Buffy felt dead inside. Standing in the hospital room where her best friend lay in a coma, she was hollow. She was numb. She knew she was breathing, but couldn’t feel the air circulating in her lungs. She knew her heart was beating, but to her, it was frozen in place.
"The doctor said it was head trauma. She can wake up at any time, but... the longer it lasts, the... less likely it is," Xander said, standing beside her.
She brushed back a few stray hairs that were out of place on her friend’s face. She could see how pale Willow was. Her mouth, usually smiling, showed no signs of doing that anytime soon.
"I never should've let her try to do that curse. Angel must've known," Buffy said.
And it was the truth. She should have never let her do it, but Willow would have protested until she gave in. Willow was always ready to help her, and this time she may have cost herself her life.
Buffy didn’t care about Angel, Acathla, the murder charges, any of that. It just didn’t matter. At this moment, all that mattered was Willow. It put everything into perspective for Buffy. A perspective she was just beginning to understand. She knew that if she lost Willow, whether she ever got Angel back again or not, she couldn’t keep going.
"Where are her parents?" Buffy asked.
"With relatives in Phoenix. I gave them a call. They're... they're getting on a plane back."
"Does Oz know?"
"Oh, man…I didn't even think...I'll call him."
Hearing footsteps, they both reluctantly turned away to see who was coming. Cordelia slowly came in, and her gaze immediately traveled down to Willow’s still form.
"Hey," Xander said softly, hugging her.
"Hey," she responded just as softly. "How is she? The doctor told me that..."
"Yeah. We're, uh...still waiting."
They both looked at Buffy who was not paying any attention to their conversation. Her eyes were locked onto her friend’s face. Realizing how quiet she was, she broke away, and looked up at Cordelia.
"You okay?" Buffy asked finally.
"I ran. I think I made it through three counties before I realized nobody was chasing me. Not too brave."
"It was the right thing to do."
‘If I had been as sensible as Cordelia, I might have stopped…’ Buffy started thinking to herself.
She should have known the whole thing was a set up from the get go. It wasn’t like Angel to challenge her out in the open. He would never request a fight. It lacked style. She should have known something was up.
"Did –" Xander started to say, as Buffy cut him off.
"Could you guys…give me a few minutes?"
Any objections they had to her request were washed a way as soon as they looked at her expression. It was one of pleading need.
"We’ll be right outside." Cordelia said, ushering Xander out the room before he could say anything.
Buffy heard the door shut, and sat down on empty space on the bed. Sighing out of weariness, she finally let the tears come. Sobbing, she laid her head down on Willow’s chest, and put her friend’s hand in hers.
Now that she was alone, technically, she allowed herself to think about Willow. She felt like she was on the verge of clarity. Something she should have allowed herself to realize a long time ago, but never did.
Willow was a unique individual. And that was putting it mildly. She was so brilliant, intelligent, resourceful. But that was just scratching the surface. On the outside, she seemed fragile, unsure. But inside, she was a confident, incredibly strong, person. Stronger than Buffy herself in a lot of ways.
Despite everything Buffy had put her through, she still managed to cling onto that innocence Buffy had lost a long time ago. But it wasn’t an innocence that a child possessed. A child’s innocence was one of complete and blissful ignorance, where the events of the world didn’t matter, and didn’t affect you in any way. There was still that wonder of new surroundings, and nothing could hurt you.
No that was not Willow’s innocence, for she had seen many horrible things, more than anybody should have to see at the age of seventeen. Her innocence, well, Buffy couldn’t find a word for it. It had elements of a child’s, yet it also had a great deal of maturity. Whatever it was, it allowed Willow to always look at the bright side of life.
Buffy wanted that innocence. She craved it. Innocence or no, it was still beyond her how after narrowly escaping death, Willow could have a smile on her face the next day. And the smile wasn’t put there for anyone’s benefit either. It was a true, honest to goodness, smile. She could never stay mad at anyone, would never intentionally hurt anyone, and was loyal to the end.
The more Buffy thought about it, the more she understood. Willow was her innocence. She was the one who filled the empty hole in Buffy’s soul, she was the one who comforted Buffy, the one who reminded her what a life was like, and why it was important to hold on to it.
As hard as it was to admit to herself, no one else did that. Not Giles, not her mom, and not…Angel. Everyone else tried to protect her, guide her in what they assumed was the right direction. Giles still didn’t agree with her actions as a slayer. Her mom tried desperately to keep her cooped up away from big bad world that she didn’t even understand herself. And Angel, even as much as he had loved her, still had tried to shield himself from her, thinking she couldn’t handle him and his past.
Even Xander had his opinions on the way she did things, trying to force her to do the right thing. Well, the right thing in his mind. It showed her that they cared, and it meant a lot to her, but they didn’t trust her. Not completely anyway. And right now, it would be hard to argue that point considering what she had done. But Willow had never questioned her, never judged her, and never got on her case if something went wrong.
Miss Calendar was a prime example. Ever since her death, Xander had been on a ‘Die, Angel, Die’ crusade. He seemed to everyone else that he focused all his blame on Angel, but Buffy could see it in his eyes. He blamed her too. Giles eyes told her the same thing. They may have not said it out loud, but she knew. Every time they looked at her now, she felt like she was being drilled into. She felt uncomfortable, and sometimes, even hated. And to her, the looks were worse than the actual words.
