'Stupid' Thwack! 'Dumb' Crunch! 'Idiot' Slap! 'Moron' Kick, kick... 'stake'....poof!

The pile of dust was proof positive that messing with the slayer now was not the best move to make after first rising. She'd made her rounds through the cemetery as usual. Checked the crypts, and two fresh graves. It would have taken her all night had Willow not left her a map of the cemetery and the names of the two boys who'd died of a 'mysterious loss of blood.' Willow. Her mind drifted back to only a week ago, when they'd crossed the line...gone past the point of no return. Buffy felt the color rise in her cheeks and her pulse quicken. Willow was all she'd thought about lately. Winter break was here and it was a chance to explore the new side of their relationship, make a solid connection. So what went wrong? Why was Buffy in the cemetery patrolling alone and Willow was.....

"I have to go."

"But Will, classes are over. We finished exams! We have to celebrate, together..."

"No, Buffy. I'm...I'm spending the holidays with my parents.....in Wyoming. They're at my grandparents' house...and they...um...they reserved me a ticket...."

"But, I thought...."

"I can't."

"What about....?"

Buffy looked beyond her friend, saw the bags there, on her bed. Saw her computer packed up, her bed made, and apparently, her mind was made up too. She couldn't move. Afraid that the slightest movement would put things in motion. She stood there, her head down, a million images running through her mind....

Before she knew it, Willow was a breath away.

"I have to go. My plane leaves at six."

No response.

"Buffy, I...."

She was at a loss for words, they both were. Without a sound, Willow reached up and lightly touched her fingers to Buffy's cheek. Leaning in, she left a light, lingering kiss there.

Buffy was startled. After Willow began to pull away, Buffy reached out and grabbed her friend into a crushing hug. The tightness in her throat let go in a strangled sigh, tears rolling down her cheeks.

"But, I don't want you to go. Why do you have to leave now?"

"I need to, Buffy."

"No! You're...you're running away....there's a difference...."

Willow pulled away and removed Buffy's arms from her neck. Buffy frowned at the loss of contact. Gathering her things, Willow made her way to the door.

"I'll see you after break, Buffy. Take care of yourself."

Willow opened the door.......

"I love you, Will."

Then she closed it.

........She'd closed the door to their room, and effectively, their relationship. By some fluke, Buffy found the phone number to Willow's grandmother's house buried on the desk underneath the cemetery map and called earlier in the evening. Willow refused to come to the phone, her grandmother made excuses and said she was resting, but Buffy knew the truth. Willow was avoiding her.

For three days before exams, a silence covered the town of Sunnydale, an unwelcome silence. 'The Gentlemen' took their voices away, slowly and methodically hunting for seven hearts. By the time Buffy reached the bell tower and, side by side with Riley, fought the demons, there were two jars left. They both knew what it meant. With Riley smashing the box and Buffy screaming, The Gentlemen's plan was averted, but not without consequence. As Willow put it, something really 'freaky' passed between her and the new witch Tara. Admittedly, something passed between Buffy and Riley also. They'd kissed.

Buffy was sure Willow found out about the kiss. She and Riley had been talking about their 'identities,' their separate duties, and the kiss. Willow walked in moments after, back from her 3 o'clock class. She gave no sign that she'd heard what they were saying, but Buffy knew she did. She wouldn't have been acting so distant and awkward lately had she not.

The four days leading up to Willow leaving were filled with near misses and Tense undercurrents in their conversations. Buffy went to the Library, Giles' house, Xander's basement, the cafeteria . . missing Willow by mere minutes each time. Finally, having had enough of everything going unspoken, Buffy cornered her in their room. Willow knew she was supposed to be on patrol, and that's probably why she was there.....

"Hey Will."

"Buffy, I....I thought you were on patrol? Did something happen? Are you hurt?"

"No, I'm fine. Thought I'd skip patrol tonight to in lieu of more important things..."

"What's more important than patrol? Giles isn't going to like this..."

"Us. We're more important. What's going on, Will? Why have you been avoiding me?"

"Avoiding? I'm not avoiding you...see?...this is me not avoiding. We're here... together...in the same room...'cause, this is where we live...together...no avoiding going on here!" Her response was all too chipper and not very convincing.

"I think we need to talk about things. About us. What happened the other night was..."

"Buffy, I really don't want to talk about it, OK?"

Buffy looked at her for a moment. "No, it's not OK, Will." The hacker shot her a look of surprise. "I mean, I care about you...and I want the best for you...I hate that things are so weird between us....I want things back to the way they were..."

"We can't go back Buffy. Don't you see? What happened was.....it probably shouldn't have happened. We shouldn't have...." She moved out from behind her desk, silencing the slayer with a wave of her hand before she could interject, "Let me finish. I don't know what this is. I....I don't know who I am anymore. I was always the computer geek in high school, or Xander's unrequited crush, then I was your side-kick and Giles' research girl. Then to top it all off, I was the witch girlfriend of Sunnydale's resident werewolf. Now, I've lost myself somewhere between here and there. Everything's moving so fast and I can't....I won't get caught up in it. I need time...I have to think about everything. I just need you to leave me alone for now....please." With that she walked out the door.

Without even realizing it, Buffy had think-walked herself to the front porch of Willow's house. She would have chuckled at the irony of the situation had she not been so consumed with thought. 'Four hours. She's been gone four hours, two states away and you show up on her doorstep.' Trotting down from the porch, Buffy regrouped herself and set a new course for Giles' house. Since her mother was still away, she'd be spending Christmas with him. Her mother had tried to convince her to stay with her father for the holiday. It worked, but when she called her father, she found out that he'd be in New York for a conference the week of Christmas and New Year's Eve. He didn't even offer to have her go with him. She gave him Giles' number and hung up. Still, Christmas with Giles wouldn't be THAT bad. At least that's what she tried to convince herself of on the walk over.

When Buffy walked in, Giles was just hanging up the phone.

"Oh, Buffy. You just missed Willow, she called to wish me a good holiday."

"Really? Oh, well...I guess I can try to catch her some other time." Buffy flopped unceremoniously on the couch and flipped the TV on. Giles gave her a look of curiosity and was going to say something but thought better of it. 'She'll tell me when she's ready, I suppose.' The night went off without a hitch and dinner was unusually quiet.

"Buffy, is there something on your mind?"

"Hmm? Oh, no....not really. I, well....Willow and I kind of had words before she left and I'm feeling kind of icky about the whole thing. I wish I could have talked to her when she called."

"I see. Yes, well, that would explain her mood on the phone then. She was quite somber and distracted. Not herself really. Is it something you wish to talk about?"

Just then, Spike walked in, a mug of just-microwaved blood in his hand.

"What are you doing here, Slayer? Shouldn't you be out somewhere dusting my friends or fighting demons and the like?"

"Shut up, Spike."

"Well, someone's in a horrible mood toady, aren't they? What's wrong, luv, wake up on the wrong side of your stake?" He grinned.

"I wish you would wake up on the wrong side of a stake, bleach boy."

"That's quite enough, you two. Spike, Buffy is staying with me for the holidays. She'll be in the other spare room. I hope you two can, ah, amicably cohabitate. It won't be for long."

Spike gave a disgusted look at both of them and switched the channel on the TV.

"Living with a Slayer. Good thing Dru's not around to see this. She'd be so disappointed. What's become of me?"

Buffy helped Giles clean up after dinner, then went and sat at the other end of the couch. "Oh, great. Giles, I forgot all of my stuff! Now what am I supposed to do?"

Spike didn't miss a beat. "You could always sleep naked."

"Oh, you'd love that, wouldn't you, Fang." She glared at him.

"Ah, Buffy...it's still early. You could go and get it now, if you wish."

"Giles, I'm 18. Do you really think I'm only gonna bring an overnight bag? I'm staying here for a month!"

"Yes, well. That could be a problem. I'd offer you my car, but..."

"No, thanks but no thanks. Even if I did have my license, I wouldn't want to be caught dead in the watcher-mobile."

"Well that wasn't very nice." Giles furrowed his brow.

"No offense, Giles."

"I'll take her." It came from Spike. They both looked at him like he had sprouted an extra head.

"What? I'm bored and there's nothing on the telly. I need to get out of here, all of this tweed and watcher dust is kicking up my allergies." They didn't look too convinced. "I'll be good, really."

"I must be insane to agree to this." Giles looked torn.

Spike gave Giles a hopeful look and put on his best puppy dog face.

"Go ahead Buffy. I'm sure it'll be fine."

"Fine. But if he acts up, I swear I'll put him on a leash." She crossed the living room and waited by the door. Spike followed suit.

"Aww, promise?" He smiled as they walked out the door.

Two hours later, Spike's car was weighted down with Buffy's things. It looked like it was ready to explode.

"I swear slayer. I never had THIS much....crap....when I was 18. What are you, some sort of a pack-rat? And what the bloody hell are you going to do with all those pictures albums? You're only staying there for a month. It's not like you're not going to see all of your bloody friends over the holiday anyway."

Buffy was putting the last box in the car. Either she didn't hear Spike's comments or didn't want to dignify them with an answer.

"Did you hear what I said?" He looked annoyed.

"Huh? Oh yeah Spike, sounds good..."

"Now I know something's REALLY wrong. I'm trading barbs with you and all you can say is 'yeah that sounds good.' You got a fever or something luv? Aww, is the Slayer feeling feverish? Did you catch the willies or something?" Spike put on his best sarcastic whiny voice and reached his hand to her forehead.

She slapped his hand away, "Did I catch the what? No, I'm fine. I'm just distracted."

"Well, a distracted Slayer is a dead Slayer. Got myself two slayers like that. Why don't you tell old Spike what wrong? Maybe I can help."

It looked like Spike, the voice was Spike's, but Buffy couldn't believe what she was hearing. She poked at him with her finger.

"Hey! Cut that out. Me being ticklish and all that." He swatted her hand away.

"Excuse me? I thought I just heard you offer to help. I must be feverish."

"Something's obviously bothering you, luv. I'm really not in any position to give you THAT hard of a time. Me being, well...."

"Neutered? Impotent?" Buffy offered.

"Temporarily incapacitated. Now, what is it? Tell old Spike. You never know, I could be of some help. I'm not all soul-havin' and all that, but I am pretty sharp. Angel wasn't the only smart vamp in town." Spike's face brightened. "Hey, this has to do with the little witch, doesn't it? What happened, Slayer? Did she put frog entrails in your soup or something?"

"Remind me again why I should tell you anything?" Buffy gave him a skeptical look. She wasn't thoroughly convinced. Yet.

"I'm an outsider, an unbiased opinion. All of your little group is probably too close to it to give you an honest assessment. Plus, I won't charge ya' for the advice. Come on now, what's the dirt? What did the little tree do to work you up into such a lather?"

"Her name is Willow. Not little witch, or little tree. Willow. And she didn't do anything. I did. I think I totally messed up our friendship, and I don't think there's a way to get it back."

"Come on, Slayer. Don't go all dramatic on me. There isn't anything that can be THAT bad. Even Dru and I can make up after a scuffle of sorts. Heck, I even forgave her for kissing that chaos demon...." Just then, Spike's face lit up and a light bulb went on in his head. "Unless, of course...."

"What? WHAT? Unless what, Spike? Tell me or I'll stake you right here....."

"Well, unless you've, um, crossed some sort of a line. You didn't......did you?" The look on Buffy's face answered his question. "Didn't you learn your lesson with Angel? He was all souled-up till you gave him happiness, and as much as I liked him without the bleeding heart routine, he was a menace when he lost it."

"Willow didn't lose her soul, Spike...she's human." Buffy gave him a look of disgust.

"No, Slayer...she didn't. But if your implying what I think you are, then she's lost something just as valuable. She's lost her innocence. That damn wolf ran off and left her hangin' by a thread, and none of you bloody well saw it until it was too late. I don't think I have to remind you about the havoc she caused by that little will spell of hers. I still can't get your taste out of my mouth." He was pacing now, arms flying around in the air. "She's vulnerable now and you took advantage of it! I can't believe you. I'm disappointed, really. I thought you had more brains than that."

Buffy gave him an incredulous look. "Since when do you care so much about Willow? And what about your little speech in the magic shop, how'd it go? 'Love isn't brains children, it's blood. Blood screaming inside you to......"

"All right, all right. Enough with the posturing. I full well know what I said to you two. If I've learned anything in the century or so I've been around it's that love hurts. And if you give it the chance it'll hurt you..." Buffy was about to interrupt, but Spike waved his hand. "I'm not saying it's not worth it, Slayer, don't get me wrong. I'm saying that you have to be sure. You have know in your heart that it's real and worth all the sacrifices. And you also have to know that it's not easy. Do you think it's worth it, Slayer? Because if you don't, if you have even the smallest doubt in your mind, then all the love and fuzzy feelings in the world aren't gonna save your relationship with that girl. Any kind of relationship. If love is what's in the cards for you, then you'll know it, and so will she. If it screams through your blood, if you feel her touch even though she's not here, if it makes you quiver from head to toe, then you'll know it."

After a few minutes, Buffy opened the passenger side door and gave Spike a look. With that, they both headed back to Giles' house, the conversation still playing in each of their minds.

"Hello? Um, yes. Oh, yes...how are you dear? I've heard so much about you. No, I'm sorry, she's had a long trip and is resting now. I'll let her know you called, though. Have a nice holiday. Bye."

Willow was sitting on the couch drinking tea when her Grandmother came in from the kitchen. She stood in the doorway and glanced at her granddaughter.

