Blood of Hephaestus


By Danii
Rating: PG
Summary: Xander discovers that his talent doesn't lie in fighting, but in something just as important...
Disclaimer: I own no one. Don't sue me. I don't get any money from this, just headaches and odd stares.
Distribution: If you have anything of mine archived, go ahead and take it. If not, just ask...
NOTE: Don't expect for me to finish this any time soon. My muse has demanded I write this, but I have A LOT of stuff I'm working on right now, so I don't know if I'll do anything with this.
NOT BETA READ
B/X

Xander was fiddling with something. The casual observer wouldn't be able to even begin to guess what on earth it was that lay beneath his multitude of tools and his attentive gaze, but at closer examination, one could see that it was at one time a clock, despite the fact that its face, and the majority of its parts, were laying on the workbench.

It was not an unfamiliar scene. In fact, it was a daily ritual, one that Xander had always completed since childhood. He would sit down with some broken item, and work on it tirelessly until it was fixed, which usually took around an hour or so. No matter what the object, he could fix it, and in fact the young man took great pleasure in his solo activity.

The time he spent fiddling with things was his time, and his thing; it was the thing that kept him sane everyday of his hectic, Hellmouthy life. Everyone has one, such as entering the day's activities in a diary, or perhaps writing poetry. For Xander, it was fiddling with metal things, as could be attested to by the massive amount of once-broken clocks that had at one time littered his small room and now sat in various visible and unknown spots in his basement apartment.

But what he most liked meddling with was weapons. Metal and weapons. Those were his favorites. He could remember sweetly that night when he'd had to arm the rocket launcher that took out the Judge, and the fascinating trip to the army base. Despite the danger he'd known was present that night, he had nonetheless had a smile on his face as he worked on the large weapon, and it brought him joy to no end to see his work pay off in an exploding-demon way. The tazer he'd had to meddle had been fun as well.

It was this skill that had given him the first steady job since high school graduation. A repairman. The pay was good, the hours fit patrolling time well, and he loved his work. Xander wondered why he hadn't done in it the first place. But to be honest, he didn't care. He was happy now, and that was what was important. In fact, he was very happy at the moment, since he had just finished repairing the clock.

The young man looked at his work with pride, and then set it next to his bed table. It would serve until he received his next broken clock, when it would be replaced by the newest arrival. But as he gazed at his finished effort, he felt the need to work some more. He felt the need to create. This was odd, because usually, he only did one thing a day, and he'd never really felt a need to MAKE anything, just fix.

But Xander couldn't deny the yearning that he felt, so he cleared the workbench of the dirt and dust, and began to think of what he could make. He considered various things, and the advantages of producing them, not to mention if he had the parts for them. Then his thoughts turned to something else entirely. Buffy.

He hadn't seen her in three days, but he could remember every detail of her down to the last little fingernail. Xander could recall with clarity the way her blonde hair looked in the sunlight, and the lovely twinkle she got in her beautiful hazel eyes when she laughed at one of his jokes. The baser parts of him could recollect the exact curve of her figure, the swell of her breasts, and grace of her movements as she dispatched the demon-of-the-week. And that's when it came to him.

He would make a stake. A beautiful stake for Buffy to use in battle. It would be useful and gorgeous, deadly and stunning, a stake worthy of her. He could picture it now. A metal handle fitted to match hands he remembered so well, carved with some design that he knew his mind would provide at just the right moment, fitted around a carefully whittled stake of the finest Ash wood. He would put his heart and soul into the weapon, and she would love it as much as he loved her.

Xander looked around his basement, searching for the necessary metals and wood, and smiled as he found them laying a few feet from him. Pulling them over, he looked towards the metalworking supplies he had gotten years ago from one of his uncles on his birthday, not to mention the small music box that he intended to use for metal. Then his gaze went over to the piece of Ash wood that he had been planning to use for stakes. It was fine wood, and it would indeed be used to kill many a vampire. But this would not be just any stake; this would be HER stake.

Xander labored for two hours carefully working the wood into a perfect point. Aerodynamically, and aesthetically, it was beautiful. And then he began to carve. He didn't know why, or even what he was carving, but something inside him took control and began to slice in symbols and pictures. He couldn't really identify all of them, but they all felt as if they belonged there, as if they were exactly what should be upon the Ash wood. After around twenty minutes, the stake was covered in odd signs and other things, and whatever drove him to put them there, stopped.

Then he began the metal work, and that was pure joy. It took him longer, since he wanted to assure that everything was perfect and he needed to find the right mold, but in the end, he had fashioned a flawless handle to his wonderful stake. The grooves were perfect, and the small cross graced the end of it exactly as he'd wanted. Xander took time to clean up the stake a bit, dust off everything, and then put away everything he'd used to create the piece of art. And it was art. It was art in its purest form, a true part of Xander's soul made into a physical object. In fact, it felt almost alive in the young man's hand.

He couldn't wait to give it to her.





Xander knew that Buffy would be in the graveyard at that hour, so he put on his sneakers and made his way out the door. It took a while to find her, since he hadn't been sure of which of Sunnydale's many cemeteries she would be in, but finally he located the Slayer in the larger one near Giles' house.

"Hey, Buff!" he shouted with a grin, "What's stakin'?"

"Not much," she admitted with a small chuckle, happy that he had joined her on the night's patrol. Xander always seemed to make the work much more pleasant, "You?"

"Oh nothing..." the young man replied with a sly grin, pulling something out of his pocket carefully, "Except that I got a present for you!"

"A present!" she cried in exaggerated delight, though in all truth she was rather excited, "What is it!? Lemme see!"

"Ah ah ah!" Xander laughed, pulling the cloth-covered item away from her, "What's the magic word?"

