Title: Within And Without
Spoilers: Takes place in Season 7 of BTVS right around the time of The Killer In Me.
Summary: This can be read as a stand alone fic but it is a sequel to Stones In The Road. Buffy and Willow are a couple; if you can’t handle that there’s no sense in reading this.
Disclaimers: Joss Whedon wasn’t impressed with the first part of this story and is still laughing at me. He did, however, tell all BTVS viewers to write fanfic, so...
Distribution: As always, you want it, take it - just let me know.
Note: There’s some dialogue from The Killer In Me that I “borrowed” and adapted simply to set this story in the timeline of the show and, more importantly, to put a different perspective on things.
Feedback: Still my drug of choice. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Willow pulled her legs up into her chest and rested her chin on her knees. Glancing at the clock once again, she shook her head. Sure, it was still early, but Buffy had promised to be home half an hour ago. With all the Slayer wannabes off in the desert with Giles for training, they finally had the house alone. Even Dawn was staying over at a friend’s house tonight.
Alone. Together. Willow smiled, the anticipation making her restless.
But Buffy had wanted to make a quick sweep, more out of habit than of need as Sunnydale’s streets had been quiet lately. Maybe too quiet, and that had worried the Slayer.
“Ya couldn’t have gone out later?” sighed Willow to herself, looking down at the empty pillow beside her. “I’m beginning to think you’re being all avoidy girl with me.”
The clock beside their bed once again drew her attention and, out of frustration, she reached over and moved it so that she could no longer see it if she looked at.
“I’m also thinking I shouldn’t be sitting here having a conversation with myself.”
Kicking off the covers, Willow stood, frowning at the cold floor beneath her bare feet. The room was lit only by three candles but she didn’t need to turn on the light as she stood in front of her closet, trying decide what to wear to go look for Buffy. Look for Buffy? Why not...no, she wouldn’t use a locator spell. No need to use magic. Not if she didn’t have to. And even then, well...
Hands on her hips, Willow exhaled, puffing out her cheeks. And her eyes were drawn to a black leather jacket draped over the desk chair.
Spike’s jacket. He had left it here. Willow just stared at it for a moment, a smile slowly warming her face, any thought of leaving the house quickly forgotten. Stepping over to it, she ran a finger down one sleeve, the leather sleek, enticing.
Wriggling out of her pajama bottoms, she kicked them aside as she undid the buttons on her top, letting that slip off her shoulders, leaving both in a heap on the floor. Lifting up the black duster, she was surprised at how heavy it was. Willow eased her arms into the sleeves, smiling as her bare skin reacted with goosebumps to the smooth, cold lining. Inhaling the scent of the leather, she wrapped it around herself and made her way downstairs.
Willow reached the bottom step and stopped, suddenly less confident with her scheme than she was only moments ago. Wavering, she almost turned around when she heard the door knob on the front door turn. But the door didn’t open.
“What the hell, it’ll be worth it just to see her smile again,” laughed Willow. Remembering that she had locked the door because she was alone, she practically ran to the door, grabbed the handle and flung the door open.
“Surprise!” yelled Willow, her eyes immediately opening wide.
Spike stood there, tilted his head and eventually smiled. Glancing down, Willow realized the front of the duster was open slightly. She crossed her arms in front of her, closing the coat.
“Spike,” grinned Willow awkwardly.
“Willow,” answered Spike, his grin almost as wide as hers.
“Um...what are you doing here?” asked Willow innocently.
“Actually, I came back for that,” nodded Spike. “Don’t suppose you’d care to hand it to me so that I can be on my way.”
“Um...not at the moment, no,” grimaced Willow.
“Well, this is...interesting,” commented Spike, reaching for a cigarette.
“Interesting. Yes, it, uh...you know, I can explain,” tried Willow weakly. Spike lit his cigarette then crossed his arms and smiled.
“It’s not what it looks like,” laughed Willow, pulling the coat tighter around herself. “Funny story, this. Oh yeah, big time guffaws.”
“Really. Soooo...you going to tell me who you were expecting to greet at the door?” offered Spike.
“Well...um, like I said, it’s not...see, what I mean is...”
“If you have to pry, she’s waiting for me, Spike.”
Spike turned and they both looked at who had spoken.
“Kennedy?” said Spike, his mouth dropping open. If he had looked over his shoulder he would have seen that Willow’s mouth was as wide open as his own. Luckily, Willow recovered before he noticed.
“Kennedy? Right, Kennedy!” exclaimed Willow.
“Um, Spike, big favor to ask of you, but could you not mention this to anyone? It’s kinda our little secret,” winked Kennedy.
“Of course,” smiled Spike, though he was still a bit thrown. He turned his head to look back at Willow. “I can be...discreet, shall we say. And good for you. Glad to see you’re finally moving on.”
“Thanks,” winced Willow.
“Spike, let me just step inside for a moment. Willow can hand me your jacket and I’ll give her mine,” said Kennedy, taking a step towards the door.
“Um, ya know what? I think I’ll run upstairs and get dressed. You guys stay here. Both of you!” added Willow nervously.
Willow turned and ran up the stairs without waiting for an answer. Spike and Kennedy looked at one another, smiling uncomfortably.
“She can be a bit shy,” said Kennedy.
Spike nodded his understanding.
“So how long...”
“It’s new. Very new,” interrupted Kennedy quickly.
Spike nodded once again. Kennedy tried not to smile.
“Thanks for the bailout down there,” said Willow, brushing her hair and making eye contact with Kennedy’s reflection in the mirror. The lights were on in the room now but the scent of the extinguised candles still lingered.
“No problem,” laughed Kennedy.
“You know, I can explain. It’s not...”
“You don’t have to,” shrugged Kennedy. Willow did a doubletake.
“Really,” repeated Kennedy, nodding. Willow put the brush down and turned to face Kennedy.
“Thanks,” exhaled Willow gratefully.
“No, thank you. That visual was very...hmm, what’s the word?” wondered Kennedy.
“Amusing?” frowned Willow.
“Intriguing,” corrected Kennedy. Willow’s eyes opened a bit wider but she smiled in appreciation. Kennedy’s smile in return hinted at more than just appreciation.
“Still, you could’ve handed me your coat. Spike’s a gentleman, he wouldn’t have peeked.”
“Hey, what are you doing here?” asked Willow, very quickly changing the subject.
“Just talking,” shrugged Kennedy, though she still smiled.
“No, I mean...I thought you were with Giles doing the hokey-pokey thingy out in the desert.”
“Oh, that’s all done. Whoever he was trying to contact was very uncooperative. Maybe it only works with real Slayers,” shrugged Kennedy. “Giles took the rest of the girls out for ice cream. Think guilt trip with chocolate syrup and whipped cream. I wanted to come back here.”
“Why?” inquired Willow suspiciously.
“Camping out? So not a fan. Wanted to take a shower before all the hot water was gone,” explained Kennedy. “And what are your plans for tonight? I’m thinking you’re not sticking with plan A.”
“No, plan A is...um, you know, Buffy should be home by now. Maybe I should go look for her,” said Willow.
“There’s always plan B.”
“Plan B?” asked Willow warily.
“Yeah. It involves chocolate syrup and whipped cream,” smiled Kennedy. Willow froze, not exactly sure what Kennedy was implying and more worried about what she was.
“Hey, what’s up?” asked Buffy, just then walking into the room.
“Buffy! Oh, um, well, we were just, um...”
“I was offering to make ice cream sundaes. You hungry?” asked Kennedy.
“No. But thanks. And...aren’t you supposed to be with Giles?” asked Buffy.
“The First Slayer didn’t wanna come out and play. Giles took the girls out for ice cream. I wanted first dibs on the shower so I passed on the calories,” explained Kennedy. She turned her eyes towards Willow. “Although, thinking about it, I did get a craving for something sweet.”
“Oh,” nodded Buffy, turning her attention to Willow. “Sorry ‘bout the lateness. I had to chase down a vamp that I’m pretty sure was a track star in his former life.”
“It’s okay. Hey, you wanna hang around the house with a bunch of girls hopped up on sugar? Or...we could go to the Bronze,” suggested Willow.
“Sure,” nodded Buffy unenthusiastically. “Kennedy, you’d better get in the bathroom before they get back. Wouldn’t want to have to take a cold shower, you know?”
Buffy turned and Willow followed her out of the room but not before waving goodbye to Kennedy.
“Cold shower? Sounds good right about now,” whispered Kennedy to herself, pouting.
They both had spoken at the same time, had spoken the same words, and now...and now neither one dared to look the other in the eye. The music from the band onstage filled the brooding silence between them. The room was warm, too warm, almost stifling. Beads of water dripped down the sides of their untouched drinks on the table in front of them.
“This isn’t working,” whispered Buffy, slowly raising her eyes to look at Willow.
It took a moment for Willow to react. Even in the dim light of the Bronze her face seemed paler than a moment ago. Her eyes opened just a bit wider, her lips parted only enough to force in a sharply drawn breath. And then she blinked, once, conveying both her confusion and the rising panic she fought unsuccessfully to hide. Buffy raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“Hey. That’s what you were going to say too, right?” asked Buffy tentatively.
“Wh-what? No, I...no. No! Of course not!” winced Willow. “I was...”
Buffy tilted her head slightly to one side, expressing her own confusion and doubt.
“I was going to say happening. This isn’t happening,” explained Willow slowly, closing her eyes.
“Oh,” nodded Buffy, biting her lower lip and once again looking away.
Willow slowly inhaled, deeply, and then just as slowly let the breath out.
“Buffy, how can this work? Sneakin’ around the way we do, you afraid to so much as touch my hand in front of the others. We can’t hide anymore! We need time together, we need...”
Willow crossed her arms in front of her and turned her head. Buffy looked down at her hands and sighed.
“Willow,” repeated Buffy softly, making her look up once again. “Will, lots of couples...gay couples...don’t come out. They just...well, let people think what they want. Can’t we, I mean...”
“Lots of gay couples? And how many gay couples do you know?” demanded Willow.
“Um, well...besides Giles and Ethan Rayne?” laughed Buffy.
Willow glared at her and Buffy simply nodded.
“Point taken,” sighed Buffy.
“People who are in love don’t lie, at least not to their family, not to their friends,” spat Willow, lowering her hands to grip the edge of the table. “What are you ashamed of?”
“I’m not ashamed of anything!” yelled Buffy, immediately regretting it. She glanced around the Bronze but no one seemed to have noticed her outburst. Her face slightly red, she stared at Willow until she once again made eye contact with her.
“Sorry,” whispered Buffy, but Willow made no response. “Will, I need you.”
Buffy reached across the table but Willow pulled her hand away.
“No. You don’t need me, you need my magicks to help fight the First. You’re only using me, like a tool.”
Stunned, Buffy’s mouth dropped open.
“No! No, that’s not...”
Willow’s scowl silenced her.
“Well, okay, yes, I need your help, your, your magicks in this fight. Of course I do! But that’s not what I meant!” grimaced Buffy. “I’m not, I wouldn’t...Will, I’m sorry I had to talk to you like that before. Yeah, I was harsh, way harsh, but I had to convince you that you had to try again. That you have to believe in yourself. There’s no one else who can do what you do. You can’t doubt yourself, not now.”
“I get that,” answered Willow evenly, though her voice began to break. “But did you ask, even once...even just once, how I was doing? What this is doing to me?”
Buffy froze, both in her embarrassment and with not knowing what to say.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. And, and I should have. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” sighed Willow, rolling her eyes.
“Will, if you’re...”
“Don’t worry about it. I think you and I have bigger problems at the moment,” interrupted Willow, intently watching for Buffy’s reaction.
Buffy simply nodded and looked away.
“I want to tell Dawn,” said Willow.
Buffy closed her eyes.
“But only her,” added Willow quickly. “For now.”
Buffy opened her mouth to speak but hesitated, seeing the hurt in Willow’s eyes.
Her name hung there, Buffy’s thought unfinished yet so telling. Willow slowly shook her head.
“It’s just not a good time right now!” protested Buffy. “There’s too many people in the house. I don’t want them knowing our business. I...”
“We share the same bedroom now. Ever wonder what the girls are saying about us behind our backs?” snapped Willow.
“Yeah, we’re sharing a room. Everyone is. There’s just not enough space!”
“We’re sharing a bed, not just a room. Well, at least we were,” frowned Willow.
“I’ve been patrolling!” defended Buffy. “Will, I want this just as much as you.”
“No. You don’t,” sighed Willow.
“Yes, I do! It’s just...distractions are dangerous right now. You know that...”
“Is that all I am to you? A distraction?” winced Willow.
“No! No, of course not! Will, please, let’s not do this. Not tonight,” pleaded Buffy.
“Then when? Why not tonight? Buffy...I miss you. I, I...”
Willow looked away and wiped her eyes. Buffy took a deep breath. She reached across the table to hold one of Willow’s hands. This time Willow let her.
“I know. I haven’t been there for you. And I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you. Soon. I promise,” said Buffy, forcing a smile.
Willow swallowed and wiped her eyes again.
“I miss you,” repeated Willow, her words barely a whisper as she wove her fingers between Buffy’s. “Just, just to hold you, ya know?”
“I know,” nodded Buffy, her eyes tearing up. And then she pulled her hand free from Willow. Thrown, Willow noticed she was looking past her and turned to see Spike walking over to their table. Willow’s shoulders slumped and then, very slowly, she turned and faced Buffy, her eyes wide open, questioning, challenging. Buffy caught on almost too quickly.
“No. Willow, it’s not like that,” said Buffy, shaking her head. Willow glanced down at the floor, her eyes unfocused for a moment. When she again looked up her mouth hung open in astonishment as the implications of what Buffy had said took hold. Buffy’s eyes opened in fear, yet was that because of what Willow now thought...or because she had been found out?
“Willow, I swear to you...”
“Buffy,” announced Spike, ignoring Willow.
“Spike, this isn’t a good time,” began Buffy.
“Buffy, I’m sorry, but this can’t wait,” frowned Spike. He finally glanced at Willow and shrugged.
“Sorry,” shrugged Spike.
“No big. I’ll leave you two alone,” replied Willow, standing up and refusing to look at Buffy.
“Will, wait! You don’t have to go!” implored Buffy, rising to her feet so quickly she knocked over the chair behind her.
“It’s okay,” answered Willow. She met Buffy’s gaze and slowly nodded. “I understand.”
Willow turned and walked away, letting the tears run down her cheeks, knowing that if she raised her hand to wipe them away Buffy would know she was crying.
