Ah, lateness… very expected totally my fault, and I'm really sorry!

Hopefully some confusion is addressed in this but there is a piece coming up later which should clear up, well, everything really.


Part Twenty-Five

Because nobody knows that somebody nearly fell, trading clothes and ringing pavlov's bell, history shows, it really shows it well, well well well

The café on the corner of Thirty-Third and Belleview was fast becoming Willow's home, the owner, a young ex-cop named Kate, turned out to have had more then the odd brush with the preternatural Los Angeles underground. When Willow had first met her, Kate was being attacked by a vampire gang. The small ball of sunshine spell Willow performed saved them both and had formed a fast friendship between the two.

At present Willow was meant to be having lunch with Buffy and Faith. Instead she was sitting at the front of the café, watching Kate wipe down the tables and pushing around the soggy tea leaves in the bottom of her cup with a spoon. Picking up her phone she reread the message from Buffy. It didn't give anything away, just said something had come up and she couldn't make it. God knows where Faith was. Faith was… well, Willow was never entirely comfortable around her, it wasn't that she doubted her loyalty she'd often enough proved her willingness to do anything for her sister slayer. But still, there was something a little off about her… and Willow could tell she didn't like the way she'd been sidelined in the recent events.

Sliding into the chair across from her, Kate raised one eyebrow from under her blonde curly locks at Willow's morose behaviour. "What's up?"

Willow shrugged. "Nothing." Rolling her shoulders again she glanced up at Kate. "Well, yeah, something. But not life in peril stuff."

Smiling secretively, Kate nodded at something behing Willow. "Date?"

Willow frowned. "N…" Twisting in her seat she turned to face the intruder. Brown hair so dark it was almost black curled past his sticky out ears, and framed the face of the guy she'd known forever, first love first friend… first person to understand her. Here he was, probably to kill her. "Xander." She whispered.

"Hey, Wils." He smiled, and for a moment everything was fine… sunshine and roses and picnics in the park. But then his jacket shifted and she saw the cross and stake neatly tucked in his inner pocket with a shiny new looking cell phone. Willow's eyes dropped back to the table.

Xander glanced at Kate and with a reassuring smile at Willow she relinquished her seat to him. Sitting across from her he ran one hand throw his locks and gave that slightly guilty half-smile she'd drooled over for years. "So, uhm… I guess you don't really want to talk to me."

"It's not a priority." Willow agreed, cool anger tempered in her voice.

"Guess I deserve that."

"You think?"

One fist curled up, and then twisted it so his palm lay flat against the table. A gesture of peace Willow supposed. But then that depended on what he had to say. "I was… thinking about what you said before you left… about the Slayer."

Willow nodded for him to go on, emotion coiled tightly in her stomach. "I know about your link with her and the de-" he saw her face. "…Angelus. I know it's broken now."

Her eyes shot up to meet his, there was no way he should have known that. She hadn't even told Buffy she done the incantation to sever the link yet, though she had no doubt Buffy had felt it's loss, the same way she had. She wanted to shout and yell at him… the deception he must've used… magical as well as physical, he had no right. But she said nothing, just kept her gaze on his, watched the brown iris' size as the light around them subtly shifted. And she wished… she wished more than anything that he had somehow been tricked that the Council, had… done something to him to make him this way.

The lull in speech had been long and Willow supposed he had been expecting her to say something instead of keeping her counsel. "It's over, Willow." He finally said. "You can come home now."

Her heart skipped a beat. "Over?"

"The Council wants you back-"

Willow laughed. And Xander's brow creased in confusion. "Xander, the council has no need for me now." His eyebrow twitched. "They're all dead."

Anger shot through his eyes. "And who told you that? The vampire or his whore?" He shot angrily back at her.

A little frightened by the violence spiking through his aura Willow sat back, pushing her chair a little further away from the table. "Xander they're not - you can't think of them like that, they're just people. Like us." She tried again.

Reaching across the table in a sudden move he seized one arm with his hand and gripped it so tight she could feel her skin bruising under his touch. "You don't get it Willow!" He yelled at her, realising his mistake he pushed her away and sat back, and Willow held her breath as she felt the blood rush back to her fingers, silently she willed a small protection spell around her tiny frame. "I understand," he ground out, "that you had to be here to sever the link, but that's done now. You don't have to pretend to help them anymore. You can come back, and it'll be just the same as before."

"I was never pretending to help!" Willow cried, "I was doing what's right! And I know that you think that's what you're doing… but Xander… you're following a bunch of – of… fools who don't know what they're talking about! And you know where all the rules and ideas and tradition got them Xander? It got them dead, and you'll die too if you don't get out of all of this…"

"If that's the recruitment speech for the fang gang I'm less than impressed." Xander laughed.

"I'm not asking you to help, I'm not asking you to do anything but leave. If you go near Buffy… Angelus will kill you." Crying freely, Willow let out a sob. "Xander… you're my best friend…I don't want to loose you."

"You lost me already Willow." He replied coldly. "When you sided with the demon over me." Shoving his seat away from the table Xander walked away from the girl he'd known forever, who's been his first love and first friend… and now he had to kill her.

Buffy slipped the car into first and with much revving of the engine managed to pull out of the parking lot and smiled as they headed toward the three'o'clock sunshine outside the hospital. It was lucky really that Angel had brought medical insurance as part of his carefully built human personae created to cover his vampiric nature to those snooping in his affairs. Not so much for the fact that he really needed, the bill for the stitches to his stomach and the loan of crutches had been hefty but hardly beyond Angel's budget. It was more that it would have looked even more bizarre than it already did if he hadn't had an identity, when the most prominent business man in California, who'd disappeared from the social scene for months previously stumbled into the hospital supported by a tiny blonde and thoroughly beaten up. For a moment Buffy wondered what rumour the gossip circuits were undoubtedly already pedalling.

But then Angel let out a growl beside her and her eyes shot back to the road in time to swerve around the oncoming traffic. She'd seen him in sunlight before… with the ring and all, but this was different… his skinned glowed a healthy pale pink and his hair was streaked in different shades of brown, his chest rose and feel in a natural rhythm with his breath… it was amazing. "We should go out for dinner." She suggested, "Give your taste buds an awakening."

"Food… I'm starving!" Angel laughed, flicking out his cell phone he rapidly found the number of a restaurant he had taken Buffy to a few nights previously.

"We could invite everyone… maybe have a congratulations on being human party?" she suggested lightly.

Angel glanced at her, "Buffy… we can't tell anyone about this."

She frowned turning to face him, and he anxiously gestured at the road fighting not to yell at her. "Why not?"

"Telling them I'm… mortal…" he paused for a moment, "it would only cause panic."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "I'm pretty sure they'd just be happy for you."

Angel sighed, "When a master dies the person that killed them takes their place… I can rule the order like this. But there's no natural succession to the next leader… there will be chaos, our only power is that we get to choose when exactly we release that chaos."

Buffy shrugged, "Why can't Spike just take over, he's pretty much been running it for the last couple of years anyway."

"If vampiric law was that simple I'd've ditched the damn 'master' title years ago." Angel growled. "Please look at the road… I'm begging you… just… drive this car home in one piece and I'll give you anything you want…"

Buffy glared at him via the rear-view mirror. "That better be the stomach wound talking."

Angel raised an eyebrow at her. "It's really not."