A Two of a Kind Love by Pat Kelly
A Two of a Kind Love
by Pat Kelly

Author's Note: I based several parts around actual episodes. In fact, I'm following the the entire third season to its conclusion, changing things to fit the Buffy/Willow relationship. And that means I use dialogue from the episodes as well, so a disclaimer is needed: 

JOSS AND MUTANT ENEMY, THE WB, and FOX, own everything! (And thank you to AleXander for his episode transcripts!) 

Enjoy, and feedback please!
bandits@erols.com

19
OBTAINING NECESSITIES

Willow and Buffy were sitting at the desk in her room, looking at her laptop. In another minute or so, the maps and plans for City Hall would download onto the machine. They had been doing that most of the day, while the rest of the gang had other 'assignments'.

"Cordelia said the Mayor hasn't come out of the building all day. Faith came in, and has been there ever since," Willow said.

"Something's gonna happen. I can feel it."

"Well if Faith or the Mayor leave, we'll know."

"Who would have thought Cordelia's cell phone would be useful? Well, then again, Xander is with her, so their information could be less then accurate."

Willow smiled briefly, and shut her eyes. The computer screen was getting to her, and she just felt really stressed and tense. They had been sitting there for seven hours. It took two just to get into the city mainframe and another two and half just to get past the protection and encryption system. She grabbed the back of her neck, trying to work out the knots.

Buffy got behind Willow, and started to massage her neck, rubbing her fingers in slow, gentle circles.

"Ah!" Willow hissed feeling a bit of discomfort and then relief from Buffy's efforts. "That's it."

"Wow. You are tense."

Willow felt extremely calm as she started to feel Buffy's massage paying off. For a few seconds she was quiet, enjoying it. Even the simplest form of physical contact seemed to be overpowering, and even though they hadn't been "intimate" since that night, they weren't frustrated. Besides, with everything going on lately there wasn't time. Well, not the length of time they both felt such an act and expression of love deserved, anyhow.

Right now, Willow was more than content just to feel Buffy's fingers caressing the tension right out of her body. There were so many more facets to their relationship that went beyond physical expression, and were more important to maintain.

They felt truly free with themselves now, and all the jokes and innuendoes they had been exchanging were on the surface, just that. Innuendoes. And their ability to say those things without reservations, and total freedom, really showed that they had grown and felt comfortable with each other. That they had moved past all the bumps in the road. Willow never even thought an innuendo would leave her mouth a couple months ago. She really felt like she had grown a lot, and she had Buffy to thank for it.

Looking deeper though, what it really did, was kept up their connection as friends, because they never ever wanted to lose that. It also kept reminding them of how far they had come, and how wonderful it was, because they knew they were still going forward and growing even closer.

"Stress does not Willow help," Willow finally said, jumbling her words.

"It doesn't help your sentence structure either."

"No, I think that's your fault."

"Are you saying I'm a bad influence, Miss Rosenberg?"

"Of course not, Miss Summers. I'm blaming your talented fingers."

"They're only talented because they have a reason to be."

Willow craned her loosened neck, and looked up at Buffy. She pulled her head down and kissed her softly.

"I'm so lucky," they said together, already knowing what the other was going to say.

They laughed softly, and were broken out of their peace by the beeping of the laptop. Immediately snapping to attention, they looked at the maps onscreen.

"I'll send these to library, and Oz can print them out for Giles and Wesley. Then they can finish strategizing."

Willow pushed a few buttons, and wired the maps and plans directly to the library computer.

"We should get there," Buffy said.

"Yeah, you're right." Willow shut down her computer, and they started to exit the room.

"You really think I have talented fingers, huh?"

"I know you do."

Buffy smiled at her, with a glint in her eyes. "Even when I do this?" She got her fingers poised.

'Don't you dare,' Willow said to her silently.

"Don't what? Do this?" Buffy asked, running towards Willow.

Willow ran out into the hall, with Buffy close behind. She ran down the steps, and nearly made it to the door, but Buffy grabbed her and started tickling her stomach.

"No fair!" Willow said, laughing.

Buffy held onto Willow with one hand, and opened the door with her other hand.

"It's worse if you struggle, you know."

When they got outside, Buffy put Willow down. Not even stopping to recover, Willow chased Buffy all the way to the library.

***

At the airport, a small, two-seater plane came to a stop and a man exited, carrying a box. A vampire waited by a limo with a briefcase.

"Is he in the car?" the man asked.

"No, I'll take you to him."

The man kicked the limo door shut, that the vampire had held open for him. His hand was handcuffed to the box.

"The Mayor was supposed to be here in person with the money. Well, the price just went up. I don't like surprises."

