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Summary: Ethan was right when he predicted that Janus' spell would be the perfect example of 'Be careful what you wish for." It's a shame *he* wasn't more careful about what he wished for.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Multiple PairingsGreywizardFR18415,35047827,69931 Oct 1030 Oct 13No

Chapter One

Disclaimer: The Buffy-verse characters all belong to Crack-Head Joss and ME, not that any of them had any real idea of what to do with them. Various other characters who will be showing up belong to Marvel Comics. Vampirella belongs to Forrest J. Ackerman. Deal with it. I have.

Spoilers: Possible spoilers up through second season's 'Halloween,' then goes significantly AU.

Character Bashing: Nah. Well, not in my opinion, at least.

Feedback: Of course!

Archiving: Talk to me first, please.

Author’s Note 1: This is unbeta'd so all mistakes are obviously the result of someone else inserting them when I wasn't looking.

Author’s Note 2: I also want to note that this story takes place in a much darker and far less upbeat universe than the ones I usually write in, and it was inspired, in part, by phoenixgod's "Tears, Torment and Jade" story (which you can find it here: http://www.tthfanfic.org/Story-11202/phoenixgod+Tears+Torment+and+Jade.htm, and which you should read right away!). In this universe, Xander's parents were verbally and physically abusive to a very large degree for pretty much all of his life, while Willow's parents were the epitome of indifferently neglectful parents and, even after her release, Buffy remained extremely bitter about her parents immediately institutionalizing her when she first told them she was the Slayer, instead of even considering that she might not crazy. Buffy's father basically abandoning her and her mother after her parents' divorce did absolutely nothing to improve her feelings of resentment and abandonment, and was one reason she bonded with the Scoobies so quickly and so strongly. In addition, the ringleaders of the jocks and cheerleaders who have delighted in making the Scoobies' lives difficult are related to several of the upper echelon city government officials, making them essentially 'bullet-proof' as far as their harassment of their classmates is concerned. All in all, the Scoobies' lives have been far from upbeat, even without taking the Hellmouth into consideration.

