Fic : Pretense Author : Tenhawk

Summary : Response to group challenge by Smeghead_76 - What if, on that fateful Halloween, Xander *didn't* dress up as a soldier?

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners... none of which are me. FYI, I do not watch the series any more... I don't like the series, and never have liked it overly. I do like the potential of the series, and the potential inherent in the Character of Xander Harris... I started watching the series in S6, and stopped before the end of S7, and this fic should in no way be taken as a compliment to the skills of the people at ME... I only started watching the series because of the skills of the writers at the BX_Fanfic Yahoogroup... Unfortunately, even their skill was not sufficient to keep me watching. So, no, I don't own the characters... and as far as I'm concerned ME can keep them.

Other Characters and settings are generally only taken because I DO like them... so if yer not ME, and your stuff is in here, then Kudos on the good work. :) (Though if you work on Charmed, watch out... You're treading WAAAY to close to the hack level of ME lately.)

For the readers... Yes, the above was a rant. But it was also all true. (The facts anyway, if not the opinions.)

Note : This is and isn't a crossover fic. Or maybe it just is. Hey, maybe it's not. Damned if I know... let's see where it goes.

Feedback, It's the coin of the realm.

******

Xander looked up at the sign of the shop in front of him, shrugging as the two girls pulled him along. "Come on... can't we just play some arcade games and pig out at the burger barn??"

"Xander!" Willow whined, "You promised you'd help us get our costumes...!"

"I did no such thing!"

"You did so you big lug!" Buffy swatted him, "In between math and english class!"

"Ow!" Xander held his arm, "Slayer strength, Buff! Oh and no fair! In between math and english class I was practically in a coma! I'd have agreed to date Angel if he'd asked me out."

Both Buffy and Willow stopped and stared at him in disgust, "EWWWW!"

Xander paused, considering what he'd just said, and shuddered. "And I second that ewww... damn it, I'm hanging around too many girls. I need some guy friends." "Oh you do do you?" Buffy smirked, "You can have all you want, but don't make a play for my boyfriend. He's not your type anyway."

Xander shuddered again, "Ugh. Let's just go get those costumes and never refer to this conversation again."

"Deal!" They both said, grinning as they hauled him into the small shop with the sign that proudly declared itself, Ethan's.

*****

Inside they all looked around the large shop, eyes wide as they took in the costumes that were stacked from floor to ceiling.

"Wow." Willow whispered. "This place is incredible. It should be in L.A. or something..."

"Yeah..." Buffy nodded, "They have everything!"

Xander looked around, impressed despite himself. "Pretty cool."

Both girls looked at him, scowling, and he wondered what he'd done now. But they didn't say anything, deciding instead to drag him further in while they looked around in wonder. Seconds later they dropped his arms and were lost in the costumes as they giggled and talked among themselves.

Xander shrugged and followed loyally along behind them, ready to be turned into a pack mule whenever they finally made up their minds. In the meantime, without a lot of hope, he kept one eye out for something to turn into a costume for himself.

*****

"Oh wow..." Willow breathed. "Look at this..."

Buffy looked over to see the shy girl pull out a gorgeous ballroom gown, something meant to be worn at the most formal of evenings. It was sequined with a strapless design that had a plunging neckline and rather impressive cut out of the back. "You'd look great is that, Will..."

Willow blushed from head to toe, presumably, and shook her head. "Oh I couldn't... it's not... you know.. Me."

Buffy shrugged, not sure what to say. "Well it's certainly not me either. So we're both still looking."

Willow smiled, then her eyes widened. "Hey hey hey... how about that?"

Buffy turned around, her eyes widening as she saw a leather and steel outfit that certainly didn't look like it would cover a lot. "Willow?"

Willow didn't notice her tone, "Yeah... you could go as Xena and I'd... you know, dress like Gabby..."

Buffy shot her friend a sharp look.

Willow caught it, flushing again. "You know... You, Xena... kicking butt... it's a good mix."

Buffy slowly shook her head, "I don't think so Will... besides, I'm not really into leather."

"Oh." Willow said, then shrugged. "Ok."

As the two girls went on, Xander eyed the costume himself, then looked at Buffy's back... and backside as she walked away.

*****

"Oh..." Buffy whispered. "It's incredible..."

Willow, looking over her shoulder, nodded. "It's lovely, Buffy... You'll look incredible in it."

Buffy looked at the old gown, eyeing it longingly. "You really think so? I... I'd like to wear it for... well, for..."

"Angel?"

"Yeah." Buffy smiled a small smile that she instantly hid again. "You know... he grew up with women dressed like this... I'd like to have him look at me that way..."

Willow beamed, "I think that's a great idea!"

"Really?"

"Really!"

At that moment the shop owner walked over to them, looking between Buffy and the dress in question. "You will looked utterly magnificent in that, young lady."

"You think?" Buffy looked up, her expression that of a girl soaking in all praise.

"I know." The man smiled engagingly as he bowed to them both. "My name is Ethan, welcome to my shop."

*****

Xander eyed the man who was talking to Buffy and Willow, not really getting a good vibe off the guy, but didn't bother going over. Buff could handle anything that smarmy type would do, and she'd cover Willow too.

Instead he looked around the section of the shop dedicated to TV and movie costumes, eyeing some of them that he knew and many that he didn't. He didn't notice the time passing as he browsed through the sections, smiling goofily at some of them.

Then he grimaced, "Too bad that I'll never fill *that* one out. Damn you Arnie... you raised the buffness bar WAY too high.

He passed on, looking over others.

"Nice." He said, letting his hand slide over it.

Finally he shrugged. and moved on.

"Hey! Cool...!" Xander grinned, looking at a familiar robe. "Obi Wan's robe and saber... damned cool."

Abruptly a voice caught him by surprise. "You would look quite dashing in that, I'm sure."

"Right." Xander snorted, shrugging the shock of the man's approach off. "Nah. I'm out of my Star Wars geek phase. It's still cool to look at though."

"If you say so." The man shrugged, then smiled. "I'm Ethan by the way."

Xander nodded, extending a hand. "Xander."

"Pleased to meet you, Xander." Ethan smiled as he shook the boys hand. "Now that the young ladies have found their items, perhaps I could help you?"

Xander shrugged, "Nah... I don't know about this stuff... I can't afford much."

"Oh, Don't worry about that." Ethan admonished, "This is our opening day special... We can find an arrangement. You're a Tv, movie, and comic book fan I take it?"

Xander nodded.

"Well, let's have a look then..." Ethan hummed to himself, smiling in a smirking sort of way. "How about this?"

Xander shuddered. "No... Not going to dress up in an Alien costume... too icky." Ethan looked disappointed, but turned back. "Well... I have some excellent props from TV and movies... maybe we can find something there?"

Xander nodded, "ok."

They looked through the costumes for another few minutes, until Ethan's pleasant smile was turning brittle at Xander's uncertainty.

Xander was about to give up when he turned around and saw it.

"Whoa." He paused, looking at the 'costume' oddly. "What's this doing here? It's not much of a disguise...."

Ethan looked up, and shrugged. "Oh I got that when I picked up a batch deal on props and TV worn merchandise."

