Just a Day in the Life
by Erin
Chapter 1

"Y'know, usually people run away from vampires. I think we're the only ones who actually run toward them," Willow remarked, fighting her way through the dense brush.

"I don't want to let him get away," Buffy replied, "and I think I saw him run over here--" Buffy's words were abruptly cut off as she entered a small clearing.

"Buffy? What is it? Are you ok--" Willow caught up to her friend, and saw what had silenced her. The forest clearing wasn't large, maybe 15 feet across. A makeshift altar dominated the center of the clearing, and on the altar was the body of a man. A rather unfortunate man.

Buffy advanced to the altar, cautiously. Her slayer senses weren't tingling, which usually meant that whatever did this was long gone, but she didn't survive this long by taking unnecessary risks. She reached the altar, and checked the dead man's pulse. Not surprisingly, there wasn't one.

"What do you think caused it?" Willow asked, drawing up beside the Slayer.

"Offhand, I'd say that he was strangled," Buffy responded, quietly. "Either that, or the braided rope choker his girlfriend gave him for Christmas was way too tight." She pointed at the obvious cause of death: a slim, waxed cord tied tight around the man's neck. "Strange, though..."

"Strange? I'll say it's strange," Willow swallowed, nervously.

"No, it's strange that he didn't put up a struggle." Buffy examined the scene carefully.

"Well, maybe it happened too fast. Maybe it was like, bam!, he was choked to death."

"I'd believe that if he were slashed to death, or stabbed, or something. But strangulation usually takes a little while," Buffy replied, frowning. "C'mon, we'd better go tell Giles."

As the girls left the clearing, a shadow detached itself from the other shadows at the edge of the clearing, and followed them.

"What can you ladies tell me about the corpse?" Giles inquired. The girls had come to his home late at night, sharing their news of the man's death. Although technically he was no longer Buffy's Watcher, he was still the one most knowledgeable in demon lore and legend, and he took Buffy's safety very seriously.

"Well, he was dead--" "Strangled--" "It was some kind of cord, or rope--" "And he was on this altar--" "Yeah, altar, and he didn't struggle or anything--" "No, no struggle--"

"All right," Giles held up his hand, and the two girls stopped. "It sounds to me like a ritual sacrifice of some sort, although the fact that he didn't struggle hints towards some type of mind control. Did you notice anything else about the scene?"

The girls thought for a moment, then shook their heads. "All right then," Giles continued, "I don't think there's anything else we can accomplish tonight. I do think we should meet in the morning, however."

Buffy nodded. "I'll call Xander and tell him to meet us. I'll have him bring Spike, maybe he'll prove useful."

Giles agreed. "Yes, well, goodnight ladies. See you tomorrow."

Buffy and Willow headed home in companionable silence. The girls had been best friends for over three years, from when Buffy and her mother first moved to Sunnydale. Buffy was a typical teenage girl; she liked fashion, makeup, boys, and music. She was also the Slayer, which was completely atypical. She had lost many friends because of the secret she had to keep.

Willow was completely the opposite. She was a brain and a computer geek, which meant that she occupied a level of social strata in high school which was below that of even goths and skateboarders. Her fondest wish in high school was to be ignored, but she never got that wish. The popular girls would see her and make cruel jokes about her clothes, or the fact that she never went on dates. The popular boys would see her and sneer, or make crude jokes at her expense. And then she found out the truth about the Slayer.

Buffy was glad to finally have a friend who knew the truth, someone she could talk to and not hide things from; Willow was glad just to have a friend, period. She had known Xander for a long time, but having a guy friend, especially a perpetually-distracted-by-the-oppposite-sex guy friend, just wasn't the same.

Xander and Spike were already there when Buffy and Willow arrived the next morning, bearing doughnuts. "Hi gang!" Buffy cried out. "We brought yummy doughnuts. I even bought a jelly for Spike, so that maybe he could bite into it and suck all the red out."

Spike gave her a disgusted look, and said in his best sarcastic voice, "Oh, yummy. Finally, something to dunk in my mug of warm blood." Spike was a vampire, but he had been "defanged" by some experiment of a secret organization known only as the Initiative. Not literally defanged, but whenever he tried to take a victim, he would get massive pain shooting through his skull, rendering him incapable of killing. Needless to say, it added to his already cheery disposition.

Giles wandered in from the back room, as usual with a book in his hand. "Ah, good, you're both here. I've been doing a fair amount of reading on ritual sacrifice, but unfortunately it's a very broad topic."

"Can we skip the boring stuff and get right to the virgins?" Xander quipped, around a mouthful of doughnut. Buffy shot him a look.

