Around a viewing pool the Elders watched the first meeting between Alexander and Rupert Giles, as expected the watcher didn't question things too much as he knew about their kind. They were also pleased to see their suspicion that Alexander would be immune to the effects of Hellmouth had been correct. That meant he could aid Tara and the Sunnydale group as often as he liked or needed to. Leo was already feeling the effects of being on the Hellmouth, thankfully he wouldn't stay long and thus they would not have to worry about losing one of their best Whitelighters.
"Now here is his first real test," one of the Elders spoke up in an amused tone of voice.
The other Elders all took note of what their fellow Elder had seen, behind the three men the shop door opened and in stepped the recently returned Slayer Buffy Summers. They watched her come to a dead stop as she stared wide eyed at Alexander, and then they all winced as she went for the stake in her back pocket and charged.
Xander spun in his seat as he heard Buffy's voice gasp in surprise before saying his name in shock, jumping to his feet he was almost unsurprised as she pulled a stake from her back pocket and lunged at him, even as Giles shouted at her to stand down. Having only a split second to decide what to do, he quickly orbed out of the way and reappeared behind Giles who was now on his feet as was Leo. Buffy, he noted, had spun to track his movements and was already about to charge him again, thankfully however Giles got in her way and wrestled the stake out of her hand.
"Giles, what the hell are you doing?" Buffy growled out, not understanding why her watcher was protecting the vampire pretending to be her friend.
"He is not a vampire Buffy," Giles told her with a long suffering sigh, really wishing his slayer would learn to think more before she attacked something. "I would have thought that would be obvious by now as it is still a very sunny morning today, is it not?" he pointed out.
Buffy glanced out the window and noted the sun was indeed pouring through the window, glancing back at Xander she noted he was not trying to stay out of its ways and was actually bathed in its light. He was not smoking or screaming in pain, she was somewhat confused as the last she had heard he had been a vampire, well before he had killed himself.
"Er…," she said unsure what to say. "Then would you like to explain why he is not dust right now then? Because last I heard he killed himself," Buffy finally inquired.
"Wow thanks a lot Buffy, it's nice to know you missed me," Xander shot back in surprise at her lack of happiness about his return.
Buffy paled a little as she realized she had indeed come off as being disappointed he had somehow come back, worse she had also sounded like someone who didn't care he had died in the first place. That couldn't be further from the truth, when she had got back to Sunnydale and found out the horrible fate that had befallen Xander she had been angered as well as upset. She felt largely responsible for it. If she hadn't run away then maybe she would have been there to save him when the attack happened. Willow had been inconsolable and it had taken most of the last few months to get the red head to forgive her for leaving. Gilles had been critical of her running away as well, knowing her friends would try and keep Sunnydale safe on their own without proper backup.
"I'm sorry Xander I really am," Buffy finally said. "I really didn't mean for that to come out like it did. I'm just having a hard time taking in the fact you are back and not a vampire," she admitted before she gave into a growing urge and rushed forward and hugged him.
Xander tensed for a few seconds as she came towards him again, but he quickly relaxed as she pulled him into a hug. Smiling a little he returned it and was somewhat surprised to hear Buffy sniffling into his shoulder. Clearly he had been wrong. She had missed him after all.
"I'm sorry," Buffy muttered into his shoulder and kept repeating it as her guilt at his death came back full force. "I should have been there," she finally spat.
"Easy Buffy," Xander said, doing his best to comfort her, surprised by the level of guilt she was displaying. This wiped away any remaining anger at her for running away he still had. "You couldn't have known what was going to happen. We shouldn't have been out there without you anyway," he told her as he rubbed her back, hoping to help her push back the past. "We got sloppy and we paid for it, simple as that," he added. "You needed time to heal, I know that. I just wish you could have trusted us to help you heal here at home," he admitted.
Buffy nodded, wishing she too had allowed them to help her. Her Mother would have been a big help, but that was one of the things she had been running away from. Joyce now knew the truth about Buffy being the Slayer and the world she lived in, she hadn't taken it well. Even after finally coming back to Sunnydale, Buffy had many arguments with her mother over the whole thing, helped along only by Giles who had taken a lot of her mother's anger. Joyce had laid into Giles something rotten, after many arguments Joyce had finally begun to listen to what Giles was telling her. Nothing could change Buffy's fate, she was the Slayer and that was all there was to it.
