The One

Author: Ganchan.. tis me moniker

Disclaimer: Joss and ME own 'em.. I'm just taking them out for a test drive.

Spoilers: General Season 6 stuff all the way up to Normal Again..

Timeline: What happens after Buffy recovers from the poison in Normal Again..

Feedback: Feedback is mandatory. Unless of course you don't want to.

Dedication: None yet.

Info:This is a BTVS fusion with something else.. I'm sure you'll guess what it is... but I won't ruin it for you if you can't.

Chapter 1
One of Many

Driving himself home, Xander reflected on the past few days goings on. As the scenery slid past him he was busy mulling over the events to the background music of his favorite radio station, and consequently finding out that even the Dixie Chicks weren't capable of lightening the mood he was in.

Lately, he hated getting too introspective about things, mainly because, given current circumstances; when he thought about how he been acting, it was just too depressing for words.

Instead, he'd found it easier to cope with life when he didn't think too closely at things, his own actions as of late, in particular.

When he took the time to pause and consider what he'd been doing, he usually felt nothing but a deep and abiding shame and remorse over what he'd done to himself and his now ex-fiancee at their aborted wedding.

However this wasn't all that occupied his consideration. In fact he'd found himself dwelling more and more on other things he'd done that he was ashamed of, mainly; how he'd largely ignored and abandoned Buffy and Willow when they'd needed him to be there for them. He faced facts, and realized that he only started showing up again at Buffy's house when he needed their support and forgiveness. This alone gave him enough guilt to wallow in for days, something he decided that he'd be doing for a while until he got a chance to set things right with Anya.

He smirked sarcastically at himself, his lopsided grin twisted wryly as he muttered to himself, "Heh, yeah...I'm not drowning Buffy, really, I'm wallowing, yeah wallowing." He repeated the words he'd used recently when he'd talked to Buffy about how happy he was about the upcoming wedding. True, he'd said them to reassure himself when he'd felt the suffocating weight of the impending marriage baring down on him, but now he was giving them a whole new spin.

Recently, he'd started to re-evaluating his place in things with his friends, and foremost in his thoughts was whether or not he was of any use to the gang anymore. He'd always thought of himself as...well... "normal"...pretty average in fact. Overall... he was sort of... the obligatory 'normal guy' in the Scooby gang, and hence he began to question if he were actually in their way now. Wondering if he'd stopped being helpful, and was now more a hindrance then a help.

No super strength, no magical powers, no comprehensive knowledge of demon dimensions, heck, even his grades in high school were on the low side of average... which in part... was why he'd never ended up going to UC Sunnydale with Buffy and Willow after graduation in the first place.

"As if the folks would have helped cover the tuition, penny pinching... Oh there's an angle I hadn't considered... Oh Lord, I'm never going to hear the end of it from them... how they had to pay for the wedding that never was. Maybe I should just move and change my name. No, they'd still find me somehow."

Looking out the windshield, Xander sighed dejectedly as a mist like rain began to fall.

Of the three times he'd stopped by the Magic Box that day, he'd hoped that he'd see the store open for business.... and that Anya had finally showed up, running the store and therefore providing him with the chance to talk to her about what he'd done, and why he'd done it. The last time they'd seen each other, he'd been too distraught to really put what he was feeling into words, and as a result, he knew he'd hurt her deeply, far deeper than either of them had anticipated at the time.

Sadly, all three times, he'd been disappointed. The store had stayed closed and Anya was still, nowhere to be found.

"Stupid, stupid Xander.", he muttered to himself, "Man, Harris, when you screw up, you don't do it half way, do you?"

Outside, as though responding to his mood, the sky had darkened several extra shades of grey and the rain had gone from a slight sprinkle to a more generous drizzle, a precursor to the storm that the radio station had been warning people about for the evening commute.

Still, a number of things had been niggling at him during the last few weeks. Small things that were slowly adding up, things that he'd not shared with anyone, not even the other Scoobs or Anya. Things that now worried him a great deal, and he'd finally forced himself to recognize the fact that he'd tried to hide them from himself while planning for the wedding, thinking that he was just over-tired and imagining them.

The previous few nights, alone in the motel room, he'd spent his time trying to figure out if he should go back to his apartment yet or not. He wondered if it was safe to try and talk to Anya about what had happened between them at the wedding. It had almost become a sick sort of game for him, every time he'd worked up the nerve, he'd remember the false vision, the one of him striking Anya with a frying pan...and he sat right back down. That's when his mind started wandering and touching on other things, including his relationship with Willow and Buffy lately. That's when it hit him. It was an epiphany... he realized that something had been happening to him for a while... something that he'd ignored, and that it'd started months ago, roughly about the time he'd started working for the construction firm.

It had seemed innocuous at the time, so he wasn't too worried, he figured it was normal in fact. But given what was happening now, and what he'd learned on his job, he realized otherwise, things had been changing about him, and it worried him..

He'd never questioned the fact that he'd somehow, miraculously, acquired a level of carpentry skill that put him on par with long time professionals, nearly over night, something that required at least a remedial understanding of math for the work he'd found himself doing. That's when he'd noticed that answers seemed to be coming easier to him lately. But try as he might to convince himself that his carpentry skills had merely been a latent gift, he couldn't get around the fact math had been something that he'd previously been utterly useless at, but that he'd found to be getting easier and easier, even going geometry, trigonometry, and even calculus lately, in his head.

Things about him were changing, and it seemed that, within a few short months, he'd gone from being a "know-nothing" construction worker, to an "exceptional" journeyman carpenter, and it culminated with the foreman he'd worked for telling him that he felt that Xander was something special, a ready made master framer and artisan woodworker who just needed some time to polish his skills. That's when the man had made it plain that he wanted Xander to stay on with his crews as long as possible.

"Weird", he commented to himself, "... knowledge out of the blue.. I suppose I should have caught on right about then."

"But then again, "Xander smirked as he thought about it, "I never was much into looking gift horses in the mouth."

However, the past twenty four hour's events had scared him deeply about some of the other changes he'd started to experience. Scared him deep enough that he'd finally decided that he was going to talk to someone about it all...That he."needed" to talk to someone about it, and soon.

He flexed his hand slightly on the steering wheel and for the twentieth time in the past few hours he looked at his wrists. Nothing new, not even the slightest sign of rope burns were present from when he'd been tied up in Buffy's basement. Not even a bruise.

Coming to a stop at a red light, Xander closed his eyes and rubbed them with the knuckles of his hands, trying to relieve a slight itchiness he felt. He assumed that the nettles that Willow had had him get were making him have a slight allergic reaction. "Nope, not the stress... that isn't it. The headaches are from allergies, it's not from too much going on in the old Xander-noggin', no sir."

Again, he did with the sighing thing.

Feeling a sudden flash of recognition and a familiar tingling, he reached behind the passenger's seat and picked up the heavy, plumber's wrench that he'd brought along to do a little work with at the Summer's home.

He'd heard about Buffy's basement flooding adventure, and the subsequent problems that she'd been having keeping the house in working order as well as taking care of herself and Dawn. As such, he'd felt the need to pitch like he would have in the old days, pitch in like he felt any good friend should. With any luck he'd be able to save her a few hundred dollars in house upkeep expenses. It was a start at least.

But shifting his thoughts back to the "here and now" Xander hefted the wrench, and gave it a good hard squeeze with his right hand Sure enough, he'd guessed right, the hideous strength was back, and seemed to have brought along some friends, it had grown stronger again. The metal of the tool squealed in protest at the pressure, and flowed like semi soft clay in his hand.

When he finally released it, the wrench now bore the unmistakable imprint of his grip.

For a "normal" guy, this sure wasn't keeping in character as he saw things.

"That's it!", he thought as he inspected the imprint... whistling softly in surprise and nearly giggling, "...when I get home, I'm calling Buffy and telling her and Willow that something weird was going on with me. We'll figure it out and fix it, together, just like we've solved so many problems before."

Xander smiled to himself and sardonically recalled the previous night with a little satisfaction.

He'd felt the strength surge in him right before he'd hit Spike, only to have it vanish seconds after. Normally the vamp would have just laughed off his one punch, especially since the bottle-blond was expecting Xander to lash out at him. "Dandy, What got into him last night, anyway? It was like he was trying to goad me into hitting him. What the hell for though?"

Xander smiled in satisfaction however, Spike had been expecting the punch. He was totally ready it in fact, given the stance he'd been using, fully prepared for the strength that he expected to be behind it as well. Unfortunately for Spike, the punch had a great deal more "juice" to it than expected.

Xander knew, it took a lot of strength to knock a vampire down, let alone flip one head over heads and plant him where Spike had ended up... upside down. This was a lot more strength than Xander knew he should have had, and he was certain that the demonstration he'd just given himself was orders of magnitude greater than what he'd had last night.

The prospect of getting an occasional jolt of hyper strength was great as far as he saw it, but he didn't see a reason for it, and that worried him. He hadn't drank some potion of the Wicked Wiccan Duo, or been in contact with anything remotely magical lately. After all, for the most part, he'd always wished he'd had something 'special' about himself the way Buffy and the rest had, something that made him feel he was on a more equal footing with the rest, and not the weak link in the Scoobies chain. But what he'd just seen scared him. Almost as much as what had happened to him earlier in the day.

Buffy had hit him smack on the head with a frying pan. A frying pan for God's sake... and she'd even backed up the blow with a healthy dose of slayer strength. The hit had been nothing to scoff at, and he honestly felt he should have been pushing up daisies after getting brained like he had. But somehow, he'd gotten back up, and kept coming at her. Groggy, yes, but it hadn't knocked him out, much less really hurt him, there wasn't even any blood or a concussion afterwards.

That said though, when he'd been tied to the support post in Buffy's basement, the heavy nylon rope he'd been tied with had snapped for him like it was cotton, cotton full of dry-rot It might have looked like the demon had broken the rope to get at him, but he knew better now. He'd snapped the rope easily when his unpredictable strength had returned. Unfortunately it had just as suddenly departed again. An unpredictable power was worse than no power at all as he saw it.

As the sky continued to darken, he made up his mind, Xander resolved to tell the others about what he'd been experiencing, hiding nothing, and that he'd do so immediately.

"Right, I'll do just that....well, I will as soon as I get home and get something to eat, and take another shower. Stupid smelly waxy demon thing."

A little more at ease with himself, Xander drove on, the signal light had finally changed from red, back to it's more helpful green and he moved on. Of course now was the time that the rain finally started to fall in earnest, casting the surroundings with a hazy edged blur.

It was however notable that the rain also did more than blur the look of things,

Nearby, in a section of one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries, it helped hide the appearance of a tornado-like cone of frosty looking light which whirled out of nowhere, reaching high into the sky and shrieking like the souls of the damned for the duration of the tornado's short life span.

As it whirled frantically, casting strange shadows dancing about the tombstones and trees, it finally subsided as quickly as it had appeared, leaving behind a supine male figure, one that was twitching spasmodically on the wet grass.

The rain kept falling as the figure slowly regained some control over itself, and crawled up to its hands and knees drawing in several deep, yet shaky, breaths while retching with dry heaves.

The figure wore what looked like black, leather covered, police riot armor, only without the heavier bits and the visor masked helmet. His hands were covered by leather gloves with the trigger fingers cut out. A pair of pistols were strapped to the figures thighs, and a light assault rifle was strapped to his back.

The figure spent several long minutes on hands and knees, Breathe, relax, breathe, relax, breathe, relax.

The rain continued to fall, slicking the man's dark hair downward, forming rivulets of water cascading around and down his face. The streams of water fell to join the thin layer of ground water that was already pooling in the grass in front of him.

The man sat back on his haunches finally, looking up from the ground and finally pulled in a deep breath with his arms outstretched, shuddering in pleasure/pain as he filled his lungs to capacity. That done, he tilted his head back and shouted at the sky."

"Yes! Two hundred twenty three down, one to go. One more and it's finally over, I'll be the last one. I'll be free. You'll never stop me now."

The familiar chocolate brown eyes of Alexander Harris looked into the sky from where he sat in the cemetery, looking up into the iron colored sky as lightning flashed through the rain.

While elsewhere, another drove on, his only goal; to get a shower and some food, he'd talk to his friends later.

Chapter 2
One of two

Spike was watching Passions... this of course meant that the comments were flying.

"Timothy, you poor ...sodding... idiot, can't you tell that she doesn't want you anymore? I mean, come on...She's bloody said it to your face dozens of times. Deal with it, mate. Deal with it, and move on."

He reached into his bag of crisps and munched on a few while making pained expressions at the TV before throwing his hand up in frustration, tossing a hail of deep fried potato shavings in the direction of the TV screen.

"Bloody hell!.. look at him... chasing after her like a little lost mongrel pup..... You're pathetic... you hear me, Tim? Pa..the..tic...where's your self respect, mate? Come on! You used to be interesting. You used to be menacing... you used to be sodding evil... for heaven's sake."

He shouted at the TV, shaking his fist and stressing the E-word. "Now look at don't even make a half way decent stalker. You've lost your edge, you hear me? You're not even remotely threatening."

Irony was never one of Spike's strong suites.. he usually thought it meant something metallic in nature.

Spike crushed his spent cigarette into the bottom of the empty can of beer that he'd ripped in half and was now using as an ash tray.

He stood and stretched as an ad for laundry detergent flickered on the screen.

Taking stock of the state of the crypt he clapped his hands together once and commented to himself, "Right then, bachelor time is over, as of right bloody now. Time to get the old digs back into proper bloody shape... 's about time I give the old place a bit of a 'pick up'."

Gathering the detritus of litter that he'd been accumulating, he started putting the trash in a plastic sack, careful to not disturb the cobwebs and dust that he knew were needed to make the crypt properly crypt-like.

Dust, cobwebs, and even the odd, artfully displayed corpse, really made the crypt style décor work for him... but a box of takeout Chinese, a half eaten bag of stale Ruffles, or a tin of Kipper snacks just didn't fit the motif, and needed to go.

Picking up the bag, and lighting up another cigarette, Spike opened the door and wandered out into the rain. Fortunately the sky was so baddly overcast he didn't need to worry about direct sunlight.

Already the day was looking up.

He decided that he'd just dump his garbage off at the Quiky mart a couple blocks away and pick up a fresh pack of smokes while he was out and about, leaving his VCR to record the second episode of Passions when it came on.

Humming a tune that he used to use when he hammered railroad spikes into his enemies limbs and eye sockets, Spike almost didn't notice the figure moving through the cemetery until he was nearly upon it.

Narrowing his eyes he looked at the figure that stood before him and offered, what for him was, a solicitous greeting.

"Here now... lookey lookey... What have we here?"

He started circling the figure in front of him, smirking in amusement and breathing out a stream of tobacco smoke.

"What's the occasion, Droopy old boy?"

He took in the figure's odd clothing and commented,"All dressed up like a manly man are we? What happened? Decided to try out the old saying about the clothes making the man? Sorry lad, dressing up like that only makes you look like a bigger wanker than you already were."

He shrugged off handedly and flicked his cigarette butt on the ground, stepping on he smiled widely.

"Though, from where I'm standing I don't know that that's entirely possible... oh, wait, there's always room for improvement, isn't there?"

From Spike's perspective, Xander seemed to be looking at him oddly for a moment or two, and then turned away.

"Go away, Spike. I have more important things to do."

Spike was shocked; here he'd just been unreasonably polite to the slayerette, at least by his measure of what constituted "polite", and gotten kicked square in the teeth for it, there's gratitude for you. Maybe the boy'd had a hard day of it, best try again and see if he'd respond to him offering some saged advice.

"Sure thing, Xan-Dur.", he said drawling out the last, "Though that outfit might be a good idea, it is armoured from what I see. Yeah, might not be a bad idea, what with you pissin' on your ex and all... At least that's how I've heard it... her being an ex-vengence demon after all, she might go all Lorena Bobbit on you...Can't be too careful. Oh, by the way, the word's out about you on the street, there's even a betting pool running at Willy's on when you'll take the dirt nap courtesy of her. You know what they say; you can take the girl out of the demon... but you can never take the demon out of the girl."

He chuckled nastily, " I'd watch my back if I were you."

He smirked and then palmed himself on the forehead as though remembering something.

"Oh wait, that's right, I'm evil... nevermind, don't watch your back. But, I hear that she's won a number of creativity awards for various forms of evisceration she invented... can't wait to see what she comes up with for you, it being all personal-like and all. In fact I should check with her on that the next time I see her, I'd pay good money to watch."

There, a better example of good friendly male communication you couldn't ask for.

However, Xander didn't rise to the bait, he just started walking away.

"Spike, just go back to your crypt and dream your little dreams of conquest...I'm sure you'll try and feature Buffy in them centrally. Too bad for you that's all they'll be... dreams. But for now, just stay the hell out of my way. I might take the time to kill you later if I feel like it."

Spike stood with his mouth hanging open a bit, for a moment.

"Hey, come back here...where the bloody hell do you think you're going? I wasn't done insulting you yet."

"Home, Spike... I'm going home.", was the soft reply

Spike stood with a puzzled look on his face, before lashing out at the air with a fist, "Right, you just run on home... wouldn't want you to get your bloody feeling all hurt now, would we?"

Spike turned away with a shrug, muttering to himself. "The ponce must have gotten hit in the head or something, his apartment is the other way round. Oh well... might as well get rid of this rubish ...

Passions awaits after all. The Slayerette'll find his own way...

that or he'll catch something and die a horrible, congested death.

Oooo That's a happy thought."

Already, Spike felt better, he'd cleaned up his flat, seen an old enemy, insulted him repeatedly, and walked away with no injuries... for Spike this was a fine way to start the night, things were already looking up. He started whistling.


As he walked away from the vampire, Alexander Harris pulled out his pistols and checked the clips, he'd need them soon he mused.

The mass driver pistols were fully charged, loaded, and ready for action. They were exactly how he knew they'd still be, exactly how he always kept them. However, he'd learned, the hard way, to never count on assumptions, so he checked them still.

He smiled a toothy grin as he walked, humming "I'm coming home" the whole time.

The smile however, was one that never quite reached his deceptively warm looking eyes. The cold glint of purposed that had taken up residence, brooked no other tenants in it's living space.

He smirked as he spotted Maple Street not far off, a little jog and he'd be half way to his goal.

"Mom... Dad.... Here comes your 'baby boy'. We've got all sorts of 'fun' things to talk about. Hope you have some plastic tarps, don't want to mess up the carpets or walls too badly, do we?"


Summer's Home.

A half hearted protest came from the darkened living room where Buffy and Willow were sprawled on the floor. The TV was on, but the volume had been turned, all that was heard at first was a soft rustling sound.

"Buffy, I'm not sure that this is such a good idea."

"Willow, trust me, I know what I'm talking about here.... plus, I know you'll like this, it's right up your alley...I mean it's got "Willow will like me a lot' written all over it. I tried it myself in college a few times... you know... experimenting."

Buffy smiled at her friend suggestively, "Me and this other girl, we talked about it in class one time, then we got together and tried it... and WOW!"

"Well.... it does look... appetizing... but I don't know... I mean ... Tara... when I eat this sort of thing, I like to do it with her."

"Tara will just have to miss out. Come on Willow, try it... you know you want to."

"But it looks... "

"I know, but it tastes better than it looks. But you're right, it is a bit messy. That's why I brought napkins."

Willow sighed in defeat, "Fine, I'll try it...but this is under protest, and I'm only doing this because you're so persistent about it."

"Yay, that's my Willow. Now, get to it!"

"Fine, but I have to say, Buffy, 'chocolate covered popcorn' ...

that's okay, I guess... but with salt?"

"Hey, what can I say? I'm a salty chocolate kinda gal."

Willow turned back to the TV and idly munched on the popcorn.

"So, what are we watching, again?", she asked.

Buffy replied back around a mouth full of chocolately popcorn goodness, "Mph... Ummm... ... It's an old one.... let me see. " She picked up the Blockbuster box that the rental movie had come in. She started reading from the back of it.

"Somewhere in Time: Staring Christopher Reeves... still the hotty.. considering.. ummm.. Jane Seymour.. back when she wasn't all old and stuff.. blah blah blah.. Ahh here we go. Beyond Fantasy, beyond obsession, beyond time itself... he will find her."

Willow chimed in her opinion while snacking on another handful of popcorn, a smear of chocolate on her mouth, "Eww, sounds kinda stalkery. I'm not so sure.. Ow!"

Buffy had swatted her friend with the box. "Shush, you.", she said in a mock serious voice and wearing a faux pout, "This was mom's favorite movie, I'll have you know. And she said it wasn't even remotely stalker filled. Now, let me finish."

"Fine fine, finish already...yeesh."

"Now, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted.... A young playwright, meets an elderly woman-telling him to "Come back to me" and leaves him with a watch and a picture of a ravishing young woman."

"Oooo.. there's a whole lotta 'ravishing' going on then, I take it?"

"Hush you, this is a PG movie"


"Anyway, Eight years later, he visits the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and comes upon a photograph of the same woman. He becomes obsessed with the image.. and falls in love as he learns more about woman's life and career. Romance."

"So what's with the title?"

"Donno...but mom said it was a real tear jerker."

"I scoff at the jerking of tears."

"Right with you, Willow... We'll face this trial like 'modern women'...this evil movie will jerk no tears from our eyes."


103 minutes later

"*sniffle" Willow... S-Stop hogging the Kleanex . *sob*"

Tears rolled down Buffy's cheeks.

Willow began pulling out soft white tissues from the box and handing them to her blurry friend.

"But, did you see the *sniffle*... the kissing.. and the ... and the penny.. and .. oh god.. and she died in 1972...right after she'd waited so long .. so long t-to see him again.", Willow wailed plaintively before settling back into racking sobs.

Buffy continued for her, "*honk*And he g-gave up on everything for love... and just died ...and...Oh Willow, why can't real men be more like that?"

"I don't know, Buffy. *sob*"

A pounding on the door began.

Buffy got up, still choking back tears and brushing her sweats off as she made her way to the door, and the awful hammering.

"Hold on, hold on, I'm coming.", she wiped at her tear reddened eyes with the tissue, "...keep your shirt on."

She opened the door, unfortunately dropping her tissue, which she bent down to pick up.

"Yeah? What do... you... wan-" She trailed off at the end her voice full of surprise as she took in he figure standing in the doorway.

Then she voiced her immediate thoughts.

" God.... That's it... I'm going to kill them all."

"Please... Stay calm, Buffy. Just try and stay calm.. I know what this looks like... but-"

Buffy slammed the door shut in the figure at the door's face and stomped her way toward the weapons chest in the main room. From it she extracted a particularly wicked looking axe, muttering dire imprecations the whole way.

"This is just going too damn far, that's what it is... Ohhh I've had it...I'm gonna kill them for this."

Willow looked at her friend as she blew her nose, "What's wrong?"

"They made another one." Buffy replied as she stomped her way back toward the door and flung it open

"Another what?" Willow queried.

"Another Buffy bot."

She screamed in rage and swung the axe at the figure at the door, only missing by a hair's breadth as the figure dodged back and away.

"Hey, Knock it off.. what are you-"

Buffy started moving in for the kill after her twin, swing the axe wildly.

"I've had it *woosh* with Warren *woosh* and his friends*Woosh woosh woosh*.. Stand still, you robot!"

Buffy's double dodged the wild swings, her black leather coat flapping and whirling in the rain cooled air.

Buffy was surprised at how nimble the bot seemed to be, but kept up her assault.

Suddenly, seeing an opening, the double executed a high speed drop, and swept her opponent's legs out from under her, taking the sweats clad slayer down onto the grass and sending her axe flying. The double then rolled back to her feet and adopted a solid defensive stance.

"Buffy, please, stop this!"

Buffy herself rolled back and away from her doppelganger, the axe had flown backward landing in a bush as Willow walked out the door and took in the surprising sight of her friend fighting ...herself. Buffy wrote the axe off as unrecoverable for now, she'd retrieve it after she dismantled the windup toy in front of her.

"So, Warren's made you better this time, did he? Won't matter."

She started circling her double.. appraising her fighting skills. The mirror twin circled opposite her, talking.

"Look, Buffy, please... calm down. I don't want to fight you... I'm not a robot... look at me.. I'm real."

This brought the Slayer up short.

"Huh? What? Well, if you aren't a robot.. then what the hell are you?"

Her double gave her a knowing smile, tinged with deep sadness.

Slipping out of her combat stance, she spoke softly.

"I'm you Buffy...... I'm Buffy Summers. I- I'm because I need your help...Please, you've got to believe me. Something terrible is going to happen."

Chapter 3
A One in Three Chance

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Xander stood in his tux, his every move feeling more and more unreal as he forced out the words, "Maybe we just went too fast."

Anya replied nervously, "Look, everybody has thoughts. It's natural, it doesn't mean that, that getting married is wrong.", stressing the last word.

A moment passed, he'd knew he'd reached the point, his ears were roaring, drowning out everything, everything except her words and his own, "I know, I know..."

"Look, you're just shaken up, okay? You just calm down and we'll start over, okay?"

Xander looked over at the main room, he could see his parents yelling at each other. His Father was standing while his mother was sitting in her chair. He kept watching, even though he knew he couldn't hear them, focusing on what they were doing, not what they were saying. He could see his father yelling angrily, and then his mother arguing back at her husband.

Suddenly his father stopped arguing, and Xander knew what was coming, knew from many years of first hand experience. His Father lashed out at her with a slap, and Xander watched as she caught the hand before the blow could land, caught it as though she'd had longtime practice at catching such blows, something Xander also knew from years of first hand experience. Still he kept watching them, watching what he feared he'd become.

Tearfully, he replied to Anya, "We can't start over. If this is a mistake, it's forever, and ... I don't want to hurt you. Not that way."

He let his hand fall from hers.

"I'm sorry. I am so sorry."


Xander hefted the wrench, and gave it a good hard squeeze with his right hand Sure enough, he'd guessed right, the hideous strength was back, and seemed to have brought along some friends, it had grown stronger again. The metal of the tool squealed in protest at the pressure, and flowed like semi soft clay in his hand.


The man sat back on his haunche. He looked up from the ground finally and pulled in a deep breath with his arms outstretched, shuddering in pleasure/pain as he filled his lungs to capacity. That done, he tilted his head back and shouted at the sky.

"Yes! Two hundred twenty three down, one to go. One more and it's finally over, I'll be the last one. I'll be free. You'll never stop me now."

The familiar chocolate brown eyes of Alexander Harris looked into the sky from where he sat in the cemetery, looking up into the iron colored sky as lightning flashed through the rain.


Spike stood with his mouth hanging open, but just for a moment.

"Hey, come back here...where the bloody hell do you think you're going? I wasn't done insulting you yet."

"Home, Spike... I'm going home.", was the soft reply from Xander.

Spike stood with a puzzled look on his face before lashing out at the air with a fist, "Right, you just run on home... wouldn't want you to get your bloody feeling all hurt now, would we?"


"Look, please... calm down. I don't want to fight you... I'm not a robot... look at me.. I'm real."

This brought the Slayer up short.

"Huh? What? Well, if you aren't a robot.. then what the hell are you?"

Her double gave her a knowing smile, tinged with deep sadness.

Slipping out of her combat stance, she spoke softly.

"I'm you, Buffy...... I'm Buffy Summers. I- I'm because I-

I need your help...Please, you've got to believe me. Something terrible is going to happen."

And now...

"What do you mean you don't know why there are two of us?"

Buffy stood with her hands on her hips, looking at her double, watching as she sat on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket and shivering from the west and cold as Willow handed her a cup of hot chocolate.

The Buffy on the couch took the cup in both hands, giving Willow a sad, but grateful look and replied with a soft, subdued voice, "Thanks, Willow."

Willow smiled back wanly and replied, "No problem, Buffy. Are you okay? Do you need another warm blanky?"

The woman shook her head while the standing Buffy strode forward and waved her arms about, attracting Willow's attention.

"Hello, Willow, Let's get with the suspicions making thing here.

She's not Buffy...I'm Buffy. Me, not her, me me me.."

Buffy narrowed her eyes at her double and commented, "She's probably some sort of trap ... probably sent here to do...", she flailed an arm vaguely in the air and added, "... well I don't know what exactly... but it's probably some weird magical trappy type thing.. and whatever it is, it'll be done to us. Besides,", she said, turning to look at her double," what did you mean... 'something bad is going to happen', anyway? Newsflash, this is the Hellmouth, what else happens around here? It's like saying.. 'Oooo oooo... the sun is going to rise tomorrow.' "

Her doppelganger sat looking vacantly up at her a moment before answering, her face desolate and her eyes deep and wet looking, "Going to happen, already happened, I don't know anymore... I used to know... I tried my keys...but... but..,the lock didn't work... and...I-I..", she looked at her twin imploringly and her voice hitched for a moment, "I just wanted you to... I had to get you to stop... stop trying to kill me for a minute. Oh god, what's happening to me?", she covered her face with her hands and pleaded, "Please... please... I just want to wake up. I just want this to be a dream."

Buffy looked down at the stranger wearing her visage and turned away for a moment, pacing half the length of the living room in quick strides. Turing back, she looked at her double suspiciously.

Her other Buffy sat her drink down on the table, her hand shaking slightly.

"This... this, was a mistake.. I-I shouldn't be here. I need to get ho.. I need to go... I need to go somewhere else." She started getting up from the couch choking back a sob, "I-I'm sorry. I just want to wake up... This can't be real."

She was half way to her feet when Willow took her by the shoulder and pushed her unresisting form, gently back onto the sofa, taking the blonde's hands in her own.

"Buffy, please, don't go. What's wrong?"

The double looked down at her hands as though to reassure herself that she was actually feeling something, feeling the touch of her friend. But sat there, frozen, as though she couldn't comprehend what she was seeing.

A moment later, Buffy watched from across the room as someone who looked exactly like her fell apart emotionally. Fell apart, exactly like she wished that she remembered how to. She watched as her double collapsed into Willow's arms in quiet implosion of grief and tears.

She recognized every nuance of the posture of the person in front of her, and then realized why she could, she'd lived that posture herself. She'd worn it every night for weeks after she'd had to cast her first love, Angel, into hell to save the world. Only this time, she watched as this stranger wearing her face had someone there to comfort her, and didn't have to just lay in her bed at night, weeping silently for fear that her mother might learn what she'd become.

The woman in front of her had instead, been able to thrown herself into her friend's arms and stop being The Slayer for a time, instead becoming simply 'Buffy', a young woman in deep pain.

Her double's face had scrunched up with loss, the way she remembered her own face doing so long ago, then hid itself against Willow's shoulder as her shoulders heaved with wracking sobs.

She only spoke a few coherent words through the tears, "Oh god, Willow, he's dead, dead."

Willow looked back at her friend, over the double's shoulder as she patted the woman's back reassuringly, hugging and rocking her against her own shoulder gently. Her eye's carried a sincere appeal for the other Buffy to hold back and give her a moment before questioning her double further.

Buffy took a hesitant step forward, her hand extended as though seeking to comfort... only to have her stumble to a halt, and let her arm fall back at her side uselessly.

Willow stroked the hair of the woman she held in her arms, making soft, reassuring sounds to her against the backdrop of choking sobs, "It's okay Buffy... It's okay, really.... shhh shhh." She rocked the figure who so looked like her longtime friend, against her, pausing for a few moments before saying more.

"Who?...Buffy, who's dead?"

The double pulled back a little, looking into the eyes of the woman who held her. Tears streaked her face wetly.

"X-Xander... Xander's dead."

A palpable chill ran through the room.

Willow shot the standing Buffy a desperate, stricken look, one filled to the brim with worry.

Buffy replied quickly, "On it, Wills."

Buffy ran from the living room into the kitchen. She grabbed the phone from its hook on the wall, and even before she'd skidded to a halt, speed dial was in use.

Hearing the rapid-fire dialing stand out against the dial tone, she waited.

A repetitive buzzing, signaled the ringing of a phone on the other end of the line, and as she listened to the ringing she fidgeted nervously, pacing.

"Come on, come on, come on-", she intoned anxiously.



"Oh, Xander, Oh thank god, you're there. Are you okay?"

There was a momentary pause on the other end of the line, but after a moment her friend answered her, "Buffy? Umm, Yeah... I'm okay... I guess. Umm, Hey! Anya, she's hasn't called you guys has she? Umm, she hasn't shown up here, and nothing's changed in the apartment. I don't think she's been back here since she disappeared. Have you heard from her ye-"

Buffy interrupted him curtly, "No, No, Xander, I haven't heard from her. Don't worry, when she's ready to talk, I'm sure you'll hear from her... But we can't deal with that right now anyway...Something's come up. I need you to get over here, now."

"Huh? What's going on?"

"I'm here... I mean.. another me is here... I mean.. Oh never mind... just get in your car and get over here...quick... Something Hellmouthy is going on."

"Sure thing, Research man is on the way. Gimme me fifteen. Oh, and I know what you mean about weird... I sorta have to talk to you guys about something happening to me that's-"

Buffy interrupted him again in an rushed tone, "Whatever... just hurry."

"You call Willow yet?"

"She's here, Xander, but trust me, I got whatever 'weird' you have going on, beaten hands down."

"Heading out the door now...see you soon, bye."

Buffy slowly hung up her phone. She could hear the dial tone that signaled Xander having hung up, and it seemed to resonate within her unexpectedly.

Severed ties.

She'd recognized some time ago, that she'd been severing lines of communication with her friends too frequently. Xander and Willow had been her friends for a long time, and she didn't know why she kept pushing them away.

"Liar", she told herself internally, "You do too know, you still resent that they brought you back again... You were told that you'd have friends there to help guide you, and you couldn't deal with it, with them."

As she walked back into the living room, she kept her arms wrapped around herself as though fighting off a bone deep chill that caused her to shiver.

As she entered the living room Willow shot her a questioning look, one replete with worry.

Buffy smiled wanly back and nodded, mouthed silently, "He's okay. Be here soon."

The other's head turned her way a moment later, eyes red from crying, and hiccupping with suppressed sobs.

Buffy nodded to her and spoke, "Okay, I think you better tell us what's going on. How'd you get here? Maybe we can figure out things from that."

The double stared blankly for a moment, then nodded once and hesitantly disengaged herself from Willow's embrace. She looked at her red haired friend and smiled gently, mouthing "Thank you.", to her silently.

Buffy sat in a chair across the coffee table from her double, letting her collect her thoughts.

The other Slayer seemed to gather herself while she used her fingertips of her hands to wipe away some of her tears. Willow handed her a couple tissues to complete the job that the duplicate's hands could not, and the blonde let a small, sad smile float on the corners of her lips, indicating her gratitude.

The double finally appeared to have readied herself, and she began her tale.

"Okay, I-I was fighting, Glory...", She looked at the two women who were watching her, unsure how to explain what she was about to say.

Buffy took care of that for her. "Yeah, a God, been there, done that, Got the T-shirt."

The double nodded, "Okay, ummm well... we were fighting her...", her hands moved in small, parallel sweeping motions, not focusing on her twin sitting in the chair across from her, her gaze turned inward on vistas only she was seeing.

"And, doing okay... She'd taken out the Buffybot... Ummm, and I was using this big hammer thing to pound on her. But, she kind of knocked it out of my hand at this one point, so she thought it was a good time to do her whole 'bad guy snappy dialog' thing, That's when Xander, he-he hit her with a wrecking ball... Oh god, I still remember the look on her face...", the double smiled for a moment, a ghost of laughter dancing on her lips, "She was all 'Wiley Coyote' when that happened.", Seeing the recognition on Buffy's face, she continued, "So, I charged in through the hole in the wall she'd been knocked through after getting the hammer back."

Buffy and Willow both nodded along, hearing the familiar events unroll themselves in front of them.

"Anyway, the next thing I know, I'm being thrown back through the hole, away from Glory... Something... hit me... I guess. And I land in some trash bags that were nearby... that's when I saw it...

something was... attacking her... taking her apart."

Buffy perked up at this and her brow knitted in confusion.

"Huh? What? Who?"

Her double shook her head slightly and replied, "I don't know, I only caught brief glimpses of whatever it was. He, it... it was like a blur. All black and moving like... like... like I don't know what.", she gestured indicating her confusion, "But whatever it was, it was fast... and it was all over her, she couldn't do anything. She was throwing punches, at whatever it was... but they didn't hit anything. That's when I really started listening, and I heard it... I heard hitting, kicking...", she shuddered, "...cutting... sounds. My god, it was unreal. It was like she was being hit from all directions at once, like she was in a tornado or something. It was hitting her so hard it was lifted her off the ground, and was so fast that she couldn't fall before another hit lifted her back up and another knocked her back down. I-I could hear her bones breaking, and.. and metal, like a knife or something, sliding over bone from where I was... and it just wouldn't stop. It just kept going on and on...there was blood.. and ... things...flying everywhere."

The double closed her eyes as though trying to shut out the vision and shuddered.

"I know... She was trying to kill Dawn, and I hated her for the things she'd done to us. But what happened to was vicious, sadistic. Whatever it was.. it was killing her slow... but it wanted to hurt her.. not just kill her. I don't mind the slaying, sacred duty and all that... but this, this was bad... wrong."

She focused on Buffy's eyes, her own filled with a vaguely haunted look. "When she hit the floor finally, it was over. Whatever it was, it'd killed her... cut her into, into little pieces."

Buffy and Willow looked at each other oddly, neither wanting to ask the next question, seeing how this Buffy's recounting of events had suddenly differed significantly from their own memories of the past. They both turned back to the double and asked in unison, "What about Dawn? What happened to her?"

The double looked back up at them, her gaze had fallen to the floor while the two Scoobies had been exchanging looks. Her eyes looked watery, as though she didn't want to go on.

Willow laid her hand on the double's shoulder, lending support.

Steeling herself, the double pulled herself together and took a deep breath, "Dawn...Dawn was.. is fine. I mean... a minute or so later, after Glory had died, I heard... I saw something flash up at the tower. It came from over by the crane that Xander had been using. The one with the wrecking ball. It.. it was bright.. bright like the sun... and made a sound like someone tearing a piece of silk.

Whatever it was... it hit... it's target on the tower. We found out that what it was, was that demon thing.. Doc."

She nodded to herself, "What we found him... or what looked like it had had been him, immediately after... after Spike had been knocked off the scaffold. Doc, what was left of him looked like... like he'd just ...exploded... from about waist level up... Giles, he thought that he was going to do something to Dawn.. but... whatever it was.. I don't know. Maybe he was trying to complete the ritual or something. Fortunately... if that's what it was, he never got the chance."

By this point, her breath was coming in small gasping hiccups as she continued, "Anyway... I- I went over to the crane...Oh god... to find out what the flash of light was." Her breath became soft panting gasps as she fought to continue, "That-that's when I found Xander. Oh god...", the double's eyes filled with tears again and she seemed to be staring off into nothing, her hand reaching out unconsciously while her voice got small and childlike, "Xander... , no."

The double started to bury her face in her hands, her shoulders sagging.

Buffy half shouted at her, "Focus.. stay focused. You don't have to tell us about that.. just focus and try and tell us, what happened next, please."

The other responded with a gasp of breath and a hasty nod, wiping her tears back.

"Okay... Oh god, I'm sorry... I-I don't' remember too much after that, I ran away from the crane. But, I remember that I ran up the scaffold to get Dawn... to rescue her... and I remember seeing someone that looked like Giles down below when I went up. But I was pretty out of it."

Willow asked, "Looked like Giles?"

The double nodded. "Uhh huh, 'Cept I had Giles with me. I didn't say anything, but once I got Dawn down, I tried to follow the man I saw... I couldn't go back... back where everyone else was."

Buffy nodded and asked, "Then what."

The other sagged, her face hopeless and ashen. "Then nothing.... I remember a bright light.. and pain. Buckets and buckets of pain. The next thing I know, I'm laying on the ground in the cemetery and it's raining, and I hurt all over."

Buffy nodded to herself, she could feel the anguish radiating off her double, and surprisingly, she could empathize. For the first time in months, she could feel again, she knew how this young woman who looked like her felt, and she held onto the feeling.

Pain, it wasn't much, but it was better than feeling dead.

Somehow, Buffy knew that it was appropriate that the first real emotion that she found that she could feel was emotional pain, even if it was pain through empathy with her double. Something her double had seen, something awful had hurt her double so bad, that her soul was bleeding, and she could feel it from across the room.

She knew it involved seeing Xander dead, the double had made that clear. But she considered her own feelings, imagining herself finding her 'Xander shaped friend' hurt, imagining what she'd feel if he were dead.

Closing her eyes, she shied away from the image. She'd known that she would feel hurt, expecting it to be the pain one felt seeing a friend dead... but she hadn't been prepared for the unexpectedly violent emotional response that the thought had generated within her.

Opening her eyes, she noted that Willow had moved closer to the double and put her arm around her shoulder, tugging her into her embrace. She noticed that the other seemed to be falling into herself, much like she'd done when Glory had taken Dawn from them months earlier.

"It's okay, Buffy. It's okay... You're with your friends now, we'll figure it out together. We'll make it all better."

Buffy stood up from her chair, and started pacing the floor, speaking her thoughts.

"But I don't get it... I mean... that's not how it happened." She turned to her double and asked the big question... the question that she knew that no-one else could ask, "You- you mean you didn't...

didn't... die?"

The double looked up at her twin, and shook her head, puzzled.

"Die? N-no... You mean?... I mean.... you recognized all that.", it was a statement, not a question, "... you acted like you did. It happened to you too, right?"

Buffy nodded. "Yeah, except for Glory dieing like you described...

that didn't happen. I beat her with the mallet thing. But Doc... he did... he did get the ritual started... I had to jump into the portal to close it.... I... I died."

Outside, Willow could hear a car pulling into the driveway. She let go of the double, and pulled a corner of the drapes back to look outside. She could make out that Xander was just getting out of his car and running toward the house through the rain. She turned back to look at the two Buffy's and saw the double shaking her head.

"No, I didn't die. The portal never opened. Why would I jump into it anyway?"

Buffy looked at her twin as though she'd just grown a second head and replied, "Umm, to close it. Our blood, Summer's blood... The guide in the desert. You know, love and being afraid we couldn't love anyone and all that."

The double nodded, "Yeah, I remember that, her whole thing with...'full of love'.'shining so bright'.. 'give.. forgive.. lead you to your gift.' All that... Little miss cryptic faux-Slayer that she was. I figured later out what she'd meant."

Buffy's confusion seemed to keep growing by leaps and bounds. She expressed it eloquently.


The double replied, "She meant I had to forgive someone for something that they'd done... something that I still held against them... and that when I did, I'd... I'd be able to give of myself, finally...

that's' when I-"

The front door opened and Xander walked in, shaking the rain off his leather coat. He turned and started to speak, only to fall silent as he started taking in the scene in the living room.

Everything came to a halt suddenly.

All three women had turned to face him. Buffy with her lips twisted in a "Top this for weirdness" grin.

Xander looked back and forth between the two blondes, his eyes blank with confusion.

"Wh? Huh? Two?..."

After a moment he turned to Willow and asked, "Another Buffy bot?"

Willow shook her head and smiled, "Nope, She seems real...I'm thinking time travel... It's-"

Her monologue was interrupted by the Buffy double launching herself from the couch in a flash. She was scrambling across the room, knocking the coffee table, and the bowl of popcorn that sat on it, over.

The blonde Slayer was on a beeline straight for Xander and in a fraction of a second she impacted him in a flurry of limbs, knocking him back, and holding on tightly.

For a second time, the room went dead silent, silent this time except for some very unexpectedly soft sounds. Sounds that didn't hold a candle to the scene that Buffy and Willow found themselves subjected to.

The double had thrown herself against the young man, desperately wrapping her arms around him as though he were a lifeline, and she, a drowning woman.

Xander was frozen in shock. His mind was giving him huge amounts of conflicting signals, all of which originated from two, diametrically opposed, sources.

On one hand, his mind was telling him that what was happening to him, couldn't possibly be happening, Buffy didn't do things like that, to him... while at the same time... he was in the process of having a very thorough, very deep, and VERY passionate kiss being administered to him by the source of ninety nine percent of all his high school fantasies.

Xander was frozen in surprise, and, for once, was speechless.

However, even though he was unable to react, the double was most definitely not hampered in any way.

Her hands and arms had already burrowed their way under his tan leather coat, and were working at his shirt buttons as though she wanted nothing more than to feel her skin against his.

A soft moan escaped the kiss as Xander felt himself responding to the ministrations of the woman holding on to him.

The double finally broke the kiss, laying her head on his partially chest, murmuring, "Xander.. oh ,Xander. You're alive."


Xander looked up, suddenly realizing that his own arms had somehow, traitorously, wrapped themselves around the body of the petite bundle of blonde Slayerage that was nestled against him, and that his head was resting against hers as well..

Buffy stood there, tapping her foot, her arms crossed in front of her. For some reason, she was radiating Anger.

Willow just stood with her mouth making an "O"...hanging open in shock.

Xander's brain was suddenly kick started into action as it registered one extremely upset Slayer in the room... it spoke to him...

desperately, "Deny... deny everything.. whatever it is.. Deny it."

Buffy's eyes narrowed in annoyance.

"So, Xander, would you two like a room or something?" Her voice carried a layer of venom to it that she didn't know she had in her.

Xander just stood in shock.

"Xander, let got of me... I mean, her... I mean ... Argggh.. just stop that!"

Xander hurriedly disengaged himself from the double, jumping back like he'd been burned by her touch.

Looking into the double's eyes however, he saw hurt and confusion blossom in them.

"X-Xander, What's wrong?"

Xander's eyes darted back and forth between the two Buffy's unsure what to do.

Finally he held up his hands and spoke, "Buffy, I had nothing to do with-"

Buffy however wasn't paying attention to him at all as she stalked toward them aggressively, her finger pointed accusingly at her double, "What's wrong?... What's wrong?! I'll tell you 'what's wrong', missy ...What's wrong is that if you're supposed to be 'me' ... 'me'.. errr. 'I'... I don't generally try to rape my Xander shaped friend at first sight."

She turned back to Willow and nodded toward the double and Xander, "I knew it... She's not me. That little display just proves it."

The double blinked twice in surprise and then broke into a laugh, "'Xander shaped friend'?...Oh my god, I can't believe I used to call him that... But I think it's you that has it wrong. It's obvious that you're the fake."

She held up her hand and wiggled her fingers.

Buffy's eyes caught on something shiny, she stared.

The double continued, "Who or whatever made you, must have missed that little detail. I know it's only been a few days since I accepted, but me and Xander are engaged. That sort of thing of comes with full molestation rights included. Well... at least they do for me that doesn't work both ways. So we can have sex whenever I feel like it."

A ring sparkled on the finger... one that looked very much like the one that Buffy had seen Anya wearing before.

Buffy heard a sighing sound, and a muffled thump as her ears started roaring.

A second, softer thump followed the first. In the mean time, the world had started whirling under Buffy's feet and she had felt the sudden desire to lay down.


Willow watched in disbelief as the scene unfolded in front of her.

She looked on, unmoving, as first Xander fainted, then Buffy staggered backward in shock at what she'd heard.

Willow found that her jaw was still slack in surprise, but she was able to voice her thoughts, "Oh, my..G-"

Chapter 4
A four way split.

Spike felt particularly happy as he strolled down the street, enjoying the gloom and rain. He'd gone back to his crypt after dumping off his rubbish and found an unexpected treat in his taped episode of Passions. The producers had been able to work in a plot twist that had escaped the various internet spoilers out there.

Timothy had finally gotten back to his roots. He'd stopped following Cassandra around like a whipped puppy, and started tormenting people again the way he used to. He was well on the road to a full and complete recovery in his role as the villain of the series.

This, combined with how well things had been going for him earlier in the evening, had raised his spirits considerably. Therefore, he determined that this had to be a sign... he reasoned that his luck had to be certainly couldn't get worse, so he must be on a roll.

"With any luck," he figured, he'd just "pop on over to Buffy's house" and set things right with her. Let her know that he didn't hold any hard feelings about what she'd said to him.. and that they could make up.. and then she could come on back to his crypt with him of a little celebratory rough and tumble.

"Yeah, it's been a few days... long enough with her to start feeling deprived. For her to start missing, not having her 'Big bad lovin' fix. Heh, Yeah, I bet she'll just welcome a visit from old Spike with open....arms."

He came to a stop and puffed on his cigarette for a moment whenthe Summers residence came into view. A smile grew on his lips, and with that, he started a happy little jog toward the house.

That's when he heard it.

Someone shouting angrily inside the house... someone with a particularly "Buffy"-like voice.

" hear that Willow? I... I am having SEX with Xander. Did you hear me? Me... Buffy Summer's... is engaged to.... and having SEX with Alexander Harris!"

Spike's happy little jog came to a sudden, unexpected, and graceless halt as his foot found a root from the nearby oak.

The results were comically predictable, his uncontrolled decent was accompanied by wildly flailing limbs, and the planting of his face into the rain slicked grass. Spike's long, black, duster style coat billowed all about him as he fell, adding to the drama of the situation.

He came to rest in a heap on the lawn, his coat tails up over his head as his bleached blonde hair led the way out of darkness.

His eyes followed.

More shouting came from inside the house.

"I mean, can you believe this? Me? I'm probably having all sorts of wild, jungle style SEX with Xander."

"Buffy, please... you need to calm down... you're overreacting...

you might hurt ... someone."

"Hurt someone? Hurt someone!? I think that's a little late now don't you? I mean after all, 'I'm' only having SEX with my very best friend... My apparently very male... very best friend, Xander. I mean what could be more natural than that? Hey... Anya always bragged about how good he was in the sack... so...I guess, I figured... why the hell not?!"

Spike blinked... his cigarette was still in place, still adhered to his lower lip, even though his mouth was open in shock as he lay on the grass. The cigarette was out, thoroughly mashed, and rather soggy. It fell out of his mouth as he finally found his voice.

"Sodding HELL!"

He looked to the driveway... There it was... the incriminating proof... Xander's car.

Still more noise came from the house.

"Buffy, I think that you're blowing things-"

"You 'think' that I'm Blowing things? Blowing things?! Ohh, don't you get me started....I KNOW that I am."

Spike was on his feet instantly and racing toward the door furiously.

"I'm going to sodding rip his bloody head off."

He charged up the walk, vaulted the stairs to the porch, and slammed the front door open, announcing his arrival.

Spike shouted, "Where... is... he?!"

That's when he saw the target of his wrath before him... that's when he saw the unconscious form of Alexander Harris sprawled out on the floor, his head resting on the lap of one Buffy Summers as she stroked his forehead lovingly.

Spike went mad.

He lunged forward and seized the unconscious form by the lapels of it's leather coat and lifted the larger man off his feet, shaking him.

"I'm going to Kill you, Harris! You hear me? You're dead!"

"He's unconscious, Spike."

Pausing as he shifted mental gears, Spike rethought his dialog.

He shook Xander again and shouted, "Wake up!, you sodding Bastard.. Wake up damn you, Harris! Wake up so that you can be properly conscious while I, chip or no bloody chip, rip your-."

"Spike, Stop! put him down!", He heard HER telling him to stop.

"Oh I'll put him down alright, luv." He said, shaking the unconscious form rougher still, "I'll put him down... when I put him in his grave, I will."

He turned and looked at her, looking toward the living room, taking in the scene..



He looked back at Xander, who seemed to be waking up. Then back at the two Buffy Summers that he saw. He blinked several times dully.. and then asked Willow with a smile on his face, "Ahh I see ... fixed the Buffy Bot then.did we" He let go of Xander who fell to the floor woozily.

Spike laughed rather unconvincingly, "Just having a bit of fun at ol' Spikes expense I see, jolly good joke."

Both of the Buffy's rushed over to the fallen Harris, kneeling down to help him up.



"Are you okay?"

"Are you okay?"

They glared at each other.

"Stop that!"

"Stop that!"

Willow still had her mouth open in a little "o" of surprise, still not having come to grips with what was happening in front of her.

However, she was still able to shake her head, it shook.

"Nuh uhn"

Spike looked back and forth between Willow and the Buffys.

"I'm not following, Red"

"Not Buffy bot... 'nother Buffy."

Spike looked at the two identical blonde Slayers.

Buffy sneered nastily at the other and commented sarcastically "Yes, and oh... in case you haven't heard yet.. We're now engaged to... and having kinky sex with... Xander.", she finished with a smile.

Xander had, by this time, woken sufficiently to stand by his own power, the two blondes disengaged themselves from under his arms where they'd been helping him balance. The two women glared at each other.

"Ahhh, right then..." Spike said, entirely too calmly, "I see... got it right the first time around then...Pardon me." With that his face twisted into is bestial form and he charged at Xander , screaming incoherently.

That's when he found himself upside down in the lawn again.

He shook his head, which seemed to want to fall off on its own accord, and tried to stand.

Surprisingly, the soil of the lawn seemed to be rocking about him like a ship in a storm.

Several seconds, and several missteps later, he turned and looked back at the Summers home. The front door was about thirty feet away from him, and it felt like he'd been hit by a large truck.

Both Buffys and Willow turned to look at Xander and gaped. Xander stood glaring out the open front door at Spike, his hand still clenched in a fist.

They'd all just watched as Spike had charged their friend, and...

and... and they still weren't sure what happened after that... but evidence seemed to indicate that Xander had just punched Spike hard enough to catapult the vampire out of the house, and send him bouncing into the yard for a three point landing.

Spike slowly fell over as his already wobbly legs gave out.

It appeared that the shock of the impact he'd felt had just caught up to him.

Everything went dark.


He awoke to a furious caterwauling that didn't sound like it was going to end anytime soon. What's more, the tone of it seemed to cut right through the ache in his head, sending shooting pains where there had only been dull throbs before.

Buffy was still yelling it appeared.

"Xander, how could you not tell us that something weird was happening to you?"

Willow seemed to be joining in too, but her voice was more hurt than mad.

"Y-Yeah, I mean we're su-supposed to be your friends, Xander. You're supposed to tell us this sort of thing."

Spike pried his eyes open with an effort, ignoring the pain he felt.

It got lighter, but he still couldn't see, Someone had placed a full five pound bag of crushed ice, square on his face.

If he'd still been alive, he decided, he'd have likely suffocated under the plastic of the bag, fortunately for him, such was not the case anymore.

However, even though he wasn't in any danger of asphyxiation, his face was now ice cold and getting wet as ice water dripped into his left eye and down his chin. It was "bloody" annoying.

He sat up with a groan, removing the bag from his face.

He heard a male voice. 'Xander's most likely', he thought. It commented, "Great, now Spike's awake."

"I sure as hell am, Harris, and I'm going to kill you, you bloody wanker. Now, just hang about for a while so that I can get back on my feet. Won't take but a few..." he tried to stand, only to fall back into the sofa, his head whirling, "hours."

He blinked the last of the water out of his eyes and glared across the foggy room at the young man standing in the foyer.

"You're a dead man, Harris. You hear me?...dead."

Xander put his hands out to his sides in a confused posture, and replied, "And what, oh great neutered one, did I do to deserve this special 'dead man' status which you seek to bestow?"

Spike's glare became murderous, "You know what you did you sodding bastard... You betrayed her... said you were her friend. What the bloody hell do you think you did? Going about shagging her, that's what. You disgust-"

"I disgust you? Moi? Hello, earth to Spike, the whole mutual disgustage has been ongoing for some time now. And what the hell are you talking about? Shagging? Who am I supposed to be shag... Oh wonderful... now I'm talking like Spike. Bad Xander."

Willow chimed in, "Will you two stop it for a minute.. I think there's been a big misunderstand-"

Buffy interrupted her, "Oh you know there's been a big misunderstanding...", she pointed at her double, "Little Miss 'I-have-

sex-with-Xander here-"

"Hey!", The double shouted.

Things went down hill from there.. Spike, Xander, Buffy, and the double all started yelling and talking at once. All of them shouting over each other.

"Dear god Slayer, If I'd known you were this desperate I'd never have let you leave my cryp-"

"Shut up Spike!"

"Desperate?!.. I'll have you know that Xander is one of the most wonder-"

"I mean you must have been pretty hard up to choose him over me."

"Hello, still in the room here."

"Don't you listen to them Xander, they just don't know the real y-"

"Will you all just SHUT UP!", Willow shouted at the top of her voice.

Silence once more fell in the Summers household. This of course was the moment that Dawn chose to walk in.

She had a wet "hello Kitty" umbrella in hand, and her book bag looped over her shoulder.

"Hi Buffy, I'm ho-"

She took in the scene in front of her, paused a moment, and looked at Willow.

"Ahh, you fixed the Buffy bot. Cool I want pancakes tomorrow for breakfast."

The second Buffy turned and addressed the group, stamping her foot on the floor "Would everyone please stop that! I am not the Buffy bot."

Willow sighed. "No Dawny, It appears we have another Buffy."

Dawn wore a horrified expression that only a teenage girl can wear convincingly, "TWO?... you mean there are two of her now?"

Spike blinked, a thought working its way past the peroxide poisoning. "Hang on a minute!"

He wore a contemplative look, then turned to the two blonde Slayers. He smiled a big, lascivious smile.

"Now this has ...'possibilities'."

Both Buffys recognized what he was thinking immediately and shuddered simultaneously.

"In your dreams, Spike."

"In your dreams, Spike."

They then turned and glared at each other again.

"I told you to st-"

"I told you to st-"

The glaring continued.

"This is something Hellmouth related, right?", Dawn asked Willow.

Willow nodded and replied, "Very likely, yes."

Dawn nodded once and turned back around and headed out the door, opening her umbrella again.

"I'm staying at Melissa's tonight then, Bye."

The double meanwhile had edged over toward Xander again, and had slipped her hand into his, leaning close to him.

"Here now!", Spike started shouting, "Stop that!", he pointed at them from the sofa, his finger jerking about a little, "There'll be none of that while I'm here."

Xander looked down and saw his hand being held and jumped in surprise. Disengaging his hand from hers, he looked at her apologetically, but did not push her away. She settled for leaning against him, and resting her hand on his chest.

Willow stepped forward and took charge of the situation.

"Okay, everyone, I think I've figured this out."

Buffy chimed in glaring at her double then at Spike, then at Xander in alternating fashion.

"Well, I'm glad someone has, because I'm still dealing with hearing that I'm sleeping with Xander, and this is just getting too weird for me. I think I need to sit down."

Willow nodded as Buffy sat in one of the living room chairs.

"Okay, let's just all calm down, and let me tell you what I think is going on."

Everyone focused in on her words.

"Okay, well , we all know that Warren, and the others were attacking Buffy with time control devices before, right?"

Everyone except the double nodded along, she looked confused.

"Warren? The guy who made his robot girlfriend and the Buffy bot?"

Xander nodded and replied to her, "One and the same."

The double looked confused still, "Okay, but what's this about 'time control'?"

Willow interrupted them, "Hello, still explaining here."

Seeing that she'd regained their attention she continued, "Ooo, oh.. I can explain that too.", she smiled proudly while waving her hand to attract their attention, "Because.. because it hasn't happened to you yet."

Willow seemed to be hopping up and down a little in excitement.

"Huh?", Buffy supplied from her chair, "Uhh, care to explain that a little better, Will?"

Willow smiled proudly as she explained, "Because, this Buffy, is you, Buffy, just a different you, Buffy, one from the past."

Buffy looked at Willow with a lost look, "A U-Buffy?"

Spike threw up his hands and looked at Xander, "Are you following any of this drivel?"

Xander looked like he was starting to understand, and nodded, "I think so..."

He looked at Willow and they exchanged a knowing gaze.

He smiled and nodded to her.

"Time Travel." They said in unison.

Willow held her hands out at her sides in a "Isn't it obvious? least someone else gets it" look.

Xander continued, "Right, and this Buffy is from an altered time stream...", he started rubbing his chin, "I see.. I see"

Spike held up his hand, "Right, well, since I for one have no intention of sitting here patiently and listening to these two sodding hopeless nerdlings start in with bloody Star Trek references, I'd just like to ask one question.... What the Bloody hell are you two talking about... oh, in English please."

Xander gestured to Willow grandly and spoke in clipped tones, "Go.. ahead, Ms Spock."

Willow smiled at the impersonation of the Shatner-esque acting style, she responded in kind "Thank you, Captain."

"Bloody hell!"

"Fine.", Willow said with annoyance, then took a deep breath and began explaining,

"Okay, here's what I think is going on. Warren and the others have shown that they have been messing around in temporal...", she looked at Spike who already had adopted a bored expression, "'time' control... technology.", Spike nodded and waved his hand in a 'get on with it' motion.

"Well, so far, it's been pretty small stuff... You know, looping an event, the whole time speed up, slow down, time thing."

Buffy nodded along as Willow continued, "But I think they've upped the ante, and are using stuff to try and change the past."

She gestured at the double.

"And I think that something went wrong, and this Buffy ended up here by accident."

Buffy's eyes slid over toward her double and looked at her.

The she looked back at Willow and half whispered, half hissed, "So she's really me? I mean .. really really?!"

Willow nodded, her chin out a little and her lips pressed together tightly contemplatively.

"Mmm hmm. Ohh.. but she's you from an altered past, I think.", Willow added.

Buffy rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, but I mean... Me... and Xander? That's a pretty big alteration if you ask me." She looked back over at her double.

"Not really, if you think about it. You and him are pretty close. It might be something small that created sparkage."

The double looked back and forth between Willow and Buffy, then at Xander.

"But, but, That's crazy... That can't be what's going on, I mean I just got here and.. and.. " She then looked at Willow challengingly and said, "Well if I'm from the past, then.. then...", she gestured at Xander, "Then that doesn't make sense, because Xander is alive here... and... and.. when I .. I saw him..."

The doubles eyes started tearing up and she backed away from Xander, a horrified look on her face.

Xander saw the look as it had started to grow in her eyes and felt his heart breaking just seeing the emotion filling her eyes. He took her hand in his before she could finish backing away from him, and pulled her into a hug. She let out a single gasping sob against his chest, but did not push away.

He made soft reassuring sounds to her, stroking her hair and then jokingly added "Hey, hey Buffster, you know what they say.. Can't keep a good man down."

"Oh, sodding hell. Look, right, so it's a Kodak moment...Please, will someone just put a stake in me? I'm about to get ill."

Buffy looked back at Willow and commented softly and with disbelief in her voice, "But, but it's kinda... ooky."

Willow shrugged.

Spike stood up, his vampiric healing factor having allowed him to recover enough to stand under his own power again.

"Right, now, that's settled for the moment... one more question though. Which of you two Slayers hit me?"

Both of the two blondes looked at him and shook their head.

"Oh come on now... It's not like I'm gonna do-"

The two blondes pointed at Xander, who waved nonchalantly back at the vampire.

"What?, Droopy here? Puh-lease.", Spike scoffed.

Xander ignored him, and spoke to Willow instead.

"Okay, well, maybe that explained 'how' we have two Buffy's, but it sure doesn't explain what's happening to me. And besides, if this Buffy has a different past, then how come we remember our own past? Wouldn't a different past mean that our own past would change?"

The double looked confused, but nodded along, leaning against him.

Willow shrugged at first, but then seemed to get an idea. She decided to just voice the possibility to the group, "Ooo, ooo I get it..

maybe she goes back.. you know...and sets things right. Kinda gets time back on track like it's supposed to be."

The double chipped in, "Just call me Buffy McFly"

Blank looks followed until Willow hopped slightly in surprise when she figured it out.

"Ohh got it.. 'back to the future' reference. Good one, Buffy."

Spike just kept looking back and forth between Willow and Xander and the two Buffys.

"Hold it, stop! Let's all just think about this for a minute, right?"

Everyone looked at the bleached blonde vamp, waiting to see what he had to say.

"Look, I think you're all missing a vital point here."

Everyone looked at him, unsure what he meant.

He explained.

"Look, we've got two Slayers now... So that means I can have one, and the other can go about doing the...", the threatening silence in the room brought him up short, "...what? It's just a thought, okay.

Bloody hell."

Buffy stood up from her chair and walked toward her double, looking at her closely.

Every detail was there, every line of her face, every small imperfection, all in perfect mirror form.

Both spoke as one.

"Hi, me."

Their noses both crinkled in annoyance, and a little in laughter.

"We have to stop doing this."

Both nodded as one.

Buffy spoke first this time, addressing the group.

"Okay, we need to come up with a plan to deal with this. But I think it can wait a little while. If Willow is right, then we've kinda got time on our side here.. so to speak."

She turned to Xander and addressed him.

"Okay, you were saying that weird things have been happening to you...So, let's sit down and talk about it. We need details so we know what we're up against."

The three girls sat down while Spike walked over and leaned on the corner of a wall, glaring darkly at the young man. He then pulled out a cigarette, and lit it up.

Xander meanwhile looked at the three women, two perfectly identical Buffys, and his oldest friend, considering where to start his story.

He started pacing the floor, moving his hands expressively.

"Okay, first... I'm sorry I haven't told you guys about this earlier... but, well... with the wedding and... okay... get to the point, Xander."

He stopped his pacing for a moment and faced the three.

"Well, it's pretty much that I thought I was imagining it. You know, getting jittery before the wedding and all... Which I was by the way... getting jittery I mean.. I mean Anya was planning out, and a home, and .. and I didn't know if I wanted..."

Willow raised her hand to attract his attention.

"Yeah , Wills?"

"You're babbling, Xander."

"Right, ", he gestured, pointing upward with his index finger, "Gotcha, making with the stopping of the babbling."

The double however had other plans, her voice was harsh and carried a good deal of possessive anger.

"Wedding?... Anya?... you mean that you got back together with...

That... that."

She closed her mouth and fumed, crossing her arms in front of her.

"Got back together with her? Huh? Am I missing something here?"

The double shook her head and said, "Later.. things are definitely different here. So, you're married to.. to Anya?", her voice had fallen to a whisper.

Xander shook his head, and replied, "N-No...I.. I didn't go through with it." He looked at his friends, who gazed back a little wryly.

"Umm, some things came up, and I think that she.. that she and I are.. are sort of.. well.... sort of 'over'."

The double smiled and Buffy was shocked to notice the hopeful look in she saw in her doubles eye.

Forestalling a scene she didn't even want to think about, Buffy looked at Xander and said, "Okay, okay, so, you thought you were imagining things... what sort of things?"

Xander shook himself and then started pacing again.

"Well, it started small... I guess... I think I first started noticing it.. well noticing might be too strong a word... umm maybe 'feeling' it is better, when I got split into two...umm, right before I got promoted."

He fidgeted as he paced.

"Well, I mean I didn't think anything about it.. I mean the carpentry just came so naturally, I didn't really worry about it."

Buffy queried in confusion, "The carpentry? You mean your job?"

He nodded and replied, "Yeah, I mean I thought it was a little strange I picked it up so easily. Willow, you know I'd always been bad at math. I just thought that it was because I never had anything to apply it to .. and just started to seem so easy when I did woodwork. I should have wondered where I got all that skill from, it certainly didn't come from home life."

The Buffys and Willow nodded along, Spike just looked bored.

"Well, ummm, little things started happening, like I said... Things like, well, I started feeling... well.. these bursts of strength.. I figured it was just like.. well.. adrenaline or something, you know, the stress of the wedding getting to me and all that."

He gestured offhandedly, talking to the air and not meeting his friends gazes.

"But, ummm, you know yesterday... down in the basement, Buffy...

Where you had me and Willow tied up."

"Hey!", Spike yelled, "you mean that after I left you three started..."

Buffy turned to the vampire and gave him a cool look.

"No, Spike, we weren't having 'bondage fun' in the basement. I was still under the influence of that demon poison."

"Oh, right." He looked at her apologetically, "sorry, still jumping to conclusions."

Xander barged back into the conversation, "Well, with that happy picture in mind, I'll continue. So, as I was saying when you had us tied up, you'll remember how those ropes holding me snapped? Well, as buff as I've become working construction.", he heard Spike snort in derision, "I think we can all agree that it's not very likely I'd be able to snap them... right? Well, guess what? For a couple seconds, I was that strong. Snapped 'em like... like they were props or something... like in a movie or TV show."

