Breaking the Rules

Chapter Two

Written by Joanne W



(Later that evening)

It took Xander about ten minutes before he spotted Willow and Buffy inside the Bronze. He grinned as he made his way over to them. "Greetings ladies" he said cheerfully, squeezing in between them on the couch. "And how are we tonight?"

"We is fine," Buffy said replied, smiling, then glanced around the club "Where's your shadow?"

"*Ren* is here" Xander informed her. "Somewhere. Lurking."

"Doesn't it feel weird?" Willow asked, taking a sip of her soda "Knowing that someone's watching you?"

"Eh, I don't think she's watching me per se" Xander stated "More like she's just keeping an eye out for trouble."

"Did you two have any luck earlier finding out why she's here?" Willow asked.

"Nope. We kinda lucked out" Xander replied. "Her contact told her to stop contacting them."

"So what do you do now?" Buffy asked, frowning. "Just wait?"

"Looks like." Xander shrugged "She's just gotta wait until they tell her something. I guess we just try and carry on as normal. Well, as normal as you can get in Sunnydale anyway" Xander grinned "So are we gonna sit and mooch about here all night or are we shakin' our booty?"

"Oh, I'm all up for shakin' my booty," Buffy smiled "Unfortunately the dance floor is a tad inaccessible at the moment" she nodded towards the crowds infront of the stage. "I really don't want to be getting down to the beat under someone's armpit."

"It's not tempting is it?" Willow agreed "Looks like we just sit here tapping our feet."

"OK, while you two are doing that I'll go use my Slayer strength to get through the crowds to get myself a drink. Either of you want anything?" Buffy asked the other two and they both nodded. Buffy got up and headed towards the throng of people blocking the bar.

About ten minutes later Buffy emerged from the crowd to find Willow and Xander gone from their seats. She glanced around and finally spotted Xander leaning against one of the pillars; he appeared to be people watching.

Buffy smiled to herself. It was nice to see Xander just standing there, just doing nothing. She had been more than a little disturbed that that night a week ago she could have been watching him die, and that there wouldn't have been anything she could have done about it. No, she thought, it was good to see him just *there*. Really good.

She quickly averted her eyes when she realised she had started to stare and before Willow, who had just appeared next to Xander, noticed as well. Buffy didn't really want to have a conversation with her friend as to why she was casting admiring glances at Xander. She didn't think her answer of "Oh, it's because I have a crush on him" would be the one Willow would be expecting.

Yes, she could admit it now. She, Buffy Summers, Chosen One and Slayer Extraordinaire had a crush on one of her best friends. Pathetic.

Buffy knew when it had started. The very beginning of her freshman year at UC Sunnydale. He had to go and say something sweet like that. There she'd been, feeling all depressed about, well, everything, and he had to go and call her his hero. One of the nicest things anyone had called her.

Then of course along with that he had to provide her with hints about his risqué summer job. Because of that she had some very interesting dreams over the next few weeks.

She could then see Willow asking "What about Parker?" To which she would say "You're supposed to be the psych student work it out. I was suppressing my feelings! Come on, did you not notice how similar they look?" OK, so the Parker thing had turned out badly. Obviously trying to suppress feelings was not the way to go.

The fact that she already disliked Anya gave her a good reason to be bitchy about her. Buffy smiled to herself //Well at least Anya isn't in the picture anymore//. Then Buffy frowned //But then again, neither am I// Buffy sighed then allowed herself a quick admiring look at Xander before she headed over.

Xander grinned as he took his drink from her "Thought I was gonna have to come in and rescue ya"

"I had the situation under control" Buffy grinned back, a little voice in the back of her mind whispered //I wouldn't mind being rescued though//. Buffy gave herself a mental slap //Stop that! Now is not the time and place. OK, focus//. "Why don't we have seats anymore?" she asked.

"Willow went to the bathroom and I had a bad time trying to hold onto the seats all by myself" he nodded to the crowd that now occupied their previous position "I was out-numbered. Somehow I don't think telling them that I knew the Slayer and that she'd kick their asses when she got back would have gone down well"

"Probably not. But I would have kicked their asses... what?" she said seeing Xander's attention wander. She turned around to see the cause and inwardly seethed //Of course *she* had to show up, it's bad enough she's here doing a job I'm well qualified to do. Now she has to get Xander all gooey-eyed over her ... and what on earth is she wearing?! God, if she so much as *sneezes* she'll fall out of it// Buffy tried not to glare at Ren.

