowned as he looked towards the door, then glanced back at the bar full of waiting patrons. Miklos was off tonight, so it was only Xander working the bar normally covered by two, but the sudden surge of concern from LaCroix added to the fact that he knew it somehow involved Faith, made him want to rush out the door, customers be dammed.


Instead he touched his wife's mind, and she agreed, altering her course to swing by Urs, who was working the tables since the band was taking a break, and then she hurried out the door to see what was wrong.

=+=

Cat charged out the back door of the Raven, her steps hastened by both the worry she was feeling from LaCroix, and the knowledge that it somehow involved Faith.

She had barely taken three steps outside, when a male voice boomed out "Halt!" at her, and she took in the scene before her.

A police car was in the aley, it's spotlight trained on the trip of LaCroix, Ila, and Faith, while it's headlamps illuminated the apparently dead body of the vampire which had accosted Faith the night before. One police officer had his weapon out and was pointing it in the general direction of the trio, while his partner was now pointing his own gun and shining his flashlight at Cat, having been the one to shout the order at her.

She felt Xander's concern in his mind even as he left his station at the bar and made his way across the room towards Tracy, hoping that the detective might be able to resolve whatever the situation was outside with her fellow officers.

"What's going on?" Cat asked.

"That's what we're trying to find out, young lady. Now, who are you?" the officer asked.

Unthinking Cat nodded at Faith, "I'm Cat, Faith's mother."

Faith shot her a grateful smile, but the officer, frowned, his face easily visible to Cat's eyes despite the flashlight he was still pointing into her own. "Did you say mother? You look more like her little sister." The officer said in confusion.

Cat, realizing that indeed she was wearing her normal appearance slowly raised up a hand to shadow her face a bit as she replied, "Thanks for the compliment, officer, but could you get that light out of my eyes?"

"What are you doing here in the alley?" the second officer asked, "You looked like you were in a bit of a hurry."

Slowly aging her features to look closer to Kitty's than her own normal ones while blocking the light with her hand, creating a shifting shadow which would make it harder for the officers to make out her features from moment to moment she took a chance and even as Xander started talking to Tracy and Vachon inside the club, replied, "I heard about the body my daughter found out here, and was coming out to tell LaCroix that Detective Vetter would be right out after phoning it in, and to let him know we were to make sure no one went close to or touched the body."

Inside the club, Xander was telling Tracy to phone in a body discovered by a teenager living above the club, then asking her to hurry out back and diffuse the situation as best she could, promising a fuller explanation as soon as one could be had, but letting her know the deceased was a vampire.

"Detective Vetter?" the officer closer to Faith and the others asked.

LaCroix answered, "Detective Tracy Vetter, homicide. She's an occasional, patron, of my establishment. I believe it was her night off, but upon hearing of the discovery, I asked my staff to locate her and inform her of the situation, hoping to prevent any, undue media attention."

The officers both looked at LaCroix, then back at the obviously dead body, the scorched holes in it's torso glistening with drying blood in the bluish-white light of the police car's headlamps. "Undue attention, right. You wanted it to go away quietly. Some sort of cover up." The one who had lowered his gun, if not his flashlight from Cat, even as Cat noted Tracy hanging up the phone at the bar and heading down the hallway towards the rear door, Xander returning to the bat to keep attention inside the busy vampire club diverted from the unusual activity in the rear.

LaCroix shook his head, "No, I just wanted to insure that there was a minimum of fuss which may disturb my patrons or interfere with business. "

The officer who had spoken replied in a doubtful, "Yeah, right." Even as the door just behind Cat opened once more to emit Tracy.

The flashlight left Cat's face to shine on the startled detective behind Cat even before the door had swung closed again, the officer again raising his weapon to cover the new arrival, "Stop right there! This is a crime scene." The officer called out.

Cat heard Tract skid to a sudden stop just behind herself as she called out, "It's ok, officer. I'm Detective Vetter, 96th prescient. I was informed a body had been discovered out here. No one said officers were already on the scene though."

Cat glanced back to see Tracy waving her badge in the shifting light provided by the officer's redirected flashlight.

"We just arrived. We were just driving down the alley when we saw the body and these suspects." The officer closer to Faith and the vampires replied.

