NC-17  m/f, m/m, m/m/m/f

Sharp, Pointy Things of Destiny.

The sun came up and highlighted two twin beds with  young men sleeping on them within the tiny cabin nearly in the middle of nowhere.  Both sound asleep. Both snoring.  Both with dark hair, fit bodies, pale skin that showed they didn't spend much time in the sun; that nighttime was their preferred environment.  The one on the left bed groaned and rolled over as the sun hit him in the face, batting at something.  "G'way," he muttered, flipping onto his stomach.  Then he paused.  The bed he had fallen asleep in the night before was larger than this.  This bed smelled like pine and air freshener.  The motel bed he had fallen asleep in smelled like lysol and butts.   He raised his head to glance around once he was sure he was basically the only one moving, finding the other bed occupied.  He got up and walked over to look at him.  He didn't know him.  Had no idea who he was.   Well, that should change because something strange was going on here and he was not amused.  He nudged the man on the bed.

"It had better be a god-fucking emergency to make you break into my apartment and wake my ass up since I only got to bed at three and it's got to be the buttcrack of dawn," the man complained tiredly.  He didn't even open his eyes.

"I don't think I broke in here, whoever you are.  And if this is your place, you need a maid."

The man on the bed blinked at him.  "Who the hell are you?"

"Dean.  You?"

The other guy sat up.  "Xander."  He looked around.  "Though you're right, not my place.  Mine's not quite as...rustic as this is."  He stood up and looked at himself.  He was fully dressed.  Dean was fully dressed.  They both gave each other an appraising look.  "Any idea where we are yet?" Xander asked calmly.  He was used to strange things.   Teleporting in his sleep was strange but he'd seen worse.  Hell gods came to mind.

"Not a clue.  Where were you when you fell asleep?"

"Cleveland.  You?"

"Up in Wisconsin by Madison and the college."

"Okay.  This is strange."  They searched the cabin, finding a large, old, dusty book on the kitchen table.  There was a pot of coffee and two sodas on the counter.  There were two MREs there as well.  Xander snorted.  "Yeah, like I eat MREs when I'm not in Africa.  Someone screwed up."

"You were in Africa?  In the military?"

Xander looked at him.  "What do you do, Dean?  I ask because this has to do with one of about six things in my life.  Before I ruin your mental state I should figure out which one."

"Um...  My brother and I are on a road trip to find our father."

Xander shook his head at the feeble lie attempt.  He was probably better when he was more awake.  "Okay, no trying to bullshit the bullshit artist, Dean.  Please!  Do you work with Wolfram and Hart?"  He looked confused but shook his head.  "Did the Powers send you?  Or did someone in Cleveland maybe?"  He got another head shake.  "Ever hear of Sunnydale, Buffy, Faith, or the Watchers Council?"

"You're a Watcher!" he demanded, backing up a step.  They hated those guys.

"Now, since they got blown up and Giles recruited," he said dryly.  "I was on the Sunnydale crew before then.  Since you know of them, I'm figuring you're in the same rogue demon hunting business others have been recently."

"Um, yeah.  Kinda."  He looked around again, getting himself some of the coffee.  "Think it's drugged?"

"No, I think someone did this to either make a point or to handle a problem."  He looked around then patted himself down, finding his cellphone and wallet.  "Huh."  No signal.  "We need to get closer to civilization.  That way I can call in and get us some support and rides home."

Dean looked out the front window, shaking his head.  "My car's out there."

"Cool.  Can I get a ride to civilization?"

"Sure."  He looked at him.  "I've only heard rumors about Sunnydale.  They never mentioned a male on the team."

"I jumped in to help Buffy in our tenth grade year.  Half the time they call me her White Knight.  Half the time they call me annoying.  Sometimes in the same sentence."

"Okay, I have heard about some guy who jumped in now and then.  They said his name was Angel though."  He took a sip.

"No, Angel was Buffy's boyfriend and a vampire.  He was the champion for the Powers That Be.  He died in LA a little over a year ago now facing a demonic invasion."  Dean shuddered.  "Basically, yeah."  He opened one of the sodas, taking a large drink.  "Was Willow mentioned?"


"Her witch."

"Nah.  You guys worked with a witch?"

"Or two, or three if Giles got into the casting stuff when we needed it."  He took another drink.  "Think your car has gas?"

"It had about a quarter tank the last time I knew."

"Killer.  Let's head.  I want some answers and I need to kick someone in the ass."  He looked at the book, flipping it open. "Oh, yeah, a prophecy."  He looked up.  "Did you forget that I've screwed so many prophecies my life line come with a warning label!" he shouted.  The book shimmered and changed a bit.  "Eeeh.  Fine.  Whatever.  I'll tell Giles on the way there.  Coming?"  He shoved the two sodas in his pockets.

"Yeah, let me get more coffee.   You're kinda loud, dude."

Xander looked at him.  "Right now I've got fifteen teenage girls I'm supposed to be teaching how to make stakes, defend themselves, and how to use the crossbow.  Of course I'm loud.  I have to talk over them."

Dean shuddered at that.  "Damn."

"Yeah, basically.  But hey, I'm not dead.  Probably."  Dean gave him another look.  He pointed out the door.  "Have you ever seen a green sunrise?"

Dean looked then shrugged. "Sometimes chemicals in the air do it.  Who knows."  He went to look his car over, coming in with his travel mug to rinse it out and fill it.  "Bathroom break?"

"Yeah, probably should."  He went to do that, coming out to find Dean had the book.  "We should bring it with us."  That got a nod and they headed out together, Dean getting in to drive.  "Any idea which state we're in?"

"It's cooler and it's October so I'm thinking upper Midwest.  I'm from Kansas originally."  He started the engine, smiling when it sounded normal.  "Well, that's good at least.  We'll have to stop for gas sometime."

"Hey, first gas station we find I can ask where we are."  He settled in, reading the book.  "Hmm.  A pair of hunters shall save all mankind from terror and strife by the power of the three and the unknowing one becoming stronger," he read.  "Not sounding like a promising beginning to this story."

Dean looked at him.  "Do you actually believe in those things?"

"We had quarterly apocalypses in Sunnydale, Dean," he said dryly, giving him a look.  "I've seen plenty of prophecies and screwed up many of them.  I'm the 'but' clause in most of them so far.  I've made the 'but' clause do some very strange things over the last few years."  He went back to reading.  "Another shall they train and those that train shall not hunt but find the Source, capitalized, of the Turmoil, also capitalized, that is plaguing mankind so that the Three can fight it."

"Uh-huh.  Is that like searching for the cause of a problem?"

"Yeah.  Or the source of magic, one of the two.  Then again, I'm not Bink."  He went back to reading.  "Not liking this."  He turned the page, going on.  "Oooh, and German."  He squinted, pulling it closer to read the tiny type.  "A warning to all that shall be given this chore.  The Powers are great and many.  The Power holder is stronger than he appears.  Do not distrust the Three and do not make the Three angry.  They will bite."  He snickered.  "Good to know."

"Are the three good guys or bad?" Dean asked, finding the end of the driveway ran onto a paved two-lane road.  "Good, asphalt is better for the tires."  He sped up a bit once he hit the asphalt with all four wheels, heading east.  They both had to go east, it'd be more practical.  Because this guy was making his insides feel odd.  "Are you maybe a half-demon or something?" he asked finally.

"I was born and lived on a hellmouth, of course I have power tainting me," he said absently.  "You should feel Willow when her shields go."  He looked up then touched the necklace he wore, and the tainted feeling quit making Dean nervous.  "Better?"

"Much.  What was that?"

"Shield around me to keep random spirits out, the power inside, things from coming after me or trying to date me.  Little things like that."  He went back to reading.  "Ah, here we go.  In Thiasmus."

"Never heard of it."

"It's a fairly ancient demon language.  A lot of ancient, powerful prophecies were written in it.  They're the builders of the demons.  Made their cities, created cultures and art."  His  lips moved while he read until he suddenly burst out laughing.  "Oh, yeah, someone was on the ancient crack pipe."  He looked up again.  "Can't be us, guys.   I'm at least partially trained!"  He went back to reading, shaking his head.


"Not like the Watchers were going to train the guy who jumped in.  They wanted me to go away most of the time."  He looked at him.  "They're a bit possessive about their one girl/one watcher/everyone else fuck off theory of how things should go.  Then again, they got blown up the year before Sunnydale went.  That's why we have a lot of future slayers in Cleveland and Giles trying to rebuild the Council with those of us who survived Sunnydale."  He looked at his phone.  "Well, I almost have a signal."

"Do we have any cash?  My wallet wasn't on me," Dean said at Xander's odd look.   "It was probably on the dresser with my cellphone when they took me.  Why was yours on you?"

"I climbed into bed naked," Xander said sarcastically.  "Someone had a plan."  He finally got a signal.  "Hold up."  The car stopped and Xander dialed.  "Giles, me.  Where the fuck am I?"  He listened.  "No, Giles, I'm not at  home.  I'm somewhere in the Midwest roaming at the moment.  I woke up next to a guy named Dean.  It's...huh?"  He listened to him.  "Fuck the Powers, Giles.  Have Faith do it!"  He glared at the front windshield.  "Giles, I'm not the new Champion and I don't have a whole lot to atone for," he said dryly.  "Not like Angel and his soul brooding thing."  He nodded, reaching up to rub his forehead.  "Okay, you know what?  I'm coming home.  Because even if that's true, I need crap outta my apartment.  Giles, I have forty bucks and my cellphone.  I need the stuff in my car and my apartment if I need to go hunting something like that."

"Like what?" Dean asked.

"What's your last name?"

"Winchester.  My brother is Sam before you ask."

"Huh.  Heard rumors about you two."  He listened to Giles complain.  "Giles, do *not* make me learn how to do the demon teleporty thing to come back there and bitch you out in person.  If they and you want me to hunt, I need my gear.  I don't care if you don't like it!" he shouted.   "Now, where in the hell are we?"  He rubbed his forehead again.  "Fine, I'll call back when I find that out," he said bluntly.  "We'll be talking when I get back, Giles.  No,  you can't have the artillery before you ask."  He hung up and looked at Dean.  "Find a gas station so I know which contact to call please?" he asked, sounding a bit pissed.

"Sure."  He kept going, finding them a gas station.  He decided to fill up the car because he knew he had a scammed credit card in the glove box.

Xander walked inside, smiling at the woman in there.  "We're complete idiots on a road trip and we're kinda lost.  No offense, but where in the hell are we?" he asked the old woman behind the counter.

She burst out laughing.  "Iowa."

"Okay, Iowa.  Do you have maps maybe?"  She pointed and he went to look.  "Two dollars."  She nodded.   He paid for one and walked it over.  "Okay, where in Iowa are we?"  She picked up a pen and drew a circle after a second's looking.  "Cool.  So highway is which way?"

She pointed.  "About ten miles, young man."

He leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.  "Thank you."  He paid for the gas since Dean was putting back the handle.  "You're a wonderful woman."  He walked out, putting the map on the hood of the car.  "We're here.  The highway is ten miles ahead of us."  He looked at Dean.  "And I have a contact I can call here," he said, pointing at a semi-major city relatively nearby.  "It's a gear shop."

Dean looked at him.  "What sort of gear do you guys use?"

"He'll have everything anyone could ever possibly need."  He found his phone and got into the phone book feature, finding the number.  "Phil, Xander.  I'm heading your way.  I have no idea how I got to Iowa.  I was in Cleveland the last I knew.  Yeah, big, dusty book when I woke up.  Thanks, man.  See you in a few hours."  He hung up, looking at Dean.  "Not only can he put us up, he'll be able to make sure we have enough of everything we need to get by until you can find your brother and I can find a way to go kill Giles in Cleveland."

"It's not too far out of the way.  Can I borrow the phone?"  Xander tossed it over and he called his brother.  "Sammy, it's me.  Iowa.  I have no idea, dude.  I woke up here.  There's a guy named Xander...."

"Harris.  Look up Buffy and then find me, it's easier in the databanks," Xander said dryly, leaning on the hood.

"Hear that?"  He nodded.  "Good, stay there.  I'll be back in two days at the most.  Yeah, do laundry for me."  He hung up and tossed the phone back.  "Whatever it was didn't wake him."

"That's fine," Xander said, shaking his head.  "It didn't wake me either."  He slid back in and buckled up, letting Dean fold up the map and get in to drive.  "Are we good on stuff until we get there?"

"Unless we run into an invasion I have rock salt shells and two sawed off rifles in the back," Dean said quietly, pulling out of the packette's driveway.

"You guys use...  Really?  Damn, must beat crossbows and stakes."

"You use a stake?"

"Yeah, we mostly deal with vampires.  Now and then we use swords or an axe, I'm getting pretty good with it after nine years."

Dean gave him a horrified look.  "Nine years?"  He didn't look that old.

"Nine years, dude.  Yeah.  Though ten months of it I was in Africa hunting down baby slayers and talking to shaman."

Dean shook his head quickly.  "What about your other stuff?  You mentioned artillery?"

"Sometimes the demon's really huge.  It takes the big bang.  Rockets are useless against vampires unless it burns them or severs their heads.  Why waste them on cemetery patrols?"

Dean shook his head again.  "You're strange, Xander."

"Hey, it was Sunnydale.  We're lucky we survived."

"Any ghosts?"

"Plenty.  We didn't do more than give them unhappy looks most of the time.  With that high of a death rate there were plenty of unsatisfied spirits hanging around.  We had too much to deal with to deal with them."

"No poltergeists?"

"We had one that wanted a replay of why he died and killed his lover, the music teacher.  Cordy had one in LA but that team handled it so she only had her ghost after that."  He shrugged.  "It happens.  We had nightly vamp patrols and time to hunt the hunting demons.  It happened most every night after work and dinner and before bed.  That's why Buffy ended up flunking out of school after a year."


"Basically.  Then again, Willow was doing most of her homework and about that time things kinda almost went to hell when Glorificus showed up to open a nasty portal to suck hell to earth.  Then Buffy died and was resurrected and the First Evil showed up.  That's why Sunnydale's a hole."  Dean stopped the car to stare at him, looking horrified.  Xander gave him a steady look back.  "The First blew up the Council and killed most of the potential slayers.  Willow activated them all," he recited, he had given this lecture a few times while finding the activated slayers.  "Then we went into the hellmouth to fight the First.  At the end of the battle the portal was closed, but it sucked in the town.  Cleveland's hellmouth was activated at that point so they ran to fix it.  That's why we're in Cleveland."

"How did none of the rest of us in the business hear about this?"

"Like we called for help?" Xander asked dryly, giving him a look.  "You guys don't come to Sunnydale, even when the world's ending.  Giles tried when there was an ascension, none of you answered.  So oh well."

"An ascension?"

"Yeah, little demon becoming bigger, pure demon.  Huge, nasty ass snake demon.  Blew up the high school to kill it during graduation.  It was the only way to sever the head of a ninety foot snake demon."

Dean blinked a few times.  "You're joking," he said finally with a grin.  "Right?"

"Hell.  No."  Xander stared at him then shook his head at the uneasy look.  "No."

"Fuck," Dean growled, getting them moving again.

"Yeah, we all felt that nudge against our assholes now and then," Xander admitted, shifting down so he was more comfortable and could close his eyes.  "Tell me when we get to the city limits so I can call again.  I've only had him shipping stuff to me before."

"Sure."  He turned on the radio and Xander grinned.  "Yes, I like music."

"Music's fine.  The slayers all have their own styles of music and half the time I end up listening to Pop divas who are about as big as crack whores."

"That's not music.  It's an attempt at music and a bad one."

Xander looked at him.  "Last year we had twenty-four teenage girls living with us, Dean."  Dean shuddered.  "Exactly.  Half of them got assigned or moved back home.  Now I only have fourteen and Dawn.  Most of the pop divas are still there.  If I have to listen to Celine Dion one more time I'm going to bash in heads and decide that brains are better than cheetos."

"Just don't do it to me," Dean ordered grimly.

Xander smirked at him.  "Are *you* listening to Celine Dion?"

"Hell no."

"Then we don't have a problem.  Though I have my phone, which has an i-pod built in.  I have my Weird Al playlist on it and my Creed, and possibly my Nickleback if you wanted to switch out."

Dean looked at him.  "Classic rock, Xander."  He got them onto the interstate, paying attention to the weak traffic flow around them.  Xander was snoring within minutes and he was happier with that.  The guy was bordering on creepy.  Especially with the way he always turned to look at him.


Xander walked into the store.  "Phil, my man, please tell me you have stuff?"

"I have your order right here, Xander," he said, handing over a large, squishy package.

Xander peeked inside then at him.  "Phil, it may have missed you but I'm not a girl.  I don't need a wedding dress.  If one of the girls does, I don't care.  That's Giles' job to deal with that issue and pay for it.  I'm not wearing it even if the Powers do think I should now and then."  He looked at it then at him.  "Which one?"



"About three miles away by her call."

"Interesting."  He called her cellphone.  "Woman, get your ass here now, I'm not picking up your shit and I don't care why you needed a wedding dress.  I'm not paying for it, get Giles to do it."  He hung up, looking at him, smiling a bit.  "Now that that's out of the way, I need hunting gear.  I got stolen from my apartment in Cleveland."

"You yelled at a slayer," Phil said, looking a bit ill at the moment.

"I yell at many of them every day, Phil, and I let that one have my virginity.  I can scream and rant at her if I want to.  She'll do it back if she's upset.  So, hunting supplies since Giles thought it was adorable?"

The man gave him a look then nodded.  "I know Faith has something of yours."

"Goodie.  And?"

Phil smiled.  "You don't want to know what?"

"No.  I doubt she got into any of the hidden areas.  I'll be lucky if I have a stake."  That got a nod.  "Oh, can you put Dean's needs on Giles' bill too?"

"Sure.  Did Giles authorize it?"

Xander looked at him.  Then he put the book on the counter.  Phil went very pale, which was amusing since he was a vampire who used bronzing tanner to look like a normal human.  "Yeah, so I need stuff, Phil.  Let me into the back room?"

"Sure," he agreed weakly, letting them walk off.  "Um, Mr. Winchester, we have some blessed bullets back there too if you need some.  Not too many but some.  I'm getting a new shipment in next week."

"Sure, I'll look to see if they'll fit anything I have.  Thanks," he said with a wave.  They walked past the fitting areas and up some back stairs, then got buzzed through a hidden door.  Dean found the light switch to flip it on, then stared.  "When you said everything we could need, I thought you meant less than heavy artillery to finish a war."  There was stuff in there he couldn't identify besides that it was probably a pretty explosion.  The stuff he could identify... if he ever needed something that heavy he'd better have reinforcements.  Like every single Marine ever born, and probably half the Army too.

"That's in the back area."  Dean gave him an odd look for admitting there was worse stored back there.  He pointed.  "Over there.  Bullets too probably."  He went into another side room, coming out with a few things before heading over there.  He handed Dean a stake and a crossbow.  Then he picked up a handgun to check it over.  He put it back and picked up something heavier, nodding at it.  It was checked over then slid into a holster and onto his belt for now.  A few other things then Xander found the blessed bullets.  Dean found some for his shotgun, peering into the box.  "How many?"

"Six."  He pulled them out.  "See any more?"

Xander pointed in a corner.  "Look over there.  It's either there or under the bleachers."  Dean nodded, going to find what he needed.  Xander went back into the main room, picking up a heavy case then another one, carrying them down.  He saw Faith stroking the dress.  "Invite me so I can eat cake."  He kissed her on the cheek.  "You have some of my stuff?"  She held up a keyring.  "That's Buffy's car, Faith."

"Well, yeah.  G said you needed it."

"You can't hide stuff in Buffy's car, I need mine.  Hers is a hatchback and has a pitiful engine."

"Tweedy said to bring hers," she said with a shrug.  "You gonna take 'em or not?"

He took the keys, walking the cases outside.  He looked around then smirked and undid the alarm on his car.  Dean came out to give him an odd look.  "Mine," he said with a point, loading the back.  He came back inside to get the other stuff.  "Faith, how did mine get here with Buffy's?"

"Red, how do you think?" she snorted, giving him an odd look.  Xander gave it back.  "What?  G said so!"  She handed something else over.  "Yours."

He looked at it then at her.  "How long have I been gone?"

"Two days.  Giles thought it might be a demon so he told your boss you had a sudden emergency you had to go to, all he said was you were heading west.  That's all D and Red got when they scried."  She beamed at him.  "The rest of your stuff is in the attic at the school."

"Yay me.  She include anything magicky?"

"Why would she?" she asked.  "Not your field."  He waved the book around and she grimaced. "If you had it in there, yeah."