"TV Worn? You mean this is the real..."

"Yeah, he wore it in the series." Ethan shrugged.

"Too Cool." Xander grinned. "How much?"

"That??" Ethan looked nonplused for a moment, then shrugged. "Tell you what, name me a price."

Xander checked his pockets quickly, "Ummm.... I've got thirty seven dollars and thirteen cents."

"Deal."

"Really??" Xander grinned. "Cool! Uh... Everything comes with it?"

"Everything." Ethan shrugged, "Not that there's much. Boots, sunglasses, jacket, jeans. But it's not really a costume... It's just clothes."

"Yeah, but it's HIS clothes." Xander grinned. "I Love that show."

"Whatever suits your fancy kid." Ethan shrugged as he rang it up. "Here you go."

"Thanks!" Xander grinned, running over to his friends and holding up his shopping bag. "I've got my costume, you guys?"

Both Buffy and Willow nodded, smiling themselves.

"Cool. Let's go get ready."

*****

Later that evening they met at the library and got into their costumes.

When Buffy emerged she twirled and curtseyed around, letting the elegant dress flow and be admired by her friends.

Willow, safely under her sheet, smiled. "Wow... you look really... wow. Buffy."

Buffy smiled brilliantly and turned around again, "Thanks, Will... Hey... where's Xander?"

"Right here, Buff." Xander said from behind her as he appeared, "And I'd like to double Will's wow, and add a whoa to that. Looking great, Buffy."

Buffy looked up and saw Xander coming down from the bookcases, her smile wide and her eyes gratefully. "Thanks Xander... I'm grateful for a guys perspective on this."

Then she frowned, "What's that supposed to be??"

Xander was standing there in black jeans, a black leather jacket, his hair carefully styled, and sporting a dark pair of sunglasses even though it was after dark. He immediately put on a hurt look. "Aw... come on, can't you guess?"

Willow looked at him oddly, her face twitching into a smile.

"Uhhh... The Fonze?" Buffy guessed.

Xander grimaced. "You can NOT be this poorly informed on tv, Buffy..."

"Ummmm..."

"Buffy!" Xander looked outraged, "Come on! It's only the best series on TV now!"

She just continued to look puzzled.

Xander groaned and looked at Willow for help.

The redhead was too busy laughing at him and Buffy to speak though.

*****

In the small shop across town, the man called Ethan smiled as he completed the spell. He could already feel the power wave outward from him, moving off in all directions.

Tonight was going to be one hell of a fun time. *****

"Come on, Buffy!" Xander exclaimed, "It's obvious! I'm..."

Before he could speak a pressure wave seemed to break on them and the three of them slumped to the floor.

Long minutes passed before they revived, but when they did, Buffy looked around fearfully.

"What manner of sorcery is this!? I was just in my father's castle and lo... now I am here!"

"Uhhhhhggggg...." Willow groaned, reaching out to lean on a table. She yelped in shock as her hand slid through it and she fell to the floor again. "Owwww!"

Xander got up slowly, looking around himself with an air of sincere curiosity. "Fascinating... How did I get here? Hmmm... Where, I wonder, is here?"

"Who are you!?"

He turned to see a blond shrinking away from him. He smiled at her, trying to reassure her fear. "I'm..."

He glanced down at a book on the table, "Jarod McNally, at your service."

*****

Buffy looked up fearfully at the oddly dressed man who was smiling at her. She gathered her nerve and nodded, biting her lower lip. "H... hello... Where am I, pray tell? And what manner of dress is that you wear??"

Xander looked down at himself, shrugging. "I wasn't aware that it was a dress actually... As for where we are... That I'm not sure."

"Then you also have been... taken?"

Xander grimaced, shaking his head slowly. "I hope not."

He started to move to the door of the library, looking outside casually. "No one here. I'm going to look around."

"No!" She yelped, suddenly running to him and clinging to his arm. "DO not leave me here. You mustn't!"

He looked at her oddly for a moment, then nodded. "Ok..."

She smiled up at him.

Xander reached into his pocket and pulled something out, he smiled at her and lifted his hand up and flicked the object in his hand. "Pez?"

*****

"Oohhhhhhhh...." Willow whimpered as she got up again, carefully crawling out from under the table as she did. "Hey Buffy... Who moved the table?"

She paused, looking around oddly. "Buffy? Xander? Guys? Where'd you go!!"

When there was no response she frowned around the empty library. "Well isn't that just great. Leave the injured friend all on her own."

When there was still no response she sighed and headed out of the library too. "You guys better be easy to find."

She reached for the door handle, but her hand passed right through it and she over balanced. She fell against the door, then *through* it. As she tumbled along the hard floor of the school hall she rolled onto her back and backpedaled away from the door in shock, almost hyperventilating.

"Omygod! Omygod!" She gasped between breaths, "I fell through the door. I fell through the DOOR!!"

She kept stumbling backward until she was in the center of the main hall of the high school, looking around her in disbelief and fear. Her eyes were wide as she fell silent, and just stared around her. "Ohmygod..."

After long moments she took a deep breath and continued talking to herself. "Ok Willow... think. Think... Backtrack... Fell through a door. Check. Fell under... through? A table... was dizzy... put on my costume..."

She blinked, looking down at herself. "My Costume! Where is it?? I know I had it on... I know I did!"

At that moment she heard a familiar grumbling.

"Good lord, Willow!" Giles muttered, cleaning his glasses as he stepped out. "I thought I told you I wanted some peace tonight... Why didn't you leave with Buffy and Xander?"

"Giles!" Willow leapt to her feet and ran to the surprised librarian. She lunged to hug him, anything alleviate the fear, but passed right through him and fell again to the ground, barking her knee on the floor. "Ow!! Damnit!"

Giles jaw dropped in time with his glasses, the lenses smashing against the floor as he looked over his shoulder at the pained red head behind him. "Good lord. Willow? What?"

Willow rolled on the floor, clutching her knee as she grimaced in pain. "I don't know, Giles! I just became all pass through all of a sudden..."

"Buffy?" Giles asked instantly.

"I don't know... Xander either. They were gone when I got up..."

"Got up??" Giles looked puzzled.

Willow groan, standing up weakly on her unstable leg. "I'd better start from the beginning."

"Yes... quite." Giles grimaced as he picked up his shattered lenses. "Oh blast. Come, Willow... Into the library. We may as well be in an environment conducive to thought."

Willow looked around, frowning. "Giles... We're in a school."

Giles shrugged, "An *American* school, yes."

*****

Xander frowned as he looked around the dark campus, his eyes scanning the shadows with the eye of one used to being on the run. There was something wrong here, but he couldn't quite place it.

"Where are we?"

He glanced back at the blond, realizing that she hadn't even given him her name yet. "We seem to be on a school campus somewhere."

Then he looked up and behind him, "Somewhere called Sunnydale actually. Sunnydale? Hmmm...."

"What is it?"

"That sounds familiar." Xander said, racking his mind. "Why can't I remember?"

The blond just shivered and huddled closer to him. Xander dropped an arm around her as he pondered the current situation.

