Breaking the Rules
Written by Joanne W
(A few minutes previously)
Ren pulled her jacket tighter around herself as she stood up. She couldn't even muster up enough energy to glare at Buffy as she passed her on her way to the bathroom, trying to let her know that she'd noticed the fact that Buffy had barely kept her eyes off Xander's sleeping form. But Buffy just ignored her anyway.
As Ren shut the bathroom door behind her she immediately shivered. Ren hunched over the sink and her knuckles grew white where she gripped the sides of the basin. Bowing her head she then screwed her eyes shut, trying to block out the pain that was beginning to invade her head. The coldness that she and the others had all felt the previous night had disappeared from everyone except her. And what had at first felt like wisps of cold air constantly drifting around her had, in the last few minutes, transformed into shards of ice that were inching their way into and then through her body.
Ren opened her eyes and looked at herself in the mirror. She was paler than usual and her eyes that Xander had said glittered were now dull and lifeless.
//I've been so stupid// she berated herself and then shivered as she felt the cold begin to creep up her spine //I should have said something last night. Me and my bloody pride. I can't handle this// Ren winced and her knee buckled. The cold as well as causing her pain was also draining her energy. She'd tried to heal herself but it was fruitless. This cold wasn't natural and her healing powers were limited against magick. Her knee buckled again //I've put people's lives in danger. They're counting on me. Xander's counting on me//.
Ren tried to squeeze back the tear that threatened to slide down her cheek. She failed. //Oh god. Xander// she sniffed //He's counting on me. What am I going to do?// Ren gasped as she felt ice cold points finally beginning to penetrate her skull and take further and more rapid hold over the rest of her //Whatever has happened between us I still have to protect him. However much I hold against him for ending our so-called relationship like he did, I still have my duty to do// Ren took a deep breath, trying to gather what energy she had left. She released the steel grip she had of the sink and prepared to leave the bathroom and tell the others what was happening to her.
She didn't get far. As soon as she let go her knees gave way and she sank to the floor. Ren tried to cry out but no sound would form itself in her throat. She could no longer feel anything below her waist. The cold had taken hold fast and was close to numbing her entire body. Her face contorted in pain and wrapping both arms around her middle she doubled over. Blind panic took over and she searched around her for something to knock over to attract attention but her vision was going and also there was nothing she could reach without having to draw her arms back to herself after wracking cold travelled through her body.
A minute later Ren could no longer feel any pain as she was now completely numb. She toppled over from her knees onto the floor. She could hear Xander and Buffy giggling as she slipped into unconsciousness.
Xander sank to his knees beside Ren "Buffy! Giles!" Xander reached out to her neck and felt for a pulse. He found one, but it was incredibly weak. He took hold of Ren by the shoulders and shook her none too lightly.
"Ren! Come on wake up!"
He got no response.
"Xander what's..." Buffy trailed off when she saw Xander kneeling by Ren "Oh god, what happened?"
"I-I don't know" Xander replied "I just came to check on her and I found her like this."
Buffy swallowed nervously "Is she..." Buffy trailed off.
"No" Xander replied as he scooped his arms underneath Ren and started to lift her up "She's got a pulse" Xander struggled trying to manoeuvre Ren so he could lift her properly.
"Here, Xander let me" Buffy moved to take over Xander's hold on Ren "Wake Giles up."
Xander relinquished his hold of Ren and darted quickly out of the bathroom.
"Giles!" he shouted at the older man, still asleep where Xander had left him "Giles, its Ren" he shook Giles' shoulder "There's something wrong."
But Giles merely mumbled something unintelligible and shifted in his chair.
Xander shook him harder by both shoulders this time "Giles!"
"Xander, what's wrong?" Buffy asked anxiously as she laid Ren on the couch.
Xander turned to her "It's Giles. He won't wake up."
"What? What do you mean he won't wake up?"
"Exactly that" Xander said as Buffy joined him.
"Giles!" Buffy shook him as well "Giles if you don't wake up I'm setting fire to your guitar!"
Still no response except more mumblings.
"Xander" Buffy stated "This is not of the good"
Xander looked to where Ren lay deathly still on the couch "I was already way ahead of you with that thought" he said. Xander walked the few paces and crouched by the couch. He brushed a few loose strands of hair off Ren's face then touched his palm to her forehead "She's so cold" he said softly "She looks dead" Xander automatically felt for a pulse again although he could see her chest rising and falling slightly. Her pulse was still thready.
Xander turned to Buffy who had now crouched down beside him "What do we do?" he asked.
"We try not to panic" Buffy said evenly then stood up, pulling Xander up with her.
"Sorry Buff. No can do" Xander said "I started panicking a few *months* ago when Ren first got here. At the moment I'm on the verge of completely freaking out and running about the room waving my arms and screaming"
"So, you too huh?" Buffy gave him a weak smile.
"Oh no. No, you can't freak Buff" Xander put his hands on her shoulders "We need one sane person around here."
"OK, OK." Buffy agreed "I'll put the freaking on hold."
"Good" Xander took his hands off her shoulders and looked at both Ren and Giles then back to Buffy "So, what do we do? Do we keep trying to wake Giles?"
"I don't think either of them are going to be waking up anytime soon. Not that I don't think they won't" Buffy added hastily "But I think that maybe it's some kind of spell and I'll give you three guesses as to who put the whammy on them"
"Our friendly neighbourhood demons who are after our heads?"
"That would be them" Buffy exhaled slowly "OK. We call Willow. Get her here, maybe she can reverse them or something or anything. You use the phone upstairs to call her and I'll use the other to call Angel, let him know what's happening."
"That is if anything hasn't happened to them" he said anxiously.
Buffy gave him a look "*No* freaking, remember? I don't want to think about anything happening to anyone else, OK?"
"OK" Xander replied shakily.
"Now go phone" Buffy indicated upstairs and as Xander ran over to and up the stairs she searched Giles' counter for the number Angel had given them.
A few minutes later Xander came back down and looked at Buffy who was replacing the receiver.
"Buffy I couldn't get any answer from Willow" he shot her a extremely worried look "I let it ring and ring and your answerphone never cut in…oh god Buffy what if something's happened? What if she's hurt and can't get to the phone?"
Buffy hurried over to him and pulled him into a hug "Xander, I'm sure she's fine" she pulled away from him slightly and looked up at him "We just have to stay positive, OK?"
