*****

Crow was cursing.

Not particularly uncommon, but he was being uncharacteristically loud about it.

He had taken down three vamps in the past four minutes since the mission had gone to hell, and wasn't in a great mood.

"C'mon you fangy, mother fucking, son of a bat faced bitch!" He snarled as the fourth vampire charged him. Crow sidestepped, slapped out with a hand, and a cloud of dust burst past him a second later.

"Four down!" Crow grinned nastily. "Who's next?"

*****

Riley struggled with his second vampire of the night, trying to drive his stake into the creatures chest while it tried to gnaw on his neck.

"Son of a...!" Riley gurgled as he managed to twist free of the vamp's grip and drive a foot into the creatures knee, twisting its leg at an ugly angle.

As the vampire screamed in pain, Riley continued twisting and drove his stake into its back. Riley felt a moment of satisfaction as he watched the thing turn to dust. A second later he caught sight of blond hair moving toward a large group of vampires.

Buffy! He took off toward the fight.

*****

Xander hurdled the debris easily, used to the heavier weight of his hunting armor, heading toward where he had caught a glimpse of Buffy and a group of vamps.

Behind him Grace kept pace easily, matching his movements with and easy grace that matched her name. She looked around nervously as they went though, uncertain what she would see next. What she did see, as it turned out, wasn't the problem. It was what she, or they, didn't.

Xander hit it first, running face first into an obstruction that swept his feet out from under him and laid him out on the ground.

As he lay twisting in the ground, trying to get his breath back, Grace ran upto him with the intentions of checking him out. She struck the obstruction with her shoulder and twisted through the air until she landed solidly on the ground a few feet from Xander.

"Ooooohhhhh...." Xander groaned, "What the hell hit me?"

A few feet over Grace was holding her shoulder and wincing in pain. "Better question... what did we HIT?"

Xander looked around, but saw nothing. Wish I had my Mask.

He got up into a crouch and straightened to his feet.

A screamed in pain when his head collided with the same object that had dropped him in the first place. "Shit!"

A dozen feet away a column of shimmering light deposited three forms in the middle of the rubble.

"Xander!?" Phoebe's voice called out as she was let go of the orbing effect and she ran toward where Xander was kneeling on the ground, cradling his head in pain.

"Stop!" He screamed out, holding his hand out at her.

Uncertainly she halted, looking at him with worry.

"There's something here..." He said, looking up painfully.

"Where?"

Xander didn't answer, instead he felt around with his hands, until he felt them touch cool metal. Slowly he worked his way out from under it, looking for all the world like a mime doing a 'man in a box' routine.

"What is it?" Grace asked as she limped over slowly, cradling her arm.

Xander finally managed to find his way out from underneath it, "It's a space ship."

"A what?" The phrase echoed from the lips of Grace and Faith as they stared at the empty space, as if hoping it would be visible now that it had been named.

"Spaceship." Xander said flatly, "And that means trouble."

"Why?" Faith asked, she wasn't ready to believe in little green men, but trouble was something she could probably beat her fists into.

"Last time we ran into a ship like this we fought a pitched battle that cost over seven thousand people their lives."

Phoebe and Leo nodded, looking around nervously.

"Ok, hold on!" Grace said, wincing in pain. "I suppose I have to buy the vampire thing... I mean one of em did just try to chew on my throat... but space ships!?"

Xander shrugged, "Seen weirder. Trust me."

Grace turned toward him, an angry retort on her lips, but the motion swung her injured arm slightly and she could only hiss in pain.

Leo stepped forward, "here, Miss, let me take a look at that."

"What are you going to do?" Grace asked, "I pulled a muscle in my shoulder. It'll take weeks to heal."

The group just smiled.

Leo lifted a hand to her shoulder, and a silver-white glow came from it. A second later Grace was lifting her arm in shock.

"How?"

"It's what I do." He smiled gently.

"Who are you people!?"

Faith snickered, "We're the ones that give the Boogyman nightmares."

*****

Anise and Jacob scrambled down from their position, rapidly approaching the fight that had erupted around their cloaked ship.

Three of the creatures they saw the Harris boy fighting spotted them quickly and they opened fire at long range.

The zat fire staggered the creatures, one shot putting them to their knees, but they recovered quickly and charged.

Jacob fired again.

The second shot, the kill shot, didn't do much better.

"Hit them again!" Anise yelled as the first of the group was almost upon them.

They opened fire, striking the charging creatures with the third blast from the Zats. Both Tok'ra winced as the creatures kept coming, only to turn to dust that swept harmlessly past.

Jacob looked at Anise in shock, "What were they?"

"I do not know." Anise admitted, "I've never seen humans who could survive two shots from a Zat'nikatel."

"You quite certain they were human?"

Anise shook her head but didn't answer.

The two Tok'ra eyed the conflict ahead of them with new eyes, but stolidly moved forward.

*****

Buffy looked around nervously, eying the eighteen vampires that had surrounded her.

"Hey guys..."

They just growled.

"Not talkative tonight, huh?"

No response.

"Ooohhh kaaayyy." She drawled, lifting her hands and motioning the vamps toward her. "Let's get this done then."

The group growled and charged as one.

*****

Riley jumped over a chunk of debris, landing hard and stumbling on the other side. He looked up from a kneeling position in time to see a gang of vampires charge toward Buffy.

"BUFFY!" He screamed as he surged to his feet and charged in.

*****

Xander was leaning on empty space, trying to clear his head when he heard the yell. He snapped his head around, ignoring the sparkle of lights that crossed his vision. "Buffy!"

Before anyone else could react he broke into a run, gliding along the invisible obstruction until he had worked his way around the ship. "Xander!" Phoebe yelled as she tried to catch him.

Faith didn't speak, just broke into a run as she chased both of them.

Grace looked at Leo, Leo looked back.

"Shit." She said.

"Damn." He replied.

Both took off after the runners.

*****

Xander rushed around a corner, and was staggered by the sight in front of him. Buffy was fighting eight vampires at once, and seemed to be holding her own, but was starting to look haggard. At her feet lay Riley, blood pouring from a head wound, his stake lying a few feet from his left hand and his pistol gripped limply in his right.

No vampire that dared approach Riley survived long enough to regret it's hasty action, but her focus on defending her prone boyfriend was costing the Slayer the initiative in the fight. And now the tide was slowly turning against her.

