Early Mourning


By: Ozmandayus
Chapter One

< > denotes thoughts

( ) denotes speech from the video tapes

__________

Absence extinguishes small passions and increases great ones. As the wind blows out a candle, and kindles the fire.
Francios Duc de La Rochefoucauld 1613-1680

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GreyMalken Tower
Base of operations for the Coven
Antarctica
Sunday, September 26, 1999 6:45 PM

Bane watched impatiently as the cleanup crew swept plaster and cracked paint from his thrown room. No more than five hours ago the tower was hit with a force comparable to
an earthquake. It caused minimal damage at best, but surely made itself known.

<We are lucky to have found the potion that protected us. Jen did an excellent job on such short notice. Now we must prepare for the times ahead,> the towering vampire Lord mused to himself. His acute hearing picked up the familiar footstep pattern of his chief of security.

"Can you bring me something useful?" he asked with his back to her. Blind though he may be, he was extremely aware of his surroundings. His senses were far superior to that of the average vampire.

"I have news, my Lord. Whether it is useful or not will depend greatly on your own point of view," Jen offered as she stood by his side.

"Continue."

"Our base's in Prague and South America are completely deserted. Our human allies have confirmed our worst fears."

"Our people are gone. All accept those in this tower."

"Unfortunately, yes. The spell Essex used to go back to his home dimension worked. All demons and vampires have disappeared from this planet."

Bane casually walks around the room, contemplating the days events. "How can we be sure they are all gone? This planets vampire populace exceeds over one million. Can this supposed genocide be so complete?"

"I have contacted well over 50 of our allies across the world. Their is no response. Of the ones who were human, I recieved two reports of vampires being 'stripped of their spirits' right before their eyes. Supposedly their bodies turned to dust moments later. Take into account the damage done here and I can safety conclude that we are all that's left of our race on this entire planet."

<An entire race, gone.> "What of the Watchers Council?"

"No word yet sir. Their may be no further word until we send operatives from here to get the information firsthand."

"Is it even safe to leave the tower?"

Jen walked toward one of the farthest windows in the throne room. Even though Bane was blind, his senses were legendary. "I personaly tossed someone out of a window one hour ago. Even though he did not survive the fall, his body did not disintegrate. It still lies on the frozen ground below."

"Have the body retrieved by one of our human operatives, just in case. Autopsy it, make certain that the impact and nothing else killed him. I want this done immediately.

Dismissing the cleaning crew, Bane takes his seat on this black marble throne. "I believe the Council may have somehow been compromised. We must act quickly. They are still in possession of two of the Orion disk's. We cannot let them fall into the wrong hands."

"Sir, with our depleted ranks and the Council's unpredictable behavior, might it be time to align ourselves with the human government. If the Orion disk's are not recovered and decrypted, then all of us will die. It is only a matter of time," Jen added with conviction.

"Would you have me tell them the truth about everything? The vampires and the Slayers. The Coven and the Council."

"If they can provide the resources needed to help with our search, then yes."

"I have even less trust of the humans than I do of the Council or our own kind. What you need to understand is that some truths are best kept buried, untouched and uncontested, lest they destroy the facade that constitutes a normal life. We will continue to use the Council, as they do us. Nothing and no one is safe until all seven Orion disk's are found the secret to preventing the end of days is discovered," Bane explained.

"With all due respect, my Lord. We do not have a timetable for the end. I think our best and most well thought out course of action would be to enlist the aid of others, even if they are not to be fully trusted."

"I appreciate and value your views, but the path has been chosen." Bane leans back and meditates.

Jen moves closer the throne. "My Lord, I ask you to reconsider. I'm in agreement with you on trusting the human governments. But sometimes sacrifices are made along the way to ensure survival. We had to sacrifice information about our various activities so that the deal with the Watchers Council could be brokered.. Sacrifice, like regret is an inevitable consequence of life. Humans, vampires, demons, they are all pawns to be played at various stages in the game, pieces intended to help you reach your ultimate goal."

Bane slumped forward slightly in his seat, hands clasped together firmly. His respect for Jen and her counsel have grown immensely over the years. <She may have a point. We will need assistance, especially with our depleted forces."I will not rule out making contact with the human governments. But that will be the final option, when all others have failed."

"Thank you, my Lord. What do you think the Councils response will be since they no longer have anyone to fight?" Jen asked. She was also pleased that she got him to at least consider her idea. Bane was not one known to have his opinion swayed.

"The Council should be all over this. Their Watchers all across the world will soon be reporting in. We will have a better picture of exactly what happened then. Kalen and Diana will have to handle things here. As soon as the autopsy is finished prepare my transport and the royal guard. I wish to address the Council in person."

"At once, my Lord." Jen bows and leaves the room.

It seems inconceivable to Bane that his entire race has been decimated to the individuals currently in this tower. <The Coven alone had over one-hundred thousand operatives worldwide. Now we are down to a little over hundred. Answers are needed and quickly. I will go myself and seek those responsible for this genocide,> Bane decided as he made his way to the elevator that leads to the main hall, where he will confer with the other High Lords.

@~~`~~~

The home of Rupert Giles
Sunday, September 26, 1999 7:25 PM

Buffy opened the front door as Angel helped Giles in while Xander carried Faith. They just arrived back from the hospital due to Giles's shoulder separation and Faiths head injury. While Giles was just given a sling and some pain killers, the doctors wanted to keep Faith overnight.

But thanks to a little Willow magic, they were able to sneak the Slayer past security after her stitches were done.

"Willow, open the chest. I have a feeling some of our answers may be inside. Oz, help Xander carry Faith upstairs and into one of the bedrooms. Take the ropes in the kitchen and tie her up. We don't know what we are dealing with or why she is even here," Giles ordered as he gingerly took a seat.

Willow popped the trunk lock. "Guys, look at this. Their are video tapes in here."

"Uhhh, Giles. Are these...ya know...'bad tapes'. Like those Xander has," Cordelia chimed in.

"Why I would never wa...," Giles stern look shut her up quickly.

"Giles, there is a letter attached to the one on top," Willow said as she handed Giles the tape.

'READ THIS IMMEDIETLY. YOU ARE LIKELY TO HAVE A LOT OF QUESTIONS.'

<This looks like my hand writing,> the Watcher noticed. "Buffy, put this in the VCR and hit play. Angel, get Xander and Oz down here. They will need to see this as well."

