Beside Myself by Kirayoshi

Disclaimers; Everybody sing along! All characters owned and manipulated for the pleasure of the fans by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Twentieth Century Fox. Some chunks of dialogue are taken directly from the episode "The Replacement".
Author's Note; So I was in the AIM chatroom with Shyfox, and she had an idea for a fic that she was considering posting as a challenge, and she gave it to me, and it ended up being the story that follows this Willow-esque babbling. Much gratitude is lain at the feet of Shyfox for giving me this idea.
Rating; PG.
Spoilers; 'The Replacement'
Feedbacky goodness; send it to Jim_D_Means@prodigy.net
Summary; What if the Toth demon had hit Buffy as he intended, instead of Xander?

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Beside Myself
Written by Kirayoshi

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Go 'way from my window,
Leave at your own chosen speed.
I'm not the one you want, babe,
I'm not the one you need.
You say you're lookin' for someone
Never weak but always strong,
To protect you an' defend you
Whether you are right or wrong,
Someone to open each and every door,

But it ain't me, babe,
No, no, no, it ain't me, babe,
It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.

--Bob Dylan
"It Ain't Me, Babe"

Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander and Riley roamed through the junkyard, purpose and caution in their strides. Another night, another demon. Life in the Hellmouth.

In this case, the threat was from what Giles called a Toth demon. According to Giles, Toth was a more sophisticated demon than most. In other words, he could use weapons. So the Scooby Gang brought their own weapons. Buffy kept her hand on Mr. Pointy, while Giles never took his finger off the trigger of his crossbow.

Buffy took a sidelong glance at her boyfriend, and wondered for the thousandth time if bringing him along on this patrol wasn't a mistake. Ever since she and the gang closed down the Initiative, he was always trying to prove himself, to push himself, to convince her that he belonged in her world. But, truth to tell, she wasn't certain if he did anymore. Or, to be more accurate, if she belonged in his. Maybe that was the real problem, Buffy thought. Ever since the Initiative was mothballed, Riley didn't really have a world, or anything to truly call his own. He hooked up with the Scooby Gang to be part of something again, rather than face the emptiness of his own life.

And Buffy didn't know if she wanted to be the only thing that filled Riley's void anymore.

Her musings, and the good-natured bantering of the gang, were interrupted by noises coming from behind a pile of junk. They turned to face the pile, Riley holding his crossbow at the ready. Buffy thought that he looked for all the world like Chewbacca with that weapon in his hand. A rather ridiculous Chewbacca at that.

Spike emerged, shabby and unkempt as ever, from the trash heap. He regarded the gang with his usual air of disgust, mingled with raw hatred reserved especially for Buffy.

"What are you doing here, Spike?" Riley shouted.

"Oh, there's a nice lady vampire who set up a charming tea room over the next pile of crap," Spike snapped back. "What do you think I'm doing? I'm scavenging, ain't I?" He held up a busted lamp in one hand and a manniquin's arm in the other.

"Very pretty," Willow commented snidely. Buffy had to suppress a chuckle at her friend's attitude. God, Willow is so beautiful, even if she doesn't know it, Buffy thought. Tara had better be taking damn good care of you, Wills, or else she and I are going to have words.

"Spike, um ..." Giles stammered, hoping to get back on track, "we're looking for a demon, um... tall, robed, skin sort of hanging off. Deep voice? "

Spike pointed over his shoulder, asking, "You mean a great tall robe-y thing like that one?"

Five heads turned, saw the demon, and then the battle was joined. Spike tried to get on the demon's good side by pointing out which one was Buffy, but the demon had a more direct stradegy; attack anything that moved. Buffy tried to clear the others away from her and draw the demon's fire, counting on her skills as a slayer to defeat the demon.

Her plan didn't work as well as expected. The demon pointed strange stick-like weapon at her, and a fireball shot forth and hit her square in the chest. The impact drove directly into the trash heap right behind her, and as she collided with garbage, her world turned black.

========

She awoke slowly, aware at first only of the great pain she felt in her chest. She attempted to get up, and after a few clumsy, faltering efforts, she finally succeeded. "Hey, guys?" she murmured, hoping for a hand, but was greeted by silence. She tried to open her eyes, only to be forced to shut them again by the bright light that greeted her. She squinted, and looked upward, seeing the sun rising in front of her.

