*Authors forward Note: Hey guys, sorry for taking so long to post but deployment and generally just getting back into this story took its time with me. For over a year I was forced to abandon this story just as it started to get really good. Now that Im back Im hoping to pickup where I left and get this story rolling as it should. I would greatly appreciate your feedback.


It was a typical night at the Bronze with the club filled to about half capacity. A band played on stage with a rather upbeat song that had the dance floor filled with groping couples and many more hopefuls. Off to the sides the pool tables and juice bar had a decent crowd; all of them were enjoying themselves, basking in the enjoyment of a fun relaxing evening and good company of their friends. Sitting in the lounge area Xander barely heard or felt any of it. His breakup with Cordelia was still a raw and bleeding wound he was doing his best not to think about. In fact he didn't want to think about anything. He just wanted to let his mind go blissfully blank and just bask in the pure energies of the Force. But he couldn't. The heightened enjoyment his connection usually brought in the Bronze felt hollow and weak. It felt as if his own mind and heart were weighing him down, sabotaging him from reaching a level of attainment in the Force where he could simply relax and decompress.

Even worse was the fact that a Vampire had decided to crash the party. If the ghostly pale skin and hungry expression on his face didn't give him away, the cloths surely did. Xander didn't even need the Force to spot this one. He was dancing with a sultry brunette he couldn't help but notice. The girl was the hottest one on the dance floor which no doubt was what drew the vampire towards her. What was more worrying was the fact she seemed to be receptive to his advances. Definitely not of the good for her long term health.

Xander could see him, the vamp he was already beginning to think of as 'Disco Dave' whisper something to the girl before reluctantly prying himself from her grasp. She seemed really reluctant to let him go but he said something to her that apparently satisfied her. He was moving to the back hall in what Xander knew to be the men's restroom. Xander stretched out with the Force in the direction of the bathroom only to feel the empty hole in the Force as the only presence there.

Good. The vamp was alone, which had just made his job a lot easier. Xander got to his feet quickly, something which caught the attention of someone else sitting across from him who eyed him curiously.

Xander moved to the hall to intercept the vamp before he could rejoin the crowd and the gorgeous brunette he had been dancing with. Sparing a glance in her direction Xander could see her anxiously glance at her watch before looking around at the club in apparent boredom. She seemed really into the guy and was apparently waiting on him to get back even as she turned down offer after offer to dance by other guys. Xander shrugged internally. Some women had weird tastes but at least he was saving her from a gruesome fate.

Pushing aside the thought of the dark haired siren Xander made it to the edge of the hall and bent down as if he were about to tie his shoes. In actuality Xander removed his backup stake from the small holster hidden under his pant leg; a tool given to him by his master to carry an additional backup stake should he ever be disarmed in battle. Or in situations where subtlety was required, just like now.

Xander easily unclipped the weapon and smoothly rose to his feet. At the same time he transferred the stake to a reverse grip then slid it up his sleeve, careful to keep a firm grip on it. Satisfied that he was ready he moved into the hall as he centered himself in the Force as best he could. His timing could not have been more perfect. He heard the flush of a urinal just as he made a few feet from the door. Feigning nonchalance Xander crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, patiently waiting for the vamp to emerge. Within moments the door opened as the vamp stepped out. He had a satisfied smirk on his face as if he'd just found his mark for the night. Too bad he wasn't going to make it.

Slowly pushing himself off the wall Xander moved to block his path as if he had a question.

"Hi. You know, just between you and me, that retro disco look totally went out of style about twenty years ago. Thought you'd like to know that."

The vamp gave him an annoyed look but simply tried to move aside. Xander blocked his path.

"I mean seriously if my Ex say you wearing that she'd berate you endlessly. You're better off high tailing it out of here with your tail tucked between your legs. And what's with you not washing your hands? That's totally unhygienic!" It was the only chance he was going to give the undead creature to leave peacefully.

"Get out of my way punk!" The vampire said menacingly.

Guess not.

"Yea sure, just answer me this one question will ya?" Xander asked as he feigned innocence.

"What?" The Vamp snapped in annoyance.

"Wood or sunlight?" Xander asked casually.

"What!?" The vamp asked in stunned disbelief.

"We'll go with wood that always works," Xander acted instantly. As the vamps eyes widened in surprise, Xander whipped out his stake then slammed it directly into the Vamps chest before the startled demon had a chance to react.

As the undead demon exploded into a pile of dust Xander shook his head. Some demons never learned. Xander smirked and twirled his stake with a little flourish then slid his stake into his waist band then slipped his shirt over it. He flexed his back a few times to adjust the stake so it wouldn't accidentally stick him or chafe, then he turned around.

Standing behind him with her arms across her chest and wearing a dark expression on her face, stood Buffy.

Uh oh…

"Hey Buffy, what's up?" Xander asked innocently.

"What do you think you're doing?" Buffy asked with a flat tone of voice and her face unreadable.

"Is something wrong?" Xander asked. He wasn't sure why but if his slaydar was working correctly Buffy seemed upset about something.

