Monsters Like You and Me - Part 1 (Excedo Inferi #4) By Philip S.

Summary: As Buffy tries to salvage some semblance of normal life Xander launches a last-ditch effort to get rid of Angel. Spoilers: General spoilers for the beginnings of Buffy Season 3, though this is an AU version of that episode. You should have read the first 3 stories of Excedo Inferi before reading this. Rating: R Disclaimer: Joss Whedon own all canon characters. The story is mine. Title Picture: www.shadow-dancing.com/Pics/Monsters_Like_You_and_Me.jpg

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Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

Buffy and Angel, having fought their way through all nine circles of the Inferno to return to Earth, find that it is not the happily ever after they have dreamed of for thirty years. Only three months have passed in Sunnydale and the wounds are still fresh for Buffy's friends and family.

After much heartache and talking Buffy and Angel are back on more or less even footing with everyone except Xander, whose hatred for Angel is stronger than ever, especially since he found out that Buffy has become transformed by Angel's blood.

Meanwhile Faith, the new Vampire Slayer, arrives in town, finding unlikely friends and allies in a vampire and a Slayer she was told had died.

#

"Tell me again how this is a good idea, Will!"

Buffy looked up and down the corridor of Sunnydale High, aware that more than a few pairs of eyes were currently centered on her. Which really was not that much of a surprise, considering the rumors which had no doubt circulated about her during her absence. Sought for murder, kidnapped from home by a biker gang, all stories that had probably grown in the telling.

Willow stood by her side, clutching a couple of books to her chest, a smile on her face that did not seem completely convincing to Buffy.

"It's just the first day, Buffy," the redhead reminded her. "You have to, you know, get back into things."

"This is not my first day, Will. This is 'Meet-Snyder-and-try-to-make-it-to- a-first-day' day. Mom and I have a date with the gnome in a few minutes."

Buffy did not really remember much about Principal Snyder, the man who had made it his personal business to make High School hell for her. Well, after experiencing true Hell for more than thirty years she had trouble to think of anything really terrible he had put her through, but she certainly did remember that she hated his guts.

And that he had been sort of tiny.

"He can't keep you out of school," Willow gave the door to Snyder's office an evil glare. "You have been cleared of all charges, you're still a minor," Buffy gave her a look, "well, officially anyway. He has to let you study here."

Leaning against the lockers Buffy gave a deep sigh.

"That isn't the issue, Will. He has to let me, though I think he doesn't know that yet. The real point is that I don't even know whether I want to. I mean, I never really fit into this school to begin with, what with the slaying and everything. And that was before I gained three decades on all the other people who are going to sit in class with me."

She looked up to see Harmony chatting with her lemmings, pointing fingers at her now and then. They had passed each other on the way in and Buffy had been completely clueless as to who the blonde girl was until Willow reminded her. Well, reminded was too weak a word, really. Harmony had never really left a lasting impression on Buffy's mind and the redhead had been forced to give her the full story on Cordelia's former second-in-command to spark any kind of recognition.

"Nothing in here holds any importance for me anymore," she sighed, looking down again. "It's nothing but a bunch of stuff that I've long grown out of."

Willow looked her, a hurt expression on her face.

"Have you grown out of ... of me, too?"

Buffy immediately went to gather her best friend in a hug. "Never, Will! I didn't mean you. It doesn't matter that we're not exactly the same age anymore. We're friends. I can talk to you."

Hoping that she had reassured Willow somewhat she let go again. "It's just everything else. Willow, I'm about fifty years old and have walked through all nine circles of the Inferno. I'm living with a vampire who is much closer to me than a husband ever could be. I can't even come here without hiding my true face."

The contact lenses she had to wear in order to disguise her amber demon eyes stung, a constant distraction and discomfort. She had to remember not to smile too broadly lest someone see her elongated canines. Not that smiling broadly had been much of an issue so far. Also there was the fact that her temper, which had not exactly been mellow before, now carried a demonic edge. She really did not know whether she would be able to keep it down if Harmony started spewing venom at her (as she assumed the girl was likely to do judging by Willow's account).

