An Odd Beginning Anew (2024)

This bunny bit after seeing a gorgous manip of John after escapingfrom hell.
pic link: http://digitalwave.livejournal.com/231877.html

Xander/John W.

Willow goofs up another spell and frees John from Hell and accidentlydeages him to the scoobies age. and after seeing how Xander's treated decidesto stay and take him under his wing teaching him what Giles should have.I'd also love to see how Dean and Sam react to discovering their father'sback and around their age.

Storm

StormNotes: Storm bunnied me with the idea of someone rescuing JohnWinchester from hell, only he has to come back as younger for some reason.And then he takes up with Xander. Well..... Also, this is NOTa death story! Even when the bad thing happens. Notice it keepsgoing?

An Odd Beginning Anew


Xander looked at the others around the Magic Box. "Bad news."

"Please not more," Buffy moaned, putting her head down on the researchtable.

"The crew is going out of town for the next week and a half."

Willow pouted at him. "You can't. We need you here."

"If I don't, I'm fired and I can't pay my rent. I can't camp onyour dorm room floor, Willow. It's only a week and a half."

"I'm sure we can cover it," Riley offered.

Xander glared at him. "Sure you can. You who doesn't goout on his own. Still."

"Hey," Buffy warned.

Xander looked at her. "I go on solo patrols. You do.Willow doesn't but that's because she doesn't really hunt as much as spelland chase vamps with floating sticks."

"Hey!" Willow complained.

"You kinda do, Wills," Buffy pointed out gently. "Though you'regood when you're all helpy like that."

"Definitely," Xander agreed. Willow relaxed at that. "Besides,killing them with magic is probably a big no-no anyway."

"Probably," she agreed bitterly. She glared at Riley. "Youcan't go on solo hunts?"

"I don't think it's safe."

"That's why you go after fledges, not masters, by yourself. Oryou go to the Bronze and let the vamps there try to sneak you off so youget one at a time in the alley or the bathroom. Oh, who in the heckdecided we needed more succuba?" he asked his girlfriend Anya.

"Don't look at me. I don't like girls that way."

"Not my thing," Willow said quickly.

"Succuba?" Buffy whimpered.

Xander nodded. "Yup, ran into two last night at the Bronze."

"Which made me pout," Anya put in. "They tried to steal my Xanderfrom me."

"Did we banish or whatever?" Buffy asked, sounding a bit tired.

"Ran both of them off by being my charming self," he said dryly, givingher a look. "This still leaves you without anyone but Riley for realbackup for the next week. And I hate to say it, but if that job we'regoing to temp on is in as bad of shape as the boss thinks, it'll be twoor possibly nearly three."

"I am not going three weeks without org*sms," Anya complained.

"Then drive down on the weekends to visit, Anya. We're going towork on a major housing complex for the state that's running behind.We won't be allowed out of camp." She pouted at him. "Yellat the boss. I'm sure he's had other girlfriends do the same thing.Especially since our exterior and lawn care foreman has a brand new babythat only got born a few days back."

"Eww."

"She's actually really cute. His wife brought her to the siteto show her off. We all took a good long break to coo at her."He grinned. "No expectations of it ever happening with us."

"Better not," Buffy complained. "The little you would be rotten."She looked at Giles. "Are we going to have more problems since it'ssupposed to be slowing down?"

"Perhaps. With some of the ones that had been captured, it's possiblewe'll run into a lot of problems," Giles told her. "I can't foreseethe future."

"Fine." She pouted at him. "Are you sure you have to go?"

"Yeah, if I wanna eat and pay rent and all that good stuff."

"Shoot."

"At least you'll have Riley. He's *some* help I guess."She glared at him. Riley glared too but he ignored him. "Andhey, Spike's back. I saw him lurking earlier on the way here.He was going to talk to your mom again."

"That's a helpful thing to know," she said, walking over to grab thestore's phone to call her mother. "Are you all right? Xander saidSpike was coming to chat again. No, just making sure. Please.Xander's got to go out of town for his crew stuff. No, that leavesme, Riley, and Willow," she said. "And Spike if he'll help us forblood money." Joyce asked and Spike grumbled but agreed. "Thanks."She hung up. "He'll help where he can." Giles smiled and noddedhe'd pay for the vampire's blood. She looked at Riley. "Soyou're going to go out nightly with me I guess until Xander's back?"

"I guess I am," he agreed, but mentally he was swearing. Patrolwas dangerous! She gave him a look, tapping her foot quietly.He swallowed. "Sure, we can go on all the patrols you want, Buffy.Bronze hunting too if you want. I'll try not to be too jealous whenyou bait the vamps."

"Good." She looked at Xander. "When are we losing you forwork?"

"Tuesday night. We're leaving early Wednesday because they'redoing the next inspection that day. So I've got to have an earlynight since I'm driving a few of the guys and an official company truck."

She nodded. "Okay. We'll deal. We always do."

He grinned. "You could come help us if you want."

"The vamps would take over again, Xander." She swatted him onthe arm. "C'mon, let's hit tonight's fun stroll with violence."

"I thought that was golf," Willow joked.

"Clubs are nice," Xander admitted, grabbing stuff so he could followBuffy out. "Coming, Riley?" The former soldier nodded, followingthem out. He rolled his eyes where neither of the couple could see.Because Riley was a weenie. He had more training than Xander didyet he did less with it on the hunts. That was not right. Andhe always wanted more backup than they had available. It just wasn'tright and it didn't make sense. Then again, Riley was a woose.So he guessed it made some sense.

Willow looked around. "Let me work on something I've been researching,"she said, moving to do that.

Giles looked at the books she was pulling down. "Death magic?"

"Xander said he overheard a demon talking to another one about raisingthe mayor." He shuddered. "I figured we should know how tostop that. Before they start."

"Good idea." He got her another few books he usually kept lockedaway from her. "I want those back."

"Of course," she said cheerfully, settling in to research. "Taracan come help research tomorrow. She's got a test in the morning."

"That'd be fine, Willow. We like Tara. She's a sweet girl."Willow smiled and got back to work while Giles made himself something todrink so he could go over the store's inventory. "Anya, please countthe candles, incense, and weapons?"

"Fine," she agreed. "Even if they aren't nice to fondle."

"The more fondling you give them, the less likely they are to sell,"Willow reminded her.

"I'd hate that." She went to count but not fondle things.She wanted to sell most of the store's stuff and she couldn't do that ifthey didn't look nice. So she even rearranged the candles so theywere in a prettier display.

Willow kept researching, coming across an obscure mention of a rite.She frowned, rereading the passage, getting up to look up other mentionsof it. That sounded promising for what they needed to stop.Though, an idea did hit her while she was reading a historical accountof the spell being used. Someone had used it to call a slayer backto help them with a demon. She wouldn't do that to any slayer, but....there had to have been other guys like Xander, right? Guys who hadjumped in for a good reason, not to kill all the demons but because theyhad been hurt by them? They might not mind and she could probablyfind one that was in hell for some reason. Killing some demons didtake demonic deals from some stories she had seen. That might giveher an idea.

***

Willow locked the bathroom door, making sure nothing and no one couldget into it to stop her. Buffy would be pissed for a few days butthey needed the help. Riley had nearly gotten eaten by a vamp onthe patrol earlier. Buffy was bruised and limping. Xander wasout of town for another week, or so he said at his call. He had soundedhappy. Or drunk, which was still bad for him. He knew betterbut she'd yell at him later. So she was left with one option thatshe saw was expedient. Not a slayer, but a hunter. She knewthere were some. Wesley had found some and come back recently toLA to hunt like that. She set the parameters of the spell into therite and started, closing her eyes while she chanted. It was notgood magic, per se, but not horribly bad. Nothing like blood magicor anything.

A flash went off and then a groan. She opened her eyes, lookingat the spirit. "Shoot, we need you to be really here," she muttered,going back over it again. He moaned louder and she glared."Hush, or else I'll call someone else." He glared but she shrugged."It's necessary. We'll talk in a minute, when I'm done." Shefinished the spell, feeling it warp just a bit since she had wanted onewho would fit into their hunting team. Someone who could Bronze-huntwith Buffy since she sucked at it and Riley was such a woose. Onelittle vamp nearly biting him and he had went strange and weird.Really big woose. Hell, she'd had Spike nearly kill her and she wasn'tthat weird. She winced at the new flash but the hunter was there,and now younger. "I didn't know it was supposed to do that," shemuttered, staring at him. She did hand him a towel because he wasnaked. "Here, you need that."

He glanced down then covered himself. "What did you do?" he demanded,looking at himself in the mirror. He glared at her. "You calledme back from hell?"

She stood up, looking at him. "Welcome to Sunnydale. Wehave a slayer, her hunting team, and way too many demons around here."He glared harder. She backed up at that. "The one who backsher up is out of town for a few weeks."

"Vacation?"

"Work stuff. His construction crew is out of town to help on anothersite. Buffy's bruised and she's a slayer. Things are goinghorrible since we had to stop the Initiative and freed their captives."

"What?" he demanded.

She sighed, moving to clean up her mess. "Let me do this."

"No, don't," he said, stopping her. She glared. "You doknow what happens to witches who go bad, like you did?"

"I did not!" she defended.

"You pulled a soul out of hell, resurrected me, and then changed myage. Yes you did."

"I did not. I was being all helpy to help Buffy and things."She stomped a foot. "I'll explain it but we're in the dorm bathroomand I can't hog it for very long. A couple of the girls up the hallwere drinking earlier so they'll need the bathroom soon." He glared,starting to growl. "I can explain everything, I promise. Ican even get you some clothes from Riley's stuff. You're not much differentin size and if so I have some of Xander's I was mending," she said quickly.

"Hurry up," he snarled. She finished cleaning and led him backto her room. She held up a hand and snuck inside. She was sayingsomething when her roommate woke up then snuck back out and handed it tohim. He went back to the bathroom to change then she took him outsideonce he had on Xander's spare sneakers. He looked up then at her."What date is it?"

She looked at her watch. "The twelfth of May."

"Of...."

"The year you died. I specified one that hadn't been there forlong." She saw a vamp and sighed, floating her stake over to getit. She pointed. "Vampires. Welcome to the hellmouth,John Winchester."

He glared at her. "I've heard of this town. So?"

She walked over to a bench to sit down, curling up some because he wasclearly mean, if not slightly evil. "Our group just shut down a militaryproject that was capturing, torturing, and experimenting on demons."

He shuddered. "Why?"

"To figure out what they could do with an eye to using them to sparesoldiers in wars. Plus for the fun of the experimenting since somewere buttholes that way."

"None of the ones I served with would allow that."

"We didn't like it either. That's why we stopped them and theirfreaky super Frankenstein monster." John frowned at that. "Butdoing that let the demons they had captured out. They had a bunchof harmless ones but not all of them. That plus the vamps being busyand us not having as much time to hunt with classes and all means thatthey're starting to gain a foothold in town again. With Xander outof town, we don't have anyone to really back up Buffy except for Rileyand he was Initiative and a woose."

"Why?"

"Why is he a woose? Because we go on solo and team hunts.He wants a whole strike team behind him. The rest of us know Buffy'senough. He's arrogant and thinks that she's just a girl, even withknowing what she can do."

"Your slayer is Buffy I take it?" She nodded. "Okay," hesaid, thinking about that. "So why call me?"

"We needed more help. I found the rite while researching how tostop some demons that want to resurrect our former mayor and major badguy around here. Well, former major bad guy I guess but some of hisstuff is still going on. It mentioned we could do that and hey, ifso, then your original deal is done and you can go to wherever you weremeant to go." She stared at him. "That lets you move on properlywhen you go the next time."

"But I'm fully back?"

"I'm not going to speed you on your way," she assured him. "Wecould use all the help we can get some months. Xander's a...well, he's *normal*. Riley's former Initiative, like I said.We have Spike. They put a chip in his head so he can only hurt demons.He's a snarky master vamp but we pay his blood bill for him so he helpswhen it gets him carnage and destruction for his demon to enjoy.I'm a witch and I'm dating another one, who's nicer than I am."

He kept his desire to strangle her inside for now. He'd do itlater, when he could find some rock salt, a shotgun, a few empty shells,some lighter fluid, a lighter, and handle her properly. "So you decidedto do something so wrong that most witches would burn you themselves bybringing me back from hell," he said dryly. She nodded, looking down.

Buffy came outside pulling back her hair. "Willow's got 'do what'snecessary' syndrome, the same as the rest of us do. Lay off her.And who are you?"

"This is John Winchester, Buffy. He hunted for years but the callingback made him a bit younger."

"By about two decades," he said dryly, glaring at her.

"Uh-huh." She looked at Willow. "You had to do this beforefinals?"

"Yes! You're injured, Riley's injured and woosey. Xandermight not be back to help for weeks. He's right, I can't hunt magically!We're going to get overrun," she said, begging Buffy to understand.

Buffy sighed, looking at John. Then back at her. Then backat him. "You hunted how?"

"Mostly spirits, possessions, those things."

"Can you finish taking the spirits out of Xander? We banishedthem but it left some of them in him," Willow said.

"That's dangerous and tainting," he said grimly.

"Xander's good," Buffy said firmly. "Even if he is very normaland trips a lot."

"He hasn't tripped in weeks," Spike said, coming out of the shadows.He stared at the guy. "Winchester."

He sneered. "Spike. I heard your name mentioned."Spike sneered. He smirked. "What's wrong, not happy to seeone of us?"

"You know each other?"

"He nearly staked Dru for going after one of his boys," Spike told her.

"I would have if her little mind screwing gift didn't come out."

Spike shrugged. "She thinks he's cute. Then she saw Xander."He looked at Willow. "He'll burn you for this."

"I can make sure he can't," she reminded him. "And then stakeyou."

"Hey!" Buffy said, breaking them up. "Stop it. I've hadan hour of sleep, a really bad patrol night, and finals starting tomorrow.I do not need this." She looked at John. "I'm sorry she screwedup. Can we undo it without hurting you?"

"She fully resurrected me. I'm alive again."

"Okay. And that means we'd have to kill you, right?" Henodded. "Then tough noogies. If you want redeaded that bad,find a vamp. We'll talk about this tomorrow. Spike, take himto Anya, he can have Xander's couch." She looked at him. "Watchout for her. She's miserable with Xander gone. She'll hit onyou." She stomped back inside. "After finals, Magic Box," sheordered.

"And that's Buffy," Willow said.

Spike glared at her. "Whelp's gonna get you too."

"He will not! I got us help!"

"Quit," John growled, making her flinch. "Yes, you screwed upmajorly, young lady. Not even chaos people would have done it, noteven for a good reason." He stared at Spike. "You *help*?"

"Gives me blood. I can kill as many demons as I want," he saidsmugly. "Lets me be the Big Bad I am."

Willow floated them both. "No more macho pissing contest.Some of us like girls and don't need to see the measuring sticks."They stared at her. She put them down. "Spike, show him toXander's. Please?" She stood up and dug into her pocket, pullingout her wallet to hand him a few bills. "Here, for cigarettes later."She looked at John. "We'll be done by one or two. You'llhave to walk past the Magic Box to get to Xander's. Meet us therethen so you can yell at us." She stomped back inside. She didstop to do a binding so he couldn't kill her, but that was simply a smartthing to do with how growly he was.

"Does no one stop her?" he asked the vampire.

"Hasn't happened yet. Scary thing is she's not the strange one.Whelp's fully normal."

John looked at him. "So am I. It never stopped me."Spike gaped. He stared back. "It doesn't. Plenty of huntersare normal, Spike."

"Boy could use tutoring anyway," he decided. "And boy hormonesinstead of girl ones floating around him all the time." He nodded."This way, Winchester. If I break the truce I'll end up like herpet rat who used ta be a witch."

"She did it?"

"Witch did it to herself," he said. "Before they got burned atthe stake." He nodded again and John followed him. Spike pointedat the Magic Box. "Expect yelling."

"They're girls. Of course they yell. My Mary did."Spike snorted at that, shaking his head. "Dru?"

"Many times. Mostly at the stars to stop it and give her sometime between visions." He knocked then walked into the apartment,giving him a smug look. "She gave me an invite."

"Uh-huh." He'd talk to the boy about that. The girl comingout was one of his worst nightmares. "Anyanka?"

"Until I lost my power center. What are *you* doing here and alive?"

"Red," Spike said, enjoying this show.

Anya groaned. "Oh, no." John gave her a smug look and nodded."I'll have Giles spank her in unfun ways tomorrow then. Need thecouch?"

"And a phone if you have one. I need to check on my boys."

She stared at him. "I do not want your sons in this town, Winchester.With the ones drawn to your younger one, things could get a lot worse."

"I'll warn them about that but they're still my boys."

She huffed. "Calling card so Xander doesn't have a really horriblephone bill?"

"I'll try." She nodded, going back to her bedroom. Spikeleft with a snicker. John found the phone and sat down to call hisfriend first. "Bobby, it's John. Winchester, Bobby. Awitch did it before you hang up." Bobby let him stay on the line."I'm in Sunnydale." Bobby swore. "She said they're being overrunso she brought me back to help them. Where are my boys?" Helistened to his report. Then he sighed. "The demon I'm presentlyon the couch of says that if Sammy shows up here, it'll be a problem withthe one after him. No, we'll have a loud fit beyond that. BecauseI look about twenty-five?" he said dryly.

Anya whimpered in her bedroom. "Give me a few days and I'll bereporting in. Warn the boys for me please? Thanks, Bobby.If you have it, please." He smiled. "Thanks. Yeah, Icould. I'm borrowing clothes. Got my guns too?" He beamed."Thanks, Bobby. Yeah, please do. Dean's fit will know no soundlimits. He might even go up into the soprano register again.Like the time Sammy suggested the frat boy incubus could be baited by himwhen he was fifteen, yeah. Thanks." He hung up and laid downon the couch. It wasn't comfortable but he'd slept on worse overthe years. In the morning he could hear a report and beat thatwitch to death. Hopefully they wouldn't try to stop him.

***

John got up very early the next morning, going to do PT. A good,long jog around town would help him get to know it better since it lookedlike he was stuck here for at least a few weeks. It was a prettysmall town. A bit too pretty. It had a feeling of manicallyholding onto 'normal' to his senses too. Which meant people wereignoring things around there. He finished his run with a cup of coffee.He had found some spare change in the couch for it. That got takento the library so he could look up the ones he had met last night.He needed some background before he went to that meeting.

They didn't cover a lot but what they did was blatant if you knew whatyou were looking for. Police reports mentioning them being at certainbad events. Notices of the graduation gas explosion, which clearlywasn't by the pictures in the paper that was stored. The town's historywas in a fairly thin book so he settled in to browse through it too, settlingon the later half of the last decade for most of it. That gave himmore idea about what Willow had said about the old mayor. Charming,really. He finally got done and went to the Magic Box, walking insideto look around. A shop for Wiccans, wonderful. He looked atthe man behind the counter. "Buffy told me to show up here afterclasses today."

"Were you working with Riley?"

"No, Willow pulled me back from hell last night to help with the huntingduties. John Winchester, Mr. Giles." He held out a hand."Demon hunter."

Giles gave him an odd look but shook his hand. "She did what?"

He drew out what he remembered in the bathroom. "And she deagedme by about two decades," he finished. Giles rubbed his forehead."Buffy said she'd be yelling later on today. So did your residentdemons, Spike and Anyanka."

"She's Anya now," he told him. "She lost her powers."

John just nodded at that. "Interesting. Explains why she'sdating a member of your crew?"

"Indeed. Xander does tend to draw some odd women." He shookthe thought off. "I'll talk with the girl."

"Can I beat her first?"

Giles gave him a look. "She did do you a favor getting you outof hell."

"There's at least six demons that can be called by resurrected bodiesand blood."

Giles shuddered. "Good point. I will be beating her."

"Her natal coven?"

"She's been my student for years but I fear she's eclipsed me long ago."

"Stealing books?" John asked. Giles sighed but nodded."No one that can beat her and show her ethical uses?"

"I've talked to a few. They've given me suggestions but doingso around the hunting is problematic for part of the year. It hasn'tbeen consistent and I fear she's been left alone too many times."

"You do know hunters like I am come after witches like her when theygo rogue?"

Giles swallowed. "I do. Are you?"

"I want to beat her," he said dryly. "Then do her that way."That got a grimace. "If she had botched it, we could have a realproblem. Not to mention my sons' reaction to me being their age."

"You have sons?"

"Two. Dean and Sammy. Sammy's unfortunately got a majordemon on his tail so he can't show up for a bit. Dean might parkoutside of town to see me. I'm getting word back to them througha contact I called last night."

"That's reasonable I suppose. How did you meet Anya?"

"Spike put me on her couch."

"Ah. Buffy said so?" John nodded. "I'm sure the boywouldn't mind if his job didn't have him out of town right now."

"Construction the redhead said?"

"Indeed. His crew is helping on a housing project in the nextcounty over for the state. They're a bit behind."

"That's reasonable. I know it happens." That got a nod.He glanced around then at him. "So I need a sit rep if I'm goingto help. Since I'll be here for at least a few weeks until my thingscan get to me."

"That would be very helpful. By then Xander should be back."He smiled, getting the information he needed to give him what he neededto help. "This is the report I sent on the Initiative fiasco we hadrecently."

"That was mentioned. Anyone punish them?"

"Most of them did die," Giles told him. "A few of the soldiersare still alive."

John stared at him. "You do know that it's an act of treason forany US soldier to act in a military way inside the US unless they're inthe National Guard?" Giles slowly shook his head. "That's whywe have the National Guard, Mr. Giles. They're in real trouble ifthe higher ups get them."

"They sent them to do it."

John nodded. "I'll see if there's an active investigation then.I know someone who can snoop on that subject." He sat down on thecouch in there to look over the information. "What was that Xanderboy's part of the spell?"

"The heart. Xander's not skilled with magic in the least.In fact he grandly screws it up now and then on Willow. We're notsure if it's because he's normal or another factor like a past possession."

John kept his opinion to himself this time. Because he wasn'tsure it wasn't her screwing up. "How is his training as a huntergoing?"

