Disclaimers; Like Athena sprung from the brow of Zeus, these rude mechanicals be the children of the fertile imaginings of Joss Whedon. I, your humble scribe, doth be a sapling to his mighty oak. 
Author's note; This is my response to Stephen Booth's Shakespeare challenge. It's set in an alternate fifth season; Joyce is recovering from her tumor, Glory's laying low, and Buffy's completely over being dumped by the Beefstick. I say 'alternate' because in this set up Willow and Tara have agreed to be just friends(you'll find out why in the story), that whole thing about Spike being obsessed with Buffy is not an issue, and Buffy is this close to finding out who her true love really is(hint; think redhead.)
Rating; PG
Summary; When the gang help Willow out with her drama class project, "All the world's a stage" for romantic escapades between a slayer and a wiccan.

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Brush Up Your Shakespeare
(or, Much Ado About Buffy)
A comedy in two acts
By Kirayoshi

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Dramatis Personae;

Buffy Summers --- A Slayer
Rupert Giles --- A Watcher
Willow Rosenberg --- A Wiccan
Tara McClay --- A Likewise Wiccan
Alexander Harris --- A Zeppo
Anya --- A Wanton Trollop
William Blood --- a Vampire and Poor Poet
Dawn Summers --- A Key

 

Brush up your Shakespeare,
Start quoting him now.
Brush up your Shakespeare,
And the women you will wow.
If you quote a few lines from Othello,
Then they'll think you're a heck of a fellow.
If your blonde won't respond when you flatter her,
Tell her what Tony told Cleopater-er.
And if still to be shy she pretends well,
Just remind her that All's Well that Ends Well!
Brush up your Shakespeare,
And they'll all kowtow!

--Cole Porter
"Brush Up Your Shakespeare"

========

Act the First;

The Play's The Thing

 

"You want us to do what?" Xander's question hung over the collective heads of the Scooby Gang as they met in the Magic Box.

"I want you to reenact some scenes from Shakespeare," Willow explained, her eyes pleading with her friends for their cooperation. "Please, it's for my drama class."

Anya puzzled slightly. "Ol' Bill?" she mused. "This could be interesting."

"Bill?" Giles huffed at Anya for her disrespect of the Bard.

"That's what I always called him, when his wife made me curse him with chronic writer's block," Anya explained. "The only thing he could write at that time was 'Comedy of Errors', which no one could understand. It flopped at the Globe." Giles stared at Anya as it dawned on him that she wasn't joking. "He was nice enough though, for a philandering scum, so I finally relented and helped him out of his block." She dimpled proudly as she announced, "I was the inspiration for Lady Macbeth."

"Namedropper," Xander teased his ex-demon girlfriend.

"Hey, guys," Buffy silenced the odd conversation that was occurring at the table. Only in Sunnydale, she thought. "Serious up for a sec, willya? Willow needs our help." Sitting next to Buffy, Willow's spellcasting buddy Tara nodded in full agreement.

"Thank you, Buffy," Willow acknowledged. "Really guys, it's important. We're doing a module on directing in my drama class right now, and our main project is to direct a videotape of five scenes from two plays of Shakespeare. I can get the video equipment, all I need now is someone to act the scenes."

"And you want us to be your troupe," Giles mused. "Hmm, it could be entertaining."

"Says the stuffy British guy, who's genetically predisposed to liking Shakespeare," Xander puffed. He then looked at Willow, whose face was slowly contorting into a determined expression. "Oh no, Wills," he grimaced, "not the 'resolve face'! Okay, you win, I'm in."

"I'd be glad to help, Willow," Tara said sweetly to her friend.

"I call dibs on Juliet in the balcony scene," Buffy smiled.

Willow nodded approvingly. "Okay, sounds good. Anyone else have any favorite scenes they want to do?"

Giles pursed his lips, saying, "I once played the ghost of Hamlet's father in my school days."

"Good. Anyone else? Anya, want to be Lady Macbeth?"

Anya groaned slightly, then said, "Nah, I'd rather do one of the comedies." Linking her arm with Xander's, she smiled sweetly; "The girls always got the guys at the end. And no one dies."

"Okay, I can set you up with something," Willow nodded, and Buffy couldn't help but notice the wicked gleam in her eye. Willow was planning something.

"Now," Willow continued, "we need a location. Maybe some outdoor stuff."

"Willow," Buffy suggested, "what about Angel's old mansion? No one's using it right now."


"Hey, good idea, Buff," Willow smiled. She was getting into this project, Buffy could tell. "Okay, guys, I'll photocopy some edited scripts for you all tomorrow, we can start rehearsals this weekend, and do the final shoot in two weeks. I'm not expecting Mel Gibson from any of you," she turned her eyes toward Xander as she said those words, and her longtime friend looked mortally offended, but said nothing, "just remember the lines."

"Will do, Will," Tara promised, and the others quietly assented.

