Xander looked around what had been the Master's cave, shuddering. "We have to be here?"
"It's the safest place I know," Angel told him. He was looking around himself. "I don't much like being here either." He focused on Xander. "Do you think it worked?"
"There may be one thing wrong," Ethan said. "If the chip mimics a soul, we don't know what it would do in a living person. Or even if he could short it out without ripping apart their souls."
"Okay, so we have all of the soulless ones unchipped and people like Buffy may be unchipped," Xander agreed. "It's not going to be hard to plan for that contingency."
"Knock her out," Spike said from his seat on the reflecting pool. "What's this thing?"
"That's where Buffy died," Xander said, turning his back on the pool. "I need to be in a less emotionally charged room, is there another space?"
"Down the tunnel in the back. It's a bedroom," Angel told him, pointing out the tunnel. "I want you, Ethan, and Doyle in there."
"Why?" Doyle asked as he carried in the last bag. "Here," he said, handing one to Xander. "Ethan said that was for you two."
"It's spell components," Ethan said, heading for the tunnel. "A bed would be nice."
"Probably has rats by now," Xander muttered, looking up at Angel. "Why put us in the protected position?"
"Because they might search down here. If they do, you can seal off that tunnel and still get out. If we get captured, I want you to try and get us free, but if you're going to get caught I want you to run."
Xander shook his head. "Nope, no way. Not going to happen." He glared at Spike when he coughed. "I'm not going to run. I've fought with bad odds before and I'll do it again if I have to. I'm stronger now."
"And untrained," Spike pointed out.
"They don't use magic," Xander noted, smirking at Spike. "The update I got from Oz said that Giles burned my glyph notebook so they couldn't have it and Riley had to ask what it was."
"Riley?" Angel asked, grimacing like he had a bad taste in his mouth. "Buffy's boyfriend?"
"The one and the same," Xander said, smirking. "He's one of the leaders."
"Even better," Angel said with a smile worthy of his other half. "I have to go talk to some helpers. If I don't come back, Spike, I want you to make sure Xander stays free. He's our best chance yet."
"All right, I'll watch the kid," Spike sighed, crossing his feet.
Xander closed his eyes, his mouth falling open. "Willow managed to sneak out of her cage." He opened them, looking around. "It took her almost a day and a half but she got out. They shot her with an electrical pulse. Oz said it shocked her back to her old, pre-chaos magic days' self." He slowly smiled. "They're screwed."
Angel shook his head. "She's got a conscience, Harris, she won't hurt them."
"Oh, you don't know Willow," Xander sighed, heading for the tunnel. "A pissed Willow is a force to be reckoned with. She's going to hurt them all." He walked into the bedroom, watching Ethan bow to a candle. "What are you doing?"
"I'm praying to the Dark Gods. I figured someone should start praying and they're more likely to help."
"Oh, okay." Xander shrugged, going over to investigate the bed. "I'm going to meditate and center." He made sure the bed was free of crawling things then sat on it, getting comfortable just like Giles had taught him, sending himself back into his mind.
Ethan waited until he felt the aura of power behind him go dimmer to look at Doyle, who had followed Xander in. "We're screwed. I can't do this alone."
"He can do things, I've seen him do a number of them."
"A temporary curse spell? A major wish spell? Those aren't fighting spells. He needs to know things Giles won't ever teach him."
"He'll do what he can, same as you will," Doyle reminded him. He nodded at the candle. "How many demons do you owe your soul to now?"
"Eight at last count," Ethan said with a prideful smile. "They don't seem to mind. It will give them great fun fighting it out after I'm gone. And with all luck, I'll be eaten by something that takes souls." He bowed one last time to the candles before blowing them out. "I need to do the same," he told the half-demon. "Watch over us."
"Oh, I will," Doyle sighed, sitting on the bed beside Xander, not incidentally taking up most of the space. "Have fun."
Ethan grimaced. "You really don't like me, do you?" Both men shook their heads, Xander with a grin. "Fine, I'll do so down here, it won't harm me to touch the Earth once in a while."
"One of the four elements," Xander sighed, squeezing his eyes shut.