"Don't change the subject with me, Xander. I saw everything."

Xander frowned. "What? Dusting disco Dave? I think I did the entire Bronze a favor getting rid of the seventies reject."

Buffy's flat expression shifted into scowl. "That's my job, Xander…what if you'd been hurt?"

What!? Where was this coming from?

"Buffy, I've been slaying for a few years now. I think I know the basics of not getting hurt and knowing when I'm in over my head. That guy," Xander motioned to the pile of dust behind him. "Was so not a problem to deal with."

"Xander, I've always trusted you. Really. But when it comes to slaying you're reckless and you jump into the fray without thinking. Maybe you should hang back more…in-in a support kind of role? Be…I don't know… more fray… adjacent?"

Where the hell had this come from anyways? Back last year she had no problem with him being knee deep in the Slay. And now, suddenly, it she seemed like she got a bug up her ass whenever he tried to do anything beyond bringing the donuts. She didn't get this way with Willow or even Oz. Why him? Why now all of a sudden? What had changed?

"Buffy," He snapped, "I can handle myself just fine."

"No Xander! No, you can't! It's my job, not yours! I'm the Slayer!"

Xander felt as if he couldn't have been hit with a greater insult. "Oh, for the love of god, Buffy!" He snapped angrily, "Vampires don't dust themselves, you know. While you were on vacation last summer, someone had to pick up the slack. I think I did pretty okay, all things considered. Believe it or not, I'm not the helpless idiot you saved from Darla anymore!"

It was official. He was really starting to get annoyed by her whole holier than though, me the slayer hero, you Xander in distress act. For one thing, he wasn't the helpless, wide eyed love interest who needed saving 24/7. They were about par for course on the whole saving the other's life thing, and she'd made it perfectly clear over the years she didn't see him that way. Second, he was a friggen' Jedi knight, a defender of peace and justice. He didn't need Buffy acting like his mommy... he had Master Anakin for that!

"Xander! Be reasonable!"

"I am being reasonable, Buffy. Maybe if you'd see past your own preconceptions you'd see that. This isn't about you."

"What's it about then, Xander? What's driving you then? Is it all some vengeance kick over Jessie? Seriously Xander, you're going to get yourself killed. Do you really want to put Willow through that again?!"

Xander went stark still, his entire body suddenly taunt with tension as his wide eyes bore into Buffy with an intensity she had never seen before. Then slowly he seemed to relax but his entire demeanor darkened considerably.

Slowly Buffy paled as her brain began to catch up with her mouth. During their entire friendship there had only been subject that was absolutely taboo: Never bring up what happened to Jessie. She hadn't only broken that rule, she just rubbed his face right in it like a bad dog, and there was no way she'd ever be able to take it back.

Slowly her jaw dropped as the implications hit her. She might not have only ruined her friendship with Xander, but once he told Willow... my god, what had she done?

Xander moved to walk forward and Buffy moved to block his path.

"Get out of my way, Buffy."

"Listen Xander, I didn't mean to..."

"Get out of my way," Xander repeated. His voice was frighteningly calm but held an undercurrent of a threat in it. She had never heard him take that kind of tone with her, ever. And in the face of it her anger evaporated like smoke. She knew she had crossed a line she shouldn't have crossed.

"Hold on I..."

"Get out of my way, now!" But Buffy didn't move. Xander was so angry he was literally seeing red. He had been on edge all day thinking about everything that had happened over the last week. All his fears and inadequacies, his failings and humiliations and finally the indignation he had just been put through was just too much to take. Without thinking Xander reached out to the Force to bolster his strength and used it to shove her aside. Hard.

Buffy lost her balance from the sudden and surprising display of strength and fell on her ass. She looked up at Xander in complete shock. He had never touched her like that before.

"Xander?" Buffy muttered quietly.

But he was already gone; moving with a swiftness she had never seen him use before. And in her shocked and confused state she didn't notice the door slam shut behind him without him even touching it.

It had taken him nearly twenty minutes to find his center and some measure of calm. His mind just kept repeating Buffy's words about being 'fray adjacent'. How could she do that to him? After everything they had been through together? It felt as if she suddenly turned on him for no good reason; like she had just knifed him in the back. But more disturbingly she had dredged up the painful memories of Jessie; a wound that even now still hadn't fully healed. Once again he could feel his control slipping as he thought back to her accusations. And it didn't help she was on the other side of the club. Xander closed his eyes and reached out to the Force and felt a slight tremor through the Force emanate from the dance floor.

Xander eyed the dark-haired girl whose 'dancing partner' (obvious vamp) he'd drawn off and dusted in the back hallway of the Bronze. She looked pretty pissed that the guy had wandered off and never come back. From the looks of her, she didn't get ignored or forgotten often, and Xander could certainly see why.

