Part Ten

Willow and Oz had sat for at least ten minutes in the coffee shop in near silence. They stirred their coffee, looked around, Willow even got in some quality fidgeting. Oz seemed indifferent to the quiet, but Oz seemed indifferent to most things, on the surface. Still water truly did run deep with this one, however.

"So, Devon needed a new bass player, huh?" Willow finally ventured.

"He did once he heard I was coming back," Oz explained. He could tell the redhead didn't like the sound of that. "I got a letter from your girlfriend, Tara."

"Not my girlfriend anymore," Willow muttered darkly.

"Got that letter, too."

"So you decided to come back and catch me on the rebound, is that it?" Her previous nervousness was segueing into burning anger.

Oz's sincere gaze poured water on the flames. "She was worried about you. If she was worried enough about you to write your ex about it, I thought I should come." He took her hand. "What's going on, Will? Tara wrote something screwy about you not being all you anymore. That you had some weird bond with Xander and Buffy and the old librarian. What I saw with Xander sort of confirms that, too."

"Rupe is not old," she cried defensively.

"And what's with this 'Rupe' business? Mrs. Calendar was dead for almost a year before you'd call her 'Jenny' in conversation. Cute nicknames for men old enough to about be your dad aren't your style."

She pulled her hand from his grasp, hugging herself defensively. "He's not old enough to be my dad anymore. Maybe my older brother, or something." She looked down at the table, wondering if, even for a werewolf on the Hellmouth, the Unity story was going to be hard for anyone who hadn't seen her to swallow. "We've changed. All of us. Some are obvious ways - Rupe is a whole lot younger, Buffy and Xander and me are older. Some aren't so obvious - my classes are much easier now that I can tap into Rupe's knowledge, and we can all talk to each other no matter how far away we are, just by thinking it. We're all a lot stronger. But Unity - Unity is so much more. She's like Supergirl, without the spandex and cape. And I don't she can fly, either." She looked up, not totally surprised by the lack of comprehension on the young man's face. Sighing, she sipped her cooling coffee. "Why don't I start from the beginning?"

@~~`~~~

After a long and serious pep talk with Giles, Xander was a bit tired, even though it was only mid afternoon. He'd just done the punch out on a fairly large job for Fred, and he'd actually gone by the Magic Box to see if Giles wanted to go get lunch, an idea Oz's appearance had totally overridden. He swung by McDonalds, picked up a chocolate shake, and headed home instead.

Imagine his surprise when he entered the apartment to find Buffy curled up on the couch, watching "Oprah." She gazed over at him fondly. "Hey." Pressing the remote, she switched the TV off. "Funny how those people on talk shows never have problems as complicated as we do, here in Real Life."

"Yeah, well, they don't live in Sunnydale. I thought you were working today."

"I could say the same for you," she grinned.

"Finished my job this morning." He wandered into the kitchen to throw away his empty cup, Buffy following him. "You?"

"They decided that since I'd opened all their mail and filed it within the first hour, they didn't have anything else for me to do, and sent me home, so I'm free. Free Buffy." She stood smiling, her arms wide.

Xander grew a tad unfocused at the sight. *What an invitation,* he thought.

"It could be," she said huskily, her eyes narrowing as she looked at him.

"I didn't say that out loud, did I?" he asked nervously. She shook her head. He strode to the couch, turning to look at her intently before he sat down. "We need to talk about stuff."

She sat beside him. "We do," she conceded.

"I've given the idea of you and me together some thought," Xander began. *Way to understate it, Xand,* he told himself. Her eyebrow shot up, and he realized they were touching slightly, and the whole internal conversation was on 'broadcast mode' as far as Buffy was concerned, too. He thought about moving away, but as her hearing his mental comment earlier had shown, his emotions were turning up the volume of his thoughts as well, and while he figured Willow and Giles were probably wrapped up enough in their own current situations, at least if he and Buffy touched, he could guarantee she would be the *only* one who heard him embarrass himself. She smiled at that thought.