Xander poured on the speed, his .45 leading the charge as it belched flame. One. Two. Three. Four. Four shots and the slide locked back on an empty chamber, causing Xander to curse, a loud and profane utterance that would have impressed even Crow if he had been in a position to hear it.

Xander tossed the gun aside as he launched himself into a flying tackle at the closest pack of vamps to Buffy.

ELAN!

The Ancient weapon shimmered and appeared in his outstretched hands, already activated. Xander leveled the weapon ahead of him, using its seven foot length as a battering ram when he struck the group.

They went down in a rolling, hissing, cursing, ball. Nine vampires, and one human. All clawing, kicking, cursing, punching, and gouging at whatever seemed to be the enemy at the time.

*****

Buffy staggered under another hit, but stolidly refused to give ground. Her world had become a eight foot circle of dirt, at the center of which lay her boyfriend. Beyond that nothing mattered. Any vampire that dared enter her world was signing its own death warrant, and that was all she could spare to thought.

The shots of gunfire were the first things that broke through her reverie, startling her out of her self imposed battle trance. When her eyes found the source she relaxed.

Xander.

Her strikes picked up in intensity as hope flared through her. Xander had never once let her down when she needed him. As much as she couldn't stand to see him in danger she knew that, right now at least, nothing and no one else on the world was a more welcome sight.

She blinked as he stopped shooting and let out a curse, but didn't stop his charge. Xander? What?

Her eyes widened as he launched himself head first into the fight, his staff appearing in her hands as if by magic. Xander! No! She screamed internally, but nothing would escape her laboring lungs.

Suddenly the pressure of the vampires advance was gone, eight of them taken temporarily out of the fight as they and Xander hit the ground in a rolling, cursing, bundle of limbs.

Suddenly she found her voice.

"Xander!"

*****

Phoebe and Faith circled the corner in time to see Xander's suicide leap into the group of vampires and to hear Buffy's scream.

"Xander!"

Phoebe echoed the scream a second later and lunged in to the fight herself, Faith a split second behind.

*****

Grace and Leo rushed around the corner and stared in shock at the massive brawl that had developed. Two Slayers, A Witch, and presumable Xander was some here in the rolling gangle of limbs that was on the ground.

Grace brought up the Colt Harris had given her by reflex and shifted into a weaver stance. Who do I shoot?

She shook her head and started looking for the deformed faces that seemed to mark a vampire.

"Hey Ugly." She whispered as she caressed the trigger of the .45, sending a tumbler into the creature's chest. She kept the muzzle on the thing as it seemed to shrug the bullet off, Oh damn...these things don't work!

As she was about to fire another shot into the beast it suddenly screeched in pain as the half healed hole in its chest began smoking. Suddenly a jet of fire burst out of its chest and it collapsed to the ground in pain. A few seconds later there was nothing but another pile of dust drifting along the ground.

Grace closed her heart, narrowed her eyes, and moved to the next target.

*****

Xander yelped in pain as he felt something crunch down on his leg, a second later he felt the blood flow down his leg. He gritted his teeth and rolled with the group of vamps, deactivated Elan, and pried the foot long cylinder in between two of the vampires that were clawing at him.

Activate.

Elan bucked once, extending at full force, and skewered three vampires. Only two dusted however, Xander had gotten third in the lower stomach by pure luck.

Dust or not, the mystical weapon burned at its insides as Xander managed to get himself free of most of the arms gripping at him. He retracted Elan again, and rolled as fast as he could away from the largest group.

*****

The vampires had abandoned their attempts to get at Riley and her, so Buffy waded into the pile that Xander had created when he made his dive with her stake flashing. Across the way she spotted Faith doing the same, and could hear the slow, deliberate, shots coming from the police detective.

She ignored them all, forcing herself to trust them to do what they could while she focused on retrieving Xander from the pile of vamps.

Her eyes widened in shock as she saw two vamps dust, and Xander's Silver battle staff emerge from the dissipating cloud. She shook her head in wonder, and continued pressing through the horde, staking vampires right and left as they tried to extricate themselves from the clawing mess that Xander had created.

They couldn't tell what hit them... She wondered, realizing that many of the vampires were sporting injuries inflicted blindly by their own compatriots. A few feet ahead she finally spotted Xander emerge from the struggling mess and try to roll clear of the fighting. Just as it looked like he would make it her breath cought in her chest as she saw a vampiric hand shoot out and drag him back.

The vampire slowly pulled him closer, bringing its fangs down on Xander's shoulder. Buffy screamed as she saw the blood flow.

*****

Xander felt the blood hammer in his ears as his heart pumped harder to make up for the sudden drop in pressure. The pain in his shoulder felt distant, something that was happening to someone else perhaps, or simply a memory. His conscious mind began to shut down as the stress and sudden terror returned him to his past.

Xander surged up with a rage and power that took the vampire by surprise, ripping its teeth from his shoulder as the young man regained his feet.

As the vampire struggled to get up and reclaim its victim it happened to look into the human's eyes. A thrill of pure terror shivered from its groin to the back of its neck as it saw nothing but death in the eyes of a living being.

Some thought of pleading for its life had begun to form when it felt a pressure in its chest and realized that it was far to late for that.

Xander didn't bother to watch the vampire turn to dust, he had already moved on. His mind had catalogued the area around him with the barest glance, and his body was on autopilot. Even Elanthielle had lost positive contact with the young man as he began to move on reflex and without thought.

*****

"Xander!" Phoebe screamed as she tried to rush forward, but at every step she was blocked by a vampire. So she fought, slamming her stake into one, and kicking another. Beside her she knew Faith was having the same problem, struggling to reach someone who was beyond her reach, and hating herself for being helpless.

Phoebe started in shock when she saw Xander surge to his feet, bleeding from a gaping shoulder wound and numerous scratches and cuts along his face and body. His eyes were flat, no life in them at all, and his body was moving with a simple brutal efficiency that she had never seen before.

"Xander..." She whispered in shock as he casually shifted his grip on the Staff in his hands and dusted two vamps with a single fluid motion.

***** Buffy fell back in shock as the vampires were suddenly forced away from Xander, all trying to avoid the sudden sweep of that silver staff. Some of those more experienced had fallen far back, fear written plainly on their faces.

