Title: Stones In The Road
Rated: R. (f/f)
Spoilers: Up to 7.10 Bring On The Night although this story takes place soon after Selfless.
Summary: Willow and Buffy, both hurting, can help each other...if they dare.
Disclaimers: Joss Whedon is laughing even as I write this. Loudly.
Archiving: Just let me know.
Feedback: Isn’t that the loud noise a microphone makes? I wasn’t going to attempt this fic unless I could make it believable. So yell at me. Swanrvr80@aol.com.
Dedication: To Jamie, for her feedback, insights and inspiration.
“Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, high upon the strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.” - Matthew Arnold
Buffy shook her head and turned around, almost laughing out loud. How many times had she done this? Forgetting to bring a stake on patrol was something to laugh at. She passed Willow’s door and noticed that it wasn’t shut all the way, but that’s not what made her pause. As soft as the sound was, a Slayer possessed exceptional hearing and Willow couldn’t hide her muffled crying from Buffy by hiding her face in her pillow.
Slowly raising her hand, Buffy froze, wincing, unable to force her hand to knock upon the door. She waited, her hand held still before her, slowly forcing in a deep breath. Another cry, sharper this time...and Buffy took a step away from the door, glancing down the hall to her bedroom. Closing her eyes, taking in another breath, Buffy softly rapped on Willow’s door.
“Willow?” whispered Buffy, slowly pushing the door open.
The room was quiet. Willow lay still in the dim light cast from the hallway. And Buffy stood there, listening. She stepped into the room and tiptoed over to the bed, gently pulling the blanket up to cover Willow. Still leaning over her, she was torn between wanting to comfort her with a hug and not wanting to disturb her.
“I love you,” whispered Buffy, wishing her words were enough to help Willow heal, to forget. No, not to forget. To help Willow cope, to move on. To live again.
Buffy slowly closed the door behind her, eyes focused on her best friend until the door shut, knowing that Willow was only pretending to be asleep. And understanding why.
The top of the gravestone was almost half covered with small stones and pebbles now. More there than the last time she had visited. And she wondered if grief flowed out of your heart as you tenderly placed each stone upon that cold slab, wondered if there were enough stones to ever ease the pain.
Buffy stood there, alone, not really focusing on the grave but simply remembering. In the silence and stillness of the night she suddenly felt that being here was more of an intrusion instead of a visit but she just as quickly pushed that idea aside. Rolling the small stone she held in her hand between her fingers, Buffy stood there and with a slight breath that puffed out her cheeks shook her head.
Her body tensed and she tilted her head, listening, knowing she wasn’t alone. Buffy frowned at being disturbed but as she turned her frown faded and she almost allowed herself to smile. Almost.
“Hey,” acknowledged Buffy.
Willow glanced at the grave but only briefly and then, smiling softly, looked at Buffy.
“I couldn’t sleep,” shrugged Willow defensively.
“Still, you know I worry about you being alone out here at night. I bet you don’t even have a cross on you,” admonished Buffy.
“Don’t really need one anymore,” said Willow, once again looking at the grave.
“Oh. Right,” nodded Buffy, understanding. She looked away, once again feeling like she was intruding, that she didn’t belong.
“Really, I can protect myself. Still, thanks for the worry. It’s nice. Having someone worry. About me,” added Willow awkwardly.
Buffy turned and faced her again but Willow didn’t look at her. Buffy bit her lower lip and followed Willow’s gaze to the grave.
“The stones. That’s a nice tradition. Is it...I mean, can I?” asked Buffy, opening her hand to show Willow the stone in her palm.
“Of course. You don’t have to be Jewish to do that.”
Willow nodded towards the grave, encouraging Buffy. Buffy looked down at the stone she held and then quickly, as if embarrassed, added her stone to the others Willow had placed there.
“Thanks,” whispered Willow. Buffy nodded.
“I miss her too, Will.”
Willow took in a deep breath and sadly smiled. They stood there for a moment, neither one speaking, each lost in their own thoughts. Buffy glanced at Willow out of the corner of her eye but Willow saw her.
“What?” asked Willow.
Willow raised her eyebrows and leaned forward towards Buffy. And Buffy smiled.
“No, really, it’s...it’s not a good time,” winced Buffy.
“Right. Guess that’s why we’ve spent so much time talking since I got back. As in not. Because it’s not a good time,” sighed Willow.
Buffy flinched as if she had been slapped.
“I’m sorry. That’s not fair. I mean, it’s not like I...”
“No. No, you’re right. We haven’t...talked. Much,” agreed Buffy reluctantly.
They both looked away, each once again staring at Tara’s grave.
“I only meant...what I wanted to say, it, it isn’t appropriate. Not here,” struggled Buffy.
Willow glanced at her and looked away, this time not looking at the grave.
“Okay, okay, stop twisting my arm. I was kinda jealous,” said Buffy, watching Willow to see how she would react.
“Jealous?” repeated Willow, scrunching up her eyebrows.
“Yeah,” answered Buffy quickly. She slipped her hands into the pockets of her jacket.
“Um, no. Well...I mean no, of course not. Not of Tara. But of what you two had. And I’m not explaining this all that well,” frowned Buffy.
“No, you’re not,” smiled Willow. “But it’s getting...interesting.”
Buffy smiled and her voice took on a calm but serious tone.
“Your relationship with her. That was...special. Way more than just physical. Not that I’m dissing the physical, mind you,” warned Buffy playfully, causing Willow to grin. “But I never had that connection. Not like that. Not even with Angel.”
Willow was about to disagree but something in Buffy’s eyes made her reconsider, a distance between them that wasn’t there a moment ago.
Buffy nodded and then shrugged.
“Oh,” managed Willow, somewhat baffled.
“Hey, after all the suffering I’ve gone through with men, maybe I should see what all this girl on girl action is all about. Seems like it’s easier on the heart,” laughed Buffy unenthusiastically. But then she looked up at Willow, suddenly horrified at what she had said.
“Oh God, I’m sorry! Will, that came out all wrong! I didn’t mean to...I’m sorry, I know you’re still hurting. It’s not easier for you...”
Willow laughed out loud and Buffy, thrown, simply froze.
“It’s okay, Buffy. I know what you meant. It’s just...”
Willow smiled at Buffy and Buffy stood up a little straighter, now completely confused.
“Thanks for the visual. You, girl on girl action...need I go on?” teased Willow. Buffy’s face became red.
“Just saying,” shrugged Buffy, looking away to hide her smile.
Willow looked away once and then looked back at Buffy. Kneeling down, she dug a stone out of her pocket and placed it on top of the gravestone. Pausing for a moment, she placed two fingers to her lips and then touched the cold surface of the polished granite. Her eyes were moist but she blinked back the tears before they could take hold. Bowing her head, Willow stood.
“How about walking me home? Not that I can’t take care of myself, but I’d like the company,” said Willow.
“I’d like that,” nodded Buffy, holding out her hand. Willow hesitated for a moment but then smiled and slipped her hand into Buffy’s. They walked away but didn’t say anything. And for now they didn’t have to. Willow squeezed Buffy’s hand a little tighter, taking comfort in the touch, the warmth of her skin.
It had been a very long time since anyone had simply touched her and Willow’s smile quickly vanished. Buffy’s touch brought back a wave of guilt, both of what Willow had done and of things left unsaid between them. Willow frowned, wondering if she had the courage within her to actually talk to her best friend.
“How’s the tummy doing?” asked Buffy, sensing her mood.
“Better. Won’t be doing situps any time soon, what with the tenderness and, well, the tenderness. But better. And there won’t even be a scar,” added Willow happily.
“That’s magic for ya,” praised Buffy.
“Yeah...but that’s only partly true. I couldn’t have done it without your help.”
“Really?” asked Buffy, tilting her head.
“Oh yeah. Meditating with you, drawing on your strength...let’s just say the Energizer Bunny ain’t got nothin’ on you, girl,” grinned Willow.
“I’m glad I could help,” smiled Buffy proudly. “And the whole meditating thing...that was, that was nice. Haven’t taken the time to do that in, well, I can’t remember when!”
“It, um, wasn’t too...hmm, what’s the word? Intense? It wasn’t, you know...intense...was it?” asked Willow awkwardly. “I did ask if you were sure you wanted to help, but you might not have realized how, oh, intimate that sorta connection can be?”
Buffy grinned and her face turned a little red.
“I’m sorry! I should’ve...see, again with the not talking. You didn’t know and, and...”
“Nope,” answered Buffy without hesitation. “Didn’t mind it a bit. In fact, since you said you couldn’t sleep, why don’t we try it again when we get back? I’d like to help with the healing...anyway I can.”
Willow blinked, unsure of exactly Buffy was hinting at.
“Aren’t you going to patrol? Kinda early for you to turn in,” reminded Willow, glancing up at the stars.
“Nah, it’s a slow night. I think I have something more important to do.”
Buffy squeezed Willow’s hand. And Willow gripped it tighter in return. But she had to turn her head, not wanting Buffy to see the tears welling up at the corners of her eyes.
“That looks exciting.”
“Hardly. Math has never been my bestest subject either.”
“No, I hear ya. That was sarcasm. Math is never exciting.”
“Oh. Sorry. Dry humor, dry subject, hence my missing the sarcasm. Too much alike.”
“Right. I get that. ‘Cause opposites attract.”
“Well...sometimes,” smiled Willow coyly.
Dawn rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“You want some help with that? You probably haven’t had that in a while and I kinda know what’s going on. We just talked about it in class recently.”
“We still talking about math?” asked Willow with a straight face. Dawn blinked twice and opened her mouth but no words came out. Her face suddenly turned red, eliciting a stifled laugh from Willow.
“It’s okay, Dawnie, I think I can handle this. It’s mostly review. Just like riding a bike.”
Willow looked back at her book but then glanced up at Dawn.
“And no, riding a bike didn’t imply a sexual position.”
Dawn pouted and once again rolled her eyes.
“Although...” began Willow with an evil grin. Dawn’s face wasn’t red this time. Instead she looked a little pale. Once again she opened her mouth to speak but instead just nervously looked away.
“Sorry. That was too easy to pass up,” winked Willow.
“You seem to be in a good spirits today,” commented Dawn.
“I guess I am,” agreed Willow. Dawn hesitated once but then reached over and slowly pushed Willow’s book down onto the table.
“So...you doing okay?” she asked. Willow took in a deep breath.
“Okay is a good word for it. I have my bad days and then I have my, well, not so bad days. Helps if I keep busy. Real busy,” shrugged Willow.
“Oh. So you, um, still think about it. A lot,” said Dawn as gently as she could.
Willow looked away for a moment but nodded.
“Yeah,” whispered Willow, her confession not embarrassing but still awkward.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have...”
“No, no! It’s okay. I’m glad you asked. It’s just...”
Willow saw that Dawn was nervous, almost afraid, but she pressed on.
“You know that old saying, the one that says when someone you love is no longer with you, a part of them stays with you forever? Well, that’s a crock.”
Dawn narrowed her eyes, not understanding.
“They’re just gone and there’s nothing that stays with you ‘cept a big aching hole where your heart was,” sighed Willow.
“Oh! You thought...I mean, I was...oh,” winced Dawn, fidgeting in her chair. Willow’s eyes opened a bit wider.
“Oh, you thought...I mean, you were talking about magic!”
“Well, um, I kinda sorta did or, or was,” frowned Dawn, rubbing her suddenly sweaty palms against her pants. Willow closed the book shut and leaned back in her chair.
“It’s okay to talk about that too, Dawn. Not that anyone seems to want to.”
“That’s not true,” protested Dawn weakly. It was Willow’s turn to roll her eyes.
“Are you afraid of me?” asked Willow, trying not to show Dawn any emotion.
“Would I be a bad person if I said...sometimes?” winced Dawn.
“No. No, not at all,” replied Willow in her best comforting tone. “In fact you’d be a crazy person if you didn’t. And thanks for not trying to lie to me.”
“I’m not a very good liar,” admitted Dawn.
“Dawn, sometimes, to use your word...sometimes, I’m afraid of me. Maybe even a little more than sometimes. And I would be a crazy person if I wasn’t. I have this power within me now and I know Buffy’s gonna need my help. Something bad is coming. She’d never ask me, but I know she can’t fight this alone. I just hope I can help.”
“You will,” nodded Dawn.
“Don’t see how,” frowned Willow, crossing her arms.
“Maybe this will help,” said Dawn, squirming a moment as she dug something out of her pants pocket. She looked into her hand, looked up at Willow and then gently placed the object on the table between them.
“So that’s where that went,” smiled Willow.
“Yeah. You left it by the sink last night, after doing the dishes. Soooo...what is it?”
Dawn stared at the pink and polished surface of the stone, a small but perfect oval just slightly larger than her thumbnail.
“You take something that belongs to a witch without asking and only now wonder what it could be?” whispered Willow menacingly.
“Well, I, I just didn’t want you to lose it. Besides, if said witch is on the wagon than I shouldn’t have a reason to be afraid of...of whatever that is. Right?” cringed Dawn.
“You sure you’re still on the wagon as far as stealing things?” teased Willow, trying to hide her smile.
“I am! I swear I am! Really, I just saw it and, and picked it up, and...”
“It’s okay, Dawn. Thanks for finding it,” comforted Willow.
“It’s a talisman of some kind, right?” asked Dawn boldly.
“You might say that,” nodded Willow, reaching across the table to pick up the stone. “It’s very powerful.”
“How powerful?” asked Dawn nervously. “What’s it called?”
“Couldn’t find a picture of it in any of the magic books you have hidden under your bed?” asked Willow, watching Dawn intently for her reaction. As expected, Dawn froze.
“I, um, well, no I couldn’t...hey, wait a minute! What are you doing snooping around in my room?” challenged Dawn indignantly.
Willow ignored her and began to rub the stone between her thumb and forefinger. She answered Dawn without looking up at her.
“I didn’t go into your room, Dawnie.”
Dawn exhaled a soft sigh of relief.
Dawn’s eyes opened wide.
“She found them when she was vacuuming. She asked me about them, wanted to know if she should be worried about them. Or you,” added Willow, still rubbing the stone, her eyes now on Dawn.
“She doesn’t have anything to worry about. I was just curious, you know?” said Dawn, now watching Willow’s hand, the one holding the stone.
“That’s what I told her. Give her a little credit for not confronting you about it. She’s doing okay in my book as far as being your...guardian,” said Willow, carefully choosing not to use the word mom. “And you were right, this is a talisman.”
“It is? What’s it called?” asked Dawn excitedly.
“Well, I’ll skip all the Latin. In layman’s terms you would call it a worrystone,” smiled Willow.