And considering that she already placed all the blame on herself, she couldn’t handle anymore from them. Willow hadn’t blamed her. She had comforted her, and her eyes only held a look of understanding and sympathy. Buffy felt safe around Willow. She felt completed. She felt unconditional trust, friendship, and…
‘Oh my God…’ Buffy thought.
The clarity hit her. She finally understood. She took her head off of Willow’s chest, and looked at her face.
‘I love Willow…’
That realization comforted her as well as scared her. Had she loved her all this time? If she had, that meant Buffy risked her life for nothing. That meant her love for Angel wasn’t as strong as she thought it was. If that was true, then what was Angel? What if Willow didn’t? What if… The more she mulled over her knew understanding, the more confused she got.
She moved her face up to Willow’s, and kissed her friend’s lips softly. She had to say it before she second-guessed herself. Before she questioned her instincts, her feelings.
"I love you, Will."
By the door, Cordelia listened quietly. Xander started to go in.
"Don’t? But I –"
By the bed, Buffy had drifted off to sleep.
* * * * * * *
When she awoke, she wasn’t in the hospital anymore. Looking at her surroundings, she saw that she was in Angel’s old apartment. On his bed. The place that started her life on a downward spiral that just seemed to keep going.
‘How did I get here?’ She questioned herself.
Then she got it.
"Have a nice nap?" said an all too familiar voice.
Buffy looked at the entryway that led into the bedroom. Willow walked in. She wasn’t wearing a hospital gown; she was wearing a pink sweater with a large yellow daisy on the front, and light red skirt.
"Willow? Are you here?"
"I don’t know really. Do you think I am?"
"If it is really you, then are you…dead?"
Buffy prayed to whatever might have been listening for that not to be true.
"Well, I’m not carrying a harp. Does that answer your question?"
"But you’re Jewish. Do you even have harps in the afterlife?"
"Okay, a draydle then. Either way, I am still of the living. Well sorta."
"What do you mean?"
"Well I’m still in the coma. So I’m in between."
Buffy’s sadness and guilt showed clearly on her face.
"And it’s not your fault. I knew the risks. Besides I’m gonna make it. Soon."
Buffy felt some hope rise within her, as Willow came to sit down next to her on the bed.
"I’m confused," Buffy said.
"I meant it though."
"You really love me?" Willow asked.
"Yeah. I do."
"Then why are we here?"
"You don’t know?"
"Hey, this is your dream."
"I guess…this is automatically what I think of when I want to escape from my life. Despite what happened here."
"This place has good memories too."
"But does this mean I’ll never let go of Angel? I don’t want to hurt you."
"You’ll never let go of Angel. He’ll always be special to you. Like Xander is to me. Oz too."
"So Angel was just a first love thing? It seemed so much more then that…"
"Only you know what Angel was to you. Xander was a crush, a love that never got a chance to take off for me, and Oz is nice, but something still feels missing when I’m with him."
"Do you love me?"
"I’m not sure. My head’s kinda messy right now. That’s a pretty loaded question."
Buffy smiled in understanding.
"Too bad I’ll never have a chance to find out."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I probably won’t remember any of this when I wake up, plus I know what you’re thinking of doing if you survive and stop Angel."
‘I’m going to leave…’
"It’s pretty unfair to me, to us, to say something as strong as I love you and then split. If I mean as much to you as you say I do…"
"You know I mean it. But what other choice do I have? All I end up doing is hurting you…hurting everybody."
"That’s not true, and you know it."
Around Buffy, everything was fading. She was waking up.
"Guess you gotta go, huh?" Willow asked.
"Guess so," Buffy said sadly.
"Will you be there when I come to?"
Before Buffy could answer, the dream world was gone, and she was staring at Xander.
* * * * * * *
"How long was I out?" Buffy asked.
‘Only five minutes?’
She saw the worried look in his eyes, and she immediately snapped to full attention mode.
"Xand? What is it?"
"I was talking with Cordy…"
"She said Giles never followed her out. He hasn’t been here. We don’t –"
With a quick glance to check and make sure Willow was still in the bed and wasn’t going anywhere, Buffy shot up, and ran out the door.
* * * * * * *
Well, it was over. She had done her duty. She sent him to hell to save the world. Now she stood under a tree across the street from the school. The whole gang was there, probably talking about where she was. She saw Willow in the wheelchair. That was the clincher for her to make her decision.
‘She’s sitting in that because of me.’
She had wanted to stay. After the dream she had changed her mind, and told herself she wasn’t going to leave. But then things got worse. On top of Kendra’s death, her being a fugitive, and her friends’ injuries, she was also expelled, her mom practically threw her out of the house, Giles had been tortured, and she sent Angel, soul and all, to Hell.
Could anyone really blame her for leaving?
"Where you going?" A voice asked.
She glanced over to her side. Angel was standing there, a surreal light illuminating him. She thought it was odd, not only that he was here, but also that she didn’t have more of a reaction. Her thoughts were elsewhere, however.
"Away," she finally answered, "where I can’t hurt anybody. I’m sorry."
"Don’t be. You did what you had to do."
"But you’re –"
"I was saved. I’m," he looked up toward the sky, "up there now."
"Good. You deserve to be."
"You really think you’ll stop hurting them if you leave? There’ll still be vampires."
"They wouldn’t put themselves in danger."