Angel gives Buffy a quick kiss on the lips before moving up stairs. <How could I withstand the sunlight? I have no breath so I'm still a vampire, but something must have happened. Something big.>

"OH MY GOD!!!" Cordelia shouted as the tv came to life.

"Cordelia, what is it," Giles asked.

"Look at the news. The date is in the bottom left hand corner. It says September 26, 1999. But I know it's April 26. Whats going on.

Xander, Angel, and Oz made their way back down stairs. "You all right, Cordy?" Xander asked, moving to her side. When she pointed at the date onscreen all he could do was stare. "That can't be right. No way."

"Oh, it's right," Oz explained. "I noticed one of those electronic bank signs that show the weather on the way over here. I didn't think much of it at first. Thought my eyes were playing tricks on me."

"Looks like your eyes were right," Angel added.

Giles motions for Buffy to press play on the VCR. She then takes a seat near Angel. Their hands interlock, each not quiet sure what has happened.

The tape comes on.

(Hello, I am Rupert Giles. The date this tape was recorded on is September 25, 1999. I assume if everything went correctly that you are watching this in Late April of 1999. I will attempt explain to the best of my abilities the events that have transpired over the course of the last week.)

(It began when I recieved a visit from a being known as Essex. While I know the history of someone called Essex, I'm sure the rest of you don't. His history can be researched throughly after this tape is concluded. What you need to know is what happened, why these tapes were made, and why we decided to do what we did.)

(For many years Essex was the one of the most powerful and ruthless demons to ever walk the Earth. He apparently was the cause for the Watchers Council forming. His is an integral part of history itself. Almost nine--hundred years ago, after killing many of the original Counsels families, Essex was tracked down, and his powers were taken from him by gypsies. He was turned into a human. Somehow, he escaped the Council and fled the country.)

(The Council pursued him for many, many years, yet were never able to catch him. He is brilliant and eluded them at every turn. After while the Council stopped looking because they had no more leads to follow. It was as if he disappeared off the face of the planet.)

(Fast forward to the present. Essex came to my home on the 22nd of September. He told all of us that he haled from the Fourth Dimension and wanted us to assist him in opening a portal so that he could go home. No cracks about ET, Xander)

"Hey," Xander whined before Willow through a pillow at him.

(It shouldn't be hard to imagine our initial reaction to that. What on Earth would make us even consider helping a known murderer. A man who's evil nearly predates text.)

(Then he told us what would happen if we opened the portal. He said, and we later confirmed that opening the portal would cause a rather strange side effect.)

(The portal would remove every single demon and vampire from the planet and not permit another portal to open, releasing anymore. This portal would rid the planet of all soul-less beings. Only in five years time could another portal open. His argument was that by then, the Council could be so well prepared that any threat could be dealt with easily. It was obvious he was playing on Buffy's and Faith's fears. They would surpass the age that the Council mandates a person can no longer be the Slayer. If and When another portal opens, they would no longer be bound by their duties. He was very clever, I must admit.)

Angel squeezed Buffy's hand as both of their eyes were riveted to the screen. Everyone elseís were as well.

(Essex offered us the chance to save countless lives. He also claimed to have isolated five specific gene's that make up what he calls the vampire virus. He believes when someone is turned, that the transformation is equal parts mystical and biological. To further his claims he brought forth a serum that would enable a vampire to walk in the daylight. He claimed that their natural affliction to sunlight was biological. And I must admit he proved it. He personally administered the serum to Angel and we all saw him outside with no side effects.)

"Oh my God, Angel," Buffy said as she leaned over and hugged him with tears in her eyes.

Xander watched this display with an emptiness he had never felt before. He could see exactly what was comming, and he knew he wasn't going to like it.

(In addition to the planet being rid of demons and vampires. he offered not only the serum, but all his over seventy years of research to us, in the hopes that someday, should the vampire's return, we might actually find the cure.)

"Buffy, the folder. The one I woke up with in my hands. It has a lot of detailed diagrams and medical charts." Angel can feel the hope welling up inside of him. Buffy offers a smile and he gladly returns it.

(We spent the better part of three whole days researching Essex, his history with the Council, and all spells that open dimensional portals. We talked extensively about our options. At the time there were ....new developments that I was not aware. These developments made the decision making process very difficult. Faith in particular had reservations because of her mindset in April where the spell would deliver us..you, whatever.)

(At the end of our research, we found a spell called Coren-Sai. It required a Watcher and a Slayer to be present at the time it was invoked. This spell also came with a strange side effect. When performed, it would set the time back five full months. Everyone involved would lose all their memories of those five months. Nothing that took place ever happened.)

A hush falls over the room as everyone realizes that something went wrong with the spell. Willow looks on the coffee table at Giles's caller I.D. box. The date showed September 26, 1999. She looks to Xander, who has been stealing glances at Angel and Buffy. <Oh, Xander. I can only imagine how you must feel.>

(So, as a group, even though only myself, Buffy and Faith needed to make the decision, we made it. We decided to do the spell. I must admit I found myself very proud of Xander, who was instrumental in helping Buffy and Faith realize why we should do this.)

"Glad to be of help," Xander comments with his usual form of sarcasm, this time tinged with a tone of sorrow.

(I am filming this tape a few hours before Essex contacts us with the location where we will be doing the spell at. If you are watching this I hope I have provided some answers to your questions regarding the spell and why your memories are gone.)

(Now though, I must turn to personal issues. First and foremost is the issue of Faith. Due to circumstances that I don't feel we need to get into at this time, she spent the better part of the summer of 1999 in a coma.)

"What," Buffy muttered under her breath.

(When she awakened the Watchers Council wanted her to be killed, but me and Buffy bargained for her life. We agreed to watch out for her. Give her a place to stay and help her anyway we could. When Xanders parents moved out of state and left him the house... )

"THEY DID WHAT!!!!," Xander screamed as he rose to his feet. <Left me the house. Parents gone. Thats two out of the three biggest wishes I have.>

(...Xander allowed her to move in with him. They went to a job seminar one day and were hired as garbage men for the city. As Xander often joked it was a dirty job, but....it was a really dirty job. Anyway, Faith now had a home and a job. She was training daily and taking her Slaying seriously. Her and Buffy's relationship improved to the point where they had gotten pretty close.)

