Wordcount: This part, 3167
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Boss Whedon.
Notes: BECAUSE RETRO CHALLENGE IS WHY! That's right! I said I was gonna add a chapter to "Older" this year and I JUST DID! I did it for the Retro Challenge! You can too! Taaroko already did, even though she didn't know it.
*ahem* So, if you're wondering what's going on here, and who'd blame you, this is a story that I began writing somewhere around seven years ago, an AU in which the characters are all one year older than in canon. It was last updated in the neighborhood of two years ago. But by gum, I'm still writing it.
If you want to give it a look, start here or here. The whole thing is posted under the "older'verse" tag, or you can read it on Ao3 or FF.net. Helpful note: not all the chapters are this godawful long. Apparently I'm too rusty to be succinct.
Xander expected everyone to be angry at him - really, really angry at him - when he explained that their hatred of Wesley was the product of the spell that he had made Amy cast. What he hadn’t expected was that none of the women believed him.
That would have been one thing if they didn’t live on a Hellmouth and experience blatant, dangerous evidence of the supernatural on a more-or-less weekly basis, but Buffy said he was making it up, and she was the Slayer. Willow basically ignored him, and she had been right there when he explained it to Giles and Wesley. Even Amy thought that her feelings were genuine, and she was the one who had told him the spell had gone wrong!
He couldn’t really do anything at the moment but stand there in the library arguing in circles with them, but then, thankfully, Giles emerged from his office. Xander tried to get his attention to plead for help, but he walked right past the crowd and up the stairs to the stacks.
Xander’s hopes were dashed until he heard the door up there open. “Oh, Wesley?” Giles called out loudly. “Would you come here for a moment?”
Instantly, all three girls stopped arguing with Xander and each other, and stampeded up the stairs after Giles. Baffled, Xander stayed where he was, and a few seconds later, Cordelia stuck her head out from Giles’ office, looked around, and beckoned behind her. She moved quietly out into the library, and Wesley came out behind her, literally tiptoeing.
Cordelia put her finger to her lips when she saw Xander, but he didn’t need the warning to be silent. He preceded them to the double doors and checked through the little round window; the hall was relatively deserted, so he motioned for them to come and pushed the door open a crack.
The buzz of outraged voices up the stairs suddenly increased in volume. “Giles, what are you talking about?” they all heard Willow say. “Wesley isn’t even here!”
Buffy was next. “How could you betray me like that?” she demanded, and then, as if to twist the knife, added, “Again?”
A panicked glance passed between Cordelia and Wesley. “No, he is up there!” shouted Cordelia suddenly, in a tone of such forced positivity that nobody would have believed her even under the best of circumstances. “Wesley is definitely up there so you should all look for him! Up there!”
For a split second, everyone was silent. “Run,” suggested Xander, holding open the door.
They looked like they were ready to comply, but Amy was suddenly in full view at the top of the stairs. Her eyes, Xander was shocked to see, had turned solid black, and she was waving her arms and chanting: “Goddess Hecate, work thy will. Before thee let the unclean thing crawl!”
A beam of light leapt from her hands, straight toward Wesley. Cordelia screamed his name, just as his clothing fell to the floor in a crumpled heap.
Xander was sure that the magic had removed his rival from existence entirely, but before he had time to process that, a tiny pink nose emerged from one of Wesley’s shirtsleeves, followed by a pair of beady eyes and round ears. After one glance at his surroundings, the rat apparently decided he was safer under the covers, and withdrew from sight again.
“Oh my god!” shrieked Cordelia. “Amy, what did you do!”
“Giles!” yelled Xander. “Amy turned Wesley into a rat!”
Giles was on the stairs now with Amy, pulling her back by the arm while at the same time trying to block Willow’s path, until Buffy shoved her way through all of them. Giles answered Xander in a terse bark, “Go! Take Wesley! We must end this madness before Amy will reverse the spell.”
Xander looked at the suit jacket at his feet, which was writhing in a way that frankly disgusted him. There was no time to object, though, so he scooped up the jacket with the rat inside it and tucked it under his arm.
“Come on!” urged Cordelia, and they rushed through the door and down the hall together.