She noticed him watching her, and gave him a 'Come hither' look. He smiled genuinely at her, but didn't move from his place. Between the way he'd been flattened by Cordy earlier and then taken to pieces by Buffy when she came upon him in the hall with his victim's dust, he barely had the energy to be nice, let alone converse with anyone. He turned and caught the bartender's attention, ordering a glass of orange juice. Once he'd slaked his thirst, he figured, he'd go see his Master and work out some of the negative emotions he didn't need distracting him. He'd already had enough for one night.

The Force stirred within him, the familiar feeling he connected with Buffy's approach. Maybe she had realized she was being a bit harsh, and was going to apologize. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, he turned, smiling widely. But instead of his small and mighty friend, it was the brunette he'd, unbeknownst to her, saved from the vamp. Sex wrapped in leather, his mind supplied.

For a moment, the girl's expression was startled, but it melted into a version of hunger he'd rarely if ever seen directed at himself. "Wanna dance?" she purred, standing much closer than socially acceptable.

Okay, first reaction? An unspoken hell yeah. But Xander realized quickly that his original plan, to go work with Anakin, really still was the best, considering his day. Still, there was no need to be rude. No, he denied internally, there was no ulterior motive here, no sir.

"Hey. My name's Xander. I don't think we've met before. You just move to town?" Okay, not quite as lame as the first thing he'd said to Buffy when he met her, but so not impressive. Oh, well, training tonight, remember?

"Yeah," she replied, "I just got here, heard this was where the action was." She narrowed her eyes. "I like action." She was studying his body like a surgeon deciding where to cut, although he didn't think any surgeon looked at their patients with that much heat. "You an Action Man?"

"Uhm, I guess so," Xander managed to not stammer, but barely. "I manage," he continued a bit more in control.

"Cool," she growled, grabbing his hand and pulling him away from the glass of juice he'd never actually touched, "Manage this."

And they were on the dance floor. She danced fluidly and suggestively, and Xander was grateful for the added grace he'd obtained through his training. She started out just moving to the music in front of him, but before he knew it had happened she was plastered against him so closely he could smell her shampoo and soap. His mind began to submit to the signals his body was sending him, and he put his hands on her hips, following their lead unconsciously to heat up his own movements. Soon his mind was completely on auto-pilot, and the program must have come from some other body, because he'd never moved quite like that before in his life. Her hands were running through his hair, smoothing over his chest, briefly grabbing his hips before rising in the air. He was intoxicated by her touch, by her smell. He could almost taste her! He looked out in the crowd, barely seeing, and caught a glimpse of Willow's wide eyes and Buffy's open mouthed stare, but all that his mind could comprehend was a primal desire to move against his partner. She turned and ground her hips against him, and his brain almost whited out.

The song was over too soon, or it might have been all night, he wasn't quite sure. They stopped moving, and he mentally shook himself and re-centered his focus. Her face was flushed, and her gaze calculating. Before she could say anything, he blurted, "Still don't know your name."

"So you know what to groan later?" she asked huskily. "Faith. I'm Faith." Her husky smile turned into a naughty grin, "So what say we jet, go into the alley way and get to know each other a little better?"

Xander made to respond but something behind her caught his eye. He looked up and noticed two vamps that seemed like village people rejects carrying out a dazed girl on both arms and looking entirely suspicious, hoping no one was paying any attention to what they were doing. Risking a quick glance in Buffy's direction Xander frowned slightly when he didn't see her but a very angry Willow glaring towards the front entrance while Oz tried to placate her. Turning slightly, Xander barely made out a petite blond figure as it bolted through the front entrance.

"So you game?" Faith asked which drew Xanders attention back toward hers.

Xander looked to her, then to the now slowly closing back door then to the front door where Buffy had apparently left through. Cursing his luck Xander did the only thing he could think of in the spur of the moment. He ditched Faith and moved to walk toward the door to save the girl from the Vampires.

Faith blinked. She looked toward the guy who she knew just didn't ditch her then blinked again. Yep, he was leaving. That son of a bitch! How dare he get her all hot and bothered then just leave. Who the hell did he think he was dealing with? Admittedly her intentions with him hadn't been entirely honest from the get go. She'd felt something from him, something she couldn't identify, and being a Slayer she had decided to get him alone to investigate and interrogate. She knew for certain he was human, which was always something she could tell right of the bat, which meant she couldn't use her more extreme measures in dealing with him. He seemed like one of those guys who pretended to be decent but you could never trust that. If he was harmless and not a threat she give him the ride of his life before moving on for what she came for. If he wasn't harmless she would have to rough him so he knew the error of his ways and make him repent for being an asshole. It was a win win situation for her.

But now he was getting away. Thus proving he was a prick.

Faith scowled and moved off in pursuit of him intent on giving the son of a bitch a piece of her mind.

After she cleared the back door she easily spotted him moving towards the back of the alley behind some dumpsters. She moved swiftly and silently to follow him but was suddenly caught off guard for only a moment when she saw him pull a stake from under his coat from his lower back. Her Slayer instincts kicking in she knew the situation had suddenly become more complex than she first thought, so she decided to stretch out with her senses. She smelt them before she heard them; that familiar musty odor so common to vampires, no matter how much they tried to hide it. It was similar to the musty odor from Diana's old dusty tomes. Not necessarily unpleasant but very distinctive.

