To Start Again


by
Gnome



Part Five

Xander came downstairs a few hours later feeling, not rested really, but a lot better than he had been earlier. He was also hungry, which was new, he honestly hadn’t had any kind of desire for food in months. So he headed for the kitchen, where he found Cordelia already awake and dressed, trying to find coffee filters.

“Cordy, you’re looking lovely this morning. Why don’t you let me make the coffee, since you already have everything out, and you can locate the cereal for me, because I don’t know where everything is?” Xander said, in a slight panic. Cordelia had only made coffee for him once, and Xander was very determined to never repeat the experience again.

“You’re not fooling anyone, mister.” Cordy told him, but she handed the coffee filters over anyway. “And you need to eat more than just cereal. I think Gunn was right, you’re getting way too thin.”

“Of course I’m right. The kid looks like he needs someone to look after him. We need to get some meat on your bones.” Gunn told him as he walked in and began pulling things out of the fridge for breakfast. Wesley, who had come in with Gunn, noticed Xander shifting uncomfortably and tugging on his shirt, so he offered to change his bandages while they waited for Charles to finish cooking. Xander gratefully agreed and they went into the other room where the medical supplies were still sitting form the night before.

It didn’t take long to change the bandages and Wesley was pleased to note that none of the new stitches had been pulled during the night. Soon they were back in the kitchen. Xander had decided to leave his shirt off since it hurt to pull it back on, and both of his shoulders were already throbbing with pain. Without the covering everyone was able to see just how thin the boy had become. Cordelia was concerned to realize that he was even skinnier than he had been in high school. They could also see the extent of the injuries to his torso. With a new determination to help as much as they could, they all set about making Xander feel welcome.

Dawn came downstairs a while later with Spike, the delicious smells from the kitchen drawing her there, where she found everyone, except Angel, already gathered. Xander was leaning against the counter without a shirt on. Normally this would have been a sight the teen would relish, except that this was the first time she had gotten a clear view of his injuries. She had of course known he was hurt, but the previous night the vampires had been blocking her view, and her argument with Cordelia had kept her distracted. Now she could see the bruises that were spread out over his chest, the tape on his ribs and the edges of the bandages that covered his back. The sight of them started to really upset her; how could her sister have let him drive when he was hurt like that? Giles should have at least noticed; he was an adult after all. She hurried over to Xander’s side and began fussing.

Xander had been surprised when Dawn had let out a strange sort of squeak and then rushed over to him; he had been too busy staring at Spike. Wow, so that’s what they mean by sexily sleep tousled. She was babbling something about his injuries and being sorry. This won’t do. I can’t let her think it’s her fault, she shouldn’t be worrying so much. Xander set about comforting the distraught girl, murmuring soft reassurances and teasing her gently, until she was calm again. “Come on Dawnie, you know I bruise easily, it’s not nearly as bad as it looks. You’re going to make me look bad if you keep treating me like a wimp. Do you want everyone to think I‘m unmanly?”

“You are such a goof, Xander. Are you sure you’re OK?” Dawn asked him as she finally stepped away from him.

“Yeah, I’m good, kiddo, don’t stress so much. We’re safe here, I may be off the heavy duty roster, but I’m still research guy and we’re going to figure out a way to beat Glory. I promise it’s going to be alright,” he told her with a quick hug.

The others in the room had been watching the entire scene and were both incensed by Xander’s continued downplaying of himself and his importance, and impressed with the way he handled the emotional girl. Spike was not pleased to notice that his Sire was now standing behind his minions, also watching Xander with great interest.


~*~*~*~*~


Over the next few days they all settled into a routine of sorts. The AI team would rotate between researching the Hell God problem and helping their own clients and going out on the missions the PTB sent visions for. Spike was really enthusiastic about having a legitimate reason to kill things as well as fighting beside his Sire. Xander wasn’t allowed to do any of the fighting, but frighteningly enough, he did understand Cordelia’s filing system. So he helped with the paperwork and reassuring clients. Angel and Cordelia had asked him to help with a client on a whim, but everyone was amazed to realize that Xander was good at it. His naturally compassionate temperament and personable attitude was turning out to be a huge asset to the team. None of them had realized how lacking they were in that department until now. Dawn had proven to have an uncanny knack for research, and she liked feeling helpful, something that was often denied to her in Sunnydale. Plus she got to go shopping with Cordelia, who was so much cooler than Buffy, because they had driven here without being able to pack. They got to pick out clothes for everyone, and Cordy assured her that she didn’t need to worry about using Angel’s credit cards to pay for it all.

