It had been a long, long month since Halloween. The longest of Xander's seventeen years of life by far. Even leaving aside that horrid mess with Giles and his unsavoury past, leaving aside the fact that Giles the good man who'd taken him in hadn't always been such a good man, leaving aside the fact that Ethan Rayne had returned to Sunnydale and had left again intact, leaving aside the fact that Rayne had actually gloated about what he'd done to Xander, it had been a month of challenges.
Just being a female had been difficult. Even if you ignored the fact that he felt like a stranger in his own skin, it was difficult. It wasn't just the larger things, like changing in the girls' locker room, which was torturous, but it was the small thing too, like not being able to use a urinal anymore or the occasional time when he couldn't get a bra fastener to work properly. They didn't seem like much alone but it all added up. Things that a real girl would see a rite of passage just pissed Xander the hell off. He didn't want to have to wrestle with bra straps every morning. He didn't want to have to deal with shaving his bloody legs. He didn't want to have to do a lot of things, and wouldn't have had to if it wasn't for Ethan bloody Rayne, but he had no damn choice.
And having his stomach cramping something fierce in the middle of computer class really did put the cherry on the top of things. It didn't take a genius to figure out what was causing it, he remembered that much from sex ed classes, and it made him want to go find a spell that'd let him rewrite reality or something. Anything but have to deal with a period of all things. That time of the month was something teenage boys were supposed to make crude jokes about, not experience.
He somehow made it through to the end of the class without letting on that there was anything wrong with him. It wasn't so much the pain of it that was troubling him, he'd had much, much worse in the past even without dipping into the Revan memories he was still struggling with, but the sheer wrongness of it all. Knowing that the whole thing was related to his ability to conceive and give birth to a baby was just . . . horrifically, epically wrong in ways that didn't even bare thinking about.
To say that the ring of the bell indicating that the lesson was done with was a relief would be the understatement of the year. Decade. Perhaps even century. The classroom was immediately filled with the sound of teenagers chattering away and the noise made by their movements as they made to leave. Xander wasn't entirely excluded from the making of that particular racket either.
"Hey, Rachel," said Buffy as she scooped up her things and started to head out. "Aren't you coming with?"
Xander shook his head as a group of jocks streamed past them in a haze of yellow jackets. "In a minute," he said.
Buffy looked a bit puzzled, as did Willow, but they paused only for a moment before leaving Xander to it as he waited for the room to clear and leave him alone with Ms. Calender.
"Rachel?" asked Ms. Calender. "Is there a problem?"
"I, uh, well . . . " Xander trailed off. How the hell did a guy say he'd just started his period and wasn't sure what do anyway?
Ms. Calender's lips twisted into a frown as she took a concerned looking expression. "Rachel, I know this is hard, but I can't help if you won't tell me what's wrong," she said. "Nice as it'd be I can't read minds."
Xander took a deep breath and then spoke. "Period," he said. "Starting. Now."
Ms. Calender blinked and look confused for a moment before comprehension dawned. "Ah," she said. "I'll just go get some of my spare pads for you," she finished before she turned away and started rummaging through one of her cupboards. As she searched she spoke. "It's nothing to be embarrassed about, you know. It happens to the best of us."
"Not to guys it doesn't. This was never supposed to happen to me."
"Buffy could say the same thing about being the Slayer," said Ms. Calender. "I know it's hard, but it could be a lot worse."
"I don't see how."
"You're still human, aren't you?"
Xander shuddered at that thought. "Okay," he said. "You win. It could be worse. Barely."
Ms. Calender shook her head at him and then tsossed a box over that he instinctively snatched out of the air. "You know how to use those?" she asked. "It really isn't all that difficult but I could give you the whole lecture with pictures if you want."
Xander actually blushed. "No ., . . no," he said. "I'll deal."
"Right. Most girls your age use pads but if you don't like them you could try tampons. You know what they are?"
The horrified expression on Xander's expression was all the answer that Ms. Calender needed.
"Before you go," she said. "Is there anything else you need? I mean, I know you're adjusting, but this can't be easy for you."
Xander looked away and stared out of the window for a moment before turning back to face Ms. Calender with a perfectly neutral expression on his face. "I'm dealing," he said. "No problemo. There's no shortage of things to keep me distracted round these parts. Admittedly, those things make me want to hide under the bed, but it still counts, right? Mind-numbing fear is distracting."
The corner of Ms. Calender's mouth twisted downwards. "That doesn't sound like you're 'dealing' to me," she said. "That sounds like you're repressing."
