Welcome back! Another chapter on another Sunday!

I got a big one for you, so let's not waste any time. Big thank you to my wonderful beta readers, Oxnate and Chelanxar!

WARNING: Violence, Foul Language, Lemon.

11.6K words. Enjoy!

A Monster

The proceeding days were grueling, somber ones for Xander, but the first one was the roughest. He couldn't even think of a future. His thoughts were stuck in the past, and he mourned his present. His every minute felt like being buried alive and having no will to escape or even move; only this feeling was constant. The grief-stricken teen couldn't say or do anything, and wondered what higher power out there was forcing him to live when he could just as easily… not. Xander felt broken and simply laid in bed in Cordelia's home.

The gang couldn't know if the Harris' invited Spike or Drusilla into their house or not. They couldn't even answer if a turned vampire would be capable of entering a home they owned when they were alive. Did the vampire no longer own it because they are undead? Without a clear answer, Buffy wanted Xander to stay with her in the spare bedroom, however, he wasn't fond of the idea of being near her. She could make him do things simply by hearing her voice asking—not unlike magic—but Xander didn't want to do anything but lie in bed.

Without trying, Xander could easily hear Cordelia chewing out his friends in the room outside of his. She was furious on his behalf, and he could hear her easily through the walls. Xander heard his beautiful friend demand to know, "Did any of you even consider that his parents might be a target? A watcher, the slayer, and the class genius who just so happens to be his childhood friend! How could none of you think about him?"

"Trying to shame us is rich coming from you," Xander heard Buffy retort through the walls. "No one in his entire life bullies or belittles him more than you do!"

"Because I can do that without hurting him," Cordelia's muffled voice heatedly returned. "I'm a freaking artist like that! You might not understand that, but I don't care! Xander and I get each other. It's why we can bicker and move on like it's nothing. But what about you? None of you see the real Xander. He's just your pet-geek you keep around to shower you with praise, make you laugh, or help you research."

"Who the hell do you think you are?" an upset Willow shot back. "Questioning our friendship, like we don't care enough! We love him! Which is more than you can say because you don't love anyone but yourself!"

"That's enough, all of you," Giles' strong English voice came through the wall, shutting their argument down. "Xander is the one who suffered a tragic loss tonight. He'll need our support now more than ever, not our hostilities. Do I make myself clear?"

In the thick darkness of the room, Xander heard the clock tick through his restless sleep and tortured wakefulness. Time, conversation, and hunger were meaningless to him, but the moment Xander regained some of his vigor was when he heard his friends talking about locating and killing Spike and Drusilla by the end of the week. It made him fear looping back, but it also made him realize he could see his parents again, soul-crushing though they were.

Since their deaths, he hadn't stopped thinking about that night with his cat, how his mother became, how his father took it out on him, and how drinking was the only thing that helped them live years in a house without eventually killing each other. Anthony and Jessica Harris weren't winning any awards for parenting, and he'd likely be mentally better without them around, however, Xander struggled to hate them. Instead, he continuously asked himself if he should go back for them. It's what a good son would do—it's what Buffy would do—and he wanted to be good.

Frustratingly, he couldn't think of an answer. His mind wasn't clear enough, wasn't focused enough to tackle such monumental introspective concepts. As ever, in extreme distress, Xander allowed himself to follow his emotions and was adamant when he weakly told his friends, "I want him resouled."

They all turned to him as he stood by the bedroom door. It was still night out, but Xander couldn't be sure if it was the same day or not. His mind was a more terrible mess than his room on Halloween. They slowly moved toward him, but it felt inexplicably hostile, and Xander reactively took a step back.

Giles stopped them from moving toward him, however, Buffy voiced, "You can't be serious. After what he did, he doesn't deserve a soul."

"It's torment," Xander's gravelly voice replied. "I hate Spike's guts with every fiber of my being… but I've never been more serious. It's better this way. He'll suffer more. I don't want him dusted, I want him resouled… so he can suffer."

Xander returned to his room and bed as they discussed it amongst themselves, however, none of them could deny him his request. By the end, Willow was sitting on the bed beside him, holding his hand as she told him they were going to look through Jenny's things in hopes she documented how to ensoul Spike.


Giles mentioned meeting someone named Doug Parren at the museum to inspect a demon statue they'd just received. Willow stayed with Xander while Cordelia asked to speak with Buffy in private. Without waiting for a reply, Cordelia turned and walked outside. Buffy momentarily considered following the blunt girl or staying by her friend's side, despite the guilt she felt.

Buffy was the Slayer, the chosen one tasked with the strength and skill to stand against vampires, demons, and the forces of evil. Her life was set in the duty of stopping the spread of evil, and yet, she allowed it to infect the life of one of her best friends. Buffy had the strength and ability to stop any vampire, and yet she couldn't stop Spike from turning Xander's parents into the undead. She couldn't stop blaming herself.

The blonde was certain whatever Cordelia wanted to discuss wouldn't be good, however, Buffy needed a break from feeling so powerless. She's felt that emotion for so long after breaking up with Angel, and that feeling doubled when she'd see how happy Willow was with Oz. It physically pained Buffy to have so much supernatural power, and yet be so powerless when it came to being with the man she loved more than anyone. Buffy couldn't take that feeling for much longer. With a sigh, she got off the couch and followed the abrasive cheerleader. They walked beyond her large swimming pool to the garden before stopping.

Cordelia crossed her arms before hotly contesting, "He loves you, you know."

Buffy let her head fall back, as if she were looking up at the night sky and asking for patience. Cordelia never ceased to surprise, though, primarily in less than helpful snide commentaries. Lately, Buffy wasn't sure why the brunette would argue in Xander's favor when she was the one who fought with him the most.

Buffy groaned a bit before remarking, "Cordelia, I really don't get what your fascination with Xander is-"

"I like him," Cordelia promptly interjected, confusing Buffy.

The blonde squinted her eyes at the inconceivable statement before slowly asking, "You… like him?"

Unconcerned with Buffy's grasp of the concept, Cordelia explained, "I realized that I like, liking, more than loving." Buffy was lost, but Cordelia continued. "Love makes people stupid. A vampire Slayer won't slay a vampire because she loves him. The most popular girl in school would stoop to dating a loser because she loved him."

"Wait, what?" Buffy gasped with wide eyes, immediately thrown for a loop. Buffy nearly lost her equilibrium from the whiplash of getting annoyed by the girl's judgment on her love for Angel to being stunned by her confession of love toward Xander.

"Not that you have any right to know details," Cordelia continued, as if she didn't just slap Buffy in the face with a bombshell. "But when you kicked him out of your little fiefdom, Xander and I started dating; in secret, obviously." Buffy's eyebrows raised at the confirmation and her mind went blank. "It ended when you finally stopped being a love-sick, woe-is-me maiden. That's when I knew he'd always love you, which hurt—more than I care to admit—but then I realized I like liking him more than loving him. Like I said, love can make you stupid, and I'm anything but. I'll look for love when I'm like, twenty-five or something."

'No, no, no, no. I am not dealing with this now,' Buffy thought, completely underprepared to tackle a conversation like this when her friend lost his parents. Buffy was barely hanging on. Without the patience for her tactless argument, the slayer replied, "Not to underscore how completely cross-eyed, straightjacket crazy this is, but why are you even telling me this?"

"Because, he loves you," Cordelia flatly returned, pestering Buffy further.

