After the Fall

Author: bacon_good <bacon_good[at]>

Disclaimer: I own nothing, not even the computer I typed this on.

Pairings: Slight A/X? Nothing seriously smoochy

Setting: After the one where Willow goes all veiny and almost destroys the world in her grief.

Rating: R for gratuitous cursing?

AN: Posted on FFNet but just posting a taste here to see if anyone's interested, in case they didnt read it on that site...let me know if I should post the rest

Xander holds his broken friend in his arms and lets her sob. Willow, after losing her lover had gone on a magic binge, almost destroying herself and everyone who loved her. She cries and Xander cries and his body shakes with her exhausted weeping. He doesn't think she will ever stop crying.

"Will?" Xander says, quietly.

She looks up at him with clouded eyes. But at least her eyes are not the black pits of evil as they were when she was consumed by the magic. He runs a hand through her now red hair.

"Let's get out of here...I'll carry you..." Xander says,

realizing that Willow is too weak to walk. He lifts her limp body and starts walking.

"Oh my god," Dawn gasps, seeing the destroyed Magic Box. "Willow did this?"

"Willow and Giles combined...there's nobody in here," Buffy sighs, helping Dawn crawl under a fallen beam. "You think Giles is okay?" Dawn asks.

Buffy hugs her sister to her chest. "Anya is with him. She'll take care of him. Let's see if anyone is at our house." They start down the street as the sun starts to set.

Anya and Giles sit on Buffy's front porch, watching the sun set.

"I guess we fucked up pretty good without you," Anya says flatly.

"Did Xander teach you that word?"

Anya snorts. "Fucked-up is the definition of Xander. Did Buffy tell you that he abandoned me at the altar in front of all of my friends?"

Giles sighs, his energy drained. "She mentioned it. I'm sure you two will work it out."

"I hope not. I don't want to ever feel that way again," Anya replies. "You know for sure that Xander saved the world today?" She asks, after a pause.

"I sensed it. He did something right," Giles answers.


Xander sits down, holding Willow on his lap. She is sleeping quietly after her rampage. His car is destroyed and he is feeling the burn of carrying her down the hill. The blood from the gashes she inflicted trying to turn him away has covered her clothes and has weakened him. He tries to catch his breath, but he is more worried about Willow. She snapped out of her grief-fueled magic binge but she is still going to hurt. Xander wishes he could take her pain away, his friends have suffered too much, but he knows that there is nothing he can do except be there for her. He gently lifts her back into his arms and she stirs slightly.

"Xander? Where are you taking me?" She asks, her voice low.

"Home," He replies.

"I don't want to go back there...not yet..." Willow says, her face too pale.

"Okay, Wills, whatever you want. You want me to take you to my place?" Xander offers, knowing that he doesn't have the money for a hotel.

"I just want to tired..." She says, her eyes already closed again.

He continues walking in silence, grateful for her life. "Giles!" Dawn squeals, breaking into a run and embracing him before he can get to his feet.

"Hello, Dawn. Are you girls okay?" Giles smiles, returning her embrace.

"Are you okay? Anya said..." Buffy starts.

"Willow took all the power that the coven loaned me and...if she hadn't been stopped I would have..." Giles starts.

"Don't say it. Where's Willow?" Buffy asks, hugging him as soon as her sister releases him.

"With Xander," Anya answers. "He saved her."

"Xander?" Dawn asks, surprised.

"Where are they?" Buffy asks.

"I'm not sure. The power from the coven let me see what happened. Xander found her and whatever he said or did...brought our Willow back. We assumed everyone would meet back here...but we haven't heard anything yet," Giles answers.

"Anya, could you..." Buffy asks, going to unlock the door.

"I should never have told you guys that I could teleport.

I'll be back in a few minutes." Anya disappears.

Xander stumbles as Anya appears in front of him.

" have got to send a warning or something, An..." Xander says, startled.

"Are you okay? You're bleeding," Anya asks, her concern evident for the first time in months.

"I'm fine...I'm tired from carrying Willow across town, but I'm everyone okay?" Xander asks, glancing at Willow to make sure she's still sleeping.

"A little scratched up, but generally okay. Where are you taking her?" Anya asks, falling into step beside him.

" apartment. She doesn't want to go to Buffy's yet.

Can you tell the guys..." Before he can finish, she has vanished. Anya materializes in Buffy's living room where Giles and the others are having coffee.

"Did you find them?" Buffy asks.

"Xander's taking her to his apartment. He said that she didn't want to come here yet," Anya answers.

"Tara...she died in the bedroom," Dawn nods, understanding. "Willow was sleeping, Xander was carrying him. She hurt him," Anya states, her eyes distant.

"She hurt him?" Buffy asks.

"He was bleeding. His face and his chest...I mean, I saw what she was capable of...but I never thought she would hurt Xander..." Anya says.

"She wasn't Willow. She was somebody else," Buffy replies. "She didn't know what she was doing."

"Are we going over there?" Dawn asks, suddenly. "To see Willow?"

"Xander might need our help," Giles replies. "She's going to be going through withdrawal after her little escapade. Not to mention...Tara..."

"Okay. Let's go," Buffy nods.

"I'll meet you there," Anya says.

Willow stirs after Xander walks up the stairs to his apartment.

"You think you can stand, Will? I need to unlock the door," Xander says, breathless from his journey. She nods and he gently drops her to her feet. She stumbles and Xander puts an arm around her to hold her upright.