"Not really," said Ms. Calender, her frown deepening. "Dealing would imply some level of acceptance. And what do you mean, keeping busy? There haven't been that many monsters to deal with . . . magic, are you practising magic?"
"Err. Sort of. Just a little here and there."
"Xander . . . "
"Look, it's just a little telekinesis," he said. "What can it hurt?"
"You can't just . . . "
Xander closed his eyes and focussed like the books had taught him to. The magic flickered into life inside him and flowed through to his call within seconds. Then he directed it to carry the folder on Ms. Calender's desk into the air.
"It isn't that hard," he said. "Just takes a little concentration."
Another bell rang, this one for 'get to your next class right the hell now you insolent brats' as he'd heard Snyder refer to it. Ms. Calender sighed and then gave him a stern look that seemed rather out of place on her pretty features. "We will speak of this again," she said.
"Are you a people person or do you prefer keeping your own company?" read Xander from the test he had laid out on the table in front of him. "Well, what if you're a people person who keeps his own company by default?"
"So mark none of the above," said Buffy as Willow sat down at the table they had claimed.
"Well, there are no boxes for 'none of the above'," said Xander with a look of utter disdain on his face. "That would introduce too many variables into their mushroom head, number-crunching little world."
"I'm sensing bitterness," said Willow.
"Oh no, not at all," said Xander. "There's nothing like having to take a test to determine my future to make my day. Really, it's the perfect time for it. Nothing at all going on to make me rather go mano et mano with a vampire army than take a stupid test like this. Nothing at all."
"Oh, Xan, uh, Rachel, we'll find a way to fix it."
Xander ignored that entirely.
"I aspire to help my fellow man," said a voice that could only be Cordelia Chase. It just reeked of the 'I'm better than you because I'm rich and pretty and popular' air that she always carried. Or it could have just been the cloying perfume that she wore. "Check. As long as he's not smelly, dirty or something gross."
"Cordelia Chase," said Xander. "Always willing to lend a hand as long as you're rich and pretty."
"Which, lucky me, excludes you twice."
And then with a sniff she swanned off to subject some other ever so lucky souls with her ever so wonderful and not at all grating presence. As the arrogant cheerleader went, Xander noticed several of her mindless minions shooting him some very odd looks. Pfft. As if he was going to play nicey-nice with Cordelia just because he'd sprouted a pair of breasts and had to sit down to take a piss.
"Is murder always a crime?"
"Do I like shrubs?"
"That's between you and your god," said Xander. "Personally, I'm taking the random box ticking approach to it."
"Rachel! Don't you want to know what you're going to end up as?"
"Uh, no? Not really. I'm not seeing much in my future right now that I'd actually want to know about."
Before Willow could muster a reply to that her attention was taken by Buffy throwing down her pencil in a fit of frustration. "Uhh! I don't even know why I should be bothering with this,." she said. "It's all mootville for me. No matter what my aptitude test says we already know my deal."
"Yup, high risk, sub-minimum wage . . . "
"Point wooden objects . . . "
"Then why are you even taking the test?" asked Willow.
"Well, I, for one, am only here because the little Hitler known as Snyder would go all oncoming detention on me if I wasn't."
"Detention, Giles!" called out Snyder from the other side of the hall without even turning to look at Xander.
"I really don't think he ever got a date in high school," said Buffy in a hushed tone of voice. "It would explain so much."
"You too, Summers. I'll see you after school."
"Ugh! I'm only here because I didn't want to get detention!"
"Funny how that works out."
"What a waste of time."
So close and yet so far. Xander stared longingly at the exit to the hell-spawned place known as Sunnydale High as Ms. Calender prodded him back into her classroom with an inscrutable expression on her face. He'd came so close to escaping the inevitable lecture, so very close, at least for a day,, and yet so far. Bugger.
"I'm not going to lecture you," she said. "I'm not your mother and it's not my place to give you that sort of treatment."
"Oh good,." replied Xander. "I'll just be going then. See you later."
"Not so quick,." she said, moving in front of the door. "Just because I'm not going to lecture you on how stupid it is to try and pick up magic on your own doesn't mean I don't have anything to say."
"And I was just getting my hopes up."
"Getting snippy with me won't change anything. Just makes me think it might be a good idea to report you to Rupert after all. I'm sure he'd have some interesting things to say about what you've been up to."
"Sure you are," said Ms. Calender. "It really isn't the smartest thing you've ever done, you know, trying to teach yourself magic. It's dangerous. You can open doors that you never meant to that can do awful things. You need a teacher to guide you, at least at first."
