Aspects of Love

Part Four


(Next Morning)

"You kissed me."

Giles had only just finished closing his front door as he prepared to leave for work when he heard those three words uttered. Giles turned around slowly to face the owner of the familiar voice.

He stared at her a little while before speaking. "Um… yes."

"So I didn't imagine it then?"

"Um… no"

"Oh" Ren blinked "Oh. Right. Well, OK. I'll be going then. Things to do and all that" she turned to leave and got a few steps before Giles called after her.

"So your cell phone isn't working then?"

Ren turned around "What?"

"I mean, you came all the way from San Francisco to ask me that" Giles paused "Here. Now."

"I… I-" Ren put her hands on her hips "Don't change the subject Rupert"

"I wasn't aware that I had" Giles replied, managing successfully to hide the ghost of a smile from appearing on his face.

Ren narrowed her eyes and glared half-heartedly at Giles "Did too."

Giles allowed the corners of his lips to twitch a little "I'm *quite* sure I didn't"

"Well I-" Ren broke off and gave a short sigh "Look, I'm just gonna uh… go" she took a few steps backwards "Just leave you to get to work and everything."

Ren began to walk away again but stopped and turned around just before Giles would have lost sight of her. She pushed some hair back from her face and Giles thought she was going to say something else, but she didn't. Ren turned back again and walked out of sight.

Giles stood where he was for a few moments before sighing and shaking his head. He was almost positive that he didn't need to go after her. Giles had the strangest feeling he'd be seeing her again… soon.


Willow caught up with Buffy later that morning at Giles' store. Buffy had just finished serving a customer and was finishing up with the till when she spotted Willow heading towards her.

"Hey Buffy" Willow said brightly.

"Hey Will" Buffy replied "No classes?"

Willow shook her head "Cancelled. Just thought I'd drop by."

"Did you catch up with Tara?"

"Yeah. We sorted things out. She said she didn't think it was fair we hadn't told-" Willow broke off and looked around for Giles, not seeing him she continued, although in lower tones "That we hadn't told Giles about what Xander said"

"But you're OK?"

Willow nodded "We're cool. What about you and Xander? How'd that go? Did you tell him what you were going to?"

Buffy smiled a little at Willow questions "Yeah, I told him" she replied and relayed to Willow what she'd proposed to Xander the previous night.

"Where's Xander now?" Willow asked.

"He had a couple of things he wanted to do this morning and then he's going to drop by here" Buffy paused "Giles hasn't spoken to me yet. I mean, about what Ren told him."

"Well I think you should talk to him about it before Xander gets here-" Willow broke off when she saw Giles.

"Don't worry Willow I was planning on it" Giles said "Maybe you should be getting back to your classes."

"Uh…" Willow shot a quick glance at Buffy who gave her a look back that said it would be OK. Willow gave Buffy a quick smile before she turned and left.

Buffy looked at Giles apprehensively "Are you gonna yell?"

Giles shook his head "I did expect more of you Buffy. The least you could have done was tell me."

"I'm sorry Giles" Buffy said earnestly "I really didn't think Xander-"

"Yes, well I think we'll get to Xander later-"

"Giles you don't understand. *I* didn't tell you because I knew it would upset you. I told Xander not to say anything" Buffy's shoulders sagged "When I realised that he'd told Ren, I felt horrible because I didn't know if could tell you or not"

Giles took off his glasses and began cleaning them "So… what? You didn't know if you were protecting me o-or protecting Xander?" he put his glasses back on and looked expectantly at Buffy.

"I don't know" she replied in a quiet voice.

"Do you think Xander's right?"

"I don't… maybe... I-I don't know Giles. I-"

"Maybe? Buffy, you must have *some* idea" Giles pressed.

"Look, I *don't* OK?" Buffy could feel tears begin to well up "I just-"

"Just what?"

"Just…" she sniffed "I don't-" Buffy's shoulder's began to shake and she finally broke down "…know" she managed to finish.

Giles swore under his breath. He hadn't meant to reduce her to tears. Giles stepped behind the counter and took Buffy in his arms "Buffy, I'm sorry. I-I didn't mean-"

"It's… it's just t-that everything has b-been so *hard* lately. I-I c-can't think straight o-or…"


"A-and I didn't mean to make you angry…"

Giles took hold of Buffy's upper arms and held her so he could look at her face "Buffy, I'm not angry. Look, let's just shut up shop and we can sit down and take a break, yes?"

Buffy nodded and Giles ushered her into the back room where there were some couches set up to form part of a little study area. Buffy sat down and tried to compose herself.

"I'm sorry for crying on you" she said when Giles came back from closing up the shop "I-I've been a little stressed lately" Buffy looked up at him "Partly 'cos of not knowing whether t-to tell you about Ren a-and-" Buffy broke off and sighed shakily "I'm sorry I didn't tell you"

Giles smiled a little "I think I've got that by now" he said "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have been so hard-" Giles broke off and paused "I-I guess I was surprised when Ren told me that's all… you shouldn't have been the one to be first on the uh, well, receiving end as it were"

Buffy gave Giles an anxious look "You're not mad at Xander are you?"

Giles hesitated "I don't think mad is the word I'd use, no, Buffy. Xander-" Giles scratched at his forehead "Xander has a right to his own opinions" he paused "I just don't think he's right, that's all"

"Oh" Buffy replied simply and was silent for a couple of seconds "So what now?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean… Xander. You're gonna talk to him?"

Giles hesitated before nodding "I really do need to."

"I don't think you can get him to change his mind."

"Maybe not" Giles smiled thinly "Ren said too that he had a right to think what he wanted."

"Is she OK?"

"Ren?" Giles smiled a little more wider "Yes, she fine" he paused "She also thinks Xander's wrong too"

"She does?"

Giles just nodded.

"Well that's… unexpected" Buffy said truthfully and a little surprised "Before she left she seemed…"

"I know" Giles agreed "But when I saw Ren… she's… changed."

Buffy smiled "Somehow I don't think that's gonna make a difference to you"

Giles flustered a little "Well, no. I-" he broke off and smiled back at her "I'm not making a fool of myself am I?"

Buffy shook her head "Not at all" she grinned "It's cute."

Giles rolled his eyes "Thank you for that Buffy" Giles smiled back though when he realised she was sincere.

"Buffy? You said you were uh, stressed" Giles said after a few moments of silence between them "You're not OK?"

"Oh, its just I-I had a sort of an argument with Xander yesterday. He wanted to come out on patrol with me. I told him no"

"I take it he wasn't pleased?"

"Nuh uh" Buffy pushed some hair back behind her ear "But we reached a compromise. I think it's going to work out."

Giles studied her "But that's not all is it?"

Buffy sighed "It's been harder than I thought it was going to be."

Giles looked at her in confusion "Harder?"

"Well, not *harder* I guess. Just…" Buffy slouched back into the couch "Getting everything back to normal… me and Xander… it isn't as easy as I thought it was going to be" she sighed again "I don't know whether it's because we haven't been spending enough time together or-or whether we've been spending *too* much time together"

"You're having problems?"