As he did so, he heard a scream ahead of him and was instantly galvanized into action.

"Where are you going!?" The blonde yelped, dragging him back with a surprising strength. Xander shook her loose, "Someone's in trouble!"

"I am in trouble!" She responded indignantly, "You can not leave me alone here without manly protection!"

"Just go inside." He said quickly. "I'll be back."

Then he was gone, running toward the scream.

Buffy shuddered in terror as her protector was swallowed up by the night, and shrank back into the halls of learning behind her.

*****

"So... you were costumed as a ghost... and now you can't touch or pick up anything?" Giles said, putting the pieces together.

Willow nodded, her eyes widening. "Oh god. You don't think I'm... well... you know?"

"Dead?" Giles asked absently, not thinking about what he was saying.

Willow's face shattered and she dropped to the ground in a heap. "Oh God..."

Giles came back to himself, shocked at his lack of tact. "I doubt it, Willow! I sincerely doubt that you would be dead. Generally speaking one doesn't become a ghost in such a... spectacularly visible fashion."

"I'm not dead?"

"No." Giles smiled comfortingly at her, reaching down to help her up, and then grimacing as his hand passed through hers. "Oh Drat. I'd forgotten about that."

Willow giggled slightly to herself, almost hysterical but still barely in control of herself. She got back to her feet on her own, looking at Giles in sudden alarm. "Giles! If I'm my Costume... What about Buffy and Xander!?"

Color drained from Giles' face. "Oh dear lord. What did Buffy dress as?"

"Ummm... An eighteenth century noble lady?" Willow half said, half asked, tentatively.

"Oh bugger."

*****

Xander frowned as he came up on the source of the screams. There were several small... things. Attacking an old lady. "Hey! Stop that!"

He was getting closer when a man in a pirate costume leapt out at him and swung an old rapier at his head. Xander ducked instinctively, dropping to the ground and rolling as he avoided the attack. He came back to his feet, twisting with the motion, and faced the pirate.

"Arrrrr!" The pirate cried oddly, taking another swing.

Xander stepped into it, catching the pirate's arms and blocking the attack. "I don't know who you are, but I don't have time for this," He said as he drove a blow into the pirate's sternum, then pulled the blade from his hands.

As the pirate crumpled over, Xander swung him around and pushed him into the tree. There was a loud thunk and Xander grimaced as the pirate fell to the ground. "I'm really sorry about that."

He examined the blade for a brief second before tossing it into the trees behind the pirate, then he turned and began to run toward the commotion he'd seen earlier.

*****

Buffy Summers fell back from the strange clear doors of the learning place she was in, sliding along the wall with her back pressed firmly against it's cold hard surface. Her eyes darted around, looking with terror at the surroundings.

It was all so alien to her.

She'd never gone to a hall of learning. Why should she? She was just a mere woman. This wasn't her place. She shouldn't be here. She wanted to be home in her father's Manor, or the family castle. Anywhere but here.

"Slayer!"

She spun in terror at the sound of the voice, and screamed as she saw the disfigured face that was it's source. She shrank back, whimpering. "Please... Don't hurt me..."

Spike was slightly confused, but decided that the slayer begging him for mercy was certainly a nice way to start a night of terror. He laughed, motioning to his vampires as he walked forward. "Come on boys... I don't know what's going on in this town... but it's got the Slayer in it's grips."

The vampires laughed, their evil pleasure filling the halls around them.

As the started to advance, Buffy screamed in terror, then turned and bolted the way she had come. Out and into the night.

"Get her!" *****

"Good lord!" Giles bolted upright from his worried stance, "What was that?"

"I'll check!" Willow said, and ran to the door. She paused at it, long enough for Giles to find his voice.

"No! Wait, Willow!"

But she didn't listen, she just took a deep breath and ran through the door and into the hallway.

*****

"T... thank you, young man."

Xander smiled, "No problem ma'am. Let me help you back into your place... You shouldn't be outside this late."

The old lady shivered, nodding as he helped her up her doorstep. "I... I don't know what happened. They seemed like such nice children..."

"Children?" Xander cocked his head, looking down the road to where the little 'things' had run.

"Yes... I... I was giving them their treats, and then they just..."

"Treats?" Xander frowned, then his expression cleared. "Halloween. This is Halloween?"

"Yes..." Her voice wavered. "Of course... didn't... didn't you know?"

"No... I didn't." Xander frowned. "I don't understand."

"There there..." She patted his arm. "Happens to me sometimes too... Anyway, thank you young man."

Xander smiled at her as she closed the door, "You're welcome."

The door clicked shut and he turned back toward the road, still thinking furiously. I'm in Sunnydale California... still don't know what that name feels so familiar... It's Halloween... That's not possible... it's not supposed to be Halloween. I'm sure of that. Today's date is... is...

His eyes widened in confusion as he rubbed his face vigorously with both hands.

Before he could even start to formulate a response, a piercing scream cut the air and he looked up in shock. *****

Willow ran out through the doors of the school and into the Quad as she looked around desperately.

"Hello!? Buffy? Xander??" She frowned, then just caught sight of some motion as a figured ran around the corner.

She ran out to the road, looking down the road toward the motion, but couldn't see anyone in the darkness. "Damn it!"

"Excuse me..." A familiar voice said as she heard someone run around the corner behind her. "Did you scream?"

Willow turned and he face flooded with relief, "Oh my god! Xander! You had me so scared!"

Xander looked at her with a bemused expression, but shook his head. "Xander? I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else. My name is Jarod."

She stared at him, caught between scolding and laughing, but then the look of his eyes caused her to pale. "Oh my god. You're not kidding."

"No... should I be?"

She looked around, still worried. "Xander... uh I mean, Jarod. Did you see Buffy anywhere?"

"Who?"

"Blond, about yay tall?" Willow held her hand to about shoulder height.

Xander smiled slightly, "I believe she's slightly taller then that, if we're thinking of the same girl. But if you mean the girl who was with me in the library earlier, I left her in the school when I heard a scream earlier."

"Just now??"

"No. Several minutes ago." Xander frowned, "Something very strange seems to be occurring in this town."

"What else is new?" Willow muttered under her breath. "Oh god... what if that was her screaming just now?"

"Did you see anything when you came out?"

"I saw someone run down that way." Willow pointed. "Go for help." Xander said calmly, "I'll check it out."

"No! Wait!" Willow said desperately as Xander started to leave. "You don't know what's going on here! We need to talk to Giles!"

Xander didn't slow, so she jumped in front of him, desperate to stop him.

Before he could skid to a stop, he barreled right through her. He turned, his face shocked and eyes wide. "How? What?"

Willow groaned, "I don't know, ok! I was dressed up as a ghost for Halloween, then something happened and now I'm... I'm..."

"Non corporeal?" Xander suggested, his head tilting to one side, "Most interesting. Utterly impossible... and yet it's happening."

Willow stared at him for a moment, totally unaccustomed to Xander talking like that. Then she remember WHO he was dressed as and it hit her like a brick wall. He really WAS *Jarod*. She paled, her face going a pasty white as she looked at what was undoubtedly the smartest man she ever likely to meet. "Oh my god."