“What? You’re kidding,” frowned Dawn in disappointment.
“Yep. Something nervous people use as an outlet for their...for their nervousness. It’s made from rose quartz.”
“I hear that stone has healing powers,” ventured Dawn. Willow smiled at her comment. Dawn had been studying.
“So I’ve heard. Though I’m beginning to have some serious doubts about that,” sighed Willow.
Dawn looked away, understanding what Willow meant.
“Not sure why I keep this now. One of my teachers at the coven in England gave it to me. Though I do like the simple message it implies,” smiled Willow warmly.
“Oh? What’s that?” asked Dawn, sincerely curious.
“This stone started out with rough edges. As time passed, the edges became smooth. Takes a long time, but eventually...”
Willow held the stone out in the palm of her hand.
“Just like someone who’s hurting, someone who...well, it’s kinda lame, I guess, but time heals all wounds.”
“I thought the saying was time wounds all heels,” said Dawn with a straight face, though she soon started to giggle.
Willow almost laughed and slipped the stone into her pocket.
“Only to those who hold on to the past,” whispered Willow. Dawn stopped laughing, hoping she hadn’t hurt Willow’s feelings.
“Willow, when the time comes, you’ll help Buffy. I know you will.”
Willow seemed far from convinced.
“Hey, I know, you can start now,” said Dawn, reaching across the table to open a newspaper in front of Willow. Glancing up at Dawn in confusion, Willow followed Dawn’s finger as she pointed at an article.
“For the third time in two weeks a local funeral parlor has been broken into,” read Willow out loud. “As before, Police aren’t speculating on a motive but will admit they’re not sure if the crimes are related. Nothing of value seems to have been taken in all three incidents so they are unsure what the thieves were after.”
Willow looked up from the paper and shrugged.
“What’s this got to do with Buffy?”
“Don’t you see? Buffy needs to focus on the more serious stuff as the Slayer. Little things like this just waste her time or cause her unnecessary worry,” explained Dawn.
Willow glanced at the paper and then back up at Dawn, even more confused than before.
“Willow, we should check this out so Buffy doesn’t have to. Come on, this is Sunnydale. Don’tcha think this is a little odd? If it involves dead people it can’t be good, especially in Sunnydale!”
“There’s that,” agreed Willow.
“So you’ll check it out with me?” smiled Dawn.
“I don’t know, Dawn,” winced Willow. “I’m not really sure you should be...”
“Willow, you said you liked to keep busy, right? And we’ll go during the day, right after school, so it’ll be safe.”
Willow glanced back at the paper, becoming intrigued by the mystery but concerned about Dawn as well.
“You wanted to help her. And you know she won’t ask,” hinted Dawn.
“Okay. But we don’t tell her about this,” warned Willow. Dawn nodded her agreement, grinning ear to ear.
“Sounds like a plan,” nodded Willow reluctantly. “I’ll check the net today, see if the police are holding back information.”
“And I’ll tell Buffy I’m going over Janice’s house. Meet me in front of the school?”
“Tell ya what, why don’t I meet you in front of Janice’s house? That way we’re not exactly lying,” suggested Willow.
“You’re good,” nodded Dawn slowly, impressed.
“Years of practice,” smiled Willow, glancing at the paper again.
“Dawn! Hey, wait up!”
Dawn closed her locker and turned around to see who had called out her name.
“Oh, hey Kit. What’s up?”
“Just wondering if you’re doing anything Saturday night,” said Kit, finally catching up with Dawn.
“Me? On a Saturday night?” laughed Dawn. And then she realized how pathetic that sounded. “I, um, I mean, I’m not sure yet. Don’t have any definite plans or anything. But it’s not like I’m going to stay home. It’s like, well, Saturday night, ya know?”
“Exactly! I know I’m asking this on short notice but do you wanna go to a party?”
“Me?” said Dawn, unable to conceal her surprise.
“Oh, um, wow that’s...that’ll be great. Where is it?” asked Dawn, immediately thinking of what she would tell her sister and wondering how much begging would be involved to convince Buffy to let her go.
“Over at Carlos’ house. I already asked him if you could come and he thought it was a great idea. I mean, how could he say no after you helped us get out of the basement, right?” smiled Kit.
“Well, that was mostly...um, thanks. Yeah, I’d love to go,” nodded Dawn.
“Great. I’ll come by your house around eight o’clock and we’ll walk there together, okay?”
“Okay. Hey, we’d better get going or we’ll be late for class,” warned Dawn.
“No big. I have study hall and Mr. Miller doesn’t mind if you’re late. He’s cool that way,” smiled Kit.
“Oh. You know, it’s really nice of Carlos’ parents to let him have a party,” said Dawn, turning to leave. “I know Buffy wouldn’t let me...”
“Don’t be silly! His parents won’t be home. Why do you think he’s having the party?” laughed Kit. “Bye.”
“Oh. Yeah. Bye,” waved Dawn, wondering what she had gotten herself into.
Buffy pushed the door open, surprised to find it unlocked. Dawn had told her she was stopping over a friend’s house later and Willow should still be in class. She stepped inside and quietly closed the door behind her, turning at the sound of muffled crying. It was coming from the couch in the living room. Tiptoeing closer, she saw Willow on her side, curled up in a fetal position.
Startled, Willow looked up and wiped her eyes as she struggled into a sitting position.
“Oh, hey Buffy. I didn’t hear you. Is it that late already?”
Buffy quickly sat down next to her.
“Hey, you okay? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” answered Willow quickly, shaking her head and sniffing. “I must’ve dozed off. Had another...”
Willow winced, hoping Buffy didn’t notice her slip of the tongue.
“I had a bad dream, that’s all,” sighed Willow, shrugging as if to show how silly she was acting.
“Why aren’t you in class?”
“Oh, it got canceled. Sat down to study and the next thing I know...”
Willow shrugged again and tried to smile but didn’t fool Buffy.
“Wanna talk about it?” offered Buffy.
Willow simply shook her head, causing Buffy to frown.
“Will, Giles told me you were still having nightmares. It’s...understandable, you know?” consoled Buffy.
“Sure. I mean, it’s not like I don’t deserve ‘em,” replied Willow without looking at Buffy.
Buffy took in a deep breath, waiting for Willow to look at her. But she didn’t.
“Willow,” whispered Buffy, getting her attention. Willow sniffed once and turned her red and puffy eyes timidly towards Buffy.
“Is there anything I can do? Anything?” pleaded Buffy.
Willow’s lower lip quivered and she stared at Buffy without blinking. She saw herself slowly reaching out her hand, touching Buffy’s fingers...Buffy following with her eyes but not moving...clasping her hand, raising her friend’s warm palm and pressing it against her cheek, comforted by something so simple as a touch...
Willow shook her head and looked away.
“No,” she whispered.
“It’s going to take some time, but you’ll get there. I promise you. Just...let me help, okay?”
“Thanks,” swallowed Willow, once again forcing a smile, trying to be brave.
“Feel like some tea?” asked Buffy.
“Yeah. That sounds good,” nodded Willow.
Buffy hesitated, watching her, but Willow again wouldn’t meet her eyes. With a silent sigh she stood, took a few steps...and then stopped. She turned around and once again sat down next to Willow, only closer to her this time. And Willow did look at her, eyes betraying her nervousness.
“I can’t imagine what you’re going through. No one can. But last year, when I came back, I was messed up for a long time. A very long time. So I know what it feels like to be hurting and to be alone.”
Buffy paused, watching Willow as she chewed on her lower lip. But Willow didn’t turn away.
“I’ll make you a deal. You can put on your brave face with everyone else. But when you’re alone, with me, I just want you to be Willow. It’ll be our little secret, okay? I, I just wanna help. Okay?” winced Buffy, hoping Willow wouldn’t look away.
Willow took in a deep breath, her body shaking with the effort. Her eyes teared up but she fought for control. Very slowly she reached out her hand, touching Buffy’s fingers. Buffy followed with her eyes but didn’t move. Clasping her hand into her own, Willow raised Buffy’s palm and pressed it against her cheek, gasping as it touched her skin. She shut her eyes tight, pressing her hand desperately to her.
And Buffy finally understood.
Without opening her eyes Willow knew that her friend had opened her arms to her and she eagerly sought the embrace, crushing Buffy to her, no longer able to hold back her tears. Buffy held on to her tightly, letting her cry. Something as simple as a touch, the need to be held.
And Buffy remembered. Her eyes opened wide with the thought.
Hesitating at first, Buffy began to rub Willow’s back, comforting her, soothing her. The same way Tara had rubbed Buffy’s back when she had broke down and confessed about Spike. The way Tara must have touched Willow so many times before. And Willow continued to cry...but her body didn’t tremble as it did before. As if her body recognized the familiar.
Buffy closed her eyes and held Willow tighter in her arms.
“You’re late,” accused Dawn.
“Yeah, I’m sorry. Buffy came home early and I, um, I had to make up some excuse to get out of the house,” apologized Willow.
“Oh. Does she suspect anything?” asked Dawn as they began walking away from Janice’s house.
“Buffy always suspects something, Dawn. But I think we covered our tracks. Was Janice even home?” asked Willow, shifting the books she carried from one arm to the other.
“Yep. I told her I forgot to write down a homework assignment. She did wonder why I just didn’t call her,” frowned Dawn. “So, net-girl, find out anything?”
“Not really,” sighed Willow. “Only thing that seems to be missing is a single bottle of embalming fluid.”
“It gets better. When the last funeral parlor told police about the missing bottle, they went back to the other two involved in the break-ins and only then did the owners realize that they were also missing embalming fluid. Only the thieves didn’t take a bottle, they simply took some,” said Willow. “Like half a bottle.”
“Huh. Meaning that’s what they were after because they must’ve brought a bottle to pour it into. But why such small amounts? Seems like they didn’t want anyone to know what they took,” said Dawn.
“Exactly,” agreed Willow. “Why not just rob one funeral home and take a whole bunch of the stuff unless they wanted it to go unnoticed? And why such small amounts?”
“So what’s the plan?”
“We hit the books, see if we can find a demon that needs embalming fluid,” replied Willow, raising the books she carried so that Dawn could see them.
“Maybe we’re overthinking this,” said Dawn.
“Well, think about it. What’s embalming fluid used for? I think we should see if there’s been any graves broken into recently,” smiled Dawn excitedly.
“You mean...someone’s taking body parts to...to do what exactly?” asked Willow doubtfully.
“Um, well...okay, so I haven’t really thought this through all the way,” frowned Dawn. “And, um, I guess dug up bodies would have already had embalming fluid in them. Sorry.”
“No, that’s good. I like the way you think. Shows that you’re open to most anything being possible in Sunnydale.”
Dawn smiled in appreciation.
“Sad but true,” laughed Dawn. “So we’re not going to the funeral home?”
“Don’t really see a need to now. And you seem kinda disappointed. Why?”
“It’s just...well, I had this whole story made up, where I was going to pretend to be doing a story for school newspaper on crime in Sunnydale and, and...okay, so maybe it was dumb,” sighed Dawn.
“No, that’s not bad. We’ll make a full-fledged Scooby out of you yet,” smiled Willow.
“Really?” said Dawn enthusiastically.
“Yep. In fact, I think you’re ready for one of the initiations into the gang,” mentioned Willow cryptically.
“Yep. You can carry the research materials,” said Willow proudly, handing her the books.
“Oh,” frowned Dawn, her smile quickly fading.
“Ah, I remember the good old days when Xander had his initiation into the gang. He carried my books for three weeks,” winked Willow. “Of course, back then I had a crush on him.”
“When did he catch on?” asked Dawn.
“Xander? He never did. Wouldn’t know a girl was interested in him unless she stood nekkid in front of him,” said Willow, her words surprisingly mingled with bitterness.
“No, I meant the carrying of the books part,” corrected Dawn.
“I see we have a quick learner,” smiled Willow.
“Um, if we’re not going to the funeral home, where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” answered Willow cryptically.
“Your library on campus?” guessed Dawn.
“Nope, that’s too far. We don’t have that much time,” smiled Willow.
“What, no hints?” snapped Dawn.
“Let’s just say it’s someplace quiet where we won’t be bothered by anyone,” answered Willow cryptically.
Dawn frowned so Willow gave her a hint.
“You’ve been there before.”
Buffy gently eased the door open, peering in at her friend, smiling when she saw her sleeping peacefully. Willow was holding a pillow tightly against herself...holding a pillow...Buffy winced, realizing how deeply Willow still missed Tara. Stepping into the room, she reached over and pulled the blanket up over Willow’s shoulders. She stirred once but didn’t wake.
Tiptoeing quietly away, Buffy closed the door behind her and walked over to Dawn’s door, listening. She tried not to laugh when she heard her sister snoring. Satisfied that everyone was safe and in bed, Buffy went to her room, took out her earrings, pulled her hair free of its ponytail, shaking it loose. Looking at her reflection in her dresser mirror, Buffy stared at the bed behind her. Her empty bed.
Feeling restless, Buffy got another stake from her top drawer and once again headed out to patrol.
“How many times do I have to try to tell you
That I’m sorry for the things I’ve done
But when I start to try to tell you
That’s when you have to tell me, hey,
This kind of trouble’s only just begun
That’s why it hurts so bad to hear
The words that keep on falling from your mouth
Tell me why...
I may be mad, I may be blind, I may be viciously unkind,
But I can still read what you’re thinking
And I’ve heard it said too many times that you’d be better off...
Some things are better left unsaid
But they still turn me inside out
Tell me why
You don’t know what I feel” - Annie Lennox
Sunnydale at night was rarely quiet but tonight was an exception. Even the Bronze had closed early. Buffy stood motionless in the shadows of some downtown alley, her breath slow and even, listening, the stillness of the darkness around her revealing nothing. This alley looked very much like any other downtown and even to the Slayer they all began to look alike. Yet Buffy was comfortable in these familiar surroundings. More than comfortable, she knew that she belonged here. And Buffy pondered that thought.
Did she feel a part of this because it was her home turf that she defended? That it was her calling, her destiny? Or...was it the night? Could she separate the Slayer from the night?
His whispered words came back to her, so powerful that she could swear she could feel him standing behind her, what he told her touching her like his hand, caressing her flesh, making her flinch yet only wanting more. Buffy closed her eyes and pressed her back to the brick wall behind her, inhaling sharply as the cold of the stone penetrated her thin jacket.
“You see...you try to be with them...but you always end up in the dark...with me. What would they think of you...if they found out...all the things you've done? If they knew...who you really were? That's not your world. You belong in the shadows... with me.”
His invitation chilled her more than the cold brick she leaned against now. Was that why she had hurt him, had used him, had...
