Bittersweet Symphony by Invisionary

i. Be careful what you wish for...

Willow cautiously stepped into the classroom. The school was quiet now, with most of the teachers and students already gone. It seemed that no one was very eager to hang around here after hours. Just a couple of months ago she probably would have found the atmosphere peaceful, but knowing what she knew now.... It seemed vaguely creepy.

Especially with what had happened to Herbert earlier that day. Willow shuddered slightly at the memory. That poor little piglet....

Still, she had to find Xander. Something was definitely wrong. She still couldn't believe what had happened with Buffy in gym class earlier. And then afterward....

"Hey, Will." A soft voice interrupted her train of thought, and Willow whirled around to see Xander standing in the doorway. He was relaxed and leaning casually against the frame, arms folded in front of him.

"Xander, hi, I was looking for you," Willow babbled quickly, trying to hide her nervousness. Calm down, she told herself. There's no reason to be so worried. It's Xander. This is probably all just a misunderstanding anyway.

"You were?" Xander replied, the faintest traces of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He made no move to approach her, instead remaining where he was in the doorway, his eyes never leaving hers. He seemed at ease, but his gaze held an odd intensity that Willow couldn't quite place.

Willow took a deep breath, trying to force down the anxiety she was feeling. "Yeah. I wanted to talk to you... about Buffy," she finished quickly, instantly worrying about how he'd react.

"Buffy." The look on Xander's face was vaguely distasteful.

"I overheard what you said to her, Xander, and it was pretty nasty," Willow said. "You called her a freak." She remembered the confused and hurt look on her friend's face as Xander's words had hit home. It still made her a little angry.

"Will, what I said to Buffy was between us," Xander replied, his tone holding a note of warning. He finally stepped out of the doorway and walked toward her slowly, stopping a few feet in front of her.

Willow shifted nervously under his gaze, but held her ground. "But Xander, she was..."

"Can we please stop talking about Buffy?" Xander bit out, cutting her off. His eyes flashed with anger, but it was gone in an instant. He reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder, his expression softening slightly.

"I don't want to talk about Buffy, Will," he continued quietly. "Weren't things better before she came along anyway? I liked it better when it was just us." He reached up and ran his fingers under her chin, and Willow shivered at the intimacy of the gesture.

"Xander, I..." Willow trailed off, unable to finish her thought. She was still upset about what he'd said to Buffy, but.... Did he mean that the way she hoped he did? She'd wanted Xander for a long time, but it always seemed so impossible....

Obviously it wasn't impossible, though, because the next thing she knew, Xander was leaning in and kissing her. He pulled her against him, and Willow stepped into his embrace. Heart racing, she closed her eyes and lost herself in the moment.

For a few seconds.

And then she realized that something was wrong. Xander's fingers were digging into her shoulders, he was crushing her against him, he was hurting her and she couldn't breathe and this wasn't anything like what she'd imagined their first kiss would be, no, this was all wrong....

Willow tore herself out of Xander's grasp, gasping for breath. She stared at him and found, to her horror, that he was looking back at her with amusement. How could this be happening?

"Xander." Willow turned as she heard Buffy's voice, and saw her friend standing in the doorway, a deadly serious expression on her face. Her tone as she continued made the hairs on the back of Willow's neck stand up - she meant business.

"Get away from her."


ii. It's all about the timing

Buffy took a deep breath of cool night air as she strolled down the street. That was one thing that was nice about Sunnydale as compared to Los Angeles - the air was much cleaner. She'd already noticed a big difference in just the couple of hours since she'd been back. There were a lot of things she liked about LA, but the ever-present smog definitely wasn't one of them.

She wanted to track down Willow and Xander - she'd missed them, even if she hadn't been great about keeping in touch. But she figured she'd better do a quick patrol first. After she'd killed the Master, vampire activity around here had dropped down to basically nothing, but she'd been gone all summer so she figured it was a good idea to check things out anyway.

As it turned out, her instincts were good, because she soon spotted a vamp sneaking up on an unsuspecting couple engaged in conversation. It was obviously a newbie - it hadn't even bothered to brush the dirt off its clothes yet. Buffy palmed her stake and crept up behind him. He was so fixed on his intended prey that she was able to stake him from behind, and he exploded into dust without having so much as turned around.

With her 'opponent' dispatched, Buffy turned her attention to the couple. She found, to her surprise, that it was Willow and Xander. Those two really ought to know better, even if it has been quiet all summer, she thought disapprovingly.

She was just about to approach them when she saw something that made her pause. Now what's going on here? she wondered.

