Help to Finish Her Off.
Xander finished his translation and read it over, grimacing in disgust. Why did these things keep happening to him? He made a long liked phone call. "Hey, Dean, Xander. Can I please have his Giant Geeky Brainness for a minute?" He grimaced again. "Because I need him to check my translation. I know you guys are on a hunt and it's important and all but if I'm right, we're in a rare fall apocalypse that we all need to duck and cover from." He heard Dean groan and put him on speaker. "Please? It shouldn't take him too long to check my translation."
"What language is it in?" Dean asked over the speaker.
"Ancient Hebrew. It's not my best but I need to check it. Before I have a slight panic attack."
"That bad?" Dean asked. "Prophecy crap?"
"Um, no, I think this is an act of karma but it's not related to me at least." He sent him an email link. "Have Sam go to that link I sent him. Have him translate the opening few screens. Please?"
"Fine. What is it? New demonology site? The last one you found is real helpful since it's run by demons."
"No, this is a game but I think the first two screens are an indication we should all be heading west. And for cover."
"Fine, Xander. I'll tell Sammy to get into his email and translate the opening screens."
"Why?" Sam's voice was fainter.
"Xander needs you to check his translation. It's in Ancient Hebrew."
Sam's groan carried. "How long will it take?"
"It took me ten minutes and I'm in a cold sweat," Xander said. "Especially since, if I'm right, it starts off with 'by the power of Rosenburg'." Dean spluttered and choked. "While I was playing it, I found a few new things out. Like floating things and lighting things and those sort of things."
"Excuse me?" Dean demanded. "You did what?"
"It's the newest computer game, Dean. One of those where you find the hidden things in the picture. Only the things you're finding are symbols hidden within the picture. After the tenth one, I got thirsty but I was too lazy to get up. That's when I realized my soda kinda floated over to me."
"Sammy, check his translation," Dean demanded. "He's got magic from that game. He said after the tenth level." Sam's groan got louder. "Give him ten minutes, Xander. Are you all right? Any headaches, feeling like you're going to explode with the magic?"
"No, I feel pretty good actually. I'm not even tired. I'm not bouncy so I know it didn't over-achieve and overfill me."
Sam apparently took the phone. "By the power of Rosenburg, I command thee to show thyself and help those that find my glyphs. By awakening their spirits those who do follow it through will have a quest that will make Rosenburg ... looks like heave," Sam told him.
"That's what I got so far. Then it goes on to say something about awakenings and dire circumstances that her powers have caused. The last line I translated said 'so she will no longer have to act without thought from panic, we will give her more to help her or take her place."
"That's what I got too," Sam said dryly.
"Which is why I think this is an act of karma gone nuts. This game is nearly viral now, Sam. It's being offered on all the major download sites free for the first sixty levels. Then you can buy the other three hundred for thirty bucks."
"Damn it," Sam muttered.
"I'm wondering if there's a chaos person getting high off this, but right now, I'm not sure I don't want to go into hiding."
"Where are you right now?" Sam asked him.
"About two days from Bobby's in Iowa."
"We're in South Dakota. Meet us in Sunnydale?"
"Sure. I can do that. What're we going to do about all the sudden witches?"
"No clue yet. Let me brief Bobby and let him play a few rounds."
"I'm not sure I want to see Bobby with magic, Sam. He spanks *really* hard already."
Sam laughed. "Good point. Fine, I'll send him the facts and the translation. Send me yours?" Xander sent it via email. "Got it, thanks. Calm down. It could be worse."
"It says it's been downloaded over sixty thousand times," Xander said. "I got powers after the tenth level."
"I'm hoping they fade," Sam told him. "If so, let us know. Try not to use them for a day or so, see if it fades out."
"I can do that. See you then? I just got done with a hunt."
"Sure, see you there in about a week?"
"I can do that. Won't hurt matters to wait," he decided. "But you'll get Dean to tell her, right? So I can hide when she tries to skin me alive again?"
"Sure, Xander. I can do that. Laters." He hung up, looking at his big brother. "He's right, this is a nice apocalypse. He said it's been downloaded at least sixty thousand times. You only get the first sixty levels free and then you have to pay thirty bucks for the other three hundred."
Dean whimpered. "That's bad, Sam."
"I'm telling Bobby so he can send out warnings. You tell Ellen and them. See if you can get Dad's too." He went to email Bobby both translations and the link. Though Xander was right, he didn't want to see how hard Bobby would spank them if he ended up with magic. Or their dad. "Tell Dad not to play it? He might swat us long distance."
"Yeah, that's the least of our worries," Dean assured him. He called his father's phone first. "Dad, it's us. It's a fucking apocalypse thanks to a video game. No, we're not drunk or drugged. Xander found it so that should explain about everything." He hung up on the voicemail, calling Ellen. "Anyone playing that new game where you find the magical symbols in the pictures?" He smirked at Sam. "Jo is." He snorted at her complaint. "Because Xander grew magic after the tenth level, Ellen. The first two screens starts out with 'by the power of Rosenburg." She started to yell at her daughter to delete that game, it was magical and starting an apocalypse. "Sam's emailing Bobby the translation. Sure, Sammy, email it to Ash too? Ellen said he introduced Jo to it."
"Did," he said, grinning at him. "She yelling?"
"Jo's nearly addicted to it according to Ellen. Hey, Ash. Yeah, Xander found it. Of course, it was his freaky luck. No, realized he was floating his soda over when he got thirsty and didn't feel like getting up. That's why he translated the first two screens. Then he called to check it with Sammy. Bobby does too. Yup, a head's up. Let us finish this hunt and we'll head to Sunnydale. Sure, if you want to. You know where we are?"
"I'll send him the facts we have," Sam offered.
"Sammy's sending you the facts, dude. Thanks." He hung up. "Then we're packing and heading." He called Xander. "We're heading today. Ash is taking over for us." He hung up and got to work packing his half of the stuff. Sam closed his laptop and packed all his things, then they headed out, music blaring like usual. If Willow had done this herself, she was in deep crap with them. They had been stopped from killing her by the demons the last time. This time, he doubted anyone was going to stop them.
Xander walked into Giles' store, smiling at the older man and slayer behind the counter arguing about something trivial. "It's a rare fall apocalypse."
"Oh, dear," Giles said, looking at him. "Are you sure? Have you seen a prophecy?"
"No, it turned out the bastard republicans who think that anything modern is going to destroy society got it right for once." He floated the book in front of Giles.
"You have magic?" Buffy asked. "Why? And why is that an apocalypse?"
He smirked. "Because I got it from a video game that's readily available after a very generous free trial online."
She gripped the counter hard enough to crack it. "Video game?"
"Yeah." He put down the book.
"You're joking, right?" she begged.
"Nope, sorry. And it's a moment of karma. It's so Willow has others of her power class. Apparently if you go through all the three-hundred-sixty levels, you become her strength. There might be some hidden levels to make it to the mystical number system."
"I'll check Willow for being drained," Giles said. "How widespread?"
"I checked yahoo games this morning. That's only one of the download sites. It's listing forty thousand and some there. There's six or seven other sites it's sitting at. By the way, I'm hiding when Dean tells Willow."
Buffy nodded quickly. "Me too. We can go have a pizza."
"Why are you sure it's aimed at Willow, Xander?" Giles asked.
He handed over the translation. Giles whimpered. "Yeah, we're well past 'oh dear lord' and all the way to 'bloody fucking hell and Janus on a pogo stick'," he said dryly. "Which is why Dean's telling her and I'm hiding." He smirked at her. "So, how's the hellmouth?"
"Not that freaky this week. I thought we might get a few nice days off."
Giles looked at him. "How sure is this translation, Xander?"
"I had Sam double-check. It was in Ancient Hebrew. By the way, they must know her at least a little bit since it says something about her last issue."
Buffy read the translation and nodded. "Hey, let's go for that pizza in LA. Angel should be warned too."
"That's not far enough away," he told her, looking serious. He grinned at Giles. "Think we can go destroy the Council for a bit?"
"I doubt that's going to be far enough away," Giles admitted, taking off his glasses to clean them. He did it hard enough that one lens popped out. "Oh, dear." He put it back into place and got his screwdriver to tighten that part of his frame again. "I don't know what to tell you, Xander."
"If she did it, she's on a hit list," he told him. "If she didn't do it, it's probably someone local that's run into her. I have no idea how long it takes to program a video game like this. I'd expect a few months at the least."
Buffy rested her head on the counter. "Is it the first level?"
"I found out I had it at the tenth. You find the mystical glyphs hidden in the pictures."
She looked up. "I saw someone doing that at the library on his PDA." She put her head back down. "Damn it. I wanted a night off."
"Feel for ya, Buffs, but hey, not my fault. I just found it." Dean and Sam stomped in, Dean in the lead. "Hey, guys. Warned them that I'd be hiding while you told Willow."
"Where is she?" he asked.
"College," Buffy moaned. "Our room." She looked up. "Hi, guys. Can't you come with happier news? Like that demons are taking a vacation to Brazil or something?"
