Chronicles of the White Knight

By Taygeta

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Title: Chronicles of the White Knight
Author: Taygeta
Email: taygeta@juno.com

Summary: Buffy and her White Knight fight off Angelus, while their relationship slowly changes. Xanders point of view, set after Innocence but before Becoming. _ _ means emphasis, * * means thoughts, and red italics means singing.

Disclaimer: The characters portrayed in this story are not my own. They are derived from the television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and are owned by the likes of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Sandollar Productions, etc. No copyright infringement is intended.


Part One: Loving in the Shadows

Angelus had once called him, Buffy’s White Knight, and as he contemplated, he supposed that he had been something of the sort to Buffy, but all he had been doing was first and foremost being her friend, although, there were many who would probably think otherwise. He cared for Buffy... it was as simple as that, but obviously, his feelings were unencumbered by the boundaries of friendship. He wished for more than just simple talks and inside jokes, all in all, he loved that he had those moments with her, but that didn’t draw from the fact that he was _in_ love with her and that she didn’t love him back.

She would never see him beyond the Xander, the guy who was just one of the girls, complex she had bestowed on his unlucky head. There were moments... there are _always_ moments... in which he thought he saw the possibility of her caring more for him, but they were fleeting increments of time that he had convinced himself meant nothing. They couldn’t _mean_ anything so long as she was in love with Angel.

The moment Xander had realized what Angel represented to her... the love and romance he wanted to have signified in her life... that window of friendship closed. He resented Angel until no return and despite an established median of understanding between them, a friendship could not exist. They were inclined to hate each other... they both wanted what only one could have... Buffy’s love, and guess who got the short end of that?

Beneath any of his negative feelings about Angel, he knew that deep down he was happy for Buffy because she found love, the rarest of the rare, despite its impending restraints. He didn’t necessarily approve nor did he like the relationship so often and inadvertently thrown in his face, but he had accepted it as fact. There was nothing he could do about it and rather than make the trouble he’d accept it as mundane... it was mundane if you considered the locale and it’s locals.

But that was then, and this is now... Angel was no longer Angel. The demon inside him had been relinquished when he had lost his soul, and thus Angelus took reign. With him, Buffy no longer met happiness and only faced the evil and darkness and pain that he was determined to revenge upon her for making him feel so human. Despite her strong demeanor, Xander could see her sorrow in her eyes and it hurt to know that he couldn’t do anything to make it go away.

“Xander... Cordelia is on the phone,” he heard his mother say from downstairs.

“Tell her I call her back, Mom,” he said with a sigh.

Cordelia Chase placed quite a dilemma in his mind. What was this _thing_ that he had with her? A year ago if someone had told him he would be dating Cordelia, he would have laughed his head off... now he didn’t know whether to laugh or kill himself before she killed him. Not that Cordy was bad for his health, but he didn’t know the whichever way that they were going towards and not to mention there were his feelings of Buffy that didn’t easy matters much. Sometimes, no matter how many times they had their ‘meetings’ in closets, he didn’t think it felt all that right... as if he was pulling some sort of charade.

Determining what he felt for Buffy was simple... everything, even the hesitance of the possible lost of their close friendship said yes. Every time he looked at her, he felt like never wanting to look away, but always knowing that he would always have to. Cordelia, on the other hand, was the equivalent of a million possibilities that never could equal yes or no, but was dormant somewhere in the haze between. So, maybe he would never have Buffy’s love and maybe dating Cordy was the right thing to do, but the keyword was maybe. He didn’t know and wasn’t sure he wanted to know what lay beyond that.

And that was what was left in his daily contemplation, an uneasy, unsettling void that could never be filled until an ultimate conclusion on want and what have could be made. Until then, _always_ until then, he would have to make do with a love too scared to be presented... with a heart fearful of pain too often felt... with the wish that the shadows that hid all this, would some day no longer be.


Part Two: Only In Dreams

Buffy fell into a deep and troubling sleep as thoughts of Angel and of his predecessor Angelus filled her mind. She found herself in the arms of her beloved Angel and she sighed, feeling his embracing arms around her. All at once the affection drained from his grasp and she felt his hands move swiftly, but before she could react, a hand had tight grip on her neck. Her eyes widened as she painfully looked up at her assailant, Angelus.

"Hello, Lover, miss me?" He said with a wicked grin as his hand closed around her throat with continual pressure and force.

Clenched her teeth, she found enough strength and anger within her to kick him in the stomach, causing him to let go of her neck. The moment she was free, she turned around and clipped him with her right fist. He toppled to the ground and Buffy, in her fighting stance, waited for him to stand up. Slowly he rose from his fall, laughing to an extent that it could almost be called cackling.

"Not now, Slayer, it's not going to happen now," said Angelus shaking his head with a crooked grin, and in the corner of Buffy's eye she saw a figure in white dash by.

"If not now, when?" she demanded, glaring at Angelus with such enraged passion that she found herself breathing heavily.

"Soon," he simply replied and then he walked away, glancing at something white glinting in the distance, before he stuffed his hands into his black coat pockets. As Buffy continued to eye the back of his tall form, she heard him continue, "Very soon."

Buffy ran after him and was about to push him to the ground, but once she reached his dark brooding figure, he and the darkness that had surrounded them, were gone. She found herself engulfed in music, dimmed lights, and hushed voices and realized that she was in the Bronze. Across the way, she saw Willow and Xander talking with Oz and Cordelia at one of the various tables set around the dance floor. Realizing that she was seeing all of this from the middle of the dance floor, she tried to walk, but for some odd reason, she couldn't move. The music had shifted to an eerie slow beat, and she smiled sheepishly hoping that no one would notice her and no one did. All eyes had fallen onto a figure that approached them.

She turned to see a band appear out of the shadows of the stage and a singer began her song.

It is a masquerade... it is a dream.
All reality has come and gone and all that's left is I...
I and the dark... I and the dark...

As the white-clad figure approached the crowd, Buffy tried to see his face, but she couldn't. At every angle, his face was shadowed from her view and then she realized that this stranger was walking towards her. His hand gently placed itself on hers, and she gasped feeling almost a current of electricity running through their fingers. Even more surprising to Buffy, she felt her feet become released from the magic that had stuck them to the ground.

He walks towards me... and I'm blinded by the glare of the white... knight...
Shadowed by the darkness that hides him in daylight...
His eyes... his face... I cannot see...
Who is he and why is it that my heart is starting to race without the vision of his face?
Electricity runs through me as his hand touches my own.
It's electricity... a magic beyond me... releasing me into his arms...

She eyed him carefully still as they danced, unaware of the eyes of the crowd on the floor.

And then we dance the world away...
A million questions forming in my mind,
But the only one I could actually say was the one who's asking... The one who's asking... asking his identity...

The bridge of silence between them collapsed when she asked, "Who are you?"

"It's for me to know and you to find out," was his reply.

"Well... a name would be nice..."she hinted.

He thought for a moment and replied, "Let's just say I'm a white knight of sorts."

"Okay – White Knight – why are you here?" she asked looking up at him, but still she saw no face, only a shadow that covered it almost entirely.

"I'm always here," he said and despite the shadow on his face, she detected a warm smile, "I've always been by your side."

"If you've always been here, then why is this the first time I've seen you?" asked Buffy, slightly jokingly, but there was some truth to her tone.

"Let's just say that I've watched you from afar," he said and continued no further as she fell silent in confused thought.

Answers still unknown to me...
Who are you and why am I so confused with what's going on?
Can you just show me your face and end this little game of a masquerade?
Who are you? Who are you?
Who are you... white knight by name?

"Will I ever get to see what you look like?" said Buffy looking up at him, standing still once more when the music stopped.

She felt that the smile she had detected before had faded, "Maybe... someday... I hope, it's really up to you... and your heart."

Then he kissed her... sweetly... gently... and when he pulled away, she looked at him for a second and smiled. Then she realized that the shadow that concealed his identity was beginning to slowly fade, but before she began to realize who it was that made her heart beat so wildly - who it was that gave her such a kiss - she woke up. In a daze, she glanced at the clock beside her bed and realized that it was nearly six-thirty, and although she went about her usual morning routine, her mind still wondered who was this mysterious White Knight. Her thoughts still lingered about this mysterious figure when she met Xander and Willow later that morning.

"You know, guys, I had the strangest dream," said Buffy after their usual greetings, and both Willow and Xander noticed that she was smiling - really smiling - for the first time in weeeks.

"Really, Buffy?" questioned Willow with a inquiring smile, "Was it a nice dream?"

"The beginning was fairly freaksome, but it turned out quite nicely," she replied and although she knew it was a dream, she felt a tingle on her lips from the passion that she had met with his kiss. "See there was this guy..."

Before she could continue, Xander cut in with, "Me, right, Buffy?"

"No, not you," she laughed, thinking that such a romantic and mysterious guy couldn't possibly be him, "But you were in there for a little while. So were Willow, Oz, and Cordelia. Remember Cordelia, your girlfriend?"

"Remember Cordelia?" he said with a chuckle, "Who can forget her?"

"Xander... I want to know Buffy's dream!" said Willow and she turned to her and continued, "Well?"

"As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted," said Buffy giving Xander a Look, "There was this guy and he called himself the White Knight. I couldn't see his face because everything was so shadowed, but when he touched my hand and kissed me in the end, it was like... wow."

"Wow?" asked the redhead who wondered why she couldn't have Dream kisses that were wows.

"Wow," said Buffy nodding her head, but still feeling like that couldn't even describe it.

"Wow..."repeated Willow with a sigh before she separated from them to go to her own class.

Xander had become intensely silent, when he heard Buffy talk about her dream and he turned to ask her, "So, you have no idea who this White Knight is?"

"Drawing a blank! He's probably just some guy my mind made up," said Buffy and when she realized that he had grown even more silent she said with a laugh, "Why, Xander? Do you think the White Knight's you?"

He contemplated for a second and then said, "Let's see, to be the White Knight, I get to not only dance very close to you, but I even get to kiss you?" She nodded and in the distance, the first bell rang, but she waited for his answer. Glancing at her, he sighed and shook his head, "Only in dreams, Buffy, only in dreams."

She paused and gave him a perplexed expression before she laughingly said, "Xander... it was a dream."

Smiling, he gave her a side-ways glance, and before he walked away she heard him say, "I know, Buffy, I know..."


Part Three: Understanding Willow

Buffy took a sip of soda from a can of diet coke as she sat at a table near the window that overlooked the promenade. She glanced across the promenade and spotted what Willow called Oz's cool hair. The shade of orange-red could be seen for quite a distance, and Buffy smiled and thought silently that it was cute how Willow and he were always hold hands. She glanced over at Xander, who was sitting at the same table, and found that he was looking at the very same couple. Her scrutinizing eyes peered at Xander's expression, and she silent counted to herself, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...

"Doesn't that just make you sick?" responded Xander waving his hand at the couple in a disgusted gesture.

"Come on, Xander, they've been together for weeks!" said Buffy with a sigh, "It's not like your opinion counts in their relationship, so get over it!"

"How can I if they keep rubbing their relationship in my face? I mean, every time I see them together it's all this touchy-feely stuff!" insisted Xander and Buffy rolled her eyes and put her soda can down, making a soft sound as the aluminum hit the table.

"Right, Xander," said Buffy with an air of sarcasm, "And how do you justify you and Cordy's touch-feely stuff? Which I might add, is about ten time worse than what Oz and Willow do."

"Hey, I resent that comment, Buffy because Cordy and I - " Xander paused a moment to contemplate, and feeling that her eyes were still on him, he chuckled nervously and glanced at her, "Never mind."

"Yeah... that's what I thought," she said with a smile, despite the fact that her acceptance of Cordelia had yet to begin.

Xander didn't reply to Buffy's comment as he continued to stare at the couple. He contemplated that Willow looked happy, but he didn't believe she was because she was with Oz. What was Xander's opinion of Oz? Oz was just an orange-headed villain out to hurt his best friend. Once he reached to the thought of Willow being his best friend, he paused, unsure if that was what Willow was, nowadays. They were friends, Xander knew that for sure, but if they were BEST friends, was a whole other matter in its entirety.

Things had been distant between them for quite awhile, Xander realized. Even before Cordelia and Oz had entered the picture as romantic counterparts, their relationship had been readily changed. Did Buffy have anything to do with it, thought Xander for a moment and then he sighed realizing that she had, but not profoundly. Whatever had cause them to separate happened, and everything, just made it worst than it had been before.

He wanted very much to understand Willow. He would give anything to understand her, and try to make things back to the way it had been Yet, he knew that that way was gone and to return to it was impossible. Xander couldn't believe how much Willow had changed to become a Willow that he couldn't even understand. Still, had he ever understood her to begin with? It still shocked him to think that Willow had been in love with him, and he didn't think he'd ever get use to that idea, and now with Oz, he wouldn't have to.

Oz, thought Xander, what a crazy guy, what does she see in him? Truthfully, he didn't really know what he had against Oz. The weird part was that if Oz was just one of the gang and had no romantic connection to Willow at all, he knew he would be friends with him. But the point was he wasn't just one of the gang, he was Willow's... boyfriend. Sure, Oz being a werewolf didn't make Xander like him any more, but for some odd reason, it didn't make Xander like him, any less. It just gave him more to complain about, more that made some reasonable sense anyway. He supposed a lot of his resentment came form his thoughts that Oz made his friendship with Willow even more strained, even though deep down, he knew that that wasn't true. Oz was only a factor because he was making him a factor, and although Willow was chummy with Cordelia, now, Xander knew that Willow was making her a factor, too. It was as if they were divided sides trying not to be separated, but their efforts just made them even more so.

He thought again about Willow's face and finally realized that she was happy... with Oz. It didn't matter whether he liked it or not, it wasn't his choice to make, as Buffy had told him once. He stepped away from his heart because Buffy was in love with Angel, but Oz and Willow were different, he wouldn't have to step away. All he had to do was be happy because Willow was, and maybe in doing that, he could finally start treating Willow for what she had always been, and what he had always taken for granted, a true friend. Then, maybe, just maybe, he could start understanding Willow.


Part Four: Never the One

"Are you sure, Cordelia?" asked Xander with a sigh as he cradled the phone against his shoulder why pouring himself a glass of milk.

"Of course, I'm sure, Xander," she said with a sigh after some repetitive coughing, "Go to the dance with them. Just because I'm sick doesn't mean you can't go."

"But you not going to a school dance seems wrong somehow," He replied placing the carton back into the refrigerator and closing the door.

"Yeah, but Xander not going to a dance won't make a difference, now would it?" retorted Cordelia straightforwardly.

"Well, if you put it that way - " Xander began, but he stopped, "Look, Cordy, just try and get better, huh? I mean, who else am I going to argue with at school, and let's not forget, kiss and make-up with?"

"It's not like I'm Buffy and can just slay this cold!" said Cordelia with a laugh, "Hey, what's up with her and her clothes nowadays anyway? Don't you remember that thing she wore a few days ago? You know that blue thing?"

Xander ignored her comments of Buffy, like he always did and with a sigh he said, "Just get better, huh? And I'll see you as soon as I can."

Before he could hang up, he heard Cordelia's voice say, "Go to the dance, Xander! You don't have to stay home on my account."

When he did hang up, Cordelia sighed, and felt her head throb from her head cold. She not only felt awful, but she knew she looked just as awful. Dropping her head onto her large white pillows, Cordelia couldn't help, but wonder if Xander was going to the dance or staying home? She knew that despite all of what she had said to him to make him go the dance she wanted to think that Xander would do something romantic like stay with her and help her get better. Cordelia shook her head and knew that although Xander could be romantic, he wasn't when it came to her most of the time, and most of time she even wondered if he knew if she was alive.

She yawned and thought that having a nice early nap would help her get better. Still, her thoughts were of Xander and Buffy, and she was so worried about all of that that she fell into a troubling dream. A nightmare for her, but she knew that it was a dream beyond dreams for her boyfriend who was in love with someone else...

... As she walked into the building, she realized that the Bronze was a little more smoke-filled than it had been usually, but considering that the dance was being held there, it wasn't unusual. Oz and his band, "The Dingoes Ate My Baby" played a slow song and Willow, as usual, was gazing at Oz with a dreamy expression. She was now an official groupie, and she didn't mind that she didn't get to dance because her boyfriend was in the band, more or less because she didn't like to dance. Meaning, that she thought that that was a plus in her new relationship.

Cordelia peered at the table, noticing that Willow wasn't alone, and that Xander and Buffy were seated beside her, laughing. She walked towards them, but when she sat down at their table, she was surprised that they didn't even notice her.

"Hey, guys, I came!" Cordelia said in her normal voice, but still no one saw her there.

"Buffy, what do you say to dancing?" asked Xander suddenly, standing up from his seat, and she saw Buffy smile.

"I don't think so, Xander, I-" Buffy began as she shook her head.

"Go on, Buffy, dance with him," Willow said, tearing her eyes away from Oz for a moment to urge her friend to dance with Xander.

The slayer sighed and smiled as she stood up, "Sure, I'd love to dance with you."

"Yes, Buffy, very enthusiastic," said Xander with a chuckle as he and she walked to the dance floor.

Cordelia frowned and scrutinized Buffy's clothing like she always did. That night, she was wearing a sleeveless dress made of a chiffon material of lavender, like Cordelia had seen earlier that day in a fashion magazine. For the first time, she had no criticism and that scared her, so she turned to give Xander a look, thinking she had to find something wrong with his clothes, she always did. Tonight was no exception; Xander had on all white and stood out in the crowd. Then she realized that it didn't matter that he stood out, he actually looked good!

Noticing that no one knew she was alive, she followed them to the dance floor and was dying to hear their conversation. She resented that they always talked to each other, and it seemed, about everything. Xander went out on vampire patrol with Buffy far too many times than Cordelia would have liked. Next to zero would have been a better preference for her. She stood idly by, close enough to hear them, but far enough so that she didn't feel weird just standing there.

"So, Buffy, do I even get close to being your White Knight of your dreams?" Cordelia heard Xander say to her.

Cordelia remembered hearing Willow tell her about Buffy's dream of the White Knight. Willow had joked that Xander had thought that it was himself before she had even begun explaining.

"Well, he did dance closer," said Buffy with a light smile, and Cordelia's eyes widened in shock as she saw them dance so close that there wasn't even air between them. "Something like this, yes, but something's missing."

"That tramp, she wouldn't..."said Cordelia under her breath and towards Xander she said, "That two-timing jerk, why I outta -" Despite her angry remarks, Cordelia stood her ground and waited for the scene to unfold.

"You mean, this?" Xander said and then their lips met, slightly hesitant, and then they pulled away and just looked at each other. Their pounding hearts seemed to echo in Cordelia's head and just when she thought their pulses had slowed, they kissed, again, and this time even longer than before.

Cordelia's jaw dropped, she had anticipated it, but she hadn't prepared for it. She was feeling very angry for two reasons. The first, Buffy and Xander, her boyfriend, had kissed each other, not once, but twice. Secondly, Xander had never kissed her like that, ever, and coming to the second reason, she sighed. A wave of depression hit her, as she realized he probably would never kiss her like that, a kiss with such passion that it meant love...

... She sat up right as she heard a knock on her door, and she walked to the door wondering who there. The crazy dream was still clear in her mind when she opened the door. She brushed her hair away from her eyes as she saw who stood in front of her, Xander Harris.

"Xander, what are you doing here? Aren't you going to the dance?" she asked with a surprised tone.

"No, I'm not going to the dance. What kind of an insincere boyfriend do you think I am, Cordy?" he asked with a laugh as he walked into her room, all the while holding a bag of rental tapes and a large bag of popcorn.

"The sweet kind," said Cordelia smiling as she began to look through the various videos that he had rented and decided which one she should complain about.

As they watched the movie, she still didn't feel at ease with the dream she had, although it was just a dream. She couldn't get rid of the mental picture of Xander and Buffy... kissing. Cordelia feared that it would cease to be just a dream, and would soon spill into reality. Sure, Xander was being nice and was lately being romantic and showing major concern over her, but what value did she have in Xander's heart? Was she number two or number three? The possibilities were endless, but eliminating a number out of the possibilities was easy. Cordelia knew that she could never occupy that reserved number in Xander's heart, a soft spot where Buffy would always remain, the number one.


Part Five: In the Hands of Astarte

"Hey, we missed you at the dance," said Buffy as she met up with Xander who was sitting at a bench in the promenade. "So I'm guessing that you were at Cordelia's doing your comforting, caring, boyfriend thing."

"She told me to go to the dance, but it being Cordelia, I kind of had to read through the lines," said Xander who smiled softly, but he had the feeling that despite his efforts, his girlfriend had been more sullen than to have been expected, "So, did I miss anything?"

"Nope, not a thing," said Buffy shaking her head, "Unless you really wanted to see Willow gazing dreamily at Oz on the stage, which I don't think you want to do."

"No... that's okay," said Xander, and he thought about Willow and wondered were they growing apart as he had originally thought. "Buffy, do you think that Willow and I are still good friends?"

"Of course, you guys are, but I guess right now, things are just a little bit too anx and that just makes everything really unstable between you guys. And just because everything a little awkward right now, doesn't mean your not good friends, still," replied Buffy and with shrug she continued, "Just give it time, Xander, and everything will work out."

"I hope so, Buffy, I really do," he said with a sigh as he and Buffy continued to walk.

Not too far away, Cordelia had been spying at them, and wondered what they were saying. *They're probably making fun of me,* she thought, *they always do.* She had to admit her dream was really wigging her out. It's not that she didn't think that she was being stupid and overreacting, she did, but sometimes emotions overtake all common sense. She needed something to make Xander forget about Buffy and think only of her, and as she saw Amy walking by, she remembered the Valentine's spell. Sure, it had been the reverse of what Xander had wanted, but what had not worked then, could work now. After all, it couldn't mess up as bad as Xander's had, right?

"Amy," Cordelia called to the blonde that had crossed her path.

"Yeah, Cordelia?" the blonde witch turned around and walking towards her, thinking that Cordelia was probably going to say something bad about her outfit.

"Cute skirt," she said , with such a tone of insincerity that Amy knew she wanted something.

"What do you want?" she asked glancing at her superior expression.

"I want your help," said Cordelia, and Amy knew that she wasn't kidding.

"Help... in what?" asked Amy warily.

"I want you to cast a spell," she said seriously and she frowned when Amy shook her head, no, "Why not?"

"I promised Giles that I wouldn't after that incident with Xander," she replied, and she glanced at Cordelia. "I'm guessing this spell you want involves him?"

