This bunny bit after seeing a gorgous manip of John after escaping from hell.
pic link:

Xander/John W.

Willow goofs up another spell and frees John from Hell and accidently deages him to the scoobies age. and after seeing how Xander's treated decides to stay and take him under his wing teaching him what Giles should have.  I'd also love to see how Dean and Sam react to discovering their father's back and around their age.


Storm Notes: Storm bunnied me with the idea of someone rescuing John Winchester from hell, only he has to come back as younger for some reason.  And then he takes up with Xander.  Well.....  Also, this is NOT a death story!  Even when the bad thing happens.  Notice it keeps going?

An Odd Beginning Anew

Xander looked at the others around the Magic Box.  "Bad news."

"Please not more," Buffy moaned, putting her head down on the research table.

"The crew is going out of town for the next week and a half."

Willow pouted at him.  "You can't.  We need you here."

"If I don't, I'm fired and I can't pay my rent.  I can't camp on your dorm room floor, Willow.  It's only a week and a half."

"I'm sure we can cover it," Riley offered.

Xander glared at him.  "Sure you can.  You who doesn't go out on his own.  Still."

"Hey," Buffy warned.

Xander looked at her.  "I go on solo patrols.  You do.  Willow doesn't but that's because she doesn't really hunt as much as spell and chase vamps with floating sticks."

"Hey!" Willow complained.

"You kinda do, Wills," Buffy pointed out gently.  "Though you're good when you're all helpy like that."

"Definitely," Xander agreed.  Willow relaxed at that.  "Besides, killing them with magic is probably a big no-no anyway."

"Probably," she agreed bitterly.  She glared at Riley.  "You can't go on solo hunts?"

"I don't think it's safe."

"That's why you go after fledges, not masters, by yourself.  Or you go to the Bronze and let the vamps there try to sneak you off so you get one at a time in the alley or the bathroom.  Oh, who in the heck decided we needed more succuba?" he asked his girlfriend Anya.

"Don't look at me.  I don't like girls that way."

"Not my thing," Willow said quickly.

"Succuba?" Buffy whimpered.

Xander nodded.  "Yup, ran into two last night at the Bronze."

"Which made me pout," Anya put in.  "They tried to steal my Xander from me."

"Did we banish or whatever?" Buffy asked, sounding a bit tired.

"Ran both of them off by being my charming self," he said dryly, giving her a look.  "This still leaves you without anyone but Riley for real backup for the next week.  And I hate to say it, but if that job we're going to temp on is in as bad of shape as the boss thinks, it'll be two or possibly nearly three."

"I am not going three weeks without orgasms," Anya complained.

"Then drive down on the weekends to visit, Anya.  We're going to work on a major housing complex for the state that's running behind.  We won't be allowed out of camp."  She pouted at him.  "Yell at the boss.  I'm sure he's had other girlfriends do the same thing.  Especially since our exterior and lawn care foreman has a brand new baby that only got born a few days back."


"She's actually really cute.  His wife brought her to the site to show her off.  We all took a good long break to coo at her."  He grinned.  "No expectations of it ever happening with us."

"Better not," Buffy complained.  "The little you would be rotten."  She looked at Giles.  "Are we going to have more problems since it's supposed to be slowing down?"

"Perhaps.  With some of the ones that had been captured, it's possible we'll run into a lot of problems," Giles told her.  "I can't foresee the future."

"Fine."  She pouted at him.  "Are you sure you have to go?"

"Yeah, if I wanna eat and pay rent and all that good stuff."


"At least you'll have Riley.  He's *some* help I guess."  She glared at him.  Riley glared too but he ignored him.  "And hey, Spike's back.  I saw him lurking earlier on the way here.  He was going to talk to your mom again."

"That's a helpful thing to know," she said, walking over to grab the store's phone to call her mother. "Are you all right?  Xander said Spike was coming to chat again.  No, just making sure.  Please.  Xander's got to go out of town for his crew stuff.  No, that leaves me, Riley, and Willow," she said.  "And Spike if he'll help us for blood money."  Joyce asked and Spike grumbled but agreed.  "Thanks."  She hung up.  "He'll help where he can."  Giles smiled and nodded he'd pay for the vampire's blood.  She looked at Riley.  "So you're going to go out nightly with me I guess until Xander's back?"

"I guess I am," he agreed, but mentally he was swearing.  Patrol was dangerous!  She gave him a look, tapping her foot quietly.  He swallowed.  "Sure, we can go on all the patrols you want, Buffy.  Bronze hunting too if you want.  I'll try not to be too jealous when you bait the vamps."

"Good."  She looked at Xander.  "When are we losing you for work?"

"Tuesday night.  We're leaving early Wednesday because they're doing the next inspection that day.  So I've got to have an early night since I'm driving a few of the guys and an official company truck."

She nodded.  "Okay.  We'll deal.  We always do."

He grinned.  "You could come help us if you want."

"The vamps would take over again, Xander."  She swatted him on the arm.  "C'mon, let's hit tonight's fun stroll with violence."

"I thought that was golf," Willow joked.

"Clubs are nice," Xander admitted, grabbing stuff so he could follow Buffy out.  "Coming, Riley?"  The former soldier nodded, following them out.  He rolled his eyes where neither of the couple could see.  Because Riley was a weenie.  He had more training than Xander did yet he did less with it on the hunts.  That was not right.  And he always wanted more backup than they had available.  It just wasn't right and it didn't make sense.  Then again, Riley was a woose.  So he guessed it made some sense.

Willow looked around.  "Let me work on something I've been researching," she said, moving to do that.

Giles looked at the books she was pulling down.  "Death magic?"

"Xander said he overheard a demon talking to another one about raising the mayor."  He shuddered.  "I figured we should know how to stop that.  Before they start."

"Good idea."  He got her another few books he usually kept locked away from her.  "I want those back."

"Of course," she said cheerfully, settling in to research.  "Tara can come help research tomorrow.  She's got a test in the morning."

"That'd be fine, Willow.  We like Tara.  She's a sweet girl."  Willow smiled and got back to work while Giles made himself something to drink so he could go over the store's inventory.  "Anya, please count the candles, incense, and weapons?"

"Fine," she agreed.  "Even if they aren't nice to fondle."

"The more fondling you give them, the less likely they are to sell," Willow reminded her.

"I'd hate that."  She went to count but not fondle things.  She wanted to sell most of the store's stuff and she couldn't do that if they didn't look nice.  So she even rearranged the candles so they were in a prettier display.

Willow kept researching, coming across an obscure mention of a rite.  She frowned, rereading the passage, getting up to look up other mentions of it.  That sounded promising for what they needed to stop.  Though, an idea did hit her while she was reading a historical account of the spell being used.  Someone had used it to call a slayer back to help them with a demon.  She wouldn't do that to any slayer, but.... there had to have been other guys like Xander, right?  Guys who had jumped in for a good reason, not to kill all the demons but because they had been hurt by them?  They might not mind and she could probably find one that was in hell for some reason.  Killing some demons did take demonic deals from some stories she had seen.  That might give her an idea.


Willow locked the bathroom door, making sure nothing and no one could get into it to stop her.  Buffy would be pissed for a few days but they needed the help.  Riley had nearly gotten eaten by a vamp on the patrol earlier.  Buffy was bruised and limping.  Xander was out of town for another week, or so he said at his call.  He had sounded happy.  Or drunk, which was still bad for him.  He knew better but she'd yell at him later.  So she was left with one option that she saw was expedient.  Not a slayer, but a hunter.  She knew there were some.  Wesley had found some and come back recently to LA to hunt like that.  She set the parameters of the spell into the rite and started, closing her eyes while she chanted.  It was not good magic, per se, but not horribly bad.  Nothing like blood magic or anything.

A flash went off and then a groan.  She opened her eyes, looking at the spirit.  "Shoot, we need you to be really here," she muttered, going back over it again.  He moaned louder and she glared.  "Hush, or else I'll call someone else."  He glared but she shrugged.  "It's necessary.  We'll talk in a minute, when I'm done."  She finished the spell, feeling it warp just a bit since she had wanted one who would fit into their hunting team.  Someone who could Bronze-hunt with Buffy since she sucked at it and Riley was such a woose.  One little vamp nearly biting him and he had went strange and weird.  Really big woose.  Hell, she'd had Spike nearly kill her and she wasn't that weird.  She winced at the new flash but the hunter was there, and now younger.  "I didn't know it was supposed to do that," she muttered, staring at him.  She did hand him a towel because he was naked.  "Here, you need that."

He glanced down then covered himself.  "What did you do?" he demanded, looking at himself in the mirror.  He glared at her.  "You called me back from hell?"

She stood up, looking at him.  "Welcome to Sunnydale.  We have a slayer, her hunting team, and way too many demons around here."  He glared harder.  She backed up at that.  "The one who backs her up is out of town for a few weeks."


"Work stuff.  His construction crew is out of town to help on another site.  Buffy's bruised and she's a slayer.  Things are going horrible since we had to stop the Initiative and freed their captives."

"What?" he demanded.

She sighed, moving to clean up her mess.  "Let me do this."

"No, don't," he said, stopping her.  She glared.  "You do know what happens to witches who go bad, like you did?"

"I did not!" she defended.

"You pulled a soul out of hell, resurrected me, and then changed my age.  Yes you did."

"I did not.  I was being all helpy to help Buffy and things."  She stomped a foot.  "I'll explain it but we're in the dorm bathroom and I can't hog it for very long.  A couple of the girls up the hall were drinking earlier so they'll need the bathroom soon."  He glared, starting to growl.  "I can explain everything, I promise.  I can even get you some clothes from Riley's stuff. You're not much different in size and if so I have some of Xander's I was mending," she said quickly.

"Hurry up," he snarled.  She finished cleaning and led him back to her room.  She held up a hand and snuck inside.  She was saying something when her roommate woke up then snuck back out and handed it to him.  He went back to the bathroom to change then she took him outside once he had on Xander's spare sneakers.  He looked up then at her.  "What date is it?"

She looked at her watch.  "The twelfth of May."


"The year you died.  I specified one that hadn't been there for long."  She saw a vamp and sighed, floating her stake over to get it.  She pointed.  "Vampires.  Welcome to the hellmouth, John Winchester."

He glared at her.  "I've heard of this town.  So?"

She walked over to a bench to sit down, curling up some because he was clearly mean, if not slightly evil.  "Our group just shut down a military project that was capturing, torturing, and experimenting on demons."

He shuddered.  "Why?"

"To figure out what they could do with an eye to using them to spare soldiers in wars.  Plus for the fun of the experimenting since some were buttholes that way."

"None of the ones I served with would allow that."

"We didn't like it either.  That's why we stopped them and their freaky super Frankenstein monster."  John frowned at that.  "But doing that let the demons they had captured out.  They had a bunch of harmless ones but not all of them.  That plus the vamps being busy and us not having as much time to hunt with classes and all means that they're starting to gain a foothold in town again.  With Xander out of town, we don't have anyone to really back up Buffy except for Riley and he was Initiative and a woose."


"Why is he a woose?  Because we go on solo and team hunts.  He wants a whole strike team behind him.  The rest of us know Buffy's enough.  He's arrogant and thinks that she's just a girl, even with knowing what she can do."

"Your slayer is Buffy I take it?"  She nodded.  "Okay," he said, thinking about that.  "So why call me?"

"We needed more help.  I found the rite while researching how to stop some demons that want to resurrect our former mayor and major bad guy around here.  Well, former major bad guy I guess but some of his stuff is still going on.  It mentioned we could do that and hey, if so, then your original deal is done and you can go to wherever you were meant to go."  She stared at him.  "That lets you move on properly when you go the next time."

"But I'm fully back?"

"I'm not going to speed you on your way," she assured him.  "We could use all the help we can get some months.  Xander's a...  well, he's *normal*.  Riley's former Initiative, like I said.  We have Spike.  They put a chip in his head so he can only hurt demons.  He's a snarky master vamp but we pay his blood bill for him so he helps when it gets him carnage and destruction for his demon to enjoy.  I'm a witch and I'm dating another one, who's nicer than I am."

He kept his desire to strangle her inside for now.  He'd do it later, when he could find some rock salt, a shotgun, a few empty shells, some lighter fluid, a lighter, and handle her properly.  "So you decided to do something so wrong that most witches would burn you themselves by bringing me back from hell," he said dryly.  She nodded, looking down.

Buffy came outside pulling back her hair.  "Willow's got 'do what's necessary' syndrome, the same as the rest of us do.  Lay off her.  And who are you?"

"This is John Winchester, Buffy.  He hunted for years but the calling back made him a bit younger."

"By about two decades," he said dryly, glaring at her.

"Uh-huh."  She looked at Willow.  "You had to do this before finals?"

"Yes!  You're injured, Riley's injured and woosey.  Xander might not be back to help for weeks.  He's right, I can't hunt magically!  We're going to get overrun," she said, begging Buffy to understand.

Buffy sighed, looking at John.  Then back at her.  Then back at him.  "You hunted how?"

"Mostly spirits, possessions, those things."

"Can you finish taking the spirits out of Xander?  We banished them but it left some of them in him," Willow said.

"That's dangerous and tainting," he said grimly.

"Xander's good," Buffy said firmly.  "Even if he is very normal and trips a lot."

"He hasn't tripped in weeks," Spike said, coming out of the shadows.  He stared at the guy.  "Winchester."

He sneered.  "Spike.  I heard your name mentioned."  Spike sneered.  He smirked.  "What's wrong, not happy to see one of us?"

"You know each other?"

"He nearly staked Dru for going after one of his boys," Spike told her.

"I would have if her little mind screwing gift didn't come out."

Spike shrugged.  "She thinks he's cute.  Then she saw Xander."  He looked at Willow.  "He'll burn you for this."

"I can make sure he can't," she reminded him.  "And then stake you."

"Hey!" Buffy said, breaking them up.  "Stop it.  I've had an hour of sleep, a really bad patrol night, and finals starting tomorrow.  I do not need this."  She looked at John.  "I'm sorry she screwed up.  Can we undo it without hurting you?"

"She fully resurrected me.  I'm alive again."

"Okay.  And that means we'd have to kill you, right?"  He nodded.  "Then tough noogies.  If you want redeaded that bad, find a vamp.  We'll talk about this tomorrow.  Spike, take him to Anya, he can have Xander's couch."  She looked at him.  "Watch out for her.  She's miserable with Xander gone.  She'll hit on you."  She stomped back inside.  "After finals, Magic Box," she ordered.

"And that's Buffy," Willow said.

Spike glared at her.  "Whelp's gonna get you too."

"He will not!  I got us help!"

"Quit," John growled, making her flinch.  "Yes, you screwed up majorly, young lady.  Not even chaos people would have done it, not even for a good reason."  He stared at Spike.  "You *help*?"

"Gives me blood.  I can kill as many demons as I want," he said smugly.  "Lets me be the Big Bad I am."

Willow floated them both.  "No more macho pissing contest.  Some of us like girls and don't need to see the measuring sticks."  They stared at her.  She put them down.  "Spike, show him to Xander's.  Please?"  She stood up and dug into her pocket, pulling out her wallet to hand him a few bills.  "Here, for cigarettes later."  She looked at John.  "We'll be done by one or two.   You'll have to walk past the Magic Box to get to Xander's.  Meet us there then so you can yell at us."  She stomped back inside.  She did stop to do a binding so he couldn't kill her, but that was simply a smart thing to do with how growly he was.

"Does no one stop her?" he asked the vampire.

"Hasn't happened yet.  Scary thing is she's not the strange one.  Whelp's fully normal."

John looked at him.  "So am I.  It never stopped me."  Spike gaped.  He stared back.  "It doesn't.  Plenty of hunters are normal, Spike."

"Boy could use tutoring anyway," he decided.  "And boy hormones instead of girl ones floating around him all the time."  He nodded.  "This way, Winchester.  If I break the truce I'll end up like her pet rat who used ta be a witch."

"She did it?"

"Witch did it to herself," he said.  "Before they got burned at the stake."  He nodded again and John followed him.  Spike pointed at the Magic Box.  "Expect yelling."

"They're girls.  Of course they yell.  My Mary did."  Spike snorted at that, shaking his head.  "Dru?"

"Many times.  Mostly at the stars to stop it and give her some time between visions."  He knocked then walked into the apartment, giving him a smug look.  "She gave me an invite."

"Uh-huh."  He'd talk to the boy about that.  The girl coming out was one of his worst nightmares.  "Anyanka?"

"Until I lost my power center.  What are *you* doing here and alive?"

"Red," Spike said, enjoying this show.

Anya groaned.  "Oh, no."  John gave her a smug look and nodded.  "I'll have Giles spank her in unfun ways tomorrow then.  Need the couch?"

"And a phone if you have one.  I need to check on my boys."

She stared at him.  "I do not want your sons in this town, Winchester.  With the ones drawn to your younger one, things could get a lot worse."

"I'll warn them about that but they're still my boys."

She huffed.  "Calling card so Xander doesn't have a really horrible phone bill?"

"I'll try."  She nodded, going back to her bedroom.  Spike left with a snicker.  John found the phone and sat down to call his friend first.  "Bobby, it's John.  Winchester, Bobby.  A witch did it before you hang up."  Bobby let him stay on the line.  "I'm in Sunnydale."  Bobby swore.  "She said they're being overrun so she brought me back to help them.  Where are my boys?"  He listened to his report.  Then he sighed.  "The demon I'm presently on the couch of says that if Sammy shows up here, it'll be a problem with the one after him.  No, we'll have a loud fit beyond that.  Because I look about twenty-five?" he said dryly.

Anya whimpered in her bedroom.  "Give me a few days and I'll be reporting in.  Warn the boys for me please?  Thanks, Bobby.  If you have it, please."  He smiled.  "Thanks.  Yeah, I could.  I'm borrowing clothes.  Got my guns too?"  He beamed.  "Thanks, Bobby.  Yeah, please do.  Dean's fit will know no sound limits.  He might even go up into the soprano register again.  Like the time Sammy suggested the frat boy incubus could be baited by him when he was fifteen, yeah.  Thanks."  He hung up and laid down on the couch.  It wasn't comfortable but he'd slept on worse over the years.   In the morning he could hear a report and beat that witch to death.  Hopefully they wouldn't try to stop him.


John got up very early the next morning, going to do PT.  A good, long jog around town would help him get to know it better since it looked like he was stuck here for at least a few weeks.  It was a pretty small town.  A bit too pretty.  It had a feeling of manically holding onto 'normal' to his senses too.  Which meant people were ignoring things around there.  He finished his run with a cup of coffee.  He had found some spare change in the couch for it.  That got taken to the library so he could look up the ones he had met last night.  He needed some background before he went to that meeting.

They didn't cover a lot but what they did was blatant if you knew what you were looking for.  Police reports mentioning them being at certain bad events.  Notices of the graduation gas explosion, which clearly wasn't by the pictures in the paper that was stored.  The town's history was in a fairly thin book so he settled in to browse through it too, settling on the later half of the last decade for most of it.  That gave him more idea about what Willow had said about the old mayor.  Charming, really.  He finally got done and went to the Magic Box, walking inside to look around.  A shop for Wiccans, wonderful.  He looked at the man behind the counter.  "Buffy told me to show up here after classes today."

"Were you working with Riley?"

"No, Willow pulled me back from hell last night to help with the hunting duties.  John Winchester, Mr. Giles."  He held out a hand.  "Demon hunter."

Giles gave him an odd look but shook his hand.  "She did what?"

He drew out what he remembered in the bathroom.  "And she deaged me by about two decades," he finished.  Giles rubbed his forehead.  "Buffy said she'd be yelling later on today.  So did your resident demons, Spike and Anyanka."

"She's Anya now," he told him.  "She lost her powers."

John just nodded at that.  "Interesting.  Explains why she's dating a member of your crew?"

"Indeed.  Xander does tend to draw some odd women."  He shook the thought off.  "I'll talk with the girl."

"Can I beat her first?"

Giles gave him a look.  "She did do you a favor getting you out of hell."

"There's at least six demons that can be called by resurrected bodies and blood."

Giles shuddered.  "Good point.  I will be beating her."

"Her natal coven?"

"She's been my student for years but I fear she's eclipsed me long ago."

"Stealing books?" John asked.   Giles sighed but nodded.  "No one that can beat her and show her ethical uses?"

"I've talked to a few.  They've given me suggestions but doing so around the hunting is problematic for part of the year.  It hasn't been consistent and I fear she's been left alone too many times."

"You do know hunters like I am come after witches like her when they go rogue?"

Giles swallowed.  "I do.  Are you?"

"I want to beat her," he said dryly.  "Then do her that way."  That got a grimace.  "If she had botched it, we could have a real problem.  Not to mention my sons' reaction to me being their age."

"You have sons?"

"Two.  Dean and Sammy.  Sammy's unfortunately got a major demon on his tail so he can't show up for a bit.  Dean might park outside of town to see me.  I'm getting word back to them through a contact I called last night."

"That's reasonable I suppose.  How did you meet Anya?"

"Spike put me on her couch."

"Ah.  Buffy said so?"  John nodded.  "I'm sure the boy wouldn't mind if his job didn't have him out of town right now."

"Construction the redhead said?"

"Indeed.  His crew is helping on a housing project in the next county over for the state.  They're a bit behind."

"That's reasonable.  I know it happens."  That got a nod.  He glanced around then at him.  "So I need a sit rep if I'm going to help.  Since I'll be here for at least a few weeks until my things can get to me."

"That would be very helpful.  By then Xander should be back."  He smiled, getting the information he needed to give him what he needed to help.  "This is the report I sent on the Initiative fiasco we had recently."

"That was mentioned.  Anyone punish them?"

"Most of them did die," Giles told him.  "A few of the soldiers are still alive."

John stared at him.  "You do know that it's an act of treason for any US soldier to act in a military way inside the US unless they're in the National Guard?"  Giles slowly shook his head.  "That's why we have the National Guard, Mr. Giles.  They're in real trouble if the higher ups get them."

"They sent them to do it."

John nodded.  "I'll see if there's an active investigation then.  I know someone who can snoop on that subject."  He sat down on the couch in there to look over the information.  "What was that Xander boy's part of the spell?"

"The heart.  Xander's not skilled with magic in the least.  In fact he grandly screws it up now and then on Willow.  We're not sure if it's because he's normal or another factor like a past possession."

John kept his opinion to himself this time.  Because he wasn't sure it wasn't her screwing up.  "How is his training as a hunter going?"

Giles stared at him.  "I've had him sparring with Buffy.  He seems to know how to once we told him how to handle a sword and a stake."

John gave him the oddest look.  "Guns?"

"Buffy abhors them."