Giles stared at him. "I've had him sparring with Buffy.He seems to know how to once we told him how to handle a sword and a stake."

John gave him the oddest look. "Guns?"

"Buffy abhors them."

"I used mine a lot, Mr. Giles. They come in very handy and youcan be farther away so you don't get so banged up."

"They don't seem to work particularly well on vampires, which is ourmajor problem."

"I know someone who's making wooden bullets."

Giles gave him an interested look. "Really? Xander saidhe couldn't get one that wouldn't compact in flight."

"I'll talk to the boy when he gets back, put him in touch with my contactthen." That got a smile and a nod. John went back to reading.What he saw between the lines was a tired, pouty girl trying to keep abalance to her life, a rogue witch, a hunter without training, and theonly really, truly trained one being a vampire with a government-issuechip that kept him from killing them all. And a solider that haddone the wrong thing on so many levels. He went father backon the hunting and scouting reports he had filed with his council.Yeah, they were overrun. Very overrun.

Buffy walked in. "Good, you made it through last night."

He looked up at her. "I've faced worse than vampires, Miss Summers.Many times."

"Really? Why?"

"Because hunting spirits, natural beasts attacking others, and thingslike that is the same thing you do around here."

"Good point. How was Anya?"

"Pouty." He went back to reading. "She was not pleased."

"She'll whine later then." She looked at Giles. "Willow'shiding."

"Are her parents back?"

She snorted. "Willow's parents? Be back here? Hellno, Giles." He sighed, shaking his head. "She went to talkto Xander's mother."

"Why?" he asked.

"She said she's probably passed out and Xander doesn't check on her.She went to make sure they're both still alive." John gave her apointed look. "Xander's parents aren't nice."

"I've seen many like that," he admitted quietly. She nodded andwent to the back of the store for something. He looked at him."She hiding?"

"Indeed."

"You can assure her I don't have any lighter fluid on me."

Giles smirked. "I dare say we can't allow that, Mr. Winchester.She's the only one we have who can close the hellmouth the next time itopens."

Buffy came out with a bottle of water. "Which it might be soon.Spike left a note under our door saying he heard it was coming and notin a good way." She opened it and took a drink. Anya stompedin. "Sorry about the couch lending without asking first, but Willowcalled him back."

"Calling back souls is *wrong*," she said firmly. "It can calluntold horrors onto all of us!"

"I'm not going to kill him again," Buffy told her. "But I willsee if we can find him somewhere other than your couch."

"I called Xander and he said he could borrow it," she said with a pout."He didn't understand."

"Well, he did bring me back with CPR," Buffy reminded her.

"And created Faith."

"Yeah, but we had Kendra until Dru killed her." She stared herdown. "We'll handle it, Anya."

"She's right, it could call things down," John told her. "Butit won't yet. The hellmouth might be covering me enough to make itsafer."

"Did you take drugs to be this calm?" Buffy asked.

"I have two sons around your age, Miss Summers. I learned patiencefrom them." He stared at her. "Nothing teaches patience likeboot camp and having to sit in one spot for hours on end silently waitingon a creature to show up so you can shoot it. That with colic?I've got some patience but it's not infinite."

"Eww. You hunted deer and stuff?"

"And other things attacking people, yes." She gave him an oddlook. "There are."

"We have a friend who's a werewolf. He locked himself up.Except when he got free now and then."

"That's wonderful. Most don't. There were over six hundredpeople in the world killed the year before I died by werewolf attacks."

"Oh."

"That's not the only natural creature that gets hunted though.I'd never hunt one that wasn't hurting others. That still leavesplenty of others."

"I guess." She shrugged. "Guns don't work on vamps."

"I know someone who's making very good wooden bullets." He wentback to reading.

"Xander's trying," Anya said.

"I can hook them up to talk," he assured her, giving her a look."It can only help around here to be connected into the small network wehave."

"Can they teach Xander to not trip?" Buffy asked.

"I can do that," he said dryly. "I taught both my boys."She smiled at that. "I'll see if he needs more training when he comesback. Until then it'll take at least a week or two to get my stuffhere." He went back to reading.

Buffy looked at Anya. "When is Xander due back?"

"Six days."

"That's not too bad. Spike's note said we've got the hellmouthtrying to open, a few more vamps last night he dusted, and he said somethingabout Riley changing his squatting location to the east side of town."She took another drink. "Let me call Willow."

Anya sulked. "Let me. Where is she?"

"Xander's house talking to his mom."

"Watching her nap it off?" she asked dryly. She went to find therogue witch and drag her back by her hair if she had to. Resurrectingpeople was *wrong* and someone had to talk to her about that. Beforeit got her killed by some higher being and then she'd never get her powersback.

"So, did you know her?" Buffy asked.

"Yup," John said, not looking up. "I ran into her handiwork afew times."

"Ah. No wonder she was PMS sulky about you." She finishedher water, looking at Giles. "Okay, I'm less bruised. How badis it tonight?"

"Six rising by the paper, another two small nests I saw on my jog, settlingin for the day probably, and for some reasons the demons were guardinga warehouse on the docks," John told her, looking up. She gaped."I don't know what they're guarding but they had P-90's and K-bar kniveson their guards. Three visible from the front. I didn't snooptoo much past a run past it."

She blinked a few times. "Huh?"

"Which didn't you get?" he asked her. "I can show you where Isaw the demons with machine guns if you need me to. Maybe you alreadyknow what they're doing and have a plan of some sort to take them down."

"Sure," she said weakly. "Demons with guns?"

"Demons with current military issue guns," he corrected.

She shuddered. "Wonderful. Just what I need. I'llsend you with Riley if you don't mind. He does that stuff.I don't understand guns."

"If you want," he agreed. "He's what sort of former soldier?"

"Ranger."

"Then he can see tactical areas too." She smiled. "Whenwill he be in?" She shrugged, moving to call his cellphone.John mentally sighed. She was clearly exhausted. Her watcherwasn't a tactical or planning person. "I was at the library researchingthe recent history of the town. Who did graduation? Riley?"

"Xander. Riley didn't get here until last summer."

"Then maybe the boy and I can work on some stuff for you, Buffy."She smiled at that. "You should rest for later patrols. Youlook a bit tired."

"Finals are kicking my butt. Not enough time to study and stuff."She went to the office to take a nap. If he thought she looked tiredshe must look really bad. A glance in the mirror in there showedher she did. "I look really old," she told herself, laying down foran immediate nap.

"Thank you," Giles said quietly.

"If she's doing school and hunting, that's a lot of stress," he said."Do we have local contacts who might know more about that warehouse?"

"Possibly Clem might, or Spike." He went to the basem*nt but Spikewasn't there. He came back up. "Spike's apparently in a cryptinstead of the basem*nt at the moment. We can ask him later."Riley stomped in. "Good. John said he found a warehouse witharmed demon guards on it."

"Where?"

"The docks," John said. "Three visibly armed demon guards withP-90's and K-bars."

Riley just nodded. "We can look. C'mon. Who are you?"

"John Winchester." Riley went pale. "Willow called me backand fixed my age so I was closer to the local team's age."

"Oh, crap," he muttered, nodding him to follow. "Are you staying?"

"It'll be weeks before my stuff gets here," he admitted. "Then I'llsee. It depends on what the local team needs."

"She could use more backup. It's been me, her, and Xander.And well, he's normal."

"So're you and I, Riley. We're simply trained," he said impatiently.That was a tirade in the making against that chant. There was nothingwrong with hunting while being human and normal. Riley gave him anodd look. "I was a Marine before I hunted."

"Oh." He nodded, getting into his car to drive him over to wherehe had seen the demons. He stared. "Hostile 39's sort.Our people weren't sure what they can do tactically."

John gave him a look then looked at the warehouse. He got outof the car and walked over, nodding at the guard in front. "Is thehead demon here?"

"Who're you?"

"John Winchester. Demon hunter. I need to know if there'sa gathering in town. I was tracking something and it went this way.If you're harmless, I want to stay out of your way."

He looked behind him then at him. "You're with the military people?"

"No. I caught a ride with him. I was checking in with thelocal team. I need to know if this is a safe compound or not."

The demon walked inside, coming out with an old female. She staredat him. "I remember your pups," she said, staring at him. "You'reyoung."

"Rosenburg."

She snorted. "Figures. She screws up much." She lookedaround then at him. "This is a protected housing area against thosemilitary sort. We have no problems with hunters, John Winchester."

He stared at her. "You were in Biloxi." She nodded."I remember your clan member made good pie, ma'am. Just a protectedplace to live?" She nodded again. "Good. I'll be in townfor a few days if there's problems."

"If we have problem members, we'll send them after the slayer.She handles it for us."

"Good to know." He bowed slightly. She smiled and pattedhim on the cheek. "Thank you." He went back to the car."They're protecting themselves from your former coworkers."

"How could you just walk up to them?" he demanded.

John looked at him. "I've seen a few of them before, kid."Riley glared. "They weren't harmful then. I remembered thatmuch. I needed to see if they were going to cause problemshere and now or not. They're protecting themselves from another raidto get captives." Riley swore, starting the car and backing out.He got walked inside. "Blue skinned, a bit heavy set around the middle,two chins, three eyes, one above the normal two. One small horn abovethe third eye." Giles moved to find a book. "Usually foundin the Southern part of the US. I ran into some in Biloxi."

"Ah, here we are." He read it over. "Harmless."

"I asked the guards. They brought out an older female who saidit's a protected living area so no one else got stolen. If they hadproblems they'd send that one after the slayer so she could handle it."

Giles smiled. "I'll make sure she gets briefed on them later incase. The weapons?" John pointed at Riley's huffy, ramrod straightback. "Ah, they had some?"

"We had a few but we never figured out what they can do," Riley toldhim.

"They can't really do anything," Giles told him, handing over the book.

"The one I met in Biloxi could make a mean chocolate chip pie," Johnadmitted. Giles laughed a bit. "Two of the weapons were unloaded."

"I'll make sure Spike knows as well." That got a nod. "Wedo protect those who are innocent around here."

"I can agree with that approach. Life's too short to take on everylittle thing. You have to pick your battles. Going after theharmful things saves you time, grief, energy, and injuries."

"Good. Willow's in the back talking to her girlfriend."

"Is her girlfriend beating her yet?"

"No, not yet. Tara?" She came out of the back and went absolutelypale upon seeing John. "Know him, Tara?"

She nodded quickly.

John smirked. "My son beat your brother's ass for nagging youin a store one day, didn't he?" She nodded more quickly, lookingdown.

"We've seen why," Giles told him.

John walked over to tip her face up. "I was dead."

"Wi..Willow," she stuttered quietly. He nodded. She justnodded and went back there to talk to her girlfriend, who yelped a minutelater.

Buffy came out of the office. "Anya wanted to help you spank her,Tara." Anya stormed back there to help her. She lookedat John. "You talked to them?"

"Of course. I remembered seeing one in the past, I just didn'tremember why. I figured if they were lying I'd pick up on it.If they were harmful I could kick it down and take the gun since they didn'tlook that comfortable with it."

She nodded. "That works. Harmless, Giles?" He showedher. "I can deal with that." She looked over as the door openedand someone came in to browse. "Hi, welcome to the Magic Box."She looked at John. "Do you feel comfy patrolling tonight?" she askedquietly. He nodded slowly. "I feel weird for weeks after dyingand coming back. That was only with CPR. I figure yours washarder."

"I can deal with that in my off-hours. I learned to compartmentalizea long time ago, Miss Summers."

"Buffy. I'm not Southern." She frowned at him. "Orthat old, like the librarian we call Miss Sturgins." She handed thebook back. "I need to practice."

"We can help you," John assured her. "Right, Riley?" Rileygrumbled but nodded, going to help Buffy work out. John smirked atGiles, getting a mean one back. "He called her Hostile 39," he saidquietly.

"He still calls Spike one too," Giles agreed.

John walked back into the training area shaking his head. Thatboy needed a swift kick. Badly. And he had bad form for self-defensetraining. "They let you out of boot camp with that lean?" Heshook his head. "Attack me, Buffy." She gave him an odd look."Now." She attacked and he defended, moving her backward. Shedid something fancy and he knocked her planted foot out from under her.She backflipped and came back at him. "Good." He kept it up,eventually getting pinned after another ten minutes. "Good job."

She smiled. "It's nice to have someone I can spar with.Xander tries, but he's not too good at all of it. I can do good witha sword against him though."

"Not my highest skill. I went for machetes; they were easier toconceal." She laughed, getting up to pull him up. "One thing."He waved her on. "Lunge at me on your right foot pivoting."She frowned and did it. He corrected something. "You're puttingyourself off balance." He shoved her over. She bounced up anddid it again. He stopped her and shifted her weight on her."That way. Not the other unless you're going to spin all the wayaround to kick them on the back of the head with your toes." Shemoved and nodded, going back over it with him. "There, now go workon your hand-to-hand with Riley. A Ranger has to have higher skillsin that and knife work." She bounced over to go over it with him.He watched. She had some faults. She had a good grasp of whatshe could do. She needed more width of skills though. "Holdon." He came over. "Next time he tries for your gut, guardit, and do this," he said, showing her slowly. She did it.Riley moved to attack her again. She did what he wanted and smiled,going on with it. He'd help add to her skills while he was there.Young punk there needed to be kicked by a girl anyway. "Buffy, you'rea girl and ignoring a girl's fighting style," he noted.

She glanced at him. "I don't want to ruin my manicure today.If I have to I can scratch and bite him. Or knee him but that meansI wouldn't get sex later. He'd pout."

"I don't pout," Riley said.

"Then why is your lip hanging down?" she teased with a grin, pinninghim to kiss him. "Spot me with the weight set?"

"Sure." He came over to spot her. "How much are we up totoday?"

"Two hundred."

"Single reps then lower weights to build muscles?" John asked, comingover to look. "It's unbalanced, Buffy." He slid off the extrafive pound weight on the one side, letting her try it. Shedid a few then put it back. "Let's drop that down and see how manyreps you can do in a row," he said, glancing at Riley. That got agrudging nod because now he felt like he was involved instead of John takingover. Which he was. They were right, Riley was a woose.Even Sammy was better than this guy. He moved it down to a hundred."Do as many as you can until your arms start to burn." She nodded,doing them while he counted. She finally got done and it wasn'tgreat but it wasn't horrible.

"You build muscle mass by doing reps that way," Riley told her."The other is to help you pick up more weight if you have to, but that'llbuild regular muscles."

"I don't want to look like those bodybuilder ladies on ESPN withoutbreasts," she told him.

"There's no way you'd have to go that far," John told her. "Ifyou have more mass to counterbalance the weight, you can pick up more."She beamed at that. "Muscle does weigh more but you can use a fewgood pounds at the moment."

She blushed. "I've been busy." She got up and wiped herface off with a towel. "Weapons?" she suggested. "I haven'tdone sword stuff in a few days."

"Not my area," Riley said, backing away. "I'm still working onmy crossbow skills."

John gave him an odd look. "Not that much different from a shotgun,Riley." He took her to practice that with her. He still hadit. Nearly spot into the center of the target on the second try.She was spot on. Riley was nearly there. "Arrow's arch lessthan bullets. Aim lower," he told him. Riley gave him a dirtylook. "Shorter flight. Like a lower caliber bullet, Riley."He tried it again and got it this time. "Good job." She smiledand got them, coming back to do another round into the targets. Deanwould be proud of his score. He'd laugh at Riley's face at beingshown up by him. They moved onto swords. He wasn't that goodwith it. He wasn't used to the extra length. He picked somethingshorter but he had the greater reach so he figured it'd even him out withher. She was fast, and sneaky. She got him on the side witha swat. He repaid her by kicking her butt back when she passed andcame after her again.

She gaped then attacked. "You attack like Xander does."

"Practical skills. Most demons don't use formal fencing skills,"he said dryly. She nodded at that, going back to it. He didduck a beheading swing, making her grin and go harder. He got toexperience the advantages of being a slayer first hand. She stillwasn't bad. She had some weak areas. Including her shirt."Buffy, unless your plan is to stun them with your bra, you might wantto wear a longer shirt," he said dryly.

She pushed it down. "Sorry, John."

"It happens. I've had some pull my clothes or rip them duringa fight before."

"Fortunately Mom can fix nearly anything." She looked him over."Clearly Xander's clothes."

"I can scrounge a few dollars and go to the thrift store," he assuredher.

"Xander does too." She attacked again, letting him get more usedto a sword. He wasn't doing too badly. "How do you use a machete?"

"It's like a long knife in most things. Though you can swing itto cut heads off," he said, finding one to show her. It was a goodskill to have. "My son Dean's better with a knife but I'm not surewhen he'll show up here. With the problems after Sammy we don't wantto draw that problem here."

She snorted. "Like we haven't seen big demons. Please!The mayor turned into one." She smirked. "Your sons can comeget you, John."

He smiled. "I'm more worried the one after Sammy will use it tosnatch him."

"Oh."

"Plus they're on the east coast on a job right now." She noddedshe understood that. She accidentally nicked him with the blade."Got a first aid kit?" he asked, holding it closed with his t-shirt hem.

"Um, yeah, but Xander does most of the bandaging. Willow doessome but she said she's out of practice." She went to get it forhim, letting him bandage his own arm. "Wow. You're good atthat."

"Most hunters treat their own minor injuries. ER's ask too manyquestions."

"The one here just tries to kill you so you can be parts and blood forthe demons."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Xander does really good stitches. He does most of mine thesedays."

"That's a good skill to have. I had to teach both my boys.They didn't like the needlework kit I made them learn on. Thoughtit was girly." She giggled, bopping him on the arm then got up toput the kit back. He watched Riley walk off after her. "Dogin heat," he muttered, shaking his head. He walked out there.Buffy gave him an odd look. He leaned down. "He does followyou around like you're in heat."

She nodded. "I don't mind. It means I get super cuddlesnow and then." She beamed. "After dinner, we're hitting patrol.We have plenty of stakes."

"Thanks. I can pick up dinner." She nodded, leaving himalone. "How feasible is a part-time job until my stuff gets here?"

Giles handed over the paper. "There's quite a bit of room in thelocal economy at the moment. The ones who've been turned and thelike."

"I'll work on that tomorrow."

Giles handed him something. "Xander's spare pack he kept withme as a teenager. It should still mostly fit you since he's onlyput on a bit of muscle mass over the last few years. I asked andhe said it would be fine to let you borrow it." John nodded his thanks,going to change. He took it with him. "She'll be back in aboutan hour."

"Sure." He went to check out the bag better. He found aspare few dollars, getting dinner before heading back. Buffywas in some impractical clothes. He looked at her. "Won't youget cold later?" Tara let out a high-pitched giggle. "There'sa good breeze going."

She gave him a look. "It's fine. I've hunted in this outfita number of times, John. We'll end up at the Bronze later.Before then we've got to hike halfway across town to get to the first fewvamps coming up."

"Driving?" he suggested.

"Um, no. I'd hit the demons with the car so I don't."

"I do," he told her. She beamed. "Put that in a bag in thecar so you can change into it and it doesn't get messed up." Shechanged in the back then came out carrying those. He took Riley'skeys and went to drive them that way. Someone needed some sense.Driving was a basic skill most people should have. Even Sammy hadbeen able to drive by the time he was twelve. They got out and wentto hunt in the cemetery. Buffy changed in a crypt before coming back.The Bronze was a place he hadn't expected to like to be in. It wasn'ttoo bad for a club. Not too noisy tonight. A lot of younger peopleand a whole lot of vamps. "A succuba," he said with a subtle point.

She sighed. "Xander ran off two before he left."

John shook his head. "Let me. You do what you do to thevamps." He walked over toward the succuba, getting her attention.He remembered how Dean had teased them with a look. The girl giggledso maybe he wasn't as good as his son. She still followed when henodded. He killed her outside and it was nicer. He checkedhimself and came back in. Buffy dancing with the vampire madehim stop, stare, and nearly sweat. Mary hadn't had moves like that,even if they hadn't danced like that in his day. He staked the vampireteasing his neck with a finger then went to get a beer. The bartenderstared at him. "I have a son your age." The guy gave him abeer and he went back to his table. He sipped and grimaced."Near beer."

"They check ID's," Riley agreed.

"I'll make myself one tomorrow." Riley gaped. He staredback. "I can." He took another drink. It was still nearlygood enough. "Not helping?"

"I can't draw them," he said sullenly.

John stared at him. "Go sit with the group over there," he saidwith a point of the beer bottle. "Talk to them. One might hiton you." Riley looked then went to do that. "Someone's motherneeded to spank the sulkiness out of him," he muttered into his next drink.Two vamps came over to chat him up. He made nice, letting them talkhim into the darker shadows. He staked them and was joined by Anya."I'm not going to cheat on my wife's memory, Anya."

"I know that." She glared at him. "We know Riley's not goodenough but he's her boyfriend. Can you lay off him? Buffy wantedyou to."

"I'm trying. He's not fitting up to the standards I set for myboys."

"Your boys are good but Riley's an idiot," she pointed out. "That'swhy my Xander calls him Captain Cardboard."

"I can use him as a teaching example to help her."

"Good." She smiled. "She wanted to know what you did tothe succuba."

"Killed it."

She frowned. "Really?" He nodded. "Xander only managesto drive them off. I wish he'd cheat with them so I could get mypowers back."

"Honorable men don't do things like that," he told her. "Evenwith a succuba prompting it. I've never cheated on Mary or her memory."She gaped. "Real men don't, Anya. If you want someone to cheaton you that badly, date someone like Riley."

"He's not...." She shuddered, looking at him. "Is he?"

"I don't know. How many times has he been bitten? He's gota few good bite marks on his neck."

She looked. "Wow. That's going to be sucky for Buffy."

"Her friends will keep her from killing him while they help her kickhis ass." He walked her out, looking around. "She's...."

"Alley I think." He strolled that way to get another drink andcheck. He heard a fight so he went to help her. Riley was stillchatting up the vamps. He staked one trying to get her back.She kicked the other one trying to grab her. He threw his stake andshe kicked it into position. Anya gaped. "No wonder your boysare so well trained."

