Sharing the Pain

Author: Lysa <lysaharris[at]>

Rating: PG-13

Feedback: Always helps. lysaharris[at]

Distribution: Anybody wants it, ask first, the answer will probably be a joyous 'Yes!'

Spoilers: Season Five. If you don't know what happens in 'The Gift' and don't want to know, DO NOT READ THIS!

Disclaimer: Anybody believe I actually own anything? Big, fat 'NO'. Never was mine, never will be mine. I just like to borrow every now and again. No copyright against Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy etc. intended.

Summary: Willow goes to L.A. to break some devastating news to Angel, and is joined by Xander.

Notes: This is pretty much just my version of what could have happened when Willow went to tell Angel the news of Buffy's death, with a little W/X-ness thrown in for good measure. It's mostly angst and friendship stuff, with a little kick in it for W/X 'shippers.

Chapter 1

Dawn lay on the bed in her room with the curtains closed, blocking out the afternoon sun, staring at the photographic image of her recently departed mother and even more recently departed sister on the nightstand as she hugged the stuffed pig, Mr. Gordo, tightly against her body. It was like her eyes were glued to the photograph, and with the unique Buffy scent coming from the stuffed animal, sub-consciously, she thought that if she looked at it long and hard enough, they were still physically with her, even though the logical part of her mind was telling her it was crap.

She listened to the distant voices drifting up the stairs from what she assumed was the living room. It sounded like Anya, then Tara, and then Willow raising her voice, although she couldn't make out what they were saying, then Giles interrupting them and then silence.

Earlier in the afternoon Giles had told her she had to go to bed for a few hours, practically carrying her up the stairs himself when she had nearly passed out from being awake for over three days solid. She had argued that they were all tired and they were in the same position as her, none of them having even thought of going to bed - although Tara and Anya had fallen asleep briefly on the sofa a few times, only to wake up and feel extremely guilty - but he told her that, apparently, the nights they had spent doing demon research 'stood them in good stead', whatever that meant. She guessed it just meant that they were all used to the whole lack of sleep thing.

She had been half-listening to them for the past few hours or so, although it seemed it was only the last few minutes when things sounded like they were getting heated. For the past few days, everyone had been treating her like cotton wool. They were careful of what they said, what they did, and it was like they were afraid she would break. She had heard a lot of raised voices over the past few days when she wasn't in the room, though - Anya arguing with a very uncharacteristically quiet Xander, who hardly ever said anything back to his girlfriend except to placate her. Tara and Willow exchanging raised voices, which was highly unusual for them. Giles and Spike snapping at one another, each because they blamed themselves for what happened, before Spike had decided he needed some time to mope alone and went back to his crypt. Whenever she had asked, they had all denied it, and she was sick of being treated like she was still eleven years old, being forced to hang around the library with her older sister when her mom was at work, but never being told why. Of course, she realised, none of that actually happened, but the memories were there all the same. All she wanted was for things to go back to how they were – but that was impossible.

Her body was telling her to sleep, and every so often she would close her eyes, only to wake up again after a few minutes. She rolled her eyes in frustration and animatedly turned over on the bed, deliberately tearing her eyes away from the photograph to spite herself, only to be confronted by a sweater she had borrowed (without asking) from Buffy the week before draped over a chair, and she felt her eyes fill up once again with tears of guilt and grief. She wasn't surprised when nothing came of it, though, because she knew she was all cried-out for the moment, it was like she had already reached her quota on tears for the day. Her eyes were dry, itching from the lack of sleep and hours spent mercilessly rubbing at them with tissues and a borrowed handkerchief from Giles, and the tip of her nose felt like it would fall off if she had to blow it one more time.

She sat up on the bed and placed the stuffed pig on her pillow, her body registering its protests through aches and pains coursing through her exhausted limbs and a shooting pain from the wounds on her stomach inflicted by Doc. She welcomed the momentary distraction they gave, thinking to herself, at least they prevented her from thinking about the tragedy that was her life, until she realised that if she was thinking that, it probably wasn't preventing her from thinking about it at all. Confusing herself, she stood up, stretching her arms in front of her and headed back downstairs.


"…You can't up and leave now!" Anya said, her tone impatient and angry, as she tried her hardest to keep the level of her voice to a loud whisper. "Buffy's dead, and you want to go gallivanting to L.A.?"

Dawn flinched, hearing the words as she came down the stairs, the others oblivious to her. Something stopped her from going into the sitting room, making her hang back and she softly sat down on one of the wooden stairs, watching as Willow and Anya stood opposite one another in the living room, both glaring at the other like it was some kind of stand-off between two fighters in opposite corners of a boxing ring.

Willow gave Anya an icy glare, one that would have even made Cordelia Chase proud. "I'm not gallivanting!" she told her, throwing her arms in the air for dramatic effect. "I'm going to see Angel, to tell him…" she trailed off, unable to complete the sentence. "Besides, I'm only going to be gone a day, and not even a full one at that!"

"That's too long!" Anya retorted. "What's the point anyway? You need to stay here!"

"You are *not* telling me what to do," Willow said determinedly through clenched teeth, her face burning in anger and frustration.

"Nobody's telling you what to do, sweetie," Tara interjected, crossing over from the sofa she had been sitting on to put a hand on Willow's arm, who promptly moved away from her. "We're just saying that m-m-maybe you're needed here, that's all. We're all that Dawn has now."

"Apart from an absentee father," Anya added.

"You think I don't know that?" Willow asked, softening now, tears in her eyes but refusing to give in to them. "You think I don't get how hard this is for her?"

"I'm not saying that," Tara said gently. "It's just…you, Xander and Giles…she's known you guys ever since she came to Sunnydale with Buffy and her mom. I know that Angel and Buffy were together for a long time, and they had a pretty serious thing, but you've always been like family to Dawn. I'm just saying that maybe she needs you to be here for her at the moment."

"I *am* here for her," Willow objected, her voice on the point of breaking. "It's just…he needs to know, Tara, and it's not something I wanna say over the phone."

"You could write him a letter," Anya suggested.

"Not helping, Anya," Giles said wearily, unable to force himself to interrupt. He wanted to. He didn't want them arguing, it was the last thing any of them needed, but he just didn't know what to say, whose side to be on. He risked a look at Xander who was sat opposite him, only to see him leant forward on his seat, his elbows on his knees and avoiding looking at anyone.

Willow glared at the former vengeance demon again, before turning back to Tara. "I have to go," she said desperately. "And it has to be now."

"Why can't you just wait a few days, maybe a week?" Anya suggested. "I mean, he's a vampire. It's not like he's getting any older."

"That wouldn't be fair," Dawn told them, moving from her place on the staircase to join in the conversation.

"Dawn!" Anya said loudly, with forced brightness. "We were just talking about…"

"Angel," Dawn said quietly. "You were talking about Angel."

"No, we weren't," she said, waving her arms around in the air and forcing the widest smile onto her face. "Say, how about we go into the kitchen and get some cookies?"

"Yes, that's a good idea," Giles muttered dryly. "Feed a girl who hasn't eaten for three days something made up primarily of sugar. That's very likely to help matters."

"I don't want any cookies, Anya," Dawn said with a sigh. "I think…I think that Willow's right about this." She immediately felt all eyes on her.

"Dawn…" Tara began.

"Tara," Dawn said softly, a trace of a smile on her pale face. "You know how much I love having you around and I think you're great. But…you're wrong here. I think Willow should go to L.A., and I think she should go as soon as possible."