"Twinkie?" Buffy asked with a giggle.

Xander sniggered, but he didn't put the object any closer to her, "Nope. Wanna try again?"

"Please?" the Slayer said, grabbing for the gift.

"So unoriginal!" the young man cried while trying to control his laughter, "One more time!"

"Xander is the bestest!" Buffy said with a laugh, tackling him onto the ground as she tried to obtain the thing in his hand. But he still kept it out of her reach, and the two of them laughed as they rolled around on the grass of the cemetery, until Xander bumped his head against something. An angry something if the growling was any indication. The young man and the Slayer looked up a dusty pants leg to see the vampire that was glaring down on them.

Buffy sprang up immediately, then looked for the stake she'd been carrying with her before. Unfortunately, it had disappeared during her play with Xander, and she was forced to try to beat the thing until she found her stake. But first, she had to get the bloodsucker away from her friend before the vampire attacked, or Xander tried to get heroic.

She sent the creature reeling with a powerful kick to the head, and then followed it with a jab to the stomach. As the vampire folded, Buffy put her hands together and whacked it in the back of the head, sending the undead monster straight to the ground. Buffy took the time to look around for her weapon, but she still couldn't see it. Suddenly, she saw a stake being thrown to her by Xander, and she caught it as the vampire pulled her legs out from under her.

Before the bloodsucker could do anything else, Buffy rolled away, then got up and into a fighting stance. It was then that she noticed the bizarre stake she was holding. It was made of fine wood, nothing like her quickly made job from earlier that night, and it had many symbols carved into it from the tip to the beginning of the metal, which seemed to fit her hand perfectly and looked to be almost melded to the wood. There was a cross at the end, finely sculpted, and the whole thing felt almost alive in her hand. Alive, and eager to kick some vampire butt.

Almost without thought, she jumped forward and lunged, sending the stake into the heart of the young vampire. A second later, the thing was dust, and she was left holding the beautiful weapon in her hands.

Xander walked over to her then, an embarrassed expression on his handsome face.

"That is SO not the way I wanted to give you that..." the young man said with a sigh.

Buffy turned to Xander, confusion in her eyes. "You mean, this is my present?"

"Yeah...It's no gold cross, but I hope you like it..."

The Slayer looked at her friend, and took in the expression in his face and the tone of his voice. Then she brought her eyes to the finely made weapon in her hand.

"Xander, it's beautiful. I love it." She assured him. Then curiosity got the best of her. Where did you get it?"

At this, the Slayerette turned almost red, and he stared down to his shoes as he muttered something.

"What?"

"I said, I made it..."

Buffy's eyes widened in surprise, then turned back to the stake. He had made this amazing thing? How long had it taken him? Why had he made it? For her?

"Why-"

"I just thought that you'd like it..." Xander said slowly, interrupting her gently, "Maybe make you feel a little better after that whole "First Slayer" thing..."

Now Buffy was staring at her shoes, but only for a moment. "I do!" she informed him, "It does. Thanks..."

Her Xander-shaped friend smiled that strange little smile he sometimes gave her. That loving don't-worry-about-it grin that she'd come to know so well over the years, and had come to miss as they had begun to drift apart. The smile that told her that all he'd wanted was to make her happy. And he had. Not just with the stake, but with that smile. It made her feel safe, and much more comfortable with him than she'd been for the last few months.

"Don't mention it..." Xander said with a shrug, "If I can't help in the actual slaying, it's the least I can do..."

The young woman looked down at the stake once more, and was about to say something to Xander, but then realized he had walked away. She didn't know where he had headed off to, or which direction he had gone, so she couldn't follow him. But she wanted to. She wanted to ask about that last comment, and about the stake. She wanted to ask about everything he'd said, and everything he'd done since the day they'd met. But, like every time in the past, she's missed her chance by being slow.

Not one to dawdle, the Slayer gazed down once more at Xander's gift, the beautifully crafted weapon she held in her hand that even now seemed to have a life of it's own. This, she knew, was no ordinary stake. This was something special, perhaps even more special than she, or even Xander, knew. Buffy decided to see Giles right away.





Giles held the stake up to his eyes and examined it from every angle imaginable. The Watcher held it carefully, as if afraid it would attack him in some way, but nonetheless checked it over front to back, all the while muttering "extraordinary...amazing..." Finally, after around a minute, Giles put the stake down on the table, and looked up to Buffy with a questioning expression on his face.

"Buffy, if I may ask, where did you acquire this...weapon?" the Watcher enquired, unable to keep the excitement from spilling into his tone.

"Why?" the Slayer answered, avoiding her guide's question, "What's so special about it, other than the obvious? I mean, I know it's different, but how?"

Giles blinked, then pulled his glasses off without a word to clean them on his shirt. He breathed in deep, and then replaced the spectacles on his nose.

"As you are already aware, this is a rather unusual piece of equipment..." the Watcher began, "It was obviously forged by one of the Blood of Hephaestus..."

"Huh?"

Giles gave her a tired look, then continued, "One of the Blood of Hephaestus, the great Smiths and Craftsmen..."

"Oh..." the Slayer replied, trying to sound as if she had even the slightest idea what he was talking about, even though she didn't.

The Watcher sighed. He knew that tone. If he had a dollar for every time he'd heard it, he could have bought the Bronze lock, stock and barrel. "Hephaestus, if you were unaware, Buffy-"

"And I am..."

He gave her a look for her interruption, then continued. "Ahem, as I was saying...he was the Greek god of Fire and Blacksmithing. From his forge, supposedly, the finest weapons and metalwork were produced for the greatest of heroes and the gods. It is said that he even made the lightning bolts for Zeus to hurl..."

