Can I Have a Side Order of Demons and Politicians with That?

Book Two: Rise of X Series

Author: tohonomike

Email: tohonomike at by: Theo (Junior Editor/Muse Wrangler...Many Thanks)

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners...it will start off with the Joss/ME characters, and any other characters or real-life folks are clearly not mine. NO money is involved.

Author's Notes: Since the full moon really happened on a Sunday night, I'm splitting the episode to fit 'reality' better. Oz doesn't show up to be caged except on Saturday night, when the main event occurs.

Summary: Things start to heat up in the January of the Scooby Gang's senior year at Sunnydale High.

Episode I

Cape Canaveral, Florida. January 29th, 1999

Xander Harris, Harry Stamper and the drill equipment team watched the launch of Endeavor into space. The entire team had worked 18 hours a day for the last six and a half days, to piece together eight custom-built drilling units.

They were meant ostensibly as last-minute replacement on military-funded probes that would drill deep into the lunar and Martian icecaps—and in the future, large cometary bodies destined for diversion in terraforming test projects.

The problem was, the in-house staff had been unable to make divergent parts work with a drill sufficiently robust. So...NASA and the Air Force had had to decide between an embarrassing delay, or offering someone like Harry a large sum of money to get the job done right ASAP.

Xander's video game background and his months of hands-on experience grafting other systems around Stamper Drills, meant he'd been able to work out the remote-control software bugs and run simulations on equipment almost as fast as Harry could get it tentatively operational. Turning a four-week job into a job done in approximately six days.

And because the shuttle had lifted off on schedule with ready equipment, Stamper was paid a cool three million bucks over and above the costs and extra work, not for the effort but for the silence regarding the project. When Harry had looked about to say something, he was given another million tax-free and was made to sign non-disclosure agreements, along with his crew.

And the personnel involved were Air Force, not NASA. No wonder the country was almost in a mess, financially...

Xander had enough energy to make it home to Sunnydale, stopping to put his pay and bonus check of $50,000 into the bank. Harry had specifically told him this was the only time they'd ever made such easy money, and not to expect it again in the future. So after Xander had promised not to blow it on casinos or the racetrack, he was allowed to leave.

He arrived at the high school just after classes had let out for the day, and made his way to the school library to see if Giles or any of the gang might be around to catch him up on the days and nights he'd been virtually sequestered in Oxnard. He moved through the doors and found Willow and Faith on the other side, studying at the table.

"How's it going, ladies?" the young man asked as he collapsed into a heap in a chair. "Anything happening?"

"Nah," they both responded, and kept at the studying until Buffy and Giles entered a few minutes later, waking Xander from his nap.

"...I think so," Giles responded to a question Buffy must have asked, looking around to make sure the uninformed weren't around. "Based on some artifacts I-I found with them, and, um, taking into account the current astral cycle..."

"Giles, I don't need to see the math," the blonde Slayer sighed, "So, bottom line it for me—what are they trying to do?"

"They intend to open the Hellmouth," Giles told her, and looked at the others as they tuned into the conversation.

"The one I'm sitting over?" Xander interjected. "When's this supposed to happen?"

"Within the next week or so would be my guess," Giles sighed.

"Hot damn!" Faith said, "Does this mean I can just try that GED thing-y, and not study for my tests on Monday?"

"W-well, if we are again victorious, Faith, I would still expect actual attendance in school, to build up your resume for college and to guard the Hellmouth."

"How 'bout if I pass the GED before the end of school, I come back as a library volunteer?" she tried to negotiate. "That way I could take a few classes at UC Sunnydale, and swing by afterwards. Keep everybody in the loop, B, Red and Wolfy patrol the college areas, and we cover the town?"

"While there is certainly merit in your argument," Giles conceded, "we-we're getting off track, so continue to study for your examinations, and perhaps we can discuss it if at the end of this quarter you are getting all A's and B's."

"Wow!" Faith replied with a big smile. "Come on, Red, let's get the study mojo going, 'cause this girl's gonna...going to...be on the 'A' list with you brain types."

"Guess what, Carter?" Colonel Jack O'Neill asked with the tiniest hint of smugness on his face as they watched Messiah crew head into space successfully, the SGC 'enhancements' apparently working as planned.

"What, sir?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.

"We're unable to dial P3X-451…"

"So we think it's because the black hole tidal forces have destroyed the planet?"

"That's the theory anyway, so …"

"We don't need to launch a rescue mission to retrieve the scientists scheduled to go there?"

"Got it in one."

She shook her head, amused at the satisfied CO that had defied the 'eggheads' again. Sometimes it amazed her how a man with so little practical background in science managed to achieve so much for the SGC without it—successfully. So Sam changed the subject.

"So sir, the general give you any more feedback on Lex Harris?"

"Nah, when all was said and done it evened out; sure would like to know where a high school kid holding down a full-time job gets the kind of experience he does, though. General Hammond said to wait 'til after he graduates, then we'll run him through the whole series of tests." The colonel paused, frowning in deep thought.

"Sir?"

"Hmm, nothin' Carter, I just remember thinking about Lex when all that Ancient stuff was in my head…but I can't quite remember…"

Carter looked instantly worried. "Huh? Sir, are you sure they removed all the knowledge instead of blocking it off?"

"Yeah, well, pretty sure, why?"

She gestured, "Well, isn't this almost-memory of yours one that shoulda been removed too?"

Jack frowned. "Maybe…I don't quite know…I mean I remember everything I did and said, just not the thinking behind it…so this is borderline…"

"Was it something bad? Something you needed to do?"

O'Neill suddenly appeared to dismiss it. "Well, maybe it'll come to me later. You hungry? I could go for something to eat."

Sunnydale, California. Saturday, January 30th, 1999, 8 AM

Xander had collapsed at home and slept nearly 14 hours straight, as his body and mind rebounded from the incessant tight schedule of the previous week. Getting up to answer the phone, he picked up the portable receiver and started to sleepily make breakfast, the noise attracting Faith and Oz's attention.

"Uh-huh, yeah, okay. Nah, I'll give ya twenty-five hundred since you put the new engine in it. No, okay, I won't cover them, just you. Tell them I only gave you a grand, on account of I don't consider those people to be my parents. I'll be down there in about an hour, with the papers. Bye."

The two four-piece toasters finished the first loads, Faith taking over that duty as Oz grabbed fruit out of the fridge. Xander continued cooking up eggs scrambled with ham, when the phone rang again.

"Tony who?" Xander responded, hanging up—only to have the phone ring a minute later, as he finished dishing the food out on three plates ready with everything else.

"Hello? Why should I listen? Okay, three minutes. Make 'em count..."

Xander listened as he sat at the table, eating for a minute until sputtering, "Then who is my father? That's what I'll get if I bail you out? Oh, okay, if it doesn't pan out, I don't bail out Tony? Fine, but I'll want the house as collateral-"

A scream was heard from the phone. Xander replied, "What do you mean, what for? I'm not in the business of giving away money, I'm just loaning it to you. And it's a helluva risk, at that!"

Another pause. "Ha! All right, I'll give it to you—and Tony's on his own, this time? Okay, yeah, I got a pen. Uh-huh, Oxford, class of '79, yeah, got it. He's what? A Brit? You're kidding me! Okay, I'll be over in an hour, after I pick up the box, and you give me the name then..." Xander slammed down the phone.

"Father?" Oz asked, eyebrow raised.

"Apparently Anthony Harris isn't able to have kids, he married my mom after I was born in 1980," Xander sighed, looking tired. "So I'm going to find out who the old man really is..."

The room was quiet for a moment as Xander simply walked into the kitchen, placed his dishes in the dishwasher, walked into the common area, and began a very energetic version of the Snoopy Dance.

"Yes! Whoo-hoo! Hahahahahah! Ye-e-e-e-e-e-e-ah! I'm not a Harris!"

His roommates looked at him like he was crazy, then smiled widely at his unexpected good fortune. With the Harris reputation in Sunnydale, they easily understood his happiness. After a moment, he calmed down.

"Hey, Lex," Faith said as she trekked her dishes into the kitchen, "You want company on this run?"

"Yeah, thanks," Xander said, giving her a big hug, "I'll need a second driver for when we run Rory's 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible past the DMV, to change the title and such."

"Whoa, you becoming classic car guy now?" Faith smiled. "Or does Rory count as a Big Bad you're collecting another trophy off of?"

"No, but his brother is close enough," he smiled back. "Though he's really the only one of the bunch I like, this DUI might actually get him some prison time. And sad fact is, this is the only way I'll get repaid."

"Okay, then let's go, Car Guy," Faith smiled, rolling her eyes, leaving Oz to actually smile at the couple.

"Cool."

The drive to both Harris houses to get the important papers and the classic car took no more than half an hour, once they had showered and dressed for the day. They walked into the police station, explained why they were there and sat down to wait.

Rory Harris was an easy transaction, looking very abashed as he signed over the car, thanked Xander and headed on his way. But Jessica Harris tried to renege on the deal, until Xander got up to leave.

"Stop, Alex, please! I'm sorry," she sighed, looking really in a bad way as the police escort looked over at the disturbance. "It's just, with Tony looking at 30 days easy, I don't know what to do-"

"Leave him, get a restraining order against him, move back to wherever the hell the Lavelles come from, divorce him and start a new life away from the bottle."

Xander's mother frowned at him, but had no ready answer other than, "It's my home Alexander, I-I don't want to leave it-"

"What if I bought the house and all you guys' stuff and got Tony to leave town?" Xander responded. "You want help? You get rid of that wife beater, and move on."

Jessica still wasn't sure. "He'd only come back..."

"Not necessarily. What if he got most of the money, and we got a judge to make it a condition that he leave the state instead of serving time for whatever it is this time..."

"Fighting, drunk and disorderly."

Xander arched his brow. "Well?"

"I don't know..."

Xander suddenly got mad. "After this, do you have anything to offer me for the next time you need bailing out of jail?" he responded, not caring if the police overheard or not.

He went on, "Right now the Harrises are the town laughing stock, so why don't you stop being a Harris? If you leave him, and get the restraining order, you can get help. Heck, without the liquor bill, you could be almost back to a normal life in a year or so—since you're the one with a steady job. And not having the hospital bills the next few times he throws a bottle at ya..."

"Alex! Not so loud!"

"Why not, Mom? The only reason Tony isn't in prison is that you've always refused to press charges, or make a statement to the cops. I bet these guys only need you to give them one prosecutable offense, and Tony'd go bye-bye just like that!"

"I, I'm not ready..."

"Then after this I don't know you until you are, Mom. You two have hurt me too much, so let's just get this over with, I guess."

Jessica Lavelle-Harris opened up the box, and took out all of the papers that pertained to her son, and after a pause, sighed and handed them over to him.

"Please don't turn out like Tony, Alexander. Be someone good."

"You mean like my real father, whoever he is?"

"He at least finished college, Alex, though he probably got himself killed in some pub somewhere with that friend of his, Nathan I think it was?" she forced out. "Just be the best man you can, and...forget about us." Jessica left as her son signed off the bail paperwork, and handed over a money order to the police sergeant.

"Well, beautiful," the male teen told Faith, not looking at the papers. "Let's go take care of the car paperwork."

"Not gonna look at the papers?" Faith asked. "Not even curious?"

"I figure I'll wait until I've settled down, then do a computer check on the Internet to see if the guy shows up."

"Gotcha."

Two hours later, Lex Harris stood looking stunned at the papers in front of him. There were a few pictures and the name on a birth certificate indicating paternity, when all of a sudden—the phone rang.

"Hello, this is Xander. What? What do you mean, you have her? What the hell do you want from me? Uh...I can maybe get six or seven together, tops; it's the weekend, ya know. Fine, no cops. What time? Uh-huh, where do we make the exchange? Is that the one near the bus station or the docks? Okay."

"Lex?" Faith asked, as she stood in the doorway to her room. "Is that what I think I heard?"

"Yeah, some guy made a grab on my mom, Faith," Xander said without a hint of emotion in his voice. "I'm to meet 'em later and pay 'em seven grand to get her back."

"Whoa, you have the money?"

"Yeah, I'll take it out of that bag we keep, repay it on Monday from my own account," he said, trying to plan. "But actually...I think it's a distraction from whatever's going on with the Hellmouth."

Faith frowned. "What's that mean?"

"Means I'll probably have to handle this one on my own, while you guys keep guard at the library."

The brunette Slayer frowned. "I don't like that plan, Lex, they'll have you outnumbered at the very least. Can't you get those soldier friends of yours?"

"Faith, you're as smart as you are beautiful," he said, just now realizing he could ask for help. "But first, I need to see a Rupert Giles about some very personal matters."

Sunnydale, California. January 30th, 1999

Around 1:30 pm Xander knocked on Giles' door, having contacted Riley and the Initiative and asked for help on his drive over to the condo. He'd left Faith to rest up and practice a few more sword moves, while he took care of personal business.

"Y-yes?" Giles asked, then realized it was Xander, and stepped aside to let him pass into his home. "Oh, good afternoon, Xander. Um, you seem tense, a-are you okay?"

"I will be, Giles," the youth said, sitting down on the couch with Giles in the chair. "But some papers have recently come into my possession, and I need to determine if you're involved with what's in them."

"Oh! Well, certainly, I'll help if I can."

"Back in your Ripper days, when you were the terror of the girls' college dorm? Do you remember going out with a brunette named," he paused and pretended to look at the papers, "Jessica Lavelle?"

"Jessica Lavelle? Good Lord, I haven't thought about her in almost twenty years," Giles smiled fondly. "We went out for about six months, which must have been a record for me in fact. Yes, she was one of the people who most convinced me to rebuild the ties to my family..."

Then Giles looked sad at the memories. "She suddenly left one day, I'd told her I was heading back to London to join the 'family business'—I'd not told her about the Watchers, you see—and two weeks later, she'd returned to America. No forwarding address. So why do you bring her up, if I may ask?"

"Well, this morning I was given these papers by her. Turns out she's been living in Sunnydale ever since the '80s," Xander forced out without emotion, then handed over the birth certificate. "And she gave me this. More of that Hellmouth-y luck we're always getting, huh?"

"Oh my God," Rupert Giles quietly invoked, as he began pacing and then stared again at the legal document. "She's your—and you're my—ohhhhh. Xander, I-I-I didn't know. And for the last two years here, we've been..."

"I don't expect anything of you, or from you, G-Man," the young man said uncertainly, as the Watcher stepped over towards him, "I'm just glad not to be a Harris, and for two reasons I thought you should know-"

But Giles grabbed him in an awkward but affectionately familial hug, preventing the kid from continuing his revelations.

"For God's sake, boy, I didn't know. And if I had, I don't know what I would have done—but I would have done something. I was very fond of your mother," Giles told, then choked on his next words as he released the young man, "A-as much as, as Jenny..."

"Thanks, that means a lot, actually," Xander replied, then exhaled. "Like I was saying, one reason I thought you should know was I already felt that you were like family to me, even though I never told you."

"Thank you, a-and though I seldom show it, I reciprocate," the older man replied. "But what was the second reason?"

"I'm going to be taking the independents I took to Boston a couple of weeks ago, and I plan to rescue Mom from the guys who kidnapped her this morning. People who are either holding her for ransom, or acting as a lure to draw the gang from la Boca del Infierno here in the library."

"What! Kidnapped! Good Lord!" Giles exclaimed before calming a bit. "Why didn't you tell me already?"

"I wanted to know your reactions first, to this news..."

"Oh, indeed," Giles sighed and nodded, "I-I understand entirely. But what if you've surmised incorrectly?"

"Then I hope like hell you answer your cell phone, when I call for help."

Xander Harris met up with Riley, Graham and Forrest three hours later at the Happy Burger, the three regular Initiative team members shaking his hand.

"So, who's the kidnap victim?" Riley asked.

"My mother, actually," Xander said with a sad smile, as the Initiative soldiers' eyes went wide. "I'm guessing that as it was daylight, Kakistos' human servants must have done the actual grabbing."

"Your mom? Why a kidnapping?" Graham asked. "Why not just attack you?"

"The independents that have operated in this town think they're using this as a diversion, while they try something else," Xander told him. "And instead of the independents charging in to the rescue, they'll be trying to hold down a couple points in town. While we surprise the kidnappers with mucho serious firepower."

"Any idea of the number of HSTs and humans?" Riley asked, noting that Xander was carefully balancing his loyalties. "Because I think we have two new guys who've had at least the rescue training for something like this. You'll eventually be running them through the paces, and they've been briefed on vampires and that Fyarl demon-"

"So we deal with the...HSTs, and they grab my mother?" Alexander considered in response. "Just how many guys might be ready?"

"Three more guys right out of Ranger training arrived yesterday, they're green but solid," Riley responded. "They could at least cover the perimeter and our exit."

"Okay, bring 'em in," Xander told him. "And hey, I have some of those 'paint ball' guns and ammo for just us. If you like them, Stamper will contract out as the sole supplier—and at a very reasonable markup..."

"Okay, O'Toole, it looks like the Slayer's little friend is showing up after all," a zombie that used to be a leading hit man for Kakistos said. "And it looks like he only has another kid with him. Wait, a crappy little foreign car's coming up to his with a grownup guy in coveralls. Seems a bit stiff, so looks like you at least get the Watcher."

"Have the vampires get ready across the street, sun's settin'—so there should be enough shadow in five or ten minutes. Tell them to be ready."

"Gotcha, I'll pass the word, but what about the rest of us?" the killer responded with a gesture toward the ten zombies in the room. "You want us how?"

"In a semi-circle, when they come through the door just kill 'em quick and clean," Jack O'Toole told his lieutenant, taking out his knife named Katie and admiring its sharp edge. "The vampires are to just make sure they don't get away."

Xander wasn't too surprised that Giles had decided to show up, his sense of right and honor had made it necessary for him to be there. The Watcher parked his car behind Xander's in front of Spike's old warehouse lair, and looked over at the vacant office supply shop—which presumably held the kidnappers and Jessica.

"Thought you might show up," Xander nodded, though inside he was laughing at the fake eyepatch and custodian's coveralls. "You need anything?"

"No, I-I'm ready, your fire gun's in my pocket," Giles said with a gesture at the other car, "Your friends coming in?"

"No, all that's going to take care of itself as we near the place."

"Shall I go with you?"

"Might as well, they might even be stupid enough to think you're a Harris looking like that. But we'll just call you Ripper around the others, alright?"

"Alright, but surely the Harrises aren't all that bad—you're here now, after all..."

Xander sighed. "Giles? Ask me sometime just how many occasions I had to tell the 'clumsy me' story at the hospital while I was growing up, and I'm thinkin' there might be a change of opinion soon."

"Let's bloody well deal with this trash first," Ripper growled and moved faster, "Then I'm going to have a long 'talk' with this Tony chap..."

They made it halfway across the street when Riley's voice could be heard in Xander's earpiece.

"There seems to be about a dozen of them, room body temperature, just inside the door, Lex," the commando told him. "I think it's best if we go in now, then you come in the front when things get hot."

"Okay then, pass the word—we'll try to stall them by drawing them to the door," Xander responded, and then turned to Giles. "Okay, Ripper, we need to draw them off balance, looks like there's a bunch waiting to jump us inside."

"Oh, in that case, allow me," Giles said civilly, picking up a small piece of pipe or such in the road, hurling it at the door with a very loud thump. "Hey, you buggerin' bastards! That's me bloody girl in there! Bring her out and come get your money, if you got the stones for it!"

He turned back to a shocked but impressed Xander Harris, as apparently one and then others inside experienced just enough of a start that the awaiting zombie gunmen opened up on the door, causing both males to hit the pavement.

"I think that got their damn attention, if nothing else," Ripper smiled, as Xander listened to Riley and the others over his earpiece. "And hopefully, enough that your blokes have enough noise to get inside..."

"Okay, they're in," Xander said, getting to his feet as they heard some gunfire from inside but not directed at the door, and with along Giles he raced for the entryway.

As the door itself was being opened, Xander went airborne, feet-first into the opening, to the surprise of Rupert; who kept after him gun ready, and three zombie hitters trying to escape whatever was going on inside. Xander's feet and the mass behind them easily knocked one zombie to the ground, and allowed the young man inside.

Giles fired at the two momentarily-stunned killers, achieving a face shot and a shot that struck the wrist and splattered up the gun arm of the other. Both screamed as they caught on fire, allowing Xander to shoot each in the back as he rolled to the side.

