The New Adventures of Buffy and Xander
Episode Nine: "Dance with the Devil - Part Two"
Summary:Xander and Buffy find themselves at the mercy of a stranger who wants something from them both.
Buffy shivered slightly as she neared the study door and frowned when she touched the handle and found that it was almost freezing.
Buffy pushed open the door and stepped inside. She blinked slowly at what she saw.
Behind the desk, seated in the chair with her feet kicked up onto the desk and her hands behind her head, was the mysterious woman in black.
"I'm sorry," Buffy tried not to wilt under the woman's piercing gaze "I didn't know anyone was in here."
The woman didn't say anything; she just kept staring at Buffy.
Buffy stared back at her for a moment more before she turned to leave, only to see the door slam shut infront of her. Buffy stood looking at the wood panels of the door for a moment before she turned back to the woman behind the desk who now sat with her hands clasped together in her lap.
"Ookaay" Buffy said slowly "So, you're a ghost. Gotta say though, I've seen scarier."
"I'm not a ghost" the woman replied, sounding amused.
Buffy raised one eyebrow "Really? Then who? I know you don't live here."
The woman raised her own eyebrow in response "Neither do you Miss Summers"
Buffy blinked and felt her jaw go a little slack. Had she heard this woman right? "I-I'm sorry?"
The woman in black rolled her eyes "I said you didn't live here Miss Summers oh what's the damn point" there was an exasperated sigh "I go to all this trouble to make everything all mysterious and what do you do? You stand there and do goldfish impressions, which, granted, is sorta the reaction I was hoping for, but you could've at least fainted"
Buffy blinked "You called me by my name."
"Oh you heard that the first two times I said it did you?" the woman's voice was laced with sarcasm "At least that's something good"
Buffy snapped out of her shock "Hey! I asked you a question." Buffy shot back, the woman's attitude putting her on the defensive "Who the hell are you?"
The woman smirked "Ooh a fiery one. You'll be fun."
Buffy glared back at her "Just tell me who the hell you are"
"What?" Buffy crossed her arms over her chest "Forgotten have you?"
The woman pulled a face "Ha. No, FYI I'm waiting."
"For him" the woman pointed to the door.
"Hey Buff, I hope-" Xander stopped in the doorway. He blinked when he saw the redheaded woman smiling serenely at him then he looked to Buffy. "What the hell-"
"Just what I'm trying to figure out" Buffy interrupted him. She took the pullover he had in his hand "Thanks" she gave him a brief smile.
"Uh, no probs" Xander replied a little distracted, looking back to the woman behind the desk.
"She knows who we are" Buffy words were muffled as she slipped the pullover over her head, as it was still cold in the room. "Who we *really* are" she added once able to see again. "Came out with names and everything." Buffy then shot a look at the other woman "Apart from hers though it would seem"
"It's Bob" the redhead replied with a smile "Short for Kate" she added, seeing the odd looks she got.
"I'd have thought you more Queenie with that hair" Xander replied.
"Ooh points for pop culture to you cutie." Kate grinned "But, really. It is Kate."
"Yeah?" Buffy looked at the other woman dubiously "I was expecting something more mysterious. But funnily enough" she continued "I don’t care." Buffy turned to Xander "Come on. Let's get out of here. If she wants to do the weird gig then she can do it by herself."
"Suits me" Xander agreed. He shot a quick look at Kate before he turned to follow Buffy to the door. The door that he realised was now closed, and he didn’t remember actually doing that.
Xander felt an odd feeling wash over him as Buffy's hand reached for the handle and the moment she started to pull the door open towards her, Xander realised why.
Beyond the door there was nothing. Literally. Black space occupied what had been the narrow, dimly lit hallway that led from the study towards the landing at the top of the stairs. She reached her hand out, but she snatched it back when her fingers hit an invisible shield separating her from the blackness, a pale blue light shimmered out in tiny waves from the point where her hand had touched it.
Xander spun back around to face Kate. "What the hell is this?" he demanded "What have you done?"
"I've borrowed you both for a little while" Kate replied. "Don't worry. It won't be for long."
"You've borrowed us?" Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Can I just say, 'How in the Hell?'"
Xander raised his hand "And I'd like to say 'Why?'" then Xander narrowed his eyes at Kate "Y'know, why do I get the suspicious feeling that you might have had something to do with the hell I experienced this morning?"
Kate pretended to look confused "You mean kissing Buffy? And *wow*, that's some death ray glare you've got blondie" Kate sniggered "Almost rivals-"
"*Hey*" Xander cut Kate off and closed the distance between them quickly, placing his hands on the desk and leaning forward. "How 'bout you just cut the crap and tell us what the hell is going on?" he said, glaring stonily at her "And what *you* have to do with it?"
Kate swivelled around in her chair to face Xander full on before mirroring his position on her side of the desk so she was almost nose to nose with him. "I have everything to do with it" Kate replied, her voice eerily devoid of any emotion and her piercing gaze never wavered from Xander's face as darted forward and brushed her lips up against his.
And then Xander disappeared.
"Xander!" Buffy exclaimed, staring at the space in which he'd just been standing. She stared wide-eyed at Kate "What the hell! Bring him back!"
Kate shrugged "What makes you think I can?"
"Because you just made him go!" Buffy shot back.
"OK, you're right. I can." Kate replied "But I'm not gonna. Not just yet anyway"
"If anything happens to him in wherever you just sent him, I'll make your life a living hell."
"Oh, keep your panties on girl, he's fine" Kate flopped back down into the chair.
"Fine? Have you got any idea of what he's been through today?" Buffy shot back "And now you disappear him off somewhere?!"
"He hasn't been through anything" Kate told her. "Not really. Xander was right."
"Right? Right about what?"
"That it was a really real dream" Kate replied.
Her words threw Buffy. "A-are you saying that-that none of what…" Buffy tried to take it in "He didn't…?"
"Die?" Kate shook her head "No. No he didn't die. Just one of my many illusions."
"An illusion? W-what…" Buffy ran a hand through her hair "Why the hell would you do that?" Buffy said quietly, danger lurking around the edges of her voice. //Not too mention *how* the hell she could have done it//, but Buffy let that question lie for the moment.
Instead, she shot a steely look at Kate "So you made us dream all that stuff?" Buffy stepped up close to the desk "You made us both think that Xander had died? All that happened with Tom, all that wasn't real?"
"Yes." Kate replied simply.
"Two reasons. One, so you'd be able to leap out of here as soon as I'm done with you and two," she paused briefly "So I'd know if what I had in mind was actually worth following through."
Buffy folded her arms across her chest and stared back at the other woman "I still don't understand" she said "It was all so real… so *vivid*"
"If it weren't" Kate replied "You wouldn't have believed it. I needed you to be able to save Tom. He was the reason you were here."
"So why are *you* here?" Buffy asked. "Are you another leaper like us?"
"No." Kate shook her head. "Like I told you, I've just borrowed you two for a little while."
"We are *people*" Buffy stated angrily "You can't *do* that…" Buffy trailed off, feeling worn out. "This is *stupid*. I am not playing your damn mind games" Buffy shot a frosty look at Kate "You come waltzing into my leap, *our* leap, acting like you're the queen of the damn world, thinking you know everything-"
"Not everything, that's why-"
"Shut up!" Buffy slammed her hands down on the desk "You put my back up the moment I set eyes on you and who the hell can blame me? I'll say it again, I am *not* doing this. I want out. I want Xander out of wherever you've sent him and then we are leaping the hell out of here."
"How 'bout I drag you out from behind that desk you seem to be so happy to sit behind and beat the crap out of you 'till you do then?"
Kate got up and leant over the desk towards Buffy. "Y'know if you just shut up for just one sec-"
Buffy reached out quickly and grabbed hold of the front of Kate's shirt and hauled the other woman as close to her as she could. "I never wanted any of this" Buffy hissed "I never wanted to be involved in this damn freaky project, QL2 or whatever." Buffy pushed Kate back away from her. "All I was doing was walking home. Walking home from something I really *wish* I was doing right now instead of *this*"
"Actually you were walking Xander home" Kate pointed out, straightening out her blouse. "Back to his girlfriend's if I remember correctly."
