Prophecies Suck

Chapter One

"What the hell do you think you're doing Xander?"

Now Xander has heard that particular tone of voice before, it's the tone that comes from a very pissed off Slayer. One specific very pissed off Slayer to be precise. The reason he's hearing that tone this time is because she's just seen him charge into and knock down a group of five vamps that were going to attack her.

"Come on Buff, you know that I just love hugs!" he said, his infamous lop-sided grin firmly in place.

There are many things he loves, but not a lot beats killing vampires. As he hit the ground, he managed to stake one on the way down and another in the confusion.

"You could have just asked me you know," she replied, her amusement warring with her anger. That's another things he loves, being able to make Buffy laugh no matter how pissed she is with him.

She has just finished off the two she was fighting and is now running over to help him out.

"You were busy and I didn't want to interrupt, anyway I never want to rush a Buffy-hug," he informed her.

He can't see her but he knows she just rolled her eyes. "Just make sure that you stay alive long enough so I can kill you"

The fang boys and Xander are now up and fighting. To put it more accurately the fang boys are handing his ass to him on a silver platter. He was putting up a good fight, but for every hit he got in they got three in return. Buffy comes charging in and hits one with a roundhouse kick whilst staking another at the same time.

'If there were ever a perfect example of poetry in motion it would be right now. God she looks amazing.' Xander thought as he witnessed the site.

The last Vamp decides to turn and run but Buffy throws her stake and gets it in the sweet spot and all that's left is a swirl of dust.

Now there's just the two of them, Xander resumes the conversation. "Do I get to choose how you kill me? Because if I do I want it to involve a bed and a chocolate sundae."

"Xander!" she shouted indignantly, but with a touch of amusement.

"What?" he asked as innocently as possible. "A man can dream can't he?"

The problem for Xander is that a dream is as close as he will ever be to that scenario, or any scenario concerning the blonde Slayer. He's been in love with Buffy Anne Summers from the moment he first saw her, literally falling head over heels. He's done everything he can to get over her, but the flame that ignited years ago still burns as brightly now as it did then. Throughout, she has only seen him as a friend, spells not included, and even called him 'one of the girls'. If you ever want to destroy a man's self-esteem, calling him 'one of the girls' will do it.

He's brought out of his thoughts as the inevitable argument begins, something that always happens when he does something similar to tonight.

"How many times have I told you don't rush into a fight you can't win?" she moaned acerbically. "You're going to get yourself or someone else killed!" she shouted.

"I've lost count," he returned with a sigh. "Look, they were charging you while you were busy and I stopped them. I even staked two of them!"

"You were damn lucky Xander. Anyway, I knew they were coming and I can handle myself. I am the Slayer after all."

He hates it when she uses that phrase; she says it as though she's invincible. He knows she isn't, having to give her CPR in the Master's lair a prime example of just how vulnerable she truly is. Knowing that this could go on until sunrise, he decides to cut to the chase, something he's not known for doing but he really wasn't in the mood.

"Listen Buff, we both know how this argument ends and we will always disagree. Yes you are the Slayer but all the time I am alive I reserve the right to help my friends out whenever I can, however I can. Before we start, lets just call this one a draw and go home please?"

She looks like she's debating it for a moment before smiling slightly. "I can live with that. Will you be okay to get back?" she asked.

"Yeah, there's nothing wrong with me that a few hours sleep can't fix. I'll see you tomorrow Buff."

"Okay Xan, sleep well," she said before walking off.

He can't help but be captivated by her, moving with the poise and grace she always holds. He himself is limping like a pirate with a peg leg. That is of course until she is out of range. As soon as she is, he starts walking normally; he didn't have a scratch on him and only pretended for Buffy's sake.

There are a few things that he has kept from her, from everyone in fact. The first is that the Harris' aren't actually his parents. They adopted him when he was a baby. Well actually, they found him on their doorstep one day and just kept him for themselves.

He's also known about the nightlife in Sunnydale a far sight longer than he let on, all his life in fact. That is in part due to the fact that he's in fact one of them.

He is a Savox demon, a breed of demon that is neither good or evil, they simply are. They are among the most rare type of demon known to man. That doesn't mean that they're rare; they just don't have much if any contact with mankind.

One of the unique traits of being a Savox demon, especially a pureblood like Xander, is genetic memory. He has the memories of every Savox demon in his family, which works out to be a lot of knowledge. He knows every fighting style known to man, not to mention many that they don't. His strength and speed are almost immeasurable, and short of a nuclear device is impervious to harm. They are all things he has found useful living on the Mouth of Hell.

He isn't however immortal; something that he's glad about. The thought of living forever whilst watching everyone he knows and loves die frightens him terribly. His life span is actually only two to three times that of a normal human, one night he will simply go to sleep and never wake up.

When his 'parents' found out that their 'son' was different, they wasted no time in abusing him, both physically and emotionally. With no physical signs, he could never report them and they knew it, so they made his childhood a living hell.

That was one of the reasons he never told his friends Willow or Jesse, he never thought that they'd believe him. He was also afraid that if they did believe him they'd be scared of him. He wanted to fit in; telling them that he wasn't human wouldn't exactly help with that. That was why he never used his knowledge or abilities in school; he could throw farther, run faster than any jock and could answer even the most complex questions and equations with ease. He would have been the top student in every class, but that would have alienated him from his true friends.

He saw how the people flocked around Cordelia; from the outside looking in it would seem that she had plenty of friends. If you look a little deeper, you would have seen a woman bogged down in superficiality, living a life of no depth and very little meaning. He would rather live the life of a clown with real friends than a lie.

Then there was the fear factor; having the memories of his ancestors gave him intimate knowledge of how cruel humans could be when dealing with the unknown. The thought that he would have been taken from everyone and everything that he knew and experimented on made him hold his tongue.

The moment Buffy and Giles entered their lives, his reason for keeping his origins a secret changed slightly. Their belief that all demons were evil and needed to be killed, although Buffy had made at least one notable exception, was not conducive to being 100 truthful with them. While they couldn't have killed him, he would have been alienated from the only people that had made his life bearable, especially after Jesse died. As time went on, he found it harder and harder to tell them the truth; all the while knowing that every day he waited would only make it worse when they finally did find out.

His decision has hurt him over the years, having to keep quiet when he was told that he wasn't capable of helping Buffy and the others, being kept out of the fight 'for his own good'. He would never hold hat against them, even if he knew that he could have been of assistance if he were 'just' human, as he knew they never did it with malice and honestly believed they were doing what was best to keep him safe.

Then there are the times when he might have been able to do something to save those that are now dead had he shown his true abilities. He's wise enough to know that he would never be able to save everyone no matter how fast or how strong he is, but those 'what if' situation have given him more than a few sleepless nights over the years.

There was also another reason he kept quiet. They all saw him as the normal one of the group, which wasn't all that odd considering the other members, and he had been able to use that at times to remind them why they went out every night and risked their lives. He kept them grounded; had he not they could have all turned out like Faith had and become corrupted by the power they all wielded.

Trust has never been a factor in withholding what he was. While he would never trust a vampire completely whether they had a soul or not, and he sometimes wondered where Riley's loyalties were, he trust Buffy and the other implicitly.

He had always hoped that there would come a time where he would freely tell them all the truth, but circumstances have taken the decision away from him and he can withhold his heritage from them no longer, not when Dawn's life is on the line.

Dawn is Buffy's little sister. She is also a mystical key that can open every door to every dimension that exists. Up until a few months ago she was nothing but a ball of pure energy. A group of monks that were protecting the key used some powerful magic to transform that ball into Dawn and sent her to Buffy for protection. They altered all of their memories so that they would think that she had always been with them.

What the monks had neglected to tell them was that Glorificus, a demon Goddess, wants the Key so that she can go home. Buffy has already gone up against her once and got her ass kicked within seconds. The only chance we have of protecting Dawn is if he fights at his full potential, no holding back.

As hard as it is for him to think, he knows that Buffy and the others don't stand a chance of defeating Glory if he does nothing, and even with his help it's going to be close.

Chapter Two

Deciding that the sooner he told everyone the better, so he resigned himself to explaining everything to them the next night. 'Trying to explain this to Buffy after a row would not be the best idea.' He mused to himself, smiling slightly at his understatement.

The first thing he had to do of course was to explain it to Anya; he felt that he owed it to her to be the first one he told. He also selfishly thought that Anya would be the easiest sell; she had of course been a demon herself, so he didn't think it unreasonable for her to handle the news better than the rest of the group. He was wrong.

"You're a what!" she screamed at him after he had explained everything to her.

"I'm a Savox demon," he repeated, trying desperately to remain calm.

"Why haven't you ever told me before?" she all but growled, her anger clear to even the most obtuse of people.

"I didn't think it would matter," he replied, instantly regretting it when he sees her anger reach supernova proportions.

"You didn't think it would matter! Are you out of your mind?"

"Listen Anya, you're the only person outside of my family that knows. I'm going to be telling the others, but I wanted you to be the first to know."

"I don't care! We are in a relationship and we should tell each other everything about each other whether it would matter or not! I told you all about my time as a Vengeance demon."

Yes, how could he forget those wonderful conversations when she told him in extreme detail about her Vengeance demon days where she would eviscerate or turn her victims inside out.

"I know you have Ahn, but apart from one small detail you know everything about me," he responded, trying to explain.

"One small detail! You're a fucking demon!" she screamed.

"Could you talk a little louder," he replied sarcastically, "I don't think they heard you in Brazil."

"You were supposed to be helping me come to terms with my humanity and you aren't even human! You are actually one of the most feared types of demon known and every other time I have met one of your kind, I was beaten to a pulp. How can that be considered a little detail?" she asked, her tone clearly stating her disbelief about his viewpoint.

"Ahn, those demons you met before were not members of my clan. The Gnil'Sog clan are peaceful, mostly, and from my memories they've never encountered any Vengeance demons. The reason I consider my demonic status a small detail is that to me it is. I have never seen my being a demon as a factor in anything I do. Sometimes I forget that I am a demon, of course then I accidentally crush something…"

"You just don't get it! I always thought I knew you and now I know that you are just like all the men I met before, a liar! I'm leaving you and you better hope that I never get my powers back!"

Anya storms off into their bedroom and begins throwing her clothes into a large suitcase. Xander, more worried about her returning to her wish casting ways than he was about her leaving, tries to calm her down.

"Anya, I'm still the same Xander Harris you went to the prom with, the same Xander Harris you came back to Sunnydale for. I haven't lied to you but I have kept something from you. I'm well aware how tiny the difference is, but there is a difference. You'll find that finding someone who will tell you every detail of their lives is rare in the extreme; most people like keeping a little something back that is all their own. If you want to leave me then I can't stop you, nor would I want to if that's truly what you want, but I never kept it from you to hurt you. Please don't use this to get your powers back. One of the things you will need to know is that there are times when things wont go exactly how you want in life, but that in itself is a big part of living. I can't tell you what to do, but can I at least ask you to think about it for a coupe of days first please?"

Anya hadn't stopped packing her bags during his little speech and had by now packed the majority of her things away, still having her own apartment. She hadn't been ignoring Xander and had instead thought about what he was saying to her. She was still extremely angry with him and knew that she could no longer be in a relationship with him, even if some of what he had said was the truth.

One thing she had held dear above anything else before during and after her stint as a demon was honesty. However she looked at it Xander hadn't been 100 honest with her and she could not stay with someone who could not be completely open and true with her, like she was with him. She knew that he didn't always liked to hear about some of the things she had done, but to keep them from him would be to hide a part of herself and she would never be willing to do that.

When she had talked about getting her powers back, she had said it in the heat of the moment, and if he hadn't have talked to her like he had she might well have gone and done it. Now though she realised that she enjoyed being human, more than she ever had before she became Anyanka, and she wasn't sure that she could return to the way of life that she had before losing her amulet.

While she could talk about the things she had done easily enough, she did feel remorse for some of the things she had done; she still believed that the men that she had hurt or killed deserved to be punished, but she no longer believed that they warranted the extremes that she had gone to when she had interpreted the women's wishes.

She didn't want to concede anything to him, but she knew that he would remain worried about what she might do if she said nothing, and she still cared about him.

"I will think about it." She informed him brusquely to him as she closed the suitcase and carried it out of the bedroom towards the front door. She opens it but, before she leaves, she turns to him and smiles sadly at him. "I will miss the great sex with you Xander."

Before Xander has a chance to say anything more, Anya walks out the door, closing it behind her. He goes back into the bedroom and notices that she had left her keys on the side table. Knowing that he had probably just seen Anya for the last time, he was in no mood to go through anything close to that again, but knew that if he didn't now he might never pluck up enough courage to attempt it again.

He owed it to Dawn to do everything in his power to protect her and that is exactly what he would do, even though he had only known her for a few months. All Savox demons possess a high resistance to magic, which in his case meant that while he received all the memories that the monks had created, they did not overwrite his original memories of that time.

He initially thought that it was some attempt by an evil force to infiltrate an agent into their circle that no one would suspect as a mole, but that quickly went the first time he truly met her. In his opinion, no one evil could create such a pure soul as Dawn Summers and if he has anything to say about it no one evil will ever get their hands on her either.

His resolve reaffirmed, he goes over to the phone and dials the one person he could talk to without having to explain everything. He really only wanted to explain it once more tonight.

"Hello, Rupert Giles speaking."

"Hi Giles it's Xander."

"Ah, good evening Xander, is there something I can do for you?" he asked, curious as to why he would be calling him so late at night.

"There is actually, can you call the others and get them to come over to my apartment right away?"

"I can do that," he replied after a pause, "but would you mind telling me why?"

"I have something to tell everyone, but I only want to do it once. You know that I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."

"I am aware of that Xander," Giles replied warmly, ensuring that the young man knew that it wasn't some trifling topic that was to be discussed, "but Buffy and Willow will want more to go on than that."

"I know Giles, which is why I can't ring them myself. If I did they wouldn't stop until they know and this is something that I need to tell everyone in person."

"Fine," Giles agreed with a sigh, knowing that he was going to be bombarded with questions from both Buffy and Willow, "I will arrange it Xander but I will be expecting a full explanation once we get there."

"Giles, I give you my word."

"That is good enough for me. I'll see you in half an hour then, give or take a few minutes."

"Okay, bye Giles."

Replacing the receiver, Xander looks round the apartment to see whether it was clean enough to hold guests, basically trying to find anything to keep his mind occupied. He knew that, because of the way they will be informed, neither Willow nor Buffy will be in the best of moods.

'They probably won't even say hello and get straight to interrogating me.' He thought to himself, as he starts finding things to do while waiting for everyone to arrive.

Chapter Three

Almost half an hour to the dot later, there's a loud banging on the door. He barely had a chance to open it, when Buffy and Willow barged in, closely followed by Tara and Riley. Behind them were Giles, Joyce and Dawn and the last one in was Spike. Buffy and Willow were acting exactly like he thought they would.

"Alright Xan, what is so damn important that we had to get over here straight away?" Buffy asked, well demanded, angrily.

'I knew it!' He exclaimed to himself.

"Yeah Xander," Willow chimed in, obviously annoyed by the summons. "You ring Giles instead of Buffy or myself, which is strange as you should always ring us first, then all you tell him is that we all need to come over straight away. If this is so important, why isn't Anya here? That's it! You've cheated on Anya and now she's Anyanka and you need us all here to protect you! How could you Xander? Why aren't you talking?"

While Xander had guessed that they might have gone down the route of his being in trouble, he never thought in a million years thought that Willow would ever accuse him of cheating on Anya. She should know more than anyone how cheating on Cordelia nearly destroyed his life, he couldn't, wouldn't ever do such a thing again.

Knowing that getting angry won't help matters, he takes a calming breath before speaking to everyone.

"Good evening Buffy, Good evening Willow, Good evening everyone."

His comment has the desired effect of making them both look a little regretful with the way they reacted, allowing everyone time to take a seat before he began. Needing a couple more moments to compose himself, he foregoes explaining the main reason they're there and turns to Joyce.

"How are you feeling Joyce?" he asked softly.

"I've had better days Xander, but thank you for asking. Buffy had wanted me to stay behind but I wanted to know what it was you wanted to tell us, instead of getting the abbreviated version from her when she got back."

"I wouldn't mind finding out what the hell we're all doing here myself."

Xander looks to Giles with an expression that says 'this is why I called you first' and he decides to take pity on him and intervene on his behalf, although it was more to sate his own curiosity as it was to protect him from Buffy or Willow. He knew how capable Xander was at defending himself, sometimes too good in fact, and it was for that reason that he decided to appoint himself spokesperson for the group, as he would be able to ascertain what was going on with the young man without there being a need for heated words.

"I know that everyone would like to know what is going on Xander…"

"I don't bloody care what Droopy boy has to say," Spike unhelpfully pointed out, cutting Giles off mid-sentence.

"Shut up Spike!" Giles replied in a way that sounded both angry and tired at the same time. It hadn't been the first time he had said that to the chipped vampire and he was sure it wouldn't be the last, once again wondering what he had been thinking when he agreed with Buffy's decision not to stake the bugger. "Now, Xander gave me his word that he would explain everything and if we give him a chance he will be able to. Xander?"

"Thanks Giles. I shall answer the question about Anya first; I have not cheated on Anya, nor would I ever cheat on Anya. I learn from my mistakes. The reason she's not here is that I've already told her what I'm going to tell you so she doesn't need to be here."

Xander didn't want to get into the part where she'd left him yet, knowing that would only detract from the main topic at hand.

"How come Anya gets to know before me or Willow, we're your best friends!" Buffy cried huffily, sounding more like a child than a woman recently entering her twenties.

"Buffy!" Joyce snapped. "Let Xander finish."

She doesn't respond verbally, but she does nod once before leaning back a little more into Riley, a pout on her face visible to everyone.

"Okay. Giles," Xander began, "what do you know about Savox demons?" he asked.

Giles pales slightly and cleans his glasses with his handkerchief. That is a sure sign that he was feeling stressed or uncomfortable about something, which made everyone take notice.

"Savox demons are very formidable and feared throughout the demon world," he explained. "They are not however classified as evil, as they are one of the few types of demon that are born with souls. They are primarily used as bodyguards or assassins for top-level demons. Why do you ask Xander, have you had a run in with one of them?"

"Not exactly Giles," he replied.

"Oh! You've got another demon trying to kill you Xander, haven't you!" Willow accused.

"You've had more demons out for your blood than me, and I'm the Slayer!"

'I really can't believe these two sometimes.' Xander thought angrily. 'I've barely started to tell them anything and they've already put two and two together and made a million. No matter what happens, they always see the worst in me.' No longer able to maintain his temper, he glares at the pair.

"Will you two please shut up and let me finish?"

"Don't speak to Buffy like that!" Riley immediately ordered Xander, getting an impassive stare as his response.

Now Xander liked Riley, on the whole, but there were times when the urge to remove his spine and go all Rawhide on his ass became near unbearable. He tolerated him mostly because he was a far better prospect than most of Buffy's other boyfriends 'of course I've never met Pike to know whether he was a schmuck or not.' but his possessive attitude towards her sometimes grated on his nerves.

"Can everyone please calm down?" Joyce asked the group, getting into the conversation. "At the moment Xander hasn't even begun to explain why we are here and you two are already thinking that he's in trouble. I feel disappointed in you both for thinking so badly of him. Xander, I think it might be best if you got to the point, to preserve my own sanity if nothing else."

"Thanks Joyce. The reason I was asking Giles about Savox demons is purely to see how much he knows and whether what he knows is correct. I can tell you all that as always, Giles is right on the money. The reason I know that is because I am one. I, Xander Harris, am a pureblood Savox demon," he stated dramatically.

The room has now gone so quiet that Xander thought that he could almost hear the hum of the chip in Spikes head. Of course that didn't last long.

"What!" both Buffy and Willow screamed.

"I think you both heard me. I'm a pureblood Savox demon."

"Stop kidding around Xander and tell us why we're really here," Buffy scolded, treating him like a child.

"Yeah," Willow chipped in, "you can't be a demon. You're Xander!"

"You can't be a demon because I can't sense you," Buffy continued. "Spike can you sense him?"

"No Slayer I can't," he replied in a bored tone, but Xander could see he was both intrigued and a little frightened by his revelation, "but if he is a Savox demon I wouldn't be able to."

"Spike is correct," Giles interjected, "Savox demons cannot be detected by any means, which is why they are such good assassins. Xander, although I am sure that you wouldn't be stupid enough to lie about this, can you give us any proof?"

"I was expecting you wouldn't believe me without some form of physical proof, so I thought of a way to do that." He paused for a beat before turning to face his Chosen friend. "Buffy, in the kitchen you will find a large steel bar I took from one of the sites I'm working at. Could you bring it in please?" he asked politely.

Buffy must have been in a state of shock, because she goes to get it without comment and brings it in.

"Okay, bend it into a circle."

"You know I can bend this Xander. How is my bending it going to prove that you are a demon?" she asked, both annoyed and confused.

"Humour me."

Buffy take a while but bends the bar into a circle. She could have bent it in half easily, but to shape it took more control. Once she'd been happy with the way it looked, she had been asked to make it a circle and not an oval after all, she looked towards her recently discovered 'demon' friend with an accomplished but irritated look.

"Right, now what?" she asked testily.

Xander stood up and moved to the far end of the living room. "Throw it at me as hard as you can."

"I'm not going to throw this at you, it'll kill you!"

"Xander you're insane!" Willow declared.

Xander could see that, while Buffy and Willow were the most vocal in their opinion, both Giles and Joyce were thinking similar things, but kept silent about them. Dawn was looking in shock, having to come to terms with her true origins had caused her to withdraw within herself slightly. Hearing that her crush wasn't actually human just added to her shock.

Knowing that he had to use drastic measure to get his point across, he glared angrily at his two female friends and shouts loudly.

"Will you both shut the fuck up and throw the fucking bar!"

That did the trick. Before she could even think about it, Buffy launches the bar-turned-hoop at Xander like a missile, realising as soon as she released it what she had done. Both she and Willow screamed at him to get out of the way but instead he just caught it in one hand then straightened it out to its original shape, as though it were a paper straw and not the steel bar that it was.

Silence reigned for several moments; Xander looking slightly smug at being able to prove that he wasn't a fruit loop and the others looking completely shell shocked. Even Spike had been stunned into silence for a moment, the realisation that he was in the presence of a being far more dangerous than the Slayer, who actually hated him more than almost anyone he had ever met, was not boding well for his continued existence. All of that however was overridden by a sudden thought.

"Sodding hell! I can prove whether he's a demon or not."

Before anyone could register what he said, he had run up and punched Xander full in the face as hard as possible. He didn't shriek in pain from his chip, but he did curse quite loudly due to the crunch everyone had heard, as his fist had broken upon impact with Xander's jaw.

Buffy knew how hard Spike could hit, having been on the receiving end of several before he had become unable to harm humans, and was surprised when Xander hadn't even flinched. The last time Spike had hit her that hard, she had been sent sailing through the air.

"Giles, would you like any further proof?" Xander asked the recently re-employed Watcher.

"Uh, no," Giles responded, "I think that will do Xander."

The silence returned for a couple of beats before the sound of gunfire reverberated through the apartment as Riley fired his Beretta at Xander repeatedly until the clip was spent. As he was about to change it for a fresh clip when he noticed Xander hadn't fallen down yet, Giles had managed to get up and wrestle the gun away from the former soldier.

Xander seemed completely unaffected by the incident, but his face showed a deeply hurt expression as he stared at Buffy and Willow, as neither one had made the slightest move to stop Riley from shooting him.

"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing Riley!" Giles demanded to know from the man, trying not to show how much he had enjoyed hitting him when he disarmed him.

"He's a demon Giles and he needs to be killed!" he stated firmly and loudly.

"It's okay Giles, I'm fine. You're right Riley, I am a demon, but in the entire time we've known each other, have I ever tried to harm you or eat your brains?"

"You eat brains!" Dawn screamed.

"No Dawnie, I don't," he replied with a small laugh. "What I'm getting at is that I haven't tried to hurt or kill you the entire time you've known me, and I've had plenty of chance to do just that. You on the other hand have come into my home with a gun, not exactly the most friendly of actions, and shoot me for no other reason than because I've told you of my true heritage. You got any pillow cases with holes in at home Riley?"

Riley went to go for Xander again, but as he was still restrained by Giles he had nowhere to go.

"Xander, there's no need for this," Giles told him.

"Isn't there?" he replied. "Even Angel didn't get shot at when Riley met him."

Xander had now started to mentally count down the seconds to when Buffy would shout at him again, something that always happened when mentioning a certain name.

"Don't bring Angel into this Xander!" she screamed.

"Why not Buffy? When you found out that Angel was a vampire, sure you were shocked but you soon accepted him and even fell in love with him. This was after knowing him for just a couple of months. You've known me for five years but made no move to stop your boyfriend from firing an entire clip of bullets at me. You don't even seem to be annoyed or shocked that he did it. Do you think that little of me that you don't even care if I get shot?"

"Stop having a go at Buffy Xander!" Willow shouted, defending her best friend.

"Willow, you've known me longer than anyone else in this room and you're my best friend. When you found out that OZ was a werewolf you were shocked but you didn't try to kill him, you even told us not to kill him. However, you also did absolutely nothing to try to stop Riley from shooting me, nor do you seem angry with him. Do you no longer care what happens to me?"

"Xander, I think you are being a little harsh," Giles commented, although it sounded hollow even to his own ears.

By this point, the emotions that Xander had been feeling starts to come to the surface and his eyes begin to well up with tears.

"Giles, I know that what I've just laid on you all is a lot, but you at least still tried to stop Riley from shooting me. Two of the most important people in the world to me didn't and they don't even seem to care. Are you trying to say that I shouldn't be even a little upset?"

Suddenly Dawn jumps up from her position on the floor in front of her mother and hugs Xander as hard as she can. She wasn't sure of much these days; almost every memory she has of her life is fabricated, she wasn't even sure that she was human. Through all of that, there is one thing she knows with certainty and that is that Xander doesn't have an evil bone in his body.

"Xander," she mumbled as her face was pressed against his chest, "I know you're not evil or could ever hurt us!" She then realises that her eye is in line with one of the bullet holes in Xander's shirt and remembers that she'd just seen him get shot. "Oh my god, are you hurt? Are you sure you're okay?"

Xander gently pushes Dawn away slightly so he can look her in the eye, offering her a reassuring smile.

"Yes Dawnie I'm fine. Thank you for believing in me, it's nice to know that at least one person does."

"Xander," Giles began, still keeping himself between Xander and Riley, "I might not be pleased with your keeping this from us, but what you are doesn't change who you are and that is someone I am honoured to call friend."

"Giles is right Xander," Joyce continued, getting up from her position on the couch and making her way over to the young man, "you are one of the bravest and most loyal people I have the good fortune to know. You would never try to hurt us, you would rather die first."

Joyce's and Giles' words seem to get through the fog surrounding both Buffy and Willow's minds as they finally realise that they watched their friend get shot without making the smallest effort to prevent it. They look at each other in unbridled mortification before rushing over and engulfing their friend in a hug that, were he not made of sterner stuff, would have crushed him like a tin can. Dawn had barely been able to get out of the way in time and knew that she would have been suffocating now had she not such quick reflexes.

"Xander I am so sorry! I can't believe I acted like that!" Willow babbled.

"I'm sorry too Xander," Buffy apologised. "We both know that you would never do anything to hurt us."

Xander was still upset with the way they had treated him, both tonight and in the past, but he knew that he had to get over it. There were things far more important to think about at the moment than the way they sometimes treated him, something he doubted would happen again once they realised just what he could do.

"It's okay you two. Giles is right; I was being a little harsh to you. It isn't as though I just told you I stubbed my toe."

As they pull away, Willow notices his shirt finally, more importantly the dozen or so holes that were now in his shirt.

"Oh my god Xander your shirt!"

"That's what happens when someone shoots you Willow," Xander informed her with a slight laugh, "clothes get ruined. Don't worry, I'm fine, they didn't go in."

"What?" she asked, confused by how he could get shot so many times and not have any bullets in him, followed by the shiver of that thought.

"Look on the floor," he instructed them.

Willow, Buffy and Dawn all let go of me and look at the floor. They see twelve flattened bullets. Dawn bends down and picks them up.

"That is so cool! Can I keep em?"

"Yeah Dawn Patrol, you can keep them." As Dawn begins picking up the other bullets, Xander turns to Riley with a glint in his eye. "Riley, that was some good shooting, you're placement is pretty good, I've seen better though. I'm just glad this isn't my favourite shirt."

Riley was about to say something but Giles gets in there first.

"Alright, it might be wise if we all sit and calm down. Xander, I know that you have reasons why you haven't told us before. It might help us all to understand why if you explain them to us, and then tell us why you have finally decided to tell us."

As everyone nods in agreement and takes their original places, Xander smiles at Giles in thanks for getting the topic back on track.

"Okay, first of all I'm not going to apologise for keeping this from you. You all might think that I should have told you from the moment I met you, and you're entitled to that opinion, but I stand by my decisions. I'll start by explaining why I kept it from Willow when we were kids. Basically I wanted to fit in and knew that telling people I wasn't human it would have ended one of two ways; they either wouldn't believe me and think I'm weird, or believe me and run away screaming. Not to mention that there was a good chance that I might have been transferred to some pre-Initiative facility and experimented on. Even as a human I only really had two friends and there was no way I was going to ruin things by telling them what I really was."

"Why didn't you say anything once I knew about the supernatural?" Willow asked.

"You mean why didn't I tell you after Giles explained that all demons are evil and it was Buffy's sacred calling to wipe them off the face of the earth?"

"I didn't say that Xander," Giles informed him defencively.

"So you wouldn't have told Buffy to slay me then?" he asked with a knowing look.

"Well…"

"Exactly. As time went on I began to believe that if I did tell you I wouldn't have Buffy try to kill me, which would have become annoying after a while, but by then you all labelled me as the only 'normal' one of the group. The problem was that you needed someone normal to keep you grounded and I had become that person; suddenly finding out that I was the least normal of us wouldn't have done anyone any good, so I kept my mouth shut, for a change."

"Okay," Buffy started, "I might not like it, but given that I'd have probably kept the whole Slayer thing from you all had I been given the choice, I can understand it. What I want to know is why you've decided to tell us now?" she asked, even though she knew the answer. A rush of warmth filled her at that moment, knowing that she had friends that were willing to do almost anything to help.

"It's because of me, isn't it?" Dawn asked him, tears streaming down her face. "It's because Glory is going to come for me and Buffy can't fight her by herself."

Xander gets up and goes over to the teen kneeling down beside her and making sure that she's looking him in the eye.

"Dawnie, please don't cry, none of this is your fault. We all love you and there is no way any of us are going to let anything happen to you. This is why I've come clean; with me fighting without holding anything back, everything is going to be fine. Dawn, I give you my word that nothing will happen to you. You know that I always keep my word don't you?"

"Yes."

"Well then everything is going to be fine."

Xander gives Dawn a quick hug and then returns to his seat, allowing everyone to process what he had told them. He knew he sounded a little arrogant when he told them he wouldn't apologise for keeping his heritage from them, but he meant what he said and needed to ensure they knew it as well. A laugh causes Xander to look at Spike with a strange expression.

"You know Droopy, this explains a lot," he commented after he remained his composure.

'I'm not sure that I'm going to enjoy this particular conversation.' Xander mused, never liking conversations held with Spike.

"What do you mean Spike?" he asked warily.

"Peaches was always scared of you, ever since that time you forced him to take you to the Master's lair to find Blondie over there."

'Shit.' Xander thought to himself, never thinking that Spike would have known that.

"What do you mean 'forced' him?" Buffy demanded, levelling a class two glare at the master vampire.

"You never told her did you?" he asked Xander, completely ignoring Buffy's question and laser stare. "I'm going to bloody enjoy this!" he crowed, realising how little Xander had really told his friends.

"Spike," Xander growled warningly, "shut up."

"No Spike," Buffy countered with a growl of her own, "tell me what you meant."

Xander realised that there was no way he could prevent Spike from talking without dusting him, and while that prospect made him feel all warm and tingly inside, he knew that Dawn liked him. When he did kill Spike, he needed to ensure he had a feasible excuse.

"Droopy here went to Peaches place, asked him to take him to the Master's lair so he could save you. Peaches basically told him there was no point and to piss off. Droopy didn't like his answer, so he shoved a cross in his face and told him that if he didn't take him where he wanted to go, he'd stake him. So he did."

"Xander, is this true?" Buffy asked softly, not entirely sure whether she wanted to know one way or the other.

'I have no choice but to tell the truth.' Xander realised, especially with someone else in the room that knew the truth.

"Yeah Buff," Xander replied with a sigh, "it is."

She had always thought that Angel had brought Xander along, or that Xander had followed him. Angel had been her knight in shining armour that night and Xander had just a passenger, tagging along as always. Now she was being told that it was the other way round, that Xander was her white knight and her love had to be forced to assist him. She wasn't sure how many more shocks she could take.

"I bet you haven't told her about the hospital either," Spike said smugly, knowing that he hadn't and that now he'd said something he'd have to.

"If you say one more word, you'll be begging for sunlight before I've finished with you!"

The steel in Xander's voice, and the threat/promise he had just delivered to Spike shocks the others in the room, but they ignored both as they were now on a quest to find out everything that Xander had kept from them over the years.

"Xander, what is Spike talking about?" Giles asked.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing."

"Do you really think it is wise to try to hide anything at the moment?" he asked, his tone a little accusatory.

"Honestly, I don't see that it's any of your business. Not only does it not concern any of you, it happened years ago."

"Xander," Joyce started, "I know that having your life dissected like this can be terribly hard to bear, but if you don't do it now you know that neither Buffy nor Willow will let it go until you either tell them what happened or get into another blazing row and not speak to each other for a while."

He knew that it was too late; they all now knew something happened and won't leave it alone until they know all the details. He definitely had to go out and get some supplies for when he was finally allowed to kill Spike, he'd had some ideas on how to do it for a couple of years now and hoped he would get to use them sooner rather than later.

"Fine, I'll tell you. When Buffy was in hospital with the flu, I stayed with her at night in case Angelus showed up. I figured that he wouldn't get a better chance of taking her out and would find it impossible to pass it up. He showed up the night before she dealt with that Der Kinderstod guy with a bunch of flowers, probably intending on leaving them with her corpse. When I got in his way he told me that he's have no problem in killing me to get to her, to which I dared him to give it his best shot. He stared at me for a few seconds, said something and stalked off."

"What were you thinking? You could have been killed!"

"Willow, my worst is better than his best. I was in no danger from the Incredible Sulk."

"What did he say?" Buffy suddenly asked.

"What?"

"What did Angelus say before he left?"

"It doesn't matter now Buff," Xander replied, desperately hoping that she would leave it be.

Buffy is using her own version of the Resolve Face; it was nearly as potent as Willow's, but still effective enough on Xander, who was squirming under her gaze.

"Xander, what did he say?" she asked again, knowing she wouldn't need to again.

"He said 'it must kill you that I got there first'."

Once again silence filled the room. Everyone but Dawn knew what he meant. Riley is looking at Xander like he wants to kill him, even though it was said years ago. Not that Angelus was wrong, it had annoyed him that she had given her innocence to a creature of the night, but it had been her innocence to give away and he really had no right to think otherwise. Once again it's Giles that breaks the silence.

"Good Lord! I've just realised something. Xander, you were the one that stopped the bomb weren't you?"

"What bomb," Willow asked, "I don't remember anything about a bomb? Well apart from the one Xander made to blow up the High School."

"Please Giles, drop it? Unless of course you're as willing to regale us with tales of your youth when you were earning your name of Ripper as you are about telling this little anecdote."

"Xander, the stories of my youth are not ones I am very proud of, which is why I haven't told them. This on the other hand is a story that you should feel very proud of; you not only managed to save all of our lives, but the lives of everyone on the planet."

"I think you're exaggerating a little Giles, where a little means a lot."

"The morning after we fought the Sisterhood of Jhe," Giles began, deciding to ignore Xander completely, "I went down to the boiler room to check on Oz. There was a very large bomb there, and the timer had stopped just a couple of seconds before detonation. If it had completed it's countdown, we would have all been killed and the Hellmouth would have opened. My sources had told me that a gang of zombies were responsible and that it was a High School student who stopped them. I had always thought that it might have been you, especially when I saw that bloody smile of yours when we asked if you were glad you were out of the fight, but I was never able to prove it. What I don't know is how you stopped it?" he asked.

"The truth is that I didn't stop the bomb, Jack O'Toole did. I could have diffused it myself, but I didn't have time to figure it out and he'd been the one to construct it, so I thought I'd cut out the middleman. He was the leader of the zombie gang that I'd later worked out had been hired by the Sisterhood as their contingency plan. I trapped him in the boiler room and we played an extreme version of chicken. For a dead guy his need to survive was pretty great so he disconnected the timer when he realised I wasn't moving. There was no way I was going to let you all get killed. I told him to leave and not come back and didn't hear from him again."

"You wont see him again," Giles informed him, "Oz took care of that. If you remember the day after he was complaining about feeling overly full…"

"Eww!" Willow screamed, realising that she had kissed a man who had eaten a man.

"Indeed."

"Right then," Xander began as he clapped his hands together, "now that everything is out in the open, I suggest that everyone go home and get some sleep."

"You still haven't told us about your time as a stripper," Buffy said with a sly grin.

On hearing that, Dawn's eyes got so wide it looked as though they might fall out of her head.

"Xander was a Stripper!" she screamed.

"As I said to you then Buff, No Power On This Earth Will Ever Make Me Tell That Story!" Xander informed her, patently ignoring the look that Dawn was sending him. "Now if you please, leave my apartment. I'm bushed and need some sleep. I'll see you all later."

"Right you are Xander. Come on everyone," Joyce ordered as she began ushering everyone up and out the front door, "let him get his beauty sleep."

Once they all leave, Xander shuts the door and lets out a sigh of relief. All in all that had gone better than he thought; Riley shooting him simply made it easier for him to do what he had to, and the impromptu 'This Is Your Life' segment of the conversation helped them change the way they viewed him.

Now that was over with, the hard part begins. One had already been done for him, which was in a way a blessing as he really didn't know what he was going to do about Anya, but before he can plan anything else he would have to speak to Giles privately before he talks to Buffy.

Chapter Four

Xander woke up with the sunrise and after the three S's, he made his way to the Magic Box, ensuring that he and Giles would have some privacy for a while before Buffy arrived for her training session.

It had been a couple of days since his revelation, and everyone had been busy with tasks of the normal kind. Anya had gone into the Magic Box and gave Giles her resignation, explaining that they were no longer together and she wanted to leave Sunnydale before she died.

Giles had of course told the others of their break up and they had all phoned and commiserated with him, then berated him for not telling them before. They had reversed their pinion when he reminded them how they had acted that night, which they finally apologised for, and things got back to normal.

He knew that they had only really tolerated Anya because of him; yes she was invaluable for her fountain of demonic knowledge, and she was a natural when it came to business, but he was more than aware that her personality was like vegemite in that you either love it or hate it.

