Notes: NC-17 for violence and angst.

Xander trudged into the garage.  Meg was out of town with her mother for a family reunion, something she hadn't wanted to go to but had been forced to go to.  The guys were moping because Stoker had left the night before with Switch and her hot pepper supply.  Charley had actual work to do.  And he was bored. He couldn't start work for 2 days.  He needed a good fight.  Or something, but a good fight would do.  He grunted at Charley.  "Need help?"

"Not with this one.  It's a standard thing," she offered.  "Can you turn up the radio?  There's some sort of news report and it's repeating."

He nodded, going over to turn it up. The guy's favorite DJ was going on about something.  "Dudes, I tell you, it's *sick* out there.  No one's sure who the practical joker is, but it looks like holograhpic projections of ghosts around this one town that got destroyed.  No one's sure what's going on, not even the Feebs, and they're about to go nuts from unimagination if you know what I mean.  So if there's anyone who has a clue, the Federales have asked that you call them and tell them what's going on.  Not like they believe in ghosts anyway."

Xander looked at the radio and used Vinnie's trick.  "Where?"

"Again, this is right outside of LA."

"In Sunnydale," Xander finished with him.  He looked up.  "I know I wanted a fight, but really," he said patiently.  He called Willow.  "What's the what in Sunnydale?  Mass joke or ghosts?"  He listened to her.  "Uh-huh.  I've got to start work in two days, Willow."  She sighed.  "Fine. I'll meet you at LAX.  I'll be on the next flight.  Get Giles to do the same to you.  Because I don't have time to waste on this.  I've got a job I've got to start in two days.  Yeah, well, I've been being a good guy again.  No, nowhere near spending all of it," he sighed, rubbing his eyes.  "Just go."  He hung up and looked at Charley.  "Can you watch my cat and Oz?"  She glanced at him and nodded.  "Good, I'll be back in time for work, I'm apparently heading to Sunnydale.  There's all sorts of ghosts running around there and she saw me."  He walked off, complaining the whole way to his SUV and then to the airport. He walked up to the ticket counter.  "I'm told I need to go to LAX," he told the woman behind the counter.

"Why, sir?" she asked with a smile, apparently trying to make small talk.

"Because I'm from the town with the ghost problem," he said bitterly.  "We're being recalled to fix it."  She pouted.  "Not my idea of fun either.  Going to LAX, I'll get a return ticket when I get out there.  Just in case it takes longer than I hope."

"Any bags to check?"

"If it takes that long, I'm going to pound whoever's doing this," he said grimly.  She nodded.  "Oh, I'm carrying," she said, pulling out his Firearm Owner Identification Card to show off.  "Do I check that here or with Security?"

"We'll have to check that for you, sir."  He pulled it out and unloaded it, sliding the last bullet back into the clip.   She waved a security officer over to check it for him, nodding that it was good to go.  She noted his FOID card number and all the pertinent details, then locked it in the special box and handed it to Security with the tag on it.  She printed his ticket once she had his credit card, and then handed it to him.  "You can pick it up on the other side, sir."

"Thanks," he said tiredly, heading for the gate, checking his ticket.

"Sir!"  She waved his cards and wallet.

He trudged back to get them, giving her a wry smile and a small shrug.  He went to rent his car in advance from the local desk, putting in a reservation for the other side.  Then he went through security.  "I've been doing targets recently.  My FOID card is in my pocket," he offered. "My gun was just checked through."  The man nodded, motioning him over to do the hand-wand instead of the big machine that would ping on any possible gunpowder.  He passed and his card was checked, then he was let through once he grabbed his wallet and things.  He had to come back for his ticket this time but finally made it to his gate in time to wait.  For nearly an hour.


Xander parked his car near the edge of the crater, noticing Willow was already there.  "Shorter flight or Air Magic?" he asked as he walked down there. Once he was down there he could see the ghosts flowing around.  "It's the high school," he said grimly.  He looked around.  "It's repeating."

"I'm thinking the hellmouth is lonely and trying to get us back," Willow said quietly.

"The hellmouth can't identify us and it never saw us on the way to biology," Xander countered, glancing around.  "Have you noticed Buffy isn't in any of them?"  He saw another former resident and waved but they shuddered and walked off.  He looked at Willow, who was staring up at him.  "They're not.  Buffy's nowhere.  This isn't the hellmouth wanting us back, Willow."

"I can feel it, Xander," she protested.  She stood up and dusted off her hand, looking around at the figures.  "You're right," she agreed finally.  "I quit wearing those green overalls when we were in tenth grade."  He gave her a sideways look so she pointed.  "Those."

"They look like all your pairs of overalls at the time," he told her.

"You can't see a color?"  He shook his head.  "Interesting."  She looked around, turning to look at the ones behind them.  She stopped and grabbed his arm, sinking her nails into them.  "Je...jessie," she stuttered.

Xander turned and found their friend standing there.  "Hey," he said.  "How's the other side?"

He shrugged.  "I was dead, then I was back here," he said, sounding confused.  "All I know is that I walked up out of the crater and then the images started.  I couldn't find you listed, Xander.  Or you, Willow."  He sniffled.  "I'm scared."

"Come out into the light," Xander said calmly.

"Xander," Willow hissed.

"If he was brought back, they wouldn't bring him back as a vampire.  He didn't have anything to atone for," he said quietly.  She shook her head.  "Yeah, they'd bring him back to see for someone, but not like that."  He looked at his oldest friend again.  "Come on, Jessie."

"I can't, Xander, I'm still a vampire," he said, going to game face.  "You could join us. It'd be a constant party, man.  You know we could do great things, Xander."

"I'm already doing great things," he said gently.  "I like living.  It'd disappoint a lot of people if I ended up undead."  He glanced around, then at Willow, who was chanting under her breath.  A small storm cloud formed and he backed away from her.  "I'm impressed and scared," he admitted.  "Can you maybe stop that?"

"It's nothing, just an accumulation of what's already here," she assured him.  "Come on, Jessie, I'll protect you.  We can take you back, you can help us.  If the Powers sent you back, they had to be for you to come to us."

Xander shook his head.  "No, Willow.  If he's still a vampire, they didn't send him.  They didn't send Spike back like that.  The Powers always hobble their Chosen somehow.  The seers have headaches if they're not demonic.  The Chosen have no life and no foreseeable future."  She glared at him.  "Look at him, Willow!" he demanded.  "He's not Jessie."

"He is!"

"He's not!" he snapped.  "If that were Jessie, and he were a vampire, he'd be rushing us.  He's got to be starving.  There's no one else here.  He could have attacked someone and I'm not seeing a body.  No one else saw this, it's targeted to us."  He suddenly got it and pulled his gun before Jessie could move.  "Don't, man.  Just don't.  Don't make me do this again," he ordered, not allowing himself to remember.  "Please don't," he let slip out when Jessie looked at him.  "She's not Cordy."

"No, but she should be one of us," he said, lunging for Willow.

Xander hesitated, then shot.  Jessie dusted and Willow was bleeding.  He got down beside her, dropping his gun so he could take off his shirt and use it to put pressure on her neck.  "Willow? Willow, can you hear me?"

She looked up at him and he could see her eyes changing, they were going black.  "It's as it should be, Xander," she said quietly.  She touched his forehead, then stroked his cheek.  "The hellmouth needs something to siphon off into.  It's growing again," she whispered.

"No!" he said firmly, holding the t-shirt tighter against her neck. "I'm not telling Buffy you died because we're reliving the worst part of our tenth grade year.  You're healing.  You're a super witch and you're healing."

She chuckled.  "I am healing, Xander, I just had to lose some of my humanity to do it.  Nature spirits can't stand blood."  She got free, knocking him into the dust.  She looked at his shirt and handed it back, then kicked his gun over.  "Take it and go.  I've got it.  I'll tell Buffy."

He stood up to glare at her.  "Willow!"

"I'm not, really.  I'm not a tree," she said in a wispy sing-song voice.  "I'm a nature spirit, Xander, and so free!  I can feel the power, I can help the power. I can destroy the seal by merging with it."

He picked up his gun.  "Willow, stop," he said, pointing it at her.  "No.  This isn't real."  He looked up.  "This isn't real!" he demanded.

She moved closer.  "It's real, Xander.  It's necessary."  She stroked his cheek again.  "You need to go home.  I'll have someone return your car."  She blinked and he was gone, leaving his shirt.  She picked it up and sniffed it, then went to put it in her new home cave.  This was her area now.  No one was going to come near here.  That was her first act, that no one, especially not Xander, would be able to come here ever again.


Xander landed in the garage on his knees, already sobbing.  "No!" he shouted.  He got up but he was tackled before he could move.  "Let go!  I've got to stop her!"  He struggled but whoever had him wasn't letting go.  "Let go!"  He was knocked out and lowered to the floor.

Charley came out from behind the car, taking the gun first.  "Is he all right?"

"Probably not," Throttle admitted gently.  "I don't know what happened, but something bad just went wrong.  He's got blood on him and it's not his."  He took the gun, checking it like Xander had shown him.  "He's missing a bullet."  He handed it back and lifted the boy up, taking him up to the couch.  He got him a damp cloth for his head, sitting down to stare at him.  The boy gasped suddenly and sat up so he put a hand in the middle of his chest.  "Whoa, Xander, you're home.  You're at the garage," he said softly, like he would talk to someone who was having a nightmare.  "You're safe.  It's all right."  The boy broke down and he did the only reasonable and humane thing to do, he pulled him closer to soothe him.  "Shhh, I've got you, it's all right.  Tell me what happened?"

