Title: All That You Dream - Second Chapter
All disclaimers and stuff are in the First Chapter.

PART SEVEN

"You didn't tell Xander about your last vision, did you?," whispered Giles to Cordelia.

"No, of course not. Since when do I blab out things I'm not supposed to? Oh. Never mind," said Cordelia, frowning.

"Good. I don't think he needs to worry about Buffy being the threat. He knows what he's really fighting," said Giles.

"Does he?," asked Cordelia. The phone rang and Cordelia went to answer it.

"Everyone's back together. It's just like the old days!," said Willow excitedly. Tara smiled, happy to see her in a more upbeat mood.

"Well, except for you, of course. Oh, and Anya. And Riley, even though he's not here. Okay, I guess you can't go home again, can you?," asked Willow.

"Your home isn't in Los Angeles," shrugged Tara.

They looked around Angel's office. The two Watchers were off in one corner, probably talking shop. Angel and Buffy were in another corner, keeping their voices low so as to not be overhead by the others. Cordelia was on the phone. And Anya just walked in the front door carrying a large white paper bag.

"Hey, watcha got?," asked Willow.

"Oh, I saw a coffee shop around the corner when we pulled up. Don't want to run out of coffee, do we? Got a pound of French vanilla. Snagged three boxes of donuts, too. If you want a jelly, you'd better make your move now," warned Anya.

"Uh, where's Xander? Isn't he with you?," asked Tara.

"No. I told Cordelia to keep an eye on him while I was gone," said Anya, putting the bag down. "Last I saw him he was...downstairs!"

Willow was up and running for the stairs even before Anya.

"Buffy!"," yelled Willow, hoping that Xander hadn't fallen asleep.

*****

"Thanks for bringing me here. Not quite ready to be home alone just yet," said Buffy, taking a drink from Xander as he handed it to her. He walked around the couch and sat down next to her. Buffy sipped her drink.

"Buffy, uh...I'm so sorry about all of this," said Xander, putting down his own drink. "I, uh...never meant for you to be involved in, in, uh, any of this."

"So I got involved," answered Buffy, leaning towards him. "That's what happens when two people get involved."

Xander looked at her and smiled. He leaned in to kiss her but stopped.

"I really am, however, gonna have to get you home. It's not, uh...I'm not a very safe person to be around at the moment."

"Nothing's safe in this world, Xander. Don't you know that by now?"

Buffy reached up and stroked his head behind his ear.

*****

"Xander! Hey, wake up! Come on now, it's me. Willow."

Willow shook his shoulders but Xander didn't respond.

"Xander!," she yelled, slapping his face.

*****

Buffy yanked the telephone cord from the wall.

"What was that?," asked Xander.

"What was what?"

"I thought I heard something," said Xander, coming out of the kitchen.

"I didn't," lied Buffy.

"Here," said Xander, handing her another drink. "Drink that and then I'll take you home."

"You could take me home," said Buffy, taking a sip and then putting the glass down. "Or you could take advantage of me in my weakened state," she added with a smile.

"Buffy, uh...," began Xander, moving away from her. "I'm, I'm really very attracted to...to you."

"Good," she replied, following him.

"But, um, now really isn't the right time," he said, facing her.

"Oh, there's never been a better time."

Buffy pushed him down onto a chair and climbed onto his lap. She kissed him hard on his lips but Xander pushed her away.

"It's not right. I would be taking advantage," said Xander.

Buffy got off of him and stood up.

"God, you just don't change, do you?," said Buffy. She began to pace around the room.

"What?"

"It's not right, it wouldn't be proper, people might get hurt. You're like a woman, Xander. You cry at every funeral. You never had the strength for me. You don't deserve me."

Buffy lowered her voice to a whisper.

"But guess what? You've got me."

She grabbed Xander's head.

"Under your skin!," said Buffy, her voice now deep and guttural. She grabbed him by his hair and lifted him out of the chair, kissing him in anger on the mouth.

"Was it good for you?," she asked.

Buffy smashed Xander's head into the phone on the desk.

"Aw, you never had the stomach. But that's okay. 'Cause I'm about to rip it out!"

She pulled him back and Xander staggered, falling to the floor. Suddenly the door burst open, kicked in by Faith. Surprised, Buffy hesitated. Faith kicked her in the jaw, sending her flying over the couch. Buffy stood and slowly walked around it, eyeing Faith as she did.

"Back off!," warned Faith.

"See you tonight," laughed Buffy. She turned and dove through a window, breaking the glass.

Faith turned and knelt down beside Xander. Her body began to tremble as if she couldn't get warm.

"Faith, are you alright?," asked Xander, sitting up.

"Oh, Buffy. Oh, God!," mumbled Faith.

"Faith, how do I stop this?"

"Oh God, what have I done?," said Faith, putting her hands on the floor next to her knees.

"Talk to me! Faith, you're scaring me."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry, be Faith. C'mon, we fight monsters. This is what we do. They show up, they scare us. You beat them up and they go away. This isn't any different."

"It is different!," insisted Faith.

"Because you don't know how to stop it?," asked Xander.

"Because you created it!"

Xander sat back down and stared at Faith. She looked at him but wouldn't say anything.

"This is my dream. I'm causing the pain. Everyone who is important to me is in danger. Because of me. They might die because of me! Faith, what do I do?"

Faith slowly shook her head and bit her lip. Xander stood up and helped her to her feet.

"Does this thing want me to believe that if I kill Buffy it will all be over? That's not the way it's going down! Faith, I need your help. You're a Slayer. You can fight this."

"Xander, please...you don't understand."

"Maybe we don't have to kill her. Maybe, maybe if we hurt her enough, we can drive the First Evil away. Out of her body! But I don't have the strength to stand toe to toe with her. Faith, I need you."

"Xander, I'm so scared. Please, I can't face her. I can't. Don't make me do it again," said Faith, her voice quivering. She began to cry. Xander glared at her in disgust.

"Fine. I'll face her alone. What choice do I have?," sneered Xander.

"Xander, no. You can't."

"Why did you come here? This isn't your fight!," yelled Xander.

Xander punched Faith hard across the jaw. She spun and fell to the floor.

"Are you trying to get yourself killed?," cried Faith, not looking at Xander. He crouched down and hugged her.

"You can't leave me. I can't do this alone," whispered Xander. He began to cry and Faith hugged him. Xander closed his eyes.

"But there's no other way, is there? That's just it. At the end, we're all alone," said Xander, more to himself than to Faith.

Xander stopped crying. He knew what he had to do.

*****

"Buffy, leave him alone. This isn't a normal sleep. He'll wake up when wakes up," said Giles, his hand on Buffy's shoulder.

Buffy took a deep breath and sadly nodded. As if on cue, Xander opened his eyes.

"Xander!," yelled two or three people in the room at the same time. Buffy hugged him. When she was done Anya tackled him.

"Anya, I'm okay. Anya, I can't breath!," said Xander, only half in jest.

Anya let him go, wiping a tear from her eye. Xander sat up on the edge of the couch he was on, rubbing his eyes.

"Welcome back," said Buffy. Xander nodded.

"So what happened?," asked Buffy.

"I must've fallen asleep," said Xander.

"Xander!," complained Willow.

"Okay, okay. Not sure what that was. Buffy and I were together in Giles' apartment. I'm sure we never had this conversation before, so it must have been Giles and...oh," said Xander, looking at Giles.

"Jenny?," said Giles.

"She ever try to dial the telephone with your face?," asked Xander. Giles didn't answer but by his expression everyone knew the answer.

"Thought so," said Xander. "Long story short, Buffy, I mean the First Evil, said she would be back tonight. Hey, none of you saw this dream, right?"

"I didn't," said Buffy. Everyone else shook their head.

"Then you only share my dreams if we're all asleep at the same time," said Xander.

"He's right," agreed Willow.

"So that means we don't have to try that spell after all," said Tara. "Like it or not, tonight's the night."

"Xander, in the dream you just had, who drove Buffy away?," asked Giles.

"Uh...no one."

"Really? When that happened, with Jenny, I mean, Buffy broke through my door and drove her off."

"Sorry. She just left," said Xander.

"Hmm," mumbled Giles.

Buffy looked at Xander. She knew he was lying.