(The point I'm trying to make is that if given a chance, Faith can turn into a wonderful person. I am very proud of her and I sincerely hope that when you watch your own individual tapes you will get a sense of the person she has become from your own point of view. With the Mayor gone she won't feel like she has anyone to lean on or turn too. You all know that Faith doesn't take things well. She will likely lash out verbally as well as physically. I'm asking you to trust me. Please help Faith. I've had a glimpse of the woman she can become and I think it's worth it to try and help her. She can stay with me and I'll help her all I can.)

Giles watches himself with an odd expression. <I obviously expected to awaken in April of 1999. What could have gone wrong. If I know myself, we would have gone over the spell multiple times. I can't remember anything beyond April. This is very peculiar.>

(In closing I would like to thank everyone who has helped us. Oz, Cordelia, Willow, Angel, Xander, Faith and Buffy. I am so very honored and proud to know you all. Thank you.)

(Ah...there is one side note of business I ...ah..would..ah..like to discuss. You see, I'm not a very materialistic person or anything but..ah.. Look the lottery numbers for the ten million dollar drawing on May 10, 1999 are 10, 51, 7, 15, 33, and 26. I've always wanted a BMW and ah..well.. thats all. Thank you again.)

"Way to go, Giles. I bet I did the dame thing," Cordelia teased. "To bad you're still poor though."

Giles looks away as Buffy and Willow stifle grins. "All right, here's what I think we should do. Buffy and Angel should go on patrol. If you find nothing in the next couple of hours, check the demon bars and our contacts. We know that time didn't go back, so we have to discover what other things went wrong. Oz, take Cordelia and check stores and malls. Strike up conversations with people. See if they have their memories. If they know what month it is. Willow, I'll need help in reading my notes on the spells. Xander, since I need you to watch Faith, you might as well be the first person to watch your video."

Everyone in the room seems to be moving in slow motion, each trying to come to terms with what this all means.

@~~`~~~

Eastview Cemetery
Sunday, September 26, 1999 8:15 PM

Buffy walked briskly through the cemetery. Even within a seemingly demon-less Angel by her side she felt afraid. <Could this be real. Could all the demons and vampires be gone? Could my Slaying days be over? Could I really be free from this burden?>

Angel watched as the light breeze played through her hair. She looks even more beautiful to him now than ever before. He can't put his finger on it, but he feels like he just got her back in his life. <Must be the fact that I have a chance to start a real relationship with her. One that can last this time.> "Buffy, wait up," Angel called from behind. "Lets talk. I think we both need too."

Buffy nods in agreement, then takes a seat on a nearby tombstone. "Giles is contacting the Council as we speak. In a few hours we'll know if your demon is gone for good. We'll know if you're free of your curse." She took his hand into hers, reveling in their connection.

Angel couldn't stop the hint of a smile that fought to cross his face. He so wanted to believe that he was finally free. "Yeah."

"A little more enthusiasm."

"I just don't want to get my hopes up, Buffy," he added. "Just think, you might not be the Slayer anymore. There might not be anything to slay."

"I'll be normal," she spoke with a note of awe. <Can it be possible. Will I have my Angel and be released from my duties as the Slayer. Please let this be real.>

"Normal," Angel said softly as he pushed a few errant strands of blonde hair out of her face. His gentleness causes her to blush. "I don't know what has happened in the last five months with us, but I do know this." He gently brought her hand to his lips. "I love you. I will always love you."

With her eyes wet, tears fell. She can not imagine that she may finally have a real shot at a future with her Angel. "I love you, too."

"Let me pick you up from school tomorrow. I know for as man my age that sounds juvenile, but I've always wanted to do that. In the daytime. In front of everyone."

"In front of everyone. Buffy and Angel. Together at last."

There is no hesitation as he claims her lips, kissing her sweetly, nothing sexual, just for the sheer enjoyment of being together.

@~~`~~~

Giles House
Sunday, September 26, 1999 9:35 PM

"Well I'll be damned," Xander said to himself as he slouched back into the chair. Using the tv and VCR are Faith's room, he just finished watching his tape. "That OLE Xander luck. The gift that keeps on giving."

Now shaking his head at the predicament he finds himself in, Xander canít help but feel like it could have gone no other way. <Talking out loud to yourself. That's got to be the first sign of a mental breakdown.>

He closes his eyes, trying to allow his mind to process the words on the tape that came out of his very own mouth. <So, lets run down Xanders current state. Buffy doesn't have to Slay anymore and Angel is sunlight friendly and demon free. They'll be the sickeningly happy couple while I get stuck with the psycho. Then, to top it all off, the fucking spell does everything to benefit everyone but me. If we go back in time at least I'm rich. Good thinking Xan-Man. You had the right idea, but not even advance warning could save my streak of shit luck from grabbing him by the balls. Does anyone have some Drano I could drink.>

He knows the days to come are going to be some of his painfull imaginable.

Buffy and Angel are together.

<This time, it's probably for good.>

Running his fingers through his hair, he allows the aching feelings of a love lost that he never even found. <It's not like Buffy ever gave me a chance. Now it's truly over. I don't even have my one percent of hope now that Angel's curse is gone. Thank goodness I've got a job and my parents are gone. If I didn't have that I think I would probably go out of my mind.>

Looking over his shoulder, he watches Faith's chest rise and fall in steady breaths. <I can't believe how vehement I was about helping her. Maybe doing that will fill this empty, rotting pit in my soul.>

Xander stands and walks toward the window. Pulling the curtain back, he sits on the ledge. When his eyes hit the floor for a second he notices the small sheet of paper that must have fell out of the box his video was in. He leans over and picks it up. The paper listed in his own handwriting more lottery winning numbers for the months of May, June, and July. <I even had a feeling that something would go wrong with the first lottery.>

He folds the sheet of paper and prepares to place it in his wallet. When he pulled his wallet out another small piece of paper fell out. <It's an ATM bank receipt. WHAT THE HELL!!. Why would I withdraw $1.500.00 out at 2:30 Am in the morning last night.....> Scratching his head, he wonders what that could be about. <Damn, I've still got another five grand in their. I must have been saving my paychecks. At least thats something positive.>

Suddenly a wicked grin covers his face as he remembers the last thing the 'other'. Xander told him to do. <Oh, I've got to do it. Especially now.>

"Xander...what ..what the hell is going on here. Let me up. Now," Faith started screaming.

"Calm down. I'm going to go downstairs and get Giles. Then we're gonna watch some tv."

