Forever Rules : Book One
With a towel wrapped around his waist and one looped around his neck, Xander stepped from the bathroom and headed towards the bedroom. He was surprised to find that Buffy wasn't there. With a slight shrug, Xander dried himself off and put on some grey sweatpants before he headed out towards the main living room, towelling his hair dry as he walked.
But Buffy wasn't there either and as he couldn't hear her making any noise, Xander was about to call out until he spotted a slight movement from outside on the veranda.
Xander smiled when he saw Buffy step towards the black iron railing that separated them from the outside world. Buffy was barefoot and wearing a tiny slip of a white nightdress that fluttered a little in the breeze as she stood looking out across the landscape. Xander was about to call out again, but he stopped himself and stepped back out of view of the doorway. He looped the towel back around his neck and held onto either end as he leant back against the wall and watched Buffy.
The sun was getting low in the sky, and the early evening light cast shadows on Buffy's face. Her hair was tied back in a loose braid, only a few stray locks of hair around her face moved in the breeze.
Xander's heart warmed as he watched her. She looked so serene as she stood there in silence, a thoughtful look on her face. //It's so great to see her when it doesn't look like she has the weight of the world on my shoulders//.
Xander was also still adjusting to the fact that the beautiful woman he was looking at was now his wife. And it wasn't as if being with her was anything new either. They'd been together for two and a half years now, and they'd lived together for just over a year and a half; most of that time was spent at Joyce's house, but they'd spent the last four months in their own home.
It was just that this… Xander sighed happily. This was different somehow. Now, it wasn't like they were just playing at being a couple; Buffy *belonged* to him now. He knew that made him sound as chauvinistic as hell, but it was the only way he could explain it.
But in that same way, Xander knew he belonged to Buffy. It was written, witnessed and they even had a certificate to prove that. Nothing and no one could take that away.
Buffy closed her eyes as the dying sun still managed to warm her face. She took a deep breath, savouring all the smells that were around her, which weren't that many, granted, but enough for her to create a memory.
Buffy was determined that there were going to be more good memories than there were bad in her relationship with Xander. They'd had a few bad ones already; Xander's encounter with Tay was one that would stay with them both forever even though they'd both worked hard to put it behind them now. This memory she was making at the moment though, was a good one.
This was just so perfect the two of them here, away from everything else. It didn't happen that often, around eighty percent of the time, they were with at least one member of the scooby gang. It was one of the main reasons they'd come away on honeymoon too. They'd both thought about not taking one, just having some time to themselves back in Sunnydale, but both knew that wouldn't be possible with their closeknit group. So, they'd taken off to their 'call-us-when-it's-not-an-emergency-and-we'll-never-speak-to-you-again' honeymoon villa for just one week, taking a break from work, slaying, everything.
Now all Buffy had to worry about for the next few moments, was how much longer her husband was going to stand there staring at her before she had to go over to him and kiss him 'til he passed out.
And didn't that just make her insides melt? Buffy sighed happily. Her husband was just happy watching her as she stood still. Her husband. A smile began to form on her lips at that thought. //A man who's all mine. A man who can just give me the briefest smile or the tenderest glance and make my heart do that skippy thing that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. My guy// The tiniest frown appeared on Buffy's brow. //My guy who *isn't* over here kissing me//.
Buffy opened her eyes and turned her head, glancing over her shoulder. The frown disappeared and her heart did that skippy thing when she saw Xander, his sweatpants riding impossibly low on his hips and his hair damp and tousled, just standing there watching her.
Xander stepped away from the wall and headed slowly over to her. Buffy turned and faced him as he neared her, leaning back and placing her hands on the railing behind her. Xander gave her a lopsided smile as he stood in front of her. "Watcha thinking about?" he asked.
Buffy cocked her head to one side and smiled back. "Stuff."
"Oh that." Xander stepped closer and put his hands on her shoulders and caressed them gently. "Anything I need to worry about?"
"Nope," Buffy replied, closing her eyes as Xander started to run his hands down her arms, catching the straps of her nightdress as he did so, pulling them down over the tops of her arms. "All good stuff."
Xander felt Buffy shiver underneath his touch when he kissed the top of her left shoulder. "Wanna tell me 'bout it?" he murmured as he began trailing kisses up the length of her neck towards her jaw.
A tiny moan escaped Buffy's lips as Xander began nibbling at her earlobe. "We're kinda doing it now," Buffy said, grabbing Xander's ass with both hands and pulling him closer.
Buffy whimpered when she felt Xander draw his head back. She opened her eyes to find him grinning at her. "Not just yet we aren't," he whispered against her barely parted mouth before claiming her lips in a bruising kiss.
Lena sat at one of the two desks in the office come dark cave that they'd been led to a couple of hours ago. Infront of her were three laptop computers, the screens of which were simultaneously feeding her bank accounts, lines of binary code and one had her email on it.
Lena was all for using human technology, especially when you could upgrade with the demon tech that allowed you to email your mother who was back in your home dimension and tell her to stop trying to tell you about the annoying Cavgor demon next door when you were at work.