"Yes, but I think you're thinking of something else," Ethan told him sternly. "What are the four elements as you've learned them?"
"The stone said Earth, Air, Void, and Water. Apparently fire is a mixture." Xander shrugged, opening his eyes. "I've learned the basic lessons, Rayne, I'm not hopeless."
"You may well be hopeless yet," Ethan reminded him. "Give it a few days."
"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Mr. Optimism." Xander looked over his shoulder at Doyle. "I'm going to nap instead. Wake me when Angel leaves."
"I will," Doyle told him, waiting until the younger man had lain down to smirk at the sorcerer. "And you thought he was untrained."
"He can't access the void," Ethan reasoned. "How was I to know he knew what it was?"
"Because he got a vision when he touched the stones," Xander told them. "He didn't get all of the language down in useable form but he did absorb it all. It just comes out as bits of fantasy that I have to figure out. Actually, if I had a sand tray, I could work on the next few glyphs." He looked at Doyle, who shook his head. "No?"
"No. I've heard how some of those have turned out. And I seem to remember something about an unplanned nap one night. . . ."
"Oops," Xander said, rolling over and covering his head. "Never mind." He peeked out at Ethan, whose mouth was open. "Yes, that was me."
"I see," Ethan said carefully. "How would you like to go back to the stones, show me something?"
"Only if you promise not to hurt them. They're positively charged, a thing to be taught by." Xander pushed himself up. "I could use a trip out there though. Let's go." Doyle grabbed him, holding him still. "I'll take Spike with me."
"You'll do more'n that," Doyle said harshly, "you'll get permission from Angel."
"Why?" Spike said from the doorway.
"I want to go visit the stones I'm learning glyphs from," Xander told him. "We should go tonight, just so I can find something. I need to go find something." He got free, standing up. "You and Ethan can come, but only if you promise not to hurt the stones."
"We won't," Spike sighed, rolling his eyes. "Come on then, we'll go visit your rocks." He headed back into the chamber, leading them outside. "Where are they?"
"Woods," Xander said, pointing. "There's a trail up to them." He sniffed the air. "Burning wood." He checked around then jogged for one of the smaller streets, heading out toward the path to the stones.
Xander looked at the space where the stones had sat, mouth open in shock. "They broke them up. I thought that dream was a worry. *Giles* thought that dream was a worry." He looked at Spike. "We're in deep crap now. Those contained all the glyphs I'm learning."
"They can't use them," Ethan pointed out from his position leaning against a tree. "Is there anything left?"
"Yeah," Xander said, moving closer. "They left the teaching section. . . ." He stooped, picking up a stone that had a partial carving on it. "What was this one? I remember it." He looked at Spike, then nodded the vampire toward him. "Lights," he said, pointing. He felt the ground, feeling the energy humming beneath his hand. "I'll bring them back if I can," he promised, nodding Ethan into the woods.
They watched from just out of sight, watching as the soldiers came to check the remains of the stones for any missing parts, removing the last of the carvings. When the soldier in charge said that they were done, the group waited for another ten minutes, just to make sure that they wouldn't come back for anything, then went back to the bare patch of ground. "I will get them for that," Xander said softly. "They had no reason to desecrate something that's been here longer than most versions of humanity."
"Those stones have existed since before demons," Ethan told him, patting him on the back. "It had to happen sometime."
"Yeah, but why do I feel like I set it off by being the one who was supposed to translate them?" He looked at the older sorcerer. "This isn't fair, Ethan, it really isn't. Those stones were meant for everyone, even people like you." He turned to head into the woods, starting back down the path by himself, lost in thought. They watched as he stopped next to a tree to mark something in the ground, then walked on.
Spike looked at Ethan and shook his head. "I think he's lost it."
"No, he was right about something, those stones are important and powerful. The sheer amount of stored power in this spot is enough to give me every wish I had ever dreamed." Ethan started down the path. "We'd best catch up with him, he's liable to get in trouble on his own."
"He is trouble on his own," Spike muttered, following. He stopped to pick up the partial carving Xander had dropped, sticking it into his pocket. "Maybe he'd like this," he told himself. "Hate to see that one so upset, it's bound to throw off his spells. Then where'd I be?" He hurried up, jogging to catch up to the two humans.