"Yes, it does, and I really want this spell. So what do you say about 50 dollars?" asked Cordelia, knowing that her father would just hand out the money like candy.

"You want to pay me to do a spell?" asked Amy, who never thought of her powers as a moneymaking tool.

"Yeah, what else can I offer you? I mean, you could probably play with a spell on popularity if you wanted to," said Cordelia and then she continued, "Why don't you?"

"Popularity isn't my thing, just my mom's," said Amy, who had seen too much of what popularity could do to want it.

"Well, what do you say?" asked Cordelia with raised eyebrows, "Will you cast a spell for me?"

"For fifty dollars? Yeah," said Amy with a smile thinking of all the things she could buy by her moneymaking magic skills, "Just tell me, what is this spell about?"

"I want to have Xander love me and for his feelings for Buffy, go away," replied Cordelia, "And if you breathe a word of this to anyone, you will die." Amy nodded, knowing that she probably would.

Later that day, Cordelia found herself in Amy's attic, which was full of potions, powders, and smelly-old books. It kind of reminded her of a scene from a horror movie. Then she remembered that Sunnydale was practically a horror movie in itself.

"Do you have something of Xander's?" asked Amy opening a book from her bookshelf and turning the yellowed pages.

"The only thing I could snag was a candy wrapper he wanted me to throw away for him, is that okay?" asked Cordelia handing it to Amy.

"Close enough," said Amy placing it on a clean surface on her table, where a tiny black cauldron lay, "What about something for Buffy?"

"I borrowed a clip from her," said Cordelia and than she continued uncertainly, "Is it okay that I wore it?"

"Yeah, as long as it was hers to begin with," replied Amy, "You really have something against Buffy, don't you?"

"No, not really," the brunette said, knowing full well that she was lying through her teeth, "I have a lot against her clothes and that thing on her face, you know, that thing? Anyway, having a boyfriend totally obsessed with her isn't exactly the healthiest relationship to have."

"So, what does this have to do with making him fall out of love with Buffy and into love with you?" asked Amy glancing at Cordelia. She didn't respond, and the witch knew better than to probe further as she pulled out a couple of ingredients from various jars and then turned to her and asked, "I need something of yours."

"Oh, okay, let me think," said Cordelia scrutinizing herself and than she finally pulled a silver ring she had never really liked and handed it to Amy.

Amy breathed deeply before she placed threw three rose petals into the cauldron, which Cordelia noticed was suddenly boiling with water, and Amy began to wove the double spell of loving and not loving:

"Rose petals of Love, three,
I place in the hands of Astarte,
Controller of love and romance.
I call and plead to thee,
To assist in igniting a flame of desire.

I give to thee something his,
So that his love for her grows stronger.
Now I give thee something of hers,
To kindle the fire in his heart.

Thin out his passion for the other that dwells there too.
Something of her I give to thee.
Let that passion dwindle away.
Let him and his love come finally to peace,
And let the other be erased from his heart.

Rose petals of Love, three,
I place in the hands of Astarte,
Controller of love and romance.
I call and plead to thee, to assist in igniting a flame of desire."

She dropped three more petals into the cauldron and a poof of white and black smoke sparked from the cauldron.

"Is that it?" asked Cordelia in surprise.

"Yeah, just about," said Amy, and she coughed and held out her palm.

"Oh, right," she said and she pulled a crisp fifty from her purse and placed it on her hand, "So when do I know if the spell really worked?"

"When you meet him, you'll see," replied Amy, nodding her head, and when Cordelia started to walk out of the creepy attic, she continued, "Cordelia?"

"Yeah?" Cordelia said, turning to see the tacky clothing-clad witch.

"No guarantees and no returns," said Amy with a smile, "Come again."

"You better hope this works," she said with a smile that made the other girl's fade, "And if anything goes wrong, you have to help me fix it."

"Agreed," said Amy thinking that the effort was worth about fifty dollars.

Cordelia arrived home, slightly drained. When she finally was able to go to bed, she thought of Amy's spell and wondered was Xander really in love with her now and did he totally despise Buffy? As she fell into a deep, an almost serene sleep, she thought, *I guess I'll just have to wait and see.*

***

Cordelia sighed and eyed her watch again, and wondered what was taking Xander so long. He had asked her to meet him in front of the school at seven to talk about something. It was nearly seven-forty, in ten minutes, classes would start, and her reputation as being the smartest of the popular crowd would be tarnished forever. Or, at least, become more tarnish, since she already tarnished it by dating Xander, which was had to be the biggest travesty in her years of popularity, as thought so by her so-called friends.

"Hey, Cordy, sorry I'm late," he said with a smile as he walked up to what he knew was a very ticked-off girlfriend.

"Late, you are beyond late, you are at the pinnacle of unpunctuality," she said, who was eyeing Xander to see if there were any major changes and then she thought that she should have thrown in another 50 so that Amy could have done a "be a better dresser" spell.

"Look, Cordelia, I was thinking about a lot of things this morning and there is something that you have to know," said Xander and then he saw all of the kids at school and continued, "Let's go somewhere, where we can talk in semi-quiet."

"Okay..."she said, hoping that this was going to be good, hoping that the spell had worked, and he was going to say what she thought he was going to say.

Finally Xander spoke, after they sat in a picnic table near a remotely remote spot, "Cordy, I have to break up with you."

"You, _what_!?" asked Cordelia with widened eyes, thinking *what did Amy do with her stupid spell?*

"You see, Cordy, it's unfair to you to be with me when I have this undying love for someone else," said Xander with a sigh as he looked at what he thought was her grief-stricken face.

In reality it was an angry and stupefied face that spouted out, "Undying... love? For _who?!_"

"Who else? Who else could it be than... than Buffy?" he said and at that moment the bell had rung and he stood up. "I'm sorry, I really am. I'm sorry that I led you on, but hey, we always knew we weren't meant to be, right?"

"Yeah... right," said Cordelia acerbically as she saw Xander walk away from her and her heart.

***

"Amy, listen... and listen, now," said Cordelia, later that morning, as she pulled her away from an unpopular group of girls, continued slowly, "What did you do?!"

"What do you mean?" she asked glancing at her questioningly.

"What do I mean? I mean, your spell screwed up! He's in love with Buffy and he just broke up with me. He is not supposed to break up with me, I'm supposed to break up with him that's how Cordelia's Dating Laws always work. So what... did... you... do?!" said Cordelia, and Amy could hear her grinding her teeth angrily, not to mention see the fire blazing in her eyes.

"I guess something happened that made the spell mess up," said Amy with a sigh, who was beginning to re-consider the idea of building her own magic business.

"Well, you're going to fix it then, so what do I need for you to do that? I do not want Xander ranting and raving to Buffy of his, 'undying love for her'!" said Cordelia who was still conversing with Amy despite the fact that the passing bell had rung.

"You're going to need Buffy, but that means we're going to have to tell her," she said knowing that her customar did not want that in the least.

"Not necessarily..."she said as she told Amy, her plan.

At lunch, Cordelia, dragging Amy, found Buffy at the soda machine getting a diet soda. They also spotted Xander heading her way, too, so Cordelia, despite her two inch neon-green chunky heel pumps, pulled her away right before he could even get near her.

"Cordelia, did you just suffer some type of mental breakdown?" asked Buffy who was pulled away from the machine so fast that she barely had enough time to take her soda can, "Maybe inhaled too much nail polish?"

"You know, for a slayer, you aren't so tough," said Cordelia with a sigh, "Anyway, I will never, ever say this to you, ever again, but I need your help."

She opened her soda can, sipped it, and with raised eyebrows retorted, "You, Cordelia, need me, Buffy, for help? Let me see... I doubt that it's an unsupernatural request. In other words, it's not like a 'do these shoes match with this purse' type of question, is it?"

"No, it's more complicated than that," the dark-haired girl said as she saw Buffy glancing at Amy. Cordelia figured that Buffy was thinking that she wasn't her usual walking buddy. "You see, I bribed Amy to do a spell for me... to get Xander to, um, dress better."

"And this involves me... how?" asked Buffy glancing at their faces, knowing that something was definitely rotten in Sunnydale... again.

"Well, the title of the spell was still on the paper, but it was torn off somehow and I ended up reading a love spell," said Amy with a weak smile, "And well, it made Xander not like Cordelia and majorly fall for you."

"Excuse me?" asked Buffy feeling that she had been struck dumb as she looked at Cordelia and Amy with wide-eyes.

***

They arrived at Amy's attic after school, and Buffy had to admit it was still the same old witch lair that she had seen before except it lacked the eerie voodoo dolls. The shelves were lined with books and even a cauldron was in the room, despite the fact that it was a very small one. Amy had taken a spell book from one of her shelves and looked through it. They both saw the expression on her face before she even turned to look at them because it was the most evident expression of surprise that they had ever seen.

"Did you find a reversal spell?" asked Buffy knowing that she had, but also knowing, by the expression on her face that this reversal spell was not exactly something they would all be happy about. Amy glanced at Cordelia and than Buffy, and she thought quickly, knowing that if she told her what the reversal spell was about, it would tell Cordelia's real spell. After a little bit of thought she bit her lower lip and replied, "Well, I did find a spell, but you guys are not going to like it."

"Why? What happens?" asked Buffy eyeing Amy carefully and realized that there was more to this story than she knew about.

"The spell, well, it had to do with passion and love, both things that Xander had for both of you. Evidently since he's with Cordelia, love, and since he's not with you, passion, but somehow things got reverse," said Amy with a nervous chuckle. "So he's in love with you, and the only way to break the spell is that the person that he is supposedly "in love" with has to... uh... hehe... kiss him."

"WHAT?!" Buffy and Cordelia practically exploded in unison.

"Yeah... I kind of figured that reaction," she said as she eyed their expressions.

Cordelia walked towards Amy and said, "What's really going on?"

"Exactly as I said, but the thing is the spell has significant wording and it overpowered all the representations you gave me," she whispered.

"So that means..."said Cordelia waiting for her to reply.

Amy took a deep breath, and didn't know if she should tell Cordelia, but finally thought that she should know. "That mean... it ignored all of those things that you gave me that had belonged to them because in the spell, feelings are truer than representations. In other words, your relationship with Xander was passion to begin with, and his feelings for Buffy are a type of passion, too, but its so much more deeper that..."

"Just get to the point, Amy," said Cordelia, who knew what Amy was going to say, but she had to hear from her, to finally accept what she had known all along.

"Cordelia, Xander really is in love with Buffy, and this spell, it just made him act on his feelings," she said, and for the first time, Amy felt sorry for her, and surprising herself, still, she was amazed on how calm Cordelia was about the whole ordeal.

Buffy, on the other hand, was far from being calm. The thought of kissing Xander was too thought provoking. She had to admit that they had their moments when they were very close, but Xander was her friend, and now lately her confidant as he was hers. As thoughts boggled Buffy's mind, she forgot that many aspects she named as reasons she couldn't kiss him were the very same aspects that made the showings of love, more truer than words.

"Are going to go through with it?" asked Amy peering at a distressed looking Buffy.

"Do I have a choice? I mean, I don't want him to be in love with me forever, now do I?" asked Buffy with a sigh and a shrug, and Cordelia wondered the extent of truth in her question.

***

"I know that there's something that you're not telling me," said Buffy glancing at an unusually quiet Cordelia as she drove home.

"So maybe there is, but what's it to you?" she asked as she stopped in front of the Summers' home.

"It's a lot to me. I have to know what started this thing. I mean, you made me involved, and if there's a reason, I want to know," said Buffy looking at her squarely.

"Okay, if you want to know, I'll tell you," said Cordelia with a sigh, "The spell I asked Amy to cast, wasn't a spell to make Xander a better dresser, not in the least. I asked her to make a spell where he can start loving me and start forgetting that you exist."

"Why would you want that to happen? Xander and I are just friends, you know that," she said.

"Yeah, right," said Cordelia sarcastically, "Please, Buffy, give me some credit, I mean, don't you think I see? Xander is this big, oh, I don't know, white knight to you, with his obsession of protection over you. It's as if you weren't the slayer, and that you couldn't hold your own in any situation."

"Cordelia, he's my friend, and he cares for me like a friend would-" Buffy began to protest, but she stopped her.

"No, Buffy, you don't get it! He doesn't care for you like a friend would! It's not like that at all! That spell, it said that he'd forget the one he has passion for and the one he loves, he will love even more. If he feels passion for me, Buffy, that means only one thing. That he's in love with you," she said exasperatedly.

"What?" she said in stupefaction.

"No, whats, involved Buffy, you know what I mean," the brunette said.

"But if you think this is true, than why do you stay with him? Why do you want him back, if you have to go through all this just to keep him?" asked Buffy reflecting on the situation.

"Xander and I aren't soul mates, I'm pretty sure about that, but right now, I can't help but feeling that he's the one, right now, not in the long run, just now," she said, feeling very strange about discussing this with Buffy of all people. "Is that so hard to understand? Or can't you comprehend that I, Cordelia, can feel that way?"

"It's not like that and I understand, but it's almost as if you're blaming me for all that's happened between you and Xander," said Buffy with a deep breath. "Besides, I've talked to him, and he really likes you too, and you guys are, or with the spell involved, were, really a couple. I'm not going to interfere in your relationship. Let's not forget that I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you if you hadn't messed with magic. Well, I better get in, I'll see ya."

"Tomorrow at the Bronze, right?" asked Cordelia glancing at her as she opened the door and stepped outside.

"Tomorrow," she replied, and she slammed the door gently. She stood there as Cordelia drove away, and she thought about their zany conversation. She hadn't any faith in any of her 'accusations', but she couldn't help but wonder if there was an underlying truth beneath it all.

***

Buffy walked into Sunnydale's only good hangout, the Bronze, and she heard the band playing an upbeat song. She saw Xander, Willow -who too had been informed about what Buffy had known before, -and Cordelia. The first thing she noticed when she approached them was that there was an air of coldness at the table. Willow was sitting between them, and was almost like a barrier. When she saw Buffy, she shrugged as she looked at Xander, then at Cordelia, and then at Buffy.

"Hey, guys, look who's here?" said Willow with a bright smile.

"Hi, Buffy," said Cordelia who was still sullen.

On the other hand, Xander's spirits had brightened instantly once he saw her, "Hi, Buffy."

"Hi," she answered with an uncomfortable smile.

"I'm gonna go and check on something, okay?" said Cordelia as she stood up and walked to the Bronze's back room where Amy was casting a spell for Xander to forget what occurred these last few days. She saw Amy starting to mix something in a cauldron and said, "Are you ready?"

"Yes, when Buffy kisses him, he's not going to remember anything," she said nodding.

"Good," said Cordelia walking out and leaving Amy, once more, alone. She shook her head lightly as she glanced at the spell book, and she decided against the spell. Xander had to know and he had to choose what he had to do. It was the right way, and if not that, the only way. Amy stood up and wove her own spell as she closed her eyes.

"When her lips meet thine, you shall recall all. Heed my words with your recollections, and heed them well," Amy chanted and when she came to the last line she said in her own voice. "Xander, I gave you this chance, so use it. Make your decisions wisely, and do what you think is right, not just for you, but for all. And not one word from your mouth that I let you remember all of this."

"Did you finish?" asked Cordelia coming in a few minutes later, "Oz is going to cue a really slow song."

"Yeah, I finished with everything, especially anymore magic," said Amy with a sigh, who never thought that she could get into as much trouble as she had the last time she used magic.

Cordelia exited again and grabbed her purse. She about to go out of the Bronze, when she heard Buffy tell her to stop. She turned around and saw that she had followed her.

"Where do you think you're going?" she asked, glancing at her with a confused expression.

"Please, have some common sense. Do you really think I want to see my boyfriend kissing another girl?" asked Cordelia, and she turned around, again, and left.

Oz, who had to cue a slow song once Cordelia left, did. The singer of the band nodded at Oz's request, and nodded to the group, holding up four fingers, which meant the fourth song, "In My Heart."

"Buffy, do you want to dance?" asked Xander glancing at her with hopeful eyes.

She sighed, knowing that there was no time like the present, and said, "Sure."

She and Xander walked to the dance floor and the soft melody of Oz's guitar continued. He held her close and she rested her head upon his shoulder as the lead singer began to sing.

I have watched you from afar
And I have had you in my heart for so long,
Baby, so long.
And I have wondered every day,
And I have had so many hopes and dreams of you,
So many dreams of you.
Don't you know that I have wandered aimlessly,
From relationship to relationship,
With you on my mind, all of the time?
Don't you know that my heart is in your hand ,
and I'm at your call, my love is yours to keep or to break.

The singer sang while strumming his guitar, and he began the chorus.

In my heart, oh, in my heart you shall stay,
No matter if you walk away today.
Baby, I will love you still.
Yes, I will, you know I will...
But don't walk away.
Please see my view.
I've had you so long in my heart... in my heart!
Do you know you are the very link to my heart and my soul?
You make my heart beat fast,
This is love that will last... until the end of time...

Buffy couldn't help feel that his touch and his embrace seemed too familiar, as if she had been in such a situation with him before. They had their comforting embraces before, but nothing like this, and never had her heart beat as fast as it was now. A shadow slightly covered his face as she looked up to at him. As they moved farther and farther away from the shadow, she began to see his face more clearly, and at the same time, she was having an intense moment of déjà vu. *Why is this so familiar?* This question echoed in Buffy's mind as they moved to the music of the band.

Then she realized that this was almost like her dream, but Xander couldn't possibly be the White Knight, could he? She thought back about last night and what Cordelia had said, about Xander being some-type of white knight. Was he? Was he not? There was only one way to find out.

Her eyes looked into his and everything just seemed to... click. Xander's lips met hers gently, and all Buffy could think about was that this was wow and a whole lot more. At long last, they pulled apart, and they opened their eyes. The band was still playing their soft melody as they just stared into each other's eyes in wonderment. Xander had regained his memory and he knew of everything, even what the spell was for. He to choose, he knew, but how could he choose if he didn't know what were his choices? What he did know was, he wanted to kiss Buffy again, but he knew he couldn't because she wasn't one of the choices. She would first have to choose him, but that didn't stop him from softly giving her a sweet, ardent kiss on her right cheek before he let her go and walked away.


Part Six: Decisions of the Heart

Xander walked into his room with a sigh, as a million thoughts filled his mind. It would have been easier if Amy had made him forget everything, but despite the decisions he had to make, he wouldn't have wanted her too. Of course, his decisions were second in his mind right then because he had finally kissed Buffy. Only in his dreams had he ever thought that he would have ever done that... _experienced _ that. Yet, it wasn't really a true kiss despite all the passion and intensity he had felt from it. If it had been true, it wouldn't have taken a spell to make it happen.

He thought of Cordelia and wondered where it was did they stood now... after everything that had been said and done... and undone. He had broken up with her, but that was during the spell and as far as she was concerned the break up was invalid. What he didn't understand with Cordelia was what made her go through such extremes for him to care about her, when he already did. Honestly, Xander could admit that he didn't love Cordelia, at least, in that way, but he truly cared for her. Maybe she wanted more from him than he could even give to her. Maybe she wanted his heart, but to give her that he couldn't do, and wasn't sure if he could ever do such a thing. His heart wasn't his to call his own, and it hadn't been for awhile. Ever since Buffy had come into his life, she had been a permanent mark in all of his thoughts... creating a permanent spot in his heart. Xander knew that for his heart and soul to be found, they had to be found by her because to him, his heart was hers. _His_ heart was Buffy's even though her heart had yet to be his, and quite possibly, would never be his.

He picked up his telephone receiver and was about to dial, but he quickly hung up the phone. He couldn't do it. He couldn't call Buffy. Xander still felt the sting that lingered on-and-off from that still healing wound of the day when Buffy had broken his heart by rejecting him. He wasn't sure if he could take another such blow, and he wasn't sure if his lost heart could either. Besides, although he felt so much when his lips met hers, he had very little doubt that Buffy still loved Angel and still yearned for his return.

*Angel, Angel, Angel, it's always Angel!*

Never was there a barrier so great, than he was, and never was there such a foe. Xander often found himself wondering, if there hadn't been an Angel, would he have stood a better chance to have Buffy to call his own? There were so many supposes and maybes and what-ifs in his life that he always threw that thought in the middle of it all, so that he could think of it later and probe and search for an answer that couldn't be found.

Xander scoffed softly thinking that Angel's presence was always going to be the key. When he was there, it was 'Xander who?' And now, since Angel was there, it wasn't any longer, that, but rather like 'Xander, Angel's gone.' Not like minded his shoulder being the one she cried upon, he didn't in the least. He was glad that lately they had a very close friendship, whether it be because of Angel or not, Xander didn't care. He was just glad that they were such good and close friends. His philosophy was that if he couldn't love Buffy, as he wanted to, he could love her, as she wanted him to - as a friend.

As he began to think about friendship, Xander couldn't help but think that the girl he was dating had never, ever been his friend in the first place. For long as he could remember, he had hated Cordelia, and in some aspects still did, but what was he doing but having make-out scenes with her? He didn't know how he succeeded in hating and liking Cordelia at the same time, except for the reason that he had some psychological disorder, but didn't anyone that dated Cordelia have one of those?

Xander knew that Cordelia wasn't the one, and he knew that she knew it, too, but for now, they had each other. He supposed that had to have some significance, but he did feel like he was lying not only to her, but also to himself while being with her. Sure, they had their moments of passion, but there was nothing between them but that, a passion that would sooner or later burn out. One day, he knew that one of them, if not both of them, were going to decide to blow their flame of desire out... for good.

What they had together wasn't even really a relationship, but rather it was only tangible enough to be called one. If they had one to speak of, they would like each other more than they despise each other, and he would have some inclination to want to fall in love with her instead of being in love with a vampire slayer that was in love with a vampire. Their relationship was awkward, and at times very peculiar, but it was all they had, and having that was better than having nothing at all.

Xander reached for the phone and began to dial Cordelia's phone number, but just when he was about to press the last digit, he slammed the receiver down in indecision. No, he couldn't call her either. He would be lying to her if he did, after all, he wasn't in love with her, and he barely liked her enough to say that he liked her. Xander was in a confused state of mind as he fought indecision trying to find logic in love and in passion, but there is no logic in either world, and he was beginning to see that. After a few minutes of thoughtful silence, Xander picked up the phone, and began to dial. He knew what he had to do.