Cordelia continued to update them on everything that had been going on in L.A. She explained to them that there was another person in the hotel, but that she was extremely shy, so it might be a while before they met her. She told them all about Wolfram and Hart. How they had brought back Darla, which had Spike growling until Dawn told him to stop. Cordy had then told them about Drusilla turning Darla then wondering off. Angel had been able to stake Darla before Drusilla returned for her. But it had been distressing for him, having to dust his Sire for a second time; he had let Drusilla go, unable to kill his childe after that, and returned to his friends. Drusilla had gone back to the law office and killed a large group of lawyers. Angel had been upset, but it was too late to do anything about it, and the others had understood he hadn’t meant for it to happen. Spike was relieved to know that his dark princess had been spared. He didn’t love her like he had, but he didn’t want her dusted either. Xander tried to ignore the stab of jealousy he felt when Spike realized that Dru had escaped. Cordelia was oblivious to the byplay and continued to tell them about their misadventure in Pylea, and her ill-fated reign. That was how they learned exactly who Fred was.

Xander actually encountered the strange young woman on their fourth day in the hotel. He had come across her while exploring. She had been writing what looked like formulas on the walls of a room, he didn’t know what any of it meant, but he recognized some of the symbols from looking through Willow’s notebooks. After being sure to make a little noise so she wouldn’t be startled by his presence, he told her about his Willow girl, telling her how he thought they would get along really well. Fred hadn’t answered him, but she hadn’t run away either. Eventually he needed to get back to the others, so he left her with an open invitation to come hang out with him anytime.

When he told the others about the meeting they were surprised but pleased by the shy girl’s progress. Angel didn’t even bother to hide his amusement at Spike’s obvious jealousy. The younger vampire was still acting overprotective and possessive of both his charges. He was normally able to control himself, but the oddest things seemed to set him off. Dawn and Xander teased him about it constantly, but Angel didn’t think that either of them really understood what it meant.

On the seventh day after their arrival they still hadn’t found much to go on, just a few vague references that could have meant anything. The whole crew was sitting around the lobby tossing out ideas and suggestions, debating over what sort of methods might work and what they could use. They were so caught up in their argument that no one but Xander saw the small uncertain figure clinging to the wall by the hallway, and even he only saw her out of the corner of his eye. Before he could invite her to join them she spoke up.

“Can I help?” The timid Texas accent cut through the chatter in the room as everyone turned in shock to stare at the speaker.

“Of course you can.” Xander told her happily as he stood up and led her over to an empty seat. “We can use all the help we can get!”





Interlude

Cool skin like satin covered steel slid over his body. The tight press of flesh seemed to burn every nerve ending, making him whimper, for more or for release he wasn’t sure. His heart was pounding in his chest and it seemed so hard to breathe, and, oh Gods, he wanted it to go on forever. Sweat slicked and body straining he reached for his lover, desperate for something he wasn’t sure he could fathom. Pressure built inside him as they rocked together, their movements becoming frantic until the world finally exploded into a thousand fragments of agonized pleasure. An ecstasy beyond anything he’d ever known before consumed him as he shouted his lover’s name.


~*~

“Spike!” Xander shouted as he jerked awake. He was covered in sweat and could feel the cooling evidence of his dream on his stomach and thighs beneath the sheets. His heart was beating so hard it hurt and he didn’t know what he felt, but he was eternally grateful that Dawn had started sleeping in her own room.

The object of his confusion came slamming through the door within seconds of his cry, apparently thinking that he’d had a nightmare, and gathered him into a soothing embrace. He wasn’t sure if he was comforted by the calming touches and whispers, or just more confused by them.


