Chapter Twelve

'It had been a couple of weeks since our encounter with Riley and his men, and since then we've helped each other out a few more times. Although there was nothing official, an alliance has been formed between ourselves and Riley and the other men; they had started to realise that, without taking the necessary tools to kill demons with them when going out on retrieval missions, there was a good chance that they wouldn't come back.

It seemed that they'd had a pretty high turnover of recruits in the Initiative, either because they requested transfers after their first mission, or because they didn't survive their first mission. Since our assistance and suggestions, their mortality rate had gone down, and less transfer requests had been put in. To be honest, I wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not, given that I didn't like them being around at all, but I had little option but to play the hand I'd, we'd, been dealt.

A few of the men weren't too happy that our little alliance hadn't been cleared with Walsh, but once they'd been brought over the coals by her for not returning from a mission with the demon they had been sent to retrieve, even though they had barely made it back at all, they soon came around to our way of thinking.

Walsh still didn't like the fact that we were still running around unleashed; Buffy and Willow were finding it extremely difficult to get passing grades in her class, something that does not make for a happy Willow, as she's never had anything lower than a B+ in a class, and that was because she had the flu the week before the assignment, and was physically incapable of doing it until the night before.

Walsh had also left orders that if we interfered or obstructed the soldiers in any way, we were to be detained. I did not want to know what would happen if Riley or anyone else had followed those orders, nor would they want to know what I would do if they tried.

Luckily, Riley and the others had understood the hidden meaning in the orders; they had no problems in retrieving demons for Walsh and the other scientists to experiment on, but were not quite so happy at the thought of doing the same to humans. They also realised that we'd put up a fight, one they probably wouldn't win.

Demon activity had shot right up recently, and we were all finding it difficult to keep up with them, whether it was catching them or killing them. The other thing that had been worrying us, or at least worrying me, Buffy and the gang, was that the demons were actually working together, including demons that under normal circumstances despised each other.

We've been trying to work out what has got the demons working together, and so far we hadn't been able come up with a lot. Giles has been frantically looking through his books, looking for prophecies or anything that might indicate what we were dealing with, but so far he'd come up with a blank. Tara has been helping him out a lot; research seemed to be a speciality of hers and she was happy to help however she could.

Tara has quickly become a close member of the Scooby Gang; I gave her the initiation ritual of the proper way to eat a Twinkie a couple of days after our first meeting, as no one could think of any reason to put off the inevitable. It turned out that she loved Twinkies almost as much as I do and already knew how to eat them properly. If I hadn't already made my mind up about her, that moment would have definitely sealed it; I almost kissed her I was so happy, but refrained myself as I knew she'd probably have a stroke from embarrassment, and I'd have been fricasseed by Willow and Buffy. I hadn't really had anyone around since Jesse that had the same appreciation for the golden snack as myself, and was more than happy to have one again.

I've met with Tara for coffee half a dozen times at lunch since the first time I'd offered, talking about anything and everything. I'm hoping to get her used to the fact that not all men are dangerous and its beginning to work; she's no longer uncomfortable when around either Giles or myself, but she still found it difficult when we were at the Bronze and were around men she didn't know.

I know that it would take time for that to change, it's only been a fortnight after all, but once she had built up her self-confidence, and realised that the men she'd dealt with were the exception as opposed to the rule, I had no doubt in my mind that she would be fine.

It turned out that Tara has got quite the sense of humour, and has on more than one occasion rendered me speechless with a perfectly timed comment during a conversation; the first time she did that, Giles couldn't stop laughing for a full five minutes when he saw the look on my face, and that was after he sprayed the mouthful of tea he was drinking across the room. The fact that she had managed to maintain her innocent expression only increased the power of the pun.

Another change to have happened was that both Willow and Tara were now included in the training sessions. Willow was against the idea at first, but once we explained why we wanted to do it, she began to waver. Once we pulled our trump card, Tara's safety, she caved faster than a dieter in a chocolate factory.

We were winding down a research/training session a couple of days ago, when the buzzer that indicated when someone was at the door went off. Giles went upstairs to see who it was, leaving us to practise by ourselves; I normally practised with Tara while Willow paired off with Buffy.

I decided that this would better help Tara with her confidence around men, having the chance to beat me up on a regular basis without any repercussions. The other reason was that I knew that Willow would have a very hard time sparring with me; we've been friends for far too long, and I knew she hated the thought of hitting me, even if it was just practise.

Giles came back a couple of minutes later, and I could tell that whoever it was at the door had come as a shock to him. He looked at each one of us in turn, before his gaze rested on Willow.'

"Um, Willow, there's someone here to see you," Giles told her.

As Willow was about to ask who it was, the person in question came down the stairs. "Oz," Willow said in surprise.

"Willow," Oz greeted as stoically as always.


'Yes, I know it was lame, but it had the desired effect; it removed a little of the tension that was swirling around the room in waves. Anyway, I was still annoyed that I missed out using that joke back in LA, and wasn't about to miss out again.

Silence reigned in the training room for a few moments before Oz walked up to Willow.'

"Can I talk to you?" Oz asked.

"Sure," Willow replied instantly, and went to leave with Oz, barely sparing enough time to even glance at Tara.

'Tara was understandably upset that her girlfriend would so willingly leave with her ex, especially without so much as a word to her. Seeing that she was trying to hold back tears, I went over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder, aware that she was still wary of me touching her.

She surprised me by spinning round and grabbing hold of me, silently crying against my chest. Buffy came over and joined the hug, trying to comfort our newest member as possible. I could see that Giles wanted to show his support as well, but knew that Tara would probably freak out, so he simply hovered around, hoping that by simply being there it would be enough.

After a couple of minutes, Tara had calmed down enough for me to talk to her, and I gently raised her chin so that she would be looking at me when I did. Her eyes were puffy and red, and her face wet was with tears.'

"Tara, I know that this looks bad, but seeing Oz again has probably brought back a lot of memories to the surface for Willow," Xander began, trying to find the right words. "I'm not in any way condoning how she left here, but I know Willow; she's probably so shocked to see him again that she's running on autopilot right now. As soon as she has her wits back she'll contact you and apologise for how she left, I'm sure of it."

"What if she wants him back?" Tara asked softly, trying to hold back more tears

Although she had said it as a question, everyone could see the defeated look in her eyes, and knew that she'd already made up her mind as to whom Willow had chosen.

Xander hugged her a little tighter, whilst maintaining eye contact with her at all times. "She doesn't," he assured her firmly but gently. "Yes, Oz was a part of her life but he was the past, you're the future and nothing is going to change that."

She turned to Buffy, who simply nodded in agreement, her eyes conveying that she believed the same. Giles too nodded his agreement when she caught his eye.

At her indication, Buffy and Xander let her go and, after she wiped the tears from her eyes, she looked at them both and gave them a small smile of gratitude, the defeated look now replaced with one of hope.

"Thanks," she told them sincerely, "I needed to hear that. I think I better go home; I'm not really in the mood to finish my training tonight, if that's OK with you?"

"Of course it is," Xander assured her, knowing that while she didn't necessarily enjoy the training, she took it seriously. "Why doesn't Buffy take you while I stay here and finish up," he suggested.

"You won't say anything to Willow, will you?"

"I promise that I won't have a go at her," Xander replied, "but I will talk to her."

'Tara knew that I would talk to Willow one way or the other, there was no way that I couldn't given the circumstances, but she also knew that I kept my promises; I wouldn't make things worse by speaking out of turn.

She walked off with Buffy, after giving me another quick hug and Buffy giving me a kiss, and I continued with my training, that way allowing any anger I had to be burnt off before I saw Willow again. I know that she'd come back here before going home as she has left her books here; she came to Giles' right after college, and she'd need them again tomorrow.

Giles stayed down with me for a while and we sparred a little; he didn't hold back his blows as he also had a little anger to drain away. He'd seen how happy Willow was with Tara, and didn't want anything to ruin that, especially not the person who caused her a lot of pain.

I had to admit that my anger towards Oz had gone; I couldn't exactly stay angry at him for cheating on, Willow when she had cheated on him with me. I was, however, deeply disappointed in him, as I had genuinely thought that he would never do anything to harm Willow like that, no matter what the circumstances were.

I could also see why he'd had to leave when he did. His fear that the wolf inside him could take over was something I could sympathise with; my little stint as Hyena Boy had given me a good insight into what he had been feeling. I used to think that Willow and Oz could go the distance, but seeing her with Tara, I couldn't imagine her with anyone else.

By the time that Giles and I had finished putting each other through our paces, sparring in both armed and unarmed combat, and had showered and changed, an hour and a half had passed.

We went upstairs and sat down to a pot of tea, talking about the current demon situation.'

"I think that these demons aren't just working with each other," Xander surmised, "they're all working for someone or something that's hiding in the background."

"What makes you say this?" Giles asked, not having thought of that possibility.

"They have no personal agenda as far as I can see; they either go straight after Riley's men, or they cause problems in areas they know will be patrolled. They're acting as though they've been sent on a mission, although I can't really see any objectives to them. At the end of the day, they didn't do this by themselves they were sent, and until we know why, we won't know how to stop it or them."

"I have to say I hadn't looked at it from that standpoint," Giles admitted.

"Well, you don't have the soldier memories that I do," Xander replied.

"Good point. Have you discussed this with Buffy or Finn?" he asked.

Giles agreed that they were better off working with Riley and the others than against them, but he still hadn't forgotten how they, and Riley in particular, had acted before. Even though he had been told them several times, Giles insisted on calling them only by their surnames.

Xander found that somewhat ironic that he would use their surnames to denigrate them, when he was called by his surname also.

"No," Xander told him, "you're always my first point of call when it comes to this stuff."

Xander saw Giles' smile widen a little at that; he knew that Giles sometimes felt a little out of the loop these days; their lives had been drifting apart with their non-supernatural activities, but they had all been doing things together more recently, as the family that they had become, and they were now as close as they had ever been.

"If your theory is correct" Giles mused, "then that means that there won't be anything in the books that will be of any use."

"Not necessarily; you might just need to look for any demons that can hold power over other demons," Xander suggested.

