Title: Personality Clash
Summary: YAHF. The costumes haven't changed but the circumstances have. Don't know how to say any more without ruining it for you.
Rating: Nothing worse than the show.
Disclaimer: The characters depicted in this story are owned by people other than myself, and shall stay that way until further notice. I am in no way, shape, or form making any money from the creation of this piece of fiction. Bugger.
A/N: BIG thanks to Robert Jackson and Greywizard for betaing this story, you guys rock!
Private Harris held his rifle like a life preserver as he made his way through the town's darkened streets. He didn't know where he was, or much of anything before five minutes ago, and yet his lack of memory was the least troubling thing to him at the moment.
Dozens of... things... were running amok, destroying whoever and whatever got in their way, and he'd quickly found that bullets were next to useless, knocking them down but not actually causing much damage. He had found that his combat knife was far more effective, but that was only after one of the creatures had caught him unawares and nearly tore out his throat. He wasn't in the mood to have a repeat performance of that particular experience any time soon.
A high-pitched scream of terror cut through the night like a hot knife through butter, and he found himself running full tilt in the direction of the sound before he could think otherwise. Cowering in fright was a young lady in an old fashioned ball gown, surrounded by three more of the little devils, who all seemed to be taking delight in her frightened state.
Using the last of his ammo, Private Harris fired at the beasts, once again noticing that they were rocked by the impact of the bullets but otherwise unaffected. Unwilling to leave the literal damsel in distress at the mercy of the godless creatures, he turned his rifle round and brandished it like a club, beating them about the head and eventually driving them off, although not before receiving several gashes from their teeth and claws.
Knowing they were safe for the moment, he turned to the woman and slowly crouched down before her. "Are you alright miss?" he asked her gently, knowing to keep his voice as soft and soothing as possible so as not to scare her further.
The lady looked up at him after a moment's hesitation, and he got his first real glimpse of her. To say she was beautiful was an understatement; he wasn't sure whether there were words that could truly do the vision now before him justice.
"Are they gone?" she asked in no more than a whisper.
"Yes miss, they are gone for now," he replied. "Are you all right?"
"Thanks to you, kind sir, I can attest that I am without injury," she told him, her voice a little firmer than before.
He slowly held his hand out to her, helping her up when she took it. "My name is Alex," he said, feeling that formality wasn't the way to go right now, "what's yours?"
"Elizabeth," she replied, curtsying slightly. Elizabeth looked up at her saviour and found herself lost in his eyes. She had never met a man as handsome as the one standing in front of her right now, nor did she believe she ever would again.
Just as Alex was about to say something more, a redhead in revealing clothing ran up to them, shouting nonsense.
"Buffy! Xander! Thank god I've found you!" she said excitedly, breathing hard from her exertion.
They both looked at her blankly, neither one aware of who she was.
"I don't know who you think I am, but I do not consort with people of your... profession," Elizabeth stated after a moment, distaste colouring her voice.
"Not you, too!" Willow cried. She knew that a lot of people had been affected by whatever spell had been cast, but she had hoped that her friends had been lucky enough to avoid it.
"Okay, here's the deal; we've all been affected by aspell that turned us into our Halloween costumes."
Their disbelief was visible on their faces, Elizabeth being the first to reply. "And what did you go as, a streetwalker?" she asked, a little derisively.
Willow knew Buffy wasn't in her right mind, so she tried not to take her words to heart, especially as she had only worn this outfit because of her blonde friend's insistence. After taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, she shook her head.
"No," she replied. "I went as a ghost."
To prove her point, Willow waved her hand through the mailbox to her right, both of her recently-possessed friends looking on in wide-eyed shock.
"So, what you're trying to tell us is that you're dead?"Alex asked, using his military training to push aside his shock and focus on the here and now.
Willow's eyes went wide, only now thinking of that possibility. "God, I hope not."
Angel had never enjoyed public holidays, even when he was mortal. His father had been a very religious man, as were most in his hometown of Galway, and had always made a big deal over religious holidays. Angel, or Liam back when he was alive, had always been rebellious, especially with his father, and used such holidays as points of contention between the two.
As a vampire, his aversion to them only increased, as the religious symbolism of most holidays went against his unholy nature, and he'd endeavoured to ignore them at all costs. The only times he would actually venture out during such times were because of the crowds; they made the abduction of a victim or two easier than normal. After he had regained his soul, those same crowds had always unnerved him, as the demon within always that much harder to control when there were so many possible meals surrounding him.