Giles narrowly dodged the flaming zombie hit men, helping Xander up as they positioned to take in the room. To their left Riley and his men seemed to have reached Jessica and secured a line around her, driving the zombies out the other side of the building. One looked familiar, but Xander couldn't quite place the sneering face...

Father and son made their way to Jessica, who looked deathly pale as they reached her. Riley met Xander's eyes, "We already called for an ambulance..." he said, but his look held little in the way of hope. "We'll make sure no more of 'em are around."

"Jessica? It's me, Rupert," the Watcher told her as he held her hand and sat on the floor next to her. "Xander brought me here."

"H-how? I just told him," the middle-aged brunette replied weakly, though giving her former beau a smile, her eyes lucid. She looked at Alex with a sad smile, "I'm sorry..."

"It's okay, mom," Xander told her as he knelt on her other side, noting the fang marks on her neck and no blood on her mouth. "Turns out Ripper's been my school librarian for two years. He's even the school principal, now."

"Oh, good," she said faintly, "Make him get a degree, Rupert. I don't want him to end up like me..."

"O-of course, Jess," the former Ripper told her. "Whatever he needs."

"Maybe a nice wife, too," she faded slightly as though in a daydream, "Can you make it better, Ripper?"

"I-I can try, love," the man said, trying to hold back tears as Giles watched her fade away before his very eyes.

"Love ya, mom," Xander managed to choke out as the end seemed to approach. "Please, try to hold on..."

"I'm so sleepy, honey. I...take care of my Ripper," she told him faintly, "Shoulda told him 'bout you..."

And then Jessica was gone.

Two men mourned a woman who'd only become herself again, when it was far too late.

Episode II

Sunnydale, California. January 30th, 1999

Giles led the young man outside, as the ambulance took his mother's body away. Xander was trapped between despair, and a need to release his pain through violence. They reached Giles' car, only to find Faith talking to Riley.

"So those're the vampires, huh?" Faith asked him, mixing a little California 'valley girl' into her sexy-as-hell Boston accent, which was a lot easier these days than it used to be. "Lex and my sis Hope told me, but wow, ya know?"

"Yeah," Riley said, apparently accepting Faith as a different person from 'Hope', as the rest of his team had faded out of sight. "I've just known him a short time myself, got the whole intro."

"It was good of you to try and help," she told him sincerely, giving him a small peck on the cheek as she moved to hold Xander. "Thanks...Riley, right?"

"Yeah. Hey, uh, Lex, I told the EMS guys and the patrolman that you'd just been driving, when you were attacked by gang members while shooing a dog off of the street," Riley told the distraught young commando. "I'm sorry we were too late-"

"No. They were just keeping her around in case they needed her to get away, Riley," the younger man told him, regaining some control. "If it can wait, I'll, uh, talk to you Monday, alright?"

"Yeah, sure."

The HOG house, 10 PM

"Hey, let's go for a drive, Faith," Xander said as he reached for the keys in his pocket, trying to get over what had happened. "I can't stay here anymore...I need to move around..."

"Maybe slay something?"

"Don't know, just antsy is all."

Faith nodded. "Okay, you wanna see how the gang's doing about researching those demon chicks? Maybe bring 'em some dinner?"

"Yeah, that sounds good," the stressed young man nodded back in reply. "Maybe give Willow a break from watching Oz, too."

"How you holding up?"

"I just need to keep busy right now; it's all a blur, ya know?"

Faith remembered her Watcher, her second mother, ending up...how she'd ended up. "Yeah, I know how it is, Lex, I know how it is..."

The Sunnydale High School Library, 11 PM

After a couple of stops to drop off some mail at the post office and pick up dinner, the couple entered the library—to find Buffy, Willow and Angel helping Giles with research.

"Hey guys," Xander nodded, setting the food on the counter. "Thought we'd swing by with dinner, even bought a cheap steak for Oz at the campus market on the way here."

"Oh, thanks! That'll make him less moody tomorrow," Willow responded, garnering a few smiles and raised eyebrows. "Hey, a girlfriend can tell the difference! It's all about facial nuance."

"Sure, Wills, not a problem, we'll run this downstairs to Oz and be right back," Xander smiled at his friend. "Soon as you reach a dead end, we'll eat."

The couple walked in companionable silence, as they headed downstairs. "Sounds like the Wolf Man finally settled down in there, Lex," Faith quietly told him. "Might just want to save it 'til tomorrow?"

"We made it this far, let's go and see why the door's still open, 'kay?"

"Sure thing, Lex," Faith replied, then put her hand on his forearm, looking around as searching for something. She drew her pair of ironwood daggers, and he followed by drawing a pair of the fire pellet pistols.

Faith charged into the boiler room—to find four zombies and Jack O'Toole inside setting up a bomb.

The zombies turned and waited for orders, but Xander had already fired his new weapons three times each, the screaming and the stench of burning filling the air—as Jack pulled out a .45 ACP and pointed it at Faith, who slashed at the nearest zombies to end their struggles.

"Now what I'm thinkin' is that we're in what you'd call a Mexican standoff, Harris," O'Toole smirked and hitting the timer for the bomb, which started down from ten minutes. "So far, you've managed to cause me trouble twice tonight."

"You need to stop the bomb, O'Toole," Xander said as he pointed his weapons at Jack. "Otherwise we all die."

"I think you're going to step aside, let me go and run like hell yourselves," O'Toole told him. "A much better plan, Harris. Wouldn't ya say so?"

"Faith, do you see a simple switch on that device?"

"No, Lex, I can't see much of anything from this angle," the Slayer replied.

"Yeah, but it shouldn't hurt to check," he told her, only to hear a laugh from among the dozen vampires they could see cutting them off outside the boiler room.

"Oh, I think it'll hurt a lot, Mr. Harris," the vampire Mr. Trick smirked. "Even more than it hurt when Kakistos' ghoul-boy did your mother, from the way I heard it..."

"You..." Lex nearly growled, moving one of his guns to face the new threat. "Okay, O'Toole, here's the plan. You pull the plug on that thing, we dust the vamps and I give you a ten-minute head start. Otherwise, I kill you first and take my chances with the bloodsuckers later!"

"Oh?"

"Hey, Trick! I think this here's the guy that Kakistos sent to dust your ass!"

"Already knew that, Mr. Harris, but thanks for the verification."

"Shit. Fine," O'Toole grimaced, stepping back to pull the wire, Faith nodding that the timer had stopped.

"Quit looking so pissed, Butch, you and me only got the Bolivian army out there," Xander spat back at the ghoul. "Now on the count of three, we both go through the door, me left and you right. Faith right behind you, but following me to the left. We kill everything out there, and you run like hell. Got it?"

"Yeah, but this ain't over, Harris..."

Xander looked unimpressed. "Yeah, yeah, whatever. Faith, throw Oz the steak, he might as well enjoy a last meal on us...three, two, one..."

Surprisingly O'Toole and Harris both pushed back out the door as planned, firing wherever they thought a vampire might be, the fire and the screams letting on that the minions first encountered weren't exactly expecting real weapons to be used.

Faith, of course, leapt through and straight into a bullet-stunned vamp, knocking it down and allowing her enough room to maneuver. Dust flew, the stench of gunpowder filled the air, and screams of pain and rage filled the school.

Harris had managed to empty his weapons almost by the time he'd reached the door, going for a wide pattern to create as many fires in the enemy ranks as possible. The confusion allowed him to successfully reach his own wooden daggers and roll back and behind Faith, to add what he could in Jack O'Toole's wake.

The ghoul had somehow used his increased strength and resilience to just break free, but his very presence was enough that Trick raced off with four minions in pursuit.

With the confusion of combat and their leader's retreat, Lex and Faith took out or finished off a total of six to O'Toole's initial two. Faith lunged ahead, Xander in her wake to guard her six and finished the damaged goods.

Reaching the stairs, they'd dusted only two more, but could escape while five vampires recovered from wounds and made a token pursuit afterwards.

The earth shook, and the school buildings also, and they could hear the report of Jack's .45 repeat several times to indicate he was eluding Trick and his own demise.

Entering the library, the Slayer and her companion found the gang barely holding their own against the three-headed Hellmouth beast. Both teens simply charged into the room, Xander firing his reloaded pellets into the mouths of the faces, Faith picking up a dropped steel axe and slicing deeply into the 'neck' parts of the faces.

Clear of further ammo, Lex picked up a dropped sword and went to town; the rage and pain of the last day was let loose, as well as grief and the tension of life. The young man slashed, ducked beyond and back-slashed into wounds the tentacles of the beast, creating a break through which the Slayers and Angel with great ferocity exploited in full force, hitting deep and in less-protected parts. Lex held his own, then ducked out of the way of the hack and slay the others were able to maintain, he himself withdrawing to cover the rest of the group.

Minutes passed, and finally the beast retreated and the Hellmouth closed for the time being.

Six crossbow bolts flew into the room, two nearly missing Angel's heart and one caught in front of Giles' face by a tired Buffy. The fourth barely caught Willow in the right buttock, causing her to fall hard to the floor behind her with a scream.

Faith kept one from skewering Lex, but could only pull back in mid-hit as the last one managed a solid glancing blow against one of Giles' left ribs.

"Thanks for the world save-age, you people," Mr. Trick smirked, as he pulled back from the library with his six clearly worn-out minions. "But we'll get you and O'Toole soon enough..."

Sunnydale, California. Wednesday, February 3rd 1999

A surprising number of people had turned out for the funeral of Jessica Harris, though even a restraining order against Tony Harris had not been enough to prevent a judge from allowing a police-supervised attendance of the funeral. No one believed the man really cared about his wife, he just wanted to push some buttons and get out of his cell for a few hours.

Fifty or sixty of Xander's friends and acquaintances from Sunnydale decided to attend. Including his Initiative buddies, some of Jessica's co-workers from different jobs over the years, the Scooby families (even the Rosenbergs had canceled a trip in order to attend), Rory Harris.

And to Xander's pleasant surprise Teal'c with Daniel Jackson, and to his confusion a well-dressed Willy and a lot of darkly-dressed people that reminded him of the Romany gypsies that had shown up briefly after the death of Jenny Calendar.

The funeral itself went well enough, though the occasional snort by Tony Harris at various polite or pleasant things mentioned by the priest and people who knew the deceased woman drew the unpleasant bastard many stares.

Xander got up to say his own words, sitting across from Tony, when the alcoholic made the mistake of sneeringly commenting on how a waste of a son was going to saying something worthwhile about a 'wasted piece of ass'.

The policeman looked at Xander from the other side of Tony, and having heard the whole thing wasn't surprised that the emotionally-stressed young man hit Tony Harris. But he was surprised that the boy was able to both backhand hand the man as fast as he did, and that the popping sound of the drunkard's jaw didn't register with him until the man was on the ground unconscious.

"It's a good thing he threatened you, isn't it?" the police officer, usually partnered up with Detective Stein, loudly stated as he waved two uniformed officers from in back of the gathering to help remove the unmoving Tony Harris, "I hope everything else here goes smoothly, son."

Xander nodded his thanks and continued up to where he made a few general remarks, made veiled but clear references to a certain cause of her problems, expressed his own love for her and then surprised most everyone present.

"I'd like someone that knew my mom a long time ago when she was Jessica Lavelle, back before she made her only real mistake, to come up and say a few words. A man many of us have come to respect and appreciate over the two years he's been in Sunnydale, a man that gives me hope in that he reassures me that I'll never turn out like the mistake…everyone, I'm talking about Rupert Giles. My real father."

An embarrassed Giles stood and made his way forward, with all but a very small number of people shocked—and on behalf of Xander, delighted at the revelation of paternity. Cordelia especially seemed pleased for her friend, as were the Rosenbergs.

"Thank God he's not related to that drunken moron," Queen C whispered under breath. "Maybe now the sheep will just knock it off…"

The wake had taken place shortly after the service, and beyond a few central provisions, most had brought some sort of food or drink. Xander, with his real father and Rory Harris, had accepted the condolences of those who came and showed support. Uncle Rory and Willy seemed to know each other, a surprise exceeded by the bombshell to follow.

"Willy?" Xander simply asked in confusion. "Why'd you come? Drawing a blank, here…"

"Hey kid, since we're last in line, I'm here to introduce you to part of your mom's side of the family," Willy told him, neither sniveling or acting in any but the most proper way, cleaned up and respectful.

"I-I'll just excuse myse-" Giles began, only to have Willy wave a hand to silence the librarian.

"You're Alexander's father, Rupert Giles, so both you and Rory should be here for this."

Faith stepped up and didn't recognize the bar owner at first, but as her eyes widened in realization, Willy turned to Xander. "Just the three of you for now. Blood kin, Alexander. Please."

Xander nodded and smiled at Faith, "Faith, hon, can you watch and make sure everyone's okay while I'm handling this?" She smiled at the endearment and headed to round up Cordelia, to help her play hostess to the hundred or so attendees.

Xander found himself facing ten couples appropriately attired and simply waited for someone to speak, but eventually had to ask, "Why are you here, Willy?"

"Two reasons, kid. Alexander," the man corrected himself, "The first, is who but me do you think actually delivers booze after dark in this town? Anthony could get his own damn liquor, and not from me," the man stressed heatedly. "And not even my clientele would want to associate with that jackass around. When Jess called, I'd make sure she wouldn't be going out after dark."

"What? Why?"

"That's bringing us to the second reason, ki—Alexander, these folks here are members of the Lavelle family. And I'm actually William Harris Lavelle, your fourth cousin."

Xander couldn't believe it. "Am I related to everyone in this damn town?"

"No, I believe the Mayor and a nice Fyarl couple that just moved in to the old winery are only friends of the family," Willy deadpanned. "Seriously, Alexander, while I make a lot of money from my business, I was assigned to look out after your mother as much as is allowed by the customs of our people. Anthony usually had a job, and provided the basics, so that was that. And Jess wouldn't give us the word, or we'd have made ourselves known sooner."

"So, I'm still distantly related to Tony?"

Willy shook his head. "Nah, he was adopted, thank the heavens. Nice enough when he was a kid, but somewhere along the line…"

Xander still had lots of questions. "And the rest of you?"

"The Lavelle family closest to you by blood," Willy told him. "And lemme just say, we were all surprised about that 'vacation' you took back east a couple weeks ago; you didn't know it, but you used the name your great-grandfather used during and between the wars. When he was the head of the family, and killed off many of Kakistos' early lieutenants. He's the reason all of the East Coast crime isn't vampires."

"Lavelle Kalderash…" the young man remarked, shaking his head slightly, causing Giles' eyes to widen at the implications.

"That's right, kid, Janna was actually a fourth cousin to you as well. From the other side of the family, even though she didn't know it…well, it's a big family and a bigger clan and tribe."

"Xander's a Kalderash?" Giles asked, off-put at this unexpected information. Giles was amazed that two women that had meant so much to him were cousins. The pain was bittersweet, as he smiled wanly at his son.

"Oh yeah, why do you think it's so easy to get information out of me? Let's get real; I could have just shotgunned your Slayer or her boyfriend and gotten my customers to eat 'em, if I had a real problem with it. He chose to get involved without his folks knowing it; so I made sure I got the information to him, and you guys, without crossing lines."

"He does have a point, Xander," Rory Harris interjected. "And why do you think Tony and I went out as much as we did, considering how little money he had? You ever notice it was usually when Willow was coming over?"

Xander stared at his uncle. "Rory, were you really a CRD janitor and taxidermist?"

"No, I was Director of Facilities Management at CRD, taxidermy was just a disturbing hobby I picked up when I used to hunt. You should see my contributions to our demon trophy collection back in New York; a little preservative magic to prevent it going…"

The male teen shrugged. "Okay, now what?"

"Nothing, 'Lex'," Rory smiled, indicating he was aware of Xander's newer name as he was often referred to in the drilling business. "Just let me introduce you to a small part of your mother's family. Except for Willy, we'll be going out later tonight to let the nightlife here know how unhappy the Kalderash are about losing another woman of the tribe."

"I think I just might start to like you guys…"

"You bloody well better," Giles said firmly.

Xander had managed to wander outside for a few minutes, shaking his head as he watched his father and Daniel Jackson engage in academic discourse. For some reason when Teal'c approached, and simply stood quietly and also watched the two men for 15 or 20 minutes after the exchange of nods, Xander felt reassured and clearer of mind.

The Stamper and Maximus memories reinforced his own consideration that this simple expression of solidarity in grief was a true gift no platitudes, but availability. "Thank you, Teal'c," Lex Harris smiled at the Jaffa. "I needed that."

The big guy gave a light bow, "The honor was mine, AlexanderHarris, this…wake…is much like what many Jaffa and other peoples practice on many worlds. As is the quiet sharing of a moment of the grief to honor those departed. Most of the ceremonies of the Tau'ri confuse me, and expressions of grief, mourning, differ widely, but here…it has the resonance of home."

"So how's…work…"

The Jaffa's expression never wavered. "We make gradual progress against our foes. MajorCarter and ColonelO'Neill send their regards, but were prevented by duty from making an appearance. And they hope after your graduation, they will be able to make you an offer to serve with the SGC."

Xander smiled in gratitude. "That'd be great, Teal'c, and I'm glad to see you and Daniel again."

Faith had brought a couple of large mixed juices without alcohol to where Teal'c and Xander spoke quietly and comfortably. He smiled at her approach, and caught the Jaffa nodding with approval.

"Is she your…girl, AlexanderHarris? She moves with the grace of a warrior. Have you taught her the staff and sword yet?"

"Thanks for the compliment," Faith smiled at the large man, as she entered normal hearing range. "And yeah, Lex has started training me."

"It is the truth as I see it," the Jaffa gave a slight bow and accepted the drink. Faith looked at Teal'c who now stood only three feet away, and clearly the two of them seemed to sense something about each other and tensed.

Xander cleared his throat to draw their attention, "I guess it's time for a sharing of secrets, though only a little bit, just enough to reassure both of you that the other isn't evil. Okay?"

The two warriors stepped back a little, but didn't move into offensive stances.

"Faith can sense the presence of strong evil, daemons of different sorts, and she has my absolute trust," Xander stated quietly so only the two would hear him. "Faith, this is Teal'c—he's part of a group of warriors who at a young age have an evil parasite inside of him, until the worm emerges to create havoc and take over a human as a living host not in control of his or her body. Teal'c here is helping another small group to eliminate the evil, but cannot remove the parasite or he himself will die. And Faith? Teal'c has my absolute trust."

Both looked at each other for a long moment, and nodded acceptance of each other through Xander, as the young man continued. "Teal'c goes by the name of Murray, and his secret is his secret, Faith. No one gets told this by you. And Teal'c, no telling anyone that Faith can sense the worms, alright?"

"Sure," the brunette beauty said after a moment of contemplation.

"Agreed, AlexanderHarris, and it is an honor to meet a fellow warrior against evil, FaithGiles."

"You too…Murray."

There were no pitched battles, but Xander, Ripper and the Romany took out the four nests of vampires that Willy did know about because they were behind on their bar tabs. Sixty vampires were dusted, and three let go after being mauled to spread the unhappiness of the Kalderash.

Giles proved that he still remembered his darker days, and could still fight incredibly dirty. His sword skills were particularly sharp from recently training the two Slayers when Xander was away. The Lavelles commented favorably the two or three times he'd managed to remove both arms of a vampire and simply left them hamstrung on the ground, to await the sun or another predator.

Vengeance and grief were both things the Romany could understand, and very well, at that.

Xander had limited himself to efficient dispatching of opponents which allowed more of them to fall to his weapons.

The night ended on an upbeat note, as none of their group had suffered real injury. The Lavelles made sure to provide contact information to Xander before leaving to catch their planes, making sure to encourage him in what he was doing, and suggesting he 'one day marry that very nice girl, Faith'.

Episode III

Stamper Drilling, Oxnard, California. February 27th, 1999

"Hey, Xander!" Graham Miller called from across the warehouse where the Initiative had based its training cadres for the last month. "Have you heard? Martial law's being declared!"

It had been almost a month before the President's Special State of the Union Address, one that had revealed that a huge comet was making its way toward Earth, but that special measures in concert with Russia and other allies had been undertaken; a mission commanded by 'Fish' Tanner of Apollo fame was heading at high speed to intercept and blow up the threat.

