Inverted Triangle

Author: Cyclone <cyclone[at]>

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link. Plus, archived at

Rating: I'm gonna go say PG-13.

Spoilers: Up to Help, but it starts after Same Time, Same Place.

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

Summary: Love on the Hellmouth is never as easy as it seems.

Author's Note: What can I say? I like love triangles.

Chapter 1

"Hey, Xander!" Buffy waved cheerfully. She held up the Wendy's bag and smiled.

*Okay, girl,* she thought to herself, *this is it. Today, you will ask him out.*

She didn't know why it took her this long to realize it, but Xander was the only guy who was always there for her when she needed him. He brought her back from the dead. Twice. He was there when evil Angel left a message for her with Teresa. He was there when Sunday's gang had robbed her of everything... even her will to go on.

If there was one constant in her Slaying life, one person in her life as a Slayer who stayed with her through thick and thin, it was Xander.

"Hiya, Buff," Xander grinned. Pointing at the bag, he asked, "For moi?"

"Of course. Biggie-sized Spicy Chicken Sandwich combo with Sprite and no tomatoes? Who else would it be for, my dear Prince Charming?"

He cocked an eyebrow, "'Prince Charming'?"

"You brought me back from a deadly sleep with a kiss. What else would I call you?"

"I don't think CPR qualifies as a magic kiss, Buff," he said. He fell silent as he tore into the chicken sandwich with great gusto.

She bit her lip, trying to build up the courage to ask him out, while a part of her berated herself for being such a coward. This was _Xander_, after all, a guy who had been holding a torch for her for years.

So, while she waited, she watched him... and noticed something that made her heart ache. With a frown, she asked, "What's wrong, Xander?"

He snapped out of his reverie and smiled, but the smile didn't reach his sorrow-filled eyes, "Nothing, Buff."

"No," she shook her head, "you have Something Face. C'mon, you can tell me."

"'Something Face'?" he cocked an eyebrow.

She rolled her eyes, "Oh, come on, Xander. Can't I use Willow-isms too?" As soon as she saw the expression that crossed her face when she said that, she knew. But she had to make sure. "It's Willow, isn't it?"

Slowly, reluctantly, he nodded and said three words that caused Buffy's world to crumble around her.

"I love her."

"You mean you... _love_ love her?"

He nodded, "Always have, always will. I didn't realize it until it was too late. When Angel tried to send the world to hell, she was in that coma, and all I could think of was how I couldn't go on without her." He looked up and smiled bitterly, "That's when I said it, and she woke up, just like Sleeping Beauty. I told her I loved her, and she woke up... and she called for Oz."

"Oh, Xander..." she murmured sympathetically.

With a sigh, he slumped his shoulders, "She loved me, Buffy, so much... and I let her go. It's like I let a little piece of heaven slip through my fingers. It hurts... because I won't be able to taste her lips again, because I'll never make love to her, but most of all... because I only have myself to blame for it."

Buffy bit her lip and pulled Xander into a comforting hug. At that moment, she knew exactly what he meant, how it felt.

Because he was her little piece of heaven, and she had just realized he had slipped through her fingers.


"Love poems?" Xander asked, his curiousity piqued.

Willow waved it off blithely, "I'm over you, sweetie."

"Yeah, I guess you are," he murmured sadly.

The redhead looked up, "What was that?"

He shook his head, "Uh, nothing. Nothing."

She gave him a strange look and went back to her first love -- the computer -- while Buffy shot him a sympathetic look. He smiled weakly back at her.

Buffy scowled and said, "I'm gonna go make some coffee. Xander? Some help please?"

"Huh? Oh, sure, Buff."


Buffy whirled on Xander and backed him up against the wall.

"All right, Xander, we've gotta do something about this."

He blinked at the Slayer, "A-about what?"

"This! You! And the moping over Willow!" she hissed quietly. "It's driving me nuts seeing you mooning over her!" *Especially when you should be mooning over me,* she thought somewhat petulantly.

"I'm trying, but I've been in love with her for, like, three fourths of my life. What do _you_ suggest?"

"All right, weekend after we save Cassie's life, you and I are going to hit the town, maybe do some Bronzing. Maybe you'll meet someone you like." *And maybe I can get you to like me again.*

His face twisted into a wry half-smile, "Sounds like a plan."


"Knock knock."

Buffy looked up as the door swung open. "Xander? What are you doing here?"

He grinned, "I do believe we have a date for tonight."

She wrinkled her nose and smiled, trying to hide the fact that her heart was pounding at what he'd said. "'Date'?" she asked. "What do you mean?" She frowned, "And what're you hiding behind your back?"

"Aw, shucks," he said. "I believe it was your idea that the two of us hit the town this weekend. As for what's behind my back..." he pulled his hand out and revealed a single yellow rose, "...a gift. Yellow, for friendship."

Buffy felt her face heat up as she accepted the rose with as much grace as she could muster. She whispered quietly, her voice cracking slightly, "Thank you. You... have _no_ idea how much this means to me."

"Look, I know you feel like you failed Cassie," Xander reassured her, "but you didn't. She might be dead, but so's that demon that probably would've mauled a lot more innocent people if you hadn't killed it. It was just... her time to go."

"I know," Buffy said. "_Believe_ me, I know, but it doesn't make it any easier."

"C'mon, Buff, let's go rock the town. You and I have a date with the Bronze, so let's get going, huh?"

Buffy smiled weakly at him, "Sure. Let's go."


Buffy grinned as Xander's arms flailed around her. No matter how hard he tried to fix it, Xander's dancing always looked more like an epileptic fit than anything any human would actually _want_ to do.

She had decided to go with the flow and tried to mimic Xander's rather uniquely spastic dancing style, but so far, she hadn't had much success.

"Whoo!" Xander suddenly grabbed her arms and swung her around, and before she realized what was going on, they were back at their table.

Buffy sighed in exhaustion, and Xander grinned at her. "Yes! A gen- you-wine Buffy smile. Been waiting to see one of those again."

She flushed and looked away, embarrassed.

For the next few minutes, they both sat there, listening to the music and catching their breath. The music slowed and drifted into a familiar tune, an Elvis classic.

"Maybe I didn't treat you Quite as good as I should have. Maybe I didn't love you Quite as often as I could have. Little things I should have said and done, I just never took the time...

"You were always on my mind. You were always on my mind..."

The lyrics struck a chord in Buffy, and she suddenly stood and extended a hand to Xander, "May I have this dance?"

He looked up, surprised, "Uh, sure, Buff." He hesitantly took her hand and led her back to the dance floor. She settled easily into his arms and rested her head on his shoulder as they danced.

It wasn't real. He still didn't think of her like that. He was probably thinking about Willow even as he danced with her.

But for now, at least, she could pretend.


The song was just coming to an end when the vampires interrupted. One of them, a burly vampire who appeared to be the leader of the gang, stood on the stage and bellowed, "Behold! The time of prophecy is at hand! Tonight is the Bloodfeast, and our master, Dhorrgak the Unholy, shall rise and rule over the cowering masses!" He leaned down to bite the neck of the band's lead singer...

"I don't think so."

...and stumbled back from Buffy's kick. Steadying himself, the big vampire smiled, baring his fangs, "Slayer. Your presence was also foretold. Kill her! _Bleed_ her! Tonight, our master will dine on the blood of a Slay-urk!"


"You talk too much," Buffy told the pile of vampire dust.

Most of the vampires charged toward her. The rest fell on the panicked crowd, literally thirsting for blood. Buffy saw Xander pulling out a stake and tried to keep an eye on him, but all too soon, she was buried in the battle, unable to spare any attention to Xander except a fleeting and silent prayer that he be all right.

The battle only took a couple of minutes, but as with all battles, it seemed to take much, much longer. There were a LOT of vampires.

When the battle was finally over, Buffy leaned on her knees to catch her breath and took that opportunity to look around. Xander was bleeding from a cut on his forehead, and there looked to be quite a few casualties.


"Xander, are you...?"

"I'm fine," he said, wiping the blood away with the back of his sleeve. "Just a flesh wound. I'm a little more concerned about him." He pointed, and Buffy turned.

The floor had broken open, and a demon was, well, levitating out of the hole. The demon looked mean, covered in spikes and bony armor plates, and it had a pair of curved horns sprouting from its head. In fact...

"Didn't I kill you last night?" Buffy asked, confused.

