Breaking the Rules

Chapter Five

Written by Joanne W


(Later that same evening)

Xander sat by himself in virtually empty corner of the Bronze. He was slouched back in his comfy chair and he was watching the other patrons go about their business.

He absently looked around for Ren. He hadn't seen her since this morning. Xander only hoped that she was still around, not abandoning her post or anything. Sighing Xander closed his eyes. He hadn't known that Ren was going to be so testy about talking about her heritage. OK, so he could have looked it up but he thought she would have told him more about herself.

As for the Buffy thing. Xander was damn sure he hadn't brought it up during their argument. Xander couldn't believe that Ren could think there was anything going on with him and Buffy. //There isn't. We're just friends//

Xander opened his eyes again and scanned the crowd again. Then he spotted Buffy. She was talking to some girls, presumably from college. Xander watched her as she laughed at something one of them said. //After all, I was only helping her out last night. It wasn't like there was anything to it, was there?// Xander sighed //It's not like I felt anything when we were dancing <<Liar>> Who the hell are you? <<The 16 year old you. You know the one that went 'yippee' when Buffy kissed you at that frat party>> What do you want? <<What do you think moron? You do realise that you're staring at Buffy don't you?>> What? No I'm not <<Are too>> Go away <<No>> Listen, I'm with Ren. I like Ren <<That's as maybe>> What's that supposed to mean? <<You *are* looking at *Buffy* right now aren't you?>> Yes, but because she's a friend <<Pfft!>> Is there a point to any of this? <<Why are you with Ren?>> Because she's nice, she's funny and attractive <<So is Buffy>> Well, yeah... why are you doing this? Even if I did like Buffy like that there wouldn't be anything to come from it. With Ren, I know she likes me the same way I like her <<Buffy wasn't *that* drunk at that frat party you know>> What? <<Why did she kiss you?>> Because she'd had too much too drink <<Like I said before...>> You know I'm not listening to you anymore <<I wonder why?>> Go away!//

Xander looked around, realising he'd spoken that last sentence out loud, but no one seemed to have paid any attention. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples then looked back to Buffy. She was still talking to her friends, then she turned away from them and looked at him.

Xander smiled and Buffy flashed him a brilliant smile back. She turned back to her friends and said something to them then began to walk towards him.

"I didn't know you were here" she said, taking in the lack of people where Xander was seated "Feel like being on your own?"

"Just doing some thinking" he said to Buffy as she sat down next to him "What about you? I thought you were on patrol tonight."

"I'm going later" she looked at him curiously "What were you thinking about?"

"Just stuff."

Buffy smiled "Any 'stuff' I can help you with?" she asked.

Xander looked at her and smiled back "I think this is something that I need to sort out own my own"

"OK" she paused "Do you want me to go so you can keep thinking?"

"No, you can stay" he smiled "I think if I do anymore thinking my head will begin to hurt."

Buffy grinned "OK, in that case do you want to dance? I promise it will be less taxing on your brain cells."

//I don't know about that// Xander thought. He looked at Buffy who had stood up and was offering him her hand. Xander hesitated for a moment before taking it and allowing himself to be pulled up.

"See" Buffy grinned "That wasn't so hard" and she pulled him towards the dancefloor.

As they danced Xander thought about what his sixteen-year-old him had 'said' to him, and a couple of things crossed his mind. The first was that when Buffy had kissed him the other night, whether she was drunk or not, he had kissed her back. The second thing which followed on from this was that it may have been a sixteen-year-old Xander that had started to kiss her back, but it was still a *Xander*.


(Next Morning) (Giles' place)

Giles was busy pottering about his home. Tiding up books that he'd been leafing through the previous day. He picked up one particularly heavy volume and promptly dropped it on his foot when the phone rang, interrupting the silence.

Giles swore and hobbled over to the phone "Hello? ... Angel? ... No, Buffy's not here. Have you tried her dorm ... Oh, you have. She may be at the University library ... Xander? He's probably at home. Why? ... No, last time I saw them they were both fine ... What do you mean you're coming here? ... Angel? ..." Giles took off his glasses "Cordelia had a what?"


(Early Afternoon) (UC Sunnydale Library)

Buffy and Willow sat opposite each other at one of the many tables situated in the library. Both were engrossed in their studies. That is until Giles came rushing up to their table.

"Thank God I found you" Giles exclaimed, not bothering with the annoyed looks he got for not whispering "We have to... well we have to go"

Buffy and Willow gave Giles puzzled looks as they closed their books

"What's wrong Giles?" Buffy asked in a hushed voice.

Giles looked around "Not here" he said pointedly "Do you know where Xander is?"

"At work?" Willow ventured putting her books in her bag and getting up.

Giles shook his head "Day off and he's not at home either" he looked at Buffy who had also gathered up her things and now stood beside Willow "I got a call from Angel" he told her.

Buffy tensed "What did he want?"

Giles looked around again "I don't quite know. His phone cut out after he mentioned Cordelia having a vision. I know" Giles said taking in Buffy and Willow's expressions "And I got the feeling it wasn't a good one."