"I've thought about you some, too," she told him. "I mean, it's not like we aren't just about living in each other's laps these days."

"I really like the way you word things, Buff," he grinned.

Ignoring him, she continued. "Your deal with Anya might not have proved anything, but then with Willow and Tara breaking up, too, it probably means none of us will be able to hang onto partners outside of Unity. Not that I've been able to, anyway..."

"Self-pity warning. Let's just say, even on that score, and go on."

She grinned. "See? You know me really well, and you always think about how I feel - even if it means a joke at your own expense."

"Hey, you know me - no expense spared!"

She swatted him. "Stop interrupting, or we'll never get to the part where I say we should give you and me a try."

He clapped his hand over his mouth, but couldn't stopper up his thoughts. *Did she say give me a try? Give *her* and *me* a try? Oh, God, now I'm hearing things. No, I'm dreaming.*

"Yes, I did, no, you aren't, and no, you aren't. Now *hush* and listen - in your mind too. Now, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted..." He looked contrite - and so cute. He heard that thought, and grinned. She rolled her eyes - she was never going to get through this. "I don't think any of us are going to be able to have relationships with Others - not close, serious ones. But besides the fact that you're no hardship to look at, you're sweet and considerate, and caring, and I find myself wondering why I never saw you as boyfriend material in the past."

He had promised to stay quiet, but his mind was a traitor. *Because you've never been in a position where I was the equivalent of 'the last man on earth' before,* he thought glumly, forgetting for the moment she could hear.

"Aww, Xan," she said softly, taking his free hand and stroking it. "It's not that. I can't think of anyone I'd rather be sharing a mind with. I'd started to care for you a lot even before Unity came up, but you belonged to Anya, and I was happy to see you happy. Now, for the first time since I've known you, nobody I care about would get hurt by me liking you, and neither of us are even involved with anyone else - unless you and Willow are interested again?"

Lifting an eyebrow for permission to speak, he took his hand away from his mouth when she nodded. "Giles. Willow and Giles," he said quickly.

Buffy squealed. "I thought so! Yesss!" After a few moments of triumphant couch bouncing, she regained her control. She looked over at him after finishing her outburst. " Why do I get the feeling you still aren't convinced I could feel anything beyond friendship for you?"

"Well, there is the fact you told me so to my face."

"That was a long time ago," she protested, defensively. "Things change - people change. You've changed." Teasingly she pinched his cheek. "My little Xander's all grown up." He smiled feebly and she frowned back. "Seriously, if you had been the man you are now, then, I could in no way have ignored you. Of course, you'd have also been twenty-five to my sixteen, which could have been an issue."

"I seem to remember you liking older men back then - one that was a good deal more than twenty-five."

Her head dropped. "We all make mistakes."

"You're admitting Angel was a mistake?"

She looked up, defiance in her eyes. "Yeah. But I made it, and I learned something, and I wouldn't be who I am without it - without him."

"Whoa, whoa! Put down the gun and back away, cowboy. I was just surprised to hear that I was actually right about something back then."

She sighed, the defiance gone. "You were right more than we gave you credit for. And if I'd seen what was right in front of me in you, maybe Mrs. Calendar would still be alive, among other things. You always had the potential to be what you are now, I just was too wrapped up in my own life to notice."

"Just like I was with Willow," Xander admitted.

"At least you honestly didn't know how Willow felt about you. I knew how you felt, and chose to ignore it for my own selfish reasons. I even used it against you some. And I'm sorry."

"Ya know, I think we're losing the mood we were starting to establish here. Could we close out the history portion of today's lesson?" He grinned that lopsided but sexy grin, and her stomach did a small flip. "I was thinking we might move onto anatomy."

She grinned back - he could flirt with the best of them, and she was finally appreciative of his remarks. "We still need to figure out what we can do to help Willow and Giles first."