She was still a ways away, and couldn't see everything that was happening, but Xander seemed to be cleaning something off Willow's face. He also seemed to be taking quite a while to do it, and when he was done, he didn't step back. Instead, he leaned in closer to her.

Buffy's breath caught in her throat. Were they going to...? She crept in closer, being careful not to make any noise - she didn't want to distract them.

They were staring into each other's eyes now, and even as far away as she was, Buffy could feel the intensity of the moment. The excitement was enough to briefly push away the malaise she'd been feeling for so long now, and her heart pounded in her chest as she waited to see what would happen next.

Come on, Xander, open your eyes for five seconds, she thought desperately. Xander was a good friend, but there were times she just wanted to smack some sense into him. It frustrated her to no end that he couldn't seem to see what was right in front of his face. But maybe....

And then it happened.

Xander stepped closer to Willow and pressed his lips to hers. At first, it looked like it would just be a brief kiss, but Willow leaned forward and kissed him back. Things looked a little tense at first, but they quickly relaxed and gave themselves over to the moment.

Finally, several seconds later, they separated, staring at each other quizzically, almost as if neither of them could believe what had just happened.

For a moment, Buffy was afraid one of them would react badly. Come on, guys, don't be all weirded out, Buffy silently urged them. This is great! For both of you.

And then, as one, they smiled, Willow's bright and dreamy like she'd just gotten what she wanted most in the whole world, Xander's big and joyful like he'd just found the answer to a especially vexing problem. Buffy couldn't help grinning herself at the sight.

Xander leaned in and whispered something to Willow that Buffy couldn't quite make out. The redhead laughed, the clear, happy sound drifting through the night air, and jumped down from the wall where she'd been seated. She took Xander's hand and the two strolled off down the sidewalk together.

Buffy trailed behind her friends at a discreet distance. She didn't want anything to interrupt them now. She'd follow them until she was sure they were both safely home, then she'd run home herself and give Willow a call.

She had a feeling they'd have a lot to talk about.


iii. Desire

Given all the vampires and other evil creatures Willow had faced over the last couple of years, she was certainly no stranger to having her life flash before her eyes.

But it usually only happened when she thought she was about to die.

Here in her room with Xander, that didn't seem to be a concern. However, as she was pulling away after their completely unexpected - and wonderful! - kiss, time seemed to slow for her nonetheless, and images flashed through her mind.

It wasn't her entire life this time; it was just certain pieces of it. All the times since she'd fallen for Xander all those years ago that he'd drooled over other girls. All the times he'd treated her like just one of the guys. All the times she'd dreamed about telling him that she wanted to be more than just his friend, but could never work up the nerve to do it.

But now, finally, things were different.

She could still scarcely believe what had happened. Everything from the moment she'd stepped out from behind the screen and seen Xander in his tuxedo was a blur. She and Xander had kissed... and it had been everything she'd ever dreamed it would be and more.

So what did she do now?

She knew it was wrong, of course. And as she was pulling away from him, she knew she was about to stammer something about how they shouldn't have done what they did, and how it couldn't ever happen again. From the look on his face, she could tell that Xander was about to do the same thing.

That was what she should do.

But now that she thought about it, Willow realized that it wasn't what she wanted.

All her life she'd been a good girl. Always dependable, always responsible. She'd always done what everyone else expected of her. She'd always done the right thing.

And where had it ever gotten her?

She'd loved Xander almost for as long as she could remember; and she knew now that he loved her, too. She'd felt it when they'd kissed. But if she backed away now, if they both convinced themselves they needed to stay away from each other, she might never have this chance again.

So just as Xander was about to speak, she stepped forward quickly, her lips crashing into his and silencing him. She poured everything she'd felt for him over the years into the kiss, communicating all her love and desire for him without words. Xander was clearly shocked at first, but it didn't take him long to respond, and soon enough he was kissing her back with equal intensity.

They stumbled backward and fell on her bed together, never breaking the contact between them. Willow moaned softly into Xander's mouth as she rolled over on top of him and he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her against him. And as she reached behind herself and unzipped her dress, she felt a surge of excitement as she realized that finally, finally, she was going to have something she'd been wanting for years.

Her conscience was still nagging at her in the back of her mind, but she ignored it, pushing all thoughts except the here and now away.

She'd deal with the consequences later.


iv. And as you sow...

Xander stepped onto the stairs down to the basement and closed the door behind him. He'd been lucky - he'd managed to go upstairs for drinks without seeing his parents. It was Saturday afternoon, so he figured they were probably still sleeping off their drinking from the night before. As far as he was concerned, the longer they slept, the better.

He descended the stairs into the basement of his parents' house - he refused to think of it as his house - and made his way over to the couch where Willow sat. He offered her one of the sodas he'd brought from upstairs, and she accepted with a quiet word of thanks.