He stopped his pacing and looked at Buffy.

"It was only for a second then... but... but I'm getting stronger...I know I am... and it's lasting longer now, and not disappearing completely anymore."

"Oh, and is this why you're going about all dressed up in leather and such like in the graveyard now?", Spike asked mockingly.

"Huh? What the hell are you talking about."

Spike put out his cigarette in a planter and walked toward Xander.

"You're bloody pathetic is what you are, mate."

Spike slowed his advance a little, putting his hands up along side his face, splayed wide, mockingly

"All trying to act all bloody 'boo hoo.. I'm having weird things happen to me. I need your bloody attention'-like. If you'd have been a man and married Anya like you were supposed to, we wouldn't have to be sitting here listening to you pretending that-"

Thumpa ta thump *snap* *crack*


No one had seen Xander move from where he'd been, there had just been a sort of blur that ran from where he'd been to where he was.

Then, Spike had seemed to curl into a ball in mid air for a moment, and then crashed to the floor. The sound of two ribs breaking was heard clearly by all in the room.

Xander looked down at his fist in surprise.

Willow shouted, "Xander!" and was on her feet and rushing toward him and the fallen vamp. Both Buffys sat with mouths frozen open, staring at him.

"Bloody *cough* hell."

Xander looked at the vampire where he lay and in a shocked voice asked, "S-Spike, uhh hey, Oh man, are you okay?"

Spike looked up, his face contorted slightly, "Oh, I'm *cough* just bloody peachy."

Xander kneeled down while Willow looked on from where she stood nearby, her hand extended as though to touch him, and then pulling away. Xander extended a helping hand to try and assist the vampire to his feet.

"Oh, man, I'm sorry, I.. I mean I didn't think that..."

Spike shook him off angrily and sat up under his own power. After a moment he grimaced as he prepared to pop his broken ribs back into place.

A groan of pain accompanied the grinding sound of wet bone against bone as he repositioned the ribs, finally sighing in relief once they were back where they belonged.

"Gah, Well, I guess that that answered that, aye? Guess you have picked up a trick or two, Droopy." He smirked as he continued, "...bit hard on the wardrobe though."

Xander looked at his shirt where Spike had gestured to. The cuff seams of his new, grey plaid over-shirt had frayed a bit, but he followed the line of the gesture and noticed the real problem. Most of the buttons on his new, tan colored, leather coat were now barely hanging on, the thread holding them had come apart and a few of the fasteners had fallen off altogether.

"Damn it! Anya just had me buy this too.. man she's gonna kill-".

Buffy stood up and walked over to Xander, grabbing him by both hands and hauling him up. She then took both hands and started turning them over.. looking at them. Finally she slapped the tops of his hands hard.

"Yeowich! What was that for?"

"I'm testing to see something."

"What? my threshold for pain?"

"Big Baby!, To see what else has happened to you is what. I'm checking to see if your skin is any tougher or anything."

The other Buffy sidled up along sideher and hesitantly touched Xander's arm..

"Xander, sweety... are you okay?"

"Oh right, let's just ignore the man with two broken ribs now, why don't we. *cough* What? afraid poor Xander has gone and got a bloody boo boo on his hand?"

Both Buffys and Willow turned on him as he stood up.

"Sit down and shut up, Spike."

"Right, well, I can tell when I'm not wanted."

He started making his way toward the door before he caught himself and turned back around. He walked back into the living room and sat down hard on the sofa with his arms crossed in front of him.

Xander smiled and said, "I thought you were leaving."

"Not bloody likely, mate. I'm not leaving her,", he gestured at the Buffy double, "alone with someone like you.", he gestured at Xander. "Someone has to look out for her sodding best interests."

Willow sat down in one of the chairs, her head spinning.

The Buffy double strode forward and took charge.

"Okay, that's it! I've had it! Okay..."

She turned to Willow and said, "Willow, you call Giles and Anya, have them come over here as soon as possible."

She turned to Xander and pointed to a chair near her.

"You, sit!"

Xander nearly leapt into the chair.

She then looked at Spike and nodded once before talking.

"Spike, go get Dawn, she's across the street in the blue and white house.. The one with the cute mailbox out front, it's a white and red barn with chickens. I want her nearby so that I..."

She looked at her twin, who was still looking at Xander speculatively.

"... so that 'we' can protect her if something weird .. scratch that.. so that we can protect her because something weird is going on."


Spike stood up again and made his way to the front door, only to whirl back and point at Xander.

"And don't you bloody well try anything while I'm gone, you hear me?. Oh, and just to let you know...I'll know if you do."

He pointed at his nose.

"I'm able to smell more than blood with this, you know."

He exited the house and slammed the door behind him.

Willow jumped at the sound of the slamming door and turned back to the double and smiled wanly. "Ummm, hate to mention it.. .But..

well... Giles is sort of in England now... and Anya... well.. she's sort of ... well.. missing."


"Umm yeah, well...", Willow bobbed up and down a little with her arms out, trying to be lighthearted in a non-convincing way, "there was this whole wedding thing.. with her and Xander... and well.. him calling it off at the last minute. Well she kind of disappeared shortly after that."

"You mean disappeared as in 'ran away to be alone' disappeared, or *poof* gone in a cloud of brimstone and fire disappeared?"

"Uhhh the first one."

The double sidled over toward Xander and rested her hand on his arm.

"Good, I mean bad.... I mean... umm, better that it was 'ran away' kind of disappeared then the brimstone thing.. This being Sunnydale and all I needed to check, because right now I don't want to have to deal with a vengency demon Anya on top of the rest of this."

The double paused in thought for a moment.

"Wait a minute...Giles is in England? ...So, when's he coming back?"

Buffy spoke softly from across the room, "He's not."

"Not what?"

"Not coming back."

"Not coming back?!... you mean... G-Giles left me?"

Buffy nodded.

"He said he did it for me, for my own good."

The double did a double take.

She started ticking things off with her finder tips, "So let me get this straight... so far, you've died."

Buffy nodded.

"You aren't in love with and engaged to Xander."

Buffy nodded again, a little less forcefully.

"And Giles left us.. for our own good?"

Buffy nodded sadly.

The double looked up toward the heavens

"What's next? You going around sleeping with Spike?"

She almost missed the guilty look that flashed on Buffy's face..

almost... Her eyes widened in shock.

Willow caught the flash of recognition between the two women and it took all her presence of self to covered her horror.

Fortunately Xander was oblivious to the shared look, he was lost in his own world, busily concentrating on how the Buffy double had felt pressed up against him earlier.

The double looked at her twin hard, her gaze full of.... something. It was a mix of emotions... sympathy, anger, regret, disgust... all where there, all those and more.

She then disengaged herself from Xander and stalked across the floor, finally coming to a halt, just before she shouted at her other self angrily.

"You idiot!...What the hell did you do to our life?"

Chapter 5
Five Rings.

Alexander Harris considered the door that stood before him. It always seemed odd to him that he felt drawn here each time, that he could never seem to bring himself to not come here. He chuckled at this thought... considering his oh so human frailty of predictability in some things.

Overall, it was pretty obvious that it wasn't a particularly interesting door, even though he'd spent almost all of the past ten minutes staring at it as he stood in the rain.

It was just that it's significance, bore no relation to it's appearance.

It wasn't some huge, imposing edifice... bound in bands of iron and made of age darkened oak... no...instead it was a rather simple, mass produced, white washed security door with a deadbolt lock and a conventional doorknob.

It was simply what it appeared to be... a door whose only interesting feature was a small diamond shaped window, situated at eye level.

It was what lay beyond the door that made it special. What lay behind the door was a place that Alexander had once called 'home', a place of many memories, and a place he knew what to expect most of the time.

Because of this, he'd more or less known exactly what to expect when he'd arrived at his parent's house. It was almost always the same.

Even this time... it was exactly as he remembered... exactly the same as it had always been, as he knew it always would be, during so many other such visits.

Be it ever so humble...

Ten minutes earlier...he'd vaulted the backyard fence in a single easy moment and strolled across the patio slab slowly, considering all the things he saw before him.

A few desultory looking pieces of plastic lawn furniture lay scattered about in the yard... looking for all the world to his eyes like the hulls of derelict ships listing in a sea of weeds... all of them showing signs of having fallen prey to the elements they lay unsheltered from...all reminding him of picnics he'd shared with his parents so many years ago... back when things were better in his own life... and in the lives of his parents.

He smiled... anticipating what he knew was waiting for him behind the whitewashed portal of the kitchen door in the back of the house.

He thought about the welcome at the door, the image of seeing his parents happy faces greet him as he arrived, the love, the hugs, the tearful reunion, all the things that indicated a loving and tight knit familial relationship.

Yes, he knew better than to expect anything like that at the Harris home... all such welcomes would be completely absent for him in this hovel... just like every other visit.

Already he could hear the shouting from inside, the voices raised in anger, the voices fueled by eighty proof 'enthusiasm'.

Not wanting to delay the proceedings any further, Alexander readied himself, and finally opened the door.


As he strode through the entranceway, he found himself in the sun-

washed interior of the Harris family kitchen and felt an odd sense of relief in how familiar things were, how each small detail was exactly as he'd remembered.

He absently noted the stack of unwashed dishes filling the kitchen sink so reassuringly, the stacks of yellowing newspapers sitting atop the kitchen table and telling a story of days and months marching by endlessly, one into the next. And over it all, the backdrop against which all the other details lay, was the pervading, sickly sweet aroma pinesol, with a undercurrent of moral decay and hopelessness.

He'd never liked that smell, the smell of pine oil, it always reminded him of things best buried and forgotten....things he'd never been able to let go of.

He smiled, nodding to himself, enjoying the familiar surroundings for a moment more letting the back door swing closed behind him with the squeak of hinges in need of oil, and the heavy thump that spoke of the finality of despair.

The angry voices continued to sing a familiar song, one he knew by heart. One he'd lived 18 years listening to.

He knew that once, he might have been a bit slow concerning a few things, but the lyrics of mutual hate had been beaten into him.

He nodded to himself.

"Yeah, 'beat' is the word."

Without further adieu he announced his arrival.

"Mom, Dad... I'm home. Did you miss me?"


He smiled broadly, letting their loving words wash over him.

First his father.

"Finally.. the bum shows his face... Honestly, I didn't think you'd have the guts to show up so soon,... son. God, how it pains me to say that... to admit that you're my son. You worthless sack of-"

Ahh, exactly like he expected... though the words were different each time... the tone was always the same.

Then his mother.

"Alexander LaVelle Harris, I cannot put into words how disappointed your father and I are in you...I mean, really!...Leaving that poor girl at the alter like that...I almost wish I never gave birth to y-"

"Yes!... two for two.", He silently congratulated himself.

"Ahh,", he thought to himself, "the joys of the family."

Already, the excitement was making him work up a thirst, so he reasoned that he'd likely need something to drink for when the real fun started. He opened the refrigerator to take a look.

Rummaging around in the refrigerator and ignoring the voices for a moment, he pulled a brown glass bottle from within and examined it, nodding appreciatively.

"Excellent...Dad's tastes never change, do they? There we go, nothing but the best... for himself."

He chuckled and extracted the rest of the six pack of Alaskan smoky porter and left the kitchen, beer carrier in hand.

He smiled happily.

Already he could feel the wonderful sensations building inside him.

Already, he was planning out in his head how best to express his joy at this reunion with his parents.

He felt positively 'inspired' by today's momentous events, and in his estimation, this boded auspiciously for him.

He planned to make every minute count on this one...this time it'd be something special... something very special indeed.

"Maybe I'll get 'inventive'...'entertaining'...", he mused, "Ahh, that's the ticket... I'll keep them amused for hours with my 'snappy' patter and 'rapier' wit.... After all, this is the last time... the last time before it's all over and I can take care of what's really important."

"Ya know, Harris, ", he commented to himself out loud, "I think a vacation will be in order soon...something celebratory...maybe a cruise."

He smiled a wide smile, one that was totally at odds with the frighteningly calm, utterly neutral mote of light in his eyes.

Walking toward the source of his anticipation, he contemplated the soft jingle of the bottles as they rattle together, listening to their subtle music. Considering how like wind chimes they sounded to his ears, so gentle and relaxing.

"Alexander, get your ass in the living room, boy. Your mother and I want to talk to you face to face for this."

He heard his father swallow something, and sniffed the air, "Ahh, Scotch!... perfect... just what you need for a little...


"I hope you realize that you're going to have to pay us back for everything we shelled out last week. Weddings parties don't grow on trees you know...and with you just up and... Jeezu..H.... would look at what 'the freak' is wearing today!"

Alexander had walked into the room, his body hugging leathers slightly dampened by the rain. The armored plates lining his chest standing out like over-thick ribs.

He gave them a jaunty wave.

"Heyya Mom, Heyya Pop... you know... I have a funny story to tell you. It starts with me waking up from a dream... I suddenly understood my true dest-"

"Well you can save it, buster. Sit your ass down... your mother and me are going to give you a piece of our minds first."

Alexander smiled and nodded, allowing the interruption as he walked across the room.

"Oh, absolutely, ab-so-lutely, Dad. I wouldn't have it any other way... You see..."

Alexander sat down on the coffee table, drawing his legs up so that they folded Indian style under him.

"...I want to hear everything... I want to know every little detail about how you see things, and everything that's happened recently."

He cocked his head slightly to one side.

"Yes, you are most definitely going to give me a piece of your mind... I'm rather anxious about it in fact... just not in the way you imagine ...Father."


The elder Harris was on his feet and walking toward his son angrily.

"Watch that smart mouth of yours boy...and get off that coffee table... that was a present from your aunt Irene, show some respect... You know, I brought you into this world and I can-"





Alexander was still smiling, though his eyes had darkened a great deal, but only for a moment.

The elder Harris however was no longer advancing on him.

The older man lay on the floor, clutching his leg in agony, a pool of crimson spreading from his ruined shin and white splinters of bone showing through his fingers.

Tears of pain and disbelief stood out in the man's eyes, "You...

you... you shot me."

Alexander held the mass driver pistol in front of him, polishing its duralloy length was a rag that he hadn't had a moment earlier.

"Only in the leg, Dad."

He paused to look down at his father with an oddly jovial smile on his face before commenting, "Sheesh., don't be such a whiner"

He gestured at him with the odd looking pistol, causing the older man to draw back fearfully.

"Hey, I mean it's like you always told me, 'A man's not a man if he isn't able to roll with a few punches'. Isn't that right, Pop?"

He chuckled in amusement.

"Heh... see, I remembered something you taught me... I remembered... Do you remember when you told me that...Dad?"

He quirked his head to the side oddly, as though considering the angle his father lay.

"That was back when you broke my arm when I was eight, wasn't it?"

His 'mother' had started to edge out of the room, making her way toward entryway, and the phone that waited there. A momentary whistling hiss cut through the air, bringing her exit to an abrupt halt. The sound terminated in a shriek of pain wrenched from her chest.

Three stiletto-like, throwing knives had materialized in her arm... two sticking through the back of her right hand, the other, through the bone of her forearm. All three together pinned her to the wall securely.

"Hey mom, don't go running off... We're having a family reunion after all. Wouldn't want to be rude now... would you?

That's when the two parents got a good look at his eyes. That's when they saw something very ... wrong...inside them.

The elder Harris spoke hesitantly, "Y-you're not our Alex... w-who are you?"

Alexander Harris stood up from the coffee table and stretched like a cat, arching his back sinuously before responding, his smile never diminishing in the slightest.

Oh... but I am...Dad."

He picked up one of the bottles of beer he'd brought with him, and twisted the cap off.

Swirling the brew in the bottle he inhaled, smelling the malty aroma of the bitter draught.

Nodding his approval, he took a sip, relishing the flavor.

He smacked his lips appreciatively and nodded to his 'father', raising the bottle a little in a mock toast.

"Very for one?"

He watched the fear growing in the older man's eyes and the smile he wore finally reached his own.

He holstered his pistol, and walked across the room to where his father lay...Taking another sip from the bottle he nodded to himself.

"Good, no major arteries hit...Wouldn't want you 'checking out' on me prematurely."

His 'father' lay there clutching his wounded leg.

Shaking his head and making tsk tsk sounds, Alexander hunkered down on the balls of his feet, and from the crouch he'd assumed, he looked at his 'father' closely.

He knew how the man was feeling, he'd seen the look so many times already that it'd become a welcome friend. But still, each time he saw it, it fascinated him.

It was a look of curiosity.

Alexander let his face grow serious, his eyes cold and dark as obsidian.

"You know... I've done this so many times with you...Dad....forty eight to be precise, ya know... and you know what?"

His smile reappeared for a moment before slipping back behind the mask.

"It just keeps on getting more fun every time."

His eyes glittered.

"It's like that movie... well... not just one movie, you see... but I think you know the kind of ones I'm talking about, Dad... Army of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, The Deer hunter, those kind of movies."

He paused, his smile once more reappearing like the sun peeking out from behind the clouds.

"The kind that with each repeat... it just gets better... and more entertaining... and just plain more laugh-out-loud 'hilarious' every time."

The Elder Harris twisted where he lay and looked behind him at his wife, she was sobbing in pain, her hand still nailed to the wall, though she looked like she was trying to wiggle the knives to pull it free, weakly.

Alexander's voice kept purring with a soft, amused pitch.

"But do you know why I enjoy 'this' sort of thing so much, Dad? Why it just gets better and better?"

He slapped his hand down on his 'father's' wounded leg with each question, causing the older man to nearly swoon from the pain.

"Glad you asked, Dad.", He said with a final slap.

"It's because I know that when I kill you...If... I kill you... that all the other 'you's will get just a little bit smarter, a little bit stronger, and over all... a little bit better for your death. You see... I'll be doing all the other 'you's out there a favor."

He smiled at his 'father' gleefully.

"Eventually, all that will be left is a few of you out there in all the other Earths... and those... those I'll be able to let live."


He cupped his hand to his ear as though hearing a question.

"Good question!... Why?... because the ones I'll leave alone are the ones that'll have gotten smart enough to... stop... being...

such.... asses... to... their... families."

He said his last few lines through gritted teeth, even though his smile never wavered.

" see... I really am Alexander Harris... Heh... just not the 'Alexander Harris' that you think you know."

A knife just seemed to appear in the young man's hand. No fancy spring loaded device, no quick draw... nothing... it just seemed to appear in a blur.

"Ohhh, but with your help...dear old Dad."

He stroked the edge of the blade along the line of his 'father's' chin, the older man wincing at the shallow, stinging, wound it left.

"...I will be... of yes, I want to know everything you know about me."

He nodded to himself and chuckled, raising his eyebrows a little in a gesture of mock innocent supplication, "Oh yes, you'll tell me...everything.. won't you now?", he nodded to himself.

"Oh, you know you will."

He patted his 'father' on the cheek and smiled.

"So whatcha say? Shall we get started?"


Willow looked back and forth between the two Buffys. Her Buffy stood there stunned by her double's accusation. The double however looked like she was ready to explode, and Willow knew that she needed to do something now before breakage of hearth and home ensued.

She darted forward, moving interpose herself between the two blonde slayers, but drew up short when she noted the way that the double had folded her arms and put on her resolve face.

A broken Willow was not something she wanted to become.

The double stood there, tapping her foot, then demanded, "I want to hear this... what in the hell could have possessed me to sl-"


She hurriedly moved in and grabbed Xander's hand, pulling him up from his comfortable position in the chair and dragging him along behind her.

"I mean, it's almost 6 o'clock and we haven't even started dinner yet. Xander, why don't you come and give me a hand in the kitchen? There'll be five hungry... err, Sex... I mean SIX hungry girls here to feed tonight and we need to get cracking."

She shoved him ahead of her toward the kitchen and shot the two Slayers a look as she nodded her head toward the stairs.

"I'm sure that Buffy, Buffy have a lot to catch up about... Upstairs... in... her... bedroom. So we'll just make dinner."

Xander mumbled to himself in a daze, "Engaged?"

He suddenly found himself capable of a moment of lucidity and halted his progress into the kitchen.

"Hey!, Wait a minute..."

He turned around, nearly running into Willow, and voiced his question clearly.

"Did you say that we're engaged?"

Willow turned him back around forcefully and pushed him back toward the kitchen with both hands, saying, "Yes, she go make her dinner like a good Xander-shaped fiancé."

A softly stunned voice made its way out of the kitchen, "Engaged to Buffy...Who'd a thunk it..."

Buffy turned away with a sigh and marched toward the stairs, followed by her double who stalked furiously behind her.

Both girls entered the bedroom, the first with her shoulders slumped in resignation, the second with hers set in anger.

The second Buffy slammed the door behind her, paused, and did a double take of the room as though surprised at something. A moment later she refocused on her current mission.

She narrowed her eyes on her twin and once more crossed her arms in front of herself, her stance wide with radiating anger.

"Okay, look... I don't know what the hell you've been doing with our life, and frankly I'm not sure I really WANT to know, But!.. but, I think you'd better start explaining yourself pretty damn quick, missy... I mean... my GOD!... With Spike?! What the F-"

Buffy seemed to have regrouped herself in the meantime and turned on her double, skewering her with an accusatory finger and an angry glare.

"Who the hell do you think you are?... judging me."

This brought her double up short for a moment before she smirked widely and made an offhanded wave.

"Well, if Willow is right about this... I'm YOU... so, thank you very much, but I think I'm well within my rights to judge you."

Buffy blinked, her mouth opening and closing wordlessly, making it clear that 'this' wasn't an answer she'd been prepared for.


The double rolled her eyes and said impatiently, "Well, spit it out already! I gotta hear this... how I ended up screwing the poster child for peroxide poisoning...Dear God, I must have become a total moron somewhere along the way."

Buffy's face immediately registered her sudden escalation of temper, she turned away huffily and replied, "I don't have to explain myself to you."

Her double grabbed her shoulder and forcefully turned her back to face her.

"You sure as hell do to! This is something that I have the right to know about...So tell me you bitch... How I end up sleeping with someone that's tried killing me... and my best friends...multiple times."

Buffy backed up giving her double a hateful glare.

"Inquiring minds want to know.", the double prodded.

Buffy's chin firmed up with resolve and she shot back at her tormentor, "Oh, like you're one to talk."

The double looked confused, and demonstrated an equal eloquence her twin "Huh?"

Buffy was suddenly on the offensive and marching toward her double angrily.

"Sleeping with Xander!" She hissed, "How could you!? He was our... I mean your friend!"

The twin looked at the bed and then back to her twin, a smile suddenly blossoming on her face.

"Oh, he's a heck of a lot more than a friend no-"

Buffy blushed a bright red, and immediately clapped her hands over her ears and started chanting as she turned away, "Not THAT... La la la I do...sooo...not want to hear that!"

The double stood, her arms crossed in front of her, watching herself walk around the room, waiting to see what her twin would do next.

Buffy turned back after a few moments and looked at her double, seeing that the shock and anger that had been, there had been slowly being replaced by disappointment ... disappointment and hurt. If anything, 'the look' did more in those few moments then an hour of yelling could have.

Buffy found herself unable to meet her double's gaze, and turned away, still feeling the eyes boring into her soul, and laying her flaws, her failures, bare.

That one look wounded her more than all the anger and accusations ever could ever have.

Her voice was smaller than she'd remembered it being when she finally found it again.

"Stop it... Don't look at me like that...please."


"You don't understand... You couldn't understand."

"Try me."

Buffy shook her head, and the tears started rolling down her cheeks.

"Oh god.", she whimpered turning away again, still unable to face the disappointment in her own eyes, "It hurts... please stop...don't look at me like that... you don't understand...I-I just h-hurt so m-much."

She rested her palms on the dresser top, her eyes shut against the pain, trying to stop the flow from her eyes.

She'd wanted to feel again, but not like this... not like-

A slim pair of hands lightly touched down on her shoulders. A firm but gentle pressure followed, one that was turning her back, back to face herself.

She kept her eyes shut tight, shaking her head in denial, and fighting back weakly, trying to push the other away from her, beating at her with tightly clamped fists, but without any force behind them.

Then she was being held, and the tears finally came for real.

"Oh god...p-please... make it s-stop...I just want to die.", she sobbed drawing out the last word painfully, her voice hoarse with emotion, "I just w-wanted to feel dead again."

She felt herself being led back to the bed and made to sit on it, still held.

"This is because I... because you ... died...isn't it?"

Buffy nodded weakly, her head resting against her double's shoulder.

She could feel her double's breath against her hair, could smell her own scent surrounding her... that mix of vanilla perfume she used to wear overlaid with a spiciness from her body wash... the scent she used to wear all the time... before... before-.


There was a pause where she felt herself stiffen.

"'re right...I don't think I probably 'can' understand.", she paused, giving her twin a hug, letting her weep against her shoulder.

"... but I think I 'see' what's going on here... And that means that I'm not going to just sit around and watch myself make 'this' kind of mistake without trying do something about it."

Buffy felt her double push her back a little bit, just far enough to force her to look her in the eye.

"So... you went to him because of something that happened to you... right?"

Buffy nodded, her eyes shut tight and her arms hugging herself tightly as she shook with half sobs.

"I see...", her double responded, nodding to herself.

"... it sounds like he took advantage of you... that you needed someone... and he was there... when you were vulnerable.... and he decided to make his move."

Buffy wasn't sure how to respond, so she didn't.

The other took this as tacit affirmation and nodded to herself.

"Okay, been there... done that. So I take it that this is still ongoing."

Buffy shook her head, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand and sniffling because of her runny nose.

"Thank heaven's for small favors... I think Xander would have staked Spike no matter what, if he knew about this... So with Spike still ambulatory, I'm assuming you probably kept it quiet... who else knows?"

Buffy looked downcast but replied, "Willow... b-but, I... she just found out."

"Just now? Downstairs?"

Buffy nodded.

"Hooo boy! Okay, She's always the bright one, we're lucky she got Xander out of the way downstairs... I hate to imagine what he'd have done. Way to go, Willow."

Buffy laughed, her face still streaked with tears, and her laughter forced.

She looked at her double, who seemed to be considering things, and in a hesitant voice she asked, "Buffy?.... ummm... this feels know, this 'same name thing is going to be pretty confusing... how about I call you... Anne?", she looked at her double uncertainly and asked, "Is that okay?"

That seemed to snap her other self out of her contemplative mood.

"Huh? What?... Hey!... wait a minute...Why don't I call you Anne? I had my name first."

"I've had it longer."

Her double glared at her before finally acquiescing. "Fine, whatever."

Buffy nodded softly, still wiping at her eyes.

"Okay... Umm, I... I just wanted to ask...h-how did you... I mean you and Xander?"

She paused, trying to find the right way to ask her question.

"I-I can't imagine myself d-doing that... risking our friendship like that... And... and Anya... I mean they were involved... and... I mean... what happened?"

Her double blinked at her as Buffy slowly ground to a halt in her statements.

A faint ghost of a grin found its way onto her double's face.

"Well, if you are me..."

She wagged her finger at her twin.

"...and I'm still not sure I'm buying this whole "future me" thing we have going on... then I'll spill...the whole story... But I need time first. You know, to get this whole thing straight in my head."

Her double paused a moment, then added, "But, I'll say this much for now, I we only really became an item after mom died."

Suddenly the double looked at her twin with a desperate hopefulness in her eyes, stuttering as she tried to speak.

"U-unless... she... I mean... d-did she?... I mean if things have... have changed. Is she?"

Buffy shook her head.


Anne's shoulders slumped slightly and she spoke, "Too much to hope for I suppose."

Buffy's curiosity however didn't seem satisfied however by her double's response.

"What do you mean, you got together 'after mom died'?"

Anne's smile became wistful and sad.

"Yeah... h-he was there for me... for Dawn and me after she died. W-

when it happened...afterwards... I tried to be Super-Buffy... you know, 'I-can-handle-everything-girl'.", she sighed before continuing, "But I-I couldn't... everything got to be too much...

and... well... he was just there suddenly, and helping take care of things."

Buffy nodded, a nasty suspicion already taking root.

"So... I see what you mean about 'been there, done that'", her voice became hard and cold, "... he saw you were vulnerable... and... and, he used the situation! That Bastard!"

Buffy was on her feet and pacing the floor furiously, her hurt being washed away with conveniently available anger, anger she grabbed a firm hold on and proceeded to ride

"Oooo, Alexander Levelle Harris, you and I are gonna-"

"You aren't going to do ANYTHING to him, do you hear me?!"

She turned and looked into her own eyes looking back fiercely at her.

"But he-" She gestured widely with her arms.

"He didn't do anything.", her double said with a soft voice full of steel.

Buffy looked into her own eyes again and shook her head in confusion.

"Okay, I'm lost now."

Her double smiled back.

"Okay, how to explain it..."

A smile crossed her double's face for a moment and she continued, "Okay...Buffy... Did you get hit by the spell back in high school? The one that Amy cast...umm, not the 'rat' one.. but the other one... I think you know what I mean... The one Xander had her cast to make Cordy fall in love with him?"

Buffy nodded.

"Yeah, the idiot... playing around with magic like that. I should have known-"

The double waved her hand, interrupting her.

"Right, and remember... he had us, right where he always wanted...

you... I mean me... I mean... Man, this time travel thing is giving me a headache. Anyway, remember...trench coat, naked Slayer girl, us totally in love with him and preparing to rock his world?"

Buffy blushed, and nodded.

"Yeah, okay... your point?"

"What did he say to you back then?...I'm just making sure that he said the same thing to you that he said to me, you realize."

Buffy paused, thinking before she replied, "Ummm... yeah, it was kinda sweet...Ummm, something if I knew how much it meant to him... but that he couldn't... stuff like that."

Her twin filled in the words for her.

"If I thought that you had one clue, what it would mean to me..."

"Oh, yeah...that."


Her double paused for a moment, seeming to hesitate before going on.

"Buffy...ummm, you do know.... he was still...", she paused, but saw no recognition in her twin's eyes, so she went on, "Buffy... he never gave up hope...never let go of how he felt... for us... he just couldn't... not until we gave him a chance first."

Buffy's brow furrowed, not quite understanding at first.

"Huh? What do you-...", he hand suddenly went to her mouth in shock and seconds seem to tick by at a glacial pace suddenly as enlightenment came.

Finally, she found her voice again.

"Ohmigod... you don't mean... he was still...?", she trailed off, unable to say the words.

The other nodded.

"Yep, you got it ...Years later...still, in love with us... with me... uhhh... you know what I mean..."

Buffy shook her head, unwilling to believe what she heard.

Anne sighed sadly at her denial.

"Ohhh, knock it off... It's true... think about it already. You know anyone else willing to run head first into the Master's lair, right into certain death, to save you? Or throw himself in front of a blast of magic that he thought was going to kill you, without a second thought? Or... hell... even go up against a god for you."

She made an exasperated sound and made a dismissive wave toward her twin.

"Look, even Angel didn't have the guts to go down into the Master's lair on his own, Xander had to go get that jerk out of his apartment and make him show the way, otherwise he'd have done it on his own.

Ohhh.. and Angel was the one that you thought was your soul-

mate....Puh-lease... You tell me...if that isn't love...what is it?"

Buffy sat silently again, the seconds ticking away slowly under her double's unwavering gaze.

In a small voice she commented finally.

"W-Wow... I mean... but... Wow! Really wow!... wow wow wow."

"Yeah, tell me about it... Makes you feel stupid not seeing it when it was going on around you, huh?"

She chuckled to herself.

"Real romance novel stuff...I'll tell you... when I finally found out...I honestly didn't know what to do... I mean how do you 'deal' with being told you're the love of someone's life?"

"H-how did you?... I mean how did you find out?"

"Well, we'd been really talking one night. About things... mom... the Well, some things came out... and he ended up telling me...telling me everything... how he long...and why."

She smirked.

"Well, it wasn't quite 'that' easy of course... it never is with him, but that's okay... Ummm... I kinda .... well....I kinda sorta ...threatened to beat the living tar out of him if he left anything out , but that was later, after he'd let some of it slip... Heh, when I wanted to get the whole truth... Willow even offered to do a spell to help out...just to make sure he didn't hide anything from me."

Anne smiled oddly and winked at her twin.

"Oh, it took a lot to get it out of him... Xander has some real intimacy issues... probably from how he grew up..."

A sudden sadness seemed to pass over her features, but only for a moment.

"...but I finally got the whole story... with all the warts... out of him."

"So, he was... all that time... he was... I mean he still felt...", Buffy stammered.

Shaking her head a moment later, her scowl returned in full force, "...but he were vulnerable... and he..."

The double shook her head.

"No, he didn't... not like he couldn't have... I mean...", she blushed," he had t-the chance... a lot of times... I mean, with him there... I kinda let myself..."

She took a breath and let it out before continuing.

"Okay, let me start that again... Like I first, I tried to take everything on myself, and he tried to help out... and me being all one with my slayage self... a immediately chewed him out for it...Typical Buffy reaction, ya know... the whole "I'm-the-Slayer-

hear-me-roar" thing."

She smiled sadly at herself.

"Well, he wouldn't listen... typical Xander, huh? So, he was there for me when I really needed him most, even though I never would have ever let on that I needed him."

She sighed before continuing, "Well, later... I-I sorta reached critical overload... couldn't hold it all in with him being there... so let myself lose it...I just totally fell apart."

She looked at Buffy speculatively, then continued on, "Later on I figured out that I'd needed that...that chance to release... it let me mourn like...l-like I needed to... keeping it in was just killing my heart.. But at the time, I let it happen because... well... mainly cus I couldn't keep it together anymore... and ... well... also because I knew he'd be there to hold... t-to put me back together afterwards. I-I around him. Like I didn't need to be afraid anymore... and I was right... he didn't abuse my trust in him, not once."

Buffy blinked, wanting to interject, but instead, let her double finished explaining.

"Well, ya was sort of tight... I tried to hide it, but he knew... somehow... So, he offered to... well, 'offered' isn't the right word, huh?. The truth is... he started taking bills when I wasn't looking... and paying them for me with his own money."

She shook her head and continued, "I was furious at first when I found out, of course... but we talked...and he made it clear he wasn't going to stop, no matter what I said. And, well... I saw that he was barely getting by about then... what with the bills he was paying for me, and the rent for his apartment after Anya moved out... so we sort of compromised."

She paused for a moment, and blew an errant strand of hair that had fallen into her face, out of the way.

"Fine... Okay... the truth is... I read him the riot act... told him I didn't need him... and that he should mind his own business... So... he told me that I was his business... I wouldn't speak to him for a week after that... After that, and after a lot of self and Willow inflicted guilt... I apologized to him... and told him that if he was going to pay our bills, that he might as well move in to save himself a little money... Besides, with just me and Dawn, I was going nuts... I love Dawn... but she can be such a brat!... But the truth was...I I told him to move in so that I didn't feel so bad that he was paying all of our bills for us."

She smiled, "Dawn was all for it, believe me. At least at first...until she figured out that he was always siding with me and wanting her to start acting responsible."

She smirked inwardly as scenes played themselves out in her head.

"Well, a few weeks went by... and... ummm, after lots of crying on his shoulder later... Ummm...", she blushed and rushed through the next few sentences, "I sorta threw myself at him a few times... T-to thank him.. f-for what he was doing for me... for us."

Anne smiled softly, her gaze focused inward.

"He was better than I thought he'd be. The best... the best ever."

Buffy looked stunned.

"Gahhh, I don't think I want to hear this... I've heard waaay too much about what a sex machine he is from Anya...okay?", she paused a moment in an uncomfortable silence, then continued, "But... so... I mean... that's how you ended up s-sleeping with him? Out of gratitude? Doesn't sound all that-"

Her double laughed a rich throaty chuckle, her eyes twinkling.

"Oh, heck no... When I said that he was 'the best'... I meant he was... well... he was wonderful... kind... sweet... that kind of stuff... not 'throbbing hot fun' kind of 'best'"

She smirked and continued, "You see, he knew what I was doing... and he... he said the same thing again...well... almost the same thing... you know... about how 'if there was the chance'... that the remotest... 'impossible possibility' as he put it... that I might actually feel something for him... That if I did... that it was more than he could have ever hoped for... and ... Well, heh, basically... he turned me down...again."

She smiled and stated proudly, "He was the perfect gentleman."

Buffy let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding

"wow", she added in a subdued voice.

"Wow, indeed.", her twin agreed, nodding.

"S-so what did you do?"

Anne smiled back and quirked an eyebrow at her, "What do you think I did?"

The shared a look and broke into a smile, speaking as one.

"Knocked him down and ravished right on the spot anyway"

Her twin nodded.

"You got it, sister. You don't get to turn this Slayer down twice."

They shared a momentarily evil laugh between them, and joined hands, letting their shivers of mirth fade.

"So... how was he."

"Well...", she gave her twin a naughty, sultry look, "... that's a secret...Wouldn't want to ruin the surprise for you.", she paused and broke into a smile, " but I might be open to bribes in the form of Ben and Jerry's... But I will say this... some details speak for themselves... and I'm surprised those red Speedos could hold what they held."

The two erupted into giggles again for a few moments... but gradually those faded and a silence fell.

The double looked at her twin, making eye contact and squeezing her hands in her own.

"Buffy, We gotta talk now... important talk type stuff."

She paused, letting the weight of her word sink in.

"I-I don't like what you've been doing... what we ended up doing...well, whatever you were doing with Spike I mean... and I... I know you're hurting inside because of it... I can feel it."

She paused, taking a breath and blowing it out slowly.

"You know you have to tell them."

Buffy shook her head emphatically.

"Nuh uhh, no's over. I broke it off... I realized what I was doing, and... and I told Spike... No more. I just want to put it behind me."

Anne shook her head.

"That's okay, maybe it is over, but you... you have to tell them... Tell them so they can help... You can't put something like that in a box and ignore it... That's one thing I learned... when me and Xander... Well... he was there for me, he made me feel complete, and safe... and... and he showed me things, big things"

Buffy smirked wickedly, seeing a chance for a joke.

"I don't think I want to hear this part. At least not yet. Maybe later... Oooo and don't leave out the juicy parts."

Her double laughed and decided to play a little too.

"Tramp! No, not 'that'.", she grinned back wickedly and replied, "Though I can tell you stories...seems Anya was being a bit modest about how good he was...and how adventurous." She smirked, "There's this thing he came up with one night... no details... but let me just mention this...I knew he liked chocolate... but...mmmm... I'll never look at a frozen 3 musketeers the same way again."

She noticed Buffy's eyes open wider and wider as she spoke and mentally scored herself one up on her twin. He laughed evilly seeing Buffy's reaction.

"But seriously, when...before things got serious between us...when he was taking care of me and Dawn...he sort of unintentionally opened my eyes, and I saw how important he, and Willow, and Giles, and all the rest were to me... and how little credit I'd really given them for helping me succeed."

She squeezed her twins hands gently again.

"I'd have died a long time ago if they hadn't been there. If Xander hadn't been there especially."

Buffy nodded silently, her eyes downcast.

"Please, just give me some time."

Anne nodded.

"Okay, but you have to come clean soon. You can put it off a bit... but some things need to start now... tonight."

Buffy looked at her double, wringing her hands.

"Umm, Anne... do you... do you think-"

"Do I think he feels like that toward you? Loves you still? Is that what you were going to ask?"

Buffy nodded, hesitantly.

Anne looked at her speculatively, then replied, "Donno, don't know what you two have been through that's different than what happened to me. I mean, obviously, some stuff is different here then where I was...And if he seriously going to marry Anya..."

She trailed off with a note of doubt in her voice then asked, "When was the last real 'talk' between you two?"

Buffy looked at her double and took a few moments to respond, "Right before the ... the wedding. I told him that... that I was happy for him."

"Were you?"

"Was I what?"


"If he was going to be happy... yeah"

"No, I mean you...Were you 'happy' seeing him about to get married."

Buffy shifted her feet uncomfortably.

"It's a simple question."

The reply was faint, "no"

"Sorry ... couldn't hear you there."

"No, okay?... no...I wasn't...He asked me... and I hesitated, satisfied?.... I just couldn't tell him what I felt.... He asked me if I was happy when I started crying... and I couldn't tell him the truth... All I could think about was that this was one more wall coming up between us as friends. Ant that he'd get so wrapped up in his life with Anya, after the wedding... that he'd leave me behind totally... I was upset okay? He was supposed to be there for me!"

Her hand shot to her mouth.

"Oh god, that came out so wrong!"

Her double nodded.

"Yep, I'm sure it did. Look, I know what kind of person I am, and you're just like me... At least in a lot of things I see. I know that I don't like seeing another woman 'poaching' on my territory, I'm betting you're the same. I used to look at him just like you do you know, Xander-shaped-friend and all that. But he was MY Xander-shaped-

friend.", she winked conspiratorially at her twin and added, "and just between us girls... I think we both know that Anya was never good enough for him."

Buffy nodded back with a wan smile.

Silence seemed to separate them, until Buffy spoke again.

"So, Ummm... do you think that we should... you know... go back downstairs?"

Anne nodded.

"Yeah, I think so... Xander is cooking... I can hardly wait."

"Xander can cook?"

"Survival skill... his parents... they... well... they weren't like ours were... He pretty much raised himself... Pretty surprising he turned out like he did... and honestly... it was mostly in spite of his parents influence.", she spoke with a great deal of focused bitterness edging her voice.

"I met his parents at the wedding...Are they-?"

"Drunk?... Abusive?... Violent?"

Buffy nodded questioningly.

"Yes to all three... and then some. It's nothing short of a miracle that Xander turned out like he did... He's a good man... better than-

", she trailed off.

"Better than?

"Better than we deserve."

Buffy laid her hand on her double's arm lightly and looked her in the eyes.

"You... downstairs... you said you... that he was dead... What happened?"

The other shivered like a cold wind had blown through her soul.

"I-I found him, or what was left of him... at the crane... I-if Willow is right, and I am from the past... then what do you think it means?"

Buffy shrugged, unwilling to voice her suspicions.

"I don't know...Maybe that when we figure things out...we can undo what you saw. But let's not worry about that... we should go back downstairs. Spike is probably back with Dawn by now, and the others are probably wondering what we're doing... if we're killing each other maybe. "

Anne chuckled.

"I still might you know... I mean... Ewwww... Spike.", she shuddered, "...what were you thinking?"

Buffy cringed internally and looked down.

"I wasn't... thinking I mean.... I-I just didn't want"

Anne nodded.

"Look, I think we should talk about what happened to you... alone... tonight maybe, when we have some time, okay?"

She paused a moment, then added, "I can tell that there's things you're not telling me yet." , she gave her twin a speculative look, "Look... I don't want to rush you... I can tell that you're not dealing well, so we'll take it slow, okay?"

Buffy hesitated a few moments, but finally nodded a single, almost imperceptible, nod.

Anne smiled back.

"Good, I'm going to go downstairs...And I think I should send Willow up to talk to you... If she knows already... then you can't put her off for later. Otherwise she'll slip and something will come out wrong."

Buffy nodded sadly, dread clearly etched into her countenance,"

Okay... y-you're right... But, I just don't know what to tell her."

Her double gave her a level look and replied, "Try starting with the truth... it's usually a good place to start."

And with that, Anne opened the door and left the room, leaving Buffy alone with some sobering thoughts.

Buffy...Anne, made her way down the hall and started decending the steps when she caught sight of the front door opening and her sister walking in with Spike right behind her.

She shot the vampire a withering glare before turning to look at Dawn.

Dawn looked at her petulantly, her arms crossed in front of her and her foot tapping away.

"I don't see why I need to be here... I mean I could have just as easily stayed over with Melissa tonight and you let you lot work out this whole thing... I fail to see why I should have to-"

She obviously heard her younger sister talking, but her eyes were glued to Spike's... glaring coldly at him.

She butted in, in the middle of her sister's little rant,

"'You lot'? Dawn, since when do you say 'you lot'?.... Ohh, let me guess, picking up little phrases from good old Spike are we? Pretty soon it's 'sodding this' and 'sodding that' and 'bloody' whatever hmmm?"

"Huh? What's the big deal? I mean me and Spike are-"

Spike laid a hand on her shoulder, bringing Dawn's diatribe to an end. He nodded to the stairway and said, "Go on little bit, I think big sis needs a minute or two with the 'Big Bad' on her own here. Run along upstairs and we'll talk later."

Dawn looked between her sister and Spike curiously, then started up the stairs.

As she passed her 'sister' she paused and looked at her.

"You... you're the 'other' one... aren't you?"

Anne nodded and replied, "Uh huh... But I'm still your sister...

and... Hey! Wait a minute...that's my blouse! When did I say that you could borrow my blouse?"

Dawn raced up the stairs all the faster, Anne looking at her back with a vexed but fond glare as she left.

"So...Bu... Slayer... what's got a bee in your bloody bonnet?"

Anne turned and finished making her way down the stairs.

She looked Spike up and down, taking in the small changes in his stance and appearance.

She craned her head to either side of him a little, as though inspecting him.

"Shopping around for something here, Slayer? I suppose you think I should feel flatte-"

Her hand shot out with snakelike speed, grabbing him by the throat and lifting him off the floor...slamming his back into the door and leaving his feet dangling an inch above the carpeting.

He croaked a series of expletives, his hands trying to pry her fingers away.

That's when she grabbed his hair with her other hand and slammed the back of his head against the oak door.

"Shut... up... Spike!... I think it's time you listen for a change."

She looked in his eyes, seeing she had his undivided attention.

"I'm not her... I'm something much worse, Spike... I'm me... The Slayer... Buffy Anne Summers... but not the one with all that hurt and pain that that poor creature upstairs has had to deal with...


Spike's response was a choking wheeze.

"Watch yourself vampire... Ohhh, don't think I've forgotten what you did for Dawn and me... letting Glory beat on you like she did... that and helping us get out of Sunnydale."

She looked at him with a sort of sad disgust, "That help... and that alone is what keeps me from staking you right now."

She slammed the back of his head against the door again, seeing the cocky look he'd been getting in his eyes.

"After what I found out up there, talking to her...Well... let me just say that it makes me regret not packing you up in a dust buster months ago."

Spike gasped out, "Her choice."

Buffy put her snarling visage nose to nose with him.

"You're an opportunist, Spike. I knew it then... and you've just shown me how right I was... I guess that the Buffy upstairs just forgot that you were one. You're a monster, Spike, you always have been... and I'm sure you always will be."

She shook him, slamming him bodily against the door jam again.

Her voice hissed nastily, "You saw the opportunity to get your rocks off... to screw her... when what she obviously needed was help from someone... so you showed your true colors, and rather than helping, you took your shot... now you have to deal with the consequences Spike."

She sneered.

"", she snarled at him, "I'm the consequences...And you know's a shame...a real shame...because there was a time that I thought there was hope for you, Spike... That you might grow up and change...You once told me that I treated you like a man... sure, you were still trying to get to me... even though you knew I was with Xander... And even though you still were trying to stalk me, I cut you some slack... I did it because of what you'd done for us, with Glory...because I thought there was hope for you... Well, guess what?"

She released her grip on his throat, letting him stumble on his feet dizzily.

"I gave you enough slack... and you hung yourself with it."

She paused, watching as the vampire rubbed his throat and glared at her, then she continued with a hiss, "Get out, Spike... get out, and stay the hell away from me... or so help me God, I'll use your heart for a toothpick pincushion... Am I understood?"

Spike glared at her hatefully, but nodded.

"And stay away from my sister too.", she added.


Spike turned away, then turned back, his hand raised slightly in a gesture of confrontation, his mouth opening to deliver a rejoinder.

She beat him to the punch.

"Leave right now, and don't say a thing... or I will kill you, Spike. Right here... right now...I'll break off a piece of this banister..."

She rested her hand on the wood railing and squeezed it, causing the wood to groan in protest.

"...and introduce you to it... in a VERY intimate way."

Spike saw the murderous fury in her eyes and knew that now was not the time to press his luck.

He turned sharply away, his entire frame radiating anger as his long coat snapped sharply in the air. He opened the door and walked out of her house, casting a regretful look over his shoulder.

He looked back, and said four words heavy with threat.

"You'll regret this, Slayer."

She looked back with eyes as cold as permafrost, the word on her lips matching her gaze.

"Somehow, Spike, I don't think so."

He turned away a final time and stalked out into the dark and the rain, his leather coat billowing about him in the wind.

Buffy Anne closed the door behind him and locked it, nodding to herself and tucking an errant lock of her hair behind her ear.

She turned back to see Willow standing in the living room, watching her from nearby the entrance to the kitchen.

"I was... umm... kinda... well... you see.", Willow stammered.

"She needs to talk to you, upstairs, Willow. So...why don't you go on up? I'll just go help Xander in the kitchen."

She smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring and friendly manner.

"Ummm so... what's he making?"

Willow shrugged self-consciously as she started towards the stairs, trying not to look like she was avoiding looking the double in the eye.

"I think it's something beefy... with lots of onions and...mushrooms... and some kind of sauce.", then for a moment she poke excitedly, "Ohhh and he's got noodles going. So plenty of pasta goodness to be had."

"Ahhh.. he's doing the Stroganoff thing huh?... a little heavy, a little fattening...but very yummy. Yes indeed, cooking: one of Xander's more useful talents...unlike his ability to watch thirty six hours of Babylon five uninterrupted or that stupi thing he does with Freetos."

She shuddered.

"So... does he have sour cream for it? I can't eat Stroganoff without sour cream...It'd be a crime I think."

Willow laughed at her friend's protestations, realizing how much she'd missed Buffy's irreverent comments about trivial things. She nodded, smiling.

"Yep... though it is of the low fat kind...'s full of sour creaminess"

She turned away as she climbed the stairs, but halfway up she shot the double a questioning look from her place midway up the stairs.

"Is... is Buffy... I mean... you two didn't... hurt each other...did you?

The double sighed with exasperation and rolled her eyes.

"No... she's fine, Willow, ", she paused, and gave her friend a gaze that carried messages on many levels, "...well... as fine as she can be right now. But no... we didn't fight with anything but words...But, I think that she needs to talk to you... and eventually... to Xander. There are some things...well...

about 'it'....About some of the things she's done... I think she needs to get it all off her chest."

Willow nodded hesitantly, but nodded none the less.

"What are you going to be doing... while... while we talk I mean.

Buffy Anne smiled.

"Me? Oh... I'll just go help Xander in the kitchen."

An upset look found a home on her face suddenly.

"I want to talk to him about him getting re-involved with a certain ex-vengeance demon...that's all."

She laced her fingers together and crack them.

"Oh yeah, my Xander has some serious explaining to do I think."

Willow walked up to Buffy's bedroom, her face lined with worry, unsure what awaited her.

Meanwhile, Buffy Anne entered the kitchen, throwing a smoky look at Xander's back.

He was busily stirring a saucepan on top of the stove. Her nose told her that it was full of onions, and pieces of sautéd beef.

She stepped up behind him with a stealthy series of movements, stalking him.

"Mmmm, that smells wonderful, Xand.", she purred, scant inches from his ear.

He nearly launched the contents of the pan into the air in surprise.

He turned around, his mouth open in preparation for a delivering a verbal thrashing to the interloper who'd snuck up on him.

She gave him a guilty pout that brought him up short, just like she'd known it would.

She waited, letting him break the silence, it wasn't a long wait.

"Uh... er... hi"

She smiled widely for a moment, then responded in kind, "Hi!...

Whatcha doin? Oooo making dinner for us, huh?"

"Ummm, yeah.", he said uncertainly backing up, then adding "We will be dining ala Chez Xander.. ohnn hawn haw" he joked, putting on a fake French accent.

Anne smiled, breaking eye contact and walking away from him. She walked slowly to the other side of the kitchen island and hooked one of the tall, chair backed stools that sat there, with her toe, pulling to toward her.

She turned back toward him and sat backward in the stool, straddling it, her legs spread wide against the stiff wooden backing.

All the while, she watched how Xanders eyes track her movement, smiling softly to herself.

She folded her arms across the top of the backing, and leaned forward a little, her leather pants stretching and tightening against her thighs...making her legs spread a little wider while letting her hook the heals of her boots into the cross poles of the stool.

"So...engaged, huh?" he asked lamely, "Ummm, I mean... you and me that is."

She held up her ring finger by way of response, and wiggles it at him... her eyes studying his every move.

She let Xander babble.

"Ummm, Well... uhhh... wish I could say I remembered it... was I romantic?"

"Very." She responded evenly, still studying him.

The silence stretched on, and he smiled nervously at her.

"Ummm, I... uhh, need to keep an eye on this, okay? Food like this can try and escape if you aren't careful."

He hesitantly turned back to stirring the food in the saucepan and watching the noodles boil in their saltwater.

He tried to play it cool

He lasted for about a half a minute.

He turned back, meeting her coolly speculative gaze, and growing a little annoyed.

"What!?", he demanded, "why are you staring at me?"

She nodded to herself.

"Just wondering why you hadn't told her that you're still in love with us." It was a statement, not a question.

Xander reacted exactly how she thought he would.

"How did y-... I mean...What are you talking about?... how... where did you get that idea?" he gesticulated wildly, "This is ridiculous... how could you think that I'm?... that I'm...

oh...Well... I'm not going to dignify that with a response."

He turned back and returned to stirring the noodles, though he applied a good deal more force and energy to the task then needed, and spilled some water onto the electric stove's coils. It hissed harshly.

She sniffed disdainfully.

"Fine... deny it then."

He whirled back to face her, a wooden spoon in hand.

"What?!.. Why should I have to... I .. you... Oh, this is soooo not happening."

"It's a simple enough thing to do.", she said, her arms crossed in front of her and her head cocked to one side, "... Just deny it.

Say... 'Buffy Anne Summers, I'm totally not in love with you, and I'm one hundred percent over you.'... do that and I'll stop staring at you."

"Now...", he adopted a severe tone, "You see here young woman!", he shook his spoon at her, promoting a series of giggles on her part as she watched a noodle dangle on it.

Anne cut him off, "Drop the 'Giles' imitation, Xander, you don't do it very well."

Xander sputtered for a moment, but jumped back into the verbal battle quickly.

"... I'll have you know that I was... I mean I was about to... I mean how could I be in love with you if I was going to marry Anya?"

Anne smirked, she'd got him to admit it... now she could give him a piece of her mind properly. Once he'd admitted guilt it was all over except for the gloating.

"Ahhhh, So!, you were going to marry another woman.", she replied with a dark glitter in her eyes, "...someone other than the woman you swore you'd wait for."

She brought out her best pout and polished it up for display, "I'm hurt, Xander... how could you?"

She knew well the effect her pout had on him... he'd be gelatin in mere moments.

"Bu.. Buff... I .. I didn't mean ... I ...But Anya... she."

"You love her more than you love me!", she accused, smirking evilly inside while looking hurt on the outside.

"Buffy... No!... She... I mean I ... never... I-I still... I mean...and... and love you... the most and... Oh crap!... Damn you!", he shook the spatula at her again, flinging the noodle that had been barely holding on in a lazy arc to land on one of the hanging lights.

She let the pout vanish... and replaced it with an angry glare

"HA!.. Gotcha...I knew it! I KNEW you had to still be in love with us."

She was out of the chair and walking toward him in an instant, shifting her hips in an enticing swaying motion that she knew would turn his will power into mush.

"So, Xander... you do love me?" she queried.

Totally unable to stop himself, he nodded... it was only once... but it was enough.

She was close... so close... that's when she poked him in the chest with her index finger, hard.

He backed up, seeing the angry scowl appear on her face.

"How dare you!... how dare you?!... How could you not tell us that, straight out? Sure you told 'me' it... but how could you not tell her?... Especially when I ... when she needed you most."

She gestured upward.

"That poor girl up there... she's hurting like hell...been hurting for a long time too it looks like... and she's me."

She glowered at him as he held the spoon up as though to ward her off.

"How could you leave us all alone like that, Xander? She needed you... and you abandoned her."

Her eyes narrowed as she stepped around carefully, not letting him look away.

"I am very, VERY angry with you right now."

She threw up a hand, which he flinched back from, and ranted.

"You big jerk! How can you stand there...claiming that you love me, and oooh, believe me, I know exactly how you feel... I was engaged to you after all... so don't think for a minute I don't know all your little secrets you've been hiding from us, mister... But cow could you claim to love us...when you can't get off your laxy butt and be honest about it with her?

She shook a fist at him and her voice started raising.

"Ohhh nooo, instead you leave her.. leave me...alone...not doing what you knew needed doing... feeling like she did... when you knew full well how much you loved me.. us... and did NOTHING, about it.", her voice became choked and rough with emotion for a moment, almost overwhelmingly so, "How could you?!"

She pushed him back against the kitchen door.

"I have a good mind to take you outside and use you for a practice dummy... only this time you don't get to be in the Puffy Xander suit... no sir... no padding for you, mister Harris."

She stood back a little, her hands on her hips, and her eyes flashing with anger.

"Now... what do you have to say for yourself?"

"But...I... Friendship... and Anya... and... and... you...she .. you two... gah.. one of you two Buffys said that you weren't interested in me... like that."

Her mouth tightened into a dark frown and she lunged forward grabbing him by the lapels with both hands and jerked him back and forth.

"That was in high school", she shook him, unable to find the word to describe what she was feeling he was.

"If you loved us...really loved us... you'd have said 'to hell' with that... and laid it on the line...and set us straight."

She growled, staring into his eyes fiercely, "Don't you get it? I'm a woman... a wo-man. I want to know when someone loves me that much.

And if you do... then you better damn well tell me you do... tell her."

She let got of his lapels, pushing his back against the wall abruptly.

"You don't keep secrets like that... not for six years, you big dummy, you!"

She locked gazes with him, her own eyes now glistening with unshed tears.

"And as far as Anya...So what!... I mean... how could you? If you loved us, you'd have let her know... and let us know...not go off and do something stupid like ask her to marry you."

She prodded him again with her index finger, skewering him in the chest with her nail.

She turned away... sniffling.

"And... and you weren't supposed to ever give up either... not when you have that much to give us...not when you...", she trailed off.

She turned back to face him and shouted at him, her hands clenched at her sides.

"You're supposed to be a man you idiot! You should have stomped in and let us know what we meant to you... just... just 'taken' us or something... and do whatever it took to make her see... Not pussyfooted around like a... well... like a pussyfooting kinda girly man."

He'd started edging away from the wall his back had been pushed up against, but she pushed him back against it again, causing some plates in the shelves to rattle.

"If you'd really loved us... you'd have stood up to us...let us know, and not taken no for an answer... B-but now you've messed it up..."

She threw herself at him, crushing herself against his chest. His shock, his emotional desolation was now complete.

"... you messed it all up... and almost married someone else... H-

how... how could you?"

Xander felt a small bit of wetness on his shirt, a warm spot that he knew would taste of salt and pain.

She'd done the worst thing she could do to him... she was crying...and he couldn't take that.

He sighed... and held her as his could-have-been fiancé cried against his chest. She cried for what could have... and should have been.

Chapter 6
Six nails

Willow fidgeted nervously as she looked down the hallway, her goal, a plain white door, stood in plain sight before her... while also seeming to be so far away as to be unapproachable.

It waited for her, waited to be opened, waited to lead her into the master bedroom where something she didn't want to face also waited.

Willow hoped the door would just go away.

It seemed a reasonable hope at the time, even if it was a bit unlikely the wish would be fulfilled any time soon.

In all, the five or six steps took her to reach the door were, physically speaking; nothing... emotionally however, the distance was another matter entirely.

Emotionally, those few steps down the hall were an epic journey, one that made a tri[ tp the moon look jaunty and frivolous.

Hence the fidgeting.

Steeling herself for whatever was waiting for her beyond the door, Willow had taken those few steps, wishing all the while that the hallway was longer... much longer... long enough to give her time to come up with a way to start the conversation she knew that she was going to have to have with Buffy, without it seeming awkward, or clumsy.

Basically, Willow wanted the hallway to increase its length by the linear distance needed to cross Texas... at least to start with.

Unfortunately, this also didn't seem to be going to happen any time soon, and all too quickly for her liking, she was there. The door was in front of her, it still waited, and she watched as her hand came up and rapped lightly on the wooden surface.

"Don't answer, don't answer, don't answer." she whispered to herself.

"C-come in." could be heard from inside the room.

No such luck.


Buffy cursed for the ten thousandth time, the hyper awareness that being a Slayer "gifted" her with.

She'd heard Willow's footsteps coming up the stairs...then the soft crushing sound of her friend's sock clad feet as she moved down the hall over the carpet.

She'd even known the exact moment that Willow had arrived just outside the door by the small shifting sounds that the house made.

The fact that she knew Willow was out waiting, just made the pause between her arrival, and her actually knocking, even more nerve wracking for the blonde Slayer.

When the knock finally came, she felt her heart leap into her throat with a jump.

She knew that she couldn't put it off... but at the same time, she fervently wished that an apocalypse would conveniently come along right about then so that she wouldn't have to face the horror ahead. A life and death fight against Vampires and demons didn't seem all that scary right about then, while having to go face to face with the scant one hundred pound redhead outside her door terrified her far beyond the proportions of rational thought.

"Come on, Apocalypse...anytime now."

No such luck.

She cleared her throat and said the words.

"C-come in."

As she watched the door open a sliver then pause, her breath quickened, she could feel her anxiety rise for every millimeter of movement from the door.

Willow's head poked into the room through the partially opened door.

The two girls looked at each other, both had eyes wide with a nervous dread of what they were about to talk about.

Buffy was the first to break the silence, though her voice was a small, frightened thing.

"Hey, Wills."

Willow responded with a soft tone, as though if she spoke too loudly, Buffy... or she... might shatter.

"Hey there, Buffy."

Again a pregnant pause filled the room, serving only to increase the tension in the already emotionally charged encounter.

"Well... come on in, Willow. I'm not going to...", she paused looking down, "...nothing."

Willow sidled in nervously through the partially open door, and stood uncomfortably for a moment.

As the awkwardness seemed to only increase, Willow suddenly broke into a forced cheerful smile and an exaggeratedly bouncy demeanor.

"Well, ohhh... don't mind me... ummm I... I think that this...this can wait... I see that you're busy and all, sooo... Buffy... I''ll just-"

She stood nearby the still partially opened door, looking furtively at it, as though she was preparing to bolt for the comparative safety of the hall at the first opportunity.

She nodded her head toward the door and continued, "So... I'll just leave you to...," she paused, desperately looking for something to say before continuing, "... the thing... that you were doing...

before I interrupted... your thing."

Willow gestured, her hands twisting a bit in the air and her already forced cheer becoming more forced with each word.

"You know...the thing which you were doing that was important...

much, _much_ more important than talking right now, I'm sure... So I'll just not be here...and go back out in the hall and down stairs... Did I mention that Xander is cooking downstairs? In the kitchen I mean... not that he'd be cooking anywhere else.. like in the living room or anything...", she giggled nervously, "But... Oh!, I never knew he could cook, I'd better go check and see if he needs anything. Bye."

Buffy finally spoke, stopping Willow as she was just about to make good on her escape.

"Willow, don't go."

Willow turned back hesitantly.

What she saw wasn't the confident girl she'd known for the past few years. Instead of the confident, cocky, and irreverent Slayer that she'd come to know... there was a small, fragile looking, blonde girl with tear reddened eyes and a defeated slump to her shoulders.

Buffy faced her, even though her eyes said that she really didn't want to put on a brave face at just that minute.

Willow only hesitated for a moment before she turned back to the door and closed it.

She sighed and resigned herself to the fact that neither of them were likely going to leave the room any time soon.

She crossed the space between her and Buffy in a few steps, and sat on the bed next to her, trying to smile at her friend, and only coming up with a uncomfortable looking grimace.

"So...Buffy...Wanna talk?"

Buffy shook her head.

"Nuh uh.", she forced a small, bitter laugh.

"N-Not really.", she put on her own faux cheer and continued, "...but then again, Hey!, That's my life, huh? Didn't ask for the whole Slayer package... got it anyway. Didn't want this...this... ", she gestured at the room vaguely, "...but here I am. So I guess this is the way things go... Yay...Go, Chosen one!", again she let out a small bark of bitterness.

Willow laid her hand on her friend's shoulder and was surprised when Buffy flinched away from her though momentarily burned by it, before relaxing a moment later, and submitting to the gesture of comfort that the touch tried to convey.

"Buffy...It'll be-"

"No!..., Willow.", Buffy hissed pulling away, "Don't say that! ..

Don't say that it'll be okay. "

Her voice shook with self loathing.

"Please, just d-don't say that... It'll never be okay... never again... never.", her voice trailed off, ending up a whisper.

Willow slid her arm back across her friend's shoulder and drew her closer.

"Ohh, Buffy... don't say-"

Buffy nearly shouted at her and shook her off again, this time more forcefully, "No!... Don't t-tell me not to say that!" She faced her friend, her eyes flashing with barely suppressed emotion,

"It's true! It'll never be over... Just... don't!... I... I let him touch me, Willow... I let him... do things to me... and... and not just once... I kept letting him... and... and... that's what... I'll never be okay... I won't... you know it's true..."

She pulled at her clothes, tugging at her shirt.

"I still smell him all over me...touching me...Oh God, how could I let him touch me like that? I'm diseased... oh god..."

Tears began running down her face, tears that brought wracking sobs with them.

She put her hand to her mouth, her skin looking ashen.

"Oh god, I feel sick...", she gagged.

She dashed from the bed and the touch of her friend, running into the master bathroom that adjoined the bedroom and retched into the sink, bringing up a sting of bile, followed by dry heaves...

everything else was long since gone.

Willow followed her into the bathroom and came up behind her. She rested a hand on Buffy's upper back, stroking it reassuringly up and down her spine and across her upper back... saying nothing while her friend retched, but letting her care and love speak for her through her expression.

"Oh God, Willow... what's wrong with me... Why?"

"D-Do you love him Buffy?"

"L-Love him?... Spike?", Buffy looked at her friend in the mirror as though she were speaking a foreign tongue, as though she couldn't believe what she was being asked.

Willow continued, " I-It's okay if you do. I mean he-he's done a lot of good... recently... well... kinda I guess... and... and, well... I know that he was all kinda stalkery before...but... he says he loves you... in his own... crazy... Spike-like kind of way, I suppose. A-

and Buffy, it's okay if you... I mean you were g-going through some really hard times, and you... But... I mean if you do... I... I guess we... we could deal with that sort of th-"

Willow had been living on the Hellmouth since as long as she could remember, and in that time she'd seen a lot of unexpected things, but Buffy's reaction caught even her off guard.

Buffy Summers started to laugh.

It was a hard, almost hysterical laugh... the kind of laugh that one reserved for particularly ironic events, or for when the world seemed to be falling apart around you.

"Me... Love, Spike?"

She laughed all the harder for a moment, wiping tears of laughter and sadness from her eyes.

"Love, Spike?... No... No, Willow... I... I almost wish I sick and twisted as that would have to be... it'd almost make what I did somewhat bearable if I did it out of love. But...No... I hate him, Willow, and what his is... and... and... I can't stand what I did... I hate... I hate, I h-hate...myself."

She'd turned away from the sink, and sniffled, holding her arms out to her friend with a desperately sad look... the look of a child in need of comfort.

Willow took her into an embrace, and Buffy let out a wail of anguish...

Willow let her sob out her pain in her arms.

After a time, she heard Buffy whisper to her.

"No...", Buffy spoke softly, her shoulders trembling under Willow's hands. "I-I was using him... or maybe I was letting him... use me... or maybe both. I don't know anymore...But it was wrong... and... and I don't know what to do anymore, Willow... I just don't know what to do."

She pulled away, disengaging from her friend and walking back toward the bed.

"All I know is that I-I hate myself for what I did... I did something that I don't think I can ever be forgi-"

"Buffy, please don't say that... I forgive y-"

Buffy suddenly rounded on her friend with fury in her eyes, her tear streaked face contorted into a grimace of self loathing.