The slayer knew Xander had feelings for her; strong feelings. After rejecting his confession the previous summer, she always hoped he'd get over her. She couldn't return his feelings and she didn't want to hurt him any more than her life, as the slayer already had. More guilt felt heaped onto her shoulders as she realized how horrible his life became because of her duty.

She was brought back to the present when Cordelia continued claiming, "Xander does everything for you; spends weeks at a forge to make you weapons; illegally breaks into military bases to steal bazookas; fights a super-strong vampire by himself just to keep it from killing you."

Buffy couldn't deny any of that and the heart-wrenching guilt only got heavier. She was always glad Xander hadn't asked her out a second time after summer, however, she could feel him try in other ways. She could see his feelings were still there when he researched for hours or made weapons, even if he didn't voice it. As ever, Cordelia went for the jugular and said the very thing Buffy dreaded.

"It won't end well for him because you don't love him back," she asserted. "And the longer he has hope, the worse it'll be. You'll never love him back; not the way he wants. So, you may as well help me, help him, get over you."

With that, Buffy found it easy to set aside her depression for anger as she took a hard step forward to heatedly clarify, "His parents just died, you guilt-trip us to hell about it, and all you care about is getting your boyfriend back? Excuse me, ex-boyfriend. How vain and selfish can you be!"

Cordelia didn't balk at the accusation, and just as heatedly asserted, "I'm not the Slayer! His parents getting killed by vampires is on you, not me. The very least I can do is help him get over you so he can actually find happiness."

Done with the asinine girl, Buffy couldn't stand there any longer. She bit her tongue and left. Rather than return to Xander's side, she went to the nearest graveyard, fists clenched the entire way. Buffy needed to hit something; to do anything physical, so she didn't have to tumble down a mental rabbit hole of her failures. The slayer patrolled the graveyard like she was on a mission, but only grew more frustrated and powerless as the minutes of peaceful night ticked on. She simply wanted to take out all of her frustrations on a newly made vampire.

When she heard the faintest dry leaf crunch under what sounded like a light foot, Buffy brought out her stake and was eager for a fight. She slowly stepped forward when she suddenly heard a brush rustling behind her. Concerned, she turned to find no one there, then she felt a presence, and Buffy swiftly turned, ready to stake the heart of the one behind her, when she met Kendra's eyes instead.

Buffy pulled back and exhaled her zeal for a fight. "You know, most polite people call before they jump out of the bushes and attack you."

"Just wanted to test your reflexes," Kendra stated in her Jamaican accent. "I got too close."

"Luckily, you need to be close to get punched in the face," Buffy jokingly returned. "Not that I'm not glad to see you, but I have to ask. What are you doing here?" Before Kendra could answer, Buffy suddenly interjected, "Wait. Let me guess. Your watcher informed you that a very dark power is about to rise in Sunnydale."

"That's about it," Kendra acknowledged.

"Great," Buffy lamented. "Any idea what this dark power is?"

Kendra took a step forward before gravely answering, "My watcher sent me to stop the demon Acathla from rising and swallowing the world as we know it."

"Oh. Okay."

Buffy's complete lack of enthusiasm tilted Kendra's head in confusion. It clearly wasn't the reaction she was expecting, and asked her sister-slayer what was wrong. After a moment of silence, Buffy had them walk around as she painstakingly admitted to her culpability in the death of Xander's parents.

"Is Xander alright- No," Kendra started, before correcting herself. "I don't imagine he is. What is being done to avenge his family?"

Leisurely walking beside the upset Jamaican, Buffy dejectedly answered, "We were going to hunt Spike down and gut him like a fish before killing him, but… Xander wants to ensoul Spike, like Angel, and make him suffer alive."

"That isn't surprising to hear," Kendra easily accepted, unsettling the blonde.

"Are you kidding me?" Buffy called back, looking at the exotic beauty as if she were an alien. "That's completely surprising! Other than finding out about Xander dating Cordelia, it's the craziest thing I've ever heard!"

More curious about that point, Kendra asked, "He has a girlfriend?"

"Uh, had," Buffy elaborated. "I think they broke up. Wait, why don't you think it's Looney Tunes?"

"Looney Tunes?"

"Crazy," the blonde clarified.

"Xander has spoken to my watcher several times over the phone," Kendra admitted, completely surprising Buffy.

Her mind quickly asked, 'Why would he call her watcher? Why would he care to? And why didn't he say anything?'

However, Buffy focused on Kendra as she continued saying, "He somehow convinced Zabuto that I must master social encounters, so that I am not easily deceived by unforeseen dangers."

With surprised blinks at the discovery, the lost blonde stumbled to reply, "He- Wait, what? When was this? And what does that mean, social encounters?"

"Raised from a young age under my watcher's tutelage, I was forbidden from speaking to men," Kendra shared with her curious sister-slayer. "I grew up oblivious to their social sorcery. Because of that disadvantage, I unwittingly experienced the… satisfaction of a woman."

"A woman?" Buffy asked with confusion, and Kendra nodded. "Not a Slayer?" she asked, and the Jamaican shook her head. The blush on her cheeks was unmistakable and the slight wisp of a smile, it dawned on Buffy what the gorgeous islander meant and she hollered with wide eyes, "Kendra! Did you- Did you have sex?"

Kendra didn't even seem embarrassed as she nodded and smoothly answered, "Aye."

"Wow, when it rains, it pours, and I'm totally swimming here," Buffy joked. She was being bombarded with so much information that night and wasn't sure how she felt about it all. Curious about one thing, Buffy leaned closer as she asked, "How was it? Wait, can I ask that? If it's too personal, you don't have to say."

Kendra didn't seem to mind, and answered, "It was unexpectedly otherworldly. I never imagined such pleasure was feasible, let alone possible for me."

Buffy raised her stunned eyebrows as she exhaled. "Wow… Sounds amazing." Recalling all the girls around her in school who gossip about sex, or the magazines she's read about the same subject, Buffy mentioned, "I've heard most first-times aren't so great."

Slightly uncomfortable, Kendra hesitated to ask, "Have you and Angel…?"

Feeling down again, Buffy glumly shook her head before answering, "We're actually not together anymore."

"I see."

Eager to change the subject, Buffy asked, "Do you have a place to stay?"

"There's no shortage of abandoned-"

"Stop," the blonde interrupted. "You're staying at my place. Speaking of, I'll have to lend you my key since we're staying with Xander tonight."

"May I join you?"

Buffy nodded, and they began walking. In less than a minute, Buffy already had dozens of questions trapped in her head and eager to get out, and so couldn't help but ask for details. "So, when did this magical, amazing event happen?"

Kendra was a little embarrassed, looking away and up to the moon above as she answered, "Last time I was here."

Stunned, Buffy returned, "Wait, here in Sunnydale?" At Kendra's nod, the blonde slayer commented, "Mnnn, so that's why Xander talked with your watcher. He's right, you know. You have to be careful with pickup artists, and I don't mean the sleazy ones, either. Those are easy to spot. I mean the genuine kind. They're the worst."

"Pickup artists?" Kendra asked with a curious head tilt.

"Also called Players because they play with women's hearts," Buffy crucially informed the unaware beauty. "You called it social sorcery, and it really is. These men know exactly what to say to convince women to sleep with them. They can be sweet, funny, charming, or even genuine, but never actually mean any of it. They're professional liars and, essentially, the enemy of women everywhere."

Slightly nodding her head in understanding, shaking her raven-haired ponytail, Kendra thoughtfully expressed, "I had not considered Xander to be a player." Buffy drew her brows in, confused as her sister-slayer asked, "In your estimation, is his reputation that of a player? If so, I won't allow him the satisfaction of toying with me."