Buffy watched her go and then turned to Spike. He stood there with a confused look on his face, glancing once in the direction Willow had gone and then at the chair on the floor.
“What?” demanded Buffy sharply. Spike frowned.
“Look, I said I was sorry,” said Spike sincerely. Buffy sighed and shrugged.
“It’s just, well, bad timing,” explained Buffy, once again looking past Spike to watch Willow as she made her way to the door.
Spike shot her a puzzled look then hesitantly picked the chair up from the floor, as if to offer her a seat.
“Never mind,” said Buffy, shaking her head. “What’s up?”
“Oh. Right. I, uh, didn’t want to bother you with this but, well, see, the thing is...”
“Spike! You’re immortal, I’m not. You gonna get to your point in my lifetime?” sighed Buffy, hands now on her hips.
Spike moaned and grabbed his forehead with both hands. He fell forward and Buffy had to support him so that he wouldn’t fall.
“It’s the chip,” managed Spike through clenched teeth.
Willow hesitated at the door, suddenly ashamed at how she had behaved. Buffy was over Spike, a long time ago. She had told Willow that. Cringing, Willow turned around, wondering how she would apologize to Buffy and allowing herself a small grin as she pondered the possibilities. She had only taken two steps when she froze at what she now saw; Buffy was holding Spike and his head was on her shoulder. Buffy’s face showed her concern as she encouraged Spike to raise his head to look at her.
Willow couldn’t hear what they were saying. Still, she just stood there, staring at them.
“Spike, how long has this been going on?” asked Buffy, one hand now resting on Spike’s cheek.
“Last night. Off and on a few times today. It’s over quickly, but the attacks last a bit longer each time and are more intense,” shrugged Spike as if he were embarrassed.
“I’m not sure what’s doing this, but we’ll find out. We’ll fix it,” nodded Buffy confidently. She realized her hand was still touching Spike’s face and she awkwardly withdrew it.
Only then did she notice Willow staring at them. Willow immediately turned and ran out of the Bronze.
Buffy closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Spike, let’s get you home. No, this way, out the back,” directed Buffy by grabbing his arm.
“Ow!” winced Spike.
“What? Is it the chip again?”
“No, you nearly pulled my arm off,” whined Spike.
“Sorry,” frowned Buffy, glancing one more time at the front door.
The cooler night air instantly chilled her but it was refreshing.
“Damn it!” swore Willow, only now realizing that she had left her pocketbook inside. She stood there, knowing she had to go back for it but waiting until her anger subsided. A few other people came outside and that could only mean that the band was on a break. Maybe she could blend in with the crowd and Buffy wouldn’t notice her.
Willow turned, wondered who had spoken to her.
“Kennedy! What are you doing here? Is Giles okay? Did someone get hurt?” asked Willow quickly.
“Everyone’s fine. Thing is, everyone is back home. Kinda crowded there now. Needed some fresh air. So...this is Sunnydale’s famous Bronze. Care to give me a tour?”
“I was just leaving,” said Willow coldly.
“Alone?” asked Kennedy, surprised.
“Buffy had to...what I mean is, Spike showed up. They needed to talk shop and I was feeling a bit third wheely,” sighed Willow.
“Oh,” nodded Kennedy. Willow looked at her a moment, then slowly smiled. Kennedy couldn’t help but smile in return.
“What?” wondered Kennedy.
“I left my pocketbook inside. Why don’t I give you that tour?” said Willow.
“Okay,” agreed Kennedy. She followed Willow inside, all the way back to their table.
“Damn it. Buffy must’ve left,” commented Willow. She picked up her pocketbook, relieved that no one had stolen it.
“You’re not going already, are you? I think you owe me a tour,” pouted Kennedy.
“Oh, right. Um, well, this is it,” said Willow, extending her arms in a grand gesture. She looked around the room but Kennedy kept her eyes focused on Willow. “You like?”
“I like,” nodded Kennedy, smiling.
“It’s not much,” laughed Willow.
“Yes, it is. It’s new and...intriguing,” smiled Kennedy.
“Intriguing? Never heard that word used for...oh,” smiled Willow, catching on and now blushing.
“Can I get you a drink?” offered Kennedy.
“It’s getting late. Maybe another time.”
Willow turned up to leave but Kennedy called out to her.
“Come on, come on! Just hang out with me a little,” pleaded Kennedy, wincing while Willow’s back was turned to her, hoping that her whining didn’t sound desperate.
Sighing, Willow turned to face her.
“You’re sexy when you pout,” said Kennedy, revealing only a hint of a smile.
“Why do you do that?” demanded Willow.
“To get you to stay,” answered Kennedy with her own pout. Willow reluctantly sat down at the table.
“All right, I'll stay for one drink, then I'm going home.”
“Okay. One drink. I can work with that. Be right back,” promised Kennedy, making her way over to the bar.
Willow took a deep breath, staring at the empty chair across from her. She turned her head and watched as Kennedy walked away. Glancing over her shoulder, Kennedy caught her looking at her butt. Willow noticed and quickly looked away, pretending to be interested in the band now coming back onstage for their next set. Kennedy grinned and ordered their drinks.
Sitting down across from Willow, Kennedy pushed a glass in front of Willow with a tiny umbrella and a straw in it. Willow raised her eyebrows as she stirred the drink with the straw.
“I have a fake I.D.,” explained Kennedy.
“Oh,” managed Willow.
“Let's start with the easy stuff. How long have you known? That you're gay,” smiled Kennedy.
“Wait. That's easy?” frowned Willow uncomfortably. “And you just assume that I'm, I'm gay. I mean, presume much?”
“Okay,” grinned Kennedy. “How long have you enjoyed having sex with women?”
“Hey!” exclaimed Willow, genuinely shocked. Kennedy only laughed. “What you think you have, some special lesbidar or something?”
“Okay, you know there's a better word for that, right?”
Willow sipped her drink, ignoring the question to hide her embarrassment.
“You really haven't been getting out there much, have you?” asked Kennedy.
“Well, I just...can you always tell just, just by looking at someone?” wondered Willow out loud.
“No. No, of course not. That wouldn't be any fun. The fun part is the process of, of getting to know a girl. It's like...it's like flirting in code,” added Kennedy excitedly. “It's using body language and laughing at the right jokes and, and looking into her eyes and knowing she's still whispering to you, even when she's not saying a word.”
Willow tried to hide her smile by sipping her drink.
“And that sense that if you can just touch her, just once, everything will be okay for both of you. That's how you can tell,” nodded Kennedy confidently, leaning back into her chair with a smirk.
This time Willow allowed herself a smile, making no effort to hide it.
“Or if she's really hot, you just get her drunk, see if she comes on to you.”
Willow glanced at her drink and then raised her eyes back to Kennedy. The gesture wasn’t lost on Kennedy.
“Three years ago. That's when I knew. And it wasn't women, it was woman. Just one,” added Willow for emphasis.
“At first,” whispered Willow to herself, a tightness rising in her throat. “Lucky woman,” said Kennedy. “Do your parents know?”
“Yeah. My mom was, was all proud like I was making some political statement. Then the statement mojo wore off and I was just gay. She hardly ever even met Tara,” shrugged Willow. “Classic,” nodded Kennedy. “I didn't mind. Tara and I are kind of private.” “I'm sorry. It must've...” “Were, I mean. Private,” winced Willow, playing with the straw in her glass to avoid looking at Kennedy.
“Oh. So...you’re not seeing anyone right now?” offered Kennedy tentatively.
“Well...sorta no, but sorta yes,” sighed Willow.
“Hmm, okay, wanna explain that one?” asked Kennedy, taking a sip from her drink through her straw.
“You like that word okay, don’t you?”
Kennedy ignored her, but smiled.
Um...see, it’s kinda...what I mean is...”
Willow was interrupted by the slurping sound of Kennedy finishing her drink.
“Sorry,” laughed Kennedy, though her face was red. She leaned back into her chair again. “Okay, you were saying?”
“Oh. Right. The seeing inquiry. Let’s just say that I have feelings towards someone. Okay, more than feelings, I got it bad. But...I’m not exactly one hundred percent sure how she feels about me. Not anymore. Or, well, maybe not me, but girls in general. Not that she doesn’t...what I mean is, there’s this guy, an ex, and, um, I don’t...I just...it’s, ugh, it’s so complicated. Did I vague that up enough for you?” frowned Willow.
“The color by numbers are getting filled in,” agreed Kennedy. “But hey, I just didn’t want to...”
“You’re not,” interrupted Willow quickly, shaking her head. Kennedy tilted her head slightly, staring at Willow.
“Okay,” grinned Kennedy.
“Thanks. For not prying,” explained Willow. Kennedy nodded, still grinning. “So...how long have you known? That you’re gay.”
“I was five” answered Kennedy confidently. “It was Gone with the Wind. I saw that, and I knew I wanted to sweep Scarlet off her feet.” “You were five!” “Well, I'm not saying the sweeping would have been easy,” winked Kennedy, eating the cherry off her paper umbrella garnish. She noticed Willow staring at her. “What?” “I just...I still don't get it,” shrugged Willow. “Why you like me. I mean, you don't even know me.” “Have you seen you?” asked Kennedy with a serious tone of disbelief. Willow felt a warmth rising to her cheeks and again played with her straw. “And we like the same things; Italian, skate punk, Robert Parker mysteries, fighting evil...” “I don't like any of that stuff,” laughed Willow, shaking her head but smiling. “Except the, the fighting evil part. Even then, I prefer a nice foot massage.”
Kennedy hesitated, then leaned in just a little closer towards Willow. “Okay. I dig the way you always turn off the Moulin Rouge DVD at Chapter thirty two so it has a happy ending.”
Willow couldn’t help but laugh in agreement.
“I like the way you speak. It's...interesting.”
Willow smiled, suddenly realizing that this girl genuinely liked her. But instead of feeling happy, Willow felt a tinge of sadness...and, worse, a little guilt.
“And your freckles...lickable.”
“Li-lickable?” stammered Willow.
“Huh? I said likable, not lickable. Although...”
Willow actually blushed, only causing Kennedy to smile even more.
“I'm not so into the magic stuff. It seems like fairy tale crap to me, but if it matters to you...you care about it, so it's cool.”
Willow exhaled, wondering what she had gotten herself into, almost forgetting that she had only wanted to make Buffy jealous.
“Well, this is my stop,” said Willow, turning on the light in her room. No, not just her room; this was the room she shared with Buffy. She avoided looking at the bed. Being alone here with Kennedy suddenly felt awkward.
Kennedy followed her into the room.
“So...glad we talked,” shrugged Willow, stalling, wondering what Kennedy expected of her. After all, it wasn’t a date.
“Yes,” agreed Kennedy. “Kinda cleared the air.”
“Yeah, totally,” nodded Willow. “Air cleared. Check.”
Kennedy took a step forward, standing in front of Willow.
“You know, in the spirit of air clearing...
“Yeah?” said Willow nervously.
“I feel like I need to be honest about something,” sighed Kennedy.
“Is...is something wrong?”
“No,” answered Kennedy quickly, shaking her head. “No, it’s just...I think...
Kennedy leaned in towards Willow and even though Willow knew what she was doing, knew what was about to happen, she didn’t try to stop her.
“You should know...”
Their lips met. Willow only hesitated a moment, then responded, encouraging Kennedy even more, each reaching for the other now. Willow pulled away, noticing that Kennedy still had her eyes closed.
“Well, that was nice.”
“Nice? Only nice?” pouted Kennedy, though inwardly she smiled because Willow still had her arms around her.
“Well, yeah, nice. But nice like a freckle thing. Okay, I’ll admit it, you, uh...you kinda took my breath away,” said Willow, wrinkling up her nose.
“Wow. I’m flattered,” beamed Kennedy.
“No, what I meant was...Kennedy, I can’t breathe!” gasped Willow. She fell forward into Kennedy’s arms.
Willow grabbed at her neck with her hands, her eyes staring at Kennedy in stark fear. Kennedy eased her onto her back, cushioning her head so that it wouldn’t hit the floor.
Willow didn’t answer. Her eyes rolled back into her head as they closed and her head rolled to one side. Kennedy instantly shifted her weight, kneeling by her side. Tilting Willow’s head back, she pinched her nose closed with one hand and covered her mouth with her own, forcing in five quick breaths.
“Come on, Willow, breathe!”
Kennedy slipped one hand down along Willow’s neck, pressing two fingers just under her jaw. Now she really began to panic; Willow did not have a pulse.
“Damn it!” cursed Kennedy. Locking her left arm straight out at the elbow, she found the bottom of Willow’s breastbone and moved her hand up about a palm’s length, pushing down with both hands five times. Leaning back down, she again tried to breathe for Willow, forcing air into her lungs.
Hearing a noise behind her, Kennedy looked up. Buffy was standing in the doorway, her eyes wide open. She blinked, obviously not comprehending what Kennedy was doing.
“What are...um, you know, maybe I should go,” winced Buffy, already turning, though her tormented eyes were fixed on Kennedy.
“What!? Buffy, I’m not kissing her! She’s not breathing!” yelled Kennedy.
Buffy was at Willow’s side instantly. Kennedy again pumped Willow’s chest to get her heart pumping.
“Willow?” whimpered Buffy.
“Do you know CPR?”
“What? Oh, um, yeah. Yeah, I do,” nodded Buffy.
“Good. Give her mouth to mouth while I do this,” shouted Kennedy. But Buffy froze, only staring at Willow. “Buffy, now!”
Buffy quickly covered Willow’s mouth with her own but hadn’t even breathed twice when Willow’s eyes popped open. With a loud sigh, Kennedy sat down and nervously smiled back at her.
“Willow! Oh, thank God! I thought I had lost you!” cried Buffy, pulling Willow up into her arms. Willow just held on for a moment, taking in her surroundings.
“Wow. What happened?” mumbled Willow.
Buffy slowly eased back but still kept her arms around her, all the time staring at Willow’s chest.
“Um, Buffy?” whispered Willow very softly, glancing at Kennedy. “I know you like ‘em, but maybe you shouldn’t stare. Not with Kennedy here, ya know?”
Buffy’s hand came up quickly, firmly grasping Willow’s throat and forcing her down onto her back again.
“Buffy!” shouted Kennedy.
“Buffy?” whimpered Willow, her cry muffled.
“Who are you and what did you do to Willow?” demanded Buffy.
Willow’s eyes opened wide, both in pain and in fear.
“Buffy, please! You’re hurting me,” gasped Willow.
“You’re not Willow. You aren’t breathing and I don’t feel a pulse beneath my hand,” sneered Buffy. She loosened her grip slightly and Willow broke free, her own hand rubbing her throat now.
