Hurt & Comfort

Book 2: Circumstantially Hurt

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Chapter 12: Slippery Slopes

"What the hell was that?" Alan asked as Willow got up from the floor and looked around.

"It was a vengeance demon's spell, the power of the wish." Xander said with a trace of anger creeping into his voice.

"Willow was a vengeance demon?" Andrew asked in surprise.

"I remember that D'Hoffryn tried to recruit her when she did the 'will be done' spell that made Xander a demon magnet the last time." Buffy said while staring at Willow.

"And made you want to marry Spike." Xander threw in.

"She must have gone back to Arashmaharr and accepted his offer." Dawn said quietly.

"So what about the malignant evil thing, if she was a vengeance demon, why was she affected too?" Buffy asked the group.

"Her vengeance demon would feed the paracitic evil, making it stronger, but her demon nature would keep her from going insane... otherwise she would have been the first to go mad." Andrew said as he figured it out.

"How could she have hidden it from us?" Buffy asked, noticing that Willow was becoming more aware of her surroundings, like she was waking up from a dream.

"She didn't hide it. We just all assumed that she was acting out of grief and her magick addiction. That's why we couldn't get her back to normal after the paracitic evil thingie was cleansed out of her. She is a demon or was a demon. Tara's wish made her like she was before she became a witch, so now she's fully human." Dawn said in speculation as she was leading Tara to sit on the spare bed.

"Guys? Where are we?" Willow asked with a lost little voice.

"It's a long story Wills, we're in Upstate New York in a parallel dimension." Xander said, taking a seat next to Tara and Dawn on the bed.

"God, what happened to you Xander? Why are you wearing an eye patch?" Willow asked in worry.

"I'll tell you later Will, you guys better get back to Slayer Central. I think Andrew needs to rest." Xander said as he noticed that Andrew was getting paler.

Buffy looked at Andrew and without a word went through the portal. She led Willow who was just looking around and trying to make sense of things.

"You coming?" Buffy asked of Dawn.

"I'd like to stay here for a while." Dawn said and moved a little closer to Tara. Buffy's eyes widened in comprehension.

Buffy finally asked, "How about you Xander?"

"I have some unfinished business here." Xander said plainly.

"Noon tomorrow?" Buffy asked of Andrew.

Andrew nodded and waved before withdrawing power from the portal.

"You okay love?" Alan asked Andrew, looking into his eyes, searching for the truth.

"I guess I'm not as recovered as I thought. Two portals in one day really wore me out." Andrew said with a tired smile.

"Then why don't you get some rest? We'll get out of here and leave you to it." Dawn said and rose from the bed.

"Wait, one question before you go." Alan said quickly.

Dawn looked at Alan, prompting him to ask the question.

"Why did you cast the protection spell on Tara? I mean, did you know that Willow was going to do that?"

Dawn got a peaceful smile and said, "I had no idea that Willow would act that way. I was showing Tara some basic spells and thought a blessing and protection spell would be a good thing to have... isn't it pretty?"

Andrew realized what she was talking about and willed himself to see the magical world.

"It's beautiful... a perfect sphere... it's so light, how did you get it so light?" Andrew asked, amazed by the beautiful, powerful magic.

"After the blessing, Dawn showed me how to touch the water element." Tara said serenely.

"Whatever you did worked perfectly. Even if you didn't mean to do it, thank you for bringing the old Willow back to us." Xander said with a smile.

"Xander, could I talk to you for a minute?" Dawn asked and dragged him away, leaving Tara to face Andrew and Alan alone.

"So how are you doing Tara?" Andrew asked uncomfortably.

"Great." Tara said with a look of peace.

"That whole thing with Willow didn't bother you, did it?" Andrew asked carefully.

"No, I mean it shook me up a little while it was happening, but now I'm fine, especially since it worked out okay." Tara said with a smile.

"Good, I'm glad you weren't bothered." Andrew said honestly.

"So, you knew the other Tara?" Tara asked bravely.

"A little, I never sat down and talked to her like I'm doing with you now. I didn't really hang around with that group back then." Andrew said shyly.

"Then you're the person that I want to ask. The others loved her; they may only be remembering the good things. Can you tell me, what was she really like?" Tara asked with her old shyness showing.

Andrew smiled and said, "My world would be a much happier and better place if she were still alive there. Now that she's gone, it's like one of the stars went out and the night is just a little bit darker and the day is just a little dimmer."

"That's a lot to live up to." Tara said with worry.

"Do you know what she did to make her so special?" Andrew asked seriously.

Tara shook her head.

"She loved the people around her. Her witchy powers weren't all mega and scary like Willow's, her fighting skills weren't great like Buffy's or even as good as Xander's, but she loved each of them and their lives were better because of it. And when she was gone, they were diminished." Andrew said and snuggled into Alan's side.

"Then they're always going to think of me as her, aren't they?" Tara asked, a little afraid.