An arrow quickly whizzed into the man's back from behind, killing him instantly. Faith jumped down from her hiding spot.

"Surprise," she said.

"You killed him," the vampire remarked, astonished.

"What are you, the narrator? Keys to the cuffs?"

The vampire searched the man's clothing.

"Nothing." Faith pulled out her new knife. "That won't cut through steel."

"No, but it will cut through bone."

***

 

"She left?" Buffy asked, approaching Cordelia's car that was sitting in the street in front of City Hall.

"About forty-five minutes -" Xander started, but then stopped as the limo came back. "And now she's here again."

"Get back to the library and help the others. I'll be there soon."

Cordelia started the car, and Xander hopped in the passenger seat. They drove off, leaving Buffy behind. She watched as Faith exited the limo carrying an old-looking box. Faith then entered the building.

The limo then pulled around to the parking lot. Buffy hurried to it, and punched in the driver's side window. The vampire driver was startled as she grabbed the front of his shirt.

"So, what's in the box?"

***

In the Mayor's Office, Faith set the box down on his desk.

"There it is! Ah, what happened to the courier? I was supposed to pay him."

"Made him an offer he couldn't survive."

"You are one heck of a girl, you know that? I mean geez, the initiative, the skill."

"Go on, go on."

"I will. You know, I'll tell you, if Buffy...if Buffy Summers walked in here and said she wanted to switch to our side, I'd say no thanks, sister, I've got all the Slayer one man could ever need."

Faith sighed.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Oh, it's cause I used the B-word, huh? Don't tell me you're still sore about her whole little band."

"No, I'm over it. She can have them."

"Better believe she can. You, on the other hand, can do better. I'm glad I found you when I did. You were wasting your talents with those demons on the streets. You'll always be appreciated here."

"I'm glad you found me too, boss."

She started fidgeting and began toying with the clasp of the box. He slammed his hands down on top of the box. "Don't do that."

***

"The Box of Gavrock," Buffy was telling everyone at the library. "It houses some great demonic energy or something which His Honor needs to chow down on come A-Day."

Willow brought over some sheets of paper, and laid them out on the table.

"Plans for City Hall that we downloaded. They were in the Water and Power mainframe." She said.

"The box is being kept under guard in a conference room on the top floor. Unfortunately, that's all I could get out of my informant before his aggressive tendencies forced me to introduce him to Mr. Pointy," Buffy said, pointing to the maps.

"Well, now, here's what I think we should do..." Wesley started.

"I figure we can enter through the skylight. I could use your help Giles."

"Of course."

"And there's a fire ladder on the east side of the building, here." Xander said, pointing.

"Yes, yes, fine, but we still need to consider whether the Mayor..." Wesley tried again.

"It won't be enough to simply have possession of the box," Giles said.

"Right, we have to destroy it. Not just physically - ritually, with some down and dirty black magic," Willow said.

"Hang on. We don't know what such a ritual would require," Wesley said.

"I think the Breath of the Atropyx is standard for this sort of thing. Fairly simple recipe. Xander?"

"I know. I'm ingredient getting guy."

"Alright, stop! I demand everyone stop this instant! I'm in charge here and I say this is all moving much too fast. We need time to fully analyze the situation and devise a proper and strategic stratagem."

"Wes, hop on the train or get off the tracks. You had your shot," Buffy said.

"The Mayor will most assuredly have supernatural safeguards protecting the box." There was silence. "Oh, we all forgot about that, did we?"

"Looks like a job for Wiccan girl. What do you say, Will? Big time danger."

"Hey, I eat danger for breakfast," Willow said confidently.

"But oddly enough, she panics in the face of breakfast foods." Xander quipped.

"Let's get to work," Buffy said, leading everyone out of the library.

***

 

Out front of City Hall, Wesley drove up in a dark van. Giles, Buffy and Willow got out.

"Now remember, if anything should go awry, Wesley, you must create a diversion," Giles said.

"Let's synchronize our watches. I have twenty-one four," Wesley said.

Buffy and Willow held up their bare wrists.

"Yes, typical."

"Maybe we could just count. One, one thousand; two, one thousand..," Willow said.

Buffy smiled at her, and the three of them walked off.

***

Back in the library, Oz placed a large ceramic pot on a pedestal, and Cordelia was looking at a sheet of paper. Xander entered carrying a paper bag.

"You got the goods?" Oz asked.

"Yeah. Essence of toad, twice-blessed sage…" He held up two different baggies. "Maybe that's the toad?"

"Well, we better be sure. Destroying this box is supposed to be a pretty delicate operation."

"Well, then, they shouldn't leave it in the hands of the lay people."