(Half an hour later)

"And Angel is coming here?" Willow said as they entered Giles' "That means it's got to be-"

"-bad" Buffy finished. She looked at Giles "Are you sure he didn't mention anything else other than that Cordy had some kind of vision?"

"Like I said before his cell phone cut out before I could ask or he could tell me what it was about" Giles took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose "He did however, ask that if *both* you *and* Xander were OK" he put his glasses back on "I can only assume that if visions are being seen of Xander in possible danger that it has something to do with why Ren is here"

Buffy cast a nervous look towards Willow then back to Giles "We have to find him" Buffy said.

"Buffy" Giles said "I don't think it's a good idea for you to go charging off anywhere until we hear from Angel as to what this is about. Wherever Xander is, Ren is with him remember?"


"Buffy I think Giles is right" Willow said then she looked to Giles "You said that Angel asked about both of them" Giles nodded "That means that if this is to do with Xander that it also has something to do with Buffy" Willow clarified.

Giles looked at Buffy "I just can't think what it could be..." he trailed off when he heard a knock at the door "But maybe we're about to find out"

Giles walked over to his door and opened it. "Angel" he greeted "Come in"

"Thanks" Angel said, entering. "Buffy. Willow." Angel smiled softly at both girls as Giles closed the door. "Good to see you both."

"You too" Buffy replied. "Although I'm guessing it could have been under better circumstances, yeah?"

"Yeah" Angel answered, his face falling a little. "Cordelia had-"

"A vision" Buffy interrupted "We know, Giles told us. What was it about?"

Angel hesitated. "Where's Xander?"

"We don't know" Willow said.

"But we're sure he's fine" Giles added. "He's got somebody with him."

"What's this about?" Buffy tried again "Why all the concern about me and Xander. What did Cordy see?"

"There were some demons that were after both you and Xander. There was no location, no clues as to when… just that there was going to be trouble."

"Who were these demons?" Giles asked.

"The Machen" Angel answered "Otherwise known as-"

"The Keepers of the Written" Giles finished "Oh dear."

"You know of them?" Angel said. "Then you can guess why-"

"Excuse me" Buffy interjected "Would anyone mind telling me who these demons are? You know, seeing as how they're after me?"

"The Machen Bhren" Giles took a deep breath "They're a self-imposed body of demons. They like to make sure anything that is written to happen, well that it happens."

"Written?" Buffy said her eyes flicking between Angel and Giles "Like what?" she asked, though realising that she probably already knew the answer.

"Like prophecies" Angel said bluntly.

"You mean if someone was prophesised to die and they didn't..." Willow trailed off and looked at Buffy who continued for her.

"Because somebody brought them back" Buffy finished.

Giles looked at Buffy "You were supposed to die Buffy. It was written in the Codex."

"But I'm still here" Buffy pointed out the obvious.

"Thanks to Xander" Willow said.

Buffy turned to Giles "These 'Keeper's" she said, "You never mentioned them after I killed the Master"

"Nothing has been heard of them over the last century" Giles replied "I didn't think ... I mean I thought" Giles paused "I thought they had disappeared."

"You thought they had disappeared?" Buffy said trying to keep her voice even. Giles stayed silent.

"We need to find Xander" Angel said, "I'll go" he walked to Giles' door "If I see anything demon near him I'll kill it" and Angel left before anyone, mainly Buffy, could protest.

The other three stared after him.

"I'm going too" Buffy said, heading over to the door.

"Buffy wait" Giles said and Buffy turned around to face him and he continued "If these demons are looking for both you and Xander... wait a minute did Angel just say he'd kill anything demon near Xander?"

"Ren" Willow said, her eyes widening.

"I'm going to find Xander" Buffy said "I find Xander, I find Ren. Hopefully before Angel" and before Giles could say anything else she left.

Giles and Willow stared at the door then looked at each other.

"We need to find out if there's any way to take these demons out" Giles said going over to his bookcase. He glanced over the covers of a few volumes and handed Willow some.

"Are these demons particularly nasty?" Willow said worriedly.

Giles looked at her "Buffy was supposed to die. Xander wasn't meant to bring her back. Buffy and Xander broke their rules."

"What'll happen?"

"There is not a lot documented" Giles said then indicated the books "That's why we're going to look them up and try and find out as much about them as we can"

"Do you think Xander and Buffy will be OK? And what about Ren."

"Ren won't let anything get in the way of her doing her job" Giles said and Willow had to try and stop herself from saying anything.

"In fact, I'd be more worried about Angel" Giles continued "But I'm worried about Buffy and Xander and the best thing we can do at the moment is this" he held up a book.

Willow sat looked at the book then back up at Giles "Let's hope we can find something, huh?"


(Late afternoon - same day)

Xander closed his eyes as he sat and leant back into the bench, quickly opening them again when he sensed someone standing in front of him.


"Ren" Xander said coolly "Didn't expect to see you for a while. Calmed down have we?"

Ren just looked at him "Well I was going to come and speak to you last night at the Bronze but you were *busy* with Buffy"

Xander looked at her evenly "We were just dancing. I don't know what your problem is."