Sunrise? It was morning? She looked around her, noting that she was still in the dump. She wondered why Willow or Riley hadn't taken her back to her dorm. What was up with that?

She tried walking, which proved to be more difficult than she remembered, since her joints were protesting every movement. She ached in places that she didn't even know she had. And she felt weak. She wasn't used to feeling so weak, not since she first became the Slayer.

But she didn't feel like the Slayer then. She just felt like simple, ordinary Buffy Summers. God, what she would give to be ordinary. Just a normal person, maybe with a house with a picket fence, Riley in the front yard pushing a lawn mower -- after some thought, she eliminated Riley from that image. She still didn't know if they had a future together.

First things first, she decided. She headed back to her dorm, walking at a leisurely pace. She felt more tired than anything else, more anxious. Like something was missing from her, some fundamental element of her life. She couldn't quite place her finger on it, but somehow she seemed different. She decided that she'd figure it out later. First, a nice hot shower, then sleep in a normal bed instead of a trash heap.

When she made it back to Stevenson Hall, she fished through her pockets for her dorm keys. But when she made it back to her dorm, she found that the door was open. She figured that Willow was there. She knocked gingerly, hoping that she hadn't interrupted anything between Willow and Tara. The door opened, and Buffy stood, shocked, at the person who greeted her.

Buffy had answered the door. At least, one who looked exactly like her.

Before Buffy could react, her counterpart connected with a hard fist to the jaw. Buffy was sent reeling by the blow, amazed that she couldn't counter it effectively. Before she could collect herself, the counter-Buffy had taken off like a shot.

Buffy shook her head, chastizing herself for being taken so easily. Had she been up to full power, she would have made short work out of her imposter. But this doppleganger had pasted her as effectively as Evander Holyfield would have taken out Xander. She felt weak, spent. She hadn't felt this terrible since--

Since Giles had forced her to undergo the rite of passage on her eighteenth birthday. When he pumped her full of muscle relaxant to ready her for a battle with a psychotic vampire named Kralik.

She started to think, fighting through the haze in her mind. She remembered battling that Toth demon, she remembered the monster lowering a weapon, firing a blast at her-- then blackness.

That must have been it. The Toth demon somehow had taken her appearance, and her abilities as a Slayer. The first thing that popped into her mind was Giles. She had to find him. He could figure it out, he always did.

She ran out of Stevenson Hall, forcing her aching legs to keep going. After about twenty minutes, she managed to make it to Giles' magic shop. But it was already too late; the demon who had usurped her place had already beaten her to the punch.

"I'm telling you, guys," she said to Giles, Xander and Riley as they gathered around her, "the demon looks exactly like me. I'm guessing that when he hit me with that stick, he managed to duplicate my appearance."

"Please, guys," Buffy moaned from behind the door. "Don't fall for her line. C'mon guys, that's not the real me. Please don't fall for it!"

"So what do we do?" Riley asked, clearly taken by the imposter. Buffy despaired as she heard him. IDIOT! Why am I still with that jerk?

"I'll tell you this much, Riley," the other Buffy declared, "whoever's stolen my face, he's got the Slayer to deal with."

Buffy left the magic shop as quietly as she could. It was clear that she couldn't count on her friends' help on this one. But then a thought struck her; not all of her friends were there. There was still one who the fake Buffy hadn't conned yet. And a mighty powerful one at that.

She immediately ran to Willow's dorm, praying that she would be there.

========

"I'm telling you, Willow, it's me," a nervous Buffy said as she paced the floor in front of her best friend. "Look, when we first met, Cordelia made some crack about you finding the 'softer side of Sears'. When I asked for your help with my math homework you tried to warn me away from the school nerd." She thought some more, while Willow was developing a crick in her neck watching her friend pace back and forth. "When you announced that you were enrolling at UC Sunnydale, I tried to warn you off, and you said, 'Of the two of us, which one's the boss of me?'."

Willow stood up, and placed her hands on her friend's shoulders. "Easy, Buffy, it's okay."

"Wills? You know it's me?"

"Of course I do," Willow answered. "What's the matter? What happened?"

Buffy shook her head, and recalled what she remembered. "Well, I woke up in the dump today--"

"I wouldn't say 'dump', Buffy," Willow argued. "I mean, you're not the most fastidiuos neat freak I know, but--"

"No, Willow, I mean the dump. The city dump."