It was for that reason Angel had declined Buffy's offer of joining her tonight; the thought of being around so many children, a delicacy in Angelus' eyes, had made him feel more than a little uncomfortable. He'd ignored the door when people had knocked, not wanting to get involved with the whole affair, but the knocking on his door now was noticeably different to the other occasions.
The incessant banging was starting to grate on his nerves, but it was the screams and growls that emanated from outside his apartment door that made Angel break with tradition and venture outside. From the moment he'd opened the door, Angel had found himself fending off several diminutive monsters that were baying for his blood. They smelled human and yet also not, and it didn't take him long to realise that something was rotten in the heart of Sunnydale.
Angel's preternatural speed and strength allowed him to quickly subdue the bite-sized beasts without causing serious injury to himself or his attackers; not comfortable with killing them, in case they were in fact human, he used some rope he kept for emergencies to bind them.
After equipping himself with the necessities for night time travel in Sunnydale, Angel quickly made his way through the darkened streets in search of his beloved and her friends, hoping that they had not been caught up in this madness, although given who his beloved was that wasn't likely.
And if he really had to, he'd look for Xander as well.
Try as he might, Angel just could not bring himself to like the boy, even though he had often displayed a level or courage and determination unrivalled by most people his age. The fact that his feelings of discontent were more than returned by the teenager did very little to help, nor did the boy's obvious love for Buffy.
If he were honest with himself, Angel would admit to feeling jealous of the boy's relationship with the golden haired Slayer, his ability to walk with her in sunlight without bursting into flames being a prime example. He also feared that one day Buffy would start to see Xander with different eyes, leaving him for the much, much younger man.
Even if he ignored the two and a bit centuries he'd lived as a vampire, Angel was still obviously several years older than both Buffy and Xander, and in a society where such an age gap would be frowned upon, he worried that she might begin to agree with the viewpoints of others and start looking towards boys her own age, one specific boy above the others.
He was brought out of his thoughts quickly when afamiliar scent reached his nostrils, quickly followed by worry, as he was unable to hear a heartbeat to match. Following the scent trail, he soon found a sheet-covered body lying lifelessly on the front porch of a house.
Removing the sheet, Angel's suspicions were confirmed when he saw that the lifeless body was that of Willow, Buffy's joint best friend. She was still warm to the touch, with no obvious injuries to speak of, which meant that whatever had befallen her occurred very recently.
Angel immediately began performing CPR, not knowing whether it would work but knowing he had to do something. At the very least he could keep the blood going through her system until further help arrived, if it ever did.
Having managed to convince her friends enough about her story for them to follow her, Willow began leading 'Alex' and 'Elizabeth'towards the school, knowing that if there were anyone who could find a way of reversing whatever had happened to the three of them, not to mention most of the town, it would be Giles. Willow had considered leading them to Buffy's house, but had realised that they would be safer with the Watcher-cum-Librarian than left to their own devices.
"Come on guys," she said to them, "it's just a few more blocks and then we'll be there."
"I'm not sure that I shall be able to go much further, Willow," Elizabeth replied, the stress of the situation and the cumbersome nature of her costume making it difficult for her to walk.
She still did not know what to make of the redhead apparition; her demeanour was almost slewing off positive vibes, and yet her insistence that they were not who they thought they were made Elizabeth feel uneasy around her. That and her mode of dress caused her to remain doubtful of Willow's story, as no one virtuous would willingly dress in such a fashion.
Throughout their journey, Elizabeth had become more and more disturbed by the environment she found herself in, and needed almost constant reassurance from her travelling companions upon seeing the many weird, wonderful and worrisome things she encountered along the way. However, while Willow would look at her strangely for a moment before explaining what things were, Alex would show no such look and simply explained things to her in a way that made far more sense than anything the redhead tried.
Elizabeth found herself drawn to the brave and handsome man, as Alex reminded her of the tales her older sister Dawn would read to her about the Knights of the Round Table. He did not carry a sword, nor did her ride a mighty steed, but she could tell that within him beat the heart of awarrior, of a hero. It was for that reason more than any other that she fervently hoped that the provocatively dressed girl was wrong in her explanation, as she did not want to believe that she would soon be lost in the ether, never seeing her white knight again.
Lost in thought, Elizabeth didn't notice when Willow suddenly stopped walking, looking decidedly unstable on her feet, and actually walked through the girl.
"AAAAHHHH!" she screamed, making to run away from her travelling companions, but finding herself unable as Alex gently but firmly held her in place.
"Hush now, my lady, there isn't anything to worry about,"Alex said to her softly. "However, it does seem our friend is looking a little worse for wear."