Lena sighed and clicked 'send' before she looked up to where Raif and Adon sat at the round table, surrounded by as many candles as they could find to help them as they poured through some of the newer books that they'd pulled off the shelves.
"Have you found anything?" Lena asked.
Raif looked up from his book and shook his head. He let the book fall shut with a thud, dust dispelling from some the pages, making him cough. "No," he said, "These are all dating back over a couple of centuries. If we're going to base our report on anything, we'll need something more up to date."
Adon still had his book open; he looked up at Lena briefly. "Rumour has it," he said, before dropping his gaze back to the book, "That their work dropped off a couple of centuries ago. No one is quite sure what is supposed to have happened."
Raif waited for something more from Adon but didn't get anything, the other demon seemingly intent on reading his book. Raif rolled his eyes. "Thank you Adon," he said dryly. "That was very helpful."
"Well, it might explain their non-existent finances," Lena remarked. "These," she gestured to the laptop screen that showed the transactions, "Are not pretty."
"Much like these guys," Adon smirked.
Raif sighed. "So, what do we do? We have to go back to Mr Pagaelian with something."
"I know," Lena replied, frowning. She sighed. "He wants to make some money out of this. So far I can find nothing.
"Maybe we can tell him to find something more profitable than making sure prophecies stay fulfilled," Raif suggested.
Lena shrugged and then glanced at Adon who was engrossed in his book again. "What is so interesting?" she asked, a little curious as Adon usually hated this kind of research.
"Just wondering about one of their last cases," Adon replied, tapping the page he was reading. "I guess it must be the one that ultimately sealed their fate into the hands of our company…"
Lena looked at Adon expectantly as he just trailed off. "*And*?" she asked with a touch of impatience.
Adon looked up at them both. "According to this," he tapped the book again, "They went after a Slayer and a young human male. There was a prophecy that this Slayer was to die at the hands of a vampire. She didn't."
"Why not?" Raif asked.
"It says," Adon continued, "That the other human, saved her. The Slayer went on to kill the vampire that was supposed to kill her."
"Does it say where this prophecy was written?" Lena asked, switching one of the laptops from her email to a word processing programme, her fingers tapping quickly over the keys as she took notes.
Adon scanned a few more paragraphs. "The Codex," he said after a moment. "But it doesn't say what the exact words were."
"So how does it start the Bhren's downfall?" Raif asked. "Surely they dealt with this Slayer?"
"Apparently not." Adon looked up at Raif. "They went, they fought and they lost. Big time."
Raif raised an eyebrow. "A troop of these demons against one girl? I know she was a Slayer, but still…" Raif gave a shake of his head in disbelief. "Surely the human couldn't have stood a chance?"
Adon shrugged and looked back to the book. "Turns out…" he said slowly, reading again, "That the boy was protected…" Adon raised an eyebrow. "*Damn* was he protected… man, whatever did he do to deserve that?"
"Who was protecting him?" Lena asked, glancing up from her notetaking.
"The Powers that Be," Adon stated.
"The PTB helped the Slayer destroy the Machen Bhren?" Raif sounded puzzled.
"No…" Adon scanned the page, "They sent a guardian for him. An Aurora demon."
"A North then?" Raif nodded his head as he spoke. "They're guardians of sorts," he continued. "Very powerful. It would explain the Bhren's defeat at any rate."
"I take it then," Lena said, "That this Slayer and the boy live to tell the tale?"
"Looks like," Adon replied. He began flipping through the rest of the pages left in his book. "The rest of these cases were also poorly executed," he carried on. "No one took them seriously, they lost face in front of people who used to fear them."
"Which is why no one hired them as mercenaries afterwards," Raif added. "Apparently one of their main sources of income apart from taking hefty bribes to not kill those they were after."
"And why they no longer have any money to pay back Mr Pagaelian." Lena finished. She sighed. "This is looking like an impossible job."
With the sound of water running from the shower to his right, Giles, standing in just pyjama bottoms, took off his glasses and placed them on the counter beside him before he gazed back silently at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He pushed a hand back through his hair, holding it down when he reached the back of his head, exposing the gradually increasing widow's peak. He frowned and let his hair spring slowly back into place.
//I probably shouldn't even start on the amount of grey hair I could've sworn wasn't there before//.
Giles sighed and thought better about counting the wrinkles he knew were there too. He dropped his gaze from the mirror and scratched at his chest before he started to empty the sink of water, only to find himself looking up again into the mirror when the shower curtain was pulled aside to reveal Ren standing there looking expectantly at him.
"*Ahem*" she coughed and raised an eyebrow.
"Hmm?" Giles didn't turn around to face her until he felt a splash of water against his bare back. "Ren," he said patiently when she put her hand on her hip, "You're getting water all over the floor."
"I don't care." Ren narrowed her eyes playfully at him. "Rupert, I'm naked and wet and I've been waiting five long bloody minutes for you to get your arse in here with me."
"Ren, I have to-"
"Did you hear me mention that I'm naked and wet?"