Buffy looked at Anya then at him. "Then you are *so* working withXander."

"I can do that and lay off Riley some. Even if he isn't good enoughfor you."

She blushed but shrugged a bit. "He's nice."

"He's not." He made her look at him. "If he were a girl,I'd never let my boys date someone like him, Buffy. You need someonesupportive. It's why most hunters are single."

"He's the second one who knew. Actually he's my second boyfriendperiod." She frowned then let it clear up. "I know but he'shere and he does know."

"Uh-huh. I'll see if Dean knows any cute younger hunters for you.That way you have someone who can help you." He dusted some ash outof her hair.

"Darn mushy parent feelings?" she teased.

"My younger son is your age," he agreed. "Riley's still chattingwith some vamps. I can use him as a demonstration tool." Shegiggled, walking inside with him. Anya got them beers this time soit was nicer. Even if Buffy did give it to him instead. "Thanks."

"Beer bad for Buffy," she told him. "I don't even want to go backthere again." Anya giggled. "Meany." She went back ontothe floor. Riley pouted at her so she dragged him out there."He said he'd lay off you, Riley."

"Thanks." He grimaced. He didn't want to be shown up byan old guy in a young body. He'd pout but he didn't do that."You don't like him that way, right?"

"No!" She grinned. "He was momming me outside. Dustedthe ash out of my hair for me." Riley cheered up at that news."Besides, he's still grieving for his wife."

"Oh." He tried to dance with her but he wasn't getting it.She was trying to help. "I'm too white for this song," he complained.

She looked at him. "Not like I'm not." He sulked but shelet him go back to his chatty companions. "Why is he chatting upthe vamps?" she muttered. She sighed and spotted Spike, going topick on him for a bit. "Why is it trying to open?" she asked him.

"Someone wants it to."

"Oh." She grimaced. "Well, Xander can pay attention to itfor us since his crew will be back in a few days." She watched Riley."Subtle, not."

Spike snorted. "Not like he has taste, slayer."

"Hey!"

"You hit on him, not the other way around," Anya reminded her."I'm going to have phone sex with Xander so I get to sleep tonight.Night all."

"Night, Anya. Good point," she told Spike, getting an odd look."He's decent in bed."

He snorted. "Compared to the poufter? Not a lot of differencebetween that and the toys that the demon bint likes," he said dryly, walkingoff cackling at her look. He'd know. Angel was his sire.

"Eww, mental grossness," she called after him. She took John'sbeer to sip then handed it back before going to stake more vamps to getthat image out of her head. She did not want to know what Angel haddone when he was evil. Mental Spike/Angelus p*rn was Anya's thing,not hers.

John shook his head. "How can someone who tempts like that besuch a prude?" he asked himself. That night he slept in the basem*ntof the Magic Box but it had a comfortable cot. Better than the lumpyold couch.

***

Xander limped into the Magic Box five days later, flopping down in hisusual seat. "I'm back."

"I can tell that," Giles agreed. "Why are you limping?"

"Two of my crew got jumped at the gay bar so I kindly stepped in."He gave him a look. "The sheriff said it was fair game since therewere five of them against my two guys. He thanked me quite a lotfor not picking up the pool cue I had been playing with earlier."

"Are we in trouble?"

"Nope. They started it." John walked in. "You mustbe the guy on my couch."

"No offense, but it's lumpy so I'm on the cot downstairs at the moment."

Xander grinned. "That's so I can torment Spike usually."He held out a hand. "Xander."

"John." He shook it. "Your crew does good work. Wedid a patrol near the new school last night."

"Thank you." He grinned. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. A bit tired. It's been a while I did eight hoursof day labor." He sat down. "Done?"

"Yes it is. And it's not that ugly either. Surprising forgovernment housing."

"Very," John agreed with a small grin. "Buffy's got her last finaltoday."

"Poor her. She pouting or walking around mumbling with her hairup and wanting cocoa?"

"The later."

"Figures. She did it our senior year too." He looked atGiles. "Need me for anything for a few hours or can I go soak?"

"Go soak, Xander. We've got a small upswing in activity but nothingtoo drastic."

"Uh-huh." He looked at John. "So I heard why you got here.You sure you're okay?"

"I haven't found the lighter fluid to burn her yet," he admitted.Which was strange since he had went to buy some. She must have boundhim he realized.

"Hmm. Don't let her mumble while wanting a pet around you."He stood up with a groan.

"Need your first aid kit?"

"No, I need bubbles. I stopped a gay bashing gang last night ina gay bar who were going against some of my guys."

"You use bubbles?" John asked, trying not to smirk. Not the mostmanly thing.

"If I don't use their presents, they complain. I like not beingwhined at," Xander shot back with a look, getting a laugh. "I'llbe back at nine, Giles. I directed someone here earlier so they mightbe looking for you." John walked out with him. He smirked whenhe saw the other guy hug a truck. "I take it you're a proud car parent?"

"I am. I tricked out this truck myself. It took me quitea while to get it perfect."

"That's cool. I usually go for running but hey, car nuts are welcometoo." He waved at the other guy. "Hi, Xander Harris."He shook his hand.

"Donald Withers." He looked at John. "How in the hell?"

John looked around then at him. "A witch."

"Bobby said there was a new Winchester kin that was hunting."

"Donald, it's me, John. I changed your kid's diapers many times."Donald went pale, shaking his head. "Yeah, the witch brought me back."

"Why?" he demanded to Xander.

"Don't look at me. I've spent the last two weeks out of town workingon a construction site in the next county. I'm guessing she thoughtwe needed the help and ran across it in a book?" he asked John, who nodded.He looked at the other hunter. "Wild hair up the ass syndrome.We all get it now and then when we think things are desperate."

"No wonder Bobby looked antsy," Donald said, pulling out a flask.John sighed but held out a hand, taking it to drink. "Fully back?"He took it back to put up.

"As far as I can tell," he agreed. "Deaged to twenty-five or sotoo so I'd fit in better." Xander walked off snickering. "He'son the local team."

"Wonderful. Now what? Do your boys know?"

"I haven't talked to them yet. I'm worried the demon after Sammywill try for him if he comes here since this is a hellmouth." Donaldlooked confused. "A radiating devil's gate, Don."

"Oh. Okay then. On that note, I'm going to drink myselfinto a stupor tonight. Have fun with the truck and clothes.Bobby put your ID's into the glove box."

"Thanks, Don." He shook his hand. "Tell Bobby I'll calllater. Is my phone in there?"

"It has minutes on it too." He went to unhook the car he had towedon the truck and drove off in it, heading back to find a bar in a saferarea. This was just too freaky and had to be Winchester luck.Only him and Sammy, really.

John climbed in to look things over. "Yes, my license."He took it to the local copy place to get a new picture on it. Hecould do that. He had taught his son how to make fake ID's.

***

Xander walked in later that night, staring at John. "What didyou tell Anya?" he asked calmly.

"Not a thing. Well, one thing when she pouted that you wouldn'tcheat on her with a succubus so she could get her powers back. Itold her real men, honorable ones, didn't do things like that."

"No wonder she's sulking. She'll kill my back later trying towear it out." Buffy walked in wearing sweats, sneakers, and had herhair up. "No makeup, bad final today?" he asked.

"Very. I fell asleep during it. The teacher was not amused."

"We can't all be Willow," he said blandly.

"I told him that. Pointed out I was studying for his class insteadof sleeping. He made me finish it in the hallway so my snoring didn'tbother anyone." She pouted. "Only six tonight."

"I'll go," he sighed.

"You're still limping," John pointed out.

Xander snorted. "So?"

Buffy scowled. "Why are you all limpy, Xander?" she demanded.

"I was with a few of the guys at the local bar, which happened to bea gay bar thank you, and some rednecks came in to beat their asses.They lost." He stared at her. "I'm fine. The sheriffthanked me for not picking up the pool cue I had been using earlier."

"I guess that's fine. Find someone nice?"

"Not my thing," Xander said impatiently. "No matter how much Anyawants me to cheat on her."

"Shoot. Spike's being all helpy."

"Wonderful. Captain Cornbread?"

"His place at the moment. You can call him for patrol."

Xander looked at John. "You're not going to be super-paranoidboy and loudly wish for more backup so you draw all the vamps to us, right?"

"He does not," Buffy complained.

"Yes he does," John told her. "No, I know how to hunt, Xander."

"Good. We'll go. You go have pudding or ice cream," he said,grabbing stuff and heading off with John behind him. Buffy joggedoff for the college's late night snack cafeteria. He shook his head."Her first semester."

"I figure it's hard to do this and schoolwork."

Xander looked at him. "She's got a PE major, John."

"Oh. Never mind."

"Willow does most of her homework. This is her test spazzing."He pointed. "Shady Rest according to the papers?"

"There and Slumberville."

"Charming. I hate that cemetery. The hill makes it a bitch."

John smiled. "In the lower section at least."

"It's still a hike."

"I drive, Xander."

"Usually I end up hiking back to the car whenever I drive for patrol.Which means I'm tired and sore."

"I'll drive." Xander shrugged and headed for his truck.John got in to drive. "How did the new site go?"

"Pretty good. Our guys blew them away by being good workers, politeto the other crews, and they even cracked jokes a few times to make theother guys relax. Our boss got some thanks and said we did good."

"Congratulations."

"Thanks. I love my crew. They bust their asses for me."He pointed. "Shady Rest is having a party." They parked andgot out, heading that way. He coughed, making the vamps stare athim. One sneered. "Good morning!" he said brightly, smirkingat them. "Welcome to the end of your days." They rushed andhe moved.

John watched him. That limp was hurting his style or the kid hadnone. He was getting it done but he didn't use anything fancy."Xander, duck." The kid did and John shot a demon trying to rushand help. It screamed and died. Xander grinned and they gotback to it.

Xander looked around. "Eleven vamps, one demon, and a lot of dust,"he said happily.

John gave him an odd look. "We keep count?"

"Nightly for stats. Usually by now we'd be starting the summerslowdown. We get numbers like this in the fall, when the collegestarts again."

That got a nod. "I can understand mapping that out. Wantsome work on your hand-to-hand tomorrow? Or later?" Xandergave him the oddest look. "I've been helping Buffy with hers too.Using Riley to demonstrate."

"There's been plenty of days I'd love to kick his ass," he agreed."We'll see if I'm not too tired from work."

"I can understand that. I'm doing day labor. I paid backthe stash you left in the bag."

"I'm surprised Spike didn't find it and take it." He shruggedand they walked on to finish the clean up there. A few more vampsthen back in the truck to the farther cemetery. Xander pointed."Stop." John stopped and they watched the mass of demons outsidea building. "Any clue if that's been going on?"

"No. Any idea what it is?"

"During the daytime, it's a daycare." He got out. "Stay.They know me." He walked over, coughing loudly. A few lookedand groaned. "She's fragged from finals. Do I need to callthe slayer down to help, guys?"

"One of the workers won't give our egg back," one of the females complained.

"Why not?" She shrugged. "She hasn't said anything? Madeany demands?"

"No. We can't get in, Knight."

Xander nodded, looking back at the truck. "John, come help me."He looked at the door.

"I can pick that," John said, pulling out his lock picks to open thedoor. Xander led the way inside, letting him follow with his gunin hand. "What's going on?"

"Wouldn't give back the kid," he hissed. He found the right area,watching her. He looked around then nodded at John to cover the hallway.He walked in and coughed, making her flinch and scream. "Morning."

"K...knight," she stuttered. "Why are you here?"

"One of the ones outside said you refused to give back her kid.We're on patrol. Is there a reason for it?"

"Its my egg."

"You laid it?"

"Yes!"

Xander looked back. "Get the other mother in here. And thefather if he's there." John went to ask, bringing her and a veryold demon of another species in. "Doctor Gwarkal. Who laidthis egg?"

"The younger but the older is raising it because she left the nest."

Xander looked at the original mother. "Did you let her adopt thebaby?"

"She stole her. Then she kicked me out of the nest. SaidI was unworthy."

"She's my young!" the older one snarled.

Xander looked at her. "Use that tone of voice with me again,"he said snidely, staring her down. She whimpered and backed away.He looked at the healer. "Who would decide this matter? Clanleader, an elder?"

"Her matriarch would."

"She hates me because I want to learn things," the younger one said."My elder made sure I can't have other eggs either."

The healer nodded. "She had a hard laying and the elder did refuseto send for us immediately."

"Get the Matriarch," he ordered. She nodded, going to call her."John, can you handle the other one?"

"I can stay."

"This is going to get messy," Xander said.

John nodded. "I've got two boys, Xander." That got a nod."If we don't get them coming up, we'll get them later." Willow stompedin. "It's a problem about the mother of the egg. He's calledfor the matriarch of the clan to settle it."

"Mrs. Simmons and her daughter," Xander told her. She snorted."Want to do Slumberville for us?"

"I can do that. I'll drag Riley out by his smelly man balls tohelp me." She looked at them. "Don't make me mad tonight."

Xander popped her on the forehead. "Midol," he said slowly andclearly. "Because I had enough of the bitches last night with therednecks, Willow. Get Tara to make you snuggle later so you quitbeing such a grump." She huffed off. He shook his head."I'm glad she hasn't taught Anya that yet."

The healer giggled. "Your girl is very strange."

"Putting it mildly," he said dryly, giving her a look. She laughedsome more. An elderly, stooped demon female walked in on anotherdemon's arm. "The matriarch of these two?" he asked politely.

"I am. Why call me from my bed?"

Xander pointed at the child. "We have a custody dispute."

"The young is stupid for wanting to learn."

"Learning means that you don't get stuck in the past," Xander told her."Not like we still use horses and buggies." She snorted at that."She claims the elder intentionally made it so she can't bear more eggsand stole the child."

She looked at the elder. "You sent for a healer?"

"After ten hours," the younger one complained.

"Hush."

"She has a right to speak in her own defense," Xander said calmly.The elders all glared at him. He glared back. "Each side shouldbe heard for fairness. Otherwise that makes you no better than apouty, whiny, vengeful teenage human girl. The sort that call onmy girlfriend's former job."

"She'll have her say." She looked at her. "Ten hours?"

"She was whining about normal problems."

The healer shook her head. "She was torn. It is doubtfulshe can have more eggs without intervention, Elder."

"I see." She looked at the baby. Then at Xander. "Whyare you involved?"

"They were massing. We're on patrol. Of course we steppedin to make sure no one got hurt. Especially the young one at thecenter of the pain."

"That's most reasonable," she agreed. "You may go."

"I can stay," he assured her. She glared. He stared back."I'll be making a report to the watcher later. You're barely in thebooks. This way I can tell him you're a species that believes infairness and reason."

"If you must." She looked at the young one. "You can havemore."

"Not without help and with the elder kicking me out of the nest forwanting to learn of new ideas, I can't do that."

The matriarch looked at her. "What reason was she banished for?"

"Being unacceptable. It's her impure blood."

"Yet you wanted her egg," John said. "That sounds more like jealousythat she had one and you didn't."

"That does come across," the matriarch said. "You're not normallythat age, are you?"

"Willow," the guys said together.

"I sent her off when she tried to help."

"Thank you. That one bothers us."

Xander nodded. "I'm going to start chanting 'spank her' some daysoon."

"That might help." She looked at the elder then at the young one."You may come back to the nest. The child will be shared."

"She's evil," the younger one complained. "She hurt me on purposebecause I wanted to learn healing arts."

The matriarch gave her an odd look. "That's not an area we generallygo toward even in the ones that do that foul studying."

She shrugged. "It can only help those like me who need it."She pulled up her hood to show the bruises. "Her mate did that tome last week when he yanked my child from my arms and shoved me from thenest."

"I will be looking at my son's conduct, young one. You will staywith me and we will discuss this learning habit of yours. For now,the egg will reside with me until I have made a decision." The othersall nodded and left. She looked at the ones gathered. "Sheand the egg will be coming with me. I'll make a decision in privateafter talking to others about what has happened." They nodded toher decision, escorting them back. The elder tried to take the childwhen it fussed but the younger glared and held her tighter. "Shewants air, child. Let her wiggle some." She relaxed.She looked back at Xander. "If we should need the slayer to helpus with this matter I'll call."

"Call me," Xander told her. "She's just getting over final examsat the college."

"Bah, college is not useful for anything," she sneered. "I willfind you, Knight." She went back underground with her clan.

John locked the daycare's door then looked at him. "Well handled,"he said quietly.

"Things like that cheese me off," he muttered, looking at John."Want to meet up with Wonder Wicca and Captain Stick-Up-The-Wrong-Hole?"

"Sure, why not. You know, while you were gone, Willow went tovisit your mom," he said casually.

Xander gave him another odd look. "Is my mother dead?"

"No."

"Then something's not right there." He called Anya as he got intothe truck. "Willow visited my mother?" She said something."No, uh-uh. Did you find her in there? I'll ask her then.Slumberville. Settled a custody dispute by calling the matriarchof the clan and getting pushy. We already did Shady Rest. I'lldo that. Thanks, Ahn." He hung up. "No way in hell wasshe in my parents' house. She hates them." He considered it."Other street. There was a water main break about an hour ago," hesaid quietly. They parked and got out, heading to where he couldhear chanting. He watched Willow making twigs dance while they waitedfor the vampire to crawl out of his coffin, then grabbed her arm and walkedher off. She yelped. "You went to visit who?"

"Your parents."

"You can't stand my parents and vowed to kill my mother, Willow.Since she's not dead, you went where?"

She sighed. "I went to visit my house. My parents changedthe locks."

He stared at her, then he sighed. He knew a lie when he heardit. "Wanna try that again?" She glared. He stared back."Not like I don't know, Willow. They changed the locks when you movedonto campus and they left for Germany for a year. You told us that."

"I forgot."

"Uh-huh."

She scowled. "I'm not lying."

He walked off shaking his head. "Whatever. I'm sure Buffycan spank you for it if Tara doesn't." He glanced back at her huffing."Not like I don't know everything that's out that way, Willow. Idoubt you went to the liquor store, crack ho alley, or even to visit ourfew homeless vamps." She huffed off. He looked at Riley."Yes, I'll be telling her myself," he said dryly, calling Buffy's cellphone."It's us. We're hitting Slumberville now. Small coming outparty at Shady Rest, custody dispute at the demon daycare we had to stepinto because it was looking like a domestic dispute with a jealous olderdemon. Called in the matriarch and got a bit pushy on the youngerone's side since her sin was wanting to learn to be a healer. Waitingon the vamp to come up apparently." He listened to her.

"No, small issue beyond that. Willow said she went to visit myparents?" She said something. "Buffy, what did Willow vow beforegraduation?" She said something smart. "That she'd feed themto the kraken, yeah. Not the first threat against them either.She hasn't stepped foot in my parent's house in years, Buffy. Thenshe tried to tell me she went home but they had changed the locks.Which she told us about before I went on the road trip. Yeah, thatone. You might, yeah. I threatened spanking. I don't know,Buffy. She resurrected someone. I think that's a sign thatshe needs a long discussion with someone who might have ethics, like yourmom maybe? That could help, yeah. Thanks for handling that.I ended up suggesting midol earlier when she huffed at me." He hungup. "She'll talk to her."

"Is there a coven locally to help train her?" John asked.

Xander snorted, shaking his head. "Posers at the college who likethe Goddess. That's how she met Tara."

"Maybe they can help her then." He staked the vampire once itcame up. "I think he's the only one." Riley pointed.John looked. "Do we know him?" he asked Xander.

Xander stared. "Yeah but he's alive. Andrew, visiting family?"he called. The boy looked up and flinched. "Chill." Hewalked over. "Want escorted home?"

"It's been a long night," he told him.

Xander nodded. "I've had a few of those. C'mon, we'll drop youoff, Andrew."

"I can call Warren."

Xander checked his watch. "It's almost ten, Andrew. Warrenstill has a curfew. Jonathan won't be out for hours. He's mid-sleepso he can chat all night with whatever girl he finds online again."Andrew grinned a bit. "C'mon. John, can we drop him off?"

"Of course. I'd hate to see anything happen to anyone."He looked at the boy. "Say goodnight."

"Night," he whispered, coming back with Xander. "You sure?I don't want to be a bother."

"Shut up," Xander said, smirking at him. "It's this or I haveto walk you to the door and gush at your parents that you were a good boy."

"Please don't. They might try to encourage me to date Johno again."He pouted. "That's mean to me, Xander."

Xander grinned. "I told you not to prank me that day." Andrewsnorted but he looked happier. He walked him to the truck."John's. My sedan's at home." That got a nod. Johngot in to drive. Xander got in next to him and Andrew took the otherdoorside position. "Eighth by the Plastic-Mart." John headedthat way. "Need to talk?"

"My posse are being girls again."

"Trade ya, mine have PMS and are fragged from finals," Xander said dryly.

"No thanks. Buffy scares me."

"She nearly scared me earlier. She wasn't wearing makeup."Andrew let out a giggle. "You can laugh, she did." He smiled.He pointed. "There, right?" Andrew nodded, hopping out oncethey stopped. "Make Johno chat with a trucker pretending to be alesbian again, Andrew. It'll make you feel better."

"I can do that." He went inside to set that up.

Xander shifted over. "Thanks," he said quietly.

"Not a problem. It's safer. Friend?"

"Long time ago, before cliques formed," he sighed. "Back then,Cordy was even nice." John nodded, heading back to the MagicBox. "We should hit the Bronze."

"It's closed tonight, Xander. They found rats."

"They do that now and then. Or bugs. Then you stomp oneand get some off your next drink when you bring it up."

"Eww." He realized he was sounding as young as he looked and smackedhimself mentally for it. He was not twenty-five anymore.

"Very but helpful." He got out once John had parked. "It'sgood to have someone who doesn't go 'eeww, slime' the whole patrol."John laughed so he walked inside. He found the book with pictures,pointing at one. "Custody dispute at the demon daycare. Jealousolder one kicked out a younger one and stole her new egg. I got pushyand got the matriarch there. She's taken the young one and the eggwith her to make a good decision after she's talked to others. Theykicked out the young for wanting to learn stuff. Apparently it'sevil to them. She didn't know why Buffy was in college but said it'sworthless."

