Warrior ... Slayer ... Hacker
"C'mon, Wills!" Buffy had to physically drag the shy young computer hacker into the costume shop, and Willow had hoped that she would fade into the background. But Buffy was a force of nature as she pulled Willow along in her wake, browsing the racks of costumes. Mr. Snyder, principal at Sunnydale High School and Buffy's most tenacious non-vampiric enemy, had 'volunteered' Buffy and her friends into babysitting some juvenile trick-or-treaters that night, and Buffy needed a costume.
And she had decided that Halloween would be the perfect opportunity to coax Willow out of her shell.
"C'mon, Wills," she tried to convince her best friend. "You're missing the whole point of Halloween."
"Free candy?" Willow asked innocently enough.
"It's come as you aren't night," explained the Slayer. "A perfect chance for a girl to get sexy and wild without no repercussions."
"Uh...I don't get wild," she said meekly. "Wild on me equals spaz."
Buffy roamed the racks for her costume, not certain what she wanted to be this Halloween. She had considered something more traditional, something like an eighteenth century lady of refinement, something straight out of a Jane Austin novel. Especially since she caught Cordy chatting up with Angel, her Angel, at the Bronze earlier. That just made her blood boil and her vision mist red. She could be just as alluring as Cordy, without putting in half the effort! She could put on the dog for Angel, and that undead Lothario would be putty in her hands.
But if he could be turned by Cordy, she found herself thinking, why should I put in any effort to win him back?
The more that she thought about it, the less her original plan of impressing Angel made sense. Why the hell should she give any effort to raising Deadboy's temperature? The more she considered Angel's seeming indifference, the more she realized that she didn't want to be the kind of woman who would have appealed to Angel when he was alive. She wanted to be strong. She wanted to be a warrior. She wanted to be...
As her thoughts continued along these lines, she glanced at the rack, her eye caught by light reflecting off of silverplate. She noticed the leather corset, trimmed with silver swirls along the breastplate and torso, thick leather straps with metalwork trim at the shoulders. The skirt of thick leather strips hanging above the knees. The high black leather boots. The familiar trademarks of a heroine, one familiar to Buffy's heart, one of her favorite guilty pleasures every Saturday afternoon.
That's it, she decided. She wanted to be Xena.
She excused herself from Willow briefly, took the costume to the proprietor and asked, "How much to rent this one?"
"Oh, the Xena," the gentleman replied in a slightly British accent. Buffy wondered if this guy might know Giles, but dismissed it. There had to be enough people in England that not everyone there knew each other.
"A very popular choice," he continued. "But we over-ordered on those this year, so I can let you have it for fifteen dollars tonight. It comes with an accessory package as well; gauntlets, sword, bullwhip and that razor edged flying disc of hers, what was that cursed thing called?"
"A chakram," supplied Buffy.
"Bless you," he answered absently. "Oh, chakram, that was it. I'm not that up on my popular culture, I suppose." He bent low to Buffy, and added in a stage whisper, "That red haired girl, is she with you?"
"Willow?" Buffy asked. "Yeah, she's with me."
The proprietor answered, "I also have a matching costume for her, if you're interested." He explained his suggestion to Buffy, who grinned evilly at the thought. Oh yes, she thought as she admired the redhead's subtle but still pleasant curves. She would make a terrific Gabrielle.
"Willow," Buffy announced, "call off the hounds, I've got the perfect costumes for us..."
Willow cursed herself again for what must have been the hundredth time. How could she have let Buffy convince her to wear this--this bikini? 'Costume' didn't even cover it, she thought, scandalized as she looked at herself in the mirror. Barely enough fabric to cover my body! Not that I'd need much, with a body like mine--
She found herself appraising the pale tan leather top and skirt, complimented by calf-colored boots, this time with a more charitable eye. Actually, it doesn't hang to badly on me. Kinda accentuates the positive. And it kinda feels sexy wearing something with a bare midriff for once in her life. She shifted her body from one leg to another, admiring how the comfortable leather halter clung to her body, how sensual it made her feel. Man, Buffy was right, I'm gonna knock them out tonight. Once we send the kids back home and find a nice Halloween party, I'm gonna attract guys like flies to honey!
And then what? I can't talk to a guy, I can barely emit vowel sounds around Xander, for Pete's sake! Ogodogodogod! I can't go out like this, I can't let people see me like this! XANDER! NO! Not gonna see me like this! Not gonna happen, not gonna...