"I can see that." Giles smiled a little, looking her up and down. "Believe me I can see that, and don't think I'm not appreciative of your offer, but-"
"But you can get to work twenty minutes late for once," Ren purred, pouting a little for good measure. "Come on…"
"We have that order coming in," Giles reminded her. He put on his glasses. "I have to be on time."
"Sod the bloody order Rupert," Ren said as she stepped out of the shower. She stood in front of Giles and placed ran a finger down the centre of his chest. "Come on… twenty minutes for little ol' me?"
Giles stared at her for a moment, watching tiny rivulets of water run down her face. He placed his hands on her shoulders briefly before running them down either arm, stopping just above her elbow.
Ren closed her eyes when Giles leaned forward and kissed her softly on the lips. But her eyelids quickly fluttered open again when she realised he wasn't going to be kissing her anymore anytime soon.
"I have to get to the store," Giles told her as he drew back from her. "It's those Brazilian artefacts. They can't fall into the wrong hands."
Giles felt like kicking himself when he saw the flicker of hurt in Ren's eyes and wondered why on earth he was pushing her away. It wasn't like the idiotic thoughts plaguing his mind were *her* fault. They just revolved around her and why he knew that soon she was going to realise that the father of her child was really just a stuffy middle-aged man who owned a shop. Nothing more. He wasn't the young Watcher who Ren had first gotten involved with; he wasn't even sure that he was the man that Ren thought she knew now.
He'd had these niggling thoughts for a while before the Buffy and Xander's wedding, even before Ren found out she was expecting. It wasn't just because of anything Cordelia had uttered flippantly or even what Xander's father had drunkenly stated to him at the wedding. But they hadn't helped. It wasn't as if Xander's father had been the first person to point out how visibly younger Ren looked than him either; strangers nearly always making the assumption that it was father and daughter in the store or wherever they were, always looking surprised when they found out that the two were lovers.
Ren always made a point of saying that she didn't care what people thought, and Giles knew that was true, and to some extent it was true for him too. He'd lived a good part of his life saying, 'I don't give a bloody fuck, piss off I'm trying to summon a demon', and it was still pretty much the same, but without the summoning demons. Well for fun anyway.
It was the fact that *he* was beginning to think he was too old for Ren. She *was* a 'firebird', as Mr Harris had actually quite eloquently put it. She was beautiful, smart, funny, loving passionate and damn capable of taking care of herself. Ren had a whole new life infront of her; she could travel, she could, well, she could do anything Giles had reasoned. What Ren shouldn't be doing was helping him a occult store in a small town in California, playing happy families with a guy who'd started wearing leather patches on his tweed jackets far too early than was strictly necessary.
No matter how much Giles loved her.
And now Giles was watching the woman infront of him stepping away, her shoulders set a little firmer than they were just a few moments before, her eyes searching his face, looking for a hint of what might be wrong.
Ren shrugged off his hands from her arms. "Go on then," she said, her voice taking on that clipped English tone that she used when she was annoyed. "I know how in demand those Brazilian statues are."
"Ren, it's not-"
"Forget it," Ren stepped past him and grabbed her kimono from where it hung on the back of the door. "Obviously," she continued, shrugging the kimono on, "This wasn't the time to try and seduce you." She tied the sash at her waist and turned back to him, looking at him with confusion more than anything else. "Either that or my pregnancy has thrown my bloody hormones so out of whack they've actually affected you."
Giles stared after her in regret after she broke his gaze and left him alone in the bathroom. "Oh bloody hell," he sighed, turning round and banging the back of his head against the door. "Why on earth do I let myself get into these things?"
"Would you stop saying that?" Xander glanced briefly over at Buffy before turning his concentration back to the road. "It's just driving."
"I know," Buffy replied, shifting her position in passenger seat of the small roofless jeep they'd hired for the week so that she was facing him. "But we're not stopping to have sex every five miles. We're just *driving*."
"I just said that," Xander said, rolling his eyes with a smile. "And what's with the *we're*? I didn't see you volunteering to take to the road. *And* *I* drove when we went to the beach the other day."
"Honey? Do you really want me to *drive*? In a foreign *country*?" Buffy grinned inwardly when she saw Xander actually mulling it over and then frowning a little at her, knowing he'd lost. "Thought not." Buffy smirked as she lifted her legs and put her feet up onto the dashboard, deliberately giving Xander a good view of her bare legs, her khaki shorts being, well, extremely short. She glanced out at the scenery from behind her sunglasses and then tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear when it was blown out of place by the wind that whistled past them.
A few moments later, realising that the rapidly passing scenery was making her a tad queasy, Buffy turned her attention to Xander, covertly studying him from behind the dark glass of her shades.
//OK, any woman, man or animal so much as *looks* at him today, is gonna get my patented deathray glare// Buffy thought as she studied the planes of Xander's bare chest and the tops of his arms, watching the muscles twitch as he moved the steering wheel. Her gaze drifted down to his thighs that were mostly covered by a cut off pair of old blue stonewash jeans. //And if they touch him, I may have to do some Slaying for the first time in days//.