Buffy remember something that Giles had once told her, how the one thing in the world that was more dangerous then anything else was a person who had given up all will to survive. Who was intent on only one thing. Destruction.

Xander had the look that her mind had produced when Giles had told her that. The haunted look of someone who was already dead.

*****

Alexander! Elanthielle screamed, trying to regain communication with her bearer. She shivered, this had only happened once before but it was a frightening aspect of the young man. Even to her.

She had existed for millennia and encountered only a small handful of people who had this internal berserker mode. Each time she had seen it she had been taken aback. Never had she imagined that one of her bearers would be like this. The berserker attack is Tur'oks speciality, not mine.

Alexander! She tried again, to no avail.

*****

Grace gave up. She couldn't get a clear shot anymore, not with the three girls and the kid moving around so much.

She held the weapon at the ready, but allowed her eyes to sweep the battle. She shivered when she saw the vicious battle in its entirety. Neither side were offering or asking for quarter, no arrests would be made, and only the victors would walk away from this site.

She shook her head, trying to clear it of the thoughts that had started to plague her. Now is not the time... later... questions and answers come later.

A lone vampire split away from the group and Grace shifted smoothly and fired. A few seconds later, no more vampire.

*****

Crow rushed toward the sound of fighting and came up short as she spotted the battle. The vampire hunter was bleeding from a dozen shallow cuts and had bruises on his bruises, but he smirked when he saw the fight that had formed.

Thirty vamps against a half dozen humans... He smirked, And the vamps may as well dust their own fucking asses and save us the trouble. Damn I wish I could get some of them for my team.

He shrugged, ignoring the pain that shot through him, and charged into the fight himself

*****

Anise watched the battle with wide eyes. "That is not human."

"Which?" jacob asked sarcastically, "The kid or the things he's fighting?"

"Both." She answered flatly. The two aliens raised their weapons and moved to help their, hopefully, ally.

*****

Xander's vision had tunneled, visually regressing him to little more the colors. He could feel the hammering of the blood in his ears, even as it slowly began to weaken, to grow softer even as he pushed himself harder.

Black. That was the color of emptiness.

Red. That was an enemy. Strike.

Red. Strike. Red. Strike. Red. Strike.

His body moved on reflex, attacking faster than skill, faster than thought.

Silver. A long slim line of light that struck out at the Red. A line of light that brought comfort even as he felt his heartbeat slowly wind down.

He ignored it, both the comfort and the slowing of his heart. They didn't mean anything to him. All that mattered was eliminating the Red.

He struck out again.

*****

"Xander!"

Buffy drove her stake into a vampire and tried to get through the press to where Xander was battling, only to be forced to duck low to avoid being struck herself by the silver staff as it whirled about.

"Slayer!" Crow yelled, "Back off! The Kid's lost it!"

Buffy shook her head, she refused to believe that of Xander. "No! I won't leave him!"

Crow shoved through the vampires, striking them down as he passed. When he got close enough he reached out and grabbed the blond slayer by the shoulder and ripped her back.

Buffy was startled as she was hauled off her feet and pulled away from the fight. She struggled, but Crow held her in an iron grip without giving her any leverage to break free.

"He'll kill you if you get too close, Slayer!" Crow yelled into her ear as he hauled her back.

Buffy shook her head wildly, "No! He... He can't!" Not Xander! He couldn't!

*****

Her pistol locked back on an empty chamber and Grace cursed. She was out, and she didn't have any more ammo for the weapon. Her own pistol was useless, and she was starting to feel that way herself.

What do I do?

She tensed and moved to wade into the fight herself, but a restraining hand held her back. She looked back to the grim face of the man who had healed her. He shook his head slowly.

"You won't do them any good like that."

"I can't just stand here!" She growled in frustration.

Leo shook his head, "Without weapons you're only going to get in the way. You don't even have a wooden stake."

Grace growled as she watched the fight progress, her fingernails digging holes into the palms of her hands as her clenched fists whitened.

*****

Phoebe and Faith hung back, dusting any stragglers that came into their sphere of influence.

"Damn, girl." Faith muttered, "X-man really lost it."

Phoebe just shook her head. "He's out of control..."

Faith nodded, "Glad I'm not a vampire tonight."

Both girls just shook their heads in agreement with that statement as they watched Xander crippled another vampire before striking it down with the silver staff and leaving it to dust behind him.

"He wasn't like this..." Fath muttered.

"I know... I knew him before..." Phoebe swallowed.

Faith licked her lips nervously, "What a mind job."

*****

"Remember, Three shots each!" Jacob yelled as they rushed into the fight.

Anise didn't bother to respond, just opened fire.

*****

As electrical fire spat across the battleground Crow looked up from the struggling blond he was holding back. Who the...?

His eyes widened as he recognized the woman. Her!?

*****

Grace jumped in shock as the electrical charges ripped intot he vampire's around them. "What the hell is that?"

Leo looked over and half smiled, half frowned. "The Cavalry... I think."

"You think!?"

"If I'm right, it's their ship that you two ran into..."

Grace eyed the approaching coupled, They don't look like aliens... but they sure don't dress like locals.

*****

"Whoa!" Faith yelped as a series of blue blasts vaped a vamp that was charging her. "What the fuck!?"

Phoebe looked over, "We just found our aliens."

"Wha?" *****

Alexander!

Xander struck out again, and again, and again. They were all around him. He couldn't let them take him. Turn him. They had to die... or he did.

ALEXANDER!

He shook his head, trying to clear the buzz that was starting to form in his mind. He didn't have time for distractions.

Elanthielle mustered every bit of strength and control she had. ALEXANDER, YOU WILL STOP NOW!

Xander stopped.

He was in mid strike, his form overextended and off balance. He could feel himself fall but he didn't have any control over his limbs.

Wha? His mind snapped back into control, his eyes searching around him in desperation. He was halfway to the ground before his muscle control came back online.

He hit the ground hard, shoulder first, and winced as pain lanced through the open wound. He ignored it and tucked into a roll that brought him back to his feet a second later. He straightened and look around.

There were broken bodies and drifting dust all around him. A few dozen feet away he could see his friends and allies staring at him in shock.

What happened, Elan?

Elan's voice came back, subdued. You were badly injured... you regressed to fight or flight again... You chose 'Fight'.