"You know that isn’t true. You know they feel just as much responsibility to fight as you do. You’ll hurt them more."
Buffy was silent.
"Look at her," Angel said, pointing to Willow.
Willow was looking left and right searching for any sign of her. There was uncertainty in her expression. There was sadness.
"She cares so much for you. I guarantee you’ll hurt her a lot."
"She’ll be better off," Buffy said, unsure.
"You know that thing you love about her? The innocence? The happiness?"
"It’ll still be there."
"Maybe. But it’ll take some serious damage. She won’t be the same."
Buffy didn’t want to be the one to damage Willow’s personality.
"She does love you. She just doesn’t realize how much yet."
"But what about –"
"What we had? Just because you love her doesn’t lessen what we were."
"How do you know?"
"Buffy, I loved you. I will always love you."
"We were first loves. Yes even though I lived for three centuries, you were my first love. I never truly loved anybody until I met you. But in the long run, it wouldn’t have survived. Not to say we probably wouldn’t have tried to make it work.
"You’re going to age, I wouldn’t have. We wouldn’t have been able to spend days together, wake up next to each other. Maybe in another life time things will be different, but for now…"
"You’re happier when you’re around her. You know that. Truly happy, and that’s all I ever wanted for you. I fulfilled my destiny. I saved the world. Meeting you and loving you along the way was a bonus I didn’t deserve, but I’m glad I got the chance.
"Don’t throw away your chance at happiness. And don’t worry about hurting Willow. She’s tougher then she looks."
"Don’t I know it." Buffy smiled.
"Good bye, Angel." She said quietly.
She looked across the street. The gang was starting to head into school. With a deep breath, she ran across the street.
"Hey guys! Wait up." She called.
They all turned around, and Willow had a smile and look of relief on her face.
"Told you," Willow said to Xander. "How’s…"
"Gone. But…happy." Buffy smiled at Willow. "Thank you."
"It was nothing."
"Giles, there was this tiny problem of me being expelled."
"I’ll take care of it."
Buffy didn’t want to ask him to elaborate on that. She saw Oz pushing Willow.
"Do you mind if I take over?" Buffy asked him.
"Nope. Go right ahead."
Buffy got behind the chair and started to push.
"Want me to go real fast?"
Willow nodded enthusiastically.
When they were far enough away from the rest of the gang, Willow looked up at Buffy.
"I don’t know how or why, but I remember it."
"The dream ‘it’?"
"Yes, that ‘it’."
Buffy held her breath waiting for the answer.
"And I do."
Buffy smiled down at her, and held her hand. The rest of the gang came running up.
"What is it with you gals and needing to go fast while injured?" Xander asked.
"I don’t know, Xand." Buffy responded.
"We must be two of a kind," Willow said.
With that, they entered the school.
Willow was trying to concentrate on taking her last final of her junior year. Really she was. She just couldn’t seem to stay focused. And usually concentrating on academics let her forget her confusion. Buffy was in the front row taking the final too. That was the problem.
Somehow Giles had gotten her expulsion revoked. Willow didn’t know how he did it, but all she knew was that Principal Snyder had taken a sick day today.
‘Just one more question, and then you’re done. Then you can go.’ Willow told herself. Filling in the final bubble on her scantron sheet, she put her still sharp number-two pencil down, and raised her hand.
"Yes, Willow?" The proctor asked.
"I’m finished. Can I go to the bathroom?"
"Do you need assistance with your chair?"
Willow saw Buffy start to get up.
"No I got it."
She saw the hurt in Buffy’s eyes, but pushed herself to the bathroom.
* * * * * * *
She looked at herself in the mirror. She thought she looked better. Well, less corpse-like anyway. She needed to think.
She wasn’t distracted by Buffy because she had a burning desire to kiss her or anything like that, (although since their mutual admission it had crossed her mind), it was more that she didn’t know how to act or what to do. She admitted that she loved her, and that was the truth, but what next? She was a seventeen-year-old, book/computer geek, innocent Jewish girl. She had always followed everyone else’s expectations, and never did anything that could be considered "out of society’s norm". But this, this was a huge leap out of the norm.
It’s not that she had a problem with people who chose to be ‘that way’, but she had never thought of herself as ‘that way’. It scared her. As much as she hated to think it, she was concerned about what people would say. But even that wasn’t the real issue.
She didn’t want to hurt anybody. And by that, she meant Oz. She had always believed that love was love. So what if they were both females? If love hits you, you can’t just push it away.
She figured out a while ago that Xander was a crush, and seeing him happy with Cordelia, made her happy. But Oz was a terrific guy. A great all around person, actually. He had helped her to come out of her shell. Made her less shy, less afraid. More open. But Buffy also did that. Buffy was the one who had made her go up to him in the first place.
‘She’s done so much for me.’
She had gotten Willow to wear that outfit on Halloween, and forced her to realize how beautiful she really was. Had supported her when Xander couldn’t, had been her first real female friend. Buffy gave her that, and Oz repeatedly kept showing her why she was beautiful and worth it.
"I don’t know what to do." She said aloud.
"Don’t worry about it."
In the mirror, she saw Cordelia come up behind her.
"Buffy or Oz, huh? Tough choice."
"How’d you know?"
"Oh please. It’s obvious. Besides, I heard her in the hospital."
"Oh," Willow said quietly and suddenly was worried.