Buffy stood up, fists clenched, and Kennedy stood as well, instinctively moving behind Buffy. Willow slowly sat up, her hand still rubbing her throat. She looked up at Buffy, her eyes unfocused, her lower lip trembling.
“What happened?” demanded Buffy, looking back over her shoulder at Kennedy.
“We were...um, I, I uh...”
“I passed out,” answered Willow.
“Yeah,” agreed Kennedy quickly. “She passed out. One minute she was standing there, and then she couldn’t breathe.”
Buffy looked at Willow, her fists slowly unclenching.
“Willow?” whispered Buffy.
“It’s me, Buffy. You have to believe me,” said Willow, her eyes tearing up. Buffy slowly knelt down in front of her. Seeing how scared Willow was, she opened her arms to her.
“No, don’t touch me!” shouted Willow, shaking her head and backing away. Confused and startled, Buffy lowered her hands.
“Willow, I’m sorry. With all that’s been going on around here, I wasn’t sure...”
“Buffy, this...whatever this is, it’s powerful. Nasty magicks, the real dark stuff,” warned Willow.
“Sooo...you’re worried about me touching you...because of the magicks?” asked Buffy. “Will, I already touched you.”
“So did I,” winced Kennedy.
“There’s that,” agreed Willow meekly. “Nevermind. So, um, kinda needing a hug here.”
She met Buffy’s eyes and Buffy smiled for her. Buffy reached over and embraced her as Willow eagerly pressed her face into her shoulder.
“We’ll figure this out,” whispered Buffy.
Willow nodded but didn’t look up.
“Um, Will? You want me to get you a sweater or something? You’re so cold.”
“No,” answered Willow. “I don’t think it will help.”
“Is she...is she dead?” asked Kennedy.
“I’m not dead!” barked Willow, louder than she meant to. Admonished, Kennedy looked away.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to yell,” apologized Willow. “I’m just a little upset. Sorry.”
Kennedy nodded her understanding.
“Okay, question here,” said Buffy. “What triggered this? There’s no one close by to cast the spell, so how did this happen?”
Willow immediately looked at Kennedy. Noticing this, Buffy turned to face her as well.
“Hey, magic? So not my thing,” frowned Kennedy innocently.
“Whoever’s responsible wouldn’t have to be nearby, Buffy. Did I mention the powerful part?” asked Willow.
“How do you feel?” asked Buffy.
“That’s just it. I don’t feel anything,” shrugged Willow. “Though this not breathing part is getting annoying.”
“Um, this isn’t like that Halloween, right? I mean, I can touch you,” said Buffy.
“No. No, this is...worse,” sulked Willow.
“So this is like a, a glamour?” suggested Buffy.
“Kinda, but kinda not,” frowned Willow.
“How can I help?” asked Buffy, touching Willow’s hand.
“We. How can we help?” corrected Kennedy, eliciting a smile from Willow.
“I think I’m on my own with this one. Magicks? So my thing,” said Willow, winking at Kennedy. Her sudden confidence quickly faded. “Or, perhaps I should say were my thing, emphasis on the past tense.”
“You still got the magic, girl,” smiled Buffy, now winking at Willow. Willow almost laughed.
“I’ll start with a locator spell, see if I can trace the source.”
“Oh, hey! Maybe I can get all trancey again, find the, the trace, the magic imprint thingy. That might work,” said Buffy enthusiastically.
“Maybe. But I can do this quicker. Not that I don’t appreciate the gesture,” said Willow, patting Buffy’s hand.
“You gonna be alright?” asked Buffy.
“I can handle it,” smiled Willow.
“Alright, let’s not tell anyone else about this right now. Maybe we can figure it out without freaking the others out. I think they’re spooked enough as it is,” sighed Kennedy, rolling her eyes.
Willow and Buffy nodded in agreement.
Kennedy lit the third and final candle, creating flickering shadows upon the walls. Buffy sat on the edge of the bed, pouting.
“Why can’t I help?” whined Buffy.
“There’s nothing for you to do,” shrugged Willow. “Kennedy was in the room with me when it happened, that’s why she gets to light the candles,” explained Willow.
Buffy only pouted even more.
“This’ll only take a minute,” comforted Willow, trying not to smile. Kennedy got up and looked down the hallway but the house was quiet. She shut the door behind her.
“I think everyone’s asleep now. I know Molly is. I can hear her snoring,” giggled Kennedy.
“Fine. What happens next?” asked Buffy.
“I just sprinkle this powder across the water in this bowl,” said Willow, letting an reddish-orange powder sift between her fingers, “and say the magic word. Aperio!”
Buffy leaned forward, watching the surface of the water. Kennedy stared at Willow with a doubtful look on her face and knelt down beside her.
“Why that color?” asked Kennedy, glancing at the bowl.
“I added paprika,” said Willow proudly.
Both Buffy and Kennedy shot her a puzzled look.
“Never mind. Anya would get the joke,” groaned Willow. “Just watch.”
The water swirled as if an unseen finger was stirring it and then became clear but dark, the surface seemingly frozen. Slowly a face began to take form, emerging as if pushing through a fog. Ever so briefly the face became solid, defined, the visage a young man with sympathetic eyes, his mouth curled in the hint of a smile...as if he recognized Willow. As if he could actually see her now.
And then he was gone.
“Huh. Sure you did that right?” asked Kennedy, peering into the bowl. Willow ignored her, unable to take her eyes from the water.
“What, you know this guy? Is he some kind of warlock?” asked Kennedy, only now noticing that Buffy was staring apprehensively at Willow.
“Buffy, did you see that?” asked Willow, her voice small.
“Yeah,” nodded Buffy. Willow slowly turned to look at her.
“How?” said Willow, more to herself than to Buffy. “Or, or why?”
“Hello, what’s going on?” asked Kennedy, waving a hand. “Do you know this guy?”
“Yeah,” nodded Willow. “His name is Oz.”
“Oz. Like the wizard?” blinked Kennedy.
“Yeah,” nodded Buffy. “Only he’s not. A wizard, I mean.”
“Oh. So...who’s Oz?” shrugged Kennedy.
“Goodnight,” repeated Willow. Kennedy nodded but didn’t move.
“We’ll talk in the morning. I promise. Thanks for your help,” said Willow, touching Kennedy’s shoulder.
“Okay,” agreed Kennedy reluctantly. She closed the door and Willow leaned back against the wall. Buffy walked over to her and stood in front of her.
“You okay?” whispered Buffy.
“No,” answered Willow. “Buffy, you don’t think Oz is dead, do you? This could be a trick of the First, messing with my head again.”
“No. I so don’t understand what’s going on, but if something happened to him, I think you’d know somehow. Don’t you?”
“I hope so,” winced Willow.
Alone now in the hallway, Buffy reached for Willow’s wrist, pulling her cold hand against her warm cheek, kissing her wrist.
“Willow, I’m sorry. About before. I was...”
“Oh, hey, no big. I know there’s nothing going on between you two,” smiled Willow.
Buffy stared at her blankly.
“In the Bronze. You know, with Spike?” explained Willow warily.
“Oh. Uh, actually, I was talking about me with the hands on your neck and the strangulating. Well, the almost strangulating...um, strangulation. Not that breathing was an issue, but hey, I didn’t know, ya know?” grinned Buffy painfully.
“Oh,” nodded Willow, rolling her eyes. “That’s what you meant.”
Buffy looked down and took in a deep breath. Unexpectedly, Willow pulled her close.
Buffy’s words were silenced by Willow’s lips on her own. She turned and pressed Buffy back against the wall. After a while Buffy had to pull away.
“Hey, no fair. I still have to breathe,” giggled Buffy. Willow ignored her and again her mouth found Buffy’s lips. Pressing her again against the wall, Buffy moaned in response.
“Someone...someone might see us,” whispered Buffy out of the corner of her mouth.
“So? Are you telling me you want me to move my hand away?” smiled Willow, looking down.
“No,” gasped Buffy. “God no.”
Willow kissed her again, then moved her mouth down to Buffy’s neck. Reaching up, Willow deftly popped open the button on Buffy’s jeans and tugged at the zipper.
“Willow, that’s...oh, that’s...God, we haven’t...it’s been so long...um, okay, the nipping has moved past playful,” winced Buffy, cringing her neck. “Will, slow down girl. How about letting me...ow! Hey!”
Buffy gently but firmly pushed Willow back and touched her neck. When she looked at her hand there was blood on it. Willow had only broken the skin, but the pain had taken Buffy out of the moment. She glanced at Willow and, eyes wide open, pressed further back against the wall away from her.
Willow stared back at her with her eyes wide in terror, shocked at what she had done. She slowly raised a hand to touch her lips. Looking at her fingers, Willow winced, only now admitting to herself that there was blood on her lips. She turned and stumbled into their bedroom. Buffy zipped and fastened her pants and then quickly followed her, almost bumping into Willow when she entered the room.
Willow simply stood there, staring at the mirror above the dresser. Following her gaze, Buffy gasped, bringing a hand up over her mouth.
Buffy saw her own reflection, but only hers.
Willow slowly but deliberately walked over to the bed and sat down, still staring at the mirror. Buffy took a step towards her.
“Don’t!” warned Willow, now not taking her eyes off the floor. Buffy froze, glancing once again at the mirror.
“Willow, I don’t understand. What’s happened to you?”
“Buffy, your silver cross is on the dresser. Bring it to me,” whispered Willow.
Willow simply raised her eyes and stared at Buffy. Buffy nodded. She made her way over to the dresser and lifted the cross by the chain it hung on, letting the cross rest in the palm of her other hand. Once again she looked into the mirror, only seeing the empty bed behind her. Taking a deep breath, drawing strength from it, Buffy turned and walked over to Willow, her footsteps imperceptible in the emptiness of the room.
Holding the cross by its chain, Buffy raised it up between them, her hand shaking. Willow sat there, unblinking, biting her lower lip, eyes focused on Buffy rather than the cross.
“Will, you don’t have to do this,” said Buffy, her voice pleading. “This isn’t real!”
Willow’s hand lashed out, her fist closing tightly around the cross. Startled, Buffy let go and stepped back. Willow’s hand jerked open and the cross fell to the floor.
Slowly turning over her hand, both Willow and Buffy stared at the burn mark on her palm.
“Not real?” laughed Willow bitterly, lowering her hand.
“But, but your face! It didn’t change! Willow, there must be...”
“Buffy, pick up the cross.”
“The cross. Pick it up...and put it on,” said Willow calmly.
“No. No, I don’t need...you wouldn’t...”
Buffy just stood there, her eyes darting from Willow to the cross on the floor.
“Buffy, please. For me?” begged Willow, her voice breaking.
Buffy nodded and knelt down, slipping the cross around her neck.
“Thanks,” said Willow, barely mouthing the word, no longer able to hold back the tears. Buffy covered the cross with one hand and slowly sat down next to her, wrapping an arm across her shoulder, holding her as close as she dared. Willow covered her face with her hands, too upset to look at Buffy but too terrified to move away.
Buffy looked up at the soft knock at the door but Willow kept her face pressed against Buffy’s shoulder.
“Sorry, the door was open and, um, I heard Willow crying,” said Kennedy uneasily. “Did something else happen?”
“I thought you were going to bed,” said Willow, now quickly pulling away from Buffy and rubbing her eyes.
“There’s no way I’m gonna fall asleep anytime soon,” answered Kennedy sharply.
Willow looked up at her and nodded, convinced by Kennedy’s concerned expression.
“Yeah. Same here,” frowned Willow. She pointed at the mirror above the dresser.
Kennedy glanced in that direction, looked back at Willow, then twisted her head back to stare into the mirror. She even took a few steps towards it before again looking back at Willow.
“I don’t get it,” said Kennedy. “Why isn’t...I don’t get it.”
“This is Sunnydale. It doesn’t have to make sense,” sighed Buffy.
“Okay, you trying to tell me that Willow’s a, a vampire?” laughed Kennedy nervously.
“Let’s go with I’ve got the symptoms but I want a second opinion,” said Willow, slowly extending her palm so that Kennedy could see the outline of the cross burned into her skin. Kennedy glanced at the cross around Buffy’s neck.
“But...but I was with you! There was no biting, no sucking and see? I have a reflection,” said Kennedy, pointing at the mirror.
“No biting, no...what the hell were you two doing?” asked Buffy, eyeing Willow suspiciously.
“I told you, I passed out. Kennedy, we know you’re not a vampire,” said Willow, slumping her shoulders. “Buffy, I need to go out, I need to do something. I can’t just sit here and feel sorry for myself!”
“Will, sunrise is only a few hours away,” reminded Buffy ominously.
“Yeah, I know my curfew. Look, there’s very few people and even fewer nonpeoples that have this kind of power or access to it. Maybe I can locate the source, sense it, find a clue, or, or whatever. But not by sitting here,” said Willow, raising her voice.
“I know. But, see, I don’t want you going alone,” winced Buffy. Willow just looked at her for a moment, confused.
“You...you’re not coming with?” asked Willow softly.
“We have another problem. Spike. He’s in the basement. There’s something wrong with his chip. It keeps misfiring for no reason,” shrugged Buffy.
“No reason? Maybe he’s having thoughts he shouldn’t be having,” countered Willow quickly. Buffy flinched.
“No, I don’t think that’s it. But he’s in a lot of pain and, and it’s getting worse,” grimaced Buffy. Willow nodded and stood up but wouldn’t look at Buffy.
“Don’t worry about. Seems like you have your hands full. Again. Besides, I don’t like you seeing me like this,” said Willow, her voice trailing off.
“It’s kinda a little late for that,” countered Buffy. “And, and it’s not like you’ve gone all grr.”
“Not yet,” pouted Willow. “But I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of showing my bumpy bits in public.”
Both Buffy and Kennedy raised their eyebrows in unison.
“Okay, that didn’t quite...ya know, I need to leave. Don’t worry about me, I’ll still be dead when I get back. Same as Spike, I might add,” added Willow coldly.
“Willow, I don’t want you to go alone!” yelled Buffy, standing up. “What if you pass out again? Hello? Sun rising soon!”
Willow looked at Kennedy.
“I’ll go,” nodded Kennedy.
“Willow, why don’t you talk to Spike first? Your symptoms? He’s kinda inside knowledge guy,” nodded Buffy knowingly.
“I know what a vampire is, Buffy. I’ve helped fight them for seven years now, remember?” barked Willow.