"Hey, look it's my bodyguard" Xander's face lit up as he too had noticed the skimpiness of Ren's outfit - a short black, scoop necked, strapless dress that clung in all the right places and on her feet she wore knee high, black leather, high heeled boots. Xander tried to remember to keep his focus above her shoulders. "Thought you were gonna be lurking tonight" Xander continued. "Get bored?"

Ren grinned "Actually it's been more fun than I thought it was gonna be" she paused "You should hear some of the things I've heard when I've been mind reading"

Buffy went pale and Xander went pink and both shifted uncomfortably. Ren smirked "I love doing that" she said laughing "Gives you a good idea as to whether someone was having bad thoughts and" she turned to speak to Willow "Judging by the look on both their faces, I'm glad I can't actually manage that particular skill"

//Yeah, I bet you can't// Buffy shot a frosty look at Ren.

"So you can't actually... OK, that's not funny" Xander said.

"I thought you were going to be 'lurking' tonight" Willow said and indicated Ren's outfit "You changed your mind I see"

"I'm not *definitely* not complaining" Xander said.

"You spoke out loud Xander" Buffy said frowning and Xander went pink again.

Ren appeared not to take any notice. "It's pretty packed in here," she said to Buffy "Could be a vamp pick-n-mix."

Buffy glanced quickly about before settling her gaze back on Ren. "What do you want to do about it?"

"Me? Sorry, but you're the Slayer. I don't do vampires" Ren stood by Xander's side "I've got my own work to do here"

Buffy fought the urge to give her black eye. "Fine" Buffy said, composing herself "Guess you'll be taking him home now then, huh?"

"We don't have to go do we?" Xander whined.

Ren looked at Buffy as she spoke to Xander. "Of course not" She then turned to Xander "I don't know how I'll be able to contain myself through all the fun" she finished dryly.

"Oh sure it'll be fun" Xander said cheerily "We'll dance. Come on" Xander pulled her towards the dancefloor.

"OK" Ren mumbled reluctantly, following him "But if anyone stands on my feet, I'm severely injuring them."

Willow frowned when she saw Buffy literally using her eyes to shoot daggers at the back of Ren's head as the couple left. "What is it?" Willow asked Buffy.

Buffy turned and looked into her friends concerned eyes. "Nothing" Buffy lied.


Xander was wondering if he had done the right thing in getting Ren to dance. It wasn't that she couldn't, far from it. It was just that she gave off some kind of vibe that made everyone dancing around them move away from them. It was slightly intimidating.



"Are you sure that you should leave Buffy to deal with any vampires that might stroll in?"

"Sure, why not? She's a good Slayer" Ren replied, placing her arms around his next as the music changed to a slower beat.

Xander automatically slid his arms around her waist and gave Ren a puzzled look "Really?"

Ren raised an eyebrow "You don't think she's a good Slayer?"

"What? Oh no, no" Xander said quickly "I just didn't think *you* thought she was good"

"She's more than good" Ren stated "I'm just not that fond of her."


"Well for a start she's not exactly been pleasant to me, has she?"

Xander was silent. He'd picked up on the tenseness between Buffy and Ren, but didn't have much of a clue why.

"It wasn't supposed to be a stumper," Ren said, noting Xander's silence "It doesn't matter anyway" she continued "*You're* my priority"

"If we can ever find out why" Xander said quietly.

"You know I'm trying, don't you?" Ren replied, smiling softly.

"I know. I just don't like not knowing."

"You and me both Xander. You and me both" Ren sighed, resting her head on his shoulder.

Xander swallowed a little nervously //Okay, this is a little closer than I was expecting. Try not to look like you're enjoying it too much. Try not to smell her hair because it smells like strawberries. Damn. OK, just stay focused Xander. Try to remember you've only just broken up with Anya. Try not to let you hand slip down any lower on her back…//.

Xander cleared his throat. "So tell me, uh, do you dance with all the people you're sworn to protect?" he asked as coolly as possible.

"Hmm?" Ren said into his shoulder "Sorry, it's just been a really long day" she looked back up at him. "Need to relax and unwind."

"T-that's OK, I quite like the envious stares I'm getting from some of the guys."

