Date written: Tue 2 Jan 2001

Author: Starway Man

Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the series/X-Men The Movie Crossover

Main characters: Xander, Ethan Rayne, Wolverine

E-mail: theop@kew.hotkey.net.au

Disclaimer: The Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Fox and WB Network; Twentieth Century Fox, Christopher McQuarrie and Ed Solomon own the X-Men: The Movie universe; no copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made from this fanfic.

Rating: R-ish (some violence, language)

Symbols: The < > signs denote thoughts, and the // signs denote visions/memories.

Continuity: This story is initially set in seasons 5/2 of BTVS/Angel, sometime after ‘Into The Woods’ for BTVS and ‘Reunion’ for Angel.

Warnings: There are plenty of TV series and movie spoilers present. And it’s my first attempt at X-Men fan fiction, so please, cut me some slack on that.

Classification: Angel/BTVS/X-Men: The Movie Crossover, Alternate Universe, Action-Adventure.

Summary: Mutants, humans and vampires meet in Sunnydale and Los Angeles, after one of the Slayerettes is kidnapped and presumed dead for six months.

Title: This Changing World

***

"Mutation: it is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, and normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward."

(Professor Charles Francis Xavier, X-MEN: THE MOVIE)

"Damn it! You know what? I’m sick of this crap. I’m sick of being the guy who eats insects and gets the funny syphilis. As of this moment, it’s over. I’m finished being everybody’s butt-monkey!"

(Alexander Lavelle Harris, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER)

"Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them."

(Oscar Wilde, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST)

***

12,500 years B.C.

Approximately three months before the birth, the radiation hit planet Earth.

It was not exactly an historic event, in terms of its cosmic significance. Because throughout its four billion years of history, the globe had been hit by much worse – such as the meteor that had caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, 65 million years previously.

And in any case, the thick ozone layer usually screened out the worst of the rays, keeping safe the life on the world’s surface.

But sometimes, even radiation from outer space...can have itself a real good day.

The primitive felt something invisible hit her out of the skies that morning, but the mother-to-be didn’t have the brains to understand it. All she knew was that when the birth eventually took place, something was wrong.

Her newborn daughter was different.

Because she was the first. The first true Homo sapiens, the species of modern man. The people that would one day, despite the odds against them, eventually inherit the earth.

***

Sunnydale, California. January, 2001

Every TV station in the country was showing it live.

The official opening of the Mutant Investigation Agency, the MIA, straight from the heart of Washington.

It was a combination of U.S. civil and military forces, created to deal with what in the last few years, more and more Americans were regarding as a dangerous problem:

The existence of mutants.

All over the planet, more and more human children were being born with an added twist to their genetic code. An extra piece of active DNA, buried within their chromosomes.

This ‘X-factor’ allowed them to perform extraordinary feats – shapeshifting, flight, telekinesis, telepathy and more – when their powers emerged under stress, puberty or other similar circumstances.

To any disinterested observer, they were simply the next step in human evolution. The progression of Homo sapiens to Homo superior.

But all too often, these ‘mutants’ were feared and despised by the normal humans of the world. And now that they were growing up, many in governments all over the planet wanted to get rid of them, out of worry they would try to take over the globe one day.

It was no wonder, then, that most of the mutants tried to either hide or run from the persecution.

These days it was the number one discussion topic everywhere, and something that Buffy Anne Summers, the Chosen One and the vampire Slayer, could easily have done without in her life right now.

It was hard enough killing evil things like vamps and demons in this ever-changing world, without having to worry about accidentally slaying a mutant by mistake.

The twenty-year-old blonde girl sat watching the TV broadcast, along with her friends and family, on the couch in her family home. Her best girl friend Willow Rosenberg, who was holding the hand of her girlfriend Tara Maclay, sat on her right.

On her left sat her best guy friend, Alexander Lavelle Harris, whom everyone simply called Xander. And he was tightly gripping the hand of his own girlfriend, whose name was Anya.

The British Watcher for the vampire Slayer was also there, looking grim. The middle-aged Rupert Giles, who was like a surrogate father to her as well as the combination nanny/drill sergeant that the job required, sat next to Buffy’s mother Joyce.

As was Buffy’s so-called fourteen-year-old ‘sister’, Dawn. Previously an ancient form of energy known as the Key, now molded into human flesh and magically integrated into the mortal world, she had been sent to the Slayer for her own protection.

"Hey, Buffy," Dawn said suddenly, her eyes still glued to the set and watching the opening ceremony, "do you think this is gonna be a good thing or a bad thing for us? I mean, in terms of the Slayage?"

Joyce looked at her ‘daughter’, feeling worried. "Dawn..." she started.

Buffy shrugged. "I dunno. Probably won’t make too big a difference – I mean slaying vamps and demons at night, will still be a total suck-fest."

Tara stammered, "I-I think the new agency will make a big difference t-to the mutants, myself."

Giles nodded and said slowly, "Well, it’s probably all for the best. After what happened in New York with that conference of world leaders last year, I-I suppose they had to do something."

"But Giles!" exclaimed Willow. "That was just a bunch of terrorists!"

"Doesn’t matter," said Anya suddenly. "They’re gonna be going after all the mutants now, everywhere, I bet. And they’ll probably be even worse about it than the Initiative was with demons and vamps."

There was a silence, as everyone thought of the now-disassembled military unit that had been in Sunnydale, conducting experiments on captured vampires and demons. And of one Riley Finn, who had been one of its leaders.

A man who was also Buffy’s ex-boyfriend, whom she had recently broken up with.

As everyone stared at Buffy, who pretended not to notice, Xander nudged Anya subtly. "Sweetheart, I think you can help by making this a quiet time," he told her, as the TV droned on.

***

Los Angeles, California. January, 2001

At that very moment in the Hyperion hotel in downtown LA, another group of people was also watching the same TV broadcast.

Cordelia Chase – a young woman who had gone to school with Xander, Buffy and Willow, and received prophetic visions about people in danger. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce – an Englishman, who was a former rogue demon hunter and ex-Watcher. And Charles Gunn, a black man who was a freelance vampire killer.

All of them were or had been employees of the Angel Investigations detective agency. Which was rather ironic...as the Irish-born Angel, once known as the Scourge of Europe, was a 248-year-old vampire.

Granted, one cursed with a human soul, and now on the side of the good guys.

"I must admit," Wesley said in his British accent, staring at the birth of the MIA on TV, "that I never expected this to happen. At least, not so soon."

"Come on, Wesley," Cordelia replied at once. "It was, like, inevitable! Mutants are bad news. Have you seen the pictures? Some of them look almost as gross and yucky as a few of the demons we’ve killed!"

Gunn shrugged. "What’s the Dark Avenger think about all this?" he asked, referring to Angel.

"Nothing much, one way or the other," the tall, dark-haired souled vampire said, entering the room.

"Angel!" said Cordelia, getting up off her chair. "You’re back!"

"Yeah," he replied. "I am. Now somebody switch off the idiot box, we need to talk."

***

Westchester, New York. Five minutes later

At the Academy for Gifted Children run by Professor Charles Xavier, another group of people switched off their TV set, after witnessing the conclusion of the opening ceremony. These people were known, in private, as the X-Men.

All of them were mutants, and all of them were there for a common purpose. To both safeguard their own people, and try to bring about a peaceful co-existence with the rest of the human race.

The one man and three women sat around in the mansion looking at themselves, wondering what was going to happen now.

Cyclops, also known as Scott Summers, was the first to speak. "I think we’re in trouble," the man in his thirties said, his black visor preventing fiery red laser beams from shooting out of his eye sockets in frustration.

His companion Storm, otherwise called Ororo Munroe, raised her white-haired head. A native of Kenya in her mid-twenties, her abilities had manifested themselves as control of the wind and the rain, and all the other elements of the weather in general.

"Yeah. And I think that’s an understatement," she replied, the anger in her eyes evident.

"Maybe it won’t be so bad," Dr. Jean Grey offered. A strong, good-looking woman also in her early thirties, she had the power of telekinesis or TK – the ability to move things with her mind alone – as well as a lesser telepathic ability.

"Ah don’t believe that for a moment," replied the last member of their party in a Southern twang, an eighteen-year-old girl known as Rogue.

Formerly a native of Mississippi named Marie, her mutant power was like that of a conductor – anyone she came into physical contact with, she absorbed their strengths and abilities, for a time.

"I must agree," a new voice said, and all of them turned around to see Professor Charles Francis Xavier enter the room.

An incredibly strong telepath from the age of fifteen, the old man was easily the most powerful mutant in the room.

Even stuck in a wheelchair, he still cut a very impressive figure. His bald head gleamed, and his eyes bored into each and every one of his students as he surveyed the room. "What I’ve learned so far, is less than encouraging," he finished up.

"Which is?" asked Storm.

"The political groups backing this agency are...less than tolerant in their attitudes towards mutants," Xavier replied calmly. "Many of the people comprising them, and many of the people in the MIA themselves, have called for total mutant registration world-wide."

"What else?" Jean asked, knowing there was more.

Professor Xavier paused. "Well, in addition, there are those associated with this agency who...submit the names of mutants who have publicly identified themselves, onto the black lists and so on."

"Great," groaned Cyclops, "Just what we needed. A bunch of racists, who are now able to legally harass our people."