"Don't worry. Willow drew stick-figure instructions." Cordelia said.

Xander looked at the sheet. "Wow! She even drew that low-cut dress you like to wear."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"How many dollar bills do you think you could fit in that thing?"

Cordelia looked furious.

"You both need large amounts of therapy. Toad me."

***

On the roof, the three of them saw the box on the conference room table through the skylight. Giles opened the skylight, and Buffy handed Willow a book and a bottle containing sand. Willow read a spell while pouring the sand over the box. A blue force field appeared, and then vanished.

"Oh yeah, I'm bad."

"Four stars, Will. Now get going," Buffy said, smiling.

"I'm gone."

Willow left by the fire ladder, as Giles fit Buffy with a harness and set up a pulley system. He lowered her down over the box.

"Got it!" Buffy called.

As she lifted the box off the table, an alarm rang. Giles pulled on the cord, but Buffy didn't budge.

"Giles!"

"It's jammed."

"I'd like very much to come up now, please."

Two vampires entered the room.

"Don't suppose you want to help me get down." They growled. "Didn't think so."

Giles half jumped half fell, down to the table. Buffy did a kick using a vertical spin in the harness, kicking the two attackers down, and then got out of it.

Buffy helped Giles up, and he grabbed the box. They ran from the room with the vampires in pursuit. They got outside and darted right. As the vampires left the building after them, Wesley drove off, and they followed the van.

***

 

Later, in the wrecked conference room, the Mayor surveyed the damage while his vampire guards watched, ashamed.

"Well, this is very unfortunate. I just had this conference room redecorated, for Pete's sake. At taxpayers' expense. And, oh yeah..." He suddenly got a look of rage on his face, and smashed a chair. "They've got my box."

Faith walked in, holding a knife to Willow's neck. "Yeah they do, but looky what we got."

He smiled brightly.

***

 

"How did you guys let ...How did this happen?" Buffy asked a very sullen gang at the library.

"I thought…she was still," Wesley said slowly.

"They probably got her when she…" Cordelia trailed off.

"I'm sorry," Giles said, sympathetic.

"Look, it's nobody's fault, okay. We just need to focus and deal."

"We go back. Full-on assault." Xander said.

"They'll kill her," Giles said.

"We're assuming they haven't already?" Wesley asked.

"No. No, they know what she means to me…to us." Buffy closed her eyes, and tried to calm down. She needed to think. "She's too valuable as long as we still have the box. We trade."

"We can't."

"No, it's the safest plan." She looked from the disagreeing Wesley, to Giles. "It's the only way, right?"

"It might well be," Giles said.

"Look, we call the Mayor and arrange a meeting."

"This box must be destroyed," Wesley said.

"I need a volunteer to hit Wesley." Xander said.

"Giles, you know I'm right about this."

"Wes, you want to duck and cover at this point?" Buffy asked.

"Damn it, you listen to me! This box is the key to the Mayor's Ascension. Thousands of lives depend on our getting rid of it. Now I want to help Willow as much as the rest of you, but we will find another way."

"There is no other way."

"You and Willow were the ones who wanted to use this plan. You were right. This is the town's best hope of survival. I'm sure Willow knew the risks."

"You're gonna blame her getting captured on…are you made of human parts? You don't want to help her; you don't care about her. I do. We do. And I'm not sacrificing her for anything. Because if anything happens to her -"

"Alright! Let's deal with this rationally." Giles intervened.

"Why are you taking his side?"

Buffy looked at Oz who was sitting quietly over in the corner. He met her gaze, and nodded. .

"You'd sacrifice thousands of lives instead? Your families, your friends?"

Oz got up, and walked over to the ceramic pot.

"It can all end right here. We have the means to destroy this box."

Oz picked up the pot and threw it into a display case, smashing it.

"Giles, make the phone call," Buffy said.

***

In a storeroom in City Hall, Willow was banging on a locked window, trying to open it. She gave up on the window and pulled out a desk drawer. A vampire guard entered when he heard the noise.

"What are you doing?"

"Oh, uh, I'm looking for a sucking candy, cause my mouth gets dry when I'm nervous, or held prisoner against my will. "

He approached her, looking hungry.

"And suddenly I'm thinking sucking isn't a good word to use around vampires. Hey! Did you get permission to eat the hostage? I don't think so. You're going to be in some trouble when the Mayor..."

He grabbed her shoulders and pressed her against a wall. "Just a little taste."

As he leaned in to bite, Willow caused a pencil from the desk drawer to float up behind him and stab him in the back. He crumbled to dust.

Willow left the room and started down a hallway. A door opened and she heard Faith and the Mayor. Willow quickly hid in another room and listened.