Tracy frowned, "I don't expect they are suspects. At least not highly placed ones. The girl is the one who found the body, I believe, the gentleman beside her is the owner of the club behind us, the woman before me is both the girl's mother, a resident in an apartment above the club, and an employee there. I don't know about the other woman however."

Another cruiser, lights flashing pulled in from the other end of the alley, turning on it's spotlights and the lights on it's Christmas tree to help illuminate the scene.

With the enhanced lighting, and the loss of shadows, Cat's now older looking visage was clearly visible to the original two officers for the first time, her youthful-yet-middleaged features providing potential credibility towards her claim to being Faith's mother which her initially glimpsed teenaged features had not.

Both officers dismissed the apparent discrepancy in appearance as a trick of the light somehow and focused in on Detective Vetter as the officers in the newly arrived car climbed out, one calling out, "Is there a Detective Vetter here? The radio said she was already on-scene as we were rolling."

With that last bit of confirmation, the initial officers relaxed the rest of the way, reholstering their weapons and moving to secure the area, while Tracy knelt before the body before looking at the teenager and the two vampires with a questioning expression.

Faith moved over to her and said in a soft but watery voice, "He attacked me. I staked him, but he didn't dust. I, I had to kill him. He was just in pain, and gramps pointed out he was going to die."

Cat moved in and hugged Faith, who was obviously shook up before silently telling Tracy, "She snuck out of the apartment for a smoke, and saw the body. She came in the back way and got us. LaCroix and Ila, who was with him came back out while Xander and I looked for you. We found you and I came out to tell LaCroix and Faith to make sure no one touched the body, and that you were on your way as soon as you called it in."

"But what about time of death?" Tracy asked softly after a glance to insure none of the officers on-scene were close enough to overhear.

"He's a vampire. Core temperature should show he's been dead a while. Obviously someone dumped the body here." Cat said with a shrug.

Ila spoke up, for the first time "When they identify him, he'll have a criminal record. Also he just moved to the city and has no visible means of support, but will have made several cash deposits recently."

Tracy nodded. "Ok. I'll go with Faith found the body. You'll have to get the other kids out of the club though, it's late anyhow, send them home, quietly. Have the other couple, Jenny and the British guy take them home."

Cat passed the message to Xander, who left the bar once more to find Rupert and let him know what was happening.

=+=

Giles looked up as Xander came up to the booth both himself and Jenny had spent the evening in while listening to the music and keeping an eye on the kids across the club.

"Xander, what's wrong?" Giles asked, seeing the expression on the young man's face as he approached their table.

"Faith had to kill a vampire out back. Problem is they don't dust here, and the cops found her more or less standing over the body. Can you take the gang and head back to Sunnydale? It's really late anyhow, they should all have been home hours ago, especially since tomorrow is a school day."

Giles frowned. He'd forgotten the time difference himself, and grimaced as he looked at his watch, seeing that instead of approaching midnight as the clock on the wall indicated, it was approaching four in the morning, back home. While it wasn't unheard of for patrols to last until two in the morning, four was somewhat pushing things.

Seeing his expression Xander grinned, "No, don't worry about the time, I'll reset the portal, so it'll be about ten thirty when you return. The kids need a good night's sleep, you know. We'll see you guys tomorrow at school though, ok?"

Giles nodded, not quite sure he understood resetting the portal, but acknowledging that if Xander said it was so, then likely it was.

Moving across the club, he approached the table where Buffy, Willow, Amy, and Jonathan awaited Faith's return.

=+=

Glancing around the club, Xander literally flashed upstairs to concentrate on the portal. Cat and he had considered this option when setting the portal up in the first place. Time didn't run consistently between realities. Depending on the relative energy and mass levels of a given pair of realities, perceptive parallel periods when viewed from a third reality were incongruent. But a part of the connection between realities involved when coordinates, as well as where. Xander and Cat had designed the portal connecting Toronto and Sunnydale to remain open so that by default perceived time on both ends passed at the same rates. But if no traffic had passed through the portal, the connection could be essentially slid back to any point since the last use. This meant that if no one used the portal, then it could be nudged so that you returned to the reality you left almost right after you, or whoever followed you, left it. It wasn't really time travel, as the time on the opposing end of the portal wasn't realized until it had been experienced by a consciousness bridging the gaps. Xander now took a moment to slide the far end of the tunnel from four in the morning back to about ten the night before, when he and Cat had brought Giles and Jenny through it after their conversation with Michael.