"I had some," he muttered, going to check.  He came back in and went to the book room, coming out with three of them.  He was even nice enough to sign the purchase order and hand it to Phil.   "Now what?" he asked her and Dean.

"Now, I need to rescue my brother before he gets into trouble," Dean reminded him.  "Are you heading back to Cleveland?"

"I doubt he'll be able to," Phil said.  He pointed at the book Xander was holding.  "That's a serious prophecy.  You're going to be dealing with it for a while."

"I don't deal in that stuff," Dean complained.  "We hunt ghosts, poltergeists, minor demonic possessions, that stuff."

"Chill.  Xander's good at this stuff, he warps them so often the Powers have nightmares about planning stuff where he might be in the vicinity," Faith assured him.  She looked at Xander.  "Need anything else?"

"Yeah, I still need to hit my place since I had hidden areas."

"The sixty grand is in the trunk under the lockbox with your passport and stuff," she said bluntly.  "The other stuff and the stuff in your office is in there too, boytoy."  She smirked.  "Giles said he didn't want to know, and that's a quote."  Willow walked in.  "We about ready to head?  I've got Mara's dress."  She tossed it over.  "Specially modified so she can carry multiple weapons while wearing it.  X, in about three months.  We'll email you the time and date."

"Thanks," he said, kissing her on the head.  He looked at Willow then kissed her on the head.  "Did you get my book stash out of the floor safe in the office, Faith?"

"Um, nope.  We'll magic-gram it or something.  Anything else?"  He made a list and folded it, handing it to her.  She looked then nodded.  "All but the last one are still there.  I'll get on that when Red gets us back."  She beamed at Dean. "You need anything?"


"Sorry, B, Sunnydale, and Spike took all ours," she said bluntly, strolling out.  "Thanks, Phil.  We love you, man."

"I appreciate you guys too,"  Phil said, smiling and waving.  He looked at Xander.  "If he doesn't pay for it...."

"I'll kick his ass," Xander promised.  Phil laughed.  "I can."  He looked at Dean.  "I need to finish checking over the car.  Do you need anything else here?"

"Nah, I'm good," he said, nodding a bit.  "Let's go check your ride.  Then we'll figure out where we're heading."  Xander got a book of maps and headed out with it, waving over his shoulder.  "Are you guys all like that?"

Xander grinned. "I wasn't until I got a corporate expense account."  Dean snickered at that.  "Phil remembers us from when we were bartering for crossbows.  Book?"  Dean went to get it and brought it out.  "It's smaller."  Dean looked then went back inside, bringing out another book with the first one.  "That'll work."  He got into the trunk,  pushing the collapsible concealing panel back into its slot.  "I had it modified by some gang kids in LA," he said proudly.  "It used to run drugs."

"I can see that."  He looked at the hidden areas, then at him.  "Magical hiding too?"  Xander beamed and nodded.  "Did you get the caddy just because of the trunk?"

"That and the sixteen other body compartments.  Plus it's comfy enough to sleep in."  He got back to work.  "Okay, magic stuff," he said, putting all that together.  "Sorry, had to clean recently when something spilled.  Didn't rearrange it."  He found what Faith had put up for him, nodding at it.  All three of his passports.  His extra ID's in the other identity in case he got caught.  His three extra license plates.

"How did you get those?" Dean asked quietly.

"One of the guys who worked with Angel ran a street gang and he had some contacts.  I shamelessly got him drunk and questioned him."  He grinned.  "He was *so* pissed but they agreed I needed it and could use them without using Gunn's name.  I used Angel's, it got me nearly as much good stuff."  He put the explosives in a compartment off to the side of the backseat and got back into the trunk.  "Okay, I should have everything I need but some candles and I can get those nearly anywhere."  He looked back at the store, it was closed.  "He's hiding so that's probably a good thing."  He looked at Dean again.  "It's what time?"

"Um, noon."

"Then let's hit a burger place and head to find your brother.  Once we've got him, we can go over the book in better detail?"

Dean nodded.  "That sounds reasonable.  What sort of engine do you have in her?"

Xander pulled the panels closed, locked them down, then the trunk.  "Hemy with NOS."  He popped the hood for him, getting an impressed look.  "Another mod the street gang did for me.  Fortunately I haven't had to go over a hundred yet."  He closed the hood and grinned.  "Before you ask, no I can't fix it myself.  I worked construction, not autobody stuff.  Faith can fix it, she learned in prison."  He walked around to get in, grinning at him.  "Where do you want to meet up later?"

"I was going to drive until about midnight," he admitted.  "That should put me about eight hours from where we were."

"I'm pretty sure I get better gas mileage than you, Dean.  What town did you want to meet in?  I'll get a double motel room and you can have the other bed."

Dean smirked.  "That's nice of you.  How did you get that cash?"

Xander looked at him.  "Insurance out of Sunnydale."

"Never mind.  Um," he took the atlas to look in.  "Here, that's about ten hours of driving, plus time for rest and gas breaks."

Xander looked then nodded.  "I can meet you there."  He got into his glove box and changed something out in his phone, then checked the number, writing it down for him on some scrap paper he kept in there.  "More local."  He handed it over.  "That way  you can make sure I'm there and at which motel."

Dean nodded.  "Thanks."  He headed to his car.  "See you tonight."

"Sure."  He watched Dean go, then shifted his seat position back.  Willow had moved it on him.  He made sure he had everything then started the engine, grimacing at the roughness.  "What did she do this time?" he muttered, pushing on something in his dashboard.  It settled the engine down and he backed out, slowly speeding up to highway speeds.  That magical engine fixing spell came in very handy when Willow screwed with something in his car.  Even after she had played with the radio and somehow screwed it up, it was more than worth the weekend spent sleeping with the demon to have it.


Xander smiled at the young guy who pounced on the door to pull it open.  "Hi, I'm Xander.  Dean's about an hour behind me."

"He told me last night.  What's going on?" Sam demanded.  Xander handed him the book.  He looked at it then at him.  "Is this the reason?"

"We woke up in a cabin in Iowa with that book and enough food for breakfast."  He sat down  in a chair, looking at him. "It's a really ancient prophecy, talks about three warriors and a few helpers, and then it gets even stranger.  We figured we'd start here with you," he added with a small grin.

Sam shook his head.  "You must drive Dean nuts."

"Fortunately I only rode with him for a few hours and slept most of it."  He got up when he heard the Impala.  "She's limping badly."  He opened the door.  "Want me to call something to put on the same engine fixing spell I have?" he asked.

"You have a what?" Dean demanded.  Xander beamed and nodded.  "No, thanks.  I can fix my own car."  He got out and slammed the door, coming up the few stairs to their shared room.  "Do we have any of it translated into English yet?" he asked.

"Gee, Dean, I'm not sure if I can drive and translate," Xander said dryly, giving him a look.  "I did about an hour's worth last night.  Other than that, no."  He pulled the folded papers out of the front cover.  "Here, where I've gotten to so far."

Dean looked it over, sitting on the end of his bed.  Sam gave him a look.  "I'm fine."

"You disappeared."

"Yeah, we were both kidnaped.  Xander's a Watcher now."

"So you said."  Sam looked at him.  "What happened to Sunnydale?"

"The First Evil."

"As in the very first evil?" Sam asked weakly.  Xander grinned and nodded.  "How?"

"When Willow resurrected Buffy she botched it a bit and brought her back slightly wrong.  It gave the First a chance to come out and play.  Needless to say, he got pissed.  Fortunately Spike managed to close the portal with a sacrifice of himself.  The town got sucked in and we headed for the new hellmouth in Cleveland."

"Cleveland?" Sam asked.

"Where they've got fourteen slayers in training," Dean told him.  "That Xander helps with their target practice and self-defense lessons."

"Plus listens to some really horrible music," Xander agreed  happily.  "I'm going to start eating brains if I had to hear Brittany or any of them anymore.  Especially Celine Dion."

Sam burst out laughing.  "This is a joke right?  Cute one, Dean, got one over on me," he said.  Dean shook his head, giving him a look.  "Not a joke?"

"Not a joke," Xander assured him.  "Wish it *was*," he offered blandly when Sam gave him a dirty look.  "Really do.  My life would be a bit easier if that whole First thing didn't happen.  The consequences were massive and annoying most days.  Speaking of, before I get back into the translation I have to make a pharmacy run.  You guys need anything?  That way you can talk about me behind my back."

"Nah, I'm good," Dean said.

"Can you get something to eat for dinner?  Dean's a bottomless pit and I have a candy bar."

"I can do that.  Burgers, Dean?"


"I saw last night.  It's better than what the slayer we found knocked up is eating right now," he said, going out to hit the nearest pharmacy for some saline solution to wash his glass eye and some dinner, plus some soda.  He came back to find them in a staring contest.  "Hey, no fighting around me.  I'll instinctively jump in and knock you both down," Xander said, putting down the food.  He picked up the book and went back to his translation in the new notebook he had bought with the new pens as well.

"Sam was wondering why it was us that got taken," Dean said.

"Because they apparently put him back as research assistant," Xander said, pointing at an area of the translation.  "I can't do that.  Can you?"

"No, computer and research stuff is more him than me," Dean agreed.  "Who did it in your group?"

"Computer stuff was Willow.  Book research was all of us but Buffy.  She couldn't really pay that much attention sometimes."  He got back to the translation, opening a soda to sip.  "We're getting to the third warrior.  Apparently he'll be called in about six months from now."  He kept going, frowning at some of the words.  "Huh.  He's a warrior already but not of this fight," he read.  "Someone just who is all-but a knight for the madam fair and dark.  No, no mark that means that's mustard," he muttered.  "He who is a knight but is not called will know his turn has come when the first two do save him in the city of ...  That's a strange one.  City of Power.  They shall know him because the maiden fair and the Maid of Darkness are both guarding him and the elder knight will make him go with the first two to save them all."  He looked up.  "City of Power, Sam?  Any clues?"

"There's plenty of cities that have powerful areas, like Cleveland would be I'd guess."

"No, it's not that sort of power."  He let him see.  "See, that mark means it's monetary or wealth, not magical.  If it was on the other side it'd mean magical."

"City of wealth and powerful people?" Dean said.  "New York?"

"Or possibly LA," Xander said.  "Any major city has some of them.  The way they describe him he might be in the service or a cop or something."

"Might be a problem.  A demon took my form and got killed in it," Dean said.  "After killing people."

Xander shrugged. "We can deal with it when it happens, Dean."  He went back to it.  "Oh, yeah, he's a...  Damn it, he's in DC."  He stood up, walking the book over.  "At the foot of Washington's throne and altar shall you find him and the battle shall be fierce.  One of the first for the fate of humanity shall it serve as.  He shall jump in but not know how or why until one of the first two give him a true weapon that points to his nature."  He looked at him.  "They've talked about a few mystical weapons in here.  They don't say *why* but now and then they mention one."

"Any idea how we're to get them?"

"Yeah, one's in DC.  We'll be retrieving it to keep it away from the bad guys when the fight starts.  The other two are in protective custody of an older witch in upper Texas by what I decoded."   He let him see that point.  "I know her, that's how I know it's her.  Every now and then she calls to nag Willow and keep her on the straight and narrow.  Her and the coven in Devon are both on her speed dial list and they make sure to check in very often with Wills."

"Um, who?" Sam asked, raising a hand slightly.  "Kinda lost here."

Dean smirked at him but Xander answered.  Dean had hung back to talk to her for a minute to get a better feel for the guy he was apparently stuck with.  "The white witch to the slayer in Sunnydale, Sam.  Wasn't she in there too?"

"Yeah," he said, nodding a bit.  "Then again it said she had a temper, she's evil, and she's gay."

"She only went evil when she addicted to black magic and lost her soulmate," he said, going back to reading and translating.  "Her temper?  Well, she's a redhead but she'll still call you a poopie  head if you piss her off, right before you turn into some furry thing because of her frog phobia.  Yes, the fur itches before you can ask, Dean," he sighed, turning the page.  "Then again she's been doing this as long as I have and we've all made mistakes.  I sent a vampire with a soul to hell right after she resouled him because Buffy couldn't stop him without the lie I told her."

"You worked with someone with an addiction to black magic?" Dean demanded.

"Yeah, she was part of the team."  He looked at him, then shrugged.  "She's a friend, Dean, even if she did fuck up.  We all fuck up sometime.  We stopped hers before it ended the world in her grief."  He went back to the translation.  "So far I've got three major battles and a few running ones with higher level demons," he announced a minute later.  "And then it gets worse."

"Oh, gee, great," Sam says sarcastically, taking the notes Xander's holding out.  "How bad?"

"Not as bad as Glory but badder than the ascension."  He looks at Dean.  "I have the feeling that whoever this third guy is, he doesn't know more than guns. "

"Great," he said dryly, sitting down to take the notes and read them over.  "Your handwriting sucks, Xander."

"Bite me," he said dryly, taking it back to go back to work.  "Unless you know this demon language?"

"No," they said together.

Dean looked at Sam.  "You sure?  I mean you can find nearly anything online."

"Then you'd have to type in paragraphs to translate it," Sam pointed out.  "A lot more work than having someone who can read it do it."

"Thankfully we've seen a few of these in the past," Xander offered.  "Otherwise we'd be heading to Cleveland right about now and Giles."

"No thanks," Sam said.  "The girls sound pretty scary."

"They're teenager with extended stamina, strength, and shopping abilities, Sam.  Of course they are," Xander agreed.

"So, no one punished her when she screwed up?" Dean asked.

Xander looked at him.  "Who punishes you when you screw up?" he asked bluntly.  Dean opened his mouth.  "You're human, you've had at least one, the same as I've had my share and Sam's had his.  We're adults, Dean.  She was getting over her grief at losing someone important to her and her magic addiction.  Tara was shot not five minutes after they agreed to try again.  Hell yes she went off.  You would've.  I would've.  I nearly did after the end of Sunnydale and Anya dying.  So, no, we got her help and left the judgmental crap for other people.  Now, would you like me to go get my own room and work on the translation some more over there or keep working on it here so you can get it as it's done?"

"Whatever," Dean muttered.

"Fine."  He got up and went out to the office, getting his own room. A few minutes later, he had his bag of clothes, a new soda, and the book and notebook on the bed with him while he worked on the computer Willow had left him to let them know what was going on.  Giles sent over a fairly well-documented copy of the prophecy but checking it made him realize it was missing whole sections.  Interjecting them worked very well and by the time it was dawn, he was nearly done.  Someone pounded on the door an hour later, making him get up and look at Sam.  "Nearly done."

"Have you slept?"

"Nope."  He sat down and got back to it.  "Giles had a partial translation so I'm filling in where the other person missed sections."  He finished up the last chapter and sighed, saving it down.  He sent one back to Giles and handed Sam the laptop.  "There.  I paid for today too for both rooms.  We'll figure out where we're hitting tomorrow at dinner if your master over there agrees."  He yawned.  "Now let me sleep please?"

"Sure, Xander," he said quietly, taking the laptop with him to their room, letting Xander lock himself in.  He closed his and Dean's room door, making him wake up.  "Xander found a partial translation and checked it over, then finished the parts that weren't included.  It's about six hundred pages long."

"Summary?" Dean asked tiredly.

"I'm just now getting it.  He said we'll talk at dinnertime about where each of us is going after this."  Dean grunted, flipping onto his side again and going back to sleep.  Sam shook his head, getting into the prophecy.  It was interesting, but seriously read like crack hos writing literature.  Middle Ages English literature.  Which was probably not a good thing.  He'd have to ask Xander if this is the literal translation or the modern one when he got up.

Dean finally got up again a few hours later and came over to read over his shoulder.  "He couldn't put it into real English?"  He was clearly grumpy.

"I think it's the literal translation," Sammy said.  "And I think this is the part Giles found translated already.  See, his goes back to real, human english after a while."  He showed him then went back to reading.  "We're going to have a busy two or three years."

"Two or three years?" he demanded.

Sam looked at him and nodded. "Two or three years, Dean.  On and off with the other two warriors and the rest of us helping."  He went back to reading.  "We've got mystical weapons we've got to find first."

"Are we going to get them to change into guns or are they guns?"

"I don't know," Sam admitted.  "Not a clue until we see them."  He shook his head at one phrase, going back over it a third time.  "Hey, it says you're going to get laid and then the woman's going to sacrifice herself because she knows she shouldn't have done it."

"Probably because she knows she can't get anything better," Dean said dryly, heading for the shower.  "Make coffee?"

"Already started.  Flip the button to 'on'," he told him dryly, shaking his head at the image of Dean on an altar.  It wasn't a vision.  It really wasn't a vision.  It was not going to happen that way.  He had at least figured out which one was Xander and which was the other two by the way they were talked about.   The new guy was talked about like a knight in shiny armor.  Dean was talked about more like an assassin.  One who got things done when they needed to be done.  Which he did.  Then there was Xander, which was usually a bit mixed up. A bit of how the other two were talked about but there was that hint in there that he had power and Powers that had to come out soon.  He looked over as Dean came out of the bathroom in just a towel to get some coffee.  "Did Xander mention if he could use magic or anything?"

Dean looked at him then slowly shook his head.  "No.  He does have shields, he's a medium.  He picked up magic stuff just in case."  Sam moaned.  Dean shrugged.  "He's tainted from the hellmouth stuff."  He took a sip and grabbed clothes to go change.  "Why?"

"The person who wrote this keeps talking about Powers, with a capital 'p'."  Dean shuddered.  "I'm not so sure they don't know things we don't, Dean.  Maybe not even him."

"We can ask later."

"I'm sure he read it over since he was doing the translating but he was really tired.  He hadn't slept yet."

"We'll ask him later."  He shut the door, coming out a few minutes later dressed, all but his shoes.  More coffee was gotten and he took the laptop to start reading.  "Do we have a good summary yet?"

"You two are going to find mystical weapons. You're going to go hunting, sometimes together sometimes alone, and then you're going to end up in DC in about six months.  At that time you'll run into the third guy, who's being protected by two women and an older knight, who knows and believes.  He'll send the guy with you, but Xander's going to be going off to handle something personal.  Don't know what but that's what it said.  You'd get to teach him what he needs to know and when Xander comes back there's going to be a minor apocalypse with a higher level demon, the second one.  The first is in DC, you'll be tracking him for a while."  Dean nodded once at that; he didn't look very happy at the moment.  "You'll defeat that together; the guy'll realize why you're doing this as a matter of part of himself instead of it being mystical stuff that has to be done by someone.  Then you're going to have that woman that'll try to have you then sacrifice herself.  Xander will get there in time to save you when you both could be going instead.  Then Xander's going to start working on power issues.  At which time you and the other guy'll be guarding Xander but he'll end up nearly dying to save everyone during the third apocalypse then there's a final demon after that that'll make the First Evil look like a child," Sam finished.  Dean shuddered.  "At which time any or all of you could die but if it's Xander, the demon wins and we're all dead."

"So we're going to be sacrificing ourselves to save him?"

"No, I think Xander would rather kill himself, which would negate the prophecy totally, than to have someone else die in his place.  There's a few warnings for that."

Dean finished his new cup of coffee, going back to reading.  "Can it be invalidated?"

"If we can find the month that has two new moons, no."

"There's months with two full moons."

"Yeah, but new moons are apparently how they're judging it."

"Can we figure out the proper month?"

"I tapped into the Watcher's network from his laptop to send his Mr. Giles that question. He hasn't answered yet that I know of, but Xander did tell him he was here with us.  He knows about us by rep and warned us not to feed Xander a lot of chocolate all at once."  Dean snorted, shaking his head.  "Otherwise, he said he'd check.  He had an ephemris with it in there."

"That's fine. Any idea when?"

"Probably before he wakes up."  Someone tapped on the door and Sam got up to answer it, looking at the maid.  "We're fine."

"The miserly one in the office wanted you two."

"Yay," Dean said.  He walked down there.  "Thought the other guy said he paid."  The man glared at him.  "He said he did."

"He did for his room."

Sam came out of Xander's room with the receipt, handing it to Dean.  "Really?"  The man flinched.  "He's on an expense account."

The man muttered then waved a hand.  "Must've been mistaken," he muttered.

"Sure, thanks for fixing that for us," Dean said, heading back to the room while Sam got something to drink from the machine.  He found the maid looking at the laptop.  "Do you mind?"  She huffed off.  He looked then undid the changes she had done.  "Sammy, she messed with something."

"He saved it and I opened it under a different name," he assured him.  He came in to open the original and resave the secondary copy so they could go back to it.  He looked at his big brother.  "Since they're in Texas, want to hit Deborah's place tomorrow night?"

"Could," Dean agreed, thinking about the trip.  "That's a full day of driving.  We'll have to start pretty early."  He got some more coffee and settled in to watch some of the crappy cable they had here.  "Anything else good we've got?"