========

Two weeks later;

"I AM GOING TO KILL WILLOW ROSENBERG!"

The shout rattled the walls and timbers of the old mansion, and could be heard from outside. Buffy had arrived with Dawn in tow(her mother needed her to baby-sit, and since no slayage was involved and Buffy was concerned about Glory's recent absence, she reluctantly agreed) when she made it to the mansion.

"What's going on, girlfriend?" Buffy asked as Willow tried to control the situation.

"Xander's locked himself in his trailer," Willow explained, her voice strained with her exasperation.

"We have a trailer?" Buffy asked.

"Well, he's locked himself in one of the bedrooms," the redhead answered. "He doesn't want anyone to see him in his wardrobe for the scene from 'As You Like It'."

"Who's he playing?" Buffy asked.

"Rosalind," Anya smiled. "And he doesn't look too bad."

"Rosalind?" Buffy asked, "Isn't that a girl's name?" Dawn shaded her eyes with her hand, moaning, "Say it isn't so!"

Willow rolled her eyes. "C'mon Buffy, you saw 'Shakespeare in Love', didn't you? In Shakespeare's day, women weren't permitted on the stage. People thought it was vulgar for a woman to act in front of an audience." Toward the bedroom, Willow shouted, "Come on, Xander, you promised!"

"Okay," a petulant voice puffed from the dank hallway. "Just let me get into character." A few seconds later, Xander shouted, "I'm ready for my close-up, Willow."

"Great," Willow announced, lifting the video camera up, to capture Xander's entrance. She shouted to the others, "Ready, clear the stage. And ACTION!"

Xander strutted out into the main room, sporting a white lace dress and a halter top. He turned toward the camera, a mock-sexy leer plastered on his face. He pointed to the camera, and started to sing; "How do you do, I -- See you met my -- Faithful HAN-dy man!"

"CUT!" the frustrated director shouted as Xander and Anya dissolved into unstoppable giggles. It was going to be a long weekend.

========

"My hour is almost come," Giles moaned like the ghost of Jacob Marley to Xander's Hamlet, "When I to sulfurous and tormenting flames must render up myself."

"Alas, poor ghost," Xander stammered in a valiant attempt to master iambic pentameter.

"Pity me not," Giles wailed in a stentorian tone, "but lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold."

"The weather started getting rough," a familiar and unwelcome British accent started to sing, "the tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost!" Buffy stopped the camera and rewound the video tape to where the performance had started, while Willow glowered at the intruder.

"Spike, what the hell are you doing here?"

"Y'mean this isn't opening night of the new deli?" Spike asked innocently. "I mean, you've got plenty of ham and cheese around here." He glanced at Xander, sneering. "Oh, yeah. Anyone ever tell you you're the finest actor since Mel Gibson?"

"Uh, no, not really."

"There's a reason, ya ponce." Turning to Giles, he added, "And you, some ghost of Hamlet. You couldn't haunt an efficiency apartment, much less a castle in Denmark!"

Giles stared angrily at the neutered vampire. "I suppose you could do better?"

Spike said nothing for ten seconds, before speaking;

"I am thy father's spirit," he began, "Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night, and for the day confined to fast in fires, till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away."

He regarded Xander with a baleful eye, as he approached him. "But that I am forbid to tell the secrets of my prison-house," he whispered with an urgent intensity that shocked Xander to hear it, "I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood," He now stood quite close to him, as he continued, "Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine!" He then backed slowly away, continuing in a calmer voice; "But this eternal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood. List , list , O, list! If thou didst ever thy dear father love--" He pointed a sinister finger at the young 'Hamlet', "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder."

"M-murder?" Xander stammered, partly from a genuine fear of the vampire that stood before him.

"Aye, murder most foul," Spike continued dolefully. As he began to detail the crimes of the false king Claudius, Willow whispered at her camerawoman, "Buffy, tell me you've got that on tape."

"Right from, 'I am thy father's spirit'," Buffy answered sotto voce. Willow grinned. This was gonna put her grade over the top.

========

The other performances went off without a hitch. Dawn got into the act, taking a sprightly turn as the fairie Puck to Xander's Lord Oberon and Anya's Queen Titania, while Tara delivered a heart wrenching performance as Hamlet's doomed love Ophelia, during her moment of madness("There's rosemary, that's for remembrance -- Pray remember me, -- And pansies, that's for thoughts.").

Finally came the piece de resistance of Willow's assignment, the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. The location shot for this scene was a balcony overlooking the city, captured in a nearly-full moon. Willow thought that she couldn't have asked for a more perfect night for this classic love scene. Buffy had earlier visited a costume shop(making sure that Ethan Rayne wasn't the proprietor), and rented a fancy costume dress for the scene. She hadn't shown the costume yet; she wanted to surprise Willow. Xander, for his part, was prepared to play Romeo, and committed his dialogue to heart. For his friend, he was going to give his all.