Ren laughed "Like I said before. Horny teenagers'."

"Well, yeah. But I'd like you to remember I totally disassociated myself from that stereotype" he added quickly.

Ren laughed again "Bet they wouldn't be giving you envious stares if they knew who I really was" Ren looked over to whom Xander was talking about "Well, maybe that weird looking guy over there. I always get lumbered with the odd ones."

"Hey, I'm dancing with you" Xander said slightly wounded //And I don't mind at all//

"Yeah, but your last girlfriend was over twice my age" Ren replied "You're hardly 'Joe Normal' Mr-Inca-Mummy"

"How many times do I have to say I didn't *know* she was a mummy?"

Ren saw the pained looked on his face and burst out laughing.


Buffy was trying to listen to Willow, really she was. But every so often she kept stealing glances towards Ren and Xander. It may be only a crush she had on her friend but that didn't mean she couldn't get jealous.

"Buffy are you listening to me?"

"Sure I am" Buffy said, pointedly meeting Willow's gaze.

"What was I saying then?"

"Um... you were saying about Amy."

"Nice save."

"I was listening" Buffy protested

"Really? 'Cos I thought you were more interested in Xander and Ren"

"I am not. I just-" She stopped when she saw Willow wasn't buying it. "Well, how is she supposed to protect him from any evil wearing a dress that's little more than a handkerchief, huh?"

"OK, I admit there's not a lot to it." Willow agreed. "But I seem to remember you fighting vamps in similar outfits."

"Yes, but ... but mine were less slutty"

"It's not that slu-"

"I mean look at her laughing at what he says. He's not that funny."


"Look at her draping herself all over him, huh?" Buffy continued her voice beginning to rise "It's hardly the act of someone who's been given a responsible position."

"Well she-"

"Are we supposed to be happy that Xander's welfare is being looked after by a raving demon nympho?"

"Buffy, what-"

"Maybe I should complain. Do you think there's a PTB complaints department?"

"Buffy-" Willow tried again then noticed Buffy's gaze had switched from Xander to a couple in the corner.

"Great" Buffy huffed. "To make my night even better I now have to go kill some vampires" she paused "Actually it *will* make my night better. I could do with some good old-fashioned violence. Back in a couple of minutes Will."

Willow watched Buffy leave, a puzzled look crossed her face //What the hell just happened? And what did that person I was just sitting with do with Buffy?//

Buffy meanwhile was having thoughts of her own. As she watched Xander and Ren dance, her heart literally twinged. //Jealousy? - definitely. More than a crush? - Probably//


(A month later)

Xander glanced over the top of his book towards Giles' kitchen where Ren stood in conversation with their host. He became slightly transfixed as he watched Ren run her hands through her newly cropped hair. He had liked the red, but the new blue/black shoulder length style suited her better he thought. Xander 's eyes began to follow what curves of her body he could see. //This is not good Xander// he scolded himself //You can't go getting infatuated with her// He sighed inwardly when Ren giggled at something Giles said //Too late//.

Willow tossed aside yet another of Giles' books and sighed as she picked up the next one of his shelf. A demon had attacked Buffy while she had been at Joyce's the previous night. It was proving difficult to research since Buffy had stayed with her mother who had got in the middle of the fight and had been injured, and the only clues Buffy had given them were "really gross", "two horns with spirally bits" and "a need to make a dental appointment". Therefore Willow, Xander, Ren and Giles were compiling possibilities to run past Buffy later that night.

Willow glanced over at Xander to see how he was fairing and rolled her eyes when she saw he was paying more attention to Ren, who was in conversation with Giles in his kitchen. Willow had seen that look in Xander's eyes before. It was the same look he had had for Buffy those few years ago and he'd been wearing it for Ren for the past month and a bit now.

At first Willow had thought Xander would be angry about being under protection, knowing how often he protested that he could take care of himself. Looking at him now, Willow knew exactly why she'd been wrong. //Obviously the amount of time he has for Ren just shows me why. But then again, he's a guy and she's ... well, stunning. I don't need to do the math//.

Willow looked across at Ren who seemed unaware of Xander's attentions //Maybe I should say something to her. It can't be good practice trying to protect someone if they had a crush on you. Especially if you don't know what you're protecting them from//.

