Stranger in My House by Shyfox
Comments, questions, criticisms are as always welcome at shyfox30@hotmail.com

A Stranger in My House
by

Shyfox

 

Prologue

My name is Buffy Summers, or at least that's what I've been told. See, I woke up a week ago unable to remember anything, including my own name. I can say, with all honesty, that's a pretty freaky thing. I was introduced to people that knew me, but I couldn't remember them. It's kind of like living in an episode of the Twilight Zone. You know, the one where the guy wakes up one morning and he remembers everybody but nobody remembers him? I saw that one yesterday and it kinda says it all about how I feel, only for me it's reversed.

Everybody has been really terrific and understanding though. My mom has been by my side, practically every second since I woke up, filling me in on the details so to speak, like what's been happening for the last eighteen or so years. It's been kind of freaky, taking it all in...I mean, who knew that my high school would burn down my senior year? At least I graduated...I think. So, this hospital therapist gave me this journal...said I should write down my thoughts and feelings so I don't get too confused, or jumbled up.

Mom says she's been looking forward to the time when I'll come home, so it's really weird that she's not picking me up today to take me home. She said she wanted to get the house ready for me, whatever that means, but Xander's coming to pick me up, so I guess that's okay.

I must say though, I've got some really strange friends. I haven't known him that long, but I can tell Xander's a wild one. I wonder if he and I ever...no...probably not, it would be too weird not to remember something like that. But he's pretty cool, in a zany kind of way. I can't really tell if he's really like that or just trying too hard.

I hope he's not bringing his girlfriend with him. I only met her once, but she said some pretty off the wall stuff. Something about Willow, and how she was taking everything really well considering the circumstances. And that if it had been her she would have completely fallen apart by now. Xander had shot her this really harsh look, then looked at me kind of guilty like, as if he was hoping I hadn't caught that. I had though, and I'm still wondering over what that meant.

Speaking of which, I'm really confused over Willow. I mean, from what everybody has told me she's supposed to be one of my very best friends, and yet I've only seen her a couple of times for very brief visits. And she always has this lost, sad look in her eyes, although she tries to cover it by talking a mile a minute. I tried to ask her about it once, but she made this really lame excuse about having to water her plants or something, then disappeared faster than I could blink.

It must be hard for them though. I mean, they have all of these memories about me, things we've done, places we've gone, conversations we've had, and I can't remember a single thing about them.

I've just looked at the clock, and it's almost noon...Xander will be here soon to take me home. Home...I wonder what that will be like...or if I'll even like it. I'm not sure why I'm thinking that, except it will be strange and unusual, and something else I'll have to get used to. Well, I can hear them coming up the hall, and yes, he brought the girlfriend with him. Ugh. I guess my fate is sealed. I hope I don't feel like too much of a stranger in my own home...I guess I'll see.

Chapter One: Welcome home, Buffy

Don't wish it away,
Don't look at it like it's forever.
Between you and me,
I could honestly say that things can only get better.

And while I'm away,
Dust out the demons inside.
And it won't be long before you and me run,
To the place in our hearts where we hide.

And I guess that's why they call it the blues.
Time on my hands could be time spent with you.
Laughing like children, Living like lovers,
Rolling like thunder under the covers.
And I guess that's why they call it the blues.

-- Elton John.

"Welcome home, honey." Joyce stood in the doorway, watching her daughter make her way slowly to the house. She had healed, for the most part, her super fast healing ability taking care of most of the bumps and bruises that had peppered the Slayer from her fall. The only noticable remaining indication of her ordeal was the limp in the her walk as she favored her left side, where her bruised ribs and still healing gash still caused her some pain, and the incredibly empty look in those hazel blue eyes.

"Thanks, Mom." Buffy tried not to lean too hard against Xander, who was trying valiently to help her to the house, but she still felt overwhelmingly weak. She thought she'd be feeling so much better by now, somehow, and it irked her that she felt like she had to rely on Xander just to walk from the driveway to the house.

Xander just wished Buffy's Slayer strength would hurry up and make an appearance, for both of their sakes.

"Do you feel up to the grand tour, or would you like to lay on the couch for a little bit." Joyce asked, trying not to worry over how tired Buffy looked.

Buffy shook her head, unsure what she wanted to do as they walked into the house together. She thought she should at least recognize something, but as she looked around at the unfamiliar furnishings, she felt the reality of the situation pressing in on her. Part of her wanted to go back to the hospital, where at least something was familiar, but another part of her, a deeper, stronger part, wanted even more to stick it out and get reaquainted with her life.

"Maybe we can just sit down for a little bit." Buffy said, as she headed over to the couch.

*****

The ride to Giles house was very quiet. Rupert wasn't quite sure what to say to the young woman who was staring out the window, lost in thought. Willow couldn't get the image of Buffy arriving home out of her head. She had only seen her for a brief split second, and yet, seeing her standing in the driveway in front of her house had seemed so right. Like she truly belonged there, and all was once again right with the world. Unfortunately, that wasn't completely true, at least as far as Willow was concerned.

She had to keep reminding herself that her leaving was for the best. There wasn't anything she wouldn't do if she could just go home again, crawl between the sheets of Buffy's bed, wrap her arms around her wife and just stay there, safe and secure in the love that she felt for her.

Things were never that simple though, and so, here she was on her way to Giles house, for who knew how long, wondering if things would ever be the way they used to be. Wondering if her wife would ever look at her with the love that used to shine, just for her, from the depths of her bright blue eyes. It did her absolutely no good to wonder if Buffy would ever even get to know her own child, it just left her feeling miserable and alone. She had to get a handle on these feelings, if not for her own sake, then at least for Buffy's.

She knew she wasn't being much of a friend to her right now. She'd tried to visit her a couple of times in the hospital, but it just hurt too much to be around her. Then Buffy had called her on it, and she wasn't sure what to say. She remembered muttering something about plants while walking backwards, and then she'd been out of the room, staring at the closed hospital room door, wondering if she'd ever be able to get her act together.

She sighed, drawing Giles attention to her once more. "I know...it won't be home. But....I..I think I have everything set up so you'll be comfortable."

Willow tried on a smile for his sake, feeling it stretch across her lips, though no emotion lay behind it. "I'm sure it will be just fine, Giles."

The older man searched blindly for something else to say, then gave up and simply nodded, returning his attention to the tree lined streets.

*****

"And this is your bedroom." Joyce finished the little tour by pushing open Buffy's bedroom door. Buffy entered the room like she was seeing it for the first time, and in a way she was, she had walked through the whole house like that, her attention being drawn to every nook and cranny as if she was memorizing where everything was.

Joyce had breezed by the closed room at the head of the stairs, but for some reason Buffy's attention had been drawn to it, almost magnetically.

"What's in there?" Buffy had asked, her eyes almost poring through the wood, and Joyce thanked God that her daughter didn't have x-ray vision as one of her many powers.

"Oh that?" Joyce thought her voice sounded a little strangled to her own ears, she hoped Buffy hadn't picked up on that, but she was completely unprepared to answer questions about that room. "That...that's just my n-...uh...office, honey. Nothing really to see in there."

Buffy had looked at her a little strange, almost as if she was sensing the lie, but then just answered her with a simple. "Oh."

Now, Buffy looked around her room, hoping for one small feeling of recognition to jump out at her from the four silent walls. Not a shred of recognition was elicited from the clothes hanging in the closet, or the ice skates hanging over the door. Even the stuffed pig in the corner left her feeling cold. 'I sleep in here. This is my bedroom, the bedroom that I've had for the last eighteen or so years? Shouldn't I feel...something?' Buffy asked herself. A growing feeling of isolation and fear began to settle around her weary shoulders, but then she noticed the picture frame resting on the dresser.

Picking it up, she examined it curiously, wondering why just seeing the redhead grin at her from the photo made her want to grin in reflex. She hadn't seen the redhead grin at her like that in the hospital, if she had, she knew she would have felt the warm feeling that was swimming around inside her now. There was a truly joyous expression on that face, one that captured her attention and made her feel joyful herself. Even if it was just a sliver of what was reflected from her friend, it was enough to let her give in to her feelings and grin. But looking at herself was weird. She tried to find the answers to all her questions about herself in those deep hazel eyes. She imagined how it would be if the person in the picture could speak. What she would tell her about how her life had been and who she was.

She placed a hand on the picture, running her fingers over the smooth glass. They were friends, best friends from what Xander and her mother had told her, and here in her hands was the proof. She wondered what she had done to change that. Was forgetting about her the thing that had stolen the smile from that endearing face? She found herself wishing that she could remember, just so she could put that smile back in it's proper place.

Joyce's heart skipped a beat as she saw the smile appearing on her daughter's face. It was the first genuine smile she had seen since the coma, and knowing that looking at Willow's picture had put it there caused her to feel hope for them again.

*****

"Well, here we are." Giles put Willow's suitcase down by the bottom of the stairs, as she looked around the apartment.

"Where's the rest of it?" The wiccan asked in a near state of panic. Not only had she lost Buffy...she'd lost her stuff. It was an irrational fear, but then she wasn't exactly thinking rationally at the moment.

"Ah. Yes. Right this way." Giles said, as he resumed his hold on the suitcase and started carrying it up the stairs.

Willow was speechless as she followed Giles into his room. He had fixed it up so that everything she would need was right at her fingertips. Her clothes were neatly put away in his closet, and her stuffed panda bear, the one Xander had given her, was waiting for her on the bed.

"Giles...You didn't have to. I mean...giving me your room? I..I mean thank you...but...I would have been just as comfortable on the couch." She stuttered over herself as she tried to recover from the shock. "I...I mean...I don't deserve all this."

"Yes you do. And yes, I did." He reassured her gently. "I mean, really...I couldn't have you sleeping on the couch. What would Buffy th-" He felt like biting his own tongue as the well-meaning words slipped out of his mouth. Especially when he saw the pinched look come over her face. They had come out so easily, so naturally that he hadn't been able to stop them, and now Willow was looking like she'd just been slapped. "Oh, Willow...I'm so sorry...I didn't think."

Willow took a deep breath, willing the sharp sensation in her chest to go away, then let it out slowly. "No...It's okay, Giles. I'm going to have to get used to it. I can't avoid her completely. She's still my best friend, even if she doesn't remember me." She shared a small half grin with the watcher, knowing he was worrying far too much for his own good. "Besides, it's not like she's going to be this way forever. Right?" Her grin turned half-hopeful as she looked for some reassurance from the older man. "Right?"

The truth was, there really was no way to tell with Buffy. The doctors on the case had been less than hopeful, considering the extent of the damage she had suffered, but then again, they didn't know how truly special she was either. "I wouldn't count her out just yet. If I know Buffy, she'll be back to her old self before you even have a chance to miss her."

"That's good." Willow nodded slowly, then turned her misty green eyes towards him. "Because I miss her already."

Putting an arm around her shoulders, Giles comforted her the only way he knew how. "I bet she misses you too."

*****

Chapter two: Sometimes I forget

lyrics by Doug Stone

Sometimes I forget, and reach across the bed.
In that early morning light you're in my arms again.

Lights. Motion. Music. She swam in a daze of erotic feeling, sensing the pull of her lover as they became one, spinning into the heavens on a cloud of red hot passion. She could feel her lover beside her, and yet she wasn't able to make out either the size or shape of her partner in the dazzling brightness.

She heard her name being called, like a whisper on the wind echoing through a long tranquil night, and something inside of her stirred at the sound....drawing closer to the familiar, as it recognized a soul deep connection.

"I love you." The voice echoed again, growing distant as the form began to move away from her.

"Don't go." She whimpered, feeling an immediate sense of loss at the departure. "I just found you!" She cried, growing desperate as no answer came from her plea.

The voice returned, casting a balm over her soul as she heard it's reassuring words. "It won't be long, and I won't be far. All you have to do is look for me." A soft impression of a kiss was placed upon her cheek and then the voice was gone, leaving her confused and alone.

*****

In the early hours of the morning, Buffy woke in her strange, new house, searching the empty space beside her with a roaming hand. It was almost as if she expected somebody to be there, even though she had gone to bed alone. She stared pensively around the room, wondering why she felt like she was missing something important. More important than even her absent memory.

When I'm only half awake, I softly call your name.
For a moment you're with me, and I can still believe it will always be this way.

The redhead was still, except for the rhythmic motions of her chest moving up and down as she breathed. Her fingers twitched on the soft fur of the panda bear she was holding tightly in her arms, and eyes moved endlessly beneath closed eyelids as the dreamer was caught in REM sleep. She thought for a moment that she heard someone calling to her, and she tried to answer back but her tongue seemed to be lodged permanently to the roof of her mouth.

But the voice continued to hound her, and she stirred then, emitting a low grunt as she grew frustrated by the insistent calling of her name. "Buffy?" Her brows furrowed, even though her eyes were still shut tight as she waited for the returning sound of her lover. She waited half a beat, then called for her again, growing confused at the continued silence, where there was once a voice. Bright green eyes popped open, and scanned the room as she tried to remember where she was. The different but still recognizable decor sank in amongst her senses, completing the picture for her half asleep brain. For a moment she had forgotten, in her dreams she had been taken back, almost magically, to the days when all she had to worry about was what color to paint the nursery. When Buffy had wrapped her up in her arms at night and held her like she was the most precious thing on Earth. Now as she woke to the harsh reality of Giles' bedroom, the sun beaming merrily in through the window, almost mocking her with its cheerful nature, all Willow really wanted to do was bury her head under the pillow and go back to her dream world, where at least she could still be by Buffy's side.

*****

But sometimes I forget in the middle of the day.
Lost in my routine and for a while I'm okay.

Things didn't seem as confusing when she was focused on something, like doing the dishes, or helping her mom to make supper. In between the chores, the two women would talk, Buffy mostly asking questions about herself and other people and Joyce trying to answer them as best she could.

The one thing Joyce hadn't been able to explain away was the phone conversation Buffy had overheard earlier in the day. She had called Giles to see how Willow was making out, as worried about the poor girl as she had been when her daughter-in-law had left the day before.

Worried even more when Giles told her Willow hadn't emerged from the room, except to use the bathroom and get drinks of water, even refusing the breakfast Giles had meticulously prepared. Neither had she shown any signs of interest when he had asked what she wanted for lunch. She had hoped Xander's visit would cheer her up in the afternoon, and after hanging up with Giles, had been staring pensively out the window, when Buffy had asked her what was wrong with Willow.

For a moment she had been lost for words, wondering how much her daughter had overheard, then had just decided to be as honest as she could be without revealing too much information. "She's just really worried about you, honey."

Buffy had frowned at that, recalling how little Willow had actually visited her in the hospital, and the fact that the red-head hadn't been to visit her since she got home. "Then why hasn't she been around? I mean, if we're friends, why is she avoiding me?"

Joyce, who had felt like she'd opened the biggest can of worms, had set her steaming cup of coffee down on the countertop, as she tried to find some way to explain Willow's absense. As she searched fruitlessly for the right words to say, Buffy watched her mother, seeing the worry lines that crinkled around the corners of her eyes. Buffy knew that the answer to this question was important to her, though she couldn't fathom why. There was a piece to this puzzle that just wasn't fitting.

"She's trying to adjust, honey. You two have been friends for so long, that...it's kind of strange for her that you don't remember her." The words felt wrong coming out, but Buffy seemed to accept them in the way they were intended.

Buffy had nodded, pondering the words and the meaning behind them as she had left her mother alone in the kitchen. She still felt like the whole situation was weird, but maybe that was to be expected. It was true that she didn't remember them, maybe they didn't know how to act around her anymore, either.

*****

I might laugh and carry on while I'm talking with a friend.
Like everythings not wrong, like you're not really gone.
Sometimes I forget.

Xander's visit had picked up her spirits a little, Willow was surprised to discover, and her oldest friend in the world had gone all out, going so far as to do the Scooby dance for fifteen minutes straight, until she had to practically beg him to stop, tears of laughter falling steadily down her pale cheeks.

"Thanks Xander, I really needed that." She had said, when he'd finally crashed down on the sofa, panting as he tried to get his breath back from dancing.

"Anytime you need a pick me up, I'm your man." He said, nonchalently, a bright grin on his face, glad to see some of the life returning to the former ebullient green eyes.

The room started to go quiet again, as Willow started to sink back into her sadness, and Xander found himself not wanting to let that happen. "Hey, what do you say we go get a pizza?" Giles told him that she hadn't been eating, and said that if he could get her out of the house, he'd pay for wherever they went.

Willow felt her stomach turn at the mere thought of all that red, tomatoey sauce, and shook her head quickly. "No thanks, Xander. I'm not really...hungry." In fact, she had to swallow just to keep down whatever stomach acids that were remaining.

"Well...we don't have to get Pizza, you know. I'll take you anywhere you want. Come on, what do you say?" He prodded, trying to encourage her into the excursion.

Willow had looked at him doubtfully, but seeing the worried expression in his deep brown eyes, almost hidden by the jovial expression on his face, she decided to cut him, and indeed everyone, some slack by not making them worry so much about her. It was true they had enough to worry about with Buffy's amnesia, she really didn't need to be adding herself onto the list. "You know what I could really go for?" She asked, trying to perk herself up.

"I'm all ears." Xander said, the twinkle returning to his eyes. She studied his ears dubiously for a moment, jokingly, before he pushed her away gently, a mock scolding expression on his face. "Come on, Will. Tell me."

"A McDonalds Hamburger." She chirped.

"Do you wan't fries with that?" Xander joked, as he got their coats. "I'll even treat you to one of those leafy green salad thingies."

Willow had to roll her eyes at that, Buffy's influence had obviously rubbed off on all of her friends as well. By the time they were done feeding her with leafy green veggies she'd be very much surprised if she hadn't turned into a rabbit. "Okay...come on."

*****

All at once the truth comes rushing back to me.
I remember I'm barely hanging on.
It takes all the strength I have, just to make it pass.
One more hour on my own.

Going to McDonalds had seemed, at the time, a pretty good idea. She hadn't counted on the amount of kids that normally populate the well loved 'kiddie' restaurant. She looked around at the kids playing on the playsets, saw them running up to embrace their 'Mommies' and 'Daddies' when it was time to leave, saw the worried expressions on other parents faces when their kids hurt themselves while playing.

Every tiny face reminded her of her present situation. Every couple reminded her of what she'd hoped to be doing with Buffy some day, taking care of their child together. It was almost more than she could bear, watching the happy and not so happy parents, working together to raise their family. She guzzled down her food, barely tasting it as she tried to get the ordeal over with as quickly as possible.

