Chapter Thirteen

Xander banged his fist into the door again. The sound of his fist slamming into the iron door caused the anger in him to rise. He was tempted to punch the door again, but his common sense told him otherwise. He'd just damage his hand doing it. He had to concentrate on something else. It's futile to try and break this door down. Even if he did, a couple dozen vampires would be on his ass in a minute.

Xander walked to one of the walls and leaned against it. He breathed in calmly, and let it out. It was one of Giles' relaxation techniques. It didn't really work, but Xander couldn't think of anything else to do.

"Glad to see that you stopped that constant pounding."

Xander stopped the exercise and looked up at the door. The vampire, or whatever he was, Nicholas, was there, staring in though the opening at the door.

"Like you care?" Xander retorted.

Nicholas opened his mouth to say something, but stopped. Instead he did something Xander did not expect. He opened the door. Nicholas stepped through and stood in front of Xander. In a flash, the Slayerette was on his feet in a defensive stance. He saw a small smirk on Nicholas' face.

"I'm not like other vampires," Nicholas said softly.

"Not quite human either," Xander replied with an equally hushed tone.

"I'm not one of them," Nicholas responded with a wince.

"If you're not, let me go," Xander said.

"I... I can't," Nicholas replied.

"Then I guess we have nothing more to say, huh?" Xander asked softly.

Nicholas sighed and responded, "I guess we don't."

Xander moved into an Akido stance. Nicholas' face shifted into his vampiric visage. With a yell, Nicholas launched a deadly punch towards Xander's face. Xander ducked and grabbed his arm. Using Nicholas' momentum, Xander flipped the vampire. Xander then directed a sharp kick into the vampire's face. Xander swung his fist down towards Nicholas' back, but was stopped abruptly when Nicholas' clawed hand gripped his fist.

Nicholas swung his leg and swept Xander's feet from under him. Xander crashed onto the ground. He felt a fist slam into his chest. Xander wheezed out a breath, but pushed his body to recover. He let his mind loose and pushed his mind back to Sunnydale, to the library, to his training session. He often fought with Buffy to hone his skills as well as hers. He moved his body to follow the same instincts.

He slammed his palm up, connecting solidly to Nicholas' face. The blow sent the vampire reeling back. Xander swung his body up and landed on his feet. He swung his fist and connected to Nicholas' chest. He spun his body around and pivoted his foot up, slamming into Nicholas' neck. He was about to wail on him, but didn't get the chance. Nicholas quickly recovered from the attack and delivered a vicious uppercut. If Xander hadn't seen it coming and rolled with the punch, he'd have probably lost his head.

The two fell to the ground. Xander rubbed his aching jaw, trying to determine if it was broken or not. Nicholas was next to him, trying to stop the room from spinning.

"You're... You're... good," Nicholas managed to get out.

Xander looked up at Nicholas, who was quite blurry to him at the moment.

"Thanks. You're right," Xander responded.

Nicholas looked at him curiously while rubbing his neck.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Nicholas asked.

"You're not like other vampires. Mind telling me why?" Xander responded.

He looked at Xander solemnly, as if he were considering whether or not to tell him anything. He looked at his clawed hands, which quickly reverted back to the human form. As if he found his answer there, Nicholas looked at Xander.

And began his tale.

~ * ~ * ~

Willow shoved a couple stakes into her pockets with anger. <How dare Buffy treat us like that? I'm not that quiet, shy, mousy girl she knew.> Angel sat in the plush chair near Willow, brooding as per usual. The sudden sound of approaching footsteps entering the Library, causing Willow to whirl around with stake in hand. She brought it down swift, barely missing Giles.

"Ack!" Giles yelped as he jumped back.

"Oh, Giles!" Willow exclaimed as she dropped the stake. "I'm so sorry!"

The elderly librarian just shook his head and stammered out, "I-It's ok. It's quite an interesting experience you know? Having one's life flash right before his eyes..."

Willow fell into the chair next to Angel and replied, "Sorry. Been edgy as of late."

Giles sat down opposite the immortals. Willow noted the emergence of more gray hairs on Giles' head since the last time she saw him. He looked like he had aged 10 years in the past 2.

"I've been procrastinating talking to you two," Giles stated.

"Why?" Angel asked curiously.

"I failed to keep my word," Giles sighed. "I broke the promise I made when you two left."

"It's ok," Willow replied reassuringly. "I knew that you would have to tell them eventually."

"About Buffy..." Giles started.

Both Angel and Willow tensed up at the name. This did not go unnoticed by the Watcher.

"I'm not going to make excuses for her behavior..."

"She... She loves Xander, ya know?" Willow managed to choke out.

"I know. For quite a while," Giles replied.

"How long did it take her to forget about us and move to Harris?" Angel asked bitterly.

Willow elbowed him in the side, even though she silently wanted to know the answer.