Buffy winced, reliving what she had done, that same anger rising again because...because he never understood how close to the truth his words had been.
And now he had a soul. Because of her. No, even worse, the image of his tormented face bitterly stinging, he had sought out his soul for her, not because of her.
She opened her eyes, only now seeing the stake she gripped so tightly in her hand, not even remembering withdrawing it from her jacket. Buffy opened her hand to let the weapon slip free from her fingers yet changed her mind even before it fell. With a disgusted sigh she thrust the stake back into her jacket and pushed away from the wall. More frustrated than angry now, she lashed out at a stone by her feet, sending it bouncing down the alley.
The stone echoed loudly off the alley walls, shattering the silence that had been as much a part of her surroundings as the night itself. It came to rest beyond the end of the alley, on the broken and cracked sidewalk...right at his feet. Buffy blinked once, twice, then realized she wasn’t alone.
Spike stared at her, his eyebrows slightly raised in surprise but his pale face empty of emotion. Buffy hesitated, took a step forward, then stopped. Their eyes met briefly but Spike looked away first, his shoulders slumping.
“Spike,” whispered Buffy, her voice uncomfortably loud in the distance between them.
Spike looked up and once again they simply stared at one another. This time Buffy looked away first. His face betrayed no emotion, but his eyes...
His eyes. So full of pain, of sadness, yet they held no anger, no malice towards her.
Once again Buffy felt the coldness of that wall she had been leaning against.
“Spike, I...I mean, I’m...”
But when Buffy raised her head he was gone.
Buffy turned, watching the sunrise paint the morning clouds in shades of pink and blue. A part of her relaxed, knowing that she could now rest with the dawn of a new day. Yet another part of her, deeper within and darker, was sad that the hunt was over for another night.
Buffy unlocked her front door, smiling at finding it locked. She quietly made her way up the stairs, suddenly feeling very tired. Collapsing on top of her bed without taking her clothes off, Buffy quickly fell asleep.
Buffy opened her eyes, unsure of what had startled her out of such a deep sleep. And then she heard it again. A thump. As if something heavy had been dropped onto the floor. Something like...like a body? Buffy sprang out of bed and bounded down the stairs two at a time, hearing voices coming from the basement. She paused for a moment to listen, mad at herself for not checking on Dawn before running down here.
“Xander, you sure that’ll hold? I don’t think...”
“Willow, do I ask about your eye of newt when you’re brewing up a potion?”
“Well, no, but that’s not...”
“See, I’m a carpenter and this is wood. Wood and I have an understanding. So if I say this will hold the weight of the bag...”
“Will you two keep it down? You’re going to wake up Buffy!” warned Dawn.
“Sorry,” murmured both Willow and Xander at the same time.
“Uh, Dawn? Before you glue that together you should score it,” said Xander.
“Score it? You mean...set it to music? What, are we going to be singing again?”
“Uh, no. I meant take a nail and scratch some lines in it. It’ll give the glue something more to hold onto,” explained Xander.
“Oh,” sighed Dawn, the embarrassment evident in her voice.
Buffy rolled her eyes and made her way down the cellar stairs.
“Morning, Buffy! Um, I uh, hope we didn’t wake you,” winced Willow, hiding something behind her back.
“Buffy! Uh, yeah, like Willow said. Good morning,” smiled Xander.
“Didn’t you have those clothes on yesterday?” asked Dawn.
Buffy sat down on the bottom step and slowly surveyed the room. Xander was half standing, half hiding behind a heavy punching bag hanging from a hook in the ceiling. Dawn was sitting cross-legged on a padded mat on the floor in the corner and Willow was just standing in the middle of the room with her hands behind her back.
“Surprise!” smiled Willow awkwardly.
“What the hell are you people doing?” yawned Buffy.
“Well, uh, like Willow said, it’s a surprise, a, um, present. With the glory days of the Magic Box a thing of the past, you needed a new place to work out. I salvaged some of the stuff and made a few new additions. Like that cabinet over there,” pointed Xander. “Thought you could store weapons in it, or...”
“Xander! Glory days? Not exactly a good choice of words, you know?” scolded Dawn.
“Oh. Right,” grimaced Xander. “Sorry. Anyway, we’re not quite done but, well, you get the idea. Ceiling isn’t really high enough to throw weapons. Maybe knives, but I’d go easy with the axes.”
“And see? You can use the exercise mat for, okay, exercise. Hence the name. But you can meditate down here too. It’s quiet. Or usually is,” frowned Willow.
“Hey, this whole thing was my idea!” protested Dawn. “You guys were all ‘I don’t know, maybe we should ask’, blah, blah, blah. I had to talk you into it. Buffy needs to work out.”
“Yeah, she’s right. But we didn’t need much convincing. Dawn had me at sweaty Slayer. Um, you know, that didn’t come out right,” winced Willow, her face turning red.
“Xander? Wipe the drool of your chin,” teased Dawn. And now Buffy smiled.
“Thanks. I love you guys. But couldn’t you have done this, oh, I don’t know, say in the afternoon when certain people aren’t sleeping?” sighed Buffy.
“Sorry. We were trying to keep it a secret,” frowned Xander.
“So that’s why Dawn has been doing the laundry! She was hoping I wouldn’t come down here. And here I thought you were genuinely trying to help out,” glared Buffy.
“Believe me, you can start doing the laundry again,” sighed Dawn.
“Speaking of secrets, Willow, what are you hiding behind your back?” asked Buffy.
Willow sheepishly brought a bouquet of flowers out from behind her back.
“I know there’s a vase around here somewhere, just haven’t found it yet,” shrugged Willow.
Buffy’s face warmed as her smile grew. She stood up and walked over to Willow.
“See, this was Dawn’s idea and Xander did most...okay, almost all of the work. I just wanted to contribute, you know? And no one’s given you flowers in a while,” sighed Willow, holding the flowers out towards Buffy. She took them, inhaling the sweet scent as she tried not to think about how long it actually had been since she last got flowers.
“Thanks,” whispered Buffy as she hugged Willow. “And you know you contribute around here.”
“I guess,” shrugged Willow. Buffy shook her head disapprovingly at Willow.
“Guess I’ll get ready for school,” said Dawn.
“Yeah, we’d better get going soon, Buffy,” reminded Xander.
“Uh, guys? Hold on. We have time. And there’s something I need to tell you. About Spike,” announced Buffy. Xander and Dawn immediately frowned but Willow didn’t react.
“What now?” demanded Xander, crossing his arms in front of himself.
“Spike, he’s different now. He knows what he did was wrong. That’s why he left,” said Buffy, looking down at the floor.
“Fine. That explains why he left. Why did he come back?” growled Xander.
“Different how?” asked Dawn, ignoring Xander.
Buffy took in a deep breath and slowly looked at each of them, deliberately making eye contact.
“He has a soul,” said Buffy softly.
Xander blinked, lowering his arms. Dawn’s eyes opened wide.
“What? How?” questioned Willow.
“I don’t know,” shrugged Buffy. “But I believe him.”
“Oh, please! Just because he says...Buffy, how can you trust him?” shouted Xander.
“I didn’t say I trusted him. I said I believed him,” said Buffy firmly. She stared at Xander until, shaking his head, he looked away.
“Well. Just thought you should know. Puts things in a different light, don’tcha think?”
“Still like to put him in the light,” muttered Xander.
“And that makes him what? Better?” sighed Dawn.
“I don’t know what it means. But...I feel for him,” winced Buffy.
“Feel what?” snapped Xander.
“Xander!” warned Willow. Xander shook his head in disgust.
“I’ll be in the car,” said Xander as he walked away, avoiding Buffy’s empty stare.
“Buffy. Are you okay?” asked Willow.
“Yeah. I’m going to go change. Thanks for the flowers, Will,” smiled Buffy.
Dawn and Willow didn’t say anything as Buffy walked up the stairs.
“Willow, now’s not a good time, but I need to ask a favor,” whispered Dawn.
“I’ve been invited to a party on Saturday night. Me. Dawn no-social-life Summers, invited somewhere! And I really wanna go. Could you, um, run it by Buffy sometime today, let her know how important this is to me? I’ll even keep doing the laundry!” promised Dawn.
“Maybe,” smiled Willow. “But what’s the what and the where and the who?”
“Oh, I’m going with Kit and it’s at Carlos Trejo’s house. I’ll even spend the night at Kit’s house so no one has to come and get me. Please! Think of what you were doing at my age,” pleaded Dawn.
“You mean reading books and staying home?” sighed Willow.
“Okay, bad example. But you know what I mean!”
“Hmm. I’m betting there’ll be boys and booze at this party,” said Willow knowingly.
“I hope so! Oh, but I promise not to drink,” grimaced Dawn.
“Sure, I’ll soften her up. But you have to ask. I won’t do that for you and it’s not my decision to make,” said Willow.
“Oh, thank you!” smiled Dawn, actually jumping up and down.
“You’d better get ready for school,” reminded Willow.
“Yeah. Hey, what do we do next about our research? Kinda came up with a big ole zero with the books.”
“I don’t know. Guess I could ask our resident ex-demon Anya for advice,” sighed Willow with trepidation.
“Does it ever get an easier? Any less complicated?” sighed Buffy, talking to herself as she walked among the trees. Tired of cemeteries, she had sought out Miller’s Woods if only to change her routine. And it had been a long time since she had patrolled here.
“What is it about relationships? Is it me? Would things have been any different if I wasn’t the Slayer? Oh, don’t even go there!” laughed Buffy, slapping a hand to her forehead.
A cloud passed in front of the moon and the shadows of the trees grew deeper until they merged with the dark of the night. Buffy’s mood darkened as well. She thrust her hands into the pockets of the thin windbreaker she wore, something she rarely did on patrol. Better to keep your hands free, ready to fight, ready to react. But the cool night air chilled her and her thoughts distracted her.
“And now he’s got a soul,” whispered Buffy, shaking her head. She stopped walking and looked up at the sky.
“What am I supposed to do with that? Why?”
No answer came with Buffy’s question. If anything the night seemed even quieter now.
“You guys send me prophetic dreams, portents with cryptic messages, reveal foreshadowing in dusty old tomes...how about dropping me a sign, a subtle hint, a breadcrumb. Come on! You can’t be that busy!”
Buffy was knocked facedown into the ground, her arms pinned against her sides by strong arms. Instinctively she used her attacker’s momentum and rolled forward, breaking free of his grasp. The vampire growled as she sprang to her feet. Turning, its hands gripped her throat. Smashing her foot down on his instep, Buffy forced her arms beneath his arms and once again broke his hold, grabbing him by the shoulders.
“You know, it’s awfully rude to interrupt some when they’re talking, even if it is to herself.”
Buffy leaned back and rolled, pulling the vampire with her and kicking him upwards with her feet. The vampire smacked into a tree behind them...and exploded into ash. Still kneeling, Buffy stared at the broken branch that had punctured the vampire’s heart.
The branch of a willow tree.
Buffy stood and brushed herself off, glancing up warily at the sky above just as the moon once again emerged from behind the clouds.
Willow kicked the door closed behind her while peering over the two bags of groceries in her arms and trying to keep her balance. Heading towards the kitchen she passed the living room...and then backed up, standing motionless at what she saw.
“Hey, Will! Need a hand?”
“Um...no. No, I got it,” nodded Willow. “Buffy...you feeling okay?”
“Oh. Well, that’s...good. So you’re, uh, not patrolling tonight?”
“Oh. Well, that’s...Buffy, you sure you feel okay? It’s only eight o’clock and you’re already in your pajamas.”
“Yep. Dawn’s sleeping over a friend’s house tonight so I thought we could have a girl’s night in. As opposed to out,” added Buffy.
“Sure,” shrugged Willow.
“Don’t worry. It’s a slow night undead-wise. I made a quick pass earlier. So go put those groceries on the counter for now and get into your PJs. Got us a video to watch. Already made the popcorn!” beamed Buffy.
“Not Thelma And Louise again?” asked Willow cautiously.
“Um...well, yeah. Kinda. I was in a mood,” frowned Buffy.
“Uh-huh. And I’m guessing that pink stuff in that pitcher isn’t Kool Aid,” said Willow.
“Nope. Made us some cosmos,” grinned Buffy.
“Cosmo...cosmopolitans? Isn’t that basically a vodka martini with a little cranberry for color?” winced Willow.
“And your point?” asked Buffy.
“Oh boy,” whispered Willow to herself as she headed for the kitchen. She eased the bags onto the counter and pulled out a container of ice cream, the only perishable to worry about, and tossed it into the back of the freezer. Digging into her pocket, Willow dumped her change onto the counter, knowing Dawn always needed quarters for the vending machine at school.
She hadn’t realized that she had also pulled out her worrystone with the change. Willow picked it up, her thumb gliding over its smooth surface in a practiced circular motion. Turning, she leaned back to peer around the corner, smiling when she saw Buffy tossing kernels of popcorn into the air and trying to catch them, somewhat unsuccessfully, with her mouth.
Exhaling a silent sigh, Willow held the polished stone in her palm, staring at it.
“Hey! Whatcha doin’ in there? The popcorn’s getting cold!”
After one last reassuring caress with her thumb, Willow slipped the stone into her pocket and bounded up the stairs two at a time.
“Okay, I’ll admit that popcorn representing salty goes better with a cosmo than chocolate representing sweet. But only if you’ll admit that the bunny slippers are overkill,” smiled Buffy over the rim of her glass.
“But I like my bunny slippers!” complained Willow, looking at her feet. “And, you know, bonus points for Anya being afraid of them.”
“There’s that,” nodded Buffy. “Alright, the bunny slippers aren’t roadkill.”
“Overkill,” corrected Willow, taking another sip from her drink.
“Never mind,” laughed Willow. “Sure ya don’t wanna watch the movie?”
“Nah. Two pissed off chicks drive off a cliff. Big dummies shoulda turned around and kicked some male ass or at least slapped ‘em up side the head,” giggled Buffy.
“You are in a mood, aren’t you?” announced Willow.
“Nah, not really. Though I’m not downplaying my issues with the opposite sex. My nose is tingly,” said Buffy, looking cross-eyed at her nose. “Does your nose get tingly when you drink?”
“No, I don’t think so. Sometimes my teeth get numb,” replied Willow, causing Buffy to laugh. They each took another sip from their glasses.
“Buffy, did you wanna talk about something?”
“No, I meant you. Did you want to say something to me? Because a few times tonight I thought you were going to say...something. And then the subject got changed or, or it never came up,” frowned Willow.
Buffy took a deep breath and another sip from her drink, then finally looked Willow in the eye.
“Yeah, I did want to talk. About me, if that’s okay,” sighed Buffy uncomfortably.