The demon's eyes snapped open, and he blinked at her with very human eyes. "What? Oh! No, no, no," the demon said conversationally. "That was my brother, Avilas. I'm Dhorrgak, nothing like Avilas. He was never really too bright, always 'crush, kill, destroy,' no subtlety whatsoever. Of course, that's better than what Skip did."

Buffy just blinked in disbelief, "'Skip'?" *What kind of a demon name is 'Skip'???*

Dhorrgak nodded sadly, "Yes. My youngest brother was always a bit of a rebel do-gooder. He turned his back on everything our family stood for, broke dear Mother's pulmonary arch." At Buffy's continued look of confusion, he explained, "He's working for the Powers That Be now. A liaison with that Champion in L.A., whatsizname, the ensouled vampire."

The Slayer's eyes went wide, "You mean Angel?"

"Yes!" the demon snapped his fingers. "That's it! Angel! His son, too."

"Skip's son?"

"No, _Angel's_ son."

"Deadboy has a son?" Xander gaped.

"Yes, yes. Kid's called the Destroyer, or so I understand. Supposed to be a downright nasty fellow, that one." He paused, then asked politely, "Are we going to fight now, or should I just go ahead and begin my reign of terror?"


They staggered out of the Bronze, Buffy leaning heavily on Xander, her arm around his shoulders.

"Angel has a son," Buffy muttered, still in shock over that revelation.

"Yeah," Xander nodded. "And... how is that possible, anyway? I mean, hello? Vampire."

"I know what you mean," Buffy nodded. She winced, regretting the motion, "Damn it! I'm gonna be sore for _days_. Dork Guy hits a _lot_ harder than his brother."

"Maybe I and my magic fingers can help?" Xander suggested.

"_WHAT_?!" Buffy screeched, not believing her ears... which were turning red, thanks to the image that crossed her mind's eye.

He blinked at her, then grinned, "Wellll... sounds like _someone's_ having some naughty Xander thoughts." His expression sobered, but there was still the twinkle of amusement in his eyes, "I know, I know. Not really. But gimme some credit, Buff. Just because I'm a guy doesn't mean I'm _always_ thinking about sex. I meant a massage."

She blushed, "Ah, yeah. That'd be great, Xand."


Willow looked up as they entered the Summers home, "Where were you guys?"

"Yeah," Dawn demanded. "We've been trying to find you all night. We found some prophecy about something called the Bloodfeast that's supposed to happen tonight and free a demon named..."

"Dhorrgak the Unholy?" Xander guessed.

Dawn stumbled to a halt, "Yeah, how did you...?"

"We stopped the Bloodfeast and killed the Dork Guy," Buffy said. "Now, if you'll excuse us, Xander promised me a massage for this poor abused body of mine, and I don't want to wait a moment longer. Come on, Prince Charming."

"Lead on, my lady," he replied with a mock bow.

Willow pouted as she watched them go off into Buffy's room.

Dawn sighed and pouted too. "Well, there goes one night of mega-cool research down the drain," the Key complained as she began closing down her computer.


Xander knocked on the Summers door and was surprised when Willow opened the door. "Hey, Wills. What's up? The Summers girls ready to go?"

The redhead shook her head. "No, not yet. Come on in," she said, stepping aside.

"So, how are you, Wills?"

"I'm... okay," she said hesitantly. "It-it still hurts, sometimes, but I'm dealing. Actually... I think, maybe... it's time I started moving on."

He looked up and said nonchalantly, "Really? Anyone in particular catch your eye?"

She paused, then said, "Actually, yeah."

"Someone I know?" he asked, a painful twinge of hope in his voice.

"Maybe," she said playfully. "If things work out, you'll be the first to know. I promise." She poked him in the chest, smiling broadly.

He smiled back. Whoever this girl was had to be someone really special to bring that kind of Willow smile to the surface. Whoever it was, she was one very lucky girl... assuming she swung that way. For Willow's sake, he hoped she did.

"Well, good luck on that," he said, trying to ignore the ache in his heart.


"All right, Xander, what's wrong?"

"Huh?" he looked up, blinking at her curiously. Buffy had taken to visiting the work site at lunch every day to chat with Xander, and he really appreciated it. "What do you mean, what's wrong?"

"Exactly that. Xander, you've been acting weird and mega-depresso again all week."

He sighed. "It's..." he hesitated. "It's Willow."

"Again?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "I thought we got you over that?"

"Hey, like I said, I've been in love with her for three fourths of my life. It'll take more than a couple of nights on the town and a good fight with vampires and a monster demon to 'get me over it.'"

"I'm sorry, Xander," Buffy said sympathetically, "but... you have to move on."

"I know. I _know_. It's just..." he paused, then said quietly, "...she's found someone else."

Her eyes widened, "Who? And how come...?"

"Because she hasn't made her move yet. Buffy, she told me she's in love with someone new, and all I could do was stand there and wish her luck."

"You just... stood there? And didn't tell her? You sound like she did six years ago."

"I wanted to, Buff! I really did, but... when she told me... I... I haven't seen a Willow smile like that since... since Tara..." he choked off, unable to finish. He shook his head, "I couldn't do that to her, Buff. Whoever it is she's in love with, she makes her happy. I hurt her when we got caught Fluking... I'm not going to do that to her again."

"So she didn't tell you who it is?" Buffy asked quizzically.

"No, she didn't," Xander shook his head. "She said it might be someone I know and promised I'd be the first to know if it worked out."

Buffy stared at him, "Did you ever consider the possibility you would be the first to know because it could be you?"

He blinked at her, then shook his head again, "No, Buff. She's gay, remember?"

"Oh, so, what? The Fluke and Oz were just phases? She nearly became a vengeance demon for someone she wasn't really in love with? Her 'kinda gay' vamp-self was just jerking you around when she groped you?"

Wincing, he said, "Buffy, I just... I don't want to get my hopes up, not again."

She looked at him carefully, "'Again'?"

"Yeah, again," he said. "After the Fluke, I had hoped... God, I really thought..." he trailed off. "It wasn't like that time in the hospital. She _knew_ how I felt... and she still left me."

Buffy wordlessly pulled him into a hug and rocked him quietly.


"Buffy, what's going on between you and Xander?" Willow asked from the kitchen counter where she was watching the popcorn pop in the microwave. Dawn was over at a friend's house, and they were preparing for a truly Scooby night. Xander was going to be coming over with the movies.

"Huh?" she looked up. "Me and Xander?" So, this was it. Willow really did love him. And Buffy was going to lose him. Despite how she felt about him, she couldn't get between them if this was going to make him happy. "Nothing, really. We're just... working on our friendship. Seeing if I can get Willow rights," she said, managing a smile.

The redhead smiled at her and sat down across from her. "Okay, Buffy," she said hesitantly, "um, I want you to close your eyes. I-I want to do something, a-and I don't want you to freak out."

Buffy blinked. Where was Willow going with this? She shrugged, "Okay." She closed her eyes.

And felt warm lips pressing against her own. Her eyes flew open, and she pulled back in shock, staring at Willow in disbelief, "You... you _kissed_ me!"

"Yeah. She did."

Both women turned toward the voice. Xander stood in the doorway, his eyes lifeless.

Buffy gasped, "Oh, no. Xander."

As if that had been his cue, he suddenly turned and fled.

"What's wrong with Xander?"

The Slayer whirled on her, "God! You're as blind as he _ever_ was! He's in love with you!"

Willow stared for a moment, "He's _WHAT_?!" She tried to get her mind around that, failed, and sputtered, "Try that again. _Xander_ is in love with _me_??"

"_Yes_!" Buffy bit out. "How many times does he have to tell you that? First when I sent Angel to hell, then when you were about to blow up the world, and you still don't get it?" She sighed, closing her eyes, "Look, I'm gonna go talk to him." She turned and left.

Willow stared after her and muttered, "When she sent Angel to hell...?" As the realization dawned on her, she paled and shook her head in denial, "No. No, i-it can't be. Th-that was Oz."


Chapter 2

"Xander!" Buffy ran up behind him.

He turned, "Hey, Buff."

"Oh, Xander, I'm so sor-..."

"Don't be," he cut her off. "It figures, huh? Me and Wills switched places. Now I'm the one in love with _her_ while she's obliviously chasing after you."

Buffy winced, "She's, uh, not quite so oblivious anymore."