"She's not gonna be brain-dead, but she'd be to come back here tonight," Faith said.

"Ever had a dog?"

"What?"

"I did. Rusty. Irish setter. A dog's friendship is stronger than reason, stronger than its own sense of self-preservation. And boy, when it really loves something, it just won't let it go. Buffy's like a dog, and hey, before you can say Jack Robinson, you'll get to see me kill her like one."

Faith and the Mayor walked down the hall, and Willow started to run the other way, but stopped at the open door to the Mayor's office. She entered, closed the door, and found the Mayor's liquor cabinet that was full of skulls and black arts statues. She found a hidden compartment containing five books, and began skimming the pages.

"The Books of Ascension," she said, in awe.

"Check out the bookworm," Faith said, who was standing in the doorway.

"Faith!"

"Anyone with brains, anyone who knew what was going to happen to her, would try to claw her way out of this place. But you, you just can't stop Nancy Drew-ing, can you? Guess now you know too much and that kinda just naturally leads to killing."

"Faith, wait. I want to…talk to you."

"The last time we talked, you weren't too nice to me. I was hurt. And this time you don't have her here to protect you from me." She backhanded Willow to the ground. "Payback's a bitch, ain't it?"

"I'm not afraid of you."

Faith pulled out her special knife. "Let's see what we can do about that."

The Mayor was standing in the doorway.

"Girls, I hope I don't have to separate you two. Faith, you can play with your new toy later. Something's come up."

Faith still held the knife to Willow's neck, staring into her eyes.

"Faith! You know I don't like repeating myself." She backed off. "I just received a heck of an interesting phone call."

***

In the cafeteria, the gang was waiting on the Mayor. Giles was holding a baseball bat, and Oz was checking to make sure a door was locked.

"The whole place is locked down, except for the front," he said.

"Yeah, it gives me that comforting trapped feeling," Xander said.

"One way out means one way in. I want to see them coming," Buffy said, alert.

'Why did I tell her to go in the first place? She should've stayed. If he hurt her I swear, I don't care if he is invincible, I'll…'

The lights went out, and only the outside lights shined in.

"Guess they're shy," Xander commented.

Two vampires pushed open the front doors, followed by the Mayor, then Faith, who was holding Willow. The two groups stop and glared at each other. The Mayor and Buffy walked a bit away from their respective parties.

She exchanged glances with Willow. 'I'm okay.'

"Well, this is exciting, isn't it?" The Mayor chuckled. "Clandestine meetings by dark of night. Exchange of prisoners. I just…I feel like we should all be wearing trenchcoats."

"Let her go."

"No. Not until the box is in my hands. So you're the little girl that's been causing me all this trouble." Buffy just continued to stare at him. "It really is wonderful how all of you are fighting, it truly is. Admirable even.

"I hate to rain on your parade, but when I get that box back…any future any of you might have had…well don't make any long range plans. You sure you want to give up the box?"

"I don't think we need to talk about this."

"God, you kids, you know. You don't like to think about the future. You don't like to make plans. Unless you want Faith to gut your friend like a sea bass, show a little respect for your elders."

"I'll earn my future. Don't worry about that. But I'm not gonna do it without her. So let's get going."

"Such drive. And that's really beautiful. It'll almost be a shame to kill you. Well, not quite. Make the trade."

Faith stepped up, and tossed Willow to Buffy, and Buffy handed her the box. Willow smiled at her, then got behind her.

"Well, that went smooth," the mayor said.

Suddenly, Snyder and two policemen entered through the front door.

"Nobody moves!" he said, as the Mayor stepped into the shadows. "I knew you kids were up to something."

"Snyder, get out of here," Buffy said.

"You're not giving orders, young lady. I suppose you're going to tell me I won't find drugs in this box." He took the box from Faith, and she was getting ready to use her knife.

"Wait!" Buffy yelled.

The Mayor stepped forward. "Principal Snyder. I think we have a problem."

"Mr. Mayor, I had no idea you ... I'm terribly sorry."

"No, it's I who should apologize. Coming down here at night. What must you be thinking? But you see, I just needed to..." One of the policemen was opening the box. "No! Don't do that!"

A spider-like creature leapt out of the box and onto the policeman's face. He started screaming. He attempted to pull the spider off his face, but couldn't. He collapsed to the floor and stopped moving. The spider released him and went away into the shadows. They started looking for it.

"Oh God," Wesley said.

"Where did it go?" Xander asked, Cordelia clinging to him.

"Get that door open!" Snyder yelled.

"No! You can't let that thing out of here!" Giles said.

"I still want to know where it went."

"Listen," Buffy said.