"And you're offering?" asked Xander. "Last I heard, you didn't consider yourself much of a witch. Techno-pagan, wasn't it?"
"I'm not going to be throwing fireballs around any time soon, that's for sure, but I know a trick or two. Enough not to be dangerous to myself or others without meaning to be, at least."
"And you think that's what I need right now."
"That's what any beginner needs. Can't run before you can walk."
"No offence but I seem to doing alright as I am. Haven't burned any buildings down or had any souls eaten yet."
"If you were doing anything stupid enough to risk that then Rupert would have picked up on it already,." said Ms. Calender. "And I sure as all hell wouldn't be offering to teach you more. And no offence, but you're just not at the level to do anything that powerful just yet."
"Why are you not just siccing Giles onto me?"
"Because it would be counter-productive,." she said. "He's too British to handle this with any sensitivity. There'd be a whole mountain of fuss that'd cause all sorts of trouble before some dramatic event caused you to reconcile. I haven't the patience for it. Much better just to deal with it quick and easy, don't you think?"
"Fine. When do we start?"
"Give me a few days. I'll need to collect some of the basic texts and materials needed."
Somehow Xander ended up getting the results of his careers test with Cordelia. It mystified him,. It really did, how he ended up in that position. He couldn't stand Cordelia and yet he still found himself spending time around her for no good reason that he could discern.
"Oh, here I am," said Cordelia. "Personal shopper or motivational speaker! Neato!"
"Wow," said Xander. "Those are some real legitimate careers right there, Cordelia. True contributions to the nation's wealth."
"Oh, yeah?" she snapped back. "Well, let's see what you-" A very strange look passed over her face and then she burst out laughing.. "Well, whatever."
"What?" asked Xander as Cordelia walked away giggling to herself. "What?"
Xander hadn't cared about the test up till then but he just had to know after that reaction. And what he saw left him feeling somewhat bemused.
"Tell me, did the whole transformation thing make me look like Tom Cruise?" asked Xander. "Because that wouldn't please me. Top Gun was far too homoerotic for it to be my life."
"What?" asked Buffy, with a somewhat befuddled and yet amused expression on her face.
"Air Force pilot," said Xander. "That's my career of choice apparently. They think I'm a Tom Cruise wannabe, or something. Probably the something."
"Do they even let girls do that?"
"They do," said Willow. "But not foreign girls. Rachel has the wrong passport for the job."
"Shame that," said Xander. "I was ever so looking forward to having to spend as much time worrying about dropping the soap in the shower as the average convict."
"Oh, you need talk," he said. "Little Miss Police Officer."
That shut her up. Well, except for the whining noise she made.
"Polyester, doughnuts, and brutality. That's your future, Buffy. Have fun."
The whine grew louder.
"But doughnuts," said Willow with a smile.
The whine grew to apocalyptic proportions, which might actually be possible in Sunnydale for all Xander knew. And then she spotted Giles stumbling past with a pile of mouldy old books in his arms and darted off after him saying something about an efficiency kick. Whatever.
"You didn't check to see which seminar I was assigned to, did you?" asked Willow
"I did, and you weren't."
"I wasn't what?"
"On the list."
"But I handed in my test! I used a number two pencil!"
"Then I guess you musta passed."
"It's not the kinda test you pass or fail."
"Your name wasn't up there, Will."
Willow fluttered off in a haze of overly earnest confusion to try and figure out what was going on as Xander set about being there without actually being there, if that made any sense. He really wasn't in the mood to be dealing with people trying to talk him into signing up for stuff. He'd get to slope off to the library soon enough if he could just avoid having people talk to him.
Surprisingly, it worked, though he had to make a couple of uncomfortable fast-breaks to the toilets before the escape time came.
"So Giles is sure that the vampire who stole his book is onnected to the one you slayed last night?" asked Willow. Then after a moment's thought, "Or is it slew?"
"Both are correct, and, yes, I'm sure. Du Lac was both a, a... a theologian and a mathematician.," said Giles, emerging from behind one of the stacks with a magazine in hand. National geographic, of course. No comics for this boy. "This article describes an invention of his, which he called 'The Du Lac Cross'."
"I'd give that a zero on the imagination front," said Xander. "How bad could something built by a guy who can't even come up with a name be?"
"Ah, well, I'm not entirely sure of the details," said Giles. "But given that he destroyed all but one of his creations and hid that in his grave, I suspect the worst."