"You told her?" he asked quietly, blood draining from his face.

She bit her lip and nodded, "Yeah."

They stood there in companionable silence for several long minutes. Xander was grateful to Buffy. For nearly his entire life, he'd had Willow to turn to, but in the past few years, they'd grown apart.

He'd been in love with Willow as long as he could remember. He'd just been too stupid to realize it.

Too scared to admit it.

He'd grown up afraid he would turn into his father. He was afraid that he'd hurt Willow if he ever acknowledged how he felt for her, the same way his father hurt his mother.

Instead, by denying his feelings until it was too late, he had hurt her more than he had thought was possible. Bruises heal, but broken hearts don't. He was learning that painful lesson first-hand.

Buffy finally broke the silence, "Xander?"


She licked her lips nervously, "You told me... you once said that it hurt because, even though you love her, you wouldn't be able to taste her lips again."

"Yeah, so?"

"You can... you can taste them off mine. I-if you want."

He looked at her strangely. That kind of offer made no sense whatsoever, but... there was something in her eyes, a nervous mixture of hope and fear. He wasn't sure what to make of it, but whatever it was, he could tell it was somehow important to her.

"All right," he said, leaning down slightly. She tilted her head back and tiptoed to reach him. Their lips met awkwardly for a moment, and after a moment, he tried to pull away, but she held him close, refusing to let him go.

To his surprise, her tongue darted past his lips, and she moaned softly as she explored his mouth with her tongue. He returned the favor, slipping his own tongue into her mouth and was, for a moment, lost in the sensation.

Finally, Buffy pulled back, gasping for air and grinning goofily at him.

He blinked at her, "Okay, Buff... wh-what the _hell_ was that?"

"A kiss, silly," she replied, still feeling like she was floating on cloud nine.

"I know _that_," he shot back. "I mean... why?"

"Well..." Buffy hesitated, looking away, suddenly nervous, "remember what you said before? A-about letting a piece of heaven slip through your fingers? I... I know how that feels."

Xander shook his head in disbelief. "A-are you saying...?" he couldn't finish the thought. It boggled his mind too much. He just couldn't quite get a mental grasp on the idea.

She nodded, "Yeah." Looking up at him again, she explained, "You were always there for me when I needed you, Xander. Angel wasn't, Parker sure wasn't, and Riley left when I needed him the most. And don't even get me _started_ on Spike. I may be your hero, Xander, but you're my hero too. You're always there to save the day. You're like Batman. No superpowers, but really determined."

He smiled, "Thanks, Buffy."


"Harris, it's your redhead."

He looked up. The crew had gotten so used to having Buffy, Willow, and Anya show up last year, they had taken to calling them his "Harem." It had been somewhat annoying for a while, but he'd gotten used to it.

But now...

He stepped out. "Hey, Wills."

"Hi, Xander," she said, giving a faint smile and a little Willow wave.

"What's up?" he asked, as nonchalantly as he could. He suppressed a wince when he heard his voice break.

"I-I've been thinking."

"A-about what?" he stammered.

Willow looked away, "I was just remembering how I felt when I caught you kissing Cordy that night, when Angel lost his soul." He flinched but didn't say anything. She didn't seem to notice and continued, "I remember wanting to die. I knew something was wrong with Angel, but I just... I just didn't care anymore."

He finally spoke, his voice ragged, "Willow, I..."

She turned and cradled his face in her hands, looking into his eyes, "And I can't help wondering..." she broke off for a moment, stroking his cheek tenderly, "...if that's what you're feeling right now."

They stood there for a long moment, looking into each other's eyes, ignoring the world around them.

Finally, she broke the silence, "Why didn't you ever tell me?"

The spell broken, Xander blinked and looked away. He gasped out, "I'm sorry, Wills. I just... I can't deal with this right now." He pushed away from her and turned away, hurrying back into the work site.

Leaving one very confused redhead trying to sort out her feelings for the two people closest to her... and their feelings for her.


Buffy strode up to the door and knocked loudly, "Xander, are you in there?"

She heard the sound of someone stumbling, followed by a loud thump and some quiet swearing. After a moment, the door opened, and Xander smiled at her, "Heyyy, Buff. C'mon in." He swung the door open, slamming it against the wall, and stepped aside.

Stepping inside, she looked him over carefully. His rumpled clothing, his uncoordinated motions, his slurred speech, and his stuporous grin could only mean one thing. "You're drunk!"

"Yup!" he said, nodding cheerfully.

Buffy shook her head in annoyance, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Why are you drinking, Xander?"

"Why?" he repeated. "'Caushe the love of my life -- that'sh Willow -- jusht kished m' besht frien' -- that'sh you -- lasht night, and my besht frien' jusht tol' me she loved me, and I'm shooo confused."

"Oh, Xander," she muttered in frustration. With a sigh, she said, "I'm here for you, at least."

"Yesh, you are, Buff, an' I'm glad," he paused, his gaze no longer focusing on the present. "She ashked me today... why I din't tell her."

"So why didn't you?"

He smiled, "Tara'sh a good kisher."

Buffy blinked. Then blinked again, when the meaning of what he'd just said penetrated. "_What_? How would _you_ know?"

He waggled his eyebrows suggestively at her. "Wouldn't _you_ like to know? I know 'caushe I taught 'er how. She'sh a nat'ral at it. Doesh thish thing wi' her tongue..." he trailed off, his eyes glazing over pleasantly.

She glared at him. Okay, sure, he was mega-depressed because he's in love with Willow, and Willow liked her. But that didn't mean she had to just stand there and watch while he fantasized about someone _else_.

And just when did he and _Tara_ have a thing, anyway?

He sighed, interrupting her train of thought, "An' now she'sh gone, and Willow'sh not happy, 'cept when she'sh wi' you."

Well, she'd figure that out later. Right now, she had a drunk and morose best friend/hopeful lover to deal with. She drew him into a hug and said the only thing she could think of, even though it wasn't likely to help much... if at all, "Xander, I love you."

"I know," he said dully.

She pulled back and shot him a mock glare, "I'm sure you could sound a little less excited if you tried."

He grinned, then suddenly swooped his head down and kissed her. The kiss was over before her mind could register it properly, and she gaped, "What was that for? Not that I'm complaining."

Grinning, he said, "Your lipsh looked sho cute. Sho kishable. Couldn't resisht. Jusht like with Wills back durin' the Fluke." His smile slipped a little, "Shorry."

She smiled reassuringly, "Don't be. Like I said, no complaints here." She wrinkled her nose and amended, "Even if you do smell like booze."

The Slayer tiptoed and reached up to kiss him again. He returned the kiss and reached around her, pulling her close.

A part of her told her to stop, told her that this was wrong, just as wrong as sleeping with Spike was, but it was a quiet voice, drowned out by six years of emotional turmoil and affection for the one man she could depend on.


Xander groaned as he blinked his eyes opened. Hangover. Great. He sat up unsteadily, then looked around. He noted with some panic that Buffy was lying on the bed next to him... but a quick double-check indicated -- much to his relief -- that they were both still fully clothed.

He smiled and leaned over to whisper in her ear, "Morning."

She shifted and mumbled back, "Mmm... morning, Xander..." Suddenly, she stiffened and sat up, yelping, "Xander? Oh, my God. We didn't... did we?"

"I'm thinking no. Note our dressed-ness."

"Oh good," she breathed a sigh of relief, then looked at him mischievously. "I certainly would hate to have forgotten our first time."

"Buffy!" he hissed, turning red.

Her smile faded, "It's starting, isn't it?"

"Huh? What's starting?"

"The whole sexual-tension-love-triangle-awkwardness thing," she said simply. "I love you, and you feel awkward around me. You love Willow, and she's freaking out. She loves me, and I am _definitely_ freaking out about that."

He sighed, "Yeah, I guess it is." He looked at her, "This is why I never told her. It's tearing us apart... because we all want more, and now we can't settle for less."

"Well, I guess... I guess I should be going, then, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess you should."


"Hey, Harris!"

He looked up, "Yeah, Jerry?"

"Where's your blonde? I noticed she hasn't shown up lately. Trouble in paradise, or are ya just movin' on?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Well, your fiancee stopped showin' up a few months back at the other site," Xander winced, "and the blonde stopped showin' up, and just the other day, your redhead showed up."


"So, I was wondering if you'd finally figured it out."