"I don't know what's going on," Willow said distractedly, finding herself falling to the ground as there was nothing for her to use to gain her balance. "I suddenly feel weak, like someone is siphoning off all of my energy."
Alex, trusting that Elizabeth would not try to run away again, went to help Willow up but felt stupid for doing so once he remembered he was unable to touch her. "Is there anything we can do?" he asked, feeling worried for his fellow traveller, as though he actually did know her longer than one night.
"No," she replied groggily, finding it hard to order her thoughts. "Keep going to the school; find Giles and tell him what's going on."
"I don't feel right leaving you here," he told her firmly, and Elizabeth nodded in agreement despite her reservations.
"I'll be fine, no one can touch me, remember? Now go!" Willow ordered, even as she began fading from view.
Not seeing any other option, Alex nodded his assent and gently guided Elizabeth away from the teenager, who, after watching her two friends for a moment, closed her eyes as the darkness claimed her and disappeared from sight.
Giles was in his office catching up on some of the extra paperwork Principal Snyder had been giving him lately, mainly due to his relationship with Buffy and the others, when he heard the double doors of the library open. Finding it strange that anyone would be around at this time of night, since the janitor had informed him he was the last person in the building and requested he call him upon leaving, he got up from his desk and ventured into the library, to find that Buffy and Xander were standing by the front desk, looking as though they had never been in there before.
"Buffy, Xander, what brings you here tonight?" Giles asked. "I thought that Principal Snyder had asked you to escort the younger students around town?"
His curiosity turned to worry when the two teenagers turned to look at him, neither one showing any sign that they recognised him.
"Well, it seems that our redheaded friend was telling the truth, my lady," Xander said to Buffy, his speech and mannerisms quite different from those Giles had become accustomed to from the young man.
"So it seems," Buffy replied, also speaking and holding herself differently from the norm, "but I have already asked that you call me Elizabeth, Alex, as I think we are a little beyond formalities now."
By now, Giles had left curiosity behind and worry was also starting to sound tame. Resisting the temptation to clean his glasses, he took a step closer to the pair, who unconsciously seemed to move closer together as he advanced.
"Buffy, what the devil is going on?" he asked.
Buffy seemed to be wary of him, moving herself behind Xander somewhat so that there was a physical barrier between the two. Xander seemed unfazed by this, another sign that things were not as they should, and took it upon himself to answer the older man's question.
"Well, sir, we were instructed by a young lady by the name of Willow to make our way here for safety's sake, after she informed us that we were under the effects of a spell of some sort."
Realising that for the time being he was, in fact, in the presence of strangers, Giles decided to treat them as such. "Please, call me Giles. Where is Willow? I would have thought that she would have accompanied you given the circumstances."
"As we were within sight of the school," Alex replied, "she began to become weak and instructed us to go on without her."
"So you just left her?" Giles asked angrily.
"Did I mention that she was a ghost, sir?" Alex asked rhetorically, seemingly unaffected by the other man's anger.
"Um, no," Giles said, his anger leaving as fast as it had arrived. "And again, please call me Giles."
"Well, Giles, there was no way for either myself or Lady Elizabeth to assist her, and she insisted that we continue on our way," Alex explained. "I do not believe in leaving people behind," he went on, the Marine now showing his displeasure regarding Giles' previous comment, "but there was simply nothing else to be done."
"Of course. Did she give you any indication what kind of spell it was?" Giles asked.
"She wasn't sure," Alex informed him, "but she did tell us that we had turned into our Halloween costumes."
"Do you know where you purchased them?"
"Willow didn't mention it, and neither Lady Elizabeth nor myself have any recollection of doing so, for obvious reasons."
Willow gulped down a large lungful of air, the first in awhile, and opened her eyes to see Angel peering down at her.
"Angel?" she said hoarsely, finding it hard to talk. "Where am I?"
"On the front porch of someone's house," Angel replied.
"Why am I... oh my god!" Willow went to sit up and groaned in agony, her chest feeling extremely painful.
Angel noticed and felt guilty for a moment, knowing that his chest compressions were no doubt the cause of her discomfort, only to realise that she'd still be dead if it weren't for those same compressions. Seeing that she wanted to get up, he carefully put his arms under hers and pulled her up, mindful not to exacerbate her injuries.
"Do you know what's going on?" he asked, hoping that she could shed some light on the subject.
"Everyone's under a spell," Willow replied, "turning them into their costumes."
"That's why you were dead, because you dressed as aghost?"
"Yeah... wait, I was dead? Like, really dead?" she asked, her eyes wide at the realisation that she had been a genuine spirit.
