Section 3: The Horse

Part Three

Angel sat at the Bronze, brooding even more strongly than he normally did. He rarely came here much any more — not since he’d totally mucked up his, Buffy’s, and Xander’s lives with that STUPID attack on Xander a few weeks back.

He’d barely seen her since. Twice he saw her fighting vampires and just watched, on the off-chance she might need help. She didn’t. Once he’d talked to Giles, telling him of rumors of a monster of some sort up at a local college. Giles had nodded brusquely, thanked him, and invited him to leave. On the way out he ran into Jenny Calendar, who’d given him a sad, knowing look as she wheeled into the library.

When nothing happened, Angel eventually went up there, got himself invited in, and killed the creature himself. He’d considered dumping its body on Giles’ desk to prove his point, but ultimately rejected that as being counterproductive.

“Angel!” a voice called from behind him. He turned. It was Cordelia.

“I’m surprised you’re talking to me, Cordelia. No one else seems to want to.”

“Self-pitying much?” Cordelia demanded. “Look, I don’t know what you did to piss Xander and Buffy off —” Angel was surprised that they hadn’t told her — “But I do know you’re not tops on their list of favorite people right now. So you might want to take off; they’re coming as soon as Buffy’s finished her patrolling for the night.”

Gratefully, Angel said, “Thanks,” and started to fade into the darkness. Cordelia suddenly grabbed his arm.

“Look, tall, dark and brooding, you’ve been too much help for them to dump on you forever.”

He shook his head sadly and said, “You have NO idea …” and faded.

*                              *                              *

Xander had just been forced to sign up to take the kids of Sunnydale around for trick-or-treating by the world’s worst human being impersonator, Principal Snyder, when another of his least favorite people tapped his shoulder.

“Harris!” Larry said.

Xander answered, “Hey, Lar. You’re lookin’ Cro-Mag as usual. What can I do you for?

“You and Buffy, you’re just friends, right?”

“You been living in a cave? Oh, that’s right, you probably have. We’ve been dating for weeks now.”

Larry said incredulously, “You? She’s dating you when she could have a stud like me? Why?”

“Oh, good taste, intelligence, 20/20 vision — I can think of a number of reasons.”

Grabbing Xander by his shirt collar, Larry said, “Was that an insult, Harris?”

“You have to ask, Lar, you’ll never know.” Apparently deciding it wasn’t worth the effort, he threw Xander into the soda machine and walked off. Buffy noticed and rushed over, but Xander said, “Naah, Buff. He’s not worth the effort.”

“He tries to hurt YOU, he’s worth the effort,” she replied, pulling him to his feet.

*                              *                              *

Cordelia looked around in horror. All about her, children — and their escorts — were turning into monsters, demons, or whatever their costumes were. She’d been escorting Xander with his group, and they’d just passed Buffy with hers. As they switched over he’d given Buffy a quick kiss. Something flared inside her. Jealousy? No. It couldn’t be that. Xander was her friend, nothing more. A thought struck her. Good God! Was she going to become a cat? She looked HORRIBLE in fur!

She’d been walking from Buffy to Xander when it happened. She dodged one little demon and ran to Xander. He was stalking around like a soldier … carrying a REAL rifle! She tapped him on the shoulder. “Xander … ?”

He spun around in place, levelling the gun at her. She jumped back, saying, “Xander, it’s me! Cordelia?”

“Don’t EVER do that to a man in uniform,” he sanpped. “And who’s this Xander person?”

“You?” A little werewolf jumped at Xander, who swung his rifle butt and knocked him across the yard. Cordelia thought that was very well done. Xander also looked kind of cute in his uniform … she shook that off. The spell must be having some effect on her too …

“Nope, never heard of him. Look, you better lay low. There’s trouble everywhere. Too dangerous for civilians.” He started to walk off when her heard a scream. “I’m needed.” Cordelia looked across and saw Buffy across the street in her really skimpy outfit. (Apparently Xander’d said something about wanting to see Buffy in Spandex, and she’d happily obliged — not being able to find Spandex, exactly — with a cheerleader outfit with a REALLY short skirt they’d found in the back of that costume shop — Ethan’s, wasn’t it?) Buffy was screaming, and in a really bad valley girl accent said, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Get ’em away!”