"Bring him back."
Buffy went to grab for Kate again but Kate pushed herself back in the chair and out of Buffy's way. Kate tossed her long hair back over her shoulder and matched Buffy's glare. "Violence isn't going to solve this blondie" Kate said evenly "Now are you going to listen to me or not?"
"Fine" Buffy said tersely "It's not like I can go anywhere is it?"
"True" Kate smiled wryly "Buffy, I'm here to help you make a decision. Actually to help both you *and* Xander make a decision. But most of it depends on you."
"A decision?" Buffy eyes the other woman dubiously "That's it?"
Kate nodded. "And once you've made it, you can go onto your next leap."
"Fine" Buffy narrowed her eyes at the other woman "I'll play."
"Good" Kate snapped her fingers and suddenly the study disappeared.
Xander flinched back the moment Kate's lips touched his only to find that she suddenly vanished from infront of him and he found himself somewhere else entirely.
Xander drew in a sharp breath when he caught his first glimpse of his new surroundings. The study had changed into a large, grand drawing room, although the only pieces of furniture in the room were two plushly upholstered wing-backed armchairs and the mahogany end table that sat between them - all in the centre of the room. A grand fireplace was on the left wall and huge oil paintings of countryside scenes and important looking people hung on the tastefully decorated walls…
… walls that moved. Along with the floor. Each of the four walls and the floor appeared to be segmented into quadrangles of varying shapes and sizes which then moved slowly, overlapping the one next to it, but never really distorting the image of the entire area, each quadrangle somehow merging into the one it replaces. Sometimes one would disappear for a moment, giving Xander a glimpse of what was beyond the wall.
Beyond the wall lay blackness like the night sky, complete with stars that sparkled back down.
Stars that Xander realised he could see even better as he looked up to discover there was no ceiling.
And he was all alone.
Xander sighed. "Figures."
"Ahh" Kate sighed "This is much better."
Buffy stared at her surroundings in astonishment. "How in the…?" she turned to face Kate who sat only a foot away from where Buffy was seated herself "What are you? Some kind of freaky, weird ass travel agent?"
Buffy now sat, as did Kate, on sun loungers underneath a large parasol in the middle of a deserted beach. The sky was cloudless and a midday sun beat down on them. White sand stretched out around them and down towards the clear blue water that continuously rippled quietly onto the beach and then out again. Buffy looked over her shoulder to see the palm trees standing proud not that far behind them and in a small clearing, Buffy could just make out a small beach hut.
Buffy looked down at herself to find she was no longer wearing Maggie's clothes, instead she found herself in a reasonably modest blue bikini with a midnight blue sarong tied around her waist. She felt on top of her head and found a pair of sunglasses and to her right on the table that sat between herself and Kate, were two large, full, cocktail glasses complete with fruit slices over the edge of the glass, novelty stirrers and paper umbrella.
"I'm sorry" Kate adjusted the strap of her own red bikini and reached for one of the cocktails "I couldn't get the cabana boys"
"Cabana… ohh…" Buffy remembered the words she'd spoken in what seemed like a lifetime ago ….. //"I'm seriously considering making a run for it and living in a hut on a beach somewhere. Preferably with cocktails and studly cabana boys nearby"//……
"Mmm" Kate took a long sip of her drink "Ooh, hits the spot. You should try yours."
Buffy just stared back at her. "I'd prefer you just tell me what I've got to make up my mind about."
Kate took another sip of her drink before she set it back down. "It's not about a *what*" Kate replied. "It's about a *who*"
"A *who*?" Buffy paused, thinking "Who *who*?"
Buffy blinked "…Oh"
"Feel like that drink now?"
"Ugh, this room is beginning to make me queasy" Xander grimaced slightly as he tried to focus on something other than the constantly moving walls. It wasn't easy because it didn't exactly leave a lot else to look at. He'd tried the ceiling but it just gave him neck ache.
Instead he settled for looking at the other chair that sat at a right angle from him. //Nope//, he decided after ten seconds, //Time for something else//. Sighing, he reached out and pulled it towards himself, positioning it so he could rest his feet up on it.
Sinking back into the soft cushions of his own chair, Xander closed his eyes and folded his arms loosely across his chest. At least he could try and see if he could fall asleep. It wasn't as if there was anything else for him to do.
It had taken him a couple of minutes before he plucked up the courage to actually take a step forward, or sideways or anyways. And it wasn't just because the floor was moving, no, that he could deal with. If he got caught wrong, all he'd do was fall on his butt. It was the worry that one of the panels might suddenly disappear and he'd fall through into the blackness outside.
So the first thing he'd done was lie on his stomach, slowly moving forward, thinking that if he spread his weight he'd have less chance of disappearing outside. So when one of the panels had vanished, luckily by his right hand, he'd gingerly touched his fingers to the space it had left, only to find that it appeared to be the same type of shield that stopped himself and Buffy from leaving the study.
Taking that as a good sign, Xander had then got to his feet and made his way carefully around the room, trying to see if there was anyway he could get out, or even where someone else could get in, but there were no doors on the walls, even as they moved.
He'd tried calling out, to Buffy, to the woman who'd kissed him and put him here, even to Sean. But no one answered, or he didn't or couldn't hear them.
In his slight doze, Xander ended up thinking back to that morning. Mostly about kissing Buffy. /Or maybe I should say, Buffy kissing me// Xander thought, //At least the first time anyway//. The first time, he'd been sure it was just Buffy's snapped reaction to the whole spooky situation and the fact that he'd died or at least thought he'd died. Xander had no idea now what was going on about that. But when Buffy's fingers had began to tangle in his hair as he'd kissed her back, it began to change from the initial urgency and Xander could feel it, feel that something else that he'd thought was long forgotten.
//And lets just say this again, just in case somebody didn't hear it the first time// "Oh no," Xander murmured, still with his eyes closed, "My life's not complicated"
"It will be if you don't get your feet off my chair, I only took the plastic wrap off them yesterday"
For the most part of half an hour, since Kate had finally decided to tell Buffy what it was she wanted, Buffy had been staring sullenly out at the sea or ocean or whatever the big, blue expanse of water was, trying to find someway of not answering the question.
Problem was, the question that Kate wanted answering was something that Buffy had been thinking about since she and Xander had had that first soft, brief kiss in Doug and Rosa Delamere's kitchen.
Then there was the heated, tongue duelling kiss that she'd shared with Xander only that morning, the one that was driven by a need to connect, to find what she thought she'd lost. To find something real that she could cling onto.
//Something real// Buffy's subconscious laughed at that one. //Look at where you are girl. Look at where you were half an hour ago//. Buffy looked around at her surroundings //Is this even real?//
It all seemed real though, Buffy thought. The sand was warm, but not too hot, between her toes and the sun felt warm against her skin, a gentle breeze taking just enough heat out of the rays. She could hear the water too as it lapped against the shoreline and she could hear the slight rustle of the palm trees as the breeze jostled their leaves.
She could also smell the hot dog that Kate had conjured out of thin air and was now quite happily munching her way through.
Kate turned to Buffy when she caught Buffy looking at her. She wiped a smidgen of ketchup from the corner of her mouth before she spoke, with her mouthful. "Ya wan' one?"
Buffy scowled at the other woman "No thanks. My mom taught me never to take food from evil people."
Kate shrugged and swallowed what she had left in her mouth "Whatever" she picked a piece of lettuce off the bun and dropped it onto the sand beside her. "So" Kate turned to Buffy again "Gonna talk to me about it yet?"
"No, because there is nothing to talk about" Buffy replied curtly. "There is *nothing* to talk about because there is *nothing* for me to make my mind up about" Buffy tried to ignore the faint strains of 'Liar liar, pants on fire…' that were sounding in her ears.
Kate finished her hot dog. "So… you've already made your mind up about him then?" Kate deliberately didn't look at Buffy.
"Why?" Buffy groaned frustratedly "Why do you insist on twisting everything I say?"