"Yes," Angel replied with a nod. "When I found you, you weren't breathing and had no heartbeat; I started CPR and you just came to. I'm surprised that you did, because I had been doing it for some time with no response."
"Oh," Willow said numbly, still a little shocked by the revelation she had been dead. "We have to get to the library; Xander and Buffy should be there by now."
"Are they affected too?" Angel asked.
"Yeah, Buffy went as a noblewoman and Xander went as aMarine," she replied. "They must be worried about what happened to me; I kinda disappeared on them."
"Giles will take care of them, don't worry," Angel assured her confidently, more confidently than he actually felt. "Where did you get your costumes?"
"A new place in town called Ethan's."
"When did it open?" he asked as a suspicion began to form.
"Just a couple of days ago," Willow replied, her own suspicions aroused. "Do you think he's behind it?"
"There's only one way to find out."
Giles had managed to get over the shock of the situation enough to start researching possible solutions to their predicament, and had asked both 'Alex' and 'Elizabeth' to help out. He knew how disconcerted they were over everything, and had made a concerted effort to treat them as who they are now and not who they were before the spell, knowing that anything less would be unnecessary and, quite frankly, rude.
It soon became apparent, however, that they did have one thing in common with their hosts; their research skills were not exactly something to be desired. They were both willing to help, and were doing the best that they could, but they simply did not have the knowledge of languages or demons to be of any help. Buffy and Xander at least had a year's experience in research in their favour, and had started to get a feel for what to look for, even if they might not know how to understand it.
Not wanting them to feel left out, Giles had then given them a different task; to write down as much about themselves as they could. He knew that the detail which their personalities possessed would indicate the power of the spell: the more they knew about themselves, the more powerful the spell used. He thought that it might also be nice for Buffy and Xander to know a little more about their counterparts once this ordeal was over; that was if they didn't retain any memories themselves.
Giles couldn't help but find it strange that, given their obvious differences, how well they got on with each other. Then again, knowing the people they currently possessed, it wasn't so strange after all. It seemed that whatever feelings the two had for one another transcended normal barriers.
They never gave Giles' professional title much credence, but he had been trained to be observant in all things concerning his charge, and that included her interactions with others. While normally it was solely to discover the best way to sever the tie between her and the other party, as the Council wanted 'their' Slayer focussed solely on her calling, but he'd never really been one to follow the rules and instead used his training to keep an eye on her emotional well being, in the hope that he could help smooth things over should the need arise.
He had always seen the looks that Xander would send Buffy's way, even after her rejection of him, and he knew without a doubt that the boy was infatuated with the girl. He knew that Buffy thought well of him in return, and considered him to be one of her closest friends, but Giles hadn't seen any signs of reciprocation beyond friendship. He'd kept his opinions to himself as much as possible, knowing that they wouldn't make a blind bit of difference one way or the other, but he thought that Xander would make a far better choice for Buffy than Angel, besides the obvious vampire factor.
Maybe this episode would give Buffy a new perspective on things.
Ethan Rayne had heard the back door being opened and closed from his vantage point at the far corner of the storeroom, the bust of Janus before him still glowing with power. He knew that his old friend Rupert would eventually figure out that the spell was his doing, the sheer chaos being the biggest indicator, and had been expecting his arrival. He had been fair in his casting, ensuring that there were as many 'nice' costumes as 'bad', as true chaos needed balance to sustain itself, but he knew that there would be enough, well, chaos, to get his old chum's nose out of those dusty old books and back into the real world.
Ethan could hear the man making his way through the room, obviously drawn to the source of the spell, and waited until he was only a few feet away before turning, ensuring that the other man could see the satisfaction on his face.
"Hello, Ripper, how..." Ethan paused for a moment. "You're not Ripper."
"No," Angel replied, morphing into his vampiric visage,"I'm something worse."
"Now then," Ethan said quickly, backing away, "let's not act hastily."
"Trust me, I know how to make this last a long, long time," the vampire replied, grinning ferally as his eyes flashed gold. "How long depends on whether you tell me how to stop..."
"Break the statue!" Ethan immediately cried, as even the thought of torture was more than enough to ensure his complete co-operation. "It's the focus of the spell!"
Not wasting any time, Angel picked up the bust and slammed it onto the ground, which it to smash into a multitude of tiny pieces. Turning to face Ethan once more, he noticed that the mage was trying to make his escape; he used his enhanced speed to manoeuvre in front of him, enjoying the look of surprise and fear on the man's face for a second, before he knocked him unconscious with a powerful punch to the jaw, hearing the bone break upon impact.