Wesley, who couldn’t seem to stop causing trouble even as a rodent, wriggled free before they were halfway to the exit, and dropped to the floor. Several nearby female students made horrified sounds, and Xander threw down the remainder of Wesley’s clothing and caught the rat by the tail.
“Don’t pick him up like that!” Cordelia complained. “You’ll hurt him!”
“You want to hold him?” he countered.
“Ugh! No way am I touching a rat.”
They kept moving, Wesley dangling from Xander’s hand, but some of the girls who had recoiled when they first saw the rat were now edging ominously toward him, clutching backpacks and books in a way that suggested a plan to use them as weapons. “Hurry,” Xander muttered under his breath.
As soon as they had made it outside, Cordelia pushed out her handbag at arm’s length, holding it open with both hands and looking away with eyes shut as if the sight of it pained her. “Put him in here! Now!”
Xander looked at the rat, nodded, and dropped him in. “Behave yourself, Wes.”
“And don’t eat my lipstick!” Cordelia added. Still holding the bag as far from her body as she could, she pointed toward the parking lot. “My car is that way-- aack!”
The path was blocked. If it had just been Willow and Amy, Xander thought they could have made a break for the car, but they were led by Buffy. When he saw she was holding a crossbow, he nearly tripped over himself. “Detour,” he said to Cordelia, turning her around with him.
“Xander!” shouted Willow. “Where’s the rat!?”
Cordelia shrieked again. The door where they had just exited the school was now swarming with the students from the hall. Xander thought fast and waved his arm at them, then yelled over his shoulder at Willow, “They have him!”
As the two factions of angry women started marching toward each other, Xander grabbed Cordelia’s hand. She clutched her purse tightly against her chest, and together they ran hard.
Giles paged through another book, then slammed it in frustration. It was hard to research in a hurry, and harder yet to do it while holding an ice pack to his head. He had ample experience with both.
He didn’t know where Buffy and the others had gone after knocking him to the floor, but she had taken a crossbow, and all of them had seemed frighteningly determined, so it couldn’t be good. He only hoped he could find out how to reverse Amy’s spells without her cooperation.
When the door opened, he flinched, then relaxed when he saw who it was. “Jenny. Thank God. Can you help me?”
“Sure, I...” She looked at the books and spell components strewn across the table, then at the compress in his hand, then at the bits of Wesley’s outfit that had been left on the floor. “What happened?”
He sighed. Where to begin? “The new Watcher, Wesley--”
“Wait,” she cut in, her voice hard. “Let me guess. You don’t like him, and not just because he’s a pretentious airhead. He’s got this vibe that makes you feel like you can’t trust him. But you can’t say anything to the Watchers’ Council, because they don’t trust you, and even if their hands are clean of whatever he's up to, they probably want to use him to drive a deeper wedge between you and Buffy.” She tilted her head, a sympathetic expression in her wise eyes. “Is that what you wanted to say about the new Watcher?”
There was a pause. “Ah, not exactly.” Giles took off his glasses. “He’s been turned into a rat.”
“Oh.” The second pause went on for a few moments longer than the first. Jenny furrowed her brow. “You said...rat?”
Once all of the necessary explanation was covered, she agreed to help him research, with the caveat that if she still felt suspicious of Wesley after both spells were broken, Giles would look into it. She was behaving much more sensibly than any of the other women under the enchantment, he noted, and he wondered if that had to do with her greater maturity, or if she had simply had less contact with Wesley.
It was a question for later. Jenny didn’t have any great confidence in her own skill with witchcraft, but she was a better hand at it than Giles was. After some deliberation, she said she might be able to reverse the animal transformation if Giles could handle the hate spell. “All these years as a hobbyist,” she sighed, “and suddenly everyone’s counting on me to make the magic work.”
He knew she was thinking about another spell, the one that aimed to restore Angel’s soul, but he didn’t want to derail by asking how it was coming along. “It’s a great burden to be someone who can make a difference,” he said. “Most people avoid it by aiming for mediocrity.”
She cast him a weary smile. “I’m not sure if we have all of these ingredients,” she said as she pored over the text.
He took a look at it. “Perhaps not here. Shall we move this operation to the science lab?”