"Well, actually," Giles continued, "Most every culture and belief has, at one time, flirted with the idea of human sacrifice, some more than others. Of course, most people are fairly familiar with the Aztecs and Druids--"

"Oh, I know!" Willow broke in. "An ancient priest caste of the Celtic tribes, right?"

"Yes, Willow, that's correct." Willow smiled, delighted. Giles continued, "But other religions have based some beliefs and myths on human sacrifice. Christianity and Judaism, to name two of the most popular."

"So what do we have here, some sort of priest who is getting too literal with the 'this is my body, this is my blood' type of thing?" Spike drawled. It wasn't easy to drawl with an English accent, but Spike managed.

Giles glanced over at the vampire, "Well, no. At least, it's much too early to tell."

"Well, I wish I could say that we had more luck, but the news this morning didn't have a whole lot of details," Buffy added.

"Hey, I can crack into the police computers, to see if their investigation turned up anything," said Willow, excitedly. Giles nodded at her, and said, "That would be a good idea I think, you can set up over there." He nodded at a corner table.

Willow jumped up and started setting up her laptop. "Great, our resident hacker strikes again," Buffy grinned at her friend. Willow, in mock-indignant tones, replied, "A hacker is someone who writes code. A cracker is someone who breaks into computers." She grinned, and winked at Buffy before continuing, "It just so happens that I can do both."

"Well, I will continue my research while you do that, Willow," Giles said. "And Xander will watch the telly--"

"All right!" Xander jumped onto the couch, grabbing the remote as he did so.

"--local news only, please," Giles continued, unfazed. "We want to see if they have released any more information."

Buffy rose to her feet. "Well, there's no slayage to speak of yet, so I think if it's ok with you, I'm going to meet Riley. We have a lunch date."

A spasm of...anguish? pain? overtook Willow. It was gone almost as soon as it began, and no one caught it. No one, that is, except for Giles.

"All right Buffy, we'll let you know if we find anything." Giles smiled at the girl, but that look of Willow's troubled him. Was it something about Riley? Was Willow's wiccan intuition bothered? He would have to ask her later. There was something about the man he didn't quite trust. This whole business with the commando squad, and the secret organization called "The Initiative" that they served didn't sit well with the ex-Watcher. He was always something of a techno-phobe, preferring old, dusty books to net research, but there was something genuinely disturbing in the experiments the Initiative was allegedly conducting. Giles resolved to ask Willow about her unease at the first opportunity.

Buffy looked across the table at Riley, trying to concentrate on what he was saying. When they worked together, everything was like magic; they complemented each other beautifully with their training, and everything seemed to click. And it was nice, going out with a cute guy who wasn't totally helpless. But in this kind of situation, in this no-immediate-danger type situation...well...

"...so I decided to get the Accord. Better gas mileage," Riley finished. "You ok, Buffy? You look..."

"No, I'm fine!" Buffy said, just a little too quickly. Got to think of something to say... "So, did you hear about that murder last night?" Oh, now that was romantic...Good one, Buffy.

"Yeah, I heard about it, but it's nothing we're getting involved in," Riley replied. "We'll leave that for the locals. Probably some kind of Satan-worshipping psycho, anyway."

"Ah, I see. You don't deal with Satan-worshipping psychos, only demons?"

"Only what? Subterrestrials, you mean?" Riley looked at the Slayer, quizzically.

"Why do you call them that?"

Riley shrugged. "I dunno, that's what they are. Subterrestrial animals."

Buffy nearly choked on her soda. "Animals? Oh, they are SO not animals."

"What would you call them, then?"

"They're demons. You know, otherworldly evil creatures. Subterranean animals...those are like moles, or...or gophers. When you're staring at a nine foot horned...thing... you know that it's not a gopher," Buffy concluded.

Riley looked at Buffy. Was that a patronizing look? "There are no such things as demons, or any of that hocus pocus stuff. Magic, demons, devils, it's all a cop out for things people don't want to deal with. They're animals, plain and simple."

"Well, some of them used to be human. How do you explain vampires?" Buffy challenged.

"A disease, transmitted through the bloodstream, that alters the victim's DNA."


"A lunar-based psychosis that is so powerfully believed in that it can occasionally slightly alter someone's appearance. Mind over matter."


"Just a different species of animal."


Riley shrugged. "It's just a crack in the earth. Nothing mystical about that."

Buffy sat back in her chair, bewildered. These past few years of her life had all been about demons, vampires, prophesies... She had seen magic first hand, and watched as her friend Willow slowly mastered her powers. And here was Riley, dismissing it as so much superstition?