"I don't belong here," Buffy finished, shaking her head.

"Buffy!"

Her mother was coming down the corridor, dressed in her finest business clothing and with an encouraging smile on her face. Buffy smiled back at her. They had gone a long way towards mending the fences between each other these last few weeks, growing closer to being a family once more.

Not least because of Faith, who was pretty much Buffy's stepsister now, having moved into the Summers' home shortly after her arrival in Sunnydale. The other Slayer's tough girl facade was still firmly in place most of the time, but she was slowly learning to drop it around Joyce and Buffy, as well as some of the others. Reaching out to Faith had also lead to both of them reaching out to each other again.

"Ready for the meeting?"

Buffy nodded. "As I'll ever be."

Willow watched as mother and daughter walked off towards the principal's office, glad to see that they walked a lot closer together than the last time she had seen them. It was a bit more than a month now since Buffy and Angel had returned from Hell and slowly, very slowly, things were starting to get back to normal.

Well, except for Faith, the new member of their strange family. Plus Buffy was living with Angel now instead of at home, where Faith had moved in. Then there was the matter of school and whether or not Buffy would come back here.

And Xander. Mustn't forget Xander.

"Everything all right?" Oz appeared at her side, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

"Yeah," she sighed, leaning into her boyfriend's side. "Buffy's on her way to Snyder."

Oz said nothing, just looked at the office door and nodded, seeing no need for further words. Which left Willow with the feeling that 'normal' would definitely not be what it used to.

#

Xander walked into the empty classroom where they had agreed to meet, seeing that Amy was already there. The blonde girl was sitting on a table, swinging her legs, and had a rather worried look on her face.

"You found it?"

Amy looked up at him, not in the mood for greetings either. It had been two weeks since Xander had called her, asking for her help. He had told her what had happened, had told her why he needed her help.

She had a very bad feeling about all this.

"I think so," she just said, looking away again. "I went through my mother's things and found a spell that will probably do the trick, but ..."

"When can we do it?"

Amy shook her head. "Xander, listen first, okay? I think the spell will do the trick, but I'm not sure. Considering how much luck we had the last time we tried a spell together ..."

"This isn't like last time," he brushed her concerns away. "I'm not trying to screw with people's feelings or anything. I just want to ..."

Amy jumped up from the table, pacing the room.

"You just want me to work powerful magic for you. Xander, after that little accident last Valentine I pretty much swore off that stuff. There is too much that can go wrong. I mean, didn't you ever wonder why I worked so hard at avoiding you and your friends? I know you're way into all that magic and demon stuff and I really don't want any part of that. I don't want to end up like my mother, Xander."

Xander nodded, understanding why Amy was reluctant. Her mother had been consumed by magic, abusing it to make her sick fantasy about being a cheerleader again come true. She had stolen Amy's body, had mutilated other girls in order to win her place on the team. Then one of her own spells had led to her demise. Or so everyone assumed, as no one was quite sure what had really happened to her.

"This is different," Xander tried to assure her. "It's not about abusing magic to further my own ego trip."

"Isn't it?" Amy looked at him again. "Xander, I may keep my distance but I'm not blind. And from what you told me I can pretty much figure out why you want to do this. Now, I never met this Angel, but if Buffy thinks he's a good guy ..."

"Buffy is not thinking straight! At first because she was just obsessed with him. Do you remember how it was when you were under your own spell? I bet I could have beaten you up or killed someone right in front of your eyes and you still would have chased after me, right?"

"That was a spell, not real!"

"You're right! The real thing is much scarier because you can't say a few magic words and have it go poof. Buffy is so obsessed with Angel that she never saw him for what he truly is and now it's even worse because that bastard has turned her into a junkie. She needs his blood to get her fix. He is a monster, but she will never see that."

He walked closer to her, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"This isn't for me, Amy! Yes, I will be the first one to throw a party when Angel is gone, but that isn't why I'm doing it. I want Buffy to be free of that bastard. Free to live her life again."