"I used mine a lot, Mr. Giles.  They come in very handy and you can be farther away so you don't get so banged up."

"They don't seem to work particularly well on vampires, which is our major problem."

"I know someone who's making wooden bullets."

Giles gave him an interested look.  "Really?  Xander said he couldn't get one that wouldn't compact in flight."

"I'll talk to the boy when he gets back, put him in touch with my contact then."  That got a smile and a nod.  John went back to reading.  What he saw between the lines was a tired, pouty girl trying to keep a balance to her life, a rogue witch, a hunter without training, and the only really, truly trained one being a vampire with a government-issue chip that kept him from killing them all.  And a solider that had done the wrong thing on so many levels.   He went father back on the hunting and scouting reports he had filed with his council.  Yeah, they were overrun.  Very overrun.

Buffy walked in.  "Good, you made it through last night."

He looked up at her.  "I've faced worse than vampires, Miss Summers.  Many times."

"Really?  Why?"

"Because hunting spirits, natural beasts attacking others, and things like that is the same thing you do around here."

"Good point.  How was Anya?"

"Pouty."  He went back to reading.  "She was not pleased."

"She'll whine later then."  She looked at Giles.  "Willow's hiding."

"Are her parents back?"

She snorted.  "Willow's parents?  Be back here?  Hell no, Giles."  He sighed, shaking his head.  "She went to talk to Xander's mother."

"Why?" he asked.

"She said she's probably passed out and Xander doesn't check on her.  She went to make sure they're both still alive."  John gave her a pointed look.  "Xander's parents aren't nice."

"I've seen many like that," he admitted quietly.  She nodded and went to the back of the store for something.  He looked at him.  "She hiding?"


"You can assure her I don't have any lighter fluid on me."

Giles smirked.  "I dare say we can't allow that, Mr. Winchester.  She's the only one we have who can close the hellmouth the next time it opens."

Buffy came out with a bottle of water.  "Which it might be soon.  Spike left a note under our door saying he heard it was coming and not in a good way."  She opened it and took a drink.  Anya stomped in.  "Sorry about the couch lending without asking first, but Willow called him back."

"Calling back souls is *wrong*," she said firmly.  "It can call untold horrors onto all of us!"

"I'm not going to kill him again," Buffy told her.  "But I will see if we can find him somewhere other than your couch."

"I called Xander and he said he could borrow it," she said with a pout.  "He didn't understand."

"Well, he did bring me back with CPR," Buffy reminded her.

"And created Faith."

"Yeah, but we had Kendra until Dru killed her."  She stared her down.  "We'll handle it, Anya."

"She's right, it could call things down," John told her.  "But it won't yet.  The hellmouth might be covering me enough to make it safer."

"Did you take drugs to be this calm?" Buffy asked.

"I have two sons around your age, Miss Summers.  I learned patience from them."  He stared at her.  "Nothing teaches patience like boot camp and having to sit in one spot for hours on end silently waiting on a creature to show up so you can shoot it.  That with colic?  I've got some patience but it's not infinite."

"Eww.  You hunted deer and stuff?"

"And other things attacking people, yes."  She gave him an odd look.   "There are."

"We have a friend who's a werewolf.  He locked himself up.  Except when he got free now and then."

"That's wonderful.  Most don't.  There were over six hundred people in the world killed the year before I died by werewolf attacks."


"That's not the only natural creature that gets hunted though.  I'd never hunt one that wasn't hurting others.  That still leaves plenty of others."

"I guess."  She shrugged.  "Guns don't work on vamps."

"I know someone who's making very good wooden bullets."  He went back to reading.

"Xander's trying," Anya said.

"I can hook them up to talk," he assured her, giving her a look.  "It can only help around here to be connected into the small network we have."

"Can they teach Xander to not trip?" Buffy asked.

"I can do that," he said dryly.  "I taught both my boys."  She smiled at that.  "I'll see if he needs more training when he comes back.  Until then it'll take at least a week or two to get my stuff here."  He went back to reading.

Buffy looked at Anya.  "When is Xander due back?"

"Six days."

"That's not too bad.  Spike's note said we've got the hellmouth trying to open, a few more vamps last night he dusted, and he said something about Riley changing his squatting location to the east side of town."  She took another drink.  "Let me call Willow."

Anya sulked.  "Let me.  Where is she?"

"Xander's house talking to his mom."

"Watching her nap it off?" she asked dryly.  She went to find the rogue witch and drag her back by her hair if she had to.  Resurrecting people was *wrong* and someone had to talk to her about that.  Before it got her killed by some higher being and then she'd never get her powers back.

"So, did you know her?" Buffy asked.

"Yup," John said, not looking up.  "I ran into her handiwork a few times."

"Ah.  No wonder she was PMS sulky about you."  She finished her water, looking at Giles.  "Okay, I'm less bruised.  How bad is it tonight?"

"Six rising by the paper, another two small nests I saw on my jog, settling in for the day probably, and for some reasons the demons were guarding a warehouse on the docks," John told her, looking up.  She gaped.  "I don't know what they're guarding but they had P-90's and K-bar knives on their guards.  Three visible from the front.  I didn't snoop too much past a run past it."

She blinked a few times.  "Huh?"

"Which didn't you get?" he asked her.  "I can show you where I saw the demons with machine guns if you need me to.  Maybe you already know what they're doing and have a plan of some sort to take them down."

"Sure," she said weakly.  "Demons with guns?"

"Demons with current military issue guns," he corrected.

She shuddered.  "Wonderful.  Just what I need.  I'll send you with Riley if you don't mind.  He does that stuff.  I don't understand guns."

"If you want," he agreed.  "He's what sort of former soldier?"


"Then he can see tactical areas too."  She smiled.  "When will he be in?"  She shrugged, moving to call his cellphone.  John mentally sighed.  She was clearly exhausted.  Her watcher wasn't a tactical or planning person.  "I was at the library researching the recent history of the town.   Who did graduation?  Riley?"

"Xander.  Riley didn't get here until last summer."

"Then maybe the boy and I can work on some stuff for you, Buffy."  She smiled at that.  "You should rest for later patrols.  You look a bit tired."

"Finals are kicking my butt.  Not enough time to study and stuff."  She went to the office to take a nap.  If he thought she looked tired she must look really bad.  A glance in the mirror in there showed her she did.  "I look really old," she told herself, laying down for an immediate nap.

"Thank you," Giles said quietly.

"If she's doing school and hunting, that's a lot of stress," he said.  "Do we have local contacts who might know more about that warehouse?"

"Possibly Clem might, or Spike."  He went to the basement but Spike wasn't there.  He came back up.  "Spike's apparently in a crypt instead of the basement at the moment.  We can ask him later."  Riley stomped in.  "Good.  John said he found a warehouse with armed demon guards on it."


"The docks," John said.  "Three visibly armed demon guards with P-90's and K-bars."

Riley just nodded.  "We can look.  C'mon.  Who are you?"

"John Winchester."  Riley went pale.  "Willow called me back and fixed my age so I was closer to the local team's age."

"Oh, crap," he muttered, nodding him to follow.  "Are you staying?"

"It'll be weeks before my stuff gets here," he admitted. "Then I'll see.  It depends on what the local team needs."

"She could use more backup.  It's been me, her, and Xander.  And well, he's normal."

"So're you and I, Riley.  We're simply trained," he said impatiently.  That was a tirade in the making against that chant.  There was nothing wrong with hunting while being human and normal.  Riley gave him an odd look.  "I was a Marine before I hunted."

"Oh."  He nodded, getting into his car to drive him over to where he had seen the demons.  He stared.  "Hostile 39's sort.  Our people weren't sure what they can do tactically."

John gave him a look then looked at the warehouse.  He got out of the car and walked over, nodding at the guard in front.  "Is the head demon here?"

"Who're you?"

"John Winchester.  Demon hunter.  I need to know if there's a gathering in town.  I was tracking something and it went this way.  If you're harmless, I want to stay out of your way."

He looked behind him then at him.  "You're with the military people?"

"No.  I caught a ride with him.  I was checking in with the local team.  I need to know if this is a safe compound or not."

The demon walked inside, coming out with an old female.  She stared at him.  "I remember your pups," she said, staring at him.  "You're young."


She snorted.  "Figures.  She screws up much."  She looked around then at him.  "This is a protected housing area against those military sort.  We have no problems with hunters, John Winchester."

He stared at her.  "You were in Biloxi."  She nodded.  "I remember your clan member made good pie, ma'am.  Just a protected place to live?"  She nodded again.  "Good.  I'll be in town for a few days if there's problems."

"If we have problem members, we'll send them after the slayer.  She handles it for us."

"Good to know."  He bowed slightly.  She smiled and patted him on the cheek.  "Thank you."  He went back to the car.  "They're protecting themselves from your former coworkers."

"How could you just walk up to them?" he demanded.

John looked at him.  "I've seen a few of them before, kid."  Riley glared.  "They weren't harmful then.  I remembered that much.   I needed to see if they were going to cause problems here and now or not.  They're protecting themselves from another raid to get captives."  Riley swore, starting the car and backing out.  He got walked inside.  "Blue skinned, a bit heavy set around the middle, two chins, three eyes, one above the normal two.  One small horn above the third eye."  Giles moved to find a book.  "Usually found in the Southern part of the US.  I ran into some in Biloxi."

"Ah, here we are."  He read it over.  "Harmless."

"I asked the guards.  They brought out an older female who said it's a protected living area so no one else got stolen.  If they had problems they'd send that one after the slayer so she could handle it."

Giles smiled.  "I'll make sure she gets briefed on them later in case.  The weapons?"  John pointed at Riley's huffy, ramrod straight back.  "Ah, they had some?"

"We had a few but we never figured out what they can do," Riley told him.

"They can't really do anything," Giles told him, handing over the book.

"The one I met in Biloxi could make a mean chocolate chip pie," John admitted.  Giles laughed a bit.  "Two of the weapons were unloaded."

"I'll make sure Spike knows as well."  That got a nod.  "We do protect those who are innocent around here."

"I can agree with that approach.  Life's too short to take on every little thing.  You have to pick your battles.  Going after the harmful things saves you time, grief, energy, and injuries."

"Good.  Willow's in the back talking to her girlfriend."

"Is her girlfriend beating her yet?"

"No, not yet.  Tara?"  She came out of the back and went absolutely pale upon seeing John.  "Know him, Tara?"

She nodded quickly.

John smirked.  "My son beat your brother's ass for nagging you in a store one day, didn't he?"  She nodded more quickly, looking down.

"We've seen why," Giles told him.

John walked over to tip her face up.  "I was dead."

"Wi..Willow," she stuttered quietly.  He nodded.  She just nodded and went back there to talk to her girlfriend, who yelped a minute later.

Buffy came out of the office.  "Anya wanted to help you spank her, Tara."  Anya stormed back there to help her.   She looked at John.  "You talked to them?"

"Of course.  I remembered seeing one in the past, I just didn't remember why.  I figured if they were lying I'd pick up on it.  If they were harmful I could kick it down and take the gun since they didn't look that comfortable with it."

She nodded.  "That works.  Harmless, Giles?"  He showed her.  "I can deal with that."  She looked over as the door opened and someone came in to browse.  "Hi, welcome to the Magic Box."  She looked at John.  "Do you feel comfy patrolling tonight?" she asked quietly.  He nodded slowly.  "I feel weird for weeks after dying and coming back.  That was only with CPR.  I figure yours was harder."

"I can deal with that in my off-hours.  I learned to compartmentalize a long time ago, Miss Summers."

"Buffy.  I'm not Southern."  She frowned at him.  "Or that old, like the librarian we call Miss Sturgins."  She handed the book back.  "I need to practice."

"We can help you," John assured her.  "Right, Riley?"  Riley grumbled but nodded, going to help Buffy work out.  John smirked at Giles, getting a mean one back.  "He called her Hostile 39," he said quietly.

"He still calls Spike one too," Giles agreed.

John walked back into the training area shaking his head.  That boy needed a swift kick.  Badly.  And he had bad form for self-defense training.  "They let you out of boot camp with that lean?"  He shook his head.  "Attack me, Buffy."  She gave him an odd look. "Now."  She attacked and he defended, moving her backward.  She did something fancy and he knocked her planted foot out from under her.  She backflipped and came back at him.  "Good."  He kept it up, eventually getting pinned after another ten minutes.  "Good job."

She smiled.  "It's nice to have someone I can spar with.  Xander tries, but he's not too good at all of it.  I can do good with a sword against him though."

"Not my highest skill.  I went for machetes; they were easier to conceal."  She laughed, getting up to pull him up.  "One thing."  He waved her on.  "Lunge at me on your right foot pivoting."  She frowned and did it.  He corrected something.  "You're putting yourself off balance."  He shoved her over.  She bounced up and did it again.  He stopped her and shifted her weight on her.  "That way.  Not the other unless you're going to spin all the way around to kick them on the back of the head with your toes."  She moved and nodded, going back over it with him.  "There, now go work on your hand-to-hand with Riley.  A Ranger has to have higher skills in that and knife work."  She bounced over to go over it with him.  He watched.  She had some faults.  She had a good grasp of what she could do.  She needed more width of skills though.  "Hold on."  He came over.  "Next time he tries for your gut, guard it, and do this," he said, showing her slowly.  She did it.  Riley moved to attack her again.  She did what he wanted and smiled, going on with it.  He'd help add to her skills while he was there.   Young punk there needed to be kicked by a girl anyway.  "Buffy, you're a girl and ignoring a girl's fighting style," he noted.

She glanced at him.  "I don't want to ruin my manicure today.  If I have to I can scratch and bite him.  Or knee him but that means I wouldn't get sex later.  He'd pout."

"I don't pout," Riley said.

"Then why is your lip hanging down?" she teased with a grin, pinning him to kiss him.  "Spot me with the weight set?"

"Sure."  He came over to spot her.  "How much are we up to today?"

"Two hundred."

"Single reps then lower weights to build muscles?" John asked, coming over to look.  "It's unbalanced, Buffy."  He slid off the extra five pound weight on the one side, letting her try it.   She did a few then put it back.  "Let's drop that down and see how many reps you can do in a row," he said, glancing at Riley.  That got a grudging nod because now he felt like he was involved instead of John taking over.  Which he was.  They were right, Riley was a woose.  Even Sammy was better than this guy.  He moved it down to a hundred.  "Do as many as you can until your arms start to burn."  She nodded, doing them while he counted.   She finally got done and it wasn't great but it wasn't horrible.

"You build muscle mass by doing reps that way," Riley told her.  "The other is to help you pick up more weight if you have to, but that'll build regular muscles."

"I don't want to look like those bodybuilder ladies on ESPN without breasts," she told him.

"There's no way you'd have to go that far," John told her.  "If you have more mass to counterbalance the weight, you can pick up more."  She beamed at that.  "Muscle does weigh more but you can use a few good pounds at the moment."

She blushed.  "I've been busy."  She got up and wiped her face off with a towel.  "Weapons?" she suggested.  "I haven't done sword stuff in a few days."

"Not my area," Riley said, backing away.  "I'm still working on my crossbow skills."

John gave him an odd look.  "Not that much different from a shotgun, Riley."  He took her to practice that with her.  He still had it.  Nearly spot into the center of the target on the second try.  She was spot on.  Riley was nearly there.  "Arrow's arch less than bullets.  Aim lower," he told him.  Riley gave him a dirty look.  "Shorter flight.  Like a lower caliber bullet, Riley."  He tried it again and got it this time.  "Good job."  She smiled and got them, coming back to do another round into the targets.  Dean would be proud of his score.  He'd laugh at Riley's face at being shown up by him.  They moved onto swords.  He wasn't that good with it.  He wasn't used to the extra length.  He picked something shorter but he had the greater reach so he figured it'd even him out with her.  She was fast, and sneaky.  She got him on the side with a swat.  He repaid her by kicking her butt back when she passed and came after her again.

She gaped then attacked.  "You attack like Xander does."

"Practical skills.  Most demons don't use formal fencing skills," he said dryly.  She nodded at that, going back to it.  He did duck a beheading swing, making her grin and go harder.  He got to experience the advantages of being a slayer first hand.  She still wasn't bad.  She had some weak areas.  Including her shirt.  "Buffy, unless your plan is to stun them with your bra, you might want to wear a longer shirt," he said dryly.

She pushed it down.  "Sorry, John."

"It happens.  I've had some pull my clothes or rip them during a fight before."

"Fortunately Mom can fix nearly anything."  She looked him over.  "Clearly Xander's clothes."

"I can scrounge a few dollars and go to the thrift store," he assured her.

"Xander does too."  She attacked again, letting him get more used to a sword.  He wasn't doing too badly.  "How do you use a machete?"

"It's like a long knife in most things.  Though you can swing it to cut heads off," he said, finding one to show her.  It was a good skill to have.  "My son Dean's better with a knife but I'm not sure when he'll show up here.  With the problems after Sammy we don't want to draw that problem here."

She snorted.  "Like we haven't seen big demons.  Please!  The mayor turned into one."  She smirked.  "Your sons can come get you, John."

He smiled.  "I'm more worried the one after Sammy will use it to snatch him."


"Plus they're on the east coast on a job right now."  She nodded she understood that.  She accidentally nicked him with the blade.  "Got a first aid kit?" he asked, holding it closed with his t-shirt hem.

"Um, yeah, but Xander does most of the bandaging.  Willow does some but she said she's out of practice."  She went to get it for him, letting him bandage his own arm.  "Wow.  You're good at that."

"Most hunters treat their own minor injuries.  ER's ask too many questions."

"The one here just tries to kill you so you can be parts and blood for the demons."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Xander does really good stitches.  He does most of mine these days."

"That's a good skill to have.  I had to teach both my boys.  They didn't like the needlework kit I made them learn on.  Thought it was girly."  She giggled, bopping him on the arm then got up to put the kit back.  He watched Riley walk off after her.  "Dog in heat," he muttered, shaking his head.  He walked out there.  Buffy gave him an odd look.  He leaned down.  "He does follow you around like you're in heat."

She nodded.  "I don't mind.  It means I get super cuddles now and then."  She beamed.  "After dinner, we're hitting patrol.  We have plenty of stakes."

"Thanks.  I can pick up dinner."  She nodded, leaving him alone.  "How feasible is a part-time job until my stuff gets here?"

Giles handed over the paper.  "There's quite a bit of room in the local economy at the moment.  The ones who've been turned and the like."

"I'll work on that tomorrow."

Giles handed him something.  "Xander's spare pack he kept with me as a teenager.  It should still mostly fit you since he's only put on a bit of muscle mass over the last few years.  I asked and he said it would be fine to let you borrow it."  John nodded his thanks, going to change.  He took it with him.  "She'll be back in about an hour."

"Sure."  He went to check out the bag better.  He found a spare few dollars, getting dinner before heading back.   Buffy was in some impractical clothes.  He looked at her.  "Won't you get cold later?"  Tara let out a high-pitched giggle.  "There's a good breeze going."

She gave him a look.  "It's fine.  I've hunted in this outfit a number of times, John.  We'll end up at the Bronze later.  Before then we've got to hike halfway across town to get to the first few vamps coming up."

"Driving?" he suggested.

"Um, no.  I'd hit the demons with the car so I don't."

"I do," he told her.  She beamed.  "Put that in a bag in the car so you can change into it and it doesn't get messed up."  She changed in the back then came out carrying those.  He took Riley's keys and went to drive them that way.  Someone needed some sense.  Driving was a basic skill most people should have.  Even Sammy had been able to drive by the time he was twelve.  They got out and went to hunt in the cemetery.  Buffy changed in a crypt before coming back.  The Bronze was a place he hadn't expected to like to be in.  It wasn't too bad for a club.  Not too noisy tonight. A lot of younger people and a whole lot of vamps.  "A succuba," he said with a subtle point.

She sighed.  "Xander ran off two before he left."

John shook his head.  "Let me.  You do what you do to the vamps."  He walked over toward the succuba, getting her attention.  He remembered how Dean had teased them with a look.  The girl giggled so maybe he wasn't as good as his son.  She still followed when he nodded.  He killed her outside and it was nicer.  He checked himself and came back in.   Buffy dancing with the vampire made him stop, stare, and nearly sweat.  Mary hadn't had moves like that, even if they hadn't danced like that in his day.  He staked the vampire teasing his neck with a finger then went to get a beer.  The bartender stared at him.  "I have a son your age."  The guy gave him a beer and he went back to his table.  He sipped and grimaced.  "Near beer."

"They check ID's," Riley agreed.

"I'll make myself one tomorrow."  Riley gaped.  He stared back.  "I can."  He took another drink.  It was still nearly good enough.  "Not helping?"

"I can't draw them," he said sullenly.

John stared at him.  "Go sit with the group over there," he said with a point of the beer bottle.  "Talk to them.  One might hit on you."  Riley looked then went to do that.  "Someone's mother needed to spank the sulkiness out of him," he muttered into his next drink.  Two vamps came over to chat him up.  He made nice, letting them talk him into the darker shadows.  He staked them and was joined by Anya.  "I'm not going to cheat on my wife's memory, Anya."

"I know that."  She glared at him.  "We know Riley's not good enough but he's her boyfriend.  Can you lay off him?  Buffy wanted you to."

"I'm trying.  He's not fitting up to the standards I set for my boys."

"Your boys are good but Riley's an idiot," she pointed out.  "That's why my Xander calls him Captain Cardboard."

"I can use him as a teaching example to help her."

"Good."  She smiled.  "She wanted to know what you did to the succuba."

"Killed it."

She frowned.  "Really?"  He nodded.  "Xander only manages to drive them off.  I wish he'd cheat with them so I could get my powers back."

"Honorable men don't do things like that," he told her.  "Even with a succuba prompting it.  I've never cheated on Mary or her memory."  She gaped.  "Real men don't, Anya.  If you want someone to cheat on you that badly, date someone like Riley."

"He's not...."  She shuddered, looking at him.  "Is he?"

"I don't know.  How many times has he been bitten?  He's got a few good bite marks on his neck."

She looked.  "Wow.  That's going to be sucky for Buffy."

"Her friends will keep her from killing him while they help her kick his ass."  He walked her out, looking around.  "She's...."

"Alley I think."  He strolled that way to get another drink and check.  He heard a fight so he went to help her.  Riley was still chatting up the vamps.  He staked one trying to get her back.  She kicked the other one trying to grab her.  He threw his stake and she kicked it into position.  Anya gaped.  "No wonder your boys are so well trained."

Buffy looked at Anya then at him.  "Then you are *so* working with Xander."

"I can do that and lay off Riley some.  Even if he isn't good enough for you."

She blushed but shrugged a bit.  "He's nice."

