Written by: Joanne W
Summary: An old enemy and a new enemy get together to cause trouble between Buffy and Xander.
Rating: R for violence and language.
Disclaimer: Anything or anyone you know to be from Buffy belongs to Joss Whedon and all his little friends. Anything or anyone else that I've blatantly made up belongs to me.
Author's Notes: This fic starts just after college gets out for the summer so it's set about five months after 'Breaking the 'Rules' ended. Willow and Tara are together, the gang know Spike had a problem biting Willow ('The Initiative') but not about the chip ('BtR' went AU after 'The Initiative') and in my AU Spike never went to the gang for any help. Also notes for British spelling, *'s indicate word emphasis and //'s indicate direct character thoughts.
Giles emerged from his kitchen and took a moment to look at the scene in front of him. He smiled.
The only sound being made was by Willow as she tapped away on her laptop. Her girlfriend, Tara, happily had her head buried in one of Giles more dustier and thicker volumes. Xander was sitting down with Buffy curled up in his lap as they both read from the same book.
He then took another moment to enjoy the silence.
Then an "Ooh, gross!" from Buffy shattered it.
Xander chimed in with "I bet he doesn't get invited back after parties"
Giles sighed //Of course a nice silent research gathering would be too much to ask for// "What are you talking about?" he asked, walking over to the couple.
Buffy handed him the book "Him" she said "One-eyeball-guy."
Giles sighed again "Buffy, you're supposed to be researching Takker demons. Not the eating habits of a Unon demon."
"Well we couldn't find anything on Takker demons in this book," Buffy stated "So we just kept on reading about other ones. I mean, you always say I should know more of my potential enemies."
"Did you not think of maybe getting another book?" Giles raised an eyebrow.
"Well that would have meant getting up" Buffy replied and promptly snuggled back further against Xander "But" she indicated the book Giles still held "You could go get us another one" Buffy added a small pout for good measure.
Giles rolled his eyes and mumbled something under his breath before he headed over to the bookcase.
Willow then turned to Buffy and Xander "Hey, do you two mind if me and Tara don't head back with you tonight?"
"Sure" Xander shrugged.
"No problem" Buffy added. "Why?"
Willow cleared her throat "Um, no reason just-" Willow glanced across at Tara who flushed pink and buried her head back in her book. Willow looked back to Buffy who were trying unsuccessfully to stop the grins spreading even further on their faces. Willow rolled her eyes. "Oh please, like you two never sneak off for-"
"Ahem" Giles coughed pointedly.
Buffy rolled her eyes at Giles before taking the book he was holding out for her. "Tell me again Giles" she said, "Why are we actually researching these guys? It couldn't possibly be because things are so slow demonwise around here lately that you're just trying to find us something to do, could it?"
"No" Giles replied a little too quickly.
"Thought so" Buffy replied giving him a small smile.
Giles sighed resignedly and took the book back off Buffy "Yes, alright. I just thought that it might be nice to spend some time together that's all."
Willow flipped her laptop shut and went to sit next to Tara, who had put her book aside "Well why didn't you just say that then?" Willow said.
"Yeah, I coulda brought more food if I'd have known you just wanted to party" Xander said, "I mean, you only sprung for *one* pizza"
Giles just looked at Xander "That's *one* more than you paid for when we had the last gathering at your apartment"
Xander gave him an indignant look "Hey, I *cooked*"
"That food was microwaved" Willow pointed out "Hardly constitutes *cooking*"
"*And* it was *me* who microwaved it" Buffy added, elbowing Xander gently in the ribs.
"Yes, the skill it must take to push a button" Giles said dryly. He looked around at them all and sighed "You all want to go don't you?"
"Well… Willow and I had a-a… thing planned" Tara said "But I guess we could stay a-a little longer. I mean if you wanted us to…"
"No, no" Giles said "You two go do your… thing" he turned to Buffy and Xander "What about you two?"
Buffy waved goodbye to Willow and Tara who had made an exceedingly rapid exit before speaking to Giles "I was going to do a quick sweep of the graveyards, y'know, see if anything undead was hopefully lurking about"
"That's my little Slayer" Xander said, wrapping his arms around her waist
Buffy smiled at Xander's remark "But we can stay" she said to Giles "I mean, you haven't beaten us at Monopoly recently, and you know how you love to complain that even then you can't play it properly without the British street names"
"You really want to go don't you?" Giles said.
"OK, Buffy" Giles said "You patrol, but I actually did want to talk to Xander about something."
Xander raised his eyebrows "You want to talk to *me*? What about?"
"Well i-it's kind of, um, personal" Giles replied a little awkwardly.
"Ooh guy chat" Buffy said "Riveting" she planted a kiss on Xander's lips before getting up off his lap. She turned to Giles "Don't keep him too long. I have plans for him" she kissed Xander again "Meet you back at yours in an hour?"
Xander grinned and kissed her back deeply for confirmation.
"When you've quite finished" Giles said.
Buffy grinned back at Xander and gave them both a little wave before she left.
"OK, what's up? " Xander said, "What did you want to say to me that you couldn't in front of Buffy?"
Giles ran his hand through his hair and sat a little forward in his seat "When did you last speak to Ren?"
"Um, I got a postcard from her that had a fat, naked French woman on it about a month after she left" Xander replied "But I haven't *spoken* to her since she left" Xander paused "Why?" he then asked carefully.
"I haven't spoken to her either and I got the same postcard, but..." he trailed off and reached behind him, pulling a couple of folded up sheets of paper from his back pocket "I got a letter from her a week ago" Giles offered the letter to Xander who got up to take it "I guessed since you hadn't said anything, that you hadn't had one"
Xander sat back down and unfolded the letter "What does she say?" he asked before beginning to read.
Giles cleared his throat "She's not, uh, she says she's not, um, coming back"
Xander glanced up quickly from the letter to stare at Giles "What?"
"She says she doesn't think it would be a-a very good idea."
Xander turned back to reading the letter. He read it carefully before folding it up and giving it back to Giles "I don't get it" he said, "She just doesn't 'think it would be a good idea'?" Xander sank back into his seat "Why didn't she write and tell *me*. I would have thought she would have at least done that."
"I suspect you already know why Xander" Giles said as he caught the younger man's eye "It couldn't have been easy for her... leaving like that."
Xander dropped his eyes "So you..."