"I just don't think t-t-that's s-s-such a good idea…"


"Okay," Dawn said, looking between Tara and Anya. "I don't want to get all offensive here, but you guys have no idea what things were like between Buffy and Angel. You weren't around back then…" She sighed as Anya raised her hand to make a point. "Well, maybe Anya was, but she had the whole bitter ex-demon thing going on - you didn't see them together. They were in love, and it was the real deal. It was the 'can't eat, can't sleep, can't breath' kinda thing – although for Angel that last part was pretty much a necessity, what with him being a vampire and all. You didn't see Buffy fall apart when he was gone, or how much he hated himself for what he put her through when he was Mr. Killing Spree. It was the forever kinda love. They had this amazing connection and if we don't tell him soon, he's gonna know anyway." She looked at the others as she took a deep breath and felt the tears in her eyes again, surprised that she wasn't as cried out as she thought, and all of them wondering when this fourteen-year-old girl got so wise. "And I wanna be there when he finds out." She added quietly.

Giles stood up, rubbing his eyes tiredly, wanting so much to ease the girls suffering. "Dawn, I appreciate your concern for Angel," he told her. "He was part of your life, too, while he was living here in Sunnydale, just as he was all of us, through the good and the bad…"

"You have 'but' face," she told him, repeating something she'd heard Buffy say on more than one occasion. "You look like you're gonna say 'but…'."

Giles smiled, appreciating the likeness she had with her sister. "But…I don't think that you going to see him in L.A. will help matters," he said softly. "Once he finds out…this is going to cut him very deeply, and while I would normally encourage you to share your feelings and not to bottle things up, none of us know how he's going to react. I'm not sure that…" he put his head down, unable to look her in the eye.

Dawn walked over to him and placed a hand on his arm. "You're not sure that he's going to be able to deal with seeing me," she finished for him.

Giles took her hand in his and smiled fondly. "You remind me so much of Buffy," he told her. "You have her stubbornness, her will and determination, and so many of her other characteristics, and I think that's the one thing I'm most glad of at this very sad time. I know that you're your very own unique person, but Buffy will always be a part of you, and that's a good feeling for me, personally, to have. But I'm not sure Angel would see it quite that way."

"It's okay," Dawn said. "I get what you mean." She looked over at Willow. "I'll get you the address book. Buffy tried to hide his number and the name of the hotel and stuff in the back, but I knew it was there."

"Thanks," Willow said with a smile.

Dawn stopped at the door, turning back to them. "Oh, and, Willow…"

"Don't worry," the redhead said. "I'll tell him you're thinking of him."

Dawn lingered at the door for a minute, before heading to get the book.


The plate had been sat in front of Willow for the past forty-five minutes, and all that had been taken from it was a few fries and a few bites from the hamburger. She used her fork to push around a piece of tomato that had fallen from inside the seeded bread bun, as she sat back against the worn leather of the booth she was occupying in the small L.A. diner close to the beach.

Her mind was trying to stay focussed on the task ahead, but she found that every time she thought about Angel and what she had to tell him, although they had never been that close, it made her chest hurt. It was like a nearly physical sensational as she imagined how pained he was going to be. She berated herself for volunteering to do it, even though she knew she couldn't let him hear it from anyone else, and she had to work to stop herself from getting up and going back home to Sunnydale. Instead, she thought about Tara, hoping that it would somehow help her, give a little boost of comfort and support. But it didn't. All it did was make her feel guilty, because every time Tara had tried to talk to her, to comfort her, in the past few days since…she had pulled away from her. She had found fault in everything Tara did and said, and she didn't understand why. She should have been seeking solace in the person she loved, but she couldn't even look her in the eye. It wasn't Tara's fault, she knew that much, and that look of hurt in Tara's eyes every time she snapped at her or tensed up when she touched her made her want to cry right now, but she couldn't help it, it was an instinctive reaction. It was the same with Anya. It just seemed that anything Xander's girlfriend said was the wrong thing, and the sound of her voice grated on her. She suspected it was something to do with the whole grief thing. Giles had explained it to them briefly but she hadn't been listening.

She had mostly spent the last few days with Dawn and Xander, Spike skulked around in the shadows and Anya and Tara watched on, talking between themselves. Giles took care of the paperwork at the hospital and other stuff in the absence of Hank Summers, who was still presumed to be in Europe and un-contactable, even in the event of his eldest daughters death. It had been a chore to get them to release the body to Giles, but he had contacted the Watchers Council in England for assistance. Although Buffy hadn't worked for them in a long time, even they couldn't refuse Giles' request of help to get the slayer buried after all that she had done. The funeral was to be a small affair, at dusk, with just them sometime in the next few days.

It was easier for them if they stayed together, in their tight little group.. It stopped them from thinking so much about what they had lost from their lives, and what was at stake now that Buffy wasn't around. She knew she was being avoidy, but she didn't really care to change that for the time being.

"I take it you're not hungry?" her companion asked.

She was shook from her thoughts by the voice, almost forgetting that he had been there. "Sorry?" she asked, looking at him with a warm familiarity..

Xander grinned at her. It wasn't a usual Xander-grin, but then, he didn't really have anything to grin about, so she could let him off with that.. "You're not hungry?" There was something about the tone of his voice that saddened her even more. It was usually so full of fun, even if they were in a life-and-death situation, and his face always looked like it was waiting to smile. It was something that always put her at ease, made her feel better, and she loved that about him. But those things were gone now, and she wondered if they'd ever come back.

She placed her fork down and took a sip of the cold coffee, screwing her mouth up in disgust at the taste for the second, before gesturing to his own full plate of cold food. "I could say the same about you," she teased lightly. "This has gotta go down in the record books. Xander Harris turning down food? Never thought I'd see the day…"

"I'm watching my figure," he told her, that glint in his eye that let her know he was joking barely visible, but still there all the same.

"Thanks for driving me down here," she told him seriously. "I really appreciate it."

"Not a problem," he said. "Besides, I was starting to go crazy in the house…"

"I know what you mean," Willow said. "But I don't think Anya was too thrilled about you offering your services as chauffeur, though."

"She'll get over it," he snapped.

"Yeah," Willow said uneasily. "I guess she will."

"Sorry," he said, shaking his head. "I just…ever since…it just feels like whatever she says to me, she's getting at me, you know? Like she's trying to annoy me on purpose. I know she's not, but I just can't help…" he trailed off, ducking his head so he didn't have to look at her. "You think I'm irreparably screwed up?"

"I think we all are," she told him. "But don't worry about it, Xander. You're dealing with something huge. I don't think she'll hold it against you."

"I hope not."

They both smiled politely when the middle-aged waitress approached their table, an order pad and pen in the pocket of her apron and a name-badge reading 'Helen' on her lapel, and cleared their full plates with an annoyed look on her face. "Can I get you anything else?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

"No, thank you," Willow told her. "Could we just have the bill please?"

Helen nodded and walked away, muttering something to one of the guys behind the counter as she took the dishes through to the kitchen.

"So," Xander said, glancing out of the window they were sat next to and seeing his car parked across the street. "Do we have even a vague idea how to get to Angel's place?"

"That's exactly what we have," she said as she fished around in her purse for something. "A vague idea." She eventually brought out a small, notebook-sized address book and handed it to him.

"What's this?" he asked, flicking through it but not really taking notice.

"It's Buffy's address book," she told him.

Xander immediately dropped the book as if it were a hot poker, horrified as it landed on the table. "Will!" he exclaimed in an angry whisper, his face flushing.

"Xander, calm down," she told him. "It's just a book. It has some directions in it."

"I…I can't go through it," he told her, his hands beginning to tremble as he put them on the table. "It feels…I don't know, wrong or creepy. Like I'm reading her diary or something."

She leant across the table and put her hands on his. "I know, sweetie," she told him. "But we have no idea where we're going here and we need some sort of clue. She wouldn't mind, Xander, and Dawn wouldn't have given us it if she thought there was anything private in there."

"I know you're right," he told her. "But I just can't help but feel like…"

"It's okay," she told him. "I'll find the address and give you directions."