"No, no. We're good" Buffy replied "Things have been good" she paused "But… but maybe, I think… there's something, I don't know… missing?"

Giles let Buffy's half-question hang. It wasn't for him to answer.


(Same day - Noon)

Giles was doing a quick stock take when Xander came into the shop that lunchtime. He put down what he was doing and let Xander sit down at the table before he went to put the closed sign on the door for the second time that day.

Xander gave Giles an odd look when Giles walked back towards him, then Xander glanced around the shop before looking back to Giles who stood just a few feet infront of him "Where's Buffy?" Xander asked "I thought she was gonna be here"

"I sent her home" Giles replied "She was a little tired and I thought she could do with some time by herself."

"Tired? She seemed OK this morning" Xander got up and prepared to leave "Guess I'll catch her back at home then."

As Xander was about to walk past him, Giles caught hold of the younger man's arm "Just a minute" he caught Xander's eyes "I'd like a word if I may."

Xander's eyes flicked towards the now closed shop door and back to Giles again "Am I going to like this?"


Xander gave Giles and odd look but sat back down at the table anyway "OK. What gives?"

Giles sat opposite Xander. He pushed some books aside and rested his arms on the table "I went to see Ren" he told Xander.

Xander stared back at him "How nice for you."

"Yes, I rather thought you might take that attitude Xander and that's exactly why I wanted to take this chance to talk to you."

"Uh huh" Xander crossed his arms in front of his chest "And exactly what *attitude* would it be that I'm supposed to be taking?"

Giles closed his eyes and scratched at his forehead "And obviously you're going to be difficult about it" Giles opened his eyes and looked back at Xander "Let me ask you something Xander" Giles jumped straight into it "How many times has Ren saved your life? How many times did she put *her* life on the line-"

"How many times *didn't* she tell us about her past? About Tay?" Xander retorted. He shook his head "Guess she told you what I said, huh?"

"She did" Giles replied "Ren was actually very diplomatic about it"

"Well yippee for her" Xander's tone notably unenthusiastic "And I guess telling me all this is supposed to make me change my mind?"

"It would appear not" Giles stood up "Fine. I thought at least you might be adult about this and listen to reason-"

"*Hey*. I'm listening guy here. Y'know, actually" Xander stood up "I'm going to be *talking* guy now. What right does anyone have to tell me what the hell to think?" Xander got louder "Her *bitch* *sister* put me in a *coma* Giles. A *coma*. What do you *expect* me to feel?"

"Featured word being *sister*" Giles tried not to raise his voice too "And I *expected* you to realise the *difference*"

Xander let out a strangled laugh "Difference? They were twins! And I think I would have mentioned if *I'd* had an evil twin"

"Do you really think knowing about Tay would have stopped anything that happened Xander? Do you? You had *first* *hand* experience of what Tay was like. What could any of us have done to stop her? Tell me that!"

"I don't have to tell you anything," Xander said as he stormed past Giles. He turned back to the older man as he reached the door "This has got nothing to do with anyone else except *me*" and with that Xander exited the shop, slamming the door behind him.

Giles sighed and sat down back in his chair "Well, I think that went *very* well" he muttered to himself "Why on earth do I get myself into these things?"


Xander almost didn't see Willow before he bumped into her as he was storming along the street after 'speaking' with Giles.

"Hey Xander, where's the fire?"

"Willow, look, I'm not in the mood, OK?" Xander made a move to keep walking but Willow caught hold of his sleeve.

"Xander, what's wrong?"

Xander turned to face her and plucked himself from her grasp "Please Will" he said "Just let me go and I won't say something I'll regret."


"*Bye* Will"

Willow frowned as she watched Xander carry on down the street. She didn't know whether to be more concerned that Xander was obviously upset or concerned that he would have said something to her that would have regretted. Willow was still a little bit hurt that he hadn't apologised for snapping at her yesterday.

Sighing, Willow re-shouldered her bag and continued on her journey towards Giles' store //Maybe he had another argument with Buffy// she thought //Better go check with her//.

Once inside Giles' store, Willow waited a couple of minutes for Giles to finish serving a couple of customers before she spoke to him.

"Hey Giles."

"Willow" Giles gave her an apologetic smile "Sorry about before. I-I didn't mean-"

"S'okay Giles" Willow said smiling back "I get it. It was a you and Buffy thing. Willow was not needed."

"Yes, well…" Giles ran a hand through his hair "I'm um, guessing that you knew what it was about"

Willow nodded "Buffy was just, y'know, worried about how you might take it. She didn't mean-"

"Yes, yes. I know. I've done all this already with her and um, Xander"

"Yeah, I just saw him. Let me tell you, he was *not* a happy bunny and I guess that's why he's not happy because you talked with him" Willow realised.

Giles sighed "Well I have to agree that it wasn't one of my best efforts."

"Y'know, I'm sure when he calms down and y'know, thinks about it, it'll be better" Willow offered.

Giles gave Willow a dubious look "That's something I'll have to see" Giles walked from behind the counter "And you. Do you think he's right?"

"Oh, no fair. You put me on the spot!" Willow groaned. Giles just gave her a look. "OK, OK" Willow carried on "No. I don't. Maybe I did before, but yesterday, Tara got a little mad 'cos me and Buffy hadn't told you and we talked and she said some things and I kinda realised that, well… Xander's wrong."

Giles gave a small smile "Your views are appreciated."

"You're welcome" Willow paused and then gave Giles a hopeful look "Does that entitle me to store credit?"


"Shoot. Ooh, but I still meant what I said," she added quickly.

Giles smiled "I know."

"But still no store credit right?"

"Not in my lifetime."


Buffy awoke from her doze on the couch when she heard the front door slam. "What the…" she exclaimed sleepily, pushing hair back from her face "Xander?"

"Yeah" Xander lumped his fist into the hall wall.

Buffy winced "What's wrong?"

Xander turned to face her "Stupid people telling me the hell to *think*"


"I am so… ugh" Xander hit his fist into the wall again "*Annoyed* and *dammit*" he cradled the hand he'd hit the wall with his other one "That hurt"

Buffy got up and went over to him, taking his injured hand "Xander honey. Calm down, OK? I'm sure Giles didn't mean-"

Xander pulled his hand away "And *exactly* how did you know it was *Giles* that I'd been speaking to?"

Buffy sighed "Because he said he would Xander. About Ren. She told him what you said to her. What? You think he wasn't going to say something back?"

"I can't believe you didn't even let me know what I was in for" Xander moved back towards the front door.

Buffy looked at him in disbelief "Xander! I didn't even know where you *were*. How could I have told you?"

Xander turned away from her "I'm going for some air" and with that Xander went out from the front door he'd only just moments before stepped through and stormed off down the path.

Buffy kept the look of disbelief on her face "I can't win!"


"…and then he just stormed out" Buffy switched the telephone receiver to the other ear and sank back against the couch "He just walked off. Didn't even wanna *hear* what else I had to say"

<He was angry before> Willow said on the other end of the line <I don't think it was you>

"Oh, I don't know Will" Buffy sighed "It's like I'm walking on eggshells around him lately. I'm afraid if I say the wrong thing it'll just set him off."