"Yes, Xander" Giles cut in "I may have to wear glasses but it didn't mean I couldn't see what was going on between you two. She cared an awful lot about you Xander, an awful lot…"
"Yeah" Xander said quietly. He ran his hand through his hair "I can't believe she's not coming back. I mean, she promised you Christmas."
Xander sighed "I miss her."
(Later that evening)
Using her key, Buffy entered Xander's apartment and found Xander sitting on his couch staring at the television. Her brow creased a little when she realised the television wasn't on.
She sat down next to him and placed her hand on his knee "What's up?" she asked.
Xander turned to her and gave her a small smile "Just thinking."
"Uh huh" Buffy gave him a knowing look. "OK, what did Giles say to you?"
"He had a letter. From Ren. Basically… she's not coming back."
"Oh" Buffy took his hand in hers "Uh… I really don't know what to say to that."
"I'm not expecting you to say anything" Xander said gently, "I know you didn't like her. I just thought you… should know."
Buffy turned and pulled Xander to her so they both lay lengthways along the couch. Xander didn't resist and leant back against Buffy who moved her legs so Xander sat between them. Buffy then wrapped her arms around him and leant back into the couch.
Resting her chin on his shoulder she spoke quietly "You feel guilty about missing her don't you?"
Xander sighed deeply "Yeah. A little."
"Hmm. Thought so."
Xander turned his head so he could meet her eyes "Hmm? I just admitted I miss my ex and you go *hmm*?"
"She was also your *friend*, Xander. What? Did you expect me to get all insecure?" she brushed a lock of hair off his forehead "Not going to happen. Been there, done that. Jealousy is not one of my more attractive features" she smiled "I know you love *me*"
Xander held her look "Without question" Xander pried an arm free then twisted around a little so he could reach behind her, cupping the back of her head and gently pulling her closer and pressed his lips against hers.
When they broke away from each other, Xander twisted back around and settled back against Buffy again "I bet I'm one of the few guys who can sit like this with his girlfriend"
"Yeah, and not many guys get their girlfriends carrying them into the bedroom either."
"That was just once. I hurt my foot remember?"
"So you say" Buffy said lightly "And anyway, I thought the hero always did that for damsels in distress."
"So I'm a damsel now?"
"Oh. I don't have to wear the puffy skirts and corsets do I?"
"Only if you feel you need to"
Xander laughed softly and rested his head gently back against her shoulder. He took one of Buffy's hands and threaded his fingers through hers "Thanks. It means a lot that you understand."
Buffy kissed the top of his head "Anytime."
(One Week Later)
Xander stood in the centre of the room with his eyes closed and his hand outstretched. A hand, into which, he then felt a cool, glass object being placed.
"OK" Willow said, "You can look now"
Xander opened his eyes and looked dubiously at the small vial of purple liquid that had been placed into his palm "Uh... OK, I give up. What is it?"
"It's a present," Willow said.
Xander looked between Willow and Tara "Uh... thanks?"
"It's the focus for your incendiary spell" Tara explained "It took some work but" she smiled at Willow then looked back to Xander "Willow and I finally managed to figure out what your friend Ren put in it"
Xander smiled "You guys did this for me?"
"You like it?" Willow said.
"It's great. One thing though" Xander said "Wasn't the last one kinda orangey?"
"I put food colouring in it" Tara said.
"We thought purple was a better colour" Willow added "More magicky."
"O-kaay" Xander said, then he smiled again "Y'know, you two really didn't have to do this. I *have* been practising. I'm getting better."
"Well, we kinda thought that as it was something Ren did for you..." Willow trailed off.
"Ah" Xander said, "It's a cheer me up thing isn't it?"
"More like a momento, really. Y'know- " Tara broke off when Xander's eyes flicked towards her "I don't know. It was Willow's idea," she added quickly.
Willow shot her girlfriend a look and Tara tried to give her an innocent look back. Willow turned to Xander "Actually it was more of a suggestion of Buffy's" she said, "She thought you might like it."
Xander smiled and shook his head lightly "My girlfriend never ceases to amaze me" he paused "Either that or she's tired of me setting fire to the chair."
(Later that evening)
Tara raised an eyebrow as she caught sight of Buffy and Xander quite happily making out in one of the less secluded areas of the Bronze. She turned to Willow "Do they ever stop doing that?" she asked.
"Not really" Willow replied with a smile "I think that's pretty much all they do"
Tara turned back to look at Buffy and Xander "I guess it's kinda... endearing"
"It wasn't *endearing* when I had to *knock* before I entered my own dorm room" Willow replied "'Cos one time I didn't and I saw body parts I-I really didn't want to"
Tara grinned and took her girlfriend's hand "Come on. Let's leave them to it."
Willow allowed Tara to lead her away to the dance floor, leaving Buffy and Xander to push the boundaries of public decency.
And all this meant that no-one noticed when a hand darted out quickly to grab Buffy's purse that was on the floor by the Slayer's feet and no-one noticed as an item was removed before the purse was replaced.
Giles opened his front door to greet Buffy and Xander. He ushered them in. "I was expecting you a little earlier" Giles said as he shut the door.
"Well we would have been" Xander replied "But Buffy was rushing about my apartment this morning looking for her hairbrush" Xander turned to Buffy who made a face "Noo, she couldn't have used *mine*. It had to be her special round one with the nice bristles."
"Oh stop complaining" Buffy said "You've been in a mood all morning."
"I am *not* in a mood"
"Oh you are so" Buffy retorted.
"I'm just tired."
"I'll say" Buffy replied "You kept tossing and turning all night. *And* stealing all the covers-"
"Do you two *mind*?" Giles interceded "If we could leave domestic squabbles at home"
"We are not squabbling" Buffy said as Xander took a seat on Giles' couch, laid back and closed his eyes.
"Are you planning on doing this the *entire* day?" Giles asked.
"*I'm* not the one in the bad mood" Buffy replied.
Giles rolled his eyes "Well, I can see you two are going to be a lot of help today."
"Hey, I'm ready and willing here" Buffy said "Just say the word... and I sound a little *too* enthusiastic don't I?"
Giles smiled "A little. It also seems" Giles indicted Xander "That your boyfriend may have fallen asleep."
Buffy sighed and stood infront of Xander "Guess he was tired" she reached out and smoothed some of his hair down off his forehead "He has been working a lot recently."