"He's not."  He made her look at him.  "If he were a girl, I'd never let my boys date someone like him, Buffy.  You need someone supportive.  It's why most hunters are single."

"He's the second one who knew.  Actually he's my second boyfriend period."  She frowned then let it clear up.  "I know but he's here and he does know."

"Uh-huh.  I'll see if Dean knows any cute younger hunters for you.  That way you have someone who can help you."  He dusted some ash out of her hair.

"Darn mushy parent feelings?" she teased.

"My younger son is your age," he agreed.  "Riley's still chatting with some vamps.  I can use him as a demonstration tool."  She giggled, walking inside with him.  Anya got them beers this time so it was nicer.  Even if Buffy did give it to him instead.  "Thanks."

"Beer bad for Buffy," she told him.  "I don't even want to go back there again."  Anya giggled.  "Meany."  She went back onto the floor.  Riley pouted at her so she dragged him out there.  "He said he'd lay off you, Riley."

"Thanks."  He grimaced.  He didn't want to be shown up by an old guy in a young body.  He'd pout but he didn't do that.  "You don't like him that way, right?"

"No!"  She grinned.  "He was momming me outside.  Dusted the ash out of my hair for me."  Riley cheered up at that news.  "Besides, he's still grieving for his wife."

"Oh."  He tried to dance with her but he wasn't getting it.  She was trying to help. "I'm too white for this song," he complained.

She looked at him.  "Not like I'm not."  He sulked but she let him go back to his chatty companions.  "Why is he chatting up the vamps?" she muttered.  She sighed and spotted Spike, going to pick on him for a bit.  "Why is it trying to open?" she asked him.

"Someone wants it to."

"Oh."  She grimaced.  "Well, Xander can pay attention to it for us since his crew will be back in a few days."  She watched Riley.  "Subtle, not."

Spike snorted.  "Not like he has taste, slayer."


"You hit on him, not the other way around," Anya reminded her.  "I'm going to have phone sex with Xander so I get to sleep tonight.  Night all."

"Night, Anya.  Good point," she told Spike, getting an odd look.  "He's decent in bed."

He snorted.  "Compared to the poufter?  Not a lot of difference between that and the toys that the demon bint likes," he said dryly, walking off cackling at her look.  He'd know. Angel was his sire.

"Eww, mental grossness," she called after him.  She took John's beer to sip then handed it back before going to stake more vamps to get that image out of her head.  She did not want to know what Angel had done when he was evil.  Mental Spike/Angelus porn was Anya's thing, not hers.

John shook his head.  "How can someone who tempts like that be such a prude?" he asked himself.  That night he slept in the basement of the Magic Box but it had a comfortable cot.  Better than the lumpy old couch.


Xander limped into the Magic Box five days later, flopping down in his usual seat.  "I'm back."

"I can tell that," Giles agreed.  "Why are you limping?"

"Two of my crew got jumped at the gay bar so I kindly stepped in."  He gave him a look.  "The sheriff said it was fair game since there were five of them against my two guys.  He thanked me quite a lot for not picking up the pool cue I had been playing with earlier."

"Are we in trouble?"

"Nope.  They started it."  John walked in.  "You must be the guy on my couch."

"No offense, but it's lumpy so I'm on the cot downstairs at the moment."

Xander grinned.  "That's so I can torment Spike usually."  He held out a hand.  "Xander."

"John."  He shook it.  "Your crew does good work.  We did a patrol near the new school last night."

"Thank you."  He grinned.  "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine.  A bit tired.  It's been a while I did eight hours of day labor."  He sat down.  "Done?"

"Yes it is.  And it's not that ugly either.  Surprising for government housing."

"Very," John agreed with a small grin.  "Buffy's got her last final today."

"Poor her.  She pouting or walking around mumbling with her hair up and wanting cocoa?"

"The later."

"Figures.  She did it our senior year too."  He looked at Giles.  "Need me for anything for a few hours or can I go soak?"

"Go soak, Xander.  We've got a small upswing in activity but nothing too drastic."

"Uh-huh."  He looked at John.  "So I heard why you got here.  You sure you're okay?"

"I haven't found the lighter fluid to burn her yet," he admitted.  Which was strange since he had went to buy some.  She must have bound him he realized.

"Hmm.  Don't let her mumble while wanting a pet around you."  He stood up with a groan.

"Need your first aid kit?"

"No, I need bubbles.  I stopped a gay bashing gang last night in a gay bar who were going against some of my guys."

"You use bubbles?" John asked, trying not to smirk.  Not the most manly thing.

"If I don't use their presents, they complain.  I like not being whined at," Xander shot back with a look, getting a laugh.  "I'll be back at nine, Giles.  I directed someone here earlier so they might be looking for you."  John walked out with him.  He smirked when he saw the other guy hug a truck.  "I take it you're a proud car parent?"

"I am.  I tricked out this truck myself.  It took me quite a while to get it perfect."

"That's cool.  I usually go for running but hey, car nuts are welcome too."  He waved at the other guy.  "Hi, Xander Harris."  He shook his hand.

"Donald Withers."  He looked at John.  "How in the hell?"

John looked around then at him.  "A witch."

"Bobby said there was a new Winchester kin that was hunting."

"Donald, it's me, John.  I changed your kid's diapers many times."  Donald went pale, shaking his head.  "Yeah, the witch brought me back."

"Why?" he demanded to Xander.

"Don't look at me.  I've spent the last two weeks out of town working on a construction site in the next county.  I'm guessing she thought we needed the help and ran across it in a book?" he asked John, who nodded.  He looked at the other hunter.  "Wild hair up the ass syndrome.  We all get it now and then when we think things are desperate."

"No wonder Bobby looked antsy," Donald said, pulling out a flask.  John sighed but held out a hand, taking it to drink.  "Fully back?"  He took it back to put up.

"As far as I can tell," he agreed.  "Deaged to twenty-five or so too so I'd fit in better."  Xander walked off snickering.  "He's on the local team."

"Wonderful.  Now what?  Do your boys know?"

"I haven't talked to them yet.  I'm worried the demon after Sammy will try for him if he comes here since this is a hellmouth."  Donald looked confused.  "A radiating devil's gate, Don."

"Oh.  Okay then.  On that note, I'm going to drink myself into a stupor tonight.  Have fun with the truck and clothes.  Bobby put your ID's into the glove box."

"Thanks, Don."  He shook his hand.  "Tell Bobby I'll call later.  Is my phone in there?"

"It has minutes on it too."  He went to unhook the car he had towed on the truck and drove off in it, heading back to find a bar in a safer area.  This was just too freaky and had to be Winchester luck.  Only him and Sammy, really.

John climbed in to look things over.  "Yes, my license."  He took it to the local copy place to get a new picture on it.  He could do that.  He had taught his son how to make fake ID's.


Xander walked in later that night, staring at John.  "What did you tell Anya?" he asked calmly.

"Not a thing.  Well, one thing when she pouted that you wouldn't cheat on her with a succubus so she could get her powers back.  I told her real men, honorable ones, didn't do things like that."

"No wonder she's sulking.  She'll kill my back later trying to wear it out."  Buffy walked in wearing sweats, sneakers, and had her hair up.  "No makeup, bad final today?" he asked.

"Very.  I fell asleep during it.  The teacher was not amused."

"We can't all be Willow," he said blandly.

"I told him that.  Pointed out I was studying for his class instead of sleeping.  He made me finish it in the hallway so my snoring didn't bother anyone."  She pouted.  "Only six tonight."

"I'll go," he sighed.

"You're still limping," John pointed out.

Xander snorted.  "So?"

Buffy scowled.  "Why are you all limpy, Xander?" she demanded.

"I was with a few of the guys at the local bar, which happened to be a gay bar thank you, and some rednecks came in to beat their asses.  They lost."  He stared at her.  "I'm fine.  The sheriff thanked me for not picking up the pool cue I had been using earlier."

"I guess that's fine.  Find someone nice?"

"Not my thing," Xander said impatiently.  "No matter how much Anya wants me to cheat on her."

"Shoot.  Spike's being all helpy."

"Wonderful.  Captain Cornbread?"

"His place at the moment.  You can call him for patrol."

Xander looked at John.  "You're not going to be super-paranoid boy and loudly wish for more backup so you draw all the vamps to us, right?"

"He does not," Buffy complained.

"Yes he does," John told her.  "No, I know how to hunt, Xander."

"Good.  We'll go.  You go have pudding or ice cream," he said, grabbing stuff and heading off with John behind him.  Buffy jogged off for the college's late night snack cafeteria.  He shook his head.  "Her first semester."

"I figure it's hard to do this and schoolwork."

Xander looked at him.  "She's got a PE major, John."

"Oh.  Never mind."

"Willow does most of her homework.  This is her test spazzing."  He pointed.  "Shady Rest according to the papers?"

"There and Slumberville."

"Charming.  I hate that cemetery.  The hill makes it a bitch."

John smiled.  "In the lower section at least."

"It's still a hike."

"I drive, Xander."

"Usually I end up hiking back to the car whenever I drive for patrol.  Which means I'm tired and sore."

"I'll drive."  Xander shrugged and headed for his truck.  John got in to drive.  "How did the new site go?"

"Pretty good.  Our guys blew them away by being good workers, polite to the other crews, and they even cracked jokes a few times to make the other guys relax.  Our boss got some thanks and said we did good."


"Thanks.  I love my crew.  They bust their asses for me."  He pointed.  "Shady Rest is having a party."  They parked and got out, heading that way.  He coughed, making the vamps stare at him.  One sneered.  "Good morning!" he said brightly, smirking at them.  "Welcome to the end of your days."  They rushed and he moved.

John watched him.  That limp was hurting his style or the kid had none.  He was getting it done but he didn't use anything fancy.  "Xander, duck."  The kid did and John shot a demon trying to rush and help.  It screamed and died.  Xander grinned and they got back to it.

Xander looked around.  "Eleven vamps, one demon, and a lot of dust," he said happily.

John gave him an odd look.  "We keep count?"

"Nightly for stats.  Usually by now we'd be starting the summer slowdown.  We get numbers like this in the fall, when the college starts again."

That got a nod.  "I can understand mapping that out.  Want some work on your hand-to-hand tomorrow?  Or later?"  Xander gave him the oddest look.  "I've been helping Buffy with hers too.  Using Riley to demonstrate."

"There's been plenty of days I'd love to kick his ass," he agreed.  "We'll see if I'm not too tired from work."

"I can understand that.  I'm doing day labor.  I paid back the stash you left in the bag."

"I'm surprised Spike didn't find it and take it."  He shrugged and they walked on to finish the clean up there.  A few more vamps then back in the truck to the farther cemetery.  Xander pointed.  "Stop."  John stopped and they watched the mass of demons outside a building.  "Any clue if that's been going on?"

"No.  Any idea what it is?"

"During the daytime, it's a daycare."  He got out.  "Stay.   They know me."  He walked over, coughing loudly.  A few looked and groaned.  "She's fragged from finals.  Do I need to call the slayer down to help, guys?"

"One of the workers won't give our egg back," one of the females complained.

"Why not?"  She shrugged. "She hasn't said anything?  Made any demands?"

"No.  We can't get in, Knight."

Xander nodded, looking back at the truck.  "John, come help me."  He looked at the door.

"I can pick that," John said, pulling out his lock picks to open the door.  Xander led the way inside, letting him follow with his gun in hand.  "What's going on?"

"Wouldn't give back the kid," he hissed.  He found the right area, watching her.  He looked around then nodded at John to cover the hallway.  He walked in and coughed, making her flinch and scream.  "Morning."

"K...knight," she stuttered.  "Why are you here?"

"One of the ones outside said you refused to give back her kid.  We're on patrol.  Is there a reason for it?"

"Its my egg."

"You laid it?"


Xander looked back.  "Get the other mother in here.  And the father if he's there."  John went to ask, bringing her and a very old demon of another species in.  "Doctor Gwarkal.  Who laid this egg?"

"The younger but the older is raising it because she left the nest."

Xander looked at the original mother.  "Did you let her adopt the baby?"

"She stole her.  Then she kicked me out of the nest.  Said I was unworthy."

"She's my young!" the older one snarled.

Xander looked at her.  "Use that tone of voice with me again," he said snidely, staring her down.  She whimpered and backed away.  He looked at the healer.  "Who would decide this matter?  Clan leader, an elder?"

"Her matriarch would."

"She hates me because I want to learn things," the younger one said.  "My elder made sure I can't have other eggs either."

The healer nodded.  "She had a hard laying and the elder did refuse to send for us immediately."

"Get the Matriarch," he ordered.  She nodded, going to call her.  "John, can you handle the other one?"

"I can stay."

"This is going to get messy," Xander said.

John nodded.  "I've got two boys, Xander."  That got a nod.  "If we don't get them coming up, we'll get them later."  Willow stomped in.  "It's a problem about the mother of the egg.  He's called for the matriarch of the clan to settle it."

"Mrs. Simmons and her daughter," Xander told her.  She snorted. "Want to do Slumberville for us?"

"I can do that.  I'll drag Riley out by his smelly man balls to help me."  She looked at them.  "Don't make me mad tonight."

Xander popped her on the forehead.  "Midol," he said slowly and clearly.  "Because I had enough of the bitches last night with the rednecks, Willow.  Get Tara to make you snuggle later so you quit being such a grump."  She huffed off.  He shook his head.  "I'm glad she hasn't taught Anya that yet."

The healer giggled.  "Your girl is very strange."

"Putting it mildly," he said dryly, giving her a look.  She laughed some more.  An elderly, stooped demon female walked in on another demon's arm.  "The matriarch of these two?" he asked politely.

"I am.  Why call me from my bed?"

Xander pointed at the child.  "We have a custody dispute."

"The young is stupid for wanting to learn."

"Learning means that you don't get stuck in the past," Xander told her.  "Not like we still use horses and buggies."  She snorted at that.  "She claims the elder intentionally made it so she can't bear more eggs and stole the child."

She looked at the elder.  "You sent for a healer?"

"After ten hours," the younger one complained.


"She has a right to speak in her own defense," Xander said calmly.  The elders all glared at him.  He glared back.  "Each side should be heard for fairness.  Otherwise that makes you no better than a pouty, whiny, vengeful teenage human girl.  The sort that call on my girlfriend's former job."

"She'll have her say."  She looked at her.  "Ten hours?"

"She was whining about normal problems."

The healer shook her head.  "She was torn.  It is doubtful she can have more eggs without intervention, Elder."

"I see."  She looked at the baby.  Then at Xander.  "Why are you involved?"

"They were massing.  We're on patrol.  Of course we stepped in to make sure no one got hurt.  Especially the young one at the center of the pain."

"That's most reasonable," she agreed. "You may go."

"I can stay," he assured her.  She glared.  He stared back.  "I'll be making a report to the watcher later.  You're barely in the books.  This way I can tell him you're a species that believes in fairness and reason."

"If you must."  She looked at the young one.  "You can have more."

"Not without help and with the elder kicking me out of the nest for wanting to learn of new ideas, I can't do that."

The matriarch looked at her.  "What reason was she banished for?"

"Being unacceptable.  It's her impure blood."

"Yet you wanted her egg," John said.  "That sounds more like jealousy that she had one and you didn't."

"That does come across," the matriarch said.  "You're not normally that age, are you?"

"Willow," the guys said together.

"I sent her off when she tried to help."

"Thank you.  That one bothers us."

Xander nodded.  "I'm going to start chanting 'spank her' some day soon."

"That might help."  She looked at the elder then at the young one.  "You may come back to the nest.  The child will be shared."

"She's evil," the younger one complained.  "She hurt me on purpose because I wanted to learn healing arts."

The matriarch gave her an odd look.  "That's not an area we generally go toward even in the ones that do that foul studying."

She shrugged.  "It can only help those like me who need it."  She pulled up her hood to show the bruises.  "Her mate did that to me last week when he yanked my child from my arms and shoved me from the nest."

"I will be looking at my son's conduct, young one.  You will stay with me and we will discuss this learning habit of yours.  For now, the egg will reside with me until I have made a decision."  The others all nodded and left.  She looked at the ones gathered.  "She and the egg will be coming with me.  I'll make a decision in private after talking to others about what has happened."  They nodded to her decision, escorting them back.  The elder tried to take the child when it fussed but the younger glared and held her tighter.  "She wants air, child.  Let her wiggle some."  She relaxed.  She looked back at Xander.  "If we should need the slayer to help us with this matter I'll call."

"Call me," Xander told her.  "She's just getting over final exams at the college."

"Bah, college is not useful for anything," she sneered.  "I will find you, Knight."  She went back underground with her clan.

John locked the daycare's door then looked at him.  "Well handled," he said quietly.

"Things like that cheese me off," he muttered, looking at John.  "Want to meet up with Wonder Wicca and Captain Stick-Up-The-Wrong-Hole?"

"Sure, why not.  You know, while you were gone, Willow went to visit your mom," he said casually.

Xander gave him another odd look.  "Is my mother dead?"


"Then something's not right there."  He called Anya as he got into the truck.  "Willow visited my mother?"  She said something.  "No, uh-uh.  Did you find her in there?  I'll ask her then.  Slumberville.  Settled a custody dispute by calling the matriarch of the clan and getting pushy.  We already did Shady Rest.  I'll do that.  Thanks, Ahn."  He hung up.  "No way in hell was she in my parents' house.  She hates them."  He considered it. "Other street.  There was a water main break about an hour ago," he said quietly.  They parked and got out, heading to where he could hear chanting.  He watched Willow making twigs dance while they waited for the vampire to crawl out of his coffin, then grabbed her arm and walked her off.  She yelped.  "You went to visit who?"

"Your parents."

"You can't stand my parents and vowed to kill my mother, Willow.  Since she's not dead, you went where?"

She sighed.  "I went to visit my house.  My parents changed the locks."

He stared at her, then he sighed.  He knew a lie when he heard it.  "Wanna try that again?"  She glared.  He stared back.  "Not like I don't know, Willow.  They changed the locks when you moved onto campus and they left for Germany for a year.  You told us that."

"I forgot."


She scowled.  "I'm not lying."

He walked off shaking his head.  "Whatever.  I'm sure Buffy can spank you for it if Tara doesn't."  He glanced back at her huffing.  "Not like I don't know everything that's out that way, Willow.  I doubt you went to the liquor store, crack ho alley, or even to visit our few homeless vamps."  She huffed off.  He looked at Riley.  "Yes, I'll be telling her myself," he said dryly, calling Buffy's cellphone.  "It's us.  We're hitting Slumberville now.  Small coming out party at Shady Rest, custody dispute at the demon daycare we had to step into because it was looking like a domestic dispute with a jealous older demon.  Called in the matriarch and got a bit pushy on the younger one's side since her sin was wanting to learn to be a healer.  Waiting on the vamp to come up apparently."  He listened to her.

"No, small issue beyond that.  Willow said she went to visit my parents?"  She said something.  "Buffy, what did Willow vow before graduation?"  She said something smart.  "That she'd feed them to the kraken, yeah.  Not the first threat against them either.  She hasn't stepped foot in my parent's house in years, Buffy.  Then she tried to tell me she went home but they had changed the locks.  Which she told us about before I went on the road trip.  Yeah, that one.  You might, yeah.  I threatened spanking. I don't know, Buffy.  She resurrected someone.  I think that's a sign that she needs a long discussion with someone who might have ethics, like your mom maybe? That could help, yeah.  Thanks for handling that.  I ended up suggesting midol earlier when she huffed at me."  He hung up.  "She'll talk to her."

"Is there a coven locally to help train her?" John asked.

Xander snorted, shaking his head.  "Posers at the college who like the Goddess.  That's how she met Tara."

"Maybe they can help her then."  He staked the vampire once it came up.  "I think he's the only one."  Riley pointed.  John looked.  "Do we know him?" he asked Xander.

Xander stared.  "Yeah but he's alive.  Andrew, visiting family?" he called.  The boy looked up and flinched.  "Chill."  He walked over.  "Want escorted home?"

"It's been a long night," he told him.

Xander nodded. "I've had a few of those.  C'mon, we'll drop you off, Andrew."

"I can call Warren."

Xander checked his watch.  "It's almost ten, Andrew.  Warren still has a curfew.  Jonathan won't be out for hours.  He's mid-sleep so he can chat all night with whatever girl he finds online again."  Andrew grinned a bit.  "C'mon.  John, can we drop him off?"

"Of course.  I'd hate to see anything happen to anyone."  He looked at the boy.  "Say goodnight."

"Night," he whispered, coming back with Xander.  "You sure?  I don't want to be a bother."

"Shut up," Xander said, smirking at him.  "It's this or I have to walk you to the door and gush at your parents that you were a good boy."

"Please don't.  They might try to encourage me to date Johno again."  He pouted.  "That's mean to me, Xander."

Xander grinned.  "I told you not to prank me that day."  Andrew snorted but he looked happier.  He walked him to the truck.  "John's.   My sedan's at home."  That got a nod.  John got in to drive.  Xander got in next to him and Andrew took the other doorside position.  "Eighth by the Plastic-Mart."  John headed that way.  "Need to talk?"

"My posse are being girls again."

"Trade ya, mine have PMS and are fragged from finals," Xander said dryly.

"No thanks.  Buffy scares me."

"She nearly scared me earlier.  She wasn't wearing makeup."  Andrew let out a giggle.  "You can laugh, she did."  He smiled.  He pointed.  "There, right?"  Andrew nodded, hopping out once they stopped.  "Make Johno chat with a trucker pretending to be a lesbian again, Andrew.  It'll make you feel better."

"I can do that."  He went inside to set that up.

Xander shifted over.  "Thanks," he said quietly.

"Not a problem.  It's safer.  Friend?"

"Long time ago, before cliques formed," he sighed.  "Back then, Cordy was even nice."   John nodded, heading back to the Magic Box.  "We should hit the Bronze."

"It's closed tonight, Xander.  They found rats."

"They do that now and then.  Or bugs.  Then you stomp one and get some off your next drink when you bring it up."

"Eww."  He realized he was sounding as young as he looked and smacked himself mentally for it.  He was not twenty-five anymore.

"Very but helpful."  He got out once John had parked.  "It's good to have someone who doesn't go 'eeww, slime' the whole patrol."  John laughed so he walked inside.  He found the book with pictures, pointing at one.  "Custody dispute at the demon daycare.  Jealous older one kicked out a younger one and stole her new egg.  I got pushy and got the matriarch there.  She's taken the young one and the egg with her to make a good decision after she's talked to others.  They kicked out the young for wanting to learn stuff.  Apparently it's evil to them.  She didn't know why Buffy was in college but said it's worthless."

"Wonderful."  He made notes on that.  "We don't know much about them."