Xander watched her face, knew what she must be thinking as her eyes traveled over the kids on the playground. He couldn't help feeling sorry for her, even though he knew deep down everything would work out right in the end...it just had to. He just couldn't see Buffy never remembering the love that he had seen burn between his two best friends. He couldn't bring himself even to acknowledge the fact that she might not ever know her own daughter, not with how excited she had been since finding out. He still remembered the excited glow that had been on her face as she had insisted on showing him every sonagram picture, taking great care to point out the curve of the baby's head, and the way she sucked on her thumb, even inside of Willow's womb.

"You wanna go?" He asked, quietly, waiting until her eyes met his before he dropped them, unable to bear the look of grief that filled them.

She nodded, gathering her things, and they both left the restaurant, each determined not to mention what had happened in there.

*****

Sometimes I forget.
That's how I'd like to stay.
For a moment I can feel, the way I used to feel.
Before you went away.

The day ended like it had began, each thinking of the other, though neither of them knew it at the time. Willow sat on the bed, her arms wrapped around her giant panda bear, as she felt her baby merrily kicking around inside of her. She was reminded constantly of the first time it had happened, and the expression that had been on her love's face as she had felt how strong their daughter was. Her heart ached to see that look again. She ached just to see her again, to see those eyes shining with wonder. Their time together had been so short, and so beautiful. She wasn't ready for that time to end. Not yet.

Buffy sat unwittingly in the same position on her bed, staring at the photograph that she had found on her dresser. She had no idea why she spent so much time looking at it, except that it gave her an inner sense of peace, something that she desperately needed now when everything was so uncertain. All of the details and facts she had been told held no real meaning for her, if she couldn't remember the events taking place, how could they. The only thing that seemed to have any real meaning for her was this picture clasped tightly in her hands. She would remember this person, she promised herself. She would find out why this person seemed to hold the key to her soul.

*****

Chapter three: On the wild side

Well, we all have a face that we hide away forever.
And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone.
Some are satin, some are steel.
Some are silk and some are leather.
They're the faces of a stranger but we love to try them on.

Well, we all fall in love but we disregard the danger.
Though we share so many secrets, there are some we never tell.
Why were you so surprised that you never saw the stranger?
Did you ever let your lover see the stranger in yourself.

We may never understand how the stranger is inspired.
But he isn't always evil, and he is not always wrong.
Though you drown in good intentions, you will never quench the fire.
You'll give into your desire when the stranger comes along.

-- Billy Joel

<Thump>

<silence>

<Thump>

<silence>

<Thump>

The noise assaulted her with a steady beat. It was the only thing she could make out in this dank, dismal corridor, so she followed the direction of the sound, knowing when she was getting closer by the steadily louder thumps. She was soon able to make out a series of grunts intermingled with the other sounds, and her curiosity about what was causing them increased. The hallway widened into a small room, lit by a single torch, which contained a sturdy looking steel cage, and a rather intimidating looking creature.

The mere sight of this dirty, rather feral looking creature was enough to increase her heart rate and make her want to back out of the room, but the look in it's eyes intrigued her enough that her feet, rather without her permission, propelled her forward to get a better look.

It snarled at her in a predatory rage, teeth showing white around the corners of it's mouth, as blue fire blazed beneath furry eyebrows. It's hands were clenched in fists around the bars of the cage, and although the beating had stopped, Buffy's heart still hammered wildly in her chest, as if to make up for the absense of it in the air. She inched closer, looking up into the creature's wild face, surprised to see images of her own face peering back at her.

She closed her eyes, afraid she was either going crazy or dreaming. "I'm dreaming." She whispered, hoping she'd wake up any moment, but the other still stood there glaring at her, even after she'd reopened her eyes.

After a moments careful guard, she relaxed again, inching even closer to the cage that contained the beast. "What are you?" She asked at last, unable to contain her curiosity any longer.

The other grunted at her, then looked past her, sniffing the air as if she expected to find someone else behind the perplexed blonde. Buffy looked back, wondering if she'd find anyone else sneaking up behind her, but she only saw the darkened hallway she had emerged from.

"Who are you looking for?" This question seemed to regain the creature's attention, but Buffy suddenly wished it hadn't because she found herself under the heated gaze of the other again.

She felt like she was under the heated lamp of a microscope as her more primitive half examined her from head to toe, seemingly unimpressed with what she saw, for she sneered in her direction, hatred seemingly burning from the bright blue eyes. "You stupid." The creature declared finally, causing Buffy to blink for she didn't think her more primitive half was capable of speech. It started moving around it's small cage, glancing down the long corridor every few seconds, and growing more agitated with every turn of the small space as the one she was seeking failed to make an appearance. Buffy watched the movement with a growing sense of apprehension, and felt like stepping back a pace or two when it turned menacing eyes on her.

"Buffy want." The creature declared, suddenly and slapped the plastered wall at the back of the cage with a closed fist, causing a reverberation of noise to echo throughout the small room, and Buffy to jump out of her skin.

"What does Buffy want?" The clearly confused woman asked, feeling the pure rage radiating off her more primitive half.

"Buffy WANT!" The growled words were followed by another loud thump against the wall, bringing Buffy's attention to it's surface. She was expecting to see plaster crumbling amidst the closed fist, but was surprised to see a picture she hadn't noticed before painted on the crudely made wall.

Buffy didn't even want to imagine what this creature would use for paint as she examined the stick figure representation of a person, that was only distinguishable by the shock of red hair that sat haphazardly on what appeared to be the figure's head. She was shocked by the flutter of sensation that shuddered down her spine at the sight of the drawing, and even more so by the way the creature reacted to it.

The creature had it's nose pressed gently against the painting, sniffling at it, as if it gave off an odor only she could detect, while she stroked it with a gentleness Buffy hadn't even suspected she was capable. "Buffy want...Buffy want..." The creature continued to mumble, while Buffy stared at the scene transfixed, wondering why seeing her more primitive half like this caused a twinge of regret in her own heart.

"Why does Buffy want?" She found herself emulating the creature's speech pattern, completely captured by the intensity of it's bright blue eyes. She was overwhelmed by the amount of sadness that reflected from them, and even more so by the words she enunciated so clearly.

"Life mate."

"Life mate?" She echoed, surprised that this primitive being could even have such a partner.

Her confusion seemed to rekindle the anger in those blue eyes for the creature started pounding the wall again, growing more loud with every swing. "Bring her back. Bring her back!"

The fury hit her just as if the creature had picked up a nearby boulder and thrown it at her. She knew in that moment that if she didn't find some way to bring back whatever it was she was missing, the creature would take matters into her own hands and do the job for her.

*****

Buffy woke up clutching the picture she had fallen asleep with, it's hard frame pressed against her chest, as if she had been afraid to let it go. She studied it again, like she had nearly a thousand times before, thinking about how strange her dream had been, and wondering yet again why she was so drawn to this person whom she could hardly even remember and felt like she had just met.

What was it about her that stroked and inflamed her curiosity and imagination so much that she'd end up having such bizarre dreams? What kind of past did the two of them share? She knew that they were friends, that much was evident by how relaxed and happy they both looked in the picture. But what else?

The questions nagged at her like a sore tooth, burdening her mind with idle possiblilities, and more theories than could ever be possible. "Well, whoever you are, Willow Rosenberg. I intend to find out. Today, if possible."

*****

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Giles asked, rather fretfully, as Willow continued to place items into her already overburdened backpack.

"Of course I'm sure. Buffy loves Yatzee." Willow replied, nonchalantly, struggling to squeeze the last remaining items in. "She's going to need help in order to keep up with her classes. Besides, it's not like I can avoid her forever. She's going to start to wonder why, and I'm not sure I can come up with a reasonable explanation, can you?" Willow asked, eyebrows raised, pointedly at the Watcher.

"I just think that if you just give it more time..." Giles said gently, noticing sad green eyes pick up from their examination of her idle work to look at him.

"It's been a week. I miss my wife...and I want to see her." She explained, looking away as she finished fastening her backpack.

"But..."

"I won't give anything away. I promise. I'll let her remember everything on her own. It's just...it's too hard to stay away from her. In the beginning I thought it was harder to be in the same room with her, but now...I just miss her so much I can barely stand it. At least, this way, I'll be able to talk with her, and play games, and help her with her homework. Just like I used to do." There was a faint glimmer of hope in the far reaches of the deep green now, and Giles thought he saw a flash of life reemerging from the sheltered waters Willow had been protecting herself in. But still, he felt the need to caution her from revealing anything before Buffy was ready to hear it.

"Look...I know it's difficult..."

Willow saw the warning coming from his sincere eyes and for some reason felt like fending it off. "No...you don't know. You don't know what it's like to have the person you love most in the entire world wake up one day and not have a clue who you are. You don't know what it's like to wonder if she's ever going to remember you, or if you're ever going to hold her in your arms again and tell her how much you love her." She felt the steam running out of her engine as soon as she noticed the shuttered look coming over his face. "You don't know." She finished quietly, studying his eyes with her own, hoping he understood.

A rap on the door broke the silence and she turned to look at it unsteadily. "They're here." She said, referring to Xander and Oz, who would be joining her in her visit. "I'm sorry I yelled at you, Giles. I didn't mean...it's just that it's been building inside of me for so long that I just..." Green eyes pleaded with hazel, as the older man looked back at her sympathetically.

"I understand. And things will work out, it'll just take some time. I really believe that. And I'll be here for you both if you need me. I want you to know you're not alone in all of this. You have friends who'll love and support you and see you through." Willow could see how much this conversation had gotten to the normally reticent Britain, and deliberately and purposefully gave him a great big bear hug. He stiffened at first, not expecting the move, then put both arms around her and hugged her back.

Xander chose that moment to burst into the apartment, having grown tired of waiting outside. "Hey Will, come on. What's keeping you? I'm looking forward to seeing the look on Buffy's face when you give her all of that homework. Whoops..." He stopped, noticing the scene that was playing out in the living room.

Giles and Willow looked over to where he was standing, jaw gaping, eyes wide open as he took them in. Willow raised a questioning brow in his direction, and he closed it quickly. "You know I could go out and come back in." He said, pointing his thumb behind him in the direction of the door. "You know, if you two wanted another few moments alone."

"Xander!" Willow broke away from Giles and swatted her best friend on the arm. "You and your sick, depraved, dirty little..." She continued hitting him, letting him pick up her backpack as they continued walking toward the door. Giles grinned as the sounds of Xander's grunts and 'ow's', mixed in with a good 'Hey...Willow...cut that out!' floated back to him on the breeze, just before his apartment door slammed shut.

*****

"Go ahead, Will. Ring the bell. It's not going to bite." Xander whispered in Sotto voce, as he stood staring at a Willow that had suddenly gone very white.

On her part, she really hadn't felt nervous about seeing Buffy today until she had found herself standing on this familiar porch, after walking up that familiar driveway, and reached out to ring a bell for the first time in what seemed like forever to a house that she used to live in.

The strangeness of the situation seemed to hit her all at once, and she felt herself freezing on the spot, unable to move an inch, not even her finger the half an inch it would take to press the button.

"Uh oh. I think she's frozen." Oz commented from the other side of her, exchanging an amused glance with Xander.

"Wonder how long we'll be standing out here before someone finally notices." Xander whispered back, knowing that their teasing would get to her eventually.

"Okay, okay. You two can stop. I'm ringing the bell. See?" Willow said, pressing her finger to the button for a long moment before she could change her mind. She winced internally as she waited to see just who would be answering the door. In her mind, she could clearly picture Buffy opening the door, taking one look at her, sweeping her up in her arms and carrying her away, just like in a fairy tale.

Reality proved just as interesting though.

*****

"Buffy...somebody's at the door. Would you mind getting it? My hands are full." Joyce called from the kitchen, smiling secretively. She knew exactly who it was, having received a call from Willow and Giles earlier to set it up. She hadn't told Buffy, wanting to surprise her with the visit. It was about time the two of them were in the same room again, she just hoped that the visit went well.

"Sure, mom." Buffy hopped up from the sofa, where she had been watching old home movies, and trying to reconcile herself with the girl she saw running around across the big screen TV. Finding out they hadn't always lived in Sunnydale had nearly blown her mind, and seeing pictures of her old schools, especially her old high school had brought back feelings of...something. She couldn't really put her finger on how it had made her feel, just that there was something there, nagging at the back of her mind. It was an annoying feeling to say the least. Especially since it happened more often than not these days.

Upon opening the door, she found herself standing face to face with the woman who had haunted her thoughts and dreams for days now. Her breath caught in her throat as she stood, staring awkwardly at her, at least until her common sense stood up and kicked her in the butt. "Uh...hi...guys...come on in." She smiled, backing up so they could come in.

She watched as they settled themselves in the living room, feeling a little uncertain as to what to do now. "Uh...would anyone care for a drink?" Buffy asked, trying to break the ice.

"Sure." Willow commented, glancing up briefly from where she was unpacking her bookbag. Buffy had to raise her eyebrows at the amount of books, games and other paraphernalia that had been piled into the not so big bag. "Uh...just don't make lemonade, okay?" She asked, with a smile on her face, even as she shuddered with a not so distant memory.

<How much sugar did you put in this? Willow asked, her mouth puckering and watering wildly with the all too sour taste.

Sugar? I was supposed to put sugar in there? Buffy asked, in a near panic, thinking she'd single handedly ruined parent/teacher night in one fell swoop.

Don't worry...I'll get the sugar. You...uh...just stay calm.>

"Buffy? Are you okay?" Willow asked, noticing the strange, distant look on her face as she lost herself in the memory.

Buffy blinked, noticing the concern richly painted on the red-head's face. "Uh...yeah. Just thinking. No lemonade. Gotcha."

*****

Chapter Four: Dancing with the devil

"Yahtzee!" Buffy cried excitedly, as she saw the die flip over landing on a one, making a total of five.

"Again?" Xander said, looking bug-eyed at the evidence of the dice sitting there. "I think she's cheating. Nobody gets three yahtzees in a row!" He protested, vehemently. He thought it was unfair for her to get three, especially since he hadn't gotten a single one yet.

"Maybe the dice are rigged?" Oz shrugged, nonchalently.

"Beginner's luck?" Buffy offered, not wanting her friends to be mad at her.

"Hey, you don't suppose she's unconsciously using some of that famed Slayer strength, do ya?" He whispered, recieving a hearty kick under the table for his trouble. "Ow." He rubbed at the spot, noticing the warning look in Willow's vibrant eyes.

"Xander, Stop it!" She mouthed in his direction, and he held his hands up in suplication.

"Okay...okay. I was just asking."

"Well...don't."

Buffy noticed the subtle feuding going on between the two, but she wasn't at all sure about the cause. "Well, I think we're all pretty much Yatzee'd out. What do you guys want to do now?"

The three friends looked at each other for a moment, before Oz came up with an idea. "Think she's up for a round at the Bronze?"

"Uhhh...well...I...really don't think that's a good idea." Willow hedged. Who knew what kind of a crowd would be there. A place packed to the brim with teenagers, it was also a place where vampires were prone to go prowling for an unsuspecting bite to eat.

"What's the Bronze?" Buffy asked, peering back and forth between her friends wishing somebody would drop her a clue.

"It's this really cool..." Xander started.

"Club." Oz, joined in.

"Which I really don't think you'd want to go to." Willow insisted, trying to keep the other's from inticing her too much.

"Why not?" Buffy asked, and now Willow was stuck. What could she really say? The place gets visited by bloodthirsty vampires, which Buffy had been born and destined to fight?

"It's uh...loud...and...and way too noisy. And it's usually pretty packed with...with...loud...a-and boisterous teenagers. I mean...we're in college now. Do we really want to hang out with a bunch of teenagers?" Willow asked, desperately, in between shooting baleful glares at her two male friends, who weren't helping her in the least, at least in her opinion.

"Hmmm, loud music...dancing...lots of people? Sounds like my kind of place, actually." Buffy said glibly, finding herself growing more intrigued about the place the longer Willow talked about it. The red-head sighed in defeat, knowing that when her wife got that look in her eyes, that excited, 'I'm going to take on the world' look, there was no holding her back. She nodded her head wearily, vowing to get even with her two best 'pals' later.

"Okay...but let's try not to stay out too late, okay? We don't want to wear you out, Buffy." Feeling a little bit like a Mother hen as she said it, but then she was going to be a mother, so she guessed that she came by it naturally.

"Okay...mom." Buffy grinned, then blinked when Willow seemed to freeze at that, and wondered what the red-head was thinking as they eyed each other warily for a moment.

After Buffy went to change into some more comfortable Bronzing clothes, Willow turned to the guys, her resolve face firmly in place, and her green eyes more serious than they had ever been. "If she gets hurt tonight, or even one vamp tries to make a move on her, I'll stake them first, and beat you over the head with a shovel after."

"Hey, don't worry, Will. We'll look after her." Xander said, Oz nodding in agreement. "It's just...she's been cooped up in here since she got out of the hospital. Don't you think she needs to get out a little?"

"Well...yeah. But...to the Bronze?" Willow still felt the need to protest their chosen hang out place. "Couldn't we go somewhere less...vampy?"

"Come on, Will. It's not like we said. 'Hey, let's go to Willy's.'" Xander protested. "I mean, it's not like there's that many 'no vamp' zones out there."

*****

"The moon is out and there's a chill tonight
C'mon and dance away the growing night.
Wave your hands in the air like you just don't care
Gonna get with the rhythm 'til the morning light.

You might think it's nice being all alone,
But, now I'm thinking that it's nice to be...
I should know better than to want to belong,
But the beat is so strong, I got to take it on.

Come on, come on, do it with me now.
Come on, come on, do it with me now.
Come on, come on, do it with me now.
If you want my love, you've got to drink the blood.

I want to dance with you.
I want you right next to me.
I want your soul and I'll give you what you need to be...

Pull you close I'll sniff your hair.
I'll keep you warm in the cold night air.
Just one kiss is what you need right now.
Just one kiss and I will show you how.
Just one kiss is what you need tonight.
To be dancing with the devil by the pale moon light.

-- Ancient Rap Diva

 

Moonlight shone in through the window, adding to the feeling the lighting in the Bronze created, and gave everything a somewhat gloomy look. Buffy shivered slightly with anticipation as she moved behind Willow into the club.

She wasn't sure what she'd expected the place to look like, but somehow she'd pictured it almost exactly as she was seeing it now. The crowd seemed to move and bend, allowing them passage through the thick throng of people, making way for the small group almost as if they were welcoming them in. She felt her heart beat starting to pound with the steady pulsing of the music, almost as if she and the beat were becoming one entity. It touched her deep inside, triggering something within her soul that she couldn't remember ever feeling before, but had a certain familiarity to it. She wondered if the place had become imprinted on her subconscious somehow, and then wondered how much time she'd actually spent in the dark, crowded club.