His eyes narrowed, "Figured what out?"

Jerry shrugged, "That women're good for nothing 'cept a good lay."

Xander didn't even remember hitting him. The next thing he knew, he was towering over Jerry's crumpled body, his fist extended. He glared down at him and snarled, "Don't you _ever_ talk about my girls like that again."

"Hey, hey, hey! What's going on here?" Tony called, walking over. He glared at the fallen construction worker, "Damn it, Jerry, this is your last warning. Run your mouth again, and I'm calling this in to the office. You're on as thin ice with them as you are with me."


Tony looked up, "And Harris, go home. Take a coupla sick days off or something. Whatever's got you on edge, deal with it. I can't have emotional time bombs working on the site here."

Xander was inclined to argue, but the look in the foreman's eyes discouraged that thought, "All right. You're the boss."


Willow didn't know what to do. Xander was in love with her. For a while, she had hoped that what Buffy had said was wrong, that the Slayer had made a mistake.

But when she had confronted Xander at the work site that day... she knew. Buffy was right. Xander really was in love with her.

But she didn't love him. Not like that. Not anymore.

At least, that's what she'd thought. She'd spent a lot of time wrestling with what else Buffy had told her. With what she had thought Oz had said.

That it was really Xander.

Now, she didn't know how she felt.

But she was going to find out, one way or another.

She just needed to visit the Magic Box first.


Chapter 3

"Alatheia, Aphrodite, hear me," Willow intoned.

"Reveal to me the truth of the heart," she lit the candle.

"Show me the heart's desire of these whose images appear before me," she laid the photograph in front of her. It was a picture from years before of the three of them -- Buffy, Willow, and Xander -- during that trip the zoo, taken just before Xander had been possessed by the hyena.

"Yield no falsehood. Reveal in truth, the heart's desire."


Willow sighed as she started the walk home. The spell hadn't worked.

She had found the Magic Box deserted, still destroyed, a testament to her own destructive handiwork.

Just seeing it had made her shudder.

But she had shoved those disturbing thoughts to the back of her mind. She had had more important things to worry about... like finding out where their hearts really lay.

Apparently, Anya had decided not to risk the unstable structure to rescue the supplies still trapped within, but that hadn't been a problem for her.

But the spell hadn't worked. She had seen no vision, was no closer to learning who really loved whom.

With a yawn, she shuffled into the Summers home and headed toward her bedroom. The spell -- even though it failed -- had taken quite a bit out of her, and she wasn't about to risk the temptation of drawing on the Earth's energy for something that a good night's sleep would fix easily enough.

She undressed and slid into bed. Her tired mind, already half asleep, didn't quite register the fact that it was already occupied.


Anya pondered her situation.

Being a vengeance demon wasn't as fulfilling as it was before. Her mind kept straying off the job.

She could quit, destroy her power center, become human again.

But did she want to?

She didn't know. She didn't know she was -- who she'd be -- if she did. She needed to talk to someone... she needed to talk to him.


"Mmm..." Xander shifted sleepily. He flung his arm over the bed... and encountered an obstacle. "Mmm?" he queried, his mind still fuzzy from sleep.

*Okay,* he thought, his hand exploring his bedmate. *Warm. Good. Not vampire. Feels human.* He felt his hand cup around something he easily recognized, and he nodded to himself, *Yup, definitely human. Definitely female. Good. Not demon. Nice, verrry niiice...*

Now if he could just remember who he had gone to bed with last night.

He felt the woman next to him shift and snuggle against his chest, and he smiled.

But his smile faded as synapses began to fire. He opened his eyes, blinked against the dim but still blinding morning light, and as his eyes adjusted, he wondered whether he should panic or celebrate.


"Mmm..." Willow moaned as she felt fingers caressing her breast, then gasped as she felt the hand slide down her front toward her nether regions.

She shifted and rolled over. Who was it?

It took a moment for her foggy mind to recognize the person next to her, and she blinked in confusion, "Buffy?"

"Morning," the blonde said, before leaning forward and kissing her.


"Mmm..." Buffy moaned into the kiss.

It was a good kiss. A _really_ good kiss. The person kissing her pulled back, and she stifled a yawn.

Something was wrong with this, but she wasn't awake enough to figure it out just yet. Maybe if she saw who it was...?

With that thought in mind, she ratcheted her reluctant eyes open and saw...


"That be me," he said with a grin.

"What are you doing here?" she asked dumbly.

"Well, I _was_ kissing you. Something wrong, Buff?" he asked, concerned.

"Yes. No. Maybe. Hold on. Lemme wake up first," she mumbled as her brain, dazed from both sleep and the kiss, tried to process the new information.

Her eyes went wide, and she got up. She shot him a look and said, "Get dressed. Something weird's going on."

"Something Slayer-y?" he asked, rising from the bed and reaching for his pants.

"Uhh..." she uhhed as she stared at his... then she shook herself back to her senses. "Possibly."

After they were both dressed, she stormed out the door, "Willow!"

Without waiting for an answer, she opened Willow's door... and stared. Her face twisted in disgust, "Oh, God, Willow! The Buffybot?"

The blonde on the bed sat up and glared at her, "Excuse me?"

Willow, sitting next to her, whipped her gaze between the two Slayers, staring at them alternately, clearly confused.

"Hey, what's going on... here?" Dawn blinked at them, awakened by the ruckus. She too looked between the two blondes, then asked, "Uh, which one of you's the Buffybot?"

"She is!" both of them insisted, pointing at each other.

Dawn nodded slowly, then said carefully, "Okaaay. Umm, I'll be going to school now."

With that, the Key-turned-human made a dash for the stairs.


Xander headed for the door. He had to get to the Summers home as soon as possible. There was something here that was just not... connecting.

Not that he was complaining or anything like that.

He opened the door and was surprised to see someone standing there, about to knock.

No, of course the situation wasn't complicated enough.


"Hello, Xander. I need to talk to you."

"Um, this _really_ isn't a good time, An. Can it wait?"

"No, it can't."

"Fine," he said. "We'll talk on the way to Buffy's. There's something kinda odd going on."

"And you still haven't told me what that is," a certain redhead complained from behind him.

Anya raised a curious eyebrow.

"All right. We'll talk at Buffy's."


Xander stormed through the front door of the Summers home... and froze, staring.

He looked over his shoulder at the two women behind him, then looked forward again.

"Okay, what's going on?"


Two Buffys, two Willows, two Xanders, and one Anya sat around the Summers dining table.

"Okay, so we're all real," Buffy -- the one who had woken up with a Xander -- said. "No robots, no evil alternate vampire versions."

"Right," Xander -- the one who had woken up with a Willow -- nodded.

"And we know which three of us are from the same world -- this world, right?" Buffy-who-woke-up-with-Xander continued.

The were various nods and sounds of agreement all around.

"But what brought you three here, then?"

"Yeah," Xander-who-woke-up-with-Buffy nodded, "I mean, who would want to make two of each of us?"

"I can think of a few reasons," Anya said, eyeing the two Xanders speculatively.


Her gaze dropped as she muttered, "It's one of those things, huh?"

Willow-who-woke-up-with-Buffy raised her hand timidly, "I, um, I think it might be my fault?"

Eyes turned on her, and she blushed, "Well, um, when I... this whole... love triangle thing... I tried to cast a spell last night... t-to find out who we really loved. To 'reveal in truth the heart's desire.' I guess I made our heart's desire true. Or something like that."

They thought about that for a long moment, until something occurred to Willow-who-woke-up-with-Xander, "Hey, Xander?"

"Yeah?" chorused the two Xanders.

Willow-who-woke-up-with-Buffy shook her head, "This is going to be too confusing. We need something to call you three until we can get you back."

They looked at each other, then Buffy-who-woke-up-with-Willow spoke first, "Well, I can be Anne again."

Xander-who-woke-up-with-Buffy scowled, "Don't even think about calling me Lavelle. Alex'll do."

They looked at Willow-who-woke-up-with-Xander, who blushed and shook her head, shrugging nervously. Xander -- as opposed to the newly- renamed Alex -- smiled, "How about... Rose?"

She smiled up at him, "I like it."

Xander returned the smile and said quietly, "I thought you might."

Anya, Buffy, and Willow all felt a stab of jealousy and regret.

"So, Rose, what did you want to say?"

