Dancing Around Love

Author: Cyclone <cyclone[at]citynet.net>

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link. Plus, archived at http://fanfiction.net/profile.php?userid=62966

Rating: I'm gonna go say R for semi-explicit sex.

Spoilers: Begins immediately after Tabula Rasa but with spoilers up to Older and Far Away (at least). This part only spoils up to one scene in Smashed, though.

Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to the almighty Joss. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Summary: What if Buffy wasn't the only one with an illicit affair?

Author's Note: Okay, so we've got major T/Xness, along with some W/X, W/T, and the A/X demanded by the time setting. I'm not fond of A/X. You have been warned.

Well, we will have all that later on, anyway. ^_^'

Chapter 1

Xander pulled his shirt on and checked his pockets. *Keys, check. Wallet, check. Decently dressed, check.*

"Where are you going?"

He looked up and saw his fiancee eyeing him with equal parts curiousity and suspicion.

"I'm gonna find Tara, see if she's okay."

Anya scowled, "Why?"

He crouched down to tie his shoe laces and sighed. Anya had been getting progressively more possessive ever since he'd proposed to her last summer, and it was starting to wear on him. "Tara's a friend, and she's hurting now."

"So is Willow. Why aren't you going to check on _her_?"

Xander finished tying his shoe laces and stood, grabbing his jacket, "Because she's got Buffy and Dawn to turn to. Tara doesn't. Plus, Wills did mess with our heads, and I'm not sure I'm willing to forgive her for that just yet."

"When are you coming back?" Anya asked plaintively. She wanted sex.

Xander shrugged his jacket on and said, "Late, probably. Maybe not 'til morning." He shot her a reassuring smile, "I'll call." With that, he left.

To the empty room, Anya muttered suspiciously, "You'd better."


"Tara, you in there?" Xander asked, knocking on the hotel door. It hadn't been easy to track her down, but it only took him a few hours. For some reason, the hotel seemed familiar...

His train of thought was derailed when the hotel door opened. Tara smiled and said, "Heyyy, Xander. How'd you fin' me?" He could smell the all-too-familiar scent of alcohol. The blonde witch was clearly intoxicated.

With a disapproving frown, he commented, "You're drunk."

Like a little girl, Tara jumped and clapped her hands happily and squealed, "You noticed!" She grabbed his hand in both of hers and leaned back, tugging his arm and squealing cheerfully, "Come in, Xander, come in."

He let her pull him inside. She practically danced around him and closed the door, leaning heavily against it. He licked his lips cautiously and asked, "Tara, why are you drinking? I mean, this isn't you."

Her previous cheer suddenly vanished, and she asked sadly, "How can you be so sure?" Looking away, she said quietly, "How can you be sure of anything?"

Xander furrowed his brow in confusion, "What?"

"Well, Xander?" Tara asked earnestly, shooting him a penetrating gaze and straightening up, striding toward him. "How can any of us be sure about anything? Willow, sh-sh-she..." She broke into tears and collapsed into his arms.

He held her comfortingly and said soothingly, "Hey, hey, it's all right. I'm here."

Tara looked up, still crying, "She changed our mem'ries. All I know... everything... it could all be a lie she put there. I could be a straight girl; I could even be your girlfriend, and I wouldn't know." She buried her face in his chest and mumbled, "I just... I can't trust my memories anymore. None of us can."

He stroked her hair and gently rocked her. She needed comfort, and he was a comfortador. It was what he did best. "Oh, Tara..."

She looked up at him, biting her lip. There was something in her eyes...

"Kiss me."

He started, "What?"

"Please..." she sobbed, "I... I need to know... if my gayness is..." she choked for a moment, "...a lie."

"It's not, Tara," he said firmly.

She looked up again and trembled, "Please?"

He tried. He really did. But she looked -- and felt -- so frail, so fragile, so vulnerable. He was afraid of holding her too hard for fear she might break. He was suddenly very aware of her attractive figure pressed against him, enfolded within his arms.

*Forgive me, Anya,* he thought, closing his eyes. Opening them, he looked down into her eyes -- liquid orbs that reflected a mixture of hope and fear -- and whispered, "All right." He leaned down and captured her lips with his.

At first, Tara's lips were cold and tasted of alcohol, but there was something indefinable about the kiss that inflamed him. He lost track of time, and her lips melted against his. Suddenly, she felt so incredibly warm and alive, no longer the frail little porcelain doll he had been holding a moment ago.

She moaned, and Xander didn't resist as she pushed against his chest, pressing him back gently. He sat reflexively when he felt the hotel bed touch his calves. He pulled away, "Tara..."

"Please, Xander," she pleaded, her voice cracking slightly. "I want... I _need_... something... that I know is real. _Please_." She caressed his chest and slid a hand into his pants.

He was Xander. He was the heart. He gave comfort when it was needed.

And this was just another form of comfort.

He relented.


"Anya's gonna kill me," he pronounced, staring at the ceiling.

She curled up against his side, "I-I'm s-sor-..."

"Don't be," he interrupted. "It's okay. You needed someone, and I was here. I'm glad I could help, and I'm not above letting you know that I enjoyed every minute of it."

She breathed out a sigh and thought morosely, *So did I.* Tara looked up at him and said, "Th-thank you, Xander." She paused, "We probably shouldn't... no one needs to know."

He looked at her, concerned, "You really think we can keep this a secret?"

She quirked a smile, "As long as it doesn't happen again. And, y'know, me gay." She desperately tried to hide how she felt.

How much she had enjoyed it.

"We tell no one."



"Where the _hell_ were you?!" Anya demanded.

"I told you last night. I was with Tara," he said. "I tried to call, but the phone in the hotel room she's staying at was out."

They'd come up with the story fairly quickly, and it wasn't too hard to move her to a room where the phone really _was_ out.

He'd also realized why the hotel looked so familiar. It must have been some cosmic fate thing or something, but it was the same hotel Faith had stayed at.

Which made this the second time Xander had done something in that hotel that would break Willow's heart.


Tara cut through the parking lot, heading back to the hotel she was staying in. It was dark, and she didn't want to be outside at night any longer than necessary.


She looked up and smiled, "X-Xander. Wh-what are you doing here?"

He held up the grocery bag and placed it in the trunk of his car, "Just doing a little late night shopping." He reached down to pick up the last shopping bag.

"Here, let me help," she said and reached over to take the bag from his hand. Their hands touched, and she felt an electric jolt run down her spine. She absently laid the bag in the trunk and closed it, mesmerized by the look in his eyes.

It was an almost animalistic lust that both frightened and aroused her -- more the latter than the former. He took her hands in his and pulled her close, leaning down to kiss her. She raised her head, and her lips met his halfway.

She felt his hands run across her back and returned the favor, caressing his back and buttocks. She moaned as his hands slid up the front of her shirt and began teasing her breasts.

Panting, she broke the kiss and pulled away, leaning on the car with one hand even as the other fumbled with her pants. She felt his strong arms wrap around her and undo her pants for her.

Succumbing to her lust, she begged, "Take me, Xander. Take me hard. From behind. Oh, Goddess, yes! Yesss..."


"Do you think you'll ever get back together?" Dawn asked.

"I wish I knew."

"But you still love her."

"Very much," Tara reassured her. "I just... sometimes... other things get in the way." *Like Xander...* she thought sadly. She was betraying Willow. They weren't together, but she was cheating on her, and she knew she wouldn't stop.

She couldn't stop.


Chapter 2

"Hey, Tara?"

She opened the door, "Xander? What is it?"

"It's Buffy. She's... kind of on the invisible side right now. An's convinced it's some kind of spell, but I figured I'd check with you first. Any chance one of Buffy's enemies might've... well... screwed up?"

"Well, I, uh, I don't think so..." Tara mumbled, her gaze tracing down his body. *Oh, Goddess! No!*

"You sure? I mean, you took some of your books, right? Maybe we should check. Oh! A-and, um, Willow said you'd left these behind," he hastily stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out the two crystals that had been in the small peacock statue.

"Th-thanks," she smiled and reached out to take them. Something sparked as their hands touched, and she shuddered and gasped at the touch of his skin.

He looked at her and shook his head, "Oh God." He licked his suddenly dry lips.

She looked up at him and leaned into him. He caught her in his arms and guided her into the room, closing the door behind them. He buried his face in her hair and inhaled deeply, taking in her scent. The couple shifted, and he sat on the edge of the bed.

Raising her head, she leaned down to kiss him, and Xander met her halfway, their lips locking passionately together. Pulling back, he croaked, "We shouldn't."

She nodded, "I know." She kissed him again, gently pushing him onto his back.

That day, it wasn't just comfort or lust. That day, it was something more, though neither would be able to define it. That day, they each found something in each other that they hadn't known they'd lost.


"Please don't forgive me, please," Buffy sobbed. "Please don't..." The Slayer slid off the coffee table and dropped to her knees, burying her face in Tara's lap, "Please don't forgive me..."

Tara brushed Buffy's hair back and held her close, whispering tightly, "I have to. O-or I won't be able to forgive myself."

Buffy looked up, confusion crossing her tear-streaked face. "Forgive yourself? F-for what?"

Tara bit her lip. Buffy had just told her her deepest secret. It was only fair that she do the same. "I... I'm cheating on Willow. W- with Xander."

Buffy's eyes went wide, and she yelped, "You're sleeping with Xander?!"

"Shh!" Tara hushed her, looking around with panicked eyes. She hissed, "Not so loud!"

"Okay," Buffy said quietly, "but... _Xander_? I thought..."

"I know," Tara mumbled. "I _know_. I can't really... he's different, somehow. N-not like other men." Her eyes still flicked back and forth nervously.

Buffy finally cracked a weak smile, "He's like a girlfriend that knows guy stuff."

Tara raised an eyebrow. "That's... an interesting way to put it," she allowed. She let out a goofy grin. "He's like a girlfriend with guy parts, a-and he does this one thing with his tongue..." she trailed off, her eyes glazing over.

Buffy's jaw dropped, and she positively _stared_ at Tara. When she finally found her voice, there was only one thing she could think of to say.



Xander leaned against the closet wall. He never knew Anya was claustrophobic, and as much as he wanted to be with her when she needed him, she was driving him nuts with frustration, and they were no closer to figuring out how to kill that demon or get them free of whatever it was that trapped them in the house.

What he needed right now was some time alone to relax.

He jerked upright when the closet door silently swung open. He blinked owlishly at the dim but still blinding light from the hallway. "Tara?"