"You really don't have a clue do you?" Ren said.

Xander stood up to face her "You know, I never pictured you for the jealous type Ren. Me and Buffy are just *friends*"

"Is that what she told you?" Ren bit out.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"You really *don't* have a clue do you?" Ren said again "You just can't see what's right in front of you can you?"

"Well I'm looking at you right now and I'm not liking what I see" Xander took a breath "I thought this was just going to be a ' no strings' kind of a deal when I hooked up with you" he paused "I didn't expect it to get like this"

//Yeah, well neither did I// Ren looked at him "So what are you saying?"

"I'm saying I think it's about time we called it a day."

"So you've had your fun have you?" Ren said "Well I'm *so* glad you enjoyed it"

"Hey, don't get like that" Xander said "We both knew that this was going to end as soon as this whole thing was over. I'm just ending it a little earlier."

"Well I wonder why?" Ren said angrily "It wouldn't have anything to do with a certain blonde would it?"

"What is it with you thinking there is something between me and Buffy?"

"What is it with you thinking there *isn't*?" Ren retorted "You know maybe this is the best thing we can do. I don't want to be playing second fiddle to anybody" Ren turned to leave then looked back over her shoulder "Bye Xander. I'll see you around."

Xander watched Ren as she left then turned and began to make his way back to his basement, thinking about the things that Ren had said. Needless to say this confused Xander even more.


Ren got about two hundred yards before she realised that she had a job to do. She turned around and could just about make out Xander in the distance. As much as she was hurting right now she couldn't abandon what she had come here to do. Pushing any feelings she had to the back of her mind she began to follow him.

A few minutes later she sensed someone following her. Ren began to slow her pace but still kept an eye on Xander. Then the feeling disappeared. Ren turned around and scanned her surroundings. It was too quiet. She turned back around to continue following Xander but a figure blocked her path and before she could block it a high kick sent her flying ten feet.

Immediately she got to her feet and rushed at the figure, blocking another high kick aimed at her she caught the figure's leg and twisted it, bringing him to the ground. She kicked her attacker in it's mid section which elicited a growl from him.

"Vampire" Ren said and she went to kick the vampire again but it caught her leg and pulled her to the ground before leaping to its feet. Ren felt feet forcefully smash into her spine and she let out a cry of pain.

"Demon" Angel said.

Ren gritted her teeth against the pain in her back and lashed her feet out at her attacker. Angel lost his balance and as he fell to the floor Ren scrambled to her feet. She reached inside her jacket for a stake, having carried one ever since she arrived in Sunnydale. It wasn't there. She scoured the floor immediately, spotting it at the same time as Angel. They both reached it at the same time. Neither one wanting to relinquish their hold they wrestled on the floor. Angel managed to get on top of Ren but she somehow managed to bring her knees up to her chest and kicked out. She managed to get enough distance between herself and Angel to be able to reverse their positions but he still had hold of the stake.

"Y'know this is really getting us nowhere" Ren said "Why don't you just let me stake you and I can get on with all the things I had planned for this evening"

"Well dusting me would really get in the way of my agenda as well" Angel replied "And it's kind of an important evening."

Ren managed to get hold of more of the stake, unfortunately the pointy end wasn't aimed at Angel.

"So" Angel continued "Did your plans involve that kid you were following?"

"Don't see that as any of your business vampire" Ren replied as she managed to knee Angel in the chest "In fact I'm wondering why you bothered to attack me at all. I thought vampires preferred humans as snacks"

"I like to vary my diet now and again" he said, taking Ren by surprise and dropping his hold of the stake. He rolled away from underneath Ren before she had time to plunge the wood through his heart.

They both leapt to their feet and took a fighting stance. They were both evenly matched as they blocked each other's attacks. Occasionally one or the other managed to land a punch or a kick. Ren had just managed to get in a high kick, which had sent Angel to the floor when her jacket pocket began to ring.

Angel saw Ren hesitate but he found it hard to stand, the last kick that had felled him had really hurt. He watched Ren as she looked at the stake in her hand then back at him and was unprepared for her reaction of dropping the stake and taking off.

Angel got to his feet and looked down the street where he just glimpsed her turning a corner.

"Man she's fast" Angel stated and he began to sprint after her.


Ren's phone was still ringing as she was on the run. She could hear the vampire behind her but she needed to answer this call. There was only one person who had that number and in all likeliness this was the call she had been waiting for and also dreading for the past few months.

Ren knew she needed to find somewhere crowded so she could take the call with out the vampire attacking her. She guessed that it wouldn't want to cause a scene in public so she headed towards the Bronze.


Angel was about fifty feet behind Ren and having trouble keeping up with her. He knew of only a handful of demons that could move that fast, among them vampires. He knew that she definitely wasn't a Khorus demon. The fact that she didn't have three horns growing out of the top of her head gave that one away. Several other possibilities were discarded due to certain other attributes and Angel was left with one other possibility that took on human form and it confused him. What was an Aurora demon doing following Xander?

He realised that she was heading towards the Bronze and he knew why she was heading there. Angel slowed down. Whatever her agenda was, she was no longer stalking Xander and Angel needed to find him fast. He gave up his chase and began to make his way to Xander's.