"I know, Nana. I'll call her soon." Willow replied to the gaze.

"But I don't understand it, dear. You've written me so many letters and we've had so many phone calls. You've told me all about Buffy, and it seems to me that she's your best friend. Why on earth would you not want to talk to her?"

"It's complicated, Nana."

"Seems that nothing should be that complicated, dear. If two people care for and love each other then that's the most uncomplicated thing we can wish for." She smiled down ather granddaughter. "Let me know if you need anything. I'll be in the sewing room."

"Thanks, Nana."

Willow sat there for a while, taking in the scent of the familiar. She spent many holidays and vacations here. The house brought back comforting memories, the smell of baked cookies and vanilla and flowers. That's what her grandmother always smelled like. It was comfort she sought when she got on the plane, comfort in the familiar, the unchanged. Willow's thoughts were broken by the sound of the phone again. Knowing Nana wouldn't hear it in the sewing room, she went to pick it up.

"Hello? Mom! Hi. Yes, I'm fine. I just wanted to be with Nana for winter break. Yes, I know. I'm sorry you can't be here, too. No, we'll be fine. Nana always takes good care of me. You too, I'll see you at home after New Year's. Love you too, bye."

Willow was relieved that it was her mother on the other end of the line. Sheila and Ira Rosenberg were spending time with Ira's parents in between conferences. They'd go to the temple there, in Chicago, to worship. Anticipating the separation, Willow's mother sent her Hanukkah gifts to her with strict instructions to not open them until the right time, and they were even numbered.

Willow wandered into her bedroom, deciding that the plane trip had indeed wiped her out, and decided to take a nap. Curling up on her childhood bed, she soon found out that her mind was working overtime. Buffy. She'd been the reason Willow left. Right? Now she wasn't so sure. Oz? Giles? Xander? They could all be construed as contributing factors to her turning tail, but she knew that in the end, her own insecurities won out and forced her two states away from the people she loved.

Buffy didn't want her. Not really. It was a fluke. She was still missing Angel and Willow had to admit that she still loved Oz. That's why she did the spell. She did a love spell the night she ran from Buffy after their awkward meeting in the Psych building. After weaving her way through the throng of students she made her way home and went to the basement where the bulk of her supplies were stored. It was meant to be a harmless spell, designed to have true love reveal itself to her and Buffy. It was supposed to help them both get back together with the ones they loved. But she did it wrong, she must have. Right before the spell was to be completed, she heard footsteps on the porch outside the basement window. Her mind immediately shot to Buffy and she became distracted with the days' events. Instead of thinking of Oz, she thought of Buffy. In hindsight of everything that happened, she could see why she got caught in the spell too. With those thoughts, Willow finally began to drift off to sleep.

"Can't stop........duty........chosen......understand......"

Willow strained to hear the conversation behind her door. She knew it was wrong but still, she couldn't help herself.

"I have.....duty too......choice......care about you.......get hurt......"

She could tell that it was Buffy and Riley. All she knew was that he helped Buffy defeat the Gentlemen and that he had a secret of his own.

"Want to try.......relationship......take it slow........kiss you again........please"

"Can't........kiss was good......too fast......need time......sacred duty."

From the pieces of conversation she heard, Willow surmised that Buffy and Riley kissed, Riley wanted a relationship with her and Buffy wanted one, too, but wanted to take it slow. Every word was like someone punching her in the gut. She couldn't take it anymore. Making sure she made plenty of noise with her keys, Willow walked into the room and over to her bed.

"Hi guys, how's it going?"

"Will, you're back from your 3 o'clock class." Buffy gave her a look of relief.

"Willow, hi." Riley grinned at her. "Well, I guess I should be going. Buffy, we'll talk again soon?" He gave her a hopeful look.

"Sure. Take care Riley."

Willow woke up snuggled under the covers. She guessed her grandmother came in and pulled them over her at some point in her slumber. Restless and no longer tired, she got up, went to the bathroom and decided to call Giles. If Buffy was there then so be it.

"Giles, hi....I'm with my grandmother in Wyoming....yeah....I just wanted to wish you a happy holiday....hmm...yeah, I'm OK. Just woke up from a nap....really?.....I guess you'll have your hands full with those two. You take care too...I'll see you after break...Yes, I'll be back a week before classes start. Bye."

That was interesting. Buffy was staying with Giles for Christmas. It was pretty ironic actually. A happy little family unit flashed in Willow's mind. Xander digging in the cabinets for something to eat, Anya pouting at the lack of attention, Giles rubbing the bridge of his nose because Buffy and Spike were trading insults back and forth in front of the fireplace. Yes, one little demented, dysfunctional family complete with a Slayer, an ex-watcher, a demon, a 200 plus year old vampire, a 1120 year old ex-demon turned teenager and Xander.

She found her by the window. Looking out on the snow, there was an expression of sadness on her face that made her look much older than her 18 years. She'd never be able to figure her granddaughter out. They say the eyes are the window to the soul. Willow's eyes had been empty from the moment she'd walked through the door. Something had happened to her granddaughter, something that took the fire out of her eyes, and Nana was determined to find out what it was.

"Why don't you come talk to me, dear? The snow will still be there when we're done."

The older woman's voice shook Willow out of her trance. How long had she been standing there?

"Sure, Nana. What's on your mind?" Willow walked over to the fireplace and put another log on the fire.

"That's exactly what I was thinking. What's on your mind? Something's happened to my granddaughter and I want to know what it is. Where has my Willow gone?"

Willow gave her a halfhearted smile. This was going to be a long night........

"....so then I went back to his room, and all of his stuff was gone. He left me Nana. How could he do that? Devon said he sent for the rest of his stuff. He's settled down somewhere....else....that's not with me." She was crying again. The tears turned on and off in the past fours hours, now they were making an appearance once again. She had told her grandmother everything. EVERYTHING. Graduation, Veruca, werewolf boyfriend and slayer best friend. She'd began to confide in her when she was in high school, when the fluke happened with Xander. Now everything came spilling out, and she held nothing back.

She looked at her, sobbing in the firelight. Such things to go through for someone so young. So much weight on her shoulders, weight she shouldn't have to bear alone. But she didn't, did she? Buffy was always there by her side. But now she wasn't. Her granddaughter ran from the comfort of her friends back home and she still didn't understand why.

"Oh, my beautiful Willow. Such pain and heartache. I wish I could make it all go away. But I can't. You have to allow yourself to grieve. Grieve for your lost love, your lost innocence. Only then will you be able to pick yourself off the ground and stand tall. There's no way around it. But, there is a way for it to be easier...."

Willow looked up from her hands. "What, Nana? Anything...I-I'd do anything to feel better....anything."

"You have friends that love you. Why did you come here when you have so many people to fall back on at home?" Willow began to shake her head, but Nana continued ... "You've confided in me, and to be a part of your life, to willingly make me a part of your life....I couldn't have received a better gift than that. But there are people more suited for the kind of comfort you're looking for. People like Mr. Giles, and Xander and Buffy. Why not sleep on it love, perhaps you'll see that the things you've run from are the things you need most." She got up and gave her granddaughter a hug and a kiss goodnight and left her to her thoughts. Willow followed soon after, crawled into bed and into sleep.

"Yes....Mr. Giles please......Mr. Giles? Yes, it's Margaret....Hmm, yes, it has been a long time...fine, fine...enjoying my retirement....Yes, I was sorry to hear that, we both know what they're missing.......Rupert, I need to ask a favor....It seems to me that we have something in common...or should I say someone.....Yes, it's very important, I wouldn't ask if it wasn't.....of course....I probably should have come to you sooner, I'm afraid it may have gotten out of hand.....Would you mind a little trip?.....I won't keep you long....no, only two days or so......really? Wonderful...I'll make the arrangements....no, no, don't be silly....the council can foot the bill for this one....I think they owe us both as much, don't you? Splendid....yes, one more thing....why don't you bring your Slayer....yes...I realize she's not taking council orders.....it's important Rupert, I wouldn't ask if it wasn't....wonderful! Tomorrow then? OK, I'll make the arrangements and have the travel agent call you with the airline and times. Thank you, Rupert, I owe you one."

She realized that she may be overstepping her bounds. But this was her granddaughter's happiness at stake! In all her years as a watcher, all the prophesies, all the doom that was predicted, she was well prepared. The fate of the world rested on the Slayer's shoulders, and when she steered her daughter and son-in-law towards Sunnydale to begin their life together, it wasn't by chance, it was by choice. She only prayed that her granddaughter would be able to hone and perfect the powers she had within her. The choice had been the right one, and her Willow and the slayer worked together. It couldn't have been any better had she written the prophesy herself. Now other forces threatened to take over, forces that were unpredicted or over-looked. Well, there would be none of that. Not while she was around.

"We'll only be gone for a few days, Buffy. Xander has already agreed to watch Spike, I'm sure that he's more than capable...."

"And who is this woman again? A retired watcher or something? Why does she want me to go? Reliving old prophesies is so not what I had in mind for winter break, Giles." Buffy rolled her eyes, but the look she got from Giles told her that there was no way to get out of it.

"Buffy, Margaret is a very respected member of the council. Yes she is retired, but she still holds their favor, and mine. She's done so many things for me in the past I cannot even begin to repay her. If she's summoned both of us, there is a good reason, I assure you."

"I know Giles....When do we leave?"

"Tomorrow. Margaret has arranged for us to take a direct flight into Cheyenne and then a private plane..."

"Cheyenne? Wyoming? That's....that's where Willow is!"

"Yes, I know, but this is business and I don't think we'll have time to search the entire state of Wyoming for Willow..." Giles saw the look on Buffy's face, like someone had punched her in the face and she stood there and took it. "If we have time, we'll look her up."

With that, the slayer and the watcher prepared for the trip ahead of them.

"Willow, you've been in this house for two days......Why don't you go out and get some fresh air? Here, I'll give you some money and you can take a cab into town and go shopping, buy some gifts for your friends back home."

"I'd much rather stay here. I'm in the middle of something on my computer and I don't want to leave it..."

"You've been in the middle of your computer for two days, Willow, I'm sure whatever it is, it will keep. Come on now, get your jacket....or do I have to dress you myself?"

Willow knew she'd lost. She saved her document and put her computer on the bed. Grabbing her jacket and the envelope her grandmother gave her, she called for a cab and waited by the door.

"It'll be good for you to get out, dear. Look, the cab is here. I'll have dinner ready for you when you come back....now go...shoo!" With a kiss on her cheek, Willow was off to town.

An hour later, a black car pulled up the driveway. Giles and Buffy stepped out and the driver carried their bags to the door, where a woman stood to greet them.

"Rupert! Oh, it's so wonderful to see you again. You're still as handsome as ever. And this must be Buffy, I've heard so much about you dear....well, what are you waiting for? Come in, come in."

"Nice to meet you.....Mrs.?"

"Oh, please....call me Nana...everyone does. Now come on...I have tea on and I hear the water boiling."

After they settled in, the three of them sat down in the living room.

"You're probably wondering why I've asked you to come, Rupert."

"Yes, the thought had crossed my mind. You said we had something in common, someone...."

"Yes, well, I'll get to that. I've been retired for almost six years now. Retirement is such a bore you know." Giles nodded his head in agreement. She then turned her gaze to Buffy. "I was never an active watcher in the sense that Rupert was. I never had my own slayer. The council decided that I was better suited for books, prophesies and that sort of thing. It was quite mundane really. I was banished to the demon section of the card catalog more times than I can recall....."

"Hmm, prophesies.....we just love prophesies, don't we, Giles?" Buffy gave him a look and they both smiled.

"There was one prophesy in particular that I researched, and the council saw it fit not to, shall we say, advertise the information."

"Oh, dear." Giles gave Buffy a look of 'here we go again.'

"Yes well....I believe the year was 1979..." She got up and went to her bookcase. After some searching, she found what she'd been looking for. "I was researching hellmouths. Several of them had cropped up at once and the slayer at the time had quite an ordeal going from town to town trying to close them all...or at least inactivate them..."

"I seem to recall that they formed some path....." Giles offered.

"Quite right Rupert. You remember, very good. The path led straight to Los Angeles. That is where the last hellmouth opened and, unfortunately, the slayer met her demise."

They all took a moment, lost in their own separate thoughts. Giles and Buffy remembering the time Buffy had literally died trying to close the hellmouth.

"It's not a secret that most of the prophesies you and other watchers have dealt with have been predicted and researched by myself, along with a few others. I was given this duty because I am not only a watcher, I am a seer." Both sets of eyes were on her now.

"A seer? Well, yes...I suppose that would make the most sense, now wouldn't it? I always thought as much...." Giles trailed off.

"Oh, but that's only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, Rupert."

"Figured as much." Buffy offered.

"Yes, well, I came to find out that there was to be a slayer born. A slayer like no other we've ever seen. Her powers, combined with her intelligence and wit, would be like nothing we've ever seen before, or will see again. She would be THE Chosen One....the one to bring balance to the forces of good and evil. She is..."

"Buffy?" A little voice squeaked out from under an armful of packages. "Giles? What are you......Nana?.....Oh, man...." And with that, the petite redhead dropped her packages and fainted straight away.

"Oh, dear....she wasn't supposed to be back so soon."

Buffy and Giles were still staring in Willow's direction, mouths wide open.

"Rupert, if you would please?" She motioned in Willow's direction.

"Get her and bring her in here. We'll put her in her room for now. Oh, dear...I told her to stay out until supper."