"Relax. I can keep quiet."
"You’re not gonna make any kind of comment at all?"
"What would be the point?"
"What you need right now is to make a decision."
"Gee thanks for letting me know," Willow said sarcastically.
"Personally, if I had to choose between Buffy and Oz, I’d choose Buffy. Not that I’m…ya know."
"I didn’t think I was either, okay? Why would you pick Buffy?"
"Cause she’s different than you."
"I mean it. You give her things she doesn’t have; she gives you things you don’t have. You’ve changed a lot, Willow. Buffy gives you confidence, you help her keep her sanity. I hate to go Jerry Maguire on you, but you complete one another."
"Is like you more than not. He’s a brain, he’s into computers, and he’s quiet. People who have more sames than differences don’t survive in a relationship. It’s boring."
"So that’s why you and Xander are still together huh?"
"Exactly. He’s gives me a sense of humor and helps me keep things light, and I give him fashion sense."
Willow laughed. "You sure about that?"
"Hey I’m working on it, okay?" Cordelia smiled.
Willow had to admit that she was surprised by Cordelia’s advice. Not because she gave her advice, but because it actually made sense. She and Cordelia had grown closer and she was glad she was a serious part of the group now. Willow needed to talk about all this with Buffy, and that’s what she was going to do.
* * * * * * *
Willow was walking slowly, on crutches, around Buffy’s bedroom. Buffy was out patrolling, and her mom had told Willow she could come in and wait for her. Everything that Buffy was - was contained in this room. Everything from her life before her duty trapped her.
Stuffed animals were on her bed, ice skates were hanging on the back of her dresser chair, and pictures were situated on her dresser mirror. One of the pictures was of Buffy, her, and Xander at the ice rink. They were standing over an embarrassed Xander, who had fallen on his butt. Willow laughed. Buffy had a lot of talent on the ice. If not for her slaying, she would probably be training for the Olympics right now.
She wasn’t sure when her love for Buffy had surpassed friendship. She didn’t even know that love was what she felt until recently. Everyone knew that Willow wasn’t too sure of her emotions. She thought it started after she had begun getting over her hopeless pursuit of Xander.
Buffy had helped her to grow, and while she was depressed about how Xander had never even glanced at her, she complemented Willow. Made her feel attractive, supported her. At first, she thought that it was just friendly support, but she saw something in Buffy’s eyes.
Nothing verging on lust or anything like that, but more like a genuine affection, even when she was wrapped up in Angel. As quickly as she saw it, it was gone just as quickly. And that’s when she met Oz. Someone who actually liked her.
He was a guitar player. In a band. And if that wasn’t shocking enough, he was actually sensitive. Not like a regular guy at all. And she got swept up in it all. Everything was great, and then Buffy’s life fell apart.
As much as Willow wanted to be happy, she couldn’t. Not just because her life was threatened, but because Buffy was, to put in its simplest form, extremely unhappy. And Buffy needed her for support, but didn’t come to her because Buffy wanted her not to worry. She had always put Willow’s happiness before her own.
So when she had a chance to give Buffy back what she thought would make her happy, she took it. She tried to give Angel back his soul. She knew it was dangerous, but how could she not risk her life for Buffy? She had given Willow so much.
If it came down to Buffy and Oz, she would pick Buffy over him without question. And it wasn’t because she was closer to Buffy or liked her anymore than Oz; it was because if Buffy had died, she would never be the same. She had a lot of time to think in the hospital. In the coma and out, and got her priorities in order.
She loved Buffy. After she had ‘visited’ Buffy, and found out she was going to leave after it was all said and done, Willow knew then and there, what emotion she had always felt toward Buffy. It had been hidden, but it was love.
She was still uncertain as to what would happen in the coming months, but she knew they would always have their friendship to fall back on.
‘And what good is love without friendship?’
Willow jumped as Buffy came through the window.
"Uh…hi, Buffy. Why’d you come through the window?"
"Oh she left about a half an hour ago. Some emergency shipment came in for the gallery. She’s still not comfortable with the whole Slayer thing?"
"Try extremely uncomfortable. She’s in semi-denial, and we haven’t been talking. Plus she wigged on Giles."
"And that still didn’t convince her?"
"What can I say? She’s stubborn."
"Like mother, like –"
"Hey. How’d you get up here?"
"Don’t over exert yourself."
"I think I do need to sit."
Buffy helped her to sit down on the bed.
"Thanks. How’d patrolling go?"
"Since Spike and Dru split, it’s been pretty quiet."
"Well, that’s a good."
"You think I’d be too optimistic if I said we might have a relaxing summer?"
"Maybe just a little."
There was an uncomfortable silence for a few minutes, before Buffy said what they were both thinking.
"So…I guess we should talk."
"Yeah. Talking is a good thing."
"I gotta admit, I’m not sure what to do. It’s a little scary."
"You mean I’m not the only one who thinks that?"
Buffy laughed. "Course not."
"Good, cause I never thought I was…you know."
"Me neither. Who says we are?"
"But we like, love –"
Buffy smiled. "Each other. But I’ve never thought of any other girls ‘that way’. Not until you."
That was odd to Willow. Did it mean what they felt was special?
"He…was special. And I know there’ll always be a part of me that will love him. But, I think, I know, he’s okay with…‘us’. Oz."