"Maybe not." Alan said softly.

Tara looked at him in question.

"Scott and I are doubles, like you and the other Tara. If anyone was going to live in someone's shadow, it should be me. But no one has treated me like 'the other Scott'. I had to change my name to keep things from becoming confusing, but besides that, no one has treated me like my twin or tried to force me to behave like him." Alan explained peacefully.

"How can I get them to see me, as me?" She asked, sounding a little more confident.

"What you did today went a long way toward proving that you are your own person. Tell me something, unless I'm being too personal, are you worried about this because you're afraid Dawn might see you as the other Tara?" Andrew asked carefully.

"No. I know that Dawn sees me as myself, it's the others that I'm worried about. If I'm going to be around Dawn, I'm going to be around them, and I don't want that kind of pressure." Tara said seriously.

"Don't worry about the others, their lives are full of other things to worry about. The only people who matter are you and Dawn, as long as you're fine, the others can deal." Andrew said with confidence.

Tara smiled and walked over to the bed to give Andrew a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks Andrew, I'm really glad we got some time to talk."

"Any time Tara, and I mean that. No matter what you need to talk about, or when you need to talk about it, I am here for you." Andrew said seriously, looking her in the eyes.

Tara smiled sweetly and said, "Thanks, I didn't know when I came here that I was going to be making so many friends."

"Count me in on that too." Alan said with a determined look.

Tara looked at him in question.

"Andrew and I are planning to become life partners one year from today. I realize that he will have friends of his own and so will I, but we will also have friends as a couple. If you'd be willing, I'd like for you to be our friend." Alan said timidly, knowing that he sounded needy.

"I already think of you as a friend Alan. I just didn't know about the couple thing." Tara said softly.

The door opened. Xander and Dawn walked in smiling to find Tara standing by Andrew and Alan's bed.

"You ready to go? These guys need some sleep and we've got things to do." Dawn said with excitement.

Tara got a big, loving smile and said, "Ready when you are, sweet dreams guys."

Xander watched as the girls left the room.

"So, what did you need to stay in this universe for, if you don't mind my asking?" Alan asked of Xander.

Xander ducked his head and quietly said, "To take care of you guys."

"You don't have to do that for us Xan, we've got a mansion full of people who can walk us to the bathroom." Andrew said in a playful tone.

"I just want to, okay? It's hard for me to explain but, I don't have a lot of guy friends and being here with you two, I dunno, I'm just not ready for it to end." Xander said weakly.

"Got it Xan. And we enjoy you being here too. Just as long as you aren't doing this out of some warped sense of duty and obligation, we're happy to have you here with us." Andrew said with a smile.

"Besides, it's like we were just telling Tara, we each have our own friends, but a select few are going to be 'our' friends, and you Alexander are on that list." Alan said in a commanding voice.

"Thanks guys, you don't know what it means to me to be accepted after everything that's gone on." Xander said tiredly.

"Then sit down and let's have some buddy time." Andrew said with a laugh.

"Buddy time?" Xander asked dubiously.

"Yeah, guys hanging out, talking, teasing, ragging on each other. We got 'Y' chromosomes, let's use 'em." Alan said happily.

"But aren't you guys gay?" Xander asked in honest confusion.

"Well yeah, but we're still guys. I mean, just because I love a man doesn't mean that I suddenly have 'fantastic' ideas for interior design or something like that." Andrew said with a disturbing flamboyance on the word fantastic that made Alan and Xander both laugh.

"So how do we start buddy time?" Xander asked as he laid back across the foot of the bed.

"I don't know... I guess we do like we've been doing. Talk about whatever junk we feel like." Andrew said.

"Do you think Dawn and Tara are going to get together?" Xander asked without getting up from his laying position.

"Possibly, it could go either way at this point. They might end up as friends or lovers." Andrew said with confidence.

"You don't know? Is your psychoanalytical mutant ability failing you?" Alan asked in a teasing tone.

"No. I can still read you like a book mister. But Dawn and Tara have to decide what they mean to each other. I think both of them want to become lovers, but it will all depend on whether one of them has the guts to come out and say it." Andrew said simply.

"What about Willow, you get any readings from her?" Xander asked curiously as he propped himself up on an elbow.

"Willow was too out of it to send any readings, but Buffy was protective enough that she might have more than a passing interest in Willow." Andrew said speculatively.

"No way! Buffy the Vampire Layer, going for a woman, not just a woman but a fully human woman? I don't see that happening." Xander said somewhat cattily.

"What do you mean?" Alan asked, genuinely interested.

"I mean Buffy's first boyfriend was Angel, the 250-year-old master vampire I was telling you about. Her second was Riley, an enhanced human 'super-soldier', the next Spike, Angelus' 125-year-old childe or grand-childe depending on who you talk to. For Buffy to give up on men, AND demons would be quite a lifestyle change." Andrew said with a grin.