Giles tenderly tried to pick Willow up, the strain and awkwardness on his face apparent. He couldn't figure out how to pick her up without being invasive about it.

"Giles, let me." Buffy stepped in thankfully. She gathered her best friend in her arms and carried her into the bedroom. She placed her on the bed, careful not to jostle her.

"Hmm, well. Someone in common, I see." Giles directed the comment to no one in particular.

"Yes, well you see Rupert, Willow is my granddaughter. And my granddaughter has been more distressed in the past two days than I've ever seen in her in her short life. I'm afraid it has to do with the prophesy I was beginning to tell you about."

"She's a witch." The comment came from Buffy.

"I know, dear. It's in her blood."

"Well, that makes sense. She's harnessed some real power in the past few years, but it's quite difficult at times for her to control it. If she has even the smallest amount of your power in her, then....." Giles added.

"Yes, well. Shall we, Rupert? I'd like to finish the story."

"Giles, if it's all the same to you, I think I'll..."

"Of course, Buffy. Stay here with Willow. I'll fill you in later."

Buffy offered them both a smile as they walked out and shut the door. Her attention was then drawn to the now-stirring form beside her. Willow. Their parting words back at the dorm were now pushing their way forward, as were other images......silky hair... the sunrise they shared.....her face in the moonlight.....her back as she walked out the door.


"Again Will, almost, but not quite human." Buffy smiled down at her friend.

"Buffy......what are you.....where's Nana?" Willow reached up and rubbed the back of her head.

"She's in the other room with Giles." Buffy began to get up off the bed, "I'll go get her if you want..." Willow reached out and stopped her.

"No, that's OK....I.....Buffy, why are you and Giles here?"

"Your grandmother and Giles apparently know each other....She called Giles and asked him if we'd come here....she said that we all had someone in common that she was concerned about."

"Oh...that would be me. I told Nana not to worry, she shouldn't have called you here."

"Oh yes I should have dear." The voice came from the now opened bedroom door. "There were a few things I had to discuss with Rupert....and I thought Buffy could keep you company. Seems to me like you needed it."

"Nana, how do you know Giles and Buffy?"

Buffy looked at the woman. Willow didn't know she was a watcher. That much was apparent by the expression on her face.

"I'll explain everything over dinner, Willow. For now, why don't you take Buffy downstairs to the den? Rupert and I aren't quite done yet."

"OK, Nana...but I want to know everything later. Promise?"

Nana agreed and Willow got up and led Buffy downstairs to the den. After getting a few sodas, Buffy settled down on the couch and Willow sat in the overstuffed chair...at the other end of the room. They sat in awkward silence until Buffy decided to speak up.

"So, Will, I....."

"I don't want to talk about it, Buffy."

Buffy shot her a look. "Why not, Will? What's going on with you? You are the last person I thought would run away from their problems. And this is my problem, too...whatever it is...I don't even know if there is a problem....'cause you won't talk to me."

Willow sat there...studying her hands intently. She didn't know what to say, or how to say it. She was afraid that Buffy would never forgive her.

"I'm scared, Buffy......I can't....I don't want to lose you as my friend...I did something.. it goes wrong....I just missed Oz so much......and I know you miss Angel....I can't do anything right....I did a spell..."

"And you think it didn't work, but it did." Nana was on the stairs, listening.


"It was a spell to have your true love reveal itself to you? A few devotions, some well placed motherwort....am I close?"

"Yes, but how?"

"Come on, you two....looks like I have a lot of explaining to do.."

Two hours later, they were eating dessert and Nana was completing her story. "So I never told you I was a watcher, I thought it would be for the best. Especially since I knew how close I'd put you to the active slayer, on purpose. I sent your mother and father, newly married, to Sunnydale...and let fate take it's course at that point. I new the slayer was a long time coming, and so were you. Two years later, you were born. You had a little patch of red hair on your head, the mark of a natural witch in our family, and I knew the prophesy was coming true. Didn't you ever wonder why you looked more like me than your mother? It skips a generation, the power we possess."

She got up to refill her cup and left them to absorb all of the information she'd just given them.

"Buffy was born several months before you, in L.A, two years after the Hellmouth there had been closed. She wasn't chosen yet, as I remember it, she was called while she was a freshman in High School and the watcher...."

"Was Merrick," Buffy remembered.

"Yes, good man he was. Now, the prophesy was this: A Slayer would be born unto this world, a Slayer like no other. She would bring balance to the forces of good and evil. She is, as we know now, Buffy. Don't get me wrong, I didn't know who Buffy was, I only knew she would be called late, without any formal training, and that she'd wind up in Sunnydale....just as a new Hellmouth was forming."

"Nana, how could you keep all of this from me? I told you everything about us...I always wondered why you believed me so easily...you never questioned me about the vampires or demons or the research I did for Giles...."

"It simply wasn't time yet, dear. And as to your next question, yes, your parents are well aware of what goes on in that town, and how involved you are. They knew since you were born that you were meant for bigger things than they could ever imagine. They're away at the most convenient times, aren't they?" She looked at her granddaughter and smiled a knowing smile. "When you two became friends, I couldn't have been happier. I thought the Slayer would have a better chance at fulfilling the prophesy if she had a natural-born witch as her sidekick..."

"Natural-born.....Nana...you're a witch?" Willow had just picked up on what she was getting to.

"Yes dear, natural-born. As I said, it skips a generation, which explains why your mother doesn't have any viable power. She has some....but it's not as fine tuned as ours is." She gave her granddaughter a chance to swallow this last bit of information. "In fulfillment of the prophesy, the Slayer was to join forces with her true love, and together they were to close the Hellmouth for good."

"Angel." Buffy's voice was barely above a whisper, yet they all heard it.

"Angelus? Hmm...one would think so. When I had the Codex placed in his hands, he was supposed to deliver it immediately, yet he hesitated." She was looking at Buffy. "That hesitation cost you your life, literally." Her gaze shifted to Giles. "And your hesitation also. Not telling her came at a very high price. But, as for being your true love, only you can answer that Buffy. The Hellmouth is closed, yes.....but is it for good?"

"I can assure you, Margaret, we did everything we were supposed to. She faced the master, and she died. As far as we know, the Hellmouth hasn't seen any activity since."

"As far as you know, Rupert...as far as we all know. But can you be sure?"

"Then Angel wasn't her true love?" Willow spoke the words Buffy was afraid to form.

"As I said before, only Buffy can answer that."

They were all lost in thought. Each reliving the time the Hellmouth opened and Buffy died at the hands of the Master. After a few minutes, Nana cut the silence.

"What do you say we all retire for the evening? We can continue our talk tomorrow morning. I'm sure it'll keep." They all agreed. "Rupert, of course, can have the other spare room. I'm sure you two wouldn't mind staying in the same room." Before anyone could object, Nana went off to retrieve some extra blankets, taking Willow's hand in the process.

"Nana, I don't think..."

"Why do you think the spell didn't work, Willow?" Nana cut in.

"I...well....Oz didn't come back...and neither did Angel.....I have a hard time with getting my spells right....and....well, they don't always go exactly as planned." Willow gave her an impish grin. "Just last week I made Giles blind and Xander a demon magnet." She gave a shrug of her shoulders.

Nana gave a little chuckle. "You'll get the hang of it dear. Practice makes perfect you know. As for your love spell...it was meant to have your true love reveal itself to you, wasn't it?" Willow nodded her head in agreement. "Well, seems to me that you just need to look for a sign that it worked. As witches, we're always aware of nature and all the beauty it holds. A bird singing in a tree, a crashing ocean, a magnificent sunrise...."

"A sunrise?....I...uh...." Willow gasped.

"Yes, most times, you'll find that nature will answer your questions, but you have to have your ears open and be ready for the answer, even if it's the one you weren't quite expecting. Now go, off to bed with you....I'm sure your friend is quite exhausted from her trip." Nana kissed her good night and sent Willow on her way.

This was a lot of information for Willow to digest all at once. She made her way to her bedroom, unsure of what she was going to say to Buffy. She walked in and realized that the conversation would have to keep for now. The Slayer was fast asleep in bed. Silently, she walked over to where she was laying and sat down next to her.

'Buffy. Now what are we gonna do?'

"Hmm? Don't know, Will. What?"

'What?' "What?" Willow squeaked.

"Will? What happened? What's wrong?" Buffy sat up.

'Buffy....say green. Green, green, green, green, green....'

"Green! What? Wait......what the hell?"

They both looked at each other. It couldn't be, could it? Buffy could read her mind. This little trip to Nana's was getting more and more interesting.

"Buffy...you...you read my mind...I don't understand.....it takes years to....I've read about it but...."

"Well, this is certainly an interesting twist to our already twisted relationship." The words rolled off Buffy's tongue. She didn't even think about what she'd said before it was too late. "Oh, Will, I'm sorry, I didn't mean...."

"No, it's alright. I deserved it, I guess. I haven't exactly been Miss Fun-to-be-Around."

No, Will....you don't deserve it.....I've been so worried about you. I.."

"Don't be silly Buffy, of course I would have come back, I just needed time to.." She saw the look of shock on Buffy's face, "...uh, yeah....I just read your mind and this is REALLY starting to freak me out!"

They didn't know what to do. Willow supposed that this had something to do with the prophesy, but what, she wasn't sure. "OK, there's only one way to approach this..."

"Research." Buffy added.

"Ugh....this mind reading thing is gonna take a lot of getting used to. Let's research for a while and see where it takes us. It's only 11 o'clock. If we don't find anything by 12:30, I say we hit the sack and talk to Nana tomorrow."

"Why don't we skip the research and go straight to the source tomorrow, Will? I mean why spend hours trying to find something that your grandmother might already know about?" 'I can think of other ways to spend our time...'

"Buffy! You said that on purpose, didn't you?"

"Just checking to see if you're on your toes." Buffy gave her an all-too-innocent smile. 'This mind reading thing might not be such a bad thing after all...'

"Yes it is, Buffy. Don't you remember what happened the last time you were able to read minds? You almost went crazy...." Willow gave her a reprimanding look.

"Yeah, but on the plus side, I saved Jonathan. Besides, this is different. And if I go crazy, at least I'll have someone along for company."

"You are incorrigible, you know that?" Willow smiled at her friend.

"God, Will, I thought I'd never be able to do that again."

Willow cocked her head to the side, trying to figure out what Buffy meant, but her mind wasn't giving any hints this time. "What?"

"Make you smile." Buffy looked at her seriously.

"Oh. You could always do that Buffy. Even when things were so bad with Oz...and Xander with the fluke....you managed to make me smile." Willow fell into a contemplative silence.

'I could again, you know. Make you smile. If you'd just let me in and give me the chance.'

She looked up at the Slayer who had now put her hand on Willow's.

'I know. It's like I'm on the edge of something and I'm afraid that if I make the wrong choice then we'll never be the same again. Any of us.' Willow squeezed her hand.

'Don't I get a choice in this, Will? It's my life too you know.'

"Mmm, I know Buffy, it's just that...."

Buffy edged closer to her...slowly, tentatively. Not sure what her reaction would be.

'I can't think with her this close to me.'

"I know, Will. That's the point." Buffy offered a seductive smile.

"Ack, no...we can't...I mean..this is my grandmother's house, Buffy. Isn't it like illegal or something to have sex in your grandmother's house?"

"What I'm thinking about is probably illegal in at least thirteen states....does that mean you'd do it if we weren't in your grandmother's house, Will?"

"Yes..No! I mean....ugh, I can't think straight."

'Well, that's one way of putting it.'


"OK, I'll be good. On the premise that we're at your grandmother's house. Neutral territory. Now, if we were anywhere else..."

"Don't finish that thought." Willow put her finger on the Slayer's lips. "I'm beat. Let's get some sleep and tackle the world-saving stuff tomorrow."

"I'm kinda beat myself...OK, sleepy time! And if you steal the covers this time I'll....have to do something horribly wrong to you." They snuggled down into the bed.

'You wouldn't.'

'You're right.'

~~You know what to do.~~~

~~What? Who are you? Where are you?~~~

~~It's not important. What's important is this: You know what to do. All you have to do is listen to your heart, and you'll know.~~

~~Know what? Who are you talking about?~~

~~You love her, don't you?~~

~~ But I'm scared. I'm not exactly an expert on matters of the heart.~~~

~~But do you love her? Do you love her with everything you have to offer, and then more besides?~~

~~Yes. Yes I do.~~

~~Then you know what to do, you know how to heal her and make her whole again.~~

~~But I don't. I don't have the first clue about what she needs...~~

~~That's nonsense. It's all there inside of you. You both made a good start, now you've been sidetracked. Break it down to basics. Show her-give her--everything.~~

~~But she deserves so much more. I feel like I just can't give her enough. Am I enough for her? Hello? Hello? Where'd you go?~~

"Wake up sleepy head." Willow was gently tugging on Buffy shirt, trying for the past ten minutes to get her up. "God, Buffy, you sleep like the dead. I'm glad I don't have to get you up for classes every morning."

"Mmm, wha...ugh...Will...Grrrr."

"And you said I didn't sound human in the morning. Come on, get up. Nana made pancakes and left them in the microwave. She and Giles went out early this morning and left a note." The Slayer wasn't budging. "Come on, Buffy....I'm starving!"

"All right, all right. Take it easy there, Red. Geez, you'd think I'd be able to sleep in on winter break at least." 'You are way too chipper in the morning, Will.'

"I'm not way too chipper, and it's noon. You've slept practically the whole day away. Now come on, or I'll eat all the pancakes myself." With that, Willow walked out the door.