"He’s hard to describe. First guy I loved. Well, besides Xander. But Oz and I actually have a relationship. It’s nothing like you and Angel had, but…"
"I know what you mean. Look, if you don’t want to –"
"I do, I do. I just need to think of what to say to him."
Another uncomfortable silence passed, before Willow spoke again.
"We don’t have to."
"Cause it’s still a little strange and all –"
"Yeah it is."
Before Willow could say another word, Buffy’s lips were covering hers. It was a simple kiss. Longer than a normal friendly kiss, but no farther than that. When they pulled away, it was like an electric shock passed through them.
Willow was smiling.
"Very nice." Buffy paused. "Will, I want you to know, that no matter what happens, we’ll always be friends."
"I know. But I also know, that I love you."
"Good, cause I love you too."
Willow’s stomach growled.
"I haven’t eaten much since I got out of the hospital."
"You got it. Be right back."
Willow had a glint in her eyes.
"Slumber Party!" They both said.
"Cordelia and Xander?" Willow asked.
"He’s not much into group sleepovers."
"Try anyway?" Buffy asked.
"Okay," Willow said picking up Buffy’s phone.
* * * * * * *
Several hours later, Buffy and Willow were lying on Buffy’s bed, Cordelia and Xander were sitting on the floor, and Oz was sitting in the chair.
"We’ve already watched two movies, and gone through three bags of popcorn. Shouldn’t you two men be heading downstairs to go to sleep?" Buffy said.
"I for one plan on camping out right here," Xander said.
Buffy shook her head.
"I thought we were buds!"
"Oh we are. But there’s always limits to ‘bud’ privileges."
"We should tell them before they go to sleep, don’t you think?" Willow asked Buffy.
"Did you wanna tell them now?"
"Oh if its about you two being a couple thing, don’t worry about it." Cordelia said.
"Cordelia!" They both shrieked.
"Yeah, Cordy filled us in already. Why do you think I wanna sleep in here?" Xander waggled his eyebrows.
He got hit with every stuffed animal and pillow that was on the bed.
"You seem okay with this, Xand."
"Well, Will’s so much better for you then Angel. Besides, it helps broaden my fantasy library."
"Xander!" Willow said in shock. Cordelia hit him that time.
"I guess that’s my cue to go downstairs?"
"You learn fast," Buffy said.
Xander slowly walked out of the room.
"Guess I better go too," Oz said.
"Wait, Oz. Can we talk somewhere?" Willow asked.
"You can use mom’s room," Buffy said.
As Willow and Oz left the room, Buffy glared at Cordelia.
* * * * * * *
Willow and Oz sat on Joyce’s bed.
"So…" They said at the same time.
"Are you okay?" Willow asked gently.
"Still in shock mode right now."
"You’re not the only one, believe me. You think I saw this coming?"
"No, because if you did, you would’ve told me."
"You know I would have."
"You can take care of each other. You’re good for one another."
"You’re my first real love, I hope you know that."
"And it’s not like Buffy –"
"I know. I don’t blame either one of you."
"If you’re angry with me, I wish you’d tell me."
"I’m not. I never could be. You went to Buffy. Not some no-name person. She’s special to you."
"She is. But you’ll always be special to me."
"Same here, Will. I hope it works out for you. And…I’m always here if you need anything."
"That offer goes both ways."
"I better go stake out the couch before Xander does."
Willow smiled in return, and he kissed her on the cheek.
* * * * * * *
When Willow walked back into Buffy’s room, Buffy was in bed, and Cordelia was lying on blankets on the floor. Willow lay down beside Buffy.
"You can keep quiet, huh?" Willow asked Cordelia sarcastically.
"They’re our friends. You were gonna tell them anyway."
"That’s her point, Cordy. We were gonna tell them."
"Well excuse me. Next time you wanna come out of the closet, I’ll keep my mouth shut."
"Cordelia we’re not –" They both started.
"Geez…I was kidding. Take a Prozac or something."
Buffy turned off the light, and tentatively started to put her arm around Willow. She didn’t pull away, so Buffy shifted closer.
They smiled at each other.
"Good night," Buffy said.
"Good night," Willow said, followed by Cordelia.
Their last thoughts as they drifted off to sleep were, ‘This is definitely strange, but... it’s a good thing.’
They lived on a Hellmouth. What wasn’t strange?
Buffy, Willow, Cordelia were driving in Cordelia’s car, past Sunnydale’s border. Willow was sitting in the passenger seat; Buffy was in the back.
"Remind me again why we’re driving out of town just to go get Willow’s hair cut," Buffy said.
"Because the only stylist in Sunnydale is in the mall, and everyone who goes there looks like their hair was struck by lightening. Trust me. My hair dresser is the best."
"All I wanted to do was get an inch and a half off," Willow said.
"We’re all agreed that I know fashion right?" Cordelia asked.
"Yep." They both said.
"So I know you would look good with your hair short. Shoulder length with highlights. Besides the cut’s free."
"But –" Willow started to protest.
Buffy put her hand on Willow’s shoulder. Instantly, Willow calmed down.
"If it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, I’ll knock her out, okay?"
Willow smiled and nodded. Cordelia sighed.
"Xander would never do that for me."
They all started laughing.
* * * * * * *
Buffy was walking towards her front porch. Cordelia was going to drop Willow off. Willow, to her surprise, was very pleased with her new haircut. She thought it made her look more mature. Buffy couldn’t believe that that was all Willow said. Buffy laughed. Willow really didn’t know how beautiful she was.
