To Do Something.

Xander was on patrol when he saw the lights from the old hellmouth in the ruins of the school.  He carefully walked that way, crossbow held at the ready, sure it was just some demon trying to do a magical something next to it.  What he saw was stranger than that.  He walked into the glow of the light from the open spot inside the hellmouth.  "Hi."

"Oh, hello."  He smiled, looking around.  "This isn't Niagra's hellmouth, is it?"

"No, this is Sunnydale.  How are you standing in the open hellmouth and the kraken's not coming out?  Just for future reference."

The man, because he did look human, stared at him.  "Lad, who're you?"


"Where's the guardian.  They should be doing this, not you."

"She's probably at home," he lied.  "Besides, she's got helpers here."  He gave him a look.  "Why?"

"Has she been gone long?"

"She might've snuck off for a picnic with the new boyfriend to the beach but no."  He looked him over again.  Dress pants, shiny shoes with matching socks.  Lighter colored button up dress shirt with short sleeves.  No tie.  Tanned skin that made his, what Xander took for, Hispanic heritage look like it was healthy.  Dark hair cut messily short but fashionable still.  "Who're you?"

"I'm Roger, dear boy."  He smiled.


"No.  No, we do loathe them so."  He smiled.  "I should be off."

"Human?" Xander asked, trying to figure out what was going on.

"Of course.  No demon could travel this way."  He gave him an odd look.  "You should probably warn your guardian that she's weakening her protection over this area.  Bad things could happen."  Then he stepped back into the brighter part of the glow, heading off into it.

Xander stared at the slowly fading spot of glowiness, then looked around.  "Okay, this is beyond Hellmouth strange," he muttered.  He headed back to the Magic Box, walking in to find Spike still there.  "Good, you're here.  Why would a human be able to use the hellmouth like a highway and make it glow from an open spot that didn't have the kraken monster coming out?"

Spike stared at him.  "Did you hit your head again!" he demanded.

"No!"  He put down the crossbow.  "It was glowing.  He was standing in the glow.  He said  his name was Roger and he made sure this wasn't Niagra.  We exchanged a little bit of information and he said the guardian's protection was getting weak, bad things were going to happen, before he walked back into the glowy spot and disappeared!" he finished at a near yell.

Spike shook his head.  "Still think you hit your head, whelp."

"Spike," he growled.

"No one can do that.  It's impossible."

"He said only humans could."

"Maybe it was magic gone wrong then."

"Is there a hellmouth near Niagra?"

Spike considered it then shrugged.  "Don't know.  Never really interested me.  I only came here to see the Poufter so Dru'd get better."  He lit a cigarette and took a puff.  "You calmer now?"

"No!"  He went to find a book.  Giles had a book for everything, he had to have a book for this too.  "Call Giles for me please?  Ask which book would have it?"  He found a source and smiled.  "Never mind about that part.  Call him anyway so I can tell him what happened."

"He'd be in meetings," Spike told him.  "It's eight hours difference."

Xander looked at his watch.  "That means it's eight over there, Spike. Even Watchers eat breakfast."  He picked up the phone to call while he looked it up.  "Buffy, me.  Strange stuff."  He rolled his eyes at her put-upon sigh.  He knew she was having a vacation with Giles so they could deal with the Watcher situation and Travers.  Again.  "Someone just used the hellmouth like a highway.  It was glowing and he stepped into it to disappear.  No kraken monster was there.  He said only humans could do it and pulled a Bugs Bunny.  No, not Albuquerque, Niagra, up in New York.  The place with the waterfalls, Buffy.  Well, ask Giles then!" he said hotly.  "Because it was strange, Buffy.  He also said that the guardian's work was getting a bit weaker since he could do this.  Said worse things were coming.  Roger.  I asked, he said only humans could do it if that helps Giles.  Yeah, he said guardian, not slayer.  Not like *I* have a clue, Buffy.  I'm not a Watcher."

He rubbed his forehead, putting the book onto the counter.  "Then hand him the phone.  Sure, next time the monsters can come out.  Do you want *me* to handle that or Spike?" he asked dryly, cracking Spike up.  "Don't make me get the crossbow, Spike."  He listened to her complain.  "Just put him on!" he shouted finally.  She hung up.  He groaned, hanging up on their end.  "Fine.  We'll handle it ourselves, Miss Spoiled.  God, why didn't I help Faith instead," he muttered.  He went back to his research of the moment.  "Here it is.  There's a small convergence of power behind one of the waterfalls on the Canadian side."  Spike came over to look.  "Any ideas now?"

"Not a one," he admitted. "I can call Peaches."

"No, I'll call Angel.  You'll annoy him to no end."  He called him.  "Fred?  It's Xander.  Strange, strange crap just happened.  Like someone using the hellmouth as a highway.  Is Wes there?  I need super research Watchery brains I think."  He smiled.  "Thanks.  Sure, I can tell you what happened.  Want me to write it and fax it or just tell you?"  He nodded, repeating the whole story for her and Angel since he was listening in according to her.  "Please.  I found out that there's another convergence, but it doesn't call it a hellmouth, up behind a waterfall in Niagra Falls.  Please.  No, she's in Britain with Giles.  Willow and Tara are touring the Northeast college towns.  It's me and Spike and of course it had to be *me* who ran into the strange shit."  Angel said something so he took the phone to find that book.  "I have it.  Which section am I looking in?" he asked as he pulled it down and opened it.  "Huh.  More hellmouths."

"Never got told that either," Spike said dryly.  He looked.  "It looks like a constellation map Dru used ta have."

Xander looked at him.  "Angel said he knew that.  That's why he bought it for her."  Spike snorted and walked off shaking his head.  "Any ideas how it happened, Angel?  Well, I don't want more showing up and he did say that the guardian's strength was weakening. He specifically asked if she was out of town.  No, he didn't add a gender.  Just guardian.  Not slayer, guardian."  He listened to his theory.  "Okay, and which one is that, Angel?  Willow, Buffy, or Giles?"  He shrugged at the 'I don't know'.  "Think Wes would?"  He grinned.  "Please.  I'll be working again tomorrow but I'm working here in the store.  Thanks, man."  He hung up and looked at Spike.  "Wes might know what that means.  He doesn't think it's a bad happening soon but we're to be more alert and he'll pump his contacts down that way."

"Could be nothing."

"Yeah and it happened the week Buffy and Giles went to England and Willow's gone," Xander said sarcastically.  "The demonic travel agency made the reservations far in advance to anticipate their plans."

"Could have," Spike admitted.  "Though they use portals not hellmouths."  He shrugged, looking at the map again.  "The Sleeping Lady," he read.

Xander frowned.  "Huh?"

"Name of the constellation map.  Dru called her the Sleeping Lady."  He pointed.  "One wrist's next to the body.  The other spot's her palm.  Mouth, heart, groin, knees, feet," he said, pointing at each one.  "She used to love talking about the pelvic one in Gibralter."

"Gibralter.  Like the rock thingy?"

"It's a country too," he said impatiently.

"Geography here was back in sixth grade and they messed up which one was Florida, Spike."

He shuddered.  "How Red ever got so smart, I'll never know."

"She did it on her own."  He looked at the phone.  "Think she knows?"

"Probably not.  Seems higher.  Rupes might, not sure."  He looked around.  "Did you finish the patrol?"

"I missed the last two cemeteries for the glowing guy."

"I'll do 'em," he said, sounding put out.  He grabbed his duster and headed out to get into trouble and a fight.  He could use a good fight.

Xander rested his head on the book.  "Someone must've planned this," he said finally, going to find the prophecy books.  It had a keyword index in the back.  He found the ones that mentioned guardians and looked at them first.  Then he went back to check, finding one for Sleeping Lady.  He read that one slowly, frowning at it.  "Huh?  It wasn't in English but he read that language fairly well.  It made less sense to him than Dru talking to Willow about her period had that one time he had dreamed it thanks to some bad burritos.  He paced while he reread it, slowly working out the twisted phrases.  Even thinking like Yoda wasn't helping this time.  Spike stomped in a few hours later, bloody and messy.  "Read this," he ordered, holding the book for him.

Spike looked at it then shook his head.  "Battier than Dru."

"Worse than Yoda," Xander agreed.  He showed him the front cover.  They had gotten a lot of work from that book in the last few years.

"Let me copy that for Peaches after I clean up."

"I can photocopy it," Xander offered, going to the office to do that then to fax it to Wes's office.


Down in LA, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce was coming back in from a night on the town, smiling and happy until he saw his boss's look.  "What blew up?" he sighed in frustration.

"Xander had a person traveling by the hellmouth through something he called a glow."  Wesley cocked an eyebrow up, shaking his head slowly.  Angel nodded.  "The guy said something about the guardian being weak or missing.  He thought he was going to Niagra Falls and came out there."  He handed over the prophecy.  "He found that once Spike identified the constellation picture of the other hellmouths."

"There's more than Cleveland's and Sapporo's?"

"I bought Dru a map of the Sleeping Lady, Wes."

Wesley frowned.  "I've never heard of that."

"Harris did say that the guy said only humans could when he asked if he was a demon."