Buffy hardly thought she was kidding. After a quick trip to the bathroom, Buffy padded her way into the kitchen. Willow's back was to her and she was pouring two mugs of coffee. Buffy snuck up behind her and wrapped her arms around the redhead's waist.

"Mmm...good morning."

"Good afternoon, you mean. Do you always sleep that sound? It took me ten minutes to get any kind of sound out of you." Willow glanced behind her. 'God, she's thisclose.'

'You smell good.' "Yeah, mom swore she was gonna hire the school band to wake me up in the morning. I told her I'd just buy earmuffs." 'I'd probably be more inclined to wake up every morning if I could wake up next to you...'

"Buffy...."'Stop that.'

'It's true, Will. I think the last time I slept so well was about a week ago....'

"OK, how about some coffee?" Willow wiggled away from Buffy's grasp and set the two mugs on the kitchen table.

"Oooh, pancakes. Even better, grandmother pancakes. If these are anything like my grandmother's pancakes then you'd better dig in before I finish them all."

Willow threw Buffy a questioning glance. 'Now that was too easy.'

Buffy looked up and smiled. 'I'm not through with you yet, Red.'

They ate breakfast in compatible silence. Except for the little scuffle over the day's comics, things went smoothly. The note Nana left said that she and Giles would be gone most of the day and would be back after supper. She left some money and advised the girls to order out and then maybe rent some movies. Buffy hadn't finished eating yet, so Willow excused herself and went back to her room to change.

################## #
# ##################

'This is nuts. There has to be some sort of law or something against it. I can't stop thinking about her.' Willow was almost dressed when she felt two hands creep up along her sides. "Buffy....what are you doing?" She was beginning to get nervous.

'I can't stop thinking about you either, Will.' "I've missed you."

"I was only gone for two days." She saw Buffy frown in the mirror. "I missed you, too. I'm sorry I ran out like that." 'I didn't mean to hurt you. Did I hurt you?..I mean..I didn't mean to be mean...I just needed time to myself...I..'

'You know, you're cute when you babble.' "I understand, Will. We all need a breather sometimes." Buffy smiled at her.

Both of her hands rested on Willow's stomach. She squeezed a little tighter, rubbing just above her belly button with her thumbs. She saw Willow's eyes close and felt her breathing become irregular. Lightly, she kissed her shoulder, then the nape of her neck. Her breathing increased also. 'You feel so good.'

'So do you.' "Buffy, we can't. Neutral territory, remember?" She gave the blonde a wide-eyed look in the mirror.

"Your grandmother and Giles are out....more than likely for the rest of the day and half the night doing...watchery things. Technically..."

"It's still my grandmother's house. It feels weird." 'But still...'

Buffy got a hopeful look in her eyes then chuckled. "Man, talk about thoughts and actions contradicting."

"Yeah....score one for inner turmoil." Willow dead-panned.

Buffy turned her around so that they were facing each other. "I want to help you, Will. But I don't want to be the source of your inner turmoil. Am I?"

Willow didn't answer and her mind didn't give anything away.

"OK, then. Let me know when you're done so I can change too." Buffy retreated for the door and reached for the knob.

"Buffy, wait." 'Don't go.'

She turned around, only to come face to face with Willow. "How did you....?" Buffy gave her a questioning look.

"Yeah, well....I'm not THAT bad of a witch..." The comment was followed by her patented Willow-smile.

"Yes, I'm sure you're not a bad witch. More of a good witch, like Glenda." Buffy began to move away, only to be trapped by two hands placed firmly on the door. "Will, if you insist on looking at me like that you'd better have something to back it up with. There's no guarantee I can control myself much lonmrunph...."

Willow broke the sentence with a kiss. It was a tentative, not-sure-what-I'm-doing kiss. Light, lingering, soft. All of a sudden, Buffy's world consisted of kissing Willow, and becoming good at it. This was a great start. Buffy pulled her closer, to close the gap between them. Willow gasped a little and Buffy took it as an invitation to deepen the kiss. Both of her hands went to the redhead's face, cupping it gently. Willow's hands lingered down to Buffy's sides, feeling her soft skin before wrapping her arms around the slayer's waist. Before long, they found themselves on the floor, Buffy straddling her lover, her fingers intertwined in red hair, soft, velvety red hair. They slowed the kissing, each not wanting to stop...both knowing they had to.

'God, I thought I'd never be able to do this again....'


'Me either, I missed you so much....'

Kiss, kiss.

'Don't leave me again, Will....I couldn't take it....'


'I didn't want to...' "I just had some stuff I needed to work out. Things got all jumbley....and I didn't know how to handle them."

"Like....things with Tara?" Buffy was propped up on one elbow now, her right hand resting on Willows stomach.

"That....and Riley." Willow looked away and found a fascinating piece of fuzz on the carpet.

"So you heard."

"I heard." 'You kissed him.'

"He kissed me, Will. There's a difference. At least I'd like to think so."

"Do you...I mean...would you?"

"No, to both. I don't want to nor would I. I think I've finally found what I've been looking for......here." Buffy leaned down again and planted a light kiss on Willow's nose.

'You're so sweet.'

"Hey, I aim to please." Buffy gave her a grin.

"Hmm...this mind reading thing could turn out to be a problem. Don't you think it's a little...well...invasive." Willow posed the question.

"Yes, but we've both managed to effectively block the other out when we really wanted to. I just think it's something that's going to take some getting used to, that's all."

"Hey, I thought I was supposed to be the smart one?" Willow gave a little pout.

"Yeah, well if you're so smart, why did it take you so long to kiss me?"

Willow scrunched up her nose. "Buffy...I was scared....I....." 'You don't understand.'

"I do, Will, I'm sorry if that was harsh....I was only joking." She leaned down and put her head on Willow's shoulder.




'Come on, Will.'

"It's just that.....when Oz left it was like....like I was split down the center and half of me was lost....I.....I never thought it could hurt so much.....I don't know if I could do that to myself again....to risk the hurt.....to love..." 'again.....like that'

'That's what I thought, too.'


'Yeah.' "I'm sorry he left you. And I'm sorry I couldn't stop it....stop you from hurting....stop you from having to see them together in the crypt, but if you're gonna feel better, then..."

"I have to let him go. I know, Buffy." Willow shifted away and sat up to face her. "How did you do it? Get over Angel, I mean."

"Come on, Will, we all remember that one. I ran. I ran until I couldn't run anymore. I couldn't face it.....I couldn't face you guys. I felt like I'd failed." Buffy's face was stoic, she wasn't revealing any kind of expression. "But, I got over it. Actually, I came back to Sunnydale and got over it. That's when it started to feel better - the emptiness inside. It was because of you....everyone else helped too...but it was you, Will. You didn't leave my side. And I got through." She smiled. "Let me in, Will. Let me help you."

They sat there facing each other. Willow decided to try something she'd read on the internet. She put on her concentration face and focused on reaching out to Buffy mentally. She imagined her hand going out and tugging on the invisible string that was linking them together.

'Ouch! What was that?'

'Wow...I read about it being done but....I touched you...mentally. That was cool.'

'Yeah, well...it felt like I just drank a slurpee too fast....can I try?'

Willow nodded her head in agreement. "Just concentrate on doing it and you will. It's not that hard."

Buffy reached out, seeking to follow the link into Willow's mind. Images flashed in front of her and she had to close her eyes to try and catch them all. Grave markers....grass...it was dark out....trees....a large stone building.....Willow's hand reaching out and grabbing the door....she had something in her hands....down the stairs...bars...Oz and Veruca...naked....the bag and thermos dropped and Oz jumped up....

"Willow..." He starts putting on his pants.

"Oh, my god. Oh, my god."

"I know what you saw. It wasn't..." Finishes putting on his pants. "I had to. I had to lock her in there with me."

"I bet." She hugs herself.

"She's like me. A wolf."

"Well, I knew you two had a lot in common, but..." Oz tries to touch her. "Don't touch me!" She jerks back.

"She was gonna hurt somebody. I didn't have a choice."

"But you did. You could've told somebody. Your solution... Just put you two together in a room all night?"

Having woken up, Veruca stands up bearing all. "Girl's got a point."

Oz turns to her angrily. "Leave."

Veruca puts her hands up in protest. "I'm just saying..."

Oz screams at her. "Now!" He turns back to Willow. "I'm sorry. I know."

"I knew, you jerk. And you sat there, and you told me everything was fine?" She was crying now. "And that's as bad as... As...."

"I know how it feels. I remember."

"Oh. So what, this is payback? I had this coming?"

"No. It's not...."

"Because I thought that was behind us. And you know, what happened with Xander, it doesn't compare. Not with what you and I had. Not with whatever you've been doing with her."

"I don't know what Veruca and I have done. When I change, it's like, it's like I'm gone and the wolf takes over."

"But before this, when you were regular Oz, you had feelings for her, didn't you?"

"No. I could sense something, but....."

"But you wanted her... Like in an animal way? Like...More than you wanted me?" She runs off crying....


Buffy opened her eyes....the tears streaming silently down her face. She felt it...felt everything Willow felt when she found Oz....the love in her heart as she opened the crypt...the shock at seeing him there naked with Veruca...the pain when she thought he was comparing it to Xander.....she felt all of it.

"Will....I didn't know...."

"Yeah.....it was pretty intense." Tears welled up in her eyes and threatened to spill over.

"I felt....God, I felt it all. Everything you were feeling...it's like...it's like I was you. Like it was happening to me...."

"I see you girls have been doing some research while we were gone." Nana was standing in the doorway.

"Nana..." Willow squeaked out. She got up from the floor and ran over to her. Nana enveloped her in her arms. She was sobbing now. Nana just stood there, holding her, smoothing her hair making grandmother comfort noises. Giles stood a few steps behind, taking in the scene before him. He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose and looked over at Buffy as if to say 'are you alright?' Buffy gave him a smile, got up and walked over to him, leaving Nana and Willow alone. They walked down the hallway to the kitchen. Automatically, Buffy put some water on for tea.

"She's worse off than you thought, isn't she? Over Oz, I mean."

"She's broken, Giles. And I don't know how to fix her." Buffy let out the breath she wasn't aware of holding.

"Buffy, I'm afraid it has to do with a lot more than Oz. The prophesy Margaret was speaking of last night...well, Willow is an integral part of it. It's her destiny, I'm afraid, and yours."

"Pesky prophesies...." Buffy rolled her eyes.

"I'm afraid this is quite serious, Buffy."

"Sorry. So what are we facing this time?"

"Margaret and I went to visit an old friend of the council's. He's a shapeshifting demon that's worked with the council since its very early days. As a watcher in training, I actually studied with him extensively. This demon is the keeper of all the older, more fragile texts. It's amazing really, some of them are actually written on cured animal skin in a language that's long since forgotten, if I had the time...."

"Giles...the prophesy?" Buffy could see his tangent was headed into the realm of Watcher-Giles and his love of books.

"Yes, well....more specifically, he keeps watch over the older prophesies that haven't come to pass yet....the prophesies that were predicted over a millennia ago. This is, as it turns out, one of those prophesies. The research Margaret did pinpointed the Slayer to bring the balance, but the prophesy was written sometime in the year 876 by a man named Myrddin. He lived in what was then a Cymric borderland near the Solway Firth in Europe. This is where the council first began to take shape. Myrddin was, by all rights, the first Watcher." Giles could see Buffy's eyes begin to glaze over.

"If you translate the name Myrddin from it's traditional Latin you get, quite specifically, Merlin."

Buffy pereed up. "Merlin? As in King Arthur, Knights of the Roundtable and Excalibur Merlin?"

"Yes, quite right......You see, he predicted that Guinevere would betray Arthur and have an affair, but Arthur didn't listen and married her anyway. Arthur's brother found her and Sir Lancelot in the King's bedchambers and made the affair public knowledge, there in sealing the fate of Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. He called for her to be burned at the stake for adultery. Anyway, those events seem to shadow the events that now must come to pass. Had Arthur listened to Merlin, he would have never married Guinevere, she would have never had an affair that led to a war and consequently Arthur never would have been mortally wounded in that war. The prophesy we face is this: You are to come against a great demon, possibly Arthur reincarnate himself. In order to win the battle, you must face down the demon working along side your soul mate and equal. This is to be a person of great value when the battle commences. We are headed into a mystical convergence and the demon is coming to seek revenge on the friend that betrayed him and the love he lost. In essence, Margaret and I think that Arthur is coming to fight Sir Lancelot to the death. A sort of re-creation of what was supposed to be had he not been mortally wounded in battle."

"So Guinevere was Sir Lancelot's soul mate?"

"Yes, yes she was. Merlin alluded to as much when he cautioned Arthur against marrying her. The prophesy is to be fulfilled exactly 1123 years after the death of Arthur, on the night of the full moon. Before the dawn of a new Millennia."

"But Giles, that's.....that's...wait a second.....1123 plus 876...carry the 1...."

"The night of the full moon is two days before Christmas. A week from today, to be exact."

"Quite right, Rupert. Looks like you have your work cut out for you." Nana and Willow were standing in the doorway. "This is as far as I go on this journey, I'm afraid. I'm old and would only be a hindrance. I've filled Willow in on the prophesy and she is, as always, going to help Buffy in any way she can. Now, what do you say we leave this alone for tonight, hmm? It's still early and I think we could all use some fun." They all agreed and decided to go out to dinner and a movie. The rest of the night was uneventful and they all turned in early.

"Morning, Giles." Willow walked into the kitchen where Giles was reading the morning paper and having tea.