"Got room for another in this closet?" she asked quietly.

"Sure," he said, stepping back and making room. "So, any luck?"

She stepped in and closed the door behind her. Shaking her head, she said, "No more than last time, and that demon's still on the loose."

"Yeah, trapped in here with us. Isn't that lovely?" he scowled in the dark. He was surprised when he felt her lips on his. The scent of her filled his nostrils, and her hands ran across his body. When she finally broke the kiss, she began kissing her way down his chest.

"Tara..." he whimpered. "We shouldn't..."

She paid him no heed and gripped his fly in her teeth, tugging it down slowly. She wanted the taste of him, she _needed_ it. The stresses of the situation were wearing away at her, and she needed a release, even if it was just in giving him one.

"An and Will are here. We might ge-... ahh!" he gasped and stopped his protests as she began to pleasure him with her mouth.


Willow stared in shock, trying to process what she was seeing. Xander was leaning against the wall of the closet, almost fully clothed, moaning out Tara's name as he reached his climax.

Tara, for her part, was on her knees, with her lips wrapped around a part of Xander that was normally clothed. She was dimly aware of Anya next to her, calling out Xander's name in shock.

When she finally got her voice working again, she could only say one thing: "Tara?!"

Xander's eyes flew open, and he stared at them, "Oh, shit."

"Mmph!" Tara jerked her head back and looked at them. A trail of spittle dangled between the corner of her mouth and the tip of...

Willow refused to think about it. Tara brushed the spittle away and said, "Willow."

It was her name, but the way she said it and the look in her eyes conveyed so much more meaning than the two simple syllables ever could by themselves.

She couldn't handle it. She turned and ran.


"Willow," Tara said, unconsciously wiping her mouth. The pain in the redhead's eyes thrust a proverbial dagger into her heart, and she blinked back tears as the recovering witch fled.

She was only vaguely aware of Anya disappearing down the hall in the other direction. Tara stood and looked at Xander, who bore a haunted look on his face that mirrored how she felt.

"Tara," he choked out, "we should..."

She nodded, "Yeah."

He tucked his manhood back into his pants and started off after Anya, but she caught his elbow, "W-w-wait. She might... let me cast a-a protective spell. J-just in case."

Xander hesitated, then nodded. "All right."


Chapter 3

Willow rocked back and forth, curled up into a ball. She wouldn't cry. She wouldn't!

*But, God, seeing them like that...* she shuddered. It was... she couldn't describe it. They looked so... so happy together, and what right did she have to be upset about it?


She looked up, her eyes red from holding back tears. "Tara."

"Willow, I..."

"You were sucking him off!" Willow accused harshly as she rose to her feet and began pacing. "Just how far did you two go, anyway?" Tara looked away, ashamed, and she suddenly understood. "I see. All the way, huh?"

She continued pacing, then whirled and demanded bitterly, "So tell me: Was it good, having him inside you, giving you what only a _man_ can give you?" She had lost her battle against the onslaught of tears and asked, crying, "Did you enjoy it, getting what I longed for for _years_ and gave up for you?"

Tara cringed, "I-I'm sorry, Willow. There's nothing else I can say."

"God," Willow snarled, "it would be _so_ much easier if it were someone else, someone I could hate, like Anya o-or Amy or even _Spike_, but not _Xander_! _Anyone_ but Xander!"

Tara stared, and a realization slowly dawned on her, "You're jealous."

Willow looked at her strangely, "Of _course_ I'm jealous! You slept with _Xander_! I mean, I know we're not really together anymore, but still..."

"No," Tara shook her head. "No, I mean... you're jealous _of_ me. _Over_ him. N-not just the other way around." She added quietly, "You still love him."

Willow's jaw worked for a long moment before she found her voice, an octave higher than it normally was, "I WHAT?!"

"You love him."

"O-of course I love him," Willow said, shaken but rallying her resolve. "H-he's my Xander. But... but not like that."

"I-if you say so," Tara said skeptically.

Willow decided to let that pass. There were more important things to deal with... such as her next question.

She also really, _really_ didn't want to think about what it meant if Tara was right.

"Do you... do you hate me?" she asked in a small voice.

Tara looked up in shock, then said gently, "No, Willow. I-I could never hate you."

"You must. After what I did... why else would you... would you..." she couldn't finish.

Turning away, Tara said, "I love you, Willow. I don't hate you."

"Then _why_?!"

She whirled around and choked out, "Because it was real."

Willow's jaw dropped. She worked her mouth for a moment before she could speak again, "What?"

Tara looked away and said quietly, "What I had with Xander... at least I knew it was real."

"A-are you saying... what we had... wasn't real?"

The other witch looked up, "That's just it, Willow. I don't know. I _can't_ know. Do you know... how much it hurt... what Glory did to me? I didn't know who I was anymore. I'd lost my identity, but you brought it back to me. And then you took it away again."

"What... what do you mean?"

"Ever since... ever since you cast tabula rasa, I wasn't sure who I was. What I know, what I remember... how much is real... and how much is a lie you put there? I didn't know, I couldn't be sure. I still can't."

"You really think I'm capable of that?" Willow wondered, hurt.

"You were capable of wiping my memories just to keep me from arguing with you," Tara said bluntly. "Twice. It's not such a great leap to go from wiping them to changing them."

"Oh, Tara," Willow mumbled, a horrified look on her face. "I-I didn't realize..."

Tara breathed out a sigh of resignation, "No, I guess you didn't, but that's how I felt, how I still feel. With Xander... being with him was... against everything else I remembered... I knew it was real. I needed that, Willow, something I knew was real. I still do. A-and he gives me that."


"Anya, I..."

"Xander. Well, what have you got to say for yourself, you womanizing cheat?"

He flinched under his fiancee's gaze, then said quietly, "At least make it quick."

Anya stared, and her jaw hung open. "You... you're not going to deny it, rationalize it, explain it away? You're not going to try to pin it on me and my controlling ways or Tara's wily seductions?"

Looking up, he asked simply, "Why should I? You saw it. I cheated on you. Whatever my reasons, it doesn't change what I did."

She grit her teeth. This wasn't the way this was supposed to go. He wasn't supposed to be sorry. He wasn't supposed to admit it. He was supposed to whine and protest and make excuses. He wasn't supposed to be so... so... so _noble_. "Well, before I kill you, I wanna know those reasons."


"What is going on in here?!" Buffy stepped entered the room and looked at them in turn. "Have you two forgotten? We're still trapped in here with a demon in the walls! We need to sort this out. You two find everyone, get them to the dining room. I'm gonna go find Dawn."

Anya glared at him, "We'll finish this later."

He nodded wordlessly.


"Not everything. Not quite," Anya said icily, throwing a frosty look at Tara, who flinched under her angry gaze. Xander scowled and stepped between them, glaring at his fiancee.

Spike frowned. *What the _bloody_ hell is going on here?*

Meanwhile, Anya shifted her gaze to Willow, "We have a powerful witch here, much more powerful than you, Tara."

Willow shook her head, "No. I-I can't."

"No, see. That's not quite true either. Not can't. Won't."

"You don't know how much I hate this... all of this," Willow's eyes flicked to the other witch, piquing Spike curiousity even further. "I don't know if there's even... anything I could do."

Anya glared at her, "Yes, and a good way to find out is to sit around and try nothing. That was sarcasm, by the way."

*Time to step in,* Spike thought. "Look-..."

"It's dangerous."

"And so is all of us dying!"

"No, An," Xander said firmly. "I have to go with Wills on this."

Spike nodded in agreement. For once -- as disgusting a thought as it was -- Droopy Boy was right. He saw the others -- all except Anya -- nodding with him.

Anya looked from face to face and shook her head, "Oh, _I_ see. So _that's_ how it is. Well, if no one else is going to get us out of here, I _will_!" With that, she pushed herself to her feet and stormed off.


"An, what are you doing? This isn't the way..."

"Who are _you_ to tell me what to do, mister?" she shot back, not even pausing in her search of Dawn's room.

"Hey!" Dawn protested as she and her sister entered. "Stop it!"

"Anya, it's not her fault," Buffy said, starting toward the former vengeance demon.

As Anya picked up a small red box from the desk, Dawn yelled, "No!"

Anya crouched down at the items that had fallen to the floor, "Half this stuff is from the Magic Box." She looked up at Dawn, hurt in her eyes, and croaked out, "Everyone's betraying me today."


It didn't take Anya long to figure out why they were trapped in the house. The demon was finally dead. Trapped by her own spell, Halfrek lifted the curse and left in an annoyed huff.

So it was that Spike decided it was time to get some answers.

"All right, you four, what the bloody hell is going on with you?"

Anya, Xander, Tara, and Willow all looked at him. Xander, Tara, and Willow exchanged awkward glances, and Anya merely glared and bit out icily, "Xander's sleeping with Tara."

Spike's jaw dropped, then he chuckled, "Oh, good one. Almost had me going for a minute there."

Silence reigned.

He looked at them uncertainly, "You _were_ joking, right?"

Xander and Tara refused to meet his gaze.

The chipped vampire rolled his eyes and walked up to Xander, poking him in the chest, "So let me get this straight, Droopy Boy. You nearly get your head caved in by her old boyfriend," he nodded to Anya, "to save these two birds," he gestured again at Anya then to Willow, "and then you go and hurt them with a stunt like _this_? Are you out of your bleedin' mind?"

Xander winced. He had never, _ever_ expected that _Spike_, of all people, would _ever_ be able to take the moral high ground with him.

It was humiliating.

So he just shrugged and mumbled, "Haven't exactly ruled that one out just yet."

"I may be evil," Spike growled into Xander's face, "but I _never_ cheated on my Dru." He turned and stalked off in disgust.

"Okay," Xander muttered, his heart pounding as he watched Spike walk into the night, "that was surreal."



She turned, "Tara. What... what do you want?"

"B-before I go... th-there's something you need to know," she said nervously.


The other witch sucked in a deep breath and visibly wrestled with her next words. She said, haltingly, "Xander... he still... he still loves you."

The redhead snorted and said bitterly, "He always had a funny way of showing it."

"You don't understand." She shook her head and explained, her voice unsteady, her eyes filling with tears, "The first night... when Xander and I first... he called for you. Not me. Not Anya. You."

The realization of what Tara meant struck her like a physical blow to the gut. Her eyes went wide, air fled her lungs, and she nearly doubled over. She struggled to find something -- anything -- to say.

