Aspects of Love

Part Two


After hearing Dr Hansen's words, Buffy walked back into Xander's room slowly, without saying anything to anyone. This was the moment she had been waiting for, for over *three* months now and she didn't know how she was going to handle it.

Buffy saw that Xander was lying still on the bed. His eyes were closed and the only indication that he was awake was that his fingers were moving slightly.

"Xander?" Buffy said softly, trying to hold back emotion in her voice so she didn't scare him. Buffy stepped closer to the bed "Xander?"

Xander's eyelids fluttered and he looked at Buffy through half open eyes "Buff" he whispered weakly.

"Oh, Xander," Buffy put a hand to her mouth to stifle a sob, but it was too late to stop tears beginning to fall.

"S'really… you… Buff?" Xander struggled a little to get the words out.

Buffy nodded frantically. "It's me, Xander." She took hold of his hand and held it to her cheek "See?" Buffy kissed the back of his hand. "I missed you so much."

Xander looked up into her eyes, staring into them. Into her. A small smile soon appeared slowly on his face "Buffy…" Xander's fingers curled around hers. "Love… you"

Buffy sniffled and then smiled happily for the first time in months.



Buffy looked up and saw Giles heading quickly down the corridor towards her. Buffy jumped to her feet and enveloped him in a hug "Oh Giles" she hugged him tighter "Giles he's awake. He's awake!"

"Yes, I know Willow told me," Giles replied with a smile before he winced a little. "Oh… and could we please remember you have preternatural strength."

"Oh sorry," Buffy stepped back from Giles and gave him an apologetic look as he massaged his ribs. "I-I'm just so…so…" She trailed off and beamed brightly, "Happy."

Giles smiled warmly. "You have every right to be, Buffy," he said. Giles straightened his glasses. "Can we see him yet? Willow said they wanted to do check him over properly…"

Buffy shook her head. "They haven't brought him back yet," she replied. It had been two hours since Xander had woken. "The doctor said it might take some time," she continued. "They have brain scans to do that they couldn't when he was in a coma and some other tests as well. Willow knows more details, I'm just so… just trying to deal with everything."

Giles ushered Buffy back into her seat and Giles sat down next to her. "Willow told me you saw him for a little while," he said. "How did he seem?"

"He seemed fine," Buffy replied. "He was a little weak and he looked like hell, but I-I guess that's to be expected… right?"

"I expect so," Giles answered. "Xander's been through a lot, and it's still going to take some time before he's completely recovered."

Buffy leaned against Giles. "I know," she said, "and we've got so much to talk about as well… everything that's happened-" Buffy broke off and sighed. "I don't know if he'll remember anything of what happened and… and-"

"You don't relish telling him if he doesn't?" Giles finished.

"Yeah," Buffy sighed again then looked up at him then around him. "Where's Ren? I thought she was with you in the shop today".

"Ah… well there's the uh…" Giles cleared his throat. "She didn't think it'd be a good idea. I mean she's happy and everything," he added quickly. "But, well… basically what you just said. We don't know how much Xander is going to remember, and Ren thought that if he did… seeing her face *might* not be… well, the best thing for him right now."

"Oh… well, I-I guess that kinda makes sense," Buffy said slowly. "Guess she wants to wait until we know for sure, huh?"

Giles nodded and then looked up and down the corridor. "Where's Willow?" he asked.

"Tara took her for some fresh air," Buffy explained. "She didn't want to wait about in the hospital anymore. Me." Buffy smiled. "I've gotten used to it over the past few months, I doubt a few hours more will make a lasting impression on me."

"I think you've coped remarkably well," Giles commented. "Even managing to keep up with your uh…" He looked around. "Other duties," Giles added in hushed tones.

"Giles, if I didn't have my… other duties to vent out my anger on, I don't think I *would* have coped," Buffy said. She smiled a little. "Mr. Pointy has been very instrumental in helping me channel my emotions."

"I'm glad to hear it."

Buffy nudged Giles with her elbow. "And," she continued, "it's not just me who's had to deal."

"Yes, but we're not all engaged to him," Giles replied with a small smile. He sighed "I'll admit that… even though Xander can be somewhat…" He searched for the word. "…challenging a-at times and occasionally his humour is…"

"Inappropriate?" Buffy suggested.

"Well… yes, sometimes," Giles reiterated. "It's just." He paused. "It's just… well sometimes I forget that you aren't my own children," he finished quietly.

Buffy looked up at him in surprise and hugged him quickly. "Hey, we love you too," she said.

"Well, I uh… thank you, oh, ow… ribs."

"Oops… sorry." Buffy pulled back.

"Quite all right." Giles smiled warmly. "But I do mean it," he said. "You, Xander, Willow and… now it seems that Tara has joined the fold…"

"Yeah, we're quite the family," Buffy said. "Although I don't think we're the Waltons just yet."

Buffy fiddled with the hem of her top. "So," she continued, dropping her gaze from Giles', "where does um… Ren… fit into all this?"

"Ren? I uh… w-well, I guess she's part of the uh… family too, I-I suppose," Giles said. He sighed. "Although how much longer she'll want to stay in it, I don't know."

"Why? What do you mean? Has she said something to you?"

"Well… no," Giles admitted. "But I can't expect her to stick around forever… Well, now that she can't *actually* stick around forever." He sighed and shook his head. "I really don't know what I'm talking about." Giles ran a hand through his hair. "Half the time I don't know what she's *thinking.*"

Buffy was about to respond when she saw Willow and Tara re-appearing. She and Giles smiled at the two witches. "Did you have a nice walk?" Buffy asked them.

Tara nodded and Willow spoke. "Yeah. I'm still feeling a little, y'know… weird… but happy weird," she added quickly. Willow smiled at Giles. "Hey. How long have you been here?"

"Not long," he replied. "Buffy tells me they don't know how long it will be before we can see Xander again."

"I know," Willow replied. "It sucks."

"Well I guess they have to make sure everything's working." Tara said.

"Yeah, but I'm gonna stay here all night if I have to."


As it turned out it was late evening before Xander was brought back and then he was moved to a different room. Buffy reluctantly allowed his parents to see him first, and she waited with Willow who had stayed with her throughout the day.

Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Harris left, and Buffy and Willow walked hesitantly to the door.

Willow cleared her throat. "Do you want me to come in with you?" she asked Buffy. "I mean, I don't know if you want to be alone or-or-"

Buffy looped her arm through Willow's. "Will, we're only allowed to see him for a little while," she said as she opened the door. "You're coming in." Buffy led Willow into the room.