"Wait a minute," Willow argued. "Riley and I took you home last night after we fought that Toth demon."

"No, no," Buffy argued, "you guys took the Toth demon, it--" she tried to figure out what had happened, and her speech had become halting and staggered. "That weapon it fired at me, it must have allowed him to assume my shape. And he's managed to con the others into thinking he's me." She hung her head in frustration. "And I think that he's got my strength. Since I woke up today, I've felt weaker, like when Giles hit me with that muscle relaxant. God, Willow, I don't even feel like the Slayer right now." Willow immediately scooped her friend up in her arms, and stroked her long blond hair.

"Shh, shh, don't worry about it, Buffy," Willow murmured in gentle tones. "We'll find this demon, we'll take him down like we always do, then we'll get my Slayer back."

"Thanks, Willow," Buffy purred. She was enjoying this contact far too much, considering that both of them were spoken for. "I knew that if anyone could help me out, it would be my Willow. I know you and Tara can whip up some of your special mojo and help me."

"Actually," Willow said, backing away from the embrace, and sitting back down, "I'll be whipping up the mojo solo today. Tara's out of town visiting friends."

"Oh," Buffy said simply. She looked at Willow's face, and could see the worry lines that marred her otherwise perfect, elfin features. "Wanna talk about it?"

"Uh, no," Willow said, attempting to compose herself. "It's nothing, really, besides you've got your own problems."

"Willow," Buffy sat down beside her and took Willow's hand in her own. "You're my best friend. Whatever I'm going through, you're just as important to me. I don't need to be the Slayer to be your friend. C'mon Willow, spill."

Willow hung her head, unable to resist the onslaught of her best friend's concern. "It's me and Tara, Buffy. Something's wrong, but I don't know what really."

Buffy sat silently as Willow composed her thoughts. The redhead turned to Buffy and began to explain herself; "I'm bisexual, okay, I've accepted that."

"Pleased to meet you, Bisexual, I'm Buffy." Willow swatted Buffy's shoulder, saying, "Stop it, Buffy, I'm serious."

"Serious, I thought you said you were bisexual!" Willow glared at Buffy, but Buffy could see the laughter fighting to escape Willow's resolve face. Finally, Willow did let loose a smile, and continued to bare her soul to Buffy.

"It's been on my conscience since I met my vampire double a couple of years ago. I remember how you tried to convince me that just because my evil twin was kinda gay, that didn't mean that I was. But then I heard Angel say 'Actually--', then you stared him down. You didn't think I caught that, did you?"

"I just figured that you were upset enough," Buffy confessed. "I didn't want you to worry about anything that you didn't need to."

"Yeah, I understand that. It's just that since then, it's been bugging me, y'know? And last year, when Tara and I became friends, well, I guess she filled a void, I mean, Oz was gone, you were too involved with the Initiative, and Tara and I had so much in common." A wicked grin crossed Willow's face. "And it doesn't hurt that she's got the sexiest pout." Buffy chuckled at the thought.

"But lately, it seems like I don't know her at all. She's been hiding something from me, and I can't get her to confide in me. And I don't know if I care enough to try anymore. It's like I woke up one morning and the person I was with was a stranger, and it took me so long to figure it out."

"Willow," Buffy asked. "Do you love her?"

Willow shook her head, thinking long and hard. "Do I? She's been supportive, we work well together in the magic department, we have fun together, and she's been good to me. Do I? Yeah, I love her." She then faced Buffy, a serious expression on her face, and said, "But I don't think I'm in love with her. Does that make any sense?"

"More than you think, Wills," Buffy confided in her. Hearing Willow confide her doubts regarding Tara helped Buffy's thoughts regarding Riley form a crystal clarity. It was the same with her. She cared deeply about Riley. She might even love him. But she wasn't in love with him.

Another stray thought crossed Buffy's mind. "Mom, Dawn!" She jumped off the bed, and shouted, "Toth's gonna try and get to my family! I gotta stop him, her, whatever!"

"You want me to go with you?" Willow offered.

"No, you go to the magic shop, try and find a spell to stop the demon or something. I'll try to stay out of trouble. But I gotta save Mom and Dawn."

As she headed out of the door, she heard Willow say, "Watch your back, Buffy."

Buffy turned to the red haired witch, and said, "I kinda love you."