Buffy was so confused, she stopped walking to face Kendra and asked, "Xander… Xander? I- I don't understand. What does he have to do with- …Wait. Kendra, do I… do I know the man you slept with?"

Nodding, he casually answered, "It was the night I met Xander-"

"Oh, my, GOD!" a wide-eyed Buffy called out before covering her mouth with her hand and surprising the Jamaican.

Concerned, Kendra eyed Buffy like she was wounded, asking, "Are you okay?"

Buffy began pacing with her hand on her inflamed cheek as she bafflingly confessed, "I can honestly say I'm the farthest thing from okay there is." She stopped to ask Kendra clearly, "Xander? You're telling me you slept with Xander? My- My friend Xander? Really?" Arms crossed behind her back, Kendra casually nodded, and Buffy stepped away dramatically. "Wow! This is like a punch straight to the brain. I'm learning way too much about my friend too fast."

"Perhaps you did not know your friend as well as you believed."

"That's just great!" Buffy called out, throwing her hands in the air. "Not only did I practically kill his parents, but it turns out there's a whole side of Xander I didn't even know existed."

With something of a wicked smile, Kendra remarked, "I can attest it was a very good side."

Shaking her blonde head like her entire mouth was sour, Buffy called out, "Ewww! Don't say that and make me think about it!"

"As you wish."

Stunned by the revelation, Buffy couldn't believe it. First Cordelia, and now Kendra. It begged the question, 'How?' Buffy felt certain she knew her lovable, goofy, and loyal friend. 'I thought he was… I guess I can't expect him to be hung up on me forever,' she couldn't stop her mind from thinking, then brushed the curious misgiving aside. Buffy didn't mind if he dated other women. It would help her friendship with Xander if he fell in love with a girl who would return his feelings. 'Cordelia practically demanded him back. Kendra doesn't seem to have any complaints. And they're both uber-attractive… Damn, Xander. You really swing for the fences.'

Turning to the silent, statuesque ebony slayer, Buffy hesitated to ask, "...Was he really that good?"

The gorgeous slayer nodded as she voiced with conviction, "Very."

'Oh my God!' Buffy screamed in her head, cupping her mouth with her hand as a twisted fascination made her wonder what they did and how good Xander was. They began walking again, but Buffy's mind was a knotted mess of thoughts. Though she felt odd inquiring about personal details about her friend, Buffy couldn't help but crave more details and asked, "So… he hit on you and, and, you didn't know how to handle it, so you both ended up… doing it? Is that how it happened?"

The ebony beauty nodded as sternly as ever, stating, "That is why Xander was so adamant I gain more experience dealing with men. He exposed a weakness that I don't want my enemies to exploit."

"Wow, Xander…"

Buffy was quiet throughout the rest of the walk. When they entered the Chase residence, Cordelia informed them Willow was with him and they left it at that.


Come early morning, Xander found Cordelia, Buffy, and Kendra in the spacious kitchen. The luxury room was exquisitely designed with marble, maple wood, and large windows to let a lot of sunlight in. The only reason it appeared the girls didn't notice him was due to their extreme focus on the ingredients and kitchen wear on the kitchen island in front of them. From the familiar red box to the white flour, it was clear they were trying to make breakfast.

"But I've never heard of salt in pancakes," Cordelia proclaimed, raising the pink salt jar at Buffy. "Salty pancakes? Oh, I'm sure he'd like that," she sarcastically finished.

"I'm reading it from the box! Right here," Buffy heatedly returned, showing the cheerleader the box of pancake mix. "You got a problem with it, take it up with Betty Crocker!"

"Why must we make this when bread and water would suffice?" Kendra asked the two heated girls.

"He loves pancakes," Buffy and Cordelia answered in unison, causing them to eye each other and softening their frustrated facial expressions.

Moving past their odd, synchronous moment with a huff, Cordelia called out, "This is exactly why I didn't want to give Marguerita the day off. How are we supposed to eat now?"

Despite having lost his parents a few days ago, Xander managed a smile as he walked into the kitchen. He wasn't anywhere near better, however, he had developed a strong habit of working out early in the mornings, so his body felt restless if he didn't go. They looked at his sweaty appearance, then upstairs, and Xander assumed they believed he was still in the bedroom with Willow.

Cordelia quickly asked, "Why are you coming in from the front door?"

"…To come inside?" Xander slowly answered, as if it were an apparent conclusion.

"Where've you been?" Buffy asked, moving closer to him.

The other two followed and Xander met them in the middle as he answered the blonde, "Morning workout."

"Are you okay?" Buffy quickly followed, looking at him with deep soulful eyes, as if she were peering into his core for the truth.

Uncomfortable with anyone engaging too deeply at the moment, he simply nodded before turning to the Jamaican slayer. "Hey, Kendra. Welcome back." She nodded her greeting, but he hugged her. Cordelia and Buffy watched the surprised slayer eventually lean her head into the hug as her strong caramel arms halfway hugged him back.

"Thank you," she replied as they separated. "I wish it were under better circumstances."

"What's going on?" Xander asked, thinking of how much he missed hearing her Jamaican Patio accent.

"We don't have to get into it now," Buffy quickly interjected. The blonde moved to the kitchen island once again and grabbed the box of pancake mix as she voiced, "Our plate is officially at maximum capacity. It's gonna break if we add any more."

"I heard about your parents," Kendra softly expressed to him. "I'm sorry."

"Thank you," Xander replied with a tight smile, still conflicted about his decision to go back and grief-stricken at the same time.

Before he could say any more, the four heard hurried footsteps coming from the second level, down the stairs, through the living room, and to the kitchen. Willow looked frantic in her bunny pajamas, red strands of her bed hair pressed to her face, but at the sight of him, she calmed down. Then, as if remembering what happened to her best friend, she rushed to hug him.

"I'm super stinky, Wills," he said to the girl, hugging him tightly. Fortunately, Dreadnought healed most of his injuries by that point, and the pain flaring within him wasn't as severe as before.

"I like stinky," Willow simply responded, eyes closed as her head caressed against his chest. "Stinky is good."

For the second time that morning, Xander smiled, then asked, "Do me a favor?"

"Anything," she replied, looking up at him without letting go.

With a soft expression, he asked, "It looks like three out of the four strongest girls I know are losing to an evil box of pancake mix. Help 'em out?"

She nodded with her cute smile and proclaimed, "If there's cinnamon, I'll make your favorite cinnamon brown sugar!"

"Thanks," he said, before telling them, "I'm going to hop in the shower."

When freshly clean Xander came down for breakfast, the girls discussed the logistics of everything he needed to do that day. He assured them he was fine, and they talked a bit about what Kendra was doing there. Despite his early morning exercise, Xander felt no appetite and barely touched his pancakes. Cordelia and Willow asked him to eat some more, however, it wasn't until Buffy backed them up that he did.

While Buffy and Kendra left to meet with Giles, Willow, Xander, and Cordelia went to the police station to file a missing persons report on his parents. He answered their questions as best he could; Full name or names of the missing, date of birth, and social security number; Physical descriptions; Details of where and when they were last seen or heard from; Details of any vehicle that may be involved; And any known travel plans or destinations. The hardest question was when he noticed they were missing.

Answering the officer, "N-Nearly a week," made him feel like a shitty son again.