"Good morning, Willow. I trust you slept well?" Giles gave her a smile.

"As well as I could considering that Buffy stole the covers....again."

"I did not. You're the cover-hog, missy. I woke up in the middle of the night and I thought my toes were gonna break off from frost-bite!" Buffy joined them in the kitchen.


'Am not.'

'Are too.'

'Am not!'

"As much as I'd love to bear witness to your silent battle of wills, I believe we have more pressing matters ahead of us. We need to leave this afternoon and meet with Myrddin. He met us at a little bed and breakfast just outside of town yesterday, but today we will be traveling to his estate."

"Oh goody, road trip!" Buffy bounced up and down.

"Yes, well. I took the liberty of getting you both passports. We should be there by nightfall if all goes according to plan."

Buffy gave him a questioning look. "Where's there, Giles?"

"Canada, Medicine Hat to be exact. We'll take a private plane this afternoon and land at Myrddin's chalet around dinner time."

"Medicine Hat? You've got to be kidding." Buffy gave him a look of disbelief.

"I assure you, Buffy, it's a real place." Giles looked at her through the top of his glasses.

They arrived at the chalet before seven. Giles, Buffy, and Willow stood at the doors of an old magnificent castle.

"Ooh, Giles...I forgot my computer...be right back!" Willow ran off back to the car.

"Welcome, Ripper. I trust your journey was a good one." An old man with a white beard stood before them. Dressed in a sort of royal blue gown, he gave the appearance of Merlin himself.

"Yes, it was fine, just fine. Myrddin, this is Buffy, the current Slayer."

Myrddin extended his hand and Buffy took it. As soon as she touched him, she felt a sort of energy course through her. "The pleasure is mine, dear."

"Nice to meet you." She stared at him, wide-eyed like a deer caught in headlights.

"The courage in this one is strong, Ripper. Strong indeed. She is the one we've waited for." He let go of Buffy's hand. "Please, come in. I'm sure your young friend will find her way."

He led them through the foyer. It was decorated in old, worn tapestries depicting the adventures of the Knights of the Roundtable. Each one telling a story. Buffy lingered a bit, awed by the beauty the offered. They rounded a corridor and entered what had to be the biggest library either of them had ever seen. There were books from floor to ceiling. Some parchments lay on the table in the far corner and scrolls could be seen poking out of one of the highest shelves. They were both awed at the sight.

"Please, come in. You may browse, of course, when we are through. I'm sure my collection is one that you've never quiet laid your eyes on before....or will again."

After the three of them settled in at the table, Myrddin began to speak. "Now, the prophesy at hand. Arthur is to come and try to win back the love he lost all those years ago. But, I am afraid, it was a love that was not mean to be. Lancelot and Guinevere were soul mates....destined to be together." He looked up. "Dear, God....it can't be."

Willow had walked in, her laptop case swung over her shoulder. She raised her hand and gave a little wave. "Hi...I, uh...forgot my computer in the car.....sorry." With an impish grin, she walked over to join them.

Myrddin seemed to be in a trance. His eyes followed her as she walked over to the table and took a seat next to Buffy.

"Myrddin, are you alright old chap?" Giles gave him a look of concern.

After a few moments, he spoke. "Hmm, yes. I just....it's uncanny." He continued to stare at Willow and she started to squirm under his gaze.

"Ripper, would you follow me please? I must show you something. Please excuse us ladies...it will only take a moment."

Myrddin led Giles over to one of the bookcases and instructed him to retrieve a book. He got it and handed it to Myrddin. Laying it down on a table, he began to flip through the pages until he came to what he was looking for. Pointing at something on the page, Giles leaned over and looked. He straightened up again, took off his glasses and cleaned them, and leaned in again. He and Myrddin exchanged a few words then looked over to where Buffy and Willow were sitting.

Buff finally cracked. "What? Giles, you're driving us nuts! Why are you two looking at Willow like she's gonna' sprout wings and fly away or something? What's the sitch?"

The two men walked back over to where the girls were sitting. Myrddin began to explain. "You see, Buffy, the Slayer was, from the beginning of time, suppose to be male. He would be the chosen one to fight the darkness and the forces of evil. In the early days, the council even began training males. That's where you get most of your dragon-slaying lore from these days. But on a fluke I'm afraid, the Slayer's essence was transferred to a woman at her birth. Her father's kin had been dragon-slayers. And so began the legend of the Slayer....female form, of course."

"I still don't understand...." Willow chimed in.

"Yes, well. It has to do also with soul mates, you see. Legend leads us to believe that the soul in each of us is only one part of a whole. We spend our entire lives searching for the other half, we cannot be complete until then. Several Western Religions believe that when we die, it is not forever. They believe that the soul is reincarnated, and we are destined to live many lives until we learn all the lessons life has to teach us. Unseen forces are at work in us...forces I couldn't even begin to explain...and it is those forces which draw us towards our soul mates. As part of the council, I have studied this theory endlessly and I have come to find a pattern. There are two souls in particular that keep making the journey. Simply put, they can't seem to get it quite right. Each life in turn, they are fated to love each other, and each time they do, an outside force bears down on them, thus dooming their love and sometimes costing them their lives."

"Kind of like a romantic tragedy...like Romeo and Juliet?" Buffy asked

"Yes, yes....that was one reincarnation. Then we have Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Anna Leonowens and King Mongkut of Siam..."

"Oooh, I know that one....'The King and I'." Willow piped in.

"Very good, Willow." Giles congratulated her.

'Watcher's pet.'

'Buffy, Shhhh.'

"Yes. Then we come to Sir Lancelot and Guinevere. Had it all gone according to plan, Arthur was to marry someone else and die of old age. Having never been able to produce children, Sir Lancelot's child with Guinevere, was to succeed the throne by Arthur's passing, thus creating a new line of royalty....and with myself as tutor and mage, bring about the balance of good and evil." He paused to allow them to digest all the information.

"This not happening, of course, set the two souls in motion again. We don't see any accounts of male Slayers because the council simply chose to ignore it. Sir Lancelot was a slayer....a slayer of dragons. Having been banished from the kingdom, he set his course for a monestary and died there of old age. But not before impregnating a village woman. And there we have the first recorded Slayer, by council accounts anyway."

He crossed the room and retrieved the book he and Giles had been looking at earlier. "Modern storytellers would have us believe that Sir Lancelot was a man with long flowing black hair and a beard, and Gwenevere a small, but striking blonde. This, however, is not the case. Sir Lancelot was fair skinned and blonde and Gwenevere, well...look for yourself." He lifted the book and turned it to them. There on the page was a beautiful woman, and an equally beautiful man. You could tell she had a striking figure, even through the garments she wore.....along her shoulders lay a mane of silky red hair.....and her eyes were a piercing green.

"It can't be." Buffy said mostly to herself.

"Yes, child, I'm afraid it is. Guinevere was a redhead....the mark of a witch in those days, and these I'll assume. She stripped her hair of it's color with natural bleaching agents. All the portraits you see of her will show you as much....but I had this drawing done before she met Arthur. She was betrothed to the Heir Apparent, and in order for him to fully accept her, he father thought she should get rid of the red hair. Towns people were very superstitious in those days."

"But she looks like....." Buffy couldn't finish the sentence.

"Yes...yes she does. As I said, it's quiet uncanny." Myrddin paused. "I believe that we've had enough of a history lesson for tonight. Why don't we retire for the evening? I'm sure you're all quite exhausted from the trip. There are bedchambers on the second floor. You may all chose which one you wish to stay in, of course. My room is just down the hall if you need anything. Goodnight." With that, he disappeared through the door.

"Yes, well....come along." Giles snapped them out of their thoughts. "Myrddin is quite right. I'm exhausted, and if we're going to accomplish anything tomorrow, I'd say a good night's rest is in order."

Silently, they followed Giles to the second floor. Having chosen the room closest to the stairs, he said good night to the girls and went into his room.

"Will....do you want to...I mean...."

"Yeah....I don't feel like being alone....this place, as beautiful as it is...it's creeping me out."

Buffy let out a thankful sigh and they chose the room at the other end of the hall. After some exploring, they found the bathroom and got ready for bed. For an old castle, it had every modern convenience. After setting the alarm, Willow left the radio on for some background noise. Both of them crawled in, the night's discussion still playing over in their minds.

"You OK, Will?" Buffy asked after some time. Her friend hadn't said a word since they entered the room.

"Yeah...it's just, weird.....that picture I mean...I felt like I was looking in a mirror."

"I know, I saw it too. So this is what your grandmother meant by you being an important part of the prophesy."

"I guess so...but what was all that stuff about soul mates?....he sure did jump around a lot in the story....I couldn't quite follow exactly what he was talking about a few times..."

"Me either.....maybe he was confused......I don't know." 'You don't think?'


'Nothing....I'm probably wrong anyway.'

Willow turned her head to face Buffy. "What is it?"

"Well, you don't think that....I mean he couldn't be.....was he talking about us?" Buffy offered the last part barely above a whisper. Afraid to form the words she'd been thinking about the whole time.

"No...no way. It's crazy...I mean, we're not even in any kind of relationship." Willow's hand flew up, wishing she'd engage her brain before her mouth sometimes.

"Oh. I see." Buffy's face was all the confirmation she needed to know that she'd struck her. Hard.

"Buffy, I'm sorry...I just..."

"Don't worry about it, Will, it's fine." She rolled over and presented Willow with her back.

"I don't think before I speak sometimes, Buffy....you know that....I didn't mean to hurt your feelings...."

'Goodnight, Will.'

'Come on, don't be like that.....do I have to beg?'

Buffy rolled over and looked at her friend. "Seem to me that I've been the one to do most of the begging around here. I've had to beg you to talk to me, beg you to let me help you....I've even begged you to kiss me. Is it ever not going to be an uphill struggle with you?" Tears began to well in her eyes. "God, Will....I tried everything to get you to stay and not go to your grandmother's....I even told you I loved you and what did you do? You walked out the door! Well, I'm done....understand? I can't do this anymore...can't play games with you...can't try and predict your moods or be careful of what I say so as not to hurt YOUR feelings. Well, I have feelings too you know." Again she rolled over and faced the door.

Both of them laid there for sometime. Each lost in their own thoughts and regrets. Tears streamed silently down each of their faces, not knowing what to do next. A song began to play on the radio:

/ / / We were all wounded in some domestic war / I found you to settle my score / You look like father you felt like mother / My mind told my heart there is no other / And I gave you my soul / And every ounce of control / And I gave you my skin / And my original sin / And I gave you my pride and my side oh my pride / Ain't that enough? / I turned your dreams into lightening / Ain't that enough? / I held the world back for you / Ain't that enough? / I loved you past the point of dying / Ain't that enough of me for you? / / /

'Buffy...I'm sorry...please talk to me.' Nothing...not even movement 'Buffy, come on....I told you I was scared.' Still nothing. 'I know it's a lame excuse.....but it's the truth.'

/ / / Ain't that enough? / I turned your dreams into lightening / Ain't that enough? / I held the world back for you / Ain't that enough? / I loved you past the point of dying / Ain't that enough of me for you? / / /

The words of the song began to permeate Willow's consciousness. She settled down somewhat and began to hear them for what they were. Suddenly, she felt like if she didn't do something to fix this now....it would all slip away from her. Slowly, she reached out in the dark for Buffy's shoulder.....and was shrugged away.

'Don't, Will....just don't.'

'Buffy, please.'

'No, Will...not this time.....I've given you enough of me......I've tried so hard.....' Apparently, the song had invaded Buffy's mind too.

"God, Buffy, I can't take this mind reading thing. I need to hear your voice. Won't you talk to me, please?"

After some time, Willow could protest no longer. She and Buffy both fell into a deep sleep, the effects of their conversation reaching out and touching them deeply.

'Oh, God, Oh, God, Oh, God......what have I done?' "Giles! GILES! Come quick!" Willow screamed out in the early hours of dawn.

He heard her, and was up the stairs two at a time. "Willow....what is it, what's....Dear, God...what's happened."

The scene before him was this: Willow was kneeling at the bedside, holding Buffy's hand. Ordinary in every way, except that Buffy was stark white...her eyes shadowed deep within her face....her hand lifeless in Willow's. Giles walked over to the bed.

"What's happened, Willow? How has this happened?" He couldn't believe his eyes.

A voice, barely above a whisper, spoke from the door. "She tried to sever the link."

"What?" Came from both Giles and Willow.

"Your Slayer, Ripper...she tried to sever the link that binds them.....whatever happened in this room last night, she must have felt it was her only choice." He stood there for a moment, taking in the scene before him before he turned his conversation to Willow. "You have a bond between you, a link to each other's minds. I alluded to as much last night, but apparently, one of you was unable to accept it, and the other has suffered the consequence.....you ARE soul mates, that is a fact.....and meant to fight Arthur together, side by side."

There was no denying it now....no way to talk or reason her way out of it. The implications hit her like a ton of bricks. What had she done? Had she been so harsh last night that she drove Buffy to do something so drastic that the price might very well be her life?

"No child, it wasn't just last night. I'm afraid it was the entire situation. The girl must have felt for a very long time that she wasn't good enough for you in order to damage the link the way she has."

"Myrddin, you needn't make her feel bad. The situation is dire enough already." Giles jumped in to defend her.

"Quite right Ripper, but it is the truth of the situation. I can tell you this, young one, there is only one way to fix this...one way to rectify the situation.....and you know what it is....you just have to look deep enough inside yourself." He paused for a moment and let out a sigh. "Come, Ripper....we have research to do......and your two girls here have a long uphill battle ahead of them."