Buffy lowered her eyes. Out of habit Willow tried to inhale a deep, calming breath but only frowned in frustration as she simply didn’t know how. It wasn’t as if she had forgotten, it was more like she couldn’t force her lungs to respond.
“How the hell does he smoke cigarettes?” whispered Willow.
“What?” asked Buffy.
“Nothing,” said Willow, shaking her head and stepping close to Buffy. “Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so harsh.”
“I know,” smiled Buffy appreciatively. She leaned in and Willow’s eyes opened wide, anticipating Buffy would kiss her. But instead Buffy pulled her in close with a hug. Willow smiled at the embrace and decided to ignore Kennedy for the moment.
“By the way, Spike isn’t our only other problem,” said Willow, turning her face to Buffy but speaking loudly enough for Kennedy to hear. “I’m getting hungry and somehow I don’t think mochas and a croissant are going to do the trick in the morning.”
Buffy closed her eyes and nodded.
“I think there’s some blood for Spike still in the fridge. But I’ll send Xander to the butcher’s as soon as he opens,” said Buffy bravely, sniffing once. “Do you...do you think you could...”
“Drink blood? I don’t know,” shrugged Willow. “Really trying not to think about it right now.”
Willow looked over at Kennedy and tried not to smile at the nauseous look on her face.
“Kennedy, open that top drawer over there,” pointed Willow.
“Huh? Oh, um, sure,” nodded Kennedy.
“My silver cross is in there. I want you to put it on.”
Kennedy slid the drawer open and reached in, withdrew a silver chain and watched the cross dangle below her hand. She glanced at the cross on Buffy’s neck and noticed they were a matching pair. Kennedy looked directly at Buffy...and Buffy lowered her eyes.
“Willow, I don’t know. Are you sure...”
“Put it on,” ordered Willow firmly.
Kennedy nodded once and closed the chain’s clasp around her neck, turning her back to hide her smile. Willow hadn’t missed Buffy’s reaction when Kennedy took the cross. Not wanting another argument that could only hurt Buffy’s feelings, she quickly made her way to the door.
“Okay, gotta go,” announced Willow.
“Willow, aren’t you forgetting something?” asked Buffy, hands on her hips. Willow froze. Buffy tilted her head to one side, waiting.
Buffy walked slowly over to Willow with a slightly exaggerated swing in her hips, subtle yet noticable. Willow glanced at Kennedy and then focused on Buffy with a confused stare, her eyes only getting wider as Buffy paused only inches from her face. Willow finally blinked when, unseen by Kennedy, Buffy wet her lips with her tongue. Leaning in, Willow’s voice was barely a whisper.
“Okay, is this some kind of marking your territory thingy?” frowned Willow, her eyes still drawn to Buffy’s moist lips. “I mean, if you want a kiss goodbye...”
“Willow, whatever are you talking about?” asked Buffy in a somewhat southern accent.
“Huh?” managed Willow, again glancing at Kennedy who was obviously becoming intrigued by the scene unfolding before here.
“Don’t you want to ask me something?” hinted Buffy.
“Um,” repeated Willow in a timidly fearful response.
“I think you need an invite back in, no? Wouldn’t want to get locked out with the sun rising soon,” smiled Buffy.
“Oh. Oh, right!” nodded Willow just a bit too enthusiastically.
“Hey, slow down! One of us still has a breath to catch, remember?”
Willow ignored Kennedy, not even looking back at her. Kennedy had to run to catch up.
“Okay, for someone who doesn’t know where they’re going you sure are in a big hurry!” complained Kennedy.
Willow eased her pace a bit and reluctantly nodded.
“Sorry. It’s just that I don’t have much time,” said Willow, glancing towards the eastern skyline.
“I get that. So, that locator spell...not much help?” shrugged Kennedy.
“No,” frowned Willow. “Really just winging it right now.”
“You’ll figure this out. I’ll bet you look back on this and have a good laugh.”
“Not really getting the humor. Then again, maybe I should be laughing at myself,” grumped Willow.
“Huh? I don’t...huh?”
Willow stopped walking and turned to face Kennedy.
“I probably did it to myself. My spells have a habit of going all pfft! Pfft and kaflooey even.”
“But you weren’t casting a spell at the time,” said Kennedy. And then her eyes lit up and she smiled. “Though maybe I was.”
Willow rolled her eyes and started walking again.
“Okay, what’s the plan? I mean, if you think you did this to yourself, why can’t you fix it?”
“Something’s blocking me,” answered Willow.
“Oh. But hey, see, that something means you weren’t responsible,” suggested Kennedy weakly.
“No, I’m responsible. There’s a reason I’m a vampire. It’s called guilt.”
Kennedy grabbed Willow’s arm and they stopped walking. She didn’t say anything but instead just waited for Willow to explain.
“Earlier this evening, I saw...I saw Buffy. With Spike,” said Willow softly, raising her eyebrows slightly.
“And you were jealous?” asked Kennedy, her face expressionless but her voice sympathetic.
Willow looked down at the ground.
“Oh,” nodded Kennedy. “So when you kissed me...”
“When you kissed me,” corrected Willow quickly, glaring at Kennedy. Kennedy simply sighed. Neither of them spoke or looked at one another for a moment.
“Vampire. As in ex-boyfriend, as in what you think Buffy wants,” said Kennedy. “And this is your what, your punishment?”
“You don’t have to stay with me,” snapped Willow as she walked away. “I’m feeling oh-so-not-light-headed at the moment.”
“Willow, wait! Willow!”
Willow walked briskly away but Kennedy didn’t make an attempt to follow her.
“If you’re to blame how to you explain Oz?” yelled Kennedy.
Willow stopped and lowered her head, then slowly turned around. She stared at Kennedy and then shrugged.
“Didn’t say I had it all figured out,” whispered Willow, idly kicking at a pebble on the street.
“What?” said Willow, shaking her head.
“You’re sexy when you pout,” grinned Kennedy.
Willow shook her head. And laughed.
“If you’re going to tag along, do try to keep up,” smiled Willow, turning and walking away, this time slowly enough for Kennedy to keep pace.
Lying on a cot in the basement, Spike stared at the bloody rag in his hand and then slowly looked up at Buffy. She forced herself to not look away. Spike brought the rag up to his nose again and he looked away.
It was there, in his eyes, even if just for a fleeting moment. Fear. Buffy couldn’t remember if Spike had ever revealed that emotion to her.
“We’ll fix this. I promise,” whispered Buffy.
“Maybe. Or...maybe not,” said Spike calmly. Buffy took in a deep breath and turned to walk away.
“Be right back. I have a phone call to make,” she said, turning back to look at him and smiling. “Gotta see if the warranty on your chip expired.”
“Expired. Nice choice of word, that,” groaned Spike.
“Breath mint?” offered Kennedy, holding out her hand towards Willow. One corner of Willow’s mouth rose in response and Kennedy quickly put the mints back into her pocket.
“Right. No breath. Smart one, girl,” whispered Kennedy to herself. They walked on, neither talking, and Kennedy realized that Willow had slowed down. A lot. Kennedy didn’t hear anything unusual and there wasn’t much to see as the street they were on was poorly lit.
“Huh? Oh, um, it’s nothing. Really,” added Willow very unconvincingly. She looked past Kennedy, her eyes searching the cemetery behind them. Kennedy turned but didn’t see anything.
Kennedy stopped, crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows at Willow, forcing Willow to stop walking.
“Okay. It’s, it’s just that I’m a bit overwhelmed at the moment,” moped Willow.
“Hey, that’s understandable,” blinked Kennedy, shaking her head.
“Oh, not the whole undead part. Although, yeah, admittedly some wiggins there. I meant that my senses are so heightened it’s like I’m stoned or something. Without the fogginess,” added Willow.
“Well, sure, you know, vampire,” said Kennedy, pointing at Willow. “It must be intense, what with the better hearing and, and the sense of smell and the rest. Whatever the rest is, I mean.”
“You have no idea,” replied Willow softly. “The night, it...how can I describe it? It’s like it has texture, like I can taste it.”
Kennedy just looked at her with a puzzled expression.
“Never mind,” interrupted Willow, once again looking back over her shoulder at the graveyard behind them. Again Kennedy tried to see what Willow was looking at but saw nothing unusual.
“There must be a fresh grave back there,” said Willow, avoiding Kennedy’s questioning eyes.
“Okay. So...you’re worried about a vampire rising?” offered Kennedy, lowering her arms.
“No. I mean, hey, this newbie vamp should be able to handle another newbie vamp, so no, not a good thing, but worried? Nah,” said Willow, shaking her head.
“Oh. Um, how did you know about the grave? I didn’t see...”
“I smelled it,” answered Willow.
“The dirt. I smelled it,” repeated Willow, looking down and shuffling her feet.
“Okay. Makes sense. And...and I’m thinking that if you weren’t a vamp right now you’d be...blushing?” suggested Kennedy. Willow uncomfortably and slowly rolled her eyes.
“Did I mention the heightened senses thingy?” asked Willow, chewing on her lower lip.
Kennedy crossed her arms again.
“I follow the logic, but that still doesn’t...”
“I like the smell,” whispered Willow, only glancing at Kennedy.
“I like the smell,” said Willow. “I mean, really like it. It’s, um, well, kinda embarrassing, but...yeah. I really like it,” winced Willow.
“You find the aroma of freshly dug dirt...arousing?” laughed Kennedy. Willow hesitated, then smiled.
“Among other things,” nodded Willow. Kennedy blinked.
“Such as?” smiled Kennedy in return.
“Like you haven’t noticed me staring at your neck?” challenged Willow, any shyness gone from her tone now. Kennedy hesitated but then grinned and stepped closer to Willow.
“Must be a freckle thing,” whispered Kennedy, her face only inches from Willow’s lips.
Willow firmly grabbed Kennedy by the shoulders and kissed her hard, forcing her close although Kennedy made no attempt to pull away. Willow ended the kiss as abruptly as she had stolen it.
“My lips are cold. I have no breath. Kissing a corpse...doesn’t that bother you?” whispered Willow into Kennedy’s ear. Her mouth danced just above the pulse point on Kennedy’s neck even though she was achingly aware of the cross dangling from the chain on Kennedy’s chest.
Kennedy slowly raised her hand and touched Willow’s cheek. She was no longer smiling.
“Remind me to put a little dirt behind my ears the next time we go out for a walk,” said Kennedy softly, adding a wink for emphasis.
Willow raised her eyebrows in response and laughed.
“You are trouble, aren’t you?” grinned Willow.
“Been called worse,” replied Kennedy proudly.
Willow glanced at the eastern horizon, then winked at Kennedy and walked away. Absently touching her neck, feeling her racing heartbeat, Kennedy slowly exhaled and then followed Willow.
“Willow, why hasn’t your face changed?” asked Kennedy when she caught up to her.
“It’s all about control. Control...and not letting go,” added Willow thoughtfully.
“Oh. You mean, like with the magic?”
“Yeah. The magic. And the kissing,” smiled Willow.
“I was talking about the kissing,” replied Kennedy, now walking ahead of Willow. This time Willow didn’t laugh.
Kennedy was looking up at the rooftops, trying to get a feel of where they were in downtown Sunnydale when Willow grabbed her arm and forced her to stop. Up ahead, leaning against the brick wall of some nameless building, stood a girl in torn and dirty clothes. She was close enough to a streetlight for Kennedy to make out her features yet close enough to the darkness of the alley behind her to slip away if she needed to. It was obvious that she was watching them even though she tried to appear uninterested. The girl was about Dawn’s age.
Kennedy reached into her jacket and slowly withdrew a stake but Willow shook her head.
“She’s human,” whispered Willow.
“How can you tell, especially from here?” asked Kennedy, not taking her eyes off the girl.
“I can hear her heartbeat,” replied Willow nonchalantly.
“Oh,” muttered Kennedy, looking at Willow out of the corner of her eye.
“And vampires aren’t usually this frightened and nervous,” added Willow, walking slowly towards the girl and smiling to relax her. Kennedy slipped the stake back inside her jacket and followed a few steps behind.
The girls eyes darted from Willow to Kennedy and back again. She smiled but even Kennedy could sense her apprehension now.
“Hey. See something you like?” challenged the girl, turning sideways as if presenting herself. Willow’s shoulders slumped slightly and she shook her head.
“Kinda late to be out working the streets, no?” said Willow.
“My choice. What’s it to you?” snapped the girl.
“Hey! No one’s judging you,” barked Kennedy, softening her tone with a glance from Willow. “It’s just not safe out here at night, okay?”
“Really!” laughed the girl, rolling her eyes.
“Do you have a place to stay tonight?” asked Willow.
“I’m fine. Besides, what do you care?”
“Maybe I don’t,” shrugged Willow. The girl met Willow’s stare but quickly looked away, pushing her stringy bangs away from her face with one hand.
“Look, you’re not really interested in my life story. The shelter was full tonight, okay?”
Willow just continued to look at the girl and she responded by wrapping her arms around herself, shivering even though the night was warm.
“You didn’t answer my question,” said the girl with more confidence now.
“What’s your name?” asked Willow softly. The girl looked down at her feet but quickly looked back up.
“Kathy,” she answered shyly. Willow believed it was her real name.
“Kathy, my friend is right. This isn’t a good place for you to be. Not at night,” warned Willow.
“Look, you and your girlfriend interested or not?” sighed Kathy. “Could have us some fun...for a price.”
“She’s not...” began Willow defensively. Then she just frowned and shook her head. “You know, we really aren’t.”
Willow turned and walked away, leaving Kennedy just standing there. The girl pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes out of her back pocket, tossing it aside in disgust when she realized it was empty. Kennedy ran to catch up with Willow and grabbed her arm.
“Hey, wait a minute, okay?”
“Why?” snapped Willow. Kennedy glanced back at the girl and frowned at Willow.
“You’re just going to leave her out here?” sighed Kennedy.
“Like we have any more room back at the house?” questioned Willow, crossing her arms. Again Kennedy frowned, though this time at Willow’s behavior.
“What are you so shocked about? That Sunnydale has a soft white underbelly or that someone like her would do anything for money?” spat Willow.
“I don’t see this as a matter of choice but one of need. Willow, you...you’re not acting like yourself.”
“Wonder why?” answered Willow sarcastically. Kennedy shook her head.
“Look, I’ll be right back, okay?” said Kennedy, not really seeking Willow’s approval. Willow reluctantly nodded, looking at a fingernail as if suddenly bored. Kennedy walked back to the girl, fished a ten dollar bill out of her jeans pocket and handed it to her.
“What’s this for?” asked Kathy warily.
“For you. Buy yourself breakfast or something,” shrugged Kennedy.