Xander could see Amy wavering, taken by his words. She would do it, she just had to. He was telling her the truth. This was not about him. This was about giving Buffy her freedom back, releasing her from whatever hold Angel had over her.

Maybe if he made Amy believe that he could actually start believing it himself.

#

Part 2

#

Buffy had her eyes closed, taking deep breaths in order to calm down and keep herself from putting her fist into the next available object (or person). The nerve of that gnome. God, she had been so tempted to take out her contacts or give him a really big smile just to see his reaction. For starts.

"What a bitter little man," Joyce shook her head where she stood beside her daughter. "I can't believe someone like him is allowed to be a principal."

Biting back some rather harsh words about Snyder and principals in general Buffy visibly gathered herself, pushing away from the wall she had leaned against. Which was just in time to see Harmony and her posse come toward her with a smug smile on her lips.

"Buffy, so good to see you again," Harmony said, her voice mocking. "Here I thought I would have to visit you in prison."

Joyce was about to open her mouth and give the girl a good dressing-down, but Buffy motioned for her to keep back. She had faced down the hordes of Hell and would not be scared by a little girl like Harmony.

She might kill her, though. Nah, that would be too easy.

"Glad to hear you missed me, Harmony," she said, then put a frown on her face. "That was your name, right?"

Harmony looked flustered for a moment, as if the very thought that someone could forget her was incredibly strange. Then she regained her composure and went on the attack again.

"I love what you did with the hair," she pointed at Buffy's golden tresses, which hung down her back in an intricate braid that reached just past her knees. "Did you get the hair extensions glued on?"

Buffy just gave her a smile and flicked her hair, causing the braid to swat Harmony right across the nose. The girl stumbled back, looking outraged.

"Sorry," Buffy grinned. "Sometimes those hair extensions just get away from me."

Joyce had a hard time stifling her giggles as Harmony was opening and closing her mouth like a fish. Cordelia's place as leader of the dimwits she might have taken, but Cordy's wit she had not.

"Hey, B! The natives giving you heat?"

Faith was coming down the corridor, accompanied by Cordelia, Oz, and Willow, the latter two walking arm in arm.

"Harmony," Cordy baby-talked to her former friend. "what did I tell you about leaving your mouth wide open and gaping like a fish?"

With a sound of outrage Harmony turned around and stomped away, not without a final "You're all freaks!" yelled over her shoulder. Buffy and the others looked on with an air of amusement.

"Wow," Faith shook her head. "I've been insulted lots of times, but never this lamely."

Buffy chuckled, realizing that she had managed to completely push all thoughts of Snyder from her mind for a few minutes. Maybe she should look up Harmony later on and thank her for that.

"How did it go?" Willow looked at her expectantly.

"About the way I expected," Buffy shrugged. "Only over his dead body will I get back into this school. I was really tempted to take him up on that offer."

"This isn't the end of it," Joyce resolved. "That ugly little gnome can spew all he want. We'll go to the school board."

"I don't know, mom," Buffy looked at her. "I'm really not that eager to ..."

"Who needs school anyway," Faith emphasized, patting Buffy's shoulder. "I ditched it over a year ago. Of course G-man just told me he is trying to hook me up with a private tutor, so all that's for naught now. I guess he won't even try to get me past Snyder."

Buffy looked for hints of bitterness in her sister Slayer's voice, but found none. She seemed genuinely content at being here, surrounded by the first friends she had had in years. There was still a lot she did not talk about, like her past, her family, but that was okay by Buffy. Faith had only been among them for two weeks, after all. Things would get better.

"A private tutor," Joyce mused over the idea. "Maybe ..."

"Let's talk about this another time, okay?" Buffy drew her mother down the corridor. "Right now I really want to get out of sight of the gnome's office door."

"We'll see you and Angel at the Bronze tonight, right?" Willow called after her departing friend.

"Sure thing!"

Faith looked after Buffy and Joyce, shrugging. "I don't know how Mrs. S even convinced her to try this. I ditched school at fifteen and she wants to go back at fifty?"