As they moved closer she could hear the girls frantic whimpering as she tried to plead with the vamps to let her go but they only taunted her in reply, telling her gruesome tales of how they would drain her dry. Faith rolled her eyes, these guys had no imagination.

She looked to the guy who ditched her with a calculating gaze as he crept forward. Okay so he had spotted the two vamps taking the girl into the alley way and he decided to go rescue her. Which placed him firmly in the 'not a creep' category. Faith was also impressed with his ability to spot the vamps. She had only spotted that one and not these two; somehow they had escaped her notice. She would have to make sure that didn't happen again, but at the same time she couldn't help but have a growing respect for Xander's courage. The guy had to have some big brass ones to take on two vamps. He looked like a fighter-sure had the build of one, but she didn't like his chances of facing off against two vampires who –now that she rounded the dumpster to get a look at them—seemed to be the undead versions of heavy weight lifters. The guy was going to get himself killed if she didn't intervene. Okay, so he had a good excuse for walking off on her. All's forgiven.

Just as the vampires turned to look at him Faith made her move. Rushing forward she snatched the stake from his right hand and pushed him aside against the brick wall. "You don't mind if I borrow that do you?" She called back then she launched herself into the fight.

"Hell yes I mind!" Xander shot back as he straightened up from his sudden up close and personal encounter with a brick wall.

She moved with a swiftness and grace that he was entirely familiar with as she laid into the two vamps. He sighed as he just now realized what those familiar feelings he felt from her actually meant.

New Slayer

She was laying into them with heavy blows that had both vamps staggering back and away from her. One of the vamps swung a heavy hook at Faith who ducked under the blow of the first vamp. She spun in the direction of the second to her right and lashed out with a heavy kick to the chest of the vampire that knocked it to the ground. Turning back to the first vamp the two exchanged hooks jabs and blocks as they went toe to toe, all the while Faith kept up her witty commentary.

"You know, I was going to give you a piece of my mind, but now..," she ducked under another cross, "... I have to respect your work ethic. Good job by the way..." She kicked the vampire in the face making it stumble into some trashcans with an echoing clang, "just do not do it again."

Xander shrugged, "I would have staked him already." As if in response in response Faith spun in the direction of the second vamp trying to sneak up behind her and buried the stake in its chest.

"You were saying?"

"Didn't your mother tell you not to play with your food before you eat?" Xander asked archly.

"Well, look at the mouth on you. What's your problem?" Faith replied.

He smiled and snatched his stake back and said, "Well, Little Miss Slayage, you stole my stake, threw me into a wall, and ruined my stress relief opportunity. In exchange I get to annoy. Sounds fair to me."

"Hey, don't tell me you seriously thought you could take these guys," Faith said.

Xander grinned, "Actually yeah I could, even though I'm not a Slayer." His attention shifted to the first vamp as it got back to its feet. "You know what they say, that assumptions makes an ass out of you and me?"

Faith and the first vampire once again began laying into each other; exchanging vicious combinations while Xander studied her technique. Well more like Faith laying into him and his desperate attempt to fend her off.

"Good thing for you I'm the Slayer then, cause I'm definitely down for the slay and lay. Get what I'm saying?"

"At least someone's got their priorities in the right order," Xander grunted to himself.

"What's that?" Faith asked as she connected with a solid jab which caused the vamp to stagger backwards.

"Nothing!" Xander looked away quickly in embarrassment.

Looking to his right Xander noticed the girl was still standing there watching the entire fight with numb confusion. "Hey, why are you still here?" Xander asked.

The girl whimpered and then turned to take off down the alley towards the main street and nearly trampled over two people running the opposite way.

NO!" Xander shouted. The last thing he wanted was some girl frightened out of her mind running around Sunnydale. Reaching out with the Force Xander was able to grip the young girls mind and stop her panic induced flight before it could begin.

"Perhaps it would be best if you waited inside and called someone to pick you up," Xander said as he applied the Force suggestion.

The girl replied flatly, "Perhaps I should go inside and call someone to pick me up."

Xander smiled reassuringly, "Move along now."

The girl turned and walked back to the club.

"Whoa what's going on?" Willow asked breathlessly.

Oz took a second to study the fight then offered his own thoughts, "I'm going to go out on a limb and say a new Slayer's in town."

"Your powers of observation astound even me," Xander countered with a smirk.

"WILL YOU SHUT UP ALREADY?!" Faith roared as her fist cracked into the face of the vampire. The vampire s face then slammed into the brick wall of the alley. The vampire tried to do its best to get to its feet but its arms and legs wouldn't cooperate.

Xander smirked, "Not till I get my apology."

"For what!?" Faith asked irritably.

"For stealing my kills," Xander shifted his body weight. "I'll keep this short because I've already had this conversation tonight with one Slayer and am in no mood to have it with the new girl. Just because I'm not hopped up on the Slay mojo doesn't mean I don't know what I'm doing."