"You carried me all the way here?" Willow asks, realizing where they are.

"Don't worry, I'll let you carry me around once you're well," Xander jokes. He unlocks the door and picks her up again.

"Bet you never thought I'd carry you across my threshold," Xander smiles.

"Once upon a time, Xander..." She replies, with a thin smile. He deposits her on the couch and reaches for a blanket.

"Are you okay? You're bleeding, Xander..." Willow seems lucid for the first time in a while.

"It's just a scratch. Let me get you some clothes. You want to take a shower? You hungry?" Xander asks, wrapping the blanket around her shoulders.

She shakes her head. "I just want to crash..." She blinks and looks at him, solemn. "It wasn't a dream was it?"

"I'm sorry, Will, I wish I could make it all go away," Xander says, hugging her. She starts to sob again. Xander rocks her and soon she is sleeping again. He carries her to his bed and lays her down. He takes off her shoes and covers her with a quilt. He barely hears the knock at the door.

"Xander?" Buffy's voice is behind the door.

He swings open the door. "She's in the bedroom. She's exhausted but not all scary and veiny," Xander points. Buffy goes straight to the bedroom.

"Giles, what are you..." Xander starts, but the watcher embraces him.

"You saved the world, Xander," Giles interrupts.

"I just hope Willow will be okay," Xander replies.

"Are you okay?" Dawn asks.

Xander glances at his bloody clothes. "Um, I guess I need to get cleaned up a little, don't I?"

Buffy comes out. "You carried Will all the way here?" "She kind of blew up my car. She didn't want to go home because of ..."

"Yeah, we figured that out. Are you hurt?" Buffy asks, relief on her face.

"It's nothing. I'm going to change. Where's Anya?" Xander asks, turning toward his bathroom.

"She was supposed..." Dawn starts. Anya materializes beside her before she can finish.

"I'm here," Anya says, sitting down on the couch beside Giles.

"Good. I think we need to stick together for a while. That was really scary," Xander sighs, continuing to the bathroom. "I wonder what Xander said to make her snap out of it," Dawn comments.

There is a loud thump from the bathroom.

Anya and Buffy go to the door. "Xander?"

"It's okay, I just tripped over my feet. I'll be out in a minute..." Xander calls from within.

"You think he's okay?" Anya asks Buffy.

"He says he's okay, so I guess he's okay," Buffy shrugs. "I'm going to sit with Willow."

Xander holds onto the sink in his bathroom, staring at his shaking hands. He has stripped his shredded shirt off and washed away the dried blood. His abdomen is bruised and still bleeding from Willow's attack but what worries him is the blood that he just vomited into the toilet. The thump his friends heard was the sound of him falling to his knees as the nausea overtook him. The magic that Willow hurled at him felt like it was burning his insides but at the time, he was too worried about her to succumb to the pain. Now he thinks that she might have hurt something important.

He shakes off the pain and starts to wrap bandages around his bleeding chest. He pulls on a reasonably clean shirt from his laundry and returns to his friends.

"How are you feeling? Did Willow hurt you?" Xander asks Anya, who is standing outside the door.

"She zapped me a few times, but my demon side let me recover quickly. Giles almost died," Anya says.

"I'm glad you're okay," He says, quietly.

Anya hesitates. "Me, too. I mean, I'm glad..."

"I know," Xander nods. "I'm going to go check on Will."

Xander joins Buffy in his bedroom.

"She still sleeping?" Xander whispers.

Buffy nods, sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at Willow. She turns to Xander. "What did you say to her?"

"I don't know. I told her I loved her. I told her no matter how evil she was that I loved her. And she stopped. I don't think it was necessarily what I said, Buff, I think she was tired of fighting," Xander says.

Buffy's eyes drift to his chest. "You're bleeding through your shirt, Xander."

Xander glances down and sees that he has bled through the bandages and through the shirt. "Damn," He says.

"She really hurt you, didn't she, Xan?" Buffy asks, realizing how bad her friend is hurt.

"It's nothing, let me go change these dressings..." Xander says, slowly raising himself from the seat. Willow stirs. "Xander?"

"I'm right here, Will," Xander sits beside Buffy on the bed.

"Hey, Willow," Buffy smiles.

Willow starts to cry. "I'm so sorry, Buffy...I can't face you right now..." She reaches for Xander who enfolds her into an embrace.

"Will..." Buffy stammers.

"Xander...please..." Willow sobs. Xander gives an apologetic look to Buffy.

"Okay, Will...I'll be outside," Buffy says, leaving reluctantly.

"I can't face her...not after what I've done...I tried to hurt Dawn...I almost killed Giles...I almost killed her..." Willow sobs.

"'s okay Will, we still love you..." Xander soothes.

"Will you stay with me?" Willow asks, still crying.

"I'm right here, Will, I'll sit here with you until you kick me out..." Xander replies.

In the other room, Buffy sits down beside Dawn. "She doesn't want to see me."

"What?" Dawn asks, surprised.

"She said she wasn't ready to face me yet...she asked for Xander..." Buffy says, shocked.

Giles nods. "She's going to feel a lot of guilt for what she did...Xander has always been there for her, Buffy, before you moved to Sunnydale they were best friends. Give her some time."

"I guess you're right. I'm glad you're back, Giles. I missed you," Buffy sighs.