"OK" Xander said quietly "OK, positive. What happened with Angel?"
Buffy looked down then back up at him "I couldn't get through to him either. But his cell phone was diverted. I got through to Cordelia and she's going to keep trying while we sort things out this end."
Xander leaned forward and rested his chin on top of Buffy's head "This just gets better, doesn't it?"
He pulled away and looked at her "OK, I'll repeat my question from earlier - What do we do now?"
He was answered by a knock at the door. Both he and Buffy shared anxious glances before Buffy headed over to the table where the weapons were spread out. She picked up a battle-axe and walked quickly and quietly to the door. She turned back to look at Xander who had procured himself a crossbow then turned back and opened the door and inch. After seeing who it was she pulled it quickly open all the way and dragged Willow in then let the door slam.
Xander put down the crossbow and immediately pulled his friend into a bear hug "Oh thank God you're all right" he said.
Willow hugged her friend back "I don't think I am OK" she said in a quiet voice. She pulled away from Xander "I felt it go"
"Felt what go?" Buffy asked putting a hand on Willow's shoulder.
"My m-magick. I was sleeping, I-I don't think for very long, and I kinda felt suddenly drained and then I woke up. I knew something was wrong so I tried some stuff but I couldn't even do a simple incantation or-or even float a pencil" Willow was close to tears "I came back here. I-I didn't know what else to-" she broke off her eyes flicking over to Ren "Oh god Ren's dead and… and Giles…" her eyes were wide as she looked between Buffy and Xander.
"She's not dead" Buffy reassured her as Willow walked over to where Ren lay "And Giles seems to be under some kind of spell."
"We thought that maybe you could be able to do something" Xander said joining Willow "But that kind of seems out of the window-"
"Now I've lost my mojo" Willow finished. She studied Ren "Do you think it’s a spell that's put Ren this way?"
"I don't know" Xander said crouching down again beside his guardian "I mean she's not the same as Giles."
"What happened?" Willow asked.
"We don't know" Buffy replied "She seemed fine went she walked past me to go to the bathroom, then a little under ten minutes later Xander found her unconscious"
Willow moved over to Giles "I think they're both spells" she said "But without any magicky know how…" she trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence.
"Guys" Buffy said and her two friends turned to face her "I'm not liking where is going."
"Totally with you there" Xander said.
"What I mean is that Ren and Giles are incapacitated and the hope we had of helping them has now vanished from Willow. We haven't heard from Angel…"
"They're taking us out" Xander finished her trail of thought and Buffy nodded.
"OK, I'll try this again" he continued "Now what do we do?"
"We wait" Buffy stated simply.
"We wait?" Xander repeated "How's that gonna help any?"
"We wait until sunset" Buffy explained "Angel might not be able to go anywhere at the moment. Y'know with it being daylight and all"
"Then why hasn't he called?" Xander asked "I really think that would be the polite thing to do under these circumstances"
"Xander-" Buffy began.
"Buff, sunset is hours away. I feel like I'm just gonna be sitting here waiting for the big nasties to come and kill me! I wanna get them first!"
"So do I Xander, but without knowing how may there are or how they're equipped-"
"I get that Buffy, but-" he started.
"Listen to me Xander" Buffy interrupted him back "This is a *big* thing. We can't just go charging in there. *I* just can't go charging in there" Buffy gestured to Ren, her voice getting louder "Look at her Xander. Do you really think she's up to being your guardian right now? I don't really see it myself, so that means it's me, OK? And don't start on at me about being able to take care of yourself, I know that you can but there was a reason that Ren was here to help and that means that those 'big nasties' as you called them are exactly that. Big and nasty" she paused for breath "And right now I'm the only person equipped enough to deal with them since Ren is out cold, literally, Giles is doing a really good impression of-of sleeping beauty" Buffy's voice began to tremble "Willow can't even pull a-a rabbit out of a hat, I don't even know if Angel is still a-alive or not and I want to be out looking for him but I can't leave here..." Buffy trailed off as Xander pulled her into a hug.
"Hey, it's OK" Xander said softly "It's OK"
Buffy sniffed into his shoulder "It's not OK, I yelled at you."
"You didn't yell" Xander replied and they both pulled away a fraction to be able to look at each other "You just expressed yourself unquietly."
Buffy laughed slightly "Is unquietly even a word?"
Xander shrugged "But, however you said it, you still made sense" he admitted "This is a lot for all of us to deal with, plus" he paused "You're the Slayer and I guess this is your territory"
"I know how you feel Xander" Buffy said "I want to get these guys too, but it's difficult-"
"So we sit tight and wait for deadboy, huh?"
"That's about it" Buffy replied "But if he's not back by just after sunset…" Buffy trailed off, not wanting to think of the possibilities. She laid her head on Xander's shoulder.
"Angel's a big boy Buff" Xander assured her "He can take care of himself"
"I know" Buffy pulled back slightly "And in the mean time we make a battle plan" she paused "In case something *has* happened"
"You mean I get to come?" Xander asked.
"The way I figure it Xander, is that if Ren was up and operational I'd tell you to stay here, or anywhere else where these demons are *not*, and stay with her. But since she's not, that means you're no safer here than you would be if you came."
"Well, when you put it like that" Xander gave her a half smile "How can I not say no?"
"But if it gets too gruesome you get out. No arguments, OK? I will drag you out kicking and screaming if necessary" Buffy said firmly.
"Buffy-" Xander started.
"Promise?" Buffy looked at him earnestly.
Xander looked back at her. "Promise."
Willow looked at her two friends "Hey, do I get to come?"
"No" Buffy and Xander said in unison then Buffy continued "We need someone to stay with Ren and Giles. You'll be safe here, they think you're already uh… taken care of … so to speak"
Willow looked to Ren's still form then to Giles sleeping "OK, you're right" then she looked back to Xander and Buffy "But you two are going to find it hard to do *anything* if you don't let go of each other"
Buffy and Xander exchanged glances then pulled away from each other awkwardly.
"It's just that-" Xander started to explain.
"Save it Xander" Willow said lightly "Even in this time of madness you two make a cute couple"
"We're-" Buffy began.
"Well not right at this moment" Willow said.