Oh crap. Xander groaned. He looked around. A few feet away he could see Riley on the ground.

Xander took an unsteady step, gritting his teeth as a wave of nausea and pain swept through him.

Xander... you're injured. Get help.

In a minute. Xander groaned. He gritted his teeth but managed to speak. "Leo. See to Riley. Now." Leo snapped almost to attention, his military training responding to the command. He rushed to where Riley lay on the ground and knelt over him. A few seconds was all it took to heal the visible wounds. He looked up. "I think he'll be ok, but he might have a concussion... we should get him to a..."

He was cut off as Buffy and Phoebe screamed in unison. "Xander!"

Xander had buckled, sweat pouring off his brow, and collapsed to the dusty ground beneath him.

Leo rushed to him, wincing as Xander hit the ground solidly, his head bouncing off the cement. He kneeled over him, rushing to heal the visible wounds, his breath hitching as he found several that had been hidden under the kevlar armor the boy was wearing. He proceeded to check out Xander's vitals and shook his head.

"I've patched him up, but he's lost a lot of blood... I don't know if he's going to make it... we have to get him to a hospital."

"Do it, Leo!" Phoebe ordered.

Leo nodded and, putting a hand on Xander's chest, orbed away.

*****

The remaining people looked around the ruins of the old school, then at each other. Crow was the first to speak.

"What the fuck are you people doing here!?" He glared at the two To'Kra.

Anise stepped forward, "We cam to speak with the boy. It is none of your concern."

Crow took a half step toward her, growling as he did.

Jacob moved between them, "Whoa! Slow down... let's work this out, ok?"

Crow stayed tense for a moment before he reluctantly slowed down. "Fine. But you've got some explaining to do."

*****

Wilkins Memorial Hospital, Sunnydale, California

The Doctor in the ER had been working the night shift off and on for eight years in Sunnydale. She had a fair idea that there were things out there that you didn't want to meet in a dark alley.... and things that you simply would never see in a lit one. So when the man smashed through the doors carrying a black clad figure in body armor she actually blinked.

Cops don't go out at night... They aren't that brave... or stupid.

She pushed the thoughts aside and ordered the triage team to pull the pale young man into the closest bed. The man who brought him in jogged alongside, snapping out information.

"His name is Alexander Harris, he's lost a lot of blood. He's going to need a transfusion immediately, and you should check him for shock."

The Doctor eyed the man curiously, but filed away the information.Guy talks like a doctor.

She got the gourney into the room, an orderly forcing the man to stay behind, and let the doors swing close behind them.

"Alright, people!" She ordered, "I want the wound located and sealed, cut this stuff off him."

The group went to work, using a razor sharp pair of scissors to slice away the kevlar the boy was wearing, peeling the blood socked armor clear of his body. Underneath the kevlar and trauma plates, his skin was coated in drying blood that they quickly and gently cleaned it off.

"No wound!"

"Impossible!" The Doctor looked the body over, but there wasn't a wound. "Turn him over!"

The orderlies gently flipped the body over, still looking for the wound. Nothing. Two of them winced when they looked at the back of his right shoulder however.

"Damn!"

"What the hell is that?"

The Doctor spared a second from where she was checking his pulse. "Acid burns... nasty ones too."

"Jesus. Where the hell do you pick up something like that?"

The Doctor ignored the question. "Put him on his back again."

They rolled him back over. She checked his eyes, looking for pupil dilation. "Damn it! Where's his file!?"

A nurse came running up, "Right here doctor!"

She grabbed the file and checked the blood type, "Get some B Negative up here now!"

The orderlies took off.

She finished looking him over, eyeing the shoulder holsters her wore. Empty... still... She looked toward the telephone that was nearby in case they had to call for police assistance. Just a quick intercom patch and she'd have the cop who was stationed here tonight in the room.

The her eyes fell on the cross that was strapped to the kid's left thigh.

She made a decision then and there.

The Doctor quickly removed the leather holsters and slid them into her smock. Her eyes pierced the nurse who watched them, daring her to say anything.

The Nurse nodded, and then left without a word.

*****

Sunnydale Highschool Ruins Sunnydale, California

"C'mon Slayer," Crow said as he knelt over Riley, "Help me get Soldier boy to the van."

"Should we move him?"

Crow looked him over, "Yeah... He took a lump to the head, but it doesn't look serious. We'll get him back to his base and his doctors can check him out."

Buffy nodded and grabbed Riley's shoulders while Crow grabbed his feet. Together the carried the unconscious soldier to the van they had come in and loaded him carefully into the back.

Crow looked around, "Slayer, you call the soldier boys... Hey, someone grab the gear off the ground! We can't leave guns and shit lying around for someone to pick up!"

Buffy pulled out her phone and dialed a number. "Forest? It's Buffy... Its Riley... He's... No! No... He'll be ok, he just to a lump to the head. Huh? Thirty or so... No, we got 'em. Riley? He got five or six I think... Yeah, we're bringing him in.... Just Xander. He's in the hospital now. Don't ask... I lost count. K, we'll be right there."

Buffy looked at Crow, "They're expecting us at Lowell House."

Crow nodded and looked around the group. "That everything? Good. Everyone aboard!"

***** Lowell House Sunnydale, California

"Finn's been injured, they're bringing him in!"

The commotion built fast as Agents moved around quickly, clearing the path from the door to the hidden elevator and pulling a rolling gurney out of a closet.

"What happened?"

Forest shook his head, "Not sure, but from the sounds of it they hit heavy resistance."

"How many?"

"Summer's said thirty plus blood drinkers."

"Shit. How many people did they lose?"

"None. Riley took a shot to the head and Harris is in the hospital. No other injuries."

There was a long silence. Then the voices came back.

"What?"

"No way!"

"How the fuck?"

"How bad is Harris hurt?"

Forest shook his head, "I don't know. bad enough that their medic couldn't bring him all the way back."

Another long silence. They all remembered the 'medic' Harris worked with.

"Shit."

That pretty much summed up the reactions all around.

*****

Initiative HQ, below Lowell House Sunnydale California

"Medic?" Walsh stared at the screens for a short while. What medic are they talking about?

She glared at the screens moodily for a while, trying to think of a way to turn this to her advantage. Unfortunately she could trust anyone around her, George could have co-opted any of them to spy on her. Hell, they could all be spying on me and each other...