"We all did," Dawn adds.

"I missed you, too. I think we've all made some bad decisions lately," Giles replies.

Anya stands up, suddenly. "I think we should eat. I'll go see what Xander has in the kitchen."

"I'll help you," Dawn offers.

"It's going to be okay," Giles says to Buffy, once they're alone.

"I know. Now that you're here. Willow's sane again and everybody survived. Another apocalypse averted, I guess," Buffy smiles slightly.

Xander exits the bedroom, quickly running to the bathroom. He closes the door behind him but it bounces open and Buffy, going to his aid finds him vomiting in the toilet.

"Xander?" She asks, going to his side.

"Its nothing...just a little sick..." He coughs.

Buffy winces, turning away, but putting a comforting hand on his tense back. She turns back as he is flushing and sees the blood in the bowl.

"Xander, are you puking blood?" She gasps.

"It's nothing..." Xander replies.

"Xander, you need to go to the hospital if you're..." Buffy starts.

"I'm not leaving Willow right now. She asked me to stay with her. I'll be fine, Buffy." He stands up and takes a deep breath. "See? I'm better now."

Buffy looks at him, concerned. She puts a hand to his pale face. "You're burning up. You have to go to the hospital."

"No. We just got her back, I'm not leaving her right now," Xander replies, swaying slightly. "I'm just hot from carrying her over here."

"Is everything okay?" Giles asks, coming to the door. Buffy opens her mouth but before she can speak, Xander says, "Sure, everything's fine." Giles leaves.

"At least let me put something on those cuts. You're still bleeding a lot," Buffy sighs, resigned.

"Okay. But I want to stay with Willow. I want to be there if she wakes up," Xander says. Buffy rummages through his bathroom and follows him back to the bedroom with her supplies.

"She feels bad about what she did to you guys, that's why she doesn't want to see you, yet," Xander whispers to Buffy. "I understand. Giles said the same thing. Take off your shirt," Buffy says, after dabbing Neosporin on his face. "I thought you'd never ask," Xander jokes, his eyes never leaving Willow's sleeping form. He starts to pull the shirt off but winces in pain.

"She really did a number on you, Xander...these are pretty deep," Buffy comments, after helping him pull the shirt off and cutting the bandages off.

"I was so scared that we were going to lose her. I don't know what I would do without her..." Xander says, his eyes glazing slightly.

"Well we didn't lose her..." Buffy replies.

"Almost," Xander says, under his breath.

"We made it, Xander. We saved the world again..."

"But we couldn't save Tara. We couldn't save Willow from the magic. I know we're all okay, but I can't help thinking that there was something else we could have done...ow, Buffy...that hurts..." Xander winces as she pushes gauze against his gashes.

"Big baby," Buffy teases. Her face sobers quickly.

"You really need to go to the hospital, Xander."

"I promise I will...once she's more stable. Thanks, Buffy," He says as she finishes taping the gauze to his wounds.

"Dawn and Anya are cooking..." Buffy says, glancing at Willow as she gets up to leave.

"Better get the fire extinguisher. It's in the pantry."

Xander gingerly pulls on an open button-down shirt and then settles into his seat.

"Call me if you need anything," Buffy says.

"Of course. That couch pulls out into a bed for you guys. I know you'll want to be close to her," Xander says.

Buffy nods, closing the door behind her. Willow stirs again, moaning in her sleep.

Xander sits on the edge of the bed and soothes her by smoothing her hair. She opens her eyes, drowsily.


"Go back to sleep, I'm still here," Xander says, quietly.

"I'm so tired...but my dreams are...worse than..." She says, tiredly.

"You want me to lie down with you? We can pretend it's like the old days when we used to sleep outside under the stars and there was no such thing as a hellmouth," Xander asks.

Willow smiles slightly. "Okay...that would be nice..." Xander lies down on the bed beside her. Willow is wrapped inside a quilt and Xander puts his arms around her.

"Thank you, Xander...for everything..." She says.

"Damn, Will, you know I'd do anything for's going to be okay..." Xander replies.

"You sure?" Willow asks, her voice shaking.

"Yes, I'm sure. Now, rest," Xander says. Willow closes her eyes and falls back asleep.


Buffy and Dawn are dozing on the pullout bed. Giles sits on the loveseat watching muted television and sipping tea that Anya made for him before she went home.

The door to the bedroom opens and Willow stands there shakily, holding onto the doorframe.

"Giles? Something's wrong with XanderI can't get him to wake up," She says, panic on her strained face.

Giles rushes into the room. Xander is lying on the bed, sleeping.

"I woke up and I saw that there was blood all over the bed. I tried to wake him upbut hehe's too hot" Willow is shaking as she explains.

"Xander?" Giles shakes him, gently, then again more roughly. "Xander, wake up"

"I killed him" Willow starts to cry. Buffy and Dawn are awake, hearing the commotion.

"You didn't kill him, Willow, come out here" Buffy pulls Willow from the room and sits her on the loveseat. Buffy kneels in front of her and takes her hands.

"Willow. Xander is going to be fine, we're just all tired from worrying about you so muchlisten to mewe all love you" Buffy pulls her friend into an embrace as Willow starts to sob.

Giles puts a hand up to Xander's face, feeling the fever. The blood has soaked through the bandages again.

"What can I do?" Dawn asks, startling Giles.