Faith blinked as something occurred to her. "Oh. Sorry. I get it. Demon hunter guy. Wicked cool. And here I thought you were just some dumbass looking to be a hero."

He bopped her on the forehead playfully with the knobby end of the stake.

"Apology accepted Miss Faith..."

"Faith. Just call me Faith. So how did you know I was the Slayer?"

"I've probably met more Slayers than most Watchers," Xander answered.


"I've been friends with Buffy for three years. I knew Kendra. Now I know you. Three for three." Xander looked down and eyed a rusted broken metal chair and picked it up then handed it to her.

Faith took the chair with a questioning look until Xander smirked and nodded to the vamp slowly trying to get up. A look of insane glee crossed her features as she walked over to the kneeling vamp then pulled back the chair like a makeshift baseball bat then let it fly. The resulting beating would have made a professional wrestler smile with pride. She wailed on the vampire to the point the chair itself was became a twisted mangled reflection of itself. She stepped back and again held the chair like a makeshift baseball bat. When the vamp finally pushed itself to its knees Faith reared back and swung with all her might. The sharp metal of the jagged edge bit deep into the vampires' neck, removing the head from the body in a shower of exploding dust.

"Did you just cut a vampires head off with a folding metal chair?" Willow gaped.

"Yeah?" Faith responded.

"That was awesome!" Willow beamed.

"Thanks Red," Faith smiled then she turned back to Xander, "So who's Kendra?"

"Don't they tell you anything?"

"Not really," Faith shrugged.

Xander looked around the alley as if it wasn't the best place to talk.

"Maybe we should head inside."

Faith shrugged, "Hey, yeah whatever. So where's this other slayer friend of yours, Buffy right?"

Xanders grin faded somewhat, "Yeah she is." Xander looked to Willow and Oz. "Where is she anyway?"

Willow look shifted between guilt and anger, a combination Xander had never seen before from her, "She…she mentioned the subject that shall never be talked about and I snapped at her. She left."

Xander's renewed spirits evaporated instantly. But before he could comment on it he felt a surge of strong emotion directly from Faith; a twisting of fear and anger that bubbled to the surface for a brief second before it was rapidly forced back down and replaced by something he couldn't read. The sheer intensity of those emotions had hit his senses with near physical force and Xander had to blink several from the effect of it. He looked to Faith with renewed scrutiny but she had already turned back toward the club as she struck up a conversation with Willow and Oz.

Slowly Xander turned to follow them as he centered his focus on Faith and her powerful seesawing emotions.

Buffy splashed water on her face as she looked herself in the mirror. What had she been thinking? How could she have done something so stupid? How could she have said something so insensitive? Well, it was done now. It was time to face Willow and own up to what she had done. Buffy hoped she would forgive her. Their friendship was strong enough to survive something like this, right?

Buffy took a deep breath to steel her resolve. She grabbed a paper towel to dry her face, took another deep breath and then left the bathroom. She walked slowly toward their table and spotted Xander at the bar pointedly ignoring her. She sat down nervously and suddenly her plan evaporated in the look of concern on Willow's face.

"Buffy what's wrong?"

"Wil-"Buffy chocked for a moment the swallowed. She steeled herself and began again. "Willow I did something really stupid," Buffy managed to stammer out.

Willows look of concern only grew, "What is it?"

"Please don't be angry with me," Buffy pleaded. To Willow her voice sounded frantic.

"Angry?" Willow looked surprised. "Why would I be angry?"

"I did something stupid… something really, really stupid."

"What is it!?" Willow asked again now looking slightly alarmed.

Buffy swallowed nervously. "I stumbled onto Xander in the Bathroom. I saw him dust a Vampire and…we got into an argument."

Willow nodded, indicating that she was following along. Oz was glancing between the two women then eyed a very visibly upset Xander then he seemed to nod to himself in understanding.

"Well…it didn't go so well."

"Obviously," Willow said as she eyed the visibly upset Xander across the Bronze. "What did you say?"

Buffy swallowed nervously. This was it. "I…asked Xander to be more fray…adjacent."

Willow blinked indignantly, "What? Why!?"

"Willow please, not you too!"

"What do you mean me too?" Willow asked with a small frown. "We've been doing this for years now. And lately we've gotten really, really good at it! That was pretty mean to say…and does that mean you want all of us to quit?"

"No…no that's not what I'm saying!" Buffy swallowed again. She'd seen it firsthand how good he'd gotten but that didn't mean she wasn't frightened for him, for all of them. Didn't he see she was doing this for him? For all of them? Willow had the good sense to hang back in a fight and her Magic mojo had proven useful in the past and would prove useful in the future. Oz seemed to know his limits when it came to slaying and never really ventured beyond them. His super senses could locate vamp and demon hideouts she couldn't hope to find. Beyond that he hung back and fired crossbow bolts in support. But Xander? He was reckless. He didn't hang back; he jumped right into the thick of the fray! He was going to get himself killed. Couldn't Willow See that? Didn't she understand that? She had to make her see that. She was doing this for them. So they could have the life she never could. She loved them and would do anything for them. Even if she had to protect them from themselves.