"If you win that battle, there's one last chore, it's called a chore, but it's not listed as a battle.  Don't know what, it's not said and it's got one of the few words he couldn't translate.  I'm figuring it's a proper name for the ritual or whatever.  Maybe it'll let us go back to the normal cases."

"Can we still hunt ours?"

"Yeah, not an issue.  This is in-between our usual."  He turned to look at him.  "This is an every-now-and-then job not a full-time one."

"Decent.  So he can go teach the girls more about self-defense too."

"I have the feeling if he goes to Cleveland something bad'll happen."  Dean gave him a heated look.  "Really.  This doesn't appear to be one we should invalidate.  If we do, no one can fight those battles and humanity's pretty well gone at that point."

"Which is a job for his team, not guys like us," Dean pointed out.

"True, but even they have to have help now and then from the higher Powers."

"Yeah, whatever," he muttered.  "It can probably help us with our fight."

"Think what Dad would say," Sam quipped with a mean smirk.  "He hated them."

"They were arrogant bastards to anyone who jumped into the fight, even when it was our fight and not theirs."

"Well, yeah, but the new guys don't seem too bad.  I mean, Xander was hunting with a slayer and they didn't say much to him apparently.  At least not from what I've found."  The laptop beeped and he looked at it, opening the email.  "The month of two new moons is next month.  So you have to have the weapons by then.  Time enough to call around and make sure that no one else has anything on this and that we have everything we need for a prolonged hunt for the next few months."

"We'll need time to train with the new weapons," Dean reminds him.  "Any ideas?"

"What's with the cabin in Iowa?" Sam countered.

Dean shrugged. "Not a clue."

"Think he knows?"

"No, he seemed a bit pissed at them.  Like those Powers or whoever have done this to his life before."

"Maybe they have and no one knows."  He went back to his research.  This was not looking like a happy hunt.  "We should call around anyway."

"Why?  They'll know as soon as we tell Deborah.  She'll tell Steve and he'll tell everyone."

"Maybe someone knows why Iowa."

"Maybe," Dean muttered, going to start calling their contacts about this stuff to see if anyone knew anything.   Not that they probably would.  Their circle of hunters didn't really deal with prophecies very often.  Dean looked up from dialing while leaning on the balcony railing and hung up abruptly when he saw a young, brunette girl appear on the walkway.  "Isn't that a bit flashy?" he asked calmly.  He wasn't wearing a gun or else he'd have drawn it.

She gave him a long look.  "Chill, dude.  I'm Dawn, Xander's friend.  I'm here to help with the research and to make sure Xander actually eats today.  Now and then he gets involved and forgets."

"He's asleep.  Stayed up all night translating."

"Good!  Wonderful."  She came over to him, staring at him.  "Which one are you?"

He smirked a bit.  "Dean."

"Cool.  Dawn Summers, little sister to Buffy."  She held out a hand.

"Hi."  He shook it.  "Sam?"  He came to the door.  "This is Dawn Summers."

"I've read about you," he said, shaking her hand.  "What's up?"

"Four other books have mentions of this."  She took off her backpack and handed them over.  "Two are in demon languages so you'll need my help translating.  Xander can speak one but not read it and doesn't know the other."

"Sure, I'm all for that.  It says we'd have research help."

"Oh, yeah."  She followed him into the motel room.  She stared at him for a minute.  "A word of advice," she said quietly.  "Not many people get to know Xander enough to appreciate him.  Even when he's totally goofy, tripping over his feet, falling into graves, even when Willow overlooked him, not too many saw the real guy.  Things'll go easier if you at least try, even though Xander probably won't drop his protections for you guys for a very long time.  Otherwise all you'll be doing is getting frustrated with the bad jokes to ease tension and the goofy nature that suddenly turns into a hunter's focus.  Plenty of us made that mistake and I think I'm maybe the first to look deeper than the goofy exterior he puts up."

"He seemed nice."

She snorted.  "Xander's not really nice, Sam.  He does what's necessary sometimes but he's not really nice most of the time.  He's got an inner focus that most people never see."  She sat down, pulling out the first book.  "I got the translation he did and a few of the names he didn't know are rituals and a few are proper names for places or demons.  Want to start there so we can cross-reference and put links into the original translation so you can return to it at will?"

"That could help.  Saves hefting around books."

"Giles said he could have these but he's going to paddle him for getting the altar kit from Phil.  He's very scared of the idea that Xander might have to deal with magic since it goes a bit screwy around him."

"Were you in town for the love spell?"

She snorted. "Sam, I wasn't turned from a ball of energy until right before the Glory thing.  They gave me memories of it," she offered.  "But yeah, that's how things go screwy.  Or he'd be reading in Latin from a book and it'd light on fire in the library.  Pissed Giles off to no end a few times."  He shuddered.  "Anyway," she sighed, looking up the first marked phrase.  "Okay, this is the first name he couldn't translate.  It is a ritual to bless the special weapons."  She let him see the information.  He moaned.  "We know.  I have no idea where they'll get a bit of virgin blood but I'm sure it's on the black market somewhere."

The door opened and Xander walked in with Dean behind him.  "I can ask one of the girls, Dawn."  She smirked at him.  "I felt you come in.  Not really subtle, young lady."

"Oh, bite me," she said, going back to the book.  "Before I nibble on you instead.  Get me a soda?"  He put one down in front of her.  "Thanks, Xander.  You're a very hard act to follow, that's why I can't date men.  They don't live up to your standards."  She beamed at him.  "Or that's what I tell Buffy, who tries really hard to set me up with her boyfriend's new friends."

"She's dating a guy from the Navy.  Are you joining?" he asked patiently.

"No and the whole uniform and danger thing doesn't do it for me either," she assured him dryly, going over the ritual.  She finally typed it in verbatim in another document then created a link in the original one to that new page.  Sam smiled at that.  "I'm also moving it all into the same folder."  She did that with the file and the original, marking it as such without links.  "That way no one's confused."  She got back to the next one, finding it in one of the demon books.  Sam frowned at it.  "It's in demon, Sam."

Xander looked at it then shrugged.  "It sounds like someone hissing and spitting while speaking drunken Gaelic."  He looked at Dean.  "Weapons?"

"It starts next month."

"Nice of them to give us warning instead of doing it a week before the first battle this time," he said dryly.  "Cordy must've chewed them a new one."

Dawn looked over.  "I doubt that.  She did finish ascending, Xander."  He snorted, shaking his head.  "We're pretty sure.  Willow got drunk and checked one night."

"Uh-huh," he said dryly.  "And I *so* believe the Powers are suddenly happy enough with her to give her the *right* answer?"

"Might have a point," Dawn admitted, shrugging a bit and getting back to work.  "Giles is still freaked about you and magic by the way."

"You can't tell me at least one of those don't call for spells."

"The very first one is to bless the weapons so can't do that," she agreed dryly, giving him a look.  "He's having flashbacks to love spells and Anya and alternate universes...."

"Which was Cordelia and not me," he said, interrupting her list of sins.  "By the way, thanks for the leather pants last year for Solstice.  Willow freaked *very* well."

"Well, yeah," she said with a slightly evil grin.  "That was the intention, that and to get you laid."

"I don't need to hear this," Dean said.

"Oh, shut up and suck some cock, you'll feel better," Dawn said in a happy, chipper voice, making Sam splutter and Dean stare at her in horror.  She beamed.  "I have little sister rights to Xander.  My mother nearly gave me to him when she died."  She gave him a look and went back to it.

Xander looked at Dean.  "It was living in a house full of thirty young slayers, her sister, Spike, and the rest of us for a little over a month," he said blandly.

"Nah, it was Buffy stopping me from dying and watching her take a plunge off that tower.  I still say if we had thrown her shoes through the portal she would've left sooner.  Then hey, no First Evil drama and all the baby slayers would still be at home or whatever."

Xander patted her on the head.  "If she hadn't stopped you, I would've shot you.  I can do without your sister if I have to.  I'd be miserable without you."

She got up and gave him a hug.  "You stupid bastard," she muttered, but she gave him an extra squeeze.  "We've even got a sex rite it looks like," she said once she sat down again.

"Yay us," Dean said.  "With?"

"A virgin and someone who's been tainted.  So Xander and someone."  She looked at him.  "Unless you're a virgin to guys?"

"What makes you think Dean hasn't slept with bad people?" Sam asked.

She giggled.  "Dude, he nearly married a former vengeance demon.  Got all the way to the altar before the other vengeance demons stepped in.  Then she went back, came back to human, and they were going to try *again*!  Can your big brother top that?"

"No, a few witches, a spirit once," he offered.

She looked at him then at Xander.  "Well?"

"It probably is me," Xander admitted.  "Every little once in a while I tend to go a bit odd and do stupid things.   Like sleep with a vampire."  He shook his head, sitting down with the translation to go over it again from Sam's laptop.  "What happens if the third guy isn't a virgin to guys, Dawn?"

"Find.  Someone," she said bluntly.

"Yeah, we'll take an ad out in the in the paper," Xander said, giving her a look.  "Any other options?"

"Death, destruction, and you being reborn more hyped than Willow more painfully than necessary."

"Ooh, yay," he said flatly.  "Hold on, that should be Dean or the new guy."

"No," Sam said, shaking his head, coming over to help him.  "See, this is how they talk about you, Xander.  This one is Dean, and this is the new guy."  Xander grumbled something under his breath and the lights dimmed.  He looked at him.  "How did you do that?"

"Huh?"  He grinned at him.  "Practice at her sister's back."

"Andrew taught it to him before he died in the last hellmouth battle," Dawn quipped, waving a hand.  She sipped her soda.  "He *was* uber-geek and very, very strange at times."

"He wasn't as bad as some I've seen.  After all, I've met Star Trek loving demons too, Dawn.  Some who're even stranger.  Hell, one was a slaver demon who was quoting Riker."

She looked at him. "That's just sad.  Tell me you slayed him?"

"Of course.  I slay any of the slaver demons I run into," he said bluntly, going back to his reading.  "This can't be me, Sam.  I'm not that insane."  She snickered.  "I'm not," he said firmly.  "I haven't been since I got back from Africa."

She looked at him. "Then you'd date and give Buffy and Willow nieces so they could fuss over someone other than me."  She got back to work.

Dean looked at his baby brother.  "Drink?"

"Yeah, get me one too," he agreed.  Dean nodded, going to do that.

"She gets worse!" Xander called after him.  "This is her on semi-blunt, not fully blunt!"

"I only go fully blunt when there's blood and world endage involved," she said, giving him a look.   "It's not my fault they want me to have a period every once in a while and I get locked in the stupid bunker during it.  It's really boring down there, even with cable and all that stuff.  So bite me, Xander."

"That'd draw blood," he said dryly.  "Like the vamp that got you last time that became a portal."

She snorted.  "Amused Buffy to *no* end to bitch at me about going and getting drunk for my eighteenth."  She got back to work.

"Huh?" Sam asked.  He probably looked very confused but he couldn't help it.

Dawn looked at him.  "I'm the Key, Sam.  Glory came for me.  That's why I got sent to Sunnydale.  My blood opens portals to other dimensions.  Therefore, me having a period is very dangerous and I get to be snarky, mean, and blunt when they happen.  Any other questions about that subject, ask Xander."  She bent back over the book.

Sam looked at Xander, who nodded.  "It does, even to this day.  It annoys her to no end when she's cut."  He smirked.  "The vampire turned into a walking portal and someone slit him open to get at it.  He was not a happy vampire while slit open and complaining about his buddy crawling through his chest cavity."  Sam shuddered and went to help Dean get drinks.  "You sure you wanted them to know?" he asked more quietly.

"Yeah, they'll probably find out sometime."  She looked at him.  "You good?"

He shrugged.  "I've been sent to do worse."

"Uh-huh."  She kept staring at him.

"If I ever see the Powers they're going to get their asses kicked," he assured her.  "That doesn't mean they haven't sent me to do worse.  Trust me."

"Okay.  I can do that, Xander."  She got back to work, shaking her head slightly.  "What if he's a real virgin?"

"He's a cop, Dawn.  I doubt he's an actual virgin."

"Fine.  Wonder if Dean is."

"Nope."  He smirked at her sideways look.  "Hunters live too hard of a life to deny themselves any pleasures.  The same as your sister never misses an opportunity to shop, we don't miss an opportunity to revel in the light.  There's too much darkness and sometimes your flashlight goes out if you don't take the light when it's offered."

"Good point."  She sighed and typed in the next section, citing book and page number but summarizing this time.  She saved that and linked it in then got back to work.  "Did you bag Faith after that one time?"

"You know, I don't know if she climbed on top while she was choking me," he said dryly. "After that?  Nope."  She snickered.  "She offered once but she was too drunk and I'm not that desperate."

"Yeah, you are, Xander.  It's been months."  She looked at him.  "It really has."

"Nope."  He smirked at her.  "Stress relief is universal, Dawn, and it paid for some work on the car."  She gaped.  He shrugged.  "It was cheaper and wasn't that bad for a weekend of stress relief.  Got the oil changed too."  He went back to reading.

"So you were the freak of Sunnydale?" she teased.

"Not back in those days.  Hell no, Willow would've caught on and beaten me with a floated paddle."

"Good point," she decided.  "I won't tell her now so she doesn't fry you with lightening or something.  Though you did make a pretty cat the last time she caught you flirting with a girl."

"Yeah, well, you petted my hair funny.  Don't next time.  Go with the grain of the hair."

"Yes, Xander," she sighed.  She got back to work and both brothers came back.  "I'll behave if you two don't stare in awe at my magnificence."

"Sure, we can not stare at you," Dean agreed.

She looked at him and smirked.  "I know he told you, Dean.  I wouldn't have told him if I didn't want both of you to know."

"Speaking of blood rites," Xander said, looking at her.  "Have we gotten you away from Giles on that?"

"Oh, yeah.  I looked at him, told him it was creepy, and if he came near me again I was going to open the hellmouth and have him eaten then fucked by something slimy.  He walked off cleaning his glasses and muttering.  Buffy's ready to put a chastity belt on me to make sure I never have a boyfriend who'll have me.  That's why she keeps trying to set me up with lonely sailors just back from their tours.  I think he warns them off but it's still disgusting."

"Then figure it out, Dawn, and do it for yourself," Xander said bluntly.  "You can do a containing rite just as well as they can."

"I know," she muttered. "Still a hell of a lot of work for very little fun."

"Huh?" Dean asked.

"I'd have to bleed to be broken in," Dawn said patiently, looking at him.  "If my blood opens portals...."  They both shuddered.  She smiled.  "So my sisters' trying to set me up with guys who don't want sex and failing miserably."

"Instead I'd rather she do a containment rite and do it on her own," Xander said.  "That way no one could complain. Oh, speaking of which, Dawn, the virgin blood for the spell?  Don't even consider it."

"Won't.  I'm too powerful for that."  She looked outside at the thunder. "That's Willow," she said dryly, shifting closer to the wall.  "I'd answer the door before she breaks it."

Dean opened the door, looking at the glaring redhead.  "What?" he demanded.

"Dawn is not to..."

"Lady, she's an adult.  As long as she takes proper precautions, who gives a damn what she does?" he asked.

"Here, here," Xander agreed dryly from the bed.

"You," Willow started, storming inside.  "You know she can't."

Xander looked at her.  "She can as long as she uses the containment rite Giles found," he said slowly and clearly.  "As was Giles' intention last year, Willow.  Get over it!" he snapped.  "Some day she'll want a real boyfriend who makes her giggle too.  The same as Kennedy does to you."  She growled.  He stood up, glaring down at her.  "Shut up.  Go away.  Don't turn anyone into a pet this time."

"How dare...!" she started.

He smacked her on the forehead with the palm of his hand.  "Clearly you need sleep, woman.  Go nap."  He stared down at her.  He looked up.  "Cordelia!" he called.  "I know you're up there listening!"

A figure faded into view.  "Well, she is but she can't come help," the woman said with a grin.  She squealed and hugged him.  "Xander!"

"Fred.  How?"

"Illaryia didn't kill me, silly."  She poked him on the chest.  "Cute muscles."  She beamed at him then at Willow.  "Yes, she can, as long as she uses the containment rite and it's someone who has a clue but isn't a witch or anything like that.  She could even do it with a girl if she wanted to, and Spike said that'd be cute and all, but she's allowed.  She's a real girl now, Willow.  The same as her period thingy can be solved by having kids."

"Eww, plus more blood spilled at the end," Dawn said dryly, still working.  "Thanks, Fred.  Got any hints?"

She shrugged.  "Who cares?  Pick someone who has a clue and will make it good.  Good is always better than mediocre sex or cuddling.  Mediocre sex leads to all sorts of nasty thoughts like 'Wesley looks good today' and "Gunn and Wes would look very hot together'.  Then you get the nasty dreams and if you keep being bored you might make them try to come true."

"They did," Xander agreed dryly, giving her a look.

She cackled.  "I know, that's why I got them drunk on moonshine."  She beamed at him.  "Thanks for finding it for me, Xander."

"Welcome, Fred."  He kissed her on the forehead.  "Now, can you please take Willow back to Cleveland?  We've got shit we gotta do and get ready to do for you guys.  By the way, even if they have chains and stuff, it won't stop me from kicking their asses."

"Okay, I'll let 'em know," she said cheerfully, taking Willow with her.

Xander sat back down, getting comfortable again.  "So, that was Fred.  She was saved by Angel after being stolen for about five years to a demon dimension as a slave.  She worked on their team for a while before ending up the host of a goddess.  Then she died."  He looked at them, grinning a bit. "The other was Willow.  Watch out for her if she shows up in a snit but she'll make really good cookies later after Fred's babbled at her and made her see she's being an idiot again."

"I'm hoping for rum raisin," Dawn said, typing that to Kennedy's email.  "I'm adding you wanted white chocolate and fudge chips, Xander."

"Or butterscotch, either one."  She nodded, amending it and sending it.  He grinned at the shocked brothers. "Yes, dealing with Sunnydale robbed us all of vital sanity points.  It makes us more fun and more able to deal with issues when they show up, like this one.  Otherwise I'd still be swearing at the Powers."

"What else have they sent you on?" Sam asked calmly.

"They sent me to nudge a few of their chosen into behaving better.  They sent me to Africa to gather slayers and help with a few civil wars that way.  Plus to learn from some of the Shaman.  Plus I was the one that got sent the dream about a slayer who was using her powers to take over area and had to deal with her."  He got back to his reading.  "Dawn, this perenaltima thingy?"

"Proper name of someplace," she said, pulling it up for him on the laptop she had.  "There."

"Isn't that where Mother Grim lives?"

"Yeah, basically.  So that's where your weapons are."

"Charming!"  He got back to his reading.

The brothers shared another look.  "How many things are you going to have to translate for us, Dawn?" Dean asked.

She looked at him then gave him a mean smirk.  "I'm the higher research authority for Sam to go to when he's stuck since I've got the remains of the Watchers' Library at my disposal."  Sam whimpered at that.  "Get used to me.  You're keeping me away from Buffy for the moment."

Xander looked at her.  "Saying her name three times means she'll call."

"It's been like four."

He pointed at her phone.  "It was vibrating a minute ago."

She looked then sighed and listened to the voicemail while she typed.  Then she sent her sister an email saying how great it was going to be, she'd go pick up some nice guy in the bar tonight, and then it'd be all safe again.  Then she sent it and got back to work.  Her phone rang again.  She looked.  "He got someone to text message me.  I'm impressed with Giles."

"Telling you to be careful?"

"Reminding me where the rite can be found online."  She bookmarked it then went back to her research.  "It's the most handy rite, ritual, and spell database there is," she told Sam, getting a nod.  "Half the time we find it online first.  It's a good thing Willow's a hacker."

"Yes and if she makes my identity disappear again I get to paddle her this time," Xander reminded her.  "I've got a good paddle with metal spikes all picked out."

"Sure, I'll find you good straps and a bench to put her over," she agreed happily.

"We don't need to hear about you two and freaky bondage games," Sam said patiently.

She just smiled at him.  "Awww, did you want to try it first?"  He went red but shook his head quickly.  "Okay, if you're sure."  She got back to decoding things for them.  "Oooh, Dean, my man, that thing that's going to have you then commit ritual suicide?  Take Tylenol PM with you that month."  She added that into the document and linked it in, then got back to the next one.

He came over to look.  "What was she?"

She let him have that book since it was in English.  "Apparently very horny but weirder than I am."

"Interesting."  He looked at Xander.  "Ever run into one of these?" he asked Xander, letting him see it.