Guess it goes to show... Buffy thought, Only a few people in this world really understand. Speaking of which... Buffy looked at her watch, and said, "Wow, I've got to go. I'm meeting up with some friends, and you've probably got some...commando stuff to do or something." She rose quickly from her chair in front of a bewildered Riley.

"Yeah, sure, ok, I'll call you," Riley rose, and watched as Buffy left. Sometimes, I don't know if I'll ever understand her...

Willow crossed the room and sat down beside Giles, her notes and sketches neatly written on a legal tablet. "Yes, Willow," Giles asked, "did you find something?"

Willow took a deep breath, and began. "Well, it looks like Buffy was right about the victim not struggling. The autopsy turned up no evidence of a struggle, no blood under the fingernails, nothing. Also, their toxicology report turned up no drugs or other medication."

"I see. Well, it does lend credence to our mind control theory."

"Yep. Also, look at this..." Willow pointed at a sketch she had made on the tablet. "This sign was found carved into the top of the altar...That's why we didn't notice it before, the police had to move the body to find it."

"Hmm, let me see..." Giles reached for the sketch, examining it closely. "It's very familiar. Could you fetch me the Piggott book, Willow? Oh, and Willow?" Giles stopped her, just as she was getting up to retrieve the book.

"Yes? What is it, Giles?"

"Well, I couldn't help noticing your reaction when Buffy mentioned meeting Riley."

"Oh." Willow dropped her head, slightly. She had hoped no one noticed, especially Giles.

"Well, I'd like to know if there is something about him that bothers you, something you're getting from your power. A Wiccan intuition, if you will."

Willow cleared her throat before answering. "No, nothing like that," she answered, weakly.

Giles seemed unconvinced. "Please, Willow, if there's anything that makes you uncomfortable about this man, I'd like to know what it is. It's possible you're sensing something the rest of us cannot."

"Well, it's not like that exactly..."

"Willow, please..."

"Ok! It's...it's not any bad, evil vibe or anything. I'm just...I'm just jealous, ok?" Willow dropped her head even further, her hair covering her face.

Giles nodded. "You're jealous of Buffy for having Riley. It will be alright, I'm sure you'll find--"

Willow let out a self-pitying laugh. "I'm not jealous of Buffy. I'm jealous of Riley."

"Oh, I see, well..." Giles did a mental double-take. "OH, I see...well." He wished he could say something comforting, but he was quite out of his element and unsure as to how to proceed. "Willow--"

"That's ok Giles," Willow cut him off. The sadness in her voice broke his heart. "I've got some more research to do..." She rose, and went back over to her laptop. Giles looked at her speculatively for a long moment, and then left to retrieve another book.

Chapter 2

Buffy walked slowly in the direction of Giles' house. Her date with Riley had gone...well, just say that she hadn't felt the sparks she had expected to feel on their first, real, no-demon-hunting date. She chuckled to herself. Heh, imagine, someone who has seen what he's seen, and doesn't believe in magic? She could imagine Willow's incredulous expression when Buffy would tell her. Willow... The thought of her friend waiting for her at Giles' house made her pick up the pace a bit. She found herself leaving Willow's side more reluctantly, and returning more quickly all the time. We've been through a lot together, Willow and me... Buffy thought, with a smile. Nobody understands me like my Will. Especially Riley.

The Slayer turned down Giles' block, and immediately froze. She couldn't move, she couldn't breathe, she couldn't even blink her eyes. Panic gripped her. Out of nowhere came a voice, gravelly and disembodied:

"You should not meddle in affairs which do not concern you, Slayer."

A figure stepped into view, dark as a shadow. Heavily cloaked, it strongly reminded Buffy of the Emperor from Star Wars. Only bearded, and so much more threatening.

"I will warn you only this once. If you value your existence, and that of your friends, stay away."


The cry made the figure whirl around in place. Buffy strained to hear...People were calling her name, and they were getting closer. Her blood began to pound in her ears, her inability to breathe starting to catch up with her. She could only watch as the hooded figure shimmered before her eyes. A crow stood where the figure once was, and took off into the sky. The spell released almost instantly, and Buffy was on her knees, gasping for breath when her friends found her.

Willow ran up to Buffy, panic in her voice. "Buffy? Are you ok, what happened?" She put her arms around her friend.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Buffy gasped out, still catching her breath. "But I think we must've hit a nerve."

Giles wiped sweat from his brow, and said, "Ok, let's go back to my house. Buffy needs to rest, and I think we should all discuss this."