Then they asked about the habits and personalities of the missing. Smoking, drinking, prescription drugs, known haunts, type of personality, values & philosophy, friendly or depressed, or if they have emotional problems. Xander hated voicing the terrible truths of his home life to complete strangers, showcasing to them how ugly his family truly was. Worse yet, he didn't have to tell them anything, since he already knew where his parents were. However, he couldn't deny he deserved to be hated for how terrible of a son he was.

Despite what anyone said, Xander knew he could save them. All he had to do was step off a very tall building, and he'd be back in his disgusting room. Anthony and Jessica Harris would be sleeping off their drunken stupor, and that uncomfortable, vile, but familiar life would be his once again. Xander wasn't sure he wanted that, however; he knew the longer he waited to decide, the harder it would be to turn back. The young man wanted out of the year-loop, and he had a little under nine months to go.

"That's one pregnancy; that's nothing," he mumbled to himself as he walked through the halls of the precinct to his friends in the waiting area.

Afterward, Willow left to go through Jenny's things to find clues for ensouling vampires, and Cordelia stayed with him at Wild Dinks. She brought a stack of magazines and pulled up a chair next to his workstation to read as he worked. The guys at the shop were curious, and after telling them a short version of what happened, they let him work in peace. Xander blocked the world away as easily as closing a door when he worked over his anvil, and he was so grateful for it.

After a few hours, Cordelia was relieved by Willow, and then Willow was relieved by Buffy. He felt appreciative of them and the care they'd shown him, but nothing took away the guilt of what this ordeal uncovered; being a terrible son. Every time he stopped to take a break from the fire and superheated metal, all he thought of was how he could go back and save them, but because he was unwilling to sacrifice half a year of forward progress, he basically allowed his parents to remain dead.

'We really are- were the worst family,' he mentally mused.

All his thoughts went toward trying to justify this decision: his parents were drunks, abusive, and neglectful; they were more like roommates than blood relatives; even Old Man Xander didn't foster a better relationship with them in adulthood. Stopping them from becoming vampires in a new loop would not change him or them. Xander didn't feel an overwhelming need to loop back to save them, and that could only be because he didn't consider them a true family, which made him feel less human and more like a monster.

It's possible Xander didn't care as much as he should, because, as Merlin warned, the high number of times he looped had desensitized him. To his dread, however, he also felt it wouldn't matter if there wasn't a time-loop. In the end, Xander came to the painful decision to save them if, by some terrible outcome, he was forced to loop back again. It felt like a flimsy excuse, but until then, he'd force himself to continue on.

A touch on his shoulder caused a fright in him so badly, his spine stiffened and his skin felt like it was crawling. He turned to the stunning sight of Cordelia holding in her grin. Xander set the handle he was wrapping in leather down as she apologized for startling him.

"It's fine," he said, waving her apology off. "You're back."

"We've been switching all day," Cordelia answered as she eyed his untouched food. "Eat," she ordered.

He looked into her stern brown eyes for a moment, and could feel how seriously she meant it. Fortunately, his stomach did feel as if it was eating itself. Xander took a bite of the PB&J before opening the bag of chips. Cordelia asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Honestly? Numb," he answered between large mouthfuls. "They were shitty parents, but… but they were my parents. So, I'm guilty of being a shitty son for feeling that way."

"You're not a shitty son," Cordelia quickly contested. "A terrible dresser, no doubt. But I know you would've saved them if you could."

Turning to her, he asked, "Would I?" He wasn't going to tell her about repeating time because he still had hope he could make it out of the year-loop, however, he wanted her to understand the possibilities of their world. "With slayers, vampires, witches, all sorts of crazy magic and spells- I got the memories of a Navy SEAL because I dressed as one for Halloween. How could there not be a way to save them?"

"Oh, yeah, because raising the dead always turns out okay," Cordelia sarcastically returned. "I can't cheer you up if you're going to be stupid about this."

"If this is you trying to cheer me up, cuz Guantanamo Bay could use it to interrogate prisoners."

"Maybe, but I got a joke out of you, so it's my win," she said with a smile, making him feel amused. Then Cordelia leaned in and kissed his cheek. The stunning girl looked deeply into his eyes and he knew he shouldn't push for more than he already had. She must've seen his hesitation and said, "It's okay. Don't worry about the extra stuff right now. I'm just too fantastic of a friend to not be here for you."

He huffed something of a smile before replying, "Thanks, Cordy."

Looking at the leather wrap with the metal menuki fittings on the table and within the bindings, the curious cheerleader asked, "So, you almost done? Not that I need my beauty sleep or anything. It's more like beauty sleep needs me."

With half a smile, Xander relieved her of duty and answered, "You can head back. I'll walk home."

Aghast, Cordelia asked incredulously, "You still want to work?"

"Just a little longer."

Turning to her chair, she grumbled, "Fine, I'll stay-"

"You don't have-"

"I'm not leaving you alone," she point-blank told him. She gave him a quick kiss on the lips before compromising, "But can you at least make some jewelry?"

Struck by the static electricity of an epiphany, Xander instantly thought of accessories and apparel that amplified the power of legendary Gods; the Ring of Power Eitri made for Odin, the golden ring of Draupnir, Thor's belt of power, Megingjörð, and his iron gloves, Járngreipr. When worn, Thor's belt of power, Megingjörð, was described as doubling his already prodigious strength. Járngreipr, the iron gloves, allowed the God of Thunder to handle his powerful hammer, Mjölnir. While iron gloves and a WWF-thick belt might be too ostentatious for the day and age, there was a lot of potential behind mixing those runes with the golden ring of Draupnir.

The ring of power was a significant ring Eitri and his brother Brokkr presented to Odin. Draupnir multiplied the wearer's need, so long as there's already precedent for it; needing more strength will push the muscles to the very edge of their ability, or possibly beyond; Growing hair, changing eye color, healing faster, natural camouflaging, and so many more possibilities. The potential of a ring like that was so tantalizing, Xander stopped thinking of his parents for nearly a minute.

The master smith began the project immediately, using Eitri's memories to write out everything he needed to complete this series of constructs. He imagined the first ring wouldn't work that well, so he planned to make as many as it took to get a powerful ring.

The slayers came by a few hours later, and Kendra escorted Cordelia home while Buffy stayed with Xander. The silence between them extended for minutes longer than Buffy seemed capable of withstanding. Xander could tell she seemed eager—nearly amused—to say something, and eventually asked, "So… Cordelia…"

The look on Buffy's eagerly inquisitive face—a mix of wide, knowing eyes, a curt smile, and a hungry expression—was all Xander needed to ask in bafflement, "She told you?"

"So it's true!?" the befuddled, yet amused Buffy yelled in the empty shop. "Cordelia? Really? She's so not meant for you! She's like the anti-Xander."

"Nice," Xander said, giving her props for the joke.

"Thanks," Buffy replied, proud of herself.

"Some people would say that's a good match," Xander remarked.

"You mean being polar opposites?" Buffy asked before answering, "I can't see how."

"I thought you'd be a little more understanding."

"How could I possibly understand that?" Xander raised his eyebrows, and Buffy seemed to recall the opposite trait of her own love interest. "Okay, yes, the vampire slayer fell in love with a vampire. Can that please stop being a thing?"

'Not just one,' Xander nauseously thought.

"I could at least share anything with Angel," Buffy pointed out. "I can't even imagine what you and Cordelia talk about. Do you even have anything in common?"