"Willow," he gasped.  "Hellmouth."

"What happened?  Why did you go back there."

Vinnie jogged up the stairs with Meg.  "Charley said he went back there because of a news report about ghosts."

Meg nodded, coming over to take her boy and hold him like Throttle wouldn't.  "Shhh, what happened, Xan?  What did Willow do?"

He looked up at her.  "Jessie.  Hellmouth, her," he sobbed.  "She's the guardian."  She pulled him closer, letting him bury his head in her chest.

Throttle frisked Xander and took his keys and wallet, then his phone.  "You're not going anywhere, bro.  Not right now."  He called the number he had for Giles.  "What happened in Sunnydale?  No, he's back here.  He just appeared and broke down in raging anger and now he's crying!" he said firmly.  "I want to know what happened!  Well, you're not here," he snapped.  "I'm taking care of him so you'd better give!"  He listened to the stuttered admission of what he *thought* was going on.  "Xander said Willow, Hellmouth, she's the guardian. Something about Jessie."  Giles filled in that gap for him and he moaned in pain.  "And?" he demanded more calmly.  He listened to the new theory.  "Then someone had better check on her.  No, he's broken."  He hung up and tossed the phone at the wall, watching as it bounced off.  "Jessie was the friend he lost in tenth grade."

"Correction, Jessie was the friend who was turned and he had to stake," Meg said gently.  Both of them shuddered.  "They knew each other since they were toddlers.  In diapers sort of toddlers."  Throttle gave them both a hug.  "Thanks."  She looked down at him but Xander was unconscious again so she let him go.  "I need a computer."  She picked up the phone to call Oz.  "Get me on with Sarah.  Now, Oz."  He walked the phone into the study.  "Type in, it's me, I'm with Xan, he just got 'ported back by Willow.  Need FYI, Willow's new guardian."  She heard the choke.  "That's what we're figuring out, Oz," she said more gently.   She listened to the response.  "Tell her no, he can't be debriefed.  He'll be drunk later.  Tell her I want information, asap."  She listened as he typed and read, sighing.  "Thank you, Oz, and I'm sorry for your loss too."

She hung up and looked at them, then down at Xander.  "The hellmouth pulled someone or something that looked like Jessie to create the pretty ghosts of Xander and Willow.  Willow 'ported over, Xander flew," she recited as she picked up his wallet.  She handed it to Vinnie.  "Rum, coke, now."  He nodded, going to send someone for that.  He wasn't leaving at the moment.  She looked at Throttle.  "There's a rumor that he and Jessie were on the verge of getting together," she said quietly.  "Jessie got captured, turned, and Xander had to stake him to save his later girlfriend, Cordy.  This new Jessie pulled them back, bit Willow, and Xander had to shoot him again to save her.  He hesitated," she said honestly.  Throttle nodded, getting that. "Willow's turning into a nature spirit.  She had to die to do that, but she's now protecting the hellmouth from everyone else.  Sarah said parts of the group who were near there are now scrambling to move because she's pushing them out.  She's now an ethereal being, she sent him back apparently."

"So he lost his two best friends in the same minute, again," he summarized. "One of them to save the other and he failed to save her."  She nodded, that summed it up nicely.  "That sucks.  Whoever these Powers are, they need to be shot in the tail."

"A lot of their Chosen feel that way," she said quietly.  "You'll need to keep him drunk tonight.  I can't be around drunk people, I'll have my own nightmares."  He nodded, getting that too.  "Keep him drunk, keep him in bed if possible, and respect Oz.  She used to be his."

"Thanks, Meg."  She nodded.  "Can you help me get him home?"

"Yeah, not an issue, Throttle."  She looked at Vinnie. "Unless you can drive?"

"His SUV's at the airport," he told her.

"Oh.  Okay, then we'll take my car," she agreed, going down to pull it around and open the back door.  She took the gun from Charley and stuck it in her waistband, then helped guide him into the car.  They closed the door and she got in to drive, letting them follow her. They got him up to his apartment and she tried to lock his pistol away but she couldn't get the box open so she took it back with her, heading out once Modo was there with the liquor and soda.  She really couldn't stand to be around drunken people.  "Be what he needs," she told Throttle when she passed by him in the halls.  "He'll need held at the very least."  She hurried out, going back to her place to cry in peace.  She found Oz there and curled up with him, letting him cry on her.  At least she could do this for him if she couldn't help Xander.

Throttle nudged Xander, grabbing him before he could jump off the bed.  "Whoa, Xander. You're home.  There's nothing you can do," he said, staring into his eyes.  "You're home.  We're gonna deal with it, and then you're gonna get drunk."  The boy sank down onto his bed and grabbed the bottle.  "Wanna talk first?"

"How do you want to hear about me shooting my best friend for the second time?" he asked bitterly, looking up at him.

"It wasn't him, Xander.  If it was him, you'd have known."

"I didn't think so either but it looked like him and it smelled like him and it was dirty in the same places as him.  The hellmouth isn't that specific."  He took another drink.  "They used him like a puppet and I hesitated," he said with a hysterical sounding laugh.  Throttle tipped the bottle up, helping him drink more.  "I hate drinking," he said, looking at him.

"It doesn't solve anything but it'll give you time to grieve," he said gently. "One night won't kill you."  Xander nodded, finishing the pint and tossing it away, which spooked the cat, which made Xander let out another of those laughs.  Throttle found a second bottle and handed that one over too, holding up the coke.  Xander shook his head and drank it straight, gulping it but making a bitter face at the end.  "It's all right, Xander," he soothed, getting the boy laying down.  "Wanna get into PJ's?"

"I don't sleep in more than boxers," he slurred. He shimmied out of his clothes and tossed them at the closet.  "I'm so fucked."

"You're not," he promised, getting the boy covered so he could rest and sleep it off.  He was already exhausted and this on top of it was enough to make anyone snap mentally.  They'd have to make sure he came out the other side, again.  "You'll live and move on eventually," he whispered, laying down next to him.  "It'll be better in the morning.  She might be happier this way."  Xander shook his head.   "Let it soak in, Xander.  I'll be right here all night," he soothed.  Xander nodded, starting to tear up again.  "You go ahead and cry," he promised. "Men can do that and should in these times."  Xander curled up against his chest, sobbing brokenly on him.  He did what he could but the guy had to get it out.  He kept up the nonsense words and soothing strokes to his back, nodding Vinnie in when he came to the door.  Vinnie shook his head. "What?"

"Modo went home.  You guys need anything?"

"No, we're good for now," he admitted quietly.  "You staying?"  Vinnie nodded.  "Thanks."

"Welcome.  He needs it."  He left, closing the door most of the way but leaving it open a bit so the cat could come and go when she wanted.

Throttle looked down as the cat came in with her favorite bell toy dangling from her mouth.  "Trying to cheer him up?" he asked, taking it to play with her.  Xander was passed out against his chest, clinging to him.   Maybe it'd wake him up and she'd make him feel better.  She was trying very hard to make him feel better.  "I wish it were that simple this time," he told the cat.   Xander moaned and the cat hopped up to knead him.

Xander looked at the cat on his side.  "Are you being a kitty, Tara?" he mumbled, picking her up to cuddle instead.  "We'll cry together."

Throttle let him curl up with the cat, staying there in case he needed him again.  Sometimes it was enough to know someone was there.


Throttle woke up to the sound of someone unsteadily getting up, making a grab for the man and thankfully not letting him land on top of the cat.  "What's wrong?" he asked quietly.

"Bathroom," Xander said grimly.  "Then a drink."  Throttle let him go, watching as he walked out, Xander could feel him doing it. He went into the bathroom and shut the door, looking in the mirror for a few moments.  He shook his head.  He looked rough.  "How much did I drink?" he complained.  He used the bathroom, washed his hands, then went to get a nice, cold soda.  He nearly got pounced by Vinnie.  He stared at the big, white mouse.  "Soda?" he asked finally.

"Sure, give me the usual," he agreed, letting him past.  He looked over as Throttle came out with the cat snuggled in his arms.  "Comfy, Miss Kitty?"

"I think Xander nearly renamed her earlier."  Xander stiffened and he gauged his mood.  "Who was Tara?" he asked gently.

"Willow's lifemate."  He grabbed three sodas, handing two of them out.  "She was killed.  Willow couldn't bring her back to life.  She went insane and tried to end the world.  Nearly did it too.  I still ache from whatever she threw at me to stop me."  He opened his can, looking at the cat.  "She seems very Tara-like at the moment. I'm guessing that was what it was."  He sipped to shut himself up.  "Has my computer whined?"

"No, but a quiet vocal track keeps playing," Vinnie offered.