*****

"Anya, here, this is for you," said Xander, handing Anya a simply wrapped box. It fit in the palm of his hand.

"Xander! What's this for?"

"Just because," answered Xander. "Open it."

Anya tore the paper off the box and opened it. She was looking at a small gold cross, hung from a gold chain.

"Oh, Xander! It's beautiful!"

"Here. Let me help you," he offered.

Anya turned around and Xander snapped the clasp closed around her neck. She turned around again to face him, one hand on the cross.

"Thank you," she said, kissing him lightly on the lips. "What's the occasion? And when did you have time to shop?"

"No occasion. After I left the bus stop I was walking around and I saw it in a store window. It's pretty and functional, too. After all, we do live in Sunnydale. I just...I just thought that if there ever was a time that I wasn't there...to protect you, I mean...well, this might help, you know?," said Xander.

"That's so sweet!," smiled Anya.

"Oh, nice!," commented Cordelia, walking up behind them. "Xander always had good taste. Well, not in clothes, but in girls and jewelry."

"Hey, Cordy. Do you have enough coffee made for tonight?," asked Xander.

"Oh, yeah. But I thought I'd dig out some candles and flashlights in case we lost power."

"Good idea. Need some help?," asked Anya.

"Sure. Oh and Xander, I'm sorry about this afternoon. I didn't think you'd fall asleep that fast. Well, I didn't think," admitted Cordelia.

"Don't worry about it. It would have happened even if you were there," said Xander.

"Okay."

"You can make it up to me tonight," said Xander.

"Huh?," said both Cordelia and Anya at the same time.

"By not falling asleep!"

"Oh," replied the girls.

"Just make sure Wesley and Angel don't fall asleep. We need you to watch over us," said Xander.

"I won't let you down. Come on, Anya."

As Cordelia led her away Anya looked back and gave Xander a smile. Across the room Willow was talking to Tara. Xander focused on Willow's mouth, watching how her lips moved as she spoke. Tara must have made a joke because Willow at first smiled and then laughed. Xander realized he was smiling too. Willow placed her hand gently on Tara's shoulder and Tara covered her hand with hers. Xander kept smiling but he looked away.

"Excuse me, Xander, but I'd like to have a word with you," said Giles.

"Actually, we both would," added Wesley.

"Oh, this can't be good," commented Xander.

"Oh, no, no. Nothing like that," reassured Wesley.

"Xander, I only wanted to ask you if you would consider training with me," said Giles.

"Training? But, I'm not a Slayer," said Xander, confused.

"No. As a Watcher. Considering all of your experience I thought it would be a good idea not to waste your talents. I discussed it with Wesley and he approved of the idea as well."

"Talents?," said Xander.

"It's a wonderful idea. Of course it isn't likely that you'll ever be assigned a Slayer, but that's not the point. You help Buffy so much it can't help but make you more effective. Than you already are. Have been," concluded Wesley.

"That sounds...wow. Actually, that sounds...interesting. Thank you for the offer," said Xander.

"You're welcome. I'm a little embarrassed I hadn't thought of this before now," admitted Giles.

"Yeah. Now," said Xander.

"Xander, we'll get through this. We always do," said Giles.

Xander nodded.

"And I'd like to help with your training. Well, at least consider it. You'd be seeing things from two different perspectives," said Wesley.

"Thanks. Say, is there a secret handshake?," asked Xander.

Wesley looked at Giles and smiled.

"Actually, there is," said Wesley. The two Watchers smiled and, seeing Angel approaching, walked away to let him talk to Xander.

"Hey."

"Hey, Angel. I like your new place."

"Thanks. Very similar to the last one. Two floors, easy access to the sewers. Oh, but this one has a better sprinkler system," said Angel.

"Smart. So, any advice? You've faced this thing before."

"Only this; don't believe anything she says. She really can't harm you unless you believe her."

"But...but you believed it. Buffy told me that you wouldn't listen to her, that if it hadn't snowed that Christmas, the rising sun would have..."

"Didn't say it would be easy," interrupted Angel. Xander nodded.

"You won't be alone. There isn't a person in this room, myself included, that wouldn't do anything they could to help you. Remember that. It could change your life," said Angel seriously.

"Thanks. And Angel?"

"Yeah?"

"For the record, I consider you a person," said Xander.

Angel smiled. Xander looked past him at Willow again. She saw him and smiled.

"Excuse me," said Xander.

Angel looked like he wanted to ask Xander something but instead just nodded. Xander walked over to Willow and Tara.

"How are you holding up?," asked Willow.

"Actually, not bad," said Xander.

"Oh, I almost forgot! I have something for you. I'll be right back," said Willow.

As soon as she left Xander turned to face Tara.

"You know, I haven't had a chance to say this, but I've really been meaning to thank you," said Xander.

"Thank me?," asked Tara.

"Yep. See, Willow's had a tough year, what with Oz and...well, Oz. It's been a long time since I've seen her laugh. And you make her laugh. Willow is very important to me, Tara. So I just wanted to say thank you. I think you make her very happy."

"Oh, Xander. That's...that means a lot to me. Thank you," said Tara.

Xander swallowed and found it hard to continue.

"Keep her from...watch over her, okay?," asked Xander.

"Xander, what's wrong?"

Before he could answer Willow returned. She handed him a small white box.

"I didn't have time to wrap it," said Willow, smiling.

"I'll let you two talk," said Tara, walking away. Willow smiled at her and nodded.

Xander opened the box. Inside was a penny.

"Willow, you shouldn't have!"

"Xander, it's for good luck! I was going to get you a rabbit's foot, but I couldn't get past the whole dead bunny thingy. And then there's Anya to consider, what with it being, well, you know."

"So it's not some protective charm or obscure Wiccan symbol?"

"Nope. Just good ole plain dumb luck," said Willow. "Hey, you never know."

"You never know. I'll agree with that," said Xander. "Thanks. For thinking of me."

Xander lifted the penny out of the box but dropped it on the floor. Willow bent down and picked it up.

"Here, put it in your pocket," suggested Willow.

Xander extended his hand. Willow placed it in his palm and kept her hand on his for a moment.

"Willow, your hands are cold! What's wrong?"

Xander grabbed both of Willow's hands and put them together, placing his over hers.

"Just nervous, I guess," said Willow.

Xander rubbed her hands and then lowered his head, blowing on her hands to warm them.

"Xander! That tickles!"

He smiled and kept rubbing her hands.

"Hey, why aren't you nervous?," asked Willow. Xander shrugged.

"Don't know. Guess I just want to face this and get it over with."

Willow pulled her hands free.

"Xander, what are you planning to do?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're up to something," said Willow.

"Will, I don't know what you're talking about."

"But..."

Xander put his hands on her shoulders.

"Shhh. I know that you're worried. It's going to be okay. I promise," said Xander.

Willow nodded and looked up as Buffy approached.

"Hey. Can I talk to Xander?," said Buffy.

Willow nodded again without saying anything. She turned to go, hesitated, and then stepped to Xander and kissed him on the lips. Surprised, he kept his eyes open. Willow had closed hers.

"For luck," said Willow, quickly walking away.

Xander watched her go and put the penny in his pocket.

"Buffy..."

"What is it, Xander?"

"About tonight. The First Evil has been in your body or, or assumed your shape in most of my dreams. Now I know I can't fight you one on one but...but if..."

"If you have to fight the First, you're worried about the damage you'll do to my body," said Buffy.

"Right. We've seen each other when we wake up. And even if I could hurt you, wouldn't I just drive it out into another body? Not that it matters. I don't think I could look at you and hit you, even knowing...Buffy, what do I do?"

"I don't know what to tell you. Giles and Wesley haven't been able to find anything in their research that might help us. If it helps, I do heal quickly," said Buffy, forcing a smile. Xander closed his eyes.

"No. That doesn't help."

"Xander..."

They looked at one another. There was nothing to say.

"It's getting late. Why don't you come over to the window with me and we'll watch the sunset?," asked Xander, offering his hand to Buffy. She nodded and slipped her hand into his, letting him lead her to the window.

Xander opened the blinds to a dark orange sky. The day was fading into the city skyline.

"You two want to get a room?," asked Angel, startling Xander. Buffy, knowing he had been there without having to look, turned and smiled at him.