Xander closed his eyes and let his head sink further back into the pillows that the nurses had propped him up slightly on. //Well, that was an interesting experience// he thought to himself. //Both parents in the same room and *not* drunk and fighting with each other. *And* they actually seemed genuinely concerned for my well being. Will wonders never cease?//

Xander tried to raise his hand to scratch an itch on his chin but he couldn't. He still felt weak. He sighed softly. //OK, maybe they might.// He felt himself drifting off to sleep and he immediately opened his eyes. //No, no sleeping until I see Buffy. I need to speak to her. Tell her I remember. That I remember everything. That I'm sorry. Sorry I didn't know…// Xander's thoughts trailed off when he saw two people walk into his room.

Xander blinked a couple of times to clear his vision and then saw that his visitors were Buffy and Willow.

"Buff… Wills," he managed to croak out. "S'good to see you."

At the sound of Xander saying her name for the first time in three months, Willow choked back a sob. "Oh god, Xand," she sniffed and her eyes began to brim with tears. "I've missed you so much." Willow hurried over to him and cupped both her hands around his face and planted a kiss on his forehead before resting her own head against his.

"Hey, I'd hug you to if I could," Xander responded with a weak smile.

Buffy put her arm around Willow and guided her to a seat by his bed and sat her down. Willow took hold of Xander's hand. "It was just so horrible," she sniffed, "seeing you lying there and-and-"

Xander wished he could wipe away the tears that were beginning to fall down Willow's cheeks. But he couldn't, so he settled for squeezing her hand instead. "Sshhh… Will," he whispered, "Willow, it's OK." Xander looked into her eyes, and they held each other's gaze for a few moments before Willow wiped her own eyes, giving Xander the beginnings of a happy smile.

Xander smiled back and gave Willow's hand another squeeze before turning his attention to Buffy. "Buffy-" he started to speak but the blonde Slayer cut him off.

"She's right, honey," Buffy said as she tried to hold back her own tears. "We've all been so worried about you." Buffy moved around to the opposite side of the bed from Willow and sat down, pulling the chair closer to the bed.

Xander closed his eyes. //She shouldn't be so worried about me. After all I've done to her. If I'd have known sooner. If I'd have figured it all out that she wasn't… I don't deserve her…// Xander felt a tear roll down his cheek. "I'm sorry," he whispered, "Buffy, I'm so sorry."

Buffy looked at him in confusion. "Xander, honey, what's wrong? What are you sorry for?" Buffy took hold of the hand Willow wasn't crushing with her own fingers. "You haven't done anything."

Another tear fell from Xander's eyes and he opened them and looked at Buffy. "But I have," he whispered hoarsely. "I remember… everything… oh God, Buffy… I-I should have known… I should have known she-"

Buffy quickly put a finger to his lips, silencing him. "No," she said firmly, "Nothing is *your* fault, Xander. Nothing."

Xander looked into her eyes, trying to figure out why she was looking at him so kindly. "But-" he began.

"Xander, sweetie," Willow interrupted, "I know how you feel, and this is something we don't do *now,* OK?"

"Willow is right," Buffy said, and she wiped away Xander's tears. "You're tired, and I'm… well, we're all pretty dead on our feet."

"Or butt in your case," Willow said to Xander, managing a smile and trying to lighten the mood.

Xander's brow furrowed. "Buffy, how can you-"

"Because I can," she said. "Xander, Willow is right." She stood up and absently began to smooth some of his hair down. "Now isn't the time. Dr. Hansen said you needed your rest, and I fully intend to do everything he says so you get better quicker." Buffy leaned down and placed a soft kiss on his forehead. "I love you, Xander Harris." She kissed him on the lips. "Don't you ever forget that."

"I love you, Buffy," Xander said, "Please don't go."

"You need to sleep," Buffy said. "I'll be back tomorrow."

"Please, Buffy… I can't sleep if you go."

Buffy refused to let the tears that were pricking at the corners of her eyes fall. She turned to Willow who had got up and was now standing in the doorway. "Will-"

"I'll call Giles," Willow said with a smile. "Let him know you're staying." Willow smiled at Xander.

"Don't you keep her awake too long," she said. "She's needs her sleep."

"Thanks, Willow." Buffy smiled gratefully at her friend. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Try and keep me away. I might even bring some old English guy with me," she beamed at them both before disappearing.

Buffy turned back to Xander. "I'm supposed to be letting you get your rest," she said softly.

"Buffy I just… wanna." Xander felt himself drifting off again. "…know you're here."

Buffy sat down and pulled her chair closer to his bed again. "I'm always here, Xander," she said, taking his hand, "always."


Willow walked into the hospital the next morning with Giles in tow, and the both of them found Buffy sitting outside Xander's room, studiously examining the green paint on the wall opposite.

"Buffy." Willow went up to her friend. "What's wrong?"

"Something didn't happen did it?" Giles asked, concerned.

Buffy looked up at the other two. "Oh, no. Nothing happened." She sat back in her seat and rested her head against the wall. "They wanted me to wait outside while they did some more checks. Plus," Buffy added, "they weren't too happy that I stayed with him last night."

Willow sat next to Buffy. "There's no way you could have said no to him last night."

Giles gave Buffy a small smile. "I would have liked to have seen them argue with you." He leaned against the wall opposite Buffy. "Willow tells me… well, from what she could gather last night… that Xander might remember what happened to him."

Buffy nodded. "He said a little more after Willow left. Not much… He fell asleep pretty quickly, but..." She sighed. "He remembers Tay attacking him and knowing that it wasn't… me. That was all he said. 'Hello' was pretty much all I said to him this morning before they threw me out."

Giles cleared his throat. "Does he… does he know it wasn't Ren who attacked him?" Giles asked. "Did he use Tay's name specifically?"

Buffy nodded again. "He used her name," she replied quietly. "He got this guilty look in his eyes when he said it. He didn't want to look at me… I think he might remember… other things they did."

"Oh… right," Giles scratched his forehead. "That’s probably something you two should sort-"

"On our own," Buffy finished quietly.

"Did they say how much longer they were gonna be?" Willow asked, changing the subject. "How long do we have to wait to see him again?"

Buffy looked at her watch. "It shouldn't be too much longer," she replied and sighed a small sigh of frustration. "I guess I should be used to this by now… Another hospital corridor, another set of doctors, and me, sitting around on my ass, having to wait… again.*"

"It does seem to keep happening," Willow agreed. She smiled slightly at Giles. "Do you think we're stuck in some kind of time loop?"