"That's my email notification.  It's from _Men in Tights_," he admitted with a tired grin.  "I should probably see how many I have now."  He went in there to check on them, finding fifteen new messages waiting for him.  One from Oz, one from Meg, one from Meg and Oz.  He clicked on that one, smiling at the link to the cute kitten page.  "Thanks, guys."  He sent them an 'I'm okay again' message and stared at the picture.  He checked the last ones from them and found a few more cute pictures, nothing that would remind him of Willow but that would make him smile at least.  The Kung Fu kitties were very cute.  He sipped his soda, staring at the pictures.  "She's not really dead, just ascended," he told himself.  "Like Cordy.  Maybe they're snarking together about my shirts."  He took another sip and stared at the computer again.  He felt himself doze when he heard the soda drop from his hand and hit the floor.  He almost woke up but warm, strong arms lifted him up and someone else was getting the mess for once.  He felt himself be put back in bed and snuggled against the warmth.  It was a nice warmth.  Much nicer than Anya, who was chilly, or Meg, who didn't snuggle.  He must have said that out loud because someone above him laughed and it was a happy enough sound.  He snuggled into the warmth as best he could and let himself drift back off, going back to an easier sleep.

"Sleep, Xander," Throttle soothed, stroking over his hair. "You need your sleep.  You've only got a day to recover this time," he whispered.  Xander mumbled something and he grinned.  "Sure, I'm staying."  Xander threw a leg over his, dragging him onto his back.  "Sure, if you need me that way," he promised.  He was still almost fully dressed, well as dressed as he ever got.  No boots and he had taken off his vest when Xander had tried to chew on the buttons, but he was still wearing his jeans.  Xander shifted so he was nearly laying on top of him, making him shake his head.  "I don't mind being a pillow, but I'm not the mattress, Xan."  Xander slid back against his side and snuggled in again, getting very comfortable next to his ribs.  Throttle still couldn't move.

Vinnie stood in the doorway and took a picture.  "For my personal scrapbook," he said lightly.  "He okay?"

"He's fine, Vinnie.  He's asleep again.  Where's the cat?"

"Staring out the window in what Xander called her 'Batman' stare."  He nodded at him.  "What do you think happened?"

"Just what he said," he offered.  "He knows more about that stuff."  Xander bit him, making him yelp.  "Sorry!"  He got used as the mattress again and didn't notice Vinnie taking the picture this time.

That one would be going on Charley's dresser so he could laugh at it in private and Meg wouldn't see.  He went back to the couch, clicking his tongue.  The cat stared at him, then meowed and went back to staring out the window.  "Sure, you stare that way," he offered.  "I'll be right here."  He got up to get a blanket then went back to sleep.  He was joined a bit later by a warm, fuzzy lump but he didn't mind.


Xander looked down at Vinnie, staring at the lump of dark fur stuck on his white fur.  "Did you absorb my cat?" he teased, waking him up.  "You've got a huge black spot right there," he said with a gentle poke to the ticklish spot.  Vinnie swatted him so he grinned.  "My cat?"

Vinnie listened.  "Under the couch panting."  He got up and helped Xander move the couch, finding the cat was in labor.  "Well, it'll be pretty kitties," he decided, going to get a box and some newspaper.  Maybe he'd get a cat.  Or Switch, Miss Kitty seemed to like Switch.

"I thought you were fixed," he taunted, reaching down to scratch her head.  "Need help?"  The cat meowed and pushed, expelling a kitten.  She got into an awkward position to lick it clean and free it from her body, then nosed it until it whined pitifully.

"What's that?" Throttle asked, staring at the small lump of pink.  "You're a mother?" he asked in awe.

"Apparently."  He accepted the box and took about half the newspaper out, sticking her in there.  "That way we can change it later," he promised.  The kitty let out a meow of pain and went back to pushing.  "It's okay, you have as many as you have to and we'll find good families for them, Miss Kitty."   They settled in to watch her with their morning sodas.  Xander called the garage.  "I'm still here.  Want a cat?"  He heard a small laugh.  "What's she doing back here?"

"Carbine probably ran her off."

"No, actually, that is Carbine," Xander said, handing it over.  "She said so, and I'm guessing your Muscle Mouse?"  He nodded, groaning a bit.

Her 'I heard that' was very audible.

Xander got up to get his precious one some wet food and some clean water.  She'd probably need it.  Then he used his cellphone to call the pet store to find out what else he needed and how long before he could have her fixed.  These were his only grandchildren.  He really had thought Willow had her fixed.


Xander carried the box into the garage, nudging Charley with a toe.  "They didn't even fall out and she didn't complain about the ride over.  I'm amazed."

"You're adorable," Charley told them, grinning at the litter.  "How many?"


"I only see nine."

"She likes to hold one down by laying on it," he said dryly, making her tail move.  The other kitten was exposed.  "We're on our way to the Vet's."  She smiled at him.  "I see you're busy so I'll be back later with the darlings."  He headed back out to the cab, getting in. "Okay, I've bragged about my grandkids."  The cabby laughed and drove on, taking him to their destination up the street.  Xander walked in and grinned at the receptionist.  "Imagine my surprise, I woke up to the sound of my cat giving birth under the couch.  I thought her prior mommy had her fixed."  She grinned back.  "I need them checked over for obvious health issues."

"When were they born?"

"This morning and she's got two she won't feed and one that keeps ending up under her tail.  Plus, they're not furry.  None of the ten of them have any fur."

"Newborns aren't often furry," she assured him.  "Let me see if I can work you in, sir."  She went back to check with the doctor, who was having coffee.  "We've got an adoptive cat parent with a brand new litter.  He said he was giving birth under his couch this morning and he thought she was fixed."

"How many?"

"Ten plus the mother.  He thinks two or three may have problems."  He nodded, getting up to meet his new patients.  "Here you are, sir."  She looked around.  "Sir?"

"Bathroom."  He came out wiping off his shirt.  "I stupidly picked up the mother and she puked on me."  He looked at his momma cat, who was down at his feet.  "Feel better?"

The vet laughed and scooped her up.  "Come along, dear.  We'll look you and your new ones over," he said, giving her a head scratch.  "What's this one's name?"

"Her mommy used to call her Miss Kitty Fantastico, but I'm thinking I may rename her after her Mommy Tara."  The cat looked back at him and grinned.  "Definitely a Tara kitty."  The kitty winked at him and he raised an eyebrow, wondering if she was possessed.  The doctor took the kittens off so he looked at her.  "If you're in there, I don't mind, but give me a sign, okay?"  The cat leapt up and kissed him on the cheek, the same way Tara used to.  He grinned. "Fine, you'll be a Tara kitty," he promised, stroking her back.  "We still love you, sweetheart.  Shit I coulda used you now and then."  The cat nudged his chin so he petted hers, making he purr.  "So, kittens?  Long held fantasy of yours?" he teased.  She nipped his fingers, then got back down to wait on the vet while he worshiped her.

It was only proper, she was now a cat.

"Well, I've got some good and some bad news," the doctor said when he returned.  "The one she kept under her tail is sick, but nothing too bad that should endanger it, just make it a bit small.  We'll have to keep an eye on him as he grows up to make sure he stays fine."  Xander nodded.  "Most of the rest look healthy but one.  That one's got a heart problem already and it quit beating when I was checking it.  Since it's so young I couldn't really do CPR.  I'm sorry, Mr. Harris."

Xander looked at the mommy cat, who looked sad.  "It'll be okay," he promised, stroking her.  "We'll love the others even more.  Each of her babies is special to me."  He looked up. "What next?"

"Is she nursing?"

"All the time.  She keeps picking them up and plopping them in the right spot," he admitted with a grin.  "Can we take that one home to bury it?"

"Of course," he agreed.  "There's a very nice spot in the park that allows it unofficially."  He got him the map his receptionist had drawn out, handing it over.  "There you go.  As for the rest of it, you can fix her in about four weeks, but that can interfere with the nursing so I usually wait and do it as soon as she's weaned them.  She can go into heat within a week of weaning as far as we know.  I've seen some go sooner so as soon as she starts to howl, bring her in."

"She didn't the last time."

"Really?  Interesting.  Maybe she'll be a quiet one.  Well, just watch for blood and the usual female signs, sir, and bring her in then."  Xander nodded, taking back his box of kittens.  "That's not a bad one, but they make professional boxes."

"She liked this one.  I got one of those and she removed the kittens from the other one and stuck them back in here.  One of her favorite people made it for her," he shared.

"That's fine then.  Keep it clean and the like."  He handed back the box.  "You can pay outside.  I've put a pamphlet in there on the usual shots.  We can do that at six weeks if you'll bring them back."

"Sure," he promised with a grin.  "Come on, Tara Kitty. Let's take you and baby kitties back and have a celebration dinner at Charley's.  Think she'd let us make some fish for you?" he teased.  He took the poor one and looked at the box.  He stuck it in a corner but she hissed so he put it in his pocket.  "I didn't want to disrespect him," he offered.  He let the receptionist take out his wallet and take out cash, and call him a cab, then he headed back to the garage.  He got out, taking the cat around to the side to plant him in the shade.

"One died?" Modo asked.

Xander nodded.  "Yeah, one had his heart stop while the doctor was looking at him."  He finished covering up the small grave, then dusted off his hands, looking at his buddy.  "I renamed her after her other mommy, Tara.  She's a lot like Tara."  He walked inside, handing back the hand shovel with a kiss to Charley's cheek.  "Thanks."

"You're welcome.  Just one?"  He nodded, looking a bit sad.  "Miss Kitty will be fine.  Soon she'll be chasing them all over and too tired to miss him."