"Well, um, don't you have work today?" she asked.

He shook his head, "Nah. This whole mess here... Tony told me to take a few days off, clear my head, sort this out."


Anya shook her head irritably, "I'm leaving."

"What?" Xander blinked. "But, An, what was it...?"

"Forget it," she shook her head adamantly. "It wasn't important."

She held a tight grip on her feelings, but it was obvious to her that he'd moved on.

Or perhaps, not moved on at all.

Xander loved Willow, more than he could ever love her.


Buffy called in to the school, letting them know she wouldn't be in today, and the six of them engaged in a timeless Scooby Gang tradition -- a research party.


"You really love him, don't you?" Willow asked quietly.

Rose looked at her and nodded, "Of course. He's Xander, and I'm Willow. It's like a law of the universe. Xander loves Willow, and Willow loves Xander." She looked at her local counterpart curiously and asked, "Are things really that different here?"

"I thought they were," Willow replied sadly.


"Okay," Anne said, with no small amount of annoyance, "can you quit that?"

"Quit what?" Buffy asked.

"Giving me that look. You know, the same look I -- we -- gave Willow when we found out about Tara."

Buffy winced, "Ah, well, it's just... I like guys. A-and seeing you... serious identity issues here."

"Uh huh," Anne nodded. "Guys. 'Cause, y'know, it always worked out _so_ well with guys."

"Hey, I..."

Anne shook her head, "When Oz left, Xander still hadn't come back. He was the only guy I could really count on, and he didn't come back. Me and Will... we bonded, let's just say. We were there for each other."

"Xander didn't come back?"

"No, he didn't," Anne's head dropped. "I think... I think he might be..."

Buffy reached over and gave Anne a comforting hug. She seemed to be giving a lot of them lately.


"Buffy, huh?"

Alex smiled, "Yeah."


"Why not?"

Xander shrugged, "I mean, I know I love her, but... I haven't loved her like that in a long time."

"You sure about that?"

He had no answer.


Chapter 4

Xander sighed as he sat on the bench, holding his hot chocolate in both hands. He watched his breath fog up in the cold air in front of him, then turned his head and looked at Rose, watching her every nuance as she took tiny sips of her own hot chocolate.

She noticed his stare and asked, "What? Do I have something on my face?"

He shook his head, smiling, "No. Just admiring the view."

Blushing and smiling shyly, she looked away, "Stop it, Xander. You're making me blush."

"Aw, c'mon," he said. "Look at me."

She did.

"Here's a memory for ya," he said, lifting his mug of whipped-cream- topped hot chocolate and touched the whipped cream against her nose.

"Hey," she protested halfheartedly.

He grinned, "'You're Amish! You can't fight back... 'cause you're Amish!'"


With a smile, he leaned forward to kiss her nose, but she pulled back, picking up a napkin and wiping her nose. His smile faded, "What's wrong?"

"This. Us," she sighed, looking away again. "W-we should be working on getting me and Alex and Anne back home, not... not goofing off like this."

"But... I..."

Rose whirled on him, her eyes blazing, "Don't say it. You don't love me. You love your Willow, and I'm not her. Just like I love my Xander, and you're not him."

He flinched, "I-I'm sorry. It's just..."

"I know," she said, stroking the side of his face. "It hurts because she doesn't feel the same way." She smiled sympathetically, "I know you're just pretending, and it's okay. I did the same thing with my Xander when we were keeping an eye on Buffy and Owen our Sophomore year." She noticed him staring at her again and frowned, "What?"

"That far back?" he muttered in shock, not hearing her. The revelation had poleaxed him. "She loved me that long?" He trembled for a moment, then closed his eyes and lifted his mug to his mouth, draining it shakily, relishing the pain as the hot chocolate scalded his throat... punishing himself for his own stupidity.

Xander blinked when she touched his wrist and gently pushed his hands to each side. Looking into his eyes and smiling faintly at him, she said hesitantly, "You're not my Xander, and I'm not your Willow... but for now, we can pretend."

He was a bit dense. He freely admitted that. But even he could figure out what she meant when she leaned forward and kissed him full on the lips. He hesitated for just a moment, then wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, drinking in the sweetness of her lips, inhaling her scent, committing every detail of this moment to memory.

When she pulled away, she was smiling broadly, and he was blinking rather dumbly. "R-Rose?"

"Shh," she shhed. "Just until we find a way to send us back," she said quietly, looking into his eyes and brushing a lock of hair out of his face, "I'll be your Willow, and you'll be my Xander, all right?"

He paused for a beat, then nodded, "All right."

She leaned in for another kiss.


"Wow, this place is beautiful," Willow said in wonder as she watched the sunset. How could she have lived in Sunnydale all her life and missed this spot?

Anne smiled wistfully, "Yeah. We kinda stumbled onto it a couple of years ago while wandering around before patrolling."

"The sunset's so romantic from here," Willow mumbled.

"This was our spot," Anne said.

The redhead turned to look at her, "'Our spot'? A-as in a you-and-me spot?"

"Uh huh."


Anne smiled at Willow and leaned over. Impulsively, Willow leaned toward her, and their lips met.

It was different from when she had kissed Buffy. More natural, less awkward, and oh so much better. This kiss wasn't tainted by the surprised uncertainty that had caused Buffy to pull away.

When they finally broke the kiss, Willow blinked at her and asked, "Wh-what was that for?"

Anne sighed, "Sorry, it's just... I miss her. I miss my Willow. And being with you here, in our spot..."

Willow nodded, "I understand. It's rough for me too. I mean, seeing you, knowing how you feel and still unable to do anything because you have your own Willow waiting for you in your world."

"We'd better find out how to get us back soon. I'm going nuts here."

"Maybe I can help?" Willow said mischievously.

"Maybe you can," Anne grinned.


Buffy flipped over the last vampire and plunged her stake into its heart from behind.

"Damn it," she snarled, straightening up awkwardly.

"What's wrong?" Alex asked.

"I think I strained something with that last jump," she said, then stretched experimentally. "Ow!"

"Here, let me," he said, sidling up behind her. His hands caressed her back and smoothed out knotted muscles.

"Oh, yeahhh, that feels _gooood_..." she moaned.

He whispered quietly into her ear, "If you want, I can make you feel _really_ good."

She felt her face heat up and pulled away, turning around. Waving a finger at him as if to scold him, she said, "Now, now. Don't tempt me."

Grinning mischievously, he waggled his eyebrows suggestively and asked, "And what if I do? Tempt you, that is."

"Well, I might have to make you follow through on that," she warned playfully. "Whether you like it or not."

Alex shivered, grinning, and said, "Ooh, kinky." Cocking an eyebrow, he shot back, "I don't see any problem with that from my end. Do you?"

Blushing again, she made a point of eyeing him up and down, then mumbled, "No problems from this end, either." Her mind flashed back to what she had seen the morning Alex had first arrived here.

"Uh, Buffy? A little drool."

"Huh?" she snapped out of the memory and reached up to wipe her mouth... which proved to be completely free of any evidence of her momentary lechery. She glared at him. "You... you... you...!"

"Gotcha," he grinned.

"Hey, you two," Anne called irritably, "could you at least do this somewhere less public?"


Xander watched Rose, who lay next to him, admiring every detail of her face.

"Mmm..." Rose sighed in contentment and looked lazily at him.

He could only think of one thing to say.

So he said it.


She blushed and looked away, "Aw, c'mon, Xander..."

He still couldn't think of anything else to say.


"Quit it!" she said shyly. "I'm not _that_ good in bed."

"Says _you_!" he said indignantly, poking her in the shoulder. "And honestly, which of us here is in a position to judge, hmm? Trust me. I really meant it when I said 'Wow.'"

"But..." Xander began to tickle her, and she giggled. "St-stop. Stop it!"

"Not until you admit that I'm right."

"Okay, okay," Rose held up her hands in mock surrender. "I, Rose, freely admit that I am the best lay in Sunnydale." Her cheeks turned scarlet, and she muttered shamefully, "Oh God, I feel like such a slut just _saying_ that." Glaring at him, she asked, "Happy now?"


"No?" she squeaked, suddenly worried.

He grinned, "Of course not. Now that you've made such an extravagant claim, you're gonna have to prove it to me."

Her mouth dropped open, and she made a rude sound of indignation and jabbed an accusing finger at him, sputtering, "I can't believe you just... you..." She stopped, her eyes narrowing, and then said seductively, "Fine. I will." With that, she leaned over and began kissing her way down his chest.