But moments before the scene was to begin, Anya protested. "Forget it, Buffy," the former vengeance demon intoned, "you can't have Xander."

Xander turned toward Anya, his eyes widened with startlement, and no small amount of embarrassment. "What do you mean, she can't have me?"

"I won't let you be Romeo to her Juliet," Anya said simply. Hearing this argument from the balcony

Willow rolled her eyes at the interruption. "Anya," Willow tried to explain reasonably to Xander's girlfriend, "this is just acting. Not real. Buffy isn't in love with Xander, and Xander loves you," --for reasons that still escape me, she thought ruefully, "there's nothing to worry about."

"I am not worried," Anya stated matter-of-factly, "because Xander's not doing this scene." She turned around and started out the door.

"You want me to talk some sense into her?" Xander offered.

"No, Xand," Willow let out an exasperated sigh. "We don't have much time before we lose the light of the moon. Here," she handed Xander the camera, "you shoot the scene, we go to Plan B."

"We had a plan B?" Xander shrugged his shoulders, "I didn't know we had a plan A."

Willow grinned at Xander's efforts to lift her spirits. "I'll be Romeo." She shouted to Buffy, "Casting change, Buff. You cool with that?"

"Hey," Buffy answered, "anyone but Riley."

Within a few minutes, the scene was ready. Willow called for quiet on the set, and once Xander started running the camera, Willow entered her character. She became Romeo of Montague, stealing through the Capulet's orchards to spy upon fair Juliet.

"He jests at scars that never felt a wound," she began. She looked upon the balcony, and caught the silhouette of her Juliet just outside the frame of the balcony window. "But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?" she declared, launching into the most famous love-lines in literature; "It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!
She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?
Her eye discourses; I will answer it.
I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks:
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand, That I might touch that cheek!"

Buffy was all but mesmerized by Willow's performance. Her best friend was clearly putting everything she had, all of her heart into her performance. She could imagine that Willow was pouring her heart to Tara, if they hadn't ended that love story so recently. Who are you serenading, Willow? she asked herself. Who is your true love--

"Aye me!" Dawn whispered from off-stage. Buffy shook her head, abandoning her daydreaming to remember her line. Glaring hard at her sister, Buffy spoke clearly toward Willow; "Aye me!" As she spoke, she emerged in full view, her pale green dress sparkling in the moonlight. Willow's voice almost caught in her throat at the beautiful sight of her closest friend in this beautiful dress, but was able to compose herself to continue the scene.

"She speaks:" Willow whispered aloud.
"O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o'er my head
As is a winged messenger of heaven
Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes
Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him
When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds
And sails upon the bosom of the air."

Buffy, hanging closely on every word of Willow's monologue, began her speech; "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

"Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?" Willow spoke her aside.

Buffy continued; "'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself."

"I take thee at thy word:" exclaimed Willow, emerging from the bushes and in full view of Buffy. "Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo."

Buffy's eyes smiled serenely at Willow, fancying the red haired wiccan as her own true love as she continued; "What man art thou that thus bescreen'd in night
So stumblest on my counsel?"

Willow; "By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am:
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,
Because it is an enemy to thee;
Had I it written, I would tear the word."

Buffy; "My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words
Of that tongue's utterance, yet I know the sound:
Art thou not Romeo and a Montague?"

Willow; "Neither, fair saint, if either thee dislike."

Buffy; "How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here."

Willow; "With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls;
For stony limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do that dares love attempt;
Therefore thy kinsmen are no let to me."

The scene continued to its inevitable conclusion, with Romeo and Juliet pledging to be married in the sight of God, despite their warring families. Lost to all but each other, Buffy and Willow invested all of themselves into their performances. It was as though Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg, not Juliet of Capulet and Romeo of Montague, were the ones making the solemn vows. They were speaking their hearts to each other, even if neither of them were aware of their own feelings.

At the close of the scene, Buffy and Willow emerged together, and Willow asked her audience, "What did you guys think?"

The five others were silent for a full three seconds, before Giles began to applaud loudly and sincerely, followed by the others, cheering on this bravura performance. Buffy and Willow smiled, slightly embarrassed by the attention, and took dramatic bows before their friends.

Willow then glanced at her watch, and said, "Hooboy. The audiovisual lab at U. C.

Sunnydale will still be open for an hour. I have just enough time to run through the tape and check the sound balances. Thanks for everything guys. Tomorrow, we'll watch the video at my folks place and scarf some pizzas." The others agreed, and Buffy took Willow's hand in hers.

"I have to go on patrol soon," she offered, "can I escort you safely to the lab?"

"Thanks, Buff," Willow smiled. "I'd like that." The two friends said goodbye to the others, and left quickly. Tara looked on at them, marking their connection, their easy closeness.

"Something wrong, Tara?" Giles asked as he noticed the shy young woman.