"Interesting."  He read over the prophecy, frowning.  "Which book...."  Angel handed over Wesley's copy.  "Oh, one of ours. Usually they're so much more clear."  He read the copy then the one in his hand.  "It copied faithfully."  He felt around the page, no indents or special markings/drawings/notes hidden by scratching them in.  He went to call him, figuring he was up.  Something like this would drive the boy insane until he heard from him.  "Xander, Wesley.  Step by step, lad.  Slowly.  What happened?"  Xander told him in precise detail.  "In the hellmouth?"  He frowned at the description of the opening.  "That's definitely odd.  You're sure he said guardian, ungendered?"  He nodded slowly.  "All right then.  No, let me do some thinking and researching.  Yes, I do have that book.  And that one as well," he admitted, grabbing it off his shelf to look up the constellation and other information.

"No, we're taught about Sunnydale, Cleveland, and Sapporo, Japan.  I had no idea there was one in Gibralter.  Oh, Dru liked it.  Interesting."  He frowned as he read.  "I'll check up on it.  Who's where in case we need them?"  He made notes on his notepad about where everyone was presently and their numbers.  "I'll call Rupert, Xander.  Don't worry about it.  Yes, I'll tell him you tried and Buffy hung up on you.  Try to get some rest.  It'll take me a few days possibly.  If anything else should happen, call us.  Yes, going out with Spike would be for the best for now.  You try to rest, Xander."  He hung up and called Rupert after glancing at his watch.  "Amanda, dear, I need to speak to Rupert and I know he's there somewhere.  Because someone just walked out of the hellmouth and asked if they were in Niagra Falls.  Well, Spike seemed to think it had something to do with other convergence points.  Possibly with this very odd prophecy I have here about a sleeping lady?"  He smiled at her snort of disgust.  "I know it's odd but it did happen.  No, Harris didn't hit his head.  Spike made sure of that already I'm sure.  Please.  I'm at the Hyperion.  Thank you, dear."  He hung up and got to work researching, which was one of the things he did best.

"Any idea if Harris was having a hallucination?" Angel asked.

"I doubt it.  It was too detailed.  He even knew the colors of his clothes."  He frowned at him.  "Besides, Xander's not one to take a hallucinogenic substance then go on patrol.  Or at least I've never heard that rumor.  Has he?"

"Not that I've heard but he has had a lot of head injuries."

"Yes, well, so have we all during our training times, Angel.  Even you before you were turned I'm sure."  He went back to reading.  This prophecy was going to drive him insane.  "Perhaps it's one that needs a key to translate it?" he mumbled.

"The DuLac cross is in Giles' apartment," Angel said before leaving.

Wesley looked it over, finding that it was a spiral code pattern.  He traced the usual spirals until one finally made sense.   What he saw chilled him.  If this was what was happening, the world was doomed; a slayer wasn't going to be enough this time.


Xander came in from patrol a few  nights later banged up.  Even Spike had a split lip and a few good bruises.  He called Willow since Buffy had her phone habitually turned off and had made sure Giles couldn't or wouldn't answer his if he called.  "Willow, me.  Can you find a way to see if the hellmouth is acting up?"  He shifted with a small moan.  "You never found something like a warning bell that would've let you know when it was doing a build-up to opening?"  He leaned on the counter.  "Yes, we kinda are, Willow.  I don't know why I'd think that.  Sixteen new higher level vamps just moved into town with a u- haul.  No, I'm sure they weren't turned and they weren't minions.  Because even Spike looks like hell and they were good enough to duck crossbow bolts."  He heard her say something to Tara.  "Okay, here's an idea.  How close are you to Niagra Falls?"  He frowned.  "Fifty miles?  Any way you can check on *that* convergence said you said you can't log into the one here?  I know it's fifty miles, Willow.  I'm not asking you to do the impossible.  It's a tourist spot.  You could check and then hit  your next town.  Because we had someone step out of ours asking if we were Niagra Falls."  He frowned.  "I did try to call Buffy.  She got huffy at the interruption of her vacation.  Willow, whine.  She's had vacations too.  Not like we all haven't.  Yeah, well, mine was two years ago, Willow.   Sure, you come stake the last four of those vampires since we couldn't."  He hung up, looking at Spike.  "Why do I bother?"

"I don't know," he said, shrugging a bit.  "Always wondered why you did this to yourself."

"You know, years ago I would've died to protect Buffy.   Now...."  He walked off toward the kitchen.  "Want an ice pack or a blood pack?"

"Take some blood."  He went to make it, coming out to find Angel in the store.  "Perfecting the vampire ninja skills?" he joked.

"Of course."  Xander came out with an ice pack held to his side.  "Minions?"

"Childer," Spike said.  "Sixteen new ones.  Had a u-haul even."

Angel shook his head at that.  "Wesley said it can't be happening now.  There's still guardians, Xander."

"Um, yeah, but not here.  They're in New England and old England."  He shifted the ice pack to his sore wrist.  "By the way, if you wanted to there's four of them left.  They're moving into the house by the Pertry Music Store."  Angel nodded at that.  "Please, have them."  He sat down.  "If it's not that, what is it?"

"He has no idea.  He did say it's not possible since the prophecy said no guardians would come to stop them."

"Well, gee, Buffy won't answer her phone and Willow huffed when I suggested she go to Niagra Falls," Xander told him.

Spike coughed.  "She's keeping the Watchers out of it too."

"Wesley called someone.  They said it can't be time either.  They're still alive and they think the guardian clause talks about them."

"And yet again, they're in England," Xander said dryly.  "Have been now for about a week and a half.  The hellmouth's clearly building up and Willow never thought to put a warning light or bell on it."

"That'd take energy," Angel reminded him.

"So hook it into the energy there," Xander said.  "So if it reaches a certain level it goes off."

Angel frowned.  "I didn't think about that."

"Neither did she."  He shifted the ice pack to his other wrist.  "So what do we do?  Willow's not due back until the second of September.  Tara's with her.  Buffy's not due back for another two weeks.  In four days we've gone from strange guy to really nasty vamps.  It's not a hill I like the looks of."

Angel nodded.  "I can ask around for you."

"That'd be great but Willie closed up three days ago and boarded up the bar," Xander said, staring him down.  Angel groaned.  "I know I'm not panicking.  We can prove there's something going on."

"There must be," Spike agreed.  "Willie'd hide, not run like that.  He even left the blood and liquor, Peaches."

"That's a bad sign," Angel decided.  "Let me ask around.  You'll be up for a few more hours?"  Xander nodded, waving the ice pack a bit.  "I'll try to be back by a reasonable human hour."

"I'm used to it.  Anytime before dawn.  We open at ten."

Angel nodded, walking out to ask around.  What he found disturbed him.  There were more vampires but fewer regular demons.  Except for the very violent ones.  The last time he'd seen this sort of build-up, the Ascension was about to happen.   That was not a good indication.  He stopped to call Wesley after dealing with the five vampires in that house - one had apparently come later.  "Wes, me.  We're building up vampires here and all the harmless, semi-harmless, and everything to the level of psychotic is gone.  Willie packed up and left his stock.  Yeah, I think we have a problem."  He turned and flinched when the demon behind him got in a lucky shot, knocking him out.

The demon smirked.  "Lunch," he said, leaning down.  Spike pounced him and knocked him out, then took the phone and carried his sire off.  "Hey, my lunch!" he called after him.

"Tough, bloke, suck on someone else.  The slayer'd have your hide for touching her boy."  He walked him into the shop and put him down, then looked at Xander.  "We need to put protections on the store."

"I don't know magic, Spike," Xander said dryly.  "I suggested once that I learn enough to get me out of a locked room in case I'm kidnaped again and Giles threw a fucking fit."

Spike grimaced. "Any on the store?"

"Ask Willow."  He tossed him the phone.  "She's still the last number."  He went back to searching.  "Why the worry?"

"Only vamps and the psychos in town according to him."  He called her.  "Red, Spike.  We got any protections on the store?"  He frowned.  "Because we're down to only the bad demons, love.  Yeah, them.  No, nothing lesser.  Hmm, think it's a problem now?" he asked dryly.  "One knocked Angel out so it could eat him."  He frowned, squeezing his eyes shut at her complaining.  "Not like you let the whelp learn," he shot back.

Xander snorted at that.  "No, she threw a louder fit.  Said she'd come for me.  Or that Buffy would.  Then I'd have to hear them complain because I got captured since no one wants to train me in how to do anything unless I learn on my own."

"Red, if we don't, we might not have a store," Spike said bluntly.  "We don't have any of them in town.  They all left.  Everything but the barmy and vamps.  Even the minions are leaving."  He smirked at her incensed, pouty voice.  "Then next time don't all take a vacation together."  He hung up.  "She said there's not any.  Rupes has some now and then.  They put on ones for the specific problem."

"Charming."  He sighed, looking around, then at Angel.  "All right.  I'm going to pull up my inner soldier.  We're in deep.  Do we have a fall back position?"

Spike nodded slowly.  "Your place."

"My place isn't secure," Xander pointed out.  "Anywhere off the hellmouth that's not Angel's hotel?"  Spike shook his head.  "Find us one."  Spike nodded, starting to call around to see if anyone had a storage area.  Xander looked around the store.  "We'll never move all this in time."  He came over to wake Angel up, handing him the ice pack.  "Need it now?"