"...so, he turned into a crow, and flew off," Buffy concluded. The whole incident had her visibly shaken. She'd never felt so helpless in the face of so much power. He'd been able to completely freeze her in less than a heartbeat.

Willow saw Buffy's fear, and placed a hand on her arm. "Hey," she whispered to her friend, "whatever he is, we can handle it. We can do it, ok?" Buffy smiled at Willow; she had such faith in her Slayer, Buffy would die before she'd ever let her down. "I know I can count on you, Will, for anything," she said softly. After a moment, Buffy asked louder, "So, what happened? How did you know I was in trouble?"

Giles cleared his throat, and said, "Willow knew. She bolted up out of her chair, said that you were in danger, and ran out."

Xander nodded, "Yeah, she just kinda took off, yelling that you were in trouble. What I wanna know is, how the heck did you know?" All eyes in the room turned to look at Willow, with the notable exception of Spike's. He was busy crumbling up crackers into his mug of blood.

Willow shifted under the stares of her friends. "Uh, well, I dunno, I just felt like something was wrong, probably some kind of Wicca thing."

Giles took off his glasses, and started polishing them on a handkerchief. "Well, yes, I'm sure that was it. At any rate, between the symbol that Willow found and the encounter Buffy just experienced, I believe I know a fair bit about what's going on now."

He walked over to his writing desk and held up the writing tablet with the symbol Willow had drawn. "This," Giles began, "is a triskele. It's a very common Celtic symbol, usually associated with protection."

"Protection, huh? It doesn't look like it worked, at least for the dead guy," Xander said.

"Yes, well," Giles continued, "it's usually found around grave mounds and Druidic sacred sites."

"So, what we've got here is an evil, human sacrificing Druid?" Buffy asked.

"Well, actually a warlock, I daresay, would be a better term for him," Giles corrected. "Druids were the protectors of their people, their judges and spiritual leaders. That doesn't seem to be what this person wants."

"What does he want, Giles?" Willow asked.

"Well, I've done a bit of research; it seems that tonight begins a very sacred day to most Western religions, the Celtic in particular."

Buffy thought for a moment. "Groundhog day?"

Giles sighed, exasperatedly. "No, not that. At sundown tonight traditionally begins the festival of Candlemas, also known as St. Brigit's Day, also known to the Celts as Imbolc."

"Oh!" Willow piped up, "I've heard of that! It's a Wiccan holiday now, too. A holiday dedicated to a Celtic goddess named Brigid."

Giles nodded, "Quite right, Willow. There was a very powerful but little-used ritual which would confer the, um," the Watcher flipped pages in a book, "the 'gifts of Brigid' to the Druid performing the rite. Apparently it would confer such great power that it was only used in the direst of emergencies. Once it was used to stop a Roman invasion of Ireland."

"But," Willow protested, "I thought the Romans never invaded Ireland."

Giles nodded. "Quite right. The Druid who had the power used it to rain down fire on two dozen Roman warships, halting the invasion."

"That's a lot of power," Buffy said, somberly. "So, how do we stop him?"

"Well, it won't be easy," Giles replied.

"When is it ever?" Xander asked no one in particular.

"We need to find the grove he's using to complete the ritual. Now that he's made the sacrifice, he needs to perform the ritual and summon the goddess. Unfortunately, I haven't the foggiest idea how to find him." Giles removed his glasses again, massaging the bridge of his nose.

"If he needs a place with a lot of power, won't he go to the Hellmouth?" Xander asked.

"The Hellmouth is a powerful gateway to the demon plane, but its energy is not necessarily acceptable for magic use," Giles corrected.

"I know a spell," Willow began, "a divination spell."

Buffy looked at her friend, quizzically. "Once more in English, Will?"

"It's a searching spell. It will give us a trail to the most powerful grove in the area. He'll need a strong one to perform the summoning, and he won't go back to his last one. I can cast the spell, we'll find him, and kick some warlock butt."

Buffy looked over at her friend, her eyes giving a worried look. "Will, I can't ask you to--"

Willow interrupted her friend. "Buffy, I know. But I know what the risks are, and I want to help you with this. You'll need my help."

Buffy smiled at her best friend. "You're great, you know that?"

Giles cleared his throat softly, and said, "Yes, well I think it would be best now if Buffy and Willow rested before this evening. We'll stay in touch in case you need anything. If I find out anything more, I'll let you know immediately."

The girls nodded. Buffy took Willow's hand and the pair left. Giles watched them leave. Sorceress and Slayer... he thought. How much more powerful would they become? He stared at the recently-closed door, lost in thought.