Ren pulled the still ringing phone out of her pocket as soon as she reached the outside of the Bronze. She pushed the button to answer the call and put it to her ear.

Ren didn't need to speak, she only listened. As she disconnected, she stared at the phone, her face ashen.

"Oh fan-fucking-tastic" she said quietly "Why couldn't it have been something simple?" she took another deep breath and took off towards Xander's.


Xander shoved his hands in his pockets as he walked home. Not because of the cold but because this was where he carried his cross and stake. He knew Ren was somewhere out there but he still wanted to feel safer.

He sighed. He'd been thinking about what Ren had said in their heated exchange only shortly earlier. //Did Ren mean that Buffy likes me? Ren wouldn't get upset about nothing// he sighed again //Oh this is just too…// his thoughts were interrupted by someone calling his name. He turned around and saw Buffy heading across the street towards him.

"Xander" Buffy said again coming to a stop infront of him "Thank god I found you"

"Why, what's up?" Xander asked then he took in Buffy's harried countenance "It's bad isn't it?"

Buffy hesitated then looked him in the eyes "I'd say it rates a bit higher than bad" she paused "Angel's here. Apparently Cordelia had some kind of vision she gets from the same people who sent Ren here" she paused again "Basically we're both in it up to our necks"

Xander took all this in "Why are we in it up to our necks? And why hasn't Ren said anything?" he added looking up the street "She should know about this" he looked back to Buffy "Shouldn't she?"

"Xander I don't know. All I know is some guys are pissed because you brought me back after the Master killed me."


"Giles said these guys… the Keepers or something, wanted to get to us because you weren't supposed to save me" she paused "Apparently they're very fussy about people ignoring prophesies and the like"

Xander took his hands out of his pockets and ran his hands through his hair "And this has something to do with why Ren is here?"

Buffy shrugged "I don't know. But chances are it is" Buffy looked around "Where is she?"

This time it was Xander who shrugged "I don't know," he admitted "I saw her a little while ago, but now…" he trailed off.

"Xander, she may be in trouble. Angel is out looking for you. I was supposed to stay at Giles but I couldn't take the risk that something could happen to you before Ren or he could stop it-" she broke off seeing Xander's strange look. She cleared her throat and continued "Angel said he'd take care of anything demon that got near you and he doesn't know that Ren is here for the same reason he is"

"We have to find them" Xander began to head back the way he came "Ren!" he shouted into the night "Ren, if you're there come out. We need to speak to you!"

Buffy caught up with him and scanned the area looking for Ren. She hadn't appeared. This time Buffy tried "Ren, this is important! It has to do with why you're here!"

They both waited for a few moments but they still heard and saw nothing.

Xander turned to Buffy "I don't think this is good" he stated, running a hand through his hair "What do we do? Do we go back and try to find her?"

"I don't know Xander, but I do know that it probably isn't a good idea for us to be standing out in the open like this with the news we've just got. I may be the Slayer but" she paused "You're not"

"Buffy I can-"

"Xander" Buffy interrupted "We don't know what these guys look like or how many there are of them. The only weapons I've got on me are my strength, my witty repartee and a small, sharp, pointy stick and-"

"And you might as well be wearing a target around your neck" Angel finished as he joined them "I thought you were going to stay-"

"Have you seen Ren?" Xander interrupted.

Angel stared at him "Who?"

Xander didn't know whether to be relieved at this statement or not. "She's about yay tall" he indicated his own height with his hand "Dark hair, pretty and probably following me."

Buffy saw Angel's face show recognition "You've seen her?" she asked.

"We may have run in to each other" Angel replied warily.

"What happened?" Xander asked angrily "Where is she?"

"I-" Angel looked between Buffy and Xander "What is this?" then he turned to Xander "You knew this demon was following you?"

"It's kinda her job" Buffy explained "Tell us what happened"

"Like I said we ran into each other" Angel replied and saw Buffy and Xander exchange glances "But she took off" he added quickly "She seemed to have some kind of urgent phone call that took precedence over fighting with me. She headed over to the Bronze" Angel looked between Buffy and Xander again "And what do you mean 'it's kinda her job'?... Wait a minute..." he trailed off, remembering something else about Aurora demon's traits. He looked at Xander "She's your guardian?"

Xander nodded "We didn't know why at first" he paused "You say she had a call?" he asked Angel and the vampire nodded. Xander turned to Buffy "Her cell phone" he explained "She said only her contact had the number" Xander paused "Three guesses as to what it was about."

"Then we head to the Bronze and get her" Buffy said.

"She's probably long gone by now" Angel said "If she got the phone call you think she did she's probably looking for you" he told Xander "If you were heading home that's probably where she's headed-"

"Or maybe she's just wondering who the bloody hell you are."

All three looked across the street to see Ren. Angel hesitated and took a couple of steps towards her and offered his hand "My name's Angel"

Ren walked over to him but didn't take his hand "The soul man huh? Didn't figure you for the kick first, ask questions later type."

Angel didn't reply and Ren turned to Xander "I got a call." she said.