"Thanks," he mumbled, looking around.  "Where's Spike?"

"Finding us a fallback spot.  Yours is too well known."  He looked around.  "What in here absolutely should go magically and research speaking?"

Angel looked at him.  "Giles doesn't have a list?"

"Not that I've seen.  We haven't packed the store fully since he took it over."

"Hell," he muttered.

"Yes, we're here now," Xander said dryly.  He walked off.  "Let me know, I'm going to find boxes.  At the very least we'll have plans even if we don't need 'em."

"No, you probably will," Angel admitted.  He saw his phone and called Wesley.  "I'm okay.  What in the store do they need to pack just in case?"  He nodded, settling in to make a list of the books.  Xander looked then went to gather.  He watched Spike move.  "Spike, does your car still carry wards?"

Spike stared at him and nodded.  "Of course."

"Then we can store most of it in your trunk?" Xander asked.  "Then move the car wherever?"  Spike nodded they could do that.  They carried things out to it, coming back to shoot the demon rats that came up through the sewer entrance.  He tossed them into the alley then went back to carrying stuff Wesley said was important.  The two books on the prophecy and that map went into his car, just in case.  Spike gave him a nod for that.  They finished the books and moved to the weapons.  Then the magical supplies.  They were in nifty shipping boxes and bags.  Easy enough to pack into the back seat with boxes of candles and things to burn them on or mix them in.  A few more trips and Angel nodded they were done.  Spike locked and settled in his car until the sun started to come up.  Xander checked the rest of the store, finding some files Giles had been hiding plus Giles' Watcher diary on Buffy.  He also made sure the register's funds were in the same bag as the deposit.  Just in case.  Because he was having a bad feeling now.  He smiled at Angel.  "Want to head back or hide here?"

"I should head back for now.  If you have to run, call us."

"Of course.  If so, how do we combat this?  Not like we can blow up the school again."

Angel shrugged.  "We'll figure it out, Harris.  We always do."  He headed back to his car, taking it back to LA.  Halfway there the radio he had playing quietly came on with a report of a fire in Sunnydale.  He groaned.  They had been right.  That was Xander's apartment building.  A few more fires got set.  Buffy's home.  He hoped they got Joyce out all right.  He nearly turned around but Fred called to babble at him that they needed him in LA ASAP and he had to be there *now*.  He sped up and got there just before the sun came up, finding the hotel filled with demons seeking asylum.  The world was going to end. There was no way around it.


Xander sent Spike off when the police scanner they had in the shop reported the fire at his place, sending a silent prayer that the other tenants made it out of there.  He grabbed a last few things he thought he might need, including some extra weapons, and headed to his car, heading out after Spike.  He knew where they were to meet up at.  It was an old derelict building just past the college.  Outside the sphere of Sunnydale's influence.  They parked inside then covered the hole in the side of the building so it'd look like it was still whole or at least not in use.  Then they settled down to wait out the day.  The police scanner was giving off quiet reports all day.  Around noon the Magic Box went up.  He called Joyce's store to check on her.  They had reported they had gotten her out when her house went.  "Hey, me.  You good?"  He smiled.  "Good.  Get out of Sunnydale, Joyce.  Because we're down to me and Spike.  We left too.  No, we're safe.  Get out of Sunnydale, Joyce.  Go somewhere warm and have yourself a vacation.  I'm serious.  Do it now.  Because if you don't there's every chance they'll try the gallery too.  They've gotten my place, your place, the Magic Box, Giles' place, and tried the college but the sprinkler defeated it, Joyce.  Go now."  He nodded.  "I don't care.  Leave the town, Joyce."

Spike took the phone.  "Love, leave the town," he said calmly.  "He's right.  S'not safe."  He smiled.  "We can do that later.  No, not Hell-A.  He's got his own issues.  They'll be overrun.  Go east."

"Stay out of Cleveland," Xander called quietly.  He got up to check outside, finding someone staring at the building.  He walked outside, nodding at him.  "Officer."

"Who're you?"

"We just got our shop burned and gutted in Sunnydale by something that's going after us. We were running the Magic Box while the owner's in England.  They got my place, his place, the shop.  We decided to be paranoid.  We're hiding here today then leaving."

He nodded at that.  "Probably should.  They're going to demolish this next week."

"We'll be gone by then," Xander promised.  "Not an issue.  Thanks for the warning though."

That got a nod.  "Any idea who's doing it?"

"If I did, I'd put them on a spit and roast 'em," Xander said dryly.  That got a smirk and a nod then the officer walked back to his car to head off.   He walked back inside.  "Got a place for tonight?"

"Peaches is overrun," he said.  "I don't know what's going on."

"Well, someone has to call Giles and tell him the store's burnt.  And his place.  And Joyce's house, our place.  Someone tried the college."  He flopped back down.  "What about down near the beach?  There's got to be empty places down there.  I know how to turn on the electric and water if we must."  Spike smirked at him.  "Construction is a useful tool."  He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and then his chin on his balled up fists.  "Phone?"  It was handed over.  He called the emergency number Giles had left for the Council.  "Hi.  It's Xander Harris.  Can you please tell Giles that the problem he said we're not having just burned his shop, his apartment, my apartment, and Buffy's mother's house?  Thank you."  He hung up.  "Let him kill that messenger."  Spike snickered at that.  "I'm not that brave."  He looked at him.  "Find us somewhere?"

"I don't know anyone who's left."

"The beach is outside the usual radius."

"Not now it's not.  My contacts all the way to the next county are gone."

"Okay.  Any ideas?  Anything vampy that we can take over?"

Spike considered it then nodded.  "There's a lair.  The Master's backup lair."  Xander nodded at that.  "It's out that way.  Used to send the lower ones out there so they'd quit annoying him."  He lit up and inhaled deeply, then let it out slowly.  "Could be full."

"Flame.  Thrower."

"Good point, bit."  He smirked.  "Knew you had some brains rattlin' around in there.  Had to get knocked loose sometimes."

Xander snorted, giving him a look.  "I can plan things, Spike.  I'm not that weak, even if no one will train me to do more than stake and chop."  He went back to watching outside in case whatever demon this was attacked them there.


Giles took the message as he walked past the receptionist, smiling and laughing with an old college friend.  He read it then turned to glare at her.  "Excuse me?" he said less than politely.

"Mr. Harris called, Rupert.  He said to tell you that.  He also said you could tell Buffy.  He hung up before I could ask any confirming questions and it did come up an unknown number so probably a cellphone."

He growled, stomping over to call Xander's cellphone, getting Spike.  "What the bloody hell happened!" he demanded.  He listened to the short report Xander gave once he took his phone back.  "You didn't...."  He let out a calming breath.  "You couldn't call here?"  He glared at the receptionist, who shrunk down.  "You didn't tell me he had called before?"

"He sounded like he was joking!" she defended.

"Clearly not."  He listened to the boy telling him what they had gotten out.  "Joyce?"  He smiled at the 'getting the hell out of town' answer.  "Good boy, Xander.  What do you have planned now and do we know the cause?"  He listened to the report of the first  night's problem and that he had told Wesley when Buffy had hung up on him and turned off the phone.  "I thought it had been peaceful.  Willow?"  That answer didn't please him either.  "I do know that prophecy and he's right.  It shouldn't be happening now.  There's still Watchers."  Xander made a very valid point.  "That could be," he sighed.  "All right, stay hidden, Xander.  We'll be home in two days."  He hung up and looked at his curious friend.  "There's a small problem.  The hellmouth is starting to build again and the world's going to end because Buffy turned off the phone so he couldn't inform me of someone using the hellmouth for personal transportation between the things," he said genteelly.

"That's not possible for demons."

"No but not all bad things are demons, Carl."  He clapped him on the arm.  "I should probably inform Travers if Wesley hasn't.  Raincheck on our lunch?"

"Of course.  Where is Buffy?"

"Shopping."  He called her cellphone.  "Get back here now.  Because your mother's house was just burned, Buffy.  She's fine.  Xander's having her evacuate.  Because his house was also burned.  As was mine and the Magic Box."  She said something bitterly about her lack of vacation.  "None of the other girls got one either, Buffy.  Get back here now or I'm suspending the credit card."  He hung up and went to find Travers.  He nodded at his secretary.  "He in?"

"He said he's not going to see you."

"That's nice," he said, walking over to the doors.  When they proved to be locked, he kindly kicked one in. "The hellmouth is being overrun because there's no guardians there?  Are there any in Niagra?"  Travers gaped.  "Quentin!" he snapped.  "The demons are starting to win."

"They can't!  There's still Watchers!"

"Yes, but the prophecy says that they need to be *there*.  Xander is many things but not a guardian.  He did not take the oath.  He's not a Watcher.  You didn't even ask Wesley or a trainee to sit on it?"  Travers moaned.  "Five days ago someone was using the hellmouth as personal transport to Niagra.  Xander talked to him, said his name was Roger?"


"He didn't mention a last name.  Said he had dark hair.  Dressed nicely.  Polished shoes, button up, dress pants.  No tie.  No tattoos he saw."

Travers got into his computer to do a name search, letting him see the three possible results.  "Any of them?"