"I renamed her last night after her other mommy, Tara.  She seems to like being Tara Kitty."

"Sure, Xander," she soothed, leading him back to the kitchen.

Carbine was staring in the box in horror.  "Why are there cats in here?"

"They're my cats.  That's the mommy, Tara Kitty, and the healthy ones."

Vinnie bounced in.  He counted and pouted.  "One didn't make it?"  Xander shook his head.  "Damn it."

"Weak heart, Vinnie.  He died in the doctor's hands.  I buried him next to the building so we could visit."  Vinnie gave him a hug then a scratch to Miss Tara's head.  "She's a Tara kitty officially.  We talked about it and she liked it."

"Good," Vinnie agreed.  "If she's happy, I'm happy."  He grabbed a regular soda and bounced outside.

"Oh, no, put back the caffeinated soda, Vinnie," Charley yelled, chasing after him.

"Is it hygienic to have them on the table?" Carbine asked, still looking a bit confused.

"That's why they're in the box," Xander said patiently.  "Throttle, we renamed her after her other mommy.  One didn't make it."

"Sorry to hear that," he said, coming down the stairs wiping his hands.  "Vinnie broke the shower."


"No, hers.  That screw loosened and he was trying to fix it," he explained.

"Ah.  No wonder she's chasing him down the street.  Well, him and his can of Coke."

"Eww," Throttle said with a shudder.  "Hey, Miss Tara."  He scratched her ears gently. "Just one, sweetie?"  She meowed.  "I'm sorry you lost him, love.  It's hard, but we'll try to make it better for you."  She nudged his fingers and tipped up her chin for him to scratch.  "Sure."  He scratched her gently until she ducked to move a kitten back to the nipple, making him and Xander laugh.  "You're such a fierce mommy.  Remember to litter train them too."

"Why didn't you tell me you liked other furry species when we were dating?" Carbine asked him.

"I didn't know what a cat was then," he pointed out dryly.  "Now I do and this one's pretty decent."  He moved the box into the middle of the table, staring down at her.  "That way you can't wiggle and fall."  Xander sat down in the chair he kicked out.  "How's Meg?"

"I haven't even thought to call her," he admitted.  He looked at his phone, then shuddered. "I'm probably way over my minutes.  Fortunately I can afford the phone bill.  We should make fish for dinner."

"Eww," Throttle told him.  "Hotdogs have been good enough for her so far."  Tara meowed.  "See?  She wants some of Chef Andy's sauce."  Xander sighed and checked his wallet, handing over a twenty.  "Nah, we've got it, Xan."  Xander beamed and put it back.  "We'll make sure you get home with her then take you out to get your car, you'll need it for gas."

"I need to hit the bank," Xander admitted as Charley drug Vinnie back by his tail.  "Ow."

She snorted. "I've done worse to him."  She looked at the cats. "Want this one?  Maybe Xander can turn him into a cat for you."  The cat seemed to grin at her so she laughed. "If he can."

"I make a better mouse," he complained, getting free.  "Ow, sweetheart!  Don't yank on my tail."

"Keep it up, I won't go out for hotdogs," Throttle warned.  Vinnie instantly settled down and sat down to play with the cats.  "Let them eat, bro, they're starving."  Tara nipped Vinnie's fingers and he removed them with a sheepish look.  "Xander, he's not allowed to have any more caffeine, ever," he said slowly and clearly, making sure the human got it.  "No more, never again."

"Sure," he said, giving him a grin.  "Drank how many?"

"Two," he said pitifully.  "Just the two."

"Two?" Charley asked, staring at him in horror.  "I thought this was one!"

"At least it wasn't Mountain Dew or Jolt," Xander said dryly.  She shuddered at that.

"Give him one of those and we'll send him to Plutark.  He'd bounce them to death," Throttle said dryly.  He kicked Vinnie under the table.  "If you're good," he started.

"And don't make me eat those nasty hotdogs," Xander added.

"You can go pick up dinner.  Remember, he doesn't like mayo."

"Sure!" Vinnie agreed, jumping up and heading off.

"What is caffeine and is it lethal?" Carbine asked.

"Caffeine is something that makes you speed up," Charley told her.  "It's a stimulant.  It's in the soda Xander drinks and Vinnie picked up one earlier and gulped it before we could correct him because he ate one of Switch's forgotten pepper chocolates."  Throttle shuddered and Carbine whimpered.  "Did she share?"  She nodded, grimacing again.  "Xander found them for her."

"Xander's from the place where you can still find Mexican food and Tex-Mex, and South Western, and spicy Asian food too," he said dryly, grinning at her.  "Those aren't anything, I've eaten a ton of those chocolates."  She groaned.  He looked in the box, grinning at the cat.  "It's still not as funny as when you stole the hot pepper off Switch's hotdog that time," he said with a grin.  She meowed and licked the baby, giving him a reproving look so he grinned.  "You doing okay?"  She meowed again and Charley got her a tin of wet food.  "Thanks, Charley."

"Welcome.  It was leftover anyway.  What are you doing tomorrow?"

"Oz should be back tomorrow," he admitted. "Unless he's moving in with Meg and stealing her."  Vinnie came back, stopping his bike with a screech.  "Something happen?" he called.

"Tower's nearly done and that British guy's chanting around it."  He handed over the box.  "He looked like he was just starting."

"Wonderful.  I've still got to chase down Ethan and convince him to mess with Limburger so I don't have to this week."  He looked at the cat and Tara meowed quietly.  "Want me to go now or later?"  She got up and walked over, batting him on the nose with a paw, staring at him.  "No, I'll let Throttle and Charley make sure you get home, sweetie, you know I'd never let Vinnie carry you on his bike."  She gave him a 'dumbass' look.  "What?  I don't read kitty minds."  She stared into his eyes and he nodded suddenly.  "Sure, I'll go take care of Ethan.  He's dangerous and all that.  You be a good girl for your auntie and uncle and if you're not back by the time I get done, I'll come pick you up."  He looked at Charley, who waved him on with a tolerant look.  Xander stole one of his burgers and one of the sodas, heading out to hike to the tower.

"I'll give you a ride," Vinnie called.

"I'm good."  He waved and jogged off once he was done.  He needed to go for a jog anyway.  Vinnie rolled up beside him so he paused, looking down at himself.  "What?"

Vinnie patted him down and took the sneaky cat from him, putting it into a protected spot inside his bandoliers, then headed back with a tail wave.

"Sure."  Xander started to jog again, liking this for the moment.  He was out of breath by the time he got to the tower, but he checked his watch.  "Damn, under an hour.  I'm good."

"You're annoying, get it right," Ethan said crossly, glaring at him.  "What do *you* want?"

"Easy, I want you to stop and to work for our side," he said with a grin.  "This guy wants to send all of our planet off to feed his greedy culture, who doesn't even have magic.  They're big, smelly, fish people who torture and maim for fun.  We're about number twenty-two on their list of planets devoured, including Mars."

"How would you know?"

"I know someone else who's fighting him, Ethan.  After all, I'm helping them," he said patiently, looking at him.  "What's he paying you?"

"Not enough to get into a fight with you," he admitted.  He looked the boy over.  "You look....well.  I suppose.  Where's Ripper?"


"You're here and he's there?  A multi-city assault?"

"No, I left after the selfish and stupid slayers drove me insane," he admitted, plucking at his damp t-shirt.  "Sorry, spent the day babying my cat."

"You have a cat?"

"I inherited Willow's cat," he admitted, staying calm.  It still hurt.

"Yes, where is she?  She's always been more amusing than you," he said blandly.

"Dead."  Ethan stiffened and stared at him, shaking his head.  "She's the other one who went back to Sunnydale, Ethan.  A...vampire bit her, she bled, and said she was turning into a nature spirit to protect the mouth of hell.  I'd rather blow it the fuck up, but she didn't think that'd work on the seal."  He slowly shook his head.  Xander nodded.  "Yeah, she bled out in my arms, Ethan."  Ethan shook his head again.  He grabbed him and shook him.  "Yes, she is, she's dead!" he shouted.

Ethan got free and slapped him.  "Calm yourself. Wild magic still roams around you, boy."  Xander glared at him and something made him shiver in those eyes.  One wasn't right.  "You're injured."  Xander popped him one in the nose.  "Ow!  Just like bloody Ripper!"

"Yeah, well, I learned a lot from him," he said bitterly.  "Now, let's get back to real business.  This is a blight.  The owner is a blight.  Your magic won't stop me from blowing it up again.  The only time I magicked it, I let some vampires I was getting stuff from send it to hell."  He sneered.  "I've often thought about doing that to their home world.  It would serve them right."  He saw Ethan back up and turned, facing the little, big-headed geek in the lab coat.  "Oh, hey, it's you," he sneered.  "Feel better?"

"You had us sent there."

"Yeah and from what I hear, you deserved it," he agreed.

"Do you know what they did to me?" Karbunkle glared back.  "How they tortured me?"

"Do I care with what you did to others?  I'll gladly take my punishment for sending you, dude.  You're not worth my sweat or tears.  You're a fucking butcher and you deserved worse than you got."  He glanced back at Ethan but he was packing up.  "Think about it, Rayne.  Who's the better choice here?  Smelly fish people who want to use you as a science project, or doing chaos for the side of good?"