She looked at the bill and then looked up at Kennedy.
“Thanks,” whispered Kathy, folding the bill into her hand.
“Yeah. Just answer me one question.”
“Okay,” shrugged Kathy.
“What happened? Why are you here?” asked Kennedy softly.
“That’s two questions.”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” smirked Kennedy.
“Fair enough. I took off with my boyfriend. Couple of weeks ago I was waiting in the car when he robbed a gas station. Didn’t even know he had a gun,” shrugged Kathy. “A few nights later, I woke up in this motel room, he was gone. Just like that.”
“Yeah,” laughed Kathy, somewhat bitterly.
“Can’t you go back home?”
For the first time since they met Kathy looked sad, but her pained expression quickly vanished. She just shook her head once.
“Kathy, call them. You might be surprised...”
“Yeah,” sighed Kathy, interrupting her. Kennedy nodded and turned around.
Willow was gone.
Kennedy stumbled forward, not watching where she was going as she yet again glanced at the eastern horizon. It was light out now and, shoulders slumping, she sighed, knowing she wouldn’t find Willow now. And knowing it wouldn’t matter if she did. She could only hope...no, Willow was fine. Well, maybe not fine, but she was alive. She knew that. Deep down, she knew that. So why did she have to keep reminding herself of that?
Looking around, Kennedy suddenly realized that this alley was familiar, that she knew where she was. She had circled back almost to the place she had last seen Willow. Something caught her eye, something that was out of place, there on the ground in the shadows. A body.
Grateful that she wasn’t lying in the sunlight, Kennedy ran towards the girl and instantly understood two things; this wasn’t Willow and this girl was dead. Kneeling down next to the body, she grabbed Kathy’s shoulder and eased her onto her back. Her head rolled to one side and the runaway’s lifeless eyes stared back at her. Cringing, Kennedy tried not to look at the two deep puncture wounds on her neck. In her hand was a crumpled up ten dollar bill.
In her hand.
That could only mean that Kathy was killed moments after Kennedy had left her. Kennedy closed her eyes and shook her head, refusing to believe that Willow might have done this.
Kennedy eased the door shut behind her, trying not to disturb the still house. She slowly tiptoed up the stairs, glancing back once over her shoulder, thinking it was strange that with so many people in the house now none of them were up yet. Finally reaching the top step, she almost bumped into Dawn.
“Dawn!” exclaimed Kennedy, trying to keep her voice down. “Is Buffy in her room? I need to talk to her.”
“Nope. She’s not back yet,” answered Dawn, moving around Kennedy to go downstairs.
“Where did she go?” asked Kennedy.
“Beats me,” shrugged Dawn. “Like she ever tells me what she’s up to. Took Spike with her too.”
“Spike? But I thought...oh, never mind. They’re probably looking for Willow. Although it’s light out now. He...they should be back already, no?”
“Willow? Willow’s in her room, sleeping,” said Dawn, pausing in her descent of the stairs.
Kennedy didn’t wait for a response from Dawn. She almost ran to Willow’s room and opened the door, peering around it. Just as Dawn had said, Willow was sound asleep in the bed, the covers pulled up to her neck.
“See? Dead to the world,” whispered Dawn from behind Kennedy. Kennedy blinked and turned to stare at Dawn.
“What?” asked Dawn, her eyebrows narrowing with the question.
“Nothing,” replied Kennedy, shaking her head. “You, um, you think the curtains are closed enough? It’s...it’s kinda bright outside.”
“Yeah, she’s fine. That girl could sleep through anything. Hey, you hungry? I was about to make some oatmeal and pretzel pancakes,” said Dawn.
“Huh? Oh, um, yeah. Yeah, sounds good,” nodded Kennedy, looking back at Willow.
“Really? Wow, most people don’t like my recipes! I’ll go get started,” squeaked Dawn excitedly.
“Be right there,” replied Kennedy absently, resting her cheek against the door, her eyes not leaving Willow. She stood there for a moment, then glanced back over her shoulder. The hallway was empty.
Without hesitating, Kennedy crept over to the side of the bed and stood there, holding her breath, scared that Willow would awaken yet also hoping that she would. Smiling, she reached down and gently brushed a lock of hair away from Willow’s forehead. She ignored fact that Willow wasn’t breathing, pretending that it didn’t bother her. Glancing once again at the curtains, satisfied that no sunlight would come through, Kennedy walked away and cautiously closed the door, casting one last look at the redhead before leaving.
Willow opened her eyes and sat up, letting the covers pool around her waist. She listened to Kennedy’s footsteps recede down the hall then fell backwards, hands under her head, eyes fixed upon the ceiling.
Yawning, Kennedy made her way down the stairs, slowing as she heard voices. She recognized Xander’s voice and as she made her way into the kitchen Dawn glared at her.
“You know, you could’ve told me!” snarled Dawn, struggling to keep her voice low.
“Oh. You mean about Willow,” said Kennedy, again yawning. Dawn crossed her arms in front of herself in response. Xander reached out and touched her shoulder but Dawn pulled away.
“Dawn, I told you not to worry about. It’s just another day in Sunnydale. We’ll figure this out...or, well, Willow will,” shrugged Xander. Dawn stared at him as he removed a plastic container from a paper bag and found room for it in the refrigerator.
“Xander...is that what I think it is?” winced Dawn.
“I’m thinking yes. I just got back from the butcher’s. Buffy called me,” explained Xander.
“Dawn, I’m sorry. I haven’t slept at all and, and I wasn’t thinking straight. I got separated from her and was out looking for her all night. When you told me she was in her room...anyway, I’m sorry,” shrugged Kennedy.
Dawn slowly and reluctantly lowered her arms.
“Okay,” nodded Dawn. “I, uh, I shouldn’t have yelled at you. Sorry.”
“No big, And hey, I was going to tell you. Um...before she went to bed, did she say anything to you or, or act differently somehow?” asked Kennedy.
“Different how?” shrugged Dawn.
“Morning!” announced Willow, briskly walking past a startled Kennedy.
“Will! You seem to be in a mood of the good,” commented Xander.
“I am,” smiled Willow, opening the refrigerator. “Great! I see that you already got my breakfast.”
“Um...yeah,” answered Xander awkwardly. “You know, if you want some privacy, we could...”
Xander froze as Willow ignored him and held up the cup of blood, shutting the refrigerator door with her hip. She raised the cup to her lips and quickly drained the contents without so much as blinking. Licking her lips, she moved past Xander and rinsed the cup out in the sink.
“Need some help, Dawnie? The girls will be getting up soon. I know, you work on breakfast, I’ll get lunch started. There’s a chicken recipe I wanted to try and I think I need to marinate the meat,” nodded Willow, again walking over to the fridge.
Xander, Dawn and Kennedy just stood there, staring at her. Noticing the silence, Willow looked back over her shoulder at them.
“Uh, ya know, I got a thing. To do. So, I guess I’ll go. Do that thing,” announced Xander, quickly leaving.
“Xander?” said Willow. But Xander didn’t look back.
“Tell Buffy I’ll call her. Later, I mean.”
Willow stared at him as he left.
“Willow, he’s just trying to deal, you know? I think he’s a bit frustrated that he can’t help,” explained Dawn.
“Whatever,” shrugged Willow. She took several packages of chicken out of the refrigerator and Kennedy walked over to her to help. Willow turned to face her.
“Wanna help, Kennedy?” asked Willow, holding up the chicken. “After I’m done you can cover these breasts with wax paper.”
Willow smiled and, unseen by Dawn, winked at Kennedy.
Kennedy cringed, thinking about Willow’s grin and the fact that Dawn was in the room with them.
“I’m really beat. I think I hear my bed calling me,” said Kennedy, stiffly turning around and walking away. Willow shrugged and dropped the chicken into the sink.
“Willow, you couldn’t have slept much. Don’t you want to go to back to bed?” asked Dawn.
“Maybe later. Right now I’m feeling not so tired,” shrugged Willow. Dawn just stood there, again staring her. Willow noticed but Dawn didn’t look away.
“Dawn, I’ll figure this out. I’m not worried, so you shouldn’t be. Okay?”
“Sure. I, uh, I should get started on my pancakes,” answered Dawn.
Kennedy caught up to Xander just as he was closing the front door, grabbing the doorknob and practically pulling him back inside.
“Xander, wait!” whispered Kennedy.
She stood there for a moment, glanced back towards the kitchen, and then simply shook her head.
“Nothing,” sighed Kennedy. “Never mind.”
“Kennedy,” said Xander firmly, making her look up at him. “She’ll be fine. We’ll figure this out. It’s what we do.”
Xander smiled and Kennedy nodded. She turned and walked up the stairs, leaving Xander standing there for a moment before he again closed the door.
Rubbing her eyes, Buffy stifled a yawn as she closed the door behind her. She took a few steps towards the kitchen and then stopped. Willow was on the phone. Normally Buffy would walk away to give her best friend some privacy or at least announce herself and try not to listen. But something in Willow’s voice, a touch of urgency, made her hesitate.
“No...no, I can’t. It’s, uh...I can’t really...what I mean is it’s complicated. I can get there tonight, I promise. Say right after sunset? Please? You don’t know how important this is to me. Oh. Um, okay, maybe you do. Seven o’clock? No, that’s fine! Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Willow hung up the phone and Buffy realized how awkward it would be if she found her just standing there. Forcing a smile, Buffy walked into the kitchen.
“Hey. Did someone call?”
“Hey yourself. Oh, um, no. Well, actually...yes. But, um, wrong number. Yeah, it was a wrong number,” explained Willow, quickly nodding with false enthusiasm. Until she wiped her eyes, Buffy hadn’t realized that she had been crying.
“Will, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I was cutting an onion. See?” pointed Willow, glancing back at the kitchen counter.
“Oh,” nodded Buffy, not believing her and suddenly trying not to stare at Willow. “So. Howya feeling?”
“Okay. Kinda tired but I couldn’t sleep. Maybe later,” shrugged Willow.
“Yeah. She knows. I think the whole Bloody Mary breakfast gave it away. Oh, minus the Mary, of course. She’s not my type,” smiled Willow.
“Oh! So, you were able to...”
Willow quickly nodded, silencing Buffy.
“It wasn’t so bad,” added Willow, seeing Buffy’s discomfort with the subject. “Hey! You must be starving. Uh...we’re kinda between meals at the moment, what with the girls out back training and all...you want an English muffin to hold you over?”
“Oh, um, no, I’m really not...”
“Come on, it’s your favorite. A little butter and all those nooks and crannies...”
Willow paused, tilting her head with a mischievous grin.
“You still like nooks and crannies, don’t you? I mean, it’s been a while since you had your last muffin,” winked Willow.
Buffy smiled, almost blushing.
“Yes to the nooks. Still undecided on the crannies,” laughed Buffy.
“Wow. You laughed,” said Willow solemnly. She stepped over in front of Buffy and put her hands over her shoulders. “I haven’t heard that in...anyway, it’s nice to hear that again.”
Buffy smiled and slowly pulled Willow in with a hug.
“You know, we are alone,” whispered Willow suggestively. “Is there anything else in the kitchen that might wet your...appetite?”
Buffy abruptly pulled away, immediately causing Willow to frown.
“No, I’d better...what I mean is...I’m in kind of a hurry. I just stopped by to pick up a few things,” sighed Buffy.
Willow wouldn’t raise her eyes to look at her.
“Will, I’m sorry, but I hafta do this. I can’t get distracted right now, there’s no time,” comforted Buffy. Willow shifted her weight from one foot to the other.
“Again with the distraction,” winced Willow softly.
“What? No! No, I didn’t mean you...”
“How’s Spike?” asked Willow nonchalantly but in a voice that gave away her interest. She finally looked up at Buffy. Buffy slowly exhaled, puffing out her cheeks. It was her turn to look away.
“I think he’ll live. I’ll know in a little while,” replied Buffy, sneaking a peek at Willow to gauge her reaction.
“Oh,” answered Willow, her eyes opening wide.
“Yeah,” nodded Buffy. She took a step forward and took one of Willow’s hands into her own. “I’ll explain everything. Tonight...maybe sooner. I’ll get back here as soon as I can, okay?”
Willow nodded and gave Buffy’s hand a quick squeeze.
Buffy almost smiled and leaned in for a kiss but just as suddenly pulled away, letting go of Willow’s hand at hearing someone’s footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Gotta go,” finished Willow. Buffy pouted but then mouthed the words ‘I love you’ before turning to go.
“Buffy, you’re home!” announced Dawn, bounding into the kitchen.
“Just for a minute. Dawn, could you help me? I need to get some stuff together, maybe change my clothes,” said Buffy.
Willow, motionless, watched them head for the stairs. Buffy glanced once back over her shoulder with a concerned expression on her face then disappeared from sight. Willow yawned...and then a smile ever so slowly spread across her face.
Willow stopped in front of the closed door across from her own room and, with one hand on the door knob, listened intently. Smiling, she eased the door silently open. The shades were drawn, diminishing the offensive and now dangerous sunlight. Kennedy, her breathing slow and deep, was mostly hidden under the covers of the bed.
“You can sleep while I drive,” whispered Willow, grinning.
She shut the door behind her and locked it.
Kennedy yawned but refused to open her eyes, knowing that if she did she would have to look at the clock, which meant knowing what time it was and that meant admitting that it was probably time to get up. But as long as she kept her eyes closed...
Feeling a chill, Kennedy pulled the sheet up to her neck and suddenly realized that being cold is what woke her up. Did she leave the window open? But that wouldn’t matter as it was warm outside. With a sigh she finally opened her eyes and rolled over. Willow’s green eyes smiled back at her from the pillow beside her. Startled, Kennedy shot up into a sitting position, her eyes wide open. Willow didn’t move but simply smiled back at her.
“Did I wake you? It’s probably my cold feet, huh?” pouted Willow.
“Willow, what...what are you doing here?” stammered Kennedy, suddenly noticing Willow’s clothes on the floor behind her. Clad only in her T-shirt, she pulled the sheet tighter around herself.
“Just taking a nap. Like you. Didn’t think you’d mind,” answered Willow, following her gaze to her clothes on the floor. “Didn’t want to get them wrinkled.”
“Oh,” nodded Kennedy.
“Hey, relax. I don’t bite. Well, okay, I guess I do but you know what I mean,” laughed Willow.
Kennedy took a deep breath, her eyes focused on Willow’s smile, on Willow’s lips. Blinking, she shook her head and looked away.
“I couldn’t find you last night. Where did you go?”