"Ah don’t think it’s gonna stop there," Rogue said uncomfortably, as everyone looked at her. "Ah’m gettin’ the feeling the worst is still yet to come."

She had no idea how right she was.

***

MIA Building, Washington DC. Six hours later

As Agent Craig Downer made his way into the Director’s office, he told himself that he had nothing to fear.

A late transfer into the MIA, this agent had an excellent record. It was one reason why the Director of the agency had granted him a personal interview.

As he came in, Agent Downer saw that the Director was sitting at his desk, looking over reports. He couldn’t see the man’s face clearly, for some reason – it was as if it was covered in darkness. And that definitely gave him the creeps.

"Agent Downer," the Director’s voice was soft, cold and full of steel barbs.

"Sir," the agent replied nervously.

"Don’t bother to sit down. Your assignment is in a small town in southern California, north of Los Angeles. Name of...Sunnydale."

He pushed a folder towards the other man. "Everything you need to know about the suspected mutant, including contingency plans, is in there. Her name is Buffy Summers. The file on her indicates that she may be dangerous. So deal with the situation."

The agent picked up the file, and left without a word. Examining its contents, he saw a picture of a very human-looking girl. Reading the file later, he found it very difficult to believe that she was not just some delinquent blonde bimbo, typical of southern California.

***

Sunnydale, California. A few days later

After sunset that night Buffy went out on patrol for vampires, and the Slayer was in a bad mood. Willow and Xander, her faithful Slayerettes, could sense this and so the usual banter between the three friends was oddly absent tonight.

Eventually, though, Willow couldn’t take the silence anymore. "Buffy?" the red-haired computer hacker and amateur witch said timidly.

"Yeah, Will?"

"What’s wrong?" she asked.

Buffy hemmed and hawed for a while, until Xander got sick of it and summed it up in one word: "Riley."

The Slayer threw him a dark look and the dark-haired young man cringed, but then Buffy shrugged and admitted he was right. "Yeah."

"You’re still not over him leaving you?" asked Willow, feeling sorry for her best friend. She knew the pain of such a thing from first-hand experience, even though she was with Tara now.

"It’s even worse than when I broke up with Angel," Buffy said looking down, unable to meet their eyes.

Xander shook his head, unable to believe he was going to say this, but Buffy was his friend and the 19-year-old boy cared for her a lot. "Maybe you should just pick up the phone and give Deadboy a call," he said suddenly.

At the shocked stares from Buffy and Willow, Xander asked them, "What?"

"Xander, you – you hate Angel!" Buffy stammered, as she thought briefly about her vampire ex-boyfriend, who had left her over 18 months before.

"Especially the guts part!" Willow added.

Xander rolled his eyes. "Okay...yeah, right. But you need somethin’ to snap you outta this, Buff. And I figure as long as you two don’t get pelvic again, and like cause the end of the world, it could be just what you need."

He then shrugged. "Not that I care, but it could also be just what he needs, too."

Buffy was about to ask just what that last part was supposed to mean, when all of a sudden they were surrounded by vampires and fighting for their lives.

The Slayer brought out her stake, and started killing her enemies – the wooden Mr. Pointy penetrating their hearts, and making them explode into dust. The Wicca apprentice used a spell she had been working on, that made the vampires burst into flames, and destroying them that way.

But Xander was the weak one, the powerless one, the Zeppo. Just a normal human. And so the vampires almost immediately overcame his efforts, and dragged him away.

As the vamps ran off, Buffy cursed and started to follow them, Willow chasing right behind her.

And as they ran, Agent Craig Downer stepped out from behind a row of trees and looked on after them.

The agent from the MIA had watched the battle, but hadn’t been able to understand what had happened. < A mutant gang fight? > he thought to himself. < But then, what sort of mutants explode into dust? >

He shook his head, deciding that the bad light had probably been playing tricks on his eyes. So he just followed after them, keeping a safe distance.

***

Xander woke up from a stinging slap to his face, and found himself being held by two strong, hulking male vampires. He saw the face of a blonde female vamp right in front of him, and then suddenly wished that he was still unconscious.

"Harmony," he said her name carefully.

The vampire, who was about the same age as he was, sneered and returned the greeting. "Hello, Xanderrrrr..." she drew out his name.

"Uh, don’t suppose you’ve brought me here so that I could, say...ask you out to dinner and a movie?" the young man wisecracked.

Harmony grew furious in an instant. When she’d been human, she had gone to the same high school as Xander and the rest of his friends, and she’d despised him for his looks and manners.

But now that she was a vampire, she hated him even more...because he was a friend of the vampire Slayer.

She hit him again, and put on her game face. "Guess again," she hissed through her fangs.

Xander appeared to think about it. "It couldn’t be...you want a rematch on our hair-pulling contest?"

Several of the vampires snickered at that, until Harmony’s glares stopped them. "Stupid Xander Harris thinks he’s soooo smart..." she said, almost to herself. "Y’know, I went to a lot of trouble to bring you here. So how smart are you really, Xander?" she asked.

He shrugged. "You tell me," the young man replied fearfully.

"Okay, I’ll make you a deal," Harmony said, grinning horribly. "You be smart enough to avoid getting two red-hot railroad spikes shoved through your palms, and I’ll let you go. If not, you’re tonight’s dinner."

With that she gestured, and the two spikes were brought forth. Xander struggled, and started yelling as the burning implements touched his outstretched hands with a sizzling noise.

Now, Xander Harris had been through a lot in his short life. He had fought vampires, been possessed by demons, and almost had his head torn off by a giant preying mantis bug lady.

But nothing, NOTHING could have prepared him for the agony of being tortured like this.

Xander’s screams echoed throughout the vamp nest, and it was music to the undead creatures’ ears. Then suddenly, one of the vampires holding the boy noticed that the open holes in his palms...were vanishing.

In a moment Xander’s hands were healed, and now also had claws. "What the hell?" the minion said in confusion, letting go.

That was its first mistake.

The second was not ducking fast enough, as Xander started slashing at the vamps in blind anger, and huge gashes appeared on its face. And then on Harmony’s features, as the blonde vamp was unable to move away from her intended victim on time.

All she could do was scream and clutch at her head, as Xander’s claws tore her left eye out.

The teen himself wasn’t thinking clearly; he was still moving completely on instinct, because of the pain. So when Xander jumped upward and started flying through the air like a bird-of-prey, he had no idea what he was doing.

Neither did the vampires – all they could do was gape, as he crashed through a hole in the roof and vanished into the night.

***

Agent Downer looked on in astonishment, as Xander flew out and then crash-landed down into the trees, not far away from him. He was the only witness, as the other vamp minions had successfully thrown Buffy and Willow off the trail.

He took out his cell phone, and made a quick call. "Code Blue," the MIA man said hurriedly, "Suspected male mutant. Put Plan Delta into effect."

***

Xander made his way back to the center of town, on his way home. He constantly looked at his hands, wondering what was going on.

Because he was reasonably sure that he had just flown through the air like Superman, and his hands were looking like the claws of a bird. Like an eagle, a falcon...or a hawk.

He stopped for a moment, and concentrated. And suddenly, his hands were back to normal.

< What’s all this supposed to mean? > he thought to himself, as he started walking again. < Am I dreaming? No way. So what’s happening to me? How did I just do what I did? >

If he had been able to calm down, the answer might have been able to present itself to him. But even knowing about mutants, his brain couldn’t – or perhaps wouldn’t – make the connection.

Suddenly, he saw Buffy, Willow and Giles across the street. "Guys!" he yelled.

They turned to look at him, and all yelled back in relief, "Xander!" as the traffic whizzed past.

"Don’t worry, I’m fine, I escaped from the..." he suddenly realized some of the other pedestrians were staring at him, "evil people!"

The threesome started to cross the street, eager to join him. But suddenly, a black van without license plates stopped in front of Xander, the door slid open and masked men in black reached out and grabbed the Slayerette.

They pulled him into the van, which then roared off just as Buffy, Willow and Giles finished crossing the street.

"XANDER!!" shouted Willow.

The van turned the corner, and a few seconds later there was a huge, fiery explosion. Running towards it, fighting off the paralysis of shock, the three friends saw the flaming remains of the van, not far from the intersection.

"NO!!!" screamed both girls in tears and anguish, unable to understand what had happened, but knowing that their Xander-shaped friend was dead and gone.

***

Unknown location, Nevada. Three months later

Ethan Rayne was not a happy camper.

The middle-aged British-born magician had been in this high-security U.S. military facility for nearly a year, and so far he had hated every second of it. The tests, the interrogations, the boredom...

He thought to himself, < Bloody Slayer!! If it weren’t for her and that damned boyfriend she had, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Being studied like some bug under a microscope and all! >

Ethan couldn’t help briefly chuckling, though, as he thought back on what had happened. He had been sent here for ‘rehabilitation’ after turning his old friend Ripper – otherwise known as Rupert Giles, Buffy’s Watcher – into a demon, for a short period of time.

Of course, it had only been a joke of sorts, but then some people had absolutely no sense of humor.

Suddenly he heard a conversation between two approaching guards outside, and stopped pacing around in his cell to listen to them...

"I hate these transfers, you know."

"Just shut up, and let’s get it done."

"And who comes up with these names, anyway? Subject Nighthawk? Subject Wolverine? What is this, a zoo?"