Xander fired at the demons around Buffy and they dispersed on the loud noise. As he walked up, she said, “What the heck were they? Ewww, they almost got drool on my uniform! This is like, SO not fun it’s not funny!”

Well, great! Xander thought he was Sgt. Rock and Buffy had the brains of a canary! SHE was the smart one. She was in charge. She had to make sure they were safe.

A chill ran through her, and for the life of her she couldn’t figure out where from. She had to protect them. If anything happened to Xander — or Buffy — she’d never forgive herself.

No more Willows. Ever.

As chaotic as things were — there were only two places of safety. At the Library, with Giles; and wherever Angel was. Cordelia called to Xander, who was taking potshots and keeping the demons at bay.

“Come on, soldier-boy,” she said. “We’ve got an, um, new objective. We’ve got to get the civilian to safety. There’s a library across town.” Sgt. Xander looked skeptical. “It’s a special bunker. We’ll all be safe there.” And maybe on the way they’d run across Angel.

Xander took point and Cordelia directed him from behind, herding Valley Girl Buffy in between them. She looked around nervously as they made their way down the chaotic Sunnydale streets. She glared at a giant frog that approached, and it slowly hopped off with a mournful “ribbit.” She whirled back at the sound of gunfire. Xander was shooting at a Bigfoot. She recoiled and Buffy fainted.

The Sasquatch went down as Xander shot it in both knees expertly. Turning around, he saw Buffy on the ground. “A war zone is no place for civilians,” he said.

“She’s not a civilian,” Cordelia said as Buffy got up. “She’s your girlfriend.”

“Like hell I’d have a girlfriend wouldn’t be of use in a crisis,” he said. He looked up. “Uh-oh. More trouble.” More trouble was right. A horde of the childlike demons was rushing them, too many to shoot. Xander raised his rifle and clubbed a few of them, but there were too many. Frantically Cordelia punched and kicked, knocking out a few — but soon they were overwhelmed. They went down …

An arm pulled first Xander and then Cordelia from the carnage. Angel! “Good to see you,” Cordelia told him.

“Don’t talk. Run.” They sprinted away, down a few alleys, and eventually lost the crowd of demons. “Well, you’re safe. See you later.”

“Wait!” Cordelia said. On his questioning look, he said, “It’s some kind of spell. People are becoming their costumes! Xander’s a soldier, and Buffy’s a dumb cheerleader. She can’t Slay! You have to help us.”

“I have to help you,” he parrotted. “Why?”

“Because it’s who you are, you idiot!” Cordelia screamed at him. “You’re a good guy. You save people. Now I don’t CARE whatever the hell it is you did to piss off Xander and Buffy, or what they’ve done to make you go feeling all sorry for yourself, but it doesn’t matter! Get over it!” Cordelia took a deep breath. First time she’d cussed someone out like this in a long time. GOD, it felt good …

He shook his head. “You’re right, Cordelia. I need to — hold on. You said Buffy’d become a cheerleader.” She looked around in shock. Buffy was nowhere to be seen …

Decision making time. “Take Xander here and go find her. Don’t let anything happen to either of them. Got it?”

“And you’re going where?”

“To find Giles.”

*                              *                              *

Angel and Xander had eventually found Buffy, cowering in an alley. Unfortunately, then Spike and his allies found them —

And before Angel could stop him, Xander had quite calmly drilled three of the child-demons through the head. Angel grabbed the rifle away, bent it into a u-curve, and said, “What are you doing? Those are kids under there! You’ve just killed children!”

*                              *                              *

When Cordelia found Giles in the library it was a matter of only a few minutes before they puzzled out that all the trouble had come from costumes purchased at Ethan’s.

Eventually it all ended, with Cordelia in the front room of Ethan’s shop waiting for Giles. All over town people stopped being their costumes. Buffy woke up in time enough to drive Spike off, and everything was back to normal.