"Actually, she had a human boyfriend before Angel, his name was Pike." Xander interjected.

"That's who the Buffy in this universe is dating." Andrew said off-handedly.

"How do you know that?" Xander asked suspiciously.

"After I met Tara, the professor decided to find the counterparts in this dimension of all the Slayers and Scoobies." Andrew said and snuggled against Alan again.

"So what am I like in this dimension?" Xander asked curiously.

"You aren't exactly here. Your counterpart is female. Alexandria Harris-Harmon." Alan said as he put his arm around Andrew to snuggle him closer.

"Harmon? As in Jesse Harmon?" Xander asked, growing pale.

"Yeah, the professor said that Xandria and Jesse were married, and that they had been childhood sweethearts." Alan said and noticed that Andrew had fallen asleep.

"I would really love to see him again. I mean, my friend Jesse died seven, almost eight years ago. I would really like to see the Jesse in this universe, to see that he is alright. I've always wondered what kind of man he would have turned out to be." Xander said and turned a tear-filled gaze on Alan.

"We happen to know someone who can open portals and could probably arrange that for you, although it won't be till after he's recovered. He's exhausted from opening two portals today." Alan said with worry as he stroked Andrew's back.

"I'm sorry that I had any part in that strain. I promise I won't ask him to open another portal for me until I'm ready to leave... If I leave." Xander finished in a near-whisper.

"Are you thinking of staying?" Alan asked in surprise.

"Yes, Warren offered me a job. Just a plain old, working for a living job. And I can't even imagine what it would be like to work and go home and not have to worry about demons or go out patrolling or meet with Buffy and Willow for a Scooby meeting or research party. I don't know if I could do it. A part of me says, 'do it, you've earned a rest' while another part says, 'you'll be bored out of your skull'." Xander rambled miserably.

"I can't say I know exactly how you feel, but I've got a similar problem to face. Andrew and I want to be together, but I don't know how we're going to be able to do that. I am part of a team, the X-Men from my universe, and I take that commitment seriously. They are as much a part of my life as the Scoobies are of yours I suppose. It would be hard for me to think about giving up my place on their team, but I don't want Andrew to have to face the world I come from. They kill mutants there if they catch them. They mutilate mutants in the name of preserving humanity. Chances are that it will come down to a war between mutants and normals, and the mutants are horribly outnumbered and disorganized. If it comes down to war, I don't think we have a chance of winning. And I don't want to take Andrew into that." Alan said sadly.

"Then why don't you stay here?" Xander asked with honest curiosity.

"Because I don't belong here. I told myself I did, but this is Scott's universe and I don't see us getting over our problems anytime soon. Andrew isn't from here either, but somehow he made this place his home... but even he has talked about leaving. Neither of us belong here and I can't find a reason to want to stay... unless that's what Andrew wants. For him, I would do it." Alan said with certainty.

"What about my world? I mean it is Andrew's home dimension." Xander asked, understanding Alan's misgivings.

"From what Andrew described, there isn't much more for us there than there is in my universe. He doesn't have any family to speak of, and I don't have any that I would care to associate with. And with all the demons and vampires, we'd be in the position of having to worry for our safety every day of our lives." Alan said tiredly.

"Haven't you noticed? Every world is like that. Every world has its problems whether it's demons, evil mutants, monsters, or street gangs. It's what makes life something more than a series of days where you do the same thing until you die. The struggle is the thing that makes you alive. If you don't have obstacles to overcome, how will you ever grow stronger, or smarter?" Xander said for Alan's benefit as much as his own.

"So mutant haters are obsticles for us to overcome to make us stronger. To unite us and galvanize us or to destroy us until the next, smarter, better group of mutants comes along?" Alan asked in confirmation.

"Yeah, sounds kinda inspirational, doesn't it?" Xander said with a laugh.

"It makes sense in theory, but it may be too late to put it into practice in my universe." Alan said sadly.

"Then don't go there. You've got to decide what your priorities are and stick to them. What is most important? Your team or your partner? If it's your team, let Andrew know that before the commitment ceremony, I'm willing to bet that he'll want to stay by your side and will have respect for you for standing with your team. If you decide that Andrew is the priority, then act like it. Figure out what's best for him and explain why you believe as you do, chances are that Andrew will go along with you if he understands that it's what you really want." Xander explained confidently.

"How do you know all this stuff?" Alan asked in amazement.

"You try hanging around with a group of women for seven years and not pick up some relationship tips." Xander said with an exasperated expression.

"I can see that." Alan said and thought about what Xander had said.

"How about I go back to my bed and let you get some rest? You look like you could use a nap too." Xander said, looking at Andrew.

"Yeah, thanks Xan." Alan said with a fond smile.

"Sure thing, Al." Xander said with his own smile.

Alan rolled his eyes before closing them to remove his glasses.

To Be Continued...