The hairs on the back of her neck were actually standing at attention as she scanned the dark interior, the sane part of her psyche wondering why she and her friends would choose to actually hang out here, while another part of her, a more intuitive side, reveled in the wild, dark emotions the place evoked. "So this is the Bronze." she said, her words being swallowed by the decibel level in the place.

"Come on, Buffy." Willow shouted above the noise, grabbing her hand instictively, not wanting to lose the blonde as they passed through the gyrating mob. The subtle gesture sent a shock through the blonde, who felt a sudden awareness as the warmth of her companion's hand spread throughout her entire body. Not wanting to call attention to the connection, for fear of losing it, she hastily followed the red-head's lead.

Willow spotted an unused table and made a bee-line for it, dragging her willing passenger along, while Xander and Oz took up the rear.

"Hey, who wants a drink?" Xander asked, once they had settled at the table. "Will?"

"Just water for me, Xander." Willow said quickly, trying to get the attention off herself.

"Okay, Oz?"

"Nothing for me. Thanks." Oz said, settling his forearms on the table while he perused the place steadily with his eyes, as if he was hunting for something. Which might not be so far from the truth, Xander reflected, not knowing what wolfy resources the guitar player still had at his disposal.

"Buff?"

<Beer. Beer Good. Beer Foamy.>

"Buff?" Xander asked again, trying to get the distracted Slayer's attention.

"Uh...sorry, Xand." Buffy said, blushing slightly. "I guess I'll have a beer." She wasn't really sure why she'd chosen that particular beverage, except it had seemed like a good idea at the time, but the looks she received made her wish she had ordered something else. "What?" She asked, innocently, wishing they'd stop looking at her like she'd murdered a cat or something just as atrocious.

"Nothing." Xander said quickly, jumping up from his seat. "I'll get them." Not wanting to be the one to stick his foot in his mouth, he was off and moving before he had a chance to say anything else.

Willow's concerned gaze fell over the Slayer like a dead weight. It wasn't so much the promise they had made that was making her uncomfortable about her friend having a beer, after all, it was understandable that Buffy in having completely forgotten about anything to do with the baby would have forgotten that as well. It was more the fact that Buffy hadn't been out of the hospital that long, and she didn't know what the beer would do to her system. Plus, it brought back too many Cave Slayer memories, and she didn't want her best friend devolving on the dance floor.

Willow gave her worry up as useless though, when Xander came back and Buffy took her first tentative sips. She watched as the blonde licked the suds off of quenched lips, having to physically rein in desire she wasn't supposed to be feeling, as she watched her drink.

"Not bad." Buffy said, finally, hearing the rough voice in the back of her head grunting in agreement. <Told you...Beer Good.>

She enjoyed sitting here, soaking up the atmosphere, but she was also getting restless. She wanted to be up, moving and grooving with the people on the dance floor. Her body felt strong, healthy and for the first time since leaving the hospital she didn't feel the oppresing weight of her amnesia coming down on her. She wanted to lose herself in the din and confusion all around her. "Come on, Will. Let's dance." She shouted over the sound, pulling a surprised Wiccan to her feet and started shimmying through the crowd, not bothering to stop and see if the men were following them or not.

Closing her eyes, Buffy began to move. It felt so natural to be here, so right, and as she continued to dance, she found her world narrowing until it was just her in this space, her and the redhead that danced awkwardly beside her, although she felt her loosening up the longer they danced.

Willow, for her part, didn't know whether to dance or flee. She was caught in a paradox of emotion. Part of her relished the contact, she hadn't danced with her wife since before the accident, and it felt familiar, if not a little strange, to be doing it now. On the other hand, it was that sense of the familiar that was giving her fits. A heat had always flared between them while dancing, and had led, on several occasions to potentially embarressing situations. She felt that heat now, in a part of her that just wanted to forget there was anything wrong between them, a part that wanted to forget all that had happened recently and just lose herself in her wife's arms. She held herself back, only because she knew the attention would not be welcomed by a wife that had forgotten all about them.

*****

Malevolent beings had a way of invading these four walls. Mingling with the youth of the small burg, bringing terror and torture to those that were unaware of the dangers. The person that had been trained to be aware of the dangers was gone, or as good as, and the creatures of the night had taken advantage of the situation, living the high life while the Slayer was out of commission.

It was understandable then that those forces of darkness were none too happy to see the hero return. One such force watched the dancing couple from the shadowy corners of the Bronze, taking interest in the proceedings, and smiling a deadly smile as a blonde head picked up as if finally becoming aware of the dangers that surrounded her.

"That's Ok, B. I've got a few surprises left in store for you. Paybacks a bitch."

*****

A tingling sense of awareness stole in on Buffy's idylic mood, a tickle creeping up in the back of her mind, causing goosebumps to rise on her skin and the hairs on the back of her neck to stand on end.

Blue eyes opened warily and scanned the interior of the club, searching the darkened shadows and corners uneasily, trying to make out where this sense of danger was coming from. But she was unable to peirce the veil of darkness, which just made her apprehension grow.

Willow noticed the change in her wife's mood almost instantaneously, years of practice due to hanging out with a Vampire Slayer had honed her skills in telling when something was wrong. Due to Buffy's face and the way she was scanning her surroundings she could tell Buffy was picking up on something. 'Great. Just Great. The vampire's couldn't leave the Bronze alone for just one night?" She thought anxiously, looking around herself, although if Buffy couldn't tell where the danger was coming from, she doubted very much that she could.

"Buffy?" Willow tried to get the Slayer's attention as she came to a total stand still, her body going totally rigid.

Buffy felt her heart pounding heavily in her chest, could almost hear her breaths as she exhaled heavy puffs of air, fear and adrenaline coursing through her system as all of her instincts took over completely. She could hear Willow, as if from a distance, although the hand on her arm was what really got her attention, causing her to turn and look back at her friend.

Whether it was her intense fear acting up or the dim lighting of the Bronze, she was never quite sure, but for a split second Willow looked almost demonic. She blinked her eyes shut, then again, hoping to clear them of the heinous vision. When she looked again, she saw the concerned visage of her best friend staring back at her.

"Buffy...are you okay?" Willow asked, wondering what had set the Slayer off.

"Uh...yeah...maybe we should..." Buffy started to answer her, but the strange sensation still hadn't left her, and it was driving her to distraction. Willow gestured Xander and Oz over, worried that some of Buffy's more negative memories in this place were returning.

The sweat was starting to cool on her back, leaving icy tendrils of sensation on overly sensitive nerve endings. The sound of a breaking glass, no doubt caused by the clumsy handling of a bartender, caused Buffy to lift her gaze to the skylight in the ceiling where a half remembered image of creatures coming in through the roof ghosted over her vision in living color.

"Hey Buffster, you all right?" Xander asked as he approached the girls, noticing the wild look in the blue eyes right off. He felt his gut seize when she looked at him, noticing she was looking right through him as if she was seeing something else in his place.

Buffy had heard Xander's words, but they were being spoken by a Xander that no longer looked like the cool, happy go lucky friend she'd come to know. His eyes had taken on a wild, feral quality, and he was grinning at her like she was the main entre in tonight's menu. She shook her head, starting to back away from his maniacal grin, which in turn only made her friends follow her, concerned for her well being.

"Buffy." Oz said, moving in from her other side as if to stop her movement, but all Buffy saw when she looked at him, was a huge hairy creature with claws and fangs.

Willow was unable to take the fear she saw reflected from her love's eyes anymore and hastily moved forward to stop her wife's momentum. Unfortunately for her, Buffy was in another world all her own.

*****

"I'm bored." Willow said, truly looking bored, even as she stalked the rapidly retreating Slayer. Buffy backed into a wall of people, unable to move any more as the demonic version of her best friend sidled up to her, wrapping an arm around the terrified woman's neck. "You look like you could entertain a girl." The demon smiled, wickedly, showing a pair of pointy white teeth.

Buffy pulled away from the face that grew steadily closer to her own, but she was unable to dodge the determined visage. "Why don't you give us a kiss?" The vampire asked, licking her lips hungrily as she grinned before lunging at the Slayer's throat.

"Get off of me." Buffy said in a panic, pushing the vampire away from her as hard as she could, before dodging through the crowd, not looking behind her even as people gasped at the abrupt treatment, and ran out of the club as fast as she could.

*****

"Hey, Will. You okay?" Xander asked an obviously shaken Willow, helping her up from the floor and checking her over to make sure she wasn't hurt.

"Yeah." Willow said, her trembling. "But Buffy isn't. We've got to find her before anything bad happens."

*****

Chapter Five: Where the wild things are.

Everywhere I go you're in my shadow.
When I turn around there's no one there.
Now, it's a real bad sign, I'm walking on a real thin line.
A fool in love with a fool that doesn't care.

-- Wynona Judd

By the time Xander, Willow, and Oz had made it through the crowd and outside of the club, Buffy had already disappeared into the darkness of the city streets. "Oh...great. This is just...great." Willow said, searching the empty street fretfully. "Take her to the Bronze, they said. What a wonderful idea. Why didn't I suggest that?" She mumbled to herself, knowing she was being spiteful but not quite able to stop herself. Xander and Oz shot her guilty looks while continuing to search the dark alleyways for any sign of her. Oz had his head back, sniffing the air, using his wolf senses to try to get a fix on her direction. "What am I going to tell Mrs. Summers, the other Mrs. Summers I mean? I told her I'd watch over Buffy, and now she's gone."

"Don't worry Will. We'll find her." Xander said, trying to reassure his best friend, just before Oz turned to them.

"She's this way." He said, then took off across the street, following her scent.

*****

"Here you are." Giles said softly, handing Joyce one of the glasses of wine he held in his hands.

"Thank you, Rupert." Joyce said, shifting as he took a seat on the couch beside her, falling easily into the comfort of the arm he put around her shoulders and the strong shoulder on which she rested her head. She had missed this, she reflected quietly.

After the trauma of having her daughter in a coma, and then having to keep Buffy and Willow seperated, finding time to be together recently had dwindled down to zero. The events of the last few weeks had created a lot of stress for all of them and their relationship had taken a battering as a result. Not that either of them had found blame with the other for the turn their lives had taken, that would be like blaming Buffy for falling off of the building in the first place. But they were glad for the reprieve that allowed them some much needed time together, and a chance to regroup and reconnect with each other.

After a few moments of peaceful reflection, a disturbing thought crept into Joyce's psyche, preventing her from relaxing. "You don't think this was a bad idea, do you?" She asked, taking a slow sip of her Chablis.

"The Chablis?" Giles asked, looking down into the most beautiful hazel eyes he'd ever seen, he got caught in the gold specks flashing merrily back at him, though he could see the shadows that outlined the eyes, giving proof of the harrowing hours they'd both spent. "No, the '76 was a pretty good year, though I think the '72 was better." He commented finally, swirling the contents of his wine glass before taking a long sip.

Joyce shot him a look, wondering if he was playing with her. "No...you know what I mean...Buffy." She held up a hand forestalling the protest she could sense forming on his lips. "I trust Willow. I do. It's just that there are so many...creatures out there that are just waiting for my daughter to show some sign of weakness so that they can use it against her. That doesn't leave me feeling very secure."

"I understand how you feel, truly I do..." Giles sighed.

"But." She could sense a but coming from him by the way he was staring pensively into his wine glass.

"But...I think the boys may have had the right idea. A lot of Buffy's memories are wrapped up in that place, not all of them good, I agree...but..."

"Wait a minute." Joyce inturrupted him again, putting her wine glass down on the coffee table before looking at him again, an intense seriousness taking over her features. "Are you telling me that Buffy could experience some negative memories...Slayer memories...by going to that place?"

"Part of Buffy IS the Slayer. Whether or not those memories are negative, if we're to get her back at all, chances are it will be that Slayer half that will do most, if not all, of the work. We need the Slayer to get her back."

*****

Buffy ran until her chest felt like it was on fire and she couldn't run anymore. She was still weak from her injuries and she was amazed that she'd been able to run so far. Stopping to look around herself she realized that she was surrounded by marble headstones and statues of fallen war heroes. It took a few seconds to click, but then suddenly it hit her where she had ended up. She was in a graveyard...alone...at night. Great.

"Very uncool, Buffy. First you freak out in a club, probably scaring your friends silly. Wind up running like a wild loon for who knows how long, and now you're in a graveyard after dark where any number of creepo's can reach out and grab you. And you don't even have a clue as to which way home is." She grumbled to herself, starting to shiver as she looked around the dark landscape. "Why don't you just tattoo 'Victim here.' on your ass?"

"Not a bad idea...although it would look incredibly tacky." A beautiful blonde emerged from the shadows lit faintly by the shaded moon hanging in the dark night sky and trailed by three rugged looking men. As she walked, or rather glided, closer, Buffy could tell that even though the woman was undoubtedly beautiful, there was a certain vacuousness to her face that lent it an eerie air. Something about the group sent the hackles rising on the back of her neck, sending warning signals flashing through her brain and she stared at them warily, preparing...preparing for what she didn't quite know, but she could feel her fists clenching by her sides and her adrenaline was shooting through the roof.

<Buffy want out>

"Well, didn't we get lucky boys? All alone with no help in sight. See, I told you being under me would be to your advantage." The blonde told her minions, a superficially bright smile lighting her face. Which disappeared when one of them made a smart assed remark. "Not in your wildest dreams Rodrigo." She told the one who had made it, a snarl marring the beauty of her face, before she turned her attention back to the petrified blonde, standing inert with fear. "We'll become famous as the ones who killed the almighty Slayer."

<Buffy want out!>

'Slayer? What the heck is a Slayer? Better yet...who is the Slayer?' Buffy had time to ask herself before the goons moved in on her position, their faces changing dramatically in the moonlight until they resembled how Willow had looked at the Bronze. 'Never mind that! Run!' Her instincts screamed at her, urging her feet to move. She was moving across the gently sloping lawn before she had another chance to look back, moving as if the hounds of hell were on her heels, which in fact they were, and closing in fast if the sounds she heard coming from behind her were any indication.

<Buffy Want Out!!!>

They were letting out wild hoots as they drew closer, the sound of madness in the air as she could practically feel them coming up behind her, reaching out to knock her off balance and off her feet. She tumbled to the ground, rolling on impact and looking up into the faces of her attackers.

She tried to fight them off, but they were on her all at once, their strength unbelievable as they held her struggling body still. She strained futilely against the arms that held her, feeling her eyes bulging as she stared up into their flashing white incisors, gleaming wickedly in the moonlight. "Now don't forget, I get her neck." Harmony said, approaching over the manicured lawn. She knelt before her victim, the smile on her face belying the evil intent in her heart.

'BUFFY WANT OUT!!!!" The voice in her head started shouting, protesting the circumstances, demanding to be let out as imaginery fists beat against her iron strong will, which was weakening with her ever growing terror.

It was the shifting face of the blonde that did it...the sight of her licking her long incisors as if she was anticipating an extremely tasty meal. She felt something give way inside her head, as if something that she had shut away was breaking it's way free, intent only on getting to the outside. Her consciousness faded against the stronger presence demanding it's way into total control, and she could only hope that it knew what it was doing.

Harmony watched her prey, delighting in the anticipation as she bent her head slowly forward, almost tasting the thick blood of the Slayer as she angled her head watching the Slayer's eyes with glee. It was then that she noticed that the look in those eyes had changed from terrified submission to a totally wild and feral aggression. Harmony's goons were taken by surprise by the sudden surge in strength as the more primitive side of Buffy broke free, shoving her attackers off of her in one violent move that sent them all sprawling.

"Buffy no like." She growled low in her throat as she advanced on the hapless vampires, intent only on destroying those that had tried to hurt her. They took one look at the advancing Slayer, looked at each other for a brief second, wondering if they were all thinking the same thing, then started backing up as fast as their feet would take them.

"Hey! Where do you think you're going? Get back here! We have a Slayer to kill! Guys?...Guys! You're supposed to listen to me! I'm your mistress! You guys are worthless without me!" Harmony started screaming at her minions, even as they kept going, their only intent to get away from the savage looking Slayer, not even caring what it made them look like. "Come back!" Harmony screamed, just before she turned to look at the steadily advancing Slayer.

Buffy growled at her again, sounding more primal than Harmony had even thought of being. "Uh...no harm meant, Buffy." Harmony said, as she backed up rapidly from the Slayer. "We can still be friends, right?" She asked, a note of hope in her voice, which the Slayer quickly dispelled by another savage growl. "Uh...guys....Wait for me!" She called, hating the crack of fear in her voice, turning her back on the Slayer, hoping she wasn't about to get staked as she ran off after her minions.

The cave-Slayer watched them until they were out of sight, disgusted that they had just ran away. She'd wanted to bonk them on the heads...or break their arms off and beat them with the detached limbs. Not getting her satisfaction, she sighed heavily, feeling slightly disgruntled at the missed opportunity. She looked around the empty graveyard, looking for something to catch her interest, but when nothing readily appeared, she gave up the search. "Buffy tired." She grumbled, sitting down on a nearby gravestone, closing her eyes, wishing she knew where her Lifemate was so she could bury her head in the soft scented hair and go to sleep.

*****

'She just had to end up in a Graveyard.' Willow thought, not without a certain amount of irony, rolling her eyes slightly, as she followed Oz, who was taking the lead as he tracked the scent. "Are you sure she's in here?" Willow asked, as they searched the empty graveyard.

Oz sent her a look which pretty much said, 'the nose always knows.' "I'm picking up her scent...it's really strong now...along with..." Oz stopped for a second, not quite sure he wanted to say the next few words. "About three or four Vampires."

"Oh god...Buffy..." Willow said, moving faster, hoping her worst fears wouldn't be confirmed when they found her. Suddenly she spotted her, resting on a gravestone, and as she got closer she could tell that the Slayer's eyes were closed. "B...Buffy?" She called out to her, her voice cracking on the name.

"Buffy?" She called her again, reaching out tentatively to touch the nearby shoulder. The blue eyes opened, and looked up at her, bewilderment swimming in their pale depths.

"Will? How did you...?" She looked around at her surroundings, as if she were seeing them for the first time. "How did I get here?"

Willow stared at her for a second, confusion marring her features. "You...you don't remember?"

"I remember being in the cemetary." Buffy said slowly, flashes of gnashing teeth and being chased coming to her like a distant dream. "But how I came to be sitting on this headstone? I haven't got a clue."

"Wow...talk about phase out." Xander whispered to himself, staring at Buffy as if she had three heads. Willow shot him a look, thinking the comment a little insensitive, then turned her attention back to Buffy.

"Well...you're tired...and you're still recovering." Willow said, as if that could explain Buffy's feeling of displacement. "We...we should probably get you back home."