~*~

Spike hid an extremely pleased smile in the boy’s hair as he continued to whisper reassurances and kept petting the pliant body in his arms. So the boy was dreaming naughty things about him, this was an interesting development; he couldn’t have been more delighted if he tried. Oh, but this would make everything so much easier. He allowed the sweetly enticing scents of lust and confusion to sooth his demon while he stepped up his subtle seduction of the young man he had come to care so much about.





Part Six

Xander was amazed the next day when he realized he was happy, other than feeling a little awkward around Spike. He felt useful and competent; not something he normally felt back in Sunnydale. He had never really thought about how his friends treated him, or how it might affect him personally. The AI gang was really supportive, always telling him how well he was doing and what a big help he was, even Angel. He and Cordy fell back on the less hurtful pattern of banter they had enjoyed before their breakup, but without the romantic tension. Wes and Gunn were turning out to be great friends as well. After he had apologized to the former Watcher for being such an ass, they had settled into an easy camaraderie. Gunn was just awesome, all street smarts and seemingly hard edges. The man had gone through similar experiences fighting the creatures of the night, which gave them a common ground, but he was so much cooler than Xander would ever be. Gunn was also a complete mother hen, even if he denied it. He was always fussing over Xander and Dawn, which left them both flustered and delighted, even though they wouldn’t admit it, either.

Dawn was blossoming in front of his eyes. She no longer sat around angsting over whether or not she was real, or dwelling over her mother’s death. Instead she practically vibrated with energy as she helped around the hotel, always being spoiled by someone or just basking in the fact that she was useful here. She was still occasionally sad and moody, but on the whole she was doing much better. Everything seemed so great, but that only made him feel bad, because he couldn’t help feeling that he shouldn’t be happy when all was not well back in the Dale.

He and Fred had hit it off immediately after she decided to join the rest of them. They worked well together, and it was fun to talk to someone who babbled as much as him. Plus, Fred was really smart and a wiz at research. They could often be seen around the hotel together after that. Fred liked that Xander would listen to her, and was always willing to explain things with amazing patience. It never seemed to matter what she asked, be it something as simple as why did Twinkies taste so good when they were just this side of toxic, to confusing ones about social interaction, Xander always thought it out and then explained it as best he could. Xander for his part was used to dealing with these sorts of things from his time with Anya. This made him very good at helping someone readjust to normal life, or at least as close to normal as they ever got. Xander was also able to draw on the experiences from his long friendship with Willow in order to be a springboard for Fred’s inventions and ideas, even though they all seemed way over his head.

Spike was also enjoying himself. It felt great to be away from the oppressive atmosphere of the Hellmouth and the Scooby gang, to know that his humans were safe and well guarded, and to be hunting beside his Sire again. for the first time in months Spike was well fed, Angel was making sure that he had at least one pint of human blood a day, so he was regaining a lot of the strength he had lost. Even his demon was content for the first time since the chip had been shoved into his skull. It was pleased by the evidence of his favorite Childe status, a lot of lovely violence and the possibility of a lover.

He was, however, concerned about how much time his boy was spending with the new human chit. She was nice enough, and it was often amusing as all bloody hell to watch her and Xander babble at each other in tandem without getting confused, but Xander was his. So he spent some time interrogating Angel about her, ignoring the other vampire’s obvious amusement. Once he was sure Fred was in no way a threat, he graciously allowed Xander to carry on with the association, although he continued to keep a close eye on them. Xander noticed Spike’s behavior, but convinced himself it didn’t mean what he thought he might want it to. So he teased Spike incessantly about it, and ignored the niggling little hope in the back of his mind.

Dawn made sure to call home often and talk to her sister and the other Scoobies. During the first call after their arrival she had torn into all of them for not noticing how hurt Xander had been, but other than that one fight their conversations tended to be happy events. Xander made sure to take part in these calls, taking on the responsibility of keeping everyone up to date on what they had found. Like the hints that Glory was of a dual nature, something that Wes thought meant she had a host, but they weren’t sure. They had also found mention of a possible object that she feared, or might be her weakness. That little tidbit had been found in an obscure text that was incredibly vague, even by their standards, so they were following up on it, but weren’t relying too heavily on it.