"Good idea, I shall have Tara look at that tomorrow."

"It might be an idea to let Tara and Willow have a couple of days off when it comes to research unless they volunteer, they may have some things to deal with," Xander said, knowing that they would need that time to repair the damage today had caused.

"You're probably right," Giles replied with a sigh. "You're not going to say anything to her, are you?"

"I can't not talk to her Giles, but I'm not going to do or say anything that will make things worse; Tara already made me promise her that."


At that moment, there's a knock on the door. Giles went to answer it and found Willow standing there, a smile plastered on her face. He stood aside, the normal practise of those in the know, allowing her to come inside without being invited. She came in as if she were walking on air, which made the two men worried that they might have spoken a bit too son to Tara about who Willow would pick.

"Everything OK Wills?" Xander asked as she sat down.

"Everything's wonderful," she replied brightly. "Did you remember what night tonight is?"

"What are you on about?" Giles asked.

"When was the last time you had to think about whether it was a full moon or not?" she asked them in reply.

"I haven't given it a second's thought since Oz left…" Xander began, only to trail off as he suddenly got what she was on about. Ensuring that he had a stake on him, Xander stepped outside and looked up in the sky. There in a cloudless sky was a full moon. The importance of that hit him straight away. "Oz has found a way to control the wolf," he said in surprise.

"Yep, he found his way to Tibet and with the help of some monks he's free of the wolf," she explained with a wide beaming smile.

Both Giles and Xander were happy for Oz; realising that he had control of his life again must have been a deeply gratifying experience. The thing nagging them both was that neither one was aware that there was a cure for a Lycanthrope, as they would have suggested it to Oz before he left if they had.

"He's not a Werewolf anymore?" Giles asked in clarification.

"No, he's still a werewolf," she told them, "but he doesn't transform anymore, he said it was something to do with some meditative techniques he's mastered. Isn't it great?!"

Willow was almost bursting with happiness for Oz, which was understandable given that he was her ex. Both Giles and Xander were worried about the amount of happiness she felt, and whether he was still her ex.

"Yes it is," Xander replied, "and I'm happy for him. I'm sure Tara will be as well when you tell her."

'I know that it was a cheap shot, but the longer I was looking and talking to her, the angrier I was getting on Tara's behalf, and I had to find out what this meant for both of them.

My comment had the desired effect, as it reminded Willow of her current relationship, something that she probably hadn't done a great deal of since Oz showed up earlier this evening.

I decided that I needed to have this chat with Willow away from Giles; he meant well, but sometimes his protective nature over his 'children' made it difficult for him to be objective. Not that I'm exactly the pinnacle of reason myself, but I'd had a decade more experience in dealing with Willow.

'I led her down to the training room where we could have some peace.'

"How is she?" Willow asked once they were downstairs. She was no longer full of joy for Oz; instead she was full of worry about her girlfriend.

Xander decided that the best way to go would be to tell her the truth. As usual, he found it extremely difficult to be angry with Willow once she was actually in front of him, so he was able to tell her without sounding too angry about it.

"I won't lie to you, she's not entirely happy about the situation, especially the bit where her girlfriend walked off with her ex without so much as a word said to her," Xander told her. "I explained that you were probably in shock and were acting on autopilot, not consciously intending to hurt her feelings. You're not going to make me a liar now are you?" he asked.

She immediately shook her head. "Of course I was in shock; I hadn't seen Oz in months, and for him to just turn up out of the blue without so much as a phone call beforehand did cause me to mentally shut down for a few moments. I shut down again when he told me to look up and I saw we were walking under a full moon." She paused for a couple of seconds, trying to find the best way to say what she wanted to. Xander could guess what she was about to tell him. "I was so happy for him that I hugged him out of instinct. When he went to kiss me, initially I didn't resist, until I realised that his lips weren't as soft or as warm as Tara's. Once I thought of Tara, I was firing with all cylinders once again and broke the embrace, saying that I couldn't do this as I was seeing someone else."

Xander was happy about that, as they both knew what it was like to get caught up in the moment, and was pleased that she hadn't allowed it to happen again. "What did he say to that?" he asked.

"He said that he wasn't surprised that somebody else had seen the same thing that he did, and that they were a lucky man," she replied.

Xander tried his best to not smirk at that, especially when he could tell that Willow hadn't told Oz about her recent change in sexual orientation. "I take it you didn't elaborate that it was a lucky woman?" he asked, unable to help the slightly humorous tone in his voice.

She noticed and had a slight smile on her face, obviously seeing the humour in it herself, even if she didn't want to right now. "I didn't think it would be the right time to bring that up," she explained.

Although he had found it funny, Xander was a little worried about why she hadn't told Oz about Tara. "Don't think that I'm judging you here but why not?" he asked. "It's not as though it should make any difference; you haven't tried to hide your relationship in public and we're all happy for you, should it matter what you ex thinks?"

She glared at him for a second before she realised that Xander wasn't trying to judge her, he was simply trying to figure it out. "I could tell that he was more than a little disappointed that I had moved on, and I didn't think that telling him I moved on to another gender would help the situation."

"Fine, I understand how it wouldn't be the easiest thing to talk about at a time like that." Seeing that she was a little distressed about it, Xander decided to spare her and change the subject.. "How long is he staying?"

"He said that he'd be around for a few days," she replied, "but I'm guessing that now he realises I'm not going back to him he might leave sooner."

It was only then that Xander realised that Willow had gone through a lot tonight. He placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I know how hard it must be to see him again, how are you holding up?" he asked.

"I'm not entirely sure just yet; seeing him again has brought up a lot of memories, both good and bad. I'm glad to see him, and annoyed that he just turned up unannounced at the same time."

Xander could certainly understand that feeling; having felt similarly confused himself at times. I could see that she wanted to go, but there's one more question Xander needed to ask her before she did.

"Don't jump down my throat," he began, "but are you having second thoughts about being with Tara?"

Willow threw off Xander's hand and set him with a glare that could melt steel. "No! I could never have second thoughts about Tara; I love her more than life itself!"

The sheer conviction in her voice made him smile. "That's good to hear," he told her happily. "I just wanted to make sure you were certain before you talked to Tara, as she has an uncanny way of telling whether she's being told the truth or not, and saying what you think she wants to hear instead of the truth would not be of the good."

"And how do you know I'm telling the truth?" she asked.

Her glare had lessened, but it was still a sight to behold. Knowing that he would need to tell the truth, Willow was one of the few people who could tell when he was lying, most of the time anyway, Xander had the common decency to look a little sheepish.

"Two ways; one, I kinda activated my aura spell to see whether you were lying…" Seeing the glare starting to increase again, Xander quickly continued. "But more importantly is two, you're my Willow."

The glare disappeared after a moment and a smile replaced it and he was very relieved when she gave him a hug. "And you're my Xander," she told him with a smile. She released him and began to collect her things. "I better go and talk to Tara. Thanks for going easy on me Xan, I know you probably weren't happy with me."

He smiled at that understatement. "I have to admit that both Tara and Giles made me promise not to revert to form and go for the jugular," he confessed. "It's just yet another facet to the new and improved mature Xander; tact and diplomacy."

Her smile faltered a little. "Just don't change too much; we all like the original version of you, a lot, and wouldn't want to lose him."

He went over and pulled her into another hug. "I'm not going anywhere, but I can't stay exactly how you knew me either. I don't think I could stand what my life would have been like if I had."

'My strategic skills were sometimes a big pain in the ass; I had worked out that if I had stayed how I was before my road trip, I would have been kept out of their lives once again, and this time I wouldn't have argued.

I simply didn't have any more fight left in me to go through it all again, and I'm not sure I would have wanted to.

Willow could tell that my mood had changed, and wondered what it was about.'

"What do you mean?" Willow asked.

It really wasn't a conversation that Xander wanted to have right then, or ever in fact, so he decided to change the subject. "You better go see how Tara is Willow."

She must have switched to friend-mode as she put on her resolve face. "You're not getting out of it that easy mister," she told him.

One of the few good things about retaining his soldier memories, was that the enabled him to be more resilient. "Willow."

She recognised the 'don't push it' tone in his voice for what it was, and decided to let it go, for now anyway. "Fine, but we will have this talk."

Knowing that she would only continue to hound him until he agreed, Xander saved time and nodded.


'Willow grabbed the rest of her stuff and left; normally I would have gone with her as an escort, but now that The Initiative was no longer actively hunting us, I knew she'll be safe for one night. Anyway, with her physical and magical skills, she was no slouch in the dusting department anymore, and I was trying to make myself remember that.

I went upstairs and after saying goodnight to Giles, I also made my way home. I decided against using the cemetery as a short cut, as I really just wanted to go to sleep, and wasn't really in the mood to get into it with any vamps.

When I finally got there, finding that it took an extra ten minutes not using the short cut, I noticed that there were a few black bags outside, by the looks of things thrown out of the front door.

I ignored them, no longer surprised by anything my parents did anymore, and went up to the front door. When I tried to get in with my key, I found out that it didn't work anymore.

Now normally I don't allow what my parent's decide to do to get to me; if I had, I would have gone insane a long time ago. This time though they'd gone too far, and in the process, seriously pissed me off.

After nixing the idea of knocking the door off the hinges, as I didn't want to wake the neighbours, I decided to use some of the more 'grey area' memories from soldier boy, namely lock-picking. After a few seconds, I was inside and had quietly closed the door behind me.

I walked silently through the house and down to the basement, only to find that all of my stuff had been removed, probably into those black bags outside. In its place was uncle Barry's stuff, and I could also see his unconscious form on what had been, until a few hours ago, my bed.

Now when I say uncle, it was more like 'friend of my father's'; Barry had been in and out of jail ever since I could remember, and whenever he was out he would always stay with us. I definitely did not enjoy those times; having one male authority figure beating seven shades of shit out of me was one thing, having two was completely another.

The last time he was out was about a year before Buffy showed up in Sunnydale; I spent five days in hospital due to the beating I took at their hands. I couldn't even remember what I did to get the beating, only the fact that they both kept saying that it was 'for my own good'.