Part Seven: Unembraceable You

For the umpteenth time in numerous nights, Buffy found herself - again - in her White Knight's arms. But this timee, they weren't dancing like they had done countless times before. In this dream, they were truly in an embrace, and this time when Buffy glanced to look at him, she saw his face as clear as day. She had begun to see him not through her eyes, but through her heart. Looking into this dream lover's eyes, Buffy kissed him, and pulled slowly away, blushing at her boldness even though it was just a dream. She took her dreams seriously, lately. Looking up at him once more, she saw him smile as he brushed a wisp of her blonde hair away from her cheek, kissing her there once, and then his lips found hers. Suddenly, he walked out of their embrace - leaving her all alone. She saw him walk towards Cordelia, take her hand, and with his free hand he waved good-bye. Buffy stood dumbfoundedly looking on.

She sat up straight and shook her head in confusion. It was still dark out and Buffy peered at the clock beside her and noticed that it was not even five o'clock. She exhaled deeply and thought that it was another perfectly ruined dream of the White Knight, and as she saw it now, Xander. Never did she think she'd be dreaming of him... never. No one, not even Willow, was aware that she still dreamt of the White Knight and that somehow that knight became her best friend, Xander.

Buffy had never liked walking in the halls seeing Xander with Cordelia, but now that she was beginning to truly care for him, she had begun to hate it. Everything was seemingly getting back to a state of normality, well, as normal as Sunnydale, California could get. And in a Sunnydale norm, Xander and Cordelia were together and they were constantly doing what Xander had described as touchy-feely stuff. Although Buffy wouldn't admit it aloud or to herself at times, she was actually jealous of Cordelia.

She could still remember the intensity that she had felt when he had kissed her. The real thing was a million times better than all the dream _wow_ kisses combined, but getting the real thing was an impossible task. Her hand touched her cheek and recalled how he had so silently, romantically said good-bye.

Her eyes fell to a cross that glinted on her rack as the moonlight shone upon its metal, it was one of Angel's gifts. She shuddered recalling all the recent wrongs done by Angelus. He was and had never been the Angel she knew, but she couldn't help but see the good in the bad. Her feelings for Angel had altered somewhat after the revealing of his demonic side, and although she still loved the Angel of the past, she was beginning to come to grips that the past was the past and the present and future nothing like it. She had lost her heart to Angel, but in time she had found it again, and although the scars were still open wounds in need of healing, she knew she had to move on. Yet, to what? To Xander... who was with Cordelia?

Buffy shook her head and lay back down on her bed again, as she thought of random thoughts of her heart. They drifted to Angel... to Xander... to Angel... to Xander, etc., and she began to be lulled in a dream with these thoughts. There was Angel, her vampire with a soul of whom she had loved with all her heart and then there was Xander, her white knight who she was beginning to love. Sighing, she mumbled these aimless thoughts to herself, and the last thought that lingered stayed and befell her lips before she went into a rather deep sleep was, "Xander..."


Part Eight: No Turning Back

Cordelia peered into the classroom and noticed that her science teacher, Mr. Barb, had left, but there was still one more person left in the room. She recognized him and realized that he was one of the college students that she had seen at a party once. It was on that day that she and Buffy were almost sacrificed to that huge ugly giant worm or whatever it was. He hadn't been one of the fraternity brothers, but as she noted his Armani ensemble, she could see that he was definitely of the well-off kind. He looked up at her when he heard the door creak loudly and saw her eyes scanning the classroom, and scanning him. His frosted blue eyes met hers and his charming smile made Cordelia blush.

"Yes, how may I help you?" he asked, his smile becoming even more refine by each passing second.

"Um, I was looking for Mr. Barb, but I guess he isn't here," said Cordelia with a hesitant smile.

"No, but he'll be back shortly. He just stepped out to run an errand, so please come in," he said with a welcoming motion.

"Oh, okay," said Cordelia as she walked in and sat down on a desk near him.

'The name's Colin, Colin Williams, how do you do?" he asked extending his hand to shake hers.

"Fine, thank you," she said, as she too, extended his hand, "My name's Cordelia."

"Cordelia, hmm. A very pretty name for an even more beautiful young woman," complimented Colin with a smile. "I'm going to be Mr. Barb's teacher's aide for this semester. It's part of my pre-teacher experience."

"Oh, really? You want to be a teacher?" asked Cordelia thinking that that had to be the most hardest and least paying jobs in the world. "That's gotta be pretty tough work, and well, Armani suits aren't that easy to come by on that type of salary."

"You noticed the Armani, huh? One of the many advantages of being pampered and stuffed for all my 19 years," he said. "And I guess it's because of all of that indulgence that I wanted to give back to society and do something for the good of mankind, and not just for myself. You are right though, it is a pretty tough job."

The door to the classroom opened up quickly and shut just as promptly. They turned to see Xander walking into the room and Mr. Barb had walked in before him. Xander noticed how closely Colin and Cordelia were standing next to each other, but he was silent. Cordelia eyed her boyfriend and felt uneasy that his usually blatant attitude was unusually absent.

"Cordelia, I see you've met Colin," said Mr. Barb with a smile as he sat down at his desk. "Now, I hear you and Xander wanted to ask me more about the project I just assigned you..."

After Xander and Cordelia had left Mr. Barb's room, they had begun to walk home. The sun was on its way to setting and both walked in silence, which anyone could vouch was very odd. Ever since that spell, their relationship hadn't quite returned to normal. Cordelia didn't suspect that Xander remembered anything, and he wasn't about to tell her he knew everything. That lack of trust or information had caused things to be a little rocky between them, but Xander hoped that everything would turn out for the better, soon.

"Well, Xander, I guess I'll see you tomorrow," said Cordelia, giving him a kiss on the cheek once they were at her house.

"Yeah, Cordelia, tomorrow," he replied with a trying smile, and as he noticed that it was getting dark, and thought that the creatures of the night were probably stirring in their coffins.

He walked to his house, which was only a few blocks away, considering the small size of Sunnydale, the rich and the average were in one section. He heard the crickets stop chirping once he walked up the porch steps to his house, and he had uneasy feeling. As he nervously reached for his keys, he dropped them, but before he could pick them up, someone already had.

"Hello, Xander," said a voice in the dark, "Nice night, isn't it?"

"Yeah," he said glancing into the shadows as he recognized the voice instantly, "A very nice night, considering that I have a vampire on my front porch. What do you want, Angel?"

"It's not Angel, Xander, it's Angelus,' he said as he stepped out from the shadows. "Angel's gone, remember? Now, you've only got me to contend with."

"What are you talking about?" Xander asked looking at the vampire with cold eyes. "I've never fought Angel, and I've hit you, but as it seems, that's not considered fighting, especially if it didn't hurt."

"On the contrary, Xander, I seem to recall that you weren't very happy when our precious Slayer chose Angel over you," said Angelus with an evil grin. "I mean, Angel knew what you were thinking, and so do I."

"And what's that, Angelus?" he asked stiffly.

"That the slayer would rather be with someone she was born to kill than to be you," said Angelus as he continuously threw, and caught, the ring of keys in the air.

"Well, Angelus, you're wrong," replied Xander eyeing the keys that fell and rose, "I didn't think like that. Buffy made her choice, and it was Angel. It was her choice to make and hers alone. It didn't make me love her any less and my opinion of Angel didn't change. Sure, I admit, I never liked him, but there's one thing I've realized now that you've arrived."

"What's that?" asked Angelus with a smirk, who couldn't believe how sappy this meal sounded.

"That I hate you," said Xander calmly.

"Ditto," said a familiar voice, which caused them to turn to see Buffy.

"Buffy, it's nice of you to join the party," said Angelus, "But you weren't invited."

"I didn't know I had to RSVP, but since I'm here, do you mind?" asked Buffy glancing at the keys in his hand.

"I don't know, Slayer, I'm kind of partial to these keys," said Angelus glancing at the glinting metal in his hand.

Buffy smiled at his joke before she kicked him in the stomach, causing him to fall and drop the keys. Angelus groaned as he tried to stand up, but Buffy kicked him again and tossed the keys to Xander. Xander fiddled with the keys and was able to open the door.

"Buffy, come on," he said hurriedly, and she turned to look at Xander, giving him the expression that read that she wasn't going to runaway from a good fight, but when she turned to look at Angelus, he was gone.

"Wimp," muttered Buffy under her breath as she reluctantly walked into the Harris' house.

"Better to be a wimp than to be dead," said Xander jokingly as he closed the door behind her. "I speak from experience."

"That Angelus makes me so mad, I can't believe that he was ever Angel," she said with a sigh.

"But Buffy, he was never Angel. I mean granted they look alike and have that whole vampire soul and no soul bond thing going on, but even Angelus makes out that they're two different people," pointed out Xander as he and Buffy sat down on the couch and he turned on the television set.

"I'm sick and tired of Angelus, let's not talk about him, anymore, okay?" she asked glancing at him.

"Sure," he said turning back to channel surfing, and then disgustingly turned the set off. "There is nothing to watch, tonight! What are we going to do?"

"Well, we have two options," said Buffy, "One we could stay home and be responsible, young adults by beginning our science project for Mr. Barb or two, we could slack off and hang at the Bronze."

"The Bronze it is," said Xander standing up abruptly.

They walked into the Bronze, which was its usually crowded self. They found Oz and Willow sitting in their usual table and decided to interrupt the cute lovebirds.

"Hi," said Buffy smiling at Oz and Willow, "What's up?"

"I thought you had patrol tonight, Buffy," said Willow, her eyes widened with urgency as she looked at Buffy and darted to the dance floor.

"Oh, really?" said Buffy, who looked at the dance floor in the corner of her eye, and once she saw what Willow had showed her, she was in a mad rush to get Xander out of there. "I guess I forgot. Xander, come on, we don't want to interrupt Willow and Oz's date."

"Willow, I am shocked at you for forgetting our patrol schedules. Tonight, Giles is taking over shift with Cordelia. Y'know, giving our esteemed slayer, here a break, whilst Cordelia... dances?" said Xander.

His mouth opened a little once he saw noticed the couple in the center of the dance floor, who were none other than, Colin and Cordelia.

He stood watching them intently as they danced. They were dancing so closely that they were almost one whole, instead of two. It bothered him that they were dancing like that because he had never danced like that with Cordy before and there she was dancing like that with a practical stranger. But that didn't even compare to what happen to next that made Xander officially stunned and steamed. Colin, who was a five inches taller than Cordelia when she was in heels, bent his head down and kissed a very surprised dance partner. Of course, this very surprised dance partner didn't seem as if she wanted the kiss to end, and it lingered even when the music stopped.

Xander made sure that he was going to meet with her when she came from the dance floor. Colin separated with Cordelia and went to get them drinks and Xander walked towards a surprised Cordelia. She was taken back by his appearance there.

"Xander, what are you doing here?"

"I'd like to ask you the same question."

"Let's sit down, we have to talk," she said as they sat down at a table a few feet away from where their friends sat.

"Who was that guy, anyway? That Colin guy?" asked Xander glancing at Colin who had kept his distance once he saw that the _boyfriend_ had arrived.

"He's Mr. Barb's teacher's aide," said Cordelia with a smile, "He's really nice and sweet and smart."

"Everything, I'm not, right?" said Xander with a sigh.

"No, you're all that and more, but this thing between us isn't working out, and you know the reason why," she asked as she quickly glanced at the staring eyes of Oz, Willow, and Buffy.

"No, Cordy, I don't know what you're talking about," said Xander, "Enlighten me."

"How do you expect us to be a couple if you are in love with Buffy? I mean, don't get me wrong Xander, I like you, but you don't like me, at least not that strongly," said Cordelia thinking of all the conflicts Buffy had caused in their relationship.

"Cordy, you're coming off as if Buffy is the main factor of our problems," said Xander. "I'm with you, so I'm not about to go and try to woo her, or whatever you want to call it. I'm not like that, I know what commitment is, but apparently you don't."

"What?" she asked incredulously.

"You heard me, whatever that was, whatever we had, it was good for awhile," he continued bitterly. "But I would never have pulled that kind of a stunt even if Buffy were my soulmate, okay? Not like you have. It was good. Up until now, it was good, but now, it's gone."

Xander stood up and walked away. He had done so countless of times to so many other things, but this was the one thing he was so sure of that he couldn't have done anything else, then. There was no turning back, especially since there wasn't anything important to turn back to.


Part Nine: This Little Game I Play

The night was dark and cold and there was barely a star visible in the sky. Buffy and Xander were out on night patrol, and were wishing that they were home and warm. It had been two hours since Buffy had staked a vampire trying to get out of its grave and in those two hours, Xander thought he was going to die of cold.

"Full moon's coming soon, Oz better lock himself in his house, again," thought Xander aloud, looking at the only visible object in the sky, the moon, as his teeth chattered a bit.

Buffy, with her slayer abilities, wasn't as cold as Xander, who was shivering like a cute kitten in the storm. With a sigh, her breath was a swirl of cloud in the night, she glanced at him and asked, "Xander, if you're so cold, why did you volunteer to come and help me patrol? It's a Saturday night and you could be warm and cozy in the Bronze, and..."

"And alone," he finished lamely, "Buffy, I'd rather be out here with you freezing, then being stuck at the Bronze for another Saturday night, watching Cordelia groping with Colin."

"Gee, Xander, you sure know how to make a girl feel special," the slayer said with grinning sarcasm.

"You know what I mean, Buffy," he said giving her a Look.

"Yes, I know what you mean, Xander," said Buffy nodding her head, "But you've got to stop agonizing over Cordelia. I mean, the more pitiful you look the more she'll think you're suffering. You're not suffering -are you?"

"Suffering from what? Post Cordy Syndrome?" he asked raising his eyebrows. "No... maybe a little angry and a little disappointed, but no, I'm not suffering."

"Then, why all this agonizing over her?" she said, wondering why he had even been with her in the first place. "What is it that you find in her that's making you go totally maxi-wig over everything, lately?"

"I don't know, I guess with Cordelia, I had, and I stress the word, _had_, security," he replied as she frowned.

"What do you mean - by security?" asked Buffy glancing at his face in confusion.

"You wouldn't understand," he said shaking his head, and she knew not to ask any further.

It had been three weeks since Xander had broken up with Cordelia and in those three weeks, Xander was seemingly hanging out with her... a lot. Not that she minded, not in the least. She rather liked having him around more often it was... nice. It was just that she was so confused about everything, and about how she felt. She knew that her feelings for Xander were evolving, but to what it was evolving to was beyond her. Deep down inside, she knew that her answer could be found in something so simple and so powerful, but it was something that she knew she wouldn't be able to have, at least not from him. She needed to be kissed again.

Buffy hadn't forgotten their first kiss, nor did she think she'd ever forget such a kiss. His warm lips pressed so gently against her own, sending a wave of electricity down her spine that jolted her entire self. With every racing heartbeat she felt something that succeeded passion and crushed the boundaries between two souls. Was what she felt... could it be... could she now after Angel have truly found... love? But how could she tell so much from just that one kiss and a planned kiss at that. That was why she needed to feel his lips against hers again... to feel that it wasn't just passion or the heat of the moment or just the spell, itself, and most of all, to see if she could discover her heart again. She needed all this to find what Xander had known ever since he first saw her.

There was so much confusion within her mind and her heart that they both had begun to crash into something that was slowly, but surely becoming more than she thought she could handle. It wasn't as if Xander was in his normal-frame of mind, whatever that may be, either, for he was in a state of confusion himself. He was free from his bondage with Cordelia, and free to love Buffy, but was Buffy unbound, too? Or was she still clinging onto a hope and a love that was in the lost Angel... her lost Angel? Every time he looked at Buffy, he just wanted to kiss her again, and hold her close... and never let go. But he couldn't hold her and he couldn't kiss her, all he could do was love her.

As both teenagers became immersed in their thoughts, a silence had grown between them. When they came back to reality, it was rather awkward, but it wasn't awkward for long. Suddenly a vampire crawled out of its grave in a dirty black suit and grabbed Buffy's leg. She fell to the floor, but was able to kick the vampire off of her leg and punch his fanged face.

"Bye," said Buffy before she staked it, causing it to fall into ashes on the dewy grass beside the empty grave.

"I wonder how many of these graves are really empty," said Xander as she stood up.

"Way too many to count," she replied they began walking to another section of the graveyard.

In the distance, a pair of evil eyes watched them intently them. A smile of evil contempt fell on Angelus' lips, as he read their minds through their actions. As they walked away from his viewpoint, a mental picture began to become twisted in his wicked thoughts.

"So my lover's gotten over me already? And for who else but the White Knight that hates me so greatly?" whispered Angelus in the night, "She has fallen, but she'll fall even harder. After all, this is all part of this little game I play, in which I'm bound to win, especially when she sees her gallant white knight, dead and in the ground..."


Part Ten: Playing Games

His head was pounding and he could feel that a bump was forming in the back of his head, where Angelus had initially struck him. The brown rope that was being used to restrain him to a cold, steel pole protruding from the cemented ground was causing his wrists to become decidedly sore and painful. He was fading in and out of consciousness, causing the light to dwindle and the dark to come with ever blow of Angelus' fist to his flesh.

Angelus stepped away in satisfaction; he was barely breaking in his new game, and he couldn't recall the last time he had so much fun. The only thing that would have bettered this was if the slayer were to be in the knight's place, but this act of revenge was just as sweet of an idea... for the duration. Next time, thought Angelus with an insidious grin, next time she will be, but for now -he struck Xander's face again -this would do.

What the slayer saw in this pitiful little creature he didn't know, nor did he want to know. He rather understood her infatuation with himself; it made sense, although she was in love with his former *sickening* self. His eyes fell to his game and Angelus silently decided to prolong the dismal existence of the white knight. After all, thought Angelus as he kicked Xander's foot and he saw it move almost lifelessly, it's more fun to kill from within...

***

The light swayed back and forth, as Giles' eyes tried to focus upon it as he woke up. He felt awful as he tried to stand up, which only to succeed in his falling back down again. It took him awhile, but it was beginning to recall all the events that had occurred that had caused him to be in the position that he was in now. He remembered that he had discovered a prophecy in a new text that he had just received...

"... Okay, Giles, does this mean what I think it means?" Buffy asked with raised eyebrows as she glanced at the marked passage, "The day has come for the weak to rise and trouble of two becomes a thrice?"

"I'm afraid, your assumptions are correct," he replied with a sigh as he cleaned his glasses with a handkerchief.

"Spike's going to get repowered," she said softly as she sat down, wondering how she was going to handle three super-powerful vampires when she could barely handle two.

"Not unless we stop the ceremony before it can occur," interjected Xander, but then he sighed, "How are we going to do that if it's just the three of us?"

"Will just had to book it to that computer convention with her parents today," said Buffy, and her thoughts of Willow turned to Oz as she sourly continued, "And Oz is out of service, it's a full moon tonight."

"And we can count Cordy out," said Xander thinking how she was lacking in vampire slaying participation ever since they broke up and Colin came into the picture. "So, I guess it's gonna be three for three."

Buffy stifled a laugh and replied, "With you guys, those aren't exactly the best odds."

"Thank you for the vote of confidence," said Xander sarcastically.

"Enough you two, we have work to do," said Giles with a sigh, who didn't much like her joke either.

"I gotta make an appearance at home, Giles, so I'm gonna have to meet you people at the warehouse," she replied, recalling her mother's complaints of not seeing her anymore.

"I'd rather have all of go together," he replied hesitantly, "but if it is necessary, I suppose we can meet, um, say, in half an hour?"

"Fine with me, and it is very necessary, a Mom mad is never good," she replied and before she left she continued, "I'll bring the stakes."

"One day," retorted Xander to the Watcher when she left, "I wished she would mean the kind that normal people eat."

"Are you proposing that w-we're not normal?" Giles asked as he gathered a few crosses from a trunk in his office.

"G-man, slaying vampires goes beyond the boundaries of normality," said Xander and then he paused and said, "Good God I'm talking like Willow."

"Quite," Giles said with a smile.

"Close, but no cake," a voice said as the library doors loudly.

They became silent as their eyes became fixed on the figure that had entered their usually quiet domain. Angelus stood in front of them with the face that made them recall the memories of his former self. He approached them loudly as his leather soles pounded on the linoleum that titled the entrance to the library, but such footsteps became softer as he reached the mainly carpeted area.

"What? No hello?" he asked as he looked at them, "Giles, long time no see, how's that girl -oh, forgot."

Xander saw Giles wanting approach Angelus with crossbow in hand, but he knew this Watcher was no match for the powerful vampire, and restrained him from going towards him, "No, Giles, it's not your fight."

"The White Knight's right, Old Man, we aren't destined to battle, you and I." the vampire replied as he continued to walk towards them.

"W-white knight?" he stuttered in confusion and his eyes glanced at Xander and then fell back to Angelus, "I don't quite understand."

"I suppose your acts of protection have also been disregarded by the eyes of the Watcher, Xander," he said and then he laughed, "Not as if they were excellent displays of true heroism."

"What do you want?" Xander retorted acidly, ignoring his comment.

"To kill you," he said simply, as if it were the most normal answer in the world, "But first..."

... Giles groaned and recalled that Angelus had knocked him out quite well. It was then that he realized that Xander was not anywhere to be seen, and he grabbed the crossbow that lay on the floor, where he had knocked it down when he, himself, had fallen. Standing up as quickly as his feet could carry him he walked out of the library muttering, "Oh my God, Xander. I do hope he's all right." but in his mind he knew that with Angelus involved he was probably anything but.

***

Buffy blew a strand of blonde hair from her eyes in exasperation as she glanced around impatiently for any sign of her watcher and Xander. She had been waiting there, behind a stack of crates in front of the warehouse, for the last half-hour and to her avail, they had yet to come. The ceremony within was going to start at any minute and she knew that they couldn't afford lost time. Technically, she had every right to be annoyed, but in actuality, worry overcame her aggravation.

"Where are they?" she muttered, again, as she peered above the dirty, broken crates for them.

Glancing at her stakes and her own personal fighting cross, she wondered if this was enough for her to battle against Druscilla, Spike, Angelus, as well as the rest of the vamp squad that was partaking in this little extravaganza. Despite the drastically uneven odds, she swung the knapsack on her shoulders, she hoped that when it came time to fight, there would be someone there to help her. The door creaked as she opened it and she carefully closed it ensuring that no one would hear her arrival and with a deep breath, prayed that she wasn't sealing her fate, as well.

***

Xander groaned as he pulled himself from the dark unconscious state that he had maintained for the last half-hour. His head was throbbing and he felt that a gash on his cheek was bleeding heavily. When he tried to move his wrists, the dry, brown rope tore into his abscessed skin, inflicting him with a pain that made him shudder.