"Okay, I'm here, I'm here," Xander replied, the entire 24 Initiative personnel gathered around the large television set. And as he looked, Xander's emotions plummeted into an abyss, only half-listening as the reason for martial law was explained.

A pair of relatively small meteors had made it through the atmosphere as the President, along with a few allied leaders, were going to update the world on their presence.

They'd just explained the establishment in the last year of a geosynchronous missile and refueling platform by the Russians and Americans, the hurried completion of the International Space Station both as a cover, and with extra missile and refueling capabilities, and the Anglo-American moon base.

But now, the meteors had eliminated almost all of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the upper echelons of both political parties. A John Ryan of the CIA had just been sworn in, and just as a preventive measure, martial law was declared for the next three days throughout western Maryland and Northern Virginia in order to ensure order.

The governments of France, the United Kingdom, Russia and Canada were also finding themselves in need of reorganization, but that was neither here nor there right now as far as the majority of the U.S. was concerned.

On account of the second meteor had shattered as it hit the atmosphere, and pieces still large enough to cause a wave of building-level losses from Arlington to Baltimore were headed their way.

"So far, it looks like the executive order only applies to those areas," Riley considered. "Though we'll probably be placed on official alert soon."

"How's this affect tonight's patrol?" one of the noncoms asked. "Are we still a go, sir?"

"Affirmative," Riley responded, "We've almost completed our initial four weeks, and we've received approval from Command to assign each of you a team of recruits a week from Monday."

"How are they trained, sir?" the Master Chief that had overseen Xander's SeAL training continued. "Will we have to run them through the basics?"

"As far as we know, these men have gone through some form of advanced training, and have been recruited based on capability and because they came from 'dangerously high' crime neighborhoods across the country, a fourth of them the areas we've been operating in this past month."

"Excellent, sir. Thank you."

February's training patrols, sweeps and nest eliminations had combined different tried and true measures—and transitioned them into modern military team and platoon-level methods. The Master Chief had proven most adept at this, and his real war experience proved invaluable into achieving in four weeks what could have taken four months otherwise.

Oxnard, Ventura, and the meaner sections of Los Angeles had been quite surprised at the sudden introduction of modern tactics and firepower. This was especially painful as Kakistos had redirected the most ambitious of his surviving lieutenants and hard-hitters in a takeover attempt of the vampire and demonic criminal scene, from Oxnard to San Diego in southern California. The latter causing the human and demonic cartels based out of Mexican border cities to respond in kind, but unaware that the American government and not Kakistos was exacting the increasing toll.

The news media commented on the increase in gang violence, in spite of the resurgent local economy of the last year—that had brought general prosperity to the areas. But the threat of space-originating damage and demise overshadowed all else.

Angel had been commuting between general recon of Los Angeles on non-Initiative days into the city, and helping out in the three-way struggle that had developed in Sunnydale. Xander's equipment job and his Initiative role kept the young man from participating in these events, though he'd managed to keep abreast of most activity via email from Faith.

A new assistant field Watcher from the Council had arrived, that while...socially challenged...proved to be an excellent researcher. And when both his and Giles' apartments were burnt out by a vampire cult loyal to the demon Balthazar, the HOG house got turned over to them and the mansion inhabited by Oz and Faith.

Balthazar, apparently, had been a powerful force of evil until a century ago, and was calling in old favors from all over to rebuild his El Eliminati and fight off the demons loyal to Trick and Kakistos' minion, O'Toole. Who in fact had managed to kill the deputy Mayor, during one of their skirmishes...barely an hour after Amy had managed to finally undo the transformation spell on Finch. Unfortunately for her, the drain had been so great as to turn everything in her room purple and knock her semi-conscious with bad migraines for a week. For now, Snyder was definitely going to remain a rat.

Sunnydale's human population, ironically, had suffered few deaths and trips to the hospital—as the different supernatural factions were too busy going after each other, than prey upon the locals.

That didn't mean though, that everything was smooth sailing for the humans...

In the Chase mansion, Cordy's father stared at his daughter in disbelief. "You want what!"

"You heard me," Queen C said imperiously, as the cheerleader's eyes went as cold as ice. "My allowance to be increased, at least 500. No, make it more. Tell your accountant—and by the way, I've met him, and has that guy ever even HEARD of an investment portfolio? Whatever, just tell him to deposit the money directly into my personal bank account."

The dark-haired middle-aged guy gaped, suspecting but not sure if his child knew what he'd been up to on his taxes—for the last dozen or so years. "Cordelia, what-"

"I don't need to explain myself to you, DADDY," the brunette girl suddenly hissed. "But what the hell—you made me choose. You and mom made me give up the one guy I ever loved last year, remember? Well, it's my own damn fault—I made my choice, and lost Xander forever—but if I'm going to be miserable and alone, at least I'm going to be rich and enjoy what life has to offer while I'm at it!"

"Cordelia..."

"Don't even try to 'Cordelia' me," Ms. Chase replied, a frigid look on her beautiful features. "I'm 18 years old now, and I don't have to hear it anymore. And now that I'm a legal adult? I am going to bleed your wallet dry, FATHER. You think about that, and whether it was worth it...making me choose the money over love that way..."

Cordelia stormed out of the study, and Mr. Chase silently cursed to himself. Maybe he and his wife really had made a big mistake back then, after all—that Harris boy was almost rolling in money nowadays, from what he'd heard.

Hmmm...maybe it wasn't too late to marry off his daughter to the young man, and mooch off the Harris wealth—if the rumors of that IRS audit turned out to be true?

Stargate Command, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

The SGC briefing room cleared, leaving Daniel and Teal'c at the table. Daniel's face took on the 'frown of broaching a subject' that was one of his trademarks.

"So Teal'c? Have you heard anything from Lex lately?"

"No I have not DanielJackson, but I have exchanged emails with him," the Jaffa deadpanned. "He has communicated that he and his home town are no worse off now, than before the troubles in southern California began."

"Oh, well. That's something good, right?"

"I am unsure, but hopeful that that is the case DanielJackson."

Oxnard, California. March, 1999

The month of March began with a surprise visit from Colonel Maybourne and a few unknowns in suits, half of whom carried themselves like generals. This had at least given Xander a few days back in Sunnydale, but the demands on his time were starting to wear him down a bit.

"So, Captain Harris," Colonel Maybourne addressed the brevetted-lieutenant when they were alone at the end of the two-day inspections and briefings. "How do you rate the teams in the field?"

"I think we'll know by the end of the month sir, but word from different sources indicates the beginnings of a major crime war," Alexander reported. "So...it might not be a bad idea to start bringing in regular military, to handle a lot of the Los Angeles side of things."

"The fact that the HSTs are armed bothers you?"

"That and the fact that they're organized, yeah. Unless we can hit them with harder hammers, I'm afraid that things could very easily spill out into the open."

"Which is something we're trying to avoid," the NID colonel emphasized. "And with all of the reserves being recalled to active duty over the next several days, and most of our overseas land assets being brought back in case of a rock hitting us, we're trying to avoid an all-out internal war at this time. Any chance of helping any of the independents to take up more of the slack?"

The male teen shrugged. "They'd need weapons, basic training and general support, and that's just for the ones who are willing-"

"Like that gang of street kids you glossed over in the briefing?"

"Um, yeah, them. Major Finn and the rest of us wanted to run it by you first without the suits around," Xander admitted, happy in a way that his CO was sharp enough not to let things get by him. "Just my humble opinion, but they'd make solid irregulars, and if we could call up any Spec Ops types that live in the areas we're in now—we could simply expand our current training after sending the recruits off to basic."

"Most of them wouldn't meet the entrance requirements, I think," Maybourne considered. "But since they're already involved in the fighting, we'll do what we did with you—a day cover and night patrols."

"Sending them to high school?"

"Yes, that way they can be the ROTC program in the area, gang members trying to go legitimate. How capable is their leader?"

Lex thought about it. "Pretty damn sharp, from what I've seen. Had to be, to have survived four years of doing this. And he has their loyalty, sir, and I bet with a week or three of tutoring he could get his GED, and would make an excellent section leader."

"So we'd have our ROTC captain as someone holding the respect of his command?"

"Yes sir, and if we worked on it, by the time some or most of them 'graduated' in a year, he'd probably be a sergeant that we could send to OCS."

Maybourne suddenly asked, "What's his name?"

"Charles Gunn, sir. He was born back in September 1979, so there's no problem about him being over 21 years old yet. He'll still be young enough to put in his cover at the local high school legitimately, be allowed to stay in the school year, then turn it over during his graduation next year. And if we want him somewhere else, he'll be ready. His group's been serving as guides this last week," Xander continued. "So we've taken out eight well-armed va...HST strong points as they were getting established, and three gangs of local HSTs."

"So right now, we're on good terms?"

Xander nodded. "I'd say very good terms, sir, and that wreck of a building they're living in could be reworked internally into a very nice base for us."

"How many non-combatants do they have?"

The boy gestured. "They have at least 15 regular fighters, ages 16 to 19, four more backup fighters that are girls, same age range," Xander recollected from memory. "Maybe twenty kids under 16 years old, mostly handling what chores need to be done. I think most of the children of school age are sent to school so they can get the free breakfast, and a safe place for a few hours at a time."

"So if we brought those over sixteen into the Initiative, their lives would be better?"

"Yes sir, and substance abuse is way frowned on in that group—since being off your game gets others killed, and in that area the HSTs control the traffic."

"Good, because foregoing that crap would definitely be a requirement of service, Harris. Fine, I'll call in Finn and discuss it with him. If he concurs, we'll draw up the paperwork and make the offer. Oh, and I've noticed your hours; so you're hereby on furlough for the next four days. Recover. Go see that girl of yours."

"Thank you, sir," Alexander Harris replied, then sighed. "Sir?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"I've discussed the possibility of designating FSTs with Major Finn..."

"FSTs?"

"Yes sir, Friendly Sub-Terrestrials. Nonhumans that would be left alone providing they continued to remain neutral, or assist us directly, or in an information-gathering capacity against the HSTs. We would allow them to continue in their normal routine as long as they make no greater trouble than their human counterparts. I hope I'm not out of line with this, but in my experience..."

"The idea has merit, Harris, I'll discuss it with Major Finn as well. Dismissed."

Episode IV

Sunnydale, California. March 12th, 1999

"They're where!" Xander asked Giles and Joyce, as he sat sipping a cup of tea at the HOG mansion. "You're kidding me, right?"

"No, I-I'm quite serious, Xander," Giles smiled, letting a little of his own disbelief show. "Cordelia, Faith, Amy and Buffy are at the California state cheerleading championships even as we speak, they've been practicing for six weeks non-stop..."

"Wow. I never saw that coming..."

"I know, but isn't it wonderful?" Joyce smiled as she poured more tea. "And Rupert has noticed an improvement in their training, haven't you dear?" Xander raised an eyebrow at the term of endearment, causing Giles to blush.

"Um, quite, they actually seem to be more...flexible in their moves," Xander's real father stammered. "And they seem more relaxed with the normal competition, and not just the slaying."

"Has your new shadow been a problem, Giles?"

"Not at all. He's still a bit of a ponce, but he's coming around the more interaction he has with reality," the Watcher replied. "I guess that being burnt out of one's home by vampires might tend to do that."

"Cheerleading?" Lex smiled, as he again just tried to work the idea into his now more serious world-view. "Never saw it coming, huh? Are they any good?"

"My understanding is that they are," Giles remarked. "And once the four girls introduced their 'routine', the other cheerleaders came to believe they had a good enough chance at the state level that they actually tried out for it."

Ripper chuckled in recollection, "They actually drafted four of the football players as cheerleaders. After all, what young man of that age wouldn't want to be around cheerleaders?"

Xander shrugged. "So, did you decide on Faith's GED yet?"

"Indeed. I agreed, what with Willow and Oz likely to matriculate at Oxford next autumn, I wanted Faith and Buffy to have greater support—and a-a-a semblance of normality in their lives."

"You managed to get Faith into UC Sunnydale?" the young man asked.

Giles looked evasive for a moment. "I've arranged for her to take the equivalency examinations in late April," he replied. "If she doesn't quite make it, we'll simply have her take those advanced placement courses like Willow's doing this year, so that when she follows Buffy...they might take some of the same courses."

"That's great, and might even be better for all concerned—since I don't know whether I'll be in Sunnydale very much for the next year or so, or working my ass off out on a rig..."

"I thought you were mainly the equipment expert, Xander?" Joyce asked, ignoring the sight coarseness in language. "So how often would you be out on a drilling platform?"

"At least once a year for a couple months, Mrs. S, it's a good thing to keep your 'feel' for how the equipment is used and abused in the field. And I seem to have brought them luck last year, striking oil sooner and with fewer equipment problems."

"Oh, well, I can understand that," she nodded. "So, does this mean you've given up on college?"

Xander shrugged again. "Not really. I'm hoping that I can narrow down my field time to summers and weekends, especially since the new rig going up now is just off the California shelf."

"Hmm, sorry, but I'm not too thrilled about that part," Joyce sighed. "But I suppose someone else would drill nearby, if your company didn't..."

Xander nodded. "Don't doubt it myself, but the interesting thing about what we're doing this time—is that we're drilling into the slough of the shelf, so if we're do strike oil, it'll mean fewer wells needed."

"Xander, does that mean you're hoping to...I don't know the term," Giles considered. "Undermine the pocket of oil, so its weight pressures itself up your pipe?"

The male teen smiled at his father. "Exactly the idea. Plus if something goes wrong, it'll be further off-shore and away from many of the habitats folks have been griping about-"

"Xander, you're really starting to sound like an oil man," Joyce chided. "Both oil and wildlife are important."

"Okay, okay," the guy smiled back, sipping tea, then after a few minutes of pleasant conversation he said. "So, anything important happening on the slaying front?"

"As you know, Kakistos has-has decided to try a takeover of the vampiric and human criminal undergrounds in southern California," Giles responded with a sigh, sitting back in his chair and reflecting over the last couple of weeks.

He went on, "So far he's only sent token support to his force in Sunnydale, but i-it's only a matter of time unless he's completely unsuccessful in Los Angeles. Fortunately for us, there seems to be a three-way conflict between Balthazar, Mr. O'Toole and Mr. Trick to control the Sunnydale situation."

"I remember an email explaining that," Xander contemplated. "What's your plan for dealing with it?"

"Mainly—we're concentrating on protecting the townspeople, and hitting each faction as we come across them. Had we gotten to Balthazar's amulet before his minions did, it might all be different; but the demon seems to have firmly established itself deep in the underground now. So while few in numbers, and not using firearms, the raids of his El Eliminati have taken a toll on Mr. Trick's cadres."

Harris cogitated briefly. "Hmm. I might be able to help in a month, do you see it getting much worse before then?"

Giles shrugged. "Difficult to say, but by then one of them might have managed to overthrow the other two. How are things in LA?"

"Thanks to Kakistos, the things I can't tell you about might not be enough to keep things from coming out into the open—unless something drastic happens, one way or the other."

Joyce looked upset. "And with the tensions of, of these comets..."

"The panic might be enough to trigger the world into its own premature collapse even without an Armageddon. Yeah," Xander looked very cynical. "Can you imagine it? Despite everything Buffy and the gang's done, ever since she arrived here...we destroy ourselves with our own idiocy? I bet someone up there, and most likely down there as well, would have themselves a big laugh riot over that..."

"Well, there is one more thing we haven't told you," Joyce admitted, "Rupert and I have been seeing a lot of each."

The youth smirked, unable to help it. "I kinda guessed, with the two of you being here together when I arrived."

Giles smiled and understood what Joyce's pointed look was hinting at, and took her hand in his own. "Ah, there is that, but because the others were leaving on their trip, we gave them the news and made sure none would tell you. We wanted to, uh, do that ourselves, uh, son."

"Okay, uh, Dad, just tell me."

"You're going to have a baby brother in a few months."

"Oh." There was a slight pause. "OH! You two are having-? I'm going to have a brother? That's—wow!" Xander responded in shock, but still smiling big-time. "Congratulations, that's great. I knew you told us you were expecting, but this really brings it home, ya know?"

"That was Rupert's very same reaction," Joyce smiled. "Though with him there were quite a few 'good lords,' a couple of 'oh mys,' and maybe even an 'oh dear'...if I remember rightly."

Giles squeezed Joyce's hand and gave her a happy smile, as Xander continued, "That's wonderful, you guys, so that would mean the kid's due…"

"August 10th, most likely," Joyce told him, and then the young man noticed as a glimpse of uncertainty cross her face for a moment.

"Everything'll work out, uh, Joyce," Xander said at once. "The government's working on blowing up those comets-"

"I know, I'm just worried," she said, receiving a comforting half-hug from Giles. "It's just—one more complication."

HOG Mansion. Friday, March 19th 1999, 7 PM-ish

Xander walked into his home, to find boxes and a few choice pieces of furniture lining his courtyard and on into the mansion itself. It still felt kinda weird to have turned over the condo to Giles and Wesley, though the rent from the Council was nice and high. And it also brought a warm feeling to know a yellow smiley face throw rug marked the spot in the mansion where Angel had been sucked into Hell for a hundred years.

He watched what seemed to be Faith, Oz and a few of the gang helping Cordelia move in her personal effects. As they were not yet rearranging his room or any of the paperwork in his office, Harris just sighed and made his way to the kitchen—to find Willow beginning to cook a large dinner of some sort, from his pre-made freezer selections.

"Hey Wills, what's up?" Xander asked, as he sat at the long breakfast/watch-the-chef bar and looked around. "Anything in particular I should know?"

"Other than Cordelia moving into Faith's room?"

"Faith's room?"

"Well, no one was going to touch your office, and this was kind of sudden, and the others haven't been cleaned out and painted yet," Willow said. "Ah, I have the rice started, and the pan's out…"

"So you're hinting I should do the cooking, huh?" Lex smiled with a raised eyebrow, and got up. "And what will you be doing?"

"I'll finish connecting the soda machine to the CO2 tanks and water lines…" Willow smiled, as she waved at Cordelia's soda dispenser from her former home. "I used the bottom space under the sink that you had completely clear, so none of your kitchen-y organization has been upset. Oh Iron Chef..."

"Ah, cool. Well, I was thinking of getting one actually, the way we go through soda and all," Xander admitted. "Give a boost on the fun meter as well."

Cordelia entered the kitchen with a full set of copper cookware. "I'm keeping the china and crystal in boxes, but these can be used," she said. "My grandmother gave them to me, when I went through a cooking phase a few years ago. Anywhere we can fit these in?"

Xander looked around, then pointed at a series of hooks on the walls as Faith came in. "Put 'em on those, Cor, it's probably the easiest and it'll finally fill out the space. What do you think, Faith?"

"Perfect, especially if they get used," the brunette Slayer smiled, taking a sip of the first very fizzy soda as offered by Willow. "Thanks, Red, not bad…maybe you should hire her, Xander?"

"Nope, sorry, unlike me, she will be heading to Tweedford and college greatness," the man joke-chided, and began to light up all of the burners and prep the oven. "So that when Giles retires, her and Oz can takeover Watcher support duties and make sure things keep running smoothly. So, what's the move in occasion of?"

"Hey, Red, wanna help me out getting the rest of the stuff into the house?" Faith said, escorting her sorta-friend and tutor away from Xander and Cordelia.

Cordelia looked nervous as she finished putting up the pans, reached into another box that had a bottle of whiskey in it, and reached for a glass. The girl knew that she and her ex-boyfriend would have to have a talk now, about what was going on...

"Here, Cor, let me get that," Xander responded and gestured for her to sit at the bar overlooking his cooking. When she wasn't looking he found some real Mexican vanilla, splashed the inside of the empty glass, and swished it around before putting ice and adding cola from the machine.

Xander then set it in front of her, as he shook the bottle of whiskey in front of Cordy but let only a drop leave the bottle. "Try that."

She did so. "That's nice; weak, but nice. What is it?"

"Cheater's drink," he smiled. "The first sip off the top gives you the initial taste and burn you want, but the high-enough alcohol vanilla keeps the smell of it. It's a way to make sure a gal doesn't get blotto but still pretend to drink."

"Oh, never heard of it..."

She tried it again and liked it. Then Cordelia said, gathering up her courage, "My family's being audited as of today. All our assets were seized, and I...I'd planned on moving into an apartment on Monday, so I have my deposits in cash with me, and my personal stuff. Faith asked them about the valuation of my car when she got out of the vehicle, and came up to the IRS agent..."