She couldn't.


Chapter 4

Buffy stalked through the graveyard like a predator on the hunt... which wasn't too far from the truth, though the idea of eating vampire ashes was more than a little stomach-churning.

She scanned her surroundings and saw someone sitting on a bench. The man had dark hair and was hunched over, looking at something in his hand. On either side of him was a suitcase.

Frowning, she waved to get his attention. It was dangerous to be out at night in Sunnydale, "Hey!"

He looked up, and she recognized him as she got closer. "Xander? What are you doing out here?"

Xander didn't answer, his eyes dropping back to his hand, where he fiddled with... a diamond ring.

Her eyes widened, "Is that...?"

He nodded, still not meeting her gaze, "Uh huh. An gave it back to me. Told to start packing and get gone before she changed her mind about killing me."

"She kicked you out?" Buffy asked incredulously. "But you own that apartment!"

He shook his head, "It's in both our names, actually."

"Oh." Buffy had one more question: "So where're you gonna go now?"

He shrugged, "Dunno. Figure'd I'd find a cheap hotel to crash in until I can find some place more permanent."

"Well, why don't you..." Buffy trailed off, realizing that her suggestion might be in bad taste, given recent events.

"Why don't I what?"

"Well..." she hmmed and hawed, "...you could... you and Tara could... find a place together. O-or something."

Xander lifted his head and finally met her gaze. "With... Tara?" he asked dumbly.

*Well, he's not getting mad...* she thought. She decided to take that as a good sign and said, more confidently, "Yeah. With Tara. I mean, I know you two aren't really comfortable with this, because of Anya and Willow, but you both need a place to stay, right? A-and things are kinda crowded back home, nevermind the whole awkwardness issue."

He smiled, "That's not a bad idea, Buff."

She nodded enthusiastically, "Plus, you and Tara, you guys really need to see how this thing between you two works out, without... well, you know."

His smile faded, but he nodded, "Yeah."

Buffy winced. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to bring that up.

He slid the ring into his pocket and rose to his feet. "Thanks, Buff," he said, mustering a faint smile, then leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. Picking up the suitcases, he walked off toward the hotel Tara was staying in, calling over his shoulder, "Take care, hero mine."

"I will," she replied absently, her hand rising to brush the spot on her cheek where he'd kissed her. In all the years they'd known each other, he'd never kissed her, not even on the cheek, until tonight. It felt... nice. Very nice. A small smile grew on her face for a moment before she realized the ramifications of just what she was smiling about.

*Oh, no...*


"Is Xander a good kisser?"

Willow's glass of orange juice slipped from her hand, toppling onto the counter. She grabbed some paper towels and began to wipe it up. "Uh, what? Why do you want to know?" she asked, a slight edge of guilty panic in her voice. That was interesting. Dawn, too, looked at her older sister curiously.

"Just curious," Buffy lied as she moved to help the redhead. She searched for a reason and found one. "I mean, there's gotta be some reason Tara's willing to jump the fence for him."

When Willow flinched, Buffy realized her blunder. "Oh, Willow, I..."

"Hey, i-it's okay. I-I'm dealing. But... yeah, he's a great kisser. There's this thing he does with his tongue..." Willow's eyes glazed over slightly.

Dawn and Buffy each raised an eyebrow.

After a moment, Willow snapped back to reality, blushing furiously, "Uhh, where was I?"

"The thing he does with his tongue," Dawn prompted, eager to live out her fantasy vicariously through Willow's retelling.

The redhead smiled dreamily. "Oh, yeah. It's... I can't describe it, but it's sooo good. He makes me so..." she suddenly cut herself off, turning even redder than before, her face now matching her scarlet hair.

"I, um, I need to go," Willow said, suddenly standing up and bolting from the room, leaving her breakfast half-finished.



"Hey," Xander called back, not turning around. He stood on the balcony of the apartment he and Tara had just moved into.

"So. We moved in together."

"Yeah. Big step."

She walked up and wrapped her arms around him. There was a chill breeze in the air, and he was cold, though he seemed not to notice.

Finally, he broke the silence, "I did it again."

"D-did what?" she asked.

"I hurt her."

"Anya?" Tara hazarded.

He shook his head, "Willow. No matter what I do, I hurt her. Did you see the look in her eyes when we told her we were moving in together?"

"Don't," Tara protested. "Don't think of it like that. Don't beat yourself up over this. Xander, what we have..."

"...is lust, plain and simple," he snarled.

"No!" she shot back vehemently. More quietly, she said, "If it was, I would never be attracted to you."


"Why don't you come back to bed, Xander?" she asked. She ran a tongue along his neck and began nibbling on his ear and added seductively, "I'm sure I can get your mind off things."

He shivered, but not from the cold, and teased, "You are a wicked, _wicked_ witch. Evil seductress of poor innocent men _and_ women."

"You bet your ass I am," she grinned, sliding one hand down his side and caressing said ass.

He turned in her arms, "_My_ ass? How about yours?"

"Ooh, that'll be new."


Tara lay back in the bed, tired, sweaty, and slightly regretful. She turned her head and looked at Xander, resting peacefully beside her, snoring slightly. He didn't usually fall asleep right after sex, but tonight, they'd kept at it much longer. She wondered if she really had been able to make him forget. She hoped so.

She sat up gingerly. Her rear was still a little sore from... she blushed at the memory. It had hurt, but the pleasure had eclipsed the pain by several orders of magnitude. It was a pity that the pain remained long after the pleasure had faded.

Rising awkwardly, she walked over the kitchen, not bothering to put anything on. The tile was cold to her bare feet, but she ignored it, grabbing a plastic cup and filling it with water.

Tara headed back and leaned against the bedroom wall, cold against her bare back. She sipped the water and watched Xander sleeping. She knew she couldn't stay. As much as she loved Xander and Willow, she knew she was just getting in the way.

They loved each other, and she was just keeping them apart. She knew that, as soon as she figured out how to keep Anya from getting between them, she'd have to leave as well.

She smiled as she watched Xander shifted restlessly. He tended to do that when he was alone, she'd noticed. He also tended to mumble in his sleep. It was cute.

His arm flung out over where she had been lying a moment ago, and he frowned. He reached out searchingly, found her pillow, and pulled it into a hug, smiling again.

"...love you, Tara..." he mumbled into the pillow.

The cup slid from her suddenly nerveless fingers, spilling its contents onto the carpeted floor. Her plans for leaving and allowing Willow and Xander the happiness she knew they deserved all vanished from her mind, shoved out by this new revelation. *God and Goddess,* she thought giddily. *He loves me. Xander loves me.*

Things had just gotten a lot more complicated, but strangely, she didn't mind.


Chapter 5

Xander sighed and leaned back on the bed. *Things would be _so_ much easier if I could just fall in love with _one_ woman at a time,* he thought sourly.

He closed his eyes and thought back, drifting through the mists of time.

He recalled one particularly fond memory. Willow, covered in mud and grinning broadly at him after a rather muddy splash fight. They had been seven at the time. He smiled.

He wasn't in denial about his feelings for her anymore. He hadn't been since he first told her... since she called out for Oz. True, after the Fluke, he'd buried them beneath the tentative friendship they'd had to build up again, but they had never gone away.

She was his Willow. Always was, always would be.

His mind drifted again, settling on a much more recent memory. In the Bronze, right after he came back to Sunnydale. Buffy looked so fragile, so scared.

It was a side of her he'd only briefly glimpsed once before, right after he'd staked Teresa. Despite her strength, she had a vulnerability that called out to him, and even with all her burdens, she just kept on going.

Just as Willow would always be _his_ Willow, Buffy would always be his hero.

His thoughts shifted a few months further back, to the memory of a certain dark-haired girl giving him one of her rare smiles. Cordy had been willing to give up her social status and rule over her clique to be with him.

His smile faded. He'd betrayed her, just like he betrayed everyone else.

But he didn't let himself dwell on that. Not yet, not now. Instead, he focused his thoughts on Anya. His relationship with the ex- demoness had been pretty... turbulent. She wasn't quite a nympho -- he'd read up on that and was firmly convinced that he wouldn't survive a relationship with a _real_ nymphomaniac -- but she certainly enjoyed the pleasures of the bed, just as much as he did.

He'd seen her grow over the years from a vicious, man-hating demon to a still-tactless, money-loving capitalist. It swelled his heart to think that he might have had a hand in that as he remembered her ridiculous but heartfelt Dance of Capitalistic Superiority.

Before his mind could continue to the inevitable thoughts of how he had betrayed her, he let it wander to thoughts about the woman he had most recently fallen in love with. His smile returned as he locked onto a particular memory of Tara laughing under the sun. She had been responding to one of his jokes at the beach party they had just before Dracula came to town. Out in the sun, in the middle of nature, away from the city... she looked so at home there. At ease.

Tara was different from the others. In a lot of ways, she reminded him of the Willow he had grown up with, the shy, stuttering, stammering, and babbling best friend he'd first fallen in love with. But that was far from all of it. Tara had a huge heart. He couldn't think of anyone else he knew who was as compassionate and gentle as Tara.

And she was a demon in the sack. Figuratively speaking, that is. Some of the things they'd done still made him blush when he thought about them.

He let out another sigh and opened his eyes, staring at the blank ceiling. "This isn't gonna get any easier, is it?" he asked any divine power who might be listening.

He got no answer.


Willow was doodling aimlessly in her notebook. Try as she might, she couldn't pay attention to the professor.

Tara's revelation before she left after Buffy's birthday party was driving her up the wall. Ever since then, she'd been obsessing over it, wondering what could have been if she'd stayed with Xander after the Fluke.

Wondering if, perhaps, she wasn't as gay as she had thought.

She shook her head. *I've got to stop dwelling on this!* she thought angrily. Sure, she was upset when she learned that Xander and Tara were moving in together, but that didn't mean they were getting married or anything.

After all, before all this began, she'd lived with Tara, and Xander had lived with Anya. That in itself was proof enough that there wasn't any real guarantee that Xander and Tara would stay together.

*But do I want them to?* she wondered. *And if they broke up, which one would I want to be with?*

She still had no answer to that.

"Miss Rosenberg?"

She blinked and looked up, "Huh?"

"Class is over, Miss Rosenberg. You can go home now."

"Oh!" she blushed. "Sorry."

The professor shook his head patiently, then said, "Whatever it is that's bothering you, Miss Rosenberg, I suggest you sort it out quickly. You have a lot of potential, but I won't have slackers in _my_ class."