Quickly she grabbed a ratty old sheet from her wardrobe and found a pair of scissors.
"Okay, Willow, come out," Buffy called from the other side of the door. "You can't hide in there all night."
"O-okay," she stammered, "but promise you won't laugh?"
"Promise." With that word of assurance, Willow stepped gingerly out of the door, and showed her Gabrielle costume.
"Wow!" Buffy breathed, "You're a dish... I mean, really!" Willow still didn't feel comfortable in the skimpy costume, but felt a strange sense of pride that her best friend found her sexy.
"But it's not me," Willow complained.
"And that's the point," Buffy answered, smiling. "Look, Halloween is the night when not you is you, but not you. Y'know?" Before Buffy could consider the nonsensical sentence she just constructed, she heard the doorbell ring. "Oh, that's Xander. Are you ready?"
"Yeah," Willow stuttered nervously. "O-o-okay."
"Cool!" Buffy said, grinning hugely. "I can't wait for the boys to go non-verbal when they see you!" She rushed down the stairs to open the door, leaving a petrified Willow to adjust her ghost sheet.
Xander waited impatiently for Buffy to open the door, so he could get on with the business of scamming free candy. For once, he actually was glad that Snydley Whiplash had coerced him into doing something. If there was one thing that Xander Harris was good at, it was scamming candy. That, and cheap costumes. He had to admit to himself that the army fatigues he had purchaced from the Army Surplus store hung very nice on him. He almost looked macho, he smiled to himself. Almost.
He perked up his ears when he heard the door unlatch, and declared, "Private Harris, reporting for--" but was stopped short at the sight that awaited him when the door opened. Buffy Summers, dressed in black leather, the skirt of thick leather strips reaching barely to her thighs, the metal trimmed breastplate, the black riding boots, the familiar trappings of Xander's favorite TV fantasy come to life.
"Battle on, Buffy!" he announced as he took in the stunning site. "Buffena, Warrior Buffster, I am in awe! I completely renounce spandex!"
Buffy turned a neat pirouette and bowed to Xander. "Thank you kind sir," she replied, "but wait until you see--" A pale, amorphous sheet drifted sullenly down the stairs, the word "Boo" scrawled on it in Magic Marker. "Casper." Buffy held her head low, feeling sorry for her best friend. Inwardly, she cursed Cordelia and her sheep for doing such a thorough number on Willow's self esteem over the last few years. As she and her friends left for the high school, Buffy swore that she would do all in her power to restore Willow's faith in herself, in her power as a human, and in her own self-view.
"Okay, on sleazing extra candy:" Xander was informing his group of trick-or-treaters, "tears are key. Tears will normally get you the double-bagger. You can also try the old 'you missed me' routine, but it's risky. Only go there for chocolate. Understood? .....Okay, troops.... Let's move out." He and his 'troops' were on their way, while Buffy and Willow escorted their band of gremlins. Stopping long enough to scowl at Mr. Snyder behind his back, Buffy led her group to the first available brightly-lit street.
As the evening was winding down, Buffy asked her kids, "What did Mrs. Davis give you?" Upon seeing the toothbrushes that the woman in question had provided, Buffy grimaced and said, "She must be stopped." She decided to try one or two more houses before calling it a night. It was getting close to time for the youngsters to return home anyway, and she wanted to party with Angel and her friends.
In a dark chamber, a dark man sat alone in his dark thoughts. He had prayed to his gods of chaos, and now prepared his final incantation; "Janus, evoco vestram animam. Exaudi meam causam. Carpe noctem pro consilio vestro. Veni, appare et nobis monstra quod est infinita potestas." Janus, I invoke your spirit. Hear my plea. Seize the night for your own reason. Come, appear and show to us that which is infinite power. "Persona se corpum et sanguium commutandum est. Vestra sancta praesentia concrescet viscera. Janus! Sume noctem!" The mask transforms itself into flesh and blood. Your holy presence curdles the heart. Janus! Take the night!
He smiled. Chaos would walk abroad tonight. "Showtime!"
A lady offering candy to a child was shocked as the child turned into a monster before her eyes. The beast snarled and grabbed her throat. Willow restrained the beast, but other monsters were attacking innocents, and each other. Windows were breaking, objects were being thrown, and madness was overtaking the street.
Willow tried to figure out what was going on, but staggered, strangling, unable to breath. She collapsed on the ground, and when she stood again, she looked around, only to see the body in the ghost sheet at her feet. Her body was translucent, and clad only in the Gabrielle costume.