"What is it?" Xander frowned at her, concern entering his features.

"You're really Jarod, aren't you? The Pretender..."

His eyes widened, his face automatically tensing. "Where did you hear that term?"

"Oh god, how do I explain this... Xander... Jarod..." She looked up, "I dressed like a ghost, and became one... right?"

"So you say..." Xander quirked a smile at her, "And you seem to have some rather convincing evidence to back up the claim."

"But you... Xander... dressed up like The Pretender. Like Jarod." She said, "You dressed as a TV character."

Xander frowned, shaking his head, "That's not possible."

"It happened."

"You are saying that I'm... I'm not me? I'm a television character?" Xander smiled slightly, "I'm not sure what happened to you, miss, but perhaps it involved a knock to the cranium?"

"I'm NOT making this up!"

"I never suggested that you were."

"I'm not crazy either!" Willow stamped her feet. "Xander! I'm Willow! The blond is Buffy! We're your best friends!"

"In that case," Xander smiled at her, "I should be going to see if the blond, Buffy, needs help. Shouldn't I?"

"But you don't know what's going on!" Willow tried again, desperate to keep him from running off into danger without knowing what he was up against.

Xander just shrugged and smiled over his shoulder. "I'll figure it out. I usually do."

She watched, wide eyed, as he vanished it he direction she had seen the motion. Then growled at the sky and turned around and ran back into the school, screaming. "GILES!!"

*****

Buffy ran, and ran, and ran.

She scrambled through the trees, having been cornered by a huge demon with twin glaring eyes and a rumbling voice. It had come around a corner toward her as the other demons behind her had chased her, and she had run into the trees.

Behind her she could hear them coming, and she gathered up her dress and kept running.

Branches clawed at her, scratching her fair skin and plucking at her dress. But she kept running until she burst into a clearing. She looked around for a second, and then screamed again.

She was in a graveyard.

*****

Xander jogged along the road, frowning as he came to a car accident. He ran around to the drivers seat and gently checked the figure inside. The man was groaning, slumped against his airbag. Xander checked his pulse, and nodded as he found it strong, then gently leaned him back. "Are you ok, Sir?"

The man groaned again, opening his eyes. "Oh.... damn..."

"What happened?"

The man blinked, groaning again as he thought back. "This freaky blond ran out in front of me... I almost hit her.... Oh god, I almost hit her."

"She's alright?"

"I think..." The man frowned, remembering flashes of the past few minutes. "Some people... must have been trick or treaters... they were in costume... they were chasing her."

"Where'd they go?" Xander asked, looking around.

"That way..." The man winced as he pointed.

"Thank you... do you have a cell phone?" Xander asked.

The man nodded.

"Can you call 911? Get an ambulance here to check you over, ok? I have to go find her."

"Go on... I'll be alright." The man said, already fumbling for his phone.

"Good." Xander said, then he left and started jogging toward the woods.

*****

"Xander is what??"

"He's a Pretender!" Willow said again.

"Pretender to what?" Giles half smiled, it sounded utterly preposterous.

"Not like that!" Willow snapped, "From the TV show. He dressed up as a character from a TV show! Now he IS the character!"

Giles swallowed. "Oh dear. What is this character like?"

Willow shrugged, "Jarod? He's a genius... He can do anything, or damn near. He's got a major White Knight persona, and is a real Sadist."

"Pardon me?" Giles just looked confused.

"We don't have time for this, Giles!" Willow actually snapped at him. "If you'd just watch some TV now and again maybe you wouldn't be so slow..."

"Willow!" Giles looked at her in shock.

She clapped a hand over her mouth, looking shocked at her words. "Oh god. Giles! I'm sorry... I'm just..."

"Worried, yes. I understand." Giles said, grabbing his coat. "We'd best find them, hadn't we?"

"No... Giles... we have to know what's going on... You need to research." Willow said, taking a deep breath. "I'll find them."

Giles frowned, looking at the scared girl. "Are you certain?"

Willow nodded quietly.

"Alright." Giles dropped his coat back on the hanger. "I'll start researching spells and rituals that might cause this... though I somehow doubt that Dietrich's Tome of Spells has anything about Telly characters possessing teenagers. Go on, and try to get them back here... or at least somewhere safe to wait out the night."

Willow nodded, then turned and ran through the wall.

Giles winced. "I hope I don't have to get used to seeing that."

*****

Buffy dodged through the graveyard, skipping away from the stones in skittish fear. Only her terror of those things chasing her was stronger then her fear of the dark graveyard. She shouldn't be here, anywhere even NEAR here.

Ahead of her she saw the gates appear from the shadows and she bolted towards them in sheer blind terror, not looking beyond the exit of the graveyard.

"Get her!" A voice screamed from behind her, and she just ran harder.

As she reached the gates an arms reached out and grabbed her from the darkness and she screamed.

*****

Xander wove through the trees with an almost uncanny stealth, following the obvious trail or broken branches and trampled plants with ease. He quickly counted at least ten distinct trails and knew that the blond... Buffy... was being chased by a sizable group.

He frowned, his hand going to his belt, but realized that he'd left his pistol with his law enforcement ID's.

He paused only briefly at the edge of the trees to recon the graveyard ahead of him, quickly spotting the group he was pursuing as they ran toward the gates at the far side. After a quiet check of his flanks, He ran out and in their direction.

*****

Buffy screamed, and screamed, and kept on screaming.

Much to the shock and disturbance of the person holding her. "Buffy! Buffy! It's me! What's wrong!?"

Buffy looked up into the eyes of the handsome stranger and managed to stifle her screams. "Oh Kind Sir! Please to help me! I am being chased by the most wretched villains!"

"Buffy? What?"

"Why do you call me that, Sir?" She asked him, still breathless with terror. "My name isn't Buffy."

The man looked around, his eyes widening as he saw the gang of vampires and demons arriving with Spike at their head.

"Well well," Spike smiled a smarmy grin, "If it isn't my grand-poof."

"Spike." Angel replied, his face tense as he tallied the odds.

"Angelus." Spike returned in a mocking tone.

Angel shifted slightly, putting himself in front of Buffy. He didn't know what was wrong, but he could tell that she wasn't herself. "Turn around, Spike."

"I don't think so, Poof." Spike grinned wide. "Something funny is going on it town... And I *like* it."

Angel looked from side to side, noting all the odd demons that had joined Spike's 'crew' and frowned.

"You notice, huh?" Spike grinned. "Ranks are swelling tonight. Why don't you join the winning side, eh Angelus? Be like old times. I'll even let you have the girl there... Just think about it... The taste of her blood on your lips, the sound of her cries... her little fists pounding lighter and lighter against you as you finish her off..."

Buffy fell back, falling away from her 'protector' in terror.

Angel half turned around, "Buffy..."

That was all it took, she turned and ran off.

"Buffy!?" Spike laughed, watching her go. He'd known that all it would take to frighten this incarnation of the Slayer was just the slightest hint of danger about her 'protector'. Whatever spell that was cooking in this town was certainly as amusing as it got.