"I told you to knock it off! Now open the damn door."

Ethan moved away from the door, and the two guards entered his cell. At the same time, they tossed Xander in, and the boy landed on the floor.

Ethan recognized him and was surprised to see the young man, but abstained from comment. His months here had taught him to watch everything carefully, before ever saying anything.

Xander looked drugged as he got up, and growled like an animal. He was dressed in army fatigues like the guards, and there was even a set of dogtags hanging from his neck.

Suddenly, from all ten fingers of his human-looking hands, big black metallic claws sprang out. Ethan jerked away in astonishment, but still kept his mouth shut.

The guards just instantly aimed their M-16 guns at him, and Xander seemed to calm down, moving back. Still growling, the claws retracted back into his fingers.

The men then grabbed Ethan, and hustled him out. Out of sheer perversity, the wizard tried to strike up a conversation with them, but quickly gave up when one of the guards punched him in the small of his back to keep him quiet.

Eventually they arrived at another cell, and after they opened the door they threw him in. However, this time the two soldiers did not enter themselves.

Ethan looked around, and saw his temporary cellmate; Subject Wolverine, also known simply as Logan.

And more importantly, a mutant who last year had become a member of Professor Xavier’s group of X-Men.

Ethan suspected there must be something very dangerous about him for the guards not to enter, apart from his animal-like face. But he had no way of knowing that an unbreakable black metal alloy, known as adamantium, had replaced Logan’s entire skeleton, from head to toe.

Or that his mutation was a truly incredible regenerative capability, that had allowed him to survive what had been done to him.

Or that the memories of his life before the operation had been stripped away, leaving only nightmares of pain.

"Subject Wolverine," one of the guards said roughly. "Front and center."

Logan looked at him, and raised his clenched right fist. Instantly, three black adamantium claws shot out from between his knuckles, much to Ethan’s interest.

Then two of the claws retracted back underneath his skin, as Logan gave the two military grunts the finger.

Ethan just barely managed not to burst out laughing.

Just as the other guard growled at him to knock it off and get out, a siren started wailing. "Shit!" the guards cursed. The closest one slammed the door shut and locked it, leaving the two men inside.

"Hello," Ethan said, ignoring the noise, turning to Logan and holding out his hand. "I’m Ethan Rayne."

Logan retracted his final claw, and looked at him mistrustfully. "Logan," he replied, reluctantly shaking the Englishman’s hand.

"Terribly pleased to meet you, old chap," Ethan replied, his diction betraying his foreign origins. But the really amazing thing was, that he actually meant every word. "Haven’t had a decent conversation with anybody for nearly a year. How long have you, er, been here?"

"Just woke up," Logan said shortly. "Where are we?"

"Who knows?" Ethan shrugged. "The running joke is that this place is probably Area 51."

"Then we’re in the States?"

"Oh yes," replied Ethan, somewhat confused. "Where did you think we were?"

"They took me in Canada," Logan replied, suddenly moving closer to the door.

Ethan barely had time to shrug, when the door was yanked open again from the outside. Logan shot out his claws from both hands again, when people wearing black uniforms tagged with a strange ‘X’ insignia burst in.

It was Storm, Cyclops and Jean Grey, and he’d never been so glad to see them in his life.

He resheathed his claws and said with a cocky grin, "Hey! Thanks for droppin’ by. So what took you so long?"

The X-Men looked at each other, obviously unsure whether to hug him or try to knock his teeth out. Cyclops eventually shrugged and said, "Traffic was murder."

Logan then laughed, hugged the two women, and reluctantly shared a handshake with Scott, the team leader.

"Let’s get out of here, the jet’s waiting," the visored man said, "We tried to be subtle coming in, but they’ll probably have reinforcements here any minute..."

"Er, sorry to interrupt this touching reunion," Ethan said quickly in his British accent, "but what about me? And the boy who’s like you," he pointed at Logan.

The effect was immediate. Logan grabbed him and snarled, "What are you talking about? What boy who’s like me?"

Ethan quickly freed himself and said, "Do steady on, old man," straightening his clothes. "Just before I was brought here, they stuck him in my old lodgings. Tell you what – I take you to him, in exchange for a ride on this jet of yours?"

The four mutants were suspicious, but Scott quickly settled the matter. "MOVE!" he ordered Ethan. "And if you’re jerking us around, I promise you – you’ll regret it."

Ethan wordlessly agreed, and led them back to Xander’s prison cell. Cyclops quickly blasted open the lock with his laser beam vision, and the five of them went inside.

Xander was still there, and still acting like a wild animal. He instantly charged them claws extended, but was thrown back by Jean’s TK power, hitting the wall and collapsing unconscious.

"Why didn’t you mention he’d be like this?" Ororo wanted to know.

Ethan shrugged again. "Oops," he said unconvincingly, "Must have slipped my mind."

The four mutants just stared at each other again, already regretting their promise to help this man.

As Jean and Logan grabbed Xander, they hurried out and headed for the jet. Suddenly though they became embroiled in a firefight, as the military reinforcements arrived on the scene.

Taking cover against the gunfire, the mutants fought against the soldiers, each with his or her own power – Cyclops blasted them with red fire from his eyes, a suddenly white-eyed Storm sent mini-hurricanes against them, and Jean hurled them away with her TK.

Logan was left holding Xander, and finally the group fought their way to the futuristic shiny black aircraft that the Professor had created, that was their ticket out of here.

Just then, Logan noticed that Ethan was no longer with them. "Where’s the Brit?" he shouted over the roaring din of the MP-5 submachine guns.

"Too late, we can’t stop now!" Scott yelled back at him. "Get in!"

Logan didn’t hesitate, and as the mutants strapped in the jet took off and vanished into the sky, leaving the soldiers shooting helplessly after it.

***

Westchester, New York. A few hours later

At the X-Men mansion, there was a welcome-home party for Logan and his rescuers.

Logan wasn’t comfortable with such things – they made him feel so...normal. As if he wasn’t a mutant with a hole in his memory, that had woken up in a meadow 16 years before, all alone.

Except of course for his pain and nightmares.

As Logan turned around to go, he heard a soft voice call his name. A voice with a Southern accent. "Hello, Logan."

He turned back, with a smile on his face. "Hey, kid," he said to Rogue.

He took her arm and guided her to a couple of empty chairs, in a relatively quiet area of the big celebration.

As they sat down, Logan really looked at her for the first time. The streak of white hair in Marie’s dark locks was still there, but she looked older and a heck of a lot more beautiful than the scared teenage runaway he had met the previous year.

It was a strange sensation to feel, in his opinion.

"These geeks been treating you okay?" he asked, holding her gloved hand in his.

"Yeah, Ah think so," she replied, twirling his dogtags around her neck with her other hand.

He took them, looking at the ‘Wolverine’ insignia, and then he looked at her. "You kept 'em safe," he said slowly.

"Sure did," Rogue replied. Then she looked at him closely. "Ah missed you, Logan."

Logan squirmed, feeling uncomfortable. "You wanna hear about my trip?" he quickly asked.

Marie grinned, and tossed her hair to one side. "Sure do, Logan," she replied softly, "Ah most surely do."

Logan couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. It was like her scent was driving him crazy or something. Trying to concentrate, he started to speak.

"Well, after I took off from this place on Visor Boy’s motorbike last year, I made for Canada. Place called Alkali Lake, in the Canadian Rockies," he mused. "Took me awhile to get there, but then I wasn’t in any tearing great hurry. Found that abandoned military compound the Professor told me about."

Marie knew there was more. "The nightmares came back," she stated, rather than asked.

"Yeah," Logan said reflectively. "Anyway, the bastards who made me what I am hadn’t been there for a long time. But I found some clues in the debris. Followed up some leads. You remember that place in Alberta, where we first met? The hell-hole in British Columbia?"

She nodded.

"Believe it or not, that’s where I ended up. I was an idiot, didn’t watch my back carefully enough – and someone got me but good. And when I woke up, I was inside that place in Nevada."

"Ah know," Marie said to him. "Dr. Grey knew somethin’ was wrong, and the Professor tracked y’all down with that Cerebro device. So, here we are."

"Yeah," Logan agreed. He desperately tried to think of a new topic. "Hey, have you heard anything about that new kid, the one that we brought back with us?"

"He’s with Dr. Grey," she replied, sadly understanding his tactics.

"Think I’ll go pay him a visit. I wanna be there when he wakes up – you remember what it was like for me, and I don’t want him to go through all that. I’ll see you later."

"Bye," she said as he left, staring after him.

A young man named Bobby, who was a fellow mutant and a good friend, came up to her. "Hey, Rogue," he said with a smile, "would you like to dance?"

Marie smiled back gratefully and accepted, following him to the dance floor.

***

In the infirmary, Jean Grey was looking at the newest set of X-rays she had taken. She started shaking her head, as Logan came in.

"Hey," the man said coming up to her, "what’s up?"

"Hello, Logan," Jean said, briefly giving the man a smile. They had always had a strong connection, even though her heart belonged to Cyclops. "Nothing much, I’m afraid."

Logan looked at Xander’s prone form on the table, and examined the young man’s dogtags. It gave him a chill, looking at the inscription.

"Nighthawk," he read aloud, turning to look at Jean again. "Not Wolverine, like me."

"I’m afraid so," the doctor agreed. "He’s a mutant that’s been experimented on, yes, but only superficially like yourself."