Probing the far end, he was satisfied that the connection was still stable, and so he returned downstairs to the club's bar, appearing under the counter before standing up with a bottle of newly made blood in his hand, to find the next customer and fill their order.

=+=

Taking her cue from her Mom, Faith had just finished spinning a line of BS for the cops, about how she came out for a smoke, saw the stiff, ran in and got her Gramps, and brought him back out, while her folks went looking for Blondie. She knew the blonde detective was fully aware of the deception, but wasn't going to stress on it, if the cop was willing to scam her coworkers, Faith didn't think it was any concern of hers.

LaCroix also gave the same story, Faith had come in, concerned about finding an obviously dead body out back, and he'd dispatched her parents while himself and his companion, a police investigator visiting him from Europe had come out back to confirm the report and take charge of the situation until Detective Vetter showed up.

It was a trip to learn that the old vampire chick was some sort of cop for something called Interpol. Apparently it gave her a certain degree of access to crime scenes so she could better direct her Enforcers in tracking down the occasional wayward vamp which threatened to disclose their existence through their actions.

She kind of wanted to hang with the Ila chick, learn what it was like being a Slayer back in the olden days, and find out if the Vamp-crushing was a Slayer thing, or just a kink B and this Ila babe had. She sort of hoped it wasn't a Slayer thing, 'cause the idea of doin' it with a corpse just didn't get her all tingly. Granted, the vamps here seemed much less dead than the demonic vamps back in the Dale, but a vamp was a vamp.

"Very well. I think that covers it for now." The officer said, then waved at Blondie. "Detective, do we need the witnesses for anything else?"

Vetter glanced over at the small party which really knew what had happened out here, and waved her hand in a dismissive gesture, "I'll want to talk to them all later, but they can go for now."

Turning back to them the officer nodded, "Ok, folks you are free to leave. Inspector, how long do you intend to remain in town?"

Glancing over at Faith speculatively she turned back to the Officer and replied, "Oh, several more days at least, then I'll have to head home for a bit, but I'll be back and forth for a while I suspect. If your department needs to get in touch with me to schedule a followup interview, they can contact my office, or let Lucien here know of your need, and he can contact me."

Nodding, he looked at the others, and added, "Please remain available for the next few days, if you have to leave town, be sure to give us contact information in case we have to get ahold of you."

Nodding Cat reached out and placed a supportive arm around Faith's shoulder and gave her a supportive squeeze. "We'll be around. Just phone the apartment if you need us."

The officer nodded and the four turned towards the rear steps leading up to the outside entrance to the apartments.

Faith led the other three up the steps, but once they'd passed through the doors, Cat gave her a solid hug, then whispered into her ear, "I've gotta go, hun. The Band's late for a set, because Urs can't take a break. I need to get back downstairs. You goanna be ok?"

Faith nodded, and Cat gave her a smile and suddenly vanished, leaving the teen alone in the hallway with the two elder Vampires.

"Well, that was, interesting." Ila said, looking between the two.

Finally she setteled her gaze on Faith and asked her, "I have a question though, Faith. Several times this evening I heard you refer to Lucien as either 'Gramps' or your grandfather. Why did you do that?"

Faith's face suddenly looked unsure as she looked between Ila and the suddenly interested expression on LaCroix's face.

"Um, because he is?" Faith asked.

Ila frowned, "How do you figure that? I was under the impression you weren't even from this reality. So how can you be related to Lucien?"

Faith shrugged. "He's a Vampire, right?"

Ila nodded, as did LaCroix.

"Well, vampires don't have kids. But when they turn people into vampires, they call them their Childe. Those are their kids, or the closest they get, being vamps." Faith explained.

Ila nodded again, "Yes. I have often felt a parental pride in the accomplishments of my Chlider. As much so as I had in my actual offspring at times." LaCroix also nodded.