She watched Xander quickly return his gaze to the book on his lap when Ren and Giles exited the kitchen. Giles picked up another book and showed Ren something inside it, but the demon just shrugged and went to get another book from Giles' collection.

Giles had Willow that Ren was frustrated because she still hadn't had word about her 'mission' here, apart from that she had to keep Xander safe. Therefore Ren had become an unofficial member of the Scooby gang since she'd arrived. Not that it had been all fun and games. Buffy and Ren only spoke to each other when it was necessary or to argue. Giles was obviously sometimes torn between his old friend and his former pupil. Xander had spent most of his time with Ren or at least tried to. He hardly went on patrol anymore. Willow figured it was because he then got to stay with Ren, alone.

Willow had mentioned to Buffy about Xander's affection for Ren and had been surprised at Buffy's reaction. She'd expected Buffy to at least laugh and acknowledge it as a typical Xander thing to do. Instead she got to hear exactly what Buffy thought of Ren, again, and that Xander was too good for her. After that last remark Buffy had refused to say anymore on the subject.

Willow couldn't see why Buffy disliked Ren. She liked Ren. She'd helped Willow with a couple of spells and had also given her pointers with a few Wiccan areas that she was having problems with. There wasn't anything that she could find to substantiate Buffy's colourful language about her.

Willow picked up another book and began thumbing through it. She got about halfway through it before Buffy arrived looking slightly the worse for wear. Her hair was mussed and she had a dressed wound on her left arm that hadn't been there previously.

"No need to look for the demon anymore" Buffy said wearily "It's dead."

"How?" Giles asked, getting up and ushering her into a chair. "When?"

Buffy ran her hands through her hair "It decided to pay me another Christmas visit" she replied "But this time I killed it"

"Are you sure?" Giles asked, sitting back down.

"I chopped its head off with a big ol' axe" Buffy said, "It seemed to do the trick"

"Is your mom OK?" Xander asked.

"Just cuts and bruises" Buffy replied, giving him a small smile "She'll be fine. I got the rough end of the deal," she said holding up her arm "The thing had nasty teeth"

"Maybe we should try and find out what type of demon it was for future reference" Ren suggested.

"Why?" Buffy said giving Ren an annoyed look.

Ren ignored her tone. "It's just, there may be an easier way to kill one, like calling it names or something."

"I *like* decapitation" Buffy said, staring evenly at Ren "I *like* chopping off demons heads"

Ren met Buffy's stare then shook her head. "Fine. Do what you want" she paused, looking back her book "Just don't come crying to me when one decides to grow *another* bloody head" she muttered.

"Don't worry, I won't be asking you for help. I wouldn't like to compromise your position here" Buffy said, her voiced edged with sarcasm.

"Well thank you for your consideration Buffy" Ren replied, matching Buffy's tone "I'm sure you wouldn't like to compromise *my* position" she continued, receiving a glare in return.

Willow thought Giles looked as though he was going to intercede, but obviously changed his mind, visibly weighing up his chances of survival against these two women.

"Does anyone want anything to drink?" Giles said quickly and before anyone could answer he got up and retreated to the kitchen.

"I'll help" Willow offered, following just as quickly after him.

Xander stayed silent and seated but his eyes flicked warily between the two women. Buffy was gripping the arm of the chair so hard her knuckles were white and he could see Ren's jaw clench. He was quite surprised they hadn't resorted to physical violence. He had noticed several times recently that Buffy had checked herself to stop her fist from flying towards Ren, although he couldn't understand her hostility towards Ren. She kept denying it was because the PTB gave Ren the job of 'looking after him'. Buffy just kept saying "Its just something about her." Ren had tried to be friendly at first, but had given up, saying, "you can't be liked by everybody". Xander felt that was wrong. //What was not to like about Ren?// She was smart, funny, attractive. Xander sighed as he watched Ren get up and head into the kitchen //Very attractive//.

Buffy looked on a little sadly as Xander watched Ren leave her seat to join Giles before he followed after her. She sighed //Great. I get a crush on someone and they have to get a crush on someone else. Excellent timing Buffster//

Willow stopped behind Buffy, her eyes widened. Obviously Buffy hadn't noticed she'd spoken ever so slightly out loud. //Huh. Y'know that explains a hell of a lot// Willow thought, flashing back to the Bronze that night when they'd been watching Ren and Xander dance. //I thought I saw her looking at him before Ren showed//.