"Interesting..." Buffy commented in a way that told the Watcher that she was anything but, "And what does this have to do with my stake?"

The former librarian exhaled noisily, and looked to the ceiling, as if begging to Heaven for more patience. Goodness knew he needed it.

"The Blood of Hephaestus is the term for a person born with smith-magic. A true Maker of weapons. They are rather rare, and they produce the finest attack implements, among other things, that can be made. When Saint George slew the dragon, he held in his hand a sword made by one of the Blood. King Arthur's Excalibur is said to have been made by one of these as a favor to the Lady of the Lake. Even the sword of Acathla was forged by someone with the Blood of Hephaestus..."

"Oh" the Slayer answered, and Giles smiled. This was the kind of "oh" he liked to hear. The kind that said "I was being impatient, but now I see how important the information was; thank you, Giles, my wonderful patient Watcher..." Hearing it was one of the few tiny victories he got in his position.

"So this was made by one of them?" Buffy asked, a strange lilt to her voice. He didn't know exactly what she was thinking, but he had a feeling it had to do with her avoidance of telling him where she got it, or possibly, from who.

"Yes..." Giles answered, picking up the stake once more, "But this is unique for other reasons as well. It is a First."

"A first what?"

"A First Work." The Watcher explained, his voice filled with something close to awe, "All their lives until a First Work, a Blood of Hephaestus will simply fix things which have been broken. But the First Work is their first creation; the beginning of the life their talent will give them. It is rather special."

"Wow..." Buffy replied, staring at the stake in his hands. She'd seen him speak of many things, but few topics had driven him with such wonder as this. The Slayer figured that it had to be pretty exceptional for Giles to get that passionate about it.

"The stake is also special because it is a Soul-piece..."

"Which is?"

Giles sighed, and he looked at he stake again with that same curious expression, then handed it to Buffy. "When one of the Blood works on an item, they shape it not just with their hands and tools, but with their heart, mind, and soul. However, a Soul-piece weapon is one in which an actual bit of the worker's soul is put into the creation. It's very rare in a First Work..."

The former librarian was quiet for a moment, and then asked in a solemn tone, "Have you used this on anything, Buffy?"

"Yeah. A vamp in the cemetery..." she answered, "Why?"

Giles looked a little shaken, but not worried per say. "Then I suggest," he told her quietly, "that you not let this stake out of your sight..."

"Why, Giles?"

"Because, after you use a Soul-piece weapon, a part of your soul gets bound to it as well..."

Buffy was about to ask what the implications of that were, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. The Slayer and the Watcher both stared at each other for a moment, trying to figure out which one of the Scoobies it could be at that time of night, and hoping against hope that there wasn't some major demon-rific catastrophe that had to be avoided. Finally, Giles went over and opened the door.

"Hey, guys...how are things? I'm bored. How about you?" Xander babbled as he walked through the door and into the Watcher's living room, "Anything I can do to help around here? Research? Clean some crossbows? Sharpen some swords? Make coffee? Anything?"

"Xander-"

She was about to say something else, but the words flew from her mind as she felt the stake jump in her hand. Buffy cleared her throat, and then began again.

"Xander-"

Another jump. This was weird. She smiled at him, then continued without saying his name again. The stake didn't jump this time.

"I wasn't expecting to see you again tonight. I mean, you left kinda suddenly, and then I..."

"I don't know," the young man admitted. Then he smiled. "Maybe my daily dosage of Buffy wasn't met with that short interlude earlier. Not to mention the fact that I haven't seen the G-man for a while, so I decided to drop by and see if you needed me to do stuff..."

"Could you please stop calling me that..." the Watcher said quietly, the irritation in his voice more warm then true, "And to tell you the truth, we really don't require any help, though if you'd like to look through any of my books to brush up on your demonology, you're certainly welcome..."

"Sure, G-m...er, certainly, Giles." Xander answered with an embarrassed grin, "Mind if I use part of your couch?"

"Fine with me..." answered the former librarian, "Buffy, you have no problem with it, right?"

"Oh...none." The Slayer answered almost nervously, running her hands over the carvings on the stake she held almost for comfort, "None at all..."

"Well then, be my guest, Xander..." Giles told him, "Buffy should be going back to her dorm around now, yes?"

"Yeah."

"But you may stay as long as you like...I'm not one to stop a young man from studying, even if I should have encouraged him perhaps a little earlier to do so..."

"Thanks, G-iles." Xander replied with a smile and a small laugh. Then he turned to Buffy, who was near the door and said, in a much different, yet still pleasant, tone, "See ya later, Buffy..."

"Bye, X- Bye..." she said nervously, confused about both the stake and the man who had given it to her.

Giles saw her the short way to the door, and before she could leave, her Watcher whispered, "Don't forget what I said about keeping an eye on that stake. There could be dire consequences should it fall into the wrong hands..."

Slightly confused, the Slayer walked out the door. She began to think about all Giles had said, and what Xander had told her earlier. All her thinking left her with two possibilities: either Xander was lying, and had found it somewhere, which she seriously doubted, or he was one of those people Giles had been talking about. Either way, she knew that explaining everything about it to her Watcher and the rest would be difficult, especially since she was staring to feel something for the dark-haired young man who obviously cared for her enough to give her something like the stake, or perhaps enough to make it. And she had no idea how she would explain it to him.

Meanwhile, back at Giles house, Xander was sitting on the Watcher's couch, staring at the book before him. He'd tried to read the last sentence twelve times already, but each time, he was unable to absorb it into his mind. He was busy thinking about the way Buffy had acted.