Tara blushed at the attention, and looked away from her former love. "Now you see why I chose to just be friends with Willow," she said with just a trace of melancholy. "I never really possessed her heart. It always belonged to Buffy."

"They always have been close," Xander admitted thoughtfully. "I've known Willow all of my life, Buffy just the last five years, but Buffy knows her better than anyone alive, I'd bet."

"No wonder Riley bugged out when he did," Dawn agreed. "Those two have got it bad. But Buffy's been hurt too much to drop the shields over her heart, and Willow's too afraid of losing Buffy's friendship to say anything."

Giles looked thoughtfully at the others. Even he, with his provincial, stuffy demeanor and his conservative ways, he could see that Buffy and Willow were deeply, for want of a better term, in love. And for all of his protestations in the past that Buffy couldn't afford the distraction of love as the Slayer, it was clear that her love for Willow was probably more responsible for her being alive right now than any other single factor. If they were ever to realize their feelings, and express them to each other, to truly love each other as they were clearly fated ---

Xander turned to the unusual sight of Giles chuckling. "Private joke, G-Man?"

"Nothing like that, Xander," the Watcher smiled. "Perhaps, if they are unable to see what we see, it falls to us to enlighten them."

"What's going on in that vast Watcher brain of yours, Giles?" Dawn quipped. Giles glanced at the young girl. Clearly, he thought, this proves she's Buffy's sister.

"Let's just say that I am inspired by one of Shakespeare's comedies, 'Much Ado About Nothing' to be specific," Giles explained.

"Hey," Tara said, "I saw a version of that with Willow. Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson were Benedick and Beatrice, Denzel Washington was Don Pedro, and Keanu Reeves was the villain."

"And you remember how Don Pedro tried to play matchmaker between Benedick and Beatrice?" Giles asked.

Tara's eyes widened, and a huge Cheshire Cat grin formed on her face. "You think we should, Giles?"

"You think we can?" Xander asked. "Double team them, I mean?"

"Why not?" Giles offered happily. "Ladies and Gentleman, let me explain my plan---"

And within the next half-hour, Operation Don Pedro was in full swing. And Buffy and Willow would never know what hit them.

========

Act The Second

Sigh No More, Ladies.

Sigh no more, ladies sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever.
One foot on see, the one on shore
To one thing constant never,
But sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey, nonny nonny!

--William Shakespeare
"Much Ado About Nothing"

"Hey, Giles," Buffy greeted her Watcher as she entered the Magic Box. "How's business in the hocus-pocus trade?"

"Not too terrible, Buffy," Giles answered warmly. "Sold my last remaining set of Salvador Dali tarot cards, and moved a lot of the incense stock."

"Hey, sweet fancy Buffy," Xander greeted his friend. "Ready to see our screen debut tonight at your mom's place?"

"You mean, ready to see you standing like a plank of wood trying to remember your lines?" Buffy teased Xander. The young man scowled mockingly as he regarded Buffy's comment. "I resemble that remark."

"Looking forward to it, Keanu," Buffy patted Xander on the cheek briefly, before asking Giles, "Is the back room being used? Willow and Tara practicing some spell casting or some such?"

"No, I believe they're in Tara's dorm, studying some of my more esoteric codices," Giles lied.

"Good," Buffy said, as she shed her windbreaker, revealing her sports top. "Slow patrol after the shoot last night, didn't get in my regular workout. Mind if I take out some frustrations on the body bag?"

"Help yourself, Buffy," Giles waved her off, "pummel away." Surreptitiously he glanced at Xander, nodding. Xander glanced at Buffy as she headed to the back room for her daily excersize regimen. "Now?" he mouthed without saying.

Giles nodded once. The sting was on. "I say, Xander," he spoke aloud. "Have you seen Willow today?"

"She called me this morning," Xander answered. "Poor kid."

As Buffy had started to practice her jabs and kicks on the body bag, she heard Xander refer to her best friend as 'poor kid'. That stopped her briefly, before she continued her practice. Must still be down about breaking it off with Tara, she thought. At least they're still friends. She went back to her exercises, but kept an ear cocked, just in case they were spreading any gossip.

"I just wish that she'd tell her," Xander continued. "I mean, how hard can it be? Just flat out say it; 'Buffy Summers, I'm hopelessly ass-over-teakettle in love with you'."

At these words Buffy, who was attempting to execute a high kick to the head, missed the bag completely and landed sqarely on her butt. Giles heard the thud, and smiled at Xander. "I think we have her undivided attention," he mouthed. "Are you so sure of Willow's feelings?" he asked aloud, directing his voice toward the back room. There was no way that Buffy was going to miss this.

"Hello," Xander called out to Giles. "Known Willow all my life here. If she ain't in love with Buffy, I'm Dennis Miller."

"Has she spoken to you about her feelings?" Giles quizzed Xander, hoping that he'd have a good answer prepared.