A momentary pause. "The guy asked why. She held up my pink slip and said, 'Because I just bought it, so how much was she taken?' The guy looked up and said, at auction, 'maybe eight grand.' She goes, 'Really? How much normally?' He says, 'six, six and a half,' on my convertible. So Faith said, 'Cool,' and walked back to the car. He just shook his head, made a note and crossed it off his list..."

"So, what then?" Xander asked, starting the real cooking of the dinner. "She actually buy it when you guys left?"

"Yeah, she pays me three thousand out of a bag she says you guys keep around for emergencies," Cordelia said, shaking her head. "Then Faith tells me I have free use of it, for as long as I'm going to UC Sunnydale."

"So your car is now the…CHOG-mobile?" Xander smiled, amazing his female friend yet again with his display of culinary skills. "Cool, but if you're going to live here, I'll move my office out into the main area until the new headquarters goes up in April, if we don't have another room or two ready by then. That way, you and Faith both have some privacy and quiet space."

"So...I can stay, it's okay with you?" Cordelia's face was wreathed in smiles, hardly daring to believe it even though the others had assured her it would be fine.

"Did you ever really doubt it?" the son of Rupert Giles teased her, with that grin that had infuriated and excited her so much for the last two years.

Cordy hugged him in appreciation. "Thanks! And I'm surprised you're taking this so well, I know I'M kinda shaky about it," she told him. "And...CHOG-mobile?"

"It's the car for the Chase-Harris-Osborne-Giles mansion," Xander smiled, as he continued to cook and arrange the meal. "CHOG-mobile. And now that I have a house with a real family in it, I don't mind one more."

"Oh, okay, but where did you learn to cook like that?"

"Harry Stamper worked short order to help take care of his folks while still in high school. And for extra money during one of the low spells in his dad's oil business, so I picked up the speed and doing things all at once," Xander commented, as he finished up the first phase and checked on the next two.

"Then I learned how to cook on my own and at the Rosenberg house. Willow pocketed the money her folks left her whenever they went to conferences, so instead of eating out all the time, we'd buy groceries and we'd try to make the dinners ourselves. Usually I did the cooking and cleaning, Willow did the shopping, recipe reading and putting things back. Combine the two, and spend time cooking for a bunch of oil workers and there you go…okay, rice is done."

"So, it's not weird having me and Faith in the same house?"

Xander shrugged. "Did she invite you?"

"Yeah…Oz, too."

"No problem then," the young man told her as he pulled out plates and readied them. "So, how bad is this IRS thing?"

"I had Willow look into it, and it looks like the Chase family fortune has been well and truly totaled," she sighed. "Even though a trust fund set up by my grandmother shouldn't be something they can get their hands on...it's just barely enough for four years at UC Sunnydale. Which means I'll so have to get a job for food, rent, books and stuff..."

"Oh? How much you think you'll need to make?" Xander asked, getting the second of three courses ready as the general group entered the place. "And what kind of work?"

"I don't know what kind, but I'd say anything except being a name-tag person! And I'll probably need a hundred, hundred-fifty a week to squeeze by."

Xander cogitated. "How are your real Spanish skills, not the Queen C fake ones?"

"Pretty good after the remedial class I took this year, why? Know some place that's hiring?" the cheerleader demanded.

"You bet. Ten bucks an hour, the 8 AM to 9 PM shift, Saturdays and Sundays. Job involves secretarial duties, phones, coffee making and twenty dollars a day food delivery expenses 'cause you're sorta pinned down. Since you'll be working more than half-time, you'll only get very basic benefits—but hospitalization insurance is covered."

Cordy looked stunned. "Wow, and where's this?"

"Stamper Oil, we're moving all of our assets to Sunnydale and this shelf project we're involved with," Xander told her. "You won't be working directly for me, on account of I'm going to be taking over the equipment division as soon as we strike oil out here. But if I do request something, then you handle it like you would for anyone else, alright?"

"Is this going to be okay with Faith?" Cordelia asked, relieved and yet concerned. "I don't want her to ever think…"

"Not a problem, Cor. Who do you think is going to be our weekend shift warehouse person, working the same hours as you?"

"You're kidding me, right?"

"Hey!" Faith complained, sitting on one side of Cordelia as the others queued up and started receiving first helpings of hot and sour soup, rice, beef broccoli and orange chicken. "They promised to show me how to drive the forklift before having me drive up fast to your office and park it!"

"No, I meant…"

"I trust you, Cordelia." Faith dropped her smirk, knowing what the brunette was referring to—about Xander. And the Slayer told her directly and quietly, "These last few months, you've become my best friend, even better than Willow—if that's possible."

Willow blushed as the sincere compliment slayed the last lingering feelings of something not nice in her perceptions of the dark-haired Slayer. The tutoring had shown a pretty good mind that had been let go to waste, and Willow had found herself enjoying the company of both Slayers equally. Especially since Faith tended to preempt any problems with the 'not nice' crowd Cordelia sometimes still associated with.

"Thanks, Faith," Cordelia said and Willow replied at the same time, "That's nice."

'Maybe this will work out,' Xander and Oz thought as they nodded to each other, passing food to the other extended members of 'CHOG' as they came over from getting Cordelia squared away.

Joyce, Buffy and Giles then knocked and walked in the front door, quite happy to have timed it perfectly as Faith reached over and passed the tea tray to an ecstatic Giles.

Episode V

Los Angeles, California. March 29th 1999

Charles Gunn and his "irregulars" entered their 'base', after acting as guides and containment personnel for the expanded Initiative forces conducting large-scale neutralization attacks on criminal-demonic hot points.

They found Major Finn, Captain Harris and several men in suits that had 'higher-ranked officers' written all over them. Xander walked over to the black man, "Gunn, guys, if you could line up, there's something we've been thinking of and want to discuss with you?"

Gunn nodded, shook Harris' hand and had his 'boys' spread out in a loose copy of parade rest.

One man stepped out from the suits and addressed them. "I'm Colonel Harry Maybourne of the Initiative, and I've heard many good things about you. That's why we want you to join up with us! But before we can bring you into the unit, we need you to officially sign up. Go through Basic, learn the weapons and tactics we use, that sort of thing."

"And who's gonna watch over the rest of our…family while we disappear from the scene for what, two months?" Alonna Gunn asked at once. "It's already tough enough-"

"'lonna? Let a man finish his spiel, sis," Gunn told her, putting his hand on her shoulder, then nodded to officer to continue.

"As I was saying, we'd take about 15 of you, put you through not only Basic, but GED schooling to make sure you reach the minimums necessary to have entered. This means some of you might not be given field duty when you get back, until you do test where we want..."

Harry took in a deep breath. "While you're being trained, the Initiative will be taking over this place and rebuilding its insides into an official military base, starting with a real kitchen and beds. This means regular meals for your dependents. However...they will not know you are soldiers. No one will know you are soldiers..."

He went on, "But next fall, you'll attend high school right in the middle of things, and become part of the ROTC program just to cover any lapses in security. After homework, you will ready yourselves and carry out a strike against enemy targets. You get paid according to rank, and be able to protect your own. You've seen us in action for six weeks, and we're asking you to sign up. Bottom line? I'm asking you to help defend your country, and take care of your own family."

The irregulars looked around at each other, then nodded to Gunn, "We're in."

Harry smiled, "Then welcome to the Initiative, gentlemen."

Los Angeles, California. March 30th, 1999

It took less than 16 hours to work out details, process paperwork and induct 15 young men from the streets into the United States Army, DIA assignment: Initiative. Within an hour of agreement, food stocks, a kitchen and military workers moved in and began setting up infrastructure and relocating the kids to a cheap motel cleaned out for their use, while the base/home was redeveloped.

Doctors and other support staff conducted medical checkups on the children, made diagnoses and informed the four remaining older 'irregulars' of what should be done to bring the kids up to speed.

Rumor had it that six couples had moved into the old apartment building down the street, and were now working as teachers of physical education, remedial literacy and math at the elementary school. An hour later and a similar rumor regarding the high school surfaced, with four huge retired drill sergeants taking on unfilled security positions at the school.

The 'irregulars' were impressed, and won over, though a few suspicions lingered. "Hey, Harris," Gunn asked with a slight frown. "Can't help wondering. What would have happened if we'd said no to you?"

"Then your housing would still suck because we wouldn't invade your digs, and most of the food and stuff would've been handled through that shelter down near Crenshaw Street."

"Annie's place?"

"Yeah, that's the one. I hear things are better in there than the last place like that I visited..."

"So sayeth the rumors, Hellboy."

"What?"

Gunn shrugged. "You and that little blonde chica saved a lot of people that day, and funny thing is four of 'em just signed on with the Initiative. They'd just gone through, and you two pulled them out."

Xander raised his eyebrows. "Wow, I didn't know it was that close..."

The former gang member gestured, "We cemented that sucker full-on, and the little gal you gave the waitress job to? She now runs the place with her boyfriend."

"That's cool, so what happened to the others that made it out of there?"

"A lot of them wandered off, still crazy, six or seven of them are off living in the neighborhood, and that's what I want to tell you. There are four gals and four guys that made it out of there in buff shape, you know, and they've gotten their marbles back since Christmas. Since they're all listed as teenagers, they can't get real jobs. Can you get them in if they want?"

Xander sighed. "Can we leave the identity of their…rescuers…out of it? I have other independents to protect, that's the thing."

Gunn nodded. "Not a problem, I'll go get them."

Angel's basement apartment, Los Angeles. March 31st 1999

The knock on the door surprised the two Irishmen getting ready to leave. Angel unlocked and answered, as Doyle braced himself. But Angel just grimaced as a familiar face greeted him.

"Dead Boy, how are ya?" Xander Harris smiled. "Glad I caught you before you went out, and who's your friend?"

"Friend might be too strong a word, Harris," Angel grimaced. "His name's Doyle, he's a seer sent to me by the Powers That Be."

"The Powers That Be what?"

The ensouled vampire threw up his hands. "See, that's what I wanted to know!"

Xander smirked. "So, Doyle knows all about you?"

"I do," Doyle interrupted, rolling his eyes. "And I'm right here, waitin' for the mopey one to buy me a pint up the street."

"I see that," Xander smiled, and then shook hands with the minor bane of Angel's existence tonight. "I'm Lex Harris, and what the hell...I'll even buy the first round—since I have things to discuss with the Brooding Wonder here."

A few minutes later, and a wincing Angel was sandwiched at the bar of the pub in between the two jokers.

"So, Harris, what brings ya to our fair street?" Doyle asked and happily downed a third of his pint. "Any great evils needin' vanquishing?"

"No—but I've been hearing good things about the Dark Avenger, here. And I wanted to suggest he relocate closer to the heart of old Hollywood, since a large group of 'independents' is actively taking over this area of LA—given the current situation."

"Really?" Angel frowned. "I think there was a weird offshoot of vampires out that way, about...six years ago, right?"

Xander nodded. "Yeah, and a lot of the non-organized activity seems to be filtering that way, according to Willy."

Angel frowned. "You trust him?"

"No. I just pay him after I check out the leads."

The vampire asked, "So what do you suggest?"

Xander shrugged. "I've scraped together some extra money, and with Harry's help I just put a down payment on an old hotel over that way. Looks structurally sound and all, but hasn't been in operation since 1979…"

"The Hyperion," Angel sighed. "I know it, I used to live there in 1952. There was a Thesulac demon there, though, back then..."

"And if you clear it out, or anything else in there, you'll be 'hired' by Stamper and Harris Properties as security and maintenance manager until we have a chance to fix it up," Xander told Angel, as Doyle fake-cleared his throat. "Fine, yeah, there's money for a...janitor, too."

Angle actually smiled, "Maybe more of an organ grinder's monkey…"

Doyle frowned. "Hey! When did we stop picking on the big guy?"

Xander looked around. "I don't know, what? Twenty seconds ago, Angel?"

"That's about right, Xander," Angel deadpanned back, then continued with a slight smile, "So, what would I be really be doing?"

"You'd keep the place secure, and base your operations out of there during the year it might take to get the place fixed up," Xander told him. "So during workdays, there might be tradesmen fixing up sections of the place, but otherwise, you have it rent free."

"Plus, you can keep tabs on me?"

"That's a bonus, I won't deny it," Xander admitted. "But after listening to what you've been doing for folks not directly involved in Kakistos's little war, it's not my main priority. Look, you'll both have two cell phones, in case one gets smashed on patrol, and if you find any strays that are any good, run 'em by me and we'll see if we can make them official."

There was one sticking point for Angel that male pride forced him to vocalize. "I don't actually work for you, though—right?"

"Not directly, though on paper you would if only to keep our stories straight," Xander nodded, and signaled a second round—to Doyle's delight, of course. "Though this guy with you has to keep his nose clean at least for the first few months, until I get your paperwork through."

Angel looked confused, "Paperwork?"

"I once made the comment about you being a real person, remember? Well, I've managed through contacts of Harry's and Giles to create one for you. You are now Liam 'Angel' O'Rourke, age 27, and you have a passport, driver's license and all the normal stuff coming to reflect that."

"Why?" the former Angelus asked simply.

Xander stared him right in the eye. "You need to assume the responsibilities of being a person in this world…"

"That's what I've been tellin' 'im!" Doyle chipped in, before his eyes glazed over at the free alcohol.

"Good, keep it up. Who knows, he might just become a real boy some day," Xander told the seer, then signaled for a third and final round before turning to Angel again. "So here's to fighting the good fight, and saving those we can save?"

"Amen." And for the first time EVER, the former Slayerette and former Scourge clicked their glasses in a toast.

Episode VI

Los Angeles, California. April 4th, 1999

The Firefight of Compton, as it was later called, involved the first platoon-level engagement of the Kakistos phase of the Shadow War.

Alexander Harris, Riley Finn, and Graham Miller were taking out the last independent 'normal' nest of vampires in the neighborhood, while the other teams were being rotated into secondary placements or off-duty to secure the base. The force was organized as three 'veteran' five-man teams of six weeks' service—each leading a five-man team of briefed former servicemen drawn from the most directly-affected areas of Los Angeles, for the purpose of bridging the intel gap with the natives.

Each team was headed by an at-least twenty-year noncom to stiffen resolve, and work out lingering inadequacy. The team pairs involved the junior team and senior team moving along one side of the street, the second pair up the adjacent street and the third up the alley in between, maintaining the recently-imposed 2 AM curfew as much as sweeping for HSTs.

They'd managed to impose a semblance of quiet over the neighborhood during the last three days, the local humans without vampire or demonic criminal allegiances happy for the peace, as others sought to wait it out until the different gun-wielding groups had weakened or finished each other off.

Intel had placed no serious enemy placements of either faction along the route, though at the end a single warehouse reportedly abandoned after a previous factional massacre was targeted for a practice sweep.

Team Alpha under Xander's command was just moving past its junior counterpart, Hector, when a drunken vampire up the street started to loudly attack the point man for an enemy ambush. Gunfire erupted, and thanks to the special ammo—the vampire turned to dust.

Captain Harris ordered his men to fall back and find better cover as about twenty vampires, and twenty other demons, all wielding at least semi-automatic handguns charged out of the cross-alley just down the street, and from a camper only two shops down.

"Comm, call Major Finn, and tell him we have a minimum of 40 hostiles closing in on us and firing," Harris told his radioman. Then he turned to his men, "H-Team, two men into the store, find us a way through to the alley; A-Team, spread out behind the cars and take 'em out. H-Team, hold the door, and fire as targets present themselves!"

In 40 seconds, around 15 vampires were dust from sheer trauma, as were seven demons. Little consolation though, as two Alpha and two Hector soldiers were down by the time the enemy had emptied their guns and were amongst the soldiers. There were 18 enemies strong, against seven of the good guys...

Alexander Harris looked beyond the arrived enemies, just long enough to see another three or four pickup trucks of vampires heading down the street with assault weapons. He then just stabbed right as he whirled out of the way of an enraged and unthinking vamp, drawing his sidearm out and firing into its brain as it went past. Kicking out with his leg against the side of another vamp's knee, as it moved against his comm man.

The former Zeppo took a glancing blow to the side of his head, and another to the side as demons tried to get by the vampires to finish the job. Xander let himself drop back and toward the ground, wielding his .45 with both hands and firing three-round sets into the faces of both attackers.

Landing hard atop the headshot vampire, his fall was cushioned as Xander rolled to the side, released the magazine and slammed another home. Suddenly he heard two exchanges of 5.56mm gunfire, from the shop, and closely approaching on the street.

"Down!" the team leader shouted, nearly screaming out the order, and his men dropped and allowed what he presumed to be Major Finn's teams to fire at will.

Screams and goo filled the air, and Xander managed to achieve a grenade roll out into the street to blow the underside of the Chevy Sierra to pieces. The tires absorbing shrapnel in his own direction, and the surprised vamps foregoing gunfire in favor of attempting to remain upright…perfect for Finn's Team Rhubarb to completely take them out of the equation while Team Fruitcake finished off the nearly point-blank targets of the initial assault.

The second vampire-loaded vehicle swerved around the other side of the street and continued on its way, even as stray gunshots could be heard from down the street, poor shooting allowing the soldiers to regroup and recover.

"Report," Finn pressed as Harris took stock of his situation.

"Four dead, all others ready, sir. Looks like four dozen hostiles eliminated. They were waiting for us," Xander scowled.

"I know, Graham's holding the alley; he managed to duck about the same time as you, then the HSTs circled to cut off the alleys," Finn informed him. They noticed large groupings of vehicles about 500 feet away at each end of the street, with a few starting to creep forward on foot. "I estimate we still have at least 200 hostiles squeezing us in, we need a way to even up the odds so we can get out of here..."

"Underneath the street, we could try the sewers? We still have four hours before sunlight clears the streets," Harris suggested, sighing. "Unless you think we can call in air support?"

"No, they're all in Sunnydale; the last two actions hit all four choppers just enough that Walsh wanted them worked on tonight, and be ready for tomorrow. And I think Graham reported being attacked by a rocket of some type, so it'd be dangerous."

"Sewers it is then, sir," Xander sighed, reloading and topping off accomplished. "My guys'll go first, I have some sewer experience..."

An hour later, and the force had managed to run across and eliminate two skulking nests of vampires, a few Fyarls and a bunch of insectoid demons none of them had any real clue about. Behind them and occasionally from above, small but persistent attacks came, reducing them to 22 actives and two wounded. They'd maybe managed to dust or goo another dozen or so HSTs in the exchanges.

Another hour passed, and they'd twice turned away flank attacks, marching through another nest of surprised white-ish humanoids with black horns—reminiscent of the demon Archduke Sebassis' species, though Xander had no way of knowing who he was yet. And the white hats' numbers dropped to 21, and no wounded.

Still...several small charges set off in the third hour allowed the soldiers to turn back and force their way into a side street, two men dying but four grenades up and out ending the small detail of armed zombies that had rushed over.

Harris and Graham leap-frogged their teams at the building from which the hostiles had emerged, Graham's men forcing entry and using captured weapons to obliterate the mobilization of ten more zombies and four humans as they raced up or down stairs to the entry.

In a minute it was over, and the haze of dawn crept from the east on the east-west street. Finn consulted a map and addresses; they'd covered a mile north and four miles west of their original position.

Three pickups of vampires sped down the street, hoping to run over the last of the humans crawling from the sewers. But by using the last of their ammo and that captured from their enemies, Miller and Harris's forces covered Finn's men as they made it behind the cars.

Heavy and light rounds aimed into the truck cabs caused collisions and crashes, then fires as the humans mustered enough energy to finish off the last 15 attackers moving on the ground.

"What now?" Riley wondered aloud, as it seemed it was over. He looked over at his command, then Harris.

"Time to go home, I'd say boss," Xander smiled tiredly at Riley as they both started to really feel every ache and pain. "At least for a few days..."

Later that day, about 3 PM

Riley was showering at the almost-functional "irregular base", which would soon be upgraded as Initiative Number Two field base, Lowell House itself being the first. Xander Harris finished brushing his teeth in the adjacent bathroom when Graham entered, already dressed.

"Harris, how you feeling?" he asked his fellow team leader, as Miller headed toward the shower.

"Alright, I guess. You?"