Doyle looked at the piece of stone Spike had handed Xander, shaking his head. "I'd heard rumors but that's too insane, even for these idiots."
"Oh, they're playing with fire," Ethan told them.
"Void," Xander corrected, looking at him for the first time since they had left the clearing in the woods. "They're playing with void. That's what'll happen to them if they try to destroy the stones and what'll happen to them if something breaks the stones up." He clutched the shard of stone in his hand, not noticing that his hand was bleeding. "We've got to go in sooner instead of later. We can't afford to wait. If they destroy the stone there's enough power built up in it to create a hell of an empty place in the universe and suck the town in."
"Good point," Ethan said, giving him a small smile. "At least you knew that."
"Of course I did, the stone taught me," Xander said sharply. "You should listen sometimes, Rayne." He looked at Spike. "Where's Angel?"
"Still out. He's got a few hours until dawn."
"I'm going out tomorrow."
"No, you're not, Harris," Doyle said firmly. "You're not going out where they can find you."
"And what'll they do?" he asked snidely, turning to look at the half-demon. "Chip me? That's a laugh. They don't really know what I am besides an apprentice sorcerer." He shrugged. "I'll be safe. I grew up here."
"Some of us can't go with you," Spike pointed out.
"Yay, and?" Xander asked, giving him a 'so what' look. "I grew up and hid here on many occasions. I do know how to sneak around the town."
"Out of the question," Angel said as he walked into the cavern. He looked at Xander, then at his hand. "Maybe you should clean that."
Xander looked down at his hand and winced. "It doesn't hurt." He pulled the stone out of his hand, watching as the vampire speed healing started to work on him in half-time. He held it up so Angel could see it. "See?"
"You're still not going out," Angel said. He looked at Spike. "What's going on?"
"The Initiative has managed to take the stones that Xander was using as a teaching guide. Very powerful stones that could create a void if they're broken incorrectly," Ethan told him. "Xander wants to go scouting today to see what he can find."
"No," Angel said, sitting down. "What's with the stones?"
"They're the truth of the legend behind the teaching tablets," Doyle told him. "They're inscribed with all sorts of knowledge and were in a clearing in the woods. They saw the soldier boys comin' for them."
"Ah." Angel nodded. "Then we're royally screwed." He saw Xander's cruel smile and head shake. "Why not?"
"They don't know what they mean. Not even *Giles* knows what they all mean. *I* was given the vision with the glyphs and even *I* don't know what they all mean."
"So the Initiative is more likely to blow themselves up?" Spike asked.
"And the town," Ethan reminded him. "It will create a hole, which will start to fill itself with everything around it."
"The stones held a piece of void," Xander told him. "If it's released, it's like a black hole in town."
"Gee, fun," Spike sighed, going to sit beside his sire. "Now what?"
"Now, we figure out what we're doing tonight," Angel told them. "Harris, go practice spells."
"I am kinda good with planning fights," Xander offered. "I've been working on that for years with Buffy."
"Go practice spells," Angel told him gently. "We'll let you have input later."
Xander nodded, heading for the bedroom. He sat on the bed, then lay back, closing his eyes. He practiced the most mild form of illusion he could, weaving lights in the air.
"It's pretty," Ethan said as he walked in, "but not very effective." He flinched as the lights turned into a minor demon, which tried to bite him. "All right, more effective. Continue." He sat in front of the candles, relighting them all. "I'm going to pray."
"Have fun. Tell the Dark Gods hi for me." Xander searched out his link with Oz, taking comfort from it. He fell asleep like that, in silent communion with his teachers and his lovers.
Ethan snorted, looking over at the bed. "You didn't need to do that," he told the snoring form. "I wouldn't have bothered you if you wanted to practice."
Xander woke up, screaming Oz's name, looking around for enemies. He growled and lunged at the first person who came near him, pinning Doyle against the wall, biting his neck.
"Harris!" Angel yelled, pulling him off his friend. "Stop it!"
"He was in link with his bonded earlier," Ethan said from his safe little corner. "That's whose name he screamed." He looked the boy over, shaking his head. "I'd bring him back."