Buffy's gaze then started to travel back up Xander's torso. She frowned a little when she saw the two large scars that ran the length of his abdomen, the ones that always made her feel ill everytime she saw them, remembering how he got them. Her coping strategy was just not to think about it, to just think about how well Xander was doing now. Sure he still thought about it, talked about it sometimes, but Buffy didn't bring it up unless Xander did.
There were also other assorted scars from nicks and scratches that he'd received over the years over his upper body and a faint two inch scar running down the centre of his left cheek and a smaller one on his forehead going into his hairline. Buffy tried to see through his wrap round sunglasses and at his eyes, but the sun was glinting off them too much and the baseball cap that he wore cast shadows over some parts of his face.
A moment later, Buffy realised she must have been staring too hard or something because now Xander was looking back at her.
"What?" he asked, sounding amused.
Buffy smiled. "Just looking."
Xander flashed her a grin and lifted his right arm off the wheel, executing an over the top muscle man pose then blew her an equally exaggerated kiss.
Buffy burst into giggles and Xander didn’t help matters when he used his still free arm to tickle her, even managing to cop a feel of her breasts through the linen top she wore as she tried to squirm away. "Xa-an!" Buffy exclaimed, still laughing as she swatted his hand away. "*Driving* remember?"
Xander stuck out his tongue at her and put his hand back on the wheel. "Geez," he grumbled, albeit half-heartedly. "Can't a guy feel up his wife now and again?"
Buffy kept laughing, but reached out her hand and squeezed his thigh nearest to her. "Only if I can get some back," she giggled.
Xander cast a sidelong glance at Buffy as she continued to chuckle. He grinned to himself and gave a small shake of his head. "You keep laughing to yourself and people are gonna look at you funny when we get into town."
"Don't care," Buffy replied, grinning. "I'm never gonna see them again anyway."
"So I get to be the sane one on this trip, huh?"
"Honey, the locals aren't gonna notice me."
"Well, I'd notice a gorgeous woman with butt hugger shorts laughing maniacally in the street," Xander retorted.
Buffy snorted and smacked his thigh lightly this time. "Not if you want to live you won't."
"But only if it was you." Xander's reply was laced with sugar.
"That's because I'm well trained," Xander grinned. "Although I can't say what I'll do if other guys start noticing you. I might have to glare sternly at them."
"A stern glare? Is that all my honour is worth?" Buffy sounded affronted, but the giggle that followed cancelled it out.
"OK, you'd rather I do what instead?" Xander asked with a smile. "'Cos anything else is likely to get me arrested."
"You'd get arrested for me?" Buffy raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"I got cautioned for you once, remember? Indecent exposure?"
Buffy covered her mouth as she laughed. "Oh my God, I'd forgotten about that."
"Well sure you did, you were the one hot footing it away while I distracted the cops with my nakedness."
Buffy buried her face against her knees, which barely smothered her giggles. "Oh my God," she said again, looking up at him a few moments later. "OK, I promise, the next caution is mine. It's only fair."
"Ooh, does this mean more sex in public places?" Xander asked gleefully.
"Yup," Buffy grinned back. "Although, we are running out of new places to do it."
"Hey, maybe they've built something while we've been away that we can do it on the roof of when we get back?" Xander said hopefully.
"Maybe they- ooh ooh!" Buffy was suddenly distracted by some buildings on the horizon. "Look! Civilisation!"
"Y'know we could've got gifts for the guys when we got to the airport," Xander pointed out as they neared the small town. "I happen to know Ren would be quite happy with a gigantic Toblerone."
"Xan," Buffy half whined, "It's traditional. You go on holiday and everyone gets, like, little things made out of glued together shells and a miniature bottle of pineapple schnapps."
"OK, OK," Xander conceded as Buffy began to pout at him. "But I'm drawing the line at straw donkeys wearing hats."
"Not even a little one to annoy Giles?" Buffy did pout this time.
Xander sighed. //The Pout. Resistance is futile…//. "Fine. But you're buying it, and you can carry it *and* give it to Giles."
"You don't want to annoy Giles with me?" Buffy sounded a little surprised.
"No, I want Giles to give me guitar lessons. I think giving him tacky gifts like that might make him think twice."
Now Buffy sounded a lot surprised. "You want to learn to play the guitar?"
"Uh huh." Xander smiled back at her. "Kinda always wanted to. Oz made it look so cool."
"Oh my God," Buffy stared at him, looking and sounding a little amazed. "I don't believe it."
"But he did make it look cool." Xander looked at Buffy, a little confused.
"No," Buffy smiled. "I mean you. I mean, it's something I didn't know." She titled her head to one side, looking at him in disbelief. "There was something that I didn’t know about you."
Xander frowned. "I never mentioned it?"
Buffy shook her head. "Not that I can remember." She smiled. "And I think you'd look as cool as Oz."
Buffy nodded. "And, if it helps, I'll tell Giles you knew nothing 'bout the straw donkey." Buffy paused. "You can give him the alcohol."
"How 'bout I give him tequila?" Xander suggested as they drove into the town. "Being in Mexico and all."
Buffy looked around at their surroundings. "Yeah, I don't think these guys are the pineapple schnapps kinda folk." She turned back to Xander as he pulled in to a parking space outside a small grocery store. "Will you play for me?"