"Yeah, the Powers sent me after a slayer trying to take over her country and she had some of them as her bodyguards.  They decided it was time to use the ritual sacrifice option because I beat three of the eight that were on duty at the time."  He looked up at Dean.  "If they're broken in then they have to commit suicide.  It's part of the ritual.  Fortunately the slayer felt the magic gathering to destroy everything and stopped them for me before the explosion of magic energy to take themselves out ripped through the compound and got everyone."  He handed the book back and got back to his own reading.  "Dawn, this...."  She handed him a book.  "Not that one.  The one after it."  She pointed at the book in English so he took it and read through the section he needed, giving her an odd look.  "Gee, the Powers think I need laid too?"

"Probably.  You're more fun when you've had some, Xander."

"Uh-huh.  How would you know?"

"You've been a miserable prick for months," she said, giving him a look.  "That's how we *all* know.  Even the slayerettes.  Even Willow realized why you were being such a prick.  So get over it."  She took the books back to get into the next one she needed to do.

"You and me both apparently," Dean said dryly.

Xander grinned at him.  "At least they haven't said it'll be us together yet."

"That's probably later," Sam joked.  Dawn handed him a book and pointed at a line, making him cackle.  "Depending on who they pick, it's later."  Both men groaned and shook their heads, going back to reading the translated portions.


Xander got out of his car, looking at the small motel Dean had said to meet them at, looking over at the amused guys.  "Sorry, got lost."  He shut the door and walked up to them.  "Did we get my room?"

"Not yet," Sam said.  "Steve's in the office."

"Sure."  He went to get his own room, smiling at the nice looking middle aged guy behind the counter.  "Hi, need one for myself."

"The boys said they had a friend coming," he offered, handing over the notecard for him to fill out.  "Singles are forty but we do have efficiencies."

Xander grinned.  "As long as there's soda I'll be fine.  Thanks though."  He finished filling it out and handed over some money.  He took his key and waved.  "Thank you."  He took his bag up to his room then collapsed on the bed, happy not to be sitting upright.  "I have got to change that one seat's cushion.  That spring is going to drive me nuts," he muttered.  Someone knocked.  "I'm still awake."  Dean strolled in.  "Any idea how I change the seat out?  I've got a spring issue on my lower back."

"Junkyard?" he suggested with a small shrug.  "Or dealership, but it'll be more expensive."

"Then I'll have to call around once we get to Texas."

"Did you call her already?"

"Nope.  She's all-knowing.  She knows we're coming.  She told me a few months back she'd be seeing me soon.  We all thought it was Willow going off the deep end after a fight with Kennedy again."  He shrugged.  "The directions are on my dashboard if you wanted  a copy."

"I'll get 'em when we get to Texas."  He sat on the foot of the bed.  "Anything new come up during the trip here?"

"Spring," Xander said dryly.  "Phone call from Dawn.  Apparently the guy woosed out on her.  There was oral sex but nothing better."

"Didn't feel like dealing with a virgin?"

"Yup."  He nodded.  "I remember that feeling.  Then I realized it'd be easier if I did, they had lower expectations, didn't get demanding, and I could be as creative as I wanted without someone huffing in irritation because I wasn't giving them the exact version of oral sex they wanted."

"You go down on women?" Dean asked.  "Even strange women?"

Xander looked at him.  "Not if they're nasty, dirty, or otherwise funky, no.  Otherwise, most women seem to appreciate it.  It gets me repeat begging."  He smirked. "Anya taught me that."


"The one I nearly married."

"Oh, yeah, the former vengeance demon.  Okay."

"She was a bit nympho after not having any for eleven hundred years."

"Gotcha," he said, nodding and smiling a bit.  "Dinner?"

"Starved," Xander admitted, sitting up.  "Are we ordering or dinering it or what?"

"There's about three fast food places and don't eat at the diner.  I speak from personal experience.  The cook's nasty and scuzzy, he's got half of every infection known to mankind.  The waitress will hit on you and give you terrible crap if you don't flirt back.  She's in her sixties and doesn't know that a bath includes more than her hair and face.  Just don't."

"Thanks for the warning," Xander said with a small grin.  "Anywhere good?"

"Depends on Deborah.  She half owns this place."  He stood up. "Anything else come up?"

"Dawn's in St. Louis watching out for things and talking to a young slayer."  That got a nod and Dean left him alone.  He finally got out of bed and went in search of food and gas for the car.  He found both but it was fairly unappetizing.  So he came back to the motel, finding Steve hauling out trash.  He decided helping was in order and carried out the rest for him.  "There ya go."

"Thanks," Steve offered with a grin.  "We've already fed the boys, even managed to fill Dean up, which is a minor miracle.  You hungry?"

Xander grinned.  "I could eat.  That drive-in place's burgers tasted like sawdust."

"Yeah, they've never been good."  He led him into the kitchen, nodding at his wife.  "Xander's back.  He hit the drive-in."

"Poor thing.  Are you feeling sick yet?"

"My former girlfriend had to learn how to cook.  I'm kinda used to eating nearly anything after that and being in Africa.  Can I help so I don't mooch?"

"No, sweetie, sit down."  She brought over some open faced sandwiches and some water, smiling at the boy, who grinned back.  She sat across from him.  "So, tell me what happened in Sunnydale?"

"You're part of their circle?"

"One of their research people."  She smirked at him.  "All we knew was that someone finally covered the stupid hellmouth up."

He snorted.  "The First Evil."  He ate a bite while she blanched.  "Want my laptop?  It's got the whole info file in there."  She nodded so he went to get it from Sam, handing it to her.  "Here you go.  It's by date so look up the month before it happened."  He sat down to eat again.  "You do cook very well, ma'am."

"Thank you, Xander."  She opened the laptop, looking at the open page.  "Hmm.  What was Sam looking up?"

Xander looked then shrugged.  "One of the rites to bless the weapons I think.  Looks about like it."  He went back to eating, then took it to get into the proper file, letting her read the journal entries they had compiled as the information file.  She read it slowly, her fingers tapping now and then on the page down key.  Until she finally looked at him.  He stared back.  "What?"


"Alive," he said bluntly, nodding a bit, eating his last bite then smiling and leaning over to kiss her on the cheek.  "Thank you."

"Do they know?"

"Know what?"

"About your injury," she said bluntly.  She gave him a look for trying to play stupid.

He sighed.  "I went into the battle with it.  I've compensated since then.  I'm actually pretty good with it.  I honed some of the skills I have retrieving slayers from parts of Africa having a civil war.  A few places where I did more than my fair share of helping to get villages free."  She shuddered.  "No matter how much I wanted to retire, I still got sent to Africa by the Powers nudging Giles.  They apparently don't want to let me retire and I've learned how to live without it.  Even if it is really annoying when I walk into doors sometimes."

"It's something they should know.  It be a problem in the middle of a fight."

Xander smiled gently at her.  "Do you think they'd tell me if they had those sort of issues?" he asked calmly.  "We barely know each other.  I don't talk about it even with those who were there, ma'am.  If it becomes pertinent to a battle, I'll let someone know. Until then, it's like any scar, only it's got a glass replacement."  She sighed but went back to reading.  "Can I help with the dishes?"

"Get another one, Xander."


"Xander," she said firmly.  "I raised three girls and one son.  Eat something else."  She heard him sigh but move to get something to nibble on while she finished reading.  She got a CD to burn the information down on, giving him back the laptop before he left for the night.  "You need something to help you sleep?"

"No, ma'am.  I'm good on sleeping.  I've learned the secret of long naps to cure things."  She nodded at that, watching him leave after cleaning up after himself.  He went up to his room, going to lay down and look at the rite Sam had been looking up.  He bookmarked a different one under Sam's name and turned off the computer, getting comfortable for the night.  It wasn't like the nightmares were going to interrupt what sleep he got.  After a few years you got used to them.


Dean looked over as Deborah joined him outside later that night.  "Did you drug him?  He came in and went to bed after eating."

"I made him stuff himself.  He's a bit skinny for his size."  She sat on the stairs next to him.  "Dean, there's things you should know in those files."

He looked at her.  "I figured it wasn't all rosy goodness," he assured her.

She looked at her hands then at him again.  "The boy's been injured."

"Haven't we all?  That's why Steve's got only half the feeling in one hand."

She sighed.  "No, he's had more than that, Dean."  She looked at him.  "Are you guys going to trust him?"

He shrugged.  "I don't know.  The kid kinda creeps me out."

"Dean, dear, he's the same age you are."

"He is?"

She nodded.  "He is."  She reached over to smooth down some of his hair that the wind was playing with.  "Train and spar against him for a bit.  I'm not sure how well his training went.  He never had any formal training, like you did."

"Did he tell you that?"

"He didn't have to.  The way he moves told me that," she said more firmly.  "I think you and he need to learn to trust each other just a bit so you can spar and get comfortable with each other.  From what you and Sam showed me earlier, you're going to have to work together in the same fight.  You can't do that if you don't trust the guy to watch your back."

He considered it then nodded slowly.  "We've got to train with the new weapons anyway."  He looked at his room then at her again.  "How injured?"

"Some people would've seen it as a reason to give up," she said bluntly.  Dean shuddered.  "He's lived and moved on but I think it'll come out that his training isn't as comprehensive as you think it may be.  So maybe some training time would help you learn to trust what he does know and help him finish up whatever training he got back on the mouth of hell."  She stood up.  "Not that I don't think he'll protect you and Sam but it'd be easier if you guys learned to trust each other."

He nodded.  "I'll talk to him about it tomorrow.  Thanks, Deb."

"Welcome, Dean."  She patted down his hair again.  "Go sleep, dear.  You need rest because it's a long drive tomorrow."  He nodded, going to their room to crash for the night.  She went back to Steve and their bedroom.  "I didn't outright tell him but I did tell him that he needed to spar with the boy to make sure they could trust each other and work together easily enough."

"I think Xander's a lot better than some people think, Deb," he said patiently, pulling her closer to him.  "He had to be to survive so long working with a slayer and now he's a Watcher.  They do train their own."

"The old Council would've taken him out of the field," she pointed out.

"Yes, but they're dead and the new people seem to be nicer."

"Or more desperate."

"Or more desperate," he agreed, because that could be a good reason for still having the boy in the field.  "Is Dean going to take the advice?"

"He looked like he was thinking."  She stroked his stomach.  "I hope this goes well.  I know it has to but it could be a very rough start.  Dean and Sam don't trust many and the boy obviously has a few anger issues by the way he was talking earlier."

"They'll survive.  Just like the prophecy says," he assured her, giving her a squeeze. "We'll be there when the boys need help."  She nodded, snuggling in  so she could rest as well.  He watched her fall asleep, laying there thinking about this nearly unholy alliance between the Watchers' Council and their group of hunters.  There were going to be some worried hunters since Dean and Sam were some of their brightest stars.


Sam got up first, yawning and stretching.  He noticed the paper on the floor and got up to get it.  //Sam, got up at the buttcrack of dawn.  Went ahead, here's directions to the town.  Should be about eight or nine hours of travel for you guys. Cell still works in that area if you get lost.  Xander//  He groaned, nudging Dean and handing over the note before going to shower.

"Why can't he sleep?" Dean complained, getting up to take the second shower then make sure they had everything before they left.  They got into the car after dropping their keys off in the office for the couple then headed for breakfast before getting back onto the highway.  Once they had eaten and were back on the road, Dean decided to talk to his little brother.  "Deborah said that we need time to train with Xander."

"I can see the point.  We don't know his style or how he was trained.  He's got to have at least some training with how long he's survived but who knows what style they used out there."

"Stakes, nightly patrols, crossbows," Dean said grimly.  He tapped the bassline of the song playing on the steering wheel.  "Deb also said he'd been injured in the past.  Like serious injury."

"Who hasn't?  In this field it's pretty common."

"She was talking like ending or suicide causing injury, not head injury or broken ribs."

"Oh."  He considered it.  "I don't remember running into anything about that, Dean.  Maybe she'd tell us how?"  Dean shook his head.  "Do we think it'll make his fighting go oddly?  Though that could depend on when he got injured and whether or not he's learned how to compensate for it."

"She didn't sound like it was in the last two weeks."

"So maybe he's got a good compensation," Sam offered, trying to cheer him up.  "If he's survived this long doing what we do, then he's got to have some skills."

"No, I think she may've had a point, Sammy.  We don't know how he was trained.  If he was trained or if he had to pick things up on his own.  Can you trust a hunter that you don't know the training on?  Or how he really is?"


"Yeah, me either."  Dean frowned.  "So we need training time with the new weapons."

"We'll see what we can work out.  I'll ask him later."

"No, I should.  I don't know why they don't want you fighting but they don't.  He might think it's us ganging up on him if you go to him.  I would."

"He's not you, Dean."

"No, and that's what's bothering me.  Why does he do it?"

Sam gave him a look then cleared his throat.  "His first fight was to try to rescue a friend that got taken," he said quietly.  "His best friends both got taken.  They saved Willow and not his male friend."

"Dam it," Dean muttered.  "So, trauma."

"He ended up staking him a few months later during something called a Harvest."  Dean pulled off the road to look at him so Sam pulled out the pages he had downloaded.  "There, his whole bio as seen by outsiders who've never talked to him."

Dean read it over slowly, licking his lips now and then.  "How reliable do we think this is?"

"Ask him," Sam said.  "He's not going to dodge it if it's honest."

Dean closed it and handed the laptop back.  "Dawn warned me that no one, except for maybe her, ever sees Xander.  They let the masks fool them."

"She told me the same thing," Sam nodded.  "We all wear one."

"Yeah, but you get past mine, I can see past yours, and so can most of the guys we know.  How can his friends not see past his?"

Sam considered it.  "They're not as close as they like to think?  The site said that.  Said that something came between them their last year.  Hinted it was sexual."

Dean shook his head.  "If they weren't seeing him before then, then how would they know?"

"Then maybe this Jesse kid was the only one who's really ever seen him."

They both looked back when a twinkling started in the backseat.  "Hi, Fred," Dean said, smirking at her.  "Got some input?"

"You're right.  Though he'll never admit it, Xander doesn't let anyone that close to him.  Jesse knew because he'd been there to see it.  Willow saw some but ignored what didn't fit into her recipe for best friend. Then they smooched and it got worse."  She leaned on the back of the seat.  "Don't try to pressure him, Dean.  He'll kick your ass and walk off.  He'll come back when he's needed and if you do that, you've already lost.  You two need to get close and as tight as a hunting team can be."

Dean nodded slowly.  "So what about training with him?  Figuring it out that way?"

She let out a geeky sounding chuckle.  "Well."  She considered it, looking up.  Then at them.  "No, he trained himself.  The Watchers ordered Giles to not train him or Willow.  Giles did train her in magic and Xander did spar with Buffy now and then."  They both nodded slowly.  "The rest he picked up by learning how to block a punch the hard way - he got hit.  A lot.  Even before being on patrol really but he's not going to talk about it."  They both nodded slowly again.  "Yes, the training time could help him, but he's going to get defensive about it.  He's lived this long with what he can do and he's content to learn what he can when he can as long as he's not forced."

"But new weapons mean training time," Sam offered.

"Yeah, but these are special.  You'll already know how to use them."  She shrugged. "You might suggest it to him since he's not to go back to Cleveland until this is done with."

"And he's supposed to do what instead?" Dean asked.

"Teach him how you do things," she said, giving him a look.  "That way he's nearby when you're jumped in about four months.  That way you don't have to call and wait when they take Sam."

"Why wasn't I included?" Sam asked.

She pinched him on the cheek.  "Too valuable to risk, Sam.  You're so cute!" she cooed.  Then she faded out again.

Dean looked at him, grinning some.  "Well, you are cute.  Too bad she's dead."

"Not.  Funny."  Sam shifted around again, looking out the front windshield.  "So do we teach him what we know?  He told us he didn't deal in ghosts very often."

"I don't know," Dean said, considering it.  Xander sounded kind of like him.  Only without the brother or a father that had taught him anything.  "We can ask.  Let him see if it's what he wants to do.  Because she's right.  I'd get stubborn too if someone tried to force it onto me."

"Yeah, me too," Sam said quietly, looking at him.  "We can do that."

"And hey, maybe he'll teach us how to use the pretty artillery or build bombs."  He started the car again and went back to driving.  It was a long drive to the middle of the state of Texas.  A long, hot drive since the Impala didn't have A/C.


Xander walked up onto the porch and knocked on the door.  "Nanny Grimsley!" he yelled.  "It's Xander!"

"'Round back, boy!" a southern voice shouted in a deep woman's voice.

"Okay," he said, walking that way.  He walked around to lean on the fence, watching the woman hang up laundry. "So, you knew we were coming?"

She looked at him. "It's not that easy, boy."

Xander smirked.  "It never is.  Just don't make me kill you or something."

She snorted.  "Like you could.  I'm still a witch."  He cackled and had to lean on the fence for support.  "What?  You think I can't take you?"

"I think if you tried I'm going to suck in the spirit that's hanging around you and let him thump you good for pouting," he said dryly, smirking at her.  "Remember, mediums suck in many things, including energy."  He smiled a little boy's smile when she laughed. "Wanna try?  I haven't had to do anything dangerous in days."

"With those two Winchester boys with you?"

He shrugged.  "They seem nice enough.  Regular guys who got sucked in or jumped in like I did."  He shifted his stance.  "You do know one of the battles is happening at the grove?"  She glared at him.  "It's in the stupid book, Nanny Grimsley.  In about a year."

"Well, horse manure," she muttered.  "Fine.  We won't fight but we don't like their kind.  They're often not the sort to ask for things.  They take.  They steal.  They remind me of that Faith brat."

"Yeah, well, they don't have a Watcher's expense account," he said dryly.

She looked at him. "While this is going on, do you?"

He grinned.  "Not exactly but I do have Giles behind me or else I get to go destroy what I helped him build.  He's still on shaky ground with the new Council."  He walked around the fence and came out to look at her.  "They're not bad kids and both circles are going to have to learn to work together, even yours.  Even Giles and the slayers.  If we can't, we'll all die."

"No, they'll die.  You'll live."

He gave her a look.  "We both know it won't be me."  She shrugged at that.  "Or that I'd let it be me.  I'm not the sort to let others sacrifice when I should go instead."  She stepped back at that.  "Though I did see all the warnings to watch out for me jumping off something very high.  Now, do we think we can work together?  I have the feeling I've got to do some magic during this too.  I learned watching Willow."

She gave him a horrified look.  "We'll figure that out."  He nodded.  She led him into the house, getting him some lemonade and sitting him down in her work area to go over the rituals he knew he'd have to be doing.  He needed some foolproof, Xander proof, instructions.  Because even if it was foolproof he could still mess it up somehow.  She heard when the other car got there, grimacing.  Xander kindly popped her on the head.  "Fine, I'll try to get along.  As long as they don't try to burn me or nothin'," she said, going out to the porch.  "At least you're cute, even if you arrogant bastards with an attitude problem," she said.

"Us?" Dean asked with a grin.  "Who told you that?"

"Your sterling reputations."  She stopped them from coming onto her porch.  "I'll help ye, but you try to burn me and we'll be having a go round.  You hear?"

"I only hurt those who hurt others," Dean said, staring at her.  "Did Xander say that?"

"No, like I said, I've heard about you two and your ways.  Your daddy's ways too."

"We only handle evil bitches," Dean assured her.  Xander came out onto the porch and carried the old woman off.  "Hey!  That's not nice!"

"It's too hot out here to argue!" Xander called.  "Get your skinny asses in here."

"Ooh, yes, master," Sam said dryly, walking up the steps.  He winced as a psychic block went off in front of him.  "Not nice," he called.

"Very not nice," Dean agreed.

Xander came out and looked at them then at it.  Then back at them. "It's set to friends only.  You really don't want to hurt her, right?"

"Not if she's not an evil bitch," Dean sighed.  "We're not like that.  We've heard your team was like that."

"We were dealing with an overrun situation.  We're lucky we didn't lose."  He reached up to rub over the marking and it came down.  "That should help.  Sam, a promise?"

"I'm not going to hurt her if she's not hunting others," he said.  It let him pass.

"Ditto," Dean said.  It let him pass too and he grinned at Xander.  "You really think that of us?"

"She really thinks that of you and she thinks that there's good reason to fear you guys."  Xander looked at him.  "Then again, it's her or Willow helping us with the rites and spells we'll be doing."

"We've done rites and exorcisms before," Sam offered.

Xander looked at him then snorted.  "That database didn't have a warning not to do magic around me, Sam?"  He nodded that it did.  "There's a reason for that.  She's going to make sure it goes *right* around me."  He walked them inside, getting them some lemonade too.  "We're in her sitting room, guys."  He led the way and found her sipping some brandy.  "See, they promised.  Now, can we please get along?"

"Fine," she muttered.

