Section 2: The Shoe

Part One

Xander Harris walked down the streets of Sunnydale alone. School started the next day. This year, no Jesse. This year, no Willow. It wasn’t like he was going to be friendless — Buffy was coming back from L.A., and there was always his new best friend. But it just wasn’t going to be the same.

The only real good news was that there hadn’t been any vampire activity since Buffy’d killed the Master and he himself had pounded the crap out of the skeleton. It turned out that had been the right thing to do, though at the time Xander had only been taking revenge for Willow. The intact skeleton could have been used to bring the Master back.

Xander would have appreciated vampire activity, actually. He’d wanted to stake a few; it might have helped him clear his anger and sadness away.

A car screeched to a halt beside him and a voice called out behind him. “Xander! Xander!” Xander kept walking, in no mood to deal with his self-appointed best friend right now. If she’d had any sensitivity she would have figured this out.

Footsteps behind him. He shouldn’t have expected any better. After a second she caught up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Xander?” He spun around and faced her.

“What do you want, Cordelia?”

She smiled cheerily. “Just wanted to see how you were, nimrod! You haven’t talked to me in a few days!” They said crisis could change a person, and it certainly had changed Cordelia Chase. She’d noticed the gap in Xander’s life with Buffy in L.A. and Willow dead, and had decided, who better than her to fill it? She’d dedicated her summer to learning Xander’s favorite activities, his habits, and into duplicating them in herself. She’d even spent four weeks in an intense computer training course! At one level Xander appreciated Cordelia’s effort — it proved that underneath that queen bitch of the universe exterior she had a soul. So he felt guilty dissuading her. But he also resented the effort; it was like she was trying to replace Willow. And no one could do that. No one.

“I’m sorry, Cordelia,” he said. “I just wanted to be alone. I’m kind of depressed right now, what with missing Willow and all. I’d like to be alone.”

“Oh! I understand. I miss her too.”

Xander couldn’t let that pass. “How could you?” he demanded. “Every time you saw her, you insulted her. Her clothes, her taste in men — NOTHING was ever good enough for you. So don’t say you miss her. You’re not Willow, Cordy. You’ll never be one-tenth the person she was.”

Anger flared on Cordelia’s face briefly, but then it was replaced with a matching sadness. “I know, Xander. I’m not trying to take her place. I wish I had —” She suddenly screamed as a vampire sprang out from behind a nearby tree.

Xander shoved Cordelia to one side and said, “Go!” and turned to face the charging demon.

“My car, Einstein,” she hissed. It made sense and they bolted, but the vampire caught up right as they threw open the front door. They began to struggle …

A hand reached for the vampire’s shoulder and threw it into the yard. Buffy! She nodded and leapt on the stunned bloodsucker, making short work of it when she broke off a tree branch and turned it into ashes.

Buffy smiled wistfully and rushed over to hug her friend. “Hi, Xander,” she said, “miss me?” Impulsively she kissed him on the nose. “Because I missed you.”

*                              *                              *

A week or so later. Vampire activity had begun again, but nothing really spectacular. The Anointed One was apparently taking it fairly slowly; the worst thing Buffy’d had to deal with so far was Colin’s second-in-command, who’d tried to kill Xander for ruining some kind of ritual. Buffy had killed him, though. Angry vampires could be so predictable sometimes.

Far more problematic for Xander were some of the little things. Cordy was apparently so dedicated to making certain that Xander wasn’t alone that she had actually volunteered to help the Slayerettes. Even more strangely, she was willing to ignore the gibes of her former friends to do it. A nice Cordelia was a very strange occurrence.

Even more unnerving to Xander was Buffy’s attitude. She seemed quite clingy and protective; when she’d killed the vamp threatening his life, she beat the holy hell out of him before finishing the job. If Xander didn’t know better, he would have guessed Buffy was in love with him. But that was ridiculous. She loved Angel.

He was walking down the hall towards chemistry class when a familiar figure rolled out of a nearby classroom.

Jenny Calendar. On the way to the hospital last spring she’d stopped breathing for a good six minutes. One more and it would have been irreversible, and as it was she’d completely lost the use of her legs. She was as chipper as ever as she called out, “Hey, Xander!”