"...so I guess the date didn't go that well, huh?" Willow said, after hearing Buffy's recounting of her afternoon.

"No...He just seems so...I dunno, naive I guess. Like he thinks he knows everything, like he has an answer for everything, but there's so much he doesn't know." Buffy shrugged.

"Are you...disappointed?" Willow asked. She had gotten familiar with the quiet heartache she experienced whenever Buffy talked about one of her dates.

"I guess so...Well, part of me is. But part of me is kinda relieved." Buffy fell silent.

"Relieved?" Willow asked quietly.

"I guess I'm relieved I don't have to try to make it work with yet another mysterious guy who doesn't really understand me," Buffy replied. "Nobody understands me like my Will anyway," Buffy said, grabbing Willow's hand and smiling at her.

"Yep, that's me, I'm just an understandin' fool, if there's one thing I'm good at, it's understanding, yessir'ee..." Willow replied, blushing. Her heart beat almost painfully in her chest.

Buffy looked over at Willow. The sun had caught her hair, highlighting it deep red and auburn. She is the most breathtakingly beautiful woman on Earth, Buffy thought. She knew that kind of thinking about her best friend should bother her, but she was past caring. She had had thoughts like that for some time now, but she had always done a good job of suppressing them. At first, for the sake of Oz and Willow's relationship; then Oz had left, following some sort of werewolf-ish desire to be alone, and that had devastated Willow. She could have told Willow then, but she was sure that a relationship with the Slayer was NOT in Willow's best interest.

Not that she hadn't slipped, mind you. She had told Willow that she loved her; it had come out so naturally, so easily in response to seeing Willow hurting. But Willow had taken it for another sign of their close friendship, which was probably just as well. Buffy sighed. This was the kind of stuff that happened, when you lived on a Hellmouth.

The two girls walked in silence for awhile. They reached the UCS campus, and started heading toward Stevenson Hall. The whole time, Willow was thinking furiously.

I should tell her. What? That's crazy. NO, I should tell her. This is the perfect time. C'mon, Rosenberg, time to grow up... "Buffy." Willow was the first to break the silence. "I...kinda have a confession to make."

"Oh? And what does that paragon of virtue, Ms. Willow Rosenberg have to confess, hmm?" Buffy teased.

Willow smiled. "Well, it's just that...When you said that things weren't working out with Riley, well, part of me didn't hate that."

Buffy arched an eyebrow. "Oh? Hey, Willow, if you're looking to take a shot at Riley, don't let me stop you. He's free and clear, and you have my blessing. Slayer honor." Buffy smiled, and crossed her heart.

Willow sighed with exasperation. "Why do people always assume that? No, what I wanted to tell you--"


The girls turned and saw Riley jogging up toward them. "Hi Willow. Buffy, can we talk about lunch?"

"Um, sure Riley, I have something I want to talk to you about anyway. I'll meet you back at the room and we can talk more then, ok Will?"

Willow sighed inwardly. "Sure Buffy! No problem." She watched as Buffy walked away, Riley by her side. "I've waited this long, what's a little longer..." she murmured.

"I'm sorry about lunch, I didn't mean to sound all authoritative or anything. I'm sure there's some stuff out there that you've seen that I wouldn't be able to understand." Riley stopped walking, and looked Buffy in the eyes. "I just wanted you to know I'm sorry."

Buffy smiled. "I understand. Thanks. I'm actually glad you found me, I wanted to tell you something."


"Yeah, I wanted to tell you today, because something has come up, and I don't know...Well, I wanted to tell you in case I didn't see you again."

"Didn't see me again?" Riley looked at her, concerned. "Buffy, I thought we talked about the whole 'morbid attitude' thing."

"We did, but I'm facing something pretty darn serious, and I can't deny the fact that I may not come back!" Buffy shook her head. "Look, this isn't the way I wanted to do this..."

"What is it now, yet another convergence of mystical forces that causes the known universe to get sucked into an evil dimension or something?" Riley looked exasperated.

"What? No, what...Forget it, you don't understand. You can't understand." Buffy turned angrily, and started walking away.

"Buffy..." Riley caught up, and stepped in front of her. "Buffy, look, you can't just throw around this mystic mumbo jumbo, and expect me to believe it, I'm a scientist..."

"No, you're a psychology major. There's a big difference." Buffy poked a finger into his chest, hard, almost knocking him back. "You hide in your little bunkers, and do your little Dr. Mengele experiments, and pretend that all the world's problems can be solved by your hi-tech weapons. But you know what? They can't. They can't stop the prophecies, and they can't stop the world from coming to an end." Buffy took a deep breath, and a step back. "That's my job." She left, heading straight for Stevenson Hall.