"*You* giving directions?" he joked, that tiny glint back in his eye and the tension quickly disappearing as much as possible, given the situation.. "Do I have to remind you of the time you got us lost for six hours in Breakers Woods when we went on that hiking field trip with school?"

"Well, that just had 'bad idea' written all over it," she complained defensively. "I mean, who takes a bunch of easily-distracted ten-year-olds into a densely wooded area and expects them to follow the track? Besides, it was your idea to go exploring - and don't think I've forgotten about the frog you threw at me. Add that to the fact that we had a seriously defective compass and you lost the map, and you have a recipe for disaster."

"Well, the map wouldn't have done us much good if the compass wasn't working now, would it? You just didn't know how to use the thing." He saw she was about to argue and he held his hands up in defeat. "Okay, fine," he conceded. "I'll trust your directions. But if they have to call the rescue services to come and look for us again, I'm gonna say 'I told you so'."


"So, this is it, huh?" Xander said to his friend as the car came to a stop outside of the building formerly known as The Hyperion Hotel, now the home of Angel Investigations. He glanced at the sign indicating the business and was oddly tempted to make a joke about whether A.I. was as good as Magnum P.I., but one look at his nervous friend told him she wouldn't really find it funny.

Willow glanced out of the window, looking like her mind was already preoccupied. "I guess so," she said, answering his question. "I mean, it's what it says on the business card in the address book."

"I'm slightly impressed," Xander said approvingly. "But don't tell Angel I said that."

"Don't worry, your secret's safe with me," she told him as she rolled her eyes and made sure she had everything in her bag.

They both sat there in silence, staring out of the window at the hotel building.

"So…" Willow said after a few minutes, looking at Xander for a sign of encouragement.

"Yeah," he said, smiling at her, that sad look back in his eyes. "I guess we should…" he gestured towards the building and let out a deep breath. "Do you think he's home?"

"It's daylight," she said, observing the afternoon sun that was warming her cheek through the glass window. "If he's not, I don't think he'll be too far away." She opened the car door and got out, throwing the strap of her bag over her shoulder as she walked around to meet Xander on the sidewalk.

He made sure the parking brake was on the car and he took the keys from the ignition as he took off his seatbelt. He threw open the door and turned to get out, then it hit him. It was like a sudden wave of nausea that made him feel like the whole world was spinning around him. He was light-headed as he closed his eyes and put his head down to rest on the steering wheel in front of him, trying to shake the feeling, passing it off as tiredness even though he doubted he would ever sleep again. He was vaguely aware of Willow's voice as he struggled to focus again, and he desperately tried to open his mouth to answer her. He was sure she was probably asking if he was okay, and the last thing he wanted was to cause her more worry, but it was like someone had glued his tongue to the roof of his mouth.

And then he felt her arms around him.

Everything came back into focus as she hugged him close to her, and his senses returned. It had been this way when they were kids. He'd be upset or scared and she'd hug him and everything would feel okay. He was only partially surprised to find that it was still the case, but mostly he was just grateful. He pulled away from her, slightly embarrassed, but she wouldn't let him go. "I'm okay," he told her quietly, finding his voice again but not meeting her eyes.

"No, you're not," she said softly as she knelt at the side of the car, her hands still on his arms, her face full of concern for him. "What happened?"

"I don't know," he told her. "I just…I went to get out of the car and then everything went kerblooey."

"What do you mean?" she asked, anxious now. "How exactly did everything go kerblooey, Xander? You think you need to see a doctor? Maybe we can take you to the hospital or something."

"There's no need for that, Will," he told her. When he looked at her, he immediately felt guilty. She looked scared. She looked scared because she thought there was a real possibility that she was about to lose another friend.

"But if you're sick…" she contested. Her face was beginning to burn and she could feel her cheeks getting redder and redder by the minute as her nails dug into his arms through the material of the shirt he was wearing, her heart pounding as she began to feel terrified.

"I'm not," he said, placing a hand over hers. "I swear, I'm feeling okay now."

"Promise?" she asked, her voice small and suddenly sounding like it had when they were thirteen and her grandmother had died. He had told her it was going to be okay then, and she had asked the exact same question.

"I promise," he told her. "I mean, I just thought about going in there, and then 'bleugh-ness'."

"Maybe you should wait out here," she told him, suddenly mimicking the actions that reminded him so much of her mom, feeling his forehead with her palm for any signs of a fever and pulling his eyelids open to check his eyes for anything abnormal.

"No," he said. "I'm not letting you go in there alone."

She stood up slowly and let go of him, finally satisfied that he was okay. "I'll be okay, Xan," she told him. "Besides, you and Angel haven't exactly been best friends in the past."

"Hey!" he objected. "I'm not just some big kid who can't keep control of himself, you know. I do know when to keep my mouth shut."

She glared at him with her arms folded across her chest.

"Okay," he said. "So I *am* a big kid who can't control himself sometimes, and I *don't* know when to keep my mouth shut. But I'll be good.. I mean, I may not be Angel's favourite person in the world, but I'll be going in there for you, not him. I know he's gonna be devastated. I'll leave him alone."

"I know," she said. "And I appreciate it. I just think that you feeling ishy before is something telling you that you're not really ready to deal with this yet, and I'd rather have a healthy Xander to drive me home."

He looked at her for a long moment, admiring the person she had become. He got out of the car for a moment, guilt in his heart at the relief he felt over not having to go inside that building and tell more people what had happened to their friend, and he gave her a hug. It was soft and comforting and reassuring to both of them, and he placed a kiss on her head, hoping it told her that he supported her. "Okay," he said eventually, quietly, pulling away to look her in the eye. "You know where I am if you need me."


He had barely gotten the chance to get back into the car and make himself comfortable before he saw her come out of the iron gates outside of the hotel building.

"He's not home," she said, approaching the car and leaning into the open window. "He must be in the sewer tunnels or something."

"There's the guy you want solving your problems. Stinky Sewer Guy. Have I ever told you how weird it is that Dead Boy is a Private Eye now?"

"Yes," she said quickly, obviously having heard this before. "On numerous occasions."

Xander nodded. "Okay, so now what do we do?" he asked her, looking up at her and having to shield his eyes from the sun.

"Why don't you go someplace for a coffee or something?" She suggested.. "I'm gonna wait inside."

"Or you could come with me."

"I don't wanna chance missing him." Willow said, looking back at the hotel.

"How can you wait inside?" he asked. "Isn't the door locked?"

"Well…" she began, looking suddenly coy. "Yeah, it was."

"It was?" he said, an amused look on his face. "So, you jimmied the lock with your magic, huh?"

"I just used a tiny spell!" She said defensively.

"Willow, how long have you been breaking and entering?"

"Ever since we met Buffy," she said quickly, and then she saw his face fall and immediately regretted her words. It wasn't like she didn't like talking about her; it was more like it was too painful to remember. "And anyway," she said quickly. "I didn't technically break anything, so I'm just entering."

"Way to argue with the logic."

"You know me," she said with a smile. "Always thinkin'."

"Well, if you need me…" he said softly.

"Don't worry," she said. "I'll come find you."


Dusk was beginning to draw in on Willow as she sat in the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel. She had been here for hours, and it was like walking in this place was the scariest thing she had ever done. Getting the place unlocked had been the easy part, even though it hadn't been the most secure of buildings to begin with. The hard part was actually opening those doors and realising that she had to face people she hadn't seen in a long time, and tell them the most devastating news she had ever heard in her life. She was partly thankful that there didn't seem to be anyone around, partly worried about how she was going to break the news to them, but mostly she was terrified of how she would feel saying the words out loud.