Xander picked up the remote, but didn't resume the video they'd been watching. Instead, he turned and looked at Willow for a long moment.

"So how are you doing?" he asked her.

"Fine. I'm fine, really," Willow replied, flashing him a quick smile that didn't quite show in her eyes.

Xander was about to ask her if she was sure she was all right when she suddenly continued. "Xander, I... I just wanted to thank you. For being here for me these past few weeks."

"It's no problem, Will," he said quietly.

"No, Xander, I mean it," Willow said insistently, moving a bit closer to him on the couch. "You've been so great since Oz left. I mean, you've taken time away from seeing Anya to stay with me...

"I don't know what I would have done without you. I just think... Xander, I..." She trailed off and leaned forward suddenly, brushing her lips against his, letting them linger there briefly in a gentle kiss.

After Willow broke away, Xander was too shocked to say anything for a moment. He simply stared at her, scarcely able to believe what had just happened. Willow looked back at him with something akin to anticipation.

His surprise quickly faded, replaced by anger. "What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

Willow's expression quickly gave way to one of confusion and anxiety. "What? Xander, I..."

He cut her off. "What is this? You think now that Oz is gone you can just...."

Xander bit back the rest of what he was about to say, but it took considerable effort. What was she thinking? After the way she'd treated him last year after they'd been caught kissing - pushing him away, tossing their friendship aside in her quest to prove herself to Oz again - did she think she could just pick up where they'd left off?

Part of him wanted to yell at her, wanted to remind her of everything she'd done, wanted to hurt her as badly as she'd hurt him. He didn't like that part of himself much, and he pushed those thoughts aside even as they were forming. No matter how he felt, this was Willow, and he couldn't do that to her. Especially not now.

So he kept quiet.

But she knew him too well.

Even though he hadn't said anything, she'd seen everything he was thinking in his eyes.

"I... I'm sorry..." Willow stammered, tears running down her cheeks. She abruptly stood up and bolted for the door, throwing it open and rushing outside before Xander could respond.

He quickly got to his feet and hurried over to the door. He was about to run out after her when a thought struck him and he stopped suddenly. He had no idea what he'd say when he caught up to her.

After standing in the doorway for a long moment, Xander sighed and stepped back inside, closing the door behind him.

His parents would give him hell about the hole in the wall later, but right now he didn't care.


v. "It's a clothes fluke!"

Willow walked up the steps on Buffy's porch and rang the doorbell. As she waited for an answer, she stepped back into the sunlight and took a deep breath of fresh air. It was another beautiful Sunnydale afternoon, and she regretted that she was going to have to spend most of it inside.

Still, she had promised Buffy that she'd help her paint her room, and so she would. Besides, Tara was busy studying anyway and it would be nice to hang out with Buffy and Xander for a while. Outside of Scooby business, she didn't see them nearly enough these days.

The door opened, revealing Xander standing in the entrance. "Hey, Will," he said brightly, stepping aside to allow her entry.

"Hi Xander," she chirped as she stepped into the house. She turned toward him as he closed the door behind her. He was attired as she was, in a T-shirt and an old pair of jeans, and he smiled happily at her as he turned and met her eyes.

"Come on up," he said, leading the way upstairs to Buffy's room. The furniture had been removed and newspaper had been set down on the floor. To Willow's surprise, it was also empty.

"Where's Buffy?" she asked, looking about in confusion.

"She got a call from her mother and had to run something down to her at the gallery," Xander replied. "You just missed her. But she said she wouldn't be gone long."

He paused momentarily. "Hey, you don't suppose she pulled a Tom Sawyer on us, did she?" he mused.

Willow chuckled. "I doubt it. Not really her style."

"You're right," Xander said with a grin. "Besides, she actually seemed kinda excited about this earlier. Anyway, I just got done masking," he gestured around the room, and Willow noted the tape around the edges of the wall outlets and light switch. "So we can get started."

He stepped into the room, bending down and picking up a roller before turning back toward her. He seemed as though he was about to say something, but then he stopped, just standing and staring at her distractedly.

"What? What is it?" Willow asked after a moment, starting to feel a little self-conscious.

"I remember that shirt," Xander said softly, gesturing toward her with the roller. "I got it for your fifteenth birthday." He smiled. "You were so excited that you ran upstairs and put it on right in the middle of the party."

Willow couldn't help smiling herself at the memory. "I remember that party," she said. She recalled how happy she'd been when she opened Xander's present and saw the Tori Amos T-shirt she'd told him she wanted. She remembered how much fun she'd had when, after everyone else had left, she and Xander had sat outside under the oak tree in her backyard, talking until night fell.