The next day, with Buffy stuck in class, Cordelia and Xander talked quietly in the library, anguish on both their faces. Giles walked in in the middle of the conversation.

“I killed someone, Cordy,” Xander said. “I killed children. How can Buffy look at me now?”

“You? Me! I should have told you not to kill the kids, but it NEVER crossed my mind. I just assumed —”

“All right, you two,” Giles said, “Knock it off. Xander, YOU had no control of your actions whatsoever. You did exactly what any soldier would have done under the circumstances. Frankly, I’m glad the casualties were so low. And you, Cordelia — you protected Buffy and Xander until you found Angel, you convinced him to help you, AND you got to me in time to reverse the spell. Certainly, you could have done better. But under the circumstances, you performed splendidly. Think about it. Without you, Cordelia, Buffy dies and the town burns.”

“And all we had to do was trade the lives of three children,” Xander said. “No, G-Man, I understand. It’s just not going to be easy to live with.” He walked out.

Cordelia rose to follow, saying quietly. “Thank you. I just wish to hell I could have done more.” she paused. “I just know Willow would have thought of it. It’s not easy trying to live up to that legacy.”

She left before Giles could ask the logical next question.

Part Four

Angel walked through the park when he heard a voice he’d prayed he’d never hear again. He rushed to find the source — and saw her moving towards a small child perched on jungle gym. He walked up and stepped between the boy and the voice. “Run home,” he sternly told him, and the boy did so.

It was Drusilla. She called out, “My Angel!”

He answered, “Hello, Drusilla.” She walked up to him.

“Do you remember the song mummy used to sing me? Pretty.”

“I remember, Drusilla,” he said irritatedly.

“Yes, you do,” she answered. “Angel? I feel a disturbance in your mind. It’s all twisted and, oooohh! nice and dark. I like it this way.”

Angel said, “Drusilla, you’ve got one chance. Take Spike and get out. I won’t tell you again.”

Drusilla answered, “Or you’ll hurt me?” She paused. “Why, yes, Daddy, I believe you would. This frightens me.” She grinned. “And it excites me too. Oh, come back to us, Daddy, do. She’ll never love you again, you know. She’s all knightlike now.” She grabbed his hand and leaned up as if to kiss him.

He pushed her away and knocked her to the ground. His demon rose, unbidden. “I said NO, Drusilla. You’ve got your chance. Don’t blow it.”

Drusilla grinned as she got up. “She’s gotten to you, Angel. Oh, I see all kinds of happy things in our future. Together. Oh, together —” she walked off and Angel watched her go.

He heard a thump from behind him. Something fell off the roof! He ran up —

And got slammed back into a tree. Buffy. Just who he didn’t want to see, especially right after Drusilla. “Moving pretty fast, aren’t you?”

“Right. That was my idea of foreplay,” he sneered. “Look, what do you want?”

“That was a vampire. Why’d you let her get away?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, really, but I owed her. She’s one of MY offspring.” He shook his head sadly. “And I felt sorry for her, okay? Don’t worry, Buffy. I gave her one chance to get out of town and take her boyfriend with her. I see her again, I’ll kill her.” He looked in amazement at the slightly disbeliveing look on Buffy’s face. “What, did you think I’d switch sides? I’m still one of the good guys.”

“Yeah. Tell that to Xander.”

“THAT was uncalled for.”

“No, it was very called for.” She paused. “Just not nice. Look, Angel, I wish it didn’t have to be like this.”

“It will as long as you’re dating the boy.” She flared angrily. “No. That WAS uncalled for. I’m trying to be mature. I screwed up badly when I bit Xander. No matter how jealous I was, he didn’t deserve it. I’m just going to have to accept that you don’t love me and move on.”

“How many times can I say I’m sorry for that?”

With trepidation, he leaned over and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. “You’ve said it enough already. I’ll be around when you need me.” He slowly walked off into the darkness and Buffy watched him go.

And, up on the rooftop, Xander watched the scene. What the HELL was going on here?