"Yeah, I'd say that's not a good sign," said Buffy, looking ever so slightly uncomfortable Maybe she should have chased that vampire down after all? "But hiding it in his grave on the hellmouth . . . not very smart, was he? Apart from the whole evil genius thing, anyway."
"A common malady," replied Giles. "So very intelligence and cunning that they out-think themselves and do something unutterably stupid. Very common amongst the villainous types, I hear."
"Yeah, just look at Dr. Doom. He's always . . . uh, forget I said that."
"I shall endeavour to," said Giles. "Now, I believe we have some research to attend to. Knowledge is power, after all."
Buffy eased herself up out of her seat before anyone could say anything else. "Speaking, I really have to bail," she said. "But I promise I'll be back bright and early tomorrow and ready to slay."
Giles frowned. Deeply. "This is a matter of some urgency, Buffy," he said.
"I realize that," said Buffy. Well, you have to admit, I kinda lack in the book area. I mean, you guys are the brains, I'd only be here for moral support anyway."
Xander had to wonder if the bullshit was quite as transparent to everyone else as it was to him. It all seemed rather obvious to him.
"I'm not sure about that," said Giles. "Every pair of eyes counts."
"She should go," said Willow quickly. "Y-y'know, gather her strength."
"Perhaps you're right," admitted Giles. "There may be fierce battles ahead."
Buffy managed a step back towards the door before Xander's newly feminised voice interrupted her. "Oh, come on," he said. "It's pretty damned obvious that she set up something and would rather be there than here. Resting has shit all to do with it."
"What?" he barked. Well, not much of a bark in a female voice really. Shriek? No, he was too manly for that. A dignified exclaimation. "You know it's true, Willow."
"Just because you wanted to date me doesn't me doesn't mean you get to vet my social life, Xander!"
Xander opened his mouth to let both barrels rip before he abruptly clamped it closed again. He really had no idea why he was reacting like this. None whatsoever. It was business as usual and he'd long since burned any hope regarding Buffy's affections at the stake. And so he frowned. Bizarre. "Ah, whatever," he said. "I'm not even sure why I said anything."
The others gave him a few strange looks but a quick glare drove those away.
Xander wasn't entirely sure why reading had suddenly became more attractive to him since Halloween but he wasn't complaining. The ability to lose himself in a world of facts and figures certainly made for a nice way to distract himself from other things that weren't easily ignored. It was, after all, and quite obviously, difficult to ignore the fact that you had a pair of breasts sitting on your chest, even when they were fairly modest in size. They just weren't the sort of thing you could pretend weren't there. But all that just vanished when he opened a book, so he quite happily did so.
"You don't have to stay up any further, Xander," said Giles, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "You do have school tomorrow."
"So do you, Giles."
"Yes, well, I am quite well adjusted to functioning on minimal sleep these days. It rather comes with the territory."
"I'll live," said Xander. "Come on, we've got research to do."
And it didn't hurt at all that he woke up in a cold sweat gasping for air on a regular basis with little idea about what had terrified him so. No, sacrificing sleep was no hardship at all. Maybe if he was tired enough he wouldn't dream. That and his stomach was really, really hurting.
The next day dawned bright and early and most irritating. Between the nightmares and his avoidance of sleep, Xander really wasn't enjoying the morning thing. It felt like he had lead weights pulling down on his eye-lids. Still, it wasn't that difficult to put up an act of feeling just fine. Willow would normally see through such things, but it wasn't like insomnia was some great threat to life and limb. No, it was just irritating.
But even if he could tolerate it, he could have done without Buffy pacing up and down the library like a caged animal waving her arms around like a deranged baboon. "Yes, yes, I'm sure whatever happened was terrible and evil," he said finally. "But could you at least be coherent about it?"
Oh boy, did Buffy ever look pissed at him. If looks could kill . . . And then she winced and hobbled over to a chair. "Ow, ow, ow."
"Adrenaline wearing off?" asked Xander with a raised eyebrow. "You might want to get some ice or something. I think Giles has a little mini-fridge we can raid -"
"I do," he said, emerging from his office with a magnifying lamp in hand. "It's behind the pile of books on the small table behind my desk."
"You're not hurt badly, are you, Buffy?" asked Willow, fluttering around her with the look of someone who wanted to do something but had no idea what as Xander headed into Giles's office to try and find this ice.
"It's just a little twisted. Give me a minute and it'll be fine."
"If only we could all be so durable," said Giles.
Xander emerged from the office and tossed Buffy a bag of ice. He kinda doubted that she really needed it but it couldn't hurt. "This guy was hardcore, Giles," she said. "And Angel was power-freaked by that ring."