"Ohmigod! I'm a real ghost!" The sound of automatic gunfire caught her attention. She found Xander with his gun in hand, shooting at retreating monsters.
"Xander?" She ran out into the street and came up behind him. "Xander!"
He spun on his heel, his M-16 pointed at her. Willow tried to calm her friend, saying, "It's me, Willow!"
Xander stared at her blankly. "I don't know any Willow," he barked at her.
"Xander, quit messing around," Willow said impatiently. "This is no time for jokes."
"What the hell's going on here?" Xander shouted.
"You don't know me?" Willow asked desperately as she tried to find some sense of recognition in her friend's face.
Xander lifted the rifle, saying to Willow, "Lady, I suggest you find cover." As he walked past her, Willow jumped in front of him, shouting, "No, wait!" Xander only walked through her, which stunned them both.
Xander turned around and pointed his weapon at her again. "What are you?"
Willow fought the trembling in her voice as she implored the soldier in front of her; "Xander, listen to me. I'm on your side, I swear! Something crazy is happening. I was dressed as a ghost for Halloween, a-and now I am a ghost. And you were supposed to be a soldier, and now I, I-I guess you're a real soldier."
"You expect me to believe that?" the soldier that was once Xander barked at her. A monster suddenly ran across the street, growling. Xander too aim at it, causing it to run away. Willow jumped in front of Xander, shouting, "No! No guns! That's still a little kid in there!"
"Step out of the way!" ordered Xander. Willow decided to play along with the soldier identity. "No guns!" she declared sternly. "That's an order!" Accepting her commanding voice, Xander lowered the rifle.
Willow then looked around, thinking aloud, "We just need to find..." She saw her target across the street. "Buffy!" She ran toward Buffy, with Xander in pursuit. Buffy looked distracted, disoriented. Willow called out to her, "Buffy! Are you okay?"
Suddenly, the monster that had rushed them earlier was back, with a friend, both roaring and snarling as they approached. Xander shouldered his M-16 again and took aim. "This could be a situation," he muttered.
"Buffy, what do we do?" Willow asked plaintively. If there was any one person who could help in this situation, it was Buffy Summers.
Buffy crouched briefly, before launching herself over Willow and Xander's heads, into the fray. "IYIYIYIYIYI!" she shouted, as she attacked the monsters, dispatching them quickly. "Buff-uh, Xena!" Willow shouted. "Don't kill them, they're kids inside those masks!"
The warrior princess turned briefly to Willow and shouted, "Don't just stand there, Gabrielle, pick a dance partner!" She executed a backflip off of one monster's chest, and watched as the others ran for their lives, away from the warrior. Xander relaxed his aim, and looked on at the fighter with respect. Here was someone he could trust to guard his six.
Willow looked again at her friend, and was amazed at the transformation; her normally blond hair was now jet black, and her face was now that of actress Lucy Lawless, in full Xena mode. Within the face of Xena, however, Buffy's hazel-blue eyes remained. "Uh, Xena, are you okay?"
"I'm fine now, Gab," she answered as the last of the beasts dispersed. "How about you?" She made a move to pat 'Gabrielle' on her arm, but her hand passed through her like lake water. Her mouth pursed in shock, and her eyes began to brim with tears, while a spark of rage flared within them, bright and terrible to behold. "By the Gods," she whispered. "No, no, no!" She stepped back, reeling as though struck. She spun around and screamed, "ARES! CALLISTO! Whoever is responsible for this, I swear by all creation I will have my vengeance on what you've done to my Gabrielle!" She ran away from the spectre of her closest companion, faster than Willow could hope to follow. "No! Xena!" she shouted after the enraged warrior, but to no avail. In a flash, 'Xena' was gone.
Willow folded her arms in disgust at the current situation. "This is fun!"
As the distraught warrior ran, her grief over her lost companion blinding her, she didn't notice a blond haired young looking punk who eyed her hungrily. He could smell the Slayer under the leather, and sensed that she was not herself. He then looked at the large collection of monsters that milled around in the streets, and smiled ferally.
"Well," Spike commented, "this is--neat."
Xander fired his rifle at more of the monsters as they attacked, with Willow keeping close to his side. She had managed to convince him to follow the Warrior Princess, suspecting that Buffy, even in her deluded state, would still be better able to deal with the possessed children. Furthermore, Willow knew she had to stop 'Xena' from harming any innocents.