Xander met her eyes "Your people?" he ventured.

"My people" Ren confirmed as she tried to keep her emotions in check seeing him standing so close to Buffy.

"It's these Keeper people isn't it?" Buffy said.

Ren gave her a surprised look "How did you know that...?"

"It would seem your people are my people too" Angel explained "Do you know much about the Machen Bhren?" he asked Ren.

"Unfortunately yeah" she replied "I've had a run in with some of them before. But that was over a hundred years ago."

"So not recently then?" Buffy said "I think we definitely need to get back to Giles-"

"Uh guys" Xander interrupted "Is it me or has it just got a whole lot colder?"

Buffy felt it almost as soon as Xander said it. It felt as if the chill was spiralling itself around her body. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered "This is not your average chilly breeze" she said looking at the others.

Ren and Angel scanned the area "I can't see anything" Angel said then looked to Ren "Can you?"

"Not a thing" she said as she shoved her hands in her pockets "But then again that may be a bad thing."


Ithral watched as the foursome kept scanning their surroundings as they headed off back to the Watchers.

He smiled to himself. They may know that his employers were after them now. But they had no idea of what Ithral would do to get the Slayer and the mortal boy to them.


Giles let out a frustrated sigh as he slammed shut yet another one of his many books.

Willow looked up at him from the passage she was reading "Still nothing?" she asked.

Giles shook his head "Nothing we didn't already know" he gave a short sigh and got up to retrieve another one of his volumes. He lingered by the bookcase and glanced back at Willow who had returned to studying her book. Giles sighed inwardly. He knew Willow was greatly concerned about her friends and she had every right to be. This particular course of events was not what Giles had even thought about as a reason for Ren and even Angel to be here. As knowledgeable as he was about many things demon and other worldly, Giles did not know an awful lot about the Keepers of the Written and anymore thoughts were interrupted by a knock at his door.

"Hey Giles, open up!" he heard Buffy call "We're back."

Giles quickly opened his door and ushered all four in.

"Hey" Buffy said as she and the others were seated "Its not cold any more"

"Cold?" Giles gave her a questioning look.

"When we all met up, we had a really creepy cold feeling" Xander said "It was like it followed us all the way here-"

"-and now it's gone" Buffy finished "Do you think it's anything to do with all this?" she asked.

"It's hard to say" Giles said, "Willow and I have found out very little."

"Well, Angel filled us in on the basic details and I have to say I'm not a big fan of the way these guys operate" Buffy said, "I don't like this idea of some kind of trial these guys want to put us through just because Xander saved my life."

"Yeah" Xander added "I don't get the impression these guys take their cues from Judge Judy"

Angel turned to Ren "You said you'd had a run in with these people before. What happened?"

Ren hesitated then spoke "I was hired to retrieve an artefact this guy had. I was about to get my hands on it when these demons burst into the room. I thought that they were there for the same reason was and I attacked. My mistake. I barely survived and there were only *two* of them. I was lucky to get out at all" she paused "These guys are nasty. You're gonna need more than stakes and a couple of handy blades to take them out"

Buffy looked at her "Then we'll get what it takes" she turned to Giles "Giles what weapons-"

"Buffy, slow down" Giles said, knowing that he was right to think that this would be her course of action "We can't just go barging in on them and attack them."

Buffy was about to protest when Angel agreed with Giles.

"He's right Buffy" Angel said "As much as I'd like to, we can't just attack them. For one thing we don't even know where they are-"

"Actually" Willow interrupted "We may be able to find that out" the others turned to look at her and she continued a little hesitantly "I found this spell a-and with a few little changes here and there we can pinpoint their location o-or at least where they last were"

Buffy looked between Giles and Angel "Looks like 'find and kill' is still a viable option" she said.

"Excuse me Little Miss Slay Happy, but aren't you forgetting something" Ren said bitterly "Even if that spell were to work, there are only three, assuming soulboy is sticking around, that can even think about going up against these guys. We don't even know how many there are" Ren glared at Buffy "You're not the only one affected by all this remember?"

"I remember, Ren" Buffy said angrily and matched Ren's glare.

"Hey!" Xander said "I *am* here" he paused as Ren and Buffy backed off "Arguing is not going to get us anywhere" he said more quietly.

"Xander's right" Angel said and looked between Buffy and Ren "I don't know what the problem is between you two, but bickering is just going to hold us back" Angel turned to Willow "Do you think this spell can help?"

Willow nodded and Giles sighed "If it does it could certainly be of great help" he said "But we need to plan" Giles looked at Buffy "I know we need to, well... get them before they get you, but-"

"I know" Buffy conceded "OK, we work out a plan" she paused "Anyone got any ideas?"


An hour later they had decided upon a rough turn of events. Willow and Giles would perform the spell after figuring out what changes would need to be made to it to make it specific to the group's needs. Then, if the spell worked, Angel would do recon. Once it was established exactly what they would have to deal with, only then would they draw up battle plans.

Of course they all knew this would only work if Buffy and Xander weren't targeted in the meantime.