An animalistic roar and the sound of breaking glass interrupts Giles' research, which was lucky as several beasts fell through the skylight in the roof of the library. Moving at a speed that belied his age, Giles moved away from the creatures and headed to the book cage housing the weapons.
"Giles! Willow told us these are children!" Alex warned, as he saw the older man brandishing some archaic, but no less deadly, weaponry.
The Marine was currently keeping the creatures at bay using his chair, thinking that, if he had a whip, it would make a decent circus act. Elizabeth was safely behind him, holding up far better than her previous encounter with similar beasts. Before, her action had been to run as far away as possible, but now the only thought running through her mind was to stay as close to Alex as she could. She'd only known him a short while, but she had no doubt that he would protect her; with his very life if need be.
Making his way towards Giles, Alex substituted the chair for a bokken and used it with, to Giles, surprising skill, hitting nerve clusters at various points on the attacking beasts' bodies to incapacitate but not permanently harm them. It took a few minutes, but eventually the two men managed to drive the creatures into the book cage and locked it, ensuring they could not escape.
Once Alex was certain that the animals were secure, he turned his attentions to Elizabeth, and noticed that she had a slight gash on her forehead.
"Do you have a first aid kit?" he asked the Watcher while he carefully removed a lock of Elizabeth's hair from the wound.
"Uh, yes," Giles replied, distracted by Alex's actions. "I'll retrieve it immediately."
"I'm sorry you got hurt," Alex told her sincerely, beating himself up over the fact he had allowed something to happen to the goddess stood before him. He couldn't explain it, but he was inexorably drawn to the lady in front of him, and was finding it extremely hard not to lean down and capture her lips with his own.
"I am fine, Alex, and I am certain that would not have been the case if not for you," Elizabeth replied, staring deeply into Alex's hazel brown orbs and willingly allowing herself to get lost in them. No other man had ever affected her in such a way; the dashing young man in front of her had done unconsciously what many men at her father's court had strived to do for a long time. "I do not know how I can ever repay you for your bravery."
"There is nothing to repay," Alex replied with adismissive wave of his hand. "Knowing that you are safe and well is reward enough."
"You may not think payment is necessary, but I do," she told him.
"I have to bow to my lady's wishes," Alex said with asmall smile, "as my mother taught me to never argue with a lady."
"Your mother is a very wise woman."
"I know, she has told me as such many times."
"Would you accept... a kiss?" Elizabeth said hesitantly, afraid that her invitation would be rejected.
"I would be most foolish to do otherwise," Alex said softly, "considering I have thought of little else from the moment we met."
During their talk, Alex and Elizabeth had been slowly closing the gap between them, until their lips were almost touching. Alex took one last look into Elizabeth's eyes before he slowly, gently, pressed his lips to hers. The kiss was soft, sweet and tender, and yet one of the most passionate that either had experienced.
The sound of Giles clearing his throat brought them back to the real world, far sooner than either one would have liked, only for them to feel dizzy a moment later.
The two teenagers quickly put a few feet between them, albeit unsteadily, both feeling embarrassed by what had just happened. Giles, knowing better than to address what they had just been doing, decided to go with the safer option.
"I take it that the spell has ended?" he enquired.
"That would be a big yes, Giles," Xander replied somewhat distractedly, still caught up in the after effects of the kiss. "What did you do?"
"I had made no progress on finding a solution, so either someone else reversed the spell or it simply ended naturally."
"We have to go find Willow; I want to make sure that she's corporeal again." Xander tried to look affronted by the looks the other two were throwing him at the use of corporeal, but knew that they had reason to be surprised. "I watch a lot of Star Trek and read a lot of comics; it would be impossible for me not to know what corporeal means."
"Of course, how could I have been so obtuse?" Giles replied sarcastically. "You two wait here; you are both clearly still feeling the after effects of the spell and should rest up."
"Yes, Buffy, I am more than well aware that you are the Slayer," Giles said before Buffy could protest, "I wouldn't be in the colonies if you weren't, but even you need time to recuperate from the ordeal of possession. I shall be fine; I might be in my autumn years, but I still know atrick or two." Not waiting for further objections, Giles retrieved a few stakes and his favourite rapier from his office, not keeping them with the rest of the weapons, and went off in search of Willow.
After stripping, binding, and hanging Ethan by his ankles in a darkened corner of the storeroom, Angel made his way back to the house where he left Willow, her chest having made it difficult for her to walk. He knew that she probably had at least one cracked rib, his chest compressions being quite vigorous in his desire to resuscitate the girl, and she would no doubt require having her ribs taped for a few weeks to ensure they set correctly. The redhead shared Buffy's aversion to hospitals, so Angel knew better than suggest she go there, but she would need someone with better medical knowledge than himself to check her over, if only to ensure he hadn't caused any major damage.