"In the hope that I can confuse you enough to think about what you don't want to."
"Well, it's not working." //'Cos I'm already thinking about it//
"Oh, so there *is* something to think about then?"
//I hate this woman!// "Stop it!" Buffy jumped up from her lounger and glared down at Kate "Just stop it! Stop *twisting*. There is nothing, because there *is* *nothing* between me and Xander, OK? //Liar liar…// Have you got that through your thick skull yet!"
Buffy stalked away from Kate, kicking sand up with her feet as she headed across the beach, trying to get as far away from other woman as possible.
Or she would have done, had Buffy not walked into an invisible shield when she'd put about twenty metres between them both.
Buffy fell back onto her butt and she brought her hand to her nose and forehead, rubbing away the soreness. Buffy kicked out angrily at the shield and as her foot connected with it, the same blue shimmers rippled out in waves as they'd done when she'd put her hand against the study doorway.
Buffy muttered obscenities under her breath and got to her feet, brushing sand from herself once upright. She put her hands on her hips and flipped her hair back over her shoulder. "Gee. What a surprise" Buffy said sarcastically "I'm stuck here."
"If you ask nicely, I might let you go and paddle for a minute or two."
"You're *really* desperate for company aren't you?" Buffy gave a shake of her head and reluctantly started to head back to the other woman.
"Maybe I'm just wondering if that's your problem."
Kate shrugged "Perhaps you're just lonely."
Buffy sat down heavily on her lounger "Lonely? Oh God," Buffy groaned tiredly "What are you on about now?"
"Well, it's just it really hasn't been that long since you and testosterone boy broke up because he found fighting demons in the jungle more appealing than you"
"He found getting fed off by vampire junkies more appealing than me" Buffy said snippily, lifting her feet onto the lounger and turning onto her back, flipping the sunglasses down over her eyes.
"Although… you did run after him" Kate pointed out.
Buffy sighed "Yes, I am aware of that, thank you. Anything else you'd like tell me that I already know?"
"Xander's a fantastic kisser."
"*What*?" Buffy whipped her head around to face Kate "How did you know that!"
"I didn't." Kate smirked "I do now."
Buffy felt the flush creep up her neck and she turned her face forward again. "Evil" she muttered.
"How about," Kate suggested "I just show you some things you *didn't* know about Xander?"
"Like what?" Buffy sighed, "'Cos if you're gonna tell me about bombs and zombies, then I already know about that." Buffy turned to Kate "He told me"
"What about the things he hasn't told you about?"
Buffy couldn't help a little curious frown form forming. "Which things?"
"Like, he remembers everything he did whilst under the possession of the hyena spirit"
Buffy quirked one eyebrow "And you can prove that how?"
Kate waved one of her hands in an arc infront of her and suddenly a large, black oval about a two metres across and a metre and a half high, appeared a few feet infront of them, hovering in the air at their eye level. Its edges weren't sharp; instead they feathered out into the air around it.
"And that's proving it is it?" Buffy said dryly. "Oh, yeah. I'm convinced."
"Ha. I haven't started the show yet." Kate snapped her fingers "Just shut up and listen."
Buffy blinked when suddenly the black oval flickered into life and she image was greeted by was one of Sunnydale High School, and of herself, Willow, Xander and Giles climbing the steps up from the quad. Then she heard all their voices, loud and clear and Buffy smiled a little as she remembered, then came the part when she and Willow left and Xander and Giles were by themselves… <Giles: I've been reading up on my, uh, animal possession, and I cannot find anything anywhere about memory loss afterwards.> <Xander: Did you tell them that?> <Giles: Your secret dies with me.> <Xander: Shoot me, stuff me, mount me.>
Buffy stared at the oval for a few moments after, even though it flickered back to black. "So…" she said finally, pushing her sunglasses back up onto her head "What is it you'd like me to say about that exactly?"
"Well, when I actually turn into a psychiatrist, I'll let you know. Maybe we could even do inkblots together." Kate gave a shake of her head and then took a sip of her drink "I'm just showin' you Buffy. That's all."
Buffy frowned "Well, I don't know what I think" Buffy started picking at the material of her sarong. //But its not like I didn't suspect anyway…//
"Wanna see something else?" Kate asked.
Buffy turned to her "What is it this time?"
Kate just smiled and snapped her fingers "Take a look"
Buffy looked back to the oval again to see it flicker into an image of a hospital room, with Willow sitting upright in bed with Xander, Oz and Cordelia standing around her. Buffy remembered this. This was Angelus and Acathla. So she watched to find out…
<Willow: There's no use arguing with me. Do you see my resolve face? You've seen it before. You know what it means. This can help Buffy. If we turn Angel back soon enough, we can stop him from ever awakening Acathla.> <Oz: Okay, I pretty much missed out on some stuff, didn't I? Because this is all making a kind of sense that's... not.> <Willow: Go with Cordy to the library and get my things. She'll fill you in.> <Oz: Sure. I'll drive.> <Willow: Xander, go to Buffy. Tell her what we're doing. Maybe she can stall.> <Xander: But I...> <Willow: Resolve face.> The image then cut to one of herself and Xander outside on the way to the mansion. <Xander: Now, that's a new look for you.> <Buffy: It's a present for Angel.> <Xander: Willow… Uh, she told me to tell you...> <Buffy: Tell me what?>
<Xander: … Kick his ass.>
Then the image went to black again.
Kate turned to Buffy who was staring straight ahead. "Know what to think about that one?"
Buffy didn't say anything. She shot a frosty look at Kate and got up from the lounger and made her way down across the sand and just to where the water came up onto the beach. Buffy sat down and hugged her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs.
//Why does everything have to be so complicated?//
"Gah!" Xander started and his eyes flew open at the sound of an unexpected voice. "Oh, just don't... do…" Xander began to trail off and put back his feet that he was about to take from the other chair when he saw who had spoken to him.
It was Kate, still looking the same as Xander had last seen her - in her black skirt and top.
"Oh it's you" Xander continued, settling back into his chair again, glaring up at her. "Forgive me if I don't get up, but I really don't want to be anywhere near you."
"Well, that's going to be a little bit difficult" Kate replied, pulling the chair forcefully away from underneath his feet, making Xander to slip forward in his own chair and causing him to grab on to the arms and pull himself back upright. "Mainly because," she continued "You and I are going to have a conversation." Kate sighed as she sat herself down in the chair "I just hope you're going to be a little bit more co-operative than Buffy"
"Where is she?" Xander demanded.
"At the moment," Kate replied "She's sunning herself on a beach, hopefully about to learn a few new things."
"Great, so I get the pleasure of your company instead?" Xander said sarcastically. "Then maybe you might want to tell me where the hell I am."
"This place doesn't really have a name" Kate replied "I guess you could say though, it's like a kinda waiting room."
"A waiting room for what?"
"That was sarcasm."
"Y'know, I got that" Kate crossed one leg over the other and let her hands fall in her lap. "And now I can see you're going to be just a big a pain in the ass as Buffy. Just wonderful."
"What do you expect?" Xander gave her an incredulous look "You just come waltzing in-"
"-here and expect you to do yada yada yada." Kate sighed "Yeah. I've heard it."
"Then why do it?" Xander asked simply. "Are me and Buffy so interesting, that you feel the need to piss us off royally?"
"I thought you were already pissed off royally 'cos you got pulled out of your, air quote, normal lives by QL2" Kate raised an eyebrow "Weren't you?"
"Yeah." Xander replied "We were. Are."
"Just hanging in there 'til you get leapt back?"
Xander nodded "We just wanna go home. Back to the people we love, that's all."
"Like, say for instance, your girlfriend? Anya, I believe?"
Xander held Kate's gaze for a few long moments. Her nonchalant tone made him wonder just exactly what her ulterior motive was. "Yeah, Anya" Xander said carefully. "Not to mention family and friends that we miss."
A trace of a smile found it's way onto Kate's lips "What do you think they're doing right now?" she asked.
"I don't know" Xander said quietly "Hopefully they're still all OK. Sean said he'd let us know if anything…" he trailed off, dropping his gaze "Buffy and I try not to think too much about it" Xander looked up again "None of it will matter when we get back anyway. We just leap right back to when we left."