"I was sorta hoping you'd say that."


Buffy hung up the phone and slumped onto the couch, "Okay, Rose and Xander can't make it."

"Why?" Willow asked. "What's up?"

The Slayer scowled, "I may be wrong, but I think they're screwing."

"Figures," Willow mumbled irritably. "Xander never could say no to a horny girl."

"Willow, the horny girl we're talking about here is you, remember?"

"I'm not _that_ horny," the witch blushed. She changed topics, "So it's just the two of us tonight, huh?"

"Yup," Buffy replied, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. They had drawn straws, and Anne and Alex were taking Dawn to a movie and then going patrolling.

"Yay," Willow said. As much as she normally enjoyed research, it was less fun when they couldn't find anything.

The phone suddenly rang. Buffy picked it up, "Hello? Uh huh. Oh, no. All right, we'll be right there."

"What is it?" a worried Willow asked after Buffy hung up.

"It's Tuesday," Buffy deadpanned as she began dialing Xander's apartment. "What else would it be? Dawn's in trouble."


"She's been kidnapped?" Xander asked, hefting the broadsword in his hand.

"Yeah," Anne nodded. "We followed them. They took her in there." She pointed at the large abandoned mansion.

"Great," Xander said sarcastically, "Deadboy's old home. D'you suppose this is a Key thing?"

Buffy glowered, "It better not be. For their sake. Let's go."

The six of them marched toward the old mansion, weapons bared.


Chapter 5

Buffy and Anne went first, armed with stakes. Behind them were Xander and Alex, Xander carrying a broadsword while Alex gripped an axe. Willow and Rose brought up the rear.

The mansion appeared to be deserted, but an odd greenish glow emanated from the other side of a door at the back of the front room, beckoning them further.

Buffy nodded at Xander and Alex, then nodded to either side of the door. Taking their cue, the two men sidled to flank the door. Anne kicked the door down, and the two Slayers rushed in, followed quickly by Alex and Xander.

The room was empty, save for the source of the greenish glow: a swirling portal in the center of the room.

"I guess... we go in," Buffy said, eyeing it warily. Just looking at it made her nauseous. She shot a look at Anne, "Slayers first?"

Anne nodded grimly. "Slayers first. On three."

"Three!" Buffy said, and the two Slayers leaped into the portal.

Buffy found herself unable to breathe and floating down a twisting tunnel of sickly green light. It reminded her of Sliders, only green and nauseating. She swallowed the bile that threatened to rise.

She did _not_ want to find out what would happen if she threw up in here.

Finally, she tumbled face first on the ground. She gulped in the fresh air and looked around. Anne was pulling herself to her feet next to her, and behind her was a portal identical to the one in the mansion.

Everything else, on the other hand, was completely unexpected, and she stared in shock. The light of the stars and full moon revealed a forest of enormous trees standing at least a hundred feet tall surrounding them, though the clouds promised rain.

Ahead of them was an enormous castle built of worn-looking stone, covered with creeping vines. The rotted wooden drawbridge hung open, its rusted chains obviously in no condition to lift them. The porticullis was down, but smashed apart.

She turned as first Alex and Xander, then Rose and Willow landed behind them.

"Ooh, I think I'm gonna be sick," the two redheads said in stereo, covering their mouths with their hands.

"Okay, I'm guessing we go _there_," Alex said, pointing at the ancient castle.

They walked up to the vine-choked moat surrounding the castle, and Xander prodded the drawbridge dubiously with his toe. The wood creaked and shuddered, and a part of it crumbled away where his shoe touched it. "This thing doesn't look too stable."

"M-maybe we should go one at a time then?" Rose suggested halfheartedly.

Buffy shook her head, "No. That's probably what they want. To split us up. We go together."

"But how?" asked Anne. "This thing won't hold all of us."

"Like this," Buffy replied. She plucked Alex's axe out of his hand and walked over to one of the shorter trees on the edge of the moat. Then she started chopping.

After a few minutes, the tree creaked and fell with a loud crash, forming a bridge across the moat near the drawbridge.

"Well," Xander commented, "if they weren't expecting us before, they sure are now."

One by one, the two Slayers and four Slayerettes began crawling across the fallen tree toward the castle. Buffy was just about to reach the other side when it happened.

Shooting out of the moat came a snake-like head, lashing out at the nearest of the six would-be rescuers. Rose flung herself out of the way, and the moat monster's snout impacted the fallen tree, sending it spinning around.

"Whoa!" Buffy cried out as the makeshift tree bridge rocked with the impact. All she could do was cling to the wood with all her Slayer strength as the world whirled around her.

When the tree settled again, she looked back, and her heart leaped to her throat. Rose dangled precariously from the tree, her hand clutching a vine desperately. Xander reached down and grabbed her forearm...

...just as the snake creature struck again. The motion knocked Xander off-balance, and the two fell together into the moat.

"Xander!" Buffy and Willow shrieked in unison.

The witch rose to her feet, her eyes black and arms extended. Snarling at the giant snake looming above them, she thrust her hands out and bellowed, "Monstrum incendere!"

A column of fire erupted from her fingertips and blasted the snake creature, and it reared back, wailing in pain. Buffy leaped off the tree and onto the flagstoned entrance, grabbed a sharpened steel shaft that was once a part of the porticullis, and hurled it at the snake.

The makeshift javelin skewered the creature through its lower jaw, and its scream rose to an ear-splitting shriek as it withdrew, retreating back under the water.

The four remaining Scoobies rushed the remaining distance across the moat.

Willow dropped to her belly and reached frantically toward the suddenly calm surface, "Xander? Xander! XANDER!!!"

Anne squatted next to her and solemnly placed a hand on her shoulder, gently pulling her back up to her knees. She shook her head, "They're gone."

"NO!" she shrieked. "No..." She collapsed into Anne's arms, sobbing Xander's name.

Buffy felt like crying too, but she blinked back the tears that threatened to rise. She was the Slayer, and her sister needed her.

"We have to keep going," she choked out.

Willow suddenly jerked her head up and glared at her in shock, "How can you just-... I thought you loved him!"

"I do!" she shot back. "But we don't have time to mourn them now. We have to save Dawn."

"To _hell_ with Dawn!" she shrieked. "I just lost... Xander just..." Willow couldn't finish and crumpled into Anne's comforting arms again.

"Look," Buffy said, steeling herself, "maybe... maybe they found another way in or something."

"Do you really believe that?"

"I have to."


"Alex, get down!" Buffy called, tearing the arm off the animated statue she was fighting and hurling it at Alex's opponent.

The marble arm flew over Alex's head and crashed into his own stone opponent in the chest, and both shattered. He in turn spun and buried his axe in the chest of the statue Anne was fighting before the Slayer twisted its head off. Buffy's opponent did not last much longer.

Exhaling slowly, Alex kicked one of the stone fragments and sent it skittering down the hall. "I'm gonna have a _really_ long talk with this guy's interior decorator."

"Points for creativity, though," Anne cracked. "I mean, homicidal architecture's kinda new. Beats the old 'vampire horde' deal by a mile."

"A-actually, statues aren't technically architecture..." Willow said hesitantly. She was still holding in the pain of losing Xander, but she was coping, clinging to the faint hope that Xander and Rose had survived. She paused. "I'm being a geek, aren't I?"

They nodded in unison.

"Just checking."


"Should've kept your mouth shut, Anne," Buffy said through gritted teeth as she staked yet another vampire.

"I'm thinking yeah on that, Buffy," the other Slayer replied while flipping another vampire over her shoulder. She whirled around and staked it.

Alex's axe swung left and right, lopping off hands, arms, and heads indiscriminately while Willow did her best to hold her own. After a rather disastrous experiment with a so-called pinpoint fire spell had nearly incinerated them earlier, she had decided to just stick with levitating stakes.

And they worked out pretty well, thankfully.

"Buffy! Help!"

She turned and saw that Alex was in dire straits. Fighting with his back to a door, he now struggled with arms that reached through the door and clawed at him from the other side.

Reacting purely on instinct, she charged. She cut through her opponents like a scythe through wheat and tore him free of the grasping hands.

Just as something in the room exploded.


"Ohh..." Buffy moaned as she slowly sat up, holding her head. She had a pounding headache, and it was making it hard to think.