Logan frowned. "What’s that supposed to mean?"

Jean showed him the X-rays. "His skeleton is normal, and he doesn’t have your regenerative power," she said slowly. "The few tests I’ve done so far indicates his mutation is some form of...autokinesis. He can move himself around in almost any way, maybe even fly, but I don’t think he can affect other objects in the same manner."

"What about his claws?" Logan asked, looking at the X-rays.

She pointed at Xander’s hands on the image. "As you can see here, they run down from the back of his arms, down to his fingers. The surgery and design is like yours, allowing them to work by muscle control. But..."

"But?"

"Well, there are some differences. The black alloy is similar to the adamantium in your body, but it’s not exactly the same – right now, until I can think of a better name, I’m calling it adamantium II."

She paused. "It’s impenetrable, unbreakable and indestructible – just like yours. But there’s some sort of unknown biological component there as well, which I suspect lets him use them free of pain."

Logan looked at Xander again, a slight grin on his face. "Wish I could do the same," the mutant muttered.

He felt rather weird. The kid was almost making him feeling an older model of sports car, that had been replaced by a newer and more efficient design. Then Logan stared at Jean again. "When is he gonna wake up?"

"Not for hours yet," the doctor said with certainty. "I gave him enough sedative to..."

And then of course, just to prove her wrong, Xander woke up at that very same moment.

His claws instantly popped out, and he freed himself of his tubes and monitors. Snarling mindlessly, the young mutant spotted the two people in front of him.

And without thinking, went straight for the kill. His claws heading for Jean’s throat.

At the last moment Logan grabbed his wrists, and forced him to look into his eyes. Then Logan’s own claws erupted out, and Xander’s eyes went wide with shock.

Logan started to say, "Take it easy..." when Xander used his mutant power, and they both flew across the infirmary and crashed into the wall.

"Ahhhhhh! Son of a bitch!" cursed Logan.

Suddenly the others came in, having been telepathically summoned by Jean. Cyclops, Storm and Rogue practically flew in, followed by the more dignified entry of the Professor in his wheelchair.

"Everybody calm down," Professor Xavier said, as he made his way to Xander’s and Logan’s struggling bodies.

"That’s easy for YOU to say, Cue Ball Head! Now do something!!" Logan shouted at the old man.

"Well, I can already tell he’s gonna be an even bigger headache than you ever were," Scott said acidly.

Charles Xavier sighed, and then inserted his mind into Xander’s.

And was nearly overwhelmed, by the images in the boy’s subconscious.

// A lab of some sort, being held down in restraints. Struggling against the drugs, that were being pumped into his veins. //

// Men in military uniform watching him, as doctors in gowns and masks hovered around, ignoring his screams. //

// His arms constantly being cut by scalpels, agony impossible to describe as he was unable to move. //

The Professor pulled himself together, and dug deeper. Finally finding what he wanted to know.

< You’re safe now, Alex, > the telepath said directly into Xander’s mind, who immediately stopped fighting with Logan.

Much to the other man’s relief, as it was obvious the kid knew his unarmed combat, just as well as Wolverine did.

Whoever had done this to both of them, Logan knew that it was one of the things they focused on the most.

< Nothing will harm you here, > the Professor continued, projecting peace and calm into Xander’s brain. < You’re safe. There’s no pain anymore. No need to fight. >

Xander stopped moving completely, staring at Charles Xavier in absolute fascination as his claws retracted, and then Logan’s followed suit.

The old man then withdrew from Xander’s mind, but before he did he carried out a quick survey of the damage that had done in there. Someone had seriously messed around with his memory, just as they had done with Logan.

But at least this young man, someone that had been code-named Nighthawk, wouldn’t have to go through what Wolverine had. Not if he could help it.

"Hello, Alex," Charles Xavier said softly, welcoming the new arrival into his home.

***

U.S. Federal Penitentiary. Three months later

Agent Craig Downer made his way through the prison, on his way to see a very special prisoner. One housed in a very special jail cell, known only as Magneto.

A mutant since childhood in the Nazi-occupied Poland of 1944, the old man’s power was one of being able to create magnetic fields, to manipulate metal in any way he wished.

Born Eric Magnus Lehnsherr, the terrorist had been imprisoned for leading the attack against the conference of world leaders in New York, nearly a year before.

Magneto, Xavier’s former ally, was someone who had seen too much prejudice and intolerance in his lifetime. And he believed that, despite all the good intentions of both sides, there would one day be a war between the mutants and the normal humans in the world.

And it was one which Eric was determined that his people would not lose, or else they would all be rounded up one day and wiped off the face of the planet.

Agent Downer arrived through the plastic corridor, and sized up the inmate. "I’m Agent Craig Downer, with the..."

Magneto held up his hand to stop him. "I already know who you are and what you want," he told the man.

Agent Downer shrugged. "Then let’s not waste time. The MIA can make things difficult for you, or help you out a great deal here. So...you’re going to help me track down those criminals who attacked the government’s Nevada facility."

Magneto stared at the government agent, and then the old man did the most insulting thing he could possibly do to someone like Craig Downer.

Eric laughed right in his face.

"I will never get used to the arrogance of men like you," he managed to splutter through the laughter. "Men who think they have absolute control of their own little corner of reality..."

Agent Downer grew angry. "I’m not the one behind bars, mutant."

Magneto agreed, wiping away the tears of laughter, "Indeed. You and yours are in fact little more than dinosaurs, stumbling down a blind alley towards extinction."

He paused for a moment, suddenly serious. "We are the future, Agent Downer. And we will never bow down to the tyranny of your kind."

Craig was now absolutely pissed, and had lost all sense of judgement. "Prison is a very nasty place, mister. I’ve heard that all sorts of accidents happen. Even suicides have been known to occur from time to time."

Magneto was definitely no longer smiling. He reached for and pulled up the sleeve of his right arm, exposing the faint blue numbers tattooed there, courtesy of the Nazis.

"I have survived far, far worse than anything you could ever hope to imagine," Eric told his visitor in a very calm voice. "And speaking of accidents..."

The metal buckle of the belt around Agent Downer’s pants suddenly moved, tightening the leather around his waist and cutting off his breathing.

"...I think you’re about to have one," Magneto finished up, staring into Downer’s eyes.

Craig’s face was red, and he couldn’t breathe. But just as he was about to pass out, he was let go, his lungs heaving to get the breath back into his body.

Magneto started smiling again. "Soon enough, Agent Downer, evolution will stamp you out like a cockroach. So why should I bother to kill you personally?" He nodded towards the door. "Goodbye, Agent Downer. I don’t think we’ll be seeing each other again."

Shaken, the agent of the MIA stalked out, taking out his cell phone. "Get me Sunnydale..." he said into the phone, as he quickly left.

Magneto stared thoughtfully at his retreating figure. He had a chess game scheduled with Charles Xavier in a few days, and it looked like he had quite a few things to tell his old friend when the man arrived...

***

Westchester, New York. Three days later

In the basement of the X-Men mansion at the Academy, Alexander Harris was in the middle of his morning workout.

Dressed in his green tank top and sweat pants, he had come a long way from the animalistic creature the X-Men had rescued three months before. After a great deal of help from the Professor and his students, the twenty-year-old young man was now a human being again.

Xander could speak properly now, and had even made friends with some of the students. And although his personal memories were still lost to him, he had recovered enough things to give himself some sense of identity.

But this identity...was not the same one he’d had, previously. Before he had been kidnapped, and spent a season in hell.

The damage Xander had suffered at the hands of the military doctors had been so bad, both mental and physical, that to save himself he’d instinctively sought out his most powerful feelings, the strongest self-aspects of personality he’d ever possessed.

The Professor had unwittingly helped reinforce this, and the persona he’d recovered was that of a combat soldier. Someone he’d been as the result of a magic spell by Ethan Rayne, one Halloween when he’d been 17 years old.

Someone who hadn’t even been real.

Until now.

It never once occurred to Xander or even the others that things might be otherwise, as apart from anything else the mutants NEEDED soldiers within their ranks, people who could plan and organize.

The military knowledge had also slowly come back, reinforcing his beliefs. But the only other thing he knew was his name, Alex. And even though he didn’t feel comfortable with it for some reason, the description on his dogtags, Nighthawk.

Suddenly Logan came in, dressed similarly to Xander. He grinned and said, "Sorry I’m late."

Xander grinned back. "Who was she? Rogue or Dr. Grey?"

Logan went to slap him upside the head, muttering something about respect for his elders, but Xander ducked and he missed. Xander stopped smiling and said, "I need to tell you something."

Logan got serious instantly. "Yeah?"

"I’m gonna be leaving soon."

"You what?!"

Xander started to pace around. "Don’t get me wrong, it’s great around here," he said quickly. "And I owe you guys a lot. My life, even. But I...I don’t belong here."

Logan said nothing, and Xander looked at him in surprise. "Aren’t you gonna tell me that I’m wrong?"

"No," Logan shook his head and held up a fist, his claws coming out with a ‘snick’ sound. "I’m not. I know exactly how you feel," he said, looking at them and unclenching his hand.

Xander brought out his own claws, and stared at his right hand. "Who did this to us?" he asked, almost to himself.

Logan shook his head again. "I’ve been trying to find out for 16 years, kid."