“Came right back here. I, uh, kinda wigged, ya know? Sunrise? Not a big fan at the moment,” shrugged Willow.
“Okay,” nodded Kennedy, pulling her knees up and resting her chin on them. Willow reached for her but she quickly leaned away, causing Willow to frown in puzzlement.
“What?” asked Willow, wondering why Kennedy acted like she was suddenly afraid of her.
“You came right back. You, um, you didn’t black out again? You didn’t, say, get light-headed again?” suggested Kennedy warily.
“No,” said Willow, sitting up and pressing the sheet against her chest. “Kennedy, what’s this about?”
Kennedy nervously swallowed, her eyes focused on Willow.
“That girl we met. I found her. Later, I mean. She was...she was dead.”
“What!?” gasped Willow.
“Yeah. Her neck...”
“And you think I did it!?” shouted Willow.
“No! No, but...”
“But?” glared Willow.
“Willow, wait. I don’t think you...I just mean that there’s something inside you now. If this...thing...took over, took control, would you remember? Would you?” winced Kennedy.
Willow hesitated for a moment, then nodded.
“Yes, I would,” said Willow calmly but firmly. She then smiled warmly at Kennedy. “And thanks for asking. That couldn’t have been easy for you.”
Kennedy obviously wanted to believe her but there was still a shadow of doubt in her smile.
“Kennedy, think about it. I went in the other direction. There wasn’t time for me to...”
“Okay, “ interrupted Kennedy. “I believe you.”
“Thanks. Say, you didn’t tell anyone else...did you?”
“No. I, I couldn’t,” answered Kennedy quickly. Too quickly. Yet Willow seemed relieved and nodded her approval.
“That poor kid,” sighed Willow, shaking her head.
“Yeah,” agreed Kennedy. Neither of them spoke and in the silence Kennedy slowly realized that she was in bed with Willow. A Willow with no clothes on.
“Okay, um, you must be exhausted. Why don’t you try to get some sleep?” suggested Kennedy awkwardly.
“Hmm. You know, I couldn’t fall asleep before. I really don’t want to be alone right now. Could you stay with me?” asked Willow, nudging closer to Kennedy.
“With just this between us?” gulped Kennedy, holding up the sheet.
“Well...you still have your shirt on,” smiled Willow. She slowly reached over and touched Kennedy’s cheek with her hand. This time Kennedy didn’t pull away.
“Willow, I don’t think we should...”
Willow ignored her and slowly lowered her hand, her fingers brushing against Kennedy’s neck, across the top of her shirt, tracing a line down to the side of her breast.
“Okay, pardon the phrase but...you’re drop dead gorgeous,” ventured Kennedy, causing Willow to laugh. Her smile faded when she saw that Kennedy still seemed...afraid? Willow lay down on the pillow, gently encouraging Kennedy to do the same.
“What’s wrong?” whispered Willow, her lips almost brushing Kennedy’s cheek. Kennedy shrugged and tried not to look into Willow’s eyes but found she couldn’t.
“I don’t know,” she sighed, shaking her head. “I can’t put my finger on it.”
“Betcha want to,” offered Willow suggestively. Kennedy almost smiled this time.
“Don’t...don’t make me believe that I have a chance with you, not if I don’t,” winced Kennedy, her voice small.
“You’re here with me now, aren’t you?” said Willow, running her fingers through Kennedy’s hair.
This time Kennedy did smile. Willow closed her eyes and, lifting the sheet, snuggled closer.
“Hold me?” said Willow, phrasing the words as a request and not a demand.
“Mmmm,” answered Kennedy, pulling against her. The coolness of Willow’s body slowly warmed in their embrace. Kennedy restrained herself, wanting Willow to make the first move this time. She ran a finger across the softness of Willow’s shoulder, brushing aside her red hair. Kennedy lifted her head but Willow didn’t move.
Willow didn’t respond. Kennedy rolled her eyes and laughed, realizing that she had fallen asleep. Easing herself away, she allowed herself a peek under the sheets at Willow’s still form.
“Damn,” whispered Kennedy, taking a deep breath and reluctantly slipping out of the bed.
Willow stretched, not yet opening her eyes, even now still surprised at what her newly heightened senses revealed to her. She knew she was alone in the bed and had been for some time, the warmth of Kennedy’s body forgotten in the cold sheets. Willow smiled, realizing that she had fallen asleep just as Kennedy seemed interested. She understood that the sun would very soon be slipping past the horizon and she wondered if this is what had awoken her. And finally, sensing a heartbeat, Willow knew she wasn’t alone in the room.
Opening her eyes, her smile faded as she stared at Xander. He was just sitting there at the end of the bed but with an eyebrows-raised smile on his face.
“Let me guess...this isn’t what it looks like,” grinned Xander. Willow was about to protest but as she sat up she suddenly remembered that all of her clothes were on the floor beside the bed.
“Um...ya know, if it was possible, I would be blushing right about now,” winced Willow, clutching the sheet closer against herself. “But no, this isn’t what it looks like.”
“Riiiight,” nodded Xander, still grinning. “You’re in Kennedy’s room, in Kennedy’s bed, your arm stretched across the pillow next to you and you’re not wearing a stitch of clothing.”
“Um...well, okay, there’s that. But see...hey! How do you know what I’m wearing or, possibly, in this case, not wearing?” demanded Willow with false indignation. Xander didn’t answer but he still kept on grinning and Willow’s eyes went wide.
“You peeked? You, you perused where you shouldn’t have been perusing? Xander! That wasn’t very...I mean, how could you...”
“Will, easy girl! I didn’t peek, peruse or perchance see anything,” laughed Xander. And then he sighed and his face took on a more serious tone. “I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“Oh,” answered Willow. After a moment she spoke up before the silence between them became awkward.
“Sorry. I know you wouldn’t...peruse,” smiled Willow, wrinkling up her nose.
“Seems not so long ago there was a time I might’ve...”
Xander past intentions remained unspoken, silenced by Willow’s friendly warning glare.
“Anyway, I’m sorry. I wigged this morning, after you rather enthusiastically enjoyed your breakfast. Instead of trying to help I just, well, ran away. I’m getting good at that. Running away...helps with the not dealing,” sighed Xander. “Getting to be a bad habit.”
“It’s okay. I get you being upset. I mean, I hadn’t thought about it from your point of view. And you don’t run away!” protested Willow. “I know you’re always there for me. Buffy knows that too.”
“Always,” agreed Xander. He nodded and smiled again.
“You still haven’t explained the curious state of circumstances I find you in.”
“No, I haven’t,” answered Willow quickly.
“Fair enough. Oh, I brought you something,” said Xander, reaching down to retrieve something off the floor. He turned and offered a styrofoam cup with a plastic lid on it to Willow. She took it from him with one hand, keeping the sheet against her with her other hand.
“Cool, room service! Still, I think I’ll save this for later. When I’m alone,” added Willow, placing the cup on the nightstand beside the bed.
“Hey, I’ll turn around if you wanna get dressed. It’s not like I can see you in the mirror,” teased Xander.
This time Willow laughed. But Xander looked away, no longer smiling.
“What?” asked Willow, concerned.
Xander hesitated, then shrugged.
“It’s just...you’re so pale. Like before...”
“Oh, like I ever get a tan! Best I could hope for was a bad sunburn and some peeling skin,” countered Willow, though she saw it didn’t cheer Xander up. “Um...like before?”
“Will, I’ve been sitting here, just, just watching over you, ya know? But it reminded me so much of that time you were in the hospital and I didn’t think you would ever wake up. And I feel the same way as I did then. Scared and just as helpless,” sighed Xander.
“Come here,” smiled Willow warmly.
“I want to give you a hug,” explained Willow.
Xander raised his eyebrows and glanced down at the sheet.
“How ‘bout we settle for a handshake for now?” offered Xander, taking her hand and then raising it to his lips. He kissed the back of her cold hand, holding it between his two palms to warm her skin.
“Xander, this is Sunnydale. I’ll figure this out, I promise.”
“I know. It’s just this town sometimes sucks the life outta you, like some big hole in the ground. And in your case...”
“Yeah,” nodded Willow.
“Oh, Buffy called. Twice. I think she’s putting on a brave face for you but I know she’s worried sick. Said she’d be here real soon.”
“Sure she will,” whispered Willow, not looking at Xander.
“Come on, you haven’t figured out our Buffy yet? Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen this from her,” said Xander.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, like when she fought the Master. Or when she had to kill Angel. Buffy never lets us in, never shows us her fear or opens up to us. She can’t...she’s the Slayer. No, more than that, it’s who she is,” shrugged Xander. “Maybe it’s easier for her that way, keeping us at a distance, in case one of us...well, we all deal with our demons in our own way. I’m not the only one who ran away because I couldn’t talk about my fears.”
Willow stared at Xander but didn’t really see him. What he said suddenly seemed to make so much sense.
“And I think I’m seeing that Buffy again, the one who’s shutting down...because she has to. It’s how she deals,” finished Xander.
Willow smiled and at the same time had to choke back tears.
“Xander, did I ever tell you how much I love you?” asked Willow excitedly.
Xander finally smiled.
“The sheet be damned,” whispered Xander, pulling his friend into a hug.
Buffy refused to look up at the sky because that would only confirm that the sun had set some blocks back. Even running as fast as she could she knew she would be late, that Willow had probably already left. Furious at herself for not leaving earlier, she didn’t hear the car horn honking at her until the driver leaned on it. The continuous blast finally caused her to slow down. Xander pulled up alongside her, waving.
“Hey little girl, want some candy?” grinned Xander. Buffy opened the door and slid onto the seat next to him.
“Xander, did Willow...”
“She already left,” nodded Xander. “And yes, before you ask, I did tell her that you called.”
“Damn it!” snapped Buffy. “I need to talk to her. How the hell am I going to find her now?”
Buffy clenched her fist and might have punched the dashboard if Xander didn’t lean over and cover her hand with his own. She looked up, the worry and anger plain to see on her face. Xander couldn’t remember the last time she had slept.
“If you promise not to tell Willow that I followed her and if you ask nicely, I might not only let you know where she is but I might even drive you there,” said Xander, his mouth slowly curving upwards into a smile. Buffy’s sudden smile mimicked his own.
“Xander, did I ever tell you how much I love you?”
“Yeah,” nodded Xander, already putting the car into gear. “Been getting a lot of that lately.”
“Sure you don’t want me to stay?” asked Xander for the third time.
“Nah. I need some time alone with Will. Besides, it’s not like I don’t know my way around here,” added Buffy sarcastically.
“Okay,” shrugged Xander reluctantly. “I’ll see you guys back at the house.”
“Thanks,” smiled Buffy as she stepped from the car and shut the door behind her. Xander drove off and Buffy turned to read the wrought iron sign above her head.
“Restfield Cemetery. Willow, what are you up to?” sighed Buffy. She saw that the lights were still on in the office windows and quickly walked over to the side of the building, staying in the shadows as she peered inside. Her eyebrows scrunched together in both confusion and surprise.
She stood there, motionless, debating with herself whether she should go in, pretending that she could still hold on to the notion that she didn’t care. Or at least that she shouldn’t care.
“Curiosity killed the cat,” muttered Willow, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She reached out, placing her hand on the wall alongside the door, startled that stone still held the warmth of the sun that had set some time ago. Willow let her hand linger there, her throat constricting with the dread of never feeling that warmth against her skin again.
“Oh, screw it! I’m not a feline and I’m already dead. Or, okay, kinda dead. But in a big hope-I-figure-this-out temporary sorta way.”
Willow shouldered the crypt door open, not caring how much noise she made. Stepping inside, she quickly understood that no one was here, that no one had been here in a long time. Moonlight filtered in through the open door, tinting the room a soft blue, adding both to the coldness and emptiness of the musty tomb. Looking back, she noticed that there was just enough dust for her feet to leave prints on the damp floor.
Willow sat down on the edge of the sepulcher without even a breath to disturb the total silence. So they hadn’t been here since, well, probably since he had left last year. She almost allowed herself to smile, yet somehow this knowledge, this stark proof was no substitute for the comfort she yearned for.
Footsteps outside, soft as a shadow. Her back stiffened but she didn’t turn around. She didn’t have to.
“You didn’t wear your cross,” said Willow, shaking her head.
Willow closed her eyes and smiled.
“I love when you call my name,” whispered Willow.
“What? I couldn’t hear you.”
“Nothing,” sighed Willow, standing now to face Buffy. “You followed me here.”
Buffy nodded twice, then shrugged.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Um, you know, I’d rather not...I mean, it’s not important, okay?” winced Willow. Buffy glanced around the dank crypt.
“Are you looking for Spike?” questioned Buffy, stalling, reluctant to pry, hoping Willow would explain what she really wanted to know.
“No. No, this has nothing to do with him,” answered Willow, shaking her head, forcing herself to not look away.
“No?” challenged Buffy. This time Willow did look away. Buffy began to speak, hesitated, then simply blurted out what she needed to say.
“Okay. We’ll deal with him later. Willow, I saw you, back there in the office, giving money to that man. I don’t...”
Buffy’s voice, pleading, trailed off.
“Buffy, you don’t understand. I...I can’t tell you. Please don’t...”
“Fine,” sighed Buffy, turning to go but only taking one step. She lowered her head slightly, waiting, angry but unwilling to leave, too scared to even take another step. This was Willow. Her Willow. She felt rather than heard Willow stand behind her.
“I owed that man some money,” said Willow, her voice barely more than a whisper in Buffy’s ear. “Under the circumstances, I couldn’t really make it down here during normal business hours, ya know?”
Buffy turned to face Willow, her eyebrows knitted in confusion.
“You owed him money? For what?”
“We’re in a cemetery, Buffy. And not just any cemetery. Think,” frowned Willow.
“Oh. Oh, you mean...wait,” hesitated Buffy, scrunching up her face. “Tara’s grave, it’s all paid for. Giles made sure...I mean, he didn’t want you to have to...”
Willow looked down at the floor between them. Buffy’s eyes opened just a little wider.
“Oh,” whispered Buffy. Willow looked up and took both her hands into her own.
“I bought the plot next to her. I didn’t want to tell you because I knew you wouldn’t understand. See, this has nothing to do with us. Nothing. It’s, it’s just...keeping my options open.”
Willow gave Buffy’s hands a little squeeze. Buffy didn’t respond.
“I needed to pay for it by tonight or I’d lose it. Sooo, mystery solved. Buffy, I’ll probably never use it. I just, I mean it’s...”
“It’s because I haven’t been a good girlfriend,” said Buffy sadly.
“What? No! See, that’s why...”