Buffy looked up at her, suddenly remembering what she had done at the Bronze and felt an embarrassing flush flooding her cheeks. She examined her friends, seeing the people she had been growing reaquainted with before the strangeness of the evening, feeling grossly ashamed and humiliated. "I...I'm sorry about running off the way I did. I..I don't know what happened to me. I just..." She shook her head, not able to explain what had happened.

"It's okay, Buffy. We understand." Xander said, trying to console her. Oz nodded silently. Willow shifted nervously on her feet, not really wanting to be out here in this cemetary too long, in case the vampires that Oz had sensed earlier came back. "We really should get you home though." Willow repeated, helping her friend to stand. Buffy really felt her fatigue seeping through her, as if she had run for miles.

"I can't believe how tired I am." Buffy said, her friends noticing how pale she was.

"It's okay Buffy. We'll get you home." Xander said, coming up on her other side and taking her arm gently in his. With Willow and Xander to support her, and Oz taking up the rear, just in case they needed him, they headed back across the cemetary.

*****

They were all weary with exhaustion by the time they got Buffy back to her house. Joyce and Giles hadn't shown it, but they had been starting to worry at the late hour...Joyce had even started pacing in front of the windows, looking out every few seconds to see if they were coming yet. While Giles had cleaned up their dinner, which they hadn't really touched. When the group had trudged through the door, a very weary Buffy between them, all Joyce had been able to do was sigh a breath in relief, and ask how their evening had gone.

It had been a mutual decision not to tell the whole story of what had happened, everyone agreeing that it wouldn't do to worry Buffy's mom, Buffy being the one to insist the most loudly that she didn't want to worry her unnecessarily. So, they just said they had danced until they were exhausted, and were now most interested in getting to bed.

"Well, I could drop you all off at home, if you're ready." Giles said, coming out of the kitchen while rolling down his sleeves. Xander and Oz nodded acceptance, too tired to speak.

Buffy looked quickly at Willow, not really wanting to be alone tonight for some strange reason. Just before her friend could speak, Buffy jumped ahead of her. "Ummm...Mom, is it okay if Willow spends the night tonight?" She asked, looking at her mother hopefully, while the rest of the group just stared back at her in varying stages of shock.

Joyce for her part didn't know who was in the most shock, Willow or herself. "Uhhh...well..." Joyce sent a quick look to the redhead, who darted the same look back at her. "If you want to Willow, it would be okay with me." Joyce said, trying not to sound too strange.

Willow gulped, not knowing quite what to do. If she said no, her friend would want to know why, and she didn't know if exhaustion would be a good enough excuse considering the plan was to sleep. She could say she didn't bring anything to wear, but Buffy would probably just pull out an extra set of pj's, so that excuse was out too. No toothbrush? No, that would just make her sound petty. And the truth was, while her mind was fighting the morality issues, her body was screaming at her to say 'YES'. Quite frankly, she missed being with her, wrapping her arms around her, snuggling her close, she missed the whole 'sleeping together' thing. And even though she knew she couldn't do half of the things she missed, she wanted this opportunity fate had just handed her on a silver platter. "It's okay with me, Mrs. Summers." And the irony of calling her Mother-in-law that hit her once more. "I'm so tired I could probably fall asleep standing up."

Amid a few raised eyebrows, and a few hidden looks the guys left the ladies to get settled. Joyce, not wanting to add any further strangeness to the proceedings, kissed Buffy good night quickly and went up to her room.

"Well, I guess it's just us." Buffy commented as the girls made their way up to Buffy's room, Willow very studiously ignoring the room at the top of the stairs. Buffy started to laugh, causing Willow to glance at her questioningly. "I'm sorry...it's just, the way everybody was looking at us, you'd think we never had a sleepover before."

Willow raised an eyebrow, trying to hold a hysterical giggle in place. 'Oh, Buffy. If only you knew...' She thought wistfully. "No...we have...it's just...been a while."

"Since the accident." Buffy nodded as she entered her room, Willow following behind her. "Seems like everything's differen't now...everything's changed. I don't know how I know it, I just do. I feel things aren't right. I can't put my finger on it...it's just...am I so different? She asked, looking back at her friend, seeing hidden sadness reflected back at her.

"No...Buffy...it isn't that you've changed...it's just that you can't remember..." She drifted off, seeing hurt coming over her best friend's face. "You will though." Willow promised, a determination to make things right coming over her. "You will...in time. And I'll help you...any way I can." She laid a comforting hand on Buffy's shoulder, ignoring the warm spark of heat she always received from their connection.

Buffy felt it too, the heat searing through her skin, right through her bones, and settling with a warmth in her stomach. "Thanks, Will. I do...call you Will...don't I? It just feels familiar somehow." The blue eyes stared deeply into green, feeling a connection she didn't even know existed calling to her.

"All the time." The redhead chirruped, getting nervous with the intensity that their connection was sparking between them. "Boy, I'm tired." Willow said, faking a humongous yawn. "I feel like I could fall over right here." She commented, and she did, she realized, the events of the evening really had taken their toll.

"I'm sorry." Buffy said, snapping out of her daze, feeling like slapping herself silly. What was she doing standing here daydreaming when her best friend was obviously exhausted and wanted to go to bed? "I'll just get you some...extra...pj's.." She finished in a mumble, as she went over to her bureau and dug around until she found something she thought might fit her taller friend. Willow could remember when her own nightgown would be tucked in her very own drawer, but she tried her best not to think about it. "Here you go...I'll...just go into the bathroom...and change. Just...give me a knock when you're done." Buffy said, nervously, not knowing exactly why she was nervous about seeing her best friend naked. She gave her a small smile, then slipped out of the room.

Willow sat on the bed, trying hard to control the tremor that was shaking her whole body. 'This is going to be harder than I thought.' She thought ruefully, before changing into the nightgown her friend had given her.

*****

'It wasn't too bad...considering...' Willow thought as she looked at herself in the full length mirror. The nightgown tucked around the curve of her belly, but it wasn't so pronounced that you could tell...unless you happened to look really closely. 'Okay...I guess I'm ready.' She thought nervously, casting a glance at the closed bedroom door. 'Guess I'll go get her.' She thought, finally, tip toeing down the hall to the closed bathroom door. Knocking on it quietly, she heard the faucet turn off, and then the door opened to a reveal a stunning vision that Willow had thought she'd done her best to block out of her memory. The satin nightie clung to all of the right spots on the Slayer's body, enhancing the vision of the svelte curves. Willow found herself gulping at the sight, trying desperately to remember that this was not her wife standing before her...well, it was...but the blonde didn't know that. "I'm ready for bed." She managed to say, blushing when the double entendre of the words hit her. "I..I mean..."

Buffy laughed, not unkindly, as Willow started to stutter uncontrollably. "Relax Will. I know what you meant. I'm not going to jump your bones. I promise. Girl's scout honor." She said, holding up two fingers in a salute. She couldn't remember if she'd ever been a Girl Scout, but it seemed to do the trick, getting her friend to relax around her once more.

She had figured it out, while she was getting ready, that Willow must have had a crush on her at some point, which really didn't bother her too much, she had reflected silently. Since she seemed to be harboring her own crush on her best friend. Willow did seem to be freaked by it though, so she'd do her best not to mention it. She didn't want to scare her best friend away, after all.

"Come on. I'm tired." Buffy said, turning off the bathroom light, leaving just the light that shined out from the bedroom to find their way back by. The two of them crawled amiably into the bed, having plenty of room to crawl into their own favorite sleeping positions and settled down for sleep.

Willow thought she'd never be able to fall asleep laying beside Buffy, no matter how comfortable she was, but the exhaustion captured her without too much trouble and sent her peacefully into dreamland. Buffy followed the trail into unconsciousness not long after her.

*****

Blue eyes opened in the dark room, searching the shadows for a clue as to where she was. The soft bed beneath her gave a clue that she was indoors and the scent coming from beside her let her know that her Lifemate was here. She looked over at the red hair sprawled out over the pillow beside hers, and reached out to touch it, mesmerized by it's color. "Soft." She whispered, running the strands through her fingers. She came closer, bringing the strands to her nose so she could smell it. "Good...clean...nice."

Willow's head was turned away from hers, and she couldn't see her face, so...not wanting to wake her up, she leapt across her Lifemate, landing on the other side of the bed, with a soft thump, and kneeled to get a closer look. The face was scrunched up in her sleep, as if her lifemate were having bad dreams. She brought a gentle finger up to trace the furrow of her brow, shocked once again by the velvet feel of her skin. "Soft."

She had been so furious at the stupid one for forgetting. She had missed her Lifemate with a strong yearning, wanting nothing more than to tear open the bars of her cage and come out, no matter what the stupid one thought. But until tonight, she hadn't had the opportunity to do so. Now...she could look and feel to her heart's content.

She knew if she put her head down on her Lifemate's chest she would be able to hear her heart beating, it was a sound she had listened to many times before and it had always brought her comfort, so she lay her head down and listened, hearing the gentle <thump-thump, thump-thump> under her ear. Another faster heartbeat just below the louder one reminded her what the stupid one had forgotten. She let her hand roam down over the curved belly, feeling her young one kick against her hand with a strong sense of pride. "Mine." She growled, even as the baby responded to the feel of the Slayer's hand.

The baby kicked especially hard, causing Willow to moan in her sleep. The primitive Slayer shot her eyes up to look at the twitching face, watching restlessly to see if her Lifemate would wake up, then as she settled down into a more heavy sleep, looked back down at her unborn child. "Shhh...Easy." She patted the belly with tender strokes. "Wake up Wil-low."

She rested her head back on the belly, patting the smooth skin with her hand as she talked nonsensically to the growing fetus. She could feel it respond every once in a while, moving against her hand, and it encouraged her to keep talking until Willow started stirring once more.

Willow woke to a strange sensation, a head was laying heavily on her abdomen, while a hand traced patterns over it gently. She thought that she was still dreaming at first, especially when blue eyes looked up at her, a look of such intense love shining from the gleaming depths. But when the blonde head picked up and the lithe body stretched, climbing to hover over her she knew she wasn't dreaming. "Buffy?" She asked, her voice catching in her throat as lips lowered to meet hers.

"Wil-low." She said, huskily, just before their lips joined and Willow moaned desperately into the warmth.

Her arms wrapped unhesitatingly around the warm body, feeling unmitigated joy rush through her as their lips met again and again, Buffy seemingly not able to get enough of the contact and kept coming back for more. "Buff-" She gasped, pulling air into her lungs, even as the Slayer made it difficult to breathe by ravishing kisses down her neck and throat.

"Wil-low..." The Slayer moaned, sucking and nibbling small bites into the skin of her neck. "Miss...Wil-low."

If Willow had been paying more attention she would have noticed the strange speech pattern and the way Buffy was ravishing her right away, but all she knew in that moment was that she had missed her for too long. "Oh...Buffy. I've missed you too."

It wasn't until the Slayer tried to rip off her nightgown that she noticed something was wrong. She halted the hands at the seam of her nightie, cringing at the tearing sound. "Buffy...what are you doing?" She asked, thinking it would be much simpler if they lifted the garment over her head.

Blue eyes lifted to stare uncomprehendingly into her own. "Wil-low...naked..." She demanded, demonstrating what she wanted by lifting to tear her own nightgown off of her skin, leaving her bare to the night and Willow's lust filled eyes. "Now." She insisted, as she moved to tear the offending garment off of her Lifemate's body once more.

"Buffy?" Willow said, registering the wild, feral look in her wife's eyes. This wasn't Buffy, this was the Cave-Slayer, and she could have slapped herself for being so stupid.

"Wil-low?" The Slayer questioned, seeing the hurtful sadness return to the bright green eyes. "No want...Buffy?"

Tears slipped out of her eyes as she sniffled uncontrollably. "I do want Buffy. I want my Buffy." The Cave Slayer looked so confused and lost that it made her cry even harder.

The Slayer didn't like seeing her Lifemate cry and wished she had the words to tell her what she felt. "No cry." She said, wiping the tears on the redhead's cheeks tenderly. "Buffy here." She said softly, continuing the tender motions until the redhead looked at her again. Noticing that she had the avid attention of the bright green eyes, she tapped her forehead warily, much to Willow's confusion. "Dumb Buffy here too." She said, sounding so rueful that Willow almost laughed.

"I don't...understand..." Willow trailed off, she could see the prehistoric version of her best friend, wife and lover was trying to explain.

"Buffy." The Cave-Slayer said, hitting herself so hard in the chest that she almost fell off the bed. "Dumb Buffy...forgot...Lifemate...here too." She said, hitting herself in the chest again.

"She can't remember me." Willow acknowledged sadly. "I'm afraid I'm going to lose her."

The Cave-Slayer shook her head. "No lose. Buffy here." Buffy said, putting a hand over Willow's heart. "Wil-low here." She said, putting a hand over her own heart. "No lose, Buffy."

It made a certain amount of sense, Willow realized, noticing that this Buffy was wiser than she had given her credit for. But then again... "But..." Willow started to protest, only to have a shushing finger be placed against her lips, just before the Cave-Slayer's lips touched them once more. The kiss was softer this time, more gentle as if this Buffy could sense that she needed that more right now. She lost herself to the feel of it, not knowing when she'd be able to kiss Buffy like this again. Finally, the Cave-Slayer pulled away, a huge yawn pulling her mouth open.

"Buffy tired." She commented, sleepily, just before she put her head down on Willow's shoulder and fell heavily into a deep sleep.

Willow watched her, ruefully for a moment, wondering how she was going to explain this to Buffy when she woke up in the morning. She tried moving her a couple of times, but she was so heavy, and she just wouldn't wake up, that she thought it might be better to just leave her there. She listened as soft snores/snorts issued from the Cave-Slayer's mouth, vowing to remember the message that she had given her. It gave her new courage and a hope that maybe someday soon she would have all of her Buffy back.

*****

Chapter Six: In dreams

That candy-colored clown they call the sandman

ms I talk to you
In dreams you're mine all the time
We're together in dreams, in dreams

But just before the dawn
I awake and find you gone
I can't help it, I can't help it if I cry
I remember that you said goodbye

Too bad it only seems
It only happens in my dreams
Only in dreams
In beautiful dreams.

Tiptoes to my bedroom every night,
Just to sprinkle stardust and to tell me,
Go to sleep, everything's all right.
I close my eyes then I drift away
Into the magic night, I softly say
A silent prayer like dreamers do
Then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you

In dreams I walk with you
In drea

-- Roy Orbison, In Dreams

"This is nice." Buffy said, reflectively, staring into sparkling green eyes, as she moved a restless hand over silky soft skin. She couldn't remember how she'd got here, or how she came to be like this...the only thing that mattered though, was the look coming from those eyes.

"What?" They feigned innocence, even as incredibly soft hands were matching the pattern Buffy had set on the skin of her partner.

"This." Buffy answered, feeling slightly self-conscious as she blushed under a heated gaze. She could tell that she wasn't very used to being open and honest with her feelings. "Being here. With you." A line of kisses trailing down into the V of a neck made the words semi-intelligible but she felt that the meaning had gotten across anyway. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too." Warm words whipered into her ear, just before a velvet tongue licked fire across her lobe.

"Too long." She gasped, feeling the warm sparks heading southward and settling in her stomach. "I feel like it's been forever since I've held you."

"It has." Was answered in reply, just before a long, low laugh echoed throughout the confines of the room, sending a slow shiver of revulsion down her spine, although she had yet to figure out why.

"Not long enough, apparently. Still haven't learned to keep your pants on, Slayer? What? Did you forget what happened the last time you took them off?" A mocking voice asked her, apparently finding a great deal of amusement in the situation.

'What? What happened the last time?" Suddenly images of a man flashed through her brain. She always thought that she'd be attracted to tall, dark and handsome, certainly a vast contrast to the redhead that lay by her side, but he appeared to be a little too moody and somber for her taste. She remembered hugging him, kissing him, tasting him, much the same as she had with the redhead, but with a distinct difference as well.

"He couldn't remember all of the bad things he had done." A voice that greatly resembled her own echoed loudly throughout the room, but whether the voice was really in the room, or inside of her own head, she couldn't tell. And suddenly the man she remembered kissing and loving, turned savage and cruel, displaying a side that she hadn't thought possible until it was revealed to her.

"So I told him that I loved him." The voice resumed her narrative leaving Buffy's blood feeling colder with every word spoken. "And I kissed him, and I killed him." She was actually shocked by how cold and distant the voice sounded. If it was a part of her, she didn't want to know about it. "See...true love...it just doesn't work for you and me. We were born for bigger things...better things."

"But, Willow..." She started, looking at the redhead as if she would find her salvation there. But she just looked at her sadly as if she were feeling all of Buffy's pain herself, and shook her head slowly.

"I'm sorry." She whispered, just before she was grabbed from behind by the man that had spoken of her past experience earlier. "When are you going to learn?" He asked, shaking his blonde head at her in disgust.

His face changed abruptly from fairly normal looking to completely demonic, yellow eyes glaring with evil intent. "Love isn't brains, Children." He said, pulling sharply on red hair, yanking her love's head back until she thought the neck would snap. "It's blood." The blond haired demon said, just before he sank his teeth deeply into the redhead's neck, a thick stream of blood shooting from the puncture wound, just before he wrapped his mouth around the holes and drank deeply.

Buffy wanted to move, wanted to get Willow away from the man draining the life out of her with every drop of blood, but she was powerless, only able to watch and stare until her love was dropped uncerimoniously to the floor like a discarded rag doll, pale and lifeless as if she had never existed.

"You Bast-" She couldn't even finish it, emotions overwhelming her as she stared in hate at the malevolently grinning ghoul, red blood still dripping from the sides of his mouth, an incorrigible tongue licking at it almost gleefully.

"It's all your fault, you know. You forgot who you are."

*****

NOOOOO!

Buffy awoke, jerking up into a sitting position, just barely able to control the scream that threatened to burst forth from her lips. Her body was covered in sweat, she could feel it dripping off of her shoulder blades and rippling down her back. Looking down at the bed beside her, she was reminded once again of her startlingly vivid dreams by the vision of the redhead lying undisturbed, sleeping the sleep of the blissfully unaware. She looked so peaceful...calm, and Buffy was compelled to recline back against her, seeking comfort she instinctively knew she alone could take from this wonderful person.

Somehow it felt natural to put her head back down on the comfy looking shoulder. It felt just as natural to brush the red hair out of the pale face, allowing Buffy a better look. She supposed it should concern her that she wasn't wearing anything under the covers, and taking a quick look around she spotted what appeared to be the shredded remains of what she had been wearing lying in a puddle on the floor. But those were questions best answered after she chased the remaining shadows of her dream back into the far recesses of her incredibly strange subconscious.

Willow shifted, moaning in her sleep, and Buffy was half afraid that she would wake up and catch her staring at her, but she simply threw an arm over her chest, as she snuggled in closer, holding her with a great deal of possession and ownership.