Willow sat back down and cast a quick glance at Buffy who was absently picking at the arm of Giles' chair. //And there was me thinking she was having her soul sucked out again//. A small smile passed on Willow's lips. //So Buffy likes Xander. Interesting//. She saw Buffy glance quickly at Xander talking to Ren and Buffy's frown when Ren giggled at something Xander said and put her hand on his arm. //I think it's best friend to the rescue time// Willow thought determinedly.


Willow arrived at Giles' the next day just as Buffy was leaving. Well, she'd come in one door and heard the other door slam. The only other person around being Ren muttering obscenities, Willow had assumed it was Buffy who had exited.

Leaving the books she was returning on Giles' table, Willow headed after her friend. She didn't have to go far, finding Buffy sitting and visibly shaking on the steps outside Giles' building.

"Buffy?" Willow stood infront of her friend "I'm not going to ask if you're OK, 'cos obviously you're not" she paused "Can I sit?"

Buffy nodded and moved so Willow could sit next to her.

"What happened this time?" Willow asked softly.

"We had an argument."

"Not really a big surprise Buff. What was it about?"

"It doesn't matter" Buffy said quietly.

"It must have matt-"

"Just leave it Will" Buffy interrupted then gave her friend an apologetic look "I'm sorry. I-I can't talk about it right now" Buffy got up "I need to go hurt something really badly" she said walking away.

Willow took a deep breath //OK, now or never//

"I know why you don't like her" Willow called after her.

Buffy turned around "What? Willow I don't have time for-"

"I know why you don't like her" Willow repeated, walking over to her friend "It's because of Xander"

"What?" Buffy faltered "W-what do you mean?"

"You like Xander."

"Well of course I like Xander" Buffy said trying not to sound panicked.

"No, I mean you *like* Xander. Like I used to *like* Xander"

"Willow-" Buffy began

"I heard you say you did"

"What? When? I never said-"

Willow pressed on. "Yesterday, you said, 'Great. I get a crush on someone and they have to get a crush on someone else'" she paused "That's why you don't like her, because Xander's got a crush on her. You *like* him"

"I-I ... w-what? No I don't- ... Oh God" Buffy groaned and hung her head in defeat "I'm pathetic" she whined.

Willow smiled and ushered Buffy back to sit down on the steps "You're not pathetic" she reassured her.

"But I am" Buffy whined weakly again.

"No you're not. Because that would have made me pathetic, and I refuse to be pathetic" Willow said defiantly and Buffy couldn't help but smile.

"So" Willow looked at her friend fondly "Come on, tell me. Really. When did you begin to see him than more than your Xander-shaped friend?"

Buffy met Willow's eyes, glad she had someone to talk to. Willow gave her an encouraging smile and she smiled back.

"Do you remember back at the beginning of college..." Buffy began.


(An hour later at the Espresso Pump)

"What are you going to do now?" Willow asked as she took a sip from her latte.

Buffy sighed "I don't plan on doing anything."

"But Buffy-"

"Willow" Buffy interrupted "It's just a simple crush."

"Yeah right" Willow scoffed.

"It is."

"Buffy, you get all wiggy *every* time Ren's name is even mentioned...see, your eye just twitched" Willow took another sip of her drink "If Xander wasn't interested in her you wouldn't be doing that" she paused "Denial is not a good look for you Buffy"


"Do you want me to talk to him?"

"What? Don't you dare!" Buffy hissed.

Willow grinned "Buffy and Xander sitting in a tree K-i-"

"Willow, stop it!" Buffy eyes darted around to see if anyone had heard her friend.

"I'm sure he wouldn't mind you having a thing for him."

"Willow, I'm warning you-"

Willow ignored her "Do you want me to set up a blind date? Well, blind for him anyway-"

"Don't you-"

"You two make a really cute couple."

Buffy hung her head "You're not going to give up, are you?" she groaned.

"Nope" Willow replied then took on a more serious tone "Buffy, I need something to do to take my mind off Oz. This is perfect."

Buffy lifted her head to look at her friend and raised an eyebrow.

"I'm not laying a guilt trip on you" Willow continued "I need a project and you need a boyfriend or at least a date. We'll both be happy."

"I don't need-"

"Yes you do" Willow interrupted "You've become 'no-fun-Buffy' again."