Xander leaned over and kissed Buffy softly on the lips. "Everyday," he murmured. "Now," he continued, grabbing his shirt from the tiny back seat of the jeep. "We see if you remember the Spanish for 'Don't look at my ass or you'll get a stern glare from my husband'."
(Next day - late morning)
Raif and Adon both walked in silence as they followed behind Haxor who led them through the still dark passageways of the castle. Raif stopped and glanced through one of the narrow windows. He squinted at first, his eyes adjusting to the major difference in light. When his vision finally focused, he stared out at a vast landscape consisting of a flat plain of caked, brown earth that eventually fed into higher ground, culminating in large, rocky mountains that only differed in colour from the ground by a few darker shades. All of which was looked over by a pale orange sky with a large red sun.
"It's not very inviting, is it?" Raif said quietly.
Adon walked back to him and nudged Raif aside so he could look himself. "Doesn't look very lively either," he remarked. Adon turned to Haxor who stood waiting impatiently. "What's out there? Get much wildlife?"
Haxor stepped up to the other two demons, looming impressively over them. "There are creatures that can be hunted, yes," he replied, then a little venom crept into his voice. "Also, our elders and the rest of our kind are now in the cave system that runs throughout those mountains. You remember, our kind that your company banished from this castle when we couldn't pay our debts?"
Adon didn't flinch under the larger demon's dark glare; he'd fried bigger fish than this guy before. Instead, he smiled thinly and smacked Haxor on the back as the blue demon started off again. "Well, at least you got to stay, huh?"
Haxor resisted the urge to turn around and pummel Adon into the flagstones. Instead, he kept his thoughts on how on earth they were going to get hold of their state of the art portal opener without them noticing.
D'nal sat down and slumped back against the wall of the cave just by it's opening and looked out at the view before him; low hills of red brown earth on which nothing grew, getting flatter as it got further away. His gaze came to rest on the large, black castle that stood on a spot just before the horizon.
He frowned and slammed his fist into the hard rock of the cave wall; a few slivers of stone fell to the ground, barely making a sound. D'nal kept frowning as he raised his fist and looked at it, seeing spots of purple coloured blood beginning to rise from the scratches on the blue skin of his hand.
"It's been over eighteen months D'nal. Get over it already."
D'nal looked up to see the demon that'd spoken walking towards him from somewhere inside the cave. "Get over it?" D'nal looked incredulously at his comrade. "Yester, we are *living* in *caves*." He used his arms to gesture around him and then to the castle. "We used to live *there*."
Yester stepped over to the opening of the cave and glanced briefly at the castle before he looked back to D'nal. "I know. It's hard," he agreed. "I miss my battle armour." He looked down at the well worn grey tunic and the badly stitched together animal hide trousers he was wearing and then looked back to D'nal, who was wearing the same. "But we had to make the sacrifices. Pagaelian has done worse than just banish people, remember? All they found of the last ones who didn't pay them, was an ear or two and some toenail clippings."
"I am *aware* of that fact." D'nal stood up and joined Yester and they both looked outside. "But I want to be back doing what we do best." D'nal turned so he met Yester's gaze. "Killing people. My brother was on that mission to take that Slayer. She and a *damned* *guardian* demon *killed* him in cold blood."
Yester laid a hand on his comrade's shoulder. "I know, D'nal. I had a friend too on that day."
"I hope I'm not disturbing something?" another blue skinned demon said as she joined the two by the cave entrance, holding a flaming torch in her right hand. As well as being smaller in body mass than the two males, the female demon was also six inches shorter. Her skin was a paler blue and unlike the males she had hair; it was thin and white and hung down to her shoulders. She wore tight animal hide trousers and a threadbare blue tunic that hung low at her chest, almost exposing her breasts. A brown belt at her waist was tied tightly to show off her svelte figure.
D'nal frowned at her. "Jenna," he said flatly, turning to face her and crossing his arms infront of his chest. "To what do we owe this pleasure?"
"The elders want to see us," Jenna replied. "We have to find Malax and his brothers."
"What's happened?" Yester asked, his stance shifting, suddenly feeling nervous.
"I don't know," Jenna replied, beginning to lead the other two back into the cave. "They sounded kind of happy though."
(Later that evening)
Ren was not happy.
Actually that was an understatement.
In fact she was pissed off.
Extremely pissed off.
As she paced around the living room, she caught her reflection in the mirror that hung by the door. Ren stopped and stared back, seeing her own eyes flash angrily in the reflection.
"Where the *bloody* *hell* is he?" she asked her reflection. Ren set her shoulders squarely, adjusting the white, off the shoulder peasant top that she wore. "He says, 'I'll be home at seven', so what do I do? I get all tarted up, make a nice meal and does he show at seven? The fuck he does." Ren drew her attention away from herself and looked at the table that she'd set out with flowers and candles. "Not even at half seven, not even at eight, just a bloody phone call to say he's gonna be late."