Xander got a determined look on his face. "Then it’s time I started looking too." Sharing a quick look with the older mutant, Xander quickly turned around and left.

Later in the Professor’s office, Charles Xavier and his students stood talking with Logan and Xander. "I wish you would reconsider, Alex," the old man said softly.

"I know you do," replied Xander. "But I can’t stay here forever."

He stared briefly at Storm, who had helped him gain control of his powers – Xander and the white-haired mutant had often gone flying together, and had formed a close friendship. She understood, and told him so without words.

"Where will you go?" asked Jean worriedly. Xander rolled his eyes – the doctor had annoyed him more than once, acting like an overprotective mother towards him.

"Not sure yet," he said shortly.

"You should try southern California. That’s where I think your accent says you come from," Cyclops suddenly said.

As everyone stared at him, he shrugged. "What? I should know, I used to live there myself." Scott lapsed into silence then, overcome by past memories.

// A prom dance, when he was 17 years old. Pain in his red eyes, as the power came out and demolished the building. Two months of darkness, always keeping his eyes shut until the Professor had found him. //

"So then I’ll try LA," Xander said, interrupting his reverie.

"WE try the City of Angels, kid," Logan corrected him. As Xander stared, the older man shrugged. "You need someone to watch your back, buddy boy, unless you wanna end up in that compound again."

"I thought you guys went back there, and it was completely abandoned now?" Storm asked.

"Doesn’t mean they didn’t set up shop somewhere else," Xander replied, his voice hardening.

Storm was the first to see him off. "Take care," Ororo said, as she hugged him goodbye.

The others all hugged or shook hands with Logan and Xander, and then Rogue managed to get Logan alone for a moment.

She then handed him his dogtags. Logan looked at her questioningly, and she smiled. "Ah’m just makin’ sure you and Alex come back to give these to me again," Marie said softly.

Logan hugged her, making sure not to touch her bare skin. "Thanks," he smiled, before going off to find his new partner.

"Storm. Cyclops. Jean," Professor Xavier said softly, as the others left his office. "Stay here a moment, if you will, please."

When they were alone, he continued, "Yesterday, I had a long chat with Eric..."

"Magneto?" Ororo said in distaste. < With all the disgusting things he’s done... >

"Storm, please. Apparently, he had a rather nasty visit from the MIA..."

"What happened?" asked Jean.

"Nothing much, at least not to him. But Eric mentioned that this agent that he encountered was heading for Sunnydale, a town which is about a two-hour drive from where Alex and Logan are heading..."

"I know where it is," Cyclops interrupted him. "I have family there, two cousins – Buffy and Dawn Summers. I visited a few months ago, for the funeral of my Aunt Joyce."

"I’m sorry, Scott," Xavier said, meaning it too. "But in any case, it seems the MIA might be up to something there. I want you three to take the jet, and investigate. Give Alex and Logan a lift to LA, while you’re at it."

He paused. "And while you’re there Scott, check up on your relatives, make sure they’re okay. And whether they know anything that could help us."

"Yes, Professor," the three said, and left the room.

***

Sunnydale, California. The next day

That evening, as Scott made his way through dinner with Giles, Buffy and Dawn, he wondered if perhaps he had not come to the wrong house, and found the wrong relatives.

Dawn was all happy to see him, but Buffy and Giles less so. He couldn’t understand it – it was as if they were nervous of something, greatly afraid for some reason.

"So tell me more about your job," Dawn asked excitedly.

Cyclops smiled at the young girl, who had been born in the same year he’d become a mutant. "I work at an academy in New York, helping special children," he replied.

Dawn screwed her face up. "Special? You mean, like, mentally challenged?"

"Dawn!" Buffy said sharply.

Scott laughed. "No," he said, "it’s not like that. Practically all of them are runaways, or just someone looking for a place to belong. Professor Xavier has special facilities to help them, you know, so they can eventually turn out to be the best they can be."

"Sounds like Watcher school," Dawn then said unthinkingly.

"Dawn!" Giles said this time.

Scott looked at Buffy and Giles, and tried to include them in the conversation. "I’m sorry I wasn’t able to stay for long after Aunt Joyce’s funeral," he said.

"That’s okay," Buffy said quickly.

Cyclops then tried to think of something else to say. "So, uh, how’s Uncle Hank? I haven’t seen him in ages."

Dawn looked cynical. "Probably getting horizontal in Spain again with his secretary," she remarked.

"Dawn!!" both Buffy and Giles said at the same time, identical looks of horror on their faces.

Scott just snickered softly. He had been somewhat worried about his younger cousins when he’d heard they were staying with the British ex-librarian, after his aunt had died from complications arising from her brain tumor operation.

But now his fears were put to rest – they all seemed pretty close, and as happy as they could be.

All of a sudden, there was a knock on the door. Giles went to answer it, and then Willow and Tara came streaming in immediately.

"Buffy!" Willow shouted, looking for her. "We got a major emergency! There’s a vam-"

"Willow! Tara!" Buffy shouted, interrupting her. "I want you to meet my cousin, Scott Summers! He’s visiting from New York. Scott, these are my friends!"

Willow stopped, a look of fear on her face. "Hi!" she squeaked to Cyclops.

"H-h-hello," stammered Tara as well.

"Nice to meet you," Cyclops replied. "You said something about an emergency?"

"Willow exaggerates," Buffy said. "Isn’t that right?"

"Uh, yeah!" Dawn added. "She does that a lot."

"Right!" Willow said, her eyes moving from person to person in the room. "I do! Uh, Buffy just needs to come with us to see somebody."

"Who’s that?" asked Cyclops.

"Uh..." Willow started. "Someone we went to high school with. Her name’s Harmony."

Scott looked around, noting the expressions on the others’ faces. "Well, I guess we better get going," Buffy said uncomfortably.

"Perhaps I should come along as well, given her...condition," Giles said suddenly. "Dawn, you can look after our guest, can’t you?"

"Can’t I come too?" Dawn whined.

"No!" Buffy, Giles, Willow and Tara all said at once.

"Fine," Dawn said sulkily.

As the others left, Scott helped Dawn clean up after dinner, and then the dark-haired teenage girl took the mutant upstairs to her room.

As they walked in, Cyclops was shocked to see Xander’s picture on the shelf, sitting next to Buffy’s and Willow’s. "What the-?" he muttered in amazement.

Dawn noticed where he was looking at, and a sad expression came over her face. Picking up the picture, she said, "This is Xander. He died about six months ago."

"He...died?" Cyclops stammered.

Dawn nodded. "I had, like, this huge crush on him," she confided in her ‘cousin’. "Did you know, someone tried to kidnap him right in the middle of Main Street? But then their van blew up, and we lost him."

She looked angry for a moment. "Serves them right, though, those people who tried to do that."

Scott wasn’t sure what to think, but he knew he had to discuss this latest development with Storm and Jean as soon as possible.

***

After Buffy and Giles had returned and Dawn had gone to bed, Scott excused himself to the others, and said he had to meet some friends at his hotel. He brushed aside their apologies for having to leave him like that, insisting it hadn’t been a problem.

"Maybe I should walk you there," said Buffy nervously. "We have a...a gang problem in town, and it’s not safe after dark."

"I’ll be fine, I have a motorbike," Scott insisted, and quickly left.

When he met Storm and Jean near the jet, he immediately told them what he had learned.

"So this is Alex’s home town? What a coincidence," Storm said.

"Yeah," Cyclops replied. "And by the way, they used to call him Xander. Short for Alexander, I suppose."

"Did you tell them where he is?" Jean asked.

"No," Cyclops replied. "I figure we should get in touch with Logan and him first, tell them to come here before we spring the big news."

"Good idea," Jean agreed.

"So what have you two come up with?" Cyclops asked them, changing the subject. "Any sign of the MIA?"

"No," Storm said, "but there’s definitely something about this town that I don’t like."

"What do you mean?" the man asked impatiently.

"I can’t explain it," the white-haired, dark-skinned young woman replied. "It’s a feeling that I get, that there’s something WRONG around here. Something evil, lurking in the shadows. I know it sounds paranoid, but-"

And then, of course, six vampires attacked them without any warning whatsoever.

The three mutants were astounded, but quickly fought back. Storm and Jean battled bravely but ineffectively, as the vamps became pissed at what their next meal was doing to them. They constantly came charging forward, no matter what the two women did.

Cyclops had better luck, burning the undead with his laser beam vision, and soon their attackers were nothing but ashes scattered in the wind.

"What the hell was THAT?" asked Scott, dusting himself off. < Creatures with ridged faces, fangs and yellow eyes? > he thought to himself. < New mutants? >

"They looked like vampires," Storm said matter-of-factly.

"WHAT?!" he replied.

"You heard me," Ororo said with a touch of impatience. "Come on, Cyclops, don’t be so closed-minded. I saw a lot of strange things in Kenya, when I was a child. In fact, I CAUSED most of them, when I was twelve. We have mutants in this world – so why couldn’t we also have vampires?"

"But I...VAMPIRES?!" Scott said, in denial. Then he looked at Dr. Grey. "Jean, what do you think?"

"I’m reserving judgement, 'til I can examine one of those creatures properly," she replied.

***

The next day, Storm, Cyclops and Jean visited Giles’ home to tell Scott’s cousins goodbye, as they were taking the jet to Los Angeles.

"Hello?" Cyclops called, knocking on the door.