"Get me some waterhe's not dead, he's sleeping, I think."

Dawn returns in a moment with a glass of water. Giles takes it from her and throws it on Xander's face.

Xander sits up with a jolt. "What the"

"Thank God," Giles sighs, relieved.

"Did I look thirsty?" Xander asks, wiping the water from his face.

Willow, hearing his voice gets up off the couch and running back into the bedroom. She pounces on Xander. "Xander" She sobs.

"Oh, WillowI'm sorry I scared you" Xander tries to calm his friend.

"Xander" Giles starts.

Xander silences him with a warning glance as he tries to get Willow to stop crying.

"Willow? Baby, Xander's sick," Buffy says, sitting beside her on the bed.

"Don't leave me, Xanderplease" Willow sobs harder, clinging to him.

"We just want to take Xander to the doctor for a little while, Willyou don't want him to be sick, do you?" Buffy says, realizing that Xander is trembling.

Xander smiles slightly at Willow as she pulls away.

"I made you sick?" She asks, sniffling and choking on her tears.

"NoI was getting sick before all this went downWillowI will be back before you know I'm goneDo you believe me?" Xander asks.

Willow nods. "I'll stay with Buffybut"

"I'll be back in a flash, I promise" Xander says, hugging her tightly before climbing off the bed.

"Xander?" Giles steadies the young man as he stumbles slightly into the other room.

"I feel like shit" Xander admits.

"Can you make it downstairs? I'll go get the car and meet you out front," Giles says.

"YeahI'll be right behind youI just have to use the bathroom" Xander starts toward the bathroom. Giles turns to leave, but something stops him. He follows Xander to the bathroom.

Xander is standing in front of the mirror, holding up his shirt. The bloodied bandages are glowing with a white light.


"Do you see that? What the hell is that?" Xander asks, staring.

"What the hell is happening to me?" Xander says. "And why does it have to hurt so much" He puts both hands on the edge of the sink to keep from falling.

"Xander, what exactly did she do to you?" Giles asks, pondering the bright light.

"She zapped me a couple of times but it wasn't that badwhen I got to the hill she was raising the temple with this really strong magic" Xander starts to explain.

"How'd you get her to stop?"

"I walked in front of her," Xander replies.

"You walked in front of her? Did you walk into the magic?" Giles asks, startled.

"It stopped when I got in its direct path. I didn't feel anything like when she was aiming for me" Xander winces as a wave of pain overtakes him and the light brightens.

"Xander, sit down," Dawn orders.

"This is really badWillow's going to freak if I die" Xander says weakly, slumping against the wall.

"You're not going to dieXander?" Dawn catches him as he starts to fall forward and leans him against the wall so he can slip to the floor.

"What's going on? Why haven't you left for the hospital yet?" Buffy asks, seeing Giles.

"Xander's not doing so goodhe's glowing" Dawn replies. Buffy kneels beside Xander and her sister and looks at his illumination.

"He's burning upGiles, we have to do something, this cannot happen right now," Buffy says, on the edge of panic.

"Where is Willow?" Giles asks, positioning himself beside Buffy.

"Sleeping again. I told her Xander would be back by the time she woke upmaybe we should call Anyashe might know what to doshe would want to be here if he" Buffy says, helping Giles lift Xander's limp body and carry it to the pullout bed.

"Buffy. Take a deep breath. He's not going to die" Giles says.

"What happened? Why is Xander glowing?" Anya materializes beside Dawn.

"How did you" Dawn asks.

"I knew something was wrong" Anya sits on the edge of the bed beside Xander and runs a hand across his forehead. "He's sick. She made him sick"

"Anya, Willow was out of her headit's not her fault," Buffy defends.

"He would do anything for herhe would do anything for all of youbut he's just a manhe's not half-demon or anythinghe's just Xanderhe's going to die" Anya brushes the hair from his scratched face, her voice quiet.

"He's not going to die," Dawn replies.

"Xander? Xander, wake up," Anya calls, touching his face, affectionately.

Xander's eyes flutter slightly but he doesn't wake up.

"Xander, I want to talk to you before you die" Anya says. "There's so much stuff I still want to talk to you aboutwake up," she says, slapping him, suddenly.

"Anya! Stop. He's not going to die," Buffy pulls her away before she can hit him again.

"Look at him, Buffy, he's full of power that he can't handle, she zapped him with so much magic that it's leaking out in waves" Anya says, pointing at him.

"Anya, what can we do to save him?" Giles asks.

"Nothing. Usually the magic would wear off and not hurt the mortal that was affected, butit's clinging to Xander, infecting him it's very rare" Anya says, her eyes never leaving Xander.

"There has to be a way" Giles says.

"There's nothing we can do. Maybe, if Xander could harness the power, he could survive, butXander's not strong enough" Anya says, quietly.

"Not strong enough?" Dawn questions.

"His physical body is damaged, first off. Also, with as much power as I sense in himhe'd have to be a master wizard or warlock to be able to control that much magiche just doesn't have the training and the mental strain of carrying around all that power would drive him insane" Anya breaks free of Buffy's grasp and goes back to Xander's side.

"Xander?" Anya says, shaking him, gently.

This time, he opens his eyes and smiles at her. "Hey, An" After a beat, the smile leaves. "Did you come here to strangle me in my sleep?"

"Xanderyou're sick" Anya says, sadly.