I just stand there, staring at Barry's sleeping form for a minute, not quite believing what was happening. I knew that my parents weren't exactly the nurturing types; I doubt they could even spell it, let alone explain what it meant. I just never thought that they would actually kick me out, not without at least telling me first. Of course in their constant drunken state they probably thought that they did.

Not wanting to have three counts of murder on my plate, although I doubted that any court in the land would convict me if I did make the gene pool a little cleaner, I left the house as quietly as I got in, although I decided to leave the door open.

I then went onto the front lawn and gathered the bags that they threw out together, confirming that it was indeed my stuff, and then made a call.'

"Rupert Giles speaking," Giles answered.

"Hey Giles, its Xander," Xander told him listlessly. "Can I ask you a favour?"

"Of course, what is it?" he asked immediately.

"Can you pick me up at my parent's place; it seems that I no longer live there."

"What!" he roared down the line, Xander actually having to move the phone away from his ear for a second, as Giles' sudden outburst almost deafened him.

"I turned up and found all my stuff dumped in the front lawn and the locks changed," Xander explained.

He could almost hear Giles taking his glasses off and clean them before he spoke again. "Where are you going to stay?"

Xander hadn't actually thought of that, he just wanted to make sure that his stuff stayed his stuff, instead of being thrown away with the rest of the garbage. "Haven't a clue," he replied simply.

Again, Xander could almost hear Giles think things through in his head. "Well in that case you're staying here with me until you are ready to find somewhere else."

Xander thought that Giles might suggest something like that, out of some sort of obligation. He didn't want anyone to feel obligated to help. "I wouldn't want to be any trouble…"

"No trouble at all," Giles told him, cutting him off, "I mean it. I won't argue over this, you're staying here and that's final."

'I knew that tone; it's the one Giles has used during training when I've disagreed with him over something. It means that if I continue to argue, he'll allow 'Ripper' out and play with me for a while. I called his bluff once and walked with a limp for two days.

I may not be the sharpest tool in the woodshed but I learn from my mistakes.'

"Yes sir," Xander replied.

Xander could hear Giles sigh in relief, and Xander guessed that he had been gearing himself up for further argument, in spite of his tone. Xander guessed that he had a reputation as being a little stubborn, which was completely undeserved of course.

"Good, I'll be along shortly," Giles told him. "Be on your guard until I arrive."


' I slipped a stake out from within one of the secret pockets in my jacket. I wouldn't tell Giles this, but with everything that had happened tonight, I had actually forgot what town I lived in, and in this town that was a mistake that could cost you your life.

It would have just been my luck to have those bastards be the cause of my death, even if it was indirectly. I was kind of disappointed when Giles had turned up about ten minutes later and I hadn't had to deal with any vamps, having something to beat seven shades of shit out of was a great stress reliever.

I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes when he asked me how I was coping with what had happened. One of the things that annoyed me so much over the years was dealing with people who try to 'handle' me when they found out just how shitty my life had been.

It isn't their fault, but when they start on the platitudes I feel like digging a hole and throwing them in. The fact that I could tell that Giles' concern was legit, made me decide to take the odd, well odd for me, route of telling the truth.'

"The way I always do, I repress," Xander told him bluntly.

The look Giles gave him was a clear indication that he didn't like that answer. "Xander…"

Xander put a hand up to stop Giles from going any further. "I know, not the healthiest way to deal with things," he admitted. "It's just that I would have been found hanging from my ceiling, or in a bath full of my own blood, if I hadn't repressed what I had to deal with in that place. This is just the latest in a long list of occasions when my parents showed their true feelings towards me."

Giles just stood there for a few moments, allowing what Xander had said to seep in before responding. Xander could see the anger and sadness his words caused him on his behalf flash across his face before he managed to regain his composure.

Giles walked over, put a hand on Xander's shoulder and ensured that he was looking into his eyes before he spoke. "There isn't a lot I can do to change what has happened, but I promise you this; you will always have a place to stay with me."

'It took all of my mental discipline not to start crying; his simple statement showed me once again that he cared more for me then my parents ever have. It took me several moments before I was able to speak, and even then it was just a simple thank you; there were no words that could properly express what I felt right then, but they would have to do.

We gathered my things and put them in the trunk of his car; what does it say about you when everything that you own can fit in the trunk of a Citroen CV?

We drove back to Giles' in silence, although not an uncomfortable one; we simply felt comfortable in each others presence to not always have to fill it with noise.

Once we got there, I took my things and placed them in Giles' spare room, now mine for the foreseeable future. I put the picture of myself, Buffy, Willow and Giles on top of the dresser facing the bed, as I had always placed it there since the photo was given to me by OZ a couple of years ago. Once I'd put my clothes away and placed the other photos that had survived my parent's unique style of packing where I wanted them, I went downstairs to find Buffy there waiting for me.

As soon as was at the bottom of the stairs, she came over and enveloped me in an embrace, making me feel better almost immediately. If I could bottle the feeling I would get from one of Buffy's hugs I could make millions, but knowing me I would keep it all to myself anyway.

We stayed that way for a few moments; I was just enjoying the fact that I'm doing it and that it wasn't a dream. I feel Buffy move slightly so that she could look up at me.'

"Are you OK?" Buffy asked, her voice filled with concern.

"I'm definitely better now than I was," Xander replied softly, "which has something to do with having one of the most beautiful women on the planet holding me I guess."

'The gigawatt smile ,and the slight blush on her cheeks, made me feel even better than I did from holding her. She closed her eyes and, after squeezing me a little, released a small moan of pleasure that did some very nice things to me.'

"Flattery will get you everywhere," Buffy told him huskily, "but that doesn't answer my question does it?"

Not wanting to break his promise and lie to her again, Xander had no choice but to speak the truth. "I guess I'm shocked; having your parents chuck out all of your stuff and change the locks isn't exactly an everyday occurrence," Xander replied matter-of-factly.

It seemed to shocked her that he didn't sound angry; so was he, as less than an hour ago he'd been trying to think of ways he could kill three people and get away with it. "You're not angry are you?" she asked in shock.

"I was; when I first realised what had happened I was a hairs breadth away from completely losing it," he replied. "Now I don't really feel any anger towards them at all; it's been a long time since I've cared about them enough to allow their actions to anger me, and don't feel like starting up again. I suppose the closest I can get to pin down what I'm feeling is disappointment. Yeah, disappointment and closure."


"All the time I was living there, I had a glimmer of hope that they would finally treat me like their son, instead of a piece of shit they stepped in by accident," he explained. "This has put the final nail in the coffin that was my relationship with them."

She put her head back on his chest, and Xander could feel that Buffy was trying not to cry. After a couple of minutes, she looked back up at her, her eyes red and full of unshed tears.

"I'm sorry," she apologised.

"There's nothing for you to be sorry for," he soothed softly, "you aren't my parents, which is a good thing considering the dreams I have. Especially the one where…"

The sound of glass breaking caused the pair to whip their heads round, and found Giles stooping down to pick up the broken pieces of the glass he had been drinking from. "For the love of god Xander, I didn't want to know that!"

they couldn't believe that they had forgotten where they were, at least Xander couldn't until he turned to Buffy once more. Xander felt his cheeks heat up as he blushed, and turned to Giles again.

"Sorry Giles," he apologised sheepishly, "I kinda forgot you were there."

"Really? I hadn't noticed," he replied sarcastically as he continued to pick up his broken glass.

Xander chuckled at that and decided that it might be a good idea to change the subject to something that wouldn't embarrass him, and not having to let go of Buffy to do it was a bonus. "Anyway, not that I'm unhappy to see you Buff," he assured her, "but why are you here?"

"Giles rang me straight after talking with you and gave me the rundown on what happened," she replied softly. Xander turned his head to Giles and nodded to him in thanks before turning his attentions again to his girlfriend. "I also wanted to know how it went with Willow. I was still at Tara's when she showed up, and I wanted to know what was going on, but I felt a little like a third wheel as soon as they locked eyes on each other."

Xander nodded in understanding at that, as he too has often felt out of place when those two first notice each other in a room, sometimes feeling like a voyeur watching something that he really shouldn't, or really should depending on whether you like being a voyeur or not.

"It went OK," he replied eventually, "she told me what happened with Oz, and I explained that she could have handled the situation a little better. I won't go into too many details, as I'm sure she'll talk to you herself, but the main thing was that Oz has found a way to control the wolf."

"What? How?" she said in shock.

"Both excellent questions; I don't suppose you happened to notice that tonight's a full moon?" From her look of surprise Xander guessed not. "Don't worry, I had forgotten as well. It seems that whilst on his journey of discovery, Oz met some monks who have taught him some meditative techniques that allow him to control the change to such an extent that he doesn't have to transform at all anymore."

Buffy's eyes bugged out at that. Xander could see the wheels beginning to turn in her head, trying to think of how Oz had managed to come so far in such a short space of time, something that Xander would like to know as well. After a couple of moments, Buffy had come round enough to continue talking.

"How was Willow taking it?" she asked.

"She was happy for him, as I guess we all are," he replied.

They both nodded in agreement; they may not have liked what happened before Oz left, but they still cared about his welfare. Xander could see, however, that Buffy wasn't happy with the answer he gave, as it didn't tell her everything she wanted to know.


"As I said before," he told her, "I'm sure Wills will talk to you about it tomorrow." Xander yawned loudly and gave them both an apologetic smile. "I hope you don't mind, but I have to be up early tomorrow for work, as we're trying to get ahead of schedule; we've been offered a nice bonus if we finish early and that's something I could do with."

Xander could see that Buffy didn't want to, but she eventually agreed and, after grabbing his ass which caused him to yelp, reluctantly released him. "I need to do a quick patrol anyway before I turn in myself; I have Walsh tomorrow morning, and I don't want to give her any excuses to lay into me."

The thought of that bitch doing anything to Buffy made Xander's blood boil with rage. "If she touches a hair on your head I'll…"

Buffy smiled at his outburst, but put a finger on his lips before he could build up a good head of steam. "In a student-teacher way, not a Slayer-nutty professor way," she explained. "I can take care of myself you know, Slayer here."