"They went underground and it looked like they went toward the river."  That got another note made.  "Small coming out party at Shady Rest.  Eleven vamps with that, one demon John shot.  Three others coming out.  Got the daycare, then went to Slumberville.  Willow and I talked since she said she'd rather kill my parents than see them many times."  Giles gave him that same odd look.  "She didn't visit my mom, Giles.  She hates my mother more than my father.  I pressed her and she gave me another lie."  That got a nod.  "I told Buffy so she can grill her or spank her for it."  He stood up.  "Got the one at Slumberville, took Andrew home since he was talking to his brother's grave.  Now I'm going to go finish soaking and let Anya jump me."

"I'll make sure it's reported, Xander."  He nodded, heading off with a wave for John.  "Is his injury creating problems?"

"No, not in the least," John told him.  "He managed it.  Even when he winced a few times he never complained."

"He never does."

"I can call some witches I know to come talk to the girl, Giles."

Giles smiled.  "That might help her a lot.  Be a positive female influence."

John nodded, going to get his phone from the truck to call them.  Bobby had updated his phonebook with who had died.  He found one he wanted.  "Eileen, John Winchester.  That's why I'm calling.  The witch that pulled me back needs a positive, tutoring influence.  Yup.  Full resurrection, deaged me to twenty-five so I'd fit in better.  Lying to her friends.  Exactly.  I'm proud of myself.  I haven't bought any lighter fluid.  Apparently she bound me from killing her."  She said something smart.  "Sunnydale.  Yes, Rosenburg.  I take it you've heard of her?"  She said something.  "Interesting.  I didn't know that was possible."  A soul restoration spell?  Into a vampire?  Probably not a good road sign on the road to staying a white witch.  Even if she did just put it back.

"That's good to know.  I'm hoping you or someone close by, relatively speaking, can come tutor the girl.  She's stolen books too.  Mr. Giles' books.  Yup, that guy.  That's where I am.  Just got my truck back today.  Hopefully I've got a few things so I can go to the motel instead of the basement of the Magic Box.  Bigger bed than that cot and tv so I can catch up on the news, plus room to do PT."  He smiled.  "Bobby did.  He's supposed to tell my boys so I don't have to wonder if that demon after Sammy's going to be able to get him here.  Yup, sure am.  Sorry, I realized earlier I'm sounding the same age I look.  Thanks, Eileen.  No, school's nearly out for the year apparently.  I don't know if she's doing summer school or not.  Thank you."  He hung up and leaned his head back with a sigh.  Then he got out to look in his hidden areas.  No one had stripped his emergency stash of cash.  That was good.  Motel and coffee, here he came.


Xander got woken by the phone a few hours later, grunting at it.  "What happened?" he asked when he heard the female voice.  "Going.  Let me get dressed."  He got up with a groan, hanging up on his way to the bathroom so he could use it and put on clean clothes.  He grabbed a Mountain Dew on the way out the door since it was four; he'd probably just head to work from there if it was a huge problem.  He jogged over to the motel, frowning at the massing going on.  "What the hell are you doing?" he demanded.  They stared and a few laughed.  Buffy showed up and they fled.  He looked at her.  "Left the face mask on."

"Shut up," she growled.  She went to knock on the door she had been told was a problem, looking at the sleepy guy that opened it.  "They said you were a menace and trying to kill real people."

"I was asleep until you knocked, Buffy.  Xander."  Xander handed over the rest of his Mountain Dew, letting him wipe off the opening to gulp so he had some caffeine in him.  "Thanks."

"Welcome.  Woke me too."  He looked at the office, then shrugged and went that way, kicking the office door shut behind him.

Buffy looked down at the yelling, frowning.  "His crew is going to be whiny tomorrow because he's mean."  She looked at him.  "Not the best of the motels."

"It's cheaper," he admitted.

"And has invite marks.  Why did you sprinkle sugar across the doorway?"

He looked down then at her.  "Salt, Buffy.  It's a salt ward to keep things out."

"Huh.  Work on vamps?"

"Apparently not since I came out of my shower and got two who were trying to order pay-per-view."

She snickered.  "They like doing that.  Then they use it to play to from what Spike said."  He shuddered with a moan of complaint.  "You should probably move to the other place."

"I will tomorrow."

Xander came out and closed the office door gently, handing John his money.  "He graciously said that it's not a problem and he'll keep the things away from your room, John.  For the whole week you signed up for."  He smirked.  "He's very sorry he let them come here.  We can do an anti-invite tomorrow."

"I didn't know you could."

"Your kind don't deal in vamps much, huh?" Buffy asked.

"No, not really.  More spirits and things."

"Ah.  Not many of those here and if there are, usually they like Xander."  She walked off, going to go back to bed.

"Buffy, moving day?" Xander called after her.

"Evil summer school," she called back.  "That way I still have a room."

"Okay, let me know."  He looked at him.  "Sorry about them.  Sometimes they're really rude."  He trudged off.  "Night."

"Night, kid."  He shook his head, closing and locking the door before going back to his own bed.  Xander apparently handled things in a threatening/beating up manner the same way he did problem people.  Good to know about the boy.  He thought about calling his boys but he didn't want to endanger Sam any more than he already was.  He missed his boys.


Xander came back from work that night, looking around the Magic Box.  "Giles?" he called.  No answer.  "Anya?" he called.  Still no answer.  He checked the back then the basement, coming up when the bell dinged.  "Willow, any idea where people are?  I think we have a problem on the new school site."

"Spike said the hellmouth might be tempted to open."

"I found some marks there that clearly weren't done by my crew," he told her.

"I can look."

"They're not magical."  She glared.  "My boss's son does chaos magic.  He had him look then asked me.  He thought maybe his son had acted out to tag it or something."

"Oh.  We can still look," she offered.  He shrugged and pointed.  "No one here?"


"Crap."  She called Anya's cellphone.  Since they had given her one she didn't ever go anywhere without it.  "No answer."

Xander groaned, calling Riley's phone.  "It's Xander and Willow.  Come mind the Magic Box while we go look at some mystical marks that appeared on my job site.  We don't know where they are, Riley.  That's why you're doing register duty for a few minutes."  He hung up and turned the sign, walking off with her once the door was locked.  He could come in the back way.  They all had keys to the place.  They ran into John on the walk in.  "Good, you're probably the better secondary source to look at the marks my boss found this morning."

Willow pouted.  "I can look them up."

"He might not have to.  I looked him up.  He was hunting for over two decades."  She nodded at that.  He nodded and John followed them, letting Xander point at the marks on the floor.  "The boss's son does chaos stuff and said it's not magical in any version he knows.  It almost looks like something I saw online at a fansite but I'm not sure.  If so, we need Andrew's crew.  I don't read that one."

John squatted down to look at it, brushing off some dust.  "Looks like trolls.  That's how they mark their territory."  He looked up.  "They're nasty little shits and hard to kill."

"Could they be why we've heard someone's going to try to open the hellmouth?" Xander asked.

"No, they can't use magic.  They like to live next to it but they can't use it."  He stood up.  "The tallest I've seen was about mid-thigh on me.  Nasty little shits.  Which means I need the shotguns and iron pellets."

"We don't need guns," Willow complained.

Xander looked at her then at John.  "Iron?"  He nodded.  "Cold, forged, partial?  Anything particular?"

"Just iron.  They're one of the little people so they have the same sort of allergy to iron.  My iron buckshot is usually recycled stuff."

"That means they can be killed without you beating them physically, right?" Xander asked, glancing at Willow when John hesitated.

"Yeah, it usually does.  Getting them from a hundred yards means less bruises."

She huffed.  "Whatever.  It's not the slayer way.  Let me tell Buffy."   She stomped off.

Xander shook his head.  "Some days I wonder why she became friends with me."

"Because she needed a protector in those days and someone she could fuss over.  It let her nurture something since I doubt her parents let her play with dolls or anything like that."

"Nope.  Not the Rosenburgs.  That might prejudice her to girly things."  That got a smirk.  "How many should we be looking at?"

"They're usually single."

"Decent.  Let's get your gun and see if I have one that I can bum bullets off for."

"By the way, I talked to the hunter I know that makes wooden bullets to get you the specs."

Xander paused then smiled and bopped him on the arm.  "Thanks, John.  That'll be really helpful."  That got a nod.  They walked back to John's truck then to Xander's storage area, finding his gun stash.  "I don't have many.  The girls are very anti-gun so if they find them they'll try to break them or sell them on me."

"I'd beat them, kid."

Xander looked at him.  "They're the only friends I have, John."

John nodded.  "I can understand that but they treat you like a puppy."

"Some of that's my fault for letting it start."

"Maybe," he agreed.  "But did you have a choice?"

"No."  He found one.  "Got anything in a forty-five or nine mil?"

"I've got forty-five bullets."  Xander brought it with him, grabbing a few other things.  "Iron tipped?" he asked, taking the crossbow bolt to look at.

"Yup.   Buffy's preferred weapon of choice."  He handed her the crossbow when they ran into her.  "Trolls are killed by iron."

"Are they going to get me messy?  Riley and I are going to the movies later."

"It shouldn't," John told her.  "That's why I use iron buckshot for these things."  She grimaced, shaking her head.  "Keeps me from having to beat it to death."  He looked around.  "Riley not coming?"

"He's watching the store?" she asked Xander.

"No Anya or Giles when I got there to ask about the marks.  Willow wanted to look at them.  We ran into John on the hike there."

"I guess that's fine."  She walked with them.  "How big are they?"

"Mid-thigh on me," John told her.

"So tiny and fast?"

"Like the shadows.  Can't use magic," John told her.  "They like to snuggle next to it though.  I'm surprised this is your first one."

"Wilkins probably ran the others off," Xander told him.  That got a nod of agreement.  They walked back into the construction site, finding the marks and the troll fairly soon afterward.  Buffy aimed and fired but the thing moved.  John and Xander shot it, making it scream and die.  "Huh, that works very well," he said with a grin.  "Not so sweaty either."

She shrugged.  "I guess.  I still don't like guns.  It's not the slayer way."  She handed back the crossbow.  "The tightening lever's still stuck."

"That one's set for me," he told her.  "It's from my stash."

"Never mind then."  She looked around.  "We only heard about one vamp so I'll get it and then we'll be at the movies, guys."  She jogged off, going to find Riley.

"Any idea what happened to Giles and Anya?" John asked him.

"Within an hour probably.  I can get Clem to ask."  They walked back to the shop together, finding Tara in there cleaning up.  He grinned.  "Doing store duty or are they back?"

She shook her head.  "Not back," she said quietly.

"Let me call Clem."  He went into the office to do that, coming out a few minutes later.  "Anya took him to talk to a higher demon that wanted to come visit.  Apparently that one was going to bother or upset her and I was still at work.  Why he left the shop open with the sign unturned I don't know."  She nodded.  "Got it tonight or want us to stay and watch?  Buffy said there's only one coming up then she's got a date with Riley."

She looked at him.  "Are you going to forgive him?  He is paying."

Xander shook his head.  "No.  He still thinks it was a good idea for the most part.  He wasn't sorry he was trying to get you guys to shun me for not being in college, which makes those two spoiled bitches who still haven't gotten over it, and he's an annoying ass.  Beyond that, I'm still mad on Spike's behalf because what they did to him was *wrong*, Tara.  There's no forgiveness for him for that stuff.  I don't forgive those who gay bash and kill someone.  I don't forgive Klan members who kill for their ideals.  I don't forgive Nazis.  I won't be forgiving him for that even if sex with Buffy did make him see it was wrong."  He stood up to move closer.  "Beyond that, he hasn't apologized or tried to make amends.  He isn't paying beyond not being military anymore.  They're still paying him a pension for screwing up so badly.  If he was in prison and had done his duty to turn them in, maybe.  He didn't call anyone to stop them and he could have."

"The government is charging the scientists who're left," John told them.  "One's looking for him to turn evidence.  He's avoided them so far."

"Which means he didn't dislike it too damn much," Xander said, looking at her again.  "I don't care if he is good to Buffy.  He still tortured Oz.  Oz is a friend.  We've seen plenty that have killed others because they're now insane due to them.  If he was truly sorry for what he did, he'd be begging to testify and take the consequences of what happened.  He's not."

"We've all done bad stuff," she reminded him.

"And most of us pay for it.  When I broke onto the base and someone came to me later about that, I told them why in graphic detail.  Down to why and how it helped.  I got them the time code so they could get the film from the mall."  She shuddered but nodded.  "I was willing to do hard time for that one because it was necessary.  Riley didn't even apologize when he hit you with the door the other day."  He looked her face over.  "Nice job with the healing spell," he said quietly.  She blushed but grinned a bit.  "So, no.  I can forgive a lot.  Not that.  Not when it hurt so many innocents and he's not paying."

"I guess."  She patted him on the arm.  "I have it if you want to patrol."

"I don't think anyone wants to patrol," he said with a grin. "But we can go threaten Willie later."  She nodded, going back to her cleaning.  He counted the register and put it away.

"We'll make sure you get back to campus safely," John told her.  "Close up the shop early."  She nodded, smiling at him before going back to it.  He caught Xander's eye, giving him an inquisitive look.  Xander frowned.  "You okay? It sounded like it brought up bad memories," he said quietly.

"Not the first time the girls decided I was trash for being male and normal," he said bitterly.  He got back to the inventory that was only half done.

"You did kiss her," Tara reminded him.

"I didn't force her but I took all the blame," he shot back.

"Oh.  But she said...."  John looked at her.  "I wasn't here then."

Xander looked at her.  "Yes, it was mutual, Tara.  We were both at fault.  She got forgiven and I got pushed to donut boy until they needed me.  Sounding familiar?"  She nodded.  "So no, I haven't forgiven them yet either since they're still doing it."

She pouted.  "I'll talk to her."

"Will it matter?"

She nodded.  "She doesn't think that way about you."

He snorted.  "Yes she does."  He got back to it.  Then he gave up.  "I'm going hunting."  He walked out.  John came with him.  "No offense, John, but I'm blowing off stress."

"I can watch your back and not get in the way."

Xander turned to look at him.  "I'll be fine.  I've been doing this for years."

"Working the stress and anger out hunting or just the hunting?" he asked.

Xander smirked.  "Your boys must be well therapied.  I'm fine."  He jogged off to deal with his issues on his own.

John shook his head.  "He reminds me so much of Dean," he told himself.  "He even stomps off to do the same stupid shit when he's pissed."  He followed him more subtly, finding him already fighting with something.  The anger was doing good things for his abilities.  He wasn't thinking so much about what he was doing.  Moving by rote showed some skills he didn't usually show.  He'd have to see where they came from since they didn't look trained in, or else he'd usually use them.  Xander kept going, making John wince when he headed for a nest.  Fortunately they ran into someone running away from her former boyfriend who now wanted to eat her.  Xander put her behind him and attacked the vamp, getting him down and begging before staking him.

The girl sobbed for a few seconds and he sent her off to more safety at the mall so she could get a ride home.  John nearly followed her but he saw an officer stop her up the street so he'd take her home.  He kept following the boy.  This was a deeper trauma.  One that was wrecking his mind.  The boy was still growling.  He paused to watch him.  He sniffed the ones he was hunting.  He was possessed?  Huh.  Interesting to know.  Something else the boy needed help with.  Maybe Bobby had some ideas since clearly the exorcism left a taint.  Xander kept going.  He saw Riley at one point but waved him off.  Riley went jogging in another direction.  John found Xander nearly surrounded.

Buffy shrieked and jumped in.  "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded, smacking at Xander.  "You're not a slayer."

He stared at her.  "I was doing just fine, thank you, Buffy."  She gaped and backed off.

John came out of the shadows.  "I'm watching over him, Buffy.  If he couldn't handle it, I'd step in."

She glared at him.  "This is not what Xanders do."

"He hunts the same way you do," he told her.  "The same as I and my boys do.  He was doing just fine since he's been out now for three hours."  She glared.  "You said you needed a night off."  He walked Xander off, taking him to dust the rest of the vamps Buffy appearing had driven off.  "Better?"

"Yeah, some."

"You could talk about it.  I doubt I'd understand but I can listen.  It took me forever to learn how with my boys but I can give you some of the mentoring I gave them, Xander.  If you want."

Xander glanced down then at him.  "Maybe.  Not tonight."

"Sure, I get that."  He clapped him on the back.  "What were you possessed by?  You were sniffing the ones before you staked them."

"Way long time ago I got possessed by a hyena."

"That's a powerful hunter."  Xander relaxed.  "The exorcism left a taint?  Most people don't keep any from those sort of thing unless they want to."

"We don't know.  When the chaos guy got Halloween one year and turned us into our costumes I got some of the memories from that too.  That's how I do gun things."

John considered it.  "That sounds like you're a medium.  There's a few of those who hunters count on."  Xander gave him an interested look.  "Mostly they try to just be open instead of being a good spot to squat for a long time.  I'll ask Bobby if he knows how to block them out a bit and see if he can help you figure out why you kept some stuff."  The boy smiled and nodded.  He smiled back.  "I may've screwed up with my younger son since he didn't understand why I hunt but I did good with him and Dean.  I can Dad you all you need, Xander."

"I don't think I need one of those but a mentor might be nice."

"I can do that."  He smiled back at Buffy.  "Bad movie tonight?"

"Three hours?"

Xander stopped to look at her.  "I was a bit pissed."  She huffed. "I got about fifteen."

John coughed.  "Seventeen.  It showed that you have some skills but you're thinking too much and not relying on instinct during patrols too, Xander."  Xander looked at him.  "When you were pissed, you reacted more smoothly, you had moves you don't usually."

"Probably from the soldier," he agreed quietly.

"Probably," John agreed, smiling at him.  "So we'll have to train those into you."  Xander nodded at that.  He looked at Buffy.  "There's nothing wrong with wanting a night off, especially when you've just had some very bad weeks.  We've all had nights off.  He was covering for you."

"Xander can't hunt that way.  He doesn't have the skills."

"I think he proved he does, Buffy," John countered.  "Otherwise he would've been dead in his first year."  She went pale.  "Skills are something you can learn on this sort of job.   The same as he did on his construction crew.  The same as someone taught you all those fancier moves at one point.   There's further skills we can *all* learn but he's not bad for mostly teaching himself.  I learned from other hunters.  I can show you guys what I learned to help you learn more skills."

She pouted.  "I'm very good."

"Buffy, he fights more like Spike does," Xander pointed out.  "You have a lot of troubles beating Spike."  She nodded at that.  "This gives you more skills and sands down some of my bad spots.  I'll have to take mine on the weekends when we're both free," he told John.  That got a nod and a smirk.  "Let's go.  I need a beer."

"Sure."  He nodded at Riley.  "Have a good date, kids.  The town's pretty quiet tonight."  He followed Xander off.  "Not the Bronze?" he asked when they didn't turn that way.

"No offense, but I usually only hunt there.  If I want a beer, I go to the gay bar.  I like the karaoke better."  He grinned.  "It's always more fun and they don't mind straight people being there.  It also means I'm not tempted to pick up anyone, which would make Anya get her powers back."

"Good idea," he agreed.  "A reasonable solution.  The last time I saw drag queens they were more fun anyway."

Xander nodded.  "A lot.  And they don't fuss at my clothes like my girls do."

John smirked.  "They do fuss."

"You have *no* idea," he said dryly.  They kept walking.  "Thanks for sticking up for me back there."

"Not a problem.  It's clear you're not as bad as they think.  Yes, you can use some training but you're not bad.  I've seen hunters in the field live for years with your level of skills."  Xander nodded at that.  They staked the vampire running up to them.  "Any idea what's causing this surge?"

"Not a clue unless it's whoever's trying to open the hellmouth."

"We should find them soon."

"We will."  He grinned.  "Because they always show up to do dumb things."  John snickered, nodding a bit.  "Are there other hellmouths?"

"Probably.  I know there's a few devils gates.  Those are more standing portals and go to hell."

"Hellmouths go to a number of hell dimensions."

"So devils gates are probably single realm portals," he agreed.  "As for real ones, not a clue.  I only ran into mentions of this one here and there in some obscure books."

"Huh.  Probably the mayor or the watchers."  He shrugged.  He pointed.  "Gay bar."

"Looks more peaceful than the biker bar on the other side of town I was fleecing people at pool in the other night."  Xander snickered, shaking his head.  "It's easy money if you're good."

"I'm sure it is."  He walked in and a few of the people in there smiled and waved.  He grinned and waved back.  "First round's on me."

"Sure.  Bud?"  The bartender got them their drinks and he took them to the table.  "What about Tara?"

Xander called her.  "We're at Riches.  Sure, come watch the drag show with us, Tara."  He hung up.  "She'll have Spike walk her over."  He took a drink.  "He respects her."

"I like Tara.  She's a good girl with good sense.  Even if she won't spank Willow."  He took a drink of his own.  "Nicely cold."  He took another one.  Tara got pushed in the door and they waved her over.  She scurried over to hide next to Xander, who put an arm behind her to protect her.  "It's all right, Tara.  I'm sure they'll respect your relationship with Willow.  If you get hit on, we'll make sure they know you're taken."  She blushed but nodded.  "She not home?"  She shook her head.  "Giles and Anya show up?"  She nodded.  "They all right?"

"Or is Anya going to sulk all night?" Xander asked her.

"Sulk," she nearly whispered.

"Hmm."  He took another drink.  She gave him a look.  "I ran into Buffy and her chorus of 'you're too normal to do that'," he mimicked.  She shuddered.  "Yup.  So it's my only one but I'm fine."  He gave her a squeeze.  "Look, it's Jerry."  She smiled and waved at her dormmate.  The queen blew a kiss back and went back to his act.  "One of the local talents.  He was a year in front of my class in school," he told John.  "Did the talent shows and stuff."

"He's not bad," he agreed.  "Got a good voice on him too."  He finished his beer and got a second, earning a frown from her.  "It's not going to make me drunk or stupid, Tara.  I promise."  She nodded but he did slow down.  The boy only sipped at his second one, making it last until they left a few hours later.  John walked her back to her dorm since Anya called on the walk out to get Xander to come home and take care of her.  He walked her to her room door, letting her open it.  "There you go, all safe."

Willow looked up.  "Where were you?  I was worried sick!"

"She was with Xander and I at the gay bar," John told her.  "They were having a fairly decent drag show."

"We're close enough to LA that we get the ones who want to be real actors," Willow told him, dragging her girlfriend inside.  "Are you all right?  Did they hit on you again?"

"No, they were very polite.  The one who wanted her to dance we explained that she had a girlfriend and was there to blow off post-semester stress."  Willow smiled.  "Sleep well, girls."  He left, going back to his new motel room.  Where he found Xander sitting outside it.  "Problems with Anya?"