Giles smiled back and then nodded towards Xander's room. "Maybe we were," he said, "but at least now we appear to be heading forwards."


It was around lunchtime before Buffy and the others got to see Xander again and all three were under strict instructions not to tire him out; therefore, if they all wanted to go in together, they couldn't stay long. Giles volunteered to come back later, but Buffy dragged him into the room and soon all three were seated in various positions around Xander's bed.

Buffy had the chair closest to Xander and immediately took hold of his hand. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Just a little tired," he replied, shifting slightly against the pillows that were piled up behind him. "They keep prodding me and shining lights in my eyes. It's not fun. Don't even get me *started* on the needles."

Xander smiled at Buffy who returned it with a bright smile of her own, then Xander turned to the others. "Hey, Wills," he smiled at the witch. "And G-man as well. S'good to see you."

"You do realize this is the only time you're going to get away with calling me that," Giles said with a fond smile. Then he continued a more sincerely, "And it's good to see you too. We've all waited quite a while to finally hear your voice."

"Too long," Buffy said quietly and gave Xander's hand a gentle squeeze.

"The doctors said it had been three months," Xander said softly. "I just… I just don't remember… It all seems like I was asleep and then I woke up. Then everything just came rushing back."

"Xander…" Buffy squeezed his hand again, and Xander opened his eyes and looked at her. "Xander, don't do this OK? You're not going to get better if you keep thinking about it."

"I think Buffy's right," Giles said. "Everything is over… There's nothing left of… well, she's dead."

"Tay? She's dead?" Xander's brow furrowed a little. "Wait…actually, I know I'm missing a whole big chunk here. How? I mean what happened?" He looked to Buffy. "She said you… how did you get away? Please tell me… I-I need to know. Buffy, please."

Buffy shot a quick look at Giles, who gave her a look back as if to say, 'It's up to you'. Buffy looked back to Xander. "I had a timely rescue from Tay by her sister."

Xander blinked. "Ren?"

"She and I found you at your apartment. We were… we were too late to stop her…" Buffy trailed off and took a deep breath and then exhaled. "Ren held her off until I could get you to the hospital. We got you safe with the doctors, but Tay turned up here. She attacked Ren but we got the upper hand, and with the help of the hospital security guards-"

"Mostly the one who shot her in the head," Willow added.

"Exactly," Buffy continued. "The police took her body away, but Giles and I uh.. did some body snatching of our own, and we had our own little funeral pyre for her. I wasn't-" Buffy paused. "I wasn't going to be happy until I'd seen her ashes."

"I take it this is the abridged version you've just given me?" Xander said.

"I thought it was best," Buffy replied. "It wasn't pleasant."

"Tell me about it," Xander whispered. "What about Ren?" he asked.

"She's with me," Giles said, "I mean, she's staying with me. She was a little… uh… affected by events."

"Tay gave Ren back her mortality," Buffy explained. "She's human now."

Xander stared at her. "You're serious?" he said.

Buffy nodded and Giles continued. "She's coping," he said, "but then it's been a difficult time for all of us."

Then Willow smiled brightly at Xander. "But now you're awake, things are only gonna get better."


Giles returned to his home later that afternoon to find Ren asleep on the couch. He put one hand on her shoulder and shook her gently but she didn't wake up. Then a faint marking on Ren's palm caught his eye. He took hold of her hand and studied the image. It was raised on her palm and slightly green in color and depicted a half-closed eye.

Giles sighed and muttered a few words in a demonic language and then ran his thumb over Ren's forehead. Ren's eyes fluttered open and met with Giles'.

Giles raised an eyebrow. "Do you know how dangerous that was?" he said, "That's the type of sleep spell that should be done with supervision."

"Well, just sitting here waiting was doing my head in," Ren replied. "And I *do* know what I'm doing, thank you very much. I worked in a wake up call." She stretched and sat up. "How's Xander?"

"Very much awake," Giles replied, sitting next to her. "He seems to be well. The doctors say that he doesn't appear to have suffered any damage to his brain and everything seems to be working as it should."

"Oh, thank God." Ren breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good news." She paused. "How much does he remember?"

"Well, that's rather to the point," Giles remarked.

"I just want to know if he's going to freak out if he sees me, Rupert," Ren answered. "Always helps to know what you're letting yourself in for."

Giles adjusted his glasses. "Yes, quite. Well, from what Buffy told me and from what I heard Xander say himself, he remembers. Mainly what happened to him and the other things he was present for that involved your sister, and Buffy also gave him an abridged version of events that involved *her* and Tay-"

"So he knows everything?"

Giles nodded. "Even about your new human status."

"Poor guy," Ren said softly. "That's a lot of bad stuff to wake up to. Did seem to take it all well?"

"I think it shook him a little," Giles replied, "but I suppose anything like that would shake the best of people." Giles stood up and walked towards the kitchen, but stopped and turned back to face Ren. "Buffy's worried Xander will blame himself."

"He's gonna need a lot of support."

"He'll get it. Buffy and Xander are going to have to talk a lot through."

"They'll be OK, Rupert."

"It'll probably be best if we give them some, uh, alone time, as it were."

Ren studied Giles carefully and he averted his gaze. "Alone time," she repeated. "Yeah. I get it" Ren stood up. "You don't want me sticking my 'Still-got-a-thing-for-Xander' oar in, do you?" She grabbed her jacket and headed towards the door. "I thought you'd give me a little more credit than that Rupert."

"Ren, I didn't-"

She stopped in the half open doorway and turned to face him "I'll be back later."

Giles sighed as the door slammed, leaving him alone. "Well done, Rupert. Well done indeed."


Buffy was on her way back from her late evening trip to the vending machine when she spotted Ren rounding the corner and heading towards her.

"Hey!" Buffy walked over to meet her and immediately hugged the older woman.

"Uh… this is new," Ren said with a small smile as she pulled back from Buffy.

"Oh, I think I could gladly hug anyone today," Buffy said, grinning.

"And there I was thinking I was special," Ren joked. "I see you haven't managed to make it out of the hospital yet."

"And miss quality *awake* Xander time? You *have* to be joking."

"How is he?"

Buffy produced a bar of chocolate from her back pocket. "Well enough to already be asking for this."

"It's a start."

"Yeah." Buffy and Ren began to walk towards Xander's room. "I take it you've seen Giles?"

"Uh… yeah. It is OK if I see Xander tonight, isn't it?" she asked Buffy. "He's not going to get too tired or anything?"

"I'm sure he can manage a few minutes for you," Buffy said. "The doctors don't want him to get too tired out though; they want him to have his rest."