"What did you do to her!?" Angel turned on him, all pretense of civility gone as his Game Face came out.

"Me?" Spike looked hurt, "Me? I didn't do a thing, mores the pity. When I find out who is behind all this, I'll have to buy him a drink though..."

The vampires and demons laughed until Spike waved them silent. His humorous look was gone, and he suddenly snarled. "After her!"

As the group rushed forward, Angel suddenly leapt at them, intent on slowing them down so that Buffy, whatever was wrong with her, could get away.

*****

"Xander, where are you!?" Willow yelled. "Um... I mean, Jarod! Where are you??"

The red headed 'ghost' was passing through the trees smoothly as she followed the path the man had told her about before the paramedics trucked him off. She frowned, thinking about that, Xander should have known better then to leave anyone alone out here.

Xander would have known better. Jarod, however, did not. Willow shook her head and kept running.

*****

There was a vicious fight in process when Xander arrived. At least ten people in costume were taking on one man, who was also apparently in costume. He was fighting well, but being pushed back hard and Xander knew that he was going down.

Ten on one odds were the sort that chafed at him, and he moved forward quickly to lend a hand. Ten to two wasn't much better, though and that set him back for a moment. He looked around, frowning. After a moment he smiled and darted off to the left.

*****

Angel grunted in pain as one of the vampires tagged him across the face, jarring him to one side. He rallied, nailing the vampire back with a blow strong enough to knockt he vamp back on his ass, but was instantly nailed by another vampire while one of the pint sized demons started chewing on his leg.

"OWW!" He actually yelled in pain as he shook the little grunter off. "This is ridiculous." "Hold him down! Hold him down!" Spike ordered as they piled on him.

Angel was dragged down, little runts clinging to his arms and legs with formidable strength, while Spike stood over him.

Angel looked up at Spike as the blond vampire smiled at him, then waved his minions on. "You g after the Slayer. I'll be along in a minute."

The vampires took off at a run, eager to meet up with a Slayer reduced to screaming whimpering child.

"Angelus, Angelus, Angelus..." Spike smiled mockingly, "Don't you remember? The bad guys always win."

Spike pulled back to belt Angel across the face when a set of headlights fell across them. The vampires and demons looked up in surprise, to see those headlights come fast and hard at them while the horn of the car started blaring.

They let go of Angel and scattered to the wind as the car came within a hair's breath of running right into them. Instead it skidded to the side and the passenger side door opened wide. "Get in!"

Angel looked up in surprise and shock. "Xander??"

"Not this again." Xander said, annoyed. "Just get in before they come back!"

Angel scrambled to his feet, and managed to pull himself into the front seat as Xander hit the gas again. The door slammed shut just as he got his legs inside, and he felt himself get slammed back into the seat as the big car accelerated away.

"Xander??" Angel looked around in confusion, "Where did you get this car??"

Xander frowned, "Why do people keep calling me that? My name is Jarod, and as for the car... well I'm afraid I had to hotwire it."

Angel stared at him in shock as Xander looked regretfully over his shoulder. "I hope they have theft on their insurance policy..."

*****

Willow ran through the gate as the little demons took off away from the car. She frowned, perplexed as she recognized the driver as he opened the door and the interior light came on.

"Xander!!"

But by then the car had already taken off, someone being pulled into the other side of it, and the light shutting off.

"Xander!!" She yelled again, then slumped down. "Oh damn it."

"Well well well... look at this." A voice came from behind her, "Dinner is served."

Willow turned around to see three vampires grinning at her. She pursed her lips and scowled at them, "Oh buzz off. I don't have time for this."

With that she walked through them and left the three of them staring at her in shock as she started to make her way across the block that Xander had just turned around. Maybe she could head him off.

*****

"Watch where you're going!!" Angel yelled, holding an arm up to ward off the car that was right in front of them.

Xander smiled, easily swerving the car around the other vehicle and straightening it out. "Relax. Now... where did that blond go too anyway?"

"Blond? You mean Buffy?"

"Yeah... that's her I guess."

"I... She went this way I think." Angel stammered out as they flew around another corner before Xander slowed the car down.

Xander nodded, bringing the car back to the speed limit as he glanced in the mirrors. "Ok... I think we've lost them. Now let's find the blond."

Angel nodded, sitting back in the chair and reaching for the safety belt.

*****

"No... No... No..." Giles muttered, looking over the books as he dug through one ritual after another.

"None of the standard possession spells can possibly explain this!" He raged, throwing a book across the room in aggravation.

He looked down at a book cover that was below him and paled.

"Oh good lord."

*****

"Who were those people that attacked you anyway?" Xander asked his passenger as he drove, keeping one eye peeled for the blond.

Angel looked at him oddly, "Come on, Xander. You know that was Spike and his gang. Well... mostly. I don't know who or what the pint sized demons were."

"Spike?" Xander asked calmly, ignoring the bit about his name. He'd decided that one name was as good as another, and if they all wanted to call him 'Xander' then he may as well go with it. It's not like it would be the first alias he had ever used.

"Spike." Angel said, staring at Xander in annoyance. "The vampire??"

"Vampire's don't exist. They're just myths." Xander replied.

"Yeah. Right." Angel replied, "And Sunnydale is a great place to retire for the nightlife."

"Really?" Xander asked curiously. "I presume that it's usually quieter than this then. Elderly people couldn't put up with all this excitement on a full time basis."

Angel stared at him in shock for the fifth time of the evening.

*****

"Oh.... FUDGE." Willow muttered in annoyance as she panted for breath after falling through a tree that she'd tried to lean on. "This ghost stuff is for the... well for the ghosts!"

She crawled back to her feet and stumbled forward again.

When she came to the road she looked left, then right, then sighed. "Oh crap. Where too now?"

She looked around, hesitantly, then decided to go left and make her way to Buffy's house since it was the closest to where she was.



She groaned at the exertion and broke into a limping jog.

"This night just.... really really... stinks!"

*****

"Over there!"

Xander looked to where Angel was pointing and caught sight of the blond. He nodded and pulled the car over close to where she was crouched behind a fence.

"Buffy..." Angel spoke softly as he got out of the car.

"Don't come near me!" She shrieked, scrambling back on hands and heels as she moved away from him. "Stay away!"

Angel fell back, looking hurt.

"Are you alright?" Xander asked quietly, his voice somehow carrying over her labored cries.

She turned to look at him, her eyes locking on his. They widened in recognition and she gasped again, this time in relief, and lunged for him. Xander's got his hands up awkwardly as she hugged herself to him.

"Thankyouthankyouthankyou!" She moaned out as he looked around, half confused and half desperately uncomfortable.

He paused, looking down with a pained expression and slowly, awkwardly lowered his arms around her. "It's ok... It's ok... You're safe now."

As he comforted the blond, his companion looked on with a sick expression on his face. For a long time that was all that happened, Xander comforted Buffy while Angel looked on as if in physical pain. Then a twig snapped in the distance, a sound lost to the world except for Angel's hearing.

His head snapped around, "They're coming."

Xander looked up, concern replacing pain. "How far?"

"Close." Angel said, listening carefully. "And getting closer."