Buffy hadn't been surprised that Xander had refused to leave and go back to his basement. Xander had argued that it was just as safe at Giles' as it was at home. What she had been surprised about was that he wouldn't even to listen to Ren who had done everything but practically drag him out the door.

Currently Willow and Giles were out retrieving ingredients needed for the spell. Xander had reluctantly volunteered for research detail. Angel and Ren opted for weapons check and Buffy, well Buffy had decided to keep Xander company.

Buffy used a free hand to rub her eyes as the other hand leafed through the book infront of her. She sighed and glanced over at Xander who sat across from her. She had expected Xander to be at least attempting to make sense of the passages he was reading, but he wasn't. He was looking at her.

Xander's eyes immediately flicked back down to his book when his eyes met Buffy's. He began to move his eyes across the page in an attempt to get back to what he was doing.

A few moments later, unable to help himself he looked back up and across at Buffy. She had her head buried back in her book. Xander's eyes lingered on her for a few seconds before getting back to his own research.

He never saw the small smile on Buffy's face.

The two demons were situated in a corner a few feet away from Buffy and Xander. Angel studied Ren as she went through Giles' weapon's collection while he went through the small armoury he had thought to bring. He hadn't met any Aurora demons before. Oh sure he'd heard about them, but they were considered more of a myth than anything else. Not many demons considered the possibility of a breed of demons that were dedicated to keeping order between other breeds. Well, some kind of order. As for the guardian aspect, that was a bit more realistic. Who wouldn't want a superhuman bodyguard whom, if attacked, their wounds would be able to kill?

Angel liked to think that he was a good judge of character, mainly because he'd come across so many people in his rather long lifetime. And, discounting their first meeting, Angel thought Ren was fighting for the right side. Although watching her now Angel felt she was a little edgy. Angel raised an eyebrow when he saw her knuckles grow white whilst handling a nasty looking double-edged blade. OK, maybe a lot edgy.

"You OK?" he ventured. Ren's eyes flicked up towards him and she just looked at him. "You seem a little… tense" he continued.

"I'm fine" Ren said quietly.

"Really?" Angel challenged.

Ren's eyes narrowed "Listen, I'm really not in the mood to be chatty, OK?"

Angel still persisted "Does this have something to do with Xander?"

Ren looked at him incredulously and Angel amended himself "What I mean is, you two" he lowered his voice "Personally"

Angel saw emotions flicker across Ren's eyes before they became blank "I don't know what you're talking about" she lied and pointedly flipped an extremely sharp stake deftly through her fingers.

Angel didn't blink "What ever you say" he replied and returned to the task at hand.


(Half an hour later)

Willow and Giles had returned and had immediately taken to one corner of the room, going over the copy of the spell that Willow had written out, seeing where they had to make the changes. Angel had then left with an invitation from Buffy to enter her and Willow's dorm room to retrieve Buffy's weapons chest.

Everyone continued with their tasks in hushed tones, the only break coming when Giles called Ren over to himself and Willow to assist them in altering the spell.

Buffy's attention was drawn away from her decreasing pile of books to Xander who had got up from his seat and she followed him into Giles' kitchenette.

She watched him as he fixed a glass of water. "You OK?" she asked, keeping to the hushed tones they'd all adopted that evening.

Xander took a sip of water before answering her "I just read something not nice about our demon guys" he said, also keeping to hushed tones. He put the glass down on the counter then held out his hand infront of him "You know, I wish I was still cold" he said "That way I could try and hide that fact that I'm shaking" He gave Buffy a weary smile as he scrunched his fingers into a fist and then laid them flat on the counter.

Buffy smiled back and placed her hand on top of his "It'll be OK" she said "We'll get these guys"

"I know" Xander said. He was silent for a few moments and then looked over to Ren who caught his eye and looked at him sadly for a split second before turning her attention back to Giles and Willow. Xander then turned his gaze to the floor.

"What's up with you and Ren?" Buffy asked and Xander looked back up at her "You two have hardly said a nice word to each other all evening" she continued "Usually we have to pry you two apart with a crow bar. Did you have an argument?"

Xander looked at the floor again then back up at her "Yeah we did" he admitted "I... I said some things and-"

"You wish you hadn't?" Buffy finished.

"Yeah. I mean no. I mean-" he broke off "I still wanted to say them but... just a little more nicely" Xander sighed "I just hope this doesn't interfere with… her job" he finished quietly.

"It won't" Buffy said reassuringly "Whatever has happened it won't do that" Buffy threaded her fingers through Xander's "*Even* if it does" she paused "You'll always have me OK?"

Xander held her look and gently squeezed her hand "I know"

Buffy smiled "OK" she moved to take her hand from Xander's and he began to relinquish his hold before changing his mind and holding on to her hand.

"Buffy-" he began then he stopped.

Buffy studied his face "What?"

Xander took a hesitant breath "The argument Ren and I had" he paused again "It was about you"

Buffy's eyes widened slightly and she tried to control the emotions that threatened to make themselves obvious "Me?" she cleared her throat "You had an argument about me?"

"Well there were other things, but I think you were the main point" Xander replied.


