--- ACT ONE ---

"Oh, I so plan to outdo her this year." Buffy Summers mumbled to herself as
she picked at her scone. "I am going to get her so good, she won't even know
what hit her. I'm going to get all of them good."

"Okay, at which point in the conversation am I included?" Xander asked her,
after patiently listening to her grumble. "As much as I enjoy your little
Buffy-monologue there, I do believe there was something you wanted to talk
to me about. Unless , of course, you meant there was something you wanted to
talk to yourself about, in my prescence. Which of the two is it?"

"I'm sorry," said Buffy nonchalantly as she put down her untouched scone.
She stirred her coffee but didn't drink out of it. "I was just thinking of
how I want to kick Willow's butt and ground her into the dirt. Scone?" She
offered her scone generously to Xander.

Xander gave her a worried glance and courteously refused her offer of food.
"Insert worried and confused Xander here."

"Well, there's nothing you have to worry about, I'm perfectly fine," Buffy
took back her scone and lumped it on her plate. She stared at her cup of
coffee. "Although, by the end of next week you might have to worry about
Willow. Just kidding."

"Really Buff …"

Buffy waved her hand , signalling that she wasn't interested in hearing the
rest of Xander's sentence. "Don't you 'really, Buffy' me. Nobody 'really,
Will'-ed Willow , now did they?"

"Is this about …" Xander already knew the answer before he finished. Buffy
nodded. "I didn't know vengeance was in your game-plan."

"This isn't vengeance. Don't paint me the wrong way. I'm a forgiving Buffy.
I'm just doing things in the spirit of this whole season . And I just think
this forgiving Buffy needs to have a little fun. After all, we certainly had
lots of fun at Buffy's expense last year, didn't we?"

"This is my cue to worry when you begin to speak of yourself in the third
person. And I had nothing to do with that… incident. You know perfectly
well. So don't try to pin any blame on me. And it was a year ago. Ever
heard of a wonderful term called 'bygones'?" Xander looked Buffy straight in
the eye as he spoke to her.

"Well, OK, I admit, she was pretty clever about it. But it's my turn now."

"You didn't seem to mind … up till now, of course."

"Oh, I've been planning this for such a long time. Sure, some people may
call me immature, but it's all in the name of fun."

"Please tell me it's a non-violent plan."

"Of course it's non-violent. I would never hurt Willow. Physically. Well
maybe sometimes I like to mess with her head a little bit, but that's not
the point. The point is, I want to launch Operation Payback, and you're a
part of it."

"Key-guy?" asked Xander with a little twinkle in his eye.

"That's right." Buffy leaned closer to him across the table. "My key-guy."

# # #

"Giles, have you seen Buffy?" Willow asked as she poked her head in the
library. "I haven't seen her all day."

"Oh, she told me she was having lunch with Xander at the cafeteria." The
British-accented voice rose from behind a bookshelf.

"They never eat lunch without me." Willow thought out loud. "She's been
acting really strange around me lately."

"Really?" Giles walked out from behind the bookshelf, carrying a pile of
assorted books. "In what way?"

"It wasn't until a few weeks ago," recalled Willow. "She was being really
mysterious around me, and kept giving me those … looks. Like she knows
something I don't. It's really freaking me out."

"You think she's possessed?"

"Oh no, nothing like that," Willow said with a laugh. "It's just that… I
don't know. It's like one minute we're best friends, and the next she's
acting … weird."

"Have you tried talking to her?" Giles asked helpfully. "It may seem like a
difficult act, but that's probably the best way to find out what's …
distressing her and changing her attitude and demeanour towards you."

"Well, I guess you're right," responded Willow. "Although I've been having
trouble finding her. I wonder if she's avoiding me."

"Whatever it is, I'm sure you two will work it out," said Giles.

"I hope so."

# # #

"Whoa." Xander breathed out heavily. "That's some plan."

"So you'll do it?" Buffy asked.

"I don't know… it does seem kind of … well, wicked … and Willow's my friend
too, you know. I don't want to hurt her."

"Believe me, she won't be hurt. She'll be surprised, definitely. Shocked,
yes. Heck, confused even. You think I would do that if it would hurt her? I
know her. And besides , she told me she was over you."

"Ouch. That hurts my ego."

"Come on. Do it. For me." Buffy stared at him pleadingly.

Xander felt hopeless because he knew he couldn't say no to her when she
looked at him like that. Part of him was actually keen on helping Buffy, he
was sure he would enjoy it. Oh, he would definitely enjoy it. But he didn't
want to end up hurting Willow. On the other hand, Buffy did say she was over
him … "Fine. All right."

"Thank you. We are going to have a blast, I'm sure. And don't worry -
you'll only have to do this till next week." Buffy held his hand tightly.

Xander was about to respond when Buffy whispered to him. "Willow's coming."

And with that, she drew him into a long, steamy kiss.

-end act i--