"Magic doesn't work, it's not scientific," Karbunkle sneered.

"Yo, Ethan, got a handy lightening bolt?" he sneered back.

"Not at the moment, but I do have a curse.  On you and yours, Harris."  Xander punched him again before he could finish.

"Is that like the hyena I'm cursed with or the soldier's memories you gave me?" he sneered at his victim.  "Your doing, remember that, Rayne.  Some day, you too will pay. Especially if you help these morons."  He lifted him up and looked at him, still sneering.  "Remember, I still have friends and family."  He let him go.  "Shoo, Ethan.  You're in the way."  He backed away slowly then ran.  He looked at the doctor, who was now surrounded and backed up by goons.  "Not gonna help you."

"They can hold you still while I do to you what those things did to me."

"And you say magic doesn't exist.  Hmm, how else did you get to hell?"  The first goon took a swing at him and he backhanded him, knocking him down.  Xander pulled his bootknife and used it to mildly slice into a few others, kicking another, and backhanding the last with the hand holding the knife.  He faced the doctor again.  "You were saying about your hit squad and being impressed?  I'm bored now.  You wanna shot?"

"What are you?" he hissed.

"Human, unfortunately."

"I can fix that."

"Not before I castrate you and rip your head off.  Hey, maybe with the way you work things, we can attach the esophagus to your asshole so you shit as you talk."  He advanced on him and the doctor ran back into the tower.  "You don't touch me or mine, doctor.  Remember who's mine."  He put the knife back and turned, finding his crying girlfriend there.  "Hey, Meg, I was going to call you tonight."

"You're human, right?" she asked, staring in his eyes.  "Totally human?"

"Raised on a hellmouth, human, possessed a few times.  Yeah.  Why?  What did Oz scent on me?"

"I'm not sure," Oz admitted as he joined them from the shadows.  "I smell it now but it comes and goes.  It's animal."

"If you start saying I'm oozing hyena, I'm going to get really pissed," he said blandly.  The tower started sending up an alarm and he looked up.  "I'd scatter, guys."  They ran back to her apartment to watch the fireworks.  Xander continued to stare up as a big ray gun came out.  "Huh."  He glanced around and hopped the fence, heading to scale the thing if he had to.  He found a few guards patrolling and knocked them out, taking a few of the nifty, never dying lasers with him.  He had wanted to trade but Throttle said he couldn't have one.  He checked, taking the safety off.  Then he snuck inside, going up the stairs.  There were more guards up there so he cackled as he shot them in the feet, making them jump.  This high up in Chicago there was a good wind.  He could see the ray gun shaking.  He shot the bolts, which made it collapse and fall off the tower, shooting on the way down.

"Oops," he muttered, heading back down the stairs at a run.  He made it to the garage when the building started to collapse, having to shoot the gate to get out.  He ran like hell too, barely making it over the fence before the building came down.  "Whoo-hoo!" he shouted. "One for me!"  He grinned and waved at Limburger, whose office was showing through a plexiglass box on top of a narrow shaft.  He chuckled and walked off.  He saw a few cops and shook his head. "Wasn't me, guys, there was a big gun and it fell," he said with a laugh.  A few of them went for their weapons. "Seriously!  Don't believe me, get their security tapes," he said with another chuckle.  "He put a ray gun on top of their tower and it fell!  He didn't account for wind!"  A few of them snorted but some still looked very serious.  "Ask them, not me."

"Shoot him!" Limburger yelled.  "He did this!"

"With what?"

"Sir, do you have any demolitions experience?" one asked.

"Yeah, but I'm in construction.  If you look at the other side of the building, at the bottom, there's a big dish with a classic ray gun nozzle.  I swear.  I'll wait right here.  I snuck up to get a better look at it."

"Then why are you holding a gun?"  He looked. "Or four?"

"I thought they were toys, I took them off the guards.  Can I keep one?" he asked, handing all but one over.  "They're really neat."

"No, sir," he said patiently.  "We're going to pat you down now."

"Sure, my FOID card is in my wallet and I've got a bootknife that I freely admit was used in a case of my big butt being jumped earlier.  It may or may not have blood on it, just like my knuckles," he said, showing them off.  "But they jumped me on the way out for my walk.  I'm a big geek, I couldn't help but go up to look at the ray gun.  I'm a big DS-9 fan, especially of Kira and Odo.  I think they make a splendid couple, don't you?"  They all gave him very worried looks now so he shrugged.  "I'm a geek!"

"Yes, you are," one of them admitted.  He nodded at one of the other cops surrounding him.  "Go look and see if he's telling the truth."

"Yes, sir."  He jogged off, coming back a few minutes later nodding.  "There's burns too, sir, a big pot hole at the base of the tower on that side."

"Which means the tower acted like a falling tree and fell in the direction of the weighty side since it probably exposed the foundation," Xander told him.  "Just like Pisa."  They all stared at him.  "I'm a geek who does construction," he reminded them.

"Sure, sir.  Let's take you down to get a statement.  In such cases we need statements," one of them offered.

"Sure.  I have nothing to hide," he said with a grin.  "I'll cop to trespassing if it'll help."

"No, sir.  That may not be necessary."

"Wait!" Meg yelled, running up to them, panting.  "Video!  I heard the ray gun come up!" she panted, handing it over.  "He's my boyfriend and he was sneaking in to find the ray gun and look at it."

They looked at her and her obvious goth personality.  Then they looked at Xander, who was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, an overshirt, and boots.  They groaned and gathered around to look at the tape, which clearly showed the ray gun blowing out the ground and the tower collapsing from that.  "Fine," one of them sighed.  "You still can't keep the weapons, sir, or else we'll have to charge you with trespassing and with handling an illegal firearm."

"But I'm a good boy and I've got my FOID card," he whined. "Please?"  He bounced a bit.  "Just one?  I promise I won't fire it.  It'll hurt my kittens.  My kitty, Tara Kitty, just had ten of them but one of them died and I really need cheered up because my best friend died yesterday in Sunnydale, please?" he begged.  One was handed back and the cops took the tape with them.  Xander leaned on Meg's shoulder, waving at them.  "Nice guys.  Guys, my FOID card?" he called.  It got tossed back and landed on the ground so he went to pick it up, finding his girlfriend giving him one of those looks.  "What?" he asked hesitantly.  "Miss Kitty started to be very Taraish, her other former mommy, and she had kittens this morning."

"Not that, Xander.  Possessed?"  He nodded.  "You're her knight, aren't you?"  He nodded, moving closer.  "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought Sarah had," he admitted.  "It's not like I take out a full page advertisement: I hunt vampires, call me to see how you can too."  She rolled her eyes and sighed.  "Sorry, Meg.  Are you taking up with Oz?"  She looked startled but shook her head.  "We're not breaking up?"

"I don't know yet," she admitted, pouting at him.  "Next time I get a baby mouse, you're coming to deal with it."

"Sure, I can blow the baby mouse away," he said cheerfully.  "Vinnie jumps at the sight of human mice."  She rolled her eyes again but she was grinning.  "Hey, I finally got a laser pistol too," he said happily.  He waved up at Limburger, who was pounding on his glass wall.  "You know, he's going to tip if he keeps doing that."  She nodded, patting him on the back.  "We lost a kitten."

"I heard.  Charley called me to warn me you were coming this way and might drop in."  She gave him a kiss on the cheek.  "I still like you, Xander, but you're dangerous."

"I'll be good. I've got to start work tomorrow anyway so I won't have time to run wild."  She gave him another one of those womanly 'dumbass' looks and he sighed.  "We are breaking up, huh?"  She nodded, giving him a hug.  "Fine, but we're staying friends or I'm going to haunt you."

"Sure," she agreed.  "Who else would go clubbing with me?  Besides, honey, I think you're a bit gay."  He shook his head.  She nodded.  "Yeah, I think so.  I also think that you and Throttle would be really hot together, but you and Vinnie would kinda cancel each other out and Modo seems a bit too laid back to deal with you. So maybe you should hit on Throttle."  She kissed him on the cheek.  "But that's okay, I'll be your favorite fag hag when you figure it out.  Do you think Oz likes me?"

He nodded. "Yeah, he was grinning at you.  Oz was kinda expressionless most of the time before."  He gave her a hug.  "Okay, you go pounce the Oz and drive him into exhaustion.  I'll...I'll call you tomorrow when I go to pick up my car and you can help me think up names for the kitties."  She nodded, leaving to go back home.  He sighed and wandered off, heading back to his place alone.  He hated being alone.  "I hate being alone.  Being alone sucks."  He heard a motor and looked over at Throttle, groaning. "You heard it all, didn't you?"

"No, I only came in at the you being willing to go kill the baby human mice for her," he admitted smugly.  "Want a ride?"

"Are we not talking in a gay way, because you know she'll probably take it the wrong way and cheer."

"No, I'd never hit on you, Xander," he said patiently.  "Give me the gun."  Xander shook his head, clutching it to his chest.  "Until you're trained on it, then you can have it back.  Now.  Right now," he ordered, wiggling his fingers.  It was handed over with a sigh.  "We'll teach you how to use one this weekend," he allowed.  Xander beamed again.  "What did you do?"