Ren turned to her and raised an eyebrow. "Of course *you've* been adhering to that."

"Hey, if he wants to sleep, I'll let him sleep," Buffy replied. "Doesn't mean to say I have to leave the room when he's doing it."

Ren grinned. "Too right. But I see you've left him alone at the moment."

"Nope. Currently he's in Willow and Tara's capable hands."

"Oh. Are you sure it's not going to get too crowded?"

"Wills and Tara are going as soon as I get back," Buffy said. "They both have classes tomorrow and-" Buffy looked out of a nearby window. "It's getting late. I guess I should walk them both back, maybe sweep a couple of cemeteries on the way back."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. I'll get some fresh air and then come here on the way back, and we can both go back to Giles'."

A few minutes later they both arrived back at Xander's room. Ren waited outside while Buffy, Willow and Tara said their goodbyes. Buffy was the last to leave and as she left the room she gave Ren's hand a comforting squeeze. "Don't leave without me OK?"

"OK." Ren smiled back at Buffy before the other girl left.

Xander eyed Ren carefully as she walked into his room. He couldn't explain it to himself, but he knew he didn’t feel happy about her being there with him. Xander wasn't frightened or scared - he knew it wasn't Tay who now stood before him. Then he realized it was anger he felt and he could feel it building up within him.

Ren met his eyes before she spoke, and Xander could tell she had seen that he wasn't happy about her being there.

"Long time no see," Xander said coolly.

"It's been a while," Ren replied and Xander knew she was trying to keep her tone light. "You look good," she added.

"No thanks to your sister," Xander replied before he could stop himself. //But then,// he thought, //isn't that why I'm here? Why all this happened? Because of *her* sister?// Xander kept his eyes locked on Ren as she stayed by the door. "Y'know the evil one I knew nothing about?"

Ren faltered. She hadn't expected Xander to take this tone. From what Buffy and Giles had said, it would be all right for her to visit. Even if she realized his words did ring true to her. She did feel guilty for not mentioning Tay, knowing how her sister was.

"Xander, I'm sorry I never told you… told any of you about Tay." Ren went to take a step towards Xander, but saw his look harden and stayed where she was. "I-I never knew anything like this was going to happen, I swear."

Xander's eyes narrowed. "Bit *late* for that now, isn't it?" he said. "I can't tell you how much I enjoyed being in a coma."

"Xander… I'm sorry," Ren said beseechingly. "Please I never-"

"Save it for someone who cares, Ren," Xander cut her off.

Tears began to glisten in Ren's eyes. "Why did you want to see me? Why didn't you tell Buffy to tell me to just piss off?"

"I didn't want to upset Buffy," Xander replied. "I can see she seems to like you now." Xander paused. "But *I* don't. I want you to go."

Ren dropped her gaze to the floor. "I *am* sorry," she said then looked back up at him. "And you have every right to be angry. I'm sorry." She left.

Xander stared at the now empty space where Ren had previously stood //I *do* have every right.//


Buffy returned to the hospital just under an hour later to find Xander alone in his room.

"Where'd Ren go?" she asked.

"Said she'd wait for you outside," Xander replied.

"But she wasn't in the corridor. I didn't see her at all."

"I think she meant *outside* outside."

"Oh. Huh?" Buffy frowned a little. "Guess I'll look for her on the way out then. You doing OK?"

Xander nodded. "Just tired."

Buffy perched on the edge of the bed by Xander's side. "Well, you've had a busy day," she said as she trailed her fingers through his hair. "Lots of visitors for you to meet and greet."

Xander caught hold of her hand and brought it down to his lips and kissed the tips of her fingers. "I never meant to hurt you," he said softly. "You know that don't you?"

Buffy nodded. "What happened--everything--it wasn't our fault," she said. "We're the victims here."

"I don't like being a victim. I promise I won't let it happen to us again."

"I promise too," Buffy replied, holding Xander's gaze. She smiled. "Me and you against the world, huh?"

Xander smiled back. "Me and you."


"Is she here?" was the first question Buffy asked as she pushed past Giles into his home.

"Is *who* here?" Giles closed the door and then turned to face an anxious looking Buffy.

"Ren," Buffy said. "She was supposed to wait, but she didn't."

"What? Wait where?"

"At the hospital," Buffy replied. "After seeing Xander, she was going to wait for me to get back from a quick excursion to the lands of the undead, and we were going to come back here."

"She didn't come back." Giles gave Buffy a concerned look. "I haven't seen her since this afternoon." He scratched his head. "I said something, phrased it wrong. She took offence and stormed out."

Buffy frowned. "What did you say?"

"I, uh, look it-it was nothing. Let's just… A-are you sure she knew where to meet you?"

"Uh huh," Buffy said, "with Xander. But Xander said she'd gone outside, and when I looked, I couldn't find her. I know she can take care of herself, but to just disappear without leaving a message. You can never be too careful in Sunny-" she broke off, and Buffy and Giles turned to look at the door as it began to open without warning.

Buffy began to get into a fighting stance but relaxed when she saw a familiar flash of blue hair.

"Well, she came in un-invited," Buffy said, "At least we know she's not a vampire."

Ren gave Buffy and odd look. "What?"

"Just my way of saying at least we know you're all right" Buffy replied pointedly.

Ren look a little chagrined. "Oh… right… I was supposed to-"

"Wait?" Buffy finished.

"I had some… stuff…" Ren trailed off and looked around distractedly. "Sorry, I'm just…"

Giles brow creased. "Are you OK?"

"I'm fine," Ren replied and walked over to the couch and sat down. "Just tired, that's all."

"Well, if you are," Buffy said, "then I'll leave you two to it. I'm heading back to the hospital."

"Isn't Xander supposed to be *resting*?" Giles pointed out.

"He is," Buffy replied, "but he asked me to stay, so I am." She waved goodbye to Giles and made her exit.

Giles sighed and wandered over to his kitchen. When he reached the doorway he turned back to the sitting room and looked at Ren, who was sitting on his couch with her head resting on her knees and her arms wrapped over her head. Giles frowned and walked over to her.

"What's wrong?" he asked. "And don't tell me you're just tired."

Ren didn't look at him. "What you said earlier," she said in a voice Giles could barely hear, "I think you're right." Ren dropped her arms from her head and looked up at him. "I'm just in the way here."

"What? Ren, no… that's not…" Giles put a hand on her shoulder. "You're *not* in the way," he insisted.

"I *am* Rupert" Ren replied "I mean… what am I doing here really, huh? I'll tell you what I'm doing. *Nothing*. That's what"

"You're not going to leave again, are you?" Giles asked.