As she was the Slayer that meant that all manners of supernatural things would attempt to kill her and it was her job to kill the vampires and demons and ensure the Hellmouth remained shut. The idea that she had moved her daughter to the mouth of hell had horrified Joyce in the extreme, but Giles had assured her even if she hadn't come here the vampires and demons would have found her anyway as would have the watchers council.
Finally Buffy calmed down enough to sit down as Giles went to the nearby phone to call Willow and ask her to bring Tara, Oz and Joyce to the shop. He decided whatever reason there was for Xander's return, the whole group should be here to hear it as one.
The Elders let out a sigh of relief that things hadn't escalated after the Slayers initial reaction to Alexander's return. They had known beforehand that it was going to be a very turbulent reunion, but it was important it didn't go downhill as the saying goes. If Alexander was to take up his role as Tara's guardian then he had to be accepted by the Watcher and more importantly the Slayer, now hopefully things would run smoothly when the rest of the group turned up.
"The first test has been passed," the lead Elder remarked in a relieved tone. "The Slayer was always going to be the hardest test when Alexander returned," he stated.
"The test is not over just yet Supreme Elder," another of the Elders pointed out. "Soon his other friends will arrive, more to the point so will his best friend Willow Rosenberg," he reminded them all. "That will be I think a greater test," he stated confidently.
"I agree and in more ways than one," said a third Elder with a troubled expression on his face.
"You are concerned," the supreme Elder took note of his fellow Elder's expression. "Speak, what troubles you about Alexander's meeting with Rosenberg?" he commanded.
"As we all know the red head has begun to learn magic mostly on her own merit as the Watcher has been too occupied with locating his missing Slayer. Even now that she has returned on her own he has failed to keep an eye on how the red head is progressing," the Elder explained. "He knows how dangerous self-learning can be for a witch or warlock, his own past is well known to us all and he should be concerned with the fact the red head is self-teaching herself a dangerous art. However my main concern is how she will take the news her best friend has been returned to be the guardian not of her, but of her new friend Tara and that she and she alone will then be guided in her learning's," he finished.
Silence met his explanation as the Elders digested what he told them. He could tell his point had been received as a few of his fellow Elders now had similar troubled expressions on their faces. Even the Supreme Elder now looked troubled as he thought over everything that had been said, knowing the red head and her way of thinking it was indeed a possibility she wouldn't take kindly to Tara being given what she would consider special treatment.
"Rosenberg believes herself to be a strong witch and capable of doing things beyond her strength and skill," the youngest member of the Elders warned. "She has pushed herself beyond her limits before like when she did as she attempted the soul curse during the battle with Angelus," he reminded them all. "Had we not intervened she would have been lost then and there," he went on.
"You make good points both of you," the Supreme Elder agreed, unable to deny what had been said by either of his fellow Elders. Rosenberg was proving to be a worrisome problem that had the potential to become worse. "Alexander has stated he intends to keep an eye on her, however he cannot be her guardian as he will be for Tara and there is no telling whether Rosenberg would accept true guidance from Alexander as it is," he speculated with a shake of his head. "I will give this matter my full attention, for now we must hope Rosenberg can control herself," he said.
The other Elders nodded their heads in agreement knowing there was little they could do right now. Rosenberg wasn't a natural born witch and thus did not fall under their domain to deal with. She was outside their influence or control, she was the concern of the Powers that Be and hopefully they would keep a close eye on her. However the Powers ran a rather loose ship in the eyes of the Elders, they had a long history of ignoring certain things that led to trouble later on. They just hoped this would not be one of those mistakes. Rosenberg had the potential to be big trouble if she ever turned against them. Turning back to the matter at hand they all turned back to the viewing pool. Finally the rest of the group it seems had arrived.
Xander tensed a little as he sensed his charge coming towards the shop. This at least gave him advance warning that Willow and the others were almost here. Hopefully this meeting would be far less charged than the reunion he had with Buffy, although considering Willow had watched him die that was asking for a lot. He had no idea of the emotional impact that event had on his red headed friend's psyche, seeing him alive again in a sense could be too much for her to take. He turned towards the door just as it opened and Oz stepped in followed by Joyce, both came to a dead stop as they laid eyes on him. Willow entered at the same time as the only person he didn't know personally and guessed to be his charge. They were both in the middle of a deep discussion and thus hadn't noticed how Oz and Joyce had frozen in place, well at least not until they ran right into them.
"Hey what's the big idea stopping in the doorway?" Willow complained still having not looked into the shop.
"Willow," Xander said softly to gain her attention as Buffy, Giles and Leo looked on in concern on how this reunion would go.