"See, he had a ray gun on top of the building and didn't take into account wind resistance.  So when the bolts snapped, it falled and took out the foundation, leaving the tower falling," he said happily. "Fortunately he had one side weighted more, unfortunately the side I was running out of.  So I had a talk with the cops too."  He checked himself and Throttle held up his FOID card.  "Thanks."  He tucked it into his pocket and got onto the back of the bike.  "I start work tomorrow."

"Yes, you do.  We'll pop over on Friday to check on you if we haven't seen you."

"Why wouldn't you see me?  I'm a crew chief.  If I have to hit a single nail or do a single screw, then someone's slacking off," he said dryly.  "It's the beauty of management."  Throttle groaned and shook his head.  "I worked extra hard for you guys and I'll do it if we're hitting a deadline there, but I doubt we will be since we've got to unconstruct part of the building and move it to the other side thanks to the city planning board."  He grabbed on and Throttle took off.  "Kitties?"

"Back at the house.  Charley brought them over in the wrecker," he said patiently.  "We've got to get you a helmet."

"And my car.  It's at the airport."

"Tomorrow, Xander."

"Sure."  They paused outside of his building and he climbed off. "I can't just keep it in the safe?"

"No," he said patiently.  "Go nap.  You'll need to sleep to help tomorrow. We'll come over to watch the kittens since you'll be gone."  Xander nodded, heading inside. Throttle shook his head.  "Meg was so unfair to him," he complained, tucking the laser rifle more securely under his arm and taking off again for home.  He had a sudden feeling and turned around, going back to stop the boy from sneaking out.  He caught him about a block away and picked him up with his tail, depositing him behind him.  "No, Xander."  He turned around to look at him.  "No running off to club."

"I was going for milk."

"In your tightest t-shirt and jeans?  I doubt it, Xan," he said, letting a touch of fondness creep into his voice.  "How about a long ride? That should knock you out."  Xander nodded.  "Fine, hold on."  He checked traffic and took off for the park, where it was safer to ride at night.  He used the laser to blast the butt of a mugger hitting on an old lady but otherwise it was fairly peaceful.  He slowed down when he felt the warmth against his back inch closer and the arms tighten a bit.  "Ready to go home?"  Xander shook his head. "You can't fall asleep, you'd fall off," he said gently.

"No, I'm okay," he mumbled.  "Just comfy. You're very comfy."

"Thanks, Xan."  He turned them around anyway and took Xander home, having to carry him up to bed since he was fully out of it by then.  He tucked him in and checked on the kittens, who were napping, and the momma, who was eating.  "You okay until morning?"  She meowed quietly and he grinned. "Good girl.  You keep him here, make up something if you have to."  He left, locking the door behind him.  Xander wouldn't sleep long enough to need the alarm clock so he didn't think about setting it.


Xander rushed onto the site the next morning.  "So sorry," he pleaded.  "Throttle forgot to set my alarm clock."

"Why was he putting you to bed?" Merle asked patiently.

"Because we were taking a ride and I fell asleep against his back."

"Aren't you dating that hyper goth chick?"

"We broke up last night.  She decided I'm too strange," he admitted.  "So we're buddies instead and she's dating Oz now."  He shrugged.  "She just told me last night."  Merle patted him on the back.  "He was trying to keep me from going clubbing and coming into work afterward."

"Fine, Xander.  I can't pay you for all morning but I don't think you care."  He shook his head.  "Don't let it happen again, kid."

"Sure, Merle. Inside?"

"Yeah, deconctruction crew.  What happened to the tower?"

"He had a big ray gun and the bolt went pop and he didn't account for wind," he said with a grin.

"Bolt went pop," he said flatly.  Xander gave him a wicked grin and a nod.  "Up there were you?"  Xander beamed some more.  "Fine, keep your secrets.  I'm assuming it took out the foundation?"  He nodded.  "Decent.  At least you made it out."

"Barely.  I ran in the wrong direction, I went in the direction of the weight.  I had to blast the gate to get out of the garage."  Merle shook his head.  "I'm a geek, I love ray guns," he said happily.  "Is he still trapped in his plexiglass icepop on stick?"

"Yup, and they can't get him down.  He didn't give himself a door through his emergency exit this time.  They may have to cut down the tube and lower the box with the crane."

"Cool.  Can't wait," he said happily, heading inside.  "Morning, guys."

"Afternoon, Xander," his crew called back with a laugh.

"Contrary to popular opnion, I wasn't clubbing this time, I was actually sleeping, it's been a long few days, guys.  Go easy on me today and I might treat for a single round tonight after work."  They cheered and got down to it, with him helping when he could.  He wasn't going all out but he could do it between checks, holding stuff, and other bossly jobs.  He checked his watch when he started to get tired.  "Guys, it's nearly five.  Don't we break at five?"  They groaned and nodded.  "Okay, let's clean up, we've got ten minutes."  They finished their current sections and then started the clean up process.  "Good work today, guys.  Think we can continue at this speed?"  They all nodded.  "Then we're going to hit target most likely and be happy because the big boss is."  He heard a cough and looked at Merle.  "We got this much done."

"You're ahead of schedule then," he offered.  "Go ahead when you're cleaned up."  They grinned and hurried up, heading off.  Most of them winked at him and only one shrugged so it was good that they liked Xander and his style.

"Where am I buying the round?"

"Friday, Xander, payday," one of them called back.

"Sure," he said with a small shrug.  "I'm hoping they liked me. I pitched in when I could."

"You were liked, none of them frowned at me," he admitted.  He looked around then at the materials they had saved.  "You did better than most of the other parts did.  They just destroyed without thinking."

"That's wasteful and takes more money, which makes for unhappy owners," he said with a shrug.  "I wouldn't have liked it on my job."

"True.  How's it holding up?"

"I've had to replace those two bricks up top.  They blew off before anyone could get to them.  Other than that, I haven't heard any complaints.  Other than Vinnie breaking Charley's shower last night."  Merle laughed at that.  "I'm not being fired, right?"

"Hell no," he snorted.  "You fit in with our goofballs."  He shrugged.  "I was wondering if you wanted to get a round."

"Actually, I was going to buy myself soda," he admitted.  "I rarely drink, except when I lose people so I had about two pints of rum the night before last."  Merle nodded.  "But I'll gladly go for a soda and a slice of pizza if you want.  Then I've got to go pick up my car.  It's still at the airport."


"Willow sent me back directly after she died and changed over," he said bitterly. "I was going to stop her.  The airline still has my gun too."  Merle shook his head.  "No?"

"Charley said to tell you she had your gun and you could have it when you came to fix her shower later.  Meg gave it back when she couldn't lock it away.  She was worried about you using it."

"Okay," he said with a shrug.  "We still on for a pizza and a soda?"

"Sure, kid.  Let's go do that."  He walked him out, noticing Throttle waiting on him.  "Prior date?" he joked weakly.

"Not that I knew about but he was kitten sitting.  Give me a minute."

"I tell you what, we'll do it Sunday, go over your first week and go over next week," he offered with a grin.

"Hey, I'm there," he agreed cheerfully.  "Call me to tell me where."  Merle nodded, smirking at his back.   He jogged out to where the biker was sitting, grinning at him. "Picking me up?"

"Making sure you fix Charley's shower so she quits yelling at Vinnie," he admitted.  "She was using ours and Modo walked in on her."

"Ah! Understood.  Let me grab my tool belt."  He went to get it and came back with it over his shoulder.  He buckled it on once he climbed on the back, using one hand to hold onto the hammer that was trying to fall out.  They made it back and he climbed off, heading inside.  "Do we have a new screw or anything?" he asked as he walked past her.

"Thank you, Xander," Charley called after him.  "You're saving someone's life."

"I said I was sorry," Modo nearly pouted.

"I'm not blaming you, it was Vinnie who sent you in there," she snorted, glaring at Vinnie, who gave her his most angelic look.

"Fuck!" floated down.

"What?" she called back.

"Broken pipe in the wall.  I leaned on it and it squished.  Not a good thing."

"He's very handy to have around, even if he does have cats," Carbine said, smirking at Throttle. "Doesn't he bike?"

"He's got balance issues," he admitted.  "We're slowly getting him used to it.  His SUV's still at the airport." Vinnie groaned. "I'll take him out later."

Xander came down the stairs.  "Actually, I need it to go to Home Depot," he said grimly.  "Charley, love, what color would you like your new backsplash to be?"

"You can't save the old one?"

"Not really.  It's very thin.  When I pull it away from the wall I'm betting on at least one part breaking and since it's all connected, I'm guessing it's all breaking."

"Fine.  Same color?"

"If they don't have it?"

"Something coordinating?"  She looked at his red shirt and blue jeans, then shook her head.  "Never mind.  Any shade of yellow or light green.  They're usually cheaper."

"Contractors get discounts," he said patiently.  "Fantasy one?"

"Marble and a lot bigger," she said dryly.

"I'll remember that when I build you a second home," he said dryly. "Green?"  She nodded. "Marbilized?"

"Sure.  If you can get it cheap."

"Cool.  Should I call a cab to the airport?"

"Only if you're hitting the bank," Vinnie told him.