“Willow, I haven’t been there for you lately. I haven’t even been a good friend, let alone...let alone what you need,” sighed Buffy, letting go of Willow’s hands. Willow quickly reached out and held them again, firmly. She raised one hand to her lips, kissing it softly, her eyes intent on Buffy.
“This has nothing to do with us. Nothing. I can’t even explain it...I just...I just don’t want her to be alone, I...I don’t want her to be...forgotten,” winced Willow, forcing out that last word.
“Willow! We will never...”
Willow again looked down at the floor between them. Buffy released her hand and gently touched Willow’s cheek, but Willow only closed her eyes.
“You never say her name. No one does. Ever. It’s, it’s like...”
“Shh,” comforted Buffy, pulling Willow close, wrapping her arms around her.
“I’m sorry,” sniffed Willow. “I shouldn’t...”
“She was my friend too,” whispered Buffy. “She was family. And she made you happy. I’m so grateful for that. It’s something...something that I wish I could do.”
Willow pulled her head back and laughed through her tears.
“But you do!”
Buffy opened her mouth to protest but Willow silenced her with a finger pressed against her lips. With that same finger she playfully brushed Buffy’s hair from her eyes.
“I do?” smiled Buffy, though her voice with still tinged with doubt.
“Yes, you do. So much. You big dumb stupid person,” teased Willow, causing Buffy to laugh.
“Okay. I get it. But while we’re on the subject of big, dumb and stupid,” said Buffy, glancing slowly around the room for emphasis. Willow stepped back, frowning at yet another failed attempt to take in a deep calming breath and, nodding, took Buffy’s hand.
“Let’s sit down,” said Willow, pulling Buffy along. They sat on the sepulcher, side by side, Willow’s arm across Buffy’s shoulders.
“I figured out some stuff. Well, surprisingly, Xander did, but see, I know what you’re doing,” said Willow in a very calm voice.
“Will, I’m not doing anything! And I’m especially not doing Spike!” protested Buffy.
“I know. You wouldn’t hurt me like that,” agreed Willow.
“So why are you here?”
“Because I’m a big dumb stupid person who can never let herself believe how lucky she is to have you in my life?” offered Willow with an exaggerated frown. Buffy smiled and almost laughed but held back, suddenly realizing that Willow wasn’t smiling.
“So...what am I doing that’s making you all crazy girl?” asked Buffy hesitantly, her own smile vanishing. “I mean, besides ignoring you, not sharing my bed with you, not telling anyone about us, not kissing you in front of...”
“Shh,” whispered Willow into Buffy’s ear. “I understand. I really do.”
“But it’s true, I’ve been...I haven’t...huh?”
“Buffy, the First has set up shop in town and things are going to get ugly with a big ug. You’re shutting down, blocking us out...blocking me out...because that’s what you need to do. If you had to worry about what could happen to the people you love, you couldn’t do what you need to do. Not if you want to live. And if you fail, well, that’s not so good,” smiled Willow.
“You’re the Slayer. That comes first, before anything else. I’m your lover and that takes a back seat along with the anything else, that else being me, right now,” nodded Willow firmly. And then a smile slowly spread across her lips. “Not that being in the back seat with you isn’t fun.”
Buffy smiled in return even as tears welled up in her eyes.
“You are so much more to me than just my lover,” said Buffy, her throat constricting with conflicting emotions. She wrapped her arms around Willow, hiding her face in the hollow of her shoulder.
“I know,” whispered Willow, holding on tightly.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m, I’m a big dumb stupid person. I...I just...”
“Hey. That’s too many I words. Stop blaming yourself,” comforted Willow. “You don’t need any distractions in your life right now.”
“But you’re not a distraction!” protested Buffy, pulling away but keeping her hands on Willow’s shoulders.
“Then let me in. Don’t shut me out. I don’t care what happens! Or, okay, of course I do,” frowned Willow. “But we face this together, with me by your side, no matter what.”
“Together. By my side. Hence the togetherness,” nodded Buffy, inhaling deeply.
“Yes,” affirmed Willow. Buffy lowered her arms but kept her eyes fixed on Willow.
“And if I need your help, if it comes down to you having to use the magicks, what then?” asked Buffy.
Willow’s resolve faltered but only for a moment.
“We’ll cross that bridge when the water rises, okay?” answered Willow.
“Will, I’m not going to lose you again,” said Buffy firmly, though her eyes revealed the fear and concern she held within.
“No. You’re not,” she said, shaking her head. Before Buffy could react or protest, Willow leaned in, kissing Buffy warmly, one hand behind Buffy’s head just in case her lover tried to pull away. Buffy did not try to pull away and only broke off the kiss to catch her breath. She touched her forehead to Willow’s and rubbed her nose with her own.
“Okay. We’ve got the me figured out. Have you got the you figured out yet?” asked Buffy. “I mean, hello? Oz? What’s up with that?”
Willow leaned away but took Buffy’s hand.
“I think I did this to myself,” whispered Willow.
“A spell, of the I-can’t-see-you-and-you-can’t-see-me variety. Remember? See, the whole vampire thingy, well, that’s kinda obvious. When you weren’t returning the smoochies or, or seemed even remotely interested in those very same smoochies I got jealous. I, uh, I became what I thought you wanted,” winced Willow, warily watching Buffy out of the corner of her eye. “Being smoochieless will do that to a girl.”
Buffy stopped herself and simply nodded, giving Willow’s hand a gentle squeeze.
“Go on,” encouraged Buffy. Willow reluctantly nodded.
“That brings us to Oz. You have to understand that he’s always with me. Even now,” added Willow. Buffy considered that for a moment.
“I get that. He’s part of who you are,” nodded Buffy. “Like what Angel is to me.”
“Exactly! And Oz, even though he loved me, he wanted more than anything for me to be happy. So even though it was the hardest, the most painful thing for him to do...he knew he had to leave. He did what was best for me.”
“That’s so sweet,” smiled Buffy. But then her eyes opened wide in understanding. “But...you mean...no, Willow! I don’t want you to go! We have...you said, you know, side by side and, and togetherness and...”
“Buffy! I’m not going anywhere,” laughed Willow. Buffy blinked.
“Again I’ll venture forth with a huh?”
“That’s what I thought you needed, so that I wouldn’t be a distraction. But that was then. I ain’t going anywhere!” repeated Willow.
Buffy briefly closed her eyes and slowly inhaled.
“Thank you,” whispered Buffy. “And I promise, things will be so much better.”
“You know I’m going to hold you to that promise,” winked Willow.
“Alright, I get the Spike angle and the Oz connection. But what I don’t understand is what triggered this,” sighed Buffy. Willow quickly looked away and stood up, keeping her back to Buffy. Buffy stood and placed a hand on her shoulder.
Willow covered Buffy’s hand with her own and then slowly turned around, her face even more pale than it was before. She smiled but it was forced.
“I love to hear you say my name, see you search my eyes, touch me...you have no idea what that means to me, what it does to me,” said Willow, tears now in her eyes.
“Will, what’s wrong?”
“The trigger? I kissed Kennedy. Okay, she kissed me but, but I didn’t stop her! And, just for a moment...well...I thought about her, not us,” winced Willow, biting her lower lip.
“Oh,” managed Buffy, her face suddenly empty of any emotion.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to...it, it just happened. And see, this is my punishment, my Gehenna!” whimpered Willow.
“Your hell? No, no Willow, this is just magic...and I’m beginning to figure this out,” smiled Buffy.
“Wha-what do you mean?”
Buffy reached out and wiped away the tears from Willow’s cheeks with a gentle caress of her thumb.
“Not yet. First, do you trust me?” whispered Buffy.
Willow eagerly nodded but just stood there, unsure of what to do.
“Kiss me,” said Buffy. Willow slowly moved her mouth towards Buffy, tilting her head, hesitating, waiting for her approval. Buffy closed her eyes as their lips met, both hands now grasping Willow’s face, holding her close so that her body heat would warm Willow’s cold skin. Reaching down, she slipped her fingers under Willow’s blouse and tugged upward. Willow raised her arms above her head and let Buffy pull the blouse away.
Stepping back, Buffy began to slowly unbutton her own blouse, her eyes fixed on Willow. She let her top slip off her shoulders and onto the floor. Reaching behind her, she unhooked her bra, letting that drop away as well. Wide-eyed, Willow simply stood there, motionless.
Buffy took Willow’s arms and draped them over her shoulders, her own arms wrapped tightly around Willow’s waist, pressing against her. She briefly nuzzled her neck before covering Willow’s mouth with her own, kissing her hard, feeling Willow’s hands tense on her back as she eagerly responded, all the while the heat from Buffy’s body warming Willow’s cold skin.
The vampire and the Slayer, arousing cold and tempting heat, drawn to one another in a primal urgency.
The embrace had exactly the desired effect. Willow stepped back, her hand absently touching her cheek, her lips, a look of both awe and fear in her eyes. Awe, fear...and need.
“Just wait,” grinned Buffy knowingly as she grabbed at the button on Willow’s pants, forcing it open, Willow’s stomach tensing in response as Buffy’s fingers pressed against skin, inching their way up in a circular motion, her other hand suddenly alongside the first, probing, caressing.
Willow tilted her head back slightly and Buffy accepted the invitation, nipping at her neck, sucking at the cold flesh. She raised one knee, pressing against Buffy, urgently seeking out her mouth with her own, her hands now pulling at Buffy’s pants, frantically fumbling with the snap.
Willow abruptly spun away from Buffy, one hand over her face, the other by her side, trembling. Slowly she reached down and held it to stop the shaking.
But Willow only stood there with her back to her. Thrown, Buffy reached out to touch her shoulder but Willow pulled away.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Willow. “My, uh, my face. “It, um...”
“It changed. I know,” said Buffy, nonchalantly.
Willow stood up a little straighter but still wouldn’t turn around.
“You knew. You knew what would happen,” said Willow, as if to herself. Then her shoulders slumped and she turned to face Buffy. “Of course you knew.”
“So?” challenged Buffy, tilting her head to one side, completely ignoring Willow’s vampire visage.
“So!?” repeated Willow.
“Yes. So what? You are a vampire. Okay, a big hopeful towards this being of the short term variety. But yes, I know what happens. That shouldn’t shock you.”
Buffy stepped forward and this time she took Willow’s hands into her own. Her face was so close to Willow she could feel Buffy’s breath on her cheek.
“I know what my warm body does to your cold skin,” whispered Buffy, grinning. “I understand the craving it induces, the need...the bloodlust. Are you telling me that it doesn’t feel good?”
Embarrassed, Willow pouted.
“Nooo. I, uh, it was just...guess it caught me by surprise,” smiled Willow. “I, um, got a little scared, what with the suddenness and the weak knees and all.”
Buffy leaned forward and whispered in Willow’s ear.
“You know, if I go slowly enough, tease you enough, you might not be able to hold back. Do you understand what I mean by that?” asked Buffy, her voice full of promise.
Willow let go of Buffy’s hand and placed her hands on Buffy’s shoulders.
“You’re the Slayer. I’m a vampire. If things get a little rough...”
Willow smiled. And Buffy, grinning, nodded.
“I have a confession to make,” frowned Buffy.
“Sex. With me. You’ve been holding back,” nodded Willow, pouting. Embarrassed, Buffy meekly nodded.
“So what are we waiting for?” said Willow. She pulled at the ring on her left hand, struggling to get it past her knuckle.
“No. Leave it on,” ordered Buffy. Willow’s eyes opened wide in surprise. She ignored her look and pressed herself against Willow, Buffy’s knees straddling her legs.
“This has nothing to do with Spike,” said Buffy, touching the raised ridge above Willow’s eyes. “It’s not a vampire thing. This isn’t even so much a sex thing.”
Willow blinked, confused.
“Well, okay, this is about sex,” laughed Buffy. “What I mean is...you’re my Willow.”
Buffy again touched Willow’s forehead and stared into her yellow eyes.
“I don’t see this. I only want to make you happy. I only want you.”
“Oh? Then why are you still talking?” said Willow with a straight face. Buffy responded by pushing Willow down onto the sepulcher, holding her wrists above her head, her upraised arms revealing the curve of her body.
“Atta girl,” grinned Willow, watching Buffy as she eyed her body with something akin to hunger. “I’m thinking of some naughty ways to repay you for this largess.”
Buffy hesitated, her grip easing on Willow’s wrists.
“Will, I never said you had a big butt,” frowned Buffy.
“Huh? Oh! Buffy, I didn’t say large ass. I said largess, a gift generously given.”
“Oh,” winced Buffy, blushing.
“Again with the talking!” whined Willow. “Buffy, please! Pardon the pun but stop beating around the bush. Let me be a distraction!”
Buffy shook her head, smiling.
“To think you were the shy one who didn’t want to change in front of the others for gym class,” teased Buffy. Keeping only one hand over Willow’s wrists, she slithered down Willow’s side with her free hand, playfully tugging at the waistline of her pants.
“Back then I coulda showered with you and you wouldn’t have noticed this body,” countered Willow. “Although, hindsight being what it is, both our heads were buried in the sand.”
“That’s not where I want it buried now,” growled Buffy. She stood, tugging Willow’s pants away as she did, grinning as Willow kicked them off. She stepped out of her own pants just as Willow stood up in front of her.
They kissed but Buffy pulled away, firmly grasping Willow’s hand. Forcing her nails across her breast, she cried out as she pushed Willow’s face closer to the three red lines etched onto her soft skin. Nostrils flaring at the scent of blood, Willow needed no more encouragement. Gasping as Willow’s tongue sucked at the wound, Buffy felt herself being lifted upwards as Willow thrust a hand between her legs. Wrapping her legs around Willow’s waist, moaning, Buffy held on, her nails digging into Willow’s back They fell backwards onto the hard sepulcher, locked in the embrace.
Sitting, Buffy leaned back against the corner of the sepulcher. Willow’s head was in her lap and she twirled a strand of red hair around and around one finger as she waited for Willow to stir. Willow kept her eyes closed, content to feel the rise and fall of Buffy’s breathing beneath her.
“It’ll be light soon. I need to get back,” said Willow, keeping her eyes closed.
“Would that involve moving and the putting on of clothes?” asked Buffy.
Willow didn’t answer.
“I’m debating the putting on of the clothes part,” smiled Willow, finally opening her eyes.
“You can wait another hour or so,” answered Buffy.
“But...the sun will be out. You want me to stay here?” asked Willow, confused.
Buffy smiled and shook her head.
“You haven’t figured this out yet?” laughed Buffy. She didn’t wait for an answer but instead leaned down, offering her lips to Willow, her blonde hair brushing against Willow’s cheeks.