Before she could continue however she caught Willow staring wide eyed at the dance floor while Oz was looking on with an amused expression. With her back to the dance floor Buffy didn't see what they were staring at so she turned slightly to get a better look. There on the dance floor were two people practically having sex with their clothes on. One was a beautiful brunette girl Buffy had never seen before. She was wild and vivacious and her movements were confident and graceful. Dancing with her, matching her for move for move was Xander.

Buffy's jaw nearly fell through the Floor. None of them had ever seen him dance like that.

"I think he's getting over it," Oz observed from next to Willow.

"He's….good," Buffy said in a hollow voice. "He's never danced like that with me before." Buffy said quietly. But she had done something similar to him. That first night back after facing the Master. She had been in full on bitch mode and she thought could use Xander to make Angel jealous. She'd given him the dance of his life just to get her undead lover to notice her. She had shameless used him then. And now it seemed Xander was returning the favor for her benefit. She couldn't understand the sudden pang of jealousy that caught in her throat. She looked away quickly.

"I've never seen him dance like that. I never knew he could," Willow said quietly.

Oz nodded in a manly manner and added his two cents worth. "He's good. So is she."

Buffy shook her head of the sight and managed to return her mind to the task at hand. She couldn't afford distractions, she needed Willow's support. And with the way Xander's body was moving…so…so…

Willow?" Buffy hurriedly asked bringing her friends attention back to herself. "While we were talking and I was trying to explain things to him…I sorta messed up."

"Okay," Willow nodded. Her eyes flickered back to the dance floor for a moment; her expression hurt and sullen, then she shifted her attention back to Buffy. Oz leaned back in his seat with slight frown as he studied the two girls more intently.

"I sorta…brought up…Jessie… and I—"

'You what!?" Now willow's expression was one of outrage.

Buffy's resolved shattered. "Willow I didn't mean to—"

"No, don't ever!" Willow replied angrily. "Never ever bring that subject up!"

Buffy's face fell and tears threatened to escape her eyes, "It was my fault. And I just don't want the same thing to happen to Xander. I don't want to put you through that again!"

Willows faced turned as red as a ripe tomato in sheer anger. She took a moment to calm herself "Buffy, None of us blame you for what happened to Jessie, so you stop feeling guilty about that right here this instant! Second….well I don't have a second unless it's to say that I'm very angry with you right now. I can understand your reasoning and even maybe support it a little. But you never should have brought Jessie up. I…I…I don't want to look at you right now I'm so angry…or…or even for the next few days!"

Oz placed a placating hand on Willows, "Willow."

Willow looked to Oz and shook her head angrily. "No Oz. Buffy did something stupid and I'm very upset right now." She looked to Buffy. "You need to leave."

"Willow I'm sorry."

"And I will accept your apology, Buffy. But I'm really angry right now."

"Are we still friends? Are we gonna be okay?"

Willow looked at Buffy indignantly, "How could you ask me that, after all we've been through? We'll be okay Buffy but…not now. Not right now. Please just leave."

Buffy got up and moved swiftly to the exit, unable to stop the tears from flowing.

She made it outside and bolted through the streets of Sunnydale crying the whole way. She had messed up. She had messed up so badly and now her friends who she had just got back were angry with her again. They were angrier than she'd ever seen them. She made it three blocks before she forcefully got her emotions under control. She took a side alley and stopped a t-junction crossing two alleys to catch her breath from her mad dash from the Bronze and firm her resolve. She knew she had crossed a line she shouldn't have but the damage had been done. She'd have to face the music and deal with the consequences. They were worth it and more.

Buffy's head snapped up in alarm and she took stock of her surroundings. T-junctions were notorious bad spots day and night, so much so that most people tended to avoid them. They also made perfect spots for ambushes.


Buffy rolled her eyes. She just had to think it!

There were six of them coming from either end of the alley, two on each side, surrounding her all armed with swords or pikes and wearing what looked like military uniforms. Buffy blinked in disbelief.

"Oh look it's my adoring fan club. You didn't have to dress up in matching…ah…whatever they are just to see little ole me!" Buffy quipped as she readjusted herself ever so subtly into a defensive posture.

A seventh demon stepped forward past his armed comrades who had air of command about him. He stopped several feet from Buffy and stood so ramrod straight as to be stiff as a board. He placed his hands behind his back and regarded her for a moment with clinical interest.

"You are the Slayer, Buffy Summers; Guardian of the human sheep and vanquisher of the impure vermin that tarnishes the name of demon."

Buffy's eyes narrowed. "So what of it?"

The demon turned away with an air of casual dismissal that nearly made Buffy bristle with indignation, as if the demon didn't view her as a threat or worthy of his time. He would have to be the first to die.