"Wonderful." He made notes on that. "We don't know muchabout them."

"They went underground and it looked like they went toward the river."That got another note made. "Small coming out party at Shady Rest.Eleven vamps with that, one demon John shot. Three others comingout. Got the daycare, then went to Slumberville. Willow andI talked since she said she'd rather kill my parents than see them manytimes." Giles gave him that same odd look. "She didn't visitmy mom, Giles. She hates my mother more than my father. I pressedher and she gave me another lie." That got a nod. "I told Buffyso she can grill her or spank her for it." He stood up. "Gotthe one at Slumberville, took Andrew home since he was talking to his brother'sgrave. Now I'm going to go finish soaking and let Anya jump me."

"I'll make sure it's reported, Xander." He nodded, heading offwith a wave for John. "Is his injury creating problems?"

"No, not in the least," John told him. "He managed it. Evenwhen he winced a few times he never complained."

"He never does."

"I can call some witches I know to come talk to the girl, Giles."

Giles smiled. "That might help her a lot. Be a positivefemale influence."

John nodded, going to get his phone from the truck to call them.Bobby had updated his phonebook with who had died. He found one hewanted. "Eileen, John Winchester. That's why I'm calling.The witch that pulled me back needs a positive, tutoring influence.Yup. Full resurrection, deaged me to twenty-five so I'd fit in better.Lying to her friends. Exactly. I'm proud of myself. Ihaven't bought any lighter fluid. Apparently she bound me from killingher." She said something smart. "Sunnydale. Yes, Rosenburg.I take it you've heard of her?" She said something. "Interesting.I didn't know that was possible." A soul restoration spell?Into a vampire? Probably not a good road sign on the road to stayinga white witch. Even if she did just put it back.

"That's good to know. I'm hoping you or someone close by, relativelyspeaking, can come tutor the girl. She's stolen books too.Mr. Giles' books. Yup, that guy. That's where I am. Justgot my truck back today. Hopefully I've got a few things so I cango to the motel instead of the basem*nt of the Magic Box. Biggerbed than that cot and tv so I can catch up on the news, plus room to doPT." He smiled. "Bobby did. He's supposed to tell myboys so I don't have to wonder if that demon after Sammy's going to beable to get him here. Yup, sure am. Sorry, I realized earlierI'm sounding the same age I look. Thanks, Eileen. No, school'snearly out for the year apparently. I don't know if she's doing summerschool or not. Thank you." He hung up and leaned his head backwith a sigh. Then he got out to look in his hidden areas. Noone had stripped his emergency stash of cash. That was good.Motel and coffee, here he came.

***

Xander got woken by the phone a few hours later, grunting at it."What happened?" he asked when he heard the female voice. "Going.Let me get dressed." He got up with a groan, hanging up on his wayto the bathroom so he could use it and put on clean clothes. He grabbeda Mountain Dew on the way out the door since it was four; he'd probablyjust head to work from there if it was a huge problem. He joggedover to the motel, frowning at the massing going on. "What the hellare you doing?" he demanded. They stared and a few laughed.Buffy showed up and they fled. He looked at her. "Left theface mask on."

"Shut up," she growled. She went to knock on the door she hadbeen told was a problem, looking at the sleepy guy that opened it."They said you were a menace and trying to kill real people."

"I was asleep until you knocked, Buffy. Xander." Xanderhanded over the rest of his Mountain Dew, letting him wipe off the openingto gulp so he had some caffeine in him. "Thanks."

"Welcome. Woke me too." He looked at the office, then shruggedand went that way, kicking the office door shut behind him.

Buffy looked down at the yelling, frowning. "His crew is goingto be whiny tomorrow because he's mean." She looked at him."Not the best of the motels."

"It's cheaper," he admitted.

"And has invite marks. Why did you sprinkle sugar across the doorway?"

He looked down then at her. "Salt, Buffy. It's a salt wardto keep things out."

"Huh. Work on vamps?"

"Apparently not since I came out of my shower and got two who were tryingto order pay-per-view."

She snickered. "They like doing that. Then they use it toplay to from what Spike said." He shuddered with a moan of complaint."You should probably move to the other place."

"I will tomorrow."

Xander came out and closed the office door gently, handing John hismoney. "He graciously said that it's not a problem and he'll keepthe things away from your room, John. For the whole week you signedup for." He smirked. "He's very sorry he let them come here.We can do an anti-invite tomorrow."

"I didn't know you could."

"Your kind don't deal in vamps much, huh?" Buffy asked.

"No, not really. More spirits and things."

"Ah. Not many of those here and if there are, usually they likeXander." She walked off, going to go back to bed.

"Buffy, moving day?" Xander called after her.

"Evil summer school," she called back. "That way I still havea room."

"Okay, let me know." He looked at him. "Sorry about them.Sometimes they're really rude." He trudged off. "Night."

"Night, kid." He shook his head, closing and locking the doorbefore going back to his own bed. Xander apparently handled thingsin a threatening/beating up manner the same way he did problem people.Good to know about the boy. He thought about calling his boys buthe didn't want to endanger Sam any more than he already was. He missedhis boys.

***

Xander came back from work that night, looking around the Magic Box."Giles?" he called. No answer. "Anya?" he called. Stillno answer. He checked the back then the basem*nt, coming up whenthe bell dinged. "Willow, any idea where people are? I thinkwe have a problem on the new school site."

"Spike said the hellmouth might be tempted to open."

"I found some marks there that clearly weren't done by my crew," hetold her.

"I can look."

"They're not magical." She glared. "My boss's son does chaosmagic. He had him look then asked me. He thought maybe hisson had acted out to tag it or something."

"Oh. We can still look," she offered. He shrugged and pointed."No one here?"

"Nope."

"Crap." She called Anya's cellphone. Since they had givenher one she didn't ever go anywhere without it. "No answer."

Xander groaned, calling Riley's phone. "It's Xander and Willow.Come mind the Magic Box while we go look at some mystical marks that appearedon my job site. We don't know where they are, Riley. That'swhy you're doing register duty for a few minutes." He hung up andturned the sign, walking off with her once the door was locked. Hecould come in the back way. They all had keys to the place.They ran into John on the walk in. "Good, you're probably the bettersecondary source to look at the marks my boss found this morning."

Willow pouted. "I can look them up."

"He might not have to. I looked him up. He was hunting forover two decades." She nodded at that. He nodded and John followedthem, letting Xander point at the marks on the floor. "The boss'sson does chaos stuff and said it's not magical in any version he knows.It almost looks like something I saw online at a fansite but I'm not sure.If so, we need Andrew's crew. I don't read that one."

John squatted down to look at it, brushing off some dust. "Lookslike trolls. That's how they mark their territory." He lookedup. "They're nasty little sh*ts and hard to kill."

"Could they be why we've heard someone's going to try to open the hellmouth?"Xander asked.

"No, they can't use magic. They like to live next to it but theycan't use it." He stood up. "The tallest I've seen was aboutmid-thigh on me. Nasty little sh*ts. Which means I need theshotguns and iron pellets."

"We don't need guns," Willow complained.

Xander looked at her then at John. "Iron?" He nodded."Cold, forged, partial? Anything particular?"

"Just iron. They're one of the little people so they have thesame sort of allergy to iron. My iron buckshot is usually recycledstuff."

"That means they can be killed without you beating them physically,right?" Xander asked, glancing at Willow when John hesitated.

"Yeah, it usually does. Getting them from a hundred yards meansless bruises."

She huffed. "Whatever. It's not the slayer way. Letme tell Buffy." She stomped off.

Xander shook his head. "Some days I wonder why she became friendswith me."

"Because she needed a protector in those days and someone she couldfuss over. It let her nurture something since I doubt her parentslet her play with dolls or anything like that."

"Nope. Not the Rosenburgs. That might prejudice her to girlythings." That got a smirk. "How many should we be looking at?"

"They're usually single."

"Decent. Let's get your gun and see if I have one that I can bumbullets off for."

"By the way, I talked to the hunter I know that makes wooden bulletsto get you the specs."

Xander paused then smiled and bopped him on the arm. "Thanks,John. That'll be really helpful." That got a nod. Theywalked back to John's truck then to Xander's storage area, finding hisgun stash. "I don't have many. The girls are very anti-gunso if they find them they'll try to break them or sell them on me."

"I'd beat them, kid."

Xander looked at him. "They're the only friends I have, John."

John nodded. "I can understand that but they treat you like apuppy."

"Some of that's my fault for letting it start."

"Maybe," he agreed. "But did you have a choice?"

"No." He found one. "Got anything in a forty-five or ninemil?"

"I've got forty-five bullets." Xander brought it with him, grabbinga few other things. "Iron tipped?" he asked, taking the crossbowbolt to look at.

"Yup. Buffy's preferred weapon of choice." He handedher the crossbow when they ran into her. "Trolls are killed by iron."

"Are they going to get me messy? Riley and I are going to themovies later."

"It shouldn't," John told her. "That's why I use iron buckshotfor these things." She grimaced, shaking her head. "Keeps mefrom having to beat it to death." He looked around. "Rileynot coming?"

"He's watching the store?" she asked Xander.

"No Anya or Giles when I got there to ask about the marks. Willowwanted to look at them. We ran into John on the hike there."

"I guess that's fine." She walked with them. "How big arethey?"

"Mid-thigh on me," John told her.

"So tiny and fast?"

"Like the shadows. Can't use magic," John told her. "Theylike to snuggle next to it though. I'm surprised this is your firstone."

"Wilkins probably ran the others off," Xander told him. That gota nod of agreement. They walked back into the construction site,finding the marks and the troll fairly soon afterward. Buffy aimedand fired but the thing moved. John and Xander shot it, making itscream and die. "Huh, that works very well," he said with a grin."Not so sweaty either."

She shrugged. "I guess. I still don't like guns. It'snot the slayer way." She handed back the crossbow. "The tighteninglever's still stuck."

"That one's set for me," he told her. "It's from my stash."

"Never mind then." She looked around. "We only heard aboutone vamp so I'll get it and then we'll be at the movies, guys." Shejogged off, going to find Riley.

"Any idea what happened to Giles and Anya?" John asked him.

"Within an hour probably. I can get Clem to ask." They walkedback to the shop together, finding Tara in there cleaning up. Hegrinned. "Doing store duty or are they back?"

She shook her head. "Not back," she said quietly.

"Let me call Clem." He went into the office to do that, comingout a few minutes later. "Anya took him to talk to a higher demonthat wanted to come visit. Apparently that one was going to botheror upset her and I was still at work. Why he left the shop open withthe sign unturned I don't know." She nodded. "Got it tonightor want us to stay and watch? Buffy said there's only one comingup then she's got a date with Riley."

She looked at him. "Are you going to forgive him? He ispaying."

Xander shook his head. "No. He still thinks it was a goodidea for the most part. He wasn't sorry he was trying to get youguys to shun me for not being in college, which makes those two spoiledbitches who still haven't gotten over it, and he's an annoying ass.Beyond that, I'm still mad on Spike's behalf because what they did to himwas *wrong*, Tara. There's no forgiveness for him for that stuff.I don't forgive those who gay bash and kill someone. I don't forgiveKlan members who kill for their ideals. I don't forgive Nazis.I won't be forgiving him for that even if sex with Buffy did make him seeit was wrong." He stood up to move closer. "Beyond that, hehasn't apologized or tried to make amends. He isn't paying beyondnot being military anymore. They're still paying him a pension forscrewing up so badly. If he was in prison and had done his duty toturn them in, maybe. He didn't call anyone to stop them and he couldhave."

"The government is charging the scientists who're left," John told them."One's looking for him to turn evidence. He's avoided them so far."

"Which means he didn't dislike it too damn much," Xander said, lookingat her again. "I don't care if he is good to Buffy. He stilltortured Oz. Oz is a friend. We've seen plenty that have killedothers because they're now insane due to them. If he was truly sorryfor what he did, he'd be begging to testify and take the consequences ofwhat happened. He's not."

"We've all done bad stuff," she reminded him.

"And most of us pay for it. When I broke onto the base and someonecame to me later about that, I told them why in graphic detail. Downto why and how it helped. I got them the time code so they couldget the film from the mall." She shuddered but nodded. "I waswilling to do hard time for that one because it was necessary. Rileydidn't even apologize when he hit you with the door the other day."He looked her face over. "Nice job with the healing spell," he saidquietly. She blushed but grinned a bit. "So, no. I canforgive a lot. Not that. Not when it hurt so many innocentsand he's not paying."

"I guess." She patted him on the arm. "I have it if youwant to patrol."

"I don't think anyone wants to patrol," he said with a grin. "But wecan go threaten Willie later." She nodded, going back to her cleaning.He counted the register and put it away.

"We'll make sure you get back to campus safely," John told her."Close up the shop early." She nodded, smiling at him before goingback to it. He caught Xander's eye, giving him an inquisitive look.Xander frowned. "You okay? It sounded like it brought up bad memories,"he said quietly.

"Not the first time the girls decided I was trash for being male andnormal," he said bitterly. He got back to the inventory that wasonly half done.

"You did kiss her," Tara reminded him.

"I didn't force her but I took all the blame," he shot back.

"Oh. But she said...." John looked at her. "I wasn'there then."

Xander looked at her. "Yes, it was mutual, Tara. We wereboth at fault. She got forgiven and I got pushed to donut boy untilthey needed me. Sounding familiar?" She nodded. "So no,I haven't forgiven them yet either since they're still doing it."

She pouted. "I'll talk to her."

"Will it matter?"

She nodded. "She doesn't think that way about you."

He snorted. "Yes she does." He got back to it. Thenhe gave up. "I'm going hunting." He walked out. Johncame with him. "No offense, John, but I'm blowing off stress."

"I can watch your back and not get in the way."

Xander turned to look at him. "I'll be fine. I've been doingthis for years."

"Working the stress and anger out hunting or just the hunting?" he asked.

Xander smirked. "Your boys must be well therapied. I'm fine."He jogged off to deal with his issues on his own.

John shook his head. "He reminds me so much of Dean," he toldhimself. "He even stomps off to do the same stupid sh*t when he'spissed." He followed him more subtly, finding him already fightingwith something. The anger was doing good things for his abilities.He wasn't thinking so much about what he was doing. Moving by roteshowed some skills he didn't usually show. He'd have to see wherethey came from since they didn't look trained in, or else he'd usuallyuse them. Xander kept going, making John wince when he headed fora nest. Fortunately they ran into someone running away from her formerboyfriend who now wanted to eat her. Xander put her behind him andattacked the vamp, getting him down and begging before staking him.

The girl sobbed for a few seconds and he sent her off to more safetyat the mall so she could get a ride home. John nearly followed herbut he saw an officer stop her up the street so he'd take her home.He kept following the boy. This was a deeper trauma. One thatwas wrecking his mind. The boy was still growling. He pausedto watch him. He sniffed the ones he was hunting. He was possessed?Huh. Interesting to know. Something else the boy needed helpwith. Maybe Bobby had some ideas since clearly the exorcism lefta taint. Xander kept going. He saw Riley at one point but wavedhim off. Riley went jogging in another direction. John foundXander nearly surrounded.

Buffy shrieked and jumped in. "What do you think you're doing?"she demanded, smacking at Xander. "You're not a slayer."

He stared at her. "I was doing just fine, thank you, Buffy."She gaped and backed off.

John came out of the shadows. "I'm watching over him, Buffy.If he couldn't handle it, I'd step in."

She glared at him. "This is not what Xanders do."

"He hunts the same way you do," he told her. "The same as I andmy boys do. He was doing just fine since he's been out now for threehours." She glared. "You said you needed a night off."He walked Xander off, taking him to dust the rest of the vamps Buffy appearinghad driven off. "Better?"

"Yeah, some."

"You could talk about it. I doubt I'd understand but I can listen.It took me forever to learn how with my boys but I can give you some ofthe mentoring I gave them, Xander. If you want."

Xander glanced down then at him. "Maybe. Not tonight."

"Sure, I get that." He clapped him on the back. "What wereyou possessed by? You were sniffing the ones before you staked them."

"Way long time ago I got possessed by a hyena."

"That's a powerful hunter." Xander relaxed. "The exorcismleft a taint? Most people don't keep any from those sort of thingunless they want to."

"We don't know. When the chaos guy got Halloween one year andturned us into our costumes I got some of the memories from that too.That's how I do gun things."

John considered it. "That sounds like you're a medium. There'sa few of those who hunters count on." Xander gave him an interestedlook. "Mostly they try to just be open instead of being a good spotto squat for a long time. I'll ask Bobby if he knows how to blockthem out a bit and see if he can help you figure out why you kept somestuff." The boy smiled and nodded. He smiled back. "Imay've screwed up with my younger son since he didn't understand why Ihunt but I did good with him and Dean. I can Dad you all you need,Xander."

"I don't think I need one of those but a mentor might be nice."

"I can do that." He smiled back at Buffy. "Bad movie tonight?"

"Three hours?"

Xander stopped to look at her. "I was a bit pissed." Shehuffed. "I got about fifteen."

John coughed. "Seventeen. It showed that you have some skillsbut you're thinking too much and not relying on instinct during patrolstoo, Xander." Xander looked at him. "When you were pissed,you reacted more smoothly, you had moves you don't usually."

"Probably from the soldier," he agreed quietly.

"Probably," John agreed, smiling at him. "So we'll have to trainthose into you." Xander nodded at that. He looked at Buffy."There's nothing wrong with wanting a night off, especially when you'vejust had some very bad weeks. We've all had nights off. Hewas covering for you."

"Xander can't hunt that way. He doesn't have the skills."

"I think he proved he does, Buffy," John countered. "Otherwisehe would've been dead in his first year." She went pale. "Skillsare something you can learn on this sort of job. The same ashe did on his construction crew. The same as someone taught you allthose fancier moves at one point. There's further skills wecan *all* learn but he's not bad for mostly teaching himself. I learnedfrom other hunters. I can show you guys what I learned to help youlearn more skills."

She pouted. "I'm very good."

"Buffy, he fights more like Spike does," Xander pointed out. "Youhave a lot of troubles beating Spike." She nodded at that."This gives you more skills and sands down some of my bad spots.I'll have to take mine on the weekends when we're both free," he told John.That got a nod and a smirk. "Let's go. I need a beer."

"Sure." He nodded at Riley. "Have a good date, kids.The town's pretty quiet tonight." He followed Xander off. "Notthe Bronze?" he asked when they didn't turn that way.

"No offense, but I usually only hunt there. If I want a beer,I go to the gay bar. I like the karaoke better." He grinned."It's always more fun and they don't mind straight people being there.It also means I'm not tempted to pick up anyone, which would make Anyaget her powers back."

"Good idea," he agreed. "A reasonable solution. The lasttime I saw drag queens they were more fun anyway."

Xander nodded. "A lot. And they don't fuss at my clotheslike my girls do."

John smirked. "They do fuss."

"You have *no* idea," he said dryly. They kept walking."Thanks for sticking up for me back there."

"Not a problem. It's clear you're not as bad as they think.Yes, you can use some training but you're not bad. I've seen huntersin the field live for years with your level of skills." Xander noddedat that. They staked the vampire running up to them. "Any ideawhat's causing this surge?"

"Not a clue unless it's whoever's trying to open the hellmouth."

"We should find them soon."

"We will." He grinned. "Because they always show up to dodumb things." John snickered, nodding a bit. "Are there otherhellmouths?"

"Probably. I know there's a few devils gates. Those aremore standing portals and go to hell."

"Hellmouths go to a number of hell dimensions."

"So devils gates are probably single realm portals," he agreed."As for real ones, not a clue. I only ran into mentions of this onehere and there in some obscure books."

"Huh. Probably the mayor or the watchers." He shrugged.He pointed. "Gay bar."

"Looks more peaceful than the biker bar on the other side of town Iwas fleecing people at pool in the other night." Xander snickered,shaking his head. "It's easy money if you're good."

"I'm sure it is." He walked in and a few of the people in theresmiled and waved. He grinned and waved back. "First round'son me."

"Sure. Bud?" The bartender got them their drinks and hetook them to the table. "What about Tara?"

Xander called her. "We're at Riches. Sure, come watch thedrag show with us, Tara." He hung up. "She'll have Spike walkher over." He took a drink. "He respects her."

"I like Tara. She's a good girl with good sense. Even ifshe won't spank Willow." He took a drink of his own. "Nicelycold." He took another one. Tara got pushed in the door andthey waved her over. She scurried over to hide next to Xander, whoput an arm behind her to protect her. "It's all right, Tara.I'm sure they'll respect your relationship with Willow. If you gethit on, we'll make sure they know you're taken." She blushed butnodded. "She not home?" She shook her head. "Giles andAnya show up?" She nodded. "They all right?"

"Or is Anya going to sulk all night?" Xander asked her.

"Sulk," she nearly whispered.

"Hmm." He took another drink. She gave him a look."I ran into Buffy and her chorus of 'you're too normal to do that'," hemimicked. She shuddered. "Yup. So it's my only one butI'm fine." He gave her a squeeze. "Look, it's Jerry."She smiled and waved at her dormmate. The queen blew a kiss backand went back to his act. "One of the local talents. He wasa year in front of my class in school," he told John. "Did the talentshows and stuff."

"He's not bad," he agreed. "Got a good voice on him too."He finished his beer and got a second, earning a frown from her."It's not going to make me drunk or stupid, Tara. I promise."She nodded but he did slow down. The boy only sipped at his secondone, making it last until they left a few hours later. John walkedher back to her dorm since Anya called on the walk out to get Xander tocome home and take care of her. He walked her to her room door, lettingher open it. "There you go, all safe."

Willow looked up. "Where were you? I was worried sick!"

"She was with Xander and I at the gay bar," John told her. "Theywere having a fairly decent drag show."

"We're close enough to LA that we get the ones who want to be real actors,"Willow told him, dragging her girlfriend inside. "Are you all right?Did they hit on you again?"