"Willow" Buffy said warningly
"Um, ladies" Xander said "Could we do this later?" he looked between the two of them meaningfully "Kinda got other things to deal with at the moment here."
"You're right" Buffy agreed then looked to the phone "Let's hope we hear from Angel soon, huh?"
(Eight hours later)
There had still been no word from Angel.
Willow watched as Buffy started to set up a handful of weapons by one of Giles' doors. She knew Buffy was keeping her cool for Xander's sake and appreciated her friend's gesture. Buffy was naturally concerned for Angel's welfare but she was trying to keep a clear head.
Willow moved to the railing at the top of Giles' staircase, having moved upstairs to keep an eye on Giles who had been relocated upstairs. She looked at Xander who sat on the floor beside Ren who still lay on the couch. His head was resting against her arm and he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. Both he and Buffy had managed to grab only a few minutes of sleep every so often.
Buffy looked up and saw Willow looking at Xander. She caught Willow's eye and smiled. Willow smiled back and Buffy headed up the stairs.
"Hey" Buffy said as she and Willow sat on the bottom of Giles' bed. Buffy looked at Giles "Any change?" she asked Willow, although she could see there wasn't.
Willow shook her head "And Ren?"
"Still the same" Buffy replied "Xander stays near her 'cos it' hard to tell sometimes if she's still breathing" Buffy paused "He's really worried about her"
"He cares about her" Willow said "She's important to him. Don't tell me you wouldn't feel the same if it were Angel laying there."
"If it was" Buffy said sadly "At least then I'd know where he was" Buffy paused "But I know what you mean" she paused again "Do you know Willow it's strange. Since Angel arrived, all I've felt towards him is friendship. Never once have I thought about him like the way I used to. I mean I still care a lot about him, but... but it's not in the same way."
"'Cos of Xander?"
Buffy nodded then rubbed the bridge of her nose "Did you know that he and Ren aren't together anymore"
"I kinda worked that out" Willow replied "What happened?"
"They had a fight. Xander ended it between them."
"Well I have to hand it to Xander, he certainly has great timing. I'm really sure Ren would have had more of inclination to protect him after he dumped her."
"She wouldn't have let that get in the way" Buffy said.
"Probably not" Willow agreed "But I got the impression she cared a *lot* about him"
Buffy sighed and cast a quick glance at Xander and Ren. "So do I" Buffy turned back to watch Giles.
"Buffy?" Willow asked tentatively after a few moments "Do you really think it's such a good idea for Xander to go with you?"
"Yes I do" Buffy replied simply "I know if it was an option I'd have him stay with Ren, but its not. Xander comes with me."
"Do you really think trying to pick these demons off one by one is going to work?"
"It's the only way I can see to do it at the same time as making sure Xander can handle himself" Buffy answered.
Willow nodded then looked at Buffy mysteriously. "Do you think it'll make a difference in the fight?"
Buffy was confused "What do you mean?"
Willow took a deep breath. "The fact that you're in love with him."
"It's not going to make a difference" Buffy replied "I-if anything..." she trailed off slowly, something slowly dawning on her face.
"You just realised what I said didn't you?" Willow said softly.
Buffy nodded numbly.
Willow's head tilted slightly to the side "You didn't correct me did ya?"
This time Buffy shook her head.
"So… what are you going to do now?"
Buffy gazed down at Xander before looking back to Willow. "I have no idea."
(2 hours later)
Xander had been dreaming until he became aware of the vague sensation that someone was sitting next to him. Xander's eyelids fluttered open and he turned to see Buffy beside him on the floor by Ren.
"How long have I been asleep?" he asked sleepily, rubbing his eyes.
"About and hour and a half" Buffy replied "I thought you could do with the rest"
Xander looked at her hopefully "Any news?"
"Haven't heard a whisper" Buffy replied sadly "I managed to get through to Cordy though. She said she thought a couple of times that someone answered when she called him but it got disconnected like a second later."
"Not good" Xander turned to look at Ren "How are they both doing?" he asked Buffy.
"Damn" Xander swore, rubbing his temples "How much longer 'til sunset?"
"About an hour, maybe less"
"Are we all tooled up ready for action?"
"Uh huh" Buffy nodded "We won't be able to take much, but we'll manage" she pointed to a large crossbow sitting on Giles' table "You get Angel's brand spanking new toy. I don't want you getting too up front with these guys, at least until we know the best way to dispatch them. Leave the face to face stuff to me" Buffy became a little more animated as she spoke "You can grab a blade or two of your choice, plus we have a few magicky concoctions that I found amongst some of Ren's stuff."
"You think they'll work?"
"Ren was very thorough" Buffy said, "She labelled them all. Willow and I looked them up and we know what most of them do. We've got four or five paralysing potion thingies, although we don't know how long they're supposed to last. There are two powders that cause blindness, and um… some other stuff that generally makes your enemies easier to kill" she smiled "Which is always good. But there's one that we couldn't find out anything about" Buffy continued "It's probably one Ren put together" she got up and retrieved a one of two small vials containing a pale orange metallic looking liquid from a bag on the table and gave it to Xander "Have you seen it before?" Buffy asked.
Xander held the vial in front of him and examined it. On the label something was scribbled in Ren's handwriting.
"'Whoosh'" Xander read out loud.
"Can't figure out what it means" Buffy said, "You got any clues?"
"Whoosh" Xander said again, thinking "No I… oh, wait a minute…" Xander trailed off and chuckled softly.
"What is it?" Buffy looked at him, confused "Do you know what it is?" she asked.
"It's kind of an incendiary device" Xander explained, standing up next to Buffy.
"Like a bomb?" she said peering closely at the object in Xander's hand "If it is, it's kinda small"
"It's not a bomb" Xander handed her back the vial "It's… well at least I think it is, it's a focusing point" Buffy gave him a 'huh?' look and he continued "Ren taught me this spell, except I kinda had trouble controlling it. She said all I needed was something for the spell to, well, 'attach' itself to when it was incanted and the problem would be solved."
"A spell? What *kind* of spell?" Buffy asked.
Xander grinned "I'm a regular little firestarter."
"Fire huh?" Buffy grinned back "Cool. I can *definitely* work with that"
"What are you two smiling about?" Willow asked, climbing down the stairs and joining them "Angel call?"
Buffy and Xander's grins faded and Buffy shook her head.
"Then what?" Willow's brow furrowed.
