Xander looked at the latest glyph, frowning at it. "It's a limited curse, that's all I can get." He looked up at Oz, who was the only one home with him. "I can't think of anything else."
"Want to try it on me?" Xander shook his head. "It'd be safe."
"Na-uh. I don't want to curse you. You'd get mad if it went wrong." He looked at the glyph in the sand again, getting a naughty smile on his face. "I want to curse Buffy to speak in Valleyspeak for a day."
Oz snorted. "That I want to see. Go ahead. It won't hurt her. I'll even get between you two."
Xander cast the glyph, closing his eyes. He backed away from the table as the sand foamed, smiling at Oz. "Did it."
"Cool. Wonder how long it'll take."
Buffy Summers, the present Slayer, stood up to answer a question her art appreciation teacher had asked her. "Like, um, the sixteen hundreds?" She covered her mouth, shaking her head. "Sorry, moviethon last night."
The teacher waved at her. "Sit, you got it right. Hopefully it'll leave you later."
Buffy looked down at the notes she was taking, wincing at the language it was coming out in. She checked her watch, then looked at the one up on the wall, giving it a panicked look.
Her teacher smiled at her. "Just five more minutes, Ms. Summers, then you can go find something to wipe that from your mind."
"Thanks." She bit her lip, making sure nothing else would come out. She looked at her schedule, making sure she had something she could skip next, her stomach falling as she saw that she had a test in her next class. She got up when everyone else did, heading out to her next class.
She handed in her test paper, giving the teacher a pleading look. The older woman followed her out into the hall. "For some reason, all day I've been talking like this," she said, her whole pitch changing. "Like, I don't even know why but this is maximum grody. I'm sorry and all, but I couldn't help it at all."
The teacher looked at the paper and smiled. "If I can't figure it out, I'll ask you what you meant and give you a chance to explain." She headed back inside. "Go fix it, Ms. Summers."
Buffy clutched her purse to her chest and ran out of the building, heading for her Watcher's house. She burst into Giles' apartment, leaning against the door. "Like, shoot me now!"
Oz looked at Xander, then sat down laughing, holding his head.
"Sorry," Xander said, holding up a hand. "It'll only last for a day."
"Xander, I should totally *kill* your pale ass." She tossed down her purse. "I thought we were narly friends." She shook her head. "That was *so* totally not what I meant."
Giles walked in, looking at his Slayer. "Buffy, is there some problem?"
"Xander cursed me!" she wailed, clutching his chest. "I've got to sound like some totally goof thing from a bad movie." She looked at Xander. "I will really kill you for this."
"It's got a time clause. I was figuring out the next glyph. It wasn't something harmful." He gave her begging eyes, making Giles groan. "I'll try to remove it, okay? Just stay in for the rest of the day."
She nodded. "Oh, I, like, totally am. Here." She plopped down on the couch. "This body is not moving from this excellent couch."
Giles shook his head, giving his student a small smile. "You know better than to cast harmful spells." He leaned down to kiss his cheek. "Even if the results are funny." He stood back up, heading for the kitchen. "I'd have thought someone's heard from Willow by now."
"She's doing this too," Buffy called, examining her nails. "Her teacher's just went totally out of it and kicked her out because she gave the righteous explanation like this."
Oz snickered. "Good." He sat across from Xander. "Can you cancel it?"
"If not, it'll wear out in a day."
Buffy looked over the back of the couch. "I'd, like, look, dude."
"I will," he promised, holding back his smile. "But you gotta admit, it's funny." She shook her head. "Think of Willow."
Buffy snorted then collapsed on the couch laughing. "Oh, like totally far out."
Xander looked over his shoulder at Giles. "I know what you're thinking but this isn't really harmful, this is more of a fun thing." He got a serious head shake. "I won't do it again."
"I suggested he work the glyph on me," Oz said. "He said no."
"Oz, having you speak like that would be most disastrous," Giles said as he walked out with a glass of water. He sat at the head of the table. "I don't think I could stop laughing if you had done this."
Xander showed him the glyph, nicely written out to be included in the binder he was working his way through; all the glyphs that Giles had found on the stones were included in it and it was his job to decode them. "This is a generalized twenty-four hour curse. I could have cursed her to bad hair for a whole day."
"Oh, no *way*!" Buffy screeched, getting up on her knees on the couch so she could look at him. "Don't ever do that to me, Xander, I'll so totally exterminate you it wouldn't be funny."
"See, the Valleygirl impersonation isn't that bad, huh?"