She had done a quick location check on the place when she'd arrived, yelled 'hello' a few times so that anyone who may have been sleeping or drinking blood somewhere else in the hotel would have heard her, but there had been nothing. She'd checked the office that was in clear view from what used to be the reception desk, and even felt brave enough to actually go in there for a few minutes. She had caught a glimpse of a stack of books and other papers and such on the desk, stuff that, at another time, would have held her interest for probably days, but now it was all…nothing. It seemed like just looking at that kind of stuff – the supernatural stuff – caused a serious headache by bringing back thousands of memories she just wasn't ready to deal with yet, and the musty, familiar high-school-library smell that seemed to accompany them was too much for her to handle and she had bolted from there.

So, she had found a place to sit in a spot that was just opposite the front doors to the hotel. From here she could see anyone coming into the hotel, as well as being able to hear any kind of movement at all from whatever sewer access she guessed Angel had in the dead silence.

It was then that the tears had started.

She wasn't crying - at least, not that she knew of anyway. It was more like her eyes were just leaking like a dripping faucet and she didn't know how to shut it off. And it seemed bizarre, but she wasn't even thinking about Buffy right now, despite the task ahead of her. She was thinking about Xander. He had driven away as she had entered the hotel, letting her think that he was going to find somewhere to wait for her. Instead, he had just driven around the block a few times, waiting for her to disappear inside, and then parked the car across the street in a partially hidden alley.

She wasn't surprised that he had done that. He had done something similar in Junior High a few times. She had been getting a hard time from a gang of girls who were in the year above them, and every time she saw them in the halls or in the cafeteria they seemed intent on making her life hell with name-calling and sniggering – when she looked back on it, she figured that things never really changed much when she considered how Cordelia took on that role in High School. When Xander had witnessed it, he was ready to put a stop to it for her – or at least try – but she had insisted on standing up to them herself. So, the next few times when she was walking to class, she made Xander go on ahead of her so that he wasn't around for the humiliation she was secretly sure was imminent, and tried to summon all the courage he and Jesse told her she had. When she had seen them, she was so scared she thought she was going to pee her pants, but when they started their school-age tirade against her, she held her head up in the air, stopped in front of them, glared at each of them, sneered back, and walked away.

She'd felt exhilarated after that, and she was sure that wasn't how she'd feel after this, but she had the strength to do that because, while she told Xander to leave her alone for that moment, he hadn't. He had walked on ahead of her, found a block of lockers and hid behind them, ready to pounce if things got too bad. She realised that being best friends made it difficult for him to see her struggle, in any way. And that's what she was doing now. Struggling.

She thought back to the last few days, when they had been in Sunnydale. Seeing Buffy's body just lying there on that rubble…it was an image that she was sure would haunt all of them for the rest of their lives, and she wondered how they were going to get over it.

Then she heard the voices coming from the outside of the hotel.


Xander shifted in his seat behind the steering wheel of the car, trying to wake up the part of his body he had been sat on for the past few hours. He wasn't nearly as bored as he thought he was going to be. He had had a feeling that Angel and the others were going to be a while when Willow had gone into the hotel, although he didn't know why he knew that. He was actually thankful for it. Being alone like this, in a town he didn't know, where no one knew him, was like being lost. He'd never liked being alone as a kid, that's why he had spent most of his time at Willow's – well, that and the constant supply of goodies her mother provided as compensation for leaving them with so many sitters - but being here…it was almost therapeutic to watch the people passing by, going about their daily routines. It gave him the chance to think about things clearly, which he wasn't really sure was a good or a bad thing.

From his vantage point, he could see the hotel, and he thought about Willow being inside, all alone. He'd wanted to come along on the trip, to drive her here, because he didn't want her to be alone, he didn't want her to have to go through this without him. But something had stopped him from going inside when he had tried. It was a physical sensation that scared the hell out of him but he couldn't stop it. The very thought of going in there now made him feel nauseous, and he had to take a breath against the feeling. He gripped the steering wheel with both hands as it passed, and he watched as his knuckles turned white with the intensity of the grip, momentarily distracted. He had told her he was going to be nearby, that he was going to find a diner or something, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He needed to be here, even if he couldn't be in there. He couldn't risk her needing him and not being able to find him.

The past few days stuck in his mind, even though he was trying to think of happier times. That's what he was supposed to do, right? That's what people said, 'think of all the good times', when you're grieving over someone who's gone. But why is that the hardest thing to do? Instead of thinking about the nights out at the Bronze and the days spent at the beach or at the park, all he could think of was every bad thing that he had ever said or done to Buffy, and it was driving him insane. He knew that he hadn't been himself since Buffy had… but he was finding it harder and harder to figure out who he was, what he meant now. He wasn't just trying to deal with his own pain. He was trying to figure out how to help everyone else, especially Dawn. God, he felt so much pain for that girl. He felt sorry for all of them, because he knew they were all going through the same thing.. Hell, he even felt sorry for Spike, as much as he hated to admit it. But he couldn't show them. He couldn't show them that he was falling apart inside, that he was trying to figure out what was gonna happen now. What would happen to Dawn? Would she go with her father – if they ever actually managed to get in touch with him? Would Giles leave them and go back to England? Would Anya ever shut up about the stupid marriage proposal he'd made before the world nearly ended again? All valid points, and he didn't have the answer for any of them.

It was about this time when someone rapped on the glass window beside him, scaring the wits out of him as he jumped in his seat, eyes wide and grabbing the stake he permanently kept in the compartment inside the door. He suddenly realised that sitting in a car, alone in a darkened alley, in a strange city, was one of the stupidest things he had ever done. Of course, this wasn't the Hellmouth and things didn't just gravitate to this place like they would back home, but, as he had come to realise, evil was everywhere. He wasn't completely insane, he had locked himself inside the vehicle, but that was an automatic thing, much like the stake in the door, and the bottle of holy water in his jacket. But hey, these were vampires, and the ones he usually met didn't exactly need a crowbar to get into a car. It was usually a 'break-glass-in-case-of-emergency-hunger' kinda thing. It could also have been any number of different demons running amok in the city, not to mention your ordinary mugger…but she didn't look like a mugger. In fact, with the get-up she was hardly wearing and irritated face she had, she looked more like an L.A. hooker.

Which, for Xander, naturally led to only one assumption.

"Cordy…" he said to himself. He had barely even bothered to look at his would-be attacker-slash-killer until now, but now he was looking right at her, and boy, she could do pissed like no other person he knew, including Anya.

She rapped again, even though he was looking right at her, and now he noticed that she had a long jacket that had been hurriedly thrown around her shoulders.

He unlocked the car and got out, looking at the tasteless coin bra that barely covered her, and for some reason all of those groping sessions in the janitors closet sprang to mind. "Jeez, Cordy," he said, suppressing a laugh at her expense. "Got change?"

She laughed with him. "Wow, Xander," she said, before she became abruptly stony-faced again, her old high school self shining through. "I'd forgotten how funny you're not."

Xander lifted his hands in a retreat action, and the grin turned into a smile at the familiarity he felt with her. "Sorry," he conceded. "But have you seen what you're wearing?"

She glared at him for a moment, ready to bite out another insult in the ongoing war she'd had with Xander Harris since well before High School. That was before she remembered what she had just been told not long ago. She looked away from him slowly, diverting her eyes from his, because nobody saw Cordelia Chase weaken, and the harshness disappeared from her face almost completely. "I…" she stopped when she realised there was something in her throat, making her voice break. She took a gulp against the feeling, willing it away.

"So Willow told you, huh?" Xander asked, all the fun disappearing from his voice and his face, and it all came crashing back like a wave over him. When he looked at her, there was something in her eyes that made a chill dart down his spine.

"What's going on?" he asked suspiciously, his chest thumping with a frantic heartbeat.

Cordelia closed her eyes briefly and calmed herself. "I think Willow might need you…" is all she said.