"Why not, Rupert? Xander's OK, there's nothing to keep me here now… why not?"

"You're tired," Giles said. "And there's obviously something else that's behind all this. We'll talk about it in the morning, all right?"

"I don't…" Ren sighed sadly. "OK. Tomorrow."

Giles smiled. "Good."


(Next morning)

"So, how are you feeling this morning?" Buffy asked Xander. "Did you get a good night’s sleep?"

"Probably better than you," Xander remarked. "How can you possibly sleep in that chair?"

Buffy stretched her arms. "Oh, you get used to it after a while." She yawned. "They didn't like me sleeping with you on the bed."

Xander raised one eyebrow slightly. "You slept on the bed with me?"

"Yeah." Buffy smiled a little. "And if it were under any other circumstances, I would have been appreciative of you not constantly moving around in your sleep."

Xander smiled back softly. "I can't believe you did that."

"Yeah… well I did," Buffy replied. "I missed having you to snuggle up to."

Xander maneuvered himself up into a sitting position and Buffy got up to rearrange the pillows behind his back. He smiled gratefully at her. "I don't deserve you, you know."


"I mean it, Buff," Xander said. "You know what happened between me and her." He lowered his gaze. "That I… I slept with her," he finished quietly.

"I know," Buffy sighed sadly. "And I wish things could be different… but they aren't. Things happened… that shouldn't have." Buffy reached out and tilted Xander's face upwards so she could look into his eyes. "But they weren't things—circumstances—that we could control. I know that."

She paused. "Tell me," Buffy said, "how did you know… in the end, that she-"

"Wasn't you?" Xander finished, and Buffy nodded. "I just saw her for who she… wasn't… without all her tricks. I didn't know who she was at first. I knew she wasn't you, then she told me." Xander shut his eyes. "I felt so used," he admitted quietly. "Before I found out, I was never going to… to go that far… it would have been wrong. I just can't believe I let her fool me like that. I should have known."

"Xander, honey." Buffy took hold of his hand. "It wasn't just you remember? No one knew, OK? All that has mattered to me over these past months is that you'd wake up. I mean, what would it have achieved if I'd spent that time thinking about what had gone on between you two?" Buffy scooted closer to him. "Before any of this happened we had a future." She held up her left hand. "I have never taken this ring off since you gave it to me, Xander, and I'm not going to." Buffy felt her eyes begin to brim with tears. "I love you so much, Xander Harris, and I want to have that future with you."

"I love you too," Xander said, leaning forward and capturing Buffy's lips in a soft kiss. "I want that future too." He pulled back from her and looked deep into her eyes. "Nothing is going to stand in our way."

Buffy grinned. "Damn straight."


Three hours later Buffy stood in Giles' shop and was staring at him in disbelief.

"She did *what*?" Buffy said. "She skipped town *again*?"

Giles busied himself by re-arranging some books that he had stacked on shelves. "That's what I said," he replied a little shortly. "At least I got a note this time."

Buffy sighed. "I can't believe Ren didn't even say goodbye to you… to anyone." Her brow creased slightly. "What could have gotten into her?"

"She mentioned something last night," Giles replied. "She thought she was going to be in the way… with you and Xander. She thought that there was nothing keeping her here now."

Buffy looked at Giles sadly. "That's hardly fair to you, is it?"

Giles turned to face her. "What?"

"I, well, you like her, right?"

Giles moved away from the bookshelf and began sorting through some more things. "She's an old friend," he replied. "Of course I like her."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Ding! Oh look, Mr. *Denial* just walked into the shop."

"Buffy, what-"

"Ren is a grown woman who can take care of herself," Buffy pointed out, and Giles stopped what he was doing and looked at her. "She has every right to up and leave when she wants. What *you're* upset about is that *you* left it too late to give her anything to stay *for.*"

Giles looked at her for a few seconds before responding "You have no idea what you're talking about."

"Hey! I have every idea," Buffy replied. "I did the same thing with Xander, y'know, just sitting back in the shadows hoping that he'd notice that I wanted to jump his bones." Buffy ignored Giles rolling his eyes at that remark and continued. "Then I realized that I had to do something about it, and now I'm *engaged* to him. Do you see where I'm going here, Giles?"

"Unfortunately," Giles sighed and adjusted his glasses, "You couldn't have informed me to get my arse into gear sooner, I suppose?"

"I admit 'arse' shifting would have been higher up on the agenda had I known Ren was gonna do this," Buffy replied. "Do you have *any* idea of where she went?"

Giles shook his head. "She said she'd get in touch." He smiled sadly when Buffy put her hand on his arm. "So what do I do when she calls?" he asked her.

"You tell her you want her back here," Buffy replied with a smile. "Think you can do that?"

"I-I suppose it couldn't hurt," Giles admitted then he sighed again. "I really do think I'm getting to old for this."


Giles looked at her. "Yes, thank you for that embellished reassurance, Buffy."


"Yes, well let's change the subject, shall we? How was Xander this morning?"

"Great," Buffy replied. "The doctor said he's making a good recovery so far, and if he keeps it up, he could be back home within a fortnight."

"Well… that is good news, Buffy," Giles said. "Um, although I'm not quite sure on where you're thinking *home* might be." Giles raised his eyebrows questioningly at Buffy. "Do you think he'll want to go back to his apartment?"

"You mean after what happened?" she asked and Giles shrugged. Buffy sighed "I don't know. That's up to Xander. If he doesn't, well, mom has issued an invitation for him to stay with us, and I really have no complaints on that front."

"It's probably something you should bring up with him soon. Are you going back up to see him now?"

"Actually, I'm not. I'm meeting Tara and Willow for lunch and then I'm going home 'cos mom is back from her trip."

"A busy day ahead then?" Giles said. "Any chance you could find some time to help me here?"

"Sure," Buffy replied as she headed towards the door, "the next time your boyfriend wakes up from a coma." When she got to the door, Buffy turned back to Giles and smiled. "I'll be in tomorrow, really. I'll tell the others about Ren."


"I hope she calls soon, Giles. I'd only just got used to her being around again."

"You and me both, Buffy."


Buffy looked at Xander in disbelief. "'Huh'. That's all you have to say?" She reached out and felt his forehead. "Are you sure you're OK?"

Xander brushed her hand away. "Well, what did you expect me to say, Buffy? It’s not like Ren hasn't flitted off before, and actually I'm surprised at you being the way you are about it."

"What do you mean?"