She shook her head. "I can flow with that river." She sighed, sitting back down. "I'm not going to talk again today, like I sound like an idiot."
Giles nodded, smiling into his glass. He looked over at his student after he had swallowed. "What else have you figured out?"
"Just that this is a lot easier now." Xander put the glyph into the notebook along with the explanation and workings that he had figured out, closing it to push everything aside. "For some reason, all the magic stuff is easier now."
"Could it be how you've changed?" Oz asked. "I noticed that our link is a lot softer, more of a flow now instead of chunks."
"Could be," Xander said, shrugging. "Not a clue."
Giles put down his glass, looking at them. "It's very possible that the change you've experienced has helped you access your abilities in a way you've never been able to do before. If it is so, then I'd like you to start working on normal spells for a while." He took the glyph notebook, putting it on the counter behind him. "We can consider this a punishment for working a spell on Buffy without her knowledge and consent."
Xander nodded. "I'm sorry, I thought it would be fun." He put his head down. "Buffy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be harmful or bad. I'm really not turning into *her*."
Buffy got up, coming over to hug him. "I know you're not pulling a Willow. No big." She looked up. "I'm like talking normally?" She shook her head. "Never mind." They all froze as the door opened. "Mom!" she said, bouncing over to hug her. "Like totally excellent!"
Joyce looked from her daughter to Giles. "Did you kill whatever did this or can it be cured." Xander held up a hand. "Yes?"
"Twas me," he said, standing up. "One of the spells I was working on was a twenty-four hour curse so I decided to do something fun. It'll stop tomorrow."
Joyce nodded, hugging her daughter. "At least you'll be normal again. I was going to suggest we go shopping, but if you're not wanting to I'll understand and we can go this weekend."
Buffy looked down at herself then grabbed her purse. "If you can deal, so can I, totally."
Joyce nodded, looking at Xander. "Did someone punish you yet?" He nodded, giving her a pitiful look. "Please, try to cure it. I'd like to have a talk with my daughter." She led Buffy out of the apartment, shutting the door behind them.
Giles looked at Xander, giving him back the glyph notebook. "Cancel it out, please." He headed up to his room. "I've got to change. I have a job interview this afternoon."
Xander looked through the ones he had figured out, frowning. He stopped at the wish spell. "Giles, all I really have is the wish spell."
"Then do so."
Xander drew out the glyph, muttering, "Let her go back to normal," over and over until he stood up, putting the last dot with his arm as much out of the way as possible. Nothing happened. Xander looked at the figure, checking it against the book. "It's the right one." He considered it, grabbing another paper. "Cancel my earlier curse," he said as he redrew it, again standing back so the flash of fire wouldn't get him, but again nothing happened. "Um, it's not working."
"Can you reverse the earlier glyph?" Giles asked from the overlook in his bedroom. Xander shrugged. "Try it. The curse may be too powerful to break with a wish spell."
Xander flipped through the pages of the book, stopping at the glyph he had cursed her with earlier. A tendril of memory started and he flipped through more of the book, stopping at another one, which he drew out on a blank piece of paper. "Let my curse be lifted," he said quietly, adding color to one of the bars inside the figure. "Let her talk normally so that her distress is ended." The figure faded out, leaving just the colored bars, which leaked across the paper then disappeared. "Done," he called, sitting down to make note of what he had done on the original glyph's page and on that new one's.
Giles walked down. "What's that one?"
"It's something to straighten out mistakes. Like an eraser." He dropped his pen, looking up. "I couldn't remove it because of Willow." Giles looked confused. "The books that we've found on bonds, the ones Oz and I found to help us figure it out, said that if he was strong enough and skilled enough he could use my abilities."
Oz nodded. "I remember that." He looked at the wish spells that hadn't worked. "So it didn't work because of Willow's bleed-through into Buffy's mind?"
"She must be leaking her magic into her. Either that or she's casting."
"She may well have been," Giles said with a smile. "Talking in such a manner must have bothered her to no end."
"Point," Xander said, grinning. "Gee, then it was good after all." Giles shook his head. "Sorry, still pissed at her." He put away his things, his smile falling away. "I'm just so pissed and mixed up about all this stuff. I'm still not sure I'm still me and everything."
Giles pulled him into a strong hug. "You're still you, there's just more to you now." He let the young man pull back. "I promise, Xander, you're still you. Even though you need to nibble on a few drops of blood every now and then. Even though your sunglasses are now a permanent part of your life. Even though you think you've changed drastically, you've not. You're still you and you're almost the same man, you just have a few new additions to your life."