"True enough" Kate replied. She paused for a moment before continuing and Xander caught the nonchalant tone again. "But… what about the things that happen to *you*?" she said "Those matter, right? When you go back?"
"Like dying?" Xander answered cautiously "Yeah, I'd say that'd matter." He studied Kate's face and caught something in her eye "If maybe it actually happened in the first place"
Kate smiled a little more "Clever boy."
"Yeah, just give me a treat and pat me on the head" Xander narrowed his eyes as he glared at her "I can't believe you put me through that. You *bitch*" he said coldly.
Xander saw Kate's eyes flash, but she managed to keep her face neutral. "None of it was real Xander" she explained "Not you dying, not Tom dying, nothing. You and Buffy just dreamt it, that's all."
"A really real dream" Xander muttered bitterly, remembering his words. "Pretty damn despicable if you ask me."
"Not really" Kate corrected him "Considering I did give you the means to save Tom's life. That was your job here" she continued, seeing the dubious look Xander gave her "He died falling from the roof originally. Now he won't even be going up there thanks to you this morning."
"Now I'm really getting confused" Xander rubbed at his temple "You're telling me, that making me feel like crap was to help me?"
"And Buffy. I wanted to see what your reactions were, what you did." Kate smiled "Gotta say, you both definitely gave me something to work with."
"And what was that?"
"One of those things that'll matter when you get back home."
Xander sighed. "You're talking about what happened between me and Buffy this morning aren't you?"
"Amongst other things." Kate replied "Other things, for instance, what Buffy has held back from you."
Xander shot a puzzled look at Kate. "What are you talking about?"
"Like when that vampire, Marion, in London almost ripped your throat out" Kate informed him. "Buffy went with you in the ambulance and watched as your heart stopped twice and they had to resuscitate you."
Xander blinked. "What?" his voice was barely audible. Xander shook his head "No, it's not-"
"True?" Kate interrupted. "Sorry, but I'm afraid it is. I can show you the footage of the whole thing if you want. It makes for very dramatic viewing."
"I don’t…" Xander covered his face with his ands then pushed them up and onto the top of his head. "My heart…?"
"… it stopped?" Xander's hands fell back into his lap. "But Buffy-"
"Never said. I know" Kate replied bluntly "Can we please get off this now?" Kate asked impatiently "I'm kinda done with that bit and I want to get onto something else."
"Hey, you might be done with it" Xander shot back "But I'm still dealing with it here. You can't just-"
"Y'know, I'm sure Buffy had her reasons" Kate cut him off again "I mean, I'm sure there were reasons why she wasn't going to tell you about sleeping with that guy Will. That college guy on your third leap, remember?"
Xander narrowed his eyes at Kate "I *remember*"
"Oh do I detect a little-"
"Buffy's a grown woman. She can make her own decisions."
"Well that is kinda the whole point of this little exercise"
Xander frowned "You're saying getting out of here all depends on Buffy?"
"Not quite all" Kate replied "I haven't quite finished with you just yet"
"Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?" Kate asked as she sat down next to Buffy at the shoreline. It had been about forty minutes since Buffy had gone down there. "You can't have anything for a while now" Kate stated "Not since your last leap I'll bet."
"M'not hungry" Buffy said quietly.
Kate flipped her hair over her shoulder "Well, just let me know when you feel hungry. I'll zap you a sandwich or something. I do a mean chicken salad."
"Please, will you just go away?"
"I've got some more things to show you" Kate told her, not budging from the sand. "More things he hasn't told you about."
"I don't want to know" Buffy looked out across the expanse of water again.
"Because I don't."
"Did you not hear me?" Buffy said agitatedly "I *don't* *want* to"
"Yes, I heard you Buffy" Kate replied "But I want a better answer than that."
"Well you're not going to get one."
"Afraid you'll see something else to make you think differently about Xander?"
"I didn't see-" Buffy broke off. She turned to Kate again and looked as though she was going to say something, but Buffy didn't. Buffy got up and brushed sand from her thighs. She stayed standing, crossing her arms over her chest and let the breeze blow through her hair.
Buffy let the those images on the screen, the images of Xander pretending not to have any recollection of the hyena possession and of him not telling her about Willow attempting to restore Angel's soul, and she knew it hurt that Xander hadn't told her.
And the Acathla experience was not something she wanted in her head at any time. It had been hard during and for a time after. And she'd always asked herself, "What if I'd known? What if I'd known that Willow was attempting the spell? Could I have stopped it all?"
But seeing those images now, and thinking about it all over again, Buffy had come to the conclusion that if she had have known that Willow was trying the spell, she'd risk everyone's lives. If she'd known and she'd stalled, Angelus would have picked up that something was wrong and he would have acted on it. That would have been something that she would never have forgiven herself for.
No, she couldn't blame Xander for not telling her. That had been for the best.
Under the possession, she knew the things that Xander had done, he had no control over; hurting Willow and physically attacking her, they weren't done by Xander, not *their* Xander.
And the only thing that hurt about that was the fact that Xander had felt that he couldn't talk to them about it.
But Buffy shook that off. She could guess why. Xander blamed himself and was ashamed of the way he though he'd behaved. He hadn't lied to hurt them, he'd lied because he thought they'd hate him.
And she also knew that none of that mattered now. She did have to tell Xander that she knew, but she could also then tell him that she understood and didn't hold anything against him.
Buffy looked back to Kate, who was now lying on her back on the sand, her hands resting on her stomach. Buffy put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow at the other woman. "Enjoying yourself?"
"I don't get out much."
"Well I've noticed you're not a people person."
"Did you want something, or are you just happy to banter?"
"I want to tell you…" Buffy trailed off and a smile began to form on her lips "That I'm not afraid."
"Sorry." Buffy smiled a little wider "My turn to be cryptic." She paused "And can I get one of those sandwiches? Chicken salad sounds great. Easy on the mayo though"
"Y'know, if you keep frowning like that" Kate said, "Your face'll stick"
"I'm thinking" Xander replied "This is my thinking face. I can't help what my eyebrows do."
"Ookaay" Kate said slowly "Uh, any chance you could stop pacing then? 'Cos what with you and the walls, I'm thinking it won't be long before I end up seeing what I ate for breakfast"
Xander stopped and looked at her "Y'know I really couldn't care less about the fragility of your stomach" he told her "Issues of my own here, OK?"
"Oh, nothing I've said I hope?"
Xander stopped and glared at Kate, who was looking all too innocent for Xander's liking. "Oh no, nothing you've said" he mimicked sarcastically.
"Xander, you know I wouldn't have mentioned it if I'd-"
"Crap" Xander cut her off. He began pacing again.
"So… which one's bugging you the most?" Kate asked "Buffy not telling you about London, or Buffy's sex romp with that college guy?"
Xander paced for a little while longer until he stopped by the fireplace. He stood with his back to Kate. "I'm not…" he started and then trailed off. Xander shoved his hands in his pockets and started again "Maybe… maybe she didn't tell me about London because it was pretty damn obvious to anyone that I almost died." Xander turned around to face Kate "I was *actually* *there* in the hospital when I woke up" Xander's voice was slightly patronising as he spoke "I do remember feeling like I'd been chewed up and then spat out."
Xander looked at the floor for a moment, briefly wondering why he couldn't feel it moving underneath his feet, before he glanced back up at Kate, who was looking at him expectantly. Xander shrugged "Maybe she thought I didn't need to be worrying about it y'know and-and I think she was right. I felt like shit afterwards and there was all the worry about everyone and the house…" he trailed off.
"So why didn't Buffy tell you afterwards" Kate replied "It's not like she never had the opportunity."
Xander held Kate's gaze. "I've been in the 'almost died' situation before." Xander told her "Our second leap, I got blown up. And that *actually* felt worse than having my neck ripped open. But… but, d'ya know what?"
"My featured word was *almost*" Xander replied "Why would I need to worry about something that didn't happen? So, Buffy didn't tell me" he added "But how *would* telling me about it have made things different? It wouldn't have stopped that vampire, it wouldn't have changed anything."