Xander looked up at him.  "Can I have a corner of your floor?"

"Sure.  What did she nag about now?"

"The bills she doesn't pay.  Then that I spent money to have a beer.  Thought I had hit on someone until I told her I was at the gay bar.  Then she pouted and wanted stuff I'm not going to put up with tonight."  He walked in and took the spare motel pillow and comforter to make himself a bed near the bathroom.  "Thanks, John."

"Not a problem, Xander."  He personally thought Anya was a shrew and the boy could do better.  Even with his taste for evil girls as the ladies had told him.  Maybe a nice assassin who wouldn't try to kill the boy's spirit too?  He laid down once he got down to his boxers, socks, and undershirt, getting comfortable.  The boy was quiet at least.  He could forget he was in there.  His boys had always snored.  A lot in Sammy's case.


Buffy stomped onto the construction site the next morning.  "It's barely eight.  Why the call, Xander?"  He pointed at the spot in the building.  She went to look.  "Why is there a tentacle sticking out of the concrete?" she demanded.

He looked at her then sighed and got her a cup of coffee off the truck, coming back with it.  "With sugar and milk.  Real milk, not soy."  She pouted but drank it.  He pointed at the tentacle.  "Does that area look familiar maybe, Buffy?  Like maybe it's the old library?"

She spun and looked.  "Shoot!"

"Yup.  It's slightly open.  I can't get Willow at either dorm room or on her cell."  She went in there, stomping on the tentacle until it withdrew.  Then she went to call Giles and get him up.  Willow might be at the shop doing some research or something.  "Let's not kill the work we've done," he told Giles when he showed up.

"If at all possible.  Are we sure it's open?"

"Buffy stomped the tentacle until it went back in."

"Oh, dear Lord," he muttered, walking that way.  Xander shook his head, going to his car to get her a sword.  Willow came trotting in.  "Normal area," he said with a point.

"We can handle it."

He bopped her on the forehead with the palm of his hand.  "Shut up.  This is my site, Willow."  He walked back in there, handing her the sword.  "Let's try not to warp the flooring, Willow.  Please?"

"If possible," she complained.  "Giles, tell him we don't need help?"

"Do shut up, Willow," he told her.  "He probably has to be here for company reasons," he said at her horrified look.  "It's not like it's dangerous."

"And it's not like I haven't hunted for years," Xander said firmly.  They all shrank back.  "Just as much as you do and I do a lot more hunting than you or Willow do, Giles.  So stop it."

"You're not trained."

He snorted.  "Really?  And yet, I do hunt and I do have some of the skills from learning as I went.  You'd think I learned some after four years."  Giles flinched at that again.  "Jump off it.  You may've went to college to be a stuffed shirt and have all that watchery stuff, it doesn't mean you can fix the weapons."  Giles blushed but looked away.  "Now, are we going to stomp this thing or not?  Because my crew can't slack that long.  It costs people money."

"Grump," Buffy accused.  "Anya not good last night?"

"She complained that I didn't hit on anyone at the gay bar.  I slept on John's floor to get away from the evils of estrogen poisoning."  He stared at her.  She backed away.  "Now, let's do this, please?  Before my crew has to take today off."

"Fine," Willow said.  "Though I agree, you slept funny apparently.  You're a big grump today."  He was scowling so she pulled out her journal to find the spell she needed and chanted it over the hole.  The tentacle came back but that was normal.  Buffy stabbed it until it went back in.  She redid the spell and it sucked closed.  Only a small pucker on the floor.  "See, not too bad," she said happily.

"Have we figured out a padlock or something?" he asked her.

"Not that I've seen.  Sorry."

"Fine.  Thank you for averting it.  Have a better day.  Giles, Tara was cleaning up for you last night."

"I'll thank her later."  He let the girls go on.  "You're not fully trained, Xander."

He stared at him.  "Gee, I wonder why, Watcher."  Giles flinched at that.  "I'm well enough trained that I can handle it if necessary.  I'm no more normal than you are.  So quit treating me like I'm retarded and helpless.  Get them off their kick too since they haven't ended it from the Initiative crap."  Giles shuddered.  "Yes, I'm tired of the girls again.  I'm more than good enough to hunt.  As I've proven by saving all your asses multiple times.  We're a team and we can't be a team while the selfish bitches are on their kick.  I'm going to consider this topic to be anathema.  You?"

"I can see that point of view.  Is John going to help train your skills more thoroughly?"

"John said he's seen hunters in the field who've lasted with what I can do for years.  But yes, I'm letting him help me with some advanced skills."

"That's fine then.  I'll remind her of that fact."

"She saw me after three hours of hunting alone last night and seventeen vamps, Giles, and yelled because I was doing what I should be."

"You were?"

"They were on the same kick last night."

"Oh.  I see.  I'll talk to her, Xander."

"Make it stick this time?"

"I'll talk to Joyce as well."

"I wasn't going to ask her to beat her daughter but if you want to..."  He waved a hand.  "Thank you for taking care of the tentacle."

"Not a problem.  Tell us immediately if it comes back."  He left, going to think on his way to Joyce's house.  He knocked before walking in.  "Joyce?"  She came out of the kitchen.  "May we speak?"

"Of course.  Buffy's not back yet."

"She's probably off with Willow licking her paw.  The girls...  Well the girls decided to give Xander their views on normal people again."

"In other words she's an ungrateful spoiled brat?" she asked dryly.

"That's more gentle than he called her.  Apparently he was in such a temper last night he went hunting alone and she complained after three hours of him doing so.  He rightly pointed out that all I have is training as well."

"What about the fact that you could have trained him and didn't?"

"Well, yes, that as well," he admitted.

"Rupert, I have a wonderfully soft snakeskin belt upstairs that goes with many outfits.  Don't make me pull it out for other uses on you or my daughter.  It won't be pretty and I'll have to get a new one when I ruin it."  He blushed but nodded.  "You can tell my daughter the same thing.  She's spoiled.  Remind her how the other girls got to do their duty."

"I can do so.  Thank you for that bit of common sense."

"Then stop Xander from going alone.  It's dangerous even when you're a slayer.  For him it's extra dangerous.  He might find another girl who wants to date him."

"Apparently part of his mood was the fact that Anya complained that he didn't hit on anyone at the gay bar last night."

She rolled her eyes.  "He goes there so he's not tempted to cheat on her."

"She could use a decent discussion of what proper girls did for their boyfriends I think."

"I'll talk to her about it later.  We don't need Xander to be pissed for too long.  He'll let Buffy die this time."  He smiled and nodded, leaving her to figure out how to talk to the girls.  She finished her breakfast and went to change for work, coming down in her suit.  On the way to the gallery she found her daughter and Anya, pulling them in to talk to them while they helped her for a few hours.  Really, she didn't know what was wrong with her daughter.  Anya's problem was clearly her past job but Buffy hadn't been a demon.


Xander walked in that night.  "It came back."  Giles moaned.  "We got it back into the hole and put a sign over it.  Tomorrow's Saturday so we're clear to work on it all night and day if necessary."  John gave him an odd look.  "The hellmouth let out a tentacle sometime last night.  We came onto the site to find it waving good morning at us."  John shuddered.  "This time it also has a little friend with it to help it wave at the crew.  Some of them are calling it the interior crew's mascot because it likes to pet us so much."

"I have no idea where Willow is," Giles admitted.

"I tried to call her.  It went to voicemail and Tara said she hadn't seen her all day.  Buffy too."

"She told me she was going to talk to your mother," John told him.

Xander snorted.  "The only talking she'd do to my mother would be with a shovel.  She's said so repeatedly."  He looked around then at Giles.  "What have we seen on patrol in that area?"

"I have no idea.  Buffy hasn't really noted anything of importance."

"Then we'll go look while you figure out how we're getting rid of them this time," he said.  Giles nodded that was fine with him.  "John?"

"Will it open more?"

"If not stopped soon," Giles agreed.

"So we'll go find Willow and tell her the cheery news," Xander said dryly.  "Spike?" he yelled.  He came up the stairs from the basement.  "Any idea what's near my parent's house that Willow might be visiting?"

"Magic dealer, a few other demons who use magic.  A nest.  Farmboy's over with the nest by Slumberville."

John gave him an odd look.  "Is he taking it out?"

"No," Xander said.  "He's not.  He'd have to have backup for that."  He looked at him.  "You go tell Buffy that."

"'M not that brave," he said dryly, lighting a cigarette.  "I've got a lot of chaos yet to spread, mate.  Staking hurts and robs the world of my brilliance."

Xander sighed and called her.  "Buffy, Xander, John, and Spike.  Spike said for some reason Riley's at the nest by Slumberville.  We're not sure since he didn't say anything about hunting, a patrol that way, or anything.  Actually, we need you guys near the school since there's now the tentacle buddy and his little friend."  She said something.  "No clue.  John, Spike, and I are going to hunt her down.  You get Riley and go watch the tentacles?  Try to make it go back?  It's Friday so the site's closed until Monday if we need it to be.  Thanks.  Meet you there.  See if Tara thinks she can close it?"  He hung up.  "C'mon, Spike.  Since you woosed out telling Buffy her boyfriend's cheating on her with vamps, you can help us by sniffing out Willow."

"Fine," he muttered, grabbing his duster to go with them.  "Just two tentacles?"

"Yeah.  Happened sometime last night," Xander told him.  "She tried to close it twice this morning.  It lasted a few hours.  I think the kraken was having a small snack on the stray dog that snuck onto the site during lunch personally.  It showed up around four with a second one."  John moaned, shaking his head.  "We got to shut down early today.  The guys liked it even if two are finding their family priest tonight," he said dryly.  "Not that I blame them."  He waved at someone who waved at them.  "Smile and wave, John.  She's hitting on you."  He grimaced but waved.  "Feel lucky. You're too old for her by about a decade.  She likes them barely legal."  He looked at Spike.  "Near my parents, which area is most likely?"

"Magic dealer," Spike admitted quietly.  Xander stopped to look at him.  "He has some skills and can channel things."

"Is she learning from him?" John asked.  "Or going to him as a dealer?"

Spike shrugged.  "Don't know and can't be certain she's there."

"How would we know?" Xander asked.

"Have to follow her and catch her really.  Like any junkie, whelp."

"Wonderful.  Okay, let's work on that later.  One emergency at a time."  They sped up their walk a bit.  Willow was found on the way back, about halfway.  Xander stopped her to look at her.  "There's now a tentacle and a little friend."

"I got your voicemail."

"How's my mom?"  She glared.  "That's where Tara said you were, Willow."

"She's fine."  She walked past them.  "I'll meet you there, let me get the spell again."

Xander watched her walk, looking at Spike, who shuddered.  "Yes, no?" he asked quietly.  "Can't tell by scent?"

"She stinks like ozone and black magic," Spike said, looking at him.

John shook his head.  "That's bad."

Xander looked at him.  "Let's try rehab first.  Please?"

"I know she's part of the team and a friend, Xander.  The sooner you can help her the better."

"I get that.  Like any addiction."  He sighed.  "Is there an MA chapter near here?"

"A good, strong coven.  I'll call the witch I asked to talk to her."  That got a nod.  "I'll meet you there, kid."  Xander nodded, taking Spike with him while he called.  "Eileen, John Winchester.  No, bigger problems.  Magic dealer problems with that one."  He listened to her instructions.  "She's closing the stupid thing tonight."  He nodded.  "I can get her girlfriend to help.  Who do we talk to?"  He nodded.  "Thank you."  He hung up and jogged to catch up with the kids.  "She'll talk to a few more powerful ones, Xander."

"Thanks.  Any hope?"

"Drain it from her and make her start over at the basics.  See where she went wrong.  Have Tara help because like any junkie she'll be unreasonable."

Xander nodded once.  "I can do that."  He spotted Tara and walked over to walk her off and talk with her.  "Slight issue."  Tara stopped moving so he looked at her.  "We're pretty sure Willow was just partaking of black magic, Tara.  Spike said he smelled that and ozone on her."  She shuddered.  "We don't want to worry, but with the lying?"

She straightened her back.  "I'll talk to her, Xander."

"Please do.  John's witch friend said to have her drain it and start over with the basics.  Have her find her wrong turn."

She nodded.  "I've seen others.  My mother helped one who was exposed."  She looked around then at him.  "What happened?"

"The hellmouth is cracking open.  It's not safe out here.  Hit the shop."

She nodded.  "I can do that."  She walked that way, taking Spike with her by force when John shoved him and made a quiet threat to escort her back there to safety.  "Black magic?"

"Smelled like it with blood magic," he agreed.


"Don't know.  Only she would."

Tara made him stop walking, looking at him.  "Why, Spike?"

He shrugged.  "Dealer bloke that way might know."

She nodded.  "That's even worse.  Thank you for letting me know.  I'll talk to her."  He smiled and nodded.  "Let me get back to the shop, see if we need more magic.  Have them call."  He nodded.  She went inside and he went back to help.  The two tentacles were now three and Buffy was busy dancing with them, using the sword on them.  John got her purse out and used her hairspray to light it on fire using it with the lighter in his pocket.  That made it withdraw with an agonized shriek.

"Fire pretty," Xander quipped.

"And useful," Buffy panted.  "How much longer, Willow?  I don't have that much hairspray."

"We have a propane torch if we need it," Xander offered.  John's face lit up so he went to get it and start it, handing it over once it was lit.  The tentacles didn't like that at all.  "Just don't do the floor please."

"I need the area cleared or I can suck you in too," Willow said.  They backed up once the tentacles were gone.  She chanted the spell.  Another tentacle came back.

Xander took the sword from Buffy to help John.  "Willow, maybe we're thinking wrong?  Cast it with happy, cuddly movie night thoughts instead of bad, dirty thoughts of tentacles Warren would like?"

"Eww!" she shouted.

"I agree," Buffy complained.  "That's disgusting, Xander."

"Clearly wanted them here since more keep coming each time she does it," he said back, stabbing one.   It swatted him, grabbing him with a suction cup.  He pried it off and stabbed it, making it go toward John to be burned.  He finally had enough after another try.  "Screw it, we'll redo the room.  Buffy, get my bag from the car," he ordered, tossing her his keys.  "It's in the lot."  She jogged off to get into his trunk.  She came back with the bag.  He looked.  "The other bag, Buffy."

"We don't need that stuff, Xander."

He took his keys and gear bag back, going to get the other one.  He walked in and looked over at the tentacles.  He pulled the pin and held it for a second before dropping it at the mouth.  He turned his head at the explosion, getting covered in ick and goo.  "Now try it, Willow.  They're kinda busy right now stopping the bloody spots."  Spike cackled.  Willow chanted the spell, John pulling Xander back away from the hole.

"I've seen people fish with dynamite, but never like that," John told him, checking him over.  "You okay?"

"I could use a shower," he admitted.  "I'm fine."  The hole finally sucked closed.  He smiled.  "Good, now who gets to watch it to make sure it doesn't open again?"

"We will," Buffy said.  "It's a pretty room, Xander.  Even with the ick now on the ceiling."

He looked up then at her.  "Pressure hose," he said slowly and clearly, making her laugh.   "Happy picnic.  I'm for a shower and then we'll do the Bronze."  She nodded.  He walked off, John following.  "Yell if you need us, Buffy.  Willow, Tara's somewhere."

"Store," Spike told her.  She beamed and went to find her girlfriend.  "Didn't take her as one who'd want tentacles and that stuff since she likes bints."

"Spike, that's disgusting!" Buffy complained.  "Xander, your dirty mind is contagious.  Go let Anya wear it out before you hit the Bronze and draw succuba."

He looked back at her.  "We know there's people who like that, like those who like vamps, Buffy.  Regular vamps."  She glared.  "Not ones with souls.  Riley, want my first aid kit?"

She spun to look at him.  "When did you get bitten?  Xander said you were by a nest but you got bitten and didn't say anything!" she demanded, moving to look at it closer.

"I'm fine, Buffy.  It's shallow."  He glared at the boy.  Xander just walked off with John, talking about something quietly.  "I think Winchester is a subversive influence."

"He's not underwater."

"Not submersive, subversive, Buffy.  He's tearing the group apart."

She looked at him.  "You'd know about that."  He flinched.  She pulled back.  "I think he's helping Xander see how dangerous being a normal guy hunting is.  After all, he died and went to hell for doing it.  He might stop Xander so he has a long life somewhere safer."

"He's down on Willow."

"She did resurrect him.  That's supposed to be a  big no-no.  Especially for witches.  Giles said that witches who do bad things like that are more likely to go bad."  Which made an uncomfortable connection.  Willow had been lying to them and disappearing.  Xander was clearly worried about her with the way he was pushing her buttons.  So maybe he thought she was going bad too?  "John's got a lot of hunting experience.  I think he's seeing things that we don't because we're close and buddies."

"Maybe," he said carefully.  "How did you know I was at a nest?"

"Xander called me and said you were there.  Spike told him."  She looked at him.  "How many are in the nest and how easy will it be to take it out?"

He shrugged.  "There's a good twenty or so.  They've got some humans who like them."

"Shoot.  I hate when that happens.  Angel said they get all helpy because they want turned.  Like goths for real vamps only going miniony."

"I wasn't sure which ones were human," he admitted.  "I'll do a better count when I finish scouting tomorrow."  She smiled and nodded.  "Do we think there's a problem with Willow?"

She sighed, sitting down on the floor.  "Yeah, I might.  She's been lying about going to see Xander's parents.  She doesn't like them."  She pouted.  "I'll have mom talk to her.  She'll find out what's going on."  Her mom was good at that.  Look how she had gotten Buffy and Anya straightened out that morning.  Riley sat beside her.  "Now all we need is picnic stuff," she teased.

"We can have someone bring us stuff."  He took a kiss.  She smiled and decided making out here was good for now.  A bit dangerous but the place was closed, right?  The site didn't have any security people either so it was safe enough.


A black Impala pulled up in front of a bar, letting two boys out.  They walked up to the door, the shorter one paying the cover.  "C'mon," he said.  He walked inside, glancing around the fairly packed place.  He found the one he had been called about, getting them beers to walk over there with.  "I heard there was a Winchester relative in a gay bar near LA," he said in greeting.

Sam stopped.  "Dean, that's Dad."

"That's not Dad, Sammy.  We buried Dad a few months ago."

Xander looked at them.   John was staring at his boys.  "Our witch decided we needed more help and decided to do evil shit in the dorm bathroom one night while I was out of town.  Sit, boys.  Please.  Don't make the nice drag queens beat you to death for me."   They sat down, staring at their father.  Xander went to get John another beer since his was empty.  "Relatives," he told the bartender.  "A bit shocked but they won't cause problems or I'll beat them myself."  The guy smiled and relaxed.  Xander walked back, handing John his beer.  "Here, you could use it."  He sat down again.  "Consider me a bouncer if things get to be too loud."

"Who're you?" Dean demanded.  "Besides being the local gay tough guy?"

"Not gay.  My name's Xander and I'm one of the local hunters.  Your dad's been helping my group since our witch was arrogant."

"It's cool, Xander.  Boys.  I didn't want you here in case the demon came for Sammy."

Dean snorted.  "Yeah, right.  Prove it."

John sipped his beer.  "You have a birthmark just behind your sack.  It's shaped like a little shield."  Dean went pale at that.  "Your mother used to say that proved you'd be protective over any siblings you had, Dean."

Sam stared.  "You really are Dad.  Why are you our age?"

"Same witch," Xander said.  Both sons glared at him.  "I wasn't here.  I was out-of-town for work, guys.  I did promise that you wouldn't try to beat him tonight or else I'd have to bounce you."

"We won't fight," Sam promised.  "I promise we won't."  He nudged Dean to get him out of his shocked state.

"That's fine.  If you need me to drive you back later on, John, let me know."  He got up and went back to the bar.  It was going to be a long weekend.

"I didn't want you two in trouble.  That's why I had Bobby tell you."

"All he told us was we had a new relative who'd called.  Earlier he updated us that you called from this gay bar.  He said *nothing* about you being our age.  Which I really should beat him for if he knew," Dean complained, taking a drink of his beer.  He would not throw a fit in public.  He wouldn't.

John nodded.  "Xander comes here because it's nicer than the biker bar and no one here will hit on him so his girlfriend won't get her powers back."

"Huh?" Sam asked.

"He's dating a former vengeance demon, boys."

They both gave the guy an odd look then their father.  "Is he sane?" Dean demanded quietly.

"Mostly."  He smiled and took a drink.  "I am worried that the demon will come here."

"We've got the colt," Dean told him.

John smiled.  "Good."

"So, how....?"  He waved a hand.

"First thing I knew, Willow had pulled me back partially and had to finish the spell to fully bring me back.  Then she deaged me so I'd fit in with the local team.  There's Xander, Buffy, Willow.  Buffy's boyfriend Riley.  Willow's girlfriend Tara, who we will not upset.  She's very delicate.  You beat her brother for nagging her once, Dean."  They nodded at that once.  "Xander's girlfriend Anya and Giles, who runs the Magic Box.  Oh, and Spike, who has a chip so he can't hurt people but he's a vampire.  The same Spike that was with Dru when she tried to keep you, Dean."  He took a drink.  "They needed more help."

"They need sanity from the list of local talent," Sam told him.

"Yeah but it works for them most of the time.  They're not as tight as they used to be.  This last year and a bit has been hard on them."  That got a nod.  He glanced around.  "We should go talk.  Catch up."  He finished his beer.  "C'mon, boys.  We'll go back to my room."

"Sure," Dean agreed.  "They won't mind?"

"Probably not.  They haven't said anything when I let Xander sleep on the floor a few nights."  He waved at Xander and pointed, getting a nod.  "He had a long day at work and a bad night last night," he said once they were outside.

"I think... that Mom might like the new boyfriend being so overprotective," Dean said.  John gave him a horrified look.  "Kinda clear to some of us, Dad."

"No, Dean.  We're friends.  I'm mentoring the boy.  I see him like I do you two."  That got a smirk from them.  "He's overprotective because I'm about the only guy around him right now."  He got into the truck.  "Back toward the mall, go right two blocks before, then left in another three."

"We'll follow you," Dean promised.  John just smiled and drove off.  Dean looked at Sam across the roof of the car.  "Freaky Shit R Us must be the town's nickname."

"They say there's a devil's gate here.  So maybe."  They got in and followed their father.  When he didn't turn they shared another look but followed him.  They stopped outside a house.  John stayed in the truck.  They stayed in the car.  Xander showed up with a blonde, fashionable girl and a guy about their dad's right age.  "This does not look good," Sam muttered.