She was most certainly attractive. Even the first day Buffy saw her at school, she thought Willow was attractive. Of course at the time she didn’t pay it much mind.
Willow’s lack of self-confidence made her feel ugly, so she hid behind clothes that looked something like catholic school uniforms. And Buffy thought that was such a shame. She knew that if Willow had just been less afraid, had just a little more confidence, guys would have been lining up to ask her out. Of course in an ideal world Willow shouldn’t have to change her look to get a date, but Buffy knew two things.
The world wasn’t in any way ideal, and guys were shallow and superficial.
But Willow had grown by leaps and bounds since that first year she had met her. And it might not have been a big deal to Buffy, but she knew that Willow’s new haircut was a big step for her. And Buffy was proud to have been a part of helping her grow. Of being in her life the way she was.
As she opened the door to her house, she felt better than she had in a long time. She had no worries whatsoever. Well, that was until she saw her mom with her arms crossed waiting for her.
* * * * * * *
"Where have you been?" Joyce asked.
Before Buffy responded, she looked out the window.
‘Yep, still daylight. So what’d I do now?’
"Cordelia and I took Willow to get her hair cut. I was just going to go back out -"
"So you weren’t…slaying?"
"Umm, no. See the sunshine?"
Joyce looked at her daughter, and walked into the kitchen. Buffy, confused, walked after her.
"What’d I say?"
"You just expect me to accept this whole situation and move on?"
"Yeah. I don’t see what’s so hard to understand."
"Well the fact that my seventeen year old daughter has been fighting," Joyce paused, still not believing, "vampires, for the past three years…"
"I get that this hard for you…"
"I don’t think you get it at all, Buffy. Every night you’ve been risking your life, while I’ve been kept in the dark."
"To prevent conversations like this."
"I am your mother. I’m sorry if you don’t like telling me about your life, but I think I have a right to know."
"I was doing it to protect you. It’s too dangerous if people know. Especially you."
"Then why do your friends know? Aren’t you risking their lives?"
"I didn’t have a choice. They…found out on they’re own. Look, I’m sorry this is hard for you, but no matter how many conversations we have, it doesn’t change what I have to do. I know it’s dangerous, but right now, I’m the only one who can do it."
"What do you mean right now? If there’s a way you can stop, do it."
"You want me to die?"
"My death is the only way this is over. So do you want a daughter who is alive and has to worry about saving the world, or a daughter who’s dead and doesn’t have anything to worry about ever again?"
"Oh my God…"
Joyce took Buffy into her arms.
"I’m sorry. I had no idea. I don’t want you to die."
"I didn’t either."
"It’s just…I don’t know what to say, to do. The school librarian knows you better than I do."
"It’s not his fault. You almost gave him a heart attack. Listen. I’ll try and help you understand what I have to do, but you have to trust me. If you really wanna get to know me, just start paying attention. That’s all I ask."
Joyce wished she could’ve gotten angry at that last remark, but she couldn’t. She knew she hadn’t been that involved in her daughter’s life for a long time now. She hugged her again.
"Do you have any more surprises?"
Buffy quickly thought it over. If she told her now, she was pretty sure her mom would collapse. No, now wasn’t the right time.
"So…do you have any plans tonight?"
"Not really. I was gonna run by Mr. Giles’ house, and then I was going to go meet everybody at the Bronze."
"When you see Mr. Giles, tell him that I’m sorry, and that I’d like to talk with him when he gets time, okay?"
"I was going to rent a movie later. If you want, when you come home, we could, um, watch it…if you want."
"Yeah. That’d be nice."
Buffy smiled at her mom. She started to go out the door, when she realized she forgot supplies.
‘Just in case.’
* * * * * * *
Giles was sitting on his sofa reading a book and drinking tea. His two favorite things to do. It wasn’t often that he was able to relax, so he intended to take full advantage of it. It had been a difficult summer for him.
There hadn’t been any "dire end of the world" situations. No, summers were usually quiet. He was tortured for hours by Angelus. That was the difficulty. His injuries, by treatment standards, weren’t that extensive. His chest and sides had been bruised, and two fingers were broken. And it all healed pretty well since then.
But the mental stress he endured was hard to get over. Angelus was a definite master of mental torture, and even though Giles had read all about his methods, he wasn’t prepared for it. In fact, one the primary lessons for a Watcher-In-Training was how to survive all types of torture.
And he had been doing well, until Druscilla came into the room. She had used his memories against him. Made him think Jenny was there, and he told her, basically, how to end the world. At that moment, he felt horrible grief. For Jenny, and for Buffy. He had let her down.
He didn’t feel he deserved it, but she had saved him. Sacrificed her love to keep the world turning. When she did that, any anger he had felt towards her for Jenny’s death evaporated. He had even felt guilt for blaming her, and he was prepared to support her in any way that he could.
But surprisingly, he hadn’t needed to. She had been happier than he had ever seen her, and she wouldn’t tell him why. But he enjoyed seeing her happy again, whatever the reason might be.
‘She’ll be here any minute.’
She had been coming by two nights a week since the beginning of the summer. At first it had been just to check in on any rising demonic activity, but it had become something they both looked forward to. They would just sit and talk about their lives. He would talk about Jenny, his life before a Watcher, and she would talk about her mom, Angel, her dad, and whatever else happened to come up.