Even though Xander knew she could take of herself just fine, she'd faced off against some of the deadliest creatures known to man and come out on top, it would never stop him from getting on the offensive whenever the thought of someone or something wanting to hurt her.

"I know that," he replied, "but I reserve the right as your boyfriend to do serious harm to anyone or anything that hurts you, or thinks of hurting you. I know I don't have to, but I want to, I love you. Anyway, it isn't as though you wouldn't do the same for me," he added.

"Of course I would," she replied instantly, her eyes hardening slightly at even the thought of something happening to him. "Believe me, it would take weeks before I would get bored enough of torturing them to actually kill them."

The cold look in her eyes, and the utter conviction in her voice, would have worried anyone else, but Xander wasn't worried at all, because he was exactly the same. In fact, he even found it a little comforting to know she would go to such lengths for him, especially after tonight. Xander leant down and kissed her on the tip of her nose, causing her to wrinkle her face, but she couldn't suppress the grin that appeared.

"You say the sweetest things," he told her with a smile. "Be careful on patrol, and please call me as soon as you're home; I won't be able to sleep until you do."

"Of course I will," she assured him. "Goodnight Giles," she called out as she went to the door.

"Goodnight Buffy," Giles replied as he returned from the kitchen where he had taken the broken glass.

She smiled at them both before walking out the door.

"Is there anything you need me to do before I go to bed Giles?" Xander asked.

"No, you get to bed," he assured him. "I'll sort out a spare set of keys for you tomorrow, and will bring them in to work for you. There's a phone in your room so you won't have to get up when Buffy calls."

"Thanks, goodnight," Xander said as he made his way upstairs.

"Goodnight son," Giles replied softly.

'When Buffy said that she was going to make a quick patrol she wasn't kidding; half an hour after she left, she was already on the phone letting me know that she was fine. We talked for a few minutes, neither of us really wanting to end the conversation, before we said our goodbyes and I went off to sleep.

I got up with the sunrise and, after having a shower and getting dressed, I went downstairs and did some tidying up before heading to work. We were so busy at work that, by the time I knew what was going on, it was already lunchtime.

The good thing was we were well on the way to finishing early. I really wanted that bonus, as I wanted to do something special for Buffy, I had realised some time ago that we hadn't actually gone on a date yet, something I wanted to change as soon as possible.

The other good thing about lunchtime was that it was time to meet up with Tara; I wanted to make sure that she was OK after the events of last night. She puts up a good front, but I know a front when I see one, having used one myself since I knew what one was, and had a way of getting past someone else's to the true feelings underneath.

I had just got to the café and found a table when Tara shows up, right on time as always.'

"Hi Tara," Xander greeted her as she got closer.

She smiled, brightening up the café, and sat down. "Hello Xander," she returned softly.

The waitress came over and took their order almost instantly; Tara and Xander had become well known to all the staff in the café since they began going there, and got special service as one of the perks. They sat in a comfortable silence for a while, but when their coffees arrived, Xander decided that he might as well cut to the chase.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

Tara automatically increased the size of her smile, but after seeing the look that Xander sent her way decided against trying to cover up her feelings. "I-I've felt better; Willow explained everything that happened last night and although I'm not happy about it, I can understand it."

'I could see that she was telling the truth, and I hadn't even taken a peek at her aura. As I had gotten to know her, I had gotten quite adept at working out whether or not she was withholding anything or not.

She never actually lies, she really isn't capable, but she is a master at telling you the truth without telling the whole truth. I know it sounds like there isn't a difference, but there is to experts like myself.

Wanting to be certain that she wasn't being lied to herself, I decided to press for some more information.'

"Everything?" Xander asked.

"If you're talking about the kiss, then yes, everything," Tara replied calmly.

It was surprising to Xander that she was able to talk about her girlfriend kissing her ex without the slightest hint of anger, especially so close to the event. "You're taking this extremely well, far better than I ever could."

"I guess that I am. I allowed myself to think about how I would have reacted if it had happened to me, and I couldn't say that I would do things differently," she explained with a shrug.

"I'm not sure I could have acted that logically after only a few hours," he pointed out. He knew that he would probably see it the same way she she did eventually, but there was no way he'd be so calm so soon.

Tara reddened a bit, and her hair began to move in front of her face, and Xander was almost certain that she had put a spell on her hair to do that, whether consciously or not.

"Well I m-might have cheated a bit," she confessed, her blush increasing at the revelation.

Xander raised an eyebrow in surprise at that. He couldn't conceive using the words 'Tara' and 'cheat' in the same sentence.

"Cheated?" he asked with a small smile, which turned into a smirk as her blush increased even more.

When she spoke he could hear the embarrassment in her voice. "I used a spell that paused time for a bit."

Xander knew that his knowledge of magic wasn't the best, but a spell like that would have to be pretty powerful.

"Paused time?"

"Well not paused time exactly," she admitted, "I was allowed half an hour to think through things in my head, when actually only a second had passed."

That sounded like something Xander could use for a multitude of reasons. "Useful spell, think you could teach it to me?" he asked hopefully.

Tara looked at Xander strangely for a moment. "I thought that you didn't like magic?" she asked him.

Xander knew that he hadn't exactly kept his aversion to magic a secret, but ever since he had done well with the Aura spell, Giles had assured him that while his well of power is relatively small compared to most practitioners, as long as he was careful with the spells he used there was no reason why he wouldn't be able to use it to his full potential.

"I don't really, but the soldier in me can see the advantages of having thirty minutes to think during spur of the moment decisions, especially in the line of work we're in. Do you think I would be able to make it work?"

She knew that Xander wasn't talking about his ability to learn the spell, having started to believe he could do things more, but whether he would have the power necessary.

"Very little power is required to perform the spell; I'm sure that I can teach it to you."

Xander noticed that she hadn't actually told him that she would teach him the spell, only that she could. "I know you can, but will you?"

"Of course I will," she assured him.

She smiled at him, but it was the smile she always used when she's been playing with him, which meant that she was always to help teach the spell to him. As always, her subtle blend of humour had slipped under his radar.

"Great!" he exclaimed happily, and they smiled at each other for a moment before Tara became more sombre.

"I saw Buffy this morning, and she told us what happened at you parent's house last night. I'm sorry."

Xander could see how sad Tara was for him, so on impulse he took her hand in his. He was happy to see that when he did so she didn't flinch at the contact or shy away from him. "As I told Buffy last night, there's nothing for you to be sorry about. It's not as though you were the one that kicked me out."

"I know, it's just that I can't really think of anything else to say."

"You don't have to say anything," he assured her with a soft smile, before he too became more sombre as he realised that this would be the perfect opportunity to broach a subject he had wanted to talk to Tara about for a while. "Don't take this the wrong way," he continued, "but you're acting as though you've had a similar experience."

The 'deer caught in the headlights' look told Xander all that he needed to know. "W-what do you m-mean?" she asked.

She moved her hands away from him, and Xander could see that he may have torn down some of the bridges that he had been built between them. Not wanting that to happen, Xander decided to stop that topic of conversation there, after laying the groundwork for possible later discussions.

"I can tell a person who's had a bad childhood from a hundred paces," Xander went on softly, trying to keep his tone as modulated as possible, "the saying 'it takes one to know one' is more than a saying and we both know it. I won't say anything more if you don't want me to, but I'm always here to talk to if you want. I'll never speak about anything you tell me, unless you give me express permission to do so. All I want is to help, if you are willing."

"T-Thank you," she whispered, as much of a confession that he was right as he knew he would get at the moment, but it was a start.

She smiled at him, and Xander was happy to see that it was genuine. They finished their drinks in silence, and when Xander went to call the waitress over to order refills, he noticed Oz coming in.

Not having the chance to speak to him before, Xander waved him over. "Hey Oz," he greeted him.

Xander extended his hand, and after a moments hesitation Oz took it, the smallest of smiles appearing on his face. Xander guessed that he must have been worried about how he would treat him, as their last talk had not exactly been the most friendly.

"Xander," Oz greeted.

Oz took a sniff in the air and suddenly whips his head round to look at Tara. She squirmed slightly under his gaze, but realising that Xander was there, summoned the courage to speak.

"H-hello," she said timidly, Xander took her hand in his once more, sending her his strength.

Oz's gaze continued, and Xander began to get an uneasy feeling about it. He had never seen Oz act this negatively towards someone, especially a stranger.


The tone in his voice was filled with barely concealed rage. Wanting to try and diffuse the situation, Xander tried to start a conversation.

"OK, I'll do the introductions; Oz, this is Tara, Tara, this is Oz."

"You're Willow's girlfriend," Oz stated with certainty, and his voice was no longer hiding his anger, causing Xander's uneasy feeling to move into concern for his and Tara's safety.

"I-I thought that Willow didn't tell you," Tara said in a whisper, her voice showing just how scared she was.

"She didn't; I can smell her all over you," he growled.

As he finished his sentence, Xander could see Oz's eyes flash, and he started to convulse. Xander's first instinct was to help him, but he stopped when he heard the animalistic growl coming from him.

"Oz?" Xander said carefully.

He looked up at him, and Xander could see that he was starting to transform. "Run," Oz told them, his anger gone and fear firmly replacing it, "I can't control it…" He then collapsed onto the ground, and Xander began to see fur covering his body.

Realising that they didn't have much time, he grabbed Tara and ran out of the café, telling everyone to get out as they left. The staff knew that Xander wouldn't say that without reason, so they began to shepherd the customers out as quickly as possible.

Once they got around the corner, Xander turned to Tara. "Tara, run to Giles' and let him know what's going on," he told her. "I'll stall for as long as possible."

Realising that he had not intention of following her, Tara began to shake her head. "I'm not leaving you!" she told him firmly, and Xander found it ironic that the first time she would truly stand up for herself was the one time he didn't want her to.

Not having time to get into an argument, Xander grabbed her by the shoulders and forced her to look at him. "Tara, there is no way I'm letting one of my girls get hurt, now go!"

'Seeing the determination in my eyes, Tara gave in and nodded in assent. I let her go and, after giving her a little reassuring smile, she started running. It wasn't more than a couple of seconds later that Oz, now in full wolf form, came charging towards me.