She also recalled, with startling clarity, how much she'd wanted him to kiss her.

Willow shook her head slightly. That was a long time ago; why would she suddenly start thinking about that now?

"Well, we'd better get started," she said quickly, hoping to cover the sudden awkwardness she felt. She strode over to one wall and picked up a roller, dipping it into the tray that held the paint.

"Here, let me show you how to do that," Xander offered, walking over to her. "You don't want to press too hard." He stepped behind her, and Willow's breath caught in her throat as he took her hand.

"Like this," he said, guiding the roller to the wall and gently rolling it downward. "You just... have to..." He trailed off as she turned toward him, the roller falling to the floor behind her, forgotten.

And then he was kissing her, and she was kissing him back, and her arms were around him, and his fingers were in her hair, and he tasted just like she remembered, and this shouldn't feel so good, because she was gay now, she was in love with Tara....


At that thought, she pulled back from Xander abruptly, just as he was pulling away from her. She stared at him as she caught her breath, and she was sure the look of total shock on his face was mirrored on her own. Xander's words echoed her own as they spoke at the same time.

"Oh my god."


vi. Blank Slate

"Do you think we'll be safe here?"

He turned at the sound of Willow's voice. She was stretched out on the bed, but her posture was still tense and she was glancing around nervously. Not that he could blame her for that.

He stepped away from the door and walked across the bedroom to the window. Peering out into the darkness, he scanned the area. There was no sign of movement that he could see.

"I think so," he said, turning back to face her. "Looks like Mr. Giles was right about vampires not being able to get into someone's house without an invitation."

"Vampires." The look on Willow's face was a mixture of disbelief and fear. "God, I can still hardly believe..." She trailed off, shivering slightly.

"I know." He could barely make any sense of what had happened in the past few hours himself. And it wasn't just the vampires - ever since he'd woken up in the magic shop, without his memory, nothing had felt right. Even his name - Alexander - just seemed off, somehow.

Not that he'd really had much time to think about any of it. They'd been trying to sort out who they were and what had happened to their memories when the vampires - vampires! - had shown up at the shop. Joan had beaten them back; apparently she was some kind of superhero, and he was surprised at how easily he'd taken that in stride.

But then more of them had shown up, and they had to run. Mr. Giles had found this address - 1630 Revello Drive - in the store's records, and they'd decided to come here in the hope that he was right about the vampires not being able to get inside. It was a harrowing chase, but fortunately they'd all retained their memories of the town's layout, and they'd made it - barely.

"Alexander..." Willow's voice pulled him out of his musings, and he was again reminded of just how strange it sounded when someone called him that. But he pushed that thought aside as Willow continued.

"I'm scared."

He sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled her into a hug. "I know. So am I," he confessed. It was true - this whole situation was terrifying and he was honestly surprised that he'd held it together as well as he had.

Willow seemed to relax slightly in his arms, and he took that as a good sign. In fact, holding her like this felt familiar, somehow. Comforting.

He pulled away slightly, looking her in the eye. "I love you," he said suddenly, the words out of his mouth before he could even think about them. They felt right, though - more right than anything he'd said since he'd woken up without his memory.

"I love you too." Willow's reply was slower, a little more cautious, as if she wasn't sure how the words would taste. But afterward, a smile slowly crept across her face, and for the first time since they'd woken up, he saw a bit of genuine happiness in her eyes.

He leaned in, intending to give her a quick kiss, but his lips lingered on hers, and she kissed him back. He wrapped his arms around her and she leaned forward into his embrace. For a long moment, the world outside them seemed to just... stop.

When they finally broke apart, he took a deep breath. This was still a little awkward. "Well, um... we should probably try and get some sleep. We can figure out what to do tomorrow, when it's light out." He stood up, carefully, and picked up a pillow, setting it down on the floor.

"You don't have to sleep on the floor," Willow said when she saw what he was doing. "I mean, you're my boyfriend. I'm sure we've... slept together, before.

"Not that I'm saying we should, you know, sleep together - not now," she added hurriedly, blushing a little. "But you can sleep here. With me."

He smiled. She really was cute when she was flustered. "Sure. I mean, I'd like that." He put the pillow back on the bed and laid down next to her, shifting a bit until he got comfortable.

Willow rolled over to face him. "Thanks," she whispered. "It's just.... I'd rather not be alone tonight, you know?"

"I know," he murmured. He felt the same way.

She snuggled up next to him, and he draped one arm over her, watching as she relaxed and closed her eyes. He did likewise, trying to put the shock and horror of the day's events behind him. He really hoped they'd find a way to cure their amnesia tomorrow.