As he reached her, Angel could see the discomfort Willow was in, and was thankful he thought to look in the mage's office to see if he had any pain medication. It wasn't anything too strong, but it should at least take the edge off until Giles could procure her something more powerful. "Willow?"
"Hey," she replied, wincing at the vibrations her voice causes.
Angel handed her the bottle of pills and she took them gratefully, popping a couple in her mouth almost immediately and swallowing them dry.
"I went to Ethan's; he was the guy who cast the spell. From what I could see, he had called on Janus, the god of chaos, to power the spell, and breaking the bust of Janus he had also broke the spell," he explained. "He's a little tied up at the moment, so we can work out what to do with him later."
Willow smiled and nodded in response, not wanting to exacerbate her injuries. Neither one said anything for a few minutes, as Angel had never really been one for talking needlessly and Willow was waiting for the painkillers to take effect, but they found that the silence wasn't uncomfortable.
After ten or fifteen minutes, Willow found herself able to breathe more easily. "I think I'm ready to head back to the library."
"Need any help?" Angel asked carefully, mindful of her determination to do things by herself.
Willow could see what Angel was doing and suppresses asmile. "No, but thanks."
She tentatively got up, and after feeling happy that she wasn't in too much pain, she began to make her way towards the school, her desire to check on her friends overriding any and all other thoughts.
After freeing the now unaffected children and giving them a flimsy but nonetheless believable cover story, Buffy and Xander continued the awkward silence that had been hanging in the air since the spell ended, until Buffy decided that she'd keep herself busy by doing some extra training.
Xander had decided on a less strenuous but equally distracting exercise of reading through the information he 'remembered' Alex writing down for Giles. He would have preferred to read what Lady Elizabeth had written about herself, but it felt like an invasion of privacy without permission, and he didn't feel like asking the person concerned if he could.
Alex hadn't really gone in to great detail about his childhood, but had written about his time in the Marines, the places he'd been and the battles he'd fought. Xander wasn't very good at history so he couldn't be sure when the battles took place; Alex's loyalty meant that he didn't give specific names or places.
Xander was glad that Giles had asked Alex to do this, as it meant that he would always have a connection to the other man. He could still remember the events of the evening, although the memories of Alex's life before tonight were a blur, and Xander knew that Alex would have been someone he could have considered a friend had he met him in person.
He glanced at the clock on the wall, noting that it had been nearly an hour since Giles had left, and yet there was still no sign of him or Willow. Xander knew she would make her way here by herself if she could, as this was where she had sent them, but it shouldn't take this long to arrive. Not if she were okay at least.
As if on cue, the double doors swung open and Willow entered, walking gingerly, with Angel by her side. Both Buffy and Xander rushed over to her, Buffy's atypical speed ensuring she got there first.
"Willow!" Buffy exclaimed in relief. "Thank god you're alright!"
"Buffy," Willow gasped, the blonde's overly enthusiastic hug sending blinding pain through her ribcage.
Buffy noticed her discomfort and released her immediately. "Willow, what's wrong?"
"It's my ribs," she replied. "They're hurting from Angel giving me CPR."
No one saw it coming. Moving faster than even Buffy could follow, Xander launched himself at Angel and rocked him with a savage uppercut to the jaw, quickly following up with a knee to the stomach, which the vampire to fall to the ground. Xander followed him down, pinning him to the floor as he reined blow after blow down onto him.
It took several seconds for the two girls to come out of their shock at seeing their friend act so viciously towards Angel, before Buffy moved over and pulled the enraged boy off of her boyfriend.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Xander?" she yelled, her concern for her friend warring with her anger over his actions.
"Ask that son of a bitch over there!" he replied, struggling against her in hopes of getting another go at Angel.
The 'man' in question had gotten up and was currently resisting the urge to rip the young upstart's head off. The only thing stopping him, apart from his own death at the hands of Buffy moments later, was the knowledge that the boy was right in his anger and he deserved every blow he received and much, much more.
Buffy looked over at Angel and saw that he knew what Xander was getting at. What surprised her was that she could actually see emotions running through his face and eyes, something she had never seen before. Angel had always been closed off, the only way she had of knowing what he thought or felt was when he told her, but now they were as plain as day.
"If I let you go, you gonna behave?" she asked the no longer struggling Xander, instead standing stock still like a tiger waiting to strike.
"As long as it stays as far away from me as possible," he gritted out, trying not to transfer his anger onto the wrong person, "otherwise either I dust it or I die in the attempt."