He stopped about six feet away from me, but was growling angrily and his stance told me that he was ready to strike at any time. Not wanting to take him on, as I can't see a way to stop him without killing him, or without me dying in the attempt given I had nothing silver on me, I decided to try and calm him down, hoping that he could regain control.'

"Oz, you've got to listen to me man, calm down and concentrate on what you've been taught…"

'I could see that I wasn't getting through to him, Oz's anger too great for reason to overcome at the moment, so I began to go for my gun, hoping to slow him down enough so Giles could get here with the tranq gun and sedate him.

Oz must sensed my shift in tactics and pounced immediately, but before he reached me he let out a howl of pain and dropped to the ground, twitching several times before going completely limp.

I turned to see Forrest, Riley's second in command, and a couple of his men walking up to me. As Forrest reached us, he kicked Oz violently in the head.'

"Shit Forrest, he's out there's no need to kick him when he's down!" Xander exclaimed angrily.

Forrest spun round and trained his Tazer rifle on me, cold fury clearly visible in his eyes. "You help us with the vamps and demons and I'm grateful, but you try to tell me how to act again, and I'll forget our little 'arrangement' and let Walsh know what's been going on."

'The other men looked at Forrest in surprise for a moment, but said nothing as he was in command.

I knew that Forrest wasn't happy with the arrangement, as he was one of the few people that had been against it from the beginning, but after a close call with a vamp, he changed his tune somewhat.

He is a real stickler when it comes to the rules, and definitely believes in what Walsh is doing, something that is becoming less common in the rest of the troops I've noticed.

I never thought he felt that strongly about it though.'

"Are you nuts?" Xander asked in shock.

"No, I'm perfectly sane," Forrest replied with a feral grin. "Now you've got two choices; back off and allow us to do our job, or prepare yourself to find the military at yours, your friends and your family's door very soon."

'I didn't want them to take Oz, as I knew what they did to the demons they captured and didn't want him to go through it, but I couldn't risk Buffy's and everyone else's safety.

There was no way I'd be able to stop them from taking him without consequences, and unless I killed them all there would be no way to stop Forrest from carrying out his threat, which he'd be certain to do if I kicked his ass.

Not having any other option, I kept my mouth shut, not allowing my mouth to run away with itself for once, and took a couple of steps back. I did however send a glare towards Forrest that had the other men falter in their step slightly, but Forrest just ignored it, looking at me with a smug grin on his face that I would have liked nothing more than to wipe off with my boot.

The other men picked up Oz and they all went to leave. Just as they were about to turn the corner, I called out to him.'

"Forrest!" Xander yelled, only just managing to keep the anger from bubbling up.

Forrest indicated for the others to keep going as he turned to face me. "What do you want Harris?" he snapped.

Xander took one step towards him, but stopped when he noticed Forrest reaching for his rifle, although he did smirk at him for it. "This isn't over," he vowed.

Forrest just laughed derisively. "I'm shaking in my boots."

'Forrest walked away laughing, and I tried to ignore the thoughts running through my head telling me how many of his bones I could break before he passed out from the pain. Knowing that I couldn't leave Oz to whatever fate he had with The Initiative, and wanting to settle the score with Forrest one way or the other, I headed over to Giles', well, our place now.

I met him halfway, and narrowly avoided becoming another victim of vehicular manslaughter when I had to jump out of the way of his car.

I never even knew that it could go that fast!'

"Jesus Giles, you practising for the Indy 500?" Xander asked with a smile.

"Bloody funny, I think not! When Tara told me what was happening, I came to help as fast as I could," Giles explained with a huff.

"And I thank you for that, I really do, but killing yourself on the way wouldn't have been the most productive of doing so, would it?"

"I wasn't exactly thinking clearly I have to admit."

Xander could see the same thing in Giles' eyes that had often been in his own; the look that said that someone he cared about was in trouble, and he was going to do everything in his power to help them, even at extreme risk to himself. "Don't worry about it, Xander told him with a smile, "you were still driving better than Buffy," he added.

'Giles said nothing to that, but the smile that graced his lips told me everything I needed to know.

Buffy had gotten him to give her a driving lesson a while back when Joyce had told her in no uncertain terms that if she didn't improve her driving skills, she would have the DMV revoke her licence. To be honest I don't know how she got one in the first place, unless she threatened the guy.

Anyway, when Giles came back, he was looking worse than he had after Drusilla and Angelus had finished with him, although without any actual blood. He had then said in no uncertain terms that he would never get in a car with Buffy as the driver, to the point that if it was a choice between getting drained by a vamp or driven by Buffy, he would bare his neck to the vamp.

Anyway, getting back on topic, I got into the passenger seat and relayed what had happened to Oz while he drove us back to his, our, place. When we got there we, barely got in the door when I had Tara launching herself at me, trying to squeeze the life out of me whilst simultaneously trying to drown me in tears. She may not be a Slayer but she still made it difficult to breathe.

I didn't say anything however, I simply held onto her and tried to calm her down as best I could, which after a few minutes was enough for me to get her to let go and sit down on the couch. Although I hated the fact that the was so upset, it warmed my heart that she cared enough about me to show it in such a physical manner, as it proved that I had started to repair the damage that whoever it was had caused. I had a pretty good idea that it was a male member of her family, either a father or brother, but until she told me I knew it would be best not to speculate.'

"I'm sorry I worried you Tara," Xander told her softly after a while, not really knowing what else to say. He knew that he'd acted harshly towards her earlier, but it had been the only way to get her to safety, and he hoped she knew that.

"I know," Tara replied, "you were just trying to protect me and didn't mean to be so harsh."

She was speaking very calmly considering the gibbering wreck she was a minute or two before, And Xander had a pretty good idea why. "You used that spell again didn't you?" he asked, and smiled when she ducked her head slightly. "Cheater."

She laughed and slapped him gently on the shoulder. She then sobered up when she noticed that Oz wasn't with them. "Where's OZ?" she asked, worried for him despite his actions.

"Forrest and a couple other guys shocked him before he could attack me and took him away."

She looked startled for a moment. "Why didn't you stop them?"

"Stop who from doing what?" Buffy asked as she and Willow came in at that moment, neither one aware of the current situation. Xander then informed them what was going, including the threat that Forrest made. "I knew he didn't really liked us," she admitted, remembering more than one dark look he had sent her way, "but I never thought he'd shop us to Walsh."

"I don't really believe this," Xander began, "but it could be that he was just having a bad day and didn't like me telling him what he could and couldn't do. The problem, is we don't have the luxury to think about it too much; the first thing we need to do is think of a way to get Oz out."

Xander had already got the beginnings of a plan, but he wanted to hear what the others would come up with first, as he knew that his plan would not be well received.

"Couldn't we just explain that it's Oz?" Willow suggested hopefully.

"Not really; I'm guessing that only Walsh has the authority to release a captive and I can't see her doing it this side of, well, ever. I'm not sure about Riley, but I think that most of the guys that work there have a strict 'humans good, demons bad' belief that won't change just because we know one. I know that more and more of them are getting wary of what she and the other scientists are doing, but that wouldn't be enough to get court-martialled over."

"What do you suggest?" Giles asked, having already figured that Xander had a plan, but was too smart to suggest it himself, especially not to their current audience.

"The only thing I can think of is that I go in there and get him out," Xander replied.

Buffy whipped her head round to face him so fast that Xander was surprised it didn't snap. "Don't you mean we?" she asked, her tone indicating that it wasn't a suggestion.

"Unless you can look like a man and act like a marine," he replied, the thought of Buffy as a man causing him to shudder given their current standing, "I'll be going alone."

Buffy went to argue the point, but stopped herself as she realised that it would be pointless. Instead, she decided to suggest someone else to go with Xander. "You said you're not sure about Riley, do you think he would help?"

"Even with the way he acted before, I think that Riley is a good man, but that is the reason I can't ask him. I doubt that he would aid and abet the infiltration of a secret military installation he was stationed at and help liberate one of its captives. If we told him what we were planning, he would have to make a choice, and although I'm sure he would choose correctly, I'm not willing to bet Oz's life on his decision. Are you?"

"No," Buffy sighed after a couple of moments. "I don't like this; if you get into trouble there's no way we'll be able to help."

"Believe me, I don't like the idea too much myself," Xander admitted, knowing that he would have no support if the proverbial hit the fan. "I would take Giles in with me, as he's more than able to take care of himself, but most of the soldiers there are my age and they would recognise that Giles, well, isn't." Luckily Giles doesn't take offence, he knows that he was on the top of my list to help. "Even if we used a glamour spell to change his appearance, it wouldn't fool the security cameras; I could walk around unnoticed, but Giles couldn't. There might be someone who could help, if he's willing and able of course," Xander thought out loud.

"Who?" the three women asked immediately, none of them liking the thought of Xander going in there alone.

"Gunn; he's got the right look and he has the right attitude," he explained, only Buffy nodding as she was the only one who had met him. "The only problem is that he might take a day or two getting here, and I'm not sure we can afford to leave Oz in there that long."

Forty-eight hours is a long time to leave Oz in the hands of military scientists. Buffy and the others were thinking the same thing.

"We can't wait," Buffy realised. "Are you sure you can do it?" she asked.

"There is no such thing as a certainty on the Hellmouth," he replied, "but I know I have to try."

Buffy suddenly got up from her position on the couch, walked over to Xander, sat on his lap and kissed him senseless, much to the embarrassment of the rest of the group. "Fine," she said as she released him, "but if you get caught I will take that place down brick by brick to get you out and then kick your ass for making me have to."

Xander just about made out what she'd said, as his mind had temporarily shut down from the surge of emotions Buffy had just envoked within him. "Duly noted," he replied eventually.

Buffy stayed seated on his lap, but changed position so that she was sitting side saddle. The movement provided an uncomfortable, but not entirely unwelcome, sensation in Xander's crotch. She kept her arms wrapped round his neck, and Xander instinctively wrapped his around her waist.

"Xander, do you know how you're actually going to get in?" Giles asked. "I know that you'll be able to convince them you're a soldier, as for all intents and purposes you are, but as you don't know their security systems, I don't see how you'll do it."