"After they found out... Both were devastated," Giles said. "For months, neither really lived. Buffy dedicated her time to destroying evil, without any thought to her own well-being. For the first few months, Xander dedicated his time to trying to track you two down. He learned to use the computer faster than any of us. That's how we found you two. Xander hacked into phone records from the flowershop you called in Sunnydale and tracked you here."

Willow sat there, with her mouth open. <Xander was a hacker? Giles knew what 'hacked' meant?>

Giles continued on, saying, "But it was all a front. They were going downhill, heading for the end. We all were. We all took different ways of coping. Buffy stuck with hers, while Xander lost his dedication and sunk into desperation. I tried to help him, but he was so angry. So bitter. So hurt. I couldn't reach him. Buffy could barely reach him. Finally, Buffy managed to get him to talk, and they both started healing."

"And you?" Angel asked.

Giles looked down at his hands, ashamed to continue, but did it none the less.

"I opted for suicide."

"WHAT?!" Willow screamed.

"As everything started going downhill, I took up drinking," Giles said as he stared at his hands. "But I always managed to hold it together. But after my failure to help Xander, I lost it. My decent into hell continued. And only mere days after Buffy managed to pull Xander together, I sat in my apartment with a gun in my right hand, and a drink in my left."

"Obviously, you managed to stop from pulling the trigger," Angel concluded.

"No..." Giles responded. "I attempted it. I was sloshed out of my mind, depressed beyond belief. I had the gun to my mouth. But someone stopped me."

"Buffy?" Willow asked.

"Xander," Giles answered. "He had come to my house to apologize for being so... Angry. And saw what I was doing through my window. I was so drunk, I had not heard him break in. He wrenched the gun from my hand. And we ended up getting into a fight."

"You... Fought Xander?" Angel asked in amazement.

"Yes, and let me tell you, he's good," Giles replied.

"I know," Angel responded softly.

Giles sighed as he continued, "Xander managed to knock me out, and tied me up until I sobered up. We talked for a long time. Then Buffy came, and we all managed to get past our demons. But, at that moment, in my apartment... Seeing the two of them together. Buffy and Xander... I saw Buffy's love for him."

"And Xander?" Willow asked with a furrowed brow.

"I'm not sure," Giles responded. "In the beginning, before your disappearance, I saw his feelings for her. Eventually, they seemed to have faded away."

"He doesn't love her?" Angel asked hopefully.

"I'm not sure," Giles answered. "I hope so. She needs him. And I like to believe that he needs her. When I see the two of them together. It seems like... Fate."

With that, the Watcher stood up and gave his long-lost friends a soft, understanding gaze.

"Think realistically," Giles said. "Honestly, when it comes down to it, ask yourself this... Do you think they belong together?"

Giles walked out of the Library, leaving both immortals to look at each other, and know the answer to his question.

~ * ~ * ~

Buffy walked into the hall of the castle. Well not really walked as much as she stalked in. She was dressed in her dark fatigues. Which pretty much meant a black T-shirt, and black jeans. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and looked up. She walked over to a wall and grabbed a sword that was mounted there. It was half the length of her arm, but looked as deadly as hell.

She sheathed the sword and attached it to her belt. She looked up as Giles and Cordelia walked in. Both were similarly dressed. Cordelia was wearing a black sweater and blue jeans. Giles was wearing a dark blue turtleneck and black slacks. Both were armed with a bag of holy goodies. Crosses, Holy water, etc. Giles placed her crossbow silently in front of her. Neither of them spoke any words as their eyes locked. The only thing they shared was one thought.

<We will save Xander.>

Buffy looked up as Angel and Willow entered the hall. She paused slightly as they watched each other. <Where the hell did it all go wrong?> She looked at Giles and Cordelia who both knew that she needed some time. As they left Buffy caught Cordelia smile and nod at her.

Buffy looked back at Angel and Willow. Angel was wearing a black T-shirt with a jacket, along with a pair of jeans. Willow was dressed like Buffy. She wore A black T-shirt and jeans. The three solemnly looked each other over. They all knew the unbelievable amount of tension within them. Between them. Buffy, Xander, Giles, and Cordelia had only arrived a day ago, and everything had already exploded into a deadly situation.

<One that can cost Xander his life.>

Buffy knew that if they went into the cave that Falen and his horde stayed in without resolving their issues, then they are no good to Xander. As well as themselves.

"I'm sorry," Angel said softly.

Buffy looked at Angel and smiled. She could hardly believe what she had done less than an hour ago. She had been ready to snuff Angel out of existence. And when Willow tried to intervene, Buffy had taken her anger out on her too.

"Me too," Willow said next to him.

Buffy smiled sadly at Willow. She was her best friend. Even after all these years. Willow saw that Buffy loved Xander. Willow knew. Buffy had not known about this. She didn't realize the feelings she held for Xander. At least, not until he was taken. She realized then that she loved him. Wholeheartedly. She even managed to pinpoint the exact moment she fell in love with him. It was a year ago.

~ * ~ * ~

Buffy silently sighed as she leaned into the plush chair that seemed to envelop her.