"I'm fun!" Buffy protested

"But you'll be more fun when you're having smoochies with Xander" Willow paused and grinned "Trust me, you'll wanna have smoochies."

Buffy went slightly pink "I-"

"Do we have a deal?"

"Willow just slow down, OK?" she paused "Willow promise me you won't do or say anything."

Willow looked at her friend's earnest expression and sighed "OK, I promise" then she grinned again "But you really should have smoochies with him."

Buffy groaned and dropped her head onto the table //Next time, deny everything//


(Later that evening)

As she headed back from patrol, Buffy absently twirled a stake between her fingers, ever alert for any danger that might happen her way, and also thinking about the conversation she had with Willow earlier.

She'd made it as far as the campus grounds before she hit trouble. She had no problem taking out the vampires. As the last one crumbled to dust, she reached a decision.


As soon as Buffy got back to her room she gently shook Willow's sleeping form "Willow wake up."

"What?" Willow grumbled sleepily and tried to focus on her friend "What?"

"Willow" Buffy took a deep breath "You're on."

"Huh?" Willow looked confused then suddenly something clicked and she beamed sleepily "Knew you'd see sense."

"We'll talk about it tomorrow," Buffy said lying down on her bed.

"'Kay" Willow whispered and both girls fell into a happy sleep.


(Next Morning)

"So you staked the vampire and suddenly knew you had to go for it with Xander?" Willow looked a little incredulously at Buffy who sat across from her on the bed.

"That's about it" Buffy replied.

"You're more complex than you look" Willow said and Buffy laughed.

"It wasn't supposed to be funny" Willow continued.

"I know. It's just this whole situation…"


"We're discussing my attraction to Xander, Willow."

Willow just grinned.

"You're loving this, aren't you?" Buffy said, smiling.

"You sound surprised."

"Well..." Buffy trailed off

"Whatever there was between me and Xander, well, it's not what it was" Willow said "I just want him to be happy and I think you two are what each other needs right now"

Buffy smiled "So what do we do now?" she asked.


"Willow you *have* to be supporto-gal. I can't do this by myself."

"Just teasing" Willow grinned "Of course I'll help" she paused "OK, we need a plan."

"A plan?"

"Yeah, you can't just throw yourself on him. You're gonna have to put in ground work"

"OK, I can do that" Buffy paused "How?"

"Let's see… OK, we're all going to that movie tonight, yeah?"


"Well, wear that really low cut blue top you have...hey!" Willow ducked as Buffy threw her pillow at her.

"I need proper suggestions Will!"

Willow laughed "It was."


(Later that evening in Xander's basement)

Willow crossed her arms over her chest. "You're cancelling on us?" she said to Xander, not hiding her annoyance.

"I'm sorry Will" Xander apologised "But I kinda already made plans with Ren."

"But we made plans for this movie trip last week!" Willow pointed out.

Xander shifted uncomfortably under his friend's annoyed look "Can't we go tomorrow" he tried to compromise.

"It's the last night" Buffy stated, her tone matching Willow's look.

"I'm sorry" Xander apologised again "But Ren'll be here soon."

"I get it" Willow said "You'd rather spend an evening with *her*"

"Willow-" Xander began.

"Don't *Willow* me Xander" she interrupted "We've hardly seen you lately and when we do you're practically trying to sit on Ren's lap"

Xander stared at her, wide eyed. "I do not!" he protested.

"Oh come *on*" Willow rolled her eyes "You drool all over her whenever you think no-one's watching."

Xander went pink "I do not" he said, albeit less convincingly than before.

"OK, fine. You don't drool" Willow put her hands on her hips. "I hope you have fun *not* *drooling* over her tonight. Buffy and I are still going" she grabbed the arm of the usually quiet Buffy then turned back to Xander "I thought you had better taste Alexander Harris" she added before exiting.


"OK, so our first attempt didn't go too well" Willow admitted as they walked towards the movie theatre.

"Willow, it *totally* *blew*"

"Hey, I didn't know he was going to cancel."

"I think it's a sign Will" Buffy said grimly.

"It's not a sign" Willow replied firmly.

"It is. It's a big, flashing neon sign with *arrows* pointing to it"

"Buffy get a grip."

"I'm making a mistake."