"Point.  Very good point."  He patted himself down.  "Wallet?"  No one said anything.  "Crap."  He called the site. "Merle, did I leave my wallet in the desk?  Yeah, Charley's gonna need a whole new backsplash.  No, squishy wall issues.  Sure.  On the way there.  Thanks, man.  Are my keys in there too?"  He heard the warm chuckle and grinned.  "Thanks."  He hung up and shook his head. "I'm going scatter brained.  Last chance to give me a ride out?"  No one said anything.  "Cool.  Let me hit the cab."

"I can," Throttle offered.

"No, you can eat, I can," Vinnie assured him.

"On the interstate without a helmet?" Throttle joked.

"He can borrow mine," Charley said patiently.

"I love you guys," Xander said fondly, grinning at them.  "I'll fix the helmet issue tomorrow after work."  They all nodded and played rock/paper/scissors for the right to take him.  "So, Charley, how did you like my work on the tower," he said smugly. "All by myself too."

"That was you?" Carbine asked, staring at him.  "How did you do that?"

"Easy, he didn't take into account the wind that high up.  Two bolts and the ray gun fell, took out his foundation, and boom, fish on a stick in a glass cage."

Charley snorted, shaking her head.  "He was nearly crying, Xander.  His mask was slipping."

"And?"  He shrugged.  "He's a bad guy.  Bad guys get bad things happening to them.  That's what they deserve."  Someone knocked on the door and he groaned.  "Bugs?" he suggested, going to answer it since the odds were that they wanted him.  On the other side of the door was a nice looking man, younger thirties, dark hair cut short.  Not too tall, almost as tall as Xander's six-one.  Maybe five-eleven or so he guessed.  Not real muscular but the sort that spoke of action instead of gym time.  All in all, he shouted 'covert fed' to him.  And he knew covert feds since he had danced for some of them in the past.  "Yeah?" he asked dryly.  "I'm Xander."

"I'm Micah, Mr. Harris.  I'm here to investigate what happened in Sunnydale."  He stepped inside.  "I'm assuming your friends know since they took you home and helped you through that night."  He looked at him.  "I used to do more national security but my agency got sent to deal with the strange and the unusual.  If I can have five minutes I can wrap this up and file it."

"And not cage me in a little cage with wires and electrodes?" he asked facetiously.

"No I'm not NID.  I personally like to smack them around a lot," he said with a small smirk.  "Bottom line is, the town's not accessible.  We want to know why."

Xander sat down on the floor, looking up at him.  "My best friend, Willow, died.  When we got there, we noticed most of the ghosts were of us.  We found a formerly dead friend there.  I hesitated just a few seconds too long.  He bit her, she died, she turned into a nature spirit and said she's protecting the town. She sent me home, which is why I need to pick up my car at the airport."

"I'm sorry for your loss," he said honestly.  "We found a single shell casing and wood residue."

"I hunted vampires for years.  My own invention."

"Thank you.  Do you have any so we can mass produce them for our people?"

"Ask Charley.  She's got my gun.  Charley, can I have my gun back?  He wants a bullet."

"Sure.  Let me get it."  She went to grab it for him, handing it over handle first.  She looked at him. "I know you. You've been lurking."

"We used to do national security but instead everyone else got pushed into Homeland Security and we got rerouted to strange and unusual defense."

"Cool, does that mean I can get neat weapons off you?" Xander asked, undoing the clip and taking out a bullet to toss over.  "My own invention."

Micah looked at it, holding it up to the light. "Interesting.  Can I watch you make a few later?"

"If you have to," he admitted.

He looked at him.  "Mr. Harris, I hate doing this job," he said honestly.  "I could care less that there are at least four aliens in the next room or that you're about as close to a mutant as we get down here," he said patiently.  "How by the way?"

"Prior possessions is anyone's best guess."

"Better you than me then.  All I want is a nice, tidy report that no one will ever want to read.  Then I get to go home and do it all again tomorrow.  Speaking of, if your friends want more grenade launchers, we noticed when it fell out of your SUV, have them call me directly," he said, handing Charley a card.  "We've got a whole stockpile of the ancient stuff and they've probably got stuff to trade that we can use."  He looked at Xander and shrugged. "You're practical, I'm practical, she was a witch, right?"  He nodded.  "So she's making sure it doesn't explode, I don't have to go back there, nothing can get to it?  She's officially sealed it with her body and blood stuff, right?"  Xander nodded again, looking sad.  "Mr. Harris, she's moved onto a higher purpose.  Even if it does suck."

"It does suck.  Suckage continued since the other person was a friend and I had to dust him again."  He narrowed his eyes.  "How did you get a shell casing?"

"We have a witch but your friend knocked her out after complaining about you not yelling at your cat for having kittens."

Xander snorted as he stood up.  "Sure.  I'm gonna yell at Tara for having kittens.  Not!"

Micah smirked.  "I like you. If you need me for some world-ending event, call.  By the way, where are the other Plutarkians?"

"New Orleans' left, Hawaii's left. So that leaves Detroit and somewhere," he admitted.  "I'm only concerned with this one."

"Sure. They're all cheeses, right?"  Xander nodded.  "Even better.  Easier to find."  He made a note of that.  "That's all I need.  If you need me, yell.  I won't tell the spoiled brats who hit on me in Cleveland anything about it."  Xander nodded, shaking his hand.  "Thank you and keep up the good work, people.  Less for me to do."  He walked out making notes into a tape recorder.

Xander looked at Charley, who shrugged.  "Am I having acid flashbacks?" he asked.

"You did acid?" Charley asked, looking shocked and amused since she burst out in giggles.  "When?"

"When I was stripping for covert agents like that one," he said dryly.  "Little did I know at the time," he said dryly.

"You did what?" Throttle asked from the doorway.

"The car at the time was broken, I was stranded, it paid for a room and getting things fixed," he said with a shrug.  "Survival."  He shook his head.  "I'm going to forget that happened until necessary.  Come on, let's go.  Whoever's taking my idiot, lunatic self to pick up my stuff."

"Maybe you should go home instead," Charley said, patting him on the back.

"Leaving my brand new SUV at the airport means it'll get jacked," he said grimly.

"I agree, Xander, let's go home," Throttle said, steering him to his bike, who beeped at him.  "What?  Wanna go to his place?"  He leaned Xander against it, looking at him.  "You okay?" he asked quietly.  Xander shook his head.  "Need to make any stops?"

"To get my keys and wallet, otherwise we've got to go up the fire escape."

"Sure, I'll even let you buy ice cream."  He nodded at the bike.  "Let's go."

"Sure."  He grinned at Charley.  "I'm not going to be around Sunday.  Merle and I are going out for pizza and a soda."

"Work related?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," he admitted, considering it.  He shrugged.  "I don't know.  Meg broke up with me because I'm odd, she's dating Oz instead.  She told me last night."  He got on behind Throttle, grabbing onto him.  "Tell me if I tickle you again."

"You haven't done it in days, Xander," he said patiently, opening the door with a fist to the switch.  "I'll make sure no one walks in on you in the morning, Charley girl."

"Thanks, Throttle."  She grinned as they took off.  "They do make a nice looking couple," she admitted.  "Meg was right about that."  She walked over to pick up Xander's gun since he had dropped it again and put it back.  Then she went back to dinner.  "Did you know that Meg broke up with him?"

Vinnie groaned.  "Why?"

"She said he's too strange and too dangerous to be around.  She did say he and Throttle would be cute together.  She called to tell me that earlier but that she still wanted to be buddies and all.  Apparently Sarah hadn't told her what he *used* to do."

Modo shook his head with a small moan.  "I'm worried about this new government group."

"He didn't want to be doing this and Xander almost smirked at him," Charley offered.  That made him relax.  She handed the card to Carbine.  "In case you guys liked the grenade launcher and wanted more."

"I heard," she said, reading the card.  "Micah Simms, ECHO."  She tucked it into her shirt pocket.  "We'll see.  We don't have much to trade anymore."

"Old ship parts," Vinnie suggested.  "They're barely making it to the moon and doing rovers and things.  Speaking of, who has the last two Mars Rovers?  It drove them nuts for weeks."

"We gave them to some of the brighter engineering talented kids to take apart," she admitted smugly. "They had fun and put them back together, then took them apart and made other stuff with them.  They're like toys to them."  She sipped her soda and leaned back.  "What's up with that kid anyway?  Throttle seemed real protective."

"Throttle's had his 'dad' attitude a lot with the kid," Vinnie admitted.  "He's a veteran of combat down here, none of it legal," he admitted. "Stoker and Throttle admitted we were like brothers.  The first time we met him, he jumped out a window without a bike."  She stared, then slowly shook her head and moaned.  "I'm not that reckless, but Throttle didn't seem to see that.  He's been kinda watching the kid since he first showed up a few years ago."

"I can't even imagine what those two years were like back there," Charley admitted.  "He was like he was when he came in all the time the first time we met him.  Anymore he's more quiet and almost solemn at time, kinda depressed."

"Shell shocked and bad nightmares," Modo told her.  "Fairly classic."

Vinnie nodded.  "He's about as jumpy as I am," he admitted.  "He's getting better.  He was late to work today because he finally got some real sleep."

"How?" Carbine asked.  "I know drugging you doesn't even come close."