"Hey! That's my chair," Xander pouted as he entered the Harris living room with a bowl of popcorn. Both were trying to relax. The past month since Giles' attempt to kill himself had been painful, full of pain and joy. Crying and laughing. Finally, they seem to be getting back on track. Xander wasn't his same witty self. He would never be. But he was becoming happier again. He had even invited her to his house to watch the newest Adam Sandler movie, which Xand had managed to get a bootleg of. It was some weird movie about some guy who sings at weddings. Buffy doubted that it would ever be really good.

"Ooooohhh, no," Xander said as he tugged at Buffy's sleeve. "Up Summers. Or else I'll sit on you."
"I'd like to see you try," Buffy said coyly, sporting an impish grin.
"Ooh reaallllllyyyyy??" Xander said. The teenager put down the bowl of popcorn and jumped on the Slayer.

Soon, the attempt to reseize the comfy seat had turned into a tickle war. Ten minutes later, Xander managed to get the seat. Buffy pouted in mock anger, which Xander laughed off as he grabbed the Slayer around the waist and pulled her down onto his lap. The intimacy of the moment should have caused some alarm to go off, but he was doing it as a friend. To share the seat. She snuggled into Xander's chest as he wrapped his arm around her, laying his head on the top of hers. She inhaled the aroma of popcorn and the lingering odor of the CK1 he had sprayed on himself earlier. She smiled happily as she watched the movie with would eventually become her favorite, with the man she would fall head over heels in love with.

~ * ~ * ~

Buffy looked up at Angel and Willow and said, "I'm sorry. You have every right to hate me."

Angel and Willow exchanged glances and replied in unison, "Hate you?"

Buffy took a deep breath and side softly, "Because you're both right. I do love him."

Buffy saw Angel tense suddenly. Next to him, Willow inhaled a quick breath.

"I honestly didn't know until just recently and I am so sorry," Buffy continued.

She walked up to Angel and looked at him.

"I was just a young kid when I met you. Sure, my experienced caused me to grow faster. But it didn't cause me to mature faster. I thought it did," Buffy said. "I didn't know how I felt. At first I hated you. Then I liked you. Then I loved you. I thought I knew what I wanted. I didn't. I part of me will always love you, but I can't stay a kid forever."

Angel looked down at his feet, as if avoiding her gaze. Which in fact he was, that is until he realized that he needed to talk as well.

"I died in 1756. I lost a lot. My family. My soul. I became a thing of evil. And my good side was a small voice that was in a storm of hatred and darkness." Angel paused, then continued. "I killed a lot of people. And during all that time, my good side died a little. When my soul was restored, I was relieved and in anguish. I hid away from the world. The guilt of what I had done racked my soul for 8 decades. And in all that time, I missed love. When I met you, I felt like I found an equal. Someone who I could love. Who could love me. But that couldn't happen. It can't happen. I realize that now I was being selfish. A part of me loves you. But you deserve more than I can ever give you. You deserve someone who can walk in the sun with you. Who could be a father, a lover, a friend. You deserve someone who you can grow old with."

They stood in silence. Each knowing the chapter to a part of their lives had closed forever. Buffy looked at Willow, who in turn was avoiding her gaze.

"Willow." Buffy said. "You are one of my bestest friends. You've been in love with Xander for so long. You know him as well as you know yourself. I know you are angry that I fell in love with him, but I couldn't help it. I wish I could change the way I feel, but I just..."

"Can't." Willow finished for her. "I understand. Believe me, I do. I've had a crush on Xander for six years. I've always assumed it was love. But maybe I was wrong. I assumed my feelings would change him. I assumed his feelings for you was just a phase for him. Maybe I was wrong. I love Xander, he doesn't love me. And you are right. I knew Xander. Knew. He's darker now. More closed off. I used to read his emotions so easily, now I can barely scratch the surface. You know him that way now. I love Xander. I do. I will always love him. But, I can't obsess about something I can't have. At least with you, he can be happy."

"Can he?" Buffy asked aloud.

"What do you mean?" Angel asked.

"Does he love me? He cared for me at some point, but now he's different. Changed. Does he love me?" Buffy asked.

Willow opened her moth to reply, but quickly closed it. None of them knew the answer to Buffy's question.

At that moment a window near them shattered. Buffy whipped around, ready to fight vampires, but ducked quickly. An arrow flew overhead and embedded itself into the wall above her. Attached to the arrow was a note.

"Dear friends,

Your little friend is enjoying my hospitality greatly. We're even considering having his for dinner. Say, 1-ish? Make sure you're there. Wouldn't want to miss a great meal like that.


Buffy passed the note onto Angel, who quickly passed it on to Giles and Cordelia, who ran into the room.

"What does it say? What does it mean?" Cordelia asked.

Buffy stood up and loaded her crossbow. She looked at Cordelia and said, "They're gonna kill him at 1 A.M tomorrow morning. I'm not going to let that happen"

Buffy walked off out of the hall, out of the castle, and into the woods. Preparing for battle, she went to the caves.

To save the one man in the world who completed her soul.