"Not too bad, considering tomorrow's probably going to be fun," Graham responded, then banged on the shower door. "Riley! Walsh and the Colonel are on videoconference, in ten minutes!"

"Okay!" the Initiative's field commander called out and the water shut off. Xander and Graham left the room and continued toward the mess that served them now, and when everything was completed in two weeks, would house the irregulars' families.

"Oh man, I'm starving!" Xander let out as they approached. "And I almost don't care what we're having today."

"Well, I think Riley told them to double up on lunch and dinner for lunch and dinner," Graham remarked. "The other teams took hits, but apparently that was just because they got in the way of the guys after us."

"So, lots of food and sleep?"

Graham nodded. "That's my guess, plus time for everyone to come up with their team and unit after-action reviews."

"The men did well, Graham," Xander replied, a little of Maximus showing in his carriage and accent. "And I think bringing local veterans into our teams will increase our response times and options in the field; because I'd say we got lucky last night…I only have minimal sewer experience from Sunnydale, and my rig experience from last summer. With more locals, maybe we could have found a better above-ground solution-"

"We had locals with us: they just hadn't gotten HST experience yet, Harris," Graham pointed out, as he grabbed some food. "Men who might not have been in the service for a few years."

"Oh, I know," Xander agreed as he filled his tray. "Once we were down in the pipes, they all came together. But we were hurtin' for visibility down there, you got to admit."

"Yeah, but there wasn't enough light most times for even half our gear, and the infrared isn't worth a damn against vampires."

"Indian scouts," Xander mumbled as they sat down next to Forrest, and a few of the new team leaders.

"What's that?"

"We need FSTs that have the natural ability to guide our personnel into places like the sewers. You know, the eyesight, the hearing, that sort of thing. There are a number of non-hostile species that Maybourne's given tentative acceptance that I think would be very happy to be hired on. A lot of the same demons we want dead, just happen to be the ones that want to kill or enslave them as well."

"I don't know if you'll ever get that by the higher-ups, but it does makes sense, sir," the senior Master Chief responded as he considered it. "Though it'd be like the Montagnards and others we dealt with, back in Vietnam. Do they at least look human, Captain?"

"In general form if not skin color, yeah," Harris considered. "And I'm thinking if we get close to all this being revealed to the public, they should be considered auxiliaries like in the ancient Roman army—led by human officers, and offered citizenship. Or at least permanent residency after a ten-year hitch."

'Might work on the small-scale stuff we're doing," the old Riverine veteran nodded. "But why only ten years?"

"Their service is in continuous combat and support, I think ten years of that gets you recognized as one of us," Harris replied. "Hell, if they stay in for twenty, I'd give 'em the same retirement benefits and everything."

"How many of these guys are there?" Forrest asked, his team had two seriously wounded men in the hospital from the previous night's fight.

A shrug. "Rough guess? A couple thousand in the States, which in my opinion—isn't enough for multiple battalions. But enough to make a difference on our side, if we want to keep a lid on this thing."

Graham was quick to leap on that, "Hey, with that few, I don't think many of our guys'll have a problem with it if it means fewer casualties on our side—and more HST killing."

A general murmur from the room signaled agreement regardless of rank, considering the surprise that those in the room had experienced last night.

Colonel Maybourne had gone through most of the reports with Maggie Walsh, then let her go as he conducted follow-ups on the military-only aspects. Dr. Angleman sat around in the background taking notes, as the video connection continued.

"Captain Harris, there is one more item we're curious about…where did you learn to fight with a sword like that, as reported by many of those with you last night?" the NID colonel pressed. "By my account, you pulled out a pair of Roman-era swords down in those tunnels and 'went to town' on the HSTs to pull your men back out."

"Basically, two years in Sunnydale using only swords and wooden sticks, Colonel," Harris smiled tightly. "And a few of my contacts were quite happy to pass on their training."

"Not to put you on the defensive, but our background checks indicate a Rupert Giles is among them?"

"Yeah, he's the principal at the high school. He found out about the night life in Sunnydale and used to do fencing back in college or something," Xander was not happy with this line of questioning, and hoped it wouldn't last.

"All right, we've started really going over things, and are curious as to a group of students, most of them…cheerleaders? They seem to be spending a lot of time with you and the principal. Other than being your friends, what do they do?" Maybourne showed their pictures on the screen.

"Most of them are students of mine, sir."

"Students?"

Xander nodded on the screen. "Yes sir, I'm teaching them self-defense and swordsmanship. They keep an eye out for me and a couple other groups, providing intel as their part of helping out. In return, I teach them how to defend themselves long enough to get out of situations."

"Hmm, fair enough. Though not the answer I expected."

"What did you expect, sir, if I may?"

Maybourne smiled, "Family."

Xander nodded. "They're that too, sir. That's why the situation is the way it is. They also don't want to be found out, sir, and only two of them have the slightest idea of my military service."

"Has your cover been breached?"

Xander shook his head. "No, they guessed I'd joined the National Guard for possible college money, and my girl thinks Riley's one of my Guard buddies that's in the know about the HSTs."

Harry frowned. "Do you need us to reinforce the Guard story?"

Again Harris shook his head. "Not yet, sir. Colonel?"

"Go ahead, Captain."

"Other than to check information, may I ask the reason behind this line of questioning?"

"Two points actually, and I'll even let you ask."

A moment went by.

Xander smirked. "I'm asking, sir."

Maybourne nodded. "Ah, the first reason is we were wondering about expanding our training, maybe emphasizing swords instead of batons, and this led to determining possible recruitment of independents of your acquaintance as trainers."

"Thank you, sir, though I believe Giles is pretty busy, he'll be a new father come August. Plus, he's a British citizen."

"Then I'd like you to consider adding a program of archaic weaponry in a month or so, at least for the officers and noncoms. That way when you head off to the oil rigs this summer, the Initiative personnel can start passing on what they've learned."

"Yes, sir. Anything else, Colonel?"

"That should be it for now, Captain, and by the way…keep up the good work. As I told Riley, you and your base are on stand-down for the next 24 hours to rest up and recover. The rest of the kids are being moved out this afternoon, so it should be quiet."

"Thank you, sir."

Initiative Base Number Two, Los Angeles. April 4th, 1999. 11 PM

Rustling out in the hallway brought Riley and Harris out of their sleep, and they opened the doors to their rooms as emergency lighting kicked in and Forrest came running up.

"Major Finn," the brevet-captain exhaled. "We have eight different calls and four confirmed sightings of nearly 200 HSTs trying to sneak up on the building."

"What!" Riley gasped, "Why the hell are they targeting us?"

Xander offered his view, "We've been hitting both sides whenever they fight it out, Major, so maybe they hope to off us and get on with their war. On account of they hate humans."

"And they have at least four stingers or such, Major," Forrest continued as the base raced to alert status. "It's a good thing we got the civilians out today!"

"How much time do we have, and what's our manpower status here and deployed?"

Gates replied, "I contacted Initiative Base One and they're scrambling to respond, and we have four teams over on the other side of Compton on recon duty."

"That leaves us—what, Harris? Around 35 and 15 support troops?"

"Yes sir, Major, that's about right."

"I think it's going to be another long night, any suggestions?"

"Yeah, a couple," Xander nodded. "I have exactly 50 of my fire-pellet pistols and 50 of my semi-auto fire-shotguns that no one's authorized follow-up on. In there is also about 5000 rounds of the ammo. It's dangerous, but I believe it could help us out better than standard issue."

"Anything else?"

Xander nodded again. "Yeah, if we have the time, I want to try our bolt hole tunnel, move everybody into the old store across the street, and ambush the bastards. IF they hit us here with their heavy stuff, we can move in and take 'em. Standard cover fire, with fire-pellets to loosen 'em up nice and nearby."

"Any of those weird suits of yours?"

"Just mine and the ones I had made for our 'Boston' team."

Finn looked resolved as he decided, "Okay, let's do it. I don't like to risk our people or op to rocket fire, especially if we can get payback immediately. Send a signal to the uncommitted to stay away from us, till further notice."

Ten minutes later, the Initiative shut itself down as it undertook to turn its evac plan into an ambush of a force of seemingly equal firepower and vastly superior numbers. Training, surprise, and coordination would make the difference...

The first teams were quickly overcoming the very small group of Kakistos's vampires that had managed to break into the front of the evac building, one of the sergeants managing to wrest an AT-4 from a surprised vampire.

Harris and his two teams, filled out with kitchen staff, deployed as they watched three rockets strike the base. Xander's A-Team quickly spotted the concentrations, the biggest one being next door, and the second down and across the street. On the radio of one of the undead, they heard orders for two groups to charge. Xander readied and armed the weapon, had his men knock out the window, and he fired at the second target.

The explosion knocked out the entire shop front, and hurled the undead occupants and pieces all over. Riley moved up and turned to Graham and Xander, "Harris, your team's right up the street at target one; Miller, out the back and same thing. Gates will lay down suppression fire on other hostiles out on the street, and act as reserve."

The demons had raced all-out toward the base in an attempt to follow-up the surprise assault, with an overwhelming number of vampires. At the base approaches and in the intersection, maybe 100 vamps were racing across with guns, clubs and knives, tearing at the bars and climbing up the façade in attempts to breach the enemy stronghold.

A-Team moved out into the street, forming a line, kneeling and bringing up their shotguns as H-Team took up a three down in front, three in back approach.

"Fire at will!" Captain Harris shouted, unleashing a minute of silent but effective strikes into a surprised five or six dozen vampires leaving their main deployment to join in he attack on the base.

Twelve men, twenty shots each in 30 seconds surprised both sides, as all but 15 vampires spectacularly ignited and 'poofed' just short of the soldiers. Forrest's two teams had moved out and laid down enfilade fire with similar results, and what seemed to be the vampire reserves suffered egregiously as they rushed out of their positions first toward the base, then back at the human targets.

Of the 70 vampires, only four made it to the human lines.

With 19 vampires knocking into two dozen humans, only the fact that many of the bloodsuckers were completely disoriented and without cohesion, saved the humans. Forrest and Riley managed to deploy standard assault rifles, and at point-blank range dusted three of their attackers, the two teams pulling back into the building, as they helped the A and H teams to overcome their foes.

Harris himself had drawn swords, and the senior Master Chief with what appeared to be Xander's pair of ironwood daggers charged after him as he used the back end of the parked car out front of the building to swing over and around the vamps.

Xander swung and took out a knee of one of the walking dead, and stabbed another in its throat, allowing their human opponents to regain the initiative. The Master Chief concentrated on the one nearest to him, a stab in the lower spine and another into the heart dusting the beast as he whirled to roll up the flank.

Xander similarly attacked the next two vampires, two heart-stabs from behind dusting the biggest vamps in the fray, before swinging back to dust his first two wounded. Within another 25 seconds, the fight at the door was over and Riley shouted a retreat through the building as the 100 vamps turned away from the base and began firing their sidearms, wounding three soldiers from sheer volume of fire.

"In, in, in!" Harris shouted, as his men raced with their five wounded back into the building. Forrest's men began fireman-carrying them as fast as possible, as charges were set on five-minute timers throughout the building in packing crates of surveyor stakes.

Harris' men continued to fire but lightly, giving the impression of faltering opposition as the vampires rallied and moved in. As the first reached the front entry, firing and crashing through windows, the last humans were noisily exiting the rear of the building, Forrest's main team heading back down the tunnel to hole up in the base and cover the firefighters when they eventually made their way to the scene.

Out in the alley, the Initiative forces had gotten their two dead and five wounded into a truck and raced them away toward a hospital, the remaining 35 men jogging with weapons toward the end of the alley. A single vampire made it out into the alley and roared in rage as the first floor of the building exploded, leveling the condemned two-story structure atop the 60 vamps that had made it inside.

Thirty vampires out front were thrown to the ground from the blast wave, as ten more were finally breaking into the building. The white-haired vampire turned to his very ancient prospective employer.

"Bloody hell. I think we should still take their bloody base and make sure it does burn down, Kakistos!"

"No, Mr. Ragsdale," the evil undead crime lord swore. "I want to know where to kill them, and not go hunting this time. How are the attacks on my other enemies going?"

"'bout half of them we killed off, and the others we finally cleared out of Compton, so the whole central area's yours now, mate," William the Bloody told him. "Losses were heavy though, it might take a while to recruit more minions. Sorry, but that's the way it is..."

"Any word of San Diego or Long Beach?"

Spike gestured, "Both are yours, heavy losses on both sides though. And your boys nicely managed to off about 18 human gangs still sitting on the fence! The other buggers are headin' for the west side of LA and Ventura, to regroup."

"Good, it'll give us a chance to show my capos back east that I'm still their only possible master, William,' Kakistos smiled evilly. "I will admit...you've done much better than my other recent lieutenants..."

"You pay well and provide quality feed, mate, and hell! I DO enjoy all the violence!" the former poet said with a smirk.

"We'll leave LA for the moment," Kakistos considered with narrowed eyes. "Pass the word down the line; I want all of our humans, zombies and ghouls on their way to that place that caused us trouble last month…"

"You mean Oxnard?"

"Yes, Ox-Nard, William. Because tomorrow we destroy any hunters, any police, ANYONE who opposes me there, at sundown. While O'Toole will be ending that troublesome fool Balthazar. My old friend and enemy..."

Episode VII

Los Angeles, California. April 5th, 1999

The Initiative managed to dust the few vampires resourceful enough to have made it into the base, but Riley—with the support of his superiors—had redeployed the support personnel to cover the shelter, while the rest moved back with all the field teams to Oxnard.

The decision had not been an easy one. But with the need to rest personnel and consolidate resources long enough to develop a better doctrine while maintaining the overall low profile meant nothing was easy, the large extra warehouse the Initiative sublet from Stamper was deemed the best pull-back.

It still held supplies, reserves of ammunition and would allow the Initiative a much-needed breather before the next training company arrived and deployed into the existing team structures in a week.

Oxnard, California. April 5th – 6th, 1999

They called it the Battle of Oxnard.

Around 30 support and security personnel had been drawn out of Sunnydale, and began triaging and repairing equipment and other assets brought back from Los Angeles.

Teams were combined to fill them for training and reaction purposes, though it was expressed that the WIAs would be returned as part of expanding teams into team-pairs that had proved to work so well in the fight in the sewers.

So, by the time the tired and bloodied LA soldiers had recovered somewhat and began to wake up from well-earned sleep, the Initiative on paper could count 60 fieldable men and officers in Oxnard. While leaving twenty in Sunnydale for normal activity, as the base there was being hurried into the last of the construction phases.

"Hey, Lex," Riley greeted his comrade, as they both moved slower than usual toward the makeshift mess hall. "Feelin' it, huh?"

"You betcha, boss," the young man smiled back, as they grabbed trays and started into the food line. "But at least we took out a lot of 'em."

Riley nodded. "What do you think the HSTs will try next?"

"They'd be smart to try and find our main field base, and simply burn it down," Xander replied, doubling up on the new vitamin mix that Walsh had introduced into their diet the week before. "Then pick off what they can find, after that."

Finn frowned. "You think they know about Sunnydale, or here?"

A shrug. "They might know about Sunnydale, but only here and LA are we really showing ourselves. Plus that pair of raids down in San Diego, but we don't have a base there. I'd guess if they know about us here, they'll hit in a couple of days if we don't get back into LA sooner."

"Well, I hate to ask the men to do a patrol tonight…" Riley sighed, sitting down to eat with Graham. "But we'll do it just to 'walk off' the aches and pains, get the new guys ready."

"Sounds like a good idea, Riley," Graham agreed. "Then we can spend tomorrow going over reports and adjust our training."

Elsewhere in the city at around 7:30 pm that night, two dead things were having a conversation.

"Got some bad news, I'm afraid," Spike remarked to Kakistos as the sun finally finished setting. "It looks like a few of yer blokes from San Diego have just left to find someone to eat."

"What? I ordered them to wait until I gave the word, William…"

"Yeah, I heard, but I guess they're anxious to make a name for themselves and show ya what they've got," the duplicitous British vampire lied, knowing that he'd sent them to go out and kill or turn as many cops as they could find.

After all—if they succeeded in opening up the town, he could take the credit, and if they spectacularly failed, his own position would still improve with the lack of competition.

"I do not like this Ox-Nard, William. It smells...funny," the old vampire sniffed. "Let my minions know that in an hour, we'll make our move."

"Rightey-ho. You decided on any targets yet?"

"We will start with the public houses in the dockyards and work our way toward the high-ways, William. Tell them to turn all of the security guards they come across; they'll be guarding my Ox-Nard tomorrow night."

"Hey, Riley," Graham called over to his friend and superior officer, as no enlisted men were around. "What sectors do you want us to start in tonight?"

"I'm thinking twenty men on civilian patrol in the clubs and bars, and the others on patrol duty outside," Riley replied. "We'll just cover the docks and industrial areas tonight, see how we do, and maybe extend coverage later."

"Sounds like a plan, who do you want on civvies tonight?"

"You and Lex, do an early sweep of the clubs, then the strip joints. Then cycle through again before closing time," Riley told him. "I'll take the others out, half in dark civvies, the other half in the trucks ready in case something big comes down and we need to respond fast."

"Lettin' Harris' sixth sense for trouble out for exercise?" Miller momentarily smirked.

"Something like that. I mean we heard that freak in Boston, and if he knows where we are? I'm expecting a base attack. We'll only patrol until ten or so. See if any HSTs can be spotted massing. That's why we're battening it down now, and arming the support staff until 0200. "

Graham hastily said, "I didn't say it was wrong…"

Riley ignored that. "And remember LA? We got a lot of them when we hammered them from behind, when they went after our base. I want to be ready to do that again."

"Gotcha, I'll get the men ready and let Lex know."

"Thanks, and good hunting."

The first hour after sundown brought in quite a few reports of 'gang-related activity' throughout Oxnard. All of the teams had used half their ammo allotments, and quite a few surveyor's stakes to take out about 50 vampires - that seemed intent on going after law enforcement, and emergency services staff.

Riley had passed on the information to his superiors, and suggested immediate imposition of curfew and mobilizing whatever forces in range to clamp down. The only command staff he could find though was Walsh, and she said she'd send what she could.

"H-Leader!" Graham shouted over the radio, "You there!"

"Yeah, I'm here," the response came, gunshots to be heard in the background. "What's the sitch, G-Leader?"

"We're three streets over, and there seem to be a few hundred HSTs tearing up an old motel and just killing people in the streets…Johnson, fall back! McKeon, hold the left!"

"We're on our way! What do you need!" Xander shouted.

"We're falling back through the three big fuel tanks, I can't get ahold of Riley for permission to blow 'em as we get free!"

"I'll try, G-Leader, just get your unit outta there! If you see any gas trucks, blow them instead, that might slow 'em down!"

Xander commed his mike, as his men finished a few vamps finally getting through to Riley. "Major! G-Leader's falling back through the small fuel tank farm, between the highway and port, He reports a few hundred HSTs! He's asking permission to blow the place if he can lead them all in…orders?"

Riley was silently cursing; unless they could take out Kakistos and end this soon, everything was going to pour into the open. "Any sign of Capo One?"

Xander relayed the question and Graham reported back, "Negative, but there's a high-level HST named Spike that seems to be in charge. He's trouble. I'm surprised he isn't attacking I-One..."

Xander cursed silently, never having forgotten the humiliation of Parent-Teacher Night as he heard Riley's order: "Tell him to do the minimum he can get away with, it'd be nice to leave some of this town intact..."

Kakistos sneered as the small annoying group of human soldiers fled from his minions, and chortled, "William, send half your vampires to kill them. We'll head to the public houses closer to the highway you mentioned."

"You sure you don't want me to go with 'em?" the British vampire asked, faking enthusiasm, but knowing he wasn't trusted enough to be let off his leash.

"No, William, I want you to obliterate the targets I tell you," the ancient monster coldly told him. "Now do as I order!"

Sunnydale, California. The same time

Walsh quietly considered the requests, and decided to send every available man not of her selection, just to regain control of her demesnes. They'd gotten in the new recruits several days earlier, and ready to fight demons they were not, though they were armed.

She'd strongly emphasized the preference of the Oxnard site, and if the fighting proved as large as Finn considered, she could shift the military out of Sunnydale and back into hot spots where her research would receive more support and less scrutiny. There had been a few reports of HST activity in the harbor and the industrial district abutting the armory compound, but nothing major.