Giles looked them over then tapped one.  "He's a higher level magic user.  He'd know about the prophecy."  He let him see that file, looking at him.  "Niagra?"

"Has one switching out this week.  The other should already be there.  Sapporo too."

"What about Gibralter?" Giles asked.  Travers gave him a slightly confused look.  "The Sleeping Lady diagram, Quentin.  I taught that class, I know you passed it."

He pulled up the diagram in the Watchers' database, frowning.  "Gibralter was covered until he died last year.  Costa Rica was Kendra and her Watcher.  I'm not sure who's there now."  He called up an area query then shook his head.  "He's still there.  He hasn't done his check-in this week.  No, wait, he's listed at a historical conference in Cuba for the rest of this month."  He looked at the other points, frowning.  "The vacation was bad timing," he said finally.

"How do we fix it?  Would us showing back up help?"

"Probably not fully.  It might stymie whatever plan they have."  He stood up.  "You should get back."

"I shall.  We have tickets for two days from now.  That'll give us enough time to research.  Do you have anyone near there other than Wesley?  Anytime something bad happens, LA gets overrun.  Angel must be swearing at us by now."  Buffy stomped in with her bags.  "Good of you to show back up," he said.

"My mother?"

"Xander's having her leave the town, Buffy.  It's not safe."

"What happened!  Xander had that cracked-out hysterical moment and all of a sudden the world is ending?  Did he date again?" she demanded.

He glared at her.  "No, the fact is that there's no guardians on the Hellmouth who've vowed to protect it."

"So I have to go back?"

"It's a Watchers' job, Buffy," Travers said briskly.  "In this instance you're secondary defense and Willow's behind you.  Xander is closer to being what we need than not."  He looked at him.  "He could take the vow."

"If this is going on, I want him off the hellmouth," Giles said simply.  Travers opened his mouth.  "He is a medium," he reminded him quietly.  "They're not allowed to take the oath for a reason.  Right now we have him and Spike."

Travers winced.  "I'll get the one from Nevada out there."  He called, finding him not answering.  He tried his other contact number for his girlfriend.  Still no answer.  He logged onto the system to find him, finding him dead and his girlfriend too.  Home invasion.  He found the next nearest one that was alive and called them.  "It's Travers.  Get to Sunnydale.  I don't care if she is in labor.  Giles is here and no one called in support."  He got hung up on.  "Well!"

"No one's going to leave in that situation," Giles said dryly.  He called one he knew used to be a Watcher. "Philip, Giles.  The hellmouth is doing what?"  The succinct answer of 'bringing the world into hell' wasn't a welcome one.  "There's no guardian.  No one realized they hadn't sent a replacement for me while I brought Buffy over.  Thank you.  No, his wife is in labor.  Thank you."  He hung up.  "Philip Mercer is in Oregon."

"Thank God," Travers said, sitting down again.  "You sure you can wait that long?"

"It'll take me that long to look up some reference sources."

"Please do.  This is an emergency we don't need right now."  Giles nodded and they left together.


Tara paged Willow's phone again, watching the news coverage in the tv store's window.  She came out of the coffee shop with a sigh of complaint.  "Look," she said, pointing.

Willow stared, frowning.  "That's Joyce's house!"  She called Xander's phone.  "What the hell happened, Xander!  It's on Headline News!"  Spike took the phone from the sleepy human to give her a report.  She snorted.  "It can't be, Spike.  That's not possible."  She sipped her coffee.  "Why would they burn Xander's place?  Joyce's I can understand."     The news that her parents house had went up an hour ago made her growl.  "So they're going after all of us?"  She nodded once.  "Fine. We'll be there when we can.  No, if he says to leave, leave.  Well, he did do some planning for us.  He's got to have an idea."  She hung up and looked at Tara.  "The things are retaliating for helping Buffy."

Tara stared at her then walked off shaking her head.  It was her car and she could drive it.  She'd leave without Willow if she had to.  She looked at her over the door before getting in.  "Well?"  Willow huffed but came over to get in so they could pack and head back.  This trip had been a mistake.  Willow was still giving her evil looks but she didn't care.  It was the right thing to do.


Xander looked up from their new hiding spot when Spike came back.  "Anything good going on?"

"Free blood to the vamps."  He held up the four baggies he had.  He sat down on the old, worn out couch, ignoring all the scents that had built up on it over the years.  "Heard the news yet?"

"About Giles' plane going down?" he asked grimly.  "They're not dead."  He looked at him.  "I know very well they're not dead and it was magical in nature."  Spike nodded.  "Did you tell Wes?"

"Angel called me.  He agreed."  He shifted, glancing around the old hideout.  "Now what?"

"Well, we have a few options, Spike.  We can jump in or we can wait on Willow to get to Angel and them to come help us jump in."  He handed him that stake.  "Here, a new one."

"Thanks.  Lost mine earlier.  Older vamps thought it was funny."

Xander looked at him then shrugged.  "We all knew demons had a strange sense of humor.  Think Anya knew about this when she dumped me?"

"Possibly," he admitted.  "She packed and left in a hurry to go to Las Vegas."

"Yeah, she did.  I'm hoping she got VD or something from one of the hookers."  He picked up some wood to work on the next one.  "You tell Angel where we are?"

"Peaches is overrun too."

Xander nodded once.  "Then what do we do, Spike?"  He looked at him.  "You know more about this than I do."

Spike considered it.  "Watchers take an oath.  Life's blood sort of thing.  One to protect."

Xander frowned.  "They do?"  Spike nodded.  "Think it's in anything we have?"

Spike went to look, coming back with a journal a while later.  "This has it."  He let Xander see it.  "Never let mediums do it though.  Said it warps 'em."

"Too late for that in my case," he muttered, reading over the rite.  "Would this seal this problem?"

"Could slow it down.  Maybe give us a few more weeks."

Xander looked at it.  "Any other Watchers coming you think?"

Spike shrugged.  "I'm not Dru, mate.  Don't read minds."

Xander pulled out his cellphone, calling England.  "Travers please.  Harris. I heard Giles and Buffy went down."  He was put on hold and another voice came on.   "You don't sound like Travers.  It is.  Did another girl get called?  Well, Buffy is still a slayer born."  He smirked.  "Okay, then how about this.  Is there another Watcher coming to the hellmouth?  We kinda need a guardian here since that's what's causing the issues that let their plane be taken down by magic.  We know it was by magic.  The demons told us," he said dryly.  He went back to carving the stake while the phone rested against his shoulder.  "Lady, I do know that.  I've been helping Buffy since the day she got here.  So yeah, we know.  There's no guardian here.  At all.  Well, gee, it's down to the psycho demons now and us.  What do you want us to do?" he asked dryly.  "Never mind.  Tell Travers to get us a Watcher.  If he can't do that, I'm going to have to jump in farther and take the same vow."  He hung up and looked at him.  "Snotty bitches your kind put out."

Spike laughed.  "You have no idea."  He relaxed, listening to the area around them.  One thing got his attention.  "Company."

Xander looked at him.  "Get the stuff and go."

"I fight better."

"And I'm still more than most people think, Spike.  You've got the majority of the crap.  Go!"  Spike went to take the stuff to safety.  Xander found a weapon and waited.  It wasn't a long wait.  Three vampires came strolling in.  "Sorry, we're closed.  You mind going home now?"

"Oooh, look, he's got a stake," one said dryly.

Xander looked then shrugged and put it into his front pocket.  "And other things."  He flipped the switch on the weapon in his other hand, burning them with the flame thrower.  "See?"  He waved at their charred remains.  "I feel better now even if you do stink."

Another vampire walked in clapping his hands.  "Nice show."



"Oh, charming.  Why?"

"No clue."

Xander shrugged.  "Got happy when the plane went down?"

"No.  I woke up like this.  Wesley wasn't happy before he got taken away from me."

"Even better."  He flipped the switch again.  "Don't make me kill you too."

"See, there's no one who can put the soul back this time," he said smugly.

"You mean like Willow?  She's somewhere no the east coast."

"Nah, she had a crash.  Pity."  He smirked.  "It was probably her death that caused it to slip again."

Xander pulled out a necklace to look at it then at him.  "No, she's still alive.  Hurt but alive.  Tara's fine too."  Angelus glared at him.  He waved it a bit then tucked it into his shirt.  "The many things wacky friends do for you."

"You have no hope of doing this, boy.  We will win."

Xander snickered.  "Yeah, so said the Master too.  Where's he now?"  He shot a burst of flame at Angel's feet.  "Remember, I don't like you, Angelus.  I don't care if you have a soul or not."  The vampire moved carefully to the side and got another one.  "Shoo.  Go.  We're going to fight sooner or later but it won't be today."  Angelus sneered, going to vampire face before rushing.  Xander set his pants on fire, making him shriek and flail until it was out.  "Any questions?"

"This isn't over with, Harris.  You will bow before me."

