by Erin

The bright moon cast long beams of light through the unshuttered windows of the dorm room. The light illuminated the two friends, laying in one another's arms on a small bed. They were fully clothed, seemingly content for the moment just to be in one another's presence. The moonlight also illuminated a telephone on a nightstand; a telephone which, as telephones do, would start ringing in just a moment.

Buffy sighed; right now, life was perfect. It didn't matter that she was the Slayer; it didn't matter that she was anyone's student, or friend, or daughter. It only mattered that she was Buffy, and that her best friend, who had earlier snuggled up to her and placed her head on Buffy's shoulder, was happy.

"Are you happy, Will?" Buffy asked. She had asked the question almost idly, but she felt that the answer was critically important.

"Mmmmm..." Willow sighed, tightening the arm she had around Buffy's stomach. "Of course I'm happy. This is like a dream come true." She raised her head to meet Buffy's kiss.

Inevitably, just then the phone rang. Buffy groaned, and sat up to reach the phone.

"Hello?... Oh, hi Giles! ...Really? ...Ok ...Tomorrow, sure ...Ok. Bye." Buffy set the phone down.

Willow sat up, and looked at Buffy, concerned. "What is it? Demon prince?" Buffy shook her head. "Vampires?" No again. "It's not another apocalypse, is it?"

Buffy shook her head, and replied, "Worse. Giles wants dating advice."

"Giles is going on a date with your mom?" Willow looked shocked. "Uh, I thought they hadn't really even... uh... talked since the band candy incident."

Buffy made a face. "They didn't really 'talk' then, either. I'd rather forget about that. Having the mental image of Giles and my mom having sex on the hood of a police car--TWICE--is something that's going to make me require intense therapy. I don't care if they WERE under a spell at the time." The Slayer rose, and started pacing back and forth in their dorm room. "No, but my mom wanted Giles to look at some pieces she got for the gallery, and when she heard that he didn't have any plans for Valentine's Day..."

Willow wrapped her arms around her legs, and rested her chin on her knees. Even though she knew that she and Buffy had feelings for one another, it was still hard to get used to the fact that they really were "starting a relationship." Not surprisingly, she had no experience with female/female relationships. "So, um..." Willow started, trying to be nonchalant. "What... what are your plans for Valentine's Day?"

Buffy looked over at the redhead, who was trying so hard to play it cool. She sat down next to Willow, and put her arm around her. "I dunno, that kinda depends."

"On what?"

"On where you want to go to dinner that night." Buffy smiled at her friend. Willow looked slightly shocked.

"You mean like a...a date?"

"Of course I mean a date," Buffy responded, bemused. "Why wouldn't we go on a date?"

"Well, I mean, I don't know, I mean, I just thought that, you know, dates mean going out, and, you know, doing date-ish type things, and I mean, being seen by, well...people," Willow finished babbling.

Buffy looked at Willow seriously for a moment. "Will, are you ashamed...of me, of us?"

Willow looked stricken. "Oh no, Buffy! I could never be ashamed. It's just that, people..."

Buffy held up a hand to silence the redhead. "If you're not ashamed of us, and I'm not ashamed of us, then no one else has the right to interfere. They're not living our lives, Will! They don't have to live with the consequences of our actions. All of it is SO none of their business. And I'll be the first to tell them that."

Willow smiled, and blushed. "Do you prefer Italian, or Mexican?"

"That tie is just WAY too busy," Buffy commented. You need something with a little more beige."

"Yes, I think I have something else..." Giles went upstairs to retrieve another tie. The girls had come over to help Giles with his wardrobe choices for his big V-Day date with Ms. Summers. Shortly after the fashion show was underway, Xander and Anya showed up, undoubtedly looking for some quality time away from Xander's parents' basement.

"Hey Buffster! Hey Willow! Where's the G-man?" Xander came in, and immediately raided Giles' refrigerator for soda for himself and Anya.

"Hey, Xand. Way to make yourself at home," Buffy grinned at their friend. "Giles is upstairs, he's trying to coordinate an ensemble for his big date."

"Giles? On a date? Is this yet another sign of yet another coming apocalypse?" Xander set the sodas on the table, and sat down next to Anya. "Who's the lucky British chippy this time?"

Buffy just stared at Xander, and Willow tried to intervene. "Uh, Xander, the lucky WOMAN is Buffy's mom."

Xander's mouth closed, and he cast nervous glances at the Slayer. "Um, of course, what I meant was, the lucky woman must be some lady of distinction..."

Anya looked over at the group, puzzled. "Does this mean that Giles and your mother are going to have intercourse? You know, be orgasm friends?" Anya had all the tact that you might come to expect from someone who had spent the last 1,100 years as a male-hating vengeance demon. One small trick of fate later, and she was a normal mortal teenager; well, normal aside from her complete lack of social skills.