The steel in her friend's voice unnerved Buffy more than she'd ever let on; the last time she'd heard him speak like that was when he'd threatened to kill her, and it affected her as much then as it did now. She knew she couldn't hold him forever, although the thought of doing just that wasn't an unpleasant one, so she reluctantly released. The moment he was free, Xander immediately stalked over to the other side of the library, his anger still coming off him in waves.
While Buffy tended to Angel's wounds, Willow went over to Xander, walking slowly because of her injuries and because she didn't want to startle him.
"Xander, what's going on?" Willow asked in concern. " I would have thought his saving my life would be a good thing?"
Xander sighed, knowing how his reaction must have looked to his friend, and set aside his anger for the moment, gingerly pulling his oldest friend into a loose embrace. "It is Wills, believe me it is," he replied. "I don't want to ever know what a world without you in it would be like."
"Then why did you attack him?" she asked, completely confused as to his violent reaction.
"Because that bastard told me he couldn't do CPR because he doesn't breathe."
Willow winced at the cold fury she heard in her friend's voice, a tone that had come from him so rarely that she knew that Xander was beyond incensed at the moment.
"The night I had to force him take me to the Master's lair," Xander replied. "We found Buffy face down in a puddle, obviously lifeless. As I turned her over, he said we were too late to do anything, but Isaid we could try CPR. It was then that he told me he couldn't help, as he had no breath. He didn't make any move to help at all, so I did it myself, and was more than elated when after a minute or two she came back to m... us. The son of a bitch lied to me and it almost cost Buffy her life, so forgive me if I'm alittle pissed at him right now."
Xander's hold on Willow became ever stronger as he recounted his tale, feeling that his friend needed to show her own anger towards the souled vampire. His lack of thinking in lashing out would only get worse if he allowed Willow to do the same. He didn't regret a single second, in fact he damn well loved it, but he knew that, when it came to Buffy and her attachment to Angel, you had to do things a different way.
The Slayer in question had been listening to Xander and Willow's conversation while checking Angel's wounds, which had already begun to heal, and could tell from the look on her boyfriend's face that Xander was speaking the truth. Xander had had to make Angel help that night. Xander had to resuscitate her on his own because Angel wouldn't help, not even with the compressions. The realisation that the person she turned down had risked his life to help her, when the one she turned him down in favour of didn't want to lift a finger, was almost physically staggering.
Buffy stepped back from Angel, needing some distance between them. "Get out."
Angel looked at her in shock. "Buffy..."
Buffy cut him off with a glare. "I said, get out."
Angel took a step towards her, only for her to take astep back.
"Stay where you are Angel," Buffy said firmly. "There isn't a single thing you can say or do that will help, and I'm doing my best not to act on the violent urges currently running through me right now. Just... go."
Angel knew there was nothing he could do but comply, so he did. Taking one last, but hopefully not last, look at Buffy, he turned and walked out of the library.
Xander couldn't say he wasn't pleased that Angel had left, but not at the expense of Buffy's happiness. He knew that one couldn't happen without the other, but he was an optimist when it came to matters of the heart, which is why he was so easily hurt in that area. He walked over to her, mindful of the distance she liked to keep people at, and spoke far more calmly than he did a few minutes ago.
"I'm sorry." He knew it wasn't enough, but it was all he could think of.
"What for? Me finding out, or Angel leaving?" she asked as she turned to face him.
Xander would be the first to admit that he wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he wasn't the dullest either, so he recognized a trap when he heard it. "I'm sorry that you're hurting, and that I'm partly to blame."
"Why didn't you ever tell me it was you that brought Angel?" Buffy asked him, feeling hurt.
There were many different ways to answer that question, but Xander guessed that anything less than total honesty wouldn't cut it right now.
"Would you have really believed me if I had?"
Buffy bit back the automatic response of 'yes', knowing from the look that Xander was sending her way that he was expecting it, and instead actually thought about it. Had Angel corroborated Xander's story, she would have believed him, but she felt guilty that she would have had to check with Angel firs. It basically meant that she wouldn't have gone on Xander's word alone when he had given her no reason to think his word was untrustworthy.
Another problem was Buffy no longer knew whether Angel would have told her the truth or not. They'd talked about that night before, her actions after she returned from her holiday meant she needed to talk to someone, and he had never corrected her thoughts on what happened. Angel hadn't outright lied to her, but in her mind, it was just as bad to let someone believe a lie, as it was to tell one.
That left her with the uncomfortable truth that she would have taken Angel's word over Xander's, for no other reason than because he was her boyfriend.