There were things that he knew Giles would want him to explain that hadn't been discussed that night, mainly because he knew Giles hadn't worked them out yet. He knew that Giles would have gone straight to his books and research Savox demons; their strengths and weaknesses. Xander knew that it wasn't to do with working out how to defeat him if her ever turned evil, Giles knew enough about his kind to realise that they wouldn't have too much of a chance, but Giles was nothing if not thorough and he would want to know as much as possible.

Walking into the shop, having used the key that Anya had given him, he finds the shop area empty so after locking the door behind him, he called out. "Giles? Are you here?"

A few moments later, Giles appeared from his office, smiling as he saw Xander. "Yes Xander, how are you this morning?" he asked.

"Same old, same old. Can I have a word, preferably somewhere we'll get a heads up if anyone comes?" he asked.

"Yes, of course. Lets go to my office."

Xander follows Giles into his office, taking a seat the opposite side of his desk. "Giles there are a few things I wanted to talk to you about without the others hearing." Xander began. "The first is that I want you to know that if I knew what Angelus was planning, I would never have let him live. Not killing him when I had the chance will always be my deepest regret."

"Xander, I do not hold you responsible for Jenny's death; that position has been, and always will be taken by Angelus. I know that you would never have allowed what occurred to happen if you had prior knowledge of it."

"Thank you Giles, I really needed to hear that. All I need to do is believe it myself. The second thing I wanted to talk to you about was Dawn. As you have probably worked out, I always knew that Dawn wasn't actually Buffy's sister."

"I had guessed that your resilience to magic would have had an effect, but you have just confirmed it. Did you have no knowledge of her at all?" he asked intrigued.

"I have all the memories that everyone else has," he replied, "they simply didn't overwrite my original ones. It took a day or two to get used to it; I would look at Dawn and remember when I had to baby-sit for Joyce, but at the same time I could remember staying in and listening to the music of pain while tuning out Tony and Jessica have their daily blow up."

"If you knew that Dawn wasn't real, why didn't you say anything?" Giles asked, shocked that Xander would have kept something so monumental from them all.

"There are a couple of reason really," he replied, keeping his tone neutral to ensure he didn't antagonise the other man, "the first being that I didn't think you'd believe me without explaining my demon heritage. I could have tried to explain without that, but I highly doubted that any of you would have believed me."

"You're saying that you said nothing to keep your secret?"

"No, I said that was one of my reasons. Once I had overcome the strangeness of having two sets of memories, I began to observe Dawn to determine why she had been sent to us. I quickly worked out that she was no threat; her heart was simply too pure, and the help of a little diagnostic spell confirmed that fact. The power needed to do what those monks did was immense; anyone with that much power that wanted us dead could have just killed us."

"I had come to the same conclusion myself once we knew Dawn's origin."

"If I had witnessed her doing anything suspicious, or if the spell I cast had found any anomalies, I would have come to you and revealed all, including my own heritage. I would never have kept quiet if I thought any of you would have been harmed."

"I know that and I apologise for suggesting otherwise. I am guessing that you would rather not let Dawn know this?" he pondered.

"She's having such a hard time dealing with everything, she doesn't need to know that as well. The third thing I wanted to talk to you about is the prophecy you no doubt found by now."

The look on Giles' face was priceless and if Xander had a camera with him he'd have captured it for all time.

"I am going to have to get used to your new found intelligence," Giles commented amusedly.

"I would almost find that insulting if you weren't telling the truth. It was always there Giles, I simply felt it wasn't right to use it."

"Yes," Giles mused, "I suppose having thousands of years worth of knowledge at your disposal would give you an advantage in any subject. I take it that the prophecy you are talking about is the one in the Codex?"

"Got it in one Giles. 'The love of the Slayer and the Savox White Knight will bring about the end of Glory, but only through the sacrifice of the Savox White Knight'. Does that about cover it?"

"Yes it does. I take it you have worked out what it means?"

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but it basically means that Buffy will finally return my love just in time for me to die defeating Glory. I've said it before and I've said it again, prophecies suck."

"I never knew that you still had feelings for Buffy?"

"As far as my having feelings for Buffy are concerned, there hasn't been a moment since I saw her that I haven't loved her. I knew that you would remember that prophecy as soon as I told you I was a Savox demon, which was why I came round so early."

"How did you hear of it, was it from the memories you inherited from your relations?"

"No, I found it in the Codex myself a couple of years ago; I've been reading up on them secretly since I met you. I wanted to get a head start as it were."

"We do seem to only find the prophecies not long before they're supposedly meant to come to pass. Why didn't you speak up before?"

"When I first read it, we had no idea that Glorificus was around, so I thought 'Glory' meant 'happiness', which was why I stopped actively pursuing Buffy. There was no way I wanted to be responsible for destroying happiness; there isn't enough in the world as it is."

"That must have been tremendously hard for you," Giles commented.

"You have no idea; being told that the one thing you want in the world will literally suck the joy out of everyone and everything doesn't make you want to go running through the streets screaming 'Eureka!'."

"Quite."

"Anyway, as soon as we found out about Glory and Dawn, I knew that I had to come forward. I didn't talk about the prophecy last night, as the only person I want to know about this other than myself is you. As for being certain it talks about me and not some other Savox demon, someone has already called me Buffy's White Knight."

"Who?"

"Angelus. He called me that during our little 'chat' in the hospital. Who would have thought that Angelus could be useful?"

"Indeed. Okay, I agree with you that the prophecy concerns you, but it also concerns Buffy. Don't you think that she has a right to know?"

"If it didn't talk about my death, or if it didn't come from the codex I would have said yes. She's played a part in a codex prophecy before, and we all know how that went. Buffy will hate the fact that she's in another and we both know that she would devote too much time in trying to find another way."

"Don't you think they should know you're going to die?" he asked.

"If it were from anything other than a prophecy, again I would have said yes. The thought of one of her friends being destined to die will eat Buffy up inside, making her useless to us when it comes to the final fight. It would be worse once she tried to work out a way of keeping me alive; we both know that the only other way to ensure Glory doesn't destroy the world is to kill Dawn. There's no way I'm allowing that to even be considered as an option, and I'm definitely not going to put Buffy in a position where she'd have to choose."

"Xander I understand your reasons behind it, I even agree with some of them, but I still think they need to be told."

"I'm going to die Giles; I'd rather spend however long I have left with people who won't be treating me differently. I'm not sure I could go through having to deal with Willow and the others on a daily basis when all I'll be able to see in their eyes is sadness; it would be too hard for me."

Giles suddenly realises that the young man sitting in front of him, someone he considers his son, is going to die. His tone softens and there is sadness in his voice that's unmistakable.

"I'm sorry Xander. I am having a hard time getting over the fact that you are going to die and there is nothing we can do about it. If you remember I did not take the fact that Buffy was to die too well. I dare not imagine how you have been able to cope with the knowledge all on your own, but I still cannot bring myself to lie to the others."

"Don't worry Giles, I'd never ask you to lie to them about it. They'll have to find out at some point, but I'd rather it would be when there was no turning back. What I am asking is that you don't volunteer the information. I don't need them stressing themselves over something they can't avoid, especially when that something is my death."

"Xander, I realise that this whole situation is not easy for you and I wish that things were different. I promise you that I will not tell anyone about the prophecy, but I will not outright lie about it. If anyone asks me directly about it I will tell him or her what I know."

"That's all I'm asking for," he replied, happy that Giles had agreed to his request.

"There is something else that I feel needs to be discussed. I hate to be blunt about it, but Buffy has never shown any feelings toward you other than friendship."

"Giles, the fact that Buffy's only seen me as 'one of the girls' is something I've been aware of for nearly five years. I also know that if and when she does start to feel that way, she will fight them as much as she can. She won't want to ruin the relationship that we already have, not to mention the fact she is in a relationship with Riley."

"Maybe the prophecy is wrong," Giles suggested, the idea sounding wrong to his own ears.

"But as you have told me before, the codex is never wrong, and that means that at some point soon she'll start to fall in love with me. Buffy may still be alive today, but she did die by the Master's hands, thereby fulfilling the prophecy. That's another reason I don't want Buffy aware of it; as selfish as this sounds I don't want her resigning herself to the thought of falling in love with me, I want her to do so of her own free will with no outside influence."

"I would no doubt feel the same way Xander, there's nothing wrong in wanting her to feel that way because it was her choice and not because she thought she had no other option."

"It's a shame she couldn't have fallen in love with me sooner."

"Why's that?"

"Until last night I was Xander Harris, regular Joe. I was also a guy that Buffy has never looked at twice except where magic was involved. Now that I make Superman look weedy, she's gonna be looking at me like a glass of water in the middle of the desert. How am I going to ever know that it's who I am and not what I can do that attracts her?" he asked, voicing his biggest fear fir the first time.

"Xander, I want you to know how proud I am of you, of you all. I have come to think of you as my children and in that respect I am the luckiest father on the planet. If Buffy does begin to show signs that she feels more for you than friendship, I think you can safely assume that they have nothing to do with what you can do, and everything to do with who you are."

"Thanks Giles, you have no idea what that means to me."

"Xander, I have just realised something; you have not called me G-Man for a few days now."

"I always used that name to distract you when I came up with a good idea. Once I realised I had to tell you all, I started to tone down the way I acted. I've always used humour as a way of deflecting the way I really feel, I know you had all worked that out. You just thought that I was doing it for different reasons."

"I must admit that you did go over the top at times but your knack for easing a tense situation has always been useful."

"Don't worry Giles, the humour hasn't gone completely, I just won't be using in every sentence anymore."

The sound of the front door bell ringing ends their conversation.

"Giles!" Buffy called out. "Where are you?"

"Oh well, we can't leave the little lady waiting now can we?" Xander asked.

"I think I shall plead the fifth on that particular question, for fear of incurring the wrath of the person in question."

They both make their way out of the office, finding not only Buffy, but Willow, Tara and Dawn sitting around the large round table. Xander wasn't too surprised that Riley wasn't there, as he was sure the former military man still didn't know quite how to treat him.

"Xander, you're here early," Willow commented. Xander rarely got up early and was known to sleep like a log.

"Good morning Willow. How nice it is to see you," Xander replied, subtly reminding her that she had once again started a conversation by questioning him.

"Sorry Xander," she said sheepishly, recognising his hint for what it was.

"Don't worry about it," he returned with a smile, knowing she meant nothing by it. He turns his attention to the two Summers girls. "Morning Buff, morning Dawn Patrol."

"Morning Xaanderr," the replied together, fluttering their eyelashes at him. For some reason Xander has always hated they way his name sounds drawn out and once they knew that, they've greeted him like that whenever possible.

"To get to your original question Wills, I knew Giles would want to compare notes as far as my abilities were concerned, so I thought I would get it out of the way. There's still a couple of things he wants to go over but we can do that tomorrow, right Giles?" he asked him.

"Yes, of course Xander," he replied after a moment. Giles was both impressed and disturbed by how well Xander was able to lie; if he had not know he was speaking a falsehood, he would have thought he had spoken nothing but the truth.

Xander knew that Giles really would want to speak to him about his abilities, not to mention the well of knowledge he had inherited from his relatives, so he wasn't actually lying, if you looked at it from a certain point of view. If he was to die soon, he wanted there to be a record of his clan's experiences, and he could think of no one he'd rather have to do that than Giles.

"Now you are here Buffy," Giles began, with what Xander could hear was a mischievous tone, "I thought it would be an idea for you to train with Xander. This way you don't have to worry about holding back. It would also be a good chance for me to see Xander in action."

Xander did his best not to smile at Giles' suggestion, knowing it would only rile Buffy up. He knew that Giles wanted Buffy to learn a lesson in humility and he'd been volunteered to teach it to her. He wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't in some way retaliation for keeping so much from them as well, but he wasn't going to complain.

"You've seen Xander fight before Giles," Willow commented, "and it wasn't much to look at."

Even with everything that happened last night, Willow still can't get the idea of bumbling useless Xander out of her head.

"Will, you've never seen me fight. You saw how I knew you expected me to fight; badly."

"You mean that every time you got beaten up by a vamp or a demon you allowed them to?" Dawn asked, a wicked glint in her eye.

"I didn't think you'd go for that sort of thing Xand," Buffy said, a smirk on her face.

"Well, yes I did allow them to hit me, but not because I wanted them to or because I liked it," he stated emphatically. "Throwing them around like rag dolls would have required an explanation afterwards."

"Come on Xan we all know you're strong, your little demonstration last night proved that, but that doesn't mean you can fight," Buffy stated with complete confidence.

Giles and Xander look at each other and smile. 'I have a feeling that Giles is going to enjoy this.' Xander thought to himself.

"Buffy, I believe your opinion on Xander's fighting skills may well change after your training session," Giles informed his charge, a small but noticeable smirk appearing in his face.

Buffy just shrugs in reply, her entire demeanour screaming that she thought she'd wipe the floor with him. Xander was suddenly feeling a little less unhappy about being the one to teach Buffy what could well be the most important lesson a Slayer could learn; there's always something faster and stronger than you. There was something he needed to do first.

"Before that, I just want to have a quick word with Tara if that's okay?" he asked her.

She seemed to think about it for a few moments before nodding slightly. "S-sure X-Xander."

"Why do you want to talk to Tara Xander?" Willow asked, a hint of both concern and jealousy entering her voice.

"Don't worry, it's nothing bad I promise Wills. Is it okay if we use your office Giles? Buffy needs to do her warm up exercises first anyway, it won't help her much but still…"

Buffy doesn't respond verbally about the dig, but she did stick her tongue out at him. He couldn't help but find her adorable.

"Of course Xander," the older man replied.

"Great! Coming Tara?"

"Y-yes."

Xander leads a nervous looking Tara to Giles' office, leaving the door open so she doesn't feel boxed in. He had been worried last night when she hadn't said anything concerning his revelations; he wanted to make sure that she was still comfortable around him. He didn't think it was as bas as he first thought, as she had gone with him to the office, something he doubted she'd have agreed to if she was wary of him.

"What did you want to talk to me about Xander?" she asked him nervously.

"There's no need to panic Tara," he told her, sensing her nervousness, "I promise. I just wanted to see if you were okay; you didn't say a lot last night, in fact you really didn't say much of anything."

She seemed to calm down once she knew that he simply wanted to talk and went and sat down. She hadn't thought that anyone noticed her lack of input last night, as she wasn't really a talker on most occasions.

"I didn't think it was my place," she told him. She still felt a little like she was on the outside of the group looking in, still seen as 'Willow's girlfriend' instead of Tara Maclay.

"Of course it was your place Tara, you're part of the family," he replied sincerely, kneeling down beside her and placing a hand on her shoulder. "Your opinion matters to me, to all of us in fact."

"Really?" she asked, honestly surprised by that. Not that she thought that her opinion would be dismissed out of hand, but she didn't think that it held much weight either.

"Absolutely. You're my friend Tara and I'm sorry if I've ever made you think differently."

Xander looks at her for a moment before leaning in and giving her a hug. Tara stiffens slightly for half a heartbeat before returning it. Xander has always been a tactile person and he knew that Tara didn't feel as comfortable around men as she did women, not that he could blame her given her family. Maybe one day he'll explain why she hasn't heard from them again.

"I'm happy to hear you say that," she replied happily as he released her.

"Good. So, you okay with everything you found out last night? I hope it didn't bring up any bad memories."

"Well I can't say I was expecting you to tell us you weren't human, but I don't think that makes much of a difference anyway. One thing that confused me was when I cast that spell to hide my 'demon' half. We couldn't see those demons that came to attack us, but we could still see you."

"As Giles said last night, one of the abilities my kind have is being undetectable by any means, mystical or otherwise. For the spell to affect me, it would have needed to detect my demonic status first. So apart from that is everything okay?"

"Yes."

"Before we go back, I just wanted to say that you have been the best thing to happen in Willow's life. I can see how much you love each other and I'm glad you've both found someone that makes you happy. I'm just sorry I haven't said so before, to begin with it was a shock that Willow was into girls. Nothing against you Tara, but she'd never seemed to be interested in women before, although her vampire doppelganger did…"

"Vampire doppelganger?" she asked, cutting him off politely.

"… Long story, you should ask her about it sometime. Anyway, I didn't say anything later on as it wasn't something you just bring up into conversation. Seeing how happy and… content she is, I think that it's the best decision that Willow has ever made."

Tara smiles beautifully at him, once again amazing Xander by how lovely she looked. He definitely thought she needed to smile more and hoped that the better she got along with everyone the happier she'd be, thereby making her smile more.

Xander stands up and offers her his hand, which she uses to help herself out of the chair. They leave the office to find Willow waiting for them, pacing nervously to and fro.

"Is everything okay Tara?" she asked quickly, her eyes flicking between the two.

Xander notices the mischievous look in Tara's eye, something he hadn't seen before, and is surprised when she steps a little closer to him and puts her arm around his waist.

"Everything is fine sweetie, Xander just wanted to tell me that he loves me and wants to go to Vegas and elope."

"What!" she squeaked.

Xander almost swallows his own tongue to keep from laughing at the shell-shocked look on Willow's face and can't help but join in on the fun. Putting his arm around her, he gives Tara a kiss on the top of her head before turning back to his friend.

"I'm sorry Willow, I can't help how I feel. I mean she's so hot!"

Willow looked as though she was about ready to explode. It only takes a few seconds before Tara cracks and begins to laugh. Xander soon follow and it doesn't take long before Willow cotton's on. She pulls us apart and starts to hug Tara.

"How could you do that to me, that's just mean!" she screamed, although she found it next to impossible to keep mad at her girlfriend, especially as close as she was to her.

"Sorry honey, I just couldn't help myself," she replied, tightening her hold on her and hearing a happy sigh in reply.

"I would just like to say that I had no idea she was going to do that," Xander told her, "but I have no guilt about joining in. I would also like to say that I still think that Tara is hot."

Tara's face now blends in perfectly with Willow's hair, while Willow has a smile on her face that tells everyone she's more than aware she's dating a hottie.

Giles and Buffy come out of the training room a moment later, Giles looking tuckered out and Buffy looking happy to have had someone to pummel on nand even happier that another volunteer is waiting.

"Come on Xan," she said brightly after downing a bottle of water, "I'm all warmed up and ready to kick your ass!"

"I've had dreams that begin like that Buff," he replied dreamily.

"Now I'm really going to kick your ass Harris!"

"Whatever you say, Slayer."

"Who do you think you are, Spike?" she asked with a sneer.

"Well I know that vampires turn you on, so if you want to role play that's fine with me."

"Come here and say that!"

"As you wish," he replied.

Buffy glared at him for a few seconds before storming off toward the training room. If she were a cartoon character, there would be plumes of steam coming out of her ears by now.

Turning to the others, Xander finds them all looking at him like he'd just called Lennox Lewis a pansy.

"Do you think it is wise to anger her like that?" Giles asked, worried for Xander despite what he knew he could do.

"She won't fight to her full potential unless she actually wants to hurt me, which only happens when she's angry. She still sees me as just a normal human, something I've never been even when I was pretending to be one."

"Good point. Let's get this over with, I can't wait to see her face," Giles said with a grin.

"Neither can I Giles," Xander replied, a grin on his face matching Giles'.

The other follow Xander into the training room, finding a very pissed Slayer standing in the middle of the sparring area waiting for him. While Xander does a couple of rudimentary stretching exercises, Giles and the others take their places at the side of the room, looking like they were all eager to watch the show.

"Let's see how the great and powerful Sanex demon fairs against the Slayer shall we?" Buffy asked, a large smug grin firmly positioned on her face. Xander was going to have fun wiping that off.

"As you wish," he replied. "By the way, that's Savox demon, little girl"

"Little girl! Let's do this!" she shouted angrily.

"As you wish," he consented as he walked onto the mats.

As soon as he touched the mats, Buffy charged at him full speed, wanting to end it early. She was pissed as hell at Xander, but she really didn't want to hurt him so she hoped she could knock him out with a single blow. As she went to strike him, she suddenly found he wasn't there, and the momentum of her charge caused her to overbalance and topple over. Only her enhanced reflexes allowed her to roll through the fall, otherwise she would have landed in a heap.

"Aww, did the little girlie miss?" Xander asked her in a baby voice.

She doesn't reply, instead charging at him again with a snarl. Once again she finds that Xander seems to simply vanish as she gets within striking distance, and her fast reflexes once again save her from slamming to the ground.

"Are you going to hit me or can I sit down?" Xander taunted, bouncing from foot to foot like a boxer.

She kips up and settles into a fighting posture once more, but this time she doesn't charge, finally working out that approach won't work.

"Why don't you come over here so I can hit you?" she asked, annoyed that she hadn't been able to touch him yet.

"As you wish," he replied, walking over to her.

Once he was about three feet away, he positions himself in a stance that matches her own, a small smile on his face. His expression halts her from attacking for a moment, his gaze soft and warm, making her feel almost safe. She shook her head lightly to snap out of… wherever she had been and returned to the task of beating Xander.

She attempts a leg sweep to knock him to the floor but he dodges it while making it look like he hadn't moved at all. She then tries a roundhouse kick, which again he avoids with the barest movement. For the next couple of minutes she tries everything she knows and he doges and evades it all. What's making it worse is that he's making it look easy and her anger increases exponentially with every missed strike.

"Stay still so I can hit you!" she snapped at him, her patience now gone completely.

"As you wish," he replied, returning to a loose fighting stance.

He does as she asked and kept perfectly still, not even blinking. She hits him with an uppercut and follows it with a kick to the ribs. Neither one even causes him to flinch. She then starts hitting him with combination after combination, and nothing was fazing him in the slightest. After several minutes of constant attack, she'd not been able to get so much as a blink out of him and was losing what little grasp she had on her temper.

"Fight back you son of a bitch!" she snarled.

"As you wish," he replied.

She goes to hit him with a right cross, but he blocks it and counters with a palm strike to the chest, followed by a roundhouse that catches her right on the chin. In the same motion he sweeps her legs out from under her and she goes crashing to the ground. He looked at her worryingly, but relaxes when she sees that she's dazed but otherwise unharmed.

Seeing him distracted, Buffy jumps up and goes for a spin kick, but he traps her leg under his arm before throwing her into the air. She twists through the air and lands gracefully to the ground, just in time to get kicked in the stomach, causing her to double up. He hits her on the back of the neck, dropping her to the ground, and then flips her over and traps her hands above her head before sitting on her legs, effectively trapping her completely under him.

"Get off me!" she ordered, although it took her a few seconds to say anything.

"As you wish," he replied.

He immediately gets up and steps back a few paces, keeping a safe distance between himself and Buffy. He glances over to the others and notices that Giles is smiling widely and Dawn and Tara have their jaws on the floor. Willow looks shocked too, but Xander can see that she was thinking about something. 'She's always been quick on the uptake.' Xander thought to himself.

Out of the corner of his eye he can see Buffy charging at him again; he could have side stepped her again, but he decides to have a little fun and simply stands there. She goes to tackle him but as she connects Xander doesn't move and she bounces off him and slumps to the ground.

"Damn Xand, it feels like I've run into a brick wall! Help me up will you?" she asked sweetly, too sweetly for Xander's liking, but he nods anyway.

"As you wish," he replied.

He offers her a hand, which she accepts to pull herself up. As soon as she does, she kicks him in the side as hard as she can, then kicks him full in the face, all while keeping a hold of his hand so he couldn't get away. Just like before the blows don't phase him, so she does the one thing Xander never thought she'd do; she kicked him as hard as she could in the balls. Xander flinches from the blow, but only through reflex, not because it actually hurt.

When she sees that he's still all right, she actually seems to get madder with him, that is until the moment she realises what she just did. Her expression changes in an instant from anger to shock and Xander could tell that she dearly wanted to apologise for what she'd done, but knew that her pride wouldn't let her.

"Okay, okay, you can stop now Xander," she informed him, making it sound like she was doing him a favour.

"As you wish," he replied, turning away from her and walking over to the others.

As he reaches for a bottle of water from the cooler, he can see that Giles is still smiling, Tara and Dawn still have their jaws on the floor and Willow looks astonished. He turns to look at Buffy and sees she has a look of pure defeat, in fact her entire posture is screaming 'I just got my ass whooped'. Xander hates to see her like that, but it was the only way for her to accept his abilities, and learn that she wasn't invincible.

"Xander, that was wow!" Dawn exclaimed, once she'd relocated her jaw.

"I-I have to a-agree with Dawnie," Tara informed him.

"So Giles," Xander began, "does that give you an idea of my abilities?"

"Yes," he replied, "I do believe that will be sufficient for now Xander."

Xander can see that Buffy is still feeling despondent, so he goes over and kneels down beside her, taking her hand in his.

"Buffy," he began, "I hope you know that I wasn't trying to humiliate you."

"You have a funny way of showing it," she replied grumpily, looking away from him.

He gently cups her chin and turns her head so she has no choice but to look at him, sending her a warm smile. "You are a formidable fighter and you are rightly feared in the demon world. But Glory is a demon goddess, she could destroy this town without breaking a sweat. The only reason she hasn't is because the Key is here and she needs it. If I went one-on-one against her, I would probably last about a minute or two before she would hand you my carcass on a silver platter. I know that you like to face everything head on, but this time we need to avoid a fight unless we have no choice."

"I know you're right Xander," she sighed, "but it's frustrating that this isn't a problem I can fix by killing something. I also know that you would never try to humiliate me, it's just going to take some getting used to not being the strongest person in the group."

"No matter what happens Buff, you'll always be my hero," he told her sincerely.

Willow has been notably silent, but Xander guessed he knew why. One of the things that Xander has learned over the years is that the direct approach doesn't really work with Buffy; she rarely backs down from a confrontation and she can stubbornly keep up opposing your idea even when she doesn't believe it herself. Subtlety is the way to go, and Willow is going to be a part in that. He knows that she's worked out what he's doing by now, and he needs her to be the one to explain it to Buffy. Of course he's not stupid enough to let her know she's part of the plan, she can't keep a secret to save her life.

Xander goes over and sits down next to Willow, putting his arm around her shoulders.

"Are you alright Willow?" he asked.

"Huh?"

"Wills, come on what is it?" he asked again.

"Nothing Xan, honestly I'm fine, better than fine in fact," she replied, putting on a very large grin.

He looks at her for a few seconds; mildly amused by the way she was squirming under his gaze.

"Okay, do you really think I would fall for that?" he asked her.

"No not really," she replied with a sigh, "but I thought I'd give it a shot anyway."

"Tara," Xander began, turning to the brunette, "do you mind if I borrow your girlfriend for a while, I need to have a word with her."

"I-I don't mind Xander," she replied, knowing that he'd be able to get Willow to tell him whatever it is that was troubling her.

"Good. Come along Willow, there's a good girl," he said as he got up.

"I'm not a damn dog you know!" she cried indignantly, although she did get up to follow him.

"Believe me I know, dogs are better trained," he teased as they made their way to the backdoor.

She didn't respond verbally, but she did hit him on the shoulder and when he didn't react she kicked him in the shin.

"Alright already," he told her, "Just because it doesn't hurt doesn't mean it gives you free reign to batter me whenever you like you know."

"Well don't compare me to a dog and it's a deal," she told him, holding out her hand.

"Fine," he replied, taking her hand and shaking once.

Just as they were about to go outside, Buffy calls out to Xander.

"Don't you go too far Xand, I want a rematch!"

"As you wish," he replied with a smile before leading Willow outside, taking a seat on a pile of crates.

"Come on Wills, spill. What is it?" he asked.

"You love Buffy," she stated, getting straight to the point.

Xander knows that for this to work, he can't give in too easy. He also wanted to have a little fun at her expense.

"Yes, I love Buffy. I love you too. I also love Tara, Dawn, Joyce, and even Giles. What's your point?" he asked.

"You know what I'm talking about," she told him, a hint of frustration in her voice. You love Buffy."

"Didn't I just agree with you on that?" he asked, hiding his smirk as best he could.

"Xander don't annoy me! You know and I know what I'm getting at. You don't just love Buffy, you're in love with Buffy."

"Again I have to ask what your point is?" he asked confused, as though she'd just told him that the sky is blue or that water is wet.

"You're not even going to deny it!" she screamed.

"What do you want from me?" he asked, feigning annoyance. "You accuse me of being in love with Buffy, and then when I admit it you shout at me! You have got to make up your mind woman!"

"What are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing," he replied simply.

"What!"

"There is nothing I can do," he informed her. "Buffy is with Riley and unless that changes, which I can't see happening; I won't act on those feelings. I learn from my lessons Wills; I won't go through again what happened with us"

He knew that reminding her of that time would be hurtful to her, but he needed her to know he would never go through something like that again. What they had done was wrong and it had nearly cost them both their relationships, as it was it cost him his. No matter what he thought of Riley, he wouldn't do that to him or anyone else and he knew Buffy wouldn't either.

"How long have you felt this way?" she asked, amazed that she had missed it. But then again, she missed the fact that he wasn't human.

"Since the day Buffy started at SHS," he replied honestly.

"How can that be?" she asked, completely shocked.

"Don't get me wrong, the strength of my feelings for her hasn't been the same all this time. I wouldn't have gone out with Cordy and Anya if they were. My feelings for her started to increase a couple of months ago. Even if Anya hadn't left I would have broken things off with her before too long; it wouldn't have been fair on her if I had stayed in a relationship with her feeling the way I do. All I know is that I will never love another woman before I die. Buffy is it for me, whether she ever finds out or not."

That was as close to the truth as he'd ever get. There's a saying that goes 'if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with', and as horrible as it might sound, that was the situation that Xander was in with both Cordelia and Anya. He had loved both Anya and Cordelia as much as he could, but they'd never been able to knock Buffy off the top spot in his heart. He didn't know if it made him like the other men Anya had cursed in her previous job, but staying single just in case he ever had a chance with Buffy was simply unreasonable in his eyes.

Willow pulls her friend into a hug, feeling bad for him. She knows what it's like to love someone who doesn't feel the same and sympathises with what he was going through.

"Oh Xand, I wish I could do something for you."

'Don't worry Willow you will help. You just don't know it yet.' He thought.

"There is nothing you can do Wills, but it's good to know that you're there for me."

"Always."

"Okay," he said as he gently broke their hug, "lets get you back to Tara before she gets jealous."

"And of course you have your rematch with Buffy to look forward to," she commented with a smile.

"I love her more than life itself but I can't help but enjoy kicking her ass," he said with a smile.

As he goes back inside with Willow, Xander is satisfied that the first part of 'Operation Buffy' is completed. The next part won't be easy, nor will it make him feel all that nice, but he knows that it has to be done.

Chapter Five

Buffy and Xander are walking side by side through the warehouse district. His watch had just beeped indicating that it was noon and as he looked up he couldn't see a cloud in the sky. Any other time, had he been walking with Buffy by his side on such a glorious day, it would have been difficult to find a happier man. While he was still elated that he had some quality Buffy Time, the mood was tainted in his mind by the reason they were there.

It's been a week since Buffy and Xander's first training session, and Buffy has gotten over the fact that there's someone in the group she can't beat, now using it to her advantage as she finally has someone she can go all out against knowing that they'll survive it. Because of this, her abilities have grown greatly, even in such a short space of time. It was good news for her, but very bad news for the vampire population.

Buffy had told Xander that Riley wasn't happy with his training her and had implied that he was only doing it so that he could accidentally injure her. He wasn't too surprised by that; he'd realised that Riley had no problem with Spike because he couldn't harm Buffy, but he had a big problem with him because he could.

He couldn't blame him for wanting to keep Buffy safe, he wanted the same thing, but for Riley to suddenly think he could be a threat when he hadn't thought that about Oz when he found out about his Lycanthropic status grated on his nerves. What was worse was that he could accidentally injure her during one of their practise sessions; he pushed Buffy to her limit each time they sparred as per her request, and the margin for error was slim. It would only take him to lose his concentration for a second and it could end with a hospital visit for her.

When Buffy told him they'd had a blazing row over it, he felt bad that he felt good. It wasn't just that he was happy that Buffy trusted him, although that was more than enough in itself, he felt good that they had a row because it meant they were having relationship troubles.

The thought of coercing her into loving him was abhorrent, and simply out of the question. Ensuring that Buffy and Riley split up made him feel dirty in a way that could never be solved by scrubbing, but it was a feeling he could live with, especially when this was something he would have done anyway given the circumstances. It was that thought that enabled him to stop at their destination instead of simply walking on by.

Buffy had no idea why Xander had asked her to go with him today, only that he wanted to show her something. She had to admit that now she'd got over the whole demon thing, she'd really started to enjoy Xander's company. Having someone to train with that she didn't have to hold back on was a change, she hadn't had that since Angel and even then she wasn't able to truly go all out.

It also gave them both something else in common; she had always got on with Xander and he was her joint best friend along with Willow, but she never felt like they had a connection like she and Willow had. Talking about ways to hone her skills with forms of martial arts that humans had no idea even existed had been fun and hard work, as she'd never really had to learn how to fight before.

She had found that Xander was an excellent teacher; he was patient with her and having someone unbreakable to practise them on was a big help, especially when she made a mistake that could have broken bones on anyone else. She had quickly found that her sessions with Xander were the highlight of her day and she missed him when he wasn't around. She had started at that thought, aware of the connotations of such a thing, but put it down to the fact that she hadn't been hanging out with each other as much as they could have.

When Xander stops outside a building, she looks at it for a moment before turning to him with a questioning look.

"Why are we here?" she asked.

"I thought that you would want to see how I can handle myself against some vampires," he replied, "and this is the perfect place to do that. I wanted to come during the day because it would ensure I got them all."

"If vamps are here why hasn't Giles never told me about it before?" she asked.

"They don't pose a threat to you," he replied simply. "This is a vamp version of a whorehouse."

"Huh?" she asked in confusion.

"Humans and vampires come here and pay to have sex with them or to bite them," he informed her, his distaste for the place evident in his voice.

"That's sick!"

"I agree," he said wholeheartedly, "but they have never posed a threat as the only people that go there do so willingly. I would have taken it out sooner, but that would have raised a few questions that I didn't want to answer. However, now you all know about me I can. By the way, how come Riley isn't here, I would have thought he would have come along, if only to try and protect you from me."

"He's been pretty busy recently," she replied, sounding a little sad. "To be honest, he hasn't really been the same since the Initiative came back."

Xander didn't know much about Riley's attitude following those soldier guys came and fixed what Walsh had done to him, but he did know where he was right now. He just wi… would have loved for there to have been another way to reveal it, but knew that Buffy wouldn't believe it without witnessing it for herself.

"I was hoping to have a word with him," Xander lied. "Since my revelation last week, he's been giving me looks that give me the impression he wants me dead."

That last part had been the truth; he was certain that Riley would have had another go at shooting him if Buffy hadn't confiscated his weaponry.

"I've noticed and I'm sorry about that."

"Nothing for you to be sorry about," he replied kindly.

"I think he still has a problem with there being demons that are not evil. He had the same problem with Angel and Oz."

"I don't think he did Buff; he liked Oz and helped rescue him from the Initiative. I think he knew that apart from those three nights a month, Oz was basically human and therefore not really a threat. As for Angel, it was probably as much to do with Deadboy being your ex as much as it was his demonic nature. It probably didn't help that he was an okay kinda guy."

"You think that Angel is a good guy?" she asked surprised.

"Well, I suppose so, yeah," he replied, physically having to force the words out.

"Then why don't you like him?"

There was one bright and shining reason for why he'd never got on with Deadboy, but he was neither ready or prepared to give her that answer, so he decides to go with the other reasons, which were still valid but not truly complete without it.

"The night I had to force him to help save you cemented his name on my hate list, not to mention his almost non-existent help with anything except cryptic clues before that. The biggest thing though is that he simply wears too much hair gel. I ask you, how does someone with no reflection manage to get their hair to look like that?"

Buffy tries but fails miserably to hide the giggles that are building within her, something she never really felt when someone, mainly Xander, had made fun of her former lover. She realised then that the last of her romantic feelings for the ensouled vampire had finally gone. With that revelation came another one; they were never really friends. Apart from their mutual attraction, they really didn't have all that much in common, something that hadn't made much of a difference when they were together.

'God she looks even more beautiful than normal.' Xander thought wistfully as he watched her, wondering what she was thinking about. He then realised that if they didn't go inside soon, things wouldn't go as planned so he interrupts her train of thought by placing his hand on her shoulder.

"Anyway, lets go in, but I want your word that you will not help me in any way."

"I promise I won't help you, but if they come at me all bets are off."

"As you wish," he replied.

'Why does he keep saying that?' Buffy thought to herself as they made their way inside. The moment she stepped through the large oak doors, she had to suppress the urge to vomit; the pungent stench, a mixture of sex and death, hit her like a tidal wave and it was almost overpowering to her senses. It was another in a list of moments when she hated the fact she had an enhanced sense of smell.

The next thing that hit her were the sounds coming from every room, an unholy choir of moans and groans that bombarded her ears, making her envy the deaf. What made it all the more repugnant was that there were no doors on the rooms, for what reason she didn't know, but it meant that there was no barrier between her and the depravity taking place within each one.

Everywhere she looked there was either bodies writhing together in ecstasy or vampires feeding off willing victims, seemingly getting off on the sensation of having their lifeblood drained from their bodies.

As she became brave enough to scan one of the rooms, she could see where all the doors had gone, they were being used as shutters o all the windows, making it possible for them to operate night and day.

"Are you okay Buff?" Xander asked her gently, knowing what the answer would probably be.

"Right now I'm many thing Xand, but alright isn't one of them. How could anyone do this to themselves?"

"I really don't know Buff, nor do I ever want to."

They make their way upstairs, finding yet more rooms being used by vampires and their 'clients', and Buffy is almost at breaking point. She wants nothing more than to stake each and every last vampire in the place, and then beat everyone else senseless. Once they reach the top floor, Buffy starts thinking that one of the voices coming from the far room sounded familiar. Getting closer she becomes more certain that she knows the owner of the voice, and when she realises just who the voice belongs to whatever self control she had vanished in an instant.

Xander had been watching Buffy for signs that she'd figured out who was in the room and once he had, he'd moved out of her way as she stormed down the corridor and into the room.

There was Riley, on his knees and fully embedded inside a skanky looking vampire, with another vampire licking at a fresh bite wound on his neck.

"Riley, what the fuck do you think you're doing!" she screamed.

All three occupants freeze in mid motion, Riley because he knew he was in it up to his neck, and the two vamps because they just found out they've been fucking the Slayer's boyfriend. Riley quickly disentangles himself from the two 'women' and wraps one of the dirt-ridden blankets round him to protect his modesty.

"Buffy, it's not what you think!" he exclaimed quickly, the panic section of his brain overriding the logical part.

"Riley," she growled, causing all three to move further away from her, "you're fucking one vampire while being bitten by another! What am I supposed to think, you're rehearsing for the grand opening of West Side Story!"

'Ooh, busted!' Xander thought as he watched the spectacle before him. As horrible as he felt for being the person to reveal what Riley had been up to, he didn't have any sympathy for Riley himself. All Riley had to do was have one conversation with Buffy about how he felt, but instead he spat in the face of their relationship and went to find solace in the arms of the undead.

Riley's worked out how stupid his last sentence was and, after casting a quick look at the human equivalent of a volcano, decides to come clean.