She nodded furiously, "Yes, sir."

*How could this get any more complicated?* she wondered.


Buffy moaned into her lover's lips, "Mmm... Xander..."

Spike jerked his head back so fast, he banged his head on a low- hanging branch. "_What_?!" he demanded, pulling away from her and rubbing the back of his head.

"Huh?" she blinked at him dazedly through her disheveled hair. "Spike? Wha-?"

"You called out for... for _Captain_ _Bricklayer_!" he accused, hurt and more than a little angry. He was the Big Bad, not some lapdog body double for Working Boy!

She hesitated a moment before shaking her head belatedly, "Nuh uh."

He looked her over carefully, then nodded as sudden understanding struck. "I'll be seein' you, Slayer," he said, turning and stalking away.

*Cast another love spell, will you?* he thought darkly. *Takin' my Dru for one night wasn't enough for you, eh? You won't be making that mistake a third time...*

Left behind, Buffy straightened her clothing and picked up the bag of meatless Doublemeat burgers. Shooting one last scowl in the direction Spike had left, she headed inside.


"I still don't get it," Dawn shook her head. "Why? I mean, since when were those two a-a couple?" She and her sister were cleaning up after dinner.

"I don't really know," Buffy replied. "Pretty much, I think it's 'cause Xander's a weenie controlled by his weenie, and Tara needed something she knew was real, which he gave her."

"Well, I still think he's better off without Anya, but... Willow..."

"I know," Buffy nodded. "I just wish there was some way I could help get her back together with Tara again somehow." *Leaving Xander free... NO! Stop it! Bad Buffy! Baaad Buffy!*

"Yeah," Dawn agreed. "They were so perfect for each other."

"I wonder how Anya's handling this," Buffy mused.


"Hello, Anyanka."

She looked up. She had been rearranging things in the apartment to fill up the spaces left empty by Xander's departure. "D'Hoffryn," she greeted her old boss. "What are you doing here? I thought I'd already sent the invitation cancellations."

He nodded, "You did. I wanted to see if you were okay."

"I'm fine," she bit out.

"Are you really?" he probed carefully. "Does it not hurt?"

"Oh, it does," Anya nodded, "but I'm coping."

He examined at her for a moment, then nodded agreeably, "Perhaps you have learned the lesson humanity was meant to teach you."

"What?" she looked at him quizzically.

"I denied restoring your powers before because you had forgotten the meaning behind your job. Now, you remember. Perhaps it's time you returned to what you do best."

She stared at him, uncertainty etched on her face.


Chapter 6

"By mission parameters, I'm done here. But I have authorization to take the Doctor out. Do you want me to do that?"

Buffy blinked, thought for a moment, then shook her head, "No. You'd be surprised how useful he is with that chip in his head, demon egg deals notwithstanding."

He nodded. "All right." He hesitated for a moment before asking, "Is what he said true? About Xander?"

She winced, "Y-yeah. I don't really know why. I mean, I don't know why _now_. He's always been there for me, yeah, but... I don't think I could've picked a worse time to start seeing him that way, what with the whole Tara situation."

Riley shook his head, "It's still pretty weird seeing those two together."

"Tell me about it," Buffy deadpanned. "I figured Xander might cause some problems between them, but on the Willow side, ya know? Not... not Tara."

"Well, we'd better get going."

"Yeah, you'd better," she smiled faintly. "You know, that night... I never got the chance to tell you... h-how sorry I was. About what happened between us."

"And you never have to."


"Hey, it's okay," Xander hugged Buffy and gave her a comforting pat on the back.

"Thanks, Xander," she sniffled. "It's just... seeing him again... married..."

"It'll be okay. I'm here for ya, Buff. Always."

She looked up at him and asked in a small voice, "You promise?"

"I promise," he said, then smiled, "at least until something Hellmouthy kills me, anyway."

Glaring at him, she said, "Don't. Don't even joke about it, Xander. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you."

"Sorry, Buff, but... you know me. Joking equals coping."

Leaning into his arms again, she let that slide and instead whispered, "Hold me."

And he did.


Buffy kicked down the door to Xander and Tara's apartment. When she'd heard the Tara's panicked voice on the phone, she had just returned from patrol. She didn't even bother grabbing any extra weapons -- she didn't even know what weapon would work best, and she hoped her stake would be enough.

You'd be surprised how many things that'll kill.

Tara was crouching over Xander's prone form and chanting something in Latin, her hand extended toward the demon. The demon rained blows down on an invisible barrier that rippled and shrank with each impact. It was obvious Tara was tiring and that her spell would soon fail.

The Slayer dropped to one knee and scooped up an axe that lay nearby. Twirling it once for added momentum, she hurled it at the demon, and the axe head buried in its back. The demon howled and stumbled over to Buffy's left, clawing at the axe.

"Buffy!" Tara called. She tugged a broadsword free of Xander's limp hand and awkwardly threw it to the Slayer, who easily caught the weapon and turned, swinging the blade in a high arc. It connected with the demon just above its shoulders, cleanly decapitating it.

Dropping the sword, Buffy whirled and crouched next to Xander, opposite Tara. "Is he...?" she couldn't bring herself to finish the question.

"H-h-he's alive, b-but he's hurt. Badly."

"Get him to a hospital," Buffy said, her eyes hard. "There's something I have to do."



"What the _bloody_ hell was that for?!" Spike snarled, leaping to his feet.

"You know exactly why I'm here," Buffy bit out. "That was a Suvolte demon that attacked them."

Pain exploded in his face, and he found himself flat on his back, staring at the ceiling of his spare crypt. He sat up, "Wha-?"

"You... do... _not_... try to kill my friends. You're useful, Spike, you help me Slay. That's the _only_ reason I didn't have Riley kill you before he left." She raised her stake and poked him pointedly in the chest, "Try a stunt like this again, and you're dust in the wind. I mean it."

That said, she spun on her heel and began to leave.

"What's it take?" he hissed under his breath. Louder, he called, "At least tell me, what does Tool Time have that I don't?"

She paused and looked over her shoulder at him for a long moment, almost as if she was measuring him carefully. When she finally gave her answer, her voice was soft and almost sympathetic.

"A soul."


"How is he?" Willow asked, wringing her hands anxiously as she stepped into Xander's hospital room. He looked so... peaceful lying there, his face free of the lines of worry and fear and manufactured humor that plagued him daily.

"Th-the doctors say he's stable," Tara said, looking up. "H-he broke some ribs a-and his arm, a-a-and he's got a c-concussion. Th-they say h-he'll be fine i-if he w-w-wakes up tonight."

Willow looked at her ex-girlfriend sharply, "And if he doesn't?"

Tara looked away.

"Oh," she said automatically as her mind processed the implication. "Oh, God, no! Xander!" she dropped to her knees and took his cold, limp hand into her own.

"I-I'll be outside," Tara said quietly, then matched action to words.

"Don't do this to me, Xander," Willow snarled. "Don't do this to _us_. Don't you _dare_ die on me, do you hear me?!" she practically screamed before she buried her face in her hands, against his unresponsive hand, sobbing uncontrollably for several long moments. Summoning strength from she knew not where, she looked up and said firmly, "Wake up. Look at me. Make a joke. Resolve Face. You are _going_ to wake up. I'm not giving you a choice here, Xander, you _have_ to wake up! Because I... I..." she stumbled over the words she never expected to say to him ever again.

"I love you."

He stirred, and her heart rose, "Xander?"

She felt his hand twitch. She saw his eyes flutter slightly. She watched as his lips moved, trying to form words.


She felt her heart shatter one more time.

"Tara!" He shot upright, gasping in pain, and his eyes darted around wildly, his gaze finally stopping somewhere over Willow's head, "Tara, are you...?"

"I'm okay," came Tara's quiet voice from behind her. "Buffy came, saved us both."

Willow turned and saw the other witch standing in the doorway behind her. How long had she been there? How much had she heard?

She didn't know, but she had to do something -- anything -- to ease the pain she felt in her heart, the pain of losing the two most important people in her life... to each other.

"I'll go get a doctor."

"Wait," Xander said. She stopped in the doorway and looked back at him. He smiled, "Thanks, Wills. For being here."

She gave him a small smile, "Anytime, Xander. Anytime"


"How're you feeling, Xander?"

"Drugged up to the eyeballs, but otherwise, I'm okay. No pain, if that's what you're asking," he replied. "Thanks for saving me."

Buffy smiled and sat beside him, taking his hand in hers, "You're welcome." Shaking her head, she said, "Oh, Xander, I'm so sorry."

"Don't be. You got there as fast as you could. It's not your fault."

She shook her head, "Yes, it is. I... remember when Riley was here?"

He nodded, still not understanding where this was going, "Tracking that Sewage demon and its eggs."

"Suvolte demon," she corrected. "Well, we found the eggs, and we kinda blew them up. Th-that was a Suvolte demon that attacked you."

He shrugged as best he could, "So you missed one. Big deal. Doesn't make it your fault."

"You don't understand," she shook her head. "We found the eggs in Spike's crypt, nowhere near your new apartment. Spike sent that demon after you."

"So how does that make it your fault?"

"Because..." she said hesitantly, "because before he left, Riley offered to kill him... and I said no."

"Hey, I'm sure you had a good reas-..."

"I slept with him."

Xander stared at her, then chuckled and shook his head, "Sorry, Buff. I guess the drugs must be working overtime. I could've sworn you just said..."

"I did. And it's true. I slept with Spike," she said, hanging her head. She was ashamed... and she knew she was going to lose him now, forever.

After a long moment, he finally asked quietly, "Why?"

"Because... he made me feel... alive again," she said haltingly. Fighting tears, she looked up at him and said, "I'm so sorry, Xander."

She knew. She'd hurt him. A lot. She could see it in his eyes. And that hurt more than any rejection or angry tirade he could offer her.

Closing his eyes, he said, "I'm sure... there's a lot of witty things I could say right now, and I'm sure I should be really pissed... but I'm too tired to be mad. All drugged up like this... I can't think of anything to say except... don't be sorry. Not to me. It's not my place to tell you who to sleep with. It never was," he paused, then cracked a smile, "though that never stopped me before."


"But... thank you, Buffy. For trusting me with this."

"I trust you with so much more than that, Xander," she said with a faint smile. *Like my heart.*


Chapter 7

Xander was staring at something in his hand when Tara entered his hospital room. It had been a week since the demon attack, and he was recovering from his injuries remarkably well.