"Well, way I see it, Gramps is X's Sire, or as close to it as anyone will come - it was a version of Gramps who made X all vampy. That makes X Gramp's Clilde. Which makes Gramps X's Sire, or Dad. And since X is my Dad now, that makes Gramps my Grandfather." Suddenly she shot a hopeful look at the male Vampire, "Doesn't it?"

Lucien LaCroix, one time Roman General, survivor of Popmeii, had seen and experienced a lot over his existence. But looking into the hopeful eyes of the Slayer, he realized that ever since he'd first been turned, there was one experience he'd missed above all others. That of watching a young woman grow up. His own daughter, Divia had become his Sire, when she turned him to save him from the volcano. Having become a vampire at a young age, younger even than Faith, she never really grew up, in fact, the changes she did experience led him to kill her almost twenty years later when she tried to use the Sire-Childe bond between them to force him into an incestuous relationship with her.

But here, was a new chance. Granted, Faith was already more woman than child, and in no way was she of his blood. But she really seemed to want to claim him as Kin, and he realized he had no desire to refuse, rather, based on her surprisingly powerful performance earlier that evening when dealing with the moronic Enforcer, he thought she'd make an excellent addition to his family, even if she wasn’t a Vampire.

Suddenly he smiled and nodded his head, replying softly "It does indeed. Welcome to the Family, Faith."

The girl grinned and launched herself at him, forcing him to catch her in his arms as she hugged him with enough force to almost be painful to his Vampire physiology, surprised, he found himself hugging her back.

"So Gramps, ya wanna head downstairs to catch some more tunes from the band? I'm sure you have a ton of wicked stories you can share with me and Ila here."

LaCroix frowned as he looked over at his Vampire companion. "Actually, I think it is time for you to go to bed, I believe tomorrow is a school day, isn't it?"

Ila hid a grin as the girl's face fell and she turned towards the apartment. "Yeah, I guess. And I am kinda tired. Fine. I'll see you tomorrow. Ila, ya goanna stick around a bit?"

Ila nodded, "Yes, Child. I would like to speak with you some more, I know you are a Slayer already, however from what I have gleaned, the powers of the Slayer here are different from those of the Slayer where you come from. So perhaps there are some things I can teach you, things you may not yet know. Secrets only an ex-Slayer can share, since the passing of the Watchers."

Faith thought about that for a moment, then nodded, "Yeah, I'd like to hear about what the gig was like back in your day. Compare it to what I've been doin' in the Dale and back home. That'd be cool."

LaCroix nodded, "Then it is settled, Ila will meet with you tomorrow evening."

Faith suddenly had a gleam in her eye, "Say, Gramps, Ila, you wanna go on patrol with me tomorrow night? Head over to the Dale and stake some vamps, crack some demon heads? It'd be fun!"

Ila frowned. In her experience demons were not as common as Faith seemed to think, and it was not a Slayers duty to randomly kill vampires either, rather she should only hunt those who started killing humans. There was always one or two of those in her days, and in the present, there were literally dozens of them, scattered across the globe. More than enough to keep the child busy, but at the same time, it would be interesting to visit another reality, and to see this girl in what was her natural habitat. She looked over to LaCroix for confirmation, raising her eyebrow to signify it was his call.

Lucien looked at his granddaughter, then over at the head Enforcer, seeing the looks of anticipation on both women's faces. Finally he nodded, "Very well, I shall speak with Alexander, and make arrangements to meet you for 'Patrol' tomorrow night."

"Bitchen!" Faith shouted, bouncing up in the air and spinning towards the door. "I'l see ya both tomorrow! G'night!" With that last shout, the girl vanished through the apartment door, pushing it closed behind her as she bounded into the room out of sight.

LaCroix turned to Ila and asked softly, "Are you sure this is such a good idea?"

Ila shrugged, "Good, no. But interesting, certainly. Especially with a child like Faith along, the one thing I'm certain of, it could never be boring."

As he turned to lead his companion down stairs to meet with Alexander and make plans for the following evening, Lucien mused that he tended to agree with her assessment, unfortunately. Whatever the next evening would bring, it certainly wouldn’t be boring.

--=+=--

To be continued in Knight Gallery Chapter 2, "Family Problems."
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