"Same as when you first found magic," Oz said, standing up to hold him. "It changed you in ways that no one could be sure of at the time but you were still Xander."
"Yeah, I was," Xander said, relaxing. "I'm just still freaked I guess."
"I'd say it was a normal reaction. Finding yourself tainted suddenly, through no fault of your own, would be most disconcerting. Anyone would have a problem adjusting. I'm just amazed that you've done so well until now."
"Would you?" Xander asked.
Giles nodded. "Even I would have problems adjusting if she had done this to me." He led the young man to the couch. "If you'd like to speak to us about it, we'd listen, anytime you needed to unburden yourself about this."
Xander nodded, then frowned, looking toward the door. "Incoming vamp." He got up, opening the door. "Spike?" he asked in shock.
"Help," he asked, falling to his knees under the tarp he held over his head. "Please, before they find me again."
Giles looked at Xander, frowning. "What's wrong with him?"
"He's different somehow," Xander said, pulling the vampire to his feet, looking him over. "He's got a new scar too."
Giles walked over, standing in front of him. "Why should we help you, Spike? You've done nothing but harm us in the past."
"The nancy soldier boys got me," he said, looking up. "I can't feed. I can't do anything. I'm being hunted."
Giles nodded, stepping out of the way. "Come in." He nodded at Xander to knock him out. Once he was out, they tied him to the chair. "Thank you for the warning. That's most handy."
"Yeah," Xander said, looking at him. "Can I feel sorry for him? He's starving. I'm going to call Angel and tell him." Giles stopped him. "What? It's his sire, he should know and deal with him."
"I know, I just wanted to know how you knew he was starving." He let Xander's hand go.
"I just feel it, it's almost like an ache in my gut." He slapped Spike's face, bringing him around. "We want to know all you know then I'm calling Angel for you."
"He's not going to come for me."
"He will if I ask," Xander said, getting down into his face. "We've settled matters and he's teaching me."
"Bloody hell, you're one of us?" Xander shook his head. "You feel sorta like one of us." He considered him. "You've been tainted?"
Xander nodded, standing back up. "I'm about half but Angel's agreed to help me. We need to know everything though. Absolute disclosure."
"Eww, lawyer talk," Oz muttered. He walked into the kitchen, pulling a steak out of the freezer. "Giles, want me to feed him?"
"Please." He glanced up and nodded at the choice, until Xander picked up a knife off the table and made a slit in his arm. "What are you doing?" he asked, trying to stop him.
"He's suffering, more than is comfortable to me." He held the cut to the vampire's mouth, watching as he licked it clean. "I feel bad, Giles, I can't help it." He looked up at his teacher, begging for understanding.
Giles nodded, walking away. "Get all the information about them that you can. We'll be lightly cooking him some lunch."
Xander pulled one of the dining room chairs over with his feet, sitting down so Spike could finish drinking as the cut healed with vampiric speed. "I need to know," he said calmly, almost seductively. "I need to know everything about them, what they did, what their compound looked like. All that you know, Spike." The vampire looked up at him, his eyes open very wide. "I need to know."
"I will," he said, his eyes staying open, staring into Xander's, his mouth moving without his permission. "They're underground...."
Buffy walked in that night in a new outfit, smiling until she saw the man tied to the chair. "We're housing evil vamps now?" she asked in confusion. She stopped to hug Xander. "Thank you for removing it."
"I just hope I did remove it," he told her. "I had to try a few different things, I think Willow's will was blocking my working on you." She nodded, sitting on the table.
"Buffy, this room has no shortage of seats," Giles called from his chair without looking up.
"Sorry." She slid off the table. "So, what's up with the 'big bad'?" she sneered at him.
"The Initiative did him," Xander said, looking up at her. "He's got a chip that makes him unable to do anything."
She frowned. "That's not right."
"We know," Oz said, sitting up from the couch. "We've called your ex to come take him home."
"Good." She nodded, looking at the papers she had been sitting on. "What's this?"
"Everything he knew." Xander looked at Spike again, watching him wake back up. "You back with the semi-living?" The vampire nodded. "You feeling better?"
"Much. How'd ya know?"
"I felt the hunger, it was reaching out to me." He patted the tied leg, standing up. "Angel should be here soon." He looked toward the door. "Or Doyle actually." He let the half-demon in, smiling at him. "Hey, the boss send you?"
"Yeah. He's not real pleased about what you sent to him." He looked at the man tied to the chair. "You sure he's harmless?"
"And recently fed. He was almost crawling when he got here." Xander picked up the papers to hand over. "This is what we've gotten, we've got a copy for us."