<Buffy you can't keep worrying about this stuff. Xander will just have to deal with it>

Buffy sighed again "Maybe. I'll talk to him when he decides to come back. Perhaps if I can get him to let out some of his anger out in a training session beforehand it might make things easier."

<A girl with a plan. That's good> Willow paused <Are you OK, though? I spoke to Giles earlier and he told me what happened between you two. He said you told him you were feeling stressed>

"It's not totally like that" Buffy replied "It's just… ugh… I don't know if I can explain it really, but… it sorta feels like I'm being stretched. Like if I don't cover all my bases, y'know, everything I'm supposed to be doing or-or worrying about, then some thing is just come out of the blue at me"

<Um Buffy, that actually sounded like a pretty good explanation>

"It did? Oh, well, go me then."

Willow chuckled <Look, Buffy, stop worrying. Talk to Xander and explain your side of things. And remember that you're not the one who should be apologising here and y'know> Willow added <If all else fails you could bitch slap him until he agrees>

"Duly noted" Buffy said with a slight smile "And thanks."

<You're welcome> Willow replied. She paused <Especially if you put in a good word with Giles about giving me store credit>


(Later that evening)


"Gah!" Giles jumped and put a hand to his now palpitating heart. He turned around from his previous task of locking up his store "What is it with you and sneaking up on me today?"

Ren shrugged "You're easier to practice on than vampires."

"Well I'm glad I could be of service" Giles replied dryly "Anything else I can help you with or are you just passing through?"

"Need a hand with those books?" Ren asked indicating the stack by Giles' feet.

"Much appreciated. My car is around the back" Giles moved off and Ren picked up the books and followed after him.

"So *are* you just passing through?" Giles asked as he unlocked his car "I got the impression this morning that you were off again"

Ren dumped the books on Giles' back seat "Yeah, I thought that too" Ren leant back against the car and stared up at the evening sky.

"What a mine of information you are."

Ren cast a sideways look at him "And, pray tell, what sort of information were you hoping for?"

"Any would be a start."

Ren grinned "Do you know what I like about you Rupert? You take so bloody long to get to the point."

"And it really doesn't help when I'm talking to you."

"That's 'cos I take too bloody long as well"

Giles laughed a little "Very true" Giles leant back against the car and looked at Ren "I spoke to Xander."

"Thought you might" Ren turning her attention to the sky again "What'd he say?"

"Well he didn't *say* so much as… yell" Giles answered "I’ve got a feeling it would have been better if I hadn’t brought it up at all"

"Eh, that’s his problem. I’ve got other things to think about."

"Is that so?" Giles paused "Why are you back here Ren?"

"To see you" Ren turned to him and studied him for a few moments before grinning "So are you just gonna stand there like an idiot or are you gonna kiss me again?"

Giles blinked "Excuse me?"

Ren gave him an innocent look "Come on, I haven’t got all evening" she paused briefly "Well maybe I might have" she added, "All depends on how the next couple of minutes go"


Ren’s lips twisted up at the corners "Clocks ticking… oh, hey!" Ren exclaimed when Giles caught hold of her wrist and pulled her to him. She smirked "Well *he-llooo* Ripper"

"I thought I told you not to call me that" Giles remarked, putting his other hand around Ren’s waist.

"Oh but you used to *like* it. I remem-"

"Ren. Shut up."

"Make me."


Buffy hesitantly put the key into the lock of the door. A door that she hadn’t stood infront of for over four months.

When Xander hadn’t come back by nine o’clock that evening, Buffy had been worried. She called Willow and Giles. Willow hadn’t seen him since she’d spoken on the phone with Buffy earlier and Giles’ phone had been off the hook.

She had just been preparing to go around to Giles’ when a thought struck her and that was why she was now standing outside the door to Xander’s apartment.

Buffy hadn’t been back since it had happened. Since she’d come here with Ren and they’d found Xander at death’s door after Tay had finished with him. She knew Giles had been here. He told her that he had been to clean the place up and only later told her that he hadn’t managed to get the blood up from the carpet.

Buffy turned the key and pushed open the door. She flipped on the light switch and the light flickered a couple of times before illuminating fully.

Xander was sitting cross-legged on a rug that Giles had placed over the bloodstain. He was staring intently at the floor, apparently lost in thought. He didn’t look up when Buffy closed the door behind her.

"I was worried about you" Buffy said, sitting down beside him "It’s late. You didn’t call."

"This rug isn’t mine is it?" he said, not looking up.

"Giles bought it."


"Giles was just trying to understand what you thought Xander" Buffy said softly "He wasn’t trying to undermine you."

"Felt like it" Xander looked up and then at Buffy "Sorry I got mad at you"

Buffy leant over and kissed him on the cheek "Don't do it again" she scolded lightly. Buffy leant her head on his shoulder "Why'd you come here Xan?"

"Just kinda found myself here" he replied sadly. Xander looked around the room "The memories in this place, huh?"

"I only want to remember the good ones Xander."

"But the bad ones… they won't go away Buff."

"Then you'll just have to keep telling yourself that none of them were your fault Xander." Buffy eased herself into Xander's lap and he put his arms around her. Buffy looked him in the eyes "At the moment I don't care if you blame Ren or not. What you *don't* do is blame yourself Xander. Do you understand?"

Xander closed his eyes and rested his forehead against Buffy's "Buffy, I've been think-"

"Do you *understand* Xander?" Buffy broke in.

Xander pulled away and looked back at her "Buffy you don't-"

"Promise me honey" Buffy said softly "It's not you fault. You have to promise me you won't think that."

Xander allowed himself to be pulled into Buffy's embrace "I promise"


Ren turned over in her sleep and a flailing arm hit Giles lightly on his chest. Giles' eyes fluttered open and focused on the hand before they followed an invisible path up the rest of the appendage to its owner.

Gently, Giles plucked Ren's hand from him and tucked it down by her side. Careful not to wake her, he got out of the bed and slipped on his robe before tip toeing his way towards the stairs.

He got about two steps down before he heard:

"If you're making breakfast, I'll have toast and coffee."

"I should have known you weren't asleep," Giles said as he walked back up the stairs. He leant against the wall leading into his bedroom.

Ren had turned over and now peered out at Giles from underneath her hair "What can I say. After nearly two centuries of not needing to, I'm kind of a light sleeper" she shooed him away with her hand. "Go make food."

Giles crossed his arms in front of his chest and arched an eyebrow at her. "And your last slave died of *what* exactly?"

"Oh, I had to kill her." Ren pushed her hair out of her face. "She kept ironing creases down the middle of my jeans."

"The horror. Anything else you don’t want me doing while you’re here?"

Ren sat up, pulling the covers around her. "That all depends on how long I’m staying, doesn’t it?" with a slight grin.

Giles heard the seriousness behind the last question. "I think that’s up to you, isn’t it"

"Oh no, I asked the question first."