Author’s Note 3: As usual, "word" indicates speech, :: word :: indicates mental communication and { word } indicates a character's thoughts.

~~~

"Everyone carries around his own monsters." – Richard Pryor

"I have never seen a greater monster or miracle in the world than myself." – Michel de Montaigne

***

Ethan's Costumes
Sunnydale Business District
October 30, 1997


"You know, when I woke up this morning, I was telling myself that, after that total disaster at the Bronze last night with Cordelia hitting on Angel and him not telling her to go away and let him alone because he was waiting to meet me, and then him NOT coming after me when I ran out of there, my life was about as bad it could get – at least when it came to the personal side of things," Buffy complained stridently to her two best friends as the three of them made their way into the new costume shop to find suitable attire for the escort duties they'd been shanghaied into by the obnoxious little dictator.

"And then Snyder just had to pop up and draft me into this whole escort thing, just to prove me wrong," she continued her lamentations as the three of them headed towards the back of the store where their age group's costumes were collected.

"Well, that's what happens when you live on a Hellmouth, Buffster," Xander grinned down at the petite blonde as he paused for a moment to look around the shop and evaluate the scores of costumes being offered for the public's amusement. "I thought you would have known better by now than to taunt Mr. Murphy."

"Xander, you're not being very sympathetic about Buffy's situation here," Willow observed as she joined Buffy in frowning at their taller companion.

"That's right, I'm not, Will," he immediately nodded his head in agreement. "'Cause I'm the proud bearer of a 'Y' chromosome.

"And virile and masculine type men like me don't do girly stuff like getting all weepy and emo when guys like Angel act like the admittedly good-looking, but nonetheless, brain-dead idiots they really are," he smugly informed them as he simultaneously took a step backwards to avoid the reflexive swats both girls swung in his direction.

"And before you say anything, Buffster, I just want to point out that, in Captain Hair-gel's case, 'brain-dead' is actually a completely impartial and totally factual description of his condition," he added, a self-righteous smirk on his face as he took another step back to remove himself further from any chance of Buffy hitting him.

Unfortunately for him, however, he managed to unexpectedly back into an unseen someone standing behind him and he let out a small yelp of surprise as he spun around, his arms automatically swinging up into a defensive position, only to discover Cordelia Chase standing and staring at him, a sneer on her classically beautiful features.

"Unlike Angel, the guy you were just talking about, dweeb-boy, virile and masculine are two terms that will *never* be able to be applied to you, loser," she declared loudly in a tone brimming with scorn, before her eyes slide past him to settle on Buffy.

As a nasty smirk settled on her face, she then added, "And poor Angel was just devastated after you ran out last night, Buffy – although I can understand entirely why you did, after seeing that outfit you were wearing.

"Why it took me over two hours comforting the poor guy before he felt well enough to escort me home," the cheerleader went on, her smile widening at the fury she saw reflected in the blonde's eyes at that revelation.

"Oh well, I have to run. I have so *many* more important things to do than waste my time talking to you losers," she stated before turning and stalking away before the targets of her venomous attack could retaliate.

"Remind me again, please – why can't you stake her like you do all the other soul-less creatures running around this town, Buff?" Xander asked a moment later as the three of them glared at the brunette's retreating figure.

"I'm trying to remember that myself, Xand," the blonde managed to grind out between gritted teeth before she turned away, trying to stop seething as she considered that Angel had not only *not* followed her out of the Bronze to try and find out what was bothering her the previous night – the way any decent semi-boyfriend/potential love interest should have done – he'd stayed and talked with that boyfriend-stealing skank, Cordelia, for two hours before he'd then escorted her home!!!

Just the mere thought of Angel talking to that bitch infuriated her, and she'd had to take a tight rein on her self-control in order to not punch Cordelia out where she'd stood!!

Shaking her head as she fumed with a jumble of anger, self-pity and resentment, Buffy turned her attention to the various costumes hanging on the racks behind them.

"Come on, guys – let's see what we can find to wear here," she declared, looking to sublimate her roiling emotions in the search for the perfect costume.