As Buffy closed the door behind her, Willow whispered, "I kinda love you too."

========

The Slayer prowled the walls of the magic shop, impatient for Giles to finish his research. As much as she recognized the necessity of knowing the enemy, she needed to get out. She needed to find the demon who tried to steal her identity, and slay it.

Finally she couldn't take the waiting any more. "I'm out of here," she announced. "I'll find our imposter myself." She grabbed her jacket and headed out.

"I'll go with," Riley offered, but the Slayer turned down his offer. "Sorry, Riley, but you'd only slow me down." She shut the door behind her, leaving Riley scratching his head.

For nearly as long as he had known her, Riley Finn had looked at her as though she were two people; Buffy and the Slayer. When he was with Buffy, he felt as though he was where he belonged. But then the monsters would come out at night, and she would put on her Slayer face. He had learned the hard way from his experience with the Initiative that there was more to hunting demons than fancy weapons and high tech chips. When it came to the things that went bump in the night, he knew he would never be in the Slayer's league.

But recently, he felt that the two halves were merging into something more. Something greater than the sum of their parts. Someone who would no longer need him. He also saw something whenever she was with the others, especially with Willow. Some spark, some fire that wasn't present when she was with him. He was certain that if Willow wasn't already involved with Tara, Buffy would seize her opportunity like a shot.

Whatever the situation, he realized at that moment that for all intents and purposes, if it wasn't already over between him and Buffy, it was only a matter of time.

He was interrupted in his ruminations when Willow burst into the magic shop. "Guys! We got trouble!"

"I swear," Giles muttered to himself, "this time I know I had that locked."

"Gang," Willow exclaimed breathlessly, "Toth looks like Buffy."

"We already know," said Riley.

"Wait a second," Xander asked, "how did you know about this?"

"She came to me," Willow explained. "And she's in terrible shape, we need to help her."

Riley's brow furrowed as he listened to Willow's words. "She came to us too."

"No," Willow answered. "We each had a Buffy. I mean ... you didn't have a Buffy, you had a, a demon in a Buffy suit."

Xander then interrupted, asking, "What makes you so sure that yours is the right one?"

"She knew stuff!" Willow said animatedly. "She, she talked to me, helped me figure some things out about me and Tara. Guys, it was Buffy, and she needs us."

"Oh, dear lord," could be heard from the desk where Giles was reading.

"Riley," Xander asked the ex-commando, "Our Buffy, didn't she seem a little--"

"Intense and serious?" Riley noted.

"Yeah, no jokes, no good humor, not our Buffy at all."

"I said, 'Oh, dear lord'," Giles interrupted the conversation.

"You always say that," observed Xander.

"Well, it's always important!" Giles insisted, as he stood from his desk, carrying his book with him. He showed Willow the passage he had just read, and explained it to the others; "Neither Buffy is a demon."

"Ex-squeeze me?" Xander asked, scratching his head.

Willow started to look worried. "Um ... is one of them a robot?" She fervently hoped not. She still had nightmares about the Moloch beast who tried to seduce her through an internet chat room, and later assumed a robot form. Just what I needed, she groaned silently, to fall in love with a robot twice in my lifetime. Did I just say-- She shut the thought out of her mind for now.

"What?" Giles asked, distracted. "No. Um, uh, the rod device, it's called a ferula-gemina. It splits one person in half, distilling personality traits into two separate bodies. As near as I can tell, Toth had split the slayer into two different entities."

"Two Buffys?" Willow had asked.

"Yes. One with all the qualities inherent in Buffy Summers, and the other one with everything that belongs to the slayer alone ... the, uh, the-the strength, the, uh, speed, the heritage."

"But which one's the real one?" Riley asked.

"They're both real," Giles insisted. "They're both Buffy. Neither one of them is evil. There's nothing in either of them that our Buffy doesn't already possess."

Riley was still confused. "I still don't get the original plan. I mean, why do it? The slayer half would be like slayer concentrate, pretty unkillable."

"But the two halves can't exist without each other. Kill the weaker Buffy half, and the slayer half dies." Giles let his words hang in the air, for maximum effect.

"Oh, God," Xander said. "All-Slayer All the Time just went out to kill the other Buffy."

"And they probably both think in the same way, so she's sure to find her," Riley figured.