When Cordelia got back to the hotel, there was no sign of Willow, Xander or Angel in the lobby, where she'd left them not so long ago. When she'd found Xander in the alley which Willow had barely managed to tell them he was waiting in, gasping the words out between sobs, she'd watched him take off back to the hotel at a speed that would have rivalled Angel's almost before the words had even left her mouth.

She'd stayed in that alley for a while on her own, sitting in her ex-boyfriend's car, not really knowing what to do, and feeling as helpless as she did whenever she received a vision. She'd then driven the car across the street and parked it outside of the hotel.

Gunn, who was sitting alone in the lobby, stood as soon as he saw her. "Hey," he said slowly, feeling somewhat out of place. "You okay?"

Cordelia took in a huge gulp of air and let it out slowly as she pulled the jacket from around her shoulder and nodded wearily at him. "Where is everyone?" she asked, pulling the tiara she had acquired from her reign as royalty in Pylea, from her hair and setting it on the counter.

Gunn sat back down in the lobby, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "Your friend – Willow, is it? – is upstairs with some guy who came barrelling in here, making like he was running from a gang of vamps."

"Xander," Cordelia told him quietly. "Are they okay?"

"She just couldn't stop cryin'," Gunn informed her, quiet as he remembered seeing how much pain the attractive, petit redhead had been in. "As soon as she saw that Xander guy, man, she just wouldn't let go of him. Angel said even less than usual, and took off to his room too, I guess."  

"What about Fred?" Cordelia asked. "How's she doing?"

"Adjusting," Gunn told her. "She took one of the rooms upstairs and crashed on the bed as soon as she touched it. I'm guessing it's been a long five years without a mattress. Wes is keeping an eye on her." He waited a few seconds before continuing. "So, I don't wanna interfere or nothin', but…I'm guessing this Buffy chick's a pretty big deal?"

Cordelia nodded solemnly. "Buffy the vampire slayer," she said, almost to herself. "The big love of Angel's unnaturally long life, defender of Sunnydale and the Hellmouth, best friend of Willow and Xander… And now she's dead."

"You knew her too?"

"We went to school together for three years," Cordelia told him. "We hung out some, usually fighting vampires and demons and stuff. I guess – and I never would have admitted it back then – but we were kinda friends. She was a good person."

"You think your friends are gonna be okay?"

"In time," she said, glancing at the staircase leading to the upper levels of the hotel.

"What about Angel?" Gunn asked tentatively. "I don't think I've ever seen a man look that destroyed."

Cordelia shook her head thoughtfully. "I honestly don't know…"


Xander quietly slipped out of the room, carefully closing the door after him and muffling the sounds as much as he could with his body, leaving his fitfully-sleeping best friend on the other side. He took a moment to pause there in the hall of the Hyperion Hotel, hand still on the doorknob in front of him. Eventually he let go and shoved his hands into his pockets, before he began to stumble down the corridor.

Before today, he had never seen Willow so broken in his whole life, and it scared the hell out of him. When Cordelia had come to get him, he had taken off so fast back to the hotel he was barely aware of anything else, other than the fact that Willow needed him. Even as he burst through the doors of the place, the only thing that registered in his head was Willow sobbing into Angel's chest, and the vampire standing numbly with his arms around her. The stuff he had felt before, the nausea and the dizziness, it all came back to him, but he pushed it back, ignoring it when he touched her shoulder. She had instantly turned to him, clinging onto him like she would never let go, and in that moment, he never wanted her to. He had stroked her hair, and held her so tight he was afraid he'd break something, trying to comfort her with shushing noises, all the while trying to stop himself from breaking down. When it got to the point where it was like she was running out of air, Angel had silently handed him a key to one of the rooms upstairs and told him to take her there, that maybe it would calm her down a little for them to be alone somewhere.

He had done that. He had laid her on the bed and held her, but she couldn't calm down. All she could do is cry, not sobbing at this point, because, after the last few days, the little energy she still had was now spent, ebbing away with the tears falling.

It was around this time when Cordelia had slipped into the room quietly and knelt beside him on the bed, touching his arm in some kind of an effort to soothe and support him. It hadn't worked, of course, nothing could. But he had smiled wanly at her, letting her know that he still appreciated the gesture. That was when she had pressed a pill into his hand, and softly told him that she sometimes had trouble sleeping because of the vision headaches she sometimes got. The doctor hadn't wanted to prescribe sleeping pills when she was so young, but had suggested she try the herbalist around the corner from the doctor's office. The pills were a natural sleep remedy, made up of different plants and herbs, and she had suggested that maybe Willow was as exhausted as he looked, and that a little sleep might help calm her down, and that it was probably best they stay the night.

Xander was reluctant at first, mostly because he didn't want to dose her like they were sedating an animal, but Cordelia did have a point. The past few days had been the hardest of his life, and, he surmised, probably of Willow's too. She hadn't slept at all, like he hadn't, and he did look and feel exhausted, he could admit that much, and all he wanted was for her to have a few hours peace.

So, he had carefully sat her unresisting body up, and gently pulled away from her, looking into her haunted, tear-stained red eyes. Then he had handed her the pill, and told her it would make her feel a little better. She hadn't even resisted or asked why. She had just trusted him completely when he said that it was okay, and popped the pill into her mouth, swallowing it down with the water Cordelia had brought in. Then, he had pulled Willow back into his arms again, and lay with her. Cordelia had tried telling him he should get some sleep himself and tried to give him another pill, this one for him, but he had refused, quietly insisting he was okay. She had grudgingly given in and left when she saw there was nothing more she could do, but not before leaving the pill on the dresser with the water and telling him to get some rest.

That had been a few hours ago – or maybe it hadn't been, because it was like he couldn't distinguish time anymore – and now he was padding through the hallways, not really sure what he was doing until the aroma of coffee filled his nostrils. He followed the scent down one flight of stairs, before realising the source was located in one of the rooms, but remembered when he had fleetingly been in the lobby earlier that there had been a coffee pot behind the counter there. He didn't particularly want coffee that badly, or even at all. He just wanted something to do, something to keep his brain ticking over and stopping him from going into complete mental failure, although some would argue that had happened a good few years before now, judging by his grades in school. His eyes were stinging now, burning from lack of sleep, although he had barely been able to close his eyes, and he brought his hands up to them, rubbing vehemently and making them water as he turned to direct himself back the way he had just come from.

"Looking for me?" a voice said, that made Xander stop abruptly, startling him.

He pulled his hands away from his eyes quickly, trying to focus on the figure in front of him, finally seeing it was Angel, although he had already known that from the voice. "I always said you should have had a bell around your neck," Xander muttered. "Makes it harder for you to just appear and scare the crap out of people."

"Sorry," Angel said, even though he wasn't. "It's just, this is my room."

"I was just looking around," Xander said defensively, a cold edge to his voice.

"Oh, okay," Angel said, moving past him to open the door to his room. "Tell Willow I said goodbye."

"Why don't you tell her yourself in the morning?" Xander said. Then he felt something in his stomach, and suddenly the hatred he had felt for Angel flared back up again. "But that's not your style, is it?" he asked, that edge still there and showing no signs of disappearing. "I mean, saying goodbye? That's not your thing. You couldn't manage it to the girl you supposedly loved when you left town…what's brushing off her pal when you can't be bothered to get out of bed?"

"Xander, don't start this," Angel warned in a quiet voice. "Not now.."

"Why not now?" Xander asked with a snarl, his voice rising. "It's not like Buffy's around to tell me to back off. It's just you and me, Fang Boy, settling old scores."

"I don't *have* any old scores with you, Xander," the vampire told him, looking him in the eye. "And you're just trying to hurt me because you can't deal with what's happened. And that's fair enough, I can take that, I've had a lot worse thrown at me in my time. But don't dare tell me that I didn't love her, because you know that's not true. However much you hate me, you can't tell me that you doubted the way I felt about her. I would have done anything for her, and she knew that. When I left Sunnydale without saying goodbye, I didn't do it to hurt her. Saying goodbye would only have hurt us both more, and she understood that."