They heard soft noises on the ceiling. The spider was moving quickly. Everyone looked up. The spider dropped onto the Mayor's face and he fell backwards onto a table.

"Boss!" Faith called running over to him, and yanking the spider off him. It ran off.

Giles and Wesley climbed up on chairs. While everyone was looking at the looking at the Mayor's rapidly healing wounds, a second spider crept out of the box. The Mayor sat up. Snyder stared in horror.

"Wouldn't leave that open," the mayor said.

Buffy slammed the lid of the box shut just as a third creature was climbing out. Severed limbs clattered on the floor. As she crouched at the box, one of the spiders dropped on her back. She flipped onto her back, crushing it against the floor.

Faith saw the second spider climbing the wall behind Wesley and drew back her arm. Wesley saw her.

"No!" he yelled.

He ducked and Faith snapped the knife into the spider, killing it. The Mayor strode over to the box and picked it up.

"Is that all of them?" Oz asked.

"Ah, not really. You see, there's about fifty... billion of these happy little critters in here. Would you like to see?" The mayor asked.

The cop finally got the front doors open. He and the vampires raced out of the room.

"Raise your hand if you're invulnerable. Faith, let's go." Faith stared at the impaled spider on the wall that still held her knife. "Faith."

Faith stared for another second at the gang and the knife, then followed him. Snyder was holding a chair to his chest.

"Snyder, you alive in there?" Buffy asked.

"You. All of you. Why couldn't you be dealing drugs like normal people?" He walked off.

"Well, that went swimmingly," Wesley said.

"We did alright," Buffy said, looking in relief at Willow.

***

In the library, Willow was talking excitedly to Buffy, while Wesley and Giles watched.

"So Faith was like I'm going to beat you up and I'm all 'I'm not afraid of you' and then she had the knife which was less fun and then…"

"This is fascinating, but let's get back to the point. You actually had your hands on the Books of Ascension?" Giles asked.

"Volumes One through Five."

"Is there anything you can remember that could be of use to us? Anything at all?"

"Well, I was in a hurry, and what I did read was kind of over-involved. If you ask me, way over-written. Actually, there were a few pages that looked kind of interesting but I didn't have a chance to read them fully." Disappoint showed on Giles' face as she pulled some papers from her pocket. "See what you can make of them?"

Giles smiled and rushed off.

"This is your night for suave, Will. You should get captured more often." Buffy tried to make light of what happened, but couldn't. She hugged Willow, and wouldn't let her go. "On second thought, don't."

"Well, let's hope there is something useful in those pages. The Mayor has the Box of Gavrock. As of now, we are right back to where we started. Wouldn't you say?" Wesley said.

Buffy glared at him. "Screw you."

***

Later, Buffy and Willow were lying down on Buffy's bed.

"I think you're the one who's tense now," Willow said.

"I'm not letting you go. You almost…"

"But I didn't. I'm okay. See?"

Willow rolled Buffy onto her stomach and started to massage her back.

"You're better at this then me."

Willow smiled. "You passed up a chance to save the world for me tonight."

"You are the world to me. If you're not in it, then there's no reason for me to fight."

"How come you always know what to say?"

"Cause I follow my heart."

Willow rolled her onto her back again, and they kissed. She lowered her hands to Buffy's stomach.

"Oh no," Buffy said.

"You can' t get away this time."

Buffy pretended to try and get away, and Willow began to tickle her. Amid the laughter coming from both of them, Buffy thought to herself.

'Give up Willow? Never.'

20
THE PROM

Willow and Buffy were in 'April Fools', the trendiest dress shop in Sunnydale. Well, the only one that had the Cordelia Chase Seal of Approval, anyway. They needed to find dresses, and quick. The prom was two nights away, and they both wanted to go all out, but with Buffy's unpredictable slaying schedule, they didn't know when the next free moment would be. They did know that they wanted the night to be memorable. For it to be the one shining moment in front of their peers.

Willow was ecstatic, and she didn't seem to be nervous or apprehensive at all. Buffy, on the other hand, was worried. She wanted everything to be perfect; she wanted everything to be special. She just had this nagging feeling that no matter how hard they would try, that the rest of the student body would squash their efforts.

Prom Night was the unofficial end of both their "pre-adult" lives. And any other person would be sad they were leaving, but Buffy wasn't. She wished she could be, but she just looked at graduating as a way to move on with Willow to a place where they could start anew. Without people already judging them, and to be able to make a fresh start. It would be a nice change of pace from what they had been put through by their classmates.

'Let's face it. We both haven't been looked at very nicely by anyone.'