Xander sits up, pain evident on his face. "Where's Willow? Is she okay?"

"Xander, she's fine, she's sleeping" Buffy says, sensing the panic in his voice.

"You, however, are a different story" Giles starts.

"I'm going to die, I knowI can feel itI'm going to check on Willow" Xander starts to get up.

"Whoa, therewhat are you talking about? We're not going to let you get away with that" Buffy stops him. "You say you're going to die and just expect us to accept that? Well, I've been dead and you guys didn't accept it and there's no way I'm giving up on you" Buffy starts to ramble.

Xander runs his hands through his hair. "Stop, Buffy, stop."

Everyone is silent, waiting for Xander to speak.

"I don't have anything else to say, sorry," Xander says.

Dawn, Anya and Buffy all start talking at once. Xander pushes himself to his feet and calmly walks into the bedroom. He sits beside Willow, closing the door behind him.

"Xander? Are you okay?" Willow asks, waking up. "Something's wrong"

"Shheverything is going to be fine" Xander promises, taking her hand.

"But, Xanderyou're glowingwhat did I do to you?" Willow gasps.

"Willow, this isn't your faultits just some freaky side effect from the zapping your evil twin gave meeverything's going to be okay" Xander smiles.

"You're lying to mewhat's wrong with you?" Willow asks, panic fully awakening her.

"I'm worried about you. I want you to rest and believe me when I tell you that everything is going to be fine. Do you believe me?" Xander asks.

Willow shakes her head, solemnly and starts to cry again. Xander pulls her against his feverish body and holds her. "Shh"

"I didn't mean to hurt anyoneI just wanted the pain to stop I'm sorry" She sobs.

"Willow, calm down, please, baby?" Xander says.

"Baby?" Willow smiles with tears still dripping from her eyes.

"Well, you're crying like a baby, aren't you?" Xander jokes, his tremors rocking Willow.

Willow pulls away slightly. "I'm shaking almost as bad as you are," She says, quietly.

"It's not going to be easy, Will, but you kicked it once and you can kick it again," Xander says.

"You have so much faith in me, Xander, and I don't deserve it" Willow cries.

"You deserve it more than anyone I know, WillsYou have to get through this, and I know I'm being selfish, but you have to get through this so you can go back to being my support systemIf I had lost you today" Xander starts, but a tremor runs through him, taking his voice.

"Xander? Xander" Willow grabs his shoulders as a wave of pain rushes through him.

"Willow, I'm sorryI'm tryingI'm trying to be strong for you" He chokes.

"Buffy! Giles!" Willow calls, holding Xander's quaking body. The door swings open as Xander's limp body slides from her arms.

"Shit, what happened?" Giles asks, catching the boy's body before it slides to the floor.

Anya walks in and helps Giles lift Xander to the bed.

"What's wrong with him? Why didn't you take him to the hospital?" Willow cries, hysterical.

"Because it's your magic that's killing him," Anya replies, her voice a whisper.

Willow gasps, her skin paling a dangerous shade.

"Willow" Buffy goes to her friend and forces her to face her. "Willow, this is not your fault. It was a mistake. You did not do this on purpose."

Willow starts to sob. "Everything's my faultI ripped you out of heavenI almost killed DawnI killed a manI lost Taraand now I killed Xander"

"Willow, no, Willow" Buffy says, trying to calm her hysterical friend.

"Willow Rosenberg!" Anya shrieks, stunning everyone. "I know you're struggling right now, but if Xander needs you to chill out."

Willow stifles her sobs and looks at Anya.

Anya sighs. "Willow. Xander loves you more than his own lifecan't you see that? It would kill him to see you suffering because of him. So suck it up."

Willow sniffles but nods, giving Buffy a reassuring squeeze.

Anya and Giles try to rouse Xander, but he doesn't respond.

Xander finds himself sitting on the stairs in front of the old high school. He looks around, disoriented and when he turns his head back, Jesse is sitting beside him, smoking a cigarette.

"Whoa. Don't you know those things will kill you?" Xander jokes, too stunned to say anything else.

"Yeah, I know, but since I'm already dead, I think they're okay," Jesse replies. "It's good to see you, man."

"Shitdoes this mean I'm dead?" Xander starts to panic.

"Nah, not yet. The Powers That Be are pretty impressed with you. They let me come down and talk to you," Jesse replies.

"Not yet?" Xander asks. "That's comforting."

Jesse grins. "Man, it feels like forever since we hung out. Me, you and Will used to be together all the time."

"Seems like forever," Xander sighs.

"I mean, think about it, kid. You and I spent almost every day of the first 15 years of our life together. 15 years and it's all forgotten because of the Slayer. You found your calling" Jesse starts.

"I never forgot about you. How could I forget about you? You were the closest thing to a brother I ever had!" Xander protests.

Jesse grins.

"My calling, what are you talking about, dude? If you were still around, you'd be fighting side by side with Buffy, too, don't give me that," Xander replies.

"I just wanted to get you riled up. I've been keeping an eye on you, Xan, and I've been impressed. You've grown into a real man of sorts" Jesse teases.

"I've missed you, man," Xander sighs. "Everything has gotten so fucked up. Vampires, demons, magic, it's like a movie or something."

Jesse nods. "That's the Hellmouth for you, fucked up."

Xander is quiet. "You should be there. You should be with us, down there, Jesse."