"You should've asked Cordy about what happened in her wish verse, Angel."  He smirked a bit evilly.  "I'm told I was the right hand of the Master there and you were my toy."  Angelus stomped off and he got into his car, putting the flame thrower down beside him.  He saw the journal and ran to get it then back into the car and headed off after Spike.  He had no idea where he was going.  But he did know where he'd have to stop.  He found him holding up the liquor store and stopped long enough to get out and lean on the hood.  "Spike, Angel slipped his soul.  Willow was in a car crash," he called.  "We've got to go now!"  Spike rushed out and they headed for their next point.  He could follow Spike.  He knew he wouldn't be leading him into a trap this time.  Too much rested on his shoulders and the world ending would make Spike very unhappy when he got handed over as a slave to some higher demon for being cute.  He pulled into the warehouse behind him, letting him shut the door. "Did you have to do that?"

"He knew me already."

"If the cops come you're on your own."

"I know that."  He gave him a look.  "Sire slipped his soul?"  Xander nodded.  "You sure?"

"The leather pants I torched were a giveaway."

"Damn it," he muttered, heading to the car.

"Got a spare set of keys?"  Spike tossed over his set.  "Thanks.  Just in case.  Don't want to have to hotwire it."  They set up to go over the rite and figure out what the hell they were doing now.  The world was not going to end while he stood.  Buffy or no Buffy.  Willow or no Willow.  He was the match for them.  After all, he had survived this long.  He had to be.


Xander snuck back to the old school, finding it empty.  That was a miracle but even he could feel the taint of the hellmouth going on around him.  He winced as spirits started to come out of the walls. "Give me twenty, guys.  Please?" he begged.  "We've got to stop this."  They, surprisingly enough, created a shield around him so he wouldn't be found.  He walked into the old library and looked around, sighing in displeasure.  "I hated this room.  It was nice and open but I hated this room."  He set up what he needed and knelt overtop of where the hellmouth was, closing his eyes and concentrating on what he had memorized.  He slit his arm up it, not very deeply but he got some blood, letting it drip.  Then he did the other side, letting them both drip.  "I do solemnly vow that I am a protector of mankind."

"Noooooo!" a voice screamed.

"That I am and will protect those who are given to my charge."  He felt the magic coming up for him.  "That I will protect those who need me to.  That the world will not end while I stand or breathe."  He winced as the magic crawled up the blood trail, flowing down his arms.

"Stop it, boy!" a male voice shouted.

"I do solemnly vow that my duty is my life and my life is in my duty.  None shall force me from my duty but by my own hand and even then my vows will stand firm in my heart.  My soul.  My mind.  My very last breath.  May the Powers forgive me if I break this vow due to being human.  May the Powers forgive me if I am not enough alone or in a group.  I will train myself so I am not the weakest of the links unless I am deficient in some way I have not yet learned."

"Boy, stop it.  You don't know what you're doing!" the voice shouted.  "You could kill yourself."

Xander felt the magic flow out of his hair, bleaching it.  "I do vow that every inch of me, every cell, every particle, every bit of power within this body or that shall ever reside in this body shall go to protecting the world from those forces that would try to harm it."  He felt the ghosts give way to whoever it was.  "So I do vow, so mote it be."  He flinched and screamed as the power ran through him, telling him what he had to do right this moment.  He stood up, letting the power move through him, do what it needed to do.  He chanted, rearranging the candles he had brought so they were properly applied around the opening.  The chanting grew louder, making him realize it was him doing it.  Then silence.  A heartbeat.  Two heartbeats.  Three heartbeats and all hell broke loose as the power got pulled back into the hellmouth.  He held on, going on with it.  He had to go on with it.  Even if it killed him, he had to keep going.  He collapsed to his knees, panting hard when he paused to breathe.  Then peace reigned again for a few minutes.  He caught his breath, grabbing the sword so he could stand up and pant at whoever had tried to interrupt him.  "Who're you?"

"Philip Mercer, former Watcher.  What did you do, boy!"

"Xander.  I'm a Xander," he said quietly.  "Buffy's friend Xander."

"No wonder!  You're a bloody medium!  It could've killed you."

"Oh well," he said in a calm voice.  "It's been a long time coming if it did."  He looked toward the back entrance.  "We have company."  He blew out the candles but left them there.  "C'mon."  He nodded, following him out.  He knew he was a vampire but maybe Spike would  enjoy him.  He led him back to their lair, getting a dirty look from Spike.  "This is a former Watcher, Philip Mercer."

Spike nodded.  "You with them or us?"

"I'm with whichever side is going to stop this madness.  Who're you?"

"Spike.  He's been helping us since the Initiative got him."  Xander flopped down onto his car's hood, covering his face with his hands.  "Spike, I feel like shit."

"Should," he agreed.  "Got magic poisoning."

"Sound like Yoda you do," Xander quipped impatiently.  "Tylenol and water?"  Spike got him some gatoraide and some tylenol.  "That'll work too.  Thanks.  So, Philip, now what?"  He took them, gulping the drink.  He was really thirsty.

"How did you do that?"  He moved closer.  "Mediums aren't supposed to be taken into the vow.  Not only because it can kill the but because the power would reject them."

Xander looked at him.  "I've been fighting beside Buffy since the day she got here, Mr. Mercer.  It knew me and knew I'm a protective sort.  Besides, this way it could use to close itself before it overloaded.  It was about to blow open fully."  He yawned.  "Spike, can you take watch tonight?"

"Sure.  You rest."  Xander nodded, climbing into his back seat to take a nap.  He looked at the younger vampire.  "Not much else that could be done, was there?"

"No," he admitted.  "You're really chipped?"  Spike nodded.  "Thinking about getting it out?"

"Might some day.  Not right now.  Don't need the headache and the carnage is wonderful being on this side."  He gave him a slightly insane grin.  "You gonna go running back to your masters?"

"No.  Not yet."  He looked around then at him.  "It was too stupid of him to lead me back here."

"Sometimes you gotta take a chance," Spike said, dusting him.  "Pity."

Xander opened the door.  "He was with them?"

"Yup.  You good?"


"We should move again."  Xander moaned, tossing him his keys.  "Where to?"

"Sunnydale's going to calm down even if I go to on a binge and destroy it myself," Xander said dryly.  He shut the door again then opened it and glared outside.  "I can hear you!"  The woman ran inside.  "Hi, Cordy.  Leave Spike alone."

"Whatever.  What the hell just happened and why do you look really old?"

"Same answer.  Took the Watcher's place since his plane went down," Spike told her.

"Oh, okay," she said slowly, considering that information.  "And?"

Xander shut the door, going back to his nap.  "Help Spike watch for now.  We'll move if we have to."

"Yeah, sure.  Okay.  Um, we fixed Angel," she said in a more upbeat voice.  "We found out Wolfram and Hart did it."  Spike shrugged.  "You don't care?"

"Not really.  Not like I'm in for training, now is it?"

Angel walked in.  "I can still punish you, Spike.  Xander!"  He saw one finger be raised through the car's window.  "What's wrong with him?"

"He has white hair," Cordelia said.  "Spike said he took the Watcher's place?"

Angel moaned, rubbing his head.  Only Xander gave him headaches like that.  "There's other Watchers."

"Not here," Spike said bluntly.  He pointed at the ashes.  "Was but he was with them."

"Good to know.  Who?"

"Philip Mercer he said."

Angel nodded.  "Wes mentioned Giles had sent him.  New minion?"  Spike shook his head.  "Fine.  Now what?"

"Now, we wait.  We move if we have to.  We let him nap because he's growling and he just closed the hellmouth for us."  Angel and Cordelia both gaped.  "Had to, didn't he?  You can't pull a witch out of thin air, even here."

"I'm sure he did," Cordelia said.  "Where's Willow?"

"Car crash out by Philly," Spike said dryly.  "Tara's fine but Red's in the ICU with a punctured lung."

"So we're on our own with a new magic user, who has magic poisoning," Angel said flatly.

Spike smirked.  "It's better than that.  He took the guardian's vow."

"He's not able to.  He's a medium."

"Maybe that's why he has white hair?" Cordelia suggested.  "Then again, Xander and magic.  Bad, evil combination."

Angel looked at her.  "Don't remind me."

"Who else could make every woman in Sunnydale want him, but me because I have better taste than that?" she said.

"Cordelia!" Angel complained.

"Weren't you two shagging?" Spike asked.  She glared at him, making him laugh.  "Awww.  You're nearly as fierce as Dru on her barmy days."

"Spike, we can do without you," Angel reminded him.

"Same can be said for you," Spike shot back.  "Slayer trusts me."

Xander rolled down the window.  "I have God's own headache and there's someone on the roof.  Do we think we can quit arguing, go see who it is, and then quit arguing again so I can get some rest?  That way we can go clean up this mess that Buffy decided to make by making Giles bring her over to beat the crap out of Travers."  He rolled back up the window and went back to sleep, or trying to sleep.  Tylenol wasn't cutting it this time.  He got out and got into the emergency kit in his trunk, finding the pain killers he had stocked.  He took two and went back to his back seat, falling asleep like an innocent baby... who had just closed the hellmouth.  Drugs and nightmares - bad combination.

Angel looked up.  "He's right, there is.  Go see what it is, Spike."

He sniffed.  "Terfal."

"Sword?" Angel asked.  Spike got him one, getting a nod for it.  They went up to rip it a new one while Cordelia watched over Xander and the stored stuff.  Someone had to.  He wasn't capable of it.