"Not to mention the fact you two find it hard to keep your hands off one another... what? Don't look at me like that" Giles said "I know perfectly well what you two were doing in my bathroom last week"
Buffy flushed pink "Ah..."
"Yes, if you two *could* refrain from having sex in my home, *especially* when I'm *in* it, I would be most appreciative"
Buffy was still blushing "Sorry, it's just y'know..." she cleared her throat "So… you wanted help with books?"
(A couple of hours later)
Buffy and Giles had nearly finished transferring books from boxes that Giles still hadn't sorted out from the old Sunnydale High library to new shelving Giles had placed anywhere there had been a space. Willow and Tara had dropped by about five minutes earlier and were currently rooting through Giles assortment of talismans for one that would be a match for a spell.
As soon as Buffy had put her last book away she heard Xander stirring "Typical" she said under her breath "Falls asleep and gets out of the work"
Buffy went over to her boyfriend ready to point this out to him when Xander sat up suddenly, his eyes wide and he was out of breath slightly. He looked around him quickly and seeing Buffy he jumped up and hugged her tightly.
The others turned to look at him as he did this and Buffy, although taken by surprise, held on to him "Hey honey" she said softly "What's wrong?"
Xander pulled back from her slightly and glanced quickly around at the others before setting his gaze back on her "I-I… sorry… I just had a weird dream… then just… I needed to-to hold you."
Buffy kept her arms around Xander's waist "You had a bad dream?" she asked.
"No, not… bad, just… weird" Xander replied.
"You OK?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah sure" Xander nodded "I'm just gonna get a drink" and he pulled away from her and headed into the kitchen.
Buffy glanced at the others before heading to the kitchen after Xander. She came to his side and took the glass of water he had just poured himself out of his hand and put it on the counter, then she turned him around to face her.
"*What's* wrong?" she asked quietly "What did you dream about?"
Xander exhaled deeply "It was like… It-it wasn't so much like it had a plot to it or anything, just… flashes of images, y'know pictures and feelings. You were there" he said softly "But there was something wrong… like you weren't *all* there or something"
"That's why you hugged me when you woke up?" she asked and Xander nodded "Is this the same reason you couldn't sleep last night?"
Xander shrugged but Buffy saw the look in his eyes. She pulled him into a hug "You can tell me these things you know?" Buffy said softly "It's not like I don't have weird dreams occasionally"
Xander pulled back from "Thanks" he said and smiled, and then he leaned in and kissed her firmly on the mouth. Buffy raised her arms so she could wrap them around his neck and returned the kiss with fervour.
Giles turned to Willow and Tara, who were politely not looking at the couple now kissing passionately in the kitchen. He sighed "If they disappear to the bathroom, would one of you two tell me?"
Across town in a rather luxurious apartment and furnished accordingly, a women sat cross-legged on her sitting room floor. She gazed at her reflection in a mirror that was situated a few feet in front of her, as if committing her image to memory.
"Damn I'm gorgeous" Tay said, then grinned at herself in the mirror and her blue eyes glittered eerily back at her "Hair's too short though" she then added, pulling gently at her short ebony hair "Have to find something to do about that"
Tay drew her gaze away from her reflection stood up. She wandered over to her kitchen counter and picked up the item she'd had stolen last night from the Slayer. Tay pulled a few strands of blond hair from the brush and grinned again "DNA sample. Check" she threw the brush in the rubbish bin and carried the hair at arms length before she dropped it into a bowl of liquid on her windowsill "Only a few more things to go and we're in the home straight"
(A few weeks later)
"OK... mmm... Xander, you're gonna... mmm... haveta stop... doing that" Buffy's request lacked even more conviction when she tilted her head, allowing Xander even more exposed neck to plant kisses on "I have to... mmm lower... study this... for Giles" Buffy's eyes flicked momentarily to the books that had lain untouched for the past fifteen minutes.
"Can't you... study... at the... same... time?" Xander asked between kisses.
Buffy leaned back against Xander who was seated behind her on the floor "Not... really"
"And... there I was... thinking you... could multi... task" Xander began to kiss along her jaw line "Maybe I ... should stop"
"Stopping... would be..." Buffy stopped as Xander finally reached her lips and placed a soft kiss on them "Good" she exhaled deeply "So good" Buffy twisted around so she was kneeling and facing Xander. She placed her hands on his shoulders before leaning in to press her mouth firmly against his. Xander began to straighten his legs and Buffy moved to straddle him and then gently push him further back against the side of the chair, all the while keeping their lips working together. Xander reached up behind Buffy with both hands and began to slowly untie the strings of her halter-top when he heard the door open.
"Oh for..." Willow said loudly.
"Uh... hey Will " Xander said as he quickly retied Buffy's straps "Thought you were going to be, uh, gone for longer"
Buffy turned around to face her, a sheepish grin on her face. Willow looked at them both with raised eyebrows "Change of plans" Willow said "And I thought *you* were supposed to be working" she added, looking at Xander.
"I was" Xander replied "*But* I thought I'd stop by in my lunch hour and see my gorgeous girlfriend"
"And he got promoted" Buffy told Willow then turned to grin at Xander "We were celebrating" she said before turning back to Willow.
"So I saw," Willow said with a smile "So Xander, what does that make you now?"
"Something like senior waiter guy. All I know is, I no longer have to wash dishes and that I get more money. And" he looked at his watch "I have to be getting back to my new and improved job" he stood up then turned and pulled Buffy to her feet "I'll see you later?"
Buffy nodded "Bronze at nine?"
"Bronze at nine" Xander confirmed then planted a quick kiss on her forehead before he started for the door. "Catch ya later Will."
"Buffy" Willow asked after Xander had left "Can I ask you a question?"
Buffy sat back down on the floor "Sure."
"What's with you and Xander lately?"
Buffy's brow creased a little in confusion "Huh?"
"Y'know, with the... well you seem uh... more 'loved up' than usual"
"That's probably because we're *in* *love* Willow" Buffy pointed out "Aren't we *supposed* to want to be with each other?"
"Yeah, of course" Willow assured her "It's just… I don't know" Willow continued a little hesitantly "It's like you're trying to prove something... to yourself…" she trailed off and asked carefully "Is this about Ren?"
Buffy sighed "No, it's not."
"So it's about *something* then?"