Xander was quiet then, and he took a step away from the other guy. "I know she did," he said quietly. "I'm…I'm sorry…"

As Xander turned to leave, Angel briefly went into his room, only to return a few seconds later. "Hey," he called to him. "You want some coffee?"

Xander stood and turned. "Did Cordelia make it?" he asked. "Cos I've tasted her coffee before. I've had better engine oil."

"No," Angel said, a trace of a smile on his face. "I made it fresh a few hours ago."


It wasn't quite an uncomfortable silence as the two of them sat at the small wooden table in Angel's quarters of the hotel sipping at their strong black coffee, but then, it wasn't a comfortable one either. They had been sat here like this for little over ten minutes, and neither one had said anything that didn't relate to the making of the coffee and the thanks from Xander when he received it.

"I'm sorry," Xander said finally, breaking the silence abruptly. "For what I said out there."

Angel took a long sip of his coffee from the chipped mug he always used, and set it back down on the table. "It's okay," he told him.

"No, it's not," Xander told him. "I needed someone to blame, and you were the easiest target. But I shouldn't have brought up all of that other stuff again. It was never any of my business, your relationship with Buffy. But she was my friend, and I hated to see how much she hurt when things didn't work out."

"I understand that," Angel said calmly. "And if it helps, keep blaming me. But just so you know, I'm not gonna be around to take it."

"What do you mean?" Xander asked.

"I'm gonna take off for a while," the vampire informed him.

"Where are you going?" Xander asked. "I mean, don't you have a business to take care of here?"

"They'll cope," Angel said. "Gunn and Wes can take care of things for a while, and Cordy can keep them in line." He sat forward in the uncomfortable wooden chair and fiddled with his mug. "I just can't be here right now."

"I get that," Xander said, mimicking his posture without realising it. "That's why I had to get out of Sunnydale, even if it was just for a couple of hours."

"How is it back there?"

"It's…intense," is the only word Xander could come up that could describe the feeling back home.

"And Dawn's okay?" Angel asked, feeling a lot like an older brother. "I mean, Willow explained things about…what happened. She said Dawn's coping, but…"

"I know," Xander said. "How well can she cope when she loses her sister not long after her mom, right?"

"Exactly," Angel agreed. "I feel like I should be doing something to help her."

"There's nothing you can do, man," Xander said with a sad smirk. "Giles is taking care of things back home, making sure she's okay and everything. Plus, Will and me haven't let her out of our sights since it happened. She's the one who insisted we come down here."

"When you go back…can you tell her that--"

"That you're thinking of her?" Xander finished for him. "She said the same thing about you."

Angel nodded. "And that if she needs anything at all, just to call and we'll do whatever we can. I don't know how long I'm gonna be gone, but the others will be around."

"No problem."

"What did Mr. Summers say?" Angel asked.

"Mostly 'please leave your message after the beep'," Xander told him. "We haven't been able to speak to him. Giles left messages for him to get in touch, but we haven't heard anything yet."

"How's Willow doing?"

"She's…" he began. "She's pretty much devastated. She's been trying to keep it all together since it happened. I think hearing herself out loud made her realise exactly what's happened. She needed to get it out, though, and the sleep should help."

"And what about you?" Angel asked.

"I'm fine," Xander told him, a smile to back up the words.

"You're paler than I am," Angel told him, "and I haven't sunbathed for over two hundred years."

"Didn't you hear?" Xander said. "Excessive sunbathing causes cancer.."

"You're in just as bad a shape as Willow, only you haven't let it out yet."

"I can't," Xander snapped at him. "Only one of us can fall apart at a time."

"And what good are you going to be to her when you're exhausted?"

"Look, I'm fine," Xander told him. "I just need to know that she's okay, and then I can start dealing with it." He took a mouthful of the too-strong-for-human-consumption coffee and winced as it went down his throat. "I was gonna ask how you're doing, but I think the fact you're taking off says it all."

Angel nodded, deep in thought. "Look, Xander, I want to say something," he told him.

"Go ahead," Xander said. "It's a free country."

"I'm sorry," he said simply.

"What are you saying sorry to me for?" Xander asked.

Angel took an unnecessary large intake of air. "Because I wasn't there to help her fight…I wasn't there to save her…"

Xander shook his head. "Even if you had been there, you couldn't have saved her. She did what she did to save Dawn, and nobody was going to stop her from doing that." At Angel's silence, Xander stood. "Look, man, I'm gonna have to get back to Will. I don't want her to wake up alone in a strange place."

Angel nodded, his hands wrapped the warm mug of coffee, knowing that Xander was one hundred percent right, but that not easing any of the guilt he was feeling.

"I'm guessing you're gonna do this taking off thing sooner rather than later," Xander said as he walked past, feeling that although he still didn't like the guy – it was a matter of principle not to be friends with someone who was once a mass-murderer – they had come to a mutual understanding of the others feelings, and as bad as he felt about losing his friend, he didn't even want to think about how Angel felt losing the only person he had loved. "So…take care." As he left the room, he placed his hand on the vampire's shoulder briefly, before carrying on. "Angel?" he called back, and the other man turned to face him. "I'm really sorry for your loss."

Angel could feel the raw emotion cutting into him. Up until now it had been mostly guilt, but the grief was starting to kick in, and he had never felt anything like it before. "I'm sorry for your loss, too, Xander."


After making a quick phone call from his cell phone to Sunnydale, he made his way back down the halls of the hotel. When got back to the room, he saw that she was still sleeping. Although, he wasn't too sure that the constant tossing and turning she was doing in the bed was doing her much good. He crept over to the bed where she lay, and gently sat next to her, the dipping of the bed causing her to turn into him and her head fall next his lap. He put his hand to her face, leaving it there briefly because he didn't want to disturb her, but then he moved and stroked her hair, and she murmured in her sleep. The moonlight drifted in from the window, and as he looked down at her, he didn't think he had ever seen anything so beautiful in all of his life. Even though she had dark circles around her eyes from exhaustion, and the way the light shone made her cheeks glisten with the tears she had shed in her sleep, and her face was paler than usual, he felt blessed to have her in his life.

He had never understood why she hadn't had more people in her life, people who wanted to be her friend. He didn't understand why her parents weren't prouder of this terrific person who had achieved so much in her short life, who was strong and selfless and who'd help anyone she possibly could. He didn't know why they chose to spend so much time away from her when she was growing up, or why they treated her more like an experiment in sociology than a child.

Willow had always been someone who, once people met her, they wanted to be with her all the time and get to know everything about her. That's what it had been like for him, at least. From the second he set eyes on her – from what he could remember of being four years old, anyway – he knew he had to be her friend. Jesse had felt the same way when they had met him in junior high. They had never discussed it, of course, because that's not what teenage boys do. You could just tell by the smile on his face whenever he was around her that he was grateful to have someone like her in his life. Xander understood that, because he had never really known anything other than her. He thought it was normal that they had spent just about every waking moment together since their first meeting, but when they had first met Jesse he had made a face when they told him, giving them the hint that he thought it was weird for them not to have any other friends in their lives.

Thinking back on it now, Xander realised that, although they were all too young to realise it, he and Willow had a connection, and always had done. Even when they spent less time together when he had hung out with Jesse more, and she hung out with Amy, they always had that spark between them.

Through the years, things changed, as they always inevitably do, and Xander had been sad about that. He didn't know why it had happened – okay, he did know why it had happened – but now he realised that it didn't matter. What he was really thinking about right now, when he looked down at her sleepy, sad face was, how does it happen that you can hurt so much from seeing someone else in so much pain?