***

"Oh, come on now, Buff – you're kidding, right? You really wouldn't make me wear that, would you?" Xander declared, as he took another look at the costume Buffy had declared was 'simply perfect' for him to wear the next night.

"Well, you were the one who suggested that we all put our names in a hat and let whoever pulled the slip with our name on it get to choose our costumes, Xand," Buffy smirked at the distressed-looking brunet as she again glanced over at the mannequin wearing the outfit she'd announced she wanted him to wear.

"Yeah, but that was because I thought that Willow was gonna pick my name and I'd end up being dressed like a ghost, 'cause she always chooses that costume each year," the sole male of the group protested indignantly.

"And I only suggested that idea because I thought she should get a different costume this year, so that Cordelia and those other bit-, uh, other cheerleaders couldn’t make fun of her like they usually do," he reluctantly elaborated on his earlier suggestion a moment later, shrugging his shoulders and glancing uncertainly at Willow as he confessed the true motivation for his idea.

"Anyway, getting back to my original question, why on earth would you think that I'd ever want to wear something like that?" Xander demanded somewhat indignantly, as he pointed to the mannequin dressed in what appeared to be an eighteenth century variation of the classic vampire uniform/outfit.

"Because you would look so good in it?" Buffy suggested in what could best be described as a 'hopeful little girl voice,' as she gave him a woebegone expression and looked up at him through the filter of her eyelashes.

"I think you'd look even more dashing than Angel ever could in that outfit, Xand," she added with the hint of a flirty little smile, as Willow looked on in a mixture of outraged disbelief and reluctant admiration at how the petite blonde was playing Xander like a violin.

"C'mon, Xand," she urged. "Wear it for me? Please?" Buffy implored him, closing in for the metaphorical kill as she sensed him wavering.

The actual fact of the matter was that she was more interested in seeing whether she still had enough influence over her classmate that she could inveigle him into accepting a costume she knew full well was something he considered antithetical to his own beliefs, solely because she'd chosen it for him. A successful effort would go a long way to making her feel better about the fact that she privately considered that she'd lost the contest over Angel's interest in women to Cordelia the previous night.

"Well, I guess maybe it wouldn't be that bad," the sole male member of the trio grudgingly admitted as he *very* reluctantly nodded his agreement with the Slayer's choice of costume, and Buffy felt a sense of elation surge through her upon hearing Xander's acquiescence.

Taking a moment to throw a quick look over at Willow and smirk triumphantly, Buffy missed Xander's glancing back at her from his inspection of the costume and seeing her gleeful expression.

And how his own eyes instantly narrowed with calculation as he recognized what had just happened and considered his situation.

***

Xander shook his head with mixed annoyance and disbelief, still not quite believing what he'd just done.

Somehow – in a manner he still didn't completely fathom – Buffy had used a combination of puppy-dog eyes, an incredibly adorable pout and that quivering-lower-lip-thing she did occasionally to sweet-talk him into agreeing to dress as a vampire!

And then, he'd caught her looking at Willow with the same sort of smug satisfaction on her face that a pet owner wore when their dog demonstrated the latest trick they'd learned to an admiring audience!

That was something he couldn't let pass by without some sort of retaliation, and he quickly considered the options available to him before deciding on the proper course of retribution.

"You know, Will," he said casually, as he glanced around the shop at the various costumes on display, "if you wanted to, you could always trade that option that you have to pick out Buffy's costume to me, so you could pick out your own costume."

"Why would she want to do something like that, Xand?" Buffy asked as a prescient shiver of apprehension suddenly ran down her spine at his words.

"Oh, no real reason, Buff," he shrugged nonchalantly at her question as he let an innocent expression slide over his face. "It was just a passing thought, that's all.

"Oh hey, look at that, guys!" he announced a moment later with a wide smile as he pointed out the bronze bikini-like outfit hanging on one of the racks, complete with its own set of chains. "The shop's got a Princess Leia Slave Girl outfit!

"And hey, what a coincidence, Will! It's in your size!" he noted as he turned and bestowed a wide smile on the nervously watching redhead. "How about that!"