"It's not... its not..." Buffy sighed "About anything," she said quietly.
Willow sat down "I didn't mean to pry Buffy"
Buffy sighed again "No, you're right."
Willow's lips twisted in a small smile "I know I'm right Buff. I just... didn't mean to pry" she took a breath "Wanna talk about it?"
"Oh. OK, if you don't-" Willow replied and went to stand up but Buffy began talking again.
"You remember he had that dream a few weeks ago?" Buffy said.
Willow sat back down "Uh huh"
"I think he's been having them since then."
"You think? I mean… he hasn't told you?"
"No" a sad look crossed over Buffy's face "He hasn't"
"So what makes you think that he's been having them?" Willow asked.
"Since he first had it... if that *was* the first time... but since *I* first knew about it, every time we've woken up together either at home or at his, I've found him holding me. Like really holding me. I mean he's been asleep but obviously he's woken in the night and managed to wrap himself around me" Buffy paused "It's not like I don't mind him doing that... it's nice... but kinda a little un-nerving"
"Un-nerving?" Willow repeated and Buffy nodded "Obviously you haven't talked to him about this?" Willow asked.
Buffy shook her head "I can't understand why he won't tell me if he *is* having the dream. I told him that he could tell me if he was."
"Well... maybe he isn't then" Willow offered "Maybe it's something else " Willow paused "Actually that doesn't really explain why you two have been the way you have."
"I figured that if he didn't want to say anything to me" Buffy explained "That I could, y'know, let him know that I *was* here for him, just-"
"Just in other ways?" Willow finished "Buffy, that's not really solving anything."
"Look Buffy, you *have* to *talk* to him. At least if you don't get him to admit if he *is* having these dreams, then at least *if* he is he'll know that you've noticed" Willow paused "If that makes sense"
"I get you Will" Buffy gave her friend a small smile
"Well *good*" Willow replied firmly. "Now, what have we got so far on these guys?" she asked, changing the subject and gesturing to the books that were in front of Buffy "Did you find an easier way of killing these demons or do we have to do it the messy way?"
"Uh, so far it seems the messy way is the only way" Buffy handed Willow a book and indicated a passage "And it's got to be done with a special knife thingy which Giles said he doesn't have. He's going to try and find one."
Willow read the text that Buffy had pointed out and her lips curled a little in disgust "Y'know I don't see why all demons can't just be nice and tidy when they die. Why do some have to explode with all kinds of goo and crap? I mean, why can't they all take their cues from vampires? Y'know, all *they* do is leave a little dust. You just brush it off and you're set."
Buffy smiled "Yeah, it's a real bitch not being able to claim for dry cleaning expenses. Oh, which reminds me" Buffy added, "You haven't by any chance seen my blue vest top have you? Y'know the knitted one with the lilac hem?"
"The one which you told me if I borrowed it without asking that you'd beat me into a bloody pulp, but… in a *nice* way?"
"That's the one. So, have you borrowed it?"
"I think I answered that with my previous sentence Buffy."
"Oh right" Buffy frowned "Well then, that makes the fifth item of clothing the laundry goblins have taken over the past month."
"You sure you haven't just misplaced them?" Willow asked.
"Uh uh" Buffy shook her head "I've looked *everywhere*. I even ventured into the pit of despair that is Xander's closet and nada."
"You think someone *stole* them?"
Buffy shrugged "All I know is, they were there and then they weren't. Anyway, doesn't matter. I can always get more. It's just annoying that's all" Buffy sighed and picked up a book "OK. Beska demons. Now where was I…"
Tay dropped her book when she heard the door to her apartment being opened "Wait a sec!" she called out as she jumped up and went to close the blinds. She drew the last one just as her guest shut the door behind himself.
"Ooh, looking out for me well bein'?" he said, "I'm touched"
Tay turned around to face her companion "Well being my arse" she retorted "I just don't wanna be sweeping you off my rug."
"Now *that* I don't believe" Spike said. He strode forward and swept Tay into his arms "You never sweep" Spike pressed his lips to hers and initiated a passionate kiss.
Tay was the first to break away "So peroxide boy, whatcha got for me today?"
Spike grinned "Somethin' I *know* you're going to like". He reached into his pocket and produced a package heavily swathed in a thick cloth "This" he said, pressing it into Tay's hand "I happen to know she got as a present."
"What is it?" Tay asked, pulling away from his hold and examining the parcel.
"Necklace. Silver cross."
"That explains the unorthodox wrapping" Tay said, taking the necklace out of the wrapping and ignoring Spike's grimace. She smiled and then deftly tossed the package into a wooden box about ten feet away "Nice work" Tay grinned at him "*And* hopefully it should be the last thing I need you to get"
"Good. I was gettin' bored of stealing the Slayer's crap" Spike sniffed "Don't see why you couldn't have got it"
"Spike, you know I can't risk being seen."
"And *I* can?"
"Hey, I pay you with *lots* of money *as* *well* as sexual favours for doing this"
"I hadn't forgotten" Spike raised an eyebrow suggestively.
"Yeah? Well stop whinging then," Tay said, pressing herself up against him "You're taking all the fun out of this."
Spike wrapped his arms around her waist "Fun? I thought you were doin' this for some kind of bizarre and twisted kind of revenge"
"I am," she said, her eyes glittering "But mostly it’ll just be fun."
(Later that evening)
Telling Xander a little white lie that she had a headache and really didn't want to go to the Bronze that evening, Buffy had suggested that she and him spend a quiet night together at his apartment. Now she sat curled up beside him on his couch, not paying attention to the movie but wondering when would be the best time to broach the subject Willow had brought up earlier.
Buffy snuggled up more against him and Xander dropped his arm from the back of the couch to rest on Buffy's shoulders.
"Buffy?" Xander's voice cut through her thoughts.
"Can I talk to you about something?"
Buffy pulled back slightly and flicked her eyes up to meet Xander's //That's supposed to be my line this evening//
"Uh… OK. Sure" Buffy sat up straighter "What's up?"
"I've been stupid. I've not told you something and I really should have" Xander took a deep breath "That dream I had about you… at Giles… I've had it again a few times since then. I know you said that I should tell you when I think about things like that but I … I wasn't quite sure how and… and… why are you smiling?"