Xander nodded, swallowing. "We have to get her out of here."

"Right." Angel looked around, "My place is too far. Her house is near here."

"Lead the way." Xander said tensely as he pried the girl loose from him and looked down at her. "We're going to take you home, ok?"

She nodded, her eyes a glistening sheen of moist green and white as they looked widely up at him.

"Can you keep up?"

She bit her lower lip, but only nodded in reply.

"Good." He said, smiling softly. "Come on."

"This way." Angel said, motioning down the road.

The three of them set off, just ahead of the hunters.

*****

"Buffy?? Buffy!?" Willow called out, sighing when no response came. "Xander? Oh... damn! I mean, Jarod!!"

She walked through the house half wishing that Joyce had been there. Anything would have been preferable to doing nothing, but Willow knew that Joyce had taken little Dawn out trick or treating.

She sighed and slumped onto the couch, or tried to at least. Instead she fell through it and hit the floor again.

"Ow! Damn!" She cursed for the umpteenth time of the evening, rubbing her head and looking at the floor darkly. "Why does THAT have to feel so solid??"

*****

"This way." Spike said as he looked at the empty car, and then up the street. "They're on foot now... The Slayer is with them... moving quickly though. Scent is getting faint. Tell the half pints to keep up."

His Vampire minion nodded and turned to relay his orders, then followed his sire through the night as they chased the Slayer through the night.

*****

"Wait." Xander said, looking around.

"What??" Angel asked, annoyed. "We don't have time for this..."

"Go on ahead... I'll be right behind you." Xander said, motioning them on. "Keep her safe."

"No!" Buffy screamed. "I want to stay with you!"

Xander shook his head, extricating herself from him. He knew she didn't like the other man, but something about him told Xander that he would give his life for this girl. He knew people, could read them when he had to, and he read that in this man's eyes. So he pryed her hands from him and pushed her onto the other man, who grabbed her reflexively. "Go. Protect her."

Angel looked between Xander and Buffy. He didn't know what was going on hear, but he knew that something was seriously screwed up. Buffy was in no condition to be on her own tonight, and somehow she'd seemed to lose her strength and her memories. He couldn't leave her alone, but something inside him told him to take Xander's place.

"GO!" Xander roared, his voice snapping out with an inescapable order. "I'll be fine! Just go!"

Decision made, Angel nodded and started dragging Buffy away and toward her house. "Xander... be careful! They're vampires!"

With that he was gone.

Xander turned to the darkness, his eyes searching out the foes that he knew was behind him, and took a deep breath. "Alright... Let's get to work."

*****

Spike came to a curb and paused, frowning as he looked at the ground. "Bugger all."

"What is it?" One of his minions asked as they came up behind him.

Spike inhaled slow and long, then looked one direction and then the other. "This doesn't make any sense..."

The minion watched as Spike walked in a circle for a moment, eyes narrowing.

"Spike?"

"Quiet!" The Vampire snapped, crouching down to look at the lawn. "Their trail goes off here..."

"So?"

"But the Slayer's scent is stronger over there." Spike rose to his feet, frowning. "It's the other one... he's trying to lead us away."

"So we go after the Slayer?"

Spike nodded slowly, still looking over his shoulder to where the other scent and trails led. "Yesssss.... Let's go."

*****

Xander cursed as the group continued on, undeterred by his faked trail. Either that lead man was an incredible tracker, or they had something going for them beyond the information he had at hand.

As he ran full out, circling around to try and get ahead of them again, his mind raced.

Vampires.

Not possible.

But then, he considered, neither are non corporeal entities. And that red headed girl certainly managed a convincing mock up of that.

Ok, so what did that leave him?

Holographic display, pheremone trackers, perhaps some type of gene therapy to explain the apparent mutations?

Xander frowned. It was all possible he supposed, but only marginally more so then Vampires and ghosts.

His mind sped through the possibilities as he ran, basically ignoring his bodies screams for rest as he slipped into a quasi-trance similar to what athletes used to push their bodies to the limit.

Occam's Razor.

That was his best hope, he realized. Which was the simplest solution available to him now. A massive implementation of advanced technology in a small Californian town for the express purpose of... of what? Fooling him personally? Maybe a Center trick?

No. Highly unlikely.

Next option.

Magic is real. Vampires exist. Ghosts haunt the planet.

Taken as a group it seemed equally unlikely, but Xander realized in a flash that it boiled down to one simple statement.

Magic is real.

If that holds true, then the rest fall into place like dominoes.

Ok. Accepting that postulation, what is the best plan?, he asked himself.

Quickly he tallied what he knew about Vampires. There was depressingly little, he quickly realized. Only what he had seen in the dozen or so movies he watched last Halloween while trying to get into the spirit of the holiday.

Fast. Strong. Shape shifters...

He paused. No, that didn't quite work. If they could transform into bat or wolf then they would have done so, not pursued on foot. Which, he realized, also nixed the idea that they could fly.

Drink blood. Obviously. That was, after all, the cultural prerequisite for any vampiric form.

Enhanced smell, eyesight, hearing, and probably the same for taste and tactile senses Xander concluded.

Can only be killed by a Stake through the heart.

Xander shook his head. He wouldn't be doing that any time soon he decided. What else? Holy Water? No, no time to get to a church. Sunlight... but it was hours to dawn. A Cross.

Xander frowned, his hand climbing to a lump on his belt. He pulled it out, and found he was carrying a cross. A quick check also located two vials of water marked with crosses as well as three wooden stakes.

His mind reeled as he ran.

Was HE a Vampire hunter??

It staggered him so badly he mis-stepped and nearly went sprawling through a picket fence. Instead he managed to recover and plant a foot on a handy doghouse and hurtle to offending obstacle.

He landed on the other side, briefly checking his position against those he was racing, and realized that he was losing the race.

Vampires, if that is what they were, indeed have more speed and stamina then humans, he decided.

But that still left the question of why he was equipped to hunt them.

The words of the redhead came back to haunt him.

You dressed up as The Pretender. A TV Character.

*****

"Buffy!" Willow yelped as Buffy stumbled into the living room, looking around in terror.

Behind her Angel was already closing the door and locking it behind him. He looked over at Willow, his eyes wide. "Spike and his gang is coming, Xander is still out there, and something is wrong with Buffy."

"Xander's out there!?" Willow yelped, but then shook her head. "Wait.... What's wrong with Buffy??"

"I don't know!" Angel snapped. "She doesn't know me! She's terrified and not acting like a Slayer at all..."

Willow turned around, looking at where the blond Slayer was cowering on the floor. "Buffy? Are you ok?"

The blond looked up, her eyes confused. "Who is this Buffy you speak of?"

"Ohhhh.... crap." Willow winced.

"Yeah." Angel muttered, casting about for weapons. "That covers it. Does Buffy keep any weapons around here?"

"Up in her room I think..."

There was a sudden smash at the door, causing Angel and Willow to look at each other and speak at the same time.

"Ah crap!"

"Stop cursing and let me in!!" Came a yelping voice from outside.