Doyle folded them and put them in his back pocket. "Okay. If we get more information, we'll yell your way." He untied the rope, letting Spike stand. "You're going home to your sire, Spikey- boy. He's real anxious to see you." He waved. "Thanks for this."
"No problem," Xander called. "What they did to him was bad." He stopped them from leaving, pulling Doyle aside. "Tell Angel I felt his hunger. It was like a twisting in my own body. I'm not sure what it was, but then again, I'm not sure how I convinced him to tell me everything he's ever known either."
Doyle smiled. "He didn't think you were getting those. He'll send you the book later." He grabbed Spike again. "Angel said he'd call tomorrow night about what to do and what he's found about this stuff." He led Spike out the door. "Be safe."
"You too," Xander called, shutting the door behind him. He waited until he heard the car drive off, turning to find Buffy standing behind him. "What?"
"Wanted to know what that was about." She stared into his eyes. "Are you still changing?"
"No, it's arrested," Giles said, standing up. He handed her a book. "There's a few other side effects that could have happened and it appears he's gotten a few of them." He patted the side of Xander's face. "I almost expected the one, though your ability to charm him was surprising. Not unwelcome, but still a shock nonetheless." He walked over to where Buffy was reading. "This is the only known human account of the other two that the spell was cast on."
"But it says they changed."
"Yes, but he should have gotten some of the same gifts as it was the same spell. Maybe not in the same strengths, but he still has shown most of them in one form or another. Even those two didn't get the same powers. It must have depended on who the person feeding him was."
"It was one of Angelus'," Xander said, leaning against the door. "I could smell the same scent on him." Buffy looked up, glaring at him. "Sorry, but who sired you marks you with a certain scent. Sort of like people who work in a bakery all smell the same but different than those that work around cakes and fluffy pastries all day." She nodded, still scowling. "Spike and that guy smelled the same." He pushed himself off the door. "If I had been paying attention then I might have figured this out the first night."
"So he's like your grandsire?" Oz asked.
"Maybe. I think it's more complicated but I'm not sure." He sat down beside Buffy. "I'm sorry if this upsets you."
"No, it's not a big. It's a grody thought...." She stopped, covering her mouth. "I am *so* going to take a vow of silence." She stared at him.
Xander got the magic books, coming back to research. "I'll fix it."
Xander tossed down the book, glaring at the table. "I'm going to just knock her scrawny, red- headed butt!" he said, throwing up his hands.
Buffy looked at him. "In English?"
"Every time I take the spell off, she recasts it." He looked at Giles, who was sitting and reading. "Is it a bad if I do that?"
"Why? She's hurting Buffy by making the spell come back."
"Find some other way, Xander," he said gently, looking up. "She's probably trying to do the same thing you are."
Buffy cleared her throat, closing her eyes. "Willow," she said softly, "if you don't quit recasting the spell, we're going to talk like that forever. He's trying to take it off, not add to it." Her shoulder's slumped. "She wants to hear that from him."
Xander wrote out a note, handing it to her. "Then go tell her. She knows I'm not going near her."
Buffy looked at the folded over paper, nodding. "I can do that." She stood up, patting down her pockets. "Stakes?" Giles pointed at a wooden bucket beside the stairs, which was full of them. "Thanks. Knew I could count on you." She picked up a few, heading out of the apartment. "Later."
"Yup," he said, picking back up the book to reread the spell. He sat down, sighing in frustration. "Why is this still hard?"
"Earlier it was too easy," Giles said, getting up to come sit beside him. He tipped the lowered face up. "I'm sure she's doing it to annoy you, she probably just wanted to have a talk with you."
"Maybe," Xander admitted, "but she's got to know I'm not going to want to be in the same zip code."
"Yes, but she still believes she was doing something to help you and the group. She's said she did this so the group would be able to defeat anything that came along. She may even think that everything she's done has been beneficial."
Xander snorted. "Not to me."
"But she's not thinking of you, she's considering the bigger picture of the town and what they'll need from us. Of course, her thinking was most disastrous in this instance, but we know she's been playing with Chaos magic recently so maybe it's warped her thinking a bit."
"A bit?" he asked sarcastically. "Giles, she had me bitten. She tried to have me *killed*! I think that's a little more than a bit. A bit was when she changed me and her so I ended up a woman for a few days. This is *way* more than a bit."
Giles nodded. "True, it is. It was a poor word choice."
Xander looked at him, then shook his head. "No, from her point of view, a bit is probably what she's seeing. She's trying to do the 'for the good of the whole' thing and screwing the individual in the process." He relaxed, his whole body going limp. "Buffy's back and she's not happy."