"Stop it!", she shouted, "Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!" Her voice had risen in volume and hysteria with each repetition, her hands assuming claw like shapes as she shouted.

She stalked toward her friend, and Willow backed up in fear of her onslaught.

"Don't you get it? He's everything I hate. He's everything that...

that I'm supposed to be against. And I couldn't stop what I... and I just kept going back... for more... because the only time that I ever felt anything was when... when...".

Suddenly she noticed the fear in her friend's eyes, fear of her, fear of how she'd almost charged at her, fear of her anger.

Seeing this look in her friend's eyes, her rage collapsed in on itself... falling apart as its underpinnings were knocked away.

She stretched her hand out toward her friend for a moment, then turned away quickly, running back toward the bed.

Her voice became pleading, "Willow, Please...I-I'm so sorry... I-

I...God, you must hate me...p-please... I didn't mean to yell at you... please... don't look at me, just d-don't ...'see' me. Not like this."

Buffy fell onto her bed, curling into a ball of misery, her back to the redhead shaking with wracking sobs.

She reached out blindly, the tears blurring everything into a watery fog, and her hands settled on the stuffed animal she hoped to find among her pillows.

Mr. Gordo found himself clutched tight to her chest once more. His synthetic fuzz, once more the sop for her tears.

Willow hesitantly stepped forward, crossing the distance between them, listening to the wretched sounds.

She sat on the bed once more, her hands held in her lap.


"Just leave, Willow...please."

Willow paused taking her time before answering with a steely voice.


The silence stretched out.

"I'm not going anywhere, Buffy Anne Summers... Do you hear me?...So don't go making crazy talk like that.", she paused, making it clear that she wasn't budging.

"I'm your friend... and I am not leaving. See... 'resolve face' and everything... so you might as well forget that idea right now, young lady."

Buffy stayed curled up on the bed, not willing to face the look she suspected that she'd find in Willow's eyes... the pity...the disgust...both directed at her....So instead, she lay, nestled into her own private world of misery, refusing to acknowledge her friends protestations, and therefore missed the look of love and care that Willow gave her instead.

She clutched at the soft texture of the stuffed animal she held, trying to find comfort in the familiar feel and scent.

Buffy held the little stuffed pig desperately tight to her chest, her head curled down to look into his little, black, plastic eyes, as though hoping to find solace there.

"I.. I couldn't tell you... the way you'd all just... look at me ... I just couldn't."

"And it's better that we find out like this? Buffy... we're your friends... we... we'd be... well... 'wigged' might not be a strong enough word... But... Ummm...Buffy, do you suppose you could sit up? It's a little hard to talk to the back of your head, you know?"

Buffy didn't seem willing to move on her own, so Willow pulled on her friend's shoulder, trying to force the blonde to uncurl herself. And after several minutes of such cajoling, she finally got her friend upright again, the stuffed pig still cradled in her arms.

"So...h-how did it... I mean how did you two...", her voice trailed off.

Buffy sighed, "It was a mistake... I.. I felt... different... and... and... he told me... t-that I'd come back...l-like him. That there was someone...Wrong with me... That I didn't come back... human, I guess."

Willow's brow furrowed.

"Wrong?... You look okay to me."

Buffy shook her head and replied, "Well... Spike can't hit you, can he?... his chip... but he... he..."

"Spike...he can hit you?", the tone in Willows was curious at first... but then it seemed that recognition finally came a few moments later and she repeated herself, this time a lot more vehemently and full of shock, "He can _hit_ you?... But Buffy... but that's mean..."

The tone that Willows voice had adopted made Buffy flinch, but she nodded in response.

"Ohmigod, Buffy... Why didn't you tell us? That'd mean... that..."

"Because I was afraid... afraid he was right."

"So you've just been going around... for a while it sounds like...

not telling anyone... Buffy!" her friend's voice carried a tone heavy with chastisement.

"No... I told someone."

Willow still looked very unhappy, but asked the question, "Who?"



Buffy nodded and continued, "I-I told her... about Spike... well... actually she found out... and I told her... about him being able to... to hit me... she said that she'd look into it...and see if she could find a cure... and... and..."

Willow pulled her friend close and murmured softly soothing words, "It's okay... Buffy... It's okay... Really... we'll figure out what's wrong and make it better... I just didn't know what you were doing. It wasn't you."

If anything this made the blonde sob harder than before.

"B-but that's the ...the problem."

"I don't understand.. What do you mean, Buffy?"

Buffy, choked out the words, "T-tara... she didn't find anything... anything wrong with me... just a small ch-change... nothing big... l-

like a tan... and... and ... I was still me... and I still..."

"Oh, no."

Buffy nodded against her chest.

"I just wanted to forget... and p-punish ... and ... and I couldn't feel...anymore... I just wanted to... to be dea-"

"Buffy, Don't say that!... Why would you want to... to not..."

Recognition again dawned on Willow's face.

"Oh....oh no."

Buffy had slowly stopped sobbing, sniffling quietly she nodded.

"You mean that when we brought you back... we... that you..." Willow trailed off slowly, and suddenly looked like she herself would start crying.

"Oh God Buffy, I... we... I didn't know it... that you felt like... Oh Buffy, I wish I'd never done that spell, you don't deserve a friend like me... I.. I'm I'm careless... and self centered... and selfish... and... and bad!... I'm a Bad Willow, Bad!"

Willow's tone had gone from soothing and gentle to harsh and upset, all of it clearly targeted toward herself.


"Oh God, Buffy, how can you even bare to look at me... at us?! It all makes sense... why you didn't tell us... I mean 'Oh look... there's Willow ... the person that pulled me out of heaven... Isn't she just the clever witch... messing around with peoples lives like they're hers to play with... ooo ooo isn't she a good friend... always putting others ahead of herself'... not!"


Willow had pushed herself away from Buffy, and stood up. She paced back and forth on the carpet, throwing her arms around a bit.

"Oh, and presumptuous too... ooo... don't even get me started on how presumptuous I can be... Little Ms. Presumption 2002, Did you know that I've been nominated as the frontrunner for that. I'll probably win too... See! 'Presumptuous'...God, how could I be do that to you?... Oh Buffy, it's all my fault... I should have listened to Xander when he-"

"Willow!, will you stop that? I-I... for a while I was... was angry at you... at all of you but.. I got.... and..."

She paused a moment replaying what she'd heard

"Huh?... what about Xander?"

Willow shifted her eyes away, looking embarrassed.... then replied, "Ummm... it's... it's just that that Xander... he.. he wasn't too keen on the whole 'resurrecting the dead' thing. He.. he said it .. it felt wrong... and every time we talked about it... he kept bringing it up... He-he'd been saying that it was wrong for a while before we did it... but every time, we kept beating on him about it, asking him if why he didn't want to bring you back... and he never had an answer. So... in the end he kinda.. kinda gave in.. but still said it was wrong.. but.. oh I should have listened to him... he kept saying we needed to think about what we were doing, and not just rush in."

Buffy wiped her face on the sleeve of her sweatshirt leaving a small smudge of what remained of her mascara.

"B-but.... I.. I thought that he... and you.. .that all of you.. ... that you all wanted...", a tone of hurt echoed in her voice, "Didn't he want to bring me back?"

Buffy felt as though her world had suddenly tilted oddly under her, she'd always thought that Xander had been the one pushing hardest to bring her back... and what she'd just heard bothered her deeply.

Willow looked at Buffy with a surprised, but still grave look on her face.

"Of.. of course he wanted you back, Buffy...we all wanted you back. Maybe him more than anyone, I think... b-but he was... well... he just said he felt that we were making a mistake...That he had a bad feeling about what we were doing.", she sighed sadly, " Score another one for Xander, I guess... Oh Buffy... when we found out... about where you'd been... we all felt terrible... We'd pulled you out of your final reward... and... and... I know that saying 'I'm sorry' isn't enough... but I am... 'sorry', I mean."

Buffy sniffled, her nose still running from her bout of tears.

"But... but if he was against it... why didn't he tell me... he... he never said anything... When you all... you found out... you all knew... I... that I blamed-"

Willow sighed.

"Buffy, He probably didn't tell you... because that's who he is."

She paused a moment before continuing. "Xander... well... he may come off like a big goof sometimes.... okay, most of the time. But he never lets a friend take all the blame...he always tries to take at least some of it on himself."

Willow smiled, her eyes distant.

"There was this time, when we were both seven... him and me, we'd climbed way up in Mr Richardson's big old crabapple tree and we were playing ... And...well... I'd just seen this cartoon earlier in the day... where Issac Newton got hit on the head with an apple... and he got the idea for gravity... Well that's not really historically accurate I guess...You see...that whole story isn't really... umm... Okay...stopping babbling now....Anyway, I got the idea that I'd just throw apples at people and give them good ideas."

Buffy gave a halfhearted smile listening to the story, wiping her eyes.

"Anyway, I was a terrible shot... and missed everyone... everyone except for one time... I sorta hit the neighbor...Mrs Philips... Ohhh she was sooo made... but she didn't see who did it. "

Willow paused looking at Buffy.

"Well, Mr Richardson got us both out of the tree and asked who'd thrown the apple... Buffy, I was so scared... mostly because the apple had stained her dress really bad...they were the kind with all that nasty red juice... anyway... I was the most scared I think I've ever been...but Xander just looked at me for a second and saw... then he... he told them that he'd done it."

She hung her head and continued, "And...and, I didn't say...

anything... I-I just let him take the blame... And I thought he'd hate me afterwards....Buffy, I was just a little kid, and I didn't know any better... But later on, I asked Xander why he'd done it... it was a couple weeks later... and it'd been after ...after he'd been punished by his father. And I'd been avoiding him... thinking he'd hit me or something... But, instead...he just kinda looked at me and smiled for a minute, that funny lopsided smile he has... then said that he'd been in the tree too... and that he knew what I was doing was bad... but he hadn't stopped me... And since he'd known... even if I hadn't... that he was responsible... T-that's when we really first became close, you know, close friends... and I guess that was also where I started my crush on him... But...that's who Xander is... who he is to me, Buffy, who he's always been... he's... my best friend."

Buffy sat back a little and replied with a soft voice full of suppressed emotion.

"Sometimes... I think I don't know who he really is, Willow...It's... I know this sounds weird, but... it's like the Xander we know... the one we've been around for all this time... like he's just... just this face... like a mask that he puts on.... He's the supportive... goofy guy most of the time... but every once in a while something else peeks through... something... bigger... and stronger than any of us... and it's he's hiding all sorts of things about himself."

She looked at her friend with a startled look, as if she'd said something she hadn't intended to.

"I don't mean that it's something bad...just... that I notice things... sometimes. Things that don't seem to fit with the person I know... but, Willow... no matter what... I know... I just know... I can't tell him this, Willow... He-he can't find out about this.

Never... If he does..."

She shuddered and looked at her friend with eyes full of imagined loss.

"Willow... I-I'm afraid he-he'll hate me... and never talk to me again... that he'll leave."

Willow looked at her and knit her brow dubiously.

"Buffy, I think you're not-"

Buffy cut her off and nearly hissed desperately back in reply, "No!... I mean it... I really do." , She paused a moment, taking a shuddery breath before continuing.

"You know how... how he felt about Angel... Now...imagine how he'd feel toward me... after Spike. What would he think? Something...", she gestured vaguely before continuing, "...there was always this vibe between Xander and Angel...the two of them... Like... I know this doesn't make sense... but like... like even though he knew that Angel was good... and that he was trying to make up for the evil he'd done as a vampire.... that Xander felt something from him... a threat from him... something that no-one else picked up on... and that he kept trying to push me away from", she trailed off.

Willow's face scrunched in confusion.

"Buffy... he was... he was just jealous... I mean... you don't think he _knew_ about how Angel would go bad do you? Come on... that's silly, Buffy... he was just jealous... that's all."

"Okay...maybe 'knew' is a bad word for it... maybe... But it was like he... he had an 'instinct' about him.... and me... Like he knew that something bad would happen... and how much it would hurt me when it did."

Buffy smiled wanly.

"But did you notice how, after we'd gotten Angel back... that Xander pulled back on the hostility he didn't seem to worry so much, or object to him so much?... It was like whatever he'd sensed... that the threat was over."

Willow nodded, but looked dubious.

"I know he was jealous of Angel... and... well... I sort of think I encouraged it at times.... knowing that...that he was... you know..."

Willow scowled at her darkly.

"That he was lusting after you? So you used it?"

Buffy nodded guiltily.

"Yeah, I know... pathetic... but it... it was an ego boost... and when you're a sixteen year old social outcast with no social life, after being little miss popular before then...", Buffy sighed sadly.

"So you think that if you tell him...that 'what'll' happen?"

Buffy's shoulders slumped sadly.

"I... I'm afraid he'll leave... that he'll leave me... and hate me forever."

The silence stretched out between them, until Willow finally broke it.

"But why, Buffy?... I mean why would he? I mean he'll be... upset... yeah... but... I'm sure he won't 'hate' you."

Buffy shook her head and replied, "Wi-Willow, do you remember how you felt... when you found out about him... and Cordelia?"

Willow's eyes narrowed in remembered anger, and Buffy nodded.

"See? That's what I mean... When... when you found out... you were hurt.... you hated him... hated him for being with someone he said he hated... before he even gave you a chance..... Willow, if he finds out... it'll be just like that...except... except... worse.... lot's worse.

She wiped at her eyes and continued, "I...talked... to the other me... the one downstairs...And...and, she's just like I used to be, Willow."

She looked away from her friend, into the wall mirror and asked, "Do you have any idea what it's like to face 'yourself', Wills? I mean to really have to look into your own eyes... especially when that other 'self' is telling you how screwed up you are?"

She shook her head as though trying to clear out the painful memory.

"And on top of that... then this other you... she tells you that the one person you thought of as a friend...she tells you that that one person... that he was in love with you... for a long time... and that he was... and then she told you things... and you find out she's telling you the truth... that that one person was really in love with you... for years...for years, Willow."

Her voice had become pleading and soft, and she turned back to the redhead, "... and that you just didn't notice him because he was right under your nose... and you were too... " She paused, choking on her own breath.

"But the worst part is finding out that she's not _just_ happy...

that she's not just... settling... for the something that's only half of what you want... No... she's tells you that ... she's got everything... that she's got exactly what you've always said you've wanted... a normal relationship... love....and all she... all I had to do was reach out and take it... because it was just waiting there for her... for me."

Buffy paused, putting her hands to her face and hiding in the darkness they created for her as her shoulders shook with sobs.

"Bu-but that... I've even messed up that... he'll hate me, Willow... I slept with a m-m-monster... a murderer... and... and I never even gave him... never even gave him a chance."

Willow looked at her friend and thought.

Gone was The Slayer sitting next to her, and in her place was a small, frightened, hurting, young woman...someone that her heart was going out to, even while she tried to deal with the sting of being kept in the dark about something as important as the information about her and Spike.


Willow sidled over, putting her arm around her friend's shoulders and pulling her close, sitting hip to hip with her as the blonde cried her heart out.

"Buffy... I... I won't tell him... if... if you want."

Buffy's sobs slowed a bit, and she leaned against Willow's shoulder, taking several minutes to compose herself.

For a time, the only sounds in the room were of one woman trying desperately to pull herself together, and her friend sitting beside her, offering soothing words, and reassurances.

Buffy finally turned back to her friend and reached her arms out awkwardly from where she sat, pulling the redhead into her embrace.

She kissed Willow on the cheek gratefully, tears still streaking her face.

"Oh, Willow, thank you... thank you... please... please just... just don't tell anyone."

Willow nodded and replied hesitantly.

"I.. I promise... but, Buffy... I still think he should be told...

you really should tell him."

She pulled back a little from the embrace and looked at her friend soberly.

"If you don't...He'll still find out, Buffy. You know how things are... if you don't, Spike will. You know how much he dislikes Xander. I think he'd do it just to watch how much it hurt him... and you can't-"

Buffy nodded, her eyes red from her tears.

"You-you're right... But, Willow. I can't stop him... Oh God, Willowm I don't know what I can do."

She paused for a moment, then looked vaguely hopeful.

"I.. I could stake him... I-I mean... he is a vampire.... and... I... I sorta am a vampire slayer... so..."

Willow gave her a dark look.

"So, you'd just kill him... to keep a secret? Buffy, let me introduce you to my frowny face... this is my frowny face... I use it when the resolve face doesn't do the job and I have to show stern disapproval. "

Buffy looked at the frown on her friend's face and sighed.

"Okay...okay... I see the power of the 'expression-o-doom', I suppose that's not a good enough reason... after all, Spike may be annoying, and he may have tried to kill us several times before, and sure...he killed, and tortured hundreds, if not thousands, of people before now...", Buffy trailed off and bit her lip.

After a moment she looked back at Willow and asked, "...Ummm... I was supposed to make a point about why I can't kill him... right?"

Willow nodded and responded for her.

"Try...'Because he's no longer a threat to anyone... and he's been trying to do the right thing for a change'...even if it was just to get close to you, Buffy...That's why."

Buffy sighed again, and replied, "Fine... fine... I won't stake him...Oh God, Willow...what _am_ I gonna do? If I tell him... then... then-"

"Then you give him the chance to do whatever he needs to do."

Willow saw that Buffy had her hands tight together in her lap, and laid her own hand on top of them.

"Buffy, I-I've been learning a few things lately...Things about myself...bad things."

Buffy looked up sharply, startling the shy redhead.

"It-it's okay... Not 'bad things' like a relapse-into-the-black-arts type 'bad things'... I'm okay... I think... I am getting better."

She paused for a moment to collect herself before continuing, "No...what I .. I meant was that I learned 'important things'... things that you helped me see, Buff."

Willow paused and swallowed hard before speaking again.

"I always thought I was soooo smart. You know, everyone always told me how clever I was growing up... so I thought...that I couldn't make mistakes, or make stupid decisions."

She looked meaningfully at Buffy.

"But after the accident with... with Dawn... I-I saw that... that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was... that I...I needed help.

And...and I think that I'm getting better, and it's because didn't just abandon me... even when I thought you would... or maybe should have... you know...after Dawny was hurt and everything... I guess that I expected you to...because I-I didn't think about what I was doing... and-and she nearly died."

Buffy looked at her friend, seeing the guilt burning in her eyes.

"So, Buffy...maybe you need to stop... stop trying to face stuff... alone... We're your friends... and just like I needed help...

maybe... if you're hurting this bad... maybe you need to ask a friend... ask Xander for some help... I don't think he'd... that he'd leave if you did it like that. He... well... he's always been willing to listen to you when you needed him...maybe... you just got out of practice... and you need to start talking to him again.""

Buffy looked at her, and Willow caught what looked like a faint glimmer of hope in her eyes.

"I-I'm worry about... about what it'd mean if he left, Willow... What it would say about me...But, I'll think about it... About what you said, and maybe you're right... but I'm still scared... I don't want to lose him...", she paused a moment, and then hurried on with a odd tone in her voice, " a friend I mean."

She sighed and shook her head.

"But I don't think it's going to be easy."

Willow smiled softly back.

"Buffy, do you really care about what it _might_ mean about you?.. or are you worried he's going to leave? They aren't the same thing you know. I think you decide what's more important to you, for yourself before you do anything... Beside...yeah, you're right... it won't be easy... but things that are worthwhile usually aren't easy, and I think that if they were...'easy' I mean... we wouldn't value them like we should."

Buffy wiped her eyes again and smiled back after giving the statement a few long moments of consideration.

Finally, she nodded.

"You're probably right.", she smiled sadly and continued," So...when did you become all 'little miss wise witch' type person, Will?"

Willow half smirked and replied, "Got the books and took the class last semester. UC Sunnydale has it listed as WCA-201... three credit course... Too bad I missed the 'how not to get addicted to magic' part of it, my study buddy forgot to give me the notes too."

Buffy genuinely laughed, feeling the atmosphere in the room lighten about her.

"That's our UC Sunnydale... only our college offers; music, phys-ed, political science, and pagan blood rituals as electives."

The two shared a giggle, and gave each other a hug, Buffy being the one this time to draw back from it in the end.

"So, are we... 'okay', Willow?"

Willow faked a look of careful consideration, then replied carefully, "Hmmm, I...well... I just wish you would have told me, Buffy... let me know... what we'd done to you... what I'd done... so that I could apologize."

She saw Buffy about to interrupt her and held up a hand to forestall her.

"No... Buffy, please... We... I... we thought that when you went through that portal... that maybe you... you ended up in the... in that hell dimension that Glory was trying to get back to... We didn't know where you ended up...but we could have tried to find out...

somehow... We just assumed... and... we were careless...I was careless... and we hurt you... So, I have a lot of apologizing to do to you, Buffy... and us pulling you back... when you were in...


Willow found herself unable to complete the sentence, so continued past it, "Well... I need to start off by apologizing for that...

Really apologizing... and the only thing I can think of... is that if it were me... how angry I'd be... and... and I can't think how I can ever make up for doing that to you... but I'm going to try, Buff, even if it's just so that you know that I mean it, okay?"

Willow paused, hoping to see some sign that Buffy heard the sincerity in her voice.

A small nod from the blonde Slayer finally allowed her to let out the breath she'd been holding and continue.

"But, even though I know you were mad, and I understand why you didn't tell us... I-I still wish you could have just told me... so that I could have been there for you... so that maybe...maybe we could have prevented...", she sighed before continuing on, "Well...that's 'what's done'... and what's done is... done, I guess... and anyway... I'm not one to throw stones about making bad choices."

She smiled a self deprecating smile before continuing, "And seeing as how you were there for _me_ when I needed you...even considering what I'd done... I think that I'm still the one that needs to worry about earning back your trust, Buffy. So yeah... we're good."

Buffy smiled, and gave her friend a nod.

"Okay... and, Willow..."

She pulled her friend into a hug and whispered in her ear, "Thank you... for this...for being my friend... and for... for being you.

I'll think about what you said."

Willow drew back from her friend and nodded to her.

"Okay... So... let's go downstairs then... Oh!... Oh!... I think we'd better hurry... that other you had a 'not happy with Xander' look in her eye earlier... I hope she didn't do anything...rash... she looked a bit... upset something... after she kicked Spike out of the house."

Buffy had already started standing when she turned and look at her friend in an alarmed manner.

"She what?"

Willow drew back a little in surprise.

"Oh... did I forget to mention that? Oh... umm sorry... Other things on the mind. Bigger, ummm well... uhhh... you know."

"What happened?" Buffy asked, an undercurrent of both worry and relief in her tone.

"Ummm, she... well I saw most of it... and well... I got the impression that... well... that she's... umm... well... that as far as she's concerned, you may not need to worry about staking him...

that in her eyes...Spike is fair game for stakeage if she sees him around. At the end she even threatened to dust him if he said anything."

Willow smiled naughtily.

"I think he was genuinely afraid at one point. Mostly when she threatened to stick a piece of the banister up his... err.. I mean 'through'... definitely 'through'... his heart... not somewhere else."

Buffy put her hand to her mouth in amusement and shock.

"Ohmigod... she didn't... she didn't say that... did she?"

Willow nodded.

"For a minute he looked pale... well... paler than he normal for Spike, I suppose."

Buffy shook in mirth.

"Well, that might keep him away for a while... Long enough to figure out what to do next... that way he can't make things a worse mess than they already are."

Willow nodded in agreement and stood.

"Good, you go get cleaned up... and I'll go down and see if Xander is done cooking."

Buffy looked at Willow and wrinkled her brow.

"Huh?...Xander can cook?"

Willow nodded hesitantly.

"Other-Buffy said that he can... she even said....that he's pretty good...ummm 'good at cooking' I mean... not other kind of 'good'...Umm, scary visual image... uhhh, so we'll find out I guess. But regardless... there is pasta goodness waiting down there... And I think I need some carbs... this talking thing takes it right out of you."

Buffy had made her way to the bathroom entrance and nodded in agreement, turning the water on.

"I'll be down in a few minutes... Willow, could you do me a favor and take Dawn down with you?... Oh.... and don't let them start without me, please. I'm having Slayer hungries... so, I need some food too."

Willow nodded and exited the room.

Buffy looked into the standing mirror that her mother had once so loved from the doorway to the bathroom.

She found, that for the first time in months, she could look herself in the eye in that mirror without flinching away in shame. It'd been a long time since she'd been able to do that... and it was a welcome surprise.

She tried out a smile... and found that it came without to big an effort... that she could wear one... without it just being painted on.

"Welcome back... me... I.. I've missed you."


Willow, entered the kitchen, trailed closely behind by Dawn.

"Hey, Xander, we need to get the table set so that we can-"

Willow's explanation died suddenly... cut off by the scene that was presented before her.

She immediately clamped both her hands over Dawn's eyes, then snatched one away to quickly cover her own eyes before she saw much more herself.

"Oi vey!"

At first, she'd seen what looked like 'their Buffy' holding 'their Xander' pinned against the wall near the kitchen door, and kissing him for all she was worth... with Xander not seeming to put up much of a fight...other than looking like he was stunned into immobility.

This, of course, didn't seem like all that big of a deal.

... until she realized that more than kissing seemed to have been going on before they got there.

Willow had quickly spotted the fact that this particular Buffy had shed her coat... her shirt... and her bra... and that her hands were busily working at the belt buckle on Xander's pants.

It was also apparent that after having already worked her way through unbuttoning Xander's shirt and exposing his chest and stomach to her touch, that this particular 'Buffy' didn't look like she'd had plans on stopping her process of undressing him any time soon.

Dawn broke the silence that followed from behind the barricade of Willows hand.

"Oh dear God, I've gone blind!... and it's all your fault, Buffy, you know that?!... I knew that if I saw something like that, that something like this would happen."

Willow peeked out from between her fingers, seeing the blonde Slayer now clutching her shirt to herself and sporting a blush that went from her cheekbones to her shoulders.

Xander simply wore a stunned look while holding a spatula in one hand.

Willow turned around sharply and frog-marched Dawn ahead of her, back out the kitchen entrance.

As the pair exited the kitchen, Dawn protested loudly.

"How am I ever going to learn anything, if you guys keep trying to hide stuff like that from me? I mean I'm not twelve for goodness sakes."

"Learn what?"

Dawn and Willow looked toward where the question had come from, namely; the stairway.

Buffy was headed their way and looking curious.

Dawn and Willow looked at each other then back at Buffy.

"Cooking!", they said in unison.

Willow laughed nervously seeing the dubious look on Buffy's face.

"You know... some people in the kitchen, Buffy... Ummm.. uhhh..

Xander doesn't like to give away his secret cooking.... uhh...


Buffy looked at the two suspiciously for a moment, and asked, "So.... he's cooking up something 'special'?"

Dawn smirked and nodded, "Yeah... you could say that... I'd say he's heating 'something' up in ther-OW!"

Dawn rubbed the soft fleshy spot on the back of her arm where Willow had pinched her and gave the Wiccan a dirty look.

Willow continued for her, "Ummm... I donno."

Buffy quirked her eyebrow at the pair.

"You don't....know?"

She smiled, smelling a secret.

She sniffed the air and then looked back at the two women blocking the doorway.

"Wow, It sure smells good whatever it is...Hmmm its... familiar...

hmmm, what is that smell?"

Buffy tapped her chin with her fingertip as though in thought, then added, "Well, whatever it is... it smells yummy... but I'd better just go in and take a look... make sure he's not over-spicing it... guys always over-spice food."

She started walking toward the doorway leading to the kitchen, immediately noticing how her friend and younger sister quickly interposed themselves in her way.

"No!", both of them shouted in unison holding their hands out in front of them to block her.

They looked at each other again, then looked back at Buffy and smiled nervously while they backed themselves up toward the kitchen entrance to cover it with their bodies and splayed arms.

Willow stammered for a moment trying to appear nonchalant.

"No...Ummm, I mean... we don't want to disturb him... you know Xander... ooooh... very temperamental about things like that...

uhhh... So...why don't we just wait out here... or better yet...

let's wait in the living room for them to finish."

Willow caught herself and quickly amended her comment.

"I mean for _him_ to finish...not them!!!... er... I mean... let's just wait for Xander to ...err... put the final touches on her...

it... her-it...her-it...her-it ...Hermit!...That's it.. Xander is making her-mit crab...for dinner.", she finished lamely.

Dawn rolled her eyes, then took Buffy's hand and started dragging her toward the couch in the living room.

"What she means is, let's just watch some TV until dinner is ready. Okay, sis?"

Buffy decided to play it cool for the moment, and let her sister drag her part way back toward the living room couch.

She smiled and replied innocently, "Okay, sounds like a good idea... it's not-", she saw Willow relax her guard over the doorway as she followed her and Dawn. That's when she made her move, dashing past them both and into the kitchen, leaving their protests to die behind her, "-like you guys are trying to hide something from me."

Willow and Dawn looked at each other with a sense of shared dread as Buffy disappeared into the kitchen.

There was silence for a time.

Both edged back slowly.

From the kitchen came a shout after a moment.

"Oh my Gawd!"

The two shared another look again.

"Xander's car is out front, I think we can make a getaway before she kills anyone."

"No keys"

"We can hotwire it."

"You know how to hotwire a car, Dawn?"

"You'd be surprised what you can learn hanging around with the wrong crowd in highschool in Sunnydale.."

Buffy came out of the kitchen with a smile on her face.

"Hey, you two! What's the big id-... oh, I get it!"

She trushed forward and gave Dawn a hug, during which the younger girl gave Willow little, "Help me!" stares over Buffy's shoulder.

Buffy released her sister from the bone crushing hug, and turned back toward the kitchen chattering as she went.

"Thanks Dawn... you remembered... I love Beef Stroganoff."


Dinner was never the most comfortable of situations in the Summers home during the past few months since Joyce had died.

Lately there had been all sorts of major crisis cropping up all over the place, and none of them were comfortable for those involved to talk about.

However, having two Buffy Summers as the same table, both vying for the last of the sour cream, beefy sauce, and noodles had elevated 'uncomfortable' to whole new levels of meaning.

The meal had largely been quite, except for the clatter of silverware, and the sounds of two Slayers masticating like eating machines... and the non verbal grunts of approval that the creator of the meal was receiving.

The newly arrived Buffy was the one that broke the quietude.

"Good job, sweet-...errr.. Xander. Once more I bow before your culinary skills.Though from what it sounds like... this is the first time you cooked for me here."

Her twin shot her a glare, then added.

"Yeah...Dee-lish, Xander... Thanks for cooking. I haven't had that in a long time. Interested in taking up cooking for us on a regular basis?"

Xander looked back and forth between the two Slayers.

"Ummm, actually... I was going to t-"

Dawn however interrupted him, "You know... I don't think we've had that since... well... since we spent the summer with Dad in L.A.


Both Slayers faces lost their smile and they looked back down at their plates.

Once more, they spoke as one.

"Yeah, I think you're right, Dawn... I wonder how he is."

Another uncomfortable silence descended, one punctuated by an abiding sadness that seemed to radiate from the two Slayers.

Dawn looked abashed , but then cleared her throat and started getting up from the table, collecting her plate and utensils, and those that Willow had used.

Seeing the opportunity, Willow commented, "So, ummm.. I'm thinking that maybe we should go over to the Magic Box... A 'fun' and 'exciting' Friday night full of research might be just the thing to...ummm... take the edge off... after dinner.", Willow paused, realizing how unconvincing she was sounding, "...what do you guys think?"

Xander nodded as he helped Dawn, carrying some of the dirty plates, and dishes.

"Sounds like a good idea, Wills. I think we can fit everyone in my car...If we put three people in the back seat, that is."

"Shotgun!", Dawn added.

The double glared at the girl.

Xander and Dawn exited the room, arms laden with plates.

Willow looked at the two Buffy's and commented quietly.

"What is it with you two?"

Buffy looked at her double and then back to Willow.

"She was doing things in my kitchen... with Xander", she narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

"And you were trying to cover for them... What's with you, Willow?"

Willow blushed and the double looked smug.

Buffy hissed, "I didn't figure it out when I went in the first time... Xander distracted me with food, but I figured it out during the meal."

Her double raised an eyebrow, and Buffy responded cattily, "I noticed that you weren't wearing your bra anymore. Where'd you hide it? The breadbox?"

The double blushed and replied in a harsh whisper, "So what? We had an argument, and we were making up... and I'm engaged to him so..."

"So?... so?...So, This is my house! And... and ... I'm still getting used to the whole idea of another me... let alone another me that's got the hots for Xander."

"Hey!, it's my house too... in fact... if Willow is right... then I lived here first... so I have the bigger claim."

Buffy growled back, "Look! He's not 'your' Xander... Maybe you two were a 'thing' in 'your' past, but it occurred to me upstairs... this isn't 'your' future... this is my present... And things aren't quite the same-"

Dawn walked back in, looking back and forth between the two Buffy's.who both stopped talking and were glaring at each other.

She asked, "Hey! Are you two arguing?"

She smiled happily.

"This is so cool... I knew that no one could get along with you...

not even yourself. Can I watch?"

Both Slayers turned on their younger sister, speaking as one.

"Shut up, Dawn!"

Willow hurriedly pointed at the door to the kitchen, jabbing her finger repeatedly toward it to get the attention of the dual Slayers.

Xander came back into the dining room with a collection of plates and a circular cake done in beautiful swirls of white, teal and pink.

Both of the Buffy's perked up at the sight of the confection and smiled at him.

"Ooo, Sweets! Me first, me!"

Xander set the cake down, looking between the two women, trying to decide what to do.

"Ummm, how about I just cut it and let you take whatever piece...or if dinner was any indication... pieces you want, huh?"

Willow looked at the cake oddly and asked the question that nagged at her about it as Xander carved it into fairly equal slices.

"Ummm, Xander... you sorta rushed over here... Does Sunnydale have a new high speed bakery type place or something you stopped at?"

Xander had already snagged a piece of the cake and was digging into it with a vengeance, but he shook his head by way of response.

"Nope...", he gestured at the cake with his fork, "Man, this is good cake."

The two Buffys also had plates in front of them and were also digging in, having already passed additional plates to both Dawn and Willow.

Willow looked at her cake suspiciously and asked, "So... ummm this is a pretty fancy pastry... did you just have it laying around the house gathering dust or something?"

Again Xander shook his head and answered between bites of the light cake and sweet buttercream frosting, "No..."

Buffy interrupted him, "Oh... you're right Xander, this is great... feel free to leave any extra you have. Cake is always a welcome guest at the Summers home... though I can't guarantee that it will have a long stay."

Dawn nodded energetic approval.

Xander took a drink of milk and finished his statement, "Thanks guys, I'll bring a bunch over tomorrow along with some other food I have too much of..., I have lots of this left...", he said between bites of cake, "We had two whole cakes for the wedding... and even though one was totaled in the fight... the other was gigantic.. and still out in the catering van... and therefore...okay. A friend of mine... he works on our crew... his brother runs the caterer we used...and he rescued like a ton of food from the wedding... and was keeping it in his freezer for me...till I showed back up...Then he dropped it off at my apartment a couple days ago... I just grabbed this part and brought it along. You should try it, Willow, it's really good."

Buffy stopped eating and then both her and Willow looked at the cake with a vaguely sick horror.

Dawn just kept eating...she knew better than to let cake go to waste over sentimentality.

Willow asked the question, "We're eating a cake from... your wedding... the wedding that died a fiery horrible death?"

The Buffy double however surprised both the witch and Slayer.

They watched as the surprised look on the double's face quickly changed to a self satisfied smirk and she popped a piece of cake into her mouth, seeming to savor it's taste all the more after hearing the news.

"He's right guys,", she turned and smiled at Xander, "You're absolutely right, dea... Xander... can't let a perfectly good baked good go to waste... especially one as...tasty... as this one is. It's chock full of Cake-a-licious irony."

Xander nodded and commented, "So, we go to the Magic Box first, followed by much research... great...sounds like a wild and unpartylike night in store for us.", he held up a finger as though emphasizing a point, "One question though... I don't seem to recall any time travel demons... or spells, or magical whozits the last time I looked for one....I seem to remember that we tried looking into that when Buffy died... Sure, plenty of 'tell the future' sort of things... but no actual 'move someone into the past or future' stuff. Any idea where we start?"

Willow nodded, pushing away her uneaten slice of cake.

"I think we'll worry about the second Buffy after we do research into something that I think is more important to us right now."

Xander swallowed another bite of cake and queried, "Huh?"

Buffy poked him with her finger.

"I think she mean you, Xander.", she gestured to her double and continued, "Okay, I admit... this other 'me' thing is annoying, but if she came here somehow... then it's probably one of the geeksome Trio that's responsible ...which means that if they have a way to bring her here.. than they will probably have a way to send her back. Till then... we just play like 'Olson twins' till we track down them down."

The double held up her hand.

"Uhh, hello... not getting and of this here. Anyone care to fill me in?"

Willow turned to the second Slayer and replied, "Oh... sorry... three bad guys... Warren, Jonathon... and... ummm... anyway... they've been trying all sorts of things to hurt Buffy. They're the ones we think brought you here."

The double seemed to ponder this statement for a second, then replied, "Warren... the guy that made the Buffy bot... right?... and Jonathon... from high school?"

Willow nodded.

The double turned to look at Buffy and asked, "You're kidding me, right? We're not even being pestered by demons and stuff anymore... we've been downgraded to being attacked by a pack of geeks? You've got to be kidding me."

Buffy sighed, "I know... it's stupid... but they have been making real pests of themselves... summoning demons... poisoning me...

bending the space time continuum and sending annoying duplicates of me here...that sort of thing."

The double narrowed her eyes in annoyance, but Buffy just shook her head and continued.

"But right now, since it doesn't look like the world is ending as a result of us both being here at the same time, I think that whatever is happening to Xander takes precedence... so..."

She looked over at Xander who had finished his slice of cake and was boxing up the leftover slices for storage.

In a commanding tone, she said, "So...let's get going... I think that we need to see if we can figure out what's going on with him... and the best place I can think of for that is the Magic Box."

Willow nodded, but Xander looked back and forth between the two blondes.

"Hey, don't worry about me... I've got a handle on it... in fact... I feel great."

Buffy looked at him dubiously and replied, "Xander... do you typically punch people... okay... let me rephrase that... punch vampires... hard enough to break their ribs... or act like you're playing lawn darts with them...using them as the darts... on a regular basis?"

She held up the wrench that they'd demanded he show them after telling them about the incident in his car.

Buffy pointed at the tool with her free hand and commented, "I won't even talk about this... other than to say that I don't think that you normally squeeze steel into nice new ergo metric shapes with your bare hands as a general rule, Xander.

Xander smiled and shrugged in embarrassment..

"Okay, so it's a little hellmouthily freaksome... but really...where's the bad? I'll be a lot more handy to have around if you have a jar with a really tight lid... or if you need someone to thumb wrestle Beelzebub."

"Look, Xander... you...'blurred' in the living room... and there was this bangy sound when you hit Spike... this is not typical Xanderlike behavior. We need to figure out what's going on with you... what's causing it... and how to make it stop before you get hurt."

Her brow knit in suspicion suddenly and she turned a stern look on him.

"You haven't been doing any more spells have you? I thought that after last time you'd learned your-"

Xander emphatically shook his head and waved his hands to stop her..

"No!... no way, Buffster. Giles and me had that nice long talk about that if you remember. The one where he brought out anatomy charts to show me what he'd do if I messed around with things like that again... I'm clean and clear as far as the spellage goes."

Xander looked at them and tried smiling reassuringly while crossing his heart.

"Besides... maybe its nothing bad... and we don't have to do anything about it... Honestly... ummm,I sort of like the idea... I mean I've been Mr. No power guy for a long time, while you all have been all Powerpuffy. Hey... hey... here's an idea... maybe after all the bad luck... the hell mouth is working in my favor this once. Huh? Huh? Whatdayathink?"

The level stares he received in reply answered his question for him.

"Okay, fine... it was reaching... I admit it... Fine... well then... I guess we should get going....the Xandermobile awaits... just no snacks in the car please... I just had it detailed.... Dawn."

Xander picked up the remaining pieces of cake in its box, and headed toward the kitchen with dirty plate in hand.

Willow looked at her untouched piece and sighed.


The ride to the Magic Box interesting experience for Willow.

After a bit of an argument between Dawn and Buffy's double, Willow found herself sandwiched in between the two blondes in the back seat while Dawn sat in the front with Xander, playing with the car stereo, and played her new Nelly Furtado cd.

The sugary sweet pop music only served to further irritate the already irritable Slayers.

The ride progressed with glacial slowness for her from there.


Outside, the rain was pouring down... and brief flashes of lightning punctuated the progress of the storm as it drenched the town.

Through it all, and especially through one of Sunnydale's many graveyards, a vampire walked..

And he was upset.

Spike's evening had started out well enough he'd thought... only in the end it exploded right in his face like a cartoon cigar.

He stepped out of the storm into his crypt and slammed the door behind him angrily.

Unfortunately, he applied a bit too much force, and all he accomplished was making the metal door strike its frame, and bounce back, ringing with an almost bell-like tone for a moment, while it swung back open behind him, letting the chilly night air blow throughout the tomb.

However, he didn't seem to care as he stripped off his black leather coat, wadded it up into a soaking wet ball, and hurled it across the main chamber to impact the wall with a squish, all the while shouting incoherently as the rain outside made a pattering sound on the window panes.

He stomped his way toward the television and recliner combo he'd set up in the crypt and sat down... fully intent on forgetting the events of the evening for a time, and drowning his sorrows in a good episode of Passions.

He smiled... thinking that at least he still had this one, small pleasure to look forward to.

Spike hit the rewind button on the VCR remote... and listened as the device proceeded to make loud ratcheting sounds.

His smile disappeared completely when the device, rather dramatically, spit out one inch long pieces of video tape in his face when he leaned forward

"Ahh...Right!", he said, getting to his feet and backing away from the storm of video tape confetti.

"That's it... do you hear me?", he howled at the ceiling of the crypt.

"THAT... is... bloody...well...IT!", he shouted, kicking wildly at the fixtures of the crypt, culminating with him seizing a sarcophagus slab and hurling it to see it shatter against the wall.

"I'm done... I'm bloody well through taking this abuse!...Enough!... enough, do you hear me?! I've had e-bloody-nough."

With a savage yell, he charged the TV stand and grabbed the VCR from its resting place.

It made a final pathetic pinging noise and smoke began to rise from its corpse as it finally gave up the ghost and caught on fire.

In a rage, he ripped the cables out from the rear of the machine, ran blindly across the room, and tossed the burning hunk of plastic and metal out the doorway to his. crypt, into the night rain with an animalistic yell.

It bounced several times, scattering pieces of itself over the manicured grounds, finally coming to rest in a heap, and hissing as the fire inside of it went out.

Spike shouted out the doorway into the night, "Do you hear that Sunnydale? William the Bloody... has had enough...You bloody well win... do you hear me?!"

He slammed the door on the outside world again and started making his way toward the bombed out hole in the ground that that he laughingly called home with a slump to his shoulders.

As he climbed down the ladder he'd built. He sighed in disgust, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger while standing in the earthen walled tunnel.

"I can't believe this... what else could go wrong?"

He heard a soft sound as a few pieces of rubble shifted behind him in the dark.

He turned in the direction of the sound and saw a figure in the shadows as it watched him. It sat on a large stone that he hadn't taken the time to remove.

He sniffed the air and groaned.

"Oh... this is bloody grand, init...What the hell are you doing here? Come by to gloat now, aye? Get the girl... and that isn't enough for you... you have to come here and rub my nose in it?"

Alexander detached himself from the darkness he'd sat in, his leather softly gleaming in the glow of the light bulbs suspended from the ceiling.

Spike turned away and started walking down the short tunnel toward his chamber.

"Well, you can bloody well get out, do you hear me? You can keep the bitch for all I care... she's more bloody trouble than she's worth. After tonight, I'm leaving."

Alexander smiled fondly, "Ahhh, Spike... God... I love you, man.

You're always so consistent."

Spike turned back around and saw that 'Xander' had followed him into his lair.

"Are you bloody deaf? I said, get the hell out!"

"Or what Spike? Going to bore me to death making me watch you try and attack me... and then have to offer you an aspirin for your headaches?"

Spike growled and his features shifted into his demonic face.

"If I could...I'd bloody well do a hell of a lot more than that, wanker... she was mine do you hear me...mine... I owned her... body and bloody soul... A little manipulation, a few insinuations that she wasn't human anymore... and she just gave it up... she just didn't know it yet... but given a little more time... she'd be with me right now... If I could I'd... I'd..."

Alexander stepped closer, his eyes gleaming darkly in the subterranean light.

"You'd 'nothing', Spike... You're pathetic... do you know that?...

pathetic." Alexander flicked his finger at Spike's head, stinging him.

Spike growled and tried to charge him, but fell clutching his head as blinding pain incapacitated him.

"See...You're not even a threat to anyone anymore... You've been fixed... fixed by the good old U S of A's military technology. Rather poetic don't you think? You came to Sunnydale to fix up Drusilla... and you got fixed up instead... fixed, but good."

Alexander stalked his way around the chamber slowly, picking up a piece of burned wood here, a ripped photo there, and generally poking and prodding through the remains for Spike's 'nest' while the vampire got back on his feet.

Spike just watched him this time, his anger boiling over.

His voice was tight with emotion, nearly tearfully tight "Get...

the... bloody hell... out, Xander!", the words were hissed out with difficulty.

Alexander turned back to look at the vampire with amusement twinkling in his eyes.

"Sure thing, Spike... oh...wait... I've an idea...why don't you just make me leave? Surely you can do that can't you?"

Spike stood there mutely, his chest heaving.

"I said-"

Alexander waved him off.

"Yes, yes, I know, I know...'get out'... God, how this must drive you mad... castrated to the point that you can't even make someone leave your own crypt."

He walked up to the vampire, nearly going nose to nose with him...

his smile never deviating in the slightest from its cheerful glare.

"Poor Spike...", he said, patting the vampire on the side of his face with his glove clad hand, "... you can't even use all that strength of yours against someone that's just standing around mocking you... God! I can only imagine how hard that must be for you.. knowing what you used to do to people... the things that earned you your nickname."

Alexander hopped back in a blur, chuckling.

The gloved hand now held a wooden stake, one whose point hovered inches away from Spike's heart. He'd never even seen it drawn... it was just there.

Spike froze.

He found that his eyes were now locked tightly to the point of the wooden death that 'Xander' held pointed at him.

"You know, Spike...", Alexander said in a conversational tone of voice, "When I was growing up... we had this neighbor... and, well... she had a cat, you see... The poor thing... It was about eighteen years teeth, could barely move on its own... and it just made this agonized...plaintive mewing sound all the time. "

Alexander took a step forward, bringing the tip of the stake into contact with the vampire's chest.

Spike took a step back, his eyes widening, noting the mad gleem in 'Xander's' eyes, a gleam like the edge of a razorblade.

Alexander's smile shimmered wetly in the half light as he gestured offhandedly with his free hand, the stake never wavering in it's aim.

"You see, Spike...its body was riddled with all sorts of cysts and growths... it had terrible... painful arthritis, and its fur was all patchy and ragged looking where it had licked all the way down to the skin, leaving all sorts of little scabby patches on it's body that never healed properly...Basically... all the joys it had once lived for... were gone...It couldn't run... it couldn't stalk... it couldn't even get itself to a litterbox sometimes. However its owner really loved that cat... and it was forced to keep living because of that... to keep breathing because its owner kept taking it to the vet, and feeding it canned cat food that she'd put in her blender with water so that it lap it up. The poor thing wasn't living... it was just 'existing'....existing from day to day in its own private hell... The poor... poor thing... every moment for that cat was pain... from the moment it awoke in the moment... till the moment it fell asleep. At night, I'd occasionally think about it... and wonder if it longed for death... for a release from it's pain... do you know what I mean, Spike? "

Spike looked up into the eyes of the man who stood in front of him and for the first time in a long... long while, he felt the metallic tang of fear in his mouth.

"I knew what the cat wanted...and I'm really sort of ashamed about this... but I never did anything... no matter how bad I felt for that poor cat... I could never bring myself to help take away it's pain for it... You see, Spike... I love animals... they're so honest...

they never betray you... they're just ...animals... but as a kid, I was more afraid of what might happen to me if I killed that cat...

then about how much suffering that cat was going through... because someone thought they loved it... So, in the end...the cat finally took matters into it's own hands... or paws might be more accurate... and it wandered out into the street one day, and got hit by a car."

Alexander nodded to Spike, seeing that he had the vampire's attention now.

"When I heard about it... I didn't' cry... do you know why?", he paused and locked gazes with the vampire, "It's because... I knew... I knew that the cat knew what it was doing, Spike. It knew that it just couldn't bare the pain of existing... that it couldn't bare to keep living when everything it used to enjoy, and loved, and strived for.... when all of that was taken away from it... leaving only this ugly, sick...sad little bag of fur and bones where a sleek, graceful hunter once prowled."

Spike, looked back down at the stake against his chest.

Xander had taken another step forward, pushing the point painfully into the vampire's skin.

"It makes sense doesn't it, Spike? I'm certain that when that cat wandered out into that street, that it knew what it was doing...

because it just couldn't go on like it was... That when everything that made it a predator... all of its pride... and all of its joys... were gone... it didn't have anything left to live for."

Spike shuddered fearfully, and tried to back away from the man in front of him, but found that there was no more room to retreat, the earthen wall behind him had reached it's end.

Spike considered his options, and saw that there were few.

There was no way he'd likely be able to knock the stake away before it found his heart if he tried to go for the brute force method. And his instinct told him that if he tried calling 'Xander's' 'bluff' and dared him to stake him or stop the bloody games that he'd probably not like the end result. .

A look into the man's eyes told him that this would be the wrong time take a risk like that, so he opted for his least commonly used option.

"Look, mate... d-don't do this...It-it was her bloody choice, right?... No one forced her to... She didn't tell you that I-I forced her did she? If she did... she's bloody lying... I swear..."

He started to hold up his hands, and the sudden increase in pressure from the tip of the stake made him lower them slowly.

"Look, Xander...I knew you loved her... I could tell.. I mean...

come on, mate,... we-we're birds of a bloody feather that way."

He felt the tip of the stake pressing more firmly against his chest, perhaps even puncturing the skin, and his voice rose a notch in hysteria.

"... Don't do this, man.. We've been through a lot...I.. I saved your life a few time.... right?... that's gotta count for something."

Alexander tsked at him, still smiling.

"Spike, Spike, Spike, come on now... do you want to be like that cat?... I know you... I know what you really want."

The tip of the stake retreated just enough to trail lazy circles on his chest.

"You want to hunt... and kill.... and eat your little 'happy meals on legs'... don't you? Come on, Spike... be honest... you couldn't be satisfied staying like this for the rest of your life, could you?"

Spike felt his back pressed firmly against the soil, and his hands digging into the moist earth, but his eyes were now firmly held by the darkly shining orbs that gazed back at him like smoky mirrors.

"I'm a changed man I-"

Alexander put a finger to his lips and made a 'shhh' sound, silencing the vampire in mid word.

"Don't lie to me, Spike. I know you.... So, my friend... it's time to say goodbye... time face your fate."

"Oh bloody hell, Xander... don't do this."

Spike's voice jittered and he closed his eyes.

He heard the rustle of the leathers Alexander was wearing, and could imagine the stake being drawn back in preparation, and he took a deep breath... believing it to be his last on the earth.

That's when he felt something cool being pressed to his forehead.

"Open your eyes, Spike. I want you to watch this. It'll be a once in a lifetime experience I think."

Spike opened his eyes, shaking fearfully, feeling fate rushing down on him like a locomotive.

He'd known what he'd see... he knew that the stake was no longer in 'Xander's' hand, and that he'd be looking down the length of 'Xander's' arm.

And just as expected...Xander's hand was most definitely not empty, and the muzzle of a pistol was now resting firmly against the center of Spike's forehead.

A refrain kept repeating itself in his head.

"Only two sure ways to kill a vampire... a stake through the heart... or beheading."

He knew that if the bullet in the pistol was the right kind, that beheading wasn't going to be needed, they'd need a pressure washer to clean him off the wall if he wasn't going to end up as dust in the end anyway.

He'd heard about how Xander had still retained some of his soldier self from the Halloween a few years earlier... he knew that the man would know exactly what kind of round did the most damage and how to get ahold of it. After all, he'd conjured up that bloody anti tank weapon out of nowhere to use on the judge.

As though in a dream, he heard the words still being spoken to him.

"I couldn't help that cat, Spike. But I know that I can help you...I can't bear to see you suffering like this... So I'm going to help you... even if you can't help yourself.'s time to say 'goodbye'... old friend."

He heard a strange sound, a sound like a camera flash bulb recharging... and then came the flash... and suddenly... everything was silent... everything went away... and his whole universe became a vast plain and sky of perfect white stretching to infinity... and for a moment... there was peace...


Until the darkness finally claimed him.

Chapter 7
Seven shells

The small brass bell that hung above the inside of the Magic Box's door jingled forlornly in the darkness, making the silence that the five Scoobies walked into all the more poignant.

All the lights had been turned off inside the shop, and even the little display counter lights that were normally left on to cast a little illumination throughout the night were dark.

Outside, the awning lamps that normally illuminated the name of the storefront were lifeless as well, creating a desolate look to the building.

As the friends entered the shop, they paused as a nearly tangible aura washed over them.

Even though everything still seemed to be in its proper place...the store felt deserted...empty.


The heart of the Magic Box was missing, and it was easy to see by the way the group held themselves and shuffled in, that they all felt her absence.

Xander sighed quietly as the dark loneliness of the building reflected his own feelings perfectly.

Willow laid a hand on his arm in a gesture of comfort, and gently brushed past him to enter the main room.

She took a few moments to flick on several of the light switches near the door, filling the rear of the store with a soft yellow white glow, before making her way toward the phone behind the counter.

When Giles had had the building renovated initially, he'd opted for a mix of both florescent, and incandescent lights throughout the store. The former, for their efficiency in providing a cheap, clean, source of light, even if it was cold and harsh at times... and the later for their warmth and the way they leant a certain atmosphere to the store.

Willow took care to only turn on the incandescents, she knew that they needed all the warmth they could get.

Giles had long said that if they were going to have to do their research in the store, that they needed the soft light that the bulbs would provide. The lights would lend a little psychological comfort and soften the edge on what they were looking into. As usual, he'd been right. The softer glow always had a calming effect on the group when they found themselves knee deep in occult mysteries.

Willow cleared her throat and announced, "I'm going to call Tara and see if she'll come give us a hand. The more researchers, the merrier, ya know."

She looked at her friends and asked hesitantly, "Do you think I should call Giles to let him know what's... ummm... going on?"

Xander replied, "Sure, it's eight-ish here, so that would make it about two-ish in the morning there, prime G-man annoyance hour."

Everyone looked at Xander.

"Sarcasm folks... we'll wait till midnight or eleven o'clock before we call. That way he's not Mister cranky British guy... Oh wait...he's...", Xander noticed the bored looks they were giving him, already anticipating his next comment, "... Okay just insert predictable insult here... fine... nevermind."

Willow nodded in satisfaction, then smiled and added, "Well, I for one, can't wait to tell him about two Buffys...He'll be all 'how very extraordinary' and stuff... But I suppose you're right...we'll wait."

Willow picked up the phone and dialed her girlfriend.

The others started gathering around the circular table near the occult library where they usually did their most intense research when she returned from the phone.

Already, everyone was throwing out ideas of where to start their research.

Buffy Anne was already taking when Willow walked back from the phone.

"Well, I think the Gharn' fragments might be a good place to lists all sorts of things that happened to people exposed to too much black magic."

This elicited a series of blinks from her twin, followed by a long, surprised, look from everyone gathered at the table.

Xander looked to be considering her comment after a moment though.

Everyone else however kept looking at the double as thought they expected her to sprout a second head.

After a moment she held out her arms and queried them with a heavy note of annoyance in her voice, "What?! did I say something wrong? It sounds like a good place to start. Besides, it's not like you all've offered anything."

Dawn piped in finally, "Ummm, I think we're all just a little surprised that you made a suggestion like that... Usually you.. errr Buffy... just... umm... you know...charges in and does the slaying part of it is all... not the research type stuff."

Buffy shot her sister a dirty look.

"I do too help...with the research... occasionally. I've... well... I've just not been in such a researchy mood lately... that and most of the books are in foreign languages anyway."

Xander however ignored the comments as he turned to Anne and nodded.

"That's a good suggestion... But, I think that the Gharn' fragments might not be the right place to look, though I could be wrong...Those focused on pre Babylonian sorcerers and their attempts to gain magic powers though sacrifices... and last time I checked, I hadn't been going around killing a bunch of virgins and offering their hearts up to Druaga."

The double stuck her tongue out at him but smiled playfully.

Willow cleared her throat, trying to get everyone's attention.

"Ummmm, before we all go frolicking off into the wonders of books-

ville... don't you guys think that we might want to gather some clues first... All Scooby gang style, and figure out what's going on? We're still not sure what exactly we're looking for, ya know."

Buffy replied, "I always thought that our particular Scooby style was to just fail around blindly and hope for the best."

Willow smiled.

"Well... that it generally the way we've done things...true... But I'm thinking more along the lines of a more Nancy Drew sort of Scooby style these days."

Xander nodded agreement.

"Call me kooky, but I think Willow's on to something there."

Willow smiled at him.

"Good, we'll start testing you. We'll do it the scientific way."

Xander looked worried suddenly and asked, "Test me? Hey... no-one said anything about testing. I mean... I haven't studied for it...

what if I get answers wrong? Hey! I'm not liking this already... I mean in high school... no big deal... fail a test... do a make up one. Will there be make up tests on this? Oh, and first off, let's lay some ground rules, no essay questions... no multiple choice with 'choose the _best_ answer... and no. absolutely no biopsies, oh.... and I like my bodily fluids right where they are, thank you."

Willow rolled her eyes and responded, "Don't be silly, Xander, I mean we'll just be gathering info about what's happening to you...

Biopsies come later."

Seeing the worried look he suddenly gave her she winked at him with a "gotcha" painted clearly on her smile.

Xander huffed a little but sat back a little more relaxed, "So, what do you mean then?"

Willow looked contemplative for a moment before replying, "Well...

How about I just ask some questions, we'll see if it's affecting you more than just physically... you did mention some changes there too... I think we'd better focus on that first."

Xander nodded.

"Okay, psychoanalyze away, Willow. Just one I have to look at any of those Horshack spot things?"

"I think you mean Rorschach blots... no I think we can forego looking at ink blots for now."

"Whew... that's good... I hear they show all sorts of repressed sexual things...and I, for one, don't think that we need to go there right now."

Willow took picked up a pen and a pad of paper, and sat up a little straighter in her chair, wrapping herself in a pseudo-official air.

"Very well, let's get started... we saw back at Buffy's... you've gotten a lot stronger, at least part of the time... and... occasionally...ummm...blurry... Any idea when this started?"

Xander leaned forward in his chair and rested his face on one hand with his elbow on the table with a relaxed air.

"Ummm, let's see...Well... like I said... I guess I only...sorta... started noticing the really weird stuff... ummm... I guess it was back when you and Anya let that troll...Olaf...out of that crystal. Before then, it's hard to say."

Willow looked at him intrigued by his reply... losing interest in the paper and notes for a moment.

Her brow knitted as she asked, "What do you mean? You didn't look all super-powery or anything when he was throwing you all over the store. I was there... I think I'd have remembered it if you had. And besides... it was Anya messing up my spell that let him get loose anyway... otherwise-"

Xander scratched the back of his head and gave her his lopsided grin.

"Well, ummm... yeah... I know... it wasn't what I'd personally pick for an example of one of my finer moments... many bruises...

concussions...and a broken wrist, and that was just for starters.

But, there was something weird that happened... I didn't think about it at the time...but later that night... Ummm, ya see... I remembered that when I charged him... you remember that big metal mallet thing of his?"

Willow nodded, and the Buffy cocked her head to one side in curiosity and then nodded.

"Yeah, the one I used on our least favorite Fashion-victim, slash, Goddess wannabe."

"Yep...Well, when I charged him, ol' tall dark and Trollsome, kinda smacked me on the back of the head with it a couple times... really hard. Now, I didn't think too much about it at the time, since afterwards I was pretty glad just to still be alive and all that, but I sort of wondered... why didn't it kill me right there?"

Willow blinked.

Xander however, continued, not noticing the expression of shocked comprehension appearing on her face.

"I mean look at the physics involved... Solid iron mallet... and it wasn't small... a cubic foot and a half of iron at troll strength to back it up. All versus the skull of a fairly normal guy...mine precisely. The way I see it... that's kind of an uneven match up if you ask me... and all I ended up with was a bit of a didn't even knock me out."

Willow nodded numbly, clearly still a little stunned by the thought of how her friend had somehow avoided being killed right in front of her. She also felt a deep shame with herself for not having realized how close it had been before.

"... you're... I mean ... y-yeah!... if you put it like's ... well you're right... It should have been like..

like hitting an egg with a meat tenderizer... Ewww... bad mental image... But-but... I mean... he still did break your arm afterwards, Xander."

Xander winced in remembered pain.

"As I said... not one of my more 'stellar' performances."

The double piped up, "Stop that, Xander! ... you were very brave, and you should be proud of yourself. Even when he threatened your friends, and your life, you stood up to him. I know I didn't really show it then...and I probably didn't tell you it here, later...", she shot Buffy a glare then looked back to him, "...But, I was very proud of you."

Xander blinked a couple times in surprise, an odd looking, almost dreamy, smile appearing on his face.

"T-thanks, Buffy...", his voice trailed off slightly, as though testing the words uncertainly.

Buffy's brow scrunched down a bit and she shot her double a dark look of annoyance and anger.

Willow seemed to recover herself after a moment, and started writing the information down in the pad while asking the next question.

"So... ummm, if that was the first time that it was really noticeable... what other effects have you been experiencing...

anything less... obvious?"

Xander took a few moments to consider the question before answering.

"Well... I guess... thinking back...I guess that maybe it helped me get promoted at work, maybe."

Buffy asked, "What do you mean? Oh... and ummm by the way... I was meaning to talk to you in private later... if you don't mind...

Double meat palace is....'work'... but... well..."

The double looked at Buffy in shock then back at Xander with heat in her eyes, suddenly going from proud to angry.

She looked back at Buffy, and asked, "What?!... you're working at... at a fast food place?... as in 'would you like fries with that?' fast food?"

Buffy recoiled in surprise, but struck back defensively, "Yeah...

and what of it?... Money is money... and I have to do something to put food on the-"

Anne however had turned away from her and started glaring at Xander with murder in her eyes.

"Xander... you'd better have a goddamned good explanation. What happened to my job with Wallstone H.?"

Willow cleared her throat again, trying to interrupt a particularly upset Slayer.

The double however shot her a dangerous glare and replied, "What!?, Can't you see I'm busy here... I just found out I'm working...", she made a distasteful face, "...minimum wage probably...and I want to find out what happened to my job."

Willow replied with a hesitant voice, "I-I'm sure that we'll figure that out... later... but for now, don't you think we should... foc-

...ummm... focus... on Xander's problem."

"Problem?.. Problem?!...His problem is that he's got one _very_ upset me about to kick hi-"

"I think she meant, the 'other' problem, Anne. As in the one that makes him go all blurry, and break vampire bones.", Buffy interjected.

The double sat back in a huffy with arms folded, still shooting glares at Xander.

"Fine...But, I want an explanation later, Xander."

Buffy looked like she was about to speak to Xander, but paused and turned back to her double and asked, "Ummm by the way...

What's 'Wallstone H'?"

Anne looked at her, then back at Xander before replying, "Wallstone & Halliwell... the accounting firm that Dalebridge construction uses."

Seeing the blank look she got back from her twin, she rolled her eyes and continued, "Dalebridge... the people that run the crew that Xander oversees."

Buffy blinked several times, then asked, "A-and you ... work for them? Doing what?"

Anne smiled proudly, "I'm in accounts and materials ordering...

After mom...", she trailed off for a moment, lost in her thoughts, but then picked right back up a moment later, "uhhh... well... I needed something take care of me and Dawn... and Xander...

he saw that I needed something to make money...and something to focus on so that I... I could channel some energy... and the take home pay is...Hey... no sidetracking...", she shot Xander another glare, "Lets just say that the pay has go to be a hell of a lot better than flipping burgers."

Willow pulled her eyes away from the upset double and focused back on Xander.

"Ummm, okay... so, Xander, what do you mean 'promoted'?"

Xander looked nervously at the double, then back at Willow.

"I-I guess I mean... well... you know... how I never was really any good at math in high school?"

Willow nodded, "Yeah, I can't even remember how many times I taught you the same things over and over ... and _over_ again till I wanted to tear my h-"

"Okay, okay... point made, Will... Well, somehow or another, I've gotten pretty good at it lately... and that helped make the carpentry a lot easier... Oh... and that's another thing... where did that come from, huh?"

Buffy frowned and replied, "Not following, Xand-man."

He gestured widely with his arms as he spoke, "I mean... I didn't think too much of it at first... just figured I had the knack...that sort of thing."

He paused and sighed dropping his arms.

"But a couple months ago... I guess that's when I realized that something about it didn't make a lot of sense. Ummm... one of the master carpenters asked me for some help on a project... and I solved it in like two minutes flat."

The girls glanced between each other blankly, and it was Buffy that broke the silence.

"Xander...Sorry... I mean ... I still don't get it... what's the 'big'? Carpentry...I mean... it's like shop class, right? You go around cutting wood and sticking it together. A few nails... some glue and stuff... there ya go."

Xander paused for a moment then continued after seeing not even a flicker of understanding in their eyes.

"Guys, this is a _master carpenter_. Someone that's been doing woodworking for a decade or two longer than I've been alive... and he came to _me_ for help... doesn't that strike anyone as a bit wig-

some, considering I'd only been doing woodwork for like... ohhh... a year or so? Not to mention... I don't even know where I picked up those skills from in the first place... It sure wasn't from sitting around doing anything like that with my father I can tell you... I don't think I'd trust the man with a hammer and a sharp object most of the time. Anyway... I guess I didn't think about it at the time because... well... when I tried it... it was just easy."

Xander shook his head.

"But, a master carpenter is exactly that... a master...Really, it's not even like that ... no, he's more like... well... an artist. He can make just about anything... anything from a intricate little puzzle box, to.... to... well you name it, Buff. And when he's done... it'll be a work of art."

Buffy nodded, giving him a big smile.

"Okay, so... so far we have a 'more power'-ish you, blurry speed, and woodworking skills... Oh... and let's not forget... given the whole musical demon summoning and other things... that it looks like your natural Xanderlike ability to get into trouble without trying seems to have been amplified tenfold."

She paused.

"Okay, I think that I've figured it out... My God, Xander, you've been possessed by the spirit of Tim Allen."

Willow laughed so hard she snorted.

"Ohh... owww...owww, Buffy, don't do that... that hurt!", she giggled again and added, "Ooo Ooo Ooo... More power!"

Xander smirked and replied, "Ahhh, So, you mock my pain with lame TV show references, hmmm? Very well... just know that I shall exact my vengeance, Buffy... Oh yes... I'll make you pay for that, woman."

Buffy waved her hand as though dismissing his threat.

Willow composed herself and wrote down things on her note pad.

"Okay, serious now...Hmmm... anything else that you noticed?"

Xander shrugged.

"No... other than the strength thing... and the thing with hitting Spike today... Which I must add, really made my week... nada."

Willow smiled in reply, then pulled her legs up under her as she sat in the chair and began tapping her pencil against the pad, seemingly thinking hard.

"So, any interesting dreams...", she caught the mischievous look in his eye and hastily amended herself, "dreams _other_ than your typical male type dreams... which I personally do not want to hear about."

Xander gave her a mock-hurt look.

"Party pooper... I had this one where I was this conquistador... and Buf-"

Willow put her hand over his mouth to silence him, but laughed at his expression.