Giles looked up from the object on question. "II'm afraid he was not overreacting," he said with a sigh. T"his ring is worn only by members of the Order of Taraka. It's a society of deadly assassins dating back to King Solomon."
"Wow, Buffy, you've got the Foot Clan after you."
"Xander, this is serious."
He put his hands up in a show of mock-submission. "Okay, okay."
"This is no time for jokes," said Giles. "These people, if you can call them that, are dangerous and relentless. I need time to think."
"These assassins, why are they after me?"
"Cause you're the scourge of the underworld," said Willow.
"I haven't been feeling very scourgey recently."
"Okay, okay," said Giles. "I think the best option is to get you out of circulation. Find somewhere safe you can stay till we find a way to deal with the issue in a more final manner."
"No go," said Xander. "If they can't get at Buffy, they'll just lure her out by attacking the people she cares about. And if they're bad for a Slayer then Mrs. Summers is going to be shit out of luck if they go after her. Not to forget the fact that I am kinda attached to the whole life thing myself. I'm strange that way."
Buffy had a look of absolute horror on her face that only grew as Xander went on. "No way!" she said. "I'll find them and I'll slay them. No way am I letting them go after my mom. Over my dead body. I don't care how paranoid about this you and Angel are. No way."
"Buffy, I appreciate your concerns but you can help no-one if you are dead, and these people do not fight in a fair manner. You will never be safe, not even for the briefest moment, if you go to war with them. They live for this. They have no earthly desires beyond making their kill. Please-"
"No way, Giles. They want a fight? I'll give it to them. But there's no way they're getting my mom. I'm the Slayer. Killing evil beasts is what I do."
"Do you really think assassins will trifle with such quaint things as a fair fight?" asked Giles, looking somewhat irate. "They will use snipers, car bombs, hostages, poison . . . whatever it takes. What can you do against that, Buffy?"
The range of expressions that passed across Buffy's features at that was quite the spectacular range. Everything from raging anger to cold fear. And then she turned and stomped off out of the library in a huff.
"Could have been more diplomatic, Giles."
"I do have to wonder why I was given this task at times. I certainly have no great talent for dealing with you teenagers."
"Could be worse, Giles. At least we're not cheerleaders . . . well, except for Buffy."
And then Xander left the library just in time to see Buffy bounce some poor, little guy who'd brushed against her off the wall. Just a little tense then.
"Well, this is just swell," said Xander. "I wasn't exactly aiming to have Buffy disappear off the face of the Earth when I said that stuff."
"We may, perhaps, have been counter-productive in our honesty."
"You're a pair of meanie-heads," said Willow. "And now we have to find Buffy."
Xander sighed. "I'll go to her house and have a look around," he said. "You guys keep trying the phones."
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this, dork," said Cordelia. "It's a total waste of time. If slay-girl is in trouble then she'll smash her way out of it with her mannish strength."
"I thought dork was something you called guys."
"Oh, it works just as well for girls like you, too," said Cordelia. "Seriously, this is totally pointless. What do you think you're going to be able to do if she's in trouble? She's the Slayer, you're the lamer."
"I'm the lamer that cares," said Xander sharply. "That counts for something, or have you forgotten what happened with the Master?"
"Yeah, yeah," said Cordelia waving him off. "You got lucky once and turned out to be a useful stalker for a change. Doesn't mean you're gonna be able to take on some super-duper assassin that can makes Giles wet his pants."
"Whatever," replied Xander, his voice even sharper. "We're here. Let's get this over with so we can go back to not spending time with each other. I know I'll be a lot happier that way."
Cordelia brought the car to an abrupt halt and Xander hopped out over the side of the convertible, which was quite nice if almost certainly hideously over-priced, and loped up the drive to the front door of Buffy's home. It was probably a good thing that her mom was out of town, he reflected as he rapped his knuckles against the door. Wouldn't have made him very popular waking her up at this time.
"I still can't believe you woke me up for a ride," griped Cordelia as she caught up with him. "What am I? Mass transportation?"
"That's what a lot of the guys say, but I wouldn't worry about that too much," said Xander immediately. "It's just locker room talk."
"You do realise that they probably talk about you like that now, too, right?"
Xander stopped. Damn. Cordelia 1, Xander 0.
"Ha, didn't think of that, did you, dork?" she asked as she swept by him to peer in through the window. "What a waste of time. Doesn't even look like anyone's home."
Xander tried the window. Locked. "C'mon," he said. "You wanna be a member of the Scooby Gang you gotta be willing to be inconvenienced every now and then."