"I see your awake," said Angelus with a smile as he patted Xander's gashed cheek lightly in an almost playfully manner. He glanced at the blood that had stained his index finger and carefully tasted it; "A little too sugary sweet for me, but Druscilla will want you for her little blood feast later tonight." Xander was silent and just glanced at his captor icily, which caused Angelus to continue, "What, no talking from the white knight that never seems to shut up? I'm surprised. Really I am."

"Go to hell," Xander muttered as another wave of pain hit him and he bitterly continued, "Already."

"Been there, done that," he replied with a smile.

"What do you want, Angelus?" Xander asked, his eyes glanced sharply at the dark figure, "Besides to kill me that is?"

"Answers," he returned simply as he took a seat on a crate near him, "From you."

There was a moment of silence in the room as eyes of evil met those of the virtuous, and then the hush was broken, "What do you want to know?"

***

The ceremony had yet to begin when Buffy had crept into the warehouse. She had hidden behind a piece of machinery and it gave her a good view of the main aspects of the ceremony. Druscilla was dressed in a sleek, black dress that was noticeably from the days of yore, while Spike wore more modernized clothing. A glass was filled halfway with blood, Druscilla held it to his lips, and he drank it readily. Another vampire was cloaked with a robe and bowed, holding a book above his head.

Her eyes moved as she saw Druscilla open the book and place it on a table and she nodded her head, initiating the rite. Words spilled from her mouth as she read, and Buffy wasn't too sure, but she thought that they were in Latin. The black enamel on her nails seemed to darken and glow as the words continued steadily. Buffy heard herself intake breath when she saw that glowing black streaks were forming at the tips of Druscilla's fingernails. As the black streaks began to increase in size, Buffy realized that this energy was going to recharge Spike.

"No time like the present," she muttered as she saw Druscilla's arms beginning to drift to where Spike sat.

Buffy grabbed a stake, ran out of her hiding place, and did a few somersaults before kicking Druscilla in the stomach. This caused the vampire to scream out in pain when she hit the brick wall with a thud. The black streaks cease to come from her fingers, but the excess black streaks were shot into a stack of crates, causing a cataclysmic crash.

"You've ruined everything!" Druscilla stormed as she stood up angrily, "Now Spike'll never recharge! Get her!"

The slayer clenched the stake in her hand and she punched the first vampire her free hand, all the while she began to hum, "Hm-hm-hm-hm-hm-hm." (Buffy theme song) Her humming continued as she began hitting, kicking, and staking the various vampires that approached her. It stopped abruptly when one grabbed her leg and threw her to the floor.

"That does it, you made me mess up my song!" she said with a sigh as she got up and punched the vampire that had caused her to fall and then she staked him. She looked around and saw that everyone had retreated out the door, including Druscilla and a wheel chair wheeling Spike. Buffy grabbed the bag that she had dropped on the floor and she heard the door creak. Turning around quickly, she got into fighting stance, but quickly drew out of it when she saw Giles standing with his crossbow.

"Thank God you stopped the ceremony, Buffy," he said as he walked towards her and handed her the crossbow.

"What do I need this for, I already kicked enough vampire butt for the day." she said as she eyed the weapon in her hand, "Where were you, I waited, and where is Xander, now?"

"W-we were collecting our things to leave, just when you had taken off for home, a-and well, Angelus came." Giles said with a deep breath and he saw Buffy's wide-eyed expression.

"What happened?" she insisted and grew even more uneasy at the absence of her friend, "Giles, where is Xander?"

He hesitated, but continued, "T-t-there wasn't anything I could do, Buffy, he rendered me unconscious, and I hate to say this, b-but he's planning to kill Xander."

"K-kill him?" she said softly and then she shook her head furiously, "He is not going to kill him, where is he?"

"You mean he wasn't at the ceremony?" Giles said with a gaped expression.

"Not one sign of him, only Dru and Spike," Buffy replied shaking her head, and she thought aloud, "They have got to be here somewhere!"

"I'd hate to split us up, again, but if we do we have a better chance of finding Xander," suggested Giles and with a deep breath he continued, "alive."

***

Buffy had taken the left wing of the warehouse and it wasn't until 10 minutes after she had begun her search did she begin to hear voices. They were the undoubtedly familiar voices of Angelus and Xander. She followed the sounds of their conversation and when her eyes finally saw them, she hid behind one of the thick columns that supported the warehouse. It was close enough that she could see the, listen to their conversation intently, and wait for the perfect time to attack.

Angelus stood up laughing and said, "Let me see, White Knight, you are willing to tell me anything I want to know, is that right?"

"That's correct," Xander said and he flinched as the rope cut deeper into his skin as he was carefully untying the knots.

Angelus knelt down to look at him in the eye and said, "Why?"

"Well, considering I'm going to die, anyway, might as well prolong my fate," he said in a matter-of-fact tone, "besides, what do I have to hide?"

The vampire was well aware of the extra presence in the room, and he needed a good line of questioning to reel the slayer in. He pursed his lips thoughtfully and then nodded his head slowly before responding, "All right, what do you _really_ feel about Buffy?"

The hidden slayer muffled her gasp and wondered if she really wanted to hear this. She bit her lower lip nervously and thought she had to know, even if this was the way she was going to find out.

"You know how I feel about her, Angelus," Xander replied with a frown, "Why do I have to tell you?"

"Look, you're the prisoner and I'm captor," he said and coldly continued, "humor me."

Xander took a deep breath and hesitatingly began, "Okay, so you want to know what how I feel about Buffy? I love her, of course, she's one of my best friends."

Her heart skipped a beat when she heard that he loved her, but once the word 'best friends' came to her ears, her smile faded. Just when she was about to go on her attack, Angelus began to further his interrogation.

"Oh, you love her," he said, standing up and pacing in front of Xander, "but how do you love her?"

"What do mean, how?" his prisoner replied uncomfortably, and it was then that he saw Buffy in the corner of his eye.

"I mean, do ya love her like my pal 'best friend,' or is it something more than that?" Angelus asked raising his eyebrows, "Now you promised to answer my questions."

Xander didn't know what to say, after all, she was right there, listening to everything. If it had been just him and Angelus, he would have lied through his teeth, but it wasn't just the two of them. She was hearing this... all of this, and he knew that if she couldn't save him from death, he'd want her to know his heart.

He took a deep breath and glanced at Angelus and replied, "I love her, more than just my pal 'best friend' and more than everything in the world."

"Everything?" the vampire replied in a surprised tone, "There are a lot of things in this world, are you sure?"

Xander gave him a long look and he nodded, despite that it hurt his wrists, and stopped gritting his teeth from the pain long enough to say, "Everything.

Angelus approached him and grabbed hold of his head and his human façade faded into his game face and his sharp teeth were inches away from his neck, "Even your life?"

Buffy shook her head; she didn't have to know this... just yet, "Hey, ugly!"

"Saved by the slayer," he said to Xander and he let go of his head to stand up and talk to his enemy, "That's surprising, Buffy, I always thought, you thought me handsome."

"Well, now I know that vampires have even large egos than I thought," she replied tartly and she shot her crossbow at him, and it barely missed his heart and entered his left shoulder blade.

"You're getting sloppy," Angelus said flinching slightly as he pulled the bloody arrow out of his shoulder.

"And you don't know how to tie knots very well," Xander said as he stood up, after his he had freed himself from the knots.

"Three against one, Angelus, all with a grudge, can you handle it?" Buffy said as she saw Giles come up behind her.

A smirk befell Angelus' face and contemplated, "We'll get our showdown, Buffy, you can just count on it." With that, the vampire walked out of the nearest exit and once he left, Xander fell back to the floor.

"It was really, two against one," he said as he eyed the cuts on his wrists and gently touched the slowly healing wound on his face.

Buffy and Giles helped Xander up and he replied, "Don't worry, Xander, you'll live, s-so what occurred before I was here?"

Xander and Buffy glanced at each and finally he replied, "Just a little Angelus-style interrogation."

"Oh, what kind of questions?" Giles continued to probe, "Y-you know, just in case an incident such as this occurs again?"

"Trust me, Giles, he won't ask you the same questions he asked Xander," Buffy said as they walked out of the warehouse and noticed that dawn was quickly approaching, and then she cringed and finished, "At least I hope not."


Part Eleven: Whispers of the Heart

"Xander," Buffy said with raised eyebrows at her heavily bandaged friend, "why are you here?"

"Well... I couldn't exactly let my good friend go vampire hunting by herself, now could I?" he replied with a question glance as he walk beside her.

"You could..." she began as she gave him a look, "and you should. Xander, I'm a big girl now and I'm the slayer... remember? I can take care of myself, although, that's more than I can say about you, you walking infirmary!"

"Why, I thought my devilishly handsome looks made up for that," he said with a light chuckle.

"Devilishly handsome... right..." she replied sardonically and she began to laugh with him.

"I guess I do look pretty awful," he admitted as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his tan corduroys.

"Awful doesn't cut it, Xander, I've seen vampires that look more alive than you do," began Buffy, but before she could continue, he stopped her.

"Hey! My male ego is taking way too many punches from the queen of the stake, so let's leave the subject of me and my looks alone for a while."

"Oh, you know I'm just joking Xander," she replied playfully as she leaned against a tree with a sigh, fiddling with a sharp stake, "but what do you want me to say? You're handsome, debonair, well-dressed." she smiled as Xander took in the comments readily, "What? Ya want me to lie?"

He chuckled as he approached her, and meeting his eyes against hers, replied, "Now that was a sharp blow, next thing I know you're gonna stake me with that." he takes hold of the hand that clenched the stave.

"I don't know, maybe I will," she said, "Maybe it'll put you out of your misery."

"Oh, I'm feeling a lot better right now." Xander retorted, and Buffy realized that he was closer to her than he had been before.

"Why is that?" she uttered a little bit nervously at his being so close to her, but she was reluctant to move away as she felt a sense of comfort in his presence. His dark eyes softened under her glance and her eyes shifted quickly at his hand that continued to grasp hers. His lips whispered softly in her ears, and his words touched her heart, "Because you're here."

The momentum hung in the air much like the stars clung to the dark skies above, and the two stood still listening to an ancient zephyr that began to fade into the calm. It had heard so many whispers from lovers young and old and its arrival seemed to want their first words to each other, to have them echo those of such professions from the days of yore.

"Xander?" her voice broke the silence as she recalled his words and her heart skipped a beat just thinking of them.

"Hmm?" he replied as he realized she was looking into his eyes, again.

She leaned closely to his ear and whispered, "I love you, too."


Part Twelve: Determined

Cordelia held her composure when she heard the news of Xander and Buffy from various people during school. Held it still when she had to pass by him in the hall and share a class with Buffy during third period history. Never once throughout the entirety of that day did she let her poise falter, until the mere words of gossip hit her of the extent of their truth.

It was by chance that she saw them in the hall that day. She had opted to take the longer route to her cheerleaders' meeting as opposed to the shorter route and had bumped into the couple in the hall. Buffy was noticeably holding hands with Xander and they had been laughing over some inside joke, but when they spotted her in the hall the laughter quickly subsided. At that moment, Cordelia came to grips with the reality that the relationship she had known with Xander was truly over in his eyes and that she had lost somehow in her scheme of things. The conversation was brief and awkward and they parted not soon after their first encounter with each other.

As she walked towards the room where the meeting was to be held, something in her caused her to turn back and sit down in contemplation on a nearby bench. She couldn't conceive how it was possible that everything that she had planned to the utmost detail had gone awry. The Colin plan was the only thing that had worked, and the only problem with it was that it had worked all too well. Cordelia had wanted to make Xander jealous and she had accomplished just that, however, she had never thought that he would break up with her over one dance. She had to keep her pride, and despite the drab personality of Colin Williams and her missing Xander, that meant she had to continue to date Colin as if she liked him... which she didn't.

She shook her head in frustration and in doing so she closed her eyes, and saw the image of their clasped hands had seared itself into her memory. It made her recall how she and Xander use to do the same thing, which brought her to the memories of their short, but sweet relationship. How was it that she got the short end of the stick, when she was the one that was trying so hard to keep him in her arms? There was the keyword... try, but in trying all she had succeeded was pushing him farther away from her... more than he had ever been before.

A wave of realization hit her even quicker than the surge of sadness that had overcome her just minutes before. It made her realize that she was going about this all wrong by just sitting around and brooding over him. After all, she was Cordelia Chase, and what Cordelia Chase wants... she gets... no matter the cost.


Part Thirteen: The Course of Fate

The hushed voices of her students mingled with the clacking of keyboard keys and the loud printing of paper. Willow stopped typing long enough to glance over at her students to make sure that not too much talking was going on. Before turning back to her computer, she was able to pick up the words, Buffy and Xander, from the various conversations scattered around the room. Not since word of Xander and Cordelia going out had spread across the school, and the fact that it was he that broke up with her, did such a commotion arise from the students.

Willow had to admit that although she hadn't reacted like most students, the news that her best friends were dating had surprised her just as much. Initially, she hadn't been very happy when such information reached her. It wasn't as if she had been longing for him because she didn't and hadn't for awhile, it was just that when he and Cordy broke up the idea that _they_ might have been possible lingered in her mind. Although, Oz made all the lingering go away to the extent that she no longer thought, let alone want, such ideas, they all came back, momentarily, when Buffy told her about them.

She had wanted to talk to her about something else, but as it occurred, Buffy's news came first, and it made her feel that what she had to say would not help matters much at all...

"...Willow," the slayer said as she tapped her best friend's shoulder to gain her attention, "Hey."

"Oh, Buffy, I was just looking for you," the redhead replied with a grin as she turned around to see the familiar face, "I have to tell you something."

"Um... so do I," she said and then chewing on her lower lip, she looked around the campus and continued, "Why don't we sit down?"

They walked towards a nearby bench and sat in silence for awhile, before Willow finally said, "Why don't you go ahead? You look like it's pretty good news."

"I'd like to think it is," she said with a smile as she fiddled with a pen in her hand, "I'm not sure how to tell you this, Will, um... but... uh... Xander and I are going out."

Willow blinked in surprised and found herself rendered speechless, "Uh... um... God, Buffy... uh... um... that's... wonderful."

"Really?" she said with raised eyebrows, "Cause well, y'know... I was kind of worried that since you used to..."

"That was a long time ago, Buffy," she replied with a weak smile, "And you two are my best friends, and if you guys are happy, then I'm happy for you. Besides, he's a great guy... when he's not..."

She smiled and breathed a sigh of relief, "No need to explain... I know all too well the mind and mannerisms of Alexander 'Xander' Harris."

"I just hope you do," Willow joked and this time she really smiled, as she got over her shock, and was beginning to see that perhaps, they're dating wasn't that bad of an idea, after all. Still, she couldn't help but recall the last time Buffy had met with such feelings, "But what about Angel?"

"What about him?" she replied with a sad, half-hearted shrug, "I mean, of course I loved him, but... I don't know... it just doesn't seem real to me anymore... now that he's gone. Maybe things happen for a reason, Will, maybe all of these things were meant to be... like I was destined to be the slayer."

"So, does that mean that you think you and Xander are foretold?" her friend couldn't help but point out.

Buffy smiled slightly, "Well, I don't know about that... did destiny bring us together? Sure, things happened that brought us closer, but whether it was through the hands of fate... that's kind of hard to say. All I know is what I'm feeling for Xander right now... it's different from all the crushes, relationships, and flings I've had in the past. This is not some weak-in-the-knees, I'm-falling-apart concept were talking about here. It's more than that... it's like every time he holds me, kisses me... even when he just talks to me I get this wonderful feeling that never really goes away. I even get that way when I'm just thinking about him. I mean, at first I had to say to myself that I was crazy and this was Xander... my friend, but later, it just made me think about him more, and the more I thought... the more I felt, and the more I felt... the more I..."

As her obviously fallen friend trailed off, Willow said, "I know what you mean Buffy, you don't have to bother explaining it to me... it's all right. I better go... I have to get my lesson plans ready for tomorrow."

"Wait... what was it that you wanted to tell me?" Buffy asked when she stood up to leave, but she met upon another pause from her friend.

"Y'know, never mind... it's not important right now," she said while shaking her head with a nervous smile...

...Never had Willow felt more surprise than in those ten minutes of conversation. Her mind had been full of contemplation about Xander, Buffy, Xander and Buffy as a couple, and than the thought of almost telling her about– RING! RING!

She jerked when she heard the bell ringing loudly and stood up, "Class, make sure that you finish your spreadsheet by Friday and I'll need it on disk, as well as, a printed copy."

A few groans could be heard from her pupils, but she just gave them a smile and a look that made them laugh. As she saved her document and shut down her computer, she looked up to see that Xander had walked into the room.

"Hey," he said with a grin as he walked towards her, "Is the teach too busy to talk to an old friend?"

"Hi, Xander," Willow said as she turned off her monitor and sat down in her chair, "What's up?"

"Just the usual," he replied casually, but despite his breezy tone, a broad grin lay apparent on his face.

"Oh... I don't know about that." she retorted eyeing him carefully as she stood up from her chair and walked towards him, "I've been hearing some pretty interesting things about your usual. So... how's all of this seeming for you?"

"God, Willow, it feels like... like ... oh, I don't know... like I'm walking on air." Xander said with a sigh, "As if I'm on top of the world and nothing can bring me down. I wake up, I think of her and go to sleep, and I think of her. I mean, I did that before, but all that time in between waking and sleeping and dreaming that's all I was doing... thinking... dreaming. But now when I wake up and smile because she's on my mind, that smile doesn't fade, Willow, because for some miraculous, wonderful, phenomenal reason... she loves me."

Her smiled widened at his happiness, "I'm sure she does... and I'm happy for you, Xander... both of you."

When she walked back to her desk and continued to clean up, he turned and said, "Aren't you going to lunch?"

"Yeah... in a few minutes," she replied as she placed a stack of papers into her backpack, "You go on ahead, and I'll meet you, Buffy, and Oz, there."

When he left, closing the door behind him, Willow sat down taking in the silence of the empty room. She sighed as she thought about her friends' descriptions on how they felt for each other... as if they were at a lost for words for it all. She understood. It was often like that between her and Oz and she hoped that nothing was going to ruin what her friends had.

Her eyes fell to her cloth handbag and she lifted it up from the desk drawer as she bit her lower lip. She opened it carefully and pulled out the object that was plaguing her constantly. She sat there, just staring at it, and wondered what were the hands of fate doing now to them. Were they going to further deplete their lives of love and replace it with sorrow and pain as they had done so in the past? She didn't know what path destiny was to take them, all she knew was no matter how much she didn't want to... now matter what problems it might lead to... she had to show Buffy this... this yellow disk.


Part Fourteen: Pitfall

Buffy and Xander lingered still in the empty corridor, despite the fact that the last bell had rung nearly half an hour ago. A month had come and gone, but to them it was as if time had stood still and they had loved forever. Still, forever may not be as permanent as it seems to be.

"Don't you have to be somewhere?" he said softly in her ear as his arms encircled her waist, recalling that she had told him of her meeting Giles after school.

"What... you want me to leave?" she replied looking up at him.

"Well, I-" Xander began, but the loud clacking of cheap leather loafer soles on the hall linoleum ceased the conversation as their eyes fell upon the odious intruder.

Principal Snyder approached them with his gnome-like exterior and not to mention his overbearing small-man complex," I though I made it clear to you and your trouble-making group before... public displays of affection on school property is entirely inappropriate."

With much reluctance, Buffy removed her arms from his neck and his from her waist. They stood abash for a moment as they eyed the principal that still held presence over them.

"That's... better," he replied, giving them a look as he continued, "Let's hope I don't have to warn you two again, but knowing you two..."

"Look Principal Snyder-" she began as he started to walk away, but Xander pulled her arm in a move to stop her. Her eyes blazed wondering how he had such insolence hinder her thwarting.

"Buffy, as much as I'd love to see the Slayer vs. the Snyder, the words of 'suspension' and 'expulsion' come to mind," he replied looking into her eyes and then getting out of his serious mode, he continued, "Can ya possibly see these words coming to yours?"

She sighed, "I know, Xander, I know, but can I help it if our principal happens to be the complete moron that he happens to be? I'm serious though, anything I probably do to him would be an improvement."

"Wait a minute, first you expect me to understand you could get away with rearranging his face without getting yourself into more trouble than you already are and now you expect me to believe that the words 'Snyder' and 'improvement' can be used in one sentence?" he said. "How gullible do you think I am?"

She held in a laugh before she retorted, "You sure you want me to answer that?" Before, Xander could respond, she glanced at the large clock at the front of the corridor and banged her head against the nearby locker. "It's nearly 3:30, and I told Giles that I'd be there at three, and don't you dare tell me I told you so!" Kissing Xander promptly on the cheek, she said, "I'll see you later," and then ran as quick as her feet could carry to the library, making sure that she went the opposite direction of Snyder.

He leaned against the locker with a sigh, but this was not a sign of tiredness or fatigue. It was rather the sigh of contentment because at this pinnacle in time that was what he was... content. Such feelings of relaxation faded, when the quiet of the empty halls of Friday was broken by the echoing sounds of designer heels of Italian leather. He looked up and, there, approaching him, was none other than, Cordelia Chase, herself.

"Hi, Xander," she said sweetly with a smile, "Um... look, can we talk?"

"Sure," he replied with a nonchalant shrug, "Talk away."

She frowned slightly at the place of meeting, but sighed and continued, "We got off to a pretty bad break up and I just wanted you to know that Colin didn't mean anything to me... at all. I just wanted to make you jealous, I guess."

"Wait a minute, Cordelia, are you telling me that you wanted to make me jealous when you and I were already together? Why?" Xander retorted with an expression of perplexity.

"That way, for once, you could look at me, you nimrod, without even the slightest thought of Buffy in the back of your mind," she said angrily, wondering why she even troubled herself to do these things.

Xander shook his head in disbelief and exhaled deeply, "Look, Cordy, did it ever occur to you that guys can get over you? Wait a minute... why do I bother asking? You can't even get over yourself."

"Oh... right, words of wisdom from the greatest of the self-centered," she responded, "God, I'm surprised I put up with you for that long. You could never once adjust to what I wanted; it was always that I got stuck with the pit fall. Can you possibly comprehend, in that little brain of yours, the state of shock I got after plunging from the popular to the... the... Scooby Doo Gang?"