"No, they were very polite. The one who wanted her to dance weexplained that she had a girlfriend and was there to blow off post-semesterstress." Willow smiled. "Sleep well, girls." He left,going back to his new motel room. Where he found Xander sitting outsideit. "Problems with Anya?"

Xander looked up at him. "Can I have a corner of your floor?"

"Sure. What did she nag about now?"

"The bills she doesn't pay. Then that I spent money to have abeer. Thought I had hit on someone until I told her I was at thegay bar. Then she pouted and wanted stuff I'm not going to put upwith tonight." He walked in and took the spare motel pillow and comforterto make himself a bed near the bathroom. "Thanks, John."

"Not a problem, Xander." He personally thought Anya was a shrewand the boy could do better. Even with his taste for evil girls asthe ladies had told him. Maybe a nice assassin who wouldn't try tokill the boy's spirit too? He laid down once he got down to his boxers,socks, and undershirt, getting comfortable. The boy was quiet atleast. He could forget he was in there. His boys had alwayssnored. A lot in Sammy's case.

***

Buffy stomped onto the construction site the next morning. "It'sbarely eight. Why the call, Xander?" He pointed at the spotin the building. She went to look. "Why is there a tentaclesticking out of the concrete?" she demanded.

He looked at her then sighed and got her a cup of coffee off the truck,coming back with it. "With sugar and milk. Real milk, not soy."She pouted but drank it. He pointed at the tentacle. "Doesthat area look familiar maybe, Buffy? Like maybe it's the old library?"

She spun and looked. "Shoot!"

"Yup. It's slightly open. I can't get Willow at either dormroom or on her cell." She went in there, stomping on the tentacleuntil it withdrew. Then she went to call Giles and get him up.Willow might be at the shop doing some research or something. "Let'snot kill the work we've done," he told Giles when he showed up.

"If at all possible. Are we sure it's open?"

"Buffy stomped the tentacle until it went back in."

"Oh, dear Lord," he muttered, walking that way. Xander shook hishead, going to his car to get her a sword. Willow came trotting in."Normal area," he said with a point.

"We can handle it."

He bopped her on the forehead with the palm of his hand. "Shutup. This is my site, Willow." He walked back in there, handingher the sword. "Let's try not to warp the flooring, Willow.Please?"

"If possible," she complained. "Giles, tell him we don't needhelp?"

"Do shut up, Willow," he told her. "He probably has to be herefor company reasons," he said at her horrified look. "It's not likeit's dangerous."

"And it's not like I haven't hunted for years," Xander said firmly.They all shrank back. "Just as much as you do and I do a lot morehunting than you or Willow do, Giles. So stop it."

"You're not trained."

He snorted. "Really? And yet, I do hunt and I do have someof the skills from learning as I went. You'd think I learned someafter four years." Giles flinched at that again. "Jump offit. You may've went to college to be a stuffed shirt and have allthat watchery stuff, it doesn't mean you can fix the weapons." Gilesblushed but looked away. "Now, are we going to stomp this thing ornot? Because my crew can't slack that long. It costs peoplemoney."

"Grump," Buffy accused. "Anya not good last night?"

"She complained that I didn't hit on anyone at the gay bar. Islept on John's floor to get away from the evils of estrogen poisoning."He stared at her. She backed away. "Now, let's do this, please?Before my crew has to take today off."

"Fine," Willow said. "Though I agree, you slept funny apparently.You're a big grump today." He was scowling so she pulled out herjournal to find the spell she needed and chanted it over the hole.The tentacle came back but that was normal. Buffy stabbed it untilit went back in. She redid the spell and it sucked closed.Only a small pucker on the floor. "See, not too bad," she said happily.

"Have we figured out a padlock or something?" he asked her.

"Not that I've seen. Sorry."

"Fine. Thank you for averting it. Have a better day.Giles, Tara was cleaning up for you last night."

"I'll thank her later." He let the girls go on. "You'renot fully trained, Xander."

He stared at him. "Gee, I wonder why, Watcher." Giles flinchedat that. "I'm well enough trained that I can handle it if necessary.I'm no more normal than you are. So quit treating me like I'm retardedand helpless. Get them off their kick too since they haven't endedit from the Initiative crap." Giles shuddered. "Yes, I'm tiredof the girls again. I'm more than good enough to hunt. As I'veproven by saving all your asses multiple times. We're a team andwe can't be a team while the selfish bitches are on their kick. I'mgoing to consider this topic to be anathema. You?"

"I can see that point of view. Is John going to help train yourskills more thoroughly?"

"John said he's seen hunters in the field who've lasted with what Ican do for years. But yes, I'm letting him help me with some advancedskills."

"That's fine then. I'll remind her of that fact."

"She saw me after three hours of hunting alone last night and seventeenvamps, Giles, and yelled because I was doing what I should be."

"You were?"

"They were on the same kick last night."

"Oh. I see. I'll talk to her, Xander."

"Make it stick this time?"

"I'll talk to Joyce as well."

"I wasn't going to ask her to beat her daughter but if you want to..."He waved a hand. "Thank you for taking care of the tentacle."

"Not a problem. Tell us immediately if it comes back." Heleft, going to think on his way to Joyce's house. He knocked beforewalking in. "Joyce?" She came out of the kitchen. "Maywe speak?"

"Of course. Buffy's not back yet."

"She's probably off with Willow licking her paw. The girls...Well the girls decided to give Xander their views on normal people again."

"In other words she's an ungrateful spoiled brat?" she asked dryly.

"That's more gentle than he called her. Apparently he was in sucha temper last night he went hunting alone and she complained after threehours of him doing so. He rightly pointed out that all I have istraining as well."

"What about the fact that you could have trained him and didn't?"

"Well, yes, that as well," he admitted.

"Rupert, I have a wonderfully soft snakeskin belt upstairs that goeswith many outfits. Don't make me pull it out for other uses on youor my daughter. It won't be pretty and I'll have to get a new onewhen I ruin it." He blushed but nodded. "You can tell my daughterthe same thing. She's spoiled. Remind her how the other girlsgot to do their duty."

"I can do so. Thank you for that bit of common sense."

"Then stop Xander from going alone. It's dangerous even when you'rea slayer. For him it's extra dangerous. He might find anothergirl who wants to date him."

"Apparently part of his mood was the fact that Anya complained thathe didn't hit on anyone at the gay bar last night."

She rolled her eyes. "He goes there so he's not tempted to cheaton her."

"She could use a decent discussion of what proper girls did for theirboyfriends I think."

"I'll talk to her about it later. We don't need Xander to be pissedfor too long. He'll let Buffy die this time." He smiled andnodded, leaving her to figure out how to talk to the girls. She finishedher breakfast and went to change for work, coming down in her suit.On the way to the gallery she found her daughter and Anya, pulling themin to talk to them while they helped her for a few hours. Really,she didn't know what was wrong with her daughter. Anya's problemwas clearly her past job but Buffy hadn't been a demon.

***

Xander walked in that night. "It came back." Giles moaned."We got it back into the hole and put a sign over it. Tomorrow'sSaturday so we're clear to work on it all night and day if necessary."John gave him an odd look. "The hellmouth let out a tentacle sometimelast night. We came onto the site to find it waving good morningat us." John shuddered. "This time it also has a little friendwith it to help it wave at the crew. Some of them are calling itthe interior crew's mascot because it likes to pet us so much."

"I have no idea where Willow is," Giles admitted.

"I tried to call her. It went to voicemail and Tara said she hadn'tseen her all day. Buffy too."

"She told me she was going to talk to your mother," John told him.

Xander snorted. "The only talking she'd do to my mother wouldbe with a shovel. She's said so repeatedly." He looked aroundthen at Giles. "What have we seen on patrol in that area?"

"I have no idea. Buffy hasn't really noted anything of importance."

"Then we'll go look while you figure out how we're getting rid of themthis time," he said. Giles nodded that was fine with him. "John?"

"Will it open more?"

"If not stopped soon," Giles agreed.

"So we'll go find Willow and tell her the cheery news," Xander saiddryly. "Spike?" he yelled. He came up the stairs from the basem*nt."Any idea what's near my parent's house that Willow might be visiting?"

"Magic dealer, a few other demons who use magic. A nest.Farmboy's over with the nest by Slumberville."

John gave him an odd look. "Is he taking it out?"

"No," Xander said. "He's not. He'd have to have backup forthat." He looked at him. "You go tell Buffy that."

"'M not that brave," he said dryly, lighting a cigarette. "I'vegot a lot of chaos yet to spread, mate. Staking hurts and robs theworld of my brilliance."

Xander sighed and called her. "Buffy, Xander, John, and Spike.Spike said for some reason Riley's at the nest by Slumberville. We'renot sure since he didn't say anything about hunting, a patrol that way,or anything. Actually, we need you guys near the school since there'snow the tentacle buddy and his little friend." She said something."No clue. John, Spike, and I are going to hunt her down. Youget Riley and go watch the tentacles? Try to make it go back?It's Friday so the site's closed until Monday if we need it to be.Thanks. Meet you there. See if Tara thinks she can close it?"He hung up. "C'mon, Spike. Since you woosed out telling Buffyher boyfriend's cheating on her with vamps, you can help us by sniffingout Willow."

"Fine," he muttered, grabbing his duster to go with them. "Justtwo tentacles?"

"Yeah. Happened sometime last night," Xander told him. "Shetried to close it twice this morning. It lasted a few hours.I think the kraken was having a small snack on the stray dog that snuckonto the site during lunch personally. It showed up around four witha second one." John moaned, shaking his head. "We got to shutdown early today. The guys liked it even if two are finding theirfamily priest tonight," he said dryly. "Not that I blame them."He waved at someone who waved at them. "Smile and wave, John.She's hitting on you." He grimaced but waved. "Feel lucky.You're too old for her by about a decade. She likes them barely legal."He looked at Spike. "Near my parents, which area is most likely?"

"Magic dealer," Spike admitted quietly. Xander stopped to lookat him. "He has some skills and can channel things."

"Is she learning from him?" John asked. "Or going to him as adealer?"

Spike shrugged. "Don't know and can't be certain she's there."

"How would we know?" Xander asked.

"Have to follow her and catch her really. Like any junkie, whelp."

"Wonderful. Okay, let's work on that later. One emergencyat a time." They sped up their walk a bit. Willow was foundon the way back, about halfway. Xander stopped her to look at her."There's now a tentacle and a little friend."

"I got your voicemail."

"How's my mom?" She glared. "That's where Tara said youwere, Willow."

"She's fine." She walked past them. "I'll meet you there,let me get the spell again."

Xander watched her walk, looking at Spike, who shuddered. "Yes,no?" he asked quietly. "Can't tell by scent?"

"She stinks like ozone and black magic," Spike said, looking at him.

John shook his head. "That's bad."

Xander looked at him. "Let's try rehab first. Please?"

"I know she's part of the team and a friend, Xander. The sooneryou can help her the better."

"I get that. Like any addiction." He sighed. "Is therean MA chapter near here?"

"A good, strong coven. I'll call the witch I asked to talk toher." That got a nod. "I'll meet you there, kid." Xandernodded, taking Spike with him while he called. "Eileen, John Winchester.No, bigger problems. Magic dealer problems with that one."He listened to her instructions. "She's closing the stupid thingtonight." He nodded. "I can get her girlfriend to help.Who do we talk to?" He nodded. "Thank you." He hung upand jogged to catch up with the kids. "She'll talk to a few morepowerful ones, Xander."

"Thanks. Any hope?"

"Drain it from her and make her start over at the basics. Seewhere she went wrong. Have Tara help because like any junkie she'llbe unreasonable."

Xander nodded once. "I can do that." He spotted Tara andwalked over to walk her off and talk with her. "Slight issue."Tara stopped moving so he looked at her. "We're pretty sure Willowwas just partaking of black magic, Tara. Spike said he smelled thatand ozone on her." She shuddered. "We don't want to worry,but with the lying?"

She straightened her back. "I'll talk to her, Xander."

"Please do. John's witch friend said to have her drain it andstart over with the basics. Have her find her wrong turn."

She nodded. "I've seen others. My mother helped one whowas exposed." She looked around then at him. "What happened?"

"The hellmouth is cracking open. It's not safe out here.Hit the shop."

She nodded. "I can do that." She walked that way, takingSpike with her by force when John shoved him and made a quiet threat toescort her back there to safety. "Black magic?"

"Smelled like it with blood magic," he agreed.

"Why?"

"Don't know. Only she would."

Tara made him stop walking, looking at him. "Why, Spike?"

He shrugged. "Dealer bloke that way might know."

She nodded. "That's even worse. Thank you for letting meknow. I'll talk to her." He smiled and nodded. "Let meget back to the shop, see if we need more magic. Have them call."He nodded. She went inside and he went back to help. The twotentacles were now three and Buffy was busy dancing with them, using thesword on them. John got her purse out and used her hairspray to lightit on fire using it with the lighter in his pocket. That made itwithdraw with an agonized shriek.

"Fire pretty," Xander quipped.

"And useful," Buffy panted. "How much longer, Willow? Idon't have that much hairspray."

"We have a propane torch if we need it," Xander offered. John'sface lit up so he went to get it and start it, handing it over once itwas lit. The tentacles didn't like that at all. "Just don'tdo the floor please."

"I need the area cleared or I can suck you in too," Willow said.They backed up once the tentacles were gone. She chanted the spell.Another tentacle came back.

Xander took the sword from Buffy to help John. "Willow, maybewe're thinking wrong? Cast it with happy, cuddly movie night thoughtsinstead of bad, dirty thoughts of tentacles Warren would like?"

"Eww!" she shouted.

"I agree," Buffy complained. "That's disgusting, Xander."

"Clearly wanted them here since more keep coming each time she doesit," he said back, stabbing one. It swatted him, grabbing himwith a suction cup. He pried it off and stabbed it, making it gotoward John to be burned. He finally had enough after another try."Screw it, we'll redo the room. Buffy, get my bag from the car,"he ordered, tossing her his keys. "It's in the lot." She joggedoff to get into his trunk. She came back with the bag. He looked."The other bag, Buffy."

"We don't need that stuff, Xander."

He took his keys and gear bag back, going to get the other one.He walked in and looked over at the tentacles. He pulled the pinand held it for a second before dropping it at the mouth. He turnedhis head at the explosion, getting covered in ick and goo. "Now tryit, Willow. They're kinda busy right now stopping the bloody spots."Spike cackled. Willow chanted the spell, John pulling Xander backaway from the hole.

"I've seen people fish with dynamite, but never like that," John toldhim, checking him over. "You okay?"

"I could use a shower," he admitted. "I'm fine." The holefinally sucked closed. He smiled. "Good, now who gets to watchit to make sure it doesn't open again?"

"We will," Buffy said. "It's a pretty room, Xander. Evenwith the ick now on the ceiling."

He looked up then at her. "Pressure hose," he said slowly andclearly, making her laugh. "Happy picnic. I'm for a showerand then we'll do the Bronze." She nodded. He walked off, Johnfollowing. "Yell if you need us, Buffy. Willow, Tara's somewhere."

"Store," Spike told her. She beamed and went to find her girlfriend."Didn't take her as one who'd want tentacles and that stuff since she likesbints."

"Spike, that's disgusting!" Buffy complained. "Xander, your dirtymind is contagious. Go let Anya wear it out before you hit the Bronzeand draw succuba."

He looked back at her. "We know there's people who like that,like those who like vamps, Buffy. Regular vamps." She glared."Not ones with souls. Riley, want my first aid kit?"

She spun to look at him. "When did you get bitten? Xandersaid you were by a nest but you got bitten and didn't say anything!" shedemanded, moving to look at it closer.

"I'm fine, Buffy. It's shallow." He glared at the boy.Xander just walked off with John, talking about something quietly."I think Winchester is a subversive influence."

"He's not underwater."

"Not submersive, subversive, Buffy. He's tearing the group apart."

She looked at him. "You'd know about that." He flinched.She pulled back. "I think he's helping Xander see how dangerous beinga normal guy hunting is. After all, he died and went to hell fordoing it. He might stop Xander so he has a long life somewhere safer."

"He's down on Willow."

"She did resurrect him. That's supposed to be a big no-no.Especially for witches. Giles said that witches who do bad thingslike that are more likely to go bad." Which made an uncomfortableconnection. Willow had been lying to them and disappearing.Xander was clearly worried about her with the way he was pushing her buttons.So maybe he thought she was going bad too? "John's got a lot of huntingexperience. I think he's seeing things that we don't because we'reclose and buddies."

"Maybe," he said carefully. "How did you know I was at a nest?"

"Xander called me and said you were there. Spike told him."She looked at him. "How many are in the nest and how easy will itbe to take it out?"

He shrugged. "There's a good twenty or so. They've got somehumans who like them."

"Shoot. I hate when that happens. Angel said they get allhelpy because they want turned. Like goths for real vamps only goingminiony."

"I wasn't sure which ones were human," he admitted. "I'll do abetter count when I finish scouting tomorrow." She smiled and nodded."Do we think there's a problem with Willow?"

She sighed, sitting down on the floor. "Yeah, I might. She'sbeen lying about going to see Xander's parents. She doesn't likethem." She pouted. "I'll have mom talk to her. She'llfind out what's going on." Her mom was good at that. Look howshe had gotten Buffy and Anya straightened out that morning. Rileysat beside her. "Now all we need is picnic stuff," she teased.

"We can have someone bring us stuff." He took a kiss. Shesmiled and decided making out here was good for now. A bit dangerousbut the place was closed, right? The site didn't have any securitypeople either so it was safe enough.

***

A black Impala pulled up in front of a bar, letting two boys out.They walked up to the door, the shorter one paying the cover. "C'mon,"he said. He walked inside, glancing around the fairly packed place.He found the one he had been called about, getting them beers to walk overthere with. "I heard there was a Winchester relative in a gay barnear LA," he said in greeting.

Sam stopped. "Dean, that's Dad."

"That's not Dad, Sammy. We buried Dad a few months ago."

Xander looked at them. John was staring at his boys."Our witch decided we needed more help and decided to do evil sh*t in thedorm bathroom one night while I was out of town. Sit, boys.Please. Don't make the nice drag queens beat you to death for me."They sat down, staring at their father. Xander went to get John anotherbeer since his was empty. "Relatives," he told the bartender."A bit shocked but they won't cause problems or I'll beat them myself."The guy smiled and relaxed. Xander walked back, handing John hisbeer. "Here, you could use it." He sat down again. "Considerme a bouncer if things get to be too loud."

"Who're you?" Dean demanded. "Besides being the local gay toughguy?"

"Not gay. My name's Xander and I'm one of the local hunters.Your dad's been helping my group since our witch was arrogant."

"It's cool, Xander. Boys. I didn't want you here in casethe demon came for Sammy."

Dean snorted. "Yeah, right. Prove it."

John sipped his beer. "You have a birthmark just behind your sack.It's shaped like a little shield." Dean went pale at that."Your mother used to say that proved you'd be protective over any siblingsyou had, Dean."

Sam stared. "You really are Dad. Why are you our age?"

"Same witch," Xander said. Both sons glared at him. "I wasn'there. I was out-of-town for work, guys. I did promise thatyou wouldn't try to beat him tonight or else I'd have to bounce you."

"We won't fight," Sam promised. "I promise we won't." Henudged Dean to get him out of his shocked state.

"That's fine. If you need me to drive you back later on, John,let me know." He got up and went back to the bar. It was goingto be a long weekend.

"I didn't want you two in trouble. That's why I had Bobby tellyou."

"All he told us was we had a new relative who'd called. Earlierhe updated us that you called from this gay bar. He said *nothing*about you being our age. Which I really should beat him for if heknew," Dean complained, taking a drink of his beer. He would notthrow a fit in public. He wouldn't.

John nodded. "Xander comes here because it's nicer than the bikerbar and no one here will hit on him so his girlfriend won't get her powersback."

"Huh?" Sam asked.

"He's dating a former vengeance demon, boys."

They both gave the guy an odd look then their father. "Is he sane?"Dean demanded quietly.

"Mostly." He smiled and took a drink. "I am worried thatthe demon will come here."

"We've got the colt," Dean told him.

John smiled. "Good."

"So, how....?" He waved a hand.

"First thing I knew, Willow had pulled me back partially and had tofinish the spell to fully bring me back. Then she deaged me so I'dfit in with the local team. There's Xander, Buffy, Willow.Buffy's boyfriend Riley. Willow's girlfriend Tara, who we will notupset. She's very delicate. You beat her brother for naggingher once, Dean." They nodded at that once. "Xander's girlfriendAnya and Giles, who runs the Magic Box. Oh, and Spike, who has achip so he can't hurt people but he's a vampire. The same Spike thatwas with Dru when she tried to keep you, Dean." He took a drink."They needed more help."

"They need sanity from the list of local talent," Sam told him.

"Yeah but it works for them most of the time. They're not as tightas they used to be. This last year and a bit has been hard on them."That got a nod. He glanced around. "We should go talk.Catch up." He finished his beer. "C'mon, boys. We'llgo back to my room."

"Sure," Dean agreed. "They won't mind?"

"Probably not. They haven't said anything when I let Xander sleepon the floor a few nights." He waved at Xander and pointed, gettinga nod. "He had a long day at work and a bad night last night," hesaid once they were outside.

"I think... that Mom might like the new boyfriend being so overprotective,"Dean said. John gave him a horrified look. "Kinda clear tosome of us, Dad."

"No, Dean. We're friends. I'm mentoring the boy. Isee him like I do you two." That got a smirk from them. "He'soverprotective because I'm about the only guy around him right now."He got into the truck. "Back toward the mall, go right two blocksbefore, then left in another three."

"We'll follow you," Dean promised. John just smiled and droveoff. Dean looked at Sam across the roof of the car. "Freakysh*t R Us must be the town's nickname."

"They say there's a devil's gate here. So maybe." They gotin and followed their father. When he didn't turn they shared anotherlook but followed him. They stopped outside a house. John stayedin the truck. They stayed in the car. Xander showed up witha blonde, fashionable girl and a guy about their dad's right age."This does not look good," Sam muttered.