Faith can't understand why she feels so weak. <These ropes aren't that thick. God, they must be holding me until the Council arrives. Well, there's no fucking way I'm sticking around for that.> Yanking back and forth, Faith soon realizes that she is trapped, at least until she regains her strength. <I'll bet B is downstairs just laughing it up at my expense.>

Xander then walks back into the room with Giles behind him. "Faith. I have a long story to tell you. I need a little cooperation on your part. I think you will find all of this very interesting," Giles finishes.

"The only deal I'm making is that if you let me go I'll let you all live," Faith challenged with venom in her voice.

"Boy, did someone get up on the wrong side of the bed."

"Shut up, Xander."

Giles loads his cassette in the VCR and presses play. "Watch closely, Faith. This is your life."

@~~`~~~

Two and a half hours later

Faith, Xander and Giles watched all three of their tapes together. Giles felt Faith needed to know that they trusted her enough to let her watch their tapes. Her response was..'so what, if I want your help, I'll ask for it.'

But she watched her own tape.

Faith remained silent.

She didn't move a muscle. Her own voice, her own words, she could not deny the tearful conviction with which she begged herself to listen and trust these people. She didn't have the Mayor anymore.

Truly she was alone now.

"Do you have any questions, Faith?" Giles asked softly, hoping he could reach her.

"'I' said I had some wheels. Where is my car?" she replied quickly, her shoulders tense.

Giles motioned for Xander to undo her ropes. They had to trust her if they expect her to trust them.

Faith slowly sat up, massaging her sore wrists.

Giles pulled the curtain back and pointed outside. Faith slowly walked to the window and peered out. "Well I'll be damned. That does kick all forms of ass," she said with a small smile. The 1964 Impala's gold rims reflected off the street lamps.

Faith turned to the two men in the room "The Mayor is gone, right?"

"Yes. He's gone for good."

Faith eyes them suspiciously, wondering if they are telling her the truth or not. "And I've been staying with Xander for near a month now, right?"

"Yeah," Xander answered. He was ready to work hard to help her. He needed something to keep his mind off of 'other' things. "You've got your own room and everything., I've got your car keys in my pocket. You have my house key on the ring."

Faith watched their faces, searching for the lies and deceit that she is used to seeing in people who say they want to help her.

She can't find it at the moment. <They gotta know that even though Iím weak I could probably kill one or both of them before help arrived.>

Faith starts pacing the room, staring at the floor. "We work together, right Xander?"

"Thats the way it looks. I've got my license to drive the garbage truck and I've got yours. You have a checking account too, with about $1.100.00 dollars in it. You made a new life for yourself. I know it wasn't easy. It won't be easy now. But at least you have a foundation to build on. We've got work in a few hours. I originally was going to call in sick for both of us, but now that I think about it. We should jump right back into the saddle as quickly as possible. I think you should come home with me tonight. I'm going to trust you, believe in you. And I promise to be patient."

A strange feeling comes over Faith. A sort of calming, to fan the flames of her emotions. <How did he do that.>

"We are all adjusting to what has happened. None of us remeber anything for the last five months. Buffy and Willow know they attend college, but not where any of their classes are or what dorm they stay in. Oz apparently spent the summer writing and recording an entire album that he can't remember. You and Xander don't even know what route you drive on." Giles stands right in front of the Slayer. He can see some of the fear she tries so hard to hide under her tough girl exterior. "Faith, we have to stick together. I forgive and so do the others. We want to start on a fresh slate. Everythingís out in the open. Let us help you."

Faith looks from Giles to Xander and back again. "I...I want to watch my tape again. Alone this time."

Giles knows that the window is open and she could just jump out and disappear. <She needs us to trust her. We have to start somewhere.> "Lets go, Xander."

Giles exits the room, but Xander has one more thing to add.

"We got work tomorrow, partner. Watch your movie and lets go home."

Their eyes lock momentarily. Faith can't identify this`....feeling of understanding that comes over her. "I'll decide in a few minutes. Beat it."

He leaves the room and she presses play on the VCR again.

@~~`~~~

Downstairs, forty-five minutes later.

"Every seems to be okay," Oz told his girlfriend on the couch. "Plenty of guys approached Cordelia. They were coherent and didn't seem to know of anything happening out of the ordinary today."

"Thats good. It seems that the only people affected by the spell were the demons and all of us. We were very spell effected." <Boy, things really changed in the other world. I can't believe that Buffy and X...> Someone taps Willow on the shoulder before she finishes her internal dialogue.

"Anything new, Wills?" Xander asked as he took a seat across from the couple.

Willow just finished watching her tape twenty minutes ago. Her other told her to keep certain 'things' to herself. Now she realizes why. <If he knew..God, this would hurt him so much. I can't tell him., That would make things worse than they already are going to be. This is such a mess.>

"Willow, you alright?"

"Oh, yeah Xander. I'm alright girl. As for your question, me and Giles went over the spell. It was very word specific, but we can't tell exactly what phrase would have to be left out or miss pronounced to cause what happened. We are still in the early stages of our research."

Xander shrugs his shoulders. "How about you Oz, did Cordelia show you the fine art of mall hopping."

"It is true, her mall hopping skills are formidable. But we just stood out in front of one. Cordelia told everyone I was her chauffeur and her limousine was parked on the other side of the mall. I was just there to carry her bags. Anyway, it seems everybodyís okay except us," Oz finished.

"Yeah. I just came down from talking to Faith. Me and Giles spent the last few hours watching out tapes. She wanted to watch hers again, alone. We had to trust her and leave her alone," Xander said. Willow caught his field of vision as his eyes looked into the kitchen. Buffy and Angel were about to head over her mothers house with there tapes. They couldn't get an answer when they called earlier.

As Angel opened the back door for her, Buffy leaned upward and gave him a long lingering kiss, then walked past him.

<I'm so sorry Xander. I know there are things you don't remember and I hope it stays that way,> Willow thinks to herself. She feels that the other Xander saw this Buffy and Angel relationship coming and chose not to mention it 'this' Xander. <If he did this Xander might try to win her. But the 'other' Xander wanted to spare him the pain.>

"I'm ready to go."

Xander, Oz, and Willow looked up as Faith descended the stairs. Giles moved into the living room next.

"Faith." the Watcher called.

"I'll give this a try, thats all I can promise. If you want more tell me now and I'll hit the road," she said without looking at any of them.

Giles turns to Xander. "It's your call. She'll be living with you."