He had the feeling that he and Willow had a lot of happy memories together, and he wanted them back.


vii. The more things change...

Xander watched as Willow checked her preparations for a third time. She looked over all the candles and various reagents she'd set up around the school's office before her eyes finally settled on the Scythe in front of her.

"Okay. Magic time," she declared, taking a deep breath.

"I know you can do it, Will," Xander said as he knelt down across from her. He was inwardly relieved that he was able to keep the nervousness out of his voice. He didn't want to send the wrong message.

The truth was, he had complete confidence in Willow. It was his own role in the spell that had him worried.

It wasn't that he didn't mix well with magic. Willow had assured him time and time again that he wasn't going to be involved in the actual spell at all. All he had to do was be there for her - be her anchor.

But could he do that?

Could he be what she needed him to be?

Five years or so ago, he would have believed he could without hesitation. But so much was different now. Those five years might as well have been a lifetime.

Sure, they'd reconnected somewhat over the past few months. He'd been there for Willow when Amy had used her magic to torment her. And there had been quite a few long talks since then. But he always felt like he was stumbling around in the dark, never quite sure what to do, what to say to help her.

A few years ago he would have known what to say.

Or maybe not. This was some serious stuff she was dealing with.

He just didn't know. He wasn't sure about much of anything these days. Did he even have a place here anymore? Anya hadn't thought so. She'd told him as much when she left last month.

He'd thought about leaving, too. But Willow had been there for him after... after Caleb, and he wasn't about to go when she said she needed him.

And it didn't help matters that, in all the time he'd spent with Willow, there were some old feelings that were starting to creep back in. He'd pushed them away as best he could, not wanting to complicate things between them any more than they already were, but he'd been only partially successful at it.

"Okay. Here goes," Willow said, drawing his attention back to her. She closed her eyes, grasped the Scythe in her hands and began chanting under her breath. Xander's heart leapt to his throat.

For a moment, nothing happened. But Willow continued her chanting, and soon the Scythe began to glow. The white light began to travel up her arms before enveloping her body and exploding outward in a bright flash.

Momentarily blinded, Xander blinked his eye rapidly, trying to focus. When his vision finally cleared, Xander stared in wonder at what he saw before him.

Willow was sheathed in an aura of pure white light. Her hair, now the same color as the radiance that surrounded her, billowed about her as though blown by some unseen wind. She stared ahead of her, looking at something only she could see, the expression on her face almost... rapturous.

And then, just as suddenly, the aura was gone. Willow blinked, refocusing on the room, her hair back to its familiar shade of red. A slow smile spread across her face as her gaze fell on him.

Xander couldn't help grinning back at her. "You did it," he said proudly. She held up the Scythe, and he took it from her. Hurrying over to the door, he threw it open and caught sight of Amanda, who was waiting outside.

He handed her the Scythe. "Get this to Buffy," he told her, and the newly minted Slayer nodded in answer and took off down the hallway.

He walked back to where Willow was sitting and crouched down beside her. "So you're gonna be okay?" he asked softly.

"Yeah. I'll be fine," she replied, flashing him a reassuring smile. "Don't worry about me."

He nodded and turned to head out into the hallway to join Dawn and the others. But he stopped when he heard Willow's voice again. "Xander."

He turned back to her and was about to ask what she needed when she took his face in her hands and kissed him fiercely.

His skin tingled with energy at her touch. And in that moment, he saw everything clearly.

He saw their lives unfold in an instant. He saw them as children, when all they had was each other. He saw them together, a decade later, as they faced all sorts of dangers they'd only imagined before. And he saw them as they'd drifted apart over the years.

And through it all, he knew one thing was true.

She was the other half of his soul.

She was Willow and he was Xander and they would always be Willow and Xander and nothing would ever change that.

Overwhelmed, he stumbled backward slightly, breaking the contact between them. He shook his head and took a deep breath, trying to process what he had just experienced. He heard Willow sigh softly, and he looked up just in time to see her open her eyes slowly.

"We need to talk," he said, his voice thick with emotion.

"I know," she replied, giving him a smile that was somewhere between joyful and contented. He suddenly wanted very much to kiss her again - a real kiss this time, not one tinged with leftover magic.

But now wasn't the time.

"Go on," Willow told him. "And be careful."

Xander nodded and stood again, crossing over to the doorway and picking up the sword that sat next to it. As he jogged out into the hallway to join his friends, he heard the faint sounds of battle coming from below, and he knew that he'd soon be in the fight of his life. But the thought held no terror for him; he knew without a doubt that he'd come out of it alive.

Because he had something to live for again.


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