She wanted to be sad she was growing up. She wanted to leave as someone known for contributing positively to her class. Not as someone who was a 'freak' or someone who started fights and cut classes. She wanted everyone to see Willow as beautiful and friendly, not just as someone who used to give people answers to the homework every night. She wanted every one of her friends to get recognition.

For three years they all had protected the student body from everything the Hellmouth spewed out. From hyenas, to vampires, to invisible girls, and if it was just this once, she wanted her and her friends to get at the very least, a thank you.
'Just gotta deal, I guess. We're the silent, misunderstood heroes. And heroines.'

"…so I went by the gym yesterday. Everything looks really good." Willow was in mid-sentence.

"Rewind please?" Buffy shook herself out of her thoughts, and gave Willow an apologetic look.

"I went by the gym to see what they were doing for the Prom, and they really did a lot of work on it. You okay?" Buffy smiled. "That was a fake, Buffy. You know how I feel about that."

"Sorry, Will. I'm just thinking…about stuff."

"Prom stuff?"

"Yep."

"Everything's gonna be fine, you'll see."

"How…you know something."

"What makes you say that?" Willow picked up a dark blue, glittery dress and suppressed a smile. She wouldn't. This was too important. "Do you like this one?"

***

Back in the storeroom of 'April Fools', Cordelia took the last of the dresses out of the new shipment, and sighed. She grabbed a hangar and made her way out to the front of the store.

"I'm gonna hang this up, and then I'm taking my break." She told the other girl who was in the room with her.

"Take the rest of the day off. The Prom's soon isn't it?"

"Yeah. I'm not gonna go, though."

"Why not?"

"I haven't finished paying for my dress yet."

"Won't your date wonder why you don't want to go?"

"Yeah." She looked sad.

Cordelia walked out into the customer area of the store and made her way to the assigned rack. She barely noticed Buffy and Willow's presence, before they turned around and spotted her. There wasn't any time to run away.

"Hey Cordelia!" Willow said.

"Buffy…Willow…you're here…great…"

"Yep. After three years we're finally following your fashion advice," Buffy said.

"Oh…well…you know what they say. Better late then never."

They had never seen Cordelia act so jumpy before. Willow finally noticed the nametag on her shirt.

"You…work here?" Willow asked.

"Surprising, huh?" Cordelia asked, defensively.

"How come?" Buffy asked.

"Daddy just decided to not do his taxes for the last decade. No warning, or anything. I can't afford college, or a prom dress."

"Does Xander know?"

When Cordelia realized that they weren't going to make any kind of comment about her sudden loss of wealth and status, she softened.

"No. I've…I don't wanna tell him. After graduation, I'm leaving."

"I'm sorry, Cordy. Xander should…he loves you, ya know," Buffy said.

"I know, and that's why I can't tell him."

"You know we're both here for you," Willow said. "With whatever you're gonna do."

"Thanks." She gave them a genuinely appreciative smile, and pushed aside her problems for the moment.

Buffy got her wallet out of her pocket. "How much more do you need?"

"No I -"

Willow got hers out as well. "Go get the dress."

She hugged them tightly.

"If you're off work, we could really use your help," Buffy said.

"You should really try to be more fashion-conscious, Buffy."

"Well, maybe I'll take a class on it after the Ascension. If I'm alive and all."

Buffy turned away quickly, and walked to the other side of the store.

Willow and Cordelia were both upset at Buffy's sudden negative and depressed attitude, but then smiled because they knew her mood would change soon.

"Did you tell her?" Cordelia asked.

"Of course not! I've been good." Willow grinned.

They joined Buffy, and got to work.

***

"Were you two ladies successful in your hunt?" Xander asked Buffy and Willow later at the Bronze.

"As in dresses." Oz clarified.

"Oh…yeah." Buffy drifted.

"They're great. If it wasn't for Cordelia…" Cordelia looked at her wide-eyed for a second. "Who we just happened to meet when she came from…some other place that…wasn't…where we were." Willow mouthed a silent apology to Cordelia.

"What about yours? Do I get a preview?" Xander asked Cordelia somewhat suggestively.

"You can see the dress," Cordelia made sure 'dress' was said clearly, "at the Prom, Harris." She was good at not letting her expression betray what she was really thinking about. Buffy had to give her that.

"I need caffeine. Anyone want?" She said.

They all shook their heads, and Buffy walked over to the bar.

"She's been less than happy lately." Xander said.

"She was cheery and happy for awhile, but the closer we get to graduation…" Willow started.

"Buffy wants to feel like she accomplished something," Oz said.

"Saving the world isn't an accomplishment?" Cordelia asked.

"There's nobody to appreciate it. Have we even ever really thanked her for keeping this round blue rock o' water of ours spinning?" Xander said.