<How many times did Willows family take me in. How many meals, sleepovers when my folks drank or fought or drank and fought, did they give to me. They showed so much more kindness to me than my own parents ever did. Maybe it's time I gave some of that kindness back.> "I'm hungry as hell, Faith. Lets go home and get something to eat. It's been a long day."

Against his better judgment, he tosses her car keys. He knows she could get behind the wheel and disappear. But he hopes by trusting her she won't. Faith clenches the keys in her fist, opens the front door and leaves.

"I'll talk to you tomorrow, Wills. Take it easy Oz. Giles, me and you can play the lottery another day," he joked before leaving.

Cordelia came in next from the basement. She made a beeline for Willow and drug the startled witch into the kitchen. Then slammed the door shut.

"What the hell is going on. Why do I work for Angel in LA. Why am I conspiring with you to win the lottery. And why are Angel and Buffy together. And why did 'I' tell myself to tell you all of this," Cordelia asked with annoyance.

"Okay, keep your voice down. 'I' explained it to myself like this. Their had to be certain things in our lives that werew different in those five months we lost. I just had no idea how different. Anyway, the other Willow felt certain people who will remain nameless would not tell themselves of certain things that would be to painfull for them to know in the new world. I wanted us, since we were the least changed in the last five months to know everything that happened just in case something went wrong with the spell."

"Wow. Looks like you saw this coming."

"No, actually I didn't. But I've dealt with enough spells over the years to know they are unpredictable."

"So, what do we do. I canít stay in town without a job," Cordelia reasoned.

"You can make up an excuse to go back to LA. Find this Doyle guy and tell him everything that happened. At least he won't come to town worried about why he can't reach any of you."

Cordelia thought for a moment, deciding that was the best thing she could do. "Okay, now what are you going to do?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing!"

"Nothing. I can't tell anyone that they fell in love with someone when they don't have any memories of it. And did you see how happy Buffy and Angel looked?"

"I also saw how sad Xander looked."

"I know. He's going to have a very hard time of it. But at least he doesnít know that he and Buffy were together. That would torture him much worse seeing her with Angel already does. He has a job and his own house. Thats not everything, but at least he's out that basement and from under his parents. He's a survivor. He'll survive," Willow expressed with pride of her friend.

"I hope you're right. Anyway, I'm going to go to my parents house and make preparations to head back to LA. I'll explain to everyone tomorrow."

"Good," Willow continued. "All in all the information we have is personal and wouldn't have affected the spell much anyway. But since we are close with the people involved, I felt we should know everything. Now, I guess all we can do is pick up the pieces and move on."

"I was supposed to be rich, Willow," Cordelia whined as she took a seat at the kitchen table.

"So was I, Cordy. So was I," she said with a wistful grin, remembering her 'other' reciting those winning lottery numbers at the end of her tape.

@~~`~~~

The home of Joyce Summers
Monday, September 27, 1999 12:50 AM

To say that they were stunned would be an understatement of epic proportions. Angel and Buffy sat side by side in the living room, watching Buffy's tape first.

Neither could take their eye's off of the screen as 'this' Buffy spoke of how her relationship with Angel ended and she wanted to keep it that way.

'This' Buffy spoke of her decision to do the spell being solely based on the families of the victims, without any mention of Angel as being a factor.

"How could I say that?" Buffy whispered to herself, then covering her mouth with her hand. Angel heard her, but could not take his eyes away from the television as 'this' Buffy ripped his heart to shreds.

(Angel is not your only choice. He may not even be the best choice. At least you have a choice. I don't.)

That line rocked both of them. Buffy could not imagine spending her life with another man. <What does she mean about choices. Who else was there?> she wondered to herself. She could not catch her breath. <Who is that woman. I don't know her at all. How could she have everything so wrong.>

Angel sat perfectly still, his emotions now hidden. <What could have changed her mind so drastically about us. She didn't want to be with me anymore. How is that possible?> His mood took a downward spiral with each wound inflicted from the video Buffy's verbal daggers.

The tape continued on, past the section about their relationship. The next part was about Faith. It spoke of the patience that she will need in dealing with the wayward Slayer.

<She must have really turned her life around for me to be so adamant about helping her,> Buffy conceded to herself.

"You were just as strong on your point about helping Faith as Giles was. She really must have changed if she could convince you to trust her again," Angel observed.

"I guess she did." Buffy could tell her 'other' was very close to tears. The shift in her voice resembled someone in agony. <Why was I so sad? Doing the spell would help so many people. I had to have known that. Why is she trying her best not to cry?>

(The last thing I want you to know is this. Xander won't be around much anymore. You know deep down how he feels about Angel, and if you two are together, he won't be there. I don't want you to forget that he loves you. He has always loved you. His absence is not because of him not loving you. More than likely it's because of the opposite.)

"Buffy," Angel called to her. She seemed to be entranced by that last statement. Her eyes were not blinking and she didn't appear to breath.

She just stared at the screen until the image went off.

"Buffy, are you okay?" Angel asked softly.

She doesn't respond right away. Angel nudges her shoulder and she finally turns to him. "I ...I don't know. Its like my mind won't work.......I don't. This whole thing is crazy." She rose to her feet to take her tape out and put Angel's in.

"I know you and Xander don't get along, but he will always be an important part of my life. Not as important as you, but he will be there. He's been a great friend to me, much better than I have deserved sometimes. I will not turn my back on him."

Her words do not surprise him, but the conviction for which she says them does. <I know you could never see 'him' the way you see me.> "I don't have any problem with Xander. He's been there for you when I haven't. I'll make every effort to get along with him. But Buffy, don't fool yourself. He is and has always been in love with you."

Buffy must look away now. She knows that. She has never wanted to hurt him, but she doesn't return his feelings. <I'm so sorry Xander. You deserve someone who loves you completely.> "I know that. But I love you and he knows that. Xander will be respectful of us. Now lets watch your tape."

Angel caresses her hand, then presses play on the remote control.

@~~`~~~

<Those words did not come out of his mouth.>

<That is not possible.>

<How could he ever think she would choose another over him.>

Angel sits as far back into the couch as he can, not believing what his ears are hearing. <He sounds so defeated,> the vampire thought of his 'other' minutes ago.

(I have lost Buffy. Completely and totally. She is in love with someone else and it is no trick, no spell, nothing other than the irrefutable fact that has moved on.)