Buffy couldn't stop the wandering hand that traced gently over her friend's cheek, outlining the features of her face, recalling details from her dream that brought a heat of embarrassment to her cheeks. 'Who are you? What are you to me? Are we just friends?' The questions that circled in her mind weren't new, they were just as frustrating as ever, the answers eluding her from beyond the dim haze of her memories. She knew that she felt closer to her best friend than was considered normal, had felt their connection from the moment she had seen her, but did the redhead feel the same way? What was the reason for the sadness that she saw lurking behind those vibrant green eyes...where had that come from. So many questions...so few answers...but she had a feeling that they were all wrapped up inside the head that she was tracing so gently.

She slowly let her dream back in...remembering the good parts of it anyway. She didn't even want to think about the bad parts...of what that man...that...that spawn of hell had done. Those she blocked firmly from her mind, refusing to even acknowledge them or consider what they might mean. 'Guess I've seen one to many horror movies in the past.' She told herself blithely before shrugging the rest of the negativity off of her shoulders.

It was the first part she wanted to remember. How it had felt to hold the redhead in her arms in her dream felt remarkably like she was feeling now. The skin felt just as soft to her touch...softer even if she allowed herself to admit it. And now, for the dangerous admission, she wanted to feel all of it, she admitted to herself wryly. The dream had aroused something in her she hadn't known existed, and it left her wondering if she was crazy for having dreams like that for her best friend or just gay.

Willow shifted again, and this time Buffy could tell she was waking up. She moved her hand from the cheek that she had been caressing to a more safe place, her leg, and watched as eyes fluttered open to stare into her own. They stared uncomprehendingly for a long moment, until suddenly, awareness flooded them and the redhead blushed bright scarlet.

Willow looked at the positions that they were lying in, her half asleep brain racing to find explanations for how they had ended up like this. When she had fallen asleep, the Cave Slayer had been half on top of her, one arm and one leg circling her body possessively, while her head lay comfortably on her shoulder. Now the head was still there, but somehow during the night, Willow had shifted a little so that she was holding the Slayer with as just as much air of belonging.

She stared into the bottomless blue eyes for a long moment longer, before she dropped the gaze, examining the printed sheet that covered most of the Slayer's nakedness, not to mention her own state of dress. The nightie she had worn to bed had somehow hiked up to her hips during the night, and she could feel the warm press of the Slayer's leg against her own. She didn't even want to think of where that muscled thigh was at the moment, feeling already too uncomfortable about the situation. She really didn't need to let her mind travel there, not after last night.

"Um..." Willow started, still searching desperately for something to say.

"Uh..." Buffy took over, feeling like the wave of discomfort was her fault. She was the one that had encouraged the snuggling after all.

"It just..." They both started at the same time, then looked at each other, both reading the other's minds and cracked up under the pressure.

They couldn't stop laughing for five full minutes. Each time one of them thought they were starting to wind down, they would look at the other and start laughing all over again. Finally, with tears of laughter streaming down her face, Buffy was able to speak. "I'm sorry." She said, still giggling as she held onto her stomach. "Come over to my house...we can have a sleepover...I promise not to bite...I'll just use you as my comfy, body-sized pillow." She mocked herself, while chuckling over the absurdity.

Willow tried to ignore the stab of pain that brought to her heart, remembering a time when they really were each others body-sized pillows. Remembering that now would do her absolutely no good at all. "It's okay. Really...I didn't mind." She said, brushing the remaining tears of laughter, along with the one tear of sorrow that had managed to leak out, away. "I'll be your oversized pillow anytime you want." She offered, trying to remain cheerful. After all, it wasn't very often that she woke up in bed with Buffy, anymore.

Buffy felt a warm wave wash through her at those words, and smiled brightly at the redhead. "I just might take you up on that offer." She said, her voice turning husky. For some strange reason, she felt a great deal of pleasure when Willow blushed at those words, and only barely managed to hide a self-satisfied smile. "Still...I don't remember taking off my nightie..." She said, looking at the silk puddle on the floor with bemusement. Now that she was more fully awake, and the horrors of her dreams had been wonderfully washed away, she was able to consider that fact. "Are you sure you didn't rip it off of me while I was asleep?" Her teasing look turned speculative when Willow blushed brightly once more.

"No!" Willow said, way too emphatically, then tried to tone it down. "No...I don't...I mean...I really don't know how it got there." She stammered. She was the worst liar in the world, and she knew it. Fortunately for her, Buffy didn't seem to know it.

"Relax, Will. I was only teasing." Buffy said, laying a comforting hand on her shoulder, that made her jump a mile. "I mean, I probably just got hot or something and threw it on the floor." She shrugged, not really wanting to make a big deal out of it...not if it was going to upset her friend this much. It did get her thinking though. How did her nightgown end up on the floor...shredded? She found, as she picked it up that it was torn straight down the middle. "Wow...I really must have been...hot." Buffy mumbled under her breath.

Willow studiously ignored the tattered remains, not wanting to remember how they became that way in the first place. She could still see the Cave-Slayer arching over her, claiming her lips as her own, reminding her of the pleasures she had felt in Buffy's arms. She had to shake her head hard to get rid of the images. As pleasurable as they were, now was really not the time to recall them with aching clarity. She could do that later, in the privacy of Giles' bedroom.

Joyce's voice calling up the hall startled the two women out of their reverie. "Girls, are you ready for breakfast? Willow has a class in an hour..."

"Yikes." Willow gasped, looking down at the face of her watch. "I almost forgot." She looked up, almost apologetically. "I wish you could come with me."

"It's okay...I'll just try to catch up on that stuff you gave me. Maybe I'll even understand it this time." Buffy had almost choked at the amount of books Willow had unpacked the day before...Willow had shown her each of the books, explaining what each one was for and when the homework was due...but with the gaping hole in her memory she hadn't been able to tell one subject from the other.

"Girls?!" Joyce called again, sounding a little worried this time. Willow could tell Joyce hadn't exactly been comfortable with the arrangements the night before...and she couldn't blame her really. Joyce didn't want either one of them to get hurt, and right now the situation was way too open for major hurtness. Although, Willow had to admit, last night couldn't have gone much better.

"We'll be down in a minute, Mom!" Buffy called, dashing into her bureau to find some clothes to wear. Willow just threw on the clothes she'd had on the day before, knowing that she would be stopping off at Giles' to change before she went to her classes.

Just before they went downstairs, Willow looked once more at her best friend, now fully dressed. "Thanks...for...letting me sleep over last night." It sounded stupid, incredibly inane and she wanted to take the words back the moment she'd said them. But Buffy just smiled, like she'd been handed the best present ever.

"Hey...what are friends for?" Buffy asked, shrugging her shoulders as if to say, 'No big deal.' But it was a big deal...for both of them.

*****

Chapter Seven: What curiosity got the cat

I will remember days in Avalon;
I will remember nights in your arms.
I will remember days in Avalon,
And I will recall every moment.
Like days in the sun.

--Richard Marx

The wretched desert takes its form,
The jackal proud and tight,
In search of you I feel my way,
Through slowest heaving night
Whatever fear invents,
I swear it make no sense
I reach out through the border fence

Come down, come talk to me

In the swirling curling storm of desire
Unuttered words hold fast
With reptile tongue the lightning lashes
Towers built to last
Darkness creeps in like a thief
And offers no relief

Why are you shaking like a leaf?
Come on, come talk to me

Ah please talk to me
Won't you please talk to me
We can unlock this misery
Come on, come talk to me

I did not come to steal
This all is so unreal
Can't you show me how you feel
Come on, come talk to me

I can imagine the moment
Breaking out through the silence
All the things that we both might say
And the heart it will not be denied
'Til we're both on the same damn side

All the barriers blown away
I said please talk to me
Won't you please come talk to me
Just like it used to be
Come on, come talk to me
I did not come to steal
This all is so unreal
Can you show me how you feel now
Come on, come talk to me

-- Peter Gabriel

So, I guess I'm back to writing in this old thing again...I've kinda missed updating it for the past few days, with everything that was going on I just didn't have the time for it. Or the words to put what was happening down on paper. I can say, it's been the strangest few days of my life...that I can remember anyway.

I'm not quite sure how to start with this. My thoughts are pretty jumbled up right now, going from one thing to the next without really stopping to examine it completely. I guess that's kind of what this thing is for. To help me straighten out the mess.

I guess I can start with the freaky occurrence at the Bronze, although the feeling of things being kept from me started hitting me way before we ever got to the Bronze. I could probably brush off what happened there as somebody drugging my drink if it hadn't been for the dreams that I had later that night. I'm not sure what happened after I ran out of there, I only really remember half of it...just more craziness to ponder. In fact, if it didn't so closely match the dream I had after I got home, I'd probably forget the whole incident.

So, I've been pretty much trying to figure out what all of the strangeness means, and not getting a whole lot of answers. That's when I started to figure out that maybe they weren't telling me the whole truth...just an edited version of it. Well, there was that...and then there was the paper I found in the picture frame. I found that totally by accident though...

*****

Willow had just left, after eating a very hearty breakfast of waffles and whipped cream, home fried potatoes and Kosher bacon, (Buffy was a little surprised that her mother kept some in the freezer for just such an occasion), and Buffy found herself missing her friend already. It was plain to see that the redhead had wormed her way under her skin, tugging at a soul deep connection that the amnesiac was starting to think had always been there. She still didn't quite know where that connection began and ended, but she knew it ran deep.

Taking a glance at her mother, who was clearing the table, Buffy decided to voice the question that was forefront on her mind. "Mom, how long have me and Will been friends?"

Joyce almost dropped the plates that she had been holding, letting them go with a clatter into the sink. She darted a look towards her daughter, trying to decide if there were any possible hidden meanings behind the question. Buffy's face was guileless in appearance, although she could have sworn she saw wheels turning in the back of her blonde head. 'I knew Willow sleeping over was a dangerous idea.' Joyce thought, wondering how much damage control she would have to provide.

"Willow and you? Well, you've been best friends ever since we moved here...I guess that was your sophmore year in high school...so about four years now." Joyce answered, tentatively. "Why do you ask?" Her voice careful neutrality.

'Hmmm. Four years is a long time to get to know a person. I wonder why, then, do I only have one picture of us together?' Buffy thought, kicking the question over in her head. But to her waiting mother, she merely replied. "No biggie. Was just wondering." Before she got up from the table, excusing herself, and wandering into the living room.

Joyce followed her daughter's movements with worried eyes, wondering just when all hell would break loose, knowing her daughter, the wait wouldn't be long.

*****

Buffy tried really hard to concentrate on the books that Willow had brought over, she really did, but somewhere between the second daydream and the third time she read the same page over again, she got the feeling that homework never had been her strong suit. She suddenly remembered a hazy memory. A vision of Willow sitting alone on a bench, watching other kids passing by from the safety found beneath the brim of a too wide hat. She remembered introducing herself to the painfully shy girl, then asking her for a favor.

'Help me with my homework?' Well, not the best way to introduce yourself to somebody, but it seemed that was the way they had hit it off. She wondered what Willow would do if she called her up and asked for her help again. Well, she probably wasn't even home yet, so that was a moot point, not that she knew where home was, and suddenly it occured to her that there was a lot about her 'best friend' that she didn't know.

Dropping her books on the couch, where she had been sitting for the better part of the day, trying to absorb the knowledge that refused to enter her brain, Buffy scanned the living room bookshelves for photo albums. She discarded the ones that her mom had pulled out to show her, knowing instinctively that she wouldn't find what she was looking for in them. No, what she wanted to find had to be hidden somewhere...you just didn't spend four years with a person and not have some momento of that person's life. The books downstairs were useless, so Buffy headed for her room, pausing briefly at the top of the stairs to give the closed door there a baleful look.

She sensed the secrets that were hidden behind that door, a door that was never opened. Even though her mother claimed the room to be her office, Joyce never went into the room, and did most of her work on the kitchen table. She was starting to resent the half-truth's, wondering why there were so many secrets being kept under one roof.

Heading into her bedroom, she closed the door, having to catch it before it slammed shut. She paced the room like a caged tiger, her half recalled memories taunting her with vague recollections, keeping the rest in shadow. It was starting to drive her crazy. 'Damn it, why can't I remember!" Buffy thought, slamming her fist down on her bureau, shaking the items that rested on it's surface and jarring the picture of Willow and herself, causing it to fall to the floor.

"Great, Summers. Now look what you've done." Buffy said, crossing to look at the picture frame that was upside down on the floor. As she knealt to pick it up, she noticed that an edge of the photo seemed to be peeking out of the frame.

Picking up the frame, she turned it over to look at the front. No...the picture wasn't crooked. She touched the edge with a finger, pushing it up...it wasn't the picture, there was something else in here. Something that could hold the answers that she was looking for. With trembling hands, she flipped the frame back over again, then slipped the back off. Out tumbled the picture, and another peice of paper folded in half.

She carefully put the photo on the bed, being cautious not to smudge it, then picked up the paper that had obviously been meticulously hidden inside. 'What could it possibly be?' She asked herself, nervously, just before she opened it and let her eyes scan the page.

'Buffy Summers...psychiatric evaluation...patient suffering from grandiose delusions and mistaken identity...Ira Rosenberg...'

She stared long and hard at the sheet of paper she held in her trembling hand, trying hard to absorb it's information while trying desperately to remember the events that went with it. "Ira Rosenberg...Willow's father?" She was in shock...she had to be in shock, because her lips, as well as the rest of her body felt numb. "He had me locked up in a Psychiatric ward? Why? What did I ever do to him?" She couldn't make herself absorb the information, it was too unbelievable. The peices to her missing puzzle were beginning to tumble like clogs in a lock, they were starting to fit. But there were too many questions that she still didn't have the answers to, and it was high time she found them out.

*****

"Mom." Joyce's head shot up from her paper work when she heard the odd note to her daughter's voice. Buffy was standing in the kitchen doorway, her face emotionless yet pale, looking rather like someone had hit her in the face with a two-by-four.

"Buffy?" Joyce shot up from her seat, coming closer to her daughter, worried by the strange appearance. Had she remembered something? "What is it?"

"Why would Willow's father want to have me institutionalized?" Buffy asked, waving a piece of paper in her hand.

"What?!" Joyce blinked, taken completely by surprise. This was not what she had been expecting, at all. "What are you talking about?"

"This." Buffy shoved the paper into her mother's hands, demanding her to refute the evidence, or at least explain it.

Joyce was stunned. She remembered what Buffy had said about that time she had disappeared. Now as she looked at the paper in her hand, she learned the truth about those circumstances. Right there, in black ink, was the evidence of the man's duplicitous behaviour. A slow burn filled her stomach, as her eyes widened over the name on the sheet. Somehow, she couldn't help but feel enraged at the man who had tried to get back at her daughter so viciously. 'What a complete and total Asshole. He's the one that needs to be institutionalized. Just wait until I get my hands on him.' If she hadn't known him for the jerk he was before, he had certainly won no brownie points with her now.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Buffy asked, her voice choked

"I had no idea." Joyce answered, shaking her head, the shock making it hard for her to think.

"How could you not know?" Buffy asked, wincing as she heard her voice crack. She didn't know who to believe anymore, she didn't know what was true and what was false, it seemed like everyone had something to hide. Her dreams hadn't helped, nor the occurance at the Bronze, making her question everything that she thought that she knew about herself. And this paper sealed the deal. Was she crazy and nobody wanted to tell her? "What's wrong with me?"

"Buffy...you are not crazy."

"Then why..." Buffy started, taking the paper back and looking at it again, trying to get the words on the page to make some sense. Ira Rosenberg. Something about the name kindled an emotion in her. A red, fiery, hot rage. Then, she noticed something else. Her eyes narrowed over the information, as her mind seized on a decision.

"I don't know. But Buffy, I promise you, I'll get to the bottom of this." Joyce promised, not liking the look on her daughter's face.

"Thanks, mom. But I think I've got this one covered." Buffy said, before she turned and headed out the kitchen door.

"Buffy!" Joyce watched stunned as her daughter walked out, then headed directly to the phone.

*****

Buffy stood outside the small white house, listening to the sounds of the argument that could be heard quite loudly through the open livingroom window from the bush that she hid in right outside. On the way over here, she'd had every intention of walking straight up to the door, knocking quite loudly, and then demanding an explanation from the man that lived inside. She'd had a whole hour to fuel her anger, considering it took her that long to find the house. She'd forgotten that just because she had the street address didn't mean she knew where the stupid street was. Finally, she'd asked somebody for directions. The old lady she'd run into had looked at her strangely, hemmed and hawed for about five minutes, and then pointed her in the right direction. So, needless to say, by the time she arrived at the house, she was seething with anger.

She was halfway up the walkway, before the loud sounding argument that reached out from the confines of the small house and seemed to be engulfing the entire neighborhood, registered on her bubbling brain. "Sheila, get back here!" She paused at hearing the male voice screeching loudly, tilting her head and staring at the house like it had just developed a life of its own.

"No..." She heard the woman's voice distantly, hers not carrying as far as the male's had, but the sound of the argument was enough to strike her curiosity so she edged closer, finding a vantage point from behind the shrubbery under the window. "I will not allow you to cost both of us our daughter, Ira. Hasn't she been through enough?" 'Sheila' was saying, her voice practically pleading the man for understanding, even though it was covered by her anger.

Curioser and curioser. Buffy had time to think, before the man was shouting again. "Willow should be at home, where she belongs! Not off pining over somebody who doesn't even know that she exists. If you ask me, she's a lot better off. That Summers girl has been nothing but trouble from the day she entered our lives." Buffy's ears picked up at the mention of her name, her attention focusing through the window at the man who was waving his arms around with his impassioned speech. She studied the man, noting his red, blotchy complexion, and the way that his hair was starting to thin out on top. Going bald, eh Ira? From what she'd seen, the guy would deserve it if it all fell out. Suddenly, the air of the confrontation changed and she was unprepared for it. She had been focusing so hard on the man's appearance that she'd missed what the woman had said. Whatever it was had caused the man to change tactics. He grew quieter, his back stiffened, and an air of authority seemed to settle down over his balding pate.