"Xander's got a 'thing'" Buffy explained.
Willow raised an eyebrow "A thing?"
Buffy held up the vial for Willow "Just a little something Ren whipped up for Xander. It's a focus for a spell she taught him."
"It's just basically setting fire to things without fiddling about for matches or a lighter" Xander tried to play it down.
"Well, congratulations on your 'thing' Xander" Willow said, smiling "I'm very happy for you."
"Not that you needed one *anyway*" Buffy said pointedly, meeting his eyes and smiling. Then her eyes widened "Hey! If you've got the mojo thing working for you and-and with Willow's help-"
"Buffy, I can see where you're going here" Xander interrupted "But I only know *one* spell. I'm not going to be any help to anyone."
"But-" Buffy turned to Willow who then interrupted her too.
"He's right Buffy" Willow said "He may have kinda mastered this spell that Ren taught him but he still needs a focus for it. Xander's not practised enough to be able to reverse whatever has happened to us" Willow sighed "I mean it'd take someone with my skills and possibly someone better..." Willow trailed off, her eyes widening "Oh, oh, oh! I've got it!"
"Got what?" Buffy asked alarmed by her friends sudden wild gesticulating.
"Oh, I've been so stupid! I can't believe I didn't think of it before!" Willow exclaimed.
"Willow what is it?!" Buffy said as she placed her hands on Willow's shoulders to stop her jumping about.
"Tara" Willow said, "She could do it! She knows a lot more than I do. I bet she could help!"
"Do you really think she could?" Buffy asked, "That's great Will!" Buffy paused "Just one thing though"
"Who's Tara?" Buffy and Xander said together.
Realisation set on Willow's face "Oh, that's right you-you haven't met. Um, well she's my friend and she's a-a witch and she's *really* good"
"Really good?" Buffy repeated and Willow nodded "Ring her" Buffy said, "Get her here ASAP" Willow nodded again and Buffy turned to Xander as Willow headed for the phone "The bright side is definitely looking brighter" she smiled.
Xander smiled back "We are *so* gonna kick their asses" then he frowned slightly "It's still gonna be *we* isn't it? I mean I have a 'thing' now."
"You and your thing will still be needed Xander" she said "But you have to be careful. I mean *really* careful, OK? No getting up close and personal."
Xander gave a short laugh "Buffy, I think you've permanently burned that into my brain by now."
"Well it's about time" Buffy said smiling then her face took on a more serious look "Xander, I'm just saying it because I care about you. You mean a lot to me."
"You mean a lot to me too, Buff" Xander said.
Buffy couldn't help but blush slightly. She looked at the floor and scuffed her toe along the carpet "Xander-" she broke off and took a deep breath before looking back up at him "Xander, I know I may seem like the queen of bad timing asking you this but" she held his gaze "But what about what's happening between us?"
Xander was silent for a few moments, merely studying Buffy then he spoke "I think that maybe you are the *princess* of bad timing-" he stopped when Buffy's eyes dropped to the floor. He reached out with one hand and placed his fingers underneath her chin, tilting her face upwards so she was looking at him again "*But*, I don't think that anytime in the now or imminent future is going to be a *good* time" he let his hand drop from her chin to his side again "And on the matter of us" Xander gestured between himself and Buffy then cleared his throat "I mean I would... I mean I'd like to, uh... very much so... with you if you still-"
Xander didn't finish as Buffy had covered his lips with hers. Xander, deciding that Buffy had obviously agreed with what he had been trying to stutter out, wrapped both his arms around Buffy's waist, as she had hers around his, and pulled her closer as their kiss deepened.
Willow hadn't yet seen her two friends locked together. She replaced the receiver and said a silent "yes" due to the fact that Tara had been more than willing to come over and help them. She turned around to break the news to her friends, stared for a few seconds then said another silent "yes".
She gave them a few moments to get it out of their system. Then she gave them a little while longer. And a little while longer still. Willow began to get impatient //Do they not need to breathe?!// "Hey guys?"
"Guys?" Willow raised the tone of her voice "Guys?!"
Still getting no response Willow darted to Giles' kitchen and poured a glass of water. She carried it until she stood about a foot in front of her two friends and then threw it over them.
With water dripping down their faces, Buffy and Xander turned to glare at Willow who smiled sweetly back "Tara said she'd help"
Buffy and Xander reluctantly pulled away from each other but were otherwise happy in the news that Willow had given them.
"Willow, that's great" Buffy said happily "How long 'til she gets here?"
"She'll be about half an hour" Willow replied "Just so you know, she does know about the whole demon thing. Not the you being a Slayer" she said to Buffy "But the whole her being a witch thing means she knows about a lot more stuff, so Ren shouldn't be a problem."
"Can she get you your powers back?" Xander asked.
Willow nodded then smiled at Buffy and Xander "You two are just too cute for words" then her brow furrowed a little "You are a couple aren't you?"
Buffy hesitated then looked at Xander who responded by taking her hand and giving Buffy a smile "Yeah, I guess you could say we're heading that way" Buffy smiled back and Xander looked from Buffy to Willow and raised an eyebrow "And I'm guessing by the fact that you don't seem at all shocked is because you already knew something about this?" Xander asked.
Willow smiled "Uh huh" then her smile faded "Now back to the other matter at hand" she said "Tara said that she'd have to help me first. That way it'll be easier to get Giles and Ren back but Tara said she didn't know how long that would take until she was here and had actually seen them."
"But she can definitely do it?" Buffy asked hopefully.
"With my help" Willow replied "It's not going to be a problem."
Ithral stood outside Giles', concealed in the shade of the building. He smiled to himself. Everything was going smoothly, just as he had envisaged it. The young witch and the Watcher had been taken care of, this being of course after they had been allowed to cast the spell to find out where Ithral and his colleagues were. The young mortal's guardian had been a little more difficult as there weren't many ways you could harm an Aurora demon but intense cold usually did the trick. Most interesting had been the vampire that he had found checking out the mansion. Ithral had been interested to know why a vampire would want to help the Slayer, but he did not worry about it too much, the Slayer obviously trusted it. And if someone was helping the Slayer they had to be incapacitated.
Of course they would all be returned to their normal states once his employers had the Slayer and the boy in their hands. Ithral had not been in contact with his employer's for a while, but assumed they would be pleased about his decision to incapacitate the people who would pose a threat to their mission here.