Knowing what she knew now, that thought made her feel ill, and what made it worse was that she wouldn't have even considered thinking it through had tonight's events not taken place. Not knowing how to say it in words, Buffy decided to not bother, and instead gently pulled him into a hug, one that Xander readily returned. Not wanting to feel left out, Willow joined the embrace, both Buffy and Xander wrapping an arm around her gently.
That was how, ten minutes later, Giles found them as he returned, about to tell them that he had been unsuccessful in locating Willow.
Smiling softly at the scene, he decided not to disturb them and instead went into his office to start writing his report to the Council about the night's events.
"Xander, can we talk?"
Xander cursed under his breath, as he'd hoped to get away from the library before she noticed. 'Damn those Slayer senses.'
After they ended their three-way embrace, with a comment that had earned him two slaps to the head and a level three blush from Willow, they had retrieved Giles from his office while the redhead sat down and told them what had happened after she had told Alex and Elizabeth to go on without her.
Hearing that his former friend and now long-time adversary Ethan Rayne was responsible for the events of the evening, it had taken a lot of quick talking from his three 'children' to calm Giles down, ending when Willow explained that he was securely, and embarrassingly, bound in his storeroom. The grin that appeared on his face upon hearing that had unnerved the trio, having never seen Giles that way before.
The next thing on the agenda had been tending to Willow's injuries, which Buffy and Giles had dealt with; not wanting to put either himself or Willow through a rather embarrassing situation, the Watcher relayed information on what to do, and Buffy then did it.
It was then that Xander decided to make his escape, but as was the way his luck went, he hadn't been successful.
"I'm pretty tired, Buff," Xander replied, doing his best to fake a yawn, "running round town like I'd gone through boot camp has pretty much left me feeling wiped."
He continued on his way, making it as far as the double doors before his friend intercepted him. Gently grabbing his arm, Buffy span him around so he was facing her.
"Xander, we really need to talk about this."
"I don't see why, it wasn't as though we were in our right minds at the time." Xander could hear the bitterness in his voice and knew he'd just revealed more than he wanted. 'Damn! This was why I wanted to get out of here in the first place!'
"Xander..." Buffy suddenly trailed off, realising, although it wasn't that big a revelation, that Xander still had strong feelings for her. Ever since she'd turned him down, she had tried to deny or ignore the signs she'd seen, apart from when she'd cruelly used them against him that night in the Bronze.
That revelation made her realise something else; what she had been about to say wasn't entirely true. Buffy had been about to tell him that she didn't see him 'that way', like she had before, but she didn't feel like telling the same lie twice. It wasn't that she didn't see him like that; it was that she didn't think she saw him like that enough to risk their friendship.
She and Angel were over, as even though she might be able to forgive, Buffy would never be able to forget, and that was not conducive to a lasting relationship, so she couldn't use that as an excuse. She couldn't use the rebound thing either, as Xander knew her well enough, or at least she hoped he did, to realise she wouldn't do that to him.
She couldn't say that the thought of dating Xander didn't appeal, as it did, but she knew that she couldn't go into a relationship with Xander using a 'try it and see' approach, as it wouldn't be fair to either one of them. She also found that her feelings for him were being coloured by Elizabeth's feelings for Alex, who had quickly become enamoured with the Marine during their adventure.
"A lot has happened tonight, Xander," Buffy eventually stated,"so any decision I would make concerning... us, could not be considered as final. I honestly don't know what to do with whatever it is that's between us, and I think that's how we should keep it for the moment."
"So, there is something there?" Xander asked, doing his best to keep the hope out of his voice and failing miserably.
"I'd be lying if I said different, but until I know just what it is, I don't want to risk what we have on an uncertainty," Buffy replied. "We can say we wouldn't let it affect our friendship until we're both blue in the face, but we both know that if we started dating and it didn't work out, we could never go back to what we have now."
"Nothing is certain in life, Buffy," he pointed out. "We know that better than anyone."
"I know," she conceded, "but I'd rather go into it certain of my feelings, or at least more certain than I am now. That way, if things didn't work out, it wouldn't be for the wrong reason."
"I'd like to think that there wouldn't be a reason at all, but I see what you're getting at," Xander said. "I told you once before that I'd wait and I meant it; I'll keep my word, but I hope I won't be needing a Zimmer frame before you make up your mind."
"You won't have to wait that long," Buffy assured him, "that much I can guarantee."
"In that case, would my lady do me the honour of allowing me to escort her home?" he asked, extending his arm to her.
"Certainly, kind sir," she replied, taking his arms and, for once, allowing him to lead the way.
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