"I was uh… going to talk to you about the same thing" Buffy admitted "I had kinda guessed that something was wrong" Buffy took hold of one of his hands "I kept waking up to finding you wrapped around me and after what you said and did the first time you had the dream…"
"I didn't realise I'd been doing that" Xander said, "I guess it must have been on a subconscious level or something" he gave her a small grin "Hope I didn't scare you or anything like that"
"Gee, I don't know. I mean having my gorgeous, naked boyfriend holding me kinda frightens me a little bit" she gave him a grin.
Xander relaxed a little "I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier" he said, "I guess I'm an idiot"
"Hey I should have mentioned about you and the holding. I'm an idiot too."
"Idiots in love" Buffy added.
Buffy flashed him a brilliant smile and Xander laughed "You're the best girlfriend ever" he said.
"Well of course" Buffy shuffled herself into his lap. She looked him in the eyes and held his gaze, bringing her hand up to cup his cheek "And you're the best thing to happen to me" she said with all seriousness.
Xander's eyes shone "Buffy…"
"Xander, I love you. More than anything. What you're having is just a dream. I'm here. All of me OK? I'm not going anywhere" Buffy placed a soft kiss on his forehead "Ever."
Xander woke and rolled over in bed onto his side so he was facing Buffy, who was still asleep. Xander propped himself up on his elbow so he was resting his head in his hand. He reached out with his free hand and brushed a few strands of blonde hair off of her forehead. Buffy stirred a little but didn't wake. Xander smiled //Man, if I knew four years ago I could be in this position and so happy I would have given anything to fast forward to this moment//
Then Buffy's eyes fluttered open and she smiled when she saw Xander gazing at her.
"Morning gorgeous" he said with a smile.
"Mmm, morning" Buffy replied, stretching a little "How did you sleep?"
"I slept great" Xander said honestly and Buffy smiled "I still dreamt about you" he admitted "But it was a different kind of dream" Xander grinned "It involved whipped cream and handcuffs"
"Was there chocolate?" Buffy grinned back.
"It would have been sacrilege for there not to have been."
Buffy hugged the covers to her chest and sat up "OK, you've made me hungry now"
"Really? Y'know I may have some whipped-"
Buffy batted his arm playfully "No" she interrupted "I meant real food. Breakfast."
Xander pouted "Spoilsport."
"Look, you go grab a shower and I'll fix something for us both, OK?"
About five minutes later Xander stepped out of the shower. He had just out a towel a round his middle when he heard a muffled explosion and a shriek from Buffy.
Xander raced to the kitchen only to find Buffy standing there, her hair tied back in an untidy ponytail and wearing one of his shirts, and covered in whatever had decided to leap from the blender and splatter her and the rest of his kitchen.
Xander suppressed a smile "Having fun?" he asked, trying to sound innocent.
Buffy turned around and tried to look composed "Just having a slight problem."
"Blender playing up again, huh?"
Buffy pushed some of her gunk-covered hair off her face "It might have done."
Xander failed in trying to hold back a smirk "You… look good" Xander started giggling.
"Don't make me hurt you" Buffy took a step closer to him.
When Xander continued to laugh, Buffy couldn't help but crack a small smile "It's not funny" she said, albeit unconvincingly.
Xander's laughter died off a bit so he could speak "Sorry, Buff. You just look so… cute."
Xander smiled "Yup" his voice then took on a more sincere tone "You look great"
"Huh?" Buffy was confused by the way Xander was looking at her. There she was, standing in the kitchen looking the worst she had done for a while and her boyfriend was looking at her like she was a million dollars.
"Wait there, OK?" Xander said "Just hold that… pose. I'll be back in a minute" and Xander turned and headed into the bedroom.
"And close your eyes" he called out.
Buffy sighed and closed her eyes "You better not be getting a camera" she called back.
A minute later Xander stood back in front of Buffy "OK, you can open them now" he told her.
Buffy opened her eyes to look at a now jean clad Xander holding out a small, beautifully wrapped gift "For me?" she asked. Xander nodded and Buffy took it from his hand "What is it?"
Buffy grinned at him and set about undoing the wrapping, eventually to find a small jewellery box. Buffy gasped "Xander…"
"Open it" Xander repeated.
Buffy dropped the gift wrap onto the floor and popped open the lid of the box "Oh Xander they're beautiful" she gushed as she saw the small diamond, cross-shaped earrings "They really are. And this" she took the other item out and set the box carefully down on the counter "Is just gorgeous" Buffy went to place the item on one of the digits on her right hand when Xander caught hold of her wrist and gently took it out of her hand.
"Wrong finger" he said quietly and took hold of her other hand and pushed the ring half way down on to the third finger of her left hand "This is the right one"
"Wha…?" Buffy flicked her eyes up to Xander's "Xan… I… wha… huh?"
Xander smiled, before dropping down to one knee "Buffy, will you marry me?"
Buffy's eyes dropped to the ring. It was an intricately crafted white gold band with a row of three tiny diamonds along the top. She looked back to Xander "I… Xan… I… wha… marry? I… you want… I…"
"OK" Xander said and stood up "I can see forming words is a problem for you at the moment."
"Mmm huh" Buffy managed to get out.
Xander smiled again "So let's try this another way" he looked into her eyes "You can either nod to this question or choose a non-violent way to say no" Xander took hold of her left hand "Do you want me to push this ring the rest of the way down?"
Buffy stared back at him, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. She sniffed quietly then a stupid grin spread over her face and she nodded her head.
An equally stupid grin then broke out on Xander's face "You mean you will?"
Buffy nodded again "Yes" she looked down and watched as Xander put the ring the rest of the way onto her finger. "I can't believe this is happening" Buffy's eyes smiled back into Xander's "I love you"
"Love you too" Xander replied. He cupped Buffy's cheek and removed some of the blender goop from her face, gazing lovingly at her "I'm never letting you go."
After moving the last piece of furniture and taking up the rug to expose the bare floorboards, Tay set about marking on the floor with chalk. Soon she had drawn two circles. They were exactly a metre apart and both one metre in diameter. Around one of circle's rims she alternated black and white, small, unlit candles before placing all the items that Spike had taken from the Slayer into the centre of that circle.
Tay stood back and admired her handiwork "Now for the tricky part" she said out loud to herself.
"They say speaking to yourself is a sign of madness" she heard a male voice from behind her say.