Riley stood there for a moment, speechless.

Chapter 3

Buffy stormed around the small room, shoving an assortment of weaponry into a gym bag. Willow sat on her bed, watching Buffy stalk around like a mad tiger. "Oooh, he just...oooh! He just ticks me off with his whole 'Oh, Buffy, don't worry your pretty little head about all that mystic mumbo jumbo' routine. Hey, I know!" Buffy rushed over to Willow, and grabbed her shoulders. Willow let out a small squeak at her friend's sudden movement. "You could cast a spell! Just a little one! That would show him."

"Uh Buffy, do you really think that would help things..."

"No, maybe not..." Buffy absently chewed a nail while she thought. "Well, I guess it doesn't matter. If we can't beat this warlock..."

Willow rose, and put her arms around her best friend. "Buffy, don't think like that. We can do it, no one can stand against the Slayer, right?"

Buffy stood silent for a moment, taking comfort in her friend's embrace. "You don't know, Will... You didn't feel his power. He made me freeze, with no more than a...a thought. What good is my Slayer-ness against that?"

Willow turned Buffy around, and looked into her eyes. "Listen to me. We can do it...together, understand? The two of us, Slayer and Witch. What I can't do, you can..."

"And what I can't do, you can..." Buffy finished, quietly. "What would I do without you, Will?"

Willow looked into Buffy's face, just inches away from her own. Now, Rosenberg! "Um, Buffy..." She took a step back, and said, "Maybe you should sit down. 'Cause I need to tell you something, and I kinda can't think that well with you standing there."

Buffy looked at her friend, puzzled. "Ok Will." She took a seat at the edge of her bed.

"See, I need to tell you something, and I know it's not the best time, with the warlock and everything, but I need to tell you because I may not get a ... I need to tell you," she finished, cutting off her previous thought.

"You can tell me anything, Will." Inside, Buffy's chest was gripped with fear. She knows! I must not have been able to hide it, and she knows! She must know about my feelings for her, and she's going to leave!

"You know, we've been together for a long time now," Willow began, "fighting the forces of darkness and all that. And ... I've had this feeling growing for quite some time. I've gotten this feeling from us, from our relationship, our friendship, and I can't ignore it."

Buffy stood, and walked to their window. She stared out into the dusk, not quite seeing anything. "I...I know, Will. I'm sorry, I should have done a better job of hiding it."

"Well, I...huh?" Willow replied, intelligently.

"I didn't mean for you to know, I've tried to hide it for so long; at first, because it wasn't fair to you and Oz, and then, because it wasn't fair to you. You need someone in your life who can make you happy, not some broken Slayer with a short life-span." She sighed, and let her head drop. The effort of keeping it up was just a little bit more than she could stand right now.

Willow came up behind Buffy and put her hands on the Slayer's shoulders. She knew that she would have otherwise probably been very upset by the secret her friend had kept from her for so long. Time enough to be upset later; right now, Buffy was hurting.

"How can someone understand so much and so little at the same time?" Willow asked. She turned Buffy around so that the Slayer faced her, and then put a hand under Buffy's chin, raising her head up. "You know, I can't really explain this. Not well enough, not right now. I'm going to just have to show you." She leaned down a bit, and met Buffy's lips with her own.

Buffy's nerves went electric. She had dreamed about this what seemed like a thousand times, but here it was. She had been so sure that Willow was going to deliver bad news, that she found herself totally unprepared for good. It didn't take her long, however, to bring her arms up around Willow's neck, and allow the kiss to deepen.

Willow felt Buffy stiffen for a moment, and then relax into the kiss. She placed her arms around Buffy's waist, and drew her in closer as Buffy put her arms around the redhead's neck. She had never felt so much at home.

After a long while, the two broke the kiss. Buffy, on the verge of tears, gulped and said, "I guess that was your answer, huh?" Willow laughed, and said, "I guess so. I love you, Buffy, I love you for everything you are. Best friend, confidante, Slayer. And as for slayers having short life-spans, well... None of them have had a best friend named Willow, a friend who also happens to wield awesome Wicca power." She smiled at her friend.

Buffy pulled the redhead into a big Slayer-hug. "No, they haven't. Only me. I love you, Will. I have for so long, I can't remember what it's like not to."

Willow grinned, and let out a muffled, "Ok, oxygen becoming an issue!" The friends laughed, and broke the hug regretfully.