"Sorry, not this time," Sam offered with a grin. "Where?"
"Stevenson. Three-fourteen." She put her head back down. "I'm going to be hiding behind Xander this time. She's going to throw fits."
"We can handle her," Dean promised, heading off with Sam directing him to the college. They found the dorm and Sam smiled at the person watching the desk. "Going to bug Rosenburg."
"That's fine, sign in please?" They signed in and headed up there. "Such nice looking boys. I thought she was a lesbian."
Dean pounded on the door, getting an irritated looking Willow. "How's your computer skills these days, Rosenburg?"
"Why?" she asked. They forced their way in. "I've been good! I haven't done anything!"
"You're panicking so I doubt that," Dean told her.
"Not why we're here though," Sam told her. He sat her down and pulled out his laptop, letting her see the game. "Do you recognize this?"
"No," she said slowly. She paused the intro screen then stared at him. "I'm mentioned? They made a game of me?" She hopped up. "Who did this!"
"I have no idea but it's an act of karma," Dean told her. "Or as you Wiccans call it, the three fold rule." She glared. Sam handed her the full translation, making her burst out crying when she was done. "So, any idea since Xander found it?"
"What?" she asked, staring at him. "He found it?"
"Yes, and it gives people magic," Sam said with a grin.
"Is he causing an apocalypse? Is that why you guys are telling me this?"
"Willow, it's heavily downloaded," Sam told her. "A lot of people are using it. Xander's not using his new skills at the moment. We can't say the same for the other hundred thousand or so that've played it."
She sat down, looking weak and shaky all of a sudden. "Hundred thousand?" she whispered. He nodded. "Oh, dear."
"How long would it take someone to do this?" Dean asked. "More than six months?"
She shook her head. "Maybe four."
"Your last mistake was about eight months ago, so plenty of time," Sam said. "Who in town could do this?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. I'm going to find out!" She hopped back up. "Let me tell Buffy and Giles in case something happens in town."
"Xander did." Dean stopped her from leaving the room by grabbing her arm. "Do you know how bad this can become? If they end up a tenth as powerful as you are, there's going to be hell on earth, Willow." He stared her down, making her flinch and look away. "Someone decided you needed bitten for that last stunt of yours. You will help us fix this."
"I will," she promised. Dean let her go. "If we had known I would've stopped them already, Dean. I know others being this powerful could be a problem. Have we checked Ethan Rayne yet?"
"Xander did last night. He's high from the excess power. He said computers are evil and now he knew why Janus thought so."
"Oh, poopie." She huffed off, them following her. She went to the comic shop, knowing only a few evil computer geniuses. "Andrew!" she snapped. He flinched, backing away from her. "Hold it, Mister. We need to talk."
"About what?" he asked. He saw the two guys behind her. "Um, new boyfriends?"
"No, hunters," Dean told him simply. The boy went pale. "Know anything about a video game that mentions her?"
Andrew gaped. "Is that what it says?" Willow looked disgusted but nodded. "Wow! No wonder Johno started to float things last week!" She glared at him. "We didn't do it," he said quickly, backing away a few steps. "Unless Warren did it on his own and didn't let us in on it, we did not do this. It'll complicate our plans," he assured the hunters. "It'd really screw things up. Especially if someone like Xander got into it."
"He did," Sam told him. "All the way through the free trial." Dean glared at him. "Bobby told him to do it so we could see if you got stronger." He looked at the young geek. "Know anyone who could?"
"Not in town." He shrugged. "Oz maybe?"
She pouted. "Oz wouldn't do that to me, Andrew."
"Okay, if you're sure," he said. "The college doesn't have a computer science program. The nearest one is one of the schools around LA."
"Who was Oz?" Sam asked. "I remember hearing his name before."
"My ex," Willow told him, grimacing some. "He went to Tibet to get some control."
"Oh, him, yeah," Dean said. "We're sure it's not him?" She glared at him. "Ex's are why there's vengeance demons, Rosenburg."
"No, he said he'd come back sometime soon."
"Won't that be a problem with your present girlfriend?" Andrew asked. She glared so hard he fled the store, throwing money at the cashier for his comics.
She huffed off, going to the Magic Box. Xander wasn't there anymore. "Where did he go?"
Sam walked in. "He's hiding from you. He' scared of what you'll do this time."
"I'm not like that anymore," she said with the start of a pout.
"It doesn't mean you haven't acted out of anger before," Giles reminded her. "Buffy took him to see her mother." He looked at the hunter. "Is there anything new known?"
"I talked to Andrew. He said they didn't do it. Tried to say Oz would," she complained. "He's not like that," she said hotly when Giles opened his mouth.
He stared her down. "As much as I adore Tara, you did promise to wait for him," he said mildly.
She glared. "Well, he never came back."
"It's not like it's a fast learned problem," Giles countered. "We'll protect Tara and Oz when he does show back up."
"Fine, whatever. Let me see that game, Sam?" He handed over a disk. "Full version?"
"Yup." She sat down at the laptop she had left here the last time they had been in for research, getting into the code of the game to find anything out. He looked at Giles. "Is anything else going on?"
"Not really. It's slowing down for the moment. I'm not sure why. It's atypical this time of year."
"Want us to look around?"
"If you wouldn't mind," he said with a smile.
"Dean'll be bored." He looked outside then sighed. "I wonder where he went this time."
"He ducked into the coffee shop for a donut probably." She looked up. "Everyone says he has a sweet tooth."
"He does but he has candy in the car. If not, Xander certainly does." He went to find his brother. He started with Buffy's house. Sure enough, Dean was there talking with Buffy and Joyce while eating. He knocked and Xander let him in. "She's looking over the code."
"I didn't try to ask one of the super king geeks yet. I figured she would," Xander told him.
"Is Andrew one?"
"Yup." He smirked. "What did he say?"
"Unless Warren did it without them, they didn't do it. He suggested Oz might've?"
Xander considered it. "Warren would brag. So he's out. Jonathan's a better programmer anyway. Oz?" He weighed it. "He might have a reason to. He's her ex."
"She said that."
"The werewolf in Tibet?" Dean guessed.
"Yup, him," Xander agreed. Buffy grimaced. "Think?"
"I haven't heard from him. How would he have heard about her mistakes?"
"Who knows," Xander admitted. "Any idea how to contact him?"
"Nope. We might have a problem though. Has Willow told you about Tara?"
Xander groaned. "Again?" Buffy glared. "Technically both of us kissed, not just me."
"Point, I guess, but a weak one," Buffy said.
"Hey, this makes the second time she's cheated on him. I heard Oz said he'd come back to her some year, when he got control."
"Yeah, that's what she said he said too," Buffy admitted. "Which is why we might have a problem."
"Send Tara to us," Xander told her. "Guys, from what I know about Tara, she's a good witch. Her mother taught her."
"She's uber shy," Buffy told them. "Like totally and stuttering, wearing long dresses, can't look at guys in the face shy."
"Oz's werewolf senses would pick out Willow's scent on her," Dean said, considering it. "If Xander can't, we'll try to protect her as long as she's a good witch."
Buffy nodded. "Very good witch. She even nags Willow about her magic."
"Again?" Dean demanded.
"Not yet," Buffy admitted, backing up some. "We hope never. She's back to learning new spells again." She noticed Xander rubbing one shoulder and Sam reached over to stroke over the back of his neck. "You okay?"
"I have a few scars like that too," she admitted. "So, anything new on your hunts?"
"Dad's alive but disappeared," Dean told her.
"That sucks," Buffy said. "Any idea where?"
"Tracking that damn demon," Xander told her. Dean glared. "There's a trap, Dean. We both realize he's going to turn it around to trap one of you. Which one do we think it is?"
"Me," Sam said quietly.
Buffy stared. "Why?"
"For some reason I'm getting visions of the other kids he's after."
"Oh, damn. I hate visions and slayer dreams." She leaned back in her chair. "We'll do what we can to help, guys. Is there anything researchy Giles could help with?"
"We've seen what we could," Dean told her. "Sammy's nearly a research God. Dad's been working on it since he burned Mom."
"But we have more historical mentions than anywhere else outside the main council library," Buffy pointed out. "That's what all the watchers are looking at. Long dead history."
"That might help," Sam admitted. "This can't be the first time he's done this."
"So maybe he ran into a slayer before and it stopped him," Buffy offered. "It won't hurt to ask."
"I'll go ask him later," Dean said with a smile. "Thanks, Buffy."
"Welcome. This job is too hard to separate ourselves out. No matter what the council thinks and wants. One or two slayers can't be everywhere and handle everything. Then more people get hurt." She looked at Xander. "How has your hunting been?"
"Not bad. Not great but not bad."
"The others in the hunting community look at him to help with succuba," Sam told her.
She swatted him. "Someday you won't draw demon girls, Xander."
"Yeah but by then I might have boys their age," he shot back with a dry look. She snickered, shaking her head. "I might."