"And that's what you really think is it?"
"Are you saying it isn't?"
"Not at all" Kate replied with a shrug "It's what you think"
Seeing his surprised expression, Kate raised an eyebrow "Whatever you may believe Xander, I'm not here to *tell* you what to think"
"Then what are you here to do? Because right now all you're doing is annoying me and I'm pretty sure you were annoying Buffy when you were with her"
"Oh, I'm still annoying Buffy. Well I was."
Xander was puzzled "When were you with Buffy?"
"Its called being in two places at once" Kate replied "Comes in handy. At the moment Buffy's staying schtum and refusing to watch any more of my videos. Which is really annoying 'cos I went to all the trouble of finding the right music to them" Kate sighed "She's getting a bit of payback at the moment."
Kate nodded. "And a sandwich."
"Y'know, I'm getting real tired of you not answering my question" Kate stated, turning her head to Buffy "And how many more of those sandwiches are you going to eat?"
"Wha'?" Buffy spoke with her mouthful "I din' 'ave brea'fas'"
Kate looked Buffy up and down "Where the hell do you put it all?"
"Slay' metab'lism" Buffy took another mouthful "Can eat wha' I wan'"
"Well I'm not zapping you anymore."
Buffy shrugged and proceeded to polish off the remains of her food, sucking a tiny smudge of mayo off her thumb. "And what question are you going on about anyway?"
Kate sighed "I asked you what you meant when you said you weren't afraid, remember?"
"Yes that. Care to explain?"
"I'm definitely not getting anymore food?"
"Alright, fine" Buffy tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear "I meant, that I wasn't afraid that you would show me anything else that would make me feel different about Xander"
"You aren't afraid I'll show you anything else or you aren't afraid you'll feel differently about Xander?"
"You know, you're twisting again." Buffy waggled a finger at Kate "I told you about that"
"Not twisting. Clarifying."
"OK, then in that case, I'm not going to feel different about Xander."
"In what way feel different? *Clarifying*" Kate added when Buffy shot her a look. "So" Kate continued when Buffy seemed placated "Tell me."
"OK, so we've done London" Kate began ticking off on her fingers "So that means we've still got that college guy to do-" Kate smirked "Even though Buffy has already-"
"Don't even think about saying it" Xander shot Kate a warning look "Just don't."
"For someone who isn't jealous, you're doing a damn good impression."
"I'm not jealous" Xander replied. He turned to face the moving walls, which now didn't seem to make him so giddy up close. Xander reached out to touch one of the panels, surprised to find that there was some kind of thin, transparent layer between his fingers and the moving walls. "Anyway…" he continued, prodding at the wall again "It doesn't matter now"
Xander turned to face Kate. "Because it's in the past" he replied "Buffy and I, we… we spoke about it."
"I know. She said she realised it was a mistake." Kate began to relay as if reading a list "It was just that he made her feel special, told her she was beautiful. He made her feel wanted."
"That's what she said" Xander replied "And I believe her."
"Good for you" Kate said, "I mean, after all… I guess the last person to make her feel like that was that Riley guy of hers. Then anyway."
"Yeah… yeah, she was missing Riley."
"Probably a little loneliness mixed in there too."
"… probably…" Xander frowned a little "Where is this going exactly?"
"Do you think she's still lonely?"
Xander stood and looked at Kate in silence for a few moments. "I want you to tell me where you're going with this" he demanded finally.
"You shot a guy for her" Kate stood up and walked over to him "You promised her that you'd look after her"
"'Cos I care about her" Xander returned "You do that with friends. Or don't you have any?"
"None that I kiss like you two did."
Xander opened his mouth to respond, but realised he didn't have anything to say to that. Defensively, he hugged his arms around himself. "Well, I guess extreme circumstances like you put us through, can make people act crazy like that."
"Thought you told Buffy it wasn't crazy?"
"I…" Xander trailed off when he realised that Kate was right. He walked away from her "Just leave me alone."
"Are you lonely?" Kate asked, ignoring Xander's request "Is that why you feel drawn to Buffy? Maybe that's exactly how she's feeling about you."
Xander spun around "You don't know *any*thing about how I feel about Buffy"
Kate never dropped her gaze from Xander's angry look. "Tell me then. I'm all ears."
"I like Xander, OK?" Buffy said, "I like him a lot" she flushed a little pink as she added that admission "More than I probably should. I mean in the more than friends sense."
"And why can't I make you feel different about that?" Kate asked.
"Because…" Buffy trailed off and began picking at the material of her sarong again "Because everything that you showed me or tried to show me," she continued "It doesn't change who he is. It doesn't change who he is now."
"Because he's a good person." Buffy replied "He's one of the best. And, OK, I know that he's not perfect, but" Buffy held Kate's inquisitive gaze "I never implied that he was. Everyone makes mistakes, *I* make mistakes, *I'm* not perfect either."
"And you think that makes you the perfect match?"
"I never said that either" Buffy corrected her. Then she sighed "I don't know what we are" Buffy continued "But I feel it, there's something there that wasn't before."
"You feel that's he's a good man?"
"He makes you feel nice? Wanted? Special?"
Buffy studied her for a second. "What's with that tone?"
"Tone?" Kate looked back at her "There was no tone"
"There was a definite tone" Buffy gave Kate a firm look.
"Alright, maybe there was a little one" she admitted. "I'm just saying, that's how you said that college guy Will made you feel, that's all."
"That was different" Buffy kept her firm gaze locked on Kate "Will was… I made a decision, OK. It was wrong, but like I said, we all make mistakes. He was just-"
"In the right place at the right time?" Kate interrupted.
Buffy blinked, Kate's question throwing her a little. "… maybe…" Buffy faltered a little "No... I don't… no…"
Kate pushed her sunglasses up onto the top of her head and fixed her piercing gaze on Buffy. "Is Xander just in the right place at the right time?"
"What? No!" Buffy relied hotly "Of course he's not!" Buffy jumped up off her lounger and stomped away for a few steps before spinning round to face Kate again "What the hell kind of question is that?!"
Kate stood up too "Then why Xander?!" she called out after Buffy who had begun to storm away from her again "Why do think that this is different?!"
"Because-!" Buffy spun around again, facing off the other woman. "Because he *is* Xander! OK?! Is that what you wanted to hear?!"
Kate didn't reply.
She just snapped her fingers.
"Buffy means a lot to me, OK?" Xander confessed "She means a whole lot. She always has" he added quietly.
"You loved her once" Kate's head tilted to one side "Is that what you're feeling again?"
"I love her as a friend" Xander replied "What this is, what I'm feeling now about her… I don't know… not love, not like you're thinking, but I… I…" Xander trailed off, searching for the right words.
Kate bought him some more time to search. "You sure you're not imagining these feelings? Projecting a missed affection for your girlfriend onto someone who-"
"I'm not-" Xander cut her off "I'm not *projecting* anything"
"You sure 'bout that?"
"You feel guilty thought, don't you? About Anya?"
Xander kept her gaze for a second before he hung his head and studied the tops of his shoes. "I love Anya" he said softly "Of course I feel guilty" Xander looked back up Kate "But I can't help how I feel about Buffy."
Kate walked over to him, finally stopping only a foot away "It's more than friendship?"
"Oh because that's not been obvious" Xander said dryly. Then he sighed. "I don't know what it is about her, it's like, I don't know…"
Xander let that remark float through his brain.
"Yeah" he replied finally, a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth "I think that's it"
Kate studied his face for a moment before a smile found itself on her face. Although her next words surprised Xander.
"Happy landing" she said.
And then suddenly Xander could feel the panels moving underneath feet and it caught him off balance, sending him to the floor. "What the-" he managed to get out before the panel beneath him disappeared completely and this time there was no invisible shield separating him from the blackness below.
And he fell.
Xander cried out, but he didn't hear himself as he rushed downwards. The sound of the wind rushing past his ears was the only thing he heard as he watched the room get smaller and smaller above him.