"Well, I know for a fact he'd like a chance with her. I'm pretty sure she wouldn't object if he made a move, although with Oz back, I don't know what she's planning right now. But I think they're both stuck in that place I've lived with you for years - afraid to do anything and ruin what they *do* have." A part of him couldn't believe he'd finally admitted that to Buffy.

Her voice, when she spoke again, was a tad lower in pitch. "All the more reason for you and me, Xand. If we wait, they'll both be too worried about what's proper for either of them to make the first move."

"So you aren't worried about what's proper with us?" he asked, a bit breathless.

"It depends on whose definition of proper you're using," she answered, moving a little closer to him.

"Would it be proper by your definition if I kissed you now?" he asked, very softly.

"I think so," she breathed equally softly onto his lips as they descended to hers.

@~~`~~~

"So that's everything, or almost everything. Life before around Sunnydale was freaky, but now it's me that's freaky as well," Willow finished.

"Freakier than a werewolf?" Oz asked.

"Maybe a little," she grinned at him.

"Did you explain it all to Tara? 'Cos her letter sounded pretty confused."

Willow swallowed the last of the cookie Oz had bought her to go with her second coffee. "It's still pretty confusing, but it was probably worse when she wrote you. One of our first times as Unity, Xander disappeared at a rather unfortunate time, and Anya pretty much unloaded everything on Tara, since they'd become friends. We didn't have a whole lot of control after we divided, like I told you, and that was hard for them to deal with, too. Even Joyce was bothered by it at first. It was sort of overwhelming - for everyone involved."

"Have you considered getting back together with her, now that you have more control? I mean, it sounds a lot like my werewolf deal."

"Oh yeah, it sort of is. Is the meditation and stuff still working for you?"

"Yep."

She thought for a moment. "The thing is, I was drifting away from Tara before this. Now, I'm not too sure I can manage a relationship outside of Unity anymore." Willow looked down in a shy way.

"Xander?" the wolfman asked, reading her discomfort almost correctly. When she shook her head, still looking down, even Oz couldn't keep all the surprise out of his voice. "Giles?"

She looked pleadingly into his eyes. "We're practically the same age now, and he's smart - as smart as you are, Oz. He's great fun, now that he's loosened up some, and he knows almost as much about Wicca as Tara did, and..." She stopped her babbling, almost in tears.

"It means a lot to you that I support you in this, doesn't it? 'Cos I didn't do it so good last time, did I?"

This time, the incipient tear made its hard-won escape down her cheek, although Willow managed a wobbly smile. "You are getting better with practice. And I don't even know if he cares at all, really. That way, anyway. But I do know that I couldn't put you through what Tara went through, or what Anya did, especially on a maybe. I have to try first and see if Rupe and I could work."

"And see, I'm not all wolfing because of it, either," he grinned a bit feebly. "I made sure I was better prepared this time. With what Tara said in her letter, I wasn't sure what to expect, so I did a lot of visualization before I came. I gotta say, though, I didn't quite visualize this."

"I don't think Stephen King on a bad day could have visualized all this." She wiped her face with the napkin and stood, Oz jumping up as well. "I'd really like you to stay around, though. You're still special to me, you know."

"Sure," he shrugged. "Devon'd kill me if he fired his bass player for nothing."

@~~`~~~

It was a beautiful kiss, romantic in every way. He held her face in his hands, and tasted her lips like they were the finest delicacy. Xander had practiced this in his mind hundreds of times, and it was better than any one of them had ever been.

"Mmm," Buffy moaned as he pulled away. "Sweet." Her eyes opened, sparkling with promise, still only inches away from him. "Are there any other flavors? I like spicy."

Grinning, Xander stood up, hanging onto her hand. He pulled her to her feet, then against his chest, and without warning, swooped down to capture her lips again, this kiss hard and passionate. *Oh, yeah,* he heard her think. *Four alarm spicy. I like.* Their tongues began a fierce erotic duel.

*Oh, just wait,* Xander answered in her mind. *If you like the appetizer, you're gonna love the main course.* Without breaking the kiss, he swept her off her feet and carried her into his bedroom, kicking the door closed behind him.