Ira had dropped his hands to his side, drawing a deep breath as he studied the woman he'd been married to for the last twenty five years. He sometimes wondered how things had gone so suddenly, horribly wrong. He had seized on the Summers kid as an excuse, a scapegoat, a person to lay his load of guilty feelings. But the truth was, he'd shut his eyes to the horrors of the world, the horrors that his daughter was so open to every day, because he hadn't had the courage to face them. He'd shut himself off from reality, choosing to believe that everything was fine, that his God was still the Ruler of mankind and that his wife and child were still the same people that they had been five, or even ten years ago. In the process he had lost touch with his wife and daughter, they had changed without him even knowing. In the small, dark recesses of his mind, he knew that he was the one that was really at fault for the status of his present relationships. But he was unable to face up to it, so he chose to lay the blame elsewhere. He'd never really liked the suspicious looking girl anyway...always getting into trouble. Always putting his daughter's life in danger. This had just been the last straw for him, he'd rationalized internally. And when the accident had happened, he'd looked at it as the perfect opportunity to get rid of the foreign object in his young daughter's life.

"We need to show a unified front, Sheila. Convince her together to come home. We can take care of her here. We don't even know where she's staying now that..." He was cut off, going stark white by his wife's next words.

"I know." Sheila answered, quietly, not meeting her husbands gaze as she revealed the truth she'd been hiding from him for the last few weeks. "She's safe. She just didn't want you to know where she was. She made me promise."

"I can't believe...my own daughter..." Ira looked away from her, not wanting to see the hurt and regret that had replaced the love that had once lit his wife's eyes. He shook his head, feeling like his whole world was crumbling around him. "I guess that's it then. My own daughter doesn't trust me anymore."

"Ira..."

"What about you?" Ira asked, suddenly as he swung to face the woman he 'loved'. "Have you lost faith in me too?"

Sheila shook her head at him sadly. "I don't know what I feel anymore, Ira. All I do know is that I've been estranged from my daughter for too long. And she's hurting right now. So, if you can't be there for her...with me...then I guess I'm going to have to be there for her without you." Sheila picked up the suitcase that she had set down when the argument had first began and headed for the door.

"Sheila..." His voice was almost too quiet to hear, and yet she heard the tone of desperation in his voice so clearly.

"When you're ready to be there for us Ira, you let me know." Sheila replied, giving him one last look before she walked through the door and out into the deepening twilight.

*****

Buffy watched from the cover of the bushes as Sheila entered her car and drove off. Mr. Rosenberg hadn't even followed his wife outside, Buffy could still see him standing in front of a bookcase, his arms crossed over his chest as he stared moodily at a family portrait that hung on the wall. She was still angry with him over what she'd found, but somehow what she had seen had taken the wind out of her sails and she no longer found herself with the need for confrontation. Surprisingly enough, she felt a little sorry for the man looking so alone and so hollow in his empty house. Although, from what she had overheard, he'd brought a lot of it down upon himself. But besides that, the overheard conversation had given her a lot to think about.

*****

Buffy didn't notice how the day dwindled into darkening twilight as she made her way home. Her thoughts were too absorbed by what she had overheard and the many questions it had evoked. It was ironic in a way, she'd gone there looking for answers and had ended up leaving with more questions than what she had started with. And she hadn't even seen the guy face to face.

She had learned a few things, though, like the fact that Willow was estranged from her family and that she herself was somehow to blame. She couldn't imagine how, though. Willow's father had called her a trouble maker, and there was no doubt in her mind that the man disliked her with a passion. That was probably the reason he'd tried to have her committed. Buffy was pretty sure that was faintly illegal, and she supposed that she'd kept the paper that was tucked neatly into her back pocket, before, as proof, just in case she ever needed to use it. She could probably even figure out why she hadn't told Willow or her mother about the incident, if Willow was already estranged with her father, knowing this would have just made things ten times worse between them. How she had managed to get out of there in the first place was still a mystery to her, although, the more she thought about it, the more the visions of the tall, dark stranger from her dream seemed to slip up on her. She wondered what the deal was with him. Was he real or imaginary? And if he was real, did that mean that the other guy in her dream was real too? She shuddered at the thought, not wanting to give too much credence to the images that she still saw way too clearly.

"Hey, Slayer. What's the hurry? Got a hot date?" A voice straight out of her nightmare, came at her from the shadows, stilling her heart and her feet on the pavement as she swiveled nervously to look amongst the gathered shadows for the source of it.

"Who's there?" She called out, trying to sound brave, as she thought she detected movement from the space between two houses. The figure moved out into the light made by a streetlamp, it's orange light reflecting strangely off of blonde hair, enhancing it with an almost ethereal quality.

The man smiled briefly, as if he were amused by both the question and the look of fear in her eyes. "Well...don't tell me you've forgotten old Spike." His voice was mocking, the grin still lurking on his pale face. "What's the matter? Did you fall and hit your head? Give yourself a splitting headache, did ya?" He asked, with a certain amount of glee. As if he was in on a very private joke.

Buffy's nostrils flared as her dream came back to haunt her in living color. "You're not real." She whispered, closing her eyes to try to block the face from her vision. Meanwhile, her inner voice screamed at her that he was real, and if she didn't move it soon she was going to be worm food.

"Not real?" He snorted, wondering why she wasn't giving him any of those annoying come backs she was so famous for. "Bloody Hell, Slayer. You have gone daft. And here I thought it was just a rumor."

Why was he still talking? He was just a product of her imagination. He was supposed to be gone by now. She peeked an eye open and saw him standing up close and personal, as if he were examining her with the precision of a physician.

He noticed her staring at him in what appeared to be shock or fright, and he stepped back a pace, the smile tickling at his lips again. "Well...it appears I have two options. I can kill you...thus adding another notch to my Slayer belt adding to my well deserved reputation. Or, I can leave you this way. With two loopy Slayer's around, I won't have to fear for my undead life...not that I ever did, mind you." The blonde certainly appeared to be enjoying his decision making process. "But then again, some newly risen jerk would probably just end up killing you by accident, what with the state you're in you probably wouldn't fight him very hard, and then he'd have my much deserved prize." Spike pretended to think the decision over very carefully, in truth all he wanted was to taste the Slayer's sweet tasting blood, but he didn't mind having his fun first. "Nope...that wouldn't do at all. I guess I'm just going to have to kill you then." He grinned, before lunging at her, Buffy still too stunned to move.

She tensed up just before he grabbed her, letting out a little squeak of terror as she felt how strong he was. Then she was being shoved, hard, out of the way, hitting the ground in a heap as the sound of a fist hitting flesh registered on her frazzled nerves. "What?" She croaked, looking up to see the dark stranger from her dream fighting with the blonde. The blonde's face had shifted, displaying the horrific visage that had filled her with dread the night before.

"Why do you always have to go sticking your nose where it doesn't belong, Angel?" Spike asked in disgust, while hitting the would be hero in the mouth hard enough to knock teeth out if he was human.

"Just the way I am, I guess." Angel answered him coolly, kneeing the other vampire in the gut, before giving a small slice of his attention to the fallen Slayer. "Buffy! Get out of here!" The dark savior called to her, still in the midst of his battle.

"But..." She wasn't sure why she was protesting instead of running for all she was worth, but she really didn't want to leave him alone for some strange reason. That was, until he turned shining golden eyes in her direction.

"Now!" He demanded, before tackling Spike to the ground. Buffy didn't have to be told again. Picking herself up, she sprinted into the night, hoping to leave the demonic creatures far behind her.

*****

"Where could she be?" Willow asked fretfully, pacing the span of the living room as she kept an avid watch for any sign of life outside. 'What if she's hurt...what if she's bleeding...what if she's...' She closed her eyes tightly, hugging herself, as she tried to block the last possibility from her consciousness.

Joyce laid a comforting hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently. "Honey, I'm sure she's fine."

"Yeah, but...what if she isn't...what if she's...what if I never get a chance to tell her?" Willow looked at Joyce through worry laden eyes. They had searched for Buffy for most of the late afternoon and into the evening, before finally deciding to return home just in case Buffy came back. They'd discussed the situation that had sent Buffy out there in the first place. Willow couldn't believe her own father could be that mean...that cruel. She wondered why Buffy had hidden this from her. But then again, she probably knew why. Her wife never wanted her to be hurt, and she knew that this would definitely hurt.

Willow sighed, turning her back on the night outside the window. "I'm so sick of this. I'm so sick of having to pretend, of not being able to tell her the truth. I just want to tell her..."

"Tell me what, Will?" Buffy asked softly, standing in the doorway.

"Buffy?" Willow gasped, a hand going over her mouth as she saw her wife and lover standing there, looking wild and disheveled, and not a little bit like something the cat dragged in.

"Tell me what." Buffy said again, this time a little more demanding as she looked around at the three people in the room...the people that she had thought she could trust above all others, and now to come back after some very strange and terrifying encounters to find them all talking about her...well, she'd had just about enough.

"Buffy." Giles cautioned, trying to disarm the situation like Buffy was a nuclear bomb about to go off.

She shook her head, not even bothering to look at him, her attention focused on the redhead that trembled in front of her. "I have just been through one of the strangest days of my life..." She paused, thinking about that statement, then shook her head, adding the rest that she'd come to loathe saying. "...that I can remember. I find out I was locked away in a mental institution...by Willow's father, no less...then I get attacked on my way home by some strange...blonde...demonic dude who keeps calling me a slayer, or the slayer...or something like that...and now I finally get home to where I think I'm safe...and I find out that what I've been suspecting really is true. You guys are keeping things from me...and now I want to know what they are."

She gave them a second to respond, looking around at their dazed, shocked faces. "Well?" She demanded, her voice cracking from the stress.

"Buffy...I..." Willow stared at her, feeling her breath fill up her lungs as she tried to figure out what to say. She'd wanted so very much to be able to tell her, and now here was her chance and she couldn't.

Buffy saw that Willow was struggling, and a part of her even felt sorry for her, but the bigger part of her just wanted to know what the heck was going on. "No...that's okay, Will. I'll just find out for myself...starting with that 'office' that nobody ever goes into." She'd decided on her plan of action before she'd even consciously thought about it. Before her family could even react she had turned and headed for the stairs, determination guiding her every move.

Willow's mouth had dropped open in shock as she figured out just exactly what Buffy was planning to do. "No...Buffy wait..." Willow cried out, as she ran after her, Giles and Joyce joining her a second later, both crying out for Buffy to stop.

As they reached the stairs, they heard wood splintering above them, and knew Buffy was breaking the door down. "Buffy..." Willow managed to say, just before the sound of a door slamming open registered on her ears. They all stopped to stare at each other, not bothering to race now...all knowing what they would find when they reached the top of the stairs.

*****

Buffy, for her part, had been on autopilot as she headed up the stairs, not knowing what she would find, but knowing it was gonna be big. Her greatest expectations couldn't have prepared her for what she actually did find. It had felt like second nature as she had kicked the door in, feeling her body moving gracefully into the kick, using all her strength to lever it open. Hearing the door slam against the wall had been like hearing the door that blocked her memories grinding open. But when she saw what the room actually contained, her stomach dropped away, an almost weightless quality rushing to her head, and she felt her knees buckle as she hit the floor.

*****

As the wind picked up outside, the lone wolf that circled around the open door of the Summers home, smiled wickedly. It was gonna be one Hell of a night.

*****

Chapter Eight: Room of Memories

I couldn't see how the darkness in my dreams had a hold on me.
Tried to deny that the tracks in my memory stood right by my side.
Naked and blind I fell down to my knees and found where I belong.

Now I'm back home again.
I wanna feel what I've been missing.
I need to know I've got a friend.
I'm back home again.
I wanna touch the world around me.
I wanna make you understand.
That I'm back home again.

Never believed that the door to happy endings would close on me, no.
Deep in my mind were the whispers of wisdom I left behind.
Dancing alone I tried hard to believe that melody was mine.

Now I'm back home again.
I wanna feel what I've been missing.
I need to know I've got a friend.
I'm back home again.
I wanna touch the world around me.
I wanna make you understand.
That I'm back home again.

-- Jack Wagner

Faith watched as opportunity presented itself to her on a silver platter. The timing couldn't have been better if she had planned it herself. All of Buffy's family were inside that house, all except that moron Xander, and that would be taken care of easily enough. Fingering the cool metal of the Police Special in her grip she admired it's dark casing. She had acquired it easily enough. Simple really. 'Want, take, have.' It was the motto she lived by.

The gun felt comfortable in her hand, like it was a part of her. It was as deadly as she was. Maybe even more so. After all, she had failed once...no twice to take out the 'all superpowerful Slayer.' This time, the Slayer wouldn't be so lucky, and neither would her family. She waited until she saw the last of them going up over the stairs, then slipped quietly into the house, closing the door behind her.

*****

Buffy had felt a chill the moment she'd turned on the light, revealing the 'mystery' room to her view. She shivered as she wondered how a room painted so cheerfully could feel so cold, isolated...abandoned. Big pictures of baby Mickey and Minnie mouse grinned at her accusingly from their spots on the walls. Staring at their smiling faces, she could swear that their little, beady, black eyes were looking right through her, and finding her guilty for crimes she hadn't known she had committed. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a Tinky Winky doll peeking out at her from between the slats of a baby's crib. The forlornness in it's cherub-like face caused her heart to seize painfully in her chest.

The room assaulted her from both sides with memories that were both confusing and overwhelming, dragging her to her knees as they washed over her. A kaleidoscope of images danced through her head as she looked around at the items surrounding her, her eyes open wide and her breathing coming in soft pants as she tried to absorb all that she was seeing. This was no office, she realized belatedly, it was a baby's Nursery. "Well, duh." Her inner voice cried, sarcastically. It was obvious that a lot of time and love had been put into the construction of this room...a lot of hours spent in making sure that everything was just right...no...perfect...as if they were preparing it to hold the most important person in the universe.

Ghosts moving in the passage of time appeared before her very eyes. An image of Willow and herself, both dressed in baggy overalls and old t-shirts, spending the most of a lazy afternoon getting bright yellow paint over the four walls and each other, as friendly bickering had escalated into a full fledged paint fight. She remembered that her mother had scolded them, a gentle laugh twinkling her hazel eyes, before she had joined them in the messy fight. Luckily the floor had been covered with about three good inches of tarpaulin, but the rest of the room had looked like a tidal wave of paint had washed over it. She clearly remembered looking around at the mess they had made, shrugging her shoulders, then after briskly rubbing her hands together, went to work on fixing their 'so called' paint job. Her mother and Willow had fallen into step behind her, the three of them brandishing brushes as they prepared to finish the job together.

It had been obvious to her, even before now, that Willow was pregnant. Why her family hadn't thought to mention it to her she hadn't been able to figure out. She had just assumed that the baby belonged to Oz. She had assumed a lot of things. Now, her senses overloading with input, she wasn't so sure.

Glancing around the room again, her eyes fell on a rocking chair sitting quietly by the window. As she looked over the object, looking so quiet and still another memory ghosted into view. She saw herself sneaking out of her bedroom, feeling excitement streak through her as she had followed the redhead up the hall, sneaking up behind her as she'd reached the door of the nursery and throwing a hand over her eyes before she could go in. She'd felt the redhead tense, hearing a distinctive gasp issue forth from her lips, before a sense of familiarity had washed over her unsuspecting prey and she'd realized who it was.

"Buffy." Willow had sighed, admonishing her softly. "You nearly scared me half to death. You know, if this is a game, I want you to know that your mother is right down the hall." She'd said, still sounding out of breath, as she continued to reprimand her.

"Relax." Buffy hadn't been able to hide the grin in her voice as she had chuckled softly. "I just want to show you something."

"Oh, a surprise? What is it?" Willow was genuinely curious, she just loved surprises, well, most kinds anyway, but she still wanted the use of her eyes.

"Uh uh...No peeking." Buffy had teased in a sing song voice, as the redhead tried to take her hand away.

"Buffy, I want to see. Where are we going, anyway?" Willow protested, wondering why they were still standing still, her hand on the doorknob.

"Right here." Buffy answered, grinning from ear to ear.

"The nursery? Buffy, I've seen the Nursery. Why the 'blindfold'?" The redhead had sounded definitely perplexed, even her forehead was crinkling, as she tried to imagine what Buffy was up to. Buffy had felt the movement of the eyebrows under her hand.

"You'll see, just keep them closed okay?" She'd chuckled again, excitedly, as she had guided the redhead into the room. "Okay..." Buffy said, quietly, as she'd turned on the light inside the nursery. "Now you can see." Removing the hand from Willow's eyes, she had watched with great satisfaction as green eyes had lit up with delight.

"Oh Buffy." Willow had gasped, eyes open wide as she'd seen the wooden rocking chair sitting by the window, looking rather lonely, as if it was waiting just for her to sit in it and rock. The redhead had walked over to it slowly, mesmerized by the sight, and had reached out to touch the finely grained, remarkably crafted and designed piece of furniture. She relished the smooth feel of the finely polished amber oak wood.

"Do you like it?" Buffy had asked, her voice soft and low, almost as if she were afraid that her gift would fall way short.

"Oh Buffy." Willow had murmured, still captured by the view of this gift of love. "I love it." She'd whispered softly, then had turned to look the blonde square in the eyes.

"Buffy...you remembered."

"How could I forget?" The words echoed loudly in her head, repeating themselves mockingly, over and over again, as she drowned in the memory. She had forgotten, and as tears streaked unnoticed down her face, her arms folded over the seat of the rocking chair, her head buried in between, her heart raged for her lost memories.

*****

Willow watched her wife sob for a few unbearable moments before she moved to place a gentle hand on her shoulder, hoping to console her somehow, only to have red-rimmed eyes rise to meet hers. Confusion mingling with a dawning realization swam within the hazel blue depths, and Willow found herself hoping for that realization to spread. She wondered how much Buffy had remembered, if seeing the nursery had broken through some of the blocks that were guarding the lost memories. Though seeing pain in her wife's eyes caused her to wince with an ache of her own, she couldn't help but hope that the nursery had done what she herself hadn't been able to, and brought her wife back to her.

"Will?" Buffy blinked up at the redhead, wondering for a second if this was yet another vision, another memory breaking it's way through the wall in her brain.

"I'm here." Willow reassured her gently, her voice rich with tears. Buffy reassured herself that the redhead in front of her was indeed real, before taking a moment to notice that her mom and Mr. Giles had also followed her into the room. They must have followed her from downstairs, she realized in an abstract fashion, before she noticed someone else making their presence known.

Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but the intruder spoke before she could, bringing an aching tension to all who heard it. "Oh good. The gang's all hear." Willow's blood turned to ice in an instant as she turned wide eyes toward the apparition standing cockily in the doorway, her eyes focusing on the weapon held steadily in a hard, sure hand. "Well, this makes it so much easier, don'tcha think, B? Now, that I don't have to hunt you all down like dogs." The smile of a predator flashed over her face, and Willow had no doubt that this person, contrary to her words, would have enjoyed every minute of that.

"Faith." It was the only word Willow could manage to choke out.

"In the flesh."

*****

Chapter Nine: I will remember you
Written by Kirayoshi

========

I'm so tired,
But I can't sleep
I'm standing on the edge of something
Much too deep.
Funny how we feel so much
We cannot say a word,
Though we're all screaming inside,
We can't be heard.