"Omigosh!" Willow exclaimed. "Buffy, I mean All-Buffy, she's on her way to her mom's, to make sure that she and Dawn are all right."

Giles immediately grabbed his coat, and the other Scoobs followed suit. "We'd better hurry if we're going to stop them. Riley, may we borrow your car?"

"Sure," Riley answered. Five desperate friends rushed to save Buffy from herself.

========

Joyce heard the door open, and raised her head from her cooking to see Buffy walk in. "Buffy, honey," she greeted her elder daughter. She saw the look of worry on her face, and asked, "What is it, honey? Is something the matter?"

"Not anymore, Mom," Buffy answered as she hugged her mother. Joyce was pleasantly surprised by this outpouring of affection. Ever since high school, which Joyce realized coincided with the discovery of her destiny as the Slayer, Buffy had always been guarded and reserved, not one to wear her heart on her sleeve. She had learned to accept whatever displays of affection that Buffy was willing to give. "I'm just glad that you're okay, Mom."

"I'm fine," Joyce assured her. "But obviously there's something bothering you."

"Not really, Mom," Buffy answered. "Something happened last night, and I was worried about you guys."

Joyce waited for Buffy to continue, but she didn't. Joyce accepted that Buffy didn't want to burden her with whatever evil she had faced last night that put her in such a state. "Well, I guess I understand that," Joyce conceeded.

"Thanks, Mom." Buffy said. "Say, is Dawn around?"

"She's upstairs," Joyce answered. "Homework."

"Mind if I look in on her?"

"Not at all."

"Thanks, Mom." Buffy kissed her mother on the cheek, saying, "Love ya, Mom." She sprinted up the stairs.

She knocked lightly on Dawn's bedroom door. "C'mon in," Dawn replied. Buffy walked in, seeing Dawn at her desk, pouring over a textbook. "Hey, Squirt," Buffy greeted her sister. "How's the quest for knowledge?"

"Boring," Dawn answered. "How's college life?"

"Not bad, Dawn," Buffy peered over her shoulder. "Anything I can help you with?"

Dawn looked at Buffy with a disgusted expression. "Not likely. Mom showed my your report cards from senior year."

"I stick out my tongue in your direction," Buffy teased Dawn. "Seriously, Dawn. If it doesn't involve math, I can probably help you out."

"Actually, Buffy," Dawn answered, "It's Shakespeare. Geez, how did this dude get such an inflated rep? Greatest writer in the history of the english language my eye! Get a load of this!" Dawn picked up her book and started reading; "'Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona where we lay our scene'! C'mon, now, who can get that?"

Buffy shook her head, amused by Dawn's frustration. "I know what you're going through. I had that problem when I tried to figure out Julius Caesar in high school. When I took Shakespeare in college last year, it got a lot clearer. Mainly because my professor insisted that we see the plays as well as read them. Fortunately, most of his plays have been made into movies. Hey, I got an idea," Buffy sat on the bed, and faced Dawn. "How about next Saturday, I'll rent 'Romeo and Juliet' and we'll watch it together. The Leonardo DiCaprio version."

"You mean that hottie from 'Titanic'?" Dawn's eyes widened as she spoke.

"Yeah, the hottie from 'Titanic'," Buffy smiled. "I'll bring the popcorn, and we can talk about it afterwards. The movie was set in modern Florida instead of 16th century Italy, so it shows how Shakespeare's still relevant today."

"Geez, you sound like that weirdo British dude you hang with," Dawn complained.

"Fine," Buffy huffed, "insult me! Is it still a go?"

"Sounds like fun," Dawn admitted. She then regarded Buffy with a stern look. "You're not bringing Riley, are you?"

"No, Dawn, it'll just be us girls."

"Good, 'cause I don't wanna deal with you two sucking face all day."

"Don't worry, you won't have to worry about Riley and me sucking face." Very likely, ever again, she added to herself, half as a joke. But once the thought entered her head, she realized that it was the truth.

"Okay," Dawn said, smiling. "I'll still try to plough through the book though."

"Good," Buffy scruffed up Dawn's hair a little.

"Hands where I can see them, Toth!"

Buffy turned around, and faced herself. The Slayer stood in the door, a large axe in her hand. Buffy stood, and faced her other self, unsure of what she would do, but knowing that the imposter wasn't going to hurt her family. She felt a lump of fear build up in the pit of her stomach. Did the demon do anything to her mother?