"Okay," he sighed, adjusting the blanket slightly as there was a breeze, "it is what you think."

Xander could see that Buffy was ready to do something she'd really regret but really enjoy, so he decides that it would be best for her to get some clean air.

"Buff, get Riley and the other humans out of here and I'll take care of the rest."

"There's no chance in Hell that I'm leaving a single vamp alive before I go!" she stated emphatically.

"You gave me your word Buff," he reminded her gently, "please don't break it over this prick. I promise you that they won't live to regret it."

Riley, who had shown an intelligence otherwise thought lost by changing into his normal clothes, didn't look too happy by the way Xander had called him a prick and got up in his face. Xander had been nice considering everything; if he were going for factually accurate, he would have called him a little prick.

"Stay out of this Harris," he growled, "you're nothing but a stinking demon!"

That last comment was all the reason Xander needed to knock him out, an urge he had been suppressing since the moment he'd shot him. What really angered Xander was that Riley told him to his face that we loved Buffy, and yet he would go out and pay to have sex with someone, something else. He knew that he couldn't really take the moral high ground on the topic, but his infidelity was down to having feelings for two people at the same time, Riley just wanted a quick release. He also knew that he was a demon, but vampires were at the extremely shallow end of the demonic gene pool and only tolerated because of their number.

Buffy resisted the urge to catch Riley as he dropped bonelessly to the ground, only to feel a little guilty at the way his head bounced on the wood floor as he landed. She was both shocked and enraged by what she'd just witnessed, not to mention deeply hurt that Riley would do such a thing to her. Not having time to process everything right now, she slips fully into the role of Slayer and picks his unconscious body off the floor, slinging him over her shoulder. Once she had him in a comfortable position, for her not for him, she made an announcement to the occupants of the building.

"Listen up!" she shouted. "Anyone who can leave without bursting into flames do so now! Anyone that stays will make the mistake of their life!"

After making her warning, Buffy starts to make her way back downstairs, the human occupants following like lemmings behind her. Xander could hear Buffy repeat her statement on the first and ground floors, making sure that everybody had the choice, before leaving the building completely and waiting outside for him.

Xander waits until everyone that's going to leave does leave before he begins; he didn't want Buffy to see just how vicious he could be just yet, especially concerning his preferred method for dispatching Vampires when in need of some stress relief. Turning round, he faces Riley's latest conquests and put them top of his 'soon to be dust' list.

Before either of them know what's happening, he's surging forward and grabbing one of them by the head, violently twisting it before pulling the head clean away from her body, dusting her instantly. The other vamp goes to dodge him, but knows that there was no way of escaping him with the sun high in the sky. She's soon gone the way of her partner, the loud snap and squelching noise indicating her head being ripped off her shoulders before experiencing her final death.

A vamp from another room jumps him from behind, hoping to catch him unawares, but Xander grabs them and throws them forcefully against one of the boarded up windows, sending the vamp through it and allowing the sunlight to do the rest.

Using apiece from the broken door/ window shutter, Xander made quick work of everything without a heartbeat, scaring those with pulses that had been too stupid to listen to Buffy enough to make them run for the hills.

Moving on to the occupants of the first floor, he decided to be merciful and not prolong their deaths, so he unsheathes the bastard sword he had hidden under his jacket and spent the next few minutes pretending to be Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez.

The ones on the ground floor get to experience his second best way of dispatching vamps. He saw it in 'From Dusk 'Til Dawn' and thought he'd give it a go. Using his superior speed and strength, he strikes the closest vamp and punches through their chest and ripping out their heart. Just like in the film, they don't dust when the heart is removed, but they do when he crushes it in his fist. It isn't the cleanest or most efficient method of killing them, especially as his hands get covered in blood and dust, but it does have a disturbingly satisfying quality to it.

Ten minutes after beginning his little scorched earth policy on the inhabitants of the demonic den of inequity, he's finished with a grand total of thirty-five vamps and seven demons of varying origin. After making one more sweep of the building, and using the restroom to wash the blood and grime off of his hands, he goes outside to find that Riley had regained consciousness and was currently at loggerheads with Buffy. As Riley still had the use of his legs so Xander knew that they hadn't gotten physical yet, but eh verbal battle seemed to be in full swing.

"You're a hypocrite!" Riley shouted at what Xander hoped would soon be his ex girlfriend. "You had sex with Angel and that went so well didn't it!"

If you needed proof of inbreeding and that it lowers intelligence, Riley just provided it.

"You asshole! What happened with Angel and I was completely different. We loved each other when we slept together; we had no idea that his curse would or even could be lifted, if we had known we wouldn't have. You're paying vamp whores to fuck and bite you. Don't you dare try and say that I'm a hypocrite!"

Xander found himself finding it a little unbelievable that Buffy and Angel wouldn't have slept together had they known about the clause in his curse; not that they would have intentionally gone out to unleash Angelus onto the world, but that they could have easily gotten caught up in the moment.

"If you had paid more attention to me I might not have had to find it somewhere else," Riley retorted.

Riley knew that he had gone too far with that remark the moment it left his lips, and had pushed their relationship past the point of no return. He really had no idea why he had said that, and would have liked nothing more than the ability to strike that sentence from existence, but he knew that he couldn't and now had to face the whirlwind.

"Lets see; my mother has a brain tumour and my sister is being hunted by a Goddess to open a portal between dimensions, which will destroy the world if opened. I do apologise if these tiny problems stop me from giving you my undivided attention!" she screamed, her tone and demeanour drenched in sarcasm and anger.

"Now you've got Harris he can look after all that and you can spend your time with me. It isn't as though it would matter if he died anyway, he is just a demon after all."

Xander could see Buffy getting angrier and decided that now was the best time for him to step into the conversation. He wanted to show Riley why he should cut out the insults and he'd thought of the perfect way to do it.

"Hey Riley, want to see a neat trick?" he asked.

Not waiting for an answer, Xander turns away from the bickering pair and faces the building. He squats down, grabs the corner of the building and lifts. He can hear the sounds of movement coming from the building and knew that if he wanted to get the desired result he'd have to move fast. Putting in more force, he soon has the building lifting out of the ground and he could hear the gasps of surprise from both Buffy and Riley. He could sense that the building was on the verge of collapse, so with a surge of power he forces the building above his head then pushes up powerfully, sending the building toppling backwards to the ground, where it collapses and sends a large cloud of dust into the air. He turns back and sees both Riley and Buffy staring at him dumbstruck.

"Riley, what's going on between you and Buffy is exactly that, between you and Buffy. It has nothing to do with me, Angel, Dawn or anybody else. If I hear that you're trying to pass the buck again instead of dealing with the real issues, I promise that I will separate every part of you from every other part of you." After delivering his statement, he looks at Buffy with a far softer expression. "Buffy, if you want I'll leave you and G.I. Joe here alone and meet you at the Magic Shop."

Buffy smiles at him but shakes her head.

"Don't worry Xand you can stay, I'll be with you in just a minute." She turns to Riley. "Riley, there is nothing you could say that would justify what you've done or the way you've just talked to me. I can't be with someone who wants me to forget about my family and friends just so they feel more important. We're over; done, finished. If I ever see you again it will be too soon. You aren't needed here, you aren't wanted here, now piss off!"

"You can't mean that Buffy," he said brokenly, "I love you and you love me!"

"You can't love me, or you would've never gone to those things instead of just talking to me like an adult. I may have had feelings for you before, but seeing you in there, doing what you were doing, have destroyed them. Goodbye Riley."

With tears in her eyes, Buffy runs off in the direction of her home, leaving the two men behind. Guessing that he wouldn't have another opportunity to do so, Xander knocks Riley out again before chasing after her, his superior speed making it an easy task.

Once he reaches her, he matches her pace and gently puts a hand on her shoulder. She immediately stops running and throws herself into his arms, crying uncontrollably. He says nothing, simply holding her in his arms and allowing her to cry herself out. Once she'd stopped crying, she pushes back gently and Xander lets her, although he doesn't let her go.

"I'm sure that this is going to be a stupid question, but are you okay?" he asked gently.

"I'm not filled with the joys of spring," she replied, "but I'm going to be fine. Why does every man I know betray or leave me? Do I deserve this?"

"No one deserves to be treated the way Riley has treated you," he stated firmly. "I'm probably the last person you should speak to as far as betrayal is concerned; I've lied to you all from the moment I met you, I didn't tell you about Willow trying to put Angel's soul back, I cheated on Cordelia with Willow. I'm no better than Riley is."

"You're right Xander, you have done all of those things," she agreed. "But you're wrong about being like Riley."

"No, I'm worse," he said despondently.

"You are my best friend Xander. When you didn't tell me what Willow was doing, it was because you knew I wouldn't have gone all out against Angelus and the world would have ended. The whole 'Fluke' thing was as much Willow's fault as it was yours; you were both in relationships and neither one forced the other, not to mention there was an actual attraction between the two of you, instead of meaningless sex like Riley. The reasons you never told us you were a demon were all valid, although it did hurt that you didn't trust us with it."

"You have no idea how many times I wanted to tell you all, but something always came up to stop me. The times when you tried to exclude me from the group 'for my own safety' were the worst; I wanted to tell you then just to rub your noses into it, but I knew that if I did it, would have destroyed our friendships completely. I'm just so grateful that you've not told me to leave."

"There is nothing that could happen for me to tell you to leave," she replied sincerely. "Anyway, you have lived here longer than me so I would have no right to do that. What I'm trying to tell you is that you've always tried to do what was best for us all, not just what was best for you. You're nothing like Riley; you're my Xander-shaped friend. Got it?"

'How can one phrase make you happy and break your heart at the same time?' He asked himself. Every time Xander receives a compliment like that from her, it's like a double-edged sword; on the one hand it made his heart glad that she thought so highly of him, but on the other hand it always cemented the fact that she'd never look at him the way he looked at her.

Hiding his emotions with brutal efficiency, he smiles warmly at her before taking a small step back, no longer able to hold her.

"As you wish. Are you sure that you want to break up with Riley? I know that what he has done is bad, but you love him don't you?"

He had no idea why he'd asked that, especially as he didn't want her to get back with him. Then he remembered that he was her friend, and he needed to know that she had thought about her decision and not just reacted on the spur of the moment.

Buffy had shivered when Xander had released her, missing his warmth even though it was a bright and sunny day. She was also starting to get annoyed by the way he kept answering her in the same way each time, but knew that now wasn't the time to say anything about it. She had been surprised when he'd asked if she was sure about leaving Riley, especially when she had a sneaking suspicion he knew he'd be there today, but knew that he'd put his feelings for the other man aside if she wanted to stay with him.

"I don't think I ever really loved Riley," she began, trying to put her feelings into words, "I cared for him a lot, but I was never in love with him. Now though I feel nothing for him; what he's done is worse than having an affair. With an affair, it would have been someone else that he cared for; I might have been able to forgive him for that over time had he stopped it and came back to me. What he's been doing is nothing to do with love and all about getting a release; he's been paying strangers to have sex with him, even worse is that those strangers were vampires that he willingly let feed off him. I could never stay with a person who could do that."

"Well at least we know he won't be doing that again, what with them out of business now."

"Yeah. Anyway, what you did with that building was amazing! If you've always been able to do that it must have been unbearable to have allowed yourself to get beat up all those times."

"You have no idea how many times I was close to snapping and using my favourite way of killing a vamp," he told her.

"What's that?" she asked, always looking for new ways to do her duty.

"You won't like it. I punch into their chest, pull out their heart and crush it in my hand."

"Eww, that's just gross! I didn't even think that would work!" she exclaimed with a shudder.

"Neither did I until I was out patrolling one night while I was on my 'journey of discovery'. I went to stake a vamp but I realised that I didn't have one in my hand. I punched into its chest and pulled out its heart. I have never seen a vampire as shocked as I had that night. When it went to attack me again, I crushed its heart and it went 'poof'. I admit it is a little gory, but it is the best form of stress relief I have found outside of the bedroom."

Xander suppressed the urge to smile at the way Buffy blushed at his last comment, having always enjoyed getting that sort of reaction from her.

"All this reminds me, how are you doing without Anya?" she asked.

"Okay really," he replied, "although I never figured that she would take my news so badly. I thought that out of all of you, she would have been the most supportive, being an ex-demon herself. I can't really blame her for leaving, I had said I would help her rediscover her humanity when I wasn't even human myself."

"I would have thought that you would be more upset that she was leaving?"

"If I was being brutally honest," he began, "our relationship didn't have much beyond great sex. Don't get me wrong, I did love her and I think she loved me, but she hasn't got used to her human emotions yet. Because of that she couldn't understand what the feelings she had for me meant, or able to gauge how strong they were. I care for her but there was never any real love there, although I know that with time there could have been. She's just too new to our world for anything to happen."

Xander didn't think it was wise to mention her part in his reluctance to commit to Anya, he doubted it would go down well.

"Do you think she'll come back?" she asked.

"I honestly don't know," he replied. "I hope that wherever she does end up, she's happy."

"So do I. I may not have liked her very much," she stated with a small smile, "but she came through for us a few times so I don't wish anything bad to happen to her."

"If she does come back, it might be wise not to wish anything around her until we know she can't fulfil them."

"Do you think she'd go get her powers back?" she asked, worried that she'd come back for them.

"I hope not but she was pretty hurt over everything that happened."

"Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. We make quite a pair don't we?" she asked with a slight laugh.

The question made him pause. Even if it was said as a joke, he knew that if she ever said it for real he'd be the luckiest man on earth. Well, he'd be the luckiest demon on earth. Either way he'd be pretty damn lucky.

"Yes, yes we do," he replied sincerely.

"Okay then, lets get back to the Magic Box," she stated, taking his arm.

"As you wish," he replied.

Chapter Six

It's a couple of days since the whorehouse incident and there's been a lull in vampire activity so everyone has been taking it easy. Since Buffy told everyone about what he'd done to the 'building of ill repute' as Giles put it, Xander has been giving several demonstrations as to what he could do.

Dawn's suggestion of juggling cars had been unanimously rejected, but had given them the idea of going to the local junkyard after dark and watching Xander crush a car with his bare hands. It took a bit longer than it would with the crusher, but that was because his arm span didn't match the length of the car. The looks on their faces once he'd finished told him they didn't mind the wait.

Giles' suggestion of having Xander recite the pledge of allegiance in each language he knows was also shot down, especially when Xander said the number of languages he knew reached five figures. In consolation, Xander had translated a book that the Council had failed to do for centuries. The look on Giles' face was priceless. Xander had told him not to inform the Council until after they'd taken care of Glory, as he didn't want Travers or anyone else turning up and nosing around in his business.

The race against Xander's car went off without a hitch, although Buffy hadn't been too happy on losing, nor on only being a passenger as Xander wanted his car intact when he got it back. To appease Dawn he then bench-pressed the car a few times, her squeal of delight proof of her happiness.

Spike's suggestion of a fight between himself and Xander, saying that he still hadn't been tested by the 'Big Bad', was also a success, for everyone except Spike, who hadn't been able to walk right since Xander 'accidentally' shattered his left leg. Xander had told Spike he hadn't meant it, but the wide beaming smile that was plastered on his face made Spike doubt his sincerity.

When he wasn't working or entertaining the others, Xander and Giles would get together and document everything Xander knew about his clan and his species. Giles had been asking question after question about his abilities and heritage, but he could tell that he was reluctant to ask the questions that were at the forefront of his mind. He decided that today was the day he'd ask them.

They were in his apartment, Xander felt the office a little too formal for his liking, and Giles had just finished asking about his great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother on his father's side, who had quite a reputation in her time that the Council were quite dubious about.

"Out with it Giles," he said to him, seeing that the questions were on the tip of the other man's tongue.

"What do you mean Xander?" he asked confused.

"Ever since you have been asking questions about my families past, you haven't asked the question or questions you really wanted to," he pointed out.

"I am still having trouble getting accustomed to your keen observational skills," Giles told the young man with a shake of his head.

"They were always there, I simply used them in a more discreet way. So having given your subtle confession that I'm right, why don't you ask away."

"I have two questions really. The first is why don't Savox demons ever take power in demon circles. They only ever seem to either protect demons in power or assassinate them."

"Basically it's because we're too smart," he answered without preamble.

"What do you mean 'too smart'?"

"You are never in more danger than when you are at the top Giles," Xander informed him. "As we can almost guarantee a person's safety, we get very well paid for our services. It also gives us more freedom; it's very rare for a leader to be able to go where they want or do what they want. Even if it is almost impossible to kill us, it doesn't mean that they wouldn't have a go. Having to endure one assassination attempt after another would become annoying in the extreme."

"Yes," he replied amused, "I can see how that would. As to my other question I was wondering whether you know if you can defeat Glory?"

"Nope, not a chance in hell," he replied.

"Please Xander, don't beat about the bush and give me an honest answer."

"It's only been a few years but we've finally managed to get you to use sarcasm Giles. This is a day to be remembered," he replied happily.

Giles starts to chuckle before he has a chance to stop himself.

"Yes it is. It is definitely going on my calendar. The reason I asked is that I believe I may have found something that will help you in defeating Glory."

Xander sits up in his chair at that, all of his attention focused solely on the middle-aged Brit.

"Well don't keep me in suspense Giles, tell me what it is," he all but ordered the other man.

"There is a legend of a sword that can defeat gods, called the Sword of Avalon. It was believed to have been used in ancient Greece to defeat the god Ares. As you know, all legends have some semblance of truth within them and so I believe that this sword does exist. I have all of my contacts looking for it and I have contacted Wesley and he is also in search of it," he explained.

"Okay, I'm guessing that there is a 'but' in there somewhere, otherwise you would be telling everyone and not just myself."

"Once again your observation skills are correct. The legend states that the sword can only be wielded by a demon. Also for it to have the power to defeat the god, it will need to take the life force of the wielder," he said.

"Ah, which would seem to be in keeping with the prophecy," Xander mused.

"Indeed. The only problem is that the legend does not describe how to activate the weapon," he replied, his voice making it clear he was unhappy with that particular hole in his knowledge.

"I'm guessing that if it didn't need to be activated, every demon that touched it would die."

"Exactly," Giles replied.

Xander thought for a moment about the prophecy and how it could relate to the sword and had an epiphany.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if the trigger was love."

"Why do you think that?" Giles asked, intrigued by Xander's thoughts on the matter.

"It is the only part of the prophecy that hasn't been explained yet. Also, a weapon like that would only have been made for use in the most dire of consequences; having the trigger to be something common like blood would have been pointless. Another thing is you say that only demons can wield it; demons on the whole are evil and so they would have needed to ensure that only a demon with pure intentions could wield it. It's very rare for demons to experience love, and even if they do, it isn't a love that I believe would count as a trigger."

"You could be right, having an emotion like love as a trigger for a demonic weapon would certainly limit it's use, as well as the type of demon that could wield it. It is a theory at least, once we have it in our possession we shall be able to ascertain whether it is true or not."

"Well now we have that out of the way, I need to get ready as I'm meeting up with Buffy and the others for a picnic. By the way, I may be able to heal Joyce," he told him, making it sound like he'd just thought of it in passing.

"How!" Giles roared immediately, almost jumping out of his seat.

Xander smiled at his response, his smile widening once Giles realised how he'd looked. He'd always been aware of Giles' soft spot for Joyce, something that had been there since their 'moment' during the cursed candy incident. He guessed that it was partly that what stopped him from ever biting the bullet and asking her out, not to mention his fear of Buffy not approving of his attempts to court her mother. Xander wasn't so sure that Buffy would mind, she loved him like a father and would no doubt want her mom to be happy, something that he was sure Giles could accomplish.

"While I don't like to use magic as a rule," Xander began, "I am actually rather powerful in that department as well. As you no doubt are aware, healing spells are normally very dangerous for the caster, as many require transference of life force to work. Luckily you are in the presence of someone who is very hard to kill and doesn't have to stick to human forms of magic. I didn't want to bring it up until I was almost certain that I could be successful, and I am as certain as I can be without actually casting it."

"When will you be doing it?" he asked.

"Tonight," he replied, surprising Giles by how soon it was taking place. "Joyce says that she wanted to talk to me about the whole being-a-demon thing. Since I knew that you'd want to be there, I told her that you'd be there to help explain the ins and outs of everything. That's the same thing I'll tell the girls when I see them."

Xander knew that Giles would have wanted to be present, but might not have wanted to voice it. This way he saved him the trouble, not to mention he needed his help.

"Your ability to manipulate is worrying," Giles commented.

Xander couldn't really blame him for feeling that way, but he hadn't really changed anything as far as how he treated people, he simply made it more obvious.

"I only use it for the greater good Giles," he informed him with a smile, "anyway I didn't want to get Buffy's hopes up. Joyce won't even be aware I am performing the spell until it is completed; I'll perform a glamour spell before we get there so she'll believe that she's having the usual light-hearted conversation that she has had to get used to since we found out about her condition. I'll meet you here at seven as I said we'll be there at seven-thirty, okay?"

"Absolutely Xander," he quickly replied, "I'll see you then."

After seeing Giles out, he quickly had a shower and changed before making his way to the park. It had been a while since they'd done anything as un-Hellmouthy as a picnic in the park and he was looking forward to it. as he approached them he could see that they were all in deep conversation, most probably a conversation that would end the moment he made himself known, so he decided to be a little nosy and sneak up on them, hiding behind some shrubbery nearby.

"He is really starting to piss me off Wills!" Buffy exclaimed annoyed.

'If Riley's causing her any trouble, I'll have to have a 'word' with him.' He thought. He had hoped that Riley was smart enough to know when to let sleeping dogs lie.

"What is Xander doing that has got you so mad?" Willow asked her, concerned that her friends weren't getting along.

'Ah, it seems that I've finally got to her.'. He had to admit that it's taken longer for her to get annoyed than he thought, she wasn't known for her patience.

"You're not still annoyed because he didn't tell us about his being a demon are you?" Dawn asked.

"No Dawnie. Demon or not, he is still Xander and that's enough for me. The reason I'm so annoyed is that almost every time I talk to him his response to me is 'as you wish'. He says it in the same way every time. No matter what I talk about he always manages to get that phrase in. All I know is that if he keeps doing it, indestructible or not I am going to kick his ass!"

Xander could see that Willow was trying her hardest to contain her laughter, knowing exactly what was going on.

"Don't you think that would be rather excessive?" Willow asked her between bouts of giggles.

"Not if I want to keep my sanity," she grumbled in response, annoyed that Willow was laughing at her plight.

Any hold on her laughter Willow had evaporated at that response and fell back, holding her sides in laughter.

"Willow, what's so funny?" Buffy asked grumpily.

Once Willow had managed to regain control of herself, she sits back up and looks at Buffy with an apologetic expression.

"Buffy, what's Xander's favourite movie that doesn't include a lightsabre?" she asked softly.

"The Princess Bride," she relied, "why?"

Xander can see that Tara and Dawn have already worked it out, looking at each other in both shock and surprise.

"Oh!" Dawn squeaked.

"What?" Buffy asked, still oblivious.

"Do you remember what Westley always said to Buttercup in the film?" her sister asked her.

Xander could see a small glimmer of recognition flicker across Buffy's face as she begins piecing it together.

"As you wish," she replied softly.

"And what was it that he meant?"

As the realisation of what Xander had been implying washes over her, a maelstrom of emotions bombard her, almost physically knocking her backwards.

"I love you," she replied in almost a whisper. She turns to Willow with a shell shocked expression on her face. "Are you trying to tell me what I think you are trying to tell me?"

"If you mean am I trying to tell you that Xander loves you," she replied gently, "then yes I am. If you don't then no."

"Oh."

'Oh? Oh? She's just found out that I love her and all she says is oh! Bloody marvellous!' Xander thought frustrated. He didn't really know how Buffy would react once she worked it out, but he had hoped for more than 'oh'. Even anger was better than that, at least then he'd have some idea as to how she felt.

Deciding that this was the best time to make his presence known, he makes his way back to where they'd expect him to come from and jogs over to them.

"Hi guys," he said in way of a greeting, "sorry for my tardiness. You know how Giles is when he gets into something. Buffy, are you okay?" he asked, noticing that she still looked in a daze.

"Huh? Oh, yeah Xand I'm fine," he replied with what he could tell was false enthusiasm. "Could you pass me a bottle of water," she asked, "I'm feeling kinda thirsty."

Xander just couldn't just help himself.

"As you wish."

He passed a bottle from the large portable cooler they'd brought with them to Buffy, who was conflicted on whether to blush or hit him, the former winning out by but only just. He could see that the others were fighting bravely against more laughter and decides to play with them a little.

"Did I miss something?" he asked, faking confusion.

"No Xander, Willow was telling us a funny story as you got here and we are still trying to fight the laughter," Buffy quickly replied, her voice tinged with panic.

"Okay Wills," Xander said as he turned to his friend, "tell me the story. I've always liked a good story."

"What?" she asked.

"The story that everyone found funny. Could you tell me please?"

"Sorry Xand," she replied, thinking quickly, "I only tell a story once a day so you have missed out until tomorrow."

He knew that now she'd thought of a cover story, he'd get nothing out of her so he gives in gracefully.

"Fine," he replied acting petulantly, "don't tell me, I didn't want to hear it anyway." He begins rummaging through the hamper. "What culinary delights do we have today? Ah, peanut butter and jelly, my favourite. The only sandwich that can be classified as it's own food group; Xandercalorific," he exclaimed, holding the sandwich in his hands like it was the Holy Grail of food.

While the others laugh at his antics, Tara nods her head in agreement.

"I have to agree with you there Xander, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the foundation of any balanced diet. Along with Twinkies of course," she commented.

"Tara," he said to her with an awestruck expression, "are you sure that you're a lesbian? The reason I'm asking is that I've suddenly fallen in love with you."

"Xander, stop hitting on my girlfriend!" she cried indignantly, her smile belying her outward anger.

"Hey now witchy woman, I'm not trying to take her away from you. I was thinking more of a time share arrangement actually," he told her with the obligatory leer and eyebrow waggle.

Both witches giggle at his antics, Tara blushing slightly at his remark.

Once everyone is settled down, they begin devouring the remainder of the food and drink, chatting about anything and nothing and purposefully avoiding anything demon related, although anything to do with Xander was deemed acceptable conversation material.

After the food has been eaten and the drink has been drunk, they lounged around for a while, enjoying the opportunity to do absolutely nothing at all, before Dawn gets up and pulls out a Frisbee from her rucksack. The action prompts everyone else to get up and join her, everyone enjoying the simple pleasure of playing catch.

It was soon decided that if Buffy had the Frisbee she had to throw it to Xander, as she seemed to reflexively add a little Slayer strength to her throws, one time literally taking dawn off her feet when catching one thrown above her head. Buffy didn't mind as it meant she didn't have to hold back, even though it annoyed her that Xander was able to catch everything she threw at him, even doing a passable imitation of Michael Jordan when jumping for one of her overly high throws.

Something that did cause Xander some concern was the way that Willow was catching the Frisbee with the help of magic, basically levitating the Frisbee into her hands without making the slightest attempt to catch it normally. Looking at the concern on Tara's face, he could tell that it wasn't the first time that she'd been so free in her magic use, a dangerous road for a witch to travel.

One of his ancestors had become addicted to magic and had to be killed by the rest of his clan, after every attempt to help him failed and he'd started terrorizing towns and villages, killing and maiming innocent people for his amusement. While Willow was nowhere near that level, he could see the warning signs of magical dependency and didn't want to lose Willow to the darkness, even if it meant using extreme methods to ensure it.

After catching another missile like throw from Buffy, he checks his watch and notices that it was getting late and he needed to leave if he wanted everything ready for when he picked Giles up at his apartment.

"Sorry girls, I have to go and get ready to have dinner with Giles and Joyce."

"You never told me why you are having dinner with my mother and my watcher," Buffy informed him, her tone indicating that she wasn't happy that he'd kept it from her.

"I've been having regular dinners with Joyce for the last couple of years. When she got sick I stopped going and now she is felling a little better I thought I'd start up again. Anyway, she wants to talk to me about the whole me-being-a-demon thing. Giles is going along to help explain things from a more adult perspective."

"You never told me you went to see her before," Buffy said a little sadly, wondering why she'd never been told.

"You never asked," he replied simply. "I really have to go now before I'm late."

"How could you be late," Willow asked confused, "you can run faster than most sports cars!" she exclaimed.

"Just because I can do something, doesn't always mean that I should," he informed his friend.

Tara looks at Xander with a knowing expression, making him aware she knew he wasn't just talking about himself. Willow just looked at him like he'd just told her that the earth was shaped like a pyramid.

"Why not? If you've got it, flaunt it!"

"I can't get into this conversation right now Wills," he told her, a slight edge to his voice that was missed by Willow but picked up by Tara and the others, "but believe me when I say that this conversation will be happening soon."

With his last statement hanging in the air, Xander turned and left for home. He knew that Willow didn't get what he meant, but he hoped that would soon change; otherwise drastic measure would be called for.

By the time he got t his apartment, he was running a little late so after having a quick shower and changing into a more formal outfit, he always liked to dress up when going over to Joyce's, he gathered up everything he needed and decided to drive to Giles' to save time. Getting to his apartment just before seven, he knocks on the door a couple of times before letting himself in.

"Giles, are you ready?" he called out, not seeing the other man in the living room.

"Yes Xander," Giles' voice replied from upstairs, "I shall be right with you."

About a minute later, Giles is coming down the stairs.

Before we go to Joyce's I need to let Giles in on what spell I shall be using, as well as cast the glamour spell that will hide our real purpose for being there.

"Alright Giles, the first thing I need to do is cast the glamour, then I will explain the healing spell to you," he explained.

"Why cast the glamour now?" he asked.

"I don't trust Buffy or Willow enough to think they'll leave us alone tonight, so the sooner I cast it the sooner we can talk in private."

"I understand," he replied, more than aware of how nosy both Willow and Buffy can be. "Is there anything you need me to do?"

"Nothing at all – NOITCELLOC NIETSREMMAH DNA SREGDOR EHT – all done"

"I don't think I recognise that incantation," Giles remarked, quite knowledgeable on the subject himself.

"It's something a few of my ancestors have used when they needed to both be seen and not be seen at the same time. The glamour makes anyone we meet believe they're talking and interacting with us, when in fact we're doing something completely different. It also has the added bonus of giving us the memories of what our glamour selves said and did when it is reversed, that way we won't get caught out by anything that 'we' say or do," he explained.

"Quite an ingenious spell, have you used it before?" he enquired.

"Now that would be telling, wouldn't it Giles," Xander replied with a smile.

Giles wanted to press the matter, but wasn't entirely sure he actually wanted to know. After a moment's deliberation, he decides to drop it.

"Quite," he replied dryly. "Now that is out of the way, what is this healing spell you are going to use?" he asked. "I had been looking into healing spells myself, and haven't been able to find one that would be lasting or complete in healing the illness Joyce has, or without causing harm, perhaps even death, to the caster."

"That's because you were looking for spells that a human could cast," Xander informed him, "and as you now know, I'm not human. There's a spell that was used by my Great-Great Grandfather several times in his lifetime that completely cures an individual to 100 health. Not only will it completely heal Joyce of any and all illness, it'll also ensure that the tumour she has will never come back."

"That type of spell is incredibly powerful," Giles warned, "not to mention dangerous for the caster. Are you sure that you will not be harmed?" he asked.

"Giles," Xander began, "you forget I'm a Savox demon. The worst that can happen is that I'll have a slight headache for a few days, which was what happened whenever my Great-Great Grandfather cast it, and he had used it to heal people in far worse condition that Joyce. Also remember that I'm stronger than he was and I'll be perfectly safe, or as perfectly safe as you can get when dealing with magic."

"Are you certain?" he asked again. "Xander don't think that I am underestimating your abilities, it is just that we have no idea when Glory will strike and we need you at full strength if we have a chance of surviving this."

"All the more reason to get this over with now Giles," he retorted. "The longer I wait, the greater the chance that Glory will make her move. Buffy will be able to focus more on Dawn if she doesn't have her mother to worry about."

Giles couldn't fault his logic, he had seen how Buffy's performance had been suffering since Joyce's illness first came to light, although her training with Xander has started to compensate for that. Everyone, even Spike, was worried that Joyce might have ea relapse or even worse, die. Giving them the knowledge that Joyce was going to be fine would give them a morale boost that they all desperately needed.

"I agree with you," he replied finally, "the sooner this is done the better."

"Thanks Giles."

"One thing; why do you need me to help?" he asked. "Willow is more powerful than I am with magic, I would have thought she would have been a wiser choice."

"You are right that Willow is more powerful," Xander conceded, "but we both know that power is only half the equation. Willow doesn't have the control over that power that she should, and until she does I won't be asking her for help. When I cast the spell, there'll be some residual magical energy that will be passed to you for a short time, no more than an hour and nothing that should overwhelm you. I know that you will be able to handle the extra power, we both know that Willow wouldn't."

"I have noticed that she doesn't have the control that she should," Giles commented, still having the occasional nightmare about going blind.

"She is also using it far more than she needs. She was using magic to catch the Frisbee today," he informed the Watcher, "she didn't even try to catch it normally and from the expression that Tara had on her face, that wasn't the first time she's used her magic in such a way. I'm going to have a talk with her soon about it, I just hope that she takes it to heart, as she won't like the consequences if she doesn't agree to curb her use."

"What do you mean Xander?" he asked, a little afraid of the answer.

"I mean that if I she won't restrict her use of magic, she'll leave me no choice but to bind her powers," he told him, the tone in his voice telling Giles he wasn't looking forward to the thought.

"You would do that? You do realise that if you did she would never forgive you."

"I would never forgive myself if I didn't and she hurt herself or someone else," he stated firmly. "She's already very close to the edge Giles; it isn't that big a leap from using magic to catch a Frisbee, to using it to ace a test or tamper with a persons memories. I don't want to do it, but if I don't feel that she can change, I will bind her powers. And I will make it permanent so she can't get Tara or anyone else to reverse it."

"I didn't think that could be done?"

"Strictly speaking it can't," he admitted, "but it's as close to it as possible. I would have to transfer her powers into myself, leaving her completely free of any magical energy. I would then disperse that energy into the Earth, which is where the magic came from in the first place, never to be used by her again."

"I hope that you don't have to do that," Giles stated, hating the thought, "but I will support you if it has to be done. I have seen what happens to people when they are consumed by magic, and I would hate to see Willow go the same way."

"As would I Giles, as would I. I better start telling you about the spell, as we will need to be going soon."

"Right, what do I need to know?" he asked.

"You won't need to help me with the actual spell casting," he informed him, "but I'll need you to double check that I've prepared everything correctly beforehand. I doubt that I will make a mistake, but I'd rather have another set of eyes confirm it, this is too important to make mistakes. I also need you there for moral support; Joyce is very important to me and I don't want anything to go wrong."

"Xander I know how much Joyce means to you and I know that everything will go smoothly. Knowing you like I do, I have complete confidence that this spell will work and that Joyce will be right as rain by tomorrow morning."

"Thank you Giles," he relied warmly. He takes a piece of paper out of the bag he was holding and hands it over to Giles. "Here's a copy of the preparations required for the spell; I thought that this would be easier than trying to explain it to you. It's pretty simple as far as spells of this calibre are concerned, but I'll still feel safer with a second pair of eyes checking that everything happens as it should."

"I wish that Buffy had the same foresight when it came to patrolling," Giles mused. "Speaking of Buffy, how is everything going?" he asked, still a little uncomfortable about the subject but knowing that Xander didn't have anybody else to talk with about it.

"As I expected all in all. Buffy will probably want to have 'the talk' in a day or two, after that it is all down to chance. As I said before, I won't take advantage of her in any way; the decision is completely hers. Any news on the weapon?" he asked, wanting to change the topic as he was still feeling conflicted over the whole thing.

"I contacted Wesley after you left, he said he might have a couple of leads and will be getting in touch with me in a few days," Giles informed him.

"Good, now we better get going before we're late."

On the way to Joyce's, Giles looks over the spell and checks that Xander has everything he needs. When they get there, Joyce greets them and they go to the living room and chat while waiting for the food to be ready.

As 'they' chat, Giles is impressed by the glamour spell placed upon him; he and Xander are actually at the other side of the room discussing the spell, while Joyce is sat on the couch holding a conversation with what looks like to be herself. It was an eerie thing to observe, and he would have been worried for Joyce's sanity if he didn't know the cause. Joyce continues her conversation with their glamour counterparts throughout dinner, putting Giles off his food slightly as she was looking right at him and yet speaking to somebody else.

After dinner they all returned to the living room, Xander and Giles making the final preparations for the spell ensuring that everything they've done everything that the should.

"Xander it would be a good idea for Joyce to be asleep during the spell," Giles suggested, "as she would start to worry when she suddenly begins to glow."

"I can't believe I didn't think of that," Xander replied in an annoyed tone, "I knew having you along would be a good idea. While I start preparing for the spell, couldn't you slip her a Mickey or something?" he asked, his worry over getting everything right clouding his judgement slightly.

"I don't think that drugging her would be the best way to do it Xander," he replied, "as it could react with the other drugs she is having to take. I do know of a spell that will suffice though, which will not interfere with the spell."

"Good idea."

Giles goes over to Joyce and starts to chant, and it isn't long before she begins to look drowsy and not long after that she's fast asleep. By that time Xander is finally happy with the preparations and is ready to begin.

"Giles," he said, "It's time."

Xander sits in a meditative position, centring himself in readiness to begin, Giles doing the same behind him. After about a minute, Xander is ready to begin the spell.

"YLGU EHT DNA DAB EHT DOOG EHT, EROM SRALLOD WEF A ROF, SRALLOD FO LLUF TSIF A."

He repeats the chant over and over, almost making it sound that they overlap each other and coming from everywhere. After about thirty seconds, Joyce's body begins to glow, dimly at first but gaining brightness until her body is enveloped in a blindingly white light.

Behind him, Giles is repeating a meditative mantra to help control of the magical energy entering his body. He would admit to having trouble keeping himself centred, which only made Xander's choice an even wiser one. He hated to admit it, but he knew that Willow would never have been able to control the amount of energy he's receiving, putting the spell and herself at risk.

After a few minutes, the light recedes and Xander ends his chant, knowing that the spell had been completed and was a success. Joyce begins to wake up from whatever Giles did to her, and had resumed her conversation with their counterparts as though nothing has happened. He knew that it would be a good idea to remove the glamour now to prepare to let Joyce know what they did, but he needed to check on Giles first.

"Giles, how are you feeling?" he asked him, worried that the excess magic might have been too much.

"I have felt better Xander," he informed him, "but I will be fine. I have the extra power under control although I am glad it is only temporary. I am guessing that the spell has worked?" he asked, unable to hide his hopefulness.

"Yes Giles the spell worked," Xander replied happily. "Joyce has already woken up and is talking to 'us' again. I think now would be a good time to remove the glamour. As I told you before, we'll receive everything our counterparts have done. It will disorient you for a couple of seconds so get ready."

"Thanks for the warning," he replied.

"Here goes – ERCASSAM EROTSNIAHC DROFTNERB EHT – that should do it."