He laid Buffy gently on the king-sized bed, reluctantly pulling away from her mouth as he did. She took a breath to speak, but he laid his finger on her lips, silencing her for a moment. Quickly, he removed the sandals from her feet, and kicked off his own shoes. Crawling back up beside her, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her again, and she lost the breath she'd just managed to fully regain. God - if she'd known Xander was so good at this, she'd have done it long ago.

*No. I'm kind of glad you didn't.*

She pulled away from him this time. "Why? Here I thought you'd lusted after me for a while."

"Forever. But think of how interesting things will feel with our mental link, now." He grinned evilly, and she just had to kiss that grin away.

Her mouth occupied, she spoke to him mentally again. *I think you're right. I can feel how excited this is getting you.*

He pulled away, in surprise, since he wasn't feeling her arousal yet. Was he doing something wrong? "Through the link?"

"No, through your jeans. We could get them out of the way..." She couldn't finish, since he had tackled her again, kissing her and running his hands all over her body. Little else needed to be discussed for a while, out loud or otherwise.

@~~`~~~

Willow considered going back to finish her classes until she looked at her watch and realized she'd missed all but a half hour of her afternoon schedule already. She'd been good; Unity hadn't been called lately, so she supposed she could afford it. And it had been good to talk to Oz. It had steeled her own resolve to explore her options with Rupe. He and Xander were close - maybe she should talk to Xand about it.

Arriving back at the apartment, she noticed Xander's truck in the lot. The Watcher was staying at the shop until closing tonight, if she remembered correctly, so this might be a good time. The front door was open, and she made a mental note to remind Xander to lock it, even when he was home. After all, demons and thieves didn't need invitations in, even if vampires did.

She went back to the bedroom she and Buffy shared, dumping her backpack and kicking off her shoes. It looked like the Slayer had been home, and maybe left again, although Willow wasn't totally sure - there were just a few things out of place. As she headed toward the kitchen to see if Xander was there, she heard a noise from the guys' bedroom, and stopped for a moment before bursting in. When she realized what the sound was, she almost ran the other direction.

There was a low murmur, almost certainly Xander's voice, although she couldn't make out the words. But then she heard Buffy, and she was decidedly moaning. "Oh, yes," she heard the Slayer call out, "Yeah! Oh, do that again." Xander's low murmur again, then Buffy. "I will so not beg." A moment's quiet, then, "Oooooooh. Begging, seriously begging. Please?" Willow moved away, not wanting more detail. This would not, she realized with some black humor, be a good time to talk to Xander.

When Giles arrived home several hours later, Willow was on the couch with the TV turned up loud. "Willow?" he shouted, getting no answer. He moved in, touching her on the shoulder from behind. "Willow?"

She jumped, and then saw who it was. "Just a minute, Rupe. I can't hear you over the TV." She hit the mute on the remote, and looked over to the hall, sighing in relief, "Good, it's quiet now."

Giles rubbed at his ear. "I would say so. If you didn't like it, why didn't you just turn it down?"

"It wasn't the TV that was too loud," she answered.

"It was indeed," the Watcher told her in no uncertain terms. "Now," he went on, heading towards his room, "just let me change, and perhaps you can tell me how things went with Oz today." Rupert was quite proud of himself - he didn't flinch when saying the werewolf's name or anything. He had his hand on the doorknob, his mind on how mature he was going to be about Willow going back to her ex-boyfriend, and he didn't hear the witch's worried voice.

"I don't think..."

He was through the door and back out in the speed of light. "..you should go in there right now," Willow finished lamely.

The Englishman was quite nearly incoherent. "Bed," he pointed behind him. "Buffy." He saw Willow nodding in understanding. "Xander?" His face awash in comprehension, "Too loud?"

"Yup," Willow agreed. "They asleep now? They damn well *should* be, after all that." Giles nodded and plopped down bonelessly on the sofa beside the redhead. "So," Willow asked cheerily, "You want to sleep out here tonight, or should I?"