"Cordelia!" Willow exclaimed, rushing to the door. She tried to unlock it, only to curse again as her hand slid through the door. "Crap! Angel, you want to get the door??"

Angel did, quickly getting the door open and letting the brunette cheerleader, ahh.... cat that is, into the house.

Willow instantly stepped in front of the cheerleeder/cat, "Ok, here's the story. Your name is Cordelia, you are NOT a cat, and..."

"Have you finally snapped?" Cordy asked her scornfully, "I know that highschool has a lot of pressure Willow, but if the rest of us can handle it maybe you should try to pull yourself together."

"Cordy! It's you!" "Duh." Cordelia muttered sarcastically, then stopped dead as she saw Buffy shivering on the floor beside the couch. "What's with Slay Girl?"

"Don't ask." Willow muttered, "Did you see anyone else out there?"

"Other then all the pint sized demons that are currently rampaging through town??" Cordelia looked at Willow in consternation, "Isn't that enough??"

"Xander's still out there." Willow said miserably.

"Xander?" Cordy looked over her shoulder at the door in horror that she quickly covered up. "Well.... I'm sure he'll be ok. He knows how to run pretty fast..."

"Yeah..."

"Hey girls..." A muffled thump caught their attention and they both turned to look at Angel, who was throwing his full weight against the front door as something beyond it slammed into it with heavy force. "Could we do the worry thing later? When we have time?"

"Ohmygod...." Buffy whimpered, "They've come for me again..."

"Oh stop whining!" Cordelia glared at her scathingly.

She glared back, "You learn your place, you low born hussy!"

"Hussy!? Oh no you did NOT just call me a..."

Willow stepped between them, holding her hands up to Cordy. "Cordy, please! She's not herself!"

Cordelia snorted, "I hate to admit it... but the change isn't an improvement."

"Girls!!" Angel yelled, "Cut that out, grab Buffy, and get out the back door! The demons Spike has with him don't need to be invited!!"

"Right." Willow nodded, "Cordelia... grab Buffy."

"What? Why should I?? You do it."

Willow growled, then swung on Cordy. The brunette flinched back, but her eyes widened when the blow passed right through her head. "That's why! Now do it!"

Cordy kept staring as she grabbed Buffy and hauled the blond to her feet.

"No! I will not be seen with some common street walker like you!" Cordelia scowled at her, "We're SOOOO going to have some strong words when you're back to yourself, Buffy. Until then..." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder at Angel, who was still struggling to hold the heaving door in place. "Would you prefer their company? Or mine?"

Buffy swallowed in terror, then allowed herself to be dragged along.

Angel shook his head at the situation, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, instead just contenting himself to hold his position as the girls got a head start. Then the door split behind him, and was shattered into pieces, forcing him to give up the position as demonic claws grasped at him.

He thought.

That was the time that they came screaming back into the living room, with a pack of demons on their heels.

"Crap!"

*****

Rupert 'Ripper' Giles growled as he paced the library. He *knew*, he simply *KNEW* what, or rather who, was behind this. But he didn't know where.

"Damn it, Willow. Where are you??" He looked longingly to the door again, wanting to go out and search.

But again he shook his head and forced himself to wait.

They could be anywhere in town, and one of them at least had information he needed.

"Where did you get those costumes!?"

*****

The demons were rushing in the doors, flooding the house from two sides as Angel tried to guide the two girls away from them while Willow managed to distract some into attacking her. Despite all that, though, they wound up getting cornered in the living room again after a rather ridiculous few minutes of chasing.

They looked around nervously as the demon's responded to coaching from Spike, who was standing at the shattered threshold of the house. "Get them! Get them and bring them... urrrrkkk!"

"Get this." A cold voice said from behind him as big arms wrapped themselves around Spike's head and jammed something in his mouth. As Spike gagged around it a powerful fist smashed across his jaw, and the vampire's eyes bugged wide with shock and pain as he spit out a spray of liquid and glass.

As he cried out in pain, a sharp sizzling noise pierced the air and Angel winced in almost sympathetic pain as the holy water began burning Spike's mouth from the inside out. As he fell to his knees the figure stepped inside, glancing behind him with a curious mixture of interest and satisfaction.

"So. Vampires are real." Xander shrugged, "Unable to cross the threshold without an invitation and susceptible to holy water. Fascinating."

Then he looked over the situation in the room, taking the entire layout in before speaking again. When he did, it was to Angel. "Sorry I'm late. Clear a road to the stairs for the girls."

"Right." Angel nodded.

And then the two of them threw themselves into the mob of mini-demons.

"Don't kill them!!" Willow suddenly shrieked, pieces suddenly dropping into place for her.

"What!? Why!?" Angel demanded as he struggled.

"Because these are trick or treaters who have been enspelled by their costumes." Xander responded instantly, having already figured that bit out.

"Oh." Angel looked at them demons, eyes wide. "Ooookay."

As the fight progressed, Xander looked up at The blond and a new brunette, "Go! Up the stairs! We'll be right behind you!"

"Right..." Cordy said tentatively, picking her way through the fight sideways as she dragged Buffy along with her.

Willow stood helplessly, not knowing what to do as the fight progressed, until something clicked to her. "I'm going to go tell Giles where everyone is! Maybe he figured something out by now!"

"Wait!" Xander gasped, struggling to keep another demon back as he and Angel backed up the stairs. "Where did we get the costumes??"

"What??"

"WHERE DID WE GET THEM??" He yelled out again.

"Oh... ummm... Ethan's! Downtown...."

"I know where that is!" Cordelia yelled from above them, "I wanted to get a costume from them, but daddy had already paid for this one and he wouldn't get me another..."

Xander nodded, sweat beading on his forehead as he fought. "Ok. That's it, We're going there! Go tell whoever!"

Willow looked confused, but nodded. "Alright!"

Then she vanished through the wall behind her.

Xander looked over at Angel, "Go on... I'll hold them."

Angel shook his head, "No. You go. I can do this better..."

"How?" Xander asked in between grunts.

Angel vamped out as he fought, then glared at Xander. "Just go!"

"Ah..." Xander blinked. "I see."

With that he broke from the fight, running up the stairs three at a time until he caught up with the girls. "No time for rest breaks, Ladies..."

He wrapped an arm around both of them and hurriedly ushered them through a door to the side of the house he'd scouted earlier. "If I'm right we should be able to... ahh... here we go."

"I will not climb around like some simian beast!" Buffy objected.

Xander looked between her and Cordelia, "Would you rather be fed to one of the demonic beasts chasing us?"

There was no response for a moment, until Cordelia growled in frustration and shoved Buffy out the window. "Move it!"

*****

Rupert Giles was about fed up when Willow can rushing through his wall again, almost giving him a heart attack. He clutched his chest for a moment before glaring at her, "Don't DO that!"

"Sorry." She said unrepentantly, "Can't do anything else."

Giles just shook his head, "Willow, it's absolutely vital that you tell me where..."

"Ethan's." Willow answered.

"What!?" "We got the Costumes at Ethan's." Willow said, suddenly worried, "That is what you wanted to know, right? Xander thought it was really important..."

"Xander??? How?"

"Genius costume, remember... He's going there now."