"Again with the sneakin'!," complained Xander only half serious. "Angel..."

Xander didn't get to finish his thought. Buffy seemed to lose her balance and if Xander hadn't caught her she would have fallen to the floor.

"Buffy!," yelled Xander and Angel at the same time.

"I'm...so...dizzy," said Buffy. And then she passed out.

Xander put an arm under her knees, lifted her and carried her to a nearby couch. He laid her down as gently as he could, propping her head up on the arm rest.

"Angel, go get Giles."

Xander turned when Angel didn't answer him and he saw that Angel was leaning against the wall.

"Angel?"

"Xander...I'm sorry...but I think your life is about to change."

Angel slid down the wall into a sitting position. His head slumped to one side as his eyes closed. Xander ran into the next room. All the others were already asleep, either on the floor or in chairs.

"You're wrong, Angel. My life is about to end."

END OF PART SEVEN

PART EIGHT

Xander had made everyone comfortable, covering them with blankets and putting pillows under their heads. He looked at Angel and decided he didn't like him being that close to a window, even if the blinds were drawn shut. So he dragged him into the next room. Again he placed a pillow under his head and covered him with a blanket.

"I guess it's kind of silly to try to keep you warm, right dead boy?"

Xander shook his head.

"I'm sorry, Angel. I promised myself I wouldn't call you that anymore. You deserve better. Maybe...maybe I'll be able to make it up to you."

Xander walked over to Cordelia's desk and picked up the First Slayer's knife. Walking back across the room he knelt down beside Buffy and placed it in her hand, wrapping her fingers around the handle. Standing up, he looked at her. She seemed to be peacefully sleeping. Xander reached down and took the knife out of her hand.

"No. Just my luck you'd roll over in your sleep and stab yourself."

Xander threw the knife on the floor. He walked back into the other room again. Willow and Tara were close enough on the floor that Xander was able to cover them with the same blanket. There just wasn't enough beds or couches for everyone. Xander knelt down next to Willow and brushed her bangs from her eyes. She didn't stir.

"I'm sorry, Will. I never knew. I should have, but sometimes you don't see what's right in front of you."

Xander leaned down and kissed Willow on the forehead.

"Gotta go now," he whispered.

Xander stood and walked to the stairs, walking down to the lower level. Angel's bed was empty and he sat down on the edge of it. He took a deep breath, fell onto his back and closed his eyes.

"Time to drink my cup of poison," he whispered.

*****

"Well, it's about time you woke up."

Xander opened his eyes. He was on his back and Buffy was sitting by his side. He assumed it was her voice that he had heard. Xander sat up. They were in the field again. It was night. Or maybe just dark. He stood up and helped Buffy to her feet, staring at her as he did.

"It's me. Really," said Buffy.

Standing in a half circle around them were Willow, Tara and Giles.

"Welcome to the club, Tara," said Xander.

"Any club that would have me as a member...," smiled Tara.

"Nice place, Xander. What, a cemetery wouldn't have been creepy enough?," asked Willow sarcastically.

"Oh, I don't know. Some curtains, a few throw pillows...place just needs a woman's touch," said Xander. No one laughed. Then Xander noticed someone standing behind them, about twenty feet away. Her back was to them. Xander looked at Giles, shook his head and walked over to Faith. The frost covered grass snapped as he moved. Xander walked around her in order to face her.

"Hey. I knew you'd make it," said Xander, smiling for her. Faith looked at him and nodded, almost smiling as well. She had been crying before but her eyes were dry now.

"Thanks," added Xander, putting a hand on her shoulder and trying to make Faith relax. He saw Buffy walking towards them and felt Faith stiffen under his hand. Buffy ignored them and walked past Xander, stopping in front of the wooden cross where Faith had hung. She knelt down and picked up a piece of straw. On the other side of the cross, just behind the base, a large rat eyed Buffy. Buffy slowly stood up, not taking her eyes off the rat.

"Hey, Buffy, why don't you leave Mr. Bigglesworth alone and come lead us in a round of Kum-Bah-Yah?," suggested Xander.

Buffy let the straw fall from her fingers and walked over to Xander, standing inches from Faith's face. Faith kept her head down, eyes on the ground.

"Faith, we'll deal with whatever issues we have later. Right now we're both on the same side. I need you. Otherwise people I care about very much are going to get hurt. You with me?"

Buffy's tone was even and without emotion. Faith raised her eyes and looked at Buffy.

"Yeah," nodded Faith.

"Good," answered Buffy, walking past her to join the others again. Xander put his arm around her but didn't say anything.

"Xander," whispered Faith, "I'm only here because she allowed me to be. Do you understand what I'm telling you?," asked Faith.

Xander opened his eyes a little wider and looked at Buffy. She was staring at him. Buffy raised her eyebrows. It was the only gesture Xander needed for Buffy to convey her feelings to him. Xander gave her a big smile.

"Come with me, Faith. Join the others."

"Xander, I..."

Xander grabbed her hand and pulled her behind him.

"Xander, you didn't tell us about that," said Giles, pointing to a large, rectangular shaped granite block. It was almost hidden in the tall grass. Xander let go of Faith's hand and they all walked over to it. The cold slab was raised slightly higher at one end. There was a groove carved into its surface, running parallel to the edges and a few inches in from the sides. The grooves came together at the bottom and ran off the end of the stone in a single, deeper cut.

"This wasn't here before. I assume the groove is used to collect any blood from someone lying on this...thing," said Xander.

"Looks like your classic sacrificial table," said Giles.

"Adds to the ambiance," added Buffy. Willow nodded in agreement.

"So what do we do now?," asked Xander.

"We wait," said Giles, stating the obvious.

"Great. Say, the First Evil's nickname wouldn't be Godo, would it?," asked Xander.

"Maybe we won't have to wait long," said Tara, pointing to the field around them. A mist was forming just above the ground, slowly becoming thicker like a fog.

"Nice touch," commented Xander. And then Faith fell to one knee, her hands holding her head.

"Faith!," yelled Xander. He was at her side in three steps. "What's wrong?"

"Don't know...I'm...dizzy...I..."

Faith passed out, falling against Xander. He glanced behind them but didn't see anyone else standing. The others had succumbed as well.

"Great! Just great! What comes next, the flying monkeys or the snow to wake you guys up?"

Xander gently placed Faith on the ground. Suddenly he realized that someone was standing next to him and he looked up.

"Willow! You didn't fall asleep," said Xander, standing up. He was about to hug her but froze, never taking that first step towards her.

"That's because you're not Willow."

The whites in Willow's eyes had been replaced with a cold, soulless black, a void that Xander felt uncomfortable looking into.

"That's not entirely true, of course. This is her body," said Willow, the demon using Willow's own voice. That unnerved Xander more than anything else.

"Giles was right, you know. You can't fight me, but then again I can't harm you, either. Unless you believe in me. Or if I take possession of a body. Then all the rules change."

Xander became aware of a low, scratching sound, as if a breeze was blowing over the frozen grass. And then he saw their eyes, red and blazing in the dark. Rats. Hundreds of them.

"Again, nice touch. But since I don't believe they're real, why bother?," asked Xander.

Willow smiled. She didn't utter a word, move her hand or blink an eye. But Xander knew the rats were gone.

"Sometimes you do things just because you can," shrugged Willow. "I'm into fun and games."

"So, what do you want?," asked Xander, crossing his arms and trying his best to look bored.

"Oh, you know that," answered Willow, for a moment using Tara's voice. Then she switched back to Willow's voice. "Want to try to stop me?"

"You're on. But chess and twister are out!," said Xander.

Willow smiled. She walked past him, bent down and picked up something on the ground near the granite table. It was the First Slayer's knife. She held it by the blade, a thin film of blood dripping down her wrist, and offered the handle to Xander. He took it just so that the demon wouldn't cut Willow's hand any deeper.

"Kill me. Drive that blade into my heart. End it now, Xander. You're a long way from home," laughed Willow, licking the blood off of her sliced palm.

Xander threw the knife into the ground, the point driving deep into the black soil. He was shocked to see blood ooze out of the ground around the blade.