As he twisted and turned in his descent, Xander could just make out something below him, and it was getting far too close for Xander's liking.
And then he woke up.
The moment his eyes opened, Xander jerked into sitting position, clutching one hand to his chest. His eyes darted wildly around the room and his chest was heaving as he sucked in deep breaths of air.
"Oh God" he groaned when he realised that he was back in Harry's bedroom. "Not again. Tell me this isn't happening again."
Xander ran a hand through his hair and started to untangle himself from the bed covers, when a voice surprised him from behind.
The sound of Sean's voice was enough to startle Xander into falling from the bed; his lower limbs still entangled in the bed covers as he hit the floor.
"Sean?!" Xander stared shock, and a little relief, at the other man "What-"
"Oh, for the love of Ricky Martin in leather pants, you can see me!" Sean exclaimed, interrupting Xander. "*Finally*, we're getting somewhere"
"You're here?!" Xander got to his feet fast. "Oh God, I hug you if I could. Please, please you have to tell me what the hell is going on" he spoke quickly, "No, no, wait. Tell me where Buffy is and *then* tell us what the hell is going on."
Sean blinked. "Ookaay…" he said slowly, "You're scarily hyper this morning."
"Well can you blame me after what's been going on?" Xander fretted as he quickly pulled on some shoes, "Look, are you gonna tell me where Buffy is or do I have to go door to door in this place until I find her?"
Sean looked at Xander, a little puzzled. "Uh, OK. Sure. She's not too far away. Maggie's room" Sean informed him "Middle hallway off the top of the stairs; the door right at the end."
"Thanks," Xander flashed a grateful smile at Sean as he darted past him and out the door. "See you there."
Sean stared after him, still puzzled. "Don't you even want to know who Maggie is?" Sean wondered aloud to himself before he pressed a few keys on 'Gizmo' and disappeared into thin air.
Xander practically skidded around the corner from the first floor landing and onto the middle hallway that led from it, resorting to jamming his hand out quickly against the wall to stop himself from going headfirst to the floor.
But he managed to keep himself upright and continued along the dimly lit hallway until he reached the end. There was only one door on the right side of the corridor, and Xander burst into the room, almost colliding with Buffy who was on her way out.
Buffy's eyes lit up when she saw Xander. "Xan!" she threw her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder. "Oh God," she murmured, "I didn't know what had happened to you." Buffy lifted her head to look at him "Suddenly I was at the beach and-and talking to her and then I was here and waking up."
"Me too" Xander hugged her tight once more and then they stepped apart, albeit not too far from the other. "Well, not the beach," Xander continued, "Just a nauseating room and then I was falling, which, not new for me now, and then I woke up."
"Beach?" Sean looked between the two. "What beach? What room?"
Both Buffy and Xander turned to Sean, perplexed looks on both their faces. "Where she took us," Xander said slowly, "Y'know, Kate?"
Sean just stared back at him. "Took? Kate? What are you talking about?"
"We're talking about what the hell has been going on here Sean" Buffy explained. "All this God damn wackiness that we're being put through."
"OK, look" Sean shook his head, wondering if it would make things clearer "I know, I've been a bit late getting to you both, but we've been having technical difficulties and-"
"Yeah, we know" Xander interrupted, looking at Sean oddly. "We're in deep. You told us that. About us being on an inner orbit and stuff."
Sean returned the odd look. "What… how do you know about being in deep? I've *never* mentioned that."
"You mentioned it yesterday" Xander replied, although now sounding a little unsure "O-or whenever the hell it was." Xander looked at Buffy. "He mentioned it right?"
Buffy nodded and then looked back at Sean. "It was right after the accident with…" Buffy trailed off and turned back to Xander, seeing the same realisation in his eyes. "Which didn't happen?"
"'Cos it was a dream" Xander closed his eyes and ran his hands through his hair. "Probably all of it"
"That we both had?"
Xander opened his eyes again to see Buffy looking up at him with confusion. "We both couldn't have had the same dream," she continued, "Not one like that."
"Not one like what?" Sean demanded. "Could one of you two please tell me what's going on here? Why do you think I should know stuff that I don't?"
Xander was still looking at Buffy. "She said we'd leap back out. That we'd already done what we were supposed to here."
"Well I can tell you that you haven't" Sean replied and the other two looked at him, still both confused. "You only got here last night."
"Last night?" Buffy echoed. "You mean that Tom… he's still-"
Sean blinked. "How did you know it was Tom?"
"Oh my…" Buffy sighed and sat down on the bed, staring at the floor for a moment before looking back up at the two men. "I think we need to start from the beginning"
"No, no wait a minute" Xander's tone was urgent. He turned to Sean "We're here to stop Tom from falling, yeah? From the roof?"
Sean nodded slowly. "There was an accident," he confirmed, "The ladder snapped and he fell. Died from head injuries. How did you-""
"But he's still alive now?" Xander cut him off, "I mean *right* *now*?"
"Alive and kicking" Sean replied. "Xander, look, can-"
"In a minute, OK?" Xander requested, "Can you check where Tom is now? Is he in the kitchen?"
"Uh, hang on," Sean referred to Gizmo, tapping away on the keypad. A couple of moments later he looked back to Xander and Buffy, who was standing again. "He's in the kitchen" Sean confirmed, sounding slightly amazed. "How did you-" he tried to say again, but this time Buffy cut him off.
"Looks like we're gonna have to do this again Xand" Buffy put her hand on his arm. "You go down. Stop him like you did, or like we thought you did, or whatever, just *stop* him" she urged, "I'll stay here and try and get this all straight with Sean."
Xander nodded. "OK" He laid his hand on Buffy's shoulder "I'll come back up here." Xander held her gaze for a moment "We need to talk."
"I know" Buffy said softly, a hesitant smile on her lips. "Go on, go."
Sean watched Xander's retreating form for a moment before turning back to Buffy. "OK, wanna tell me what that hearts and flowers moment was about?"
"Just stuff" Buffy replied carefully. She took a deep breath and then exhaled slowly "So, come on. Let's try and get this sorted out. You tell me yours, I'll tell you mine."
Xander watched Tom leave the kitchen via the back door. "Third times a charm?" he murmured softly to himself, shaking his head a little.
He leant back against one of the kitchen counters and covered his face with his hands before running them through his hair and then clasping them at the base of his neck. "Now hopefully we should be leaping out of here." He glanced around when he obviously hadn't. Xander sighed. "Now why aren't I more surprised?"
Xander shook his head again and headed out of the kitchen and into the narrow hallway that then led into the main foyer. He really hoped that Sean and Buffy were at least making some headway on what was happening. His head was still verging on some kind of meltdown, at a least partial one, and he didn't think he could cope with much more. Especially with those little warm and fuzzy tendrils of 'liking-Buffy-in-the more-than-friends-sense' that were slowly, but surely, snaking their way through his system.
//Well, at least I'm admitting it now// Xander though as he began to climb the stairs //Gotta be good for something//.
Xander turned his head towards the passageway door when he heard it begin to open and put himself a little on guard, as it was likely it would be a member of the Grantham household. He relaxed though when he saw it was Buffy.
"That was quick" he remarked. "So, what did Sean say?"
"Therein lies the problem" Buffy replied sombrely "I got up to telling him about us waking up after we thought you'd died and-and-" Buffy started to sound a little anxious, "He started to fade out, like I-I couldn't see him or-or hear him or anything."
"That's so not good" Xander groaned.
"Uh huh" Buffy nodded in agreement "So I just said, in case he could still hear us, that we'd try and sort it out on our next leap 'cos, I mean, you told Tom right?" she asked and Xander nodded. "Good, so we should be…" Buffy began again and then started to trail off and glanced around "… out of… here?" Buffy looked at Xander, confused. "Why are we not leaping?"
"I've not a damn clue" Xander sighed resignedly
Buffy groaned and slumped back against the counter next to Xander "Why us?"
"No, I mean, really" Buffy tilted her head up to Xander.
Xander caught her eye. "Did you not hear my 'ditto'?"