“Of course it’s okay! It’s more than okay, it’s perfectly okay!” added Willow, scooting over to sit closer next to her. Buffy put her drink down on the table and Willow, puzzled, did the same.
“Hey. Are you okay?” asked Willow softly.
“Yes. No...I don’t know,” shrugged Buffy, shaking her head. Willow waited a moment but didn’t say anything. Then she reached over and held Buffy’s hand, getting the requisite smile as expected.
“I need to say some stuff. Out loud. Maybe more for me to hear than you. But I’m glad you’re here,” added Buffy.
“Me too,” smiled Willow.
“So I need you to listen, to smile in the appropriate places and, well, maybe most of all, to be honest with me.”
“Of course!” agreed Willow, letting go of Buffy’s hand but then reaching around her back to rest her hand on Buffy’s hip. Buffy almost smiled, looked down and slowly inhaled through her nose, working up the courage to continue. Again Willow didn’t say anything. When Buffy looked up she was immediately calmed by Willow’s expression, a softness that conveyed not unwanted sympathy but the implicit trust only a best friend could give.
“I’ve been the Slayer for a long time, longer than most of the others before me. Hell, probably all of them. So we’re talking new territory here. Hence the lack of wordage in the Watcher’s Diaries about the experiences of old Slayers. And because of that I can’t really compare what’s happening to me...okay, getting a little ahead of myself here. What I mean is Slaying does something to the Slayer. It changes you. And the longer you are the Slayer...”
Buffy took another deep breath, once again seeking encouragement in Willow’s eyes.
“Go on,” whispered Willow.
“I didn’t understand it at first, even tried to talk about it with Giles a couple of times.”
“When?” asked Willow.
“The first time, after meeting Dracula. When I asked him to be my Watcher again. And then again after my mom died...when he took me on that vision quest thingy,” explained Buffy.
“I remember,” nodded Willow. “Death is your gift and all that.”
“Yeah,” nodded Buffy, looking straight ahead as she talked. “The Slaying. The killing. You remove yourself from it, or at least you try to...but you can’t. I get it now. Dracula said it best. My power comes from a dark source. The need to hunt is like a drug, an addiction. And the only way to stop it from overwhelming you, from controlling you...is to go numb inside.”
Buffy felt Willow’s hand tense on her side but her friend didn’t say anything. Buffy turned to face her. Willow wasn’t smiling.
“Maybe...maybe it’s a little like the magicks I used,” suggested Willow.
“Maybe,” agreed Buffy, somewhat surprised that Willow hadn’t tried to argue with her. Was how she felt that obvious? “I don’t doubt what my destiny has done to me. Not anymore.”
“But, where you were, what I did to you...”
It was Buffy’s turn to say nothing. Willow swallowed once and wet her lips before continuing.
“I brought you back. How could that not affect you? Isn’t that why you were numb? Well, except for the pain and, and...”
“No,” said Buffy, shaking her head. “It was a shock and it took me a hell of a long time to deal. Probably longer because I wasn’t honest with you, wouldn’t let you help.”
“But no. I’m the same old Buffy. Only more so. Numb. Unable to feel. It’s why Riley left. I could never give myself completely to him. It wasn’t there to give anymore,” sighed Buffy.
“This is one of those appropriate places where I should smile, huh?” frowned Willow. Buffy rested her head on Willow’s shoulder and put her arm around Willow’s back.
“This change, it happens so slowly. You have to remove yourself from the bloodlust, the desire to kill...or be consumed by it. Like...well, like Faith. But the trade off? You lose the ability to feel. To love,” said Buffy, her voice trailing off.
“I don’t believe that,” whispered Willow. Buffy stiffened, then looked up at Willow.
“You wanted me to be honest,” smiled Willow.
“Guess I did,” winced Buffy.
“Buffy, I’m not dismissing what you feel. Or, um, don’t feel, that is. I’m just trying to understand.”
Buffy sat up, removing her hand from Willow’s back, but Willow kept her close by holding her, hand on her waist now.
“Where you were...you said once that everything was harsh now, too bright, too loud. Buffy, if...if you were at peace before, then nothing...”
“No. I got past all that, learned to accept it,” countered Buffy. “Not jumping for joy happy about it, of course. But this growing numbness, this emptiness that’s always there...”
“Well, no. Not at first, of course. I hadn’t been the Slayer long enough.”
“So you had...you slept with Spike because...?”
“Because...because it was the only time I ever felt anything,” whispered Buffy, lowering her head. “The only time I knew I was alive.”
Buffy snapped her head up, fear in her eyes.
“Close your eyes,” said Willow.
Buffy just looked at her as if she didn’t understand.
“Go on,” insisted Willow. Buffy slowly closed her eyes, opening one eye once to nervously glance at Willow. Willow pouted and Buffy closed her eyes. And then she felt Willow’s finger as it gently traced a path across her cheek. Again as her finger brushed along her neck, the heat from her palm soothing as it caressed the hollow of her shoulder.
“You feel that, right?” asked Willow. Buffy opened her eyes.
“We need to be touched, Buffy. It’s one of the most basic and primitive urges known.”
“My urges went beyond need,” grimaced Buffy.
“Not really,” smiled Willow. Buffy frowned at her doubtfully but considered what Willow said.
“Buffy, if what you say is true, well, maybe your body is protecting you. Again, on a primitive level.”
“Think about it. You have amazing healing powers. All that killing, facing what you have to face, every day...your body is dealing with stress, like it would an injury. I’m sure it’s not quite that simple, but, yeah, going a little numb? Makes sense,” nodded Willow.
“A little?” winced Buffy.
“Again, I’m not dismissing how you feel. But there’s probably no one hello-I’m-here answer. Let’s see, you mentioned something about issues with the opposite sex. Giles helped you. Didn’t he teach you some meditation techniques?”
“Yeah. We started, anyway, but...”
“But he left. Like Angel left. Like your father left. Like Riley...”
“No, it’s not that simple. It can’t be!” sighed Buffy.
“Already said it wasn’t simple, silly,” replied Willow reaching for her glass and taking another drink. Buffy reached for her glass, hesitated, then changed her mind. Willow put her almost empty glass back onto the table.
“This is complicated stuff. But I’m seeing a pattern here.”
“Is this becoming a lecture on the ills of the evil male species?” teased Buffy.
“As fun as that would be...no. This is about you. About your relationships. Buffy, the only time you opened your heart to someone post-Angel was to Parker. And we know how that turned out,” added Willow, scrunching up her face.
“Probably never had a chance. You couldn’t let him in. If you were withdrawing your feelings to protect yourself from this urge to hunt, well, Riley was probably on the receiving end of that too.”
Willow waited for her words to sink in. Buffy looked at her, confused and yet impressed. Willow rubbed her back, giving her time.
“Wanna talk about Spike?” ventured Willow.
“Um...ya know, maybe not tonight,” whispered Buffy. “It’s just...”
“It’s okay. But the offer stands.”
“Thanks,” smiled Buffy. They didn’t speak a almost a full minute.
“You know,” whispered Willow, “you haven’t always let me in either.”
Buffy winced but nodded.
“I know. And I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I wasn’t exactly there for you either. I was hurting too much from dealing with the magicks and what I did to Tara,” frowned Willow.
“What you did?” asked Buffy. Willow blinked and looked away.
“Um, okay, let’s say you’re right about needing to put up walls between you and the Slayage, the...the power to take a life,” said Willow, carefully choosing her words. “That makes sense too. At least to me. I touched that, remember? Only I can’t put up a wall. It’s always there, just below the surface.”
Buffy looked at Willow, stared at her. She understood this fear but wouldn’t let Willow see that. Instead Buffy raised her hand and touched Willow’s cheek.
“Always,” continued Willow. “And it terrifies me, what I might do...what I’ve done. I kinda envy this numbness you talk about. And yet I don’t want that.”
Buffy slowly lowered her hand but Willow took it and once again placed it against her cheek.
“I know I can feel love, Buffy. Maybe someday, when I’m ready, I’ll even allow myself to try again, to open myself to that. You will too. And maybe I can help you. All I can do is try,” offered Willow, her voice small.
“Like with the meditation we’ve been doing?” asked Buffy.
“It’s a start. And if you think you can trust me again...”
“I do,” interrupted Buffy without hesitation. Willow smiled gratefully and took in a deep breath.
“And if you can trust yourself, I promise I can help. There’s a way to bring these repressed feelings to the surface again,” said Willow, but she wouldn’t look directly at Buffy, as if she were hiding something.
“You mean magically?” asked Buffy.
“Will, I want you to be comfortable with this. If you don’t think you can handle...”
“It’s okay. This is white magick, healing magick. It’s safe. I use it when I meditate,” said Willow, again not looking directly at Buffy.
“But...you don’t feel numb. Why would...”
Willow lowered her head. And Buffy understood.
“Oh. This goes both ways, right? You can bring feelings and emotions to the surface...or you can suppress them,” said Buffy.
“Restrain might be a better word. It’s how I deal with my grief, with my guilt...this helps block the pain. I create a barrier. With you, we need to remove that barrier. Except...Buffy, what if that barrier needs to be there, to protect you?” asked Willow, concerned. “What if your body knows what’s best?”
“I don’t care. Willow, I need to feel again. I need to live. I...I want your help,” smiled Buffy weakly. Willow nodded.
“Buffy, you’re not weak if you ask for help. You just have to trust me. And you don’t know how much that means to me, that you would. Trust me. After what...”
Willow stopped, nervously swallowing. Buffy sought out Willow’s hand and held it. She didn’t have to say anything.
“When I say trust me, I mean don’t hold back. It can be scary, letting go, not being in control. Like with the magicks or, I guess, the Slayage. But I’ve seen your expression afterwards, felt your body respond. I know you’ve felt...something,” said Willow.
“Yeah,” admitted Buffy, almost blushing. “Something. Something very...basic, like you said. Primal.”
“It’s a start,” repeated Willow, easing her hand up behind Buffy’s back to rest it upon her shoulder. She pulled her close in a hug. “You’re not flawed, Buffy. I think your body’s trying to protect you, that’s all.”
“Makes sense,” whispered Buffy. “I hope you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right. After all, I’m stronger than you.”
“Come on, admit it. Hell, I kicked your ass across the Magic Box, didn’t I?” grinned Willow. “So that proves it.”
“Oh, you so did not! Proves it? And what’s that supposed to mean?” laughed Buffy with mock indignation.
“It proves that I’m not only stronger but smarter,” replied Willow, sticking out her tongue.
“Oh yeah? Care to arm wrestle?” challenged Buffy.
“Can’t. Gotta finish your drink first,” yelled Willow, quickly standing up and grabbing Buffy’s drink. She jumped out of reach of Buffy’s lunge.
“Willow, get back here! You better not spill that!”
“So, are you comfortable?” asked Willow as she lit a second candle. Buffy looked down at what she was wearing; sweat pants tied at the waist with a string and a loose fitting T-shirt. She was also barefoot.
“I guess,” shrugged Buffy.
“No, silly,” smiled Willow, shaking her hand to extinguish the match she held. “I meant are you nervous?”
“Oh. No, I don’t think so. Should I be?” added Buffy quickly.
“No, of course not.”
“Well, maybe I would be nervous if I knew what was going on. So spill already. What are we going to do?” asked Buffy.
“I told you, we’re just going to meditate, like before. Only on a deeper level,” explained Willow. She crossed her legs under herself and Buffy followed her lead.
“So these two candles...they represent what? Me and you, ying and yang, Sharon and Ozzy?” asked Buffy, leaning forward a bit to get a closer look at them.
“Um, actually, I kinda just like the scent. See? Pine,” said Willow, moving her hands in a circular motion so that the smoke would drift towards Buffy.
“Oh. You know, I thought this would be more, say, mysterious or something,” pouted Buffy.
“Just wait,” winked Willow. Before Buffy could reply she took both of her hands into her own.
“When we start, I only want you to listen to my voice, to focus on it, but don’t ask me anything or talk at all. You need to trust me, to not resist. Once you’re relaxed I’ll deepen the trance,” said Willow.
“Then, when I think you’re ready, I’m going to reach out, touch you...probably in a way you haven’t experienced before,” smiled Willow.
Buffy raised one eyebrow in Willow’s direction.
“Not physically!” laughed Willow. “Come on, let’s get started. Close your eyes.”
“Okay,” nodded Buffy cautiously.
“Take in a slow, deep breath. Focus inward, concentrate on the air as it fills your lungs and as you slowly let it out. Fix onto my voice, find your center. The only sensation you should be aware of is your breathing...deep cleansing breaths, relaxing...your pulse is slowing. Let the world fall away...fall away...be calm...placid. Good. Now breathe on your own, without my voice...”
Buffy didn’t count how many times she inhaled and exhaled, she simply let it happen, soothed by the rhythm of her chest as it rose and fell. Though Willow still held her hands she was no longer aware of touching her.
[i]Buffy. Can you hear me?[i]
Buffy felt Willow’s question more than she heard it, her words a muffled echo. And she understood that Willow was using telepathy to communicate with her.
[i]Yes, I can.
Good. Remember, trust me. Just let it happen.
Let what happen?
Shhh. I can’t explain, not yet. I can’t use words...it’s like describing colors to a blind person. Breathe...find your center...[/i]
Even as she took in her next breath Buffy felt it, a warmth that radiated from her hands into her arms, seeping like water through a sponge. And yet it was more than heat. This sensation enveloped her completely, like being immersed. Buffy gasped, suddenly aware of the intensity of what was happening, felt herself moan though no words escaped her lips. She needed to be closer to this, to embrace this, yet it was like trying to grasp at tendrils of mist as they caressed her. Though she knew her eyes were closed they seemed too heavy to open. And Buffy panicked. For the first time she resisted, pushing away this urge, this need...as if fighting to wake up from a dream.
And then it was over.
Buffy’s eyes were open and Willow was no longer holding her hands. She didn’t understand what had happened but she felt neither fear nor panic. No, in fact she felt rested, as if waking up from a long nap.
“Wow. Willow, that was...hey, are you crying? What’s wrong?” asked Buffy, quickly kneeling next to her.
“Nothing,” answered Willow, shaking her head. She wiped her eyes with the palms of her hands and laughed in embarrassment. “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting...just give me a sec, okay?”
Buffy nodded and put her arm around her shoulder. Willow may have laughed but her body was shaking.
“You sure you’re okay?” asked Buffy.
“Yeah,” sighed Willow. “I’m sorry that ended so soon.”
Buffy glanced up at the clock and did a double-take; almost twenty minutes had passed.
“Can you describe to me what you felt?” sniffed Willow.