Willow froze as she heard a voice she knew as well as she knew her own. It was a voice she had been certain she would never hear again. She had watched as he burned in the early rays of the morning sun and now she heard it like a whisper on the wind. Hundreds of emotions and thoughts ran through her as she tried to understand how this was possible, slowly she turned in the direction of the main table and noted sitting there were Giles, Buffy, an unknown person and Xander which wasn't possible. She began to tremble as she took in his features. No... this had to be a nightmare as it was the only explanation for his presence in the shop.
"No, this can't be," she stuttered as Tara looked back and forth between Willow and the person she knew to be their deceased friend Alexander Harris.
Tara had been told all about their previous adventures after being welcomed into the group a few weeks ago after she and Willow had become friends, this had been around the time both had found out they were both witches during a fight with the Gentlemen, which had come to Sunnydale to steal everyone's voices as well as their organs. From that point on she had gotten more and more involved in the group's efforts to protect the Hellmouth and to ensure it stayed closed.
"This is a trick, it has to be," Willow continued to mutter as her eyes stayed pinned to where Xander now stood with his arms extended wide in a gesture meant to say he meant her no harm.
"Easy Willow it is me, no trick," Xander said, gently knowing he had to be careful what he said. "I am not a vampire anymore, I swear," he continued.
"Willow said you burned up in the sun," Joyce stated as she pulled both Tara and Willow into the shop and then closed and locked the door so no one could interrupt them. "How is it possible you are now alive, and no longer a vampire?" she demanded to know, wary of this being some sort of demonic trap.
It had taken Joyce a long time to get used to the world she now lived in and that her daughter was the Slayer as well as the fact it was her duty to protect the Hellmouth alongside her friends. A duty that had already cost the group much, but the death of Xander had been to her mind the most costly. The effects it had on the group were great. Willow was far more sombre now as was Buffy if she was honest. Still they had begun to put his death behind them, thus his apparent return, if it was really him was a two edged sword.
"I believe I can answer that," Leo said, having been waiting for an opening. "My name is Leo Wyatt and I'm a Whitelighter," he introduced himself as well as stating his occupation. As he expected only Tara seemed to recognize the title as her eyes widened in surprise.
"What is a Whitelighter?" Oz inquired as he helped Willow into a chair at the table as she seemed to be still in shock.
"A Whitelighter is a guardian spirit for a natural born witch," Giles answered, hoping to help explain all this to the group without it erupting into violence or an argument. "We don't know exactly how they are chosen or where they come from, but the Watchers have heard of them and even encountered one or two in the past," he explained.
"What do you mean they are guardians for witches?" Willow asked as she finally managed to shake of the shock of seeing Xander back from the dead and actually focus on the conversation at hand.
"Not for witches in general, only for natural born witches," Leo corrected her. "It has always been the Elders duty to select who will be a Whitelighter and who they will be assigned to. It is vital that they are guided on the right path so they don't fall to darkness. If the Whitelighters wouldn't exist then it is possible the world would already belong to the demons," he stated as he ran a hand through his hair. "Witches are a valuable asset in the war we fight, they are one of the strongest defenders we have alongside the Slayer and others," he told them.
"How does Xander fit into all this?" Joyce demanded to know.
"Xander's choice to sacrifice himself to ensure he didn't harm his friends caught the attention of the Elders as did his refusal to allow his friend to attempt the soul curse as he knew that curse was unreliable. His choice at that moment alongside many of his actions in helping to guard the Hellmouth impressed them and thus they offered him the chance to become a Whitelighter," Leo explained. "He accepted and has been in training for the last two years," he added.
"Why weren't we told?" Buffy asked with a frown.
"Usually when one becomes a Whitelighter they cut all ties to their former lives. We didn't expect any reason for Xander to come back here, at least not until Tara came here and became a part of your group," Leo answered calmly as they reached the crux of the issue.
"Why Tara?" Joyce asked in concern as Tara ducked her head as she became to the focus of the group.
"Tara is a natural born witch who so far hasn't been assigned a Whitelighter, this was been discussed when she moved to the Hellmouth, a place no Whitelighter can go for any real length of time," Leo again answered. "Xander however was born on the Hellmouth and thus it was believed he might be immune to the effects the Hellmouth has on us. We believe we were correct as when we arrived I immediately felt the effects and Xander didn't," he explained. "Hence he was assigned to be Tara's Whitelighter. He will help guide her and keep her on the right track as she continues to learn her craft," he went on. "He has also been granted leave to aide you when needed, either for information or to heal any of you who needs it, which is a Whitelighters primary gift," he told them.