Giles lost himself for a moment as he just looked at her. "Forever," he heard himself murmur //Oops//.

Ren blushed, something Giles hadn’t seen her do for a *very* long time. She began to study the carpet. Giles just stood where he was, not risking saying anything else.

Soon Ren looked back up at him. "So… toast and coffee?"

"On its way." Giles trusted himself to speak again. He turned, giving Ren a brief smile as he did so and began to make his way down the stairs again, hoping that Ren couldn’t hear him smacking his palm repeatedly against his forehead as he did so.


"Ow ow ow" Xander also winced as Buffy jostled past him. "Shoulder… very much *ow* here"

"I *told* you to wear the pads didn’t I?"

"Yes, and now I know better." Xander massaged his shoulder and trying to ignore other aches and pains from that mornings mini Slayer training session. He followed Buffy as they walked towards the car. "Thank you honey, for making an example of me."

Buffy turned around and stuck her tongue out at him then grinned "Come on, I wanna go shopping already" she grinned again when Xander groaned. Buffy walked up to him and took hold of the arm that wasn’t hurting and gently tugged Xander towards the car.

"It's only shopping Xander. Not the end of the world."

"Yeah? Buffy, I don't know what's scarier," Xander replied, "I've *seen* you with a store card."

Buffy mock glared at him "Those store cards are the ones buying you new clothes" Buffy retorted "Ones that *I'm* choosing"

Xander pouted "I don't even get *one* Hawaiian print?"

Buffy shook her head before reaching up and pulling Xander’s head downwards, kissing him leisurely. "I like it better when you don’t wear them" she told him after they drew apart.

Xander grinned "You mean you like it when I don’t wear anything."

Buffy just grinned back and turned to unlock the car door. The playful banter between the two of them was something that she’d missed the last couple of days. Especially after last night.

It had been late that previous night when she and Xander had finally got home and barely a few words had passed between them during the time they’d spent together. Then when they’d got home, Buffy had waited until Xander drifted off to sleep before she probably did one of the quickest patrols ever.

When she’d got back, Xander had been half-asleep and Buffy smiled as she remembered how he’d curled up against her when she’d gotten into bed beside him when she got back. It had made a change from the Xander who’d literally turned his back on her when she’d been out on patrol previously.

Buffy leaned back against Xander when he wrapped his arms around her middle. Xander rested his chin on her shoulder. "Whatcha thinking about?" he asked.

"How different things are this morning from last night" she admitted "We seem to have gone from one extreme to the other"

"I’m sorry again for yesterday" Xander murmured in her ear "I never meant to get angry at you."

"And what about getting angry at Giles?"

"I have to apologise…"


"Even though I don’t think he’s right?"

"Then just apologise for getting angry at him Xander."

Xander sighed "I guess… I guess I can do that."

Buffy made eye contact with Xander in the reflection of the car window "Just agree to disagree Xander."

"What about you?"

"What?" Buffy asked even when she knew where the conversation was going.

"Do you think I'm right?"

"I told you this before Xander. It's not something that I can just make my mind up on just like that" Buffy turned around in Xander's embrace and tilted her head up towards him "Xander, if anything, I don't want to think about it at all. What happened, who's to blame… any of it. I just want to put it all behind us. It's past."

"You don't want me asking again… do you?"

Buffy shook her head then laid it on Xander's chest "It's past"


(Later that afternoon)

"OK, honey" Buffy stood infront of Xander "I thought I told you nothing with a pattern" she held out her hand for the shirt Xander held.

"Nuh uh" Xander clasped the brightly coloured shirt to his chest "You said I got to choose in this store. I like this and I am *having* this"

"Alright" Buffy grinned slightly "But come anywhere near me in it and there will be no *having* of me of *any* kind"

Xander shrugged "If you want to live without Xander Lovin' then that's up to you. Mrs Hand and her five daughters always like to see me in these shirts."

Buffy's features scrunched up in disgust "Alexander Harris" she admonished him as he walked past her "I cannot *believe* you just *said* that"

Xander turned around and grinned "You'll just have to get used to the shirt then."

Buffy stuck her tongue out at him "You are so lucky that I love you"

Xander gave her a knowing smile "That's not gonna make me put it back y'know"


Xander leant forward and kissed Buffy softly on the lips "But thank you for saying it anyway."

"Mmm, you're too good to go to waste just cos you're colour blind" Buffy kissed him back, longer this time. "There's a lot of things I'd miss" she smiled "And it'd be such a shame cos we have these interlocking parts that are just going t-" Buffy broke off when Xander hissed loudly in pain and clutched hold of his head.

"Xander!" Buffy caught hold of him as he sank to his knees and before he hit the floor altogether "Xander!"

Several people who were in the store turned to watch as Buffy held in Xander in her arms as he groaned in pain still clutching at his head.

"A doctor!" Buffy called out "Somebody get a-a doctor or something!"

A couple of people moved off and Buffy turned her attention back to Xander, who was no longer making any noises of suffering but still held his head in his hands.

"Xander" Buffy's voice was still anxious but she tried not to let it come through so much "Xander, what is it? What's wrong?"

Xander's eyes were shut tight and he rocked against Buffy "Head… hurts" Xander's voice was shaky. He took a deep breath "Saw… saw Anya."

"What? Anya?" Buffy looked around the store in confusion "Anya? She's not here Xander."

"No, not… here" Xander opened his eyes then winced "Saw her in…" he searched for the word but couldn't find it "What… whatever the hell it was I just had" Xander rubbed at his forehead and took another deep breath.

Buffy stroked Xander's hair "Are you OK?"

Xander nodded and Buffy helped him to his feet "I think so" he said, steadying himself up against her "I just feel a little… groggy. I-I need to, um, sit again, I think."

Buffy looked around and saw some chairs by the fitting rooms. She guided Xander over to them and sat him down, taking the chair next to him for herself. Xander slumped forward and put his head between his knees.

"You don't think you should go to the hospital?" Buffy asked, worried. She ran her hand along Xander's back soothingly "Whatever the hell that was we can't rule it out being to do with you having been in a coma or something side-effecty like that."

"I don't…" Xander sat upright "I don't think it was," he said, looking at Buffy "It-it was like before. Remember I told you about seeing Cordy, in like a vision or something? Y'know, all in white. That something about that was familiar, like de ja vu?"

"Yeah I remember" Buffy frowned a little "And this time you saw Anya?"

Xander nodded "Only this time it was more vivid. *Very* vivid"

"This isn't right Xander and I don’t know what the hell is going on" she gave Xander a slightly apprehensive look "If we don't need the hospital then we're gonna need Giles"

Xander groaned "Oh, I was so hoping you weren't gonna say that"


"Rupert" Ren called out to Giles as she tossed the TV remote on to the empty seat beside her on the couch "You really have to get cable."

Giles emerged from the bathroom in a bathrobe and towelling his hair. He gave the similarly robed, redheaded woman an affronted look "I sincerely hope you're joking" he said.

Ren ignored his look "You're missing out on a totally different world Rupert."