Buffy sat down and drew her knees up in front of her.
“Um...it’s kinda hard to put into words,” shrugged Buffy, resting her chin on her knees.
“I know,” smiled Willow.
“There was this comforting warmth, but more than that. It...you know, this may sound crazy, but I felt...I felt like my mom was holding me in her arms, cradling me. I was safe and content and, and...and you’re looking at me like I’m a crazy person,” grinned Buffy.
“Not at all,” smiled Willow. “That’s...that’s only a part of it, but hey, for your first time? Not bad.”
Buffy tilted her head suspiciously at Willow and added a pout to emphasize her confusion.
“It was me, Buffy. What you felt was love, pure and simple. You’ve been my best friend for years now. Of course I love you. I simply transferred that feeling, that essence, towards you. Your body, it’s somehow blocking that or, or maybe it’s just forgotten. I’m just trying to knock that barrier down, stir things up, reawaken whatever is asleep.”
Willow smiled and took Buffy’s hand. Buffy’s eyes opened a bit wider as she stared at Willow’s hand in her own.
“I think, maybe, you just need to remember,” whispered Willow.
“Wow. I...wow,” sighed Buffy, giving Willow’s hand a squeeze. “Um, sorry about the mom reference!”
“Don’t be,” laughed Willow. “It’s nice, in an awkwardy compliment kinda way.”
“So, is that what you felt?”
Willow’s smile vanished.
“Will, what...I don’t get it. What’s going on?”
“Well...how do I explain this?” sighed Willow.
“Talking usually works,” chided Buffy.
“Yeah,” agreed Willow reluctantly. “Okay, see, I can control what you feel from me. But this is new to you, so...when I touched you, your emotions, your, um, aura, is more open to me.”
“Oh,” said Buffy uncomfortably, suddenly worried about the implications of Willow’s words.
“I’m not sure what happened. It was kinda like a panic attack. Suddenly I felt so alone, so...isolated,” frowned Willow. “Wasn’t expecting that, so I must’ve lost my concentration. Well, not must have. I did.”
Willow gave Buffy a moment to think about that.
“Buffy, do you...do you feel like that? Alone?”
Buffy hesitated but looked directly at Willow.
“Sometimes,” shrugged Buffy. “Don’t we all?”
“No, this was more intense. It was like I suddenly broke through thin ice and the water was just so cold. Buffy, maybe, maybe I touched onto part of what being a Slayer is. I mean, you are alone.”
Again Buffy hesitated but she reluctantly nodded.
“Maybe,” whispered Buffy.
“Oh,” winced Willow.
“But only a small part. There’s so much more to it than that. Um, maybe we shouldn’t...”
“No! No, you don’t understand. For you to feel what I gave you...Buffy, it worked! I think I can help. And next time I’ll be more prepared,” smiled Willow confidently.
“Or maybe next time you’ll touch something that’ll really scare you. What then?” asked Buffy calmly.
Willow didn’t answer.
“It’s getting late. We should go to bed,” said Buffy, standing up.
“Are you afraid of what I might find? Embarrassed?” challenged Willow.
“No. No, of course not! But...”
Willow stood and put her hands on Buffy’s shoulders.
“Then don’t push me away.”
Buffy didn’t say anything at first. And then Willow smiled softly, flashing Buffy with the best puppy dog eyes she could muster up. Buffy couldn’t help but smile. And she nodded her assent.
“I’ll make you a deal. We’ll keep at this if you can be honest with me and answer two questions,” said Buffy firmly.
“What are the questions?” asked Willow warily.
“First, you’re comfortable with this, right? You aren’t worried about using magic here, you aren’t afraid and not telling me, not even a teensy little bit...right?”
“Okay, more than one question there, but, ignoring that for the moment...no. I’m so comfortable with this I might fall asleep,” grinned Willow. “Oh, not that I would!”
“Good,” smiled Buffy. “And now for the tough one.”
Buffy reached up and took Willow’s hands into her own.
“I know you’re wrestling with some really big stuff here. Grief, guilt, fear of what the magicks could do to you...but I need to know. Are you hiding? Are you using this to block out all that, to avoid dealing? ‘Cause that doesn’t sound healthy. And if you’re going to help me, then you need to let me help you.”
Willow kept her eyes on Buffy, took in a deep breath and slowly let it out, puffing out her cheeks with the effort. Just before the tears came, Willow nodded once, ever so slightly, and pulled Buffy close, wrapping her arms around her, ashamed at her confession but ever so grateful that Buffy had reached out to her.
“I have the sense to recognize that
I don't know how to let you go
Every moment marked
With apparitions of your soul
I'm ever swiftly moving
Trying to escape this desire
The yearning to be near you
I do what I have to do” - Sarah Mclachlan
“You’re kidding. Right?” blinked Dawn.
“Nope. That’s my answer,” nodded Buffy.
Buffy smiled and crossed her arms in front of herself.
“You’re letting me go?” asked Dawn, saying the words slowly.
“Any reason I shouldn’t?” sighed Buffy.
“Because you never let me do anything!” said Dawn.
“Dawn, you said it was important to you. It’s time I cut the apron strings...um, not that I actually cook or anything,” frowned Buffy.
“Wow! This is so cool! Hey, how soon can I take driving lessons?” asked Dawn excitedly.
“Don’t push it,” warned Buffy. “After the party you’re staying over at Kit’s house, right?”
“Yeah,” nodded Dawn. “Carlos said he’d walk us home.”
“Fine. Just remember to wear a cross. And no drinking!” glared Buffy.
“Thank you! Oh, I gotta go call Kit!”
Dawn took two steps out of the kitchen, stopped and turned around.
Dawn ran upstairs to her room and Buffy looked over at Willow, sitting at the kitchen table and pretending to read the morning paper.
“You did the right thing,” said Willow without looking up.
“Maybe. Still doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it,” replied Buffy, putting her hands on her hips and looking in the direction Dawn had gone.
Willow covered her mouth with one hand to hide her smile.
Willow knocked on the door but no one answered. She knocked again and Anya finally opened the door, waving her in while talking into the phone. Willow waved hello and shut the door behind her.
“So, tell me what it looks like.”
Anya motioned for Willow to sit down.
Willow took a seat, politely trying to not listen to Anya’s conversation.
“It’s rising. Okay, touch it and describe it to me.”
Willow raised one eyebrow but didn’t look at Anya.
“Hot but not really firm yet...hmm.”
Willow raised both eyebrows and tried to find something to read, a magazine or even the TV Guide.
“No, wait a little longer. You’re almost ready to...”
Willow dropped the magazine she was fumbling through and glanced nervously at Anya.
“Hold on, Willow might be better at this than me,” laughed Anya.
“Huh? What are you...that isn’t Xander, is it?” asked Willow fearfully.
“What? No! Willow, Dawn’s making brownies for some party she’s going to. How do you tell if they’re done?” said Anya, holding out the phone towards Willow.
“Huh? Oh, um, look on the box. It should say how long to bake them for. Then stick a toothpick in them. If stuff sticks to it she needs to keep it in a little longer.”
“You hear that? Okay. Let me know how they came out. Bye,” said Anya, hanging up the phone. She didn’t see Willow as she let out a sigh.
“So...can I get you anything?” asked Anya.
“No, thank you. I just wanted to ask you something,” explained Willow.
Anya sat down on the couch across from Willow, the smallest of smiles on her face.
“Wow. Isn’t this awkward? Okay, I didn’t get a chance to thank you before,” said Anya, somewhat hesitantly. “Anyway...thanks.”
“For trying to help me. With D’Hoffryn. And, and what I did. You know,” added Anya, lowering her voice almost to a whisper, “with the Vengeance and those boys.”
“Oh. Oh! Yeah, um, that’s why I’m here. To see how you’re doing,” nodded Willow.
“Thought so,” smiled Anya. “I should’ve called. Sorry you had to come all the way over here.”
“No, that’s...I don’t mind. Really,” smiled Willow, glancing at the clock on the wall behind Anya.
“I get it now. It’s like a business transaction.”
“Yeah, it...huh?” blinked Willow.
“Like when I had a business to run. An exchange of either goods or services provided by the retailer requires compensation from the customer, usually in the form of monetary remuneration or barter,” explained Anya confidently.
Willow stared blankly at Anya for a moment but Anya’s expression didn’t change.
“Oh, I see what you mean. I did something for you and in return...”
Anya smiled and nodded.
“And now our transaction is done. It’s more satisfying this way, like...like selling an item at full markup and yet still having the customer happy with the purchase,” grinned Anya.
Willow again stared at Anya.
“Um, you know, that’s not exactly...”
Anya tilted her head slightly, wondering what Willow was getting at. And Willow reconsidered her explanation.
“Even after all this time, you’re still struggling a bit with human customs,” smiled Willow, amused rather than judgmental.
“Sometimes,” whispered Anya, lowering her head.
“Anya,” said Willow softly. Anya looked up, pouting. “Your analogy with the business transaction...it’s a good one.”
“It is, isn’t it?” grinned Anya..
“Though sometimes friends do things for the people they care about simply because...because the reward is in the giving,” smiled Willow.
Anya tilted her head, thinking about that.
“Um...think of it as giving someone an employee discount even when they don’t work for you,” tried Willow. “Because...because you like them.”
“Oh,” nodded Anya, smiling again. “So you like me?”
“Of course! You’re my friend, Anya.”
“Thanks. Um, are you going to ask me to do a spell with you now? ‘Cause I really liked the last...”
“What? No. That’s not...never mind,” sighed Willow. “But there is something else I wanted to ask. Anya, do you know of any demons that use embalming fluid for, well, for anything?”
“Embalming fluid? Hmm, let’s see. Well, there is one I remember, the Chandlerlings.”
“Really?” said Willow excitedly, sitting up straighter in her chair.
“Yes. Their young use it,” nodded Anya.
“Well, the Chandlerlings like to talk. A lot. But they have this monotone voice and they tend to go on and on and on and they always put their verbs at the end of the sentence so you have to listen to them like forever so by the time you get to the verb you’ve forgotten what their talking about in the first place making them have to repeat the whole thing over and now you know what the verb is but it’s rude to interrupt so you have to listen all the way through again,” said Anya, finally pausing to take a breath.
“Huh?” mumbled Willow, her eyes glazing over.
“It’s really annoying! Not unlike Germans.”
“Right, it’s...huh? Germans?” repeated Willow.
“Sure. They put their verbs at the end of their sentences. And you can imagine how difficult that makes casting spells in that language. Ever hear of a proficient German spell caster? I don’t think so! And I’ve been around a while, you know? Plus their women never shave their armpits. Oh, um, sorry,” cringed Anya. “Maybe you go for that sorta thing?”
“What? Uh, well, you know, I never really thought about...Anya, can we get back to the Chandlerlings here?” sighed Willow.
“Sure. Let’s see, where was I? Oh, you can imagine what happens. After a while the other Chandlerlings get lulled to sleep by this constant, um, monotonousness.”
Willow again stared at Anya. Anya shrugged.
“To them, the embalming fluid is like coffee. It keeps them awake,” explained Anya.
“Oh. So only their young use it?” asked Willow.
“Yes. The older Chandlerites...”
“Wait. Chandlerites?” interrupted Willow.
“Yes. The ling is for the young, the ite is for the old. Got that?” asked Anya.
“Um, I guess,” frowned Willow.
“So, the Chandlerites are so boring that no amount of embalming fluid keeps them awake. As you can imagine, they don’t talk much as they get older.”
“Oookaaay. Um, are there any of these Chandlerlitelings in Sunnydale?”
“Probably not. Other demons find them so boring that they tend to get picked on. The Hellmouth tends to attract demons. More demons means getting picked on more. Hence the lack of Chandlerlings around here. Why do you ask?” asked Anya.
“Oh, a few funeral homes have been broken into recently. Only thing that seems to be missing is small amounts of embalming fluid. I was worried that some new type of demon might be in town but I couldn’t find any demons that might want that stuff in the books we have,” explained Willow.
“Well, I wouldn’t worry too much if a Chandlerling or two is in town. They’re really quite harmless and keep to themselves. In fact, they’re vegetarians,” added Anya.
“Thanks,” said Willow, standing up. “I have to get going. And Anya?”
“Yes?” answered Anya. Willow reached out and put a hand on Anya’s shoulder.
“How are you doing?” asked Willow softly. Anya smiled but suddenly looked like she might cry.
“Okay. Thanks for asking,” nodded Anya, her voice faltering. “How about you?”
“Okay about covers it. You know, if you want to talk, about anything, just call. I’m a good listener,” smiled Willow.
“No. More than that. You’re a good friend,” replied Anya.
“Sure you don’t wanna do a spell?” beamed Anya. “Because the last time, well, that was kinda...”
“Uh, maybe next time. Gotta go,” added Willow quickly as she turned and ran for the door.
Keeping her eyes closed, Willow allowed an image of Buffy to form, yet from this point of view it was as if she was floating above, looking down at her. The image expanded and Willow saw herself now, holding Buffy’s hands, each of them sitting cross-legged and facing one another, eyes closed and both slightly swaying. Buffy’s lips parted as her breath became shallow and more forceful. Willow responded in turn, her face taut in concentration. She drew air in through her nose, struggling to keep her breathing deep and steady.
Buffy’s head tilted downwards and she seemed to lean on Willow more now for support. Her breath was rapid, ragged...and then she opened her eyes. This astonished Willow as she knew Buffy’s state of mind, could feel her still deep within the trance. Just before she withdrew into herself again, Willow saw Buffy smile.
Willow opened her eyes...and blinked, suddenly confused. The room around them was grainy, almost in sepia tone. It took a moment for her to recognize that her breathing, or panting for a better word, now matched Buffy’s own, struggling as she was with it. Willow slowly raised her eyes, past Buffy’s smile, focusing on her eyes, locking onto them. Buffy flinched but never blinked. And now Willow was smiling with her, but in awe, in wonder.
It was as if Willow felt lighter somehow, like when she really nailed a difficult spell. And just like her craft, all the preparation, the effort that came before melted away, forgotten as her tired muscles basked in the afterglow of the task, any worries placated by this sense of accomplishment. And Willow realized that Buffy must feel this way after a strenuous workout...or after a hunt that ended with a successful kill. Yet this feeling, here and now, was more than that. So much more and so difficult to describe. There was a soothing warmth, an embrace that felt familiar, as if...as if...
That name. It sounded far away, muted. Buffy let go of Willow’s hands and Willow, suddenly dizzy, had to put her hands on the mat to balance herself. She watched Buffy as she stood up and the room seemed clearer, sharper, more in focus.
“Down here, Xander!” called Buffy, breaking the last impressions of the trance.