Spike slapped Xander as hard as he could, getting a sobbing young man in his arms an instant later. "Shh, whelp, he's fine."
"They figured out he wasn't normal," Xander whispered. "They're testing him." He looked up. "They felt us. I can still feel what they're doing to him."
"Then we'll just have to move up the time table," Angel sighed, heading for the main room. "Get him calmed and come out." He nodded Ethan and Doyle out of the room, trying hard not to stare at the dripping blood falling down his friend's neck. "Get cleaned up."
Xander looked up at Spike, blinking at him. "I'm going to kill them. All."
"I'm sure you will," Spike said, trying to soothe him. "I'm gonna be guarding you so I'll help."
Xander pulled away, shaking his head. "No, I know what I'm going to do now." He looked around, grabbing a candle to light, starting to cast a circle in the middle of the floor. "I know what to do now. Oz and Giles knew but they forgot to tell me I could do this." He closed his eyes, stepping inside the circle as he closed it, casting a second one inside it, just to make sure, just like Giles had taught him. He sat in the center, looking at the flame, focusing on it, pulling the power from the Earth into himself as he had been taught. He didn't look up when Doyle walked in, just continued to draw, his body relaxing as he let the native powers take over.
"Leave him," Doyle told Spike. "My vision showed him taking out a great deal of people, not all of them soldiers." He looked toward the young man. "Keep him from harming everyone."
"I'll try," Spike told him, looking over his shoulder. "Does the pouf know?"
"No, and I'm not telling him. This is as close to grief as I ever want anyone to be." Doyle patted the vampire on the shoulder, going back to the main room.
Spike sat, watching Xander stare at the candle.
Angel pointed out the main installation the Initiative had underground, and Xander burned it with a lighter. "No, you can't do that, that's where the hostages are."
"Yeah, but we'll burn it afterwards. I don't want it standing." He looked up and saw the scared look. "Just let me do what I do best and you do what you do best, Angel. Trust me this time." He looked around, staring at Ethan. "You done praying?"
"I hope so," Ethan said. "If not, I'll find out whose going to win the prize of my soul." Xander smiled at him, making the older sorcerer shudder. "What did you do, boy?"
"Leave him alone," Doyle told him. "He's fine." He looked at Angel, who nodded. "What about the other places?"
"I have the other groups fighting at those. All except the lab complex. I figured we'd want to head there ourselves." He jumped back as the building burst into flames, without Xander's lighter anywhere near it. "What the hell?"
"Just leave it alone," Doyle said gently. Angel stared at him. "Leave it be."
"Fine," Angel said, looking around. "Spike, take Xander out to get a last look at the daylight. Stay out of his way."
"Whatever," Spike muttered, following Xander up to the surface, or as near as he could get. "What are you going to do?" He looked at the young man standing in the sunlight, giving him a once over. "You're possessed," he said, sounding just a little shocked.
"All the powers are very sad," Xander told him calmly. "They want the tablets back too." He started to walk. "Come help me when you can."
Spike hurried back down the tunnel, giving Angel a desperate look but his sire didn't move. "You're going to let him do this?"
"We have to," Doyle said, not looking at him. "My vision was clear on this. He's the Hellmouth now."
"Oh, he's more than that," Spike told them. "He's the stones and the Hellmouth. He said none of the Powers were happy that the tablets had been stolen."
Ethan blanched. "Dear Gods, I'm not moving out of this cave." Angel reached over and knocked him out.
"We'll bring him with us," Angel said. "Spike, plan still stands. We head for the hostages first. They forgot the sewer tunnels."
Xander walked past the third Initiative member in thirty feet, nodding at all of them. He even managed to move around Riley before he was grabbed and carted away to their holding compound. He gave the soldiers around him tolerant smiles, even going so far as to reach over and pat Riley's knee, telling him it wasn't his fault and that he understood the boy had been misled. The soldiers snickered.
Until they got into the compound, then Xander was forced in front of a very ordinary looking man who walked around him and looked him over.
"He's human," he said, waving down a hallway. "Apprentice level. Put him with the others." He started to walk away.