"So that ditto encompassed all that is insane and screwy about our lives and everything that is insane and screwy that *actually* happens to us?"
"Pretty much." Xander couldn't help but crack a small smile.
A tiny smile settled on Buffy's lips as well. "Is it too much to ask for a little normality?"
"Yup." Xander answered reluctantly.
Buffy sighed dejectedly. "It's not enough that we fight monsters, y'know, everyday and-and have the occasional apocolypt-y type things, *now* we have to…" Buffy began to trail off when she and Xander both heard voices getting louder outside the kitchen door. "OK," she continued in a softer voice "I'm so not wanting to make small talk with the family right now."
"Here, come on," Xander took her arm and gently led her towards the door that led back to the dining room, "We can go in here"
"We should head up to the study" was Buffy's whispered suggestion once they were halfway through the passage between the kitchen and dining room. She glanced back at the now closed door behind them. "We need to figure out what's going on."
Xander kept hold of Buffy's arm before she could make it into the dining room. "That's why we're going to stay here" he whispered.
Buffy turned to look at him, trying to read his expression in what dim light there was. "Huh?" Buffy kept her voice low "Here?"
"We can eavesdrop" Xander explained quietly, letting go of Buffy's arm. "Maybe find out if there's something else here we should be doing. Remember what Sam said about missions changing?"
"OK, OK" Buffy agreed. She ran a hand through her hair. "So?" she asked quietly, "Can you hear anything?"
Xander had his ear pressed up against the door to the kitchen. "I think it's Mrs Grantham," Xander replied in hushed tones. "Sounds like she's complaining to someone."
"Herbert?" Buffy whispered, pressing her ear to the door as well.
Xander gave a slight shake of his head. "Some other guy," he replied.
Buffy's brow creased. "Probably that doctor."
Xander caught the angry tone in Buffy's whisper. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Buff," Xander murmured "Try not to think about it."
"How can I not?" Buffy took a step away from the door and Xander's hand dropped from her shoulder to her lower arm. She caught Xander's eye "It was horrible." Her voice was barely audible. "Even if it wasn't real."
Xander moved from the door as Buffy stepped back again and his hand unconsciously slipped into hers, not becoming aware of it until Buffy threaded her fingers through his and she squeezed his hand.
Xander sighed softly. "I know" he murmured.
Buffy rested her head gently against his chest, closing her eyes when Xander let go of her hand and wrapped his arms around her and for a moment while in his embrace, Buffy forgot about all the worries that were plaguing her.
It would have been for a few moments more, but Sean's voice interrupted the comfort between the two friends.
"Hey guys?" the hologram at least sounded apologetic, "I think we've found something," he told them. "Look follow me and I’ll explain" Sean gestured over the shoulder towards the kitchen, "We can talk freely outside"
Both Buffy and Xander broke apart, albeit reluctantly, and followed after Sean as he led them back out into the dining room and towards the front door. Xander opened it as Sean just proceeded to walk through the door.
"Found what?" Xander asked as Buffy closed the door behind them both, "And why aren't we leaping?"
"Uh, OK, second question first" Sean replied as Buffy and Xander began to walk slowly along the path that led around the house, "Tom still falls from the roof, not sure why, 'cos for a second after you told him, it looked like you were gonna get out of here, but then it changed back." Sean took a breath "We can still stop it though. You just have to stick close to him, make sure he doesn't perform any death defying stunts, that sort of thing."
"So where is he now?" Buffy asked, tucking her hair behind her ears to stop it blowing in the wind.
Sean glanced down at Gizmo and tapped a few keys, "Uh, coach house at the bottom of the really long garden" Sean pointed as they round a corner of the house where a few buildings appeared in the distance. "He'll be there for another twenty minutes or so yet."
Xander shoved his hands in his trouser pockets. "So," he stopped walking and looked at Sean questioningly, "What's this other thing you've found?"
"We found a glitch" Sean informed them. "Not a big glitch. A really, really tiny one in fact. It was almost a nothing."
"And where, to you, that actually makes sense," Buffy stated, "To us it means diddly."
"Well, it might mean more, if we knew exactly what happened to you" Sean replied patiently. "As far as we're concerned at QL2, you leapt in last night; Xander found himself in the study and exchanged a few words with Harry's grandfather before heading to bed, and Buffy was in Maggie's room under lock and key, well until she jimmied the lock anyway. The only thing that we could find out of sorts was the fact that you were in deep; that you couldn't hear or see me." He shrugged. "Until this morning anyway."
"It was this morning that we thought had already happened" Xander explained. "Buffy told you yeah? About my trip down the stairs?"
Sean nodded. "What I don't get, is what happened afterwards."
"We both woke up again" Buffy began to recall. "It felt weird at first. It was like you knew something bad had happened-"
"You just weren't sure what it was" Xander continued, "And then suddenly *wham*, it hits you." He sighed, frowning a little at the memory. "Well it hit me like that anyway. I remembered everything so quickly…" Xander ran a hand through his hair, "And then I ran across Tom again in the kitchen. It was the same as before, except this time I told him not to go on the roof."
"We went up to the study" Buffy went on, "To try and see if we could get hold of you, but instead, I ran into this Kate woman. We'd both seen her before. I'd seen her just before my run in with Dr Greenburg and Xander saw her in the morning after he woke up from dying" Buffy paused. "And she knew our names. Our *real* names"
"And then what?" Sean asked, sensing a little reluctance from both Buffy and Xander to continue. "Did she say anything?"
"She was… well," Buffy glanced at Xander before looking back to Sean. "She wasn't exactly trying to be our friend, but she didn't do anything to harm us either." Buffy said, "Not really, I guess. She said she made us dream all that stuff about Xander dying, that it was to help us. She could take us to different places too, like out of the house"
"She wanted me to talk about stuff," Xander said. "She knew about our pasts, used that to get me talking, irritated enough so I'd just get it out."
Buffy caught Xander's eye. "Same here."
"Stuff?" Sean looked between the other two, "What kind of stuff?"
"Personal" both Buffy and Xander said together.
Sean raised an eyebrow, "Personal, huh? OK, so then what?"
"I think," Buffy said slowly, "That she must have sent us back… once she'd gotten out of us what she wanted,"
"Then we woke up… again" Xander finished, "And there you were."
Sean nodded slowly, trying to take it all in, "You said," he began after a moment, "That she said the dream was to help you? How was it supposed to help you?"
"She said we'd already saved Tom, by Xander telling him not to go on the roof" Buffy explained. "We were supposed to leap straight out… so she said anyway" Buffy finished with a murmur.
"Then that might explain the glitch" Sean stated. "We picked something up on the system" he went on to explain, seeing Buffy and Xander's puzzled looks. "You know, I told you that to send you back, we had to find the exact *exact* moment that you came from?" There was a nod from the other two and Sean continued, "Well to do that our systems have to monitor, like, every *zilli*second, which by the way I'm sure is a word, but believe me Gooshie's explanation is a lot more complicated, anyway we picked up a fluctuation, a tiny zillisecond out of place." Sean took a breath. "It was about eight whole seconds before I got Xander's attention this morning. Right before you woke up. Both of you," he added. "You both woke up at the exact same time."
"So something did happen and we're not going insane?" Buffy asked, a little hope creeping into her voice.
"Something happened alright," Sean assured her. "I haven't a damn clue what, and neither do the tech guys, but for a zillisecond, you weren't here, weren't anywhere we could track you to anyway." Sean paused. "As for this Kate…"
"You don't know" Xander guessed when Sean trailed off. Xander sighed, "Well, I guess we should be glad we're back to as normal as we can get to around here"
Sean just shrugged, "Welcome to the world of time travel." Sean then sighed when he saw the glum expressions on their faces. "Hey, but I've got some news that might cheer you up, make you smile a bit at least." He grinned a little himself when Buffy and Xander suddenly looked interested. "Better, I guess. OK, I've got news from home. Your home, " Sean expanded, "Everyone says they're OK, they miss you both, but they're OK." Sean looked at Xander but nodded his head briefly to Buffy, "Her mom, says she hopes you're keeping her out of trouble."