"No, not good at all," Dean agreed, watching as the young blonde girl with the new group kicked in the door.   When the screaming started, John got out and jogged inside.  "Get me a weapon, Sammy."  Dean followed with only the stuff on him.  Sam paused long enough to get into the trunk before coming in.  They found them yelling at a redhead girl and a guy knocked out in the corner.

"Sam, we need the chains," John ordered, tossing his keys.  "Two sets."  Sam went to get them.  Buffy rounded on him.  "Buffy, she's high on black magic.  It's best to let her come down then yell at her."

"We can do that at the store."

"This way she can't throw spells at us to stop us from helping her.  Like any junkie," Xander told her.  She shuddered but nodded.  He looked at John, nodding at Willow.

"Don't you dare touch me," she snarled.

Xander looked at her then pounced, knocking her down and out.  John moved to tie up the other guy.  Xander handed her to Buffy.  "We can drive her back in the truck.  The fresh air might help her."

"It could help clear her head," Giles agreed.

"I have the truck warded against magic harming those inside it," John told him.  Giles stared at him in horror.  "We do run into rogue witches now and then on a hunt, Giles."   He stood up.  "The one I talked to is trying to find her a good mentor for this stuff.  She said to drain her and make her start over again."  That got a single nod.  "That it could help her see where she took the wrong turn."

"We can do that," Buffy said firmly.

"Good.  Friends and her girlfriend will help her more than anything else right now.  She needs to see how wrong this path is."  Buffy nodded.  "Put her in the back of the truck, Buffy.  I can let you ride back with her."  She carried her that way.  "What do we do with the dealer?  I don't recognize his species."

"I'm all for the fire pretty cure," Xander offered.

Giles scowled.  "We don't know that he's harmful."

"He's selling black magic to witches, Giles.  He's a drug dealer.  He's harmful."

"We could run him out of town," he noted.

Xander looked at him then shook his head.  "So he can hook some unsuspecting witch?  Someone like Amy was in high school?"  Giles shuddered at the thought of her doing black magic back then.  "That means he could come back and get Willow again.  Not like the DEA will take him for this either.  It's not on the illegal list."

"We'll run him out of town," Giles said firmly.  "Then we'll tell Angel's group so he's aware that there is one like him."  He walked off to check on his student and slayer.  Buffy was sulking.  "We'll help her all we can, Buffy."

"What about the dealer?"

"I've told Xander to run him out of town and warn Angel's team."

"I'll have Spike come help him."  She looked at the two guys she didn't know.  "Who're you?" she asked.

"John's our dad," Sam said.  "I'm Sam, he's Dean."

"Oh, hi," she said with a weak wave.  "Sorry, but a personal crisis time.  We'll be more together tomorrow."

"We understand perfectly and we're a bit freaked out anyway," Dean told her.  She gave him a weak grin.  "Is she the same witch that brought Dad back and made him our age?"

"Yup. 'Fraid so," she admitted.

"Then Dad can yell at her tomorrow," Sam told her, getting another weak smile.  "Go with her.  We'll get the chains back from him tomorrow, ma'am."

"I'm not that old, it's just been a really long day."

"We get that," Dean assured her.  "Go help your friend."  She smiled and John came out to drive them back to the store.  "We'll be at the motel, Dad," Dean called as he got into the truck.

"Wait on me, Dean.  I've got the door boobytrapped," he called back.

Xander came to the door.  "Go back a block, turn left, go another two.  He's in room 38 on the back side of the motel."  They nodded at that.  "He's been a lot of help around here, guys.  Especially on making some people see that something's going bad.  It's just been a long month."

"We've had those hunting," Dean assured him.  "You'll be okay with him by yourself?"

"Yup, because Spike's coming to help me."  He grinned.  "He's not human."

"Okay then.  Don't need details."  They got into the Impala and drove off to wait on their father.

Xander lounged there, checking on the dealer and doing minor searches of his papers until Spike got there.  "Giles wants him out of town.  I want him gone and unable to come back for Willow.  Think those pink things with the noses would like him?" he asked blandly.

Spike gave him an odd look.  "Probably.  You sure you want to do that?"

"I don't want him able to hook some other unsuspecting witch," he told him simply.  "Or Willow again."

"They'd definitely pay for him."

"That's less ethical than I can stand, Spike.  I'm all for dropping him off as a sign of goodwill as long as they leave the town immediately.  You can broker that?"  Spike smirked evilly and nodded.  "Good.  Help me drag him to the car."  Spike did that and they drove off together.  Spike walked in to talk to the demons.  Xander carried the dealer in, dropping him behind Spike.  "We don't want ones such as his locally.  There's too many who could be hurt and not realize it.  Consider it goodwill and a present as long as you leave town."  He walked off again.

Spike finished translating that and struck the deal.  They took the dealer, gave him back the chains, and paid him handsomely for finding him.  Spike walked off to have a happier night.  A much happier night.  He saw the others at the Magic Box and decided not to butt in.  Not like they were his friends or something.  Winchester had left to talk to his spawn too.  Maybe he'd think about playing with that younger one.  He smelled like he'd make a good replacement for Dru.  It'd be easy enough to have him attacked and turned even if he was a hunter.


Xander came in the next morning with coffee and muffins.  "Breakfast."  Buffy got hers and he handed Giles his tea.  "John and his boys are in the park at the moment.  I handed back the chains."  He sat down, looking at Giles.  "I checked, the ones who gave him passage out of town already left."

"Who did he travel with?"

"The pink ones with the noses."  Giles spluttered on his tea.  Xander stared back.  "I found his client list.  It had another three local witches on it and another six in the county, Giles.   One was twelve."  He took a sip of his coffee.  "They agreed he was a good present of goodwill from the slayer to them so they'd leave town immediately.  Otherwise we'd have to deal with them too."  He nibbled on his muffin, looking at Buffy.  "Spike negotiated."

"Are they going to kill him?"

"They're not going to let him go."

"As long as they don't torture him," she decided.  "I don't like drug dealers any more than I like guns."

Xander looked at her.  "Guns can save your butt, Buffy."

"Yay.  Still too easy to misuse.  It's nice John doesn't around me though.  I guess.  I'm guessing his sort of hunter use them more often?"

"All the time."

"I guess that's understandable.  Not everyone wants to beat the things by hand."

"John said he can shoot at ghosts and make them dissipate," Xander told her.  She perked up at that.  "Rock salt makes them go away for a few minutes so you can finish sending them off.  Since they can slam you into walls the same as a vamp can, you can shoot them so you can finish working."

"I guess that's pretty cool but we don't have many of those around here."  She looked at him.  "Unless you sucked in another one?"

"He got information on how to stop that.   We had the book here so he went over it with me a few days ago."

"We do?" Giles asked.  Xander got it and handed it over.  "I hadn't thought about that.  He thinks you're a medium?"

"He said that's why I kept stuff from them."  He sat down to finish his nibbling.  "I brought some for her too.  Is she up?"

"Nope," Buffy said.  "We have no idea how to get through to her.  Tara can't either."

"Scary thought but guys like John come after witches like her who go rogue and bring people back to life," he said quietly.  "John said to get her a mentor who was a powerful witch who could spank her if necessary or teach her ethical usage."

"I know of a few," Giles admitted, going to the office to call one of the senior witches the council worked with.  Perhaps she'd at least have some ideas of what they could do outside of drug the poor girl.  He didn't think it was right but she had tried to hurt them for it.

Buffy looked at Xander.  "That was a bit extreme with that dealer," she said quietly.

He shrugged.  "He won't be back to hurt her or any one else he had hooked.  I'd rather be extreme than have to burn a witch going rogue.  Because we might have to some day.  John told me he's seen a few that got killed that way."  She shuddered.  "I don't want that to happen to her."  Tara stomped in.  "Giles is calling on higher witchly support."

"The one she was seeing?"

"Out of town for good," Buffy told her.  Tara gave her a look so she pointed at Xander.  "He gave him to a demon clan to make them all leave town."

"That's not nice," she told him.

He nodded.  "I know but one of his other clients was twelve.  Better that than having to kill her for it."

"True.  Witches who go that bad do get killed by hunters."  Buffy shuddered.  "John's been very understanding."  She went into the office to talk to Giles' friends.  Hopefully they could help her some.

Buffy finished her muffin and stole half of Xander's to nibble on.  "So, is John leaving with his sons?"

"I haven't talked to him this morning.  Did we check the site?"

"Not yet."  She looked around then at him.  "Why did Spike tell you to tell me about the nest by Slumberville that Riley was scouting?"

"Because Spike thinks that he wasn't scouting."  He stared at her.  "How many times did he get bitten?"  She gave him a dirty look.  "Go check, Buffy.  I'll go with you if you want.  That way if Spike's right, you're not alone and I can walk you away before you kill him."

She nodded.  "Giles, we're going to check on the hellmouth site," she called.  They got up and went to do that and then to check on that nest.  What she found made her so mad she wanted to slip and kill him but Xander did walk her off, taking her to get some ice cream.  They found John, Dean, and Sam there.  "Did you know about Riley?" she demanded.

"There's only a few reasons why guys have so many bite marks in one area, Buffy, but I wasn't sure.  That's why I was subtly suggesting you check on him.  Xander too."

Xander nodded at her look.  "Not even I've been bitten that many times, Buffy.  And he's been *way* too calm plus volunteering to patrol that route alone.  He's hardly ever not complained when it's you two on patrol together."

"Damn it."  She got an extra scoop of ice cream and walked off eating it to make evil plans.  She gave Tara a hug.  "Maybe I need to find a nice girl like you instead of idiot, asshole men."  She sat down to sulk.  "Giles, there's a tentacle again.  I stomped on it but it's still there."

"The witch coming to help her may have a way to help with that as well."

"I..I  c..could try," Tara stuttered.  Dean and Sam were following their dad into the store.  She looked at Buffy and pointed.

She smiled and nodded.  They were cute ones.

John looked at her.  "That's up to them, Buffy, not me," he said bluntly.  "At least it'd be a real, honorable sort for you."  Dean gave him an odd look.  "Her last boyfriend is being a feeder."

"Damn, that sucks," Dean agreed.  "But I couldn't settle down to be boyfriend material.  We travel too often.  Sorry.  Fun and games, yeah, but not settling down yet."

"Just don't let me hear about it like I do Anya's former job," John complained.

Xander gave him an odd look.  "She was hitting on you?"

"She was reminiscing."

"No, that's her idea of foreplay.  Anya!" he bellowed.  She came out of the back.  "You were flirting with John?"

"You won't cheat on me," she said with a pout.

"You keep it up and I'll call the guy over boyfriends who're pissed," he warned.  She squeaked and disappeared into the back room.  "I'm not dating a ho unless you're making me money," he called after her.  John swatted him, scowling.  "What?  You heard her the last time that girl in the store flirted with me!"

"I did."

"Then it's the same thing she does to me."

"I know, Xander.  Calm down."

"It's sad that Willow dated the best people but went the worst," Buffy sighed.  "And we got bad boyfriends instead."  Tara scowled at her.  "It is!"

"It's not my fault."

"Nope, it's not," Xander agreed.  "You might be the reason she gets clean though."  Tara smiled and went to check on Willow again.  He looked at Buffy.  "Why did I start to date Anya?"

"You said it was good to snuggle and she kinda showed up and never left."

"Oh yeah."  He leaned back, looking at John.  "We have another tentacle."  John rolled his eyes.  "Tara said she'd try to close it for us.  No idea if she can or not since it's a pretty hard spell."

"If not, the one that I called may well be able to help," Giles said as he came out of the office.  "John, these are?"

"My sons.  This is Dean and Sammy."  They waved.

"So you'll be leaving soon then?" Giles asked.

"Let us get over this apocalypse attempt first," John said.  "Then we'll figure stuff out."  That got a nod.   He looked at Buffy.  "I saw your mother's car heading for the grocery store."  She took her ice cream with her.  "That does suck for her."

"The last one was doing a panty count and before him there was Angel," Xander told him.  Riley stomped in.  "I'd so run, Finn.  Before she sees you and puts down the ice cream."

"What are you talking about?" he demanded.

"She saw you and your little neck fetish problem."  Riley went pale.  "I'd so run, dude.  Head for Mexico or hope for prison time from the Initiative's trials."  He fled the store.  "Good!"  He leaned up, looking out the door.  Then at John.  "The dealer's gone.  The demons he was traveling with left town very early this morning."

"You beat him more so he couldn't walk?"

"One of his clients was twelve.  I graciously gave a clan we wanted gone a goodwill and going away present."  John shuddered. "The pink ones with the nose."


"Spike negotiated it and translated."

"I'm sure he had fun."  He shook his head.  "That's mean but worthy I suppose."  He patted the boy on the head.  "Like any addict, she'll heal if she wants to, Xander."

"I know but it sucks."

"It does."  He sat down.  "Boys, this is Mr. Giles.  He runs this store.  He's a former watcher so he is very good at research, Sammy."

"Can we look up a demon through you?" Dean asked.

"If I have anything on it.  If not, I might be able to point you at some sources."  Sam went to the car to get his laptop, bringing it back.  "I do not understand those machines."

Sam grinned.  "You can find some amazing things online."  He showed him what he had found, getting a grimace.  "It's after this family."

"Which is why I wasn't sure it'd be safe to have you two here," John told them.

"Chill, Dad.  If we have to, we've got the colt and we'll shoot the bastard."

"No guns around Buffy.  She doesn't like it or understand them," Xander told him.  That got an strange look.  "She's a slayer, Dean.  She gets stakes, crossbows, swords, that stuff, not guns.  She's very anti gun because they're easy to misuse."

"I get that, but in my hands it's very useful and safe."

"She won't see it that way and she doesn't like your dad's shotguns either."  He shifted.  "She's tried to break into my storage area before to uncollect the few I have too.  All the way to the pawn shop."

"I'd like to see what else you have in storage, Xander," John said.

Xander shrugged.  "Not that much.  Some older clothes.  Some tapes and books.  Some of Giles' books from the old library."

"I'd still like to see them," John offered.  Xander grinned and nodded.  "We can do that later.  When the boys get lunch."

"Sure.  Giles, how do we handle the tentacle?  Do we sit a watch to make sure it doesn't open farther?"

"Tara's going over the spell now.  We can try it in a few hours.  Show him your storage area then we'll see if we can work on it."  They nodded and headed out together.  "If it wasn't for the eyes, he could be one of them," he muttered.

"He's good for Xander," Tara told him, swatting him on the arm.  "Even if he is trying to get him to date better than Anya is for him."  She went back to her spell studying.  If Willow was truly out for a bit due to this addiction thing, then she'd have to step up.


John and the boys took Xander back to the school to see if Tara could handle the spell and close the hellmouth again.  Buffy was already there and handed him the torch, pointing at the tentacles.  "Is it just that holding it open?" John asked.

"As far as we can tell.  It's got a sneaky one down there that's keeping it from totally closing but it can't reach up through."

Xander sighed and went to the car, handing John the torch.  He came back with the bag with the explosives.  "Step back and get it ready, Tara."  She nodded.  He cobbled together something, including his watch, then tossed it down there.  "Icky in five seconds," he warned.  They all took a step back until it went off.  Then Tara tried to close the hellmouth.  It shut with another suck and this time it wasn't going to open.  They could feel it.  "Whoo-hoo!" Xander shouted, giving Tara a  hug.  "That's our good witch."  She beamed but patted him until he put her down.  Xander blinked at the person behind the boys.  "Hey, Buffy, can I have that sword again?"

She turned and snarled at the obviously possessed person.  "What are you doing on my hellmouth?  I do not allow that here!  Unless it's Xander being possessed or me, there's no possessions allowed!"  She advanced on it.  The demon, not realizing what was wrong, stood his ground.  The guys, well, they moved.  Buffy kicked the demon's butt until it begged for mercy from Sam.  "He's not the one beating you, idiot!"  She kicked him again.  "I am!"

"Who are you?" he begged.

"Buffy.  The slayer Buffy."

He groaned.  "No!"

Xander waved from his safe spot behind Tara.  "This is why some smart man sometime in the past created midol, dude.  Aren't you glad you want John's family since she's wanting to marry into it?"  The demon wailed and disappeared out of the body, puffing up into a cloud of smoke.  Xander threw something from his bag on it, making it scream in pain as it crystalized.  "Huh, it did work.  We need to buy Andrew a gift certificate to the comic shop, Buffy.  That's his idea since he couldn't create a Pokeball for capturing demons."

She gave him an odd look, then shook her head.  "I'm going back to bed now.  Leave me alone for a day."  She stomped off muttering about men.  Tara followed to soothe her.  She understood even if the guys didn't.

"We need a capturing thing," Sam said.  Giles got something and handed it over. "This'll work for now."  He scooped up the solid cloud of demon, listening to it complain.  He closed the lid tightly and handed it to his father with a smirk.

"What is it with blondes around the Winchesters?" Dean asked.  "Sammy's girl was fierce to keep him from other girls.  Mom was a pisser if one of the kids picked on me in the park.  Dad, do you maybe like Buffy a little bit?"

"No, son.  She's too nice for me.  Sammy?  She seems like your sort.  She's sweet most of the time but she's just getting over a very bad boyfriend I'd like to beat."

"Amen," Xander said dryly.  "And I get it first since he created problems on our team, John."  He beamed.  "As a matter of fact, let me do that now so you guys can finish catching up."  He started to move but Giles stopped him and shook his head.  "I should get to.  Me and Spike.  Since he can't, I'll kick him extra hard for Spike too.  And then for Buffy."

"Let her have him first, Xander."

"Hell no!  I won't get any if she does."  He got free and headed off.

"He's still hurt about their problems before they went in with the spell," John told him.

"I thought we had solved that."

"Not like they apologized," John pointed out, making the other man nod and walk off mumbling.  "Sorry, someone's got to stick up for some common sense now and then.  They're still fighting over things from back in high school."  He looked at the oatmeal container the demon was trapped in.  "We need to make a more secure storage container."

"Want me to get some metal?" Dean asked.  "We can probably borrow that torch."

"Xander crafts.  He had a nice box in the storage area."  He called him.  "Xander, can we have that storage box you made?  I want to make it a permanent container for the demon."  He smiled.  "Thanks."  He hung up.  "He said that's what he made it for."  Sam jogged back to the storage area so he could pick the lock and get it for them.  He made sure to lock it back then ran it back to the site.  They had plenty of paint on hand at the moment so he could mark all the protections and sealing runes on it he needed to.  He stared at it.  It was a pretty box.  Xander had done a wonderful job.  The oatmeal container fit very well inside it too.  He called Bobby.  "We have a new curse box made.  In it is a trapped demon inside an oatmeal container.  Yes, that's what I said.  No, it's *that* demon, Bobby.  Just finished painting it."  Xander came back and handed him something, letting him smile at the small lock set.  "Thanks, kid."

"Not a problem.  If you didn't get it, it might come for me some day," he said dryly.  "Because freakish things like that happen to me."  He walked off shaking his head.  "Riley's hiding but not that well.  Clem knows where he is I'm sure."

"Should we follow him?" Dean asked.

"Nope.  I'm not getting in the middle of that.  Finn needs to pay for his past sins and the present ones he forced onto the group.  He can save his own ass by turning evidence and going to prison for being part of the Initiative."  He finished up.  "There, sealed, Bobby.  I can do that.  Thanks."  He hung up.  "We need to get the stuff to airtight seal it in plastic overtop of this."  They nodded, letting him go to the hobby shop with them to get acrylic molding sets.  When that was done, he'd send it with the boys to Bobby so it could be sealed permanently in a way that meant no man or woman would ever open it again.  Then it'd be stuck underground in a well.


Xander knocked on a door, holding up an envelope.  "I will trade you both these gift certificates, one to the game shop, the other to the comic place, for the commando hiding in your garage."

"Why is he hiding in my garage?" Andrew asked.

"I don't know but he's earned my foot up his ass."

"What bad thing did he do?"

"Most recently?  He cheated on Buffy with a few vamps."  Andrew shuddered, shaking his head, muttering 'wrong' over and over.  "And that's the nicest thing he did."

"Sure, go for it.  There's no weapons out there.  You know my mom's phobic about pointy stuff."  He took the gift certificates to look at.  "Wow.  Thanks, Xander."

"You were due one anyway.  That crystal stuff worked really well on a demon that was floating out of someone."  He smirked and headed for the garage, opening the door.  "There you are, you son of a bitch."  He hauled Riley out and let Andrew close the door again.  "Thanks, Andrew.  Have a happy hunt for stuff you need."  He walked Riley off.  He even waved at the few people who gave him odd looks.  "Ex-boyfriend abuse for one of the girls," he told one very worried woman.  "Caught him cheating on his girlfriend, who is my friend."

"That's fine, Xander.  You're such a sweet boy to not make her mess up her nails with a rolling pin."

Xander grinned at Riley.  "She makes really good brownies too.  She used to be our librarian until one of the books ate her coworker one night."  He took him to where he wanted to beat him, where Spike was waiting too.  Then he got to beat him for every single hurt the asshole had caused the group and him.  And Spike because he had promised; he was honorable that way.

John walked in an hour later.  "Aren't you done yet?"

"Hell no!  I'm still working over the anger at making Spike put distance between the team that left me nearly alone one night with ten succuba and only one stake."  He smiled sweetly and kicked without looking down.  "They like me a lot.  Fortunately that was *before* Anya decided I was a boyfriend."  He kicked him again.  "After I'm done with this I'll remind him how a real man takes his punishment if he's earned it.  I was willing to go to jail for stealing artillery.  He's a Nazi bastard and he can do the same."  He kicked him again, still smiling.

"Xander, you're a bit psychotic," John said calmly.  "Let him rest, that way he can start to scream again later."

"He might try to use the pitiful commando skills and get away.  Then I'd have to punish him for that too.  So...."  He looked at Spike.  "Any opinion?"

"S'your fun," he said with a hand wave.  "I'm just enjoying it."

Buffy stomped in.  "Why can't I sulk in peace?  And why are you beating up my ex for me, Xander?"

"I'm beating him for all the shit he caused outside of being your ex, Buffy."  He kicked him again, making him scream a high pitched scream this time.  "Like how he pushed us apart so I ended up alone with a lot of succuba and no way to drive them off."

She shuddered.  "Eww.  That's nearly as bad as him sleeping with a vamp."

"And yet, you did *what* with Angel?"

"Don't go there."

He stared at her, kicking him again.  "He's still a vamp, even with a soul.  Same as Spike is even with the chip."

"I know but he's not the usual one.  He even tried to be warm when we were around each other."  She came in to look at him.  "I think you broke something important.  He's bleeding from his mouth."

Xander looked down.  "He bit his tongue a bit ago."  He kicked him over and squatted to look.  "Nah, just a broken jaw."  He stood up and stared down at him.  "Maybe we should let him rest so we can come back to this point."