“Hi, Ms. Calendar,” he said. He had an internal debate. He needed to confide in someone; Buffy wasn’t objective, despite Cordy’s effort he still didn’t feel close to her, and the very idea of confiding emotional problems in Rupert Giles nearly caused him to collapse in helpless laughter. “Um, do you have a free period now?” The computer teacher nodded. “Then could I talk with you?”

Ms. Calendar noted Xander’s serious expression — not like he smiled all that much, anymore — and said, “I think I can spare ten minutes. Why don’t we go back into my classroom?” She spun around and Xander followed her inside. She positioned herself behind her desk and he sat next to her.

“First off, how’s Cordelia doing in here?” Cordelia was taking one of the advanced computer courses Ms. Calendar taught.

“She has NO natural talent for computers whatsoever,” the teacher responded, “but she’s working really hard at compensating for that.” She intuited the reason Xander’d asked the question. “You’re wondering why she’s trying to make herself over into your best friend, aren’t you?” Xander nodded. “Well, she feels a lot of guilt, Xander. She blames herself for Willow’s death, and for my … condition. So she’s trying to compensate.”

“And … have you noticed Buffy’s behavior?” She shook her head, so Xander explained. Several CLOSE dances at the Bronze, the overprotectiveness, her initial reaction to seeing him.

“So you think she might be in love with you now?” Xander said yes. “Then why not ask her?”

“And make a fool of myself?”

“This has stopped you since when?” Xander laughed for what seemed like the first time in a LONG time. It felt good …

*                              *                              *

That night, in Sunnydale cemetery, Buffy waited for a rookie vampire named Stephan Korshak to pop from his grave. He was late and Buffy was bored. “Come on, Stephan, rise and shine. Some of us have trig homework waiting.”

A voice from behind her said, “Hey.” She jumped, gasped, and spun around to see Angel. “Is this a bad time?” he asked.

“Are you crazy?” She demanded. “You don’t just sneak up on people in a graveyard. You make noise when you walk. You stomp. Or yodel.”

“I heard you were on the hunt,” Angel said almost diffidently.

“I’m supposed to be, but … lazy bones here doesn’t wanna come out and play.”

“When you first wake up it’s a little disorienting. He’ll show.”

“Must be weird to have gone through that,” Buffy answered.

Almost nervously, the vampire answered, “It’s weird to go through. So, uh, you’re here alone?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“I just thought you’d have somebody with you. Xander or someone.”

Buffy’s face sank. “Oh, damn. I was hoping to break it to you myself.”

Angel said, “Break what?” as if desperately trying to stave off an unpleasant truth.

Buffy hopped down off the gravestone. “I never meant this to hurt you, you know.”

Angel put two and two together. “I thought you loved me. Him? He’s just a kid.”

Buffy sighed. “I did love you. I DO love you. And you’re right, he’s just a kid. And so am I. Besides —”

“I’m a vampire,” Angel said quietly.

“No! That’s not it. Not all of it. I trust you. But right now I can’t bring myself to love one of the creatures that killed Willow.”

Angel turned away, upset. “You know I would have given anything to prevent that. Even my life.”

“My brain knows. My heart has a lot of catching up to do.”

“So Xander’s the safe choice. The HUMAN choice.” He sounded quite bitter. “Have you told him?”

“Not yet. I’m —” Stephan sprang out at them, knocking Buffy into Angel and both to the ground. They rolled to their feet.

“Late, huh?” Buffy said. “No gold star for YOU, young man.” Stephan punched at Buffy ineffectually; she returned the favor, eventually sending him flying into another gravestone. She looked around desperately. “Where’s my stake? I KNOW I had a stake!”

Angel japed, “Maybe XANDER’S got your stake.” The rookie picked up a shovel and charged the two. Catching Angel on the side of the head, he laid him out and went after Buffy. Stephan swung and missed, then swung again. Buffy caught the shovel and wrenched it away from him, broke the handle and staked him with it.

Buffy continued the earlier conversation. “I’m still trying to work it out. Or at least I was until you came here and made my choice easier,” she snapped.