Cordelia glanced in at him, shaking her head.  "The white hair isn't the coolest of cool looks."  She sat down on the hood of his car, watching and waiting for the next attack.  There was always another attack in Sunnydale.


The next morning Xander walked out into the sunlight, looking around.  The town was a big damn mess.  He sighed in displeasure, staring around at the wreckage.  Or carnage really.  "Well, my construction crew will be busy for the next few months," he muttered.  He walked downtown, seeing all the damage.  The stores that hadn't been burned were open and merrily doing business in typical Sunnydale fashion.  No one realized anything was going on.  He walked up to the front of the Magic Box.  It wasn't quite in cinders.  The door was off the hinges however so he walked in carefully, looking around.  Some things had survived.  Some hadn't.  He found an older urn and looked at the dusty thing, then put it onto a counter.  He headed for the training areas, then Giles' office.  Nope, torched fully in there.  He came out to find a police officer waiting on him.  "Giles left us in charge while he was in England."

"When is he coming back?"

"That depends on when they find the plane that went missing."

"Oh.  Sorry.  Sucky day?"

"Sucky week," he admitted.  The kid had graduated with them, he knew what was going on.  "Who else?"

"Buffy's mom.  Your place.  Willow's parents.  Two buildings at the college.  Two of the clothing stores and the music store."  Xander gave him an odd look.  "Oz's mother's house and where he was staying when he was here."

"Charming.  My parents?"


"Huh.  Someone knew not to bother."  He looked around again then at him.  "Giles' place?"

"Wrecked.  Totally gone.  They used some funny accellerant."

"Wonderful.  Okay, what do we need to do today?"

"We need to sign destruction orders with the city for this mess.  Since you're technically in charge...."

Xander held up a hand.  "I'm the only guardian here.  It's me and Spike, dude."


"Blond vampire guy."

"Oh, duster boy."  He nodded.  "Should we expect more?  And what happened to your hair?"

"Closing the hellmouth last night."  That got a nod.  "As far as I know I can almost keep a lid on it.  Some of the LA crew is up.  They're overrun.  We're not particularly pleasant.   Any way we can burn the town and make everyone leave?"

"Nope.  Sorry."

"Damn.  Okay."  He sighed and looked around.  "We need some time to scavenge."  That got a nod.  "Then I'll sign the orders."

"That's fine.  Within thirty days if you can.  Any other good news?"

Xander grimaced.  "We've got to get some real help.  Willow's in the hospital after a car crash."

"So they came after you guys?"

Xander shrugged.  "They wanted to get rid of the guardian spirits that kept things down.  They chose to do it while Buffy and Giles were on vacation and so was Willow and her girlfriend.  It was a bit planned."

"Okay."  He looked around then back at him.  "Do whatever you have to do.  You know that."

"I know.  What're they calling it this time?"

"Drug war since we're right off the highway.  They tried to take over the town but decided not to."  Xander snickered, shaking his head.  "Are they coming back?"

"We're hunting the burning ones down first," Xander told him.  "Any idea what they were?"

"Looked like the usual.  Looked human really."  He moved closer.  "The white hair thing.  Did Willow get that?"

"Nope, just me.  'Cause I'm a lucky, special boy."  The officer laughed and walked out.  "Let me know what you hear, man.  Thanks."  He headed out to get himself something to drink then headed back to his construction site.  He found his boss yelling.  "Hey!" he shouted.  "Yelling at them because something gave us more work isn't productive."

His boss spun, staring at him.  "You survived?"

"I hid like a mo-fo, boss.  I'm still hiding and I have to find somewhere new to live.  Can I have a few days off?"

"Sure, Harris.  They said someone died at your place."

"Not me."  He shrugged, sipping his coffee.  "Give me a few days.  We'll see what I can figure out.  Oh, paycheck?"  It got found and handed over. "Thanks, man."  He went to check on his building, finding the crime scene tape still up.  The officer there gave him a horrified look.  "I was at the Magic Box when it went up.  Male or female in my place?"

"Male body."

"Huh.  Can I see anything on him?  No one should've been there."

"Sure."  He led him down to the morgue to look at his property.  At least then they'd have an ID for the grave.

Xander looked then smiled.  "I knew him."  He pointed at something.  "That's the stuff our tagging and robbing people have been using."  He looked at him.  "I beat the shit out of one about a month ago for trying my place.  That means he's part of Brad's crew and unlucky."

"We arrested most of them last night in case it was them trying to burn things."

Xander nodded, heading that way.  He found the kid he wanted to talk to.  "Hey.  You guys missing someone?"  They all gaped.  "It wasn't me who died in my apartment.  He had your tagging gear."

"We're missing three."  He wrote out the names for the officer.

Xander looked.  "Saw him a few days back."  Staked him, he reminded himself.  He pointed.  "Heard he ran a few days back with his uncle Willie."  He looked at the last name.  "Looks like you got an ID.  Anything of mine survive?"

"Nah.  Not even the weapons."

"Pity.  Know anywhere good that might be renting?"

"Nope.  Not a clue on that.  I bought my own."

Xander nodded. "That might be an idea."  He walked out, finishing his coffee on his way to pick up a paper and find them an apartment.  Preferably one with a garage so Spike could live out there.


Xander walked into the warehouse.  "We have housing."  Spike smirked at him.  "One of the taggers died at my place.  We have a month to scavenge the Magic Box before we have to sign destruction orders."

"That's fine.  Anything survive?"

"Some of the metal stuff.  They started the fire in the office."  That got a nod.  "Got the gallery too."  He shrugged.  "We can move tonight.  Let's hit there then go on.  We've got to find the firestarters if they're still local.  I said we would.  One of the cops was at grad," he said at the odd look Angel gave him.

"S'fine," Spike agreed.  "Need to get to the rest of the weapons anyway."

Xander smirked.  "I even have a garage for you to stay in if you want."

"Good of you," he said dryly.

"It has electric and I'll run basic cable out for you."

"Even better'n a crypt," he decided.  They drove everyone over to the new place, letting him put things inside.  Cordelia gave the house an odd look.

"Yes, I rented a house, Cordy.  It's safer.  More storage room too."  He finished hauling in the last of the boxes and then settled in.  "I used the thrift shop to get furniture.  Yes, I sprayed it first.  Spike, I got you a few new t-shirts too.  They're in the washer or dryer."  He went to look, tossing everything into the dryer for him.  "Okay," he said, looking at Angel.  "The firestarting things looked human.  That's all the cops knew."

"It could've been humans.  It's not that hard to start a fire.  If they really wanted the guardians gone doing it that way nearly drove you all off."  He looked at Xander's white hair.  "Are you going to dye that?"

"It'll look fake.  I'll lie and say I bleached it accidentally."

"No one'll notice anyway.  It's Sunnydale, who's going to care that he changed his hair color," Cordelia pointed out.

"True," Xander agreed.  "Are you getting *anything* from the Powers That Be?"

"Nope.  Sorry.  Not yet."

"Damn.  Spike, any idea where we start?"

"What haven't they burned?" Angel asked.

"My parents' place.  They even burned the shops where the girls shopped and the music store, plus where Oz stayed off campus and his parents."

"That's odd," Angel said.

"No, his parents aren't worthy of burning," Cordelia assured him.  She looked at him.  "Want to stake them out anyway?"

"Most every day," Xander said dryly.  "Unfortunately I don't want to turn into Faith."  She snickered.  "I'll go there.  Spike?"

"Asking," he agreed.  Xander plugged in his phone and went to find what he'd need for the night.  He looked at Angel.  "How's LA?"

"They came in seeking asylum.  They're settling down somewhere Gunn found for them.  We'll have to see how many come back."

Xander came out of his bedroom.  "It'd be better if they stayed, Angel.   The only living slayer on this plane is in prison."  Angel moaned.  "The other one got taken by magic with the rest of her plane and Giles.  Can you get me a copy of Wes's translation?"

"I'm not sure if he left one or not.  I do know he said it's 3/8th's spiral code counterclockwise?"

"I can figure that out," Xander agreed.  "Can you and Cordy take normal patrol for a while or do you have to head back down to LA?"

"I can handle a patrol," he agreed.  Xander grinned and patted him on the arm as he walked past him.  "Your phone?"

"Won't do me much good.  It's dead.  It'll need to charge all night. You know where I'll be."  He walked that way, waving at the officer he knew since he was on his porch.  He got a nod back.  He found his parents house still standing and settled in across the street to watch it, just in case.  Why hit Oz's parents and not his?  Oz was there less often than he was.  He wasn't even there anymore.  It didn't make sense to him.  He saw someone sneaking through the backyard and snuck that way too, stopping the person.  "Hi."  The man jumped.  "Go home."  The thief ran off.  He looked at the house then walked inside.  "Hey!" he called.  No answer.  Not that his parents weren't probably drunk by now.  He tried a light switch and grimaced when it didn't go on.

He walked carefully toward the living room, used to the dark.  He knew the house like a birthmark.  He looked around from the edge of the kitchen door.  Nothing.  He went to check the bedroom.  Unmade bed, like usual.  His room was in use by someone but they weren't there.  He walked down to the basement, wincing when he smelled the familiar smell of candles and blood.  He carefully moved further and found the problem with the electric.  There was a sword buried in the fuse box.  He looked around in the dark, finding shapes.  "Hello."  No answer.  No movement.  He went to call the officer he knew.  "Found out why they didn't burn my parents' house.  No, they're dead."  He hung up and waited on the usual response unit.  He nodded at them.  "I came to check on the drunks.  They're in the basement."

