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Beta read by Laura Smith

Title: The Stranger

Author: Sarah

Email: taraka66@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy, no copyright

infringement intended.  Matthew Evans belongs to me though.

Summary: A stranger is sent to lead Willow and Xander to their destiny.

Distribution: Ask and you shall receive

Author's Notes: I would like to dedicate this story to everyone on Wxfic and

Xanderships they make me smile.

I would also like to say a great big thank you to Laura who beta read the story

for me.

Part One

He stood in the shadows, watching and waiting.  He had been sent by his Master

to help the friends accept their destiny.  It was his role to ensure that good

overcame the evil of the world.  His current task was to help the Slayer and her

friends.

His targets had danced around their emotions and feelings, but they had nearly

run out of time.  He was here to give them a nudge in the direction they should

have taken six years ago.  If only they didn't live on a Hellmouth, he thought.

Then they would have resolved their feelings a long time ago and would be well

on their way to achieving their destiny.

The group of friends sat in the gathering place.  The Bronze it was called.  He

thought it a strange name, but, after all, humans were strange creatures.

They sat there, talking about irrelevant issues; they had mastered the art of

avoiding their feelings.  The observer could tell they were still uncomfortable

with each other, their friendship strained, but neither of them could break the

connection they had with the other.

The connection or bond they shared was the key.  He needed to help them to

rediscover themselves and their honesty to each other.  The theory is the easy

part, he thought, making it happen could be harder though.

The three friends got up to leave, unaware that their every move was being

observed.

He watched them leave.  The Slayer walking in the centre of the trio, flanked on

her left by the tall young man, who he knew was Xander.  On her right was a

thin young woman, whose aura shone with purity and her auburn hair reflected in

the lights of the club.  Willow was her name.  Her intelligence and beauty had

instantly mesmerised him.   He knew that he had to help Willow and Xander before

it was too late.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Willow sat in the college library, her mind wandering from her history text.

Her mind was filled with Xander, trying desperately to think of a way of fixing

their relationship.  The only problem was she didn't know where to begin, or

whether their relationship could be fixed.

The past four years had been the hardest of her life.  Her entire support

structure had been Xander.  They had spent nearly eighteen years perfecting

their friendship, knowing each other's thoughts and feelings at a glance,

although neither of them acknowledged their deepest emotion, that of love.

Neither had been brave enough to take that step to move their friendship to the

next level, and when it had happened, it had happened at the wrong time, when

they were involved with other people.  Whenever she thought of Homecoming, her

heart soared.  She could remember every sensation, every emotion that coursed

through her when her lips had finally met Xander's.  She had never felt so

complete and she knew she never would again with anyone else.

But he didn't feel the same way.  It was obvious when he hadn't fought for her.

She had tried to do the right thing by going back to Oz.  If Xander had loved

her he would have fought for her, but he didn't.  He ran headlong into the arms

of Faith.  That was one action Willow didn't know if she could ever forgive him.

She was brought out of her reverie by the sound of an unfamiliar voice.

"Is this seat taken?" he asked

Willow looked up from her book.  She was greeted by a handsome stranger.  His

blue eyes were studying her intently.

"Hmm, sorry, no." She replied

He sat down next to her and got his books out and began studying.

Willow returned to her own studies.

"Matthew Evans," he said

"Pardon?" she said

"Sorry. Hi. I'm Matthew Evans.  I've just transferred in and you're the first

friendly face I've seen."

Willow smiled.  "Hi, I'm Willow Rosenberg. I've not just transferred in and I'm

now babbling, sorry."

He laughed.  "Babbling's good," he smiled.

Willow looked at Matthew and thought that he had potential in a friend kind of

way.  He certainly didn't resemble Xander, which was also good.

"Would you like to go get a coffee or something?" he asked.

"Yes, although caffeine and I don't really mix." she said.

"Now that sounds like an interesting story," he teased.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

They sat in the coffee shop, finding out about each other.  Matthew, or Matt as

he liked to be called, had transferred in because his Mother was ill.  She had

moved to Sunnydale last year and now she was suffering from cancer.  It was too

hard for him to stay away at college so he had made the decision to move home.

As they were finishing off their coffee, a familiar voice said her name.

"Willow."

Xander. She turned and gave her practised smile, the one she had started using

when their friendship had started to show cracks. "Hey Xander."

He noticed her companion.  His heart sank.  She had a new boy friend or maybe

even a boyfriend.  He didn't think he could cope seeing her with someone else.

It had almost killed him when she was with Oz.  He wasn't sure he could go

through that again.

Willow noticed the pained look on Xander's face, but put it down to the fact

that she had a new friend.

"Matt, this is Xander. Xander, Matt" she introduced the two young men.  They

nodded an acknowledgment to each other.

"Why don't you join us?" Matt asked Xander.  He was interested to meet Xander

personally, by the look on his face when he saw Willow sitting with him, there

was some history between them.

"Sure." Xander said and he sat down next to Willow before she could say

anything.

To Willow's amusement, Xander and Matt instantly hit it off.  Their sense of

humour was virtually the same, and Willow had been under the illusion that

Xander's humour had been unique.

After an hour, they were talking like they had been best friends forever.  It

stung Willow a little to think that Xander could build a friendship with Matt in

an hour, but could do nothing to mend their own.

Xander noticed Willow looking uncomfortable, he thinking it was because he had

shown an interest in her new friend.  Matt and he had a lot in common and he

genuinely liked the guy.  Although he might not like him as much if he was to

make a move on Willow.  Perhaps he needed to keep a closer eye on the two of

them.

They left the coffee shop and agreed to meet up again that night in the Bronze.

Willow and Xander watched Matt walk away towards his car.

"He's nice," Xander commented.

"Yeah, he is, isn't he?" she replied.

They walked back to their dorms in silence, both lost in their thoughts about

their problems.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Watching the three of them leave the coffee shop the observer was dismayed as he

watched Willow and Xander walk back to their dorms, lost in their own thoughts.

He had hoped Matt might have broken down the barriers, but it looked like he

might have strengthened them instead.  Perhaps tonight at the Bronze, he

thought. A different situation, music, dancing, maybe then they would notice

each other again, as they did the night of the Homecoming Dance.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Willow sat next to Buffy on the large sofa.  Xander perched nervously on the

edge of his chair, uneasy about something.  Willow assumed he was nervous about

Matt's impending arrival.  But no.  As soon as Matt appeared he relaxed

slightly, but he still seemed uncomfortable about something.  Matt and Xander

fell into conversation easily and talked about their favourite comic characters.

Willow's stomach churned, she hated feeling this way, but there it was again,

that sinking feeling  indicating that Xander was moving further and further away

from her.  Not wanting or needing to spend time with her, unless you counted the

time they spent together with Buffy.  A few years ago she and Xander spent all

of their time together, hours on the phone discussing the events of the day,

even if they had spent the day together.  That easy going relationship was gone

and had been replaced with one that was based on civility and triviality at

best.  All emotions had been locked away by both parties a long time ago.

Willow noticed Buffy. Her face had brightened the minute Matt had walked in.

She was obviously attracted to him. Willow hoped this time maybe Buffy could be

happy, she certainly deserved to be.  Matt smiled at Buffy.

Willow felt Xander's gaze on her.  She wouldn't meet his gaze, knowing that she

would see his dark brown eyes filled with pain and resentment.  A look she could

never bare to see from him.

They talked about movies they'd seen, music they liked.  Buffy brought up Oz and

the Dingoes.

At the mention of Oz's name, Willow saw Xander flinch.  Was he still jealous of

her time with Oz? The thought of Xander being jealous made her feel slightly

better, but the pain still didn't go away.

Matt leant towards her and asked her a question she didn't particularly want to

hear.

"Dance with me?" he asked his voice filled with hope.

Will noticed both Buffy's and Xander's expressions, she felt sorry about hurting

Buffy, but Xander's look caused Willow to wonder why he looked so hurt.  He

didn't care about her, so why would dancing with Matt cause such a reaction?

"Ok" she smiled at him.

They walked together to the dance floor.  Mat was oblivious to the intense

stares Buffy and Xander were lashing upon them.

They danced together.  Willow ensuring a good distance was kept between them.

His dancing impressed her.  He didn't dance like Xander at all.  When Xander

danced, Willow couldn't help but smile.  She recalled all of the times Xander

had danced for her. From the first day they met Xander had always demonstrated

his unique dancing techniques, knowing it was a sure fire way of cheering her

up.  Stop it, Willow admonished herself.  Your dancing with an incredibly

handsome guy who's interested in you and you're spending time thinking of

Xander.

Her heart skipped a beat as she glanced over to where they had been sitting.

Xander and Buffy had gone. Where?  Then she noticed them dancing a short

distance from Matt and herself.   She noticed, or rather felt Xander's eyes on

her.  She knew every time he looked at her, she always had.  She had gotten use

to the feeling over the past four years.  But what she really wanted him to do

was more than look, she wanted him to hold her, kiss her and finally tell her he

loved her.  Was it too much to ask? For Xander probably.

When she couldn't feel his eyes, she watched him dancing with Buffy.  His

movements just out of time with the beat but much more restrained than when he

danced for her.  He looked uncomfortable dancing with Buffy.  Just as she felt

uncomfortable dancing with Matt.

The song ended and they returned to their seats.  Willow was more comfortable

sitting and talking, definitely no room for dancing or accidentally  touching

anyone.  They talked about their history test tomorrow.  Buffy seemed distracted

from the conversation.  Willow followed her gaze, which focussed on a strange

couple on the dance floor.  A badly dressed young man was dancing with a girl

she recognised from College.  He looked like he belonged to the early nineties.

Willow made the connection, bad taste, old dance moves, leaving with a girl.

Vamp!

Buffy got up and quickly made her way through the throng of dancing couples to

the exit.  Xander and Willow followed her, forgetting all about their companion,

who, curious at their behaviour followed them.

Willow's hand absentmindedly checked the back pocket of her jeans, her fingers

grazing the outline of her cross, her other hand grazing the wooden stake that

was lodged in the belt of her jeans.  She sighed, one thing was for certain, she

never left home without a cross or stake, they had become her most important

fashion accessories.

They made their way outside into the alley behind the Bronze.  All three

listening carefully for any indication as to where the couple had gone.

"Excuse me.  I know this probably isn't the time or the place, but what just

happened?" Matt asked.

Buffy raised her hand and signalled him to be quiet.  Matt followed her silent

order.

A scream shattered the stillness of the night and answered Matt's question.

Buffy, Xander, Willow and Matt ran towards the sound of the scream.

.The badly dressed man had proven their suspicions, he was now sporting his game

face.  His fangs poised above the pale flesh of the young girl's neck.

"Don't you know it's not polite to bite a girl on the first date?" Buffy asked

tossing Mr Pointy from one hand to the other.  The vamp dropped his prey and

faced Buffy and her friends.  He tried to size up the situation.  He noticed the

red head, she looked the weakest and was far enough from the others to be

useful.  He watched and waited.

Buffy made the first move.  She walked purposefully towards the vampire.  Just

as he was in reach, he somersaulted to his right and grabbed Willow.

Willow gasped as she felt the vampire's hands tighten around her shoulders.  His

fangs poised menacingly above her neck.  It brought back painful memories of

Angelus parading her before Xander and Miss Calendar a long time ago.

Xander.  She looked at him and saw his face contort in fear.  In that instant

she saw a look in his eyes, a look she thought she would never see.  A look of

pure, unquestioning love.  She saw his hands tighten around the stake he always

carried.  He was contemplating his move.

Stake! Willow remembered her stake and cross.  Her right hand crept slowly into

the waistband of her jeans.  Her fingers connecting with the wooden stake.  Her

mind had formulated a plan as her left hand made contact with her cross.

The vampire didn't notice her move.  He was too busy focussing on the slayer and

her two male counterparts.  He didn't notice Willow raising her foot.

She rammed the heel of her shoe into the vamp's foot.  In pain, he released his

grip on Willow's shoulders.  As soon as she felt his grip release, she spun

around, rammed the cross into his face and the stake into his heart.

He instantly disintegrated into a pile of dust, Willow sank to the floor in a

mixture of shock and relief.   She was aware of how close she'd come again to

not seeing another sunrise in Sunnydale.

Xander beat Matt to her side.  He knelt down and looked directly into her eyes.

"Are you ok?" he asked his voice filled with concern.

"Yeah" her lower lip trembling.

Xander embraced her and she relinquished into him.  Resting her head on his

shoulder enjoying every second, feeling her body awash with sensations she

hadn't felt for a very long time.

"You've been working with me too long" Buffy quipped "I'll try and remember that

move next time I'm in a sticky situation."

"Mmm" Willow mumbled from Xander's chest, enjoying the sensation of Xander's

fingers fiddling with her hair.  Finally the embrace ended.  Xander supporting

her as she rose from the ground.  As she stood, he possessively took hold of her

hand, not willing to let her leave his grasp.

She looked into his face and smiled.  A new understanding opened between them,

perhaps this was the first step to healing the open wounds in their

relationship.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As they walked back to the college dorms, Buffy explained to Matt that Sunnydale

had a strange form of night life in the form of vampires.  She explained that

she was the Chosen One who was responsible for stopping vampire and other

strange happenings in Sunnydale.

Matt listened attentively, his mind processing all of the information. Finally

he formulated a response. "So vampires are not a work of fiction, they exist and

a lot of them enjoy the alluring sights of Sunnydale."he stated still not one

hundred percent sure he accepted the facts.

"Yes that more or less sums it up." Buffy replied. "We've been doing this for

nearly six years and we're still going strong.   I wouldn't have been if it

hadn't been for Will and Xander.  They certainly have saved my skin several

times.  Together we make quite a good team."

"Don't forget the G-man" Xander added, his arm protectively draped around

Willow's shoulders.  He had been nervous about initiating any more contact than

he had already, but he needed to let Willow know he cared and by placing his arm

around her shoulders, he hoped she'd understand that, however much they argued

and didn't talk., he'd always care for her, love her.

As he'd placed his arm over her shoulders she'd tilted her head and smiled a

genuine smile of pleasure.  A smile Xander had longed to see.  She then rested

her head on his shoulder, showing him that she understood his gesture and

accepted it wholeheartedly.

They walked a couple of paces behind Matt and Buffy, who were discussing the

weird and wonderful events that had happened on the Hellmouth.

When they reached Willow's and Buffy's building.  Xander finally relinquished

his grip on Willow.  He looked at her carefully, judging whether she would be

ok.

"I'll be alright." she said in answer to his silent question.

"I know" he smiled, "But call me if you need me,"he added, a look of genuine

concern on his face.

She brushed her hand over his cheek.

"Goodnight" she whispered

"Goodnight" he replied

Willow then turned to Matt "I'm sorry you had to learn Sunnydale's secret, but

now you know you'll probably be around a lot longer."

"It's ok.  I'm glad to know, I may be able to help someday."

"You already have." Buffy smiled looking at her best friends.  She had noticed a

change in their attitudes toward one another.  Could a complete reconciliation

be in the cards?  She hoped so, she hated being ‘piggy in the middle' defending

her friend's actions to the other, when it was obvious how they felt about each

other.  Although neither of them could or would admit it and they were oblivious

as to how the other felt.

"Goodnight" Matt said and he walked off towards his car.

"Goodnight" Buffy, Xander and Willow called to their new friend.

"See you tomorrow" Xander added as Willow and Buffy opened the door to their

building.

"Bye" Willow smiled another genuine smile.

Xander walked away, his heart lifted by Willow's smile.  Perhaps there's hope he

thought.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The stranger had seen the events of the night.  Xander rushing to Willow's side,

showing her comfort when she needed it.  His plan was beginning to work.  They

had started to communicate again.  He had seen the way they he had refused to

let her go and how she had accepted his touch and support.  This was a good

start, but there was still a long way to go.  He allowed a small smile to cross

his face.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Two

They sat in the back room of Giles' store discussing the vamp attack of the

previous evening.  Buffy described every detail of Willow's attack and how she'd

staked the vamp without assistance.

Willow blushed as Buffy enthused over her actions.  It really was only her self

preservation skills kicking in and living on the Hellmouth, her self

preservation skills had gained a lot of practice.

Giles seemed a little concerned about Matt and his newly acquired knowledge of

Buffy being the Slayer.  He had never been keen about Buffy's role being made

readily known to strangers.  Fortunately the people who had found out in the

past had become crucial members of an efficient team, each with their own role

to play.  Giles was sure that without Willow and Xander in particularly, Buffy

wouldn't have lasted as long.  He was proud of his Slayer and her ‘Slayerettes'

as they liked to be referred to and he wanted to protect them as much as he

could.

Willow began to rummage through the latest delivery of books, hoping there would

be some interesting texts on Wiccan arts.  Her skills had developed tremendously

over the past four years and now she had quite a good repertoire of spells which

she had used to get the group out of tight situations.

She let out an "Ooh" of excitement when she pulled out the last book from the

crate.  It was a copy of an ancient spell book that she had read about on the

net, but she had been unable to locate a copy.  She had asked Giles to find a

copy for her but he had not held up much hope.

"Thank you. Thank you Giles." she said as she embraced him.

Giles beamed.  Willow was so much like the daughter he always wanted.  He was

pleased he'd been able to fulfill her request.  It had taken calling in a few

favours but the results had been worthwhile.  Seeing Willow's reaction when she

found the book had more than made up for all the hard work it had taken to

locate a copy.

Giles watched Xander watching Willow.  He seemed enchanted by her actions, a

smile mirroring her own spread across his face as he watched her delight at her

new text.  Giles had realised a long time ago how Xander felt about Willow, and

about how Willow felt about Xander.  It had been the cause of his greatest

sorrow that they hadn't told each other how they felt.  If only one of them was

brave enough to take the first step, he knew they would be happy together.  He

knew what it was like to love someone and to lose them.  His mind briefly

recalled the image of Jenny.  He never wanted any of them to suffer that pain.

He only hoped that one day they would take that step and finally be together as

they should be.

Buffy had finished her report.  Willow was reading her new book and Xander was

watching Willow reading her new book.  Giles took the opportunity to make a

suggestion.

"I would like to meet Matthew.  Perhaps you could bring him to the bookshop.  I

er..."

"Would like to check him out in the flesh to make sure he isn't a demon in

disguise." Buffy quipped, enjoying Giles' loss of words.  It was the trait she

enjoyed the most in Giles' character.  She could never resist an opportunity to

tease her ‘Watcher'.

"His story checks out." Willow said not raising her attention from her book.

Her friends turned to look at her in amazement.

"As soon as we left the coffee shop and we returned to campus." she looked at

Xander " I checked out his background at all of my favourite haunts." Willow

then began to list Matthew Evans' credentials.  Even down to the appendectomy

he'd had at eleven and the number of fillings he had in his teeth.

"Well, Will, your nothing if not thorough" Xander said, amazed by Willow's

memory.

She smiled at his compliment.  At least they were being more than civil to each

other.  It looked like their friendship might be back on track.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Three

Matt walked into the bookshop with Buffy, Xander and Willow.  His eyes browsing

the titles on the shelves.  He spotted familiar authors like Shakespeare and

Austin and as they approached the back of the store he noticed more obscure

titles: "The Legend of Lycanthropy", "The Modern day Vampire".  Matt's skin

crawled slightly at the realisation that some of the creatures of his nightmares

could actually be real.  The night he saw the vampire attack had proved that

there were in fact demons of the night.

Buffy opened a door at the back of the shop, behind the counter.  She stood to

one side allowing Matt to enter first.  His eyes glanced around the office. A

large table was the centrepiece and was obviously well used as it was littered

with open texts and notes.

A movement to his right caught his eye.  A tall man dressed in tweed walked

towards them.  His glasses resting in his hand, where he had been cleaning them.

He placed them quickly back into position and looked at the newcomer.  Taking in

his appearance and mannerisms and processing the information carefully.

"Giles," Buffy said breaking, the staring contest between the two men.  "I'd

like you to meet Matt Evans."

"Matthew, erm, I'm very pleased to meet you." Giles stated in his polite English

voice.  He extended his hand to shake the young man's, his true English breeding

coming to the fore.

"It's nice to meet you too." Matt said returning Giles' steady grip as they

shook hands.

The uneasiness broken slightly the group sat down around the large table.  Giles

began to question Matt.  Lulling Matt into a false sense of security, hopefully

allowing him the opportunity to reveal something, if at all he had anything to

hide.

Matt appeared to be very nice and above board, but something about him made

Giles slightly nervous, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

The conversation moved to vampires and other demons the group had fought.

Buffy, Willow and Xander eagerly shared their experiences with their new friend.

Matt was paying attention but appeared quite nervous.  Giles remembered how long

it had taken for Joyce to accept Buffy's destiny.  Matt was showing similar

tendencies, a reluctance to accept whole heartedly, but knowing there was

something happening out of the ordinary.

Giles decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it didn't mean he was

willing to expose every secret and event that had happened, until he knew Matt

better, well until the feeling of uneasiness was resolved.

After an hour of talking, Willow got up.  "I've got to go and finish a paper for

tomorrow." she said.

"I'll walk back with you" Xander offered "I've got some work to finish for a

test on Friday" he added.

Willow smiled in answer to Xander's offer and the two of them left Giles, Buffy

and Matt together in the bookshop.

Shortly after Willow and Xander left, Giles made an excuse to leave the back

room, so that Buffy and Matt were alone.

Buffy and Matt nervously looked around the room, desperately searching their

minds for something to say and ensuring at the same time their eyes did not make

contact.

Buffy finally broke the silence.  "Did you er want to come to the Bronze again

tonight?"she asked nervously, not at all like the Slayer.  Matt was certainly

bringing out a new side to her.  She didn't like the fact that his answer

counted a little too much.  She had tried to distance herself from relationships

since she had been forced to say goodbye to Angel.  That had been enough hurt to

last her a lifetime.

"Only if you can guarantee there will be no extra curricular activities, like

slaying."

Buffy's face fell, knowing she couldn't make such a promise.  Matt noticed her

reaction and quickly added. "I was only teasing.  I realise slaying is a part of

who you are and what your friends do. I've accepted who you are, and if it's ok

I would love to come to the Bronze tonight.  But on one condition."

"Condition?" Buffy asked cautiously.

"I can dance with you tonight?" He smiled a dazzling smile which made Buffy's

stomach twist and turn.  A feeling she hadn't felt since Angel.

"Ok." she smiled "As long as you're a better dancer than Xander." she joked.

"I hope so." he smiled.  "I have another question though."

She nodded and answered the question before he had the chance to ask it. "You

want to know if there is something between Will and Xander?"

He smiled at her intuition. She knew exactly what he was thinking, that had

never happened before.

Buffy continued "The answer to that is, they obviously love each other but they

are too pig headed to take notice of the other's feelings.  They have been

dancing around them for six years now.  I don't know how much more of it I can

take" she smiled.

"Well" he said, "We might just have to give them a helping hand then. Won't we?"

Buffy smiled and said "It could be a harder task than it looks."

"Well we'll just have to try our best."

They then began to discuss their plan to help their friends finally take the

step that they had been avoiding for so long.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Willow watched Buffy and Matt dance.  They seemed so perfect together.  They

were obviously attracted to each other. She smiled to herself.  This is just

what Buffy needs, she thought.  It had been a long time since Angel, it was

about time she found someone to share her life with.  She hoped this would be a

happy ending, one which she knew she was never destined to have.

Xander watched Willow watching Buffy and Matt dance.  He interpreted her

stillness and measured looks at the couple as one of jealousy.  He assumed that

she was jealous of Buffy dancing and appearing close to her new friend.  It

never entered his head for a second that Willow was happy for her friend having

found someone to share her life with at the moment.

He wished for the thousandth time that the problems he and Will were facing

could be resolved as easily as they had resolved problems in their friendship

before.  His mind wandered back to their childhood.  He remembered the first

time he ever saw her.  He was about four at the time.  It was his first day in

Pre-school and he was nervous. . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The room was so big, it was the biggest room he could ever remember seeing.  It

looked exciting with the tables and toys spread throughout.  Although not even

the prospect of painting a picture would tempt him to let go of his Mother's

hand.  He couldn't understand why his Mother wanted to leave him here.  He had

been perfectly happy at home with her.  They had done lots of fun things

together, baking, playing, going to the park.  Why did she want to leave him?

Was she cross with him? Had he been naughty? Why was Daddy always so angry with

him and Mommy?

He looked nervously around the room again.  All of the children appeared to be

having fun.  If he let go of his Mother's hand, would she come back for him?  He

remembered the last time he had gone to his Grandmother's home.  His Mom had

promised him that she would be back soon.  But he had to stay with Grandma for a

week.  He had sat in his Grandmother's lounge looking out of the window every

day sitting there and waiting.  It had been the longest week of his life.  When

his Mother finally came to collect him, she looked different somehow.  She no

longer had the sparkle in her eyes she had, had before.  She looked upset and

afraid.  When he got home it was different.  Daddy and Mommy fought and Daddy

had started shouting at him too.  He couldn't understand what had happened.  One

thing for sure though, he was never letting go of his Mom's hand, he never

wanted to be left with anyone other than her again.

As his Mother gently reassured him that he would enjoy himself and make lots of

friends. He noticed a little girl sitting by herself in the corner.  She was

looking at a book, but every now and then she would raise her head, look at the

other children playing, then sadly return to reading her book.  The sun shone on

her long red hair.  He thought it resembled the fire his Grandmother had in the

winter.  She looked so lonely sitting there, she would know how it felt to be

alone, he thought.

He took a deep breath, maybe it wouldn't be so bad if he let go of his Mother's

hand.  He really wanted to go and talk to the little girl with the hair like

fire.  He had never seen anyone so pretty before.  He wanted to be her friend,

he wanted her to have someone to play with, and he wanted someone to play with

too.  He gingerly let go of his Mother's hand.  He turned and gave her a small

smile. "Bye, bye Mommy." he said.

His Mother smiled, relieved that she could leave him here safely and return home

to sort out the mess from last night.  She watched her only son walk away

towards a little girl, who was sitting by herself in the corner.  A tear rolled

down her cheek, as she realised his innocence would soon be gone, when he

realised what was really happening at home.  She hoped that when he grew up he

would make better choices than she had.  He was the one thing that kept her

going.  She loved Alexander more than anything else in the world, and she knew

that would never change.  She wouldn't let it.

He walked bravely forward.  His stomach churning at having left his Mother's

side.  The little girl was still reading her book.  As he got closer he noticed

that her cheeks were wet.  She had been crying.  It was at that moment he

decided that he never wanted her to cry again.  He would never let anyone hurt

her or make her cry.  She was his friend now and he hoped she always would be.

"Hello" he said nervously.  The little girl looked up from her book.

"Hello" she replied, in a voice that was hardly more than a whisper.

"My names Alexander, and I want to be your friend." he said boldly, he had never

been brave before.  He had always refused to speak to strangers, he had hidden

behind his Mother, she had tried to encourage him to talk to others, but he had

refused, wanting to stay in the safety of his Mother's reach.

"Hello Al...Ale.....xander." she said, her mouth and mind desperately trying to

say the little boy's name correctly. She blushed and a tear rolled down her face

when she realised she hadn't been able to say it properly. She really wanted a

friend, and here was a little boy wanting to be her friend and he wouldn't be

now because she couldn't say his name.  She felt even more alone.

"Please don't cry." he said as he sat down next to her.

"I couldn't say your name" she said meekly.

"That's ok." he said, desperate for her to be happy and be his friend. "What

would you like to call me?" he asked, with a dazzling smile she had never seen

before.  The smile he gave her made her heart soar.

"Xander" she said with a little smile spreading across her face.

"Xander" he repeated liking the way she said it. He nodded his head.  "I like

Xander" he said. He thought it was a special name from a special friend.  No one

had ever given him a new name, he had always been Alexander. Sometimes his

Mother called him Alex, but that was before, now he was always Alexander.

"My name's Willow" she smiled.  "Would you like to look at this book with me?"

"Yes" he replied eagerly.

They sat there a long time that morning looking at the story of "The Ugly

Duckling" they talked and laughed and their friendship began.  A friendship

neither child thought they would ever have.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Xander smiled as he remembered Willow as a four year old.  They really had spent

so much time together since that day.  He glanced over at Will.  She's even more

beautiful now, he thought.  He always regretted not telling her how beautiful

she was, when he knew she needed to hear it.  Another item to add to his list of

ways he had hurt her.  He knew he had not been as good a friend as she had been

to him.  Now was the time to try and fix it.  But how?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Buffy and Matt returned from the dance floor smiling at Willow and Xander.

Willow was sitting at one end of the couch and Xander the other.  They were

desperately trying to put as much distance between each other as they could.

Buffy nudged Matt as they approached their friends.  The nudge indicated the

start of their plan to reunite Willow and Xander.

They sat down on the couch next to them.  Xander's eyes cautiously darted from

Buffy to Will.

Matt broke the silence.

"Willow.  This is probably a very big favour to ask.  But I was wondering if you

could help me with my Computer Science paper.  I've hit a bit of a brick wall,

and I could do with your expertise."

Willow smiled at the compliment and Xander grimaced.

"Sure, I don't mind at all." she replied.

"You could study at our dorm tomorrow night." Buffy interjected "I've got to

patrol and then Giles has organised some important training and research so I'll

be staying at the bookshop."

"Ok." Willow added a look of pure shock on her face.  Even Xander hadn't been

allowed into Buffy and Willow's dorm room.  She was rather nervous to say the

least.

Xander's mind raced.  Willow and Matt alone together studying.  Not good. NO!

Does Willow like Matt? He silently asked himself.  Yes.  Does Matt like Willow?

Yes.  Ok.  Need to think of a plan to stop this now.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The stranger laughed to himself.  The look on Xander's face when he had realised

Willow and Matt would be alone together was priceless.  To see reactions like

this was one of the upsides of his job.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Four

Willow paced furiously in her room.  She checked her watch for the umpteenth

time. 7.25pm, she registered.  Matt will be here in five minutes.  FIVE

MINUTES!!! She paced even more furiously.  She felt nervous, anxious and

extremely uncomfortable.  She didn't know if she could forgive Buffy for putting

her in this position, Buffy was probably just being a good friend, who hadn't

realised how nervous Willow was feeling.  Buffy sometimes forgot Willow wasn't

as confident as she was.

Willow analysed her thoughts, she must have read the situation between Buffy and

Matt incorrectly.  Maybe they didn't like each other romantically, just good

friends.  Surely Matt didn't like her, he had danced with her true enough, but

then he hadn't known Buffy that well.  He had also asked her for help, but then

computers were her thing, and certainly not Buffy's, she justified.  I'm

panicking over nothing. She thought.

A sudden knock at the door made Willow leap into the air.  It took a couple of

seconds to compose herself, then she walked to the main door and opened it.

Matt stood before her with his books and a silly grin on his face.  The grin

reminded her of Xander.  Why did so many things remind her of Xander?  She

decided to put that question aside, to be answered later when she could give it

a lot of thought.

"Hey" she said "Come in." She pulled the door open wider and Matt walked in.

"Hi, I brought all of my texts and ideas.  I really appreciate you giving me

some help."

"It's ok. Do you want to study in the shared area?" she asked hopefully.

"Sure" he returned her smile.

They settled down to their studies.  Willow enjoying explaining the intricacies

of html.  After about an hour Willow suggested it was time for a break.  She got

up and went to the kitchen area and made some hot chocolate.  Buffy had bought

some cookies for the study session, which had puzzled Willow.  But right at this

moment she was grateful that Buffy had been so thoughtful.  Everything was going

well.  Willow had lost the uneasy feeling and was actually enjoying working with

Matt.

As she was returning with the hot chocolate she slipped on one of Buffy's

magazines that she had forgotten to pick up.  Willow tried to balance the mugs

of hot chocolate, to no avail.  The warm chocolately liquid swirled out of the

mugs and landed on Matt.  He leapt into the air with shock, just as Willow

managed to steady herself.

"I'm so sorry." Willow gasped

"It's ok.  I think.  Not much damage done." he grinned back at the shocked look

Willow was giving him.  He took of his soaked shirt and revealed a finely toned

chest.

Willow quickly averted her eyes, not wanting to add any more redness to her

cheeks.  She had felt the blood rushing quickly to them.  It was one of those

moments when she wanted the Hellmouth to open up an swallow her.  Only it

didn't.

"I'll go and see if I've got anything you can wear." she said quickly, making a

hasty exit to her room.

She rifled through her closet and finally found a tee shirt Xander had left at

her house a long time ago.  She held the tee shirt up to her face and her mind

instantly recalled Xander standing in her old room wearing the shirt.  A smile

crossed her face.  Every time she remembered Xander her heart glowed inside with

feelings she knew would always be there.  She knew she loved him and that was

why she was forever thinking of him.  She wished that something would happen to

make him realise she loved him and that he loved her.   She knew that in all the

time she'd known Xander he had never loved anyone because of the way his parents

had hurt him.  They had shown him that love can hurt and she knew that he was

afraid to love anyone in case they treated him like his parents had.  That hurt

her more than anything, thinking that he couldn't trust her to love him, scared

that she would hurt him.  She would never knowingly hurt him.  She had always

tried to protect him and support him.  She had been the only person to love him

without asking anything in return.  He had never taken anymore than friendship,

but she wanted to give more, but she didn't know how.

Her mind wandered back to when they were eight.  They had been playing in her

garden, Xander had dared her to climb the old apple tree.  She had never liked

heights but she had taken the bait and had climbed cautiously up the trunk and

sat on the big branch.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

She looked down at Xander, petrified that if she moved another muscle she would

fall.  He smiled at her with his lopsided grin, as if he had just been given the

biggest Twinkie in the world.

"I knew you could climb the tree," he said happily.

"How do I get down?" she asked nervously.

"The same way you got up." he replied helpfully.

"The only problem is I don't think I can move. I think I'm stuck.  I'm going to

spend the rest of my life stuck in this tree." she began to sob.

Xander's face had changed in an instant.  Filled with concern he began to climb

up the tree trunk to rescue her.  He made his way out on to the branch and sat

next to her.  He carefully took hold of her hand.

She turned her face towards his.  He had carefully wiped away her tears and

smiled.

"I'm going to get you down." he said.

"I believe you" she smiled a thin nervous smile. But the feel of his hand

holding hands made everything fine.

He had helped her along the branch, and she was just climbing down the trunk,

inches from the ground, when Xander had lost his grip and had fallen harshly to

the ground.

Her heart filled with pure panic, she rushed to his side.  He was just beginning

to sit up, when she noticed his arm.

He watched as her face paled.  "Willow are you ok?" he asked, oblivious to his

arm.

"Your arm! I think it's broken!" she almost wailed.  Hot tears brimming from her

eyes and falling down her cheeks.

"It doesn't hurt Willow." he smiled back, desperate to stop her crying.  He

hated to see her upset. He remembered the promise he made a long time ago.  He

never wanted her to be upset, it was his job to make her happy.

Then he looked at his arm.  It was bent at an awkward angle.  It was then he

felt sick and the world began to get a little fuzzy around the edges.

Willow caught him before he fainted.  She had held him and called desperately

for her mother.  They had spent the remainder of the day in the Emergency Room

waiting for Xander's arm to be set.  Willow had refused to leave his side.

Holding his other hand and crying silently at the pain her friend was suffering,

all because she had gotten stuck in the tree.

He had been brave.  Trying to cheer her up.  Cracking Xander jokes only she

understood. When they had finally  left the Emergency Room, Willow had made him

promise that he would never, ever climb any more trees, or ever risk his life

again.  He made the promise and it was one he had kept, until they met Buffy.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

The memory faded and she remembered where she was and what she was doing.  Matt

was waiting for her in the lounge.

She opened her bedroom door and squeaked.  Matt was no longer alone.  Xander was

standing next to him with a look of frustration and anger on his face.  She

quickly took in the picture.  Matt wearing only his jeans and she was just

emerging from her bedroom carrying a rumpled  tee shirt.  She could see where

Xander had been jumping to conclusions, only they were the wrong conclusions.

"I definitely think I'm interrupting something." Xander said bitterly. "I'll

call back at a more convenient moment." he turned and stormed out of the room

.

"Xander!" Willow called helplessly after him.

He didn't turn or even acknowledge her.  She helplessly watched him walk down

the corridor.

She sank to the floor.  My life just gets better and better, she thought

bitterly.

She felt Matt's hand on her shoulder.

"Are you ok?" he asked softly

She shook her head in response.

"Do you want to talk?" he asked carefully, not wanting to put any more pressure

on her.

"Why doesn't he see that I still love him?" she asked to no one in particular.

She then began to sob.

Matt did all that he could think of.  He held her and tried to comfort her.  So

much for our plan, he thought.  Buffy, where are you when I need you? He asked

silently.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Xander stormed out of the building.  How could Matt take advantage of his

Willow? His Willow, he thought.  She hadn't been his Willow for a long time.  He

rushed away as far from Willow and her room as he could.  He  didn't want to

think about what he had seen.  He needed something to take his mind off the

scene that was playing over and over in his head.  He did something he promised

himself he would never do.  He walked into a bar and ordered a drink.  He wanted

to erase all thoughts, and this was the only way he could think of.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The stranger sighed to himself.  Why is nothing ever simple in Sunnydale? He

asked himself.  Just when he thought things were going well again, everything

began to fall apart.  This case was  proving harder than he ever imagined.  Back

to the drawing board, he thought.  I really am going to have to pull out all of

the strings to make sure they finally get together.

He walked back into the darkness and began to work on the next step.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Buffy walked in and found Willow asleep on the couch.  Matt was pacing

nervously, waiting for Buffy to return.  He had called her at the bookshop and

asked her to come back.  He had explained what had happened and she had rushed

home.

"How is she?" she asked quietly.

"Sleeping.  She finally stopped crying." he said, his face covered with a pained

expression.

"I guess our plan didn't go too well?" she asked cautiously, desperate to be

wrong.  She never wanted to hurt her friends, she just wanted them to be happy.

"It was going perfectly till she spilt the hot chocolate." he replied.  He then

went on into detail about the following events.

Buffy's heart sank.  She had caused all of these problems.  Why couldn't she

leave well enough alone. Xander would probably never talk to either of them

again.  Xander! If Willow was reacting like this. How on earth did Xander feel?

"I need to find Xander." she said.  "Can you stay here with Will?" she asked

hopefully.

"Of course." he replied. Not envying Buffy's task when she finally found Xander.

She turned and left Willow sleeping, and Matt watching her and waiting.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Buffy walked silently along the corridor towards Xander's room.  She didn't want

to make her presence known to the other students.  It was certainly frowned upon

to be found wandering in another dorm building in the early hours of the

morning.

As she approached Xander's room, she noticed a hunched form leaning against the

door.  As she got closer, she realised it was Xander.  At first she thought he

might have been attacked.  But as she got closer and closer, she could smell the

alcohol.  It was a smell she never thought she would associate with him.  She

knew how he hated it, what it had done to his family.

She knelt down next to Xander.  "Xander" she spoke to him with a forceful tone

in her voice.

"Buffy?" he asked groggily.

"What do you think you're doing?" she asked.

"Drowning, my. . .  er . . . sorrows." he drawled, his voice thick from the

alcohol.

"What do you think you saw?" she asked, wanting to know how he had interpreted

the incident.

"I saw Matt and Willow together.  They shouldn't be together.  Why doesn't she

see that I still love her?" he asked just before surrendering to unconsciousness

and peace.

"Oh Xander!" she whispered, as she picked him up and carried him into his room.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Five

His head pounded with the regular thud of his heartbeat.  He carefully opened

his eyes, only to instantly shut them as he was greeted by the harsh light of

the morning sun.  He moved his head carefully, attempting to sit upright.

Nausea surged through him.  For a moment he tried to recall why he felt so bad.

Then he remembered.  His head dropped back against the pillow and his face

contorted to the inner turmoil he felt.  He couldn't believe what he had seen

last night, Willow and Matt together in more than friendly circumstances.  As he

relieved those moments he felt his heart begin to shatter.  Why was love always

so painful?  Everyone he had ever loved had hurt him.

As he was lying in his bed he began to contemplate what he could do now.  His

mind tried desperately to think of painless solutions, he became aware he wasn't

alone.  He cautiously moved his head to the direction of the old arm chair in

the corner of the room.  His gaze was greeted by Buffy, who had fallen asleep in

what Xander considered an extremely uncomfortable position.  She moved to the

rustle his movements had made.  Her eyes slowly opening.

"Morning" Xander croaked.  He was aware his throat was very dry and scratchy. 

The alcohol. He thought.  Another good reason for never touching the stuff

again.

"Hey" she replied "How are you feeling?"

"Like I've been trampled by fifteen vampires and dragged through several

bushes." he replied  his voice thick with sarcasm.

"Why did you turn to alcohol?" she asked, asking the million dollar question.

"You don't beat about the bush do you?  I see now why you're the slayer, why

bother with niceties when you can go straight to the heart for the kill!" he

replied angrily.  He was angry with himself and his behaviour and he didn't need

Buffy stating the obvious.

"Sorry Xander, but I need to know, I can't help if  you don't tell me."

"Why should I want to tell you?  Why should I let you help me?  Just because

you're used to saving the world from evil doesn't give you the right to

interfere with my life!"  He rose from the bed and instantly regretted the

sudden movement.  But he was now fired with anger and he wasn't going to let a

little hangover ruin his mood.

"Because I'm your friend." she replied simply.

"Yes you're my friend, probably the only friend I've got now after last night."

"Your only friend?  What about Willow?  You guys have been friends forever,

surely you can't throw that away over one little misunderstanding?"

"Misunderstanding?" he asked incredulously. "Misunderstanding!  It was pretty

obvious what was going on in your dorm room last night.  Pretty convenient that

Giles needed you to research and train wasn't it?  Did Matt pay you to leave him

and Willow alone!" he spat out, unable to control his anger anymore.  Although

somewhere deep inside a small voice began to creep into his mind.  Scenes of his

parents arguing flickered and replayed themselves.  He sounded so much like his

Father, bitter and unhappy.  Maybe he was destined to follow his parents

mistakes, even though he had tried so hard to avoid them.

"Xander!" Buffy was losing control of her emotions. She had never seen Xander so

angry before.  She was trying her best to stay calm, but she didn't know how

much longer she could manage it.

The pent up anger dissipated as more recollections of his childhood surfaced.

The pain, confusion and hangover reached their peak and he collapsed to the

floor.  He didn't know what to do.  How to make the pain go away.  The one

person he needed he couldn't have, she belonged to someone else now.  Why had he

been so stupid as to not have seen the most perfect woman in the world and

acknowledg her, whilst he still had time.  The hot salty tears he had managed to

stop from falling began to edge from his eyelids.  He had never felt this way

before.  He had known that if Willow had chosen someone else it would have felt

bad, but he never imagined it would feel this painful.

Buffy watched as the anger dissipated and he fell to the floor, his eyes

brimming with tears.  She had never seen Xander so hurt, so vulnerable and in so

much pain.  She walked to him and embraced him, her only thought to comfort him.

She desperately needed to explain what really  happened last night and set her

friends back on track, but her meddling had caused more problems than she had

anticipated.  She only wanted the happy ending that her friends deserved.  She

should have known better than to interfere, but she couldn't stand around and

watch her two best friends deny their feelings any longer.

"What you saw last night was completely innocent." she started "Matt was

definitely having a problem with his studies.  Willow was the best person to

help him. Giles did want me to train.  I suggested the dorm to try and make you

jealous.  Matt and I know how you feel about Willow, we were just trying to help

you guys notice it." She took a deep breath and waited for the entourage of

comments Xander was certain to make.

"Jealous! Jealous!  Jealous of what? Willow being happy.  Happy with someone

else." He tried to stay angry but the words faded as he realised how true they

were. "But why Buffy? What gave you the right to interfere?  Didn't you notice

I'm perfectly happy as I am." He was trying to shroud his emotions.

"Really?" Buffy asked tentatively.

"No.  I'm miserable.  I love her so much Buffy, but I can't tell her."

"Why?"

"Because everyone I've ever loved has hurt me.  I can't risk being hurt by

Willow, I wouldn't survive. She means so much to me."

"Has Willow ever hurt you intentionally before?" Buffy asked.

"Only the time when she hit me with a plastic baseball bat after I buried

Barbie.  She has been the best friend anyone could ever have."

"Why don't you tell her how you feel?"

"Because I'm scared.  She knew how I felt after the Homecoming Dance, but she

chose Oz.  I don't think I could stand another rejection.  Last night hurt too

much, and you're telling me that was a mistake."

"Yes it was Xander.  Completely and honestly." she smiled reassuringly at her

friend. "If you tell her how you feel, won't you feel better, because you must

feel pretty awful now."

"I'm just scared that if I tell her, what we have left will just disintegrate

into fond memories and nothing more."

"Isn't that the way your relationship is heading now?"

He thought about Buffy's question for a long time.  He eventually met her eyes

with his own and nodded.

"It's worth the risk then isn't it?"

Again he thought for a long time. "What else have I got to lose after last

night?" he asked quietly.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Willow woke from her unrestful slumber.  She had spent the night replaying the

incident over in her mind.  The look on Xander's face.  The way he stormed down

the corridor, ignoring her pleas.  She had hoped the pain would pass, be a

figment of her dreams.  But no, it was real enough, too real in fact.

She felt the tears forming at the corner of her eyes. They felt sore and itchy

from the time she spent crying last night.  Why was her life never simple?  She

thought that her friendship with Xander was improving. After the vampire

incident the other evening. Now it had taken an almighty leap in the wrong

direction.  Xander would probably never speak to her again and she didn't think

she could cope with that happening.   She wanted to go to him and comfort him,

but she knew that would never happen, because for the first time in their

friendship, she was the one to cause his pain.  She didn't know how to take that

pain away, without admitting to him how she felt, and that frightened her more

than him never talking to her again.

She sighed audibly.

"Are you ok?" the vaguely familiar voice asked.

She turned her head in the direction of the voice.  Matt stood in the entrance

to the kitchen, his eyebrows furrowed with concern.

"No." she replied honestly.  "But I don't know what to do to make it better."

she replied wistfully.

Matt and Willow talked about the situation.  Willow found it comforting to talk

to someone other than Buffy or Xander.  A fresh perspective might just help her

find the solution to the worst problem she had ever faced.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The stranger was perplexed.  He had spent the night silently observing Willow

and Xander. Hoping that an idea on how to resolve the current situation would

present itself.  But as yet, not an inkling of an idea.  Why did his job have to

be so complicated?  He always thought love was easy, natural even.  On the

Hellmouth though, it was complicated and fraught with unexpected twists.

He decided to watch and wait.  Maybe doing nothing was the key to this problem.

Maybe without interference they would take the opportunity to move on and

discover in each other the true nature of their feelings.

His view of Willow and Matt faded as he silently moved through the wall and into

the corridor, to continue his observation of Buffy and Xander.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Buffy left Xander and returned to her dorm.  She found Matt and Willow talking

at the table she hoped that the atmosphere here was better than it had been at

Xander's dorm.

They turned to look at her.

"Hi" she said meekly.

"Hi" Willow and Matt said together.

"Did you find him?" Willow asked cautiously, afraid she might not like the

answer.

"Yes.  To say he's feeling worse the wear would be an understatement.   I think

he regrets his decision to drown his sorrows." Buffy replied.

"He did what?" Willow asked incredulously.  "He got drunk! Xander never would

touch alcohol, he knew what it did to his family.  Oh. . . ." her voice trailed

away and tears brimmed at her eyes.

"I did that to him." she almost whispered.

Buffy embraced her friend "It's not your fault.  He just felt he needed to lose

himself, and the only way he knew how was as his Father had done, in a bottle.

He's learnt that it's  not the way to go."  Buffy smiled at her friend.  Willow

returned a small smile.

"I need to go and see him, to explain." Willow said nervously.

"He needs time, Will." Buffy replied solemnly.

"Oh.  I need time to think quietly in my room."  She turned quickly and left

Matt and Buffy in the dorm room.

"That went well." Buffy retorted sarcastically.

"Well it could have gone better, or it could have been a heck of a lot worse."

Matt replied honestly.

"Well I suppose we got off lightly after meddling with their emotions.  At least

they're both speaking to us." she smiled thinly.

"It will work out." Matt said reassuringly.

"Unfortunately I don't believe in the good luck fairy anymore, I've seen to many

bad things happen." she replied.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Willow lay on her bed and sobbed.  Her whole life had crumbled last night.  She

knew she needed to see Xander and explain.  She knew that as soon as she saw him

she would know whether or not their friendship had any chance of repair.  As she

lay there, she knew that she was going to go and visit him.  She had to.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Willow heard Buffy and Matt talking in the kitchen as she sneaked out of the

dorm.  She closed the door quietly and made her way out of the building.  The

sun would set in about half an hour's time, she knew she would have to move

quickly.

As she walked along the pavement, she had the eerie sense that someone or

something was following her.  She knew it couldn't be a vampire because the sun

was still shining.  Her heart began to pound in her chest.  She quickly looked

over her shoulder.  There was no one.  Your mind is playing tricks on you, she

admonished herself.  Although she firmed up her stance and her senses were on

full alert, ready to react to the first sign of trouble.

Xander's dorm was looming into view.  Only another few minutes and you'll be

safe, she thought.  In the doorway of the building was a few feet away.  A

familiar figure was just opening the door.  Xander.  She smiled to herself.

"Xander" she called.

He looked up.  She was expecting a smile, or even a grimace, but the reaction

she got was nowhere near what she expected.  His face was filled with fear, as

if she was the ugliest and scariest monster in the world.  It was then

realisation dawned.  Xander wasn't looking at her, he was looking behind her.

Behind her.  The panic began to build and rise.  Her blood coursed through her

veins and the adrenalin rush began to flow.  She slowly turned, unsure what to

expect.

She was greeted by a hooded figure, who seemed vaguely familiar.  The figure's

features hidden by the large black hood which hung loosely around it's head.

The cloak engulfed the majority of the figure, only it's arm was exposed, and

that was covered in thick material and a metal glove.  The figure held out it's

arm menacingly at Willow.

As her mind began to process the information, her reactions were dulled.   She

watched the gloved hand capture her shoulder before she could move.  The

figure's grip was so strong her shoulder instantly began to feel numb.  Her mind

began to cloud, a fuzzy feeling seeping through her body.  She couldn't help but

to relinquish herself into it's grasp.

"Xander!" she whispered as she fell into unconsciousness.

He watched helplessly as she was grasped by the hooded figure.  Her body relaxed

and fell into its grasp.  As he began to run towards them a cloud of smoke

encapsulated them. Then they were gone.

He was left looking at the empty ground where seconds ago they had stood.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The stranger sighed.  He had watched, pleased that Willow was going to see

Xander.  Perhaps they could sort this out by themselves.  However, the Hellmouth

again dealt an unusual card.  The arrival of the hooded figure had been an

unforseen problem.

He knew now that he would have to become more active than just a casual

observer.  He needed to introduce himself to the Slayer and her friends.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The pounding on the door, interrupted Matt and Buffy's conversation.  They both

rushed quickly and opened the door.

They were greeted by Xander, he was breathing extremely hard.  He leaned against

the door frame.

"What is it Xander?"  Buffy asked quickly.

"It's Willow, she's been kidnapped by a hooded monster." he said between sudden

intakes of breath.

"Have you been drinking again?  Willow's in her room.  I'll go and get her."

Buffy said crossly.

She stormed across the room, disappointed in her friend.  She flung open

Willow's door and gasped.  The room was empty.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Six

They hurried into the backroom behind the book shop.  Xander quickly explaining

what he seen outside  his dorm building.

Giles paced processing the information carefully.  Did the disguise offer a clue

as to who the kidnapper was, or why Willow was taken?

Xander sat down in his chair at the table, his head hung between his hands.  "I

should have done something, anything." he said, mostly to himself.

Giles began to look through his books.  Matt attempted a search on the

computer's database.  Buffy watched Xander intensely. The Hellmouth certainly

had a way of ruining the lives of her friends, she thought.

A noise from the bookshop brought her Slayer instinct into full flow.  She

cautiously opened the door into the bookshop.  The room was in complete

darkness, she couldn't hear anything, but her Slayer sense was tingling

reassuring her that there was something out of the ordinary in the room.  She

waited for her eyes to accustom to the darkness.  Then she cautiously stepped

forward, prepared to defend herself in an instant.

As she walked between the bookshelves, her senses became aware of an unusual

coldness in the air.  It was as if she had stepped into a refrigerated room.

The chill sent shockwaves up and down her spine, not a pleasant feeling at all.

A cold hand seemed to touch her shoulder.  She turned quickly to see a hazy

figure of a man behind her.  He wasn't solid, she could see the other set of

bookshelves through him.  A ghost?  Ghosts were not popular on the Hellmouth,

although there was a first time for everything.  Her mind began to calculate the

possibilities of attack and defence.  She wasn't quite sure how she was going to

defend herself against something that wasn't tangible.

She watched and waited for the ghost to make the first move, but it didn't.

Instead it did something she hadn't been anticipating at all.  It spoke to her.

"I'm here to help you Slayer." it spoke with an eerie tone, almost like a

whisper but not quite.  Buffy couldn't analyse exactly what it sounded like and

at this moment did not want to spend time thinking, when she should probably be

preparing for battle.

"Help me how?" she replied, unsure where the conversation may lead.

"I've been watching for a while.  I saw the creature who took your friend.  I'm

here to help you get her back."

Buffy's mouth dropped open.  Could this ghost be speaking the truth?  Or was it

a fabrication to trap her and her friends?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Giles, Matt and Xander found Buffy talking to the apparition.  Their eyebrows

raised questioningly.  Giles stepped forward.  The apparition turned to face

him.  It's face gaunt and stretched out of shape, by the energy it took to

maintain its partial solid form.

"Mr Giles.  I've seen and heard so much about you." it said.

"Really?  Well I'm afraid I know nothing about you, so I was wondering if it

would be possible for you to tell us why you're here?"  Giles replied with his

crisp English accent.

"I'm here to help Xander and Willow, they need to fulfill their destiny before

it is too late."

"Destiny!  What destiny?" Xander asked incredulously.

"I can't tell you.  I'm here only to help you get her back."

"Do you know where she is being kept?" Buffy asked.

"No.  But I do have an idea about who has taken her."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Willow woke and found herself on a small hard bed.  Her head ached.  For a

moment she had forgotten what had happened.  Then it started to come back.  With

a feel of fear in her stomach, she quickly took in her surroundings.  The room

was a basement of some kind.   The walls were made out of damp stones.  It

reminded her a little of a medieval dungeon that she had read about in grade

school.   The room was dark except for two small candles attached one of the

walls.  The flickering light caused shadows to dance around the room.  Willow's

eyes focussed on the shadows, determining whether she needed to be afraid of

them.  After a while she decided that it was her mind playing tricks on her.

Her breathing slowed and she began to contemplate how she might begin to get

herself out of this prison.  As her mind began to lose itself in thoughts of

escape, she became aware of a sound the other side of the door.  A jangle of

keys, followed by the scraping of the turning of a lock.  Willow began to panic,

in a couple of seconds she would know who had abducted her, and she wasn't sure

she really wanted to know.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The apparition continued to hover between Buffy, Giles, Matt and Xander.

"If you know who took her, maybe we can find her location." Giles stated.

"I believe you have met her before.  My master informs me she seeks power and

revenge.  She used to cause trouble with another but now she is alone."

"Can we stop with the cryptic clues and get to the point.  Who has Willow?"

Xander almost shouted the question, his impatience obvious.

"Drusilla" the apparition whispered as it lost complete control over its form

and  faded into nothing.

"Drusilla" Buffy forced the name through her clenched teeth.  "I might have

known she'd be back to cause trouble again."

"At least it gives us an idea of where to start looking for her lair."  Giles

said with a tint of hope in his voice.

"We'll check out the mansion first and then the remains of the factory.  That's

assuming she hasn't found any new locations to hide." Buffy said with her Slayer

authority.

The group returned to the back room and stocked up with the necessary vampire

slaying tools and began to plan their rescue of Willow.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Buffy and Matt edged silently through the hedgerow into the abandoned mansion's

courtyard.  The bushes were slightly more overgrown than she recalled, but it

had been over four years since she had been here last with Angel.  Angel.  The

memory caused an instant of pain then it faded almost as suddenly as it came.

She was aware Matt was standing beside her, prepared to give his life in order

to save Willow.  She knew Matt was going to be an asset to the group and

hopefully to her personal life too.

Buffy peered into the mansion, it gave the appearance of abandonment.  Her

Slayer sense honing in on anything that may have been unusual for an abandoned

building.   They quietly entered the building, carefully trying to avoid making

any sound.  They checked the main room and met Giles and Xander in the kitchen

area.  The ground floor appeared deserted.

They checked upstairs and the basement but to no avail.  The mansion was

abandoned, very abandoned.  Buffy didn't think anything had resided there since

Angel left, apart from the rats, that is.

They left the mansion to check out their second destination.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The door creaked as it opened.  Willow held her breath, she waited for the door

to open completely.  A figure walked into the room.  She couldn't make out the

form, but something about the way it held itself set of alarm bells.  The

candles finally illuminated the figure, accentuating the curves of her body.  A

woman! Willow thought.  Her facial features were suddenly illuminated as a draft

caused the candles flames to change direction.  The sallowness of her skin and

the intense hatred in the woman's brown eyes instantly brought recognition to

Willow.

"Drusilla" she almost whispered.

"I see you're awake.  Did you enjoy your sleep?" she asked in her lilting

English Accent. "Miss Emily will be so pleased because now the fun can really

begin." she began to laugh.  It was a cackle Willow had hoped she would never

ever hear again after her last encounter with Drusilla, which had left her

unconscious, Kendra dead and Xander with a broken arm.

"Why did you kidnap me?" Willow dared to ask, suddenly feeling courageous.  If

she was going to die, she wanted to know why.  "Was it to antagonise Buffy?"

"No.  I need to stop you. You are far more important than you realise, my

sweet." Drusilla reached out a pale finger and caressed Willow's cheek, a small

smile breaking out as she enjoyed toying with her prisoner, just as a cat

enjoyed tormenting a mouse.

"Me important, no, just an amateur wicca with no interest in being important at

all." Willow was on the verge of babbling, but she tried her best to remain in

control.  Looking for an opportunity to break free, although the chances of

escaping from Drusilla were extremely low.  Willow was prepared to hope, because

that's all she had left.

"You have to die my pretty, because if you don't my future will not be assured."

she replied with a manic tone in her voice.

Will definitely be assured if you kill me.  Buffy and the others will ensure

that you die." Willow spat at the vampire.

"You forget I'm already dead.  If you die I will be immortal, no one will ever

be able to stop me."  Drusilla cackled again, her whole body shaking with

emotion. She grabbed Willow's throat and her sallow face morphed into the evil

creature that hid within her.  Her demonic eyes glowing yellow in the darkness,

her white teeth glinting in the candlelight.

Willow tried to gulp but was unable to because of Drusilla's tight grip on her

throat.  Her level of consciousness began to diminish as her brain tried to cope

with the oxygen deprivation.  Her final conscious thought was of Xander.  How

would he cope without her?  He would never know  that she still loved him.  She

would never have the opportunity to tell him.  Drusilla's face faded into

blackness as she succumbed to the relative safety of her unconscious mind.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Buffy, Matt, Giles and Xander watched the group of vampires guarding the

entrance to the decrepit remains of the factory.

"It looks like we might have found Drusilla."  Buffy stated.  "I say its time to

sharpen the stakes and warm up before the big party."

"There's no need to sound too excited." Xander replied "I just want Willow

back," he added. "Safely."

They prepared their plan.  Moving silently to their locations, they waited for

Buffy's signal to attack.

Buffy walked casually towards the group of six vampires.  They were oblivious to

her arrival until she spoke.

"Hi guys.  Can I join the party?" she asked with a sweet smile on her face.

"Look it's meals on wheels!" a tall vampire spoke to his comrades.  "Let's eat

now and think about it later."

"My, my a vampire with wit!  Whatever's next a vampire who's allergic to blood?"

Buffy replied enjoying the conversation.

The vampires began to circle Buffy, their game faces displaying the demons

within.  She slipped her trusty stake from its hiding place in her jacket.

"Did I mention that I'm the Slayer," she said. "You'd better be prepared to

dust," she announced as she somersaulted forward and rammed her stake through

the chest of the lead vampire.  As soon as the wooden stake contacted with the

undead man's heart his solid form disintegrated, leaving a pile of dust.

The other vampires were shocked for an instant, giving Buffy enough time to turn

her stake and disintegrate another vampire.  They were so occupied with the

Slayer they didn't notice Giles, Matt and Xander approach, armed with Holy water

and stakes.

They took out the remaining four vampires without much effort.  Xander and Matt

working together as a team, they managed to destroy two of them and  Giles and

Buffy managing to dust the other two.

"Now we've taken out the welcoming committee, I suppose we ought to announce our

presence to the hostess." Buffy spoke sarcastically. "Everyone know the plan and

their positions?"

They all nodded in agreement.  They moved silently into position and began to

explore the remains of the factory.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Drusilla positioned Willow's unconscious body on the sacrifice table.  Her tools

of choice were organised within easy reach.  In a few minutes, this threat to

her future would forever be eradicated. She would be able to pursue her dream,

to be the Master of the undead and lead the vampire society to the position it

should attain, that of dominance and power.

She picked up a sharp scalpel and showed it to Miss Edith. "Miss Edith I hope

you're watching carefully.  Soon we will have the power to take control." she

cooed.

She began to lower the scalpel when she suddenly became aware that she was not

alone.  The air temperature had dropped.  She almost shivered, then she

remembered that she shouldn't feel the cold, she was a vampire after all.

She noticed a swirling smoke in the corner of the room.  The smoke began to

shift and it appeared to be taking on a solid form.  As the form solidified even

more a recollection hit her mind.  The Protector, she thought.  The Protector

had been mentioned in the texts.  He was sent to protect the chosen pair.  He

was there to ensure they fulfilled their destiny.  Drusilla began to panic.  She

involuntarily stepped away from Willow's unconscious form.   How could she have

forgotten the Protector? She had put it down to superstition, but obviously he

was not just a figment of someone's imagination, he was real.  In fact too real.

She saw a whisper of smoke float towards her.  She was mesmerised by the way it

danced and floated in the air.  It moved rhythmically, as if hypnotising her.

She watched its every move, unable to look away from it.

She took a sharp intake of breath as she felt the smoke make contact with her

throat.  It held her neck firmly.  She couldn't move or break free.  In that

instant she knew that she was doomed to die.  She would never achieve power, her

greed had led to her downfall.

She watched her hand pick up the wooden stake she had chosen to use to kill the

wicca.  Instead of using it on the unconscious woman, she knew the Protector was

going to use it on her.  She watched as the stake moved slowly and purposefully

towards her heart.  She anticipated the pain.  She couldn't move, the power that

held her in place was too powerful.  She saw the tip contact with her dress.

She felt the pain as the point pierced her skin.  Her last view was of the

Protector smiling as she felt her body explode into millions of pieces....

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Buffy watched in amazement as Drusilla staked herself.  Why would Drusilla do

that?  It was then that Buffy was aware that an apparition was lurking in the

shadows.  He spoke to her.

"Your friend is safe, Slayer.  It is your job now to protect her and Xander and

to ensure they reach their destiny."

"What is their destiny?" she asked.

"You will know when it is time."  He smiled and faded into the darkness.

Xander pushed passed  her, rushing to Willow.  He looked down at her pale form.

His heart filled with love and pain. "Willow" he said quietly "Please wake up.

I need you, I can't live without you.  I love you."

Her face flickered with recognition.  "Xander?" she asked hopefully.

"Yes,  Willow are you ok?"

She opened her eyes.  "Xander what did you just say to me?" she asked, her eyes

fixing on his.

"I love you," he replied knowing that now was the right time to tell her.  He

needed her to know and he needed to tell her.  He felt as if a great weight had

been lifted from his heart. At last he was being truly honest with Willow and

himself.  He smiled, mesmerised by the love he could see in her eyes.

"I love you too." she almost whispered, relieved that they were finally being

honest and acknowledging their feelings for one another.

He leaned forward and brushed his lips over hers.  She responded and the kiss

deepened, both experiencing emotions and sensations they never knew existed.  It

felt so right, much better than their stolen kisses senior year.  The room

around them slowly faded into the background, both concentrating intensely on

sharing their love and emotions with each other.

When the kiss finally ended, they both had tears in the corners of their eyes.

A response that shocked them, but they knew that they would be together forever.

They had always needed each other but it wasn't until now that they truly

realised how much they totally relied on each other.  It was as if the kiss had

connected them in ways they never thought possible.

They stared into each others eyes for a long time.

"I believe that's a happy ending then." Buffy smiled.  Her two friends oblivious

to her statement.

She felt Matt's arm around her shoulder.  She turned and smiled at him, allowing

herself to hope that maybe she and Matt had a future together like Willow and

Xander.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Seven

Epilogue

Two years later.

Willow looked at the little bundle in her arms.  Her heart filled with joy, love

and happiness.  The pain of the last few hours had disappeared to the back of

her memory.  She smiled down at her daughter.  The baby wiggled and let out a

small cry.  Willow cradled her daughter and spoke quietly.

"Hello Elora, welcome to Sunnydale."  The baby looked into her mother's face and

gurgled.

The door opened quietly.  Willow looked up and saw her husband walk in followed

by her friends.  She smiled a smile of pure happiness.  Xander smiled back, his

heart full of love and wonder at how he and Willow had managed to produce

something as perfect as Elora.

He walked over and sat next to Willow.  His arm draped over her shoulder as he

pulled her into an embrace.  His other hand caressed his daughter's head.

"Elora, I've brought some very important people who would like to meet you." he

said quietly looking into the baby's blue eyes.  "Elora Elizabeth Harris I would

like to introduce you to your Aunt Buffy, Uncle Matt and Grandfather Giles."  He

looked up at his three friends as they moved to take a better look at the newest

resident of Sunnydale.

"She's beautiful Willow." Buffy said a look of pure happiness on her face.

Matt placed his arm over his wife's shoulder and looked at the baby.  "She was

worth the wait." he added.

"Well we know now that you've achieved your destiny." Giles stated with a huge

smile on his face, "We know that the future of the world will be safe in your

daughter's hands."

A single tear rolled down Willow's cheek.  She still found it hard to believe

that her daughter would one day rid the world of all vampires, that she would be

the last vampire slayer.

Xander sensed Willow's emotion and kissed her forehead.  He whispered in her ear

"It will be ok, I promise."

She smiled and looked into his eyes, knowing that he would try his best to

ensure that it would be.  He looked at her his eyes full of love and she knew

that as long as she had Xander, she would always be safe and happy.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Stranger and his Master stood in the hospital room admiring the latest

addition to Sunnydale.  The Stranger turned to his Master.  "A happy ending

then," he smiled.

"Yes. I'm pleased to say you did well.  You have saved humanity and my friends,"

she said,  A small tear escaping her eye and running down her cheek. For a

moment she regretted that she couldn't be there to share in Giles' life, but she

knew that she would be able to visit as she had since she had died at the hands

of Angelus.  "I promise Elora that I will always be there for you as your

Protector," Jenny Calendar said before she and her assistant faded into the

darkness again.