Willow looked up at her, questioning, and Buffy simply smiled.
“You’re not the only one with some experience with deep trance states,” whispered Buffy.
“Buffy, wait! I sorta get the how but I’m wrestling with the what. You know, the what as in what just happened?” whispered Willow. But Buffy only smiled.
“Hey guys, whatcha doin’?” asked Xander, stopping halfway down the stairs. He looked first at Buffy then at Willow. The girls glanced at one another and then looked at Xander. Buffy was still smiling but Willow stared at Xander with her mouth slightly open, as if she had just woken up.
And now Xander smiled.
“Excuse the naughty implications, but have you two been doing spells together?” grinned Xander.
“Xander! We were meditating. Willow’s been teaching me some techniques to deepen the experience, make it more...fulfilling,” nodded Buffy.
“I see. And if Willow is doing the teaching, what’s with the flummoxed look?” laughed Xander.
“I’m not...there was no flummoxing! I haven’t flummoxed in like...well, just you never mind! And, and what she said! We were meditating,” harumphed Willow, standing up and crossing her arms indignantly.
“My bad. Still, I didn’t realize that...meditating...was such hard work. I mean, you there with the glistening skin and her with the tousled hair,” teased Xander.
Willow narrowed her eyes in a warning glare.
“Oh, and now the furrowed brow! Seems I hit a nerve,” chuckled Xander, though with less confidence than before.
“Speaking of hitting,” muttered Willow loud enough for Buffy to hear.
“Um, Xander? Give us a minute here, okay? We’ll be right up,” said Buffy.
“Sure thing. But if I hear a pillow fight start I’m coming down here with Dawn’s camera in hand!” warned Xander.
“Hey, you up for the Bronze tonight? I could use some serious down time with my buds” suggested Buffy.
“Hmm, let me check my social calendar,” said Xander, lamely searching his shirt and pants pockets. “Can’t seem to find it but I’m sure I can clear my schedule.”
Xander stood there for a moment but no one spoke.
“Oh, right! I was exiting,” nodded Xander as he turned and walked back up the stairs. Buffy turned to face Willow.
“Hey, don’t pout. He was only being...”
“A male?” interjected Willow.
“Okay, I was going to go with only being Xander, but that fits too.”
“Sorry. Just...I was kinda in the moment, ya know?” sighed Willow.
“I know! So, where were we?” puzzled Buffy. “Oh, I remember! Something about flummoxing.”
At least that got a smile out of Willow.
“Buffy, I, I felt something. But I’m not sure what,” frowned Willow.
“Sit,” suggested Buffy, sitting down even before Willow did. Once again they faced one another like before.
“Tell me what you felt,” said Buffy.
“In words?” laughed Willow. “Wow. That was...have you been casting spells?”
And now Buffy laughed.
“Willow, it was me. I wasn’t sure if words would be enough, so I had to let you feel this. See, about what happened to us, they way we fought in the Magic Box...”
Willow cringed but kept her eyes on Buffy.
“I needed you to know, to understand that I forgive you. Don’t dwell on it. It’s in the past now. You were in pain, the real serious kind. I don’t blame you for what happened. Anyway, that’s what you felt. I opened myself up to you, so that you would believe me.”
“Like what I did for you,” nodded Willow absently.
“Yeah. Like that,” smiled Buffy. Willow took another deep breath and focused on the smoke curling up from the candle by her side. Buffy reached over and touched her hand, startling Willow.
“We should go upstairs before Xander gets any more ideas in that male head of his,” grinned Buffy. “So you up for the Bronze tonight?”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, we need a night out, right?”
“I know I do! This meditating, it’s like coffee! I’m all pumped up, with a need to release some serious energy,” smiled Buffy enthusiastically.
“You go up. I need a minute. I need to, um, blow out these candles and, and stuff,” shrugged Willow.
“Okay,” agreed Buffy, standing up. “Willow?”
Willow looked up but just waited for Buffy to speak.
“Thanks again. With the meditating. It, um...I think it’s helping. Really,” smiled Buffy.
“I think it is,” smiled Willow. Buffy nodded and turned for the stairs, noticing that Willow had made no attempt to blow the candles out. Glancing once back over her shoulder at the top of the stairs, she was surprised to see Willow rubbing her worrystone between thumb and forefinger, a far away look in her eyes. Buffy closed the cellar door behind her.
“Hey, Buff. Isn’t Willow coming up?” asked Xander, looking up from peering into the refrigerator.
“Yeah, she’s just straightening up a bit down there,” said Buffy, suddenly hungry herself. She made her way over to stand behind Xander but didn’t see anything she wanted.
“Guess I need to go shopping again,” sighed Buffy.
“Buffy, you’ve been spending a lot of time with Willow lately,” said Xander, closing the refrigerator.
“I guess,” shrugged Buffy.
“So how’s she doing?” asked Xander.
“Doing? Whataya mean?”
“I mean she doesn’t talk to me much anymore,” said Xander, glancing back at the cellar door as he lowered his voice. “She’s keeping a lot of stuff bottled up inside.”
“Like what?” asked Buffy, somewhat uncomfortable to be bringing this up with Xander.
“Like her struggling with the magic usage, her fear of hurting people again...and let’s not forget about Tara. You know, the big elephant in the room that everyone sees but no one talks about? Oh! Not that I’m comparing...well, you know,” sighed Xander.
“I know. And I think she’s doing better. Yeah, she has her moments, but overall? Our Willow’s coming around,” nodded Buffy, now glancing at the cellar door herself.
“I know it’s way too soon for Will to get into a relationship again, but you know what she needs?”
“What?” ventured Buffy suspiciously.
“A rebound girl. And not even something as serious as a date. Just...just someone to let her know she’s still special. Let her know that she is still alive, that she can have an impact on another person. Preferably a girl, of course, in keeping with the boosting of what’s left of her bruised ego. Am I making any kind of sense?” frowned Xander.
Buffy looked at Xander and then her eyes drifted back to the cellar door.
“I’m not, am I?” sighed Xander. “I’m just a big dummy when it comes to matters of the heart.”
“What? Oh, actually you are.”
Xander raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“Making sense, I mean! Not the other part,” corrected Buffy. “And you know what? Maybe Will needs a night out even more than I do. And you need to tell her that.”
“Thanks. That’s...what? I need to tell her? Tell her what, exactly?” asked Xander nervously.
“Xander, don’t look so flummoxed. This is just the thing! Hell, we all need a night out. Our egos don’t need just a little boost, they need a big kick in the ass!”
“Huh? Buffy, I’m not so sure my ass needs any more kicking.”
“I said your ego, not your ass! Here’s the plan. We go to the Bronze, have a few beers, meet some total strangers for a dance or two, have a good time and leave. No strings attached, just some harmless fun,” smiled Buffy enthusiastically.
“Buffy, I don’t know...”
“What were you saying about kicking your ass?” threatened Buffy.
“Okay, I get the message. But what do I tell Will?”
“We’ll both tell her. Just follow my lead. But stress that she needs to dress like she’s out to break some hearts. This might be harmless flirting but if you’re going to do it ya might as well do it up right!”
Xander frowned, unconvinced.
“And you too! You clean up nicely. Go buy yourself some new duds. We need a break in our routines,” said Buffy.
“Hard to argue with that,” agreed Xander. Just then the front door opened and Dawn walked in, making her way over to the refrigerator.
“Hey. What’s up? And why isn’t there anything in here to eat?” sighed Dawn.
“Okay, I get the hint. Xander, can you take me to the grocery store?” asked Buffy.
“No problem. Don’t you wanna talk to Willow first?”
“Willow’s here?” asked Dawn.
“Yeah, she’s downstairs,” nodded Buffy.
“Good, I have to ask her something,” smiled Dawn.
Buffy almost asked what Dawn wanted to know but her sister quickly, and somewhat excitedly, walked away. She reached the bottom stair just as Willow was blowing out the last candle.
“Hey, Dawnie,” smiled Willow.
“Hi, Willow! Did you...hey, have you been crying?” asked Dawn.
“Oh, um, yeah, but it’s nothing. Happy tears. Buffy and I, we were meditating and it, um, was pretty intense,” explained Willow, wiping her eyes. She slipped her worrystone back into her pocket as she stood up.
“Intense? I thought meditating was all peaceful and relaxing.”
“Sometimes. Depends on...well, let’s just say it can also be a real eye-opener. If you allow yourself, you can stir up some powerful emotions. And this state you attain heightens and sharpens your senses, so you can...uh, never mind. I think you get the idea,” said Willow, blushing slightly.
“Oh. So, uh, did you learn anything demon-wise from Anya?”
“Not really. There may be these demons that are fans of the TV show Friends that use embalming fluid, but I guess they’re fairly uncommon and kinda harmless,” said Willow.
“See, they’re called...oh, it doesn’t matter. There hasn’t been any more reports about funeral home thefts and this doesn’t really seem to be turning into such a big threat. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” shrugged Willow.
“I guess,” agreed Dawn. “But hey, it was fun. Doing research with you again, I mean.”
“Yeah,” smiled Willow. “It really was. Almost seems like old times.”
“It did, didn’t it? I miss that,” smiled Dawn as she left. Willow thought about that.
“Me too,” whispered Willow to herself.
Willow adjusted the towel wrapped around her head a little and sat down in front of her dresser. Opening a drawer, she picked up first one lipstick and then another, finally settling on a color. She smiled, remembering that Tara had always liked this color.
Tara. Had she actually made it through almost an entire hour without thinking about her? Wincing, Willow glanced at the photo on her dresser. Tara was sitting in front of her and she was holding her from behind, arms wrapped so tightly around her, both smiling, her red hair pressed against her girl’s shoulder.
Willow took a deep breath and looked away. Do what makes you happy. Isn’t that what Tara would say to her now? Isn’t that what she would want? Willow put her elbow up on the dresser and leaned her chin against her hand, playing with the lipstick in her hand, rolling it between her fingers.
“All done in the shower?” called Buffy, sticking her head into Willow’s room.
“What? Oh, yeah. It’s all yours,” answered Willow. Buffy walked up behind Willow and put a hand on her shoulder, watching her in the mirror.
“You okay?” whispered Buffy, giving Will’s shoulder a little squeeze. Willow looked up and met Buffy’s smiling eyes.
“Yeah. I think I am,” nodded Willow.
“We’re going to have a good time tonight. Or else...well, there is no else. We just are,” grinned Buffy.
“Well if you want hot water then you better get into the shower before Dawnie does!” warned Willow. “Girl thinks half an hour is a quick shower.”
Buffy nodded and left. Glancing once more at the photograph, Willow put on her lipstick.
Buffy, arms crossed, stared at the clothes she had laid out on her bed. She walked back to stand in front of her closet, shaking her head at her wardrobe and glancing back at the bed. Reaching into the closet, she pulled out a pair of leather pants, studied them, held them up in front of herself, looked into the mirror...and hung the pants back up, again shaking her head.
Walking back towards the bed, her eyes settled on a framed photograph on her dresser. Buffy reached for it and immediately smiled. Xander, Willow and herself, arms around one another, all smiling. She had owned this photograph for a long time now. Had Xander even started dating Cordelia when this was taken? Had Willow even started dating Oz? How long ago that seemed.
But they had all been smiling. When was the last time she had seen her friends smile? Xander? He laughed and smiled even now, most of the time too, though Buffy knew that was just his way of hiding his pain. But Willow, when was the last time she had been happy, the last time she had enjoyed herself enough to simply smile?
Tonight would be different. If only for a little while, they would at least try to have a good time. And perhaps even smile.
Buffy tenderly placed the photograph back on her dresser, walked back to the closet and, smiling, took her leather pants off the hanger.
Willow held up a blouse in front of her and smirked at the mirror. Switching hands and holding up another blouse, she groaned and shook her head.
“Who’s the lucky girl?”
Willow turned to see Dawn looking at her with a wide grin on her face. She crossed her arms and leaned against the door, not once taking her eyes off of Willow.
“Girl? What girl?” replied Willow, almost convincingly.
“Come on, Willow! Fess up! You’ve been primping and preening for the last hour and you can’t even decide what to wear. You must be trying to impress someone. Got a date tonight?” teased Dawn.
“Date? Pfft! There’s no date. And no primping nor preening either, I might add. I’m primpless and preen-free! Just, well, you never know, you know? Girl’s gotta look presentable if she goes out in public,” defended Willow indignantly, tossing one of the blouses onto the bed and again holding up the other one in front of herself. Dawn rolled her eyes.
“Willow, I know you and Buffy are going to the Bronze tonight! Okay, so you don’t have a date. Still, I gotta believe you’re hoping someone notices you,” said Dawn, this time almost sympathetically. “So...who’s the someone?”
“Just trying to change my luck, Dawnie. Ya mighta noticed I’ve been in kind of a funk lately,” admitted Willow.
“Understandably so,” interjected Dawn as she stepped into the room.
“Well, yeah. Thanks. See, I need to feel good about myself again before I can even think about...okay, backing up. That’s a biggie right there. One step at a time. Besides, who would notice me?” sighed Willow.
“If you unbutton another button on that blouse, even I’m going to be interested,” winked Dawn, trying not to laugh. Willow quickly tossed the blouse in her hand onto the bed and turned her back to Dawn as she buttoned up her shirt.
“Forget the poofy blouse. Go with the skirt and the top you have on.”
“Really?” answered Willow appreciatively.
“Yeah. And skip the tights, show a little leg,” added.
“How many dates have you been on?” asked Willow fearfully.
“What I lack in experience I make up for with common sense. Speaking of which...Willow, Buffy and Spike, you don’t think...”
“No. No way,” answered Willow firmly.
“Whew! Good. Maybe she’ll meet someone tonight. She so needs to! Have fun.”
“Thanks,” smiled Willow. “Hey, what are you wearing to that party.”
“Haven’t decided yet. I’ll borrow something from Buffy while she’s out tonight. Oh, and if you don’t want me to tell Buffy about all this non-preening then I expect to hear some juicy details tomorrow,” said Dawn, leaving before Willow could respond.
Willow pouted and shook her head, once again looking into the mirror. Glancing back over her shoulder, she unbuttoned the top button on her blouse. Hesitating a moment, Willow undid another button with a hint of mischief in her smile.
“It’s been so long since I’ve touched
So long since I wanted
Then you made me laugh
And my heart opened...
Please forgive me
I don’t know what to do
It’s an old fire
This familiar desire
But my skin is painfully new” - Melissa Etheridge
“Xander, why aren’t you out there with happy feet? Go make with the flirting,” encouraged Willow, glancing past him at the crowded dance floor.