Buffy looked out the window, where full night had fallen over the town. "Man," the Slayer griped, "why do warlocks always choose the most inconvenient times to hold their dark rituals?"

Willow grinned, and said, "I don't want to go either. But a Slayer's--and a Slayer's assistant's--work is never done."

The girls left the dorm in high spirits, heading for the woods. So caught up were they in their newly-discovered love for one another that there was no way they could have noticed a lone figure in fatigues and camo following them.

"So what is this spell supposed to do again?" Buffy watched as Willow set up a small circle and lit a couple of candles. She took some type of herb out of her backpack, and crumbled it over one of the candle flames.

"It will summon a guiding spirit. The spirit will be drawn to the area with the most magical power, like a moth to a flame. That's where we'll find our warlock, I'll wager." Willow took a vial of oil from her pack, and sprinkled a few drops on the ground, muttering an incantation as she did so. The oil glowed as it hit the ground; Buffy assumed it was a trick of the candlelight, but the glow became brighter. Slowly, the glow rose, and coalesced until it hovered before them as a single ball of energy. It slowly began to be drawn into the woods, leaving a bright, glowing trail.

"That's it!" Willow cried, more than a little excited. "It worked!" She snuffed the candles, and stuck her gear back in her pack. "Now we just follow it."

The girls followed the spirit deep into the dark woods. Buffy took a crossbow from her gym bag, and loaded it. She drew strength from the presence of the woman walking beside her. They began to see some flickering firelight from up ahead, and they knew they were nearing the grove.

The two friends stopped, just outside the grove. In the center was a large clearing, this one was a good 30 feet across. Again, there was a makeshift altar, and a small bonfire burned off to one side of it. Standing behind the altar, all dark radiance, was the warlock.

At one time he was known as Christopher, before he had sold his soul for dark power. The power gave him life beyond that of normal, mortal men; the power gave him strength, strength to have men do his bidding, and obey his will. And in return, he gave the power victims. Now, he was looking for more.

Buffy aimed the crossbow at the black-robed figure behind the altar. The warlock cut his palm with a large knife, and drew a sigil on the altar with his blood. Setting the knife down, he began to chant.

Buffy fired the crossbow, noting with some satisfaction that the bolt was heading right for the warlock's heart. Right for...and right through, as the bolt passed harmlessly through his body, and thudded into a tree behind him. It startled the warlock, but it startled Buffy even more. The man glared in the direction of Buffy and Willow's hiding place, and began to raise a hand.

"Willow, get down!" Buffy yelled, and then she launched herself into the clearing. She immediately jumped at the warlock as he pointed at her, and she felt her whole body freeze. This is going to hurt... she thought, as she felt her body fall.

Willow knew something was wrong the moment the warlock pointed at Buffy; sure enough, she collapsed at the foot of the makeshift altar. "No..." Willow said, softly, and took a step into the clearing. Before she could blink, though, she heard someone else run up.

"BUFFY!" Riley yelled, running into the clearing. He raised his tazer gun, and saw the warlock turn to look at him. He was suddenly not in control of his actions; he dropped the gun, placed both hands around his own throat, and began to squeeze.

With the warlock distracted, Buffy was released from the spell. She gasped for breath, and began crawling weakly back to where Willow stood. Willow watched, stunned, as Riley began crushing his own windpipe. "No!" She yelled, and suddenly wind began to whip around the clearing, throwing sparks and hot ash from the bonfire.

The warlock looked at the young redhead speculatively. He released Riley from the spell, and Riley collapsed, straining to breathe through a crushed windpipe. "Well, the Slayer has all sorts of surprising friends," he said, sneering. He raised a hand, and pointed right at Willow. A bright streak of light left his finger, arced toward Willow, and -- ran into an invisible shield, just inches away from Willow's body. The energy crackled there for a moment, seeking the edges of the shield, and finding none, dissipated.

The warlock looked at the witch coldly. "Very well, we do this the hard way," he said, and looked down at the knife. The sacrificial knife rose off the altar as if of its own accord. It rose up, pointed directly at Willow, and streaked toward the girl.

Buffy saw the knife, and very much doubted if Willow's shield would hold THAT off. She stumbled to her feet, and, to Willow's horror, placed herself between Willow and the blade. She felt something hit her, low in the shoulder, and when she looked down she saw the hilt of the dagger protruding from her body.

Buffy fell to her knees, and fought to stay conscious. Her body was getting cold, and it hurt to breathe. She felt someone's--Willow's?--arms around her.