"Angleman, call the watch commander; tell him to mobilize everything, and send it to Oxnard. Maybe if we can bail out the military thinkers, we can concentrate on our research instead of doing their job as well."

Angleman, who far more than Walsh had seen the aftermath of HST bloodshed, grimaced at her attitude but hoped to get back to researching ways to kill those…things. So he nodded, "I'll let them know, Dr. Walsh-"

"Professor Walsh, Doctor, we must remember our cover."

"Uh, yes Professor Walsh, did you mean our security personnel as well, or just the field teams?"

"I mean everyone not permanently assigned, including the troops undergoing orientation."

Angleman instantly hid his dismay. "Won't that put our facility at risk?"

Maggie just shrugged. "Batten down the hatches then, Angleman, but everything military leaves within the hour—understand?"

"Yes, Professor Walsh, at once."

Oxnard, California. The same time

Captain Harris sighed as he watched only a third of the enemy force break away, but was disappointed to see Spike pulled back from the trap and head vaguely in his direction with Kakistos near him.

Already, they'd killed a nasty-looking flesh-colored demon and captured its partner; but man, was that glowing silver demon blood nasty. After reporting to Major Finn, the young Sunnydalian officer realized that behind him there were approximately ten or twelve seedy bars and clubs, with maybe 50 to 200 people each this close to the highway.

Not to mention the cheap motels and truck stops.

"Too many civilians, and I think they'll manage to cut into G-Leader's rear if we don't stop 'em," he told the Senior Master Chief, who'd been rushed over by Riley to help and met up with him seconds before.

This gave them twenty men, all blooded and determined, to face ten times as many vampires, some armed, out for blood and rampage. "If we back through the club right behind us, after pissing them off, we might get them to try hurling bodies through the doors to get us, instead of taking out the whole street."

"Open fire on the big ugly one in the middle?" the noncom offered. "We send a pair of our guys down the street to declare curfew, due to terrorists or gang warfare?"

"Yeah, tell them to lock up, turn out the lights and build up for big fires in front of the doors," Captain Harris agreed. "Then the guys go get G-Leader and reinforcements. Pick two volunteers and let's go."

Riley Finn did not like what he was hearing, but knew a good general officer couldn't override his field commanders when so many civilian lives were at stake, even if they were all hookers, strippers, and such.

He called in for the helicopters to hurry in and provide street suppression in the area upon arrival. Then getting out the maps, Riley looked and saw that for nearly a quarter-mile, the row of clubs, abandoned shops, sporting goods transshipment, and tractor-repair warehouses and such could very well eat up his command.

Unless...they could somehow get through the rabbit warren of construction? After that, only a single wide street separated them from the Initiative, with its back to the sea and the section of docks specializing in petrol handling.

"Major, Dr. Walsh is sending everything sir."

Finn turned around. "What do you mean, everything?"

"Everything military, and they're battening down to make sure they aren't hit in the meantime, sir. Four choppers should drop down about 40 new guys within the hour, the others are coming by highway."

Riley felt his blood freeze, as he figured what THAT meant. "She's sending in guys without a clue?"

The noncom shrugged. "Some of them were patrolling when they were called in, sir…"

"Jesus, I hope the 'copter fire takes enough of the HSTs out to give 'em a chance…"

The soldiers opened fire into the midst of Kakistos' vampires, a few bursts over the heads in hopes of a lucky shot at the Greek Freak. The vampires smelled blood, even if it was their own, and they began breaking forward even before a grazed Kakistos ordered them forward. "Kill the soldiers or die!"

The vampires left their firearms holstered, for a moment forgetting their human skills for vampire instinct. A few dozen went down, maybe ten dusted as the doors on the club slammed shut.

But like enraged monkeys, the demons tore at the bars over the windows as others pounded the doors, the frenzy actually showing results as bolts embedded into old brick started to give.

Inside, over a hundred people were rushing for the back door, only a few employees pausing as an apparent gun battle erupted at the front. One of the bar owners came over with a glare, "Hey, take this outside!" she demanded. "We don't want no trouble here!"

"Sorry, Maria," a familiar voice told her as its owner turned around. She recognized the young man as one who'd saved her and a couple of her girls several weeks back from those…things. "But we have a couple hundred nasties trying to get in, and eat you and your customers. Outside ain't gonna cut it!"

"Anything you need, then," Maria told him, turning and ordering her bouncers and bartenders to arm up.

"Do these buildings connect?" Xander asked, gesturing toward the wall. "Any way through them?"

"Si, double fire doors from years ago, sometimes they're boarded or bricked up," she told him. "The women's rooms between us and the Purring Kitty are just a thin brick arch, though."

They could hear the vampires start to break through as the five or six dozen sets of now-broken chairs and tables had several cases of alcohol dumped over them, from the door to the center of the room.

"Okay. You and your guys show Henderson, here, where to place a small charge; do you have anything to knock down the wall with, if the hole isn't big enough?" Harris asked.

"Si. Ernesto, go get the sledge you used the other day and help the man. Anything else?"

"Yeah. Get going, Maria, we're going to have to get through there real quick!" Xander tried not to shout.

Two minutes later, they heard an explosion even as the doors and a few windows, including skylights, caved in. Carefully controlled bursts fired, just enough to keep the vamps interested and hurt, the teams falling back after tossing out WP grenades out the windows and into the piles as the HSTs pushed through.

The screams of the vampires shredded the night, enraging the HSTs further as even the new vampires cried out 'for Kakistos we live, for Kakistos we die!'

In the next strip joint over, the crowd had mostly been rushed out the back, hopefully eluding any smarter vamps. A few remained, mostly older staff and bouncers about to clear out the back.

"Maria, head outside with the rest of them! Do you know where the way through is?" Xander asked.

"Si, this one is the fire doors in the dressing room," she said, pausing. "Good luck, soldier boy!"

Almost an hour later, Kakistos and his vampires had circled around the sneaky ammunition-low soldiers, managing to kill one here or there, but the humans' willingness to set fires had slowed success in this mess of buildings. The fact was 45 vampires and 6 demons had been lost, and 7 of his 16 human servants had been sniped.

"William, go and call Vittorio, and tell him forget the attack on Sunnydale. Tell him get over here to kill this damned infestation that plagues me!"

The men under Harris' command were in awe of the young officer they were all older than by at least five years, especially the Senior Chief and the noncoms. He constantly knew the right thing to say, ordered the men to act, follow orders and think of nothing but the fight…and each time, seemed to suffer a single casualty where most of them should have died horribly.

Five men, and even the bodies were recovered in short counter-strikes, just to make sure they left no man behind. Graham's men had broken through after firing only a portion of the smaller fuel tanks, obliterating half of the hundred vampires, and delaying the other singed and burnt demons. They just had never gotten into position enough to take out everything.

Graham Miller, while senior in position, watched as Harris out-guessed the enemy and used his men exactly so they could pull out or break through to yet another. Outside, Graham had learned that the newbies and the helicopters had pushed another 200 or so vampires out of their vehicles and into the complex of buildings.

Another hour passed, and a group of 40 soldiers new to the Initiative came through in a pincer movement from the base-side of things. Their officers were gunned down by armed vampires and human minions, but the men solidly pushing aside enough of the vampires to grab their objective, the tractor repair factory.

Graham and the others had seen their numbers whittled down from 30 to 21, with many dust piles and goo puddles to show the cost. But of that 21, eight were wounded, however still mobile enough to limp to the next building and provide minimal covering fire, usually in the form of Molotov cocktails and precious grenades at the right moment.

Graham acted as 2IC, and over the next hour or so, the use of cell phones, business phones and phone directories amazed them as Harris proceeded to talk and semi-effectively direct the officer-gutted force holding the tractor facility. Harris ordered gas can bombs created, lines of fuels and trash criss-crossed on the main floors, tractors moved to block entry, keeping a place of retreat opened to their own people.

Breaking into the wide open space of the sporting goods warehouse, Graham concentrated on getting the wounded across to the other side, where the tractor guys were just piercing the reinforced newer wall that separated them; and God knew, the tractors came in handy for that.

The Senior Chief and his team opened up some crates and unloaded one, as a forklift was used to move another next to the breached wall through which the vampires would soon come. The force then fell back, Harris and Henderson setting a charge on the door-proximal crate as the Senior Chief brought over cans of solvents, bows and a large number of arrows as much of the ammo finally ran out.

Eight men were stepping through the gap as 50 vampires nearly flew into the room and sought victims, William and Kakistos thereafter…as the crate of oil-soaked .22 rounds exploded twenty feet away.

From wood splinters and the sheer numbers of rounds, twenty vampires were shredded into dust and ten more rendered useless in the near future, but Spike had managed to 'heroically' push Kakistos back through the opening into the other building for them to avoid similar fates.

"Kill 'em all!" the British vampire shouted to his hundred remaining vampires, as those on the other side of the factory also were attempting to kill the vexing mortals.

"Get to the second level! Now!" Harris ordered his men, and headed for the large freight elevator. "Hurry!"

They were ten feet in the air when his men were barely hanging on the bottoms and sides, the vampires pouring into the room. Several vampires leapt, newbies emptying their magazines into the heads and faces to keep their comrades safe, but even killing twenty vampires, two of their own were ripped apart and down, Harris staggering.

"Fire the floor!" the young military officer ordered as the thoughts of agonized death wracked his consciousness, the ability to read minds since the onset of the battle a two-edged sword—as he noticed the glowing silver bloodstain had disappeared. 'That must have been it, gotta call Giles...'

The floor erupted, the criss-crossing pattern confusing the demons as it engulfed them, the various fuel cans and worktables exploding and turning the lower level into a furnace of death for the undead. And again, William the Bloody saved his own skin by tackling the older vampire back into a previous room.

Vampires desperately ran for and up the stairs, climbed walls, and went insane to escape fire. Captain Harris heard his men starting to run out of ammo passed out from the newbies, and he knew it would be close as he noticed a wall on the second level beginning to give way. 'Damn, more of 'em must have been trying to go over us the last few buildings...'

Graham had managed to find the exit to the roof, and began getting the men through it, calling for air evac. From the next roof over, four vampires with small arms took out four of his men in four seconds, even if they'd emptied their weapons. Miller was subsequently glad when a helicopter pulled up and began to shred the top of the building, ending the enemy attack.

Two more helicopters came up and over the building, as the last one on relayed orders began to fire through the adjacent building front to rear in an attempt to relieve pressure on Harris' rear guard. Until two rockets from street-level took it out completely, catching it through an intake and underside.

One helicopter spread its fire out front of the building in the direction from which the rockets had come, leaving no window unhit as one of the 'copters landed on the roof. Graham started to evac the wounded first, then whoever else was available.

Down below, Harris faced off against two vamps, only his swords left as the rest of his men with solvent-lit arrows fired into minions attempting to come over the railings or up the walls. But they were still pressed back, until they simply threw a dozen solvent cans at the vamps on the stares. Harris, with only six humans thinking loudly but only about the situation with him, was ready to turn and race up the ladder when they shouted, "Run!"

Harris, Graham and six guys backed up toward the helicopter, firing four last arrows at twelve still-angry vampires. Four dusted, and two halted long enough to pull the offending burning sticks from their bodies.

Hands grabbed at Harris and his men as the helicopter lifted off, four vampires grabbing the landing strut as they moved away from the building. Feet, hands, knives, and finally a fire axe dusted one and knocked the last three 40 feet to the ground below.

Small arms fire struck all around, Graham taking a hit in the arm, Harris grazed several times too; but their vests and equipment meant that none died in the escape.

Episode VIII

Sunnydale, California. April 6th, 1999

Xander had managed to get a cell phone call through to Giles, describing his situation and the mouthless demon involved. Luckily, the gang had been up, taking out a nest of independents; while Trick and O'Toole seemed to have met in a noisy battle, that had caused a couple of warehouses to burn down already.

A full research session, led by the annoying research-wizard Wesley Wyndham-Price, gave him the very disgusting answer. And Xander was told Ripper and Charity would be bringing it down to Oxnard; all he'd need was the heart from the captured demon to complete the potion.

Two hours later, the auburn-haired well-denimed version of his girlfriend came through the door with a disreputable-looking Ripper carrying the necessary ingredients, ready to go.

Riley looked a bit put out at the possible security breach, along with the loss of a new captive demon. But luckily he went along with it, when Xander explained that otherwise he'd be dead within a short time. So Finn just made sure that it all took place in the main Stamper facility.

The sun was just coming up as the two entered the front, looking at Xander, who said: "While you get started, Giles, think at me about all that's happened in the last week or so since I saw you. Charity, don't leave the building; the authorities are still cracking down after some kind of gang fight last night."

Xander learned a lot, as his mentor and father filled him in on events. Trick seemed to have been dusted by O'Toole, who with diminished and limited forces, appeared to be in control of Sunnydale after ferocious street fighting the last two nights.

From what Willy could gather, Trick himself had run into O'Toole's larger numbers, and things had basically avalanched as both sides called in support. And it was believed that O'Toole had found the location of Balthazar before the fight.

'Charity' and 'Hope' had both run into commando teams, but escaped after saving them from overwhelming numbers. The cheerleading team had made third in the state finals, and the doctors had discovered a second heartbeat while running tests on Joyce.

"Twins!"

"Indeed," the smiling British man confirmed, then redirected back into thought. Apparently, the Band Candy incident was causing all sorts of problems; Ethan must have included fertility drugs in his concoction, given how a large number of women, even those over 40 years of age, seemed to be expecting twins.

"Anything else?" Xander asked.

'Principal Snyder somehow escaped from captivity, and has been changed back,' Giles grimaced mentally. 'I've been shifted to the position of vice-principal as well school librarian, pending review of his situation. He's claiming gang members had kept him in a box...'

"Xander, drink this down really fast, please," his father then told him seriously. "It's the only way." The young veteran did, and fought successfully not to vomit it back up, downing his morning vitamin drink and a pint of lemon juice to cleanse his mouth.

"That's disgusting, cowboy," Faith a.k.a. Charity grimaced as she entered the room with a Stamper employee, coffee and donuts. "But we brought you something other than that protein slushy, to really hit the spot..."

Oxnard, California. April 8th, 1999

Kakistos' main forces had been destroyed, but he'd taken out the two main police stations before the soldiers had vaporized his minions from their flying machines. And somehow, over the last two days, the enemy was gutting his main cadres throughout Los Angeles, as though they'd known just where to strike.

He'd scattered his minions throughout southern California, back into the 'cribs' he'd taken from the drug gangs. The setback enraged him, but by avoiding combat his rivals had proven stupid, being cut down in the wee hours of the morning as the soldiers destroyed them while they'd crowed in victory.

"Soon, William, we'll quietly head to Sunnydale," the old vampire sneered at his proven-loyal captain in this territory. "Any word from O'Toole?"

"None so far, mate; there've been as many scraps there as we've 'ad here, boss," the inwardly-smirking vampire replied with a fake frown. "I heard Trick is finally a pile of instant soup mix, but the fighting's down in the sewers now..."

"Balthazar, then. We'll wait a week or so, then send 40 or 50 of the more annoying minions into Sunnydale to finish it."

"Too bad he didn't manage to get turned a few more of those military blokes from the armory," Spike sighed, those rockets had nearly finished those buggering soldier-boys. "How about next time, we just go for the bloody armory, then go after the town the next night? Then we have all those guns and rockets to kill with!"

"No, William, first Balthazar, then the armory. My old foe deserves a proper end, unlike those humans."

Sunnydale, California. April 9th, 1999

Early that morning, Xander had been dropped off at the Espresso Pump by Riley after they'd reported in; the six bullet grazings, the two patched and field-cauterized stab wounds in the left buttock and left tricep healing at a fairly accelerated pace.

All in all, it wasn't too bad; but he'd been given a solid two weeks' leave and encouraged to rest up by only doing his Stamper work.

Harry had been glad to see him back from Guard duty, and less amused that he'd made it into work through a hail of bullets. Which only reinforced Stamper's decision to move his entire company to one place; namely, Sunnydale.

He'd already talked to Mr. Giles and accepting the equity of the mansion as 'stock'— invested fronted money to buy up the taxes on several dockside buildings. Not to mention twenty large homes, a diner, a donut shop, a forty-unit newly-completed apartment complex that had lost its owners due to the street fighting over the last week, and a private pier.

That had left Harry nearly broke again, but as he planned to rent the units to his relocating employees, and had cleared all his debts, he'd been happy about his decision.

The Scooby Gang gathered to watch the State of the Union and the Messiah transmissions that evening, and along with the rest of the world watched for several hours to find out about the comet results.

Over several hours, the partial success turned into denial and general apathy as the crew desperately thinned their resources. And warheads, except for one that had timer issues, drilled not only as planned into the comet, but into the huge surprise of a heavy asteroid actually pushing it from behind.

So! Not only did they have a comet the size of Texas and New Mexico heading their way, but a chunk of metal twice the size of Manhattan pushing it? Talk about not having a good day on the job...

The resultant explosions had split the metal chunk into two. The pieces had slowed down, one of them missing Earth narrowly while the other would most probably strike the far side of the moon on September 13th.

As for the big comet, 'New Mexico' split into two parts, speeding up to narrowly miss the moon on June 29th—to strike Asia, instead of the entire thing hitting the Atlantic Ocean on August 16th. The bigger comet would move just a little slower, by almost three days, and possibly skim the moon.

After that, no one could tell by composition whether it would shatter, bounce away from Earth, or bank into the planet. The Messiah, if it still existed, might have been able to catch up and at least call in nuclear fire support, but now that mission was out of communication and believed lost.

President Ryan announced the Missouri Backup Plan, and the Lottery of America. Also, smaller areas around the country were going to serve as FEMA bastions. The military and reserves would be fully called up, going back as far as 1980 in service, with irregular militia call-ups on SMSA basis starting June 15th to ensure the peace and reinforce local police in their duties.

The previous administration's year-long buildup and super-purchases of mainstays, ostensibly to boost the world economy, has resulted in a solid year's advance of most U.S. and Canadian needs; with five years of seed and fertilizer products in storage. Other allies were at one year's worth and maybe another, but remained hopeful. About a hundred thousand UK folks were to relocate to Missouri, with many Western Europeans heading to the Alps...

President Ryan then announced an all-out space development effort over next ten years to relocate a substantial percentage of the world's population and industry off-planet by that time. And that all possible nuclear assets were to be launched around the time of the strikes, as a last-ditch effort to stave off disaster.

"Well, that sucks," Xander considered, then took out his cell phone as it rang. "This is Harris. Yes sir, on the 15th? Affirmative. How many? Twelve? Affirmative, sir, uh—thank you, sir. Do I need to find lodging? Met at the airport? Thank you, sir."

His friends and family watched the young man deeply think, which distracted them briefly from their own sense of denial and shock. Faith was the one to break the silence, "Lex? Can you tell us about the call?"

Xander looked up and counted Faith, Giles, Joyce, Cordelia, Buffy, Willow, Oz, Amy, and her boyfriend Michael who'd helped out over the last couple of months. Plus Jonathan Levinson, who'd similarly helped and had pounded the lunch lady over the head, when she was poisoning the cafeteria food a couple of days before.

He dismissed Angel, not present, immediately; the immortal creature would most likely 'survive' this without his assistance. "Two more…" Harris muttered aloud, looking at them all.

"What is it, hon?" Faith asked, the others looking worried.

"Okay. All of you, plus Harry Stamper and Gracie, will tell no one what I'm about to tell you," he stressed, then pointed at the television commentators discussing the possible annihilation of the world. "If you do, you will stay behind."

Xander sighed, "You, and only you, no one else—will fly into Colorado Springs on the 15th of June. You'll be met by people I work for…in the Guard. You will survive this, even if the rest of the world doesn't. I cannot and will not say any more, so don't ask—especially you, Buffy. Orders."

Joyce spoke first, "Do you mean we have a place in this Missouri Plan?"

"Even better. But you don't get any more details, orders."

"What about…" Buffy began, and Xander waved her down.

"I told you. Nobody else. The number is fixed, and it's my choice alone. The people in this room and the Stampers are my family, Buffy. And no talking about it. Just go on in the assumption that the comets won't hit, they'll be stopped. Then no matter what, you're going on vacation in early June."

"What about you, Xander?" Giles asked.

"I go where I'm ordered, G-Man...sorry, Dad. Even though the probability is close to max that I have you going there because that'll be my follow-up assignment."