"Oh, right, 'cause I lie awake at night hoping you tweakos will be my best friends." Xander started worrying at the lock of another window. "And that my first husband will be a balding, demented homeless man."
The window slid open. "Buffy could be in trouble," he said before stepping through the window and into the house. He'd never been so thankful for the lack of a burglar alarm.
"And, like I said, so what?" asked Cordelia as he opened the front door for her. "She's a superfreak and you're just a freak."
"Just look around the damn house and see if you can spot anything, will you?"
"You should be grateful that I deigned to interrupt my beauty sleep for you," Xander heard Cordelia fire back as he headed upstairs to check the bedrooms.
He didn't find anything . . . which was probably a good thing. He wasn't sure that barging in on a sleeping Buffy in her bedroom would have done much for his health and he was pretty sure that if Mrs. Summers had been home and he'd ran in on her that he'd have been in for the high jump, and that's not the olympic high jump, no, that's the 'thrown off a cliff' version of the high jump. Possibly with a ball and chain attached, too, if he was any judge of feminine rage.
And when he got back downstairs he found Cordelia talking to a bland-looking man in a suit. Actually, he looked like one of those Jehovah's Witnesses that had sometimes came around preaching till his father had tried to hit one with a shovel. Very wholesome with his well-fitted suit, close-cropped hair, moderately trim figure, and, of course, the bland soulless smile that all salesmen eventually seemed to pick up. All very normal, so why was he triggering Xander's 'bad shit' radar?
"He was just leaving," said Cordelia quickly, looking slightly freaked. "Right? Uh, okay. Buh-bye. Thank you."
Okay, something was wrong. Cordelia never said thank you.
The man cocked his head and looked her over before looking over her shoulder. "Ah, I see there are more ladies in the house," he said. "Any more where you came from?"
"No, there aren't," said Xander, approaching the man slowly. "And I think it's time for you to-"
A worm crawled across the side of the man's face and into his ear. Uh, what the hell? And he was still smiling. Okay, the conclusion there was obvious. Demon. And a freaky one at that. Seriously freaky, like Joker-plus level freaky.
It was at that point that a knife appeared in the demon's right hand and he stabbed forward with inhuman speed, aiming for Xander's face. He'd never be able to tell anyone how he did it afterwards but one moment he was standing there ready to soil his underwear and the next the knife was paused an inch short of his face with his hand gripping the wrist of the demon in a vice-like grip.
The demon cocked his head at Xander and then . . . then he exploded. Exploded in a shower of bugs. Ick. Cordelia's shriek was absolutely ear-splitting, Xander was half-sure that she killed the higher range of his hearing right there, and she immediately began hopping around the room and brushing at herself frantically to remove the bugs. Xander took a moment to appreciate the bounciness, because it was fine, before reacting in much the same way himself. Hey, manly as he was, he still didn't much like bugs.
And out of the corner of his eyes he could see the bug man reforming as bugs flooded across the room and joined the mass that was growing upwards and taking on the form of a human man with disturbing speed.
"Time for a strategic retreat, I think."
"Run like hell!"
They managed to get into the basement and seal the gaps around the door with duct tape before the guy reformed.
"Could you sit down, or change your pattern, or something?" asked Xander. "You're making me queasy."
And it wasn't even a joke. Damned female body. He couldn't wait till he stopped bleeding and went back to normal, or at least as normal as being the in the wrong damned body would ever be.
The glare Cordelia sent his way would have stripped paint from the walls if she'd aimed it at one of them. "Because you're just sitting there," she said. "You should be thinking up a plan."
"I already have," said Xander. "But I don't think Buffy would appreciate us burning her house down to kill this guy, so instead we'll sit and wait like good little boys and girls till reinforcements arrive and we can come up with something a little less wantonly destructive. Or do you have a better suggestion?"
"Gah, I think I preferred you before Halloween," snapped Cordelia. "At least you didn't try to pretend to be anything other than the moron you are then."
Xander was on his feet before he even realised he was moving. "Oh yeah?" he snapped back. "I don't see you coming up with anything better!"
"I'm not the one who spends her life trailing after slay-girl like some lost, little puppy," snarled Cordelia, taking a step closer to Xander. "I'm not supposed to know how to deal with freak-shows like this."
"Well, here's an idea," said Xander. "Why don't you flash some of that hooker-wear of yours at the guy to distract him so we can run away?"
"You're just jealous that you couldn't look this good in a million years little miss flat chest!"