"It's the Scooby Gang, thank you very much. Hey, you chose to be with me, I didn't make you do anything," he replied, his voice dropping to a softer tone, "And I stayed, okay? No matter what was going on, how I felt about Buffy, I didn't want to hurt you, Cordelia. At that moment, I'm sure I pretty much gave up on the idea that anything could happen to her and I, anyway. Don't talk to me about pit falls and comprehension... don't talk to me about blindness and self-centeredness because from the way I see it, you're the one who's lost mind and reason. Don't you understand? We may have had problems, many of which were probably my fault, but you made them worse. Cordelia... I know about the spell."

"What?" she responded with a surprised expression, "How is that possible?"

"Amy told me all I needed to know... she didn't erase my memory," he replied, and then continued, "I should thank you, actually, because without you I think I would have given up on Buffy entirely by now. Maybe that means that the hands of fate may be finally working in our favor."

Cordelia grew decidedly silent and she turned to hear footsteps approaching them, and as the owner of that tread came into light, she smiled. She walked closer to him and whispered in his ear, "And maybe not," before she kissed him, all in the sight of his beloved Buffy.

"Buffy... wait! I didn't-" Xander said as he saw the familiar figure in blonde running away when he tried to push Cordelia away from him.

"Welcome to your pit fall, Xander," she said as she ended up pushing him and walked with loud steps away from the scene she had left to transpire.

He banged his head against the locker and then slammed his fist against the very same, "God... No!" Shaking his head, he ran and hoped for anything that everything they had was not falling to pieces with every passing second.

Buffy ran until she could run no more and finally found some solace in Willow's opened, empty classroom, formerly that of Miss Calendar's. The image of the scene was too vivid... too fresh in her memory that her brain hurt to think about it and her heart ached to know that it was true. She wanted to know why he had kissed Cordelia, and if it were vice-versa, why didn't he push her away? A million questions and a handful of possibilities were all she received for her sorrow and confusion, and as Willow walked into the room, her confusion was decidedly going to intensify.

"Buffy... what are you doing here?" she asked sitting beside her friend in one of the various classroom desks.

"Kind of weird seeing me in a classroom by act of choice, huh?" she joked despite the fact that her mood was far from the realm of humor.

"What's wrong?" Willow asked as she noted the sad expression in her friend's eyes.

She shook her head and replied, "It's nothing," but in the back of her mind she heard herself continue, *because Xander and I are nothing.*

"Um... there's something I think I should tell you," the redhead said as she stood up and walked to her desk.

"What's that?" she responded as she stood up and followed her friend.

The redhead hesitated, but then pulled out a yellow disk from her satchel, "I found this while cleaning up the class and there's something in this disk that you should know about?"

Sensing her friend's demur, Buffy realized that the content of the disk held something of great importance, "What's on this disk?"

"Miss Calendar translated some very intricate and ancient text and she put it on this disk," she began and then she took a deep breath, "She was looking to give Angel back his soul, and she succeeded. Buffy, this disk contains the spell that would mean his return." After many countless minutes and she did not reply, Willow continued, "You need time to think... I know... I'll just leave you alone for a-"

"No," Buffy said promptly as she stood up and walked towards that where she had sat down.

"But, what about-" Willow stammered in stupefaction as to how quick she could answer such a decisive question, "Xander... he's gonna be-"

"No, Willow, no." she responded as she took the yellow disk from her hand and eyed it as thoughts of Xander filled her mind and anger replaced the sadness in her heart, "I want you to do this spell, that way I can have Angel back... my Angel."


Part Fifteen: Misgivings

Xander flew into Willow's room breathless and said, "W-w-willow, have you... seen B-Buffy?"

He glanced over to the blonde figure that stood beside her and swallowed, unsure of what to do or what to say. Her eyes fell to the floor and would not meet his at any of his attempts to catch a glance. Willow could feel the tension that grew with every passing second and she felt very out of place in the middle of all of this... unsure as to what exactly was going on. All she knew at that point in time was that she had to get out of the room and they had to stay there, to talk, to yell, to scream... it didn't matter, as long as words were said and the deafening silence ceased.

Willow crept slowly away and they glanced at her as she departed, closing the door behind her. The silence continued even after she had left and the tension even worst than before. Buffy made a move to sit in one of the student desks and he followed her lead, sat beside her, and just looked at her. Feeling his throat tighten, he wanted to say so much, but lacked the words to do so.

She finally broke the stillness as she glanced at him and said, "Xander, what do you want?"

"I want to talk to you, Buffy, to try to explain-" he began feeling a sudden dryness in his mouth.

Her eyes met his in anger as she stood up indignantly to interrupt him, "Explain? What is there to explain Xander? Do you want to give me the mechanics on how to give and get major suck face with an ex?"

"Buffy, I didn't kiss her... she kissed me," he insisted with an exasperated sigh as he stood up from his seat, "She wanted to get back at me for dumping-"

"Last I recall... it takes two to kiss," she replied hotly, "Whatever you have to say... your so-called reasons... I don't want to-"

Her words were muffled as Xander took her in his arms and pressed his lips gently against hers. There was some initial hesitation on Buffy's part, but her anger dissolved with every passing second, and thus she relented. She felt what she always felt when he kissed her, as if she could stay there forever. Needless to say, there was much reluctance between the both of them to part, but they did.

She smiled as she met his eyes with her own, as did he when he replied, "Buffy, a person can kiss someone and that someone, no matter how much passion and heart that is in it, or what's not in it, may not feel anything from it at all. A kiss is only kiss when everything in it is felt and shared. Believe me, I didn't kiss her... she kissed me, and I felt nothing from it."

Buffy sighed, contemplated, and despite her disincline, she slipped out of his embrace, "I- I believe you, Xander, it's j-just that when I saw you... with her, and she was... I- I don't know... I just... I know how much she cared for you, and how much you cared for her, and despite that I think I know what you feel about me, in the back of mind, I- I can't help but think that you two still have something."

"First off, to get rid of the 'I think' I heard... I love you, Buffy... to a fault... always have, and I know, even though I'm 17, I'll always will. Whatever comes along, changes us or changes everything else, I'll always have you in my heart," he said reaching out for her hand and placing it on his heart, before he continued, "Secondly, me and Cordy... no... not quite humanly, and I use that word sparingly, possible. Still, wouldn't mind it if she were still my friend, y'know, Cordy's all right, once you get passed her ego, her power trips, and her want of shoes."

"Yeah, well, you've got a point... it's kind of weird not having her complain about the dust, the chairs, the vampires, the books... um... everything, during our usual meetings," Buffy retorted, and then she paused. "Wait a minute, are we saying we actually miss... Cordy?"

Xander raised his eyebrows and said, "That's a new concept... missing Cordelia... are you sure that... never mind. Can we just not talk about Cordy, right now?"

"Right," she replied as she walked towards him, he put his arms around her, and her thoughts drifted to the yellow disk, "We have to talk about us... I have to tell-"

"But didn't we just go through the whole... we talking about us thing?" he responded, "Y'know the whole 'kiss-and-makeup' scenario."

"Admittably... yeah, but, uh, that 'kiss' part..." she touched her index finger against her lips before pressing it softly on his, the memory of the yellow disk had drifted away temporarily, "I don't know it's kind of like a hazy memory."

"Well... I think I can probably solve..." he began, but before he knew it, their lips met and there were no misgivings in that kiss.


Part Sixteen: Uncommon Knowledge

The locker door was slammed promptly and Buffy turned to see that a smiling redhead was waiting behind her, "Hey, how did your date with Oz go? I'm assuming that's why you can be so peppy on a Monday morning?"

"Oh, it was nice, we went Bronzing and he did the most cutest thing," Willow responded with a sigh as her friend couldn't help but crack a smile.

"Um... let me guess, he jumped on to the stage, whispered to the guitarist, took the guitar and began to sing a song he wrote especially for you called, "When I'm With You," she said as Willow looked at her with widened eyes. "Before you begin to think that I have some sort of strange immediate spider-sense that's linked to the slayage gene, I have to tell you that I was Bronzing too."

Willow opened her mouth to reply, but closed it quickly as she frowned, "But what about-"

"Xander!" Buffy said as she saw her boyfriend walking past her.

"Buff, Will, I walk past you and you actually call me back?" He said with a grin, "But no time to chat, I gotta hurry to class."

The girls paused for a moment, before Buffy pulled his arm and brought him back to their group, "Wait a minute, do we know you? I mean, Alexander LaVelle Harris, actually wants to go to class... early?"

"Look, I joined this creative writing class that meets once a week during 2nd period, therefore I get to go there and not to 2nd period... where the Ogre dwells," he said with a smile not wanting to reveal his real reasons, but he was met on disapproving teacher looks.

"Xander! That class is for those who really want to write!" she said angrily, "You shouldn't just take it to get out of class."

"So, I'll write, Will, just for you, but I won't be able to write anything at all if I'm late," he said with a sigh, knowing that they would never understand. He gave Buffy a kiss on the cheek before waving good-bye to both of them.

Willow looked at her friend reproachfully when he left, "Buffy... you didn't tell him!"

"Yeah... I know," the blonde said with a sigh, "It's just that I don't know how he's going to take it. Y'know it isn't easy telling your boyfriend you want to give your ex, who was formerly your vampire lover, his soul back."

"But you have to tell him your reasons... I'm sure he'd understand," she replied, but as soon as she realized what she had said and who she had been referring to, she faltered, "Um... maybe not."

"Precisely," Buffy said with a sigh as the bell rang loudly and echoed through the halls. She would rather do anything right now than contemplate about what to tell Xander about her wants to initiate the curse... even if it meant going to class.


Part Seventeen: Telling Tales

"...And that... is the end of 'The Turtles vs. the World'." Xander announced in such a mockery of a serious voice that everyone had to laugh as the bell rang in the background.

"That was... interesting," Mrs. Roslyn critiqued hesitantly as she scribbled on her notebook and the class began to leave, "Xander, please stay after... I'd like to talk to you, about your... um..."

"Literary masterpiece?" he finished for her as the students exiting laughed all over again.

"I wouldn't exactly use the word... masterpiece to describe your work, Xander." Mrs. Roslyn said with a smile as the good-looking dark-haired student stood in front of her desk. "You have great potential, dear, I know. I've seen many of your half-thought essays from Ms. Simpkins, and despite their lack of content and effort, I saw that you had latent talent. Which is why I let you join my creative writing class... to turn the latent into the obvious, but at the moment things are coming to Ds and Cs. That might be good enough for you, but I won't let you settle for that."

"Mrs. Roslyn, that's very kind of you to say that, but I don't think I can cut it as a writer... you must have realized that I only came to the class to get out of Simpkins." he replied with a half-grin.

The woman with her spectacles and her peppered hair, smiled slightly before retorting, "I got the feeling that that's what you were saying to everyone, but I think it's more than that. It's a simple idea, and you must embrace that idea, before you can voice it to the world, I know. I'll give you a second chance on this assignment, Xander, it'll be due next week on my desk."

He sighed in thought as he wondered what he was going to write about, "Mrs. Roslyn, what do I-"

"Anything you want, dear, as long as it's in good taste," she said knowing exactly what he was going to say, "Here's a suggestion if you should come upon writer's block. Use what you know, let your feelings flow from your fingertips. Do you understand?"

Xander shifted his backpack in thought and replied, "I- I think so, but I don't know if it's going to help me."

"Try," she said with a sigh as he neared the door, "I know it's a cliché, but you won't know until you try."

As he exited her classroom, not too far away, Buffy and Willow were looking on with worried expressions. Finally the redhead looked at her friend with a sigh and said in a firm tone, "You have to tell him, Buffy, there's no way I'm going to help you if you don't tell him."

"Yeah... I know Will," she said as she saw her boyfriend's figure faded out of sight, "I just hope that he can understand."

***

Buffy approached Xander from behind as he walked across the quad, tapped his shoulder lightly with a soft, "Hey," and the kissed him on the cheek.

He turned to her with a smile, "Hey, yourself, where were you in history? Will and I saved you a spot."

"I... uh... I was talking to Giles," she said, as she remembered the frozen expression of her Watcher's face when she told him about her wants to initiate the curse. She just hoped that this next attempt to explain contained far less wide-eyed staring.

" 'Bout what?" he asked glancing at her and then gave her a look and a sigh, "Do we have to deal with more vampires... again?"

She hesitated before responding slowly, "Sort of... um... Xander, there's something I have to tell you..."


Part Eighteen: Acceptance

Calmly, Xander closed the bedroom door behind him, dropping his bag on a nearby, cluttered chair. He fell down on his bed and in his mind, he heard the pounding of his heart... going faster and faster every second. Thump... thump... thump... thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump-thump-thump-thump-thump... until finally, the echoing sounds of his mind grew too intense and he couldn't take it anymore.

In his frustration, he stood up and slammed his fist against a wall, but the pain that reverted from that angry blow caused him to start jumping around like mad while clutching his hand, "Owwwww!"

The physical pain receded, but his wounded heart and pride had to heal as he recalled the earlier events...

"... I want to bring him back," Buffy said walking towards him as she looked at the back of his head, "It was because of me that he became Angelus. This spell... it'll let me stop him from doing all of these horrible things _without_ killing him."

"But he -I mean, Angelus, killed Ms. Calendar! He practically killed all of us, and I would be dead right now, if we hadn't beaten him at his own game and if you turn him back, it'll be like all is forgiven. I can't accept him after all that he's done to us, even though it wasn't exactly in his control. A-and how I can I accept you wanting to do this when he-" he said as his voice drew to a soft tone as he met her eyes, "-he'll still loves you?"

"I can't accept the things that happened through Angelus, but I can forgive Angel for being the person that demon carried all of those things through," she said. Then with a deep breath, she continued gently, "And when he returns he might love me as he did before, but more likely he'll be hating himself for all the things that occurred. Even if he did love me, the way that we loved before the – y'know – it wouldn't matter to me. Angel and I -that was before, but this is now. And in the now, I love _you_."

"And I love you, too, but Buffy, there's always going to be a chance that Angel will turn back into Angelus and start killing and hurting all that we care about. Still, if you think that this is the best way... if you think that this will bring less harm," he said, "Then, do what you have to do... I won't stop you... what am I saying? How can I stop you?"

"You're the best, you know that, don't you?" she said kissing him lightly on the lips as her arms encircled his neck, "Are you sure you're okay with all of this?"

"I'm fine..."

... He had lied terribly; he wasn't the least bit fine about any of this. A more accurate response would have been to shout out "NO!" Not only was he not comfortable with this decision, he was also mad and frustrated to an immeasurable extent.

Xander could feel the green-eyed monster of jealousy rear its ugly head, as he thought about all of his years against Angel. He had to admit, though, that Angel was a good guy when he had a soul, except for the part of being Buffy's boyfriend. He had even come to trust him somewhat, but that friction that had been there from day one continued to be there and never went away.

"...let your feelings flow through your fingertips..." the familiar voice of Mrs. Roslyn echoed in his mind as his eyes fell to his Creative Writing composition book.

With a deep and thoughtful breath, Xander picked up the badly weathered notebook and turned to a clean page. He rummaged in his bag for a pencil and then leaned against the headboard of his bed. He then scribbled a few words, which turned to sentences, which turned to this:

I hate him. I've always have and perhaps always will. He took her away before I even had the chance to speak my heart. He took her away before I even had a chance to give him a piece of my mind. She loved him, but I can't even like him. Trust... distrust... a hazy barrier between him and me, that and loving her. Resentment? Jealously? It's all there, with it's permanent place among angered encounters and forced alliances for the sake of the girl we both loved...

Finally after about a few pages of writing, he tapped the eraser of the pencil on the last page, and sighed thoughtfully. He re-read his work slowly, as if analyzing each sentence, and he realized that they all seeped with the anger and the hate that he had always felt about Angel. Yet, no matter how much he disliked him, he would not stop Buffy from executing the curse to alter Angelus into Angel. This was a way for her to heal past wounds still open, bleeding, and he would do anything to make her sorrows go away... make the hurt go away, simply because he loved her.

*Besides,* thought Xander with a light chuckle as he placed his composition book back in his bag, *knowing Buffy, she'd do it anyway.*


Part Nineteen: I'll Stand By You

"According to this list..." Willow began to read from a printed handout in her hand.

Oz frowned as he noticed Xander walking out of the library doors and so he automatically glanced at Buffy. She looked up at Xander quickly, chewing on her lower lip, and then her eyes fell dejectedly to the floor. Despite what his girlfriend had said about Xander agreeing to the curse, he was beginning to think otherwise, and as he looked at Buffy, he was wondering if she was doing the same.

With a sigh, he stood up and approached Willow who had stopped reading for a moment while Giles went into the office to get an Orb of Thesula, which he had been using for a paperweight. He tapped her shoulder and moved his head in the direction that the other male slayerette had gone. She smiled warmly, squeezed the hand that rested on her shoulder, and nodded before she started again to read the list, "And besides that we need..."

The door slammed loudly behind him and he saw Xander leaning on a wall of the empty school hallway, "Hey."

Xander looked up and gave him a half-smile, "Hey, what are you doing out here?"

"Funny... was just about to ask you the same thing," Oz replied as he approached him and leaned against the opposite wall, "I'm guessin' you're not with this whole curse thing."

"Ya think?" he replied sardonically, "Look, I appreciate the effort of my best bud's guy to give me a pep talk, but I'd rather not."

"Look Xander, I may not be the world's expert on girls... well... me and every other guy on this planet, but I'm thinkin' it would be in your best interest to go and have a talk with Buffy," he said. "I know you told her that you were okay with this, but you're obviously not, and as far as I can tell, you're only going along with this because you don't want to hurt her."

"Of course I don't want to hurt her, Oz... she's... she's..." he said and paused before continuing softly, "she's everything to me, and I don't... I don't..."

"No need to elaborate, I know the feeling," he said with a grin as he thought about Willow, "but you can't go along in life not expressing what you think is right... I mean, think of how I would look if I went about satisfying the status quo? No nail polish that's for sure. I'm not saying that if you tell her how you feel it's going to change her mind about anything, but at least she'll _know_ y'know?"

"Um... Oz... Willow wants you... for something," Buffy said as the door closed behind her and she approached them. Her eyes fixed totally on Xander's face, although she was talking to Oz.

"Sure," he said and very little conversation occurred until they were sure he was in the library.

"I... uh... heard what you and Oz were talking about," she said, "I- I thought you were okay with all of this... I mean, I know you don't want this, but you said..."

Xander took a deep breath, "I know what I said and I am okay with this... sort of. Angel and I, let's just say that we've exchanged very little words -wouldn't even amount to one conversation - over the time he was hanging with us. But in those words, we found out how much both of us... loved you, and in finding that out... we hated each other even more when we didn't say anything at all. Then when he turned to the other side, that hate grew with every time he attacked us... and whenever he hurt you... he hurt me. I don't want to give Angelus a reward for killing Miss Calendar... I don't want to give him a new lease on life for doing what he did to us. Angel died... Buffy... long before we even knew him... that was his death. If you ask me, he's had plenty of chances at life, and knowing you... having the chance to love you... having the chance for you to love him back... was probably the best of all. I know... I can relate, and maybe that's what I'm afraid of... maybe in the back of my mind... and somewhere in this mortal heart of mine... that's what I'm afraid of. That maybe if he found so much in you, then you might have found a lot in him ... more than you'll ever find in me... just Xander, class clown extraordinare."

She looked into his eyes and blinked in surprised and sighed, "How can you possibly think that? You and Angel are... different. I could never in my life compare you two. I have to say, though, that he's very special to me, still, and maybe I still love him... just not the way I did before. But you... you're not *just* Xander... you're more than that -more than you can possibly imagine -to me.. I love you."

He had to smile, no matter how many times those words came from her, he could not believe that they were for him. "And I love you, but beyond that, no matter how strongly I feel about you, there's this part of me that doesn't know whether I'm going to be able to handle it... having Angel back, standing there and watching while you give him back his soul-"

"Xander... what are you-" she began as her eyes looked at him worriedly.

He smiled and her expression faded with each of his words, "But there's a stronger part of me still that will do anything to make you happy, anything to see you smile. I understand Buffy, and even if I didn't... I'll still stand by you."


Part Twenty: Wishing

Xander walked towards the door as the ceremony to restore Angel's soul began to take place, but he gave a reassuring smile to Buffy before he left. She returned his grin and mouthed, "Love ya," as Willow began to speak the Latin words. He nodded and answered with a silent, "I love you, too... good luck."

The atmosphere in the library was too intense for him to handle. It was as if an invisible smoke had seeped into the room, causing his lungs and throat to tighten, so much that he could barely breath. Once outside, he began to feel better, but whatever might have occurred today to make the day better, no matter what, today was going to stay decidedly gloomy.

"Xander... are you all right?" Giles asked feeling rather unwanted since he had no part in the spell.

The 17-year-old smiled, "Um... yeah... I guess, if you can call a day good when your girlfriend decides to resurrect her ex... I'm doing fine... I'm surfin' cloud nine."

Giles game him a look, "Xander..."

He sighed, "Okay... so I'm not feeling too great about all of this, but I'm dealing... I'll be fine."

"There are certain things that Buffy feels she must do... this being one of them. I hope that with this she can find the closure she's been looking for," he said with a sigh.

"Yeah... I know, no matter how hard she tries to hide it, this whole Angel thing has got her maxi wigged and she thinks it's all her fault, but I don't blame her for anything. I don't think Angel would blame her for anything... it was one of those wicked hexes in life, y'know? Something you never thought would happen," Xander said and then he eyed the Watcher carefully, "Kinda like how Ms. Calendar's death is your wicked hex."

Giles glanced up at the young man and a painful look struck his face, "Y-yes... I suppose you can say that, Xander... I miss her, I really do."

"What I don't understand is... why do you want Angel back... if technically he killed Ms. Calendar?"

"It's not so simple as that," was his reply, "I hate Angelus with all the rage in my heart, obviously, for what he did to Jenny, but I can't hate Angel for doing something he had no control over. It was Jenny's want to bring him back... to not feel guilty, and I rather hope she didn't feel guilty in death... and if she did... I'd rather wish I can't take that guilt and make it go away. Well, I suppose I better get back into the library, just in case, but you do understand what I mean?"

Xander nodded, as the librarian began to walk away, "Yeah... I know what you're talking about, and G-man?"

"Yes, Xander?" Giles said as he opened the door.

Smiling, he replied, "I hope you get your wish."