*                              *                              *

They’d walked back to his house in relative silence. Xander’d come along because he desperately wanted to use the soldiering skills he seemed to have acquired for a good cause. He didn’t have a real rifle, so he carried a small staff. But they hadn’t run across any vampires.

Well, until ANGEL. Xander could — barely — understand why Buffy still needed to talk to him. He DID know the weird stuff that was going on in town. But letting him kiss her, even on the cheek?

He brooded about it all through history class. Cordelia tried to ask him what was wrong, but he wasn’t ready to share it with her quite yet. Some things he could talk about with her, and he was grateful to have the outlet. It still unnerved him to have her be so damn nice, though — which is why there were some things he couldn’t share.

And, truth be told, he was still suffering from the memory of having killed three children. That would stay with him FOREVER. None of these things were exactly conspiring to lighten his mood.

The only good thing he’d seen so far today was Giles and Ms. Calendar making a date. Nice to know some people still had normal social lives. Also nice to see that Ms. Calendar’s condition wasn’t interfering with her life. She was as upbeat and cheerful as ever.

And he’d LOVED it when he watched her back down Snyder over the issue of how she was supposed to reach the second floor. Eventually they’d had to install a chair lift.

“So, Buff,” he said in tone full of mock cheer as the three of them left class, “What was that between you and Deadboy last night? Thought we weren’t getting friendly with the ex since he tried to rip my head off.”

“You saw that, huh?” Xander nodded. “Sorry. I didn’t want you to.”

“Obviously not,” he said sarcastically.

Cordelia grabbed both their hands and said, “Come on! Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad!” They glared at her in unison. “Right,” she muttered. “Exit, Cordelia, stage left.” She walked down the hall.

“That’s not what I meant,” she said. “I didn’t want you to see it because I knew you’d misinterpret it. I think Angel was finally bidding me goodbye.”

“And he was kissing you because —” They went into the lounge and sat down in the far corner.

“Xander!” she said with a flash of irritation. “Trust me.”

“I do, Buff,” he said, not entirely believing his words. “But I will NEVER trust him.”

“Hope you’re not talking about me, Summers,” a voice came from behind Buffy.

She squealed — squealed? in delight and turned around. “Ford! What are you doing here?”

What, indeed.

*                              *                              *

Cordelia heard the doorbell ring. She went downstairs and looked through the peephole, then suppressed a rush of excitement. Xander! He’d NEVER come to her house before. The excitement subsided. If he was here, it had to be serious. She opened the door and said, “Xander! Hi!”

He walked in with a distracted air. “Hi, Cordelia. Look, I need a favor. You’ve been really working on your computer skills, right?”

She nodded, and before she could stop herself said, “Gee, nice of you to FINALLY notice, blind boy.” Shutting her mouth, she nervously awaited his answer.

Surprisingly, relievingly, he grinned with genuine humor. “Now THERE’S the Cordy we’ve come to know and loathe. Where have you been the past six months?” The grin faded. “I need you to use those burgeoning skills of yours to do some research for me. I want you to look up this guy Ford. I don’t trust him.”

“You got it, jealous boy.” They walked up to her room. “Of course, you do realize I’ll need more to go on than just the word “Ford,” unless you’re REALLY interested in thousands of websites about pickup trucks.”

“Naah. Not my style,” he said half-heartedly. Cordelia winced. He was still beating himself up over those three children. She hoped he’d get over it soon, for her sake — his sake.

Yeah, like she was an expert on getting over things.

Xander continued, “His real name is Billy Fordham and he went to Hemery last semester. He’s transferring here because his dad got transferred.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” For the next 20 minutes she typed furiously, swearing to herself a couple of times. Xander had paced and, every two or three minutes, asked her if there was any progress, and gor more and more annoyed when she shook her head. Finally he tapped her on the shoulder.

“What have you come up with?” He was NOT in a good mood.

“No proof his father’s been transferred. No Fordham listed anywhere in Sunnydale, in fact. No proof he’s registered at Sunnydale. He is registered as belonging to a local club, though, called the Sunset Club.”