Xander had loved her since that first moment in the hallway, but she had always told him that he was her friend, and would remain that way. Period. Amen. Elvis has left the building. Yet, as he'd watched her leave the house, he could have sworn he'd seen something in her eyes, something that had nothing to do with friendship and everything to do with something more. And at that moment, his heart had sung its finest tune, despite his outer calm. The Slayer had no idea what it had cost him to jovially bid her adieu.

But he couldn't really keep focusing on her. Yes, every once in a while, she would do something or other than made him start to think that she reciprocated his feelings, but each and every time, it turned out just to be something friendly. He'd had his hopes dashed enough times to have given up, and sometimes he felt he had. But then she would do something, or get a certain look in her eyes, or perhaps give him a peck of the cheek, and he would begin to wish all over again. He just wanted it for once to actually happen. Even if she broke up with him a day later, he would be happy knowing he'd had a chance to be her love, and not just her friend. But, the little voice in his head screamed at him, that was about as likely as Giles being a cross dresser...

Xander looked down at that moment to see the book lying in his lap. Though he'd chosen it at random from Giles' shelf, the young man laughed as he realized just which book he had picked.

It was one he'd read before, and the Watcher had told him to please never read it again, and for a very good reason. He'd set the book on fire by doing that, as could be attested to by the charred edges on the pages. It still made him laugh to think about how he'd just decided to read one of the spells out loud, and his complete surprise/terror when it had burned the book. Not to mention his panic over what to do to put the poor literature out. Luckily, Watcher-man had come to the rescue of his precious books, and the problem had ended quickly.

Just out of curiosity, Xander began searching for the page he'd read out loud. It was rather easy to find since it was the most burnt piece of parchment in the volume. Besides, the young man found it hard to forget things he made combust.

"The Rite of Vulcan." Xander mumbled. He figured that reading the title of the spell, in English, wouldn't do anything, and fortunately, he was right. There was no spurts of flame, no smoke, nothing. "Interesting..."

Beside the spell was an illustration of a man, one Xander found intriguing for some reason he couldn't quite explain. The figure held a hammer high above his head with strong arms, and he wore very little clothing other than a dark smock that protected him from the forge he was working upon intently. On one of the legs, the young man could see a scar that ran up and down the man's leg, and he wondered why a powerful being worth summoning would be lame. But what struck him the most was the figure's face.

It was not a handsome face; the artist who had inked the page had made sure the viewer knew that, but it was an intriguing one. A square chin topped by thin lips and a blunt nose. Above that lay dark eyes, set close to the nose, which, despite the two-dimensional drawing, seemed to hold an inner calm and kindness. Beyond that, a forehead wrinkled in concentration could be seen from beneath long dark curls that appeared to lick his face like the fires from the forge.

It was a face Xander could understand. It was the face of one who had had a hard life, but despite it, had found happiness. It was the face of one who had been hurt by those who were supposed to love him, but nonetheless, had found the strength, the iron will, to get past the pain. It was the face of one who did what he did because it gave him joy. It was not the face of a fighter, but the face of one who fought the harder battle by helping the warrior. It was the face of one who was at one time under appreciated by others, but knew that his place was important. One who, despite the setbacks, had become more than anyone ever expected him to be.

Xander closed the book.





Buffy didn't know what to think. She was very confused about several things and her mind spun with all sorts of thoughts, yet all of them had a central theme: Xander.

She knew he loved her. That was not a question. It wasn't doubtable. Deep in her heart of hearts she could feel it, like a string to him, telling her that she would always and forever be the only one with the keys to his soul. She knew that everything he did was in some way done for her and only her. She was more than conscious of the fact that he'd done nothing but help and support her since her first day in Sunnydale, and she was painfully aware to the fact that she'd done the same for him only once or twice.

But what she wasn't sure of was if she loved him. Since her break-up with Angel, Buffy had been desperate to move on, to find someone who could love her like the vampire had, and it had gotten her into trouble. First Parker, with his using ways, and then Riley.

It wasn't that Riley was bad to her, or trying to use her. Goodness knew that the commando had done a great deal for her and her friends through the year, but what about what she felt for him. It was a question she'd asked herself time and time again. Did she really love him? Or was she simply desperate to find another Angel, another true love? And if so, where did it leave her? Was she, in that way, doing the same thing as Xander? Trying to replace true love with sex, even though the former was waiting for her in a little basement apartment across town?

"Wait..." the Slayer muttered to herself as she walked down the dark street towards her home, "Did I just think the words 'true love' and think of Xander? Is it really that? Do I really-"

The words stopped. She couldn't really say them just yet, not even to herself. Not even as a question. In fact, the idea was so tenuous, yet wanted, that she didn't dare even think the rest of the sentence. It sort of hung in her mind, a curious loose thought that begged to be pulled. But she couldn't deal with it at the moment. She needed to refocus.

The Slayer stopped walking for a moment, shook her head, and then continued toward her dorm, intensely trying not to think of Xander. It only partial worked. Her mind swung towards the stake that rested in her pocket.

Buffy had known it was special the minute it had been tossed into her hand, but its odd habit of jumping in her hand, the feel it had to it, as if the stake was alive, had her very confused. She could feel the weapon even now, throbbing as if it possessed a heartbeat, as it lay in her pocket, a reminder of the person she didn't want to think of. It had taken her a few minutes, but she knew for certain that Xander had made the stake. Not only that, but she knew he had put his heart and soul into it. It felt like him, like an kind, protective presence that was always with her, always trying to keep her safe. A warm blanket wrapped around her very soul. And it made her even more confused about her feelings.

It was the way it made her feel, that loving presence, which had kept her from telling Giles where she had gotten the stake. For some reason, telling him had seemed wrong. The stake, and the situation surrounding it, seemed to be meant for her and Xander, and only them. To her, it was a private thing, something she didn't want to share, like a box of special chocolates that was only brought out when all others were gone and the coast was clear. It was hers; it belonged to her. HER warm, fuzzy feeling. HER loving presence. But truly, she hadn't said anything because it wasn't really her secret to tell. It was Xander's.