"What should do it?" Joyce asked him, wondering how he suddenly got to the other side of the room when they'd been talking just a moment ago.

"Joyce, how do you feel?" Xander asked gently.

"I feel good actually, why do you ask Xander?"

"I have something to tell you and I hope that you don't get mad at me. You see I came over here under false pretences. The real reason I came over tonight was to perform a spell that would return you to full health. The reason you feel fine is that your tumour is gone and will never return."

"You can't be serious," she relied, not believing what she was being told.

"I'm very serious. As of this point, you don't have a single thing wrong with you."

"I don't know what to say," she told him, her emotions getting the best of her. The nightmare that was her tumour was gone, never to return, and it was all down to Xander.

"There's nothing to say Joyce," he informed her kindly. "You're a part of my family Joyce and I do whatever's necessary to protect my family."

"Why didn't you tell us you were going to do it?" she asked.

"I didn't want to get everyone's hopes up. I only told Giles because I needed someone to help me with the spell. I knew that it would work but with the luck we have living on a Hellmouth, if I'd told everyone something was bound to go wrong. I'm sorry that we had to deceive you, but I didn't want you to be disappointed if it didn't work."

Joyce gets up, happy to do so free of pain, goes over to Xander and pulls him into a hug. Xander returns it freely; Joyce has been more of a mother to him than anyone else in his life and didn't want to know what a world would be like without her in it.

"I don't know how I will ever be able to repay you," she whispered in his ear, unwilling to break her hold on him. At that moment in time she wasn't hugging her daughter's friend, she was hugging her son and that would never change as far as she was concerned.

"There is nothing that needs to be repaid," he replied softly, also unwilling to release her. "Knowing that you're healthy and happy is all the repayment I need, although a batch of your wonderful cookies would be a bonus," he told her with a smile.

"I can guarantee that you'll have a steady supply for life," she stated.

It was a good thing she missed the look that passed between Giles and Xander at that moment, as she would have known something was up.

"It is good to see you looking healthy again Joyce," Giles informed her happily, entering into the conversation.

"Thank you Rupert," she replied, finally releasing Xander so she could see him, "not just for the compliment, but also for helping in making me well again."

"The pleasure is all mine."

"Okay," Xander began, "I think it's time that you ring your daughters Joyce and give them the good news. I of course will now be leaving, once I've cleaned everything up. Giles, are you going to keep Joyce company while she waits for the whirling dervishes to arrive?" he asked.

"Yes of course, but why do you need to leave?"

"I don't want to get into an argument with Willow as to why I didn't ask her to help with the spell; tonight should be a night of celebration not conflict. Also I've never really been good at the whole taking compliments thing, and I feel that there will be a few forthcoming."

"There is no way that I am allowing you to leave Xander," Joyce told him in a tone he knew never to disagree with. "You are staying and that is final."

'Damn those Summers women and their ability to make me do whatever they want.' He thought, outwardly nodding in acquiescence and sighing. 'At least Joyce doesn't use that on me too often, Buffy and Dawn use it almost non-stop.'

"Good, now I shall ring Buffy and give her the good news," she informed them before going to the phone.

While Joyce goes off to ring everyone, Xander and Giles begin clearing everything up. Xander really didn't want to taint the evening with an argument, so he decided to ask Giles to do something else for him.

"Giles I need you to help me with a little white lie about tonight."

"No Xander I will not take the credit for this," he immediately replied, knowing that Xander might ask something like that.

"I wouldn't ask you to and anyway Joyce already knows the truth. What I need you to do is concerning Willow. We both know she'll want to find out why I didn't ask her to help, so I'm going to tell her that I asked for your assistance as the spell required a mentor or father figure. It isn't exactly lying as that is how I see you, but it should appease her enough to drop it."

"I don't quite know what to say Xander," Giles replied.

"Giles we all see you as a pseudo-father figure, Buffy especially. We may not say it in so many words, but we all feel it. I know that I need to have it out with Willow, but tonight is not the time. So, will you go along with my little deception?" he asked.

"I will do so only to keep the peace, I do not want Joyce to feel anything but happiness tonight."

"It probably isn't my place to say this," Xander began, "but as the only male friend you have on this continent, I think that you should tell Joyce how you feel about her."

"I have no idea what you mean," Giles replied unconvincingly.

"Pull the other one Giles," Xander said, "I can see how you look at her; it's the same look I use whenever Buffy enters a room. Take it from someone who knows, the longer you leave it the harder it will be. You know better than all of us how quickly things can change. At the end of the day the choice is yours but don't waste any opportunity you may have for happiness, you don't know how many you will get."

"Although I still have no idea what you are talking about," Giles responded with a small smile, "I will however think about what you have said."

"That is all I ask, I want everyone to see everyone happy before I'm gone."

Before Giles could reply to that last remark, Joyce comes back into the living room at this point with tears in her eyes. Both men would be worried if they didn't know that they were tears of joy.

"They're going to be here in a couple of minutes. Xander, could you help me in the kitchen please?" she asked.

"Of course Joyce," he replied.

Xander follows her into the kitchen, leaving Giles to finish the clear up. Taking a pack of tissues out of his pocket, he hands one to Joyce who takes it gratefully, wiping her tears.

"Buffy has been keeping me in the dark about the whole Glory situation," Joyce told him. "Dawn is my daughter and I need to know what is happening."

"I won't sugar coat it for you Joyce," he told her, getting a grateful smile in return, "Glory is a demon goddess; virtually indestructible and with almost limitless power. At the moment our biggest advantage is that she doesn't know that Dawn is the key. Once she does know she will be coming at us with everything she has, which at the moment is more than we can handle. I need you to believe that we can and will stop Glory, of that I have no doubt, but we need to be very careful."

"Thank you for being honest with me. Is there anything I can do?" she asked, hating the thought that both of her daughters were in danger.

"The best thing you can do is to act like the wonderful mother you have always been. Both Dawn and Buffy needs some normality in their lives, and you are the best person to give that to them."

"I can do that," she stated, "I am just so worried that something will happen to my two little girls," she said, tearing up again.

Xander didn't think twice about pulling her into another hug, one which she returned fully.

"I give you my word that I won't let anything happen to them," he declared, whispering in her ear.

"I know you won't Xander," she replied, releasing him, "I have always known that you would look out for them."

"They're my family," he replied simply, "just like you are."

"Your parents must be very proud of you," she told him.

"I wouldn't know," he responded a little sadly, "they died when I was young. The people that raised me weren't exactly the most loving in the world."

"I'm so sorry to hear that Xander. I thought that you were very difficult to kill?" she asked, remembering what she'd been told earlier in the night.

"We are," he replied, "but it is possible. I know who did it, but I've never had an opportunity to do anything about it without risking you and the others. They would not take it lying down and they have a lot of power behind them."

Their conversation is cut off short as they hear the front door open. After handing Joyce another tissue, they make their way into the living room, where Joyce is jumped on by her daughters, all three summers women crying tears of joy, soon joined by Willow and Tara.

Once the hugging and the crying subsided, Buffy goes over to Xander and hugs him, Xander trying not to show how much he was enjoying having her so close to him. She releases him after a few moments and looks up at him with a grateful, but confused, expression.

"Why didn't you tell me you were going to do this Xander?" she asked softly, making sure that it didn't sound accusatory in any way.

"I wasn't 100 certain it would work," he replied, "I didn't want you to get your hopes up."

"Thank you for saving my mother's life Xander," she said, before standing on tiptoes and kissing him on the cheek.

Xander can't fight the blush that appears on his face, the whole situation making him feel very uncomfortable but not in a bad way.

"It was nothing really Buff," he replied modestly, "I just did what anyone else would have done in my place."

"It was more than nothing Xander, I will never be able to thank you enough"

Buffy moves aside and is replaced by Dawn, who also pulls him into a hug and squeezes him tightly. She then surprises him by kissing him on his other cheek, turning beet red as she releases him and quickly races up the stairs.

"I think Dawn has a crush on you Xander," Joyce informed him with a smile.

"I doubt that Joyce," he replied, "I'm not exactly crush worthy material."

"I had a crush on you most of my life Xander," Willow informed him.

"You're the exception that proves the rule Wills," he informed her.

Willow and Tara fills the vacancy left by Dawn, both hugging Xander at the same time, before kissing him on the cheek as well.

"You are a good man Xander," Tara said softly in his ear, "don't ever think differently."

"It's difficult to do when everyone tells you otherwise Tara," he replied, "even if I think they're wrong. Also don't forget that I can't exactly be classified as a man, I'm a demon."

As they released him, he could see the expression on Willow's face and knew what was going to happen next.

"There is something I want to ask you Xander. Why didn't you ask me for help with the spell?" she asked. "You know I could have."

"You couldn't have this time Wills," he half-lied, "I needed a mentor or father figure to help me and I couldn't think of anyone better than Giles."

"I still could have helped," she stated stubbornly.

"If I thought you were able to I would have asked Wills, honestly."

He wasn't lying to her; if he thought that she could have controlled having that extra energy coursing through her, he would have asked for her help in a heartbeat. The problem is, he knows she can't deal with the power she already has.

The rest of the night is spent the way it should be, laughing and joking. They were all able to forget, if only for one night, the problems that they're all going to face over the coming weeks. That is something that they all need, for a night like that may not come again for quite a while.

Chapter Seven

It has been a few days since their impromptu party at Joyce's, and things have been relatively quiet on the Hellmouth. Buffy has been patrolling and keeping the vamp population down to a minimum. They haven't heard much from Glory, but they do know that she has been destroying demon hideouts trying to find the key. Her minions have been trying to bribe demons into finding it for them but so far they have been out of luck. Xander knows however that it's only a matter of time until she comes after Buffy and the rest of them to find out where the key is. He has a plan on making that harder for her, but there's something that needs to be done first.

That thing is to talk to Willow about her misuse of magic. He'd waited a couple of days so he could observe her and see ho often she unnecessarily used magic, and it was alarmingly high. She was doing it without even thinking about it, something that is a definite sign that she's become dependent on magic for almost all aspects of her life. He wouldn't be surprised if she'd used magic to pass the test she took last month, he sure as hell knew she hadn't done anything like the amount of studying she used to, she hadn't done as much as he used to and he had a reputation for being the slacker of slackers. As he told Giles, if he didn't think she could change her ways, he'd remove her powers. He had to be ruthless as he probably wouldn't be there to hedge his bets with her.

The last straw came after he saw her making dinner last night only using magic, literally conjuring the entire meal out of thin air. She and Tara had invited him over, something that rarely happened, and had to bite his lip to stop himself from saying anything as he witnessed her magic their dinner to the table. He could see that Tara was extremely worried about it, but was worried about confronting her with it.

This morning he decided that he couldn't wait any longer, so he left a message with Tara a little while ago to ask Willow to come over. A knock comes to the door and when he opens it he's surprised to see that it's Willow.

"Hey Wills," he greeted her, "come in."

"Thanks Xand, Tara said you wanted to talk to me?" she asked.

He ushered her to the couch, not wanting to talk at the door, and suddenly got a puzzled look.

"I left that message with Tara about ten minutes ago, when did you get it?"

"A couple of minutes ago," she replied, "I teleported over once I got it," she informed him as though it were an everyday thing.

"Why didn't you just walk or drive here?" he asked.

"Because teleporting was quicker. What's wrong Xand?"

'She doesn't even consider doing things normally anymore.' He thought sadly. This just gives him even more proof that he needed to talk to Willow about her misuse of magic.

"I am worried about you Wills," he told her, deciding to get to the point.

"Why are you worried about me?"

"You're using too much magic," he stated bluntly, not wanting any misunderstandings to what he meant.

She immediately stands up and gets into a defensive posture, making Xander think that Tara could have said something before after all.

"Don't you start as well! Tara and I have been having this argument for weeks. I don't agree with her and I don't agree with you!" she snapped.

He knew that trying to go at this directly wasn't going to work; her mind was set that she was fine. This meant he had to lay down some groundwork first, trying to change her mindset and hopefully making her realise the error of her ways.

"Do you know why I never joined any teams at high school?" he asked her.

"Because you were no good at sports," she replied automatically, once again forgetting whom she was talking to.

"Wills, I can kick a football a mile and run fast enough to catch it at the other end without breaking a sweat. I could easily win a gold medal in any event at the Olympics without any practise," he explained. "Okay, let me ask you another one; why didn't I ever enter any science fairs or spelling bees, or do well in class?"

"Because you weren't very academic?" she replied uncertainly, sitting back down.

"Wills, I've thousands of years of knowledge in my head," he reminded her, "I'm fluent in practically every human language and dialect, not to mention thousands of demon languages and dialects. Every class I took I could have aced without ever attending a class. I could have easily ruled that school with the minimal of effort."

"Then why didn't you?" she asked, intrigued despite herself.

"It would have been wrong for me to have used my gifts that way," he informed her.

"Why is it wrong to use what you can to get ahead?" she asked, genuinely confused.

Now he knew that he'd got her thinking about things, he needed to start pressing the point. Make her start realising what she's been doing.

"If someone were to give you the answers to a test, would you use them to pass that test?"

"Of course not," she replied angrily, "that would be cheating."

He could see that as soon as she'd answered him, there was a flicker of realisation what he was talking about.

"That's what it felt like for me every time we had a test. I knew the answers without having to work them out. If I'd used my knowledge, it would have been the same as cheating. The same goes for my physical abilities, if I'd used them I would have been cheating everyone who'd put in a lot of time and hard work."

He can tell Willow understands what he was trying to tell her, but that damn stubborn streak she has is fighting it tooth and nail, her belief that she was right overshadowing everything else.

"What does that have to do with me?"

"I have seen you use your magic to turn lights on and off, to open and close curtains, to catch Frisbees. Every time you use magic to do something you can do normally, you are cheating. Every time you misuse your magic you go further down a road you don't want to go down, the more you do it the harder you will find it to get back to the right path"

"I'm not harming anyone, why does it matter that I'm using magic to do a few things quicker?"

"You aren't just using the magic to do things quicker anymore Wills," he gently, but firmly, told her. "I know that you're starting to use magic for the sake of it because you enjoy the feeling it gives you. Soon the feeling you get won't be enough, and you'll start to do more powerful magic, until that isn't enough and you start to do even more powerful magic. Soon you won't even be able to control yourself and will start to harm yourself and others in the quest to maintain the feeling."

"I won't let it get that far," she replied, although the tremble in her voice told him she wasn't so sure about that.

He could tell that she was wavering, but before he could help her, he knew that she had to admit she needed help. No one can be forced to change, they had to be willing to put the effort in otherwise it would be pointless.

"The more you misuse magic," he explained, "the harder it'll be to finally stop. If I left you to do this alone, by the time you realise you have a problem it'll be too late. My ancestors have seen people consumed by magic and the only way to stop them was to kill them. I don't want that to happen to you."

Willow is crying now, his words and his tone breaking through her defences and reaching the core of her being, the place where she knew she needed help and desperately wanted to ask for it. If there's one thing Xander can't stand, it's to see one of 'his girls' crying, so he pulse her to him, Willow collapsing into his arms. She grips him like a life preserver, soaking his shirt with her tears.

"Willow," he began soothingly, gently rocking her back and forth like he used to when they were younger and she was crying, "you are my oldest and closest friend and I love you more than life itself. I would never say this to you if I didn't truly believe that you needed help. We can't help you if you don't want it Wills, but please believe me when I say that you do need our help."

He doesn't say any more, knowing that he'd said everything that he could say, and simply holds her, offering as much support and comfort as he could through their embrace. After a few minutes, he can feel Willow gently push away from him and he lets her, offering her a gentle smile when she looks up at him.

"I need help Xander," she told him unsteadily. "I never thought about what I was doing, I just thought it was saving me time. Then I started feeling depressed when I wasn't using magic so I started using it more often and the depression disappeared. I can't believe I have let it go this far, I just didn't think I was doing anything wrong."

"The problem is that you don't spend enough time learning how to control the spells you do know, and too much time learning new ones. There are techniques you can learn that will help you control your power, but it will mean seriously curbing back on your magic. That means unless it's an emergency, you can't use magic for any reason, until you're at a point where you can harness your full power without the intoxicating side effects that you've been experiencing. This will only work if you are willing; if you don't put 100 into this it won't work."

He can see that she's conflicted on what to do; he knows that she wants to change but isn't sure she was strong enough to do it. Her expression suddenly changes to one he knows very well, he just hoped it was there for the right reason.

"I want to get back to who I was," she told him, Resolve Face firmly in place, "I want to be the person that Tara fell in love with."

"Tara still loves you Wills, she wouldn't be with you now if she wasn't. She knows that you can beat this; you need to prove that she's right. You will lose her if you don't and I know that you don't want to lose her."

"I love her so much Xander," she said softly, tears forming in her eyes, "I couldn't cope if she ever left me."

"Then you need to make sure she never has a reason to," he informed her gently.

"I want to change Xander, I want you to help me to change."

"I will do everything I can to help, as will Tara and everyone else. There is something else I need to tell you. I don't want to add any further pressure on you, but if I don't feel that you can keep your power under control, I will have no choice but to take your power from you."

"What do you mean?" she asked, shocked that Xander would be prepared to do something like that.

"If you can't stop misusing magic, I will remove all of your magical abilities. I don't want to do it," he confessed, "and I hope that I won't have to, but I won't let you be consumed by it Willow."

"You won't have to," she promised him, pulling him into another hug. "I'll get my power under control; it will no longer control me. I know that there's no quick fix, and that it's going to be hard, but I know I can do this," she declared firmly.

"If anyone can, you can."

They release each other and Willow goes to the bathroom to fix her face. A couple of minutes later she returns and Xander hands her a leather bound book.

"Here are a few meditation techniques that will help you to centre your mind, allowing you more control over your power. I know that Tara will help you and she can even do them with you."

"Thanks," she replied sincerely, "for everything, I'm not sure I know what I'd do without you."

The pain in his heart on hearing that is immense on hearing her say that, knowing that she's going to find out soon enough.

"You'd be fine Wills, you'd have Tara, Buffy and everyone else here," he assured her.

"You're right, but I never want to find out."

'Well we can't always get what we want I'm afraid.' He thought sadly, hating that Willow and the others were going to be hurt because of him.

"You better ring Tara," he told her, "I know that she's worried about you. You know where the phone is."

"Thanks again Xand, for everything."

"What are best friends for?" he asked with a smile. "Ask Tara to come over Wills; I need to speak with everyone about something, and I've already talked to Buffy and Giles, they're coming over in a couple of hours."

"What's wrong Xander?" she asked immediately, remembering the last time he'd called them all over.

"Nothing," he replied with a smile, "this is more of a precautionary tactic rather than anything else. I will explain everything when everyone is here. Before you panic, it is not another revelation like the last time I asked you all over, I said the same thing to Buffy and Giles."

"Me worried, never."

Willow goes off to ring Tara, while Xander goes into the kitchen and starts to make a few snacks, as it will be about lunchtime when everyone arrives. After Willow has finished speaking to Tara, she comes in and starts to help him. He can tell that she's fighting the urge to use magic, and he gives her reassuring glances and touches. Eventually they've finished and Willow managed to get through it without using her power at all.

Once Tara arrives, she decides to take over the kitchen and bake a cake; luckily Xander has all the ingredients she needs. It seems that cooking is something that Tara knows she can do well; her confidence in the kitchen provides proof of that. Willow and Xander keep out of her way, watching TV in the living room, until she joins them whilst waiting for the cake to bake in the oven.

Before he realises it, the time has come for everyone else to arrive and just as he thought that, there's a knock at the door. He opens it to find Buffy, Dawn, Joyce and Giles standing outside, all looking a little nervous. He couldn't really blame them; the last time they'd all come over he told them he was a demon, they're probably apprehensive as to what he has to say this time around.

Once ushering them all inside and allowing them to get comfortable, Dawn heading straight for the snacks with Buffy hot on her tail, he began.

"Okay, firstly I want to reiterate that I'm not going to suddenly announce that I'm an alien or anything."

Everyone lets out a sigh of relief, none of them really ready for another shock like the last one, and Xander glares at them all for it, but they could all see he didn't mean it.

"Then why are we all here Xander?" Giles asked.

"I think it is time for you all to leave Sunnydale for a while," he stated, getting straight to the point.

"What are you on about Xander?" Buffy wondered.

"Every day Glory's getting that little bit closer to finding out the truth about Dawn," he explained. "The only advantage we have is that she doesn't know that the Key is in human form, and that won't last forever."

Dawn starts to tear up, hating the thought that because of her all of her friends and family are being forced to leave their homes. While she's sitting in front of her, Joyce can sense her daughter's distress and places a comforting hand on her shoulder, the contact doing its job and making Dawn feel a little better.

"Well what do you suggest Xander," Buffy asked, "that we keep running forever until she finally catches up with us?"

He understands that Buffy is worried for Dawn, but she needs to understand that staying is putting her in unnecessary risk.

"Of course not Buff. What I am suggesting is that you all get to a safe, secure location now, before Glory comes at us full force. It will give you all time to get ready for when we kick her a… behind," he explained.

"Behind?" Buffy asked with a smirk.

Xander looked towards Dawn.

"There are innocent ears here Buff, I don't want to be a corrupting influence."

Dawn giggles at that and Buffy rolls her eyes.

"Hasn't stopped you before," Buffy mumbled, only Xander's enhanced hearing making him able to hear her.

"Where do you suggest we go Xander?" Joyce asked.

"I'm not as cash strapped as everyone thinks," he informed the group. "As you all know, I have the memories of all previous members of my real family. That includes bank account details, which means that I have a little spending money."

"I hope you don't mind me asking Xander, but how much is a little?" Joyce asked.

"MOM!"

"It's okay Buffy," Xander told her with a smile, "it isn't as though none of you wanted to ask the same question."

"I know that," she admitted, "I just didn't think that my mother would be the one to ask first."

"In answer to your question Joyce, if I liquidated all of my assets I could probably buy both Microsoft and IBM with money to spare."

The silence that permeates the room is only interrupted by the thud Willow's body makes as she faints and hits the floor. Tara is immediately by her side and gets her back on her feet, sitting her down in her chair.

"Sweetie, are you alright?" she asked, worried for her girlfriend.

"I just had the strangest dream," she replied with a slightly glazed expression, "where Xander told us he has enough money to buy Microsoft and IBM."

"That wasn't a dream Willow," Dawn informed her excitedly, "Xander's a billionaire!"

"I'm not a billionaire Dawnie, well I am, but I only really have access to about $314,000,000 at most without selling things."

"While I'm sure everyone would love to hear more about Xander's monetary situation," Giles commented, his tone tinged with the shock he felt on hearing about Xander's wealth," I think that we have got a little off topic here. Xander you were going to suggest where we should go?"

"Sorry Giles, I guess I did have something to tell you as shocking as the whole I'm a demon thing. As for where to go, I bought a nice quiet place a few hours north of here during my road trip. I had hoped that if I ever told you all the truth, or I made up a relative who died and left it to me, we could go there for a holiday. It's in a nice secluded spot, I made sure of that by buying the surrounding area, and I've put the strongest protection spells and early warning systems available around the perimeter, so you'd be as safe from any unwelcome guests as you could be. It will be able to keep Glory out for a while, but I honestly doubt anything could keep her at bay forever. At the moment, it's the safest place on the planet for you all to be."

"You won't be coming with us will you?" Joyce asked.

The motherly concern in Joyce's voice warmed Xander's heart. He knew from her memories that his biological mother would have reacted the same way, but Jessica had rarely shown him anything other than an impassive gaze since he was seven, so actually experiencing it made him feel good inside.

"No I won't Joyce," he replied softly, "someone needs to stay here and keep up appearances. I'll set up a number of glamour spells around Sunnydale, making everyone else believe you're all still here. There also has to be someone here to patrol at night, we don't want anyone getting suspicious about why no one was out dusting vamps. We can't wait until the last minute to go, playing a game of cat and mouse with a goddess won't be fun."

"I have to agree with Xander," Giles stated, unable to disagree with Xander's assessment of the situation.

"Giles, we're not going to leave Xander here on his own!" Buffy screamed.

The tone in Buffy's voice speaks volumes to Xander, and realised that he needed to have a talk with her before they left.

"Buffy," Giles began gently, realising that having an angry Slayer within hitting distance should be avoided at all costs, "Xander is more than capable of looking after himself, and we need someone free to keep researching ways on how to defeat Glory. With Xander finally able to use his abilities freely, he will have the best chance of finding something."

Giles of course understands another reason that Xander needs to stay behind; if any leads on the Sword of Avalon surface he would have to follow them up. Both men knew they couldn't voice that reason, as it would lead to questions neither man felt ready to answer.

Joyce could see the look in Buffy's eyes and realised that she'd have to play dirty to ensure that both of her daughters were safe. She could also hear that there might be more going on between Buffy and Xander than she thought.

She would have had to be blind not to see how much Xander adored her eldest daughter, or her eldest daughter it seemed, as she had always been either oblivious or ignorant for the way he felt about her. From the way she'd been so adamant about staying with him, it appeared that the blinkers she'd been wearing all this time had been removed and she was enjoying the view.

All of that however had to be put on the back burner for the moment; no matter how highly she thought of Xander, she had to put Dawn and Buffy's safety first.

"Honey, I know that you don't like the thought of running from a fight, but Dawn has to be our first priority. If Xander thinks that doing this is the best way to keep her safe then I think we should do it."

Buffy knew what her mom was doing, but knew that she was right that Dawn's safety had to come before anything else. The fact that Xander was putting Dawn's safety before his own made her appreciate him all the more.

"I just don't like the thought of Xander being here on his own," she sighed.

"You know that Xander wouldn't let himself get hurt," Willow told her, "he knows we'll kill him if he does."

Willow's comment brings a small smile to Buffy's face.

"That's true."

"No one is being forced to go," Xander assured them all. "I just feel that this is the best plan we have at the moment. So, who's going?"

"I am and so is Dawn," Joyce told him.

"You're not going without me so I'm in," Buffy stated firmly.

"As am I," Giles informed him.

"Me too," Willow agreed. "Tara?"

"Where you go I go," she replied simply, gaining a smile.

"What about Spike?" asked Dawn.

Xander knew that if anyone was going to ask about Spike it would be Dawn.

"Dawnie," he replied gently, "the bottom line is that Spike is evil. I do not trust him. He cannot know where you are going," he told her firmly but not harshly.

"Okay," she replied sadly, not liking it but understanding it.

Xander knew that Dawn liked Spike, and since he'd been chipped had had on occasion been of some help, but Xander had never and would never trust Spike. Even with his chip firmly in place and fully functioning, he had still been able to betray them all to ADAM and nearly cost them their lives. That proved to Xander, although he'd never needed it, that Spike was as deadly now as he had ever been and just because he couldn't be the one to deliver the final blow, didn't mean that he couldn't be the cause of their deaths.

"When do you suggest that we leave?" Joyce asked.

"No time like the present. Everyone go home and get a few changes of clothing and meet back here in a couple of hours," Xander instructed.

"Don't you think that is a little quick?" she asked.

"The longer we leave it the more risk there is of people finding out what's going on," he explained. "Also while Glory isn't affected by daylight, it's still safest to leave while the suns up."

"You haven't told us yet how we're getting there. Don't forget that you're the only one who knows where it is," she pointed out.

"And that is how I want it to stay," he replied. "Once you're back with your stuff, you'll all be flying Air Xander. I went there yesterday and fully stocked the kitchen with enough supplies to last a couple of months, and that's if you all ate like me. I'll give Giles a cell phone so we can stay in contact; there is a landline but cell phones are safer. There's plenty there to keep you entertained, you'll want for nothing."

"Well in that case, we better get a move on," Joyce told the others.

Everyone gets up to leave, but there are a couple of people that Xander needed to speak to first.

"Willow, Buffy, can you hang back a couple of minutes?" he asked them.

"Sure," they replied in unison.

"Willow, I know that you are a little upset that I'll be using so much magic when I've just suggested that you curb your own use."

"It does seem like a double standard," she admitted.

"I've been able to use magic since the day I was born. I've had twenty years to learn how to control my power, as well as the thousands of years worth of control and experience passed down to me by my ancestors. I promise you that I'm taking every precaution when it comes to using magic, and I'm only doing so now to ensure everyone's safety."

"I do understand," she replied with a small smile, "it's just that I feel that I can help but you won't let me."

"I haven't told you to not use any magic, I just said that you need to restrict it to emergency use only. If yours or the others lives are in danger, you do what is necessary, okay?" he instructed her.

Willow nods and he pulls her into a hug, releasing her after a few seconds.

"I better go and catch Tara up," she told them.

Willow gives Buffy a hug and then runs off to find Tara.

"What did you want to talk to me about Xand?" Buffy asked him.

'I guess it's not or never.' He thought.

"I need to let you know something Buff, something you'll probably be shocked by. These last few months, my feelings for you have been growing beyond just friendship. I tried to deny it, to fight it, but I couldn't. I love you Buffy and I think in a way I always have."

Buffy looks at him in shock. Willow had let her in on how he thought about her, and his own unique way of expressing it, but to actually hear him confess his feelings for her made it all the more real. She had expected to feel shocked by the news, but she hadn't expected to feel a flush of warmth on hearing it either.

Unlike what she guessed everyone thought, she had always been aware in one way or another that Xander's feelings for her were more than simply platonic, and that their friendship had always been tinged with the same thing, but she'd never really felt the same way he did, or at least not at a time when she could consider it.

"I uh, don't know what to say Xand," she replied eventually, seeing that her silence was torturing him. "You're my best friend along with Willow, and I do love you. I just don't think I love you in that way," she told him honestly.

"You don't think you love me that way?" he asked her, noticing her lack of firm denial

"Xander I uh, I just don't know," she said with a sigh.

Xander could see how conflicted she was, and in keeping with his vow to not pressure her, decided to let her off.

"I don't expect an answer now Buffy," he told her with a small smile, "I just wanted to tell you how I feel. All I ask is that you think about how you feel about me. If you don't feel the same way I'll understand, it won't be the first time after all. One thing I can guarantee is that no matter what you decide, you will never lose me as a friend."

"I promise you that I'll think about how I feel Xand," she told him, knowing that she owed him that much at the very least, not to mention herself. "I just can't guarantee that you'll like my decision."

"As I said, whatever your decision our friendship will not change. Just don't take too long to think about it Buff."

"I won't, as soon as I know I'll tell you, I give you my word," she promised him.

"Please don't think I'm trying to sway your decision in any way, but would it be possible to have a hug?" he asked, nervous as to how she'd take that.

"You know you can," she replied with a smile.

They embrace and he wraps his arms around her protectively. Hugging Buffy has always been one of Xander's little guilty pleasures, the guilt coming from her never knowing just how much he enjoyed having her so close. He could feel her initially tense up, but relaxed after a moment or two. Once he felt that, he pulled her slightly closer to him than he normally would, testing the waters, and was happy when she didn't pull away.

Unable to help himself, he begins to slowly trace figure of eights in the small of her back, something that he always used to do with Anya as she told him she liked it. She leans into him a little more and moans happily before she realised what she was doing and quickly, but gently, ends the embrace. He can see that she was a little flushed, but not embarrassed or ashamed by what she'd done, so he took that to be a good sign.

"I'd better be going," she told him softly, not quite able to look him in the eyes.

"I'll see you in a couple of hours," he confirmed.

She leaves and after watching her walk down the hall, he closes the door. when she said that she didn't think she loved him that way, his heart had soared, but at the same time he had been scared. Despite the prophecy, he'd never really thought that he had much of a chance with Buffy, the realisation that he did was both exhilarating and scary as hell.

He knew it made him sound strange, but no matter how badly he wants her to love him as much as he does her; it's also acts as his death sentence. Although he is prepared to die to save Dawn and the others, it doesn't mean that he wants confirmation that's the only way to do it. As selfish as it makes him sound, he doesn't want to die, but he will to save the people he cares about most in the whole world. If death is the price he has to pay to experience her love, then he'll pay it gladly.

'And to think I thought that high school would be the death of me.'

Chapter Eight

It has been a few weeks since Xander had taken everyone to his holiday home in the country, and he's been having fun in their absence.

He's been leaving one false trail after another for Glory and her minions and has been enjoying himself watching them running around in circles. He knew that it wouldn't work forever, but if it gave them even a little more time to prepare it was well worth it, not to mention entertaining as hell.

He's also been having fun patrolling at night; not having to hold back anymore meant that he was cutting a swath through the demon population, using glamour spells to make them believe that it was Buffy and not him that was decimating their number. Not only does it ensure that the demon population thinks she's still around, it will also mean that they'll have less to deal with once Glory has been defeated.

He's phoned them every day, making sure they knew he was alright and because he missed them, and whenever possible he and Giles would talk a little more about the progress Giles had made on locating the Sword of Avalon. He's been in contact with Wesley and a few other people and as yet they were no closer to knowing it's whereabouts than before.

His crew had finished their project ahead of schedule, so not only were they allowed home early, they also had a few days off, so he was happy to be getting home around lunchtime. As he walked in the door, his cell phone goes off and as he checks the caller display, he sees that it's the cell he gave Giles.

"Hey Giles," he greeted the other man, "is everything okay?" he asked, worried about why he was calling earlier that usual.

"Hello Xander, yes everyone and everything is fine. Everyone is enjoying themselves greatly as you well know, although they would all be happier if you were her as well."

"We both know why I'm not there," he replied, sad that he couldn't be with them.

"I know Xander, that doesn't change how any of us feel. The reason for my call is that I have some news concerning the sword."

"I'm all ears, well I'm not all ears as I'd look weird, and probably look a bit like that Clem dude we met a while ago…"

"Xander," Giles said, cutting off Xander before he had a chance to gain speed, "I get what you are on about. Wesley has found out that a law firm they have had some dealings with has it in its possession."

"That's great, I'll head to LA as soon as possible and get it, I've got a few days off."

"It may not be that simple," Giles warned. "Wesley has told me that this law firm is headed by rather powerful demons, known only as the Senior Partners."

"They wouldn't be called Wolfram & Hart would they?" Xander asked, Giles noting an edge to his voice.

"Yes, how did you know?" he asked, slightly worried by how Xander had reacted.

"A few of my relatives have had some dealings with them," he replied evasively. "I know what they're capable of and it is going to be a pleasure to meet them, of course they won't be able to say the same of me."

"Remember the reason you're going Xander," Giles reminded him, "you don't have time for any personal vendettas."

Xander knew that Giles was right, there were more important things than personal scores to settle, but this was the mother of all personal scores and if he has a chance to settle it with the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart then he'll take it.

"Giles I know that the sword is the priority here, but that doesn't mean I can't cause a lot of damage retrieving it. This is personal Giles, I won't get another chance will I?"

"Joyce told me that your parents, your biological parents, were killed. It was Wolfram & Hart, wasn't it?"

"And you say I'm observant. They killed my parents Giles; the sword comes first, I give you my word on that, but while I have the opportunity I'm going to make those bastards pay."

Giles could hear the barely repressed rage in Xander's voice and knew that he'd been waiting all his life to avenge his parent's deaths. From what Joyce had told her it wasn't the first time he'd thought of taking such an action but his fear for their safety prevented him from doing anything.

He was certain that Xander wouldn't allow his desire to get revenge endanger those he cares about, so he must have found a way to get back at them without risking their safety. All Giles could think of at that moment is what he would do in Xander's place and realised he'd lay waste to anyone and anything that dared get in his way.

"Just do one thing for me Xander," he said, his natural accent slipping through, "make it hurt."

"That I can guarantee, and I'll bring you back something nice. One thing I forgot to ask Giles, did you tell Wesley that I'm a demon?"

"No, I did not feel it was my place and quite frankly it is none of his bloody business."

"You're right, it isn't, but I thought that as I'm out there I might let Deadboy and the others in the loop about what's going on, and I thought I'd enjoy seeing his face when I tell him who I really am."

"It's a shame the git is a vampire as that is a site I would definitely like to see."

"I'm sure. I'll see you when I get back Giles, I'm sure you'd like to see what it looks like before it gets goddess all over it."

"Absolutely, and you be careful Xander; you're going up against people that you know can kill your kind, don't take any unnecessary risks."

"I give you my word. Bye Giles."

"Goodbye and god speed."

After a shower and a change of clothes, Xander went into his 'spare room' and gathered a few things he might need for his little trip to the City of Angels before getting into his truck and driving as fast as he could to the Hyperion Hotel.

He couldn't believe that it had been almost two years since he'd seen his ex-girlfriend and verbal sparring partner. Even though they'd put most of what happened behind them, he knew that there'll still be some, well a lot, of tension between them and accepted that he was responsible for the majority of it.

Something he hadn't told anyone was that he had a few contacts of his own, including one in LA that had been keeping an eye on Cordelia for him. he'd really screwed the pooch with her and had made a vow to himself that if she was ever in trouble and Deadboy wasn't able to save her, he would. He figured that it was the least it could do considering everything that had happened between them.

The decision to tell Cordelia and the others that he was a demon wasn't as difficult to make as it had been to tell Buffy and the others. Their opinion of him didn't matter as much to him, nor was he as close to them as he was to Willow and the gang. He was actually looking forward to explain it to them especially to Angel. While most of the anger he felt towards the vampire had diminished, he still annoyed the hell out of him. If it wasn't for the one thing they've always agreed on, he doubted he'd do what he was going to do for the ensouled one.

Two hours after passing the Welcome to Sunnydale sign, he was parking across the street from the hotel. The constructor in him appreciates the work put in to build the place, and he thought it looked pretty good, although he'd rather kiss spike than ever reveal that to Deadboy.

He makes his way through the doors of the hotel into the lobby, to find Cordelia, Wesley and a guy he's never met all sitting around looking decidedly pissed off. In his opinion the perfect time to announce his presence.

"Hi guys, miss me?" he asked cheerfully.

All three turn round to face him, surprised at the new voice. Cordelia looks happy to see him for a couple of seconds before the usual Queen C expression returns. Wesley also looks pleased to see him, which is strange, as they never really got on when he was in Sunnydale. The other guy just looks at him as though he is seeing a stranger, which of course he is.

"What are you doing here Harris?" Cordelia asked him testily.

"And it's wonderful to see you too Cordy," he replied with a grin, "you're as warm and welcoming as ever." He turns his attention to the 'rogue demon hunter' as his contact told him he went by. "I take it you didn't tell her I was coming Wes?"

"It slipped my mind to be honest Mr. Harris," he replied apologetically, "other things have been getting in the way. Angel has just fired us."

"Why has Deadboy fired you?" he asked surprised.

The new guy comes up to him, looking like he wasn't sure what to make of him going by the way Cordelia and Wesley greeted him.

"He's going after Drusilla and Darla and doesn't want us slowing him down. By the way, the names Gunn," he told him, holding his hand out in greeting.

Xander takes the offered hand and shakes firmly, doing his best not to shake too firmly.

"Xander Harris. What do you mean Darla," he growled, "I thought that Captain Hairgel killed her years ago?"

"He did," Wesley explained, "Wolfram & Hart brought her back."

"Sounds like something they'd do," he commented darkly. 'They would have to pick her out of all the dusted vampires to resurrect wouldn't they?'

"How do you know Wolfram & Hart?" he asked.