"I don't think so," Xander said softly, then raised his hands and created a ball of flame. "This buds for you," he said as he shot it at the examiner, watching dispassionately as he fried. He smirked at Riley, dodging the hits the other soldiers were trying to lay on him. "I told you before, Iowa, you're following the wrong path." He shot the next bolt at the hidden control panel, making it go up in sparks. "You're free," he called. "The chips are scrambled." He glared at the soldiers around him, and they backed away from him, leaving him with Riley.
And Buffy, who was dragged out.
"Take him out," Riley ordered, glaring at his ex-girlfriend.
She shook her head, wincing as the pain started.
"It's all right, Slayer, do as you're told. He won't be mad," Xander told her, making everyone stare. "We are *most* upset with you, Riley Finn," he said, looking at him. "You cannot follow orders very well. There are higher commands than those that give these demented orders." Xander was knocked to his knees by someone hitting his head with a rifle butt. He reached around, looking at the blood that came away on his hand, then at the soldier, who screamed as he started to break down into his component elements. Xander started winds flowing around him, bringing all sort of debris into the middle of the combat area, using it against the Initiative as he got to his feet, nodding at Buffy. "End the pain, Slayer, we won't betray you. This time."
Giles ran out, stopping when he saw Xander standing in the middle of the chaos. "What's going on?" he called, stopping Willow before she could run to him.
"We're most upset, Rupert Giles," Xander told him, "but the boy is unharmed." He looked at Buffy. "The pain will kill you."
"Yay," she growled, holding the sides of her head.
Willow started chanting, bringing her own powers to bear, adding to the winds and using it to blow things into people.
Xander hit Buffy with a light slap at her, snapping her out of her pain and making her attack him. "I'm sorry you had to do this, I'll work on your chip later," he said, letting her know he was still in there too. He used the vampire speed to get behind her and to knock her into the floor with a palm strike to the base of her skull.
"Stop it!" Giles yelled. "You'll kill her."
Xander looked at him and shook his head. "Not this time." He walked closer to him, bringing the winds with him. "You don't know how happy he is to see you." Giles' mouth opened but nothing came out because a door behind them exploded. "He'll tell you later, teacher. For now, he's a little busy." Xander headed for the hallways with cells full of people, glaring at the soldiers he saw, sending them flying off their feet with gusts of wind, making sure everyone was free. "You're free to leave," he told them. "These people won't hurt you anymore." He looked directly at his old boss Elizabeth, nodding at her when she started to say something. "They took what did not belong to them and upset the balance. We are merely acting through him." Xander turned, heading down the corridor containing the demons, making sure that each of them was free too, letting them out to wreck havoc as only their kind could. He looked around, glaring at the nearest soldier, using the wind to pin him to a wall. "Where's his mate?" he growled, baring his teeth.
"Not here," he said quickly, wetting himself. "He went for further study!" The last was screamed as he was slammed into the ceiling. "We had to! We had orders!"
"No one can order a life tortured that way," Xander told him, turning, letting him drop. He walked back to where only Giles was waiting for him. "Aren't you going to help them?"
"Oz needs me more I think," Giles told him, reaching out but not quite touching him. "They have the stones, don't they?"
"The tablets are not yet safe," Xander agreed, "but they are together." He waved at a door and it opened, cracking down the center. "Come, we must go now before he goes insane." He walked down the corridor, heading for the tunnel that would take them to the lab part of the compound.
Spike snuck into the lab, glaring at, then attacking, the single person he saw in there, wiping off his mouth after he was done. "Nasty things, those hormones they give you lot." He walked over to the small cages, looking at all the things trapped in them, stopping in front of the three furry ones. "Which one of you is Oz?"
"The last one," Xander said, moving directly to his bonded partner's cage and releasing him. He caught the furry body, holding it still as he fed energy into it to help Oz regain his usual form. They shared a short kiss then Xander turned him over to Giles. "Spike, get them out of here. No matter what, Oz and Giles are to be safely away."
"Xander, you can't. . . ." Giles protested, but Oz shut him up.
"He's not in there," Oz told him. "Feel him, he's possessed by something."