"You're forgetting the most recent spell you taught me Giles," Xander answered with a small smile.

A flash of realisation appeared on Giles' face, followed by a very Ripper like grin. "Ah yes, that should do it quite nicely."

Willow then turned to face Xander, a look of eagerness on her face. "What spell?"

Willow was really getting into magic, and whenever she heard that Xander had learnt one, she was like a dog with a bone until he told her which one.

"Giles has taught me a spell that will help when I need to go on recon missions," he told them. "It's a bit like an invisibility spell, but far easier to use and even more safe. It basically makes it so that the people around me ignore that I'm there. When I use it I feel like I'm in high school again," he added with a grin.

"How will that help?" Willow asked.

"I simply follow one of the Initiative teams on the way back from one of their patrols and into the base. Only someone extremely sensitive to magic will be able to sense my presence, and none of those military men seem sensitive to anything." Both Willow and Tara giggled at that, but Buffy and Giles were both still worried about his safety. "The security cameras will pick me up," he went on, "but there's no way they'd take too much notice to one more grunt walking the corridors, especially with the turnover of soldiers they have at that place."

"That's how you're getting in," Buffy said, "but how are you getting out?"

"You know I have this slight obsession with blowing things up?" he asked them, all but Tara nodding their heads as they remembered graduation. "Well, I thought that I would plane a few charges around the base and use it to cause a slight distraction, and then slip out with Oz in the confusion."

"Can't you cast the spell on the both of you?" Willow asked. "That way you and Oz could just walk out the building unnoticed."

"I've made a promise not to use spells on others, only myself," he told her, something that willow already knew but needed to ask anyway. "That is a promise I'm going to keep."

They all knew how Xander felt about magic in the first place, so they knew not to press any further. "What if Oz is still wolfy?" Buffy asked.

"I'll have to talk to him and calm him enough so he can revert back," Xander replied. "I'll take some clothes for him to change into, and an extra set for myself so I can blend in better once we're outside, in case I'm spotted in my fatigues."

"I don't think anyone could say your fashion sense allows you to blend in," Willow teased.

"I wasn't the one with a fluffy pink jumper Willow."

Giles cut in before they could build up a head of steam. "We don't have time for these petty squabbles right now. Once Oz is safely out of The Initiative's hands, we can all comment on the atrocities that Xander tries to pass as clothing."

Xander decided to ignore the barely veiled jab at his fashion sense, not to mention the smirk Giles had on his face. "Yah Herr tweed." Well maybe not completely ignore. "I'll need to go and get my fatigues and some supplies before I go; I intend to go after sundown. Luckily last night was the night after full moon, so Oz should be able to control it enough to transform back, if he hasn't already."

"I didn't see any of your military gear with the rest of your stuff, where do you keep it?" Willow asked.

"As I can't honestly say that it is my stuff, having 'requisitioned' it from the army base and that wet works team, it is probably wiser if I don't tell you," he replied.

Willow looked hurt by that. "Don't you trust us?"

"Of course I do Wills," he assured her, "it's just that it's safer for you to not know." Xander knew better than to think that would never be noticed the equipment was missing and he wanted to keep them as safe as he could.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Buffy asked.

"I can't think of anything I want more, but I don't think it would be wise," he replied.

Buffy then put on her version of the resolve face Willow mastered at an early age. "Let me rephrase that; I'm coming with you."

"Yes dear."

That remark earned Xander a slap on the shoulder. "Don't call me dear."

"I thought that was supposed to be 'don't call me babe'?" he asked.

"I can't believe you like that film," Buffy replied with a sigh.

"I can't help it, Pammy is hot." Xander suddenly received the Slayer Death Glare. "Of course, she's positively plain in comparison to you," he added quickly.

They heard a groan coming from Giles. "Bloody hell I think I'm going to wretch."

"We better go," Xander said as he looked at his watch, "it'll be sunset soon and I don't want to leave Oz in there a minute longer than necessary. You ready?" he asked Buffy.

"As I'll ever be," she replied as she reluctantly stood up. "I'll come right back here Giles OK?"

"Of course Buffy," he assured her. "And Xander?"

"Yeah Giles?"

"Be careful son," he cautioned.

Xander simply smiled at him. "Always."

'After getting a change of clothes for myself, and saying goodbye to Giles, Tara and Willow, Buffy and I left and I took her to the hiding place for my goodies, stopping on the way to get a change of clothes for Oz.

She almost laughed when she saw where it is; a crypt on the edge of Happy Vale Cemetery.'

"A crypt?" Buffy asked.

"It was the best I could come up with on short notice," Xander defended, "I used to keep a few things in my room, but I decided it would be safer not to have firearms near my parents."

'It was to ensure that they didn't find them whilst they were drunk, and to ensure I didn't give in to the urge to use them whilst they were drunk. Believe me, there had been more than one occasion when the urge to go all Tony Montana on them was immense, but I knew that the chances of getting away with it would be slim, so I'd always managed to resist temptation.

Buffy gave my shoulder a squeeze of sympathy before walking into the crypt, and she gasped at what I'd actually collected over the years; along with the equipment she had already seen, I also a range of other pistols and rifles, as well as grenades, flash bangs and other explosives.

I also had several crates with USMC markings on them, which I wouldn't be explaining to her just yet. There was no reason to panic her too much, although if things started going the way I thought it would, we'd be needing to use all this and more sooner rather than later.'

"Are you preparing for war Xan?" Buffy asked as she surveyed his own little arsenal.

"We've been at war for years now Buff," Xander replied seriously, "we've simply never said it out loud before." Buffy nodded after a moment, realising the truth in Xander's words.

"I've raided the army base a few times," he went on, "not including the time Cordy and I got the rocket launcher, as you never know when you might need something. I also acquired a few things on my travels; a friend I met had some of it shipped here when I decided to return full time, and they still have a few things I asked them to keep there, in case they need it themselves or as a back up."

'I could tell that Buffy was warring with herself over whether to be impressed or worried by what she'd discovered; I knew that she had a real distaste for guns, but she also knew that under the right set of circumstances they could come in handy, the Judge being the obvious example. If we found ourselves in a worst case scenario where it was us against The Initiative, having this stuff might mean the difference between winning and losing.

I left her to have a closer look around, hoping that she knew not to pull the pin on a grenade, whilst I got myself ready, mentally going through the plan and making sure that I had what I would need for contingency plans in case things went wrong. Once I'd changed into my fatigues, and assembled everything that I would need, including a couple of gadgets I made myself due to the questions that would have been asked had I got them somewhere else, I was as ready to go as I'd ever.

I looked over to Buffy, and I could see that she was nervous. As I walked over to her, she wrapped her arms around me and mumbled something into my chest that sounded like whether I was sure she couldn't go with me. I knew that it wasn't the Slayer that had asked me that, but the almost nineteen-year-old woman who had stolen my heart from the moment I saw her.

Her voice, as muffled as it was, made her sound so small and unlike the way she normally spoke; I wouldn't have known it was her if she wasn't in front of me. I instinctively held her closer to me, hoping that my closeness would help abate the fears she had. I whispered words of comfort into her ear, doing what I could to make her feel better, but I knew that she wouldn't get over this until I came back.

I assured her that if it were at all possible I would love for to come with me, but that it just wasn't feasible. She said nothing in reply, but she did nod her head after a few moments to indicate the did understand.

We both knew that this is different to what we'd had to do before; normally, I would be able to just go in and simply fight anything that was in the way. When you're dealing with human threats, you have to do things differently; you can't just kill a human because they're in the way, although I had no qualms in doing so if they became a danger to myself or anyone else that I cared about. Like I said before, in a choice between them or us, I'm going to choose us every single time.

We stayed that way for a while, just holding onto each other, before she moved away but not out of my embrace.'

"I love you," Buffy whispered.

Xander kissed her on the forehead and smiled. "I love you too." Knowing that he had to go, Xander reluctantly released her, and then led her to the exit. "I'll see you soon," he promised her, which made her feel better as Xander always kept his promises.

'We parted ways, Buffy going back to Giles', and I went off in search of The Initiative.

I performed the spell almost immediately, making sure that it still worked and to ensure that they didn't see me by chance. Luckily the spell worked; I knew that it would, but I still had a few doubts in my abilities, especially the magical ones.

I walked through the park, watching the sunset and allowing myself to get used to the spell. I didn't feel any different, but with everything that I'm wearing I would expect for people to notice I'm there.

Remembering to get out of the way was also something I had to get used to, as being ignored meant that people could and would walk right into you. Luckily, as it was nearly dark, most people had already gone home, their subconscious knowing not to stay out at night unless absolutely necessary.

About an hour after sunset, I finally found one of the squads out on patrol. Although they didn't notice me, I thought it would be a good idea to keep a distance between us; I didn't want to get caught up in the middle of anything if they encountered any demons.

Strangely, they don't run into any demons during their patrol, which was odd given the recent increase in demonic activity, and they were soon heading back to base. I got closer to them then, knowing that there security doors that would probably close quickly after they entered the facility.

We ended up at a concealed entrance just outside the college grounds, which near to the frat house that they used as a cover. To be honest, I'm surprised that we hadn't seen it before; it was pretty close to where Spike and Buffy had their final confrontation, although I wasn't exactly feeling very observant at the time, and it wasn't exactly invisible.

Anyway, once we were inside I noticed that there was another group that had only recently got back, and that they had a couple of vamps with them. I left the group that I came in with and followed the other group to where they were taking the vamps.

I was so worried about trying to remember the way back, that I forget to look where I walked for a moment, and knocked into someone very familiar.'

"Hey Riley, how are you?" Xander asked innocently. Instead of answering him, Riley dragged Xander into a nearby supply closet. "Last person to pull me into a closet was Cordy, and I have to tell you I don't swing that way," he went on, keeping his voice.

Riley kept switching between anger and laughter for a couple of seconds, before he went for the third option of resignation. His shoulders slumped a bit and he shook his head. "Xander, what the hell are you doing here?" he whispered angrily.

"You guys always talk about this place, so I thought I'd come and have a look," he replied.