"It's not my place, anymore, and honestlyI don't want to be down there. Apocalypses every other day is not my idea of a life," Jesse replies.

"Somebody's got to save the worldI don't know how I got picked for the team, but I did"

"What are you going to do, Xander?" Jesse interrupts.

"What?" Xander asks.

"What are you going to do? I've seen what's going on down there. Willow's freaking out, Buffy's overloaded as it is, you lost your girl and Giles is probably going to bounce as soon at this crisis is past. What are you going to do?" Jesse asks.

"I'm going to do what I always dogo with the flow," Xander shrugs.

"Don't lie to me, Xand. I'm dead. I know when you're lying. What are you going to do if Willow can't get over this?" Jesse asks.

Xander opens his mouth to speak but immediately closes it.

"The Powers That Be sent me here to talk to you, Xander, or better yet, sent me for you to talk to me. I'm dead, it's not like I'm going to run out and tell everybody what you said." Jesse lights another cigarette.

Xander sighs. "I don't know. If Willow's gonethen I have no one left. I mean, she hasn't even been there for me much lately, not like she used to since she has all her own problems and shit but she's still in the background, always there if I need her. And now, she needs me and I can't even be strong enough to stay conscious and help her through."

"Why are you turning this into a guilt 'fest, Xander? It's not your job to take care of her," Jesse says, quietly puffing off his cigarette.

"She's my Willow. She's your WillowI can't believe what's happened to her," Xander sighs.

"Xander. What about you?" Jesse asks.

"Is this some kind of soul-searching test I have to pass in order to live?" Xander asks.

Jesse smiles. "No. We're just concerned about you."

"We?" Xander asks. "You're plural now?"

"The Powers That Be, that's who I speak for, that's who sent me."

"Never mind. I don't want to know. How you been, Jesse?" Xander asks, changing the subject.

"Xander. What about Buffy?" Jesse asks.

Xander is silent. "What about her? She's my friend. I'd do anything for her."

Jesse stares at him.

"Damn, man, what's this all about?" Xander demands.

"You haven't been thinking about these things, Xander, you've been pushing your emotions aside for so long that you don't know what's going on inside your own head! Look what happened with Anya!"

Xander sighs. "Okay, okay. Buffy couldn't care less about me. Willow is her best friend and she tolerates me but she really doesn't know anything about me. She's the Slayer; she has lots of more important things on her mind besides me. If I were to die right now, she would possibly cry a little, but I would be forgotten in a matter of minutes."

"You really feel that way?" Jesse asks.

Xander shrugs. "Anya was the only one who ever loved me. She accepted me and loved me and I was too stupid to give her what she needed. I fucked up, Jesse, it's the thing I do best."

"You saved Willow. You didn't fuck that up," Jesse replies.

Xander is quiet. "You know what I think? I think she was just exhausted. I don't think she realizes how important she is in my life. Damn, Jess, my family is nonexistent, I have made these friends my family and theythey care just as little as my real family. I'm just too tired to try and start over. I couldn't"

"I think you're wrong. I think they care about you, Xander" Jesse starts.

"It's not the same. I'm the only one that doesn't belong. Everyone else has something to contribute, except me." Xander looks at Jesse, tilting his head. "Why are you doing this? I'm more depressed now than I was when I was dying."

"What about your family, Xander?" Jesse asks, quietly.

Xander gives his old friend a look. "You say you've been watching me. You should know."

"I want you to tell me," Jesse replies.

Xander sighs. "They're dead. My father got bitten by a vamp a few days after the disaster wedding and ended up killing my mother and her brother. I staked him when he came after me. I had to stake my mother and uncle a few days later."

"Did you tell anyone?" Jesse asks.

Xander shakes his head. "It wasn't anyone's business."

"Damn, Xander, you lost your entire family"

"They weren't my family, not my real one. You grew up with me, man, you know how they were," Xander sighs.

"Xander" Jesse starts.

"Damn, I guess I am kind of fucked up. If something happens to Willow, I really will be on my own," Xander says, thoughtful.

"Why didn't you tell Willow about it?" Jesse asks.

"She had just reconnected with Tara, I didn't want to stress her outJesse, what is all this about? Can you give me some kind of clue?"

Jesse smiles. "Nope. But you should be getting back. You've been asleep for a few days and Willow needs you. I'll talk to you again."

Before Xander can react, he feels a blanket of pain wash through him and he shivers. He opens his eyes and finds himself in the dark.

He sits up, disoriented and alone, but he relaxes when he recognizes his bedroom. His side is not as painful as when he was last conscious, the pain feels like acid in his veins. He remembers that Jesse said that Willow needed him so he shakily gets to his feet and goes to the door.

"Willow, no, Willow, you can't" Dawn's voice is slightly hysterical through the door.

"Dawn, I can't do this, I just can't, let me go!" Willow replies.

Xander swings open the door and finds Dawn blocking the door with Willow trying to push her way out.

"What's wrong?" Xander asks, surprising them both.

"Willow's" Dawn starts.

Willow turns away from Dawn and hurries to Xander, embracing him.

"XanderI can't do this, I can't go through this again please" Willow pleads. Xander catches a glance from Dawn and he nods. Dawn goes to the phone as Xander pulls Willow into the bedroom.

"Willow, you can do this, and you willwhat's going on?" Xander asks. Willow is pale and trembling, but in a lot better condition than when he last saw her.