Ithral glanced up at the sky and smiled again. The sun was beginning to set. He looked down at his attire that covered the body he had assumed and shook his head. Ithral would never understand the human's fixation with clothes. He touched his hand to his hair. Also he would never understand humans fixation with vanity. He smiled once more to himself and headed out of the shadows and over to the Watcher's home.
Willow, Buffy and Xander all turned to the door when they heard the knocking on it.
"It can't be Tara" Willow said turning back to the other two "It's too early"
Buffy picked up a short sword from the table and moved silently but quickly to the door "Who is it?"
"It's me" came the voice from the other side.
Buffy opened the door quickly "Angel!" she exclaimed.
//Well at least now I know the name I'm supposed to have// Ithral thought as he crossed over the threshold of the Watchers home and past the Slayer who had just opened the door for him.
Pleased with himself for guessing correctly that the vampire he was impersonating had already been invited into the Watchers home, Ithral went about the task of answering the questions that the three young mortals put to him.
"Where have you been?" Buffy asked him "We've been trying to get in touch with you for hours."
"I was attacked as I left the mansion" Ithral answered. This was fairly true, except it had been the real 'Angel' who had been attacked and then captured "I managed to get away, but I was hurt and needed to rest up before I even ventured out into near daylight. I'm sorry I couldn't get in touch."
"But we've been ringing your cell phone, didn't you hear it?" Xander asked then began agitatedly "I mean, a 'Hey, I'm hurt but at least I'm not a pile of ash' would have been nice. We've been tearing our hair out and Cordy's been worried sick. Oh, and in case you *hadn't* noticed that is Ren laying practically comatose over there" Xander indicated the couch then pointed upstairs "Also we can't wake Giles' up and Willow has lost her magick"
Buffy put a hand on Xander's arm "Breathe, OK?" she said to him then turned to Angel "That's everything I would have said" she told him "But more pleasantly..." Buffy trailed off, narrowing her eyes at Angel "Are you OK?"
"I'm fine" Ithral replied "What happened to make them that way?" he asked in what he hoped was a concerned tone "No, wait don't tell me. The Machen happened."
"In a nutshell" Buffy replied somewhat carefully "But we have..." she trailed off "But we don't have any news on that front" she finished, ignoring the confused look Willow and Xander were giving her "But now you're here we can get on with the killing of bad guys stuff, right?" Buffy didn't wait for him to answer "OK, Willow" she turned to her friend "Can you do one last rain check on Giles please?"
Willow looked at her friend, confusion still evident on her face "Buffy, I thought that Ta-"
Buffy cut Willow off "Will, we discussed that remember? And I thought we decided that it wasn't going to work."
Xander was alert enough to catch on that Buffy was holding back information for a reason "We did Will" he said, "There wasn't going to be enough time to do it, remember?" Xander smiled "Come on " he said taking her arm they walked to the stairs "Let's see if there's any change in G-man."
Xander exchanged a silent understanding with Buffy as he headed up the stairs with Willow who was still a little confused.
"What was that all about?" Willow hissed to Xander as they reached the interior of Giles' room "Why doesn't anyone want to mention the fact that we can reverse these spells?"
"Buffy obviously has her reasons" Xander hissed back, then added, "I just... don't know what they are"
Willow sighed "Look, I'll stay up here for a while. You see if you can find out what these reasons are, OK?"
"OK" Xander turned to leave but Willow pulled him back "Remember, Tara's going to be here soon."
"Got that" Xander turned to leave again but Willow caught his arm again "What?"
Willow took a step forward and hugged him hard "Just in case I don't get a chance to do this later" she mumbled into his shoulder.
Xander closed his eyes and hugged Willow closer to him before pulling away. He opened his eyes and looked at her fondly for a few moments before planting a kiss on her forehead "I'll see you *later*, OK?"
Willow nodded "You'd better get back down there" she said quietly
Xander her hand a comforting squeeze before he headed back down the stairs.
"I don't suppose there's any change?" Buffy asked as Xander joined her again.
Xander shook his head "Still sleeping like a really big baby" he turned to look at Ren "I don't think she'll be waking up anytime soon either" he added in a sad tone.
"We'll fix everything after we get back" Buffy said, "We'll choke the cure out of one of those demons if we have to, OK?"
"You think they'd tell you?" Ithral asked.
"Oh, I'll make *sure* they do" Buffy said, fixing a look on Ithral "So Angel, why don't you start picking out your weapons from the small arsenal on the table. I need to talk to Xander. Alone."
"OK" Ithral replied "But don't be long" he added as he turned around to the table.
"We won't" Buffy dragged Xander quickly past the table, taking Ren's bag on the way. Pulling them both into Giles' bathroom she then tossed the bag to Xander as she closed the door "These are all of Ren's potions" Buffy told him "Hide them in your pockets or something"
Xander looked at her "*Hide*?"
Buffy sat down on the edge of the bath "I thought you knew what was happening?"
"No" Xander said sitting down next to her "I figured *something* was up. I just don't know *what*" he paused "What *is* up?"
"That's not Angel through there," Buffy said
Xander looked at her and blinked "OK. Not *exactly* what I was expecting the explanation to be" he paused "Are you sure?"
"Xander, my Slayer sense is off the chart. Plus I… well, I know Angel and" she paused "Whoever or whatever that is, it's not Angel. Trust me."
"I do" Xander said, "I always do" then taking in Buffy's sad look he added quietly "Do you think real Angel is… de-"
"He's not" Buffy said quickly "I'd…know" she paused "But whatever has happened to him, it's bad enough to stop him from being here"
"So… what do we do now?" Xander asked "This has kinda thrown our plan out of the window."
Buffy took a breath "We still go" she squeezed Xander's shoulder reassuringly after Xander's eyebrows reached his hairline " *They've* planned this. They want us there tonight. We're going to go, but we're going to go with the upper-hand" Buffy gave Xander a smile "We're going to kick their asses. No-one tries to pull one over on me."
Xander looked inside the bag. "Are the uh… *special* ones in here?"
"Yup" Buffy confirmed "Oh, what about Willow?" she asked Xander who had stood up and had begun putting the vials of magic potions into the pockets of his jeans.
Xander looked back up at her "She knows something's up. She won’t say anything though. She also says to remember that Tara will be here soon."