"No, Buffy, you can't go, you have to listen to me, you have to stay awake..." Willow's eyes filled with tears.

The warlock, satisfied that the Slayer was no longer a threat to the ritual, continued with his incantation. The surface of the altar began to glow, and soon, a column of pure, white light was emanating from it, reaching into the heavens.

"Tuatha! Hear me! Brighid! Come!" the warlock finished the incantation.

Chapter 4

Almost instantly after the warlock finished the summoning, they all heard a voice ringing in their heads. Buffy clung to it; it was a mother's voice, warm and comforting. Even Riley heard it, although he could barely draw breath and his blood was pounding in his ears.

"Why have you summoned Me?" A figure appeared in the column of light above the altar. She had firey red hair, and was wearing flowing robes which were at once all colors and no color. Willow gaped at the figure of the goddess hovering above the altar.

The warlock stepped forward, and said, "I have summoned you to receive your gifts, goddess Brigid."

The goddess looked down at him, and replied, "And why would I give My gifts to one so selfish, so destructive?" She turned away from him, saying, "You are beneath My notice."

The warlock looked surprised and angry. He said, "I have summoned you! You must do MY bidding! I demand that you grant me the power in your gifts!"

What happened next stunned the warlock; the goddess laughed, and her laugh was pure music. "I am not some lesser creature to be so commanded by a ritual and petty incantation. Your work with the Lower Denizens has corrupted your mind and soul. You're not the One. But you, on the other hand..." The goddess looked down at Willow, who was still cradling her friend. "I will ask you a question."

"Y...yes," Willow stammered, looking up at the goddess.

"Many mortal lifetimes ago, I was revered as the patron of fire, and life. Creation and destruction. Inspiration and finality. I can grant you the power to bring life and health to the injured, or I can grant you the power to consume your enemies in fire, and protect the innocent. Which would you choose?"

Willow looked down at her best friend, her love; Buffy's face was ashen. Willow wiped away tears, and replied, "I would choose to heal."

The goddess Brigid smiled down on the girl. "So it shall be." She raised her hand, and a golden glow surrounded Willow. She looked down at Buffy, and knew at once she had the power to save her. She pulled the knife out of Buffy's chest with one fast, smooth motion. Buffy gasped, and blood started welling out of the open wound. Willow placed both hands over the wound, and concentrated. A golden glow began to be emitted from her palms, and immediately warmth and color returned to Buffy's face. She opened her eyes, and looked up at Willow. The sheer love in her gaze cut straight to Willow's heart.

Before either of them could say a word, the warlock let out a bestial cry of anger. "I still have enough power to destroy you all!" He yelled, and raised his hand. In one smooth motion, Buffy grabbed the sacrificial knife, and threw.

The warlock looked down in surprise at the knife handle protruding from the center of his chest. "But I..." was the only thing he had a chance to say before he slumped down behind the altar, and death claimed him.

"How did you..." Willow looked at Buffy. Buffy shrugged. "It was the closest thing at hand. Also, it figures. He needed that knife to cut his palm, he wouldn't have used it if he were immune." The two women looked at each other, and Buffy raised her hand to brush Willow's hair back from her face. "I owe you my life, Will," she said, softly.

Willow blushed, and replied, "You've saved my life so often, I can't even keep track anymore. I don't know what I would do without you. I'm just glad I was able to do something to help you."

"It looks like I have made the right choice," the goddess said, startling them all. "You will make a fine Avatar, and the two of you together will be a powerful force for good. Now, Avatar, I think you have another life that needs saving, and I will go. We shall see each other again." With that, the goddess vanished, and the clearing was lit only by the bonfire once more.

"Another life...oh my god, Riley!" Willow ran over to where Riley lay on the clearing floor, gasping for breath. She placed her hands over his injured throat, and began to concentrate. A golden glow enveloped his neck, and soon his breathing eased. "Willow, how?" Riley looked up at the witch, the glow from her hands fading.

"Just more of that mystical mumbo-jumbo," Buffy said, smiling. She came up behind Willow and put her hands on the redhead's shoulders. "Warlocks, magic, goddesses, mystical healing powers...It's all part of a day in the life of the Slayer."

"And the Witch," Willow added, standing next to her. She took Buffy's hand in her own, and smiled at her best friend. Partners, best friends, and now...what next? Willow smiled at the thought. "C'mon," she said, leading Buffy out of the clearing, "Let's go home."

Buffy laughed, and followed saying, "Whatever you say, Will."

Riley watched the two girls leave, and he looked around the clearing, lost in thought. He sat there for a long time.

Continued in
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