Giles answered it, and welcomed them inside. Buffy, Willow and Tara were there, and they also said hello to the new arrivals.

Just then, Dawn came downstairs. "Hey, everybody!" she called, not seeing the three mutants. "Buffy, did you go out again last night? How many vampires did you kill?"

The Sunnydale residents froze for a moment, looking at the people from New York. "She’s just kidding..." Buffy started to say with a weak grin.

"Vampires?" Scott asked her in disbelief.

"Actually, we killed six of them ourselves last night," Ororo said suddenly.

Everyone then stared at her. "What?" the female warrior asked. "I know what I saw, and what Scott burned up."

Buffy looked at her cousin in confusion. "You burned them? How?"

Scott looked at his fellow mutants, then came to a decision. "I suggest we tell each other everything," he said, looking at his cousins and their friends. "Deal?"

It was agreed, and then a long conversation took place. The mutants were shocked to learn about all the vampires and demons that infested this town. And that Buffy was the vampire Slayer, Dawn was some sort of Key, Giles was Buffy’s Watcher, and Willow and Tara were witches.

For their part, the Sunnydale residents were shocked to learn that the New Yorkers were mutants, and the powers they had exceeded their own.

Dawn, of course, was thrilled to see their powers being exhibited. "Wow!! Way cool!" she exclaimed at the sight of the laser energy fire, lightning bolts and telekinesis displays.

"Dawn, please," Giles started to say, taking off his glasses. "I must admit, th-this is all very startling."

"So what do we do now?" asked Willow.

"Our plans haven’t changed," Storm told her, "we were going to rendezvous with Alex and Logan in LA, and I guess we ought to get going."

"Who?" asked Tara.

"They’re two other friends of ours," Scott said, looking at Jean and Ororo. Then he made another decision. "There’s something else I need to tell you, as long as we’re being completely honest with each other here..." and then he told them about Xander.

Everything. The rescue mission, the rehab, his mutant power...

"WHAT?!" screamed Buffy and Willow. Giles merely looked stunned, as did Tara.

"Xander’s alive? And he’s a mutant?" whispered Dawn in amazement.

"Yes, to both questions," said Scott.

"And you didn’t tell us this until just NOW? Jeez, cuz, could you possibly BE any more feeble?!?" Buffy shouted.

"It’s not like that," Scott tried to explain. "When we rescued Alex in Nevada..."

"His name is Xander!" Willow said vehemently.

"Uh, not anymore. I mean...not to him," Scott paused, and shook his head. "Like I was saying, when we pulled him out of there, he had total memory loss. He still doesn’t know who he is – and neither did of any of us, until I saw his picture in Dawn’s room last night."

"It’s amazing," the bottle-blond Tara said, wide-eyed. "It’s a shame Anya isn’t around anymore, she’d have wanted to have learned this."

"Who?" asked Scott, Ororo and Jean.

"Xander’s girlfriend," Willow continued. "She disappeared a while ago. Kind of like Spike."

"Be that as it may, we have to find Xander," Giles said forcefully, before the New Yorkers could ask about Spike – it would be too complicated to explain about the ‘neutered’ vampire, who had once been Xander’s roommate for a few weeks.

"I suggest we make all possible haste, and get ourselves to Los Angeles," the Watcher finished up.

***

Los Angeles, California. Two hours later

Xander and Logan were at the demon Karaoke bar called ‘Caritas’, dressed in mostly civilian clothes. Talking and drinking freely, as they thought it was a mutant safehouse.

Actually Logan, who had found the place, wasn’t concerned with that part of it right now – just as long as the drinks kept flowing.

"What exactly are we doing here?" Xander asked, downing his Hawaiian sea-breeze drink in one gulp.

"Good a place as any to start looking for info," Logan replied, finishing off his Carlsberg beer. Then he burped, and laughed. "Oh man, kid, I’m getting old. A few beers, and I almost feel like I’ve been on a three day bender."

Xander grinned and was about to make a sarcastic comment, when he saw a group of people walking past the main bar.

One was the green-skinned and horned owner of the establishment, that he had met on the way in. No surprises there. But the other three people...

The first was a brunette girl about his own age, and the mere sight of her made his head ache like it hadn’t in months. Ever since his incarceration in that facility in Nevada.

Then the flashbacks started.

// Alone with her in a basement. Fear and anticipation in the air. Childish name-calling, a series of "I hate you’s!" – and then they were kissing like there was no tomorrow. //

// Looking at her lying on a hospital bed. Her eyes empty, and almost dead. "Get away from me," her voice sounded broken and listless. //

Fighting to understand the visions, he shook his head and glanced at the tall, dark-haired man dressed entirely in gothic black. Then the flashbacks assaulted him again.

// Alone with him in an underground tunnel. Fear and anticipation present, of a very different sort than before. "I told you to eat before we left!" his own voice echoed. //

// Facing him in a hospital corridor. A hateful and mocking expression in his eyes. "It must just kill you that I got there first," the man’s voice was gloating. //

He groaned, tearing his eyes away towards the other dark-haired man, the last member of the group. The one that was wearing spectacles, and a conservative suit and tie.

Then the agony started up once more.

// A library somewhere. The man standing behind a petite blonde girl. "Hey, it’s Mr. States-the-Obvious!" the sarcasm in his own voice overwhelming. //

// The man standing elsewhere, with others in the library. Himself dragging another girl by the elbow. "Easier said than done, Monarchy Boy," his nervous comment. //

Xander’s head hit the table, as he groaned in terrible pain. Logan was beside him in a moment. "You okay, kid?" his voice was full of concern.

"Those people..." Xander started to say. He winced, trying to ignore the hurt. "The ones that just passed us, with the owner of this place..."

Logan looked around, seeing the Host but not the others. "Where?"

Xander pulled himself together. "I know them. Well...I think I know them. I just...I think I got part of my memory back! We have to find them!"

Logan just looked at him. Then he chomped down on his cigar, threw some money down on the table, helped Xander to his feet and they started for the door...

***

Angel, Cordelia and Wesley exited the club, and started walking along the street towards Angel’s car. They were not in a good mood, as the Host had been unable to help in Angel’s quest for information on a new demon that had come to town.

"Hurry it up back there," Angel snapped over his shoulder to his two assistants.

"Oh, I’m sorry," Cordelia said, in her most sweetly evil voice. "It’s not like Wes and I have anything better to do."

"Cordelia..." Wesley tried to stop her, but it was like an amateur cook trying to bake a cake without all the proper ingredients. In a word, futile.

"No, really," she continued, ignoring the Englishman. "It’s not like it matters that this guy I was seeing has finally dumped me, because I kept on cancelling our dates. And it’s not like it matters that Wesley had to abandon his plans too, just for us to sit around and listen to two Korean guys singing ‘Bad To The Bone’ tonight."

"We need to find Gunn," Angel said vaguely, not paying attention to her tirade.

"Angel..." Wesley tried to say something; he knew what was coming, and he knew that he couldn’t prevent the huge argument that would take place. But it was just his nature, and stuffy British upbringing, that compelled him to try.

Unfortunately though, just as they got to the car, they were attacked by a posse of demons and vampires.

Angel and his people were outnumbered, but they still grabbed whatever weapons they could out of the vehicle and fought for their lives. That was when Xander and Logan showed up.

They glanced at each other, and nodded once. Both men then unsheathed their claws, and got ready for battle. Choosing sides, they jumped into the fray, helping the good guys.

Cordelia literally couldn’t believe it, when she saw who one of their helpers was. "XANDER!!!" she screamed, ducking a demon’s punch.

The man in question, of course, paid no attention – as ‘Alex’ had no memory of that name.

Suddenly a van, this one colored dark brown, arrived on the scene. Several black ops types came out and stunned Xander, after killing the vampire he was fighting with. Then they grabbed him, and dragged him to the van.

"NO!" Cordelia yelled. "Stop!"

She had heard what had happened to Xander, her ex-boyfriend, after coming to Sunnydale for the funeral six months before from Willow and Buffy. Now that she knew it had all been a trick, she was determined not to lose sight of him.

But all the girl managed to accomplish by charging towards him was to get stunned by the tasers herself, and thrown into the van beside him, which then roared off.

Finally Angel, Logan and Wesley managed to defeat the demons and vampires. Logan was unconscious from the battle, and so the vampire and the ex-Watcher just piled him into the car and took him with them back to the Hyperion hotel.

***

When they got there, they found the gang from Sunnydale waiting for them. The X-Men took Logan off Angel’s hands, and Jean started to check him out.

Even though, with Logan’s amazing healing powers, that was hardly necessary.

As Wesley filled them in on what had happened, Angel withdrew away from the group. Leaving the others behind, Buffy sought him out.

After a long silence, the Slayer spoke. "Angel," she said, not meaning to sound so wistful.

"Buffy," the vampire replied, in exactly the same tone.

"You look well," she said slowly, feeling the tension.

"You too," he choked out.

"How things been?"

"Okay. You?"

"Can’t complain too much," Buffy muttered. Then the young woman looked up at the souled vampire. "Actually, I can, but hey..."

"Know what you mean," Angel said, looking back at her.

Theirs was a story of love and tragedy, and nearly everybody knew it. He had been her first true love, and to him she had been the one thing worth ‘living’ for. They had had their chances for happiness, but Fate had decreed otherwise for them.