Part Twenty-One: Return and Remembrance

Peering through the porthole glass from the outside, Xander saw the orb of Thesula illuminate and disappear. Hesitantly, he entered the tense atmosphere of the library, where their eyes rose and fell at the noise of the door closing behind him. So the deed was done... the spell cast, but whether it worked or not... despite the cool glowing orb thing... was another matter entirely of itself.

He wondered what it was going to be like with Angel no longer Angelus... as he saw it, even with the soul encumbered him, he was still a walking, talking time bomb. He hadn't wanted this and he had spoke adamantly about it, but he had given in eventually and there wasn't anyway his mind and reason would have been transferred to them. Xander disliked Angel and knew that that feeling would continue throughout, despite anything that might occur in between.

Buffy took Xander's hand when he stood beside her and she glanced at Giles, "So, what are we going to do? Just wait?"

"Well, a flaw in our plan is that we haven't the slightest idea where, he might-" Giles began as they heard the door open and close.

All eyes rose, again, to a figure at the door, but this time, it was a while before they strayed away... if at all.

"Angel," Xander heard Buffy's voice say in a hush whisper as she let go of his hand and stood up, "Is it really you?"

The figure clad in black backed away slightly as she approached him but stationed his ground when she was a few feet away from him, "Buffy... I feel really... really strange... what happened?"

"You mean you don't remember?" she said as her forehead wrinkled in thought.

"N-not really... sort of... I remember feeling pain and then turning back to... oh, God, and then..." Angel struggled with the memories that were coming into light in his shadowed mind and he fell to his knees as they gripped him with their ugliness and their evil.

Buffy knelt down beside him, "It wasn't your fault... it wasn't you... it was that demon that took over... and it was my fault that that happened."

He looked up at her and grasped her shoulders so that as he stood, she stood too, "No... it wasn't your fault... it could never be your fault. Don't say that."

"But Angel... I..." she tried, but he held her close.

"I love you..."

Xander swallowed hard and he felt his heart beat accelerate in wonderment of what she might say. He knew she loved Angel, but in a different manner, she had told him that much. He trusted her... he believed her...

Buffy was taken into the magic of his eyes and replied, "I love you, too..."

... But that was until he heard the tone of her voice. His fingers dug into the wood of the table he gripped as her words ripped through him like a stake in the heart... and echoed in his mind in the remembrance of words that were once his.


Part Twenty-Two: In Heart and Mind

The room was engulfed in silence after Buffy and Angel had left. All eyes fell towards Xander who was still sitting where he had been before. Shaking his head, he stood up from the table and looked at them plaintively.

"I guess all's right in the world, now, huh?" he said in a trying attempt at his sarcasm, "At least in Buffy's world..."

Willow approached him with a sigh, "Xander... you have to-"

"What, Will?" he asked as he met her eyes with his own, dark and cold, "I have to just wait and let this thing blow over? I have to just sit back and let it all play out? What well-meaning advice can you possibly give me that can make me feel less of a fool than I already am?"

She closed her eyes and gave him a steady glance, "You're not a fool, Xander... she's just... it doesn't... it's going to okay- "

"Doesn't, what?!" he demanded again in his frustration, "Doesn't mean anything?! Doesn't matter?! You say it's going to be okay, but I'm seriously doubting the okainess of this situation... my girlfriend just walked out with her ex-boyfriend as if she and I never existed... indicate the okay!"

"I- I..." she faltered realizing that her optimism had failed her... she couldn't find even the slightest okay.

His hard expression softened at her face and he sighed, "I'm sorry, Willow, I know you only trying to help, but I don't think it's anything you can help me with... I don't think it's anything that even I can even help myself with. I think I better go... and... uh... if any of you see Buffy, tell her to call me... tell her we need to talk." And with that, Xander left without another word, leaving the three remaining of the Scooby Gang to sit once again in silence.

***

Restless, he turned off the television set and went into his room to do his sulking. Closing the door behind him, he sighed and walked slowly to sit down on his bed. As he sat there, he couldn't believe that no more than 6 hours ago, he had been able to say with confidence, "Buffy, loves me," and believe it as truth... know it as fact, but now he couldn't.

The moment he heard her tell Angel those three little words that he had once been directed to him in that very same, beautiful tone, it was as if someone had taken his still-beating heart from his chest and thrown it against a wall. His brain had gone numb and he sat there dumbfounded as she and Angel walked out of the room without very little care... she hadn't even remembered... hadn't cared enough about him to even look back.

His eyes fell to a picture that stood on the table beside his bed and he saw his goofy grin and her equally silly smile the day when they doubled with Oz and Willow on one of their rare breaks to head over to Disneyland. So, they had encountered a monster during their "vacation," but that didn't detract from the rest -the good -of the day. Although he remembered the happiness and it felt good to remember it, he was equally left with a feeling of distaste and of anger that in an instant, she had forgotten the happiness... that she hadn't even made a point to remember... anything... except Angel.

Placing the picture face down in an effort to lose a pain that could not be so easily lost, he lifted the composition book that it had stood upon. He grinned as he read Mrs. Roslyn's commentary: Tendency to run on and repeat ideas, but overall, a heart-wrenching piece, Xander, well done. To touch the human heart is indeed the effort of an author. For the first time and perhaps more days to come and increase, B+

He sighed... something about what he had written... he didn't feel quite satisfied with it as he had been before. It lost the lackluster of the first time he had put his thoughts on paper. Grabbing a pen from the backpack that he had carelessly thrown on the bed, he opened the composition book to a new page.

The moment the ink flowed from the tip of the pen on paper, was the exact moment, his mind became the pen. His thoughts were the pen itself, and flowed from his mind like the ink and with every written word stained on fading blue lines against white, was Xander.

I once said, "People don't fall in love with what's right in front of them. People want the dream - what they can't have. The more unattainable, the more attractive," and at the time I thought it was true, and I still think it to be true, but I've come to learn that there are exceptions to every rule.

I was one of those exceptions... at least for a time. My unattainable... my most attractive want and dream... I had it... and now I've lost it. It's funny... I thought that not achieving the want was the worst feeling anyone can have, but it isn't. There's something worse than that... something more extreme than that so-called impossible wish that you think can't be obtained. It's when you have what you never thought would be yours and you cherish that treasure until no end... and then it goes and walks away... without a second glance or a single word. It leaves you feeling so angry and frustrated, but at the same time so hurt. In a split second, it was gone as if I never existed, as if _we_ never existed. No matter how many times I told her I loved her, no matter how many times I told her I cared... I don't think it was enough... I don't think my loving her was enough. If it had been, I'd still have her heart, like she still has mine...

"Bring! Bring!" the phone beside him shrilled bringing him out of his thoughts and back into the darkness of reality.

Closing his notebook, he reached the for phone with a sigh, "Hello?"

And he heard the familiar breathing and recognized the familiar hesitance, as he leaned back against the pillow, waiting to hear the similar words that had taken him into the dark before and would sustain him there still, "Xander... we have to talk... ."


Part Twenty-Three: Saying Good-bye

The Bronze, as usual, was a misty atmosphere and everyone looked in the boundaries of Happy... except for three particular teenagers that sat at their regular table.

"Oh come on, man, cheer up," Oz tried as he looked at Xander's depressed expression that was slowly, but surely becoming permanent, "You can even make wolf jokes at me. Give me your best shot."

Xander gave Oz a Look, "As tempting as that sounds, Wolf Boy, I'd rather not... I don't even know why I let you guys drag me to the Bronze, anyway..."

"It was for your own good," insisted Willow with a sigh, "We wouldn't have had to 'drag' you if you had come willingly. You've been cooped up in that room of yours for God only knows how many weeks. I mean, even your parents called me because they were worried. I even heard a rumor from the teachers that you're actually doing your homework."

"Maybe it's because I am... what do you think I'm going to do for hours on end by myself?" he said.

"Precisely why you're here," she retorted, "I'm all for you doing better in school, Xander, but I'd rather have you getting your usual C's and D's and be nominally sane then how you are now... besides I think you're wigging out the teachers."

He sighed as he turned the straw in his glass of soda and then looked up at them and stood up, "I know you guys mean well... and I know I'm acting like Sunnydale's Resident Recluse, but I don't need this right now. I don't need _people_ right now... even if some times they are a werewolf and a witch. I just need to be alone. I'll eventually pull myself out of the trenches, and when that happens, I'll make sure to give you guys a call. Catch ya later."

As he walked slowly away from them Oz turned to Willow, "You think he's gonna be okay?"

"Eventually," she nodded, "except he won't be the same Alexander Harris I've known all my life... that's all."

The back door of the Bronze slammed loudly behind him... twice... and curiously, Xander turned to see who was following him.

"Cordelia," he said.

"Xander," she returned as she walked towards him, "Haven't seen you about the Bronze much. Surprised me today, to see that you climbed out of the rat hole you dug yourself into a few weeks ago... although judging by your clothes, I don't think you found your way to a store before that."

"As charming and charismatic as ever," he concluded, "What do you want, Cordelia? Do you want to throw your windbag comments at me, about how you knew it wouldn't last or about pitfalls or did you just feel that age-old impulse to insult me? Whatever it is... I don't care... I really don't. So, why don't you just go back to doing your'"popular girl at the Bronze' façade and don't even bother?"

With that he began to walk away, but turned when he heard her say, "I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry."

He frowned, "Sorry... for what?"

"For just about everything... for Colin, for that stupid 'pitfall' line, and believe it or not, about you and Buffy," she replied sincerely, "I kinda saw a certain permanence to it."

"Wow... a rarity from Cor -never mind... thanks," he said, "I better go, maybe I'll see you around?"

"If you find yourself outside, again, you can count on it," she nodded, "And, um... Xander?"

"Yeah, Cordy?" he said smiling lightly as he used his coined nickname for her.

Her eyes met his warmly, "No matter what's happened, no matter who she's with right now, I really do think she still loves you."

Xander nodded in neither agreement nor argument, but just acceptance and continued to tread where he had began initially. As his feet pounded on the sidewalk bounded for home, he thought about what she had told him, about how she was sure that Buffy loved him. As much as he wanted to believe so, despite how Buffy had hurt him, but he couldn't. Not after what happened after that phone call... not after meeting her and talking her for that short, painful period of time that ended in good-byes...

...He exhaled deeply as he saw her in the distance in the usual graveyard setting. He didn't know why he agreed to come meet with her on her patrol when he knew that it would have been just as easy for what was inevitable to occur on the phone. Xander had told her he'd think about it, but as usual, he obliged.

"Hey," he said softly a few feet away from her.

She turned to see him and the corners of her mouth lifted slightly, "Hey, yourself... I was beginning to think you wouldn't show."

"Y'know I'd do anything you ask of me," he replied looking straight into her eyes and when she noted that he meant what he said she looked away.

She laughed nervously, "You're probably wondering why I asked you here, right?"

"Actually, I have a pretty good idea as to why I'm here, but just for the hell of asking... why am I here?" Xander said.

Her eyes fell from the floor and to his eyes, "I – I wanted to explain myself... what I did earlier."

"Explain? What's there to explain?" he asked with a shrug.

"Xander, don't be like this-"

"Don't be like what? Angry? Hurt?" he said as he shook his head, "I'm sorry, Buffy, but I don't have your ability to make feelings just go away."

"T-that's really harsh-" she tried to begin again, but Xander's anger got the better of him.

"You want to talk about harsh? What do you call telling your undead boyfriend former that you love him in front of your boyfriend and then taking off without telling me anything? A simple, 'I'm sorry,' would have suffice... it would have hurt, but at least, it would have meant you knew I was alive, or do you not care about the living anymore? What you did was unexplainable... there is nothing you can say to me that makes it explainable."

Buffy took a deep breath as she looked at Xander's hard-lined expression, "I care about you, Xander, and I realize that no matter how hard I try to explain what I did, I wouldn't be able to because it was wrong. I don't even know why you're here... you must hate me so much for doing that... for leaving... with Angel..."

She stopped as he gently lifted her chin so that her eyes met eyes no longer angered, but soft and sad... his eyes, "I don't hate you, Buffy... I could never hate you... I lo- I could never hate you."

"I'm sorry, Xander... I am so sorry. I don't know why I did what I did, but I saw him there and I just... everything just kinda made my mind all fuzzy. I just... I don't know how to..." she trailed off and turned away as she felt her throat tighten and the onslaught of tears that were just as soon blinked away.

He hadn't realized how much this would all hurt. Ever since she had called, he had played this event in his mind, but there was nothing that could have made him feel anything then, except for the numbness... the coldness that had preceded his initial pain when she left with Angel. And that pain couldn't even compare to how he felt now. He finally perceived that he was really going to lose her and that no matter what he did or say, there was nothing he could do about it. Nothing. Knowing that... and _feeling_ that... the world -his world -stood at a standstill. He didn't know how he was going to wake up in the morning anymore or what he was going to think about when he went to sleep because for the longest time it had been her. In these past few months, he had been able to say... to think... to feel in those moments that she loved him. And it seemed to him that his first and last conscious thoughts of the day, not to mention the countless in-between, would continue to be of her... of how much he loved her, wanted her, and needed her. Just like it had been before, except this time, he would be left with the knowledge that for awhile she had loved him, but now she didn't.

"I don't want to... this isn't..." she continued to try and as Xander saw her in this state, he just wanted to walk over to her, hold her, and try to take away the pain he realized she was feeling in doing this. As much as he wanted to hate her for what she was about to do to him... he couldn't. Even though he knew that he was the cause of her struggle and knew whatever it was she was going to say to him... how much it was going to hurt him... he wanted so bad to hold her and make it better... and he did.

For a rare moment in his life, Xander acted on impulse. He walked behind her, held her close, and took the time to remember the moment that would probably be the last time she would ever be this close to him, before whispering in her ear, "Buffy, just tell me good-bye... that's all you have to do. Tell me good-bye and I'll go. Not because I want to, but because I want you to be happy... even if it's not going to be with me."

Buffy closed her eyes and took in the warmth of his embrace and as she felt her eyes give way to her tears and slowly wiped those that had fallen away from the sides of her face, she whispered, "Good-bye... Xander."

Reluctantly, his arms let go of her and immediately she felt a chill and shivered, but only for a moment as she felt a familiar Xander-scented jacket wrap over her shoulders. She turned around to thank him, but he was gone.

Sighing, he finally looked back at her some distance away and felt cold. Not from the lack of his jacket, but from the fact that he felt something missing... whether it was part of his heart or his whole heart that was gone, he wasn't sure, but he was betting on the latter. And before he continued the lonely tread home without her and his heart, he whispered in the night, "Good-bye, Buffy... I love you..."


Part Twenty-Four: Again With the Magic

Cordelia sighed as she saw Xander disappear into the distance and dark of the night and turned to reenter the Bronze. She hesitated as her hand reached the silver knob of the door. Shaking her head, she began to head to her car and go home. Cordelia was tired of everything that was going on in her life, tired of the 'IN' parties, tired of the people who called themselves her friends.

Her hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as she sat in thought about her conversation with Xander and she wondered what his nod meant. If only he knew what she knew about this present Buffy/Angel situation, but as she thought about it, she wondered how he would react to what she had seen and heard the other day...

"...The blood of youth," chuckled Angel in the alley as he sank his teeth into the body of the girl in his clutches.

"Oh my God," Cordelia said in a hushed whisper as she hid in the doorway of the Bronze.

"Angel, this plan of yours is perfect," Druscilla said as she came from behind him, "Cast a spell on the slayer to make her think that she was in love with you... so when are we going to kill the slayer and have her blood as our wine?"

"Soon, Dru, soon, and when her blood is our wine, you'll have that dinner party you've always wanted and then there will be a toast to the Sorcerer for his spells and magic and all that junk," he said as he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Dru laughed, "To think that all we had to do to protect you from their soul spell was to cast a counter spell on your pretty little head... how I love magic... and all its darkly goodness."

"Oh, and that expression on the White Knight's face," Angel said with a laugh as they walked out of the alley arm in arm, "That was priceless... I wish you could have been there, you would have had such a laugh!"

...Cordelia shuddered, she could imagine what his expression must have been like, so much like it was earlier when she had mentioned Buffy for the first time, but so much more worse. She wished that he could know that what she said, about Buffy still being in love with him, was not only a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. There was no way she could tell him about all of this magic *Again with the magic!* without him going off the handle of crazed, but she had to tell someone.

With a sharp breath, she stepped out of her car and walked back into the Bronze as quick as her heels could carry her. Giving a flirtatious smile at the Bouncer, she walked in without having to pay again and headed to where Oz and Willow sat listening to the band.

"Willow... Oz?" she said carefully.

"Cordelia..." they said in surprise.

"Double twin... much?" she said and winced, "Sorry, force of habit, I've got to talk to you guys..."

***

"Hold on," Giles said as he hushed the clamoring students in front of him, "L - Let me get this straight. Angel is not Angel, but rather he is still in his demonic state, but with a humane façade? Buffy is not in love with him, but rather been induced into a spell to make her think such thoughts for him? And s-someone known as the S-sorcerer, has placed such spells and the counter spell for the soul into effect?" They all nodded solemnly and he sighed, "Dear God."

"So, what's the plan?" Cordelia prompted with raised eyebrows.

"Book... computers... research," he said as he grabbed a few volumes from the shelf and handed it to them.

Willow turned on the computer, "But Giles, what are we looking for?"

"I'm hoping... we may not be able to create a counter spell for a spell which has already been countered, but we may have a chance to be rid of the love spell cast on Buffy," he explained. "We must also find more about the Sorcerer and how powerful he is."

"What's with us and love spells?" Cordelia said with a sigh as she opened a book, "Figures that when we have a spell that actually works and we're gonna have to dismantle it."

"What are you talking about? I only recall Xander's incident of on Valentine's Day," the librarian said with a frown.

Willow and Oz looked at her with warning glances and she quickly replied, "Uh... I'm probably just thinking about something else... um... speaking of Xander, what are we going to tell him?"

"Well, we can't tell him about the love spell, it's gonna make things worse between him and Buffy later," Willow interjected, "So, why don't we tell him that the spell that she's under just makes her think that Angel's back?"

"I don't know, aren't we all suppose to be under that assumption?" Oz said, "Doesn't that mean we're all under a spell?"

"So, that's out of the question of an excuse," Cordelia said with a sigh, "Okay, what about telling him it's some weird spell that's making her think that Angel can do no wrong? Like say when I saw him doing the whole sucking thing, Buffy was around and she didn't slay or blink an eye."

"That's actually a good idea," Oz admitted in surprise.

"See, I'm helpful," she smiled.

"Astounding," answered Giles.

Cordelia ignored his comment and continued, "Now that that's over and done with, we just have one more problem to solve before we get into this magic thing."

"And what's that?" Willow asked as Oz and Giles followed with questioning glances.

"Who's going to call him?"


Part Twenty-Five: Relinquished

"Look Giles-" he tried to interrupt.

"No. You look," the Watcher demanded in an authoritative tone, "Every minute we waste, Buffy will continue to fall into the depths of grievous danger and those are deeper waters I wish not to tread. I know you are angry with her for hurting you, but I also know that you love her, Xander, and would do anything for her. That is why I am asking you to come... to come and help us... to come and help her."

Xander thought of everything that had occurred in these past weeks and as angry as he was, as hurt as he was, he had to admit that what Giles said rang true. No matter what he was feeling at the moment, he couldn't deny that he still loved her, even more than he ever did before.

With a sigh, he said, "Okay, Giles, count me there tomorrow."

"Well?" Cordelia said when he hung up the phone, "Is he coming tomorrow?"

"He's coming," he replied with a satisfied grin.

Cordy gave him a Look, "So, what? You want an Emmy, now?"

Before Giles could respond, Amy walked through the library doors carrying a load of books, "Uh... a little help here?"

"Oh, here," Oz said grabbing a stack of books and Giles taking the other half.

"Thanks," she replied, "So... why did you guys want me to bring all of these books from my mom's 'collection?'"

"We're going to need your help, Amy," Giles said, "We've done magic before, but we all lack in the capacity that we _are_ magic, and if we do this counter spell, we must have someone that has some of that here."

Amy looked at them, "I thought you told me to turn in my magic apron?"

"Yes, but this is a matter of urgency. W-we're up against the Sorcerer, which we found out... Willow?"

The redhead turned to her computer printout and read, "The Sorcerer, a 17th century vampire with potent magical powers who ran rampant in the cities of Europe for 50 years. He was consequently trapped by his former colleagues, of wizards and witches, in a magical box that was later tossed into the sea. In time, it is warned, that the Sorcerer, weakened by their magic, will regain enough strength to free himself and roam the countries one more."

"Hold on, I'm only a beginner... I can't deal with this guy!" insisted Amy with wide eyes, "How am I suppose to – "

"At the moment, we are not dealing with him particularly and I would never ask you to go up against him, for now, we are attempting to handle his spell-" Giles tried to explain.

"Which is?"

Cordelia turned to Amy and explained, "This Sorcerer guy put the love whammy on Buffy to think that she loves Angel."

"Who's Angel... and what's it with you guys and love spells?"

"Second reference, I would kindly like to have some perception in this supposed fact that we are cursed with love spells?"

"Uh... sorry guys," apologized Amy as she sank back into her chair.

"Giles, Cordelia paid Amy to do this love spell on Xander and it didn't work," explained Willow.

"But we fixed it," Cordy interjected, "Does that give us any consideration points?"

"It most certainly does not," Giles replied in more disappointment than anger, "I have told you all never to mess with magic for personal foolery. The consequences can be extremely difficult to reverse, b-but let's not divulge ourselves into this now, we've got work to do."

"But I still don't understand what exactly going on."

"Willow will fill you in on the specifics, while the rest of us get to work," the Watcher said and she stood up from the computer and sat down beside Amy.

"I guess the best way to start this would be to tell you that Buffy's a slayer and there's one in every generation... well... _was_ one in every generation..."

***

Amy leaned back against her chair with a heavy book on her lap and looked up at all those who were around her. Hearing Willow's explanation -and everyone else's in-between -she could now make sense out of this group that hung out at the library, not that the sense she gained was all that comforting. Vampires, magical vampires, crazy vampires, demons, werewolves... and she couldn't help but feel that this made her witch status not so much of a status anymore... more like a norm.

With a sigh, she turned the page of the book and scanned the pages carefully until she reached to the last spell and her eyes widened as she read the spell over quickly and she sat up and said, "This is it... this is it... I found it..."

Giles walked over to her and glanced at the spell she was pointing to and closed the book in his hand and looked closer, "Indeed, you did."

"Oh, thank God," Cordelia said as she closed the book in front of her.