Buffy walked in and slammed the door. "She said she'd stop." She put a note down on the table behind Xander. "For you, she wants to talk. Actually wants to see you when you talk to her. But, and get this, she wants you to apologize for doing that to *her* today."
Xander smirked. "Didn't she get the fact that it was happening to you."
"Apparently," Buffy said as she pulled out a chair and sat down, "she didn't. She thought you only did that to her, she's not connected the point that I've been doing the same thing all day and that every time she recast, it hit her just as hard."
"Maybe we should send her some of the books from the bond," Oz said as he walked in. "You look pissed."
"Willow said I did that spell to piss her off today," Xander said simply.
"Huh." Oz dropped his guitar, coming to sit at the table. "Did we talk?"
"We passed a note." Xander looked at Buffy. "Can you still hear her?" She nodded, grimacing. "Sewer mind?"
"Tell her about the bond, Buffy," Giles said quietly, "remind her that everything that happens to you happens to her now." He watched as Buffy's face scrunched up and she shook her head. "No, tell her we have resources about the bond you now share. We'd be willing to send one to her if she promises to leave us alone for now."
"Whatever, or so she said. She said that we're not being fair. We're intentionally casting against her because she tried to help the group, which is unfair to her." Buffy opened her eyes. "She doesn't get it."
"So flood her mind with yours," Xander said, waving a hand. "You have some sort of barrier between you, Oz and I did, break it and make her feel what you are."
"Dangerous," Oz reminded him. "We ended up locked together for a day."
"Good point, but I still think it's the only way to prove it to her." He looked at Giles. "I'd fill in for Buffy if something happened. We've got to get Willow to acknowledge the bond so they can build the wall."
"A wall would be nice," Buffy sighed, "one with big spikes and razor wire so she can't crawl into my dreams."
"Do it," Giles suggested. "It may be the only way. Give her a few seconds of the fullness of your mind."
Buffy closed her eyes, her head on the table. Xander took her hand, leaning closer to her ear. "Buffy, I want you to see the portal to Willow's mind in your head." She nodded. "I want there to be a screen, like on a door." She nodded again. "Okay, I want you to open three of the little squares so that she gets more information. We can fix it in a minute." Buffy growled, clawing with her hand. "Shh, Slayer, it's all right. You're proving to her that she's got something with you."
"I like men," Buffy pouted.
"I know, so does she usually. Don't worry about that part right now. Just give her a taste of the full Buffy experience."
Buffy grinned. "Did it, she's really pissed now."
"Now tell her that's the bond, the same sort Oz and I have." She nodded. "Tell her we can help her control it with you or we can help you learn how to control it. This is the only offer."
She smiled. "She wants to meet us at the park in the morning." Her face fell. "She's crying."
"That's okay. I want you to pull back into your own mind, fixing the little squares." Her face scrunched up. "You okay?"
"Stuck, my head won't come back through the screen without tearing it more."
"Then do it, we can fix another few holes just as easily." She nodded, and her nails scratched the table again. "You back?" She nodded. "Now fix the squares, will them to heal."
She grunted, then smiled, lifting her head to look at him. "Wow."
He nodded. "Yup, wow." He stood up, heading for the door. "I'm going home to check on the house, I'll be back in a few." He looked at his teacher. "She'll be fine."
"Thank you," Giles said with a small smile. "I'll watch over her. Hurry back."
"I will." He walked out, heading out into the cool night air. He walked past a vampire standing in the bushes, flipping him off. "Don't even think about it," he said, walking slower. When the vampire jumped out, he staked it, and kept walking.
"That was a smooth move," Buffy said from the door, looking up at Giles. "I'll help him learn how to fight if you want."
"Please. We both will." He led her back inside. "How is she?"
"Not great. Still crying. She knows now how bad it was and she's repentant."
"Yay," Oz said coolly from the table, tapping his fingers on the top. "Did you ever unspell her from this summer?"
Giles wiggled his hand in the air. "A bit. She remembers that it happened but not what."
"Do the rest," Oz suggested. "We need a united front and she needs to know."
Giles looked at Oz, getting up to sit beside him. "I know you're still hurt over what she did to you and him, but you cannot force Buffy to be against her also. Yes, she should know so she can judge, but we cannot blindly turn people against her. They have to have the right to decide for themselves."
Oz nodded, staring into his eyes. "I think she'll agree with me."