"No you're not!" Willow went pink when people in the street acknowledged her not so quiet outburst "We've been through this" she continued more quietly "It's not a mistake. It's a good thing. It's a happy thing. It's a good, happy Xander thing" she stopped walking and turned to Buffy "You agreed. You even wore the top I said to."

Buffy automatically crossed her arms infront of her chest "Fat lot of good it did me"

"Maybe you should have tugged it down more" Willow suggested.

"Willow! If I'd have tugged it down anymore I'd have been arrested for indecent exposure!" Buffy hissed.

"Details, details."

"Kind of an important one though" Buffy said pointedly.

"Buffy, I know it wasn't exactly an empowering female thing to do, but we needed something that would begin to take his mind off Ren and, if you hadn't noticed, that's rather a lot to take his mind off. Besides he'd never ignored your chest before."

"Yeah, but now I'll have to strip infront of him before he'd begin to lose interest in Ren, Will and don't you even think about suggesting *that*"

Willow sighed "OK. We had a set back, but now we have something to learn from."

"What?" Buffy was confused.

"We need a different approach."

"You don't say. OK, like what?"

"Hey, you're the one who likes him" Willow said, "Why do I have to think of everything?"

Buffy groaned and they continued on.


"You know Ren" Xander said, brushing aside the beaded curtain as he entered the bar "When you suggested going out, I didn't think you meant going to Willy's."

"Think of it as a field trip" she said, "Rupert said that this guy knows more than he should about the things that go on around here. I figured I could see if he knows anything that'll help me find out about to my current attachment to you."

"So still no news then?"

"Not a whisper. But-"

"Hey" called the guy know as Willy from behind the bar "I don't want you in here" he indicated Xander, waving his towel.

Xander turned to Ren "Maybe we should go-."

Ren ignored him and walked up to the bar "What's your problem?" she said, not hiding her menacing tone.

"He's the Slayer's friend, that's the problem" Willy indicated the assortment of demons seated behind them "They don't like her much."

Ren turned around and took in their unfriendly looks "Well to tell you the truth neither do I. But," she turned back to Willy "That's not why we're here."

"There's a lot of them," Willy said pointedly, noticing the majority of the demons had begun to head over towards them "You'd better go. I hate clearing up the mess from dead people. Even p-pretty ones like you."

Ren didn't turn around but she did pull Xander closer to her. She gave Willy a small smile "Listen little man. I ain't people. I'm an Aurora demon" her smile became wider when she saw the look cross the bartender's face. Xander turned and saw the demons that had begun to advance retreat hastily back to their seats, some even left.

"Glad to see our reputation still goes before us" she said still smiling "Now. I want some information."

Xander let out the breath he'd been holding as Ren began to ask questions //I love powerful women// he thought and stayed unmoved by Ren's side.


(Next evening at the Bronze)

Willow, Buffy and Xander had snagged a table and were currently sitting around it and chatting amicably, last night's crossed words forgotten. Except Willow wasn't paying much attention to Buffy and Xander's conversation, she was too busy in her own thoughts. She'd been thinking all day about what to do to help Buffy and she had come across a flaw. What if Buffy was only acting on these feelings now because of Xander's attachment to Ren? Buffy hadn't admitted it was more than a crush and Willow had been so happy and gung-ho yesterday and the day before about the fact she could help her friend, she had neglected to note that fact until later.

//I can't just let her get involved with Xander for the wrong reasons//. Willow's gaze flickered between the Buffy and Xander. //It wouldn't be fair to either of them//. She sighed inwardly //I'm going to have to talk with her. Find out how she really feels before I let it go any further//

"So what did you and Ren" Buffy tried to say the name without venom "do last night that caused you to miss our movie?"

"We went on a field trip" Xander replied, shooting a quick glance at Ren who had just walked in.

Buffy raised an eyebrow "A field trip?" she looked at Willow who had tuned back into the conversation "He blew us off for something he would have to do a report on?"

Xander made a face "We went to Willy's to see if he knew anything about any big badness brewing on the horizon."

"And did he?" Willow asked.

"Seems a bit of a long shot if you ask me," Buffy added.

"It was" Ren said sitting down "He didn't have anything interesting to say apart from how a lot of demons were making noise about those soldier boys"

"How did you know he was telling you everything?" Buffy asked Ren, trying not to glare.

"I was very persuasive" Ren replied.

"She scared them good" he continued "Very impressive."

"Them?" Willow asked puzzled.