"My family's had dealings with them," replied evasively. "Where's Mr. Broody?"

"In his office over there in the back. Why would your family have dealings with Wolfram & Hart Mr. Harris?" Wesley asked.

"Please call me Xander Wes," he told him with a slight smile, "all my friends do. How I know about Evil Inc. is a long story, and before I tell it I need to speak with Angel first. We have some unfinished business to discuss and I'm also going to get him to give you your jobs back."

"How is a loser like you going to do that?" Cordelia asked snidely.

"You'd be surprised how… persuasive I can be when required Cordy. I'm not as useless as you think I am, in fact I never was."

"Once a Zeppo, always a Zeppo."

Xander could tell by her tone and body language that she was saying that more out of habit than because she actually meant it.

"As much as I love our little name calling sessions we always used to have," he replied sarcastically, " I'm afraid I don't have time for them at the moment. Angel and I are going to have a little chat and then we're all going to pay a visit to the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart to retrieve what I came for. Wes, while I'm in with the ensouled one, it might be wise to get the weapons ready. By the way don't worry, I don't have any stakes or axes with me so Deadboy will be fine."

His reassurance seemed to placate them a little, not that he needed any weapons to dust Angel but they don't know that. While Wesley and Gunn take his advice and make their way to the weapons cabinet, Cordelia just stands there and hits him with her most devastating glare. He of course patently ignores it and walks past her into Angel's office.

"I told you Wes to leave… Xander, what are you doing here?" he asked.

If he didn't know any better, Xander would have been sure that he saw a surprised look appear on Angel's face. If he didn't know any better.

"Good to see you Angel," he greeted, his tone making it clear he was lying. "I take it that business is bad, seeing as you've just fired your entire staff and all."

"It's none of your business Xander," he growled, his eyes flashing yellow for a moment.

Angel decides to get up and step into Xander's personal space. It doesn't intimidate Xander in the slightest; he's never felt threatened by Angel before and he sure as hell wasn't going to be now.

"Well I'm making it my business," he replied with a growl of his own. "I know that you're going after Dru and Darla. About damn time in my opinion, but that's a different topic. I know that you're going to have to go full out to kill them, show no mercy to the people helping them, and you want to keep the others out of it. I can understand that and I actually think it's good that you care for them enough to try to keep them out of it."

"Then what's your problem?" he snapped.

"My problem is that you're acting like an ass and allowing your feelings to cloud your judgement," he replied in a bored tone. "Firing Cordy and the others won't keep them out of danger. You know as well as I do that none of them can stop fighting the darkness now that they know it exists, if they could, they would have done so a long time ago. If it isn't Drusilla or Darla, it'll be someone or something else that'll come after them. The best thing you can do is let them go with you, because knowing Cordy she'd only follow you anyway and get her stubborn ass killed trying to get through your thick head. As it happens it seems like our objectives are connected so I'm willing to help you out."

"What can you do boy?" Angel asked, his tone making it clear that he can't do much.

"Wolfram & Hart have something I need and I'm going in to get it," he replied, not rising to the bait. "If you want to come with me to take out Darla and Dru you're more than welcome, although I'm more than happy to do the job myself. Darla turned my best friend Jesse so I want to see her blowing in the wind, again. Killing Drusilla will piss Spike off royally and that's reason enough to do it, the fact she killed Kendra is another. It seems like your family have caused more pain to the ones I care about than every other vamp and demon we've gone up against combined."

"They're not my family, they're his."

"Then stop acting like they're your personal responsibility and let us help."

"What if I don't want your help?" he asked arrogantly.

"The others will probably set up shop on their own, grieve for you when you die, and then continue as normal. As for me, I don't particularly care what happens to you, but if you don't accept my help I won't anchor your soul to you."

"What!"

Xander definitely saw surprise in his face this time. He originally had planned to talk things through with Angel before telling him he had a way of anchoring his soul, but he had to be all lone wolf, preparing for a suicide mission he thought he'd actually walk away from. The spell went from being an olive branch of sorts to the perfect bargaining chip. He was telling the truth when he said he didn't really much care what happens to Angel, but he knew that Buffy did care, and if she knew he could have helped him and didn't, any chance he had of her reciprocating his love would whither and die.

"I can anchor your soul to you Deadboy," he repeated. "That means no more happiness clause; you won't have to worry about Angelus rearing his ugly little head when you want to use yours. The catch is I'll only do it if you let us all help you with your 'family' problems. All I really wanted when I came here was to retrieve a sword we need back in Sunnydale; I don't have the time or the patience to deal with your temper tantrums as well."

Xander knew what Angel was going to say, the moment he told him there was a problem in Sunnydale.

"Is Buffy alright?"

He could set his watch by Deadboy he was so predictable.

"Yes," Xander drawled out in reply, "Buffy is alright, as is Dawn, Joyce, Willow, Giles and Tara; which I'm sure would have been the next question you asked." Angel had the decency to look contrite at the remark, making Xander decide not to press the issue of Angel's selective caring. "That of course may well change if I don't get that sword back to Sunnydale. We're going up against a demon goddess that wants to open a portal back to their dimension, taking the planet along with her. This sword will help me kill her."

"Being Buffy's White Knight again?" he asked with a sneer that reminded Xander too much of Angel's alter ego.

Needing to get his point across, Xander grabs Angel by his jacket, spins him round and shoves him against the wall. Hard.

"Listen to me," he ordered in a tone as cold as ice, "you don't ever want to call me that again if you want to stay out of a dust buster. The only person that ever called me that tried to kill everybody that I love, and there's nothing I'd like more than to kill him in the most drawn out and painful method I can imagine and believe me, I have one hell of an imagination."

He lets go of Angel and moves to the opposite side of the office, suddenly finding it difficult not to bend Angel into a pretzel.

"Here's the bottom line; you help me get the sword and apologise to the few friends that you have, I'll help you kill Dru and Darla and anchor your soul. Do we have a deal?"

He could tell that Angel was interested, not that he expected anything less, but Angel's misconceptions about what he could do was making him wary.

"How can you anchor my soul? Your previous attempts at magic weren't exactly successful."

"You have never seen me use magic, and it was Amy that cast the spell you're on about, not me. You'd be surprised what I'm capable of Angel, there are things about me you don't know," he told the Celt, knowing that to be a big understatement.

"I know everything I need to," Angel replied arrogantly, never having liked the young man standing before him.

"I doubt that," he replied with a cold smile. "Listen, I don't have time for this bullshit. Do we have a deal or not, what have you got to lose?"

Angel was looking at the man in front of him and was trying to decide whether he was full of it, or if he could actually deliver the goods. He'd rather drink a gallon of concentrated holy water than spend time with Xander, and he knew that Xander would love nothing more than to stake him. There was one thing that Angel knew about Xander that finally tipped the scales in his favour; Xander was an honourable man, and wouldn't make a deal that he had no intention of keeping, even if the deal was made with him.

"You have a deal," he replied eventually, walking up to Xander and holding out his hand to seal the deal.

Xander looks at the offered hand for a moment and considers giving an old fashioned insult by not shaking it, but knew it would be petty. He shakes Angel's hand once firmly, far more firmly than he would a human, to let Angel know that he wasn't dealing with a weakling.

"Good. Lets go see the troops then shall we, I have a law firm to see."

He lets Angel leave the office first, not because he was being polite but because he never liked to have a vampire at his back. Once back in the lobby, Cordelia stalks up to him and begins poking him in the chest.

"Listen to me Xander," she ordered, "you're going to tell me what you're doing here, and you're going to tell me now."

"All in good time Cor, all in good time," he replied, knowing the answer would only annoy her further. "First, Angel has something he wants to say, don't you Angel?"

Angel glares at Xander because of the way he spoke to him, but knew that he was right.

"Xander, in his own unique way, has shown me that I was wrong to treat you the way I did. I apologise for sacking you all, and I want you all to come back if you're willing."

The other three members of Angel Investigations look at him in shock; less than an hour ago he'd fired them and basically acted like an ass, and one conversation later he's completely changed his opinion. They all look at each other and Gunn plays spokesperson.

"Listen man, we never left. I don't know what Xander said to get you to change your mind, but I'm glad he did," he told him.

"The same goes for me Angel," Wesley concurred.

"You have some major sucking up to do Angel," Cordelia informed him, Xander laughing at he unintentional pun and Angel shuddered at the prospect of a shopping trip, "but we'll be fine." She turns to Xander and glares daggers at him. "Now that's out of the way, what the hell are you doing here Xander?"

"Wolfram & Hart have something that we need back in Sunnydale and I'm here to get it," he told her simply.

"What are you going to do," she asked, "offer to fetch them donuts in exchange for what you want?"

"No," he replied calmly, but Cordelia knew him well enough he was anything but, "I'm going to walk through the front door, kill everyone and everything that gets in my way, take what I came for and leave."

His statement shocks them all. They all know just how dangerous Wolfram and Hart are, and yet Xander was making it sound like he was organising a game of bridge. What shocked them more was the quiet confidence that he held, as though he knew he could easily make good on what he'd just told them.

"And how are you going to do that?" she asked, not believing that he'd succeed in getting through the front door, let alone anything else.

Xander realises that this was the perfect time to let them in on just what he could do, but not to get into everything, as he really wanted to get things over and done with. Turning to Angel, he spreads his arms wide and smiles.

"Angel I'm going to give you the opportunity of a lifetime," he told him. "I want you to pick your favourite weapon and attack me with everything you've got. I don't want you to hold back in any way shape or form; your intention is to wound me/kill me/chop me into little pieces. To make it even easier for you, I won't use any weapons, apart from the ones I was born with." He can see that angel was going to decline, so he decides to bait him a little. "Come on Mr. Broody, you know you want to."

Cordelia is looking at Xander like he's finally snapped, something he couldn't really blame her as she didn't know there was no chance of him even getting a scratch.

"Where do you want me to send the body Xander?" she asked him, trying to psyche him out of committing suicide as she saw it.

"Liam was born in Ireland wasn't he?" he asked in reply.

Using Angel's real name was enough to push him over the edge and take Xander up on his offer. As far as he was concerned, it wasn't his problem if Xander had a death wish. With all the speed he has available to him, he grabs a broadsword and charges at Xander, wanting to make it a quick kill. He takes a swing at Xander's head, which he ducks with the greatest of ease, smirking at Angel the entire time. The smirk remains there as he deftly dodges the next ten strikes that Angel tries, each one causing him to lose a little more of his patience.

Knowing that his time is limited, Xander decides to cut their little exhibition match short so he catches the sword between his hands and with a flick of his wrists disarms the Champion, before hitting him with a powerful uppercut that Angel didn't even see coming, causing him to go flying through the air. By now, everyone in the room is shocked, and their shock only grows when, in a blur of movement, he's there waiting to catch Angel before he lands on the floor.

"I didn't want to hurt you," he told Angel quietly, making sure the others are unable to hear him, "only to prove what I am capable of doing. You can continue if you want, but I suggest that you focus the anger you have for me on the more important task at hand."

With that said, Xander releases Angel to the ground and as he goes to take a step back, Angel spins round and connects with a haymaker, followed by a roundhouse kick to the head. Repeating what he did with Buffy the first time, he simply takes the blows without even flinching. He then grabs him and pulls him closer, whispering to him.

"Angel, I'm a pureblood Savox demon," he told him, seeing Angel's eyes widen in shock at the revelation. "Unless you have a tactical nuke in your weapons closet you won't win. I don't want to fight you Angel," he said, smirking slightly, "but this was the only way I knew that would convince you I'm capable of what I said."

Xander releases him and this time Angel doesn't try to attack him. The look of shock that appeared when Xander told him what he was hadn't gone away, and he had a feeling that look could well be there for quite a while. He was standing in front of someone who could have easily ripped him apart without trying, and he was suddenly reliving every rude comment and remark he'd said to him over the years.

He was sure that he'd be thinking of how so many thing could have gone differently had Xander been more upfront with his lineage, but right now they both had something they needed to do and he now knew that Xander was more than capable of holding up his end of the bargain. Nodding once at Xander in acknowledgement of what he'd told him, he turns to address the others.

"Okay here's the plan; Xander and I are going in the front door as we don't have the time to plan anything fancy. I have to warn you that we're not showing any mercy to anyone who works in that building. I want you three to wait fifteen minutes before following, if we're not out by then we'll need the help."

He waits for them to nod their agreement, not that they had much of a choice, before making his way to the doors leading outside.

"What the hell did you say to him and how were you able to do that?" Cordelia asked, somewhere between shock and anger.

"Does it really matter?" he replied.

He doesn't wait for an answer, instead he walks outside to find Angel waiting for him.

"Do Buffy and the others know?" he asked immediately.

"I told them a couple of weeks ago," he replied as he started walking towards his truck, "Glory is after a key that opens portals to other dimensions. Dawn's the key; she was created by a group of monks and sent to Buffy for protection. I couldn't let anything happen to her so I let them all know what I really am."

Angel had guessed that one of the group had to be in danger, otherwise Xander wouldn't have revealed something he'd kept hidden all his life. He hated to admit it, but it showed that Xander put the welfare of those he cared about above his own, something that he himself had been lacking on occasion.

"Anything we can do?" he asked.

"Not really, apart from helping me get this sword. I need you to promise me something though; after Glory's defeated I want you to stay in Sunnydale for a while and keep an eye on them for me, make sure they're safe."

The way he said it and the tone he used made Angel realise that he still hasn't been told everything, although he was starting to think he had an idea.

"What's going on Xander?"

"The sword has the power to kill gods," he explained. "The catch is that it kills the user after it kills the god, and only demons can wield it."

"Why you?" he asked, wondering if he might be able to take his place.

He didn't want to die, anymore than Xander did he guessed, but he knew how important Xander was to everyone in Sunnydale, to lose him would deal a blow that would take a long time to recover from.

"Prophecy," he replied, knowing why Angel asked and hating that it increased his opinion of him. "Buffy doesn't know and she can't until the point of no return." Xander didn't explain why and he didn't need to.

"I understand."

By now the others have caught them up and they all pile into Xander's truck, seeing as it was closer, Angel riding shotgun and the other getting in the back. He's barely turned the ignition when Cordelia begins pestering him again.

"How were you able to do that to Angel Xander? Have you been messing with magic again?"

"No that was all me," he replied, smiling at her using the rear-view mirror, "no magic required."

"That doesn't tell me how," she persisted.

"You're right," he replied with a smirk, "it doesn't. I'll explain everything to you when we get back, I promise. Right now you need to focus on making sure you live to hear it."

"How do you two know each other?" Gunn asked, knowing that they went to school together but nothing else.

Xander could tell Cordelia was going to give her version of events and decides to get in there first.

"I'll give you the abbreviated version; Cordy will no doubt give you the play-by-play account at a later date. I've known Cordy since kindergarten; we hated each other pretty much from the start, which is why it shocked everyone when we started dating year before graduation. She dumped me on Valentines Day; about ten seconds after I gave her present to her. I had someone cast a spell to make her love me so I could dump her; admittedly not one of my finest moments, but I wasn't thinking much beyond payback. It backfired and made every female who wasn't Cordy fall madly in love with me instead. Luckily the spell was reversed before things got too out of hand. Eventually we got back together, only for me to screw it up by cheating on her with my best friend Willow. A couple of minutes after she found out, she was impaled on a rebar and nearly died in hospital. She dumped me again, not surprisingly, a couple of months before graduation. She helped us kill the mayor and blow up the high school and then she moved here. This is the first time we've seen each other since graduation although I'm sure it's a decade too early for her liking."

"Ah," Gunn replied, hating to think what the unabbreviated version was.

"You did ask."

Cordy was looking at Xander in surprise; he'd given a far more honest account of their relationship than she thought he would. It actually made her feel a little guilty, as her version usually made him out to be the scum of the earth.

"How come you keep calling Angel Deadboy?" Gunn asked, not enjoying the quiet in the truck and being curious as to how he got away with it.

"It's one of the many names I used to annoy him with when he was in Sunnydale," he replied happily.

"So you two don't get on?"

"No," Angel and Xander replied firmly in unison, turning to glare at each other once they realised.

"So why are you helping each other?"

"We both know that the fight is more important than our dislike for each other," Angel replied.

"In other words," Xander added, "we won't let the world end just because we hate each other."

"Although this mindless chatter is immensely enjoyable, I must point out that we are almost there," Wesley told the others.

Xander drives past the law firm and parks a block away. Everybody gets out and Xander goes to the back of his truck and retrieves a few stakes, a few small leather pouches and a katana that he attaches to his belt. He indicated to the other to take a look and see if there was anything they wanted to use; Angel shook his head, wanting to keep to his stakes, Cordelia took an automatic crossbow, Wesley went for a deadly looking battleaxe, and Gunn decided to join the new millennium and took the riot shotgun.

"It's going to be safer if you wait here until its time," he informed them, "there's less chance of you getting spotted. Angel you ready?" he asked.

"As I'll ever be," he replied. "Just remember, don't dust Dru or Darla unless you have to."

Xander doesn't reply to that, he just shrugs his shoulders. The sword was his objective; everything else is gravy. "Lets get this show on the road."

Xander and Angel leave the others there and make their way to the law firm. The building, while modern, looked dark and foreboding; the glass walls seemed to absorb the surrounding light, making it look like it wasn't even there. There was also a big feeling of evil as he got closer, a feeling that he could tell Angel was aware of as well by the way he looked a little jittery.

As they walk inside and make their way towards the reception desk, Xander can sense the alarms going off to alert them of a vampire on the premises, meaning that they'd soon have company arriving. Xander knows that Angel's had more dealings with them, se he lets him be the one to speak.

"Hello, we'd like to talk to Lilah Morgan please," he asked the guy on the desk, his tone making it clear that it wasn't a request it was an order.

"She doesn't make a habit of seeing vampires," the guard replied coldly, Xander noticing that his eyes keep flicking to the monitors on the desk, no doubt awaiting the cavalry.

"I'm sure she'd make an exception for me. Just tell her that Angel is here and he'd like a word."

The ding of the elevators reaching their level signals the arrival of their first obstacle, and also signals the guard to launch himself over the desk and attack us, allowing his human visage down to reveal that he was a Trinklor demon; a demon with shell-like skin and retractable spines covering his entire body, able to cause instant paralysis to living tissue. Xander goes to grab him, knowing that he'd be able to resist the toxin the spines hold, but Angel gets in the way, his anxiousness to get at his sire and childe making him forget who Xander is.

He decides to leave him to battle the Trinklor demon, vampires not having living tissue, and goes t take on the occupants of the elevators. Turns out to be a dozen guards, a mixture of human and demon, nothing that he couldn't deal with easily. Not seeing a need to use any weapons yet, he goes for the demons first, hoping that the humans are wise enough to realise when they're out of their depth.

Grabbing one demon by the neck, he throws it at the humans, managing to knock them out of the way, as well as unconscious. He then tears through the demons, literally ripping them apart with his bare hands. If he hadn't decided to wear his patrolling gear to La he'd now be covered in a psychedelic mixture of slime and goo, however he did and the spells he cast on them to be both self cleaning and self repairing ensures he remains looking pristine.

He turns round to see how Angel was fairing to find that he had just broken the neck of his adversary and allowed his lifeless body to slump to the ground. He can hear the humans he'd knocked out earlier coming to and, instead of making a run for it, they foolishly try to take him one.

Not being able to take the risk of them identifying him to their bosses, making trouble for his friends that they really don't need, he has no choice but to kill them, doing it as quickly and painlessly as possible. He didn't like the thought of killing humans, but wasn't naïve enough to believe that it was unavoidable, and in fact it was sometimes necessary. As Mr. Spock had so wisely said, the needs of the many outweigh the need of the few, or the one.

Their troubles weren't over yet as more guards start to make their way from the stairwells.

"You should have brought more than stakes Angel," he told the vampire as he came up beside him.

"Coulda, woulda, shoulda."

Xander looks down at the bodies of the human guards and retrieves a couple of their nightsticks, tossing them to Angel who nods in appreciations and begins twirling them with practised ease. They stand back to back, the guards coming from either side of the building and decide to take the battle to them instead of waiting. Xander makes light work of his opponents, nothing they could do affected him in the slightest, although to speed things up he did unsheathe his katana, slicing and dicing his way through them in double quick time.

Turning once again to check on Angel's progress, he could see that he was finding it hard going to defeat them all. Xander knew that angel would persevere, but not without injury. Launching himself over Angel's head, he decapitates the remaining three attackers in one strike.

"I could have taken them," Angel said defensively.

"I know you could," Xander replied, "but if you want to survive your family reunion you'll need to conserve your energy."

"I didn't know you cared," he snorted sarcastically.

"I may not like you, but I no longer want to see you dead. You do a lot of good here Angel. Anyway, Buffy would be pissed if I let you die. So, who's this Lilah Morgan you asked for?" he asked.

"She's the lawyer I've had the most problems with from this firm, especially now that Lindsay left town. If your sword is here, she'll know where it is. She'll also know where Dru and Darla are," he explained.

"That'll make it a lot easier," he replied as he headed for the east stairwell. "Any idea what floor her office is on?"

"Tenth floor. I've been there once or twice, not always voluntarily. How come we're not taking the elevator?"

"They rig them to explode if unauthorized personnel use them," he explained. "Last time I checked, vampires aren't flame retardant."

They make their way up the stairs, meeting more guards at every floor access. Angel wisely stays out of the way while Xander takes them out, knowing that Xander was right about conserving his strength for the main battle ahead. Xander was actually having fun; although patrolling gave him some semblance of a workout, this was the most action he'd had in a long time outside of the bedroom.

"You must have really pissed these guys off the last time you were here," Xander commented, knowing they weren't sending this many guards because of him, "they're sending everything at us, although it is giving me the best workout I've had in a while."

"I have a habit of killing their clients, they don't seem to like me for it," Angel replied with a smirk.

"That explains it. We're on the tenth floor; time to have a chat with Ms. Morgan."

As they moved onto the tenth floor, they come face to face with six Fyarl demons. While normally only silver could kill them, Xander knew that he'd be able to inflict enough damage on them to make silver unnecessary, but he also knew that he'd be unable to keep all six after just him, especially in the confines of the corridor they were in, and angel didn't have a chance without any.

"Don't suppose you brought any silver with you?" angel asked, also aware of his disadvantage.

"No," he replied, an evil glint in his eyes that unnerved him, "but if you can't bring silver to the demons – ESROM ROTCEPSNI – bring the demons to the silver."

A portal opens underneath the demons and they all fall into it, the portal closing up after them. Xander can't help but smile, knowing they won't like their destination, and Angel looks at him questioningly.

"What did you do?" he asked.

"I sent them to a silver mine," Xander replied simply, his smile growing at the look that appears on Angel's face.

"Remind me to never piss you off again," commented seriously, hating to think where Xander might send him.

"As long as you stay a white hat you don't have to worry," he assured him.

They reach Lilah's office and, as Angel went to barge in, he gets blown back several feet and lands hard on the floor. Xander does his best not to laugh, especially as Angel should have realised she would have secondary protection against him.

"She's put a barrier spell on her office," Angel told him unnecessarily, "she needs to invite me in."

"I guessed that," he replied. "You need t start thinking before doing Deadboy, unless you don't want to survive tonight's activities?"

"Of course I want to survive."

"Then treat this like any other bad guy and try to put aside all the emotional baggage," he told him. "Now, as I don't need an invitation, I'll be right back."

Xander foregoes the niceties and doesn't knock before kicking her door down, finding her sitting at her desk doing her best not to look phased by what's been happening. Xander notes that, like most other evil women he's dealt with, she's a hottie.

"And how can I help you Mr.?" she asked smoothly, trying to find out just who he is.

"You don't need to know who I am to help me Ms. Morgan, or can I call you Lilah?" he replied. "I'm looking for a mystical sword and a couple of vampires and I've been reliably informed that you're one to talk to."

"I'm afraid I can't help you so you might as well leave," she replied, doing her best to appear intimidating, but Xander notes she isn't a patch on Cordelia.

Deciding that he needs to change her way of thinking, he moves faster than she can see and picks up her desk, finding out that it was bolted to the floor and rips some of the floor up. Lilah moves back quickly in shock, causing her to tip her chair over and for her to fall to the floor. Seeing her reaction, he decides to go one step further and throws the desk through her window.

"Can't help or won't?" he asked her, deciding to keep his face emotionless as it is sometimes more effective than anything else.

"Does it matter?" she replied shakily, showing that his decision was correct.

"It does to you. You see if you answer one way, I'll kill you slowly and ensure you feel every second of it. If you answer the other way, I'll reunite you with your desk using the same method of travel. Of course, there is a third option."

"And that is?" she asked quickly, definitely not enjoying the first two.

"The third option is to invite my associate in and tell us what we want to know."

It takes less than a second to make her decision.

"Come in Angel," she said quietly.

Angel rushes in and grabs Lilah by the throat, pinning her to the wall.

"Lilah you know what I can do to you," he growled in her ear, causing her to shiver, "but some of the things he will do makes the demon inside me feel sick."

She turns her head as much as she could to look at Xander again, unnerved by his blank expression. She knew that she was caught between a rock and a hard place, and the only chance of survival was to cooperate.

"I'll tell you whatever you want to know," she told them.

"Where are Drusilla and Darla?" Angel asked immediately.

"They're in the conference room on the fourteenth floor," she instantly replied.

"Where is the Sword of Avalon?"

Lilah's eyes widen once she knew what they came for. She'd heard rumours about the sword, that it had been used to kill a god, and the Senior Partners had been very happy when they'd acquired it, so she was told.

"In the vault on the twenty-second floor," she eventually replied.

She knew that she would sign her death warrant whether she answered or not, but at least by answering their questions, she might buy herself enough time to get below the Senior Partners radar.

Angel moves his face so it is almost touching Lilah's. He puts his game-face on and licks her neck, sending a shiver of fear down her spine.

"Thank you for your help Lilah. My advice to you is to leave LA and never come back, if I ever see you again you'll be begging me to kill you before I've finished, and I can make it last."

Angel then throws her up against the wall, knocking her unconscious.

"Why didn't you want her to know your name?" he asked Xander once he was sure she out cold.

"I don't want to be the cause of any more problems for anyone after I'm gone."

Angel could understand that; Xander might not have minded so much if he knew he'd be around to deal with the backlash, but with the prophecy making it clear he wouldn't, he'd want to minimize the chance of Wolfram & Hart retaliating on Buffy and the others.

"I guess we split up here," Angel told him as he turned to leave, "I'll meet you outside."

"Like hell we are," her replied forcefully, "we came in together, we leave together. You know that those ladies of the night won't be alone, if you go by yourself you'll get your self killed again, and I don't know how many times you can come back from hell. I won't kill Dru or Darla, that'll be your pleasure, but I'll kill everything else that gets in the way."

Angel looks like he's going to argue, but changes his mind. He knew that not only was Xander one of the most stubborn people he'd ever met, he was also right; he knew he could take on Dru and Darla and come out on top, but if they have support the chances of his leaving alive were pretty slim. Not that he'd ever admit to him that he was right of course.

"Fine. Once we've dealt with them, we'll go retrieve your sword and get out of here."

Xander knew that they'd have more obstacles in their way if they go by conventional means to the fourteenth floor, but he was noting if not unconventional.

"I have an idea on how to get there without as many distractions," he explained, "but you'll have to trust me."

"I may not like you," he replied with a slight smirk, "but I do trust you. What's your idea?"

Without further notice, Xander grabs Angel and jumps up powerfully, smashing through the ceiling and landing on the floor above. He repeats the process until they reach the fourteenth floor, releasing angel so they can dust themselves off.

"You could have given me a little warning," Angel snapped.

"There's a good chance they have the entire building bugged," Xander replied, "I didn't want to risk a welcoming party waiting for us."

"How come you didn't just teleport us like you did those Fyarl demons?"

"The spell I use only allows me to teleport things to locations that I own, it means I don't have to use as much power each time I cast it."

"Wait, you own a silver mine?" he asked incredulously.

"No time to explain now Deadboy, if you're lucky I'll explain it to you when we get back to the hotel."

They leave the office and find no one waiting for them, so they make their way down the corridors to the conference room. Xander can hear voices inside and could definitely make out both Darla and Dru, but he couldn't tell how many others were with them. He turns to Angel to discuss a plan of action, only to find him breaking the doors down and storming inside.

He quickly follows him, katana at the ready, to find that the ladies of the night had amassed a small army of demons, around fifty or so all of differing types. Knowing that if he doesn't act quickly Angel will be blowing in the wind, he encompasses Angel within a mystical shield, putting another round the two vampiress'.

"What the hell are you dong!" he demanded.

"Angel, I need you to stay inside the shield for the next couple of minutes," he explained calmly while slicing a demon diagonally in half.

"Why they're right there!" he growled.

"Listen to me!" he snapped in reply. "This entire room is no match for me, but I would still be too busy to ensure you live long enough to finish what you started. Give me a couple of minutes to level the playing field and they're all yours."

Xander then becomes the demon version of a Tasmanian devil, spinning round like a mini tornado and laying waste to everything not inside a shield. Soon the floor, walls and ceiling are coved in what was left of the demons, only Xander and three quarters of the scourge of Europe spot free. Knowing that a slime filled room doesn't make for a worthy battlefield, Xander decides to do something about it.

"IGNIS INCENDIER MAXIMUS."

The whole room fills with flames, and all the demon blood and guts littering the conference room gets incinerated. Once the flames dissipate, Xander remove the shields.

"My kitten has got some nasty claws," Drusilla sing-songed, swaying slightly from side to side as tough dancing to a tune only she could hear, "he makes mummy proud he does."

"You're one crazy vamp you know that?" Xander asked her; he'd always been perturbed by the way she talked and this was no exception.

"Miss Edith whispers to me," she continued, "telling me my kitten's going to get his heart's desire. He won't get to taste the fruits of his labours, as he'll soon dance with the stars."

He could feel Angel looking at him strangely, but he didn't want him preoccupied by other things now he was so close to finishing what he started.

"Angel they're all yours," he told him stepping back so as not to be in the way.

Angel shakes his head slightly, to clear his mind for the task at hand.

"Thanks," he replied with a nod.

"Are you here to kill me daddy? Have I been bad?" she asked, smiling strangely at him.

"Shut up Dru," he replied firmly, determined not to let her get to him, "I'm not him."

"No but you could be," Darla told him, trying once again to bring him back into the fold, "join us and everything will be as it was."

"It didn't work before Darla and it won't work now. I've killed you both before, I can do it again."

During their banter, they've slowly been circling one another, each waiting for the other to make the first move. Drusilla's impatience wins out first and she charges Angel, he only just manages to move in time. Xander guesses that he's still not used to the more lucid version of Dru. As he dodges her he gets caught with a kick to the ribs, delivered by Darla. His emotions are still clouding his judgement making it harder for him to defeat them. As he is recovering from the kick he gets another kick sent his way, this time from Dru, which connects with his jaw. There is an audible crack as his jaw breaks.

Xander can tell that despite all of his anger, despite all of his assurances that he was ready, he still can't bring himself to do what needed to be done. He still feels responsible for the Dru turned out, and he still harbours feelings for Darla. Xander knew that if he didn't do something, Angel wouldn't last much longer as, while he might not be able to kill them, Dru and Darla are certainly capable of killing him.

Moving faster than any of them could see, Xander charges into the two lady vampires, knocking them both off their feet and sent them flying into the wall behind them. They both land on the floor dazed but otherwise unharmed, still unaware of what had just hit them.

"IMMOBILIZE."

Both Dru and Darla are now frozen in place; Dru still on the ground in a rather uncomfortable looking position and Darla crouched down on one knee.

"Why did you do that?" Angel asked with anger in his eyes. "I told you I wanted to do this alone."

"Do you know the reason why I lied to Buffy that night?" he asked.

Xander doesn't need to specify what he's talking about, they both know exactly what he means.

"You were jealous of me and wanted me out of the way," he answered, his anger towards him beginning to rise.

"No, when I looked into Buffy's eyes I saw that she was finally prepared to go all out to stop Angelus. Before then she had never wanted to kill him in hope of getting you back. If I'd told her, she would have held out waiting for the spell to work, getting herself killed in the process. Even when she did go all out she nearly lost, only surviving because he needed to get one last taunt in."

"Why are you telling me this now?" he demanded.

"What she was going through then is what you're going through now. Your head knows what needs to be done, but your heart is preventing you to go through with it. If you don't focus and go all out you'll die Angel, and I doubt you'll come back this time. They'll unfreeze in a minute; you have until then to make your decision. I won't interfere either way, but they won't get out of this room unless it's in a Dyson."

Angel looked at Xander and realised that he would actually allow them to dust him. He'd never let it show, but he always had a thought in the back of his mind that if things went against him, Xander would have saved him. It wasn't as though he hadn't done it before, even if he didn't want to, he'd even got between two slayers to prevent his death, even if he had been the catalyst for the situation in the first place.

He looks over at the vampiric equivalents of his mother and daughter, remembering everything he… no, Angelus had done with them; all the mayhem they caused, all the people they killed and he realised that he had to start believing what he told everyone else. He wasn't Angelus, he was Angel, and that meant that he wasn't responsible for what they had done, nor should he feel guilty for doing what he had to.

He knew that the time was nearly at an end for the spell, and that he would once again have to battle the two master vampiress'. He then realised that there was no need to wait so, after removing two stakes from his jacket, he goes over to them both and stakes them in the heart, waiting for the spell to expire and them to turn to dust. He feels a moment of guilt as they both look at him betrayed, but ruthlessly quashes it. He stares at their ashes for a few moments before turning to Xander.

"I can't believe I'm going to say this," he said, almost having to force the words out, "but thank you Xander. I doubt that I would have been able to do that without you."

"Everyone needs to be reminded of the bigger picture sometimes Angel," he replied with a shrug, "especially when you're so close to the smaller one. I hate to rush you, but I've a sword to steal, and a score to settle before I leave."

"What score?" he asked.

"Wolfram & Hart were the ones that killed my real parents," he explained, sadness creeping into his voice. "The Senior Partners combined their energy to destroy them. Before you say it, I know the sword is the main priority, but I'm gonna get my licks in before I go."

"I'm not going to lecture you on personal vendettas, I was just going to ask how you were going to get them back."

"I don't have the time to take them out completely, but I can definitely put a big dent in their operations here," he paused, looking thoughtful for a moment, " perhaps even making them need a realtor. We better get to the vault, you ready for another trip?" he asked.

Without waiting for his answer, Xander once again grabs Angel and jumps, crashing through the ceiling. Repeating the process until reaching the twenty-second floor, Xander releases Angel and begins looking for the vault.

Two minutes later they've found the vault; the large metal door covering the entire wall area. It seemed strange to Xander that the door was so large, especially as they were near the edge of the building, making the vault relatively small. Not having the time, or the patience, to crack the vault, he warns Angel to keep out of the way before ripping the door from it's hinges; the sounds of metal contorting and breaking reverberating through the corridors.

Taking a careful peek inside, not knowing what sort of security devices they had installed, he takes a tentative step inside, putting his hand up when he sense Angel preparing to follow him.

"You better stay here Angel," he warned, "I don't know what countermeasures they'll have installed in here, and they may not be vamp friendly. I'll holler once I've checked it out, let you know when the coast is clear."

He takes two more steps inside before getting hit by a laser. It actually stings, meaning that it was packing some serious power. Another blast the opposite side of him hits him and as he presses forward, a third blast connects from behind. Knowing that they might well have the capacity to increase in power, he couldn't run the risk of leaving them to repeatedly hit him, so he takes one of the leather pouches off of his belt and throws it quickly at one of the lasers. It gets hit about two feet away from the target, but that was close enough for the explosion to knock it out. He repeats the process for the other two.

He was glad that he'd decided to go to his 'spare room' before he left, otherwise he would have never have brought those mystic bombs with him. he just had to remember to remove them before he showed the room to Buffy; he loved her dearly but there's no way he'd allow her near anything as literally explosive, as he doubted there wouldn't be much of Sunnydale left if he did.

"Coasts clear Angel, you can come in," he called out, waiting for him to catch up.

As he looks around, the first thing that strikes him is just how large the vault was; the size was comparable to a warehouse, with rows upon rows of shelves seemingly filled to the brim with relics, artefacts etc. He knew that size had to be magically altered, a mixture of Merlin and Dr. who.

Walking through the vault, Xander begins to feel a pull, as though he was being drawn somewhere. Knowing that he could handle practically anything they could throw at him, he decides to allow himself to be taken wherever this force wanted him to go.

He can vaguely sense Angel following behind, no doubt wondering where he was going, and as he went deeper into the vault, the pull on him strengthened. The urge to run to wherever he was going became almost impossible to resist, but resist he does, as he still didn't trust that he was being lead anywhere good for his health.

He begins walking faster and faster, until he was almost running, then all of a sudden the pull disappears and he finds himself standing in front of a display case. It was then that he realised it wasn't Wolfram & Hart that was luring him; in fact it was the sword.

There, no more than three feet away, was the Sword of Avalon. The sword is about four feet in length, with a jewel-encrusted bevel and the blade has silver and gold gilded writing on it. The writing is in a language that Xander has never seen before, which with thousands of years of memories is rather strange.

He picks up the sword and he's surprised at how light it is, as though he wasn't holding anything at all. Another thing that surprised him was that it felt like it was his, like he'd been looking for it his entire life and now he does he's finally complete. He turns round to find that Angel was looking at him with a mixture of curiosity and concern.

"Is that it?" he asked, indicating the sword.

"Yeah, this is the Sword of Avalon," he replied softly.

"Are you okay Xander?"

"I feel that this belongs to me, like it's part of me," he explained, almost cradling his sword.

Suddenly, Angel starts to look at him concerned about something.

"Didn't you say that it drains you of your life force?"

"Don't worry Angel I'm not dying, yet anyway. The sword needs to be activated first, until then it's perfectly safe."

"How is it activated?" he enquired.

The last thing he needed was to have this particular conversation with Angel in the offices of the most evil law firm in existence, well the most evil demonic law firm in existence.

"Okay Angel, I need to talk to you about something, but now isn't the time. I'll tell you everything you want to know then."

He could tell that Angel wanted to press the issue, but eventually decides against it, either due to their location or because he couldn't actually do anything without the risk of Xander doing something in reply.

"Now you have the sword, wasn't there something else you wanted to do?" he asked with a smile.

Xander couldn't remember ever seeing Angel smile before. Sure, he'd witnessed Angelus smile, he sometimes thought that rigor mortis had set in on the bastards face, but he'd never witnessed a smile from Angel. He guessed Buffy had, if she hadn't then he really must be a sullen bastard as there is no way Xander could be around Buffy and not smile.

"You're right, there is," he replied with a smile of his own. "Firstly we need to get the most powerful weapons and artefacts out of here."

"You might not have noticed this," Angel began, "but this place is huge; we don't have time to go through everything to find what's powerful or not. We also don't have anything to carry them in."

"Not a problem," he countered with a shrug, "I can perform a diagnostic spell to make the most powerful objects in here glow. NYSTINEHZLOS REDNAXELA. As for carrying them, I have a plan."