Before Xander could speak, the front door opened. Anya sauntered in, absently said "Hello" to Giles, before planting a sloppy kiss on Xander's lips.

Giles coughed slightly, to indicate that he was still in the room. "Please," he requested, "not during business hours."

"Oh please," Anya complained lightly, "it's not like we have anyone to wait on right now. It's just the three of us here."

"Actually, we're not alone," Xander told his girlfriend. "Buffy's in the backroom working out." He enunciated the words, nodding at Anya. She glanced at Giles, who simply touched the side of his nose with his finger.

"Ah," she intoned, getting the message. "You mean she's tackling the bodybag again, when she'd rather be attacking Willow?"

"Anya, please!" Giles pretended to be shocked by her statement.

"Oh don't play innocent, Giles," Anya smiled. "We're not unaware of the sexual tension between those two. And you're lucky, you don't have to hear Willow sobbing about how she wishes Buffy would look at her as a potential orgasm partner, rather than a best friend."

Buffy gave up any pretense of exercising, and simply stood by the door, out of sight, and straining to hear more. Her jaw was open wide, as her mind processed this information at a feverish pace. Willow, her best friend, in love with her? Her Willow? The more she thought about it, the more questions entered her mind. How long has she felt this way? Why didn't she confide in her? Is this why her relationship with Tara ended?

"Anya," Giles declared in his pained British way, "I do wish you would refrain from such coarse language here in the shop."

"Doesn't make it any less true," Anya said quietly. "Willow's got it bad for Buffy, and I think Buffy's got it bad for Willow."

"She's got a point about Willow," Xander admitted. "Willow told me herself. She insisted that I never tell Buffy about it, because of Buff's past history. She's a magnet for romantic screw-ups."

"HEY!" Buffy shouted before she could catch herself. The others stopped, grinning like gibbons. Buffy quickly headed back to the body bag, punching it repeatedly, shouting, "Hey! Hai! Yahh!"

Giles stifled a chuckle; they had her firmly on their hook, now to reel her in. "I see your point, Xander. Her past relationships have been distasters. First there was Angel--"

"Iceberg dead ahead!" Xander called out. Anya giggled at his antics.

"Then that Parker fellow," Giles continued, disgust clear in his voice, "and last but not least, Riley Finn."

"No, I've seen him in boxer shorts once," Anya chimed in. "He was definitely least."

"Just when was this?" Xander asked. Anya smiled blandly at his false ire.

Giles just shook his head. "Like I said, my friends. Her entire romantic history is one mistake after another. She's built a wall around her heart as a result, one that even Willow couldn't scale." He turned to Xander, saying solemnly, "I care for Willow, and for Buffy, as deeply as if they were my own daugters. And my advice for Willow would be to simply deal with her emotions. Buffy deserves to be loved, but after the pain she's been through, I doubt she would ever risk her heart again."

Anya sighed theatrically. "If I were still a vengeance demon, she'd keep me in business for life." Xander chuckled ruefully in agreement.

As they continued their staged exchange, Buffy's eyes widened with realization. The sort of epiphany that brings clarity of vision and the need to sit down for a second before hyperventilation. The more she considered the prospect of Willow loving her, of desiring her, the less the idea seemed alien to her. She started recalling moments in their friendship in a whole new light; her desire to help restore Angel's soul, no matter how much danger she faced. How she held her unquestioningly and let her cry over losing Angel. The moment shortly before graduating high school, when she pledged to remain at her side no matter what. "It's a good fight," she had told her, "and I want in."

Willow's love, whatever form it had taken, was never conditional, always given freely, always welcomed in Buffy's heart. And if Willow was indeed in love with Buffy---

---then it was only right that Buffy should return that love.

Realization led to action. Buffy immediately put her warm-up jacket and shoes back on, and headed out of the back room. "Hey, guys," she breathed out hurriedly, "I'm gonna go on a snack run for the video tonight. You need anything?"


All three shook their heads, looking innocent. "We're good," Xander assured her. "Whatever works for you."

"Okay," she answered, grabbing her purse. "I'll grab those blue-corn tortilla chips that Dawn likes, though. See ya tonight!" She ran out the door so fast she nearly caused a wind funnel behind her before the door closed.

Xander, Anya and Giles looked at each other in silence for three seconds, and then burst out laughing. Xander gave Giles a high-five. "You da man, Giles!" he shouted happily.

"Gentles all," Giles answered, "To quote from Much Ado About Nothing; 'Cupid is no longer an archer. His glory shall be ours, for we are the only love gods'!"

"Uh, Xander," Anya said suddenly, "you'd better call Dawn and make sure everything's set at her end."

"Good call, hon," he agreed, rushing to the phone. He dialed a number, and waited for her to answer. "Dawn? Xander. Stage one of Operation; Don Pedro is complete. You're on."