"There were a handful of demons in there as well" Xander explained "She just told them she was an Aurora demon and they left".

Ren shrugged "I'm not popular."

//No you're not// Buffy had to try hard to stop herself from saying it out loud.

"Why did they leave?" Willow asked.

"She smells" Buffy explained, trying not to sound amused, seeing Willow's look she continued "If she's attacked by a demon and a wound is created it gives off a kind of noxious gas. It's paralysing and sometimes deadly in some cases for different types of demon" Buffy saw Willow and Xander's slightly amazed looks "What? I can be research girl."

"What about vampires?" Willow asked, "They don't breathe. Therefore no reaction to gas."

Ren shrugged again "Just try and stake them with whatever's handy. Of course vampire slaying isn't my job though."

Buffy tried not to scowl and Xander continued to try not to look at Ren.


(Later that night)

"OK so that didn't work either" Buffy said as she and Willow walked through one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries "But it's still early days. We have to expect a few problems. Well, not problems in the plural sense" Buffy continued, not realising Willow hadn't responded. "We have *one* problem and that's Ren. I mean-"

"Buffy I think we need to have the talk" Willow interrupted her friend.

Buffy gave Willow a confused look "The talk?" she repeated.

Willow sighed again "You know *the* talk" she indicated some crypt steps "Sit"

Buffy obeyed her friend and they both sat down.

"OK" Willow started "I know we talked yesterday and the day before about your feelings and such. But" she paused "That was just fluffy, girly chat. You said you were attracted to Xander but you didn't admit it was more than a crush."

"I did" Buffy protested weakly

"You didn't" Willow argued "I want to know how you really feel. I'm not going to help you unless I know why you're really after Xander."


"Let me finish. I know you said you liked him since he was sweet to you, calling you his hero and all that, but I'm getting the feeling that some of the reason you want to go after him now is because of Ren"


"It's like you've decided that if you can't have the guts to tell him about these fuzzy feelings you've been having towards him, then no other woman is allowed to go near him. You were, well, unpleasant to Anya and granted there were other reasons behind that" Willow added "And, y'know, don't even get me *started* on how you've been to Ren"

Buffy looked at the floor "Why have you been helping me if that's what you're thinking?"

"I needed to know if you were at least half serious Buffy" Willow replied softly. She gave her friend an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. I was just hoping not to have this talk because you'd tell me of your own accord what you're feeling."

Buffy continued to look at the floor so Willow wouldn't see the tear that was threatening to escape. Finally she spoke. "I don't know what I feel."

"Is it more than a crush?" Willow asked, trying to be firm.

Buffy was silent then sniffed quietly. "Yeah."

Willow smiled "Hey look, see, we made a start" she said quietly "OK. Next question. Is it because of Ren?"


"You sure?"


Willow took a deep breath "Are you in love with him?"

Buffy raised to her eyes to her friend "I don't know" she admitted "I mean I love him as a friend. A really good friend. She was silent for a couple of moments and sniffed again "I just know I *really*, really like him Willow and I just don't know what to do about it". The tear she had been holding escaped and Willow pulled her friend into a hug.

"Hey it's OK Buffy" Willow comforted her friend "It's OK"

Buffy pulled away gently "I'm pathetic" she tried to smile, wiping her eye.

"No you're not" Willow disagreed "We did this remember? You're not pathetic."

"I hope you're right" Buffy admitted "After I slayed those vamps the other night, I realised that I couldn't just let things go on as they were. I needed to make a decision."

"Yeah" Willow smiled "If it's any help, I think you made the right one."

"I think I did too" Buffy agreed, slightly happier.

"You're not angry at me for asking you are you?" Willow asked hesitantly.

Buffy smiled at her friend "No. I'm not angry" she looked warmly at Willow "I'm glad you did" she paused "I think I needed to say it out loud for my sake" Buffy paused again "Are you still going to be supporto-gal?" she asked hopefully.

"You didn't even need to ask Buffy" Willow said standing up and offering her hand to her friend.

Buffy took her Willow's hand and smiled gratefully at her friend as she stood. "Thanks Willow."

"No problem" Willow smiled back.

"So what do we do now?" Buffy asked as they continued to walk "Do we take the subtle approach?"

"I've got a few ideas" Willow grinned at her friend "Come on I'll tell you about them on the way home"


Part 3

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