It had made them both feel better. They were very similar, and they hadn’t realized it before. There was a knock at the door, and Giles got up and smiled. He opened the door.
She walked in and sat down, and he shut the door.
"Oh before I forget, my mom says she’s sorry and she wants to talk to you. Without screaming."
"Yes I have to admit I was unprepared for that voice level. I wasn’t aware that it was possible for someone to get that loud. And angry."
"It’s a trait of Summers’ women."
"Yes, and now I know where you get it from."
Buffy smiled, and looked at his hand.
"How are they coming along?"
"Quiet nicely actually. There’s still some discomfort, but in a week or so it should be fine."
"What is it?"
"School starts in a week!"
"Oh, it does doesn’t it?"
"I feel sick."
"I really don’t understand why children have such a strong dislike towards learning."
"Me neither. We just do."
"That reminds me. Stay alert. It has been a quiet summer, but if the vampires follow their pattern, they’ll come out in force for an attack before the start of school."
"Who would have thought vamps have back to school blues? Don’t worry. I brought supplies with me."
"May I ask you a question, Buffy?"
"I’ve noticed you’ve been very cheerful, and I have no idea why. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m glad you’re back to your old self again, but I would have figured…"
"That I would have been mopey?"
"To say the least."
"If you don’t wish to –"
"No, there’s no reason for me not to. It’s not bad or anything. At first, though, I was mopey. I was going to leave, live on my own, but I didn’t."
Giles was shocked. In all their talks they had had over the summer, this had never come up.
"But two things stopped me. One – Angel."
"I don’t know how to explain it, but he came to me just as I was ready to leave. He said he wasn’t in Hell, he was upstairs."
"Upstairs?" He thought a moment. "Oh, upstairs."
"He said that he was okay, told me not to feel guilty, and convinced me to stay."
"And the second thing?"
Giles showed his confusion.
"I realized something when she was in the hospital."
"I love her."
Giles let it sink in, and then he smiled. He saw Buffy waiting for his reaction.
"I’m not surprised."
"Should I be?"
"Well, it’s kind of a change for me. I thought you would’ve had a stronger reaction."
"I believe that if you have found love, same gender or no, and you’re happy, my only reaction is happiness for you and Willow. Have you told your mother?"
"Giles, think about that."
"Yes, that would probably be a bad idea. But both you and Willow have laid a foundation of friendship that helped you get to this point. I’ve seen you two both help each other and grow closer. I’d think your mother would be accepting of this."
"Well it is Willow. How could you not accept her? But there’s also my choice in relationships. A vampire, and now another girl. And considering she still can’t deal with Angel…"
"I’d think she’d be pleased you had a relationship with a human being."
"Very funny, Giles."
"Well I have to book. I’m meeting the gang at the Bronze."
"If there’s any trouble –"
"I’ll send one of the guys to come get you. Thanks, Giles."
"You’re welcome. And congratulations."
* * * * * * *
"Guess what?" Buffy asked the gang around the table at the Bronze. Greeted with blank stares, she told them. "School starts in a week!"
A collective groan was heard.
"I’m looking forward to it," Willow said.
"You always look forward to it, Will," Xander said.
"Yeah everybody knows you’re the teenage version of Giles." Cordelia said.
"I’m serious. We’ll be seniors. The kings, or in my gender’s case, queens, of the school."
"Yeah. You’ve got the look for it too," Oz said.
"Love the new do," Xander said.
"Told you." Buffy whispered to Willow.
"Wanna dance?" Willow asked.
"You bet." Buffy responded.
Willow had butterflies in her stomach as she and Buffy walked out to the dance area. It was a slow song, and they were going to be with other couples. Male/female couples.
They regarded one another a moment and then Willow put her arms around Buffy’s neck, and Buffy put her arms around Willow’s. To Willow’s surprise, no one seemed to pay much attention to them. She didn’t know if that was because it didn’t bother them or if they were afraid of what Buffy would do to them, but she didn’t care.
She relaxed, and smiled.
* * * * * * *
Back at the table, the gang just watched Buffy and Willow dance.
"They sure are happy," Oz said.
"Especially Buffy. I haven’t seen her this happy since –" Xander started.
"Well, it’s gotta be nice when you’re in a relationship where your partner isn’t a demon. Kind of eliminates the fear aspect. Plus, there’re no secrets. They know each other," Oz said.
"And Angel had lots of secrets," Xander said.
"Plus a tendency toward rage and violence. I never could figure out why you two couldn’t get along, Xander." Cordelia said.
"What’s that supposed to mean?"
* * * * * * *
"So you really like the hair?"
"For the last time, yes. You’re beautiful."
Willow blushed. She looked at Buffy, who seemed concerned about something.
"What? Oh. Sorry. I had an exhausting argument with mom earlier. But I think we’re getting better."
"It wasn’t about us, was it?"
"No, I’m trying to avoid that as long as possible. Have you -?"
"Are you kidding? No way. I like the way things are now. Once I tell my parents, it’ll complicate things."
"Ain’t that the truth."
Buffy looked over to her right, and pulled Willow closer.
"Vamp, 3:00 o’clock. Act natural."
"This is natural to you?" Willow smiled.
"The most natural thing in the world. Let’s start moving over to the table."