That promised to be more difficult than she thought. When they caught up with Buffy, she was being accosted by a diminutive Frankenstein's monster and two short devils. She fought them well enough, but seemed unsure of her opponents. Finally, the Frankenstein managed to knock 'Xena' off of her feet, and pounced on her. Xander quickly fired warning shots over the monster's head, and the attackers dispersed.
Willow rolled her eyes; Oh yeah, she thought, this has 'long night' written all over it! "Buffy, are you alright?" she asked.
"Buffy?" she asked, as though she had never heard that combination of letters before in her life. "What are you talking about, Gabrielle?"
"Great," Willow muttered under her breath, "she's not Buffy."
"Who's Buffy?" asked Xander, cradling his rifle unpleasantly.
"This is fun!" Willow breathed. "Look, Bu--Xena, do you remember what year this is?"
'Xena' blinked at Willow, uncertain what was going on. "The tenth year of the reign of Julius Caesar, Gab, you know that!" She looked around her, confused. "Where are we, anyway, I don't recognize this village. And who is this man? His clothes suggest a soldier." She swiftly lunged toward Xander, holding her chakram at his throat. "Do you serve Caesar? Answer me!"
Xander stared hard at her, unsure about this strange amazon woman. "Corporal Alexander Harris," he stammered, "Serial number 344-02--"
'Xena' jabbed at Xander's throat, causing him to shudder, and Willow to gasp; she had seen enough episodes of 'Xena; Warrior Princess' to know what would happen next. "I've just stopped the flow of blood to your brain," she hissed. "If you don't answer me in sixty seconds, you will die."
"XENA!" Willow shouted. "Let him go! He's a friend, I'll vouch for him." Buffy glared long at Willow, her eyes hard as diamond. She jabbed Xander's throat again, and Xander crumpled to the ground in an undignified heap. "You say he's a friend," Buffy said angrily to Willow. "But his attire is strange. Everything here is strange. What is happening here?"
Willow could sense her growing tension, afraid that it might lead to violence. "Breath, Xena, focus. Calm, center. Geez, how are we supposed to get through this without the Slayer?"
"What's a slayer?" Xander asked, leaving an exasperated Willow to throw her hands in the air. Another monster chose that moment to attack, only to have Xander knock it out with the butt end of his rifle. "I suggest we get inside before we come across anything---"
Before he could continue, a car drove by. "YAH!" Buffy shouted, "Have at thee, Demon!" Before Willow and Xander could blink, Buffy had succeeded in ramming her sword(which had metamorphosed into a real weapon from a plastic prop) into the engine of a Chevy Malibu. "HA!" she declared triumphantly, "this demon will not harm anyone else!" She extended her hand to the enraged driver, saying, "Here, sir, you're free from the gullet of this beast."
"Uh, Xena," Willow stalled, as she watched the driver climb out of his car, shouting something about suing his attacker, "that's a car."
"A car?" 'Xena' asked. Willow backtracked, "Ah, a chariot. A horseless chariot."
'Xena' stared at the now destroyed car, and whistled silently. "Amazing. The work of Hephaestus, it must be."
"Is that woman insane?" Xander growled.
"She's never seen a car," Willow explained.
"She's never seen a car?"
"She's from the past."
"And you're a ghost."
"Yes! Now let's get inside!"
Xander looked around, at his two strange companions. "I just want you to know that I'm taking a lot on faith here." He sighed deeply. "Where do we go?"
Willow led the others to the Summers residence on Revelo drive. Xander scanned each room as they entered the house. "All clear," he barked. After calling out for Mrs. Summers and not hearing an answer, Willow was relieved that she wasn't there. This was going to be strange enough, let alone trying to explain this to Buffy's mom.
'Xena' looked back at Willow, and her eyes betrayed sorrow. "Forgive me, my Gabrielle," she begged her, "for not being able to protect you."
"I'm fine, Buf--Xena," Willow tried to console Buffy, but her inability to touch her left her at a loss.
"Gabrielle," 'Xena's' voice was pained, tortured by her own sense of guilt. "I can only pray to the gods that you will rest well in the Elysian Fields." She lowered her head, unable to say more. Willow ached for her friend; she wished that she could hold her, show her the compassion that she so richly deserved.
The monsters continued to attack, Xander fired volleys of bullets over their heads to deflect them. "Big noise scare monster, remember?" he explained to Willow.