“No,” Angel said shaking his head. “That’s something I won’t do is make this easy. You may have stopped loving me, but I haven’t stopped loving you. I’ll see you around.” He stalked off. Buffy chased after him, only to be stopped in front of an open grave when he called back, “You can follow me, or you can examine that grave in front of you. I suggest you do your job, Slayer.” Buffy looked at it — and found the signs of the dragged body …

Part Two

Fire trucks and police cars surrounded the school. Buffy had just finished talking to the student partially responsible for his Frankenstein-monsterish brother, when Angel appeared behind her.

“I saw the fire. I figured you’d be here. Is everyone okay?” he asked.

Buffy said, “Yeah. We’re okay. Thanks for the concern.” He smiled at her and she briefly returned the smile. Then she looked through the crowd to find Xander — and saw him talking quietly with Cordelia.

Angel, noticing this sudden shift in attention, walked away.

Buffy made her way through the throng — on her way noticing Giles and Ms. Calendar having a conversation full of smirks and awkward moments — and caught the tail end of their discussion.

“— I really appreciate it. If there’s anything else I could ever do to help you, please tell me. Anything.”

Xander said, his face an equal mix of gratitude and exasperation, “I will, Cordy.”

“Maybe … you’ll need a ride somewhere?” She saw Buffy and said, “That applies to you too, Buffy. Anything you need.”

Buffy told her distractedly, “Thanks. Cordy. Xander, could we talk?” Cordelia read this for the dismissal it was and walked off, looking behind her hopefully a couple of times. Buffy led Xander around the corner to where there were fewer people and said, “You okay?”

“Yeah, Buff. Thanks —” She interrupted him by kissing him passionately. When she broke off he continued, “Whoa. And you?”

“Is that all you can say?”

“What? Wasn’t whoa enough? Because I’ve got to tell you, that was one spectacular kiss. Just —” She kissed him again, and this time he didn’t say anything.

“Okay, NOT the reaction I expected. What’s up? I thought this would be something you wanted. I KNEW it was something you wanted.” She put his arms around his neck. “Why isn’t it?”

He gently removed her arms and said. “It is. God, it is. But —”

She took a step back. “But what?”

“But you’re my only real friend left, Buff. I don’t want to ruin that. I don’t want ANYTHING to hurt you. Anything. Including me.”

“It won’t hurt, Xander. Do you think I’d ever do anything to hurt you either?”

“It’s not worth the risk, Buff. Not to me. Besides, what about —” he caught himself — “Angel?”

“He knows. He doesn’t like it much, but he knows. And I think he understands.”

“Well, when I do, Buff — I’ll let you know.” Buffy sighed in resignation and put an arm around Xander’s shoulder, and the two walked off.

Angel stepped out from the shadows in sheer disbelief. He’d REJECTED her? How could he? Bad enough to lose to the fool, now he won’t even take the prize? Anger flared up inside him.

*                              *                              *

Vampires had just stormed the teachers’ lounge, led by some blond guy who Cordelia guessed was Spike. Buffy, Buffy’s mom and Principal Snyder had run out of the lounge right away; Cordelia’d gotten out a bit slower than the rest and nearly tripped over two vampires sprawled out on the floor. She tried to run, but one of them grabbed her and she screamed.

Then she had an idea. “Behind you!” she yelled, and instinctively the vampire turned — long enough for her to smash it in the face, making it lose its grip. She turned and dashed to the relative safety of a broom closet, which she latched behind her, hoping that the vampire hadn’t seen her.

He had, and pulled on the door. Cordelia held on while frantically looking around for anything that could help her. She saw a broom. On the next hard pull, she suddenly released the latch and the vampire went flying across the hall to crash into the lockers. At the same time, Cordelia broke the broom over her knee and flattened herself against the wall. She prayed that her self-training had paid off, and as the demon poked his head around the corner thrust the makeshift stake with all her might. It connected with his heart and he turned to dust. Then she quietly reclosed the door and waited for Buffy to save the day.