"She doesn't have a good home life either," Xander gravely pointed out, and the not-so-distant memory of his parents' death fell on them like a ton of bricks. Buffy went silent, however, Xander pushed on, saying, "My parents are... I guess they were alcoholics. Hers are drunks for money and prestige. If I wasn't such a loser and she wasn't Queen Cordelia, I don't doubt we could've been even closer."

As if recalling something, Buffy thoughtfully revealed, "She said she understood you. I thought she said that just to prove her point. But I guess she really does."

"She still drives me up the walls like the Exorcist," Xander lightly joked, without much humor. "But I can't say I don't get where she's coming from."

"Why not date her then?"

"As much as I care about her—as I'll always care about her—I'm just not sure the sun sets with her, you know?"

"Yeah… I guess." After a long beat of silence between them, a nervous and eager Buffy asked with a higher pitch, "And does that magical sun happen to set with Kendra?"

The smirking look of knowing on Buffy's gossip-happy face was all he needed to ask, "She told you?" With a restrained smile plastered on her face, Buffy nodded eagerly as Xander exclaimed, "What the hell? Are you using magic on these people?"

"I should be the one asking you the same thing!" the grinning blonde hotly returned. "Kendra!? Like, how'd that even happen!?"

"Hey, I'll have you know that I have no game at picking up girls," he promptly assured her, despite his talent to pick up beautiful strangers. "You think I could just 'turn on the charm' with a girl as gorgeous as Kendra, and 'make it happen?' I was as surprised about that night as anyone else!"

Leaning in closely, Buffy quickly asked, "Did you know she was a slayer? Cuz that's a pretty big coincidence."

"Maybe I'm just drawn to slayers," he smugly said with a shoulder shrug. "Or I just hit on the one exotic beauty who didn't understand how to navigate flirting. In all seriousness, I feel like I took advantage of her. It sucks not being on an even playing field, you know?"

"You're asking the girl who's always stronger than all the cute guys she meets," Buffy simply put, and Xander nodded. The blonde then asked, "Is that why you yelled at her watcher? Kendra said you made him so mad."

"She needs to learn," Xander adamantly asserted. "What if I had been a baddie?"

"No, yeah, I get it," she quickly agreed. "Did you know she wants you to train her in the uh… social sorcery?"

Quirking his brow a moment, he asked, "Social sorcery?" Then, figuring out what that meant, he asked, "Really? How?"

"I don't know… maybe in a dark room?" Buffy's cheeks blushed deep red at her own joke.

Xander smiled from his soul to see that, then playfully asked, "Was that the Buffy Summers admitting boys and girls do more than smoochies in a dark room?"

"Hey!" she quickly protested. "I'm not some prude who can't talk about... You know- s-sex. I just… Why even bring it up?"

"No pun intended," Xander quickly interjected.

"Oh, shut up," Buffy cutely whined at his perverted joke. "I just mean, of all things private in the world, nuclear launch codes, and aggressive cuddling should be kept from the public."

Looking at her suspiciously, Xander slyly asked, "So, you don't want to ask me for details?"

The blonde seventeen-year-old looked heavily conflicted before hesitantly answering, "I guess? I don't know. I've never had a guy friend like you before, especially one that lost his virginity. Like, are we supposed to pretend it never happened, or do I give you a high five? I don't know the standard operating procedure here."

"I wouldn't mind a high five," Xander admitted. "But that's just because I like high fives in general." Buffy raised her hand and Xander effortlessly slapped her raised palm with a clear CLAP. He then continued, "Look, ask what you want to know, and don't ask what you don't."

"What if it's all just confusing?"

"I guess you figure out why it's confusing," he suggested. "Which I just realized the subject of is my love life."

"I know! I'm just going to- ...just, tell me what you're making."

"A ring for you." At her widened greenish-blue eyes, Xander quickly added, "Not a wedding ring! Just a ring that could do stuff. Stuff like the weapons I make can."

"Oh. Good," Buffy said with palpable relief. "That's good."

"Actually, Cordy gave me the idea," Xander affirmed. "I figure since I can't sleep, I might as well do something useful."

Her humored expression morphed to that of concern before she confessed, "You getting sleep would be very useful to me."

Xander nodded for nearly seven seconds before softly admitting, "…I keep seeing them." Buffy let him work for a few hours before Giles and Willow showed up. Despite the early morning, Willow appeared wired, like she was on her sixth cup of coffee, and explained what she found on one of Jenny's floppy drives.

"I just need a day to gather the ingredients," she told him enthusiastically. "Then I can cast the curse to ensoul Spike tomorrow night."

Giles then warned his young fighters about the statue of Acathla and what could be done with it if it fell in the wrong hands. "The demon universe exists in a dimension separate from our own," the watcher started. "With one breath, Acathla can create a vortex- a kind of whirlpool that will pull everything on earth into that dimension. Any non-demon life in the demon dimension will suffer horrible and eternal torment."

Wincing at the grim stakes, Buffy asked, "So, that would be the literal 'sucked into hell?'"

"Yeah, that's the part I'm really not a fan of," Willow told Buffy and Xander.

"Oh, joy," Xander sarcastically added before Giles drove them to Cordelia's house, where Buffy and Willow spent the night again.

When they got there, Xander was happy to learn the peppy Cordelia took Kendra under her wing and eagerly shared all her hard-earned wisdom with the gorgeous Jamaican. While Willow and Buffy slept in one room, Xander slept alone in a guest room, until Cordelia snuck into his bed. She was wearing the skimpiest bed-wear and hugged him close. Despite the grief on his mind weighing down his heart, his body responded to her comforting warmth and alluring scent. Her hand caressed his naked chest, and very soon, Xander was erect.

"Don't worry," she whispered as she lowered herself between his legs. "Just relax and I'll take care of it."

Removing his boxers, Cordelia wrapped her right hand around his jutting cock, fondling it gently before covering his meat-pole with her beautiful mouth. Xander groaned deeply as she sucked hungrily on his warm, jutting manhood, her lips caressing every inch of his length. The friction of her tongue caressing his sensitive glands made him curl his toes as he spasmed from bouts of pleasure. Her bobbing head grew faster as her hands tightened around the base of his shaft and swollen balls.

"Jezuss, Cor," he gasped, closing his eyes in bliss as his hands dug deeper into her voluminous brunette hair.

Sucking intently on his prick, Cordelia ran her suctioned mouth up and down the sides of his pulsing shaft, leaving trails of saliva across the velvety surface. She rubbed her pert nose against the underside of Xander's member when she moved down to sucking his balls, licking and stroking each aching orb of his flesh until Xander was sure he'd nut then and there. He felt like his entire being was in her mouth, sucking out more pleasure than he felt humanly capable of.

Groaning deeply, Xander jerked his hips, letting her know he wasn't far from blowing. Cordelia moved to the tip of his manhood before completely deep-throating his erection, gripping the sides of her head with more strength. She let his cock slide into her throat, her tongue swirling all around him, basting his erect meat with her warm saliva as she sucked hungrily.

Xander couldn't last another second, and his jutting body spasmed as he exploded in her sucking mouth. Cordelia happily fed on thick globs of his man-milk until his tense body completely collapsed on the bed, spent and overwhelmed with satisfaction.

After she slid up and cuddled beside him, Xander happily gasped, "Wow, Cordy, that was amazing!"

"Someone was backed up," she slyly voiced, licking her full lips.

"It's been a while," he sheepishly confessed, enthralled by the sight of her sexy face. "You didn't have to do that, you know."