She shook her head. Thirty HST's... How did they survive? Even with the so-called Slayer on their side...

Growling she shut the monitors off and stared out the large plexiglass window at where the base doctors were preparing to receive Agent Finn.

*****

Xander looked around the, now familiar, dreamscape.

"Well..." He drawled, "I guess that didn't go as planned."

"Really, Alexander?" Elan said sarcastically as she walked up to him, "And what, as you would say, was your first clue?"

Xander rolled his eyes, "Cut me some slack, Elan..."

"Why, pray tell, would I do that?" Elanthielle looked at him with a piercing glare, "You very nearly got yourself killed."

"Am I going to be ok?"

"Yes." Elanthielle nodded, "In fact, this is as good a time as any to work on something I've been meaning to show you."

"Oh great. I'm near death and you decide it's lesson time."

"The best lessons are hard learned."

Xander sighed, "All right. Let's have it."

"Look around, what do you see?"

Xander looked around. The Barren wasteland had begun to evolve somewhat. There was a small lake forming in the distance, and he could see trees and shrubs working their way up through the parched ground.

He blinked. The trees and shrubs looked damaged. "What happened there?"

"The life in this place reflects your own life force. When you are injured so is the life in here."

Xander walked over to a broken tree and winced. "Ouch."

"Precisely. Concentrate and visualize the tree becoming whole."

Xander looked at it and focused his mind on the tree. Slowly it straightened, absorbing the damaged bark and wood into itself and healing over. In a few moments it was a tall and healthy spruce, standing proud in the middle of the slowly rejuvenating wasteland.

"Excellent. Now do the same for the others." Elanthielle waved her hand across the field.

Xander swallowed and looked at the dozens of damaged plants and trees. "There are so many."

"Just try."

Xander took a deep breath, an illusion but still comforting, and focused his will on his environment.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the flora began to regenerate.

*****

"Doctor!"

"What?"

"his EKG,"

The Doctor looked over at the machine and was startled to see that her patients brain waves had jumped from nearly comatose to a level normally associated with certain mental disorders.

"What the hell!?"

*****

"Excellent, Alexander." Elanthielle smiled as she looked around. He had even initiated some new growth.

Xander grinned, exhilarated by the success. He could feel an almost giddy high sweeping over him. "What's next."

"The lake." Elan said, "Refill it."

Xander looked over at the, now tiny, lake. "Elan?" "Refill it." She ordered.

Xander shook his head, "Ok..." He said uncertainly.

He closed his eyes and tried to visualize the lake filling up.

*****

"Jesus! What the hell is going on?" The Doctor looked at the readouts pouring around her.

"His blood pressure is climbing."

"Impossible! We haven't gotten the B-Neg up here yet!"

The nurse just shook her head, watching in disbelief as the pale face on the table began to grow pinker before her eyes.

*****

"Well done."

Xander looked at the lake in front of him, now large enough that small waves were lapping gently against the shore. The giddiness had gotten worse, and he was almost giggling at the patterns the waves made in the shimmering water.

Elanthielle looked at him in concern. "You need to wake up now."

"Not yet, Elan." Xander giggled, his eyes sweeping around the environment as he grinned widely at everything he saw. "I'm having fun."

Elanthielle looked at him sternly. "NOW."

Xander lost the grin, and looked like a five year old who had just bee scolded. "You're no fun." He complained.

"Alexander..." Her voice carried a warning.

"Ok ok..." He said, relenting. The he closed his eyes and did the first thing she had tought him. He imagined himself back into his body.

*****

The Doctor looked at the patient as he began stirring. She heard a low groan come from him and reached out her hand to brush the sweat matted hair from his eyes.

The his eyes snapped open, his hand lancing up in a blinding move to catch her wrist.

"Where am I?"

Her breath hitched in shock, but she managed to gasp out an answer. "Wilkin's Memorial..."

He winced. "I still can't believe they renamed this place after that dirtbag."

She looked at him in confusion as he slowly got up. "I... I don't think you should be moving yet..."

He pivoted off the bed, to the shock of everyone present, and planted his feet on the ground. "Relax, Doc. I'll be fine..."

Just then the kid's stomach growled loud enough to be heard outside the room.

He flushed a little pinker. "Sorry... Damn I'm hungry..."

"Wha?" The Doctor stared in shock as he looked down at his ruined cloths.

"Aw crap..." He looked around, grabbed a hospital gown and tossed it over his shoulders.

The Doctor followed him as he walked out of the room, "Th... The cafeteria is..."

"Oh, trust me. I know my way around this place." He grinned at her, "I've even seen you around before Doc."

"I'm... not sure you should be eating right now... you c... could have internal bleeding."

He paused, tilted his head, then shook his head. "Nope. I'm cool. Just need to get some food in me to replace the energy I used up."

She chased him down the hall, two orderlies following at a discreet distance, waiting for the order to restrain the patient. "I really do have to insist..."

He ignored her and strode into the cafeteria, looking decidedly odd with his matted hair, dirty black jeans, and hospital gown. He walked straight up to the line and started grabbing food, tossing it onto a tray. She watched in shock as he grabbed some of the highest energy foods he could find, and piled them high on the tray. He reached the cash and tossed a couple hundred dollar bills on the register.

"Keep the change."

The young woman behind the register stared in shock at the pile of food, and didn't even look at the money. "Yes Sir... th... thank you sir." *****

"Clear the road!"

Forest had the rolling bed at the front door when Crow burst through with Riley in his arms. "How long ago did it happen?"

"He's been out for almost twenty minutes now."

Forest nodded, "Got it, any other injuries?"

"No. Leo handled them."

"All right, we'll handle it from here." Forest started pushing the bed toward the hidden elevator. "Thanks for getting him here."

Crow just nodded at the back of the departing man's head. It wasn't anything that he needed thanking for, he may like to rib the Soldier Boy a lot but the guy was a trooper and an ally.

"I'm going with him." Buffy said from behind Crow.

Crow nodded, "Go on, I'm going to get to the hospital and check up on the kid."

Buffy nodded and chased after Forest. She stopped for a second, "Thanks."

Again, Crow just nodded. Then he turned and left.

*****

Anise and Jacob sat in the back of the van. Anise was staring woodenly out of the vehicle, while Jacob leaned back and talked amiably with the other occupants.