While Buffy was already confused about her own relationship with Xander, she didn't have the slightest clue about Xander's relationship with the Scoobies at the time. He seemed to have drifted away, and she wasn't sure if he was still okay with "sharing everything". Not that any of the others had really gone by that for a while. So Buffy did not plan on telling anyone anything without asking him first.

"So where does all this deep thought leave me?" Buffy whispered to herself as she unlocked her front door. Giles had obviously been tired if he'd asked her about going home to her "dorm" during the summer. Not that she'd been in any condition to correct him. "All this deep thought leaves me with a deep need for Chocolate Haagen-Daaz and a lot of sleep..."





Xander stared down at the book again, unwilling to open it. He couldn't bear to see that face again, despite how connected he felt to it. It was familiar to say the least. It was his face.

Xander did not share the features of the figure drawn in the book, but that wasn't what mattered. The connection went beyond physical similarities. They were one, in ways that Xander couldn't even explain. And it boggled his mind.

Having been part of the Scoobie gang for a good four years, he had read his fair share of books on the occult and mythology, so he knew the story of Hephaestus, known to the Romans as Vulcan, rather well. Scorned at birth by a mother who thought him ugly, the god had been thrown from Mount Olympus, his fall leaving him lame for all time; though Xander didn't understand why the god couldn't heal, the very idea of it seemed to fit. Unloved by his beautiful wife even though Hephaestus loved her more than anything. Never a strong, triumphant warrior, never able to be what others wanted.

For these reasons, Xander had always felt a kinship with the god, and because of this, Hephaestus seemed less high and mighty than the others. He was more human than the other gods, less petty, cruel, and controlling. He seemed to Xander to be a kind soul, patient and even as a well-kept forge flame, and someone who knew pain well. Xander was familiar with pain. The pain of having parents who hated him. The pain of losing friends to the Hellmouth. The pain of being left behind. The pain of unrequited love.

Yet just as the Smith god forgave his beautiful Aphrodite, Xander could not hate Buffy. He couldn't even dislike her. All he could do was love her, and hope with every bit of his heart and soul that she would someday return that love. And recently, his hope seemed to be growing more possible, which brought him unbelievable happiness.

He couldn't forget the expression she'd gotten on her face as he'd walked in. It had been...beautiful. Like she'd missed him. Like seeing him again was something she wanted. It had made him want to die on the spot. No, he corrected, it had made him want to live forever just to be with her.

"But" he muttered to himself, "What about Riley?"

Did she love him? Did she want to be with him? Were all the glances and looks really just thoughts she was having of Riley? The questions flashed through his brain, each one causing him more and more pain by crushing the hopes that had been crushed time and time again the same way. And then, a thought from somewhere he couldn't exactly identify rang out in his mind, silencing the hurtful questions.

Maybe, she loved-

He couldn't finish it. It was too fragile to even think. The idea that she could, that she might, that she did...

It blew his mind. But somehow, he had a feeling, it was right. Somehow, he knew that the stake, and everything that had gone into it, had started a chain reaction in his life, one that would change it forever. He just knew that Buffy was going to finally realize how much he cared for her, and even though he could only hope at that point, something within him KNEW that she would find she loved him just as much as he loved her.

Xander looked at the book again, then set it aside onto the couch. He stood up, and then toppled back into the couch as intense pain shot up his leg. The young man gazed down at his traitorous member and figured that it must have fallen asleep or some such during the restless night. Pushing up with his arms, Xander got up again, this time putting all the weight on his good leg; it worked. Finally standing, he glanced at the small window of Giles' apartment.

Through the tiny opening, Xander could see the sun's first rays shining brightly in the sky overhead, and, despite his lack of sleep during the night, Xander felt full of energy. More importantly, he felt full of purpose. The need to create had him once again in its grasp, but this time, the work would be for himself.

He knew he was no warrior. That was not who he was, despite all his attempts to the contrary. He was the steel support, not the steel blade. He was a builder, not a destroyer. He was a Maker, not a fighter. He knew this now as he had never known it before, and acknowledged it as the truth.

But even the humblest of men are willing to fight to protect what those they love, and the things they hold dear, and Xander was no different. So, limping slightly, the young man made his way out of the Watcher's home, and headed toward his own. To where he would make himself a great weapon to defend all that he loved from the trouble he knew deep in his bones was coming.

This knowledge came from no supernatural power, or some intelligent insight. He knew trouble was coming because it had been quiet for a while, his life was finally getting better, and he was quite aware that the Hellmouth put Murphy's Law to shame.





"The little hammer is awake, my darling..." the entranced voice purred through the darkness of the large cave. There was a fire in the cave, but the figure could not be seen in the small light it provided, "He is awake, and his leg is gone, like that of his god...soon, he will know..."

"Perfect..." another replied forcefully, the voice gravely and hard, yet still compelling "And the stake, my dear?"

"That horrible Slayer has it..." the first said, the insane lilt to the obviously female voice turning to anger, "She has it, and she is careful..."

The owner of the second voice stepped into the firelight. Dark blonde hair over a handsome face, with green eyes that the female had said reminded her of a "beautiful forest in the night". These changed as he took on his demonic visage, which then twisted into a cruel grin. "Don't worry, my dear. I assure you we will be able to take the weapon. She is young, and, I suspect, in love with our 'little hammer' as you so aptly called him. She will not stay careful, and neither will he..."

"I just don't want the evil Slayer to take you away from me, Nicholas..." the female pouted, her hands visible in the firelight as she ran them over his shoulder lovingly, "And the stars say-"

"What, my darling?"