"Are you kidding me?" she snorted. "I haven't stopped thinking about it since I saw you in that speedo."

"Huh… I never considered fashion had that kind of effect on a girl," he lightly voiced as he held her close. "I mean, on guys, sure. Anything a girl wears will trip that wire, but on girls? No clue."

"That's because you care more about being a good person than how you dress," Cordelia sweetly voiced in the room's darkness. "I still hate what you wear, but I can tolerate it because I know what a good guy you are."

Gently placing the back of his hand on her forehead, Xander checked her temperature before stating, "That was literally the nicest thing you've ever said to me."

Lightly jabbing his side, she retorted, "It nearly gave me a hernia, so don't expect it again."

He chuckled, held her close, and the pair went to sleep, however, Xander could remain so for long. The following morning, Xander woke up before dawn to exercise and was uplifted when Buffy was waiting for him. He happily agreed to working out together, then regretted it twenty minutes later. Xander's never worked out so hard in his life. Buffy had the strength, stamina, and speed of a hundred men, so nothing he did could truly impress her. To prove it, she did twenty wide-grip pull-ups with his entire body hanging off of her waist.

On the way back, Buffy offered to spar later, prompting him to ask between gasps, "Really?"

"Of course," she cheerfully replied. "After that vampire, and Dodd, and Spike-" And at the mention of Spike, Xander recalled his parents yet again, and his failures as a son and a human being. But Buffy grabbed his hand, and with her bright smile, continued, "You don't have to if you don't want. I just meant you're so good… we could spar, is all."

"It's fine, Buff," he softly reassured her. With a faint smile, he added, "It may not sound like it, but I'd love to."

Xander spent the school day ignoring class and polishing the second ring he finished fabricating and grinding. He incorporated the runes ᛞ, ᛊ ᛋ, ᚠ for 'multiply,' 'power,' and, 'coin,' just like the Golden Ring of Draupnir, and additionally fit the rune ᚾ, for 'need,' like he had with Dreadnought. He expected it to drip gold rings or strengthen him somehow, but even though there was a small glow after he voiced the incantation, it's done nothing as of yet.

Minutes after sundown, Angel came to the library and delivered terrible news. The tall vampire told everyone that Spike and Drusilla had stolen the statue of Acathla and killed the curator. "But I know where they're going to be," he finished.

Giles, Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia turned to Xander, but he looked at Willow. She was setting up the long table for the ritual with the Orb of Thesulah in the middle. Turning into slayer mode, Buffy asked Angel, "Where?"

"Midnight tonight, at the graveyard," Angel answered. "Spike needs something to release Acathla."

Recalling the same separation from the Old Man's memories, Xander quickly voiced, "It's a trap, if I've ever heard one. How lucky are we to learn exactly what Spike needs to release Acathla? And of course, by lucky, I mean suspicious."

"I was pretty thorough in my questioning," Angel said in his defense.

Buffy looked between Angel and Xander for a long moment before shaking her head and turning to Xander. "Even if it is a trap, we have to go. If there's a chance Spike could be there, Angel and I could-" Buffy put her hand up as Xander was about to protest. "We could capture him. Knowing it's a trap will help us set one up for him instead." Softly, she added, "And if he's fighting us, he's not fighting you."

Xander couldn't be sure if she was protecting him, making a tactical mistake, or both. Buffy grabbed Slaymore and strapped it to her hip. She was buttoning her blue long coat as she looked between Kendra and Xander and asserted, "You two to stay here and protect Willow, just in case."

Before Xander could say anything else, Giles asserted, "Good luck," as if approving the plan, and everyone else got to work. Xander was torn between speaking up or doing things differently. He knew Drusilla came to the library with a handful of vampires, however, Xander, Kendra, and Giles should be able to handle that many. Additionally, he had Dreadnought. Xander felt confident they could repel any force, so he let Buffy go without arguing for a different plan of action.

Buffy and Angel promptly left while Kendra, Xander, Cordelia, Giles, and Willow remained in the library to perform the spell. With Dreadnought resting on his shoulder, Xander patrolled the halls, checking to make sure doors were locked, and badgering Giles and Kendra to stay alert. Then he was called back when Willow was nearly ready.

Xander stayed close to the entrance with Kendra while Giles and Cordelia assisted in the ritual. At the dropping of six white stones, Willow nodded to Giles, and they were set to begin. Then Kendra's supernatural hearing picked up a distant metal scratching against the tile floor. The barricades Xander set up to create choke points were being pushed aside, slowing the group of vampires approaching.

"They're here," the Jamaican slayer told the room. Willow looked toward Giles, and the elder seemed conflicted.

Xander just wanted to get it over with and gripped Dreadnought at the ready as he told Giles with clear conviction, "We'll hold them off." However, Xander was expecting Drusilla and a handful of vampires, not the large number coming from the front and breaking through the windows of the upstairs rear section of the library.

With one look at the battle-ready Kendra, they knew there was no other choice but to divide their forces. Xander rushed upstairs to handle the five vampires breaking in while Kendra handled the seven vampires—including Drusilla—stalking through the front entrance. Cordelia and Willow stayed close to each other as Xander sprinted past them, contemplating what the best strategy would be to defend everyone in the room from a dozen vampires.

Typically, Xander had the option of retreating to create space, which created an opportunity to attack, however, running from the demons here meant one or more could veer off and attack Cordelia, Willow, or Giles. Wide swings of his weapon would also be tough around the tight space between bookcases, however, Xander smiled as he thought of a plan.

Xander threw Dreadnought with a vertical spin and each of the five vampires avoided it, telling him they knew of his weapon. It meant Spike prepared them for what to expect, which is likely why there were more vampires than Old Man Xander had faced.

When the vampires stopped to dodge the massive battleaxe, Xander dropped the bookcase on the first two. Dreadnought was lodged in a wall as Xander back-stepped past another bookcase. Three more vampires chased, and when Xander called Dreadnought to his hand, they dodged the weapon again, allowing the teen to shove the bookcase on two more vampires. With more space, Xander was better able to swing his magically lighter weapon against the five angry vampires.

Xander parried an ill-advised spinning heel kick from the first vampire before cutting deeply into his leg. He attacked while keeping them in front, dodging or blocking their series of telegraphed kicks and punches. Wind from their fast attacks rushed by his ears, millimeters away, however, Xander didn't panic. Though they were faster and stronger, the young warrior was the better fighter and tactician. Through quick combinations of snap punches, Xander slipped or blocked with the wood handle of his axe effortlessly.

The axe-wielding teen parried another kick and cut the leg clean off, ripping a scream out of the second vampire's throat. He lobbed Dreadnought horizontally at two vamps who caught it and immediately were pulled down to the floor, as if the axe suddenly weighed tons more than their strength could lift. Xander staked the vampire that lost his leg before fighting the last fanged demon.

The two vampires stuck to the floor pulled with all their might as Xander fought with a single vampire. He slipped his telegraphed punches, but blocking without Dreadnought was already hurting his arms down to the bone. Dodging low, he grabbed a loose book from the floor and tossed it at his head. The vampire dodged, only to be met with the point of his stake in the eye. The creature of the night yelled as it pulled away, then soon turned into dust after Xander staked the distracted vampire in the heart. At the scream, Xander risked a glance toward the lower part of the library, and was just in time to watch Drusilla slit Kendra's throat.

"No!" Xander yelled as he noted two vampires grabbing Giles, while another struck Willow in the face before chasing Cordelia.