Those conversations always left Xander feeling a little strange. Willow always made a fuss about apologizing to him for her carelessness. It gave him a warm fuzzy feeling to know that his best friend still cared about him. It seemed like forever since he and his best friend had just talked and showed their care for each other. So their conversations left him feeling buoyant and sure that things would start to get better between them. Buffy, on the other hand, was often distant with him, and she would make little jokes, or tell him she was glad he was being so useful for a change. By the time he got off the phone he always seemed to be torn between being happy and hurt.

About a week and a half after their arrival Wes finally decided it was safe to take out Xander’s stitches, seeing as he refused to go back to the hospital. The whole procedure turned into a side show and had Xander wishing that they had waited to do it when everyone was gone, or at least done it in the office. Instead he had ended up sitting in the lobby, shirtless, and the center of a lot of attention.

Spike was sitting beside him on the couch, holding his hand while growling at the ex-watcher to be careful. Xander wanted to explain that the stitches didn’t hurt coming out, it was just a creepy sensation, but didn’t just in case Spike decided to stop comforting him. Cordy and Dawn had both decided he would need a treat afterwards and were in the kitchen making cookies, Yay! At least I get chocolate out of all this. They would come back in occasionally to coo over him, but mostly stayed out of the way. Angel was helping remove the stitches, something that seemed to irritate Spike, who couldn’t help due to the chip. Gunn was the most amusing. His constant ranting about teaching Xander how to fight was keeping Xander distracted from what was going on.

“Seriously, kid, you need a keeper! Who the hell taught you to fight anyway? ‘Cause from what I’ve seen, they did a piss poor job!” It was becoming harder and harder to keep the grin off his face as Xander watched Gunn pace in front of him. Jeeze, one little incident with a demon client and the guy turns into my Mom. Only he’s a lot more mom-ish, because my Mom isn’t so much with the caring, nurturing vibe. Thank you so much, Cordy, for telling him it happens all the time. In truth he really liked having so many people care about what happened to him. It made him all warm and tingly.

Spike was watching everyone in the room as well as the removal of the stitches. Everything was moving along rather nicely in his opinion. Xander was healing adequately, he barely even limped anymore and the bruises were all but faded. He had also stepped up his seduction, and the boy was responding well. He had stopped moving away from casual touches and didn’t so much as twitch anymore when Spike would randomly caress him, like Spike was doing now. They were even making progress with the whole Glory deal. All in all, Spike’s unlife was good.


~*~*~*~*~


The next day Xander and Fred were once again in the office they had set up for research, going over everything they had found as well as searching through the newest texts that Angel and Wesley had been able to procure. Xander was starting to go a little stir crazy, but Gunn had promised to take him out to meet some of his friends later that night, so he was able to keep it together. They had been sitting there for about two hours, relaxing in the comfortable silence that had settled between them, when Fred sudden sat up and grabbed Xander’s arm in excitement.

“Xander, this is it! I think I’ve found something!”





Part Seven

Xander and Fred wasted no time in calling a meeting to share what they had found. In one of the new texts Fred had found not only another reference to Glory’s weakness, but a name for the object as well. From there they had spent several more hours scouring the rest of the scroll, plus the others that had been with it. Their efforts had paid off when they located another scroll that was all about Glory, her home dimension and also confirmed their theory that Glory’s dual nature meant that she had a host. The knowledge that she did in fact have a host did them little good however, since the scroll also stated that the host was protected by very strong magic to prevent the discovery of its identity. So eliminating Glory by finding her vessel was out.

They had all gathered in the lobby within two hours of Xander calling the AI crew together, waiting for the Chinese takeout he had ordered, before they started. Once they were all settled, Xander explained everything they had discovered, showing them the scrolls and getting Wesley to make sure they had everything correct. With all of them working together they finally began to formulate a plan. However, it didn’t take long before they hit a snag.