"Oh, forgive me" Giles picked up the remote from next to Ren and sat down in the space it had previously occupied "These things are obviously the reason we were given opposable thumbs"

Ren's eyebrows rose a little "It's hard to believe you’re the same guy I knew twenty years ago."

Giles turned his head to look at her "In my defence, TV in England twenty years ago consisted of only three channels."

"That's not what I'm talking about Rupert and you know it" Ren shifted so she sat sideways facing Giles and studied him for a few moments "But, you know, I think I like this Rupert better"

Giles attempted to stop the stupid smile from spreading into a grin. He failed. "You're saying I got better with age?"

Ren nodded "You're like cheese."

Giles' grin faded and he gave her a withering look. Ren giggled "Rupert, if you start to pout, I'm leaving right now"

Giles pulled Ren on to his lap and then proceeded to pout. Ren gave him a look but she made no move to leave.

"I didn't think so," Giles said before putting his lips against Ren's. When they drew apart he looked into her eyes "Stay" he said, "Stay here with me. Don't go back."

Ren looked away for a few brief moments before looking back at Giles "I… I can't promise forever."

Giles brushed some loose strands of Ren's hair off her face "I know" he said softly "I know"

Giles leaned into kiss her again but was disturbed by a loud banging on his door. "Ignore it" he said "Whoever it is will have to wait" Giles went to kiss her again but the banging got louder and then he heard Buffy's voice calling his name. Giles sighed and rested his forehead briefly against Ren's who patted him gently on the chest.

"I'll go get dressed" she said, getting up "You go get the door"

Giles stood up "Do you want her to know you're here?"

Ren paused "I don't know" she headed for the stairs "Look, don’t say anything, but, um, if I come down I come down."

"Understood" Giles started towards the door and Ren gave him a quick smile before darting upstairs.

"Is there any particular reason you were trying to knock my door down?" Giles asked Buffy as he opened the door to her "Because I was sort of in the middle of something"

"Can we come in?" Buffy asked.

"We?" Giles then saw Xander join Buffy "Ah."

"Hey" Xander sounded uncomfortable "We kinda have a thing."

"A thing?" Giles looked at them both then sighed and let them through. He shut the door behind them as they walked in. "Alright. What is it?"

"Do you have ice?" Buffy asked.

"Ice? What? Um, yes refrigerator" Giles looked at Xander as Buffy went to the kitchen "But I'm still guessing ice isn't what you're here for" he looked expectantly at Xander "Is it?"

"Giles, I'm sorry about yesterday" Xander said, meeting the older man's eyes "I shouldn't have gotten angry at you like I did. I'm sorry, it's just I have my issues and you have yours-"

"You want to agree to disagree" Giles broke in.

Xander hesitated then nodded "It seems like the best idea at the moment."

"Fine. Apology accepted" Giles conceded "But I don't want to hear anymore about it."

"Understood" Xander replied "Thanks."

Giles gave Xander a nod then looked at Buffy in slight puzzlement when she returned and handed Xander the ice she'd been to retrieve wrapped up in a cloth and then Xander proceeded to hold it to his head.

"What's wrong?" Giles asked, concerned "Did something happen?"

"Yeah" Buffy replied "Xander totally freaked me out, that's what happened"

"Major head pain" Xander explained "Then *major* de ja vu"

"Willow told you about when Xander had that little turn in the hospital when he had a vision of Cordelia, right?" Buffy asked and Giles nodded "Well, he had one again."

"Only this time a lot worse and I saw Anya. Not fun on both counts."

Buffy walked over to the couch "It's freaky and I don't like it" Buffy said. She went to sit down but something caught her eye. She picked it up and her eyebrows raised. Buffy turned back to Giles "That middle of something you were in" she said, "Would that have been your cross-dressing?"

Giles looked at the bra Buffy held up and then back at Buffy "There's a good explanation for that"

Buffy smirked "And that is?"

"It's mine" Ren replied.

A now fully dressed (bar the piece of underwear Buffy was holding) Ren walked the rest of the way down the stairs and stood infront of the other three. She gave a quick smile to Giles "Knew I'd forgotten something" she said.

"Oh" Buffy looked at Ren, then to Giles and then back to Ren again "Um, I guess you'd be wanting it back then, huh?"

"You can just drop it back on the couch" Ren replied. Buffy did. Ren looked around at them all. Giles stood with his hands shoved in his pockets of his bathrobe and was looking at the floor. Buffy looked as if she really didn't know what to say at all and was beginning to shuffle oh-so-slowly back towards Xander who was pointedly looking at anything that wasn't Ren.

"So" Ren continued "This isn't awkward at all" Giles shot her a look complete with raised eyebrow. "What?" she said, "At least I didn't ask them if they wanted a cup of tea"

Buffy turned to Giles "Look if this is a bad time, we could-"

"Oh and why would it be a bad time?" Xander cut in sarcastically.

Buffy shot him a warning look "Xander, we came here for a-."

"A reason, yeah, I know" Xander finished for her "I'll shut up"

Buffy gave him a grateful look and smile, before turning back to finishing speaking to Giles "As I was saying, if this is a bad time-"

"Buffy" this time it was Ren's turn to interrupt "Don't. Look, it's OK. You want to talk to Rupert; I'll go do something… else. Plus" she added "I'm getting the feeling that it's to do with the reason Xander is holding an ice pack to his head and he's hardly going to share if I'm here"

"Oh… um…" Buffy quickly glanced at Xander then back to Ren "Actually, that's probably…"

"Yeah. Gotcha" Ren replied. "Look" she walked over to Giles and put her hand on his arm "There's some stuff I can do" Ren told him and gave him a quick peck on the cheek "I'll check back in a couple of hours" Ren turned and gave Buffy a quick smile before picking up her jacket and heading out the door.

Buffy watched the door for a few seconds after it closed before looking back to Giles "I didn't even, uh… know she was back in town"

"She got in yesterday morning" Giles replied "But seeing as how I'm still standing here in my bathrobe, how about we just get to elaborating more on why you wanted to see me, shall we?"

Xander looked at him "So how long have you two been getting horizontal?"

"Xander, I *don't* think that what Giles meant" Buffy shot him another warning look.

"Oh, but I wanna know" Xander replied, ignoring Buffy "Things are beginning to make more sense now."

"Xander, may I suggest that you keep any comments you may be about to make about Ren being here to yourself" Giles stated "Or at least have them when I can't hear you" Giles paused pointedly "Before you say something you might later regret. Or I will."

Xander met Giles steely look and kept his tone deliberately neutral "I only asked a question Giles"

"Really?" there was no reason for Giles to be convinced "Because the nature of your question seemed to be implying something more"

"Guys-" Buffy tried to butt in but Xander spoke over her.

"And what was I supposed to be implying?" Xander put the ice-pack on the counter behind him "'Cos, I'm kinda at a loss"

"Would you two stop it?!" Buffy stood in between them "For God's sake!" Buffy spoke to Xander "Please, just… can we stay *focused* here?"