"Whatever. Didn't think you had a pair. Now I know. That's okay, I'm not in a rush. After all, this is the hour of shadows. This is my time, when I'm at my strongest. Perhaps you'd like to play first."

Xander just stared at her.

"Come on now, Xander. I've seen how you look at this body. I know you want her. Who'll know? You up for it, boy?"

Xander continued to stare.

"Guess not. Oh well, let's get down to business, shall we? I'm here to take a life. Any suggestions?"

"Take me," said Xander coldly.

"You? Why the hell would I want you?," asked Willow. "Don't get me wrong. It would be a very noble gesture. If it wasn't so pathetic."

"Take me. Just leave them alone," said Xander, nodding his head in the direction of the others. He bent down and pulled the knife out of the ground, holding the handle towards Willow.

"You really mean it, don't you? Sorry, it's not you that I want."

"But...but the dreams! What was the point?," asked Xander.

"Fun and games, Xander. Fun and games. What is it with the male ego? You guys think it's always about you," laughed Willow, walking closer to him.

"But, you're afraid of the group...because the Slayer is no longer alone. We're a package now."

"Close but no cigar. Oh, sure, the Scooby gang can be annoying. But what's that got to do with you?," asked Willow, tapping Xander's chest with a finger. "Giles trains her and does the research, even speaks a dead language or two. Willow and Tara got that mojo thingy working. Hell, they don't even realize yet what they can do together! But you? What do you contribute to the gang? You I kill for fun or because I'm bored. They don't need you!"

"You're lying. We fight together now," said Xander firmly.

"Removing you from them won't accomplish what I need. I'm after the soul of a Slayer. That's what I want," smiled Willow, again licking the blood from her hand.

"But another will be called!"

"True. But she won't have the connection these two have. Or could have had," grinned Willow. She looked at Xander and shook her head, reaching over and taking the knife from his hand. She held it up, admiring it.

"The First tried to tell you. She gave you her weapon. The tool of a warrior, not some jobless loser. I have no speech, no name. I live in the action of death. The blood cry. The penetrating wound. I am destruction. Absolute. Alone."

Willow lowered the knife and stared at Xander.

"I'll tell you what I'm gonna do. This is too easy. Just to make it more dramatic, I'll let you choose a champion. Defender of the Scooby gang. Your champion beats me, I let you live. All of you," added Willow confidently.

"Like I can trust you," sneered Xander.

"What choice do you have, boy!," yelled Willow. She began to walk around the bodies lying on the ground.

"So what choices do we have? We're not playing chess, so Giles is pretty much useless. The witch?," said Willow, looking down at Tara. "Knows a spell or two, but she's not very aggressive. Well, in the bedroom she is," she added with a smile. "But that comes under fun and games, no? She wouldn't last long against my magicks."

Willow knelt down next to Faith, running the knife blade gently along her throat.

"Ah, Faith. The fun we had when you were the Mayor's bitch. So much promise. And we had so much in common then. Oh well," shrugged Willow, standing.

"And then there's Buffy. Still have a lot in common with her. Hell, she boinked the undead! Been there, done that. First Slayer to spread her knees for a vampire. Well, at least willingly. Bonus points for being dead herself, however brief. So who's it going to be, Xander? Make your choice."

"What if I don't choose?," he asked.

"Then I slit her throat now," answered Willow, kneeling down and pressing the blade a little harder down onto Faith's neck.

"I still say it's my fight. Old people just grow lonely."

"Sorry. Not in the rules. I'm getting bored. Last chance," warned Willow.

Xander took a deep breath.

"Faith. I choose Faith."

"Interesting! Is that your final answer?"

Xander ignored her.

"Gotta say, Xander, not loving your first choice. Very well, Faith it is. If she doesn't win, Buffy dies."

"What? You said..."

Willow swung her arm in an arc, hitting Xander on the forehead with the base of the knife. She followed with a kick to his ribs, knocking the wind out of him.

"We play by my rules, boy. Get over it."

Willow placed the knife on the top edge of the granite slab, walked over to Buffy and grabbed her, easily throwing the Slayer over her shoulder. Xander got to his knees, still trying to breath. Blood trickled into his eyes but he ignored it. Willow tossed Buffy onto her back in the middle of the slab, the back of her head hitting hard against the stone.

"Oh, forgot to tell you. To wake Sleeping Beauty you have to kiss her," said Willow, jabbing her thumb towards Faith.

Xander crawled over to Faith and pushed her hair to one side.

"I'm sorry, Faith. This isn't how I wanted it to go down."

"Yeah, yeah. Kiss her already. It's not like you haven't locked lips or hips before," complained Willow.

Xander glared at her.

"Hey, be glad you didn't pick Giles!"

Xander gently kissed Faith on the lips and sat up by her side. Nothing happened. Xander glanced at Willow, but then Faith blinked her eyes open and quickly sat up.

"Faith, you okay?," asked Xander. Faith nodded and stood, helping Xander up as well.

"Let me explain..."

"You don't have to, Xander. They're asleep, but they can hear you," said Faith, nodding towards the others.

"Oh."

"Yeah. My thoughts too," said Faith, staring at Xander.

"What?," he asked. Faith only smiled at him and shook her head.

"So it comes down to me and Buffy. Getting a little tired of this dance, you know?"

"You mean Willow. You and Willow," corrected Xander.

"Huh?"

"You have to fight Willow," said Xander, confused.

"Xander, Willow's out cold on the rock over there," pointed Faith.

"What? No, she's standing right there. Faith, the First is messing with your mind. It's Willow you have to fight."

"Whatever. Doesn't matter anyway. I know what I have to do," said Faith, not looking at Xander but at Buffy, standing over Willow.

"What are you talking about?," asked Xander.

"It's what I was born for, Xander. My destiny. Time to make amends."

"You're not going to fight her! Faith, come on! Get mad. You can't just give up!," yelled Xander.

"You don't get it, do you? No one can win here. It's all fixed and you can't change it. Thought you knew that," added Faith sadly. "I mean, I'm just doing what you were going to do."

Faith glanced at Buffy, still standing motionless by the slab. Buffy smiled.

"That's different! I'm not a Slayer. You are. You can fight this!"

"Xander, another Slayer will be called. A girl who can make a difference. One who can fight."

Xander grabbed Faith by the shoulders.

"Faith, listen to me. This is what she wants. You don't have to do this!"

"Hey. Your friends need you. You are part of them, more than you'll ever know. You...you cared about me, Xander. You can't know how much that blew me away. Thank you. I really mean that."

"Faith!"

"Let me try to explain it another way," said Faith.

It happened so fast that Xander didn't realize what she was doing. He saw her fist coming at his face and didn't have time to react. Xander collapsed on the ground, not moving. Faith knelt down beside him.

"I'm sorry. But you'll thank me in the morning," said Faith, running her hand through Xander's hair. "Goodbye, Xander," whispered Faith, her voice cracking with emotion.

Faith closed her eyes to fight back the tears and stood, facing Buffy. She opened her eyes.

"It's time," announced Faith.

Buffy stood there, smiling, and motioned for the Slayer to approach her.

"Come, Faith. Come give me a goodbye kiss first."

Faith slowly stepped towards her. Xander moaned softly, opening one eye. One side of his face was on the cold dirt. He saw Faith walking away from him and he tried to sit up but his body wouldn't respond. Faith took another step. Xander forced himself up on his elbows, the ground spinning under him. He closed his eyes and stood. Faith took another step towards Buffy.

Xander opened his eyes. Buffy took a step towards Faith. And it was Buffy that Xander now saw. She wrapped her left hand around Faith's neck, leaned in and kissed Faith hard on the lips. Xander stumbled forward as Buffy pulled her right hand back behind her. Xander dove forward, pushing Faith in the back with both hands, knocking her to the ground. And he cried out in pain as the knife plunged into his stomach, stopped from going deeper only because Buffy's hand pressed against him.

Xander fell to his knees and Buffy let go of the knife. He looked up.

"You're not supposed to die. This isn't the plan. But it'll do," shrugged Buffy.

Faith looked up at Buffy on her hands and knees.

"Shoulda been there, Faith. Quite a ride," said Buffy, closing her eyes and falling to the ground.

Somewhere in the night a dog howled once and then was silent.

"Xander!"

Xander fell onto his side, holding the knife with both hands.