Xander quickly stabbed the two vampires struggling to remove their hands from under Dreadnought, turning them to dust, before leaping over the railing to chase the vampire threatening Cordelia. Xander focused his rising rage on decapitating the homicidal demon, turning it into dust and sadly covering Cordelia in the gray ash. He quickly spun to see that Giles, Drusilla, and the remaining vampires were gone.

Mentally setting them aside, he ran toward the wounded slayer and slid to her side. Her left hand was covered in blood, but to her side, as if she had tried to stop the profuse bleeding before losing strength to keep her palm tightly pressed to her neck. The way her bright red blood was pooling around her, Xander figured it was her left external jugular vein and prayed he wasn't too late.

Without a second to lose, Xander put Dreadnought in her hand and instructed either Kendra or the axe to heal, then slipped his untested Odin's Ring of Power on her finger as Willow brought the first-aid bag from Giles' office. Cordelia called 911 while Xander applied pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding, but she was hemorrhaging so much blood, his hands were coated in inky red. Even unconscious, more blood continued gushing out, however, the only reason Xander didn't stop applying pressure was because Kendra still gripped Dreadnought. There was nothing else they could do but hope his magical items accelerated Kendra's superhuman healing enough to close the cut to her jugular vein.

What felt like a lifetime later, Cordelia rushed into the library with the paramedics behind her. After Xander hastened to explain the axe was stuck to her hand, the medical professionals took her along with the weapon. Xander refused to stay and jumped in the ambulance while Cordelia and Willow followed behind them. Rushing Kendra up the hospital's ramp, Xander's heart stopped when she dropped the axe. Xander tried to put it back in her hand, but they wouldn't let him and she was rushed to surgery. After storing Dreadnought in Cordelia's car, the three waited in the sitting area while Kendra was in surgery.

Willow called Oz and asked him to look around for Buffy, and Xander called Zabuto to inform him what happened. The elder watcher appreciated the call and simply asked to know if she died or not before hanging up. Considering the surgery hadn't ended, it annoyed Xander how little the man seemed to care. It made Xander wonder about the humanity of a watcher, and how unorthodox Giles really was. Buffy showed up an hour later and the gang huddled together in the hall to talk about what happened.

"I thought we set a good trap, but they had a bigger force than I expected," Buffy told them. Glumly, she hesitated to share, "Now… they have Angel."

Buffy clearly feared what they would do to her vampire love, however, Xander quickly informed her, "They took Giles too."

Buffy's eyes widened with even more concern. She rubbed her face in growing frustration before turning to Xander and asserting, "I need you."

"You got me," he quickly replied before turning to Willow and asking, "Can you do the spell here?"

"I- The library's ambient magic would be much better," Willow explained. "It's why we went there instead of someplace more defensible."

"Is that a no?" Buffy asked.

Willow took a deep breath, eying each of her friends, her boyfriend, and Cordelia before proclaiming, "I'll try."

"Do it," Buffy told her before she and Xander left.

The first location the teenagers ran toward was Giles' apartment. They hoped there would be a trashed home where a clue as to where they took the watcher would be. Instead, the pair ran into a stranger. The short Caucasian male walked down the steps of the second floor a few seconds after they rushed in. While a sweaty Xander was catching his breath, Buffy yelled at the intruder dressed in a brown suit, mustard yellow dress shirt, and a brown fedora hat.

"Who are you?" she demanded to know.

"Whistler," he simply answered, calmly stepping up to her.

"What are you doing here?"

Whistler candidly replied, "Waiting for you." Leaning to the side to spot Xander, he added, "You're a surprise, though. Huh… weird."

"Why were you waiting for me?" Buffy asked Whistler.

"It wasn't supposed to go down like this," the clean-shaven man admitted. Walking around the apartment, he explained to the teenagers, "I figured Angel was here to stop Acathla, not to bring him forth."

"What do you mean?" Buffy sternly demanded. "He wouldn't do that."

"I got it on good authority that he would," Whistler stated with something of a Brooklyn accent. "What are you going to do if he's not the vamp you remember? Or, maybe I should ask, 'What are you prepared to give up?'"

Shaking her head in growing frustration, Buffy asserted, "You don't have anything useful for me, do you? What are you? Some immortal demon sent down to even the score between good and evil?"

"Wow, that's actually a good guess," a surprised Whistler said. "You must ace all your tests without a lick of studying."

Buffy aggressively got in his face and proclaimed, "Why don't you try getting off of your immortal ass and fighting evil once in a while? Cuz I'm sick and tired of doing it myself."

"Uh, hello," Xander defensively called out, raising his three-foot battle axe for emphasis.

"Sorry," Buffy quickly amended. "I meant us."

"No, you had it right the first time," Whistler said between them. "In the end, we're always by ourselves. You are all you've got. That's the point of it all."

"Spare me," Buffy said before walking to the door. Reaching Xander, she told him, "Come on. He's wasting our time."

Watching the teens leave, Whistler voiced loudly, "The sword isn't enough!"

Buffy was intent on leaving, and though Xander didn't remember all the details, Old Man Xander did remember one thing, and demanded of Whistler, "Could they be at a mansion?"

Buffy turned to her best friend and asked, "What mansion?"

Whistler swallowed audibly as Xander stated as truth, "One of the vampires I dusted mentioned something about a mansion."

"There shouldn't be too many mansions in Sunnydale," a hopeful Buffy remarked. Turning to Whistler, she added, "Unless you want to save us the trouble and just tell us where they are." Whistler stayed silent, and Buffy nodded, noting, "No surprise there."

Before they made it to the door, a desperate Whistler called out, "Angel's the key!" The teens looked at each other before walking back to the man in the Fedora. He confessed, "Angel's blood will open the door to hell. If Acathla opens his big mouth, creates a vortex, only Angel's blood can close it. Sending them both to hell."

Xander didn't like the idea of Angel going to hell. He wasn't sure if that would loop him back or not. He knew Angel went to hell a few times from Old Man Xander's memories. The rules of the time braid might have allowed that, but he couldn't shake the feeling that was only wishful thinking. Thus far, Jenny had died, his parents died, Kendra may die, and Angel must die if Acathla was released. The time looper thought it was good enough that he was just surviving, but clearly, he was no help to anyone else.

In Giles' apartment, glancing at the slayer beside him, he thought to himself, 'I need to do better.'

"You may want to check Crawford Street first," Whistler offered, and the teens eyed each other. "I strongly suggest you get there before the vortex opens, 'cause the faster you kill Angel, the easier it's going to be on ya."

"We won't need to kill him because he's not evil," a stern Buffy assured the certain half-demon.

Xander wondered what was going on in Buffy's mind. This conversation stemmed from a destiny between Buffy and Angel, a destiny that had nothing to do with a nobody like himself, and he didn't like it. He worked so hard to build himself up, and the idea that it wouldn't be enough to merit any consideration with a destined girl like Buffy just made him feel rejected. It made him wonder if he wasn't good enough—no matter what he did—and he feared the answer to that question.

"It's all on the line here, kid," Whistler told Buffy, but for a moment, Xander thought he was talking to him.

"Don't worry about me," the blonde slayer gravely voiced. "I can deal… because I have nothing left to lose." Again, Xander thought to object to her solo act, however, as she left the apartment, he felt she wasn't talking about her friends. He gave Whistler one last look before following Buffy.