"Of course," Dean agreed.  "So, I hear there's weapons?"

"In the grove," she said bluntly.  "You'll have to go be *nice* to them too."

"Lots of people consider us nice boys," Sam assured her.  "We only hurt those that're hurting others."

"Do you ask first?" she asked.  "Sometimes hurting isn't the same as you think.  Sometimes people do ask to be hurt."

"S&M beside the point," Xander said.  "They go after problem things, like we did the hunters in Sunnydale, Granny.  They could be a lot less discriminate about who they go after."  She grimaced but sipped her brandy again.  "Fine.  We'll come back for the battle nearby and I'll call if we need help with a spell.  Okay?"

She looked at him.  "You willing to go with them?"

Xander stood up.  "Do I have a choice?" he asked sarcastically.  "Not like the Powers said 'oh, you're an alternate'.  They said 'you get to do the shit work we wouldn't even send our champions or slayers to do, now suck it up and bend over' like always."  He finished his lemonade.  "The grove still north?"  She nodded.  "Thanks."  He kissed her on the head.  "We'll check in before we hit the town and a motel."

She looked at them.  "Stay in the barn, boys.  It's cheaper and there's a well out there.  Get your own dinner but you can stay out there."

"Thank you," Sam said with a small grin.

"No trying to charm me either.  My last boy was a chaos sorcerer.  I *know* how thin the charm veneer is."  Sam gave her an odd look.

"He's her last son," Xander said.  "He's still floating around because he screwed up a spell."  He hauled Sam up.  "C'mon.  We'll be back probably just after dark.  That seems to be how these things go.  Stay safe, Nanny."

"You too, boys."  She watched Dean finish his lemonade, putting their glasses in the sink before leaving out the back door after the boy.  She sighed, looking at her altar setup.  "Do we trust them?  They got past my wards but do I really have to trust three angry young men with chips on their shoulders and not a single idea 'bout the good sides of life?" she asked quietly.

Xander led the way out the back door.  "There's a sacred grove to honor a powerful sacrifice just over that small hill," he said with a point.  "Nanny Grimsley and the other witches around here guard it.  It's pure energy."  He looked at them.  "It may hate us because we're male.  Fortunately we're supposed to be here."

Dean put a hand on his arm.  "What's her issue?"

Xander looked at him.  "Your father killed two of her kids for almost turning dark, Dean."  They both gave him horrified looks.  "At one he was drunk off his ass and didn't ask questions.  He saw her working a spell on her friend and ended it before he decided it was going to get out of hand."

"Hell," Sam muttered.  "The other?"

"Her very powerful chaos sorcerer son was trying to work a protection against all hunters getting near his mother.  He knew that what she does is good for everyone, even if he was a bit twisted with the path he chose."  He moved closer.  "The spell to protect her and the grove permanently was hard, called for a sacrifice of blood.  A few of you guys heard about that."  He looked at Dean.  "You may've even heard the call out."

"I barely remember that," he said quietly.  He looked back at the house then at him.  "If I remember right the guy attacked."

"The kid was sixteen, he panicked," Xander agreed.  "He thought they were there to kill his mother for her work."  Dean nodded slowly.  "So no, she's got a real bad issue with every single person who's ever hunted.  She came down on Willow the first time they talked because Willow hunted.  She hates us because we were saving the world by hunting.  You guys too."

"Us especially," Sam finished.

"Dean especially," Xander corrected. "He's the one that reads as a hunter in the family, Sam.  Like Fred told you, you're more valuable than plain, old fashioned muscle and grunt work."

"You knew Fred came to see us?" Dean asked.

"Yeah, we were talking."  He shrugged. "She was chewing me a new one for getting lost in the duty again.  It's happened before.  Cordy did it too."  He turned around to look.  "We should go.  The earliest we can get in there is three and it's nearly quarter til."  They nodded, following him that way.  "Whatever you do, no matter what comes at us, do not make a threatening move in the grove.  The sacrifice that created the holy spot was done so that a lot of others survived.  It's got spirits out the ass in there.  Over thirty people died in that battle to keep the world going."  He looked at them.  "Two were the slayer and watcher of the time.  Another was the next girl to be called.  She lived about a nanosecond after being called."  Sam shuddered.  "Yeah, it was a bad thing.  It would've been much worse if the witches didn't step in.  One sacrificed her life and health to finish sealing the spell to destroy the higher demon.  She's back at the house."

"She's reincarnated?" Dean asked.

"No, she's been made the guardian of the grove.  She was barely eighteen when she was called.  All three of her kids have died since then.  It's been a while now," he said quietly.  "The grove is part of her and she's part of it.  So even if they come out to jump at you, no matter what, you do not threaten anything."

"What about you?" Sam asked, having a feeling.

Xander looked at him.  "I have the right to keep them out of me.  That's all I'll be doing.  She'll try to brain me later for that much.  They always do," he finished with a sigh as they walked up the small rise.  He pointed at the scrubby little group of trees.  "It's a mystical nightmare to sense that thing."

Dean looked.  "Looks small."

"Looks can be deceiving," Sam reminded him.

"Yup," Xander agreed, heading down there.  He ran into the other guardian first, staring at her.  "They called us.  We came."

The guardian looked at him.  "You're a smartass."

"No, really?" he asked dryly.  "Why are *we* doing the bending over and taking it this time?"

"The Powers have needs, Xander.  The same as you do.  Yours will be met by helping them."

"They haven't yet," he said bluntly.

"Let's not irritate the nice guardian," Sam complained.

She looked at him.  "He has a right to be angry.  The Powers do not like him."

"I'm on the shit list," Xander said simply, giving him a look.  He looked at the spirit again.  "So why me and them?"

"There must be cooperation for a while.  Things must work and flow again."  She floated closer to him.  "Do you truly want to do this?"  He stayed silent.  She smiled.  "Wise of you not to make a false statement."

"Can I play with the unicorn again this time?"

She laughed.  "If it comes for you and you change."  She let them into the grove, watching as they walked and were changed once they hit the shadows of the interior.

Sam looked at himself.  "I'm eight."

Dean nodded.  "Yeah, me too."

Xander, the eight-year-old version, grinned and pointed.  "There's a unicorn ahead, guys.  We should visit before we get the shiny, pokey things."

"How can we play with a unicorn?  None of us are that innocent," Sam complained.  Xander took off running anyway.  "Dean?"

"Follow him.  He's been here before."   They took off running after the eight-year-old Xander.  "Xander, wait for us!" he yelled.  "We don't need to get lost in here!"  They both stopped when they saw the thing rising out of leaves and twigs from the forest floor.  All it had were leaves, twigs, and two eyes.  "Ooh, yeah," he said grimly.

"No threatening moves," a male voice called.

"What if it attacks?" Dean called.

"It can't hurt you."  The demon roared and they both backed up.

"Is this like one of those face your fears things?" Sam asked.

"No," Dean said.  "That's not something I'm afraid of.  I'm almost more afraid of the unicorn."  His brother gave him an odd look.  "Like I was ever that innocent!"

"Uh-huh.  All babies are born innocent, Dean.  Even us."  They looked at the leaf monster again, each taking a side to walk around it.  It tried for him but he closed his eyes and stiffened.  Nothing.  He looked up and the monster was staring at him in confusion.  "We don't want to hurt you," he said calmly.  "Even if you are trying to scare us."

The monster grunted and looked at Dean, who shrugged.  "He's the nice one.  I just wanna get away right now."  The monster groaned and fell back into a pile of leaves and twigs.  "That's freaky."

"Yeah, a lot," Sam said.  They heard a high pitched scream.  "Xander!" he called, taking off running again.  They found the boy with a small wound on his arm but a unicorn letting him pet her.  "Xander, what's wrong with your arm?"

"She got him with the horn," Dean said, moving closer.  "Hey, can we look at the wound?"

Xander looked at him.  "Why?"

"To see if you need a bandaid."

"Nope."  He went back to humming and petting her.  "You should see Gretchen.  She's at the altar.  I'll stay and pet her.  She's nice."

"Don't you have to see Gretchen?" Dean asked.

Xander smiled and giggled.  "Who said I'm not doing something else, Dean?"  Dean stared.  Xander just smirked and the unicorn stabbed him gently again but he glared at her.  "Quit that!  Keep it up and the bad girls will come again!  Then Willow will turn me back into a cat for trying to date!"  He went back to petting her, getting down to braiding her mane.  "The altar's through the light area, guys.  Go there."

"Sure," Dean agreed.  "Will you be okay?"

Xander grinned and nodded.  "Of course.  I'm always all right.  I'm a Xander."  He went back to humming and braiding.

Dean looked at his brother, who could only shrug.  "Okay.  Altar's which way?"  The horn was pointed in a direction and scratched Xander again coming back.  "No, you scratch us if you want to; you don't hurt him," he ordered calmly.

Xander looked at him.  "Even innocence has a price, Dean.  It's not the first time I've paid it.  Now shoo.  You're interrupting my braiding and I'll lose the pattern."

Sam nodded, pulling Dean away.  Though he did watch the braid pattern for a few steps.  There was something familiar about it.  They found the lit area where sunlight came through the trees and stepped through it, coming out themselves on the other side.  "The braid was strange," he said.

Dean looked at him.  "And us being eight at the same time wasn't?"

"Okay, stranger," he defended.  A female voice laughed so they headed toward it.  "Are you Gretchen?"

"I am."  She looked them over then stared at Dean.  "Why do you break the sacredness of our grove, Dean Winchester?  You have much blood on your soul."

"To protect others.  I was sent here after being chosen by some Powers and a book."

She laughed again.  "You have no idea what that means, do you?"

"Not yet.  Can we get a bit of info on that too?"

She shook her head.  "No.  You'll figure it out eventually.  The rest of them have."

"The rest of who?" Sam asked.

"Champions," Xander said as he walked out of the other side of the clearing.  "Lady Gretchen."

"Back again I see," she said with less tolerance.

"Hey, yell at them.  Not like I *need* to atone for that many things."

"No, you don't," she agreed.  "They simply like you.  It keeps you from screwing up their plans by making you do their work."

"Yet I screw it up anyway and then they get mad," Xander said bluntly.  "Can we have a talk of the ass-plug variety with the Powers?  Because I'm tired of needing one."

She shrugged.  "Take it up with them.  You'll be able to by the end of this fight."

"War," Dean corrected calmly.  "No *fight* takes three years.  A war maybe, but not a single fight."

She looked at him.  "Even if it's the manifestation of the same entity?"

He shook his head.  "That's still a war and it's been going on forever.  So why us?"

"Someone's got to understand him and control him," she said dryly.  "No one else can.  Not even Rosenburg."

"You know, you call her and she shows up," Xander said dryly.  He looked at Dean.  "She needs her caffeine fix."  He handed her a glowing, golden rose, making her sigh in pleasure and sniff.  "Now, weapons?"

"You have to ask the power, Xander."

"Fine.  Come on, guys."  He led them that way.

"Were you really in the clearing?" Sam asked.

Xander looked at him then shook his head.  "Nope.  We all go there our first time.  I got higher level advice than 'all innocence has a price'."  He looked at them.  "Yes, it's all cryptic.  It seems to be the way of higher powers when they want you to do something."

"So you really screw up everything?" Dean asked.

Xander glared at him.  "Not that way."

"Didn't mean it that way," he said, backing off.  "Are you sure you're really Xander?"

Xander stopped to look at him.  "Dean, you don't know me yet.  Yes, I'm me.  I'm really me.  All me.  All that.  Even I have my dark days.  So let's just drop the insinuation that I'm the fuck up node and switch of the universe, okay?"

"I wasn't asking that," he told him, stepping closer.  "I wasn't."

"I'm also not fragile."

"We just saw you get hurt by the unicorn," Sam said.  "Three different times."

Xander rolled up his sleeve to show scars in the same places. "Yeah, I know."  He rolled down his sleeve then walked on.  "We'll be here until midnight if we don't hurry up and they're not known for their patience with anyone who's been called to do stuff."  The two brothers shared a look behind his back and kept going.  "I've heard it before.  Don't worry about it.  This stuff makes my skin crawl."

"It was too much time spent surrounded by evil," a male voice said, fading into view.

Xander looked at him.  "Wes."

"Xander.  Dean.  Sam."  He looked at Xander again.  "You may not pass with that attitude."

"Hey, never asked for it.  You know very well these things put me into a bad mood and why, Wes.  I'll be damned if I'm going to enjoy this."

"Yes, well, be that as it may, you do still have a test to go through.  I can't simply let you pass."  He manifested a sword.

Xander laughed and walked through him shaking his head, wincing and rubbing the spot where the sword would've cut him.  "Thanks for the giggle, needed it."

"I do loathe you sometimes, Xander," Wesley called after him.

"Yup.  They all do.  Yet they keep trying to make me not retire.  Ever figure that riddle out?"

"You're at least important.  Not like before."

Xander glared back at him.  "I was important then, Wes, or Buffy wouldn't be living.  Nor would the town of Sunnydale.  I don't care *what* the Powers or anyone thinks.  I've given up giving a damn about other opinions, even yours or theirs.  You can tell them I said that."  He kept walking, pulling Dean with him, muttering under his breath.

"Not friends?" Dean asked.

"A former Watcher, one who hated those of us who jumped in and then found himself at odds with them so he ended up working with Angel.  Another person who didn't want to see that I'm more than a tool to be used.  Like the Powers."  He walked them into a clearing.  "Grab Sam's hand.  There's another barrier."  Dean did that and they walked across the barrier.  "Howdy."

"Why are you here?" the young seeming girl asked calmly from her spot on the ground.

Xander squatted down in front of her.  "You know why I'm here, Nanny.  You have known why I was called.  Why Dean was called.  You've known now for years and didn't even hint the last time I had to come interrupt everyone's rest and make them disquieted."

"Yes, but why today?  Why not in a few weeks?"

"Because doing it now means that we have time to get some training and learn how to work with each other," Dean told her.  "Good teams aren't born, they're made and train together.  Like Sam and I do."

She stared at him then snickered.  "Sometimes they are born."

"Everyone's born," Sam told her.  "Some are just born to do things while others are born to exist and let them have things to do."

She shook her head.  "Not exactly."  She looked at Xander again.  "You won't wake them this time, Xander."  He stared at her.  "You won't."

"I will.  We both know I will because me going near the sacred spot wakes every single spirit in this woods because of what's touched me."

She nodded. "This time we're ready for you."  She walked them on, taking them to a dark place in the forest floor.  "Here we bled," she told them, looking at Sam.  "Would you bleed to save everyone?"

"I have."

"We both have," Dean told her.  "We will again if it's necessary."

She looked at him.  "Your choice is not one of bravery, Dean.  It's not that sort of choice.  Your choice is finding a true calling beyond vengeance.  His choice is one of bravery.  Xander's choice is one of pain."  She looked at Sam again.  "I know you are a helper in this fight."

"War," Dean corrected.

"This is only one long fight in the war, Dean.  The war never changes, never stops, and never begins."

"Soldiers die but never move past their battles?" he asked.

"Not always.  Sometimes."  She took his hand, then Sam's hand, walking them into the dark spot so they disappeared.  "Listen to your heart, make your own choices," she said quietly.

Dean closed his eyes, as he was probably supposed to do.  He didn't understand all this mystic bullcrap most of the time.  It just felt right.  He felt his insides be touched, like something was running a hand over his guts and chest cavity, making him wince and shudder.  He felt Sam grab onto his arm and steadied himself.  It was disgusting feeling.  Then it stopped.  He opened his eyes, looking back at Sam, who shrugged but was smiling, then nodded in front of him.  Dean looked and there was a really pretty, totally impractical long sword.  "Huh."  He put a hand on it and it dropped from hanging so he had to hold it up.  He winced as it burned into his hand for a moment.  "Ow."  He changed hands and continued to look at it.  "Does it do anything special?"  He was thinking about how he'd hide the long thing when it changed into his favorite gun, making him smirk.  "Neat."  He grinned at Sam.

"Very neat," he agreed.  They walked out the other side.  Xander closed his eyes and walked into the circle, disappearing.  Sam blinked, his ability was showing him something.

"Pay no attention to that," the girl said.  "That is his choice; if he wants you to know he'll tell you.  If you make him."  Dean looked at her.  "Xander doesn't always share when he wants to.  Sometimes he has to."  She smiled.  "You'll come to find those situations bothersome and tedious, but they do happen to all of us."

Xander came out the other side with a pocket knife that glowed silver.  He put it into a pocket, then looked at the little girl.  "Maybe that's because I do have the right to private thoughts, even as a Watcher.  Do we have to go back the same way or can we take the fast track out?  The spirits are getting restless again and I don't want to be attacked."

"Go," she agreed, waving a hand.  "Go north."  They headed that way, Xander checking the dial on his watch.  She shook her head.  "Some day he'll learn to appreciate things."

"I already do," Xander called back.  "Normal things that aren't battles or the Powers.  I appreciate plenty of things.  Thanks anyway."  He waved and they appeared out of the scrub trees, looking at each other.  "We're on the other side and we should probably walk around.  Before we get attacked.  They really don't like me."

"Why?" Sam asked.

"Because Sunnydale taints things and each time he's possessed or faces off with something it adds a bit of taint to your soul," Dean said, looking at Xander.  "Right?"  Xander nodded.  "Dawn said so."

"It figures.  They read that I've been in this battle and that battle and then lived in Sunnydale most of my life.  It freaked almost all the true shaman out.  One had been in his own battles before moving back home."  He pointed.  "Farm and the barn's that way, guys.  Let's hike?  Please?"  They nodded, walking far around the grove so none of the spirits would get too restless.  They were all tired and none of them wanted to face some angry spirits tonight.

Sam looked at Xander's arm, then at him.  "Did it really hurt you?"

Xander looked at him and nodded.  "It does every time.  Mediums are touchable by spirits in every manifestation.  It sucks.  But it's what I was born as.  Another great part of Sunnydale spread throughout the world.  Anyone the least bit psychic is activated or killed there."  He kept walking.  "Being with the slayer kept me out of most of the trouble but not all of it.  Especially around Halloween even though demons supposedly take that night off."

"Since when?" Dean asked.  "We always get trouble."

"Really?  Our demons and vamps always took the night off.  It was chaos sorcerers and everything but demons that night for us."

"Wow.  We always get more poltergeist action and that stuff," Sam said.  "Maybe it's a difference because of the hellmouth?"

"Giles said it was everywhere.  It was a night for them to party and relax, that it was bad enough without them."

"Maybe the other stuff we deal with is that," Dean suggested.  "You said you guys didn't do much about ghosts and poltergeists."

"No, not really," Xander agreed.  "It wasn't our thing.  Vamps, eating demons, not ghosts.  Too many in town I guess."

"How many people died in the last ten years?" Sam asked.

Xander considered it.  "Well, the last six months before the last battle we had eighteen turned, twenty-six die, and another four disappear so we assumed dead."

"That was average?" Dean said, stopping him to make Xander look at him.  "How many vampires did you have!"

"Um, in that same six months we staked all but one that got turned and another ten or so."

"Was that average?" Sam asked.  Xander smirked and nodded.  "How many were in your town?"

"Vampires breed like roaches.  A master vampire, like Spike was, Angel was, them guys, can make about ten minions a night or one strong childe."  He started to walk again.  "Most of the ones we got were newly risen fledges.  Now and then we got one of the older ones but they tended not to be stupid and hang out in cemeteries, the Bronze, places like that.  They were more cautious about their hunting so we hardly ever saw them."

"The Bronze?" Dean asked.

"It was about the only teen friendly dance club in town," he said, grinning at him.  "Which meant it was basically a vamp buffet nearly every night.  We'd go, we'd stake when we found one hunting, but even we had to go to school the next day."

"Is that why your GPA sucked so badly?" Sam asked.

"School and I didn't work out too well before then," Xander admitted calmly.  "Not my thing."

"Mine either," Dean admitted.  "Overall, how many vamps were there that then relocated?"

"Half of them went with the implosion," Xander admitted.  "We got the humans out and some of the demons ran beforehand, but then again there was the invasion the next year in LA so we lost a lot of them then."  He shrugged a bit.  "Maybe eighty percent moved.  Mostly to other areas where there's hellmouths.  Sixteen slayers does do a lot more work than one, a witch or two, and a construction worker.  Plus all the badness in LA, a few went to Miami, a few went to New Orleans.  Some headed for the old country if they were really old.  A few started a cult to God, as close as they could come to church I guess, to thank him for surviving Sunnydale.  One of them started a 'non-hunting' movement.  She was killed a while back too but she had her own cult of those who ate from the butcher."  He shrugged again.  "Those who knew evacuated.  Those who didn't know, ran when they figured it out.  Some of the town's still standing," he admitted.  "A few houses on the edge of town.  Part of the road.  The hellmouth was under the high school's library."