"As do I," Giles said, taking his hand. "If you'd like to talk about it, I'm here, Oz. Whenever you need me." He got a small nod so stood up, going over to sit beside Buffy on the couch, handing her a candle, uncasting his spell from that summer.
Oz stiffened as she gasped, looking over the back of the couch at him. She got up, walking over to hug him. "I understand why you hate her so much," she said quietly. "We'll try to keep her name from around you." He nodded so she let go. "I'm sorry, Oz, if I had known, I would have stopped her."
"Xander and I both told her no," he said, looking up at her. "He can't bring himself to get close enough to stand next to her unless he has to."
She nodded. "I won't expect you to help me deal with her but will you please help me with my part of the bond? Just to block her out?"
"Yeah," he said, relaxing. "Gladly. I just won't help you merge with her completely."
"Hey, non issuage here. I don't want to live in her mind and I'd hate to see what she'd do to mine right now." He gave her a faint smile. "You're much more open now that you have Xander and Giles. If you're happy with them, then I'm good with the subject. I won't even make gross faces if you want to kiss them."
Giles cleared his throat. "Buffy, my relationships..."
"Quiet," she said, walking over to the door. She opened it, looking at Xander. "What happened?"
"My house, the fire department was there. A vamp burned it." He walked in, heading for the chair in the corner to slouch into it. "I can't believe they'd do that."
"I can," she said dryly. "They want you now, Xander, and they're willing to do anything to get you." He looked up, his eyes showing he knew what she meant. "We'll deal, we always have. We even dealt with Angelus when he was here."
"Yeah, we did," he said quietly, looking at his hands. "The fire department guys looked at me in shock. Someone had told them I was in there."
Giles hissed. "Was anyone caught in the building?"
"Nope and fortunately, most of my stuff is in the back bedroom since I was camping here for a few weeks." He looked over at Oz. "We're going to have to fix this."
"Yeah, we are," Oz said, coming over to sit on the couch. "What else was there?"
"Um, saw Liberty. She flinched away from me when I tried to tap her shoulder." Xander shook his head. "I'm not sure which I'm more upset about."
"They're both upset worthy," Oz told him gently, sending him reassurances through their link. "We'll go talk to your boss in the morning, okay?"
"The store's closed," Xander said. "That's how I was walking home. I looked in the window and everything was cleared out but three boxes that look like they had been in the back." He looked at Giles. "I think that's a pretty clear message."
"Yes, I believe it was," Giles said, "but it may not have been you. Business had been bad recently thanks to the squads running around to grab demons. They could have left because of that."
"Giles, it was open yesterday," he reminded quietly. "You were in there yesterday." He got up as someone knocked on the door, letting the smoke-smudged man in. "Let me guess, you're here about how the fire got started?"
The fireman shook his head. "No, we have someone that said they started it." He nodded at the others in the room. "I'm sorry, the structure couldn't be saved. Part of the basement is still intact but otherwise it's all gone." Xander nodded, looking grim. "We're sorry about the loss, especially since it's not been that long since you lost your parents." He patted the young man's shoulder. "Give it a few days and you can go through to see if anything survived. We've got the paperwork for your insurance company." He nodded at the group again then left.
Xander turned to look at Giles. "Okay, I'm now officially cut loose from every other tie in my life but those in this room." He started to say something else but Oz got up and hugged him. "Thanks."
"No problem. It's what we do." He brushed through the dark hair. "Why don't you go take a nap?"
"I can't sleep," Xander said, looking around. "I'm going to go for a walk."
"Take me back to campus?" Buffy asked. He nodded so she gathered up the stuff she had come in with, walking out beside him. "I'm sorry, Xander. I really am."
"Yeah, me too," he said quietly, watching his feet. "I want to run away again, go somewhere where no one knows me. Somewhere that the strange stuff doesn't land on my doorstep." He stopped them, waiting until a car had pulled out. "Sorry, didn't think you wanted smooshed."
"Thanks." She rubbed down his arm. "You're not going to find that place, not anymore," she reminded. "You're made to deal with the strange stuff now, it's part of who you are." He shook his head. "Yeah, Xander, it is."
He shrugged. "Whatever. I still want to go running far, far away. I hear Antarctica is nice this time of the year."
"Really cold, but maybe. Penguins too." She nudged his arm. "Listen, if you want to talk, I'm here. I was kinda in the same boat about five years ago."
He smiled. "Yeah, you were, huh." He wrapped an arm around her, squeezing gently. "Thanks."
"Hey, anytime." She looked up at the edge of campus. "Gee, that was a short walk."