"Ha-ha, Xander... very funny... I don't think that we need to hear that... lets get back to business, okay?"

He nodded and Buffy rolled her eyes, losing interest in the proceedings for the moment as she started toying with a ceremonial dagger.

"Eaten anything odd lately?"

"I work construction, Willow... define odd."

"Ummm... Potions... odd looking fruit... legendary looking ones.... you know... golden apples, glowing peaches... things like that."

"Manuel brought in some of his mother's spiffy hand rolled tamales last week... does that count?"

Seeing the exasperated look that Willow gave him, he answered himself, "Okay... I take that as a 'no'... Okay... no... nothing like that."

"How about being attacked or bitten by any strange anima... oh no.. Xander, tell me that you didn't get possessed by another animal...


Xander seemed to give it some consideration for a moment, letting the tension build.

"Nope... No sudden yen to go out and eat "fresh" pork either... I think I'll just stick to breakfast sausage."

Anne smirked evilly and added, "Hmmm... interesting idea there, Willow... So, Xander, have about any sudden desires to pin a girl to a soda machine while you sniff her and...", she caught the horrified widening of his eyes as he saw her continue.

She smirked and added, "Oh wait... that's right... you 'didn't _remember_' anything you did while you while you were possessed, did you, Xander? How 'forgetful' of me."

Xander looked at her with eyes full of desperate fear, and shook his head slowly indicating 'no'.

Buffy looked between the two, and comprehension dawned in her eyes as she caught the exchange. She shot a look at Xander, one that asked for confirmation or denial. It was a look which he failed to be able to meet.

He'd looked away, shame clear in his eyes.

Buffy looked back at her double, shelving her newfound knowledge about Xander for the moment, and considered.

She was upset, though not nearly as upset as she could have been.

She'd suspected that Xander hadn't been entirely forthcoming about that event, and this was just confirmation.

Buffy realized, in that moment, that her double did indeed know some things that she didn't... things that she suddenly was very curious about.

The look she gave her double clearly showed that she'd decided that when she got a chance to pick Anne's brain, that she was going to want to know what other sorts of secrets her 'Xander shaped friend' had kept from her.

Buffy loved secrets... especially 'juicy ones' when she got to find them out.

Willow once more started tapping her pencil against the pad, deep in thought before she finally sighed in exasperation.

"Okay, how about clairvoyance?"


"Anything moving around on its own?"

"Nuh, uhn."

"How about strange magical artifacts? Run into any?"

"Umm...Nope... sorry... fresh out... Anya took her knickknacks with her... Unless my Bab 5 collectors plates are somehow channeling the power of the Vorlons into me... Hey... that's it... I knew there was a reason I wanted to go around wearing weird armor and giving cryptic answers to everything."

"Come on, Xander... don't make fun... this is serious."

"Fine... go ahead."

"Any spontaneous levitations?"

"I'm cutting back."

"Apparitions?, cold spots?, funny smells?, sleepwalking?"

"No... Nope...Only from my laundry, which reminds me... and no", the last reply was given in a testy tone.

Willow sighed and set her pencil down on the tabletop

"I'm only trying to help, Xander... no need to be all snarky."

Xander sighed in dejection.

"Okay... I know, Willow... you're trying to help and I'm being a pain... really... I'm sorry. Forgive me? It's just that being in here... well... it's uncomfortable... ya know... it sort of reminds...", he trailed off.

Willow nodded sympathetically, understanding that being here reminded Xander of who was missing in their group.

"Fine... Well, I'm not seeing anything so far that's narrowing things down for us... Well I guess we know what's next."

Xander smiled and replied.

"We'll do it in time honored Scooby fashion...We'll consult the books and see what leaps out at us, out of the blue."

Both Buffy's made little "Ehnn?!" sounds of protest, and gave him pleading looks of protest.

"Yeah, Buffsters, you two too."

"Ehnnnnn... don't wanna. Isn't there something we can just go slay instead."

Xander shook his head.

Willow just shifted, looking uncomfortable before replying, "Well... I guess... we can do that... I'll go call Tara again and see if she's back yet."

"Great, I'll get us some books and we'll just dig around and see what we can find."

As he got to his feet he noticed that Willow wore an odd look.

He smiled at her, made a soft fist and brushed her chin with it saying, "Chin up buckaroo... We'll track it down in no time.

Besides, I wanted to look into some of the books that Anya'd got in from the rare books dealer, interesting stuff... if you're really into musty old books full of insane guys all of them hell bent on world ending type things. "

Willow forced a smile and nodded.

Several minutes later, Xander came back with an assortment of large, leather bound, tomes which he held like a waiter stacked in his hand.

"Let's see...", he said looking over the titles "I have an order of watcher diaries...done; medium rare for Dawn.... and lets see... for Buffy, you ordered the French books on Patasieas right?", seeing her nod hesitantly he passed the two blondes a small stack of four books.

"... and for Willow... I've have an entré' of ancient Latin seer manuscripts with a side order of Aramiac sorcerers dialetics... and an ancient Roman Caesar salad... enjoy ,Madame."

Willow gave him an unenthusiastic sigh.

Seeing her response, he narrowed his eyes in concern after setting his own, largish, stack of books down.

"Hey, what's wrong, Wills? Tara not there?"

Willow perked up a moment as she looked up from the books in front of her, but then slipped back into fidgeting.

"Huh?... oh... no... ummm... no... I mean yes... she was there...

Actually, she just got back... but, she said that she'd be right over."

Xander gestured, his body language saying 'tell me more'.

"And you're a happy bucket of fun... because?"

"Ummm well...", she fidgeted nervously, "... it's sorta embarrassing."

Xander blinked and asked, "This from the woman that we know was in a red hot lesbian love affair with a certain blonde witch who's name rhymes with Sara... Spill, Will... what's got you all 'hesitant Henry' on us?"

"XANDER!.... It was _not_ 'red hot'...", Willow said with a bright blush covering her face, she nodded toward Dawn who's focus had suddenly narrowed to pinpoint concentration. Willow continued a moment later, "It was... maybe... 'hottish'..."

She immediately caught the teasing look that Xander shot her way, and hastily added with a finger wagging in his direction, "But nothing weird and kinky like you're thinking, Xander... it was...

nice... and sweet... definitely not "_hot_"... it, she... nice."

"Okay... okay... no need to go into babble mode...Still, what had you all quietly depressed-like then?"

"Well... if you must know... it's... it's my translation spell...okay? It ran out ... and since I'm 'no-magic-Willow'..."

Xander and the two Slayers gave her an odd look.

"Translation spell?"

"Yeah... 'translation spell'... it's... well... it's like one of the most important spells you can learn as a witch... It translates what you're trying to read, provided the language is the one the spell's designed for, into a language you can recognize so that you can understand it... How do you think I've been able to read some of those spell books? It's not like Sunny Dale High offered ancient Latin as an elective or anything."

Xander smiled and jokingly replied, "Argh, a curse upon the evil Californian scholastic board... Ahhh, but let us not forget... that without them... we wouldn't have classes on 'ecological awareness' and 'positive self imagery' instead of having to get a real education."

"Well, I'm magic free Willow... So, I guess I'll just have to do this the hard way... Xander, where does Anya keep the big Latin to English dictionary Giles left?"

"I-I think she... she put it in the rolltop desk in the office.", he paused with a sad look on his face, then added, "She was using for a stand for the little zen garden kit I her got last month... she's been working too hard lately... and she needed something to relax with at work... anyway, that's where it was the last time I looked."

Willow nodded and started making her way toward the office.

Xander called after her, "Oh, I think there's a bag of chips and a box of hohos in there... might as well bring them out... might get snacky later."

Willow waved her hand in the air as she walked toward the office, facing away from him but signaling her acknowledgement of his request.

Several minutes later showed a returning Willlow sitting back at the table with her friends, hardbound Latin dictionary in hand, and a collection of snacks now occupying the center of the table.

She looked over the scene and smiled.

Xander was engrossed in a thick tome, turning pages every once in a while.

Dawn, meanwhile was fighting off yawns reading the watcher diaries.

The two Buffys were working together to try and decipher some of the cryptic French documents.

Willow pulled her legs up under herself again as she sat in the large stuffed leather chair and worked at translating her document the old fashioned way; looking up unrecognized words.

Xander meanwhile reached for the bag of chips and started crunching away as he skimmed though his own books, one after the other.

Pages turned.

And turned.

And turned some more.

Forty minutes later, Willow looked up from her book as she heard a snort and a muffled laugh from Xander.

Seeing a chance to break the monotony and drudgery of her task, she asked "I'm getting nowhere here... So, whatcha got there, Xander? Something funny?"

Xander looked up, a smile on his face.

"Oh, nothing... just something I read. This guy is a character."

"But it was funny, yes?"

He nodded in response.

"Oooo... what is it then?... let me see."

He turned the book toward her... and she pulled it toward her, looking at the pages.

The two Buffys, intrigued after hearing the comments, and trying to kill their boredom, got up and started looking over Willow's shoulder as she held the book.

Several minutes went by with Xander looking at them expectantly, a smile on his face as though he waited for them to get what he'd read.

Willow finally looked up from the book and asked the question nagging her.

"Ummm, Xander..."


"What is this?"

She pointed at the page in the book.

"Huh?... Uhhhh... it's a first hand recount of some of the activities of a Slayer in the eighth century, the guy has a real sense of humor describing her, he called her a...", he looked at Dawn and cleared his throat, then looked back at the three young women and continued, "...well... lets just say... he-"

Buffy interrupted him and clarified Willow's comment, "I think what Willow meant to ask, Xander, is... 'what language is this?'"

Xander smiled and replied, "Huh?...Ohhh... that... ummm... Vandalic."

All three women looked at the book again, then back at him.

Buffy broke the silence.

"And you can read this?"

He nodded after a pause.


Buffy looked back at the book, studying the cryptic symbols that seemed to dance oddly on the page in front of her eyes.

"Uh huh....Okay, the envelope please, Willow.... And the winner of the unexpected comment award goes to..."

"Xander!", Willow interjected, "since when can you read... what was it again?"

"Vandalic... Willow... what's the big?... I mean it's not all that hard to read... it's like... well... like a combination of Spanish and... well... old Moroccan... once you know the symbols... it's really easy."

"Oh, and so now, in addition to claiming you can read this gibberish... now you're saying you can read Spanish and...

Moroccan?... Xander, stop fooling around... you barely passed Spanish in High school... I should know... I tutored you...


"Hey! That was high school... I _have_ gotten better, you know"

Willow rolled her eyes.

Xander scowled.

"Hey! I have!"

Willow gave him a wry look full of dubiousness.

"Yeah... right...", she said, her voice tinged with good natured mockery.

"I'm not kidding. Sheesh... what? You think I'm making it up? Hey... I may not be a witch, and I can't fight like Buffy can... but I do have at least _something_ that I can do... I am research guy after all"

"No..., I mean, yes of course you do, Xander, you contribute lots... you...ummm... well, you do...stuff.", she finished lamely.

Seeing his scowl darken she rolled her eyes again.

"Fine, Xander... be that way... I'm just being honest... But if you want to make these sorts of claims then... Okay, Fine...I'm calling your bluff...if you're going to fib and say that you're able to read this..."

Willow turned her own book around and slid it to him.

"Okay... mister smarty-pants-research-guy wanna be... take a look at that... let's see if you can translate your way through that."

Willow sat back with a smug look on her face as Xander picked up the book, his eyes skimming over the pages full of odd looking letters.

Minutes ticked by slowly in silence.

After a short while had passed Willow finally spoke up again, her smirk having deviated not a millimeter.

"Xander.... look, it's okay... I know you want to help... but I know you can't understand that... so, you can give up already... that's a derivative dialect from the ancient form of Etruscan... You know, you really shouldn't make up stories... I thought that you learned that lesson back in grade school with Ms. Holland...if you tell peo-"

"Shhhh... hang on for a minute, Wills...Okay...I see...hmmmm okay... there's the problem...It's a translation from another work...looks like Tsolyái... Okay... I'll just correct the mis-transliterated terms and names... hang on... okay...uhnn huh... uhnnn... there...

got it."

He took a deep breath and started reading.

"It's a recounting of a demonic history... here... 'Thus is written of that which is named Gereshma'a. He of the Mound of Skulls. Be it known that according to the hierophants of the temple of mighty Lord Sarku at Thu'yursa... Umm that's the city that they found off the coast of India a year ago or so... it's dated to about five to seven thousand years B.C.C... so that means that this work here is probably a transliteration and translation from a sorcerer's book brought out of Persia. Surprising how well the transcriber maintained everything here... anyway..., the Northwest Quadrant and the Twelfth circle of the Demon Plane are ruled by Lord Gereshma'a, He of the Mound of skulls, nighted one of the Lonely Tomb, Minion of Lord Origob the Undying, Selector of Those Who Shall Dwell in the Unending Grey, and Princeps of the Legions of the Mantel of Vipers. By these titles is he known,'"

He paused a moment and added, "And as his rune shows... See... that right there..."

Xander turned the book toward the gathered women and pointed to the page, outlining a strange sweeping glyph with his finger.

"...that's him...Or his sigil representation of his being at least... Ugly little spud huh?... anyway,... 'he is of the nature and allegiance of great Lord Sarku, and of His Cohort, Lord Durritlamish. May these Lords dwell forever midst the dusty silence of the tomb, and may they know the eternal poignancy of the existence which comes after life is gone'... blah blah blah... Oooo here we go... 'It is written in The Book of Emanations that Lord Gereshma'a was first evoked by the priests of the Empire of Llyani during the later days of that realm. This may appear strange, as it is well known that most of the Llyani sects adhered to the Doctrines of Imminent Dissonance and were thus unlikely to deal pleasantly with the Thanatophiles and their allies. Lord Gereshma'a dwells, it is written, within a tomb of copper and dark amethyst upon the Plain of Not-Remembering in his own-"

He looked up, wondering why the girls had gone so quiet suddenly.

"....Ummm... there's more."

Anne exploded at him. "Xander!...T-that was-"

"That's impossible!", Willow shouted.

Buffy sat quietly, staring at him.

"Well, I was going to say 'fantastic'... I never knew you could...but-"

Willow snatched the book out of his hands suddenly and started looking at the text, switching back and forth between reading it and looking up words in her dictionary.

Finally, she stopped and looked at him incredulously.

"Alexander Harris...this is some trick of yours, isn't it?...

Well... if you think for one minute that I'm going to believe that you...", her jaw worked soundlessly for a few moments.

Buffy took the moment to chime in, "Xander... Since when can you learn to read that kinda stuff? I mean... you were mister average to low GPA man."

He paused for a moment then replied, "Thanks for bringing my grades up, Buffy... way to build my ego... But, I mean... okay... maybe I didn't get good grades... and maybe I didn't go to college... but it's not like I'm a total idiot... and besides... as to college...

it's not like I had much of a choice there... did I? My parents let me know a long time ago...", he trailed off for a moment, but shook himself and answered her.

"Anyway... Ummmm, I learned it about two years ago...I kinda had to... Giles told me that if I wanted to stay with the group... that I needed to learn to read some of the languages used in some of the more obscure books so that I could keep helping him...Otherwise...

he said...Ummm...", his eyes shifted away.

"Anyways... you know... once you pick up a second language... the rest are supposed to sort of come along pretty easily from what I hear... So, I've picked up a couple here and a couple know... helping out... Anya even helped me with a few of them, she knows lots of 'em."

Again, silence.

"What?!... come on... what's with the staring?"

Willow shook herself and replied a little testily, "I'm not staring...I-I'm just trying to figure out how to ask ... something."

"Sure, Will...whatever... so, ask away, I'm nothing to hide guy.

Though, I'd appreciate it if you stop with the staring thing already, okay?... you're giving me the 'bug-eyes' and that's usually not a good. I'm getting the goosey flesh thing going on already."

Willow huffed indignantly at him, "Alexander, LaVelle Harris... You know I've hated that since sixth grade... I am so _not_ giving you the 'buggy eyes'... I never get bug eyes...they... they just widen when I'm... surprised...that's, take that", Willow trailed off giving him an upset glare before sitting up ramrod straight in her chair and crossing her arms in front of herself.

Seeing that he didn't look like he was going to apologize, based on the huge grin he was wearing, she snorted and picked up her notepad again.

After glaring at him for a moment or two more, she started jotting things down on the paper again.

After a few minutes she finally slapped her pen onto the desktop.

"Okay... since you just said that you know more than a couple...", she paused collecting herself.

"So...besides _claiming_ to read Latin, how many more languages do you _claim_ you've learned?"

"Ummm... not counting dialects, right?"

Willow responded with a glare, "Suuuure... humor us."

"Ummm, then that'd be...", he counted on his fingers for a moment and then nodded to himself.

"Fourteen...yeah... fourteen I think.

He paused a moment then continued, "But that's just the one's I'm kinda fluent in... I figure that if you count the ones that I'm so so in.. that'd be ohhh... about six more."


He nodded a little hesitantly.

The silence was deafening.

Buffy goggled a moment, then looked at Willow.

Willow blinked several times then smiled, and finally started giggling.

She laughed, "Okay... I get it now... That's a good one, Xander...

really.", she giggled more, "you actually had me thinking you were serious...fourteen, cute."

He scrunched his forehead a little, "Hey... what's with the need for mockage... it's not like I've had a lot of time to study lately...

kinda had things on my mind...what with the wedding and all."

The giggles slowly faded away under his stern look.

"Huh?...W-what?!... you mean.... y-you're serious about that?", Willow asked hesitantly.

He nodded, "Huh? Why would I joke about that? You asked me a question...I gave an answer...what's the big dea-"

Willow interjected angrily, "Xander... That's ridiculous... I mean come on... I was willing to humor you a little... but enough is enough... and this is can I put this without hurting your feelings?.... Doesn't the idea of claiming to know fourteen different languages seem... well... more than just a little unreasonable to you?"

"Huh?...ummm... no?... I mean come on...Giles knew... like... what, thirty... or forty, right? And Anya, well, she knew like two hundred. So, like I said...frankly... with G-man threatening to demote me to full time pastry fetching duty, let me just put it like this... doing nothing but going out buying donuts for the group had lost the magical appeal that it once had... So, again, what's the big deal?"

Willow blinked several times, looking back at the book in front of her, then back at her friend. Finally, she got up from the table and latched onto Buffy and Anne's arms dragging them with her.

As she left, she looked back at Xander and added, "We'll be right back, Xander. Don't go anywhere."

Willow pulled the two Slayers with her, ignoring their protesting glares.

Buffy was the first to speak when Willow finally stopped pulling them along into a storage room.

"Willow, let me be the first to say... Ow!... pull arms off much? Why'd you drag us off like that?

The double added, "Yeah, why the rush?"

Willow looked at the two girls and replied, "Buffy...Buffys, weren't you listening? Xander thinks he knows 'fourteen' languages...

Xander... the same guy that in high school bought Cliff notes so that he wouldn't have to read Call of the Wild before the English test. And then, he only ended up only reading half the notes anyway. Hello... hellmouthy weirdness going on here."

Buffy nodded, "Point taken... but maybe Giles' ultimatum... you know... motivated him or something... It sounded all tough lovey and...Okay... that came out wrong... but, you know what I mean...

maybe he worked really hard because of it."

Anne nodded in agreement.

Willow sighed in exasperation.

"Buffy, I think you're missing the point here... you _don't_ just 'pick up' a language... especially ancient requires all sorts of special training. And Giles....he knew five...maybe six languages, and that's counting his old German... and just between you and me... I've heard his German... it's awful... Sure... he really knew Latin well, but that's because it's required in a lot of private schools in England, and they use it a lot in classes in Oxford from what I hear...But I don't think that even he could have just...well... 'read' that book like that... I... I think that Xander... that he was saying that he found mistakes in the work...

and... that's just not possible, Buffy. "

She ticked off with her fingers, "Let's see...English, French, Latin, German, and Greek... that's five. Giles might have known one or two more... but that's it, and that's seven. Xander just _can't_ possibly know fourteen. I mean...Giles was Mister scholar guy, he even has a degree in ancient languages and stuff... and... well... I love Xander to death and all... and he's my bestest friend...", she hastily amended, "bestest _male_ friend that're my bestest female friend... other than Tara ummm... And I'm shutting up about that now since I don't want to alienate anyone... but what he's saying just isn't possible... not in just a couple years... and certainly not by Xander at all."

She crossed her arms and shook her head, as though coming to a final decision.

The two Buffy's looked at each other then back at Willow.

"You think he's making it up?"

Willow shrugged and replied, "I-I don't know... he sounded serious... I mean... maybe... maybe Anya had already translated that book... and he's just fooling with us."

She looked out the door of the store room to see Dawn tossing potato chips in the air for Xander to catch with his mouth. Unfortunately her aim was poor and they sent more scraps of salted and fried potato onto the floor than into his mouth.

Dawn giggled while she played.

"Yeah... he's just making it up.", Buffy noticed the doubt in her friend's voice, "But I think I'll test him just to be sure."

Buffy looked curious.

"Ummm... how?

"I'm going to get that really old spellbook me and Tara were trying to translate before... ummm... before I had to...", she trailed off.

Buffy nodded, understanding.

"Gotcha... Ummm But, do you think that's a good idea?... I mean spells and Xander... well... they mix like... well... 'oil and water' might not be the right words... maybe oil... and ... well... something that makes oil explode when it comes into contact with it."

"Buffy... that's not f-"

"One word, Wills... Sweet."

"Ummm... uhhh... that's... well that's true... but still... it's not like he'll be able to translate it anyway... it's in this... well... we ... me and Tara... we think it's in some sort of cipher... and it's not like he could use any of the spells in it anyway, right?"

The Buffy's looked at each other, then back at her again.

Buffy spoke though, "Again, one word... Sweet.", Buffy paused a moment thoughtfully, then added, "You know Willow, I sort of wondered how he was able to cast that spell all on his own, anyway. I mean... don't you have to have some kind of talent at mag-", she trailed off with dread in her eyes.

Anne chimed in, "Ummm, I don't really know what this "sweet" is you're talking about... I was thinking more about the love spell with Cordy... but I seem to remember that Xander has historically sucked at keeping magic from going Ker-boom in his face... I take it this 'sweet' thing was a bad?"

She got a pair of nods.

"Ummm, then, yeah, this might not be the best idea, Wills."

Willow looked back at Xander who was now engrossed in a 'thumb wrestling' match with Dawn, who shrieked happily in play.

The three young women filed back into the room and sat at the table giving Xander odd looks.

Xander was meanwhile trying to feed Dawn a hoho from the box.

Buffy rolled her eyes and interjected, "Okay, I might as well be the one to just ask it... Okay, Xander... We've got a question for you... Not trying to bring up anything... and not blaming you...

even though you _were_ the one that did it... but... well... we're curious about this... and I'm wondering...", she trailed off.

Xander waited for her to finish, but rapidly became impatient as she didn't complete her question.

"Wonder?... wondering about what?"

"Ummm, wondering about that spell you ended up casting a while ago... the one that summoned that demon lord... Sweet, the one that made us all do the musical numbers."

Dawn shot Xander a hard look as his hand kept trying to feed her.

"Xander, stop it...three is my limit."

She fended off the sweet with a playful swat.

Then giving the older man a stern look, Dawn commented, "Thanks for reminding me, Willow...I hadn't had the chance to yell at him about that."

Taking a firm tone, Dawn continued, "Xander, I swear. If I didn't used to have a crush on you... It'd be forever before I forgave you for almost getting me sucked into hell. When will you grow up?"

She paused a moment as a thought occurred to her.

"Speaking of that, yeah... how _did_ you cast that spell?...Tara told me a long time ago that only adepts or naturally talented types can cast even the simplest spell the first time out... How'd you manage that one?"

Willow's eyes widened.

"S-she's right, Xander... How did you?... cast that spell I mean... Sweet was... well... he was powerful... real powerful. Summoning a demon like that..."

Xander wrinkled his brow in confusion.

"Ummm, well... it didn't seem that hard... I-I mean...a few weeks ago me and the G-man were sitting around going over some of his new acquisitions he'd got in... some obscure stuff translated from Hermitic works that were supposedly pretty old... typical ancient Latin dialects... and I just happened to run into this one book that broke down the forty three pentaurges of Mel'enta ... then I remembered that there was this other set of five volumes that used a couple of the Pentaurges to do...well... big summoning I just hunted around in the encoding of the seals of Carturk... and... uhhh, what?! Did I say something wrong?"

Willow and the rest of the girls sat staring at him as he'd rattled on.

Willow once more broke the silence.

"Xander... w-what are you talking about?"

"Ummm... just telling you how I did the spell."

Willow paused a moment than asked, "Xander... I know my magic pretty well... and ... and I've heard of only the standard twelve pentaurges... but let's not quibble about that... just skip to where you found the book you got the spell from."

Xander scratched the back of his head in embarrassment and replied, "Well... that's sort of what I was getting to... you see...", he trailed off.

Willow shot him a shocked look.

"Xander, No!... tell me you didn't destroy one of Giles's books!...Please... Oh no... Xander, most of those books are irreplaceable... he'll kill you... He'll hire a hitman and ... no... He'll fly all the way from England just to do it himself... You should have heard the talking to he gave me when I got a small jelly stain from a donut on one of his copies... of a really unimportant book... He'll have an aneurism... Xander how could-"

Xander gamily jumped in, interrupting her, "Whoa, slow down, Willow... No... none of G-man's books got toasted... the spell...

well... what I meant was that the spell wasn't in any of the books."

Willow visibly calmed down.

"Whew... thank goodness... I mean if you had... ohh... Giles would ha...", she caught herself in mid word, then look back at Xander.

"Ummm...Xander... if it wasn't in a spellbook... then...then where...I mean where did you...", she gestured vaguely.

"Oh... Ummm... well... I sort of...just..."

"Just what, Xander?", Willow asked, a note of horror already creeping into her voice.

"Well none of the books really said anything about how to summon a happy ending demon... so... I sorta... wrote it."

Willow looked at him silently.

After a number of seconds ticked by she asked, ""

He nodded.

"As in... pen and paper... and ink... and you sitting down at a table and...writing out a _completely_ new spell... right?"

He nodded again.

Using an overly calm tone in her voice, Willow politely asked, "Xander... are you... out of your MIND?", she shouted the last word as the door jingled open and Tara walked in.

"Hi guys!"

Willow however was leaning across the table shouting at Xander.

"Are you insane? Do you have any idea what happens to people that try to invent magic spells? Do you? Do you!?"

Xander was plastered to the back of his chair, trying to scoot back.

"Ummm well... the books of Ashkaehnte mention some-"

"Uhhhmm, guys?"

"Xander... screw Ashkaehnte... I'm serious here... bad things happen to people that mess with writing their own spells... even when I was at my worst... even I would never have-"

Tara took in the scene.

Willow was leaning across the table, her palms flat on the table top. Two Buffys were leaning away from the red head, and staring wide eyed at the confrontation. Dawn just cringed back from the tone Willow was using.

Tara decided that stepping in was called for.

She strode forward and laid her hand on the shoulder of her girlfriend.

"Willow... sweetheart... calm-"

Willow snapped at her, causing her to draw back a little, "I am not going to 'calm down'... did you hear what this idiot did? That spell... the one for summoning Sweet... he... he 'wrote' it... he didn't just cast it... he 'wrote' it."

Tara looked at Xander with a horrified gaze.

"X-Xander... Is... is that true?"

Xander just looked back, stunned... then nodded and replied, "Yeah... Why?.. I mean I thought you guys wrote them all the time... they're easy."

Tara looked back at Willow who looked to be well on her way into tearing into Xander's hide again, so she interrupted.

"Xander... no... we... I've never written a spell... neither has Willow... it's dangerous, Xander... the fact that you're still here... and still... well... still human... much less alive...", she paused then added, "Xander, spells are very dangerous. "

Willow nodded, and the Buffys just looked on.

Xander just shrugged.

"I don't see what the big deal is... it's not _that_ hard... it's like doing one of those computer programs we had to do in high school for computer literacy class."

Willow replied nastily, "You nearly failed that class, Xander."

He snorted, "Well I have gotten better, okay? But like I said...

it's like writing a program, when you know the rules... it's easy."

Willow and Tara shared a look and turned back to him.

Both spoke as one.

"What? come again?"

Xander's forehead scrunched down.

"Yeah, it's all just a bunch of instructions... you just put them in the right order... and pow... there ya go."

Both looked at each other again then back to him ... disbelief clear on their faces.

Buffy and Anne's heads just looked back and forth between the exchange.

"Show us what you did. Don't do anything, just show.", the two witches demanded.

Xander got up hesitantly.

"Ummm... I kinda need some paper and pencils and stuff... hang on."

The two Wiccans followed him closely with intent looks on their faces.

After a quick trip behind the counter, Xander returned to the table with a large piece of butcher paper off the roll that Anya kept behind the counter.

She'd pointed out some time ago,the need to wrap the more 'juicy' spell components for customers, and Giles had agreed.

Xander cleared his stack of books off the table and set them on the floor.

After laying out the sheet, he started drawing on it in rapid fire strokes and scribbles.

At first it looked like pure gibberish... but a pattern gradually began to emerge as he worked his way around the sheet.

All throughout Xander chattered along.

"Ya see, it's like this... I was going through some of the books that Giles left... Yeah, and anyway... those and ummm some of the new ones that Anya would bring in from time to time... though they weren't really 'new' new... just 'new to the store' new... Ummm..

hang on...", he'd occasionally pause to write a particularly complex series of symbols on the sheet before continuing.

"So, I started noticing some patterns that certain things used...

you know... stuff like the Seven oblong plectrums of Surety, the Piercing eye of Perfect recall, the Eight interlocking squares of Djareva, along with they typical ones you guys use...You know, the invocations to Hekate, Artemis, Ishtar, and such... that sort of thing... Well... I never really wanted to try any of those know my luck with spells... I guess that should have been clue one not to mess with summoning Sweet... but, well, I do like puzzles... and I noticed after a bit that the spells...they all followed some common rules...sort of like doing a word boggle."

He looked up and saw the odd looks that the two witches were giving him.


Willow replied with worry creeping into her voice, "Xander...w-where did you hear about those... I mean... where did you find those spells?"

Xander blinked in thought for a moment and replied, "Ummm...which ones... the Hekate ones?"

Willow shook her head.

"No... I mean the 'eye' one."

Xander made a face as he thought to himself for a moment, "Ummmm... in a couple of the books in the upper area... I think... Why?"

Willow had already darted up the ladder, and in an excited voice asked, "Where? Where exactly?"

Xander looked at her uncertainly and pointed, "Ummm... second floor, third shelf from the left, two down, and the fifth, seventh, and twelfth books on that shelf. They should be the ones titled 'The Golden Key of Vayunamu'... they're a set of 13 volumes."

Willow however had already leapt from her seat and scrambled up the ladder to the upper section of the library, seized the books and came scrambling down the ladder which Tara held for her to keep it from rolling.

Xander shrugged and returned to his scribbling on the butcher paper.

The Slayers and Dawn just watched the whole proceedings with an oddly lost look.

Willow put the books on the table and started opening them.

"Xander, stop that for a minute... this is us where you saw those spells."

He looked up, while his hand kept scribbling away on the sheet.

"Oh... just turn to midway in the first book and look for the one with the illustration of the ziggurat in it... it's like three pages later. The others are about in the same spot in the other books, page wise that is... though you might have to count... no page numbers you know."

Willow started leafing through the book... and found the illustration she was looking for.

Buffy and Anne meanwhile stepped forward and poked Willow.

Anne spoke first, "Hey, witch-girl... what's got you all giddy-

excited. Hanukah coming early?"

Willow smiled broadly and whispered back, "If Xander is right...

then he found lost spells, Buffy...lost spells!", she nearly danced in place while looking at the pages.

"Witches all over the world have been looking for the Eye of perfect recall for centuries... it's been lost... well... for... for like 'ever'." , he voice sounded like that of a child excited about opening Christmas presents, "If we find it... it'll be like... wow!"

Tara nodded, equally full of smiles.

"She's right Buffy, this is a huge find... If they are here..." she trailed off.

Both girls crowded close together to read from the book, lost in their own little witchy world.

However, after a time, their brows knit together in concentration... then they looked up from the book dubiously.

Willow looked over at Xander, who kept scribbling away at the paper.


"Uhmmm huh?", he replied.

"There's nothing here."

"Yeah there is.", he said, not looking up.

"No... there isn't... it's just a story... in rather poorly written Etruscan"

Xander sighed.

"It's there, Willow... can you just hang on a sec?"

Tara added, "She's right, Xander... it's just a book, there's no spells."

Xander put down his pencils with annoyance and walked over.

"You have to do this..."

He picked the book out of their hands and folded the page along a series of creases that the girls hadn't noticed.

"See, the borders of the illuminated manuscript are where it's located, just fold this page like so... and then like so... and ..."

After a series of complicated folds he showed the girls the page, in the center of which was a design made up of the border art from the previous page.

"There, the author just hid the real purpose of the book inside the artwork on the pages... common practice in the ancient world, hiding stuff like that. There... now that's the first symbol used in the spell, you just fold the other pages like that...and you get the same thing happen... just remember that each page has to be folded differently. Each book has one of the spells hidden in the artwork... just like that."

He turned back to the butcher paper and started drawing again.

The two witches stood silently... looking at the page like it was a snake about to bite them.

Willow picked it up first and looked at some of the other pages in the book.

"Ummm, Xander, How did you know that was there?"

Xander looked up again at them.

"Oh, that... Well, it just kinda leapt out at me, it's kind of obvious you know."

Willow looked down at the book again and turned a few pages examining them.

"Well, how did you know this is that spell? You only read the first symbol, the other pages aren't creased yet."

"Ohh... ummm.. hang on a sec..."

He scribbled a particularly intricate set of symbols, then replied, "Ummm... didn't need to... just memorized the layout of each page and did it in my head. That way Anya didn't get upset I was damaging 'her' babies. When I did it that way, it was easy, I can just write it down for you later if you want."

Willow turned a few pages, some of the border art was mind bogglingly complex to her eyes.

She looked at her lover who looked up from the book, looked at Xander in shock, then back to Willow.

Both were about to speak when Xander gave a little "Ha!" of victory, and slid the piece of paper he'd been working on across the table to the two witches.

"There ya go... that's the spell I used to summon Sweet. See... it's pretty simple really, huh?"

Everyone looked at the sheet of paper.

Somehow, a perfect circle, one that looked like it'd been drawn by a laser plotter, had been inscribed in the sheet of paper, covering the entire sheet, while swarms of odd looking runes and symbols danced along its perimeter in dizzying swirls of geometric shapes and unearthly patterns.

What was disturbing however was that the runes seemed to now be giving off a faint blue luminescence of their own, and looked like they were trying to move on the paper like fish trapped under ice.

Willow ran her finger lightly along the curve of a particularly complex looking rune, her breath catching in her throat as she felt a vibration run up her fingertip in sympathy.

A soft chiming tone filled the room, sounding for all the world like what one hears when running a wet fingertip along the edge of a crystal glass.

Xander added, "Actually it's kind of a magic like way... though not exactly what I'd call wall art. Oh... and I left out the activation symbols here,", he pointed, "here, here, and sense bringing him huh? Oh... and this...", he pointed at a section in the center of the circle, "...that right there is the section that defined what I wanted to summon... Since none of the books really had a 'musical, happy ending demon' I sort of just put in what I thought I wanted to summon."

He gestured at the whole of the work and smiled.

"See...easy huh? You just follow the rules that the other spells use, and it just falls right into place."

Willow looked at the sheet, closed the book, and turned off the light under the table.

In s soft and very subdued voice, her face under lit by the soft blue emanating from the paper, she replied, "I... I think that we've seen... I mean 'done' enough research for now...Xander.", She carefully rolled up the paper and looked at him.

"Do... do you mind if I look this over?"

Xander shrugged, looking disappointed at the declaration of research being done for the night.

"Knock yourself out, Wills... but don't mess with erasing anything. You don't want to...", he gestured, "upset the balance of the thingys in there... that might just make the whole thing collapse."

Willow nodded.

"I understand completely...Ummm does Anya... I mean... is there any storage tubes behind the counter?"

Xander nodded, looking sad at hearing the name of his former fiancé.

"Yeah, she... she keeps them back there for the posters that people buy... big markup for fantasy posters I guess."

Willow wandered off in a daze to the counter.

Buffy smiled at Xander nervously and got up to follow her.

"Be right back, Xander."

Buffy followed the small, red head to the counter and whispered to her as they stood on opposite sides of the counter.

"What's the deal Willow, what's got you all...", she gestured vaguely.

Willow turned back to the blonde Slayer and blinked several times before responding as she put the roll of paper in a cardboard tube for carrying, "Huh?"

"Willow, Snap out of it... what's got you wearing the wig?"

Willow shook her head as though to clear it.

Dropping the tube she grabbed Buffy by the elbow and whisper to her, shooting suspicious looks at Xander out of the corner of her eye.

"Buffy, I-I don't think... I don't think that that's Xander!"

Buffy wrinkled her forehead and looked at the male in question then back to Willow.

"Willow, of course that's, Xander. Why... I mean...", he voice got a worried edge to it, "I mean... why do you think it's not him?"

Willow hissed, "Don't look over at him, he might think we're talking about him."

"Well, duh, Willow...Maybe because we are? Here... reality check, Wills... investigating Xander was sort of the whole point in coming here tonight, and he was down with it wasn't he?"

Willow looked back and forth between Buffy and Xander.

Xander was teasing Dawn again while Anne seemed to be giving him a bit of the cold shoulder treatment.

Willow explained, "Well, yeah... I mean... okay... I know it was... but that can't be Xander... he... he like... knows stuff."

Buffy arched an eyebrow at the flustered redhead.

"Well he kind of _is_ our research guy, Willow. Some of that stuff is bound to stick after a while don't you think?"

"Not like this, Buffy, not like this."

Willow's eyes had widened a little emphasizing her point.

"Listen... a couple of those spells he was talking about... Like the Piercing eye I've heard of....and the Eight interlocking squares, it's like...well... it's like one of the most powerful wards in existence... only a handful of people have ever been able to create it... but that one he mentioned... the Seven oblong thinguses of something or another... I don't think I've ever heard of that."

Buffy looked dubious, "Yeah, so?"

"Buff, one lost spell in a day is about my limit, okay?"

She paused and looked at Xander with a bit of fear in her eye.

"But that's not what's wrong... Buffy... what he did... that...

thing he drew... it's a Mandala... and he...he drew it with a pencil and paper... a real live, active, Mandala... and it's a completely original one, totally new... and he made it in like five minutes.

Mandala's are supposed to take weeks...months... sometimes years."

She looked at the blonde and emphasized each word she spoke next.

"Buffy, what he did... it's impossible."

Buffy looked at Xander than back to Willow.

"So's that thing with the wrench he did... I think you're being too suspicious... He 'feels' like Xander to me, Willow... I mean even when he was possessed by the Hyena spirit... he was still him... I'd have known if it wasn't him."

Willow nodded hesitantly before replying, "I-I know he does... but our Xander couldn't possibly do what he's doing."

Buffy sighed, "Willow, what's going on here... I think that's Xander, I can tell from your body language that _you_ think it's Xander... so what's coming out of your mouth?"

Willow shifted uncomfortably under the Slayer's gaze for a moment before replying, "I-I-I'm just... I don't like this, Buffy... this is wrong... and... and... we need to stop whatever is happening to him... it's-"

Buffy arched an eyebrow, she could tell her friend was avoiding telling her something.

"Willow... I know you... something else is going on here... so spill... I mean you were okay until you started finding out about Xander knowing stuff... you were fine with him being all super strong guy... how is this any different?"

Willow looked as though she were about to argue back, but then her shoulders slumped and she replied softly, "F-Fine... I... I'm worried."

Buffy looked confused, "Worried?"

Willow looked away, "Worried that since I... I'm not using anymore... that... that you guys won't need me... I remember what happened with Xander that one time, where we kinda kicked him out of the Scoobs... to keep him out of trouble... and... and after hearing him back there... And seeing that he really is turning into Mister super research guy... that maybe you might not need me in the way... If I can't offer something to the group that he obviously can also... then...", she trailed off shuffling her feet.

Buffy blinked, and her eyes softened as she took her friend's hand.

"Hey... no crazy talk like that from you, Willow... What would I do without you around to help me? You're the wild wacky Wiccan in our group, without you we'd never be complete... Besides, I learned my lesson when we did that to Xander... no kicking out Scoobies ... I promise... okay?"

Willow looked to her friend and smiled wanly.

"Thanks, Buffy."

"So...what do we do next?"

Willow looked back at her friend, her eyes full of thought and worry.

"I-I think I know..."

"I said 'hit me' Xander! You aren't even trying anymore"

"Buffy, I-"

"For goodness sake, Xander, I know I'm faster than you, but you can at least _try_ to just hit me."

Anne shouted from the sidelines, "Knock her on her ass, babe."

Buffy shot her twin a look.

"Hey, What? I'm just encouraging him... it looks like he needs it now more than ever."

Xander sighed and came to an enguarde position as Buffy looked back at him, he was balancing on the balls and heels of his feet, as he circled to her left.

He knew that when she fought, Buffy kept dropping her left shoulder, leaving an opening and he hoped he could exploit it.

He feigned a jab to her right side as she came in finally, tiring of the dance.

He expected her block, thinking that he'd follow up with a series of jabs and short foot sweeps as he backed away, thinking that the hidden left hook he'd throw would slip past her defenses to tap her lightly on the chin.

Such was not the case however, Buffy deftly blocked his first hit and rolled inside the arc of his hook, instinctively counter punching him in the solar plexus and knocking the wind out of her friend in a single brutal jab.

In less than three seconds, Xander was on his knees again, gasping to get air back into his burning lungs.

Buffy moved alongside of him, her face a mask of worry, "Ohh no...

Xander... I'm sorry, I thought you'd block that one this time...

ohhh, I'm really sorry... I didn't realize..."

Buffy and Xander were in the training room in the back of the Magic Box wearing sweats, his; from when he would frequently help her work out, hers; her regular workout wear.

The others, watching from the sidelines, made various winces and shot looks of sympathy at Xander, mixed with a healthy dose of disgust at this demonstration of fighting skills on his part.

Buffy kneeled down next to the gasping man and helped him to his feet.

"*gh-ark* That's *gasp* okay, Buff... I'll be okay... in an hour or *cough* two."

She sat him down on the bench gently and then plunked down on the floor beside him with a pouty look on her face.

"Well, this was pointless... that's the tenth time... and nothing... Xander, where's the extra strength and toughness you were telling us about."

Willow nodded and sat down next to Xander, handing him a drink of water.

"Yeah... and the blurry type speedy thing you did earlier?"

Xander shrugged, dejectedly.

"Sorry guys, I told you... it comes and goes."

" let's go over again some of the things that you've said have been happening to you, Xander. See if we can find something in common with them."

Xander took a drink and replied, "Remind me why I'm doing this again?"

Buffy Anne replied, "Because, if we are going to figure out what's wrong with you, we need to know the symptoms swee..., errr, Xander."

"Well... all I'm feeling now is... tenderized."

Buffy looked at him.

"Well, should we just stop?"

Xander shook his head.

"Nah, this is good for you, and me too I guess... good practice for me to help with partoling. Maybe I'll get used to being hit, and then when a Vamp tries it, I'll just give him some pithy rejoinder... how's this...'you hit like a gir-'"

Seeing the dark looks coming his way he stopped.

"Maybe not... but let's give it a couple more tries, Buff. I'm sure that I can get it."

Buffy shrugged.

"It's your funeral."

Xander got up, and wiped the cooling sweat off his face.

He'd already worked up a healthy sheen, and was appalled that Buffy looked as fresh as a daisy still.

"Let's do it."

The creature staggered through the sewers, its body numb to the discomfort it felt from the chill water it stood in, numbed by the continuous pounding it felt in its head.

The creature moaned in anguish as he felt a dagger of ice twist behind his eyes, wrenching a soft groan from his throat.

Still he kept staggering on in the dark.

Already, he'd fallen a number of times into the water, ending up crawling on his belly like a worm from time to time... coating himself in the muck.

But he kept crawling all the same, crawling until he felt he could make his way back to his feet and keep standing.

Then he'd stand under a storm drain, letting the rain water wash himself clean.

He kept going because he knew what he needed to make himself feel better wasn't too far away anymore.

Soon he'd have what he needed and the pain would be manageable again.

A sliver of light chanced to fall on the features of the wretched being for a moment, revealing blue eyes, and unnaturally blonde hair.

Spike turned from the light and kept going. His unmarred forehead a testament to his continued existence.

Spike leaned on the wall of the tunnel as he staggered along, his body appeared whole, but the rubberiness of his legs worried him.

"Bloody Xander, Gonna gut him... gonna feed him his own liver, I am."

Spike was feeling odd, he knew that everything felt "wrong" somehow. Everything felt sharp edged and acid like...but he put it down to whatever nastiness that the "wanker" had put into him.

"Har, Bloody, har. Well... I'll show him... think he can do something like that to me does he... Shoulda known it was some kinda dart gun or something."

He wiped his forehead with his hand, as though expecting it to come away bloody.

He'd awoken back in his crypt, sprawled on the floor and writhing in agony as his head felt ready to explode on him.

It felt like the mother of all hangovers, and he made the natural assumption; Xander had drugged him with something as payback for his dalliance with Buffy.

It had to be the case, after all the bloody whitehats didn't have the stomach to just kill him, even Xander who hated him.

So he must have just worked up the nerve to poison him with something, something nasty.

Ahead he saw the ladder he'd been looking for... the one that led up to the manhole outside the Magic Box.

He laid his head against the cool metal of the ladder and rested.

"I'll just get me some mandrake root... a little burba weed... fix me right up quick...Yeah... be right as rain...Then... I'll just find some way to...", his voice started to rise as he got more and more angry, "...bloody well feed that buggering _ponce_ into a damned wood chipper."

Turning his eyes up to look at the manhole that rested a goot twenty feet above him he shouted, "Xander, sodding Harris, chip or no bloody chip... you are about to find out why I'm still William the Bloody. Mark my words,Harris, you'll pay for this."

"How are you feeling Xander?"

"Ohh... I fewl fwine, Buffwy."

"Just keep your head tilted back, and your nose pinched till we get to the bathroom. Now, just follow me, honey."

Anne held Xander's hand as she led him toward the bathroom, his head tilted back as he tried to staunch his bleeding nose while trying to not touch his new black eye at the same time.

Willow shook her head.

"You were right, Buffy, this _was_ pointless...poor Xander."

She sighed and sat back down on the bench.

Buffy looked toward the door that Xander and her twin had departed and sighed.

"Man, she sure jumped right in there, didn't she... didn't even give me the chance to...", she trailed off.

Willow looked at her friend and asked, "To what?"

Buffy looked away and muttered, "Nothing... just... well... I felt bad... I wish she would have let me take care of him. I mean, I was the one that hurt him, even if I didn't mean to... he did sort of walk right into that combo... And...well, Xander always seems so helpless... you know... like a big kid at times."

Willow raised an eyebrow at the blonde.

"You wanted to take care...Buffy, don't tell me that you're thinking of... Buffy! I thought you were weirded out by the whole concept."

Buffy shifted uncomfortably under her friend accusatory gaze.

"I-I am... kinda... but... well... I was sort of thinking about what she said to me... she told me some things. About how they'd gotten together... and it sounded just like him. It... well it sounded...

nice... and although it's definitely in the 'twilightzone'-esque genre... I sort of am... well...curious now."

"A little envious too?", Willow asked.

Buffy hesitated a moment, then nodded.

Dawn walked over from where she'd been sitting Indian style, listening to the pair.

"Hey, what's the deal? Xander was my crush first... hands off.", the younger girl joked.

Buffy made a swipe with her with her hand as though it was a claw.

"Saucer of milk, table for two?", she paused before continuing, "Seriously, Dawn, I'm just curious... She seems so..."

Dawn nodded and finished her sentence, "...happy?"

Buffy nodded.

"I'm just wondering what I'm...missing, I guess."

Willow interjected, "He's a great kisser."

Buffy gave her friend with an amused but curious look.

"Oh really?... and this is garnered from some stolen smoocies back in the Xander and Oz phase?"

Willow nodded, smiling guiltily.

"Yep, first rate stolen smoochies."

Seeing the hard look that she was getting from Tara she hastily added, "But not as good as you, baby... you're the best."

Somewhat mollified Tara quirked an eyebrow at Willow.

Buffy continued, "All I keep thinking of how mean I've been to him at times... you know... and the comment about that that one time back in high school...out on patrol... Xander showed me this little heartshaped locket he got for Cordy... I mean... God only knows where he got the money for that... or that bracelet he got me. He never had much in the way of money back then... But, I-I remember how proud he was when he showed it to me... and I kept teasing him... asking if she even knew what one was... a heart, ya know. And he laughed it off."

Buffy paused again, and in a hesitant voice added, "That's when I... I got mean... I said that he shouldn't be going out with her... and should...should find someone more... 'better'."

She looked at Willow with watery eyes.

"Do you know what he said, Willow?... There I was basically telling him he was screwed up for getting involved with Cordelia... after what happened with me and Angel. And he didn't get upset or anything with me...He just said that maybe he'd have found someone better in an 'alternate universe' or something...but that here... here he was interested in only two people... Cordy... and... me. But he said that he knew that I wasn't 'available', and so... nicely."

She wiped at her eye, "And he did that... after how I'd basically ripped his heart out at the beginning of the school year... but even then...he still cared. And there I was... digging on someone he cared about... and all he did was tell me he still loved me."

She choked a little on her words but kept talking, "and later...

when I... I came on to him... he didn't do anything, he could have had me... and he didn't. So, yeah... I'm starting to wonder what I've been-"

Buffy was suddenly interrupted as the back door to the store opened up and Spike walked in.

Silence fell.

Spike of course was having none of that.

"Well, hello, Pet. What are you and the slayerettes doing up at this odd hour? I'd figure you all for bedtime stories and hot cocoa by now."

"Spike, what are you doing here?", Buffy asked, wiping at her eyes.

Spike noticed the gesture and stepped toward her with a concerned look.

"Oh, you're crying... what happen, Xander go off and hurt your bloody feelings?"

He nodded to himself, trying and convicting in one brief moment, "Well then... I won't be a minute and I'll just go pop over to his place and tear his sodding face off for you. No problem really, I'll enjoy it."

He shook his head and put the heel of his palm to his forehead.

"Sodder came by and bloody drugged me with something... felt like he'd gone and set me on bloody fire. Droopy's idea of a joke I expect. So don't worry...he's had this coming."

Willow and the others in the room stood and walked toward the vampire.

"Spike you need to leave.", Willow said.

Buffy nodded and added, "And Xander didn't do anything... we were just talking and things came up. Personal things... things that you don't need to concern your-"

"Oh, I'll concern myself, Pet... I'll-"

He stopped talking suddenly and held up a hand.

"Hello... what's this?"

He sniffed the air.

"I... I smell... blood... His blood... he's here isn't he?"

Not waiting for confirmation Spike shouted.

"Droopy... get your arse out here or I'll tear this bloody place to the ground. I'm here and I've bloody well had enough."

Anne came storming out of the bathroom, her hands already balled into fists at her sides.

"Spike... I thought I told you to-"

"Stuff it... I'm not here for you... I'm here for that bloody coward. Droopy... Xander, come out here and face me like a man."

Buffy tried to step in front of him and block his way, but a quick feint put him past her as Xander came walking out of the bathroom with a bag of ice held to the bridge of his nose , his black eye looking darker and more puffy by the minute.

"What do you want, Spike I'm sort of bus-"

With an incoherent scream of bloodlust, Spike charged the man and lashed out as hard as he could with his fist.

Spike screamed in preparation for the pain he knew would come, hoping against hope that he was able to keep standing like a man when the white hot knives in his head started cutting him again.

Hoping that he'd not end up on his belly, writhing on the floor.

He felt a meaty thump as his fist hit its target, and his scream tapered off.

He opened his eyes one at a time as though peeking out.

Xander lay at against the base of the wall, holding his chin and spitting out a little blood.

Spike looked at his fist then at the man he'd hit, back and forth a number of times.

It took a moment for the data to make its way thought the dead pathways of his mind, but it eventually got there.

There had been no pain.

Spike looked at his fist again, then back to Xander... and a smile grew on his face.

He punched his fist toward the ceiling.


Everyone else in the room had been frozen into shock at the scene unfolding itself in front of them.

Spike charged toward the fallen Scooby, his demonic face showing itself at last.

"Fan-bloody-tastic... Xander, mate, you and I have some scores to settle."

He grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and hauled him up and threw him across the room, into the far wall.

With that the vampire dove forward, fangs out and growling with animalistic rage.

His forward momentum didn't last long however.

It ceased suddenly when he found himself flying headlong toward another wall.

The Buffy double stood looking back at him when Spike started gathering himself from the heap he was in near a weapons rack.

"Spike, I'm done playing with you... Try that again an I'll-"

"This is between me and Droopy, Slayer. He attacked me in my bloody crypt... Drugged me or something he did, and I mean to settle my score. And it looks like he's done something to make himself a target I can hit."

Spike got up and shouted at the man as he also got to his feet.

Xander glowered at him and started forward.

Spike taunted him, "I shoulda known you'd try something to make yourself stronger, wanker...You couldn't stand being the weak one of the group could you? Hurt your manly pride did it? Well come on then...come on, mate.", Spike made motions with his hands, "Come to old Spike. Cus whatever you did made you a monster just like me...

and I can kill monsters, mate."

Xander held his ground on the floor, a little trickle of blood still on the corner of his mouth.

Anne however was already started toward Spike, until she heard something that brought her up short.

"Buffy... Anne... Get out of the way, I don't know what his problem is... but I'm going to put an end to it right now."

Anne looked back at Xander, and saw the serious look in his eyes, and unconsciously took a step back.

This was all that Spike needed as he charged past her toward the man, his demonic face snarling and a lionlike roar pouring from his mouth.

Dawn however had darted in his way screaming, "Stop it you two! Stop it! Stop it! Stop i-"

Consumed by his rage Spike never saw her for what she was, never registered her as anything other than an obstacle to his progress, and subsequently lashed out at her. Hurling her across the room, face first into the wall.

Where the screams to stop had failed to reach him, her soft whimper of pain did.

The twin Slayers, Willow and Tara all converged on the spot where Dawn lay crumpled on the floor.

The women gently rolled the teenager on her side to see the extent of the damage.

Spike had been brought up short, frozen by the realization of what he'd just done.

His voice was a small thing, halting in its self condemnation.


He took a step forward hesitantly, only to be met by the accusatory glares of four women.

"I-I didn't mean.... I... I didn't see her... Oh god, you've got to see... it was an accident."

Through the gathered women, he could just make out the damage he'd done.

Twin lines of blood ran from Dawn's broken nose, and an angry looking split lip bore testimony to at least part of his rage.

Fortunately, for him, she appeared to be unconscious, the lump on her forehead testimony to her impact with the wall.

Spike knew with certainty that if she had still been awake, that the hurt and betrayal he would have seem in her eyes would have been more than he could bear.

He looked at his hand, his fist, and hurriedly unclenched it, as though it had betrayed him.

"I... I didn't mean to... come on you lot... you know I didn't mean to... to hit..."


He heard the hatred in the voice behind him, heard it hiss and crackle like a bonfire.

He turned knowing what he'd see.

He was wrong.

Xander stood looking at him, his eyes glowing like lambent coals and what looked like a heat shimmer coming off him in waves.

"I'm going to kill you for that."

Spike started backing up at an angle.

That one small move ended up being his salvation.

The first blow came from nowhere, and what followed came too fast for him to recall.

In the space of a heartbeat Xander had crossed the ten feet between them and began his attack.

A crescent kick drove Spike's left arm out wide and spun him to the side slightly, opening up avenues of attack that his previous tight stance hadn't allowed.

A follow on snap kick to the side of his leg dislocated his knee, sending him toward the ground as the leg gave way.

While he was still falling, even his mystically enhanced senses could only barely follow the blur of motion that Xander had seemly become.

Instead, all he could do was try and roll with the punches as he felt them come in, but even this was fruitless given the force that was being applied.

Spike caught a flicker of motion that he instinctively knew was a chambered and carefully aimed punch that came from above.

The blow impacted the side of his head, and he felt his left cheekbone crumble under the blow like soft chalk.

However the strike had other results as well. What was most noticeable to him at the moment was that the force of the blow had spun him about in mid air so that he found himself about to land head first into the ground.

However, the blur that Xander had become wasn't content with that it appeared.

A series of blows rained down on him while he was still in mid air.

Finally, an impact that felt more like being hit with a steel I-beam launched him bonelessly across the room and into the back door to the shop in a bloody heap.

Normally, the door would have taken the impact of his body without issue.

Giles had log ago replaced the heavy wooden door that had been there before, with a modern steel fire door, but the designers and installers had never foreseen a situation where this much force might be applied against the edifice, and with a metallic squeal the hinges were ripped from the doorframe and the door and Vampire flew out into the night rain.

Xander started stalking toward the doorway, intent on finishing his task.

Buffy brought him up short.

She stood in front of him, her arms out wide to stop him.

"Xander, stop... please... we gotta get Dawn to a doctor... she's hurt... please... we'll take care of him later."

This seemed to snap the young man out of his rage, and he rushed toward the fallen teen.

Meanwhile, Spike got his knee back under him as it slipped back into its socket and he staggered away in the rain.

His back and chest felt as though they'd been crushed... and he felt the tale-tell sliding feeling of one of his ribs wandering around inside his internals.

His horror with himself was complete however... He didn't care what he felt like anymore.

He'd struck out at the one person that had genuinely tried to be his friend... the one person who never had judged him before.

He'd struck out at his 'Niblet', and hurt her.

This however wasn't what horrified him.

No, what horrified him was that he'd done it, and there'd been no pain.

Spike's heart was a maelstrom of anger, pain, despair, and joy.

The 'big bad' was back...

God help him...

Nothing could have turned that sweet little girl into a monster in his eyes.

That left only one option.

His chip wasn't working any more...

And Spike didn't know if he should howl in glee, or weep at his loss.

Chapter 8
Eight bells

The soft liquid hiss of water from the tap was the only sound to be heard in the green tiled room.

The woman listened to it as she let the water she'd splashed on her face drip back into the sink, taking with it the salt of her unshed tears and, she hoped, some of the redness from her eyes.

She looked up, wet faced from the sink and gazed into the wall mirror for nearly a whole minute. Finally turning away from the steady gaze reflected back at her, she reached for a few paper towels to pat her face dry, checking to see if she'd cleaned up the most obvious signs of her latest bout with tragedy.

Her face dried, she pulled her fingers though her hair, combing the honey colored locks away from her face, and seeing the recently added nearly white highlights. She smiled, almost mockingly at herself, wishing that the inner turmoil of her regrets and fears were as easily washed away as their external signs were masked.

In the cold fluorescent lights of the restroom, she saw that the hollows of her cheeks and the dark circles under her eyes. Noting how her cheekbones now stood out rather sharply where once they were softer, and wondered again how she had ever arrived at the point she found herself then.

It felt like she'd been crying forever...and that she felt like she'd never be able to stop.

She sighed.

But tonight, it seemed, was a special trial... almost as though it was designed to try and test her... to break her.

It was a night for tears, and she wondered how much longer it would be before it would end so she could stop crying long enough to catch her breath.

Looking at her reflection again, she sighed.

She'd lost weight over the past few months, and she wasn't pleased about how it made her look. The outward changes she saw seemed to perfectly mirror the malaise that she felt inside.

The haggard looking stranger she saw looking back at her from the mirror wasn't who she wanted to be anymore... she'd recognized that....and she knew that her path back to the person she'd once been would be a hard one, but one she had to take.

She looked away for a moment to pull a scrunchy from her purse, and then set about arranging her hair into a ponytail to keep it out of the way.

This accomplished, Buffy turned away from the mirror and stepped back into the horror show that was the emergency room in Sunnydale memorial.


A man once wrote of a dark place he'd imagined

He wrote it in a poetic representation, but a representation half mad, and inspired by fevered visions of decay and anarchy.

It was a lawless place.

A place of dark dreams, and secretive purposes.

A place where small, chitin covered things skittered from shadow to shadow under a merciless amber moon.

He wrote.

Somewhere in dreams... there is an evil place Where tall, deserted buildings crowd along A deep, black, narrow channel....reeking strong of frightful things whence oily currents race.

Lanes with old walls... half meeting overhead wind off to streets one may... or may not, know.

While feeble moonlight sheds a spectral glow over long rows of windows...dark and dead.

There are no footfalls,

And the only sound is of the oily water as it glides under stone bridges, and along the sides of its deep flume, to some vague ocean bound.

No mortal lives to tell... when that stream washed away its dream-lost region from the world of clay.


or perhaps 'fortunately'

the man never knew how accurate his visions were.

For under that shadow casting moonlight, Anyanka sighed.

She looked along the stygian canal below her...and sighed again, a breathy noise that spoke of a troubled heart.

Anyanka, the scourge of unfaithful men was flummoxed.

She'd always come to that particular stone bridge when she needed inspiration. And for the first time in eight hundred years, it wasn't helping. The stone that arched this tributary of the Great river of Forgetfulness was just that... a bridge... and served to offer no inspiration.

She gazed out, and when she looked toward either shore of the stream a vague sense of relief filled her as she recalled that immortality was once again hers.

So to, she found that there was another set of feelings vying for attention in her, one mixed with apprehension, with a healthy dose of regret. The remains of her humanity scutting across the void of her soul.

She was "home" once more.

The only home that she'd known for eleven hundred years... the only home she'd had...until "He" came along.

How dare he do what he had to her.

When she'd been with "Him"

... home had been being wrapped in his arms... or holding his hand when they walked... or even right where she was...wherever she was... even when she was across the room from him when he'd smile at her.

She cursed his name.

Now... "Home"

"Home" was a hell dimension again.

It seemed fitting.

Anyanka rubbed her forehead, wishing the headache would go away, and mumbled to herself.

"Great... just great...and of course no one has any Tylenol here...stupid stupid Xander...this is all your fault."

Anya picked up her amulet and looked into its swirling green depths.

D'Hoffryn had repaired, and returned her soul amulet to her, fully reinstating her powers as the 'giver of the wish' and returning her to her full vengeance demon status.

All he'd asked of her was one thing.

One simple request.

He'd told her that he wanted to make certain that Alexander Harris...'Xander' would be remembered for all time as an example.

That he would serve as a testimonial to the ages..."A living, breathing, work of 'vengeance art'" as he'd put it.

D'Hoffryn wanted 'him' to serve as a living beacon of suffering that would shine brilliantly in the darkness... something that vengeance and justice demons alike could look to for inspiration for centuries to come.

When he'd made the offer to her in her apartment it had been so attractive.

To just come back to work for him, and do what she'd done for so long.

But she'd hesitated, but for why... she didn't know.

She asked for a mortal day to make up her mind.

One day to think... one day to consider.

It had turned into one day of her marinating in her rage and betrayal rather than thinking about what it would mean later.

True to his word, D'Hoffryn returned twenty four hours later... and the moment he arrived and saw her face...he knew her answer.

He smiled.

She agreed.

Pact sealed.

Now Anyanka was fighting the mother of all headaches and didn't know what to do.

Behind her, she heard the sound of hard soled high heels on the stonework, yet another annoyance in a long string of tests. And her patience was at it's end.

"Whoever you are... go away! Unless you _really_ want to find out what it's like to be thrown into the Delor demon acid pits... head first."

A dulcet feminine chuckle was the response she received.

"Now now, Anyanka... is that any way to talk to your best friend?"

Anya quickly turned to face her visitor, a smile blossoming on her face.


She leapt to her feel and rushed forward into her friend's waiting arms.

Halfrek folded her arms around her friend and kissed her on the cheek, hugging her and rocking her softly.

"Anyanka!... Oh God... how are you? I just heard the news...welcome back, sweetie.... D'Hoffryn didn't even bother to tell me you were back... can you believe him? I swear... Men!"

Anya stepped back and nodded her agreement.

"Men!... even the demon kind aren't worth the cost of the spell components needed to curse them!"

Halfrek nodded.

"Too true... too true."

She paused, looking her friend up and down, noticing the flowing emerald green strapless dress that Anya was wearing, and the demon markings that were once more on her.

"Well, I see that renewed demon hood is agreeing with you again...

you're looking the nice exposed muscle tissue thing going on again... you always wear that so easily... I just can't seem to pull it off like you"

Anya nodded a little and smiled sadly, replying with a subdued voice, ""

Halfrek paused a moment, looking at her friend with a building excitement in her eyes.

"So.... come on...", she said with a little side to side shake of her head and a explosive burst of cheer, "Tell me...tell me tell me... what have you got planned for your ex?...I want all the...", she paused and put her index finger to her bottom lip.

"Oh... wait... I've got an idea... let's get some coffee... and you can tell me all about it over Latte's, whadda ya think?"

Anya nodded weakly, "Sure... but make sure it's near someplace I can get something for this headache, okay?"

Halfrek chuckled and then switched to her demonic voice, "Your wish is my command, An!"

Anya winced at the tone as the two were enveloped in a maelstrom of hellish light.

Only to reappear in an alleyway in Milan, Italy.

Halfrek chattered merrily as she handed Anya a bottle of aspirin, and they invoked their human forms.

"I swear... I simply don't understand why D'Hoffryn won't make that deal with the Starbucks people... they have stores everywhere else... why not in Hell? I ask you. I mean it's not like their coffee wouldn't be in keeping with the overall theme of suffering, would it now?"

Anya dry swallowed two of the small pills and nodded her agreement.

"Agreed, there's nothing like a good espresso... and they certainly _don't_ make anything that even vaguely resembles a good espresso. "

Exiting the alleyway mouth, Halfrek turned the corner and ushered Anya to sit with her at one of several tables that stood outside a small café on the edge of a piazza.

I lovely dark haired waitress arrived and took their orders.

"Due lattes soddisfano, uno caldo ed uno hanno ghiacciato"

She paused a moment, then added, "L'OH e rende quello ghiacciato dolce ed ha messo il cinnamon su esso."

Turning back to her friend she gushed, "So...", she held out her hands excitedly toward Anya, "Anya...sweetie...You do realize that this is like totally the talk of the town among the other vengeance demons, right? I mean _everyone_ wants to know what you're going to do to him." She held up her hands in a weak defensive posture, her palms facing outward and rolled her eyes, "God... I mean, how stupid can a guy get... leaving you... a vengeance demon... someone who's won 5 'most original evisceration' awards in a row... at the altar. What was he thinking? That you wouldn't make him pay?", she waved at the air in an offhanded manner, "Oh... but enough about that...

An... you simply _have_ to tell me what you have planned... and don't skimp on the details. The juicier... pardon the pun... the better."

Anya groaned, and put her head on the tabletop...her hair splayed out as he lightly pounded her forehead against the laminated surface.

Halfrek gave her a concerned look.

"An?... Anyanka... what's wrong hon?"

Anya looked up into her friend's face.

"Everyone?...Everyone is talking about this?"

Halfrek nodded uncertainly, but added, "Well... of course they are... D'Hoffryn put it out in the weekly bulletin...front page...

It said... oh... wait... here."

She dug into her purse and took out a sheet of what looked like parchment... but that Anya knew wasn't made of sheep skin.

Burned into the surface of the "paper" were a great many symbols, and a few pictures. One of which was a fairly accurate rendering of her own features next to Xanders picture.

Anya looked at the byline and groaned again.

"I can't believe he did could he do this to me?"

Halfrek nodded in complete agreement, "I asked myself the same thing hon, how could he just run off and leave you to face the guests like that? I mean really... he is a man... but still... even he has to realize how humiliating and degrading that must have felt for you.