"You're way scary, Xander.  You need the midol more than me."

"Doesn't work for the problems I have," he said dryly.

"I can tell Anya to pounce."

"She was telling John stories about her job recently."

"Oooh.  I'm sorry she hit on you, John.  It's all right, he'll spank her if she tries again."

"I told her I'd be calling the ex-boyfriend vengeance demon."  She cackled.  "I will.  Damned if I'm going to put up with it if I have to go to the gay bar so she doesn't fuss at me."  He looked her over.  "You know, way back when you'd have thrown a fit if I took up with her."

"Yeah, but then you had that thing with Cordelia."  She shrugged.  "You have bad taste and you should finish going gay since you like their bar so much."  She hauled Riley up, listening to him whimper.  "If there's any left, I'll give him back when I'm done."

"Okay," he agreed, knowing not to argue.  "Guess our fun is done, Spike."

"Pity.  Could've stood planting this bloody chip in his head."

"Maybe the people in the prison will since most of the Initiative's higher ups are going to jail," John said.  Spike smirked evilly at that, cackling as he walked off.  "I don't want to know what evil thought he had, do I?"

"Probably not," Buffy said, dragging him off.  "We're going to Mom's so I don't kill him.  She'll stop me."

"Sure," Xander agreed.  He nodded, then looked at John once she was gone.  "That was mean to call her to take my fun, John."

"Xander, you're going a bit too far over the edge and it's scary," he said bluntly.

"He ...."

John held up a hand.  "I get that and you've had your revenge.  All you can do is try to fix it.  It may not help but you can try to fix it."

"I have tried and it isn't fixed.  I'll be damned if I'm going to grovel to get my friends back because they decided they're too special for me."

"You have other friends, like Andrew."

"We're not that close of friends.  We're good acquaintances really.  The ones you send cards to but you have to look up their address."

"I know a few hunters I consider that way," he admitted, moving closer.  "C'mon.  We can go watch the sun go down and the evil come up."

"Spike was mumbling that Sam would make a good Dru replacement since Harmony sucked so badly at it."

"I'd stake him so fast hell would wonder how he appeared," he told him, walking the boy out.  He'd pity the commando but he had brought it on himself.  Apparently Joyce was more forgiving than they were since there was an ambulance at the Summers house.  John looked at her since she was pouting.  "Your mom turn him over already?"

"She said it's better to snub than to go to jail for beating him."  She looked at Xander.  "He said he won't press charges."

"I don't care right now, Buffy."  She gave him a horrified look.  "I have a very good defense if it ever comes up."  He smiled sweetly.  She backed away.  "Now, I think I deserve ice cream and ho-hos, and I don't mean the type you pay, so I'm going to go stop Anya from weeding out my sugar stash again."

"Too late," Buffy told him.

"Then she's replacing it," he said.  "Or else she's moving."  He walked off, heading for the apartment. "If my chocolate and ice cream stash isn't back within an hour, we're breaking up," he called from the door.  She pouted.  He glared.  "Buffy took Riley from me."  She sulked all the way up the street to the grocery store.

John looked at her.  "He really was torn up about that stuff, Buffy.  That's what set off the anger hunting the other night."

"But we're better."

"Really?  Are you still doing the same sort of hanging out you used to do?"

"Well...  No."

"Did you apologize for being such a brat to him?"

She slumped, shaking her head.  "No.  Not yet."

"So it's still hurting him.  You guys tossed him aside after blaming him for something that wasn't just his doing, and then Riley made it worse through Spike."  She nodded.  "Maybe when things slow down again, you should work on your friendships?  They're all anyone can say is behind them in this world when their family is gone.  Or if they're hunting and their family doesn't."

"I should."  She went to talk to her mom.  "Do you think we're still treating Xander like he's got that spots disease the nuns in India take you in for?"

"Yes, you do treat him like a leper now and then," she agreed, smiling at John.  "Thank you for trying to calm him down and imparting some sense, John."

"The boy needs a mentor and someone he can count on to be there to talk to.  The same as she does."  Joyce nodded at that, taking her daughter inside.  He looked at the boy they were working on.  "I'd sing like the Mormon Choir about your former bosses, Riley.  I really would."  Riley nodded.  "Good."  He went to check on his sons and their art project with the box.  They had the acrylic done and it was dried solid.  "No air holes?"

"None," Dean promised.  "I did two coats of sealant to make sure."

"Good job."

"You've mellowed, Dad."

"Hell can do that to you," he said, sitting on the foot of his bed.  "Joyce handed Riley to the paramedics already so Xander's at home."

"I still don't see why he went to the gay bar," Sam said.

"Because Anya will claim he's scorning her if he gets hit on and flirts back," Dean told him.  "If you picked up women in bars, you'd know that."  He looked at his father.  "Are we setting him up with some other hunters as penpals?"

"I got him in touch with the one we get the wooden bullets from.  Xander was trying to make one but they compressed too much.  I think it'll be good for the boy.  Give him more normal people contact."

"It does look like his whole friendship network is now torn up," Sam agreed.

"And then some, Sammy.  It's been unraveling for a while now."  He looked at his boys.  "Let's order dinner and then we'll figure out what we're doing from here?"

"Bobby said he can't believe you're our age."

"Willow wanted me to fit in better with the team here.  Hurt like hell too."  They both smirked at that.  "It did.  Freaked out Donald too."  Dean laughed, nodding.  "He still drunk?"

"Yup, and told Ellen why.  She got drunk too."

"So far we've made sure nothing comes back because of the resurrection."

"Good," Sam agreed.  "So it's over?"  John nodded.  Sam relaxed.  "That's good to know.  Even if it's not dead it can't do it again."

"There's always more evil bastards out there, Sammy," Dean told him.  He stared at his father.  "We need to talk anyway, Dad."

"I know you want to beat me for that deal, son, but I had to so you'd be better.  I knew you'd protect Sammy for me."

"You ever do something that stupid again and I'm going to kill you myself," Dean said, making sure he understood he was making a promise.

"I'll help by lubing the shotgun for him," Sam agreed, glaring at his father.

"It was...."

"Necessary but still painful and fucking dumb," Dean interrupted.  "It will not happen again."

"Yes, son."  He smiled.  "It's good you love me anyway."

"Yeah, maybe," Dean said.  "You've been infected by the girls too, Dad.  That was mushy."

"They're mostly good girls.  They're growing up and that's going to happen to most anyone."  He tensed, looking around.  Something was wrong.  Something was very wrong.  He heard the explosion and ran outside to look.  "That's not the college, but it's in the same direction.  Stay here in case we have to evacuate."  He grabbed his phone and keys, heading for the area.  "Xander, explosion?"   He listened to him.  "You're sure?"  He nodded.  "Meet me there."  He hung up and found a good out-of-the-way place to park before heading over to see if he could help.  It was the college.  Well, part of the college.  He watched first responders head for the dorm, stopping one.  "Where do we go to see if our friends made it?"

"Caf for right now, sir."  He got free and headed that way to help.

John walked up to one.  "I'm field medic trained."  They put him to work bandaging.  Xander moved up to help him.  "Any clue?"

"Not a bit."  He looked then at him.  "No clue, John."  They got back to work.  The dorm that had exploded wasn't Buffy and Willow's or Tara's.  It was one of the boys' dorms.  "Drugs maybe?"

"Maybe."  He took the next one and shook his head.  "It's a long shot," he muttered but he got to work.

Xander looked at him.  "No, don't.  I know him.  Guys, this one is one of those freaky 'no medicine' people."  The paramedics came to get him since he was unconscious.  "He's been stumping for that group in the next town, that religious group."  That got a nod and they took him off.  He looked at John.  "It sucks but they had one who committed suicide when he woke up in the ER with stitches."  They got back to work.  It was going to be a long night.  Dean came over with another one.  "Burns or shrapnel?"

"Both."  Xander nodded, settling in to do what he could and then bandage the rest loosely so they wouldn't be exposed.  The paramedics came to get him when they saw.

John looked over.  "He's doing it right."

"The ER has a burn person waiting and agents waiting to see anyone who was close enough to be burned."

Xander looked at him.  "Still a bit too far out. There's no residue, just heat burns."  That got a nod and they took him anyway.  "They're getting closer to where it happened."  Buffy came jogging over.  "Hey."

"Hey."  She moved to help hold the next one he was bandaging.  "Any idea?"

"Not yet," John said.  "This one needs blood, I can't get the bleeding stopped," he yelled.  Xander looked then did something with a needle, sticking it in the bleeding spot to siphon it off.  "Thanks.  What does that do?"

"Lets them redirect it with a tube if they have one."  The paramedic gave him a stare.  Tubing.  Now."  They did that.  "And another needle."  They handed it over and he created a round-about past the broken area.  "He's getting most of it back in.  Watch to make sure the second needle isn't overflowing."  They gave him an awed look but took that guy immediately to the ER.  Xander got back to his, ignoring the looks.  "I had to figure it out once.  Willow's mom's book had something like that in it for those problems."

"Sure, that'll work," Buffy said.  "If it helps, it does."  She finished up and noticed no more were coming.  "No more injuries?" she called.  The firefighter nearer to them shook his head.  "Okay."

"Time to fade into the shadows," John said, taking a wet wipe to wipe off the glove residue.  Xander did the same thing and so did Buffy.  They faded back into the crowd to watch.  John stared.  "That's artillery."

Xander nodded.  "That is.  And that's Graham Miller, another Initiative weenie."

Buffy poked him.  "Hush."  She watched.  Graham was apparently Agent Graham now.  She shifted so she could hear better.  He spotted her and frowned.  Then he said something before walking over.  "We were helping with the injured.  What happened?"

"Someone who wanted to take over the town.  Is Harris here?"  She pointed.  He walked over there.  "What did you still have stored?"

"Nothing.  Nearly nothing.  Nothing that size.  A few guns, a few swords, nothing huge.  Why?  Are they trying to blame me?"

"I'm trying to figure out where they got it."

"The reserve base like I did that time?"  That got a nod.  "Or maybe one of the dealers out of LA?  There's supposed to be a few arms dealers down there.  How do any nuts get their guns?"

"Good point.  You sure you don't know of a stash in town?"

"No one's said anything to us.  I haven't run across any.  If so, someone would've heard my squeal of delight."

"Fine.  I'll ignore that you sent Riley to the hospital too."

Xander grinned.  "That was my pleasure.  Really."

"We're shutting the campus for the night, Buffy.  Complete lock down."

"I can go watch tv."

"We can hit patrol," Xander agreed.

She smiled and went to check in with her RA, holding up the bloody shirt she had on.  "I was helping triage."  He let her inside and up to her room.

Graham looked at him.  "I want to know the minute you hear something about these kooks."

"I need to know who they are first," Xander said.  "Beyond the hellmouth starting to open, we haven't had a lot of anything going on."

"I'll get info to you later at the shop." That got a nod and they walked off.  "Who's the new guy?" he asked a cop controlling the crowd.  "I don't remember him hanging with Summers and Harris."

"Winchester.  He's a decent sort.  Fairly sensible.  Drives a pickup truck.  Goes to the gay bar with Harris so we figured they were together."  He shrugged.

"Huh."  He went back to the front lines of the investigation.  Maybe they had that wrong in the kid's profile.


Giles looked up as a former commando walked into his store, reaching for his crossbow. "Problems, Graham wasn't it?"

"Chill, Mr. Giles.  I'm here as an agent."

"Yes, Xander told me he had seen you.  What is going on?"

"Some kooks who want to take over the town for their saint and some angels."

Xander came out of the office.  "Angels?" he snorted.

"That's what they said."

"Like the group in the next town?  We saw one of their members among the burned ones," John told him.

"Possibly."  He handed over what the locals had on them, which wasn't much.

Xander sat down to look at it, nodding.  "That's them.  One's usually in front of the Mocha Pump with a sign and some pamphlets."  He handed it back.  "They're not pushy but they do sing annoying songs."

"Know anything about their compound, their members?  Anything that could help us bust them?"

"Very little."  He got up to look in Anya's spots, finding something.  "Here, Anya picked it up."

"She's still here?  I heard you dumped her."

Xander looked at him.  "No.  We're together."

"I heard you were with the new guy."

"No, Willow decided we needed a new hunter."

"The gay bar stuff?"

"No one there hits on me," he said dryly.  "Which means Anya doesn't get upset with them or me."

"Oh.  Good idea then, Harris."  He looked at it, smiling some.  "They have a map, that's nice of them."

Xander looked.  "Probably not fully correct unless they took over the old elementary school over there."  That got a nod.  "There's a good deputy, Gringer.  He was here for a while and he was good when the school's bus had an accident out that way a few months back."

"I'll look him up.  Know anything else?"

"They're girl heavy or that's their recruiting strategy.  Always a few pretty girls among the street-side recruiters.  That one guy now and then, I guess between classes, but they've got a blonde with long hair and blue eyes and another with green eyes, and I think a brunette with the same long hair and blackish/dark brown eyes. They tend to sit together and chat with everyone."

"I've seen the brunette at the Quickie Mart," John offered.  "She's in there most nights when I go in for my last coffee."

"I'll check on that.  Thanks, guys.  Oh, Riley's going to DC."

Xander grinned.  "He was cheating on Buffy with some vamps."

"Then he was really stupid."  He walked off making notes, going to talk to the other agents.  "These ones sit outside the local coffee house all the time to hand out info packets."  He handed that one over.  "Harris said that there's a good deputy in the next town, helpful during a school bus crash this last year."  That got a nod.  "The Quickie Mart is that way," he said with a point.  They stopped there first since it was closer.

Xander looked at John.  "Don't you have a coffee maker in the room?  I know you picked one up."

"I do but now and then I get out to take a walk."

Xander smirked.  "I heard you do the evil jogging stuff too."

"Every day," he agreed.  "You could start going with me while I'm here, Xander."

"I get plenty of working out at work hauling, toting, and lifting."

"Jogging helps your endurance."

"So does Anya."

"Good point."  Xander grinned.  "I called, the Bronze is closed thanks to this.  Half the town's in lock down already for the night."

"Then we can go home and veg," Xander agreed.  "Have fun with the sons.  They looked kinda upset earlier."

"I went to hell because I made a deal to let Dean heal from being in a coma," he said quietly.  "He's still wanting to kick my ass over it."

Xander nodded. "I'd do that."  He walked off to go home, finding Anya watching the news.  "The religious people by the Mocha Pump."

"That's probably not what their god would want them to do."

"No but they were doing something funny in the dorm when it blew up."  He flopped down.  "My chocolate stash?"  She sighed but got him some.  "Thanks.  Graham Miller's back in town as an agent investigating."

"Is he going to bust you for beating on Riley?  Because I will be upset if you have consensual prison sex, Xander.  If it's not, I'll expect you to beat them back."

"He said he's not."

"Fine."  She relaxed again.

"You know, you could dump me and take up with a better person who'll actually cheat on you."

She pouted.  "They'd never understand me and I like you."

"If you liked me, you wouldn't want me to cheat on you."

She got up and huffed off to the bathroom to take a long, hot bath.

"I'll never understand women," he muttered.  He flipped the channel to the cartoon network.  His anime was on.  He sat and nibbled, happier now.  Most of his needs were currently met.  If only he had sex...  "Hey, Anya, want to come have sex?" he called when the show changed.  She came out to climb into his lap.  She was always up for sex.


John closed his motel room door, looking at his worried sons.  "Some religious group was doing something in preparation for taking over the town for their angels and God."

"Wonderful," Dean agreed.  "You okay?"

"I helped with the triage.  One of the agents wanted to see if we knew the kooks."  He settled in on his bed, looking at his younger son. "You all right?"

"Making drugs?"

"Not real sure yet.  We'll hear if it was something like a bad summoning spell."  That got a nod.  "Any other cheery news from the wider world?"

"Not yet," Dean said.  "I called Bobby.  He still wants pictures of you at this age."  John shook his head.  "Are we hitting patrol tonight?"

"It's closed down."  That got a nod and the boys relaxed, letting him reconnect.  Now that the danger was less, it was easier to talk to them.  Or maybe he had been more easy going at this age the first time than he had when he died.  It was possible his temper had been reset at twenty-five-year-old John levels.  He also had a lot more in common with Sam now so they could fight less.  Hopefully.


Xander got woken up out a sound sleep, mumbling into the phone.  "Who the hell are you?" he said when he didn't recognize the voice.  They said something so he sat up with a groan, rubbing over his face.  "Why are you running a patrol, Graham?"  He grimaced.  "No, that's not a good sign.  I'll wake up Buffy and be there soon."  He hung up and called her.  "It's me.  Graham's at the school and said it's not staying shut.  We don't know why.  Glowing this time.  No tentacles yet.  Yup, sure am."  He hung up and took a kiss, grabbing stuff before going to change in the bathroom.  He grabbed his wallet in case any agents tried to stop him or asked for an ID.  For some reason he grabbed his emergency kit too.  "Anya, I'm heading to the hellmouth to stop it from glowing," he called quietly.  He took another kiss, waking her up.  "It's opening again."

"Why can't it stay shut?" she whined.  He shrugged.  "Be safe and come back for morning orgasms if you can."  She took a kiss and let him go.  Then she went back to sleep.  The couch was making her sore back better.  Xander had been too strenuous earlier.  Even with her on top.


Buffy trudged up to meet them at the edge of the site.  "I hate this place.  Have I ever mentioned that?"

"The new plans are a bit nicer," Xander told her, using his keys to unlock the gate so they could get in.  He closed and locked it behind him and they walked in together, stopping to look at the obvious glow.  "What is going on with that thing?"

"No idea," Buffy said.  "I woke Giles up to research.  He's still mumbling at the phone probably."  They walked inside, going to look at it.  "No tentacles?"

"Not yet," Graham said.  "Is it usually open this way?"

"No, usually the kraken does something," Xander said, looking at the glowing spot.  "This isn't normal, Buffy."  He looked back at her, frowning some.  "Why do you look so pale?"  She shrugged.  "We need a vacation."  She nodded, looking grim.  "Okay."  He turned to look at it then shrugged.  "No clue.  It's not open in the usual way.  Could whoever opened it be trying again?" he suggested.  "We never did find out why it was trying to open."

"Tara thought she felt some magic touching it.  She wasn't sure."

"Magic like Willow linked herself in the last time she tried to close it and all this has been because she's been so odd with the magic abuse or other magic?"

"She said she wasn't sure," she said patiently.  She called her.  "Tara, Buffy and Xander.  Could the magic you felt at the hellmouth be Willow's stuff?  Because it's glowing now.  No, no tentacles."  She nodded. "Please.  I woke Giles up too."  She hung up.  "She'll see if it matches.  She hasn't worked any spells with Willow since she started going all freaky."  Graham was giving them odd looks.  "She was going to a magic dealer."

Xander nodded.  "We staged an intervention the other night."

"Xander gave the magic dealer to some slave trading demons," Buffy said.  Xander nodded, looking smug.  "I still say that was excessive."

"If he wants to bribe them he can probably get free sometime."  His phone rang and he opened it.  "What's up?"  He listened.  "Who're you?"  The line went dead.  He looked at his phone.  "Whoever that guy was said it was Willow magic and we need to evacuate."  He put it back into his pocket with a frown.  "If it's linked in...."

"I'll get started on that," Graham said, heading to make that call.  He could cite a bomb threat at the old high school site and they weren't sure it wasn't a dirty bomb.  Because a magic addiction sounded dirty to him.

Buffy called her mom.  "Mom, it's us.  The hellmouth is going to go soon.  They're calling an evacuation of the town.  Go.  Call John, Xander?"  He nodded, moving to do that.  "Thanks, Mom.  Yeah, like right now, Mom."  She hung up.  "She's not happy since it's three am too."

"Me either.  John, it's us.  Evac now.  The hellmouth's going freaky and they're going to evac the town.  We think Willow may be linked in and what's making it flux.  Well, right now it's glowing.  Yeah, I'm here with Buffy.  The agents are coming so move.  Anya's on the couch at home."  He hung up and put the phone back then looked at her.  "Where is Willow?"

"Giles has her stashed at his place I think.  Not real sure."

They watched it flux.  "Go," Xander told her.

"No, this is my duty."  He gave her a shove and she growled.  "Xander!"

"Go!  Now!"  She moved backward and then took off running so she could climb the fence.  He turned and looked at the portal he could feel opening.  "Well, John said hell was bad but not that bad."  It engulfed him.  Then the school, the street and Buffy.  It kept spreading to the edges of town.

Somewhere, Willow looked up as the magic finally drew her.  "No, not Xander!" she shouted.  "Take me!"  She worked her will against the stupid hellmouth, throwing all the magic she could suck in at it.  She felt it rebound but she did something to send it back, freeing Xander.  It took her.  Angel had said hell was mean but it helped him get right again.  It'd help her too.  Then maybe the Powers could use her for someone like Angel or Buffy.


John watched as the town was swallowed, staring at the mess it was leaving behind.  "Please stop," he begged, starting to pray.  The eating slowed, then receded.  He blinked.  The mess left behind was getting worse.  Buildings looked like they were melting from the power.  Dean gripped his arm.  He found Joyce in the group that had gotten out.  She had Tara.  He didn't see Anya.  He walked over to her.  "Anya?  I called and woke her."

"I haven't seen her, John.  Your boys?"

"With the cars."  She nodded, patting him on the arm.  "Buffy and Xander?"  She teared up.  "They're strong, Joyce.  If there's any way, they'll be coming here."  She nodded, gripping his arm while they waited.  Finally the hellmouth exploded.  Nothing was there.  Joyce started to cry so he let her.  "Shh.  We'll have them soon," he soothed.  He nodded at Tara to help him steer her back to his truck.  He settled her in it so she could have some peace and quiet.  He looked at his boys.  "Call Ellen, get Jim here.  Now."  Dean nodded, moving to do that.  He watched.  It was nearly dawn when something changed.  The portal opened and he started to swear, moving to the back of the truck where the weapons were.  Most everyone had been dragged off by the agents but Graham had them left alone, saying that their kids were down there.  The hellmouth flashed and he saw a small spec.  "What the..."  He grabbed Dean's binoculars since he had them out to scan the area for survivors.  "There's a body," he called.  Joyce woke up and came back to take them.  "It's not Buffy, Joyce.  It's Willow."

Tara swallowed.  "She was linked in.  That's what was causing the fluxes."  Graham looked at her.  "Xander and Buffy?"

"They were there.  I don't know, Tara."  He sent agents down to gather the body. She was alive by what they called.  Comatose but alive.  "She's alive."  Tara went limp and had to be caught by Joyce.  He looked at her.  "No sign yet, Joyce.  She might've made it underground.  That might be okay."