It didn't require a genius-level I.Q. to put together the various hints the brunet had been not-at-all-subtly dropping, and the redhead instantly folded under the implied threat, not wanting to risk finding out whether her best friend would actually carry through with it or not.

"You know, Xand, I think that swap thing sounds like a good idea to me, after all," she immediately agreed, quickly pulling the slip of paper with Buffy's name scrawled on it out of her jeans pocket and holding it out to exchange it for the one bearing her own name that was in Xander's possession, all the while ignoring Buffy's reflexive protest.

"Hey, wait a minute, Will! Are you sure you really want to do something like that?" the blonde asked as a worried expression swept across her face.

"Oh yeah, Buff," Willow nodded emphatically, not even bothering to glance over at her friend. "I'm completely sure that I'd rather have Xander picking out *your* outfit than mine!

"Oh look, there's something over there I have to check out," she then quickly declared, fastening her eyes on a rack located on the store's far wall and quickly darting off, a somewhat furtive, semi-guilty air about her as she practically ran off, not wanting to remain in the area and possibly get involved in any way with the impending clash of personalities she could clearly see heading their way.

"Well now, why don't we go look for your costume, Buff, now that I've got mine all picked out," Xander smiled down at the petite blonde with a rather daunting, exceedingly feral-looking smile.

Realizing that she was definitely NOT in control of the current situation, Buffy gulped apprehensively before plastering a wide smile on her face and began following her taller companion as he moved a bit further down the aisle they were currently standing in.

"You know, Xand, on the way here, Willow and I had been discussing the idea of the two of us girls dressing as seventeenth century noblewomen," she announced in what she hoped sounded like a bright and cheery tone.

"You know, with the fancy, embroidered dresses and high class jewelry and everything," she nervously tried to continue offering her suggestions about possible Halloween costumes, only to be interrupted by Xander cheerfully announcing, "Oh hey, Buff, check this out! We could have semi-matching costumes! Look at this! It's the perfect vampire costume for you to wear!"

Seeing the almost manic smile on Xander's face as he reached out to grab an outfit hanging on the costume rack, Buffy steeled herself as she mentally visualized something resembling what Morticia Addams might have worn on the old 'Addams Family' television show they still watched occasionally on the USA channel, only to gaze in a combination of shocked, open-mouthed disbelief and wide-eyed horror as he held out a white-collared, scarlet outfit even scantier than the Princess Leia Slave Girl costume he'd threatened Willow with a few moments earlier.

"It's a 'Vampirella' costume, Buff," he explained as he handed her a spandex outfit fashioned from even less material than any of the bathing suits she had stored in her bureau drawers back at home – even the string bikini one her mother didn't know about, which she'd bought on a dare from one of her old Hemery High friends this past summer while she'd been visiting her father.

"XANDER!" she shrieked with mixed dismay, embarrassment and outrage. "I can't wear that! Snyder would expel me before I even stepped foot on school property!"

"Not to worry, Buff," he casually shook off her concerns. "I already thought about that –

"Here's a cape you can wear over it," he noted nonchalantly as he then handed her a scarlet-lined black cloak.

"As long as you keep the cape pulled closed, you'll be fine."

Seeing the implacable expression on her friend's face, Buffy recognized that the tall brunet was not about to let her talk herself out of his selection and quickly realized that her only possible recourse was to confess her transgression, beg forgiveness and pray he'd show her some measure of mercy.

"Look, Xand, I'm sorry that I manipulated you the way I just did; it was a really mean thing to do," she said, straightening up to her full height (which still put the top of her head at about the level of his chin) and looking him directly in the eye so that he could see that she was sincere in what she was saying.

"I was really feeling kinda down – especially after Cordelia reminded me about how Angel ignored coming after me last night to stay at the Bronze with her," she confessed with a frown of disappointment and sadness, "and I wanted to make myself feel better, and I guess I figured that getting you to do what I wanted you to do was the easiest way of doing that.