“That’s odd, but — can’t you look up the school records?” He said it plainly, simply, almost patronizingly.

“You WANT me to get arrested?” she said, continuing to type. “Those are protected files. No access for losers like us. Got it?

“And hacking into the system is out because …”

“I’m not nearly that good. I’d be caught in a cold minute. Here, let me try the Hemery site … I’m not Willow, you know.”

Xander exploded. “Coulda fooled me, Cordy. The way you’ve tried to be friends with me and Buffy. The way you keep pushing into our lives. The way you’ve tried to become a Slayer’s little helper. The way you’ve become Little Miss Computer Genius. ALL just like Willow.”

Cordelia looked up, tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Xander. I’m just —”

“And another thing. Quit it! Quit being so nice! It’s not like you!”

Incredulously, Cordelia asked, “You prefer the nasty, selfish, shallow bitch I used to be? The butt of all your jokes, poor stupid clueless Cordy? I’m NOT going back there, Xander. I can’t.” She clicked the mouse a few times. How could he SAY this to her, after all she’d done? The friendship, the companionship … she felt her heart begin to break.

Xander took a deep breath. “Are you, or are you not, trying to replace Willow?”

“Are,” she said. “And obviously doing a poor job. Now, don’t go conclusion-jumping, there; I could never replace Willow in your heart. It was the gap in your life I was trying to fill. You were so sad, and it was MY fault. I owed it to you.”

“You owed me?” Xander said. Bringing his emotions under control, he said semi-apologetically, “ I understand. But you know something, Cordy? I MUCH prefer the real you to the fake Willow.”

She sighed. “Okay, Xander. I’ll try. But I’ve been doing this for so long I don’t know how much of the real me is left. Hello —”


“Here’s the most recent issue of the Hemery Courier. Look at the article in the corner …”

Xander read, “In a surprise move, Senior Class valedictorian candidate Billy Fordham suddenly dropped out of school. Well,” turning to Cordelia, “That’s enough for me. Want to check out that club with me?”

Gratefully, she said, “It’s a date.” He gave her an odd look and she was unaccountably a lot more depressed …

*                              *                              *

Three days after they recovered Ford’s body, Giles and Buffy went to Ford’s grave. She laid a small bouquet of roses on it.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say,” she told Giles.

“You needn’t say anything,” he said sympathetically.

“I mean, it’s not like I don’t have experience with this kind of thing.”

“What kind is that?” he asked, puzzled.

“Shades of gray.” They exchanged a look. “ I mean, look at Angel. He loves me, yet he attacked Xander, but he also saved Xander from Spike, but he let an evil vampire go free because he felt sorry for her.” She paused. “These last two days have taught me this much. There are no good guys or bad guys. Just —”

“Shades of gray?”

“Yeah.” Ford popped up from his grave and Buffy killed him effortlessly. Giles and Buffy began to walk off.

“Buffy, you are FAR too young to be so cynical.”

“Yeah, well. Not like I don’t have good cause, right?”

“No, um … I suppose not.” They walked away in silence.

Part Five

The day after she’d staked Ford, she and Xander got a chance to talk for the first time in a few days. Their conversations had been short and awkward; Xander was clearly majorly ticked at both her friendliness towards Angel and that she hadn’t trusted him when he was suspicious of Ford. True, he was jealous of ANY man, except possibly Giles, that looked at Buffy crosseyed or touched her, but then, she felt the same way about him.

That’s why she didn’t trust Cordelia, entirely, despite the help the former bitch had been. She was spending entirely too much time with Xander. Xander go for Cordelia? Please! He’d probably sooner go for Drusilla. But still —

Cordy’d been trying to fill Willow’s place in the Slayerettes. She was a competent computer user, now, knew how to use a cross and holy water, had largely gotten over the ick factor — though she still didn’t like blood on her clothes — and was willing to do research or whatever. She was also making a genuine effort to befriend Buffy, too.

But Willow’d been in love with Xander. Now HER Xander. Might Cordy also fall in love with him? She couldn’t let that happen. It might hurt him. And that wasn’t going to happen while she was around.