========

"We're ready, Xander," Dawn spoke into her cellular. She and Tara were sitting at a corner table at the Espresso Pump, knowing that Willow would be arriving soon for her morning mocha. Sure enough, Willow was even now walking through the door. "Target sighted. Will proceed as planned. Dawn out." She folded her cell phone, and looked at Tara. Tara nodded back at Dawn, and the two of them sat back in their booth in the back of the espresso pump, insuring that Willow wouldn't notice them.

At least until they wanted her to.

As Willow ordered her double mocha, she could have sworn that she felt eyes alight upon her. She turned around, and saw nothing out of the ordinary. She chalked it up to anxiety and waited for her coffee; tonight she would be showing her Shakespeare video to her friends, and she was a little bit worried about their reaction. She thought they all did a good job, but was still apprehensive about displaying it. She resigned herself to the probability that Xander would give it the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, talking back to the screen constantly, but other than that, the opinions of the others were a mystery to her.

Of course, she knew that Buffy would be supportive. She always was; it was her job as best friend. She always had a way of making her feel like she was the most important person in the world. No matter what else went on in their lives, Willow could count on that love, that support. The thought warmed and cheered her greatly.

As she paid for her mocha and took the drink to a small booth, Tara and Dawn emerged from their booth, to take up a table right behind Willow, and (of greater importance for the plan) within earshot.

"Are you sure about that, Dawn?" Tara asked in a stage whisper. Willow perked up her ears as she recognized Tara's voice. She tried not to eavesdrop, but their proximity made it difficult. Of course, she didn't know that eavesdropping was exactly what they had in mind.

"Hand over heart," Dawn answered. "Buffy told me herself, and I don't know how to handle it. She made me swear on my live, honor and B*Witched CDs not to tell Willow."

Willow felt a little miffed at this revelation. Why was Buffy holding out on her? What was she holding out?

"I don't see why," Tara said sadly. "If Buffy loves her as much as you say she does, then Willow would be overjoyed." Willow nearly choked on her mocha as Tara spoke. Buffy wasn't in love with her. She loved her, yeah, but in love? Not Buffy.

"Believe me, Tara," Dawn replied, glancing discreetly at Willow. She noted the way she squirmed in her seat. Oh yeah, she thought, she's ours. "I tried to convince Buffy to level with Willow. Hey, I don't have a problem with my sister being gay, that's a non-issue for me. I mean, she used to sleep with a vampire, then a soldier boy with the personality of a Borg drone. Willow'd be trading up."

Willow craned her neck to hear the conversation, while trying not to look like she was listening in. Her coffee sat forgotten as she strained to hear more.

"I suspected as much," Tara said, with a trace of sadness. "That's one of the reasons Willow and I never stayed as close as we were. I mean, we're still friends, but I was always the second person in her heart. If only she'd tell Buffy..."

"Heck with that," Dawn chuckled, "if only Buffy'd tell Willow. I guess it's for the best, anyway, that she doesn't. I mean, my sister gets on my nerves, sure, but I still love her. Buffy deserves the best..."

"And Willow certainly qualifies," Tara agreed.

"But after all that happened with her, with Angel, then Riley. I just don't want her to go through that again. I mean Willow, great gal, love her lots, but if anything happens with her and Buffy, it'll be Deadboy, or Beefstick, all over again."

Willow nearly gasped at the sentiment. She scowled inwardly, her thoughts many and passionate; How could Dawn ever think that I'd hurt Buffy like Riley or Angel ever did? I was there both times, letting Buffy cry over my shoulder, I saw the hurt they caused her. I'd never do that to her, I love her too much, I---

It hit her with the clarity of the sunrise, and twice the beauty. A thousand pieces of an intricate puzzle suddenly fell into place, revealing the beautiful picture. I love Buffy.

And suddenly, Willow felt the urge to be with Buffy. To act on her realization. She got up hurriedly from the counter, tossing a couple of bucks and a handful of small change on the counter to cover her mocha, saying, "Keep the change," and started out the door.

Tara cocked an eyebrow toward her, and said, "Hey, Willow! Didn't see you there, or I'd have had you sit with us." Dawn waved at Willow, smiling sweetly.

"Uh, yeah, Hi Tara," Willow stammered. "Sorry, things to do. You gonna be at Buffy's for the video tonight?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Tara answered. Dawn added, "I live there, I don't have an excuse."

Willow smiled absently. "Great, see ya there." She pulled on the door handle twice, before reading the sign saying 'Push', then pushed the door open and left.

Tara looked at Dawn, who was reduced to helpless giggles at the display. "We got her," she declared. Tara nodded silently, in full agreement. They had her.

========

It is a strange law of human nature that, when two people are searching for each other, they almost never find each other until one of them gives up the search. Although they both started to look for each other around noon, it was already sundown, and Buffy still hadn't seen Willow. She was getting worried. Sundown in Sunnydale meant vampires. And Buffy was starting to fear for Willow's safety, more than ever. Now that she had time to more fully understand what the red-haired witch meant to her, she didn't want to lose her before she could tell her.