But I will remember you,
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by,
Weep not for the memories.

--Sarah McLachlan
"I Will Remember You"

Two weeks ago;

Faith had to smile. It was all too beautiful.

The Slayer, her rival, her enemy, fallen. So intent was B on saving her beloved, she didn't even know that her attacker was still conscious until the knife had cut a deep gash in B's back. The bright red blood spilled out freely, and Faith knew with an insane satisfaction that B's death was certain. The screaming crescendo coming out of Red's mouth was just the icing on the cake. Oh, she was going to enjoy slicing up Red, carving the fetus out of her womb, drop-kicking it off the ledge. Ding Dong, the Witch is dead! Or as good as.

"Looks like I killed you this time, B!"

But the Slayer wasn't down, not yet. Faith knew that she couldn't count this as a victory until she was certain that Buffy Summers was truly dead. Staggering, reeling from the blood loss and resulting vertigo, B gave one last longing look at her lover, wishing that she could touch her one last time, then turned on her heel, lunging at Faith in a linebacker's tackle. She grabbed Faith by the neck, and with her last erg of strength, rammed them both toward the edge of the roof. Her last words rang through Faith's head like the iron toll of Death's heavy bell; "I may be dying," she hissed with her last conscious breath, "but I'm taking you with me!"

Before she knew it, Faith had been pushed off the ledge. But the exertion was too much for the wounded Slayer. She lost her grip on Faith's neck, and was blacking out as the sidewalk rushed to meet her. Faith, however, was still alert. She had to act fast.

Maneuvering her body in freefall was tricky, but she managed to twist herself, to keep her arms bent and ahead of her, her legs loose and ready to move. As her body impacted with the pavement, she was able to survive, shoulder-rolling across the sidewalk.

She managed to break her right arm, and dislocate her right shoulder. Her body had been roughed up by the landing, and was effectively covered by one enormous reddening spot, which would quickly turn into a livid bruise, but she was alive. She had to be, she was in too much pain not to be. But she still laughed; she had beaten her. The Slayer was dead. There was no way she could have survived that fall. Goodbye, B!

She heard a scuffle from the rooftop; Giles and the others had reached Willow and untied her, and Willow rushed to the ledge, wailing for Buffy. Soon, Giles and Xander were standing over Buffy's body, Giles had checked for a pulse, and shortly after that, Buffy's body was hoisted on a gurney into a waiting ambulance, and rushed to the hospital.

Her friends were so intent on Buffy, that they didn't notice Faith hiding in the shadows. Faith nursed every bruise, every cut, every broken bone she suffered. That bitch Buffy might not be so dead after all. She could survive. Faith knew that she had to bide her time, wait for her injuries to heal.

With a demon's strength, she twisted her upper chest and back, forcibly knocking her dislocated shoulder back into its socket. The action magnified her pain but Faith didn't notice. Just another painful experience to blame on B. Yes, Faith knew, if Buffy somehow survived her sidewalk diving exhibition, Faith was going to have to do something about it.

* * * * * *

Today;

"Well, well, well," the dark-haired woman looked at the gathered family in the nursery as she cradled the police special in her hand, her finger idly resting on the trigger. "I must be losing my touch. Normally, when I kill someone, they tend to stay dead. But you, B, you're still here, still not dead. What are we gonna do about that?"

"I warn you, Faith," Giles' voice was soft, but laced with acid, and backed by a steely resolve. "If you do not leave this place now, I will insure that you regret staying."

"Oh, big words, G," Faith laughed at the former Watcher. "But hey, I'm holding the gun, you're not. Do the figuring."

"What do you want from us?" Buffy asked the strange woman. Her fragmented memories prevented her from recognizing her, but the mad look in her eyes, and the ever-present gun, clued her in that she was the bad guy in this scenario.

"What do I want?" Faith mused. "Oh, I dunno, a candy-apple red Beemer, Matt Damon as my personal sex slave, and the four of you dead. Well," she pulled back the trigger and aimed her piece at Willow's head, "one out of three ain't bad!"

"Put that thing down, Faith," Joyce stepped forward, pleading with the disturbed young woman. "You can't harm her, she's pregnant--UHNGH!" Faith pistol-whipped Joyce, sending her flying backward. Giles immediately rushed to her side, while Faith glared at them.

"Oh, poor pitiful Red!" she screamed. "So she's knocked up! Let's get this straight people, I don't care--" As she raved, a flash of memory came unbidden to Buffy's mind;

//"You don't get it, Faith," Buffy shouted at her fellow slayer. "You just killed someone."

"No, you don't get it," Faith answered calmly, coldly. "I don't care."//

"I don't care if she's pregnant!" the madwoman continued, waving her gun in the air toward her captors. "She's your family, B. You're all her family, that's why I want you dead! Don't you get it? I was the Slayer, the Chosen One! For the first time in my life, I was able to get away from that drunken shit of a father, and be something. But no, sorry, Faith, there's already a Slayer out there, we don't need you!" Her rage grew as she spoke, and centered on Buffy. "You took away everything that meant a damn to me! So now, I'm taking away everything that means a damn to you!"

Buffy looked at her opponent, and summoned whatever bravery she had to face her. "Look, Faith," she stammered, recalling the name from what Giles had called her, "you want to be this Slayer person, go for it, the job's yours. Just don't hurt these people, they haven't done anything to you."

Faith looked at Buffy as though she had sprouted a horn on her head. Her eyes widened with comprehension, and she spoke softly to Buffy. "You don't remember me. Your little cordless bungee jump wiped out your memories." She slapped Buffy hard across the face with her gun, shouting, "It's not fair! You don't know these people!" She slapped her again and again, raving madly. Each slap, each sting of pain, released endorphins into Buffy's brain, and adrenaline into her system, slowly dissolving the blocks to her memory. "You don't know that you've been shagging the redhead--"

//"I wish I remembered last night. I bet it was great." Willow said, shyly, a little embarrassed at her boldness.

"It was better than great." Buffy confirmed, staring into Willow's bright green eyes. A germ of an idea started in the back of her mind, causing Buffy to smile a little. "You know, I can't make you remember last night. But there's nothing that says I can't try to recreate it for you." Buffy smiled.

Willow's smile transformed slowly from embarrassed to passionate. "Do you want to?"

Buffy looked Willow's body up and down, recalling it all from memory. "Oh yeah, I definitely want to."//

"--That she got herself preggers, and you're playing the little mommy--" she slapped her again.

//"Giles, look...we obviously didn't plan for this to happen." Willow said, indicating her and Buffy's positions on the couch. "But it is something of a miracle wouldn't you say? I mean, how often does something like this happen?" Willow asked, her unoccupied hand resting gently on her stomach. "Buffy and I are going to have a baby, Giles. I can't think of anything more wonderful. Can you?"//

"--That you married the bitch--" Slap.

//Buffy took her cue from the minister, then turned to Xander, elbowing him in the gut as he was staring off into space. He grinned at her in apology, then handed over the sparkling golden ring, managing not to drop it in the process. Buffy glared at him, scoldingly, then turned back to her bride, the gold ring in her hand. She took Willow's left hand in hers, and trying not to tremble as she did so, slipped the ring onto her ring finger while reciting these words. "This ring I give to you, is token and pledge of my constant faith and devotion." She watched as it sparkled beside the shining diamond engagement ring, and felt an unaccountable joy rising inside of her.

Willow couldn't stop smiling as she turned and took Buffy's ring from Cordelia, who passed it to her with a grin. Taking Buffy's left hand in hers, she placed the ring on her finger and repeated the words Buffy had spoken seconds before. "This ring I give to you, is token and pledge of my constant faith and devotion."//

--That G's getting it on with your mom!" She slapped her again.

//"Something the matter, Buffy?" Willow asked.

"Nothing, really, Wills," Buffy said, as she started to loosen her tie, and unbutton her collar. "Just seeing Mom dance with Giles like that."

"And this is bugging you why?"

"I dunno, honey," Buffy admitted. "Hey, I'm happy for them, I really am. But I'm just having flashbacks of that whole 'Band candy' incident."//

--And you don't even know it?" A vicious uppercut knocked Buffy off of her feet, and sent her sprawling ungracefully to the floor. Willow tried to rush to her wife's side, only to be grabbed by Faith. The insane Slayer yanked her by the arm, throwing her to the floor. "You miserable little bitch!" Faith spat at Buffy. "You don't get it, do you? You don't get out of this one, you don't get to beat the big bad now. Because I'm the big bad, and I'm gonna do what all the demons of the Hellmouth couldn't do before. I'm gonna slay the Slayer!" She looked around her, at her intended victims. Giles stood next to Joyce, his teeth clenched with hatred, Willow tried to rise on shaky legs, and Buffy crouched beside the redhead, her eyes unreadable.

"But first," Faith continued, "I want to see you suffer. I want you to see your family die, one by one." She twirled the gun around her finger, gleefully taking in their terror. "Now then, who goes first? Eenie--" she pointed the gun at Willow. "Meenie---" At Giles. "Miney--" As she pointed the gun at Joyce, Willow saw her opening. She lunged at the extended gun arm, desperately trying to wrest the gun from the madwoman. But Faith was too strong for her, and threw her aside as though she were an annoyance.

"Thanks for making my mind up for me, Red," she snarled at the pregnant woman, who sat terrified before Faith's gaze. Devoid of compassion, remorse or sanity, she stared at Willow, but the frightened young woman had no idea what Faith saw. "You just lost your breathing privileges, sister. Ya hear me, B?" she shouted to Buffy. "First you watch your wife die, then your mom, then your Watcher. Then," she smiled as she touched the barrel of her gun to Willow's forehead, "I get to watch you die."

The fear in Willow's eyes made Buffy ache with need to protect her, the silent plea within her facial expressions filled her with an all-consuming drive to undo this madwoman's plans. Willow, believing that she was about to die, turned her frightened gaze to her wife, and whispered, "I love you, Buffy."

// "I think it's worth doing," Willow said to Buffy, as she declared her plans for the future. "And I don't think that you do it just because you have to. It's a good fight, Buffy and I want in."

Those words of affirmation from Willow Rosenberg, the jewel of her life, filled Buffy with a warmth and tenderness she had never known before, even when she was with Angel. All she could do was say the words she had longed to say for two years, and never had the courage to say before now;

"I kinda love you."//

"You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?" Faith asked Willow as she began to pull the trigger.

"Leave--" a guttural growl issued from the blonde's throat.

"My--" Buffy's hand grabbed Faith's wrist, loosening her grip on the gun, which dropped to the floor.

"Wife--" She twisted Faith's arm behind her back roughly, causing pain to lance through Faith's shoulder.

"ALONE!" She rammed Faith against the wall, dislodging one of her teeth in the process.

========

From the journal of Buffy Summers;

Looking back, I probably should thank Faith for breaking in.

The sight of her jamming her gun into Willow's forehead, the look of pleading on Willow's face, her whispered statement of "I love you". Somehow that jump-started something in me. A thousand images, a thousand sensations, emotions, touches, tastes, visions, all assaulted me at once. The literal 'life flashing in front of my eyes' moment, as cliché as it sounds, that's what happened to me. The tumblers clicked into sequence, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place.

Willow Rosenberg-Summers. My wife. The woman I loved. The woman whose brains Faith was about to splatter against the nursery wall, OUR nursery wall. That's when I knew who and what I was. Buffy Rosenberg-Summers. Willow's lover and wife, parent to her baby. And, of more immediate concern considering what Faith was going to do, the Slayer.

Yep, I should thank her. But considering that she was planning to kill me and my family, I didn't feel too guilty about the bitch-slapping I gave her.

It was like some slow-motion film, the way I slammed into Faith, disarming her, hitting her repeatedly. My mistake two weeks ago was when I gave her an opening. Not this time. I kept the advantage and never gave her a chance to get back at me. I remained on the offensive and never let up. Once I had tenderized most of her major muscle groups, and probably broken a few choice bones, I twisted her arm behind her, hard, knocking her to the floor, where I could pin her back with my knee.

While I was in this position, I shouted to Mom and Giles; "Mom, call the police, tell them we have a break-in. Giles, in the bottom of my foot-locker, where I keep my spare stakes and holy water, there's a pair of those enchanted manacles we had made to restrain Oz when we couldn't get him to the book cage during the full moon. Could you bring them here?"

Giles and Mom left, and Willow just sat back away from Faith and me. Faith was swearing under her breath, her speech slurred by her swelling lip and broken teeth. I kept her pinned to the floor; I wasn't about to turn my back on her until she was sufficiently restrained. I glanced at Willow, and winced at the fear I saw in her eyes. I couldn't help but wonder, was she scared of Faith for what she put us all through, or scared of me, of what I had done to Faith. I wanted to say something to her, to assure her that yes, this was me, her Buffy, that I was one-hundred percent back. But at that moment, Giles came back in with the manacles.

I quickly slapped them on Faith's wrists, keeping her hands locked behind her back so she couldn't try anything funny on any of us. Ten minutes later, Sunnydale's finest showed up and carted Faith away. One of them commented that Faith was still wanted in connection to the murder of Deputy Mayor Allen Finch last year. He assured us that Faith was going away for a very long time. I felt a grim satisfaction at the thought as I watched a beaten Faith being carted away by the police.

After the door closed, I turned toward the others. It felt as though I could cut through the silence with a knife. I studied their faces, really seeing them for what seemed like the first time in so long. Just the thrill of recognizing them, of connecting their faces to names, to emotions, to memories, was like nothing I've ever known before. I exhaled loudly, feeling the strain drain from my shoulders. "So," I asked, hoping to lighten the tension for the others, "any calls while I was away?"

The spell was broken. Willow was the first to approach me. She stood before me, almost timidly, like she was one of the apes at the beginning of '2001; A Space Odyssey', about to touch the obelisk. She reached out tentatively with her right hand, and began to trace the curves of my cheek with her fingers. I leaned into her touch, that feather-light sensation that I had forgotten now renewed in my mind as though I had only felt it yesterday. I looked at her face, saw the unshed tears glistening in her beautiful green eyes. Her breathing was labored, almost in gasps, as she asked me, "Buffy? You back? Really back?"

"Yeah, Wills," I smiled at her, desperate to assure her, to see her smile back at me. I took her hand as she touched my face. "I'm back."

Her tears flowed freely now, and she rushed into my arms, nearly knocking me over. God, this was what I was missing for so long, her weight against mine, her arms around me, her lips on mine. It was like I was kissing her all over for the first time, rediscovering this wonder, this miracle that was her love for me. I was holding my wife in my arms again, and I silently vowed never to let her go.

I was vaguely aware of the others, as they came near me. I glanced around, and saw Mom beside me, and I reached my arm around her, including her in our hug. Even Giles, always the model of British reserve and general stuffiness, wrapped his arms around the three of us, as our group hug tightened further.

Finally, I had to break away, if only for breathing purposes. "Uh, guys," I announced, "oxygen, becoming an issue." They loosened their grip on me, and we just stood there for a while. After a few minutes, Giles suggested that I should go see Dr. Greene tomorrow, just to make sure there were no more unexpected side-effects. I tried to assure him I was fine, but Mom took his side and I finally had to agree to see the Doctor.

After a few more awkward seconds, Giles pointed to Mom and said, "Perhaps we should leave them alone for the rest of the evening." He and Mom sneaked away, leaving me with Willow. Willow held me again, her kisses more insistent, more urgent, while her hands started to roam across my body, bringing about more sensations that were both new and familiar at the same time. She then stopped, and grinned at me. She reached around to the back of her neck, and unclasped a silver chain she was wearing. She removed the chain and held it in her hand for me to see.

She had kept our wedding rings on the chain all this time. As she removed my ring from the chain, she took my hand in hers, and said, "I think this belongs to you, Buffy." She slipped the ring on my finger, and as I looked at it, I realized how naked my hand looked before that moment. I gently took the other two rings from the chain, and placed them reverently on her hand. "Here's hoping we never have to take them off again," I whispered to her, emotion nearly overtaking my voice. I replaced the chain around her neck, and left my hands behind her neck as I drew her in for another long slow kiss. As we held each other harder, I turned Willow's head to face me, and asked her, "So, Wills, when ya movin' back in?" Oh, that smile was priceless!

How many people are as lucky as I was? I got the chance to rediscover the greatest love I ever knew, twice in the same lifetime. I had the lost piece of my life in my arms again. I was whole again. I had Willow back and I was never going to lose her again.

Yours truly, (God I love writing this part!!!) Buffy Rosenberg-Summers!

 

Look in my eyes while you're near
Tell me what's happening here
See that I don't want to say goodbye
Our love is frozen in time
I'll be your champion and you will be mine
I will remember
I will remember you

--Amy Grant

"I Will Remember You"

 

Chapter Ten: Coming back to me

lyrics by Celine Dion

Willow stood alone in the nursery for the first time since the time when she'd come home from the hospital. That visit had been so painful, so unbearable that she hadn't been able to remain in these four walls for very long, the memories sweeping over her had almost done her in with grief and she'd backed out of the room, refusing to step in here again...until now. It had all started here, she realized, she'd been sitting in this room when Faith had made her first appearance back into their lives, shaking everything up with her entrance.

There were nights when the wind was so cold,
That my body froze in bed
If I just listened to it
Right outside the window.

She tried to block the memories that seemed relentless in making themselves known. The ones that had fought themselves into her dreams, making her restless with nightmares and bringing more strain to her already overtaxed system. She kept seeing Buffy's face, turning from relieved to agonized in the instant that Faith had attacked. She shivered, her arms wrapped tightly around her body as she remembered the sudden lunge, feeling so incredibly helpless as she'd watched wide-eyed as her wife had taken her enemy over the edge, hurtling towards the hard pavement far below them. She remembered staring at her wife's body, so crumpled and bleeding, feeling so sure that she had lost her, that the key to her heart and soul was dead. And that horrible, agonizing ride to the hospital, where she'd begged and pleaded for every breath that her love took.

There were days when the sun was so cruel,
That all the tears turned to dust
And I just knew my eyes were
Drying up forever.

She remembered every hour, every moment that she had watched over Buffy, begging her love to just wake up and look at her, to let her know that she was fine and everything was going to be all right. Every day had just been another start in the vigil that they'd held over her. Every night had left her wondering if this was Buffy's last night on Earth.

I finished crying in the instant that you left.

When Buffy had woke up and looked at her, those blue eyes blank of any recognition, she had felt as if her heart were being sucked out of her chest, leaving only a gaping, black hole in it's place.

And I can't remember where or when or how.
And I banished every memory you and I had ever made.