"They say that the little hammer and that evil Slayer can take you away from me, if you are not careful..." she said, her voice telling Nicholas that she was about to get upset, "If you do not take the stake-"

"But I will get the stake, darling!" he cried, pushing her off of him. She cringed away, hurt, but for the moment, he didn't care. He hated when she got like this. Saying things like she was saying, as if he was going to fail. It made him want to jam a piece of wood into her unbeating heart.

But then, he'd think of all she'd done for him; killing his sire, supporting him, bringing him to Sunnydale where he would have his greatest victory yet...and rationality returned to him.

"Oh darling, I'm sorry..." he said gently with what he hoped was a comforting smile. She moved towards him once more, and stopped whimpering. "I just get so upset when you talk negatively...you know I care for you, don't, you darling?"

She nodded, and then joined him by the firelight, her dark and strange eyes nearly glowing in the darkness. She was still a little nervous, but was beginning to calm down as she pulled her little china doll from one of their still-unpacked bags. Nicholas watched as she played with it, as if it were a real child.

"Don't you worry, Drusilla..." he assured her again with an anxious grin, "We will get the stake, then we'll use it to get the little hammer, and finally that nasty Slayer...you'll see..."





"Buffy!"

"No..."

"BUFFY!"

"Mom..."

"Buffy! Get up!"

Buffy, vampire slayer extraordinaire and savior of the world rolled over in her bed, hiding her eyes from the bright sunlight her mother was subjecting her to. She stayed there for a minute, curled beneath her covers in the hope that her mother would just give up. But after a few moments, Buffy realized her mother wasn't leaving, and pulled the cover off of her sleepy head.

"Mom..." she complained, "It's summer. Summer vacation. Emphasis on vacation. Meaning, I don't have to get up when the sun is still bright and sunny like the dale..."

Joyce Summers looked down at her daughter with a determined expression on her face, then seemed to give up with a sigh. "Fine, if you DON'T want to go shopping-"

"Shopping?!" the Slayer exclaimed, jumping up and out of her covers, "did you say shopping?"

"Yes..." replied Buffy's mother, a sly smile on her face. But the smile quickly turned to confusion as she glanced at her daughter, "Has it gotten so bad that you have to sleep with your equipment?"

The same confusion entered Buffy's eyes as she tried to figure out what on earth her mother meant, when she felt the familiar warm presence sitting in her hand. The Slayer looked down to see the stake, her stake, which she was holding possessively. Buffy grinned nervously.

"Ah...no." she answered, putting the stake down despite her own desire to keep it as close as possible, "And...uh...I'm was holding the stake because it's special..."

A knowing gaze came into Joyce Summer's eyes as she recognized the tone her daughter was using. It was the same tone most girls got when they said a certain piece of jewelry was special, or a sweater was special. It was special because it was given to her by someone special...probably a boy. A boy who knew to give practical gifts. Joyce wondered who it was.

"May I see it?" she asked, holding her hand out. To be honest, she was rather curious about this thing if it was special enough to warrant her daughter sleeping with it. Buffy, still looking nervous, picked up the weapon from her dresser and handed it to Joyce.

The Slayer's mother took the stake quickly, and began to examine it carefully. It was unlike any she'd seen her daughter carry, and she was intrigued by the carvings on the wood. Just out of curiosity, she gripped the stake as if she was going to use it, wondering if something odd would happen. But nothing did, except for a slight warmth in the palm of her hand. Curiosity satisfied for the moment, Joyce handed the stake back to her daughter.

"Very nice..." she told her, "Who gave it to you?"

Buffy's eyes widened in surprise and nervousness, and then she gave a tittering little laugh. "What do you mean, who gave it to me?"

"Exactly what I asked," Mrs. Summers persisted with an amused grin on her face, "who gave it to you?"

There was a moment's pause, and then Buffy told her in a slightly embarrassed voice, "Xander."

Buffy did not find her mother's raised eyebrow entertaining in the least.

"Yeah, Xander gave it to me last night." Buffy continued, gaining a little steam, "Yeah, he gave it to me as a present to make me feel better after this whole 'Initiative' thing, and he even made it too!"

Again, the eyebrow rose as Mrs. Summer asked, "Xander made this?"

"Yup," she replied with pride, "He made it for me!" Then the Slayer realized that she'd let the cat out of the bag and began to babble, "Not that I need that spread all around town if you know what I mean please don't say anything mom not even to Giles or Willow or any of them if you'd be so kind as to forget I said anything I'd-"

"Don't worry, honey..." Joyce assured her daughter, both with her words and with a motherly embrace, "I won't say a word about the stake or where you got it. Wouldn't want you getting in trouble with your boyfriend, now, would I?"

"Boyfriend?" Buffy asked in momentary confusion. Then she remembered, "Boyfriend! Yeah, as in Riley. As in, I'm supposed to be going out to lunch with him today..."

Joyce saw how upset Buffy was concerning Riley and contact with him, but she let it go, figuring that her daughter wanted to deal with it herself and ask for help if needed. So instead of making a fuss, Mrs. Summers said, "Why don't we get going if we're gonna get some good shopping in before your little lunch date, okay, honey?"

"Yeah, mom...just let me get dressed..." she replied shakily, pulling at her closet door.

"Okay, dear..." Joyce answered with another raise of the eyebrows as she walked out, "I'll be waiting downstairs..."