"Xander, it's so hardTara's goneyou're sickI did all those awful thingsI need the magic, Xander, it's the only way I can keep going" Willow breaths, desperation oozing from her pores.

Xander hugs her close to him. "Willow, I know you can do this. You don't need the magic. You're stronger than this. You have to stay strong, okay?"

"XanderI can't" Willow says, crying.

"Yes, you canWillow, look at meyou are too good for this, you are too strong, you can do this!" Xander says.

Willow nods, finally. "OkayokayI'm better now that you're herehow are you? You've been asleep for three days, but you stopped glowing and your fever finally broke"

"I'm better, Willow" Xander interrupts.

Willow nods.

"I'm sorry I haven't been here for you"

"Xander, it's not your fault" Willow replies.

"But I'm here now, for a little while at least, and I'll do whatever it takes to make you well," Xander finishes.

"Talk to mewill you just talk to me?" Willow asks.

Xander smiles. "I'm used to you telling me to be quiet and now you're asking me to talk to you?"

"Yeah, it's been a while since we really talked. How have you been doing?" Willow asks. "Take my mind off all of thishow's your folks?"

Xander hesitates, thinking of Jesse's scolding.

"Xander? What is it?" Willow asks, reading his expression.

"You really want to know? It's not exactly cheerful," Xander sighs.

"Your family's never been cheerful, Xander. What's up?" Willow asks, concerned.

"Wellafter the ill-fated weddingmy father was attacked by a gang of vampires" Xander begins.

Willow gasps.

"He turned my mother and uncle. Then he came after me," Xander continues, avoiding her eyes.

"Xanderyou didn't say anything"

"I know, it was never a good time" Xander starts.

"It's your parentswhat happened?" Willow asks, concern lining her face.

Xander looks away.

"Youyou staked them? Oh, Xander" Willow says, she hugs him. "I can't believe you didn't say anything"

"You know how they were, Willow, seeing them without a soul wasn't that big of a change" Xander jokes, unsmiling.

"Are you okay?" Willow asks.

"Sure, I'm fineit was a few weeks ago, actuallyI should've said something" Xander says.

"Said what?" Buffy asks, appearing with Giles in tow.

"Oh, Xanderthat's so awful," Willow says, pulling him into another hug.

"What?" Buffy demands, worried.

"It's nothing, just something that happened a few weeks ago," Xander says. "But look at me, I'm consciouswhat did I miss?" "Just a bunch of worried Scoobieshow do you feel?" Buffy asks, looking at the two friends, concerned.

Xander glances at Willow, who is watching him carefully. "Fine"

"Liar," Willow counters.

"Will?" Buffy asks.

"He's lying, you can see the pain in his e yesXander" Willow replies, locking eyes with her childhood friend.

"Okay, okayit feels like there's fire running through my veinslike I'm burning up from the insidebut" Xander starts.

"Tell them what you just told me, Xander," Willow says.

"Willow, it's fine, it's not a big deal" Xander says, flushing from the attention.

"It must be important if it's got Willow so upset," Giles says.

Xander is overcome by a wave of nausea, but he recovers after a few moments. "Can you fill them in, Wills? I need to go to the bathroom"

"Willow, what is it?" Buffy demands, as Giles helps Xander to the bathroom.

"His parents, they're dead," Willow says.

"Dead? What happened? When?" Buffy asks, alarmed.

"Vampires turned his dad, then his dad turned his mom and unclehe staked them when they came after him" Willow whispers. "He acts like it's no big dealit happened weeks ago, Buffyhow could he not tell me? How could he not tell anybody?"

"Are you serious? He had to kill his own parents?" Buffy gasps. Dawn has joined them.

"Xander's parents were turned? Oh god, when?" Dawn asks. "They were just at the wedding!"

"After the weddinghe said it was a few weeks agohe didn't tell anyone" Willow says, still shocked.

"Why did he tell you, now?" Dawn asks.

"I asked how his family was and he told methey're deadmy god" Willow is stunned. "Is it just me, or do our lives suck?"

Buffy leaves Dawn with Willow and finds Giles waiting outside the bathroom.

"What is it?" Giles asks, wincing at the sound of Xander retching inside the bathroom.

"Xander's parents were turned. Vamps. He killed them. He didn't say anything, it had to have happened weeks agoGiles, its like we don't even know each other," Buffy starts. "I mean, we used to be so close, the three of us, but now, all this stuff is happening and we can't even talk to each other"

Giles puts an arm around her. "Buffy, you all have done the best that you could do under these circumstanceshe killed his parents?" Giles asks, lowering his voice.

The door to the bathroom opens. "I think that we should be more worried about Willow right now" Xander says.

"But, Xander" Buffy starts.

"I shouldn't have said anythingI didn't know it would turn into a pity-festWillow was trying to leave when I woke upshe was trying to get past Dawn so she could get a fix. I don't know how long I'm going to be here"

"Xander, what are you talking about?" Buffy asks, sensing something. Xander sighs. "While I was unconscious, I was somewhere else." "Where?" Giles asks.

"I don't know. Like limbo or somethingI was talking to Jesse" "Jesse?" Buffy asks, confused.

"Jesse. You don't remember him, I'm sure, but he's deadI don't think I'm going to be okay, just yet, from what he was sayingand I honestlyI feel like shit" Xander admits.