Xander glows purple for a moment, before the glow forms into a ring that surrounds him, increasing exponentially with every passing moment, phasing through one shelf after another. As the ring touched each shelf, it too was encompassed with a purple glow for a moment before it diminished, apart from when an object matching Xander's mental criteria was met, in which case the object in question would remain glowing the same deep purple. After about a minute, the ring has disappeared completely and both demons could make out a number of items that were glowing like beacons in the darkened vault.

Wordlessly they split up, each taking a different side of the expansive vault, retrieving one item after another, piling them all up in the middle of the room. Angel had to put on the leather gloves he had been carrying with him since he had to use a cross one night, as several of the relics were holy and therefore harmful to him.

Once they had the majority of the items together, Xander uses the teleportation spell he used before to teleport the items to his trunk, which has had similar modifications to the vault they were in. Xander then closes his eyes and concentrates once more, this time being encompassed by a turquoise glow, which acts in the same way as the purple one before. the difference is that every item touched by the glow is affected, each one surrounded by the same pulsing turquoise glow.

"What did you just do Xander?"

"It's a trick my great, great, great aunt used one time when her second husband tried to use her weapons. It's a supernatural version of a padlock, keyed into my DNA pattern and a unique phrase I'd have to say. It's not fool proof, nothing really is, but it'll definitely ensure that nothing in this room could be used or misused for a very long time, or until I unlock them, something that will happen approximately the twelfth of never."

"You're just full of surprises aren't you?" Angel asked.

"It's part of my charm," he replied. "Okay, I have some gifts for Giles and Wesley, and put back a lot of their plans for a few hundred years. Do you know where they keep the Files & Records department?"

"Sub-Level twenty-seven I believe. What have you got planned?"

"I'm going to take all the info they have on us, then I'm going to take the info they have on their most valuable clients, and then I'm going to destroy the rest. I also want to know your surname."

Angel glares at me but there's mirth in his eyes.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but I thought that your revenge would be a little bit more bloody. I mean they did kill your parents."

"You and I both know that I don't have the time to go after the Senior Partners," he replied plainly, obviously not liking the situation, "not that it hasn't crossed my mind on more than one occasion. Even if I succeeded I doubt I'd survive it, and my death card has already been filled."

Xander chuckles a bit but both he and Angel know that there was no humour behind it. Knowing that Angel doesn't have any more weapons on him, Xander hands him his katana, no longer needing it.

"I'm taking some of their most powerful mystical items and ensured that they can't use the ones I leave for hundreds of years. I'm going to destroy all of their records concerning the good guys. It will take years before they're up to speed again. If it helps to make you lives even a little easier I'll be happy wherever I end up after. I also have one more thing I want to do, but I won't be sure whether I can do it until we leave."

"Our fifteen minutes have been up for a while now, the other will be trying to find us and probably having to deal with the guards we bypassed using your unique shortcut. We better make our way to them and hope they're not in over their heads before we get there. Thanks for the use of the katana by the way."

Xander holds the Sword of Avalon in his hands and looks at it with reverence.

"I have all the weapons I need right here. I thought we'd take the long way down, you up for it?" he asked.

"Lead the way."

The way down was no less fun than it was to go up, although Angel took a more hands on approach this time. Xander decided to let him have his fun, now he'd put two ghosts to rest Angel seemed to be a little different, not to mention a little antsy as the battle was pretty anti-climactic given the amount of build up it had. It didn't take them long to get down to the lobby, where they found Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn fighting off several more guards.

Gunn must have seen the Evil Dead movies as he was using the shotgun to great effect, headshots only causing them to get an extreme haircut. Wesley was faring well, his fighting skills a marked improvement from the last time Xander saw him, wielding the battleaxe like it was part of him. Cordelia was doing the best she could, but she wasn't fighting demons that could be killed easily by crossbow bolts and was doing little more than slowing them down, although it was enough to allow the other to keep the guards at bay.

Angel and Xander looked at each other, both impressed by the teamwork the three humans were showing and the determination they could see in their eyes. Xander guessed that Angel's never really appreciated how capable the other members on his team were in his absence, a trait that Buffy also shows from time to time. Having watched long enough, Xander decides to join the fray.

"You take the six on the left, I'll take the six on the right?" he asked Angel.

"Fine with me."

They both charge in, Xander reaching his poor victims a couple of moments before Angel, dispatching them with ease. His sword sounds as thought it were humming a melody sent straight from Heaven with every pass through the air, slicing through the guards like a hot knife through butter. There was only one sound that exceeded it in Xander's mind, that of Buffy's melodious laughter on those rare moments when she completely forgets about her Calling and is simply the beautiful young woman that has captured his heart.

Angel was moving like water through his opponents, making one movement flow into another with a grace he hadn't felt in a long time. He was impressed with the katana Xander had given him to use; the balance was perfect and it was clear that he had taken great care of it. He barely felt any resistance as he sliced into the guards and wondered if he's ever used a sharper weapon.

The fight was over almost as quickly as it began, Wolfram & Hart's finest no match for the two forces of nature and soon Xander and the Fang Gang were the only ones standing.

"It took you two long enough," Cordelia complained, although she was smiling slightly. That what you came for?" she asked Xander, pointing at his big weapon.

Xander nods and presents the sword to them all, as though it was a long lost relative instead of an inanimate object.

"Fang Gang, meet the Sword of Avalon. Sword of Avalon, meet the Fang Gang."

Three sets of rolling eyes are the only response he gets, although he does hear a small chuckle coming from Angel. 'My humour must have finally rubbed off on him,' he thought, 'Cordy'll kill me.'

"So are we done yet, or have you not fulfilled your butch manly an quota?"

"There is something I want to do before I go, you're of course more than welcome to join me, it just wouldn't be a party without you Cor."

"Damn straight it wouldn't."

Wesley and Gunn simply nod their assent, seeing no reason not to join in the fun, so they all make their way down to sub-level twenty-seven, quickly dealing with any resistance they faced. Xander half considered asking if they could break Jarod out while they were down there, but he doubted any of them would even know what he was talking about.

It doesn't take them long to find the entrance to the Files & Records department, everyone walking inside to find rows upon rows of filing cabinets, almost as far as the eye could see. It was obvious that whatever magic they'd used on the vault had also been used there as well. What got Xander was how everything was a pristine white; the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and even the filing cabinets were a pure brilliant white. If it weren't for the shadowed areas caused by the lighting, he was sure it would be next to impossible to distinguish one thing from another.

Another strange thing was that, no more than six feet away from them was a plain looking woman, reminding Xander of a stereotypical female librarian. She was sat behind a white desk, which was bare apart from a telephone, an A4 writing pad with a pen attached to it via a chain, and a picture frame containing a photo of what Xander guessed would be her boyfriend. She didn't seem perturbed in the slightest to see five armed people entering what was basically her office, in fact had she not been looking from one person to the next they would have probably believed she didn't even know they were there.

Xander could tell there was something inhuman about her, her scent was off and her skin was slightly grey, but he couldn't be certain whether it was because she was a demon, or just the physical representation of boredom. His first reaction was to kill her, absently thinking that he might be putting her out of her misery, but he hadn't yet killed anyone or anything in cold blood and didn't want to start now.

"Excuse me miss," he began politely, seeing no reason to be rude yet, "I was hoping you could help me."

"Of course, how can I help?"

"Would you be able to tell me Angelus' human surname please?"

"Certainly," she replied. His suspicions that she was indeed not human were confirmed when her eyes turned into miniature Rolodex's, her expression completely blank as she searched for the information he asked for. "The human surname of Angelus is O'Shaughnessey."

"Thank you."

He turns to Angel with a questioning look, knowing he doesn't have to say what's on his mind.

"She's right, now you know why I don't use it."

A look passed between Angel and Xander, as they both realised the implications of what the woman had just done. Even if they took their information out of the building, Wolfram & Hart would still have access to it by simply asking her for it. Xander waits for Angel's nod of agreement before moving his sword hand faster than the woman could hope to see, looking like nothing strange had occurred until her head slips off of her shoulders and lands with a thud on the table, the sound echoing throughout the room. A few seconds later, the head and body lose cohesion and become nothing more than two grey puddles of slime.

Xander didn't want to do it, but she had seen all of their faces and as she no doubt had a photographic memory, she was now a danger to both the LA and Sunnydale gangs. When it comes to the people that Xander cares about, he is capable of doing whatever necessary to ensure their safety and what he'd just done falls into that category.

"What did you do that for, she wasn't trying to hurt us?" Cordelia asked, shocked that someone she'd known most of her life could be so mercenary.

"Cordy, I came down her to retrieve some info and then destroy everything else. If I had left her alive that would have been pointless," he replied, his voice thick with emotion.

"She had all the knowledge Wolfram & Hart had in her head Cordelia," Angel explained in support of Xander's actions. "She was as dangerous to us as any other demon we might face."

Hearing Angel agree with Xander calmed Cordy down, and looking towards Wes and Gunn he could see that they too understood why he'd done it, but it was clear they didn't like it. The fact that it was abundantly clear Xander didn't like it anymore than they did actually made them more at ease; no one should ever feel good about making decisions like that, for if they do they didn't make it for the right reasons.

"Okay our time here is limited; I doubt it'll take them long before they get reinforcements, although it already feels like they've already sent a small army at us tonight. We also have the disadvantage that sunrise is in a couple of hours. I want to remove any information they have on you guys here and Buffy and the others in Sunnydale. We better remove any information they have on Faith and Oz too, just to be on the safe side. I'll take Buffy, Dawn and Joyce as well as my own, Angel you take Willow and Faith, Cordy you take Tara, Wesley you've got Giles, and that leaves Oz for you Gunn."

"What about Spike?" Wesley asked.

"Fuck him," both Angel and Xander replied succinctly, causing them to smile slightly at each other.

"I don't know if you've noticed this Xander," Cordelia began, "but there's no chance of us being able to go through all of these files."

"I know," he replied, "which is why I'm going to help cut through the searching process. I'm going to use a spell that will search through everything in this room and colour code any document that has info on us. Angel's red, Cordy's blue, Wes is green, Gunn is purple, and I'm yellow. If anything glows with more than one colour, leave them until you've got everything else. Everyone clear on their colour?"

"Do I have to be blue?" Cordelia whined.

"Yes."

Xander closes his eyes and soon becomes encompassed by a multicoloured glow, Angel recognising it as similar to the spells he used upstairs. As before, the glow changed into a circle that steadily increased in size until it had passed through every filing cabinet in the room. As the spell found a document, it made it glow the colour Xander decided on, also causing the draw the document the folder was in to glow the same colour.

Once Xander opens his eyes once more, they all realise the spell has run it's course and they all go in search for their colour. It takes almost an hour for them to collect everything, the sheer vastness of the room meaning that it took a while to be certain that they had gotten everything. By the time they've finished, they're all pretty much loaded down with information.

"Okay you four take the files and go back to the hotel, I'll finish up here and meet you there."

Cordy looks like she's about to argue, but Angel just guides her out of the room, Wes and Gunn following closely behind. Now Xander is alone in the room, he decides to vent his anger by causing some collateral damage. He begins systematically ripping one filing cabinet apart after another, allowing the stress and anger that has built up within him over the last few months to slowly ebb away. When he finally feels calm again, he realises that he'd been at it for nearly an hour.

Knowing that he'd been lucky not to have any more guards show up, not that he'd have much trouble if they did, he decides that now would be the best time to depart. Before he does, and in case he's unable to complete his final objective, he leaves them a parting gift.

"IGNIS INCENDIER MAXIMUS ETERNUM."

That room is going to be on fire for the next ten years or so, maybe more if they don't have a powerful and competent mage on their books. The spell is pretty simple and works a lot like the trick candles people put on birthday cakes; if they put the fire out, it will re-ignite, it also doesn't need a fuel source so it will remain on fire even in a vacuum. He knows that they no doubt have contracts and other documents that are protected from damage, so this way even if they don't burn, they're still unavailable to them for a long time.

Happy with his handy work, Xander makes his way back to the lobby, stopping on the way to send a power surge through their security system, wiping any and all footage they had of who caused all the damage; another safety measure to help ensure they don't receive any fallback from the Senior Partners.

Not meeting any more resistance, Xander walks through the empty lobby and outside the building. Turning to face the building, he tries to decide whether or not to attempt one last act of retribution. He wanted to bring them down, literally. He knew that between his strength and magical ability, he should be able to topple their building like he had the whorehouse in Sunnydale.

There were a couple of factors he had to take into account though; this building was several times the size of the other building he demolished, and he was in the middle of a densely packed area of LA. That meant that even if he could bring it down, he'd find it extremely difficult to control it's descent and could destroy the neighbouring office buildings. As much as he wanted to cause as much trouble to Wolfram & Hart, he couldn't justify destroying innocent companies property in his quest.

Sighing to himself, he decides to leave the building standing, but throws the remaining leather pouches he had attached to his belt through random windows, the sounds of the offices exploding causing him to smile as he turns and makes his way back to the hotel.

Although the hotel was the other side of the city, it t doesn't take too long for him to arrive outside; one of the perks at being able to run very fast. As he makes his way towards the entrance, the first rays of sun peak appear so he stops to witness the dawning of a new day.

Ever since he first discovered the prophecy, he had tried to see as many sunrises as possible, but being the lazy bugger that he is, he hasn't seen as many as he could so when he does he does his best to savour every moment. He doesn't get to savour this one as much as he'd like, as Cordelia swings open the door and glares at him.

"Harris, get in here now!"

"Coming dear!"

He follows Cordelia into the hotel lobby to find everyone waiting there for me, obviously wanting to ask just what was going on. The objects he had taken from the vault were on the floor; he guessed Angel didn't feel it was safe to leave things that could possibly lead to the end of the world in the back of his truck.

"Before I explain everything," he began, "it might be an idea if Angel told you about what happened tonight."

"Why can't you tell them?" he asked.

"They wouldn't believe me if I did."

Angel couldn't help but agree with that, he'd witnessed everything that Xander did and he was having trouble believing some of it. He definitely hadn't got used to the fact he wasn't human.

"Good point."

For the next ten minutes, they listen to angel recounting everything that happened, his photographic memory coming in handy and ensuring that they received a detail explanation. Xander isn't entirely sure how much actually penetrated, as their expressions grew steadily more shocked as time went on, all three casting furtive looks his way on occasion.

Once Angel had finished his testimony, all eyes once again turn to Xander and wait for him to explain just how he was capable of doing the things Angel witnessed.

"Okay the first thing you all need to know is that I'm not human."

"I've known that for years," Cordelia commented with a snort.

"I mean that I am a demon," he continued, glaring at her slightly, "a pureblood Savox demon to be exact. I'm not going to go into details, I'm Wes can fill you all in on my kind later."

He could see Gunn tense up upon hearing that he was a demon, and Wesley had gone a whiter shade of pale on hearing just what type of demon he was. Cordelia just looked at him like he'd told her that mullets and polyester were back in fashion. When he sees Gunn slowly making his way towards the weapons closet, he knew he had to reassure them.

"Before you feel the need to grab a weapon Gunn, I promise I'm one of the good guys; Angel wouldn't have allowed me to be anywhere near you if I wasn't." on Angel's nod of confirmation, they all visibly relax. "I never told anyone before a few weeks ago, but I won't bore you with the reasons why as they're all academic now and don't really concern any of you, except maybe Cordy as she's known me longer than the rest of you combined."

"No need, I think I have an idea why. I don't like it, seeing as I'm now a member of the 'I've dated a demon' club, but I do understand."

Xander knew he had been let off big time by Cordelia and decided to not look a gift horse in the mouth.

"Thanks Cor, that means a lot. The reason I've come forward now is because there's a demon goddess in Sunnydale called Glorificus, who's looking for a mystical key that can help her get home. The downside to that is if she uses the key, the barriers between dimensions will crumble and they'll all merge together, basically putting us at the bottom of the food chain. There are only two ways to stop that from happening; one is to destroy the key…"

"Why don't you do that then?" Cordelia asked cutting him off.

"Cor, Dawn is the key."

"Dawn, Buffy's sister Dawn?" she asked, suddenly hating the first option.

She'd always liked Dawn, she had her mother's good looks and none of Buffy's personality, so she'd hate to see anything bad happen to her.

"Yeah, I don't have time to explain it all to you but she is. This of course means that option one is out, not that it was ever an option to begin with. Option two is we kill Glory, which is why I need this," he explained, holding up his sword once more.

It's then that he realised he's been holding it since the moment he found it, even when running through the streets of LA. Not really seeing a problem with that, he keeps a firm hold and rests it on his shoulder.

"As I told you all before," he continued, "this is the Sword of Avalon. It has the power to kill gods, but can only be wielded by a demon. That's why I revealed my true self."

Xander was going to leave it at that, not getting into the prophecy or how the sword works, but Angel anticipated that.

"Tell them everything Xander or I will," he promised.

"Fine," he growled. "There is, as there normally is, a catch; for the sword to have the power required to kill a god it must take the life force of the wielder."

"That's just great!" Cordelia exclaimed sarcastically. "You finally get to save the day; you must be feeling pretty special. I bet that Buffy and Willow are both fawning over you about it."

"They don't and can't know," he told her, "at least not yet."

"Why not?"

"If Buffy knew she'd want to find another way, which would eventually mean she'd have to choose between Dawn and myself. We all know what her decision would and should be, I simply want to save her the pain of making it."

"How come the sword hasn't killed you yet?" Gunn asked, thinking that he'd had to be pretty stupid to hold a sword that'll kill him when used.

"The sword needs to be activated."

"How?"

"I can't tell you," he replied, casting a quick glance in Angel's direction.

"Can't or won't?" Cordelia pressed.

"Won't," he replied, his tone indicating that line of conversation was over. "I need to be leaving soon and I need to talk to Angel for a while before I go. Can we go to your office?"

"Sure."

Xander didn't bother to wait for Angel's answer, as he had already started waling towards his office, reluctantly leaving the sword on the counter outside. Angel just looks at the others for a moment before shrugging and following suit.

"You better close the door," Xander told him once Angel walked in, "it'll make it harder for Cordelia to eavesdrop."

"Hey!"

"See what I mean?"

Angel smiles slightly and closes the door, much to the annoyance of Cordelia.

"What do you want to talk about?"

"I still need to hold up my end of the bargain and anchor your soul. I also need to talk to you about the prophecy."

"Why, does it concern me?" he asked.

"No but it will effect you. The prophecy states that the love of a slayer and a Savox will defeat Glory."

Xander didn't need to spell it out for him, Angel knew what it meant and he suddenly felt that there was no need to anchor his soul, as the chances of his ever achieving another moment of perfect happiness had just shrivelled down to nothing.

He had selfishly thought that there would never be a challenger to his ownership of Buffy's heart; that Riley bloke a prime example, but that was always under the proviso that Buffy never showed any interest in Xander beyond friendship. One of his biggest fears when he had been in Sunnydale was that someday Buffy might realise just what she had in Xander, and now it seems that she has.

"She loves you?" he asked in a shocked whisper.

"To be honest I don't know for sure," he confessed. "I know that her feelings for me have grown, I can see it when she looks at me."

"Why are you telling me?"

"There was a time in my life when I would have enjoyed telling you this to rub it in your face. I don't feel like that now; I know that you'll always have a place in her heart, no matter what happens between us. I just thought that you deserved to know, and I didn't want you to find out from someone else."

"Don't hurt her," Angel warned, not caring how strong or powerful Xander was.

"I wish I could promise that," he replied with a sad smile, "but you're forgetting that her love is a guarantee I'm dying soon. If there was any way to change what's going to happen I would, but the bottom line is I can't. That's the other reason I'm going to anchor your soul; I know that having you around again after I'm gone will bring back her feelings for you and I want to know that, if she decides to be with you again, she can be happy."

"I don't know what to say."

"There's nothing to say," he replied, "I'm doing this more for her than for you. You better sit down, this is going to hurt," he warned.

"Before you do this you better tell the others what you're going to do."

"I'll let you do it, I don't feel like facing Cor at the moment."

"I don't blame you," he replied with a slight smile, having been on the receiving end of a Cordelia ass chewing.

Angel leaves his office, and Xander would have needed to be deaf to not hear Cordelia's scream of delight when he tells them. He comes back in after a few minutes and sits down in his chair.

"Okay I'm ready."

"SNOITNETNI DOOG HTIW SI LLEH OT DAOR EHT, THGIL EHT EES YLURT UOY NAC SSENKRAD NI YLNO."

Angel did his best to deal with the pain, but even the strongest wills have a breaking point. His scream made the rest of the Fang Gang rush into his office.

"What are you doing to him!" Gunn asked in an accusing tone.

"The pain will pass," he assured them, "his soul is becoming one with him instead of simply being a passenger. That sort of thing isn't painless."

"It's okay Gunn I'm fine," Angel managed to get out.

Angel stands up, he's in pain but he has it under control again, well it isn't overwhelming him anymore.

"How will we know that it's worked?" Wesley asked. "I'm not doubting your skills Xander but…"

"I can feel it Wes" Angel told him, cutting him off. "Before, I could always feel the demon inside me fighting for control; now all I feel is peace."

"Oh I forgot to tell you, a side effect of the spell is that it destroys the demon inside."

"What!" they all shouted in unison.

"You're still in possession of all of your vampire abilities," he explained, "but I don't think you could be classified as a demon anymore. Try putting your game-face on, you should find that you can't."

Angel tries to morph into his vampiric face but is unable to, he makes several more attempts and is unsuccessful each time. He looks at Xander in astonishment.

"I don't know if you've noticed yet," Xander continued before Angel could say anything, but how many heartbeats can you hear?"

"Fo…" Angel began until his eyes widen in utter shock as he realises that he can actually hear five distinct heartbeats. It was slow and faint, but he had a heartbeat. He was alive.

"Why didn't you tell me before?" he asked in awe at his new situation.

Xander puts on his patented lop-sided grin, making him look his true age instead of the weathered look he had when he first arrived.

"I wanted it to be a surprise," he replied simply. "I'm afraid that you're still susceptible to sunlight, crosses etc. and you always will be sensitive to them, but you'll only get a rash from holy objects, holy water etc. and you'll have to use a high factor sun screen as you'll get sunburn easily, but you'll be able to operate as a fully functioning member of society."

"You mean that I'll be able to go out in sunlight?"

"The transition could take years, but yes, one day you'll be able to take a walk through the park without a fire extinguisher."

"What about blood?"

"Like everything else, your need to consume blood will never go, but it will lessen over time and your normal digestive system will begin to take its place. There could come a time that one rare steak a day could provide you with all the blood you need. I can't give you definite answers to any of this, only time will tell."

Angel walks up to me and shakes Xander's hand.

"Thank you Xander," he said sincerely, "I'll never be able to repay you."

"Take care of her and we're even. I better be going, can't stay away for too long."

"Goodbye Xander," Angel said warmly, unable to stop smiling.

"See you Deadboy."

Cordelia pulls him into a hug, surprising him by the gesture. He could feel her shaking slightly as she tries to hold back tears.

"I'll see you around Xand," she whispered in his ear.

"No you won't," he whispered back sadly, "but thanks for everything."

The keeps hold of him for a couple more seconds before kissing him on the cheek tenderly and releasing him, blinking rapidly to keep the tears at bay.

"Just don't lose Xander, I like living."

Wesley goes over and shakes his hand firmly.

"It's been a pleasure to know you Xander."

"Thanks Wes. I'm leaving you a couple of the items that came with me from Wolfram & Hart, make sure that they don't get misused."

"You have my word."

Gunn also goes over to shake his hand, showing him a highly involved and intricate greeting that looked a bit like sign language.

"Listen bro, I don't really know you, but anyone that can match Cor in insults and is willing to do what you're gonna do can't be all bad."

"Thanks man, it's a shame I didn't get to meet you sooner."

Xander leaves the office and retrieves his sword from the counter before selecting a few objects for Wesley and teleporting the rest his truck. Angel has a good thing going there and a good team behind him, Xander just hoped he didn't fuck it up.

Now Xander had the sword, he felt a new level of confidence that they were going to win the war against Glory. Now it's only a matter of time before the bitch finds out when you come after his friends.

Chapter Nine

Xander finally got back from LA around three in the afternoon, having to stop off and eat somewhere. He'd found that with everything he'd done in the past twenty-four hours, he'd worked up quite an appetite, so he'd stopped at one of those all you can eat diners, ensuring they only broke even that week by the time he left.

Putting his keys down next t the phone, he notices that he had a message so before crashing for a few hours he decided to play it.

"Xander, Glory came and took Dawn. As soon as you get in you need to come here right away."

A white hot feeling of rage courses through his body on hearing that Glory had Dawn, his apartment beginning to shake as he unconsciously allows his power to flare up. He begins to prepare to teleport over, but realises that he might need a few things with him so he races down to his truck and then teleports himself and the truck to his house.

Grabbing everything he got from LA, he rushes inside and finds Giles in the library, the Englishman coming over to him the moment he noticed his arrival.

"It is good to see you Xander."

"Same here Giles. What happened?"

Giles sighs, knowing that his explanation is not going to go down well with the young man. He indicates that they should sit down at the small oak table, as Giles was feeling a little sore.

"It seems that Dawn had told Spike that we were leaving," he began. "Once he realised that we were not going to take him with us, he betrayed us and told Glory whom Dawn really was. She had her mages do a locator spell and found us here. They had us surrounded before we knew what had happened; your wards worked perfectly for a while but as you said, there isn't much if anything that could stop Glory for long and she broke through. They overwhelmed us before we had a chance to put up much of a fight and once Glory had her hands on Dawn, her mages whisked them all away."

If Xander had the ability to read thoughts, he would have agreed wholeheartedly with Giles'.

"I'm going to kill him!" he hissed, barely containing his anger. "How long do we have before Glory tries to get home Giles?"

"I've found out that Glory has to wait for a particular planetary alignment to occur before the portal to her dimension is available," he explained. "That happens in ten days."

"So Dawn is safe until then?" he asked, hoping they had time to think of a plan to rescue her, instead of just rushing in and possibly getting her killed.

"Yes, Glory needs her alive to perform the ceremony. We better not wait until then to make our move, in case we fail."

"Giles, I have no intention of letting that bitch have Dawn any longer than absolutely necessary. I just wanted to know whether there was time for a plan or whether I had to find Glory and rip her apart right now."

"Of course, my mind is not exactly firing on all cylinders at the moment I'm afraid."

It's only now that Xander realises the state that Giles was in; his clothing was torn and he had a nasty bruise just above his right eye.

"How are you?" he asked concerned, feeling bad that he hadn't asked before.

"I have a couple of bruises but I'll be fine, I've had worse."

"Where is everyone?"

"Buffy is trying to calm Joyce down; she's been in an almost catatonic state since Glory took Dawn. Willow is looking after Tara in their room."

Another wave of anger washes over him on hearing that Tara was hurt. He's going to enjoy making Glory bleed; no one hurts his girls.

"What's wrong with Tara?"

"Glory did something to her," he answered, his anger over everything that happened causing his accent to slip, "we have no idea what though. She's alive, but apart from that she's barely aware of our existence. It's as if her mind just isn't there apart from the most basic functions."

Xander wanted nothing more than to go out right now, find Spike and make him wish Dru never turned him, but the other come first so he knew what he had to do.

"Okay, I'm going to see what I can do for Tara, then I'll check on Joyce and Buffy, and then I'll find and kill Spike."

"We don't have time for revenge Xander," Giles warned him, echoing his words before Xander went to LA.

"Listen Giles, I have the Sword of Avalon, soon both Glory and I will be pushing up daisies, and everything will go back to their normally scheduled Hellmouth problems. I don't have the time to wait before I get to see a Spike-shaped dust pile. I know what the bigger picture is and I won't risk Dawns life for anything, especially a piece of trash like Spike, but if I have the chance, I will kill him."

"If you can kill the bastard before we have to rescue Dawn I say good for you," Giles conceded, wonting nothing more than to rip the bugger apart himself, "just as long as you remember what's important."

"I always do. I've brought the sword and a few other trinkets I acquired during my visit to la la land with me, while I'm upstairs checking on the girls why don't you calm your nerves by having a browse."

Xander could tell that Giles was desperately trying to hide the gleam in his eyes at discovering just what Xander had brought with him, as it had been a long time since he'd had the pleasure of cataloguing artefacts. It was one of the few things he missed from working at the British Museum.

"I think I will do just that," he replied eventually, carefully controlling the boyish exuberance he was suddenly feeling.

Xander gives Giles the keys to his truck and leaves in the library, making his way upstairs. He goes into Willow and Tara's room first, finding Tara lying on the bed, her eyes open but unfocussed and her face a complete blank. Willow was sitting at the side of the bed, her head resting on Tara's lap, tear tracks on her otherwise flawless face.

"Hey Wills," he greeted softly, not wanting to startle her.

Her eyes lock with his and after kissing Tara softly on the forehead, runs up to her childhood friend and throws herself at him, crying heavy tears on his shoulder while hugging him with all her might.

"Xander, I don't know what to do; I'm so angry right now it's all I can do not to go and take Glory on by myself," she sobbed, her voice so full of pain and sadness that Xander has to suppress the urge to cry right along with her.

"I'm so proud of you Willow; there's no way you would have been able to resist that urge a few weeks ago. The fact that you have proves that you're getting your magic under control."

"All I can think about is making her pay for what she's done to my Tara."

"I know Willow, I feel the same." After placing a kiss on her hairline, Xander gently pushes Willow away from him a little, so he was able to look her in the eye "If it's okay, I want to check to see what she did to Tara; I can't say whether I can do anything to help her, but at least we'd have a clearer idea of what's wrong."

She nods her head in consent so Xander gently sets her back down on the ground and goes to sit at Tara's side, taking her delicate hand in both if his.

"Hey there Tare, I'm going to see if I can help you okay? First I'm going to check to see what she did to you, I promise it won't hurt," he told her gently.

He releases her hand, gently placing it on her stomach, and then positions his hands a few inches above her, his hands emitting a pale blue glow that spreads out to envelope her body. The first thing he does is check for internal injuries, aware that she wasn't able to voice whether she was in any pain or not. He breathes a sigh of relief when he finds nothing to worry about and moves his hands up her body to her head, focussing all his attention there. What he finds causes bile to rise up in his throat and an almost maniacal desire to unleash his own personal hell on the ones responsible.

"Physically she's fine; no broken bones or internal injuries so at least we know she's not in any pain. The problem is her mind… it's gone."

"Gone? What do you mean gone?"

"Her mind has gone; her brain is working but only the base information is there. She knows how to breather, she knows how to blink, but the rest is gone."

"Is there anything you can do?"

"There might be a couple of spells that might be able to reverse whatever Glory has done, but I have to check a few things out and know for certain that they are viable options. You also need to be aware that we might not get Tara back to her wonderful self until Glory is dead."

As Willow was listening to him, Xander noticed the beginnings of her Resolve Face spreading across her features. Knowing that whatever she was thinking would end badly, he had to nip it in the bud before her mind was made up. Getting up out of the chair, he goes over to her and places his hands on her shoulders, offering her his love and support.

"Willow, whatever you are thinking of doing, don't. You go up against her, you wouldn't last more than a minute before you ended up like Tara, or worse dead. The best thing you can do at the moment is just to be here for the woman that you love. I promise you I'll do everything I can."

He could see that he had been able to get through to her in the nick of time, no longer could he see her growing determination to gain retribution for her girlfriend. He's not sure how either Tara or Willow would cope without the other; they were literally different sides of the same coin, only truly complete when together. If Willow had gotten herself killed in an attempt to take Glory on alone, he doubted Tara would ever have recovered.

She breathes slowly a few times, doing her best to control her burgeoning emotions, before hugging him in appreciation.

"Thanks Xander, I needed to hear that. You always seem to know what to say, you can't read minds can you?" she asked him semi-seriously.

He sends her his best grin and gazes at her for a few seconds, as though he was actually reading her thoughts, before answering.

"I knew you'd say that. Don't worry; there isn't anything demonic about it I promise. It's just one of the responsibilities of being a best friend Wills, knowing what to say and when to say it. If you're okay for the moment, I'm going to go see how Buffy and Joyce are before I have run a little errand."

Willow nods to indicate she's fine and returns to her seat, keeping vigil on Tara. Xander leaves her and goes into Joyce's room, where he finds her and Buffy hugging each other tightly on the bed, crying on each other's shoulders. Seeing them both in so much pain causes him to feel incredibly guilty for not being there to protect Dawn when she needed him the most. Stepping closer to the bed, his throat closes up as he tries to say something to them.

"I'm so sorry Joyce," he managed to choke out, his self-loathing increasing exponentially with every passing moment.

They're startled by his voice, neither one hearing him enter. After a moment his words register and they both look at him confused.

"Why are you sorry?" Joyce asked.

"I should have been here, I should have protected her, I should have gone after Glory a long time ago, I…" he trails off, his thoughts filled with all the things he should have done but didn't, wondering what life would be like now if he had.

Joyce and Buffy release each other, Joyce getting up and going over to Xander. He averts his eyes, feeling unable to look at her. She gently takes his chin and so he has no choice but to meet her gaze, Joyce knowing that he could easily prevent her from doing so if that was what he truly wanted.

"There was nothing you could have done Xander. You sent us all here to be safe and if that bastard hadn't betrayed us, that is exactly what we would be. Because of Spike my baby girl, my precious little girl…"

She begins to cry again, her emotions completely out of control, and Xander's instincts take over; pulling her into an embrace and allowing her to cry herself out, rubbing her back and making nonsensical but soothing noises. Once she calms down he releases her and this time has no trouble looking at her, his face set in grim determination.

"I give you my word that he'll pay Joyce, that's a 100 Xander certified guarantee. I also promise you that we'll get Dawn back, even if it takes my dying breath to do it."

Xander knew that it was more than likely that it would take his dying breath to ensure Dawn's safety, a price he believed was more than worth it. This whole ting was just too personal; as long as his family was safe the rest of the world could stick it as far as he was concerned right now.

Focussing on Joyce, Xander doesn't see the look that Buffy sent his way when he talked about giving his final breath to ensure Dawn's safety; a mixture of pain and anger.

"I know that you will save her Xander; you've always protected both of my girls."

Her eyes begin to water once more, but instead of Xander comforting her again, Buffy leads her back to the bed, covering her with a blanket before leading Xander outside.

"She's right you know," she told him after closing the bedroom door.

"About what?"

"About always being there to protect us. I know that you'd take on the Devil himself if it kept us alive. It's one of things that I lo… like about you."

He's so caught out by her slip of the tongue that he is completely unprepared for the punch she lands square on the chin.

"Deceiving me isn't," she snarled.

The shock of the blow causes him to land on his ass, although he's back to his feet before she could blink. He's staring at her with a mix of anger and confusion, the latter winning by the slimmest of margins.

"What the hell was that for?" he asked, his tone far calmer than he felt.

"I found the prophecy Xander; when were you going to tell us? When were you going to tell me?"

Knowing why she was so angry with him deflates his own anger at being hit, having expected a reaction like that when she found out. He knew that when Buffy got like this she had an almost polygraph like ability to tell whether he was lying so he goes with the truth.

"Honestly, I was hoping I wouldn't have to until the last minute."

His frank and honest answer surprised her, but her anger allows that feeling to pass quickly.

"Why not?"

"You know exactly why Buff, you just don't want to acknowledge it. We both know that there's only one other way guaranteed to stop Glory destroying the world Buff; I didn't want you to feel that you had to choose. Not that I have any misconceptions as to what your decision would be, I just wanted to spare you from having to make it."

Xander could see the anger Buffy felt bleed away during his explanation, replaced by a sadness that that consumes her enough that she begins crying heaving sobs, almost collapsing into Xander's arms.

"Why does it have to be you?" she asked eventually in a soft voice, reminding Xander once again just how vulnerable Buffy could be at times. The fact that she allowed him to see that side of her humbled him.

"Why does it have to be anyone Buff? I don't like it anymore than you do, but we're in a war and sometimes sacrifices have to be made. The thought of dying isn't exactly a happy one, but knowing that my death will help save everyone I care about is. If there was another way to kill her that meant we all survived I would grab it with both hands, but there isn't so we have to play with the hand we're dealt."

Buffy says the next thing so quietly that Xander doubted he would have caught it if he didn't have enhanced hearing.

"Is the prophecy why you told me you love me?" she asked, almost fearing the answer.

"Absolutely not," he replied firmly, Buffy never hearing such conviction from anyone before. He pulls back slightly so she's looking at him, wanting her to be without any doubt that his love for her was the genuine article. "I told you that I love you for one reason and one reason only; because it's true. I've been in love with you from the moment I saw first saw you, and I will be in love with you until the day the last star dies out in the universe."

"Have you been reading those trashy novels again?"

She can't help but smile at the cheesy line he just said to her, knowing that if anyone else had have said it would have just been that; a cheesy line used to get in her pants. However it wasn't anyone else, it was Xander and she knew that no matter how cheesy it sounded, he meant every word.

"Maybe," he conceded with a small smile. "If I'm brutally honest, when I first found the prophecy I considered never telling you how I felt."

"What do you mean?"

He knew that he needed to explain everything if there was any chance that she'd allow things to take their natural course and not bury any and all feelings she had for him.

"When I first found the prophecy," he began, choosing his words carefully, "I thought that it meant our love would destroy happiness, definitely not something I wanted on my resume, so I put any romantic feelings for you aside."

"Just like that?" she asked, feeling a little hurt that his feeling for her could be so easily cast aside.

"Believe me when I say that it was one of the hardest decisions I'd ever made, not to mention that it took me weeks to make it. When Glory turned up I realised what the prophecy really meant, but I was still reluctant to say anything, partly because I wasn't in a dying mood. Another reason was that we were both in relationships and I'd never even consider cheating on Anya, anymore than you'd have contemplated cheating on Riley."

Buffy knew that this was the best time to bring something up she'd figured out almost from the moment it happened.

"You knew what Riley was doing didn't you," she asked, trying to keep all hints of accusation out of her voice, "that's why you asked me to go along with you that day."

"Yes, but that is something I would have done regardless of the circumstances," he insisted, not wanting her to think he'd done it solely for the purpose of splitting them up. "There was no chance that you'd believe he was doing what he was doing if I simply told you, you had to see it for yourself. I really didn't want to do it, but I didn't see any other way. Had Riley not been the waste of oxygen that he is, I wouldn't have done anything to deliberately split you up, although I would have told you how I felt."

"There's something you're not telling me," she stated with certainty after studying his face for a few moments. She could tell that what he'd told her had been the truth, something she was grateful for, but she also knew he'd been holding something back and right now withholding anything from her was not acceptable.

"There's another reason why I didn't want to tell you, and that's completely selfish on my part. I wanted, no needed, to know that if you loved me it was because of me not because of some prophecy. I've always dreamed that one day you'd love me as much as I love you and we'd live happily ever after. However if the price I have to pay for your love is my life, then I give it gladly."

"What if I don't think the price is worth it?" she asked, even the merest thought of him dying making her feel like someone was ripping a piece of her soul from her.

"It doesn't matter whether you believe the price is too high or not, all that matters is what you feel. All I ask is that you don't hide what you feel for me, no matter what you decide."