"I realize, now that I'm really thinking about it, that it was petty and cruel and callous and, actually, completely Cordelia-like for me to act like that, and that you didn't do anything at all to deserve me treating you that way, and I also know that you're probably gonna think that me apologizing now and telling you all this is just because I'm hoping you won't stay mad at me and humiliate me by making me wear that costume you picked out, but I really am sorry and I'm begging you, Xand, please, please, *please!* don't make me wear that god-awful outfit, because I'll die of embarrassment and humiliation if anyone ever sees me wearing that!" Buffy babbled in a manner more than a little reminiscent of their redheaded companion, the words tumbling unchecked from her lips as she desperately sought absolution from the unsmiling brunet staring down at her as though he were about to bestow some final judgment on her.

The two stood staring at each other for a moment longer before Xander finally gave a barely perceptible nod and let the hint of a smile steal across his face.

"Okay, Buff, you don't have to wear the 'Vampirella' costume," he acknowledged her request, and his smile grew a bit larger as the petite blonde let out an audible sigh, accompanied by a low voiced, but fervent, "Oh thank god!", before he cautioned her, "but you're still gonna have to dress up as a vampire, just like you wanted me to do."

"That's okay, Xand," Buffy instantly agreed as she graced him with a brilliant smile of gratified relief.

"As long I don't have to dress like some bloodsucking skank, any kind of vampire costume you want to pick out is fine!"

***

For his part, Xander was pleased to see that Buffy had immediately owned up to her intent to manipulate him, and he could understand – on a cerebral level, at least – while not agreeing with her at all, the reasons behind her attempting to do so, once she had explained them to him, so he decided to relent a bit as far as any punitive effort regarding her costume was concerned.

The fact that she had mentioned she had been feeling more than a little bit down that Angel hadn't come after her following her verbal exchange with Cordelia the previous night had also made him feel a bit more sympathetic towards her – especially bearing in mind their encounter with the vicious harridan which had occurred just a few minutes earlier.

Although learning that Angel had not chased after the petite blonde and reassured her about his feelings toward her had merely proven to him – yet again, by Xander's reckoning – that the ensouled bloodsucker was a complete and utter asshole.

In any event, he amended his intentions regarding his selection of Buffy's costume and surprised the petite Slayer quite pleasantly by choosing a finely tailored (at least he thought it was, and apparently Buffy did, too, to judge by her reaction) somewhat frilly burgundy and black satin and silk gown with billowy sleeves which looked as though it would complement the costume she'd chosen for him earlier quite nicely.

The fact that the shop's owner had stepped in and complimented him on his selection of the gown for Buffy, describing it as "a brilliant demonstration of unquestionably exquisite taste" and then referring to the Slayer's wearing it as "a truly perfect blend of a milliner's superlative inspiration matched with equally incomparable beauty" had prompted the tiny blonde to turn and bestow on him a mindnumbingly brilliant smile, something that Xander had to confess he was never adverse to receiving.

Although he had to admit that, after gathering up both of their costumes and grabbing a silk-lined black cape for each of them, when he had asked the proprietor, an Englishman named Ethan, about procuring several sets of vampire fangs, blue contact lenses and red hair dye, he had been more than a little surprised to have the shop owner stare at him somewhat calculatingly for a moment before breaking out into a wide, pleased smile and say, "I must admit, my young friend, that tonight is unquestionably the perfect night to find Strigoi exploring this fine town's concourses."

Willow's joining them at that point, waving some sort of identification badge and talking at her usual mile-a-minute rate about the inspiration she'd finally come up with for her costume had distracted him from any further consideration of the shopkeeper's comment, and by the time they'd paid for their various purchases, the entire incident was forgotten.

At least by Xander, that is.

As he stared at the teenagers exiting his store while so animatedly discussing the details of their upcoming holiday celebrations, Ethan smirked with condescending approval.

{ Ah yes, I must say, that lad's idea will certainly liven things up around this dreary little burg – so to speak, } he thought to himself as he stared out the window and surveyed the town with a contemptuous eye. { And thanks to him and many of the other fools who have shopped here, tomorrow night will undoubtedly open the eyes of a great many of these yokels as to what lurks just beyond the edges of the shadows they refuse to peer into }

{ I just wonder, how many of them will survive the experience? }