"Right now Buffy" Xander replied "I don't think focused is something I can do"

"Xander-" Buffy began but he cut her off.

"There's no point in me being here" Xander's gaze flicked to Giles "He's obviously got other things on his mind."

Giles gave him an icy look "Now look here Xander, you came here because you wanted my help. If you're going to start-"

"Save it" Xander turned to the door "I don't want to hear it."

Buffy caught hold of his arm "Xander!"

Xander snatched his arm back "Leave me the hell alone" Xander shot Giles another dark look before he stalked out.

A look of shock passed over Buffy's face before being replaced by one of determination and she followed after Xander. "Where the hell do you think you're going?!" she called out.

Xander spun around "Somewhere that's not here!"

"I thought you wanted to find out what happened to you today! That's *why* we came here, *remember*?!"

"Actually, I seem to recall it being *your* idea Buffy. I was *less* than enthused about it"

Buffy looked at him in disbelief "I can't believe you can't *even* be *civil* to Giles. After everything he's done for us."

"Yeah? And what's he *doing* now, huh?!" Xander retorted "Sleeping with the enemy, that's what!"

"Ren is *not* the enemy, Xander!"

"Oh, *great*. So you're siding with Giles now!"

"Yeah, well… maybe I think he's right!"

Xander locked eyes with Buffy for a few seconds without saying anything. He took a few steps backwards "*Fine*" he said eventually "You do that. You obviously don't give a *damn* about anything I might be feeling"

"Xander Harris, don't you dare make this about that!"

"Buffy, if you loved me-"

"Oh , you can stop *right* *there* mister!" Buffy cried "Don't you *dare* pull that crap on me. If I didn't love you so much, I wouldn't be having this poor excuse for a conversation with you!"

Xander just looked at her for a few long seconds before turning on his heel and starting to walk off while Buffy stared after him, not making any move to follow.

Meanwhile Giles had taken the time while Buffy and Xander had been arguing to throw on some clothes and he came back down his stairs to find Buffy, who had just walked back in.

"Buffy…" Giles didn't know quite what to say to her. He'd heard everything they'd said to each other, it wasn't difficult to miss. He walked over to her and put a hand comfortingly on her shoulder.

Tears welled up behind Buffy's eyes and she turned into Giles' touch "I don't know what's wrong" she said in a small voice "This… this morning" she sniffed "I-I thought everything w-was fine"

Giles awkwardly held a quietly sobbing Buffy "Buffy, to put it in your terms" Giles said, "Xander is the one with the problem. He'll just have to deal."

Buffy looked up at him and wiped her eyes "I just don't understand him" she said, letting Giles guide her to his couch. She sat down "I feel like I'm getting somewhere with him then it all just blows up like… like this"

Giles sat down next to her "Buffy, I-I really don't know what to say in situations like this" he sighed "And as for even trying to *start* to explain Xander's behaviour..." Giles trailed off and looked at Buffy's mixed expression of sadness and anger "I never thought he'd get angry at you"

Buffy gave him a terse smile "You heard, huh?"

Giles nodded "Rather hard not to I'm afraid"

"Didn't think he'd get like that with you either" Buffy continued "Ren was unexpected."

Giles gave Buffy an awkward look "Yes, she, uh, was rather."

"So you two are… um…"

"Getting horizontal?"

Buffy looked at him with a pained expression "Thank you again for that image."

"Sorry" Giles apologised "But to answer your question. Yes."

"Well good. I'm happy for you" Buffy gave Giles a sincere smile. She stood up "I'd better go" she continued "I told mom I'd give her a hand with some stuff this afternoon" Buffy then looked a little sad "Actually me *and* Xander were supposed to help her"

"Are you going to try and find him?" Giles asked.

Buffy shook her head "No. He can go and be angry somewhere that's not near me" Buffy walked to the door "And when he does decide to show his face we can finish our little conversation" she added "I'm not finished with him just yet"


Xander kicked anything he could find as he stormed his way through the park. He'd had a face like thunder since leaving Giles and as he'd made his way to a place with less populated with people so he could vent his frustrations, Xander had been constantly tossing the thought through in his mind as to whether he was more angry at Buffy or more angry at himself for getting angry at her.

Soon Xander found himself alone in a small clearing of trees. He looked around and walked to the nearest tree, hitting his fist into it. Then wished he hadn't as it was the same fist he'd put into Buffy's wall and it was also on the end of the arm he'd hurt that morning.

Swearing under his breath, Xander turned his back to the tree and leant back against it. He closed his eyes and slowly slid to the floor.

Xander sighed "Buffy's angry with me" he spoke out loud "I have to make it better."


"Is this supposed to make everything better?" Buffy eyed the big bunch of flowers Xander held with distaste "I'm betting Giles didn't get any" Buffy raised a questioning eyebrow at Xander.

"No. He didn't" Xander replied "Buffy, I'm apologising to you here, not Giles" Xander looked at the flowers and then back at Buffy "I'm guessing these weren't such a great idea after all, huh?"

Buffy crossed her arms in front of her chest "That would be a big no."

Xander put the flowers down on the table beside him "I don't know what to say Buff" he said "I can't believe I blew up at you like that"

"Neither can I" Buffy dropped her arms to her side "Xander, this isn't like you. You don't get like this. Not with people you care about anyway."

"Buffy, I don't know what to tell you, OK?" Xander ran a hand through his hair "I just can't seem to… to-"

"Keep you opinions to yourself? Xander, Giles is our friend. He cares about Ren. The least you could have done was keep your mouth shut" Buffy winced inwardly when she saw Xander's eyes flash at that last remark "Xander, look" she continued quickly "Just try to understand-"

"Why can't anyone understand *me*? Why can't-""

"*Because* Xander" Buffy answered "You're not making any sense. You're letting people get so close then they say *one* *thing* and it gets completely out of control"

"So I'm out of control now?"

"See!" Buffy said exasperatedly "This is *exactly* what I mean" Buffy gave a short sigh "Xander, I want to help you, but you've got to make the effort too"

"Buffy, I don't… I don't *need* help"


"No. I don't."

"Fine. But until you decide you do, you're sleeping on the couch" Buffy picked up a pillow off the bed and threw it at him.

Xander caught it "Buffy-"

"You know where the blankets are."


"I'm serious Xander" she said "You don't-"

"I don't understand you" Xander's tone was a mixture of confusion, anger and sadness "You… you tell me one thing and-and then you want me to do another. Which is it Buffy? *Which* is it?"

"Xander, what are you talking about?"

Xander didn't answer her questions "Why can't I do anything right for you?" Why do you have to confuse me?"

"OK Xander. *Now* you're *really* not making any sense"

"That's because *nothing* makes sense" Xander's voice rose. He threw the pillow to the floor "Nothing!" Xander turned and walked from the room.

"Xander" Buffy called out to him to him but Xander didn’t turn back around "Xander!" she tried again, following him out on to the upper landing "Xander!"

Xander turned around as he got to the front door. He looked up the stairs towards Buffy and just stared at her.

"Where are you going?"