"I don't know what I feel," she told him honestly, deciding for once that she would think over everything before making a decision one way or another.

She knew that her reputation as impulsive was a well deserved one and in most cases had served her well, but this was simply too important to bother her and Xander for an impulsive answer. This was one occasion where she'd consider all the pros and cons before deciding anything.

"I'm not asking that you tell me now, or that you're under any pressure of answering a certain way," he assured her, knowing that at least the second part of that statement was no longer entirely true, what with her knowledge of the prophecy. "All I ask of you is that once you know how you feel you are honest about it and tell me. All else aside, I need to know one way or the other."

Looking into his eyes, she dearly wanted to lie to him. She wanted to say what he wanted to hear and then bury the feelings that were starting to bubble up to the surface, but knew deep down in her heart that she had to know just as much as he did.

"I promise you that I will," she vowed, both to him and herself.

"Good," he replied with a soft smile.

She rests her head back onto his chest and they stay like that for several minutes, taking comfort in each others arms. Eventually they separate, but neither one looks happy to let go. Xander could feel the tension between them and knew that a change of topic was called for, before he went a step too far.

"I don't know if Giles told you or not, but I just got back from LA."

"Why did you go there?" she asked as they slowly made their way downstairs and into the living room.

"Giles found out that there was a weapon there that would help me kill Glory," he replied as he sat down in his recliner chair, relishing the softness. "Angel and the Fang Gang helped me retrieve it."

"You and Angel worked together?" she asked rhetorically, flopping down onto the couch opposite him. "You didn't kill him did you?" she asked semi-seriously.

"Don't think that the thought didn't cross my mind," he replied with a smile, "but no I didn't kill him."

"How are they all?" she asked, carefully asking about all of them and not just Angel.

"Better now than they were. They were having some trouble with Dru and Darla, but I helped Angel out with that."

"Darla? Angel's sire Darla? She's dead isn't she?" she asked, almost certain she was right as she'd actually watched Angel dust her.

"She was, she came back, she's dead again," he replied, compressing a highly charged situation down to a few words. "It seems that resurrection is a recurring theme for our little group. Oh, I have some news about Angel."

"Is he okay?" she asked instantly, wincing at the slightly hurt expression that appeared briefly across Xander's face at her eagerness. No matter what their relationship status might be, she knew that her relationship with Angel would cast a shadow over them.

"He's fine Buffy," he replied a little tersely, "I just told you that. The news is that I've anchored his soul to him and destroyed the demon inside."

"What! How? Why?"

"You forgot when and where," he replied with a little smile. "It doesn't matter how Buff, the important thing is that Angel no longer has the happy clause. It also doesn't matter why I did it, I just did."

"It does to me," she replied adamantly.

'She has to know everything about everything doesn't she?' He thought with a sigh. He definitely wasn't going to tell her the catalyst for it, he still couldn't believe it was a factor himself, so he goes with the smaller but no less true explanation.

"Whether I like to admit it or not, Angel has done a lot of good since his move to LA. He's got less broody, not that he could have gotten any worse, and he even made a joke. I feel that he deserves to be happy without the shadow of Angelus hanging over him. I promised Angelus I'd be there when he died and I was. I'm happy, Angel's happy, Cordelia was extremely happy."

Buffy was happy that Angel was no longer cursed, but she was happier that Angelus was finally gone forever. It surprised her that she wasn't as excited about Angel's good fortune; having Angel curse free was something she'd always wanted, as they'd have nothing stopping them from being together, but now she didn't feel anything but friendship for him.

All of a sudden her expression changes from a smile to outrage as a thought hits her.

"Wait! You said that Giles told you where the sword is. He knew about the prophecy didn't he?"

Knowing that Giles doesn't have the luxury of surviving a pounding like he could, Xander knew he needed to diffuse the Buffy Bomb standing in front of him and quickly. He could see that the door to the library was closed and guessed that he was so engrossed in examining everything he brought back from LA that he didn't hear her little outburst.

"Yes he did, but before you think about laying into him, I asked him not let anyone know. He agreed but only to not freely giving out the info, if any of you had asked him he would have told you."

His explanation went some way to lessening the explosion heading Giles' way, but knew that it would still pack quite a punch, he hoped figuratively.

"Why did you tell him?"

"I knew that he would have seen the same prophecy I had," he explained, "not thinking it applied to this situation. Once I told you I was a Savox demon, I knew he would figure it out. By the way, have you told anyone?"

"No I was waiting to find out if I was right first," she replied, showing what many would seem to be an uncharacteristic amount of common sense.

"Good, don't."

"Why not?"

"Do you really think Joyce or Willow can take that extra info right now?" he asked bluntly. "They have too much to deal with right now, if you add this to the mix they're going to be useless to us in the final battle."

"Don't say it like that," she pleaded, her voice thick with emotion.

"Sorry," he replied softly, knowing she hadn't got anywhere near to dealing with his situation. "I need you to promise me that you won't tell them about the prophecy unless they ask." He could see her about to object, so he quickly presses on. "Please Buffy, for me?"

Buffy hated the thought of keeping this from the others, especially with the amount of deception they'd all encountered these last few months, but knew that Xander was right; there was no way her mom or Willow would cope if they knew, she was barely hanging on by a thread herself and it was taking everything she had to keep herself from touching him, just to make sure he was still there and not a ghost or something.

"Okay Xander," she replied eventually, sighing and running her fingers through her hair, "I promise. I'm telling you right now though, I will not flat out lie to them."

"I wouldn't expect you to," he replied sincerely, knowing they'd all done more than enough lying to last more than a few lifetimes, "the same way I wouldn't have expected Giles to. Anyway let's go to the library and talk to Giles about my LA adventure, and then you and I are going to pay a visit to Spike. I'm going to make him pay for his betrayal; you may not like what I do to him."

"Whatever you do to him he'll deserve it and more," she stated forcefully, imagining the screams of agony he'd feel if she were to remove all his skin with a belt sander.

They both get up and go to the library, neither one seeing it necessary to knock before opening the door, which meant that Giles nearly jumped out of his skin at their unexpected entrance.

"Where did you get all this Xander?" Giles asked, indicating the array of objects scattered throughout the library that he'd brought in from Xander's truck.

"They're all 'donations' from Wolfram & Hart," he told him. He could see Giles' face showing concern, no doubt worried that they'll soon have the Senior Partners undivided attention. "Don't worry they won't be looking for them, they'll have their hands full for quite a while."

Giles matched the grin on Xander's face.

"Did you take pictures?"

"Sorry but I thought that these goodies would make up for it."

"Very much so."

Buffy by now was completely lost, never having heard of Wolfram & Hart before.

"Excuse me but who are Wolfram & Hart?" she asked them.

"They're the ones that resurrected Darla," Xander replied. "Angel has been dealing with them since he moved to LA. After last night though he won't be having any problems from them for a long time."

He could tell that he'd need to tell them both more than that, so he spent the next half an hour explaining everything that happened, embellishing how he got past the lasers in the vault so he wouldn't have Buffy needling him about getting some of those pouches for herself.

Buffy was a little jealous that she'd missed all the fun, especially because she didn't get to watch Dru die. She'd always felt responsible for Kendra's death; having fallen for the obvious trap that Angelus had laid out for her, and had always hoped that she'd be the one to end Dru's existence. Now she won't get the chance, but was satisfied with the fact that Kendra's killer had finally paid the price.

Giles looked shocked upon hearing of Angel's soul being anchored, never imagining such a thing could be done. He was gratified to hear that Angelus had been destroyed as part of the spell, getting a sense of closure of Jenny's death. He'd never felt happy that Angelus was walking around free, even if he was suppressed by Angel's soul, so to know that he was finally gone brought a sense of peace that he hadn't felt in some time.

Xander waited a few moments to let everything sink in before removing his new sword from the grey sheets he'd wrapped it in.

"Do you like my new toy; it slices, it dices and it reduces gods to lifeless corpses."

Both Buffy and Giles are dazzled slightly, the sword somehow managing to catch every bit of light in the room, causing it to almost glow.

"The Sword of Avalon," Giles whispered, as though reciting a prayer. "It looks better than it's descriptions."

"Amazing what a spit and polish will do."

Buffy goes over to Xander and makes to touch the sword, acting as though she was being pulled towards it. just as she was about to be in contact with it, Xander pulls it back quickly, a slightly panicked look in his eyes that Buffy doesn't understand.

"No fair! You should share the toys," she whined.

"No offence Buff," he replied, knowing how she got about new weapons, "but only demons are capable of wielding it. I don't know what happens when a human touches it, let alone a Slayer, and I don't want to find out."

"Can I play with the other toys?" she asked hopefully, sounding to Xander like an excited toddler.

"As long as Giles says you can," he replied, receiving a glare from the man in question.

"Don't bloody bring me into this!" he exclaimed, not wanting to be put in the middle of yet another one of their squabbles.

"You probably know more about them than I do Giles," he explained, "I was hoping that you would check they're safe for a Slayer to handle that's all."

Realising that Xander wasn't trying to pass the buck and was serious about him checking to see if it were safe for Buffy to handle them, he looks a little embarrassed by his previous outburst.

"Ah, in that case I apologise." He had in fact already gone through the items to see whether they could be harmful to Buffy or the others, something that was second nature to him now. "There is nothing here that would be dangerous to slayers, in fact there are a couple of things that may help us slow Glory down."

"Good," Buffy replied immediately, "the more the merrier. Anything there that will kill her, apart from Xander's sword that is."

Giles sends Xander a 'how does she know?' look, absently wondering whether he's up to date on his health insurance.

"She found the prophecy Giles, she knows everything."

Images of gurneys and IV drips flash before Giles' eyes as he turns to face his charge, who was staring at him intently but without any outward emotion showing on her face.

"Buffy, I hope you understand why we kept this from you," he said, studiously ignoring the voice in his head yelling at him to run for his life, knowing he wouldn't get very far before she caught up with him.

Buffy keeps up her impassive stare, silently enjoying the growing apprehension in her Watcher's eyes. She knew both Xander and Giles had their reasons for not telling them and she could understand it, but of course understanding and agreeing are nowhere near the same thing and wanted to ensure that Giles got the point.

"I do understand Giles, that's why you're not missing any limbs right now. I don't like it, nor do I agree with it, and it might be wise to move to Antarctica before doing it again, but we're okay. I've promised Xander that I wouldn't tell the others unless they ask me first, but don't expect anything more."

"I do think that is for the best," he replied, relieved that she was taking it so well, "especially with everything that has happened." After receiving a smile from Buffy, the signal that the subject was over, he turns to Xander. "Do you think that you will able to help Tara in any way?"

"I think so Giles," he replied hesitantly, not having much time to trawl through his memories. "There are a couple of spells in my head that I think could work; I'll write them down so you can look at them and tell me what you think, if that's alright?"

"Of course," he replied, happy to help any way he could.

"While you're doing that, I'll need to get some magic supplies for them from the shop, as I don't like keeping it around the house. Buffy and I also need to go and kill Spike."

"I've already talked to you about not having time for personal vendettas," Giles warned them both.

"And I agreed that saving Dawn and killing Glory are the top priorities," Xander replied, a little more sternly than he wanted. "If we can't find Spike and kill him before we need to prepare, he'll get a reprieve until after. But I will see him dead, even if it means haunting him forever until he is."

"If you do find him," Giles began, his natural brogue coming through, "make sure the bugger feels every second of it."

"From the way Xander tells it he most definitely will be," Buffy assured him.

"Don't worry about that Giles, Hell will seem like a holiday camp compared to me. Getting back on track, you said that some of those weapons would slow Glory down?"

"Yes. One of the items here will enable us to imprison her in a time loop for a while," he explained, holding up what looked like a gold and silver horseshoe.

"How long?"

"Normally as long as we want but as she's a god, I'd say no more than a couple of minutes."

"That's not a lot of time Giles," Buffy said, wondering how they'd be able to use it to their advantage.

"It's enough time for me to kill every one of her minions while you and the others free Dawn," Xander explained, Buffy nodding in agreement. "Once those obstacles are out of the way I'll be able to go full force against her without having to worry about anyone getting caught in the crossfire."

Realising that Xander intended to go one on one with the glorious one, Buffy instantly moves into her patented 'I'm the Slayer' pose, glaring at him.

"There is no way I'm letting you face her alone!" she exclaimed, almost daring him to disagree. "You wouldn't let me so I damn well aren't letting you!"

Xander was going to argue the point, but stopped himself when he realised she was right; he would never let her take Glory on her own and he wouldn't be so hypocritical as to suggest she let him. Instead he thought he'd annoy her slightly.

"As you wish," he replied.

"Why do you keep doing that?" she asked exasperatedly.

"What?"

"Never mind," she replied with a sigh.

Holding back a grin, Xander looked at his watch and starting working out a plan.

"It's five now, which gives us a few hours until sundown and the start of 'Operation: Spike No More'. Here's the plan; Giles, you check those spells I was talking about that may help Tara, see which one is the more viable option. I don't need to write them down as I've just remembered they're in my UBOS."

"UBOS?" Buffy asked, completely confused.

"Ultimate Book Of Spells, it's been in my family 175 generations, give or take. You'll find it between '1001 Ways to Please Your Lover' and 'Much Ado About Nothing'. While you're doing that, Buffy and I will go to Sunnydale to collect the supplies we'll need, then kill Spike dead. Any questions?" he asked, receiving head shakes all round. "Good."

"Xander, do you have any idea how to organise a library?" Giles asked, aghast at the seemingly random placements of books. He had noticed it the moment he first saw the room, and since then it has slowly but surely got on his nerves.

"Does it look like I know how to organise a library?" he asked in reply.

Giles decided to refrain from further comment.

Xander turns to Buffy and extends his hand. "Shall we be off?"

She nods once and takes his hand, a couple of moments later finding herself in Xander's apartment.

"I'll never get used to that," she told him a little shakily, the trip making her feel a little queasy.

"You shouldn't," he replied seriously, "I'm already using it too often as it is."

"You're not worried you'll get addicted like Willow are you?"

"No, I'm what you'd call a natural born mage where Willow is more of a practitioner; it would take a lot more for me to become dependent. What I'm worried about is that Willow will think I'm a living a double standard; I can use as much magic as I like but she's barely allowed to use any."

"Don't worry about that, she knows you're only using it out of necessity," she assured him.

She and Willow had talked over everything that Xander had said to her, and Buffy couldn't help but agree with him. She herself knew what it was like to start revelling in the power available and it wouldn't take a lot to become consumed by it.

"I hope so," he replied, not liking the thought of Willow resenting him.

"I know so."

"I know we left without you getting any weapons," he said to change the subject, but I'm sure you'll find something useful in my 'spare room'."

"You have a spare room?" she asked, looking at his apartment again as though she might have missed an extra room somewhere.

"In a way," he replied cryptically. "Go over to my bedroom door, tap twice then tap once then tap four times then open it."

"You're joking aren't you?"

"Knowing my reputation that is a logical assumption," he conceded, "but I assure you I'm being serious."

"Okay," she replied warily, "but if this is a joke I'll be seriously pissed with you."

"Duly noted."

Doing as she was asked, she goes over to his bedroom door and knocks on it using the sequence he provided. Sending him another look that indicated what she'd do if he was playing with her, she opens the door and takes a step back in shock when she looks inside.

"Whoa."

Instead of his bedroom, something that she'd never seen furnished, she was instead looking inside what could best be described as an armoury. Every weapon she knew and many that she didn't were all displayed in all their deadly glory. She suddenly felt like she'd stepped into the Matrix.

"It's a present from my parents," Xander said as he stepped in behind her. "The room itself is slightly out of phase from our reality, meaning that it's always around you just can't always see it. They set it up so that I could only access it once I graduated; talk about a day late and a dollar short. They guessed that I might want to join the family business so they wanted to make sure that I was prepared."

"What was the family business?" she asked as they started walking through the aisles, taking in the vast array of weaponry in her presence.

"As Giles told you, Savox demons are either bodyguards or assassins, occasionally chopping and changing between the two. My parents did more of the former than the latter."

Buffy wasn't sure what she thought about the fact that Xander's parents had been assassins, even if it was only on occasion. She sorely wanted to ask whom they'd assassinated, but decided against it, deciding to take the phrase 'ignorance is bliss' to heart.

"You really could have used some of this stuff during High School," she commented as they passed several flamethrowers.

"Don't I know it. Hey, at least I won't have to steal a rocket launcher if we need one. Have a look around and pick out what you want, just remember to stick to weapons you've used before. As my father used to say, you never take a weapon out in the field that you haven't trained with."

"Thanks."

The look on her face is exactly the same as you the one you would see on a child that's been told they can go into a toy store and take what they want. She is barely able to control her enthusiasm; every couple of steps she takes is more like a bounce. Seeing the way she's acting makes Xander sorry he didn't bring her there sooner, but as she started to light up upon sighting one of him mom's pink grenade launchers, he decided that it wasn't really such a bad thing. When she is still looking after half an hour, Xander decides to speak up, remembering how much he hated going shopping with a woman.

"Seen anything you like?" he asked.

"It would be easier to tell to tell you what I don't like!" she replied with a giddy smile.

"Just remember we don't have a lot of time here Buff, you'll have plenty of time to browse later."

Her smile disappears in an instant and she pins him with a glare that could melt steel, Xander realising immediately that he'd just said the wrong thing.

"When, after you're dead!" she yelled.

'Is she going to keep bringing that up? I'm sure I didn't go on as much as this when she was fated to die!'

"Yes," he replied gently, "if there isn't time beforehand, you'll be able to explore to your hearts content. I'm leaving it to you; this is why I got you to open it. It's now keyed in to your aura like it is mine, meaning that only you or I can access it. You won't have to come to the apartment, all you'll need to do is knock on any door using the same sequence you did this time, and it will open to this room. For now though, just pick what you think you'll need."

She keeps the glare up for a couple more seconds before picking up a few stakes, some holy water and an axe.

"These do?" she asked petulantly.

"You're the Vampire Slayer, you tell me!" he replied with a laugh.

Buffy stares at him for a moment before laughing, releasing the tension in the room. She goes up to him and gently strokes his arm, sending delightful shivers throughout his body.

"Don't mind me, I was just having a blonde moment."

Knowing that any comments about blondes and/or dye would incur her wrath and probably have her attempt to shove the axe in her hand in a very sensitive place, Xander simply nods.

"If you've got everything you want, we better get a move on. How about we grab a couple of sandwiches on the way to the shop, and eat them there before we go on the hunt?" he asked.

"Sounds like a plan," she replied with a small smile, placing everything in the black duffel bag Xander was holding open for her. "Are you going to tell me what you have planned for Spike yet?"

"Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. You should know that the best things come to those that wait. All I can tell you is that Spike's last memories will definitely be the most vivid of his too long life."

Buffy wanted him to elaborate, but knew that he'd only run her round in circles until she either got dizzy or angry enough to hit him, so she just sighs and resigns herself to waiting for her answers.

After leaving the armoury, Xander closes the door and then opens it again, showing Buffy that it was no longer there, his uncharacteristically tidy bedroom in it's place. Buffy said nothing, but he could that she was impressed.

They leave his apartment and start making their way to the shop, walking in comfortable silence. As they near the deli they usually get their lunch from, Buffy has a thought.

"Do you even know where to start looking for Spike?" she asked, not wanting to be denied the pleasure of witnessing his demise.

"I set up a locator spell on Spike the moment you decided to keep him alive last year, I know exactly where he is all the time he's in Sunnydale."

Buffy stops walking and grabs Xander by the shoulder, allowing her to spin him round.

"Well why don't we get him now!"

"Vampires and daylight don't mix; he'll be staying where he is until nightfall," he explained, his tone indicating that he wasn't happy about it either. "That gives us plenty of time to have a bite to eat and gather the supplies I'll need to help Tara. I want him to pay for what he's done Buff, but if I have to choose between killing him or making Tara better, I'll choose Tara every time. I know you would as well."

Buffy deflated slightly upon hearing Xander's answer, having no choice but to agree that Tara was more important.

"Sorry I got carried away," she said, offering an apologetic smile, "but he's the reason why my sister's been abducted. I'll see him dust if it's the last thing I do; I've already given that bastard too many chances, if I had just staked him the first time he came to us for help…"

"You can't live your life with 'what ifs' Buff," Xander told her gently, cutting her off before she got on a roll, "I know that more than anyone. If I allowed myself to think about every time I could have done something differently, I'd go crazy very fast and that's something no one wants."

"You're not crazy now?" she asked teasingly.

"I love you, isn't that proof of my sanity?" he asked in reply.

Buffy doesn't respond to his comment right away; he can see that she's still not used to his true feelings for her, especially him voicing them.

"I take back any previous comments about your mental health," she replied eventually, "you are by far the sanest person on the planet."

"I knew you'd see it my way," he replied happily, glad that she'd at least accepted his feelings for her. "Ah, food awaits!" he exclaimed as they finally reached the deli.

Without saying anything further, Xander goes inside, leaving Buffy to look after the bag, coming out a few minutes later with two paper bags, handing one to Buffy. As he does so, he can see her sending him an angry stare.

"What have I done wrong now?" he asked exasperated.

"You just went in there without asking me what I wanted and you left me to carry the bag!"

Xander just rolls his eyes and indicates for her to look inside the bag he'd just given her. When she does she finds it filled with all of her favourites; turkey salad on rye, two blueberry muffins and a can of diet lemonade.

"I did more snack runs than all of you combined," he explained, replying to her surprised look, "I know what all your favourites are. Of course, if you want something else I'll just take that back and…"

"NO!" she shouted, keeping the bag out of his reach. She then realises how she reacted and tries to regain some of her dignity. "I mean that's okay; I'll make do with what you got me. Just this once mind you. You still left me to carry the bag, a gentleman would have carried it himself."

"You never once allowed me to carry your bags before," he replied as he made his way to the shop, "why would I think you've changed your mind now? Ah, I see what it is; you never let me when I was just 'constantly getting knocked out' Xander, now I'm 'knock down a building with his bare hands' Xander you don't mind," he said, plastering a deeply hurt look on his face. While he was only joking, it was still something that he was a little worried about.

Buffy had gotten to know Xander a lot better the last couple of months and could tell that there was more to what he said than a simple tease. It wasn't difficult to work out what he was thinking, that she was starting to look at him differently because of what he could do, instead of who he was. Not being able to answer how she now saw him, she knew trying to assure him of anything else would be pointless, so she plays along.

"Shut up before I shove your new sword up your demon ass."

Of course there was only one way that Xander could respond to that.

"As you wish," he replied, taking the bag from her.

"AHH!" she screamed.

"What are you shouting about?" he asked, doing his best to suppress the smirk battling to appear o his face.

"Never mind," she replied with a sigh, knowing it was pointless asking why he kept saying that.

"Strange woman. Lets get those supplies shall we?"

Buffy glares but doesn't say anything more. Xander uses the set of keys Giles gave him and opens the door to the Magic Box, allowing Buffy to go in first like the gentleman he is. He puts the duffle bag on the floor and his lunch on the table, deciding to retrieve the supplies before eating.

Buffy sits straight down and starts making short work of her lunch. She must have been hungry as it's gone in just a couple of bites, Xander once again wondering how someone so small could eat so much. The thing that gets him is that she has the audacity to call him a bottomless pit, when she could easily eat just as much as he can. He watches her as she almost inhales her muffins and downs her drink in a single draw.

He knew what was coming next; it had happened many times over the years. Buffy kept glancing quickly at the other bag on the table, then glancing at him before licking her lips and glancing at the bag again. I know she wants to eat my lunch, she knows that I know. I'm waiting for her to ask and she's waiting for me to offer it to her. it was a game they both enjoy playing and at the moment he was ahead slightly as she's asked for it more times than he's offered. He could tell by the way she was playing with her hands that it wouldn't be long before she once again caved in, but they really didn't have the time so he decides to fall on his culinary sword.

"I'm going to close my eyes and count to ten," he told her with a smirk. "When I open my eyes I'm going to come over to the table and consume whatever's left in my bag."

He closes his eyes and begins to count, although his other senses are enough to tell him what's happening. By the count of three she's got his cheese-steak sub, by the count of seven she's eaten it and has started on his chocolate chip cookies and by the time he's finished counting she's also downed his can of root beer. She's looking at him with her best innocent expression, but the small dollop of barbecue sauce on the side of her mouth completely ruins it.

Once Xander had collected everything he'd need for either spell, not to mention a few things that could be helpful against Glory, he grabs a bag from behind the counter to put it all in, not wanting to contaminate anything by putting them into contact with the weapons, as metal can adversely affect the certain ingredients.

"Ready to find the Billy Idol wannabe?" he asked eventually, ignoring the rumble of his stomach that caused Buffy to look a little apologetic for eating everything.

"Absolutely," she replied, getting up and grabbing the weapons bag, removing the stakes and holy water and situating them on her person. Xander takes the bag from her before holding the door open for her. Buffy walks through with a slightly bemused smile, waiting for him to lock up before saying anything. "Lead the way, you're the one with the locator spell after all."

While the spell doesn't pinpoint Spike's exact location, it does give Xander a general idea of his whereabouts, which is why he starts heading for Restfield Cemetery. The first place he goes to is Spike's crypt, being the logical first choice, but find it empty. As they look through his stuff, it wasn't as though he was going to be around long enough to complain, Xander finds something that he tries to hide from Buffy.

"That sick and twisted pervert!" she screamed as she saw what Xander had been trying to block her view of.

In the far end of the crypt, was a small shrine in her 'honour', pictures of her plastered on the wall, a mannequin dummy dressed to look like her in the corner with stains that Monica Lewinski could easily identify, and the thing that really got his blood boiling was…

"He's got some of my underwear! That bastard has been going through my underwear drawer! I'm gonna turn him into a human colander!"

He could see that Buffy was shaking with rage and does nothing to stop her as she begins to smash everything in sight, simply dodging when a piece of debris flies his way. He spends the next ten minutes witnessing her systematic destruction of his crypt, leaving it nothing more than a cement shell. He knew that she needed to vent her anger, not just about the shrine, but because of everything that's happened the last few months.

Once she'd finished, he gently lead her outside and perched her on a nearby tombstone as the lack of adrenaline caused her to sag slightly. His first thought is to just level the crypt and be done with it, but the he remembered that Spike had just made it his home and it in fact housed the remains of an innocent person. Instead he went about cleansing the structure of any and setting up a barrier spell so no other vamps could desecrate the persons final resting place the way Spike had done.

By the time he'd finished Buffy was feeling more herself again and they resumed their search for him, both knowing that there was a good chance he was aware by now that they were looking for him. Xander could have covered far more ground in a far shorter time if he did it on his own, but he knew that Buffy needed to be a part of it and so stayed with her. That of course meant that it took nearly two hours for them to finally pin him down, Spike doing his best to look oblivious as to why they were there.

"Droopy, Slayer," he greeted them nonchalantly, flicking his cigarette over their heads. What can I do for you?"

"Spike, you can stay still so I can rip your fucking nuts off!" Buffy growled, taking a couple of steps towards him.

"You may find that a little difficult Slayer," he replied, switching to his vampiric visage as he responded.

Before she gets a chance to respond, he launches himself at her and connects with a thunderous punch, sending her flying into a nearby gravestone. He doesn't show any signs of pain.

"At least I know what you got for betraying us Spike," Xander said in a cold voice.

"You betrayed me first!" he roared. "You left me here to fend for myself while you all go on some happy camping trip! I've been on your side, fighting the good fight, and when the going got tough you all got going and left me behind!"

Xander doesn't have a chance to respond as he spots a blonde streak out of the corner of his eye heading straight for the master vamp. Her first punch literally caves in the side of his head, a sickening crunch echoing in the night that would have caused Xander to wince in sympathy if it were any other entity. Her second punch connects square in his chest and he could hear his ribs and sternum turning to powder under the sheer magnitude of the blow.

While he was enjoying the show immensely, a show that was a year or two late in his opinion, he could see that Buffy was dead set on finishing it here and now, something he didn't want to happen as it would be too easy on him.

"Buffy, don't stake him," he warned as he saw her reach for Mr. Pointy, "well not in the heart anyway, I have plans for him."

"Do you need his balls?" she asked as she sends a savage kick to his solar plexus.

"No, why?"

"Just checking."

They are now by now trading blows, Spike managing to put up a defence and also landing a few offensive blows as well, although that was more due to Buffy allowing herself to get hit so she could concentrate on her task of breaking every bone in his body. It was plain to see that she was toying with him, a striking contrast to the other times they'd battled when it was a more even match, and it looked like Buffy was in no rush to put him out for the count.

He was about to ask Buffy to hurry it up when he sees her ramming a stake into Spike's crotch, causing him to scream so high pitched that he was certain that only people with enhance hearing and dogs could hear it. even though he's clearly in agonising pain and writhing around uncontrollably, he still manages to pull the stake out and throw it away. Buffy simply scowls at him before ramming another stake into his balls.

"Every time you take one out, I'll just put another one in," he told him matter of factly.

Spike doesn't listen and takes the second stake out, only for a third to take its place.

"Bloody hell slayer," he manages to bite out, "just get it over with if you're going to kill me."

"Come now William," Xander said in his most distinguished voice, "you must know that prolonging the pain is all part of the fun?"

"You're the good guys, you can't do this!" he exclaimed, hoping to persuade them to end it quickly.

"You've done far worse, in the grand scheme of things I'll still be on the right side of the scale," Xander explained, although he's never really expected to go anywhere but down when he died, given he was a demon.

Before Spike could say anything else, Xander kicks him viciously in the side of the head, knocking him out instantly.

"What now?" Buffy asked.

"Once I have a couple of things to set up, everything will be ready for the last night of Spike's life."

SEVERAL HOURS LATER

As Spike regains consciousness, he notices several things; one, he's still alive and he'd been out long enough for his vampiric healing to start mending the damage Buffy had inflicted. Two, he was inside a large metal box, chained up by his hands feet and waist, making it impossible for him to escape. Three, Buffy and Xander were a couple of feet away with predatory looks directed his way.

"I hope that the guest of honour is comfortable?" Xander asked in the same distinguished voice he used before knocking him out.

"Let me go you wanker!" he roared, straining against his bonds in a vain attempt to break free.

Xander places his hands over Buffy's ears and sends Spike a reproachful look.

"Mind your language in front of the lady, William," he chided.

"Show me one and I will."

Before he knew what was happening, Xander punches him full in the face, breaking his only just fixed nose.

"Now that wasn't very nice William."

"Stop calling me that, the name's Spike!"

"Now William," Xander said, ignoring Spike's comment, "as you're awake I can finally explain what is going to happen. In a few minutes, I will open the IV that you now have connected to your right arm. Instead of blood or saline, the bag is full of holy water. The drip is going to be set low, that way you won't get too much into your system to kill you but it will be extremely uncomfortable. The IV in your left arm is connected to a nerve agent that works on vamps; it'll basically keep you from moving so that you'll not be able to get free, not that you'd be able to anyway, but I wanted to err on the side of caution. The door to the box is light sensitive; when sunrise begins, the door will slowly move up, exposing more of your body to those wonderful rays of sunshine. This means that you'll slowly catch fire until you finally become engulfed in flames and finally turn to dust. Oh by the way, when you get to Hell don't forget to say hello to Drusilla, Darla and Angelus for me."

"You fucking wanker I'll get you back for this!" he screamed.

"How exactly are you going to do that?" Xander asked with a smug grin.

Before he has a chance to respond Xander starts the two drips and closes the door to Spike's metallic tomb. Even though the walls of the box are thick, both Xander and Buffy were able to make out his agonising screams as the holy water flows through his system. Xander turns to Buffy with a little smile on his face to see her looking a bit queasy.

"I know he deserves, it but don't you think that's a little extreme?" she asked tentatively.

"Let me think about this a minute, nope not extreme in the slightest. I know that it's a little over the top, blame the fact that I watch too many James Bond films. I've read the watcher's chronicles on him, I'm being lenient compared to what should be done to him."

Buffy had declined the offer to read about the exploits of Spike and Angelus when Giles offered them to her, this wasn't the first time that she thought it would have been better to have accepted. Just another thing to add to the 'what if?' list.

"Are we going to stay?" she asked, becoming deeply disturbed by the screams of the soon to be dust vampire.

"There's no need, every moment is going to be recorded for posterity; that way everyone gets to witness the joyous occasion. I know Joyce wouldn't be happy if she missed it," he told her with a grin.

"Remind me never to piss you off," she requested.

"Angel said the same thing to me in LA."

"What did you do then?" she asked, not entirely sure she wanted to know the answer.

"Teleported a bunch of Fyarl demons into the middle of a silver mine."

"You have a sick imagination," she stated plainly, shuddering at the image that sentence evoked.

"We had nothing silver and we were on a deadline," he replied defensively, although Buffy could see the humour in his eyes. "We better get back to the others, hopefully Giles and I can agree which spell should be used on Tara."

"You know Willow will want to help."

"I know," he admitted with a sigh, "and I'm going to let her along with Giles. Both spells only require one caster, but between the three of us we can ensure everything is prepared properly."

"If you pick the wrong one will you just be able to try the other?" she asked, hoping that the answer would be yes.

"No, otherwise I wouldn't have asked Giles to go over them. They are mutually exclusive, basically by doing one the other automatically becomes useless."

"You better pick the right one then," she informed/ordered him.

"No shit," he replied testily, sending her an apologetic look at his outburst. "Don't worry, we will. Take my hand."

She takes his hand and within moments they're back at the house, and Buffy is instantly on alert as all the lights are out and no one is around.

"Where is everyone?"

"Don't panic," he said soothingly, placing a hand on her shoulder that seemed to calm her down, "they're probably fast asleep; it is early morning after all. If you want we can check on them."

She's racing up the stairs before Xander finished his sentence. As he follows her up the stairs, he realises that he hasn't slept in two days so he decides to go to his room and take a quick nap. As he gets to the top of the stairs, he sees Buffy walking out of her mom's room.

"They're all fine just like you said," Buffy told him with a relieved sigh, "I just freaked a bit when no one was around."

"Hey don't worry about it, it's understandable considering everything that's happened. I'm going to my room to get a few hours sleep, I haven't slept since before I went to LA."

"You must be shattered."

"Not really, I don't really require that must rest usually. With the amount of magic and violence I've been doing I do need to recharge the batteries though."

"I've just remembered, all the rooms are taken," Buffy told him

"Huh? Oh yeah, I bought this place before Dawn showed up," he said absently, then remembered who he was talking to and decides to do some fast talking, "what I mean to say is that, although I have memories of buying this place and checking there were enough rooms for everyone, including Dawn, I doubt that the monks would have been able to change the actual layout to include another bedroom."

The way that Xander was acting was making Buffy suspicious that he was aware about Dawn for longer than he suggested, which considering what she knew about him actually made sense.

To be honest she wasn't all that bothered if he knew or not; it wouldn't change the way she felt about Dawn, nor would it have affected the way she felt about him. That was something she was beginning to realise more and more, that she did feel something for him, she just wanted to figure out what and how much.

In a way she was glad he was keeping it to herself, she wasn't sure that Dawn could take knowing that o top of everything else, but it just felt that there was so much she didn't know about Xander and she dearly wanted the time to find it out. Knowing that there was no point in saying anything, Buffy feigns ignorance and simply nods.

"Makes sense."

"Where am I going to sleep?" he asked playfully.

"Well you could sleep in my room," she replied seriously, causing him to swallow thickly.

"I don't think that would be wise," he managed to say after swallowing a few more times.

"I mean that I can share mom's bed and you can have mine," she told him with as straight a face as she could muster, enjoying the fact that she could get to him like that.

"I knew that," he said unconvincingly.

"Sure you did."

"Are you suggesting that I was having impure thoughts?" he asked with as much indignation as he could muster. 'How could she believe that I would be thinking of having hours of loud, sweaty, naked sex with her all over her bedroom?' He thought, suddenly finding the hallway exceedingly warm.

"Of course not," she replied with a smile.

"Are you sure you don't mind?" he asked, not wanting to put her out of her bed.

"Of course not, you've earned it. I'll see you in the morning," she said, hugging him on instinct.

"Goodnight Buffy," he replied softly, enjoying the unexpected closeness.

They maintain the hug for a few moments before Buffy releases him and goes into Joyce's room, Xander retreating to hers.

THE FOLLOWING MORNING

Xander wakes up to one of the most glorious smells known to man; Joyce's cooking. No matter what she was producing, there was a certain something, an aroma that signified that it was Joyce in the kitchen. His stomach growls loudly, reminding him that it had been a couple of days since he'd had anything of substance, so he ignores the impulse to go back to sleep and gets up.

He glances at the clock and notices that t was 10:15, meaning he'd only had about 5 hours sleep, but it was enough to tide him over until tonight. After a quick trip to the bathroom to splash his face with water and brush his teeth, he makes his way downstairs and into the kitchen, where Joyce is at the stove and Willow, Giles and Buffy are sitting round the table.

"Morning all," he chirped brightly.

Joyce turns round from the stove on hearing his voice, sending him a warm motherly smile. She definitely looked better that when he first saw her, but her eyes were still red and puffy from crying.

"Good Morning Xander, would you like some breakfast?"

"I'd move mountains for your cooking Joyce," he replied honestly, winking at her.

"Xander, could you please stop flirting with my mother," Buffy ordered, faking a little shudder for effect.

"I am not flirting, I am simply commenting on the greatness of your mother's cooking," he replied.

"Was your visit to Sunnydale productive?" Giles asked, needing to steer the conversation away from the topic of Xander flirting with Joyce. He knew that he wasn't being serious, but the thought of anyone else taking an interest in her made him feel uncomfortable.

"Absolutely," Xander replied, "I got all the supplies I'll need for either spell and we managed to complete our side project."

"Excellent," Giles said with a large smile, although there was no humour in it.

"What are you talking about?" Joyce asked.

"I might be able to help Tara," Xander told her, receiving a hopeful look from Joyce. "There are a couple of spells that could do the job," he explained, "after breakfast Giles, Willow and I will discuss which one to use nand then begin preparing."

"You want my help?" willow asked surprised, thinking that she'd be left out of the loop given her problem with magic.

"Do you really think I'd keep you out of it? Neither you nor Giles will be needed for the actual spell, but I will include you in everything else. She's your girlfriend Willow, I wouldn't dream of doing anything without your input."

He goes over and hugs his friend, kissing the top of her head before releasing her and sitting down between her and Buffy at the table.

Joyce brings over breakfast for everyone and the next half an hour is spent enjoying the food and the company. Once they have all finished, Xander volunteers to help Joyce with the dishes, an offer she accepts happily. Buffy and Giles go into the living room and Willow goes upstairs with some food for Tara, nothing solid but some soup that Joyce had specially prepared for her. After a few minutes of comfortable silence, Xander decides to ask how Joyce is.

"I know that this is a stupid question Joyce, but how are you coping?"

"Honestly I'm not," she said, wiping a tear away. "No one can ever truly prepare themselves for their little girl being kidnapped. The only thing that's keeping me going is my faith in Buffy and yourself bringing her back to me safe and sound."

Xander puts a hand on her shoulder, squeezing slightly.

"I promise that your faith is justified," he vowed.

"I know. Do you really think that you can help Tara?" she asked, needing to change the subject.