"Hey," she smiled and waved.

He didn't look up, didn't acknowledge her presence. She frowned and sat down on the chair next to his bed. Brushing a lock of hair out of his face, she asked, "Xander, what's wrong?"

He still didn't look up, but this time, he responded. "It was supposed to be today," he said, his voice filled with grief, fatigue, and something else. It took her a moment to recognize the third thing as despair.

"What was?" she probed gently.

He simply held up the item in his hand, and she felt something catch in her throat. It was an engagement ring, the one he'd given to Anya.

And today was supposed to have been their wedding day.

"Oh, Xander," she said quietly, "I'm so sorry."

He looked up and smiled bravely at her, "Don't be. It's not your fault."

Tara stared at him incredulously and blurted out, "Yes, it is." He looked at her blankly, and she paused for a moment before explaining, "I-if I hadn't gotten drunk, i-if I hadn't asked you to... to make love to me... she w-wouldn't have left you."

Blinking for a moment, he said, "It's not _all_ your fault, I mean. I could've refused. Heck, I could've stayed home that night."

She shook her head. "N-no, you couldn't."

"Oh?" he cocked an eyebrow. "Quite confident in your seduction skills, I see."

"That's not what I meant!" she said, blushing furiously. But he was cracking jokes again, so that was good; it meant he was feeling better... or at least a little less depressed.

"So what _did_ you mean?"

"I-I meant that you... I-I needed... someone, and you... you could never turn your back on anyone who needed you." She smiled and traced a finger along his jawline, saying hesitantly, "Th-that's part of why I... wh-why I... l-love you, Xander." She stumbled a little over the admission, clearly embarrassed and very nervous. He froze, and her hopeful smile faded. "I-is something wrong, Xander?" she asked with a trace of fear in her voice as she began to pull her hand back.

He snapped out of his apparent daze and shook his head clear, then reached up and caught her hand before she could draw it away. "No! God, no. It's just..." he sighed. "Things are just... so complicated... right now."

"Oh," she nodded slowly and took his hand into her own, offering what little comfort she could.


"I've lost them both."

"What?" Dawn looked up at Willow, confused.

"I've lost them," Willow repeated lifelessly. "Xander and Tara. I've lost them both. To each other."

"What makes you so sure?" Dawn probed carefully.

"He called for her," the redhead said numbly. She noticed that the younger Summers girl was looking at her, waiting patiently for her to explain, so she did, "He was... just lying there, almost like he was... dead. I just... I wanted him to wake up, a-and it just... came out. I told him I loved him. He woke up... and called for Tara."

Willow felt as if a great weight had just been lifted off her chest. It felt good to have finally confided in someone. After a moment, she noticed Dawn's expression. "What? Why are you staring at me like that, Dawnie?"

"He really kept his promise," Dawn said, awe in her voice. "H-he never told you."

"Told me what?" Willow asked warily, not sure if she wanted to hear the answer.

Dawn licked her lips uncertainly, "Well, um, remember when you were in that coma? The night you returned Angel's soul?"


"Xander... he told you he loved you that night. And you woke up calling for Oz."

"What?" No, it couldn't be. Dawn couldn't have just said...

"Xander said he loved you, and you woke up calling for Oz."

The weight she had felt dissipate suddenly returned, full force, and she shook her head, fighting another wave of tears. "Oh, God. He must hate me..."

"No!" Dawn shot back, clearly frustrated. "What I'm trying to say is... just because he called for Tara doesn't mean he doesn't love you, anymore than you calling for Oz meant you didn't love Xander."

"But... why didn't he ever tell me? A-after the Fluke..."

"Because he promised Oz he wouldn't," Dawn shrugged. "He only told me 'cause I ran into him just after you woke up." Her shoulders slumped, "Or, at least, that's what I remember, seeing as how I wasn't really there."

Willow wordlessly gathered the younger girl into a comforting hug, but her mind was nowhere near the Slayer's younger sister.



He clicked off the wall-mounted television and tilted his head to face his visitor. Tara was asleep, sitting in the stool next to his bed, lying half on top of him.


"Mmm?" Tara shifted and blinked sleepily at him. Noticing the direction he was looking, she sat up and turned to the door. "Anya," she said simply. Her expression darkened, "What do you want?"

"Tare," Xander said, placing a hand on her arm. "Give us a moment, will ya?"


"I could use some coffee."

"...all right," Tara said reluctantly. She rose and glared at Anya as she passed, "You'd better not hurt him."

Anya simply waited until Tara left, then closed the door and looked at Xander. "D'Hoffryn paid me a visit. He offered to give me back my powers."

"So, what now? Are you gonna wish I'd never been born?"

"Tried that," she deadpanned. "Didn't work. I can't grant wishes to myself."

"Oh," he said, then closed his eyes, "then... make it quick?"


Tara was walking back to Xander's room with a styrofoam cup of steaming coffee in each hand when she heard the muffled cries. She dropped the cups, spilling coffee everywhere, and ran, ignoring the indignant cries and complaints.

She burst into the room and saw Anya leaning over Xander's bed... smothering him with a pillow. "No! Vis zenobia! Solvere!"

Anya was flung across the room and crashed against the wall. She shot to her feet and flung herself toward Xander, but Tara stepped between them, physically holding her back.

"I'll kill you! You cheating bastard, I'll kill you!" she shrieked.

Suddenly, orderlies were there, pulling Anya away and out of the room through brute force.


In another hospital, in another city, a similar scene played out, and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce soon had another visitor.

"Hello, Wesley. Do you remember me?"

He squinted at her. Her voice was familiar, but his blurry vision failed to present him with enough details for him to identify her, so he shook his head.

"It's Anya. I was Xander's date at the prom?"

He nodded. That's right. The former demon... what kind of demon had she been? He couldn't remember. Well, that wasn't important. She was human now anyway.

"Well, I, uh, I heard you were in here, a-and I don't have too many friends these days, so... I thought I'd stop by. What happened?"

"Throat cut," he croaked out.

"Oh. But where's Angel? I-I heard you were working for him now."

Wesley gave Anya an ironic smile, "He's... a little upset. He... tried to kill me." He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He chuckled humorlessly and muttered, "Sometimes... sometimes, I wish he'd never come back from hell."



Chapter 8

Anya teleported to Sunnydale and found herself in what looked like a warzone.

"What in the world...?" she wondered as she looked around. Many of the buildings were reduced to rubble. Those that weren't stood abandoned in various states of disrepair.

Then she heard it. The sounds of battle. Gunshots rang out into the night, and the screams of the terrified, hurt, or dying echoed through the otherwise still air.

She spun on her heel and ran toward the source of the sound. She had to find out what was going on.

She rounded a corner and found herself in the thick of a running battle. About a dozen men and women rushed past, firing various weapons ranging from crossbows to assault rifles at the vampires and demons and -- that looked almost like Adam! -- that pursued them. They were dressed in camou fatigues and body armor and weighed down by bulging satchels and other bags.

Recognizing one, she grabbed his arm, "Xander! What's going on?"

He jerked around, and she started in surprise. Three long scars ran down his face.

Claw scars.

"Anya?" He recovered quickly, his hand dropping to his belt, and he threw something at her, which she caught reflexively. She blinked dumbly at the cross, and he said, "Good, you're not turned. C'mon!" He grabbed her arm and pulled her along, even as he braced the M-16 against his shoulder and fired a burst at the Adam-lookalike with his other hand.

She suddenly found herself with her back pressed up against the wall of a building. Xander ejected the spent magazine from his M-16 and slapped in a fresh clip. She watched in fascination as he slid open the underslung grenade launcher and loaded a 40mm grenade into the tube.

"Fire in the hole!" he shouted before he whirled back around the corner, bracing the assault rifle against his hip, and fired the grenade launcher down the street. "Scatter! Meet back at base!"

He ducked back into the alley and grabbed Anya's wrist. Given the amount of firepower he was carrying and what he was running from, she wasn't about to argue. After only a moment's hesitation, she followed.


Finally, after leading her through so many twists and turns that she lost count, Xander came to a halt outside a chain-link fence barricade. Nine of the other ten who had been with him earlier also approached. He looked around, "Where's Chavez?"

One of the women, a blonde with her hair tied back in a ponytail, shook her head, "He didn't make it. The hybrid got him."

"Damn," Xander muttered, "I thought I'd nailed him with that grenade." Looking up, he said, "Kills?"

Most shook their heads, but one nodded and said, "One vampire with a molotov."

Xander nodded, "Let's go. You guys get the goods to storage and get some rest while I give the G-man the prelim."

There was a round of acknowledgements, and he turned and led them to the gate, which swung open slightly. A looming male figure stood just inside the fence, scanning each of them as they passed. The burly guard raised the assault rifle in his hands and pointed it at Anya.

"Relax," Xander said, waving the guard's gun away, "she's with me."

The guard nodded and lowered his gun, replying with a thick Austrian accent, "Understood."

As Xander led Anya one direction while the other four went in another, she finally recognized the compound. It was the Army base Xander had once stolen a rocket launcher from, back before she had first come to Sunnydale.

"Was that Arnold Schwarzenegger?"

"Not exactly. We got a guy here who builds robots. He modeled them after Arnie's role in the Terminator movies."


He led her to what had to be the base's command center and stepped in. Giles was sitting behind a desk inside, poring over a map of Sunnydale with numerous pins stuck in it.

"Giles, we're back."

The Watcher looked up, and his eyes widened in surprise when he saw Anya. "Anyanka?"

"Ran into her on the way back. We lost Chavez and Wong, but we got most of what we need. We dusted seven vamps total, killed two Fyarl demons, and put a couple dozen more bullet holes in one of Adam's hybrids. Also scored a near miss with a grenade on him before we fell back. Anya's out of the loop, so I figured you should brief her on the sitrep."

Giles nodded, "Get some rest, Xander. I'll fill her in."

"See ya, G-man," he gave a lazy wave -- much more like the Xander that Anya remembered than the precisely military and deadly efficient attitude she had seen just moments ago. Turning to Anya, he said, "I'll be in my quarters. Giles'll give you directions."

He turned and left.

And Giles began to explain.


Xander headed toward what had once been the officer's barracks. It now housed those survivors who still had family or had children, allowing them to stay together in the suites. The single people remained in the barracks, divided by gender.