"It was the company," he said with a faint grin. "I'm going back to Giles' since all my remaining stuff is there." He waved, watching as she walked onto one of the well-lit paths the university kept up. "Be safe."
"Always." She watched as he walked away, staring hard after his back. She got one of her funny feelings so followed him. He stopped, looking at her. "You're not walking home alone, Xand. We know these guys can tell vamps without help." She linked her hand through his. "Come on, I'll escort you home." She stopped joking as a jeep pulled up in front of her. "Yup, I was right."
Xander took a deep breath, sending out a call to Giles and Oz, actually feeling a response this time. "Help's coming." He cast a spell, a blocking spell, making it so most of the soldiers were unable to get to them. He stomped on the foot of the person who grabbed him, turning to growl in his face and pushed him backwards. He groaned as he saw Willow standing there. "More trouble," he told Buffy, backing against her back.
"Who?" she asked, kicking one of the soldier's away. She glanced toward the school. "Thought I felt her." She glared at the person standing in front of her, only able to see his eyes but knowing who they belonged to. "Riley," she said softly. "Go away. I've got this."
He shook his head. "Girls shouldn't be out here."
She decked him, knocking him out. "Yay, masochist."
"He likes pain?" Xander asked. She shrugged. "Maybe you mean misogynist, woman hater?"
"Yeah, that word. Is Giles really feeding you new vocab for breakfast?"
"Lunch," he quipped, almost ducking as he saw Willow raise her hands. "She helping or not?"
"She's got me blocked, all I can feel is the power." Buffy groaned as one of the soldiers found the edge of his wall. "Um, defensive stuff?"
"Yeah, a good idea," he said, casting, weaving a shield around them. He closed his eyes. "Guard me," he whispered, concentrating.
Willow nodded from her position, sending bright flashes of light and things that she floated to hit the men. When they ran away, she walked down, standing in front of Buffy. "Tell him it's safe. I'm not going to hurt him."
Buffy nudged Xander's back. "It's just Willow."
He relaxed, letting the shield fall. "Okay," he said, looking at her. "What?"
"Why did you cast that earlier? I was humiliated."
"I cast it on *Buffy*," he told her coldly. "You just picked it up through your bond." He felt Oz getting closer. "Oz," he said, turning toward him. "The soldier boys."
"How did they know you were different?" he asked, stopping in front of Xander, breaking the stare between him and Willow. "You okay?"
"Yeah, but I need better defensive stuff." He looked over at Buffy. "You knew one?"
"I recognized his eyes. I've stared into them sometimes." She swallowed, looking up as Giles walked up to where she was. "We're okay, they were after Xander I think."
"Her friend said that girls shouldn't be out here," Xander said quietly, relaxing into Oz's hand on his back. "I'm kinda tired. Can we go home and discuss this?" He stopped, looking at Willow. "Thank you for helping."
"It's the least I could do." She nodded at everyone, turning to walk away.
Oz looked from Xander to her and back. "Go," Xander said softly, "you'll never get it settled without dealing with her." He pushed and Oz walked that way.
Buffy looked around. "I'm walking you home and staying on the couch tonight. No arguments."
"Oz could use the safety," Xander said, looking down the path where they were talking. Giles turned his head around. "If they found me, they can find him."
"His affliction isn't noticeable to most people, not even Buffy."
Xander nodded. "I guess. I just don't..."
"You don't want to leave them alone," Giles said, giving him an understanding smile. "Come, you need to rest, those spells must have taken some of your energy."
"Oh, yeah." He looked around. "Can we stop back by the store? I want to see what those boxes they left are."
Giles nodded, following him, Buffy walking beside them. "Thank you for guarding him," he told her quietly. "I have no desire to lose him."
"I know. We do it for each other." She pushed his side lightly. "See, I'm a good girl some days."
He laughed. "Yes, you are. We'll have to call the Council tonight to tell them you're okay."
"Can we wait until it's not really a lie?"
"Yes, but I was thinking that if there is another girl besides Faith, we might get her back here to deal with those people who just tried to take you."
"Point," she conceded. She turned, watching Oz walk towards them. "Hey, better?" He shrugged. "Okay. Xander's going to the store to look for his stuff."
"I'll go get the van," he said, pulling out the keys, which Giles took from him. "You sure?"
"Yes, I think you need him more."
Oz stopped, squeezing Giles' wrist. "Thanks. You've always understood."
"I try," he said with a smile. "Go help Xander. I'll be back soon." He headed for where Oz had parked.
Oz jogged to catch up with Xander, stopping him. "Hey." He saw the hurt and worried look. "It's okay. We'll deal."