"So...." faith drawled, "Alien huh? How's that working for you?"

Jacob laughed, "Actually I was born in Washington... Jacob Carter is 100% Earth human... It's Selmac that's an alien."

"Selwho?"

"Selmac," Jacob tapped his temple, "A symbiote that joins with a host... He and I are roommates so to speak."

Phoebe looked over interestedly, "I thought those things were the bad guys?"

Jacob shrugged, "The Goa'uld are pretty nasty, but Selmac is Tok'ra... you could call him a Goa'uld in a way, but he would take offence. The Tok'ra are completely different on a philosophical level. They don't take hosts by force, for example."

"Some people let these things into their heads?" Faith said, more then a little skeptical, "I mean, knowing the whole story? Kinda like wanting to be a vamp..."

Jacob shrugged, "I was dying. Selmac offered me a chance at a productive life. Now I'm fighting an enemy of the Earth, and seeing things I never believed possible. It's not that bad a life."

"Maybe." Faith said a little flatly.

Jacob just shrugged again, "It takes getting used to I guess. But I don't have any regrets."

At that point Crow returned, "Blondy's staying here, let's hit the hospital and check on the kid."

*****

Wilkin's Memorial

The Doctor had given up on trying to stop her patient and just stared as he wolfed down some of the worst hospital food she had ever had the distinct displeasure to see.

"Damn, I'm hungry." He mumbled as he stuffed another bland omelet into his mouth.

"You just ate enough food to feed a half a floor!"

He shrugged, "Sorry..."

She just stared at him.

"Hey," He got out between mouthfuls, "I've been meaning to ask... How'd I get here?"

"A man brought you in..." She described him.

"Ah... Leo. How long ago?"

"Thirty minutes maybe?"

"K. I'd better finish up."

"Why?"

"My ride should be here soon."

*****

The group burst into the ER, looking more then a little harried.

The brunette in the lead surged up to the desk and demanded, "Harris. Where is he?"

The night nurse pointed wordlessly toward the cafeteria.

"Huh?" The Brunette in leather leaned over the counter, "Our boy was hauled in here in bad shape, lost a ton of blood... And you're telling me he's in the cafeteria!?"

The nurse nodded.

The brunette smiled, "That's Xander. C'mon Phoebs let's haul his ass out of there."

*****

Xander was stuffing a granola bar into his mouth when the gang burst in. He grinned and waved them over.

"Xander!" Faith growled at him, "Why aren't you unconcious?"

Xander stopped chewing and tilted his head as he pondered that question. He looked up at Faith, his eyes clearly saying 'Do you have any idea how stupid a question that is?'.

Phoebe just stood back, watching him nervously.

Xander swallowed, "Hey Phoebe..."

"Hey..."

"You guy's here to pick me up?"

Phoebe didn't say anything.

"We were here to sit by your bedside... but I guess that's out." Faith said, "Unless you and Phoebe want to do some role playing later... I could be the doctor..."

Xander turned beet red as he shrank under the stares of the people around him. "She's kidding."

"Say's you." Faith grinned.

"Ok, That's it!" Xander stuffed one last piece of bread into his mouth and got up, "Let's get out of here before you give me a stroke."

"What would you like stroked?" Faith called after his retreating form, her grin just growing wider as he made a run for the door.

Behind them the Doctor watched them go, still in shock. Crap! I didn't get him to sign out!

*****

Xander hopped into the front seat of the van, juggling three apples and a large slice of pie as he did. he glanced around the inside of the van and nodded in greeting to everyone before turning back to his food.

He stopped in mid-bite.

Slowly he turned back and looked over his shoulder into the crystal blue eyes of the Tok'ra, Anise.

"Hello."

Xander nodded again in response to her greeting. He turned back to where Crow was getting into the car. He just pointed silently to the back.

Crow nodded, "Tell me about it kid, Damned if I'm picking up any more hitchhikers."

Xander nodded, accepting that without comment. This is going to be a long night.

*****

X&J's Place

"What the hell are you doing here?" Xander looked pointedly at Anise.

She shrugged, "We came to speak with you."

"So speak."

"In Private."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Oh please. What's this about?"

Anise looked directly to where Elanthielle was strapped to his thigh.

Xander nodded, "Oh. That."

"Indeed." Giles said from the corner of the room, "I wouldn't mind having a few words with you about that myself." Xander sighed, and sat down. "Definitely a long night."

After a moment had passed he looked around the group, "Ok, lets have it."

Anise stared at the assembled people suspiciously, unwilling to be the first to speak.

"Oh for the love of..." Giles muttered as he cleaned his glasses, "Very well. Obviously you are carrying an item of some power..."

Xander heard a giggle sound through his skull. Not now, Elan.

"And after your display earlier tonight," Giles continued, "I have to wonder how it is affecting your mind."

Xander kept a straight face, "Other the annoying the hell out of me on a daily basis?"

Giles nodded, "Other then th... what!?"

Xander started laughing. "Relax, G-man. I'm still me, no possession this time. Just a voice in my head..."

Giles was silent for a moment, "I hardly think that having a voice in your head is something to be taken lightly..."

Xander shrugged, "Compared to what? Hyena possession? Turning into a fish monster? Becoming Soldierboy for the night?"

"I... yes, well... I suppose I do see your point..."

Anise leaned forward, "Does this voice have a name?"

Xander tilted his head, and leaned forward to match her position. "Elanthielle."

Anise gasped, her eyes widening and her mouth dropping open.

Jacob's eyes widened slightly, "Are you sure?"

Xander smirked, "Unless she's been lying to me for the past 8 months or so... yeah."

Giles watched the reactions with some interest, and turned to Anise. "May I take it that you've heard of this item before?"

Xander winced, "Hey, G-man? Do me a favor... don't call her an item... Women really hate being treated like possessions... you get me?"

"Women?" Giles stared at Xander.

"Yeah, you know...Not-Men..."

"I know what a woman is, Xander." Giles said testily, "What I meant was, this... voice... is female?"

"Elan is *very* female, G-man.... not just her voice." Xander smirked for a second, then winced again. Damn it, Elan...cut that out!

No response. Just a sense of her satisfaction with her jab.

Xander shook his head, Women.

Jacob spoke, slowly. "Elanthielle is a rather well known name in certain histories... I highly doubt any of them have survived here on Earth though..."