"My apartment" he answered "I don't have to sleep on the couch there" Xander turned back around and walked out the door.

Buffy stood in disbelief for a few moments before looking to her mother who had just appeared from the sitting room where she had been keeping her distance.

"What do I have to do?" Buffy asked softly "What's happening to us?"

Joyce walked up the stairs to her daughter's side "I don’t know Buffy" she held her daughter close "I don't know"


(Next morning)

Buffy awoke from a fitful sleep only to turn over in bed to find the spot usually occupied by Xander empty.

Buffy frowned to herself as she sat up, remembering the heated conversation they'd had the previous evening. Buffy pushed the hair out of her face and then tied it back with a hairband she took from her bedside table.

Buffy sighed sadly as she caught sight of the flowers that Xander had left, still lying on top of her dresser. //At least he tried//. Buffy sighed again //God, this is going to be a long day//.

Buffy climbed out of bed and threw on a dressing gown over her pyjamas and made her way down to the kitchen, giving the flowers another quick glance before she walked through the door.

Giving her mother an un-cheery "Morning" Buffy took a place at the breakfast counter.

Joyce placed a bowl of cereal in front of Buffy. "Morning" she replied "How are you feeling?"

Buffy looked up at Joyce "You got all day?"

"That bad?"

"That bad" Buffy groaned "Bordering horrible."

"Oh dear" Joyce sighed. She put her arm around Buffy’s shoulder "Sweetheart, look, why don’t you give yourself a break?"

Buffy tilted her head up to look at her mother "A break?"

"Yes. From all this. Get away by yourself for a couple of days" Joyce suggested "You could go and stay with your father."

Buffy looked back down "I don’t know". She picked up her spoon and started poking through her cereal "I don’t know if it’s the right time"

"Sweetie, it’s the perfect time. Get yourself away."

"Away from Xander you mean."

"No. Well not essentially" Joyce said "It’s just you two have been spending a *lot* of time together. Maybe you just need some time apart."

"It’s not been that bad" Buffy avoided her mothers eyes.

Joyce moved to the opposite side of the counter and leaned her back up against the sink "Uh huh" she said simply.

"Last night was just-" Buffy broke off and sighed sadly "Oh, who am I trying to kid?"

Joyce smiled sadly at her daughter "Just think about what I said sweetheart, OK?"


Later that morning Xander was waking up at his apartment. He groaned quietly as the first thing he realised was that he *had* to groan *quietly* because he had a very bad hangover. He opened his eyes gingerly, then wished he hadn't as Xander was almost blinded by the sunlight streaming in through his window… in his main living room.

//Hey, this is good, I couldn't even make it to the bedroom// Xander groaned again //So much for sleeping in my own bed// Xander then looked around at his surroundings //OK. I couldn't even make it to my own couch. Apparently just the floor//

Xander pushed himself up onto his hands and knees and again immediately wished he hadn’t done something. //Moving… definitely not a good idea// Xander wrapped one hand around his stomach and pushed himself up to his feet using the couch. Ignoring the waves of nausea, Xander made his way as best he could without tripping over anything, mainly the empty beer bottles and the empty bottle of vodka, towards the bathroom where, upon entering, he immediately proceeded to hug the toilet.

When Xander had finished emptying the contents of his stomach, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and sat back on his heels //And I don’t even remember having mixed vegetables//. Xander used the edge of the bath to help him get to his feet and he went and stood in front of the sink. He turned on the tap and ran his hands under the cold water before splashing some water on his face and then swilled his mouth out with water. Then he finally looked in the mirror.

"Oh… so that’s what hell looks like" Xander said to his reflection "And there was me thinking it was at Sunnydale High."

Xander wet his hands again and ran them through his hair but eventually deciding it was a futile effort, he turned on his shower. Kicking off his shoes and then stripping off his clothes, Xander stepped under the warm spray of the shower and then leant back against the tiles, letting the water hit his face.

After letting the water run over him for a few more minutes, Xander finally shut off the shower and stepped out, wrapping a towel around himself. He stood infront of the mirror and wiped off some of the condensation on it so he could see himself. //Well, good that I look a little less like crap now//.

Then another wave of nausea hit and Xander put his hand to his stomach ready to make towards the toilet, but it passed quickly. Xander's finger's though, lingered on the two large scars on his abdomen. He looked down as he ran his fingers over them, following the contours when suddenly he was hit by a blinding headache. Not nausea again and worse than the one he had experienced yesterday in the store with Buffy. Xander screamed out in pain and sank to his knees, cradling his head in his hands as the pain kept reverberating around his skull. Xander’s eyes were screwed shut but that didn’t stop him seeing the image that he’d been trying so hard to keep out of his thoughts.

Xander’s hands dropped from his head and he tried to crawl away from what he was seeing. The pain in his head made it difficult but Xander managed to get out of the bathroom, sans towel as that got caught under his knees, but Xander crawled back into the sitting room.

"Stop it!" he cried, "I don’t want to remember this! Go away!"

Xander curled up into a ball and held his head again "Stop it!" his voice got quieter and tears began to form in his eyes "It hurts too much. I haven’t done anything" Xander’s voice became a whimper "S-stop i-it."

Xander kept rocking "I don’t want to remember" he kept whimpering "I d-don’t want to"

Eventually the pain went and Xander lay still. Eyes still shut but the tears felt silently down his cheeks. //Why me?//.


Buffy gave Giles a tired smile when he got to the store later that morning. "Hey" she greeted him warmly.

Giles replied by giving Buffy and apologetic smile "Sorry" he said, "Bit of a late start I’m afraid. Alarm didn’t go off."

"Yeah, it did" Ren replied, walking in behind Giles "I just dropped one his big ol’ books on it. Didn’t seem to want to work after that."

"Oh, so it was one of *those* late starts" Buffy replied with a slight grin "Yeah, I’ve had a few of those myself"

"Yes, yes. Alright" Giles tried to ignore the way the two women were grinning at each other "Well I would have called but-"

"Apparently I'm too much of a distraction" Ren finished for him.

Buffy smirked as Giles shot a look at Ren, who looked back at him innocently before finally smirking herself.

"Fine" Giles said raising his hands "I give up" he walked out towards the back of the shop.

"Oh come on" Buffy called out to his retreating form "We haven't even started yet."

Giles poked his head around the door to the back room "That's very much what I'm afraid of" Giles withdrew in to the back room again when Ren blew him a kiss.

"You two seem to be getting along" Buffy commented to Ren "It's of the good."

"Promise you'll tell me when we start having pet names for each other" Ren replied.

"Oh, so you're, uh, planning to be, uh-"

"Around for some time?"

"Uh huh"

"Then yes" Ren paused "It's going to make things difficult isn't it? With Xander?"

Buffy sighed "Right at this moment I don't think I care" Buffy sighed again "No, wait, that's not true. I care. It's just… hard."

"I heard you two yesterday" Ren admitted "You didn't really give me a chance to get very far."

Buffy leant up against the counter "Xander tried to apologise later" she said a little sadly "But we just ended up having another argument. He stayed at his place last night."