A shrieking woman distracted them, and 'Xena' rushed out to investigate, Xander in hot pursuit. A woman in a cat-costume rushed toward Xander, who rushed her back into the house.
"Willow!" Cordelia Chase shouted, "what's going on?"
"Okay, your name is Cordelia," Willow explained. "You're not a cat, you're in high school, and we're friends. Sort of."
"That's nice, Willow," Cordy answered, acid in her voice. "And you went mental when?"
"You know us?"
"Yeah," Cordy grumped. "Lucky me."
As Cordy and Willow talked, and Willow tried desperately to explain things to Cordy, Xander reached around Cordy and draped his shirt around her shoulders. Willow glanced again at the solitary figure in the Xena costume. She wished again that she could comfort her the way that Xander was comforting Cordy.
"Okay. You guys stay here while I get some help," Willow said as she started to go. "If something tries to get in, just fight it off." 'Xena' nodded dumbly at 'Gabrielle', sorrow and rage etched on her face.
"What's the riff?" Cordy asked.
"It's like amnesia, okay?" Willow explained quickly. "They don't know who they are. Just sit tight."
"Who died and made her boss?" Cordy fumed as Willow left.
"I cannot just sit tight," 'Xena' suddenly roared. "I'm going out there and I'm gonna break some heads!"
"Ma'am," Xander glowered at the warrior, pushing her back onto her seat. "In the army we have a saying; sit down and shut the--" His glance was distracted by a photograph on the mantle. A man who looked a lot like him, with two girls who resembled his companions. The one had blonde hair instead of the jet black tresses she wore, but her face and features still matched. "She must be right, we must have some kind of amnesia."
"Hey!" 'Xena' protested. "I bathe regularly."
Giles was in the library as Willow had expected. Despite Buffy's earlier attempts to suggest that Jenny Calendar found him attractive, he was still alone reading. Despite his initial shock at Willow's condition, Giles was able to collect himself. He grabbed a few dusty books, and placed them on the table for himself and Willow to study. "This is crazy," Willow lamented. "I don't even know what I'm looking for. Plus I can't turn the pages."
"Well, alright, l-let's, let's, let's review." Giles set some more papers on the desk and dove into the problem solving phase of the situation. "Um, so everybody became, uh, whatever they were masquerading as."
"Right," answered Willow. "Xander was a soldier and Buffy was Xena."
Giles glanced again at Willow's revealing costume. "A-and, uh, your, your costume?"
Willow answered simply, "I'm a ghost!"
"Yes. Um..." Giles stammered again, "W, uh, uh, uh, the ghost of what, exactly?"
Willow blushed crimson and covered her midriff with her arms. "Well, this is nothing. You should see what Cordelia was wearing. A-a, a unitard with cat things, like ears and stuff."
Giles stopped suddenly. "Good heavens. Uh, sh-sh-she became an actual feline?"
"No!" Willow answered quickly. "She was the same old Cordelia. Just in a cat costume."
"She didn't change," asked Giles.
"No," Willow thought, as a realization hit her. "Hold on... Partytown. She told us she got her outfit from Partytown."
"A-a-and everyone who changed," Giles asked, "they, they, they, they acquired their costumes where?"
"We all got ours at a new place," Willow exclaimed. "Ethan's."
The name of the costumer's made Giles blood run cold. He had prayed never to hear that name again, but he knew who this was. "Willow," he asked, "do you have the address?"
"Do you hear that, my friends?" Spike announced to a group of transformed monsters, who growled with anticipation. "Somewhere out there is the tenderest meat you've ever tasted. And all we got to do is find her first!"
The monsters began their hunt, the promise of Spike ringing in their heads.
'Xena' broke free from the soldier who had tried to take command of the situation. She couldn't simply stand by and let others fight her battles. And she knew that the demons that had overtaken this strange village were at the heart of her beloved Gabrielle's death. Before she could find the monsters who were attacking her, a man in a pirate's costume emerged from the darkness. "Pretty, pret-UNGH!"
Larry was never quite the same, even after he recovered from having the warrior's knee impacting with his groin.
"Hello! Anyone home?" Giles called out as he entered the costume shop. Willow stood behind the Watcher, and noticed the curtain to the back room partially open. They slowly pushed the curtain aside, quietly entering the dark room. The first thing that Giles noticed was a hideous statue of a man with two faces, its eyes glowing green.
"Janus," Giles identified the statue. "Roman mythical god."