They was barely half a pace separating them now, virtually nose to nose, as they volleyed insults back and forth. "Force, I hate you, you disgusting sow," hissed Xander.
"And I hate you, you fashion-disabled moron."
And then, somehow, for no reason that Xander could discern, they were joined at the lips and he was lost in a world of sensation. He hadn't exactly been Mr. Experience in his real body but this was utterly beyond his ability to control. The feeling of lips on lips, of their tongues teasing each other's mouths, the sensation of Cordelia's large breasts pressing against his own pair . . . it just short-circuited him.
So it came as no surprise that it was Cordelia who broke the kiss by pushing Xander away and leaping back like a scalded cat. Oh boy. She might have been the queen bitch of the universe but every part of Xander's body was in full agreement that she was hot as all hell and that he'd quite like some more of that.
"I cannot believe I did that."
"We really have to get out of here."
"Snap out of it, moron. We're leaving."
Xander shrugged and followed. Somehow, the danger didn't seem so bad anymore. Rather unimportant, in fact, and the view he got from following Cordelia up the stairs out of the basement helped keep him in his pleasant daze.
"Oh, thank God. He's gone. Come on, let's get out of this dump."
A distant part of Xander's mind wondered why he wasn't snapping back at Cordelia for calling Buffy's place a dump like he normally would. Another part was busy sniggering at him. The rest was busy with action replay duty. Oh, yeah. This had turned out to be a pretty good day after all.
"Stand down, girl," said Buffy.
Xander raised an eyebrow at the dark-skinned girl who'd leapt out in front of him and Cordelia when they entered the library. "So, who's the new girl?" he asked. Then he looked at Buffy. "And, wow, looks like the England Supporters Association arranged today's career fair."
"We had a rather violent visit from the Order of Taraka," said Giles on his way to the table where Willow was wrapping Buffy's knee in bandages.
"Well, they can't be as bad as the one we ran into," said Xander. "He was king of the freaks and then some."
"Hmm," said Giles, already paging through a book. "Oh, and the new girl's Kendra. Uh, it's rather complicated but she's a Slayer."
"A Slayer, huh?" asked Xander. "So much for one girl in all the world. I always knew that was an attention-getter."
"Just say hello, Xander."
"Welcome," said Xander. "So! You're a Slayer, huh? I like that in a woman."
"Um, yes, right. Hello"
"Right. Oh, by the way, in public call me Rachel. Okay?"
Kendra gave him a very strange look.
"Xander, um, this, this, uh, assassin you encountered, what, uh, what did he look like?"
Before Xander could say anything, Cordelia discovered one of the worms in her hair and, well, the reaction was predictable. She threw it on the table and then ran out of the library screeching something about showering.
"A lot like that, actually," said Xander pointing at the bug.
"You and bug people, Xander," said Buffy. "What's up with that?"
"Ah, but this one was different," said Xander. "He wasn't after my virginity . . . at least, I really, really, really hope he wasn't because that's just vastly creepy on a levels I don't want to even think about."
And on that note he slammed a book down on the worm squishing it for great vengeance.
"The, uh, the-the-the important thing is everybody's alright," said Giles. "Still, it's quite apparent that we're under serious attack."
"These Taraka are definitely serious," said Buffy before glancing at Kendra, who was stood next to her looking rather unsure of herself. "Fortunately for me, so is Kendra."
"And, uh, I fear the worst is still to come. I've, I-I've discovered the remaining keys to Drusilla's cure," said Giles. Cure? He must have missed that part. "The, uh, the ritual requires that, the presence of her sire, and it must take place in a church on the night of the new moon."
Buffy suddenly looked very concerned.
"The new moon," said Kendra. "But that is tonight."
"Exactly. And I-I'm sure the assassins were here to kill Buffy before she could put a stop to things."
"They need Drusilla's sire," said Buffy "You mean the vamp that made her?"
"Buffy, what is it?" asked Willow
"Angel. He's Drusilla's sire."
"Man, that guy got major neck in his day!" Xander couldn't help himself. It was just too easy.
Willow slapped him hard on the shoulder. Xander rolled his eyes. As if Angel needed Willow defending his honour,
"Will this ritual kill him?" asked Buffy."
"Yes, I'm afraid it will."
"We need to find this church. We need to find where this ritual is gonna take place!"
"Agreed, and we must work quickly," said Giles. He checked his watch. "We have five hours before sundown."
Willow opened her laptop. "Don't worry, Buffy, we'll save Angel."
" Angel?" asked Kendra. "But our priority is to stop Drusilla!"