Ren kicked out at the nearest wall, letting out a cry of frustration as she did so. Ren felt tears begin to prick at the corners of her eyes and she quickly blinked them back. //I will *not* cry. I bloody won't//. Ren sat down on the stairs and put her feet up on the step below where she sat, placing her forearms across the tops of her knees and then rested her chin on top of them.
Why was he avoiding her? What was wrong that he wouldn't tell her? Why did she just stand by and swallow those lies he'd told her about just being tired the other night? Why hadn't she forced it out of him?
Ren sighed and closed her eyes. //Just too many questions//. She knew things had been different between them since she'd found out that she was pregnant. The first few days afterwards, there'd been nothing that she could fault, she knew he was happy. Then, during the next few weeks that led up to Xander and Buffy's wedding, Ren had sensed him becoming more distant from her.
The reasons she could think of actually *hurt* her to think about. Did he now not want this baby? Had he changed his mind that quickly? Was it just a child that he didn't want, or was it her?
Ren groaned in frustration. Now she was just being stupid. A least she hoped she was. She lifted her head and looked around the empty apartment. //And now I'm depressed and by myself//.
Ren got up and began to climb the stairs. "Only one cure for that," she muttered to herself. "Go and be depressed around other people so they all feel as bad as you do."
"Uh, Willow?" Tara held up the drink that her girlfriend had just given her and eyed it dubiously. "It's kinda… y'know… green."
"It's a Grasshopper. It's supposed to be that colour." Willow leaned back against the bar at the Bronze and grinned at her girlfriend as the blonde tentatively took a sip.
"Ooh, minty." Tara took a longer sip. "It's good."
"Excellent," Willow beamed. She pulled a small notebook out of her purse and wrote something down before putting it back. "Now we only have-" Willow grabbed the cocktail menu from the bar and glanced at it, "-fifteen more kinds to try."
"*Tonight*?" Tara almost choked on her drink. "Willow, y'know you don't have to get me drunk to have sex with me, right?"
Willow smirked at the couple of stares that Tara's remark drew from the people around them. "I know that sweetie, I think we proved that this afternoon," Willow replied with a grin. "But even three times this afternoon, I still don't think we're gonna be equal with Buffy and Xander anytime soon."
Tara laughed. "Yeah, I don't think I wanted to know what Buffy was doing to Xander when he was trying to speak to us on the phone this evening."
"How those two find the energy to patrol, I have no idea."
"Well," Tara said, raising an eyebrow suggestively, "Maybe we'll just have to ask them what their secret is…" she trailed off as she set her drink down on the bar counter. Tara wrapped one arm around Willow's waist.
"I don't think we need it," Willow replied. "After all," she grinned, "It's not like we have to keep anything up, is it?"
Tara burst out laughing and was about to wrap her other arm around Willow and lean in for a kiss when she saw Willow staring at something over her shoulder.
"What?" Tara asked, turning around. Then Tara blinked. "Uh… is that…?"
"Uh huh…" Willow trailed off and cocked her head to one side as she looked at their object of interest. "She seems, um… very, uh…"
"Focused?" Tara suggested, still unable to draw her eyes away.
"Yeah…" Willow paused. "Do you think we should go over and say 'hi'?" Willow turned to her girlfriend and then frowned. "*Hey*. Could we have the drooling over only *one* red head please?"
Tara cleared her throat and looked back at Willow a little chagrined even though she caught the humour in Willow's voice. "Sorry, but y'know, it's just a really flimsy-"
"I know..." Willow looked back to the dancefloor where they'd spied the really flimsy black dress that was being worn by Ren. Actually dress was kind of a loose description. It had a laced edged skirt that hung just mid thigh on one leg and fell diagonally so it finished just below her knee on the other leg. The top consisted of two wide strips of material that came up from her waist and covered either breast and then looped around her neck, leaving her back bare. Slung low around her waist was a silver chain and she wore silver bangles on either wrist. On her feet Ren wore black stilettos and her long red hair hung in loose curls down her back.
Ren was dancing by herself to the soft rock group that was playing that night at the Bronze. Damp strands of red hair clung to her forehead and her eyes were closed, a look of concentration on her face as she moved.
"Do you see Giles anywhere?" Willow asked Tara.
"Uh…" Tara glanced around. "Not at the moment." She looked back at Willow. "You think she's here by herself?"
Willow just shrugged and then the music began to slow. Willow caught Ren's gaze when the other woman opened her eyes and looked around. Willow smiled and waved at her.
Ren held the witch's looked for a moment as if unsure what to do and then she smiled back, albeit still a little hesitantly, before she grabbed a black purse off a nearby table and headed over to Willow and Tara at the bar.
"Hey," Ren said, a little out of breath as she swept a hand through her hair. "How long have you two been here? I didn't see you before, if not I would have said, hi."
"Oh, we were, uh, making out upstairs," Willow replied with a grin. "Probably wouldn't have heard you if you had."
"But you seemed like you were having fun without us," Tara remarked lightly, not expecting the sad look that flitted across Ren's face. Tara frowned a little. "…Not having fun?"
"Just felt like getting out of the house," Ren replied, forcing a small smile onto her lips. "Got a bit bored."