Giles looked at Willow again. With sadness and resignation in his eyes, he followed the old demon out of the room.

A protest began to form on her lips, but she knew it wouldn't do her any good. She'd done this, and she'd have to fix it. Myrddin was right....the problem was that she didn't know where to begin.

Being, of course, Willow, she made her way over to her bags and fished out her computer. For the next hour, she researched everything she could on telepathic and psychic links between people. She would have eventually figured out all of the information she found, it was all quite logical...but right now she was running on pure emotion.

'So in order to repair the link, I have to get into her mind and see with MY mind's eye the damage and fix it....kind of like rebuilding a brick wall.' "Well, that doesn't seem too difficult." She had no idea.

"We can't just leave them up there...I need to do something, I feel quite useless, Myrddin." Giles was protesting for the umpteenth time.

"I understand, Rupert....I really do. But the damage is done. You would only prove to be a distraction to her. There is nothing we can do but wait." The words came out in a sympathetic tone, meant to soothe, but all they did was strike more fear in the watcher's heart. "If the girl lives up to all the expectations you have of her, it shouldn't take too long. She's very smart." Giles could do nothing but agree.

Willow had been arranging the room to suite her needs. Pulling the curtains closed, she pulled out all the red and black candles she'd brought, red to signify love and black for protection. She figured it couldn't hurt. She had also set up a censer and her own personal mix of incense was burning in it. Carefully, so as not to disturb her, Willow got into bed with Buffy and gathered her into her arms.

When she was sufficiently comfortable, she closed her eyes and began to visualize the task before her. Slowly, the link came into focus. It wasn't severed on the outside, so she'd have to get inside Buffy's head deeper. Carefully, she reached out and touched it, and sent a reverberation through both of them. 'Have to be careful with that....don't want Buffy to feel like she drank a slurpee again.' Guided by intuition, she followed the linkas far as she could....she literally dove into the recesses of her mind....and hit a wall. 'What the......' She shook off the feeling and began to really look around. Opening her mind's eye, she saw before her a large wall, literally. And the link went right through it. 'This is going to be a lot harder than I thought.' Thinking she could go through it, Willow began to feel around, checking the solidity of it. 'Solid as rock.....now what do I do?' Her hand was resting on the wall. 'Oh, Buffy...why won't you let me in? I care for you so much...you're my best friend.' Just then, the wall began to change. Almost immediately it went from solid to an almost Jell-O consistency....then right before her eyes, it disappeared and the link fell just above the ground. 'Cool.'

She followed the link for sometime....she wasn't sure how much time had passed or how many corners she turned. She came upon a large dark corridor. Afraid of falling, she reached out and felt for the wall next to her. Before her eyes, a bright white light formed and she quickly pulled her hand away. 'That was weird.' She noticed figures in the light before she pulled her hand away, so she decided to try again. Cautiously, she reached her hand out and placed only two feather-light fingers on the wall. A scene began to form before her......

Buffy raises her sword to dispatch Angelus, but stays herself when he suddenly gasps loudly and groans in pain. She sees his eyes glow bright red for an instant and go back dark. He looks up at her, but quickly collapses to the floor, crying. Buffy stares down at him, but still holds her sword raised behind her. Angel raises himself back up, his eyes heavy with tears, and looks into her eyes.

Softly, "Buffy?" Sobs. "What's going on?"

She just looks at him, confused but not yet ready to lower the sword. He looks around a bit and gets to his feet.

Looks at her. "Where are we? I-I don't remember."

Finally Buffy realizes that the curse has worked, and she slowly lowers her sword.

Buffy speaks softly. " Angel?"

"You're hurt." He looks at her wound and embraces her tightly. "Oh, Buffy... God." She still isn't completely sure that it's true, but accepts the hug. "I... I feel like I haven't seen you in months." Finally she accepts it, closes her eyes and breathes out a deep sigh. "Oh, my God, everything's so muddled. I..." He holds her even more closely.

She cries into his shoulder and hugs him back. Behind him Acathla lets out a low rumble. Buffy opens her eyes and stares in shock as Acathla's face contorts. His brows angle down, his eyes glow red, his mouth opens grotesquely and the swirling vortex to Hell opens, small at first, but growing steadily in size and emanating a deep, red glow. Buffy lets go of Angel and looks up into his face.

Angel holds her at a short distance. "What's happening?"

She whispers reassuringly to him. "Shh. Don't worry about it."

She brushes her fingers over his lips and across his cheek. She lays her hand on his cheek and kisses him softly. He returns the kiss, and it becomes more passionate. Behind them the vortex has grown to about five feet across and continues to get larger. Buffy breaks off the kiss and looks deeply into Angel's eyes. "I love you."

He whispers back, "I love you."

She touches his lips with her fingers again. "Close your eyes."

She nods reassuringly, and he closes his eyes. She tries hard not to start crying, and kisses him again gently. She steps back, draws back her sword and thrusts it into his chest. His eyes whip open in surprise and pain, and a bright light emanates from the sword. She steps away from him. He reaches out to her and looks down at the sword thrust completely through him. He looks at her imploringly, completely bewildered by this turn of events. She can only stare at the sword protruding from his chest, and slowly steps further back.


Behind him the power of the sword begins to swirl into the vortex. Buffy steps further back, still looking only at the sword in his chest and not into his face. The vortex has enlarged to about twelve feet across, and the two energies begin to interact. Angel still holds out his hand to Buffy. When the vortex finally meets him it suddenly closes into Acathla's mouth without so much as a spark, taking him with it. Buffy stares at the stone demon for a long moment, a light of awareness dawning in her eyes as she truly realizes what she has done, what she has lost.

Willow's hand jerks back, as if in pain. 'Oh, God Buffy...I didn't know....it's was Angel....not Angelus.' Tears form in her eyes. 'I was too late....I didn't know...I'm sorry, Buffy...Oh, God....I'm so sorry.' Just then the corridor lit up to a brilliant purple and Willow had to shade her eyes. As quickly as it came, it subsided and she could see the link trailing through the darkness in front of her.

Gathering her composure, she began her journey again....the image of Angel being sucked into Acathla dancing on the edges of her mind. After what seemed like forever, she came upon a large hall. In the middle was a large dark mass, suspended in the air, and that's where she saw the link end. She got closer to it and realized that this is where the link had been formed....bound directly to her soul. But something was wrong...upon closer inspection, she realized that the link had been attached to the soul by a thread...and the other pieces of it were dangling precariously, sort of like a frayed string.

'Oh, Buffy...you've almost completely cut it.' She reached out to touch it, only to reconsider, remembering the reverberations she'd felt earlier. 'If I can't touch it, I can't fix it...now what?' She fell to her knees, worn out by all that had taken place. The tears began to resurface again....witness to all that had happened.

"Buffy...I need you here...I-I'm sorry I hurt you. You know...after everything I've seen I realize that I can't do this alone..I need you by my side.." She took in a much needed deep breath. "Remember when Angelus held me at the school...I knew you'd come, I knew you'd save me.....I knew you wouldn't let me down.....you've been my link to the outside world...being friends with you has brought me out of my shell...made me come into my own. It wasn't Xander...or Oz....Buffy, it was you, and if I lose you now, I'll lose a part of myself." She wrapped her arms around herself, sure of the words, but not sure how to form them. "You were right, you know. You have given me enough of you...now it's time I gave something in return...no more fear, no more questioning myself and my feelings...my feelings for you...It's been on the edge of my mind for so long it's become as automatic as breathing....and I took it, and you, for granted." She sniffled a little, trying hard to hold herself together. "Buffy, I love you...I love you with all that I have...because you showed me...you taught me how to do it...not to love the man or the woman...but the person inside...the soul."

Suddenly, there was a great tremor.....Willow scrambled to her feet and reached back for the wall, afraid to lose her footing. Instead of the wall, she felt a hand and saw a glimmer of blonde hair before everything went to brilliant white, and then black again.

She wasn't sure how long she'd been laying there. Slowly, she became aware of each part of her body, and her arms wrapped around a slender figure. Cautiously, she peered down at the girl next to her and was met with a lopsided grin.

"Hey." Buffy whispered.

"Hey, yourself." Willow managed to squeeze out as a lone tear fell from her eye.

"Don't cry, Will. I think we've done enough of that to last us a very long time. Don't you?" She smiled at her again.

"I could have lost you...it's my fault....and Angel..I didn't know..."

"I know, Will...but it doesn't matter now. I heard you, you know....every word..it was like I was on the edge of a cliff, and it was your voice that kept me from taking another step."

"Don't leave me again, Buffy...please...." She was crying openly now...her body becoming wracked with sobs.

"Shh....OK...I won't.....Don't cry, Will.....I love you too." 'More than you know.'

'I think I DO know, Buffy.....now.' "The link.....it works....that means I fixed it!.....Yay me!" Willow gave her a little squeeze.

"As much as I'd love to celebrate your victory, Will....I think I'm kinda' hungry."

'Mmmm, hungry for what?'


She gave a little shrug. "Sorry....can't help myself." She planted a tender kiss on Buffy's lips. "Come on...let's go get something to eat.....I wonder how long we've been up here...." Both girls got out of bed and made their way downstairs, arm in arm.

"What? Giles, that's impossible..." Buffy gave her watcher a look of shock.

"I'm afraid it's not, Buffy. You've been up there for five days. It was all I could do not to come up there and see what was going on." He looked at her with concern. "Are you sure you're alright? You both must still be very weak."

"For the last time, Giles, we're fine. But this only leaves us with three days before the prophesy begins." Will looked at him with a mix of reassurance and concern.

"Yes, yes indeed. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and little time to prepare." Myrddin was standing behind Giles. "I suggest we get started right away if you're all up to it." The three of them nodded in agreement. "Very well then. Ripper, I'm sure you'll find the training room sufficient to your needs....you've already set everything up for when Buffy was ready?"

"Yes, quite sufficient I must say. All the modern and archaic weapons I can think of. It'll be a pleasure training with such a supply."

"Good, then Willow and I will be in the tower training." Without another word, he ushered Willow out of the room and up the stairs, and Giles led Buffy down to the basement.

"Come on...you can do it...I know you have it in you. You just have to harness the power..."

"I'm trying Myrddin, I really am."

"You must try to effectively block my attacks with the magic you posses inside of you. Come on now...try again."

For what was probably the tenth time, Myrddin attacked her and she tried to deflect. Suddenly, Buffy appeared before her and Myrddin was aiming a ball of light in her direction.

"Oh no you don't!" Willow pulled her hands together as if to catch the ball and successfully deflected it, sending careening into a wall where it made a nice big black mark. Then Buffy disappeared. "What the?" Willow shook her head as if to get rid of the cobwebs.

"It was an illusion, Willow...Buffy wasn't really standing there. But, the illusion worked, and you successfully deflected the energy ball. Well done." Myrddin gave her a congratulatory look.

'Go me....yeah, I'm bad!' She stood there with a self-satisfied look on her face.

Buffy was battling one of the many demons that had manifested itself in the basement. She was effectively blocking all the punches and defending herself, but she wasn't on the offensive. Suddenly, Willow appeared at the other side of the room and looked around in confusion. Buffy looked over to her and the demon followed her gaze. Immediately he was bearing down on Willow.

"No way, you big green oaf....get away from her!"

The demon didn't listen and was upon Willow almost instantly. Buffy ran over and jumped on his back, pounding into him with the mallet she held in her hand.

"I said..." Smash "Get away" Crash "From her." Pound, pound, "NOW!"

Now drawing it's attention to the leach on it's back, the demon swung around and backed into a wall, smashing Buffy into it. She recovered quickly and with a well placed roundhouse kick, she sent the demon flying to the other side of the room. Not wasting any time, she grabbed a nearby sword and cut it's head off in one swoop. The demon melted away into the cracks of the floor and, you guessed it, Willow disappeared.

"What? Where'd she go? Will?" Buffy turned around in a circle, not sure what to do next.

"Yes, well...I believe that's what Myrddin meant by incentive." Giles pointed out to her. "It was an illusion, Buffy....incentive to put you on the offensive." He smiled at her.

"Oh, I see.....hey, that was sneaky, Giles." She furrowed her brow and gave him her best reprimanding look.

"I can assure you I had nothing to do with it." He removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, chuckling softly to himself.

She crossed her chest with her arms. "I'm sure."

Their training commenced much in the same way over the course of the next three days, each learning and perfecting new techniques. Willow becoming a sort of expert in magical healing, deflection, energy ball formation and so on. Buffy becoming a master of the sword, scathe, crossbow, ball and chain, and perfecting her staking technique with stakes as small as three inches long up to three feet across. They had been so apt, there was still a full day left before the demon's awakening.

"So what now?" Buffy asked

"Well, there really isn't anything left to teach either of you. I suggest you pack your things and prepare for the journey ahead." Both Willow and Buffy gave Myrddin a questioning look. "You will meet the demon on the active Hellmouth." He said in a-matter-of-fact way.

They both looked at Giles and he guiltily looked out the window. "Yes, well." He straightened up and removed his glasses to clean them. "Shall we?"

The trip back to Sunnydale was, thankfully, made in Myrddin's private plane. It took about four hours, which left them all plenty of time to unpack and rest up for tomorrow's events.

"Giles, I don't think it would be such a hot idea if we went back to your place. I mean, if Xander finds out about this, then...." Buffy offered.

"Yes, yes, you're quite right. As much as he can be a help sometimes, well..."