"The Powers are not pleased," Xander told him, smiling at Spike. "I'm about to fix that part." He headed for a walled off work area, picking up a rifle to blast the control panel so he could get inside. He winced as he saw all the shards of stone lying there, but walked over to pick them up, putting them into a bag he found off to the side. When he had as many as he could find, he looked at the locked box inside a plastic box, shaking his head. "Will they never learn?" he asked, kicking the bottom of the plastic cube to shatter it. He reached inside, grabbing the box, laying his hand on the top of it for a few seconds and closing his eyes. He looked around for the piece he could feel missing, but the explosion in the other room convinced him it could wait. The tablets had always reformed when humans had interfered before. This time wouldn't be any different. All the pieces would find their way back to their rightful spots.
Xander carried his burden out, heading out into the late afternoon, looking up at the sun as it was about to set. "Perfect timing," he said with a smile, heading for the clearing in the woods, unaware that he was being followed by Giles, Oz, and a very heavily cloaked Spike - and a few remaining soldiers armed with spells. Once he got where he was going, he laid out everything he had, starting to assemble the first stone, telling himself what each rune he reconnected meant.
Giles kept Oz out of the way, close enough to listen and close enough to guard, but well outside of the area of the working. He glared at the soldiers coming into the clearing, nodding at Oz to help him. They jumped the six men, each taking out one, then turning the fight into a brawl.
Spike paced back and forth between them, glancing up at the sky every few seconds to figure out when it would be safe for him to join in. It got just dark enough as two of the soldiers knocked Giles down and started to beat on him, Oz being faced by three of his own. Spike growled and took off the cloak, heading over to get in the way of things. "May I join in?" he asked, pulling one of the men off Giles and throwing him into a tree hard enough to stun him. He looked at the ones beating Oz, going to game face so he could attack them and have lunch.
Xander put the last shard together over the amassed center stones, stepping back as he raised his arms above his head and called out the powers that held him in thrall. As the energy left him, he sank to his knees, arms held out at shoulder height, eyes squeezed tightly shut as he continued to force his power out with that of the Hellmouth, the Earth, and the Stones themselves, binding his energy with theirs to help reform the oldest lesson book.
Giles knocked the last soldier out and turned to find Xander almost out on the ground, still leaking energy into the stones, giving them his to sustain them while they healed. He fed some of his own energy through the teaching bond they shared, helping him with his task. As the sucking feeling started, Spike slapped him. "I have to," he complained, trying to push past the vampire.
"The stone contains the void," Spike told him. "That's what's powering the center stones under the glyphs. If you feed it, you become part of it." He looked back at Xander, then at Oz, who was unconscious. "Worry about that one. He'll need it."
Giles glared at him. "Xander is still my student and one of my friends. I will do *whatever* it takes to help him." He pushed past Spike, going over to touch Xander's head, wincing at the pain that flowed back through their bond, working to cut his student off from this. "I can't do it," he said in amazement. "Even weakened, it's stronger than I am."
"It's stronger than everything is," Ethan said dryly as he walked into the clearing. "Except maybe the Hellmouth when it's in full display." He nudged Xander's body, not getting a response. "Can't cut him off?"
"No, help me." He looked up as he knelt, seeing the bland look. "Now, Ethan. Whatever price isn't high enough."
"I want a chunk of the center stone," Ethan said as he mirrored Giles' position, joining hands with him over Xander's back. "That's my price."
"You can't give him a piece of the void," Angel said as he walked into the clearing. "It's done. All that's left are the humans that are chipped."
"We'll figure it out," Giles told him before he closed his eyes, concentrating on releasing Xander from the force pulling him inside it. "Fine, Ethan, you may have a piece of the stone." He felt his power be joined with that of another, a familiar other that he hadn't felt for a while, and together they grabbed onto Xander's energies and pulled, yanking him back inch by inch.
Oz woke up, rolling over, shaking his head when he saw how the two sorcerers were sweating. He called Xander with their bond, enticing him to follow the sound and help those trying to save him. He sighed as he felt Xander come free, blacking out, the pain Xander was radiating too much for him on top of his own.
