It was a dark and stormy night.

In the middle of January, Cleveland was having a terrible weather week of intense cold accompanied with strong winds and heavy snow, and right now the entire city was suffering from a big winter storm consisting of freezing rain mixed with sleet.

Any cop can tell you from personal experience that bad weather puts a literal damper on crime. Being in a somewhat similar line of work, the Scooby Gang had learned this also applied to their occupation of defending the world from the dark forces. Right now on the Cleveland Hellmouth, the entire city's population of vampires, demons, and other unearthly creatures were holed up snug in their lairs, watching the entire DVD collection of Full House, or as they referred to the show, "Yummy Munchies with Mary-Kate and Ashley."

After checking the Weather Channel to find out the bad weather was forecasted to last at least another day plus that temperatures were going to plunge further, and contemplating having to chip off icicles hanging from the Slayers' ears when they came back home after a freezing night of unsuccessful demon hunting, Xander Harris had declared a rare patrol night off for the girls. As a result, the entire house was debating with utmost civility, hushed voices, and gentle tempers the question of the moment: What movie would they watch tonight?





"Mark Hamill."



Outside the living room, Xander winced as twenty young women ranging in age from thirteen to nineteen simultaneously shouted with Slayer lung power at the only other male in the Jenny Calendar Memorial House for Gifted Women.

The one-eyed former carpenter's mug of hot chocolate (with tiny marshmallows, of course) vibrated in his hand from the decibel level coming from the living room of the house. Pausing in the hallway, Xander gulped his drink, and tried to think of something to distract the girls before (a) they folded, spindled, and mutilated the only person in the house who could cook a decent meal and (b) they finally decided on something that would take another three hours-plus chunk out of his lifetime. Also, the Sunnydale survivor was quite sure that listening again to Celine Dion would finally make his brain explode.

"Hi, girls."

Twenty female heads turned as one and gazed with predator sharpness at the lanky 26-year-old man with an eye-patch ambling into the living room. Xander knew quite well that every Slayer could hear him breathing with a towel wrapped around his head in a room at the other end of the house, but he announced his presence anyway, with an easy smile on his face that only increased his crush quotient among a third of the group.

Xander stopped in the middle of the crowded room, looking around for a free chair or another place to sit, and raised his mug for another gulp of chocolately goodness. There were muffled giggles from at least a dozen girls as his cup came down, and the man raised an inquiring eyebrow. Several girls laughed out loud at this, and pointed at their own upper lips with a delicate finger. Xander rubbed his face with his free hand, and looking at his stained fingers, he smiled at the remains of what had been a cocoa mustache on his upper lip. You've still got it, kid.

Quite sure that he now had everyone's attention without demanding it, Xander walked over to the picture window of the living room and pulled aside the curtain to stare out at the ice storm. Sleet rattled against the window, and the man who had been born and raised in sunny California let the curtain fall back and turned to face the people in the room. Shivering theatrically, Xander said in a musing voice that carried across the entire room, "Boy, it was never like this in Sunnydale."

Eyes brightened among the girls as they realized Xander was going to tell stories.

And so he did, about Sunnydale and what had happened there during seven years. Of the Scooby Gang, with their names that everyone in the room knew by heart: Buffy, Willow, Giles, Faith, Oz, Dawn, Cordelia, Tara, Joyce, Anya. There were other names: Angel and Angelus, Spike, Principal Snyder, Harmony, Dru. Still more names. the Master, the Judge, the Mayor, the First Evil.

Slayers sat mesmerized in their seats, listening to triumphs and sorrows, victory and defeat, laughter and tears. Total friendship and vicious family fights. Heartbreak and forgiveness. Life and death.

Xander Harris quietly talked, joked, whispered, laughed, and passed on what had happened in his hometown before its destruction. All while standing in the living room and wearing the sweater one of the Slayers' mothers had knitted for him as a Christmas present, a bit baggy in bright red and white yarn and having a repeated design of a pair of horizontal stripes holding outlines of various objects. One stripe showed reindeer, sleighs, and snowflakes. The other stripe showed stakes, crosses, and holy water bottles.

As everyone listened to Xander now talking about the various Big Bads the Scooby Gang had faced, there was almost total silence from his audience in the living room, save for a single part of the space. From a corner, there came the sound of faint munching noises.

A sudden caller appearing in the doorway of the living room would have seen it crammed with twenty females sitting next to each other in various chairs, sofas, and the floor, one man standing before the window, and another man tucked in an armchair in a corner, with his own private bubble of space separating him from the girls. About Xander's age, but looking much less mature, this pasty-faced man was steadily consuming a big bowl of popcorn with a look of awe on his face directed at the other man.

Andrew Wells, fellow Sunnydale survivor and tag-along (much to Xander's exasperation), current cook of the house, Star Wars devotee, comic book fanatic, and possessor of evident-to-Slayers "geek funk" tossed another handful of popcorn into his mouth and savored his self-created Mos Eisley Cantina spray-on sauce that everyone in the house referred to as "that yucky stuff Andrew makes in a pot we have to beat to death with a shovel and bury twenty feet in the backyard when he's done with it." Suddenly, this man frowned thoughtfully, and after digging a popcorn kernel out from between his front teeth with a ragged fingernail, he leaned forward in his chair and opened his mouth.

Just when Xander was getting to the good part in a story about the First Evil, a dorky voice interrupted him. "Hey, X-man, I just had an idea."

Xander looked across the room in irritation at Andrew. The one-eyed man's expression was a lot nicer than those on the faces of every girl in the room. All of them were glaring at Andrew with a level of fury not seen since last summer when PMS day coincided with the occasion the kitchen freezer broke down and all of the Rocky Road ice cream melted.

Andrew, of course, paid absolutely no attention to a roomful of killers giving him looks of death. After all, this was a guy who had once asked a male vampire in game face if he could measure the demon's fangs to see if incisor length was related to any other body part length. (Yep, that one.) Instead, the King of Dweebs burbled on with unconcern, "I was only around for the First Evil, with the Slayers-In-Training and the Scythe and the big hole in the ground---"

"I know, Andrew, I was there," sighed the man with a single eye. "You said you had an idea?" Xander asked that to get it over with. Please let him not mention light sabers or the Force.

"Oh. Yeah." Andrew grabbed another handful of popcorn, crammed it all in his mouth and munched away with chipmunk cheeks as he gathered his thoughts.

At the corner of his eye, Xander noticed a glint of metal. He made a 'don't you dare!' waggle with his forefinger down at his side and saw Jennifer Adamson, a sixteen-year-old Slayer, give a world-class pout as she slipped her throwing knife back into her boot sheath. She would just have to be disappointed. Xander didn't feel like spackling over a knife puncture in the wall behind Andrew. Not to mention having to replace the armchair Andrew was sitting in due to the nerd's loss of sphincter control.

The sound of a satisfied gulp drew Xander's attention back to the other man. Wearily, the leader of the Cleveland Slayers prepared to listen to something totally preposterous, stupid, ludicrous, and idiotic.

A couple of minutes later, a dazed Xander prepared to say something he would have bet serious money against ever occurring. Hell, I would have bet my entire stash of Twinkies. This has got to be the first sign of not just your run-of-the-mill apocalypse, but THE Apocalypse. With a capital T, H, E, and A.

"Andrew. That might actually work."