"Think about it," Xander responded. "If Ren had mentioned about her evil twin, we wouldn't be in the situation we are now."

"Evil twin? Xander, this isn't a soap opera," Buffy said. "Ren never knew any of this was going to happen-"

"Maybe not," Xander replied, "but don't you think that it might have been nice to know that there was someone who might use us to get to her?" Xander met Buffy's eyes, which held concern for him. "Buffy, I'm serious. You mean to tell me the thought never crossed your mind."

Buffy's brow creased. "Xander, this is crazy talk, OK? You're tired-"

"You didn't answer my question," Xander pointed out.

"Well… I-I guess if we'd known…" Buffy said slowly. "There would have been… questions… about the fake switching."

"See?" Xander said, nodding slightly. "You admitted it."

"Xander… I can't even believe we're having this conversation." //And I can't believe I'm considering whether or not he actually does have a point//.

"Ren carries as much blame as her sister," Xander stated simply.

"Xander, you're tired," Buffy said again, "and this isn't a conversation I want to have with you only a few days after you've come out of a coma, and, oh my god, you told Ren this to her face, didn't you? That's why she's gone!"

Xander shrugged. "I didn't want her thinking that everything was going to be the same between us," he said, "but I never asked her to go."

"You think she'd stay? She cares about you."

"I wasn't going to pretend, Buffy. It wouldn't have been fair on anyone."

Buffy looked at Xander again through concerned eyes. "I'll say it again. I think this is something we should talk about another time… when you're a little better." Buffy ran a hand through her hair. "I also think we should keep your feelings about this between us."


"I just think it's for the best" Buffy replied. //And not to mention what Giles might say.//

"Well… if you think so," Xander replied reluctantly.

"I do. Now, I have to get going. It's late, and I have to see mom, and then I have my sacred duty to attend to."

"That's my little Slayer."

Buffy looked at him and smiled back. "I've missed you saying that," she said softly.

Xander silently beckoned her to sit with him on the bed. Buffy obliged and leaned close to him.

Xander looked deep into her eyes. "That's my little Slayer," he repeated quietly.

Buffy closed her eyes and leaned closer to him, resting her forehead against his. She sighed happily when Xander wrapped one arm around her waist. When his other hand gently tilted her head back, she opened her eyes and smiled. "I really have to get going," she protested weakly.

The corners of Xander's lips twitched upwards and then he pressed them against Buffy's. Buffy closed her eyes again and let herself get taken over by the long overdue, but not forgotten, sensation of Xander's kiss.

"That's something else I missed," she said when they pulled away from each other.

"It’s been a while for me too," Xander replied. "'Course we could give it another go…"

Buffy grinned. "And wear you out?" she shook her head. "You can save the rest of that energy for getting better."

Xander pouted, then a sly grin spread across his face. "Y'know, I think I'd get a lot better a lot quicker if you were to get a hold of one of those nurses uniforms…"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Some things never change with you, do they?" She slid off the bed and picked up her coat from the back of the chair. "And don't you think that you lowering the tone has made me forget about what you said about Ren." Buffy looked pointedly at Xander.

Xander sighed. "I promise I won't say anything to anyone else, but I have a right to think what I like."

"I know you do, Xander," Buffy said as she leaned against the door. "But let’s just leave it for a little while, OK?" She blew him a kiss. "I’ll see you tomorrow."

"Love you."

Buffy couldn’t help but smile. "Love you back, Xander.." Buffy blew him another kiss before stepping out onto the corridor.

Buffy shrugged on her jacket and shoved her hands in the pockets of her jeans. Xander’s unexpected reaction to the news about Ren had thrown her a little. She hadn’t expected him to put any blame on her at all. // Xander was right about me thinking the same thing at first, but I was never that malicious about it.// Buffy sighed as she made her way outside the hospital. //And why would Ren go if she didn’t feel guilty?//


It was about noon the next day when Xander was surprised by both Willow and Tara bounding into his room. He beamed. "Hey, if it isn’t my two favorite witches," he said, sitting up a bit straighter against his pillows.

"Xander, we’re the only witches you know." Willow smiled as she sat down in a vacant chair. Tara sat opposite her.

"I know, Amy," Xander pointed out.

"Ooh, then we win," said Tara happily.

"You two really are full of bounce today, aren’t you?" Xander commented. "What's up?"

"Nothing," Willow replied. "Just happy to see our Xander-shaped friend actually sitting up and talking to us."

"Hey, if you play your cards right, you might get to see your Xander-shaped friend having wheelchair races down the corridor in a couple of days," Xander told them with a grin.

"You mean they're finally letting you get up and about?" Willow said. "That's great."

Tara smiled. "You're really doing well, aren't you?"

Xander nodded. "That’s what they tell me… and why are you both looking at me like that?"

Willow and Tara exchanged glances and Tara indicated that Willow speak. Accordingly, she turned back to Xander and cleared her throat.

"Well, we were wondering… y'know… if you'd help us with a project."

Xander looked at both girls dubiously. "What kind of project?"

"It's for school," Tara said "Nothing witchy."

"Good, 'cause witchy doesn't equal good on me. People tend to come after me with axes." He grinned at Willow, who stuck her tongue out at him.

"That was not my fault," she said "You and your manly pride got you into that one."

"I missed this, didn't I?" said Tara with a smile.

"It was when Xander was dating Cordelia," Willow explained. "She dumped him-"

Xander butted in. "On Valentine’s Day, I might add."

"-and he got Amy to cast a love spell to get her to like him again. Only it didn't work, and every other girl but her liked him instead. Let's just say it wasn't pretty."

"Oh, I don't know." Xander had a wistful look in his eyes. "Buffy *was* wearing just a raincoat…"

"Yeah, you would focus on that." Willow grinned.

"I haven't met Cordelia, have I?" Tara asked.

"Nah." She turned to face her girlfriend "Cordelia is-" Willow broke off when she heard a sharp intake of breath from Xander. She quickly snapped her head around to face Xander, who had squeezed his eyes shut.

"Xander?" Willow gripped his arm. "Xander, are you OK? Do you want me-"

"No… no." Xander opened his eyes. "I'm fine." He exhaled slowly and looked distracted. "That… was… weird."

Tara and Willow looked at him with concern. Willow let go of his arm. "What was weird?"

Xander rubbed his eyes. "I had this strange feeling… then as soon as you said Cordelia the last time… I had this vision of… Cordy dressed in white."

"Well… she does wear clothes," Willow said. "It's probably-"

"Yeah, but topped off with a springy star headband?" Xander shook his head. "That's not Cordy."