"I doubt it. You'd have to find a good girl to date first."
"It doesn't take a good girl to have babies, Buffy. All it takes is a girl."
"We'd have to take the kid from a bad girl," Dean pointed out.
"Agreed," Xander said with a smirk. "But it could happen. Condoms do break all the time."
"As I prove," Sam said dryly. Dean gave him a dirty look. "Dad said so once while drunk. Apparently you were enough for them."
"Of course I was but I'd miss irritating you to make you straighten your sloppy ass up if you weren't born, Sammy."
Joyce shook her head. "Boys," she chided.
"I would," Dean told her. She swatted him and handed him more meatloaf. "Thanks," he said with a grin.
"Sam, are you hungry?"
"No thank you. I ate on the way here." She smiled and fed the rest to Xander and Buffy. He looked at Dean. "Do you have all of Dad's notes?"
"Of course." He stuffed his mouth. "Let us go check on Rosenburg. Thank you, Joyce." He kissed her on the cheek. "Good meatloaf. Better than every diner's." She smiled at that. "Xander, rooms?"
"Didn't check in yet. Sam knows where my roadtrip funds are."
"I'll get us rooms," he agreed, heading to do that while Dean talked to Mr. Giles. Xander followed to see if he could add anything. He knew how Giles found things to research. Sam walked up to the motel. It was scummy but they had stayed in worse. "I don't suppose you have the magic fingers system?"
"Sure do," the clerk said happily. "Some of our residents really enjoy it with their activities. How many and for how long?"
"Few days and we need a double with two beds and a single."
"I can do that." He rang him up, letting Sam swipe the debit card for him. "Debit?" Sam nodded. He handed over two keys. "There you go. Have a happy night."
"You too, dude." He went to move the cars there. Xander would have stakes with him. He always did even when he wasn't hunting vampires. He and Dean could make it back together. He walked into the Magic Box. "Room twenty, Dean."
"I moved the Impala already. Going to put up wards."
"Put up the anti-vampire ones," Xander reminded him. Sam grinned, going to do that. "It's even got that magic fingers system you like, Dean. Some of the vamps like it when they're feeding."
"Cool. Any cute, easy girls?"
"Yeah, lots and lots. Desperate too." They got back to work with the books. "Giles, what's this?" he asked, having him look.
Giles traced over the images. "That's... Azazel, Xander. He's a higher demon. He wants to open something to let his minions out. He's tried a few times."
"How does he do that?" Dean asked.
"He picks a champion to open a devil's gate." He took it to read more closely. "He does appreciate fire to kill his chosen's parents."
Dean came over to read it too. "I'll be damned. Where's the devil's gate?" He pulled out his phone but Xander handed him his. "I can use mine."
"He might answer it if it's me, Dean. He's scared of drawing you two into it. He thinks the thing's chasing him now."
"How did you know this?"
"He told Bobby."
"Oh." He grimaced but took his phone to call his father. "Mr. Giles found the demon," he said when his father answered with a grunt. "We are in Sunnydale, Dad. Xander also found a computer game that gave people magic. It's a karma bite against Willow so we're here letting her check it over." He nodded. "Azazel sound right? That's what we're doing. Where are you?" He grimaced. "That's fine. I'll send you what I can."
"Can it use the hellmouth?" Xander asked him.
"No, that's not the right sort of hell plane. It needs one populated by higher demons. It's built one."
"Hear that?" Dean asked. "Yeah, hell gate, Dad. Not hellmouth. Exactly. So get here!" He hung up. "Asshole." He tossed Xander the phone. "Why didn't you tell me when I started to worry?"
"I did when I heard from Bobby that he'd heard from him. That he was alive and kicking, but worried."
"You told me?"
"I told Sam."
"Sam didn't tell me. I'll have to kick his ass."
"That was right around when you got coordinates I think."
"Ah. We were both pissed. Good reason." He looked over the book again. "Where's the hell gate?"
"It lists a cryptic area." He let Dean see.
"A gate surrounded by a trap and a device to kill that is the key," he read. "It's nearly as bad as a prophecy."
"So call Bobby or Ash. See if they can find it," Xander said, doing that. "Ash, me. Is Bobby there?" He nodded. "Incoming email later from us. On the Winchester demon. There's a devil's gate. You do?" He stiffened. "Where is it? Shit, he's going to crap monkeys this time. Thanks, man. Warn him. Yeah, same one. Azazel we think. We're looking it up with Giles while Willow looks at the code on that game. Got John already. Thanks, man." He hung up. "It's near Bobby."
"Bobby is going to shit monkeys," Dean decided. "How close?"
"Ash is sending him info on it so he can look it over. Right now, from what he said, if your dad's on this side of Bobby and the Roadhouse he's probably closer."
"Heading for Chicago."
"Nope. Damn it." He called Bobby. "Incoming email later from us and one very shortly from Ash on a devil's gate that the demon who wants Sammy wants to open. You're closest. Thanks, Bobby. I will." He hung up. "He told us to be careful. This sucker's been going for a while and is really powerful he thinks."
"He would be," Giles agreed. "If we're correct."
"Ah, but scrying spells from outside of Sunnydale don't work in the town," Xander told him. "Melinda admitted Pastor Jim tried to get her to scry Willow to check on her and she couldn't."
"The hellmouth blocks it?" Dean guessed.
"Or something in it," Giles agreed. "I had forgotten that point." He looked at the boy. "Very good memory." He smiled and got back to his research. "Give me a few hours, Dean. I'll compile some notes for you to send around. That way if they know anything it can be shared as well."
"Thanks. Let us go unpack at the motel. Then we'll come back?" Giles nodded so they walked off together. "That was a good idea, Xander."
"Welcome," he said with a chipper smile. "Most watchers dwell in the long past and are at least slightly research nerds."
"Bigger than Sammy."
"That's only a quarter of his books, Dean. The rest are in storage from the old school library." Dean gaped. He nodded. "Lots and lots of books."
"Yeah, bigger research nerd than Sammy, but good at it apparently." They staked a few vamps on their way to the motel. He walked into the room. "Hey, I get a single?"
"No," Sam called from up the walkway. "I didn't realize the double was the other one."
"Damn." He walked that way. "We have it's name. We think."
"We do?" he asked, stiffening.
Dean nodded. "Mr. Giles is looking it over." Sam took off jogging. "Be safe! This is still Sunnydale!" Sam waved a hand but kept going. Dean sighed, going in to unpack. Xander came down a bit later. "You sure you don't want to room with Sammy?"
"Do you know how many succuba recently have asked me if I would take Lord Samuel under my wing to keep him safe from those who would want to end his reign?"
Dean stiffened, looking at him. "Excuse me?"
Xander nodded. "I was compiling why." He handed over the notes. "I was going to casually run into you guys in the next week anyway. I'm missing one interview but I think I can get that around here if you want to go to Willie's with me."
Dean looked it over, then at him. "Let's head." He locked his room. Xander did the same and they walked down there together. Driving would be pointless since it was only two blocks. He walked in first.
Xander strolled in and looked around. "Hola, my former people." A few demons gave him dirty looks.
"Harris?" Willie demanded. "Xander Harris?" A few demons fled.
"What's wrong, you don't want to date me too?" Xander called after them. "Yup, tis me, Willie." He walked over and leaned on the bar while Dean guarded him. "I've been asked a few times recently about guarding Lord Samuel. I need to know about that." The bartender pointed at Dean. "I know that part. I need to know *why*. And why he needs a guard like my fabulous ass."
"He's wrecked your self esteem I see," he said dryly.
"Don't make me kill you," Dean warned dryly. "He's been picking up bad habits like seances *somewhere*."
Willie swallowed. "You wouldn't," he said nervously.
"His daddy and him trained me, Willie. What do you think?"
"Um.... no violence?"
"If you tell me what I want to know, we'll hit the Magic Box again."
"Is he *here*?" he demanded.
"I don't go anywhere without my hunting partner," Dean assured him.
"Oh, damn. He could come."
"He who?" Dean asked.
"We thought it was him," Xander admitted. He leaned down further. "Know anything on why? Or is it related to him needing a champion?"
"Both, kind of." He winced then shifted. "All right, fine, but you didn't hear it from me. He can torture me."
"Not if we see him first," Dean promised. Willie swallowed hard. "Could be worse. You could be dealing with the game that created witches."
"Yeah, that was Oz's thing when he came back."
Xander smirked. "Thank you. Because of her last stunt or other things?"
"Who knows. He never says anything."
"Outside of town." He nodded the direction. "Not that hard to find."
"Then I'll track him later. He'll talk to me," Xander decided. "The reason and why he needs my cute ass in his?"
Willie stared at him. Xander stared back. Willie looked away first and found a sheet with bets on it. "I need that back."
He looked it over. "Spike's back?"
"Those military assholes got him," he warned. "He's not harmful anymore."
Xander shrugged. "Yay. Is his Dru baby here?"
"Brazil last I heard. Slime demons."
"Eww. Playing with the antlers?" he joked.