"No, not good at all," Dean agreed, watching as the young blonde girlwith the new group kicked in the door. When the screaming started,John got out and jogged inside. "Get me a weapon, Sammy." Deanfollowed with only the stuff on him. Sam paused long enough to getinto the trunk before coming in. They found them yelling at a redheadgirl and a guy knocked out in the corner.

"Sam, we need the chains," John ordered, tossing his keys. "Twosets." Sam went to get them. Buffy rounded on him. "Buffy,she's high on black magic. It's best to let her come down then yellat her."

"We can do that at the store."

"This way she can't throw spells at us to stop us from helping her.Like any junkie," Xander told her. She shuddered but nodded.He looked at John, nodding at Willow.

"Don't you dare touch me," she snarled.

Xander looked at her then pounced, knocking her down and out.John moved to tie up the other guy. Xander handed her to Buffy."We can drive her back in the truck. The fresh air might help her."

"It could help clear her head," Giles agreed.

"I have the truck warded against magic harming those inside it," Johntold him. Giles stared at him in horror. "We do run into roguewitches now and then on a hunt, Giles." He stood up."The one I talked to is trying to find her a good mentor for this stuff.She said to drain her and make her start over again." That got asingle nod. "That it could help her see where she took the wrongturn."

"We can do that," Buffy said firmly.

"Good. Friends and her girlfriend will help her more than anythingelse right now. She needs to see how wrong this path is." Buffynodded. "Put her in the back of the truck, Buffy. I can letyou ride back with her." She carried her that way. "What dowe do with the dealer? I don't recognize his species."

"I'm all for the fire pretty cure," Xander offered.

Giles scowled. "We don't know that he's harmful."

"He's selling black magic to witches, Giles. He's a drug dealer.He's harmful."

"We could run him out of town," he noted.

Xander looked at him then shook his head. "So he can hook someunsuspecting witch? Someone like Amy was in high school?" Gilesshuddered at the thought of her doing black magic back then. "Thatmeans he could come back and get Willow again. Not like the DEA willtake him for this either. It's not on the illegal list."

"We'll run him out of town," Giles said firmly. "Then we'll tellAngel's group so he's aware that there is one like him." He walkedoff to check on his student and slayer. Buffy was sulking."We'll help her all we can, Buffy."

"What about the dealer?"

"I've told Xander to run him out of town and warn Angel's team."

"I'll have Spike come help him." She looked at the two guys shedidn't know. "Who're you?" she asked.

"John's our dad," Sam said. "I'm Sam, he's Dean."

"Oh, hi," she said with a weak wave. "Sorry, but a personal crisistime. We'll be more together tomorrow."

"We understand perfectly and we're a bit freaked out anyway," Dean toldher. She gave him a weak grin. "Is she the same witch thatbrought Dad back and made him our age?"

"Yup. 'Fraid so," she admitted.

"Then Dad can yell at her tomorrow," Sam told her, getting another weaksmile. "Go with her. We'll get the chains back from him tomorrow,ma'am."

"I'm not that old, it's just been a really long day."

"We get that," Dean assured her. "Go help your friend."She smiled and John came out to drive them back to the store. "We'llbe at the motel, Dad," Dean called as he got into the truck.

"Wait on me, Dean. I've got the door boobytrapped," he calledback.

Xander came to the door. "Go back a block, turn left, go anothertwo. He's in room 38 on the back side of the motel." They noddedat that. "He's been a lot of help around here, guys. Especiallyon making some people see that something's going bad. It's just beena long month."

"We've had those hunting," Dean assured him. "You'll be okay withhim by yourself?"

"Yup, because Spike's coming to help me." He grinned. "He'snot human."

"Okay then. Don't need details." They got into the Impalaand drove off to wait on their father.

Xander lounged there, checking on the dealer and doing minor searchesof his papers until Spike got there. "Giles wants him out of town.I want him gone and unable to come back for Willow. Think those pinkthings with the noses would like him?" he asked blandly.

Spike gave him an odd look. "Probably. You sure you wantto do that?"

"I don't want him able to hook some other unsuspecting witch," he toldhim simply. "Or Willow again."

"They'd definitely pay for him."

"That's less ethical than I can stand, Spike. I'm all for droppinghim off as a sign of goodwill as long as they leave the town immediately.You can broker that?" Spike smirked evilly and nodded. "Good.Help me drag him to the car." Spike did that and they drove off together.Spike walked in to talk to the demons. Xander carried the dealerin, dropping him behind Spike. "We don't want ones such as his locally.There's too many who could be hurt and not realize it. Consider itgoodwill and a present as long as you leave town." He walked offa*gain.

Spike finished translating that and struck the deal. They tookthe dealer, gave him back the chains, and paid him handsomely for findinghim. Spike walked off to have a happier night. A much happiernight. He saw the others at the Magic Box and decided not to buttin. Not like they were his friends or something. Winchesterhad left to talk to his spawn too. Maybe he'd think about playingwith that younger one. He smelled like he'd make a good replacementfor Dru. It'd be easy enough to have him attacked and turned evenif he was a hunter.

***

Xander came in the next morning with coffee and muffins. "Breakfast."Buffy got hers and he handed Giles his tea. "John and his boys arein the park at the moment. I handed back the chains." He satdown, looking at Giles. "I checked, the ones who gave him passageout of town already left."

"Who did he travel with?"

"The pink ones with the noses." Giles spluttered on his tea.Xander stared back. "I found his client list. It had anotherthree local witches on it and another six in the county, Giles.One was twelve." He took a sip of his coffee. "They agreedhe was a good present of goodwill from the slayer to them so they'd leavetown immediately. Otherwise we'd have to deal with them too."He nibbled on his muffin, looking at Buffy. "Spike negotiated."

"Are they going to kill him?"

"They're not going to let him go."

"As long as they don't torture him," she decided. "I don't likedrug dealers any more than I like guns."

Xander looked at her. "Guns can save your butt, Buffy."

"Yay. Still too easy to misuse. It's nice John doesn't aroundme though. I guess. I'm guessing his sort of hunter use themmore often?"

"All the time."

"I guess that's understandable. Not everyone wants to beat thethings by hand."

"John said he can shoot at ghosts and make them dissipate," Xander toldher. She perked up at that. "Rock salt makes them go away fora few minutes so you can finish sending them off. Since they canslam you into walls the same as a vamp can, you can shoot them so you canfinish working."

"I guess that's pretty cool but we don't have many of those around here."She looked at him. "Unless you sucked in another one?"

"He got information on how to stop that. We had the bookhere so he went over it with me a few days ago."

"We do?" Giles asked. Xander got it and handed it over."I hadn't thought about that. He thinks you're a medium?"

"He said that's why I kept stuff from them." He sat down to finishhis nibbling. "I brought some for her too. Is she up?"

"Nope," Buffy said. "We have no idea how to get through to her.Tara can't either."

"Scary thought but guys like John come after witches like her who gorogue and bring people back to life," he said quietly. "John saidto get her a mentor who was a powerful witch who could spank her if necessaryor teach her ethical usage."

"I know of a few," Giles admitted, going to the office to call one ofthe senior witches the council worked with. Perhaps she'd at leasthave some ideas of what they could do outside of drug the poor girl.He didn't think it was right but she had tried to hurt them for it.

Buffy looked at Xander. "That was a bit extreme with that dealer,"she said quietly.

He shrugged. "He won't be back to hurt her or any one else hehad hooked. I'd rather be extreme than have to burn a witch goingrogue. Because we might have to some day. John told me he'sseen a few that got killed that way." She shuddered. "I don'twant that to happen to her." Tara stomped in. "Giles is callingon higher witchly support."

"The one she was seeing?"

"Out of town for good," Buffy told her. Tara gave her a look soshe pointed at Xander. "He gave him to a demon clan to make themall leave town."

"That's not nice," she told him.

He nodded. "I know but one of his other clients was twelve.Better that than having to kill her for it."

"True. Witches who go that bad do get killed by hunters."Buffy shuddered. "John's been very understanding." She wentinto the office to talk to Giles' friends. Hopefully they could helpher some.

Buffy finished her muffin and stole half of Xander's to nibble on."So, is John leaving with his sons?"

"I haven't talked to him this morning. Did we check the site?"

"Not yet." She looked around then at him. "Why did Spiketell you to tell me about the nest by Slumberville that Riley was scouting?"

"Because Spike thinks that he wasn't scouting." He stared at her."How many times did he get bitten?" She gave him a dirty look."Go check, Buffy. I'll go with you if you want. That way ifSpike's right, you're not alone and I can walk you away before you killhim."

She nodded. "Giles, we're going to check on the hellmouth site,"she called. They got up and went to do that and then to check onthat nest. What she found made her so mad she wanted to slip andkill him but Xander did walk her off, taking her to get some ice cream.They found John, Dean, and Sam there. "Did you know about Riley?"she demanded.

"There's only a few reasons why guys have so many bite marks in onearea, Buffy, but I wasn't sure. That's why I was subtly suggestingyou check on him. Xander too."

Xander nodded at her look. "Not even I've been bitten that manytimes, Buffy. And he's been *way* too calm plus volunteering to patrolthat route alone. He's hardly ever not complained when it's you twoon patrol together."

"Damn it." She got an extra scoop of ice cream and walked offeating it to make evil plans. She gave Tara a hug. "Maybe Ineed to find a nice girl like you instead of idiot, asshole men."She sat down to sulk. "Giles, there's a tentacle again. I stompedon it but it's still there."

"The witch coming to help her may have a way to help with that as well."

"I..I c..could try," Tara stuttered. Dean and Sam were followingtheir dad into the store. She looked at Buffy and pointed.

She smiled and nodded. They were cute ones.

John looked at her. "That's up to them, Buffy, not me," he saidbluntly. "At least it'd be a real, honorable sort for you."Dean gave him an odd look. "Her last boyfriend is being a feeder."

"Damn, that sucks," Dean agreed. "But I couldn't settle down tobe boyfriend material. We travel too often. Sorry. Funand games, yeah, but not settling down yet."

"Just don't let me hear about it like I do Anya's former job," Johncomplained.

Xander gave him an odd look. "She was hitting on you?"

"She was reminiscing."

"No, that's her idea of foreplay. Anya!" he bellowed. Shecame out of the back. "You were flirting with John?"

"You won't cheat on me," she said with a pout.

"You keep it up and I'll call the guy over boyfriends who're pissed,"he warned. She squeaked and disappeared into the back room."I'm not dating a ho unless you're making me money," he called after her.John swatted him, scowling. "What? You heard her the last timethat girl in the store flirted with me!"

"I did."

"Then it's the same thing she does to me."

"I know, Xander. Calm down."

"It's sad that Willow dated the best people but went the worst," Buffysighed. "And we got bad boyfriends instead." Tara scowled ather. "It is!"

"It's not my fault."

"Nope, it's not," Xander agreed. "You might be the reason shegets clean though." Tara smiled and went to check on Willow again.He looked at Buffy. "Why did I start to date Anya?"

"You said it was good to snuggle and she kinda showed up and never left."

"Oh yeah." He leaned back, looking at John. "We have anothertentacle." John rolled his eyes. "Tara said she'd try to closeit for us. No idea if she can or not since it's a pretty hard spell."

"If not, the one that I called may well be able to help," Giles saidas he came out of the office. "John, these are?"

"My sons. This is Dean and Sammy." They waved.

"So you'll be leaving soon then?" Giles asked.

"Let us get over this apocalypse attempt first," John said. "Thenwe'll figure stuff out." That got a nod. He looked atBuffy. "I saw your mother's car heading for the grocery store."She took her ice cream with her. "That does suck for her."

"The last one was doing a panty count and before him there was Angel,"Xander told him. Riley stomped in. "I'd so run, Finn.Before she sees you and puts down the ice cream."

"What are you talking about?" he demanded.

"She saw you and your little neck fetish problem." Riley wentpale. "I'd so run, dude. Head for Mexico or hope for prisontime from the Initiative's trials." He fled the store. "Good!"He leaned up, looking out the door. Then at John. "The dealer'sgone. The demons he was traveling with left town very early thismorning."

"You beat him more so he couldn't walk?"

"One of his clients was twelve. I graciously gave a clan we wantedgone a goodwill and going away present." John shuddered. "The pinkones with the nose."

"Eww."

"Spike negotiated it and translated."

"I'm sure he had fun." He shook his head. "That's mean butworthy I suppose." He patted the boy on the head. "Like anyaddict, she'll heal if she wants to, Xander."

"I know but it sucks."

"It does." He sat down. "Boys, this is Mr. Giles.He runs this store. He's a former watcher so he is very good at research,Sammy."

"Can we look up a demon through you?" Dean asked.

"If I have anything on it. If not, I might be able to point youat some sources." Sam went to the car to get his laptop, bringingit back. "I do not understand those machines."

Sam grinned. "You can find some amazing things online."He showed him what he had found, getting a grimace. "It's after thisfamily."

"Which is why I wasn't sure it'd be safe to have you two here," Johntold them.

"Chill, Dad. If we have to, we've got the colt and we'll shootthe bastard."

"No guns around Buffy. She doesn't like it or understand them,"Xander told him. That got an strange look. "She's a slayer,Dean. She gets stakes, crossbows, swords, that stuff, not guns.She's very anti gun because they're easy to misuse."

"I get that, but in my hands it's very useful and safe."

"She won't see it that way and she doesn't like your dad's shotgunseither." He shifted. "She's tried to break into my storagearea before to uncollect the few I have too. All the way to the pawnshop."

"I'd like to see what else you have in storage, Xander," John said.

Xander shrugged. "Not that much. Some older clothes.Some tapes and books. Some of Giles' books from the old library."

"I'd still like to see them," John offered. Xander grinned andnodded. "We can do that later. When the boys get lunch."

"Sure. Giles, how do we handle the tentacle? Do we sit awatch to make sure it doesn't open farther?"

"Tara's going over the spell now. We can try it in a few hours.Show him your storage area then we'll see if we can work on it."They nodded and headed out together. "If it wasn't for the eyes,he could be one of them," he muttered.

"He's good for Xander," Tara told him, swatting him on the arm."Even if he is trying to get him to date better than Anya is for him."She went back to her spell studying. If Willow was truly out fora bit due to this addiction thing, then she'd have to step up.

***

John and the boys took Xander back to the school to see if Tara couldhandle the spell and close the hellmouth again. Buffy was alreadythere and handed him the torch, pointing at the tentacles. "Is itjust that holding it open?" John asked.

"As far as we can tell. It's got a sneaky one down there that'skeeping it from totally closing but it can't reach up through."

Xander sighed and went to the car, handing John the torch. Hecame back with the bag with the explosives. "Step back and get itready, Tara." She nodded. He cobbled together something, includinghis watch, then tossed it down there. "Icky in five seconds," hewarned. They all took a step back until it went off. Then Taratried to close the hellmouth. It shut with another suck and thistime it wasn't going to open. They could feel it. "Whoo-hoo!"Xander shouted, giving Tara a hug. "That's our good witch."She beamed but patted him until he put her down. Xander blinked atthe person behind the boys. "Hey, Buffy, can I have that sword again?"

She turned and snarled at the obviously possessed person. "Whatare you doing on my hellmouth? I do not allow that here! Unlessit's Xander being possessed or me, there's no possessions allowed!"She advanced on it. The demon, not realizing what was wrong, stoodhis ground. The guys, well, they moved. Buffy kicked the demon'sbutt until it begged for mercy from Sam. "He's not the one beatingyou, idiot!" She kicked him again. "I am!"

"Who are you?" he begged.

"Buffy. The slayer Buffy."

He groaned. "No!"

Xander waved from his safe spot behind Tara. "This is why somesmart man sometime in the past created midol, dude. Aren't you gladyou want John's family since she's wanting to marry into it?" Thedemon wailed and disappeared out of the body, puffing up into a cloud ofsmoke. Xander threw something from his bag on it, making it screamin pain as it crystalized. "Huh, it did work. We need to buyAndrew a gift certificate to the comic shop, Buffy. That's his ideasince he couldn't create a Pokeball for capturing demons."

She gave him an odd look, then shook her head. "I'm going backto bed now. Leave me alone for a day." She stomped off mutteringabout men. Tara followed to soothe her. She understood evenif the guys didn't.

"We need a capturing thing," Sam said. Giles got something andhanded it over. "This'll work for now." He scooped up the solid cloudof demon, listening to it complain. He closed the lid tightly andhanded it to his father with a smirk.

"What is it with blondes around the Winchesters?" Dean asked."Sammy's girl was fierce to keep him from other girls. Mom was apisser if one of the kids picked on me in the park. Dad, do you maybelike Buffy a little bit?"

"No, son. She's too nice for me. Sammy? She seemslike your sort. She's sweet most of the time but she's just gettingover a very bad boyfriend I'd like to beat."

"Amen," Xander said dryly. "And I get it first since he createdproblems on our team, John." He beamed. "As a matter of fact,let me do that now so you guys can finish catching up." He startedto move but Giles stopped him and shook his head. "I should get to.Me and Spike. Since he can't, I'll kick him extra hard for Spiketoo. And then for Buffy."

"Let her have him first, Xander."

"Hell no! I won't get any if she does." He got free andheaded off.

"He's still hurt about their problems before they went in with the spell,"John told him.

"I thought we had solved that."

"Not like they apologized," John pointed out, making the other man nodand walk off mumbling. "Sorry, someone's got to stick up for somecommon sense now and then. They're still fighting over things fromback in high school." He looked at the oatmeal container the demonwas trapped in. "We need to make a more secure storage container."

"Want me to get some metal?" Dean asked. "We can probably borrowthat torch."

"Xander crafts. He had a nice box in the storage area."He called him. "Xander, can we have that storage box you made?I want to make it a permanent container for the demon." He smiled."Thanks." He hung up. "He said that's what he made it for."Sam jogged back to the storage area so he could pick the lock and get itfor them. He made sure to lock it back then ran it back to the site.They had plenty of paint on hand at the moment so he could mark all theprotections and sealing runes on it he needed to. He stared at it.It was a pretty box. Xander had done a wonderful job. The oatmealcontainer fit very well inside it too. He called Bobby. "Wehave a new curse box made. In it is a trapped demon inside an oatmealcontainer. Yes, that's what I said. No, it's *that* demon,Bobby. Just finished painting it." Xander came back and handedhim something, letting him smile at the small lock set. "Thanks,kid."

"Not a problem. If you didn't get it, it might come for me someday," he said dryly. "Because freakish things like that happen tome." He walked off shaking his head. "Riley's hiding but notthat well. Clem knows where he is I'm sure."

"Should we follow him?" Dean asked.

"Nope. I'm not getting in the middle of that. Finn needsto pay for his past sins and the present ones he forced onto the group.He can save his own ass by turning evidence and going to prison for beingpart of the Initiative." He finished up. "There, sealed, Bobby.I can do that. Thanks." He hung up. "We need to get thestuff to airtight seal it in plastic overtop of this." They nodded,letting him go to the hobby shop with them to get acrylic molding sets.When that was done, he'd send it with the boys to Bobby so it could besealed permanently in a way that meant no man or woman would ever openit again. Then it'd be stuck underground in a well.

***

Xander knocked on a door, holding up an envelope. "I will tradeyou both these gift certificates, one to the game shop, the other to thecomic place, for the commando hiding in your garage."

"Why is he hiding in my garage?" Andrew asked.

"I don't know but he's earned my foot up his ass."

"What bad thing did he do?"

"Most recently? He cheated on Buffy with a few vamps." Andrewshuddered, shaking his head, muttering 'wrong' over and over. "Andthat's the nicest thing he did."

"Sure, go for it. There's no weapons out there. You knowmy mom's phobic about pointy stuff." He took the gift certificatesto look at. "Wow. Thanks, Xander."

"You were due one anyway. That crystal stuff worked really wellon a demon that was floating out of someone." He smirked and headedfor the garage, opening the door. "There you are, you son of a bitch."He hauled Riley out and let Andrew close the door again. "Thanks,Andrew. Have a happy hunt for stuff you need." He walked Rileyoff. He even waved at the few people who gave him odd looks."Ex-boyfriend abuse for one of the girls," he told one very worried woman."Caught him cheating on his girlfriend, who is my friend."

"That's fine, Xander. You're such a sweet boy to not make hermess up her nails with a rolling pin."

Xander grinned at Riley. "She makes really good brownies too.She used to be our librarian until one of the books ate her coworker onenight." He took him to where he wanted to beat him, where Spike waswaiting too. Then he got to beat him for every single hurt the assholehad caused the group and him. And Spike because he had promised;he was honorable that way.

John walked in an hour later. "Aren't you done yet?"

"Hell no! I'm still working over the anger at making Spike putdistance between the team that left me nearly alone one night with tensuccuba and only one stake." He smiled sweetly and kicked withoutlooking down. "They like me a lot. Fortunately that was *before*Anya decided I was a boyfriend." He kicked him again. "AfterI'm done with this I'll remind him how a real man takes his punishmentif he's earned it. I was willing to go to jail for stealing artillery.He's a Nazi bastard and he can do the same." He kicked him again,still smiling.

"Xander, you're a bit psychotic," John said calmly. "Let him rest,that way he can start to scream again later."

"He might try to use the pitiful commando skills and get away.Then I'd have to punish him for that too. So...." He lookedat Spike. "Any opinion?"

"S'your fun," he said with a hand wave. "I'm just enjoying it."

Buffy stomped in. "Why can't I sulk in peace? And why areyou beating up my ex for me, Xander?"

"I'm beating him for all the sh*t he caused outside of being your ex,Buffy." He kicked him again, making him scream a high pitched screamthis time. "Like how he pushed us apart so I ended up alone witha lot of succuba and no way to drive them off."

She shuddered. "Eww. That's nearly as bad as him sleepingwith a vamp."

"And yet, you did *what* with Angel?"

"Don't go there."

He stared at her, kicking him again. "He's still a vamp, evenwith a soul. Same as Spike is even with the chip."

"I know but he's not the usual one. He even tried to be warm whenwe were around each other." She came in to look at him. "Ithink you broke something important. He's bleeding from his mouth."