"So this is not a onetime thing, Xander will be staying?" Oz asked for clarification as he took in everything that has been said while keeping an eye on Willow.
"Yes Xander will be staying," Leo responded.
Tara stayed silent as she finally realized exactly what this meant. Her mother had a Whitelighter for most of her life and often spoke of the great help she had been to her. But seen as she hadn't been assigned one when she was young, she had taken it to mean she was not worthy of that honor. Now she guessed she had been wrong, maybe you had to reach a certain age before you were assigned a guardian. The fact her guardian was to be the fallen friend of her new friends was shocking. She hadn't realized her moving to the Hellmouth would have such consequences for the group at large. Although it seemed they were at least not bad consequences as far as she could see. She glanced to where Willow sat and tried to read her expression, but she couldn't tell what the red head was thinking.
Willow looked around a bit in disbelief. She had listened to what Leo had told the group and she was shocked by it. She was relieved that Xander had gotten that choice, but what enraged her was that he let her believe for over two years that he was dead and now that he had come back it wasn't for her, but for someone he didn't even know. She took a deep breath and then looked at Tara for a moment, who looked at her as well at that moment.
She forced a smile on her face, but everyone looking closely could have seen that it didn't reach her eyes. "So if Tara here got Xander assigned to her as a Whitelighter, how did it come that I haven't got one?" she asked in the direction of Leo. "After all I'm a really powerful witch these days. I learned a lot since I did the soul curse on Angelus."
Giles blanched a bit at hearing the last part, realizing his error that he never guided Willow in her learning of witchcraft. Before he could say anything Leo replied, "Sorry Willow, as I explained only natural born witches get a Whitelighter as a guardian. Tara is one and so she got one assigned to her, but you Willow are a normal human who learned witchcraft and so you don't fall into the purview of the Elders, but of the Power that be who are also responsible for the Slayer line."
Willow jumped up and yelled loudly, "I can't believe that, so how come that these Powers never helped me and why am I not good enough for your Elders?"
Willow wanted to yell more, but was interrupted by Leo. "Stop right there Miss. As I said you fall outside of the Elders jurisdiction and I can't speak for the Powers. Actually the Elders already did more for you than they should have."
Willow looked at him and said in an angered tone. "What? What did they ever do for me? Nothing I say."
Leo shook his head, placed his hands on Willow's shoulders, which had the effect to calm her done quite a bit. "They saved your live Willow. You remember that soul curse you spoke about? Didn't you never ask yourself how someone who had nearly no experience with witchcraft could cast one of the blackest spells in existence? The Elders channeled the powers you called for you. If they would not have done that we wouldn't be speaking right now, because you would be a burned out shell with nothing left in your mind."
Willow stumbled back from Leo and stared a bit in horror at him. She mumbled a quiet "No" and then nearly crumbled on to her chair, breaking out in shocked tears. She felt a pair of arms engulf her from behind. "Shhss," the calm voice of Xander said. "I may be sent here by the Elders to be Tara's Whitelighter, but that doesn't mean I can't help you as well. Technically I'm only allowed to help Tara learn witchcraft, but who am I to refuse if my charge invites you to learn with her?" he whispered to her. "And you can believe me that I tried to contact you, sadly the Elders have a lot of experience with that and blocked all my attempts."
Willow's tears dried after hearing what Xander told her and now even smiled a little bit. Xander slowly let go of her and waved Oz over to takeover and give Willow some comfort.
Now Xander finally could turn to Tara. He walked the few steps over to her, bowed and said with a smile, "Hello Tara. I'm Xander Harris, your Whitelighter at your service."
(L.A., Office of Angel Investigations)
Gunn looked up as he heard the painful moan from Cordelia which normally meant she had a vision. He quickly filled a glass with water and went over to her and then waited until the vision was over. As her gaze cleared again he holds the water out to her and waited.
Cordelia took the glass of water with a thankful nod and took a sip from it. Then she looked up to Gunn and asked, "Where is Angel?"
"He is out on a case with Wesley as you know," he replied.
"Damn," Cordelia cursed. "Go get your car. We have to go to Sunnydale at once."
"Sunnydale? Why?" Gunn asked confused.
"I have to slap someone hard who should was supposed to be dead for over two years and then save him from being killed by a guy dressed in a black suit armed with a crossbow," she replied as she stormed out to where Gunn's car was parked much to his confusion but he quickly followed his friend.