"Ren seems to think-" he took another hesitant breath "Ren said that you might have... that you might-"

Xander never finished. Both their attentions had been drawn to the door where Giles, who neither had noticed get up, was ushering Angel in.

Xander looked back to Buffy "I think we should do this later"

Buffy nodded OK and they looked at each other for a few seconds before taking their still joined hands off the counter. They untangled their fingers and Xander gave her a small smile before heading out of the kitchen.

Buffy followed a couple of moments later. As she passed Angel he caught her arm briefly.

"Are you alright?" he asked, "You seem a little distracted"

Buffy looked at him "I'm doing OK" she replied honestly and gave him a small smile as she joined Xander in continuing with research.

It was then she realised that since Angel had returned to Sunnydale, and even under their current circumstances, she'd barely thought about him at all.


(Next morning)

Xander wasn't fully awake until he smelt the coffee that was being waved under his nose. He opened one bleary eye and examined the cup of black liquid before mumbling something unintelligible and looking up with both eyes at the person who was holding it.

"Morning" Buffy said.

Xander sat upright on the couch and looked around. He was still at Giles'. Xander looked at his watch, which read seven o'clock //OK, so I got three hours sleep//.

"Should I be worried that we're the only ones here?" he asked, taking the coffee from Buffy.

"We're not" Buffy replied, sitting next to him on the couch "Ren went to the bathroom about a minute ago"

"And everyone else is hiding in a cupboard?"

Buffy smiled "No. Giles took Willow home and Angel-" she broke off and paused "Giles and Willow managed to do the spell while you were sleeping. The demons are at the mansion"

"Angel's old place?"

Buffy nodded "Angel went to check it out"

"Why didn't you go with him?" Xander asked.

"I wanted to, but Giles figured they might be watching us and if I went, it might alert them that we knew where they were."

"Oh" Xander replied simply and took a sip of his coffee "How long have you been up?"

"I didn't actually get to sleep" Buffy admitted "Couldn't" she added with a small shrug.

They sat in silence for a few moments before Xander spoke "Buffy" he began "About what I said last night" he paused "Or what I didn't get to finish-"

"About what Ren said about me?" Buffy finished for him, trying to ignore the fact that her heart was beginning to quicken "OK, what did she say?" Buffy asked hesitantly.

Xander took a breath "She said... she said-" Xander broke off and cleared his throat "In not so many words" he rushed out the sentence "She said you liked me"

"W-well" Buffy faltered "Of course I do. You're my friend"

Xander cleared his throat again "I think she meant it in the more-than-friends sense"

"T-the more-than-friends sense?" Buffy fiddled nervously with her sleeve "Really?"

"Is she right?" he asked, "I mean do you..."

Buffy looked at the floor and scuffed one of her toes along the carpet.

"I'll take the fact that you haven't run screaming round the room denying this as a yes then shall I?" Xander said as Buffy remained silent.

Buffy looked up at him, feeling her cheeks grow hot "I think you should" she said softly.

Xander's eyes widened slightly as he took Buffy's admission in. He put his coffee down on the floor, for fear that if he gripped the mug any harder it might crack in his hand. He let out the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding "You mean you do?"

Buffy nodded and smiled slightly "This is freaking you out isn't it?" she said.

"No, no" Xander said, "The fact that a bunch of demons want to kill me is freaking me out. This is just-" he paused "This is just weird"

"Well, weird can be good" Buffy said.


"I-" Buffy broke off and frowned "I don't know" she gave him an embarrassed smile "I'm having trouble forming coherent sentences at the moment"

"That's usually my forte" Xander said, his lips turning up at the corners.

After sitting in an awkward silence for a few moments Xander spoke.

"So... so how long have you uh... seen me in the more-than-friends sense?"

Buffy looked down and tugged at her sleeve again "Since... since the beginning of college" she mumbled.

"But that was months ago" Xander said somewhat incredulously.

Buffy looked back up at him "I know" she said weakly.

"You mean all this time you've...?" Xander trailed off.

Buffy gave him a brief smile "I know. I'm Buffy, Chosen One and Defender of the Earth and I'm too chicken to tell a guy I like him"

Xander sagged back into his seat and said nothing.

"Well first it was a crush" Buffy admitted, realising that she couldn't get more embarrassed than she already was "But it... well it developed"

Xander turned to look at her and Buffy held his gaze for a few seconds before dropping it.

"It wasn't just because I was jealous of Ren" Buffy continued then she paused, adding quietly "I know you two are... well… together"

"We're not" Xander said quickly

Buffy looked up at him "I saw you Xander. I saw you and her" she said sadly.

"We're not" Xander repeated and Buffy dropped her eyes again and he sighed "We were. But we're not now" Xander paused "That was the other thing we uh... discussed yesterday"

"Oh. So you're not..."


"Oh" Buffy paused and looked at him "You OK with that?"

"It was my instigation, so yeah" Xander trailed off and they sat again in silence, both looking around distractedly.

Shortly Xander spoke "Buffy, can I ask-" he broke off and tried to get Buffy to look at him. When she did, he continued "That frat party. *Exactly* how drunk were you?" he asked.