"Oh dear lord."

*****

Ethan Rayne chuckled quietly to himself as he looked out over the sheer anarchy that had overtaken the streets of Sunnydale. Certainly it wasn't a huge coup d'etat to turn the Hellmouth into hell for a night, but it was still one of the most fun sandboxes to play on.

Rayne chuckled at the thought, but them shrugged.

He whistled to himself as he packed up his materials, humming away his one disappointment of the evening. He had hoped that Ripper himself would be encouraged to make a showing.

Rayne whistled as he listened to the anarchy outside.

That was when a cold voice split the night, echoing all around him.

"Going somewhere?"

Rayne smiled, recognizing the tone more then the voice. "Ah, Ripper... I've been waiting for you. How do you like my handiwork?"

"I don't." Xander said, coldly as he emerged from the shadows. "But then, I'm not this 'Ripper' person either."

"Who are..." Ethan paused, his eyes widening as he recognized the boy. "You!"

"Now you see," Xander shrugged, talking casually as he walked around Ethan. "I've been having this problem tonight... It seems that everyone knows me, but I don't know any of them. I don't suppose you could clear that up a little for me, could you?"

Ethan watched him warily, turning as the boy walked calmly around him. "I'm sure I could figure something out..."

"Good." Xander smiled. "In fact, very good. Why don't you start by explaining precisely what you were hoping to get out of this."

"Why, fun of course." Ethan grinned.

"Fun?"

"It's what I do." Rayne kept smiling.

Xander growled, his face tight with anger. "You call this fun!? A whole town in terror and danger?? Young children turned into demons??"

"Well, we all have out own definitions of fun." Ethan said, a little more subdued as he stepped back.

"Oh, I know that." Xander smiled. "In fact, I plan on having a little *fun* myself tonight."

Ethan didn't much like the sounds of that, but didn't let his emotions show. "Oh?"

"Oh yes." Xander smiled again, this time showing his teeth. "In fact, I was thinking that we might start right about... now."

Ethan was about to ask what he meant, but a scraping noise sounded behind him, and was quickly followed by a banging. He paled, "What have you done??"

"Oh... nothing much." Xander smiled, "I just lead about twenty of your fabulous little creations to your door. They should be getting through any moment... I wonder what they'll do when they get in here."

Ethan looked over his shoulder, face drawn in pallor, then he made a lunge to get to the back door but was blocked by the boy who had used the time talking to get between him and the door.

"Ah ah... not so fast." Xander smiled, "You aren't going to leave the party so soon, are you? And miss all the *fun*??"

"We have to get out of here!" Ethan said, panicking. "They'll kill us both!"

"Oh no they won't."

"They won't?"

"No..." Xander smiled, suddenly slipping back through the half open door and slamming it shut behind him as Ethan tried to break it open. "You see, I have my own way out. I'll be seeing you."

"No!!" Ethan slammed against the door with both hands, but couldn't make it budge. "Let me out!! Let me out!!" Behind him he heard a sudden crash and realized that the door wasn't going to hold much longer, if it hadn't already fell. He scrambled across the floor, falling over himself to get to the focus of the spell, the small idol that he had packed away.

The noises of violence and anger grew stronger and louder as he threw things right and left until he found the idol. Ethan breathed in relief, then raised his hands up and brought the idol down on the floor. Hard.

*****

"I think you can stop that now."

Cordelia and Buffy yelped in shock as they heard the voice from behind them, both of them turning away from the door they had been kicking and smashing at.

"Don't DO that dweeb boy!"

Xander looked at her oddly, "Dweeb boy is it? I suppose that a step up from Rat Boy."

"Huh?"

"Never mind..." Xander shrugged, walked past them and throwing himself hard against the door, actually rattling it. "I think he needs just a little bit more coaxing..."

Xander hit the door again, then stepped back. From inside he heard the sound of something shattering and he felt a wave pass over him and almost collapsed.

When he straightened up, he could see Buffy's eyes widening in shock as she returned to herself.

"Wow." Was all he could say.

Buffy nodded dumbly.

"Wow?" Cordy looked between them, "Wow what??"

"It's over, Cordy." Xander smiled weakly, slumping against the wall.

"It's over? That's it?" Cordelia looked annoyed.

"Buffy! Xander!"

They both looked up to see Giles coming around the corner with Willow braced against him. "Are you alright?"

Xander straightened up, "We're fine, Giles. We'd better get back to Buffy's place though..." Buffy's eyes widened, "Angel!"

Xander nodded, "Come on, I'll walk you."

"Wait for me!" Willow said, running up behind him.

"Wait!" Giles yelled.

Xander looked back, "What?"

"Ethan, is he still here??"

Xander nodded, "Inside."

Giles smiled briefly, giving Xander a sudden attack of the shivers. "Alright. You go on. I'll deal with him."

Xander thought about staying, but then shrugged it off and led Buffy and Willow away. I

*****

The next day found the whole group at the Library swapping war stories about the night before.

"So, Buffy," Willow smiled, "What was it like to be a Aristocrat?"

Buffy shuddered. "Horrible. I was scared all the time and couldn't do anything about it... Everything scared me..."

Buffy paused, frowning, and looked at Xander. "Well... almost everything."

No one took any pass of the look, and Willow turned to Xander with a grin. "How about you?"

"What?" He looked up from where he had been staring at the tabletop.

"Well? Spill." Willow ordered, "What was it like to be Jarod?"

Xander shrugged, "It was ok."

"Ok? Just ok?" Willow looked aghast. "Xander, you spent last night as a super genius! You were maybe the smartest man on the planet... and it was just 'ok'??"

Xander looked up, staring into her eyes. "Willow..."

He paused, then shook his head and got up. "You know... it doesn't really matter. I'll see you guys later ok?"

"Huh? Ummm... ok..." Willow looked confused.

Xander nodded then walked out, past Giles' library desk, "Hey Giles... You mind if I borrow this?"

Giles looked up and saw Xander holding up a newspaper, "Certainly. I finished with it this morning."

"Thanks, Giles." Xander said, walking out.

Willow looked around the table, "What do you suppose is wrong with him?"

The other just shrugged, and she settled down.

Buffy forced a smile, "So Will... what was it like to be all walk through wallsy?"

*****

Outside, Xander walked through the quad, feeling the sun on his face. Absently he reached into his pocket and fished out a pair of black sunglasses and slipped them on.

How could he tell Willow that he preferred being just Xander to being Jarod? How could he tell her that he had been happier then Jarod had ever been? For all his problems, for all the darkness in his life, he'd never felt as responsible for everything as Jarod did.

Willow just couldn't understand that intelligence wasn't a cure all for every problem there was. Xander had been a lot happier when he was ignorant. Ignorance, however, was like Pandoras Box. Once it was opened to the light, there wasn't a damned thing you could do to get back to the comforting dark.

So Xander opened the newspaper and began leafing through it.

After a minute or two he came to an article and read it through twice.

He set the paper down on a picnic table, fished a red pen from his pocket, and circled the article with a wide circle.

Three dead from material collapse of a building in L.A., Construction firm cleared of negligence charges.

*****