"No! Can we talk about something else here besides my mom's org--can we talk about something else here?" Buffy looked more than a little stressed.

"Ok, subject change, I get it. What are your plans for Valentine's Day?" Xander asked, directing the question at Buffy and Willow both.

The two friends exchanged glances. "Well, uh, I don't think we have quite decided yet, that is, not that we're deciding together, I just don't think either of us have decided." Buffy looked over at Willow for confirmation.

"Yep, that's right, I don't think either of us have decided... Buffy, can I talk to you for a minute?" Willow pulled Buffy outside.

Xander looked over at Anya, puzzled. "Did that seem a little weird to anyone else?"

Anya, who was busy flipping through a magazine, looked bored by the question. "They're always a little weird, how can you tell?"

Just then, Giles came down from upstairs, holding a couple of ties. He looked around curiously, and asked, "Where are Buffy and Willow?"

"So what happened to not being ashamed?" Willow asked, arms folded across her chest. Buffy looked sheepish.

"We were talking about people... people who aren't our friends and family. Do you want to go in there and tell Giles and Xander that we have the hots for each other?"

Willow stared off into space for a moment, and smiled. "You have the hots for me, huh?" She giggled.


"Oh, ok. I get your point. But we're going to have to tell them eventually, and it's not fair to either of us to have to keep it a secret."

Buffy nodded. "Ok, so we just go in there, and tell them, right?"

"Yep, we'll just go in there and tell them." Willow and Buffy opened the door, and re-entered Giles' home.

Xander looked over at his friends, coming back in from outside. "So, what were you two crazy girls talking about?"

"Nothing!" Both girls said, in unison. They looked at each other. "Ok," Buffy said, exhaling slowly. "We're... well, for Valentine's Day, Willow and I are going out to dinner." She shot Willow a triumphant look.

"Okay," Xander said, slowly. "That's nice."

"That's nice? That's it?" Buffy looked at Xander, puzzled.

"Uh, what else? Um... Good! I'm glad for you."

"You're glad for us?" Willow asked. Xander was taking this better than she thought he would.

"Yeah! I mean, I love to see you guys having fun with each other."

Buffy choked, quite a feat as she wasn't eating or drinking anything at the time. Willow just stared.

Xander looked around the room for support. "What? Am I the only one who thinks this double date idea is a good one?"

Giles removed his glasses, and began polishing them. "I...I don't think that's quite what they meant."

"Huh?" Xander looked around, totally confused.

"We're not double dating, Xander," Willow began. "We're just dating."

"Ok," Xander replied. "Dating who?"

"Oh, I don't believe this," Giles mumbled, and went off to find another tie.

"Well, that went well, I think," Willow broke the silence as she and Buffy walked back home to their dorm.

"In what alternate, bizarro universe?" Buffy looked over at her friend. "Xander freaked, yelled at us and took off, Giles..."

"Was just being Giles. He's uncomfortable around our personal lives regardless of who we're dating." Willow remembered how uncomfortable Giles was when she first mentioned to him that she had feelings for Buffy. Then, as now, he was trying to be understanding, and trying to be comforting, but interpersonal relationships were not his strong suit. She suspected he'd rather stick to something safe, like demons.

"That's true. And Anya... well, at least she was too bored by the whole thing to add to the excitement." Buffy shoved her hands in her jacket pockets. "I just wish Xander had stuck around, and talked to us."

"We should give him some time. I'll go and talk to him in a day or two." The two friends lapsed into silence again.

The Slayer walked around the UCS campus, lost in thought. Technically, she was "out patrolling", but she was too distracted now to do more than walk around and see if anything attacked her. Truth is, she needed to get out of her dorm room, and think.

The harsh events of the afternoon put both Buffy and Willow into a funk. When it was just the two of them, it was so easy; each knew how the other felt, and they had very little problem expressing that. But when other people were involved, it became "an issue".

It's so unfair! Buffy thought. When I was dating a guy, people couldn't have cared less. Even Angel attracted less attention, and we hung out in graveyards all the time. But now I'm dating a girl...And not just any girl! This is Willow, who I've known and trusted for years. When I was dating a guy, no one asked if it was the right thing to do, or if I was "doing it for the wrong reasons."

That was perhaps the most cutting thing that Xander had said to them before he left. He had insinuated that Buffy and Willow's relationship was a direct result of their other failed relationships with men. Then he left. Giles said that it was completely unlike Xander, and that he didn't mean it, he just needed a little time.

The whole thing was starting to anger Buffy. Why the hell should it matter to them, any of them? Why should it matter if I'm dating a guy, a girl, or a pink two-headed elephant with fangs? Ah, geez, Buffy thought suddenly. And what am I going to tell my mom?

"Dammit, it's so unfair!" Buffy yelled, with clenched teeth. A voice made her jump.