Angel looked at the unconscious people, giving them a put-upon sigh as he arranged them so they'd be comfortable when they woke up. He hesitated to touch Xander but he pulled him away from the stone, laying him between Giles and Oz. For some reason it just seemed right like that. He turned as he heard footsteps, glaring at Doyle as he walked into the clearing. "You didn't say he'd almost die."
"That wasn't my decision. It was his." Doyle looked down at the trio, giving them a smile. "The tablets will reform, with a few new lessons now. Including one that's a warning to stupid humans." He looked up at Angel. "Leave them. We have to head home. The remaining soldiers are running for LA and are going to give us no end of fits."
"If you say so," Xander said, opening his eyes enough to squint at Doyle. "Need me?"
"No, you go back to sleep. Willow and Buffy are down the way, they'll come up and watch you." He squatted down, brushing through the dark hair. "You did good, Alexander, just what was needed." He stood up, heading out into the woods, followed by a silent Angel.
Willow walked into the clearing, staring at the men in shock. "They do that?" she squeaked.
"Sometimes," Buffy agreed, sitting next to the stone. "I wonder if this is all of it."
"Nope," Xander whispered, burying his head in Oz's neck. "Sleepy."
"You rest, you deserve it," Buffy told him. "We'll figure out my chip next week."
"Or next month," Giles said, looking at her. "There's time now."
She nodded. "Whenever." She touched a marking, smiling as it sparked at her. "Hey, I'm a nice person," she told it, rubbing over it again. "Why can't they be happy and normal?"
A bright flash went off around the three men's bodies, blinding both women, and when they were able to see again, they saw Xander curled up between his men, his injuries starting to heal. The bruises they could see on Oz's face and arms were starting to grow dim, and Giles' injuries started to clear, including the ankle that was looking out of joint.
Buffy looked up at Willow and shrugged. "I guess it's a good."
"We'll figure it out," Willow assured her, sitting next to her. "Don't play with the stone. You've seen what Xander did with it."
"Yeah, the Valleygirl was horrible." She grinned at the subtle pinch. "What about you?"
"I'm back to what I was before I started to experiment on my own," she sighed. "I remember, but I can't do it again." She looked down at her hands. "I was bad, and I admit it, but I can't go back now. I won't be allowed to." She looked over at her friend. "I'd like to start again."
"Hey, you're in my brain, can't get much closer to me. We'll figure it out," she assured, hugging her friend. "After they take a vacation."
"Bahamas," Oz told them. "Shh."
"Sorry," the girls said together and laughed.
Xander groaned, pulling Giles more over top of him. "Shh."
Xander looked up from his position on Giles' couch, giving him a smile. "This feels familiar."
"That's because it is," Giles said as he pushed Xander up and sat under his upper body. "How do you feel?"
"Way energetic, like I could run a marathon, clean the house, and bake cookies."
"Good, that means that you need to heal a bit more before you do anything. That's your reserve rebuilding." He stroked through the dark hair. "You scared me when you first showed up," he admitted.
"I scared me when the thought came to me and I scared Spike when I walked away to be captured." Xander looked up at his teacher. "What did I do anyway?"
"A lot of wind, some pyrotechnics. Basic fighting strategies used in a concise manner to get everyone out of yours, and our, way."
Oz snorted, waking himself up. "Huh?" he asked, looking around. "Did I miss something?"
"Only the fact that Xander's starting to feel better."
"And that he's decided he needs some major training. Serious, nothing held back training. In both magic and the new vamp stuff. I moved really *fast*. I remember that much."
"I'll train you," Giles told him, giving his young lover and student a kiss to the back of his head over the healed scar. "Now that I don't have charge over Buffy anymore, I'll need something to do to keep me out of trouble."
"Hey, I'm good for that," Xander said, giving Giles a smile. He looked at Oz. "Still want to help me?"
"Yup. You're as interesting as I need." Oz rubbed down the legs he had over his lap. "All the excitement I need is right here." He shifted so he was lying behind Xander's legs, head on the young sorcerer's stomach. "I'm going to finish my nap. Night."
"Night," Xander said softly, rubbing down the relaxed shoulders. He looked at the piece of stone Ethan had refused to take, citing it wasn't the deal he had made, and smiled. Everything would be all right for a while longer.
To Be Continued?