"We could stay at my house. My parents are still in Chicago." Willow responded.

"Yes, good idea. Let's go then, I'll call for a car." Giles was off to the closest payphone at the airport.

They arrived at the Rosenberg residence and settled in. After ordering a pizza theysettled down in the den for some TV.

"Well, I for one am entirely wiped out. I think I'll retire and leave you two to watch that mind-sucking machine." He rose to go.

"Giles, do I have to remind you that you OWN one of those mind-sucking machines?" Buffy chided.

"Yes, um, well....goodnight, ladies." He smiled and ascended the stairs for a much-needed slumber.

"So," Willow looked down at her hands.

"Yeah, so." Buffy responded.

"I'm kinda' beat, too. Why don't we head upstairs to sleep?" She looked up at Buffy.

Buffy considered saying something else, but thought the better of it. "OK."

Willow rose first and put her hand out to the blond perched on her couch. It was a harmless gesture, but when their hands connected, they both shuddered a bit from the contact. As they ascended the stairs, Buffy recalled a hundred different times they'd done this....gone to Willow's room. But this time it was different.

They walked in and began to dig through their bags, each searching for pajamas. Willow looked over at her, preoccupied with thoughts that didn't involve clothing. As if her feet had a mind of their own, she crept over to the Slayer and wrapped her arms around her waist from behind. Buffy jumped a little from the sudden contact then let out the breath she wasn't aware she was holding.

"Hey." Willow whispered.

Buffy chuckled a bit. "Hey yourself."

Willow's arms came up in front of Buffy and began to unbutton her blouse slowly, methodically, as if she were peeling away the final layers of what was between them. Finally down to the last button, Willow reached up and pulled the shirt off of her. She wrapped her arms around her again, running her hands over the smooth tight skin of Buffy's stomach and lightly across her chest. Buffy let out a little shudder and leaned back a little more, aware of the other girl's body pressing against hers.

Buffy took Willow's hands in her own and turned around to face her. Slowly she reached for the sweater she was wearing and, realizing it was the one she gave her for her last birthday, smiled. She pulled the sweater off of her and stepped in for more contact. Her hands trailed slowly down the redhead's arms to her shoulders, sending another shiver through both of them.

"Wow." Willow breathed.

"Mmm...I'd have to emphatically agree." She smiled back at her.

Without any other words, Buffy leaned in for a kiss. Upon contact she exhaled, then inhaled again...realizing maybe for the first time, exactly what Willow smelled like. Willow let out a little moan and took the initiative to deepen the kiss. Soon they were exploring each other's bodies as if for the first time. Somehow they wound up on the bed....Buffy trailing kisses down the middle of her chest and to her stomach, stopping only to unhook the thin piece of cloth barring her access. She reached over and began to unbutton Willow's jeans...with each button undone, she planted a kiss on the newly exposed skin.

Unable to contain herself any longer, Willow reached out for her and switched positions. Now on top of a very confused slayer, she leaned in and kissed the nape of her neck, with some force...nipping at her pulse point. Buffy couldn't believe how good it felt and pulled her in closer. Breaking contact, Willow was propped up on her knees in front of her, drinking in the sight of her lover....her soul mate. She reached for the waistband of Buffy's pants and pulled them off in one motion.....and smiled that seductive smile.

Buffy reached up and hooked her hand behind Willows neck and pulled her in for a kiss. Before long, each kiss grew more passionate, their tongues reaching out and dancing with each other in the darkness. The Slayer lay completely covered by the body on top of her, unable to remember ever having this much desire inside of her for anyone or anything.

Willow shifted and ground down against her as if by instinct and Buffy growled a little at the newly discovered sensation. Both opened their eyes at the same time, noticing each other's erratic breathing and how their eyes had darkened in shade. Reaching down to remove the last bits of fabric that separated them, Willow allowed her hand to linger and then brought it up slowly.


'Mmmmm, feels good?' She looked down at the woman beneath her. 'I love you, Buffy....so much.'

'I love you too Will, more than anything...but....there was this hip thing happening a second ago...' She blushed.

'Oh, yeah.' She wriggled a little bit again. 'Like this?'


'Almost coherent, Buffy....almost.' Willow grinned.

'Oh, yeah?'

'Uh, oh.'

Buffy's hands reached up and pulled her into another passionate kiss. Her hands trailed down to the hackers waist and pulled her down as her own hips rose up to meet her. Willow moaned a little bit, shocked as well at the feelings inside of her. Their breathing increase with each movement...not wanting to let it end, yet each knowing they were drawing closer.

In unison, they let out a groan, peppered with both pleasure and a much needed release. They lay there trying to catch their breath. Finally, Willow rolled off of her, breaking just enough contact so she could gather her up in her arms. Soon, from sheer exhaustion, they both fell into a blissful sleep.

################## #
# ##################

They got up early and got dressed....something they forgot to do last night. Making their way down to the kitchen they found Giles with the morning paper, drinking a cup of tea.

"Morning, Giles." Buffy chirped.

"Yes, um...good morning, indeed." Shades of red began to rise up in his neck and settled in his cheeks.

Both girls looked at him, embarrassed at the implications. "Giles..I..uh...we...um." Buffy offered.

"Yes, well....if you'll both have breakfast and get dressed quickly, we have a lot of work to do today." He got up and exited the kitchen rather quickly, mumbling something about earmuffs.

"Oh, no...he....he heard us?" Willow looked a lot paler than usual.

Both girls looked at each other in shock and then broke out into a fit of laughter.

"Well, at least we don't have to figure out a way to tell him." It was a weak offer, but Buffy couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Great....he probably thinks we're both nymphomaniacs now.." Willow was very disturbed.

Buffy came up behind her and gave her a little squeeze. "Probably not." She nibbled on Willow's ear, "Then again, why disappoint him?" She ran her hands down the redhead's thighs.

'Buffy! You're bad. Bad, bad, bad...'

'I know. You love me though.' She came out from behind her and gave her a peck on the cheek.


They ate, got dressed, and joined Giles in the den to go over their notes. As night fell, Buffy and Willow went on a routine patrol through the cemetery.

"Nothing." Buffy sounded disappointed.

"Yeah....they must know something's up toni----AH! Buffy!"

Without warning, a dark figure grabbed Willow from behind, knocked Buffy to the ground and took off towards the high school.


Buffy quickly got to her feet and looked in the direction she last saw her. Nothing. It was like they disappeared. What began as a jog turned into a full sprint as she rounded the corner and spotted the high school just a block away. Buffy stopped short in front of it, unable to believe her eyes. There, at the entrance, was Willow and she was being held by Angelus.

"Buffy..it's a trick! It's not him..." She managed to get out before the figure tightened his grip.

"Long time no see, lover. As much as I'd like to make with the small talk, I have work to do....now, if you'll excuse me...." His free hand shot up and an energy ball came barreling at her. Rolling away, it missed her by inches and turned the car behind her into a pile of dust.

It was distraction enough for him to get inside with Willow.

'Nope....definitely not Angelus....but enough like him to distract me.' She thought to herself.

She worked he way around the outside of the school until she was at the window to the chemistry class. An image of Faith flashed in her mind...when she'd drawn the little heart with the stake in it on the window. Shaking it off, she climbed in carefully and made her way to the library. She was sure that's where they'd be.

Peering in, she saw Willow tied to a chair next to what looked like Giles' old office. The library was in various stages of disarray....the most destruction being in the middle and lessened as it got to the fringes. The demon was on his knees, maybe five feet away from her. He was in a circle, arms at his sides, chanting something. Willow looked up and noticed her in the window. She tried to bring Buffy's attention to something next to him. There, on the floor lay the most magnificent sword she'd ever seen. It had a jewel encrusted handle, and seemed to be made out of pure gold. It shimmered in the light cast by the fire in the center of the circle. Buffy nodded her head in acknowledgement and ducked down again.

Willow noticed a book nearby and kicked at it, distracting demon-Angelus. He turned his head and it was that moment that Buffy decided to run into the room and take a defensive stance in front of him.

"Hello again, lover. I thought I took care of you before? Silly of me to underestimate you, of course." He slowly began to work his way towards the sword. "Trust me...it won't happen again." Swiftly he picked it up and sliced vertically in her direction.

"Remember this, love? Well this time, it'll be your belly they find it in." He attacked and she dove away towards the cage. Feeling around behind her, she picked up the first thing she could get her hands on. Scrambling to her feet, she brought the weapon in front of her and realized that it was a replica of what the demon was holding...only in silver.

"Well, this does nothing but put an interesting twist on things, don't you think?" He smiled, and shifted into game face.

She thrusts at him with her sword, but he parries and swings around with a thrust of his own, which she also parries. They clash blades several times, and Buffy ducks a wide arcing swing from him. They face off again and trade one thrust and parry after another. Angelus tries another arcing swing from above, but she easily ducks and sidesteps out of the way. They face off again in front of Willow and trade a few more blows. Willow puts her foot out in front of him and he falls to the ground. This gives Buffy enough time to run over and cut Willow loose.

Willow scrambles to the side and begins a chant of her own. Several energy balls form in her upturned palms...each chant making them grow stronger. Just as Angelus is about to deliver another blow to Buffy, a ball shoots out from Willow's hand and strikes the sword, temporarily blinding him. Each ball in turn shoots in his direction....leaving him to deflect each in turn. Instead of them being deflected, they begin to act like paddleballs, coming back at him as he strikes each one away.

While Buffy catches her breath, Willow begins yet another chant. This time her hands begin to glow with a yellow light and her eyes are emanating a deep blue light that stretches across the entire room. By this time, Angelus has dispatched with all the energy balls and turns his attention to Buffy again. He strikes out at her with the sword but she easily deflects it. Each of them strikes at the same time and they come face to face. Angelus uses his height to his advantage and throws her across the room, turning on Willow now.

Having stretched her hands out in front of her, she delivers the yellow light to Angelus full force. He is struck in the chest and thrown against the cage and then to the floor. Willow runs over to Buffy who is trying to shake off the last blow she was dealt. Without thinking twice, Willow grabs the silver sword from the floor and marches over to where Angelus is kneeling.

He shakes his head and looks up upon her approach. Only, it's not Angelus.

"Willow.....what's happened? Oh, God....Will...It hurts....." It was Oz.

She stops dead in her tracks. "Oz...no...how did you......How did you get here?" She lowers the sword a bit, afraid to trust what she's seeing.

"I don't know...."

Buffy reacted. "Willow, NO! It's a trick...."

He morphed into wolf form and tackled her. She dropped the sword and they fell in a pile. Buffy rushed over and grabbed the sword, looking for a clean shot. Willow brought her knee up full force and planted it firmly in his groin. He recoiled in pain and Buffy was able to at least nick him before he could scamper under the table. A deafening silence fell on the library.

"Wha...where'd he go? Stay behind me, Will..."

Suddenly, a great rumble began to grow from under the table. It quickly spread throughout the library and before them stood a knight in full clad armor.

"I have come for you my love..." He pointed towards Willow, then turned his attention to Buffy, "And you, Sir Lancelot, shall feel the wrath of the King you have betrayed!"

"Buffy...do you trust me?!" Willow screamed over the noise.


"Do you trust me?!"

"Yes! Of course I do!"

"When I say now.....swing!"

Buffy deflected the blows Arthur threw at her the best she could. Meanwhile, Willow stood a few feet behind her, with her arms stretched out wide. Arthur swung and missed. Buffy was able to bring the sword down hard on his armored back. It didn't even make a dent.

"Come on Will, I don't know how much longer I can hold out...."

Again they were sparring. Slowly, Buffy began to realize he was losing power and his down slices were loosing their aggression. In a daring move, Buffy advanced on him and pushed him back about five feet. He came out stronger than ever. 'He tricked me!' She stumbled and it was all he needed to bring the golden sword down and cut her arm. She screamed out in pain. He stood there, laughing at her.

"You think you can beat me, you pathetic fool?"

'Buffy....get ready.'

'OK Will.'

She felt Willow come up behind her and grab the sword underneath Buffy's hand.

'One, two, three...NOW'

They swung the sword in unison and a great white light shot forth from the tip. Swinging right to left then left to right they effectively sliced him in two, without even touching him.

"The sword Buffy....destroy his sword!" Willow called out from behind her.

She ran over to where the demon Arthur was squirming on the ground and grabbed the sword. She placed it on the table and with a downward strike she shattered it into a thousand pieces. The demon screamed out in pain and exploded. When the smoke cleared, all she could see was a puddle of steaming gray slime.

"We did it, Will.....we won......" Buffy dropped the silver sword and grabbed her arm. She turned around and saw that Willow had collapsed on the ground. Immediately, she ran over to her.

"Willow...WILLOW!.....God, don't do this to me, Will, not now." She gathered her up and was smoothing the hair away from her face. "Come on, Will, wake up....we won.....we did it...together....." She was crying and holding her, rocking back and forth.


"Will, don't you leave me, damn it!......we've been through too much for you to just give up now. Come on!" She was sobbing uncontrollably.


Giles came rushing in. "Buffy..Buffy where...." He spots them on the floor and rushes over. "Dear, God, what's happened?"

"She won't wake up Giles.....make her wake up...please." She looks imploringly at him, her tears making a trail down her cheeks and dripping into Willow's hair.

Giles reaches out for Willow's hand. "She has no pulse, Buffy.....she's....she's gone." He removed his glasses and put his hand lightly on her shoulder. "No....anyone but her...." A lone tear fell from his eye.