“Nah. My heart’s just not in it tonight,” sighed Xander, not even considering her suggestion. He took a sip of his beer, almost as uninterested in drinking as he was in dancing.
“I hear ya,” sighed Willow in dejected agreement. “My booty don’t want no shaking tonight. Still, being here beats staying home and watching Demi Moore cry in Ghost for the umpteenth time.”
“Or renting the Wedding Planner again,” countered Xander.
“For example,” nodded Willow approvingly.
“Still, doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun,” smiled Xander.
“Well...we could go down to the corner gas station and see if the new Playboy came out yet,” grinned Xander.
“Oh, methinks you doth protest too much,” said Xander with mock surprise.
“Not at all. But don’t be silly, all the new magazines come out on Monday,” explained Willow.
“Oh. Right,” smiled Xander awkwardly. “I, uh, knew that.”
“Uh-huh,” responded Willow doubtfully.
“Guess that only leaves...”
“You mean?” asked Willow suspiciously, hinting at a smile.
“I mean,” nodded Xander. “It’s time to rate that girl. You first.”
“Me? Oh, alright.” Willow scanned the room, her eyes pausing every so often on a likely candidate.
“I’m looking!” snapped Willow, finally settling on someone. “I’d suggest that attractive redhead over there by the band, but you have a notorious track record of not noticing attractive redheads.”
“And the more attractive they are, the less I seem to notice them,” smiled Xander. Willow smiled gratefully in return and winked at him.
“You know what’s scary?”
“That rather tall looking brunette over there?” suggested Xander timidly.
“No, and don’t be rude! What’s scary is that you and I have very similar taste in women.”
“We do?” said Xander slowly, contemplating the consequences of that theory.
“We both noticed April the robot,” said Willow, making quotation marks with her fingers when saying the word noticed.
“Not to mention Dawn the last time she was here,” frowned Xander.
“Don’t remind me,” grimaced Willow.
“So that’s your track record? Two equates a similar taste in the female form?” asked Xander.
“Just saying,” shrugged Willow.
“Wait a minute. Common interest, similar taste...someone we both know,” pondered Xander. Willow’s eyes grew wide with a sudden fear.
“What?” cringed Willow.
“Is this where you tell me about having a crush on Anya?”
Willow’s head snapped up as if she had been slapped.
“Wh-what? Huh? What are you...”
Xander’s laughter interrupted Willow and brought a red color to her cheeks.
“Bastard,” muttered Willow under her breath even as she tried not to smile.
“How about that brunette over there,” said Willow, nodding in the direction of the front door.
“Hmm, possibly...but on closer inspection I’d say there’s a hint of Cordelia in the way she struts.”
“I’m thinking it’s the awkward walking in high heels more than a strut, but I see your point,” agreed Willow.
“How about her?” suggested Xander. Willow followed his gaze and immediately frowned.
“Possible jailbait with a fake I.D.,” dismissed Willow. And then her face lit up. “You know, twins are always fun.”
Xander quickly snapped his head around but didn’t see who Willow was talking about. When he looked back at her Willow had a much too innocent grin on her face.
“Didn’t say they were here, silly,” teased Willow.
“That’s so not fair,” protested Xander meekly.
“Sorry,” apologized Willow, finishing her drink. “And don’t think I’m done getting my retribution over that Anya remark.”
She looked over to the bar to see how long the line was and noticed a blonde with her back to them. Glancing back at Xander, she waited for him to look at her as he searched the room.
“How ‘bout that blonde over by the bar?” asked Willow. Xander looked and smiled approvingly.
“Nice butt,” grinned Xander.
“Oh yeah,” replied Willow a bit too enthusiastically. Xander raised his eyebrows at her.
“Is that what you notice first in a girl?” asked Xander, genuinely interested. Willow twisted her neck to look back at the girl.
“No. It’s the eyes. Always the eyes,” answered Willow, her smile slowly vanishing. “What about you?”
“Promise you won’t laugh?” asked Xander, finishing his beer.
“No,” replied Willow with a straight face.
“Fine. I’ll tell you anyway. Her smile.”
“Aw, that’s so cute!”
“Yeah, that’s what I was going for. Cute. Macho being so overrated these days,” mocked Xander.
“Seriously, you noticed Anya’s smile first?”
“Well, no. It was more her standing naked in my basement with her dress pooled around her ankles on the floor.”
It was Willow’s turn to raise her eyebrows.
“Huh?” repeated Xander.
“Just thinking. You and I found our loves so differently. You and Anya, it was more of a physical thingy which grew into love and friendship. Tara and I were friends first which grew into love and that physical thingy,” smiled Willow wistfully. It took a moment for her to realize that Xander seemed uncomfortable...though she immediately understood why. She had mentioned Tara’s name. Out loud.
“Again with the huh,” commented Xander.
“Just wondering. You and Buffy. Friends at first...what if she had agreed to go to that dance with you a thousand years ago. What if...”
Willow didn’t finish and her eyes weren’t entirely focused on Xander.
“Where you going with this, Will?”
“Like I said, just wondering. If you two had been a couple, had been happy...what would’ve happened to us, to the gang, if you guys broke up or, or if it didn’t work out? I mean, look at your friendship, look at what you could be risking, what you could lose,” said Willow, real pain in her voice.
“Excuse me, present tense here? It’s would have lost, not could lose. Cupid isn’t shooting any arrows in that direction these days,” laughed Xander.
“Oh. Right,” said Willow with a forced laugh. “Of course.”
“Besides, I guess we’ll never know. I had that spark, the butterflies in the stomach every time she walked into the room. But she didn’t. It wasn’t meant to be,” shrugged Xander.
Willow smiled, staring at her empty cup.
“Yeah. I get that,” she whispered distantly. Xander scrunched up his face, wondering what Willow meant.
Willow looked up at him.
“Don’t look now, but that blonde you were checking out before is walking over here,” said Xander, looking past her. Willow turned and looked over her shoulder.
“Damn butterflies,” whispered Willow to herself.
“Hey. Sorry I took so long, that line was like forever. And might I add that chivalry is officially declared dead. There were at least two guys up there that could’ve let me go ahead of them and didn’t,” said Buffy as she settled three full cups on the table in front of Willow. “I must be losing it. Am I losing it?”
“Huh?” tried Willow, reaching for one of the cups.
“My flirting skills. Those guys didn’t so much as blink,” pouted Buffy.
“Maybe they were a couple,” said Willow. Buffy tilted her head just a bit.
“Oh. Hmm, hadn’t thought of that. But thanks for stroking my ego,” smiled Buffy.
“A couple of what?” asked Xander, perplexed.
“Here’s to stroking,” toasted Willow as she raised her glass, only just then realizing what she had said. “Um, I, I meant...well, you haven’t lost it. The flirting. Not that your stroking leaves anything to be...okay, shutting up now.”
Willow hid her face behind her cup as she drank. Buffy smiled and pushed a cup towards Xander.
“To stroking,” giggled Buffy as she raised her cup to her lips.
“I’ll drink to that,” grinned Xander.
“Hey. What’s with the long faces? Why aren’t you out there dancing?”
“Just not up for it tonight,” shrugged Xander.
“What he said,” nodded Willow.
Buffy frowned and put her hands on her hips.
“What’s with you two? I said we needed a night out to have some fun and fun will be had. You telling me that with that drool-worthy outfit no one asked you to dance yet?” asked Buffy, her eyes on Xander.
“Well, technically, I didn’t ask her...but she didn’t ask me either,” replied Xander weakly, avoiding Buffy’s stare.
“Oh, not that we aren’t having fun!” said Willow.
“Right!” added Xander. “Why, we were just...”
Xander hesitated, seeing Willow shake her head vigorously at him.
“Just what?” asked Buffy, glancing from Xander to Willow and back.
“Oh, you know, just people watching, learning the newest dance craze,” smiled Willow. Buffy rolled her eyes and sat down in the chair next to Willow.
“You were playing rate that girl again, weren’t you?” admonished Buffy.
“What? Why Buffy, I’m shocked! You think we’d stoop so low as to judge people simply by their looks?” asked Xander in astonishment.
“Never. So who’s the cream of the crop tonight?” asked Buffy, taking a gulp of beer from her cup.
“Pretty even field tonight,” sighed Willow. She froze with a look from Buffy.
“Hey, wait a minute...I was out there!”
“Um, ya know, I suddenly feel like dancing. C’mon,” said Willow, standing and grabbing Buffy’s hand. “I’ll show ya how it’s done.”
Buffy barely had time to put her cup down as Willow pulled her out onto the not too crowded dance floor. Yet almost as soon as they had begun to dance the song ended. The band didn’t get much applause and as if they were accustomed to that quickly began another song. A very slow song.
“Damn. Guess we’ll have to sit this one out. I was just getting warmed up too,” pouted Willow.
“So dance with me,” said Buffy nonchalantly. It took a moment for Willow to register what she had said.
“Buffy, there’s not a lot of couples on the floor. People are going to be staring at us,” warned Willow, her voice not much more than a whisper.
“So? You know anyone here? I don’t. Never really cared what strangers thought of me. Do you?”
“Um, no...no, I guess not,” shrugged Willow.
“Hey, you promised me a dance. C’mon, show me your moves! They’ll probably play another fast one right after this anyway,” encouraged Buffy.
“Okay,” smiled Willow weakly. “What the hell!”
Willow reached out and intertwined the fingers of her left hand into those of Buffy’s right hand. An awkward movement of their arms, a few seconds to get positioned, and then Willow slipped her arm around Buffy’s waist, leaving Buffy to wrap her arm around Willow’s shoulder. Willow glanced over at Xander, catching his eye...and the way he looked at her seemed familiar somehow...
She was wearing a black sleeveless dress, he a borrowed tuxedo. And they were dancing. Close. Very close. Xander slowly leaned his head down to her, and she responded instinctively, without thinking, angling her lips up to his, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do...
And then Willow was looking at Buffy. A very motionless Buffy. Whether it had been Willow’s hesitation or the closeness of their bodies, something was different. Gone was the confidence in her eyes, the bravado, even though she was smiling. She felt Buffy’s hand tremble on her back. Willow opened her mouth to tell Buffy that she didn’t have to do this, that she didn’t have to prove anything...but instead her lips curled up into a smile. And Willow simply nodded once to calm her, to reassure her.
Willow eased Buffy a little closer to her, meeting just the slightest resistance as they began to sway back and forth. Buffy’s palm was sweaty but the tenseness Willow had felt before melted away. She tried to look at Buffy without her noticing, glancing up and then looking down at their feet, repeating this once, twice. Buffy responded by resting her head on Willow’s shoulder.
“You like what I’m wearing?” asked Willow softly.
“Oh yeah. Gonna break some hearts tonight. Even more so when the guys find out you play for the other team,” smiled Buffy.
Willow didn’t say anything but Buffy was suddenly just a little more aware of Willow’s hand across her waist. She nestled her head comfortably against Buffy’s shoulder. They moved in time to the music, neither leading, neither following.
“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” whispered Buffy into Willow’s ear.
“What...danced with a girl?” asked Willow, her eyes just slightly more open than a moment before.
“Nooo. Even I’ve done that before,” laughed Buffy.
“Don’t remind me,” sighed Willow. Buffy hesitated, unsure if Willow’s tone held bitterness or jealousy. She had only told Willow about dancing with Faith. Willow had never seen them together...had she? Buffy pulled her head back, catching Willow’s eye, taking in a shallow breath.
“I meant...you’ve tried to seduce a girl before,” said Buffy with a straight face.
Even though the song wasn’t over, Willow stopped dancing. Her eyes were intent on Buffy, her face expressionless. Buffy blushed.
“Sorry,” cringed Buffy. “I was going for the funny. You know, a watch your expression thingy. I should’ve...”
Buffy stared at Willow but her friend’s expression never changed. Once again she pulled Willow close and began to dance, though this time she had to nudge Willow into following her lead.
“Sorry,” whispered Buffy, her head on Willow’s shoulder.
“W-what?” stammered Buffy, pulling her head back.
“No, I’ve never tried to seduce a girl before. When you asked me if I’ve done this before...I thought you were going to ask me if I’ve ever fallen for a girl before.”
And now Buffy stopped dancing. Her mouth slightly open, she glanced away but then again looked up at Willow, narrowing her eyes. The song ended and the couples on the floor began to head back to their seats.
“Thanks for the dance, Buffy,” smiled Willow as she pulled away, their fingers slipping apart.
“Um, yeah, I uh...oh, hey, I get it. You wanted to see my reaction, right? Just like me. Had me going there for a moment, Will. Willow? Hey, wait up!”
Xander intercepted Buffy before she got back to the table.
Xander looked at a couple just leaving the Bronze through the front door. The guy seemed just a little too eager to leave. Buffy followed his gaze.
“Vamp. Good catch.”
“Right. So maybe someone should, oh, I don’t know, maybe stake him?” suggested Xander.
“Right. And that someone would be me,” said Buffy, her eyes on Willow. “This shouldn’t take long.”
“It’s okay, Buffy. I’ll make sure Xander gets home safely,” smiled Willow.
“Yeah, I...hey, wait a minute,” complained Xander.
“Gotta run,” yelled Buffy over her shoulder. She paused at the door and looked back at Willow. And Buffy smiled when she saw that Willow was still watching her.
Xander kept glancing at Willow as they walked home. Even though she knew he was doing it she ignored him, though there was just a hint of a smile on her lips.
“That was some dance,” commented Xander, looking straight ahead.
“Oh? How so?” asked Willow innocently.
“Oh, come on now! Two girls slow dancing together, cheek to cheek, hand to hand, bosom to...”
“Someone sounds jealous,” teased Willow.
“Not at all!” protested Xander. “I just hope I’m there the next time you two tango.”
“And what makes you think there’ll be a next time?” asked Willow, suddenly intently interested in his answer.
“One can always hope,” grinned Xander.
“Xander, Buffy wanted to dance. The song ended and she, being full of mischief girl, wanted to see what I would do when that slow song started. I think she was mortified when I took her up on her dare,” smirked Willow.
Xander didn’t answer but there was a smile on his face.
“You’re still thinking about us, aren’t you?” scolded Willow.
“Guilty as charged,” laughed Xander.
“Hey, it wasn’t as bad as that time she danced with you. Remember? When she got back from Los Angeles?”
“Oh yeah,” agreed Xander, smiling even more now. Willow rolled her eyes.
“That’s my middle name. Xander Hopeless Harris,” nodded Xander.
Buffy paused for a moment and leaned against the wall, instantly regretting it. A sharp pain stabbed across her shoulder and down her arm. She winced, grinding her teeth so as not to cry out and wake anyone. Her right arm hung down by her side and she held it against her with her left hand. Taking a deep breath, she eased her left foot onto the first stair but hesitated, waiting for the dizziness to pass.