“So what do we do about the host? I mean it’s her weak point, but how do we exploit it if we can’t find anything else about it or even who it is?” Cordelia asked as they went over the scrolls yet again. No one knew what to say to that, so a lull fell over the room as they contemplated the new problem.

“It’s too bad we don’t still have that wand thingy; then we could just split them like the Toth demon did to Xander.” Dawn said suddenly into the silence as she reached for more sweet and sour chicken. Xander blinked at her for a minute then nodded his agreement. Spike looked thoughtful, but there was a weird little grin on his face that made Xander want to blush for some reason.

“Huh?” Was the unanimous reaction from the LA team. So Xander told them about his short stint as twins, explaining all about Toth’s plan to separate Buffy’s aspects and kill the weaker half, but Xander getting hit instead. “Once we figured out what was going on, it was really neat to hang out with the other me. Now I have both sets of memories, but they’re a little blurry.” Xander finished. He was avoiding looking at Spike because he still had that smile that made Xander feel all fluttery.

“Wow, Dawn’s right, it is too bad Buffy broke the wand thingy, it would have been perfect!” Cordelia commented mournfully. Wesley, on the other hand, was looking off into space and muttering to himself. He had originally commented on how fascinating the concept was, and then drifted off. After a minute of everyone watching him, he snapped out of it with the exclamation, “I think it could work.”

“Hey, English, wanna share with the rest of us?” Gunn asked his friend, pulling the former watcher’s attention back to the group, who were now staring at him intently.

Wesley blushed at the attention but immediately explained. “I think I might be able to locate a similar artifact through my connections. If we can find it, then I can use a spell to modify it so that it will specifically split Glory from her host. The problem would then be that Glory would be manifested in her Godly form. She would be weakened from the split, but I have no idea just how weak she would be.”

“Well, that would be where the other thing would come in, right?” Xander asked. “From the information Fred and I found in that scroll it sounded like some kind of weakness for her. I mean, I know I’m kinda on the slow side so I didn’t understand all of it, but that’s want it sounded like.”

To Xander’s surprise he received a smack from both Gunn and Spike when he finished. “Dude, what have we told you about saying shit like that about yourself.” Gunn growled at him. Spike nodded his agreement; it was scary how well those two got along now that they had started agreeing on more and more things where Xander was concerned. What had started out as open hostility between the two had somehow developed into an uneasy alliance. Dawn thought it was funny, but since Xander was often the focus of their undivided attention, he wasn’t nearly as amused. Even if it was nice to have people always telling him he was smarter than he gave himself credit for.

Wesley brought the group back to the matter at hand when he answered Xander’s question. “The artifact can be considered as a weapon against Glory; however, it appears to be a method of trapping her, not hurting her, so we would still need to find a way in which to immobilize her long enough to use it. We will need to find out more information on this Jewel of Entangled Souls, I believe it was called. I’m not sure exactly how it will work. I shall also get hold of my contact and begin steps to procure everything we will need.”

So they went back to their normal pattern of AI business and research, although there was the added activity of Gunn training with Xander and Dawn. They stuck to the easy stuff since both of the Sunnydale natives were still recovering from their injuries, but even with Dawn’s arm still in a cast she could learn basic defense techniques. Even Spike and Angel started to get involved with their training. The two vampires would drop by the sessions and give advice or correct stances. It was funny and strange to have these people, who had been either a stranger until recently or old rivals and enemies, taking the time to train them. Even odder when you realized that, even though they were just as busy as their friends were, they still managed to make the time for the two weakest members of the group. It made Xander wonder why Giles had never bothered.

Fred was working hard on figuring out a way to put Glory out of action long enough for them to use the Jewel against her. She had come up with multiple different inventions, all of which Xander thought could have come straight out of one of his comic books. He had a lot of fun helping her out and giving her ideas, all of which she accepted with a laughing smile and a lot of teasing about him being a geek. Xander, being the mature individual he was, simply replied, “Takes one to know one!”

Wesley had gotten in touch with his contacts and was in the process of tracking down everything that they would or might need to pull off their plan. He had found out exactly what the Jewel was and was now looking for a way to use it. He had even tracked down something similar to Toth’s scepter. So, the basics of their plan were finally coming together. The only thing left to do was call Sunnydale and inform the others of the plan.