But... oh well... just more fuel on the fire I guess... more-"

Anya interrupted her friend ferociously, "No... not that... I mean.. D'Hoffryn... how could he announce it like this?"

She shook the piece of "paper" at her friend.

The waitress walked up and smiled at the two woman, placing the two drinks on the table and leaving.

Halfrek picked up her drink and took a sip.

"Anyanka, what's the big? It'll help the vengeance demon rep for all of us. Besides... D'Hoffryn _is_ a demon, sweetie... you should have known he'd do something like that. Besides... all you have to do is curse the schmock.. and be done with it. Bing Bang Boom... then just watch ol' whats-his-name's head goes 'lunka lunka' as it rolls across the floor to you... sans body of course. Simple as can be."

Anya groaned.

"It's not that simple, Hallie."

Halfrek blinked, looking over the top of her frothy drink as she sipped.


Anya paused before replying.

"It's not that simple... D'Hoffryn wants it to be...'something special'... he wants me to go all out... and... and leave him alive... and suffering... and... and... to make 'art'"

Halfrek paused a moment in confusion, then smiled as recognition of the issue hit her.

"Ohhhh... I get it now... it's performance anxiety."

She chuckled and added, "You're all anxious... thinking that you've lost the edge or that you won't live up to his expectations....Hey...An...booby... don't worry about it... I'll help... we'll figure out something really nasty for him... just like old times. You remember that guy in the 13th century? The one that abandoned his invalid wife, when she got the sniffles and he accused her of having the plague? The one with 3 kids. Remember him... old mister explosive boils and degenerative leprosy?"

Sighing, she shook off her reverie and added, "Hallie... umm it's... it's see... it's not that I can't come up with... with suitable punishments."

She gave her friend a pitiful look.

"Believe me... I've come up with some doosies in the past couple of weeks... Some that make the old "exploding penis", or the "creeping, and incurable, gangrene" curse look like nothing... It's... it's just...", she trailed off and dabbed at her eyes.

Halfrek waited for her friend to continue, sipping her drink.

Finally, seeing her friend wasn't going to finish the though, her curiosity got the better of her.

"Its just... what? Come on, don't keep me in suspense, Anya...its not 'what?'...they aren't bad enough?... painful enough?... vicious enough?"

Anya looked away ashamedly.

"I... I just... I just can't."

Halfrek looked utterly abashed.




"Anya...", she said quietly, deep concern in her voice,"...what do you "can't"?"

Anya just looked down and picked up her drink, taking a sip of the iced beverage.

Halfrek continued, deep worry and panic creeping into her voice along with a healthy dose of anger, "Ohhhhh nooo you don't no no no No!... Anyanka... don't you _dare_ tell me that you're still in love with him...not after 'that'."

She paused getting her proverbial 'steam' up, "Anya... he _left_ you at the _altar_. It's divine... well... okay, _infernal_ justice time here. Don't you dare tell me that he's got you so whipped that... that you don't want his blood."

Anya looked up and blinked at her friend in disbelief.

"What?... in love?... Halfrek... bite your tongue! After that?...

puh lease! That's not what I meant at all... It's... it's just that ... I ... I tried... and...and..."

Anya actually started crying as she tried to continue, "... and _nothing_ happened."

Halfrek blinked in surprise.


Anya nodded and finished for her with a sob, trying to get control of herself again,"...happened."

She continued, "I tried going for the big guns right off. Well...

not the really big guns... not 'The Wish'... Couldn't do that on my own without him having wronged someone else l... I'd need someone to make the wish for me. But I went for all the good stuff I've used in the past... you know."

Halfrek querried taking a sip of her drink and biting into a cookie, "Like?"

"Well, I started with the partially liquefied entrails thing first... that's always good for a laugh... and usually a good one to hit men with right off... Then I stepped it up with the infestation of boring insects... the one that has worms and beetles crawling around under the skin, eating you from the inside out... you know... fairly typical non fatal stuff... but really painful and really scary."


Anya sniffled, "And... and...nothing... it's like it didn't even bother him... The spells went off perfectly... but... nothing...

while I was listening in ... not even a single lousy scream of torment. The bastard."

She started pouting

"I ask you, Hallie, is it too much to expect of him? All I wanted was a few shrieks of unspeakable anguish... and he won't even give me that. I mean if he wouldn't give it to me _now_... what was the whole point of getting married in the first place?"

She took a sip from her drink and continued while dabbing at her eyes with a paper napkin.

"I even used the amulet to monitor his mental state... and the best I got were readings of 'sad', 'morose', and a few hours of 'miserable'... but I think that he must have been listening to a 'country and western' CD when I got that reading...mostly because that's when I also got readings of 'self loathing' and 'crushing sadness.'...I think I heard Johnny Cash in the background... but it may have just been my imagination."

She dabbed at her eyes tearfully.

"Oh Hallie, I... I just feel... so ... so... inadequate anymore. He won't even acknowledge it when I go all vengeancy on him. He just... he just... ignores me."

A stray tear trickled down her cheek.

"It's like... like... like he doesn't even want to acknowledge I exist anymore... He doesn't write... he doesn't call."

Anya burst into tears.

Halfrek moved over to lay a comforting arm on her friend's shoulders.

"Oooo that's just like a man... isn't it?... He gets what he wants... and the first thing you know... he tosses you aside... and then... when you're exacting horrible, unspeakable revenge... he pretends like it's not even bothering him to have his arms ripped out of their sockets. The brutes."

If anything this just made Anya cry harder.

"Awww...There there, Anyanka... I'm here... and you're right...

where does he get off ignoring all that you've done for him... and umm... all that you're doing to him."

She paused and brightened for a moment, "I know... we'll just have to go teach him a thing or two about having proper vengeance wrecked upon him... personally."

Anya looked up and sniffled.


Halfrek smiled evilly and explained, "We'll just _both_ show up and take care of him... We'll show him the true meaning of the word 'suffering', sweetie."

She gave Anya a hug then sat back in her chair and continued, "I'll tell you what...we'll get an early start in a few hours...make a day of it... then afterwards, we'll hit the mall... Nothing cheers me up more than a few hours of shopping for shoes right after delivering bloody vengeance on some unsuspecting fool's head."

"You'd.. you'd... you'd do that for me, Hallie?"

Halfrek nodded reassuringly, "You bet, we women have to stick together, Anya. You just wait... we'll give that no good ex of yours a piece of our minds when we see him."

She paused and smiled wickedly, "Followed immediately by our reaching in and taking out a good handful or two of his while we're at it."

Anya smiled...she hadn't felt this good in ages.

"Hallie, you're such a good friend."


Buffy found herself being smothered...slowly but surely... and couldn't fight back.

First came Willow, then Tara, then Willow again, then again Tara, they just kept hugging her so much it became hard to breathe, and all the while the two women kept trying to talk to her.

However, the chatter and questions just couldn't penetrate the emotional fog she found herself in as she stood in the waiting room lounge with her friends.

Behind the two witches, her double stood back a little, her disguise almost bringing a smile to Buffy's lips.


Anne had obviously commandeered Xander's tan leather jacket from him, then stole a pair of Anya's sunglasses out of his car, and had decided to wear them to hide her identity.

A black ski cap completed the ensemble and if anything, made Anne draw far more attention from people, than she would have if she'd just walked in right behind Buffy, letting everyone see that the previously twinless elder Summers, now had a hither to fore unknown sibling.

Even in Sunnydale, it was uncommon to see a woman going around in ski cap and sunglasses at midnight on a warm spring night, Anne was drawing much unneeded suspicious looks, and people kept edging away from her.

Frankly, Buffy mused, Anne looked like a female Unabomber, and upon reflection decided that when she got home, she was going to get rid of every version of that god awful cap that she had in her wardrobe.

She'd never realized how it had made her look until she saw it on herself from across the room.

But even from behind those sunglasses, Buffy could feel the pleading look that her doppelganger was sending her way.

"Just like I would", she mused internally, "What a weird way to see it..."

Buffy nodded to her twin and smiled softly, letting her know that things were well.

Anne's shoulders relaxed visibly as the tension drained from her.

This done, Buffy found she was now able to focus on what her friends were saying to her.

"...not listening to me are you, Buffy?"

Willow's voice.

"Huh?... sorry... I'm sorry, Willow. I... I was... thinking about things."

Willow paused a moment with an exasperated look before she spoke again.

"Dawn... how is she... what did the doctor say?"

Tara laid a hand on the redhead's shoulder trying to calm her lover down.

Buffy nodded to the two women.

"The doctor, he said that Dawn will be fine... But that they want to keep her for observation tonight."

Willow became visibly agitated.

"Observation? Wha... why?... she.. she's gonna be okay, right? She just got a bonk on the noggin'... it's nothing serious is it? I mean we've all gotten hit on the head before, boy have we ever. I mean look at Xander...", Willows voice had started getting a bit more frantic with each word, though it was hidden behind a forced jocularity,"... I mean he gets hit and knocked around all the time and no one makes him stay for 'observation'... though maybe they should."

Willow ground to a halt as her yes got a wet and desperate cast to them "Oh god... something's wrong isn't it? Ohhh god... oh god...They never make him stay for observation... Oh no... Buffy, Dawnie is going to be alright, right? She's not gonna die is she? I mea-"

Buffy held her hand up.

"Willow, stop, whoa, hold on... you're on a high speed babble-

panic... and I'm gonna have ta play 'verbal highway patrol' here and shut you down."

Willow's mouth shut with an audible clicking of teeth and a pouty look.

Buffy gave her friend a wan smile and answered her.

"First, Dawn is... well... she's not 'okay'", Buffy hastily rushed on, seeing her friend getting agitated already.

"She's got a broken nose, but he said that the doctor in charge tonight does a lot of reconstruction and cosmetic stuff. Very 90210ishly convenient, if you ask me, but hey... I'll take what I can get. Anyway, he said they'll get her nose set as good as new.", Buffy looked away to the side, her tone a little uncomfortable, "Well... it'll be 'good as new'...once the hideous purple swelling goes down that is... and it finishes healing... and the bruising....and... well I think you know what I mean."

She paused before continuing on.

"Anyway, the doc said that they want to give her something for the pain... for when they have to re set the nose...Oh, and I just have to say... ewww... nasty cartilage sounds in there...before they woke her up... I am so glad that Slayerness comes with the whole stronger bones thing. But, since she has a really nasty concussion... they just want to make sure that she doesn't have a reaction to what they give her for the pain. They also need to make sure she doesn't sleep for at least twenty four hours in case the concussion gets worse.

But, really... the doc said it's nothing to worry about...", she added with forced cheer in her voice, "It's just to make sure that she's okay. Hence...Dawn staying for 'observation'. See... it's not a _thing_ at all."

Willow looked back at her, pausing a moment before nodding.

"I... I guess... ummm is she awake yet?"

Buffy nodded.

"Fully awake and cranky... as expected. She wasn't too fond of the whole staying the night thing... at least she wasn't until the doctor told her that if she did... she could miss out on school for the next couple of days... you know Dawn and school... but I don't think we had a lock on the deal until the doc broke out the big guns."

Tara looked confused, "Big guns?"

Buffy smirked, and replied, "The words Playstation, X-box, ice cream, and hospital video library were tossed around... I saw the's like they have a blockbuster somewhere in the building or something...She's staying."

Willow smiled, "So... are you staying the night then? I should go tell Xander if..."

Buffy shook her head, "No, I was going to, but Dawn said she wants some 'alone time' and... I.. I think it really hurt her... what Spike... he..."

Willow and Tara both nodded in understanding, but behind them, Buffy saw Anne cross her arms disapprovingly.

Buffy looked away from the "I-told-you-so" glare and back to her friends.

"Ummm... Willow... where's Xand?"

Willow's expression suddenly took on a worried cast.

"He... he said he wanted to go outside... that he'd wait for us in the car."

Buffy's forehead crinkled in surprise.

"Well... that seems very... UnXader-like. I figured that he'd want to know about Dawn first thing."

Willow gamily spoke up in his defense, "Ohh... ohh... Buffy, he did... and we tried to .. you know... 'talk' to him... but...

well... he looked so sad, and ... he wouldn't talk to us hardly at all... he said he needed to take a walk outside."

Tara nodded in agreement emphatically, "I...we... we all tried to get him to come back in... but he said he needed some time to think... and... well...", she trailed off with a subdued voice.

Buffy looked to her double, who shook her head slightly.

Anne spoke with a heavy sadness in her voice, "He's outside... he wouldn't talk to me... he's just sitting on the bench in one of those sheltered bus stop things out back.", she gestured toward the electric sliding doors that led out of the Hospital.

"I don't know what's wrong with him... it's like he's just shut down inside... I've... I've never seen him like this."

Willow looked away, but replied a moment later.

"We have...", she sighed and looked at Buffy, "He looks like he did when...when he...when he was leaving the wedding."

Tara nodded her agreement, understanding clear in her eyes.

"Buffy... maybe... you know... you could go try? We want to go see Dawn... and let her know we care... maybe you could... you know...try and talk to him?"

Buffy nodded and started to go toward the door when she felt a hand touch her shoulder.

She turned and looked, watching as Anne took off her sunglasses and handed then to her twin.

"Please... I...Buffy... please. It wasn't his-"

Buffy smiled back a little, catching her twin off guard, "I know, Anne... I know it's not his fault what happened to Dawn. I know it, you know it, hell.. I think everyone, even Spike knows it. But he probably doesn't see it that way."

Anne nodded after a moment, "Yeah... I know... that's one thing about him... he's so used to people near him blaming him for things... his parents mostly... that he automatically thinks everything is his fault... Just... I... please... I'm worried about him, okay?"

Buffy nodded and replied, "I'll try not to be too 'Bull in a china shop' with him... believe it or not... I do care about just... well... it never went anywhere between us."

Anne nodded a single nod back.

Smiling a little more genuinely, Buffy added, "But... speaking of which... when we get home... I'd... I'd like to hear... more...

about how it happened... if you don't mind?"

Anne smiled softly, "Sure... I'd like that.", then her smile got a little more conspiratorial, "But you aren't fooling me... I know that you're just fishing for dirt on him, aren't you?"

Buffy tried to look innocent for a moment, but then broke out in a wide grin, "Dirt might feature as a part of the discussions... I did catch that thing about the Hyena... I expect details... and I know you got 'em."

Anne replied in a deadly serious tone, "You do realize that I swore to him that I'd keep that information totally on the TQ... just between me, Xander, and Mr. Gordo."

Buffy started to frown and opened her mouth to protest, but was cut off, "Buuuut.... seeing as you are me..."

She ended the statement with an evil smirk.

Buffy smiled happily and added, "Ooooo you're evil... I like that."

She looked over at the two Wiccians and motioned Anne toward them.

"You better go... Willow doesn't like to be kept waiting... she gets all complainy and mopey if you make her wait too long for something she wants to do."

Anne nodded and walked toward the women, only pausing to look over her shoulder at Buffy as they left.

Buffy sighed and walked toward the billing desk to pay for Dawns treatment before she left the ER.

The woman behind the desk looked up at her over her half-moon spectacles and smiled kindly.


"Hi, I'm Buffy Summers.... I brought my sister in for treatment...Dawn. I'd just like to take care of my bill, please.", Buffy winced, knowing that it was bound to be costly.

The women shuffled a couple folders and keyed in a few inquiries into her computer terminal.

"Summers... Summers... ah... here you are... okay... and... Oh... I see."

She looked back up at the waiting blonde and replied with a smile.

"You're all taken care of... your nice friend gave us his credit card number already. So you're all paid."

Buffy's eyebrows shot up.

"My friend?"

"Yes... Mr. Harris... nice young man."

"Yeah... I hear that... Ummm, was it a lot? I'll need to pay him back you know."

The woman frowned, but looked at the figures on the screen then back up at the young blonde with a smile.

"Nothing terribly bad, hmmm... let's see... he covered your Co-pay for the ER visit... and Doctor Bormen has already put in the charges for... well...sweetheart... how about I just send you an itemized list, hmmm?"

Buffy nodded.

"But, given what I see here... it's nothing terrible."

Buffy smiled and replied, "Thank you... thanks a lot."

She then turned and walked toward the pressure sensitive exit doors.

They slide apart accommodatingly as she neared and she stepped out into the cooler night air.

She paused a moment at the exit, letting her eyes adjust to the contrasting darkness, and the harsh orange light of the sodium vapor lamps that bathed the parking lot behind the hospital.

Unsurprisingly, there were few cars in the lot, mostly because in Sunnydale, people generally did the smart thing at night and stayed home. Saving the morning for dealing with day to day problems like injury and minor illness.

Nearby was Xander's new Taurus, empty, but still there. She'd momentarily feared that he'd go for a drive leaving them to wait for his return. Smirking slightly she shook her head, no, Xander never would have just left them.

She mused softly to herself, "Well, where have you wandered off to now, Xander?"

Looking about, Buffy quickly found three separate bus stop shelters... and behind the scratched and slightly fogy plexiglass of one of them, she could make out the large frame of her friend.

As she walked toward him, she took the time to consider what she was seeing.

His whole posture radiating a plethora of dark emotions that she could feel hovering around him.

Buffy, found herself looking over at her friend nervously, seeing why her friends had been so worried by his behavior.

Buffy continued to watch him closely as she approached him, watched as he leaned heavily forward, his eyes fastened to a small spot on the concrete flooring of the shelter, a spot that lay precisely between the heels of his feet.

She watched as he did something very atypical for her Xander shaped friend.

She watched as he... brooded.

Smiling wryly, Buffy decided that he was most definitely _not_ an attractive brooder.

He simply didn't have the knack for it that Angel did.

Now at least she had something to break the ice with.

Crossing the last few feet between them, she stood in the entrance to the bus shelter and crossed her arms in front of her, and leaned casually against the frame before she spoke.

"You really suck at that, you know?"

Xander usually responded to her verbal barbs best of all.

He looked up, his eyes full of hurt, and for a minute she wondered if she'd made a miscalculation as to his mood, but surprise and curiosity made a sudden showing in his expression.

She nodded to herself knowing she'd pushed the right buttons.

His forehead crinkled and he asked, "Huh?"

"The whole brooding thing... you really just don't do it right."

She paused a moment to flash him a light hearted smile, "Here... let me help."

She smirked to herself as she saw the vaguely outraged look that crossed his face.

"Buffy, I don't think-"

She cut him off, still smiling and pushing him upright.

"Don't worry about it, Xander, I'll start off with the basics... if you want to learn about how to brood, you're with the right girl, I learned from a master."

He opened his mouth again, but she just went on as though ignoring his protest.

"Okay, the whole posture thing is key... your whole leaning forward thing just aint' doing it for me... try sitting up more and glowering... yeah... that's it... more like that."

He had upped the ante from outrage, and was now shooting her an angry glare.

"Buffy, I do not br-"

"Perfect, now cross your arms.... right.. just like that..

perfect... now, lick your lips a little so that they have a little glisten-... aww you ruined it... stop that... now you're just pouting."

Speaking slowly, he commented, "I was _not_ brooding."

"You were _so_ brooding, Xander."

She let her smile soften a little and laughed softly.

"That's better... that's the Xander we all know and love."

She shooed him over to make room for her on the bench with a few waves of her hand, then sat down next to him.

She let a few moments of silence pass between them, giving him the chance to start talking.

Seeing he wasn't about to begin, she spoke again.

"Xander... first off... thank you... The woman at the desk told me you gave her your card number... I appreciate the help... but I want you to know that I _will_ be paying you back. We Summers women are stubborn too... so don't-"

"Okay, Buff... I got ya... it's okay... Pay... or don't pay... I don't mind... I just thought that... since it was may fault that-"

Buffy interrupted him angrily, "Xander, stop right there... don't you dare try and take the blame for this... Dawn got hurt because of Spike... not you."

Xander sighed, obviously unconvinced.


The defeated tone of his voice, and the way his shoulders slumped worried her, she'd never seen her friend so... bleak.

She paused a moment, letting him regroup emotionally before she spoke again.

"Xander... to me... tell what's wrong.

I'm... we're worried about you... are you okay?"

He sighed.

"Yeah... I'm..."

He paused, his demeanor became deeply serious and he shook his head slowly.

"No... I'm not... I'm not okay, Buffy."

She wasn't sure where the courage came from, but she reached over and rested her arm hesitantly across his back, then leaned against him, feeling his warmth radiate against her.

She rested her cheek against his shoulder and was surprised how solid he felt to her. His job had built him up into something significantly more solid than the lanky youth she'd remembered him being in high school. Things change.

"Xander, whatever it is... you can talk to us about it... we're your friends."

He turned his head to look back at her.

Chocolate brown eyes connected with those of a warm blue.

Xander broke away first.

"He's right, you know?"

The dead and hopeless tone in his voice cut her more painfully than she'd thought it could have.

"Wh-who? Who's right?"

"Spike, he's right... God, he's right...about me... What he said tonight... whatever's happening to me... it's turning me into something, Buffy... I can feel's like it's gnawing away at me inside... I'm turning into a monster... like Jesse did."

Buffy started in surprise, drawing her arm back and sitting up away from him slightly.

But seeing how the loss of contact with her only caused him to retreat further into himself, she renewed the contact and pulled him toward her gently.

"Xander...whatever's happening to you.... you aren't becoming a mon-"

He looked back at her harshly, a look that stopped her in mid sentence.

"Buffy, look at me... look at me carefully, and tell me what you see. Is there anything... anything _odd_... anything that seems out of place?... anything _wrong_ with this picture?"

She looked at him, unsure what he meant.

Finally she shook her head and spoke her mind.

"I don't see anything wrong with you, Xander. You look fine to me.

You look"

He chuckled, "Me... yeah...just 'Xander', huh? Not 'Xander without a black eye', or 'Xander without a cut lip and bruises', or maybe even a 'Xander without any blood on him'?"

Buffy blinked, then her hands cupped to his face, taking it between her palms and looking him over closely, tilting his head back and then side to side.

Her eyes widened perceptibly.

Finally she spoke again.

"Xan.... What... what happened?, I mean... you're right...'s gone... not even any swelling... Hey, maybe whatever's happening just makes you heal fast too. Sort of like my Slayer healing."

He shook his head.

"No, Buffy, it's not like that...not even close... it's....

scary... even the blood on my shirt...from the bloody nose... it's gone, Buffy. There's not even a trace of dried blood inside my nose, I checked.... ummm... okay... too much info there, right? Anyway, there's nothing... It's not like it healed itself, Buffy... it's like it never happened."

Buffy let his face go and shook her head.

She responded quietly, "Wow... I can see what you mean... major wiggins."

She brightened a little, though it was obviously forced, "Hey, look on the bright side, Xander, no dry cleaning bills."

Xander sighed and forced a smile, one that his voice openly mocked.

"Yeah, I guess."

He sighed softly and commented, "I just wish I knew what was going on."

He looked out at his car and continued, "You don't think that Anya... that she... I mean... she did turn that Olaf guy into a troll... and that was for cheating on her... God only knows what she might have done to me for leavin-"

Buffy shook her head and interrupted him, "Xander, I don't think that she'd do something like that to you... She's changed.... and besides...even if she did somehow come up with the power to do something... Anya's more direct than that. If she'd gone and put the whammy on you... I think it'd be more along the lines of... well... let's just say that we'd probably be pressure washing the inside of your apartment right now."

Both friends sat looking at each other as a chill passed over them.

Xander broke the silence, "Geeze, morbid much, Buff?"

Buffy nodded in agreement to his statement, "Yeah... scary visual there... let's not go there again. It's a bad place, one in severe need of a repaint and remodel. But I can sympathize with her... I'm a woman... and I know that if you'd have done that to me... hooo boy."

He mumbled a reply that she only picked up because of her enhanced hearing, "I'd never have done that to you, Buffy."

Taking a breath, and trying to ignore what she'd heard, she continued, "Seriously though, Xander, whatever's happening... don't listen to Spike... I know you... and no matter what's happening...

or has happenedto you... you could never..."

Her voice trailed off softly for a moment as she saw how her own words applied to herself.

"...never be a monster... not in my eyes."

Xander looked at her, noting the far away look he saw on her face..

"Well... thanks for the sentiment, but what if he's right... what if something I did... something that happened.... that it changed me... made me... like 'him' somehow."

He sighed again, "Maybe that's why Sweet didn't want me... maybe whatever I did... it made me a soulless freak like Spike. I mean, you saw what happened... he could hit me... that means I've changed... or I'm changing into something that's... that's not human."

Buffy snapped back to the conversation and replied more forcefully than she intended.

"No! Xander... you have to have faith... the fact that you're questioning it, that tells us that you're still who you were... who you are.... and that he's wrong... that you aren't a monster... and that you're not turning into one either."

She locked gazes with him, her eyes hard.

"Listen to me... Xander... just because he could hit you... it doesn't mean anything. I get that now. Whatever happened back there, what he said... you have to ignore it."

She paused, then added softly, "I know... believe me... I know."

She felt the moment rushing in on her, and decided to seize it before her nerve failed her utterly.

"Xander, a few months back... I was out patrolling... and I ran into Spike. We got into an argument... and... and I hit him...He was saying things to me... things that I didn't like... so I... I hit him... not thinking about it... just hitting him like I always did... and... and he hit me back... and the chip.", she paused afraid to go ahead, " didn't go off."

She looked into his eyes, waiting to see a spark of understanding before she continued.

"That's what I mean... when I say "I know"... and why I say that... whatever is happening to you... it... it doesn't make you a monster."

She paused, before continuing, but taking a deep breath and screwing her courage tight, she kept going, "I... he... he used it...used that he could hit me back... to try and manipulate me... He... he started telling me things... things that... that I know are lies, now. be honest... I think he believed them when he said them... and... maybe.... I wanted to believe him too... because...

because of how hard it is."

She swallowed with difficulty, a lump forming in her throat. Her expression stating that her courage was flagging...that she was wondering if he'd pull back from her in revulsion when she told him the whole truth.

"I felt... wrong... different...So, I listened to him... when ...

when he started telling me that I'd come back...wrong... and that I was like him now."

She looked at her hands and sighed.

"And... I believed him, Xander."

Xander looked at his friend... feeling the emotional pain rolling off her, unsure what she was getting at.

"Buffy... I-"

She leaned against him, drawing him into an embrace.

She whispered softly into his chest as they hugged, "Xander, we...

we need to talk later... not right now, okay?... I can't... not right now....But, we need to talk about things...that have happened. No more running away, or not wanting to face what's been done."

She could feel him nod as he held her.

"I... Buffy, I know we need to talk about it... about us bringing you back."

He felt her tense up against his chest.

"No, Xander I didn't mean-"

He'd paused for a moment, but began speaking again, interrupting her with a voice full of emotion, "Buffy, please, just let me say this first...before I lose my nerve here... You see, I've just been afraid... I just haven't had the words to apologize like I know I needed to, for my part in what we did to you."


"No, I know we need to talk about it, and I've been running away from you. I... I didn't want to know...'re right, we have to talk about this... and we will... talk... like you want... when you want. But... but I just want you to know... I'm... I'm sorry, okay? If we'd have known for one minute...if _I'd_ have known... I'd never have let-"

She put her head back on his shoulder, feeling the hot sting of tears forming in her eyes.

She nodded, her own bravery failing her utterly.

She murmured softly, "Okay...Please...just promise me, Xander, promise that you've never leave me..that you'll always be my friend."

He didn't hesitate long in his answer.

"Never...I swear... as long as you'll be mine too, Buff."

She rested her cheek against his shoulder and sighed softly, a sigh of contentment and release...and shame.

"I love you. You know that. Right?"

He nodded.

"Yeah.", he replied, his voice a little sad, "I love you too, Buff."

He sighed, breathing in her hair scent and softly adding, "...always have."

A comfortable silence stretched out between then, one that Xander broke as he pulled back from the embrace and stood up.

"I think I'd better go check on Dawn Patrol."

He turned back to her, "How is she?"

Buffy smiled wanly and replied, "She's okay, got a concussion...

gonna spend the night. Speaking of which, do you have work tomorrow?"

He shook his head and replied, "Nope. We're doing the fixtures right now, and the shipping company messed up. We're having to take a couple days off till the right stuff comes in. Besides, once those are in, we're done. I'm gonna take a couple weeks off to go apartment hunting. Why do you ask?"

"Well, I figured that with it being as late as it is... and if you don't have to work that you could stay and...huh... Apartment hunting? What for? I mean you got thoroughly cool digs. Something wrong?"

Xander looked up facing the washed out sky.

"Memories mostly.", he muttered.

He looked back down and toward his friend.

"Well, the apartment is too big for just me now... and the rent is..."

He looked at the dubious glance that Buffy was sending him and sighed.

"And you're not buying a word of this...are you?"

She shook her head.

"Okay... Okay...well...'s been nearly a month since Anya disappeared. I've tried the magic box, her apartment, all the places we used to hang. Nada. I was hoping that as long as I kept the apartment, she'd have a sure way of finding me... so I could try and make things right between us. To try and apologize and take my lumps for hurting her...But, I'm thinking she's maybe not coming back now... and... be truthful... I...I just can't sleep there anymore. I try, and all I can do it remember. You know... oh look there's where me and Anya did this... or here's the room where me and Anya first ...ummm... played monopoly.", he finished lamely.

"Monopoly?", Buffy asked with an amused snort.

"He adopted a mock innocent look, "What?... Something wrong with Parker Brothers? You know how wrapped up she was with money."

"Sure, Xander...whatever you say."

She smiled broadly at his discomfort.

As they approached the sliding doors, Willow, Tara and Anne came walking out.

Willow smiled brightly, seeing her friend appearing to be somewhat back to himself once more.

"Heyya, Xander... Feeling less moperific?"

He nodded, "Been ninety percent de-mope-ified, courtesy of our favorite blonde slayer in the 19-25 female demographic... Buffy Summers."

Anne quirked an eyebrow but left it at that.

Xander rubbed his hands together anxiously, "So... where is Dawn Patrol, I need to make sure and give her my-"

Anne responded with a smile, "Third examination room in, across from the operating room. Go see her, but make it quick, please. She needs her rest... and so do I. Its past one thirty and I we should get going home."

"Sure thing, be right out."

He headed into the building and briefly looked about.

A few moments, later found him in the examination room with a rather battered Dawn.

A nose splint had already been placed on her, and the blood she'd had on her when he'd carried her in had been carefully cleaned away.

He spoke softly, "Heyya, Dawnie, you okay sweetheart?"

She opened her eyes and smiled, wincing slightly and responding equally softly, "Hey there Xander... the doctor said that my nose looks worse than it really is... and when they set it properly, it'll be even prettier than it was. "

Xander smirked and replied, "Not possible... My dear, your nose has always been a thing of perfect beauty."

She laughed weakly

"God, you're an awful liar, Xander. But I still love you for trying."

He shrugged, then grew serious.

"Dawn, seriously... I'm sorry... this is all my fau-"

She interrupted him abruptly shaking her head, "Spike."


"I said, Spike. Not you Xander, you didn't do this, Spike did."

"But if we weren't."

She held up a hand, "I'm invoking 'injured woman privilege number one'.. you have to listen to me... so shut up and listen, Xander."

"Shutting up now"

"Good, first, Xand, I got in the way, and Spike, not you, did this. Understand?

"Yes... but."

"No, I have a question for you?"

Xander found himself thoroughly off balance and couldn't seem to reacquire the initiative, "Ummm.. okay?"

"Are you still my friend?"

He looked at her in surprise, "What kind of question is that, Dawn? Of course I am."

She nodded, "Good, that means that I have designated 'hanging out' privileges with you then."

Xander looked all the more puzzled.

"Not following here, Dawn... this is kinda a non-Euclidean conversation we're having here... should I get a doctor? You feeling alright?"

Dawn nodded, wincing as her head hurt.

"I'm fine, just... well... when Buffy and Spike started spending so much time patrolling together... he sorta stopped coming around and spending time with me. I.. I just don't want that happening with you... now that the other Buffy is here... I.. I just don't wanna lose you too, Xander."

Xander moved in and hugged her gently.

"You never will, Dawn Patrol... promise."

"Good, now go home... I got movies and an X-box waiting for me."


She grinned evilly at him.


"Can I have a concussion too?"

She stuck her tongue out at him and motioned him toward the door.

"Fine, I know when I'm not wanted... But seriously, Dawn... I'll be here with Buffy to pick you up tomorrow, and I'll never stop being your friend."

"Yeah, yeah... beat it already, willya. ", she replied with a smile.

Xander left the room, his shoulders set as though he'd had a weight lifted from them.


Spike staggered as his eyesight again swam blearily in front of him, filling him with nausea.

Ahead he could make out the neon sign for Willy's bar.

His hunger meanwhile, gnawed at him fiercely, demanding satisfaction.

It ravened like a rabid, enraged animal, thrashing about in its cage of dead flesh.

His sojurn across town had been a trial of its own, one that raised disturbing questions in his mind, questions he shied away from out of reflex.

He'd come across two derelicts who'd had the bad fortune to be in his path. Two 'happy meals' that he'd been a hair's breadth from feasting on each time.

Instead he'd scared them off with his demonic face.

He still wasn't sure why he hadn't drained them both dry, and shied away from the implications it carried.

"It's just cus this's easier, right... am weak and dizzy and I din't know what I was doin' right. Just get me a bit of something here... be right as rain."

His hand settled on the brass door latch and opened it with a jingle of the bell above the door.

"Heyya, bar's closed... we're... Oh.. it's you, Spike. Waddaya want? I ain't got no info for ya, pal!"

"Shut it, Willy. Not here for that, you bloody idiot. Need something to drink."

Spike leaned his palms on the top of the bar counter.

Willy, put a glass he was wiping back under the counter and shook his head.

"too bad, cuz like I said, the bar is-urk!"

Spike had reached across the counter and grabbed the weaselly little man by the front of his shirt and hauled him face to face with him.

"I said... I need something to drink little man, or shall I just drink you?", the blonde vampire hissed angrily.

Willy stuttered in shock, "Hey, calm down Spike."

Then a moment later he smirked confidently, "Besides, heh... I know you can't do nothin' to me... you got that chip thing in your head... you can't hurt m-ack!"

Willy raised his hand to his mouth where Spike had backhanded him.

"Care to try again old sod? The chip ain't working so well these days, my luv. Guess its warranty expired, right? Now... let's try this... again... shall we? Which'll it be... a few pints... nice and chilled?"

He slammed the man face down on the bar top, exposing the man's neck.

"...or shall I just pull one straight from the tap?"

He looked directly into the little man's eyes.

"I do have a hankering for something nice... and fresh."

Willy waved his hands energetically, "A drink... ohhh you want a drink.. hey.. no problem... Sure thing, Spike... I.I.I got some good stuff in the f-fridge... a-as much as you want... on the house, okay?"

Spike let go of the man, letting him up off the counter and smiling dangerously.

"On the house? Why that's bloody hospitable of you, Willy... I might just not kill you now. And that's Mister Spike from now on you git... Now, be quick about it, right. Oh, and put some Burba weed init too, fresh... none-a that dried crap."

"S-Sure thing, Mr. Spike."

Spike sat back and waited for his drink to come, his head pounding and his hunger egging him on.

Whatever'd happened to him, to his chip... it had left him hungry... and that meant that he'd had to heal a lot while he was out. So much so that it'd drained his energy reserves to dangerous levels.

Somehow, and for some reason, whatever Harris had done... he'd been freed. Freed from his electronic leash.

And the animal part of him wanted to howl.

It wanted to glut itself, feasting on prey... to destroy, bring chaos, and bathe in his enemies blood.

It was a part of himself that the chip had helped repress, and it was back now with a vengeance.

A glass full of thick viscid fluid was placed in front of him, it's aroma calling to his beast.

He picked it up and drank it down, letting it's cool texture and metallic salt tang linger on his pallet, the burba weed adding a fiery spiciness to it.

He put the glass down and wiped a stray rivulet of crimson from the corner of his mouth.

Bliss in a glass.

"Hit me again, mate."

The beast grew quieter, and he felt his nausea fade.

Another glass appeared... and it's contents disappeared again.

"Another... no weed this time."

"S-sure thing, Spike... you mind if I ask what happened?"

"Sod off, I got thinking to do... just keep putting these in front of me, and you'll stay healthy, understand?"

"Y-yeah... gotcha."

Another glass full of crimson was drained, and another asked for.

The howling of the beast no longer roared in his mind and Spike slowed his drinking, savoring the bite of it's taste.

"What is this stuff anyway?"

"Ummm, got a deal going with some people in the Red Cross... They got too much whole blood to store back around 9-11... woulda just all gone bad... so I bought a bunch up."

"You telling me this is _dead_ blood?" Spike looked as though he might be ill.

Willy held up his hands in protest, "No... no... Hang on... no...

see... I had a warlock friend of mine cast a preservation spell on it... So long as I keep it in the cold... it don't ever go dead...

it's like it's ummm... like frozen... but in time like... and it stays like that till it hits room temperature. You like?... I can make you a deal for a couple gallons of it every week."

Spike looked at his glass, then at the mirror behind the counter, seeing the glass floating.

He looked at his glass again and set it deliberately down and stared into the man's eyes... seeing his reflection in their watery depths.

Many people thought that Vampires cast no reflection at all... but there was one exception.

The eyes.

Vampires could always see themselves reflected in the eyes of their potential prey.

Spike saw himself reflected in Willy's eyes, and he knew what he had to do.

Taking a deep breath... he began, stepping onto a path he never thought he'd be able to.

"What I want... mate... is information."

He smiled.

"And if you can provide it... I'll even pay you."


"Yeah, right, ya see... there's these three fellows I'm lookin' for, see. And I gotta find them before the Slayer does."

"But you been hanging with the Slayer... why don't you just..."

Spike leaned forward and smiled coldly, "Because, Willy... if _she_ finds them first... I'll never get what I need from them. So... what do you say? We got a deal?"

"Who are they?"

"Who they are is bloody unimportant, mate... they're going by 'the Trio' or somesuch nonsense... but what they are is what's important... they're a buncha bloody super geeks... and they don't know it yet... but they're gonna do something very important for me. You see Willy old boot, they're gonna take care of a little problem I have... Bloody bastards... All this time... all this bloody time and still. Well... now things are different...Finally, I can do what _I_ want...See, now it's good old Spike's turn...", he trailed off.

He nodded to himself, his decision made.

"They're gonna help me even the score, Willy. They're gonna help me do what needs doin."

He nodded again, his smile hard.

"I'll show them... I'll show them all...Bitch is gonna see some changes."


"Buffy?", a voice called from the hall outside her door.

"Yes?", she replied, sitting on her bed brushing her hair as she got ready for bed.

Xander poked his head into the room and asked, "Do you have anything a little... manlier I could change into?"

Buffy craned her head to look at him as he tried to hide around the corner of the door.

She could see that Xander wore a light yellow bathrobe that just barely large enough to close and cover his more...unmentionable bits.

She snorted and turned away a moment, her shoulders hunched and shaking.

Buffy nodded, her eyes watering, as she moved toward her wardrobe.

After a few moments looking, she pulling out the ski suit he'd suggested she wear on a date several years ago.

She held it out to him with the matching black hat.

Xander gave her a flat look.

"Yeah yeah... supreme yuks, Buff. Been saving that one up I see...

Well, I'm glad you find it amusing, because I sure don't. I'm serious here, Buffy... I keep feeling like one deep breath too many and the whole household will know how manly a man the son of Mr. and Mrs Harris is. That said, I think it prudent to inform you... that if that happens, I can't be held responsible for aggravating any unknown heart conditions of the females in your house."

She tried to keep a straight face, as he stood in the doorway with his hands on his hips.

"Bwahhh hahaha"

Xander stomped away, as Willow came up the hall and paused at Buffy's door.

"Xander... Tara said she's really really sorry... she's washing your stuff downstairs. I'll see if maybe she can magic something up for you to wear, okay? But the good news is that she thinks she can get the blue slushy stain out."

He just continued to grumble about his cars upholstery as he stomped down the stairs.

Willow sighed and turned to the Slayer.


"So.", Buffy replied.

"Didn't tell him... did ya?"

Buffy looked down, replying in a tiny voice, "No... he... he got me sidetracked. He misunderstood what I was trying to say." She paused, then looked back at her friend, "He totally got the wrong idead...

and made it about... about what happened before that. About the spell know."

"Oh", Willow said in a small voice of her own realizing what she was talking about.

"I can see why that would...distract you."

Buffy nodded.

"He was trying to apologize, and... I just couldn't."

"Tell him?"

Buffy nodded

Willow sighed understandingly, "It'll just be harder next time, Buffy. You gotta tell him."

"I know!", she snapped back at the redhead, then in a softer tone repeated, "I know... it's just..."

Willow nodded, her mouth forming a look half resolve face, and half supportive friend smile.

"I know... it's gonna hurt. He'll probably say some things that'll make you want to strangle him... but he's still Xander... he'll still be your friend...I hope."

Buffy nodded, looking down.

Seeking to change the topic she asked, "So, what are you and Tara gonna do? Look over that Medula thing?"


"Yeah, that."

"Yeah, but I think we're gonna have to make Xander explain it. I just don't get half of what he's talking about."


The Wiccian sighed, "Fine...most. It just doesn't make sense... it's all abstract... and none of it draws on any of the higher or infernal powers."

"That's good though, right?"

Willow threw up her hands, "Beats me... I mean all my magic calls on various forms of the Gods or Goddesses... mainly to entreat then for use of their powers. This isn't like that at all."

"Well, have fun, and don't keep him up all night, or morning...

oh... and did you call Giles? When we were at the Box?"

Willow nodded, "Got his answering machine, left a message. He's probably out having early morning tea or something typically British like that."

"That's our Giles.", she lowered her voice an octave, "Slaying if your sacred duty... destiny, breeding, birthright, blah blah bity blah, I'm bookish and I even wear tweed t-shirts in the summer, ooo pardon's time for tea now."

Willow snorted and nodded along laughing.

"Okay, well I'm gonna go now, weird Xander spells to decode and find out why they didn't explode in his face, much less why he even still has a face for them to explode in."

Buffy nodded and resumed her brushing.

Willow turned and nearly ran right into a pajama wearing Anne as she toweled her hair dry, making her way into Buffy's room.

"Night, Wills, try not to tucker Xander out too much will ya? Poor guy'll need his sleep later."

Willow did a double take, trying to get used to the sight of the identical Slayers.

She wandered off muttering.

"Hey there, me. Gonna hog the brush all night?"

"Just finishing up.", Buffy gave her twin a sidelong glance, and stopped dead.

"Where did you get those?", she demanded, pointing at the pajamas.

"Oh these old things?"

"Those are _my_ yummy sushi pajamas, where did you find them... I looked everywhere for them for... well, forever.

Anne quirked an eyebrow mockingly and replied, "Well, if you looked 'everywhere'...", she paused, smirking evilly, "I must have just pulled them out of thin air."

Buffy growled.

Anne relented and closed the door to the bedroom.

"Fine...I'll tell you... for the brush."

Buffy tossed the soft bristled brush at her double like a throwing knife, muttering poutily.

"Fine, there... now... where were they?"

"Remember the overnight bag that Dawn 'borrowed' when she spent the night that first time... the 'real' first time... not the times we remembered from when she was growing up, over at Melinda's? Well... that was the same bag you used when you stayed over at Xander's."

She paused, starting to comb out her damp hair, "Well, she took them out and put them in one of her under the bed storage things... and forgot about them."

"Dawn... I should have known...And you knew... because?"

"Because that's where I found them last time. Took a month of searching."

Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes as Anne kept brushing her hair out.

"Great...just great. Well at least they're back... Welcome back sushi-jams... missed you... even if you are on someone other than their rightful owner.", she added bitterly.

Anne frowned and said, "Hey, I'm still you, remember?... or you're me... or something like that."

Buffy sighed, eying the cotton bedclothes and replied, "Yeah...whatever...So... where do you think we should start?"

Anne shrugged.


Buffy lay back on the bed in her cotton nightgown and hugged Mr.

Gordo to herself.

"Ummm... well... I was thinking."

Anne smirked, "Whoa... stop the presses."

Buffy tossed a pillow at her double.

"Shut up, you... Now, as I was saying, before I was so _rudely_ interrupted...I've been thinking... and if we buy this whole 'altered timeline' thing of Willow's... which I'm still kinda dubious about... then things might not be exactly the same... So lets try and figure out where things got different first... then we can work though what's the same... and what's different."

Anne nodded, "M'Kay... sounds like a plan."

Buffy shrugged, "Best one I could come up with on no notice... So... let's see...biggest difference right off is Xander. When did you and him hook up, anyway? I just don't see how it's possible."

"Hook up? You mean have sex?... Wow, you do get right to the point don't you?... As to how it's possible... Well, remember that talk mom had with us? First you-"

Buffy laughed and made as if she were throwing another pillow at her double, "No, sheesh, you _have_ been hanging around Xander too much. He's a bad influence on me obviously. No... I meant when did we...

God I can't believe I'm asking this... when did we start dating him?"

Anne nodded and replied, "Well, to be honest... I'd say it was after Warren's girlfriend bot trashed-"

"Spike!", Buffy blurted, then looked embarrassed, "... Um... I mean when she threw Spike through that window... she trashed him and the window."

Anne nodded dubiously, "Right... Spike said something to her and she tossed him into the yard like a lawn dart, just without the pointy metal bits."

She smiled, "Anyway Xander helped out the frat and fixed it up later...And we got to talking...and I was kind of down about the whole relationship thing. So I unloaded with him... and one thing led to another annnnd-"

Buffy's forehead crinkled, "Huh? How'd we get from talking to Xand to us, errr you I mean, being all lip lockey with him tonight?"

Anne looked upward as she concentrated, "Ummm, Okay... well... the whole thing really kinda started with the whole Puffy Xander suit thing."

Buffy looked at her double oddly, "Excuse me when I say, Wha?"

Anne sighed, and answered, "Okay, maybe here's where things are different. Did you have a talk with Xander about stuff when he was wearing that big padded suit?....Umm it was right before little Ms. Homicidal windup toy came to town."

Buffy nodded and replied, "Yeah, I think so... he was all padded up... and I was really upset still about Riley. So what's the what? It was just a talk."

Anne nodded slowly, "Okay then you had the same talk I did...I think. Ummm... I was all hurty... and kinda laid into him during that training session... physically I mean."

Seeing Buffy nodding along she continued, "And I was on about how I torture guys to make them love me, and that I should change.

Laughing at jokes thing ...etcetera. Then he said that thing about 'just being me' and someone seeing my 'amazing heart and just falling in love with me', and stuff like that?"

Buffy blushed, and nodded.

Anne smirked, "Ah ha... he got to you too with that, huh?"

Buffy paused then shook her head rapidly,"What?... No!...absolutely not... It was.. ummm uhhh...", she stoped shaking her head and smiled in a 'hate being forced to admit that I'm lying' way, "Oh.... ummmm....yeah kinda."

Under the glare of her twin she relented, "Okay.. yeah... I was really touched by what he said... But... but, he was just being sweet. It didn't mean anything"

Anne crossed her arms in front of her chest and redoubled her glare.

Buffy wilted under the gaze, "Okay, fine it was a completely Kodak moment, true... But...but, he was just being a good friend when I was down in the dumps, that all. It was just ... typical Xander talk."

Anne rolled her eyes, "Oh yeah...right...Male friends _always_ do things like that for their gal type friends, talking about love and feelings... especially when they aren't interested in them in the least, riiight."

Finally she looked back at Buffy, and asked, "So, cruise de-nile much there, Nefertiti?"

Buffy blinked, unsure how to answer, leaving Anne time to continue, "So, anyway... after that... and the breakage of windows, and the bot doing her impression of a wind up toy and shutting down... We got to talking some. And, I told him how I figured that I didn't need a guy right then... and just wanted to be with myself, and have some Buffy time. And he did that little smile thing of his, and said that I was a 'pretty cool person to be alone with'."

Buffy nodded and asked in a noncommittal voice, "So?"

Anne smiled, "So I called Ben, you did have a 'Ben' here right?...

Glory's better half?"

Buffy nodded, confirming.

Anne continued, "'Okay, I called him and left a message, no coffee for him... and took Xander out for coffee and donuts. There ya go.", she finished with a smirk.

Buffy grimaced, "Your first date was... Coffee and Donuts?"

Anne nodded, "Hey, don't knock it till you try it... alone with him that is."

She smiled gently and continued, seeing Buffy's puzzled look, "We went to this 24 hour donut place... you'd be surprised how many of them there are in Sunnydale if you look. Anyway, the Coffee was crapptacular, the donuts were like bread soaked in salted lard with frosting on top... and the music was country... played on what sounded like an old am radio. All in all it was the most wonderful night I think I've ever had."

Buffy looked highly dubious, but let her continue.

"We talked till dawn and then through the breakfast rush...and never even noticed. We covered all sorts of things we'd never talked about before...everything from what I wanted to do with my life... if I ever got out from under being The Slayer, to growing up in LA like I had... to growing up in Sunnydale like he had. And...and I got a peek at the Xander he doesn't let anyone see, not even Willow."

She looked at Buffy with a serious gaze, "There are things about him, Buffy... some really painful things that I can't... No...that I _won't_ tell you about." She paused a moment before continuing, "Because they're his to tell and no one elses...I love him that much that... I just won't tell you about them."

She paused, and smiled, "But I _will_ tell you this... I'm the only one he ever told them to... not Willow, not his friend Jesse before he met you...nobody...just me... us. I think that that says a lot right there."

She paused, letting the implication of her words sink in before she continued, "You don't know what you got there, me. Probably because you won't let yourself see it...I know it took me long enough to get over not letting myself see him as he really is. But that night, we connected...I mean _really_ connected. And I let him know how glad I was that he was my friend."

She smiled, holding the brush in both hands. "And when he walked me back to the dorm, that's when it happened."

Buffy smiled amusedly, "He kissed you?"

Anne laughed, "You'd think so, wouldn't you? But no, he didn't. He walked me home to the dorm, hugged me, and then, while we were hugging... he whispered that he'd never stopped loving me... and left... while I just stood there."

Anne wiped at her eyes, brushing back tears.

"I just froze... because I could hear how honest he was being... and after all the lies I'd been told. Angel keeping what he was from me at first, then Parker... and what Riley kept from me.", she sniffed and added, "I donno... I guess hearing truth told like that...

totally pure, and... undiluted... I just froze. I didn't know what to do... and he was so sweet.... And that's when it hit me.", She smiled as her twin, "That every time that I ended up in the dumps, or hurt... there he was... never pushing, always there for me when I needed him, always willing to tell me what I needed to hear... even when it wasn't what I wanted to hear. Always there for _me_, even when I wasn't there for him. Well, when he said 'that'... I just felt the fears I ever felt melt away. I knew that I could trust him with my heart."

She looked seriously at her namesake, and smiled.

"So... I called him, and left a message. One that he'd get when he got home, just three little words."

Buffy's eyes widened. "You told him you lo-"

Anne shook her head and stopped her, smiling, " not that at all."

"Huh? What then?"

Anne smiled and said, "'Ask me again'"

Buffy looked puzzled, "Okay, you lost me there... badly."

Anne frowned, "Don't be dense... think about it."

A few minutes ticked by.

" don't mean...Spring fling?"

"Of course."


"And an hour later he called..."


"...and I answered."

"Okay... stop dragging this out already", Buffy added with exasperation.

"Okay, okay... impatient woman...Fine...well he was like _totally_ nervous... and started falling back into joking around... till I told him to just 'ask'... and he asked... and I laughed... I was totally right... and I told him that this time, the answer was 'yes'... And 'that', as the man says, was 'that'."

Buffy blinked, silent for several long minutes.

Anne finally broke the silence, clearing her throat.

"Good enough for you?"

Buffy nodded and replied, "Y-yeah...I...I see what you mean.


"Pretty awful huh... totally overly dramatic and more than a little sappy?"

Buffy nodded softly.

"Yeah... but..."

Anne smiled, "Yeah... but romantic in ways there aren't words for."

Buffy nodded again, then shook herself and said, "But, what happened with Anya? I mean she and Xander..."

"Anya?", Anne asked, "What about her? She'd broke up with him by then. And I still don't get how they nearly got married here... what happen? They get back together?"

Buffy scratched her arm a little and replied, "Uhhh they ... never broke up... Kinda hard to get back together when they never stopped being together."

Anne paused in her brushing and set the brush down.

"Wait a minute... they never broke up? Okay... let's do a little back tracking here. Before the dot showed...what did you have happen... I gathered we both dealt with Glory later... cept' you died... and I... I lived... and Xander...", she shied away from that thought and refocused.

"Okay, step by step. Before the bot... I can see that we both were dealing with Spike's 'thing' for us, right"

Buffy nodded.

"Okay, so... Did you have the stupid council guys show up a while before that...and try to play their little power trippy games with you too?"

Buffy nodded and replied, "Absolutely... That Traver's guy is a major creepoid."

Anne rolled her eyes in agreement, "Tell me about it... quizzing all our friends like they did."

She paused thinking, "Okay, how about before that... Did Giles leave for England to get info on what Glory was?, seeing Buffy indicated this was true she continued, "Okay, and that's when Willow and Anya really started to fight about stuff...leading to them calling up Olaf the Troll-god ...interior decorator extraordinaire, to have him give the Magic box his own personal touch. Right?"

Buffy nodded, remembering the scene, and nearly laughing.

"God, I thought Giles would spring a leak and shoot steam out when he saw what had happened."

Anne nodded and added, "Ummm... And are you telling me that Anya didn't break up with Xander right after that?"

Buffy blinked long and hard.

"Hello?, What? No... she didn't... She was all over him what with his broken wrist."

Anne nodded and thought.

"Okay, I think I spotted something here... let me tell you what happened as I remember it."

Buffy swept her arm across in a "go ahead" gesture.

"Okay...After Olaf showed, Xander charged in, and got bonked around... and surprisingly.. didn't get hurt by the mallet... like we all talked about. Still... very weird. But then, got his wrist broken when he wouldn't choose for either Willow or Anya to die."

She paused, looking at her double. Buffy just nodded along looking interested.

"Well afterwards, She got really quiet for a couple days at the Magic Box. Wouldn't talk to anyone. We all assumed that it was because she felt guilty about Xander getting hurt. But that Saturday I got a call from her. She asked me if I could fill in for her at the Magic Box for a couple days, and told me that she had to leave town for a couple days and go to L.A. to visit some demon friends of hers. That and go to some Karaoke bar for some reason."


"Yeah, I know... I never saw her as being into that... and it still never made any sense to me later... But when she came back... she was... 'resolved' I guess you could say."

"Okay... resolved is good I guess."

"Yeah, it was... in the long run at least."

She sighed, "I guess the best thing to do is say it straight...

After she got back, she took Xander aside when he found out she was back. He was so happy, he rushed over to the Magic box....and that's when she broke up with him.", she paused a moment then continued, "She told him that she loved him... but that she couldn't be with him anymore... and that it was over."

Buffy gasped a little in surprise, "Oh... poor Xander. Why? What happened with her?"

Anne shrugged, "Something in L.A. I guess, she never would tell anyone really... But the long and short of it was that she told me that she felt too exposed."

Anne gestured toward the Slayer with her brush, "It took a while, but I got the truth of it out of her later. You see... when Olaf nearly killed him, she realized how much it would hurt her if he died, believe me... I-I know now... And she didn't like how vulnerable it made her feel. However, that's not what she just told him... no.. she just said that she was afraid that another one of her victims from her vengeance demon days would come along again... and that she was afraid for him. That she didn't want him to suffer for things that she'd done. The truth was, she was just being selfish I think...afraid how it would hurt her."

Buffy repeated herself, "Poor Xander, he must have been heartbroken... he was so in love with her."

Anne nodded softly, her eyes a little cool, "Yeah, he was... and he tried to tell her that it didn't matter... that he'd take the risk."

She sighed softly and continued, "But she just looked over at me and back at him, I was there when it happened... Of course by then he'd started to get kinda loud in the store, and Giles came out to see what was going on. He was about to go and stop it, but I got him to wait. I'd figured out what was going on, and well... she had that determined look she gets when she is going to get her way, no matter what."

She shrugged and continued, "Anyway... she told him it didn't matter, that it was her decision... and that she still cared for him, but that they couldn't be together anymore... not as a couple."

"Harsh." Buffy murmured.

Anne nodded.

Buffy softly added, "Okay, I think we've spotted where things changed. Someone must have gotten to her in L.A. or convinced her to go to L.A. for some reason. So when you get home, you just stop it, and things go back to normal."

Anne raised her eyebrows and replied, "Nope."


"Ain't' gonna do it."

"Now wait a minute, I-"

Anne skewered her twin with a gesture of her brush, "No, you wait... Don't you get it? I love him... Totally, completely, 'till death do us part' love... And I plan of making that official someday. You may not see it... but he's the single best thing that ever happened to me... ever. I will not, I repeat _not_ change that my mind on that. I'll figure out a way to deal with Glory first, so that he doesn't... doesn't 'go away'... but I won't change what happened between me and him for anything."

Buffy was taken aback by the determination in her double's voice, and decided to try another avenue of attack.

"Okay, okay, calm down already, don't go all 'Fatal attraction' on me."

Buffy smiled in what she hopes was a reassuring way.

"Okay... I think we've figured out where things got different...

maybe. Unless there are other differences earlier."

Anne nodded then asked, "He give you the 'big talk' when Riley was leaving?"

Buffy nodded, blushing, "Yeah... he did. The one about going after him?"

Anne nodded, "Then he's the same Xander I know... that took incredible heart. Good to see he's the same no matter what."

Buffy nodded softly, then flashed a naughty grin, "Okay... so...

we've established that he's a "stand up guy"... great... And we've figured out at least where one major change took place, because I'd never have asked him out if he was still with her."

Anne nodded in agreement, "Right, no poaching. It's a Slayer's creed."

Buffy giggled, then replied, "Absolutely... so... enough about that for now... what about the 'dirt' I think I've put up with enough warm snugglies about him... lets get to the meaty stuff."

Anne grinned lasciviously, "Well... if you're asking about 'meat' I think I can tell you some-"

Buffy flailed at her double with her stuffed pig, "Nooo, you sicko... I meant dirt... not dirty.", she smiled, "I don't think I could recover from the mental scaring that hearing details about that would create."

Anne mock pouted, "Fine... spoilsport... Okay, dirt... where to start... Ooooo I know!"

She narrowed her eyes thoughtfully, then said, "Lemme see your diary. I want to check something."

Buffy hesitated.

"Ummm... I donno... I mean that's some pretty personal-"

"I'm you, you dope. I'm just corroborating things. I wanna read what you put in about the Master."

Buffy crinkled her nose.

"Old fruit punch mouth?"

"Yeah, him... I want to see what you wrote about who brought who down there to save you."

Buffy reached into her night stand and pulled out her diary, unlocking it and handing it to her double, saying, "Huh?... whatcha mean? I mean Angel and Xander came own there to rescue me... and Xander gave me CPR since Angel's breath was dead... he couldn't resuscitate me."

Anne held up her hand as she paged through the diary, finding the spot she was looking for.

"Ah ha!... I was right."

Buffy looked confused, "Right? Right where?"

"What you wrote... you wrote exactly what I did... that Angel brought Xander down into the Master's lair to rescue you.. me..

us... whatever."

"Yeah... so?"

"Ehhhnn!... wrong answer blonde girl... would you like to try for double jeopardy where dollar values are twice as big?"

"What are you talking about."

Anne smirked nastily, "So... you never actually 'asked' Angel who brought who... did you?"

Buffy self a shiver of cold run down her arms, "W-well of course I didn't... I mean it was obvious... Angel was in love with me and he...", she trailed off seeing the dubious look her double gave her, then began speaking again, "... and you're telling me that he wasn't the one that-"

Anne nodded succinctly, "You got it... our "soul mate" was sitting around in his apartment doing what he does best... covering his ass and brooding."

Buffy stammered for a moment, unsure how to deal with what she was hearing... then tried to force a disbelieving laugh.

"Ha... uhh.. ha ha ha... You... you really had me going there, Anne... I mean... _of course_ Angel went down there... h-he was in love with me... you must have gotten it wrong."

Anne pursed her lips off to one side in a smile and remarked, "So... let's just ask Xander who brought who. I think Willow remembers the whole scene with him at the library. We can ask her too."

Anne stood up and turned away, paying no attention to Buffy's frantic hand waving for her to stop.

She opened the bedroom door and called out.

"Xander, Willow, will you come up here a sec... I have a question for you."

From downstairs what sounded like some muted arguing came to a halt and they heard the pair respond.

"I'll be right up... poopy head Xander is making things up down here. And I think we need a break anyway."

"Poopy head?...Hey listen up witchy girl... who are you calling a poopy head?"

"I'm calling you it, you. I mean all you're doing is getting with the 'making up things as you go along' , thing. I don't see why you just can't tell me how this...this-"

"Is it my fault you don't get-"

Anne yelled at them as they came up the stairs, "Give it a rest, you two...and get in here."

Xander and Willow filed into the room, Xander's robe having been exchanged or 'changed' for a red and blue plaid terrycloth bathrobe that was significantly larger and more 'manly' than his prior accoutrements.

Willow wore her sweats that she'd worn throughout the evening.

Anne looked at the pair who were busy shooting each other dark glares.

"Okay, here's the question. You first Willow... When you, Giles, and Xander were in the library... and you found out that I'd gone off to fight The Master... knowing that I was probably gonna die... What happened?"

Willow shot Xander a 'look', "Uhmmm, Xander spazzed out." Then she added in a nasty tone dirrected at him, "As per usual."

"I did not 'spaz out'", he waved a finger at her.

"Don't you wave that at me, Alexander Harris."

"I'll wave it at you if I-"

Anne grabbed them both by the ear and twisted breaking them painfully out of their argument.

"Ow ow ow ow oww! Buffy!" they both said in unison.

Anne rolled her eyes and let them go.

"Now, are you two kids gonna behave? Or are we gonna have to have 'time out's'?"

Willow stuck her tongue out at Xander but turned back and answered, "Fine... fine...", she rolled her eyes, "Xander got all 'how could you let her go' with Giles, and then got all 'I don't care about the apocalypse... I gotta go help Buffy.'... then ran off."

Anne nodded, then asked, "And did he take anything with him?"

Willow nodded, "Yeah... he took stuff...he stole the nifty wood cross I made in craft's class."

She turned to him and added, "Speaking of which... that reminds never gave it back."

"Oh, pardon me... how thoughtless. I just went off and tried to help save the world and all. Tell you what... I'll go pop back down into the Master's den... or as I like to call it.. Vampire central...

some time and go fetch it back for you."

Anne glared at the pair.

"That's enough!"

She turned to Xander and asked.

"Okay, Xander... your turn... when you left... where did you go?"

Xander looked back and forth between the twin Slayers and held up the index fingers on his hands pointed upward.

"Ummm, I'm not in trouble or something am I?"

Anne sighed and answered testily, "No, honey, just answer the question, okay?"

Xander looked back and forth between then, noting Buffy's worried look from the bed.

"Umm, I went to Angel's place. I figured that he'd be able to show me how to get to Buffy.", he replied quickly.

Anne nodded, and asked. "Mmmm hmmm... And what was he doing when you got there?"

He paused, then gave an overly exaggerated shrug of his shoulders.

"Ummm... nothing much... reading I think."

She smiled and shot Buffy a look, while asking, "And what did you do to get him to take you down there?"

Xander looked at Buffy, whose face looked stricken and in need of reassurance.

"Uhh hey... who can remember the details huh?" he added in a joking tone, seeing where things were leading.

Anne swiveled back to look him in the eye.

"Xander...", she growled with a stern tone.

"Ummm, hey.. Buff... err other Buff... come on... it's not a big-"

She cut him off with a gesture.

"Did you have to threaten him with the cross to get his lazy ass moving...yes or no?"

"Ummm", he dithered.


"Okay, yeah... I did.", he shot an apologetic look at Buffy who'd gone pale behind her double.

Anne patted him on the cheek and smiled, then turned back to look at Buffy.

"Good... I'm glad you're still the man I love... now... you go play with Willow downstairs... and be nice."

He threw a sad look over at Buffy on the bed, seeing her clutching Mr. Gordo to her chest.

Anne shooed her two friends out and closed the door behind them.

She turned back to Buffy with a sympathetic look on her face.

"I know... its hard when I found out... but at least this way... you heard it the easy way... you didn't have to learn about it by piecing together the clues on your own."

Buffy shivered, feeling chill despite the warmth of the room.

"I... I thought he... he loved me. That he'd come down to rescue me."

Anne nodded, "_He_ did, Buffy... unfortunately the _he_ in question wasn't who you thought it was. Don't get me wrong... Angel... he's a good man.... and loved you, in his own way... but he was afraid...and his love wasn't strong enough to overcome that fear."

She smiled, and added, " But, Xander... there was never any question of fear...he didn't care... he'd have charged in on his own, if he'd have known the way."

Buffy looked into her double's eyes and saw the firm conviction in them.

Total faith.

She looked away.

Anne sat next to her on the bed and reclined against the pillows with her.

"Of course... there are other fun little details of things he's done that aren't quite so smart or noble."

Buffy looked up, her curiosity piqued.


Anne smiled, "Well...", she giggled, ".. that whole hyena possession thing... Like I think you gathered... he remembered it all. He was just afraid that you'd tease him all the time if you knew he remembered. That was a hoot when I found out. I about gave him an ulcer for weeks."

Buffy smiled, then got a nasty look in her eye, "Ohhh... of course you realize... that now I can't let that one go. He'll be hearing about this for ages."

Anne nodded, "I mean the _idea_ of him trying to pin us to the soda machine and .. ahem... have his way with us."

Buffy nodded, "Yeah it's absolutely..."

The spoke simultaneously.



Buffy looked at her double, shocked.

"Yummy?...Yummy?! What the hell are you thinking?", she boggled at her twin who giggled, "He tried to rape us."

Anne blushed, "Well... I mean... at the time it was sick...and uhhh animalistic.... and ...ummm yeah... totally on board with that being _wrong_.", she giggled,"Yep, definitely repulsive... at the time." , she agreed a little too energetically.

She looked away and swiveled her feet a little, rolling her heels left and right, "But... well once we were together... and I made him tell me about it... and ummm I thought about what it would be like to be... well...ummm well... you know.", she waved her hands in front of her a little, "Games in bed don't haveta be like it _really_ was, ya know... And 'fake hyena Xander' is kinda scrumptious."

Buffy's eyes goggled.

Anne got defensive, "Hey... come on... you know... common fantasy thing... and he was so broody dark... and muffin-like all in black like he was... well... ummm... Oh, come on... don't tell me that you haven't wanted to have the guy act like he's totally in the drivers seat. And Hyena-Xander was definitely all that, and a bag of chips... with dip on the side... the yummy oniony with bacon kind."

Buffy just held up her hands palms facing her double.

"I think that's way more than I needed to know."

Anne shrugged, "Well ya know... there's plenty of 'dirt' I could tell you about him there... if you were interested... I mean I bet you didn't know that he's got all sorts of mmmm 'things' that he likes to do with us in bed. A few of them are illegal in some states.", she finished proudly.

Buffy edged away a little.

Anne laughed, but continued, "Okay, okay... I won't freak you out anymore about that... but I will tell you this... you know that saying about 'size' not mattering?"

Buffy sat quietly, but nodded.

"It's a buncha bull."

Buffy's eyes widened.

Anne nodded, making some motions with her hand to indicate a certain length... and smiled.

"Oh my."

"Yeah... Oh _my_ oh my."

Seeing Buffy blush Anne smiled.

"See, we're more alike than you wanna admit.

Buffy quickly tried to redirect the conversation,"So... since we've put your dirty dirt away for the night.", she gave her double a 'look' then continued, "what else?"

Anne seemed to give it some consideration before responding.

"Okay... I'll tell you this one.. but before I do... promise you won't freak out... cuz I was oooo hooo hoo... I was really mad when I found out about what he'd been doing... and the risk he put us all in."