"Stocktaking," Ren cut in on Willow, the latter noting the slightly frosty tone in the response.
"W-well," Tara said, exchanging a quick glance with Willow as Ren took a moment to glare at a guy who was staring at her breasts. "You could try and have fun with us, y'know, if you want." Tara blushed when Ren turned back to her with an eyebrow raised. "Not that kind," Tara amended herself and handed Ren the cocktail menu that Willow had had. "Apparently we've got fifteen more to try."
"Yup." Willow said chirpily. "Nothing like good ol' fashioned drunken fun."
"Uh…" Ren handed the menu back to Tara, giving the blonde an apologetic smile. "I think I'll give it a miss, if you don't mind." She ran her hand through her hair again. "Might have some water though. It's getting a little hot in here."
"Yeah?" Willow frowned a little in puzzlement as Ren squished in between her and another guy at the bar. "I hadn't noticed." Willow saw Tara signalling to her and she looked to where her girlfriend was pointing up towards the air conditioning vent that was, at least, cooling her and Tara. Willow looked back to Tara and shrugged.
When Ren stepped back from the bar, Willow noticed that she had her eyes closed and was holding on to the bar tightly as if trying to keep her balance.
"Y'know if you will wear heel-" Willow was cut short when Ren's grip on the counter suddenly went and Ren collapsed to the floor.
"Ren?!" Willow exclaimed and she and Tara went to her side as the people around them moved aside.
Tara put her hand to Ren's forehead. "She's burning up," she said anxiously.
"Let's get her up," Willow said, slipped her arm around Ren's back and draping the other woman's arm around her shoulder. "Get her onto a couch or something," she continued as Tara helped her to lift Ren. Both girls managed to half carry half walk Ren over to a battered chaise lounge that was hastily vacated by its occupants due to a few muttered words of Latin by Willow.
"Is she OK?" a guy asked who was hovering nearby with a few other onlookers.
"She'll be fine if she just gets some *room*." Willow shot a pointed look at the crowd who dispersed reluctantly.
"Hey I think she's waking up," Tara said. "Ren?" Tara put her hand to the other woman's forehead. "She's still hot."
Ren groaned as she shifted slightly. He eyes fluttered open and she swallowed hard. "What happened?" she asked as she tried to sit up.
"You fainted or something," Willow replied, helping her to sit up, placing a cushion behind her back.
"What?" Ren looked between the two witches anxiously. "Was I… was I out for long?"
"Barely a minute," Tara told her. "We just moved you over here." She gave her a concerned look. "Maybe we should get you home," Tara suggested and Willow nodded in agreement.
Ren's brow furrowed a little. "Yeah," she said softly, looking at the floor briefly. "Probably a good idea."
"Maybe it's still that bug you had a few days ago," Willow said as she and Tara helped Ren up.
"God, I hope not," Ren said quietly, and neither witch missed the worried tone with which she spoke.
Xander jumped down from the stack of pallets and delivered a hard blow on the vampire's chest with both feet, sending the demon backwards against the back wall of the alley they were in before it slid down and landed in a heap on the ground, while Xander himself landed neatly back on two feet on the ground infront of the vampire.
"So where do you wanna go?!" Xander called out to Buffy as he kicked the demon down again as it leapt at him.
Buffy ducked a spinning kicked from the vampire that she was fighting. "I don't know!" she called back, lashing out with her foot into the vampire's kneecap, sending him back into the pallets that Xander had just jumped from. "How 'bout Mexican?!"
"Now that's not even funny," Xander replied, whipping a stake from inside his jacket as he ducked a blow from his vampire.
"Not even a little bit?" Buffy grabbed her vampire by the shirt it was wearing and hauled it up. She looked at the vampire and cocked her head to one side. "Did you think it was funny?" she asked.
The vampire blinked, but that was about all it had time to do before it turned to dust. Buffy shrugged and then turned to Xander as he fought, twirling her stake between her fingers. "Need a hand, honey?" she called out.
"No thanks honey…" Xander said just as he struck home with his own stake. He turned back to her before the vampire even turned to dust. "I'm done here," he said, tucking his stake in his jacket's inside pocket. "You good?"
"Yup," Buffy said with a grin as she walked over to him. She tucked her own stake away and straightened his collar before brushing some dirt from his shirt. "You'll do. C'mon, we've still got time to find somewhere."
"In a minute." Xander snaked a hand around Buffy's waist and pulled her closer before kissing her hard on the mouth.
Buffy smiled up at Xander when they broke apart. She rested her hands on his upper arms. "So are ya gonna buy me dinner or what?"
Xander grinned and kissed her softly on the lips this time. He took one of her hands in his and threaded his fingers with hers. "So you want taco's, huh?"
"I don't mind," Buffy said letting their hands drop between them as they began to walk from the alley.
"Y'know, our one night out," Xander said, "And we have to find trouble. Don't these guys want us to have dinner?"
"I think they kinda thought it was the other way around," Buffy replied with a grin.
"Yeah, but I'm the one that's still hungry," Xander grumbled.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "I should have remembered when I married you, I married your appetite too."