"No way," Dean said.  "They couldn't.  No.  No, not right."

Xander grinned.  "Way back when, Sunnydale was founded by a guy named Richard Wilkins.  Who was the mayor when I graduated.  He was a minor demon, wanted to become a more powerful demon, which takes about a hundred and ten years really.  He became the bigger demon during our graduation ceremony and we had to blow up the school to kill him.  He built the town: the underground condos for the demons, their walkway in the sewer system that wasn't really used for sewery stuff, the school, the hospital that was more of a restaurant than a good hospital, the circles for summoning higher things in one of the parks.  All that to draw more demons there because having them there made the hellmouth stronger."

"Which would in turn help him ascend," Sam finished.  Xander nodded.  "Wow.  So...."

"A lot more demons and the whole town was like a farm with a high denial rate.  I mean, you could lose a friend one minute and then forget she existed a few hours later in some cases.  The whole town nearly died a few times and no one said a word.  Even after graduation no one said anything.  A few more people became drunk for a few extra weeks but then they quit too.  Sunnydale might as well have been a river in Egypt.  Which was a very pretty river by the way."  He let out a laugh.  "Buffy got arrested for killing the guy dating her mother who turned out to be a robot.  That was about our level of cops out there.  They were seriously going to charge her with manslaughter when the robot Ted attacked her and she pushed him down some stairs to kill him.  Then he came back and well, it was Sunnydale."  He grinned at Dean again.  "So, anything like that in the rest of the world?"

"Not that we've seen."

"Is Cleveland turning that way?"

"Maybe when it's been active for over two hundred years or so," Xander said.  "We know the Sunnydale hellmouth was active for over three hundred.  Oh, hey, on spirits, did you guys ever get cursed to diseases by native spirits?"

"No," Dean said.  "You?"

"Yeah, the crew was digging something for the campus and we fell into a native burial chamber.  I ended up with ghostly syphilis and smallpox for Thanksgiving one year thanks to them.  Anya was not amused.  She swore up and down, threatened them with bunnies, everything."

"Bunnies?" Sam asked, looking a little confused but also kinda amused at that thought.

"Yeah, my big, bad former vengeance demon honey was scared of bunny rabbits.  Claimed their twitchy noses and tails were evil."  Dean burst out laughing.  "Yup.  She got over it thanks to a Halloween but yeah.  Damn I miss her sometimes."

"She ever come visit?" Sam asked.

Xander looked at him.  "Nope.  She's moved on, she's telling someone in heaven or wherever how she used to torture unfaithful men who pissed their women off enough to call her."  He beamed.  "She was over women scorned.  Cordy made her make a *whole* alternate universe because I called Cordelia by Buffy's name.  I saw a vamp me and a vamp Willow.  Very, very scary, and very gay in Willow's case.  It was kind almost a portent of bad things to come."

Dean was smiling but he was also shaking his head.  "If we ever find a place like that in the US, we'll help blow it up so no one else has to have these sort of memories.  Wanna help?"

Xander beamed at him.  "I love the pretty booms.  They're so good."

"Good.  Then we'll blow it up together."  They ran into the farm again.  "Is this the same place?"

Xander looked then sighed.  "Maybe."  He waved them to stay and walked up to the back porch, tapping.  "This isn't Nanny Grimsley's place, is it?"

"'Bout half a block to the right, young man," the old woman said dryly.  She stared at him.  "What did you turn yours into?"

"A pocket knife.  It's much easier to carry around than a long sword."  He beamed.  "Thanks."  He walked back to them.  "Half a block to the right."  They headed that way.  "Sorry, too much course correction."

"Better to be safe than to anger them anymore," Sam told him.  Dean nodded.  "We deal with a lot of angry spirits."

"I'm sure Sunnydale had some.  We never saw 'em but I'm sure we had some."

"We should visit, make sure they're all passed on," Dean said quietly to Sam.

Xander looked at him.  "The taint's still there, Dean.  You'd come out tainted and if Sam's any bit psychic like the book hinted, he'd be in massive pain and probably kidnaped or turned."

"We'll teach you how to do it and then watch from nearby," he offered.

Xander considered it.  "If we have time."

"Sure."  He patted him on the arm, but the kid moved out of range.  "Okay, no friendly touching like I do to Sam."  Xander gave him a look.  "I hit him on the arm too."

"He's related to you."

"Good point.  Training with these new things?  That way we get used to them?"

Xander looked down to watch his feet walk.  "I know I can't go back to Cleveland but I do have a few things I could and should do before the battle.  Go visit graves and the like."  He looked at him.  "As long as it doesn't take too long."

"I can handle that," Dean agreed.  "We've to get used to working with each other.  I have *no* idea how you were trained."

"I jumped in."

"I got that feeling from what we've seen," he admitted.  "Sam and I were trained by our Dad, who was a Marine."

"Mine was a something.  I don't know what," he admitted.  He made a face. "By the time I was old enough to know anything about his past it had already floated away down the not- really-a-sewer."

"Dad started Dean just before his sixth birthday," Sam told him.  "I got started about three."

"That sucks," Xander said bluntly.

"Yeah," Sam agreed.  "It's definitely not the usual way to grow up."  Dean looked at him.  "It wasn't."

"No, but it could've been worse.  He could've dropped us into the system and left us to hunt down the demon."

"True," Sam agreed.

"I spent some time in the system.  It wasn't totally horrible.  Even though one of the four was in it for the check the others were pretty nice."  Both brothers stared at him.  "My mother got forcefully admitted to a rehab center for six months.  Dad refused to keep me at home while she was gone.  He decided it was my fault."

"They catch her hurting you?" Dean asked calmly.

Xander looked at him then shook his head.  "No, they caught me buying liquor for her and driving her home from the bar one night.  She got done, passed two screening tests, then the Sunnydale denial issue came back to her."

"How old were you?" Sam asked quietly.


"You were driving at seven?" Dean asked.

Xander grinned. "I had to stand up to reach the pedals and look over the steering wheel.  Only happened about four times.  The last time I kinda ran us into a bus I hadn't seen."  He started to walk again.  "It wasn't much but it was home."

"Yeah, we had that feeling now and then too," Sam agreed quietly, looking at Dean.  "So, how long do you think before you have to go do those things?"

"Maybe a week?  That should ease out most of the roughness.  I don't take it that we'll have to be fighting back to back or anything like tied together.  I'm not sure if the episode of car jousting is going to be any fun in my caddy or not, but we'll have to see."

"I didn't see anything about car jousting," Dean said, starting to frown. "That might wreck my car."

Xander grinned at him.  "Cars can be fixed.  That was the kids in a bus thing where they're possessed and trying to run people down.  Or that could've been one of mine and not yours.  Who knows."  He found the barn and pointed.  "There we are.  That's her laundry."  They headed to get their bags and sleeping gear, finding the hayloft wasn't so bad really.  The loose hay made for good bedding once sleeping bags were thrown over it.  Xander had soda in his car.  Dean had instant coffee in his.  Xander also had cheese crackers and peanuts.  It was a good enough supper.  They settled down, Xander falling asleep quickly.

Dean looked over at Sam.  "Want to visit his hometown?" he asked quietly.

"Not really.  I don't think I'd make a good vampire."

"You'd hate eating people," Dean agreed.

"I think I'd be a mean one."

Dean snorted.  "Not even.   You're too afraid of bruising or messing up your hair, Sammy."

"Don't call me that," he muttered, flipping in the other direction.  "We'd stake you pretty quickly because you have *no* subtlety left and we know all your BS by now," he countered.

"You haven't even seen how deep I can go when I'm in the mood to BS," Dean said smugly.

"Guys, unless we want me to call Dawn so she can have that graphic talk about how to have sex with each other, quit," Xander said quietly.  "I don't need those mental images to interrupt my dreams.  'Kay?"  He flipped in the other direction and went back to sleep while they laughed.  Laughter was a good start.

"Well, she did tell you to go suck some dick," Sam said smugly.

"I doubt she meant yours since you barely have one."

"I do so!  I pleased Jess every single time."

Dean snorted.  "That's not a hardship since you had so long to practice on her.  I can do any woman."

"Yay you, you're a slut," Sam told him.

"Don't make me hit you."

"Like you'd land one."

"Enough!" a female voice called from out of nowhere.  "Damn you two are annoying bitches.  Go to sleep!  Now!"

"Yes, ma'am," they said in unison, ducking down before whatever spirit that was got hold of them.  They were too tired to do more than play fight with each other.


Xander woke up to the cautious poke the next morning, blinking at the man standing over him.  "It had better be at least ten."

"No, closer to eight," Dean said with a grin.  "Wake up time, Xander."

"Fuck no."  He burrowed back in again.  "It's inhumane."

"No it's not.  We got to bed last night before midnight.  You can get up now."

"I'm making up for all the nights I didn't get any sleep at all.  Wake me up at ten."

"We don't have time if we want to get some practicing in."

Xander moved the sleeping bag to glare at him.  "Do I *really* look like a masochist?"

"Don't know.  Never worked in one of those bars."  At least the other guy snickered at that.  Even if he did cover up again.  "Come on or I won't let Sam get you any breakfast."

"Not hungry.  I can wait until lunch."

"That is lunch," Sam called.  One hand with one finger upraised came out of the sleeping bag.  Dean snickered and backed up.  "No, don't."

"He leaves us no choice.  It's gotta be the water hose."  Xander was back to snoring so he didn't hear him.  Pity.  Dean grabbed the hose and turned it onto the boy, making him shriek and pounce him to beat his ass.  "Hey!" he complained, trying to get him off him.  He wasn't half bad as a fighter.  "This isn't the practice I meant," he complained.  He finally pinned Xander, staring down at him, grinning.  "Good morning!"

"It's an oxymoron," Xander growled, surging up and flipping Dean onto his stomach, landing on his back.  "Let sleeping bitches lie, Dean.  It's safer for everyone if I get some sleep now and then.  Especially since I don't sleep that good usually," he growled in his ear.  "Okay?"

"You're up now, and warmed up.  Can we start practicing again?"

"Guys," Sam said, coming up on Xander's left side.  He noticed Xander didn't really pay any attention to him until he grabbed his shoulder but then he ended up pinned down next to his big brother.  "Morning."

"Fuck off," Xander growled, going to curl up in a sunny corner of the hayloft.

Dean looked over at him then at Sam.  "He didn't feel you coming?"

"He wasn't paying attention to me or to that side.  One of the two."

"Huh."  He got up and hauled Sam up, going to wake Xander up again.  They needed to know what was going on over there.  Xander tried to bite so Dean popped him on the top of the head, getting bitten on the leg.  Fortunately without breaking the skin.  "Hey!"  He pulled back rubbing the sore spot.  "Mean shit!"

"Xander, do we have to try to do an exorcism on the last of the hyena?" Sam asked.  Xander growled and curled up in a smaller ball, one arm over his head.  "Well, I guess it couldn't hurt."

Dean gave him a look.  "They didn't remove it all?"

"Apparently not.  Look how he's acting."

"Get your ass up, boy!" Nanny Grismley yelled from the doorway.  Xander simply growled at that.  She stomped up there, staring at him.  "What is wrong with you?"

"I think maybe something last night brought the hyena closer again," Sam told her.  "Any idea if it was the grove?"

She frowned, then shook her head.  "Last time too," she sighed.  "I plum forgot about that."  She walked over more gently.  "Xander?"  She got a growl.  She whispered something in another language and the boy went limp.  "Let him finish sleeping it off.  Of course it would've brought it closer to the surface and I was stupid for not warning you two."  Dean rubbed his leg.  "Need a bandaid?"

"Didn't break the skin," he said, looking at her.  "Can't we remove the taint?"

"No," she said bluntly.  "That Giles boy tried awfully hard.  Didn't work."  She walked off again.  "I've got some coffee started for you two."

"Thanks, Nanny Grimsley," Dean said, smiling at her back.  They headed after her.  "Would you happen to know anything about why his left side was a weaker defense?"

She stared at him.  "Ask the boy yourself."

"Fine.  I can do that," he agreed, backing off.

"Xander said that any manifestation can harm a medium.  I've never heard of that," Sam said, sitting at the table, watching her cook.  He hoped for them but they could find their own food if necessary.

She leaned on the counter, looking back at him.  "Some mediums are like a train station.  In and out all the time.  Some are like toilets.  You leave a bit of yourself there and it ain't always the good parts."  They both nodded at that.  "Xander, now and then he can be like a backed up toilet that won't flush.  It just sticks around no matter how hard you try to flush it."  Dean looked a bit grossed out at that.  She smirked at him.  "The unicorn get him again?"  They both nodded.  "I'm surprised it didn't get either of you."

"No, we got the advice that there's always a cost for innocence," Dean told her.  "He kept us from petting her.  Then Xander did a funny looking braid in her hair."  She stiffened at that.  "Got *any* ideas before I have Sam hijack a satellite thingy to look it up online?"

"Draw it out for me," she said firmly, going back to cooking.  "I'm not cooking for you two.  I did enough of that for my kids."

"We can make do with fast food," Dean assured her, letting Sam draw it out on some scrap paper from the fridge.  "So, no idea about his left side?  A hearing loss maybe?"

"Ask him yourself, Dean," she ordered.

"Okay.  How long do you think it'll take to make her go back to sleep?"  Sam gave him a funny look.  "It said he was possessed by a female hyena, the pack leader."

"I must've skimmed that part."  He handed it over.  "That's all he had done when we left him there."

She looked at it then sighed, going to get her numerology book to look it up.  That was clearly a number pattern. She came back with it translated but Dean looked and snatched it, finishing the last number.  "You know it?"

"That's our father's phone number."

"You drag him here, you bury him," she said simply.

"I wouldn't do that to you," he said, looking at her.  "Our father can be...focused now and then.  I'm sure he'd apologize if he realized he was being dumb."

She smirked.  "And I thought he was the one who had lived with a girl so he knew how to apologize."  She went back to making her breakfast.  "Give him an hour and try again.  I doubt the Watchers got up too early with overnight patrols going on.  Now shoo before I get begging looks."

"Yes, ma'am," Sam said, taking the paper with him, dragging Dean out to the car so they could get breakfast.  "Should we call him?"

"Yeah, I think we should," Dean said.  "It had to mean something that it showed up then."

"He was talking about a price for innocence, Dean."

Dean looked at him.  "We pay that price so others don't have to know and can live normal lives," he said.  "We've already hit that toll."  He dialed as he backed out of the driveway, smiling at the blunt, unhappy answer he got.  "Dad."  He smirked.  "No, it came to us in a dream.  Or maybe a vision."  He pulled onto the main road.  "Yeah, your number.  Actually, talking about innocence.  So, what's up?  No, we got poked for a special assignment.  It won't be anytime soon.  No, I can't tell you where we are."

Sam took the phone from him.  "Dad, we're dealing with something picky and training with a new weapon.  We can't tell you where we are but we can meet you somewhere in a few weeks or so.  Where do you want us to meet you?"  He looked at Dean.  "If the stuff starts next month..."  His father shouted something.  "Yeah, that was us, Dad.  Actually, the Watcher's name is Xander and he was part of the team in Sunnydale before it fell in.  He's not one of the uptight bastard Watchers.  No, he doesn't have a slayer assigned.  He was teaching them all self-defense and how to use some archaic weapons in Cleveland.  Dad, that's a really long story and we're roaming," he said bluntly.  Dean nodded at that, taking the phone back.  "Bye."

"Dad, when and where in about three weeks?"  He listened to him complain. "Dad," he said finally, frowning.  "Hey, the world can end.  Your choice.  No, I got chosen, Sammy gets research detail.  Xander and me are the two chosen.  He's got a friend from there who's helping Sammy with the research stuff."  He listened to him complain.  "St. Louis, really?"  He and Sam shared a look.  "That's fine.  No, we're good.  Wondering why your phone number showed up in a dream sequence about the price of innocence."  He hung up on the silence.  "So, three weeks, St. Louis?"

"Sounds good.  The first fight would be when?"

"About two weeks after that if I remember right.  Sounds like's it's nearly on the west coast too."

"I'll go over that later."  He pointed.  "There?"

"There looks good," Dean agreed, driving them through.  "Are we picking up for the growling one?"

"We probably should.  It's not his fault she came back."

"Point," he muttered.  "He can pay us back."

"Sure."  They got breakfast and headed back to the farm, going to try to wake Xander up again.  They found him with his head in the horse trough.  "Do not drown," Sam ordered.

Xander pulled his head up.  "I used to swim.  I nearly became a sea creature.  I'm not gonna drown."  He put his head back in there, then pulled it out and ran his fingers through it before standing up and pumping more water until it was all clean.  "Sorry, had to do my hair."

"Sure," Dean agreed.  "You back to normal?"

"I guess."  He took his bag, looking inside.  Then he changed with Dean.  "Nauseating grease."

Dean snickered.  "Don't eat much on the run?"

Xander looked at him.  "Don't each much period these days.  We have a caf at the school but I'm usually doing private lessons with some of the younger girls during lunch.  Then I'm too tired to eat when I get home.  Sometimes microwave popcorn is a good dinner."  He handed over a five, getting a nod from Dean, who had already taken his first bite.  "Can you use a sword?"

"Barely.  We use machetes or axes."

"Like battle?"

"Like fireman," Sam told him.

Xander sighed.  "So far out of my usual."

"We'll work on the sword stuff together," Dean said.  "Do you use guns?"

"Now and then.  Sometimes it doesn't really help."  He shrugged and ate another bite.  "Sorry for whoever I bit."  Dean wiggled his fingers.  "Did I drink blood?"

"Nah.  Barely bruised me," he told him.  Xander grinned a bit and nodded, going back to his breakfast.  "We can't shower?"

"I'll shower after I'm sweaty.  After ten months in Africa I can't stand to have dirty hair anymore."  He finished up then stood up to stretch.  He tossed out the papers and the bag into the proper can then pulled out his new, shiny, multiple use weapon.  It expanded in his hand to the former sword length, letting him look it over.  "Scratches," he said.  "Been used before."

Dean pulled his to look at it, frowning.  "Mine too."

"Guess they had this problem before," Sam quipped, getting out of the way.  He watched Xander slowly swing the sword, getting the feel for it.  "Can't you change it into something you're more used to?"

"That takes concentration and I won't have any to spare during fights," Xander told him.  "Each weapon has its own balance issues and feels different in your hand.  I've got to get used to it as it is."

"True," Dean agreed, swinging his a few times.

"No, like this," Xander said, showing him.  Dean watched them mimicked it, getting a smile.  "Good.  That's a basic move.  Then combine it with this," he said, doing another one.  Dean followed along as he slowly taught him his first true sword kata.  Then he lunged and Dean blocked his blow, grinning a bit and fighting back.  "Remember, high and low shots, just like before," he said, changing his angle of attack.  Which was killing his shoulders and wrists but had to be done.  Dean kept blocking.  He wasn't making any offensive moves but his defensive were getting good.  Xander backed off nodding.  "Good enough for a first one.  Go back to it until it feels natural."

"I'm still more used to guns."

"Guns are nice," Xander agreed.  "They're not practical against everything though."

"He shot at ghosts before," Sam told him.

"Gee, very helpful, Sammy," Dean shot back.

"Hey, I've nearly shot a few of the slayers who broke into my place," Xander offered.  "Including Faith a few times."

Dean smirked.  "They would've kicked your ass."

"Buffy definitely would have.  Then again, Faith's the better den mother to the horde of girls, believe it or not."

"That's strange," Dean agreed.  "She didn't seem like the warm fuzzy sort."

"She's not, but she gets through to them when Buffy's more a commander sort."  He shrugged and went back to it, moving into a more advanced kata.  The sword really didn't feel comfy in his hand.  He decided to try to change the weapon, making it his favorite axe.  It stayed even when he wasn't concentrating.  That was a good thing.  It also let him move into a different pattern of movements, which he could admit to himself was partially showing off.

Sam gaped as he watched him move.  "Damn," he said quietly.

Xander shot him a grin.  "I used to watch Highlander a lot."  Dean snickered at that.  "Hey, taught me way more than Giles did."  He got back to it.  Dean attacked and Xander showed him how this was a different weapon to guard against.  They were both getting sweaty and nasty but it wasn't *too* bad.  It appeared they could work together at least.  Xander stepped back and waved Dean off, getting a panting nod from the other guy.  "Good."

"Thanks," Dean agreed.  "It stayed?"  Xander nodded.  So Dean concentrated and his sword changed back to his favorite gun.  "That's more like it."

"Bullets?" Sam asked.