Riley glared at him again, but as Xander had been glared at by the best, it didn't have the effect that he'd hoped for. "Xander…"

Knowing that he didn't have time to play about, Xander decide to tell him what was going on. "Fine, I'll tell you. Do you remember OZ?" he asked.

He looked confused for a moment before he answered. "Of course I do, he went out with Willow. What does that have to do with anything?"

"What did you think of him?" Xander could see Riley about to ask something, so he put a hand up to cut him off. "Humour me will you?"

"Nice guy," he answered, "had no problems with him until he cheated on Willow. Never thought that he was the type to stray like that."

"If I were to tell you that he had been captured and brought in here what would you say?" Xander asked.

"I'd say you were talking out of your ass, we don't capture humans," Riley replied immediately.

"But you do capture werewolves," Xander pointed out, and then gave Riley the Cliff Notes version of how he got bit and why he left.

"I can't believe he's a hostile," Riley said with a shake of his head.

"Using the word hostile to categorise demons is like using the word 'dumb' to categorise blondes," Xander explained, hoping that Buffy never found out he said that. "Oz is only a werewolf three nights a month, on the full moon and the nights before and after. The rest of the time he's as normal as you or me, he just has to be careful giving someone a hickie. Oz has found a way to control the change since he left so he doesn't have to be locked up, but the downside is that if he loses control of his emotions he'll transform no matter what day it is. He's my friend and I cannot, will not, let him get cut open and experimented on just because he's different."

"He's a demon, evil," Riley insisted, although Xander could tell that he was wavering.

"Being a demon doesn't mean you're evil, in the same way being human doesn't men you're good. If you let them do this, you're no better than the Ku Klux Klan."

"This is different," he argued.

"How?" When he didn't come up with an answer right away, Xander decided to go for broke. "Because of the minority you are condemning the majority, Oz included. You need to make a choice Riley; follow the rules or follow your conscience."

'I was putting it all on the line now; I knew that if Riley decided against helping me, the commotion I would make in knocking him out would alert everyone I was here, and the chances of me getting Oz out alive went down drastically.

It took a full minute before he spoke.'

"Follow me," Riley ordered, leaving the supply closet.

Xander followed him, and Riley led him to the containment area where they find Oz still in wolf form. He was being shocked at random intervals, causing him to stay angry and making it impossible for him to focus and start his meditative techniques. It looked like there were people around that knew their stuff when it came to werewolves, either that or they just enjoyed inflicting pain for the hell of it.

"Can you shut that off?" Xander asked.

Riley didn't answer, instead he simply walked over to a nearby console and after tapping a few keys, the shocks stopped. Oz stopped growling after a moment, but Xander could see that he was still pacing and unable to think clearly.

"OK, Oz, I need you to concentrate on my voice," Xander told him as he cautiously approached the cage. Oz sniffed at him for a moment, and then padded closer as well, recognising his scent. "I need you to relax and take control like you've been doing for the past couple of months."

Xander continued to talk to Oz, keeping his tone as soothing as was possible and saying anything he could think of that would help calm him down enough to focus his mind and regain control. After a few minutes, Xander could see that Oz was beginning to regain control and revert to his human form.

Once he'd transformed completely, Xander indicated for Riley to open the door and he took some clothes in for him. "You OK?"

"Nothing an Advil couldn't fix," Oz told him. "Why did you come for me?"

Xander looked at him in shock, unable to believe Oz had asked that. "You really have to ask?"

Oz looked at him for a few seconds, before he smiled slightly and shook his head. "Not really. Thank you."

Xander simply waved the thanks away. "No problem. We better get out of here."

"You're not going anywhere Harris!" a voice snapped from behind the trio.

Forrest and half a dozen other soldiers came out of nowhere and grabbed them before they had a chance to do anything.

"Forrest," Xander greeted cordially, "always a pleasure."

Forrest walked over to Xander and punched him in the face. Having been hit by things several times stronger than Forrest on his best day, Xander barely flinched.

"Shut it!" he roared before turning to Riley. "I expected better of you Riley, never thought you'd go turncoat." Not liking being called a traitor, Riley tried to go for him but was restrained. "How can you let that… thing walk around free? His kind is like a virus, and we need to wipe them off the face of the Earth! You are betraying your species, you don't deserve to live, but Walsh has said we can't kill you." He then punched Riley full in the face. "She didn't say we couldn't hurt you though."

Xander and the others could see that the soldiers with Forrest weren't happy with the way he was acting, but they had no choice but to follow orders, as they knew they'd be treated the same way.

"What we're doing here is wrong Forrest," Riley told him, hoping to bring his friend around, "we're acting worse than what we're trying to fight. You have to see that!"

Forrest went and punched Riley hard in the gut, knocking the wind out of him. "Who are you to judge what is right and what is wrong?"

Xander spoke up on Riley's behalf, as he was having trouble speaking. "Same could be said for you."

'For that remark I was rewarded with another punch to the face, and this time I did react to it. It hurt a hell of a lot more than it should, as normal humans don't normally have that much strength.

Forrest was a lot angrier than he'd been the first time he struck me, but that wasn't enough to explain how he was as strong as he was. I also noticed that, although I wouldn't say that I was a powerhouse, I should at least be able to put up more resistance against the soldiers restraining me than I was, and I began to wonder what else Walsh had been experimenting on.'

"I said shut up Harris," Forrest growled, "before I throw you in with a vamp."

Hearing that, Oz tried to go for him, his eyes flashing in anger. "You'll leave him alone!"

Not wanting WolfOz to deal with along with everything else, Xander tried to calm him down. "Oz, you need to stay calm and focussed OK?"

"Don't worry," he assured him, "I can control it enough for my wolf self not to go for you and Riley; these guys, however, will be fair game."

A plan began to form in Xander's head, but he needed to keep the others distracted. "You didn't stop yourself for going for me before," he pointed out.

A flash of guilt appeared on Oz's face before it returned to normal. "You were trying to stop me from reaching my target. Have I said sorry for charging at you yet?"

Xander smiled at him. "Have now."

Forrest pointed a Tazer rifle at Oz, but unlike Riley or myself, he didn't get too close. Something else Xander could use. "I see you begin to change, and I'll shock you so bad you'll fry from the inside out."

Xander looked over to Riley and he could tell what he was thinking. After a moments hesitation, he nodded in agreement. He did the same to Oz who also nodded, realising what he had been doing earlier.

"You won't get the chance," Xander told him.

He suddenly smashed his head back into one of the soldiers holding him, the moved breaking the guy's nose and caused him release his hold on Xander. Before the other one had a chance to react, Xander spun round and threw him over his shoulder towards Forrest, who wasn't fast enough to move out of they and they both fell down in a tangle of limbs.

In the meantime, Riley had knocked out the two holding him and OZ had transformed into the wolf and had thrown the two restraining him flying down the corridor. It seemed that he had quite a lot of control in wolf form, as he didn't go for the kill, only to incapacitate.

"Oz, you better stay in wolf form until we get somewhere safer," Xander told him, "we may need the extra muscle." He nodded, which was more than a little unnerving. Needing another way out, Xander turned to Riley. "I'm guessing they found how I got in; know of a way out?"

Riley nodded and started to run down a corridor, Xander and Oz close behind. As they headed to the exit, the sirens went off and when Riley went to use his access card, it was rejected.

"Shit!" he swore.

Xander indicated for him to move aside. "Don't worry," he assured him, "I came prepared." Xander pulled out a plain black card, and pulled of the plastic strip down one side and placed it into the slot. The acid under the strip reacted with the electronics and shorted the lock out, causing it to open the door.

"How did you do that?" Riley asked.

Xander smirked at him. "Ask me later."

They let Oz out ahead of them, and he cleared them a path until they were outside of the facility and in one of the multitude of caves that travel the breadth of Sunnydale.

About a minute after they started walking through the cave, they spotted the exit and just as they were about to use it, a figure came out of the shadows, the moonlight glinting off the metal it was wearing. When it came further into the light, they could see that it wasn't wearing the metal, it was part of it. It stood a good seven feet in height, and looked like it was a mishmash of robotic, demon and human parts.

Xander thought he had seen some weird shit in the years since he met Buffy, but that took the biscuit. "Riley, have any idea what the hell that is?"

Riley looked over to him and shook his head. "I was hoping you would know," he replied.

They both turned back to look at whatever it was as it came closer to them, and they both took a step back on instinct. Xander could see that Oz was having to restrain himself from charging at it, but he doubted that the werewolf would come out of it in one piece if he did; that thing looked like it could rip them all apart without breaking a sweat, and he didn't want to test that theory out.

"Alexander Lavelle Harris," it intoned, "Riley Augustus Finn, I am ADAM."

'I think we both heard the capital letters in his name, and I didn't know about Riley, but I was starting to think we'd got ourselves stuck in a modern day remake of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

We managed to be mature enough not to snicker at each other's middle names, although it was a considerable effort; come on, Augustus? I never thought I'd hear a middle name worse than mine.

Anyway, we maintained our composure despite everything, which given that we were facing a very large and very deadly looking… thing, wasn't exactly a bad idea.

I didn't like the fact that it knew who we were, as that did not, in any way, mean good things for either of us.'

"What do you want?" Xander asked.

ADAM tuned to him, and it seemed like it was looking through him for a few moments before it spoke. "I want nothing, from you at least." It then turned its attention to Riley. "Mother will not be pleased with you brother, going against her wishes, her plan. Apart from me, you are her favourite, made to be the strongest. I will not stop you brother, you are far too important to the final phase to be hurt. I will come for you when the time is right."

With that it disappeared back into the shadows. Xander and Riley looked at each other and, realising that they were still not out of the woods yet, they made a break for the exit.

They came out of a cave entrance on the outskirts of town, miles from anywhere. "Looks like we got ourselves a nice little run before we're safe," Xander commented.

Wanting to make sure that they had time to get away, Xander placed a C4 charge at the mouth of the cave and, once they were far enough away, detonated it, causing the cave entrance to collapse in on itself, sealing the entrance under several tonnes of rock.

"Was there any need to do that?" Riley asked, wondering whether anyone was trapped under all that.