"He can't, he'll stop breathing again.  He did the last time," Charley told her.  "I think Throttle caught him coming back and took him out for a talk to make sure he was okay now.  He only lost his other best friend the day before yesterday."

"So you guys did what?" Carbine asked.  "Got him drunk, made him sleep?"  Vinnie nodded.  "He seems okay."

"He broke while he was drunk," Vinnie said quietly.  "That made the second time he had to kill one of his friends who turned bad."  He looked at her when she gasped, looking at the person in the doorway. "Hey, you are?"

"You're furry.  Are you demonic?" she asked.

"From Sunnydale?" Modo retorted.  It seemed to be the common reaction that marked someone as being from there.

"Yeah, I'm Buffy.  Where's Xander?  We had this number from one of his calls."  She crossed her arms.  "I know you're hiding him but we're the best thing for him."

"Throttle just took him home," Charley told her.  "He's exhausted and started a new job today."

"Oh."  She pursed her lips and looked around. "Is he okay?"  She shook her head.  "Oh."  She glanced around again. "You're not demonic, right?"

"Miss Summers," Micah called.  "Just the slayer I wanted to talk to," he said, nodding at Charley, eyes wide in a 'sorry about her' look.  He took her by the arm and steered her off.  "Come on, we've got to talk, young lady.  If Xander doesn't have any subtlety, you're screaming from a stage about what you do."

"But it was necessary."

"I don't care.  The press got hold of your stunt.  No more."

"You're not my watcher."

"Ma'am, I'm US Intelligence over your area.  You keep it up and they're going to force me to recruit you, pay you a minimal salary, and make you go do my job, with a lot of paperwork each time you do more than breathe.  Now, come on.  We've got to chat about that stunt.  Xander and his ray gun thing last night was nearly as bad."  He walked her out to his car and paid the cabbie off, taking her away from those nice people who didn't deserve to be battered by her.

Charley groaned.  "Okay, someone call the job site," she said patiently.  "They'll need to know she's in town.  Then you guys go hide really far in the building."  They nodded, going to do that.

"What's wrong with her?"

"Buffy?  She slays demons.  She's a former friend of Xander's and one of the reasons why he left Cleveland," Modo explained as he walked her back to their place.

"We were warned to expect petting," Vinnie agreed behind her.


Xander looked up as his door was knocked on, sighing in defeat.  "Why me?" he moaned.

"You're strong, and I'll back you up.  Go ahead," he prompted.

Xander got up and went to the door, leaning in it.  "Hey, Buff.  Long time no see."

"Can I come in?" she asked, frowning at him.  "That Simms guy just threatened me with a real job."

"Well, he hates doing it," Throttle agreed.

Xander let her in, and she paused to look at him.  "You're like the others.  Are you demonic?  They didn't answer me."

"No, I'm alien."

"Okay.  Can I pet you?"

"To us that would be a sign of sexual interest," he lied with a perfectly straight face.

Xander closed the door.  "Then I'd probably better get Vinnie to forgive me and let me off the hook since I was working on a knot in his shoulders," he said dryly, sitting down really close to Throttle.  "What's up, Buff?"

"I wanted to see what happened.  All we got was the mini lecture from Simms and the news."

"Jessie came back."  She moaned and shook her head.  "He bit her, she's a nature spirit."

"We got that part," she admitted.  "He told us what you told him.  Are you okay?"  He shook his head. "Need a girl hug?"

"I had a girl until last night," he admitted.  "She's been pretty decent to me and Oz, but Throttle stayed with me that night.  She thinks we're cute together."

"You are.  You look very cute together," she said instantly.  "He's right up your usual alley too, except for the studly guy thing."  She shook her head.  "Never mind.  Dangerous, deadly, and pretty always were your things."  She covered her mouth.  "Sorry."

"That's okay.  Ethan's in town at the Holiday Inn so I'm expecting that sort of stuff," he admitted. "Did you see the tower go boom on the news?  I got to look at the ray gun."

"You ...did...that?" she asked, looking confused.  "How?  Or kinda why is edging out how.  Why?"

"Bad aliens," Throttle told her.

"You're very creepy and Oz-like," she said, frowning at him.  "Xander, did you want Oz back in school?"

"Well, he was hot, but not really.  If I had, I would have jumped and made him sleep on the bed instead of the couch."

"Um, okay, this new dangerous, deadly, gay you is really creepy, Xander.  Can you please quit it?"

"Why? I'm happy with myself, Buffy.  For the first time in a very long time."

"What about Willow?"  She covered her mouth.  "Sorry, I didn't mean that.  I'm sure you tried."

"I hesitated," he said honestly.

Throttle nudged him.  "I would have too," he assured him.  "I couldn't imagine having to shoot one of my bros."  Xander nodded, relaxing again.  He looked at Buffy.  "He did what he could and he tried to save Willow but she refused to let him help her.  She felt she was being called to guard that place.  Now she is."

Buffy nodded, looking down.  "I'm sorry, Xander, that came out wrong."

"It's okay, Buffy," he assured her.  "I've asked myself that question a few times."  He heard a meow and smiled. "Miss Tara Kitty had kitties," he offered.  "Come see the grandkids?"

"Sure," she said weakly, coming over to look at the kitties.  "Hi, Miss Kitty."

"I renamed her after Tara because she's very Tara-like at times," he told her.

"That's a good thing.  You could use someone like Tara."  She looked at Throttle.  "You hurt him and I'll kill you," she swore.  "If I can't, I've got twelve hyper teenagers who will happily do it, plus Dawnie."  She looked at the kitties.  "Can I have one when they're older?" she asked quietly.

"Sure, Buffy.  When they're older I'll let her help me pick you out one and send it over."

"Thanks, Xander."  She gave him a choking hug and fled, heading back outside.  Micah was still waiting.  "You knew," she said quietly.  He looked up from his paper and nodded.  "He's okay?"

"He's fine.  He's got supportive friends who're nearly family.  That's more than most of you have."  He nodded. "Get in, I'll take you home."

"Thanks.  You're going through Cleveland?"

"It's on the way," he said dryly.  "Buckle up.  You could use some good driving tips anyway.  You drive like a maniac."  He started the car and took off, taking her home.  He called one of his guys, having Xander's SUV delivered.  It had style and luxury, he was almost jealous, but he had better at home.  "How is Dawn?"

"Doing better now that I've grounded her butt away from boys again. I can't believe she was that stupid and dating a guy who sold guns," she said grimly.  "I should have kicked her butt.  Mom would have beaten her senseless then bricked her in her room."

Micah nodded.  "Sometimes teenagers need a firm hand.  Have her call Xander now and then," he reminded her.

"Yeah, that might cheer them both up," she agreed, going back to happy.  "He's really gay?"

"Not a clue.  I don't have gaydar."

"Are you gay?"

"Only to some stupid people who like to spread rumors.  I've been married in the past and divorced due to the job once too."

"You poor man.  Can't they let you go back to Homeland Security or whatever?"

"Someone has to do this, it was me or the freaks in NID."

"We like you," she decided.  "Even if you hate us, we like you."  She grinned at him.  "They're really aliens?"  He nodded.  "Like MIB?"

"No, I don't get that cool of weapons," he admitted.  "Or the single suit wardrobe.  I actually get a clothing budget.  Not that I get to use it since you're so hyper and I'm always in Cleveland."

"Sorry, Mister Simms," she said, pouting at him.  "I don't mean to make your life difficult."

"Just keep saving people, kid, and it'll be fine."

"I'm not a kid," she pouted.

"You're pouting.  That makes you a kid," he said blandly.  "Besides, I like brunettes."  She quit pouting immediately.  "Thank you."  He sped up once he hit the interstate.  There was a hotel room and a long drink in his future.  Fortunately no one wanted to read these reports so he could get creative.  No one believed in demons or aliens anyway. Plus he got a bigger budget.  Maybe he'd hire a permanent agent for Cleveland and LA.  That thought amused him for nearly thirty miles.


Xander looked at Throttle. "You play the pretend boyfriend very well."

"Thanks.  I've had to in the past," he admitted.  "If we had been there when Switch first started dating Stoker, we probably would have gotten used as cover."  He grinned at him, then at the cats.  "You doing okay in there?  Want on the floor?"  She meowed so they set her and the box of kittens onto the floor.  "There you go."  He sat back again.  "You should rest.  It's going to be a really long day fixing her shower and work."

"This time remember to set my alarm clock," he teased with a pinch.

"You slept how long?"

"Nearly ten hours," he admitted.

"Wanna go for another ride? You're still too bouncy to be anything but exhausted."  Xander shook his head, looking at his hands.  He tipped his chin back up.  "It may happen sometimes in the field but I'm straight and you're straight, Xan," he reminded him.

"Wellllll," he admitted.  "Survival and all," he admitted.

"Been there, done that too," Throttle promised, kissing him.  "Come on, I'll take you for a ride and remember to set your alarm this time."  Xander beamed and followed him out to his bike, who rolled up to Xander to lean against him.  "She likes you."

"I'm nice, I got her the super premium gas the last time."  He stroked the crank case.  "She's a pretty girl, Throttle.  I wish my car talked."

"No you don't.  Modo gets lip now and then," he said, climbing onto the back.  "Come on."  Xander climbed on and they went back to the park.  It seemed to work so well the last time so they'd try it again.

The End.

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