So, finally, she invited him along for a patrol and he said yes. With Cordy at cheerleading practice — and Giles and Ms. Calendar’s relationship in overdrive — she knew they’d be alone. He brought that weighted club, pointed at both ends, he’d been using recently.

They sat down on a wall in the cemetery.

“Um, listen —” they both said at the same time, then nervously laughed. Xander bowed and indicated that Buffy could go.

“I’ve been acting like a fool, Xander. Here I’ve been running around all pissed because I thought you were sneaking around behind my back when all you were trying to do was protect me. You were looking out for me, trying to be my white knight.”

“I’m still sorry, Buff. I should let you have some space —”

“No. I think it’s sweet.” She kissed him briefly. “I like to feel safe and protected. I haven’t exactly had a run on that feeling for the last few months.”

“Remember what you said to Larry? That if he tried to hurt me he was worth the effort?” Buffy nodded. “Well, anyone who tries to hurt you is worth the effort too.” He kissed her. “ANYONE.”

“So, it’s not true, those rumors about you and Cordy?” She teased.

He snorted. “Me and Cordy? Naah. Never gonna happen. Besides, she doesn’t feel that way about me.”

“Well, the way the two of you —” Xander’s judgment on whether people were attracted to him wasn’t known for its accuracy.

“Protective much?” He answered, in a not-bad-for-a-falsetto take on Cordelia’s voice. “We’ve just been talking, is all. She’s changed, Buff; give her a chance. So,” he said, spinning his club, “We gonna make like the Dynamic Duo, or not?” He struck a mock-heroic pose.

She giggled and joined him. “To the vampirecave, Boy Wonder!”

“After you, Dark Knight.”

*                              *                              *

Two days later, Giles hustled across the school grounds in an even more befuddled manner than usual. He muttered something to Buffy, who trailed him inside to the library, followed by Xander and Cordelia. He’d had difficulty getting used to THAT change, himself — he missed Willow’s warmth, intelligence and wit — but she was proving to be a quite adequate helper in the Slaying process. Once there, they briefly discussed the big plans vampires would have that night — at the hospital, as a new shipment of blood was due.

He was pleased to see that Buffy’s chipper attitude was, if not totally restored, at least well on the road to recovery. Xander also seemed a bit cheerier than he’d been in the past couple of weeks, ever since — well, Halloween. Giles vowed yet again to beat Ethan Rayne to a bloody pulp for reducing Xander to such a state of depression.

In the midst of the banter, Jenny rolled in. “Morning, England,” she began.

“Hello, Ms., uh, Jenny.”

“I think we’re intruding,” Cordelia said with a grin on her face, but no move to leave. Jenny glared at her, and Giles joined the glare. “What?” the cheerleader answered. “I SAID we were intruding.”

“You going to join me tomorrow, Cordelia?” Jenny asked her.

“You know it.”

On Xander’s puzzled expression, Jenny continued, “I’m reviewing some of my material for students who’ve fallen behind. Cordelia is far from behind, but still wants the review.”

“School on Saturday! I feel for those doofs.” Jenny looked at him patiently. The boy continued, “Doofs, of course, of which I am one. When’s the class?”

“Nine A.M.”

“I’ll be there with bells on.”

Cordelia said, “And my camera’s busted, too …”

Jenny smiled and turned to him. “Walk me to class?”

“A pleasure,” he answered. As they walked — him graciously pushing, thus saving her batteries’ power — she thanked him for a book and then teased him mercilessly about having damaged it. He fell for it, too. Damn the woman! Then they made plans to — um — stay in over the weekend …

They got to the chair lift and, try as he might, he couldn’t repress a smile. His life, at least, was going smoothly — even if no one else’s seemed to be.

Then he walked back into the library and found the two homicide detectives …

*                              *                              *

Angel walked briskly towards the hospital. Tonight was the night it received a new shipment of blood, and a few vampires ALWAYS tried to take advantage of the opportunity.