Willow smiled, amazed at how Faith had taken most of the revelations regarding Buffy and Angel in stride. She found herself genuinely liking the dark-haired Slayer, despite the bad girl attitude she still displayed at times.

"Some of us actually like school," Willow told Faith with a mock indignant look on her face.

"Suit yourself, red!" Faith just shrugged again. "I got to train with the G- man. See you tonight!"

Oz shook his head at the departing Slayer. "She's a strange girl."

"Strange how?" Willow looked up at her boyfriend. "Strange as in 'I kick demon ass for a living'? Or 'I'm dating a werewolf' strange? Or maybe ..."

"I rest my case."

"I like her," Willow announced. "She just needs some time to let her guard down."

"And to get some decent taste in clothing," Cordelia added. "Does she own anything except those leather pants?"

"I'm sure Joyce and Buffy are working on that," Willow told her. "Plus Giles might take her shopping some of these days. It's part of the job, isn't it?"

One of the things they had learned was that Faith's former watcher, Joanna Cleary, had actually been Faith's legal guardian. Some kind of trick the Council had pulled using their vast influence. Faith had never complained about that, seeing as what little they knew of her family indicated that she had not been very fond of them.

Now that Ms. Cleary was gone and seeing as Faith would still be a minor for the better part of a year the Council was working on getting her guardianship transferred to Giles.

"Giles and Faith a family," Cordelia frowned. "Having trouble wrapping my mind around that particular image."

"I hear you," Oz nodded, then turned to Willow. "I got band practice now. I'll meet you guys at the Bronze."

"Sure thing!"

With her boyfriend departed that left only Willow and Cordelia, the latter looking at the former with an air of anxiety on her face.

"Have you heard anything from Xander?"

Willow shook her head. "I told him he shouldn't bother talking to me until he mended the fences with Angel. I'm starting to think he never will."

Cordelia sighed. She really did not know why, but she missed Xander. He was an immature brat, an idiot, someone she never should have come close to in the first place, but still ...

"That's just like him," Cordelia grumbled to stop her own train of thoughts. "The heavens should come tumbling down before Xander Harris would apologize to Angel."

Willow noticed that she still felt the impulse to defend her childhood friend, but the impulse was definitely getting weaker. Rapidly.

"Let's hope it won't come to that," she simply said, looking over at Xander's locker. "Let's hope it won't."

#

In the principal's office Snyder dialed a number on his phone and impatiently tapped a pencil to the desk until he was finally connected.

"This is Snyder," he said by way of greeting. "I just had a very interesting meeting with Buffy Summers and her mother."

For a moment he listened to the voice on the other end, then added, "Yes, she has reapplied for school. I will do my best to keep her away, but if her mother goes by the school board I'm afraid I won't have much choice. Since all charges against her have been dropped I do not have a legal reason to keep her out."

Again he listened.

"How should I know? She looked normal enough to me. I will keep you posted on the developments, of course."

#

Mayor Richard Wilkins III. put down the receiver and leaned back in his chair, thinking. It would probably have been too much to hope that all the information indicating the Slayer's return would prove to be false. Buffy Summers was alive and back in Sunnydale, which was not a good thing for his plans.

Plus there was the matter of Angelus. Right now no one was quite sure which side of the fence the vampire was playing. According to some info he had gotten two weeks back he was still evil and had ousted a rival vampire called Kakistos from his territory. On the other hand he had yet to receive any info on the Slayer going after Angelus, which seemed to indicate the opposite.

Plus there was the question of the blonde blood junkie his men had seen Angelus with about a month ago. The one that could not be Buffy Summers, as she was only seventeen years old, while said junkie must have been drinking Angelus' blood for decades, at least according to the expertise he had gotten on the subject. At the same time who else could she be but Buffy Summers? There was absolutely no information on Angelus ever having had any relation to a human which did not end in the human's death or transformation into a vampire.

There was something missing here, he realized. Something he had to figure out before further action could be taken.

"Why do all these things have to happen now," he asked no one in particular. Not surprisingly no answers were forthcoming.

TO BE CONTINUED