"At least I know someone's listening" Tay replied. She turned around to face Spike and crossed her arms infront of her chest "Where have you been?"
"Yeah, well while you were *out* we had a *very* *interesting* development"
"What has our favourite couple done now?"
"I saw on the monitor from the hidden camera. They just got engaged."
Spike laughed "Oh this just gets *better* and *better*"
(A little later that day)
Tay was kneeling on the floor in the space between the two circles she had drawn. She was drawing out magical runes and pagan symbols in a line, which there were going to be six of running between the two circles.
Spike was standing behind her and had been admiring the view he was getting before boredom finally took him and he sighed loudly and pointedly. Spike hated how he was relying on Tay to give him things to do. Most of all he hated how this was a bloody good plan and it hadn’t been him who had thought of it. But Spike, being Spike, wasn’t going to throw away the chance get rid of the bratty little Slayer once and for all. So this was why now, when Tay stood up and turned around to face him, he whined.
"Tay, I’ve been standing here doing nothing for the last hour. Can’t you at least give me something to do?"
"Spike, I told you to check out the monitors."
"I did" he said "And they were shagging *again*. Like bloody rabbits those two are. It’s not really something I want to sit down with a mug of blood and watch."
"Tough. You’re not helping me" Tay turned back around and began to continue with her task.
Spike crossed the room and knelt in front of her "Oh come on. The sooner we get this done the sooner we can party"
Tay groaned in exasperation "Spike, I’m trying to concentrate here."
Spike indicated the lines she was inscribing "All you’re doing is copying out the same stuff six times. I can do *that*"
"Did you not hear me earlier when I said *I* had to do all the spell stuff, huh? If I let anyone else inscribe or chant or anything to help with this then it *won’t* *work* *properly*. Spike, trust me, I’ve being doing these kind of enhancement spells since before you were alive *and* undead"
Spike stood up and shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans "I *really* don't like your attitude sometimes" he sniffed "You came to *me* for help first remember?"
Tay looked up at him "No Spike. Not *help*. I offered you an *opportunity*" Tay stood up and stepped over the lines of symbols then took another step so she was nose to nose with Spike "I could've got anyone to do this with me but I chose you. D'ya know why? Because I've never seen *anyone* with such a hard on for seeing a Slayer's despair, humiliation and subsequent demise. Sure I've met vamps and other demons who want to see her sort dead" Tay smiled "But *you've* got something they don't Spike"
"A hard on?" he grinned.
Tay rolled her eyes "Spike" she said "What you have is dedication to a cause. I admire that. A goal in unlife is good."
"Yeah, well how 'bout giving me something to do to help achieve this goal then?"
Tay stepped carefully back over the lines she had been drawing and knelt down again "Check out the monitors again. Find out what the Watcher and the witches are up to."
Spike cheered up "Oooh, I like watching the lesbians"
"You *would*" Tay sighed "Great, I'm stuck with a voyeuristic vampire."
"Oh come on. You know you love me really."
"Oh *bite* me"
"Tempting, but… no" Spike took his hands out of his pockets and cracked his knuckles "Right then… lesbians…." And with that Spike left the room.
Tay put down her chalk and squeezed the bridge of her nose with her fingers "Dedication to a cause he may have…" she muttered to herself "Lets just hope I'm not making a huge mistake"
(An hour and a half later)
Tay had finished marking out the six lines and was just placing the last few candles around the second circle when Spike sauntered back into the room. She looked up at him "Anything interesting?"
"No. Bloody witches just sat there pouring over some books. The Watcher too"
"The other two still at it?"
Spike grimaced "Yeah, they were being inventive with whipped cream."
Tay placed the last candle and stood up "Hmm. I prefer ice-cream myself."
Spike grinned and grabbed Tay's wrist, pulling her into his arms "Y'know we have a few hours to kill before sunset luv"
Tay grinned back and brushed a light kiss over his lips "Sounds nice. But, unfortunately Spike, that time will be filled with me performing the spell. And *you* will have to find somewhere *else* to be"
"Like where? Its still sunny out."
"Not my problem Spike" she pulled away from him and grabbed his shoulders, spinning him around before guiding him to the door "I'll be done at sunset" Tay told him, taking one hand away to open the door. She shoved Spike through the door "You can come back then" she told him before shutting the door in his face and turning the key to lock it.
Tay brushed her hands together //OK not strictly true that he couldn't be here. Just him being gone makes it easier for me to get this bit over with//. Tay looked over what she had set up. The two circles one metre apart with the six symbolic lines of transfer that ran between them were still intact. All the things that had belonged to Buffy were in one circle while the other was empty. Tay picked up Spike's duster that he had unfortunately not taken before she manoeuvred him out of the apartment. Rummaging around in one of the pockets she found the lighter that she was looking for.
She knelt by the circle that contained Buffy's things and lit only the white candles that lined the circle, leaving the black ones untouched. When she was finished she smoothed her clothes out and tucked her now slightly longer dark hair behind her ears, before sitting crossed legged in the other circle. Tay closed her eyes and began the spell.
Buffy twisted the ring around on her finger, a bright smile on her face "So we tell the others our good news when we get back to Giles'?" Buffy asked and cast a sidelong look at Xander as they patrolled together through the graveyard. The other members of the gang were patrolling the other side of the resting ground.
"Uh huh. We tell them. Willow faints. Tara will fan her back in to consciousness. I suspect Giles will take off his glasses, polish them and put them back on before actually saying anything."
"You have it all worked out, don't you?" Buffy said, "OK well, I don’t think Willow will faint but she will make those high-pitched noises she does that only dogs can hear. But you're definitely right about Giles. But they'll be OK. My mom didn't get violent now did she?" Buffy stopped walking but still held onto Xander's hand so he had to stop too "Xander can I ask you a question?"
"Well I've already asked mine for the day…"
Buffy grinned "Yeah, that was a gooood question. But now I get to ask mine. *Exactly* how long have you been waiting to propose?"
Xander grinned back sheepishly "Uh… since this morning."
"Since this morning?" Buffy repeated "No planning?" Xander shook his head. Buffy blinked "But you… you had the ring and everything."