Dean looked then sighed, going to get some to test it out.  "You too, Xander," he said, handing over a few.  They went to find an old tree to blow a few rounds into.  Xander wasn't a bad shot.  Not marksman by any means.  His sword was an automatic weapon instead of a revolver or a shotgun.  "What about casings and ballistics?"

"I almost always manage to police all my own brass," Xander assured him, picking them up.  He had to find one but that was fine.  They came back and found the old woman giving Sam odd looks.  "Sorry, their weapon of choice."


Dean shrugged.  "It's more handy in what we do."

"Uh-huh," she repeated.

"We were making sure they'd work if we had to go that way," Xander said.

"You'll still have the bullets blessed, boys.  With a sword or something it's a clean cut through with a blessed weapon."

Dean nodded.  "All ours are blessed or made with consecrated materials, ma'am."

She nodded and smirked at that.  "Good.  Now go clean up.  You're all sweaty and nasty.  It'll be getting near ninety in an hour or so."  She went back inside.

Xander thought his sword back to its more handy pocket knife size and slid it into his pocket.  "Want first shower or second?"

"Second," Dean said.  Xander nodded, going to get his kit from his car and beg to use the shower.  "Save me some of the hot water, Xander."

"Of course."

He grinned at his brother.  "Not bad as weapons go."

"You still look a bit awkward with the long blade," Sam told him.

"Yeah, make fun of me because I'm short and you're both freakishly huge," he said, going inside.  "Hey, Xander, can I try yours?" he called.  She gave him a very dirty look.  "It's still awkward in my hand."  Xander walked into the kitchen without a shirt on, handing his over.  "Thanks."

"Not an issue.  I had the same problem.  It's not comfy like it's supposed to fit."  He shrugged and walked off again.

"That wasn't a payment I needed, boy," she called after him.

"Sorry, Nanny."  She shooed Dean outside, watching him work at it.  This one wasn't much better by his expression but he was doing all right with the unfamiliar weapon.

He finally gave it up and came inside, going to hand it back to Xander. Dean tapped on the bathroom door, sliding it underneath.  "Here you go, Xander."

"Thanks," he said, sounding a bit pained.

"You all right?  Did I tag you too hard?"

"No, just some muscle stiffness.  Give me three more."  The water came on and Dean could've sworn he heard a wet, squishing sound but that could've been anything.  He went back downstairs to grab his own bag.  By the time he got back up there, Xander was done and getting dressed again.  "Am I making the lunch run since you two got breakfast?"

"Sure," Dean agreed happily.  "Thanks."

"Uh-huh.  Not a problem."  He stepped into his shoes and headed out, going to figure out what they wanted to eat.  "Sam, lunch run?"

"Sure," he agreed, following him back to his car.  "Is it a really comfy ride?"

"All but this annoying spring that seems to have popped up," Xander told him.

Sam looked then poked and pushed, making it settle back where it should be.  "Try it now."  Xander beamed and got in, sighing in pleasure.  Sam walked around to get in, smiling at the comfortableness of the ride too.  It wasn't a long drive to town and everyone, including the cops, gave them funny looks.  Especially when they got out.  He guessed they weren't too used to seeing white boys driving an older caddy.  "Officer," he said when one walked over.

Xander grinned at him.  "In visiting Nanny Grimsley, officer."

He blinked.  "You sell drugs, kids?"

"No," Xander snorted. "The caddy used to but I got it off the person who took it from the old dealer."

"Oh.  Seizure stuff then.  No wonder."  He looked at the car then at the two happy young men.  "You two together?  I know she deals in strange stuff."

"Nah, I was sent to work with his brother on something," Xander said with a head-nod towards Sam.  "He's in the shower and we're doing the lunch run since Nanny said young men eat like horses and refused to feed us."  The officer laughed and walked off nodding.  They went inside to make their orders, coming out with a few boxes.  By the time they got back to the house she'd been called at least by one person and was not exactly happy.  Which was why Xander handed her a box with a kiss to the cheek.  "Are we sure I can't sneak back into Cleveland for the hunting supplies?"

"No," she told him.  "You'll get sucked in there."

He looked at her.  "I can hide from most of them, Nanny."  He walked out back, letting Sam hand Dean his food.  He caught the bottle of saline solution when it was tossed at him.  "Thanks, must've forgotten it."

"Why do you need that?" Dean asked.  "Injury stuff?  Need stitches checked?" he asked at Xander's odd look.

"No, maintenance."  He sat down to eat, watching the weather off to the west.  "We'll get a storm tonight," he said.  "Hey, Nanny, it's supposed to be a bad storm tonight or a good one?" he bellowed.

"Bad.  I'd pull the cars into the barn, boys."

"Thanks," Xander called back.  He looked at the weather again.

Dean watched it too.  "Looks like we've got a few hours.  Plains storms aren't instant things, they don't usually creep up on you.  You see them coming for a while."  Xander nodded, diving back into his food.  "So, maintenance?  Some sort of injury we should know about?" he tried again.  Xander gave him another odd look. "What?  All we know is that you got injured sometime in the past."

"Well, yeah, but I have it compensated for pretty well unless I'm dead tired," Xander assured him.  "Had to over the years."

"Is this something we should be concerned about?" Sam asked.  "Like having to keep some extra supplies on hand?"

"Just saline solution and I can pick it up anywhere."

"Okay," Dean agreed.  "You'll tell us sometime?"

"Maybe."  He ate another bite.  "Not like I proclaim it," he said at Dean's dirty look in his direction.  "I haven't shouted it out yet.  Half the girls don't even know I have it.  If they did I'd be babied to death and I'd never be able to do anything without them fussing over me."

"Why did Willow turn you into a cat for dating?" Sam asked.

"I kinda draw bad girls and she decided the last one I was flirting with was one so she turned me and then screamed at her.  I spent about a week as a cat."  They both snickered.  "Of course, that didn't help since I work a mundane job most mornings before going to help the girls in the afternoons."  He finished his lunch and got up to toss out his box and plastic fork.

"It's nothing too bad then," Sam told him.

Dean looked at him.  "Maybe."  He finished up and tossed his box out too, smiling at the old lady.  "Need anything done around here since all we have to do is to figure out how to work together?"

She gave him a look.  "Shoo.  Now."

"Yes, ma'am."  He headed back out to the barn.

Xander grinned at her.  "Be nicer," he chided with a small smirk.

"You too!"

He kissed her on the forehead.  "Remember, we've got Dawn working with us too.  They've already met semi-blunt Dawn."  She cackled.  He nodded.  "So they could use nicer.  Really."  He strolled back out to the front, going to pull his car around.  Dean came jogging out to do the same.  "This won't work."  He looked at the doors then his car.  "Really won't work."

Dean leaned out his window.  "I can get mine in."

"Mine won't fit through the door.  It's a bit more broad than yours.  Go ahead, I'll pull mine into the sheltered spot."  That got a nod and Dean pulled his car inside.  Xander parked in front of the door and got out, going to look in his trunk.  Dean came back to snoop.  "What?"

"I can help sharpen blades if you want."

Xander looked at him.  "That's something to do during the storm," he said.  He pulled out one locking case and handed it over.  "Let me get the whetstone."  Dean nodded, carrying it inside.  Xander found his whetstone and oil kit, carrying it inside once the trunk was closed too.  They all settled in to work on the knives.

"Xander, this one's nearly dull," Dean complained.

"I haven't used some of them yet.  Is that the one I just picked up?"

"No, that one's sharp."

Xander looked over.  "That's a Buffy present.  I basically stuck it in the kit and haven't touched it yet.  It's too big to carry openly."

"Dean sleeps with one of those under his pillow," Sam told him.

Xander looked at Dean.  "I used to sleep with a stake."  He got back to work on his.

Dean watched him.  "Slower.  It leads to a finer edge," he said quietly.  Xander gave him an odd look.  "It does."  He let him see his knife.  "See?"  Xander felt it then sighed and went slower.  "Want to break down the other weapons for cleaning too?"

"That means I have to repack the trunk," Xander complained.

"Ours need it too," Dean promised.

Xander looked at him.  "Yours are inside."

"Good point.  We can do those tomorrow or something."  He got back to work on the present knife, testing the edge against his thumb.  "This one doesn't want to hold a firm edge very well."

"Again, Buffy present," Xander said dryly.  He finished with his, then went to get something else, bringing it inside.  The small foot-pump grinding wheel was much easier than the whetstone any day.  It also wasn't that hard to keep packed.  Sam gave it an odd look but it worked for him.  Dean came over to try it on his current one.  It did help some.  Not a lot but some.  Xander took it to sharpen then handed it back.  "Should be better.  No bead on the edge."

Dean felt it.  "Not bad.  I still like the whetstone method, it lets me think."

Xander looked at him. "I build stuff when I want to think."  He finished up with his part of the knives, but Sam picked up another one to work on.  "Fine."  He repacked the wheel and the ones he had done, going to get a lantern since it was suddenly dark outside.  Plus a few books.  Though he did decide to bring something else in too, tossing it at Sam.  "There.  Yours, research boy."

Sam looked at the book on ritual magic, then smirked.  "What I needed.  Thanks, Xander."

"Welcome."  He lit the lantern and put it between them, getting a small smirk from Dean.  "Can't read in the dark."

"True, you can't," Dean agreed.  He looked at the books.  "No crime novels, nothing but fantasy?"

"Sorry, preferred genre.  You could go find a romance novel at the house I'm sure."

"I'd rather stab myself repeatedly and have Sammy do the stitches without local."

Xander snickered.  "That's about how I feel about them, only it'd be Buffy and Willow doing the stitches.  Willow's good, she could probably operate if she had to, but she's a bit cheerful when she's putting you back together again."  Sam gave him a confused look.  "She used to play nurse from medical textbooks when we were kids."  Dean snickered at that.  "She did!  She got a lot of my earlier scrapes and told her mother when my appendix burst on me so I could be taken to the ER.  She'll chat or yell at you while she stitches you back together again and then she'll shoo you off with a 'do better next time' at the end."

"I know a few hunters who'd appreciate that," Sam teased.

"Have to take her and her girlfriend Kennedy," Xander quipped back with an evil smirk.  "And yes, Kennedy's the worst of the two.  She's a bit possessive of her Willow snuggly."

"Fully lesbian?" Dean asked.  "Get any good watching in?"

"She'd blind me if I ever tried," Xander assured him.  "Then I'm not really good to anybody.  No, if I want to watch it, there's a small coven up there who deals with a lot of fertility stuff for their members.  They had the great, big, honkin' fertility raising orgy a few months back.  That was fun.  Participating was okay too."

Dean stared at him.  "You got to help?"

Xander grinned.  "I'm good at collecting power.  Then they bleed it off me and turn it to their own uses.  Willow hates it and them but oh well.  It helped.  There's now a few new daughters being born to the coven."  He went back to reading.

"Are you going to need an address to get fathers day cards at?" Dean asked.

"Nope.  Not my thing.  Or my part of the rite."  He shot him a smirk.  "But I did get to do some watching while I sat there and gathered the power before they took it from me."  He went back to his book.

"You live a much wilder life than we do," Sam said, getting into his own book.  "Why are you carrying around a book on sex magic?"

"It's only half sex magic, Sam.  The rest is regular rites that include sex.  It's like hunter's porn."

"Eww," Dean said.  "Some of us go to strip clubs instead.  It's better porn."

Xander looked at him.  "I did that for a while when I got broken down."  Dean gave him a horrified look so he snickered.  "The look on your face, man.  But yeah, I did."  He grinned at his book again.

Sam looked at Dean.  "You know, the next time we're short on funds you could try that instead of hustling pool."

Dean glared at him.  "You dance better than I do and you're closer to a girl than I am."

"I am not!" he huffed.

"Are so, bitch."

"You jerk!"

"Boys," Xander said.  "Don't make me call Dawn so she can give you another lesson in how to bond like family."

"I'm not really sure Dad would appreciate us sleeping together," Sam told him.

Xander looked at him.  "He's in St. Louis with Dawn, right?"

Dean shuddered.  "Ooh, that's a bad thought."

"St. Louis is big enough for them to miss each other," Sam reminded him.  "Dad won't call you with the migraine.  Or how she told him to go suck cock."

Dean punched his brother on the shoulder.  "Take that back!  I'm not into that!"

Xander shifted, moving the lantern out of the way even though it wasn't supposed to be breakable and it was electric run instead of oil or gas based.  Those two ended up on the floor, rolling around hitting each other.  "You know, watching you two is nearly as good as watching a comedy show."  He turned the page.  A hand grabbed his ankle so he looked down at Sam.  "Don't make me thump you too."

"I doubt you could," he taunted with an evil little smirk.  Xander sighed, put down his book, and joined in.

"Hey, only I get to pound him into a greasy spot!" Dean complained, coming over to help his little brother.  Xander got him down and was tickling him.  "Quit!" he shouted, trying to get away.  "Sammy!"  Sam pounced Xander, who casually knocked him down, thumping his head onto the ground.  "Too rough, Xander."

"He's fine.  I've hit gravestones with mine a lot harder than I thumped him."  He thumped Dean's head.  "See?" he asked with a bright, cheerful grin.  Then he went back to tickling him.

Dean finally got out from under him and got Xander pinned down.  "Are *you* ticklish?"

Xander beamed and shook his head.  "Nope.  Spike tried many times when we were cohabitating."

"You...lived with a vampire?  Were we taking Dawn's advice to a new extreme?"

"Giles had a foreign hotty over for a booty call.  I got stuck with the fangless one."  He shrugged and shifted but Dean shifted with him and pinned him down better.  "We're not having sex, Dean."

"No, we're not."  Xander kneed him on the inside of his thigh, making him wince.  "Ow!"

"Get off, I can't breathe."  Dean shifted back and Xander pounced again, tickling him until he finally got free and had to go outside to pee in the rain.  Xander beamed at Sam.  "The benefits of only having Willow and Jesse.  Jesse was *very* ticklish too.  You?"

"Um, no," he said, smirking and pouncing.  Xander and he were the same height so he couldn't use the same advantage he had over Dean.

Dean came back in and smiled, but shook his head.  "We're still playing?  Thanks for the help, Sam."  He dove in and they tried to torture Xander but he wasn't ticklish anywhere and even though he rolled around with them he clearly wasn't much for playing.  Dean finally got him pinned down on his stomach, one arm behind his back and held at an angle that had to hurt some.  "See, we play," Dean said in his ear.  "It's good for brothers to play."

"You guys invited me."

"I know.  Next time don't thump his head too hard.  He might lose brain cells."  He got off Xander's back, helping Sam up.  Xander pushed himself up, rubbing his shoulder.  "Did we really hurt you?"

"Eeeh, bit stiff.  Needs to pop."  He popped it and both brothers winced at that sound.  "They tried to do the cheesy pulling me apart at the seams thing once.  Didn't work."  He found his book and lantern, sitting down again.

Dean looked at Sam, then at Xander.  "I've got to work on his back later.  You need that sort of popping help too?"

"No, anytime my lower back goes I can usually do the squeezing buttcheeks thing until it pops.  Thanks anyway."

"Sure."  Sam smirked at him.  "What?  I'm tryin' ta be nice," he complained, smacking him on the arm.  "Lean against something, Sammy."  Sam leaned on the car, letting Dean pop his back for him.  Sleeping on the hay hadn't been good for his back either but Sam couldn't pop his.  Xander came over and he nearly jumped at the feel of hands on his back.  "No groping, Xander."

"If I was groping, you'd know it, Dean."  He pushed, then he wrapped his arms around him, lifted and pressed, until Dean let out a moan and they all heard the popping noise.  "Better?"  Dean smiled and nodded.  "Make a bed on top of one of the bales.  Add the loose hay.  It's like an ancient pillowtop mattress."  He went back to his book.

Dean stretched a few times.  "That feels much better."  Sam grinned and punched him on the arm, going back to the book on sexual magic.  Dean got into their trunk, looking at what needed checked.  It was time for some gun maintenance and a bit of repair work on handles.  He pulled out what he needed, settling in on the floor next to the lantern to work on his stuff.  Xander gave him a curious look.  "I've got it.  I've always taken care of the gear."

"I can understand that.  Buffy can't fix a broken crossbow to save her life.  Or mine."

Dean just nodded.  There wasn't really a comeback to that.  Though his father would've screamed at whoever didn't teach her proper weapons maintenance.


Dawn knew she was being stalked around the city so she had settled in a nice spot at a small cafe without many people sitting outside with them.  She had ordered a light lunch and coffee, sitting there with a magazine.  The guy stalking her was not someone she knew.  She knew he was a hunter.  She kinda thought she knew who he might be.  He did look a bit like the boys with Xander.  She turned the page, looking at the man stomping her way.  "Sit, please," she said dryly, putting down her magazine so she could sip her coffee.  "Who're you?"

"I should ask you that," he said, sitting across from her.  "I saw you interrupting what I was doing last night."

She snickered.  "I had more right to be there than you did, dear."  She smiled sweetly at him.  "Do we have a name or should I call you something imaginative I make up for you?"

"John'll do."

"That's fine.  I'm Dawn."  She held out a hand.  "From the *New* Council."

He shuddered.  "One of those sort.  You're awfully young, *Dawn*."

"Yeah, well, change happens to the best of us when your town gets sucked into hell."  He gaped and she ate a bite of her croissant.  "Hi," she told the waiter.  "Can you get him some coffee?  He's very uptight."  The waiter nodded, heading to do that for her.  She smiled once it was brought and gave him a tip.  "We need to have a chat.  Don't come too often?"  He nodded, smiling at the pretty girl before leaving.  Then she did something.  He stiffened. "Relax, Cujo.  I put up a shield so we don't have eavesdroppers."  She looked around.  "Shift to the left please?"  He gave her an odd look but did that.  She mouthed at the woman who was clearly reading their lips, "my brother and his sons are on a hunting expedition together, we've got to talk about weapons and things we're shipping to them," and left it there.  Then she sipped her coffee.  "I don't like the Homeland people.  They keep bugging my sister."

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"Dawn Summers.  Little sister to Buffy Summers."

"The slayer?"

"One of many," she agreed dryly.  She leaned on the table.  "I'm also on as research support for the team thing our Xander and your boys got sucked into."  He gaped.  "So therefore, be nicer, Cujo.  I'm not the mean one here.  I'm a lot nicer than my sister is."  She stared at him.  "Oh, that werewolf you were chasing last night?  She usually locks herself up but got free last night when her cage got rattled by that accident on the river.  Don't hunt her, she does take proper precautions."

"I don't know of any...."

"Wow.  And yet, we worked with one who did.  He was dating Willow for a long time," she interrupted.  She leaned on the table.  "So, you're their dad I'm guessing.  Sam doesn't look much like you but Dean kinda does."

"They both take after their mother," he said calmly.

"That's cool."  She grinned.  "So do I."  He gave her a look.  She smirked.  "I do."

"Their mother died."

"So did mine.  She had a suddenly appearing brain tumor right after we took down a military group creating a super demon-part warrior and right before a hell goddess got into it with us."  He gaped.  "That was Sunnydale, John.  Welcome to our cracked out life."

"New council?"

"The First Evil blew up the old council.  Giles had to reform it.  I'm mostly a research sort but I had to come help the local girl with her big sister.  I'm local because Xander might need support if your boys act like you."

"My boys are good kids.  Sam's a comforting sort.  I'm sure they'll baby him."

She snickered.  "Xander?  The White Knight of Sunnydale?  Babied?"  She laughed louder.  He stared at her.  "Yeah, that's who they called from our side, John.  It was going to take someone stubborn.  I'm sure he's watching out for your boys."

"They said something about new weapons."

"Special blessed things."  She patted him on the hand.  "If you *ever* go near that grove in Texas again, I will personally make it my life's mission to see you in hell, alive, and have fun joining in," she said quietly.  "Am I clear?"  He glared.  "You took out a young guy who was trying to protect his mother from you.  Next time, ask questions before you shoot.  Some people will blame your boys for that and they had a hell of a time convincing them to help get the weapons they'd need to save everyone."

"That's your kind's job," he reminded her.

"This time the Powers decided it wasn't.  They could've picked a lot of people.  They picked Dean, Xander, and whoever the third guy is with me and Sam helping.  Seems kinda uneven to me but Xander's proven he's as good as nearly half the team by himself if it's an emergency and he has to be.  Not that we like it but sometimes he has to do it."  She nibbled another piece of fruit, pushing the plate over. "You clearly haven't eaten in days, John.  Nibble.  I'm not that evil.  I'm female and mean and snarky sometimes but I'm not that evil.  I don't want to see anyone pass out from hunger."  She finished that piece of fruit and half of her coffee, shaking her head at the approaching waiter.  "Now, do you think we can work together?  Because if so, there's a forest creature that migrated near the edge of town that is your kind of thing.  My girl can't get near it.  It can sense slayers.  We can work together.  She does know where it's lairing.  But only if you lose the stick up your ass and soon.  I don't put up with uptight bastards who survived the First.  I'm not putting up with it in you."