"Ditto," Willow said tiredly, as she placed her book on top of the many stacked on the table, "So, what's the plan?"

"Well, we're going to need..."

***

"You think he's gonna go for it?" Oz said hesitantly.

"Gonna go for what?" Xander asked when he entered the library, all the while, feeling odd to be in the familiar setting.

"Gonna go for our plan," said Cordy.

"And that plan is..." he prompted as he felt the oddity increase when he saw that Cordelia and Amy were there.

Giles finished, "That while we initiate the spell, you distract Buffy."

At that moment, Xander's oddity was replaced by absolute incredulity, "Whoa... whoa... you did not say that this was going to require me actually having to talk to her."

"And I didn't say that you weren't going to, either, but you said you'd help, and you are the only one who has a viable enough of a situation at the moment to-"

"Viable enough of a situation? What... am I going to just call her up and say, 'Hi, Buff, I'm suppose to distract you while the gang does a spell, want to talk about our break-up?"

Cordelia scoffed, "I almost forgot how big of dunce you are -actually, no I haven't -but, hello! You call her up, tell her you wanna get all buddy-buddy with her again because you miss that thing you guys called a friendship."

"T-thank you, Cordelia for your reiteration of... um... our plan," stammered Giles as he turned to Xander, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but do exactly as she says."

He gave the Watcher a look, "You can't believe you're saying it? I can't believe your saying it! How is this going to help?"

"Part of this spell is made so that she goes away from the person nearest to her, so that she can be alone, in which the spell will continue to regenerate. If you distract her, insist that she stays near you, and she is strong enough to fight the urge to leave... fight the pain..."

Giles' voice faded from his mind as he thought about Buffy and what he had told her not too long ago...

"...Xander... what are you-" she began as her eyes looked at him worriedly.

He smiled and the expression faded with each of his words, "But there's a stronger part of me still that will do anything to make you happy, anything to see you smile. I understand Buffy, and even if I didn't... I'll still stand by you..."

... He had given her that promise and he was very sure that he still felt that way and so with a sigh, before Giles could finish his explanation he replied, "Okay, I'll do it... I'll distract her."

The Watcher stopped mid-sentence in surprise and realized that whatever he had said and whatever he was going to say wasn't really going to matter to Xander, but rather it was what Xander realized himself that would make the difference. Nodding, he smiled, "Good to hear."

***

Slowly, Xander ascended the steps of the porch, feeling his heart beat rapidly in his chest, and he wondered if he had done the better thing on opting to go to her house as oppose to calling her. Realizing it was just a little too late for such contemplation, he took a deep breath before he rang the Summers' doorbell.

"Xander, it's nice to see you again," Mrs. Summers greeted him with a kind smile.

"Same here," he replied, "Um... I was wondering if I could talk to Buffy?"

Her face altered to a rather strained grin on a sympathetic expression, "Come in... I'll-"

"Xander," Buffy said as she descended the stairs rapidly and stopped mid-way in surprise of his presence, "Hey."

"Buffy," he said simply.

"I have something in the oven..." Mrs. Summers quickly excused herself and walked to the kitchen.

"I... um... was wondering if you'd like to take a walk... so that we can maybe talk?" he asked uneasily.

She nodded, "Yeah... sure," and grabbing her jacket, she called to her mother, "Mom... I'm going to go with Xander for awhile."

"Go ahead, dear... be back by -never mind, have fun," she replied when she came out of the kitchen.

Xander knew that this situation was variety of things, but it was definitely not going to be about fun, and he had a feeling Buffy could agree with that.

***

The fire beneath the cauldron flickered and glowed in its orange-red hue as Giles placed all of the necessary ingredients in it.

"Ishtar, Astarte, Aphrodite... those of which represent the old realm of love... I speak to thee," began Amy.

***

"So, what did you want to talk about?" she asked as they walked down the sidewalk.

Xander said, "Buffy, I miss you, and that friendship we used to have and I know that we can't possibly get that back, but I'd like us to start anew... be friends again. Do you think we can do that?"

"Yeah... I think we can..."

***

"Take from the hexed one they call the Slayer... take from her the spell of the Sorcerer... be rid her of the darkness of your power..."

"Ishtar, Astarte, Aphrodite... we beckon you," Giles said loudly, "Lift away this tainted use of your power..."

***

Buffy froze suddenly and felt her head pounding and Xander felt a grip on his arm so tight that he felt his bone was going to break, "Buffy... are you all right?"

"I -I have to go... I just remembered..." she tried as she turned to walk back to her house."

***

"Free her from his bondage spell of love unsound... free her from your grasp... relinquish her heart and mind to a power she can call her own... I ask thee... I seek thee... make her free..."

***

"No, Buffy, wait," he said taking a hold of her arm, "I wanted to tell you something before you go."

"Okay... make it quick," she said as her head continued to grow tighter with every passing second.

"I... uh..." Xander tried to think and he finally blurted, "Wanted to tell you what I decided to try as a career... y'know, just in case that abundant field of corrections doesn't work out."

"Oh, really?" she said trying her hardest to sound interested, "And what's that?"

"A writer..."

***

"Ishtar, Astarte, Aphrodite... hear our cries and answer... release her!"

***

A white cloud lifted from her body and immediately the pain withdrew it's potency and she collapsed into Xander's arms breathing heavily.

He held her close as memories of the occurrences of the weeks prior filled her mind and realization of her actions seized her and he felt her hot tears wet his T-shirt and the muffled whisper, "Oh my God, what I have done?"


Part Twenty-Six: A Hand to Hold

As much as he wanted to never let her out of his arms, he pulled himself away, and Buffy, surprised at the sudden, cold-reacting move, was reassured of his ongoing presence by the comforting touch of her hand in his. She looked up to meet his eyes and felt his other hand against the hollow of her cheek, quick to wipe tears that had shed. There they stood, eyes fixed to the other, not wanting to move, not even wanting to breath for fear of ending the moment, but soon enough, Xander tore his eyes away from hers and mustered something of a smile, "Come on... I think we should go to Giles."

As they walked towards the school quickly, Buffy's mind began to take in the flood of memories that was contained in those lost weeks, and with it came the pain of loss, the anger of suffering, and the emptiness of uncontrollability. She remembered everything with bitter vividness, being controlled like a puppet the moment her eyes fell on Angel, almost like that past Halloween, but so much more different because this time her awareness was non-existent, her avoidance of her friends, their avoidance of her, etc. Yet, out of the memories held in her mind of those days, the ones that held the most ground, that burned into the deepest crevices of her mind and of her heart, were the afflictions she had set on Xander and the realization of the love he had given her in return.

She was thoroughly aware that he hadn't a clue to the type of spell she had been under, it was obvious in his manner, voice, and form. Half-glad she was about his not knowing, but the other half of her wondered what if he did know... how would he react and as she glanced quickly at him during their gait, she didn't think she wanted to know, or rather, she feared the answer.

"Are you ready?" he asked in a voice filled with concern as they reached the doors to the library.

After how badly she had treated them, she wondered if her readiness really mattered in the overall whole, it was really a matter, if they were ready to excuse her for what she had done. Nodding, she swallowed a gulp of air into her dry throat and whispered, "Yeah, I think so."

"Good," he said softly as he looked into her eyes that once again locked in the matter that they had before.

She saw in his eyes so much pain and her heart ached to think that she had caused that pain to be there, but in the sorrow of his eyes, was the love she had always known, but had been too blind and ignorant to see. Her hand hesitantly reached to touch his face, she felt the stubble of his chin beneath her palm, and her fingers moved to touch his lips... those she was fighting the urge to kiss.

His free hand took hold of her wrist and he kissed her fingers softly before he said, "You have to do this on your own, you know that don't you?"

She nodded slowly, "Yeah, I know, but can't you stay with me... just for a little while?"

He shook his head, "I'm sorry, Buffy, but I can't... I've stayed a lot longer than I should've and I have to go."

"I understand," she said as her eyes fell to the floor when his hands relinquished hers and he began to walk away. Looking up, she called out to him, "Xander!"

He turned and looked at her, "Yes, Buffy?"

Shaking her head in the frustration of memories and words she said, "I wanted you to know that I'm the one that should be sorry... for what happened... for everything."

"But how could you be responsible? You love Angel and-"

"But that's it! I don't love him," she said as she approached him and looked carefully into his eyes, "I love you... Xander, and it's that stupid spell that made me lose you... I don't want to lose you."

"What are you – " he asked in a confused tone, "Buffy... what -what was the spell that was cast?"

Taking a deep breath she replied, "That spell was a love spell. To make me fall in love with Angel, to make me break up with you, to make me do all the stupid things that I've done these past weeks."

"She's telling the truth, Xander," Willow said as the Scooby gang filtered out of the library when they heard the loud voices in the hallway.

"Why didn't you guys tell me that it was a love spell?" he demanded at them.

"Because we didn't want this kind of reaction from you. We weren't sure you would be willing to help if you knew the kind of spell she was under. We weren't sure we had the responsibility to tell you what kind of spell she was under," Giles explained.

"What reaction? I haven't even had time for a reaction," Xander said with blazing eyes, "I don't even know how to react! Lose the love of your life due to the magic of an all-powerful vampirical magician and his buddy, his sidekick, the formerly soul-bound Angel. Anybody care to give me reacting tips?"

"Xander, don't be like-"

"Y'know the last time I heard you say that I didn't fair well, so I think I'm going to get gone," he replied as he gave her one last longing look before he turned and walked away.

Buffy felt a hand squeeze her shoulder comfortingly and she looked to find Willow with her optimistic smile, "He'll be okay, Buffy... you just have to give him time."

They turned to walk to the library and she wondered how much time he was going to need to deal. No matter how long it was going to take... no matter what happened, she was comforted by the knowledge that Xander would always be her friend, he was as loyal as they come... after all, he had come to help her despite what had occurred that night, weeks prior. And she could deal with him being just her friend, as long as Buffy knew there was hand out there that was willing to take hold of hers and never let her fall... she was fine with his being _just_ her friend. At least, that's what she told herself over and over again in the midst of the Scooby gang's tried comforting, all the while feeling her hand lost without the warmth of his gentle hold and feeling her heart empty and broken and lost without the presence of his.


Part Twenty-Seven: Believe Me

Xander exhaled as he stared dully around the Bronze from where he sat. Oz's band was playing and Willow was sitting at the table most close to the stage to cheer him on. Cordelia was dancing with _another_ guy, the third guy he had seen with her within that hour, to the slow rock song that resonated from the group on stage. Buffy, who he had been avoiding the entire night, as she did the same, sat beside their redheaded best friend looking as bored as he was feeling.

It had been a few weeks since the spell had broke, and less than coincidentally, it was the last time that they had truly met and exchanged words in what could be considered a conversation. Within that time, the less argumentary Slayerettes and even the Watcher made many attempts to unite them, but needless to say, all attempts were futile. They had all just about given up on the silent couple, and try as they might to get back to some degree of Sunnydale normalcy, they couldn't. Meetings often held in the library were awkward and surprisingly empty without a sarcastic Xanderism interjected between acts of seriousness, and the fact that Buffy was considerably being serious scared them all entirely.

Pushing his glass away from him, he grabbed his jacket and headed out the door, narrowly missing running into the stream of teenagers coming in. A blast of less-than-warm air hit his face as he left the Bronze, the music fading with every step of his tread. The near-June nights were surprisingly cold for the usually warm-climate, but the weather was among the few items of the day that didn't bother him. Clutching his jacket tighter, he continued to head towards home, all the while realizing that he was being followed.

***

Buffy glanced at the empty table where Xander had sat a few minutes ago and sighed as she wondered how long this 'give him time' concept was going to last. It had been awhile since she had talked to him, they hadn't even bothered with school hallway 'hi's. When they did meet, it was so awkward that they would just mutter inaudible greetings and walk away, much like they had done when Oz and Willow had trailed her to his table.

Looking around the Bronze with its nominally happy teenagers, she suddenly felt tired of the old scene and stood up, "Will... you mind if I bag?"

The redhead looked at her disappointedly, "Buffy, come on, you've hardly had a free night since... well... just stay and have fun."

"Fun's not exactly optional for me, right now, why does it matter if I go or if I stay?" She answered, "I know you, Oz, and Cordy are trying with the happy and all, and I appreciate the effort, but can we just not right now?"

Willow smiled softly, "If you want to go, Buffy, it's up to you. I wouldn't want you to stay if you're not having fun."

"Thanks," she said as she grabbed her jacket and gave her friend's hand a squeeze, "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Definitely," Willow said with a nod.

***

A few blocks away from the teen dance club, the footsteps continued behind him and he swore under his breath as he realized that he was lacking in both cross and stake. Glancing around the dark streets of Sunnydale, he prayed to find some weaponry and soon, as he quickened his gait to equal that of the one behind him. Finally, he found a jagged piece of flat wood from a cheap, broken crate on the floor and dived for it. He clutched tightly to the awful-excuse for wooden-vampire weaponry; despite that, he was acquiring many-a splinter from the even sorrier-excuse for wood. Defensively, he turned around, his heart beating a mile-a-minute.

"Hello," said Angelus blinkingly, "Long time no see... White Knight."

"I don't have time for this, okay, Angelus?" Xander said bitterly, "Just tell me what you want and get your sorry-face out of my-"

"Tsk. Tsk," the vampire replied with a chuckle, "You aren't exactly in a position to make demands, Xander. I mean, I'm a solitary kind of fellow... y'know me... old, brooding sack-of-potatoes me, but sometimes it helps to have a little company."

He heard himself intake breath as Angel's counterparts unveiled themselves from the masks of shadows and gulped as he weakly dropped the wood in his hand, knowing, it was all-downhill from here... or not.

***

"You'd think we lived in Antarctica," muttered Buffy as she clutched her jacket tighter. Then, she paused as she looked at the coat that enclosed her and realized that it wasn't hers after all, but the one that Xander gave her on the night they broke up.

Shaking her head to clear her mind of him, she continued her tread down the dark Sunnydale streets and wondered why it was that the prosperous town couldn't hold well with the city street lamps. She was about to continue on her straight path, when she heard a yelp-like noise in one of the alleys of the buildings. Pulling a stake from the coat pocket she carefully walked into the back street and wondering if there was anybody stupid enough to take the Bronze back way home.

***

The salty aftertaste of the first contact of blood lingered on his tongue when the ringed-wearing fist of a vampire gashed his lower lip. His arms flailed uselessly in an attempt to defend himself as the hands and the fists hammered into his face. With every blow, the world seemed to spin uncertainly around him as it grew dimmer and dimmer...

***

"Hey, boys, where's the party?" a voice called out from the distance.

The vampires paused from their attack and looked up at the petite blonde that approached them. They all looked at each other and grinned before a majority walked slowly towards her, the few others resuming their initial attack as commanded.

Her fist connected with the fanged-face of the first vampire, who taken off-guard, allowed the thrust of the stake into his heart to be quick and easy. The others backed away in slight caution as they realized this girl to be the dreaded slayer that caused their leaders constant bickering. Then as they glanced back at their adamant leader, they continued towards her.

One-by-one, they began to fall, as the ashes flew in the cold night wind when each demonic-possessed heart was pierced with the sharp apex of Buffy's stake.

***

The hitting stopped and the pain numbed by their hits, now, resonated everywhere. The world continued its whirlwind – spinning, spinning, spinning – as the darkness loomed near.

***

"Angel," she said softly when those that remained ran to save their immortality.

His head lifted from the body that remained on the floor with his trademarked wicked grin, "Hello, lover, I hear you're up to your old tricks again."

In her distance, she gasped at the unmoving body on the floor, and she breathed heavily as she looked at him with newfound anger, "I could say the same for you."

"You could," he said nodding as he stood up and walked towards her, "I see that lost time hasn't changed the usual results."

"Well, it pays to be consistent," she replied and she took a deep breath and continued, "What's with the games? Can't we just cut to the chase? It's just you and me... your ignorant lackeys have scurried off to coward-land or are a little bit ashy, there's no one else. Everything's strictly neutral."

"Oh, I don't know, slayer, seems that your... um..." he glanced at the figure on the ground, "White Knight's still around... or near being around, anyway."

Instinctively, she ran towards the body, pushed the grinning vampire aside, and kneeled down beside the motionless form, "Oh my God, Xander." She pressed her fingers against his neck and felt a faint pulse.

"He's alive, but... uh... it wasn't exactly how I planned it. He was suppose to be on your doorstep, bruised, battered, and... well... dead, but, um, close enough, don't you think?"

"Damn you," she spat bitterly, "I swear to God, I'm going to kill you... I'm going to see you dead."

"Temper, temper," he said with a laugh, "Maybe you will... maybe you won't, we'll just see about that."

"I will, believe me," she replied.

"Oh, I believe you, slayer... I believe you're going to try your *darn* hardest," he mocked and then his face grew serious, "The battle will come in time, and when it's time, you'll know. Believe *me*," and with that, he sprinted away, his dark coat trailing like a cape behind him.

"Soon, Angel... very soon," Buffy said as he disappeared into the night and she turned to Xander who was slowly coming out of his unconscious state.

"Xander... Xander..." she whispered as she looked at his blood-streaked and bruised face with eyes of concern.

He opened his lesser swollen eye and felt her hand clasp his and with a very weak squeeze, he said in a shallow breath, "I love you," and then her face faded as the world succumbed to the black.


28 Voices

Blip... Blip... Blip... the sound of the heart monitor echoed, breaking the would-be silence of the room. Xander lay in the hospital bed, bruised and bandaged, but alive. Yet, the sight of his unanimated features due to heavy sedation tugged at Buffy's heart as she sat looking at him in a chair a few feet away. With a sigh, she stood up and carefully sat on the edge of the hospital bed, entwining the fingers of her left hand in his right and began in a whisper, "Xander... if I could only..."

"Buffy... you okay?" Willow inquired as she walked in the room carefully.

The slayer, surprised, quickly removed her hand from his, although not quick enough, and said, "Yeah, I'm okay, but that's more than I can say for Xander."

Willow smiled softly as she walked towards his still form and tentatively kissed his forehead, "He'll be okay... he's Xander, nothing wounds him too long. He'll pull through, eventually."

"But when's the eventual, Will?" she asked, "Today... tomorrow... the doctor says he's going to make it, but how? How?! He can barely walk... that son of a – I can't believe Angel - " Buffy stammered in frustration, "God... why is it that when things seem bad enough as it is, everything just becomes even worse?"

"Buffy... Buffy..." hushed Willow as she took her friend into her arms, "Calm down... he's going to be okay... he's going to be okay!"

"How can you be so sure?" she responded pulling away from her friend's grasp, "How do you know?"

The redhead sighed as she fiddled with the buttons of her brown sweater before meeting her friend's passionate expression, "I don't know, but I can't imagine it any other way. He's going to make it and walk or no walk, we're his friends and we're going to help him no matter the cost."

"But, I'm not his friend... I -I'm just his ex-girlfriend that he can't even bear to look at," she replied as she grabbed her bag and reached for the door knob.

"That's not true! Buffy, Xander loves you ... you know that!" Willow insisted as she grabbed the wrist the held the knob, "he told you so."

"He was obviously delusional. He used to... that I know for sure, but he hates me now... hates me for what I did to him! I hurt him and I never wanted to do that to him... ever. You can't take away pain, Will... you can forgive it and you can say you forget it, but it's there and it never goes away."

Having heard that, Willow backed away and asked as she folded her arms to her chest, "Where are you going?"

Buffy looked at her friend as she opened the door, "The sun's coming down soon and I've let it come down too many times. I'm going to end it now, that's where I'm going, The End. And I'm going to make damn sure that it's not mine, but if..." She glanced at Xander for a second, and continued, "But if something does happen, tell him I love him... tell him something that tells him I care."

"You're not ready!" she tried to insist holding back the door.

"No, I've been ready," Buffy said shaking her head and meeting her eyes, "I've just been stalling and looked what happened because of that. Angel dies tonight."

The door closed behind her and Willow stood looking at its gray paint for awhile, unsure of what to say or where to go, but finally, she whispered, "Good luck."

Turning to Xander, she pulled the chair against the wall closer to the bed, and clasped his right hand. It was virtually bandaged free, saved for the finger splint that was miniscule in comparison to his bandaged head, swollen eyes and cheeks, broken left arm, and the cast encumbering his barely mobile right leg.

"It's strange seeing you like this... I mean, you always broke bones when we were kids, but never this bad. The worst it ever came before was when Frankie Hertz beat you up when we were 7 and you had to get cast on your arm and a finger splint for your pinkie. And I thought you looked terrible then... no offense or anything. Xander... things use to be so much easier back then... we didn't have to worry about a vampire reeking his revenge on humanity, heck... we didn't even have to worry about the standing question of the opposite sex.

"Where have the days gone and why – of all people – did they lead you to this? Is it destiny? Fate? The course of the stars?" She glanced at his right hand that she held and recalled how he had told her once that he was contemplating on becoming a writer and although the idea seemed abstract at the time, it didn't seem that strange now. "Maybe it is destiny... maybe you'll one day write a book about all of this. Obviously, you're gonna have to change the locale and the names of the characters or Cordelia's probably gonna start thinking that she's the main character -maybe that's why nothing happened to this hand or maybe... maybe it's sheer luck? Whatever it is, I'll be there for you... I'll always be there for you like you've been there for me and she'll be there too. You know who I mean... no matter what she does or says, or more really, everything she does or says, tells me that she still loves you. I just hope that you haven't the slightest doubt about that."

"Um... Willow?" Giles interrupted as he prudently entreated on their privacy, "H-how is he?"

"Hey Giles," she responded softly, "h-he's doing okay, I mean, he's still under some pretty good dosage of medicine cause of... y'know the pain and recovery and stuff, but other than that, he's okay and before you know it, he's probably going to make another joke about tweed."

The Watcher chuckled softly, "Well, we can't do without that, now, can we?"

"I'm gonna go and call my parents... they've been pretty worried about Xander ever since Buffy called me to come here. They're probably going to want to know what's going on -or well... what I can tell them happened," Willow said as she walked towards the door and she paused, "You do know where Buffy went to do, don't you?"

He swallowed apprehensively and nodded, "Yes... I know what Buffy is going to _attempt_ to accomplish."

"Then you don't think she's going to- "

"What I think, Willow, is that Buffy will do what she has to do, when she has to do it, and whether it occurs now or later is up to Angelus. She will find him when he wants to be found."

"Oh," she replied and turned the knob.

"Why not use the phone in here?" he inquired as he wiped his glasses with a handkerchief from his pocket.