"Hey, how're you feeling?" a soft male voice asked.

"Like a grenade went off in my head," she groused at Alex.

He winced, "Close. The explosion was a few feet behind you. I think the vamps shielded us from the worst of it, though."

"Willow? And Anne?" she asked hopefully, looking around the elaborately decorated bedroom for them.

He looked away.

"No," she shook her head in denial and pleaded. "No. I can't believe... NO! I-I... I can't... lose them both..." she shuddered as tears began to stream down her cheeks.

"Shh, shh, it's okay," Alex said, pulling her close. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."

She leaned into his shoulder, unable to stop crying. He wordlessly held her close, absentmindedly stroking her hair.


"You know," Buffy commented, "this was probably a really bad idea."

"Probably, but I'm not complaining," Alex replied.

"But I used you," she said, ashamed.

"No, you didn't, Buff," he said. "Don't ever think that. I... I wanted this as much as you did. I... with Willow and Rose gone... we're never going to get back... a-and when I look at you... I see everything I ever loved my Buffy for."

She paused and thought that one over for a long moment. "Yeah, well, still... we could've waited until we _weren't_ in mortal danger," she complained. "Not exactly how I imagined my first time with Alexander Lavelle Harris."

"Well, we'll make the second time better," he promised. "But we have to get moving if we're going to save Dawn."

"Right." *Oh, God. I can't believe I forgot about Dawn!*


"Buffy! Alex!"

The Slayer looked up, and her jaw dropped in relieved surprise, "Anne! Willow!" She turned and gave Alex a quizzical look, "I thought you said..."

He shrugged, "I guess I was wrong."


Chapter 6

Xander swung the torch at the floating suit of plate mail, which was remarkably unfazed by the fiery brand. It lashed out at him with the mace it clutched in its gauntlet, and he ducked and backed away.

Which proved to be a mistake, as his right foot encountered one of the many skeletal remains of the dungeon's former occupants. With his foot stuck in the still-intact ribcage, he stumbled back, dropping the torch he had taken from the wall as a makeshift weapon.

He freed his foot looked up just in time to see the animated suit of armor swing its arm back for a killing blow.

"Fulmenos venite!"

Electricity leaped from Rose's fingertips to the empty armor, blasting it and causing it to tumble apart. Xander snatched the mace and swung hard at the other animated armor, knocking its helmet off. The rest of the armor clattered harmlessly to the hewn stone floor.

"You have _got_ to teach me that trick," he declared.

She blushed.


As they continued walking down the corridor, Xander considered just how lucky they had been. After falling into the moat, the two of them had had to swim hard to avoid becoming lunch meat -- the big snake thing had apparently _not_ been the moat's only occupant -- and it was by pure chance that they'd managed to find what must have once been a sewer outlet.

He'd lost his sword somewhere in the moat, so he had taken one of the torches hanging on the wall as a weapon. Now, he hefted the mace he had appropriated from the animated plate mail, taking comfort in its hefty weight as they continued down the corridor.

Xander jerked his head up and paled when he heard the muffled explosion that shook dust down on top of him and Rose.

"Oh, no." He turned to look at her, "You don't think..."

She shook her head, "I-I hope not." Her eyes widened, "Look out!"

He turned and found himself facing a quartet of skeletons. "When did this turn into a Dungeons and Dragons game?" he asked in disbelief.

He didn't have any more time to wonder about it further as the undead creatures advanced on him and Rose.


Willow cried into Anne's shoulder, and the blonde held her and stroked her hair soothingly.

"I-I'm sorry, Anne, but..."

"Shh," Anne rocked the witch comfortingly, "I know. It's okay. I understand."


Willow's further protests were cut off when Anne kissed her.

When the Slayer broke the kiss, all Willow could do was blink and muttered, "Huh? Wha-?"

"Sorry," Anne blushed. "I just... it's not a crime to grieve, Willow. I-I had to get your mind off it somehow."

"Well," Willow nodded breathlessly, "it worked."

Anne smiled, and Willow's eyes were drawn to her lips.

She really wanted to kiss those lips again.

"Are you going to seduce me now?" Anne asked innocently.

Willow blinked, her face matching her hair, and sputtered, "Wh-what?!"

Anne stuck her tongue out at the witch and said, "Hey, I recognize that look, you wicked witch. Don't try to fool me. To be honest, I'm flattered."

"Really?" the redhead asked, her voice small and tremulous.

"Really," Anne assured her. "And you know how hot we Slayers get."

Willow shook her head, "No, I don't."

"Well," Anne smiled, "let me show you." She leaned in for another kiss.


Willow was still depressed. Though the sex certainly helped, that didn't change the fact that she _had_ just lost the two people she loved the most.

Anne was trying. She really was. One of Willow's concerns was that she was trying too hard. She had her own Willow back in her own world, but she seemed to have latched onto her as a replacement. Willow herself had almost done that, forgetting for brief moments that Anne was _not_ her Buffy.

If Willow didn't figure out a way to send Anne back soon, she might not want to. And that would hurt Anne's Willow. She didn't want to do that, and she knew, deep down, neither did Anne.

While she was mulling that over, her eyes caught movement in the distance, and she looked up... and relief flooded through her.

"Buffy!" she called, waving frantically. "Alex!"

Buffy turned and saw her, then waved back, clearly relieved, "Anne! Willow!"

In a moment, the four of them were together in a massive group hug, crying and babbling.

"Oh, Buffy," she sobbed, "I thought... I thought..."

"I know," Buffy nodded. "Me too."

"Look out!" Anne suddenly cried.

Willow turned in Buffy's arms and suddenly couldn't move when the Slayer shifted her grip into a pin. Alex twirled his axe and swung it toward her, but Anne tackled him aside and wrested the axe from his hands.

Willow twisted and rammed her elbow into Buffy's ribs, driving her back and freeing herself. She spun and kicked at the Slayer's legs, but she easily danced out of range.

Suddenly, the axe Alex had been carrying flew over her shoulder and buried itself in Buffy's chest. Instead of the bright crimson of blood, a thick bluish slime oozed out of the wound, and Fake Buffy collapsed.

"Wh-wh-what was that?" Willow demanded shakily.

"Some kind of doppelganger," Anne said grimly. "Same thing happened with Alex... or Fake Alex, I guess I should say."

Willow shuddered and fell into Anne's arms again. Losing them was bad enough, but for them to give her this moment of hope and take it away from her...

Well, she'd know better next time.


Buffy sent her sword through an elaborate series of thrusts and swings, pressing the attack on Pseudo-Willow, who was holding her own. This fake was a lot better than the ones she and Alex had killed earlier, but that didn't matter.

She had promised to find whatever sick bastard had done this and give him, her, or it the maiming he/she/it deserved, and she wasn't about to break that promise.


Willow backed away as the Fake Buffy pressed the attack. This Fake Buffy was a lot faster and a lot more skilled than the one that had nearly killed her, and it was showing.

Her heel caught on something, and she stumbled.

"Ahh!" she cried out as she felt the blade slice into her forearm. She lost her balance and fell on her rear. Willow clamped her eyes shut, waiting for the killing blow to end her life.



Buffy stared down at Pseudo-Willow... no, at Willow. More precisely, she stared at the blood that flowed out of the cut in her arm.

"B-Buffy?" Willow opened her eyes and looked up.

"Oh, God," Buffy said. "Willow, I'm so sorry. I thought... I thought you were..."


Willow stared and scrambled to her feet. This could still be another trick, and she didn't want to fall for it if it was. Her back to the wall, she held a hand over the cut in her arm, trying to slow the bleeding. "H-how do I know you're not one of them?" she demanded.

Buffy -- if it _was_ Buffy -- paused, then held up her sword, running her finger across the blade. A small trickle of scarlet blood dribbled down and dripped to the floor.

Relief once again flooded through her, and she threw her arms around the Slayer. "Oh, God, Buffy..."

"Well, that's too bad," Alex said.

They turned toward Alex and Anne, confused. They had almost forgotten about them in the erroneous battle.

"What?" Buffy asked.

Then they moved.

Alex tackled Buffy, but Willow couldn't see what became of them as Anne shoved her back.

"Hey!" she yelled as she began to struggle, but the floor suddenly opened up beneath them, and they fell.

Willow muttered in Latin, but though the spell should have allowed her to fly, it did no such thing, instead merely slowing her fall.