By the time Xander felt somewhat certain that they had lost the mob, they were near Buffy’s house, so he led Cordelia to the door and knocked hard. “What’s going on?” she demanded as they waited. “Why’s everyone hating on Wesley so much?”
“I’ll tell you when we’re inside,” he said, and knocked again. “Is he okay?”
She opened her purse gingerly, and the rat’s head peeped out. Unfortunately, Joyce chose the same moment to open the door, and before she had even greeted them or asked what was going on, she recoiled and cried, “What is that in your purse?”
Cordelia tried to close the bag back up as Xander stammered, “It’s nothing, just her new pet...mouse. Stuffed toy mouse! Weirdly realistic! Can we come in?”
Buffy’s mother shook her head vehemently. “You are not bringing that filthy creature into this house under any circumstances, do you hear me? Take it away, now!” She closed the door on them while Xander was still coming up with excuses to hold onto a rat.
“Well, great,” Cordelia snapped. “Now what?”
“We keep running, I guess. Whose house is closer, mine or yours?”
Cordelia groaned. “Can’t we just rest for a moment? Nobody’s chasing us.”
Xander wasn’t so sure, but he showed her around to the back of the house so they could sit down on the porch. “They’ll catch up sooner or later.”
“So we’ll hide.”
A disembodied chuckle answered that, launching both of them back to their feet. “Who was that?” Cordelia hissed.
“Come on,” said the voice, and a corresponding shape materialized out of the shadows. “If running didn’t work, do you really think hiding will?”
Xander’s heart began pounding like a gong. It was Angel. They were out here alone, locked out of the house, playing bodyguard and chauffeur to a rat, and about to be killed by Angel. Was there any way this night could possibly get worse?
On cue, Drusilla appeared on the other side of the porch. “Here are two children,” she said. “Which is the luckiest?” She pointed to Xander, then Cordelia, then repeated the motion, singing, “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor...”
With a roll of the proverbial dice, Xander scooped Wesley out of Cordelia’s handbag and brandished him, squeaking, at Drusilla. “Get back! I’m not afraid to use this!”
Drusilla screamed, a terrible high-pitched sound. Angel watched, impassively confused, then turned to Xander. “I take credit for Dru, but when did you go insane?”
Behind them, the door to Buffy’s house opened. “What’s going on out here?” said Joyce, not sounding happy. “Who are you people? And Xander, I told you that you and your girlfriend have to take her pet somewhere else.”
Somehow, Cordelia managed to be the first one to respond. Somehow, the most relevant information she could come up with was, “I’m not his girlfriend!”
“Mrs. Summers,” said Angel, oozing charm. “Sorry to disturb you. I just came by to see if Buffy was home.”
“Destroy it,” moaned Drusilla, hands outstretched toward the rat.
Everyone was suddenly distracted by the sound of a dozen or more women rushing down the street, some of them chanting a kind of jumbled war-cry. The mob had found them.
“Cordy, get inside!” said Xander.
“But you-- and Wesley--!”
“I’ll take care of him! Go!”
From the corner of his eye he saw her rush through the door, pulling Joyce with her. When he heard the sound of the lock he let out a long breath, but his relief didn’t last long. “Xander!” Willow yelled furiously as she came around the corner and took in the scene.
“He’s got him!” Buffy called over her shoulder to the rest of the girls. She was still holding the crossbow, and she pointed it straight at Xander, completely ignoring Angel and Drusilla.
“Drop the rat!” she commanded, and Xander realized that she was actually pointing it at Wesley, who was clutched in his hands, not at him. That was a comfort; at least she hadn’t decided in the past hour that Xander needed to die, too.
“Buffy, I can’t let you do this!” he answered. “You’re not--”
She didn’t lower the bow. “Xander, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Well,” said Angel dryly, “someone ought to.” In the space of a second, he was on the porch, looming behind Xander and holding him by the throat.
Xander’s hands fumbled, and he dropped the rat, which scampered down the steps. Drusilla went chasing after it, and the mob closed in around the porch, ranting and shoving each other.
Buffy twitched, as if she wanted to join in on the madness, but then she snapped back to attention and addressed Angel directly. “Let him go.”
“What’s he worth to you?” the vampire taunted.