"No, don't pull it out, you'll bleed even more!," warned Faith, crawling to his side.

"What the hell did you do that for!?," yelled Faith. "This wasn't your fight!"

"Faith, I..I made a difference. I finally...did something that...mattered. Me!"

"Oh, God, Xander! There's so much blood!"

"I couldn't let you...you're special, Faith."

"But another Slayer would've been called! They're not sending for another Xander," said Faith, beginning to cry.

"No, that's not...what I meant. Damn this hurts! You're not special...because you're a Slayer. The next Slayer...won't be you. You're Faith...you're part of us," said Xander.

"Oh, don't get all mushy on me now!," cried Faith.

"It's...it's okay," sighed Xander. "The pain...it doesn't hurt as much."

"No. Xander, stay with me here. Keep talking to me! You hear me? Xander!"

"I'm...so...cold...," whispered Xander.

Xander saw Faith's mouth moving but he couldn't hear what she was saying. He was tired. Very tired. Xander closed his eyes.

END OF PART EIGHT

Author's Note: Apologies in advance to Thornton Wilder, author of the play Our Town.

PART NINE

Xander was walking through a cemetery, glancing at the tombstones but not reading any of the dates. He paused for a moment in front of an open grave, a mahogany casket below him. The lid was closed but he knew whose grave it was. He walked away.

"Hey," said Xander.

"Hello, Xander," answered Jenny Calendar.

"Hey, Xander," replied Harmony.

"Xander," said Spike with a nod. Xander nodded in return and looked up.

"It's raining," he said, surprised.

Xander looked back towards his grave. People were approaching, all with umbrellas. Giles was first, escorting Joyce. Then Wesley, his arm around Cordelia. Willow and Tara came next, holding hands. Willow's eyes were red and puffy from crying. Finally came Buffy on Riley's arm. He was practically holding her up as she walked. It seemed a great effort for her just to put one foot in front of the other.

"They'll be gone soon, Xander. Just rest yourself," said Jenny.

"It seems thousands and thousands of years since I...I don't like being new here."

Xander suddenly looked directly at Jenny.

"The living don't understand, do they?"

"No, Xander...not very much."

"They're sort of shut up in little boxes, aren't they? I feel as though I knew them last a hundred years ago...Jenny, when does this feeling go away? Of being...one of them? How long does it..."

"Shh. Just wait and be patient."

Xander looked back to his grave again. Each person in turn grabbed a handful of muddy dirt, tossed it on the coffin, turned and left. Last in line came Buffy, leaning heavily on Riley for support. Her body shook with sobs as she turned her hand over, letting the dirt drop with a hollow thud to the coffin below.

"Jenny, I never knew how troubled and how...how in the dark the living are. Look at her. I loved her once. From morning till night, that's all they are. Troubled."

Xander was alone with the dead now.

"Little cooler than it was," observed Spike.

"Yes, that rain's cooled it off a little," agreed Harmony.

"But Jenny, one can go back. One can go back there again...into the living. I feel it. I know it. Why, just then, for a moment, I was thinking about...about the library...and for a minute, I was there, and Willow, and Buffy, and Giles, they were there, as plain as day."

"Yes, of course you can."

"I can go back there and live all those days over again...why not?"

"All I can say is, Xander, don't."

Xander turned and saw Angel, standing there as if he had been there the whole time.

"But Angel, it's true, isn't it? I can go and live...back there...again."

"Yes, some have tried. But they soon come back here."

"Don't do it, Xander," begged Jenny.

"Xander, don't," said Harmony. "It's not what you think it would be."

"But I won't live over a sad day. I'll choose a happy one. I'll choose the day that I first knew that I loved Buffy. Why should that be painful?"

No one answered him.

"You not only live it, but you watch yourself living it," said Angel.

"Yes?," asked Xander.

"And as you watch it, you see the thing that they - down there - never know. You see the future. You know what's going to happen afterwards," warned Angel.

"But is that...painful? Why?," asked Xander.

"That's not the only reason why you shouldn't do it, Xander," said Jenny. "When you've been here longer you'll see that our life here is to forget all that, and think of only what's ahead, and be ready for what's ahead. When you've been here longer you'll understand."

"But Jenny, how can I ever forget that life? It's all I know. It's all I had."

"Oh, Xander. It isn't wise. Really, it isn't," said Harmony.

"But it's a thing I must know for myself. I'll choose a happy day, anyway," said Xander.

"No! At least, choose an unimportant day. Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough," said Jenny.

Xander looked at Angel. Angel nodded.

*****

"Angel's a vampire?," asked Willow.

"I can't believe this is happening...one minute we're kissing, the next minute...can a vampire ever be a good person? Couldn't it happen?," asked Buffy, looking at Giles.

"A vampire isn't a person at all. It may have the movements, the memories, even the personality of the person it takes over, but it is a demon at the core. There's no halfway," said Giles.

"So that's a no, huh?," asked Willow.

"Well then what was he doing? Why was he...good to me? Was it all some part of the Master's plan? It doesn't make sense," said Buffy.

"The old high school. But he's dead. He died," said Xander, pointing out a boy to Angel. Xander watched as Buffy sat next to his double, the living Xander, on a bench in front of the school.

"All right, you have a problem and it's not a small one. Let's just take a breath and look at this calmly and objectively," said Xander.

Buffy looked at him.

"Angel's a vampire, you're a Slayer. It's obvious what you have to do," said Xander.

Buffy looked at Giles.

"It is the Slayer's duty," agreed Giles.

None of them noticed Cordelia approaching them from behind.

"I know you have feelings but it's not like you're in love with him or anything, right?," asked Xander. He could tell by her expression that she just might be.

"You're in love with a vampire? Are you out of your mind?," asked Xander loudly.

Xander realized that Cordelia was standing right next to him. She gasped and he looked up. She was staring right at him.

"Not vampire, I mean...how can you love an umpire?," asked Xander, turning to Buffy. "Everybody hates them!"

"Where did you get that dress?," yelled Cordelia.

Everyone followed her gaze and saw a girl wearing the same outfit as Cordelia.

"This is a one of a kind Todd Oldham. Do you have any idea how much it cost?"

Cordelia ran over to the girl and grabbed at the back of her dress, trying to read the label.

"It's a knock-off, isn't it?," demanded Cordelia. They both continued walking into the school.

"It's a cheesy knock-off. This is what happens when you sign these Free Trade Agreements," complained Cordelia.

"And we think we have problems," said Buffy.

A bell rang.

"Oh boy, time for geometry," said Willow with a smile. Buffy and Xander looked at her.

"It's fun if you make it fun," replied Willow.

"I can't bear it. They're so young and beautiful. Buffy, I'm here. I love you all, everything! I can't look at everything hard enough. Angel, can I go in?"

Angel nodded.

The hall was quiet and empty. Empty except for Xander, standing at a drinking fountain. Drinking a lot of water. A door opened and Willow stepped out.

"Geometry's starting," said Willow.

"Yup."

"But you're out here drinking."

"Again I say, yup."

"Something's bothering you. Buffy," said Willow.

"Buffy? Why would Buffy be bothering me?," asked Xander.

"Cause you kinda got a thing there and she kinda has a thing...elsewhere."

"It's just...this guy Angel, the research is in, he's a vampire...still she likes him better than me," complained Xander.

"She doesn't like him 'cause he's a vampire. I know she's not down with that part," said Willow.

"Love sucks. Ever since I was in grammar school it's the same old dance...you dig someone, they dig someone else. And then that someone else digs someone else."

"That's the dance," agreed Willow.

"I mean, I'm right for her. I'm the guy. I know it! She's so stupid! She's not stupid. But...it's too much. We're such good buds, I'm this close to her, and she doesn't have a clue how I feel. And wouldn't care if she did. It's killing me," said Xander, turning and walking into class.

Willow was all alone.

"Gee, what's that like?"

"I can't...I can't. Oh, Willow. I'd forgotten that. Oh Willow, just look at me for a moment. We're happy. Let's look at one another!," yelled Xander. Willow sadly shook her head and walked back into the classroom.

"I can't. I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize," said Xander, tears coming to his eyes. He took a deep breath.

"So that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back...up the hill...to my grave," said Xander, looking back at the classroom door.