Giles looked at him, "Really now, I think I would have run across..."

Jacob cut him off, "From approximately thirteen thousand years ago..."

"..." Giles stared at him, "I see."

"Anyway," Jacob continued, "Somewhere around thirteen thousand years ago... you do understand that this is very roughly dated right?"

Everyone nodded at him to go on.

"So, back then, there was this... cadre of warriors, in the Ancients language they were called the Kine'Iende. Roughly translated it means..."

"White Knight, or Holy Warrior." Xander said dryly.

Jacob looked at him oddly, "That's about right, though 'Honor Knights' might be more accurate... At any rate, these people were the mobile enforcement arm of the last tribe of the Ancients. They kept the law and peace across a thousand worlds... maybe more. Back then they understood the full capabilities of the Gate system..."

"Gate system?"

Jacob looked around, then back at Xander. "They didn't know?"

Xander shrugged, "I didn't want to involve them too much... The Official Secrets Act."

Jacob nodded, "Sorry." "No big. They'd have found out sooner or later."

"Hello?" Faith looked around, "Found out what?"

Jacob sighed, "The Stargate is a device that creates a stable wormhole between worlds that have another gate. Currently the gate has been limited to travel within this Galaxy only... which still connects hundreds of worlds. Originally however the gate spanned dozens, maybe more, Galaxies across the universe."

Everyone stared at him in shock.

"Galaxies?" Giles whispered.

"Galaxies." Jacob confirmed. "Back to the point though, these Warriors maintained law across the network. You have to understand, even in those days most of these worlds would make the wild west look civilized. You had upstarts like the Goa'uld and the Yautja challenging their law at every opportunity, testing defenses and potential weaknesses. Even so, they kept order across most of the network for thousands of years... It was a remarkable achievement."

"What, exactly, does this have to do with the weapon Xander is carrying?" Giles asked. "Was it one of their weapons?"

"Yes..." Jacob said, "And no. Elanthielle was one of the greatest of the Honor Knights. She and four others founded the corp, trained the initiates, led them into countless wars and battles."

At this Xander perked up, "Four others?"

Anise nodded, entering the conversation for the first time. "Four others. Like Elanthielle they were formed into Rune Weapons. Those weapons became the symbols that led the Kine'Iende for over four thousand years until... well, until something happened that brought down the last tribe of the Ancients."

The Fall. Elanthielle said mournfully into Xander's mind.

"Elanthielle and the others were turned into five of the most powerful weapons in history... You must understand, that they were the pinnacle of the craftsmanship of the Ancients."

"What... Who were the other four?" Giles asked.

"Their names were known as Tur'ok, a Battle Axe, A Spear who was once Seinele, A Hammer that currently is rumored to belong to the Asguardian, Thor, named Mjolnir. And the last one was rumored to be a sword. However we have no information on that one."

Xander titled his head, and his eyes widened. When he turned back to Anise he had a look of awe on his face, "The sword remained on Earth... It's name was... is.. Excalibur." Shocked rippled though the room.

"My lord." Giles muttered as he furiously wiped at his glasses.

*****

Anise looked around in confusion, "Excalibur?"

Jacob licked his lips, feeling the rippling shock pass through him and the room. "Excalibur emerged approximately thirteen hundred years ago... at best guess. It was... it became... legend."

"Quite." Giles added dryly, "However there has never been a single scrap of evidence that the blade truly existed... or that even Arthur existed. Not anywhere, in the magical community or the scientific."

Xander frowned, his head tilted as he listened. "The sword is real, but I'm afraid I don't know about the legend of Arthur... Elan wasn't active during that time."

"Wait a moment," Giles looked at Xander, "She's speaking to you even now? Feeding you information on the conversation?"

Xander smiled, "You haven't wondered how I was able to keep up with you when you went all watchery on me?"

"Well I simpl..." Giles stopped, "Excuse me? 'Watchery?'"

Xander laughed and smiles and snickers floated around the room. After a few seconds he lost his smile and looked at Anise curiously, "Why did you come all the way to Earth? It certainly wasn't to give me a history lesson."

Anise smiled, "Hardly. I wished to ascertain whether you were fully aware of what you were carrying."

Xander raised an eyebrow, "And you think you know more then I do?"

"Perhaps."

"So speak."

Xander smiled as Elanthielle's voice echoed through his mind, This should be interesting.

"The weapon is capable of considerably more then you showed at the SGC battle." Anise began, "Histories, legends, and myths suggest that it contains more brute force then a brigade of Jaffa."

Elan snorted. Is that all? Xander grinned and shook his head.

"The weapon's power is by far too dangerous for you to risk using." Anise warned, "Should you tape even a fraction of it's power it would destroy your mind and most likely fry your body."

Xander raised an eyebrow, "A fraction? How much?"

"Less then a percent."

Actually, Alexander, I would estimate that you're currently able to channel almost ten percent without permanent damage.

Xander smiled, "Your numbers are off."

Anise looked surprised, "How?"

He shrugged, "Elan estimates I can handle up to ten percent and survive."

Jacob leaned forward, "Can you be sure if you can trust her?"

Xander stared at him, "Can you trust the voice in *your* head?"

Neither Anise nor Jacob responded. There was no way to impart the trust they felt for their symbiotes to one who wasn't joined. And they rather suspected that was what the boy was pointing out.

Xander let the silence stretch out for a long moment before continuing. "I doubt that is all you came here for. You could have sent such a warning through the SGC. So spill all ready."

Anise looked puzzled for a second, until Jacob whispered something to her. Her face cleared up and she looked at Xander intently. "The Tok'ra would be very interested in taking over the responsibility of the weapon..."

Xander laughed.

"I am quite serious." Anise said, "You have little to no clue the dangers that will come looking for the weapon."

"Lady, I live on an interdimensional gateway to a universe so bad that humans mistook it for HELL. Danger comes to Sunnydale on a weekly basis. Whether Elan is here or not, I'm going to be facing off against creatures who literally want to kill every human they see, at least with Elan I have a fighting chance."

On the other side of the room Phoebe shifted in her seat as Xander's speech, a frown marring her features. No one noticed. Xander paused in mid-speech, then cocked his head to one side. A second later he smiled, "Besides. She doesn't wish to leave. And that, my friends, is that."