Because he'd led them at graduation, most of the others had insisted he take the general's suite. It felt wrong, somehow, to have such luxury when others could appreciate it more, so he'd taken in the Maclay sisters too to assuage his guilt.

He smiled. Tara was supposed to be giving her sister another magic lesson tonight. He wondered how that was going.


The Key-made-flesh threw her hands up in frustration, "Why won't it work?!"

Tara, sitting across from her, shot her a disapproving look, "Remember what I said about concentration and calm? I know you want to help, but you won't be able to help much if you can't stay calm enough to cast a spell."

Dawn Maclay sighed and nodded. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She tried again.


"It's very simple, really," Giles said. "At the Ascension, we had rigged the school to explode, but we couldn't find a way to lure the Mayor into it. Buffy, Oz, and Cordelia died, along with half the graduating class." He looked up, "It's probably to your benefit that you left. It was a massacre."

"What about after that? What about the Initiative?" Anya asked bluntly.

Giles winced, "I'm surprised you heard of them. The Initiative had some... ulterior motives. We'd managed to hurt the Mayor -- it took him months to recover -- but one of the Initiative projects, Adam, got out of hand. He instigated a human-demon massacre and built an army of hybrids like himself." His shoulders slumped, "If only Buffy had survived. I'm certain we could have stopped him. We found a spell that might've worked, but we needed a Slayer to cast it."

He turned and sighed, "Willow and Xander met Tara and her sister, Dawn, at college, before the Adam situation and the Mayor's recovery eliminated any chance of a normal life here."

Anya blinked at that. *Of course, with Buffy dead, the monks would send the Key somewhere else!*

"In any case, we later learned that a hellgod named Glory would be pursuing Dawn for... reasons best left unsaid. She never appeared, though, so I suspect the Mayor or Adam dealt with her."

"I see," Anya nodded.

"When Adam and the Mayor began warring with each other, the humans who survived the initial skirmishes gathered here," Giles finished. "And now I must ask: Why did you come back?"

Anya bit her lip, "Because of Xander."

He nodded, "I see. Well, I'm afraid you're likely to be... somewhat disappointed."

"What do you mean?"

"You'll see soon enough."


Anya knocked on the door to Xander's suite, and it swung open, revealing the man who had betrayed her. "Hey, so did he fill you in?"

Anya nodded as she stepped inside, past the shotgun leaning against the wall next to the door. "It's bad, isn't it?"

"Yeah, but we can't give up," Xander said. "I don't want Buffy growing up in a world like this."

"Buffy? I thought she was dead."

"She is," said a familiar voice. Anya looked up and saw Willow cradling a baby in her arms. "He's talking about our little girl here. We named her after Buffy."

"Your...?" Anya stared, stunned. She shook her head, "I don't believe this. I granted the wish that brought us to this miserable little hellhole, and _you_ two are together?! I just can't win, can I?"

"What?" Xander shot her a Look. "_You_ did this?" His eyes flicked past her for a split second, and it took her a moment to realize he had been gauging his chances of getting past her and getting the gun.

Suddenly, she heard the wailing of an alarm. She looked up, "What's that?"

"It's the base's air raid siren," Willow said, her face pale, her voice low and tremulous as she unconsciously shifted her grip protectively around the baby. "We're under attack."


Chapter 9

Footsteps sounded from further within the suite, and Tara and Dawn emerged. The witch was carrying -- awkwardly -- a small pistol in her trembling right hand.

"A battle alert?" Tara asked, looking at Xander. He nodded grimly.

Anya turned and picked up the shotgun that leaned next to the door, then shoved it into Xander's chest, "Well, come on! Are you just gonna stand there? Let's _go_!"

Xander took the gun and nodded. He headed to the kitchen area and opened a drawer, pulling out a pistol. He handed it to Willow, who shifted little Buffy to her left arm and took the gun, tucking it into her belt.

They hurried outside into a chaotic nightmare, and it was clear that the outer perimeter had already been breached.

Xander shot one vampire in the neck, and the 12-gauge blast tore the vampire's head off, dusting it. He grabbed the shoulder of the black man who had nearly become the vampire's next meal and demanded, "What happened?"

"Don't know," the man gasped, trying to catch his breath. "One of the robots got access and opened up the compound for the vamps and 'brids."

Xander swore, then bellowed, "EVERYONE! EVAC! NOW!"

He ignored his own orders, though, and headed straight into the thick of the battle. "Xander!" Tara called. "Where are you going?"

He turned, "Get out of here, all of you. I'm gonna blow up the armory. We can't let Adam get that much firepower."

Tara shook her head, "No, I'm going with you."

"All right," Xander said hesitantly. He turned to Anya, "An, take care of my wife. Please."

She nodded numbly. This was too much for her to handle. Demons, vampires, robots, Adam-like demon-human cyborg hybrids...

"Let's go," she said, putting more determination in her voice than she actually felt.


Xander fired the shotgun at virtually point-blank range, and it threw back the hybrid leader that had once been Riley Finn. Riley skidded across the ground a considerable distance before he tried to get up, but Xander didn't watch, instead racing ahead toward the armory, where he saw three humans desperately defending it with a tripod- mounted heavy machinegun and MP5s.

One of them spotted him coming, and he shouted, "Grenade!" Suiting actions to words, he pulled out a hand grenade and hurled it in front of them. They ducked, and the grenade detonated, blasting a clear path between him and the armory.

He and Tara ducked in behind the trio and took the opportunity to catch their breath, even as two of the small-framed guards struggled to load another ammunition belt into the machinegun.

Xander looked at the three of them, "You three, load up and get to the evac point. I'm gonna blow the armory."

Tucker and Andrew looked at each other and nodded. They began strapping guns and grenades to their combat webbing. The third one, Jonathan, shook his head, "You'll need someone to watch your back while you two rig the place to blow. I'm staying."

Xander paused, then nodded.

Jonathan replaced Tucker at the machinegun as the two brothers began to make a break for it. Xander and Tara entered the armory and began to set explosives everywhere, prioritizing the ammunition and other volatile materials.


"C'mon! C'mon!" Anya urged Willow and Dawn. She bent down over a corpse and liberated the dead man's submachine gun. Bracing herself, she picked a target and fired.

The recoil was far more than she had expected, and it nearly threw her off her feet. The barrel climbed a little, but she managed to keep the weapon on target, shredding the vampire to bits and knocking him on his back even as the gun's hammer clicked on an empty chamber.

She dropped the gun and ran behind Willow and Dawn. A vampire leaped at her, and she backhanded him easily, her demonic strength sending the undead bloodsucker flying.

Dawn staggered to a halt, her hands on her knees. Willow grabbed her arm, "Just a little farther."

"I... I can't..." she panted.

"You have to," Anya said, grabbing her arm, then simply picking up Tara's sister and hauling her in a fireman's carry.

"Hey! Stop it! That hurts!" Dawn screeched, but Anya ignored her and paced Willow as they fled for safety.


"Okay! We go!" Xander said.

Jonathan nodded, "I'm just about out of ammo."

"You go first. We'll cover you."


Jonathan waited for Xander to throw the grenade, then ran as soon as the debris settled, strafing with his MP5 as he made his way to the evacuation point.

Xander had just watched Jonathan disappear around a corner before an explosion threw him off his feet. He shook his head, and looked up to see Riley standing over him, an assault rifle mated to a grenade launcher held in his hands.

"You've been quite the thorn in my brother's side. Now, you die." He leveled the gun at him... and was hurled back and slammed through a wall by an invisible force.

Tara stumbled over to him, "You okay?"

"Yeah," he said. His face turned grim as he examined the detonator, "Damn. Riley blew up the timer."

"So we stay and detonate it manually."

"No, _I'm_ staying. _You're_ getting out of here," Xander said.

She shook her head, "I can't leave you here, Xander."

"Go. That's an order."

"I'm not a soldier. I'm not leaving."


"I love you, Xander. And I can't just run and leave you behind to die."

She picked up the detonator, and he wrapped his hand around hers. Looking into his eyes, she said, "Take care of Willow."

"What?" he asked in confusion.

She pressed the button.


There was a massive explosion at the armory, and an enormous fireball erupted and climbed toward the sky. Anya, Willow, and Dawn stared in shock.

"They didn't come," Jonathan said in disbelief. "They didn't come."

"Oh, God," Willow muttered. "Xander. Tara."

Anya dropped to her knees. "No. No!"

She could fix this. She could! "Give me that!" she demanded, pointing at Willow's gun. The redhead numbly complied, and Anya yanked her pendant off. She pressed the barrel against the pendant...

...and pulled the trigger.


Wesley gave Anya an ironic smile, "He's... a little upset. He... tried to kill me." He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He chuckled humorlessly and muttered, "Sometimes... sometimes, I wish he'd never come back from hell."

"Be careful what you wish for," Anya said quietly. "You just might get it."

Wesley watched her leave, his forehead creased in confusion.


Chapter 10

"I'm sorry, Willow."

She looked up at Tara, "A-about what?"

"I heard you."

"Oh." The redhead's eyes widened in realization, "Oh!" After a moment, her expression shifted into a hardened Resolve Face, "That doesn't mean I'm going to give up."

"I know," Tara smiled sadly. "You wouldn't be the woman I fell in love with if you gave up that easily."

She shook her head, "You don't understand. Did he tell you? About the night he told me he loved me?"

"What?" Tara asked, shock written all over her face.

"I guess that's a no," Willow smiled faintly. "It was before the Fluke, a couple of months after I started dating Oz. I was in a coma, and he told me he loved me." She looked up, "I called for Oz. All this time, I thought it was Oz. I didn't find out until Dawn told me yesterday."

Tara couldn't think of anything to say except, "Oh."

"I love you, Tara. I don't want to fight you... but I have to follow my heart."

"I know," she said morosely. "Me too."


D'Hoffryn shook his finger scoldingly, "Quite disappointing, Anyanka."

"The name is Anya," she corrected acidly.

"Losing your power center the first time was bad enough, but this! This is unforgiveable. You've turned your back on us, Anyanka. You'll never get reinstated this time."

"I know, and I accept that."

He turned and sighed wistfully, "And that was such a _wonderful_ little universe you'd created too."

"I didn't think so."

"I just don't get it," he shook his head. "You gave up all that power, immortality, eternal youth, all for what?"

"You know perfectly well what."

"I suppose I do," he said in disgust. "Redemption," he spat the word out as though it were curse. "Such a... seductive thing, that. So nebulous, so noble, but tell me: What do you actually _gain_ from something so... immaterial?"