"Angel, do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?"

"No. The saints and poets, maybe. They do some."

"I'm ready to go back," said Xander.

*****

"Were you happy?," asked Jenny.

"No. I should have listened to you. That's all human beings are! Just blind people," said Xander sadly but not with bitterness.

"Look, it's clearing up. The stars are coming out," said Jenny.

"Oh, Jenny, I should have listened to you," repeated Xander.

"Yes, now you know. Now you know! That's what it was to be alive," said Spike, his voice full of anger. "To move about in a cloud of ignorance. To go up and down trampling on the feelings of those...of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion or another. Now you know. That's the happy existence you wanted to go back to! Ignorance and blindness."

"Spike, that ain't the whole truth and you know it!," said Harmony.

"Here's one of them coming. It's Red," said Spike.

"She shouldn't be here after dark. It isn't safe," said Angel.

"Jenny, it's Willow," said Xander.

"Shh. Just rest," advised Jenny.

"It's Will," said Xander, softly.

She approached the grave, now covered with dirt. Willow fell to her knees, tears running freely down her cheeks. She closed her eyes and fell face down on the grave, her body shaking uncontrollably. Her hands dug fiercely into the dirt, soil oozing between her fingers.

"That's no way to behave," said Harmony.

"She ought to be home," added Jenny.

"Jenny?"

"Yes, Xander?"

"They don't understand, do they?"

"No, Xander, they don't understand."

Xander stared at Willow. Then he remembered something. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a penny, opening his palm so that it reflected in the moonlight. He looked back at Willow, closing his hand, forming a fist. Xander squeezed harder and the penny cut into his skin. Grinding his teeth together he kept his eyes on Willow and squeezed even harder. He could feel the blood on his palm now. Xander closed his eyes.

END OF PART NINE

Author's Note: The scene with Xander and Willow in the school hall was in the original script for the episode 'Angel' but was cut out due to time considerations. Wish they had left it in.

PART TEN

Xander focused on light, a brightness that seemed to reach for him in the dark. He blinked his eyes. The room seemed familiar. He was lying on a bed. Xander tried to raise his head but it seemed very difficult to do so he gave up. His body ached everywhere.

"Hey. Welcome back to the land of the living. Well, present company excepted, of course."

Xander's eyes opened wide. He rolled his head to one side. And saw Angel sitting in a chair next to him, smiling.

"Oh God no! You're making jokes and smiling. I must be dead!," said Xander, his voice raspy and dry.

"No. Xander, it's okay! You're not dead," said Angel, no longer smiling.

Xander smiled and began to laugh but stopped because of the pain.

"What could possibly be funny?," asked Angel.

"Sweet, precious pain. I can't hurt this much and not be alive!," said Xander. He suddenly stopped smiling and ran a hand over his stomach. It was sore but there was no wound there.

"Angel, the others. Are they okay?"

"Everyone's fine. Worried sick about you, but they're okay."

Xander slowly exhaled.

"It's daylight. Where are they?," asked Xander.

"Xander, you've been sleeping for a little longer than you think. It's almost five o'clock. We all fell asleep two nights ago. You've been out of it for a day and a half."

"Wow."

"Giles and Wesley went out to get something to eat. Cordelia took Anya out shopping. Well, more to keep her busy, really. She's a wreck. Tara went to get some herbs or magic supplies. Willow fell asleep in the next room. Hasn't slept much since...Buffy went for a walk. She'll be back soon."

"Cordy and Anya shopping?"

"Yeah. Cordy told her something about never going into a store with the word barn in its name."

"Faith! What about Faith?"

"She's okay. Kate...uh, that's a detective that I know..."

"We met," interrupted Xander. Angel nodded.

"She let Faith call me. She's doing good. First thing she did was to ask about you. I said that you were sleeping and that seemed good enough for her. She knew that you'd be okay even if no one else did. Oh, and she made some comment about you having a really big pair. I assume she was talking about your pants?"

Xander smiled. He nodded and slowly sat up. He had a headache but surprisingly wasn't dizzy. On the floor at his feet were several designs and symbols, drawn with either paint or chalk. Angel followed his gaze and looked back up at him.

"Willow and Tara tried a couple of spells. I know one was a healing spell. Not sure if it worked but they seemed happy about it. Gave them something to do, at least," added Angel.

"Guess I put everybody through hell," said Xander.

"And back. Been there. Wouldn't recommend it even in the off season," said Angel.

"Angel, you're starting to scare me with humor, however dark."

"Hey. Thought I heard voices," said Willow, suddenly standing in the doorway, rubbing her eyes.

Keeping one hand on the bed to brace himself, Xander stood up, smiling and holding out his other hand to Willow. She ran to him and hugged him with both arms, pressing her face against his chest.

"I'm sorry, I promised myself I wouldn't cry. Xander, you're okay! You are okay, aren't you?," asked Willow, looking up at him. Xander nodded and she buried her face into him again.

"Never been better," he said. "Never."

Xander closed his eyes and inhaled the fragrance of Willow's hair. He smiled and held her even tighter.

"Will, can we sit down? I'm a little more tired than I thought I was."

"Oh, sure!"

Willow sat down on the edge of the bed next to him.

"Thanks for your help," said Xander, pointing down at the floor.

"You're welcome. Tara and I, we did a healing spell. I think maybe that's why you slept so long. Your body needed time to heal itself. Xander, I was so worried."

"I know. Willow, your hand!," said Xander, just noticing the bandage wrapped around her hand.

"It's...getting better. The cut wasn't very deep," said Willow, putting the hand behind her.

"But...then you were there. You...oh, Will. I didn't know."

"Yeah. I had to watch. I was so mean to you."

"It wasn't you!," protested Xander.

"I know. It gets a little confusing. And then I blacked out. Buffy told me she was the one who stabbed you," said Willow with a frown.

"She wigged?"

"Oh, big time. And me too! If I wasn't so happy to see you I'd smack you one upside the head," threatened Willow, holding up her bandaged hand. "Well, maybe with the other hand."

"Huh?"

"Huh? What do you mean huh? What's with the 'no, kill me?' routine? Xander, you could've died!"

Xander looked away from her gaze.

"I...Will, I thought it was the only way. I'm sorry. I didn't want you to..."

"Shh. I know. I know. You just scared me, okay?," said Willow, putting her arm around him and leaning her head on his shoulder.

"So why aren't you dead?," asked Willow. "I don't get it."

Xander opened up his right hand and glanced at the scab on his palm.

"Luck had something to do with it. But I didn't believe the First. I had a reason to come back," smiled Xander.

Willow accepted his answer for what it was and didn't ask him about it. She was happy just to have her head on his shoulder.

"Wait a minute. If Willow was there, then...Angel? Were you with me? Do you remember?"

Angel nodded.

"I was there."

"At the funeral," added Willow, lifting her head up and looking at Xander. "That...that was the worst thing I ever had to go through. It was more real than the other dreams. Before, we had to, to watch, like a puppet. But this was different. It just hit home a little harder, you know?," asked Willow, getting a little teary eyed.

"I know. I'm sorry," said Xander, hugging her again. "But it's over."

Willow nodded and wiped her eyes.

"And when we went back to the high school, when I relived that day, were you both there then?," asked Xander.

"No. I remember going to your grave alone...then I woke up. What are you talking about?," asked Willow.

"Angel?," said Xander, ignoring Willow's question.

"I was there."

"So, did you choose that day, or did I?," asked Xander.

"I didn't," shrugged Angel. "That doesn't mean that you did."

"Xander, what day?," asked Willow.

"It...Will, it's not important. Just a flashback. Probably meant nothing," said Xander, glancing at Angel. By his expression Xander knew that Angel didn't agree with him.

"Okay. But I have a question. When we all fell asleep I could still hear you. In fact, it was like watching you, but I was standing in another part of the room. Anyway, you said something to me about not knowing. That it was right in front of you the whole time. What did you mean?," asked Willow.

Xander looked at Willow and swallowed. He saw that Angel seemed just as interested in his answer as she did.

"I...I'm not sure that I remember. Guess it wasn't that important," laughed Xander unconvincingly.

"Xander, you can tell me," said Willow. "Please."

Xander took a deep breath.