"I have some news. It’s about Xander," she suddenly said, looking away. It hurt too much, to stare at him like that for too long.

"I know," he said, surprising her. She quickly looked back at Angel. "Wes, Cordy and I met him and his partner just a few minutes ago."

Her eyes went wide. "You did?! Well, where is he?"

Angel frowned at her. "Didn’t you hear Wes tell it? Some people in camouflage gear grabbed him and Cordelia, and drove off before we could stop them."

Buffy grew furious, and started pounding on his chest. "Not again?! Damn it!! We gotta find 'em!"

"I know. We will," taking her in his arms without thinking about it. It felt so right, so natural, that she didn’t hesitate about putting her own arms around him and hugging him back. "I’ve got people looking for both of them, but I..."

All of a sudden, they heard someone call their names, as Logan recovered consciousness. Letting go, feeling very strange about their sudden intimacy, they rejoined the others.

Scott got off the phone, as he had contacted Professor Xavier in New York the moment he had heard about what had happened to Xander. "That was the Professor," he said unnecessarily. "He’s gotten a fix on Alex’s location with Cerebro..."

"Alex? Cerebro?" Angel looked confused.

"That, er, is what Xander is calling himself these days," Wesley said.

"And Cerebro is a fascinating device, th-that can be used to track mutants by their special brain waves," Giles added helpfully.

"Xander’s a mutant?" Angel echoed in dumb amazement.

"Anyway," Cyclops added impatiently, "Alex – I mean Xander, and probably your friend too, is currently at this address. Which is our next stop." He handed a piece of paper to the vampire.

Angel felt instantly cold, even though that was impossible for the undead – souled or not. "I know this place. Wolfram and Hart recently leased it from one of the firms they do business with."

"Wolfram and Hart are, uh, an evil law firm here in Los Angeles," Wesley clarified.

"Yeah. And I think we’re in for big trouble," Angel summed it up very nicely.

***

Unknown location, Los Angeles. A short time previously

Ethan Rayne was roughly thrown into the room, and Agent Craig Downer followed him in.

"You know, the MIA had a lot of trouble tracking you down," the agent said to the wizard.

"Well, I do hope you didn’t go to too much trouble on my behalf," Ethan said mildly.

The government operative replied by hitting Ethan in the stomach. Rayne wheezed and doubled over, fighting to get his breath back, as Agent Downer started pacing around.

"There’s something you should know," Craig said softly.

"What’s that?"

Downer pulled out his gun, a Glock 9 mm, and aimed it at Ethan. "You’re going to be a good citizen, and do a job for the government. Otherwise, you’ll be shot right here and buried tonight in an unmarked grave."

Ethan smiled and shrugged, appreciating his honesty. "When you put it that way, how can I refuse?"

The agent holstered his sidearm. Then he lifted Ethan’s shirt, ignoring the Englishman’s surprise, and stuck a wafer-sized block of material onto his side.

The material then glowed a bright yellow color. "Don’t try to remove it, it’s high explosive," he warned Ethan. "Your mission is to find Subject Nighthawk-"

"The Harris boy?" Ethan interrupted in astonishment.

Craig hit him again, and Ethan took the hint, heaving in pain. "The orders are that he is not to be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Now this bomb has been specially designed, to be activated by his brain waves."

Agent Downer then looked hard at him. "If you try to remove this before you’re in the same room as he is, we’ll instantly know, and I’ll detonate it myself. And there won’t be enough pieces of you left to bury."

"What’s to prevent me being killed once I do deliver your...package?" Ethan asked.

"There’ll be a slight delay before the bomb goes off. Time enough for you to get away."

Ethan said nothing, but he personally thought that the other man was a lousy liar. The British magician understood that he had learned too much, and the bomb was meant to take him out as well.

"I suggest you start looking for him. If you haven’t found Subject Nighthawk or contacted me within a week, the bomb goes boom." With that, Agent Downer left the room.

Ethan just smiled. < Typical Yank governmental idiot, > he thought to himself, < He doesn’t have any idea of what I’m capable of. >

***

Wolfram and Hart leased building, Los Angeles. A few hours later

Xander and Cordelia were unconscious on the floor, trapped in one of the basement offices. But suddenly Xander stirred, moaned and finally woke up.

Shaking his head, he noticed then that he wasn’t alone – the girl that he’d seen in the bar was in here, with him. He crawled over to her, and examined Cordelia’s features.

< Who are you? > Xander thought to himself. < Do I know you? I...think I do. Are you part of my past? And why did seeing you and your friends have such an effect on me? >

Excellent questions, for which he had no answers. But suddenly Cordelia groaned, and started to wake up as well.

The first thing she saw when she opened her eyes, was the young man’s face staring at her in concern. Someone she had once loved, and until today thought had died horribly and meaninglessly months ago.

"XANDER!!" she screamed, and embraced him tightly. Caught up in the moment, Cordelia then kissed him very hard and full on the mouth.

Xander was shocked, and for a moment didn’t know what to do. But her lips were certainly stirring up a lot of primal male hormones within him.

< Go for it, you idiot! > the soldier within him was screaming. < She’s a hottie, and it’s been months since you’ve been with a woman. And she’s certainly acting as if you spent all of your last R and R in her arms! >

Xander didn’t need any more urging from his subconscious, and so he kissed her back. Very enthusiastically. But when he slid his arms behind her back, underneath her clothes, and then tried to lower her onto the floor, she quickly shoved him away.

"Excuse you!" Cordelia exclaimed. "We’re not gonna do that! Don’t even think I’ve forgiven you or anything!"

Xander tried to recover his equilibrium; it was obvious he’d made a serious error. "Um, I’m sorry ma’am, my mistake..." he tried to apologize.

Cordelia just stared at him, as if he’d sprouted an extra limb on his forehead. "Ma’am? Wha- did you actually just call me that?"

"Uh..."

"God! Have you completely lost it or what?" Xander just stared at her, not knowing what to say. "WELL?" Cordelia demanded. "Say something!"

Xander shrugged. "Who are you?" he asked, as it was the first thing that popped into his head.

Cordelia stared at him again. "What are you talking about, you dorkhead?" she asked immediately.

Xander got up, and helped Cordelia to her feet. "I don’t know you," he said carefully. "I, uh, I lost my memory...some time ago. I take it though, you know me?"

"Of course I do!" she replied, exasperated and not believing him. Then the young woman noticed the dogtags around his neck. "What are those?" she pointed.

He showed them to her. "Nighthawk?" she said after reading them, incredulous. "Oh my God, are you actually using that stupid old nickname again?"

"It’s not a nickname," he said in confusion.

Cordelia grew angry. "Alexander Lavelle Harris, I don’t know what kind of gag you’re trying to pull here. But I promise you, Cordelia Chase is one girl that’s not gonna fall for your line of..."

Suddenly she half-screamed, half-groaned and then stumbled forward, as a vision started to pass through her mind.

// An underground tunnel. Men and women rushing forward, fear everywhere. Xander, Buffy and Tara being buried in an avalanche of rocks, after a rumbling explosion. //

"Uhhhhh!" Cordelia clutched her head in agony, then started scrabbling for a painkiller in her pockets, silently thanking God when she found one.

"What’s wrong?" Xander asked in concern.

"Oh, nothing much," Cordelia said sarcastically, after taking the pill and swallowing it, waiting for the pain to subside. Then she said, "I just had a vision of you and two other people getting buried alive. Like, does that qualify as wrong to you?"

"You’re a seer? That’s your mutant power?" Xander asked, leaping to conclusions.

"Hey, I am not a mutant!" Cordelia retorted hotly.

Just then the door opened, and Ethan Rayne walked in.

***

"YOU!!" Xander and Cordelia both exclaimed at the same time.

Then Xander looked at her. "You know him too?" he asked in confusion.

"Like, yeah!" Cordelia replied in surprise. "I mean, after everything he’s done over the years..."

"Miss Chase," Ethan said smoothly. "It HAS been a long time! You’ll have to excuse Mr. Harris – after all, he’s not quite the man he used to be. And I’m not just referring to his memory loss," Ethan smirked.

"Who are you?" Xander asked, tensing himself.

"Ah yes, do let me introduce myself properly. The name is Ethan Rayne, actually, and I am sorry we couldn’t meet again under better circumstances, dear boy."

"Xander, what is he talking about?" Cordelia asked, confused.

"Please permit me to explain it," Ethan said, before Xander could say a word. "It’ll be a lot faster, and time IS of the essence. Up until about 3 months ago, our mutual friend Mr. Harris and I were guests of the United States government, at a very special facility in Nevada. Fortunately, some people came along and rescued him..."

"You brought them to me," Xander remembered vaguely, his eyes narrowing. Finally, he was now getting some answers – his name, just for starters...

"For assistance in departing from that establishment in their jet, actually. However, things didn’t quite happen that way, and I had to make it out of there on my own."

"So then what are you doing here?" asked Cordelia.

"Well...I’m here under orders to, ah, kill Subject Nighthawk over there," Ethan said apologetically, gesturing towards Xander.

The mutant immediately got in front of Cordelia, shielding her from Ethan, but the young woman would have none of it. "WHY, you slime?"

"Now, now," Ethan’s smile never faltered. "It’s not like any of this is MY idea. In any case, the MIA person who recruited me for the job didn’t exactly give me any other options. That’s why I had to contract for the special services of this charming law firm..."