"Have you spoken to him since then?"

Buffy shook her head "I really don't know what to say to him at the moment"

"Buffy?" Giles reappeared from the backroom holding a piece of paper "This order hasn't been delivered today has it?"

"Is that the one from 'Spooky Things R Us'?" Buffy replied.

Giles nodded, then he added "I can’t believe that’s their *actual* name"

Buffy groaned "This means we’re going to have to make a trip to their warehouse today doesn’t it?"

"It requires both of you?" Ren asked.

"He can’t lift the boxes" Buffy told her.

"Ooh, exploiting the workforce again Rupert? Shame on you" Ren grinned but it quickly faded "You want me to watch the store don’t you?"

"If you wouldn’t mind" Giles replied "Please?"

"I've told you before Rupert, if you pout, I'm leaving"

"I'll make it up to you."

Ren raised an eyebrow "You think you've got the stamina for that?"

Giles wasn't perturbed "Oh, definitely yes"

"Guys?" Buffy put her hand in the air "Still here."

Ren grinned at her then turned back to Giles "Alright. I'll stay here and play shop."

"Thank you" Giles said as both he and Buffy headed towards the door "It shouldn't take long. An hour… maybe four."

"Ooh, you'd *better* make it up to me" Ren replied, glaring half-heartedly at Giles. Giles just grinned at her before following after Buffy who'd already begun to make her way towards Giles' car.

Ren sighed "I should have stayed in bed."


It was a good while later when Xander finally felt able to uncurl from his foetal position. He took in a couple of deep breaths before getting to his feet. He made his way slowly to his bedroom and pulled a few items from his wardrobe and got dressed.

On autopilot, Xander grabbed his keys and wallet from the side table near the door before shrugging on his jacket and leaving his apartment.

He didn't take much notice of anything as he made his way from his apartment and along the streets of Sunnydale. He wasn't even lost in his own thoughts. Xander didn't want to think about anything until he'd spoken to Buffy. He *had* to speak to Buffy. He had to tell her everything.

Eventually Xander found himself in front of Giles' store. He peered through the window first, not wanting to venture in if Giles was the first person he was going to see. Xander couldn't see Giles, but he couldn't see Buffy either. //Maybe she's out back// he thought as he pushed open the door.

"Buffy?" Xander called out as he walked into the store "Buffy?"

He didn't get an answer so Xander called out tentatively "Giles?"

Still no answer. Then Xander heard movement. "Buffy?" he called out again.

"Nope" Ren answered as she emerged from the back of the store "Just me I'm afraid. The person you hate most in the world" Ren put her hand on her hips "How can I help?"

"Where's Buffy?" Xander tried not to sound anxious infront of Ren.

"Out with Rupert" Ren replied "And before you ask, they won't be back until later"

Xander ran both his hands through his hair. He tried to avoid looking at Ren "I *need* to speak to *Buffy*" he said "It's *important*"

"Well she left, like, a couple of hours ago and neither she or Rupert have a cell phone."

"What do I *do*?"

Ren just looked at him "Erm… *pass*" Ren then gestured to the table "Feel free to sit and wait. But the minute you start getting abusive I'm gonna have to ask you to leave" Ren turned her back on Xander and began checking through some shelves.

"Why… why are *you* here?"

"'Cos I'm sleeping with the proprietor" Ren responded with out looking back.

"I-I d-don't understand"

Ren turned around "Y-you d-don't understand?" she mocked "Xander, it's pretty bloody simple" Ren shook her head and walked forward past Xander who moved to the side to avoid her.

Xander spoke with his back facing her this time "I need. To speak. To Buffy."

"Well Xander, maybe if I'd actually bothered to ask them *where* exactly it *was* they were going, I could tell you so you'd get the hell out of here. *But* seeing as how I *didn't*, I can't. And you're *still* here"

"Why are you doing this?" Xander spun around to face her, his expression a mixture of confusion and anger.

"Doing *what*?"


Ren just looked at him "OK" she said "Now *I'm* confused" she walked up to him "Tell you what, you just sit and work it out" Ren patted him on the arm condescendingly.

Xander flinched back "Don't touch me."

Ren stood eye to eye with him "Now that's a phrase you *never* used to say"

Xander looked into her eyes "W-why are you doing this?" he asked again.

"Xander, I'm *not* doing *any*thing. Look, why don't you just sit down and wait and be quiet 'til she gets back, 'kay?" Ren went to put her hand on his arm again, but Xander flinched back again, more obvious this time.

"I *said* don't *touch* me" he hissed. Xander's eyes flashed angrily but for a split second Ren thought she saw something else. Fear.

"O-*kay* Xander" Ren backed up a little "Just lighten up alright?"

"Don't you come anywhere near me, you understand?" Xander's voice was low, but he was having trouble trying to keep it even.

Ren looked at him with trepidation "Are you *sure* you don't want to sit down?" she asked, her voice now tinged with concern from still caring about him whether he cared about her or not. Ren's brow creased "And come to think of it" she continued "You don't look too hot either"

"I'm *fine*" Xander said, "I just want to-"

"Speak to Buffy" Ren finished "Yeah I know you said that already, but *ow*" Ren's hand flew to her cheek when she felt a flash of pain. A couple of seconds later she pulled her hand away from her cheek and saw a couple of spots of blood on her palm "What the hell was that?" she said, looking around at the shop. Ren looked at Xander who was looking back at her with confusion "Did you see that?" she asked.

"I-I didn't see-" Xander's eyes then focused on something on the floor.

Ren noticed what had got Xander's attention and she bent down to pick it up. It was a small piece of glass, about the size of fingernail, one edge of which was slightly red from where it had sliced across Ren's cheek. Ren stood up and was about to show Xander when Xander ducked as a larger piece of glass flew over his head.

"This is *not* good" he said "What the hell is *this*"?

"I don't know" Ren replied. She turned around to where the glass would be coming from and she saw one of the many glass jars on the shelf to the side of them both trembling slightly "But you're right" she said "That's not good. I really don't think it's supp-" Ren broke off when the jar began to shake more violently. Then she cried out when she didn't turn in time and the jar shot off the shelf and hit her hard against the side of the head, fragments of the glass embedding themselves into her skin. Ren stumbled and hit her head against the side of another table as she fell to the floor, unconscious.

Xander stood still for a few moments in shock. He looked to the place on the shelf where the jar had been and then to Ren as she lay on the floor by his feet, the glass lying around them both. Xander watched transfixed as the blood slowly began to seep out of the deep cuts on Ren's head. He bent down and tentatively reached out a hand to touch them. The trails of blood were hard to follow when they ran into her hair because they were both the same colour.

Slowly Xander came out his stupor. Shouldn't he be doing something? Xander touched her shoulder, nudging her gently. He didn't get a response. He pushed her harder this time but still didn't receive any response.

"Ren?" he called out softly "Ren?"

Suddenly a voice came from the front of the shop.

"Oh my God!" Giles said angrily "What the *hell* did you *do*?"






Part 5

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