Xander just looked at him for a moment and Riley relented from asking him anything further. They continued to run, Riley on Xander's left and Oz on his right. After a couple of minutes silence, Xander turned his head to Riley.

"I'm sorry it went that way Riley," he told him sincerely, "I was hoping I would be able to get in and out again without detection. I never meant for you to get involved."

"I know that, but I am involved now, a traitor," he replied glumly.

"You did what was right; we both know that what's going on there is wrong. I find it hard to believe that everything that you're doing is sanctioned, so you can't be charged for betraying illegal orders."

"We're a black ops operation; there are probably only two or three people outside the facility that would have any idea we are actually here. Maggie Walsh has free reign to do as she wishes."

"No one gets that much free reign," Xander countered, "and if I'm wrong, well, that's something we'll just have to change."

'He nodded in agreement, but I could tell that Riley wasn't taking a lot in. I couldn't really blame him really; he'd effectively threw away his career by helping me, and with the way Walsh and Forrest had been acting, he probably had a target on his back.

Saying that, the walking jigsaw puzzle back there said that Walsh had plans for Riley, but I doubted that was any better.

We stopped when we reached the warehouse district, as I knew of a few hiding places around here that Riley could use for the time being. I knew that his 'retrieval' would be on the top of The Initiative's priorities, no matter the reasons behind it.

I handed him a second set of clothes, the ones that I was going to wear once I got out with OZ.'

"Change into these," Xander told him.

"Why?" Riley asked.

"We have no idea whether you're tagged or not," he explained. "I wouldn't put it past Walsh to want to know where you all are at all times." He could see the logic in it and changed clothes. He then gave his fatigues to Oz, who ran off at a sprint with them to hide them somewhere.

Xander indicated for Riley to follow him, and he led him to the warehouse that Spike had used to keep him and Willow captured last year. "I'll come over tomorrow and bring you some clothes and some supplies until we can work out something else."

"Thanks" Riley replied gratefully. "I can't believe it's gone down like this. I had considered requesting a transfer or simply quitting once I knew what was going on; now the best I can hope for is a dishonourable discharge."

"If we can prove that what Walsh has been doing is against orders, we can have her shut down, and you can continue in the military."

"As I said before, she has free reign."

"We both know how many demons you captured, and the amount of experiments that have been conducted. She should have been able to prove or disprove all of her theories by now, and yet she continues. On top of that, there is no way that ADAM could be part of the remit; working out how to subdue demons does not include making a human/demon cyborg."

"You can't say that it was made by The Initiative," Riley argued weakly. Xander could see that he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else, and one look from him caused Riley to nod in acquiescence, no longer trying to hide from the truth. "So now what?" he asked.

"I haven't wanted to do too much about The Initiative, not wanting to risk Buffy and the others. Now they'll be coming for us anyway, we might as well go for broke, especially now we have Frankenstein's grandson roaming round. Willow is the best when it comes to finding information on computers; Oz is the only one I know that could challenge her to the title. If there's a way in she'll find it, and she'll also find whatever it is that Walsh is doing."

"I doubt she'll leave any evidence," Riley commented.

"She's intelligent definitely, but she's also arrogant and overconfident," Xander replied. "She's too sure of her own power to worry about being caught out. You've said it yourself; she's got free reign when it comes to The Initiative, and a group of college kids won't seem like much of a threat, even with recent events. I just hope it won't take too long."


"I don't want to give her time to reach the final phase," Xander said, knowing that although they had no idea what it was, it would not be of the good.

"Anything I can do?"

"Stay low and don't get caught," Xander replied quickly, "they need you for something, so we have to make sure they don't get you."

"I don't like being out of the fight," Riley told him, his tone showing how much of an understatement that was.

"I know how you feel, but if you get caught then it could be all our asses. I also doubt that they need you to make up the numbers at poker night," he pointed out.

Riley nodded in agreement; they both had a feeling that he'd been earmarked for a similar 'upgrade' to ADAM.

"I'll keep out of sight," Riley assured him, "I know their procedures so I can keep ahead of them. Make sure you and the others stay safe as well; you can't save the world if you're dead."

"Will do." At that moment they heard a howl, indicating that Oz had returned. "I've got to go."

He left Riley in the warehouse and went outside to meet Oz. "When we get to Giles'," Xander told him, "you can use my training gear to change in."

'He nodded his assent and we made our way back, not stopping until we got to Giles' place. Our place dammit; I'm going to have to remember that at some point.

As soon as I opened the door, Oz bounded down to the training room to transform and change into my workout clothes, causing the others in the room to jump out of their skin. I knew that they would be big on him, but it would be better than being butt naked in front of everyone, unless you like that sort of thing of course.

As soon as Buffy spotted me, she came running up to me, and almost knocked me over when she leapt at me. I barely caught her in time, but I didn't care; seeing that beaming smile was worth it.

The others kept themselves at a distance from us, realising that we needed our moment. After a couple of minutes, Giles caught our attention by clearing his throat. I carried Buffy to the couch as she seemed to have no desire to get down and carefully sit, placing Buffy on my lap before turning to Giles.'

"Xander are you alright?" Giles asked.

"As well as I can be Giles," Xander replied, "but I'll talk about it in detail later."

Willow and Tara come over and gave both Buffy and him a hug before sitting back down on the other couch. When Oz came back up, he finally noticed that Tara was in the room. This time, instead of acting out of anger, he looked extremely guilty at how he had acted before. Everyone thought that it was the most expressive any of them had seen him, Willow included.

"Tara, I'm so sorry about how I acted," he told her sincerely. "If I knew that I would act that way, I swear I would have stayed away."

'We could all see that he was almost dying inside at the thought of what could have happened. I'm guessing that it took a while for him to have the control on his emotions that he normally had, especially with what he'd been going through the past day or so.

Tara had initially looked terrified of him when he came in, which I couldn't really blame her for as he was in full werewolf form at the time. She was also scared when he came back up, that was until she looked him in the eyes.

She slowly got up from the couch and walked over to him, stopping slightly when she saw him flinch and take a step back. She continued after a moment and was eventually right in front of him. She tentatively put a hand on his shoulder.'

"I-I forgive y-you," she whispered.

This is probably the boldest anyone had ever seen Tara, and Xander was immensely proud of her. Oz looked in her eyes for a moment, and when he could see she was genuine, he got the largest smile on his face the others had ever seen; he was smiling so wide it looked like his face could split in two at any moment.

It actually began to freak them out to see Oz so expressive; it was just so not like him. Tara moved away and sat back down, and was quickly drawn into a sideways hug by Willow.

Oz watched them for a moment before his smile disappeared and he returned to his normal stoic self. "I have to leave," he told them all, although he was looking at Willow when he said it. "I thought that I had control but I don't, and this is the wrong place to be if I lose it."

Willow looked at him with sadness; she no longer had any romantic feelings for him, but she still considered him a friend. "You don't have to…"

He cut her off with a wave of his hand. "Yes, I do. Until I can control myself enough to be able to deal with real life without wolfing out, I'm a liability to everyone around me. Believe me when I say that I don't want to go, especially with what you're having to face at the moment, but I have to for everyone's sake."

Xander could see how it was affecting him and decided to speak up. "I know how hard this must be for you Oz, and I can tell that this is something you feel you have to do. I understand, but I want you to know that you will always have friends here, and if you ever need anything, we're just a phone call away. Phoning in every month or so wouldn't be a bad idea either, just so we can catch up." It wasn't until he had come back that the others had realised that they'd all missed Oz; whether we always get along or not, he'll always be a Scooby. "Don't worry about leaving because of what happened tonight either," Xander assured him as he went on, "it's probably better that you're not here in case things turn nasty."

Xander didn't want to say it out loud, but if things did get bad, he wasn't sure whether Oz would be a liability or not if the pressure got to him.

"Thanks, for everything," Oz said to him again.

"Not a problem, what are friends for?" he replied with a shrug.

Oz went over and shook Xander's hand and gave Buffy a quick hug, and then went over and said his goodbyes to the others, promising to stay in touch more than he did last time he left.

He went to the front door and, after taking one last look at us all, left Sunnydale for the second, but hopefully not the last, time.

"What did Oz mean when he said he didn't want to go 'especially with what you're having to face at the moment'?" Buffy asked once he'd gone.

Xander went on to explain everything that had happened tonight, and the possible ramifications. He also explained what he wanted to do.

"I'm not sure how much I'll be able to retrieve Xan," Willow told him uncertainly, "government agencies are known to use the best security programs available, not to mention I haven't been keeping up with the latest technologies."

"They're only the best because you haven't designed one yet, and you at your worst is still better than most at their best," he told her assuredly, causing Willow to smile at his confidence in her. "We need to try and get Walsh and The Initiative shut down, and if that fails, we need to find as much information on that thing as we can so we can destroy it."

They all just sit there in silence for several minutes, mulling over everything Xander had told them, and the possible repercussions of what he had planned. Giles was the first one able to speak.

"You do realise that you're suggesting we take on, in essence, the US government?" he pointed out.

"We're teenagers," Xander replied simply, "that's the sort of thing we should be doing; 'power to the people' and all that jazz."

Giles laughed at that, surprising everyone but Xander. "I knew I should never have told you about BBC America."

"Well it might come in handy; if everything gets FUBAR we can always relocate to merry old England. Giles can show us Big Ben and Stonehenge, have us eat jellied eels, and maybe even visit the Queen."

"Yes Xander, very droll. What is FUBAR by the way?" he asked.

"Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition," he answered, and everyone agreed that particular phrase summed up what would happen if they failed.


"In all seriousness" Xander went on, "I know that what I'm suggesting is big, but we've never let that stop us from doing what's right before. Knowing what people like Walsh are like, I doubt she'll leave us alone, especially once Forrest is finished telling her how we've been helping her men without her knowledge. That's not taking into account ADAM and this final phase. I know that this is a lot to take in, but we need to make a decision; we can either wait for them to come after us, or we take the initiative, pardon the pun, and go after them first."

'I looked at them all, waiting for their decision. They all look at each other and after a silent communication they all nodded their heads.

Buffy was the one who spoke.'

"We're in."