"What does this mean?" asked Willow.
"Primarily the division of self. Male and female, light and dark."
"Chunky and creamy," a sinister voice chuckled. "Oh, no, sorry, that's peanut butter."
Giles stood between Willow and the strange figure who entered the room. "Willow, get out of here, now." Before Willow could protest, Giles hissed at her, "Now!" Willow never thought that Giles could contain such venom. Clearly this stranger had something to do with Giles. She had no choice but to obey him and leave.
Just before the two men were out of earshot, Willow heard a brief exchange; "Hello, Ethan," Giles greeted the man coldly.
"Hello, Ripper," the stranger said in an evil tone of voice.
Willow decided that the only way to bring order to the chaos that this Ethan figure had wrought was to find Buffy, to convince her to help. But how to reach her, if she was still under the delusion that she was Xena?
Well, she smirked, if there's one person that 'Xena' will listen to, it's Gabrielle.
'Xena' found herself attacked from all sides by all manner of monsters and demons. Surely the gates of Hades were sundered open, and this town was paying the penalty. No matter, 'Xena' declared silently. If it avenged Gabrielle's death, so be it! She would fight the hordes of Tartarus with her last breath if need be!
The three others, the ones called Angel, Xander and Cordelia, were following her. The one called Cordelia irritated her greatly; she reminded her too much of Aphrodite, always preening and drawing attention to herself. But the other one, the one in the drab green coverings. He was different. At first, he made Xena think of Joxer, but later proved to be a most proficient soldier. And he didn't seem to be a soldier of Rome, which improved his stock in her eyes. But Angel, that one still puzzled her. He looked as sinister as the demons they were facing, but the others seemed to trust him.
"Hey, sister," Xander shouted to her. "You okay?"
"Fine, soldier," 'Xena' said ruefully. "We need to set up a perimeter, to guard against these demons. Then we must plan a counter attack. To destroy them before they take more innocent lives."
"Uh yeah," Xander murmured, reluctantly accepting that this strange woman in leather was in command. She was good, he gave her that.
"Wait!" another, achingly familiar voice answered. 'Xena' turned around, and saw the ghostly form of her dearest friend, the most beloved person in her life. "Xena," Gabrielle cried out, "you can't kill the demons!"
'Xena' gasped as 'Gabrielle' looked at her, pleading in her eyes. "Forgive me, Gabrielle," she begged, dropping to her knees, "I was not fast enough to save you from these monsters. But know that I will avenge your death!"
"I'm not dead!" Willow exclaimed. "I'm alive, Xena. Trust me." 'Xena' gawked at the form of her beloved, a faint hope growing in her eyes.
"Xena," Willow continued, confident that she now had Buffy's attention, "It's not what you think. I wasn't killed, I was placed under a spell. All these monsters, they are innocents. Children, placed under an evil spell."
"A spell?" 'Xena' looked around her, stunned. "Who is responsible? Was it that witch Circe? Ares perhaps, trying to make me shed innocent blood?"
"I just did a reconnoiter," Willow answered. "An evil
sorcerer, named, uh," Gotta make this sound like an episode of 'Xena',
she thought. "Ethanus. He's the one responsible. He's a Janus
"It's already taken care of," Willow smiled reassuringly. "A learned man from--" Geez, what was the name of that village? Come on, Willow, think! "Potedeia, Gilus, he is taking care of Ethanus. What we need to do is contain the monsters, to keep them from hurting themselves or anyone else."
"That's a tall order, Gabrielle," 'Xena' answered, "but we'll do what we can." She cast a sidelong glance at the others, and her steel stare would take no arguement. Xander nodded, saying, "I'll go along with you, Miss Xena, but these are tough customers we're dealing with."
"We'll handle it, officer," assured Angel, and Cordy nodded silently. She decided that sticking with the people who handle this sort of thing on a regular basis was her best chance of survival. "But Wil--uh, Gabrielle," he corrected himself, trying to play along with Buffy's delusion, "we have another problem. Spike's around, and I think he's using some of these demons as his own private army." Willow rolled her eyes up; great, just what we needed!
"Who's Spike?" Buffy and Xander said in unison.
"He's a problem." Willow answered. "He's a vampire, uh, a disciple of Bacchus. Short blond hair, bad attitude. Can't miss him."
"Him I can take down?" Buffy asked eagerly.
"Him, yeah sure." Willow nodded. "First, we should relocate, we're too exposed out here."