"Hey."

Everyone turned to see who had spoken. Buffy was standing in the doorway.

"Willow, help me up, okay?"

Willow stood and helped Xander to his feet. Buffy leaned up against the door frame and sighed, trying not to smile.

"Willow, why don't we go to the kitchen and get Xander something to eat? He must be starving," said Angel.

"Sure," said Willow, not looking too happy about leaving. She gave Xander a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Nice to have you back."

"Even better to be back," said Xander, not letting her go without one last hug. Angel and Willow left the room.

"Guess I should come to you," said Buffy, already walking towards Xander. She hugged him so hard that he would've fallen onto the bed if Buffy hadn't held him up. Buffy finally let go of him.

"Hey. Rough ride, huh?"

"Yeah, quite the adventure," agreed Xander. He held up his right hand and she saw he couldn't stop it from shaking. Buffy put both hands around his hand.

"Xander, it's okay. You were amazing. I mean, damn, you faced the First. And won! Ya done good, boy."

"Thanks. But I bet it's just another day at the office for the Slayer."

Buffy gave his hand a squeeze.

"No. Not at all," she said, very seriously.

Xander lowered his hand and Buffy let go of it.

"Here, sit down," said Buffy. The both sat on the edge of the bed and she turned her body to face him.

"Uh, as funny as this may sound, what I think you need is a good night's sleep," laughed Buffy.

Xander didn't laugh but did give her a little smile. For a moment.

"Buffy, I died."

"Hey, been there, done that. It's overrated."

"Maybe I...I just thought that the colors would be more vivid, smells more intense, that...oh, I don't know what. Instead, I'm..."

"Scared?," suggested Buffy.

Xander didn't answer but he did look down as if she were right and he was embarrassed that she knew his secret.

"Xander, I freaked. I ran away to my father's that summer. And remember how I treated you guys?"

Xander nodded without looking up. Buffy put a hand on his shoulder.

"It'll pass. Trust me, okay? I know. And if you need to talk about it..."

"I know. The new motto of the Scooby gang, no secrets," said Xander, looking at her.

"Well, if one person knows, then it's not a secret. That doesn't mean that everyone has to know."

Xander smiled. "Spoken like a true female!"

"On behalf of my gender; hey! Anyway, just know that it's okay to be wigged by this."

"Buffy, I passed wigged way back when it was you strangling me and not Faith."

"Yeah, I missed that one. But I got to see myself drive a knife into your gut."

Buffy looked down at her hands.

"Even dreamed about it all over again last night. Guess I was lucky, though, 'cause that was just your every-night-run-of-the-mill nightmare. I woke up from that one."

Xander put his arm around Buffy but didn't say anything.

"Xander, in the Slayer's handbook which, granted I have never read and in fact have never even seen, uh, anyway the first rule of Slaying is don't die. It's that simple. Get that?"

"And Giles would tell you that a Watcher's first responsibility, above anything else, is to protect the life of his Slayer. Nothing else matters. Alright, I'm not your Watcher or even a Watcher. But still..."

"No. You're not. But you mean so much more to me," said Buffy, fighting back tears. "Look, we'll talk about everything. Later. When you're up to it."

"Good enough," agreed Xander. "Hey, could you get me a glass of water? My mouth is really dry."

"You bet. And you better get into the shower. You don't have much time," said Buffy, standing up.

"Time?"

"To get ready for the party. We're celebrating tonight and I don't care if we have to take turns holding you up in the corner. Be right back."

Xander took a deep breath and smiled. He reached into his pocket. The penny was still there. He held it up and looked at it, shaking his head.

*****

"Here, Angel, this is for you," said Cordelia, handing him a cup.

"Uh, is that what I think it is?," asked Buffy.

"Well, it's not lemonade," replied Cordelia. "Hey, no big. We're family now."

Cordelia shook her head and walked away.

"You know, it's strange enough seeing someone else getting blood for you. But Cordelia? That's...just wrong somehow," said Buffy.

"Buffy, she...Cordelia's been through a lot. She's not the same person you knew," said Angel. Buffy stared at him for a moment before saying anything.

"Okay, let's not talk about it," said Buffy, shaking as if a chill had run through her body. She looked around the room and noticed that Xander seemed to be staring at Willow. Her room mate didn't see him, being too busy talking with Tara.

"Xander's been through a lot," said Buffy.

"That's an understatement," added Angel. "Buffy, could you hold this for a minute? There's something I wanted to ask him."

"Uh, sure," said Buffy, taking the cup.

"Be right back."

Buffy looked into the cup and wrinkled her nose.

"Hey," said Angel.

Xander had been so intent on looking at Willow that he hadn't noticed Angel approaching.

"Oh, hey Angel. What's up?"

"You know, Xander, you can't tell her."

"Huh?"

"Willow. You can't tell her how you feel about her."

Xander didn't ask Angel what he was talking about and didn't even act embarrassed. He leaned against the wall and sighed.

"Is it that obvious?," he asked.

"No. But I've noticed...stuff. And I've been to your funeral. People tend to see things in a new perspective when they've looked into their own grave. Believe me when I say I know. So what's going on? I thought you and Anya..."

"Yeah, we are."

"Xander, don't you think this could just be a, a side effect of the dreams? You know what I mean."

Xander looked past Angel and stared at Willow.

"No. I've always known. Just never admitted it to myself. Oh, we had a thing there once, way back when. But...it just wasn't the right time," said Xander.

"Is now the right time?," asked Angel. "She seems happy."

"Yeah. Her and Tara, they...uh..."

"I know. Buffy told me," said Angel.

"Angel, Anya and I, we...I don't know. Something's missing. I think she loves me, but the relationship, it...if you take away the sex, there just isn't anything there. I know how that sounds. And I really like helping her learn what it means to feel and act like a person again. But I can't help how I feel. It's not about the dreams. I just, I just need something more. Something...something like what you and Buffy had."

"So do I," said Angel. That caught Xander by surprise. Angel looked at the two girls on the other side of the room.

"They seem happy, Xander. Understand what I'm telling you?," asked Angel, looking Xander in the eye. Xander hesitated in answering, but only for a moment.

"Very much so. It means a lot more, coming from you. Guess I just needed to hear it out loud. Thanks."

Angel smiled and put a hand on Xander's shoulder.

"Xander, how are you feeling?," asked Anya, suddenly walking up to them.

"Pretty good. I think a hot shower can even revive the dead," said Xander.

"Xander!"

"Excuse me, I think I left Buffy holding something of mine," said Angel as he left.

"This party is nice and everything, but I wish you and I had gone out. Alone," said Anya.

"Gone out? To dinner?"

"Yeah. I'm in the mood for seafood."

"Anya, you don't like seafood."

"But I like getting scrod," smiled Anya.

Xander shook his head and laughed.

"I must be tired if your bad jokes are making me laugh," said Xander. He noticed Buffy walking over to them.

"Anya, could you get me a coke please? And ask Angel where he keeps his rum, okay?"

Anya smiled.

"Thanks."

"Be right back," said Anya.

"So, how do you feel?," asked Buffy.

"Actually, I think there's something wrong," replied Xander.

"Oh? What?," asked Buffy, suddenly concerned.

"I'm starting to feel guilty about everyone making a fuss over me. The old Xander would've been sucking it up," said Xander with a smile.

"Enjoy it while it lasts," sighed Buffy, relieved. Xander stopped smiling.

"That was a joke, Xander. Fine, not one of my better ones, but still!," complained Buffy.

"Sorry. Just tired, I guess."

"No, there's something else. What's wrong?"

"Nothing, really," said Xander without looking at her.

"Xander, you can tell me anything. Anything. Okay?"

"I know. And I will. Someday. Maybe even soon. But I'm just not ready to talk about it yet. It's...complicated," said Xander.

"Complicated. The last time I heard that...oh, never mind. Say, you're not...oh, really never mind! That's not possible," said Buffy, shaking her head. "But you're okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine, really. There's nothing to worry about," said Xander.

"If you say so. I just don't want you to be unhappy, you know?"

"Thanks. I know."

"So, Giles offered to train you, huh?," asked Buffy.

"Yeah. Would you ever have thought of that happening?"

"Not in my...you know, I think it's a great idea," said Buffy.