"Apparently they're better than Spike was."
"Really eww." He looked it over. Then at him. "So why him? The champion thing?" Willie nodded. "Anything else you can give us?" he asked, passing the betting sheet back to Dean.
"I probably shouldn't. He'll hear."
"For a while we wondered why he missed Xander," Dean told him. "We found other special kids."
"He didn't miss Harris. He didn't mark Harris because he can't come into Sunnydale. The power's wrong and it makes him ill."
"Really?" Xander asked. Willie nodded slowly. "Huh. Good to know. So he did want me?" He nodded. "Can he try now?"
"No. He has to mark you at a specific time."
"Interesting." He stood up again. "Anything else you know?"
"He'll be gathering them soon. It's almost time."
"He have a cult or anything?" Xander asked. "Higher cock sucking minions?"
"Daughter, not sure if they're like that or not. Meg."
Dean stiffened. "That's who possessed Sammy once."
"That's odd. It might taint him." The bartending demon shrugged. "I don't know much else."
"Where would he gather them?" Dean asked. "In case we have to pull a rescue."
"Somewhere like here. Can't be scried, can't be warded, can't be escaped easily. No other demons because he wouldn't want challenged. Has to be near the gateway. That's all I know."
"It gives us a place to start," Xander decided. He walked the betting sheet into the back, running it through the copier then brought out the original. "Thanks, Willie. Nice redecorating job you did this time." They walked out together, heading back to the shop. "Oh, Sam my beloved."
Sam's head popped up. "Not now, Xander."
"Half the demons want him to have your butthole so he can guard you while you make him less bouncy," Dean told him.
"What?" Giles demanded.
Dean handed over those notes. "Find somewhere that can't be scried, has no other demons, and is near his devil's gate. The special kids are going to be there while he weeds it down to his champion."
Sam growled. "Really?"
"And he didn't miss me," Xander said. "He gets sick on the hellmouth." He stared at him. "But we're right, it is Azazel."
"Yes," Sam hissed, getting into those books. "Why can't the town be scried into?"
"Too much energy from all the death," Giles told him. "Or so it's supposed."
"So maybe a ghost town?" Xander asked. "There's a few near the Roadhouse."
Dean nodded. "There are. We visited some." He went to look those up. "Spirit energy would block it, Mr. Giles?"
"It's thought to. Too much soul's energy would interfere with the spell."
"So high death rate and no demons," Dean said. "That leads to a nearly empty town or a ghost town." He input those searches into a site Bobby had found recently. "That leaves us with three towns." Sam and Xander came to look it over.
"I was there," Xander said with a point at the middle one. "My next-to-last case had a spirit that was buried there. I had to burn it there." Dean nodded. "No signs of habitation."
"So that leaves the ghost town in Nevada or Cold Oak," Sam said. "We can check those through other hunters."
"We're sending Ash and Bobby both emails later," Xander pointed out. They nodded, gathering notes for that. He walked over to Giles, taking the book. "It was Oz," he said quietly.
"Oh, yeah. He's local by the way. Has been for a while. Willie said so."
"Tomorrow's the start of the full moon, Xander."
"I'll track him. You keep her down." Giles nodded. "And I'll talk to him about Tara too. Make sure she'll be safe."
"Thank you." He smiled. "Any other news?"
"Not yet. I haven't gotten much more powerful since the first time I realized I could float a book. Then again I haven't tried to stick a soul or close a hellmouth yet either."
"I'll try." He grinned. "You'll watch them?"
"I can. They can go on patrol if they want."
"Thanks." He looked at them. "Got a lead on the video game thing," he said when he caught Sam staring at his back. He walked off, going to find Buffy on patrol. He pulled her away from Willow. "Found out about the one after Sam. Telling her in case she's heard anything undergroundy," he said, looking at her. He leaned down next to her ear. "It's Oz doing the game," he whispered.
"I thought I saw that one out by the cliffs last month," she sighed. She looked up at him. "So?"
"Watch the boys?"
"The demon will get sick if it comes here."
"Wow. The hellmouth is good for something?"
"Maybe." He shrugged and walked off. "I'll take the other three cemeteries."
"Thank you. I needed the rest break tonight." She looked at her pouting witch friend and decided not to tell her yet. They could when things were more concrete. Maybe Oz had a point for doing the game. Not that they wanted Xander to be a witch or anything. It might cause an apocalypse.
Bobby looked at the new email that had just come in, stiffening up. He called Ellen. "Ash, please tell me you've read this from the boys?" He got a positive hum since it sounded like he was drinking. "What do we know beyond this?" Ash told him where it was. "I can check that." Ash said he would. "Fine. Let me know. I know where John is, about anyway. They did? Thank god. Thanks, Ash. Let me know and keep me informed. Want me to take one of the ghost towns to look over?" He nodded. "I can do that. Thanks." He hung up and packed to go on that mission. The email got printed, just in case. He called John's phone on the way. "It's Bobby. I'm heading to Cold Oak to check it. There's another ghost town that he might be using. Ash and Ellen are checking the devil's gate. Also, it didn't miss Xander. It couldn't get into Sunnydale, John. The email said Xander's handling that game thing. Read your email tonight," he said before hanging up on the voicemail.
John barely missed that call, listening to the voicemail while he ate the burger he had stopped to get on his way back west. That was better news. He found an internet cafe and pulled in to get some online time for his email. Clearly Sammy had put the note together. It had facts, research citations, and incorporated his last notes. He printed it and closed out heading up to pay for his printings. Then he got back on the interstate. If Sunnydale was safe, he wanted his son there. He called Xander's phone. "Tell Sammy to stay in Sunnydale. No matter what, Xander. This game thing Bobby mentioned?" He gave him a rundown on that, making him hiss and wince. "You can do what? Don't tell anyone else, kid. Please. Let me know. I'm on my way that way. Barely in Illinois. Few days, yeah. See you then." He hung up and sped up. No one would pull him over this time of night. He finished his burger while he drove. This was the first great lead they'd had on the damn demon that had destroyed his family. Not even speeding tickets was going to stop him this time.
Oz woke with a groan, blinking at the man sitting next to him in the woods. "How did I get out this time?"
"No clue," Xander admitted, leaning forward to hand him some water. "Thought you might want to talk."
"Not really." Xander floated the ropes off Oz's body. Oz winced but drank the water. "Game?"
"Yup. Translated the opening too." He shifted closer. "Oz, tell me? Please? I'm seriously worried about Willow at the moment. Mostly because she seems to snap and go after me."
"I heard." He sat up, checking himself for injuries. All the scratches were healing. He looked at him. "She cheated again."
"Tara didn't know."
"I know. I figured that out when I nearly wolfed out to eat her." He took another drink. I don't know, Xander. It felt right."
"Okay. And the plan for all the new witches was what?"
"Maybe the light could use some help since she wasn't."
"Probably, yeah." He sighed. "Is Tara safe?"
"From me. I got so mad I lost my ability to control. I'm working on it but I'm mad."
"So am I. When I pointed out Tara was considered cheating for the second time she glared at me." Oz snorted, shaking his head and finishing the water. Xander handed over another and a granola bar. Oz let out a half-smirk at that. "Hunters have to eat on the go all the time. Especially running through the woods at night. They travel easier than twinkies."
"Point." He nibbled. "Do you hate me?"
"No." Oz looked at him. "I could do without the magic though. Makes things harder."
"I don't know if it can be reversed."
"Make an additional pack?"
"I might be able to."
"The light still probably needs more witches."
"Probably. There's a whole lot that slip because the power calls out to them. It's damn easy to beat bullies when you can smash them with a table."
"I get it."
"Good." He stood up and hauled Oz up, looking him over. "Lead on, I'll treat to breakfast. Then I'll talk to Tara for you."
"Do you have to?"
"Yeah. Tara's an innocent in this. She deserves to know."
Oz nodded. "I don't blame her. She's sweet."
"I don't either. We all came to Willow's side because of that." He shrugged. "You loved her, I protected her. Tara may love her." Oz nodded, walking with him. "Then I'll help you up your cage for tonight. Or you can go see Giles. He said he wanted to see you."
"I know. It is for me too. Each time I see her I remember bruised intestines and lacking flesh on my back and sides." Oz looked at him. "Joyce had to stop her magic issues back in her senior year."
"You didn't hear she attacked me to get me back?"
"No, I didn't. The girls were hiding stuff from me but I didn't know what." Xander nodded. "Damn it."
"I think she's got problems, Oz."
"The wolf considers her a mate, Xander."
"I know. And the next step would be for the wolf to remove his mate for being mentally ill. The same as the hyena's would be if I had one and she went evil. We've got to figure this out before it eats you." Oz nodded. He let them into a small cabin. "This is cute." He grinned. "No guitars?"
"Music seems to have dried up."
"This isn't healthy, Oz. This is depression. Trust me, Willow gave me a good case of it when I left."
"Very." He sat down, watching Oz head for the mostly concealed shower and take one then put on better clothes. "Cage?"