"She's good," Xander said under his breath. "Okay, we're heading out!" The party made their way back to the Summers house, preparing for a siege.
Ethan Rayne smiled like Hell's PR man as he greeted his old friend. "What? No hug?" he admonished. "Aren't you pleased to see your old mate, Rupert?"
"I'm just surprised I didn't guess it was you," Giles spat out. "This Halloween stunt stinks of Ethan Rayne."
"Yes, it does, doesn't it?" the chaos mage chuckled. "Don't wish to blow my own trumpet, but it's genius. The very embodiment of 'be careful what you wish for'."
"It's sick, brutal, and it harms the innocent."
"Oh, and we all know that you are the champion of innocents and all things pure and good, Rupert," Ethan glowered at his old mate. "It's quite a little act you've got going here, old man."
"It's no act. It's who I am."
"Who you are? The Watcher, sniveling, tweed-clad guardian of the Slayer and her kin? I think not. I know who you are, Rupert, and I know what you're capable of." He paused, and regarded Giles' face, seeing the bottled anger color his features. "But they don't, do they? They have no idea where you come from."
"Break the spell, Ethan," Giles demanded. "Then leave this place and never come back."
"Why should I? What's in the bargain for me?"
"You get to live," Giles said simply.
"Oh, Rupert," Ethan feigned terror, "you're scaring me."
Giles said nothing, but simply punched him in the gut with a left, making him double over, and followed up with a right to the face.
Too many of the transformed youngsters were camped out at the Summers residence for the group to use it as a base, so Willow, still playing the role of Gabrielle, led 'Xena' and the others to a warehouse. After breaking in, Xander set up a triage to tend to their injuries, while Cordy and Angel assisted.
'Xena' took Willow aside to speak to her. "Gabrielle," she started, a tenderness that wasn't there before coloring her voice, "this could be a difficult battle for us. If your friend Gilus fails to stop the Janus worshippers, we may be facing our last stand."
"Don't say that, Xena," Willow assured her. While it still felt odd for her to be calling Buffy 'Xena', she still knew that she needed to calm her fears. "You've faced worse than this. I mean, after Ares and Callisto, this guy should be a walk in Elysium."
"Yeah," 'Xena' chuckled ruefully. "I suppose that I was shaken by seeing you, well," she indicated Willow's ghostly nature with a wave of her hand. "I thought that I had lost you, my precious Gabrielle. And knowing that you're alive now, I can't allow myself to be silent any longer." She made a motion to hold Willow's hand, but contented to resting it in the space the phantom hand occupied.
"Gabrielle," she said breathily, "I love you. I know now that you are the one true love of my life. You are my heart, my soul, my strength, everything that matters to me is wrapped up inside of you." Willow stood stock still as she heard this. She never entertained the idea that she could be attracted to another woman, or another woman could be attracted to her. But hearing her best friend speak as though she wanted to be more... she shook her head, reminding herself that Buffy was literally not herself.
"Once this ordeal is over, my Gabrielle," she continued, and Willow couldn't mistake the smile on the warrior's face for anything short of unbridled lust, "I intend to prove my love to you, in any and every way possible."
Willow swallowed hard, as she felt her heart hammering in her chest. "Y-you n-n-not saying what I th-think you're s-saying, are you?" she stuttered.
'Xena' simply smiled once more, as she turned away from Willow, her eyes still trained on the redhead. "I have many skills, my beautiful bard." She winked at her, and left to join Xander and the others. Xander looked awkwardly at the imposing black haired woman, who shot the soldier a venomous glance. "You got a problem, Harris?"
"No, ma'am," Xander stammered. "Don't ask, don't tell." 'Xena' grinned at the soldier, and before the conversation could continue, the demons descended on them. They broke through windows and down doors, intent on killing their prey.
Ethan smiled through his pain as he lay sprawled on the floor. "And you said the Ripper was long gone."
Giles was not laughing. "Tell me how to stop the spell," he demanded.
"Say 'pretty please'." That comment won him a boot in the kidneys.
Spike led the charge, hoping to catch the others distracted by their alternate personae. The plan didn't go as he had hoped. A swooshing sound grazed his left ear, as a metal disk nearly cleaved his head off. "Hiyyyyyyyyyyeah!" the battle cry tore from 'Xena's' throat as she caught her chakram and threw it again at an overhanging light fixture. The fixture fell in front of a group of diminutive monsters that were attacking Xander and Cordy.