She mentally slapped herself for worrying. Willow knew what was lurking behind the darker corners of Sunnydale at night, and with her growing magic powers, she was more than able to defend herself. Besides, she remembered that the gang were meeting at her place to watch Willow's Shakespeare project. She was probably over at the house now, setting up the VCR, and wondering where Buffy was.

Good thing she remembered to pick up the blue corn chips like she promised. Xander was on salsa duty, Mom had the hot chocolate taken care of, and Tara said something about a ranch dip recipe she wanted to try. Buffy hoped for the chance to be alone with Willow later, maybe walk her to her dorm after the video. Then, she would talk to her.

She replayed the conversation she overheard at the Magic Box, and boiled it down to three simple words; Willow loved her. She never considered herself a lesbian, or even bi, but somehow, the fact that it was Willow made it different. It felt right, in a way that Angel or Riley never did before. It was more natural than anything she ever felt before. She didn't have to convince herself that her feelings were right, she just knew. In every way possible, she loved Willow.

A faint uneasy sensation pricked at the back of her scalp. Her preternatural feeling of danger, what she sometimes called her "spider sense", was triggered by something or someone in the vicinity. Shifting into full Slayer-mode, she tensed her body, prepared for whatever she would face.

========

Willow was aware of the gathering darkness. She walked a little more defensively. She had hoped to see Buffy before the post-production party at her place, but it seemed that she was not around. Or she was everywhere, that was probably it. Willow chided herself for worrying unduly; this was Buffy, after all! If anyone can take care of themselves at night, it's Buffy.

Ever since that night when she met her vampire doppleganger, she found herself wondering about her sexuality. When she fell for Tara, she didn't consider whether she would find other women attractive. Tara was the only woman she ever thought of as a lover, as someone who would attract her. She certainly never looked at Buffy in terms of how attractive she was to her personally.

But now, she reconsidered her attitude. She looked at Buffy, not as a best friend, but through lover's eyes. The svelte athletic figure, toned from years of battling vamps and demons. The soft blond hair that just begged for a hand to run through it. The bright grey-blue eyes, both haunting and haunted, innocent and wise. For the first time, Willow considered Buffy from an objective distance, appraising her body her soul, her heart. And she found herself drawn to her, inevitably as the tide.

It was just so right. So perfect. Why didn't she ever see it before? It took the observation of the one she thought she loved before to lead her to her true love. Buffy. And tonight, she was going to tell her.

A clatter of trash cans broke her concentration. She turned sharply, but saw nothing. She walked a little faster, and a little more cautiously. Directing her feet toward Buffy's house, and relative safety. Suddenly she heard the sound of a crowbar trailing against a metal fence. She picked up her pace, but someone jumped in front of her. "Hey, sweetness," a foul sounding voice called to her. "Where's your fire."

"Get lost, creep," Willow shouted down her stalker. She stopped, assuming a defensive stance. She could hear footsteps behind her. She pivoted slightly, glancing behind her at the two punks who emerged from the shadows. One carried a crowbar, the other a length of bicycle chain. Willow figured that they were vampires, probably newbies, and the sudden emergence of their 'game faces' verified her theory.

"Well, well, well, guys," the lead vampire announced. "Looks like feeding time."

"The kitchen's closed, dead boyz!" Willow puffed a sigh of relief as the lead vamp was thrown against a brick wall by a familiar figure in leather. "Willow," Buffy shouted, "you okay?"

"Just peachy, Buff," she smiled, as she pulled a few vials from her purse. She threw one vial at the face of the crowbar wielder, who recoiled in severe pain as the vial's contents seared his face. "Holy water, mixed with silver nitrate," Willow announced, breaking another vial against chain-boy, "and just a hint of garlic juice."

"Just like Mother used to make," Buffy grinned as she staked the fallen vamp, and then jumped the chain wielder. As soon as the other was dusted, the two concentrated on the leader, who suddenly didn't feel quite so brave. He tried to run, but Buffy was not one to suffer a vampire to live. A swift flying kick and a fast stake, and he was ash drifting on the wind.

"Willow," Buffy approached her friend, "you handled yourself like a pro there. And nice brew with the vials."

Willow smiled, warmed by the praise. "The garlic was Giles' idea. Besides," she added, brushing aside a stray lock of red hair from her face, "after hanging around with you all these years, I had to pick up something."

"Yeah, I guess," Buffy admitted. She now stood close to Willow. Every sensation was magnified by her newfound emotions; the sparkle of her green eyes, the sheen of her hair, the warm and emotive face. She wanted to speak. She wanted to pour out her heart. She wanted so much to be the one whom Willow woke up next to every morning. And Willow wanted so much to speak to Buffy in the same manner.

