I just watched "The Wish" for the first time and…my god! Talk about depressing! Anyway, this little plot bunny entered my mind about ten minutes later. The White Hats impressed me to no end, and I wanted to do them a little justice.

And so, in honor of the little band of vampire hunters…

Things were better, once.

Once they were many, and the vampires were few. They existed mainly for damage control, to stop the vampires from growing in number. And they did. The vampires never numbered above a hundred or so, while their own numbers continued to grow. People were sick of fearing the night.

Once, Oz had hope that they would win.

Once, they were many. Two or three hundred White Hats. Every school had its own cadre, made up of students and teachers alike. The entire town supported them, and they were treated as a combination militia and after-school activity. There were even posters advertising them, posted up on bulletin boards.

Oz still has one of those cheerful little flyers, tucked inside his pillow. A reminder of happier times, to stop him losing his mind at the sight of all the corpses they find every night.

Half the school belonged to the Sunnydale High Cadre. Training occurred every day after school, and was overseen by Mr. Giles. No one quite knew where he'd come from, but now few could remember a time when he hadn't been here. He'd been one of the driving forces in forming the White Hats. He'd sounded the alert. In many ways, Oz looked up to the man. He was tireless, and hardly ever seemed to sleep. Many nights, Oz had stayed up with him, researching and practicing new techniques to cull the vampires. And while he never lost sight of the severity of the war they fought, he had always seemed to remain optimistic. After every session, he would remind the students under his command: "Remember. Train hard, be cautious, and we can win."

Now Mr. Giles is a withdrawn, grim, quiet man. Only Oz, Nancy, and Larry can get him to talk like he used to and, for them, he brings out a little of the optimism he lost so long ago. But Oz knows it is an act. Giles gave up hope for Sunnydale a long time ago. The vampires killed a woman he loved, Jenny Calendar, and left the body for him to find.

She was one of the first.

Once, Oz was in a band. They all joined the fight. He can't remember the name of the band, but it probably isn't important. And he was a senior at Sunnydale High. He didn't try very hard, but he tested well. He remembers that he had many opportunities for a job, once. Places outside of Sunnydale. Outside of hell. He can't remember them now.

They were ambushed, and most of his band was killed. Some were turned. Only Oz survived, when Giles and a gang of ten White Hats got him out.

Even now, Larry catches him making odd, twitching movements in the air with his fingers. He hasn't replaced his guitar, since its shattered fragments were what he used to kill his former band-mates a week after they were taken from him.

He loved a girl, once. Willow Rosenburg. She was sweet and shy and smart and bookish, and Oz gave his heart to her. She was new to the White Hats, but she trained hard. He remembers that she was a budding witch. He remembers loving her with all his heart. He remembers peaceful days spent in the library, after training was over, making plans for a life away from the Hellmouth. A life together.

And he remembers that night when the vampires took the love he had and used it to tear his heart to shreds, when he found her beautiful body dead on his doorstep. He'd thought that pain was bad, but not half as bad as when she'd risen again barely an hour later.

Even now, when he sees her draped over the monster that used to be Xander Harris, his heart burns with jealousy and grief. He hasn't loved a girl since then.

Once they were many. Life was…if not easy, then happy. Oz lived everyday with the warm fire in his chest that meant he was doing something. He was protecting the people he loved, keeping them safe, driving away the monsters.

And then the Master rose.

Oz didn't even know it was coming, although when he looks back he knows the signs were obvious. Giles had been agitated, and would sometimes stay up all through the night with books piled in front of him, mumbling in languages Oz never bothered to learn. The only thing he ever knew of the coming darkness was when Giles, leading a cadre of a hundred White Hats from every school in Sunnydale set out on a night like any other.

Only a dozen limped back home when the dawn came.

That was when they lost Xander Harris. Willow had known him since they were both small children, and Oz stayed up the entire night holding her and trying futilely to comfort her. After that, Willow had gone at her training with a renewed vengeance, and Giles had been only too happy to step up the pace with the survivors of the Sunnydale High Cadre.

But Willow had only lasted a week after Xander. Now she was one of the Master's favorite pets.

After that, things took a desperate turn for the worst. They'd gotten careless, thinking they'd won. People could walk the streets and night with the White Hats patrolling them. But then the news came in. People were disappearing and reappearing later as vamps. The numbers of their ancient foes were growing. And the White Hats were their favorite target.

Oz had been a much more relaxed person back then. He'd been content to take what life could throw at him. Willow's death had changed that, but he'd still believed they could win.

That was, until he'd walked in on Giles in the library one night and seen just how dire their situation truly was.

The man had been sobbing hard, with books scattered all around him. Even as Oz watched, he picked up one of his precious volumes and threw it hard against the wall, with an anguished cry of "It's not fair!!"

Oz had watched the man for a moment, until it looked as though Giles might see him. Then he'd left without a word, despair in his heart.

Soon, he'd learned the cause of Giles' anguish.

He'd first seen the Master a week later, walking the streets as if he owned it with Xander and Willow at his side. They'd been dragging a figure behind them, bound and chained. Oz dimly remembered him as a vampire, but a vampire on their side. Giles had helped him get to the school during daylight hours, and Angel had given lectures on how best to kill one of his own kind.

He'd tried to rush to Angel's aid, but Giles had held him back and ordered a full retreat for the entire squad. Oz didn't speak to him all that week out of anger, until Giles saved his life from Willow and Xander and earned his forgiveness.

Within a year, the White Hats had been torn asunder. Once they'd numbered two or three hundred. But Oz hadn't heard from any other cadres in months, and knew he probably never would again.

Now they are four. Himself, Larry, Nancy, and Giles. Every night they go out patrolling in the van he once shared with his band, but more often that not they are forced to run for their lives after only a few killings. They are only safe in their homes, and none of them dare to walk the streets at night. It's hard enough getting to the library.

He, Larry, and Nancy had never had much to do with each other. Now, they're best friends. Oz knows he would die for them. They're inseparable and Giles watches over them like a parent. They're all he has left. His mother and father were both taken, and the rest of his family had the sense to run.

There are days when Oz wonders why he was crazy enough to stay. But then he plunges a stake into an unwary vampires black heart, and he knows why he'll never leave. Sunnydale will be his grave.

The four of them stand together against the darkness, and they never stop fighting. There are days when Oz feels the hope he once had, the hope that they might one day win the battle.

But then he finds another corpse, a corpse he knew from his far-off days as a normal person, and the despair returns.

Things were better, once.

Now, he knows they are lost.

I used to write cheerful stories before I got into this show! Sorry about the massive depression, and I know I was a little loose with cannon...but that entire episode was loose with cannon, so...anyway, tell me what you think if you have the time.