"I almost feel guilty about this," Joyce said, then patted her now-showing tummy. "But I don't. And I won't."

Sunnydale, California. April 10th -18th, 1999

The police and the Initiative managed to keep all things demonic quiet, and the regular military in the area and National Guard units moved in to suppress riots and mobs in the poorest areas. Areas that just seemed to give up their anger and worry, feeding it into a frenzy of destruction that ironically covered up the toll of the previous months.

Within two days of the suppression, the press revealed that in the last three months, and mostly during the riots, ten thousand gang members (including almost all of the vampires and particularly nasty demons) had been terminated in 'their warfare for control egged on by white supremacists'.

And with fringe groups in Arkansas, Montana and Idaho fitting that description playing into the hands of the government by trying to incite such activity or even declared secession of their camps from the Union, many a whack-job found a quick end in a firefight or imprisonment on a wide variety of charges. The very few Leftist groups practicing equivalent nonsense likewise found that the tolerance of the 'extreme moderates' was very short, these days.

But as of the last couple of days, all parties had been destroyed or jailed, though sadly around 500 civilians had reportedly died in the course of events.

The President ordered a test mobilization, and used it as a cover for the Initiative to follow-up against Kakistos' leads. Finn and his immediate subordinates, which included Xander, learned that various shadow assets throughout the country had mobilized to kill off Kakistos' criminal empire.

This meant the Initiative being split into four parts to serve as 'cadres' for the impending neutralizations. And in spite of heavy casualties, Charles Gunn and his fellow recruits were being used to fill in teams through the end of the month, then 'all' teams were to be called in for (re)training.

Xander had to report back for duty on the 19th, and was to be responsible for the California operations before formal military integration of assets took place on July 1st.

Oxnard, California. Saturday, April 17th 1999

The day of the move had come. And as the largest items were loaded by moving trucks, and much of the equipment and fixtures by teams, the employees were needed for ensuring records, the offices themselves and project materials made it to Sunnydale into their new digs for business Monday morning.

Xander had managed to get Harry to spring for extra help, and he'd hired the younger Scoobies to work and hired Rupert and Joyce to drive and coordinate. Cordelia had gotten sucked into coordinating the actual moving company personnel, when Xander took a long call from a client...

And seeing her tear into a moving team refusing to fulfill an element of their agreement, Harris had laughingly left it all in her hands while he concentrated on the actual transition of work and signing of on items as necessary.

On the last two trips back to Sunnydale, Xander had gone along to make sure the staff there would actual ready everything for Monday and not just put it off. And by chance, most of the women were left in Oxnard closing up as Xander, Harry and his father, plus Riley needed a ride back to the base. They were about ten minutes away, when they'd gotten the call.

"Lex?" Faith asked when he answered his cell. "We have a situation."

"Speed up Giles, we might have trouble," the young man said. "What is it, hon?"

"We were just run into by a Navy bus…"

"Is everyone okay?" Xander asked at once.

"Yeah, but the truck is totaled," she admitted. "And we're kinda stuck in this bar it happened in front of."

"Okay, who's there? If we drive carefully, we can fit three more up front, and the rest in back if we drive very slow and safe."

"Joyce, Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Amy, Grace and me," she told him. "And you better hurry, 'cause this place apparently just opened, it's wicked good, and it's ladies night..."

Xander frowned. "What's the name of it?"

Faith replied, "It's at the other end of the buildings that got burnt and shot up a week ago, babe, apparently they combined or took over the two joints and restaurant in the row and there's a grand opening tonight."

Harris rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but what's it called?"

"Maria's Fabulous Ladies and Gents Night Club, why?"

Xander nodded, "Never mind. We'll be there in about…five or so minutes."

Faith sighed. "Okay, the others are nose-powdering and such, so just come on in and get us when you get here."

They hit every red light though, and ten minutes later they pulled up in front of the place and headed in, even though there quite a few people lined up at the door. Xander was recognized by the two bouncers at the door, that opened their coats and showed many of Stamper's sideline products for vampire hunting were matters of course.

"Mr. Harris, it's very good to see you again," a huge man, Ernesto, politely nodded to the three men. "I hope it's not...the Neighborhood Watch this time?"

"No, uh, Ernesto, right?" Xander asked the man that somehow had been cut off from escape and had actually acted as their 'corpsman' for the entire night of what a history-minded geek had referred to as Oxnard-grad, with its own battle for a tractor factory. "Our friends were in an accident, and we're here to pick them up."

"Great, please head on in," the man said, gesturing for the other man to open the door. They passed through.

"Getting quite the rep, huh Lex?" Riley quipped. "Every dive from here to Boston will know you soon..."

"As long as I don't have to pay a cover charge, I don't care…" Xander smiled as he walked in, his black slacks and black T-shirt under his bomber jacket drawing looks and whispers from a few of the staff and costumers at the main bar.

Riley noted a few Navy women near the stage waiting for the next male and female pair of dancers to come out and begin—when three things happened.

One, the Sunnydale gals noticed their arrival and started to move. Two, Maria and a couple of the staff came forward, alerted by Ernesto, and proceeded to hug Xander and because of the similar haircut and attire, Riley.

"Thank you again for the help a week ago, heroes," Maria purred in delight, "Ernesto said you were here to pick up some friends?"

"Yeah, they were hit by bus of sailors?"

"Oh, si," Maria smiled, letting go and pointing at Navy gals as Faith closed the gap. "They are very enthusiastic good tippers, excellent customers."

"Zamboanga!" called a female voice from the crowd just as Faith possessively reclaimed her boyfriend, "Lex!"

"Hon, what are they talking about?" the dark-haired Slayer then asked, as many of the women saved during the night of the fight were there, and started chanting, "Show us your drill, Lex!" several times.

Buffy started to laugh, remembering the story he'd told her when he'd rescued her from LA the previous year. "The Zamboanga Driller, huh?"

Xander blushed a deep crimson, turning to his laughing friend and very curious others before turning to the blonde Slayer, "No power on this earth, Buff, remember!"

"Really? This I can't wait to hear, Dweeb Boy!" Cordelia said with upraised eyebrows.

Xander groaned and then sighed, noting that a couple of waves of gossip seemed to energize the female population as he gestured his friends unsuccessfully toward the door.

Sighing again, Xander snapped off a parade-perfect salute to the chanting women; then he bowed and exited the establishment, his laughing friends following close behind.

Episode IX

Sunnydale, California. Late April, 1999

Xander had managed to draw training duty as his Initiative assignment, concentrating only on the Sunnydale-Oxnard area for several weeks, a lot of it involving swords and their integration into maixed-armaments tactics, before being relieved by the recovered Graham.

From the reports elsewhere, he'd learned that Kakistos had been forced to head back east, when the humans had started taking out a few of his biggest cadres and human captains. But after two weeks, no new intelligence was coming in, and the fighting petered out back to the normal 'war on crime'.

O'Toole seemed to have eliminated Balthazar, but had screwed up a good chunk of the city's sewers in the process, several large explosions blowing the manhole covers up and out as some subsidence near the school was observed.

The good side of this though was that between the Scoobies and the Initiative, another hundred evil demons had been neutralized or captured for Walsh's scientists.

Southern California. May 3rd, 1999

Xander found himself back out on the oil platform for the most of the next month, his training company not to be replenished until early next month, and Graham was able to resume active control.

Walsh had seemed quite happy to see the large-scale military presence go, finally uncomfortably admitting what was common knowledge; that she wasn't a combat general.

Harry was also happy to see his young equipment wizard. After four more special units for the military, orders had been postponed through July by folks wondering if they should bother. Harry had decided to keep his employees going, but as it was a matter of the higher-end standard units, Xander wouldn't need to be on land to coax that last little bit.

Sunnydale, California. May 4th, 1999

From: Southie at Junior at Stuff

Hey, hon, just letting you know we've narrowed it down to a city councilman, the mayor or the chief of police as the Big Bad. And hints of whatever's happening during apocalypse season around Graduation. O'Toole seems to be running his operations out of the sewer network, so it'll be hard to pin him down. Rumor has it he's working for the local guy and not Kakistos, so maybe I won't see that bastard soon. Oh hell, computer class is over, you know that Red's a slave driver!

Love ya,

Me.

Southern California. May 10th, 1999

From: Junior at Southie at Re: Stuff

Hey, sorry it's taken me so long to get in touch, but I've been swamped. AJ seems determined to press his feelings for Gracie, but my opinion is he's doing it all wrong. He keeps forgetting that Harry is his boss and Gracie's the boss' daughter, and there are rules about that sorta stuff on the platform.

Babe, I might just have to kick his ass just to keep us running ahead of schedule. The guy's great at drilling and all, no doubt about that, but you don't piss off your boss or girlfriend's dad; and he's gonna do both.

Anyway, I'll have you know I'll be back around four on Friday, so get ready for Prom Weekend! Woo hoo!

Who would have thought two years ago 'that Harris kid' would be taking the most beautiful girl in the school to the Prom? Wow. Not me.

I'll see you Friday if I don't hear from you in the meantime.

Luv,

X

Sunnydale, California. Friday, May 14th, 1999

Alexander Harris pulled up to the mansion and asked the limousine driver to park and come in and eat something in the kitchen, while he waited. Sighing happily to be home, he noticed Giles and Joyce's cars in the driveway as he made his way to the front door.

Hanging his jacket and hat in the front entry, Harris eventually found the entire group in full research mode as Joyce handled food and beverage duty. She immediately guided the driver to where the others would see him as being in the house, but not reveal anything.

"Hey all, something come up?" Xander asked, as a now-happy looking Faith made her way over for a welcoming hug and kiss.

"Nah," she told him. "Just trying to pin down this Ascension thing, and trying to root out O'Toole in case he's in on it."

Xander shrugged. "Any luck with either one?"

"N-no, I'm afraid not, Xander," Giles admitted. "Though Wesley, here, has found quite a bit on the rituals, and a collection called the Books of Ascension. Wesley?"

"Indeed, yes, i-it appears that on the hundredth year of Sunnydale's founding, one of our suspects will ascend, into one of four different forms," the research fiend revealed. "Either a giant lizard, snake, spider or a giant frog."

"Frog? Spider?" Willow gasped, fainting.

"I take it Miss Rosenberg is adverse to such creatures?" Wes raised an eyebrow.

"Frogs and spiders, both," Faith said, with Cordelia helping the girl off of Oz and onto the sofa.

"Well, anyhow, as we know from that demon that the vampire Angelus-"

"Angel," corrected Buffy. "There's a big difference, oh big Watcher man on campus!"

Wes ignored the interruption. "-tortured, that a Box of Gavrock was brought to Sunnydale very recently, so as best as I can tell—it'll be a snake, or possibly the frog-like creature."

"How do we kill it?"" Xander asked the important question.

"Ah, now that is what we are researching."

"It's four-thirty, guys and girls," Xander stated simply. "And rumor has it, there's some kind of formal event scheduled this evening?"

The Prom-attired group headed out for dinner and a pre-dance good time a couple hours later, arriving in style and drawing appreciative looks from all. The Scooby Gang turned as they heard growls coming down the street, to see what they later determined to be three hellhounds chasing a formally-attired Principal Snyder down the street.

The Slayers tried to figure out how to handle this when the driver of the limo, Ernesto from Oxnard, bringing Joyce, Giles, Cordelia and Buffy, called out, "Harris!" and Xander nodded.

The first driver got out of his vehicle, the trunk beeping and popping open. Lex walked over pulled a shotgun matching the ones in the hands of their drivers and two alighting escorts in the front passenger seats, stepped and lined up, and began firing and pumping repeatedly as Snyder went down.

The first shots were high, but drew the attention of the beasts, at the second volley they left the bleeding jerk on the ground for harder prey, and the silver, wood, lead and titanium-mixed ammo tore into and through the creatures.

Within twenty seconds it was over, Harris tossing his weapon to Ernesto and heading back to his girl, offering his arm.

"How-?" Faith asked, the others nodding.

"No idea, but the club in Oxnard's been bothering me to let them say thank you, so they covered the limos, the tux rentals and dinner. And since this is our quiet little town of Sunnydale…"

"Oh."

"Indeed."

And a bunch of nods.

The dance itself proved a night of pleasant surprises, Xander being voted Most Likely to Succeed—right after Buffy had received her Class Protector award.

The dancing had been pleasant, and as Ernesto had fielded the Snyder matter, no further interruptions occurred. Plus Angel had shown up in the tux sent by Giles and Lex, along with a reminder for him to behave, and so Buffy went from feeling a third wheel—to having at least bittersweet happiness at her Senior Prom.

Sunnydale, California. May 23rd, 1999

From: Southie at Junior at More Stuff

Hey, it's me again, we narrowed it down to the cop or the Mayor. Snyder was visited by the police chief, so we're leaning towards him as the villain, and his family also goes back a hundred years or so in the area. King Brit is back in as the principal again, so at least the last couple of weeks of school should ease up.

Miss you terribly, I know—gushy girl here, so you forward this and I'll have to hurt ya. :)

With finals pretty much over, the AP exams going through for Cordelia and Buffy and Willow, things are quieting except for our impending doom :(

Just kidding, somehow we have to pull through so a rock can finish it. Sigh. I know, be happy.

O'Toole's been spotted above ground a few times, and Angel says that rumors point to a bunch of turned gangbangers as heading to join up with him for something big.

Oh, those French rapier moves you and G showed me? Took out three bloodsuckers last night. Woo hoo:) Oh, and B also got two…yay…snicker.

Please email me back just so I know you're okay, 'kay!

Love ya,

Me.

Southern California. May 24th, 1999

From: Junior at Southie at Re: More Stuff

I'm fine, hon, just working 17 hours a day. Good thing for AJ, since it means I won't have to help Harry kill him. :)

We've made a great team, Harry says, and between the three of us this drill is going gangbusters, babe. We might strike the big one within the next three weeks, instead of three months.

Any more news on the you-know-what that's scheduled for Graduation Day?

Loving you always,

Lex

Sunnydale, California. May 26th, 1999

From: Southie at Junior at More Stuff

Hey, Lex, thinking about you again…not that way, ya pig:)

Seems the cops, the city council and firemen are leading a big parade to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of this burg, and it'll end up at the school when the Mayor will be giving the commencement speech.

Hey, it's a good thing I just passed my GED, now maybe I'll skip Graduation? ; ) Okay, guess not. And in case ya didn't notice, I said I GOT MY GED!

So to break forth with the early graduation presents, 'dad' has placed me on the roster with the rest of Team Scooby.

Cordy says hi…and just between us? I get me the feeling she misses you wicked bad as her significant other, the way she rejects all those jocks panting and trying to ask her out. And if she could find a way to clone you, pal, your twin brother's ass would so be hers!

Love ya,

Me.

Southern California. May 26th, 1999

From: Junior at Southie at Re: More Stuff

GED is done! That's great, hon! Wow, I knew you could do it. I have your present right here, babe…hey! Don't roll those eyes at me, missy. I was just kidding. Besides, I do have a few things with me I'll bring when I head over in a week. It'd be cool if we've struck oil before then, I could spend some time after we put the hurt on the whatever demon we put down.

Say hi to Cor for me, and say hello to the others, too.

Thinking and loving you always,

Lex

As Xander hit send he called over to Gracie, who looked up. "I need some help with buying Graduation presents for Faith, too. She got her GED, and she's joining us for the cap and gown party."

The brunette woman nodded. "Okay, I'm going ashore tomorrow, what do you want it to be?"

"Would a tennis bracelet, necklace and earrings be too much for Graduation?" the guy asked innocently.

"Sometimes, but you also haven't seen much of her these last few months, so it'll be fine I think. How much do you want to spend?"

"Is a grand enough? Or too much?"

Harry's daughter smirked. "Oh, I'd say about right, and I'll get a card for you to sign, too. Any particular sentiment?"

"Um, thinking about you and loving you always?"

The woman laughed. "Damn. You're getting good at this…"

Xander blushed. "I've been trying to practice with the wooing, and all."

A shrug. "Not bad for a driller guy, getting there."

"Thanks, Gracie."

Episode X

The Pacific Ocean. June 1st, 1999

Black gold. Texas tea. Call it what you will; Stamper's crew struck it big. Way big.

AJ had insisted on continuing on through the night after Harry had left, and Lex couldn't really leave, eight times in five hours barely coaxing a little more out of the straining equipment, pausing only long enough to conscript into normal service anyone that came along. Harry was due back at daybreak, and by then some of the men had put in close to 25 hours.

And they were inches away, breaking long enough for a rushed breakfast before breaking through and transitioning over to the pipe guys.

Harry moored his boat, finding his men uncharacteristically exhausted at the beginning of shift, but a tired happiness showing. Rock Hound intercepted him and brought him up to date; then instead of heading to the well head, Harry decided to kick AJ out of his nap or whatever and get him to finish the job he'd started.

And as luck would have it, Harry found Gracie in bed under the covers with AJ.

To Xander's semi-amusement, a little bitty combat zone broke out on the platform as Harry proceeded to grab his shotgun and slowly, inexorably pursue a fearful yet placatory AJ throughout the infrastructure.

The shotgun rang out several times, AJ wincing at the stinging grazes he experienced as he ran and ducked away. Rock Hound and the others tried to calm Harry down a bit, and were shocked when Lex shouted down to Stamper: "Bitch all ya want about him and Gracie, but with me and the guys there, he was right about the work last night, Harry!" before tossing another shotgun down to his other father-figure.

Harry mouthed 'rock salt?' and received a nod in return.

Turning back, Harry continued his chase and fired the remain shot at his daughter's would-be suitor, narrowly missing as Rock Hound called the men to deal with the pressure building.

Ten minutes later, with Harry's boot introducing itself for the third time to AJ's backside as a now-dressed Grace grabbed to stop him, the official striking of oil was declared. Xander got out of the way and under cover, as the others found themselves covered in oil! And as three helicopters hovered, jets over-flew and a final helicopter landed on the pad.

Strolling out behind Harry, they moved forward to meet the predominantly naval delegation that alighted from the craft and came over. Only Lex Harris was relatively free of petrol, having ducked back into his equipment compartment as the fuel had erupted.

"Are you Harry Stamper?" the admiral shouted above the noise of the 'copter, and received a nod from Harry.

"Yeah, I'm Stamper…"

"Sir, I have orders to escort you landside to board an aircraft to the East Coast."

Stamper didn't get it. "What orders! From who?"

The admiral held up a letter with the Presidential seal on it, and gestured to the aircraft, "For you, once you're on the plane!"

"Understood! But I want my daughter to come along!" he shouted back, glaring at AJ.

And from within the equipment compartment, Xander finally started laughing; because his life wasn't complicated.

Cape Canaveral, Florida. June 3rd, 1999

Harry Stamper said angrily, "That's right, my team. Who else is going to be able to handle showing your guys what to do? And besides, I think we'll probably have to do some of it ourselves..."

Colorado Springs, Colorado. The same time

"You sure you have everything, Murray?" Colonel Jack O'Neill asked as his determined friend headed onto the plane with Bra'tac a.k.a. Benny, and a very reticent Major Paul Davis.

"Indeed, O'Neill," the Jaffa intoned. "I wish for my teacher to meet with my future apprentice. And this Graduation time seems the perfect occasion."

Bra'tac was unable to resist, "Indeed, O'Neill, if this young man is even half as worthy as Teal'c says—then perhaps you Tau'ri are not an entirely lost cause."

"Oh well, then, have a good time, I'm sure Major Davis will take good care of you," Jack smiled politely; and yet sarcastically. "Major, good luck."

"Thanks, sir. I'll need it."

Various locations. That Night

The Initiative found itself attacked throughout southern California, as truck bombs, rockets, magic and other forms of assault took place. Twenty hits by sixty Master Tarakan assassins, and that wasn't the worst of it...

Entire blocks were set afire to provide distractions for the attackers by killers whose professional lineage traced back 3000 years, and included veterans from most atrocities of the last several centuries. Followed by 25 mercenary vampires at each point, fully gunned.

Roughly 300 out of 400 men died as they returned fire, and in several cases threw the self-detonation switches. Not an attacker survived as they'd not expected such valor from these supposed recruits, and the Initiative while wounded, had taken out most of the entire Elite of the Order.