“Oh, hey Willow. Didn’t know you were still up.”
By the way Buffy stiffly turned to face her, Willow knew something was wrong.
“Couldn’t sleep. You’re hurt,” said Willow, stating the obvious. She walked over to Buffy and stood next to her, unsure of what to do.
“It’s not bad. Really. Got slammed against a tombstone,” sighed Buffy. “But you should see the other guy. Oh, wait! You can’t, ‘cause he’s dust now.”
“Let me help you upstairs,” offered Willow, smiling her approval.
“Thanks. I’m thinking a hot bath might be just what I need.”
Willow wrapped her arm around Buffy’s waist, careful not to touch her arm, and Buffy leaned against her, one arm across Willow’s shoulders.
“Want some aspirin?” asked Willow.
“Bring the bottle,” nodded Buffy, wincing as they made their way awkwardly up the stairs. Willow smacked the light on with one hand guided her over to the bed, worried even more now because Buffy seemed to be leaning on her with most of her weight.
“Here, sit,” ordered Willow, easing her down. “You sure it’s only your arm?”
“Yeah. I just landed wrong. A little soaking in hot water is just what I need,” smiled Buffy, trying to calm Willow’s fears.
“Okay, I’ll go run the bath.”
“Thanks,” nodded Buffy. She heard the water running and Willow opening the medicine cabinet as she unbuttoned her blouse with her left hand. When she looked up she saw Willow standing there with a paper cup full of water and two aspirin in her palm.
Buffy took the aspirin but grimaced as she reached for the cup with her right hand.
“I’ll hold the cup,” frowned Willow. Glancing down at Buffy’s open blouse, she was surprised to see that she wasn’t wearing a bra.
“Thanks,” smiled Buffy, tossing the aspirin into her mouth. She waited a moment but Willow, distracted, just stood there. Buffy waved her hand and pointed to her mouth.
“Oh! Sorry,” winced Willow, lifting the cup to her mouth so she could drink. Finished, Buffy slowly stood up from the bed.
“The bath will be ready in another minute or two,” said Willow. “I made sure the water was hot.”
“Thanks. Could you, uh, help me here?” asked Buffy, shimmying her shoulders to slip free of her blouse.
“Oh. Sure,” nodded Willow, trying not to look at her friend’s chest. Sensing her discomfort, Buffy hesitated but then awkwardly covered herself with her left arm. Willow tugged the blouse free from her right arm and tossed it onto the bed.
“Willow, could you do me one more favor?”
Willow glanced down at Buffy’s pants and blushed.
“Um, no,” smiled Buffy, trying not to laugh. “I can wiggle out of these. My robe is hanging in the closet. Could you get it for me?”
“Oh. Robe. Right. Of course,” nodded Willow, rolling her eyes and quickly walking over to the closet. Buffy bit her lower lip to keep from laughing. Willow came back and handed her the tericloth robe.
“Thanks. I think I can manage the rest,” teased Buffy.
“You sure?” countered Willow doubtfully, again glancing down at Buffy’s pants. It was Buffy’s turn to roll her eyes. “Call me if you need help with the wiggling or maybe if you want your back washed.”
Before Buffy could answer, Willow walked past her, heading for the door.
“Where are you...”
“Be right back,” answered Willow.
Puzzled, Buffy went into the bathroom and automatically reached to close the door behind her but paused, glancing back in the direction Willow had gone. With a smile known only to her, Buffy left the door open.
Head leaning back against the tub, her eyes closed, Buffy almost dozed off. She shook her head, realizing that the silence around her was what had both let her drift off and had woken her.
“Willow? Hey, you hiding out there? Wanna help me with my hair?”
Buffy waited but heard nothing. Tapping her fingers on the edge of the tub, she slowly exhaled, puffing out her cheeks. She turned her hand over and saw how wrinkled her fingertips were.
“You can lead a horse to water,” sighed Buffy as she stepped out of the tub and toweled herself off. Wrapping herself snugly into her robe, she heard Willow walk into the room. Buffy glanced into the mirror, only then realizing that she had been pouting. With a shrug she smiled and walked into the bedroom, feigning surprise at seeing Willow. She was sitting on the bed, obviously trying not to smile.
“What?” asked Buffy suspiciously, sitting down at her dresser.
“I made you something,” said Willow proudly, holding up what looked like a toothpaste tube.
“Isn’t that just one of those sport creams? You know, for achy muscles?”
“Well, yes, but I added a little something to make it more, um, effective,” explained Willow.
“You mean magic,” said Buffy.
“For example,” grinned Willow.
“Thanks. Let me just brush my hair first,” said Buffy, turning to face the mirror. She picked up a brush and winced in pain even as she raised it towards the side of her head.
“Here, let me,” offered Willow, quickly getting up. She took the brush and stroked Buffy’s hair, gently tugging any pulls free, wincing herself when she hit a snag.
“Sorry,” apologized Willow.
“No need to...I mean, thanks. Really. For everything,” smiled Buffy. Willow smiled in return, their eyes meeting in the mirror. Willow kept brushing her hair but didn’t look away at first, her gaze lingering as Buffy watched her. Almost blushing, Willow concentrated on what she was doing. Buffy closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation of the brush, the rhythm of Willow’s strokes. Willow’s body pressed against her back and she felt the heat from her friend’s body, warm, so close. Buffy’s eyes snapped open, remembering who she was with and yet uncertain why she had suddenly held back, had pulled away from what felt so good.
Willow paused, then put the brush down, leaning into Buffy even more as she reached across. Distracted by Buffy’s gaze, the brush almost fell off the edge of the dresser and they both reached for it at the same time. Their hands touched. Neither one moved.
“I’ll, um, get that cream. Oh, I made it lavender scented. No need for it to be smelly for it to work.”
Willow picked up the tube, fumbled with it and almost dropped it, covering up her embarrassment by smiling. Buffy spun around in her chair to face Willow.
“Here, let’s just push that robe back a bit so I can get at that shoulder,” said Willow. Buffy sat still, letting Willow open her robe. She watched as Willow spread some of the cream into one palm and rub her hands together. As soon as her hand touched her skin, Buffy felt a warmth spread into her shoulder. She closed her eyes in appreciation.
“Mmm, Willow, I’m not sure what mojo you worked, but that feels good.”
Willow put both hands on Buffy’s arm now and Buffy pushed her other shoulder free, letting the robe droop down her back. Willow still worked the cream in but slowed her motion, leaning forward, her face now close to Buffy’s. Buffy opened her eyes and smiled as Willow slowed even more, her fingers barely moving.
“Better?” asked Willow, trying not to look down.
“Much,” nodded Buffy imperceptibly, nervously swallowing. “You feel...I mean, it feels...good. What you’re doing. Good.”
“Yeah. I, uh, thought it would feel...work! I meant work,” corrected Willow, so close now her hair brushed against Buffy’s neck.
Buffy reached up, touching Willow’s wrist and Willow froze. She turned her head but didn’t pull away, looking into Buffy’s eyes. Ever so slowly she leaned closer, her lips almost brushing against Buffy’s lips, but she hesitated. Buffy inched forward as if to kiss her but she too wavered, waiting. Their lips almost touching, Willow tilted her head, her breath puffing against Buffy’s cheek.
“Buffy, if we...”
“I know,” whispered Buffy.
“I know,” repeated Buffy even softer. And then her lips found Willow’s. A first tentative touch, exploring, surprise at how soft her lips were, and then a real embrace as Willow finally responded. Each unsure of what to do with their hands, Willow rested one palm against Buffy’s cheek, her other hand on Buffy’s hip, Buffy in turn wrapping her hands behind Willow’s head, gently pulling her forward.
Gasping, Buffy reluctantly broke the embrace to catch her breath. She smiled even as her lips trembled, shivered even though she wasn’t cold. It took a moment for Willow to realize that Buffy was...nervous. No, more than nervous. It was an emotion she rarely saw in the Slayer, one that Willow refused to give a name to. But this wasn’t the Slayer now, this was Buffy.
Willow leaned forward, kissing Buffy’s forehead, letting her lips find their way down Buffy’s cheek. Her hand cupped Buffy’s face as her lips hesitated before Buffy’s mouth, first brushing against her upper lip, then tugging gently on her lower lip. And Willow felt a smile form under her kiss, knew that Buffy’s body was no longer shaking. Buffy lowered one hand, found Willow’s hand on her hip and slipped her fingers into her own.
Willow opened her mouth slightly, intensifying the kiss, the sensation hinting at the familiar yet oh so new. Oxygen became an issue and she reluctantly pulled back.
“Huh?” managed Willow, her eyes unfocused.
“One of us here is almost naked and the other one is kinda not.”
“Oh,” grinned Willow, looking down. “And I’m guessing that red flannel PJs do not sexy lingerie make.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Buffy, touching her nose to Willow’s. Willow began to unbutton her top but Buffy stopped her.
“Let me,” offered Buffy, eliciting the smallest of smiles from Willow. Buffy undid the last button and looked up at Willow, keeping her eyes on her as she pushed her top past her shoulders, letting it drop to the floor. And then Buffy stood up, waiting for Willow to make the next move. She reached for the knot holding Buffy’s robe together and playfully tugged at it, leaving the robe open and loose, though Buffy kept it from dropping to the floor by pressing her elbows against her sides. Willow adjusted the robe so that it hung from her shoulders and then wrapped her arms around Buffy, hugging her.
“Nervous?” whispered Willow into her ear. Buffy leaned her head back just enough so that Willow could see her face but wouldn’t look at her.
“Maybe a little,” nodded Buffy, adding a shrug.
“Me too,” admitted Willow softly. She slowly turned so that their lips were almost touching. Just before they kissed Buffy pulled back.
“Maybe we should...”
Buffy nodded in the direction of the bed behind them.
“Okay,” murmured Willow, taking Buffy’s hand into her own. Buffy sat on the edge of the bed, appreciating Willow’s body but too embarrassed to stare. Willow sat next to her, one arm across her shoulders. She touched Buffy’s cheek, her hand barely brushing across her skin. Turning her head ever so slightly, it was Buffy who sought out Willow’s lips. This kiss wasn’t as long as the first, but when Willow eased away, Buffy was smiling.
“Close your eyes,” whispered Willow. Buffy did and felt her pulse quicken, throbbing against Willow’s hand on her neck as she anxiously swallowed. Willow slipped Buffy’s arms free from her robe, the white tericloth pooling around her hips as she gently eased Buffy back onto the bed.
“Keep them closed,” said Willow, her voice full of promise.
Buffy simply nodded once. She felt Willow straddle her but didn’t move. Willow brought her lips close to Buffy’s mouth but didn’t kiss her, moved to her cheek, her neck, barely touching her. A breath on her skin, a caress with hand held the same sensation as a kiss. Moving lower down, letting her hair drift across first one breast and then another, Willow both teased and yet relaxed her lover.
Buffy’s lips parted, a single breath sharply drawn in, her fingers tensing, digging into the soft comforter beneath her...
Both wrapped in the bedsheet, Buffy rested her head on her pillow, the pillow they were now sharing, only inches away from Willow’s face. Her lips moved, hinting at a smile. And Willow smiled back at her. She ran her fingers through Willow’s hair, brushing it aside, playfully caressing it. Willow closed her eyes at the touch.
“That was...nice,” whispered Buffy. Willow slowly opened one eye.
“Only...nice?” she teased.
“Okay, that was reeaaally nice,” grinned Buffy. And Willow nodded in agreement.
“Oh yeah,” breathed Willow, pressing her cheek against the warmth of Buffy’s palm.
“Really? You’re not just...I mean, I’m sorry I didn’t...you know,” winced Buffy.
“Oh, hey, don’t be silly! One step at a time here, girlfriend,” soothed Willow, smiling. “Gotta walk before you can run and all. No need to rush things.”
“Buffy. Slow is nice too.”
Willow reached out and brushed Buffy’s bangs away from her eyes.
“Oh yeah!” giggled Buffy.
Willow winked her appreciation at Buffy’s compliment.
“Girlfriend. You said...girlfriend,” said Buffy, thinking about how that sounded.
“Yeah, I guess I did,” laughed Willow. And then her smile faded away. “How do you feel about that?”
Buffy rolled over on to her back and looked up at the ceiling.
“I’m thinking I could get used to the sound of that,” nodded Buffy, glancing back at Willow and reaching for her hand. “Um...again, sorry ‘bout the fumbling around. Not that...”
“Hey. Fumbling around is very underrated and half the fun, girlfriend.”
They didn’t say anything, content to simply drift into each other’s gaze, getting lost there. Willow swallowed and felt tears welling up at the corner of her eyes.
“Shh. It’s getting late. We’ll talk in the morning,” promised Buffy, touching a finger to Willow’s lips.
“Okay. But...can you stay with me? Might be awkward, what with Dawn, morning, raised eyebrows leading to questions leading to...”
Willow blinked, not sure if she had heard right.
“You sure? I mean, I want you to, but...”
Buffy leaned in and silenced Willow with a kiss, letting her lips linger for a moment. She pulled back and smiled as Willow took in a deep breath.
“Thank you,” whispered Buffy.
Willow again felt her eyes becoming moist and she nuzzled against Buffy’s shoulder, pulling her close.
“Here,” said Buffy, wrapping Willow’s arm around her waist as she turned her back and spooned against her.
Willow lay there, eyes wide open, just listening to Buffy breathe, taking in the scent of her hair, her body, squeezing her ever so slightly.
Willow had to swallow once to find her voice.
“Yeah?” came her whispered reply.
“I have a confession to make,” said Buffy softly. Willow tensed, immediately hoping Buffy hadn’t noticed.
“Okay,” winced Willow. Buffy took a deep breath.
“My arm...it um...my arm didn’t hurt as much as I let on.”
Willow lay still until Buffy looked back...and saw Willow smiling.
“I know,” nodded Willow.
Buffy raised her eyebrows in surprise and then smiled too. Willow leaned across and brushed her lips across Buffy’s mouth.
“Goodnight,” whispered Willow into her ear, settling back down against her back.
Buffy entwined her fingers between Willow’s and then moved her hand up from her waist until Willow’s hand covered her right breast, pressing her arm against her skin.
Willow didn’t want to sleep, didn’t want this moment to end. She held Buffy, listening to the stillness of the dark, feeling her chest rise and fall, her breath slowing, deepening, her body twitching slightly as she drifted into sleep. Comforted and warm, Willow snuggled close against her and closed her eyes. Soon she was asleep as well.
|Section 2||Boo||BVS||Main Index|