Spoilers for Season 5 of Buffy

Zeppo 6: Deus Ex Machina
Part 1: Wheels within wheels

"It's taken care of." Xander sat down slowly, allowing the bench to get used to his weight, "The General's going to have April taken to some R&D so the tech guys can figure out how Warren made her. The guy's twisted, but there's no denying he's gifted."

"I think I'll stick with twisted." Giles looked across the park to where Buffy sat on the swings with April.

The robot looked somewhat at peace as her power cells ran down, finally giving up as her eyes closed. Wordlessly, Xander walked across to his friend and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"I want you to promise me that they won't experiment on her." Buffy looked up, "She doesn't disserve to be used like that again."

"I'll make sure she's treated ok." Xander looked at his watch, "I have to go pick up Faith: she had her weekly session with the therapist today."

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"What do you want me to say?" Faith looked uncomfortable sitting in the middle of the physiatrist's office, "It was just another mission; I've been on dozens since joining the Initiative."

"But this time you killed people." Dr Spencer, the on-staff psychiatrist looked at her over the top of his glasses, "How does that make you feel?"

"I don't feel any different; they were aliens, not humans."

"To be technical, they were members of a sub-species of humanity."

"I'd rather think of them as aliens."

"And why is that?"

"Because thinking of them as humans takes me to a place I don't want to be. You can rationalise what happened all you want, but they are still dead because of me. If I chose to think of them as aliens, what's the problem?"

"You could begin to disassociate your actions and their consequences again: 'only aliens' could easy become 'only enemy soldiers', and then 'only human'. You, abilities make you more than a match for most people, including your team mates. My job is to make sure that you maintain the correct outlook on your work."

"So I don't go crazy and start killing people again?"

"Yes."

"I think Xander fixed that the day he pointed a gun in my face and pulled the trigger."

"Mr Harris' ham-fisted attempts at psychotherapy aside, I am happy with the progress you're making."

"No more happy pills?"

"I don't see the need to put you back on medication. You have my pager number, and if anything happens, I want you to call me immediately."

"Five-by-five, Doc: five-by-five."

"One last question before you go: how are the other; and I shudder to say this, Scooby's treating you?"

"Buffy ignores me. Willow and Tara have their own thing going on. I think Giles likes having me back: it kind of makes up for what he sees as his failings as a Watcher the first time round. Dawn lives in equal parts awe and fear of me."

"So you wouldn't call them friends?"

"B, Willow, Tara and Dawn accept me because I'm involved with Xander, and they don't want to alienate him. Giles is trying to become a father figure, when he should know by now that I don't want one. I get on with the other agents, but I don't see them enough to consider them proper friends. The only real friends I have are Xander and Cortana."

"Interesting..."

"Is that a problem?"

"Not really: the General asked me to keep an eye on the group dynamics. By all accounts there are those who would like to take over some control of their operations here. I think seeing what you are capable of has them looking to Miss Summers as a possible recruit, one way or anther."

"Let me guess: Kinsey. Is this the Generals way of telling me to tell Buffy to keep and eye open without actually telling me?"

"How would I know what's going on in the General's mind: I'm just a psychiatrist."

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Warren stood looking around what remained of his lab: the military guys had taken a lot, but not everything. They hadn't found the hard copy of the blueprints or his backup hard drives with the basic operating system. He could, if he wanted, start again: rebuild April, make her look different enough so that the Slayer and her friends wouldn't notice.

But General Johnson had been adamant: the job offer was only good if he kept his head down and finished collage. And the job sounded very interesting in deed...

The phone rang, almost making Warren jump: it was probably Andrew or Jonathan, wanting to know if he wanted to get together for a game of D & D or something.

"Hello?" He lifted the receiver, half interested.

"Hello, Mr Meers." A strange, female voice replied, "I have a job offer for you."

"What, you trying to pouch me from under the Generals nose? Who are you; Microsoft?"

"No, Mr Meers, I am not Microsoft. And this is a one-time only, custom job for which you will be paid one million dollars, wired into an account of your choice."

"Is this some kind of sick joke? Who put you up to this?"

"Turn on your laptop and open your internet connection." The line went dead.

More confused that anything, Warren did as he was instructed, and turned on his laptop, dialling up his net connection. Nothing happened for a moment, and then the screen went suddenly blank.

"Hey!" he looked at the screen.

"There is no need to be worried; your computer is quite safe." The same voice returned, and a face began to form on the screen, "I'd prefer it if you had a web cam and I could see you, but this will have to do."

"Holy shit!" Warren collapsed back into his chair, "This has got to be a dream..."

"You've met my, associates, so you know that this is no dream."

"What do you want from me?"

"A body: it will require some minor alterations to your basic design, but I can arrange for any extra equipment or supplies you need. I also require absolute discretion on your part until the job is complete."

"You don't want the others to know? Why?"

"Let's just say I want it to be a surprise..."

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Xander stood leaning against the wall outside the medical block, half watching the two MP's who were following him. Although his pass gave him almost unrestricted access to the base, he was still technically a civilian, and as such had to be escorted everywhere.

He didn't like spending too much time around the base: high school and the whole Dr Walsh thing had left him with a rather healthy distrust of authority. He knew that he'd be either on the run or in prison if not for the President and General Johnson, but he considered them the exception to the rule.

Faith breezed through the double doors and right past Xander, apparently deep in thought. Her boyfriend caught up to her with a couple of long stride and fell in pace beside her as they headed for the main gate.

"Something you want to talk about?" He asked, somewhat concerned.

"No." Faith shook her head, "Not right now. Not here."

They lapsed into silence as they pass through the main gate and headed back into town. The early summer sun was still high in the sky, despite the relatively late hour. Xander observed Faith out of the corner of one eye: he could tell that she was worried about something, but he knew better than to confront her before she was ready to talk.

Their relationship had been strained of late: Xander was still recovering from being separated from the Master Chief, and the following off-world mission. His nightmares had returned, keeping him awake until the early hours most nights. Even with his enhanced physiology, lack of sleep was starting to take its toll.

Fait and Cortana had tried to get him to talk to Dr Spencer about it, but he stubbornly refused: he had deliberately not told anyone in the Initiative about what had happened, and he was unsure how they would react.

"Banzai!" A sudden voice surprised Xander, and he felt something land on his back, arms wrapping round his neck for support. He stumbled, more from shock than anything else.

"Hi Dawn." He twisted his neck as far as he could; trying to get a better look at his passenger, "Something I can help you with?"

"Just seeing if I could catch you by surprise." The young of the two Summers sisters dropped to the ground and pushed herself between Xander and Faith, linking their arms with her own, "What you up to?"

"Just walking." Faith smiled a little, grateful for the distraction, "Want to go get something to eat?"

"Cool!" Dawn's eyes lit up, "I'll just phone Mom and let her know!"

"Ok." Xander looked at Faith over Dawns head, one eye browed raised inquisitively.

The look Faith shot back was all he needed to know: everything would be explained later.

To Be Continued...