*                              *                              *

Not knowing what his reaction would be, to him OR the situation, nonetheless Xander had volunteered to go find Angel. He found him out on the front lawn looking at a dead body. The vampire turned and glared at Xander angrily. Xander recoiled as Angel advanced on him, murder in his eyes. “Um, Angel?” he said. “Buffy? Spike? BIG trouble, lotsa people dying? Hopefully not including me?”

A little of the fire left Angel’s eyes and he nodded for a second. Then he grabbed Xander around the throat and said. “You rejected her. Just give me an excuse, little man. Just one.” Then he dragged Xander back towards the school. They went through the halls until they ran across Spike poking holes in the ceiling.

Spike called out, “Angelus!” Angel took a firmer grip of Xander’s neck and said the blonde vamp’s name in response. Then they hugged. It was all Xander could do to avoid vomiting.

“I taught you to always guard your perimeter. You should have someone out there.”

“I did. I’m surrounded by idiots. What’s new with you?” Spike answered.


“Yeah. Come up against this Slayer yet?”

“Yeah, I have. She’s kind of cute, but she has LOUSY taste in men.”

Spike gave him an odd look. “Oh, really, mate?” Angel laughed.

Xander couldn’t believe it. He’d been right all along! “You son of a bitch!” he screamed.

“I told you to just give me an excuse,” Angel told him. “You just did.” He picked Xander up and threw him against the wall as hard as he could. Everything went black …

*                              *                              *

Angel turned to Spike and said, “Care to join me?”

Spike said, “You seem not to like this boy very much, Angelus; mind if I ask why?”

“No,” he replied, “ask all you want.” He could smell Xander’s blood as he leaned over his prone form. His demon was telling him, “Do it! Do it!” He hadn’t fed off a human since he’d changed. The boy shook his head groggily and woke up, shrinking back instinctively at Angel’s vampire face.

“I should have known,” Xander told him. “No wonder Buffy doesn’t love you any more!”

Angel blanked out; when he came up his teeth were buried in Xander’s neck. In revulsion and horror he spat the blood out. His second mistake. From behind him Spike said, “Well, that tears it, mate; you’ve gone soft. I can’t believe it!” Angel got up and Spike punched him in the face. He returned the blow, in his anger slamming his offspring into the nearest wall. Then he grabbed the boy’s body and ran down the hall.

*                              *                              *

The fighting over, Xander looked at Angel with an expression of pure hatred. “Don’t give me that bullshit about you trying to fake out Spike. You BIT me!” Buffy, talking to her mother, broke off and walked over.

“Hi, guys — Xander! What happened?” she asked with great concern on seeing Xander’s neck. Then, seeing the naked hatred in his face directed at Angel, she turned to him. “No! You didn’t …” Angel could only nod in response and Buffy punched him in the face. Then she hit him again, and he just stood there and took it. She hissed at him, “I don’t know why you did that, I don’t know how. But if I EVER see you again play anything but cryptic boy — or if I EVER see you within 100 feet of Xander — I’ll stake you myself. Got it?”

Angel said yes and slowly headed out into the darkness.

*                              *                              *

Buffy had been heartbroken at Xander’s attraction to Ampata, even though she hadn’t shown it much. She told herself that the joy felt was just a natural reaction to Slaying another monster. A life-sucking mummy, well, could ruin your whole day.

But there was more, and she knew it. She was thrilled at getting rid of her rival — and terrified at the prospect of almost losing Xander both to another woman and to death. She couldn’t let that happen. He was all she had.

She saw him standing on the colonnade and rushed up to join him. “Hey, Xander!” He turned.

“Hey, Buff. Not in much of a mood to talk at the moment, sorry. Just thinking about the lousy luck I have with women.”

Much as it hurt her to say it, Buffy had to tell the truth. “Ampata wasn’t evil. At least not to begin with, and I do think she cared about you.”

“Yeah, Buff, but the entire relationship was just — what’s the word? sulbimation?”

“Wow, look at the big man with the big words.”

“I’m serious here. I was funneling my desire for someone else into my lust for her.”

“Really?” Buffy said hopefully.

“Yes. It made me realize … I’m ready, now.”

“Ready for what?” she said innocently. She wanted to hear him say it.

“For you, Buff. I’m ready for you.” Then he kissed her, and neither of them broke it off for quite a long time …

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