"One's the same as the other it seems to me, as much as it pains me to admit it," said Xander. "Save Angel, stop Drusilla."
"Right," said Buffy, latching onto his words immediately. "She needs him for this ritual, so we save him and she's done for good. Our priorities mesh. You going to help me or are you going to get out of my way?"
"I'm with you."
"Good. 'Cause I've had it. Spike is going down. You can attack me, you can send assassins after me, that's fine. But nobody messes with my boyfriend!"
It took considerably less than five hours for them to figure out where the ritual was being held. Of course, it also took considerably less than five hours for Buffy to do something unutterably stupid like letting Willy lead her into the most obvious trap this side of Looney Toons, which was why he found himself with the others trying to keep up with a Slayer, Kendra, heading towards the location of the church the vampires were holding the ritual in at high speed.
At least he knew how to kill bug-man now. Just had to wait for him to go to bug-mode and then squish away, apparently. Trick was keeping him in bug-mode, but he had something ready for that.
They got there slightly behind Kendra and ran into a scene of utter Chaos. Angel was chained to the church roof with Drusilla at the church altar and Spike was fighting both Kendra and Buffy with the aid of . . . a cop? Bizarre. There was a bunch of other vamps too, and . . . there he was.. Bug man.
"Hey, larvae boy!" he shouted. The bug-man turned to face him. "Yeah, that's right, I'm talkin' to you, ya big cootie!"
The demon smiled that empty, inhuman smile and came after him. Xander quickly back-pedalled behind the church doors they'd barged in through and slammed them shut, all the while being very careful to avoid the puddle of glue that Cordelia had poured out there.
And he fell for it. Bugs came pouring through underneath the door and were thoroughly trapped in the glue virtually the moment they touched it. "Ah, superglue," said Xander. "Is there a problem you can't solve?"
So commenced stomp-a-thon 1998, with Xander and Cordelia beating the shit out of a demon despite their lack of powers. Quite satisfying really. Also, bouncy. Hmm, that was a sight for sore eyes.
"Die! Die, die, die! Die!"
Xander put his hand on Cordelia's shoulder. "I think he did," he said. "We win."
They headed back into the church but the outcome came quickly and as you'd expect. Two Slayers was just too much for Spike and his lackeys to handle, and his attempt to flee ended abruptly when Buffy dropped half the church on him and it caught fire. Couldn't happen to a nicer monster, in Xander's opinion.
Chasing down Cordelia to talk about what happened took way more effort than Xander expected it to. She was being seriously avoidy about it all, but then she was kinda distinctive and couldn't hide for long. There was only one chest like that in Sunnydale High. Eventually Xander managed to run her down and persuade her to take a trip into an abandoned classroom.
"We need to talk."
"We really don't," said Cordelia. "We need to forget it ever happened and get on with not spending time with each other. Ever."
"That's not how it goes. We really need to sort this out so we're not running away from each every time we see each other in the corridors."
"Not seeing the problem here."
"I know the people 'round here are a little dim," said Xander. "Okay, very dim, but they're going to notice that something's up, you know, and I'm betting that you don't want anyone putting two and two together. Come on, it's really not that big a deal."
"Not that big a deal?" screeched Cordelia, though a quiet, sort of, screech. "Not a big deal? You might be a big, fat lesbo, Xander, Rachel, whatever the hell you're calling yourself these days, but I am not."
"I wasn't the only person in that kiss, you know. In fact, I was the jumpee."
"In your dreams, girl. Cordelia Chase is only interested in fine, masculine examples of the male form."
"My memories say otherwise."
"Look, I may have once suffered -- and I do mean suffered -- from a very unfortunate and inexplicable attraction to your male form, and that may, may, have caused me to do something stupid, but that's the end of it. It will never happen again and when I walk out of this room we will never speak of it again. Do you understand? Never."
And then Cordelia breezed out. Damn, but that actually stung. It really did. He hadn't expected her to be able to actually hurt him. That was just weird. She was Cordelia Chase. Sure, she was attractive and she apparently pushed all his buttons, but he hadn't expected her to be able to hit him in the gut like that. He was the treasurer of the We Hate Cordelia Club dammit. She'd made his, and Willow's, school-life as difficult as she could because she could. And it didn't change a damn thing.
Still, how many people could say their first kiss was Cordelia Chase? Their first lesbian kiss at that? It was kinda awesome, though between that and the whole bleeding without dying thing it was probably about time to start thinking of himelf as a herself, because the breasts weren't going away anytime soon.