It was nearly midnight by the time the pair made it to Crawford Street. The old abandoned mansion at the end of the serpentine road gave off an old Mayan temple feel. Weeds bloomed around the cracked street, and the grass was waist-height and unkempt. The three-story mansion comprised of two buildings, the main house, and a smaller chauffeur's apartment garage, separated by an unkempt paved courtyard. The main house had a long horizontal loggia spine on the northern side, connecting open and private rooms to the south. And of the many windows on the property, only one showed dim lighting.

Xander barely caught his breath as Buffy asserted, "Save Angel first, then Giles."

At his surprised expression, she was going to explain herself before his strategic mind caught up and answered, "So he can help us fight Spike and Drusilla. Got it." She nodded and Xander couldn't stop himself from asking, "Um, about what Whistler said-"

"He's not evil," Buffy confidently interjected. "No matter how much we're hurting, I know he'd never release Acathla."

Thinking of all the alone time she spent together with Angel—after the poltergeists and the der Kindestod—Xander hesitated to ask, "So, you two never… you know?" When she sternly eyed him without blinking, he nodded, voicing, "Right. Of course. I knew that."

Walking through the foyer of the main building, they soon heard faint groaning—pain-filled wails—through the old and decrepit walls, then rushed ahead. With their weapons in hand, they reached a terrace toward the center of the main house and spotted a few vampires between them and their injured friends. Spike and Drusilla were trying to force a heavily weakened Angel to grab the sword from the stone statue of Acathla while Giles was being beaten by a few vampires for fun.

Buffy and Xander stormed the spacious terrace and ran through the handful of vampires there. Xander threw Dreadnought, decapitating one, and forcing two to catch it while Buffy danced through her enemies, cutting limbs and necks off with the sharp edge of Slaymore. Xander would toss and call back Dreadnought, slicing through their enemies like a Yo-Yo blender. The pair made quick work of the few vampires, forcing Spike to throw Angel at Buffy.

The blonde slayer caught her love while Xander rushed to help Giles. Xander wondered why Spike and Drusilla gave them up so easily until the blond vampire doubled over in pain. Spike held his chest desperately, as if a searing ball of fire was scorching his undead lungs and heart. Agonized, he beat his chest to get the pain out and groaned in fear. As if realizing what was happening to him, the unbalanced Drusilla screamed as well.

"Nooooaaaaahhhhhh!" Spike yelled, rolling around on the floor.

Helping Giles up, Xander knew then that Willow was the cause of their suffering. As long as Spike didn't die and Acathla wasn't released, Xander was counting their night as a raving success. Then Angel, tossing Buffy aside, yelled out with deep concern, "Dru!"

A stunned Buffy stared at Angel skeptically, and through a fog of confusion, repeated, "Dru?"

Giles was desperately motioning something terrible with his hands, yelling through his mouth gag. A sinister smile spread Angel's demonic face before he punched Buffy so hard in the face, she flew back seven feet before rolling to a sliding stop. Angel rushed to the wailing Drusilla as Xander quickly removed Giles' mouth gag.

The beaten & bloody Englishman strained to take a deep breath before yelling, "He's not, haah, Angel!" Shaken and dazed, Buffy was bleeding from her nose and cut lip as she slowly made her way to her feet. Her watcher loudly clarified, "He's Angelus!"

Xander couldn't understand how that was possible. Unless she lied to him, Buffy confirmed she hadn't had sex with Angel, however, he couldn't solve that mystery at the moment. Giles whispered to him, "Destroy the statue," which Xander quickly did with a powerful throw of his magical axe. Angelus was lifting Drusilla, as he watched the statue of Acathla blow outward from a precise hit of Dreadnought, and crumble to dust and dozens of jagged stone pieces.

In all his horrific glory, Angelus turned to Xander, "Oh, Xander… I'm going to enjoy killing you."

Helping him walk, Xander assisted Giles to Buffy's confused side as she asked, "Wha- What happened? I thought he wouldn't- We broke up!"

From atop a few steps, holding Drusilla up while Spike coughed and struggled on the floor, Angelus happily taunted Buffy, replying, "Sad I couldn't be the one to pop that juicy cherry of yours. I would've loved to hear your sweet lips moan my name when I filled you to the brim. Hell, if you don't give it up to the white knight there, I might still get the chance. Forewarning, it'll get rough," he stated with a sinister smile.

Buffy struggled for any shred of understanding, begging with tears welling up in her bluish-green eyes, "H-How? Angel, please."

"Sorry, baby girl. No Angel here," the vicious vampire gleefully revealed. "Just Angelus the Scourge." Spike shot up to his feet and started running away.

"Spike," Drusilla called as she chased after him.

Before Angelus left, he smiled wickedly at the distraught and confused Buffy, relishing the singular expression before departing with, "Till next time, my love."

The beaten three slowly left the mansion as Giles explained how Drusilla hypnotized him and made him see Ms. Calendar in order to learn how to bring Acathla to life. Giles then witnessed Drusilla hypnotize Angel next. As they walked the incredibly dark street down the serpentine driveway, the watcher informed them how he heard a hypnotized Angel say, "'Buffy.'"

"Me?" a confused Buffy repeated.

Giles nodded before answering, "Yes, as if he were actually seeing you. I imagine it was just as convincing for him as it was for me." Despite how distraught Buffy was getting, Giles continued saying, "Drusilla led him to another room for half an hour. I heard- well, the typical sounds of- of, um, p-passion, one might hear when they are- well-" Xander placed his palm on Giles' shoulder, nodding in understanding and the distraught and quiet Buffy nearly stumbled to hear the retelling. Giles finished with, "When they returned, he was no longer their captive, and they now had everything they needed to awaken Acathla."

They took Giles to the hospital for treatment and the librarian detailed to the police that he tried to stop the men who attacked the library. Giles' story lined up with the statements Willow, Cordelia, and Xander gave the police, however, the only thing Xander cared about was how much worse the night could get.

Upon returning to the hospital, Buffy, Xander, and Giles learned that Kendra died from her injuries. It was yet another horribly apparent layer of Xander's thick ineptitude. While the Jamaican's death didn't affect the time braid the way that Buffy, Willow, Giles, Cordelia, Angel, and even Spike seemed to, Kendra's tragic end hit just as hard as Jenny's or his parents' terrible deaths. He thought it grotesquely unfair, but knew the blame fell squarely on his shoulders.

'If I was a better forge master,' he mentally told himself. 'My weapons would've saved her. If I was better… I would've saved her.'

So, my betas and I had a bit of a discussion about the strength of Drusilla's hypnosis. I looked at her wiki, and it stated that she was capable enough to use this ability on humans and demons. I assume that would also include vampires. So, if Drusilla can hypnotize Angel, and trick him into thinking he's having sex with Buffy, would that break the curse? I don't know. I feel you can make an argument for both sides. So, I just went with this.

Also, I couldn't find a definitive answer to a human, who was turned into a vampire, still being able to enter the house they owned when they were alive. Just because Anthony Harris became a vampire, does that mean he doesn't own his house anymore? That was another confusing one. In the grand scheme of the story, it's not a big deal, so I just went ahead and did it.

Another point for Cordelia. I just love writing her.

I also enjoyed Buffy learning more about Xander.

I'm assuming the library has ambient magic that will assist the casting of the curse. Or else, why not just do it in a house to make sure vampires wouldn't be able to come in? It's less dramatic, sure, but I did wonder that when I saw the episode.

Anyway, I gotta go. Thank you all for reading my crazy fic. Feel free to leave a comment. I read and reply to them. Thanks again Oxnate and Chelanxar. I really appreciate your dedication. Have a great one,