They went to look at it and Xander helped him fix the bent bars. Then reinforce it by welding a few others crossways. Oz ate lunch. Xander went to the college. He had seen a picture of Tara thanks to Willow. He spotted Buffy, waving her over. "Tara?" he asked quietly.
"McMary Hall." She pointed. "Coming out in about a half hour. Oz?" she asked quietly.
"Got out last night but he's fine. I helped him with his cage. He said it's painful. And that the light needed more witches since so many defected."
Buffy nearly cried. "I know why."
"He's working on something to undo it." She nodded so he walked off. He found the shy blonde girl coming down the stairs. "Tara." She flinched so he moved closer. "Hi, Xander."
"W..wi...Willow's fr..friend Xander?" she asked quietly, looking around.
"Yeah. We need to talk. It's not a good talk but we need to talk." She stared at him. "I'm here as a hunter, Tara, not as Willow's friend. You're not in trouble though."
"She is?" she whispered. He nodded. "Why?"
"Walk with me? We can stay in the quad so you feel safe." She nodded, walking with him. "Tara, what do you know about Willow's problems in high school and her last relationship?"
"She..she said she had pro..problems."
Xander nodded. Then he moved the arm of his shirt to show her some scars. "Very bad ones." She flinched away from it. He let the sleeve go. "Buffy's mom solved it. Probably like the last one she had about eight months ago."
"I remember," she admitted quietly.
"Did she ever mention Oz?" She nodded quickly, looking down. He stopped to make her look at him. "Did she mention she was dating Oz in high school and cheated with me by kissing me?" he asked quietly.
She shook her head slowly, staring at her. "She said she'd wait?" she hissed. He nodded. "Oh, no."
"Yeah. I, and Oz, both know that you're an innocent in this." She nodded quickly. He started them moving again because it seemed to calm her down. "The problem is that I'm out here to hunt down the maker of a video game that gave people powers because they decided the light was missing too many witches, including her. Or maybe especially her."
"It's tempting and easy," she whispered.
"I know. That's why I have the scars." She slumped, stopping her walking. He turned to look at her. "I'm not telling you this to make you feel bad, Tara. I think you needed to know. Willow didn't think it could be him but it appears it was. He's working to counter what happened." She looked at him. "He's not mad at you. He is a werewolf though and that is reacting very strongly."
She nodded, swallowing some. "I thought I saw one."
"You probably did. The wolf thinks of her like a mate. Which means he's fighting with himself. And you'd be caught in the middle. From what I know about you, mostly from Willow and Buffy's emails, you're a good witch. You're a strong one with good ethics and a strong foundation in the goddess." She relaxed. "I have nothing against you but I know this is going to hurt you so I had to warn you."
"What's going to happen?"
"Eventually he'll have to talk to her. Which may cause problems."
"Wolves mate for life," she said quietly, glancing around.
"Yeah, and they're expected to take out a mate that's went rabid on the pack." She shuddered. He moved closer to put his arm around her shoulders. "He will not hurt you. He doesn't want to and he knows you didn't know. That you're stuck here between them. And between her and her magic issues."
"I don't have issues," Willow said from behind them.
Xander looked at her. "Really?" He stared her down. "By the way, I know the programmer."
"It can't be Oz. He's in Tibet."
"He's in the next town, by the cliffs. I ran into him last night and we talked today." She went pale. "He's a bit pissed, Willow. I'm going to bring him to Giles in a few days. That way he can talk to him about undoing the magic the game gave us." He looked at Tara, feeling her shaking. "After sixty rounds I can float a book." She groaned, glaring at her girlfriend. "I was telling her so she didn't get caught in the middle of this. She didn't know a thing about it." Willow stomped off. He looked at her. "Let's talk to Joyce? She has sense."
Tara nodded. "She can help." He walked her that way, arm still protectively around her shoulders. "Siblings?" she asked finally.
"I kinda got adopted by a few hunters as family but no. Drunk parents. No siblings." He smiled. "But I almost kinda adopted Buffy and Willow as sisters. Faith too before she slipped and couldn't be helped back. I can adopt you." She smiled and nodded. He opened the door to the gallery, smelling Oz. "Hey," he said.
Oz looked then stiffened. "You don't smell like her today. Thank you."
"I haven't seen her in days." She moved forward, away from Xander's protection. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"I know. I don't blame you. The wolf doesn't really blame you. That first time I had an instinctive reaction; it knows you're not the problem here, Tara." She nodded.
Joyce looked at them. "Tara, sweetie, let's talk."
"I had to tell her about Willow needing help before. She's denying she has problems."
"Small problem," Oz said, holding up something. "Found this in her herb garden."
"What is that?" Joyce asked.
"Lethe's brambles," Tara said. She looked at Xander, eyes wide.
He moved closer. "If she's doing memory spells I'll kick her ass myself," he vowed. She relaxed again. He looked at Oz. "You comfy?"
"I'm good," he agreed. "We can talk. I need to know she's happy." Tara shrugged. "Or at least was." She nodded. "You say about as little as I do usually. I'm chatty today because I'm working through it."
She gave him a careful hug, letting him sink into her arms. "It's all right. We'll work it out, Oz." He nodded against her shoulder.
"Joyce, his cabin has a good cage for tonight," Xander told her. "If you need me, I'll be at the Magic Box. Willow does know it was him and that I told her about that. She snuck up on us."
"That's fine, Xander. I'll call if there's problems." Xander nodded, walking off to check in with the family again. "Come on, kids. Use my office and we'll talk for a while. Want some cocoa?"
Tara gave him a shy grin. "She makes really great cocoa."
"I know. She fed me some after the fluke."
"He told me."
"They blamed him."
"It takes two, Oz." She shrugged. "I'm realistic." He nodded. They went in there to talk with Joyce mediating. They had to work this out so the wolf would calm down again and Tara would feel safe.
Xander walked into the Magic Box, looking at Giles. "Oz and Tara are talking with Joyce."
"They're cool for right now. Willow overheard though. Oh, and what's Lethe bramble's doing in her garden?" Giles stiffened. "Oz found some and showed her. I recognized the name when she said it."
"What's it for?" Dean asked.
"Memory charms," Giles groaned. "I'll check her later, Xander."
"Please. Oz won't hurt her. I filled her in on the past magic issues and the cheating thing back then too. We both knew she was stuck in there without knowing."
"That's kind of you. It may confuse her but it's best that she knows."
"If she's doing memory charms she's slipping again," Dean said firmly.
"Joyce heard," Xander said with a mean grin. "I told her I'd beat her ass myself if she did one."
"We can help," Dean assured him. Sam nodded to back him up. "Heard from Dad. He made it to Missouri's already."
"You never did introduce me to Missouri."
"She'd either giggle madly at you or want to tan your butt for the dirty thoughts," Dean said dryly. "She reads minds, Xander."
"Hmm. Still, it might be nice to know?"
"I'll do it on the way past there the next time."
"Thanks." He sat down. "What other problems are we having, Giles?"
"Many. Samuel needs to stay in town to protect him until we've cleared it."
"Some of the demon's butt is mine, Mr. Giles. He killed my girlfriend."
"I understand that but if he can call you...."
"Then I'll kick his ass then and let Dad finish him off," he agreed.
"Sam, there's a point to that," Xander said. "Stay in town until we can trap him." Sam looked at him. "If we can trap him in whatever town he's in, then you can get your shot and so can John. Go out randomly and you'll be alone until we can find you. Possibly dead too."
"I know. I'll agree to reasonable precautions as long as we're working on it."
"So we'll work on how to trap him," Dean promised. "Dad would like it too. So would the other special kids." Sam relaxed and nodded. "Until then, think Buffy needs help while we work on the research and wait for Dad?"
"He's thinking about three days," Xander told him.
"There's a number of new nests plus the old base we managed to shut down using some of Willow's hacking skills which needs to be cleaned out."
Xander nodded. "Then we'll handle it. Base?" he asked Dean.
"Base," he agreed. "How large?"
"Under most of the college I'm afraid." He got the plans they had gotten off their systems. "Willow turned them in for their bad behavior, making the system fix their own problems. Some may have moved."
"If they have, we'll make them stop too," Xander told him. "Be damned if I want demons in the military."
"That's a thought to give Dad a stroke," Dean decided, looking at Sam.
"We'll tell him when we get done with this," Xander said with a mean grin. "Give him something new to hunt down. That way his life's work isn't done yet."
Dean laughed. "That's not a bad idea, Xander. Thanks." They got to work on the base's plans. It was huge and possibly filled with all sorts of demon corpses and scavengers.
Dean trudged into the Magic Box that night, covered in slime and ash. "It's cleaned out," he croaked. "Damn was it bad."
"I can tell. Is that the bag that Willow uses on shopping trips that you're carrying?"
Dean grunted, handing it over. "Xander said you wanted one of those. I'm going to hope that the motel has good water pressure."
"I'm afraid it usually doesn't."