~~~

Summers residence
October 31, 199


Buffy opened the front door to discover an almost unrecognizable, but unquestionably sophisticated-looking, Xander Harris dressed in a black eighteenth century nobleman’s coat tastefully trimmed with silver braid, a white tunic, a blood-red vest, soft black leather breeches and black leather riding boots, with a heavy silver-plated falchion belted around his waist.

The long-haired dark auburn wig, blue contact lenses and vampire fangs he was wearing matched her own dyed hair, contacts and fangs perfectly, she noticed appreciatively, and she smiled back reflexively in response to the wide smile of admiring approval Xander gave her as his eyes swept over the burgundy and black gown he'd chosen for her. A black velvet choker with an ivory cameo fastened around her throat, a silver-plated dagger belted at her slim waist and a black cape with an intriguing coat of arms, a crossed falchion and a rose embroidered in silver thread, which matched the one on the cape draped over Xander's left arm, completed her costume.

"Ah, my darling Elizabeth," Xander greeted her in a deep voice with the faintest trace of a European accent, something which immediately reminded her of the old-style horror films the three of them watched and made fun of on weekends, as she stepped back and away from the door in the normal Sunnydale non-invitation to enter a home.

"Once again, I find I must declare that you are without question the most charming and delightful vision of beauty and elegance I have ever been fortunate enough to have been graced with the privilege of seeing in all the long centuries of our un-lives," he stated somewhat theatrically as he stepped in, reaching out to enfold her hand in his own and kiss it.

"My Lord," Buffy nodded her acknowledgment of his greeting as she curtsied gracefully, playing along with the scenario Xander had begun, "I, too, am delighted to see you once again. Even though it has been but hours since I last saw you, we have been apart for far too long."

Stepping in and pulling Buffy close against him, Xander dipped his head down and pretended to bite her, his plastic fangs grazing her neck and making only the lightest bit of contact with her skin before he then lifted his head and dramatically declared, "And now that we are together again, my darling, any mortal foolish enough to attempt to stand against us shall fall, crying out their lamentations to the gods above that they dared contest our desires!"

Buffy gasped reflexively as she felt Xander's lips and faux fangs brush against her neck for the briefest of instants and a small shiver ran down her spine as surprisingly carnal thoughts momentarily flitted through her mind before she shook them off, quickly stepping back self-consciously – and with the faintest blush coloring her cheeks – as the sound of feet descending the stairs echoed across the foyer.

{ Huh. Looks like Buffy might not be thinking of me as just 'one of the girls,' after all, } Xander smirked to himself as he watched the Slayer jump back and away from him as Willow headed down the stairs to join them.

{ She looked smokin' hot as a vampire last May, } he reminded himself as the memory of how the petite beauty had looked the previous spring when everyone's nightmares had begun manifesting while a young boy, Billy Palmer, lay comatose in the hospital played through his mind, { and she looks even hotter now. }

"Hey Buffy, Xander, are you guys ready to go?" Willow asked as she stared curiously at her two friends.

{ Buffy looks a bit flushed, } she thought to herself semi-curiously as she noticed the tiny blonde take two quick steps back and away from Xander before taking a moment to evaluate their costumes, and she exclaimed enthusiastically, "Wow!! You two look fantastic! Just like you guys were for-real vampires like Dracula!"

Drawing himself up to his full height and focusing a narrow-eyed glare at the redhead, who took an involuntary step back, Xander began speaking in the same resonant voice that he'd used when first greeting Buffy.

"You obviously have mistaken the two of us for someone else you believe you know, girl," he stated confidently.

"I am the Count Alexander LaVelle, and this extraordinarily beautiful woman gracing me with her company is my most beloved wife, Elizabeth, and we are not some weak, pedestrian 'vampires' like that arrogant and self-important fool, Dracula, whom you just mentioned – we are Strigoi Vii! – the most highly evolved form of life that this world has been fortunate enough to witness come into existence! This Vlad Dracula whom this fool, Stoker, described in his rather hackneyed novel was but one of our many-times-great grandchildren – one of the weaker and more frail of our progeny, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit. Although, I would have to note that Stoker, whom he somehow persuaded to compose and distribute his biography, was one of the more gullible and credible fools to whom he revealed himself.

"Unlike those common bloodsucking parasites and leeches with which you seem to be familiar, girl, my darling Elizabeth and I not only possess all of the abilities of those lower creatures you mentioned, we also enjoy immunity to virtually all of those vermin's weaknesses, as well as various other abilities far surpassing any those abominations could ever hope to claim!" Xander boasted, letting himself slip into the persona he'd imagined for himself as part of his costume and enjoying the wide-eyed stares both girls were giving him as he sang his own and his fantasy partner's praises.

"We have spent centuries ridding the world of those pedestrian parasites with which your people are apparently most familiar, girl, as well as battling countless other creatures who would cause your feeble human mind to shatter, should you ever be unfortunate enough to even glimpse their blasphemous forms!" he declared haughtily, before the sight of both Willow's and Buffy's wide-eyed stares caused him to laugh and slip out of character and back to his usual jokester self.

