Title: Love Squared (1/9)

Author: Cyclone

Feedback: Please be gentle.

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

Rating: I'm gonna go say R.

Spoilers: Up to Normal Again.

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

Summary: Sequel to Dancing Around Love. The Scooby Gang comes to grips with the recent events and deals with the Trio.

Author's Note: B/W/T/X.

* * *

"Okay..." Willow said, tapping on the laptop's keyboard. "We start by looking at recent real estate deals and... uh huh."

Buffy leaned in to look over Willow's shoulder and raised an eyebrow in surprise, "Wow. That's a lot."

"This is Sunnydale, Buffy," Willow reminded her, taking a sip of her coffee. "People move in and out of here faster than any other city in California."

"Yeah, I know, but still. This is gonna be a long night, isn't it?"

"Looks like."

* * *

"How's the search going?" Tara asked as she entered, carrying a large pot of coffee.

"Done with the Ls, so we're about halfway," Willow replied, stifling a yawn. "Still way too many hits."

"Well, I brewed you two another pot," Tara said unnecessarily, filling each of their mugs.

Willow brought the steaming cup to her face and closed her eyes, inhaling deeply and savoring the scent of the caffeinated beverage.

Buffy, on the other hand, simply slugged back her coffee, relishing in the feeling as the hot liquid scalded her throat and increased her alertness.

Neither noticed Tara as she surreptitiously held her hand up to the back of the laptop screen and cast a quick spell. Her hand glowed orange briefly, then she withdrew her hand.

Willow peered back at the screen, then smiled and tapped it. "Hey, I think we've got it!"

"So, you're sure that's where they are?" Buffy asked, looking over Willow's shoulder at the laptop.

"Well," Willow hedged, tapping in a command and bringing up more details, "not one hundred percent, but yeah, I'm pretty sure. Look, the new owner paid in cash. Plus, 'Jaster Mereel'? Who else would use that name?"

"Huh?" Buffy said blankly.

Willow sighed with a nostalgic smile, "Never mind. Just something I picked up while hanging around Xander back in high school. I love him, but he's still a geek sometimes."

"So, wh-what now?" Tara asked.

"We go after them," Buffy said.

"Sh-should I wake Xander?"

Willow paused and looked at Buffy, who shook her head, "Nah. Me and Willow can handle this. You stay here with Xander, Amy, and Dawn."

Tara nodded. "A-all right."

* * *

Tara crawled into bed beside Xander, and he shifted and rolled over to look at her sleepily. "Hey... where's Wills?"

"Something came up," she said. "Nothing important."

"So I guess I'm all yours tonight," he grinned.

"Yes... you are."

* * *

"Is this it?" Buffy asked, eyeing the house dubiously. "Looks deserted."

"They're probably hiding," Willow replied. "Let's check around back."

"Right."

They were about halfway around when the demon dropped down behind them. Buffy whirled around, but Willow, bereft of supernatural reflexes, was a little too slow, and the demon grabbed her arm.

"No, Willow!" Buffy cried as she leaped toward the demon.

The demon ignored the Slayer for the moment, tugging Willow away and rearing its other hand back. A spike extended from its knuckle, and the demon jammed it into her arm, despite her best efforts to twist away.

"Hold her still, will ya!"

Willow stopped struggling and blinked in disoriented confusion at the two men holding her and the brightly-lit white room she suddenly found herself in. One was injecting something into her arm... right where the demon had stabbed her.

"What...?"

Then all went black.

* * *

When she regained her senses, Willow wasn't quite so sure she had. She was being carried, that much was obvious, but her other senses didn't seem to agree on anything.

Sometimes, she'd see the darkened streets of Sunnydale and Buffy's small frame as she used her Slayer strength to carry her. With that, she heard Buffy's footsteps, crickets, and other sounds of the night. She smelled various smells -- gasoline, wet grass, fresh-dug graves -- as they passed.