Xander put his hands on Buffy's shoulders and looked into her eyes "I wasn't planning on proposing this morning, that's true," he admitted "And… yes, um the ring was only going to be a gift. But" he smiled "After what you said last night… well, when you went to put the ring on the other hand first I had like a… um… OK I can't think what's called right now, but I had one and basically I just thought 'Gee that ring would look good on the other hand'. Then 'Gee Buffy would make a really cool fiancée'. Then it finished with 'Gee, she'd make an even better wife'" Xander took his hands of her shoulders and cupped either side of her face, gently tilting her face up to his "And I know that was a lot of 'Gee's', but Buffy, I may not have planned it" he smiled fondly "But I sure as hell don't regret it"
Buffy blinked back tears and a bright smile broke out on her face "Y'know they're all going to say we're to young to do this, don't you?"
Xander took his hands from her face and held her waist instead "Probably" he replied "Does it matter?"
"No" Buffy wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest.
"I really didn't think I'd be catching the live show tonight" Spike said turning to Tay as they watched the other couple from a distance "How much longer do I have to put up with that before you do your bit?"
Tay looked at her watch "It's five minutes before eleven o'clock. So I'm guessing five minutes."
Buffy pulled back from Xander "Come on" she said, "We still have to patrol"
Xander smiled and took hold of one of her hands and they began to walk again. They got about ten yards when Xander took a look at his watch "Hey it's now eleven. Do you want to head over to the others?"
"Sure, we can-"
Suddenly a blue flash of light appeared from behind one of the nearby mausoleums, causing the surrounding area to now be bathed in an eerie light.
"I'm going to take a wild guess here and say that's not good" Buffy stated.
Buffy took a few steps towards the source of the light "I can't hear anything" she said. Buffy turned back to Xander "I'm going to check it out."
"Always am" Buffy headed over towards the mausoleum cautiously.
Xander watched as Buffy disappeared behind the stone structure. He didn't immediately hear any sounds of distress or sound that indicated any fighting of any sort. But he also didn't hear any thing from Buffy to say that everything was all right.
"Honey?" Xander called out as he took a few steps towards the mausoleum. He'd learnt the hard way that, although Buffy thought it was sweet that he wanted to throw himself infront of any projectiles that might head her way, she'd rather have a boyfriend that didn't have more holes than he really needed. He'd learnt the hard way because he really didn't think she'd follow through on her threat of knocking him unconscious. He'd had the bump for two days.
"Buffy?" Xander took a few steps nearer, and then he heard her voice from behind the mausoleum.
"Nothing here Xander. But we need to get Gil-" The sound of Buffy's voice was cut short by a loud, thunderous sound and a bright blue flash of light happening simultaneously. Xander was catapulted back a few feet by the force of the explosion ricocheting out from behind the mausoleum where Buffy was.
Xander hit the ground with a hard thump. He had heard Buffy yell out even above the sound. Xander got to his feet and rushed towards the stone structure that now had blue static electricity like waves dancing around it. But before he even got to call out her name a second explosion happened and Xander was thrown back again. His head hit against something hard and he felt waves of blackness start to swim before his eyes.
When Willow, Tara and Giles saw the blue light flare up from Buffy and Xander's side of the graveyard they all exchanged worried looks before hurrying quickly across the graveyard towards the other couple, arriving in time to see Xander get thrown back by the second blast.
"Xander!" Willow cried out and rushed over to her friend. Xander had slipped into unconsciousness. "Oh god, Xander."
Tara and Giles came quickly to her side. Giles gently nudged Willow to out of the way and Giles checked Xander's pulse and breathing.
"He'll be all right," Giles said, "Stay with him while I see if I can find Buffy." Giles cast his eyes on the mausoleum that still had the blue flickering lights around it, even thought they were gradually dying away.
Giles stood up, pulling a crossbow from the weapons bag as he did so. He took a few steps towards the mausoleum when the lights suddenly stopped and disappeared altogether, leaving them with just moonlight to see by. "Buffy!" Giles called out. He didn't get an answer. Giles quickly ventured a little nearer "Buffy!" he called out again. Giles didn't hear anything at first, but then he heard what sounded like groaning. He hurried around to the other side of the stone building "Buffy?"
"Uggghhh. I'm OK. I don't think anything is broken. Well I can feel all my limbs and fingers and toes so I take it that's good. Did I mention I hate getting blown up?"
Giles looked at the person struggling to their feet in front of him "What are *you* doing here?"
"Not that it's not nice to see you, but why are *you* here" Giles scanned the surrounding area quickly "Where's Buffy? Have you seen her?"
"Huh? What? Giles? What the hell are you talking about?"
Giles gave an exasperated sigh "Have you seen Buffy?"
"Did you get hit on the head or something Giles? I'm right here."
Giles looked at her "Excuse me?"
"I'm. Right. Here" was the reply he got "And where's Xander?"
"What's going on?" Tara asked, coming to Giles side "Where's Buffy?"
Giles looked at Tara and gestured to the female standing in front of them "She seems to think *she* is"
Tara looked at the woman standing in front of her and her brow furrowed in slight confusion "She thinks *she's* Buffy?" Tara repeated.
"Think?! I *am* Buffy. Now where's Xander?"
Giles stared at the person in front of him with apprehension. He turned to Tara; about to tell her to go back to check on Xander and leave himself to deal with this situation, but he noticed Tara's look had changed from one of confusion to one of wonder.
Tara took a step towards the other female, who looked back at her with confusion.
"Uh Tara? What are you doing?" she asked "And why won't anyone tell me where Xander is?"
Tara didn't reply and took another step towards the other woman before stopping and studying her.
"Tara" Giles asked "What *are* you doing?"
Tara turned back to Giles "I-I think that w-whoever she looks like, is not who she *is*"
"What are you saying?" Giles asked.
"I'm *saying*" Tara said "That I think she might *be* Buffy"
There was a confused look on the other woman's face "What do you mean *might* be. I *am*"
"Giles!" Willow called over to them "He's coming round!"
"Xander?! You never said he was *hurt*!"
Willow looked up to see who was heading towards her and Xander and her mouth formed an 'o' in surprise.
The other woman sank to her knees by Xander's side and touched her hand to his cheek "Xander honey" she said softly "It's OK. I'm here."
Xander's eyes fluttered open and he moaned in pain. Then he focused in on the person other than Willow who was kneeling by his side. Confusion washed over his face.
"Ren?" he said in a quiet voice.
Willow heard the other woman opposite her draw in a sharp breath and pull back sharply from Xander. Willow turned to Giles "What's going on here?"