Buffy blinked, but agreed with a grunt.

Anne began telling the story, "Okay, you remember when those demons showed... the females blue ones... could be the poster children for bad hair care products... the sistahs' of Whee or something."

Buffy shuddered remembering.

"How could I forget... they opened the Hellmouth... it was the most awful battle we ever had."

Anne nodded, "Yeah... pretty awful huh?"

Buffy nodded.

Anne continued, "Bet you're glad Xander wasn't there... coulda been hurt... maybe even killed."

Buffy nodded, "Or worse... gotten us killed."

Anne smirked, "Yep... good thing he was safe at home that night...

not running around in his uncles convertible chasing down a pack of crazed zombies all on his own...Zombies that he didn't inadvertently help when they decided to plant a huge bomb in the boiler room right under the library."

Anne gave Buffy a sidelong glance.

"And it's a good thing that he didn't lead them right back to the school while you were fighting the hell mouth... bringing his fight with them there while you were busy saving the world."

Buffy had shifted her posture into one far more aggressive.


Anne looked over at her.

Buffy asked again her voice getting more angry by the second, "He did what?"

Anne smirked.

"Opsie... I guess the plan to keep him safe didn't work did it? All it did was have him end up bringing more trouble right into the middle of our fight, even if we didn't know about it."

She looked sadly at her twin and added, "You really hurt him you know.. cutting him out of the loop like you did."

"But... but... he was getting hurt all the time... and and... I can't believe him... bringing zombies to the school...Good god, they could have killed him... Then attacked us right in the middle of... We could have all died and... and the Hell-... Ohhh, I'm gonna kill him! Can't he stay out of trouble for five minutes? Does he havta go looking for this crap?"

Buffy started getting to her feet, slipping into full 'Slay' mode.

Anne pulled her back on the bed, roughly.

"Knock it off... It's done... and yeah... I know... I did the same thing when I found out... We were just trying to 'protect' him, I get that. And trust me... I know what you're thinking... I was an inch away from playing castanets with his shoulder bones when I got the truth out of him about him playing 'Ash and the evil dead' out there."

Her eyes softened and she added, "But, I also found out how much what we did hurt him, later. He trusted us to treat him like a member of the team, Buffy, and we let him down... But I won't and wouldn't ever take back what we ... what I did... it ended up being the decision that saved the day."

Buffy blinked then asked, "Huh? Whadda you mean? I kinda got the 'zombies' thing...But... oh wait... you said...'a bomb'?...

but... how? Why? And for goodness sakes... how did Xander get involved? Ohh I am so gonna beat his-"

Anne answered in a soft tone, trying to recalm her double, "Stop that!...Relax...'s all water under the bridge, don't go run off and do something we'll both regret later, okay?"

She sighed when she saw Buffy sit back down.

She continued, "... as to what happened... Well first he got Jack O'Toole mad at him at school."

Buffy crossed her arms in front of her chest and huffed.

"I was right...he _can't_ stay out of trouble five minutes can he? He got 'Psycho Jack' mad at him?... great...I'm surprised he didn't get beaten up while he was at it... But let's stick to the zombies and bombs for now...high school fights we can save for later. "

Anne smiled and answered with a laugh in her voice, "Jack _was_ one of the Zombies... he was dead already... drive by shooting a week or so earlier I think."

Buffy just shook her head in disbelief and rolled her eyes, "Of _course_ how silly of me... This _is_ Sunnydale after all. We don't just have school bullies... we have undead serial killer zombie school bullies."

Anne smirked, "Anyway... he ran into Xander at some point later that night...and Xand did something that made him not so mad anymore...

So Jack just made Xander drive him around picking up his other zombie pals. So basically Xand ended up with a pack of undead delinquents in his car, on a cross town adventure... and just barely ditched them... ooo ooo... more sex dirt... that's the night he boffed Faith."

Buffy mock screamed, "Gahhh... warn me before you do that next time."

Anne laughed, "Okay... just playing... but anyway... later on he figured out somehow that the dead and smelly brigade put a bomb in the school."

Buffy's eyes got wide, but never lost their angry glare.

Anne continued, "So Xander figured out where it was... went around and killed the other zombies... and tried to disarm the bomb, while we were fighting the reject monster from bad Japanese anime."

Ohhh... and the bomb..."Wouldda killed all of us in the middle of the battle...And we'd be having helly badness all over the place if he hadn't taken care of it."

Buffy's eyes narrowed and she growled, "And he never bothered to tell us this little factoid?"

Anne shook her head.

"Nope... never happened as far as we knew... Police covered it up... and ummm.. Oz kinda got out and ate the important evidence. Well, except for the bomb of course. Basically, Jack and what was left of the other zombies became werewolf chow."


"Yep... definite Ewww factor there... and might I add.. ghahhh haaa nung."

Buffy simmered for a bit before getting up.

"Where ya going?", Anne queried.

"Ohh, nowhere... just got ta pace... if I don't I'll go downstairs and beat him to death with his own arms."

"Yeah, I know... I was upset too... he never does what we tell him to do."


"Yep, he does what needs doing though... in more ways than one."

Buffy sighed, then asked, "So... any more stories of him doing stupid things like that?"

Anne smiled, "Oh... you mean something like guard you while you were sick in the hospital, and stare down Angelus when he came to kill you?"

"What?", Buffy nearly shouted.

"Sit down, me... You've got a lot to learn about your Xander shaped friend."

The demon roared its anger at the interloper as it tried to scurry away, crablike across the tightly packed earthen floor of the caves. Andrew stuttered, terrified,"I-I'm sorry!"

The Nezzla demon loomed over him, a huge rippling mass of protruding bone, flaking skin and tattooed muscle. It's skull-like face roaring in a killing rage.

Andrew kept backing up, scuttling on hands and knees, begging, "Please! I'll never try to desecrate your chamber again! Just don't hurt me! Please!"

The blonde youth's escape route came to an abrupt end as his back hit the wall, and his eyes widened it terror.

The demon moved forward toward him, its shadow covering him as it drew its arms back to it's rage. Death drew back it's sickle in the form of an arm with long bony claws.

*Zzzz zzz ZAPP!*

Arcs of lambent blue crackling energy snapped and popped all about the demon as it danced and howled insanely.

Recovering quickly however, the demon whirled around to face its attackers.

Warren and Jonathan, the rest of the Trioka, stepped out of the patch of shadow they'd secreted themselves in.

With another howl of anger the Nezzla demon drew its arm back and charged.

Straight into a long metal pole that once more sent azure bands of energy dancing about its form, driving it back.

Jonathon yelled, "Hit him again! Hit him again!"

Warren began to dance back as the demon charged again, but the bulkiness of its form did nothing but hamper its attack as he jabbed it over and over with the silver cattle prod.




Finally, worn down by the repeated attacks, the demon staggered, then collapsed, its body smoking from the punishing current.

Warren is the first to break the silence that followed, "These things are a lot tougher than I thought. One jolt from this should have dropped an elephant."

Andrew moved over and took the pole from his partner's hands.

Looking at it for a moment he then jabbed it down viciously into the prone form.

"You want a piece of this?", he taunted, "Huh? Oh, not so tough now, are you. Puff 'N Stuff?!"

Warren reached forward in annoyance and pulled the thin blonde back from the dead demon, "Hey. Hey! We need him fresh. Not smoke house."

"Well, I'm done being the bait. Next time one of you can wiggle on the hook.", the blonde replied nastily.

Warren hunkered down alongside the demon body and smiled.

"If this works, next time we'll be the thing everyone's afraid of."

Jonathan moved forward to eye the prone form uncertainly and asked, "Okay, so... What now?"

Warren produced a skinning knife from his pocket, smiled, then opened it up with a click.

"Now it's your turn, Sparky."

With a deft throw, he tossed the knife to the originator of their group.

Jonathon reflexively caught it, and began eyeing the blade with mounting discomfort as he looked at the demon's body.


Spike moved through the night, his every sense sharpened to it's finest edge as he approached the house.

It didn't look at all remarkable, but the Narfang demon assured him that the psychic residue trail led here.

"Right," he said as he handed pulled out the agreed upon payment, it was the last of the money he had, but it didn't matter, he nearly had what he needed to find.

He ripped the bills in half and handed it to the odd looking creature, its huge bulbous black eyes shimmering wetly in the dark.

"I'll just pop on in an see if this is the place then, If it is...

I'll be right back to give you the rest...till then... don't even thing about leaving, mate. Clear?"

The odd creature bobbed its oversized silverish colored head.

Spike approached the dwelling, noting its darkened windows.

"Right... now, if I were a collection of hopeless prats... where would I be spending all my spare time?"

He pulled out a mini flashlight and shined it's light into the house through the front window... seeing a carpeted floor and little furnishings save a few 'Star Trek: the Search for Spock' and "Enterprise" publicity posters on the wall.

"Well, this looks like the place... now... where are they running the show from I won-"

He paused as he moved around to the back of the house.

"Bloody hell, Of course... 'geeks' means 'the basement'... It's like it's their bloody natural habitat."

Moving to the side of the house, Spike crouched down near a basement window and shined his light in.

"Right...And hello there Mrs. Warren Mears...What have we here?" He paused as he noted seeing what looked like several large cloth bags sitting on one of the tables. 'Sunnydale 1st national bank' stenciled clearly on them.

"Well well... It looks like that very _naughty_ little boy of yours has done well for himself dinnit? He's gone and bought himself a wee little place all his own for him and his mates."

He smiled as he made mental note of the layout of the basement with its collection of computers and magical paraphernalia.

A few minutes later he went back to the shadowy recess where his guide had waited for him.

Handing over the other half of the money he nodded once and smiled.

"Now, sod off... I've got some waiting to do I think."

The demon hissed, seeming as though it was trying to menace him.

Spike made out the words it strung together, "Sun rises... four hour."

"Right... I know... I am a vampire... and I do have a bloody watch, now, sod off already."

And with that, Spike settled into the shadows to wait.


The Nezzla demon crossed the barrier with a harsh snapping pop as mystical energies grounded themselves across its skin.

Not even noticing the effect, it moved off down the side passage of the cave complex as Warren and Andrew stepped out from the shadows.

Speaking in hushed, excited whispers they discussed what they'd just seen.

"This is it. We found it."

Andrew stepped nearer the barrier, trying to peer into the chamber beyond.

"You sure it's in there?", he asked.

"Careful! Only Nezzla demons can pass through the barrier.", Warren hissed.

Andrew stepped back and Warren fished a rock from the cave floor.


He tossed the rock through, watching it fry in the field.

"Everything else gets curly fried."

From behind them, still in the shadows Jonathon's voice spoke, "Um... maybe we oughta rethink this."

The two taller members of the Troika turned and looked at him.

Jonathan is stepped out of the shadows and fidgeted.

His current appearance was thoroughly grotesque... while at the same time, somehow amusing.

The hastily stitched together skin on a Nezzla demon covered him from neck to toe, hanging loosely all over him as though it were ten sizes too large for his frame.

Warren replied testily, "Just make sure all your skin is covered."

Jonathon huffed and replied, "Why can't I just use a glamor?"

Andrew chipped in with a patronizing tone, "You can't Siegfried and Roy the barrier. It's gotta be the real deal."

He reached over the shorter mans shoulders and pulled the skinned flesh of the demon's head over Jonathan's face like a hood.

Muffled beneath the hood, Jonathon protested, "Ouhh! It's still wet!"

"Good. Then it should still be fresh enough.", Warren replied with an impatient sigh.

"Should be?! Wait a minute, what do you mean, should be?"

With a heave, Warren and Andrew shoved the shortest of the group into the barrier, and through.

With a harsh crackling noise, the demon skin covered man staggered to a halt, but tripped and crashed to the ground.

"Well...Hmmm. Good, Wasn't sure that was gonna work.", Warren comment pleasantly to himself.

Jonathon looked over at the others and got to his feet, muttering to himself as he brushed the skin off and moved deeper into the chamber, out of sight of his partners, "Jackass."

Seeing Jonathon move off into the chamber, Andrew turned to his co-


"You think he knows?"

"If he did, he wouldn't be here.", Warren replied with a confident shrug.

"Why is he? Our mojo's tight, bro. We could've pulled this ourselves."

"Somebody had to guinea pig the meat suit. Were you going to Volunteer?", Warren replied as he gestured toward the barrier.

Andrew frowned, eyeing the chamber, searching for any sign of Jonathan's return before commenting.

"I don't trust that leprechaun."

Warren smiled and nodded to him.

"Just stay frosty. This works the way we planned it, by the end of the night Jonathan won't be a problem."

A few more minutes passed, seeing a shambling figure return through the watery looking barrier with a harsh crackle and the smell of frying demon skin.

"Did you get it?", Warren asked anxiously.

Jonathon held up a small rectangular wooden box, one covered with various mystical looking inscriptions.

"Yeah, I got it."

Warren snatched it from his hands, greedily turning away and moving into better light.

Andrew moved with him, trying to get a better look at it himself

"That's it?"

"It'd better be.", Jonathon replied angrily behind them as he pulled the skin hood away from his face, letting it flop over against the back of his neck.

Seeing the shorter man's face and hair covered with a clear thick goo, Andrew smirked.

"No way I'm not going back through there. That thing stings like a mother.", Jonathon stated.

Andrew picked at the shorter mans hair, taunting him.

"Dude, unholy hair gel."

"Furiously, Jonathon snapped at him, "Get off."

"Make me, skin job."

"Shut up."

Ignoring the quibbling of the others, Warren laid a small electronic device along the front of the box, sliding it along till he got the reading he was looking for.

Pressing a series of inscriptions on the box, and a couple buttons on the device he smiled happily as a crackling line of energy flashed around its edge, unlocking and revealing the lid of the box.

Smirking evilly he turned back to his two compatriots and glared at them.

A moment under his gaze was all it took to quiet the bickering pair.

Dramatically he announced in a reverent whisper, "Gentlemen. The Orbs of Nezzla'khan."

He opened the box with a muted flourish.

The two other members of the Troika craned their necks forward to look at what they'd worked so hard to get.

Warren nodded his head, smirking still, "Strength. Invulnerability. The deluxe-"

Jonathon interrupted him, "Golfballs."

Warren blinked in annoyance at the interruption of his monolog and looked down into the box.

He looked back and forth between the box and his partners.

"Uhhh... ummm, heh... heh... Maybe they just _look_ like golfballs."

Jonathon shook his head, "No way man, ... My dad golfs... those are Wilsons ... that's a ultra titanium... and ummm that looks like a TC2... see..., ",he pointed at one and continued, "...there's the little logo, right there. Oooo looks like someone got a nice piece of that one with an iron, really nicked the heck out of it."

Warren slammed the lid down on the box.

"Damn it!"

He turned, putting his hand on his chin rubbing it as he paced, then turned and looked at Jonathon as he started shucking the demon skin.

"You must have made a mistake...or... or... maybe you opened it...

took them.", he accused the shorter man.

Jonathon gave him a disgusted sneer, "Ohhh right... and where pray-

tell did I get the unlocky device thing to do that with? That's your gig, you jerk. I took what you said to take... someone must have stolen them before us."

He shook his head, sending spatters of demon goo flying about.

"I should have known this was a stupid idea...I still think we should have just left Sunnydale with the money we stole... This thing with the Slayer is making you crazy, Warren... really freaking psycho... you know what I mean?"

Warren eyed the short man angrily.

"Put the suit back on... you're going back in. They've got to be in there."

A cough in the darkness froze them in their tracks.

"Gentlemen.", A familiar voice mocked, "Would these be what you're looking for?"

Chocolate brown eyes shined mercilessly out of the dark as Alexander stepped forward, his leathers lightly coated with dust.

He held out a small leather pouch in one hand wearing a smile that held a dark humor.

"Harris", Warren growled, "Hand those over... they don't belong to you."

Alexander smirked, and palmed them in his hand, weighing the pouch.

"And I suppose they belong to you? Is that what you're saying?"

His eyes glittered darkly.

"Yeah... that's exactly what I'm saying.", Warren replied as he drew a pistol from inside his jacket.

"And I think my friend Mister Ruger agrees with me about that too."

Alexander put his hand to the side of his face in mock surprise.

"Oh dear... you have a gun... Oh, good heavens... I guess I better just give them too you... or you might just 'shoot' me."

Warrens eyes narrowed at the mocking tone, "Screw you, Harris. Just hand them over... I don't see that Slayer bitch backing you up this time... So I think you're full of hot air, and trying to buy some time."

Alexander rolled his eyes and tossed the bag to the man nonchalantly.

"Please... like I need her to deal with three pissants like you. Get over yourself, son... I'm here because I need you to give someone a little lesson. I swear... people have no sense of humor or drama these days."

He gestured dismissively and stretched, his leather body suit creeking and shifting on him.

"Besides, holding onto those things was giving me the heebie jeebies... I mean 'please'... a pair of mystical 'balls' that make you stronger and more powerful?"

He chuckled, "Sigmund would have a field day psycho analyzing the weirdo that made those... I mean why not just call them the 'Phallic orbs of Nezzla - I can't get it up on my own without magic'?"

Warren growled angrily as he pulled back the hammer on the revolver.

Alexander waved dismissively at him, "Oh, just go ahead and play with your little toys... and then I'll show you what a waste of space you really are."

Warren handed the gun to Andrew, all the while talking, "You won't be talking so big in a minute, Harris. No... I think you'll be eating those words pretty soon."

He turned and nodded to the thin blonde, "Okay... Andrew, if he makes a move... just shoot him... No one will ever find the body in these tunnels.

Alexander rolled his eyes, then gave them a bored look as Warren fished into the bag and brought out two red crystal spheres.

"Ohhh man... there they are."

Jonathon craned his neck to see what the orbs looked like, then commented, "You know those have been down here for like a zillion years. How do we know they still work?"

Warren tightened his fists around each globe and murmured to himself.

Crimson threads of energy licked up and down his form, snapping and crackling around him like a miniature storm.

The backlash of the discharges knocked the two frailer men away from him.

Warren shook a little, like a dog shaking its coat dry after coming out of the rain.

His eyes briefly flashing with the same red power as the thready lightnings.

"Oh they still work alright." He grinned, his veins flowing with power.

"You shouldn't have come down her Harris. And I'm gonna show you why."

Alexander leaned against the wall, and smiled.

"Really now?... okay... sounds like fun... I've needed a chance to blow off a little steam...But I need to explain a few things, okay?"

He smiled happily, "First...", he said, ticking off digits on his hand.

"I'm only wasting my time with you because I don't want you three butting your noses in where they don't belong anymore. So, I'm officially putting you out of business tonight...After I use you to make a point with Spike about something, okay?... I want that clear. We can do this either the easy way or hard way, right after I prove to you that you're pissing uphill here... it's up to you."

He paused to smile and look at the trio.

"Second, I knew exactly what those orbs are... and what they do...

and frankly... I don't care... I'm going to break both of your legs at the shins, then dislocate both of your wrists...then break a few of your ribs just to make sure you get the point...Ohhh, and I might just pluck your eyes out and crush them if I'm in the mood... I'm still up in the air about that one...but if you get frisky with me later's a definite thing, you can count on it."

He nodded his head toward the thin blonde and smiled, "Third, that gun your friend has... Andrew, buddy...I'll make you eat it if you so much as try to point it at me. Not that it'd do you any good in the first place if you tried to shoot it...But I just don't like people that use handguns irresponsibly. I'll break it up into nice jagged little pieces and give it to you on toast...Ohhh, and forth..."

There was a blur in the tunnel, followed by the sounds of several bones breaking.

"...I'm starting right now."

Warren's lungs reflexively started to pull in a breath in preparation for a scream as he felt his shins collapse under him.

Immediately jagged bone sliced its way out of his flesh as the compound fractures pierced his skin, protruding like white bone spear heads.

In that brief moment, where air started to rush in, he felt his ribs being pounded by three solid blows...forcing the air back out with a wet chuffing sound.

The three blows left a metallic tang in his mouth as he felt his lungs kick up a bloody froth. Ribs snapped like matchsticks, leaving him breathless...unable to pull in a gasp... only a groan was able to escape his lips as he felt himself stop falling.

Warren hung in place, the front of his shirt in Alexander's clenched fist... leaving him dangling like a piece of baggage in midair.

He rolled his eyes toward the shocked Andrew, and pleaded, "S-shoot."

Alexander looked at the thin blonde and smiled.

"Yes, Andrew... listen to Warren here... try and shoot me."

Andrew looked back and forth between Warren as he hung there, and the cold gleam in the leathered man's eyes.

His hand flew away from the gun as if it were burning him.

The gun never reached the ground, it just disappeared in a blur.

"Good", Alexander said, praising him.

"Now, since you're the tallest of you three... go take the little orbies."

He gestured to the two crystal spheres that lay fallen on the ground with his free hand.

"And get all strong... so that you can carry your buddy out of here. We have an appointment with one Mr. William the Bloody... and I don't want to delay him too much's nearing that special time that we call sunrise... and we have an arrangement to discuss before then."

Jonathon swallowed any protests he had, quite certain that things had just spiraled completely outside of their control.


Buffy laughed delightedly.

" god... no wonder he wouldn't tell me about that."

Anne nodded, smirking evilly and dabbing at her eyes.

"yep... like he.. heh heh.. like he said... no power on earth.", she started laughing again, only barely getting herself under control, "Ohhh.. oh.. my ribs hurt every time I think of that."

Buffy lay back on the bed shaking in laughter.

"And... and he told you this with Willow in the room? I mean she was the one with the 'truth spell' right?"

Anne nodded, "He-he,", she snorted, "He liked totally _begged_ me not to make him tell it... and I was about to give in till Willow demanded to know... She was the one.", Anne covered her mouth with one hand and waved the other in the air, trying to catch her breath.

"She made him talk... and... oh my god... you should have seen how red she turned... it was like... like like you couldn't tell where her hair stopped and her face started."

The twin slayers rolled around on the bed thrashing in laughter.

"Oooo... ooo... no more... need to stop...", Buffy protested, tears running down her face.

"Okay, okay.", Anne agreed still laughing.

"We'll talk about it more... later.", she smiled, "Bed time... I know. Gotta be up to pick up Dawn later."

Buffy nodded.

The two began making the bed ready, tossing extra pillows into a pile on the floor and pulling back the sheets when a knock at the door followed.

Anne looked at Buffy and shrugged.

Buffy moved to the door and opened it.

Willow and Tara stood outside, pale, and... it appear... trembling.

"Hey guys, what's the what?"

Willow looked at Tara.

The blonde witch nodded to her.

"Uhhh, Buffy... ummm can we come in? It's... kinda important."

Willows voice had an edge to it that carried a feeling like being doused in ice cold water.

Buffy moved back from the door and opened it.

Willow and Tara hustled in, motioning Buffy to close the door behind them.

Tara carried the rolled up Mandala in her hands, a faint electric blue glow coming from inside the rolled up paper.

Buffy looked at the duo and then over at Anne who'd noticed the chill feeling coming from the two witches.

"What's wrong, Wills... you look all spooky-outy... what happen? Xander make you watch Phantasmagoria again, I knew I should never have let him leave that movie here... Dawn'll watch it some time and I'll-"

Willow shook her head, and looked back and forth between the two Slayers.

"Buffy... Uhhh... we think we've figured out why we couldn't find out anything about that musical demon... Sweet... in Giles's books."

Buffy looked askance at the Wiccians.

"Ooookay... and I'm getting the feeling that this is more than just a misplaced editorial or a printing mistake because someone at 'magic book printing R' us' forgot to load the right printing plate. What's got you wigged there, Willow."

Willow looked back at Tara and then at the rolled up paper.

She hastily looked back at the Slayers.

"It's... it's because... before Xander cast that spell... he didn't exist."

"Huh?" Both Buffy's replied.

Willow gestured to the paper in Tara's hand.

"It's the single most potent spell I've ever se... heard of."

She paused and shuddered.

"There's..._things_ in there... like program subroutines that he built in... they... they create things... if they don't exist... and since Sweet didn't exist. The spell... it ... it just created him... That's why Sweet wouldn't take him... because... Xander made him... by accident."

Willow looked Buffy square in the eyes.

"What he did... that spell, Buffy... it taps into powers...forces beyond anything ...anything I've heard of... stuff that no _human_ could handle."


Spike shifted in the shadows, craving a smoke.

"Come on already." He murmured, taking a sip from his flask.

A car passed his hiding place, it's headlights cutting a swath in the darkness, but not reaching him.

"Come, bloody on." He remarked for the hundredth time, "I ain't got all that bloody much time left out here."

He looked at his watch, noting the time.

"Blasted Three thirty... where could they _be_?"

A low throbbing engine sound came up the street. Twin headlights shining an actinic blue white"

A black van.

"About bloody time."

He waited as the van pulled into the driveway and rolled to a halt. Then he sprang forward, running as fast as he could as the passenger door opened.

Jonathon stepped out of the driver's side of the van, straight into a headlock that Spike slammed him into.

"Right... Now... invite me in, you sodding little bastard. Do it now or I break your neck."

Jonathon's mouth gaped, he tried to gasp, but found himself unable to breath.

Andrew charged around from the passenger's side of the van.

Spike glared at him... his face demonic.

"You... ponce... invite me in or I'll kill your friend. Now!", she screamed at the blonde.

Andrew froze in shock.

"Noooww!", Spike yelled.

The back door of the van opened and Spike heard hard heeled boots hitting the pavement, and a face he didn't expect to see peeked around the back of the van at him, smiling widely.

"Hey hey... Spikester... how's it hanging ma' man?"

" you... what the hell are you d-", Spike shook his head, "You sonova-.. I'm gonna kill you!", Spike looked ready to charge.

Alexander waggled a finger at him in admonition, then reached into the van and pulled out something.

Warren whimpered in pain as his broken legs dangled and dragged against the concrete of the driveway as he dangled from the front of his shirt in Alexander's grip.

"Hey, Andrew, heads-up", the man called, and tossed the broken form toward the thin blonde.

Warren's body sailed in a lazy arc through the air, covering the thirty feet separating the two of them with a single, light, underhand toss... landing the injured man in the blonde's arms, staggering him.

Warren screamed weakly.

"I don't think so, Spike... now, let the leprechaun go... or he might expire if you keep that up."

Spike looked down at the bluish face of Jonathon and let him go enough to breathe.

Jonathon gasped in relief.

Spike glared back at Alexander hatefully.

"You... you did this to me!"

He gestured at his head.

'You made it stop working... You made me hurt her... made me hurt the 'niblette'... she's the one... the only one of you that ever trusted me... why damn you... why?!"

Alexander smiled.

"Because Spike, you're useless to me with that chip in your head... oh... and in case you haven't figured it out yet... _I'm_ not who you think I am... But we'll get into that more... later."

He turned and smiled at Andrew, then said, "Hey.. stickboy...

haven't you been listening to the man? Invite him in already. Me and him have an agreement to reach."

He turned back to Spike and smiled.

"Oh... and in case you've gotten the crazy idea that one of these three might be able to get that chip working again for you..."

He laughed, seeing the shocked look on Spike's face as the vampire de-metamorphed in surprise.

"Yeah Spike... I know what you were thinking about doing... I've seen this before enough times to know that you've come to like the scoobies...Well, except for the other 'me' that is... Though you'd never admit it to their faces if you ever had to."

He leaned forward slightly and smirked, "But you can forget it... I took care of the chip the right way... fried it dead with a high powered EMP. That's why you had such a headache when you woke up... the electrodes were superheated for an instant by it."

He walked forward as Andrew carried Warren into the house.

Spike let go of Jonathon, his arms falling limp at his sides and his head lolling forward in despair.

"Damn you, Harris.", he whispered.

Alexander cocked his head to one side, seeing the disheartened look blossom in the vampire's eyes.

"Hey hey!, Buck up there trooper... I've got the right stuff for you... I've got your every hope and dream in the bag, Spike... all waiting, nice and warm, for you."

Alexander lay a hand on Spike's shoulder and grinned at him, "Spike, .. buddy... I'm your 'magic man', your knight in shining armor... I'm your own personal Djinn of the lamp whose gonna give you everything you ever wanted, delivered right in front of you... Provided you do one little job for me. Why it's not even a 'job' really... it's something you'll love doing."

Jonathon dashed into the house, looking back at the scene in the yard.

"I want you... Spike old boy, to help _me_kill myself."

Chapter 9
Nine lives

Buffy looked back and forth between Willow and Tara, her mouth opening and closing mutely, fishlike.

Willow saw her friend struggling for words and nodded to Tara.

"Told you."

Tara gave her an uncertain look.

Willow shook her head and continued, "I'm gonna show it to her...

all of it... including the... you-know-what."

The blonde witch shook her head, her lips tightening in an unhappy expression.

Willow saw the look of disapproval and paused.

She laid her hand on her lover's arm and whispered softly to her, "Tara, I think she should know... really... maybe not Dawn...but Buffy... she should know."

Tara looked into her lover's eyes and saw the look of resolve. She sighed sadly, and after a moment nodded.

Tara reached into her pocket reluctantly, and after a bit of rummaging brought out a small, red velvet pouch and handed it to the redhead.

Willow opened the small bag, reached in, and threw a bit of sparkling dust into the air from it, chanting softly all the while.

When the dust finally settled on the floor she finished the spell with a single loud exhortation.

"Audiri non posse!"

A shimmering wave passed through the room... leaving a deadened, almost stuffy quality to the air.

Willow nodded to herself.

"There, I think that'll prevent him from hearing us if he's trying to eavesdrop, at least for a few minutes."

Tara looked at Willow and took her lovers hand, giving it a concerned squeeze.

Willow turned back to Buffy and in a deadly serious voice said, "Buffy, whatever that... that _thing_ is downstairs... it can't be Xander. I'm sure of it now."

"Wills-", both Slayers protested impatiently.

Willow cut them off harshly.

"_No_...I know what you're gonna say... that it's just me acting like I did back at the Magic Box... well... it isn't ... Tara agrees with me... no way is that Xander down there... it can't be."

She threw her arms up and around as she spoke, emphasizing her agitation.

"Even if he knew all the magic in the world, Buff... No human has the power to do what's in that.", she gestured at the glowing paper, "...even if he took all the magic he could channel in a year... No way, Buff... it's just not possible. Channeling that would have left crispy Xander bits all scattered over the room."

Seeing the two Slayers about to protest again she held her hands out to them.

"The languages, the magic, the...", she make a half hearted and somewhat 'girlish' punching motion, "...the big hitty thing...

Buffy... he might have got all pumped full of enchantments somehow...stuff to make him able to do some of ... of...that... but magic only goes so far... trust me, I know. And besides, didn't you see his eyes when Dawn got hurt?", She paused, driving her words home with the Slayer.

"You can't deny it, Buffy...We all saw it... They were...", Willow's words ran down as she gestured vaguely waving her fingers around a little.

Tara finished for her, "His eyes were glowing...sorta burning-like, Buffy... like looking into a big fire or something... I saw it...

you saw it.....we all did."

Buffy protested again, though weakly, "But... he-"

Willow shook her head.

"Buffy, look... whoever... or _whatever_ that is," she looked toward the door and gestured, "...down there... it's not Xander. It's not can't be. I'm thinking demon.....or maybe something...worse."

"Wh- ... bu-... now hang on... This _is_ Xander we're talking about. There's gotta be some kind of explanation."

Anne nodded her agreement.

"Just give me a minute.", she added as an afterthought.

Buffy turned away and nervously started pacing back and forth across the room, never looking directly at the two witches again until she suddenly came to a halt and pointed at them.

"Ah Ha!"

She faced them with a triumphant smile.

"I got it... it's simple...I'm surprised I didn't think of it right off. He's got to just be possessed again."

Willow arched an eyebrow and gave her a highly skeptical look.

"Buffy, Ummm, I don't think that the words 'just' and 'possessed' are meant to me used in the same sent-."

Buffy shook her hands back and forth toward her friend to cut her off.

"No, no... Look...Think about it... it make sense... well... 'sense' in a hellmouthy sort of way... but still sense."

She smiled, and started ticking fingers off one at a time, "Look, ever since I've known Xander, he basically has this sort of stuff happen to him every time. He gets mixed up in something and ends up controlled, or possessed by something at least once a year or so, right?"

She pause a moment while waving her index finger a little in the aid, then continued, "Okay, okay... first year... we had the whole Hyena thing. That's number one, unless there's some from before I showed up that we don't know about. Anyway, think about it... it made him faster, and stronger, and sharpened up his senses and stuff... so all that fits with what's happening to him... kinda."

She ticked off another finger for each item she continued to list, "Then there was the soldier guy thing, that's year two, And... and... there's other stuff in there... but there _was_ the whole vengeful Indian spirit disease thing... Oooo and he got controlled by Dracula, remember that? Ohhh, _and_ that was the same exact year he got split in two ... making us _think_ he was possessed too, even though he wasn't... so that's not exactly the same thing but close enough, see?"

Willow continued to look skeptical but let her continue.

"Oh... oh... and he even got possessed by that spirit thing you guys made when... when you.", she trailed off... her voice becoming progressively more sad and wistful.

"When we 'brought you back'?," Willow asked, hanging her head slightly, "it-it's okay, Buffy, you can say it."

Buffy replied, shaking herself, "Yeah, that... but besides... you guys ended up making that ghosty possessy thing... so it's not like it hasn't been done before...the making of demon thingys? You did it too."

Willow looked back at the Slayer uncomfortably.

"This isn't the same, Buff. Not by a long shot.", she paused, taking a deep breath,

"That was... Buff... that... thing... it wasn't created from my was the power of the urn."

She gestured vaguely and continued, "It made that spell we used possible. Without it... we could never have had the power to cast... know...and besides, it takes years to recharge it... The spell eats tremendous amounts of magic to power it. The urn... well, it sort of was like this super powerful magic 'battery' thingy. No human alone could channel the power needed to do the spell on their own."

Tara nodded along side her, indicating her agreement.

Buffy looked unconvinced.

"So what?... like I said... maybe it's something that just possessed Xander... maybe _it_ has all the magic juice you're talking about."

Willow shook her head.

"Buffy, you've lived here long enough to know that that's not how it works. If something was possessing Xander... it would still only have access to whatever magic Xander could control... if his full potential was able to be used that is... but, that's it...noting more. It's just like Vamps... they're only as strong as their host body could _possibly_ be if it was using all its muscles to their fullest...the demon in them gives them access to their full potential, augmented by magical energy a little so that it doesn't damage itself, but there are limits. You're an exception to that rule with the whole preternatural strength thing. And that's just because of the Slayer power, it kinda gives you a little magic boosty thing that gives you an edge over them."

She paused a moment then continued.

"But, even if Xander had the potential to be the greatest mage since Math... he'd still not have the reserves of magical power needed to..."

Willow and Tara looked at each other than back at the two Slayers.

Tara uncharacteristically spoke first.

"Buffy, I... we...we wouldn't joke about something like this. I -I know you...he's your friend... b-but you didn't see what we saw downstairs... I-if you had... you'd..."

Willow nodded, then added, "Buffy, we both think that whatever is down's just wearing a sort of... 'Xander suit' or something. It's gotta be a demon... or maybe a magic spirit... we're not too sure yet... but... Anyway, only a really powerful supernatural entity could channel the sort of power we're talking about."

Buffy glared at the pair suddenly, her gaze snapping at them.

"Enough!," she half shouted.

She paused seeing the blonde flinch at the sharp look, Willow however stood her ground if a bit nervously.

"Willow...", she snapped, "I think you're totally wrong on this. I talked to him out in the parkinglot at the hospital, remember? I _know_ that that's him down there, and nothing you can say is going to change my mind on that. I-I've been sitting here listening to ...ummm... 'myself' I guess... for the better part of an hour now... and...well... I don't know any other way to say this... other than to just come right out and say it."

She took a breath, calming herself a little, then continued, "A lot of things are starting to make more sense... after hearing what...

Anne... had to say about...'things'... so ... I'll just say this straight out."

She paused a moment as she weighed her words, then softly continued, "I'm really surprised at how petty and cruel you are when it comes to treating Xander like an equal."

Anne looked over at Buffy with a baffled look, but Willow did her one better.

Willow blinked long and hard in surprise, then replied in a huffy tone, "Wha?... Huh?,,, p-petty? _Cruel?_ Moi?...Buffy!, now you hang on a minute-"

Buffy folded her arms in front of her and stared down her redheaded friend.

"I meant what I said..."

Buffy looked over toward her double and sighed sadly, "I think I'm seeing things a lot clearer right now... and I meant it... 'petty' too...But... I have to admit... I've been acting the same... I just wish someone would have been there to point it out to me. Mainly because, if anything, I've been even worse about it."

She looked back at the Wiccans sharply and added, "But that doesn't mean I'm going to keep being like that... This is a new, more open minded Buffy you're talking to."

She briefly glanced over at Anne, noticing the small look of approval she sent her.

Buffy paused and smiled softly before continuing.

"I mean we've seen all sorts of weird stuff in the last few years and sure... okay... obviously what's happening to him is definitely _not_ normal...and it's not just him getting better at stuff... and okay...there's gotta be a supernatural explanation in this whole thing somewhere. But, for God's sakes Willow, you don't even want to _think_ for a minute that Xander might have a chance at being in the same league as the rest of us... as far as being an asset to the group I mean."

She paused, staring down the angry witch.

"You're so comfortable with him just being Mr. Nothing Special...

just because...if he is... than you don't have to worry about him competing with you as my friend or something."

She nodded to herself and continued, "So when he shows some potential... you automatically don't want to think that maybe he does have a brain in there...or... or that maybe he's worked really hard to get better so he can help. Maybe you aren't comfortable thinking that maybe he _can_ do more than just spend his time getting donuts for us."

Willow snorted, "You ... you think I'm... that I'm _jealous_?"

She laughed derisively and added, "Buffy, me, jealous?...of Xander?", she started to chuckled, but Buffy's look silenced her.

"Yes, you."

Buffy looked over at her double and nodded to her.

"You... I... I think Anya maybe was at least a little bit right...

about what exists between you and him. I think that even though you say that you aren't interested in Xander anymore... you still don't want anyone else 'poaching' him from you. That maybe the only reason you disliked Anya so much, was because you thought that she might take him...", Buffy trailed off a moment, making her implication clear.

"But when he wouldn't choose between you and her with the troll guy... you knew that you could always push ahead of her if you had to... She was his, giving him everything she could... and even though you were just his friend... he still had you both on an equal footing... All it would take is a little push from you... and you'd be ahead again... That's when you finally pulled back on the hostility with her. I think you were okay with her after that because you knew you could still come first with him whenever you wanted to."

Willow stared at the blonde Slayer in open mouthed shock, her eyes filling with tears.

Buffy continued, "At least that's the way I think it was between you and him... I think you've maybe stopped being like that recently, finally letting him go. But, I've also been finding out that maybe...maybe I've... not really seen things...seen them the way they _really_ are. That Xander is maybe a lot more than I've given him credit for being."

She laughed a little derisively at herself, "I thought he was kinda brave before...But, I had no idea. All along he's been doing things... all the time... but not telling anyone, not trying to make himself look good. Just trying to be... there for us...even when we push him away."

She looked back at Willow angrily and added, "But I'm at least willing to admit to myself that I was... blind...about some things."

She paused, closing her eyes for a moment.

"But you, Willow, Xander... he's been your friend for the longest time...way longer than I have... and you don't give him any credit. Why? I'd think that if anyone would be glad he'd show _any_ sort of real aptitude at anything...", she skewered the redhead with a glare and a pointing finger, "...that it'd be you. But, no. I mean, sure, maybe whatever it is that's happening to him is some weird Hellmouth thing, but, you're so wrapped up in being... better than him, that you automatically have to assume that if he shows he's good at something... something that can help us... that it can't just be's gotta be something bad taking his place."

Willow had stepped back at the tirade that Buffy had been unleashing on her.

A couple tears trickled at the corners of her eyes, and the redhead quickly wiped them away, sniffling, "Buffy, Wha... what's? going on here? I... I... it's not like that... I'd be happy for him... if... if... I thought it was him... but-"

Buffy adopted a mocking tone along with her anger, "But Xander can't possibly be good at anything... right? That's what you're thinking... isn't it? Well... fine... maybe I...", she paused, "...okay...let's stop...before I say something I'll actually regret later."

Buffy held up a hand, "But, Wills, pleas... don't blow this off...

just give it a little thought is all I'm saying...I'm not saying this just to be a... you know what. I'm worried about us, ya know... about how we both have been taking one of the nicest guys we both know... and hurting him. That and I'm just saying that you shouldn't jump to conclusions... I've been doing nothing but jumping to conclusions about Xander for the longest time... and frankly I'm surprised he hasn't gotten fed up with it. I've got some serious apologies to start making to him... starting with one for cutting him out of the group like I had been."

Willow shook her head, but her voice was contrite when she spoke, as though reexamining her own thoughts.

"O-okay... but, Buffy... I'm not trying to be like that with him... really.", Willow's voice was plaintive, "I... I don't think about him like that... that he's useless or anything... He's just... my Xander, you know? He's my best friend... and I... I don't want anything bad to happen to him. If I thought it was him doing all this... I'd be really happy... I promise. But-but, I think you need to see this... to understand."

The short redhead held out the sheet of paper with its glowing surface.

Buffy's forehead crinkled.

"Seen it already.", she scoffed, "what's the b-"

Willow shook her head, interrupting the Slayer.

"No, you haven't, Buff... When you see... and we explain... you'll get it..... you'll see what we're talking about."

Buffy looked at them skeptically and rolled her eyes, but when she looked back and noticed the serious look Willow was sending her way, she nodded, giving her tacit acceptance.

"Whatever. Show the 'big secret' already then."


Several minutes later, in a much darkened bedroom, four women sat on the floor gathered in a rough circle.

They sat, clustered around the glowing sheet of paper that lit the room with its pale, electric blue luminescence.

The bedside lamps had been turned off in preparation for what was to follow.

Twin slayers sat side by side looking on curiously, while the other two women's faces were drawn with worry and trepidation.

Buffy broke the silence.

"Okay, Willow, make with the mumbo-jumbo shakin' of a dead chicken foot routine."

"Shhhhh...",the reddead replied, "you'll mess this up and I'll have to start over.", Willow scolded.

"It's's.....", Willow stumbled over her tongue, "... I mean..... there's not wor-."

She shook herself and forced a halfhearted smile before continuing, "Just trust me... okay? You'll see I'm not exaggerating."

Buffy shrugged.

Willow turned her gaze back onto the paper sitting in their midst, and swallowed nervously, holding up her hands, palms pointed at each other though several feet apart. For several moments she sat completely still as she concentrated. Finally she broke her silence and began her casting. She began to chant softly, her voice scarcely above a whisper at first, but slowly building in volume and power.

She held her fingers splayed widely out and moved them as though looping and threading them over and under threads hanging in the air invisibly before her.

She smiled faintly as she manipulated the unseen forces, relishing the flow of power so long absent.

For several long moments she chanted and mumbled to herself, drawing in her borrowed powers from her Goddesses.

Finally, she spoke commandingly.

"Revelara" she exclaimed forcefully, moving her hands upward and then apart.

A reverberating *Thump* filled the room, oddly sounding both metallic and weightily organic at the same time.

The ponderous mass of the noise caused both Slayers to flinch back in surprise.

Then, a voice spoke resonantly, its tones vibrating deeply in their bones.


Willow responded with a quaver in her voice, "F-feliciter ...I-In perpetnuum "

"_Aditus concenderas._" the voice thundered.

A grating noise, like that of a mammoth key turning in a lock, followed.

After what seemed like an interminable pause, great ratcheting groans and squeals followed, culminating with a series of weighty thumps that gave the impression of thick metal bolts being drawn back as tumblers fell into place.

With a final leaden groan still rumbling around them the light in the room went out completely, plunging them into an inky blackness.

Slowly, eyes began to adjust to the dark.

Buffy opened her mouth to speak, only to pull back in surprise as a low hum filled the air, and a sudden flash filled the room.

A huge, unexpectedly bright fountain of light cascaded up from the piece of paper laying on the floor.

It rose, twisting and whirling out of the once more glowing mandala. Only now, where once there had been only a soft glow, the symbols burned with an angry brightness too terrible to look directly into.

Buffy and her twin scrambled back, away from the fiery display as the symbols danced free of the paper and took to the air, unraveling in long streams of symbols and runes that flared an actinic blue, then looped back to flit about above the mandala.

It took several minutes for the process to run its course, but when it had, a small dome of coruscating and shifting magical glyphs bowed up from the floor covering a circular area with a radius of roughly two feet and hovering a half foot above the now blank paper as it lay on the floor.

"Wills, sheesh... warn me the next time, okay?", Buffy commented with a healthy dose of anger and surprise in her voice.

Anne added, "I know what she means...All that for 'Magical Mood-

lighting'. Gah!, It about gave me a heart attack. I had visions of arson investigators flashing before my eyes."

Willow licked her dry lips and shook her head.

"Uhhh... sorry."

Willow flashed them both an apologetic look and continued, "Ummm, this is part of what Xander showed us couldn't hear any of it... It's got some weird ...silence wardy thing built in it... Like an automatic spell or something... I guess to keep it quiet outside of the ...whatever it is, so that it doesn't bother anyone or something. But, I gotta do this next part to show you what I meant. We're not done."

She breathed in deeply and let it out in a slow controlled sigh.

"Aperire.", she whispered.

In response, the surface of the half sphere of symbols roiled, as wave-like ripples flowed over its surface. A moment later it gave off a tone, one that sounded much like a huge crystal bell chiming in the ocean's depths.

A moment passed as the sound faded to near inaudibility.

Then the dome opened up with a silent explosion of light and sweeping motion.

It blossomed outward, flowerlike, throwing out huge thin petals of light, covering the floor and walls of the room with huge rolling patterns of glowing blue lines. Lines that crawled, and flew, and swept outward gently, trailing luminescent threads of light through the air.

From the center of the 'flower' rose a pillar of swirling ribbon-

like tendrils made of yet more symbols and lights and lines that were even brighter than all the rest combined.

They waved and spun and flailed in the air like huge streamers of seaweed in a rolling current... while all about the streamers swam small dots of luminescence.

The small points of light grouped up together in fishlike shoals... darting and flitting about, winking and pulsing in patterns as though communicating with each other.

All the motion and the behavior of the motes served to fill the room with an eerie rippling light that splashed against the walls waterlike.

One school of luminescent points swam toward the still sitting Wiccans, eliciting a shifting of Tara's shoulders upward and a small giggle as a few of them played across the nape of her neck.

Buffy found that she'd unconsciously scrambled back toward her bed throughout the unfolding process of the pattern, only realizing her retreat when she found no further room to draw back into.

With wide eyes she watches as great frond-like strings of symbols waves in the air, dancing in a phantom breeze.

She clutched at the skirt of the bed in surprise when a single mote of light swam past the tip of her nose with a beelike hum.

She gasped, which only seemed to attract its attention more.

It paused suddenly where it was, and somehow gave the impression that it turned to face her, even though it didn't seem to have a front or back to speak of.

She looked back at the mote as it hung suspended in front of her. It bobbed up and down leaving a shimmering trail of foxfire as it moved.

Suddenly it darted about in little sweeping circles, as though looking as her and examining her from all angles.

She tried to keep her eyes on it, snapping her head left and right as it zipped around her, but found that she was never quite able to keep up with its insane speed.

She gasped in shock when the mote of light darted into her hair playfully, disappearing into the depths of her coiffeur.

Then she started yelling.

"Ahhhhgh... get it off me... get it off me!", she shrilled in a panic, batting at her hair to dislodge the thing as it tickled her.

Willow darted to her feet and fairly leapt on the struggling slayer trying to grab at her failing hands.

"It's okay Buffy, it's okay... ow!... Buffy, stop... ow!...Calm d-

Ow! That hurt!... Buffy, for goddess sake st-... Hey! Watch the hands, sister! Those bruise easy!"

Anne saw what Willow was doing and scrambled over to help.

She grabbed at her twins hands pinning them to her side.

"Ahhhh!. It feels like a bug... and it's in my _hair_ get it out, get it out, get it ouuuut!"

"Buffy!" Willow shouted in her face.

"Knock it off, it's not a bug!"

Willow plucked the mischievous ball of light out of the Slayer's hair and held it in front of her face.

"See...tinkerbellish ball of light... nothing threatening... see?"

Buffy looked at the luminescent ball held before her.

She heard what sounded like the musical equivalent of mischievous laughter come from it.

Looking closer, she saw that her friend's fingers were partially visible through the little mote and that the ball itself seemed made of a hazy mist of floating symbols all swirling and dancing about in tiny threads woven over and through each other into an eye bending pattern.

Buffy blinked several times then spoke.

"Okay, I-I'm okay now.", she said, holding her hand up in front of her as she sat up.

"It just... it weirded me out."

Willow and Anne let go of her a moment later and nodded, Willow releasing the small globe of light at the same time, letting it rejoin its fellows as they swam about in the room.

Buffy breathed deep, looking at the storm of points as they flowed about the room before she spoke, "It was... it was just...'itchy' feeling... it was like getting a bee stuck in my hair... I hate that... it just makes my skin crawl."

She paused and looked about the swirling, dancing collection of symbols that filled her room like a huge aquarium.

"My God, Will, what is all of this?"

Willow crawled back and sat with Tara as a swirl of the light balls swam around the blonde Wiccan, making the blonde laugh occasionally at their playful antics.

Sitting next to her lover, Willow finally responded, "We're inside some kind of... diagnostic mode for the spell."

She glanced about furtively and gestured.

"All this... this...'stuff'... it's all sorts of magical processes... like a big program. The mandala is just... 'symbolic'... I guess... it somehow accesses all this."

Buffy drew back from a string of lights that flashed by her, moving in a jellyfish-like swimming pattern.

"Huh?", she asked, "You mean Xander made all this?"

Willow looked back at her and nodded once and only once.

She paused, drawing her arms around herself as is fighting off a chill.

"It got a little heated down there. So, he said that it'd be easier to just... show us to prove he... opened it up... and this came out."

Anne looks at her twin, noticing how pale she was, then spoke, "Ummm... gals... I'm still having a little trouble following all this. I mean I got that Xander summoned something... using...

ummm... something like what we're in. And yeah, I'm trying to 'deal' here with finding out that he's going around casting... whatever this is... and believe me... rapidly approaching limits of 'cope-

ability' here... But would anyone care to clue me in to what this whole thing is about?"

Buffy looked at Willow, who shrugged.

Buffy started explaining, "Ummm... long story short?"

Anne nodded.

"Okay", Buffy began, "A few months ago, Xander cast this spell...without telling anyone...Later on he said it was supposed to summon us a happy ending, he just never bothered to make sure of what it would do."

She rolled her eyes a little cocking her head to one side.

"Anyway... the spell summoned... "

"Created.", Willow corrected.

Buffy amended herself, "Fine, 'created' this demon... Sweet... who made us all have to live the day as if we were in a musical."

Anne looked at them disbelievingly.

"A ... musical?", she asked, skepticism dripping from her voice.

Buffy nodded.

"Yep, ... musical... as in Fred Astair and all that... we had the choreography, the dancing, the spontaneous bursting into song sorta thing going on."

"Oh!...Don't forget the flame... the spontaneous busting into flame.", Tara added.

Buffy nodded, "Oh yeah... can't forget the Hellmouth's own little contribution of wacky mayhem. That too. Some people were getting turned into charcoal crispies because they danced too hard."

"Oh my god!" Anne replied, her eyes gone wide and her hand covering her mouth in shock.

Buffy reached forward as though to touch a streamer of characters that slide snakelike along the surface of the spell.

She stopped and looked at Willow hesitantly.

Willow nodded.

"It's okay, it won't hurt anything... but it feels weird."

Buffy looked back at the floating symbols as they danced about in midair. A series of repetitive characters swam by, looking as though they were a school of fish darting about in an invisible sea.

She reached out and touched them.

A soft chiming tinkle followed as the characters bumbled and flowed around her hand.

"They... they tickle."

Willow nodded, her face lit blue and black in the odd light.

"I... yeah... I know...I don't know what they're doing... but the way Xander explained it... they're behaving like that because they're following some basic fractal formula. Like bird flight...

or... or the way fish swim or something. Basically based on a Lissajous pattern I think."

She looked at the blank stares she got from the two Slayers.

"Well..._pardon_ me for paying attention in math class."

Buffy looked back at her double and continued, "Anyway... the thing was... Sweet... being a demon... wanted something for all the mayhem.", she paused a moment, standing up in the middle of a school of lights as they flitted about.

"There's something... familiar-" she whispered to herself.

Shaking herself slightly, she kept going on with her story, "Turns out there was this amulet thing... that whoever carried it was basically supposed to be the 'price' for Sweet's services... and of course... Dawn stole it. It was only in the end that we found out that Xander made the whole thing... and then Sweet left... seems he doesn't swing that way."

Anne looked confused.


Buffy smirked and replied, "Sweet said that the 'price' was kinda to...umm... well to sorta marry him."

Anne started smirking, then giggling, then broke into outright laughter.

Buffy continued, "He thought that since Dawn had the amulet... that well you know... but since it was Xander that summoned him... Sweet wasn't too interested... male macho demon I guess... Good thing for Xander."

Anne still laughed, though much more in control of herself. She shook her head muttering to herself, "Can't stay out of trouble for five God Damned minutes can you. God Xander, you are such an idiot."

Buffy looked back at Willow and said, "Okay... I'm wowed... very pretty... but what's the-"

Willow held up a hand to forestall her.

"Okay... layman's terms...", she gestured at the dancing motes, "All these things... they're lots of spells... hundreds... thousands of them... all working together kinda...But all cast at once."

She paused leveling a flat stare at the Slayer, "You know how casting a bunch of spells tires me or Tara out?"

Buffy nodded.

Willow continued, "Well, casting any _one_ of these would wipe the both of us out for a week...and there are thousands of these in here Buffy... The sheer magical power it would take to power all these at _once_. It'd be like trying to hook a house's wiring up to a bunch of those high tension power line things. It'd fry us to a crisp.

Crispy Willow is bad... understand?"

Buffy narrowed her eyes in irritation.

"I know I'm not a caster, Willow, got it the first time... so maybe he just used something like the urn?"

Willow shook her head as though explaining something to a stubborn child.

"Buffy , you were there... he just drew it out...This is all fresh stuff... The pattern may have been what created all this... But, he'd have had to pour all sorts of power into it to get it running... It's like a car... you have to have a big jolt of power to turn the starter and get it running. Big power, Buffy."

She paused, took a breath and continued, "But that's only part of what's got us so freaked..."

Tara looked up suddenly at Willow and shook her head, "Sweety, I don't think-"

Willow ignored her.

"Here's the thing, Buffy... I saw something in one of the patterns... something you need to see."

"Willow...", Tara said plaintively.

Buffy shrugged and asked, "Okay... what is it?"

Willow ran her hand over a streamer of lightning colored symbols and a sigh seemed to come from the air.

All about them, pieces of the floating groups of symbols and patterns detatched themselves from their parent groups and converged in the center of the room... filling out the shape of Sweet in excruciating detail.

Willow looked at Buffy out of the corner of her eye.

"That's Sweet's template... the program would pattern him, and create him... all the details... all the life processes...


She touched few more symbols and Sweet collapsed into a perfect replica of the amulet use to mark the summoner.

"This is the amulet... Anya would love this spell... you load in a pattern for anything...whatever you money...... even flowers or whatever... poof ... out it comes. But I noticed that this was in here too...", she paused and looked at Buffy meaningfully, "Buff, I want you to be ready for this... it may be a bit of a shock.

Willow touched another set of symbols... ones toward the tip of a streamer... and the amulet exploded upward in a blue fountain of light... reforming into a beautiful form.

Buffy gasped, staggering backward in shock.

Willow saw her reaction and stepped toward her holding out a hand supportively toward her.

Buffy pushed it away.

Giving her a hurt look, Willow continued, "Sweet... he was a demon... no soul required... but this... this... Buff, theres a simple necromancy spell built in here too.. one to summon a departed soul. There's that and well, it's kind of a binding ritual here...

and... well... I think you see where this is going, Buffy."

Buffy stared at the nude figure floating in the air.

The streamers of symbols that flowing throughout the form and across its surface defined its shape. But, through the haze of shock, Willow's words came through loud and clear.

It made clear something that she'd irrationally suspected since hearing something Willow had said earlier.

But tough their thoughts had an important set of differences to them. both Slayers spoke as one... their breaths catching in their throats.


Tears stood out in her eyes as Buffy reached toward the figure, her hand passing through the edges of its form , causing the surface of the symbols to ripple like water.


The perfectly detailed figure of Joyce Summers, her eyes closed as though peacefully asleep, hung suspended... floating upright in the middle of the room.

Willow nodded.

"Yeah Buff, It's her...Xander was... I-I think he was trying to find a way to bring her least originally."

She paused then added, "It looks like this is the first pattern loaded in the spell... But since her real body ... well... since her real body was still sick... and she'd have just died again if she were brought back... even if we'd used something like the urn.....

he was... I think he was going to create her a new one...a new body for her... and... and then... But he never included that in the spell he cast I think, and that threw the spell out of balance...

poured too much power into Sweet and messed up his program."

She looked at Buffy before she turned away, watching as a series of thoughts and suspicions played over her face.

"I think that the amulet was supposed to be the payment... not the person wearing it."

Buffy's shoulders hunched in pain as tears streamed down her cheeks.

She hissed though clenched teeth. "He knew... damn him. That's why he didn't..."

Every word seemed to be torn from the Slayer's chest... each one filled with venom and betrayal, "He knew... Xander... how could you?"

Buffy ran to the door, threw it open with a wracking sob and fled the room, running.

Willow looked at Tara.

"That didn't go at all like I expected."

Tara shrugged and replied, "It never does."

"Any idea what she meant?"

Willow shrugged slightly unsure of the answer at first, "Not real-"

Suddenly a horrified look appeared on her face, "Oh Goddess... no... Tara... quick... we gotta get downstairs."


"I think Buffy is going to hurt Xander... bad."


Spike leaned back indolently on the plush, tan leather couch.

He'd stretched out comfortably along the furniture's length and propped his back against the corner of the arm where it met the back.

"So... let me get this straight...okay? You...", he gestured, "...

you want me... to kill you... But, not you you... the other you...

the one at Buffy's house? In return for..."

Alexander smiled and nodded as he leaned against the wall, his mass driver pistol nonchalantly trained on the members of the Troika.

Spike just started chuckling, one hand rubbing in temples.

Andrew hesitantly held up a hand and asked in a soft voice, "Ummm... sir?"

Alexander looked over at the thin blonde.


Andrew licked his fear dry lips and replied, "Ummm Warren's bleeding kinda _bad_ ... I... I think that if we don't get him to a hospital... he... you know."

Alexander quirked an eyebrow, "Might die?"

Andrew nodded emphatically.

Alexander smiled and looked over at Spike.


Spike wrinkled his brow.

"Please... I still have _some_ standards. I might catch something."

Alexander rolled his eyes and looked over at the unconscious boy.

"Hmmm... he is looking a mite bit peaked."

He sighed.

"Well... He _is_ making a bit of a mess... so something should be done I suppose."

With an offhanded gesture Alexander waved toward the youth's shattered ankles.

Immediately, a pulsing glow sprang up where the bone still jutted out through Warren's flesh.

A moment later as the glow intensified they twitched slightly before seeming to leap about and then plung themselves into and through the torn and mangled flesh and muscle of Warren's legs, ripping their way back in messily and throwing the gangly youth's form into a series of convulsions.

The skin knitted itself back together with wet rutching sounds, causing the other two young men to pull back in nausea.

Alexander smirked.

"Doctors never tell you how bloody their job really is... you have to see it to believe it, don't you?", he asked.

Spike gave him a level stare, not looking over at the three.

"Yeah, yeah... bloody great mess it is.", he paused, looking Alexander over, "So... there's two of you... I got that much from what you explained... not sure about the rest. So, what happened? Separated at birth or some nonsense?"

Alexander smiled at his guest and put rubbed his chin contemplatively, "Hmmmm... I suppose you could say that... though it's not entirely accurate. But that's close enough I suppose. That aside... So... interested, Spike? I assure you... I'll make it worth your while as I mentioned."

Spike scoffed.

"Right... You think I'm interested in helping you, mate."

He gestured to his own head.

"I get it, see?... I've got you to blame for this...You did something to me... made the bloody chip go all wonky... made it stop working... right?."

Alexander nodded.

"Indeed I did."

He smiled a moment before reversing the grip on his pistol... then tossed it to the vampire.

Alexander cast a brief glance over at the huddled Trio members.

"Oh... and don't think about trying to run off... The pistol was just to remind be good."

He turned back to Spike, who was busy looking the gun over.

"What the bloody hell is this?... it doesn't feel like metal."

"MPF-25 personal mass driver... Ceramic and mono directional carbon fiber filament in a cryo acetate crystalline bonding matrix... My own personal design. It's a lot tougher and lighter than steel, and a dandy little EMP generator if used right."

Spike pointed the weapon at him, sneered angrily and pulled the trigger

"Thanks... now... Sod you!"

A soft *thup* came from the gun as a single slug of metal shot across the room, burying itself in the support beam that stood behind where Alexander had been standing.

Spike blinked.

He'd never even seen the figure move, but now his target was standing a score of feet from where he'd been, leaning against a cabinet full of high tech toys lazily.

Alexander grinned and offered him a tiny "golf clap" of praise.

"Oooo good shootin' there, Tex."

"Sodding bastard... I'll kill you!"

A series of slugs were ejected from the weapon at hypersonic speeds, all of which never found their target.

Alexander stood in front of Spike while the vampire pulled on the trigger, to no further effect.

"Had enough?"

Spike started getting to his feet.

A knife hand sent him back into the couch grabbing at his throat and choking.

Alexander walked away, putting his pistol back in its holster while turning his back on the vamp.

He rolled his eyes when he turned back.

"Oh please Spike, 'can' the histrionics will ya?... You're dead. You don't need to breath.

Spike showed him a two fingered "salute".

Alexander sat back comfortably into a nearby rollered chair and waited a moment while Spike struggled to regain his voice.

Alexander spoke softly to him. "Well now..... how to explain this clearly for you... hmmmm... Ohhhh... I know."

Alexander held his hand up as though allowing the vampire to inspect his hands...

"Nothing up my sleeve... and ... presto."

A photograph seemed to pop into existence in his hand, a photo that he flicked toward the vampire. The picture sailed across the room lazily, landing in Spike's lap.

Alexander smiles when he saw Spike's reaction to the images in it.

"As I said Spike... I can give you... everything. Everything you've ever wanted... you just need to do a little favor for me..."

Spike looked up from the photo with a stunned look on his face.

Alexander smiled.

"So... here's what I need for you to do."


Buffy charged into the living room, he face showing the jumble of emotions running through her.

Xander lay on the couch, but started getting up the moment he saw her racing toward him.

"Buffy, what's going..."

He found himself sprawled across the room, covered in the remains of the television set.

"What the h..."

He felt her grab him by the collar, haul him to his feet and launch a punch into his face that deposited him square at the foot of the stairway after sending him flying.

He spat blood out and shook his head as though to clear it as he got to his feet.

"Buffy... what'd I..."

She grabbed him by the hair with both hands and kneed him in the solar plexus, trying to knock the wind out of him as she brought her hands back up, and then down in a hammerblow from above.

That's when things came to sudden and surprising halt.

The world seemed to blur a moment and when it was normal again...

what Willow saw as she looked on from the top of the stairs brought her up short.

Xander held Buffy's hands trapped together over her head, pinning them in a one handed grip as she struggled to gain leverage and kick him.

From her vantage point behind the redhead, Tara could make out the same scene, as well. But as they descended the blonde also made note of the ruin of that had formerly been the living room TV and the couch.

Buffy, meanwhile, was screaming at Xander.

"You sonovabitch... you knew. Damn you... Why did you let them do it... you knew."

Buffy let loose a close in crescent kick that caught Xander under the chin, but did little but rock his head back slightly.

It seemed that that caused his temper to finally snap.

He lifted her off the ground by her trapped wrists and shook her twice.

"Buffy... get ahold of yourself... what are you talking about... I didn't _do_ anything."

Willow dashed forward and stepped face to face with him.

"Xander!, if that's who you really are... Stop it!... Let her go right now."

The stunned look that appeared on his face was immediately followed by a look of horror as he looked at how he now held the Slayers hand's trapped in his grip.

His hand sprang away from hers as though the touch burned him.

"Oh, god... Buffy... I didn't mean to..."

Buffy retreated back away from him, tears in her eyes.

Willow stepped into his path as he tried to approach her.

She held up a hand toward him, "Just stay back. ", she interjected and turned toward the blonde Slayer, "Buffy, are you okay?"

Buffy stared daggers at Xander for a moment before responding. "Yeah, I'm okay, Wills.....but he isn't going to be in a-


"Stop it you two... just stop it!", Tara pleaded.

All eyes turned to the blonde witch.

Behind her, Anne watched on from the top of the stairs, unsure what was going on.

Willow looked at Xander as he stepped back away from Buffy till his back was nearly against the wall.

He looked back and forth between her and Buffy with an almost pleading look in his eyes.

Willow stepped toward him and touched his face where a small line of blood flowed. She watched as the blood simply faded away into nothingness.

"X-Xander?", she asked hesitantly.

He looked back at her, his eyes full of bewilderment and hurt.

"Willow, what's wrong with everyone? Why did Buff attack me? What'd I do?"

She looked into his eyes... as though looking for a hint of disingenuousness in them.

A moment passed, and she nodded slightly to herself as though to reassure herself of what she saw.


She paused.

He looked at her, unsure whether she was stating something, or asking.

She finally turned and looked back at Buffy and continued, "I... I don't know... but... I think I'm not the only one leaping to conclusions tonight."

Buffy continued to glare at him but responded to Willows comment.

"Oh... I'm not jumping to conclusions... This is something I _know_... Just like someone here knew where I was... where I'd be ripped out of when you brought me back, Will. Isn't that right, Xander? That's why you never sounded so sure about where I was... or why you weren't so surprised when it came out."

Willow spun and looked into the brown eyes of her friend in shock.

He looked back at Buffy only, unable to meet Willow's gaze.

"Buffy... I..."

"You knew... didn't you, Xander... you knew where I was... but you let her bring me back anyway...Admit it!"

Willow looked back at the blonde and forced a laugh.

"B-Buffy... come on... he didn't know... he-"

Buffy cut her off with a gesture.

"He knew alright... just like he knows where my mother is right now... didn't you Xander."

She glared hatefully at him then turned her gaze to Willow's eyes.

"Think about it... That spell... he had it ready... he'd even included mom in it... he'd had the whole plan for "happily ever after" all set up... But if that's the case... then why didn't he just bring her back."

She looked accusingly back at Xander,. "I'll tell you why... because he knew she was in heaven... just like I was... and he didn't bring her back because he knew."

She growled incoherently, panting in anger.

"You said he told you bringing me back "felt" wrong... ever ask yourself why he "felt" like that, Willow? Huh? Did you?", she hissed, her voice breaking.

Willow slowly turned back to her childhood friend with dread and horror dancing in her eyes.

"X-Xander... is... is it... true?"

She saw him shift backward a step before he answered, guilt written on his face, "N-not exactly...It's... it's complicated... I... I figured out where Jo... where Ms. Summers was... but..."

Her horror partially confirmed, she backed away from him hastily.

"Oh my god... you did know! Xander... how could you not tell us?"

"Wills", he protested, taking a step forward, "I tried to tell you guys... I kept saying ...", he watched as Willow kept backing away, anger lining her face

"Willow... It's not like that... I prom-"

Buffy stepped in front of her and shouted angrily, "How could you, Xander? And I thought you cared about my mother... I thought you were my friend...How could you even have thought about doing that to her if you knew?"