"You said you had a strange feeling... what kind of feeling?" Tara asked.

Xander's brow creased. "Just *strange*," he repeated, running a hand through his hair. "Can't really describe it as anything else…"

"Well," said Willow thoughtfully, "if it happens again, we should probably mention it to Giles. Strange on the Hellmouth almost always means something."


Buffy peered at Giles over the stack of books she was carrying. "I'm starting to think," she said, walking carefully to the counter, "that you only hired me for my muscles."

"Of course," Giles replied, smiling slightly. "It couldn't possibly have been for your talent with numbers." He waved the pile of receipts he had been looking through at her. "The total is wrong."

Buffy sighed and pointedly dumped the books on the counter in front of him before snatching the receipts from his hand. She looked at them carefully, then cleared her throat. "Yeah… well… that's your fault for getting me to do it."

"Obviously." Giles took the receipts back from her. "Silly me."

Buffy took the top book of the pile. "Why do you need to move these, anyway?" she asked, studying the cover. "You think you'll sell them any better if they're on this side of the shop?"

"I'm taking them home," he replied. "Thought I'd do some catching up."

"Ah. Or maybe try and find something to take your mind off a certain someone?"

Giles didn't answer. He took the book from her, who rolled her eyes and placed it back on top of the pile. He went to move away, but Buffy darted in front of him.

"So what exactly did she say in her note?" Buffy asked. "Did she actually pinpoint a reason as to why she ran?"

Giles frowned slightly. "Buffy, Ren didn't *run*. She just left."

"You're sure 'bout that?"

"Buffy, what is this?" Giles crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Are you insinuating something?"

"Hey, don't get all defensive on me," she said, her tone appeasing. "I was just wondering if Ren said *why* she went, that's all."

Giles uncrossed his arms and shoved his hands in his pockets. He sighed. "No… not in her note, anyway," he answered, eventually. "The night before she left, Ren said she didn't want to be in the way… in the way of letting you and Xander get back on your feet."

"Did you believe her?"

Giles frowned again. "Is there something else going on here, Buffy?"

"No! What? No, nothing." Buffy walked away from Giles and began to study assorted jars on a nearby shelf. "I was just curious."

"Well, if you do decide there is something else," Giles replied, moving back behind the counter, "you will let me know, won't you?"

Buffy felt guilty about the tone of Giles voice, but she swallowed her guilt and turned to face him. "There's *nothing*, Giles. Really."


(A couple of days later)

"Are you sure this thing can't go any faster?" Xander hit the arm of his wheelchair with his fist a couple of times in quick succession. "Come on!"

"Honey, I don't think you really want Slayer power behind this thing," Buffy replied.

Xander pouted, even though he knew she couldn't see him. "But I'm sick," he whined playfully. "You're supposed to be nice to me."

"Really?" Buffy replied, playing along. "Then I guess if you're that sick, pushing you faster will make you worse, won't it?"

"Pfft. That's just crazy Slayer logic."

"Do you want me to wheel you back?"

"How 'bout I just get out and walk?"

"Oh, no, you don't. The doctor said you had to stay in the chair."

"No fair." Xander tipped his head back to look up at Buffy. "Do you *know* how numb my ass is?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "You're impossible."

Xander pouted again. "Y'know you love me, really."

Buffy took a hand from the chair to ruffle Xander's hair. "Yeah, yeah. OK, brace yourself." Buffy nudged Xander's head forward gently. "We're going outside."

Xander squinted as Buffy wheeled him outside, his eyes adjusting from artificial to natural light. He rearranged the blanket that was covering his legs. "Well, I'm glad to see you haven't let the world get sucked into hell while I was out for the count."

"Yeah. You'll be glad to know we had no major slayage problems. And it helped that I had the guys to back me up." She stopped walking. "You wanna sit in the shade, or what?"

"I'd like some sun, please," he said. "If I get any paler, you'll be mistaking me for the undead."

"Not in those pajamas, I won't." Buffy grinned. "And anyway, you look fine." She pushed Xander over to the nearest vacant bench. "Here." She produced a chocolate bar from her bag and handed it to him before sitting. "Enjoy."

"I'm gonna have to start lifting the weights again when I get out," he said, proceeding to munch on the chocolate. "I wanna look buff for my Buff," he added with a grin.

"Hey. Whoa there, cowboy. Let's just take things one step at a time, OK?"

"I just wanna get stronger again," Xander said. "Get myself back in the game."

"*One* step at a time, Xander."

"Fine." Before Buffy could stop him, Xander threw off the blanket and planted his feet on the ground, pushing himself up and out of the wheelchair. "*One* step." He spread his arms out to his sides. "See, I can do that."

Buffy got up and stood in front of him. "Xander… please. Sit dow-" Her words were cut short as Xander swept her into his arms in a passionate embrace. Buffy's hands clutched his shoulders when all thoughts of his less-than-healthy state faded from thought, and she began to lose herself in the kiss.

Although Xander could feel his legs begin to weaken, he drew Buffy closer, not wanting to let her go. It had been a long time since he had been this close to her, and he wasn't going to let it end anytime soon.

Unfortunately, someone else had other ideas. The couple broke apart when they heard a familiar person clearing his throat.

"Are you sure that's wise?" Giles asked.

Buffy smoothed down her clothes and shot a quick, pleading look at Xander, who raised his hands in defeat and sat back down in the wheelchair.

"I was told I could find you out here," Giles continued. "I wasn't told I'd be looking for the couple giving everyone a free show."

"Giles!" Buffy flushed a little. Xander just grinned.

"I guess it saves me having to ask if you're feeling all right," Giles said to Xander, handing him the blanket he had discarded minutes earlier.

"I'm OK," Xander replied. "Nurse Summers here just doesn't want me straining myself, that's all. The smoochies were spur of the moment." He turned to Buffy and grinned. "Couldn't help myself."

"You never could," replied Buffy with a grin of her own. She turned her attention to Giles and noticed the strange smile on his face. "What?" she asked.

"Hmm? Oh, it's just… you two." Giles smiled warmly. "It's been awhile since…" He sighed "It's nice to see you two together like this."

Buffy looked to Xander and smiled. "I think it is too." She then smacked Xander on the arm lightly. "Even if he does insist on being stubborn when it comes to getting his rest."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Buffy, if I get any more rest, I'll go nuts. Do you know how boring it is sitting up in that room when you aren't there?" He sighed. "I just wanna get out and about. Not lounge about on my ass all day in that room. At least if I was on a ward…" Xander trailed off and looked between Buffy and Giles. "Hey. How come I'm *not* on a ward? I have a private room. I know my insurance is pretty mediocre."