Willow, who had been on her hands and knees in the middle of the crowd, popped back up. “He’s under the--! Xander? No! Xander!”
So she still cared, too. Xander felt a moment of peace. Maybe the night could get even worse from here, but at least he wasn’t going to die completely unloved.
“Plague beast, face me!” Drusilla wailed.
There was a loud crack of wood directly between Xander and Buffy. “Bloody hell!” howled a voice under the porch. A British voice. A man’s voice.
“Wesley?” said Xander incredulously, choking out the word through Angel’s grip on his neck.
“Aah! She’s got me!” came the reply.
A flash of inspiration seemed to hit Buffy. She dropped her crossbow, kicked up the board that Wesley had loosened, broke it over her knee, and pointed it through the gap. “Oh, Drusilla...there you are...”
Angel pushed Xander away with a muttered curse and attacked Buffy, forcing her down the stairs and off the porch. Xander took a look at the gap in the porch and swiftly grabbed another board, wrenching it upwards until the space was wide enough for a person to crawl through.
The door opened again, and Cordelia said breathlessly, “I tied Buffy’s mom to a chair! Get in!”
“Come on, Wes!” Xander yelled at the porch, lowering a hand down to help.
Wesley’s voice was a pathetic whimper. “But I’m, I’m...”
“Nobody cares about your bare ass, just get it in the house!” Xander shouted.
He obeyed, hoisting himself up and giving Xander a view he didn’t enjoy at all, and Willow came running up behind them and scooted inside after Xander. “Are you crazy?” she said. “You shouldn’t even go near that guy!”
Indoors at last, Wesley managed to cover himself up with an afghan from the living room, but since that was where Cordelia had tied Joyce up, the mayhem inside the house just kept getting louder. Some of the girls were banging at the front door now. Xander could only hope that Buffy was handling her fight with Angel.
“This is stupid,” Cordelia said. “They’d go right through us to get to Wesley!”
Xander tried to lower his tone. “Well, what do you want to do, throw him to the wolves?”
Willow chimed in. “Duh!”
“Xander!” Cordelia was truly fuming now. “Tell me what this is about!”
He swallowed hard. There was no way around it; he had to tell her. “You were supposed to be the only target. Not the only exception.”
“Exception to what?” She already looked hurt as well as confused. “Hating Wesley?”
“I figured in a sane world, it would have been the natural order anyway, so...”
“So you thought, what? That it would make me like you again?”
Xander looked down, ashamed. Willow put her arm around him. “Don’t worry, Xan. I hate Wesley.”
“Where is he?” asked Cordelia.
The question was alarming, but then they heard him in the living room, pleading, “Mrs. Summers, I’ll replace your afghan if you like, but please, I simply can’t put it down at the moment...”
There was a loud bang. “They got through the front door,” Xander realized out loud. “Here goes nothing.” He picked up a chair from the kitchen. That was what lion tamers used, wasn’t it?
He raised the chair to face the mob, but suddenly, everyone stopped cold. Amy, current leader of the pack, looked at Xander and asked, “What’s going on?”
“Wow,” said Cordelia loudly. “Can you believe everyone got the wrong address for the bachelorette party! Ha, ha! Well, we all better go check our invitations!”
The crowd was dispersing as Buffy watched Angel and Drusilla retreat into the night. Despite their advantage over her, it seemed that Angel didn’t care to play his games when he couldn’t have her full attention, and Drusilla was still murmuring about rats instead of focusing on the fight.
Xander and Willow joined her in the backyard once the others were gone, carefully stepping around the missing boards in the porch. “Where’s Cordy?” Buffy asked. “Where’s Wesley?”
Xander shrugged wearily, but there was a note of amused acceptance in his voice. “They....left together.”
There was no need to stop and analyze that, and Buffy wasn’t feeling enough sympathy toward Xander to comfort him over it. “Okay. Let me go check on my mom, and then we’ll find Giles, and find out if he’s the one we need to thank.”
“What are you going to do about Wesley?” asked Willow. “I mean, is he still your Watcher?”
Buffy stopped to think about it, then smiled. “Yeah, he can stick around. I have a feeling that Xander’s not the only one who was humbled by this experience.”