"Xanderwhat did Jesse tell you?" Buffy asks, confused.

"A lot of stuff. Nothing that would be useful of course, just crazy stuff" Xander starts, his focus drifting as his eyes glaze.

"Xander? Are you okay?" Buffy asks.

"Xander?" Giles puts a steadying hand on his shoulder.

"No, I'm fine" Xander replies, blinking to clear his vision.

"Xander, something is happening to you" Giles starts.

"You have to tell us how to help you," Buffy adds. "I can't lose another friend, Xan."

"I don't knowI really don't know what's going onall I know is that it hurts" Xander replies, walking unsteadily toward the bedroom.

"Xander, wait," Buffy pleads. "Just wait a second."

Xander shakes his head, putting his hands up. "Buffy, I don't know, I just don't know"

"Xander?" Anya's voice freezes him. "Xander, come here."

He turns and raises his eyes cautiously. "Hey, Anya."

She makes her way toward them, slipping her arms around him as he stands in the doorway to the bedroom they used to share.

"I want to do this now before" She whispers in his ear, holding him tightly against her.

"Before what?" Xander asks, shaking her slender body with his uncontrollable tremors.

"Before you go away againI've been thinking a lot about what I wanted to tell you" Anya starts.

"He's not going anywhere!" Buffy says, loudly. "I'm not losing any more of my friends!" Giles puts a hand on her shoulder, to calm her. "Anya," Xander breathes, returning Anya's emotion.

"I just wanted to tell you that you are important to me." Anya holds his face in her hands, forcing the impact of her words into his eyes.

"I want you to fight them, Xander, I don't want you to give up because you will always have something here for you. Me. Even though we're not togetheryou'll always have me" Anya says, pulling him into another embrace.

"Thank you" Xander whispers, kissing her gently on the forehead. Suddenly, a breeze seems to pass through the room, chilling everyone with a wave of pure sadness. Dawn gasps, as Willow crumbles in her arms. Anya pulls away from Xander as she realizes that the pain is emanating from him. Everyone is shaken by the pure emotion that fills the room.

"Xander, you're" Anya gasps, backing away into Buffy and Giles. "Anya, what is it?" Giles questions, staring at Xander. Xander is staring at his hands, shaking violently.

"He's changingcan't you feel it?" Anya says.

Xander starts to sink to the floor but Willow disentangles herself from Dawn and catches him.

"Xander? Xander, don't goplease stayjust a little while longerI need you" Willow pleads. Her tears fall onto his face.

"ShhWillow, hush nowI'm going to make it betterdo you trust me?" Xander brushes her hair from her eyes, his mind swirling too much to focus. He doesn't know how, but he knows that he can help his best friend.

"Xander" Willow cries, nodding sadly.

Xander takes her face in his hands and winks at her, playfully. He kisses her softly on the lips and a flash of light blinds everyone.

"What the hell" Giles gasps, as he blinks to regain his focus.

"No, Xander!" Anya drops to her knees beside his unconscious form. Willow is sitting beside him, stunned.

"Xander, Xander, come on" Anya shakes him gently.

"He took it awayhe took away the addictionthe cravings and the crampsit's all gone" Willow speaks slowly, disbelieving.

"It's going to kill him, it's going to kill him, it's going to" Anya begins. Dawn is the first to realize that Anya is unusually upset.

"Anya? Anya, come here," Dawn pulls Anya away from Xander's sleeping body.

Buffy, Willow and Giles lift Xander onto the bed once more.

"At least he's not glowing," Buffy sighs, lines on her worried face.

"Anya, what did he do?" Willow asks, joining Dawn and the pale demon.

"It's going to kill him" She repeats, twitching slightly.

"I think he's some sort of empathhe can take other people's pain" Giles offers.

"He must be able to give it off, toodidn't you guys feel that sadness earlier?" Dawn asks, her thin arm around Anya's trembling shoulders.

"It's going to kill himit's just too much," Anya whispers, loud enough to be heard. She looks at Giles with tears in her eyes. "He's not strong enough"

Willow goes to the girl and takes her shoulders. "Anya, I promise you that Xander will not die. He's stronger than you think" She begins.

"No. He's stronger than you think. He's stronger than any of you think," Anya interrupts. "Xander has survived everything, without magic, without being the key, without being a Slayerhe has made it through it all and picked every single one of you up when you were downhe's got scars from battles that we never knew abouthe's the heart of you allyou have no idea what will happen if you lose himif I lose him"

"Anya." Giles says her name and she closes her mouth.

"I think we all need some air," Dawn suggests. She pulls Anya from the room. Buffy, Willow and Giles stand over Xander's body. "I don't knowBuffy, he took my pain away andlook at him" Willow wraps her thin arms around herself, steadier than in recent days, but shaking.

"He's sleeping. He's not dead. He's not glowing. He's going to be fine. I'll slay anybody that tells me different. Okay? Okay." Buffy hugs her redheaded friend and tries to convince herself.

"I'll stay with him. I want you two to go sit with Anya. You may not like her but she has proved that she's a part of this family and she" Giles starts.

"Giles, it's fine. We'll give her something shinyjoking, Giles, just calm down" Willow smiles slightly, trying to lighten the mood. "I won't be calm until everyone in this apartment is conscious and not crying," Giles replies.

"That's been a rare thing around these parts on a good day," Buffy remarks, leading Willow from the room.