Mrs. Summers made her way down the steps, and sat down on the living room couch to think about some things. She was glad that Xander and Buffy were bonding again. Since the beginning of her daughter's freshman year in college, Joyce had seen less and less of the agreeable young man, and she'd wondered why the two had drifted apart. She knew that Xander's not going to college had created a bit of a gap, but Buffy's mother had always seen something special between her daughter and Xander, and it had almost broken her heart when she'd watched it disappear into almost nothing. But apparently, the young hadn't given up, Mrs. Summers thought with a smile. She wished someone had tried as hard to get her as young Mr. Harris tried to get Buffy. Joyce thought it was sweet.

Especially since she had never really liked that Riley boy. He seemed...well, she didn't really want to judge her daughter's boyfriend, especially considering her own love life since and including Buffy's father (the name of 'Ted' blasted through her mind and made her cringe)...but he was rather...stogy. Uptight. Close-minded. In her mind, he didn't really come close to Xander when it came to fitting Buffy's personality.

"Then again," Joyce whispered to herself with a grin, "That just might be some strange after affect from that love spell that went haywire on Valentine's Day a year or two ago...so happy I can remember THAT..."

"What were you saying, Mom?" came Buffy's voice from the front hall, making Joyce jump in her seat. Her daughter had the nastiest habit of getting around without making any noise, even up and down the stairs, which Joyce had almost conclusively proved shouldn't be physically possible. Mrs. Summers hated it, but realized the necessity of the skill. She just wished it wasn't practiced at home.

"Nothing, dear..."

Buffy got an odd look on her face, as if she didn't really believe her mother, but seemed to stop when she realized how much Joyce had let her get away without spilling the beans. People in glass houses and all that...

"So, we going, Mom? Before we both die of old age?" the younger Summers asked.

"Sure, Buffy...let's go..."





They were finished. All the work, all the time, all the effort transformed into the physical by his hands and tools. He didn't even know how he'd done the work exactly, especially considering the size of one of the works and the amount of equipment he had. It had been like he'd been in a wonderful haze; he had felt himself doing the work, but he didn't know what he'd done to do it. It was almost as if he'd done the work with his mind or somesuch. But that was silly. Yet as he looked at the two objects, Xander's heart swelled with pride.

The axe gleamed in the light of the near-to-setting sun, its edge sharp enough to slice a hair in two. Symbols ran up and down the blade and handle, things Xander couldn't understand literally, but knew the meaning of deep within his heart. As he held the fine weapon in his hand, he wondered what he could accomplish with some real supplies... with a good forge or something along that line. The very idea of having a place to work like that made him shiver in joy.

His second work was sitting on the table, the chain dangling over the edge just a little bit. Attached to the fine chain was a small metal hammer, which he'd crafted shortly after the axe when he'd found some extra metal to work with. It was perfect in every detail, a replica of the hammer from the book illustration. He was just waiting for it to be completely cool before he put it on.

A few minutes later, he placed the token around his neck, and it seemed almost as if he had completed some ritual. The hammer's weight around his throat felt right and good, and the bounce as he walked made him think of a craftsman in a forge diligently working. Not only that, but the closeness of the metal made him comfortable, as if its presence on his skin could somehow protect him. He was glad he had made it.

Since he was done, Xander gazed out the small basement windows and saw what time it was. Remembering the schedule, the young man recalled that it was officially his night to go with Buffy on patrol around the graveyards, and his heart skipped into his throat. Not only would he have Buffy, whose mere presence made him feel like he was in heaven, with him all night, but he would also have his new creations to help him in his slaying duties. Besides, he couldn't wait to show Buffy what he'd made. Not to boast, but to share his amazing creations with her because they were special. His heart thrummed.

So, without waiting for actual sunset, Xander put on his boots and headed over to Buffy's.

It took him a little longer than usual, because with his limp and the slight weight unbalance from the axe, it was a bit hard to walk quickly. But he got there at last, and with his free hand, rang the doorbell.

There was a muffled shout, which was unintelligible to Xander, and then a few seconds later, the door was opened. Unfortunately, it wasn't the Summers he had been hoping for.

"Hey, Mrs. S...How are you doing?" he asked, a little embarrassed to be holding an axe right up in front of her, not to mention the memory he had from a certain First Slayer's visit, "Where's Buffy? Its my cherished 'patrol-with-Buffy night' and I came to pick her up..."

Joyce Summers smiled, then told him, "I'm sorry. You just missed her. She went over to Giles for her pre-patrol...er, whatever she does before she goes patrolling..."

Xander was a little disappointed, and it showed in his eyes, but he nonetheless gave her a bright smile and said, "Okay then...guess I'll head over there then...Bye Mrs. S."

The young man turned to go, but was held back by a gentle hand. Xander spun back to face Buffy's mother slowly as she said, "Wait."

"Uh, what's up?" he asked softly, unsure if there was something wrong. He may not have been a Slayer, but that didn't mean he couldn't listen to someone who was having a problem and try to help them.

Joyce smiled, and then told him, "I just wanted to thank you..."

Xander cocked his head in confusion. He couldn't remember doing anything for Buffy's mom. In fact, that last time he'd seen her, she'd helped him with something, namely micro waved popcorn. "What for?"

"For the gift you gave Buffy. That stake." Said Joyce, "It was a very beautiful, very practical, gift, and a nice thing to do for her. I know she's been feeling a little distressed since she got you sucked into that dream world and all. So I wanted to say thank you..."

Xander chuckled softly, his eyes downcast humbly in embarrassment, "I just...I...I just wanted her to feel better. She seemed kinda upset before, and I figured a present would cheer her up a bit..."

"I know..." Joyce replied, "I just wanted to thank you..."

There was silence between the two, not uncomfortable, but still rather nervous, and then Xander turned to go again. As he stepped off the porch, Mrs. Summers said quietly, "There's something else you should know. I trust you, Xander. I trust you with Buffy. I trust you with my daughter more than anyone else..."