Giles hurried over and pulled the other woman wearing Ren's face to her feet. "It seems we may have a problem" Giles told Willow. He turned the woman he had just helped up around to face him. She had a look of hurt on her face "He didn't just call me what I think he did, did he?" she asked shakily.
"He did" Giles told her "But I don't think… it wasn't his fault" Giles looked quickly at Tara "Are you *sure* about this?" he asked the blonde witch.
"A person's energy has a flow, a unity. Her's is . . . is fragmented. It-it grates, like something forced in where it doesn't belong" Tara explained "I think someone else is in Ren's body. And, judging by the confusion of our reaction to her, I'm ninety-nine percent sure it's *Buffy* who's in it. We *can* check… but I-I don't think we need to… do we?"
Xander groaned as Willow helped him to his feet "Could someone tell me what's going on?"
Giles looked at him "I think you'd better sit back down Xander" he said then he looked at the dark-haired woman in front of him "Buffy… you too"
Xander stared at Giles "Did you just call her *Buffy*?"
"I think they may have switched" Tara explained.
"Switched?" ~Buffy said "What do you mean *switched*?"
"You-you can't be serious? *Switched*" Xander said and stared at ~Buffy "This-this *can't* be happening. This is *not* happening" Xander sat down on a nearby headstone.
"*Switched*?" ~Buffy repeated "Hey! Could *somebody* talk to *me* here?"
Giles laid a hand on her shoulder "Buffy, something has happened to you. You're not quite… *you*"
"What do you mean, not quite *me*?" ~Buffy asked, "I feel like me" she looked down at herself "I mean I look like… like… like… I wasn't wearing these clothes when I came out" she looked back up at Giles "And… and… you're… shorter."
"Actually you're *taller*" Willow explained.
"It's what they've been trying to tell you… us" Xander said in a quiet voice "It's not *your* body you're in" he said, meeting her eyes "It's Ren's"
~Buffy continued to hold his gaze but held out her hand and snapped her fingers "Mirror."
Willow quickly rummaged around in her satchel "Here" she said pulling a small compact out and pressing it into ~Buffy's hand.
~Buffy flipped it open and held it in front of her face. She stared at her reflection for a few long moments before the compact fell from her hand and hit the grass. ~Buffy's breath hitched "No. No, no, no, no, no" her eyes darted wildly "No!" she cried "This is *not* happening! It's not!" ~Buffy put her hand to her mouth to stifle a sob. Then her eyes met back with Xander's. "Xander?" she said in a small voice "This isn't happening, right?"
Xander got up and went to her. He tentatively reached out a hand before cupping her cheek gently "It's happening" Xander said.
~Buffy placed one of her own hands on top of Xander's "But I don't want it to be."
"It'll be OK" Xander turned to Giles "We can fix this, right?"
Giles ran a hand through his hair "I... I don’t-"
"It all depends on the type of spell," Tara said.
Everyone, including ~Buffy, turned to face Tara. The blonde witch wilted a little under their gazes. She wasn't used to being relied upon for her witch knowledge, not to this extent, and it was a little un-nerving. Tara took a deep breath and composed herself //Come on, this is what you do best// She exhaled slowly "OK. You can do this kind of switching bodies thing by using a Draconian katra spell, but that would require the other person, Ren in this case, to actually be in the vicinity. Buffy would actually have seen her" Tara explained "They would have had to touch. The spell requires one of the switchees to be wearing a katra. A small device that normally fits into the palm of the hand."
"B-but I didn't see her" ~Buffy said, "Except Xander, there wasn't anyone else but me here. And no one touched me."
"So what does that mean?" Xander asked, "How did they switch? Did it have something to do with those lights and the explosions?"
"Most probably" Tara replied as she gained confidence "That's why I think it's a Cathanian transfer spell. You can swap up to five people around using this spell. Uh… small items, usually personal ones, which belong to each of the people being swapped, are used to in this. Mainly so that the person or people being switched don't have to be there."
"Do you really think that's what happened?" Willow asked her girlfriend.
"Some of my stuff has been going missing" ~Buffy said before Tara could answer "I thought I was just misplacing it but…" she trailed off. She looked at Xander before looking back to Tara "So Ren could be anywhere wearing my face? Is that what you're saying?"
"Yes" Tara admitted "But she'd *know* what had happened by now. She may be trying to get in touch."
"Yeah. I don't think she liked you enough to want to be stuck in your body" Willow said, trying to put a light tone in her voice.
"Yeah, well I know how she's feeling" ~Buffy said looking down at her new body "It's not my idea of fun either."
"Wait a minute" Xander said "If neither Buffy or Ren need to be near each other to switch, we should just be able to change them back still, shouldn't we?"
Giles exchanged glances with the two witches before turning to Xander and ~Buffy "We might have a-a little problem there" he said " Cathanian spells of any persuasion are extremely difficult to perform. It wouldn't be difficult finding the exact spell, but to enact it would be almost impossible… for us anyway. I don't have the power… the strength. Even Willow or Tara couldn't-" Giles broke off and looked at ~Buffy "Buffy, whoever did this to you is extremely powerful"
"But I thought you said we could fix it" ~Buffy said, pulling away from Xander and turning to Giles "I want it fixed!"
"We *can* fix it" Giles tried to assure her "We just have to find someone who *is* strong enough. I have some people I can call-"
"Yeah, well that's not going to do a lot of good right *now* is it" ~Buffy said angrily. Then she calmed down a little "I'm sorry" she said "I just… I just…" ~Buffy sniffed "This was supposed to be a *good* day" she said quietly and looked down at her hands, scratching at the empty space where the engagement ring would have been. ~Buffy looked at Xander "It's not fair."
"I know it's not" Xander said, pulling her into a hug "But we're going to fix it. Whatever it takes."
Shortly after, Giles suggested that they all head home. Giles knew ~Buffy was exhausted, that it must be hard for her. Not just to be in someone else's body, but also because of who's body it was. And Giles also knew that it must be hard on Xander for the same reason.
As soon as he got home, Giles checked for any messages that Ren may have left. He had told the others to do the same and to call him with whether they had heard anything or not.
But Giles didn't have any messages. He sighed and sat down heavily on his couch and thought about where the hell he could start to find someone with enough power *and* who would be willing to help them.
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