She nodded.  "She might but she knows not to in an earthquake, it could trap her."  She held Tara until they carried Willow nearby, then let her follow.  "She's her medical power of attorney and girlfriend," when Tara stuttered.  "We have no idea where her parents are."  They took Tara with them.  She looked at the area.  "I want to go look, Graham."

"It could be contaminated."

"My daughter might be down there.  I'm going."

"Let us check it for radiation first," he ordered, going to send that team in.  They went to look.

Dean patted his father on the shoulder, getting a look.  "If possible he's alive, Dad."

"I know.  He's a good kid."  They watched until someone they knew walked up to them.  "Jim."  They shook hands.

"John.  You're a mite young."

"The witch who brought me back."  He looked at him.  "She was linked into the hellmouth.  She had started a magic addiction.  They stopped her the other night."

Jim nodded.  "How many still missing?"

"At least three of the local hunting team.  Including the slayer.  The rest, you'd have to ask the agents."

He nodded.  "I'll find out then."  He looked at Joyce.  "I'm sorry, ma'am."

"Joyce, he's a hunter like me," John told her.  "And a priest."  She nodded, shaking his hand.  "Boys, get a room, take Joyce so she can rest until we can head back in."  Sam walked her off, talking to her until they got her into the car.  "The witch reappeared, Jim.  I don't know what's going on."

"Those who go to hell alive often come back after they've paid."  John looked at the guy behind him.  "It's a fact that's saved many hunters over the years, John."  He got a raised-eyebrow look.  "Some of the others know about hunters too.  Who's missing?"

"Xander, Anya, and Buffy of the local team.  Probably a quarter of the town otherwise."

He nodded.  "I'll go in with Jim."  He pulled off his coat to show his collar.  They went to the agent guarding the makeshift fence.  "We're going on the search teams," he said.


"We're going on the search teams," Jim ordered.  That got a nod and they were led to them by him.  "We're here to help."  They gave them horrified looks.  "Some of us do know about these sort of things, boys.  Some of us are vets too.  I've seen bad before.  So has my colleague."

"Fine, Fathers.  We're checking for radiation."  That got a nod and they waited for the all clear, going to find bodies.  Jim checked the underground, sending off the few demons he found.  The team accepted him more after that.  The other Father was helping search buildings.


Three months later John got up to answer the knock on his current motel room door.  He stared at the boy there.  "How?"

"They decided I wasn't so angry anymore."  He stepped across the salt wards, nodding at Sam and Dean.  "Hi, guys."  He looked at him.  "They sent Angel back when he went too."

"They sent Willow back but she hasn't woken up yet."

Xander nodded.  "I was told that.  Buffy's being sent as a helper for the next slayer called.  She's a bit young and Joyce has her anyway.  The Powers said we did too much good work to let rot."  He shrugged.  "So I'm back but I'm to be a seer for a special family of hunters since yours is locked up, Sam."  Sam slumped.  He had been wondering.  He looked at John.  "How many demons have you pissed off, John?"

"Too many probably.  You?"

"Nearly every one that ran into me.  They had no idea what to do with us.  They weren't real pleased with me either.  They really hated me down there."

"Need medical attention?" Dean asked.

"Nah, the Powers healed them to scars already."  He looked at him.  "Yes, it's a reminder my mouth is large and too active."  He looked at John.  "Test me," he said quietly.  John pointed up at the poster he hung above the doorway.  "Cute way to do a mobile devil's trap."

"Dean thought it up."  He looked the boy over.  "So you're our seer specifically?"

"Yup.  The apocalypse the stupid bastard was starting off isn't done with."  That got a nod.  "Oh."  He smacked him on the head.  Then he grinned.  "Mary sent that.  She said she remembered you at this age and hopefully you had more patience this time."  John actually blushed.  "The Powers said hi too.  That's why Willow's still down.  She's paying amends."

"Will she wake up?" Sam asked.

"That depends on her."  That got a nod.  Xander looked at him.  "So, I'm here.  I'm under orders that I'm not to date another demon ever again.  The Powers said I unbalanced D'Hoffryn's realm by giving her a conscience."

"She made it back?"

"In the aftermath those who could be claimed were claimed first.  She begged but he ended up trading her to another position for someone meaner.  I'm told my stuff is going to be here tomorrow.  So can I bum a corner again?"

"Sure, Xander.  Not a problem."  He grinned.  "Anything coming up we have to know?"

"A few things but nothing critical tonight.  Tomorrow we're heading to South Dakota.  Job or not.  We have to take down the devil's gate and then head to Cleveland to introduce you guys to the new slayer on the newly active hellmouth."  That got a nod.  "By the way, the ghost?"  He snorted and shook his head.  "Talk to her and she'll pass on."  That got a nod.  Dean groaned, putting his head down.  "She's lonely.  She's been trapped for ages by someone way back when.  All she wants is out."

"I can do that," John agreed.  He grinned.  "Any other orders?"

"Not to smart off to the higher demons anymore.   A few decided I'd make a good mate and they were wrong."  He gave him a look.  "They said someday my mouth would get me in trouble."  He looked around and pointed. "I call that corner."

"Go for it, we have our own room," Dean assured him.  He grinned slightly.  "Are you in his truck or our car, Xander?"

"His.  My trouble magnet nature and Sam's together would cause problems.  But we'll draw the demons to us so less strenuous hunting while you guys all get old again."  He looked at John.  "Any idea why she was humming the theme song to My Little Pony?  It's still stuck in my head."

John burst out laughing, clapping him on the back.  "A lot of ideas.  Don't worry about it.  Sing a Disney song back and she'll stop, Xander.  Then put up your shields."  He nodded, settling into his corner to do that.  "Boys, let's handle that ghost."  They went to do that.  John stared at Xander.  "Even I remember how bad it was, kid," he said, sitting across from him.

"I stood in the way of them coming to touch a lot of kids that went, John."  He looked at him.  "Those who got claimed were gone nearly immediately.  The rest of us they played 'what do we do with you' tag with some other higher beings.  All of whom glared at me when I stepped in the way of one trying to claim a kid's soul because he parents were his.  It wasn't pretty but it was necessary."

John nodded.  "I can see that."  He shifted closer.  "Need to talk?  Or need me to look over the new scars, make sure they're all healed?"

"They're healed but they're painful reminders that my temper was way too hot and my mouth will keep getting me in trouble."

"I don't find anything wrong with you smarting off unless it's in the middle of an emergency and you're countering orders with it, Xander."

Xander smiled.  "They didn't see it that way.  Neither did the Powers."

"Fuck the Powers."

Xander nodded.  "I have a few scars from that sentiment as well.  Though, the angels that appeared for the innocent and unjustly imprisoned were rather nice about stopping the one trying to beat me into submission."

"Hunting meant you belonged there?"

"No, killing friends did.  When I pointed out why, they told me it wasn't my job.  So I told them it was, because they wouldn't want to be taken out by people who didn't know them.  The angel agreed hunters were special cases under special rules for sins."  He shrugged.  "I ended up in between but there were some that couldn't be sorted so I stayed to guard them."

"They okay?"

"Mostly taken by the good.  A few to more minor places that aren't so bad.  The last one taken of the group I was protecting told the angel to take me too.  He refused, said I was too bad for their realm but she didn't quite get to kick him.  He threatened to toss her back." John winced.  "She was twelve.  He didn't like the knife I took off a demon and threw at his wings for that threat.  She got taken by another one."  That got a nod.  "I'll be fine."

"I'm still having nightmares too."

"I figured you were but I'll push it back."  He shifted to lean his chin on his knees.  "It'll be fine.  The Powers decided they still hated me for stepping into something they didn't want me into but I had made sure their plans worked.  You're my reward," he finished dryly.

"I'm.... I'm not like that."

Xander smirked.  "That's between you and them.  I'm also here to be a signpost in case Sam starts to go wrong.  With the taint, it might happen so I'm an insurance policy."  John nodded at that.  "Meaning I get to spank him, not take him out."

"I can help with that.  He goes dark and we'll take turns."  Xander grinned.  "Any other messages?"

"In a few days you'll need to be waylaid or you could all die.  Would you rather have an accident or would you like to voluntarily take you and Dean out of the field for the next three months?"

John blinked.  "Why?"

"Because the daughter of the demon who was after Sam is still alive."

"We killed Meg."

"No, you killed her host, John.  Meg's demon soul is still around.  She had a part of it siphoned off and saved as a backup plan.  She was planning on putting it back into Sam in Cold Oak and then taking him over once he had opened the gateway."

"When is she coming?"

"If you're not in the accident?  Two weeks.  If you are, a few months."

"We have the colt."

"The colt's part of the problem."


"It's the key."


"The gateway."

John shuddered.  "We can't destroy it."

"No, but someone can remake it and we're going to see him on the way to the gateway so Dean can update him."



"Will he say stuff to you?"

"Maybe.  I don't care but maybe."  He grinned.  "How do you feel about broken legs?"

"I didn't like my last one."


"Thanks for the warning.  I'll make sure we have painkillers."  Xander nodded.  "The Impala or truck going to be totaled?"

"Nope.  Some front end damage.  The car'll have a bit worse.  She's going to try to set up the accident."

"Like with the semi?"

"A host."

"Huh.  Sure.  We'll handle it."  Xander nodded at that.  "Can we get to his place first?"

"Yup, sure can."

"Good."  He smiled.  "Need dinner?"

"Not now.  Tomorrow I'll eat."  John gave him a look.  "I'm not hungry yet."

"Okay."  He reached over and Xander let him pet him.  "You're back, you can relax now."

"If I relax now, you're without backup.  They made it *real* clear I'm the shield to make sure that you or Dean have the next generation of hunters.  Like slayers, every generation has hunters that are meant to do things specially."


"Dean.  That's why he's basically a male slayer."

"So his kid...."

"Or your next one, yeah."

"I doubt it'll happen."

Xander shrugged.  "They said one of you two has to spawn or else it'll be Sammy's daughter's job as a slayer.  Which I'll take on Watcher duties for until I'm gone."

"That's good to know.   Not meant to happen soon?"

"A few years."

"Good."  He relaxed again.  "Did Mary say anything about that?"

"To dress them in pink and make them a flaming queen so he shocked everyone before kicking their asses."  John cackled, nodding at that.  That sounded like his wife.  "But once they're born, the line doesn't have pockmarks for destiny for the next few generations.  Long after you guys quit hunting."

"Good to know.  What're they going to do instead?"

"One of the grandkids will be more like Sam.  He'll go into a normal, but associated field where he can help some hunters but he's not actively hunting.  His kids will too.  Dean's line will be down to a few girls at that point.  They'll marry and mostly leave the life, outside of telling the other kids in the family how to handle things.  There'll be one each generation but they'll be looked at funny.  By then, everyone else will know."  That got a slow nod.  "After a few generations of that style of Winchester prosperity, the next one with the pointy stick to the butt from destiny will come."


"Depends if she's male or female.  But probably.  They haven't decided yet."


Xander shrugged.  "Or you guys can have yourself fixed and the next great hunter will be slipped into someone's line thanks to tequila.  Probably Bobby's or Caleb's."

John shook his head.  "I'll warn Dean the higher ups are wanting us to spawn."

"Probably should.  They're mean about it.  They made my mom nearly be attacked to get me."  John stared.  "I wasn't meant to do this.  She was meant to be off the hellmouth.  It warped the problems a bit but they weren't paying attention."

"So you should've been a hunter?"

Xander nodded.   "They didn't expect the slayer line to be this strong.  I warped that by bringing back Buffy and making her stronger.  Instead of letting her die after nine months, Kendra after a few more.  Faith during the ascension.  The next one would've been killed by the Initiative.  That would've made Dean's calling harder and more important and mine too if it had happened the way they had planned.  But the hellmouth made Mom too drunk to move away from there.  So we stayed."

"Was Willow's gifts planned?"

"Nope.  They planned for Amy Madison to be the strong witch."  That got a grimace.  "When things started to warp, then she turned herself into a rat, they basically had a hissy at their game board overturning.  Willow stepped in and they decided to let her because it'd be easier.  It would've been Amy until Tara got there."

"Tara's fine.  We got her to safety and she's by Bobby.  He's taken her on as a niece."

"Good.  She deserves happiness since her time of duty is over with unless she wants to continue."  Dean stomped in.  "Have a good eavesdropping?"

"I'm not having kids."

"Yell at the Powers, Dean, not me.  And it's you or him."

"No other hopes?"

"Your niece being the first Winchester slayer but probably not the last."

Dean sat down, grimacing.  "That sucks."

"Sucks is going to happen in about a week or else you can go take up my spot in hell."  He stared at him.  "The broken legs will heal."


"Part of Meg was safely stored so she could take over Sammy," John told him quietly.  "That means she's still around."

"She's coming to avenge her daddy?"

"Get her father back.  Which she can't.  It's really hard to get to that box, even with tunneling equipment or demons.  So she'll want Sam anyway.  The only way to save you all from her taking you out to get Sam is to make sure you're not in the right place at the wrong time."

"My car?" he whined.

"Slight front end damage and some firewall damage."

"Relatively easy to fix," John decided.  "Cops?"

"Yup, but you won't have to run from the scene."  That got a dual nod.  "Sam?"

"Talking to the ghost.  Any idea when this mythical kid will appear?"

"Few years.  When Sam starts to drink it should probably be accidentally on purpose brought into being."  That got a nod from both of them.  "Because they'll make him drink and she'll be a tequila baby."

"Good to know," John said.  "Okay, we can handle that when the time comes."

Xander looked up then at him.  "Your wife is pushy."

"Yes she was.  More of that theme song?"

"And her giggling.  Something about that night in the park and you had that same look when the cop kept walking past?"  John blushed.  "Ah.  Never mind."  He glared up.  "Do you mind?  Go possess someone else."  He looked at Dean.  "She's a pisser, but she's kinda pushy."

"Figured we got the stubborn streak from both sides since Sammy's worse than Dad."

Xander nodded. "Kinda, yeah."  He stood up and stretched.  "I should nap.  Tomorrow's some driving."

"Go ahead, Xander," John said, looking at his son.  "Go help Sam."  He nodded, going to do that.  He watched the boy settle in then laid back on his own to talk to his wife.  "Mary, don't be pushy with him.  He's a nice boy," he said softly.

Xander's body sat up and she gave him a look.  "I know that.  That's why I suggested he come watch over my boys, John."  He smiled at her.  "He's a good boy but could use a lot of cuddles."  She stood him up and walked him over.  "You've got a second chance, John.  Don't blow it."

"I don't plan on it."

"The vows were 'to death do us part' not 'until we're reunited in the afterlife'."  She stared at him.  "Not that I mind.  Whoever it is had better be special after me."  He shook his head.  "Yeah, it's time."

"No.  Sorry but no."

"The Powers nearly sent him back in Willow's body to do this job, John."

"Not my thing, thanks anyway."

She leaned down to kiss him on the head.  "I know."  Sam stomped in.  "My baby."

Sam stared.  "That's just freaky."

"It's me, son," she sighed, shaking her head.

Dean strolled in and closed the door.  "Hi, Mom.  Are you staying?"

She gave them a hug.  "Now and then I'll visit.  Xander can't block out spirits like I am.  Only the more annoying ones stuffed in things."  She smiled and ruffled Sam's hair.  "I'm proud."  He grinned.  She tweaked Dean's nose, making him frown.  "You've been the best big brother.  I'm very proud of how you stepped up, Dean."  She kissed him on the cheek. "Try to make your father less stubborn?  Just a bit please?"

"Not possible," they said together, cracking her up.

"Good boys.  I'll be around.  Watching very carefully.  Dean, you have better taste than the whore at the bar earlier."  He went bright red and ducked his head, looking at the floor.  She patted him on the cheek.  "Find a nice girl to play with."

"Want me to go see Buffy?" he asked.

"I think you'd be hurt when she passes on again.  She'll have to go sometime."  He nodded.  "Not that I'd mind.  She's cute."  Dean nodded at that.  "But you need someone a bit more calm and a bit less bouncy, son.  Or else it'd be like you were dating your brother."  Dean cackled, shaking his head.  "That's my good boy.  At least find a good one to play more seriously with instead of the disease patrol."  She tweaked Sam's ear.  "You, I liked that brunette earlier.  Faith's a good girl."  He blushed, looking sheepish.  "And she's a slayer.  She'll understand all the stuff going on in your life and soul, Sammy.  She's been there a lot."  She smiled at John.  "Wouldn't Sammy and Faith make a decent couple?"

"I never met Faith.  I'd have to meet her, Mary."

"You'll meet her tomorrow at the gate."  She smirked at her husband.  "You, quit moping.  It makes me want to hug you to wipe the unhappy scowl off your face."

"I doubt Xander would like that," Dean said.

"Actually, Xander probably wouldn't mind but he'll fuss about it for form's sake."  She stared at her husband.  "I'm not suggesting it but anyone to make you a bit happier is fine with me, John.  Really.  You've been alone for a long time.  It's making you a bigger pain than my dad was."  She faded out of Xander, making him go limp and hit the floor.  Sam helped him into a chair while Dean got him something to drink.

Xander blinked at him.  "Man, your wife had some strange thoughts.  Especially for when she was alive.  Very open minded."

"Very.  You okay?"

"For some reason I seem to have a headache," he said dryly, taking the cup of ice water Dean had made him.  "Thanks, Dean."

"Welcome, Xander.  Any other higher news?"

He nodded, looking at Sam.  "Faith went bad for a bit because she'd seen too much.  She's better now.  You two will be like Cordy and I were, all heat and passion but some quieter moments now and then.  Plus she can help you guys hunt when you're close enough.  It'll be good for her to have a reason to keep going."  He took another sip, getting a nod.  "She's downstairs."

Sam went to find her, knocking on her door.  "Hi, Faith, you don't know me, but my family hunts and Xander's just been sent back as our seer.  He said to come talk to you and maybe bring you up to talk to him?"

"What?" she demanded.  "Who are you?"

"Sam Winchester.  Willow brought our father back before Sunnydale went rogue."

She blinked.  "I heard that story from B before she sent me here."

"Cool.  We just got Xander back.  He's upstairs in my dad's room."

"Let me put on shoes," she grumbled, coming up with him.  She walked in.  "Boytoy, looking rough."

"John's former wife just took me over to tease her boys."  He waved his cup.  "Who sent you this way?"

"B.  You?"

"The Powers.  They sent me to be their seer.  Because they do stupid, yet necessary stuff like we do."  Faith snickered at that, nodding a bit smugly.  "And because Sam's got a dark taint in him."  She quit looking as happy.  "The Powers said they'd give you a few months clear of danger if you hit him up."

"This is their way of setting us up?" she demanded.  He nodded with an evil smirk.  "You're helping?"

"Yup.  I think you two could mellow each other out very well.  He hunts but has a dark taint he can't go back to.  You have a dark taint you can't go back to or the Powers will smack the slayer line down."  She shivered.  "So yeah.  They think it'll be a good match.  I think at the very least you two should talk and become friends.  He could use someone who knows and doesn't judge him for being demon tainted."

She looked at him.  Then at Xander.  "He'd understand?"

"His family started hunting because the demon wanted him.  Got his mom when he was six-months-old.  And if his big brother or father don't have a kid, some year he'll have a daughter who does it just like you do."

"Slayer?" she asked.  Xander nodded.  "Damn.  Poor future kid."  She looked at Sam then shrugged.  "I won't promise to go with their plans but I could use a friend to talk to."

He grinned.  "I could like that too.  Dean won't let me talk about stuff.  He calls me mushy."

"I'm not much for mushy but hell, B warped me too," she said dryly.  "Where are you guys heading?"

"South Dakota.  Same gateway you're there to help take down.  We've got a side trip though."

"Then I'll meet you guys there tomorrow."  She punched Sam on the arm.  "We'll see if we can be friends since X is getting the higher up's pipedreams."  She went back to her room.

"She's got a good, big heart, Sam.  As her former friend, I will kick your ass if you hurt her by breaking it," Xander assured him.

"I'm not like that."

"Good."  He yawned.  "Let me go to sleep for real since that theme song is gone."  He went to curl up in his corner, going to sleep for real this time.

John looked at his boys.  "He's very active."

"He's like the first puff of air you get in the winter when you walk outside the morning after the first big snowfall," Sam agreed.  He yawned.  "I released her and she's gone.  I'm going to bed.  Dean?"

"Coming."  He let his brother go.  "Are you going to follow Mom's orders?" he asked quietly.

"I might let myself closer to some but I doubt I'll remarry, son."

"That's fine.  It'd be kinda creepy, Dad."  He went to his room, laying down to think about all this.  His mom was more blunt than anyone but Bobby.  He hadn't remembered that.


Xander walked into Bobby's house, over the devil's trap, making him gape in horror.  "Messenger duty."  He grinned.  "Special seer for special hunters, straight from the Powers."

"John described you well, Xander."

"Thanks.  You can be jumpy but they're going to the gateway so I'm doing this errand."  He held up the box.  "Problems."

"Why?"  He took it to look inside.  "It's the colt."

"It's also the key to the gateway they need to take down."

Bobby moaned.  "We can't destroy it."

"No, but you can remake it.  Change the barrel and the non-important parts.  Make it a different sort of key."

"That I might be able to do," he agreed.  "Any other concerns?"

"Yeah, they're going to be banged up soon.  Broken legs and maybe a few ribs, maybe a concussion banged up."  Bobby glared.  He held up a hand.  "Soon, not today.  Meg's still got a piece of her active.  She's coming. It's either an accident that keeps them out of her way or they go head-to-head in a few weeks.  This gives you time to work on the gun."

"I'll keep that in mind when they come to grump me to death.  Broken legs?"  Xander nodded.  "A lot of car damage?"

"Front end.  Some firewall on the Impala."

"I can handle that."  He looked the boy over.  "You okay?"

"So far.  I've pushed back the memories a whole lot.  They all told me my smart ass mouth was why I was in so much trouble and caused them so much trouble."  He gave him a look.  "John also suggested I talk to you about other shielding methods.  He was a bit freaked out when his wife took me over and made me crawl in with him about four this morning."  Bobby burst out laughing.  Xander sat down.  "I can block them from things like that book that has something stuffed in it but not all free floating spirits."

"Do the exercises?"

"I have been.  She took me over twice yesterday."

"Let me see what I can pull up, Xander."  He took the gun with him to look over.  He called a few who knew more about gunsmithing than he did but it could only help.  "How soon if they do have that accident?"

"Three months."

"Hopefully that'll be enough time."  He found the books he needed, bringing them out to go over them with the boy.  He didn't blame John, he'd be freaked out by Mary telling him to date Xander too.

The End.