As if sensing his introspection, Willow stirred beside him. She opened her eyes and looked up at him, and Xander couldn't help but think to himself that Willow's eyes shouldn't look as haunted and as sad as they did, because that just wasn't right. Willow's eyes were supposed to be all bright and happy and emerald green with that mischievous glint in them that could make her look so innocent and child-like one moment, and all grown-up and woman-like the next.

"Hey," he said softly, picking her face out in the moonlight as she shifted.

"Hey," she said back, smiling at him a little as she brought one of her hands up to his, which were still stroking her hair.

"Are you feeling any better?" he asked, before figuring what a dumb question that was, and how much he'd hated everyone asking him that. "I mean, did the sleep help."

Willow struggled to sit up, using her arms to support her, even though they were still weak from her rest, until she was propped against the headboard of the bed. "A little," she told him as she tried to drag her fingers through her hair in an effort to maintain some semblance of the style she had been wearing it in, before realising the knots were just too extensive for her to untangle without the aid of a comb. "How long was I out?"

"A couple of hours," he told her, passing her the half-empty glass of water Cordelia had left with them earlier when she coughed a little from the dryness of her throat.

"What time is it?" she asked, sipping the water, carefully holding it with both hands.

For the first time, it occurred to Xander that he was actually wearing a watch. He didn't know whether he had simply forgotten that he had it on, or if he just didn't want to think about it. He glanced at the item on his wrist, tilting it slightly so that he could see the face in the silvery glow of the moon. "A little before 1am," he told her.

"What?" she asked, frustrated and suddenly tense. "Why didn't you wake me?" she demanded, pulling back the blanket Xander had thrown over her earlier and trying to summon enough energy to get to the edge of the bed. "We have to get back," she told him. "Everyone'll be worried. I mean, Dawn's--"

"Fine," he told her. "Dawn's okay, she fell asleep on the sofa. I spoke to Giles and I told him we were gonna stay here tonight. Angel said it's okay, and I wanted you to get some rest."

"But what about Tara?" Willow asked, not quite as anxious now. "And Anya?"

"They're fine, too. Giles is taking care of everything."

"No, I mean, I told her we'd only be here for the day," she said. "And Anya was pissed that you came down here in the first place."

"Yeah, well, they'll deal," he said. "They'll have to. Besides, I don't think I'd be so great driving right now."

She let out a breath and swung her legs back up onto the bed. "Okay," she said, sounding a little relieved. "We'll go back tomorrow."

"Agreed," he said, standing up and walking over to the door.

"Where are you going?" she asked suddenly, her voice sounding so small and afraid.

"I was just gonna let you get some more rest," he said.

"Don't," she said quietly. "Don't go. Stay here, please?" When he walked back over to her and sat down on the bed again, she shuffled next to him, pulling his arm around her and making sure that he lay back against the fluffy, white pillows. "You need to get some sleep, too," she told him.

"I'm okay," he told her.

"You're *not* okay," she told him, using her arm to prop herself up so that she could look at him properly. "I know you're not. You're doing what you always do. You're being the strong, silent type, trying to make everyone else feel okay and not thinking about yourself at all. Trust me, after keeping everything bottled up for these past few days, it feels good to get it out. It releases the tension, you know?"

"Honestly, Will," he implored. "I'm fine."

"Of course you are," she said, letting her voice take on that sarcastic edge. "That's why you've barely spoken to anyone since…"

"I have," he argued gently. "I mean, I've spoken to you, and to Anya."

"Me, okay, yes," she allowed. "But asking me to pass you the T.V. remote is hardly sharing feelings. And Anya? All I've heard is *her* talk to *you*, and you pretty much ignoring her. I mean, you've been polite with everyone, but you haven't been…I don't know, you haven't been you. And that's scary, Xander."

"You haven't been you, either," he reminded her. "You've been doing exactly the same as me. Focussing on everyone else so you don't have to deal with it."

"Maybe," she said. "But it doesn't work. Maybe for a while you can fool yourself, but then you say the words out loud, and…" she trailed off, new tears springing to her eyes. She wiped them away with the back of her hand, trying to stop herself from going into meltdown-mode again.

"Willow," he said softly, "I'm not okay," he told her. "I mean, how can I be after what's happened? But I'm trying to deal with this. I mean, I can't fall apart."

"I'm not asking you to fall apart," she said. "But do you know how scary it is seeing you like this?"

"Yes," he told her. "Because I felt exactly the same way when I walked into the hotel earlier on and saw you sobbing your heart out all over Angel's shirt. I am gonna deal with this," he told her. "But just let me do it my own way."

She nodded her head sadly, making her hair move over her face.

Xander brought his hand to her cheek and softly brushed the hair away from her face, forcing her to look at him. "When you were sleeping," he began as she lay back down beside him, curving her body around his side and holding him tightly around the waist, "I was thinking."

Any other time she would've used this opportunity to make some joking, sarcastic comment about the apparent lack-of-thinking Xander was known for. Instead, she asked, "what about?"

"About us," he told her. "About our friendship."

"What about it?" she asked.

"Well, it's kinda been through a lot," he said. "I mean, sixteen years. Am I anything like what you thought I would be now?"

Willow grinned. "I always hoped that we'd be married by now," she told him. "Of course, that was before the Barbie abduction." She considered the question he had posed seriously. "You are," she told him.

"Really?" he asked. "Cos I thought I had life all figured out, you know? A vampire here, a Hellmouth there, a long-term relationship with an ex-demon, and a witch and a slayer for best friends. But now…now it all just seems to be crumbling around me."

"Xander, you're everything I thought you'd be," she told him sincerely. "And more."

"Then you couldn't have expected much to begin with, then."

"Don't say that," she said fierily, feeling all of her strength come back to her. She sat fully upright beside him, eyes blazing, making her look so much more fearsome that she had when she first woke up a short while earlier. "I always knew you'd be a good person, Xander. Always. I always knew you'd be loyal, and caring, and sweet, and funny, and honest, and trustworthy. All of it. But you're so much more than that. You're brave, and selfless, and strong, and you're everything it takes to be a hero."

"I'm definitely not that," he said.

"Yes, you are," she told him. "As corny as it sounds, you're *my* hero."

"And you're mine," he told her. "You're the one person who has gotten me through everything in my life. All of that stuff you said about me – which I really doubt are true, by the way – the only reason I'm the person I am is because of you, and your friendship. I've always needed you in my life, and I always will."

"The same goes for me, too," she said honestly. "I know that we've both got other stuff in our lives now, and that's all great, but me and you…that's forever."

"I hope so," he told her, and this time it was his eyes glistening with tears. "Because Buffy's dead…" his voice broke with the words, and suddenly what Willow had said about letting it out and accepting it, it rang true. It hurt more than he ever thought was possible, but there was a relief there too. He took a deep breath and sat up next to her, the darkness of the room contrasting against her bright red hair in the moonlight. "And you know that the only thing that's gonna help me deal with it is you, right?" he asked. "I mean, no one else is gonna understand this panic that I have inside, or how scared I am of everything changing because maybe she was the only thing keeping all of us together because of what we knew. What if everything falls apart now?"

She grabbed him so tightly to hug him that she was afraid she'd hurt him, but that fear proved unfounded when he held her too. "That won't happen," she told him fiercely, and meaning it so much more than she could convey. "I won't let it happen," she promised. "*We* won't let it."

"We can't control stuff like that," he said, his arms wrapped around her tightly and hugging her as close as he could.

Willow could hear the pain and fear and sadness in his voice when he spoke, and she just wished she could make it all better for him. She had always known that they had this amazing connection between them, but she had never realised just how deep it went, and she could feel everything for the both of them. She could feel the tears that were working themselves down his cheek and onto her sweater, dampening her shoulder where his head lay. "I'm gonna make this better," she vowed. "I don't know how just yet…but I'm gonna fix this."