"Can you hunt?"

"Yeah, we all did a bit of it in Sunnydale.  Then again, I'm mostly research support because I don't like to hunt.  I'm only here because the girl needs me and Xander needs me closer in case a question comes up in one of the books that they have. Or about the blessing ritual coming up for the new weapons."

"Ritual?"  She nodded.  "Magic?"

"Some.  Then again so are the weapons."  She shrugged slightly and grinned. "Eat!" she snapped.  He took a bite then glared at her.  "I learned it from Mommy," she said with a happy grin.  "She used to sit down our vampire helpers and give them cocoa to talk about their love lives."

John shook his head at that.  "You guys are strange."

"Well, yeah," she admitted dryly.  "Duh.  Sunnydale was like that."  She shrugged again and grinned.  "Eat, please.  I am on the corporate tit."  He grumbled but ate another piece of fruit and had some of his coffee.  "Anyway, was Dean always that uptight?  He seriously looked like he needed laid and didn't like my suggestion that he go to the gay bar and get hit on."

John choked.  "He's not like that," he wheezed.

"If you're sure.  If not, maybe he'll keep Xander from picking up evil women who want to kill others."  She picked up a piece of fruit to nibble on.  "Finish it, dear. I had lunch an hour ago."  He groaned but did eat.  "Good boy."  She patted him on the hand again.  "Now, would you like to know about this creature or should I go and try to handle it myself tonight?"

"I'd better since you're not a hunter."  He looked her over.  "You're a witch?"

"Better trained than Willow Rosenburg ever was," she agreed.  "I learned it the right way and didn't steal books.  My mother would've been *way* pissed off if I had."

"Sometimes you have to steal."

"Well, yeah," she agreed, handing him back his wallet.  He gaped.  "The things a vampire will teach you when he's in love with your sister," she said dryly.  "At one time it got me a lot of clothes."  She stood up and put down money, taking down the shield and smiling at the waiter.  "I'm at the Excelsior.  Yes, *that* one," she agreed at his look.  "No one wanted to talk to me there."  She strolled off, heading back to her hotel room to make notes on this for Giles.

John finished the lunch and glared at her back, then put his wallet up.  Something was not right with what his sons were involved in.  He had taught them better than to deal with *watchers*.


Dean hung up his phone.  "Our hopes were too high.  They've clearly run into each other," he announced a few hours later.

Xander looked over.  "Did Dawn call?"

"No, that was my father making sure I wasn't gay."

Sam burst out cackling.  "She told him that?"

"Apparently," Dean agreed.  "He's yelling, Sam.  He still has a thing against the watchers."

"Most everyone in the circle does," Sam reminded him.  "They were pushy, nosy, assholes who butted into our hunts."

Xander snickered.  "To the watchers it was the other way around, guys.  To them it's the slayer's job, no one else's.  That's why they created the slayer's line."

"Then how do they explain guys like you?" Dean asked.

"They don't like us," Xander said bluntly, looking at him.  "As their bag and tag team showed."  Dean shuddered at that.  "They don't like it when the girls go rogue.  They don't like us jumping in.  I got plenty of threats from the Council before they fired Giles.  I didn't tell him because it wouldn't do any good.  He was trying to get me to back off too because I didn't have  special skill like being a witch."  He stared Dean down, making him shiver.  "So anyway, no, they considered you guys to be playing dress up.  The new Council is mostly the Sunnydale crew and a few older ones.  They know they're outnumbered and ready to be overrun so they're more willing to accept help, even if they will insult you behind your back.  That's just the council way."  He went back to what he had been doing, which was fixing holes in a t-shirt.

"They called a chosen warrior and so they're overly smug?" Sam asked.

"No, they did that, they wrote almost all the books, have been doing it since we were going 'fire pretty', so they've gotten a superiority complex over the centuries," Xander corrected.

"The council's that old?" Dean demanded.

Xander looked over and nodded.  "Yup.  I have proof of it.  To beat the Initiative we had to call up the first slayer to help Buffy.  She wasn't very talkative, grunted a lot, had a small forehead ridge.  Wearing mystical symbols drawn all over her."


"Imbuing Buffy with her spirit.  Then she tagged us in our dreams for a good, long time.  I kept getting my heart ripped out.  I think it was a warning but who knows."  He went back to his mending.

"Who were the Initiative?" Sam asked.  "We've never heard of them."

Xander let out a bitter chuckle.  "You guys didn't hear the military was torturing demons and chipping vampires to see if they could make them grunts?"  Both brothers moaned at that.  Xander nodded a bit.  "Yeah.  We stopped them and their frankenstein monster.  The rest are demon hunting for the UN or in prison at the moment."

"Define torture?" Sam asked.

"Got a sat uplink on the laptop?"

"Um, no, but you do."  Xander got his laptop and got online to find the pages he wanted, handing it over.  Sam read it, choking a few times.  Dean came over to read over his shoulder.  "How...."

"Crackpots with grant money from the NSA, CIA, and Area 51," Xander said bluntly.  "Then taken over by someone in the Pentagon for Area 51.  We stepped in right before the changeover to save a friend and then after the changeover to stop them.  I should've blown up that base," he said quietly, getting back to work.

Dean gave him a horrified look.  "Are they still doing it?"

Xander looked over at them.  "According to the guys on the UN hunting patrol, one of who is Buffy's ex, no.  Can they take what they learned to do other things?  Yes.  Are there some doing private research?  Yup.  Even some with grants.  They're doing it more quietly."  He called Dawn.  "It's me.  Is there an Initiative wannabe in your area?  Just got a thought that you might wanna watch out for them.  Yeah.  Huh?  Why is she doing it on the water front?  Oh, the tunnels are easily....  Sure.  If you get into the council's files we have plans for safe cages for weres.  Yeah, I did one with Oz.  Under miscellaneous.  So, how was their father?"  She said something.  "Dean."  He handed over the phone.

"You and our dad talked?"  He listened to her babble while she found the file she needed.  He shook his head.  "No, he called up to make sure I wasn't really gay, Dawn."   He snickered.  "No, even if I was I probably wouldn't be taking Xander in so he'd quit dating."

"Shut up, Dawn!" Xander called.  "If I want to go out and have all the demons in a three- county radius come for my ass, then I will."

Dean looked at him.  "Warn us first?  Please?"

"Sure.  I'm going clubbing later," Xander told him.  "That's why I'm fixing this shirt."

"It's ugly.  Wear something better, dude," Sam ordered.

Xander looked at him.  "For you who dress like the Gap ads, shut up.  I don't want the fashion advice.  I'm comfy in my clothes no matter what the Summers women and Willow want to think about.  Hell, I managed to bag Anya, Cordy, and a few notable others I'm not naming so they can't go hunt them down in my clothes.  I think I can get hit on tonight too."  He finished his mending.  "Don't use all my minutes," he told Dean, going to get changed in his car.  Then he went inside, kissing her on the cheek.  "I'm going to go clubbing because I'm bored stupid," he told her, getting a horrified look.  "What?  I promise I won't egg on the local serial killer."  He walked back out, taking his phone back from Dean.  "I'll be back by the time you two get up."

"We can go," Dean told him.

"Men hunting in packs leads to the wrong image," Xander said, getting into his car and backing out of the driveway.  He tooted his horn before he pulled onto the road.

Dean looked at the old lady on the porch.  "Should we mount a rescue mission like Dawn wanted?"

"There's no female serial killer around here.  Not too many harmful demons.  A few plant ones but nothing too harmful.  He should be okay.  Then again the only place he could be is a country place in town.  Unless he went to the gay bar."

"I don't think he is," Sam said from behind Dean.  "Should we mount a rescue?"

"Nah, let the boy have some stress relief," she told them.  "Even you boys need it now and then.  If you do, I don't wanna know about it."  She went back inside.

"We're not like that!" Dean complained loudly.  They could hear her cackling inside.  He looked at his brother.  "Why does everyone think I'm bending you over and making you beg me for it?"

Sam walked off shaking his head.  "I didn't need that mental image any more than I needed the one of you going off to suck cock, Dean.  Maybe you and Dawn should hook up."

"Not funny!" he called.  "She's too young for me and way too nice."

"Then go hit on Xander!"

"Not," he said, going to check his car for any necessary repairs. "Wanna hit the country place?"

"Go for it," Sam said patiently.  "I'm not."  Dean got dressed and headed out to get some action of his own.  "I'm guessing they got picked due to their libidos.  Thankfully I have a normal one instead of theirs," he muttered while he read Xander's book from earlier.  The sex magic one was freaking him out.  He didn't know some of those things were possible.


Xander looked over as Dean walked in, groaning and shaking his head.  But Dean went to the other side of the bar so that was fine with him.  The girl flirting with him gave Dean a look then him.  "Yeah, I know him.  I didn't want him to follow me tonight.  I need some stress relief."  He grinned and she grinned back, taking him out onto the floor to teach him how to dance.  She was a lot of fun and very soft in the right places.

"Are you visiting someone?"

"Yeah, a friend of a friend. I'm on a vacation road trip."  She laughed at that.  "It's good for me.  I've got an old caddy that I found seized.  It's comfy.  It's a nice thing.  I've done part of the midwest recently."

"Wow.  I hardly ever get out of town."

He grinned.  "Sometimes that's the best thing about a small town.  I was born in one out in California."

"Hippies?  Or movie stars?" she teased.

"Neither.  Looked a like Cleaver-land.  White picket fences, lots of people who wanted to ignore what their neighbors were doing unless it was good gossip.  Then I moved to Cleveland after a long pitstop in Africa for work."

She leaned against his chest.  "You've been to Africa?"

He grinned and nodded.  "Ten months in Africa."  She gaped in awe.  "It was really a heady experience, even though there weren't a lot of free baths.  I got to dance with shaman doing rites and all sorts of stuff."  She cooed and moved closer, letting him grin down at her.  "I even got shot at a few times."

"Peace Corps?"

"Nah.  Work.  Mostly investigating something and mapping where a few places were."

"Oil company?"

"No.  I work with a group of eggheads who do research stuff.  They wanted maps of where they were reading about was."  She laughed.  "So they paid me to go to Africa and get really dirty a few times."  He gave her a squeeze.  "It's still better than Central America.  I was there on a visit for about two weeks last year."  She nuzzled his neck.  "Oooh.  Like that."  He sniffed her hair and grinned at her.  "Think the next one'll be something we can dance closer to?"

"Probably the song afterward with the sets they play."  They got back into the dancing and the cuddling one was the song after that.  Then she led him out back and attacked him.

Xander looked at the hand in his chest then at her.  "Feel better, sweetie?"

"Who are you!" she demanded.

"Harris.  Of Sunnydale."  She gaped, backing up.  He pulled her closer to kiss her.  "I'm not hunting you.  I'm here on a vacation.  Needed to talk to someone in the grove.  I think you're fun."  She beamed and moved closer.  "No more than snacking," he ordered.

"I won't," she pouted but it was still fun.  She was a succubus and they did know what fun was.  She wasn't going to be disappointed either.  When she finally let him wobble away, she was more than sated.  She was stuffed and he was much happier and less filled with the bad magic.  She stretched and purred, then fell asleep.


Sam looked up as Dean drove back in.  "She good?"

"She was nice," he agreed with a grin, looking around.  "No Xander?  I saw him leave with some chick."

"He's getting cleaned up."  He waved a hand.  "The rite's next week, you know that right?"


"To bless the weapons?"

"Oh, that one.  Yeah.  We'll deal.  What do we need to pick up?"

"Virgin blood.  A few other things.  Some goat hairs."  He let him see the list on the laptop.  Dean nodded at that.  "Got any ideas?"

Xander strolled in and handed over a few things.  "Snitched them from the succubus last night.  All we need is to make a call to Cleveland and have Dawnie deliver virgin blood."  He went over to the ladder for the hayloft and climbed up it.  "Have fun, Dean?"

"Yeah, you?" he asked, staring at his back.  "Did you say succubus?"  Xander beamed and nodded.  "Is she safe?  Like gone?"

"No, she's sated and happy and I'm less full of hellmouth energy.  It was good, thanks for asking."  He laid down.  "Give me an hour and we'll go again.  Go shower, you stink like the plant demon you slept with."

Sam cackled.  "So, she was that good, huh?" he asked his big brother.

"No comment."  He went to shower, getting an odd look.  "She didn't seem like a demon."

"Those born to it often don't," she agreed dryly.  "The other one?"


"Well, Joy'll be happy today then.  She doesn't often drain anyone unless they're bad folk.  It works for us."  He gave her an odd look.  "It does and she's the best thing any cheating husband's wife ever had.  We all *know* when our boys have went out with her."

He nodded, going up to shower.  He'd consider that information later.  After he worked out with Xander with their new weapons.  Right now, he could bask in the afterglow for a bit.  His hadn't been harmful.  Though now he knew what Dawn meant about keeping Xander out of trouble.  The guy was worse than him.


Dean looked at Xander's weapon.  "Why does mine feel more comfy to you and yours not feel comfy at all?"

"You probably need the third one," he said, giving him a sideways look.  "They went by reputation and what they think we're like, Dean.  It's not like they *look* and *see* who I am.  Hell, the book has me half-insane and closer to Willow grieving than not."  He stood up.  "Come on.  Let's get back to it.  Dawn should be sending Sam that blood anytime now and we've got to finish up here so I can do some other things."

Dean stopped him.  "You don't think this'll end well?" he asked calmly.

Xander looked at him.  "By the last few paragraphs of the prophecy?  I think that last chore is you two taking me out," he said bluntly.  Dean slumped.  "There's never been a chosen warrior, called or not, that wasn't hampered somehow by them.  Giving me power when I already screw up what they're doing isn't like them and it won't do their plans any good.   So yeah, I think that last chore is you two taking me out and Sam making sure I'm fully gone and not hanging around when some of it switches into him."


"It can and might," Xander admitted.  "Like I said, the Powers never *look* and *see* me.  They see what they want to see.  The same as everyone else does.  They don't want to pay more attention than to the surface of a soul.  Not the depths.  Otherwise they'd have put in there how you were going to protect Sam.  Not the other guy that time when the demon comes for him."

Dean nodded once at that.  "They're supposed to be higher powers."

"Who're playing a giant game of chess and we're higher level pawns," he said calmly.  "It's multi-dimensional.  It's got lower pawns, higher pawns, the ones they call and have chosen as slayers and champions.  Dawn's one of those.  She's too valuable to risk in any way.  Even though she won't give in to them unless the fate of the world is at stake.  The same as I have power inside me and they're not using it.  All they're using is the weapons skills and the stubbornness.  If they actually looked at me they might use me in a way that's more efficient and would've never sent me to Central America."

"Maybe they were preparing you for this," he offered.

"By taking out a slayer I had worked with, trained, and then coddled when she started to lose it after breaking up?"

Dean slumped.  "You did?"

"Yeah.  She was trying to claim territory as the new dictator.  She was using demons to do that.  They sent me to deal with her.  I had to deal with her.  She made it a 'me or her' thing and I wasn't going to die down there.  There's no telling who'd pick up parts of me and come use them against Buffy and them."  He shrugged, still looking perfectly calm.  "Welcome to being fucked up the ass by the Powers, Dean.  They see what they want to see, and it's probably not your base personality you build the mask on top of.  Or else this would be Faith and someone else doing this."

"Why not use a slayer?"

"I have the feeling that they're going to be dropping into the fight now and then for the big things, but they have to keep them in reserve.  Why waste a slayer and a higher pawn when you can use lower ones and ones that're replaceable?"

"I'm not."

"You are.  How many kids have you introduced to the concept of bad things?" he asked quietly, moving closer.  "Someone introduced us, even if it was the demons themselves.  As long as others are being preyed on, there's others being introduced.  They may be the next generation of hunters.  They may even be the next generation of really good priests and ministers because they know what's out there that can hunt man.  They may go back into denial like everyone in Sunnydale.  But if we die, there's more who'll follow in our footsteps.  If you die, Sam's going to get revenge for you."

"Will anyone go destroy them for you?" he asked.

"Maybe Dawn."  He shrugged.  "We're a bit too used to losing others from our team.  It happened to often.  Hell, I commanded a major battle in Sunnydale and lost some of my friends and schoolmates there.  There weren't any lavish funerals.  No wailing parents.  Some wailing but it calmed down within a few weeks.  No one demanding answer from those of us who survived.  They decided it was a gas leak.  Even those who were there mostly decided it was a gas leak."

Dean shivered.  "How can you talk about it that way?"

"Because in some ways I have to.  Think about it, Dean.  Sunnydale wasn't a city.  We had one school.  We had two kindergarten classes the year I started."  Dean whimpered.  "I knew *everyone* at that last battle.  I knew most of the ones we staked.  They might not've recognized me because I was a social outcast and nearly invisible to half of them.  But I knew them."  He shrugged.  "After a while you bury those things.  You grieve when you can.  You remember those who were important to you and the others are minor pains and aches that you feel every night when you drift off because you pulled another muscle doing it again.  Then one day you walk away.  Until it calls you back."

"Did you walk away?"

"I tried to take a road trip after graduation, see what normal people were like.  I got to Oxnard and the car exploded.  I ended up stripping to make it back home."  Dean shuddered at that.  "Yeah, well, it was a job.  I learned a lot about people doing it."  He grinned and shrugged.  "Then I went back home because normal kinda sucked too."

"That's not normal," Sam said, coming out of the barn.  "I left the life to have a normal one, Xander.  I went to college, got a real girlfriend I was living with."

"He did until a demon killed her," Dean agreed.  "Then he came back."

Xander looked at him.  "Would you go back once it's killed?"

"I'm not sure I can anymore."

"I reached that point in tenth grade."  He walked off again.

"You wanna talk about that stuff?" Dean asked.  "I don't do chick flick moments but I'll let you babble at me.  Not like we don't understand."

Xander gave him a gentle smile but shook his head.  "You'll never fully understand until you wear the other person's soul, Dean.  Even if you've been there, each person processes things differently."  He got into his car and backed out, heading off to get something to eat.  It was his turn.

Dean looked at his brother.  "He's going to snap."

"He might be right about that last chore.  I heard you guys talking so I paged down to it.  It's a possibility.  It says to wrap up loose endings in it's non-blunt way."

"I'm not an assassin."

"Neither is he but sometimes you have to kill someone to save them," Sam reminded him gently.  Dean gaped at him.  "You do.  To save the person sometimes the demon has to be exorcized even if there's no way to save them at the end.  It sucks, but it's like sparing a dog a lot of suffering by putting them down."

"Where did you get that?"

"Dad."  He grimaced. "Right before I left for school.  It's what made up my mind.  He was drunk one night and told me that.  Apparently he'd just had one of those."

"Fuck," Dean muttered, going back into the barn.  "I'm not doing it."

"That's fine.  There's every chance he'll realize it and walk off into the sunset so we don't have to."  Dean glared at him.  "There is."

"We save people, Sam.  Even from themselves sometimes.  Would you let another hunter do that?"

"Plenty of times they go out with a death wish.  Look at how we got into it and how dad did.  It's possible that Dad never expects to come home.  Is that any different?"

He sighed but shook his head.  "I always know I'm coming home and so are you even if I have to smack you around to make sure of it."

Sam nodded.  "Which makes you a good hunter, Dean, and maybe why you were chosen.  You're a lot deeper than most people expect."

"See, now we're going back into feelings territory.  I don't like that country."

Sam rolled his eyes, going back over the rite again.  "Are we blessing the weapons here?"

"Does it say where?"


"Then let me go ask."  He went up to the house.  "Ma'am?"

"Sitting room."

Dean walked in there and looked at her.  "Are we supposed to be blessing the weapons here or somewhere else?"

She looked at him.  "I think they left that up to you."

"That's what Sam was thinking so do you want us to do it here or somewhere else?"

She smirked at him.  "If yours doesn't feel right, what makes you thinking blessing and binding it to you will help?"  She took a sip of her lemonade.

"It says to do it now and we don't have the third weapon until we have to hit DC.  If we go early Sam thinks it'll call the demon early.  Before we're ready."

"Hmm.  Perhaps."  She took another drink.  "Do it here.  Outside the barn since it's got to be done in moonlight.  He'll know what to do.  I've went over it with Xander.  I'll go over it with Sam for you."

"Thank you."  He walked back outside.  "Sam, she can go over that with you.  We're doing it around here."  He nodded, bringing his laptop inside to go over the rite with her.  Even if he did have to come out and get the original book so they could make sure Dawn had gotten it all.


to next part: