Lies and Other Games We Play

Author: Greywizard1235 AKA John <grey.wizard[at]>

Rating: PG. Definitely nothing worse than the show.

Disclaimer: All of the really good characters belong to Crack-Head Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc., I'm just borrowing them for a while. There is no intent to profit from this. Only the story is mine, and even that is negotiable.

Category: C/X-ship and various other relationships and friendships mentioned and noted.

Summary: Second in my 'Sunnydale Reloaded' series

Time frame: Completely alternate Buffy-verse, branching off after S2's Halloween. Follows 'Enter.. the Hellmouth.'

Character Bashing: None.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Sunnydale Park

The young boy sat near the top of the jungle gym, watching the setting sun begin to dip below the distant horizon as he impatiently surveyed the empty adjacent parking lot.

"C'mon, Mom. She's always late," he muttered his complaint to himself under his breath.

"Are you lost?"

Turning his head to look over his shoulder, he saw tall, beautiful but pale, brunette woman appearing to be her mid-to-late twenties and dressed in a long, white gown patterned with small flowers slowly walking toward him.

"No. My mom's just supposed to pick me up is all," he said, as he began climbing out of the gym, a faint feeling of unease prickling along his spine.

"Do you want me to walk you home?" the woman smiled at him, her voice soft and musical to his ears.

"No, thank you," the boy replied politely, moving to keep the gym structure between himself and the woman.

"My mummy used to sing me to sleep at night," the woman smiled at him, slowly walking around the gym as she began to softly sing. " 'Run and catch. The lamb is caught in the blackberry patch...'

"She had the sweetest voice. What will your mummy sing when they find your body, my darling boy?" she asked curiously.

The boy looked at her nervously, now obviously worried about the newcomer's apparently nonsensical ramblings. "I'm not supposed to talk to people."

"Oh. Well, I'm not a person, see, so that's just..." the brunette smiled at him, much like a cat looked at a mouse, when a tall, dark-haired man suddenly stepped between the two.

"Run home. Now," he ordered the boy as he gave him a stern look.

The boy only hesitated for only a moment before turning and running off. The woman watched him run away, her face filled with disappointment. The man took a deep breath before turning around to face the woman.

"My Angel!" the woman beamed at the man.

"Hello, Drusilla." The expression on the ensouled vampire's face was a mixture of emotions, pain, regret and sorrow chief among them.

"Do you remember the song mummy used to sing me? Pretty," the woman asked, a thoughtful expression on her face.

"I remember."

"Yes, you do," the brunette agreed, a small smile on her lips.

"Drusilla, leave here. I'm offering you that chance. Take Spike and get out," Angel told her.

"Or you'll hurt me?" Drusilla asked, her head tilted in curiosity, as Angel looked down at the ground.

"No. No, you can't. Not anymore," she judged, the ghost of a smile still playing about her lips.

"If you don't leave, it'll go badly. For all of us," he replied, still unable to look her in the eye.

"My dear boy's gone all away, hasn't he? To her," the woman said, certainty in her voice, as she looked over the vampire's shoulder to the roof of a building across the street from the park.

"Who?" Angel asked, puzzled by the woman's response.

"The girl. The Slayer. Your heart stinks of her," she said, as she put her hand on his chest a moment before a slight blonde-haired woman appeared at the edge of the building's roof and looked down on them. "Poor little thing."

"This can't go on, Drusilla. It's gotta end," Buffy's preternatural hearing enabled her to hear Angel say.

Drusilla tilted her head and reached up for a kiss, seeing the Slayer watching them.

"Oh, no, my pet. This is just the beginning," she answered, pulling away without kissing him while giving him an evil smile. She kept her head turned to him as she slowly walked away.

Buffy swallowed at what she saw, Angel watching Drusilla leave for a moment, before turning to leave also. Buffy stepped back, away from the edge of the roof before she, too, turned to run off.


Sunnydale High School
The next morning

"It's a secret, Rupert!" Jenny Calendar said, as she accompanied Giles down a set of interior stairs.

"What kind of a secret?" the Englishman asked, apparently a bit flustered at her statement.

"Uh, the kind that's secret. You know, where I don't actually tell you what it is," she smiled at him, obviously enjoying his discomfort at her answer.

"I think it's customary that when two people are going out on an evening that they, they both have an idea of where they're going," he protested weakly.

"Oh, come on! Where is your sense of adventure?" the computer teacher teased.

"Well, I, I... Uh, how will I know what to wear?" the librarian asked.

Looking a bit doubtfully at his tweed suit, Jenny asked, "Do you own anything else?"

"Uh, w-well, not as such, no, um..." was the reply.

< Mmm, > she thought to herself, < going to have to get with Cordelia to help me get him into some more stylish clothes. If she could fix Xander's wardrobe, she could fix anyone's. > "Rupert, you're gonna have to trust me," the brunette laughed, putting her hand on his shoulder reassuringly.

"Alright, alright, I p-put myself in your hands." Giles finally conceded defeat.

"That sounds like fun," Jenny smiled sexily as she started on her way down the corridor, away from the library. "Okay, tomorrow night, 7:30, right?"

"Yes," Giles smiled back, a bit uncertainly, watching her closely swayed away...

"Hey." Buffy greeted her Watcher as she came up to him as Jenny left.

"Hello. Um, did we hunt last night?" he asked as the two fell into step heading towards the library.

"I did a couple quick sweeps downtown," Buffy replied, her face indicating that the majority of her attention was on something other than her report as they entered the library.

"Any encounters?"

"Nothing vampire-y."

"Uh, I've been researching your friend Spike. Uh, his, uh, his profile is fairly unappetizing. But I-I still haven't got a bead on why he's here," he confessed as he walked into his office.

"You'll figure it out."

"Are you alright? You seem a little glum," he observed as he began his morning ritual of preparing tea.

"I'm fine."

"Very well. Why don't you take the night off?" the librarian said, obviously not believing his Slayer's protest.

"Okay. That'd be nice," the blonde agreed, not nearly as cheered as he had assumed she would be at the reprieve he had given her.

"Yes," the Englishman nodded. "You could spend some time with Angel."

"I don't know. He might have other plans," Buffy replied despondently, as she walked off to class, leaving Giles to wonder what that was all about.


In their European history class, Buffy opened the note Willow had passed to her earlier as they had taken their seats.

{ Do you know who she was? }

"Well, it seems like Louis XVI was just sort of a weak king," a fellow student was answering the leading question their teacher had thrown out for discussion.

After glancing at her friend, and making sure that Mrs. Kingman wasn't looking her way, Buffy scribbled her answer.

"That's fair enough. Uh, any other impressions?" the teacher asked of the rest of the class.

From her position sitting in front of Buffy, Cordelia glanced to the side, a small smile on her face. Xander was sitting in the next seat over from her in front of Willow, watching the statuesque brunette with his head propped up on his fist and a matching small smile on his face.

Contrary to what people had come to expect with regard to his fashion sense, the male Scooby Gang member was currently wearing a dark silver-grey dress shirt, black tee-shirt, black jeans and polished black combat boots, all of the clothes appearing to be tailored for him, to reveal a lean and muscular physique that had previously always been concealed by his baggy, shapeless clothing.

"I just don't see why everyone's always picking on Marie Antoinette," the head cheerleader commented. "It wasn't as though she was voted in as Queen and she didn't come through on her campaign promises or anything like that.

"She and Louis were just like every other member of all the other royal families throughout Europe," the brunette noted offhandedly. "They were all basically inbred to the point of 'Deliverance;' none of them ever had any kind of training classes on how to be good rulers, not that they even cared all that much about that, to begin with; all of their advisors were always pushing their own agendas; and absolutely nobody in power really cared about the commoners unless they were all crowded around outside their palaces with pitchforks and torches, screaming for blood or other stuff," Cordy noted. "So why was anybody so surprised that they didn't really know what was going on, and how bad things really were for the people of France?

"It's no wonder the peasants were all depressed..." the brunette beauty declared as she concluded her comments.

"I think you mean 'oppressed'," Xander corrected her

"That, too," Cordelia agreed. "Anyway, the people had good reason to be cranky. Wouldn't you be, if some airhead offered you a piece of cake when you were complaining that your family was starving because there wasn't any food around to eat? And when you add in what kind of clothing they had to wear back then, I don't blame them for revolting!"

"Yes, well, that's a very interesting perspective," Mrs. Kingman remarked, obviously taken aback by the cheerleader's relatively insightful, yet still uniquely Cordelia-esque analysis of the socioeconomic situation in Renaissance France.

"I see that Trinity's fascination with medieval Europe certainly came in handy," Xander said in a low voice as he smiled at Cordelia, his eyes focused on the brunette.

"A little extra knowledge never hurt anyone," Cordelia conceded. "You seem to be doing a bit better in your classes, too," she observed with a smile.

"Well, I consider Neo's coming from a family that was actually literate to be an unfair advantage in the development of his attitude towards education as compared to mine," Xander confided the head cheerleader with his typical grin.

"I think Willow initially took your sudden reversal in both your attitude about education and your GPA as proof that you'd been possessed," Cordy teased her boyfriend.

"And I'm relatively certain that Harmony and the other harpies probably felt the same way when we began dating publicly," he replied.

"Well, telling them that changing your tastes in clothes was a challenge to my esthetic sensibilities *was* most definitely the easiest reason that they could accept for my allowing myself to be seen in public with you," Cordy informed him with a twinkle in her eyes.

"The fact that they realized just what a hunk you were after I started dressing you just made me look even better in their eyes," she finished with a triumphant smirk.

"Actually, I like your *un*-dressing me even better, babe," he smiled back at her, knowing how much she enjoyed teasing him about the student body's general reaction to their initial revelation that they were a couple, and about the Cordettes' reaction in particular.

"Well, of course you do, dweeb-boy," Cordy declared. "You think that that's a surprise? You're male; therefore, you're always interested in getting naked with pretty much any woman around.

"The fact that it's me you get naked with just means you're lucky beyond belief," she smiled at him, knowing that he knew she was merely teasing.

"I already know that, darling," Xander replied, the intensity in his eyes as he looked at her making the same familiar quiver run down Cordy's spine.

As their friend spoke to the head cheerleader, Buffy finished her answer to Willow's note after a moment's reflection.

{ No. Dark hair. Old dress. Pretty. }

Buffy folded the note and passed it back to Willow, who read it and immediately scribbled a question before returning it.

Willow took advantage of their teacher's distraction as someone in the front of the class dropped a book to hand Buffy the note again.

{ Vampire? }

The bell rung at that point and there was an immediate mass exodus out of the classroom.

"I don't know. I don't think so. They seemed pretty friendly," Buffy observed, continuing their discussion as she and the hacker merged with the crowd of students funneling out of the classroom.

"Who's friendly?" Xander asked as he and Cordelia walked over and joined the two Scoobies in the hallway as they headed down the corridor.

"No one," the Slayer immediately responded.

"Angel and a girl," Willow answered.

"Willow, do we have to be in total share mode?" the blonde threw a mild glare at her friend.

"Well, it's not like there's a huge crowd of people interested in your completely dismal and pretty much non-existent social life." Cordelia's normal, candid comment was ignored by the other three.

"Hey, it's me," Xander smiled at the petite blonde, slipping into his typical joker persona. "If Angel's doing somethin' wrong, I wanna know.

"'Cause it gives me a happy!" he declared as they turned into the lounge.

"That's the only kind of happy you're going to be getting if you keep ignoring me," Cordy growled to the tall brunet, clearly not pleased at not being the center of the brunet's attention.

"Mm, I'm glad someone has a happy," Buffy said glumly.

"Aw, you just need cheering up. And I know just the thing!" Xander told her as he turned and grabbed hold of Cordy, spinning them around in a wild dance move that threatened to send the two of them through the nearest window. "Crazed dance party at the Bronze!"

"I dunno," Buffy said as she crossed her arms, obviously depressed, and dropped back onto one of the couches scattered throughout the room.

"Okay, very calm dance party at the Bronze?"

Buffy gave him a glum look.

"Moping at the Bronze?" he suggested, with a hopeful grin.

Spinning the voluptuous brunette he was still holding in his arms, he smiled at her and was rewarded with the faintest lightening of the annoyed look Cordy was currently sending his way.

"Hey, I'm helping cheer up a friend, that's all," he informed the head cheerleader in a quieter voice as he pulled her stiff, but unresisting form closer to him.

"She's like my little sister," he murmured into her ear as he sat down on a nearby couch and pulled her down into his lap, to wrap his arms around her waist. "Very irritating and annoying at times, but someone you still care about, anyway.

"You should know you don't have anything to worry about, babe," he assured her in a low, throaty voice, smiling as he saw the involuntary shiver that went down the brunette's spine as he stroked his hand along her lower back. "I don't have any romantic feelings for Buffy any more. I thought you knew that, by now. Especially after that lapdance she hit me with at the beginning of the year," he reminded her.

"You're the only one I want. Now and forever," he announced, his words eliciting a brilliant smile on the face of the girl seated in his lap.

When she heard her childhood friend's declaration as she eavesdropped on their conversation, Willow's face took on a mixed look of hurt and disappointment, and she immediately turned away, almost running into the guy who had walked in behind the four of them.

"If you're trying to cheer her up, I'd suggest a box of Oreos dunked in apple juice," he said, a wide grin on his face as he looked down at the petite, currently frowning blonde. "But then again, maybe she's over that phase."

Hearing the voice behind her, Buffy uncrossed her arms and turned her head.


"Hey, Summers!" the brunet grinned as the Slayer practically rocketed to her feet and embraced him. "How ya been?"

"Oh, my God! What are you doing here?" Buffy demanded as they let go, but still held hands.

"Uh, matriculating?"


"I'm finishing out my senior year at Sunnydale High. Dad got transferred," the youth explained

"This is great!"

"I'm glad you think so," he continued smiling at the petite blonde, not releasing her hand. "I didn't think you'd remember me."

"Remember you? Duh! We only went to school together for seven years. You were my giant fifth grade crush, remember?"

The Slayer's mood had lightened considerably, Xander noticed, as he and the two girls watched the couple with considerable interest.

"So!" he interjected as Buffy and her companion stood there staring at each other for a moment. "I guess you two know each other, huh?"

"Oh! I'm sorry, guys," the blonde apologized. "Um, this is Ford! Uh, Billy Fordham, this is Xander, Willow and Cordelia!" she said as she pulled the smiling brunet down to sit beside her.

"Hi," Xander was giving the guy an appraising look as he stretched out his hand towards the newcomer.

Cordelia and Willow were looking him over, too, Xander noticed, but with a much different perspective than his, he was quite certain.

< Ah, body heat! A positive first step, > he thought to himself as they shook hands.

"Hey," Ford nodded a greeting as he turned to smile at the girls.

"Nice to meet you!" Willow semi-goggled at the unexpected visitor from the Slayer's past.

"Hi," Cordelia deigned to smile at Ford, as she settled herself more comfortably in Xander's lap, actually putting her arm around his shoulders, her actions announcing quite clearing her claim on the brunet whose lap she was currently occupying.

"Uh, Ford and I went to Hemery together in L.A.," Buffy confessed.

"And now you're here. For real?" she asked, turning back to Ford with a questioning tone in her voice.

"Dad got the transfer, and boom, he just dragged me outta Hemery and dropped me down here," he replied.

"This is great!" Buffy declared, a smile lightening up her face. "Well, I mean, it's hard, sudden move, all your friends, delicate time, very emotional, but let's talk about me!" she said, apparently channeling Cordelia for a moment as she put her hand on his knee. "I think this is great!"

"So, you two were sweeties in fifth grade?" Willow inquired curiously, obviously interested in more details of their relationship.

"Not even," Buffy shook her head in negation. "Ford wouldn't give me the time of day."

"Well, I was a manly sixth-grader," Ford protested with a grin. "I couldn't bother with someone that young."

"It was terrible. I moped over you for months," Buffy complained. "Sitting in my room listening to that Divinyl’s song, 'I Touch Myself.'

As she realized how what she had just said could be taken, Buffy cast a nervous look at her schoolmates, to find Xander grinning cheek to cheek and opening his mouth, an obvious one-liner about to zing out.

"Not a word!" Cordelia warned as she came to the Slayer's rescue by clapping her hand over his mouth. "Any thoughts you've got like that better be about me," she informed him, before pausing as she realized how her words could be taken.

"Of course, I had no idea what it was about," the Slayer quickly interjected.

Seeing the glazed and happy look on Xander's face as he considered Cordy's words, Buffy took full advantage of his momentary distraction to try change the subject of conversation, as Ford nervously scratched his temple with his finger.

"Hey, are you busy tonight?" she asked. "We're going to the Bronze, it's the local club, and you have to come," she insisted.

"I'd love to! But if you guys already had plans... Would I be imposing?"

"No, only in the literal sense of the word," Xander stated with a straight face as he watched Buffy's reaction.

"But, if you've got any dirt or really embarrassing stories about the Buffster's life pre-Sunnydale, you're more than welcome," he added with a grin as he watched a look of alarm cross the Slayer's face.

"Okay, then, sounds like a plan!" Ford declared as he got to his feet. "I, I gotta find the admissions office, and uh, get my papers in order."

"Well, you know what?" Buffy stated as she rose to her feet. "I'll take you there, and I'll see you guys in French!"

"It was good to meet you," Ford said, as Buffy practically dragged him out of the lounge.

Xander smiled after them, while Willow still had a thoughtful look on her face.

"Looks like Deadboy's got some competition," he observed. "Seems like it's gonna be a real good day," he declared happily as he tightened his arm a bit around Cordelia's waist and looked into the brunette's face.

"Oh, that's what that song is about?!" Willow said as she seemed to come back into reality, only to be again distracted by the sudden vision of the head cheerleader doing just that.

Coming back to herself, seeing Xander and Cordy sitting there, gazing into each other's eyes, Willow shook her head mournfully and made her way out into the hallway.


The Bronze
Late that night

Xander, Willow and Ford were busy playing pool while Cordelia was seated off to one side, apparently in some deep discussion concerning color coordination with the Cordettes. Ford sunk his shot and was setting up for another as Buffy arrived at the table.

"So, looks like you made it," she smiled at him, casually leaning against the table near him as he missed a bank shot against the three ball.

"Wasn't hard to find. It's pretty much the only club around," he said, turning to look at the seemingly-delicate blonde.

"Buffy, Ford was just telling us about the ninth grade beauty contest, and the, uh, swimsuit competition," Willow informed her friend.

"Oh, my God, Ford, stop that! The more people you tell, the more people I have to kill," she complained, a mock-frown on her face.

"You can't touch me, Summers. I know all your darkest secrets," Ford sassed her.

"Care to make a small wager on that?" Xander asked, his perpetual grin on his face, as he sank the two and six balls with a three-cushion shot and noted the look that Buffy gave him, unseen by Ford, at his comment.

"I'm gonna go get a drink," Buffy announced. "Ford, try not to talk."

Once she arrived at the bar, she discovered Angel skulking in the shadows.

"Hi," she greeted him noncommittally.

"Hey! I was hoping you'd show."

"You drink!" Buffy exclaimed, upon seeing the glass of soda before him. "I mean, drinks. Non-blood drinks."

"There's a lot about me you don't know," the ensouled vampire replied vaguely.

"I believe that," Buffy agreed.


Over at the pool table, Ford looked around casually, checking out the club and its patrons, and saw Buffy with Angel.

Following the direction of his stare, Willow looked over saw the vampire. "Oh, that's Angel."

"Yeah, one of Buffy's special friends," Xander noted, the sarcasm in his voice clearly evident to the newest addition to Sunnydale High School.

"He's not in school, right?" Ford inquired. "He looks older than her."

"Well, you're definitely not wrong about that," was Xander's only comment, sarcasm lacing his words.


"So. What'd you do last night?" Buffy asked, seemingly casually.

"Nothing," Angel told her.

"Nothing at all. You ceased to exist?" she asked.

"No, I mean I stayed in, read," he elaborated.

"Oh," was Buffy's only comment before turning around and heading back to the pool table without another word, her drink forgotten, contemplating Angle's lie. Angel stood there, staring after her for a moment, a confused expression on his face, then followed her.

"Didn't want that soda after all?" Ford asked as the small blonde rejoined her friends.

"Not thirsty," she replied as she looked the table over, a non-expression on her face.

"Hey, Angel," Willow smiled at the vampire as he walked up.

"Hi," Ford nodded a greeting at the new guy.

"This is Ford," Buffy introduced her old schoolmate to Angel. "We went to school together in L.A."

"Nice to meet you," Angle nodded as he reached out to shake Ford's hand.

"Whoa! Cold hands!" Ford noted, a bit surprised.

"You're not wrong, there," Xander acknowledged, as Buffy gave him another 'look.'

< Two 'looks' in less than five minutes, > the brunet noted to himself. < I might be establishing a new personal best tonight. >

"So, you're here visiting Buffy?" Angel asked Ford, trying to make small talk.

"No, I'm actually here to stay. Just moved down."

"Hey, Angel? Do you wanna play?" Willow suggested, trying to sidetrack any impending confrontation.

"Y'know, it's getting really crowded in here tonight. Um... I'm a little hot," Buffy observed. "You wanna take a walk?" she asked Ford.

"Um, sure! That'd be nice," Ford quickly agreed.

"Okay, then, um... I'll see ya tomorrow," Buffy nodded a goodbye to the others, as she lead Ford out past Angel.

"Good night," Angle nodded back.

"Take care," Ford said, following the Slayer.

"Okay," Xander chimed in, looking around, "once more, with tension."

"He just moved here?" Angel asked as he watched Buffy and Ford walk out.

"Yeah," Xander agreed, a faint grin on his lips. "And, boy, does he move fast," he added. After all, any chance to needle Buffy's undead paramour was something to be cherished and taken advantage of to the male Scooby's way of thinking. Deadboy's family had caused him too much pain for him to ever like the brooding vampire.

"Well, Angel, we could still play," Willow said, as she carefully moved the racked balls into position. When she looked back up, Angel was gone.

"See, you made him do that thing where he's gone," she semi-complained to their resident jokester.

"And the problem with that would be what?" the taller dark-attired brunet asked, as he got ready to break again after counting his winnings.


"So, that was your boyfriend?" Ford asked as the two slowly strolled along the street.

"No. Uh, yeah...Maybe," Buffy reluctantly replied, looking down at the sidewalk. "Could we lay off the tough questions for a while?"

"Sorry. So! What else do you do for fun around here?" he asked in a rather obvious attempt to change the subject.

Hearing some noises coming from around the corner, and suspecting a vampire, Buffy tried to think of some way to get Ford away form there.

"Um, my purse. I-I…I left my purse at the Bronze," she said, acting as if she had just realized it. "Uh, could you get it for me?"

"Uh, okay," Ford agreed, a bit uncertain, before heading back towards the dance club.

"Good. Run! Thanks!" Buffy called after him, as he started to jog. A second later, she took off in the opposite direction and around the corner.

Ford looked back and stopped when he saw that Buffy was gone. Hearing what sounded like a woman crying, he headed back towards the spot he had left Buffy, only to be almost run over by a woman who came dashing around the corner past him.

Continuing on, he was startled by a metal trashcan flying through the air in front of him and into a stack of crates, followed by, first, the sounds of a fight and then the sounds of someone of hitting a wall. Very solidly.

Carefully peeking around the corner, he caught sight of Buffy pounding a vampire unmercifully before finally driving a stake through his heart and causing him to explode into a cloud of ashes.

"What's goin' on here, Buffy?" Ford asked the Slayer, who quickly spun around, surprise evident on her face upon seeing him.

"Um... uh, there was a, a cat. A cat here, and, um, then there was a-another cat... and they fought. The cats. And... then they left. After fighting," she said.

Buffy listened to the words spilling her out of her mouth and winced inwardly.

< Cats fighting? Oh god, how lame is that? He's gonna think I'm an idiot like Harmony! > she thought to herself.

"Oh. OOOOO-kay," Ford calmly nodded acknowledgement of her explanation. "It just looked to me like you were slaying a vampire."

"What? I was what-ing a what?" Buffy gaped, her eyes wide open.

"I know, Buffy. You don't have to lie to me. I-I've been trying to figure out the right time to, to tell you," he told her in a calm and composed voice. "I know you're the Slayer."


Part 2

"So, just like that, he told you?" Willow asked, her shoulder pinning her phone to her ear as she carefully measured to the milliliter the proper amount of food to her fish swimming languidly around in the twenty gallon tank that filled up nearly half the available wall space on one side of her room.

"Yeah, exactly just like that," Buffy reconfirmed her earlier statement to her best female friend in the world. "Said he found out right before I got das-booted from Hemery."

"Wow! It's neat! It is neat, isn't it?" the redhead inquired, her concern for her friend evident in her voice as she spoke."

"Yeah, I guess it is," the Slayer agreed, her relief at Ford's startling declaration obvious to the redhead's carefully listening ear. "I don't have to constantly worry that he's gonna find out my dark secret, then freak out and disappear forever or anything. It just makes everything...easier." Willow could practically see the blonde slayer twisting the phone cord around her fingers in angst as she spoke.

"It's pretty much the only good thing that's happened the past couple days," she admitted as she recalled both the Cordy-Xander lovefest and witnessing Angel meeting the mysterious brunette the previous night. The memory of his lying to her at the Bronze earlier only intensified the hollow feeling in her stomach.

"Well, guess I'll see you tomorrow morning, Will," she said, trying to sound more chipper than she actually felt.

"Okay, Buff," Willow nodded agreeably. "See you at school."

Returning the phone to its cradle, she began brushing long, crimson hair, then stopped abruptly at a knocking on her balcony door. Dropping her brush on the bed, she cautiously headed over and pushed the blinds apart to see who it might be.

"Oh! Angel! What are you doing here?" she asked as she carefully opened the door, trying to make sure it didn't squeak and catch her parents' attention.

"I wanted to talk to you," the ensouled vampire said in the same quiet tone he typically used to convey dire warnings of impending apocalyptic occurrences.

"Oh. Well..." she gestured for him to come in, but he just remained standing on the balcony.

"Well?" she asked, curious as to his immobility.

"I can't. Unless you specifically invite me, I can't come in," he explained.

"Oh!" Willow exclaimed nervously. "Well, okay, I invite come in," she elaborated.

"I-if this is a bad time, I can come back," Angel said, noticing her nervousness.

"No!" the redhead immediately shook her head negatively. "I just... I'm not supposed to have boys in my room."

"I promise to behave myself," the vampire replied, and she was unable to decide whether the solemn expression on his face was completely serious or not.

It probably was, she decided after a moment's contemplation, remembering Xander's comment about vampires draining their victim's sense of humor as well as their life's blood.

"Okay. Good," she nodded, still a bit nervous about having an adult male in her bedroom.

"I guess I need help," Angel said after a rather awkward moment's silence.

"Help? You mean like on homework? No, 'cause you're old and you already know stuff," the hacker semi-babbled for a moment.

"I want you to track someone down... On the 'Net," he explained as he eyed her laptop.

"Oh! Great! I'm so the 'Net girl," Willow smiled with relief as she sat down at her desk.

"I just wanna find everything I can. Records, facts, affiliates... I'm not even sure what I'm looking for yet," the vampire went on.

"Good. What's the name?" Willow questioned as her fingers began flying across the keyboard.

"Billy Fordham."

"Uh, Angel? If I say something you really don't wanna hear," the redhead said as she paused in her labor and turned to look over her shoulder at him, "do you promise not to, ah...bite me?"

"Are you gonna tell me that I'm being jealous?"

"Well, you do sometimes get that way."

"You know, I never used to," he commented as he sat down on the edge of her bed. "Things used to be pretty simple."

As he spoke, Willow resumed her typing.

"A hundred years, just hanging out, feeling guilty... I really honed my brooding skills. Then she comes along. Yeah, I get jealous," the vampire admitted. "But I know people. And my gut tells me there's something wrong with this guy.

"He did say he was in school with you guys, right?" he asked, trying to verify the information he had heard earlier at the Bronze.

"Yeah," she nodded, as she turned back to the laptop. "But if there isn't anything weird... Hey, that's weird."


"I just checked the school records, and he's got these big gaps in his attendance records while he was at Hemery the past year. I mean, we're not talking missing a couple days here and there...This is him missing out on nearly half the school year. He did manage to keep up his grades, though. And it looks like he quit the school's gymnastic team at the beginning of the year, too," she noted, her voice beginning to take on a preoccupied tone as her attention was piqued by the information she had uncovered.

"Let me just see what I can find..."


Sunnydale High School
The next morning

"Willow! Hold up a minute, will you?"

The redheaded hacker sighed and rolled her eyes as she heard Cordy's voice calling over to her from across the quad.

If there was one person here at school she most definitely did *not* want to talk to, now or at any time in the near or far future, it was Cordelia Chase.

The brunette head cheerleader, reinforced by the empty-headed harpies who made up her band of sycophantic and slutty hangers-on, had been the bane of her existence since about kindergarten and now, as if that wasn't enough, judging by the way she and Xander had been acting since Ethan Rayne had enchanted everyone's Halloween costumes, she had apparently succeeded in seducing her best and oldest friend into her clutches. She knew she couldn't compete with someone who looked like Cordy, and the realization that she might be losing her dearest friend to someone she had disliked almost her entire life was making her stomach churn and was probably giving her an ulcer earlier than was the norm for her family.

"Oh, good, you heard me," Cordy flashed her a brilliant smile as she caught up with the redhead near the base of the stairway to the upper level. Willow merely gazed at the brunette as impassively as she could manage and waited for her to speak.

"I've been meaning to get together to talk with you for a couple days, now," the cheerleader said, picking up on the distinct lack of friendly vibes radiating from the redhead and instantly realizing the reason for it.

"Look, I know we've never been the best of friends," she began, the somewhat understated declaration drawing a small snort from the redhead, "and I know you've never really even liked me at all, but I know how close you and Xander are, and have been for practically all your lives, and I want to try to work things out between us, because I know he could never be totally happy if he and I are dating and there're problems between the two of us."

"And why do you care about whether he's happy or not?" Willow snapped, a frown marring her flawless, if lightly freckled, complexion.

"I care about him being happy because I love him," Cordy said quietly. Willow was more than a bit taken aback by the serious expression on the brunette's face as she made that statement. Before this, the only declarations of love Cordy had made had been directed towards major fashion designers or jewelry.

"He and I belong to each other now," the head cheerleader continued on in the same quiet, yet completely serious voice.

"I'm not going to say that we're soulmates now, or that we're destined to be together forever, or anything like that, because there's no way I can think of that would prove it to your satisfaction, and you probably wouldn't believe me if I said anything like that, anyway. But Xander is the major reason for existence in my life now, just like I'm his," she told the hacker, who was staring at her in wide-eyed shock.

"I'm guessing that Dork-Head hasn't told any of you guys this yet, but we both didn't keep just the skills we had when we were possessed on Halloween," Cordy confessed to her lover's best childhood friend. "We also kept all of the memories Neo and Trinity had of their life together, and we saw exactly what loving someone completely and totally, the way they did, could be like.

"I saw the kind of person Xander is probably going to grow into, and I also saw the kind of person I could grow into, too; the kind of person I *need* to grow into, in order to be worthy of the kind of person that Xander's going to be, someday," she revealed, looking the redhead straight in the eye.

Willow could hardly believe her ears as she stared at her former childhood tormentor and listened to the words spilling out of her mouth.

Cordelia Chase was telling her that not only did she care about her childhood nemesis, Xander Harris, she was also actually declaring to her life-long nemesis that she loved him.

And that she cared so much about him that she wanted to be friends with a girl who had hated and despised her almost from the moment they had met, back in kindergarten.

There was absolutely no question about it, now; the Apocalypse had to be right around the corner.

Or maybe someone had slipped some kind of hallucinogenic drug into her orange juice at breakfast earlier this morning.

Of course, the next thought came forward reluctantly, there was always the remotest, slimmest chance - the barest, most unbelievable possibility - that Cordelia might actually be telling her the truth.

Personally, she was more inclined to bet on the Apocalypse showing up, but stranger things had happened in the past. She had to admit that, no matter how hesitant she was to do so.

And now that she thought about it, she had to admit that Cordelia had been much nicer to both her and Buffy ever since that night when everyone who had purchased their costume from Ethan Rayne had changed into their costume's character.

Even the Cordettes had cut back on their usual harassment, she acknowledged to herself, which she thought was something that should be considered a supernaturally-unnatural event on its own.

"Even assuming for the moment that I *could* believe that you might actually care about Xander, why on earth *should* I believe that you really do?" Willow asked the brunette standing before her, her most serious expression on her face as she clutched her books to her chest. "After all, you and your harpies have done nothing but ridicule and torment us since pretty much the first day we met."

"Yeah, you're completely right about that," Cordy immediately admitted candidly. "We got off to a bad start in kindergarten because I was a spoiled brat who believed that whatever I thought was the most important thing in the world. And when you didn't immediately start sucking up to me like most of the other kids there, it hurt my feelings and I figured that there had to be something wrong with you," she explained.

Seeing the dumbfounded expression on the redhead's face at that revelation, Cordy gave her a small grin, and added, "Hey, cut me a little slack here, okay? I was only five years old, you know, and I didn't know many better, so I believed that everything my parents told me was the absolute truth.

"It's not my fault that they believed that you could only be important if you had lots of money and power," she stated with a somber look. "But the fact that I know better now still doesn't excuse anything I did back then, though.

"I'm sorry for the shitty way I used to treat you, Willow," Cordy said, again looking the hacker directly in the eye. "I hope you can get past that, because I'd really like to see if we could be friends."

Eying the brunette with a stony gaze for a moment as she attempted to assimilate all aspects of this seriously surreal conversation, Willow finally nodded her head in an affirmative manner.

"Okay, I guess we can try that," she tentatively agreed, with the barest hint of a smile. "It certainly beats being enemies.

"Great!" Cordy beamed back upon hearing the redhead's response. "This is going to work out so well for everybody!"

"I just want to say one thing, though, Cordy," Willow cautioned her erstwhile enemy. "I really don't understand why, but Xander really does seem to care about you, so I'm gonna support him in this, even though right now, I personally don't think it's a good idea.

"I just want to make sure you understand that if you hurt Xander in any way, like using him and then dumping him, or treating him badly, or anything like that, I'll make it my personal goal in life to make the rest of your life a living hell. Understand me?" The hacker's eyes seem to almost blaze with fire as she warned the cheerleader about the possible consequences of her betraying the male Scooby.

"Perfectly! And I'm so glad to hear you say that!" The head cheerleader surprised Willow with a big smile upon hearing her warning, then astonished her further by moving in and giving her a quick hug. "I know you're his best friend, Willow, and I wouldn't expect anything less! Look, I've got to get to class now, but I'll see you in the library after school, okay?" she said as she turned to head off towards the gym.

"Maybe we can get together and go shopping later, so we can get you some things that suit you better than that stuff your mother gets you. You've got a great figure, you just need to let people see it...Maybe something in leather. Talk to you later," she added as she hurried off, leaving a speechless and thunderstruck figure behind her.

Suddenly, Willow was assaulted by the vision of herself in a leather Dominatrix outfit with whip in hand. The prostrate forms of Buffy, Cordelia and Xander all knelt before her awaiting her punishment for some small infraction.

"Willow wants to play," her voice echoed around her mind.

The Scooby Gang's premiere hacker was still standing there, dumbfounded by Cordelia's response to her threat, as well as her little fantasy, when Buffy came up to her a moment later and lightly touched her shoulder, startling her.

"You okay, Will?" the Slayer asked her, her expression a mixture of curiosity and concern. "Is there something wrong?"

"I'm not sure, Buff," the redhead replied uncertainly. "I'm thinking that maybe it's possible that Cordy's been replaced by a demon."

"That'd probably be an improvement, Will," Buffy replied with a grin. "The demon'd have to be nicer."

"Is it healthy to refer to yourself in the third person?" the hacker asked the Slayer.

"Only if you're a boxer or the Incredible Hulk," was the blonde's reply.

They grinned at each other before responding in unison.

"Willow Smash!"


Sunnydale High School
Later that afternoon

Buffy and Ford strolled into the library, to find Giles fumbling with the lock on his office door, while trying not to drop the briefcase clutched under his arm.

"Hey, Giles, what's up? Where is everybody?" Buffy inquired, seeing that this entire section of the building was empty.

"Oh! Buffy! Um... Yes, uh... Willow mentioned something about going shopping with Cordelia, and Xander informed me that he needed to head downtown, something about needing to see someone about an eagle, or a beagle, or something along those lines. Although why he might want to get a pet, I don't understand, " he informed her as he finished locking the door, then set down his briefcase and began searching through his pockets.

"Uhm, as it happens, Ms. Calendar and I are going... somewhere tonight, and she's given - ah, here it is!" he exclaimed triumphantly as he pulled a slip of paper from his jacket pocket, "She's given me the number of her beeper thingy, uh, in case you need me for, um... study help, uh, suddenly," he elaborated, eying Ford a bit doubtfully as he picked up his briefcase.

"He knows, Giles," Buffy smiled at her Watcher's circumlocutions.


"Ford knows I'm the Slayer," the petite blonde explained.

"Yeah. I know all about the whole 'fighting the forces of darkness in the night' shtick," the tall brunet agreed.

"Oh! Uh, very good. Yes. Uh, um, Buffy..." the librarian began as he led Buffy aside.

"If you'll excuse us for a moment?" he said to Ford, as the two of them moved behind one of the shelves.

"Buffy, you are not, by any chance, betraying your secret identity just to impress, um, cute boys, are you?" he asked her, as he glanced back at Ford, who was currently idly inspecting the medieval history section.

"I didn't tell him. He already knew," she smiled.

"Oh! Uh, right then. Well, uh, just remember, if you..." Giles hesitated for a moment, unsure of exactly what he was trying to say.

"Go! Experience this thing called fun. I'll try not to have a crisis," Buffy smiled at the Englishman, as she gave him a gentle shove towards the library entrance doors. "And remember - no kissing on the first date!"

After a moment's consideration, Giles shrugged, accepted her suggestion and headed out into the corridor.

"So! What do you want to do now?" Buffy asked as she and Ford followed her Watcher outside.

"Well, I've got a doctor's appointment scheduled for about forty-five minutes from now, but after that's done, I'm free for the rest of the night," her companion replied.

"Are you okay, Ford?" the Slayer immediately asked, her deep-seated dislike and fear of hospitals coming to the fore. "What do you need to see a doctor about?"

"I'm good, Buffy," the ex-Hemery High senior replied with a grin. "The doctor appointment's some kind of insurance thing I need to get done if I ever want to be able to get car insurance and properly abuse my Dad's trust in me to not do stupid things while driving his car," he informed the diminutive blonde with a carefree smile.

"How about I get going so I can get the whole doctor thing over with, then meet you at your house after dinner, and we hit the Bronze and party with your friends for a while before you patrol?" he suggested.

"Sounds good to me," Buffy agreed, reassured by the brunet's explanation. "See you then."


Yardley Biosciences, Ltd.
Downtown Sunnydale
An hour later

"Damn, that feels weird!" Ford commented as he looked down at the intravenous line taped to his left arm and the clear plastic bag holding the dark medium-blue liquid that was slowly being fed through the tubing into his system. "Sort of like it's freezing cold and burning hot, and a little itchy, all at the same time.

"So, Doc, how're things looking?" he asked, turning to face the small, redheaded, white-coated physician who was currently examining a sheaf of papers that he had removed from a manila folder marked "Fordham, William."

"Well, Ford," the doctor answered, looking up from her review of the test results, "the results from your most recent blood tests are quite encouraging. Your globulin levels are up and your electrolyte levels have improved, as have all your enzyme readings. All in all, I'm very pleased with how things are going.

"But," he continued, "more important is how *you* feel. Have you noticed any changes since we've begun the treatments?"

"Yeah, I have," the brunet affirmed. "The pain's not coming as frequently as it did, and I don't think it's nearly as bad, either. At the very least, it's not getting any worse."

"That's good to hear! I think this might be a sign that this treatment is proceeding along exactly the way we had hoped it would, Ford," the ex-Air Force officer stated, a small smile on his face.

"I'm gonna kick this thing's ass, Doc," Ford said, a look of determination on his face. "Bet on it."

"I will," Dr. Janet Lewis (formerly Janet Frazier) nodded as he looked down at her patient. "I don't have any doubts about that, at all."