Interlude

Angel stood in the background and watched in fascination as his usually hyper and blunt Childe actually managed some level of subtlety while dealing with Xander. He didn’t even think the boy noticed that Spike was wooing him, or if he did he was incredibly good at hiding it. Angel couldn’t help but feel some level of pride in the cunning and skill that Spike was using to seduce the young man.

He had known as soon as he had seen Spike that the other vampire was planning on making the boy his, and while he wasn’t thrilled with the thought of having to deal with his annoying Childe and his most irritating mortal ally as a pair, he was resigned to the fact that it was going to happen.

He was, however, beginning to revise his original opinion of the situation. Now that he had the opportunity to watch everyone and get to know them he could see how well they complimented each other. He also had to admit he could see how beneficial it would be to the both of them. Xander needed someone to care for him and accept the affection he was so desperate to give. Spike in turn needed to be loved and to take care of his loved one. They would be good for each other. Together they seemed to bring out the best qualities of the other and counteract the bad ones. For instance, Xander seemed to keep Spike calmer, preventing him from bouncing off the walls, and Spike helped Xander feel more confident, always encouraging him to speak up and add to the conversations.

Angel sat in his corner and pondered on the new members of his team and how they were affecting the others. Upon reflection he decided that it was a good change. The Sunnydale group filled in some of the gaps that his team had and made them more effective, and he wanted to sort out how he felt about their contributions and how he could get them to stay. He didn’t have a lot of time to ponder things like he wanted to though, he knew that at any moment someone was going to realize that he was there, and then they were going to accuse him of brooding and drag him away from his thoughts and force him to interact with the others. But for the moment he was left in peace with his thoughts, his observations.

So he thought on how wonderful it was to have his favorite Childe back with him, knowing that he was equally able to watch his back and protect his humans. That gave him a sense of peace that he hadn’t had since he was originally cursed; even his demon agreed with him in that regard, content with the situation. Next he moved on to Dawn, who had surprised him with her willingness to help and her knowledge about demons and research methods. Wesley had been utterly delighted to finally have someone to help him with their research needs as well as to finally have someone who was interested in what he was talking about and who wanted to learn. Wesley had been so much more energetic and happy since the children had arrived, thriving in the new atmosphere. But the one who was making the most difference was Xander.

Xander was an amazing young man and Angel took a moment to acknowledge how badly he had misjudged him. Since his arrival Angel had been closely observing his interactions with his employees, and now he could see all the things his distrust and jealousy had blinded him to back in Sunnydale. Xander was honestly an attentive, funny and sensitive individual who was loyal to a fault. And he desperately wanted to mend fences with him and start over as friends. Xander had shown him exactly what his team had been missing, someone who had an affinity for dealing with people, empathy for their troubles, and the ability to know when to give comfort and when to back off. More importantly he brought a measure of humor into otherwise dark situations, breaking up the stress and allowing them to see things from a different angle. He hadn’t appreciated the tactic for what it was when they had been in Sunnydale, but now that he had been without it he could see it for the benefit it was.

Xander also seemed to bridge the differences between the AI team, helping them to work more effectively together. He had so much experience with Willow and Giles that he had no problem interpreting for the others whatever it was that Wesley or Fred were trying to explain, and he gave Gunn someone normal to relate to, who he could just be a guy around and not stress over it. Cordy and Xander were something to behold whenever they came in contact. He gave her a much needed outlet for her sharp wit and seemed to breathe new life into the former cheerleader. His gentle affection with Fred seemed to inspire the young woman to be a more out going and give her confidence.

He had just begun to plot different ways of getting at least Xander and Spike to stay, with the hope that they could have Dawn visit on weekends, when said girl finally caught sight of him lurking in the corner. Immediately she caught hold of his arm and dragged him over to where the others where currently debating on what to order for dinner, lecturing him the whole way about his unhealthy lurking habit, and did he really want her to have to tell on him to Cordy and Xander? Angel allowed himself to be manhandled by the wisp of a girl and hid his smile at her threats, content with the knowledge that they all cared about him, and finally it felt like he had a home.