In Sunnydale, the armory burned. And the secret doors to the Initiative were unsuccessfully attempted to be opened, but the comm arrays were destroyed as the base under Walsh went into shutdown mode for 24 hours.

SHS Library, Sunnydale, California. 9 PM

Captain Xander Harris had just arrived in town and had been called in by one of the four teams caught outside the base, with only one of the helicopters returning from support in LA. Taking control of the situation, he had the helicopter land on the high school's football field, the teams staying near it while he sought help from 'independents based nearby'.

Two teams were of Oxnard noncoms wounded and on patrol together under the Senior Master Chief as recuperation duty, and the other two teams were U.S. Marine Force Recon brought in, one of them curiously enough from Colorado Springs.

Their officers were due in tomorrow around dusk, and the cell phones in the area seemed blocked, though a fire up on the ridge past Breaker's Woods indicated the main towers might be down. Giving directions to the mansion, only one team awaited his return.

Walking into the library in full field uniform, having changed on the flight over when he'd been paged, Xander Harris provided a stark contrast to the other Scooby Gang members as he strode through the door, especially those that noticed his rank, however brevetted.

Taking surprised note of the Mayor of Sunnydale sitting with the Scoobs and looking distraught, he simply turned to his father and cocked an eyebrow.

"A-apparently, it is the police chief we need to be worried about," the principal of Sunnydale High informed him. "And at commencement, we can expect the parade to become a bloody trail of death."

"Well, that's certainly different," the young officer told him, yet feeling 'odd' about something. "And apparently the bad guys are striking back, hard. The armory's been taken out, it's burning as we speak, and targets all the way to Mexico have taken…severe casualties. Tarakans. At least two Master's rings found in the craters."

"Craters?" asked Giles.

"The…National Guard units blew up the bases when they fell. At least 70 percent casualties, Giles, and I'm guessing at least one kick-ass Tarakan team against a score of targets, better than those Spike sent against us."

The British man goggled. "You took out sixty Elite?"

"It's easy when your enemy doesn't believe that you won't do what's necessary."

"Giles," Buffy asked, unsure. "What does that mean?"

"I-it means they blew themselves up to take their murderers with them, Buffy."

The group became very quiet at that information, as Richard Wilkins then decided to take his leave of the group.

"So, what's the status of the Mayor?" Captain Harris asked. "Enemy combatant or tentative friendly?"

"The latter, all things considering," Giles sighed. "And the last minute parade and other clues lead me to give some credence to his tale."

"Alright, Giles, but don't bring him to the mansion. Did he at least know what type of demon?"

"The frog, he said."

Xander cogitated. "Okay. I need Faith, Buffy and Angel to help me rebase my men and take care of a few things, think you'll be alright here?"

"Certainly."

Outside the school. A few minutes later

"Okay, Faith, Buff, Angel, I want you to head over to the Mayor's place and scope it out, see if he left any books or papers there explaining his plans for tomorrow. Then we'll meet at City Hall in, say, three hours. Before that, I'll take my men and roust us a Chief of Police, see about getting us some support tomorrow."

"Wait," Faith stopped him. "You think the Mayor's lying?"

"Big time. Remember, his old man founded the place, and I've seen the Mayor chew out the police chief when he thought no one was around. But I was, twice; once right after that Parent-Teacher Night way back when. The Mayor was clearly in charge."

"And he smells of dark magic, at least lightly," Angel agreed. "Xander's right. Wilkins is dirty of something. We need to find out what."

Two hours later, the police chief of Sunnydale had had an interesting discussion with a young man he'd never expected to be a military commander hunting those things the Mayor seemed to let have run free through the town. He decided what with the end by comet likely soon, he'd at least be the cop he'd set out to be; one last time.

Angel and the Slayers, quietly making their way to City Hall, were surprised to find it suddenly engulfed in fire, a black helicopter moving away rapidly. Lex and a team of all-black commandos stepped out of the shadows, startling them.

"I need you to carry a note to your leader," Captain Harris told Angel, ignoring his friends as though unimportant. "Leave your playthings at home the next time I give you an assignment, got it?"

"Um, sorry, sir," the ensouled vampire improvised. "I thought it would make for a better cover…"

Xander played his role perfectly. "Just take this and go…"

Sunnydale, California. Saturday, June 5th, 1999

Around dawn on Graduation and Founder's Day, Lex woke from his rest in the mansion, his men moving out the back with a quick breakfast as they made to check over the helicopter and their gear.

Still no response from the Initiative, but the airwaves were full of talk about the attacks, and the apparent 'accident' at the Sunnydale armory. But the planes overheard and a phone call from Willy let him know that Air Force personnel had swarmed the site hours ago, and were checking the wreckage.

One hundred students were soon at his door, and Xander guided them outside after explaining what was going on during the course of the day.

"Look, here's the deal. You guys are half of the students graduating today, the half that have had some contact with some of the crap that's claimed so many of us over the years. At the ceremony, the Mayor is likely, no joke, to turn into a giant demon snake and destroy the entire town."

He went on, "But he has to know that he needs to do more, and so we have to go on the assumption that a good chunk of California is about to go the way of the dinosaurs if he succeeds. Cordelia, Amy, Faith and Buffy are handing you paintball guns; and don't laugh, these are for practice. Before we head over to the school later, you'll have really nasty ammo to burn the hell out of the vamps and Hizzoner the Mayor. Observe."

Captain Alexander Harris made a very big impression on them, where Xander the geek might not have. And twenty serious-looking commandos stood on guard. Harris fired the fire pellet sidearm, one of fifty he'd scrounged from the mansion and from Stamper's reserves, and in ten seconds he'd managed neck hits on nine targets.

"I don't expect precision strikes, because with enough of just getting the right distance and level, it'll be enough for you guys to take out…" he told them, only to have an apologetic Faith lead Murray, Benny, and Major Davis into the backyard.

"Eyes front, seniors! This will save your life. We're preventing the end of California, maybe the world, this afternoon; there hasn't been a demon this powerful on Earth in all of recorded history. Its name is Olvikan, and We. Will. Kill. It. And then afterwards, you can head out with your folks and pretend it all never happened. Now do whatever the Senior Master Chief directs, or those he places over you for training purposes, as it will keep you alive. Thank you."

He walked over to where three confused SGC-associated men stood, the Jaffa with very large duffle bags. He noticed the rank of the slight Air Force Major with them, "Major? Captain Alexander Harris, DIA, sir."

The man returned the salute, recognizing the young man he'd investigated had a lot of differences than his record would indicate. The two Jaffa nodded in return to his own slight bow.

"Um, Captain, what are we seeing? And do you know why the telephone and cell service out of the town isn't working?" Davis asked.

"Enemy forces have managed to take out the armory and strike the bases of this command throughout southern California, Major. We're preparing to meet the enemy this afternoon and exterminate them."

"What enemies include Olvikan!" a very uneasy Bra'tac pressed. "And why do you press children to fight battles?"

"Because these children are meant to be the unwitting sacrifices in a demonic Ascension, during an eclipse that'll see Olvikan return to this dimension, Jaffa…Master."

Major Davis hissed at the security breach, "This was supposed to be a graduation ceremony!"

"Yours didn't involve saving the world, Major? How very behind the times of you," a tired Alexander Harris quipped. "You're not in my chain of command, sir, but any assistance you can mange would be a delight. Is your clearance higher than General Hammond's?"

"No, the same."

"Then until such a time as you gain said clearance, everything you see here you will not reveal under the same conditions as the SGC. Understood, sir? Or would you prefer to sit this one out?"

"No. I'll check with my superiors afterwards, just...try not to reveal SGC secrets," Davis grumbled.

"Fair enough," Xander nodded, "Please head over to the English guys inside; the older one is my father, Rupert Giles. You'll liaise as necessary with the independent civilian forces, any official groups, and this command. I'm relying heavily on you, Major, the roads out to the armory are closed along with both bridges, so we've not even tried to pare down our forces to seek uncertain help that would blow the lid off our security."

Waiting for the man to nod and leave, Xander smiled as he turned back to Teal'c and exchanged a warrior's handclasp. "It's good to see you again, Teal'c. Is this your teacher, or a comrade of many campaigns?"

The bald alien nodded. "Both, AlexanderHarris, this is my former master and friend, Master Bra'tac, code name 'Benny' while we're here."

"Greetings, Master Bra'tac. Teal'c has told me only a little of you, but all of it of honor and with affection," Xander said, offering and receiving a handclasp. "Welcome to my little combat zone."

Bra'tac nodded. "I must admit when informed of this ceremony, I was not imagining the initiation of Tau'ri children as warriors, let alone against the legends of warning told to Jaffa children before receiving their first Prim'ta."

"Well, it's not a usual occurrence, Master Bra'tac," Lex smiled with amusement. "But if the leader of the Free Jaffa is going to grace my little rite of passage, why not provide a suitable fete worthy of the telling of tales?"

The old Jaffa laughed aloud at the dry self-mockery of Teal'c's future apprentice, removing his staff weapon from the duffel bag. "Worthy indeed, now how can we support you?"

The morning consisted of training the young people in a series of very basic, slow retreat moves and self-defense exercises, a few basic sword moves, and what different commands meant. At noon, the somewhat tired but very enthusiastic senior class headed back to their families...to prepare for the moment of truth.

Two rocket launchers and the personal day-gear of the teams were most of the modern firepower, the students taking up the crossbows, fire pellet weapons, super-soakers filled with holy water, and wood swords.

Giles had directed others in the processing of fertilizer for explosive material and its placement all around the library and gymnasium, while one of the Marine teams had returned by eight that morning to report placement of the remote timers as well as the wires. And the mining of the podium and area immediately to the rear, with a mix of twenty pounds of modern explosives.

The ten Marines were then assigned decurion duty over a decade of seniors, to brace them up and provide a solid core of experience and killing power. While the noncom teams would concentrate on the need to quickly inflict as much damage as possible on the ascending demon, whether Mayor or police chief, while doubling as a reserve.

The local independents, including fourteen Lavelles showing up early for Graduation, would provide as much of a magical shell of protection as possible against surprise small arms fire, and serve as medical corpsmen in case the EMS crews were late.

Out in the Guadalupe Mountains north and east of El Paso. The same time

A man laughed as he rode on horseback away from three helicopters coming up from behind him, as dawn turned into day. "Yee-haw!"

He rode further and yelled to his horse, "But I sent Lex a card with a check, I didn't think he was that serious about attendance!"

South Dakota. The same time

A large, smiling black man on a motorcycle led the two helicopters and 18 patrol cars on a merry chase, far across the back roads of the badlands.

New Orleans. The same time

Rock Hound turned to the attractive woman next to him as the Federal agents surround them, "How old did you say you were?"

Tattoo Parlor. The same time

A strong but obese man getting a tattoo wasn't facing the window as the engraver looked up and set down the device. The large man on the phone said, "No mom, I'm fine, why would the cops want me?" He turned around, "Oh boy..."

Somewhere in Texas. The same time

Harry Stamper growled out an apology to that ne'er-do-well, AJ…and the younger man then contemplated what his former boss had asked of him.

Sunnydale, California. Ten minutes before the ceremony

Xander finally nodded at the adjusted seating, clear zones for retreat, the blessed and continuously blessed lawn sprinkler system and thrice-blessed water tanks with blessed crosses dumped in to the holding tanks. They were timed for 3:35 PM to allow just enough time for battle to begin, and the vampires to find themselves in the middle of the spraying as they headed for their human prey.

Similarly all morning, all the local priests and pastors had been rousted, and those not in the know indoctrinated in the nightlife and given irrigation systems to bless as they flooded key areas of the campus. To limit enemy foot traffic options, and maybe cause Olvikan some pain as it grew and spread out.

Ten minutes later

The speech began, and the graduating class of 1999 could hear the parade coming down the street a little slower than expected. Giles noted the pain and nasty smile of the Mayor, as he began to transform...

Drawing out a .45 with blessed rounds, the principal and Watcher opened fire and emptied the magazine, as the Mayor turned into a monster.

Giles stepped back and made his way quickly to the rear, with five teachers in the know leading the parents and families towards safety as gunfire erupted all around.

Willy, four half-Brachens, Rory and ten Lavelles pulled out shotguns and poured it on into the faltering vampires, and nine Tarakan assassins, four smelling demonic, that had been foolish enough to sit in front of them. The magic users start putting up protective shields up to stop bullets from getting in...

Then Wesley shouted "Agincourt! Fire!" and the fireball guns spray the poorly-armed vampires that jumped the gun and had run from vans across the street, his three tens of students revealing the presence of Tarakans forming up to attack, "Crecy! Fire and reload!"

Giles pushed the plungers that took out the facades of two buildings across the way, containing snipers that had just been distracted by three Initiative helicopters returning from support in LA and finally starting to respond to signals for support in Sunnydale; but again, the Mayor was ready. His vamp soldiers took them out with rocket launchers, shredding what had been the human 'ace in the hole'.

Teal'c and Bra'tac pulled out their staff weapons that Xander had quietly requested they bring, and they concentrated on the sniper fire until Giles' detonations ripped out the possibilities of further ambush.

Larry Blaisdell saved the life of Nancy Doyle, firing a magazine of fire rounds into four charging vamps, flaming them into dust. Nancy, clearing her jammed crossbow, instantly kissed him.

He kisses her back. Nancy smiled, "I thought you were gay now?"

The boy shrugged, "I guess I'm bi…" and they made out briefly, before getting back to getting people to the buses and safety.

Cordelia's 'grenadiers', in reality an extra ten students hurriedly recruited from Devon's band and a few siblings of the seniors, managed to miraculously take out a second group of 40 vampires. Who had slowed down as they encountered the water-soaked ground and Jaffa staff weapon fire.

Not to mention ten WP grenades, ten holy water balloons, and 20 real Molotovs.

"Okay, guys, run like hell! You're outta ammo!" Queen C ordered and they happily obeyed, but gunfire downed two of them as they neared the bus, Cordelia taking a bullet in the shoulder meant for Harmony. Who actually gasped and pulled her friend onto the bus, and out of harm's way.

Jack O'Toole and his hundred vampires moved through the school, a frightened Jonathan Levinson flipping on the fire alarm and sprinklers as he exited the building, as the screams of holy-watered vampires filled his ears.

It was war. This was a fight to the death, and the two alien Jaffa knew it to the depths of their souls.

Eighteen robed figures across the street formed a line and began firing guns, fireballs and other magicks to at first herd the humans back toward their employer, then to bring down the mystical shield preventing harm.

Willow found herself used as a battery for the Lavelles, and felt it as the shield start to buckle after a few seconds. Willy smiled from across the park, and with his four half-Brachens dressed in original Civil War blues, began to show everybody that the old cannon wasn't just statuary.

As in the next four minutes, they managed to fire off six rounds, tearing into the Tarakans and their getaway vehicles before a few fireballs drove off the odd participants on the side of good.

Then 40 vampires started to come out of the gym, but Giles noticed and threw the switch as the transforming Mayor's tail also neared the structure.

The explosion was amazing, and tore apart that building, ripping big nasty wounds in the rear sections of Olvikan, and shredded maybe a third of the hundred vampires with guns coming up from behind him.

Vampires and demons started coming out of four manhole covers in the street, but the police chief quickly directed small arms fire against them and ordered the vehicles to simply park their wheels in the holes to block them.

Xander's noncoms found themselves quickly firing at the Tarakan mages, the few seconds gained by the gypsies not being wasted. And the decurions on the right redirected crossbow fire against the robed threat, as they themselves fired 40mm grenades at them, tearing through their numbers and buying a few more seconds of shield.

The police chief ordered fire hoses and police fire directed at the strangers, and the cry of 'No More!' taking over the EMS crews as they hurried into the thick of things.

The man known as Detective Stein among them with a nasty-looking sawed-off shotgun, taking out two Tarakans before he himself was fireballed into the next life.

Buffy and Faith, with M-16s and with the superior vision and instincts to provide counter-sniping until Giles blasted the enemy, then grabbed two rocket launchers and fired into the Mayor's mouth—causing great pain, and to focus his ire on them instead of the families.

The group managed to retreat slowly, drawing the wounded and enraged vampires toward them until Force Recon and their trainees shredded the vampires. Others then got their folks on the buses, ready to rush out of the scene and toward the hospital.

The Scoobies led the others into shooting, fire-pelleting, and axe-throwing into the Mayor-demon's face as they also continued to retreat toward the street, vampires and Olvikan charging toward them. Xander, Faith and Buffy all shouted for the podium explosives to be exploded, as they ran past the Mayor and headed into the school as it charged after them.

The Mayor lost the rear sixth of his body to the explosions that tore into him outside, along with most of his vampire flunkies as O'Toole came out of the school with his 80 minions, the three white hats charging down the halls toward the library.

Xander leaped out a previously-removed window, as the Slayers poured on the speed. As the Mayor went by, Xander used a crossbow pistol to 'harpoon' a satchel to the outside of the pure demon, one he almost instantly activated—as it meant the explosion put 30 feet of building between him and the charge.

Ka-Boom!

And the loud death scream of an ascended demon could be heard, even over the gunfire. Mayor Richard Wilkins—Dick to his friends—was almost no more.

Good riddance to bad rubbish...

Force Recon suppressed fire coming from nearby structures, the late-arriving helicopter ripping chunks out of them to silence the better-armed foes.

Teal'c and Bra'tac continued to eliminate the Tarakans and snipers using their staff weapons, occasionally turning to eliminate another vampire pest that broke through.

Twenty seniors, the Scooby Gang, the Lavelles and the soldiers remained outside as Jack O'Toole's boys opened up, the Sunnydale EMS guys getting civilians to safety and routing the few remaining Tarakans by ramming them with trucks and flailing wildly on them until they were dead.

Finally, the two Slayers jumped through the back exit of the library as Xander came back around the corner at a run, firing into the rear vampires who then turned and fired as Giles activated the library and hallway explosives ton ensure the demise of Olvikan.

Larry at that moment knocked Xander to the ground, as heavy gunfire and masonry pieces tore through the space his head and upper body had just been in. Five vampires had gone down, and ten were knocked off their feet from the shockwave of the explosives.

The Slayers and the remaining forces fired the last of their ammo of different types into Jack O'Toole's bunched minions, dusting or mauling only ten more as the smaller rounds of the gangbanger vamps took out three students and six soldiers during the exchange.

Xander, Angel and the Scoobs drew swords and charged forward, the soldiers in surprise and awe a few seconds later. Xander and the Slayers from behind destroyed nine of 'em outright, allowing Harris to crash into O'Toole from behind.

Two vampires charged the man atop their leader, and Xander stabbed once at each with swords; but they yanked them out of his hands even as they dusted. Soldiers and students finished off the downed vamps, as others attempted to call the EMS staff over to help the wounded.

But the real battle was taking place between the forces of light and darkness, as personified by the two males in question.

Xander forced 'Katie' back into O'Toole, struggling for a moment, the ghoul's strength holding out for only a few more seconds—before rage, training and a better grip cut him open from stomach to heart, painfully killing the one responsible for his mother's death.

Cutting his spinal cord in the neck to make sure O'Toole was no longer a threat in any way shape or form, Xander rolled over and used a stake to dust a vampire trying to snack on Larry.

"We're even, I guess…" Harris smiled at his old nemesis, as he suddenly looked over the battlefield.

It was all over. As the group saw the EMS units carefully making sure of the safety of the scene and getting the wounded to the hospital and the dead to the morgue, the Scoobs and the few unwounded gathered near the street.

Two men, once known as Agents Doyle and Manetti, crossed the street from a black helicopter with FBI markings. They approached directly, dark sunglasses and the whole 'Men in Black' image still perfect from when they'd taken Marcie Ross away two years before.

"Alexander Harris?" they asked in unison.

"That's Captain Harris," he replied, his men and family staring at the agents, one of whom handed him an envelope with a Presidential seal on a set of orders. And a second from Maybourne, which after reading, accidentally dropped that one as he turned to Major Davis and his father.

Xander sighed, "Major Davis, thank you for your assistance. Benny…I hope the festivities were to your liking. Murray, my most sincere thanks. Master Chief!"

"Sir!"

Harris gestured, "You're in command here till relieved, please collect all pertinent equipment and return it to base. And thank you."

"Thank you, sir!"

"Dad…" the captain hesitated, then shared a quick hug with Giles. "Take care of the family, and remember the fifteenth."

Xander turned around with a sigh. "Okay, agents, let's go."