"Oz, they didn't want just me, they wanted Buffy too. Someone knows." He looked around. "Who else outside of us knows?"
"Willow's and my mom," Buffy said, walking up to them. "It's not that." She pointed at another store that had been in business just a few days ago. "All the occult stuff is gone."
Giles pulled up beside them. "Get in." He looked at the store, his face getting hard. "Now, before they come back."
Xander slid into the front seat. "You think they're after everyone who's vaguely occult?"
"It's a definite possibility." Giles headed for the magic shop, watching as Xander got out and unlocked the door. Oz got out, helping him lift the few remaining boxes out to the van, Giles checking all the mirrors just in case they were being watched. He nodded at a cop as he walked past.
The cop walked over. "What's he doing?"
"That's his stuff that was being stored in the back," Buffy told him. "His boss told him to come get it today when he saw her."
"Oh. Okay." He nodded. He leaned in closer. "Mr. Giles, right?" He smiled at the nod. "I'd be careful if I were you. There are some bad things out tonight and they don't usually care who they hurt." He continued on his path, heading down the sidewalk.
Xander and Oz climbed into the back, Oz closing the door as Xander opened a letter with his name on it. "Hell!" he said, handing it to Buffy. "The Initiative is after us now."
"All occult workers," Buffy said quietly, folding back up the letter and handing it back. "How did they know?"
"They were probably given a warning," Giles said. He looked in the rearview mirror as he pulled up in front of his apartment complex. "I think we need to do something, tonight." He turned to look at the two young men. "It's not safe for any of you to be here."
"You either," Xander said, staring at him. "If we go, you do."
"Yes, Xander, if you're going, so am I." He turned off the engine, getting out and heading inside. He stopped when he saw the mess, closing his eyes to take a deep breath. "We'd best leave tonight." He looked at his helpers. "Xander, call Angel, we'll go shelter with him for a day or so until we find a new spot." He looked at Buffy. "Warn Willow to leave too."
She nodded, grabbing a book. "Were they looking or was this a warning?"
"A warning," Oz said, shutting the door and looking at the note pinned to the back. "We have a day to leave or else next time they won't be playing."
Buffy grabbed the phone, dialing her house. "Mom? Are you okay?" She shook her head, looking at Giles. "Pack, we're going to LA tonight. I don't *care*, Mom, these people aren't playing. They're after me and they're going to use you to do it." She nodded and hung up. "She's calling my father to go stay with him. She'll take everything that she can of mine with her." She looked at the younger men. "Get the books, we'll take the van."
"My car," Xander pointed out. "I'll drive the van and you guys can take the car." He felt a negative wave from Oz. "I can protect it, something I can't do for you guys it seems."
Giles smiled at the two men. "Boys, let Xander take the van so he can camouflage it until we're out of town. Buffy, you ride with him. Oz, you'll ride with me, we'll follow the van out." Everyone nodded, heading to pack.
Xander knocked on Angel's door, staring at Spike when he answered. "We've been run out of town," he said as he led the way inside. "The Initiative is going after every magic user and occult person in town." He looked over his shoulder at Willow, who had ridden with Giles and Buffy, then at Angel as he walked out. "They took over the town."
Angel nodded. "I heard something was being done in that direction. I have a warehouse set up for you guys." He looked out a clouded window. "How close is it to sunrise?"
"About an hour," Xander said. "Give us a map if you need to."
"Doyle knows where it is, he's over there now. He'll bring you when he comes back." Angel nodded at Willow. "Is this safe?"
"No, but it's necessary." Xander stepped closer to him. "We're in a truce situation."
"Then so be it." Angel patted Xander's shoulder. "Thank you for taking care of my childe yesterday."
"From one to the other," he said softly. "The one who turned me was one of yours also."
Angel nodded. "I know. I felt it." He looked at Giles. "Welcome, whatever you need. He who teaches my childe helps my family."
Giles bowed to him. "Thank you. I'll call on you to free Sunnydale." He looked at Buffy. "We'll go so you can all sleep soon."
Buffy nodded. "As long as I get to kick my almost-boyfriend's ass, it's all good."
Spike laughed. "You and me both, blondie." He lit a cigarette, glaring at Willow. "I heard about your meddlin', girl, you'd best not do it here. I will protect Xander as a brother."
"I won't hurt him. We have an understanding right now." She nodded at Angel. "Thank you."
"As long as you don't hurt anyone against their will."
She nodded. "Never again except in self-defense."
"Good," everyone said, heading for the living room to relax. For now.
TO BE CONTINUED...