Those words haunt his soul now. He would never have thought them possible if they didn't come out of his own mouth. "Who. Who is this guy. Why didn't you mention him in your video," Angel said as he now paced the room.

<Another guy?> Buffy had to reason with him. "Maybe I wasn't in love with anyone else. Maybe you thought I was and took it the wrong way."

Angel shook his head, knowing he would not say those things if 'he' didn't know for a fact that they were true. "I'm sorry, Buff. But there had to be another guy. I know my se..."

"No, Angel." Buffy interrupts him. She walks over so that they are face to face. "If I was so in love with this other guy the why didn't I mention him not one time in my tape. Even if I didn't say his name why didn't I at least say there was someone else," she pleaded with him. "Deep down, it's always been you, Angel. My Angel. If there was another guy, and it was serious than I would have spoken of him."

<Unless it was so painfull to leave him that you didn't want to torture yourself.> Angel can feel his thoughts come up through his lungs, but he does not give them voice for fear that he might be correct.

Buffy wraps her arms around his waist and looks up into his eyes. "We are together now. Your curse is gone. We have lost so much time already. Lets not lose another minute." Framing his face with her hands, she kisses him. His arms wrap around her, pulling her closer.

Their tortured love affair has been equal parts tragic as much as it has been a journey of the heart.

Here and now, that journey begins anew.

The kiss turns passionate quickly, tongues dueling for supremacy. They have wanted each other for years, and the one night they had together brought about so much pain that it's better forgotten.

"Make love to me, Angel."

Her words grab his broken heart. Her love re-unites the fragmented pieces of his soul. It smoothes over the cracks and chips. And when her love is finished.

He is re-born.

Effortlessly he lifts her in his arms and carries her upstairs. They know there won't be any interruptions since Buffy checked her mothers messages and found out she will be out of town for three weeks.

When Buffy next opened her eyes she found herself laying flat on her old bed with Angel above her. All the love that he had for her shined in his eyes. All the passion he denied himself because of his curse was ready to be unleashed.

"Mine," she said with conviction as she once again claimed what was hers.

His soul, and everything that he was belonged to Buffy.

And she belonged to him.

They slowly undressed each other, taking their time to worship, and tease, and love one another as they always wanted.

Both knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that tonight...

They would make love.

@~~`~~~

The home of Xander Harris
Monday, September 27, 1999 1:21 AM

Xander leaned against the wall out side Faith's bedroom as she slowly walked through it. Like a small child taking its first steps she caughtously moved around the room, seemingly scared, as if the real owner would soon return and find out that she was trespassing.

Faith ran her hand along the clean sheets that rested atop her king size bed. To her left sat a twenty inch tv with a DVD player on top and a cable box next to it. Next she opened her closet.

"What," her voice swooned with wonder. She had more clothes in this closet than she had ever owned in her entire life. All brand new and hers. Name brand and designer wear. <Unbelievable,> she thought, running her fingers along the shirts and blouses. Looking down she noticed eight pair of shoe's. <Whoa! I must make some decent money.>

Xander watched the dark haired beauty as she wandered through her room. <New room I guess.> He too had never seen it before. <Faith, Slayer psycho extrodinair is living no more than six feet from my room.> He shakes his head, wondering what possessed the 'other' Xander to trust her so completely.

"What do I pay for rent?" she asked, taking a seat on the bed.

"Well, I just looked through my business papers I keep in my room. I found the deed to this house. The mortgage has been completely paid off. Since I don't have a mortgage payment I guess all you have to do is go in half with me on groceries and utilities."

<Man, thats a good deal. Can this be real? Do I have all this?> Faith could simply not believe that she finally had a home. A real one, with all the stuff she brought with her own money.

"I can deal with that," Faith said while flipping on her tv.

"I'm glad that's settled." Xander reaches into his back pocket and tosses a small piece of paper on her bed. "That's one of my check stubs. I'm pretty sure you make the same thing I do".

Faith unfolds the paper, "$890.00 every two weeks. That what a garbage man makes! Hot damn!"

Her enthusiasm over their pay eases some of the nervous tension in the air. "I guess so. When I saw it I just about fell on the floor." Without thinking, Xander walked into her room and took a seat next to her on the bed. "Faith, how are w.."

"Were we fucking while we lived together?"

Xander isn't surprised at her brashness. <That is the Faith way, after all. I wonder if anyone has ever done something for her without an ulterior motive.> "I don't think so, Faith. From what I could get off my tape, we were just really good friends."

"I haven't had many of those in my life. And the ones who did call themselves that always betrayed me."

"Well it's time we changed that."

"Anyone who stays around long enough to get to know me usually ends up hating me," Faith spoke softly while gazing at the floor.

"I used to think that about myself. But one person changed that."

"Willow."

"Yeah. If one person can see you differently than you see yourself, then you can start to see what they see in you. You have to forgive me though. At this time of night I lose my sarcasm and wit. I tend to ramble on."

"So, we're really going to do this. You're going to let me stay?" The sad tone in which she asked what he has already confirmed unmasks her deep insecurities.

"We are so much alike, Faith."

With a sideways grin, she responds, "I doubt that. I wasn't looking at Buffy and Angel today like someone killed everything good in the world."

"No, you woke up like there has never been anything good in the world," Xander fired back.

<There hasn't been. At least not in my life.> "What time do we have work tomorrow?" she asked.

"8:00 AM." Xander takes her hand in his and gives her a reassuring squeeze. "I know you're scared, Faith. I'm scared too. We are literally walking into someone else's life. But this is the hand we've been dealt."

"Doesn't seem so bad," Faith barely said. The warmth of Xander's hand still lingering on her finger tips.

"No, it really doesn't. Are you hungry?"

"Starved."

Motioning for her to stand, Xander heads for the door. "Lets raid the fridge, partner."

Faith cannot fathom why this man, who she has treated like dirt and tried to kill could be so compassionate toward her. So understanding and forgiving.

(Are you listening. This is your whole fucking life here. Don't blow it. Your gonna have a place to crash and friends who want to help you. For the love of god, let them. If you don't, then whatever happens is your own fucking fault.) The Slayer remembers the passionate plea the 'other' Faith made to her.

This 'is' her whole life here.

She can go back to the self destructive lifestyle she has always lived, or she can fight for this knew one. This better one.

There is one thing everyone should know about Faith.

She is a fighter.

"I'm right behind you," she said, suddenly ready to take on the world.