"Well, maybe I'll do the girly thing and bathe it off then. Because, this is gross," he said, spraying some slime off him when he moved his arm. "Xander's worse though," he finished with a grin. He trudged off. Even the vampires didn't come near him. Sam smelled him coming though because he opened the door before he could reach it. "Bathroom?"
"Free. Want me to find something acidic like lemon juice?"
"I don't think it'll help yet. Let me shower this off first. Can you do some laundry, Sammy?"
"I'm not touching that, Dean. It's disgusting." He got out of his way. "Don't sling slime around either. You nearly got your bed. The housekeeper's locked in her room for the night so we can't get replacement sheets."
Dean groaned, heading for the bathroom. "See if you can get some dishwashing detergent?"
"I can try." He left the room, coming back with a bottle and a clean Xander. Somehow he was miraculously clean. "How did you do that?"
"Joyce's special goo remover," he said, holding up the can. "Works wonders in laundry too. She should market the stuff." He handed it over. "Directions on the can. Don't take a sit-down bath in it or you might not like the bubbles." He bounced off again.
Sam read it as he walked into the bathroom. "Hey, Dean. From Xander." He handed over both. "He said to not take a bath in it. Something about bubbles." He shrugged and walked off.
Dean looked at the can, deciding it couldn't hurt to try it. "It even got the slime out of my hair," he said ten minutes later. "I need to kiss that woman and get this recipe." He got out after one last rinse, finding Sam had laid out some clothes for him. "Thanks, mom," he said dryly, but he put them on.
"Can't run around in a towel all the time," he shot back. "That stuff seemed to work."
"It has laundry directions too."
"I'm still not touching your slimed-on clothes, Dean. They're gross."
"Was worse before I tried to skim some of it off." He knew the motel had a laundromat so he walked things down there with the can of goo remover. The clerk gave him an odd look but he ignored it. Not his fault there had been slimy things down there that needed killed. He followed the directions on the can. He even waited. He was sure some vampire or demon would steal his clothes otherwise. By the time they were done his hair was dry and the clothes only had a few bad spots left. He ran it through another wash. This time they came out clean and the dryer worked fairly well. He walked back up there once they were done, looking at his sleeping brother. "Next time, *you* get the slime, Sammy." He repacked his bag and laid down to rest. It had been really disgusting down there.
John drove into town and right to the Magic Box. It wasn't open yet. That was how his luck had been for the last day and a half though. He wandered down to the coffee shop to get something, running into Dean and Sam. "More intel since the email?"
"Few things," Dean admitted. He paid for all their coffees and walked out with his father. Sam followed once he bought his own pastry for breakfast. "We need something to kill him instead of just banishing him back this time. That's how they did it the last few times."
"I know of something. It's on its way to Bobby." He took a drink. "Not bad."
"They make it vampire with insomnia strength too," Sam joked. "Secondly, we can draw it here. Xander wants a piece of it too since he's decided it was stupid for ignoring him."
"I'm wondering what sort of talent he would've manifested," John admitted. "That's been bugging me."
Dean smirked. "He's got visions at the very least. And now magic." He took a drink and hissed. "Way strong this morning. Oh, we have *got* to get the recipes off Joyce for her goo remover and all that stuff."
"Took all the slime off him and Xander. They came in covered, Dad."
"I can see doing that. Anything else pertinent?"
"Yeah, two things," Dean said. "He's using Cold Oak but no one's there right now. The devil's gate is down but he may not know that."
John smirked. "Ash go destructive?"
"Ellen sent him with that set of twins that just started to hunt. They went with a Xander plan they said. They blew it up."
John chuckled. "Xander's getting a bad rep for those things."
"Yes he is," Dean agreed dryly. "He's also sleeping in this morning. Oh, video game was done by Willow's ex. He's talking with her current girlfriend to get their stuff settled because he's a werewolf and there's the whole animal's mate thing going on too."
"What else did she do?" John asked, seeing Sam's face.
"Lethe's brambles," he said grimly.
"On? Do we need to go help Xander again? The boy gets into more trouble than even you can, Sammy."
"Nope. But her girlfriend and Joyce might need to be uncharmed," Dean said grimly. "She's a later issue. Tara wants her first. She disappointed her horribly."
"Tara.... Have we heard about her?"
"Pure witch, at least second generation. Her mother taught her," Sam told him. "She's good, ethical, pure, going to beat Willow's ass soon, incredibly shy, and stutters."
"Huh," John said. "I can't stop her from getting her first. We can have her last."
"Agreed," Dean said. "That's what we told her. She and Oz have been talking with Joyce. He needed some while he's working on a counter to what he did."
"But the witches might be needed," Sam offered. "There won't be anyone powerful enough to close the stupid hellmouth otherwise."
Dean nodded. "Which is why we were debating having Xander keep his and not play that game."
"It might not reverse it. You can't really lock up gifts like that," John pointed out.
"We're thinking that he can use a second game to remove it for all those who haven't figured it out or those who don't want it. Depending on how the spell up front is worded." John nodded at that. "But we're seeing."
"That's good. What about that guy's punishment?"
"Willow cheated on him for the second time by going to Tara," Dean told him. John growled. "He's already in pain, Dad. He locks himself up. He found control to not turn with the moon, which seeing her cheating again shattered. We let Xander handle that since they're friends."
"Fine. I won't touch him. If he's taking precautions he's not a danger." They nodded. "Anything else I need to know before I crash and we plan tonight for how to trap the asshole?"
"Go crash," Dean ordered. "Xander's in room twenty. We're in sixteen. He's got a single." John nodded, heading that way to get some rest. Dean looked at his little brother. "What do you want to do while we pull back together?"
"Get those recipes?"
"Definitely. You go search out stuff to help us hunt?" Sam nodded, letting them split up. Dean walked into the gallery since Joyce was already there. "If I get on my knees and beg would you tell me how to make that goo remover stuff I used the other night?"
"Of course I will." She pinched his cheek. "I have a few different things to take blood and things out of laundry."
"Xander and I both came in covered in slime, it worked well."
"Good." She sat down to write out her recipes for him, making him a happy boy. "When will your father get here?"
"Earlier. He's napping since he drove straight through from Illinois. We'll plot tonight."
"Good. Buffy said something this morning about hearing rumors of an apocalypse coming."
"If it was ours, the gate's sealed. Some younger hunters did what Xander would do and blew it up. Dad said he's getting a bad rep for that shit."
She laughed. "Xander does like weapons and explosives."
"If he retires, he can take over for Caleb," Dean decided. "Dad and us agreed, we're leaving Oz to you guys and Xander's common sense."
"Thank you. He's a good boy."
"I figured the game was a reaction. Did Giles test you yet?"
"Yes and he found one memory spell. He's looking up how to remove it."
"Decent. Tara?" She nodded. "She's got class today?"
"I don't know. She said she'd be here this morning." Dean quirked an eyebrow up. "I wasn't going to suggest it, but I'm wondering the same thing myself."
"I'll see if she wants a ride down," he said dryly, heading that way with the precious recipes. He paused to hand them to Sam, who could spread them around to the other hunters. He found the right dorm and signed in, heading up to her room to knock on the door. She opened it and gave him a confused look. "Tara, Joyce suggested you might need a ride down to the gallery."
"Dean Winchester. You know me, Tara. We met earlier this week." She slowly shook her head. "Yeah, you do." He let her cat sniff him. Miss Kitty had taken a liking to him when she had brought him with her to see Joyce last time.
Tara watched her cat love on the human then looked at him. "Why don't I remember if I know you?"
"I think the answer is snoring in your bed," he said bluntly.
She looked at the redhead in her bed then at him. "I want an explanation."
"Sure, grab your things. I'll let Joyce tell you." She smiled and did that. "Do you remember talking with Xander the other day?" he asked once they were outside.
"I've never met her friend Xander."
"Yeah, you did. You've been talking with Willow's ex Oz too. What day is it, Tara?"
He nodded. "It is. What's the date?"
"So I'm missing a week." She opened the book she had brought with her, reading over the time she was apparently missing. She held in a sob at one part. "Oh, no."
"We'll handle it. She's apparently done it to you before."
She looked at him. "I made her cheat?"
"You can't *make* someone cheat, Tara. That's their decision to ignore their promise. Even if you were a succuba you couldn't make her cheat." Tara relaxed again. "This is all on her, Tara. It's not the first time either. That's one of the things Xander told you."
"I wrote it down to work it over," she admitted. Dean smiled at her for that, parking in front of the gallery. She got out and walked inside. "Joyce?"
"Tara." She gave her a hug. Dean didn't follow so she looked at her. "What happened?"
"Apparently I'm missing a week."
"Oh, no." She nodded, letting her see the journal. "I remember all that."
Dean walked in with Giles and Buffy. "Found 'em."
"I'm not sure what she had me forget," Joyce told them.
"Probably seeing her doing something wrong," Dean told her. "That's the most usual reason."
Giles nodded, pulling out the notes he was working on to cancel the spells. "I could use help, Dean."