Part Eight

Xander had held off on calling Sunnydale while they got everything set up and prepared. He wanted to be sure that they had everything in order and explainable before presenting it. They also had quite a few normal chores to do as well, such as taking Dawn to the doctor for her checkup. While she was there they replaced her full cast with a smaller, elbow length one. The whole crew took turns signing her new cast, and the few patches they didn’t cover, Xander put random little stickers on. The only awkward moment was when Cordelia realized that Spike had added fangs to her happy face. At which she commenced with trying to explain why he shouldn’t mess with her things, while using her favorite axe to make her point.

Finally, they had everything they needed, and explained to those who required it so that they would all be on the same page. Wesley had managed to locate and procure all of the artifacts and components that they would need, as well as a several others that he had thought might be of use. Xander immediately began working out a basic outline for the conversation, so that they wouldn’t get too far off track. The only thing he wasn’t able to get worked out was who would be going. Fred and Wesley were the obvious choice, but there hadn’t been time to figure out the rest in the last few days. Xander wasn’t too worried; they could work it out later. Personally he couldn’t wait to see his friends again. When he was finished and everything else was as settled as they could make it, Xander called Giles in order to set up a time for everyone to attend a conference call. When the designated time finally rolled around he rounded everyone up into the lobby where they gathered nervously around the phone to place the long awaited phone call. With one final deep breath, Xander centered himself and dialed.

Fortunately, with all things considered, the phone call went a lot smoother than Xander had anticipated. He had been expecting Buffy to try to pull rank and dominate the conversation, but someone must have pulled her aside and given her instructions on how to behave, because she had hardly acted up at all during the debriefing. Xander strongly suspected that Giles and Angel had conspired on the matter, but he let the thought go as unimportant. So, after a brief round of pleasantries and introductions for those who didn’t know each other, Xander had turned the job of explaining everything over to Wesley.

Wesley had done a phenomenal job of explaining their plan, covering all the basic information and detailing the things that it required, all in a manner that everyone listening could understand. The only point he had to skim over was who exactly would go since it was still a matter of contention and he wanted to avoid arguing in front of the Scoobies. He took the time to explain the magical side of things and how they had come up with the plan to split Glory after hearing about Xander’s stint as twins, much to the bemusement of the Sunnydale gang. Giles had wanted to know how they intended to do that and Xander took back over for a moment to happily explain how Wesley had gone well above expectations to get everything they required, which caused the former Watcher to blush and stutter before getting everyone back on track.

The rest listened with avid interest when he told them about the method they had discovered in order to split Glory from her host, and the combined use of science and magic to capture her mortal counterpart and distract the godly half long enough for them to activate and use the Jewel of Entangled Souls to trap her. “It’s a lot of magic to use all in one go, but between Giles, Willow and I, I think we should be able to manage without much of a problem.” Wesley said as he ended his explanations, really quite pleased with how things had turned out.

“Speaking of magic, Wesley, I was wondering if you could help me with the spell I found to cure Tara,” Willow had interrupted suddenly. Xander could hear the nervousness in her voice and immediately stiffened. Willow only got that wheedling tone when she knew that what she was asking was dangerous.

Xander hated being right. Within moments of hearing her plan he had a knot of dread sitting in his stomach. Thankfully, everyone else seemed to share his discomfort, and Wesley was quick to stop Willow before she could work herself up. “Miss Rosenberg, I would like to firmly advise that you abort your plan immediately. It is both too dangerous and unstable to have much chance of success without grave consequences. May I strongly suggest that we look further into alternative methods of action? We have access to a lot of books that you do not, let us look through what we have here and then we can re-discuss our options when we arrive there later this week? Perhaps together we can find something a bit more stable and safer for all involved.”

Willow reluctantly agreed to wait on any further research until they could discuss it at length in person, as long as they would agree to still do it her way if nothing else could be found. Knowing that she had exhausted that particular subject, Willow then began asking about the technology they would be using, and how it worked. Wesley coughed uncomfortably, since she was directing the questions at him, and Xander laughingly explained that Fred was the brainchild behind that part of their scheme.