She glanced at the phone and then at him with a smile, "It's okay... I can use the one outside."

Rupert Giles sighed as he took in the still figure of one of his 'Slayerettes,' and sat in the chair last occupied by Willow. The room was a dreary as any hospital room could be and last he recalled occupying such a building was when Buffy had fallen ill... and prayed to God that such past incidences would not occur this latest duration spent here. Still, God only knew what havoc and destruction lay elsewhere, particularly pertaining to a certain slayer and her vampirical adversary.

"Well, Xander... it seems that wishes don't really come true as one would like and life's 'wicked hexes' are not soon to fade, but rather soon to grow and engulf the cursed, but I suppose we can't say we didn't -we didn't try. Although, I never thought all of our trying would amount to this and as annoyed as I seem to be at you at times, Xander, I wish this on no one, especially not on yourself. I probably wouldn't tell you this if you were conscious, but you're growing up... for the better - despite the abnormalities we're faced against - you all are. And I hope that -that within this spectrum of time, I've att least taught you something meaningful."

"Don't worry, Giles... you've taught us a lot," Cordelia said from behind him, "More than we'll ever let you know, but you've taught us a lot."

"That's very kind of you to say, thank you," he said standing up, "Now, if you'd excuse me, Cordelia, I'm going to get some tea."

"The sorry excuse for a cafeteria doesn't have tea, but you could take their mock off of French Vanilla... it's great compared to their wannabe HazelNut stuff," she quipped. "You'd think with all the dead that come through here, they'd have enough money for some of the good stuff. Y'know Taster's Choice."

"Um... t-thank you," he muttered as he closed the door behind him wondering if he should have taught them the wonders of a good cup of tea, or at least, the brand names of good coffee. He continued under his breath as he walked to the cafeteria, "Taster's Choice, indeed..."

The stylish brunette eyed her former boyfriend carefully as she stood beside the bed and responded bluntly, "What can I tell you, Xander? You look terrible, and I ..." She paused and exhaled, "I want you to get better -you have to get better -'cause... well ... I miss you. I know we did the whole 'we're friends again' thing, but I want to hang with you, insult you... like old times, except without all the uh... y'know trips to the closet. Although I'm sure Buffy's gonna stake out the vicinity to make sure there isn't a closet within a hundred-foot radius."

She laughed nervously at her own joke, "Seriously, though, about Buffy, I meant what I said before about how I saw a certain permanence to you guys. I really did see that, and I really hate to admit it, but I was always jealous because I knew that from the start. Not really, but sub-consciously. No matter what I did and no matter what was going, she was your number one priority. I could only be so lucky to find a guy that thought of me before anyone else and I'm glad she found you Xander, 'cause you're a great guy... when you're not making with the tried funny."

"Uh... Cordelia?" Oz said carefully as he walked into the room, "You're purse is ringing."

Her eyes widened, "Oh... oh... it's probably my parent's wondering where I am so late... um, thanks."

"You're..." he began, but she flew out the door before he could finish lamely, "...welcome, yeah."

He was about to follow her exit, but he turned to look at Xander. He let go of the doorknob and walked towards the hospital bed, sitting down on the chair that had been moved by Willow.

"Look, I know you have this quasi-antagonism concept with me, and perfectly understandable seeing as that Willow has been your bestest bud since forever, and obviously you kind of see me as the guy that's taking up a lot of her time. I know you don't think too much of me, and I pretty much don't know you enough to think much of you, but I do know that Will cares about you. I don't like seeing that expression that's been permanent on her face for this entire time. When she saw you coming out of surgery, I couldn't take that look away from her eyes, but you can. All you gotta do is come out of this all right. I'm not asking for me, Xander, far from, but I am asking for her, for your best friend."

Oz paused and was about to walk out, but he turned to glance at him, "Not that you can hear me any better now or anything, but... uh... Buffy needs you too and I know you need her. Couldn't do without the other, you know? Like I said, the last time we actually had a decent conversation, I know the feeling." He shook his head and chuckled softly, feeling strange talking to a sedated Xander, but he had to admit, as he walked out of the room, at least it enabled him to get a word in edgewise.

***

Buffy walked into the white hospital building and she couldn't believe that after all those hours she was coming back to where she had left. It was late and visiting hours had come and gone, but as she came to Xander's hospital room door she thought, *Hey, that's never stopped me before, so why should it stop me now?*

Gently opening and closing the door, she looked around the room and found a single bright lamp glowing beside the bed, providing the only light for the curtain-drawn room. Placing her Slayer Utility Bag down on the floor, she sat at the edge of the bed once more and entwined her fingers in that of his right.

"Xander," she began as she pushed a wisp of her blonde hair out of her eyes with her free hand. "Last night, was the first time, in a long time, that I was truly afraid. I wasn't afraid of him and I wasn't afraid of the future that he represented for me. What I was afraid of, what plagued me the entire time I knew you were on that operating table, was that whatever my future was going to be, you weren't going to be in it. I need you, Xander, I need you to be apart of my life again. I –I love you."

Bring! Bring!

The phone beside the bed shrilled and Buffy instantaneously grabbed it before it could ring any further. It was nearly 3 and she wondered who could possibly be calling at this ungodly hour.

"Hello?"

"It's time..."


Part Twenty-Nine: Death and Destiny

The room was engulfed in darkness as his conscious crept out of the black sea it had lay in for hours on end. Xander's weak, tired eyes opened groggily as the sedative faded slowly away and the pain of his beaten body came surging throughout him. He let out a loud cry as he immediately clutched his cast covered right leg.

"God! Somebody help me!" he screamed and a nurse and doctor immediately ran into the room.

"Calm down, Mr. Harris, calm down," the doctor said gently as the nurse handed her a filled syringe. She calmly punctured his skin with a quick thrust of a thin, silver needle, "There. You're going to be just fine..."

The tranquilizer was strong and its effects came even more quickly than the pain had. Xander's shuddering form fell back down against the bed and his eyes grew weary as the pain receded and before the black came to swallow him whole again, he turned to see a white envelope with his name written in familiar script -Buffy's.

***

The ivy-walled edifice looked ancient and worn beneath the moonlight and Buffy wondered what it had looked like in its prime. Xander had taken her to look at this mansion once when they walked by it during patrol, said something about it belonging to a Havisham who died a few decades ago. Now, years later, still prevailed by death, it stood representing age and decay.

The huge black gate creaked when she pushed it open and walked in, the gate slamming loudly behind her. As her shoes hit the concrete pavement she wondered if it was all a trick -if Druscilla, Spike, and Angelus would all be there to gang up on her – but she took a deep breath and realized that it would never be like that. Angelus would never _let_ it be like that. In his eyes, she was the ultimate killing prize, to be shared by no one and realizing this, Buffy's apprehension grew stronger.

***

"What do you think she's doing right now?" Cordelia asked glancing at Willow.

"I don't know... I'm not sure I want to know," she replied honestly as she looked up from her book, "I hope that whatever it is, it involves her staying alive."

"Yeah... me too."

The redhead looked at her in surprise, "Really?"

"What do you take me for, Willow? The Wicked Witch of the West?" Cordy asked and then paused, "On second thought, don't answer that."

She laughed, "No, of course I don't, it's just that, you've never really liked Buffy."

"Well, I don't," she said, "Sort of... at least, I don't want her to die. She's too important - not to me - but to Xander."

"You really do love him, don't you?"

"Yeah, he's the first guy I _really_ cared about. I mean, all the other guys, it was always that they had a car, money, or whatever, but with Xander it was different. He didn't have a car -he had his mom's car -and he didn't have money or a great fashion sense, but for some reason, that didn't matter."

"Are you still-"

Cordelia shook her head softly and smiled as she looked at the magazine on her lap, "No, the reality of Buffy and Xander kind of kicked in." She paused and then glanced at Willow, "But, right now, if the remote impossibility that he would fall in love with me were to occur? I'd stop lying to myself, and everyone else, that I wasn't."

Before Willow could reply, Giles entered the library, "You two should get home and get some sleep."

"Sleep, Giles?" Willow asked, "Not sleeping is why we came here. I couldn't sleep if I tried. On one hand, I'm worried about Xander and on the other hand, I'm worried about Buffy."

"Why is it that we let these two run rampant in our lives?" Cordelia asked returning to her usual demeanor, "Oh... right... I forgot they're our friends. You know, this part of the whole friendship thing, sucks!"

"Agreed," said Giles nodding, "But in consolation, you know that they'll do the same for you."

***

"Did you decide to come to play, Buffy?" Druscilla asked with her humanoid face.

"Hello, Druscilla," the slayer responded with a stake in hand, "Play... yup, that's the motive."

"Spike, Buffy's come to play," the feminine vampire said as the counterpart rolled into the room.

"But not with you, pet," he responded as he patted the hand that rested on the armrest of his chair.

She pulled her hand away and smiled as she approached the figure in the shadow, "Angelus, can't I have her instead?

"Over Angel's ashes, maybe," muttered Spike has he began rolling away with a sigh.

"Dru, go away," Buffy responded bluntly, "I kind of like to get this over with."

"Angel..."

"Dru, go away," he reiterated.

With an angry pout, she did as commanded.

"So, this is it," Buffy said as he walked out of the shadow he had been in, "The end."

"You mean, your end," he replied holding two swords in the air and tossing one at her, "Catch."

She grasp the sword's handle tightly and said, "We'll just see about that. Fair's fair, remember?"

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

The metals clashed loudly, the sound echoing in the large ruined room.

"I see you haven't lost your touch," he said.

Buffy instantly thought of a training session she had had with Angel a long time ago that dealt with her putting a sword to his neck and she responded, "And I see you haven't lost yours. Let's just hope that this time, beheading is into play."

"You know what?" he said as tried to jab her side and missed, "Let's just not."

She breathed heavily and remembered when last she heard those very words. Xander. The day before she died. Xander, who was lying in that hospital bed because of Angelus. Xander, who had saved her life and who she had shunned so many times. She broke his heart then as she broke his heart nearly a month ago, but in a month ago's time, she wasn't in control... Angelus was.

Newfound antagonism rose from her as she attacked Angelus and their swords clashed once again. Left... right... her arm swung the sword against his counter attack

"So how's your boy toy?" he asked snidely as he thrust his sword at her stomach and she jumped back onto a stone bench.

"Alive."

Angelus laughed, "Too bad, figured I left him for dead."

"Enough with the chitchat, she said angrily, "Let's get this over with."

"If you say so, lover," he responded and the tried to ram the sword near her heart.

Buffy moved out of the way and her left arm caught the blade, which seared the fabric of her shirt and the skin beneath. The red blood dripped from the wound and stained the white fabric.

He smelled the air and grin, "Ah, the smell of the sweetest of wines."

She gritted her teeth and tried to ignore the burning sensations that resonated from the deep wound. Taking a deep breath, she glanced at the sword with eyes glazed with hope and gripped its handle tightly.

CLANG. It began again. The tension was at a high and continued to mount with every passing second until suddenly it happened. First, the cold steel broke into the skin that survived centuries of torment and punctured -tore -the core of vampiric life, so that with a gasp, the demon, Angelus, began to lose his grip on the immortality long obtained.

His eyes widened as he slumped to the floor, and Buffy saw an almost pleading look in his eyes as she withdrew the metal edge from his chest. Time no longer moved. It was frozen and she with it. Standing with blade in hand, she looked deep into eyes that almost looked human -almost looked Angel. Pulling herself together, she swallowed hard and breathed heavily as she rose the glinting weaponry into the air.

With a soft whisper, "Ggood-bye," the sword fell and the silver steel ripped through the pallid throat. The ashes crashed onto the floor, and the cry of anguish begun seconds earlier, echoed throughout the room. As if proclaiming that evil's destiny was fulfilled.

Exhausted, heavyhearted, she fell to her knees and there was a crash as metal hit cement when she relinquished the damaging weapon from her grasp. Falling upon the last remnants of Angelus, the sword, which bound him to his ultimate death, was covered until there was almost a sheath of ash over it. He was gone. There was nothing left to it but that for all that had been, was not, and Angelus, Angel, and her Angel gone with it.

***

"She killed him... didn't know she had it in her," Spike said when he saw him crumble into dust.

"So, she dies," Dru said simply as she saw the sun beginning to rise up ahead, "When she least expects it, I will come and I will kill her."

He looked at her resilient expression and sighed before rolling away into the shadows of the archaic structure. Druscilla had always been in love with Angel and for those centuries in which it had only been she and he, she had never left that state of mind and heart. Sadly, he realized that it would always be that way, and that that love would mean his Druscilla's end, and therein laid his own fate.


Part Thirty: In Time and Pain

It had been almost two months since Xander had been out of the hospital and longer still that he had seen Buffy -talk to her... watch her smile and laugh... hold her... kiss her... School had long let out for the year and he had managed to pass his junior year with help from Willow, Oz, and Giles while in midst of his rehabilitation. As much as he wanted to see Buffy within that time, a part of him would not let go -could not let go -of the memories of that sad night so long ago that still struck a chord in his heart.

***

It had been so long since she had been in his arms -weeks since she had heard the beating of his heart. Weeks that had turned into months since she had held his hand, and all because of actions beyond her control. Just the thought of that immediate comprehension of those lost days, hours, minutes, seconds made her hurt. The vividness and the bitterness she had felt had yet to fade, and so she concluded that it could be nothing but the same for Xander.

***

"Angel's gone, Dru and Spike's practically gone underground," announced Oz with a sigh at the Bronze, although such words needn't much announcement, "It's safe to say that when its peaceful in Sunnydale, one has to worry."

"I know what you mean," Willow said glancing at her boyfriend, "It's like fear the silence."

"Speaking of silence..." Cordelia said rolling her eyes, "Xander and Buffy? Can those two get more silent?"

"Well, Cordelia, they kinda have a lot of issues to work out," Oz said, "Granted they're taking their precious time to get to it, but after all that Angelus stuff, can you blame them?"

"Let them have all the time they want, I personally don't care, but when it involves me having to put up with Depressed Boy, I tend to care."

"We -Giles included -have been like the sticky stuff in the middle of it all," Willow said.

"Switzerland."

Willow and Oz turned to the brunette with frowns, "What?"

"Switzerland. We should be Switzerland... y'know neutral territory?"

Oz replied, "Actually, Cordelia, Switzerland gave the Nazis usage of their train tracks and stuff. So it doesn't speak too well for their neutrality. Belgium's much better suited because the Germans violated their neutrality."

"Okay, then, Belgium... whatever... as long as I'm not stuck in the middle."

"_We're_ not stuck in the middle," Willow prompted.

Cordelia nodded sure, "Sure... Uh-oh, Depressive Boy at twelve o'clock."

"Hey, guys," Xander said with a mustered smile.

"Hey, how's your leg?" Cordelia said with tried cheerfulness.

He held up his wooden cane and said, "I can walk, but... uh... still in need of this wooden third for awhile longer."

"Um... hey, guys," a familiar voice said from behind them.

Xander looked up to meet Buffy's eyes and then quickly glanced away, "I better get going. See you around."

"But Xander you just-" Willow began, but he was already lost in the crowd of teenagers walking out the door.

"Guess I made an entrance, huh?" Buffy said with a sigh as she sat down in an empty chair.

"What are you doing here, Buffy? I thought you had to do some patrolling or some of your other slayer stuff, " Cordelia asked.

"Not that we're not glad that you're here," preempted the redhead.

The slayer smiled at her friend's attempt at reassurance, "I figured you all were here and I thought I might as well stop by for patrolling. Maybe catch a little fun."

Cordelia eyed her clothing, "Apparently with those pants and that jacket."

"I'm sure the Hellmouth really cares," she replied sardonically, "I better get gone, maybe I'll see you guys later or something."

"Or something," the brunette replied taking a sip of her soda, but the corners of her lips rose to a tiny smile.

"Funny... Cordelia... funny," Buffy replied with a light smile as she left the three teenagers to be alone once again.

***

The clocks struck midnight in the Harris home and Xander lay in his bed wide-awake. He couldn't sleep, as usual. He hadn't been able to sleep much even before the Angel incident. Sleep had been practically non-existent ever since the time he and Buffy broke up months ago.

Xander opened the drawer of his nightstand and held up a white envelope. Except for a few wrinkles, it was still in the same condition it had been when he first saw it in the hospital -unopened. He feared its contents, after all, what does one say to another just before they could possibly die?

He had been meaning to give it back to her and question her, but there never seemed to be a right time or moment. It didn't help much, either, that they hadn't uttered more than a few words to each other within all these months apart. Yet, seeing her today at the Bronze, looking into her eyes for that split second, his insomnia -his wonderment -seemed to intensify.

Grabbing his jacket and his cane, he placed the envelope in his pocket. Slowly, he crept down the stairs and made his way to the door. It was still early in patrol time and she was probably at her usual Friday cemetery. For some reason, this seemed just the right moment -the right time -he was looking for. He didn't know why or how, but just that he had to see her -talk to her. Xander hoped that if anything, she'd listen.

***

Buffy stood up with a sigh. Her watch read that it was nearly one and she hadn't seen any slaying action since a vamp had attacked her when it was ten.

"Go on, Love, call her name," Druscilla said as she slightly loosed her grip on his neck, "Call your precious slayer to help you."

Xander gritted his teeth, "Forget it."

The vampire tightened her grip on his neck and said, "Fine."

Druscilla stepped out from behind the foliage with Xander in tote, "Perhaps you shouldn't leave, just yet, Buffy."

The slayer turned around with stake in hand, "Druscilla, what do you... Xander..."

"Yes, Slayer, I have your little boyfriend."

Xander joked, "Tried to tell her that we broke up, but... uh... she didn't believe me."

She tightened the grip on his neck, "Shut up."

"Okay," he struggled.

"Let him go," Buffy said authoritatively.

"Not until I finish what I came here to do."

"And what's that?" the slayer asked as she cautiously moved towards her.

"To kill you, of course," Dru replied, "After all, you did kill Angelus... ruined our happy home. You and your bloody friends made a mess of everything. I was going to just come here to destroy you, but I saw him sneaking about, and well... couldn't miss the opportunity for bait and... an extra meal."

"Your fight is with me, not with Xander. Let him go," Buffy said.

"Not before I drain him first," she said with a sharp-toothed grin as she bared his neck, but carelessly loosened her death grip on his neck.

Xander seized the opportunity to free himself from her grasp, "Buffy, go."

He limped as best he could away while the slayer took advantage of Druscilla's surprise and kicked her in the stomach. The female vampire hit a nearby tree, but was immediately able to stand up.

Angrily and thoughtlessly, she lunged towards the slayer and then realized that in her enemy's hand grasped a stake. Before she could stop herself, or even think to stop, the sharp apex of the wooden weaponry was deep within the core of her black heart.

"Good-bye, Druscilla," Buffy said as the demon shattered to ashes.

The slayer exhaled deeply and wondered how it was that she had accomplished this so easily. How was it that this tormenter had come and gone so quickly? Before she could contemplate any further, she heard a tired, pained voice coming from behind her.

"Xander..." she said quickly turning around and seeing her former boyfriend trying to stand up, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, the rehab on my leg got pushed back a few months, but... uh... I think I'll live," he said with a pained smile.

Buffy returned with a light grin and helped him up, "Come on, let's get you home. Can you walk?"

"Yeah, just barely," he nodded and looked at her quietly for a moment as they began to walk out of the cemetery.

"What?" she asked.

He shook his head, "Nothing... just -thanks."

"No problem, all in the night's work for a slayer," she said.

"I would think you get some brownie points for the slaying Druscilla," he replied quickly.

"Don't think it quite works that way, Xander," Buffy said with a smile and paused as her grin widened, "Do you realize we're talking?"

"Well, what do you know? We are," he said with a soft chuckle, "Go figure, it takes me almost dying – again – for us to strike up a conversation. Go Hellmouth!"

"How did Dru get to you, anyway?" she asked, "I mean, why on earth were you out at one?"

"I was out for a midnight stroll. Couldn't exactly sleep and haven't been able to since..." he trailed and continued again, "Since awhile. Then, I figured, I might as well stop by your patrol and give you something I've been meaning to return."

They stopped walking as Xander pulled a white envelope from his coat pocket and handed it to her.

She looked at it for a moment and said, "It's the note I left you... before I went and killed Angelus. You never opened it... why?"

He took a deep breath and said, "I guess I didn't want to know what you would tell me moments before you could have possibly died. I wasn't sure I wanted to know and I wasn't sure I was ready to know, either."

She handed him back the envelope, "Open it."

"But I-"

"Please, just -just open it," she said.

Xander looked at the envelope and at her before he opened it. He pulled out the plain white paper and read the simple script aloud, "I love you."

He turned to look at her and she met his eyes with a smile, "Scary, huh?"

When he didn't answer her, she continued, "So, where do we stand, Xander?"

"I don't know," he replied shaking his head, "Buffy, I can't forget that day... I just can't. I want to, but it happened. Whatever the circumstances, the one thing that I was so scared of happening the entire time we were dating... happened."

"Xander, if I could change that, I would," she said, "But I can't, as much as you can't forget. I'm not asking you to forget what happened, but to just know that I didn't mean it to happen."

He looked at her and said, "I'm glad you're not asking me to forget because I'm not going to try to."

His response caused her steady glance to falter, "What do you mean?"

"I mean, I don't need to forget. Buffy, that night I had to leave you... leave a part of me... leave my heart behind. That was one of the hardest things I had to do and to find out that -again -the Hellmouth was responsible for it, it nearly drove me out of my mind. But there's one thing that doing that -hurting like that -made me realize. It made me realize that if ever I was so lucky enough to have the chance to love you again and have you love me, I'd take that chance in a heart beat. It made me realize that although the chance of hurting like that might happen, I wouldn't care. Pain or no pain, I love you Buffy." And with that, he kissed her.

***

From afar, Spike sat in his dark car watching the slayer and her white knight. True love had succeeded once again, but not all true love. In the midst of their rekindling, he had lost Druscilla – his love, his life. His life had crumbled when her form had shattered into ashes at the point of the slayer's stake. He would have attacked then and there, but he was still too weak to stand on his legs for very long.

As he sat looking at them, he was glad that he was not yet ready to battle the slayer –to avenge the death of Druscilla. After all, love deserved some time of peace because time makes things grow stronger –makes love grow stronger. So he would give them their time –their time of happiness and of love –only to destroy it when it would hurt the most. So that when he killed the slayer, there would be one that knew his pain –felt his pain –suffer in life as he was suffering.


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