"Wow, Xand," Buffy blinked, with a smile of surprised admiration, "you really sounded impressive! Like you really were one of those stringy vee vampires you said the two of us were."

"Yeah, Xand," Willow nodded her own agreement. "And where did you learn about the Strigoi Vii? There's only one book I've seen in the library that even mentions them, and it doesn't really say much about them at all."

"I found a reference to them in one of those musty old books Giles stores on the shelves in the back of his office a couple months ago, Will, back when we were trying to figure out what kind of creature Ampata might be," the tall brunette confessed.

"And I'll be glad to show you which one it was when we go back to school on Monday," he quickly promised with a laugh, as he help up his hands in a placating gesture towards the clearly excited, wide-eyed redhead.

"So, I'm guessing from what you were saying that you and I are supposed to be some kind of super-vampires, huh, Xand?" Buffy speculated as she looked up at her ostensible fellow creature of the night.

"Uh, yeah, sorta, Buff," Xander shrugged nonchalantly at her question as he took a moment to theatrically swirl his cape before draping over his shoulders.

"According to what I read," he informed her, "the Strigoi Vii are called living vampires because they're actually born like a normal human, usually after a human woman becomes pregnant after having sexual relations with a vampire, and then once they hit puberty, they end up with all of the usual vampire powers, along with a real hankerin' for blood.

"But unlike your usual run-of-the-mill vampires, they don't have to die to get their powers, and they can walk in the sun with no problem at all. Giles' book also said that most of them are also usually sorcerers or witches, and they can change form into an animal, like a bat or a raven or a wolf – the way Dracula was supposed to be able to do," he recounted the information he'd gathered to the two girls before finishing up by noting, "and according to the books, they almost always have red or auburn hair, blue eyes and two hearts, and they can see their reflections in a mirror."

"Wow, Xand, looks like you really did your homework, for a change. If Mrs. Dilworth heard you giving a report like that in history class, she'd probably have a heart attack," Buffy declared teasingly, as she gave both their costumes one final check-over.

"Yeah, well, it's for exactly that reason – the sake of Mrs. Dilworth's wellbeing and all of our other teachers – that I usually don't do my homework, Buff," he replied, returning her grin.

"Deep in my heart, I care about them far too much to take any chances with their health."

"You're a true humanitarian, Xander," Willow chimed in from off to one side where she'd been standing. "That's what we most admire about you," she declared with a grin.

"I understand and appreciate that, and I'm happy to stand before you and the rest of the student body as an example to which you mere mortals can only aspire to, Wills," he agreed as he gave both girls an ostentatious bow.

"And just exactly who are you emulating, what with the business suit, black hair done up in a professional-businesswoman-looking bun and one of your mother's high-end leather portfolios clutched in your well-manicured hands, oh pal of mine?" he asked as he gave the redhead an evaluating once-over.

"'Cause I have to say, you appear to be quite the formidable-looking lady," he nodded approvingly.

"Yeah, Xand's right about that, Will," Buffy chimed in with her own approval. "You not only look like a top-level CEO business-type person, you look pretty hot, too!"

"Thanks, guys," the redhead blushed with pleased embarrassment.

"And I'm dressed up as a character I remembered reading about in one of your X-Men comic books, Xand," she volunteered as she slipped the name badge she'd created from the materials she'd purchased from the costume shop around her neck.

"She was some kind of high-level government manager for DARPA named Raven Darkholme."

~~~

A wave of eldritch energy abruptly burst forth from the unassuming costume shop and swept outward across the town, transforming everyone who'd purchased any part of their costume from the smiling and malevolent shopkeeper into whoever or whatever they'd intended to dress as.

And as the shopkeeper smiled and chanted, various entities who'd watched over this particular dimension for ages screamed in impotent rage as they witnessed their carefully laid plans to guide the future of this sector of the multiverse for the next several millennia shatter into irreparable fragments.

~~~
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