"I know" Buffy said standing up as Xander finished concealing the vials about his person. She let out a deep breath "You ready?"
Xander looped his arm through Buffy's "As I'll ever be" then he paused "Just one thing though. If we're not trusting him, why are we giving him free run of our weapons?"
"So he thinks we trust him" Buffy replied as they exited the bathroom "You'd better hurry up" she nudged him slightly "He might take your crossbow."
Xander shot her a look before his eyes travelled to where the fake Angel was admiring the said crossbow. Xander unlooped his arm from Buffy's and darted quickly over to the table, snatching the bow from the other man's grasp "That's *mine*" he said glaring at the Angel impersonator.
"You should know better than to take his toys" Buffy said to 'Angel' "Now, you two play nice while I go talk to Willow" Buffy smiled when Xander gave her a little wave as she began to head up the stairs.
Willow was perched on the edge of Giles' bed "Hey" she said to Buffy as her friend joined her "What's going on?"
"Basically" Buffy said quietly "That's not Angel down there. Xander and I are dealing with it and we're going to play along. And just for the record" Buffy added "I don't think Angel's dead. Just hurt."
"That was a lot of bad information to get in ten seconds," Willow said worriedly.
Buffy put a reassuring hand on her friend's shoulder "At least we know we're going into a trap" she said "Plus, I know that mansion like the back of my hand. Xander and I are going to be fine. Especially if you can get Ren and Giles back on form. And you, of course" she added before standing up "We have to get going Willow…"
"I know… before Tara gets here" Willow stood up as well and hugged her friend "Be careful. Don't get dead" she said quietly
Buffy held back a tear "I'm not going to" she pulled back to look at her friend "Dead that is" she smiled half-heartedly, then leaned in to hug Willow again "We'll go shopping tomorrow, OK?"
Willow sniffed "OK" then she watched the back of her friend as she jogged back down the stairs. Willow sat back down on the bed and looked at Giles' "Why do I get the feeling something bad is going to happen" she whispered to his sleeping form.
(A short while later)
Xander stuck close by Buffy's side as they made their way to the mansion. They both were walking a few paces behind the fake Angel.
Buffy was carrying the weapons bag containing Xander's crossbow and it's bolts, including a few poison tipped bolts that they had slipped in unnoticed. Both Buffy and Xander had picked similar battle-axes and Buffy had also included a double-edged sword with a curved tip that she knew would be pretty nasty. She also had two daggers with magical properties that she had managed to hide about herself. One of which was in her left boot and the other smaller one nestled in her cleavage.
The only change she'd made to her outfit of jeans and tank top had been a jacket of Willow's that was 'specially woven material', so Willow had said, which probably meant that it had been mojo'd too. Buffy had a feeling that there wasn't anything of Willow's that hadn't been altered like that. But Buffy was glad of it. She was also glad that Xander had found, and was wearing, a tunic top of some sort that had been hidden in the back of Giles' closet which had a lining of metal plates. Hopefully nothing sharp was going to get through that. Not that she was planning on letting him get near anything sharp.
Buffy reached out and took Xander's hand, giving it a comforting squeeze. He turned to look at her and they exchanged silent words of reassurance before turning back to watch the impostor striding ahead infront of them.
Buffy tensed slightly as they got within a hundred yards of the mansion on Crawford Street. This place had lots of different memories for her, ranging from good to extremely bad and at this moment in time - nervous. She still held Xander's hand and felt him grip it tighter as they got ever closer.
When they were about ten yards from the driveway up to the mansion, Buffy and Xander saw the figure infront of them turn around to face them "Do you want to go in this way or around the back?" Ithral said, "You never did tell me exactly what your plans were"
Buffy placed the weapons bag on the floor then knelt by it. She took out the already loaded crossbow and handed it to Xander along with a handful of bolts that Xander placed in a bag he had slung around his waist, while Buffy took out the curved sword. She stood up slowly and faced the impostor "Well there was a reason for that" she said as she tested the weight of the sword in her hand. She walked up to him until she stood a foot away "Do you want to know what it is?"
Ithral studied her "The plan or the reason?" he asked carefully, suddenly regretting his decision to let the Slayer carry all the weapons.
Buffy smiled "Both" and quick as lightening she kicked Ithral in his midsection.
Ithral, taken by surprise staggered back and fell against a tree. He saw the boy raise the crossbow and aim it at him as the Slayer walked to stand over him.
"Did you like my answer?" she said cheerily as she watched Ithral get to his feet "'Cos I thought it summed everything up quite well"
Ithral narrowed his eyes, shook his head and Angel's handsome face morphed into Ithral's normal one which consisted of a reasonably human appearance. That is if you discounted the extremely hooked nose, the fact that his skin was grey and pustular and of course the third eye in the middle of the forehead. "You're smarter than you look" Ithral hissed
"You're not" Buffy said grimacing "You think you could fool me?" she held the sword up in front of her "You really didn't do your homework."
"I knew everything I thought I needed to know" Ithral replied, circling around Buffy, but still aware that Xander had a weapon trained on him "You and your boy there broke the rules. You have to be dealt with" Ithral gave her an evil smile "You think that it's just me here? You think that we aren't waiting for you?"
Buffy held Ithral's glare as well she could by only having two eyes "Me and 'my boy' as you call him have stopped an Ascension, we killed The Judge, we've stopped the world from ending on numerous occasions. *You think* that you and your two-bit band of demons can stop us? Then I'm afraid it's you that's been *severely* mislead" Buffy swung the sword heavily at Ithral's torso. Ithral dodged and missed her attempted blow but felt a stabbing pain through his left shoulder. He hand immediately went up to his damaged body part and pulled out the bolt that Xander had fired. He threw it to the ground as he dodged another blow from Buffy then laughed at Xander as he resumed his circling around Buffy.
"You think that little scratch will kill me mortal?" Ithral cackled "I think *you* have been severely mistaken"
Xander still kept the bow trained on Ithral and smiled thinly at the demon "Well I guess that all depends on what kind of poison was on that arrow tip, doesn't it"
Buffy grinned at Ithral "Oops. I hope it wasn't a deadly poison Xander" she said with mock concern.
Ithral glared with all three eyes at the two mortals "You think that by killing me it will all be over? Even if you kill all of us it's not over. We are merely the bringers. The Keepers have not yet arrived" Ithral stumbled slightly, the poison taking effect.