@~~`~~~

Twenty Minutes Later

>"Do you always flip channels like that," Xander teased in between spoonfuls of cereal.

Faith wiped her lips clean of pizza sauce residue before she replied. "I must control the TV. It is none negotiable."

Xander stuck out his tongue at her, then she flipped him the bird. "Well at least pass me that last slice of pizza."

"You sure you can take it. You don't have the Slayer healing that I do. And the box said September 23. It might be bad for your health."

"Alright, thats it. You've got to go!!" Xander said loud enough for her to cover her ears.

"Here you go, you big baby," Faith yelled right back, throwing him the last slice.

Xander takes it down in one bite, then give Faith the thumbs up. When a genuine smile crosses her face, he can't help but to be taken aback by her looks. <She is gorgeous. Crazy, but gorgeous.>

"I know you're looking at me," she said while not looking at him.

"Well, you are pretty when you're not trying to kill me."

<Pretty? Thats really old school.> "So if I attempted to choke you right now, I would turn ugly."

"That about covers it." <She's opening up a little. It's a small start, but it's a start.>

"You're going to have to have a high tolerance for bullshit if you want to live with me. I have bad to no manners. I talk to much, and attract trouble," she admitted.

"Well at least things will never be boring around here." Faith and Xander share a smile after that. "Faith, ainít nothing gonna be easy in life. But I promise you one thing, here and now. I'll stand by your side if you stand by mine. With the Buffy-an-Angel-love-carnival touring again, and looking like they will be here for a long stay, I need all the friends I can get."

Those words touch a part of her she thought was long gone.

That part every human has.

Hope.

"You consider me a friend?" she asked in an I don't really care what the answer is sort of way. She was not fooling Xander though. He had perfected that way of speech years ago.

"Not after half a day. But I definatly think you have friendship potential. You also have homicidal potential. I sincerely hope you give that up," Xander joked as he stretched his legs on the floor.

"I think B would have been better off with you in the first place. The deadman always causes her pain in the end."

"Finally, someone who agrees with me."

"Don't get me wrong. I could give less than a fuck who the Queen B bumps uglies with. But with you, I can tell you really love her. It's all over your face."

Xander remains quiet for a few minutes. He has tapped down his feelings for Buffy before, but now he must bury them for good. "I just want Buffy to be happy. Its Angel she wants. He's all she's ever wanted. I have to respect that even if I don't like it."

"Yeah, well fuck both of them," Faith added.

"Exactly."

As Faith flips the channels, she can feel herself getting sleepy. She passes one channel with the very first Friday the 13th film on.

"Hey, stop right there. Jason is my main man."

"Really? I love the hockey wearing slasher too."

"You don't want to be him, do you?"

Faith is about to answer when she suddenly starts blinking her eyes. Her head starts to ache slightly. Black and white flashes, almost like still pictures run through her mind.

In them she thinks she catches sight of a man and woman laying in bed together. The woman is topless and the man shirtless.

She thinks the man is Xander.

She knows she is the woman.

<What kind of relationship did we have,....I did say that I loved him in my tape. And I don't throw that term around often......Maybe I'm hallucinating.> The images fade as quickly as they came, leaving her to ponder them another day.

As Jason hacks another group of skinny dippers to pieces, Xander says,"I wonder if he shaves with that machete." As the words left his mouth, he too seemed to have images flash before his eyes.

Images of someone, a woman, Buffy tenderly shaving his face, carressing his cheek, speaking words of love to him..

<Great, now she haunts my waking hours. I'm fantasizing while wide awake.> He shakes his head free of the images, then reaches for the control in Faith's hand. "Let's get some sleep. We've got our first day at work tomorrow."

Shrugging her shoulder, Faith reluctantly agrees. "Wanna have sex before turning in?"

"Not tonight, honey."

He doesn't see her smirk as they ascend the stairs together.

Neither can really understand why they feel such an easy camaraderie considering their past history. But both realize with the tough times ahead, they had better learn to get along with one another.

Tonight, they took baby steps.

@~~`~~~

The home of Joyce Summers
Monday, September 27, 1999 6:45 AM

Only the sound of their deep breathing and the shift of limbs between sheets broke the stillness of the early morning darkness, and that knowledge was driving Angel insane.

Not a sound.

Not even a little gasp escaped her lips as he worshipped her body last night with his. He used his mouth on her neck like he was trying to draw her soul out of her.

His hands roved over her lovely skin, desperately working to elicit a response. As he thrust into her with a kind of a crazed methodology, using this angle, and that, holding back his own release with a determined fury until he could satisfy her.

The knowledge that he could not gnawed at him, now in these early morning hours.

Buffy pretends to lay asleep next to him. As much as she loves him, last night was a complete mystery to her. For some unknown reason, her body would not respond to his love making. Not in the awe inspiring way she always felt and knew it would.

In the past his mere kisses have almost been her undoing. But last night they made love with no consequence hanging over their heads. They took their time and discovered each other in the most intimate way.

Yet when they were one, she felt empty.

Her mind had no other word for which to describe it.

Empty.

Without.

Buffy knew for sure that if she were to ever have a physical relationship with Angel, that the passion they shared would make them near insatiable.

She lays in bed now, pretending to be asleep, hating the fact that she hopes time passes by faster so that she will have an excuse not to make love again.

<I...I think we just need some time. We have been through so much already, and it's not like our last encounter yielded fond memories. We just need more time alone together. It's not like sex is that important to me anyway. I loved him long before we ever made love.>

Those words ease her somewhat, but last night still lingers.

Angel desperately wanted to know what she was thinking last night. <Was I to rough? Not rough enough? Did I kiss her enough? Is it just the fact that this is her mothers home? Did she climax, or was she...>

He will not allow his mind to even give thought to what he was about to think.

They had made love last night for a long time, yet she never said a word, not a single word or sound except for the rasp of her breathing, only slightly faster than usual. Her mood and body language changed so dramatically. Like the person who kissed him with reckless abandon and tore his clothes off was suddenly swapped for another woman during their love making.

A woman he had never met before.

Angel remembers looking into her eyes, wanting to watch her release, looking for something, anything to encourage him.

And when she finally reached nirvana and cried out with her hands in his hair, he felt like he was flying.

As he reached his own climax, his eyes met her and a terrible thought crossed his mind.