His voice carried a finality that managed to impress itself on even the two Tok'ra.

"Very well." Anise said slowly, "If you wish to reconsider..."

"I won't."

"If you do," She persisted, "You may contact us through the SGC..."

Xander shook his head and smiled, "All right."

Anise sighed, disappointed. "I do urge you to reconsider..."

Xander just grinned.

"... But since you apparently will not, I wish you luck... I feel that you will most certainly need it."

"Luck's a funny lady, Anise," Xander said, "She tends to come and go as she pleases. I'll trust my friends instead."

Smiles floated around the room and Xander's speech, touching all but Anise.

Jacob leaned forward, "Now that that is over with, I have to ask... What were we fighting earlier... they looked almost human... but Selmak has never encountered humans who could survive two shots form a Zat'nicatel."

Xander grinned, "Selmak still hasn't."

"Huh?"

"They were Vampires." Xander explained, "Your Zat fire couldn't kill them because they were already dead. The third shot dusted them, same as it would for any corpse with a previous double tap charge in it."

"Vampires?" Jacob shook his head, "You've got to be kidding me."

Xander shrugged, "Nope. Surprised those aren't in your histories actually..."

"They are." Anise said, smirking. "Jacob Carter believed them to be... children's fairy tales."

Xander chuckled, "Join the club."

"The Universe gets weirder and weirder everytime I look at it." Jacob muttered, "I wonder if I'll ever get a handle on things?"

Giles grinned, "I would hope not, Mr Carter... As one of my favorite authors once said, if anyone ever understands the universe it will likely be replaced by something even more obtuse and confusing."

Another round of snickers passed around the room.

Jacob grinned at Giles, "Isn't the same guy who also said that he thought that had already happened?"

"The very same."

"Wouldn't surprise me."

Anise shook her head in irritation as the low laughter echoed around the room again. These people take everything far too lightly.

She moved to stand, "As I can see that I will not be able to get anywhere with you at the moment I'll take my leave. Selmak and I have duties to attend."

Jacob sighed and stood, "She's right... Harris," He began hesitantly, "If that weapon is half as powerful as the histories suggest it would be invaluable to the cause... if you won't pass it on would you consider helping us on a case by case basis?"

Xander thought about it, and nodded. "That's fine with me and Elan. The SGC has my contact information if you need a hand quickly, and you know where to find me now..."

Xander didn't noticed Phoebe's sharp intake of breath at his statement, nor did he see her frown deepen.

Jacob grinned, "thanks."

Xander stood up, "Say... I was wondering... could you give me a hand with something...?"

The two Aliens and Xander left the room, chatting in low voices.

*****

The Next Day

Xander grinned at Phoebe as she walked in the room, but he quickly lost his smile when she didn't return it.

"What's up?" He asked cautiously.

"We... W... Can we talk?" Phoebe asked.

"Sure..." Xander swallowed, This isn't good.

Phoebe sat down, "Xander... I..."

Xander took a deep breath, "Ok, I know I'm not liking this... but spill all ready. Let's have it."

Phoebe sighed, "When you threw yourself at those vampires last night I... I thought you were going to die."

Xander's heart tightened, he could feel the small pains constrict through his chest. "I'm all right, Phoebe..."

Phoebe shook her head, "It's not that... I know... But..."

"What is it?"

"Xander... You just volunteered to fight another war on top of the one you already accepted... Don't you have a limit? Y... You could die out there... so far from home.. From me..."

Xander reached out a hand, but Phoebe shrugged it off and glared at him. Her eyes were glistening with tears, but Xander couldn't tell if she was crying, angry, or something in between.

"Don't you get it!?" She yelled, "You could DIE!"

"Phoebe... I..." Xander wasn't sure what to say, "This is who I am..."

"Why?"

"I already told you."

She shook her head, "No... You didn't explain it well enough..."

Xander stared at her blankly for a moment. "I can't turn away... I can't leave my friends... you... to fight alone."

"It's not your job..."

"It's not yours either!" Xander snapped.

Phoebe looked at him in shock, "I'm... I'm a Charmed..."

Xander turned away and started pacing the room. "Don't give me that destiny crap. You were chosen? FINE! But. I. CHOSE."

Phoebe stared in shock as he continued.

"Do you think that you're the only one who can fight?" Xander was fuming, bottled up anger from years venting as he paced. "If it was just you and the Slayers we'd all be dead! Don't you get that? Humans... normal humans, have to step up to the plate too. There isn't enough destiny to go around sometimes."

Phoebe still didn't say anything, but Xander suddenly seemed to run out of words. After a long silence he spoke again.

"I went through this with Buffy, Phoebe... I don't want to do it again." Xander said softly, "I... I am who I am. I can't... won't change that. Not now."

Phoebe nodded slowly, two tears streaking down her cheeks, "I... understand. But, Xander?"

Xander looked at her.

"I... I can't live like that. My life... I need something steady... something safe."

Xander just stared, knowing full well what was coming but unable to think of a way to prevent it.

"I..." Phoebe stammered as she looked at him through watery eyes. "I think we should..."

"Break up?" Xander's voice croaked out.

Phoebe didn't answer. She just nodded.

Xander swallowed, or tried to through the dry wasteland his mouth had become. "I... don't want to..."

Phoebe took a painful breath, "I know."

A long silence permeated the room.

"G... goodbye, Phoebe."

Phoebe's face fell even further and she rushed to Xander, and he pulled her into a hug.

"Oh Xander..." She said, her voice cracking.

"Shhh..." Xander managed to get out from under the pressure in his chest, "I understand..." "I... I think I..." Phoebe stammered, "I love you."

Xander smiled, though she couldn't see it, a sad smile that did nothing to disguise the pain he was feeling. "I love you too, Phoebe. I just wish things had been different."

He felt her shaking in his arms and clenched his jaw, his teeth biting into his cheeks as he tried to keep himself under control. "I'll always be here for you, you know that right?"

She nodded slowly into his shoulder, then pushed away. "I... I'm... I have to go..."

He nodded, and watched as she turned her back and rushed out.

Xander collapsed into the chair behind him as he heard words filter in from the next room.

"Leo!"

"Phoebe? What happened?"

"Just take me home... please?"

Then there was nothing but silence.

The Way

That can be gone

Is not the Eternal Way

End