“You really want to keep at this?” asked Willow in disbelief.
“Maybe later,” whispered Buffy. “Willow, I forgive you.”
Buffy kissed Willow, slowly and tenderly, letting her lips linger. Willow gasped, inhaling sharply when Buffy finally pulled away. Her eyes grew wide as she held a hand to her chest.
“Buffy. Buffy, I...I’m breathing! I can breathe!” yelled Willow, sitting up and immediately wincing in pain.
“Hey, you okay?” asked Buffy, holding her up.
“Whoa. Yeah, it’s just...I think I’m going to need your help,” grimaced Willow.
“Haven’t got that far yet. I’m talking about getting dressed,” moaned Willow.
“Oh,” nodded Buffy in sympathy.
“I could use some of that Slayer healing right about now,” pouted Willow. “And hey, you had this all figured out and didn’t let me in on it?”
“And pass up a chance to show you a side of me that you haven’t seen before? What, you have any regrets about what we did last night?” asked Buffy.
Willow smiled but tilted her head to one side.
“Ask me tomorrow. That is, if I can walk by then.”
Buffy laughed but winced as she tried to get up, holding a hand to her ribs.
“Hmm, seems I gave as good as I got,” announced Willow proudly.
“Yes, you did,” nodded Buffy approvingly. She looked behind her and Willow followed her glance. The cover of the sepulcher was cracked in two places. “Tell you what, why don’t we just...”
“Crash for a bit?” offered Willow hopefully.
Buffy didn’t answer but instead just smiled. Once again Willow’s eyes opened wide.
Kennedy was sitting alone on the bench in the backyard. Willow walked over and stood right in front of her but Kennedy didn’t look up.
“Hey. Mind if I sit here?” motioned Willow. Kennedy shook her head but didn’t speak. Willow gingerly eased herself down on the bench next to her, leaving as much room between them as possible. Neither of them spoke and they each looked at the grass, the sky, the bench...anywhere but at each other.
“Okay, this is...”
“Awkward,” finished Kennedy.
“Like a duck thrown from a car,” said Willow. Perplexed, Kennedy finally did look at Willow, her eyebrows knitted in confusion.
“Not that I would. Throw a duck, that is. From a car. Even though they can fly. I wouldn’t, you know...with the duck,” stammered Willow. Kennedy tried not to laugh and shook her head.
“I like the way you talk,” said Kennedy, more to herself than to Willow.
“See? I made ya smile,” beamed Willow, though once again they each found something to look at besides the person they were sitting next to.
“Knew I shoulda baked cookies,” mumbled Willow.
“Nothing,” answered Willow. She noticed a crumpled piece of paper in Kennedy’s left hand. “What’s that?”
“Well, I thought it was a cure to your...problem,” said Kennedy, an empty smile on her lips. She handed the paper to Willow. “It’s an ad for a detox clinic. They promise to give you your life back.”
Willow smiled and shook her head.
“You managed to say that with a straight face,” said Willow.
“Yeah. I’m a regular comedian,” shrugged Kennedy. “So, how are you feeling?”
Kennedy finally focused on Willow’s eyes and Willow smiled even more.
“Same old. My eyes are still a little sensitive to the light,” said Willow, squinting. She began to say something else but changed her mind. “Thanks for asking.”
Kennedy nodded but didn’t say anything.
“Kennedy, I need to apologize to you.”
“For what?” asked Kennedy just a bit too quickly.
“Well, the past day or so, I wasn’t myself.”
“Really? Hadn’t noticed. How so?” replied Kennedy. Willow laughed and shook her head.
“Oh, mostly little stuff. You’d have to know me to even notice,” sighed Willow, dismissing the idea with a wave of her hand.
“I noticed. That girl, back in the alley...the Willow I know would’ve taken her home, or at least made sure she was safe, even though she was a total stranger. The Willow I know is...passionate that way,” smiled Kennedy.
Willow looked down at her hands and nodded.
“Yeah,” she whispered. Then Willow looked up again and surprised Kennedy by reaching over and taking her hand.
“I shouldn’t have led you on like that. I’m sorry,” said Willow.
“Hey, it wasn’t you, it was the vampire, the demon inside,” said Kennedy.
Willow inhaled deeply and half-rolled her eyes.
“Not entirely,” admitted Willow, blushing. Kennedy glanced at Willow, looked away for a moment and then, wincing, started to say something but hesitated.
“Oh,” managed Kennedy. “That...that kinda makes this worse.”
“I know,” frowned Willow. “Did I mention the sorry part?”
“It’s okay. It’s the message, not the messenger, if you get what I’m saying,” sighed Kennedy.
“I do. Really. See, I listen with my heart, not just my ears,” smiled Willow. “But, Kennedy, there’s someone in my life right now, and...”
“I know,” nodded Kennedy. “I, uh, I knew, right from the beginning. But I was willing to take a chance. I mean, look at you! Who wouldn’t?”
Willow smiled appreciatively and let go of Kennedy’s hand.
“Oh, I should give you this back,” said Kennedy, reaching behind her neck to take off Willow’s cross.
“No, you keep it. I want you to have it,” said Willow. Kennedy hesitated but smiled.
“So, anyway, thanks for understanding. If things were different, which, of course, they aren’t, I um...”
“Willow, I understand. And hey, I’m a lucky girl. I got a keepsake and a kiss,” said Kennedy, forcing a smile.
“That you did,” nodded Willow.
“Besides, the best things in life are the ones you wait for...and I’m a very patient girl,” winked Kennedy. Willow raised one eyebrow, wondering how serious she was.
“So tell me, how did you break the spell?” asked Kennedy.
“I didn’t,” smiled Willow cryptically. “Someone else did.” Not wanting to explain, Willow carefully and slowly stood up. Kennedy stood and grabbed her arm, helping her to her feet.
“Thanks,” said Willow.
“Still recovering from what that spell did to you?” asked Kennedy, concerned.
“Might say that,” nodded Willow, her face red. “Thanks. I gotta be somewhere.”
Willow started to walk away but Kennedy didn’t let go of her arm.
“You should tell them,” said Kennedy firmly. Willow hesitated, staring at Kennedy.
“It’s not my decision,” answered Willow softly.
Spike rolled over, sniffing at the air before he opened his eyes. He was more than startled to see Willow walking down the stairs towards him. Sitting up on the edge of the bed, he watched her, eyes narrowed.
“Well, well, well,” said Spike. “I was going to say welcome to the club, but since you seem to have acquired a heartbeat again...”
“Hey. Yeah, how ‘bout that?” said Willow, awkwardly forcing a smile. “So. How are you feeling? Buffy told me about the chip.”
“Okay, I guess, all things considered,” answered Spike slowly. “What’s that in your hand?”
“Oh. I thought you might be hungry. Post surgery snack, ya know? That hospital food, I mean, how can they get away with calling it food?” grinned Willow. “Besides, we seem to have a bit extra, now that I, uh, got this heart fixed.”
She handed the coffee mug to Spike and he peered into the cup before nodding and taking it.
“Thanks. Room service isn’t what it used to be down here in the basement.” Spike put the cup down on the floor and lit up a cigarette. “Red...why are you really here?” asked Spike.
“Am I that obvious?” pouted Willow. Spike smiled.
“You’re cute when you pout.”
Willow’s mouth dropped open but she quickly recovered.
“Okay, the thing is, I wanted to ask you, now that I have a new perspective on this whole, you know, vampire lifestyle...”
Spike raised an eyebrow at her.
“And maybe I should stop rambling and just...Spike, how do you deal with the sensory overload? I mean, everything is just so intense! The smells, the sounds, the colors. And let’s not forget the touching,” grinned Willow, though her smile immediately disappeared when she noticed Spike’s inquisitive look. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, waiting for his reply.
“You know what they say. You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone. Ironic, isn’t it? Sometimes the dead are more alive than the living. All the insignificant small stuff...the important stuff...”
Spike shrugged and took another drag from his cigarette.
“Yeah. I get that now,” said Willow softly. “And I understand something else, too. About you. Even more so now, because of your soul, I mean. You’re alone, even more than Buffy. You’re not in our world but...your really not in their world either.”
Spike stared at her. Willow was the first to look away.
“Maybe that’s the reason Buffy lets me hang around her but doesn’t want me...if you get my drift,” added Spike with a touch of bitterness in his voice.
“Oh, there’s other reasons besides that,” dismissed Willow.
Again Spike stared at her.
“Just saying,” shrugged Willow, her voice a whisper.
“Any other questions?” asked Spike.
“Well, I was going to ask you about your dreams cuz I had some beauts! Really weird stuff, like something about Reese Witherspoon’s chin being so pointy you could use it as a stake...”
Spike blinked and shook his head as if to see if he had heard her right.
“Uh, you know, nevermind,” winced Willow. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
Flustered, Willow turned to go.
“Red...Willow,” corrected Spike, pausing to let Willow face him again. She did turn around but didn’t say anything.
“You knew I’d recognize Buffy’s scent on you. Is there something you want to tell me?” asked Spike very slowly.
Willow cringed...but then stood up straight and looked Spike directly in the eye.
“I thought you should know. You deserved that much,” said Willow firmly but with a warmth that expressed sympathy. Spike nodded, an admission that conveyed not defeat but gratitude. He ground out his cigarette under his boot.
“Is she happy?” asked Spike.
“Oh, I don’t mean stare-at-the-clouds-and-grin-at-the-warm-fluffy-puppies happy. If she ever decides to allow herself that I’m sure there’ll be a bloody parade right down the middle of Revello Drive! I mean...is she happy with you?”
Willow swallowed and had to look away for a moment.
“I hope so,” answered Willow.
Spike shook his head and smiled.
“Thought you said you had that heart fixed. Welcome to the club,” said Spike. Willow simply nodded.
“You should drink that before it gets cold,” suggested Willow, pointing to the cup on the floor. Not waiting for his answer, she turned and walked away.
Willow looked up but her only response was a half-hearted smile. Buffy sat down next to her and opened her mouth to say something, hesitated but then pressed forward.
“Whatcha doin’?” shrugged Buffy.
“Just enjoying the sunshine. I forgot how much I like the smell of the pavement after it rains and the sun comes out, what with the mist rising and all. It um, it takes me back,” nodded Willow.
“To your childhood?”
“A little. But it’s more about reminiscing, more about...a simpler time,” replied Willow.
“Oh,” answered Buffy, squinting just a bit, not exactly sure what Willow was hinting at. “So why did you want to meet here?”
“You don’t remember this tree, do you?” asked Willow softly, not looking at Buffy. She slowly raised her eyes, watching Buffy for a reaction.
Buffy turned and studied the tree behind them, wondering why this was important to Willow and worrying that she would hurt her feelings if she didn’t remember. Then her eyes lit up.
“Oh! I know! The first time you floated a pencil. It, um, ended up in that tree,” laughed Buffy. Willow did smile this time.
“Yeah, but I was thinking about something else.”
“Oh. Okay, um...”
“When I told you I was staying in Sunnydale to go to college, it was right here. Remember?” asked Willow.
“Well, now that you’ve told me I do. Why is that so important?”
Willow inhaled slowly but kept smiling.
“You were so excited, so happy that you tackled me. We rolled over...and just for a moment you held me. I didn’t realize what I felt at the time, except that those warm fuzzy feelings were...nice. I mean, I just didn’t know, ya know? But looking back?”
“Oh,” said Buffy, raising her eyebrows in surprise.
“Yeah. Sometimes the obvious, being smack dab right in front of your nose, is so not obvious. I’ve loved you for a very long time, Buffy Summers,” sighed Willow, adding a one shoulder shrug. “Just never understood how much...or for how long.”
“Aw, Willow! That’s...wait, is this an anniversary? Did I forget?” asked Buffy nervously.
“No, silly,” smiled Willow. “I just needed to be out in the sun. And to have a picnic.”
Willow twisted around and lifted up a blanket, revealing a picnic basket.
“Willow Rosenberg! Are you trying to seduce me?” grinned Buffy hopefully.
“I’m not one to dismiss the wonderfulness of foreplay, but I thought we’d just have a little time to ourselves. Alone. And where better to go than back to the beginning, back where it all started?”
Buffy shook her head and smiled.
“I’m so lucky to have you,” said Buffy softly.
“Me too,” beamed Willow. She was about to lean in for a kiss or at least a hug when she noticed Dawn walking towards them.
“Hey Willow,” waved Dawn.
“Hey,” smiled Willow, easing away from Buffy. Dawn sat down next to them.
“Buffy, why did you want to meet here?” asked Dawn. Buffy smiled and looked at Willow. Willow, confused, waited for Buffy’s answer.
“Dawn, there’s something I want to tell you,” said Buffy. Buffy looked at Willow again and then reached for Willow’s hand, slipping her fingers between Willow’s fingers, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. Willow’s eyes opened wide.
“Buffy? Are, are you sure?” asked Willow.
“I’m sure,” nodded Buffy. She faced Dawn again and, taking a deep breath, smiled.
“Let me rephrase that. Dawn, there’s something we want to tell you,” said Buffy, holding Willow’s hand just a little tighter. Willow sat there quietly trying her best not to seem nervous.
“Well, what do you...”
Dawn hesitated, focusing on their clasped hands. Raising her eyebrows, she looked at Buffy, then Willow and finally back once more at Buffy. She tilted her head slightly and began to say something but hesitated, again looking at their hands.
“You mean...wait, you’re not just goofing on me, are you? You and Willow? Really?” asked Dawn doubtfully. Buffy looked at Willow and smiled.
“Really,” nodded Buffy.
“What she said,” added Willow. Dawn blinked, realizing that she had been staring at them.
“Wow,” whispered Dawn. But then she smiled.
“Yeah. Wow,” nodded Buffy, glancing at Willow.
“Hey, who wants to eat?” said Willow, letting go of Buffy’s hand to open up the picnic basket. Dawn leaned over and gave Willow a hug and a smile, looking into her eyes but knowing she didn’t have to say anything. She then turned to her sister and at first smiled but then shook her head and laughed, opening her arms to Buffy. They hugged and Buffy closed her eyes, holding Dawn just a little longer as she began to pull away.
“Whatcha got?” asked Dawn, peering into the basket.
Willow looked at Buffy, not taking her eyes off of her. Unseen by Dawn, she mouthed the words ‘thank you’ and found that she had to suddenly rub tears from her eyes. Buffy took in a deep breath, glanced at Dawn’s back and then mouthed the word ‘wow’ in return.
THE END...for now