"Let me get Xander up." He went to do that, bringing the grumpy, sleepy one back. Bobby had theories about Xander and magic, namely that he had some remaining hellmouth taint that was able to repel magic most of the time. Since he never seemed to get hit with spells. Xander wobbled in and looked at the notes then cast the spell as Giles had written it. Both women grabbed their heads. So he did it over Giles and Buffy too. Giles did it over him. Xander glared at Dean. "What?"
"Agreed. Then we can salt and burn her. Dad already agreed."
Joyce rubbed her head. "I remember her going into a house on the west side but I don't know why she would have removed that."
"We'll go look it over," Xander promised. She wrote down the address, so he went with Dean. It was a short drive. The house looked normal enough but Xander was staring at it oddly. "It's got magic in there," he said finally when he noticed Dean staring at him.
"How can you tell?"
"It's trying to suck at me. It's not happy magic either. I almost taste blood." He got out and walked up to the door, Dean right behind him once he had a weapon. He pounded then walked in. "Hunters Society," he yelled. The demon in there shot something at him but Xander blocked it from hitting Dean. "Black magic, cute. Really. Unfortunately I've seen darker and worse than you. Name? That way your tomb has something?" The demon tried to hit him again but Xander magically batted it aside and attacked, making him scream when he was hit.
Dean moved to a better position to shoot him. "Xander, let me get him."
"No. Not yet. If you kill him and he's got anyone in thrall, it'll backlash through them."
"They'd be bad anyway."
Xander bounced the demon's head off the floor then looked up. "They're addicts, Dean. He's a magic dealer. Like the guy I saw in New Orleans. He could infect them even if they didn't come to him at first." He punched the guy again. He felt the wave of magic but concentrated and a shield went up around Dean. "Not cute, dude." He hit him again. The demon let go of more magic.
Willow appeared with a shriek. "What are you doing!"
Xander looked at her. "Saving some people from their dealer." He stabbed him with the knife from his back waistband, making the demon scream. He felt him release the magic around him. "Now, Dean." Dean shot it. He got off and looked at her. "Magic addiction, Willow? I thought you were staying straight and narrow."
She glared at him. "How dare you! He's a harmless demon!"
"Willow, he has stolen, meaning blood, black magic. No he's not. There's nothing innocent in magic dealers. They turn witches like you evil every day."
She raised a hand. "I say he's innocent."
Dean butted her on the head with the shotgun's base. She crumpled to the ground. "We can take her to the shop," he said calmly. "Are you good?"
"I'm fine. The guy in New Orleans did worse. I'll need to dump it soon but I'll be fine. Tara can help." He hauled her up with a groan. "You shouldn't be gaining weight from going down on your girlfriend, Willow." Dean snorted, waiting until they were gone to look for client lists and other things. He brought out everything that felt like magic to him and all the books he could find that were magic books. They got locked in the trunk for now. He and Xander shared a look. "Burn her," Xander ordered. Dean nodded, going to do that then they sped away.
Dean walked Willow in, finding Sam in there reading something. "Sammy, we have magic stuff in the trunk from the dealer she was going to." Giles' head popped up. "No longer an issue." He put her down on the couch. "She was trying to attack Xander for killing a supposedly innocent demon."
"Dear lord," he muttered. "Let me set some things up in the back then I'll help you check through the artifacts, Dean."
"While you do that, I'm taking Tara outside of town and having her help me dump power," Xander told him. Giles stared at him. "He was less effective than the one Ethan told me about in New Orleans. That one tried to get his student. I know how to drain it." Giles nodded, letting him gather a few things then go to the gallery. "Tara, I need you to help me with a rite."
"Why?" she asked. She wrinkled her nose. "What's that smell?"
"The magic dealer Willow was going to hit me with a few bursts of power. I need to dump it before it infects me more than the hellmouth has."
"I can do that," she agreed.
"Good, hold these. Let me get my car." He jogged off to the motel to do that. John was sleepily wandering around. "Sleep, John. We're handling a Willow issue," he said as he walked around him. He got into his car and started it, backing out and heading back to the gallery.
John called his younger son. "Do we need help?" He listened. "Fine. Give me a few more hours." He hung up and went back to bed. Sam said they had it.
Giles looked up as Tara and Xander came back, handing him the remains of what they had used. "Are you all right?"
"I'm better. The books and stuff?"
"I sent the vessels with power to a coven in England that I trust. They're very white witches and have worked with the slayers for centuries." Xander nodded at that. "The books I have in a trunk. I haven't decided what to do with them yet."
"I've got a storage space. I can put them in there. It's warded." Giles nodded, smiling some. "The clan?"
"Talking with Oz about what he learned in Tibet. They're upstairs." Both youngsters walked that way.
Xander knocked then walked in. "I'm free of it."
"Good," John said, looking him over. "You sure you're not tainted?"
"No more so than usual from the hellmouth. This is the second one I've dealt with, John." He sat down next to Sam. "What're we doing with her?"
"I'm still for the bonfire method but a seer in LA that works with Angel called up saying the Powers wanted to keep her alive since she's a fighter for the light," Dean complained.
Xander looked at him. "He's got a white lighter?" Dean nodded. "Wow. That sucks."
"It's your friend Cordelia," Sam said.
Xander looked at him then burst out laughing. "I can't see her liking that any. The Powers must hear from her a lot when they send her visions."
"She was swearing at them when she called," Dean agreed.
"I still don't like leaving her free with magic."
"Then we'll do something to her magic," Xander said. "Have Melinda or something close off the pathways?"
"I talked to her, she said she's too powerful. Plus she can pull on the hellmouth."
Xander nodded, considering it. "If we could do some sort of spell to separate them first it could help," Sam said.
"Or we could change her," Tara said quietly, looking at Oz. Who stared back. "Werewolves can't use magic. The change blocks it off."
Xander looked at her. "That's good to know." He looked at Oz. "Which would get your vengeance thing too."
"Then she'd be more dangerous," Sam pointed out.
"Oz can teach her what he knows if he wants to or she can lock herself up. She did when Oz started to change," Xander told him. "She can still help Buffy. She claimed Oz had special skills that I didn't from my possession way back when too. Just no more magic."
Oz nodded. "Could happen. I don't think I could teach her."
"Then write it down and pass it on. Most of it was meditation from what you told us," Dean told him. "That has to be done on her own."
"True." He considered it. "If the wolf won't accept her as a mate for me doing it."
"There's at least six others in town," Xander pointed out.
"No pack alpha," Oz warned.
"So? That means one other might help if you could talk them into teaching them. I'm sure you're teaching your nephew."
"I am." He nodded. "I can do that. It would taint her so the wolf wouldn't accept her anymore too. Might get violent though."
Xander shook his head. "Not really. Your wolf knows you ejected her from the pack for being bad. Yes, you should have killed her, but she split off her own pack. Hyenas have done the same. Self-banishment basically instead of being part of the pack."
"A wolf alpha would only track her down if she had taken their cubs," John realized. Oz nodded once at that. He looked at Xander. "How in touch are you with yours?"
"I can't change into her. Now and then when I'm in a modified state of mind I hear her purr. I nearly attacked Ethan when he drugged me to capture me so I would handle that magic dealer for him. He knocked her back into the back of my head so I'd be more rational and quit trying to eat him."
"He couldn't just ask?" Sam demanded.
"He's the chaos guy responsible for that halloween thing," Xander said smugly. "Plus a few other things."
"Is he still in New Orleans?" John asked.
"I'm not real sure. The dealer down there was trying to suck off him and trying to hook his student. That's why he needed outside help. Dave was in town too but he remembered me from that halloween and decided I could handle it better thanks to the hellmouth taint, or so he told me when I asked him why me instead of Dave."
"I'll be heading to New Orleans after this then," John decided. "Guys like him are dangerous."
"My storage area has a lot of the stuff the dealer down there had taken as payment to keep it out of others' hands," Xander offered. "But there's a more critical task that needs a hunter and Marine's touch." John stiffened, giving him a dirty look. "Did you hear about the military unit who came into town last year?"
"No. Why would I have?"
"Because they were experimenting and torturing demons," Oz told him. "They got me for about a day. I managed to get free when the investigators broke in to shut them down."
"Why was the military looking at demons?" John asked a bit too calmly. Did he really want to know?
"Because they wanted grunts to not have to die as often," Xander said bluntly. "Or covert, special ops, and assassinations for the CIA."
"Excuse me?" John demanded calmly.
"Yeah," Oz agreed. "That's what their records said. Some got arrested, some got sent to the UN for their hunting squad. The scientists were stopped but most weren't arrested," he said when John looked at him.
Xander smirked some. "Buffy said they were building an apocalypse creature too. Took kiddie and harmless demons too. Someone like us, we could stop them somewhat, but someone who still adheres to his service would be better to shut them down for good, John. I had Ash look them up when she wrote. Seventy percent of them didn't go to jail. They're still doing their research on demons too. Including possessed people."