But other times, she smelled the familiar antiseptic smell of hospitals and heard the endless hustle and bustle of a busy building. She saw a white corridor and a large man carrying her down the hall.

And sometimes, the senses mingled, the antiseptic hospital smell mixing with the smell of wet grass, the sound of impossibly loud cricket calls almost drowning out the chatter of psychiatrists.

She couldn't tell how long she had been carried, but when the movement finally stopped, she found herself being laid down onto... was that a bed or a couch? She wasn't sure.

"How are you feeling, Willow?"

She found herself on Buffy's couch with Xander sitting across from her, but just as she felt reassured by that, her vision swam, and the Summers home was replaced with a white room, and crouching before her was...

"Jesse?"

"Come on, Wills, snap out of it."

"But how?" she asked. "Xander... he..."

Jesse gently took hold of her shoulders, and his face grew sympathetic and sad. "There is no Xander," he said softly. "He's a hallucination."

She blinked back tears and found herself once again in Buffy's living room, facing Xander, who had apparently just finished saying something.

"What?"

"I said, 'It's me. _I'm_ Xander. You're hallucinating,'" he said, concern written all over his face. "You okay, Wills?"

She nodded and said uncertainly, "Uh, yeah. I-I think so."

Buffy shook her head, "No. That demon pumped something into you when it jabbed you, some kind of drug."

"I told you," Willow said. "I'm fine. Just a little... woozy. That's all. Dreaming about Jesse."

Xander nodded in understanding, "I know. I have nightmares about him too sometimes."

Willow bit her lip and held out her arms for a hug like a little girl, and he gladly slid into her arms, wrapping his own around her and patting her back comfortingly.

All her life, there was only one person she could always count on, and she needed that reassurance, that reminder that he would always be there for her.

Watching from across the room, Buffy sighed, "I envy them, sometimes."

Tara nodded. "So do I. They're closer to each other than any other two people I've ever met."

"It's like... there's Willow and Xander... and then there's everyone else," Buffy said. "They have this... thing... between them that runs deeper than anything we could ever have with either of them."

"Yeah," Tara smiled, "but that doesn't mean we can't try."

"True enough," Buffy returned the smile and turned to contemplate the couple across the room.

* * *

"...telling you, Mrs. R, she recognized me for a moment."

Willow blinked in confusion and looked around the white room. She saw Jesse again, standing hand in hand with Cordy. Next to them were a black man in a white duty coat and...

"Mom? Dad?"

All five turned toward her.

Shiela Rosenberg immediately rushed over and pulled her into a brisk hug, crying into her shoulder, "Oh, baby, you're back."

The black doctor nodded, "Good. She's lucid. Keep talking. It should help anchor her."

"I'm so sorry, Willow," Mrs. Rosenberg said. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, but I'm here now."

Her father crouched down beside her mother, the big man easily dwarfing both Rosenberg women, and said quietly, "I'm here too, Willow. I know... I know it seemed like my job was more important than you, and I'm sorry, but I'd give up every contract and deal in the world for my little girl, don't you ever doubt that."

"Daddy?"

"Hey, Wills," Jesse said, flopping down to sit next to her. "You still with us?"

"Jesse!" Cordy hissed, smacking his arm. "Sorry, but you know how insensitive the dolt is." She smiled, "That's why I love him."

"What?" Willow blinked uncomprehendingly at her before her gaze dropped to the brunette's hand, where she saw a wedding ring.

Cordy sucked in a breath and fiddled with the ring, "Oh, God. Willow, I'm sorry. I forgot you had a thing for him."

Now Willow was very confused, "Me? A thing for _Jesse_?" She shook her head, "No, I love Xander. Always have."

Everyone in the room froze. Her father and the doctor looked worried, her mother looked like she was on the verge of bursting into tears again, and both Cordy and Jesse looked away.

"What?"

Jesse took a deep breath and looked into her eyes, "Willow... Xander's not real."

* * *

Author's Postscript:

You asked for it, you got it! The sequel to Dancing Around Love.