The hope that had died in that instant hadn't been allowed to flourish again until she'd seen signs of Buffy making her recovery. The heart that she thought was gone had slowly started beating again, had started sending its wishes to a brain that was forged in denial.

How appropriate that their horrible ordeal should end in the very place that it had begun. They had come full circle. She had her Buffy back, and she was never letting her go again, not if she could help it.

Buffy stood in the doorway watching her wife stare out the window, and wondered if she would ever find a way to make up for all of the pain she had been through. Giles and her mom had just headed out for his place, giving Buffy and Willow the house to themselves. And though Buffy knew she didn't even want to think about what they'd be doing, she was grateful for this time alone with her wife. A chance to rediscover each other after the turmoil they had been through. "Hey, honey. Whatcha doing?" She asked, coming up behind her and putting her arms around her waist, resting her head on the redhead's shoulder.

But when you touch me like this,
And you hold me like that,
I just have to admit
That it's all coming back to me.

Willow couldn't help but sigh blissfully when Buffy wrapped her arms around her. She'd missed her with an intensity that had seared right down to her very soul. Now, as she was gently held in her wife's arms, it felt like a warm balm was spreading all over her. "Just thinking."

Buffy heard her somber sigh and knew the thoughts that she had been thinking hadn't been pleasant ones. The weight of her newly found guilt weighed more heavily on her shoulders. "Mmmm, not good." Buffy said, tightening her hold on the redhead, vowing to herself that she'd never let go again. "Too much thinking wears out your batteries."

Willow let out a small chuckle, just relishing in the feel of this. "Mom and Giles leave?" She asked, just to make small talk. She didn't like to admit to herself that she was nervous, but she was. It was like she and Buffy were learning each other all over again, relearning the steps that had made them click in the first place.

"Mmmhmm...said she wanted to get started in moving you back home." She felt Willow stiffen, knowing that she didn't like to think of anyone going out of their way for her. "I think it was just her way of letting us have some time alone, besides the fact that I don't think she and Giles have had a lot of time together either." She knew why too, keeping Willow and her apart couldn't have been easy for either one of them.

Willow thought about how much the older couple had done for them. It must have been so hard to watch over the lost couple, to watch them apart and hurting. Giles had been the epitome of an Englishman, not showing the strain and sorrow he must have been going through for them, and in a way, because of them. She had forgotten in the daze of her own sadness and grief that in order to keep Buffy and herself seperated, Giles and Joyce had to remain separated as well. They had a lot to thank them for. "I'm glad their doing it now." Willow murmured, hearing Buffy snort a chuckle before she buried her head further into the redhead's neck. "What?" She asked in confusion, wondering what Buffy found so funny.

"Not quite sure I'm there with ya, Wills. Just the thought of it makes me green, but I do agree that they need some alone time."

Willow tsked at her lover, swatting her playfully as her words sank in. "You know what I mean." She said, as she found herself blushing and trying hard not to think of Giles and Mrs. Summers doing...that.

"I thought I did, Wills. Maybe I was wrong." Buffy teased, relishing in the familiar banter. She'd missed it. She'd missed everything about her relationship with Willow, but as they relaxed more in the feel of each other, she realized she'd missed their gentle familiarity more than anything else. "You hungry?" She'd asked, when their laughter dwindled into quiet companionship.

Willow thought about it for a second, then shook her head no. She supposed she should, in all of the excitement with looking for Buffy earlier, and what had happened after, neither she nor Giles had ate supper, but right now all she wanted to do was stay in this warm embrace. "I just want to stay here...if that's okay." Willow said, unsure why she felt like asking permission to hold her own wife.

"It's more than okay." Buffy reassured her gently, holding her more tightly, her arms wrapped completely around her as they stared out the window into the night.

When I touch you like this,
And I hold you like that,
It's so hard to believe but
It's all coming back to me.
(It's all coming back, it's all coming back to me now)

As Buffy stood there, holding her wife in her arms, her mind tripped over memories that laid scattered in her mind like field mines just waiting to be stepped on. She cherished each one, allowing them to wash over her as the tactile feel of Willow's form gave substance to the past. She thought of the many hours they had spent in this very room, talking excitedly about their baby, wondering what she would look like, who she would take after, and what they would name her. Neither one was able to decide what the name should be, so they had given up on that part of the discussion, deciding that they would name her when they saw her.

A flash of a barely remembered dream stirred from her subconscious, an image of a child with a wild shock of red hair and a face full of freckles, calling her name as she ran across a lawn covered with white, fluffy snow. She could see herself catching her and throwing her up in the air, being the perfect playmate, as she taught her all about the world she lived in, and protected her from the dangers that lurked just outside her awareness.

She shivered as she wondered what would have happened to her daughter if her memory had remained a blank slate. Would she ever have remembered on her own if Faith hadn't interceded when she had, or would she have gone through life, never knowing about the miracle she had been blessed with. With one fatal leap on one fateful night, she had almost lost everything.

"How could I have forgotten all of this?" Her voice was broken as she spoke, searing Willow's heart with the pain that she heard in the plaintive question. Turning in her wife's arms, she looked into her face, and saw the sadness and remorse outlined there.

"Hey...it wasn't your fault." The blue eyes avoided her own as Buffy stared pensively out the window. "What are you going to do? Blame yourself for Faith's attack?" She asked, looking deeply into the shuttered face. When Buffy still didn't look at her, she touched her chin, lifting it to bring the blue eyes to meet her own. She wasn't about to let Buffy lay the blame and guilt on her already overburdened shoulders. "We were both victims here. She hurt us both."

Buffy traced a soft cheek with a trembling finger. "I came so close to losing you." She whispered, her blue eyes misting with tears. "My only thought was to protect you and our baby. I don't know what I would have done if she'd..." She couldn't finish the sentence, couldn't finish the thought, almost cringing with the possibilities.

"Buffy, she didn't. And how do you think I felt when she...when you..." The green eyes filled with pain, and she shook her head suddenly, almost viciously, as if she were trying to shake the memories from her brain.

At the renewed guilt on the Slayer's face, Willow's own cleared. "No...no more thinking." Willow said, her voice trembling, even as she tried to steady it, turning away from the heavy thoughts that had weighed on her soul. "I think I just burned out my batteries." She smiled, attempting to erase the worried frown from Buffy's face.

Willow sighed as she wrapped her arms around her wife's neck. She didn't want to think right now, in fact all she really wanted to do was forget that Faith had ever disrupted their lives, to forget that there had ever been a time when Buffy wasn't a part of her life.

There were moments of gold,
And there were flashes of light.
There were things I'd never do again,
But then they'd always seemed right.
There were nights of endless pleasure,
It was more than any laws allow.
Baby Baby

In the past, whenever Willow had wanted to escape from an especially trying day, all Buffy had needed to do was take her in her arms and love her troubles away. She wanted to feel that now, needed to feel it as if her life depended on it. She wanted to sink into Buffy's warmth, Buffy's tenderness and forget that there was even a moment when she couldn't do that.

Putting her head on Buffy's shoulder, feeling the blonde's arms come up to hold her tightly once more, Willow whispered into her ear, "Help me forget, Buffy."

If I kiss you like this
And if you whisper like that,
It was lost long ago
But it's all coming back to me.

Buffy kissed the top of her head, feeling her throat tightening as their connection stirred deep within. She couldn't blame Willow for wanting to block it out, she too wanted to just put it behind them. She inhaled the sweet scent of her wife, her perfume sending sweet tendrils of desire through her blood stream. Oh, how she lived for this! Running her hand through the soft red hair, she brought Willow's face up to look deep within the green eyes reflecting back love and hope, and a compelling desire that seared right through her. "Oh Will, I've missed you so much." She said softly, just before their lips met, then groaned into the softness as the memories of a thousand kisses invaded her senses.

Willow clung to her then, unable to believe this was really happening, so afraid that she would wake up and this would be another of the endless dreams she had suffered through. "I've missed you too." She whispered, and Buffy realized that she had heard that in a dream somewhere, but then the redhead's kiss became deeper and she lost her train of thought, sinking into the sensations as they lost themselves in each other.

If you want me like this,
And if you need me like that,
It was dead long ago,
But it's all coming back to me,

The fact that they were presently still standing up in their baby's nursery slowly started to dawn on her, and Buffy slowly started to pull away from the kiss, resting her forehead against Willow's as they both took deep breaths, trying to regain their breath from the passionate kiss. She knew that they needed to move, to get more comfortable, and she knew that her bed...their bed was right down the hall, but she wasn't sure how to suggest it.

Willow looked at Buffy, a red eyebrow raising slightly as she saw her through passion glazed eyes. "I wasn't sure I'd remember how to do that." She admitted, a slight smile tugging at her lips.

Buffy chuckled, sounding as out of breath as her wife did. "I think kissing you must be second nature. It was the one thing I didn't forget, in my dreams anyway." She admitted with a blush.

Willow smiled at that, a hint of a blush rising on her own cheeks. Then her eyes turned serious, as she stared at her wife with a longing she couldn't hide anymore. "I want you, Buffy."

The admission took her breath away, and Buffy closed her eyes, gratefully. "I need you." Buffy confessed softly. She needed to feel her, all of her, as their connection grew and expanded, joining them together with an unbreakable link. She needed to touch on that again and again, until Faith's attack was just a dim recollection best left in the past.

Willow nodded, understanding shining in her eyes, before she gasped, feeling lightheaded as Buffy swept her off her feet and up into the Slayer's strong arms. Her arms wrapped instinctively around her lover's neck, feeling safe and secure at the same time in the protective circle.

"Wasn't sure I'd remember how to do that, though." Buffy commented, chuckling at the surprised look on the redhead's face. She tightened her grip before moving, walking out of the nursery and toward their bedroom, leaving the door wide open. There was no more need for secrecy now.

It's so hard to resist
And it's all coming back to me,
I can barely recall
But it's all coming back to me now.
But it's all coming back.

They were quiet when they entered their room, both feeling a little nervous though neither knew why. Buffy set Willow gently down on her feet, unable to tear her eyes away from the green orbs that had always captured her attention. Shutting the door, she felt as if she were shutting the world away, leaving just the two of them standing in this space, this place in time where it was up to them to make things right again. Gently tracing the face in front of her, Buffy kissed her slowly, reverently, taking her time as they became reacquainted with each other again.

There was no compelling need to hurry, their movements were slow, gentle, tender, as if they were afraid that if they tried too hard or went too fast, this would all disappear as if it had never happened, and they'd be right back where they started from.

As they stripped each other's clothes away, it was like stripping off the layers that stood between them, all of the secrets Willow had been forced to keep, the time apart that they would never get back.

Laying down together was like coming home, for the first time since Buffy had awakened from her coma, she really felt like she was finally where she belonged.

But if I touch you like this
And if you kiss me like that
It was so long ago
But it's all coming back to me.

Buffy felt like a blind person that had suddenly received their gift of sight back. She stared in awe at the white expanse of skin that mingled and merged so nicely with her own darker complexion. Like a blind man, she used her other senses to rediscover territory she once knew, how the long plane of her wife's back was ticklish to her touch, how she moaned ever so sweetly when Buffy kissed the tender spot on her neck, how she writhed under her when she sought out other places, the hidden places that only a chosen two even knew existed.

Buffy couldn't get enough of the sweet contact that seared between them as they met each other again and again in a series of life affirming kisses. The way Willow gasped and moaned into her mouth left her feeling dizzy and reeling and wanting the sensations to go on forever. She couldn't imagine ever ending this blissful feeling.

If you touch me like this
And if I kiss you like that
It was gone with the wind
But it's all coming back to me
(It's all coming back, it's all coming back to me now)

Willow clung tenaciously to her wife's form as she felt herself sinking into the sensations, losing conscious thought as she surrendered to the safety and security that loving Buffy always made her feel, losing herself in the barricade of emotions that her wife evoked in her, catching her in a maelstrom that she didn't ever want to break loose from.

She could hear her wife groaning into her kiss, felt the moisture that covered her back in a slick sheen of perspiration, giving evidence to the heat that sparked between them.

There were moments of gold
And there were flashes of light
There were things we'd never do again
But then they'd always seemed right
There were nights of endless pleasure
It was more than all your laws allow
Baby, Baby, Baby

As Buffy lost herself to the passion and pleasure, images of a thousand other nights of such bliss invaded her senses. Every touch, every caress was mirrored in the back of her mind, invoking even greater pleasure as she remembered their first touch, their first kiss, the way Willow had driven her mad with animal desire, unleashing something primal from deep within. That something that had changed their lives completely. That first night of pleasure that had taken two souls and forged them irrevocably into one.

When you touch me like this
And when you hold me like that
It was gone with the wind
But it's all coming back to me

Willow gasped as Buffy flared above her, being driven higher by their merging desires as their mouths met hungrily. There was no room for thought, no room for inner contemplation, they were in a place where desire and heat ruled supreme over every other emotion.

When you see me like this
And when I see you like that
Then we see what we want to see
All coming back to me

The look on Willow's face as Buffy entered her was breathtaking...awe inspiring. Buffy thought that she was going to lose it completely when she felt her wife's warmth surrounding her, while at the same time losing herself in the deep green, passion-filled gaze. She could hear her wife murmuring words of love, her voice husky, as she moved within her. Once again there was no hurry, as she drew out the sensations, reveling in the softness of her wife's skin as she lay against her, the feel of the warmth that she was engulfed in, the sound of her wife's cries and moans that filled up her soul.

The flesh and the fantasies
All coming back to me

I can barely recall
But it's all coming back to me now

Willow's dreams and barely recalled memories couldn't compare to what Buffy was making her feel now. All she could do was hold on to her Slayer, gripping the sweat covered back, as Buffy moved above her. She was getting close, she could feel it building up inside of her, making her want to arch her back into the increasingly stronger touches. She panted into Buffy's neck, cooling the skin there and raising goosebumps, resisting for a moment the urge to bite into the strong, sinewy shoulder.

But the closer she got to that edge, the stronger the urge became, until finally she was able to resist no longer and she bit down into the strong muscle even as she screamed out her pleasure as she came.

Buffy's eyes opened wide at the shock of her Willow biting her, but the slight pain just mingled with the great rush of desire she was feeling, and she too cried out, her own climax capturing her unexpectedly.

They were rocked by the sensations, both clinging to each other, as if they were afraid to let go of the other, until finally, their passion spent, they sank into each other, both panting for breath as they came down from the heights their love had taken them.

If you forgive me all this
If I forgive you all that.
We forgive and forget
And it's all coming back to me.

"Oh...oh no...I bit you." Were the first words out of Willow's mouth when conscious thought finally returned to her. Her tender heart felt remorse as she traced the reddened bite mark with a gentle finger.

Buffy turned her head to see if she could see the wound that felt like a minor scratch on her shoulder, but it was too close to her neck for her to see it. A small smile flicked around the corners of her mouth as she asked her wife teasingly, "Uh...are you sure you didn't become a vampire or something while I was away?" She chuckled at the look that came across Willow's face, kissing the scowl away with loving tenderness. "Just kidding, honey. It's okay...it doesn't even hurt."

Mentioning the time that she was away had brought a twinge to both of their hearts, bringing a renewed need for closeness. Buffy shifted positions, moving onto her back as she pulled Willow down on top of her. Buffy pulled the blankets up to ward away the cold on their chilling bodies, as she felt her lover snuggling in, the redhead lying comfortably on her shoulder.

Their love making session had managed to chase most of the ghosts away, but a few still lingered around the recesses of their minds, throwing shades of doubt into their path until both women were afraid that they'd trip over them.

"Buffy..I..." "Willow...I.." They both started at the same time, then stopped and looked at each other, before chuckling softly.

"You go first." Buffy offered, trailing a hand down Willow's long back.

"I...just wanted to say that I'm sorry we kept things from you. It just seemed to be...the right thing to do at the time. And, I really wasn't sure how to mention...all of this..." Willow said, indicating their positions on the bed. "...without making you think that I was some kind of...nutball."

Buffy realized then how hard this must have all been for her, being physically and emotionally cut off from the woman that she loved must have been so hard. "Oh, Will." She sighed, stroking a soft cheek. "I'm so sorry. I wish you hadn't have had to go through that. I wish I had stopped Faith the right way the first time."

"You can't blame yourself for that, Buffy. You didn't know that was going to happen, anymore than I knew it was going to be Faith standing there when I answered the door." Willow realized then that any 'if onlys' were futile, they couldn't go back and rewrite time after all, nor could they change the way things had transpired. The only thing that really mattered, then, was that somehow, miraculously, they had found their way back to each other. "We can't think of what might have been if we'd just done things differently. That kind of thinking tends to give me a headache. I think I just want to revel in the fact that I got you back." She grinned at her then, one of those shy, sly numbers that made Buffy's heart flip in her chest.

"I think I'd like that." Buffy said huskily, agreeing with the Wiccan's words. Threading her fingers through red hair, Buffy brought her closer for a kiss, letting her mouth speak through body language what she didn't ever think she'd be able to say verbally.

When you see me like this
And when I see you like that
We see just what we want to see
All coming back to me

They spent the rest of the evening wrapped up in each other, giving in to their need for closure and closeness, their every thought wrapped up and consumed by the other.


The flesh and the fantasies
All coming back to me
I can barely recall but it's all coming back to me now.

They gave themselves free rein, allowing each other to play with their most intimate and intense fantasies, or simply just relaxing in the feel of being with each other. By the time dawn rolled around, the couple was feeling a lot more secure in each other, in their re-established link, and the love that they felt.

(It's all coming back to me now)
And when you kiss me like this

Willow kissed Buffy gently, sleepily, as she felt her exhaustion finally take precedence over her physical needs. Buffy smiled peacefully into her lover's face, noticing the way the eyelids were drooping, then gently urged the redhead to lie down, smiling as she felt her relax on her chest, her hair soft against her skin.

(It's all coming back to me now)
And when I touch you like that

She sighed as she her hand trailed gentle circles on her lover's back, her mind slipping peacefully into a state of drowsiness. She had her memory back, had her wife in her arms, and knew her daughter was a few short months from being born. What could be better than this? she asked herself reflectively. She couldn't come up with a single thing, though she considered the question for about half a second.

(It's all coming back to me now)
If you do it like this

The soft sounds of her wife sleeping comforted her as she edged toward sleep, her eyes drifting shut, the last image she took with her into dreamland was a vision of her wife's face relaxed and care free, lying contentedly on top of her.

(It's all coming back to me now)

"Good night, Will." She whispered, just before her own eyes closed and she slipped into a dreamless sleep, truly content for the first time in a long time that everything was right in her world.

And if we...

The archangel Shyfox, taunter of the list and creater of most consecutive cliffhangers,
mistress of the warm-fuzzy and evil mind corrupter.

Continue to Kirayoshi's Next Entry in the Series
What A Wonderful World

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