"Saving demons isn't a hunter's job," Dean said. "But in the future it'd keep more people from being exposed and getting hurt by demons, Dad."
"I know a few other hunters who were military, boys. I'll talk to them about it."
"You'd do it better than we would," Xander pointed out. "I'd just blow the fuckers up."
"You're getting a bad rep for that," Dean joked. "The twins did the same thing to that gateway. Just like you would."
"Awww, I'm so proud," Xander said happily.
"Your head screws need tightened," Oz joked.
Xander smiled. "I like this more relaxed you. I missed you too."
"All the demons and women who want you to go gay would enjoy that," Dean joked.
"They all want me to guard Sam."
Sam shuddered. "Bad thought, sorry." Dean gave him a pointed look. He shook his head. "I can't air that one."
"A Sammy sandwich filling?" Xander teased. Sam swatted him.
Oz shook his head. "Trippy but no."
Tara was bright red. "I don't need to her such things. I'm a good girl, Xander."
"Sorry, Tara." He gave her a hug around the shoulders. "Oh, John, one other thing. They had some hunters captive for a while. They were apparently trying to breed them to strong demons to get reliable mostly human soldiers with the demons' skills." John growled. "That's what happened to Perry. They killed him in captivity when he fought back."
"I'll gather the others and the information Ash has," he said calmly. "After this." They all nodded. John could have a new crusade to take the place of the demon they'd hopefully be killing soon.
Xander looked up from his battle axe sharpening when the spell to snatch Sam failed to bring him. The warding circle nearly burnt around them but it kept them there. He put up his sharpening stone and stood up, gun against his leg. "Time," he said quietly. John had them bugged since they were hiding. They were in a clearing in the woods outside of town. They waited for a half-hour and nothing else happened. Then the demon appeared.
"You again," Sam sneered.
"You went to a witch? I didn't think Winchesters did such things." He looked at the other one. "Not one of mine."
"No, you missed me, puss sucker. What's wrong? The hellmouth too powerful for you to take? Gee, yet I lived there for years."
"Who are you?" he sneered.
"Read me if you want, baby. Still not good enough to do me."
"You cannot save him from his destiny." He waved a hand. Xander let the magic wash over him. "How did you do that!" he demanded.
"Some evil bitches decided I should be punished for walking away from her desires. I had to learn how to toss off magic. Maybe you've heard of the witch Rosenburg?" He shook his head. "Huh. I thought all the underground talked about how she resouled a vampire and closed the hellmouth all those times." The demon glared at him. "Guess you're not that plugged in."
"They're beneath me."
"Really? They're scarier than you are," Sam told him. "You're pathetic. They don't need minions to do their bidding. Or host bodies."
"I think Spike, even chipped, is tougher than him," Xander told him. "At least he makes good evil plans and keeps track of them."
"Could be right, yeah," Sam decided.
"You are mine, Samuel."
"Half the demons think I'm his. They're wrong just like you are."
"Come out of the circle then."
"If I do, we're going to have a talk about Jess." The demon sneered. Sam started to move but Xander stopped him. "Let me."
"No, let them," he said with a nod behind him.
"That old trick will not work on me, mortal."
Angel tapped him on the shoulder. "You're pissing us off. We guard this area. Who're you to try to get around us?"
"A vampire?" he sneered. "You think to challenge me?" He tried to magic him but
Angel smirked and held up something. "How did you get that," he snarled.
"Not that hard," Buffy pointed out.
"Who are you, mortal?"
"Buffy. The slayer." The man backed up. He ran into the wards. Sam pulled him inside to beat on him. "Hey, I want some," Buffy complained.
"You'll ruin your nails," Xander told her. John and Dean came over. John had a special gun that could kill any demon. "Hey, Sam. You done yet?"
"No, not yet." He laid another vicious hit.
"Sammy, it's my turn," John told him. Sam glared at him. "I owe him for your mother, son."
"Sam, not Sammy."
"Fine, whatever. We'll argue about that later, son. May I?" Sam got out of his way after one final hit. The demon moaned. John handed the gun to Dean. "Don't hesitate."
"I'm shielded so he can't jump into me," he said when Buffy opened her mouth.
"You needed that back in high school."
"Yeah, I did. Giles had books on it." She moaned. He shrugged. He moved to support Sam, getting brushed off. "Okay." John was laying into the guy as only an enraged spouse could. When he finally gave up, Sam moved closer again. "Guys, even greasy spots need shot."
Sam sneered down at him. "You wanted the Winchesters. How do you like what you got?" Dean shot it. The demon died with a shriek.
Xander grinned at Dean. "Good timing."
"Thanks." He handed his dad back the colt. "Any other business with him?"
"Step out of the circle," Xander ordered. They all did. Xander leaned down to light the lines he had laid with Tara earlier. There were runes in gas underneath the lines she had drawn in white sand. They went up around him, burning the body and consigning it to hell. "There, now he'll be a minion if his soul was saved." He looked at John. "So, John? Coffee? Ice cream to celebrate?"
"No sugar, Xander. You'll bounce."
Xander shrugged. "Well, yeah, but it's a happy day. We should go bounce around in joy."
"Let them grieve first," Buffy said, grabbing his arm. "We wanted to talk to you about coming back."
He stared at her. "No. Not yet." She slumped. "I've got things I still want to do and see, Buffy. New weapons to pet and all that."
"Are you sure? We could use you. Or Angel could use you in LA."
"Cordy and I would get into a snark war almost immediately. It'd drive him nuts," he pointed out dryly. "But I can't stay in Sunnydale yet. I'm not ready."
She nodded. "Before I die?"
"You die and I get to kick your ass." She smiled and nodded. He smirked at Angel. "Try harder to send her nice guys who know so she can have a less than shitbag boyfriend?"
"I'll tell a few hunters I know about her," he said dryly.
"Good." He gave Buffy a hug. "I've got one last stop to make."
He smiled. "I have a redemption to pull."
"You're not an angel."
"Not with all the sex I get," he agreed dryly, choking John up where he was talking with his boys. He winked. "We'll see." He walked off. "Meet you guys at the Roadhouse soon?"
"Sure, Xander, my birthday," Dean called. He looked at Sam. "You could do worse than that."
"Still straight, Dean."
"I need a good boyfriend who knows about hunting stuff," Buffy offered with a grin. "I'd have to buy higher heels to kiss you but I need one."
"Ash worships your picture," Dean told her. "I'll tell him so he can come introduce himself."
"Really? Is he nice?"
"Could use a bit of cleaning up but for the right woman he might change," he said. She beamed. She and Angel walked off together, chatting about the demon underground going on between the two areas.
John looked at Dean. "Ash could use more than a bit cleaned up."
"For the right woman a man might change."
"True. He might quit drinking too." He looked at his son. "You better?"
"About the same." He patted him on the cheek. "We did it."
"Let's hope it can't come back this time," Dean added. They all nodded and walked off to follow the others.
Xander walked into the hospital room, sitting backward on the chair in there. He rested his chin on the back of the chair, looking at her. Then he removed a line that was keeping her suppressed. He had a vision of her waking up. She moaned. "Wakey wakey," he whispered. She blinked, trying to open her eyes. He leaned over to kiss her. She blinked at him then closed her eyes again. "Faith, do you want to be good or bad?" he whispered. "If you want to be good, I'll help. You could have come to me after you had that problem." She moaned again, moving her hand. He smiled. "Keep going, you need it." She finally moved it well enough to slap him on the cheek. "That's the Faith I know." She blinked at him again. He stared back. "Well?"
"I'm tainted," she said hoarsely.
"No, I'm tainted, Faith. No hunter is pure. Especially not us with our pasts. I manage to stay good. I can help you."
"Jim?" she whispered.
"Unfortunately he's gone. We gave him a good sendoff though." He stroked over her hair. "There's others. We can help you. If you want to stay good."
She nodded. "I don't wanna be bad. I can't stand B and her shit though."
"Why do you think I got driven off," he said quietly. "You were the next victim after me. We've got to stick together." He leaned down to kiss her on the forehead. "I'm leaving you a bus ticket and an address with the nurses. Go there, finish healing. I'll be around when you want to call. My number's on the phone there. Do not go after Buffy. The vision I had said you'd get picked up by the assholes in Britain if you try a replay of your last fight."
She swallowed but nodded. "I can do that."
"Good." He stood up. "When you're ready, you'll call and we'll talk about all that. No slaying needed." She nodded, closing her eyes again. He gave her one last pet to the hair then left. He had already left the envelope with the nurses. "She's starting to wake up."
"How did you do that?"
He smiled. "Someone knew." He left the hospital, going to his car so he could drive off. Faith needed the same sort of mentoring he had gotten to stay on the side of good. He could help or help her find someone who could. Not that he'd send her to Bobby. She'd drive him more nuts than he had. But maybe Ellen? No, she'd fuss and Faith would hate that. But .... there was that one hunter.... who he knew was a demon in disguise. Yeah, that might work if she needed the help. Two to atone, party at the Harris storage bunker/house.
To The Third Story
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