"Buffy?" a voice called from behind the demon, and Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. At least Joyce was okay. "What the Devil's happening here?" Joyce stood behind the demon, looking at both of them. "Which one is my daughter?"

"Don't worry, Mom," the imposter snarled. "Once I plunge the business end of this ax into the demon's skull, we'll sort out who's who once and for all!"

"Yeah," Buffy stammered, unable to control her fear. "The one with the ax in her head will be the real Buffy!"

"There will be no axes in anybody's heads in my house," Joyce insisted. "Just put down that pig-sticker, Buffy!"

"Mom," the Slayer insisted, "she's trying to hurt Dawn!"

"I just suggested a movie night, that's all!" Buffy insisted.

"Mrs. Summers!" Giles' voice called from the stairwell. "Is Buffy up there?"

"Yes, Giles," Joyce answered in uncertain tones. "Both of them."

Willow was the first one in, and she faced the unarmed Buffy. "Easy, Buffy, it's okay."

"Wills," Buffy shouted. "It's the demon! He's trying to get to Mom and Dawn!"

"No, not really, Buff," Willow grimaced as she tried to explain to Buffy what was going on. While she tried to calm Buffy, Giles made it up, and managed to restrain the Slayer with his arm around her head in a hammerlock.

The Slayer thrashed in Giles' grip, but was unable to get any leverage. "Easy, Buffy," Giles tried to explain to the Slayer. "It's going to be okay."

As Giles dragged the Slayer out of the house, she screamed at him; "You're making a mistake, Giles! You've got the wrong girl! I'm Buffy!"

"No," Buffy answered, being led out of the house by Willow. "I'm Buffy!" Riley and Xander looked on from the porch, glad that they weren't directly involving themselves in this matter.

"Actually," Giles said in irritated tones, "you're both Buffy. It's a long story, I'll explain once we get to the magic shop."

"Assuming we make it that far," Xander shouted suddenly. He pointed toward the sidewalk, and the others followed the direction he was pointing. The Toth demon stalked down the sidewalk, intent on the two Buffies.

"Great," the Slayer growled. "Rot-face!" Giles let go of the Slayer, and she immediately threw herself at the demon. The Toth demon was unable to resist her attack for very long, and inside of two minutes, the Slayer was able to plunge the ax into the demon's chest.

Emerging victorious from the battle, the Slayer looked at her other self. "Okay," she challenged Giles. "If Toth's dead, then why's she still here?"

"She's not a demon," Willow explained. "She's you. She's the missing other part of you. You're the Slayer, she's Buffy. Yin and Yang. Ebony and Ivory. Uh, Rocky and Road."

The Slayer looked at Buffy, who stared back at the Slayer. The two of them stood there, comparing each other's faces. "My god," Buffy said. "You're me."

"Part of you, I guess," the Slayer answered. She turned to Willow and the others, and asked, "So, now what?"

========

The gang were joined by Anya when they regrouped at the magic shop. Buffy and the Slayer stood together, while Willow examined both of their faces closely. "Wow," she said, "It's all double. You've both got that little mole on your neck. And that tiny little scar right behind your ear, just along the cheekbone. And that tiny little hair that seems to go back into your nose--"

"Yes, very interesting," Giles commented. "They're completely identical."

"Yeah," Buffy admitted. "We did a detailed comparison in the back of Riley's truck." The others looked at her oddly, and the two Buffies glanced at each other, realizing what that sounded like. "Fingerprints," Buffy amended, holding up her hand. The others laughed.

"Psychologically, this is fascinating," Riley commented from the back of the shop. "Doesn't it make everyone wanna lock them in separate rooms and do experiments on them?" Six pairs of eyes, two of the pairs charcoal-grey/blue, bored into his forehead. Uneasily, he said under his breath, "Yeah, just me, then."

"Great," the Slayer said. "So how do we get me back?"

"Well, maybe we shouldn't do this reintegration thing right away. See, Riley can take the girls home, and ...they can all have sex together, and ... you know, just slap 'em back together in the morning."

Suddenly Anya was the victim of six pairs of staring eyes.

Giles nervously suggested, "Uh, uh, we just need to light the candles. Also, we should continue to pretend we heard none of the disturbing sex talk."

"Right," Willow agreed, desperately trying to hide her blushes. Anya's suggestion left some strange and entertaining thoughts regarding herself with the two Buffies. "Candles and pretence."