Anya could not answer.


//Ring-ring! Ring-ring! *click* Hello, Angel Investigations. We help the hopeless.//

"Angel," Buffy blinked. His voice sounded about as hopeless as those he advertised helping.

//Buffy. What's up?//

"Is, um, is Cordy there?"

//No,// he said quietly. //She's on vacation. With her boyfriend.//

Buffy frowned. There was something odd in his voice. The last time she'd heard him use that tone of voice was...

Was when he found out about Riley.

"You love her," she said bluntly.


"No, no," she rushed to say. "This is great," she lied. "This... this actually makes this easier."

//What's wrong, Buffy?//

"What's not wrong?" she said bitterly. "I'm in love with my best friend, who just moved in with my other best friend's lesbian girlfriend, I think that same other best friend's in love with him too, and I just found out that my first love has finally moved on."

There was silence at the other end for a long moment.

//Is it Xander?// he finally asked.

"Yes," she said in a small voice.

//Don't worry,// Angel reassured her, his voice catching. //He loves you.//

"He did, once," she said dejectedly.

//He still does. He loves you so much... that kind of love doesn't stop.//

"How can you be so sure he loved me that much?" she asked dubiously. This was probably not a good idea -- asking her ex to convince her how much someone else loved her -- but she had no one else she could turn to.

He paused for a long moment, then said, //I nearly killed him once.//


//After I lost my soul, you were sick and in the hospital. I... paid a visit that night. He wouldn't budge. He knew he couldn't stop me, he knew he would die, but he wouldn't step aside. For you.//

"That... he did that?"

//Yes, he did. That's why... I knew I had to leave. I couldn't make you happy, I couldn't risk loving you that much... but he could. He can. He still does.//

"So, what... what are you saying?"

//Buffy, I love you. I won't ever stop loving you. But...// he hesitated, obviously struggling with the words, //...you don't belong with me. You belong with someone like him. You need someone... someone who can fight by your side and still walk with you into the light.//


Spike glowered at the city of Sunnydale. It looked so small from up here, but the Hellmouth was so much more than the little lights and buildings. It was a proverbial magnet for demons and vampires, an upwelling of dark power.

It was also the source of all his troubles.

"Get nice and comfy, Slayer," he said. "I'll be back. And when I do... things are gonna change."


"Hey," Willow said, stepping in and closing the door behind her.

Xander looked up and smiled, "Hey, Wills. What's up?"

"Just seeing how you're doing," she said, giving him a Willow wave.

"I'm doing okay, except this hospital food's horrible."

"So you finally found something you don't like eating?" she said in mock surprise.

"Yeah, yeah, laugh." There was something different about her, and it took him a moment to realize what it was. His smile broadened, "Well, look at you. You're all fuzzy."

Her gaze dropped, and she nodded shyly, picking at a loose thread in the pink sweater she wore. "Yeah."

"What happened to bad ass Wicca girl?"

She shrugged and said nervously, "Found some of my old clothes and thought I'd see if they still fit. You like?"

"Of course I do," he grinned. "_This_ is more like the Willow I fe- ..." he stuttered to a halt.

"The Willow you what?" she asked hopefully, looking up.

"N-nothing," he said, looking away quickly... a little too quickly. "Nothing." He shot her a smile she saw right through, "Just remembering the Willow I first met. The girl with fire hair and emerald eyes and the cutest nose beneath these skies."

Willow blushed and began examining her feet, "When did you get so poetic?"

"Since you walked in," he said sincerely. "You bring out the best in me, Wills. Always have."

Neither spoke for a long moment.

She finally broke the silence, watching his reaction carefully, "By the way, I never got to thank you."

"For what?"

"For waking me up."

He froze. When he found his voice again, all he could manage was a weak, "H-how?"

"Dawn told me," she said calmly. "Yesterday." She gauged his reaction and saw... fear.

"Willow, I..."

"Don't. Don't say anything, and don't you _dare_ apologize," she said, her Resolve Face rising, "because if you do, I'm going to have to apologize for last week, and I don't want to do that."

He blinked in confusion, "'Last week'? What about last week?"

"Didn't you hear me?" she asked, suddenly uncertain. "Before you woke up from that coma?"

With sudden understanding, he shook his head. "No... no, I didn't, Wills. All I remember was thinking about Tara, worried she'd get hurt by that demon. Willow, if I'd known..." he trailed off.

"Well? What would you have done if you'd known?" she asked. "Would you have called out for me? Would you have left Tara for me? Would you have broken her heart for me?"

He looked away.

"That's what I thought."


Chapter 11

"Hey, Xand."

"Hiya, Buff. How's the Slayage?"

"Oh, fine."

"Good to hear. What's new?"

"Nothing much..." she said unconvincingly.

"Except...?" he prodded.

She took a deep breath and said, "I talked to Angel."

He blinked in surprise. That was unexpected. "You talked to Deadboy? How is he?"

"He's... doing well, I suppose."

"And Cor?"

"Well," Buffy smiled faintly, "Cordy's got a new boyfriend, majorly hunky, so I understand."

"Good for her!" Xander said with mostly sincere cheer. "So she's finally recovered from the mistake that was me, huh?"

"Stop that," Buffy said reprovingly.

"Stop what?"

"Stop being so hard on yourself, Xander," she said, leaning over and stroking the side of his face with an intimacy that disturbed one part of him even as another part enjoyed it. "The only mistake Cordy made about you was leaving you."

"Uh, Buffy, is this conversation going where I think it's going?" he asked nervously.

Grinning impishly, she asked, "And just where _do_ you think it's going, Prince Charming?"

"'Prince Charming'?" he squeaked.

"You brought me back to life with a kiss, Xander, remember?" she said, her voice low and almost seductive. "When I first died?"

"Yeah, I remember."

And he did. And he was pretty sure his life was just about to get even more difficult.

"I'm sorry, Xander, but I have to tell you. Even Angel told me to tell you how I feel. I love you, Xander." With that said, she leaned closer and kissed him on the lips.

*Oh, no. My life isn't too complicated,* he thought sarcastically. *Not by a long shot.*


Anya pulled over into the hotel parking lot. She'd started driving late, and it was probably best if she didn't push her luck. Besides, she was already halfway to Sunnydale already.

She checked into the hotel and flopped onto the bed.

She loved Xander. That much she knew. Once the rage had faded, she still loved him.

How could she face him again? After trying to kill him, after admitting that she'd tried to wipe away his entire existence, how could she possibly face him? How could he forgive her?

But she knew, deep down, that Xander could forgive any crime done to him personally. It was harm to those he loved that he couldn't forgive.

And that was why she loved him.

She knew she should be more worried about Tara, Willow, and Buffy. The first had warned her not to hurt him, the second would do anything for him, and the third owed her life to him several times over. Xander might forgive her, but they wouldn't.

She still had to try, though.

Thoughts of forgiveness and redemption weren't the only thing on Anya's mind, however. Well, not this particular example of forgiveness and redemption, anyway.

She also still struggled with D'Hoffryn's question, examining it from every angle, knowing that she wanted redemption... but not entirely sure why.

The question was driving her insane, and perhaps, that had been D'Hoffryn's intent when he asked it, but she would not give up. She could not let it go.

She may not be able to articulate the benefits of redemption, but she knew they existed, knew that she wanted them.

She just had to find out what they were.


The doorbell rang, and Willow answered, "Tara? Wh-what are you doing here?"

The blonde witch shrugged, "B-Buffy called."

"Oh, good," Buffy said from behind Willow. "You're both here."

Willow turned, and they both stepped into the house proper, "What's going on, Buffy?"

The Slayer sighed, "The three of us... we've got something we need to straighten out between us."

"What sort of thing?" Willow asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer.

"A Xander sort of thing."

"You too?" Tara asked.

Buffy nodded, hanging her head, "I just told him yesterday."

"Well, what do we do?" Willow asked. "I mean, I don't want to fight you, either of you, but I can't... I can't just give up."

"We could share him," Tara suggested.

They stared at her.

"What?" she asked defensively. "What's wrong with that?"

Buffy closed her eyes and sighed, "Do you have any idea what that'll do to his ego?"

"Not to mention his libido?" Willow said. "I grew up with him. I know how much of a horn dog he is. Suggest something like that, and he'd go into overdrive."

"And that's a bad thing?" Tara asked, her face full of false innocence.

They paused over that one for a moment.

"So," Buffy said, breaking the silence, "what _is_ it that he does with his tongue?"


She closed the door and locked it behind her.

She slowly began circling the hospital bed, watching the sleeping occupant as he shifted slightly within the confines of the small pallet.

"What is it about you?" she wondered rhetorically, running a hand along the edge of the bed.

"First, the lust spell between you and Willow's pet witch, and the bent freak actually falls in love with you.

"Then I bring Bitchy's feelings to the surface, and she starts mooning over _you_ instead of racing over to Tall, Dark, and Broody in L.A.

"Of course, we musn't forget that man-hating hell demon of yours who actually _forgives_ you for cheating on her, against a thousand years of hating men for exactly that."

She stopped on the other side of the bed, then leaned in close to him, almost nose to nose, "And now I find out _Willow's_ still got feelings for you too."

He shifted again in his sleep, brushing a hand past his face, and she backed away and crossed her arms. "So what's so special about you? Is it that love spell from that Valentine's day so many years ago?" she leaned down and brushed a stray lock of hair out of his face. "Or is it something else?"

She smirked. "Well, Xander," she said, "let's find out."

Amy Madison raised a hand and began collecting power.


Chapter 12

"Oh, Goddess, no!" Tara suddenly gasped and stumbled. The three women were on their way to the hospital to talk to Xander.

"What is it, Tara?" Willow asked, concerned as she helped Tara regain her balance.

"It... it's Xander," she said, distraught. "Someone's casting a spell on Xander. Someone... very powerful." She had almost forgotten about the self-sustaining protective spell she had cast on Xander after they had gotten caught.

And she had just felt the backlash of that spell being shattered through sheer magical power... much more power than she herself possessed.

"C'mon then!" Buffy said, breaking into a run.


Willow tried the door and looked up, "It's locked."

Buffy drew back a fist, but Tara placed a restraining hand on her arm. "Wait." She stepped forward and waved her right hand over the door handle, muttering in Latin.

An audible click sounded, and Tara opened the door.