"Wolfram and Hart?" Cordelia guessed instantly.

"Very good," Ethan smiled at her. Then he turned to Xander. "You see I had to get into the same room as you, my young friend, before I could safely remove this explosive device. But that’s as far as my services go – because I dislike employers that make threats to kill me."

He then removed the bomb stuck to his side, and placed it on the table. Then he withdrew a handful of salt from his pocket, and made a circle around himself.

"What are you doing?" asked Xander, bewildered.

"Making preparations," was Ethan’s cryptic reply.

Suddenly, the bomb changed color from yellow to red. "Probably just been set on a countdown," Ethan remarked, smirking, as if they were just chatting about the weather.

Cordelia asked in an angry tone, "Why are you grinning? I mean, you’re so gonna die too!"

Ethan just chuckled. "I don’t think so. Oh, and do give my regards to my ol’ mate Ripper. Sorry I can’t take you with me, but I’m sure you’ll be able to figure a way out for yourselves."

He then started chanting in a strange language, and then a moment later simply vanished from the room in a burst of light.

For a moment Xander didn’t know what to think, but then he glanced at the bomb again and all his soldier instincts kicked in.

He grabbed Cordelia, and they flew across the room to the door. All ten of his claws then instantly flashed out with the usual ‘snick’ sound, and he plunged them into the thick oak wood.

Xander quickly created an opening for them, tearing through the solid doorframe like a hot knife through butter, that was just big enough to fit through.

Ignoring the girl’s startled exclamations and making his claws vanish, Xander then dragged her out and along with him, looking for an exit out of the basement.

Suddenly they heard grating noise, as a hole in the floor opened up before them. Looking down, Cordelia saw Angel and the others waiting in the sewers below, and jumped.

Xander turned around, and saw the security camera aimed at him. "BOMB!" he yelled, hoping they could hear him or read his lips. He then dropped into the hole after Cordelia, a moment before the sirens started and a bell started clanging.

"Run!" Xander said, gesturing frantically to the people crowding around him – Angel, Buffy, the X-Men and their friends from Sunnydale and LA. "There’s a bomb, we gotta evac right now! Go – go – go!"

As everybody started running, as if in slow motion, the building exploded.

In the heat of the moment, there was no time for Cordelia to give warnings about her vision. Xander remembered only at the last moment, and tried to dive onto Tara and Buffy as part of the tunnel started to collapse on them.

"NO!" Cordelia yelled. "They’re gonna die!"

Fortunately Jean Grey, who had decided to stick close to Xander, heard her and yanked at all three of them with her TK, just barely managing to pull them clear.

"We gotta get out of here NOW!" Angel hollered, as the group gathered up their three unconscious friends and left the area, before the entire sewer tunnel collapsed around them.

***

Hyperion hotel, Los Angeles. The next day

After the dust had settled, both literally and metaphorically, the group had split up, different people going their different ways.

Storm, Jean and Cyclops had gone back to New York in their black leather uniforms, once they were sure everyone was safe, to report to Professor Xavier.

Tara and Buffy had discharged themselves from St. Matthew’s hospital, and were now at Angel’s residence, along with Willow, Dawn and Giles.

Wesley, Gunn and Angel were also there, worried about Cordelia. The brunette girl was just sitting in a chair, and playing with a set of dogtags around her neck.

"I can’t believe that Xander and his friend just took off like that!" Buffy suddenly shouted, breaking the silence. "I mean, he didn’t even wait around for me to talk to him?"

"Or me," mumbled Willow, who had not left Tara’s side during her hospitalization.

"Me either," added Dawn, who had similarly not left Buffy’s side.

"It wouldn’t have made any difference if you had talked to him," Angel came over, and tried to calm Buffy down. "Both Xander and that other guy, Logan, they seemed real determined to catch up with Ethan Rayne and his MIA contact."

"But..." Buffy started to say.

"Buffy...I’m afraid he’s right," Giles said to her gently.

"I must agree, as well," Wesley replied, his voice full of certainty.

"You talked to him? What did he say?" Buffy turned around and stared at them.

The three men looked uncomfortable. "Buffy, our conversation was held under the strictest confidentiality..." Wesley started to say.

"Don’t you try to go all LA Confidential on me!" Buffy said vehemently. "Spill!"

"Yeah!" agreed Willow and Dawn.

Angel looked at the two Watchers, and by silent consensus, started off the tale.

"It was weird, at first," he said slowly. "You know how Xander’s never liked me? There was none of that anymore, no resentment at all. No Deadboy jokes, nothing but straight polite questions..."

"He was even quite civil to me. Amazing," Wesley added, shaking his head.

"He asked us about his past," Giles continued. "He ordered us to tell him everything about himself. And, er, we did. No holds barred, a-as it were. Even about his...dysfunctional family, just as he requested."

"What happened?" asked Tara, who had been silent up till now.

Everyone looked briefly at her, before Giles adjusted his glasses and said timidly, "Um, well..."

"Giles!" shouted Buffy, Dawn and Willow.

"He summarized it in exactly six words," Wesley said sadly. "And they were, uh, ‘Guy sounds like a useless wimp.’ Then..."

"What?" asked Gunn, getting into the conversation.

"He refused to talk, or even appear to think about any of it anymore," Angel said, starting to brood about it. "He just took off, and we couldn’t find him again."

As the girls started to argue and remonstrate with the guys, Gunn eased himself away from the others and went over to join Cordelia, who had continued sitting all alone and playing with her dogtags.

"Hey," Gunn said, trying to cheer her up. "You okay?"

"Yes," Cordelia replied.

"You don’t sound it," Gunn replied, trying to be as honest as her.

She flashed him a quick grin, before looking down again. "I’ll be fine in a minute."

"Those his dogtags?" Gunn asked, seeing the ‘Nighthawk’ insignia.

"Oh yeah," Cordelia said vaguely. "He said that he wanted me to have them, just before he took off with that other loser. Something about if worst came to worst, and people thought I was a mutant, I should head for New York. The place he now considers home! And his friends there would help me out, when they saw these..."

Gunn could tell that she was really upset. "We could try to find him, if you want..."

"NO!" Cordelia got up, and started to move away. "No. It’s fine. Don’t do that. If I ever need to contact him again, I know who to go to."

With that, she walked away, and Gunn stared after her. Wondering if she really was going to be okay.

Because Gunn had heard her and the mutant having a huge argument before the guy had finally left, one filled with shouts and tears – and she definitely hadn’t sounded all right to him.

***

Westchester, New York. One hour later

Professor Charles Xavier was watching the news on CNN in his private office, and the current item was the recent bombing in LA.

"...is being called a mutant terrorist act by the MIA here in Los Angeles," the TV reporter on the scene was saying. "Sources close to the investigation have hinted that a new mutant splinter group is trying to force Washington to reconsider its position, on the upcoming registration law."

She continued, "Officially there are no other clues so far, but there are rumors that a security camera caught one of the terrorists on tape, before he could escape. We’ll have more on these developments, as soon as they come to hand – this is Julia Rosewood signing off, live in LA. Back to you, Harry."

The TV anchorman smiled into the camera. "Thank you, Julia. In other news today, two African nations are on the brink of war..."

The TV set switched itself off, and Professor Xavier turned around and saw his students there – Storm, Cyclops, Rogue and Jean. "Thank you," he said to the woman with TK ability.

"You’re welcome," Jean replied, moving forward. "How are you?"

"Troubled, to be honest with you," Charles said, slowly. He was concerned what all this might mean, in terms of the registration and the possible reprisals against his people.

"Have you heard anything from Alex and Logan?" asked Storm.

"No," Xavier replied. "I must admit...I fear for them, and the other mutants out there alone and unprotected, given these new developments."

"Me too," added Rogue.

"But we can’t give up hope," Storm then said softly.

The Professor’s mind recalled part of the conversation with Magneto, during their last chess game. "We need to have some hope for the future, Eric," he’d said, moving a pawn.

"I’m not disputing that, Charles," his opponent had replied, moving a rook. "But hope alone doesn’t stop the genocidal madmen. And if you think there’s any difference between what’s happening today and what Adolf Hitler was doing in 1938, then you are very much mistaken."

Charles Xavier was pulled back to reality, by the sight of Cyclops opening up one of his favorite books. One about the life of a 17th century contemporary of the famous writer John Milton, who’d written ‘Paradise Lost’.

And then the team leader started quoting a passage, that the Professor knew by heart:

"And finally the old man said to his sons, ‘I have travel’d round this changing world, and walk’d through it. Seen near aught but wars, pestilence 'n famine. But the worst I behel’d, the death of hope; the death o’ dreams; the crucible, where’pon all be truly lost."

Scott paused. "The future be all’round thee, b’loved sons, awaiting t’ be born. Therefore I say unto thee, let be it one worthy f’ thine own offspring – with faith, with charity 'n 'bove all other, with hope in thy hearts.’ And then he lay down upon his bed, and moved nevermore."

The Professor smiled at Scott, and then moved away, looking out his window towards the lawns of the academy, where many of the students were playing in the sun.

"Let us not give up hope then," Charles Francis Xavier said softly, banishing the vision of the mobs attacking his people one day, from his mind.

< Hopefully, > he thought, < today will be a good day in this world. >

THE END