"We never really…how could we have not -?" Willow was shocked at that, at herself.

'We take her for granted. She saves our lives, and we expect her to always be there.'

"Well it's natural after the first couple times of thanking someone for saving your life to start slacking," Oz said. "Not that I agree with that. It's just the way things end up."

"It shouldn't. That's well…wrong and I really dislike myself right now. I mean I tell her I love her every day, and I mean it, but 'thank you' and 'I love you' are two different things."

"Which are both important." Xander said. "Which is why the -"

They all shushed him as Buffy came back over.

***

Buffy was battling her fourth vampire foe of the night. Giles sat calmly atop a headstone waiting for her to finish. The Prom was tomorrow night, and slaying was a great way to alleviate stress.

She pinned the vampire against a tree, and swiftly plunged her stake into his heart.

"Well…your speed has improved," Giles said.

"That's it?"

"I haven't been patrolling with you for awhile, Buffy. In fact, not even Wesley patrols with you. Is there some reason you wanted me out here tonight?"

"Just thought you might like to come along, that's all. If you don't -"

"I'm always glad to be in your company, Buffy," She smiled at him, "but what's bothering you?"

"Nothing." She sighed, and sat up against the headstone Giles was sitting on.

"You didn't ask me to come along for nothing."

"Do you feel like you've done anything with your life? I mean being a Watcher and…"

"There I times when I wonder if I've made anything of my life, yes. I studied for nearly my entire life to prepare me for my destiny as a Watcher, and I've been stripped of everything I worked for. Sometimes I wonder if I've wasted my life."

"Who wouldn't? I mean the Council's supposed to be this big, centuries old, thing, and then they fire you like a normal, everyday…"

"There are pluses, Buffy. Friendships I've made would have never have formed if I hadn't come here. Relationships…" She knew who he was talking about. "I've changed, I believe, for the better. And so have you."

"I know, and I'm glad I have. Found the people I have, gone through what I've gone through, but I've been here for three years Giles. The years that are supposed to be the best of my life, and I've spent them saving people and a world that doesn't even know I exist."

"I know you exist. Your mother does. Your friends…"

"And I wouldn't trade you or them for anything, but…oh I don't know."

"What did you do before you came here, Buffy? Before slaying?"

"Normal stuff."

"Such as?"

"I…"

"Can't you remember?"

Giles smiled at her, and she just stared. "No…"

"Do you want to know what high school is about, Buffy? It's about finding out who you are, establishing bonds with people. It's about preparing yourself for life, and about the experiences you have during your time there.

"You could know every single person's name in the school, and they could know yours, but that means nothing in the long term. Cordelia, Xander, Oz, and especially Willow, are the ones that you'll look back on, and look forward with. You may have come together under unusual circumstances, but you've stayed together. And that is an accomplishment in and of itself. They are true friends.

"You may not have had the chance to do 'normal stuff' as frequently as other people your age, but you've done them. Movies, dancing, dating. And on top of that you have saved the world and triumphed over every single challenge thrown your way.

"If people knew what you did, they would appreciate it as much as I do. As your friends do. Don't ever think you don't exist, Buffy, because if you didn't, no one else would either. Your high school years have been difficult, but you're leaving with a person you love very much, and who loves you in return, and going to college. You've survived, and I couldn't be prouder."

"You better not leave me. Ever," Buffy said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"I would never dream of it." They smiled at each other. " Ah, tomorrow night's the…"

"Prom. Yeah, it should be something." She wiped her eyes.

He put his hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry yourself. Everything will be fine."

***

Buffy and Willow were making their way to the gym. Buffy was wearing a long sleeveless, pink, silk dress. Willow had her hair up; a necklace, and a sleeveless, dark red, sparkling dress with a matching shawl. They were holding hands, their arms outstretched for everyone to see.

"Don't be so tense," Willow said.

"Why aren't you?"

"You'll see."

They entered the gym and went under the u-shaped "entrance" of red and white balloons. Lights were shining down on the floor, and a DJ was in the front. Buffy kept looking around at the already dancing couples, trying to see if anyone was looking at them. Surprisingly, nobody was.

Buffy wanted to relax, but she was still wary.

"Come on, Xander and Cordelia are already dancing. We have to catch up."

They walked out to the 'dance area' and made their way over to Cordelia and Xander. It was a semi-fast paced song, and they quickly got into it. Willow saw Oz dancing with Amy, her fellow wicca, and smiled at them. She smiled at Buffy, who returned it.

They shifted their gazes over to Cordelia who had decided to drag Xander to a table. She had made her decision.