"Our organization has faced your kind before. Slayers are no match for those of pure demon blood and spirit. The same cannot be said for the tainted half-breeds and mongrels that prowl these streets in ever increasing numbers. But as much as we would love to cleanse this town of the mongrel filth, sadly we are not here for them…or for that matter even you."

"Gee I feel so honored" Buffy replied drolly.

"What you feel is irrelevant, Slayer. However you may still prove useful.

Buffy smiled sardonically "I somehow doubt it."

The demon raised a single eyebrow on its face but otherwise showed no emotion. In fact taking a moment to study the other demons around her Buffy didn't sense any of the prefight jitters and eagerness most demons relished in before they came to blows. These demons felt…cold. As if they were held in check but some measure of fierce self restraint that was atypical of what she was used to. Not one of them had so much as moved an inch during this brief exchange as they held their weapons across their chests in an oddly formal way.

"Who are you? What do you want?" Buffy demanded.

There was the faintest flicker of a smile before it vanished from the demons face "We are the scourge. And we are here for this champion of the Light; Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker."

"And what makes you think I would know anything about him?" Buffy asked, as much to stall for time as to fish for information.

"Our intelligence network is quite extensive Ms Summers. They have been here for a long time now, gathering information on our target and his allies. We had hoped to acquire Mr. Harris as he seems to be the one with the most pertinent information on our target but as with any field operation it hasn't gone quite to plan; which makes our little chance encounter here such a boon to our mission."

Buffy's insides turned to ice at that casual statement. These demons were targeting her friends. She didn't care for the reasons why they were doing it, only that they were. She would not allow it to happen!

She moved before she had even made the conscious decision to act. A right hook connected with demons face just as his eyes widened in surprise. Buffy quickly followed up with a left hook then kicked his legs out from under him knocking him on his back. She drew her stake in one swift and graceful motion and then brought it down to plant it in his heart. The demons hand arrested hers mid stroke; the tip of the stake mere millimeters from impaling his heart.

"Impressive Slayer" the Demon regarded her for a moment "but not that impressive."

Stars suddenly exploded into Buffy's vision as she reeled back a step from the blow she hadn't even seen coming. She took half a second to clear her vision and was dismayed to see the demon back on its feet in the same pose as before.

"As I have said once before Slayer, we have faced your kind. We know all the strengths and weaknesses of a Slayer. And while your victories over the tainted mongrels Angelus and the Master mark you as a Slayer of note, you have never faced the likes of us!"

Buffy snorted inelegantly "Blah, blah, blah, is that all you demons can say? Do you know how many times I've heard that line? And it's usually followed by me plunging a stake through said demons heart…or a sword in the gut….or even beheading! So color me unimpressed."

"As you wish, Slayer. We were willing to spare you and your friends to get what we want—"

-Buffy snorted in derision.

"But if you wish to make things difficult then so be it." The demon took a single step back and nodded almost imperceptibly.

As if on cue the other demons brought their weapons up and moved forward as their leader moved back. "I want her alive; however she doesn't have to be completely intact."

The demons responded with some deep and guttural sound that Buffy guessed was their native language before fanning out to completely surround her.

The first demon in front of her came at her with an overhand chop of his sword while the demon behind her attempted to stab her in the back while her attention was on the threat to her front. Their moves were so perfectly timed as to be in sequence with each other. It didn't matter. Rather than moving backward and away from the overhand slash as they had expected, Buffy instead sidestepped to the right. She grabbed the extended pike with her left hand and wrenched it upward to block the sword strike. Her right hand shot out in a knife hand chop to the demons throat to stun it before she followed up with a round kick to the face that knocked the demon to the ground. Using her momentum she dropped into a crouch midway through her move and swept the legs out from the demon behind her then planted her stake in his chest for good measure.

Two more demons sprang at her instantly from both sides, and Buffy rolled forward; her right hand instantly finding purchase with the sword handle of the first demon. She gripped it securely then sprang to her feet and beheaded its former owner in one swift motion just as he staggered to his feet. Two more demons, again from either side, sprang at her with both sword and pike. Buffy parried the pike strike of the demon directly into his buddy and she was momentarily caught off guard by the electrical discharge that enveloped the demon and dropped him to the ground, stunned…but alive. Buffy recovered her wits and went to remove his head but a sword blocked her strike. The next exchange went decidedly nowhere as she traded strikes with two demons, both armed with swords, before being forced to disengage and put some distance between them when a third demon again tried to jab her in the back with a pike.

Okay, first impressions? They worked as a team and a very well coordinated team at that. When they moved they moved in twos or even all at once to hit her from all sides, always together. They covered each other and coordinated their efforts and they clearly weren't bothered by the loss of two of their comrades in the opening exchange. She had hoped that the loss of their two friends would upset the rest and throw them off balance or make them angry enough to forget their teamwork and come at her in a rage. Angry meant stupid and that she could handle. Sadly that didn't seem to be the case here.