He rounded the corner … and saw Buffy fighting a quartet of vampires. She could handle it, he decided, and probably wasn’t much in the mood for his company anyway. So he turned to leave — and saw a horrifying sight out of the corner of his eye. One of the vampires had snuck up on her from behind and clouted her in the back of the head. She fell — and they bent down.

Blindly he charged forward. “Buffy!” he screamed as she went down. He jumped onto the hood of the car, leapt off, and clobbered one of them. Reaching down for Buffy’s stake, he turned another to ashes — and then killed the one he’d knocked down. The other two had had enough, and ran off.

Angel looked at Buffy. Thank God! She hadn’t been bitten, and the head injury didn’t seem serious. She stirred. “Buffy? You okay?” he asked.

Woozily, she said, “Xander! I knew you’d protect me …” His heart sank, though he really shouldn’t have expected any other reaction from her. Now fully awake, she said, “Oh! Angel!” She seemed a little embarrassed. “What happened?”

He explained the situation. She said, “Thanks a lot. I really appreciate the help. You’re a good ally.” Ally? “Make sure the hospital gets the rest of this, okay?” His eyebrows rose and she flushed again, attractively. Rising to her feet, she cursed out Giles for being late and turned to go find him. Angel followed her. “Did you want something?” she asked.

“Yes. This really isn’t my business, but it’s something I’ve noticed. I overheard your conversation with Xander in the cemetery the other night —”

She stopped and flattened him against the wall. “And you were pulling a Nixon why?”

“Just trying to — protect you,” he said, savoring the irony. “And right now I noticed the same thing. You and Xander were talking in terms of protecting each other, watching each other. Never once did I hear the word, love.”

Buffy muttered angrily, “Just when I think you’ve turned it around — I don’t have time for this,” and stalked off. “DON’T follow me,” she said behind her.

“Wouldn’t think of it,” he said as she left. But he DID watch her for as long as he could …

*                              *                              *

The next day Jenny Calendar entered her classroom, followed by Xander and Cordelia, to set up for her review class. All the way over Cordelia’d rimmed Xander for not wearing the bells he’d promised. She’d just begun preparing when Buffy burst in and asked — well, no, demanded was the better term — to talk to her. When she found out Rupert wasn’t well — and that he’d been drinking, ALONE, last night — she got over her irritation quickly. Rupert getting drunk? It MUST be serious.

Unfortunately, no one in the room could help Buffy with a cause. None of them had seen Rupert since the previous day. Still puzzled and annoyed, the young Slayer raced off down to the library to call him.

The three exchanged looks and followed her down after switching off the computers and posting a note on the door. On the way down, they heard a crash and redoubled their speed. They threw open the doors — and an unpleasant-looking man ran towards them.

Buffy, fighting someone else, yelled, “Don’t let him get away!” Xander tried to pin him against the counter, but he evaded the boy and made for the door.

Cordelia said, coldly, “You!” and punched him in the jaw as he tried to squirm past. He collapsed to the floor, where she kicked him again. Jenny was shocked. Obviously the cheerleader had met this man before, and was NOT fond of him. Actually, if the look on Cordelia’s face was any indication, she wanted the man dead. PAINFULLY dead. Let’s-stake-him-to-an-anthill-and-cover-him-in-honey dead.

Buffy, meanwhile, tricked her opponent into the supply cage and locked the door. She then dragged the groaning man on the floor into a chair and they all sat around and glared at each other.

Jenny wheeled closer to the man in the cage. That was odd … he seemed to be DEAD! She told everyone as much.

Rupert burst into the room. “Is everyone all right?” Nods and assent all around.

Xander added, “Deadguy in the cage interrupted our tutorial.” He walked over to the cage and faced him. “Been meaning to thank you for that.” The man jumped at him, and Xander recoiled. Rupert went over and scrutinized the man carefully.

“It can’t be,” he gasped.

The man in the chair responded, “Yes, it can. Hello, Ripper.”

“I thought I told you to leave town.”

“You did. I didn’t. Shop’s lease is paid ’til the end of the month.”