***

"Xander, I have to tell you something. I'm…leaving after -"

"I know."

"You do?"

"Well, when I went by your house and saw a guy in a suit talking to your mom, and two big sweaty guys taking away your furniture…"

"You saw that?" He nodded. "It wasn't something that was planned, the IRS just decided to repossess the house."

"A family move I could understand, but you're going on your own, aren't you?"

"Yeah."

"Why? Don't you wanna stay here with me? Or are you too afraid that people will think of you as Cordelia ' became as poor as her loser boyfriend Xander Harris' Chase?"

"Not everything is about you Xander. I just can't stay here. It'll be a chance for me to try and live on my own. Without being supported by my parents."

"Why can't we do it together?"

"I want to go to LA, maybe try and become an actress. I've got the looks." He huffed. "And if I thought you'd leave, I would've asked you."

He looked down at his lap, realized she was right, but quickly put a look of anger on his face.

"I knew you wouldn't leave your friends, and I'm okay with that. I wish I had made friends like Buffy and Willow a lot sooner. But this has nothing to do with me wanting to get away from you. I never thought I'd say it, but I do love you."

"No you don't."

"What?"

"This is your game, Cordelia, and you think I'm just a toy. You know, go be an actress, cause you sure acted circles around me. But you know what, I'm not gonna be like your other throwaways. I should have known from the beginning that you were just leading me along. I guess it's my fault that I made myself think I loved you.

"I'm ending us before you do. At least I can walk away with some dignity."

He got up, and started to walk away. She slapped him in the face, tears burning her face. "You bastard." She quickly shook the tears off, and walked out of the gym, trying to keep her head up.

***

The lights were dimmed on the makeshift stage. It was nearing the end of the awards ceremony. Everyone looked on. Buffy was in the walkway in between the two crowds, getting punch with Willow.

"And the award for Sunnydale High's Class Clown for 1999 goes to Jack Mayhew." The student at the microphone said.

Jack put on a balloon hat and made funny faces sitting on the edge of the stage. He waddled his way back into the crowd.

"Please! Anybody can be a prop class clown. You know, none of the people who vote for these things are even funny." Xander said to Willow and Buffy over at the punch table, disappointed.

"Will, did they give out the idiot and big macho jerk award yet?"

"Nope. Who do you thinks gonna win?"

"Oh, there's no contest this year."

They both glared at him icily. They had seen Cordelia walk out, and went after her, but by the time they made it outside, she had already gone, her car leaving streaks where it had sped quickly from its space in the parking lot.

Jonathan came over to the microphone on stage, lowered it a bit, and spoke.

"We have one more award to give out. Is Buffy Summers here tonight? Did she, um..."

Everyone turned around, looking for her. She turned to Willow who just smiled at her puzzled expression, then looked in Jonathan's direction.

"This is actually a new category. First time ever. I guess there were a lot of write-in ballots, and, um, the prom committee asked me to read this:

'We're not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you, but that doesn't mean we haven't noticed you. We don't talk about it much, but it's no secret that Sunnydale High isn't really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here.' "

"Zombies!" "Hyena people!" "Snyder!" The crowd shouted out.

Jonathan continued, " 'But, whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you, or helped by you at one time or another. We're proud to say that the Class of '99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history.'"

The crowd cheered.

"And we know at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class, offers its thanks, and gives you, uh, this."

He got handed a multicolored, glittering, miniature umbrella with a small metal plaque attached to the shaft.

"It's from all of us, and it has written here, 'Buffy Summers, Class Protector.' "

The crowd applauded and cheered, and Buffy couldn't move.

"Go ahead. You deserve this." Willow kissed her, and let her go. "Oh, and Buffy?"

She turned around.

"Thank you."

Before she walked up to the stage, she saw Giles by the entrance looking at her, smiling.

***

It was the end of the night, and the final song was playing, It was a slow, soft song, and Buffy stood in front of Willow and offered her hand.

"Dance with me?"

Willow took her hand, and they went out amongst all the other couples. As they went further in the mass, Buffy heard soft words of apology and thanks echoing through the crowd.

They found their spot, and Buffy wrapped her arms around Willow's neck.

"So, was this night everything you hoped?" Willow asked.

"More than that. I never expected this."

"I'm glad. You're happy now? No sad thoughts?"

"Nope. I was confused for a little while, but I figured something out."

"What's that?"

"That even though my life is dangerous, and even though it's not 'normal' to a lot of people, to me, it's perfect."

Willow smiled and put her arms around Buffy's neck. They pulled each other close, their foreheads touched, and they kissed softly, dancing slowly to the music.

Continue to Chapters 21-22 (the conclusion)

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