"What's so unfair?" Riley asked, stepping out of the shadows.

"Riley, hi," Buffy passed a hand through her hair absently. Perfect, she thought. Riley, who I can't spend five minutes with without getting into an argument. She seated herself on a stone table in the commons area where she had ended up. "I haven't seen you in awhile, over a week. You haven't been in Walsh's class."

Riley nodded. "Yeah, I had some things to work out, I got another TA to cover for me. Our last encounter with the Host--with the um, warlock left me a little shaken."

Buffy smiled, wryly. "Yeah, I guess that whole thing kinda upset your world view, didn't it. It's hard to rationalize away."

"Yeah, I had to deal with it, to do some research. I guess there are some things out there that I'm not so ready to explain away," Riley replied. He took a step toward Buffy, and said, "Actually, I was out here looking for you."

Buffy looked at him, quizzically. "Why were you looking for me?"

"I wanted to know what your Valentine's Day plans were."

Willow sat in the dorm room, staring at her computer screen. She had started a journal entry for today's date, but she couldn't figure out what to write in it. Actually, she couldn't figure out what to write in it FIRST.

She had been hurt by the things that Xander had said about them. She knew him well enough to know that he probably already regretted the harsh words, and he'd come back and apologize soon. He really did just want to see the two of them happy.

She looked over at the bed on Buffy's side of the room. Happy. She remembered just yesterday how happy she was, lying down next to Buffy, her head on the Slayer's shoulder. Everything had seemed so right. So what was the problem?

Willow shook her head. She and Buffy needed to talk. They could work it out, but they needed to do it together.

Willow grabbed her coat, and left the dorm looking for the Slayer.

"Valentine's Day?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah, I thought maybe if you weren't doing anything, you and me could go to dinner or something," Riley smiled.

Buffy shook her head. "Riley, I like you, I really do, but this whole thing just isn't going to work between us..."

"Why not? Because of you being a Slayer? Buffy, we talked about this, this Slayer thing doesn't have to be your whole life!"

"What? No, Riley, you're wrong. The Slayer thing IS my whole life. It's what I was born to do. I didn't choose it, it chose me, and I can't say no, I can't say, 'Oh, I'd really like to retire now, maybe settle down,' there is no gold watch in my future. Because the only way I stop being the Slayer is die. Permanently, this time." Buffy buried her face in her hands. God, she wished this whole subject didn't get to her like that.

"Buffy, listen to me." Riley put a hand under her chin, and lifted her head to face him. "You're doing good things, and helping good people. That alone should be enough to let you reward yourself with a personal life--" Buffy shook her head.

"Riley, you don't understand what I'm getting at--"

"No, I understand perfectly, you don't want to let your guard down because you're afraid of what's going to happen. You don't have to be afraid and you don't have to be alone." He leaned down, and kissed her.

Willow rounded the path by the science building, and stopped when she heard voices ahead. She looked out into the commons area, and saw...She stumbled back, around the building, her breath ragged. Blinking away tears, she ran back the way she had come.

Buffy broke the kiss. "Riley, stop." She wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. "Listen, you caught me at a really bad time. No, listen to me!" She held up her hand, silencing him. "I can't be with you, it's not fair to you. There's..." She took a deep breath before continuing. "There's someone else. I'm sorry."

Riley took a step back; he felt numb. "I...I see. Why didn't you tell me before?"

"Because I didn't know until just over a week ago. But this is someone I've known for so long, and trust so implicitly..." She stared off into space, unknowingly looking at the same spot where Willow had stood just moments before. "I'd never do anything to hurt her."

"Her." Riley repeated the word; repeating it made it more real, somehow. "Willow."

Buffy nodded silently. Riley took a few steps back, and then turned around and walked down the path, into the night.

Willow couldn't remember walking toward the dorm room, but she was led back there all the same. She was a fool to think that her relationship with Buffy could work. Not when she had the chance of a normal relationship with Riley. She entered the room, and without even turning the lights on, got ready for bed.

Buffy entered the room quietly. It was dark, and she saw immediately that Willow was in bed, asleep. Buffy sat on the edge of her own bed, and sighed.

"Oh, Willow..." she whispered. "Why is this so complicated?" She exhaled, slowly. "All I know is that...I love you. I...I'm not good at this whole sharing thing. I know I tend to keep things all bottled up, and I know I can sometimes push people away. But I never want to push you away, not again. I try to be strong, the person people can depend on; I try to be SuperSlayer, but Will, deep down I'm really not. Will, I need..." Buffy's voice cracked, and she fell silent.

A quiet voice came from Willow's side of the room, startling the Slayer. "I love you, Buffy."

Buffy looked up at the very awake Willow, who was looking at her. Buffy gave her a faint smile, and replied, "I love you too, Will." She rose, and went to sit down next to Willow.