* * * * * * *
The gang looked at Buffy and Willow as they ‘danced’ back towards the table. Willow’s back was to them, but they could see Buffy. She mouthed, ‘vampire’, and they all nodded. It was about to get messy.
As they heard the vampire growl, they started to get up to open the doors.
* * * * * * *
When Buffy and Willow heard the vampire growl, they pulled apart.
"Get to the others and help them get the other people out."
"Go. I’ll be okay. I promise."
Willow nodded reluctantly, as a rush of people came running by. Buffy turned around to face the vampire, and pulled a stake out of her jacket.
"You’re it?" She asked.
As the vampire said that, six of his buddies dropped down onto the stage.
‘Damn. I forgot about the skylight in the roof.’
"Let’s go, Slayer."
"You know what I hate?" Buffy said as she round-housed the vampire in the head, "Being rushed." The vampire fell, and Buffy looked to the stage. The three members of the night’s band were struggling against the six vampires who were trying to get a snack.
She ran up to the stage, and grabbed the vampire nearest to her. She threw him off the stage, and directly into the vampire she had knocked down a minute ago. Buffy quickly surveyed the situation. Everyone but the band was out of the Bronze. That was good.
Noticing the absence of their friend, the other five vampires focused their attention on Buffy.
"Get out!" She yelled to the three guys huddled in the corner.
Not needing to be told twice, they ran backstage, and out the back door. Now Buffy was alone. With seven angry vampires, and an even less number of stakes.
"Okay. Now what?"
* * * * * * *
Outside of the Bronze, the last of the people that were inside, were running home. Willow didn’t like Buffy’s chances.
"Go get Giles." She said. "I’m going back in."
"You could – Oz and I will go in. You go with Cordy and get Giles," Xander said.
"Go get Giles," Willow said evenly.
That was the end of the discussion. Willow picked up a pole that was lying against the side of building, and opened the side door.
* * * * * * *
Buffy rammed her stake right through the vampire closest to her.
‘Six to go. Why’d I forget Mr. Pointy?’
She leaped over her enemies, and back down to the ground. She grabbed a cue off of a pool table, and slammed it into the oncoming vampire. She jumped on top of the pool table to get higher as the five who were left started to surround her.
She kicked them down.
‘As fun as this is, I really need a more permanent solution.’
From behind her she heard a door open. She turned around just in time to see Willow toss her a long, metal pole. It might just keep them off her long enough for her to get out. As she hopped down off the table, she connected with the pole on the top of a female one’s head. It dropped.
Buffy suddenly remembered the stake hidden in her sleeve, took it out, and dusted the she-vamp before it could get up. She swung the pole like a bat, momentarily knocking all the vampires down. She ran towards the door and Willow.
"What are you doing here?" Buffy panted.
"I sent the guys to get Giles. He should be here with more weapons," Willow said as she tried the door.
"What is it?"
Buffy looked at the vampires approaching, and handed Willow the pole. She started kicking the door. Willow remembered something.
"Ooh! I have holy water." She said reaching into her pants pocket.
Just as Willow threw the bottle at the vampires, the door slammed open. Buffy grabbed Willow by the hand, and they ran outside.
* * * * * * *
As soon as they emerged from the Bronze, they saw Giles and their friends. Giles had a crossbow, and Mr. Pointy. Two vampires came running out first, and Giles aimed. It sliced through both, turning them to ashes. He handed Buffy Mr. Pointy, and she ran to the door.
Standing to the left of the door, she waited until the last two came out. They came out one by one this time. She pulled the first one off to the side, and dispatched him quickly. The other one was a little bit smarter, and was able to knock Buffy off her feet.
The gang rushed over. Willow got there first, and pulled the vampire back. As the vampire turned on her, Buffy shot up from behind and grabbed it by the neck. She tossed Mr. Pointy to Willow.
"Would you like to do the honors, Will?"
Willow grinned, and with dead on accuracy, staked the vampire. Buffy hugged Willow immediately.
"Thanks for saving my life in there."
"I didn’t –"
"Yes you did. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for you."
Buffy turned to Giles.
"Don’t you hate being right?"
They all started to walk home.
"I’d say that this unofficially marks the end of summer," Xander said.
"I’d have to agree with you, Xand. I’d say we’re in for another horror-filled school year," Buffy said.
"But at least it’ll be the last horror-filled school year," Willow said optimistically.
Buffy moved closer to Willow. God, she loved her optimism.
"True," Oz said.
"It really doesn’t mean anything though. After this it’s on to horror-filled college years." Cordelia said.
"And once again you manage to destroy the silver lining in the cloud, Cordelia," Giles said.
Cordelia looked at him unbelievingly, and everyone laughed.
* * * * * * *
Buffy told Willow that she and her mom were going to watch a movie at her house, and invited her to watch it with them. By the time they all settled down on the couch to watch it, it was late, but they tried to keep their eyes open.
About half- way through, Buffy and Willow were sound asleep on the couch, Buffy’s head on the end of the sofa, and Willow’s head on Buffy’s shoulder. Her arm was draped around Willow’s body.
Joyce looked over at them from the chair she was sitting in, and smiled. She got up, and put a blanket around them. She shut off the TV, and started to go upstairs. Halfway up, she turned around and looked down at them.
"She’ll tell me when she’s ready."
With that, Joyce went to bed.