"What the hell's going on, Anne?" she demanded.

Anne had her back to her and was untying her hair, letting it hang loose, but she did not respond.

"Well?" she asked. "At least tell me if you're okay."

Buffy's duplicate turned, and Willow gasped. A long scar now ran down the side of Anne's face, and she clutched...

Faith's knife. The one Buffy had gutted the rogue Slayer with.

Anne smirked, "I'm five by five."


Buffy shook her head and stood from where she had fallen down the hole Alex had pushed her into.

"Okay, Alex, what the hell was that all about?" she snarled.

His back was to her, but his clothing appeared to have changed. She could barely make out his dark form, clothed as he now was in a great deal of black leather.

He turned, and she felt her heart sink.

His face twisting into the all-too-familiar visage of a vampire, he smiled cruelly, "Hello, lover."



Xander looked up at Rose, "What's wrong?" They still hadn't found a way up, and she looked like she was examining the wall.

"Looks like your friends aren't as gullible as they should be."


She turned, and he froze. Her eyes and hair were black, and her sadistic smile was one he had only ever seen twice before on Willow's face, and the first hadn't even been his Willow.

"Bored now."


Chapter 7

Xander held the mace ready, watching Rose advance on him slowly. He was trying to stop shaking but was failing miserably. He closed his eyes and chanted under his breath, "It's not Willow. It's not Willow. It's not Willow."

"Fulmenos venite!"

Lightning arced out and struck the mace, which he dropped in a hurry. "Yow!"

He danced back, turned, and ran.

Xander paused long enough to scoop up a sword dropped by one of the skeletons he'd smashed to bits earlier.

He ran as fast as he could, not really paying attention to where he was going. Soon, he was lost, but he could still hear Rose behind him, walking leisurely along and cackling maniacally.

He shuddered. Willow's voice was not meant to be twisted like that.


Buffy easily twisted Alex into a hold, but just as she was about to slam her stake into his heart, his face shifted, and Xander's plaintive voice begged, "Buffy, no."

She froze.

And that was the opening he needed. Alex's face twisted into the vampiric game face again, and he flipped her, throwing her across the room. "Stupid little Buffy," he taunted. "Making the same mistakes again and again. Don't you ever learn?"

She staggered to her feet and cursed herself. *Oh, God,* she thought painfully, *it's just like Angel again.*

She shuddered and back away slowly until she reached the doorway behind her, then she turned and ran.



Xander shook his head and looked up to see Buffy sprawled on her back in front of him.


"Xander? Is that really you?"

He blinked in confusion, "Why wouldn't it be me?" He shook his head, "Never mind. Buff, Rose's gone _nuts_! I dunno what's goin' on, but she just went all Dark Phoenix on me."

She opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, a vampire rounded the corner behind her and grinned. "Time to die, Buffy."

Xander froze for a moment. That was _his_ voice! That... _vampire_... looked almost just like him! But he shook it off and reacted as his vampiric twin moved toward Buffy.

Xander rose to his feet and sent his sword into a high arc, decapitating the vampire. Xander stared at the blue slime oozing from the headless form of what should have been a big pile of dust, then turned to Buffy, "What the hell's going on here, Buff?"

The Slayer didn't reply, merely staring at him in disbelief. A small smile grew on her face, "It's you. It's really you." She flung herself at him and wrapped her arms around him, crying into his shoulder, "Oh, God. Xander, I..."

"C'mon, Buff," he said gently. "We can't just stand around here. Rose..."

"She's not real," Buffy said, pulling back. She nodded toward the dissolving body and said, "That... that was Alex. Him... Anne... Rose... they're all fakes."

"Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!"

They whirled around, and there stood Rose, smirking at them.


Willow stumbled down the corridor. She tried to fight the tears but was failing miserably. Seeing Anne... Buffy... like that... like _Faith_...

It was just too much.

So she ran.


"Okay," Xander said, "this is officially of the bad."

Rose stalked toward them, purple and red energy crackling around her hand like ball lightning. She thrust her hand out, and Buffy tackled Xander to the ground. Xander felt the hairs on the back of his neck stiffen as the unnatural lightning bolt flashed over them, ionizing the air above them.

Rose's face twisted into a snarl, but her next magical assault was blunted, dissipating against a magical barrier.

Xander blinked, "W-Willow?"

The redhead looked worn out, tired... but grimly determined.


Rose blinked in surprised confusion at the bands of green energy wrapping around her. She snarled and struggled, but the bindings didn't give.

Willow turned to Buffy and Xander, "Buffy? X-Xander?"

"It's really us," Buffy said reassuringly.

"How do I know that?" she asked, tremulously.

Xander acted without thinking. He rose to his feet and pulled Willow into a hug.

And he kissed her.

Through his lips, he poured every ounce of the love he felt for the woman he had neglected for so long. He savored the moment, knowing that it was probably the last time he'd be able to kiss her like this.

After a moment, she pulled back, her eyes shimmering, "It's you."

They heard a snort. "How touching," a voice said sarcastically. "Real Kodak moment, guys."

They turned.

Anne stood next to Rose, a disgusted look on her face. Black energy pulsed from Rose, shattering the binding spell. They smirked, and Anne attacked, charging toward Xander and Willow, knife drawn back. They froze like deer caught in headlights. Neither of them could muster the will to react.

But Buffy could.

And she did.

The Slayer intercepted her clone and did what she couldn't do to Alex, plunging her stake into Anne's chest. Blue slime bubbled from within, and Anne collapsed.

Rose howled and thrust her arms out toward Buffy. Lightning leapt from her fingers and into Buffy, coarsing through the Slayer's body and flinging her back.


With a gesture, Willow slashed apart Rose's second volley and hurled a bolt of flame at her dark-haired clone. Rose merely flicked her wrist and deflected the fireball to the side.

Rose drew a complex symbol in the air, and Willow's second spell dissipated inches from her. Willow stalked toward Rose, hurling various spells, each of which were blunted mere inches before striking her evil twin.

Willow shook her head in disbelief, and Rose smiled again, "It's a null magic field. You can't hurt me."

Willow's face twisted into a Resolve Face, and she smiled tightly, "Wanna bet?" She hauled back and punched her evil twin in the face.

Rose blinked in surprise and stumbled back. Her concentration broken, she held up a hand and deflected Willow's next spell, and the next, but the third one, an icy bolt of freezing cold, penetrated her defenses.

Xander leaned over Buffy's prone body, "Buffy? Buffy!" *No,* he thought, *not again!* He checked her pulse, checked her breathing.


*...thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, and _breathe_!*

Buffy sucked in a breath and blinked up at him. She smiled and gave a melodramatic sigh, "My hero."

He helped her up, and Willow pulled Xander into a hug and said in small voice, "Xander... I... I thought I'd lost you."

"You'll never lose me, Wills. Not if I can help it."

"Bravo." The words were accompanied by the sound of someone clapping lazily.

They turned, and Buffy's jaw dropped, "You."

Dhorrgak the Unholy smiled. "Yes. Me."

"I killed you."

"You killed a simulacrum of me. Much like the simulacra of yourselves you just slew. I have to admit, I thought they'd present a bit more of a challenge for you than that."

Xander stepped forward, placing himself between the Dhorrgak and the two women, causing the demon to chuckle in amusement. "Why are you doing this?" he asked.

"Curiousity," Dhorrgak replied. "It's not every day -- or perhaps I should say 'night' -- that a vampire comes seeking a soul. I wanted to see just what was so special about this Slayer that would make a vampire do something so... against his nature."

"So this is all a _game_ to you?!" Buffy snarled.

"More of an experiment. A research study, if you will."

"I will _not_!" Buffy snapped, hurling her stake at him, completely oblivious to the fact that her statement made absolutely no sense.

The wooden implement passed harmlessly through Dhorrgak, and he chuckled, "Oh, did I forget to mention? This is just an illusion, not the real me." His smile turned cruel, and he gestured. A section of wall slid open, revealing Spike standing motionless behind it, his eyes closed, and Dhorrgak added, "He, on the other hand, is quite real."

Dhorrgak's image shifted and shrank until it looked like Buffy, then turned to face Spike. The illusion smiled and said, with Buffy's voice, "Go get 'em, tiger."

Spike's eyes suddenly snapped open. Snarling ferally, he leaped to the attack.