Buffy took advantage of the opening Ithral had created by his disorientation and landed a blow with her sword on his torso, the hooked tip of the blade causing more damage as she dragged the sword back across Ithral's chest.
Ithral sank to his knees, unable to stop the blood that was now gushing from his wound. He looked up at Buffy "It's not over yet" he choked out "You two alone will not be able to defeat the rest."
Buffy frowned and kicked Ithral in what she hoped was his genitals "But it's not just us two" she said indicating herself and Xander "You really didn't do your homework did you, or else you'd know that Willow's not the only witch in Sunnydale"
Xander joined Buffy and stared at Ithral, now lying on the floor "Soon we won't be doing this alone."
"Yes you will" was the last thing Ithral managed to say before Buffy swung the sword again, taking his head off.
"OK" Xander said, "I didn't like that last bit he said. Please tell me that was demon tough-guy talk Buff."
Buffy put down the sword and took hold of Ithral's feet and proceeded to drag the body into the nearby bushes "It was demon tough talk" Buffy said "Pass me his head"
Xander grimaced and gingerly kicked Ithral's head towards Buffy, who then sighed, picked up the head herself and tossed it into the bushes.
"But he said the Keepers, the real demons, weren't even here yet" Xander handed Buffy the bag of weapons
"Then *if* he was right, we'll wait until they show" Buffy said picking up her sword again "In the meantime we've got other demons to kill" Buffy turned around and begun to walk in the opposite direction from the mansion.
"Where are we going?" Xander asked, jogging to her side.
"Secret tunnel" Buffy stopped and turned to face him "You still on for this?" she asked.
Xander loaded another bolt into the crossbow and grinned "Lead on sweetheart."
"Buffy and Xander did *what*?!" Giles exclaimed as he sat up and stared at the two witches perched on the edge of his bed. The reversal spell that they had cast on him had had an immediate effect and Willow had informed him of their current situation.
Tara backed away slightly and looked across at Willow who tried to placate Giles.
"T-they went to the mansion" Willow said, then added more firmly "Buffy knows what she's doing, Giles"
Giles ran his hand through his hair then rubbed the rest of the sleep out of his eyes "But does Xander?" he said, getting up.
Willow stood up as well "Hey!" she said indignantly and Giles turned to look at her and she continued "Xander can handle this"
"Willow, this is a lot diff-" Giles started.
"Giles" Willow interrupted "They've gone, it's not like we can do anything to bring them back" she looked at Tara then back to Giles "*But* what we *can* do is give them all the help we can, which consists mainly of getting Ren better, OK?" Willow then huffed and walked past Giles and began down the stairs.
Giles looked after her then turned back to Tara who smiled nervously at him then tentatively held out her hand. "Hi, I'm T-Tara."
Giles smiled warmly and took her hand, shaking it gently "Rupert Giles. Nice to meet you."
Xander winced as Buffy pulled him up from the floor of the small room they had arrived in. Then winced again as she admonished him.
"OK, *what* did I tell you before?"
Xander rubbed his now bruised shoulder "Uh, to start wearing tighter jeans?"
Buffy sighed exasperatedly "Apart from that."
"Let you do the one on one stuff" Xander said begrudgingly "I know, I know. I just thought... I just wanted to help you."
Buffy's expression softened "I know you do, but I'm the one with super powers remember?" then seeing Xander's look she added "But I do appreciate the fact that you do help me. I couldn't do what I do without you guys" Buffy leaned and kissed Xander lightly on the lips and received a smile from him. "Now" she said, turning to look at the two demons that they had just killed "These two must have been on guard."
"Uh huh" Xander agreed, reloading his crossbow "First two since we've been *in* this house of horrors"
"But it also means they knew about the way we came in" Buffy said, "I was hoping they wouldn't."
"Well" Xander replied "That fake Angel guy said that they *were* waiting for us. That they knew we were coming."
"Well I'm just hoping that they thought he was going to bring us in the front way" Buffy replied "Hopefully they won't think to check back here for a while."
Xander looked about the room "Where exactly are we?"
"One of the rooms off the main cellar" Buffy paused "I think."
Xander raised an eyebrow "You think?"
"I know we're definitely in the basementy bit."
"Ookaay" Xander looked about the room "So where do we go now?"
"We check out all the rooms off the main cellar. There aren't too many if I remember" Buffy cast a look back at the two demons laying on the floor "Y'know from what Ren said before, I thought these guys were going to... well, be... bigger for one thing"
Xander looked at the demons too "I'm having a bad thought here" he said, turning back to Buffy "That first guy said that he was a... bringer, was it?" Buffy nodded and Xander continued "So maybe that means his job is just to get us here and keep us here until, y'know, the real deal arrive"
Buffy pulled a face "Unfortunately that does sound like a realistic scenario."
"Oh, I was hoping you weren't going to say that" Xander groaned
"And *in* that case" Buffy said "I'm getting the feeling that the vicious ones Ren ran in to must have been the proper guys"
"Oh, and it just gets better" Xander said, "OK, I have a question. How many more of these" he indicated the dead demons beside them "Do you think we can expect to run into?"
"I really don't know Xander" Buffy replied "I guess I'm really just hoping they're all together and you can just do your fire spell thing on them"
"You too, huh?" Xander rubbed at his forehead and sighed "OK, I have another question. These guys are supposed to be some kind of official body right?"
"That's what Giles said" Buffy replied.
"Well, shouldn't we be, like, asking someone's permission to be offing them?"
"Xander" Buffy said, waving her sword slightly for emphasis "These demons are trying to *kill* us. Do you *really* care?"
Xander paused. "You make a good point" Xander readied his own weapon infront of him "OK, let's go kill stuff."
Giles, Willow and Tara were kneeling over Ren who they'd laid on the floor. Willow and Tara were to one side and Giles was facing them and their were hands clasped in a central point between them over Ren. Each had now completed their part of the spell, now they looked down at Ren, hoping for some kind of reaction.
They got one.
Ren's eyelids flew open and she immediately drew in a long sharp breath. All three of the spell casters breathed a sigh of relief and released their hands from each other's grasps.
Giles leaned closer to Ren who was breathing quickly trying to get as much oxygen into her lungs as possible. "Ren" Giles he said softly, brushing hair off her forehead "Can you hear me?"