This time, when the young man twirled to face her, his eyes were wide in joy, surprise, and confusion. A thousand questions filtered through his mind, and he wanted to ask everyone. But only one was voiced.

"Why?"

Mrs. Summers face, which had changed to hold a sober expression, lightened a little from a small smile, "Because, of all the people my daughter has let into her heart, you're the only one that I know who would die to protect her."

"But, Mrs. S!" Xander cried, hating the words that were about to come spilling out of his mouth. But he knew she needed to hear the truth. "I'm just a normal guy! I'm not some super-souled vampire, or some buff commando...I'm...I'm...the Zeppo. I'm a normal human in a world where that means I can be beaten up by almost everything. I can't protect her..."

There was a pause, and then he added, "And I didn't even get into college..."

Joyce almost laughed at him, but then she realized that he'd been laughed at enough. He needed to be told something serious for a change.

"Xander, it doesn't matter if you can't fight like those others. You have proven time and time again how much a 'normal human' can help for four years. I can't even count the number of times I've heard you've saved Buffy's life, for which I can't thank you enough, and I don't think there is a number for how many times you've put your life on the line, your normal, human, fragile life, to help fight the darkness."

"But-"

"I'm not finished..." she admonished gently, "Xander, I know you love her more than your own life, and that is worth more to me than any additional speed or fighting prowess...and besides, you can make her laugh, which, in this town, is a very necessary thing. I'm pretty sure she'd have gone crazy if you hadn't made sure she laughed.

"You aren't some impossibility that will leave her moping at night by her window like that Angel character. And you aren't all straight need and passion, like that stodgy commando. You are someone who makes her happy, who makes her life better. And while you seemed to have figured it, my slightly slow-concerning-her-love-life daughter has yet to realize that you are meant to be. You are her true love..."

Xander couldn't even think of what to say to that. She'd said all those things about him, and given him hope like he'd never had before. Speechless, Xander simply dropped his axe and slowly enveloped Mrs. Summers in a hug. As his face burrowed into her soft brown hair, he felt Joyce's hands wrap around him in a comforting embrace, and Xander was unable to stop the small drops from falling down his cheeks. They stayed like that for a minuet, and then Xander pulled back.

Having wiped his eyes before pulling away, there were only small signs of his having cried, but Joyce could see it and it made her smile.

"And as for getting in to college, I'm sure you would have if you hadn't been so busy fighting the forces of darkness...and if you want, I'll help you study some time this summer so that you can take the SATs again and maybe get in to UC-Sunnydale for next year, okay?"

Xander nodded, still unable to speak, then looked down at the axe. It was a beautiful piece of work, but, he realized as he limped to pick it up, it wasn't for him. For one thing, if the limp didn't go away, he couldn't be able to swing it properly. And for another, there was someone who he wanted to have it more.

The young man picked up the weapon, and silently held it out to Joyce. Startled, but touched, Mrs. Summers took the remarkably light axe from Xander.

"Can't leave the Slayer's mother without something to swing at the big bads, can I?" he said gently with a small chuckle, "It seems right for you, I don't know why..."

"Xander, I-"

"Take it...I bet its really light for you..."

"Yes, it is...but what does that-"

"Take it." He said, guessing that whatever muse guided his hand wanted for him to wait for his own weapon, "Its yours...in ways I have yet to understand..."

Joyce stared at it, and then nodded. She smiled at the young man, then closed the door quietly. Xander stared at the door for a moment more, absorbing all he'd been told there, and then started his walk towards Giles' house.





"Ah, Buffy. Here for patrol, I assume..."

"Yeah."

The Slayer walked into her Watcher's home with a bit of apprehension. Ever since she'd inadvertently forgotten to tell Giles that Riley was in the Initiative, Buffy had promised to tell her guide everything and anything, and in a way, by keeping the identity of the stake giver a secret, she had broken that promise. But how was she going to tell him without hurting his feelings or him going ballistic?

Luckily, she didn't have to think of a way to broach the subject since Giles did it for her. As she reached the weapons chest, the former librarian noticed the stake on her belt. Rubbing his jaw, he asked in a curious voice. "Seeing the fine work once more, Buffy, the question which comes to my mind is where exactly you obtained that stake..."

"Well..." she replied, pulling out a crossbow and some holy water, "I got it from someone. The one who made it. He gave it to me as a present..."

"A present?" Giles asked in wonder, "He GAVE it to you as a PRESENT? How long have you known this character that he would give you such a costly gift?"

The Watcher paused for a moment, and then asked, "And did you say he made it?"

"Yeah..." Buffy answered nervously, "I'm guessing that means he's one of those Blood people, right?"

"Absolutely..." Giles told her, his eyes shining, "Whoever it is, we shall have to provide a forge for them somehow...perhaps I can call a few contacts of mine...I'm sure they would be willing to provide funds to supply your friend with a forge, as long as we assure them they would receive a fine weapon as a gift..."

"Whoa there, Silver..." The Slayer said, putting her hand on his arm to calm him down, "We don't even have his permission yet, and I don't even know if he feels comfortable letting you know what he is, if even HE knows what he is..."

"I'm sure I will be able to tell." Giles informed her, "I'll just look for a young man with an uncharacteristic limp. All of the Blood who have created a First Work get a limp. It is their sacrifice in exchange for their powers, and a link to Hephaestus himself...Now, please, Buffy...all I want to do is help this young man fine tune his gift and make a profit from it...who is it?"

"Fine" Buffy replied, "I guess he won't mind. I mean, it's...he shouldn't mind all that much...The Blood of Hephaestus is-"

The door opened at that moment, and a certain dark-haired young man limped in, "Hi guys!"

"Xander?!"