“Fred? Who’s he? We haven’t spoken to him yet, have we?” Buffy asked.

“Nope, you haven’t spoken to HER before. She’s really shy. Come on, Fred, you remember what I told you about Willow, right? She’ll totally understand you!” It took several more minutes of Xander’s quiet encouragement and Willow asking a few well thought out questions before Fred relaxed enough to respond with any sort of confidence, but once she did, it was only a matter of moments before she and Willow had left everyone else in their dust by launching into rapid techno babble. The two of them were talking so fast and using so much technical jargon that Xander’s head was beginning to spin just from listening to them. It was, however, hilarious to watch as everyone else became just as confused and lost as him at the rapid fire conversation dominating the phone call as his girls’ geeked out together. Xander was extremely pleased to see that his two favorite geniuses were getting along as well as he had thought they would.

By the time they had gotten the phone call back on track and everything else tied up it was getting late, so they said their farewells with the understanding that the LA crew would be heading out to Sunnydale the day after next. Everyone was exited that things were finally coming together but at the same time they were very nervous about it. There wasn’t time for debates and theories anymore, now they were going to have to make their move and hope that they had covered all their bases.

It took time to arrange everything for transportation. The next day was spent almost entirely on packing all of their supplies and fitting them into the car, with enough room left for the passengers to be comfortable during the trip. The rest of their day was used for running last minute errands. Cordy took Dawn out to buy presents for the Sunnydale gang and keep her distracted from worrying about anything. Wesley went over their plans one final time before feverishly researching everything he could for Willow’s request with Fred’s help. By the time they had finished there was a new pile of books that Wesley thought would be useful to try and find room for in the car.

The only really tense moment came that evening, when the final decision was made about who exactly was going. There was a long drawn out argument with a lot of shouting and swearing, mostly from Spike, but in the end the decision hadn’t really been all that hard. Dawn would stay behind, because the whole reason that they were here to begin with was to keep her safe and away from Glory. And should things go wrong they needed to be sure that Dawn would be well protected. Spike would remain behind as well to be sure his Niblet was well looked after.

Cordy had had a vision halfway through the argument, which meant that both she and Angel had to stay behind as well and Gunn had no connection to Sunnydale and didn’t feel a need to interfere, so he would stay and help Angel with their latest mission. It looked like only Wesley and Fred would be going since Spike and the others just assumed that Xander would want to stay with Dawn. So it came as a complete surprise when Spike went upstairs and found Xander in his room quietly packing his things.

“What are you doing?” Spike had demanded as soon as he realized what was going on.

“I’m packing a bag. You know, placing articles of clothing or objects into convenient mode of transport in preparation of travel? What does it look like I’m doing?” Xander snarked back.

“Ha bloody ha, pet. I meant why are you packing; I thought you were staying here with me and the Niblet?” Spike asked as he sat on Xander’s bed and placed a restraining hand on the boy’s arm to get his attention.

Xander fussed with the zipper on his bag and tried to avoid looking at the vampire for several moments before he finally gave in, and with a tired sigh, looked directly into Spike’s eyes. He almost looked away again at the hurt and concern he found in that gaze, but stopped himself before he could. Xander hadn’t anticipated the hurt look and his resolve almost crumbled beneath it, but this was something he needed to do.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I have to go, even if I’m useless in the fight, and even if I can’t help that much, I at least have to try. I can’t stay here when my friends are in danger; I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if anything happened and I hadn’t been there to possibly prevent it. Please understand.” Xander pleaded.

But Spike didn’t and Xander found himself faced with the same look from Spike that Anya had given him before she left, a sort of confused resignation. And once again he found that he was unable to adequately explain his need to do this, to make the vampire understand that this wasn’t really a choice for Xander, it never had been. He was still just as incapable now of offering comfort to the odd mix of rejected understanding on Spike’s face as he had been with Anya, and completely helpless to be anything other than himself.

“I’m going.” And that was all Xander had to say




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