Xander turned to Buffy and grinned "I think we're keeping each other on the straight and narrow."
"And your girlfriend" Sean continued, "Who, by the way I find quite scary, says she hopes you're back soon, 'cos she misses her sex poodle"
Xander suddenly wondered if he had the word 'guilty' emblazoned across his forehead or anywhere else on his body that was visible //because it sure as hell feels like it//. "S-she does?"
"Of course she does" Buffy said quickly. Xander turned to her, but her expression was unreadable. "She loves you."
Xander blinked and by the time he'd opened his eyes, Buffy had shifted her gaze from his and was looking at something in the distance. Xander looked at her for a moment more and then turned back to Sean. "Um, yeah. Tell her, y'know the next time you get the chance, that I miss her too, yeah?"
Sean nodded, but then sensing the tension that had suddenly floated down and settled between the two leapers, he spoke again. "This is to do with that hearts and flowers moment before isn't it?" Sean saw Buffy shoot a quick look at Xander before looking away again and the influx of emotions that seemed to be crossing over Xander's face. "Oh yeah it is. You know what, I'm gonna go and see if I can, uh, find out who this Kate woman is. Maybe the tech guys have come across her before or something, I'll just let you two-" Sean broke off and cleared his throat and tapped a few keys on Gizmo. "I'll just go."
"Yeah, bye" Xander said distractedly as Sean dematerialised. He took a step towards Buffy and didn't hide the relief on his face wen she looked back at him. "Do you wanna start or shall I?"
When Buffy didn't seem to eager to speak, Xander sighed softly and began himself. "Buffy, I-I'm feeling things for you that I haven't felt in a long time. The good kind…" he trailed off, leaving the words he wished he had the courage to say out loud, inside his head. //The kind where I see you smile and I just want to kiss you and the ones where you're sad and I still want to kiss you, just to make it better… and the times when I wanna do a whole lot more than kiss you…//.
Buffy studied his face for a moment before speaking herself. "We’ve spent a lot of time together Xan." Buffy spoke quietly. "We've had some good times recently, some great… I guess you know huh?" she cleared her throat, "And I guess I realised some things about me and-and you." Buffy took a deep breath "I'm feeling things too Xan" she admitted, "All kinds of warm and fuzzy ones that are-are really very, well they're ones… I-I like. I like them a lot."
Xander smiled, "You do, I mean, you have?"
"You mean you didn't get that when I kissed you?" Buffy smiled back, "'Cos I've got to say that was pretty much one of the highlights, no actually make that the *only* highlight, of the wackiness that has just ensued."
Xander felt a blush creep us his neck and was about to smile more when he realised why earlier he had felt that guilt was written all over him.
Buffy saw the conflict that shrouded him. Guilt, shame, confusion, a whole gamut of emotions - all there for everyone to see on his face and there was nothing he could hide in his eyes.
And then there it was. That feeling inside Buffy like someone had just stolen the last of her triple chocolate fudge sundae and then smacked her hand with the spoon for daring to complain. //And that's just it. I shouldn't be complaining// she thought //He's not *mine* to lose//.
A small mirthless laugh came out through Buffy's lips. "You know, I'm surprised at myself," she said softly, hugging her arms across her chest, "'Cos I really should have been prepared for this."
Xander looked back at her, a little confused. "Prepared?"
"For something that I thought was good," Buffy replied ruefully, "Quickly going down the pan." She tried to shrug as nonchalantly as she could muster. "I thought… I thought that-that… maybe…" Buffy trailed off, her gaze searching in Xander's eyes for a glimmer of understanding. "Did you think maybe?"
"I did" Xander replied quietly. "I thought maybe a lot."
"But we can't." Buffy let those three words hang in the air for several long moments, wondering if she was insane to be hoping that something would be said in those moments, that there might be that maybe.
"I love Anya."
Xander felt like he was being torn somehow as he looked at Buffy and wished that this could be one of those times that he could kiss her to make it better. But he couldn't.
"I've already betrayed her," he said solemnly, "I don't want to keep being the guy who cheats on his girlfriend."
"I don't want you to be that guy either Xander" Buffy said, knowing that at least there was truth behind that. Because that was something else she could admit, that she was jealous of the relationship that Xander and Anya had; they *were* happy and she didn't want to spoil that.
"But I don't want to us to lose *us*, y'know, in the platonic sense" Xander continued earnestly. "Our friendship means everything to me, I-I can't lose that Buffy, I can't."
"You won't." Buffy replied just as earnestly. "Ever." She took a step closer to him. "Xander, we're adult and we can work through this, OK? It's not like it was anything, y'know, huge, it's just gonna-"
"Be awkward for a while?" Xander smiled a little.
"Oh yeah" Buffy agreed with a small smile of her own.
They stood in silence for a little while before Buffy spoke again "So do we, like, shake hands now or something?"
"I think friends can hug" Xander replied and he sighed softly when Buffy seemed to agree and wrapped her arms around him. "See?" he said softly, holding her gently.
Buffy sighed too. "It's never easy is it?" she remarked, stepping back from him after a moment.
"And what would be the fun it that?" Xander said drolly. "Come on, let's take our awkwardness over to that coach house and save the poor kid's ass."
"Sounds like a plan." Buffy began to walk with Xander over towards the buildings they'd seen earlier in the distance. It was only a short while later she turned her head up to him and gave him a curious look.
Xander looked back at her. "What?"
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Sex poodle?"
Standing not quite thirty yards away, obscured by a large tree trunk and some shrubbery, stood a tall woman dressed in black with long red hair that hung down her back in a thick plait. She had a small smile on her face.
Suddenly, beside her, there appeared a six-foot high and half metre wide portal, through which a man appeared. He coughed a couple of times as the portal disappeared behind him and the circled his head, stretching his neck muscles. "I hate that trip" he muttered. He looked at the two figures disappearing into the distance and then to the woman standing beside him. And then up again as she stood a foot taller than him.
"I don't know what you're smiling about" he said, "You ballsed the whole thing up. This ain't what I jumped you through dimensions to do."
"You said get them to admit their feelings" was the reply, "Which is what I did."
"They're supposed to be together. Did you not get that memo?"
"Since when do you send bloody memos about that kind of thing? And don't look at me like that, this is for the best. You want love right?" she gestured to the couple that were even further away now, "Then you can't rush it. Trust me."
The man snorted. "Says the woman dating a man twice her age."
The redhead shot annoyed look at her companion. "Hey! Am not. In fact I'll have you know I'm four times *his* age."
"And that's so much better because?"
"Oh shut up Whistler. Just 'cos you can't get laid." She ignored the glare she got. "Can I go home now? It's getting a bit nippy out here."
"We gotta wait a coupla secs for a window" Whistler replied, still sounding irked. "And what was with *Kate* anyway? You couldn't use your real name?"
"I thought it would be too cute."
"I've awakened them to each other" the woman replied "If running into me wasn't a fortunate accident, I don't know what is."
Sean hung back a little with Buffy as Xander went with Tom back into the coach house as the latter had begun to head out with a ladder as they'd appeared.
"You OK?" the hologram asked.
"I've been better" Buffy admitted with a sigh.
"This is gonna sound lame, I know" Sean said. "But it's probably for the best."
"Probably." Buffy knew she sounded melancholy. "But it was nice while it lasted" She watched Xander talking to Sean in the coach house doorway. "Maybe I enjoyed it too much."
"Why'd'ya say that?"
Buffy smiled wryly. "'Cos I got burned"
"I'm sorry" Sean told her. Suddenly 'Gizmo' bleeped, making Sean look down. He studied it for a moment before looking back at Buffy. "Looks like you two are outta here" he said, giving Buffy a small smile. "Tom begins to live a long life. Harry sorts out the family mess as much as he can and heads back to the city with Maggie in tow." Sean raised an eyebrow. "And Mrs Grantham has an affair with Dr Greenburg."
"They're welcome to each other" Buffy snorted. "So? See you on the other side?" Buffy saw Sean nod just as she and Xander were engulfed in a bright white light and Grantham House disappeared.
Next episode coming soon...
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