Xander lay sleeping on the hospital bed, his face twisted into a study of pain. His hospital gown was pulled up above his waist, and a very naked Amy Madison straddled him, bobbing up and down and clearly enjoying herself.

She looked over her shoulder, revealing her all-black eyes, and grinned. "Well, well, look who's here. Care to join in?" she asked, licking her lips suggestively.

"You _bitch_!" Buffy snarled and began to stalk toward her.

"Uh uh uh," Amy said, waving a finger at them reprovingly. "Naughty, naughty." She made a throwing motion, and a bolt of energy leaped from her fingers toward the three, freezing them in place. "I'm not done yet."

She pivoted around to face them and smiled cruelly as she continued to rape Xander's sleeping form, reaching down with one hand to pleasure herself further as the other cupped her breast.

Tara wanted to throw up, wanted to turn away, close her eyes, anything, but under Amy's spell, she couldn't even blink. All she could do was watch as tears burned down her cheeks.

Buffy raged helplessly against the magical chains that bound her in place, all her Slayer strength useless against the restraining spell, but the fury boiled to higher and higher levels. Buffy grimly swore to tear Amy limb from limb once she got free.

Willow, too, watched helplessly as Amy continued to use with the man she loved to pleasure herself. But unlike Tara and Buffy, she could feel something more potent. Something... darker.

As Amy shrieked out her climax, something within Willow snapped, and the spell that held them fast shattered.

Amy whirled, her face twisted with rage and fear. She flung her hand out, and purple lightning shot out toward Willow, who threw a bolt of green fire at Amy. The two magical attacks canceled each other out in a blinding flash, and when Buffy, Tara, and Willow's eyes cleared, Amy and Xander were gone.


"I believe she's next," Rack said, smiling at Amy, then he turned and stepped into his "workshop."

She smiled back and followed him. She hadn't bothered with clothes. A simple illusion was all she needed to conceal herself from mortal eyes, and here...

Well, here, clothing wasn't an issue.

After Amy closed the door behind her, Rack turned, "You want something different, this time. Something more."

"Yeah," she said. "Power. Enough to grind that redheaded bitch's face into the dirt."

He nodded, "You know the price."

She smirked insolently, "Dressed for the occasion."


"Willow," Tara said. "Willow!"

She turned and warned, "Don't lecture me. I'm not in the mood to hear it. I need this."

Tara shook her head grimly, "I know. I just... wanted you to wait for us. And don't go too far."

"Right," Willow said, then paused. "What would be too far?"

"We'll figure that out later," Buffy said, "but I'm figuring on maiming her. Slowly."

"Works for me," Willow nodded.

"What's going on? Where's Xander?"

Tara glowered at the new arrival, "Why do _you_ care? You tried to kill him!"

Anya flinched. "I made a mistake, okay? I still love him."

"Amy kidnapped him," Willow said curtly. She didn't have time for this. She paused for a moment, then pointed, "That way."


The doors to Angel's old mansion suddenly exploded inward, and two witches, a Slayer, and an ex-demon stalked in angrily.

"Welcome to my humble abode," Amy said languidly. She was unclothed, straddling an equally disrobed Xander. She gestured toward where she joined him and gasped, arching her back in pleasure as her spell took effect. She rose and prodded her crotch. Licking the sticky fluids from her fingers, she pressed her other hand across her belly and said absently, "I wonder if I'll get pregnant?"

Without preamble, Buffy launched herself at the nude witch, sword drawn back. With an almost absent-minded wave of her hand, Amy magically flung the Slayer into a wall. "Care to try again?"

Wordlessly, Tara and Willow flung curses at her... but Amy trumped Willow in experience and easily eclipsed Tara in sheer power, and her return barrage negated their attacks and flung them back. She smirked cruelly at the only Slayerette to remain standing, "And what do _you_ think you can do to me, hell bitch?"

Anya trembled and lowered her axe, letting it fall to the ground with a clatter.

Amy smirked down at them and squatted to look Willow in the eyes, "I'll have to thank Rack for that power boost." She stood and looked down at them, shaking her head, "Now, what to do with you...?"

"Let them go," a voice croaked from behind her.

She turned and smiled, "Well, Xander, you're awake."

"Let them go," he said, his voice stronger. "I'll do whatever you want... just let them go."

Amy walked over to him and looked him up and down, then said, "Service me."

He hesitated, then went to his knees, but she stopped him before he could begin and gestured for him to get to his feet. "You really mean it," she said, wonder in her voice as she stroked the side of his face with deceptive gentleness. "You'd really do anything I told you to if it meant sparing them. You love them that much."

He nodded.

"Well, then, let's see just how much you love them." She gestured, and Buffy's sword flew to her hand. She held it out to him, pommel first, and he took it.

Circling around him, Amy pressed herself up against his bare back and guided him toward where the four women lay defeated. "Pick one," she whispered in his ear. "Just pick one and run her through, and the rest of you all go free. I'll even join your little harem," she slid her front against his back seductively, "and let one of your pet witches there cast a binding spell on me. I'll be your slave. All you have to do is pick one and kill her."

"No," he said.

"No?" she turned and waved at Anya. "Not even the hell bitch who tried to kill you not so long ago? Who, by her own admission, tried to wipe your very existence away? Who wouldn't even fight to save you?" Anya looked away in shame.

She gestured to Buffy, "Or how about little Bitchy, who's always held that annoying little double standard in her so-called Calling?" Buffy winced at the accusation.

Xander's knuckles tightened around the sword handle, and Amy smiled victoriously and continued, "What about the redhead here, who broke your heart so many times, it's hard to keep track?" Willow's gaze dropped.

She finally pointed at Tara, "And of course, there's the bent little freak. She's a lesbian. You know she can't love you as much as you love her." Tara looked away.

And Xander gripped the sword ever tighter.


Chapter 13

"Well? Who will it be?"

"I said 'no'!" Xander shouted, whirling around and swinging the sword at Amy. She blocked the blade with a glowing forearm, and he said in dead earnest, "I would rather die than forsake any one of them."

"So be it," she spat, backing away and flinging her arm out. A bolt of purple lightning shot from her fingertips toward him.

"Xander!" Anya yelled. The spell around her shattered, and she leaped toward Xander, knocking him out of the way and taking the full brunt of the magical blast. She collapsed into a motionless heap.

"An!" Xander cried.

Amy ignored him and turned to the other three. Tara and Willow stood, their hands joined, their eyes black. They were the ones who had broken the spell. Buffy charged toward her, and she flung up a hand, but her spell was blunted by the two witches, and the Slayer quickly had her in a full nelson, despite her weak and untrained but furious attempts to fight her off.

Tara and Willow raised their hands... and stopped.

"W-wait. Sh-she's..." Tara stammered uncertainly.

"Yeah, she is," Willow said grimly.

Amy's eyes widened in fear, and she redoubled her struggles to free herself from Buffy's grip.


Amy's shriek was bone-rattling and resonated within the mansion, rising into a howl that penetrated everything. A ghostly mist with the vague image of a face at the front fled from her open mouth and shot out a window. The nude young woman suddenly slumped into Buffy's arms, unconscious.


They turned to find Xander crouching over the ex-demon, who lay on her back, looking up at him.

"Don't do this to me, An," he begged.

She shook her head. "Sorry, Xander," she coughed. "I don't think... I'm going to make it."

"Don't say that, An," he said desperately. "You're gonna be okay."

"Liar," she said with a crooked smile. "You men always lie. I'm... sorry."

"Shh," he said, "don't worry about it."

"Thank you... Xander," she said.

"For what?" he asked in honest confusion.

"For... loving me," she said. "For... believing in me. For... forgiving me." Each word came out harder than the last, and the pain crossing her face attested to that.


"For... proving me wrong. And for giving me... the answer."

And she knew she had the answer. The answer to D'Hoffryn's question was now crystal clear in her mind. Redemption gave what nothing evil could give: A sense of self-worth... the knowledge that she had left this world better than it was when she entered it over a thousand years ago.

"Good... bye... Xan-..." her voice trailed off as her head fell back.

He shuddered and reached down to pull her eyelids shut. Closing his own eyes, he shuddered again and sat back, wrapping his arms around himself.


Xander nodded toward Amy, "What happened with her anyway?"

They were back in the Summers home. The Madison girl was twitching nervously and looking around fearfully while Tara and Willow watched over her.

"I think she was possessed by her mom again," Buffy said. "She remembers being turned human again and Willow filling her in, but when she went into the bathroom, she saw her mom in the mirror and... well... 'Poof!'"

"She gonna be all right?"

"I don't know," Buffy replied. "I mean, she pulled through okay last time, but she's still dealing with the whole rat thing as well as the whole possession deal, so... it's a lot."

"Well, at least we're here for her," Xander said. Then he noticed Buffy scowling at him. "_What_?"

"I'm _not_ sharing you with _three_ women," she declared.

His eyes practically popped out of their sockets, and he asked, his voice climbing an octave, "What? Share? I-is there something I should know about?"

"Well, yeah," she grinned naughtily. "Me and Tara and Willow all love you, and we don't want to fight over you, so we agreed to share you." Her expression slid into a mask of innocence, "You don't mind, do you?"

"Uh, well, no," he stuttered as images danced in his head. "O-of course not."

She pulled him into a hug and whispered in his ear, "Look, Xander, I know losing Anya hurt, but... maybe I can help?"


Whatever he was going to say was cut off as she tiptoed up and kissed him.

After a long moment, she pulled away, gasping for breath, and stared in wonder, "Wow. So _that's_ what you do with your tongue."

He blinked and flushed, "You've been talking about me?"

"Hey," she shrugged, "we're girls. We gossip."


He turned, "Yeah, Tare?"

"Can I talk to you? In private?"


"What is it, Tare?" Xander said as he entered the kitchen.

She wordlessly pulled him into a savage kiss, which startled him, but after a moment, he returned it with equal fervor.

"Mmm..." she moaned and ran a hand down his back.

"Tara," he said when they broke the kiss, "um, is now really...?"

"Oh, shut up," she said impatiently, kissing him again and sliding a hand down his pants.


Tara rose out of the bed and walked over to the window. She leaned thoughtfully against the wall next to the window and peered out into the deceptively peaceful night. She had convinced the others to let her have one last night alone with Xander before they started taking turns and... experimenting... with other possibilities in the strange little love quadrangle they had agreed to.

Her eyes twinkling unnaturally in the night, she turned back and smiled at his sleeping form, but it wasn't her usual sweet smile.

There was only one thing to say.