Buffy barely had time to register this before they were on her again and with greater intensity. It was taking everything she had just to stay alive. They would hit her hard, coming at her all at once before half would break off and then try to hit her from another angle. They did everything they could to keep her off balance and to prevent her from capitalizing on any mistakes she could exploit. It was frustrating and it was starting to wear her down. Buffy decided to play things more cautious as she traded space for time. She managed to maneuver her enemies to her front and kept them off balance enough so they couldn't flank her but it was taking considerable effort. A demon stumbled; tripping over a conveniently placed coke can and Buffy wasted no time in taking advantage of the momentary distraction. She brought her sword down in one fluid stroke removing the left army of the demon cleanly, continuing on to cut through bone and sinew of the demons left thigh but not quite severing the leg. The demon fell to the ground in a howl of pain that momentarily distracted its companions…exactly as Buffy had hoped it would. Buffy somersaulted up and over one of the distracted demons and removed its head from its body. She tried to follow up immediately with another kill but the remaining demons quickly moved out of reach, leaving their wounded screaming companion behind. Buffy casual twirled her sword as she advanced upon them then slammed the blade down through the throat of the wounded demon, ending its life. Really, his bellows of anguish were really starting to annoy her!

The remaining two demons hesitated and held back clearly not having anticipated the thought of actually failing against the Slayer. Buffy didn't even give them a second to recover their wits. She pounced on them in a flash; her sword cutting through the air like a malevolent whirlwind. It was over in a matter of seconds as the demons cut down in short order leaving Buffy alone with the leader of the group who still stood in his ramrod straight poise, not having moved an inch during the entire exchange.

"Guess it's just you and me, now. Got any last words?" Buffy asked with a sickly sweet smile.

The demon gave an amused chuckle of its own. "Yes, three actually. Initiate phase two."

Buffy felt something bit into her arm and she looked down in alarm to see a dart sticking out of her right bicep. She wrenched it clear and tossed it aside but a sudden wave of dizziness and fatigue almost overwhelmed her and she stumbled momentarily before she caught herself. The world began to slow around her as her vision grew blurry and her hearing distorted. The sword in her hand grew heavier and heavier and yet Buffy fought past it with sheer iron clad will.

"Really Slayer, did you really think that was our entire team? Be serious. We are legion and when we come after a target we come at it in force.

Buffy looked around to note over twenty demons, all armed, emerging from every corner of the alley way. Behind her on the brick wall more than twenty feet up were two more demons, both with tranquilizer guns blocking off that avenue of escape.

It took Buffy a moment longer than usual to realize just how screwed she was. Her thoughts were sluggish and slow and despite her efforts it was getting harder to fight the effects of whatever poison that was flowing through her blood. But even if she had not been poisoned twenty against one were not odds she would ever think of entertaining. Seeing that there would be no escape Buffy realized that this was it. There would be no heartfelt makeup with her friends, nor would she see her mother again. She wouldn't get the chance to tell Giles how much she looked up to him, to tell him how had been more of a father to her than Hank Summers had ever been, and nor would she ever get the chance to get to know their new friend. They were going to take it all away. They were going to kill her and then they were going to go after her friends maybe even her mom! That sudden realization brought the world snapped the world back into sharp focus. It didn't completely nullify the effects of the poison but it was enough to bring strength back to her limbs and reaffirm her resolve. She would fight for her life and she would make them pay with every ounce of blood she could take.

"I'm impressed Slayer," the voice of the leader stated with a tone of grudging respect "You were hit with enough sedative to sedate three slayers."

A sedative not a poison, so they were serious about taking her alive, it didn't matter. Buffy's response was rather pointed as she charged the nearest demon and impaled him with her sword before launching herself at the rest. Her mind was too clouded by the effects of the sedative to strategize effectively so she reverted to just following her instincts. She threw herself at them with a fury only a slayer could unleash. She managed to kill three of them but despite the initial surprise her ferocious resistance it wouldn't be enough. One perfect punch from a demon connected squarely with her temple knocking her to the ground in a daze. They were on her in an instant holding her down as another demon injected her with yet more of the sedative and Buffy's world went black.

The leader of this particular cell of the scourge looked down upon the unconscious form of Buffy Summers just as his minions finished applying their restraints. This endeavor had already proven more costly in manpower than he had anticipated….and finding good pure-blood demons was difficult enough as it was. But they needed more intell on this new human enemy of theirs.

"Take her back to the ship and begin the interrogation. Leave our dead where they lie."

Sometime later a figure cautiously approached the alley way with sword in hand and held ready. He surveyed his surroundings intently; probing every shadow, nook and potential hiding place with intense scrutiny.

Anakin sighed in frustration. He had been too late. He had felt a warning in the Force that the Slayer had been in danger and he had tried to get to her as quickly as possible but he had been too late.

She wasn't here amongst the dead which meant they had taken her, alive. Anakin closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as he submerged himself deeply in the Force. He followed the threads of the conflict from start to finish, watching as the demons ambushed the distraught slayer and how they had eventually overwhelmed her. The memories were still fresh in the Force, this had happened very recently.

Opening his eyes Anakin followed the will of the Force as it directed him inexorably to Buffy summers and the demons that held her captive.