Cordelia walked over to Rupert. “I told you we should have burned the place to the ground with him in it.” Heavens above, she was vindictive! WHAT precisely had this man done?

“I may yet,” Rupert said angrily. Then he grabbed the man by the back of the neck and dragged him from the chair. “You should have left when I told you,” he said with a tone in his voice that, quite frankly, frightened her.

They exchanged a few more insults, and Buffy demanded to know what was going on. Then the man in the cage forced the door open wildly … it smashed into her left hand, resting on the front of her wheelchair. She shook it — didn’t seem broken, though by all rights it should have been.

Buffy positioned herself between the dead man and the man Rupert hated. The man edged around the room and tried to reach the door. Cordelia noticed, and with flared eyes blocked his egress. Buffy kicked the zombie and smashed him up against the cage. He got up and went for Buffy — but never got there. He collapsed into a pool of slime.

Xander gaped. The slime began oozing around the room, slowly. “Back!” Rupert said, as he came over and pushed Jenny to the far side of the room. “Don’t let it touch you!”

“Relax, Ripper,” the man said wearily. “It can only take over a sleeping or unconscious person. It could crawl over you for hours and it wouldn’t be anything more than disgusting.”

“Save the aid, Ethan,” Rupert snarled. “Now, it seems our problems are twofold. What to do with Eyghon, and what do to with YOU.”

Cordelia said, “Why not just stick him in a jar?”

Rupert said, “Eyghon won’t cooperate.”

“I wasn’t thinking of Eyghon,” Cordelia said grimly.

Buffy brightened. “No, but it’s a good idea anyway.” She hurried out the library doors and raced down the hall. Sounds of a door smashing could be heard, and Buffy came back in …

… with a WETVAC! She plugged it in and vacuumed up every last drop of the erstwhile demon. “Now,” she continued, “I suggest we put this in a trunk, wrap the trunk with chains, dip it in concrete, and dump it somewhere out in the Pacific.”

“He’ll get out eventually,” Ethan said.

Xander piped up, “Yeah, but probably not for hundreds or thousands of years.”

Rupert said, “Jenny …?”

Jenny responded, “I can’t come up with anything better. It’s not perfect, but it’s probably the best we can do.”

“As for YOU,” Cordelia said to Ethan, “I have a perfect idea what to do with you. Xander —” he turned to look at her. “This is the bastard who cast that spell Halloween night.”

Xander’s face became cold and furious. “Buffy,” he said, “block the door.” Buffy wordlessly stood in front of it. The boy reached into his bag and pulled out a two-foot-long weighted club. He COULDN’T mean to do what she thought he meant to do. Rupert couldn’t mean to let him. Neither could Buffy. It wasn’t a moral obejction to revenge — goddess knew SHE had no authority on those grounds — but it seemed so out of character.

Xander advanced on the man. “Ripper?” He called out. Rupert just turned his head. “Slayer?” Buffy glared at him and Cordelia spat. Jenny herself was in too much shock to do more than glare.

“I KILLED three children because of you,” Xander said. “That’s YOUR fault. Buffy nearly got killed. That’s YOUR fault.” Without another word Xander brought the club up under Ethan’s chin. Then he pounded him on the left arm. The man tried futilely to rise, but every avenue of escape was blocked.

The mauling continued, but Jenny turned her head, unable to watch. After an eternity Rupert said, “Enough,” and Buffy moved in and stopped any further beatings. He walked up to the badly injured man and said, “This time, Ethan, take me seriously. I see you or detect your influence anywhere in Sunnydale and next time I won’t stop him.” Ethan staggered to his feet and walked unsteadily out the door.

Buffy hefted the wetvac and said, “I’m off to find a big trunk. Anyone wanna come with?” Xander put the club away and nodded, and the three teenagers all left the room.

Rupert turned to her. “Now, Jenny, can I take you anywhere?”

“No, Rupert,” she responded. “I’ll go by myself, thank you.” She went to the door and turned. “I have some things to think about for a while. A LONG while. In other words, don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

She went back to her room and quietly wept.

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