"Are you a relation, sir?" the officer responding asked.  This one he didn't know.  He was new to Sunnydale.

Xander nodded.  "My parents.  For some reason the burned places were some of my friends' houses so I came to check on them.  Oh, there's a sword in the fuse box.  No power."

"How do you get one of those out?" their lone CSI asked.

Xander looked at him.  "Give me something to insulate my hands first.  Or, never mind, let me turn off power at the meter.  Got a pair of wire snips?"  They were found and handed over.  Xander went to disable the meter, then came back.  "Okay, wrap the handle however you want."  He did that and Xander spit on his hands, then rubbed them on his pants before grabbing the bag and heaving.  It slid free.  He handed it over.  "Heavy sucker."  The CSI stumbled.  "Sorry, construction worker muscles."  He looked at the box.  "Looks like they interrupted it.  I can get power back on down here but not upstairs."  He flipped those breakers then went to turn back on the meter.  Power came back on.  He walked back inside.  "How's that?"

"How did you know to do that?" the officer asked.

Xander grinned.  "I'm crew lead on my construction crew.  We're at the Craig house this month."

"I've seen them.  Good work, kid."

"Thanks."  He looked then at the CSI guy, who was looking a bit green.  "Should I identify them formally?"

"I'm not sure you can."

"They're my parents, dude.  Who's the... never mind.  Uncle Rory," he muttered.  He walked down there, looking at the bits and pieces plus the mystical symbol underneath.  He sighed a bit.  "That's my mother's hand.  That's her cheap ring.  That's my father's beer gut and can of beer in his hand."  He pointed at another one.  "That's my Uncle Rory's head.  Looks like he had on his blue ball cap and he had an OCD thing about matching."  He looked at him.  "You've got chunks missing."

"I noticed."

Xander shrugged.  "It happens I guess.  Look at the symbol.  Crazy cult kids again."

He sighed and nodded.  "We hate them."

"Me too."  He patted him on the back.  "Let me know if you need me anymore?"

"I will, Mr. Harris.  Thank you.  You don't seem affected?"

"I was at graduation."

"Oh.  Sorry."  He left him alone about that.

Xander walked up to the officer, looking at him.  "Before you even *think* that I'm a suspect, because I can see the squeaky wheels going, I was hiding until earlier today.  They tried to burn the Magic Box while I was running it for the owner.  We came out of hiding earlier today since things had calmed down."

"You know something about the occult?"

"No but I'm a handy research person and my best friend is Wiccan."

"Oh.  That sort."  Xander nodded.  "Fine.  Any idea about those marks?"

Xander grinned a bit.  "Get me a good picture and I'll look it up."

"I can do that."  He went to look then at him.  "Where are you staying?"

"Vergess street."

"The house with the garage?"  Xander nodded.  "I'll slide it under your door tomorrow.  Thank you for your help, Mr. Harris."

"Not an issue."  He walked out, grabbing his sword from where he had hidden it.  He went to find Angel and everyone on patrol, running into them by the Bronze.  "Someone chopped them into chunks overtop of a mystical symbol."  Angel moaned.  Xander nodded.  "Yeah.  Is the Bronze still standing?"

"They had a fire crew there last night," Spike told him.

"How about now?"

"Not now."

"Then let's stake out there.  It's the last place they'd have to burn."  They headed that way.  Xander needed a drink anyway.  "There's a new officer in town, Spike.  Told him I was a researcher and knew Wiccans so he'll be bringing me the picture so I can look it up."


"Of the symbols on the ground under their chunks."

"That could help," Cordelia said.

"Hopefully."  He looked up, frowning. "That's smoke."  They hurried, Angel breaking the chains on the door of the Bronze, going in to get people out while he and Spike fought the demons or humans who were doing this.  They found them and waded in, getting a good few of them.  Then Spike ran into one of the humans and had to grab his head from the pain in his chip.  "Damn it.  Go after the demons, Spike."  He got that human with his sword and kept going, finding one last one standing there.  "Hey, Paul."  He waved a hand.  "You involved?"

"No.  Not really.  Know two or three of them."

Xander nodded.  "Yeah, me too."  He looked at him.

"Him too!" Cordelia shouted.

Xander shrugged and stabbed him non-fatally.  Just enough to hurt him and make him not fight back.  The guy tried to produce magical fire but Xander knocked him out.  He looked at her.  "Good call.  Thanks.  Anyone left?"

"No!  Fire department's on the way."

Xander nodded, going over to Spike.  "You okay?"

"M'fine," he muttered.  He was still rubbing his head.  He looked around.  "Need to talk to them."  He pointed at the ones he had left living.  "Good enough.  Peaches!"  He came out.  "Anyone?"

"Not that I could find."

Xander looked up then around.  He took a deep breath and then found the fire escape, going to open the windows.  More people came out that way.  "Come on!"  The rest came out and he followed them down.  More cops showed up, including the one from his parents' house.  "Hey."  He pointed at the groaning bodies.  "We stopped them from making the fire bigger."

"You have a sword."

"It's practical," Xander said dryly.  One of the girls pounced him to cry on.  "Shh, it's all right, you're all right," he said.  Then he felt the bite and knocked her back.  "Do you mind!"

"Why?  You taste and smell good," she sneered in vamp face.  Xander staked her.

The officer stared then at him.  "What the hell!"

Xander grimaced. "Welcome to Sunnydale.  Transfer to days if you want to keep living.  It's like that around here."  He walked off.  "We have a few to ask them questions.  We'll drop them off for you."

"Thanks, I think."  He got his fellow officers to gather up the ones who had been starting the fire, especially one of their own.  He had been at the battle during graduation too.  No one had expected this from him.

Xander found the others in another alley and walked over, handing Spike the sword.  He looked at Angel.  "Just beat the crap out of one.  Please?"

"Go for it."  Xander took out his anger and frustration on one of them, making him beg.  He looked at the others.  "He gets the rest of you too.  This puts him in charge of the slaying locally."  They whimpered.  "All he's normally got now is Spike."  He pointed and Spike vamped out.  "So, what're we doing?"

"And why.  I want a why," Xander said, running his hands through his hair.  "I said we'd drop them off for the nice officers."  He moved closer to another one and he pleaded.  "Now, let's talk, boys."  They babbled.  He and Spike shared a look then he nodded.  He decided to make this one a collect call.  They accepted the charges even.  "It's Harris in Sunnydale.  The people here who decided to burn all of us out and to send the plane Giles and Buffy were on off-plane are mostly captured.  They did say it was the time for the sleeping lady to wake up.  What're we doing now?"  He was put on hold and transferred to Travers himself.  "Morning."  He checked his watch.  "It is where you are since it nearly is here.  We got most of the pyros.  They agreed it was time to do the prophecy thing.  That one.  No, they said they sent the plane off-plane.  That's what the guy I beat said," he said dryly.

"Exactly.  Now what?  Because your only slayer is in prison, Travers.  If she's still alive.  Actually, I did."  He ran a hand through his hair.  "Well, I've got white hair, my head's still pounding, and I'm a bit violent at the moment.  As long as things calm down...."  He smirked.  "Exactly.  Now, would you like to send us some hunting help or do you want Spike and I to continue to do this?  What're we doing about the other areas since they said it was about that prophecy?"  He listened to him complain that it couldn't be.  "They said it was.  They also burned all of us out and sacrificed my family over some symbols, Travers.  Well, that's on you.  Did you at least recover the others?"  He snorted.  "Fine.  Whatever."  He hung up and walked back there.  "Travers is in worse denial than Sunnydale."

"Figures," Spike muttered.  "More Watchers coming?"

Xander shook his head.  "Nope. Though they will be checking on Faith."  Angel gave him a horrified look.  "What?  If she's there is she really a threat?"

"No," he said weakly.  "I didn't even think about that."  He found Cordelia's phone and called the hotel.  "Gunn, me.  Have Wesley call to check on Faith please?  Because it's related.  Thank you."  He hung up and looked at him.  "He sounded stressed."

"Head off once we drop them off," Xander told him.  "We'll deal and call if we need more help."  That got a nod and they drug them to the police station, blatantly leaving them on the front stairs in pain.  Xander and Spike went home.  Angel and Cordelia went to LA and their homes.  Xander flopped down and stared at the wall.  "A 3/8ths spiral code counterclockwise means that there's 3/8ths of an inch between lines?"  Spike nodded.  "Can you get me the prophecy book and some paper, plus a pencil?"  Spike went to do that.  Xander found a smaller ruler and got to work marking the precise lines.  Then he connected his dots, writing down what was there.  It wasn't good.  He frowned and adjusted the inner circle once he had erased his faint lines.  This time it came out better and he wrote it down, handing it over.  "Look reasonable?"

Spike read then put it down, going to find the cellphone.  "That's not good."

"I know that, Spike.  Does it look like I did it right?"

"Yeah, you did it right.  Heard Dru yammering."