Buffy let out a nervous chuckle and got up off the couch. She walked a couple of paces before turning to face him, her arms crossed over her chest.

"Promise you won't hate me?" she said hopefully.

Xander stood up from the couch and narrowed his eyes, but his tone was light "Buffy..."

"I wasn't drunk" Buffy winced slightly when Xander raised a questioning eyebrow "I *know*" she continued "I know it wasn't fair and I know I made you feel bad and that well, I-" she broke off and looked at him "B-but you kissed me back" her tone was both accusing and challenging.

Xander still held on to Buffy's look but shifted uncomfortably for a second "Well I uh... I..." he cleared his throat "I may have done"

A smile played on Buffy's lips as she took a step towards him "You kissed me back" she said again matching her previous tone but making sure it came out lighter "Why?"

Xander hesitated "A sixteen year old told me to" he said.


"Just my own personal conflict" Xander explained "He's been speaking to me a lot lately"

"Do you listen to him?" Buffy asked, playing along.

"On occasion" Xander replied "And since your current revelation, the stuff he's been saying recently has made a *lot* more sense"

"I'm glad" Buffy said "Is he saying anything now? Say for instance 'Buffy deserves a proper answer'"

Xander was silent and studied Buffy's face. She was looking at him with a slight twinkle in her eye, but it did nothing to hide the hopeful look behind it. //What do I say?//

"I'm waiting" Buffy said, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear.

Xander was still silent and looked at her a little longer //You tell her the truth//


//OK, the truth// Xander ran a hand through his hair then said simply "Because I wanted to"

"Y-you w-wanted to?" Buffy composed herself "You wanted to?" she repeated.

Xander felt his cheeks grow red and he looked down at the floor and began to examine his shoes.

"How long had you wanted to?" Buffy asked.

Xander looked back up at her "Just at that moment" Xander said "But... but since then-"

"Since then you've been wanting to do it again?" she finished, plucking up the courage to take another step closer to him.

Xander looked down at Buffy. Their bodies were now only millimetres apart. He swallowed nervously "Yeah."

"Same here" Buffy said holding his gaze "Y'know I'm free for the next coupla minutes" she leaned closer to Xander, dropping her arms to her sides "Y'know if you wanted to-"

"Do it again?" Xander replied softly "I think I can spare a coupla minutes" he said as he gently caught hold of Buffy's wrists.

"Well that's good" Buffy said as Xander pulled her just a little closer and as soon as she had almost lost herself in his eyes, she felt his lips against hers.

The kiss started off light but Buffy managed to pull Xander closer and the kiss deepened. Buffy gently pulled away one hand that Xander still had hold of and brought it up to his neck, her fingers tangling in his hair. Xander dropped his hold of Buffy's other wrist and placed his now free hand lightly on her waist, holding her to him as they continued to kiss.

Buffy was the first to pull away "I think that went well," she said breathlessly.

Xander placed his hands so they rested on her shoulders "I'd say so, yeah" He moved his hands down to Buffy's upper arms "Say, have you been working out?"

Buffy looked at the glimmer in his eyes and failed to hold in the fit of giggles that followed. Xander quickly followed suit and they both collapsed laughing on the couch, briefly forgetting the reason they were surrounded by stacks of Giles' demon lore and a small armoury of weapons.

They didn't forget for long, as a few minutes later a weary looking Giles re-entered his house.

Buffy and Xander managed to compose themselves "Hey" Buffy greeted "Willow get back OK?"

Giles nodded "She was practically asleep by the time we reached the door."

"You should get some sleep too," Xander said, getting up and moving some books off a chair so Giles could sit down.

Giles gave him a grateful look "Believe me Xander, the thought had crossed my mind" he said and sighed as he sat down.

Xander turned to Buffy "You should get some rest too, y'know" he said and sat back down next to her.

"I know" she smiled at him then looked at Giles "I think I can take his bed"

Xander smiled as he saw that Giles had quickly fallen asleep in his chair "I'll throw a blanket round him"

Buffy patted Xander's hand, as she moved to get up. Xander caught hold of her fingers and she turned to look at him once she stood upright.

"Sweet dreams" he said.

Buffy flashed him a smile and Xander let go of her hand, allowing her to walk to Giles' stairs. Once there she smiled at him again then began to climb.

Xander reached behind him and pulled the throw off the back of the couch. He got up and draped it around Giles, taking off his glasses and setting them on the table. Xander looked up to Giles' bedroom and smiled before going to sit back down on the couch again. He closed his eyes and thought back to only a few minutes previously //Buffy kissage//

He smiled to himself and opened his eyes again. He picked up the next book in his pile and began to thumb through it before he frowned. //How long has Ren been in the bathroom?// Xander closed the book and headed over to Giles' bathroom.

He knocked on the door "Ren?"

No answer.

"Ren, are you OK?"

Still no answer.

"Ren?" Xander tried the door. It was open. "Ren I'm coming in."

Xander pushed open the door slowly then it wouldn't open anymore.

"Ren?" Xander looked around the doorframe and into the bathroom. Then he paled as he saw Ren lying motionless on the floor.


Part 6

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