"Buffy, I..." Willow began. "I went looking for you tonight, a...and I saw you...and Riley..." She couldn't finish.

Oh God, Buffy thought. "Will, Riley came looking for me tonight, to ask me out for Valentine's Day--"

"I know you'd rather be with Riley. I mean, I can't compare with what he can offer you." The redhead buried her face in her pillow.

"What? NO, Will...Geez, what is this obsession people have with not letting me finish?" Buffy looked down at her friend. "I told Riley that he and I could never be together. That I don't love him. I told him that I love you."

Willow looked up, surprised. "But Buffy, you're better off--"

"I'm better off with someone who understands me, who knows me as well as I know myself. Someone who I love with all my heart, and someone who can make me happy. That's you, Willow Rosenberg, in case you didn't know."

Willow smiled, a sweet smile that melted Buffy's heart. She pulled Buffy down on top of her, surprising the Slayer by her sudden movement. "Then I guess there's only one thing left to say..." Willow whispered, before meeting Buffy's lips with her own. The kiss lasted a long time, starting out sweet and tender, and quickly growing in passion.

"Mmm, what is that..." Buffy gasped out, between kisses.

"Only..." Willow groaned as the blonde ran her hands down her body. "Only that there's no more need to talk."

"Talking bad..." Buffy agreed, leaving a trail of kisses from Willow's lips to her stomach.

Buffy woke up the next morning, the smell of Willow's hair hanging in the air. Not surprising, she thought, looking around. She was lying in Willow's bed, which was just barely big enough for two. She smiled, remembering the reconciliation of the night before, and looked down at the redhead sleeping next to her.

Willow slept peacefully, with a small smile on her lips. She shifted, snuggling closer to Buffy as she did so. The redhead opened her eyes, and saw Buffy looking at her.

"Morning," Buffy said softly. Willow reached up and pulled Buffy down into a kiss. The redhead wrapped her arms around her Slayer, feeling warm, bare flesh underneath her hands. The two girls were interrupted by a knock at their dorm room door.

Buffy actually growled. "Damn, whoever it is better have a good reason," she said, grabbing a robe to cover herself. Willow laughed, and pulled the covers over her.

"Ok, who is i--" Buffy opened the door, and fell silent. "Xander." She finally said.

Xander looked extremely uncomfortable. "Um, look, can I come in for a minute? Cuz I'd rather not have everyone out here know what a dork I've been."

"Sure." Buffy stepped back, and closed the door behind her friend. Xander looked at Willow's head, barely visible above the covers. He looked at Willow, then Buffy wearing... Willow's robe, then Buffy's bed, looking quite untouched. "Um, listen, if I'm interrupting..." He made his way toward the door.

"No, that's ok Xander," Willow said, quickly. She sat up, somehow keeping the covers tucked under her chin the whole time. "Sit...sit down."

Xander sat on the edge of Buffy's bed, while Buffy seated herself next to Willow.

"I did a lot of thinking yesterday," Xander began, "and I want you two to know that I feel like a real jackass."

Buffy nodded. "Go on."

"Yeah, well, I was Not-Quite-Thinking-Straight guy yesterday. I mean, it came as such a shock to me...and it hurt me a little, too," he admitted. "I mean, I've had my jealousy episodes over Buffy's boyfriends before, and Willow, you and I go back a long way. But I want you to know that I'm glad that you two found each other. I wouldn't have it any other way." After a minute, he concluded, "Unless I were there, too."

Buffy and Willow laughed, and Buffy stood and gave Xander a hug. Willow looked over, and said, "I'd give you a hug too, but..." She blushed a little. "I don't think that would be a good idea."

Xander looked over at Willow, and with an evil gleam in his eye, said, "On the contrary, I think you got a real idea there, Will. C'mere!" He held out his arms, and started toward Willow. Buffy laughed, and grabbed Xander, easily steering him toward the door. "Ok, X-man, that's enough for now. Go on, we'll meet you for lunch at the caf."

Xander weakly protested, and before the door shut, the girls heard him say, "That wasn't even enough to fantasize by...!"

The two girls looked at each other, and laughed.

The two lovers sat across the table from one another. The blonde reached out her hand, and the redhead held onto it. Buffy looked around at the Italian restaurant Willow had chosen. Everything was perfect, soft music, candlelight at every table... "A perfect Valentine's Day," she said, softly. Willow smiled across the table.

"It seems like it took forever to get here," the redhead replied, looking around.

"All our lives," Buffy replied. "But we have the rest of our lives to enjoy it."

Willow raised her water glass. "To young love," she toasted.

"To young lovers," Buffy corrected, and leaned forward to accept a kiss from Willow.

And if there were any stares, they were thoroughly ignored.

Continued in
Spirit's Flame
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