"Wonderful."  Xander laid down, picking it up to read it again and translate it into more modern english as well.  That way it was easier understood.

With Demons possessed and Eaten, the Guardians shall be weakened.  One who is forbidden may take on the challenge but he is worthy and yet not enough.  One who is Eaten is doomed to failure in his quest and the bright ones will fall when the daughter of the Sleeping Lady awakens.  For she is hell upon earth unless she is stopped.  One who is Called is freed.  One who is Guardian is Freed.  One who is Powerful is freed.  All will die if the prophecy comes to pass and all that are Living are gone too.  Even as the one who tries is not enough so others will try.  They will have to band together to Work this problem through and the Daughter may yet be born but can be stopped without freeing.  Any who read and understand this know what Guardians do and what the one does.  For he is foreseen and hated for it.  God rest their souls for they will fail and it will be one final struggle.  God protect all souls from them.

Xander looked over as Spike huffed back.  "Okay.  Got some of it."  He let him see.  "If this is the correct translation, freeing means taking them out of the fight, but not necessarily death.  Willow's freed from the fight by being in a drug-induced coma at the moment until her lungs heal.  Buffy and Giles are freed by being on another plane.  I'm guessing I'm the forbidden one?"

"Probably," Spike agreed.  "What others?"

"The ones guarding those areas?  Or other hunters?  We've heard there's others.  Wes said there's a whole underground."

Spike nodded.  "Could get him to warn them."  He handed it back.  "Don't know what quest I'm on."

"Me either.  I'll let you figure that out."  He went back to it, figuring out the meanings.  He finally got up and called Wesley, his phone still plugged in.  "Hey, it's me," he said in greeting.  "I did the spiral code thingy.  We should compare to make sure I got mine right.  If so, you need to warn the other hunters you used to run with."  He nodded.  "Them.  Because mine said that ...  Let me read it to you, Wes.  With Demons possessed and Eaten, the Guardians shall be weakened.  One who is forbidden may take on the challenge but he is worthy and yet not enough.  One who is Eaten is doomed to failure in his quest and the bright ones will fall when the daughter of the Sleeping Lady awakens.  For she is hell upon earth unless she is stopped.  One who is Called is freed.  One who is Guardian is Freed.  One who is Powerful is freed.  All will die if the prophecy comes to pass and all that are Living are gone too.  Even as the one who tries is not enough so others will try.  They will have to band together to Work this problem through and the Daughter may yet be born but can be stopped without freeing.

"Any who read and understand this know what Guardians do and what the one does.  For he is foreseen and hated for it.  God rest their souls for they will fail and it will be one final struggle.  God protect all souls from them."  He listened to him mutter.  "No, I measured it.  What did you get?"  His was a bit more cryptic.  "Can you send me that one?  No, I'm at the new place.  Yeah, there.  I figured someone had called.  No, symbols under my parents' chopped up bodies.  Yup, those sort.  We got the people and demons setting the fires.  Now what?"  He nodded.  "I know.  I'm staying here.  You send out a warning.  I tried Travers.  He's having Sunnydale denial issues.  Said it's not time."  He smirked.  "So, am I the one foreseen and hated?"  He nodded at the 'the seer foresaw the one in this one being someone who jumped in, that's why it's forbidden'.  "Makes sense to me, Wes, but too late.  Thanks, man.  Yeah, it's recharging.  I've got voicemail.  Have a better night."  He hung up.  "He'll warn his sort.  He's sending what he got so we can figure that one out too.  How many times do we have prophecies like this?"

"Don't know.  Want me to ask Dru?" he asked dryly.

"No.  Not really.  I don't think we need more strangeness."  He went to lay down again.  "I still have a headache.  Want to do a grocery run?"

"Not particularly."

"Fine.  Call for pizza?"  Spike nodded and did that for him.  He settled in to rest, handing him the money, knowing he'd take any change for himself.  Spike was like that.  He had a scary thought and looked over from his nibbling.  "If something happens to the Council, we'd be responsible for setting it back up."  Spike choked.  "That just hit me."  He ate another bite, then laid back down to finish it and go back to his resting.  His head really hurt now.

"Warn me next time you're gonna say stuff like that," Spike complained.  He went to clean himself up and get a drink.  He needed a beer after that thought.  He did call Cordelia's phone to give it to her.  That way Angel could splutter and bang his head against a wall too.  It'd be pretty.


It took a week for the next major event to happen.  Xander was at work, his third day back, when he heard the shout from the office.   The rest of them ran over there but Xander had that sinking feeling.  The apocalypse is coming feeling.  He got in last and had to move two guys out of his way.  He watched the fire crews working on an old building and stared, thinking hard.  "Boss...."

"Harris, that British friend of yours?"

"Was on the plane that went missing but I know someone else.  I'm gonna go call from my car."  He went to do that.  "Wes," he said once he was connected to the grumpy man.  "Turn on the news, Wes.  Because there's a huge stone building with gargoyles in Britain that just went up."  Wes turned on the news then gasped.  "Is that the Council?"  He rested his head against his steering wheel.  "No, Wes, is that the Council's building?  Wesley!" he snapped.  "Pull yourself together!  I need you here with me, not mourning yet!"  He listened to him stutter that it wasn't the main building.  That  had been the training center.  "Okay.  Call them!  I know.  You know.  Did you get word out that this shit was going on?"  He nodded.  "Thank you."  He hung up and rested there for a second then called a number he had found in Wes's journal.  "Hi, is this the Singer Salvage Yard?  No, I'm not looking for something, I'm looking for someone.  A friend of a friend, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, gave me your number if I was *ever* outside of Sunnydale and there was problems I couldn't handle."  He smiled at the disgruntled voice.

"No, a warning.  Sunnydale's going to hell.  Wes sent out a warning about a prophecy going on.  It has other areas involved than just us and LA this time.  One of the Watcher's main buildings just got blown up.  I work with the slayer, Mr. Singer.  Xander Harris.  That's me," he said at the hissed name.  "The prophecy he sent out is apparently happening.  I don't know your contacts and the Watchers don't want to believe it.  Then again all of the slayer's haunts, houses, and friends got burned out here recently.  Yeah, I'm serious.  That one.  Do you need the map too?  The Sleeping Lady pinpoint of hellmouths map.  That one, yeah.  That's what it's about.  Wes had one translation; I had another one.  It had some funky spiral code thingy going on.  I haven't seen Wes's copy yet.  No, no fax machine," he said honestly.  "No, the Magic Box went up the first night.   Buffy and Giles were on the plane that disappeared.  No, it didn't go down.  It disappeared.  The demons took it off-plane according to the ones we stopped here setting the fires."

He smiled at the harsh words, but not at him.  "Faith's the only slayer left and she's in jail in a coma.  One of the other prisoners tried to bash her skull in.  Then they killed themselves so we have no idea why a usually non-violent offender in for drugs snapped that way.  Yeah, that means no slayers.  The Watchers are probably going to go into hiding with the way they're in denial and their usual attitude.  I'm going to suggest that there's going to be an increase along the pathways between them.  Inside the constellation.  Because I'm no super brain with math or science.  I'm a construction and weapons guy.  I'm her backup and planner.  We've got one known point in Niagra Falls and one known point in Cleveland.  Willow is in the hospital in Philadelphia.  Her girlfriend Tara is a fairly powerful witch.  They'll go after her.  I can't get hold of her.  I know she's at the hospital.  I know she's protecting Willow and herself.  I just can't reach her.  That hospital, yeah.  Raids?  Like Feds?"  He grimaced.  "Okay.  I'm going to be paranoid," he decided.  "You?"  He smiled at the 'already was, am more now' answer.  He sounded like he was taking it with some humor instead of being angry with him for calling.  It was a nice change in his last month.

"I can maybe hold Sunnydale with Spike.  Angel and his team have LA.  I have no clue.  I don't even know who'd know so I could ask.  Stars aren't my thing or Spike's.  Dru's, but not Spike's.  All we know is that it is apparently happening, no matter what anyone wants to think.  If not, we've got some related danger.  No, the first we knew of it someone stepped out of the hellmouth here and asked if it was Niagra."  He snickered at the swearing.  "Exactly.  So...."  He nodded.  "That could help, yeah.  Thank you, Mr. Singer.  No, I'm here.  Working my day job when the boss saw the explosion on tv.  That's the training center according to Wes.  He's on his knees begging for his friends' health if I know him.  Which isn't a bad thing to do," he admitted.

"I have no idea.  I have no clue what we're doing.  We have no clue what we're doing.  We're without magic support or a slayer on a hellmouth and I'm it.  Apparently when I took the guardian's vows here it lit me up with magic.  I'm still recovering from closing the stupid thing.  White hair, neverending headache, nausea.  The post-magic stuff.  Yeah, I'll survive.  Thanks for asking.  No, I've got Spike.  We're still battling the psycho vamps and demons.  Everyone else hit LA and is driving Angel insane.  Please.  You might check with Wes, see if they need help or not.  If not, I don't know what's going to happen.  I'll let you know what's going on if you keep me informed of any build up," he offered.  "Thanks, man.  Have a better day."  He hung up and got out, heading back to work while he thought.  This was not going to be a good thing for anyone.