Ren blinked slowly then moved her eyes to meet Giles. She nodded then began to survey the rest of her surroundings and tried to sit up, but immediately slumped back to the floor, her eyes screwed shut in pain.
"Probably not a good idea to try any quick movement for a few minutes" Giles said smiling down on her "Good to see you, though."
"I feel like shit" Ren groaned then began to stretch her limbs gently "And what I imagine a defrosted turkey feels like" Ren rotated her head, trying to ease the muscles in her neck, then she stopped, remembering something "Where's Xander?"
Willow and Giles exchanged glances and Ren saw their worried faces "What's happened?" she asked, "Where is he?"
Giles helped Ren to sit up "He's gone with Buffy."
Ren put her hand to her head, feeling a head rush "Gone? Gone where?" Then she frowned and moved her hand moved slowly across her forehead "And what the hell have you done here?" Ren tried to stand "And, OK, my legs don't want to work."
"Ren you really shouldn't be trying to walk just yet" Giles suggested. He hesitated for a moment before speaking again. "Xander went to the mansion with Buffy."
Ren glared at him "Why the hell did you let him go?!"
"He didn't" Willow interjected "Those demon guys cast a spell on him as well as you. They took my magic. If it hadn't been for Tara here" Willow indicated her friend and Tara raised her hand in a greeting "We'd be in a lot of trouble. More than we are right now" Willow ran a hand through her hair "Buffy and Xander know what they're doing"
"They're going to get themselves killed" Ren tried to stand again and managed to get into a kneeling position "Where's Angel?"
"We don't know" Willow replied.
"You don't… nevermind" Ren put her weight on to Giles, who helped her stand "Where's my bag?"
"Buffy took it."
"Oh, she just has to take *everything* doesn't she?" Ren said through gritted teeth "Right, what weapons did they leave?" Ren made a move for the table but instantly lost her balance.
Giles caught her before she fell "You're in no condition to be heading off after them just yet" he said as he made her sit on the couch "Rushing off after them now is not going to help anybody"
"I *hate* feeling like this" Ren snapped. She put touched her finger's to her head again, feeling the three rows of raised ridges that ran across her forehead "And I *really* hate feeling like *this*" she slammed a fist into the arm of the chair "Do you know it's been fifteen years since I last saw myself like this"
"I'm sorry Ren" Giles said "But bringing out your physical demon, it appears, is a side effect of the second spell we cast."
"We had to cast two" Willow explained "The general reversal spell we tried first had no effect. Tara suggested that we harness your healing ability to help and combine it with a more specific reversal spell."
"I-I thought because you were a North" Tara said "That it would probably be the best thing to try."
Ren looked up at Tara "I haven't met you before have I?" when Tara shook her head Ren continued "You seem to know an awful lot about my kind"
"You're fascinating" Tara said with a nervous chuckle "What with the different paths and everything."
"Well I can honestly say I've never been called fascinating before" Ren said, finally managing to stand unaided.
"You should be called stubborn," Giles said, moving to Ren's side "You need time to get yourself together"
"I don't *have* time Rupert " Ren said pulling away from Giles' hold "I have to go help Xander."
"And Buffy" Willow said pointedly.
Ren shot a look at Willow "My priority is Xander" Ren managed to walk a few steps to the tables where the weapons lay. Steadying herself against it she turned to Giles "How long would you say they've been gone?"
"From what Willow has said, I would imagine no longer than an hour."
"That's long enough" Ren said. She turned back to the table and picked up a sword, not dis-similar to the one Buffy had taken. Ren took a step back from the table towards the kitchen and took a few practice swings then turned to Giles again "OK, so how exactly do I get to this place then?"
Out of breath and sweating, Buffy and Xander darted quickly out of the room where demon number four was meeting its timely demise. They both leaned against the door after they had shut it behind them.
Buffy turned to Xander "Could you warn me a little sooner the next time you do that please?" she asked "You nearly got my hair"
"My apologies Buff" Xander said, rolling his eyes "I just didn't think that letting the guy know I was going to fry him would have helped a lot"
Buffy's brow furrowed a little "I was *winning*"
Xander stepped away from the door and turned to face her "Buffy, he was pounding your head into the wall!"
"It was all part of the plan."
Xander raised his eyebrows "We *have* a plan?"
"Of course we do" Buffy said quickly surveying the small room they now found themselves in "It mainly involves us getting up to the next floor" she stepped away from the door and pointed to an exit to her left "I think that door links on to the main cellar and then we just go right for the stairs" she turned to Xander "I'll go see if he's crispy crumbs next door and grab the weapons bag. You stay here."
Xander smiled and gave her a mock salute as she re-entered the other room. Xander looked around the room himself, then did a double take as something on the wall caught his eye. He walked over to the spot on the wall and ran his hand over the place of interest, displacing the dust and grime and uncovering what appeared to be another door.
"What have we here?" he said quietly to himself. He felt around again and discovered the 'handle' that was cleverly disguised as a knothole in the wood. He pushed the catch in to try the door and he heard something click.
"Xander what are you doing" Buffy asked, coming up behind him.
"I found another door" he said indicating the hidden frame "And I think I just opened it."
"Uh... this door was *not* in the brochure" Buffy said, gently nudging Xander out of the way and taking his place infront of the door. Kneeling down she examined the floor at the base of the door "But it has been opened recently" she said showing Xander the fresh runner marks from the door. Buffy pressed her ear up to the door "I can't hear anything the other side and this is Slayer hearing we're talking about."
"Where do you think it goes?" Xander asked.
"Only one way to find out" Buffy replied, taking the dagger out of her boot.
"I was *so* hoping you weren't going to say that" Xander said, readying his crossbow as Buffy stood up and used the dagger to pry the door open enough to be able to open it using her hand.
When the door was open about an inch Buffy turned to Xander "And through door number one is..."
"A big pile o' cash?" Xander said hopefully.
Buffy rolled her eyes then turned her attention back to the door. Still holding the dagger she pulled the door even further towards them, leaving them both just enough room to squeeze through.
The lighting was not good, it consisted mainly of moonlight filtering through a few cracks in the rocks that made up the back wall, but it was enough light for Xander to make him screw his eyes shut and say...
"Oh God, I'm blind."
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