She had, only in the minutes before they finished making love, started to respond to his ministrations. She called his name over and over, with her inner muscles subtle clinching as his only indication of her satisfaction.

<We have so much lost time to make up for. Everything will be fine after the smoke settles and we fully re-connect mentally. I love her so much. Last night was just to stressful to make love. We should have waited. That must be it.>

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

What she did to him was obviously ten thousand times what he did to her. It hurt his pride greatly as he laid beside her, knowing that the woman of his dreams didn't respond to him the way he had dreamed almost every night since he met her.

Angel wanted to be the moon and the sun to her. He wanted to make her feel what he felt, if only to atone for all the time's he'd hurt her.

He promises himself that he will dedicate his life to her happiness.

Buffy moves closer to him, loving the fact that they can finally enjoy each others intimate company, while telling her heart that last nights 'verbally enhanced' ending will never need to be repeated again.

She sincerely hopes her heart is listening.

Because it seems her stomach has decided to rebel against her. <I hope I'm not coming down with the flu.>

@~~`~~~

Castle Valkeri
Home of the Watchers Council
Monday, September 27, 1999 9:00 AM

The huge black oval table that served as the centerpiece of the Councils inner sanctum now sat one. The torches along the walls blazed as usual, yet a new wind blew through the castle this day.

His name is Zan. The last living Elder of the Watchers Council. He now has what he felt he has needed.

Complete control of all the Councils resources. To use as he see's fit in oerder to save the world.

Earlier he had the other eleven chairís removed that sat the other Elders removed. He feels this is a new era, one in which he will mastermind alone.

It was only yesterday morning when his final appeal to the chief Elder once again fell on deaf ears. Zan has dedicated his life to the preservation of mankind. Even with his agreement of the partnership with the Coven, he still maintained that at the end of the day, don't trust vampires and get rid of them if you can.

A new course of action was undertaken quickly. Having concluded his own research into the spell the Councils chief archivist felt was going to be used, he decided that new leadership was needed as well.

<With Essex's re-appearance and our inability to stop him, combined with the Councils ill conceived response to the problem, I had no choice but to move and move quickly.>

Without hesitation, Zan did something he had not done in his fifty year association with the Council.

He betrayed them.

Three drops of a potent Asian knockout drug, placed into eleven glasses of wine. As usual, they shared their afternoon drink while furthering their debate on what action to take.

Minutes later, they all passed out.

Zan called forth a man cloaked in darkness he had hidden only twenty four hours ago, just in case his hand was forced.

This figure approached the eleven passed out humans. removing his hood, he was revealed to be a vampire.

Zan instructed him to feed from all eleven members. In exchange, he would help the vampire join the Coven.

And so this creature of the night fed on all eleven Elder's. He fed with such bloodlust that Zan was slightly taken back by it.

Still, this needed to be done.

As the last Elder was drained, Zan staked the vampire before he could even turn around. Then he placed a c-4 explosive charge under the table, just in case the Elders awoke before Essex's spell took them away.

By murder or by being sucked into a portal, one way or another, Zan would be rid of them.

When his time of triumph arrived, he watched with abated breath as the spirits of the Elders rose from their bodies and flew out of the windows. Then there flesh started to dissolve into some sort of smoke.

And it was done.

<Then Judas arrived.> Zan had been told within that last hour that Judas was killed in some sort of an automobile accident. Now the rogue assasain stood right in front of him with a gun trained at his head.

He was forced to tell all he knew of Essex and the spell he was attempting. Judas did not care. He knew he was being set up and wanted revenge.

<I gave him purpose.>

Zan told him of the coming apocalypse and of the Orion disk's. He explained the Councils involvement with the Coven and what effect Essex's spell would have on the search for the last three remaining disk's.

Judas still did not seem to understand why he should not kill Zan.

<I will pay you $5.ooo.ooo dollars, with half up front if you do a job for me.>

When he asked who do I want killed, I responded no one. I related a story to him of people with special God given abilities called the People of the Clear Water. These men and women could naturally read mystical and demonic scriptures without any prior knowledge of a language.

Our research yielded nine People of the Clear Water over the last six hundred years. But all were killed by demons and vampires who feared the discovery of yet to be found text that would bring about there doom.

The problem with the People is that they could easily be killed if they weren't kept somewhere safe.

Somewhere neither demon nor vampire could go.

Judas seemed intrigued as Zan told his story.

It seemed the non humans of the world could track these people because of their holy powers. Certain demons had the natural ability to track individuals with these gifts.

Now, in the present, someone with such a gift would prove invaluable. But the Council of Elders, especially the ones who came into power in this century thought less of the old ways of research and planning, and more in the ways of their enemies.

The ways of violence.

But Zan had reliable text that showed a member of the Clear Water was alive in this day and time.

A woman.

She was hid in a church may, many years ago and served as a nun.

Then she was turned into a vampire.

Zan instructed Judas to find this woman because he believed she was very much alive, but would not be much help in her current state.

<Her name is Drucilla. Find her and give her soul back, then bring her here. She may be the last living being that can translate the text from the Orion disks.>

Judas was then told that she and her lover Spike were supposed to be in England at the moment. Not a lot to go on, but Judas likes a challenge.

Zan looks out of the stained glass windows that adorn the inner sanctum. The warmth of the sun bathes his face and he smiles.

<Today, is the beginning.>

@~~`~~~

Sunnydale City Hall
Monday, September 27, 1999 12:29

<I'm just going to kick his ass if he doesn't come out soon," Faith angrily thought to herself. Why Xander wanted to stop at City Hall on their lunch break was beyond her.

She listened to the radio for the last thirty minutes as she waited for him to come out.

Faith was beginning to doze off when his smiling face greeted her as he got back in the truck.

"Hey, Faith. Miss me."

"Fuck you, lets go. There's a Wendy's down the street."

"Don't you want to know what I was doing in there?" he asked with a devilish grin.

"If I ask can we leave?"

"Yep."

"What were you doing in there?"

"Ya know Faith, if you don't pay your property taxes, someone can buy the tax certificates and own your house."

With an annoyed expression,. she replied."What does that have to do with anything?"

"Well, it seems the 'other' Xander did a little checking online and found someone who tracks delinquent house taxes. He found the taxes of a certain mansion to be about three grand behind."

"I still don't get it."

"I bought Angels mansion."

He hands Faith the deed and grins with joy. "Come on, partner. Lunch is on me."

"You're a bad, bad boy , Xander. I like that."