"It's not like he'd be cheating," Anya grumbled. No one listened to her.

"But what if it doesn't work?" Riley asked.

"Kill us both, Spock!" Buffy and the Slayer said in unison, then laughed.

Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose, muttering, "She's clearly a bad influence on herself."

Once the candles were lit and the circle was drawn, the Slayer spoke, saying, "Okay, Wills, summon the Goddess, chant the chant, let's do it."

"Actually, it's not that hard," Willow explained, smiling. Here, she was in her depth. "Your natural state is to be together. Toth's spell is doing all the work of keeping you apart. I just have to break it. So you two stand right there. Side by side. We don't want to end up with two fronts, now do we?"

After a moment of silence, Willow intoned, "Let the spell be ended."

"You gotta be kidding," Buffy complained "'Let the spell be ended'?" That's not going to work!" She opened her eyes suddenly, and saw that her duplicate was gone. She felt the strength and courage that came with being a slayer flood her being. Plus, she felt the memories of what she experience in both seperate bodies.

"Oh," she said. She smiled at Willow. Her friend had saved her. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, was back.

========

Three days later, Buffy and the others were helping Xander move out of his parents' basement. While Buffy was dealing with her forced seperation by the Toth demon, Xander had finally taken it upon himself to rent an apartment. Buffy could overhear Xander argue with Anya over a set of Babylon 5 commemorative plates, and Anya's suggestion that they load up Buffy like a pack horse.

Riley grabbed a box, and met Buffy at the stairs. "Hey," he said feebly.

"Hey back," Buffy smiled. She knew that this moment was coming. One of the many things that both halves had agreed on, she realized after she was made whole again, was that her future was not with Riley. Now, she had to tell him.

"I gotta say, Buffy," he started, "it's good to have you back. All of you, I mean."

"Thanks," Buffy answered. She didn't want to hurt him. She didn't want to say anything that would cause him pain. But she had to.

"You know," Riley continued as he put down the boxes, "this situation, with the two of you, it made me think. I know you think that I don't get you, the whole slayer thing, and that I'd be happier if you were just Buffy. But that's not true. I know you, Buffy, I know the Slayer. And there's not a part of you that I'm not in love with."

Hearing this confession made Buffy's heart hurt all the more for what she had to say to him.

Riley took Buffy's hand in his, and concluded his thought. "And you don't love me."

Buffy looked suddenly at Riley as he spoke those words. They weren't a question, they weren't an accusation, they were a simple statement of fact. Buffy bowed her head, and said, "I'm sorry, Riley."

"Don't be," Riley carressed her cheek, wiping a newborn tear with his finger. "You're a good person. You need someone whom you can love with all your heart. And I think that you know who that person is."

Buffy shook her head. "No, Riley, I'm over Angel."

"Did I say Angel?" Riley smiled at Buffy. "Still friends?"

"Sure," Buffy smiled weakly at Riley. Riley grabbed the boxes and headed up the stairs. As he made his way up, Willow slid past him on the way down. "Hey," he said to Willow. "You hurt her, I'll beat you to death with a shovel."

Willow looked at Riley, confused. She then went to Buffy and asked, "What was that all about?"

"You know the psych major," Buffy quipped. "Thinks he knows us better than we know ourselves." She smiled as she looked at Willow. In this case, she conceded, he might be right.

"Hey, Buff," Willow asked. "You doing anything Saturday?"

"Oh, actually yeah I am," Buffy said. "I promised Dawn I'd rent 'Romeo and Juliet', well, half of me did, and the whole me is kinda stuck. Besides, I thought you and Tara would be doing something."

"Nah," Willow said. "Not anymore, anyway. She and I had a talk. The old 'hope we can be friends' talk."

"Oh. Sorry."

"Hey, it's okay," Willow smiled at Buffy. "Would Dawn mind if I tagged along with the movie?"

"I don't see why she should," Buffy answered. "And if she does, tough luck."

Willow laughed lightly, and Buffy thrilled to the sound. Yes, she realized, things were going to get interesting with Willow. She suddenly realized what Riley was saying.

She had to be split in half to find out who she was. And now that she was one person again, she realized that she still wasn't whole.

But she had Willow. And with her, she would be whole again.

Willow was her other half.

FINIS

@}---`---,---

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