Xander looked down. "He bit his tongue a bit ago." He kickedhim over and squatted to look. "Nah, just a broken jaw." Hestood up and stared down at him. "Maybe we should let him rest sowe can come back to this point."

"You're way scary, Xander. You need the midol more than me."

"Doesn't work for the problems I have," he said dryly.

"I can tell Anya to pounce."

"She was telling John stories about her job recently."

"Oooh. I'm sorry she hit on you, John. It's all right, he'llspank her if she tries again."

"I told her I'd be calling the ex-boyfriend vengeance demon."She cackled. "I will. Damned if I'm going to put up with itif I have to go to the gay bar so she doesn't fuss at me." He lookedher over. "You know, way back when you'd have thrown a fit if I tookup with her."

"Yeah, but then you had that thing with Cordelia." She shrugged."You have bad taste and you should finish going gay since you like theirbar so much." She hauled Riley up, listening to him whimper."If there's any left, I'll give him back when I'm done."

"Okay," he agreed, knowing not to argue. "Guess our fun is done,Spike."

"Pity. Could've stood planting this bloody chip in his head."

"Maybe the people in the prison will since most of the Initiative'shigher ups are going to jail," John said. Spike smirked evilly atthat, cackling as he walked off. "I don't want to know what evilthought he had, do I?"

"Probably not," Buffy said, dragging him off. "We're going toMom's so I don't kill him. She'll stop me."

"Sure," Xander agreed. He nodded, then looked at John once shewas gone. "That was mean to call her to take my fun, John."

"Xander, you're going a bit too far over the edge and it's scary," hesaid bluntly.

"He ...."

John held up a hand. "I get that and you've had your revenge.All you can do is try to fix it. It may not help but you can tryto fix it."

"I have tried and it isn't fixed. I'll be damned if I'm goingto grovel to get my friends back because they decided they're too specialfor me."

"You have other friends, like Andrew."

"We're not that close of friends. We're good acquaintances really.The ones you send cards to but you have to look up their address."

"I know a few hunters I consider that way," he admitted, moving closer."C'mon. We can go watch the sun go down and the evil come up."

"Spike was mumbling that Sam would make a good Dru replacement sinceHarmony sucked so badly at it."

"I'd stake him so fast hell would wonder how he appeared," he told him,walking the boy out. He'd pity the commando but he had brought iton himself. Apparently Joyce was more forgiving than they were sincethere was an ambulance at the Summers house. John looked at her sinceshe was pouting. "Your mom turn him over already?"

"She said it's better to snub than to go to jail for beating him."She looked at Xander. "He said he won't press charges."

"I don't care right now, Buffy." She gave him a horrified look."I have a very good defense if it ever comes up." He smiled sweetly.She backed away. "Now, I think I deserve ice cream and ho-hos, andI don't mean the type you pay, so I'm going to go stop Anya from weedingout my sugar stash again."

"Too late," Buffy told him.

"Then she's replacing it," he said. "Or else she's moving."He walked off, heading for the apartment. "If my chocolate and ice creamstash isn't back within an hour, we're breaking up," he called from thedoor. She pouted. He glared. "Buffy took Riley from me."She sulked all the way up the street to the grocery store.

John looked at her. "He really was torn up about that stuff, Buffy.That's what set off the anger hunting the other night."

"But we're better."

"Really? Are you still doing the same sort of hanging out youused to do?"

"Well... No."

"Did you apologize for being such a brat to him?"

She slumped, shaking her head. "No. Not yet."

"So it's still hurting him. You guys tossed him aside after blaminghim for something that wasn't just his doing, and then Riley made it worsethrough Spike." She nodded. "Maybe when things slow down again,you should work on your friendships? They're all anyone can say isbehind them in this world when their family is gone. Or if they'rehunting and their family doesn't."

"I should." She went to talk to her mom. "Do you think we'restill treating Xander like he's got that spots disease the nuns in Indiatake you in for?"

"Yes, you do treat him like a leper now and then," she agreed, smilingat John. "Thank you for trying to calm him down and imparting somesense, John."

"The boy needs a mentor and someone he can count on to be there to talkto. The same as she does." Joyce nodded at that, taking herdaughter inside. He looked at the boy they were working on."I'd sing like the Mormon Choir about your former bosses, Riley.I really would." Riley nodded. "Good." He went to checkon his sons and their art project with the box. They had the acrylicdone and it was dried solid. "No air holes?"

"None," Dean promised. "I did two coats of sealant to make sure."

"Good job."

"You've mellowed, Dad."

"Hell can do that to you," he said, sitting on the foot of his bed."Joyce handed Riley to the paramedics already so Xander's at home."

"I still don't see why he went to the gay bar," Sam said.

"Because Anya will claim he's scorning her if he gets hit on and flirtsback," Dean told him. "If you picked up women in bars, you'd knowthat." He looked at his father. "Are we setting him up withsome other hunters as penpals?"

"I got him in touch with the one we get the wooden bullets from.Xander was trying to make one but they compressed too much. I thinkit'll be good for the boy. Give him more normal people contact."

"It does look like his whole friendship network is now torn up," Samagreed.

"And then some, Sammy. It's been unraveling for a while now."He looked at his boys. "Let's order dinner and then we'll figureout what we're doing from here?"

"Bobby said he can't believe you're our age."

"Willow wanted me to fit in better with the team here. Hurt likehell too." They both smirked at that. "It did. Freakedout Donald too." Dean laughed, nodding. "He still drunk?"

"Yup, and told Ellen why. She got drunk too."

"So far we've made sure nothing comes back because of the resurrection."

"Good," Sam agreed. "So it's over?" John nodded. Samrelaxed. "That's good to know. Even if it's not dead it can'tdo it again."

"There's always more evil bastards out there, Sammy," Dean told him.He stared at his father. "We need to talk anyway, Dad."

"I know you want to beat me for that deal, son, but I had to so you'dbe better. I knew you'd protect Sammy for me."

"You ever do something that stupid again and I'm going to kill you myself,"Dean said, making sure he understood he was making a promise.

"I'll help by lubing the shotgun for him," Sam agreed, glaring at hisfather.

"It was...."

"Necessary but still painful and f*cking dumb," Dean interrupted."It will not happen again."

"Yes, son." He smiled. "It's good you love me anyway."

"Yeah, maybe," Dean said. "You've been infected by the girls too,Dad. That was mushy."

"They're mostly good girls. They're growing up and that's goingto happen to most anyone." He tensed, looking around. Somethingwas wrong. Something was very wrong. He heard the explosionand ran outside to look. "That's not the college, but it's in thesame direction. Stay here in case we have to evacuate." Hegrabbed his phone and keys, heading for the area. "Xander, explosion?"He listened to him. "You're sure?" He nodded. "Meet methere." He hung up and found a good out-of-the-way place to parkbefore heading over to see if he could help. It was the college.Well, part of the college. He watched first responders head for thedorm, stopping one. "Where do we go to see if our friends made it?"

"Caf for right now, sir." He got free and headed that way to help.

John walked up to one. "I'm field medic trained." They puthim to work bandaging. Xander moved up to help him. "Any clue?"

"Not a bit." He looked then at him. "No clue, John."They got back to work. The dorm that had exploded wasn't Buffy andWillow's or Tara's. It was one of the boys' dorms. "Drugs maybe?"

"Maybe." He took the next one and shook his head. "It'sa long shot," he muttered but he got to work.

Xander looked at him. "No, don't. I know him. Guys,this one is one of those freaky 'no medicine' people." The paramedicscame to get him since he was unconscious. "He's been stumping forthat group in the next town, that religious group." That got a nodand they took him off. He looked at John. "It sucks but theyhad one who committed suicide when he woke up in the ER with stitches."They got back to work. It was going to be a long night. Deancame over with another one. "Burns or shrapnel?"

"Both." Xander nodded, settling in to do what he could and thenbandage the rest loosely so they wouldn't be exposed. The paramedicscame to get him when they saw.

John looked over. "He's doing it right."

"The ER has a burn person waiting and agents waiting to see anyone whowas close enough to be burned."

Xander looked at him. "Still a bit too far out. There's no residue,just heat burns." That got a nod and they took him anyway."They're getting closer to where it happened." Buffy came joggingover. "Hey."

"Hey." She moved to help hold the next one he was bandaging."Any idea?"

"Not yet," John said. "This one needs blood, I can't get the bleedingstopped," he yelled. Xander looked then did something with a needle,sticking it in the bleeding spot to siphon it off. "Thanks.What does that do?"

"Lets them redirect it with a tube if they have one." The paramedicgave him a stare. Tubing. Now." They did that."And another needle." They handed it over and he created a round-aboutpast the broken area. "He's getting most of it back in. Watchto make sure the second needle isn't overflowing." They gave himan awed look but took that guy immediately to the ER. Xander gotback to his, ignoring the looks. "I had to figure it out once.Willow's mom's book had something like that in it for those problems."

"Sure, that'll work," Buffy said. "If it helps, it does."She finished up and noticed no more were coming. "No more injuries?"she called. The firefighter nearer to them shook his head."Okay."

"Time to fade into the shadows," John said, taking a wet wipe to wipeoff the glove residue. Xander did the same thing and so did Buffy.They faded back into the crowd to watch. John stared. "That'sartillery."

Xander nodded. "That is. And that's Graham Miller, anotherInitiative weenie."

Buffy poked him. "Hush." She watched. Graham was apparentlyAgent Graham now. She shifted so she could hear better. Hespotted her and frowned. Then he said something before walking over."We were helping with the injured. What happened?"

"Someone who wanted to take over the town. Is Harris here?"She pointed. He walked over there. "What did you still havestored?"

"Nothing. Nearly nothing. Nothing that size. A fewguns, a few swords, nothing huge. Why? Are they trying to blameme?"

"I'm trying to figure out where they got it."

"The reserve base like I did that time?" That got a nod."Or maybe one of the dealers out of LA? There's supposed to be afew arms dealers down there. How do any nuts get their guns?"

"Good point. You sure you don't know of a stash in town?"

"No one's said anything to us. I haven't run across any.If so, someone would've heard my squeal of delight."

"Fine. I'll ignore that you sent Riley to the hospital too."

Xander grinned. "That was my pleasure. Really."

"We're shutting the campus for the night, Buffy. Complete lockdown."

"I can go watch tv."

"We can hit patrol," Xander agreed.

She smiled and went to check in with her RA, holding up the bloody shirtshe had on. "I was helping triage." He let her inside and upto her room.

Graham looked at him. "I want to know the minute you hear somethingabout these kooks."

"I need to know who they are first," Xander said. "Beyond thehellmouth starting to open, we haven't had a lot of anything going on."

"I'll get info to you later at the shop." That got a nod and they walkedoff. "Who's the new guy?" he asked a cop controlling the crowd."I don't remember him hanging with Summers and Harris."

"Winchester. He's a decent sort. Fairly sensible.Drives a pickup truck. Goes to the gay bar with Harris so we figuredthey were together." He shrugged.

"Huh." He went back to the front lines of the investigation.Maybe they had that wrong in the kid's profile.

***

Giles looked up as a former commando walked into his store, reachingfor his crossbow. "Problems, Graham wasn't it?"

"Chill, Mr. Giles. I'm here as an agent."

"Yes, Xander told me he had seen you. What is going on?"

"Some kooks who want to take over the town for their saint and someangels."

Xander came out of the office. "Angels?" he snorted.

"That's what they said."

"Like the group in the next town? We saw one of their membersamong the burned ones," John told him.

"Possibly." He handed over what the locals had on them, whichwasn't much.

Xander sat down to look at it, nodding. "That's them. One'susually in front of the Mocha Pump with a sign and some pamphlets."He handed it back. "They're not pushy but they do sing annoying songs."

"Know anything about their compound, their members? Anything thatcould help us bust them?"

"Very little." He got up to look in Anya's spots, finding something."Here, Anya picked it up."

"She's still here? I heard you dumped her."

Xander looked at him. "No. We're together."

"I heard you were with the new guy."

"No, Willow decided we needed a new hunter."

"The gay bar stuff?"

"No one there hits on me," he said dryly. "Which means Anya doesn'tget upset with them or me."

"Oh. Good idea then, Harris." He looked at it, smiling some."They have a map, that's nice of them."

Xander looked. "Probably not fully correct unless they took overthe old elementary school over there." That got a nod. "There'sa good deputy, Gringer. He was here for a while and he was good whenthe school's bus had an accident out that way a few months back."

"I'll look him up. Know anything else?"

"They're girl heavy or that's their recruiting strategy. Alwaysa few pretty girls among the street-side recruiters. That one guynow and then, I guess between classes, but they've got a blonde with longhair and blue eyes and another with green eyes, and I think a brunettewith the same long hair and blackish/dark brown eyes. They tend to sittogether and chat with everyone."

"I've seen the brunette at the Quickie Mart," John offered. "She'sin there most nights when I go in for my last coffee."

"I'll check on that. Thanks, guys. Oh, Riley's going toDC."

Xander grinned. "He was cheating on Buffy with some vamps."

"Then he was really stupid." He walked off making notes, goingto talk to the other agents. "These ones sit outside the local coffeehouse all the time to hand out info packets." He handed that oneover. "Harris said that there's a good deputy in the next town, helpfulduring a school bus crash this last year." That got a nod."The Quickie Mart is that way," he said with a point. They stoppedthere first since it was closer.

Xander looked at John. "Don't you have a coffee maker in the room?I know you picked one up."

"I do but now and then I get out to take a walk."

Xander smirked. "I heard you do the evil jogging stuff too."

"Every day," he agreed. "You could start going with me while I'mhere, Xander."

"I get plenty of working out at work hauling, toting, and lifting."

"Jogging helps your endurance."

"So does Anya."

"Good point." Xander grinned. "I called, the Bronze is closedthanks to this. Half the town's in lock down already for the night."

"Then we can go home and veg," Xander agreed. "Have fun with thesons. They looked kinda upset earlier."

"I went to hell because I made a deal to let Dean heal from being ina coma," he said quietly. "He's still wanting to kick my ass overit."

Xander nodded. "I'd do that." He walked off to go home, findingAnya watching the news. "The religious people by the Mocha Pump."

"That's probably not what their god would want them to do."

"No but they were doing something funny in the dorm when it blew up."He flopped down. "My chocolate stash?" She sighed but got himsome. "Thanks. Graham Miller's back in town as an agent investigating."

"Is he going to bust you for beating on Riley? Because I willbe upset if you have consensual prison sex, Xander. If it's not,I'll expect you to beat them back."

"He said he's not."

"Fine." She relaxed again.

"You know, you could dump me and take up with a better person who'llactually cheat on you."

She pouted. "They'd never understand me and I like you."

"If you liked me, you wouldn't want me to cheat on you."

She got up and huffed off to the bathroom to take a long, hot bath.

"I'll never understand women," he muttered. He flipped the channelto the cartoon network. His anime was on. He sat and nibbled,happier now. Most of his needs were currently met. If onlyhe had sex... "Hey, Anya, want to come have sex?" he called whenthe show changed. She came out to climb into his lap. She wasalways up for sex.

***

John closed his motel room door, looking at his worried sons."Some religious group was doing something in preparation for taking overthe town for their angels and God."

"Wonderful," Dean agreed. "You okay?"

"I helped with the triage. One of the agents wanted to see ifwe knew the kooks." He settled in on his bed, looking at his youngerson. "You all right?"

"Making drugs?"

"Not real sure yet. We'll hear if it was something like a badsummoning spell." That got a nod. "Any other cheery news fromthe wider world?"

"Not yet," Dean said. "I called Bobby. He still wants picturesof you at this age." John shook his head. "Are we hitting patroltonight?"

"It's closed down." That got a nod and the boys relaxed, lettinghim reconnect. Now that the danger was less, it was easier to talkto them. Or maybe he had been more easy going at this age the firsttime than he had when he died. It was possible his temper had beenreset at twenty-five-year-old John levels. He also had a lot morein common with Sam now so they could fight less. Hopefully.

***

Xander got woken up out a sound sleep, mumbling into the phone."Who the hell are you?" he said when he didn't recognize the voice.They said something so he sat up with a groan, rubbing over his face."Why are you running a patrol, Graham?" He grimaced. "No, that'snot a good sign. I'll wake up Buffy and be there soon." Hehung up and called her. "It's me. Graham's at the school andsaid it's not staying shut. We don't know why. Glowing thistime. No tentacles yet. Yup, sure am." He hung up andtook a kiss, grabbing stuff before going to change in the bathroom.He grabbed his wallet in case any agents tried to stop him or asked foran ID. For some reason he grabbed his emergency kit too. "Anya,I'm heading to the hellmouth to stop it from glowing," he called quietly.He took another kiss, waking her up. "It's opening again."

"Why can't it stay shut?" she whined. He shrugged. "Be safeand come back for morning org*sms if you can." She took a kiss andlet him go. Then she went back to sleep. The couch was makingher sore back better. Xander had been too strenuous earlier.Even with her on top.

***

Buffy trudged up to meet them at the edge of the site. "I hatethis place. Have I ever mentioned that?"

"The new plans are a bit nicer," Xander told her, using his keys tounlock the gate so they could get in. He closed and locked it behindhim and they walked in together, stopping to look at the obvious glow."What is going on with that thing?"

"No idea," Buffy said. "I woke Giles up to research. He'sstill mumbling at the phone probably." They walked inside, goingto look at it. "No tentacles?"

"Not yet," Graham said. "Is it usually open this way?"

"No, usually the kraken does something," Xander said, looking at theglowing spot. "This isn't normal, Buffy." He looked back ather, frowning some. "Why do you look so pale?" She shrugged."We need a vacation." She nodded, looking grim. "Okay."He turned to look at it then shrugged. "No clue. It's not openin the usual way. Could whoever opened it be trying again?" he suggested."We never did find out why it was trying to open."

"Tara thought she felt some magic touching it. She wasn't sure."

"Magic like Willow linked herself in the last time she tried to closeit and all this has been because she's been so odd with the magic abuseor other magic?"

"She said she wasn't sure," she said patiently. She called her."Tara, Buffy and Xander. Could the magic you felt at the hellmouthbe Willow's stuff? Because it's glowing now. No, no tentacles."She nodded. "Please. I woke Giles up too." She hung up."She'll see if it matches. She hasn't worked any spells with Willowsince she started going all freaky." Graham was giving them odd looks."She was going to a magic dealer."

Xander nodded. "We staged an intervention the other night."

"Xander gave the magic dealer to some slave trading demons," Buffy said.Xander nodded, looking smug. "I still say that was excessive."

"If he wants to bribe them he can probably get free sometime."His phone rang and he opened it. "What's up?" He listened."Who're you?" The line went dead. He looked at his phone."Whoever that guy was said it was Willow magic and we need to evacuate."He put it back into his pocket with a frown. "If it's linked in...."

"I'll get started on that," Graham said, heading to make that call.He could cite a bomb threat at the old high school site and they weren'tsure it wasn't a dirty bomb. Because a magic addiction sounded dirtyto him.

Buffy called her mom. "Mom, it's us. The hellmouth is goingto go soon. They're calling an evacuation of the town. Go.Call John, Xander?" He nodded, moving to do that. "Thanks,Mom. Yeah, like right now, Mom." She hung up. "She'snot happy since it's three am too."

"Me either. John, it's us. Evac now. The hellmouth'sgoing freaky and they're going to evac the town. We think Willowmay be linked in and what's making it flux. Well, right now it'sglowing. Yeah, I'm here with Buffy. The agents are coming somove. Anya's on the couch at home." He hung up and put thephone back then looked at her. "Where is Willow?"

"Giles has her stashed at his place I think. Not real sure."

They watched it flux. "Go," Xander told her.

"No, this is my duty." He gave her a shove and she growled."Xander!"

"Go! Now!" She moved backward and then took off runningso she could climb the fence. He turned and looked at the portalhe could feel opening. "Well, John said hell was bad but not thatbad." It engulfed him. Then the school, the street and Buffy.It kept spreading to the edges of town.

Somewhere, Willow looked up as the magic finally drew her. "No,not Xander!" she shouted. "Take me!" She worked her will againstthe stupid hellmouth, throwing all the magic she could suck in at it.She felt it rebound but she did something to send it back, freeing Xander.It took her. Angel had said hell was mean but it helped him get rightagain. It'd help her too. Then maybe the Powers could use herfor someone like Angel or Buffy.

***

John watched as the town was swallowed, staring at the mess it was leavingbehind. "Please stop," he begged, starting to pray. The eatingslowed, then receded. He blinked. The mess left behind wasgetting worse. Buildings looked like they were melting from the power.Dean gripped his arm. He found Joyce in the group that had gottenout. She had Tara. He didn't see Anya. He walked overto her. "Anya? I called and woke her."

"I haven't seen her, John. Your boys?"

"With the cars." She nodded, patting him on the arm. "Buffyand Xander?" She teared up. "They're strong, Joyce. Ifthere's any way, they'll be coming here." She nodded, gripping hisarm while they waited. Finally the hellmouth exploded. Nothingwas there. Joyce started to cry so he let her. "Shh.We'll have them soon," he soothed. He nodded at Tara to help himsteer her back to his truck. He settled her in it so she could havesome peace and quiet. He looked at his boys. "Call Ellen, getJim here. Now." Dean nodded, moving to do that. He watched.It was nearly dawn when something changed. The portal opened andhe started to swear, moving to the back of the truck where the weaponswere. Most everyone had been dragged off by the agents but Grahamhad them left alone, saying that their kids were down there. Thehellmouth flashed and he saw a small spec. "What the..." Hegrabbed Dean's binoculars since he had them out to scan the area for survivors."There's a body," he called. Joyce woke up and came back to takethem. "It's not Buffy, Joyce. It's Willow."

Tara swallowed. "She was linked in. That's what was causingthe fluxes." Graham looked at her. "Xander and Buffy?"

"They were there. I don't know, Tara." He sent agents downto gather the body. She was alive by what they called. Comatose butalive. "She's alive." Tara went limp and had to be caught byJoyce. He looked at her. "No sign yet, Joyce. She might'vemade it underground. That might be okay."