"Will?" he asked, lifting his head from the comfort of her body to look at her. "We're gonna be okay, right?" he asked. "I mean, if we stick together…"

"We will," she told him, even though the tears that were pricking her eyes were making her scared that wasn't true. "Because you know why?" she said. "We're soul mates, Xander. I mean, I know we're not, you know, or anything, but we have something that no one can ever take away from us. I know we love other people, but our friendship surpasses all of that. We're meant to be in each others lives."

He nodded silently, looking at her and understanding in a way that comforted him. "I love you," he told her, before he even knew the words were coming out of his mouth. "In our lives, too much stuff happens that could easily mean we never got to see each other again. I don't want time to run out for us. I've always loved you."

"I know," she told him, bringing a hand up to his face and stroking his cheek.

"But I mean that I've been *in* love--"

"I know," she said again, cutting him off. "And I love you too."

"But what does that mean?" he asked.

She couldn't answer him, and she didn't know if she wanted to. She didn't know the answer, and somehow, her mouth just wouldn't form the words.. So, she acted on impulse. She kissed him.

It started off as a comforting, chaste kiss between them that both of them needed, either as a promise or as an affirmation of their friendship. Neither one of them noticed when that moment changed into something more. They didn't resist when the gentle meeting of two pairs of lips turned into something much more passionate and needing. All they were aware of was each other when their arms became wrapped around each other again, and their bodies pressed against each other's. When their tongues met and duelled in the hot confines of their mouth, they didn't do anything to stop them.

But then something clicked in one, or both, of their brains, and they pulled apart, breathless and flushed.

"Oh, my god!" they said simultaneously.

"What are we doing?" Xander asked, still trying to catch his breath after their encounter.

"I don't know," Willow told him, shaking her head in an effort to ward off the erratic beating of her heart and the rush of adrenaline she was feeling clouding her brain.

They stayed that way for a few minutes, both trying to comprehend what they had just done, and each wondering if their friendship was effectively ruined forever.

Willow was the first to speak. "Or, wait a minute, maybe I *do* know what we were doing," she told him.

"Cheating on our significant others?" Xander offered.

"No," she told him softly, and realised they were still only inches apart. She felt the air charge with the same kind of tension that was there before, the last time hanging unnoticed until the kiss, and she came to a decision. She closed her eyes and slipped the sweater she was wearing over her head, feeling her skin shiver with the temperature change and the fact that Xander had a full view of her in her bra. "This isn't cheating," she told him, even though she knew that it wasn't the whole truth. "This is comfort."

"Comfort?" he asked, his eyes barely able to detract from her. "You think I'm comfortable right now."

She shuffled even closer to him than she had been before, and she could feel his heavy breathing on her face. "The only time we feel anything besides the pain is when we're together," she whispered.

"But what about…?" he didn't finish the sentence because he had a feeling she knew what he was going to say.

"This isn't about them," she told him. "This is about us, Xander. This is about us needing to make it through the night, and needing each other in a way we can never need them. After tonight, we'll go back to before.."

"But…" he started to protest, before she kissed him again, just briefly on the lips.

"Tell me that you don't want me," she said.

He shook his head. "I can't do that," he said softly.

"Tell me that you don't need me," she said.

"I'm always gonna need you," he whispered.

"Then, please," she asked him, taking his arms and wrapping them around her waist. "Just hold me…and kiss me…and make love to me like we both dreamed of before any of the other stuff got in the way."

And that was when the very last of Xander's resolve broke, and, wanting this just as much as she did, he did as she asked.


The next morning, as Cordelia and Gunn got back to the hotel after making a run for breakfast pastries and coffee, Willow and Xander met them in the lobby, dressed in clothes donated by Cordy from both her own and Angel's wardrobe.

"You want some coffee?" Cordelia asked them

Willow and Xander exchanged a look.

"Did you make it?" Willow asked.

"Uh, no," Cordelia told them, a little confused.

"Oh, well, then, yes, please," she said, taking the takeout coffee offered to her.

Xander crossed the lobby of the hotel, heading straight for the box of pastries on the counter. "Hey," he said to the guy who was sat next to them.. "Sorry we didn't get introduced last night," he told him, extending a hand. "I'm Xander."

"So Cordelia tells me," Gunn said, shaking the other man's hand. "Gunn."

"Interesting name," Xander commented. "Very original."

"From the guy named 'Xander', who has friends named 'Cordelia' and 'Willow'?"

"And don't forget 'Buffy'," Xander said, and for the first time, he said the name without the pain and the grief and gut-wrenching terror. The room seemed to fall silent, and he watched as Cordelia and Gunn looked at the floor uncomfortably.  "She wouldn't want us to be all mopey forever," he said, backed up by a nod from Willow. "Come on," he said, looking at Cordelia with a grin. "You know you wanna say it."

"I don't know what you mean," Cordy said, lifting her chin in the air defiantly.

"Come on…" he coaxed.

"No," she told him. "Honestly, I don't want to…oh, who am I kidding?" she said suddenly. "I always said it was a dumb name. I mean, Mrs. Summers was a cool lady and all, but where the hell did that come from? Did she just put a whole heap of dumb names into a hat and pull that one out?"

"There's the Cordy we know and tolerate," Xander said with a wink as he picked up a donut from the box of pastries and stuffed it into his mouth..

"Don't mind us, man," Gunn said with a smirk. "Help yourself, why don't you?"

"And there's the *Xander* we all know and tolerate," Cordelia said.

"Hey," Xander said, swallowing the mouthful of donut and licking the residue sugar from his fingers. "I'd stop now if I were you, Cor," he told her. "I mean, do you really want me to go into what you were wearing last night? I mean, if it had been Halloween a couple of years ago, you'd have turned into a big quarter."

"Hey!" she objected. "I was a princess in another dimension."

"You've always been a princess, money or no," he told her, a grin to make sure she knew he was joking. "We just always *wished* it was in another dimension."

"Oh, you're funny, Harris," Cordelia scolded, but only half meaning it. "So," she said, taking a deep breath. "I don't wanna bring us all down…but how are you two doing?"

Xander and Willow looked at each other, images of the night before flashing through their mind. It might not have been the most intelligent thing to do when they were both involved with other people, but there was a strange sense of calm that filled them now. Other people may have seen it as a one night stand, cheating on their partners kind of thing. They just saw it as another way of connecting, another way of sharing their pain with one another, and neither regretted it. Maybe they'd talk about it on the way home, or maybe they'd never mention it again. It didn't really matter, because it helped them to get through the night. They knew it wasn't over, that this was just a good day and it'd probably change when they got back home. They weren't over their friend's death, not by a long way, but they were ready to accept it.

"We're okay," Xander said, still looking at Willow.

Willow nodded. "Yeah," she agreed. "We are."


Waving goodbye to them as they pulled off left Cordelia with a strange, bittersweet feeling in her stomach. It had been nice catching up with them again after so long when they had stayed for a while after breakfast. It made her feel warm and fuzzy inside to think back to her Sunnydale days, even though they'd hardly been the most glamorous of her life. It had, however, given her a taste of what it was like to have a purpose in her life, one that didn't involve shopping and dining at the best restaurants. Buffy had been a huge part of that, saving her life on countless occasions, and accepting her as part of the Scooby Gang, and now Cordelia was truly sorry that she was gone. Her death was going to leave empty holes in so many lives: Angel's, Dawn's, Giles', Willow's, Xander's…

"You okay?" Gunn asked softly, having been waving off the Sunnydale two with her, and now standing with his arm around her shoulders. "You seem a little spaced."

"I'm good," she told him, grateful she still had him and Wesley around, and slipped her arm around him. "I mean…you know?"

Gunn nodded. "And what about them?" he asked, gesturing with his head in the direction Willow and Xander had just departed in.

"They'll get through it," Cordelia told him. "They have each other. And that's all they'll ever need."

The End