He held up his hands in an entreating gesture, "Buffy, please... it wasn't like tha-"

Buffy just shook her head in an angry gesture and spat out, "I can't believe I was actually defending you up there. Ohhhh... I wish you'd never been born, Xander Harris. I wish..."

A hellish glare filled the room as two forms materialized, shouting in unison triumphantly.

"Wish granted!"

They gestured at the young man, hurling a cascade of emerald green and fiery orange light at him.

Buffy looked at the pair of vengeance demons in shock.

A scream of realization of what she'd said tore its way out of her throat.



Spike sat leaning forward on the couch as he looked at the photograph for what seemed the thousandth time.

"So... let me just see if I've got it right, mate."

Alexander sat back in his chair and picked up a spindle of blank cd rom disks, examining them.

"Fire away, chief. But I think you've got it."

Spike smirked evasively and got up from the couch, wandering around the room and inspecting the layout of the furnishings.

"Right... I help you do this... like you describe... and you're saying you can give me...", he gestured at the picture.

Alexander raised his eyebrows a little, then smirked and replied, "You got it..... so.....what do you think? I think I'm being more than fair about this."

Spike sneered, "Fair?... fair don't bloody figure into this... What you did wasn't...", he trailed off a moment as he looked at a small bamboo plant that was growing in a terracotta pot.

He looked upward toward the recessed basement windows... the first fingers of predawn showing in the sky.

He looked over at the seated figure with his back to him and nodded once to himself.

"Right...well... I think I'll answer you like this."

He picked up the plant and it's pot and hurled it toward the seated figure with all his might, spreading a thick screen of dirt into the air as he dove toward the windows and crashed through it.

Alexander shielded his eyes against the wall of flying dirt, only to lower his arm as Spike's feet disappeared up and out the broken window pane.

Alexander sighed.

"He's always got to make this harder then it needs to be... you'd figure that one of them would just play ball the easy way."

He shook his head and started trudging toward the stairway leading to the ground floor, muttering to himself all the way.

As he started up the stairs he looked over to the members of the Troika.

Warren had woken up during his little "talk" with Spike, and joined the rest of his team of villain wannabes, staring at him in surprise, shock, and a healthy amount of awe.

"Hmmm, now this is a quandry. So, what am I going to do with you three now?" he wondered absently to himself.

Jonathon raised his hand timidly and volunteered, "Umm... you could let us go... I... I think I've learned a really valuable lesson here."

Warren and Andrew nodded along, trying to look sincere. "Us too...

valuable lesson... you betcha... like he said. We've definitely all grown here. Got a whole new outlook."

Alexander raised an eyebrow in curiosity.

"Ohh... and the lesson you learned... what is it?"

The three looked at each other desperately and responded at the same time.

"Crime doesn't pay?"

"Do unto others as you'd want to be done?"

"Curiosity killed the cat?"

Warren and Jonathon looked at Andrew incredulously.

"Curiosity killed the... are you an idiot? Shut up and..."

Alexander cleared his throat, getting their attention.

"Actually... he's close... what I was looking for was, 'Learn to see in another's calamity the ills which you should avoid.'"

All three youths looked at him and responded as one.


Outside, the sound of the Van starting up could be heard.

From where he sat in the van, Spike could make out six soft snapping pops come from the shattered basement window.

Alexander turned away from the tableaux he'd created and continued up the stairs, holstering his mass driver.

"It means...'That once you've seen how actions will end for others... you haven't learned anything if you don't use that knowledge to prevent the same from happening again,'. But, I think you know what I mean, hmmm?"

Unfortunately there was no one left in the basement to gain anything from his explanation.

No one at all.


Spike slammed the accelerator down hard as he pulled away from the Troika's hideout... pouring on the speed.

He glanced nervously at the tinted windows, unsure if they were dark enough to keep him safe when the sun came up.

"Come bloody on! Daddy needs to go pay someone a visit, baby", he coaxed the engine.

With a squeal of tires on pavement, Spike raced down the suburban street.

Moments later he spied a streetlight ahead as it changed from green to amber and then red, blocking his path with early morning traffic..

He gently started applying the breaks just as a metallic *spang*

could be heard coming from the rear or the van.

He looked back and spied that a hole had been punched through the left rear door of the van.

His eyebrows crawled up his forehead when he looked though the matching rear windows and saw Alexander standing atop the light fixture of a street lamp a hundred meters behind him.

Though the glass was foggy with poorly worked tinting, Spike could just make out Alexander leveling another shot at the van while waving at him.


A matching hole appeared in the right rear door.

"Bloody hell!"

A third *spang* was heard and he felt a line of blood appear on his cheek as the steel slug zipped past him and through the windshield.

Turning quickly back to face forward, he slammed his foot on the accelerator and hoped for the best.

The van barreled through the intersection, slipping through cross traffic in a blare of horns and screeching tires as people sought desperately to get out of his way.

Veering wildly he made it across the intersection, only vaguely registering the crashing sounds behind him. He counted himself lucky that he'd just barely clipped the front end of a Toyota forerunner as he passed.

"Right, bloody on!... Let's see you can beat that you pillock."

A series of *spang*s followed a few moments later, cutting holes through the roof of the van.

Faint, early morning sunlight started to trickle in, some of it blistering and burning Spike's hand.

"Oh, bullocks..... Forget I said anything, mate!"

Spike raced on... his shelter from the sun slowing being cut to pieces around him.

Never far behind, Alexander leapt through the air in impossible bounds, running along the tops of houses, dancing along the lengths of power lines as they presented themselves... and smiling all the while as he ran at inhuman speeds, squeezing off a shot here and there as the mood struck him.


Everyone seemed to be shouting at the same time.

"Anya, sweety..."

"Don't you sweety jerk! why aren't you not-born... I want an explanation right now, Xander!"

"Willow, what's going on?"

"Buffy, what were you _thinking_?"

"Anya, How dare you try and try and kill my fian-..."

"Hello, justice demon here...sorta my job."

In the background could be heard a ringing phone.

"I've been trying to find... talk to you for-..."

"Hmmph... like I care... traitor."

"Willow, What's going on? Who are these-"

"You should know what saying something like that will do, Buffy."

"Where do you think you're going, Anya? I'm the Slayer, you get back here you bit..."

"Hey... wait a minute why's he still h-"

Chaos reigned for the moment as everyone continued to shout over the top of each other.

Anya started hitting Xander with an umbrella from the hat-rack near the door, shouting "Why are you still here... why are you still here...she wished you gone."

"Ow... Ahn... Ow...Hey! Ow... stop that!"

"Hey!, stop hitting my fiancé"

"Willow... what's going on he-"

"Oi vey!"

"Hey, anyone, remind me where's the bathroom... that latte is ru-"

Buffy's temper snapped and she finally shouted, "Will someone answer the damned phone?"


Tara shifted from foot to foot for a moment then darted out of the room.

Much glaring was exchanged.

Willow glaring at Anya Buffy and Xander.

Buffy glaring at Xander and Anya

Anne glaring at Halfrek, Anya and Buffy.

Xander being glared at by nearly everyone else.

Silence reigned for a moment... but chaos was preparing for a return tour.

"Buffy, Willow", came a shout from the kitchen, "It's Giles."

Buffy looked around at the silent collection of people gathered on the stairway and in the foyer.

She put her hands up in a commanding gesture and growled, "All of you... stay right here... shut up... and wait... I'll be right back."

She backed up... giving everyone a warning glare, "Don't move.", then turned and walked toward the kitchen.

Anne grumbled to herself once Buffy left the room, "Hey!, what do I have to stay here for?"

She turned to Willow and said, "Wills, you keep things in line for a minute.", she fired the demonic looking Anyanka a nasty glare then turned back to Willow and continued, "I gotta go talk to Giles too... Mr. I-think-I'll-just-abandon-my-Watcher-duties needs to hear what I think of him."

Buffy turned on her heel and walked back up the stairway.

Xander looked back and forth between Will, Anya, and Halfrek.

Finally he turned to Willow and said, "Willow... you gotta believe me... if I'd have known for sure... I'd have..."

He held out his hands toward her.

Willow considered him for a long moment, then sighed and looked away.

"I-I know... and I probably wouldn't have believed you if you had... I... I'm sorry too... I... I think I haven't been listening too well to anyone this year..."

She looked back, sighing again and then seemed to examine him closely.

A few minutes went by, and he grew increasingly uncomfortable under her scrutiny as well as the curious looks he was being shot by Halfrek, and the nonstop glaring he was getting from Anya.

He chuckled nervously and shrugged his shoulders up defensively as he spread his arms with open hands and asked, grinning, "W-What?"

Willow smiled and replied, "I guess it is you after all, huh?"

Xander looked perplexed but asked, "Whatcha mean, Wills?... Of course it's me."

Suddenly a look of recognition dawned on his face.

"Huh... Wha...Hey!... no way!... You don't think I'm a fake do you... Hey, Wills, one hundred percent genuine Xander flesh here... accept no imitations."

She smiled devilishly and said, "Oh... really?... maybe I should make you do our little dance just to prove it."

His eyebrows shot up and he looked around at the gathered women nervously, noting the seriously hostile vibe coming from Anyanka.

"Ummm... here?... now? Here? Hey, Wills... ummm.", he stuttered, nearly at a loss for words.

"I'm not sure I'll believe it's you until I see it.", she replied, halfway giggling.

She smirked, when, after a moment, he started to reluctantly assume the "snoopy dance" position.

She laughed and grabbed him by the arm.

"Okay, okay... it's you."

"Great... it's him", Anyanka sneered, "Great... wonderful." She poked him in the chest with a long nailed finger driving him back against the wall.

"What I want to know is why he's still here."

Halfrek nodded, adding, "Good question... I mean the client _did_ make a pretty unambiguous wish there."

She poked Xander in the upper arm with a fingertip while giving him a good look over.

"Damn... he's solid as hell."

She turned to Anyanka and commented, "He definitely seems to be intact... wonder what went wrong?"

Anya rolled her eyes, "Of course he 'seems to be intact' I have eyes too you know... what I want to know is 'why' he's still here."

She turned back to Xander and poked him repeatedly in the chest.

"Why, why, why... do you hear me Alexander Harris... those were perfectly good wishes we both wasted on you... and I want to know why you're still here."


Buffy sighed as she approached the phone. The slump of her shoulders speaking for her, showing that she knew that the quiet wouldn't last in the foyer for long.

She'd already heard her own voice, Anne's, grumbling from the other room about something as she took the receiver from Tara.

Tara smiled and mouthed, "He's worried"

She nodded and took the receiver.

"Hello" she said...

"Thank God, Buffy, what's going on over there? I received a rather confusing message from Willow on the answering machine... something about there being two of you now...that and a variety of other miscellaneous events... I can scare make heads or tails of it all.....Is everything alright, are you okay?"

"Yeah Giles, I'm okay... but we have some major league weirdness going down here... and Xander's involved in it too."

A lengthy pause followed.

"Ahhh, Xander involved... I see... Well, I trust that by now you didn't expect me to be particularly surprised hearing that. So...

what exactly is happening."


Buffy heard the click on the phone and closed her eyes, knowing who had to be on the other line.


Sure enough, her own voice was on the line.


"Buffy? Wh-...", Giles began to ask.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?", came Anne's sudden question.

"Buffy? Hello?"

Buffy sighed, and interjected, "I'm here, Giles... that's part of the weirdness... it seems we have another me here."

"Good heavens."

"Giles, you answer me right now... what are you doing in England?"


Buffy interjected, "I tried to tell her that-"

"A moment, Buffy, this the 'other' Buffy?"


"I see"

A lengthy pause followed before he continued.

"The rod of Toth?"

"Nope, no splitty Slayerness... she just showed up", Buffy replied.

"Giles, don't you dare ignore me."

"What do you mean just 'showed up'? One doesn't generally have another self just pop in for tea and biscuits."

"Giles, look... I don't know what's going on... that's kinda why I called you.", Buffy half pleaded.

"Well, lets calm down and analyze the situation then and I'm sure that we-"

"Enough!", Anne half shouted into the phone, "Giles, listen up...

here's the sitch... The Buffy you know is the Buffy you know. Now... me... I'm apparently the same Buffy... but different... ummm ...

Okay that didn't come out right... I have some different memories... which we can all talk about... the minute that you get your British butt back here and start doing your job again, _understand_?"

Giles paused a moment before responding in a voice carrying a healthy dose of shock, "Ummm, Buffy... you have spoken to her about why I-"

Anne interrupted him in mid word, "Yes she did... and I could care less... Didn't buy a word of it. Here's the way I see it... you Watcher... me Slayer... you getting paid by Watchers council your job. So you hop the next flight back here tut' suite or I'll phone up Quentin Travers and ask him why you aren't here minding me the way you were suppose to. Buffy explained to me about her getting killed by Glory... So... does Travers even know that I'm alive again?... or have you been keeping that secret? Usign my supposed death to explain why you're back in England like I think you've been doing?"

Buffy's jaw dropped as the impact of what her double was saying sunk in.

Silence reigned on the phone.

Finally Giles coughed uncomfortably.

"I-I see... most... astute of you...", he trailed off then asked, "What should I call you, my dear? I think trying to call you both Buffy would be rather confusing, not to mention... likely rather trying on my ability to continue to function rationally."

"Anne... just call me 'Anne', Buffy and me worked that out earlier. And as to the other stuff... well, I learned from the best... Giles."

The smile was plain in her voice... as was the compliment.

"So... I suppose that I'll need to tell them..."

Anne replied after a moment of thought, "Hmmm, well... true... it's not just my decision I suppose... Buffy, it okay with you?"


Giles answered for her, "What... Anne... is saying, Buffy, is that part of the reason I've not been required by the council to return to my post as your Watcher... is largely because I've never informed them that you were... well... rather 'alive again' as it were. I'd hoped that with the maturity that you'd shown, that if I kept the council out of your way... that you might have had the chance at leading some sort of normal life."


Anne snorted, "Well, that's strike two out of three there, Giles... Not only have things gone insane over here... but apparently Buffy here's been boffing the dead again... only this time it's Spike."



"Bloody hell!"

"So, you gonna get back here now? Or do I have to tell you about how Xander appears to be turning into Mr. Super Mage?"

"Dear god?! The boy is playing with magic again? Hasn't he learned his lesson yet?"

"Or how Anya apparently has her vengeance groove on again?"


"I'll be on the next flight."

"Good idea."

"Quite... and... Buffy?"

"Y-yes?", Buffy replied, stunned from the exchange she'd just ridden through on the phone.

"Oh, my dear girl, I'm sorry... I... I should have been... I...

we'll talk as soon as I get there... I've let you down rather badly."

"I... no... I'm the one that let you down, Giles."

Giles sighed over the phone, then was silent for a few moments before responding, "It seems there's more than enough self recrimination to go around I suppose."

He paused a moment again, then continued, "Buffy, if I come back... to stay... I'm rather certain that I'm going to have to tell the council something... I suppose I could tell them I'm going to visit... for reasons dealing with the shop at first. But, if I stay long they will suspect something... and..."

"Just tell them."

Giles paused silently then asked, "You're quite sure?"

She nodded and replied, "Yeah... it's okay... if telling them I'm back is all it takes to get you back into my life... it's worth it. I've missed you so much, Giles."

"And I you, dear girl... and I you."

Anne's voice came back on the line. "Hey you two, save the sloppy emotional stuff for later... I gotta go rescue Xander... see ya."


"Dear lord... Two of you... I may just be able to take... Buffy, is she... just like you..... does she have the..."

"Yeah... she's a full on Slayer... got the strength and speed...

even feels like another Slayer... got the ... presence or whatever ya wanna call it."

"Dear lord... now... she said something about 'different memories'?"

"Yep, seems that she doesn't remember dying... after we fought Glory... that she survived."

"Good heavens."

"Yeah... but if you think that's mondo strange-o... hang on tight... She remembers being engaged to Xander."


"Hello... Giles."


"Doesn't that seem a bit strange to you?"



"Yes?... oh... sorry... sorry... just trying to... 'engaged' you say?"



"Xand.", she prompted.

"Yes, quite..... I see...hmmm/"

Buffy paused, waiting for his response.

"Are you okay there, Giles?"

"Oh... fine... I suppose... and how is Xander taking the news?"

"Ummm, never thought to ask."

"I see... well... I'll be going now... I think I've heard rather more than I can cope with at the moment... I'll be there as soon as I can make flight arrangements... I'll call you when I know the arrival time."

Buffy put the phone back on the wall mounted phone cradle after hearing Giles hang up the phone at his end.

She turned to Tara and smiled, "He took that better than I thought he would."

Tara nodded and looked toward the doorway leading to the living room.

"Do we have to go back in there? I think they're fighting again."

Buffy sighed tiredly, "Yeah... gonna have to... before they kill each other."

Buffy started trudging her way back into the verbal warzone that her living room and stairway had become.

"Anya, I'm sorry... what I did... it was... it was unforgivable."

"You got that right, buster."

"But please, listen to me..."

Anne grabbed Xander by the shoulder and spun him around to face her while talking to him, "Xander, she just tried to kill you... is that the sort of woman you want to spend the rest of your life with?

"Hey! Watch it blondie... not that I want to marry him anyway anymore... not after what he did."

"You tell him, sister."

"Hey!" , Willow interjected, "Aren't you that vengeance demon that trapped us in the house?"

"Oh, you remember... yep... and as I said before... I prefer Justice demon... thank you very much."

"Yeah, whatever, then what are you helping _her_ for... you work with kids."

"What?, can't a woman break out of tradition roles these days?"

Buffy's shoulders slumped as she walked into the room, watching Anyanka grab Xander by the shoulder and whirl him back to face her... yelling in his face.

"And another thing... where do you get off ignoring my vengeance spells like that? The nerve of you... the least you could have done was beg for mercy while your flesh was being liquefied. Not that I would have granted it, mind you. But it's the thought that counts."

A knocking was heard at the door as she tried to get between the arguing ensemble.

Unfortunately all that ended up happening was that she'd get in the way of one fight while another shouting match escalated.

The knocking continued.

Buffy looked desperately over at the kitchen door way, and noted that Tara had obviously retreated out into the back yard.

She sighed in defeat and walked tiredly toward the front door, opening it.

On the doorstep stood familiar face.


She blinked several times.

"Wow... G-Giles... I-I ... hey... how did you get here so fast? Watcher express? When its absolutely, positively gotta be there five minutes ago."

"Ummm... uh... quite."

"Well however you got here... let me just say; 'thank god' it's a mad house in here."

"Ummm, They?"

"Yeah, Willow, Anya, Halfrek, the other me... everyone."


"Xander... yeah... right in the middle of it."

"Right", he replied stepping into the house and pushing past her.

Buffy gave him a surprised and slightly offended look as he passed.

"What in the?", she asked aloud.

"Get your hands off my Xander, you man stealing hussy."

"Hussy? Now you listen here... oh... I get it... that's why he broke it off... he's been cheating on me?"

"Xander'd never cheat... he's better than that... in fact he's too good for a demon like you"

"Ohhh so it finally comes out... you aren't just a Slayer, you're a bigot"

"A what?"

"Ladies... please."

"Stay out of this, Xander, this is between me and miss I-wish-you-

were-dead here."

"Shut up Xander, and I'd never have wished him dead if he hadn't left me at the altar."

"Feh... at least he wised up in time... better late than never."

"Oooo... Slayer or no Slayer...I'm gonna kick your- "

Giles strode confidently into the room and announced loudly, "Alexander Harris, by the authority of the MVA I do hereby place you under arrest, and placed in my immediate custody... You will come with me immediately."

Silence fell on the group.

"Hey!", Anya asked, "Why are there two Buf... oh I get it... Willow got the Buffy bot working again."

Buffy closed her eyes and felt a headache coming on.

She felt someone jostle her from behind.

She opened her eyes and looked behind her, wishing almost immediately she hadn't.

Another Buffy stood behind her.

Only this one wore what looked like a full body, skin tight, leather catsuit and a low slung holstered side-arm on each hip.

"Oh god, not another one.", she muttered.

She turned and looked at Giles.

"Ummm we didn't just talk on the phone, did we?"

He looked back at her and smiled sheepishly, "Ummm, I rather think... ummm... _not_... terribly sorry for the deception."

Buffy absently waved it off as she walked into the living room to sit down.

She held her head as she felt the headache building and commented, "I think I need a drink."

Anyanka crossed her arms and grumbled, "I just want to know why Xander is still here... that wish should have erased him from existence."

Hearing this Giles smiled widely and replied, "Oh... yes... I think I can help explain that rather nicely."

Buffy looked up and noticed the distinct lack of eyeware on this Giles.

Everyone turned to look at Giles.

The newly arrived Slayer behind him shook her head and sighed tiredly.

"You really live for this stuff, don't you?", She asked.

Xander caught sight of the leatherclad figure as she leaned against the wall and stared in slack jawed wonder.

Anne stepped directly into his line of sight and snapped her fingers in front of him.

"Hey!... you wanna keep those eyes? Then put them back in their sockets now, mister."


Spike knew he had to do something soon... the shots kept raining down on the van and eating holes in the sides and roof with disturbing regularity.

Several of them had even slammed through the back of his seat and exploded out the front of his chest, coating the windshield and dashboard with gore.

The fact he was able to keep going was owed largely to him having gorged himself earlier at Willy's.

He'd drank as much blood as he could hold, and it'd replenished him to the point he was able to take the punishment being meted out.

Spike grinned savagely, happy that his gluttony had actually saved him.

He knew that if he hadn't...he'd have passed out from the blood loss and the healing his undead body was having to perform on itself.

But still, there were limits... and at the rate he was getting hit... it wouldn't be long before his rapidly waning reserves ran dry.


Another shot ricocheted inside the van's cabin area, flying out the windshield and taking the rear view mirror with it.

"Oh Hell!"

He slammed his fist against the ceiling in frustration.

"Think, you blighter... think!" he railed at himself as sunlight began to pour in through the holes that riddled the van and through the shattered windows.

Already he was starting to smolder slightly from the sunlight that made it in, and he had several miles still to travel.

His expression said clearly that he didn't fancy arriving in charcoal briquette form.

He whipped his head left and right, and then smiled as he saw something that he hoped would be what he needed.

Spike pulled the steering wheel over hard to the left, nearly causing the van to flip as it skittered on two wheels for a moment before getting all four back on the pavement.

Ahead of his was a strip mall done in typical Californian construction style... lots of glass... and little actual wall strength.

He slammed on the accelerator, pushing it to the floor and charged across the two lanes of opposing traffic that separated him from his goal, straight into the glass front of the dry cleaners.

Aluminum door framing and glass flew like water as he barreled through the building, sending early morning workers scattering out of his way screaming.

From inside the van, the view was a complete blur as Spike slammed on the breaks for a moment.

He brought the van to screeching halt just long enough for him to open the door, grab several handfuls of plastic shrouded clothing, pull them into the van and use the time to wrap them all about himself, covering himself completely.


"You sodding Bas-"



And once more, with an aborted slam of the door, Spike floored the gas pedal again and charged out the other side of the building, scattering torn and mangled clothing in his wake.

"Sorry, ladies... gotta run.", he called back, heavily muffled by a cocktail dress he had wrapped around his head.


Buffy stared slack jawed at Giles, as did everyone else.

"Lemme see if I got this"

The cat suited Buffy turned to Giles and said, "We don't have time for this. Just grab him and let's get the hell out of here."

He turned back to her and shook his head after closing his eyes.

"We have to have him come willingly... it's not as if we could very well force him to go anywhere he doesn't want to... now is it?"

Her eyes narrowed, but she nodded her head in acquiescence.

He laid a hand on her shoulder and softly added, "Well, now that that's settled then...lets just try and do it my way.....hmmm?"

"Yes, sir", she replied sulkily.

Giles turned back to Buffy, smiled and nodded, "Go ahead, Ms.


"Ummm uhhhh... So... you're saying that you," , she pointed back and forth between Giles and her cat-suited twin, "...are here because of what's happening to Xander... and partly why the other 'me' is here?"


"Uhhh huh..."

Buffy looked over at Xander, as did Anne, Anya, and Willow.

All four spoke as one.

"God damn it, Xander, can't you keep out of trouble for five minutes?"

Halfrek giggled and smirked at the hurt look on his face.

"Boy, they got your number kid."

She turned to Anya and waved, "Hey, Anyanka... I'm outa here... let me know how things turn out 'kay? Ciao."

She disappeared in a coruscating shower of amber light.

Buffy held up a hand and Giles smiled and pointed at her.

"Yes, Buffy?"

"Oooookay...Sooo... what are you? Time cops or something?"

Giles looked perplexed for a moment before responding.

"Ummm... not precisely. You see..... well... I'm afraid that what actually is going on is rather classified. So there isn't much I can tell you."

"But you're expecting to come here, take our friend, leave.

Expecting us to not ask questions?"

Giles opened his mouth to answer, paused, then crossed his arms on his chest leaving one hand free to tap his finger against his chin.

"Well... if you put it like that... I suppose it does sound rather unreasonable doesn't it."

Buffy nodded.

"How about if I promise that we're not going to hurt him at all...

quite the contrary."

Xander spoke up, "Hey... hello ... still in the room here."

Anya interjected, "I just want to know why this big jerk..." she smacked Xander on the chest with the back of her hand hard enough to make a loud thump, "didn't get eradicated from existence. I mean the power of 'The Wish'... I mean it's sorta absolute ya know... That's usually why it's called a 'Wish'."

Giles brightened noticeably, and replied, "Oh, that!... That I can tell you... it's because of what's happening to Xander... You see... he's immune to all magics."

Anya scoffed, "Ohhh puhlease... this isn't some hokey side show magic like Willow's here."


Anyanka continued. "We're talking 'approved by the Infernal Powers' level magic here... Able to alter space and time sort of stuff...

you don't just become immune to that sort of power."

Giles held his hands out and replied, "Be that as it may, I'm afraid that you are entirely incorrect. Mr. Harris here is now completely and utterly impervious to even the greatest of known magics, I assure you. Given the events of the past one hundred and ninty six hours I think it safe to say that Mr. Harris is very possibly the most powerful being you have ever been in the presence of... and that is precisely why we need to get him out of here. If his other self... oh bugger..."

Silence fell as everyone stared at Giles.

The newly arrived Buffy shook her head in disgust, covering her face with her leather clad hands.

"_This_...this sort of thing is precisely why I told them not to send you, Giles. This is great... just great."

"I say, that's uncalled for."

Buffy paused, then held up a hand, then paused again before speaking.

"Ummm.. did I just hear something about... another Xander?"

The new Buffy shook her head, "No... you didn't.", she said unconvincingly.

Buffy, Anne, and Xander spoke over each other.

"Other Xander? Good Grief!"

"Another me? Who? Why?"

"Other Xander? Good Grief!

The third Buffy groaned in exasperation.

"Great... just great...Giles, you might as well tell them the whole thing. Its not as if you haven't told them enough already to get us both fired. At least that way maybe we can convince him to come with us quickly."

Giles looked to her then back to the gathered faces before him.

He nodded once and began.

His tone became ominous and intensely serious as he began.

Buffy immediately recognized it as his "chosen one" speech voice.

"You see, there is not one Universe, there are many..... a Multiverse."

He pause a moment and then continued, "In the universe we hail from... we have the technology to travel freely between universes.

But, travel is highly restricted... and policed. This is the MVA's role in existence, we prevent abuses of the threads of reality.

Beyond this, there is not one you....but many. Each of us exists in present time in parallel universes."

He paused a moment, letting his words sink in than continued again.

"Within this system...there was balance. But now, a force exists who seeks to destroy the balance... so that he can become... the One."

Behind him his Buffy pinched the bridge of her nose in irritation.

Buffy and Anne looked at each other and giggled... unable to resist the temptation.

"Oooo, Giles found a new monolog."

Both turned to him and asked, "Do you like to say that one as much as the whole 'You are the chosen one' thing? Personally I like it a lot more."

Anne giggled, "It's got good rhythm and I can dance to it."

Giles looked offended.

The other Buffy stepped forward and pushed Giles to the side.

"Okay, look, here's the bare facts..... Alexander... Xander,", she looked at him and the hard lines around her eyes softened slightly as she tried to give him a gentle and reassuring smile, "We're already in a lot of trouble for telling your friends all this, but I'll explain it clearly... your life in grave danger here."

She took his hand in hers and looked him square in the eyes.

"What's been happening to you, I know it's frightening... but, it's not something you did... it'd being done to you, against your will. You see... there's another..... He ... he _was_ an MVA agent."

She paused a moment to lick her suddenly dry lips nervously before going on.

"Once, in another universe, he ended up fighting against a form of himself..... He killed him."

She paused a moment and nodded once, seeing that her words were getting through to him by his expression.

"In doing so, part of the other life's energy transferred to him... Made him strong... made all of you stronger. That's what he's after... The power."

She paused then nodded once, "He... and the rest of us... all the other 'you's' that he's killed...the other Buffy here... we're all from alternate universal threads. He's been traveling them for the last few years, and each time he kills one of you...the energy divides among the survivors."

Xander's face had grown pale as he listened, finally he asked in a shaky voice shivering as though in a deep chill, "S-so I'm next?"

She shook her head slightly, her face full of indefinable pain.

"No, Xander, you're the _last_... He's killed all the others... it's just you and him now. You and him... are it."

Dead silence.

Shattered by a blaring horn coming from the front lawn.

Willow turned from where she'd sat down hard on the couch while listening to the news that her friend was being hunted by himself.

She looked out the window... seeing the black van charging up the front lawn, its radiator spewing steam, its windows shattered ruins, its horn blaring repeatedly as it barreled up the lawn and careened left and right. She bolted from the couch in a panic, seeing it heading right for her.

In an instant the living room was cleared as over two tons of van and debris thundered its way into the Summers living room.

Tara came running up the hallway toward where the Scoobies and their alternates were gathered near the doorway. Everyone else stood mutely in shock at the calamity filling the living room.

From inside the van came a shout.

"Bloody *mummph*"

"Spike?!" Buffy shouted incredulously.

The blonde vampire pulled a piece of sequined cloth out of his mouth.

"It's me luv, sorry to barge in like this... but-"

"Spike, I'm gonna kill you!... This is my house... _my house_ that you're destroying."

Buffy held her hands out... her face showing that she was stunned almost beyond the capacity for words.

"I'm gonna kill him... this is the final straw. This is it.. I can't take any more."

She started poking at the rubble of her living room as the vampire pulled himself through the remains of the van's front windshield.

"I'm gonna stake you now... just stay right there. I'll make it quick."

Spike tumbled out of the front of the van, falling face forward into the debris with a rip as some of the clothing still clinging to him came free.

"Here now... let's not be hasty... I was set up...Bloody door...

there's another bloody Xander out there... He's a right psychopath ... quite a likable fellow actually... very sociable...

But, he set me up... I'da never... bugger!... hurt the niblet if it weren't fer him. Wasn't my fault, see. He's after Droopy there...

Ouch... came to warn you lot."

Buffy kept digging through the debris, looking for a stake, but inexplicably finding a picture still in its frame of her, Dawn and her mother.

The frame with it's seashell covering had surprisingly escaped any damage beyond the glass in the frame having a small crack. She picked it up and held it as Spike got to his feet and stumbled about, trying to untangle himself from a cardigan that seemed to be attacking his ankles.

"Look, I ain't lying... I know you prolly don't believe me... but I'd never hurt Dawn... she-she's special to me... you know that, Buffy, I swear."

She looked at him as he got the last of the wrapped clothing off of himself.


She looked at him and nodded once.

"I believe you."

"Look... I realize it's hard to believe, coming from me and all...

but give me a chance here... it's true."

"Spike, we believe you already.", she replied testily.

"Well if you're gonna take that tone", he replied snarkily, then paused then replayed what he'd heard, "Hang about a moment..._You_ believe _me_?"

She nodded and gestured to Giles.

"Take a look, we're up to three of me now... and a shiny new Giles to boot."

Spike looked at the collection of people in the foyer... stopping when he caught sight of the third Buffy in the leather catsuit.

He looked back at Buffy and leered.

She gave him a flat and cold look.

"Don't even think about it, Spike, ain't gonna happen."

Giles coughed once and waved away a small cloud of dust in his face.

"I-I see... and I expect that you know this, because?"

Spike looked at Giles curiously then replied in a conversational tone, "Oh... you see... because the bugger tried to recruit me...

And last I saw, was right back there about a mile or so..."

He gestured out the gaping hole in the front of the house.

"...spending his spare time shooting at me."


"Oh Fu-"

Spike's shoulder erupted in a bloody explosion as a steel slug tore through his jacket and he dived to the ground, crawling toward the gathered scoobies.

"You led him here?"

"Of bloody course I led him here... he was trying to kill me."

From outside came a familiar voice, though it had adopted a sing song rhythm.

"Spiiiiike... Ms. Summers... can Spike come out and play?"

Buffy poked her head out from behind a curtain near the remains of the front window of the living room.

On the lawn stood a figure in what looked like black riding leathers, reinforced with body amour.


"Oh... hiya there, Buff.", he said and gave her a jaunty wave, "...good to see you... Hey... I know Spike's here... how about Xander? He here too? Ya see, I gotta talk to them both about something really important... Do you suppose they could come out and talk? This'll only take a couple minutes."

She whipped her head back to look at the other versions of herself.

"He's out there..., good god... it's another Xander."

"That's what I've bloody well been saying, you bint.", Spike quipped.

Anne smacked her fist into her palm and replied, "Then... if what they're saying is... is true... then he's the one that killed my.", she paused a moment and looked over at her twin, her eyes seething with anger, "Buffy...I don't care how tough he might have gotten... between the two of us, we'll kick his-"

"_No!_ ", the third Slayer shouted, "You don't know what you're talking about... you won't even slow him down... we've got to get Xander out of here. We've got to hurry, but we can get away if we go now... it's all been planned out."

She turned to Xander and looked at him imploringly.

"Xander, please... we've gotta get out of here... now.", her voice began to crack as tears appeared in her eyes "...if... if he kills you... it's not just you that's in danger... it could destroy...

destroy everything... everyone everywhere... please, Xander...

you've got to trust me."

Xander looked into her face and nodded once.

She began pulling him down the hallway toward the back yard.

Everyone else followed along.

"What's the plan?" Xander asked as they ran.

"We're going to open a wormhole in the back yard... If we can do it fast enough and get out of here in time... he won't be able to follow us. Once we're on the other side we're going to shut down the entire quantum tunnel network... He'll never be able to reach you."

"The Whatsits?"

"Don't worry... I'll explain later."

"Hey, what do you mean 'never'?"

They burst out of the back door in a jumble.

The Buffy holding his hand answered, "I mean that this is a one way trip, Xander... we're going to trap him here... and you can't come back, ever."

Xander blinked several time while Giles rushed past him, pulling out a small, rectangular, box-like device.

A small circular screen unfolded from the box and Giles began touching the screen as it displayed an eye dizzying array of patterns and lights, obviously hurrying whatever he was doing and muttering to himself all the while.

"What about my friends? Will he hurt them?", Xander asked as he was dragged toward a clear area of the garden.

He looked into the face of this third Buffy, then over at Giles.

He read what was plain in their demeanor.

They didn't know.

He stepped back and shook his head, disentangling himself from her grip.

"No way...No...I-I'm not going."

"But.", she protested.

"No... he's going to kill them isn't he?"

Seeing the look of uncertainty on her face he crossed his arms defiantly.

"Not without them then, never... I'd rather die than forsake any of them."

Giles shouted as he kept touching various areas of the screen before him, "This is no time for heroics, lad. This is too important to-"

A snapping breeze had built up in the previously serene garden.

"No... not without them, not without...", he trailed off.

Giles and his Slayer shared a look and nodded.

Giles spoke, "Fine, we'll take all of you with us...We don't have time for arguments. Just be ready, we're opening the wormhole now.

Pray we aren't too late."

Xander turned back to his friends.


Willow smiled wanly, "Ummm...well, I had a history test I was looking forward to next week... but I think exploring a new universe sounds... better."

Tara held Willow's hand and smiled, showing her allegiance.

Anne nodded, and added, "Where you're going... so am I."

Anya looked him dead in the eye and stated testily, "Hey!, I'll never get my vengeance on you if you get away... so you aren't leaving me."

He looked at Buffy... and she looked back... then away, uncertain of what she saw in his face.


Behind them he felt a shockwave of air rush outward fluttering their clothing.

She looked back into his eyes and smiled sadly.

"Xander...I...", She began.

Xander sighed, "Buffy... if any of us could get away... you could... but I'd...", he trailed off pleadingly.

"Hurry, we've got to get out of here.", Giles shouted as a roaring wind started to build around them.

Buffy looked into his eyes as a smoky blue luminescence seemed to dance in the air.

"Xander...I think... I think...I..."

A moment of indecision wavered in her eyes, but then, her jaw firmed up and she smiled.

She nodded once with certainty and said, "Okay, Xander, if I'm going to be anywhere... I want it to be with my friends... With you....Maybe we...", she let the words go unspoken.

Impulsively she stepped forward...

A kiss...

And a whole new world to explore opened for them.

She stepped back and smiled.

"Okay, Xander... lets do this."

"Hello?... you lot", Spike said from under the cover of a blanket as the morning sun shown down on them, "He's trying to bloody kill me too."

Xander looked at Spike and sighed.

He disliked the vamp... but he had tried to warn them.

"Okay... whatever."

He turned back as he saw a figure in black leap over the top of the house.

A face so like his own smiled back at him, and for a moment the figure seemed to float in the air lazily.

He felt a trickle of cold fear run through his blood.

Only to have his world break apart around him as a pillar of blue white light shot out of the sky engulfing all those standing in the garden clearing.

And the world shattered into razor sharp pieces.






Anguish became a tangible thing as the halls of eternity echoed a chorus of screams.

Travel between worlds was not easy, and as the space between was bridged...the voyage was piercing in its timeless agony.


An eternity seemed to pass...and then ended as the next breath was taken.

He didn't know how long he'd lain on the hard stone floor retching, but it felt like an age and then some.

When the blast of light had poured out of the heavens, he'd felt his entire body being torn to pieces, ripped apart over and over again, shredding raw nerve fiber and muscle into tinier and tinier pieces, until nothing was left, and even that was torn asunder... only to be put back together again for the whole process to begin anew.

Xander opened his eyes to a darkening sky.

A sky that burned a soft umber with steel grey highlights of clouds scudding along.

Sunset on a new world.

He turned his body with some effort to look out at the horizon, and for what he saw... there were few words to describe.

Huge pyramidal structures with vast orange columns of light shining from their tops dotted the skyline.

Towers or high tech construction and elegant design were everywhere, and above it all, flitted thousands of small flying crafts bedecked with jewel-like lights that winked in shades of white, blue, red, and green.

Before him stretched a city that covered the skyline.

A megalopolis.

A moment later he heard a soft feminine groan behind him and he rolled onto his back, trying to will his arms and legs to function again.

Looking skyward, a cheerful face came into his field of vision and smiled.

Giles was already on his feet. More faces joined the first as he saw that the three Slayers and Spike seemed to be partially recovered and looking him over.

Giles extended a hand, and spoke something to him, though he heard little of what they mouthed.

His ears roared with blood still.

They helped him to stand... then all, save Giles, went back to looking out at the cityscape.

Spike wrapping a blanket around himself to keep the light of the setting sun off.

A light, clean smelling, misty rain began to fall from the sky.

Giles nodded once to him and gestured to the city.

"Welcome to Aspricus Vallis, Xander. City of the Holy Roman Empire and home for the central office of the MVA."

Xander's eyes turned to the three Slayers, then to Willow as she was helped to her feet by Giles.

Suddenly a cold spear of shock went through him.

"Oh my god... Dawn."

Giles laid a hand on his shoulder a moment later.

"Taken care of already, Alexander. We couldn't very well leave a key to dimensional travel on the same world as the other you, could we now? We've already brought her here as well, we had an agent at the hospital to watch for you... That's something we couldn't very well leave to chance... now it is?"

Xander nodded and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Whew... I don't know what to...", he trailed off looking around.

He rolled his shoulders, staggering a little as found that a good portion of the nausea and pain had left him already.

"There's something... different... something... missing.", he muttered to himself, cocking his head as though listening.

Xander looked around again, taking in the feel of where they were, and slowly a look of stunned recognition blossomed on his face.

"Oh my g-"

He looked to his lifelong friend and asked,"Willow, do you feel it?... do you?"

She looked at him askance, then her eyes darted left and right as she looked around as well, as though listening to a sound she couldn't quite identify... or the absence of a sound long grown used to.

Several moments passed before she suddenly grew very still, then nodded, her breath catching in her throat.

"I... I feel it... Oh Xander, it''s..._gone_."

He looked over at Buffy and Anne as they seemed to be basking where they stood.

After a moment they turned slightly to face him... and nodded also.

Slowly Xander looked over at Giles and asked the question all four of them needed to.

"The Hellmouth... it's dead here... isn't it?"

Giles nodded, smiling cryptically.

"Indeed it is Mr. Harris, indeed it is."

Spike summed it all up for them in the end.

"Bloody hell!"

Chapter 10
Ten Horsemen.

Part A
Rain on the Wind.

A steady cascade of water beads slid down the outside face of the car window the woman rested her forehead against, numbing her skin slightly with the transparent chill they imparted.

Outside, the tires of a passing vehicle encountered a puddle, sending a splash of water against the window, making the woman start at the sound, and causing her eyes to snap open from the half drowse that she'd fallen into.

She looked out on the street with lusterless, tired eyes, eyes that spoke of loss.

Loss of home.

Loss of place.

Loss of self.

The lights from nearby buildings and street displays cast an unhealthy neon glare on her features. All the while, their vehicle slid across the surface of the tarmac without the slightest hint of vibration from the tires, or bump in the road surface.

The ride was utterly smooth... numbing in its perfection.

Her breath fogged the inner face of the window in front of her, masking the outside world with a hazy and indistinct halo of moisture. The street could be any street in any big city, she thought.

She blinked.

A pleasant illusion, she decided, one that she could deal with, rather than what was really outside. She tried to enjoy her fantasy while she could... while her breath fogged her vision...thinking how much like L.A. at night it looked, at least if you didn't look up... or look at anything too closely.

She knew that if she did either that the reality of the situation would reassert itself, and she'd be back to feeling the scream rise in her throat again when she thought of situation she'd found herself in.

A soft 'whik...thum' came from her left, from the front of the 'van'.

I guess that some things are consistent everywhere, she mused, wiper blades sound the same no matter where you are... good thing to know, I guess.

Turning her attention back to her window, she tried to focus on the raindrops scudding along the surface of the glass, watching as they broke up the lights of the city streets they passed through, turning the droplets into glittering jewels every few heartbeats.

She'd always loved the rain. She 'd loved how the air smelled after a storm, loved the feel of it on her face when she was a little girl and her mother had let her play in it occasionally.

But now... now the rain just felt icy and cold on the outside of the glass.


A "hard" rain that fell like a cascade of stinging crystal.

She closed her eyes again and listened, hoping for thunder to break the desolation she felt creeping in on her again.

Instead the vehicle, something sugary sweet and top forty-ish sounding was playing in the background. The language sounded vaguely Asian, and did nothing but irritate her sense of issolation. She opened her eyes again and rolled her head slightly so that she was resting the side of her face against the glass, and looked forward. The position gave her a bit of a headache and hurt her neck, but it was a distraction, and that was what mattered.

She watched as the newest of her 'selves' fiddled with some sort of stereo console inlaid into the dashboard.

God, please let this all be a dream... I just wanna wake up, she thought to herself, knowing it to be in vain. She'd had a fertile dream life, but this was too real, to... _complete_ to be a dream.

Every detail of everything she saw was laid out in laser bright detail. This world felt far too real for her comfort.

The newest 'Buffy' was sitting in the front passenger's seat of their "transportation", their "skimmer" as _she'd_ called it for some reason, with a bright eyed Xander right behind her, asking questions every few seconds in a dubious voice.

"J-pop?... you gotta be kidding me. That stuff is popular here? Buff, you just blew the whole 'vastly more advanced than your world' motif for me right there."

"Very funny Alexander, look at me, I'm laughing at your mockery, look real close I'm sure you'll see my amusement any minute now. Seriously though, come on... look at Shonen Gun... That group just started becoming popular in the US your world, for us it's like a retro thing already. Besides, that whole 'Idol' show thing... that is like so 'from Japan'."

Buffy looked over to her left where Tara and Willow snuggled side by side and sound asleep. She sighed enviously.

God I'm tired, she thought.

The stress they'd all been subjected to had finally caught up to her.

I guess even Slayers have limits to what they can deal with these days, she joked to herself.

Well, if there's a limit, I definitely hit it tonight, she mused, rubbing the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger to ease her headache. What a night, she thought, shaking her head. Multiple versions of me show up at all hours of the night, then we get to discover that Xand has a 'thing' going on. All because another version of him is marching around, hopping dimensions and killing himself.

She paused and reflected.

Okay, and the ultimate strangeness award goes to...

She sighed.

So, that's what it takes to push me to the edge. Never mind Spike plowing a huge black van through the front of my home, parking it in the living room, forget the whole being shot at thing... or that one of the other 'me's' is all over Xander like a cheap... yet stylish... suit. No, those sorta things almost qualifies as normal compared to the rest.

She paused a moment to reflect on the thought and sighed, God, I hate my life.

Xander had seated himself right behind the cockpit area of their ride, and spent his time chattering with the third 'her' as if it was the most natural thing in the world, all the while, rubbernecking at the futuristic cityscape they drove through.

And of course, right at his side... the other me, she thought, Anne, yet another version from yet another universe... okay... cheap suit-

ish is definitely not fair I guess.

'Too weird for words' was all she could think of to describe the scene.

Anne had started this "disturbing" new trend in behavior shortly after they'd arrived, and it was already getting on Buffy's nerves for some reason she didn't particularly feel at all comfortable thinking about.

Mostly, she guessed, the reason that the other 'her' was suddenly acting like this was because she was trying to avoid facing the reality that _her_ Xander was actually dead in _her_ universe.

Denial is easy to maintain, she surmised, if you're holding the hand, or in this case, the arm of someone that actually _was_ the same person you'd lost. Never mind the whole alternate universe thing, physical contact, the smell of the other person, their touch...

sensations like that keep reality at bay.

Still, even understanding the reasons why Anne was acting like she was... Buffy was unhappy with what she was seeing, but couldn't, for the life of her, think of anything she could do about it that wouldn't make her look foolish.

Deciding not to deal with it she looked behind herself into the back half of the vehicle.

Spike sat in the backmost row of seats, huddled in the wrap of his blanket and seemed to be shivering against the far right-hand side of the van, leaning against the wall and refusing to look outside.

Anya sat on the other end of the same bench he was on, fidgeting nervously.

Buffy looked at her and asked, "What's with him?"

Anya just shrugged by way of reply and looked out the window with a vaguely disinterested glance.

"_I_ bloody well am right here, you know? You could ask ", Spike replied with a chatter of teeth, as though chilled to the bone.

"Fine, whatever... so... what's the deal? Your dead, I didn't think you felt the cold, so what's with the chattery teethyness?", she asked.

"Don't b-bloody know... I don't like this place, feels all... wr-

wrong... it's...empty-like...c-cold. "

Buffy looked back toward Anya.


Anya rolled her eyes, "No... I'm fine... but since you asked...I think it's because I'm alive... I think that without a Hellmouth here, it's like the infernal dimensions are cut off from this realm... and... well, I've tried to teleport several times already."


"I'm still here aren't I?"

"Oh...", Buffy replied flatly but with a questioning tone to her voice.

"Yeah,...'oh'", Anya replied.

"No vengeancey powers then?"

Anya grit her teeth and appeared to concentrate for a moment.

"Anything?", Buffy asked after a moment.

"You don't see anyone bursting into flame do you? I can't even take my demon form. It's annoying, it's like I'm...", she trailed off.

"Human again?"

An angry glare being shot at her by the woman was all the response Buffy got.

Buffy looked back to Spike.

"What about you?... you still all... you know."

"What? Hot? Sexy? Sexy, yeah... b-but like I said... it's b-bloody cold here... so, hot... no.", he replied with a snarky tone.

"No, you idiot, I meant... you still vampirey? You know... with the fangs and aversion to sunlight thing?"

"Well I h-haven't tried to b-bite anyone or get a tan, if t-that's what you're asking, but to answer y-your question...let me just s-say this... N-none of your b-bloody business, so sod off."

He smiled from within the blanket and added, "And w-what are you so curious-like for anyway? Worried ab-bout me?, showing old S-Spike a little concern finally? Trying to say s-something?"

Buffy shook her head in exasperation and replied, "No, I was thinking that if Anya is cut off from her powers here and is human again...

that maybe you got cut off from your demon's power source too... and that maybe you're... you know..."



"Oh, right, B-bloody b-b-brilliant... and if I did b-become human, then what? I d-d-don't have a bloody heart beat... and I'd prolly get all 114 years l-lumped on me at once a-anyway. What with the way things are g-going. Hey, Watcher... Bloody turn on the heater back here, will you?... and you'd be talking to Mr. not-so-conversational-

pile-of-bones-and-dust, right."

"Don't worry, he's still a vampire, Miss Summer-... I mean, Buffy." , Giles' voice responded from the front.

"He's merely having a reaction to there not being any other native 'infernals' left on the planet."

Buffy turned her head to look toward the front where Giles was driving.


"Our term for the chaos based life forms that comprise vampires, demons, and their ilk. Think of it as a slang term... I'm sure you'll find yourself using it frequently in no time if you do.", he relied with a mockingly amused tone.

"Hey!, w-watch it with the 'ilk' c-comments.", Spike replied nastily then after a pause added, "Oi, what do you mean... no others?"

"Precisely what I said, Spike.", the man replied in his cultured tones, "The people of our world exterminated nearly every undead entity on our planet slightly over one thousand years ago. It's no wonder you find it uncomfortable here. No doubt the psychic atmosphere is rather... bleak for _your_ kind."

Spike paused a moment then asked, "Y-you mean... I'm.. 'it' here? Like... the only vampire on earth?". His normal bragadacio was shaken, if only for the moment.

Giles chuckled lightly, "No, not quite... there are, a few... but we'll talk about that later. For now, just try to get as comfortable as you can. We'll be arriving at our destination shortly."

Xander, meanwhile, had stopped asking the newest Buffy the latest in his endless series of questions for the moment, instead turning his attention on the not-Giles.

"And that is? I mean you haven't really told us much since we ended up here. And, I for one am in dire need of some knowledge imparting conversation-like dialog."

He paused a moment to gesture back the way they'd come and added, "I mean, zoom, we're off through that big "hole-in-the-air" thing, only to show up on that big spire-ish thing, Oh... and while we're on the subject... _Owwww!_... You know, as far as "transporter"-like effects go... you guys really do _not_ have that part working for you.

Personally, I think you guys definitely need to watch more Star Trek. You know, to see how it's supposed to work. I mean, come on people, you never saw Kirk or McCoy acting like they were being ripped up into little pieces by _their_ teleport gizmos, did you? Anyway, elevator ride later and we're shoved into a room with guys in rad-

suits... Oh yeah... about that... I don't think I'm alone here when I say... Gahhhh! That most definitely was _Not_ a confidence builder in the safety aspect of how you got us here."

Xander paused a moment then continued, "I mean in general you don't have guys in hazmat outfits spraying stuff on you when you get off a Greyhound bus." , he paused then added, "Ummm, okay... maybe in some really big cities back east... but that was definitely not normal.

So, what I'm trying to ask is this; Am I going to have to keep my eye out for disturbing lumps showing up?, and will I still have my hair in a month or two?, or if I should be practicing for the Hiroshima choir right now?"

The others had turned toward him then looked back at not-Giles a moment later.

A few moments of silence went by, with Giles not responding. Then verbal chaos erupted in the vehicle.

Buffy spoke first, followed by Anne, and then everyone else.

"G-GILES!", she sputtered.

"Agghh... my hair, my hair! Giles if my hair falls out I'm gonna kill you".

"Hey! What about the dead? Do we have to worry about that sorta thing?", Spike shouted.

"What are you people talking about? What about hair?", Anya asked.

"Giles, Buddy, an answer would be a good thing about now. Reassure us...come on. Lie if necessary", added Xander.

"Will everyone calm down? You're going to be fine.", the newest Buffy interjected while everyone else looked around wildly.

"Sorry everyone,", Giles replied, "Terribly sorry, I was merely trying to parse what you were saying, dear boy... I'm afraid that your cultural referents are a little hard for me still. Slang and all that. First real field operation for me in quite some time, you know. But, to answer your questions, Alexander, everyone... no... no need to worry at all."

He paused a moment to pass another vehicle, then added, "You see, there are a few high radiation universes that we have encountered in our explorations, as well as few with particularly nasty viral infestations. So, we naturally developed a treatment some time ago to provide travelers with a broad based decontamination effect. Plus, we recognize that other worlds may not have developed the same immunities as we have...and in the interests of keeping any 'guests' to our world healthy, the compound also fills the role of giving, those to whom it is applied, a contact inoculation for a broad range of diseases unique to our own universe. It's purely a precautionary measure you understand, and you'll likely feel a little ill for the next week or two while your bodies develop defenses to anything new we've introduced to your system. Nothing to worry about though."

Willow meanwhile appeared to have been woken up by the momentary shouting and looked at Buffy with bleary eyes.

"Oh, Buffy, what a weird dream I had. We were all at the house and..."

She looked at the front of the vehicle and saw the two other Buffys, then out the window at the city streets, and then finished with a tone of wonder in her voice, "Oh, that's right... not a dream."

She prodded Tara who was still sleeping.

"Hey, Honey, wake up, we fell asleep, look out the windows. We're in the city."

Tara sat up groggily and blinked a few times to clear the sleep fog from her vision, and yawned.

Willow, meanwhile had spotted what looked like a glass fronted dance club with the name "Dante's" in holographic fire effects spelled out in mid air in front of the building.

Her face was nearly plastered to the window when Tara looked over.

People in the club appeared to be in the midst of dancing, drinking, and other social activities while standing within a roaring inferno that filled the club. Willow's eyes took in the sights in front of her with a gleeful intensity, gawking openly at the unfamiliar, while also trying to look upward and see the tops of the towering buildings.

Gigantic structures weren't exactly 'commonplace' in Sunnydale, but so too, it wasn't terribly far from LA either. They were more than close enough that skyscrapers weren't going to impress her simply because of their size or density.

However, it was quite another thing entirely to see massive structures rise up like titans in the darkness, outlined with edges of neon fire, while skyborne vehicles docking and undocking with them against a rain filled sky that seemed to glow a soft orange from the multitude of lights below.

"Wow... oh wow, it's like being in a sci fi novel.", she commented, while looking back into the club and cocked her head to one side in curiosity while looking at a couple who were moving energetically.

After a moment she added, "Oh... look... hey, Buffy... isn't that a weird way to be dancing?"

Buffy took a look toward the glass fronted club and blinked long and hard before she replied with a somewhat appalled tone in her voice, "Ummm, Willow, they _aren't_ dancing."

Willow looked back and forth between Buffy and the club several times, then squinted her eyes, and tilted her head to the other side, then asked, "Well if they aren't dancing then what are they... OH... MY...GOD!". She quickly slapped both her hands over her face to cover her eyes, then peeked out through cracks between her fingers.

"Eep!" she exclaimed.

She removed one hand and put it over Tara's eyes while her lover's mouth hung open in shock.

"Don't look, Tara."

Tara kept trying to push Willow's hand away from her face.

"Willow, what are you talking about? Lemme see."

Willow took her hand away from her own eyes and turned her deeply blushing face to look straight ahead and most definitely _away_ from the window facing the club.

"My god, Giles, what kind of world is this?", she asked.

The newest Buffy replied for him.

"Different world... different ways, get used to it, Red."

Tara, finally free of Willow's hand, kept trying to peer out the window with eyes wide open, and commented, "Awww, I missed it...

Wiiiillow, you big meanie.", she playfully slapped at Willow's arm. She yawned deeply, finding herself losing interest in the outside world rapidly as the bone weariness she felt was reasserting itself. She curled back up against Willow, going back to sleep.

Willow spent the next few minutes of tense silence that reigned in the vehicle quietly staring ahead and blushing brilliantly, until her curiosity finally got the better of her again, and she looked out the window and once more gaped.

"It's... oh my goddess, Buffy... look, look at that..."

"Do I really want to, Wills? I think last time I saw way more than enough."

"No, no... it's not like _that_... look!"

She pointed urgently out the window and up toward a single line of brilliantly blinking lights that hung in the night sky like a string of diamonds, one that seemed to stretch upward into infinity.

All about the pillar of lights, small and large airborne craft flitted about, moving close to the string of lights, then buzzing away again into the night.

"Wow, that's gotta be one tall building... I can't even see the top of it following the lights, it must go all the way up into the clouds.", Willow commented.

The third slayer looked in the direction the red-head had indicated and smiled.

" _that_ goes lots higher. That's one of the orbital elevators. The reason you can't see a top to it is because it's about five hundred to a thousand miles or so up, in geosynchronous orbit.", the blonde replied, You're just seeing part of the orbital cable. I remember reading that the cable is something like seventy feet across or something like that."

Willow's eyes got huge for a moment, then she really did plaster her face to the glass, looking back out at the structure in awe.

"Oh wow!... Oh wow,oh wow! Buffy, did you hear that? Orbital platforms. Do you know what that means? Orbital elevators means space stations... and... and space stuff... oh, man, oh man, oh man... I mean I read about that in books. Okay... maybe they were fiction... but to actually get to see it in the flesh... not that they have flesh, books that is... because that'd be gross, and Giles took away that one that I found that was, but still."

She turned back to the third slayer and asked, "Do you suppose we could go see it...Like tonight? Please? Please, oh please, oh please, oh please."

Willow was definitely awake.

Tara laid a hand on the bouncing red-head's shoulder sleepily and purred, "Sweety, calm down. Everyone is tired. Let's just get some rest first, please."

Willow seemed to realize how caught up in the moment she'd suddenly become when she looked back down into Tara's soft eyes.

"I was geeking out again, wasn't I?, she asked the blonde a little guiltily.

"Only a little, sweety."

"I heard the distinctive tones of "Geeker Joy" once more coming from my Willow shaped friend", Xander commented with a smile, "It serves only to remind me how much I've missed hearing it."

Tara gave her lover a kiss on the cheek and hugged her close.

Willow babbled on while Tara's head rested on her shoulder and kept hugging, "Well, it's just that it's exciting, you know... Back home the whole idea of that sort of thing is just science fiction, and... I just got a little ...well... over excited was all."

"Yes... we know, sweety", Tara murmered.

"And, well, I just thought that since we're driving around anyway... that maybe... well. Oh... okay, I was kinda spazzing out... and...

now that I think about it, maybe it _can_ wait... in fact maybe its probably not even really interesting when you see it up close."

Tara nodded and leaned against her, snuggling up again. Willow followed suit but looked at Buffy and gave her a curious gaze.

Buffy, nodded and looked toward the cockpit again as she asked, "Yo, hey... Mister I-can't-believe-its-not-Giles, not to sound too fifth grade-ish, but, are we there yet? And while I'm asking, where is the 'there' that we are going _there_ to?"

Giles chuckled, "It's quite alright, miss... Buffy. And no, we aren't, but never fear, it shan't be another few minutes before we're there. Oh, and to answer your question, we're simply taking you all to the MVA facility that we've set up in expectation of Alexander's arrival."

Xander perked up on hearing this.

"Who, me?... a facility for me? And uhhh... just; 'Xander' if you don't mind, G-man."

Giles had meanwhile focused his whole attention to driving and only replied offhandedly, "Hmmm?... Oh, quite, and please, don't call me that."

The newest Buffy turned back to the group and took a breath, getting ready to speak.

"Okay, first off," , she began, "'s the drill. Giles contacted headquarters while you all went through decon."

Seeing the blank looks she continued, "While you got sprayed with the nasty smelling stuff... everyone with me so far? Good. Okay... Our immediate superior was surprisingly not quite as PO'ed as we thought she'd be, but only slightly less than expected. She's still miffed, and that is _not_ a good thing for us. We were only supposed to bring back one passenger, and suddenly having 'lots more than one' has made some very powerful people in the MVA rather less than pleased. Yay us! So, that means that tomorrow, we're all gonna go down to MVA headquarters like good little boys and girls... and vampires... and ex-vengency type demon things, and get debriefed."

Muted muttering was made by all.

"Yeah, yeah... I'm looking forward to it too... just be glad that _you_ don't have to worry about losing your job over this. Okay, I exaggerate, we sorta prevented the New and improved, giant industrial size Apocalypse here... As in a big giant universe shattering kaboom, so I think it's safe to say I still have my job. Again, yay us! But now we have to figure out what we're going to do with all of you."

Xander spoke up, a curious tone in his voice, "Ummm, okay, lost me there... starting with the whole 'apocalypse avoidance' thing...

which I think we all near clearing up on."

The leather clad slayer nodded.

"Okay, we have the time, and there's no reason not to explain this since I'm sure you'll hear more about it tomorrow. Like I said before, Xander. This other you has been killing off the other versions of himself in the other universes, and you and him are the last versions of you left."

Xander nodded, "Okay, with you so far."

Buffy also nodded, but asked, "And like you said, each other 'self' he kills makes him stronger and stuff."

The newest Slayer replied, "Exactly, though there is more to it than that. He gets stronger, smarter, faster, and more in tune to other forces as well, we're not entirely sure the extent of the power that is gained... but the outcome was what we were trying to prevent."

Anne chipped in, "And the outcome is... what exactly?"

Giles responded for his partner, "The end of everything... the nullification of all existence in a cataclysmic explosion."


Xander was the first to break it.

"Whoa, let's shift this shindig into reverse, people. How did we go from lotsa power to ... kaboom."

The new Slayer responded, "What Mr. Apocryphal here was trying to say is that the most popular theory that the pan-dimensional physicists as the bureau have come up with, is that when all of you are 'united'... for lack of a better term...that there would be some sort of 'chain reaction' across all the universes you ever existed in."

She paused a moment, then continued, looking Xander in the eye levelly, "This reaction would behave like a fuse being lit. The final 'you' would contain a sort of infinitely powerful implosive potential. Literally imploding all of the universes you ever existed in, and then collapsing the entire framework of reality. In short... taking hundreds of universes with you in the first wave of destruction. After that, the other universes would start to implode as well, each one falling like a string of dominos, one right after the other.. growing outward and increasing speed with each reality destroyed."

Again, silence.

This time Spike broke it.

"Way to go, H-Harris! G-Glad to see that there's at l-least one of you out th-there with a little amb-bition in him."

"Shut up, Spike.", rang out from multiple sources.

Xander clapped his hands together in obvious nervous discomfort and let his breath hiss from between his lips.

"Soooo, chalk another "dodged that bullet" up to the Scooby Gang tally. Once more, the world is save-ed, and we emerge... sorta triumphant. Except for that whole, "Now we can't go home _ever_ again" clause, it's our best day ever." he added with obvious sarcasm.

A few more minutes of quiet reflection for all went by, and Buffy again spoke up.

"Okay, so, world saved, disaster averted, our lives once more thoroughly screwed. So where are we supposed to go from here. I mean I kinda thought, based on the whole 'super preparedness' vibe that you guys have going on, that you had a lock on this, 'what-we're-

gonna-do-with-you-afterwards' thing."

The newest Buffy sighed.

"We did, as far as Xander and Dawn were concerned. Dawn is of sufficient age as to be able to be retrained, re-educated, and brought into our society with sufficient effort, and as for Alexander, we have a very special role for him to fulfill. But for the rest of you...well... something will have to be worked out. I expect that you'll be able to fit in as well, given time and training... but we'll have to see what can be done."

Xander turned to Anne and Buffy and grinned broadly.

"You hear that... a very special role... sounds big... real big."

Buffy rolled her eyes and replied, "Yeah, sounds fascinating... so long as it's not like the special role in the school play you had in grade school that Willow told me about ... Xanderella."

Xander looked horrified and shot Willow an accusatory glare.

"You... you... didn't!?"

"I... I"

She couldn't look him in the eye.

"You _did_!", he nearly shouted, "My God, Willow... you promised... never, _ever_ would that come up again...ever"

"I... I couldn't help it... she... she coerced it out of me... she tricked and deceived... and...and she was really sneaky about it.... There was alcohol involved too."

Buffy again rolled her eyes.

"You told me about it over popcorn and Parcheesi after a frat party the first year of college. You had three wine coolers and got chatty."

Willow looked back at Xander guiltily, then away

"Shutting up now.", she squeeked.

"I was her study buddy for the school play, I knew the lines. Who knew that she'd get stage fright and get sick before going on.", he replied in a half whine.

He looked over at Willow with an angry glare, "Ohhh, don't think for a minute that you're getting away with this, Willow. You shall pay, oh... you shall pay.", he added.

Spike poked his head out of his blanket and added, "I heard about it too...if it's any c-consolation... and let me just s-say this... I think you'd make a very c-convincing girl... you certainly scream like one."

"Shut up, Spike.", was Xander's only comment before he huffed and turned back to face the front of the vehicle.

"Anyway,", the third Buffy continued, "To answer your questions...right now we're going to the facility that we had set up for Dawn and Alex-... I mean; Xander. It's large enough that we should all be comfortable there for the night. After that... like I said...tomorrow equals debriefing... and then back to the facility where we'll figure out the next step. Ohhh, I know, shopping. I mean it's not like you have anything clothes-like to wear here."

Buffy closed her eyes for a minute, knowing that something basic had almost slipped past her. Her eyes shot open suddenly and she had to ruthlessly restrain herself to keep from crawling over the top of Xander to get within striking distance of her other self as something her other self had said earlier finally clicked with her.

"So,", she said with an overly sweet tone, "Dawn give you much trouble?"

The other her shrugged noncommittally then replied, "Nah, we gave her a little sedative to put her out, one of our Docs made sure she was able to handle the travel, then we got her here as quick as we could."

She paused to shake her head and give a little laugh, then continue, "But, hoooo when she woke up...whew! All I can say is; How do you live with her? What a bratty little monster... and what have you people been teaching her? She's got a hell of a mouth on her. It was like paying a visit to the docks... in Greece. Half of the words she used... hoooo, I didn't even know they could be used as verbs."

Xander smiled proudly and quipped "That's our Dawnie, avid learner, and one _heck_ of a quick study."

Buffy blinked then looked over at him narrowly, arching an eyebrow, "And where, precisely, did she learn language like that, Xannnder?"

Xander froze, then tried to adopt an innocent grin, "Uhhh, Not from me... no sir... absolutely not me...or anyone that might have been around me...ever. No, I'm thinking...maybe... from some of the books she ran into when she started to help us do research? Or school...

Yeah! definitely school. Darn those public schools anyway. Ummm, ruining more of the youth of America every day." he finished lamely.

Buffy shook her head in exasperation, annoyed. She'd known that letting her sister visit Xander's work those last few times had been a bad idea. Construction sites were never a good influence on anyone, much less the people that normally worked there. But, still, she was also somewhat relieved by the distraction this discovery was providing her.

Turning her attention back to the newest version of herself she continued, "Great, good to hear that she wasn't too much of a 'problem' for you. So, I take it that this 'facility' thing is someplace out in the countryside. Probably something... far away from anything that even resembles a shopping mall, Someplace where there's no way we'll be able to get away from being constantly being under some government scientist's microscope?"

Giles responded for her with a small laugh.

"No... no...quite the opposite, really."

He paused a moment in his dialog to switch lanes and turn off onto a sort of elevated freeway.

"You see, the Bureau of Requisition notified the city administration of our need, and the mayor was most accommodating. That being; our need for a secure facility which we could use to acclimate Otherworlders... you... to our society. Oh, speaking of which, he asked that we bring you by whenever it was convenient, so that he could welcome you properly, quite a friendly chap I must say. He mentioned something about cake and ice cream I believe."