She nodded. "She might but she knows not to in an earthquake,it could trap her." She held Tara until they carried Willow nearby,then let her follow. "She's her medical power of attorney and girlfriend,"when Tara stuttered. "We have no idea where her parents are."They took Tara with them. She looked at the area. "I want togo look, Graham."

"It could be contaminated."

"My daughter might be down there. I'm going."

"Let us check it for radiation first," he ordered, going to send thatteam in. They went to look.

Dean patted his father on the shoulder, getting a look. "If possiblehe's alive, Dad."

"I know. He's a good kid." They watched until someone theyknew walked up to them. "Jim." They shook hands.

"John. You're a mite young."

"The witch who brought me back." He looked at him. "Shewas linked into the hellmouth. She had started a magic addiction.They stopped her the other night."

Jim nodded. "How many still missing?"

"At least three of the local hunting team. Including the slayer.The rest, you'd have to ask the agents."

He nodded. "I'll find out then." He looked at Joyce."I'm sorry, ma'am."

"Joyce, he's a hunter like me," John told her. "And a priest."She nodded, shaking his hand. "Boys, get a room, take Joyce so shecan rest until we can head back in." Sam walked her off, talkingto her until they got her into the car. "The witch reappeared, Jim.I don't know what's going on."

"Those who go to hell alive often come back after they've paid."John looked at the guy behind him. "It's a fact that's saved manyhunters over the years, John." He got a raised-eyebrow look."Some of the others know about hunters too. Who's missing?"

"Xander, Anya, and Buffy of the local team. Probably a quarterof the town otherwise."

He nodded. "I'll go in with Jim." He pulled off his coatto show his collar. They went to the agent guarding the makeshiftfence. "We're going on the search teams," he said.

"Father...."

"We're going on the search teams," Jim ordered. That got a nodand they were led to them by him. "We're here to help." Theygave them horrified looks. "Some of us do know about these sort ofthings, boys. Some of us are vets too. I've seen bad before.So has my colleague."

"Fine, Fathers. We're checking for radiation." That gota nod and they waited for the all clear, going to find bodies. Jimchecked the underground, sending off the few demons he found. Theteam accepted him more after that. The other Father was helping searchbuildings.

***

Three months later John got up to answer the knock on his current motelroom door. He stared at the boy there. "How?"

"They decided I wasn't so angry anymore." He stepped across thesalt wards, nodding at Sam and Dean. "Hi, guys." He lookedat him. "They sent Angel back when he went too."

"They sent Willow back but she hasn't woken up yet."

Xander nodded. "I was told that. Buffy's being sent as ahelper for the next slayer called. She's a bit young and Joyce hasher anyway. The Powers said we did too much good work to let rot."He shrugged. "So I'm back but I'm to be a seer for a special familyof hunters since yours is locked up, Sam." Sam slumped. Hehad been wondering. He looked at John. "How many demons haveyou pissed off, John?"

"Too many probably. You?"

"Nearly every one that ran into me. They had no idea what to dowith us. They weren't real pleased with me either. They reallyhated me down there."

"Need medical attention?" Dean asked.

"Nah, the Powers healed them to scars already." He looked at him."Yes, it's a reminder my mouth is large and too active." He lookedat John. "Test me," he said quietly. John pointed up at theposter he hung above the doorway. "Cute way to do a mobile devil'strap."

"Dean thought it up." He looked the boy over. "So you'reour seer specifically?"

"Yup. The apocalypse the stupid bastard was starting off isn'tdone with." That got a nod. "Oh." He smacked him on thehead. Then he grinned. "Mary sent that. She said sheremembered you at this age and hopefully you had more patience this time."John actually blushed. "The Powers said hi too. That's whyWillow's still down. She's paying amends."

"Will she wake up?" Sam asked.

"That depends on her." That got a nod. Xander looked athim. "So, I'm here. I'm under orders that I'm not to date anotherdemon ever again. The Powers said I unbalanced D'Hoffryn's realmby giving her a conscience."

"She made it back?"

"In the aftermath those who could be claimed were claimed first.She begged but he ended up trading her to another position for someonemeaner. I'm told my stuff is going to be here tomorrow. Socan I bum a corner again?"

"Sure, Xander. Not a problem." He grinned. "Anythingcoming up we have to know?"

"A few things but nothing critical tonight. Tomorrow we're headingto South Dakota. Job or not. We have to take down the devil'sgate and then head to Cleveland to introduce you guys to the new slayeron the newly active hellmouth." That got a nod. "By the way,the ghost?" He snorted and shook his head. "Talk to her andshe'll pass on." That got a nod. Dean groaned, putting hishead down. "She's lonely. She's been trapped for ages by someoneway back when. All she wants is out."

"I can do that," John agreed. He grinned. "Any other orders?"

"Not to smart off to the higher demons anymore. A few decidedI'd make a good mate and they were wrong." He gave him a look."They said someday my mouth would get me in trouble." He looked aroundand pointed. "I call that corner."

"Go for it, we have our own room," Dean assured him. He grinnedslightly. "Are you in his truck or our car, Xander?"

"His. My trouble magnet nature and Sam's together would causeproblems. But we'll draw the demons to us so less strenuous huntingwhile you guys all get old again." He looked at John. "Anyidea why she was humming the theme song to My Little Pony? It's stillstuck in my head."

John burst out laughing, clapping him on the back. "A lot of ideas.Don't worry about it. Sing a Disney song back and she'll stop, Xander.Then put up your shields." He nodded, settling into his corner todo that. "Boys, let's handle that ghost." They went to do that.John stared at Xander. "Even I remember how bad it was, kid," hesaid, sitting across from him.

"I stood in the way of them coming to touch a lot of kids that went,John." He looked at him. "Those who got claimed were gone nearlyimmediately. The rest of us they played 'what do we do with you'tag with some other higher beings. All of whom glared at me whenI stepped in the way of one trying to claim a kid's soul because he parentswere his. It wasn't pretty but it was necessary."

John nodded. "I can see that." He shifted closer."Need to talk? Or need me to look over the new scars, make sure they'reall healed?"

"They're healed but they're painful reminders that my temper was waytoo hot and my mouth will keep getting me in trouble."

"I don't find anything wrong with you smarting off unless it's in themiddle of an emergency and you're countering orders with it, Xander."

Xander smiled. "They didn't see it that way. Neither didthe Powers."

"f*ck the Powers."

Xander nodded. "I have a few scars from that sentiment as well.Though, the angels that appeared for the innocent and unjustly imprisonedwere rather nice about stopping the one trying to beat me into submission."

"Hunting meant you belonged there?"

"No, killing friends did. When I pointed out why, they told meit wasn't my job. So I told them it was, because they wouldn't wantto be taken out by people who didn't know them. The angel agreedhunters were special cases under special rules for sins." He shrugged."I ended up in between but there were some that couldn't be sorted so Istayed to guard them."

"They okay?"

"Mostly taken by the good. A few to more minor places that aren'tso bad. The last one taken of the group I was protecting told theangel to take me too. He refused, said I was too bad for their realmbut she didn't quite get to kick him. He threatened to toss her back."John winced. "She was twelve. He didn't like the knife I tookoff a demon and threw at his wings for that threat. She got takenby another one." That got a nod. "I'll be fine."

"I'm still having nightmares too."

"I figured you were but I'll push it back." He shifted to leanhis chin on his knees. "It'll be fine. The Powers decided theystill hated me for stepping into something they didn't want me into butI had made sure their plans worked. You're my reward," he finisheddryly.

"I'm.... I'm not like that."

Xander smirked. "That's between you and them. I'm also hereto be a signpost in case Sam starts to go wrong. With the taint,it might happen so I'm an insurance policy." John nodded at that."Meaning I get to spank him, not take him out."

"I can help with that. He goes dark and we'll take turns."Xander grinned. "Any other messages?"

"In a few days you'll need to be waylaid or you could all die.Would you rather have an accident or would you like to voluntarily takeyou and Dean out of the field for the next three months?"

John blinked. "Why?"

"Because the daughter of the demon who was after Sam is still alive."

"We killed Meg."

"No, you killed her host, John. Meg's demon soul is still around.She had a part of it siphoned off and saved as a backup plan. Shewas planning on putting it back into Sam in Cold Oak and then taking himover once he had opened the gateway."

"When is she coming?"

"If you're not in the accident? Two weeks. If you are, afew months."

"We have the colt."

"The colt's part of the problem."

"Why?"

"It's the key."

"To?"

"The gateway."

John shuddered. "We can't destroy it."

"No, but someone can remake it and we're going to see him on the wayto the gateway so Dean can update him."

"Bobby."

"Yup."

"Will he say stuff to you?"

"Maybe. I don't care but maybe." He grinned. "Howdo you feel about broken legs?"

"I didn't like my last one."

"Pity."

"Thanks for the warning. I'll make sure we have painkillers."Xander nodded. "The Impala or truck going to be totaled?"

"Nope. Some front end damage. The car'll have a bit worse.She's going to try to set up the accident."

"Like with the semi?"

"A host."

"Huh. Sure. We'll handle it." Xander nodded at that."Can we get to his place first?"

"Yup, sure can."

"Good." He smiled. "Need dinner?"

"Not now. Tomorrow I'll eat." John gave him a look."I'm not hungry yet."

"Okay." He reached over and Xander let him pet him. "You'reback, you can relax now."

"If I relax now, you're without backup. They made it *real* clearI'm the shield to make sure that you or Dean have the next generation ofhunters. Like slayers, every generation has hunters that are meantto do things specially."

"Sammy?"

"Dean. That's why he's basically a male slayer."

"So his kid...."

"Or your next one, yeah."

"I doubt it'll happen."

Xander shrugged. "They said one of you two has to spawn or elseit'll be Sammy's daughter's job as a slayer. Which I'll take on Watcherduties for until I'm gone."

"That's good to know. Not meant to happen soon?"

"A few years."

"Good." He relaxed again. "Did Mary say anything about that?"

"To dress them in pink and make them a flaming queen so he shocked everyonebefore kicking their asses." John cackled, nodding at that.That sounded like his wife. "But once they're born, the line doesn'thave pockmarks for destiny for the next few generations. Long afteryou guys quit hunting."

"Good to know. What're they going to do instead?"

"One of the grandkids will be more like Sam. He'll go into a normal,but associated field where he can help some hunters but he's not activelyhunting. His kids will too. Dean's line will be down to a fewgirls at that point. They'll marry and mostly leave the life, outsideof telling the other kids in the family how to handle things. There'llbe one each generation but they'll be looked at funny. By then, everyoneelse will know." That got a slow nod. "After a few generationsof that style of Winchester prosperity, the next one with the pointy stickto the butt from destiny will come."

"Slayer?"

"Depends if she's male or female. But probably. They haven'tdecided yet."

"Wonderful."

Xander shrugged. "Or you guys can have yourself fixed and thenext great hunter will be slipped into someone's line thanks to tequila.Probably Bobby's or Caleb's."

John shook his head. "I'll warn Dean the higher ups are wantingus to spawn."

"Probably should. They're mean about it. They made my momnearly be attacked to get me." John stared. "I wasn't meantto do this. She was meant to be off the hellmouth. It warpedthe problems a bit but they weren't paying attention."

"So you should've been a hunter?"

Xander nodded. "They didn't expect the slayer line to bethis strong. I warped that by bringing back Buffy and making herstronger. Instead of letting her die after nine months, Kendra aftera few more. Faith during the ascension. The next one would'vebeen killed by the Initiative. That would've made Dean's callingharder and more important and mine too if it had happened the way theyhad planned. But the hellmouth made Mom too drunk to move away fromthere. So we stayed."

"Was Willow's gifts planned?"

"Nope. They planned for Amy Madison to be the strong witch."That got a grimace. "When things started to warp, then she turnedherself into a rat, they basically had a hissy at their game board overturning.Willow stepped in and they decided to let her because it'd be easier.It would've been Amy until Tara got there."

"Tara's fine. We got her to safety and she's by Bobby. He'staken her on as a niece."

"Good. She deserves happiness since her time of duty is over withunless she wants to continue." Dean stomped in. "Have a goodeavesdropping?"

"I'm not having kids."

"Yell at the Powers, Dean, not me. And it's you or him."

"No other hopes?"

"Your niece being the first Winchester slayer but probably not the last."

Dean sat down, grimacing. "That sucks."

"Sucks is going to happen in about a week or else you can go take upmy spot in hell." He stared at him. "The broken legs will heal."

"Huh?"

"Part of Meg was safely stored so she could take over Sammy," John toldhim quietly. "That means she's still around."

"She's coming to avenge her daddy?"

"Get her father back. Which she can't. It's really hardto get to that box, even with tunneling equipment or demons. So she'llwant Sam anyway. The only way to save you all from her taking youout to get Sam is to make sure you're not in the right place at the wrongtime."

"My car?" he whined.

"Slight front end damage and some firewall damage."

"Relatively easy to fix," John decided. "Cops?"

"Yup, but you won't have to run from the scene." That got a dualnod. "Sam?"

"Talking to the ghost. Any idea when this mythical kid will appear?"

"Few years. When Sam starts to drink it should probably be accidentallyon purpose brought into being." That got a nod from both of them."Because they'll make him drink and she'll be a tequila baby."

"Good to know," John said. "Okay, we can handle that when thetime comes."

Xander looked up then at him. "Your wife is pushy."

"Yes she was. More of that theme song?"

"And her giggling. Something about that night in the park andyou had that same look when the cop kept walking past?" John blushed."Ah. Never mind." He glared up. "Do you mind? Gopossess someone else." He looked at Dean. "She's a pisser,but she's kinda pushy."

"Figured we got the stubborn streak from both sides since Sammy's worsethan Dad."

Xander nodded. "Kinda, yeah." He stood up and stretched."I should nap. Tomorrow's some driving."

"Go ahead, Xander," John said, looking at his son. "Go help Sam."He nodded, going to do that. He watched the boy settle in then laidback on his own to talk to his wife. "Mary, don't be pushy with him.He's a nice boy," he said softly.

Xander's body sat up and she gave him a look. "I know that.That's why I suggested he come watch over my boys, John." He smiledat her. "He's a good boy but could use a lot of cuddles." Shestood him up and walked him over. "You've got a second chance, John.Don't blow it."

"I don't plan on it."

"The vows were 'to death do us part' not 'until we're reunited in theafterlife'." She stared at him. "Not that I mind. Whoeverit is had better be special after me." He shook his head. "Yeah,it's time."

"No. Sorry but no."

"The Powers nearly sent him back in Willow's body to do this job, John."

"Not my thing, thanks anyway."

She leaned down to kiss him on the head. "I know." Sam stompedin. "My baby."

Sam stared. "That's just freaky."

"It's me, son," she sighed, shaking her head.

Dean strolled in and closed the door. "Hi, Mom. Are youstaying?"

She gave them a hug. "Now and then I'll visit. Xander can'tblock out spirits like I am. Only the more annoying ones stuffedin things." She smiled and ruffled Sam's hair. "I'm proud."He grinned. She tweaked Dean's nose, making him frown. "You'vebeen the best big brother. I'm very proud of how you stepped up,Dean." She kissed him on the cheek. "Try to make your father lessstubborn? Just a bit please?"

"Not possible," they said together, cracking her up.

"Good boys. I'll be around. Watching very carefully.Dean, you have better taste than the whor* at the bar earlier." Hewent bright red and ducked his head, looking at the floor. She pattedhim on the cheek. "Find a nice girl to play with."

"Want me to go see Buffy?" he asked.

"I think you'd be hurt when she passes on again. She'll have togo sometime." He nodded. "Not that I'd mind. She's cute."Dean nodded at that. "But you need someone a bit more calm and abit less bouncy, son. Or else it'd be like you were dating your brother."Dean cackled, shaking his head. "That's my good boy. At leastfind a good one to play more seriously with instead of the disease patrol."She tweaked Sam's ear. "You, I liked that brunette earlier.Faith's a good girl." He blushed, looking sheepish. "And she'sa slayer. She'll understand all the stuff going on in your life andsoul, Sammy. She's been there a lot." She smiled at John."Wouldn't Sammy and Faith make a decent couple?"

"I never met Faith. I'd have to meet her, Mary."

"You'll meet her tomorrow at the gate." She smirked at her husband."You, quit moping. It makes me want to hug you to wipe the unhappyscowl off your face."

"I doubt Xander would like that," Dean said.

"Actually, Xander probably wouldn't mind but he'll fuss about it forform's sake." She stared at her husband. "I'm not suggestingit but anyone to make you a bit happier is fine with me, John. Really.You've been alone for a long time. It's making you a bigger painthan my dad was." She faded out of Xander, making him go limp andhit the floor. Sam helped him into a chair while Dean got him somethingto drink.

Xander blinked at him. "Man, your wife had some strange thoughts.Especially for when she was alive. Very open minded."

"Very. You okay?"

"For some reason I seem to have a headache," he said dryly, taking thecup of ice water Dean had made him. "Thanks, Dean."

"Welcome, Xander. Any other higher news?"

He nodded, looking at Sam. "Faith went bad for a bit because she'dseen too much. She's better now. You two will be like Cordyand I were, all heat and passion but some quieter moments now and then.Plus she can help you guys hunt when you're close enough. It'll begood for her to have a reason to keep going." He took another sip,getting a nod. "She's downstairs."

Sam went to find her, knocking on her door. "Hi, Faith, you don'tknow me, but my family hunts and Xander's just been sent back as our seer.He said to come talk to you and maybe bring you up to talk to him?"

"What?" she demanded. "Who are you?"

"Sam Winchester. Willow brought our father back before Sunnydalewent rogue."

She blinked. "I heard that story from B before she sent me here."

"Cool. We just got Xander back. He's upstairs in my dad'sroom."

"Let me put on shoes," she grumbled, coming up with him. She walkedin. "Boytoy, looking rough."

"John's former wife just took me over to tease her boys." He wavedhis cup. "Who sent you this way?"

"B. You?"

"The Powers. They sent me to be their seer. Because theydo stupid, yet necessary stuff like we do." Faith snickered at that,nodding a bit smugly. "And because Sam's got a dark taint in him."She quit looking as happy. "The Powers said they'd give you a fewmonths clear of danger if you hit him up."

"This is their way of setting us up?" she demanded. He noddedwith an evil smirk. "You're helping?"

"Yup. I think you two could mellow each other out very well.He hunts but has a dark taint he can't go back to. You have a darktaint you can't go back to or the Powers will smack the slayer line down."She shivered. "So yeah. They think it'll be a good match.I think at the very least you two should talk and become friends.He could use someone who knows and doesn't judge him for being demon tainted."

She looked at him. Then at Xander. "He'd understand?"

"His family started hunting because the demon wanted him. Gothis mom when he was six-months-old. And if his big brother or fatherdon't have a kid, some year he'll have a daughter who does it just likeyou do."

"Slayer?" she asked. Xander nodded. "Damn. Poor futurekid." She looked at Sam then shrugged. "I won't promise togo with their plans but I could use a friend to talk to."

He grinned. "I could like that too. Dean won't let me talkabout stuff. He calls me mushy."

"I'm not much for mushy but hell, B warped me too," she said dryly."Where are you guys heading?"

"South Dakota. Same gateway you're there to help take down.We've got a side trip though."

"Then I'll meet you guys there tomorrow." She punched Sam on thearm. "We'll see if we can be friends since X is getting the higherup's pipedreams." She went back to her room.

"She's got a good, big heart, Sam. As her former friend, I willkick your ass if you hurt her by breaking it," Xander assured him.

"I'm not like that."

"Good." He yawned. "Let me go to sleep for real since thattheme song is gone." He went to curl up in his corner, going to sleepfor real this time.

John looked at his boys. "He's very active."

"He's like the first puff of air you get in the winter when you walkoutside the morning after the first big snowfall," Sam agreed. Heyawned. "I released her and she's gone. I'm going to bed.Dean?"

"Coming." He let his brother go. "Are you going to followMom's orders?" he asked quietly.

"I might let myself closer to some but I doubt I'll remarry, son."

"That's fine. It'd be kinda creepy, Dad." He went to hisroom, laying down to think about all this. His mom was more bluntthan anyone but Bobby. He hadn't remembered that.

***

Xander walked into Bobby's house, over the devil's trap, making himgape in horror. "Messenger duty." He grinned. "Specialseer for special hunters, straight from the Powers."

"John described you well, Xander."

"Thanks. You can be jumpy but they're going to the gateway soI'm doing this errand." He held up the box. "Problems."

"Why?" He took it to look inside. "It's the colt."

"It's also the key to the gateway they need to take down."

Bobby moaned. "We can't destroy it."

"No, but you can remake it. Change the barrel and the non-importantparts. Make it a different sort of key."

"That I might be able to do," he agreed. "Any other concerns?"

"Yeah, they're going to be banged up soon. Broken legs and maybea few ribs, maybe a concussion banged up." Bobby glared. Heheld up a hand. "Soon, not today. Meg's still got a piece ofher active. She's coming. It's either an accident that keeps themout of her way or they go head-to-head in a few weeks. This givesyou time to work on the gun."

"I'll keep that in mind when they come to grump me to death. Brokenlegs?" Xander nodded. "A lot of car damage?"

"Front end. Some firewall on the Impala."

"I can handle that." He looked the boy over. "You okay?"

"So far. I've pushed back the memories a whole lot. Theyall told me my smart ass mouth was why I was in so much trouble and causedthem so much trouble." He gave him a look. "John also suggestedI talk to you about other shielding methods. He was a bit freakedout when his wife took me over and made me crawl in with him about fourthis morning." Bobby burst out laughing. Xander sat down."I can block them from things like that book that has something stuffedin it but not all free floating spirits."

"Do the exercises?"

"I have been. She took me over twice yesterday."

"Let me see what I can pull up, Xander." He took the gun withhim to look over. He called a few who knew more about gunsmithingthan he did but it could only help. "How soon if they do have thataccident?"

"Three months."

"Hopefully that'll be enough time." He found the books he needed,bringing them out to go over them with the boy. He didn't blame John,he'd be freaked out by Mary telling him to date Xander too.

The End.

An Odd Beginning Anew (2024)

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