"Me too."

"Here you go," said Anya, handing Xander a glass. "What's going on?"

"Thanks. Uh, nothing," said Xander. Buffy shrugged.

"So I don't sense some sexual tension in the air?," asked Anya, taking a sip of her drink. Buffy and Xander stared her.

"It was a joke! Cut me a little slack here," said Anya.

Buffy grinned, shook her head and left. Xander kissed the top of Anya's head and gave her a hug. Anya put her head on his shoulder and he smiled. Xander looked across the room and saw Willow laughing at something Tara had said. She caught him looking at her and gave him a smile. Xander quickly looked away. He was no longer smiling.

Buffy walked up to Angel and pulled him aside, out of earshot of the others.

"Angel, could you do me a favor?"

"Sure. What?"

Buffy stepped up on her toes and whispered into his ear.

"You sure?," asked Angel, surprised.

"Yes. I'm ready."

END OF PART TEN

PART ELEVEN

"Willow?," said Xander, shutting the door behind him. "I got videos," he said, holding them up. Xander took two steps into the room and froze.

The room was dimly lit. Soft music played in the background. There was a fire burning in the fireplace and candles were lit on the coffee table.

"Hi. Why don't you come sit down?"

Xander hesitated but then sat, putting the videos on the table. The CD changed and Barry White began to play.

"I've heard people say..."

Xander looked at the red dress she was wearing and she smiled back at him.

"Too much of anything is not good for you, baby..."

"You ever have that dream where you're in a play, and it's the middle of the play and you really don't know your lines, and you kinda don't know the plot?," asked Xander.

"Well, we're alone, and we're together. I...I just wanted it to be special."

"How special are we talking?," asked Xander.

"Well, you know, we're alone, and we're both mature younger people, and, and so...we could..."

"Faith, what's going on here? I'm getting a really big wiggins here and I get the impression that's not what you wanted big."

"Xander, relax. I'm doing this, not the First."

"Huh? You can enter my dreams? Whenever you want?"

"No. I wouldn't do that. Besides being rude, do you know how exhausted I'm going to be the next day or two from this?"

"So this is another result of the enjoining spell?," asked Xander.

"Yeah, something like that."

"Cool. That part makes sense. Now what's with the 'get down tonight' look?"

"Just trying to make things straight between us. Uh, let me rephrase that," added Faith.

"I get the picture. But why?"

"Why? Okay, we'll fast forward through the part where you saved my life. I'm just trying to say I'm sorry. For so much. Some bloodstains never wash clean, you know? I don't know how to make it up to you. Or anyone. But I want to try. You thought we had a connection once."

"Faith..."

"No. Let me talk. Your first time should've been...well, more memorable."

Xander smiled.

"Okay, let's try special. So, if you wanted to...no one would know. This is a dream, after all," smiled Faith.

"Faith, you don't have to prove anything to me."

"I just wanted you to know."

"I know," smiled Xander. "I get the message. You know, I don't regret it. Us, I mean. Hey, I made it with a Slayer. How many guys can say that?"

Faith rolled her eyes and shook her head.

"Oh, right. Well, you know what I mean," said Xander, trying not to laugh. Faith smiled.

"You want to make things right? Sometimes it's as simple as facing your fears. That's how you beat 'em. No matter how afraid you are, you gotta try."

Faith thought about that for a while.

"I like that," said Faith.

They were both quiet, not knowing what to say.

"I can't see you very often. I mean hell, you're in L.A. and...I'm not. But I'll write. Call from time to time, stop by when I can. That okay with you?"

"More than I could hope for," smiled Faith.

"And you know, I wouldn't mind you dropping by dreamland from time to time as long as you promise to wear something like that," said Xander.

Faith smiled and covered her mouth with her hand. And then she broke out laughing.

"Hey, I made you laugh! I can't remember the last time I heard that. But are you blushing?," asked Xander.

Still giggling, Faith leaned over and kissed Xander on the cheek. She smiled at him and shook her head.

*****

At first Tara thought she was dreaming. Something was tickling her face. She smiled and wondered if it was their kitten trying to play. Tara opened her eyes. Willow had fallen asleep reading a book again and had left the light on. She reached over and, marking her place with a book mark, closed the book and put it on the night stand, careful not to wake Willow. She was about to turn off the light when heard something. Like someone breathing.

Tara looked up and her eyes opened wide. Standing near the door was the First Slayer, staring at her. Her first instinct was not to freeze but to slide over a little, placing her body between the Slayer and Willow. The First slowly raised both hands, palms open towards Tara. Her right hand was white, the left black, matching the color of the paint on her face. She bowed her head once and then looked up, head tilted as if she was thinking about something. And then she simply turned, opened the door and left.

The sound of the door shutting woke Willow up.

"Hey. What's going on?," mumbled Willow, eyes half closed.

Tara just stared at the door.

"Uh, girlfriend, you going for a new look here? What's with the primitive?," asked Willow.

"Huh? What..."

Willow touched the side of Tara's face and showed her finger to her. It had white paint on it. Tara dug into her pocketbook at the side of the bed and puled out a small mirror. Her reflection at first shocked her. But then she smiled. Her face was painted in black and white, matching the design that the First had worn. Tara smiled even more.

"What are you so happy about?," asked Willow.

"I guess I'm really part of the gang after all!," said Tara.

"Huh?"

*****

Kate hesitated in front of the door. She turned and looked again at her visitor.

"What?"

"I'm sorry. I don't mean to stare. It's just...I thought you'd be a lot...bigger," explained Kate.

"Yeah, I get that a lot. Especially right before I stake one of them."

Kate smiled and opened the door.

"I'll be right outside."

Buffy nodded and stepped into the room, the door clicking shut behind her. Faith stood up slowly from the table.

"So this is what it comes down to? A scene from a bad cop movie?," said Faith. "Let me guess; the detective feels sorry for the prisoner and doesn't cuff her. The prisoner, known to have a short fuse, gets into a fight. Detective gets a reprimand, prisoner gets a bed in the infirmary. Or better yet, another coma. That how it goes down?"

"What? No, Faith..."

"Well, it's not like I don't deserve it. Come on, B, let's get it over with. I won't fight back. I promise I won't. Okay?," asked Faith, her voice quivering.

"No. Faith, that's not why I'm here. Really! I...I just wanted to talk."

Buffy put her hand out to touch Faith but she pulled away, staring at Buffy's hand. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling.

"Faith, look at me."

Faith slowly raised her eyes.

"You don't understand. See, I...let my try to explain this. I had a friend once. And, and she...well, something happened. Something I couldn't do anything to prevent. And we weren't friends anymore."

Buffy took a small step forward but Faith backed away. So she stopped. Buffy took a deep breath.

"That was bad enough. But I blamed her. For everything. Now, I have a few friends. Not many. But they're special to me. And yet...something's missing. There's parts of me that they just can't touch, or be part of. No matter how hard they try. They just can't understand what it's like..."

Buffy took another small step towards Faith. This time Faith didn't move.

"And all this time what I couldn't deal with was not what my friend did or, or how I was treated," said Buffy, her voice strained as she fought back tears. "I couldn't deal with the fact that I tried to kill her. That she made me try to kill her! I still can't deal with that! Because...because you're so like me, it hurts. I miss my friend," said Buffy, now crying.

Faith took the first step towards Buffy, then hesitated. And then Buffy stepped to her and they embraced, hugging each other tightly, eyes closed.

"Buffy, I'm so sorry," whispered Faith, her body shaking with sobs. "I'm so sorry. I can never make it up to you...I'm so sorry..."

"I know. Me too. But I'm here now. If you want me to be."

Buffy stepped back and they both wiped their eyes.

"This is still really hard for me, and I'm going to have some bad days ahead of me, but I want to try to work this out. You know?," asked Buffy. Faith nodded.

"You gotta face your fears, no matter how afraid you are. You gotta try," said Faith.

"Yeah. I like that," nodded Buffy.

"A friend of mine told me that," said Faith. She looked at Buffy and started to cry again. "Just tell me what to do, B, because I'm so afraid. I don't know where to start."

Buffy hugged her again and held her head against her shoulder, letting Faith cry. She tried not to cry herself. It didn't work.

THE END