While Angel took on another small horde of demons, Xander fixed his attention, and his rifle, at Spike. He looked to Willow for assurance, and Willow answered simply, "That guy it's okay to shoot!"
Even though his vampire body was invulnerable to conventional bullets, the volley of machine gun fire still hurt like hell.
Giles kicked Ethan once more for good measure. "Now tell me how to break the spell!"
"Break its statue!" Ethan slurred through broken teeth. Giles turned to the statue of Janus, as his hand grabbed the offending object, and slammed it into the ground, where it shattered like a fragmentation grenade.
"I want my mommy!" "Where am I?" "I'm scared!"
The children tore off their masks, and wandered around the warehouse, confused. Buffy and Xander shook themselves, the fog in their minds lifting. Spike, having been soundly trounced by Buffy in Xena-mode, took the opportunity to make a hasty retreat.
Buffy looked around, greatful that she was herself again, and removed the black wig from her head. "Hey, Buff," Xander greeted her, "welcome back."
"Yeah," Buffy smiled, "you too."
Angel stepped next to his girlfriend, and offered to lead her away, but she declined the invitation. "Sorry, Angel," she said warily, "but I gotta find what happened to Willow."
She left the warehouse alone, leaving behind a confused Angel. The vampire could sense the subtle shifts in her posture, her voice, even her scent, when she decided to locate Willow. There was something there that wasn't there before. And he didn't know quite how to express it, but felt something between him and Buffy die.
Willow's ghost form was drawn back to her body once the spell was broken, and she awoke to a solid form once again. She steadied herself to her feet, and removed the ghost sheet, relieved to notice that she was breathing again.
"Willow?" she heard Buffy calling her.
"Over here, Buffy," she answered back. Buffy saw her from across the street, and rushed to her side. "You okay, Buffy?"
"Yeah," she admitted, smiling for Willow's benefit. "You?"
"I'm good," she answered, taking Buffy's hand in her own. "Solid again." She looked again at her Gabrielle costume, and considered putting the sheet back over her head. But a sidelong glance at Buffy convinced her to toss the thing in a nearby trashcan.
"Buffy," "Willow," the two friends said each other's names in unison. "You first," Willow said nervously.
"Well," Buffy started, "About what I said to you in the warehouse."
"No, Buffy," Willow assured her, "You didn't say it to me, Xena said it to Gabrielle."
Buffy lowered her head slightly, then lifted it again, so she could see Willow's green eyes. "Yeah, I guess you're right. But that wasn't just Xena back there. I could feel myself in there somewhere, it was like she and I were time-sharing the same soul. I don't know if I'm explaining this right, but, well--" she stalled, then decided to dive right in. "Willow, I do find you attractive. I guess that's why I pushed you into wearing the Gabrielle costume. I wanted you to see yourself, and others to see you, the way I see you. I--I'm attracted to you, Willow. Look, you want me to shut up, I will. I just don't want any of this to ruin our friendship, y'know?"
Willow took Buffy's hands in her own, and just gazed serenely into her eyes. "I know, Buffy. And I'm not worried about ruining our friendship. You're too important to me. I'm not giving you up without a fight, Slayer." Her five-hundred-watt smile cheered Buffy, laying her fears to rest. "And as for the rest of it," Willow added, "well, I'm flattered that you think that way. Not to mention relieved. Cause I feel something for you too. I guess I was too scared to say anything. But when 'Xena' said 'I have many skills' in that sexy tone of voice, it did something. I dunno, maybe it was just the tension, or something I ate, or somesuch, babble mode, stopping now."
Buffy laughed out loud; Willow's babble mode, God bless it! "Tell you what, Willow," she offered, "we take it one day at a time, and see where it leads us. 'Kay?"
"Good call, Wills," Buffy answered. "I'll tell you one thing though. I'll never look at another episode of Xena the same way again."
"Wha?" Willow feigned agrivation. "You never noticed the subtext between X and G on that show?"
As the two girls continued their conversation, their retreating forms caught the eye of a young guitar player from a band called "Dingoes Ate My Baby." The guitar player eyed the redhead especially, his eyes widening at her costume, and the way it accentuated her curves quite nicely.
"Who is that girl?" Daniel 'Oz' Osbourne asked. But the second girl wrapped her arm protectively around the redhead's shoulder. Oz sighed in resignation and drove his van onward. Whoever that girl was, he wasn't likely to find out anytime soon.