"Mayor?...Otherworlders?", Buffy asked, a note of unease entering her voice, "So... the city...uhhh.. sorta knows about all this?"

Giles made a grunt that conveyed both curiosity and affirmation.

"Oh my, yes. Well... the proof about there being 'other universes' is more or less common knowledge today. And, to be entirely honest, we have brought persons from other existences to our world on the occasion."

He paused a moment to switch lanes, then continued, "In fact a number of very popular authors and film makers in your own world are, in fact, actually MVA agents on assignment or in retirement. But, I digress. The facts are, we have been doing this for a while now.

We've even formed trading agreements with some of the more advanced worlds in the known continuum."

The native Slayer nodded in agreement, and then commented, "Yeah, the MVA was a secret for perhaps the first seventy five or so years of its existence, but after a time... even the best secrets must come out."

Buffy sat mutely, pondering their words.

"Okay, so, we're not going to be made to disappear then. Yay us!", Xander added with a relieved tone.

"Absolutely not... perish the thought. As a point in fact, you're our honored guest...I mean; guests. "He quickly amended, "I just hope that, for now, we are able to make you all comfortable, and provide that this horrible situation become a little less horrible for all involved."

"I w-wouldn't say 'no' to a warm brandy about now.", Spike chattered from the back mockingly, "T-that usually h-helps me get c-

comfortable. Now, h-how about t-turning on the bloody h-heater,eh mate? I don't plan on a-asking a third t-time."

Buffy looked back from glancing at the shivering vampire and let out an involuntary sigh of relief, only then discovering that she'd been holding her breath unthinkingly. She nodded to herself. Giles sounded thoroughly sincere, and her instincts told her that he was speaking the truth.

Her frazzled nerves eased a little.

Ever since they'd arrived she'd been worrying nearly nonstop about what was going to happen to her and her sister once whatever "Powers That Be" in this world's government got wind of her arrival. Visions of an alternate, but still manically insane, Maggie Walsh performing experiments had suddenly risen up like a dark titan in the back of her mind.

However, Giles' easy manner and calming statements had quelled the fears of a number of possible scenarios that had occurred to her.

Fears which had mostly consisted of imagining herself and her sister being held in perpetual custody, until dissection by some government subsidized mad scientist.

Buffy shook her head, trying to dispel the horrific visions that danced before her mind's eye. She'd decided some time ago, that dating Riley, and getting to know, first hand, how little some government agencies valued human lives and personal freedoms, was not something that had built great trust in governmental institutions for her. Finding out that something as big as this, was happening in the open was a definite positive as she saw things.

"So, ummm where exactly are we going then? I mean what sort of facility? Some big high risey sort of place with lot of security cameras and little to no fashion sense, much less warmth?", she asked.

The native Slayer responded, "We've got something in mind that I think won't be too hovel-like. Kinda, a few years back there was this Senator, big in the Californian province. Unfortunately this person decided to get involved in some things that they really shouldn't have."

She paused a moment to give her other self a good long look, then continued, "Mostly it was black market trade with some vassal states of the Nippon Empirate, but there were other rumors too, stuff we won't get into right now, and probably aren't really important anyway. Anyway, the big thing, I guess, was that the Senator was part of a group shipping heavy and light armaments to guerrillas based in a province of Chin' and... well, I won't bore you with the details. Let's just say that the Senator's career met a sudden and very 'final' end."

Giles suddenly spoke up, continuing the story, "In the aftermath, all the Senator's possessions, properties, monies, and the like were all confiscated by the State. One of the proceeds of which was a rather nice little villa overlooking Oceanus Pacificus. It's sprawled out on top of a hill nearby, and that's where we're headed now. In fact, I think you can see it up ahead on the right. Good timing, hmm?"

The native Slayer gestured out the front windshield and added, "There it is. It's the big rounded hill on the right."

Buffy moved forward slightly along with Xander, Anne, and Anya to catch a glance at what she was gesturing at.

As the woman had said, a rather large mound-like hill rose up ahead of them on the right side of the freeway, and on its crest could be seen a number of lit buildings.

There were significantly more lights then they'd expected to see for a 'nice little villa' on the hill, a whole lot more.

The new Buffy looked to her left and smiled at their collective reactions, noting their widening eyes and open mouths. She opened her window a crack to let some of the clean smell of the ocean come in to complete the effect.

"Nice place, huh?"

Even from where they were, and through the still falling rain, a shining string of diamond like motes could be discerned tracing out a winding path, one which climbed toward the top of the hill and then flowered out into dozens and dozens of more lights. At the crest of the hill, a sprawling set of elegant white structures sat, all illuminated from below by the soft blue and gold radiance of ground lights shining clearly in the night.

Buffy's initial impression was that it looked like nothing so much as a vast Mediterranean resort, replete with outbuildings, pools, tennis courts, private parks and gardens, and surrounded by vast swaths manicured lawns like you'd see in some high budget Hollywood movie. Her second and third impression followed suit even though the last vestiges of sunlight had fled the sky long ago and she was relying for the most part on her Slayer enhanced senses to get what details she could beyond what she knew her friends could see.

But all that was still secondary, the most striking thing about the complex on the hill was that the whole place had to be gigantic.

She looked at the other passengers to gauge their own responses.

Xander just seemed to have blanked out for a few minutes, overcome... then finally got his proverbial feet back under him.

"Okay... Okay, twist my arm...We'll go peacefully. Just one question... Jacuzzis and racquet ball courts?"

Giles responded with a chuckle, then turned to look back at his passengers for a moment to add, "Indeed, the former Senator was something of a fitness devotee. You'll also find a full gymnasium, including weapons training rooms, something I'm sure Miss Summers will appreciate given her particular vocation in your world."

The native Slayer had gotten suddenly very agitated and started pointing toward the front of the van anxiously, "Giles... Gah!..

Don't do that... Remember the mantra...Eyes plus road equals good." She then returned to answering the question for him as he returned his attention to driving, "Geesh! Yeah, right, also; pools; indoor and out, several tennis courts, hand ball, racquet ball, Jai Alai, a sparring quad, shooting gallery, other stuff too, archery, hawking, etcetera... so to answer... yep."

Xander smiled with a dazed expression on his face.

"Well, it's good to know that you're still the same in this universe, Giles, even if you have apparently rubbed off on Buffy here. You never could just go for the 'yes' on the first try, could you?"

Giles let out a little sigh of exasperation.

Xander smiled at the stereotypically Giles-like response, but paused as they exited the freeway.

The vehicle hove onto a road that seemed to lead toward their destination, so decided to continue the question and answer session a little.

"Ummm so, ummm not trying to ask for the badness. but I take it this is like a halfway house or something for us? After things get settled down a little...when we get... used to things... then what?"

Silence reigned in the van for a few moments while everyone awaited an answer from the Englishman. Finally he responded, "I'm sorry...

I'm not sure I quite understand your question."

Buffy answered for him, "He means, when does the other stylish, yet affordable, shoe drop? When do we get the pat on the head, the cookie, and then told we have to go find someplace of our own to live? You know, what with us having no clothes other than those we're wearing, no money, and... oh, let me think... oh yes, probably no job skills or identities for us to make much of a living of any sort with here in Futurama-land."

Giles paused a moment then responded, "Ohhh... I see... My dear woman, we weren't entirely clear about this all, were we?", he chuckled.

Suddenly Willow shot bolt upright, fully awake, as did Tara.

Spike suddenly let out a cry of pain, and immediately thereafter Anya asked, , "Whoa! What in the hells happened?"

Anya looked as though she'd been goosed, but Spike had jerked about as though he'd been hit by a cattle prod.

"Sodding hell! That hurt!", he rasped.

Giles hit the breaks and stopped the vehicle, then turned back to face the other passengers in the van.

"Sorry...Sorry...Terribly sorry. Magical barrier... I, perhaps, should have called ahead to the staff to make certain it had been turned off."

Willow darted a look out the window and caught sight of a ghostly looking barrier of misty luminescence. The wall appeared to curve inward slightly, and traced a lazy path away from them on either side of the road they were on.

Giles meanwhile continued speaking, "You see, in addition to the notable differences in technology between our world and your own, we've also largely institutionalized magic here. The facility has, in addition to normal, technologically based, security, a magical protective barrier."

"It's a dome... Oh my God, how big is that thing,Giles?", Willow asked in awe.

Giles nodded in reply, "It covers the central mile radius of the grounds. The grounds itself measure roughly five of your miles on all sides. Indeed. To be honest, you'd not even have noticed passing through its effect though, if someone hadn't activated it when we last left." He gave his Buffy a meaningful look, then added, "Mr.

Harris' case is something special, and we didn't want to risk having Otherworld-otaku coming about and pestering him, or having anyone else on the grounds prove a nuisance for that matter. And as I mentioned, we requested a 'secure' facility. But please, don't worry, you'll all be provided with the pass codes for it, as well as talismans to prevent an incident like that again." He turned his attention back to look forward once more and drove the vehicle up the pathway leading to their 'home'.

Buffy looked back out the window at the looming edifices as they neared the center of the complex of buildings.

Thoughts just ran like mercury over glass; elusive and easily scattered by the slightest puff or air, or the slightest shift of angle.

It's as big as some of the big mansions in Beverly Hills!, Buffy thought to herself dazedly, ... no...'s huge, big, giant... wow.

She blinked, overwhelmed, and looked out at the grounds through the rain streaked window. The rain seemed to have stopped, but glittering diamonds of water still shimmered on the glass.

It has 'grounds'...not a lawn... not a yard... 'grounds., she thought. Like on a golf club or ...dunno... what else has 'grounds'? Hotels?... no that's stupid. Ranches?... no... they have fields, ooo... and pastures.

Suddenly, she half jumped out of her seat. As she'd been looking out at the landscape, something distinctly un-manshaped had moved. It shambled and gyrated across the manicured lawn, looking for all the world like a giant mobile bush.

She did a double take as she saw it move again. She tried to come up with a conclusion as to what it was that was stalking the grounds, and failed.

"Something's out there.", she warned.

Her native counterpart looked out the window in the direction she had indicated, and paused. After a moment she smiled and replied, "Oh, that. That's just one of the peacocks. Stay away from the males, they're ornery this time of the year. Mating season."

Buffy looked back out the window and Willow crawled over Tara to join her, eyes wide.

"P-peacocks?", they both asked.

She watched as the large bird walked alone in the darkness, charging about with its tail feathers spread wide like a fan. She blinked and looked back toward the front of the van, meeting Xander's huge smile, and noticed him pointing toward the front of the vehicle.

They'd pulled onto a huge, circularly curved, river gravel surfaced driveway that ran in a wide arch around a fountain and statuary filled frontal garden, all the way to the front of the manor-like part of the villa. Soft blue white and harsher sodium orange colored lights illuminated the area.

Giles brought the vehicle to a stop when they came along side the grand entrance and turned off the vehicles power systems with the turn of a key, The whine of the skimmer's turbine disappeared gradually as it spun down.

He spoke up again as he opened his door and got out, his feet making crunching sounds on the gravelly texture of the drive path.

"Now, as I was saying,", he expounded, "as you'll see, this entire project is something rather unique. Our own little foray into the unknown for the MVA, as it were."

The other passengers disembarked through side and rear doors in the vanlike conveyance. "As such...we're fully funded, with a large amount of operational capital held with the imperial bank. Stipends will be arranged for all of you in due course, I'm sure. And with the amount of funds provided for personal necessities, I'm pleased to say that none of you will likely need to work a day again, for the rest of your lives. So let's not worry too much about the small details, shall we, hmmm?"

He turned and began to make his way up the series of stairs that brought them all onto the vast portico that framed the front of the house. Large double-doors were framed centrally in the entrance way to the building. Set squarely behind massive white marble pillars chased with gold and covered by a triangular Grecian style roof.

Buffy laid her hand on the smoothly polished marble, feeling its coolness.

"N-nice place.", she remarked, a little shaken by the sheer scale of the dwelling.

"Oh yes, top rate, classical Roman and Grecian architecture throughout. Real quality craftsmanship." , Giles remarked.

"Just reminds you though that what paid for it was blood money, and that in the end, the Senator couldn't take it with her.", the native Slayer added.

Buffy pulled her hand back from the marble.

Giles gave his Slayer a hard glance, then looked at Buffy with a smile, "But, to answer your earlier question, about finding your 'own place' and for this facility... well, at the moment it's still in legal limbo, with no owner per se. But, in anticipation of Mr. Harris assisting the MVA on a number of small matters, it was planned that the entire estate, and a goodly sum of money for upkeep and such, would be placed in Mr. Harris' and Ms. Summers'...

Dawn's... names, once they had gained legal imperial citizenship of course. But now, I'm certain that the ownership of the grounds could be... expanded to all involved."

Buffy stumbled on the gravel as she followed along behind the others.

She noted absently that the scuffmark she'd made in the gravel-like surface, filled in on its own. The pebbles shifting to erase tiremarks and footprints with equal alacrity.

"Wait a minute... you're saying... you're going to _give_ this to us?.", Anya asked, then relied with a note of abject horror in her voice after the Englishman just nodded in response.

"T-That's downright Un-American."

The native Slayer laughed openly, "Cute, yeah, I guess it is. But, you have to understand, your history... the countries you know... no such things here. Anyway, Imperial decree states that State, corporate ownership or usage of land in anything but a conservatory aspect is forbidden. Kinda prevents people from hiding from responsibility for their actions like in your world, I guess. People can't really fix 'blame' on an organization or empty corporate shell for some _individual's_ malfeasance. Basically, it's too hard to punish a corporation the way you can a CEO. For example, the owner of a company that causes a lot of environmental, or personal, damage to others can't simply hide behind their company and let it take the hit. Nope, here people have to take personal responsibility for their company's actions, at the time they happen. After all a company doesn't have a head which can be removed for capital crimes, does it now?"

Anya paled.

Giles nodded and added, "I rather don't think you need worry about shelter then, hmm?."

Buffy gestured at the mansion and then looked back at her mirror self.


"Yours.", she replied with a shrug, "Once papers are arranged, and after citizenship is taken care of, as well as a few other minor inconveniences. The usual, but like we said... you weren't expected."

Buffy smiled, instantly reminded of a prior thought.

She walked toward her native self, commenting sweetly, "I got that the first time. Speaking of which..."

She unleashed a vicious uppercut, sending her double flying through the air.

The native Slayer impacted the side of a marble column with a bone crushingly vicious smack.

Buffy started stalking forward, fists balled in anger.

"You messed with the wrong Slayer, sister. You assholes were planning on kidnapping her and...and... I'd never have known what happened to her. That's what you were planning wasn't it?"

Buffy's face spoke book loads of anger.

"Stand up! So I can knock you down again, bitch."

Her other self got up from the ground with a shoulder roll. A small trail of blood ran from the edge of her mouth. She spat to the side and met Buffy's gaze steadily, even icily, and bounced on the balls of her feet, hands up in preparation for combat.

"Of course we were, you idiot... This isn't a humanitarian operation. We're talking the survival of the multiverse here, not even just one planet. It was for the whole game, so we did what was necessary. We had to get her ass out of there in case he planned on using her as a backup escape plan. And, if he'd caught wind of our plans, he'd have killed everyone in the hospital to get to her... and don't doubt for a second that he has the will to do it... or the power. You'll see what I mean at the debriefing tomorrow. Then you'll get it. After that, if you still wanna fight? Bring it on."

Buffy looked ready to take her up on the offer than instant.

Anya however stepped between then and raised a hand.

"Excuse me... Not meaning to break up the whole 'cat-fight' thing you have going on, but isn't this Kingman hill? I mean if it is... this place is nice and all... but that would mean the whole thing is built on the same hill that has that big satanic temple buried inside of it? Right?"


Alexander nodded to himself.

He'd tried opening a bore point to the MVA homeworld several times already, all with a complete lack of success. He'd tried accessing other world patterns also, all to no avail.

Lockdown, it seemed was complete on this side.

His eyes narrowed as he took stock of his options.

The quantum tunnelers that accessed this realm was down, that much was obvious, but it never hurt to check and see exactly how isolated he really was.

A short time later, Alexander completed setting up a connection between his wrist beacon and the primitive computer he'd found in the witches' room. Access to the Unified Tunneler Network followed shortly thereafter.

Accessing the inter-dimensional network and navigating its security measures with one of his many alternate identities was the easy part. Doing so and not being detected was proving to be the hard, especially with the primitive devices he found himself forced to be working with.

Still, he found what he'd been looking for quickly enough. They'd shut down the network to this realm it looked like. But, more than that, they'd apparently called in favors from other bordering universes that also had the quantum tunneler technology. All the tunneling ports leading to this universe had been simultaneously shut. He, and this entire universe, were effectively quarantined.

He sat back in his chair and examined the situation.

Okay, nothing to do for that but wait now. Time is on my side, they'll get sloppy, as planned. But till then, how to advance 'The Plan'? He looked toward the living room with its smoldering wreckage.

Outside he could hear the sounds of an approaching fire response vehicle.

Best just to deal with _this_ as expeditiously as possible.

With a glance at the wreckage, he enforced his will.

A rippling effect seemed to wash across the image of the room, wiping away the van, the wreckage... even the oily smoke still wafting in the air. In its place was a completely rebuilt living room, the woodwork freshly scrubbed and oiled, the carpet spotless and like new.

He nodded to himself as he went to the door.

A series of pounding thuds from the outside followed.

He opened the door with a pleasant smile.

A number of firemen stood on the front porch.

"Hello? Can I help you?, he asked.

The fireman looked at him uncertainly.

"Ummm, we had a report about a black van crashing into the side of this residence, And about a fire...and I could have sworn a minute ago that I saw..."

Alexander gave them a perplexed look, then answered with a smile, "No, I'm afraid I can't help you with that. No fires, and the only van around here is the one parked in the driveway. "

He gestured toward the black van that had once been the wreckage sitting in the living room. It sat, parked in the driveway, fully restored to showroom-like condition and glistening in the sun.

The fireman looked toward the van and then back to the man in the doorway, only now taking note of the man's odd garb. Immediately, survival skills unique to public servants in Sunnydale took hold and told the man that it was best for all involved if he just accepted things and left. Looking too closely at things, like what seemed to be going on at the moment, generally resulted in fatally short careers in public service in civil service in his experience.

The fireman was a ten year veteran at his job, and knew when to take his business elsewhere.

"Uhhh, sorry to trouble you, sir. Must be a mistake. We'll just get out of here and find out where the real trouble is."

Alexander smiled and asked, "Would you like to use my phone? I don't mind. Give you a chance to call your dispatcher and make sure that you've been given the right address. We must be thorough and all that. Hey, I think I have some nice lemonade in the fridge if you want some."

The fireman hastily backed away, waving his hands in front of him.

"No!... I mean, no, thank you. We-we'll just use our radio, heh...

thanks for the..offer... we'll just be on our way. Matt, call it in."

"Chief, what about the...", the junior officer asked.

"Shut up, Matt. Dispatch just made a mistake is all... just get into the truck and let's get out of here."

"But, Chief..."

"Now! And while you're at it let the police and EMTs know that the situation is...under control... no... a mistake... just a mistake.

Got it?"

Turning back to Alexander he waved nervously and beat a hasty retreat to the fire truck.

Alexander closed the door with a satisfying click.

Hmmm, okay, so... let's examine things, he thought to himself, walking toward the kitchen.

So, we have a group of one Willow, a Tara... obviously they are a couple in this universe, nothing new there. Okay, there was the final 'me', but he was with two separate Buffy's, neither of which were robotic in nature, so no telling which one belongs to this universe, but obviously one isn't native. Liz' and Giles, again, no surprise, and Spike. So... what does this mean?, and where is their Giles? Hmmm... let's see.

He opened the refrigerator and found himself confronted with a selection of Ben and Jerry's ice cream containers, all half eaten if he was any judge of their contents.

He smiled.

She is predictable, so that means if Giles isn't here, and he's not dead, she likely called him. So...

Closing the freezer compartment of the refrigerator he walked to the wall mounted phone and picked it up. He hit redial, and waited.




Finally a click sounded on the other end and a familiar voice answered, "Hello, Rupert Giles speaking."

Alexander smiled coolly, then shifted his stance to hunch forward slightly, getting into his role, and in a breathless voice answered, "Giles, oh my god, man, am I glad to hear your voice, you'll never believe what's going on here."

Giles took a moment and replied, "Another Buffy has shown up... and you're all calling me to tell me to hurry back?"

Alexander paused a moment, then replied nonplused, "Uhhh, good guess."

Giles gave him a sound of utter exasperation and added, "Yes, of course. What else could it be? After all, it is Tuesday. Now, if you please, I am packing, and you can tell the Buffy's that I have arranged for a flight back already. So if you don't mind, Xander, I really should be getting back to-"

Xander cut in and replied, "No! that'll take too long. Tell you what, cancel the flight I have a better idea. You know how to do a circle of D'lo?"

Giles paused a moment and replied with a slight tinge of worry in his voice, "Yes, it's one of the twenty seven summoning circles that can be used for...Xander, what have you been doing while I've been away? You haven't been mucking about with magic again have you? If you have I shall be most cross... I've warned you repeatedly about-"

"Giles!", Alexander once more cut in, "No, don't worry about it, we found... ummm.. this weird artifact thing a few weeks ago. Demons were using it to... umm... tele-whatsit victims to other places to eat them. Willow thinks we can use it to bring you here quickly. You do the circle at your end for a beacon, we set up a reversed one, shake-a shake-a of the chicken bones, poof."

"What?! You've found an...Now see here, Xander. I'm all for not having to pay for the flight, but I don't particularly relish the thought of being pulled through space and time to pop out of a mystical circle to the accompaniment of a spell. And speaking of which, chicken bones aren't part of any such-."

"Figure of speech, Giles, figure of speech. No actually poultry is involved. Get with the program here. Besides...", he lowered his voice to a whisper, "I think the girls are cracking up...really losing it. We need you here as soon as possible."

Giles sighed.

"Be that as it may, Xander,", he replied with a tone of forced patience in his voice, ", and as frightening a concept as it is, I'm afraid that I'm simply going to have to rely upon you to hold things together until such time as I arrive. You know the drill, keep Buffy busy on patrol, keep Willow with Tara, she'll provide a calming influence, and for heaven's sake don't... oh... one moment, someone's at the door.

"No, wait! Giles, don't put down the phone. Giles...Giles... answer me!"

He listened to the sounds of the man walking across hardwood floors half a world away...

"Hello, may I- Good heavens! My dear girl, what are you doing here? Come in, come in."

...followed by the sound of a pneumatic air gun, a thump, and a scramble of voices, all speaking at the same time.

"Move! Move! Move!"

"Out like a light."

"Good job. Now, get him prepped and move it."

"Status, and time?"

"Pupils fixed and dilated, respirations strong, he's stable. Portal closing in twenty five..."

The phone was picked up and he heard a voice on the other end.

"Too late Harris."

"You! What are you doing there?", Alexander asked, a genuine hint of breathlessness in his voice as he scrambled audibly to get back into the dining room where his wrist beacon was flashing. On its indicator he read that one quantum tunneler had been brought on line to this universe and already was in use.

The voice on the phone continued speaking.

"None other, sweety. Oh, Hey, I guess you _are_ getting smarter after all, huh? Poor Alex... too bad it's too little to late. Oh, and let me just say...nice try lover-boy. We figured that you might get the bright idea of using him as bait, so I took care of this one personally to make sure there'd be no mistakes."

"Major, portal is closing, we need to go."

"Oh, look, there's my ride. You should call more often, Alex. I love our little chats. But, as they say, duty calls. Enjoy your tomb. I'm overseeing the lockdown on this one and I won't make a mistake like last time."

Alexander slammed his fist into the tabletop , smashing through it.

"I'll feed you your heart, you just wait and see you smug little-."

"Ta ta, Alex. Gimme a call sometime. Caio."


Alexander put down the phone with its now dead line and closed his eyes.

He sat down in the strange serenity that only an empty house carried. Minutes ticked by as he calmly reflected on his next step, and he smiled thinly, a secret smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

He got up and started walking toward the living room, waving his hand idly, repairing the damage to the table.

His smile grew as he sang to himself.

"Reiser Til Undrigsla, Langt Vekk Til En Ny Dimensjon"

He walked into the living room, and picked up one of the tapes he saw laying on the couch. Turning it over in his hand her read the title.

"Somewhere in time? Oh, brother. Man, she's lucky I'm a nice guy and'll return these for her. Blockbuster can be a killer with those late fees. So, let's see what's on the tube."

He picked up the remote and turned on the TV as he plopped down on the couch, stretching out in a relaxed pose.

"Oooo, Gilmore girls."

Pressing a button on the side of his wrist beacon, Alexander sat back to wait.

"Maybe I should go look up Dead-boy and go a couple of rounds. Might be good for a few laughs to see the look on his face."


Xander sat back in his overstuffed chair listening to the others talk with the otherworldly Giles and Buffy. Or more accurately; he listened while his Buffy read then a page of the riot act. He let the dialog flow over him, every word being weighed, categorized, and filed away by him as they were spoken.

It was something that he'd gotten good at.

He'd found out a long time ago, that when everyone else in the group you work with has some sort of supernatural or preternatural gift, you quickly learned that being Joe Normal left you the odd man out. To compensate, he did what everyone else in the group generally failed to do. He listened.

It took a while to learn, but most of the time, when other people were talking, he actually opened his ears, heard what they said, and then carefully considered what they'd said, while trying not to make too many rash decisions or assumptions about what he'd heard. Of course when it came to Buffy, he was known to _occasionally_ toss caution to the wind, but for the most part it had fallen to him to provide the moderated view point since their Giles had left to return home to England.

He smiled faintly.

Buffy was now busy waving her arms around and getting more melodramatic by the minute. This was not good, he decided.

Buffy had gotten started prepping for a good session of complaining soon after her and the native version of her had faced off and the group had entered the estate manor.

The group had silently followed their hosts through a "God's above, this is a big room" sort of foyer, into what looked like 'The mother of all private libraries'.

The layout of the room was incredibly expansive, while also somehow...warm, and almost cozy. Dark wood paneling clad the walls from floor to ceiling, and bookshelves set into the walls rose thirty feet up to meet the textured relief that adorned the remaining five feet of the walls. A soft golden glow illuminated the room, somehow emanating from a number of intricately carved, white marble, abstract sculptures that were artfully displayed all about the room. Soft couches, upholstered in what looked like plush velvet or fine leather, dotted the room, while a number of reading tables (and their coffee table brethren) dotted the floor space, appearing to be have been chosen for their mutually complimentary designs, as well as functionality. All in all, it leant a sort of 'hominess' that to the room that welcomed you.

Xander decided that their Giles would have been positively giddy about the whole arrangement if he'd been there. It was a library that positively screamed, "I belong in some huge English manor with lots of stuffy English librarians bustling about, doing librarian sorts of things inside me." But as things stood, it served only to make for an interesting backdrop to Buffy's railings against their hosts. Xander almost felt like he was back in high school.

"Now, see here!", the native Giles interjected.

"Don't you tell me to 'see here', pal. You're not the 'watcher' of me.", Buffy responded.

Buffy's comments were getting more heated.

She'd become really upset after their arrival, apparently Anya's little revelation about the hill their new "home" was built upon sat less than well with her. And that had gotten her motor running, and she didn't look like she had any plans to slow down any time soon, especially when she started demanding to see her sister, and that they do something

"Now" about going back for their Giles.

The "New and Improved Giles", had begun his counter attack by arguing that he knew of no such satanic temple buried in this hill in their world, and that's when Xander started abandoning all hope that things would come to an end soon. His next comments did nothing but throw fuel on the fire, and Buffy started getting more wound up.

Giles had flat out told her that before he'd take her to her sister, that she needed to "bloody well calm down enough" to keep her voice down, and then adopted a very Giles-like tone of voice about the whole "other Giles" situation. It was a tone that implied that if you didn't shape up immediately and listen to him doing precisely what he said, that you were hopelessly foolish.

This of course went over like a lead balloon with Buffy.

"Okay, Scone boy. That tears it. I'm not putting up with this." She started marching away, yelling. "Dawn!? Dawn!?"

"Now you see here, Buffy. Stop that confounded yelling. I think you need to calm down and think about this rationally. I know you're upset-", Giles said.

"'Upset'?, I'll give you upset.", she whirled on him and started counting on fingers.

"First, other 'me's start showing up, then Xander's going all blurry and weird, and as if that's not enough...Spike goes nuts, my sister gets injured and we have to hospitalize her."

"Not my fault!" Spike interjected from by the fireplace where a blaze roared and he tried to stay warm.

"Shut up, Spike, I'll deal with you later.", Buffy replied, dismissing his protestation.

She continued, "Then all _this_ crap starts happening, and now I'm stranded in another universe, living on top of a hill that _may_ or may not have a satantic temple lurking underneath it, emphasis on the _may_ since that's how my luck runs. And now you're trying to tell me to 'act rationally?'. Personally I'm starting to think that beating on people till I start to feel _better_ about things is much more appealing at the moment. Don't ya think?"

Xander listened, noting the raw edge in her voice and how it sounded like she was nearing the point where tears would start appearing, and decided to act.

He turned and smiled to the other Buffy, and disengaged his arm from hers gently.

Standing up from the chair he came up behind the ranting Slayer and cleared his throat.

She turned with her fist balled as though about to hit something.

Yep, he decided, definitely riding the ragged edge of 'pissed off Buffy' tonight.

He gently put his fingertips against her raised hand and slowly eased her hand down towards her side.

"Hey, hey Buffster, good points all, but hey...", he smiled, using a soothing tone while watching her look at him oddly. He then moved his head side to side in a little comedic shimmy then added with a goofy grin, "I mean, comeon...we've been in worse sitch'es before. Okay, sure, things have sorta gone from their typical "Sunnydale weird"

factor rating, bypassed the good ol' "Armageddon based freakishness" and gone off into our own personal little personal Twilight Zone-ish theme-thing, but lets not take it out on the nice people trying to _give_ us a mansion. Okay?"

Buffy had initially rounded on him, her eyes shooting off cold sparks of hostility at first, ready to tear into whoever had sneaked up behind her next. But his lighthearted attitude seemed almost infectious, and gradually she felt herself start to calm a down. His solid normalcy; acting like an anchor, letting her hold onto her sanity.

Seeing the softening of her mood, he decided to press on and see if he could rescue the situation further.

"Besides, I mean think about it... all those times... falling asleep in class, or snoozing in the library when we should have been doing research. Okay, yeah, that was mostly me doing the sleeping, but, no big. And if I can sleep right on top of a Hellmouth, where's the big? I mean... look,", he put out his arms in a little lighthearted motion and added, "still breathing, no hooves or anything. And like I always say, what's a satanic temple or two between friends?"

Buffy's lips were pulled into a grin, and her eyes actually twinkled a moment.

Mission accomplished he decided, Buffy the time bomb defused for the moment.

"He's quite right, Ms. Sum...err Buffy.", the New Giles added.

"Now, as to your sister...well... seeing as you _are_ now as calm as you're likely to get, I'll be happy to show you to where Ms. Dawn is biv- I mean, where her quarters are. But as to _your_ Giles...", he sighed, "As I mentioned, I've reported the issue of my 'parallel', to the MVA. And all we can do is just wait and see what my superiors plan on doing, if anything."

Buffy paused a moment to look Xander's way once more while Giles spoke, noting the gentle smile he gave her, and the way that his body language seemed calculated to unconsciously soothe her. He seemed to almost radiate a gentle and non-threatening warmth.

That he had this sort of affect on her... the ability to un-push her buttons so easily, and to de-escalate the emotional tide she'd been riding, with just a few goofy smiles and a couple gestures, bothered her more than she could say.

She turned back to Giles, her mind suddenly considering the kiss she'd given Xander less than an hour previous, a kiss that she desperately wished, now, that she could take back, because of what it meant. Things were getting complicated between them again, and that could lead to all sorts of... trouble.

Shelving her worries for later, she replied to the older man, "Okay, I wanna see my sister, Giles... take me to her."

Strobing lights dominated his vision.

A flash of white light that lasted a moment, then darkness for many more moments.

Flash, white.

Then Black.

Over and over.

He tried to remember what happened. Everything felt weird. A metallic taste filled his mouth. Was it blood? Was he in an ambulance? He remembered opening a door somewhere, and... and... something. Then a distant sort of pain, and a fall. And now he had a light flashing in his face.

Buffy found Dawn standing in the middle futon-like bed with a pair of what looked like silver, opaque, wrap around sunglasses on her face, a pair of black gloves on her hands, and black slipper-like shoes on her feet. She was posing and gyrating as though she were trying to balance on a precarious surface, and totally oblivious to the fact that people had just walked in on her.

"Woo hoo! My beach! My wave!", the younger Summers enthused.

Buffy looked at Giles curiously and asked, "Woo hoo?"

"Simulative environment set. Quite the rage these days, I hear.", he nodded toward a box that sat on the top of a nearby table.

"The unit transmits a complex signal that the headset... well... I won't bore you with the details. But-"

He reached up to Dawn's face and took the headset off her with a smile. The sudden removal of the eyewear causing the girl to stumble slightly and then blink rapidly to get her bearings.

"Hey!", she protested, "I was just about to complete the lev- Buffy!" The younger girl launched herself against her older sister and hugged her.

"Oh, man I am so glad you're here. They told me that... that...", she trailed off tearfully.

Buffy smiled and hugged her back. "Oh Dawn, wish I could say the same.... about being glad about being here, I mean. But I am glad to see you. Are you okay, and what where you doing?"

Dawn nodded, replying that she felt okay, while Giles turned the headset toward the elder Summers and showed her that the inside of the eyewear showed an incredibly lifelike beach scene, complete with curling waves, then continued. "- if one wears the glasses, it provides a complete visual illusion of being within the scene. There are other features for full sensory coverage, to complete the illusion, but I much prefer the real thing."

"It's Nintendo; The Next Generation.", Buffy quipped.

"Oh, it's like so totally more.", Dawn interjected, bubbling full of excitement, "There was like this guy on the beach earlier, and I... it was like I could actually feel his.", she paused for a thought, then continued, "... ummm.. uhh... _hand_. You know, because I was like...holding ...his hand... it... while we were... you know..._walking_.", Dawn finished lamely.

Buffy gave her an arched look, then replied slowly and dubiously, "I see."

She turned to Giles and asked, "So, does this thing have a playback feature so we can see what she was doing with this ...guy?"

Dawn's eyes got large.

Giles paused a moment, looking toward a window that seemed to be being illuminated by flashing lights outside, then replied absentmindedly, "Hmmm... what? Oh...I'm afraid I don't think so."

Dawn's features became noticeably more relieved, and she coughed lightly, and blushed a little.

Buffy smirked and decided to not torment her sister too much more.

She turned back to Giles, about to ask him to leave her alone with her sister when she noticed he wasn't paying attention to them anymore and had moved to the window he'd been looking at a moment earlier.

"Uhh, Giles?", Buffy asked, moving to join him by the window. Only then seeing that there appeared to be a number of people moving around outside, clustering around what looked like one of the sky-

vehicles that they'd seen flitting about the sky earlier, "What's the what? We got company?"

A few moments went by before he responded.

He pointed toward something.

"It appears that someone at the MVA decided that your concerns about my 'parallel' warranted immediate response."

His gesture indicated a gurney that two men were unloading from the back of the vehicle.

Buffy looked down and caught sight of a familiar face.

His spectacles askew and somewhat bent, Giles was securely strapped into what looked like a floating hospital stretcher, and looked to be completely asleep.

Buffy closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead.

"Oh hell. He is gonna be soooo pissed."

Giles floated in a sea of soft luminescence. A peaceful place where there was no pain.

"I'm telling you, just let him sleep. I mean, look at yourselves; you're dead on your feet. Besides, even if he does wake up, he's not going to be in any shape to talk. So, just go to bed and you can talk to him in the morning."

"Forget it. Now get out of the way. I just want to make sure he's okay."

Anya? The words were all there... but for some reason just seemed to not reach him. They sounded like the buzzing of a honey bee in his ear. "God, you're pushy. Thank goodness that at least the other me has a little sense of decorum, but're just..."

"I'm not leaving till I see Giles."

Noises of exasperation followed.

"Oh hell, fine, whatever... I'll go check and see how he's doing, and if he's up to it... maybe. But only _maybe_"

The buzzing in his ears almost seemed to make sense now, but for some reason, conscious thought just kept slipping away.

Analytically, he knew that what he was feeling was purely a medicinally induced numbness, but all the same, the feeling was incredible. The pure, seductively sweet high that he found himself in, was a state of being unparalleled in his life. Cleanly blowing away anything that he'd felt during the year and a half that he'd spent in the gutters of London, after he'd dropped out of Oxford in rebellion against his father.

It felt akin to being wrapped, head to toe, in soft fleece and packed into an opened top crate nice and snug, yet utterly unable to move. It was a confining sort of stuffy comfort, one where your whole body felt so warm and fuzzy that you didn't care that it felt like you were breathing warm molasses, and that you'd lost feeling in most of your extremities.

He reasoned that he could get down to seriously enjoying himself it only the damn incessant buzzing would go away. It seemed to be coming from somewhere nearby, and it wouldn't leave him alone.

He felt a sharp prick on his upper arm, and a coolness flow through him. A few moments later some of the cobwebs in his head had cleared out enough for him to put his thoughts together.

He opened his eyes and blearily looked upward.

An oval, peach colored blur hovered over him against an off white background. Even though he couldn't quite make out the details, he was reasonably certain it was a face above him, either that... or a really really big french pear.

He tried to speak.

"Nurble gurp.", came out.

A strangely familiar voice spoke to him, "Jolly good."

He felt a hand pat him on the shoulder. He blinked several times, it seemed like the thing to do at the time, then tried to lift his arm. It jerked spasmodically in response.

"Here now...calmly...calmly.", the voice smoothed, sounding a trifle worried as the hand patted him in what he took to be an attempt at reassurance. He tried to feign a passive relaxation.

"There, that's it...calm now."

The tones were badly distorted, most likely because of the odd edge the drug gave his senses, but he thought that it sounded like a man's voice. However, something about it... it sounds so familiar. Why was that?, he wondered, letting himself go limp.

Oh, so tired. Everything's spinning ever so slowly to the left. Hmmm, now why does everything sound like it's underwater? "There now...that's it, everything's alright. No need to get excited.", the voice continued, "Now, first things first. Try to pay attention, and listen to me carefully, old boy.", the voice said, careful to go nice and slowly.

The 'man' seemed to pause a moment before continuing, "You've been hit by a tranquilizer dart, just as I'm sure you've surmised by now. But, don't worry, you've just been given some rather potent muscle relaxants, along with a number of powerful sedatives, nothing dangerous, I assure you. Just understand that you're among friends now, and safe."

Giles felt like laughing, but he didn't feel he could muster the fine motor control needed for a derisive snort. When one gets drugged and kidnapped, one rarely finds oneself to be in safe circumstances, he reasoned. Still, the voice kept talking to him, " I know, you're full of questions. Don't worry...I'm sure that when the time comes, all of them will be answered for you. But, I'm afraid that that will have to wait until _after_ you've had a chance to recover. So, for now, just try and relax, Rupe. Do you understand?"

The fogginess of his vision retreated a bit, and he could just make out the face floating above him.

His whole world began to spin about him far more rapidly.

It was his own face looking down at him.

His heart started hammering in his chest in time to his rising tide of fear and worry. True, the face had a few less wrinkles around the eyes than he was accustomed to seeing in the mirror, but still, it was his face. He felt his stomach flip flop in a chill fear.

Some demon, a shape-shifter, or doppelganger perhaps, dear lord, I should have known, the other Buffy, it had to be something seeking to-

He struggled to get up, flopping around miserably.

"No, no, calm yourself, Rupe, listen to m-"

But Giles was having none of it, he continued to try to thrash himself upright.

The figure laid hands upon him and held him down. In his drugged state, Giles found that he could hardly put up any resistance at all. He felt as weak as a kitten.

"Rupe! Stop! Ruper...will you just calm-", his double tried to deal with his flailings, getting occasionally hit by a wild limb,"Damn it all.. Ripper! Will you bloody calm down?", the voice hissed at him in exasperation. The 'other' put his face close to his and stared him dead in the eyes, giving him a single hard shake.

Giles froze for the moment, worried the other might get violent now that he had an excuse. Instead it nodded a nod of understanding to him.

"Right. Now, you bloody listen tight, mate. You need to calm bloody down and listen. Listen, I said... Focus and just _listen_ to me. I'm another you... got it? I'm _you_, just ...not 'you'. I'm not some... thing, pretending to be you, understand?. Good!, now just... well... just try and think of me as... as...well, as a brother, or a cousin of sorts perhaps."

The man stopped a moment to let his comment sink in while Giles tried to think of what to do next. He decided that his useless flailing gained him nothing, so he decided to hear what his other 'self had to say.

His double smiled softly, then continued, backing up a little, "Good, now... pay attention. You're in a safe place. Your Slayer is here, along with young Alexander, and Ms. Rosenberg and your other friends. But, as I mentioned, you've been drugged. So for now, calm down, lay back, and get some sleep... understand?"

Giles looked into the eyes of his other self, and saw something that shocked him to his core. It was "The look", the look he always used when complete sincerity was called for to impress upon someone the depth of the situation they were in. It had a sobering effect on him, and made him relax his own guard. He lay back limply, and saw the other version of himself smile and nod once. He decided to try and wrap his mouth around the words he needed to say. After a few attempts he finally got them out in a jumble.

"H-howw? Whe-eeree arre wee?"

His other self stood up before replying and looked behind him, toward someone outside of his own field of vision. He said something quietly, and much to fast to be followed, then turned back to him and replied.

"We're in a very different Sunnydale... as to the 'how' I'm afraid I'll have to save the bulk of the explanation for tomorrow, for now, just know that you were in very great danger where you were, and someone rescued you. Now, I'm going to go let your friends in. But, just for a few minutes. They want to make sure that you're well, so I'll let them see you, and then it's off to bed for you, and them both."

His double sighed tiredly and commented to himself, "I plan on doing likewise as soon as I can. Today has been a most tiring episode, I must say."

A few moments later, a cluster of faces crowded around him, and he heard a feminine voice cautioning, "Okay, just a couple minutes is all you can stay. He's really groggy and will need a few hours to sleep off the sedative he's been given."

A rumble of footsteps could be heard and a crowd of pale ovals wreathed in gold, brown and red appeared above him.

"Oh, Giles. Are you okay." A worried sounding voice came to him.

Willow, he surmised. It appeared his hearing was slowly clearing up, Even if he did feel His lethargy increasing.

"Hey there, Giles. Wow, your pupils sure are big."


"Why'd they drug him?", another voice asked, "And, for that matter, I thought you said that you people didn't plan to bring more than just Xander and Dawn here?"

Buffy, yes, definitely.

"Whoa, G-man. Not looking too hot there. A couple months of no good old Californian sun and look what happens to you. All pale, big and black eyed, not even able to move a muscle...yeesh. We'll have to do a crash course in beachside tanning to get you back into non-pasty English-guy form.

Xander? "Our mission _was_ monitored, you know, and Giles did report that you were all stressed. I'm thinking someone at HQ saw you all were here, and they ran a probability analysis of the 'sitch. Came to the conclusion you'd do something stupid like try and rescue him from Alex on your own. So they dispatched a retrieval team before you could mess things up."

Buffy again? "So , this is like standard kidnap procedure for you people? You just go around drugging everyone and nabing them?"

The third voice came from a new direction, Who? Sounds like Buffy? "From the way you and Anya were acting, I wish it was. Maybe we could get some peace and quite."

"And that's supposed to mean what, precisely?", Anya replied.

"Think real hard, I'm sure you can figure it out. Giles, you take care of this, I'm gonna check on the rooms."

"Buffy.. don't start getting all worked up in front of Iles-Gay.

Remember, calm and nice comments only."

"Oh... Right, Willow. Sorry."

What followed from that point on, Giles had a great deal of trouble following. There was a consistent and general feeling of contentment that buzzed through him, distracting him baddly.

He had all his 'children' gathered about him, and felt a good deal less worried about the situation than he had been. A few more minutes passed, and he tried to give them what he hoped were reassuring smiles, while they seemed rather intent on explaining something...something he couldn't quite grasp, something...My goodness it's getting rather foggy in here. I wonder I wonder if someone might open a win- *

Buffy looked down on the sleeping Englishman, a faint, drug induced, smile curling on his lips. She sighed sadly. She'd seen the look of fear and tension that had been on his face when she'd first walked in. And even if it had disappeared when he'd realized she was there with him...he'd been terrified for a time, and considering what he'd experienced in previous kidnappings, she didn't blame him.

She gave a half hearted smile to herself, thinking about what his reaction actually meant.

He'd calmed down dramatically when he'd heard her voice.

He just trusts that no matter what, I'll be able to face whatever's out there, and always end up saving the day. Man, how's he gonna react to finding out that we're trapped here now, and that we ran away from that other Xander without even trying to fight him? God, why did I listen to her, why'd I run like that? What's wrong with me? She sighed again. Regardless of anything else, still, he'd been afraid, and she blamed herself for the fear he'd felt because of her. My fault for getting him dragged into this. Poor guy, waking up drugged and kidnapped, was it any wonder he was freaked. Good thing he didn't seem to be able to actually understand what we were been trying to tell him, she decided. He'd probably have had himself his very own English version of a "wig". Would've said something like "Good heavens!" or "I say!" a bunch. She smiled to herself, and filed the little witticism away for later use, like for when he actually did understand precisely what _had_ happened to him.

In the mean time, Giles had passed out.

Good for him, she thought, and stroked his forehead a little, combing his hair into something a bit less sloppy. She picked up his glasses from the nightstand next to his bed. He'll probably need all the sleep he can get. Oh boy is he gonna be mad.

She unbent the wire frames and set them back on the nightstand then looked over at Willow. The redhead leaned wearily against Tara, who also looked ready to collapse where she was. Buffy sighed, seeing her native twin walking back into the room, and taking charge, in her ever so annoyingly brisk tone.

"Okay, everyone, listen up. Your Giles needs his rest, and so do the rest of you."

She paused, seeing that they hadn't moved an inch.

"That was polite speak for; Get the hell out of here. Me and My Giles will show you to your rooms and get you situated. I'll probably have to be up before the rest of you even crack an eye, so the first thing I want to do is show you where the kitchen is. That's where I'll be tomorrow to start. I'll show you where the baths are then. Now...move it!"

Everyone gave her a sour look, but began shuffling toward the doorway.Buffy seriously doubted that she'd be sleeping a wink tonight, even though she was exhausted.

"Okay", the native Slayer barked, "Boys'll follow Giles, Girls'll follow me upstairs."

They all stood in the manor house's grand foyer again. The ceiling loomed four stories above them, topped with a multitude of skylights and three huge crystal chandeliers that glowed with hundreds of pixie-

like lights floating around in the crystals themselves.

A black and white checkerboard marble floor ran the seventy foot length of the foyer, with a huge mosaic of a Roman gyre falcon inlayed into the center "Okay, The kitchen is where you'll go first thing tomorrow. I'll be waiting for you there. Just hit the foyer, which is where we are, then go down that hall.", she gestured, then continued, "It's the door at the end, you can't miss it. There's robes and stuff to sleep in,in your rooms and we'll have something for you to wear tomorrow when you get up. Any questions?"

Tara held up a hand tentatively.



"Right, I'll show you the facilities when we get upstairs. They're a little different than you're gonna be used to, I think."

She turned to her Giles and asked, "You think you can handle Spike and Xander?"

The wry look that he returned spoke volumes.

"Okay, ladies,", she gestured to a staircase ascending to the second floor, then added, "Any day now, if you'll be so good as to let go of Alex there."

Xander looked down and saw that Anne was still holding on to him, as though planning on going along with him instead of with the other women. He smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner and gently got her to let go, and with a slight push got her going along with the others.

Buffy looked over and saw the sad look in his eyes that he gave Anne as she kept looking back over her shoulder at him.

"Like things weren't already complicated enough.", Buffy sighed to herself.

Buffy followed her native twin and the other women down the hallway with a vague look of shock still on her face. Their collective experiences in the 'latrinae" had been "eye opening" to say the least, but ha provided some much needed relief.

"That was so weird", she heard Willow whispering to Tara.

"Yeah, I know what you mean, I halfway felt like it was gonna eat me. And that bidet thing, who'd have expected?"

Willow nodded, the look of stunned surprise still on her face.

"Well, I thought it felt more than a little perverse.", Anya added, "I mean straddling that-"

"Okay, let's not talk about this more okay?", Buffy interjected hastily.

"Right.", Her native twin agreed. "Beds first. Okay, Willow, Tara... This is your room."

She opened the door and led them inside a room of brilliant white.

The white marble tiled floors shown with an almost wet look to them, without the faintest hint of a scuff mark or imperfection. A foot and a half tall, three step, raised dias dominated the center of the room, and on it rested a hooded four post bed hung about with gauzes of white and faint pastel blue and gold. The entire room was bathed in a brilliant glow the radiated from the ceiling, creating the illusion of pure sunlight.

The other furniture scattered about the room seemed to have been done in various skytoe shades and colors like hues of gold, soft blues, and pastel greens, all built around the predominance of brilliant and pure white, like that of the most puffy and clean of clouds.

White marble floors, white topped wooden dressers, white sculptures in classical styles, even a small chandelier of milky white crystal that shown with a soft golden and blue collection of lights.

"Night robes are in the closet." The Slayer continued, "I'm sure you can figure out the rest."

She pointed at a large walk-in closet with mirrors down its length, then added while pointing at what looked like a laundry chute set into the wall, "Just put your dirty clothes in there. As I mentioned, when you get up we'll have something for you to wear in the morning, after you use the baths."

With that she turned on her heel and left Willow and Tara gaped at the room. It was nearly as large as the whole of the upstairs level of the Summers home, and laid out like something from some sort of fairytale story combined with a surrealistic summer sky.

"Uhhh, right." Willow replied as the woman walked out of the room and gestured for the others to follow her. Anya looked back into the room and then commented. "Very bright... I know I couldn't sleep in a room like this."

She closed the door behind her as she left, and together Tara and Willow both walked into center of the room, completely overwhelmed. "Honey?", Willow asked.

"Yes?" Tara replied, slowly looking over the room just like her lover was.

"I think I need to lay down.", Willow finished.

"Me too.", Tara replied.

They both moved to the bed and sat on it, both of them looking very small in the huge room.

"Nice place, huh?" Willow asked.

Tara did her typical full body nod, the one that moved most of her torso along with it.

A moment of pause followed when Willow asked the question that Tara had hoped she wouldn't.

"Uhhh, do you know how we're supposed to turn off the lights?"

Silence reigned in the room.

Buffy blinked several times, looking at her room with a blank stare. They'd just desposited Anya in another room that looked like something out of a Russian Queen's night chambers, and she'd been amused how happy Anya had looked at the accommodations, having pronounced them "adequate" and then gleefully charging into the room and slamming the door in their faces.

But Buffy was nearly speechless at what she was now seeing.


"I'm supposed to sleep... here?", she asked, her voice laden heavily with dubiousness.

"Yeah", the native her replied, as though not understanding why she was sounded so upset.

"In this?", Buffy added, holding up a short little white robe that bore a remarkable resemblance to a nearly transparent silk bathrobe that was cut off just above mid thigh.

"Yeah, something wrong with it?"

Buffy was speechless, she just gestured and made inarticulate noises. "Ehhhn?...And... and... ehhhn."

The room was... Big. It was colorful, it was...

"It's a harem. And this... this thing doesn't have enough fabric to it to", she trailed off a moment then gestured to the room again. "My God, there's not even a bed, just lotsa... pillows, and ledges...

and... and I don't even want to think what those things hanging from the ceiling are."

"Your point being?", her native twin asked, "I don't like sleeping on a bed myself, I'd love to be able to afford a room like this. I mean look at it", he held out her arms as if encompassing the whole of the scene.

"I don't know any woman that wouldn't love to have a private little place like this to relax in and let her hair down."

The room was like something taken out of the fable of a thousand and one Arabian nights. Plush, and elaborately embroidered, pillows were scattered everywhere about the room. Varicolored, but richly dyed silk drapes divided the room into various little nooks, and private little boudoirs. A number of low tables were positioned all about, most setting atop thick, and obviously expensive, antique Persian rugs, with brass and copper tea and coffee sets layed out on them along side intricately worked handblown glass bottles. A faint scent of sweet incense filled the room and brought to mind far off and exotic lands. The oddest thing however was the way that the floor itself wasn't uniform. Instead, there were raised and sunken sections to the floor that had upholstered cushions affixed to them. Cushions that implied that not all the floor was designed to be used for walking based activities.

The room positively radiated seduction. and a number of other things that Buffy really _really_ didn't want to think about, but that conjured all sorts of images in her head.

She handled it in her typical fashion, she avoided it, "Well fine, you take it then. I mean what if some guy walked in here and saw me sprawled out all... I mean laying all over... gah."

"Again... your point?.. I mean you are with Xander, aren't you? Why wouldn't you want him to see you in here?"

"Xander?!", Buffy sputtered incredulously.

"Well you were kissing him, and the other you was... well she was very familiar with him downstairs. I just assumed, based on that, that you three..."

"Hello, I am in the room here, you know?", Anne pointed out testily. "Sorry. But I mean...", the native Slayer continued.

"I do not _belong_ to anybody's.", Buffy assurted angrilly, "Where do you get off-"

"Whoa whoa whoa...", the native her held up her hands and made calming motions, "Okay, sorry...mistake. I mean from the way you responded to him down there. I just figured that... well.. you know... that you two were intimate."

Buffy fidgeted a little then shook her head.

"No, he's just my friend. And can we just find another room or something?"

Anne meanwhile started walking into the room and looking about.

The native Slayer however looked thoughtful for a moment and then said, "Well, we can open up one of the other rooms I guess. But it seems like a lot of work just because you're bashful about what the room looks like. Besides, any room we open up, you'll have to air it out and make it habitable. Giles was gonna use the 'white room' but sacrificed it to your friends. Me, I'm sleeping here."

She gestured to the door. "Besides, the whole place has been locked up for three of four years or so, so all the air in the rooms will be stale. I was gonna use this one for myself, but it has plenty of sleeping room for all three of us Why don't you just sleep here tonight, and tomorrow we'll figure something out, okay?"

Buffy watched as Anne moved toward an oddly curvaceously shaped ledge and layed down on it, still fully clothed. The rolling arcs of the ledge turned out to be molded to almost perfectly fit her natural curves, and actually seemed to move to reshape themselves to fit her even better after a moment. She closed her eyes for a moment, then rolled over on her side, facing away from them.

"Just try it before you write it off, okay?", the native Slayer suggested.

Buffy grumbled, but walked into the room and sat down on a big cushion to take her shoes off. The pillowy softness of it surprised her as she sunk into it, its mass cradling her gently. Then her eyes popped open and she hopped off the cushion, scrambling away from it. She looked back at it from a tangle on the floor as if afraid it would attack her.

"What the hell?"

"Looks like you found a mnemonic foam cushion. ", Her native twin explained with a grin, seeing the surprised look on her face, "Neat stuff, really. It shapes itself to fit you, and the when it detects poor bloodflow, like when you're tense, it'll give you a massage.

Don't blow a chip, all you have to do is tell it to 'stop' and it'll stop."

"Felt like it was trying to molest me.", Buffy replied , edging over to one side, keeping an eye on the cushion while she removed her shoes. "Any other little surprises like that in here? Do I have to worry about the rug yelling at me if I track dirt on it?"

Her twin laughed openly.

"No, but watch out for the shower heads, they like to peep."

Buffy gave her a level look then replied, "I'll take that as a joke. But, I am not sleeping in one of those robe things, and where are the blankets?"

Her twin shrugged pointedly toward a couple silky looking throws that were folded and stacked beside a collection of pillows. She then set the tiny robe on a table top and closed the door to the room and passed a hand over a section of the wall, causing the lights to dim to about a quarter of their normal illumination, casting the room into shadows.

Buffy yawned, feeling the last 40 or so hours of wakefulness finally catching up with her. Being the Slayer didn't exempt her from still requiring plenty of sleep, she'd long ago discovered. She glanced over and saw her native self throw her hair to one side with a toss of her head, then run her left index finger along a seam in her outfit that ran from her left shoulder, across her chest diagonally, then down along her right side to her knee, bending as she did. A moment later the material of her skintight leather catsuit parted as though a zipper had been undone. Buffy hastily looked away, seeing that the other 'her' didn't seem to be wearing anything under the confining looking outfit . Buffy felt herself blushing awkwardly as she heard her other self shimmy out of the outfit with the occasional squeak from the material rubbing against itself.

Buffy decided that seeing other versions of herself walking around was bad enough, but seeing herself undress while wearing something like _that_ was very very wiggens' invoking indeed.

"How can you wear something like that?", she asked, still looking away.

"What's wrong with...ohh... I see.", she replied, a little offended at first, then amused.

"Huh?, what do you mean; 'I see'?", Buffy shot back, looking at her twin challengingly, but then quickly looking away Her twin stood there, right in front of her, her fingers laced behind her neck and arching her back as though posing for a camera, nude except for a wispy looking thong that was scarcely more than a token gesture toward modesty. She chuckled as she turned back to the table, and slipped on the robe she'd put there.

"I just mean that you're obviously from one of those societies where women are taught to be ashamed of their bodies, and about sex. I could tell just by the way you responded."

"I am so _not_ ashamed of my body!", Buffy replied, her voice a bit harsher than she'd expected it to be. "I just don't go... running around in... in.. whatever that thing is that you were wearing. I've got a _great_ bod, and am totally proud of it."

"Oh, so that's why you couldn't even meet my eyes a minute ago, and why you won't wear one of these _oh so scandalous_ little robes? Don't think for a minute that I didn't catch the blush when you saw it.", her twin replied, sitting next to her a tad closer than Buffy cared for. Her twin leaned toward her seductively, bringing her lips near her ear and whispering, "I bet that me being this close is even starting to get to you, isn't it?", she taunted.

Buffy felt her mouth go dry as she felt her other self rubbing herself up against her. She quickly pulled back and glared at her twin.

Her twin leaned back into her cushion and laughed at Buffy's discomfort, but good-naturedly.

"Okay, okay, I'll stop. I'm sorry,I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist. Today has been so serious that I couldn't take it anymore. Relax, me, it's just that things are different here than you're used to."

Buffy snorted derisively then replied, "I could tell that when we saw that club."

Her twin nodded.

"Yeah, I know, honestly... some people. But don't get the wrong idea, okay?"

"Wrong idea? Oh, you mean like; that the people here are arrogant narcissistic hedonists?"

"Ooo, 'hedonists' good word, I like that. No, what I mean is that by your peoples standards, if I remember what we were briefed on correctly, we're probably shameless in a number of areas in comparison. But, you have to remember, different world, different people, means very different customs, okay? For example, and I know you'll get told this once you start getting orientation briefings about what to expect now that you're here, but the first thing to learn about being a woman in the empire is this; Be proud of your sex. Women here have fought and won their place in society as equals to men in every way. We're proud to be women, and that translates to 'we're proud of our bodies.'" She looked Buffy square in the eyes and nodded once.

"We're equal to men in my world to.", Buffy replied.

Her twin nodded once then asked, "Okay, what's the status of women's rights where you're from? Equal opportunity, equal pay?"

Buffy paused a moment, then replied, "Well, kinda... I mean."

She found it suddenly very hard to meet her twin's gaze directly.

Her twin snorted.

"Thought so.", she replied, "Let me guess, less pay for the same job, less opportunities. Get looked down on. Patted on the head, that sorta thing? Well, here it's very different. Here's a little history lesson for you. Women here have been statesmen and soldiers, business owners, and captains of industry for over a thousand years, and as a result, when I run into a world where things aren't quite so good, it reminds me how lucky our people are and how far some people still have to go."

Buffy heard a little patronizing tone in her twins voice, and arrowed a look back at her.

"Is that why you go jigging around in something that looks like something some guy conjured up in a wet dream? Or why you're lounging around in some harem layout?", Buffy asked sharply, "Because if this is 'equality', I definitely must have missed something."

Her twin chuckled, then replied, "Hey, equal rights don't mean I gotta be a man. Or that I can't try and drive the guys wild when I want to. And honestly, it gives me a serious psychological edge when I'm on display at times. Call it psycho-sexual warfare. While they're panting over how hot I look, they don't pay attention to the fact that I'm kicking their ass, till it too late."

Buffy looked over at the outfit her other self had shed as it sat folded on top of the table.

"Whatever, but isn't that thing totally uncomfortable? I mean it's gotta chafe like hell."

Her twin shook her head.

"Nope, nano whiskers all over the inside of it, and the surface is porous. It fits like a glove, feels like velvet, whiks away dirt, sweat, or anything else I get on me, and feels yummy. Here...", she said, then reached behind her to toss the outfit to her double, "feel it."

Buffy caught the outfit, and rubbed the material between thumb and forefinger, noting that what she'd originally taken for leather, actually felt more like latex rubber... except for the inside, which felt like it was lined with crushed velvet.

"Weird.", she commented still rubbing the material with her hand.

"Yeah, been around for ages though. The one thing is, hold your hand still against it a minute."

Buffy did so and waited for several moments, then when nothing happen looked back at the native her.

"What am I supposed to .. HEY!"

She tossed the outfit down in front of her.

"What the hell? It's like it's alive of something."

The native Slayer shook her head, "Nope. The nano whiskers on the inside of the fabric start to move after a little while to wipe away dirt, sweat, dead skin, that sort of thing.", she smiled naughtily then added, "Some women can't handle wearing the animated stuff like I wear. It can be... distracting. Personally, I love it."

Buffy looked at the fabric, then at her twin and picked the outfit back up. After a moment or two she felt the little fibers on the inside start to move again. The touch felt like the gentles stroking of a lovers fingers trailing paths all over her hand. It was intensely erotic.

"It does that all the time?"


"All over?", she asked, her voice a little weak.



"Why do you think I wear underwear? If I didn't I might not be able to move around much, just lay there and enjoy."

"Okay, that's way more than I wanted to know."

Her twin laughed evilly, then added, "No sweat. So go grab yourself a robe,"she gestured toward a pile of similar robes, though of various colors, "and relax. It's just us girls here, and you have Spike blood all over your cloths from where he got shot."

Buffy looked at her sweatshirt and pants and decided that maybe wearing the scanty little robe wasn't quite as awful as wearing a blood covered set of sweats. Sighing she reached over and picked up a robe while listening to her other.

"Lesson two; we're also pretty open about sexuality.", she said, "And, women here don't have many of the hang-ups that you might. Okay, now don't look at me like that, I'm just preparing you for the culture shock you're gonna be getting. Just giving you fair warning. You probably couldn't handle finding out what our version of lingerie is like. But just think of it like this... imagine you went back to 1888 or something. Now think, how would people back then look at the way you act and dress right now?"

Buffy thought about it a moment and replied, "Probably pretty awfully."

Her twin nodded and replied, "Now you're getting it, Exactl-"

That's when they heard it.

A sob.

Buffy looked around, and heard another; a soft whimper-like cough of pain. It came from Anne.

Her native twin mouthed. "What's wrong with her?" and Buffy waved her off, while getting up from her cushion and moving toward the sounds of muffled anguish. She moved quietly across the room, and came up alongside of where Anne lay, curling up into a miserable little ball. "Anne?", she asked gently. She got no response from the huddled figure, so she tried another tact. "Buffy?", she said, softer, and more gently "Are you okay?" She laid a hand on her double's shoulder, noticing how she flinched away from her touch. But her twin still refused to respond, as though trying to pretend sleep.

Buffy felt the other her move alongside her, then edge past her a moment later.

She watched as the native Slayer kneeled down alongside her double, and then begin to stroke her forehead with the back of her hand, just like her mother used to do when she was home sick and miserable.

"Hey, me.", she heard her native twin say, trying to keep her tone soft, yet inject a reassurance into her voice. "Please... talk to me, okay? I think I know what's wrong, but why don't you tell me about it. Maybe it'll help."

Anne was terribly quiet, hardly breathing while trying to hold her sobs inside.

"It's Xander huh?", the new Slayer asked, "Your Xander I mean, not the one we have here?" Anne nodded once, he shoulders shaking with repressed sobs, hiding her face against a pillow. "I thought so."

Buffy's twin muttered, confirming it to herself.

"You know something? I.. I know what it feels like. To lose him. I lost my Xander too you know. Maybe I don't know exactly what you're feeling, but maybe I kinda do.", she paused and looked to Buffy, mouthing "Lovers?", with her eyes shining wetly in the half light.

Buffy nodded, then held up a hand and pointed to her ring finger.

Her twin's eyes widened, then nodded.

"He was your husband?", she asked.

Anne shook her head, and a muffled sob, followed by a "No." came out. "Engaged?"

A nod followed, and the native Slayer sighed sadly, a tear running down her own cheek that she failed to notice.

"I see.", she said gently, "Okay, come on Buffy, come on and turn over. You don't have to be afraid to let me see you. I understand.", she took the shaking form into her arms and hugged her close, rocking her and whispering soothing words to her.

Anne finally turned and buried her tear streaked face into her twin's embrace and began to weep. The native Slayer's own shoulders shook from a pain that it looked was long repressed, or from a wound freshly reopened.

"It's okay, don't worry about holding it in. Shhhh. I'm here. I'm here."

Buffy watched the scene unfolding before her, feeling oddly detatched and separate, as though she were floating above it all and merely an outside observer. Here were two women whose lives had both seen the passing of their Xanders. One an emotional wreck, the other... the other... hard to the outside world, but with a deep pain lurking within, a pain of loss. She heard the native her speaking more than just gentle words of reassurance now, and decided to listen.

"Mine was the first. I lost him, and I-I didn't even give him a ch-

chance. He loved me, and, and I just... I never... thought about what he meant to me, until he le... until he was gone. That's when I realized what I'd lost. At least you got to be with him... I never... He.. he was... he was my best friend, Buff... my best friend ever... even when I didn't think he was. Even when I hurt him."

Buffy stepped back away from the pair, her own eyes tearing up. The air felt suffocating suddenly, and each word was like an arrow striking at her heart. Striking raw nerves that she didn't know had even been there.

"He never left me... never. He was the only one who never left. Even when Dad stopped coming around... or caring... or the other men stopped... caring...he was always there, and I just didn't see it.

Not until he was gone. But, then... it was too late." The robed figure hunched forward, holding Anne close.

"He's gone, isn't he?", Anne asked, "I mean, really gone."

Buffy's double nodded, and whispered, "Yes, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry... but, he's gone, me. But, I'm here, and you're strong... and he'd want you to go on. Just remember, it's okay to cry first. Life can wait for a while. Crying can't."

Buffy turned away from the pair suddenly, unable to keep looking, and went to a little area sectioned from the rest of the room by thick velvet drapes, hoping that the hangings would hold out the sounds she heard. It was a quiet and dark little alcove she found herself in, one where she huddled shivering, trying to calm the hammering of her heart. She'd never felt so isolated, so alone in all her life, and she didn't know what to do to make it go away. Picking up another silken throw, she stripped out of her bloodstained clothing with a vengeance. Getting down to just her bra and underwear, she saw how the top was still covered with the blood sprayed on her shirt. She took that off finally and put on the robe, wrapped herself in the throw and tried not to listen to the soft crying from across the room.

She wished that she could get the image of what her life would feel like if it stopped having Xander in it, out of her head. The image that thought pained was a dark and desolate one, a place without love. It was a place that scared her almost as much as trying to imagine what her life would be like with Xander in it as more than a friend.

It scared her because she decided that it would probably be too good to last long in the emotional blast furnace that her lovelife always became.

Sleep took her not long after, but she an unquiet night, one haunted by dreams of life without _her_ Xander.