"Oh, I'm a complete package," Xander replied, grinning. "Scary inhalation rate of Twinkies included."
Buffy laughed and was about to swoop in for a kiss when they heard a scream come from not far down the street.
"Of course," Xander muttered, shaking his head as he followed after Buffy who had already began to run towards the screams. "Our work is never done."
"Is Giles gonna be back soon?" Willow asked once they got Ren back home. "Do you want us to call him?"
"Just give me a minute, OK?" Ren replied as she headed straight to the bathroom.
Willow exchanged a look with Tara once Ren was out of sight. "What do you think's wrong?" Willow asked.
"I don't know," Tara answered quietly. "She looked pretty-" Tara was cut short when she heard the front door reopening.
Giles looked at the two witches standing in his living room with surprise. "Um… hello?" Giles looked at his watch. "Rather late for a social call…" he trailed off, frowning a little and looking a little anxious. "Nothing bad has happened has it?"
"Oh, no," Willow replied. "Well, nothing hellmouthy anyway."
"We were at the Bronze with Ren," Tara continued. "We just brought her home."
"Where is she?" Giles asked, glancing around, then he looked back to Tara. "Wait. You say you *bought* her home?"
"Were just talking," Willow began to explain, "And then she just collapsed."
"She's in the bathroom now," Tara informed him quickly when Giles' eyebrows shot up. "She just seems a little tired."
Giles hurried past the two witches and headed towards the bathroom. He was about to go in when the door opened and Ren appeared. She seemed a little surprised to see him.
"You're back," she stated quietly.
Giles looked back at her anxiously. "Are you OK? Willow said you collapsed."
"I did," Ren replied, running a hand through her hair. "But I'm fine."
"Well you don't look fine," Giles commented on her drawn appearance as she walked past him and headed back to the living room. "You look pale."
Ren stopped and turned to face him as the two witches now hovered awkwardly behind her. Ren looked at him for a moment. "I'm just tired."
Giles didn't miss the pointed look that went with those words, remembering what he'd said the previous night, but Ren turned from him again before he could say anything in reply.
"Thanks, you two." Ren spoke to Willow and Tara with a weary smile on her face. "Sorry I spoilt your evening."
"It's OK," Tara replied as Willow's gaze flickered over to Giles who walked behind Ren, throwing a concerned look mixed with what Willow guessed at as frustration at the back of his lovers head.
Willow's gaze went back to Ren. "Just so long as you're feeling alright." Willow exchanged a look with Tara and the blonde nodded.
"We should get going anyway," Tara said, "We were going to meet up with Cordelia and do a mini patrol."
"Like a patrol-ette." Willow added with a small smile, the awkward atmosphere she was beginning to sense, stopping her smile from spreading wider.
"Be careful," Giles told them. He stood by the couch now, his hands in his pockets. "Don't get into anything you can't handle."
"We will and we won't," Willow replied, giving him a brief smile as she took Tara's hand.
"See you girls," Ren said as she saw the two witches out. "Say hi to Cordy for me."
"Sure," Tara replied. She put her hand on Ren's arm once they were outside. "Just take it easy, OK?"
"I'll try." Ren waited until they'd gone a little way before she closed the door. She headed into the kitchen without looking at Giles.
Giles watched her for a moment as she poured herself a glass of water. He was about to go to her when he spotted the half-cleared away table for the first time that evening. Just one plate was left on the middle of the table along with an unlit candle in a holder and a solitary rose in a vase. Giles guessed he would probably find whatever meal had been cooked in the trash.
Ren turned around to see him looking at the table. She met his gaze when he looked back at her. "Are you not going to ask?" she said, sounding hurt.
"You were…" Giles indicated the table. "I'm sorry," he said honestly. "I didn't know you'd planned anything."
Ren looked back at him with disbelief. "Forget the bloody meal," she said harshly, her eyes narrowing. "Do you even know what I'm talking about?" At the look of confusion on his face, Ren let out a short mirthless laugh. "Of course you don't."
"Well I would if you'd tell me." //And don’t I realise how contradictory that sounds//. Giles moved into her path as she exited the kitchen. "I didn't even know you were going to the Bronze. And-and look at you-" he indicated her dress, "-you look-"
"What?" Ren put her hands on her hips. "Look what?"
//Amazing. Breathtaking. Still stunning even though you look so pale.// Giles thought. //And giving me all the more reason to think that you shouldn't be with me. That you should be with someone who doesn't get mistaken as your father.//
"Forget it," Ren interrupted him. "I don’t know why I even thought you cared."
"I care Ren," Giles said, momentarily shocked as she walked past him. "My God," he continued, turning to her as she began to climb the stairs. "Ren-" Giles broke off when Ren stopped midway up and turned to him. He held her look. "I *care*."
Ren just shot him an unreadable look and continued up the stairs.
"Ren!" Giles called after her as he began to follow her up. She didn't answer and Giles gave a short frustrated sigh. "Serendipity!"
This time Ren whipped around and stared down at him from the top of the stairs. A moment later he got answer. It was the sound of the bedroom door slamming shut. With him on the outside.
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