For many long months later, they would wonder who exactly initiated the kiss, but what mattered was that they now were kissing. Buffy's lips felt the warmth of Willow's, her tongue tasting the faint cherry of her lip gloss. Willow leaned forward into Buffy's embrace, her mouth opening, and their tongues met slowly, tasting each other.

Eventually, the need for breath forced them to reluctantly break off the kiss, and they just stood there, gasping and gazing into each others eyes. "I love you," they both said in chorus, and laughed as they realized what they said. They leaned into their embrace further, just savoring this closeness.

Buffy murmured into Willow's ear, "I was so worried when I saw those vamp punks after you. I thought I might lose you, so soon after realizing what you mean to me."

"Hey, don't worry, Buff," Willow answered soothingly, as she toyed with a stray lock of Buffy's hair. "I'm tougher than I look. I can handle--" Willow looked in Buffy's eyes again, this time a stern expression on her face. "What do you mean, 'so soon'?"

"I don't understand," Buffy admitted.

"From what I heard, you had these feelings for me for a while now," Willow admonished.

"What you heard?" Buffy puzzled. "I didn't figure it out until I heard Giles, Xander and Anya talking about how bad you had it today at the Magic Shop."

It was Willow's turn to look confused. "But I didn't put it together until overhearing Dawn and Tara--" She stopped in mid-babble, as she and Buffy made the same connection. "Buffy," she grinned, "we've been double-teamed."

"We have, haven't we?" Buffy started to chuckle. "You think they saw something we didn't?"

"Must have," Willow shook her head, amazed at how easily she and Buffy were tricked by their friends. "I guess they could only manipulate us like that if there really was something there."

"Yeah, something we were too close to see."

They held each other closely, unwilling to break this new and exciting contact. "I do love you, Buffy," Willow assured the Slayer. "In every way possible."

"And I you," Buffy replied, sending a thrill of delight through Willow's being. "C'mon, Juliet, we've got a movie to watch." Buffy's comment brought back memories of last night's rehearsal, and how beautiful she looked in that white dress.

Willow squeezed her new love's hand. "Right behind you, Romeo."

========

The Scoobie Gang enjoyed the video immensely, cheering as they saw themselves perform, booing the especially lame performances, scarfing chips and popcorn and generally having a good time. Willow sat close to Buffy, and the others looked knowingly as they watched the balcony scene, and they held each other a little more closely. Even Joyce, who had been keeping the cocoa flowing that night, noticed the electricity between them. She said nothing, but was prepared to accept it when her daughter inevitably told her that she loved Willow. As long as Willow was good to her, and they were happy together, that's what mattered to Joyce.

After the vid was finished, Buffy led the rest of the Scoobs in a raucous round of applause to the director. Willow blushed to match her hair, saying, "Thank you, thank you. I just hope my drama professor likes it as much."

"I'm sure he will enjoy your efforts," Giles announced. "Now then, I should be heading home. Anyone need a lift?"

"I'm driving Anya back to my place," Xander said. "How about you, Wills?"

Willow glanced at Buffy, who answered for her; "I'll be walking her back to her dorm."

"You'll be gone late, Buff," Dawn chimed in. "Maybe you'd better stay the night with her." Buffy glared at her kid sister, then her expression softened. "Good idea, brat," Buffy acknowledged Dawn's suggestion. "Let's go, Willow."

"Ready, Buff," she grinned. A wicked gleam in Buffy's eyes told her that while they may be going to bed early tonight, they wouldn't be getting much sleep.

"Well then," Giles announced, "if that's all settled, I'll be heading out. Thank you for putting up with us yet again, Ms. Summers."

"My pleasure, Rupert," Joyce said merrily. "Take care out there."

"I shall," Giles announced. As he and the others headed out the door, and Buffy kissed her mother good night, Giles looked fondly at Buffy and Willow. He smiled, knowing that his Slayer would never have to face the night alone again. "Willow, thank you for the enjoyable evening. I shall see the both of you at the Magic Box tomorrow?"

Buffy and Willow glanced at each other, grinned broadly, and then spoke as one to Giles; "Our pleasure, Don Pedro!" The entirely-bowled over expression on Giles face was priceless. Without another word, he harrumphed slightly, and headed for his car. Xander and Anya looked at their friends mollified, before Buffy waved them off; "Go home, do whatever it is you do every night, and don't tell us about it!" Xander and Anya stifled a giggle, and got into his car.

As the others drove off, Willow turned to Buffy, sqeezing her hand once more. She couldn't believe her fortune, that this wonderous woman loved her. The warmth in Buffy's eyes assured her that she wasn't dreaming.

Buffy smiled at Willow, saying, "And so to bed?"

"Thought you'd never ask!" Willow's grin turned wolfish, as the two lovers headed back to the campus, to the dorm, and to their new life.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumberíd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as Iím an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to íscape the serpentís tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

--Epilogue,
"A Midsummer Night's Dream"

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