"I certainly hope so. Willow has never been happier than when she has Tara by her side, she completes her in a way no one ever has, including me. I just want to make sure that she doesn't lose that."

"If anyone can help her it's you Xander, I know that more than anyone," she said, her new lease of life all down to the young man next to her.

"I just want everyone to be happy, that includes you Joyce."

"I'll be happy when I have Dawn back."

"I don't mean that Joyce," he explained, trying to pluck up the courage to talk to her about Giles' interest in her. "I'm not sure I should bring this up, I don't want to get too personal."

"Why don't you start and I'll let you know if it gets too personal," she advised, wondering what Xander was getting at.

"I know that you have feelings for Giles," he said, deciding that getting right to the point was the best way to do this. When Joyce stays silent, he takes that as permission to continue. "I think of you and Giles as my parents and I want to see you both happy; I think that you can be happy together."

"What makes you think that he feels the same way?" she asked, neither confirming nor denying her feelings for the Englishman.

"I can't tell you how I know," he explained, not wanting to betray a trust, "but I know. I also know that it's doubtful that he's going to make the first move, given that he's not exactly the most forward of people."

"So you're suggesting that I should?"

"All I'm suggesting is that you only live once, so live it to the full. If you did decide to make the first move, the worst that could happen is that he says no. All I know is that were I in your position, which I am actually, I'd rather try and fail than not to try at all."

"You know you're a very remarkable man Xander," she complimented.

"Nah," he said dismissively, "I'm just the usual all powerful, unstoppable force of nature type."

They finish doing the dishes in comfortable silence, enjoying the peace. Once they were done, they join the others in the living room, Xander sitting next to Buffy on the couch and Joyce sitting in the chair opposite Giles.

"Have you had a chance to look at those spells Giles?" Xander asked, wanting his viewpoint.

"Yes," he replied, "and I do believe that the first spell would have the best chance of working."

"Are you sure," Buffy asked, "it's just that Xander told me that if you choose wrong, he wouldn't be able to do the other one."

"That is correct Buffy we wouldn't," he agreed, "but I spent most of the night researching them and I do believe that it's the best choice."

"I agree, the first the first one's the way to go. We'll give Willow half an hour and then get her in on this, then we'll all go over the preparations and I'll perform the spell as soon as possible."

"Sounds like a plan."

"While I'm certain this will work, we'll have to plan how to get Dawn back from Glory no matter what happens today; I don't want Dawn there one moment longer than necessary."

That last statement gets emphatic nods of agreement from everyone in the room.

"When you go get Dawn, I'm coming with you," Joyce informed them.

"No! There is no way in hell that you're coming with us!" Buffy shouted vehemently.

Giles was as anxious to keep Joyce away from danger as Buffy, but knew outright forbidding her would be futile, so he tries to make her see reason. "Joyce, it will be extremely dangerous for you to come with us. You have no experience in this type of situation and we won't be able to guarantee your safety."

"Rupert, Buffy, I know that you only have the best intentions but there is no way short of violence to keep me from going!" she stated with utter conviction, the type of conviction only a mother could muster.

"Okay everybody calm down," Xander told them, knowing that it could get out of control fast. "I know that we can't stop you from coming Joyce, but there is no way we are risking you by having you actively helping. We'll leave you at a safe distance and bring Dawn to you. I'll cast a protection spell so you can't be harmed, but it won't protect you from a direct attack from Glory. It's safe to assume that she'd go after you as a way to cloud Buffy's judgement in the fight, which is why we've always tried to keep the Hellmouthy stuff as far away from you as possible."

Xander was happy to see that his words manage to penetrate Buffy and Joyce before they got too far into their argument. He's seen them argue before and once they've decided on something they can't be swayed by a hurricane.

"I'm sorry I snapped mom," Buffy said softly, "but I don't know what I'd do if you got hurt."

"That's okay honey I feel the same about you, but I want, I need to be there."

"I am also sorry Joyce," Giles said, "I have no right to tell you what you can or cannot do."

"Don't worry about that Rupert, you were just trying to protect me and I thank you for thinking of me," she told him with a little smile, receiving a smile in return.

"Xander you said you could put a protection spell on Joyce, would it be possible for the rest of us?" Giles asked, realising how advantageous that would be given that they'll be greatly outnumbered.

"I'm afraid not Giles. The spells would be harder to cast for people on the move and in active combat, otherwise I would have suggested it sooner."

"Of course you would," Giles replied, "I'm sorry."

"No worries, we all have a lot on our minds. I'm going to go up and check on Willow and Tara, then bring Willow down so we can begin preparing the spell."

Xander leaves the others to talk amongst themselves and goes upstairs to Willow and Tara's room. Willow was sitting on the bed next to Tara, the brunette's head resting on her shoulder.

"How is she this morning?" he asked quietly as he came into the room.

"The same as yesterday," Willow whispered in reply, not wanting to disturb her girlfriend. "She just looks blankly ahead, I'm not even sure she is looking at anything, of even if anything's there."

"Giles and I have worked out which spell to use, we're going to go through all the preparations and three sets of eyes are better than two."

"Okay I'll be down in a few minutes," she said, not wanting to leave Tara's side just yet. "When you do the spell can I be there?" she asked hopefully.

"Of course you're going to be there, I wouldn't try to keep you away. What you're going to have to promise me is that you keep your emotions and power in check while I cast the spell. Do you think you'll be able to do that?" he asked, needing to know whether she felt she could keep herself under control.

"I'll do whatever it takes," she answered determinedly.

"Good, we'll see you down there," he told her with a small smile, going over and kissing them both on the forehead before going back downstairs.

Willow comes down a few minutes later, finding Giles and Xander in the library already going through all the preparations needed for the spell. Between the three of them they check, double check and triple check every detail of the spell until they are all satisfied that nothing has been left out.

They decide to perform the spell in the living room as it gives them more space, so while Giles and Willow prepare the room, Xander goes and brings Tara down, laying her gently on the floor. Buffy and Joyce are sitting together on the couch away from the other three, both hoping that the spell will be a success. Once Tara was in place, Xander sits cross legged by her head, Willow to his right and Giles to his left.

Giles hands him a bowl and Willow hands him the ingredients for the spell one by one, Xander using magic to warm the ingredients so he can control the temperature. Once all the ingredients are have been added, Xander begins to centre himself before chanting.

"EZOS RESYEK SAW TNIK LABREV."

As the chanting speeds up, the bowl begins to levitate above Tara's head and the contents turn into a light blue mist that starts covering her entire body. After a minute or two, the mist begins to focus on her head, emitting a feint glow before seeping into her pores.

Tara's eyes begin glowing the same light blue colour as the mist and begins speaking in a language that only Xander had any knowledge of, being that it was the original language of his species. He could feel her consciousness returning to her body and had to keep his emotions under control for fear it would reverse the process.

After another minute the spell is complete and Tara slips back into unconsciousness, not unexpected given everything that she'd just gone through. Xander feels a little weary but it was nothing that a few more hours' sleep couldn't fix, but there was something he needed to tell the others before he went to bed again.

"The spell has worked," he told them all, the room brightening up considerably due to the beaming smiles on everybody's faces, "but the reversal isn't 100."

"Will she be okay?" Willow asked, instantly concerned about what that meant.

"She'll be fine," he told her warmly, "the reversal was 98 before the spell completed and I doubt that Tara will miss the 2 that didn't return."

"Why do you say that?"

"The part that didn't return has to do with her childhood. All of her memories are intact but the emotional baggage that she's had to carry associated with them has gone. That baggage has held her back her entire life, now it's gone she should be more confident in herself now."

"That's great, but will it change her personality? She won't suddenly decide that she doesn't love me anymore will she?" Willow asked, afraid she might lose her love.

"She'll be the same Tara we all know and love," he assured her, although he couldn't be certain he was telling the truth, "she'll just have more self esteem and will probably speak her mind more often. That basically means she'll fit right in with the rest of us, even more than she did before. She'll be asleep for a few hours yet, allowing her mind to adjust to everything that's happened, then she'll be as right as rain," he told them all, yawning loudly at the end.

"You should get some rest Xander," Giles advised, seeing how tired the young man looked, "given what you've done the last couple of days you must be exhausted."

"I'm not going to argue, which I suppose is proof enough that I need a good sleep."

Buffy helps Willow take Tara back upstairs while Xander and Joyce begin clearing up the living room. Xander trudges upstairs and collapses on the bed, asleep almost as soon as his head touches the pillow. His last thought is that now Tara's going to be okay, it was time to get Dawn back and put that bitch Glory in the ground.

Chapter Ten

Xander was in the driver's seat of one of his firms vans, driving himself and the others to Glory's mansion to rescue Dawn. Giles was in the passenger seat and the others were seated in the back, Xander managing to rig some semi comfortable seating for the journey. He keeps glancing at the others in the rear-view mirror, the nervousness coming from the others was almost palpable and he was starting to think they might suffocate from it.

He can see Buffy keeping an eye on her mom while Willow is keeping an eye on Tara, both staying in the van while the others get Dawn. Even though they'd already agreed that Joyce would go along, Buffy had made regular attempts to change her mind, Willow joining in once Tara also voiced her desire to join them. Giles had done his level best to stay out of the argument, basically leaving the room whenever the subject was brought up, leaving Xander to play referee for the four women.

When they began arguing once again an hour before they were due to leave, he took the drastic measure of a spell to remove their voices for a few minutes to give him a chance to get a word in edgeways. He reminded Buffy, again, that she'd already agreed to Joyce going along, not that she had any right to tell her mom what to do. He'd said basically the same thing to Willow and they both had no choice but to acquiesce, especially when he suggested that he might forget the reversal spell if they didn't.

They reach the edge of the mansion's grounds and Xander pulls up, getting out immediately and opens the side door to the van, Giles getting out and joining him.

"Is everyone clear on the plan?" Giles asked for what seemed to be the dozenth time.

"We know the plan Giles," the other replied monotonously, tired of replying to the same question so often.

FLASHBACK – TWO DAYS AGO.

Willow and Tara come down and join Buffy, Xander, Giles and Joyce in the living room to discuss the plan to rescue Dawn and kill Glory.

"Now that everyone is here," Giles began, "it will be wise to bring everyone up to speed on the situation. Before Dawn was taken, Xander went to LA to retrieve a weapon that will help him to defeat Glory."

"What do you mean that it will help Xander defeat Glory?" Willow asked, always having assumed that it would be Buffy that would deliver the final blow.

"The weapon, called the Sword of Avalon, can only be wielded by a demon. It is written that the weapon has the power to kill gods and was reportedly used to kill the Greek god Ares. The sword is the only weapon powerful enough to stop Glory and with Xander being our resident demon, he has the best chance of defeating Glory," Giles explained, keeping out the part about the sword taking the life force of the wielder.

"What about Dawn?" Joyce asked immediately, not caring about anything else.

"Believe me Joyce when I tell you that our primary objective is to rescue Dawn," he assured her, Joyce receiving nods of confirmation from both Xander and Buffy. "While Xander was in LA, he also 'acquired' a few other items that will come in handy in slowing Glory down, allowing us time to free Dawn and get her to safety. Only once she's safe will we endeavour to kill Glory."

"I didn't mean to snap Rupert," she said apologetically, realising that she had been overly harsh, "I'm just worried for my daughter."

"No need to apologise Joyce, we are all worried about her and won't let anything happen to her. As I was saying, one of the items that Xander brought with him is known as the Wand of Bakula, which allows the user to put their enemies in a time loop. Normally it is used to render an enemy unable to defend themselves, allowing them to be killed without loss of life on the other side. We won't be able to use it for that, Glory is too powerful to be kept in the loop for long, but we will be able to use it to stall Glory while we rescue Dawn."

"Where do I fit in?" Willow asked.

"For the wand to work, a spell needs to be cast and maintained. Your job is to keep the spell up and running for as long as possible, while I keep you protected from Glory's minions."

"Does that mean that 'Ripper' gets an airing?" she asked with a smile.

"Yes Willow it does," he replied with a small smile of his own, "but I would like you to not make it sound like I have a split personality."

"Sorry Giles," she said with an even wider smile.

"I'm sure you are. While you are performing the spell, Buffy and Xander will be taking out the guards and freeing Dawn. Buffy will then take her to Joyce and Tara who will be at a safe distance away from the battleground."

"I still don't think you should be going mom," Buffy grumbled stubbornly.

"And I still think that I should. And as your mother I out rank you," she replied sternly, smirking slightly at the end.

"Don't worry Buff," Xander said, "I'll be using the strongest protection spell I know to keep her safe," he assured her.

"They didn't keep Dawn safe," she replied darkly.

That hurt Xander more than any physical blow ever could and he was unable to hide it.

"Buffy!" Joyce snapped, appalled that her daughter had said such a thing. "Apologise to Xander this instant!"

"Don't worry Joyce she's right," Xander said morosely, "I should have done more to keep her safe."

"You did as much as you or anyone else could have done. We all knew that there wasn't anything that could stop Glory once she knew who and where Dawn was," she assured him, knowing that if Xander cold have done more, he would have.

"It doesn't make me feel any better," he replied sullenly.

"Mom's right Xand, I shouldn't have said what I did," Buffy told him, taking his hand in her own. The moment she said it she'd felt bad, not only because it was completely uncalled for but because she didn't believe it herself. She knew that Xander had done everything he could to keep Dawn safe, far more than anyone else could. "I'm just really stressed out but I shouldn't take it out on you. Forgive me?" she asked softly, surprised by how much his opinion meant to her.

"Nothing to forgive Buff," he informed her, although she could tell that he was still hurt by what she'd said, "we're all feeling the strain. It's better you get it out of your system now so you're clear headed on the day."

"If I may continue?" Giles asked, slightly annoyed by the interruption. Receiving nods all round, he continues. "Once Buffy has taken Dawn to Joyce, she will meet up with Xander and they will kill Glory."

"What if Glory breaks free of the spell before they've got Dawn?" Joyce asked, the whole situation causing her concern. One of her children was already in danger and her others were risking their own lives to rescue her.

"Don't worry about that," Xander assured her, knowing how worried she was about everyone getting out safely, "neither of us will be holding back when we go get Dawnie. It'll take no more than a couple of minutes to get past, well go through the guards and free Dawn. Just so you all know I'm going to do what I did in LA; anyone gets in my way, they get sent to meet their maker. I'm not risking Dawn or anyone else by letting them live."

"I know I'm not as knowledgeable about this as the rest of you," Joyce began, "but my baby girl is in danger so I couldn't care less if you burned the place to the ground if it meant bring her back safely."

"I might just do that as an extra precaution once Glory is defeated, so no one can use what might be left behind," Giles tells her, thinking that he suggestion was a viable one, even if it wasn't meant to be taken as such.

"You say this sword Xander has will defeat Glory," willow said, her doubts clear in her tone, "but do you know if it will work or not?" she asked, unhappy that they were pinning their hopes on something that they have no real proof works, not to mention that it was Xander in the firing line.

"There aren't many gods or goddesses around to practise on Wills," Xander replied with a smirk, "but I can feel the power of the sword, I know that it will work. Once Dawn is out of danger I'll introduce the pointy end to the ditzy bitch and we'll find out for certain one way or the other."

It was impossible for him to explain just how he knew the sword was the business; he just knew it was the real deal every time he touched it. He could see that Willow was unhappy that they couldn't provide her with irrefutable proof that the sword was genuine, but there are no certainties in life, except the one nobody likes to recognize.

"Okay so we've worked out what we're going to do, but do we actually know where Glory is or where she has Dawn?" Tara asked.

"We do know where she needs to perform the ceremony," Giles responded, smiling slightly that Tara was once again a part of the group, "she has constructed a tower on an abandoned construction site on the outskirts of town. We are not however going to wait for her to perform the ceremony. I have several sources that have confirmed that Glory has a mansion an hour south of Sunnydale." Giles then pulls out a hand drawn plan of the mansion and surrounding grounds. "She has Dawn in a building to the south of the grounds, heavily guarded. The remainder of her helpers are normally guarding the outside of the building. Glory only has one servant with her at any one time."

"I can borrow a van from work to get us there; using magic to get there would only tip them off we're coming. I'll be able to put a protection spell on and around the van to give Joyce and Tara some extra protection, and I'll leave Tara a few things she can use if necessary. Nothing that will put a strain on her," he assured Willow as he could tell she was about to protest, "they'll be magically self sufficient, but they need to be used by someone knowledgeable in the arts."

"Good idea," Giles commended, not liking the idea of leaving the two women defenceless.

While Tara was physically fine, she was still mentally fatigued and unable to concentrate enough to use her magic. That fact became obvious when she attempted a simple spell to read Willow's aura and ended up with a terrible migraine. That was why she was going to stay with Joyce, she wasn't really a fighter and without magic to help her she'd be more or less defenceless.

"I'll scope out the place and ensure that out intelligence is correct. By the time I've done that and we've worked out the logistics of the plan, as well as a few contingencies, we'll be ready."

END FLASHBACK

"Giles we know what needs to be done and we will do it. Nothing will stop me from getting my sister back," Buffy told him determinedly, every second that Dawn was in Glory's hands a lifetime too long.

Xander can see that she was about to lose it so he takes her hands in his own and that seems to calm her enough to regain control. she was completely torn by what was going to happen today; if everything went right they'd get Dawn back and put Glory down like the rabid dog that she was, but the cost was almost too much for Buffy to bear. Logic dictates that losing Xander to save the world made sense, but logic doesn't take into account the gut wrenching pain Buffy experiences every time she tries to imagine her life without Xander in it.

She could understand now why Xander wanted her to keep it to herself; willow would be inconsolable veering towards catatonic, her mom wouldn't be too far behind and if Dawn knew she might well do something very stupid. She knew of a way to ensure he survived, but she'd already risked the world over her emotions before and she wasn't going to do it again. Ironic that Xander was the one to stop her last time as well.

"Don't worry," he said softly, holding her gaze and projecting as much comfort and caring as he could, "Dawnie will be back annoying us all by the end of the day, I give you my word."

"You know Xander always keeps his word Buffy," Willow added, stating it like you would say that water was wet.

Willow smiles softly at the fact they haven't broken eye contact and the spark between them was beyond huge. She had been worried that Buffy would spurn Xander's advances again, but she didn't see that happening now.

"Yeah, I do," Buffy eventually replied.

Not wanting to spoil the moment between them, the others use the time to sit and ready themselves for what was to happen. Willow and Tara simply sit next to each other, enjoying each other's warmth, while Giles and Joyce talked about a recent acquisition in Joyce's gallery.

After a few minutes, Buffy finally became aware that she and Xander have been gazing into each others eyes for a while and breaks it, albeit reluctantly. They had a sister to save and a goddess to kill. It must be Tuesday.

Buffy slips the customary stakes into the waistband of her jeans, not expecting any vamp trouble considering it was the middle of the day but never feeling comfortable without at least one on her. She grabs a couple of knives and slips one inside each boot and then grabs the axe that had caught her attention among the myriad of things Xander had brought back from LA.

Giles decides to show he was aware of weaponry made after the Middle Ages by grabbing the shotgun, although he does strap a rapier to his waist to appease his traditionalist side. He also takes a flare gun with him to notify Xander and Buffy that the spell was in force.

Willow, while before would be happy to simply rely on her magic, further shows her improvement by taking a couple of pistol crossbows just in case she needs to use them.

"Okay, it's time to get this show on the road," Xander declared as he strapped the sword to his back. He decided that to be on the safe side he wouldn't use the sword until he faced Glory, which was fine by him as he didn't want to be too kind to the people that abducted Dawn by giving them quick and painless deaths. Their deaths will probably still be quick, but not necessarily painless.

"Dawn will be back before you know it," Xander said to Joyce as he started the protection spell on her, repeating the spell for Tara. He then places another on the van and one more around it, giving them as much protection as he could without being there himself.

After hugs and back pats all round, Giles and Willow make their way to the north of the grounds, Buffy and Xander make their way to the building at the south of the ground where Dawn was being held. As they get closer, they can both see Dawn bound and gagged in a chair, her face bruised and dirty. Buffy's first impulse is to rush in, but a gentle hand on her shoulder prevents that.

"I want her out of there as much as you do Buff, but if we go too soon Glory could come in and the chances of Dawn getting out unscathed drops considerably."

"She's not getting out unscathed now," she growled, hating that he sister had been hurt by her captives.

"I hate to say this, but I'm surprised she isn't more banged up." At the glare he was receiving from Buffy, he explains. "They need her alive but apart from that she's nothing more than a tool to them. Knowing Dawnie the way I do, I doubt she's been cooperating and she could test the patience of Job if she put her mind to it. She's either been dealing with Glory's servants who are no doubt used to being verbally abused or they've simply kept her bound and gagged like that since they got her here."

Buffy couldn't fault Xander's assessment of how Dawn would react, in fact she felt proud that she had a sister who was strong enough to fight back, even against such overwhelming odds. As for Dawn's ability to annoy, if she put as much effort into her studies as she does to annoying her every chance she got, she'd never be off the honour roll.

"How long do you think we have to wait?" she asked after a few minutes silence, finding the wait torturous.

Xander didn't get a chance to answer as at that moment the red flare indicating that the spell was active rose up into the sky. Not waiting a moment longer, they both make their way into the building, Buffy through the window and Xander deciding to be a distraction by entering through the far wall.

As the guards' attentions are focused on Xander, Buffy uses one of her knives to cut the ropes binding Dawn to the chair, idly considering keeping the gag on her so she'd have peace for a few more moments, only for Dawn to remove it herself.

"Buffy! Thank god you're here, I was so scared!" Dawn screamed as she flung her arms around her sister, allowing herself to finally cry. She had willed herself to control her emotion in front of her captors, not wanting to give them the satisfaction of seeing that they'd gotten to her.

"Hey it's alright, Xander and I are here now," she said soothingly, hugging her little sister as hard as she dared. As she did her best to calm Dawn down, she watched in morbid fascination as Xander tore through the guards like a hot knife through butter, each blow he delivered a killing one. As Xander disappeared into another room, no doubt ensuring that there would be no surprise attacks later, she begins to lead Dawn outside. "Let's take you to mom and then Xander and I have a goddess to kill."

As Buffy leads Dawn out of the building, she realises that they must have kept her tied to the chair as she was having trouble walking, so she picks her up gently and begins running to the van, wanting her as far from trouble as possible.

As Joyce sees her daughters approaching, she goes to meet them but finds that the barrier around the van stops her, Xander's way of ensuring she didn't try and do anything foolish. Tara also tries to leave and finds that she too is unable to do so, finding herself somewhere between annoyed and touched by Xander's protectiveness.

"Dawn, thank god you're alright!" Joyce cried as she finally has her youngest daughter back, hugging the life out of her once Buffy had put her down.

"I'm fine mom," Dawn gasped out, finding it difficult to breathe due to the crushing, but otherwise enjoyable, hug.

"How are you Buffy?" Tara asked, noting the anxious expression on the Slayer's face. She'd felt conflicting emotions on Buffy almost from the moment she got her mind back and was concerned by what it could mean.

"A few bumps and bruises that's all Tara, although thanks for asking. I've got to get back to Xander," she said urgently, turning to leave.

"I'll see you both soon," Joyce called out to her, causing Buffy to stop dead in her tracks.

"No, you won't," she replied brokenly, thoughts of Xander's impending demise flashing through her mind once more.

"Buffy?"

Buffy turns around and the others can see tears running down her cheeks, as she was no longer able to hold back her emotions. She knew that she'd promised, but she simply couldn't hold it back any longer.

"He's going to die mom," she sobbed, "the sword works by draining the person who uses it. When he kills Glory he's gonna die too!"

"Oh god no," Joyce murmured, holding her hand up to her mouth in shock.

"He can't die!" Dawn cried.

"He doesn't want to Dawn, it's the only way."

"I'm sorry Buffy," her mother said softly, knowing that she must be going through hell at the moment.

She saw the way they were looking at each other earlier and knew there was something going on, although she doubted anything was official as there was no way on god's green earth that Xander could be able to keep it a secret. There were things that Joyce was certain of and Xander's love for her eldest daughter was high on that list; is she started to return his feelings his smile would be s wide people would start to think his head would split in two. For Xander to die now would be devastating to her daughter, and she was unable to fathom how Xander was coping with such knowledge.

"Why say sorry to me," she snapped, "I'm not the one who's going to die!"

"You love him don't you?" she asked, her daughter's eyes telling her everything she needed to know.

"I-I don't know," she lied, trying her hardest not to admit to something she'd known for a while now.

"I think you do Buffy, you just don't want to admit it."

She knew that she was still in shock over what she'd been told, but no matter what else she might be thinking, she knew that Buffy needed to be honest with Xander and herself before it was too late. While she knew that it would hurt Buffy's already damaged heart to lose another love, Buffy would regret it for the rest of her life if she said nothing. She had no idea how right she was.

"I have to go," Buffy said suddenly, as much to end the conversation as it was the truth.

As Buffy nears the mansion, she could see Glory's motionless form, Xander standing a few feet away from her in a fighting stance. Looking over to Willow and Giles, she could see that the redhead was tiring and would not be able to keep the spell going much longer. That becomes more evident as Glory starts moving, slowly at first but with increasing speed as the seconds passed. By the time she was standing beside Xander, Glory was moving unencumbered.

"Giles! Willow! Get the hell out of here!" she yelled to them, wanting them out of harms way. She also didn't want them to see what happens next.

Glory reached out with her senses to her minions, but found that she had none left alive. She then tried to sense her key and found that too had been taken from her and with it her only chance to return home. Having no one to deal with the scum standing before her, and knowing that they were responsible for condemning her to an eternity on this glorified boulder, she decides to make examples of them and make their deaths exceedingly drawn out and painful.

"I'm going to enjoy grinding your bones into powder!" she roared, her eyes flashing crimson.

"I'm going to give that a 6.7 for delivery but only a 1.2 for originality," Xander informed her with a sneer. "Of course you'll never actually live long enough to fulfil it so it doesn't really matter."

"I'm a god, there's no way you can defeat me!" she declared arrogantly.

"You'll be changing your tune when we kick your ass!" Buffy retorted with certainty.

"I'm going to enjoy killing you Slayer, I might even keep the boy around long enough to see your heart stop beating before I snap him like a twig."

"You harm a hair on her head and I'll make you wish that you never existed, I know I already do," Xander growled, his own eyes beginning to glow, but his a forest green.

Glory doesn't respond verbally instead she moves faster than either Buffy or Xander could see and strikes them both with a swipe of her arm. They both go flying through the air, Xander managing to rotate his body so that he landed on his feet, the force of the blow forcing him to slide several feet before coming to a stop.

Buffy is less lucky and soars uncontrollably through the air, only stopping when she slams into the corner of the mansion, sliding bonelessly to the ground out cold. Xander looks on in fear, having to strain his senses to pick up her breathing and heartbeat.

Glory uses the distraction to her advantage, charging him once more and landing a thunderous uppercut to his chin, sending him flying once more. Xander once again uses his quick reflexes to control his descent, this time drawing his sword as he lands.

Sparing a glance at Buffy's still form, he feels his anger reaching new heights, his blood almost literally boiling due to the rage coursing through his body. His eyes begin to pulse as his rage overwhelms him and with a speed he never knew himself capable of, charges at the goddess.

He begins a relentless attack; swing the sword so fast it appears as nothing but a blur, not even Glory able to keep up with it. For every blow she managed to deflect, five got through he defences. He is completely relentless, not giving her a moment's rest. Soon she is covered in thin cuts, individually each one was not much more than a scratch but the sheer volume of them was beginning to take it's toll and she was actually beginning to weaken. That of course meant that her reflexes began to slow so he was able to land even more strikes.

By now, Buffy is beginning to regain her senses and witnesses the fight, although it looked like Glory was doing much apart from desperately trying to block as many slashes from Xander as was possible. Watching Xander fight with such intensity shocks her, thinking that she had never seen Xander fight with such ferocity.

As soon as that thought enters her head she knows it to be false as memory after memory flashes before her eyes of every time Xander had saved her from a fatal blow. While the sheer power was missing, the ferocity and intensity are plain for the world to see. It's then that she realises that Xander only ever fights like that when battling something that had managed to hurt her, she was his Achilles heel and had never really known it before this moment.

It's at that moment that she finally admits to herself that she did indeed love Xander, that she was in love with him. With that mental declaration came an overwhelming need to scream it to the heavens, an impulse that she doesn't even try to fight.

"I LOVE YOU XANDER HARRIS!"

Her declaration echoed throughout the grounds, giving it an otherworldly feel to it. When it reached Xander's ears, he not only hears the words but also the emotions behind them. He could feel power surging through his body, far more than he had eve experienced before, and the sword began to glow and pulse as the power within it was unleashed.

The blows he was now delivering were leaving heavy gashes in Glory's body, her lifeblood flowing steadily out of each and every new wound. Whereas before the wounds would close up, they were now staying open and soon she was unable to stand any longer due to blood loss. Her legs give out on her and she crumples to the floor, no longer acting like an all powerful imperious goddess, but as a bruised and beaten woman who knew that their time was at an end. She tries desperately to get away from him, using what little energy she had left to force herself back onto her feet but to no avail.

Xander looks down at the almost lifeless body of Glory and prepares to deliver the final blow, but for a moment he doesn't see the evil demon goddess that she is. All he sees is a young defenceless woman who has a fear in her eyes that was directed solely at him and he hesitates. If Glory had been stronger she would have taken advantage of this opportunity but she simply couldn't move.

"I'll make you beg for mercy when I've finished with you!" she said, desperately trying to maintain her façade as an unstoppable force of evil.

Xander shakes his head clear of his compassion for the thing that had wanted to kill his family and the rest of the world. Determination appears on his face once again and he prepares himself to deliver the killing blow.

"I love you Buffy," he whispered softly to himself.

With his final words floating in the air, he brings the sword down and thrusts it through Glory's chest, piercing her heart and embedding the sword into the concrete floor beneath her. Once the hilt of the sword is pressing against her sternum he releases it and steps back.

Glory can feel the last vestiges of life leaving her body, and uses her final breath to scream at her executioner.

"Go to hell!" she hissed, before finally dying.

"Ladies first," he replied shakily, already feeling his own life slipping away.

Xander takes a few steps away from the now lifeless form of Glory before he himself becomes too weak to stand. His legs give way and he crashes to the floor, unable to feel anything from the waist down. Buffy was immediately by his side, tears streaming down her face and she rests his head on her lap.

"I love you Xander," she whispered, finding herself unable to speak any louder.

Even though he is in a lot of pain, her words bring a smile to his face.

"Took you long enough," he replied.

Buffy smiled even through the tears but the realisation of what was going to happen starts to dawn on her.

"Please don't leave me," she begged, knowing that there was nothing he could do but had to say it anyway.

"God I wish I didn't have to go Buffy," he told her, starting to find it harder to breathe. "Just remember that as long as I'm in your thoughts, I will always be with you."

Xander hears a sob to his right and turns his head, finding even that simple movement taxing, to find Willow and the others standing there with tears in their eyes. He looks over the group that is surrounding his quickly weakening form. His family. He addresses each one in turn; fighting to keep the pain he is in from showing on his face.

"Hey Wills," he greeted softly, causing her to cry all the more. "I am so proud of you, you're my bestest friend in the whole wide world and I hope you'll forgive me for not being around to push you in your wheelchair when you're eighty."

Willow bends down and kisses him gently on his forehead, having so many things she wanted to say but finding herself unable to voice them.

"Tara you make my Willow happy, which makes you one of the most important people in the world to me. Your love and compassion is far more powerful than any spell can ever be. I know that you'll be happy together."

She too bends down to kiss him on the forehead.

"I'll look after her for you Xander, I promise," she whispered in his ear before standing up and gathering her girlfriend up in her arms as she cried uncontrollably.

"Dawnie, don't you even consider trying to blame yourself," he told her, know what she was thinking. "You are a wonderful young woman with your whole life ahead of you. I am so glad that you were sent to us, our lives would have been less complete without you in them."

Unable to speak, Dawn simple kneels down and hugs him fiercely, knowing that it would be for the last time. After a few moments, Joyce gently pulls her away, knowing that Xander wanted to speak to them all while he could.

"Giles you are my father in every way that counts; I doubt I would have become half the man I am without your guidance and wisdom. Look after them for me and remember what I told you."

Giles bends down and clasps Xander's forearm, Xander doing the same.

"I'm proud of you my boy, I'll protect them all with everything I have in me and I swear that I'll remember."

Giles releases him and steps back, turning round so that the others can't see the tears that have escaped.

"Joyce, if I could have chosen a mother, I couldn't have picked a better one than you. If everyone had a mother like you the world would be a better, safe place to live in. just remember what Buffy said to Willow when they first met; life is short."

"Thank you for saving my little girl and for giving me the opportunity to see my daughters grow into the wonderful women they'll become. I love you son."

Temporarily handing an inconsolable Dawn to Giles, she bends down and kisses him on the forehead like Willow and Tara had done, brushing a lock of his hair away from his face before standing up.

"Buffy I have loved you from the moment I saw you and probably before that. You are and will forever be my hero Buffy, never forget that. Never blame yourself for loving me, you couldn't resist my magnetic personality," he quipped, causing Buffy to laugh in spite of her sadness.

"I'll never forget you Xander. I love you," she said, resisting the urge to kiss him, as she didn't want their first kiss to be their last.

"I love you too. I'm feeling tired, I think I'll go to sleep now," he told her, finding it difficult to breathe.

"Sleep well my love."

"As you wish," he replied.

Just as he was about to close his eyes for the last time, pain lances throughout his body, causing him to arch up in agony. The group watches in shock as his beams of electric blue energy break through his skin, forcing Buffy to move away from his writhing body as more and more beams appear. The light coming from his body becomes brighter and brighter until his body disappears and all that is left is a ball of blue light.

The light starts rising off the ground and they all feel strangely comforted it by it's presence, something that they thought would be impossible to experience at witnessing the death of the heart of their group. After a few moments the ball begins to move upwards into the sky, slowly gaining speed until it all that can be seen is a streak of blue soaring into the heavens. They all hope that it's destination is exactly that.

Epilogue

Buffy and the others arrive at the Summers house a couple of hours after witnessing Xander's death and they are all in different levels of shock. Dawn is still crying uncontrollably, Joyce having to hold her so she doesn't fall to her knees. Joyce herself is finding it difficult to stop crying, the loss of her surrogate son slowly sinking in and the pain that realisation is causing only gets worse with every passing moment.

Willow is in a similar state to Dawn, Tara doing what she can to console her girlfriend while dealing with her owns feeling of loss. For Willow she had lost a part of herself, Xander being a part of her life for as long as she could remember. For Tara it was the loss of a friend that had managed to make her feel a part of a family and an example that men are not all like her brother and father.

Giles is subdued, unable to do much of anything unless it was necessary. His first thought was to find the biggest bottle of the strongest whiskey known and lose himself to it, but he knew that was a road better not taken, as he needed to remain strong for the others. He was also aware that Xander's adoptive parents both had troubles with alcohol and didn't want to dishonour his memory by becoming anything like those poor excuses for humans.

He idly thought that they should be notified of his death, for official reasons if nothing else, but decides that they wanted nothing to do with the young man in life so there was no reason to think they would care now that he was dead. Once he'd rung Angel in LA to let him know of Xander's passing everyone who was of importance to the young man would know and everyone else could go to hell.

Buffy had stopped crying after the blue ball of energy that had once been Xander's body had soared into the sky and now her face was devoid of any and all emotion. Hey eyes were still red and puffy from crying, but there were no other signs of life there. Her movements are mechanical and lacking the subtle nuances that people make to show they were more than automatons. She doesn't acknowledge anyone or anything as she makes her way upstairs to her room, closing the door behind her and locking it so she can't be disturbed.

A flash of light catches her attention and she sees a bright pink envelope appear on her pillow, her name printed on it in Xander's unmistakable scrawl. A flicker of emotion flashes across her face as she goes over and picks it up, carefully opening the envelope as though in fear it would crumble in her fingertips.

She slowly removes the paper inside, finding at first that it was simply a blank piece of paper but after a moment a letter in Xander's handwriting begins to reveal itself.

Hi Buffy,

If you're reading this letter it means that I'm dead and the prophecy has been fulfilled. I know leaving a letter for you to read after I'm gone is clichéd, but I wanted to make sure that there was a written record of a few things. Just so you know the others will find similar letters waiting for them on their pillows as well, each one designed so that only the person it's addressed to can read it.

The first thing I want to tell you is that I, Alexander 'Xander' Lavelle Harris, am in love with you, Elizabeth 'Buffy' Anne Summers. Never, ever doubt that is anything less than 100 true, because I have never been more certain of anything in my life.

The second thing I wanted to tell you was that I'm sorry for all the secrets that I've kept from you over the years. While I can't say that I would have done anything any differently, I do know how hurt you must have been when you found out how much I had kept from you all and that is something I never wanted to do.

Now that the whole 'baring my soul' thing is over, it's time to get to the good stuff. As you are all aware, I wasn't exactly poor. The majority of my money is invested in a dozen or so multinational companies. A company known as the Savox Trust owns all these; this is a ghost company I set up during my road trip. I have set it up so that the companies all run without needing any input by myself and there are enough paper trails to keep anyone wanting to know who them man behind the company is busy for a very long time.

While the easiest thing would have been to simply leave the company to you and the others, it would put you into the spotlight and that's a place you can't be with the calling you have. I have however left instructions with the head of each company that, if you or one of the others were to contact them, they are to give you any and all assistance you need. Both the Scooby Gang and the Fang Gang are on that list; you'll find a portfolio in the 'spare room' containing information on the businesses I own along with who and how to contact each one.

The reason I've set it up like that is because of the Council. We all know that Quentin and the Tweed Brigade are keeping close tabs on you, if they found out you had access to one of the largest conglomerates in the world they'd stop at nothing to gain control of it and you in the process. This way you get the help you need when you need it without the Council getting anything.

I've also set up several accounts with banks all over the world, one for each of you. A healthy amount of money will be deposited into these accounts on a monthly basis, to be used as you all see fit. I wanted to make sure that you all have the best chance of happiness the only way I can, by ensuring that you never have to worry about where the money to pay the bills will come from. Don't worry; Dawn can't use her account without Joyce countersigning the withdrawal form, something that won't change until the day after her High School graduation. There's one set up for Oz as well, he might not be part of the group now but he was for a while and that counts for something.

The cabin is already in your name and your mom should get a letter in the mail informing her that the mortgage has been paid on the house and the gallery. Willow and Tara will also find that they are now the proud owners of an off campus apartment.

I know you have always worried that you would never get to lead a normal life, this might not make your life more normal but it'll definitely make it a helluvalot easier. I want you to have a happy life Buffy, I'm just sorry I won't be there to share it with you.

Love always,

Xander.

Buffy stares at the letter for several minutes, giving her mind time to process everything. A small smile begins to appear on her face, as even after death Xander looks out for her.

"I love you Xander," she whispered, knowing that wherever Xander was he heard her. putting the letter back inside its envelope, she places it next to the photo of herself, Willow and Xander that had been taken on Graduation Day, before making her way back downstairs.

The End.