Buffy shot a look at Giles. She had hoped that Xander would be too caught up in getting better to notice *where* he was getting better, especially as she knew he was not going to like the reason. "Umm…"

Xander saw Giles give Buffy a confused look. "OK," he said. "Guys, what's going on here?"

Giles frowned slightly. "I thought you knew. I thought someone would-"

Buffy interrupted Giles by clearing her throat. "Well, y'see… it's like this-"

"Buffy…" Xander gave his girlfriend a no-nonsense look.

Buffy sighed in resignation. "All right. Yes, your insurance was pretty much the 'We'll-just-make-sure-you-don't-die' package. And we wanted you to have all the nice things, even if you weren't awake, so… someone else helped pay."

"Who?" asked Xander.

"Ren," said Buffy quietly.

Xander was silent for a few seconds. "Oh," he said finally, his tone neutral. "Interesting. Bet she feels g-" Xander was about to continue when he spied a warning in Buffy's eyes. He sighed inwardly. "It doesn't matter."

Giles didn't see the look Buffy had given Xander, but he wanted to change the subject anyway, not wanting to dwell on the reasons why Ren still hadn't gotten in touch. "Have you decided what you want to do when you're discharged? Where you're going to stay?"

"I'm gonna stay with Buffy," Xander answered. "I'm not going back to my place." He sighed "I don't think I can face it just yet."

"I've already taken some of your things over," Buffy told him. "Some clothes and a few little odds and ends."

Xander smiled. "Thanks, hon."

She smiled back at him. "No probs."

Giles looked between the two of them. "Um… well, maybe I should go… leave you two alone."

"You're going?" Buffy looked at him. "But you only just got here."

"I know," replied Giles. "But I left Willow and Tara in charge of the shop and I dread to think what spells they're cooking up in my absence."

"Well… OK. Guess I'll see you later, huh?" Buffy moved to stand, but Giles waved her back.

"Good to see you out and about, Xander," he told him in farewell, and began to walk away. He got about a hundred yards when he turned back to look at Buffy and Xander. Buffy had taken hold of Xander's hand, and they were both grinning at each other. Giles sighed sadly //Those two really do have something,// he thought. //And they have each other.// Giles began to walk again. //It's always nice to have someone.//


"I can't go anywhere today without seeing any of you lot attached to each others lips, can I?" said Giles as he returned to the shop that afternoon.

Both Tara and Willow flushed pink and broke away from each other. "You're… you're back early," Willow faltered. "We were just-"

"Yes, I can see you were just," Giles said with a small smile, heading to the counter the two witches stood behind. "Did you have any problems?" he asked.

Tara shook her head. "How was Xander?"

"Good," Giles replied. "He was actually outside. Buffy had taken him for trip in a wheelchair."

"He was saying yesterday he wanted to get outside," Willow said "I think he was beginning to suffer from cabin fever."

Giles smiled faintly. "Possibly." He began to fiddle with some of the items on the counter.

Willow frowned. "You OK?"

"Hmm? What?" Giles looked up at her.

"I asked if you were OK" Willow said. "You seem distracted"

Giles sighed. "I guess I am, a little," he replied.

"If it helps," Tara said quietly, "she didn't call when you were out."

"No, I don't think it helps." Giles gave her a small smile. "But thanks for not making me ask."

"Can't you call her?" Willow asked. "She does have a cell phone y'know."

Giles shook his head. "First thing I tried. Couldn't get an answer. Since then it's been switched off. I keep getting diverted to voicemail. I leave messages, but…"

Willow smiled at him sadly. "I'm sorry." She shrugged. "But I don't know what to say to make you feel better. Y'know, I'd have thought Xander would have been more upset." Both Tara and Giles gave her a curious look, so she continued. "I mean, considering how cut up he was, last time."

"He seems totally wrapped up in Buffy," said Tara finally. "Perhaps it hasn't sunk in yet."

"Maybe." Willow shrugged again. "But it's good that Buffy and Xander are spending time together like they are… especially, y'know, after what happened between Xander and Tay and the whole… y'know… them sleeping together thing."

"Well… I think that's something they're obviously figuring out themselves," said Giles. "Not for us to stick our noses in."

"Hey, no nose sticking here," said Willow. "I am merely a supportive and understanding best friend person."

"What would they do without you?" Tara grinned at her girlfriend.

"Oh, they'd find it hard." Willow grinned back.

Giles sighed inwardly and the witches continued to chat between each other. He headed into the back room. //Like I said. Always nice to have somebody.//


"Buffy!" Joyce called up the stairs to her daughter. "Dinner's ready if you want to come down."

Buffy shook herself out of her daydream and looked at her watch. "Seven-thirty?" she said with disbelief. //Man, I only came up here to go to the bathroom…// she looked at her watch again… //three hours ago.//

Buffy got off her bed and looked around her room, remembering why she'd lost track of time. After the bathroom, she'd been sorting through and putting away some of Xander's things, and it had taken her a long time because she kept reminiscing about some of the things they reminded her of. She picked up a photo of them that she kept on her nightstand. Xander had one exactly like it as well. It was a photo of both of them that Willow had taken just a few weeks before all the bad things happened. They were both sitting on the steps that led onto Joyce's veranda. Buffy was leaning against him, her head turned to him, and they were looking at each other dreamily.

Buffy smiled to herself and put the picture down. She turned to leave, but found her mother standing in the doorway.

"You OK up here?" Joyce asked.

"Fine, Mom. I was just coming down."

"I thought you might have been asleep or something." Joyce glanced around the room. "Sorting things out for Xander?"

Buffy nodded. "Uh huh. It should be OK for now. I can pick up the other stuff later."

"You can't wait to play nurse maid, huh?"

"It's not like that, Mom," said Buffy as she followed Joyce downstairs. "It's just… well, OK, maybe it *is* a little like that."

Joyce shook her head and smiled at her daughter when she reached the bottom of the stairs. "I guess I'm gonna have to knock whenever I want to come into a room, aren't I?"

Buffy blushed a little and cleared her throat. "Hey, what did you make for dinner?"

Joyce put an arm around her daughter's shoulder was leading her into the kitchen when they were startled by a knock at the door.

Joyce looked at Buffy. "I'm not expecting anyone. Are you?"

"Nope." Buffy went to the door cautiously. She opened the door and her mouth nearly hit the floor when she saw who was standing there. "What are you doing here?!"

"Didn't want to stay there any longer," Xander grinned. "Hey, do I smell food?"