"No, Giles...that's not good enough! You have to do something.....not after everything ...everything we've been through...we won, Will.....do you hear me? We won....." She hugged her closer now, unable to accept what he'd said. "She can't be...Giles she can't....I love you, Will......I wish it was me....I'd do anything....please, why couldn't it have been me."

A brilliant white light emanated from the hallway, and the doors swung open. He was wearing a royal blue robe, with stars, moons and suns embroidered in it. He carried a staff and at the tip of it was a beautiful orb. His beard reached almost down to his knees and his eyes were pale yellow, but it was Myrddin just the same.

"These things happen child, no one can predict them. No one knows exactly what we'd sacrifice for love." His tone was soothing and warm.

"But she can't go....We just found each other....I can't lose her....not now.....It's not fair."

"You knew what to do. You listened to your heart and you knew. So did she."

"But I love her.....she's so young...."

"In my time, it was an honor to give your life for the one you loved...do you wish to dishonor her?"

It was a loaded question. "No...but I want to give her a second chance....she doesn't deserve this....she deserves so much more..."

"Do you love her with everything you have to offer...and then more besides?"

"What?" She couldn't quite place where she'd heard that before.

"I said, do you love her with everything you have to offer....and then more besides?"

"I'm no expert on matters of the heart....but if she asked, I would offer, and if I didn't have what she asked for, I'd find a way to give it to her....simply because it's what her heart desired." Buffy made the statement simply, truthfully...as if there were no other truth she knew but the words that she spoke.

Myrddin smiled. "You are smart child, smart indeed. I can see the love in your eyes, the purity in your words and the conviction you hold in your heart. I offer you this: You know what to do. You know how to heal her and make her whole again. Show her-give her-everything. It's all there...right INSIDE of you." With that, he simply vanished.

Buffy looked down at her. "Show her...everything....inside of me...inside of me...inside."

She closed her eyes and followed the link deep into the center of Willow's soul. Mentally grabbing onto it with both hands, she felt the reverberations coarse through her. Getting a good grip she yanked as hard as she could. The minute she pulled she felt a sort of mental slap vibrate through out her entire body.

'Come on, Will....wake up.'


'I know you're in there....get up...I swear, if you leave me, I'll never forgive you.'


She grabbed onto the link again. With an even greater force than she knew she possessed, she yanked on it again...this time, the slap sending her to her knees.

'Willow, damn it....'


'I can't do this alone. Who's gonna let me copy off of them in Walsh's class? Who's gonna save my ass with the floating pencil when the vamps attack all at once? Who's gonna bandage my wounds and chase the monsters from under my bed? You're a part of me, Will....If you leave me, I die....I can't survive without you.....two halves make a whole...remember?......you complete me....I'm nothing without you.....nothing.'


'I've waited my whole life for you, Willow Rosenberg, and I'm not going to give you up now. Do you understand?.....I....damn it....I deserve you. I deserve to have you in my life....I earned you and nothing is gonna take you away from me now. NOTHING!'


'Will...Oh, God...Will.' "Willow...open your eyes...come on, you can do it. Open your eyes for me." Buffy was looking down at her...waiting for the slightest movement. Giles could do nothing but hold his breath and witness the scene before him.

Slowly, almost sleepily, she began to stir. Then she squeezed Buffy's hand. It wasn't much but it was a start. "Look at me, Will. Open your eyes....."

She blinked once, twice.....then Buffy was able to look deep into a sea of emerald green.

"Hey," She managed to whisper.

A sob escaped from Buffy's throat and the tears began to flow again. She smiled down at her. "Hey yourself."

They made their way up the path. They could hear music coming from inside the house they were approaching. Not wanting to walk in just yet, they stood outside the window and looked in.

"Bloody hell, boy. You know I can't bite you." Spike was sneering at Xander. "Would you untie me already....even dogs are allowed a longer leash than this." In his hand he held a rope that was maybe three feet long. One end attached to his neck, the other to the doorknob of the closet.

"I don't think I like him very much. He irritates me." Anya offered from the couch.

"Sod off, you! Damn vengeance demons...never know their place....if I ever get out of this, I'm gonna....I'm gonna..." Spike shot her a nasty look.

"You're gonna what? Close your eyes and wish really, REALLY hard that you could bite me?" She smiled at him. Xander tried to contain himself, but he had to turn away so Spike couldn't see him chuckling.

Buffy looked at Giles, then to Willow. "Yeah....I'd say we're home."

Willow nodded her head in agreement and smiled her patented Willow-smile. "Be it ever so humble."

"Hmm, yes. I quite agree." Giles added before putting his key in the lock and opening the door.

"So nothing, huh?" Xander asked for the hundredth time.

"No Xand....no vamps, no tramps, no imps, no nada." Buffy smiled.

"Oh, well...at least you got to ski. Too bad you cut your arm when you fell off the lift though. I thought Slayers were supposed to be graceful?" He gave her a sly grin.

"They are...I was just....distracted." She gave him a little pout.

"I see...spotted another flavor of the week, huh?" Xander grinned at her. "Was he buff, Buff?"

"Xander, don't you think it's getting quite late? You should be making your way home sometime this evening...no?" Giles interjected.

"Yeah...wow...look at the time...." He got up from the couch and made his way to the door. "Hey, Will....how about I walk you home? It's on my way."

She looked up from her position on the couch. "No thanks, Xander. My parents are out of town and I'm staying with Giles until Buffy and I can get back into the dorms."

"Well, suit yourself....I for one, am camping out under the stars....the Xander Harris tradition. Only this year, I'll have company.....ready, Anya?" She walked over to the door and followed him out. "Night, all."

"Well, I'm quite tired myself. I think I'll turn in." Giles got up from his chair and put his tea cup on the counter. "Good night, ladies."

Hey, Giles....wait a sec." Buffy called out. "I have an early Christmas present for you." She looked in Willow's direction and gave her a knowing smile.

"That's not necessary, Buffy. We can open them all together, tomorrow."

"Really, Giles....we insist." Willow gave him an innocent smile.

He walked over and retrieved the package Buffy had produced from behind her back. He pulled off the ribbon and the paper. Then he opened the box. His cheeks turned an interesting shade of red. "Yes, well....I see. A practical gift, one would assume."

In the box was a pair of tweed earmuffs.

He smiled at them and went off to bed.

"I didn't think I'd ever see him turn that color again......Rainbow Giles....distant, distant cousin of Rainbow Bright." Buffy smiled over at her friend.

Willow crept over to the other side of the couch where Buffy was sitting. "I have an early Christmas present for you, Buffy...." She said in a sing-song voice.

Her eyes grew wide. "What? What, what, what...come on, Will, what is it? You know how impatient I can be!" Buffy had her by the shoulders and was shaking her with each word.

"All right....but you have to close your eyes...." Willow gave her an innocent smile.

After a bit of pouting, Buffy closed her eyes. Willow got them both off the couch and led her into the bedroom they were sharing. Willow pulled her to the middle of the room.

"OK, Buffy....open your eyes."

She opened them slowly and first noticed the red and green candles everywhere and the soft light they cast on the room. Looking around a little more, she saw that there was green garland on the walls and a little Christmas tree on the dresser, right next to a miniature Menorah. She was about to say something then she noticed something hanging from the ceiling. Actually, she noticed a lot of something's hanging there.

"Will?" Buffy gave her a questioning look.

"It's mistletoe....well, actually....it's A LOT of mistletoe. Do you like it?"

"I love it...but there's one little problem..." Buffy looked at her seriously.

"What?" The redhead's eyebrows arched at the thought she'd forgotten something.

Buffy leaned in for a long lingering kiss. After a few moments she broke away and looked deep into her eyes. "I never need an excuse to kiss you. Ever. No spells, or mistletoe or special occasion." She reached her hand out and touched her cheek. "It comes as natural to me as breathing....." She smiled.

"Aw, Buffy.....that's..."

"Yeah, I know....again with the cheese factor." Both girls giggled. "I hope you like cheese, Will....I certainly have more than enough to go around."

"Absolutely.....I would have to say that Buffy cheese is my favorite cheese of all."

They kissed some more. Neither one in a rush. They knew they had time.

'Merry Christmas, Buffy.'

'Merry Christmas, Red.'

He peered in the window, taken by the sight they presented. The Slayer and the witch. They were quite a pair. He turned to his companion. "They're meant to be, you know."

"I know."

They were kissing in the middle of the room. Soft music came from the radio on the night table.

"Myrddin wasn't kidding when he said he needed a big favor. It's not every day you find a 1400 year old wizard on your doorstep." He looked at his companion again. "Something bothering you?"

"I get that it was meant to be, and I have no complaints about that. I still can't figure out why he wanted to use our memories though......you think it helped?" He looked up at his friend, and stood there in contemplative silence.

"Just look for yourself." He waved his hand towards the window.

They had made their way over to the bed now. Willow reached out to cup Buffy's face, the love in her eyes could be clearly seen...even from where they were standing.

"What ever happened at the library must have been something else."

"Come on. I think we've seen enough. Don't you?" He stuck his hands in his pockets, waiting for a response.

He gave one last look in the window. If they stood there any longer it would definitely be an invasion of privacy. "As Willow goes......so does my nation." He gave a heavy sigh, and they walked away into the night together. Both realizing, maybe for the first time, what it was exactly they'd lost.

He crouched down next to his companion, both watching the fight ensue nearby.

"What do you think?"

"I think they can handle it. You?"

"Yeah, but I have a funny feeling about this one." He motioned to the masked figure currently on the wrong end of a high kick. "It's unnerving. He's human but he's strong. I recognize the scent he's putting off but I just can't put my finger on it."

He glanced up at the dark-haired man, then turned his attention back to the fight. "Yet, she had a bad-ass Wicca to fight next to her, so, there's an upside."

They watched the fight continue and Willow appeared from behind a tree. She chanted some words, raised her hands in the air, and swiftly planted an energy ball at the feet of Buffy's opponent. The fight stopped, Buffy turned to Willow in surprise, and the opponent took that opportunity to high tail it out of there through the bushes.

"I don't like it, Oz. He's working for someone . . or with someone which is worse. I can't fight the feeling that it's not over yet." He brought his hand up to his chin as if in contemplation.

Buffy and Willow exchanged some dialogue they couldn't hear, then headed off in the direction of the dorms.

Both remained in the bushes until the two girls walked out of sight. "I think it's safe now. We should go."

No answer.

He rose to his feet and his companion glanced up at him. "Come on, you can perfect your brooding skills on the ride back to LA."

"It's not over yet. We should stick around."

"If you insist. After all, you're the expert on lurking."

"...the point is that I was handling it. I didn't need your light show to bail me out!"

"Buffy, you were getting your ass kicked out there. I was only trying to help."

They walked into the dorm room, Willow flipped on the lights and Buffy stomped over to her side of the room and tossed her bag into the closet. It had been a month since they'd faced Arthur and won.

"Of the two of us, which one is the Slayer here? I can handle myself and my slaying, I don't need you momming me. Last time I looked, this job wasn't opening up."

"I was only trying to help. It looked like you were in trouble so I ..."

"Jumped in with your Samantha routine."

"That wasn't very nice."

"THAT was the truth."

Willow got up off the bed and headed for the door. "I really don't need this right now..." She opened the door and slammed it behind her.

She wasn't sure where she was heading as long as it was away from her. Things had gone seriously downhill since Christmas and neither one of them could figure out why. It wasn't all bad all the time, but each one felt like the other was on a different page sometimes.

Willow found herself at The Grotto. 'May as well have some coffee. I don't think I'll be going to sleep anytime soon.' She walked in, ordered, and sat down at a nearby couch.


She looked up and saw him. 'I really don't need THIS right now.' "Jeff." She had to admit to herself, he looked good except for the shiner he was sporting under his left eye. "What happened to you?"

He walked around the couch and sat next to her. "Two hand touch football with the guys. Someone has to explain the rules to them." He shrugged and gave her a sheepish grin. "I haven't seen you around lately. How have you been?"

"Good, I've been good. Keeping busy with classes and the computer lab."

"Willow ...I just wanted to apologize for the way I acted last time I saw you. It wasn't me, really, and I feel really bad that I made you cry."

"Forget it, Jeff. It's over ...I'm over it, really."

"No, I need to explain. See, Veruca and I, well, we had something. I knew she was ...you know, grrr, but it didn't matter to me. I should have kept a closer eye on her. If I had then maybe..."

Willow's eyes went wide with surprise. "Wow, you knew? But it's not your fault. Veruca was responsible for her own actions, not you, and Oz was responsible for his."

He smiled. "How'd you get so smart?"

"I had some help." Her mind drifted to Buffy and the fight they just had. "Listen, I should get going. It's late and I have a class at nine tomorrow." She rose to leave.

"Let me walk you back. It's the least I can do since I was so horrible to you."


Buffy looked out the window again. Willow had been gone only an hour, but she was worried none the less. She knew what lurked out there in the darkness, probably better than anyone.

She'd been feeling strange this past month. She was more sensitive than usual to anyone helping her fight the good fight. She noticed that every time a fight ended and a vamp was dust at her feet, she could still feel it there, like it was lingering and didn't want to give up.

She also wasn't sure why she freaked out on Willow like that. She'd only tried to help the way she did a thousand times before. Now Buffy felt guilty for driving her away and making her leave.

They approached the door and Willow pulled out her key. She hesitated and Jeff noticed it. "What's wrong?"

"Hmm? Nothing. I had a fight with Buffy earlier and I'm sure she's still in there and ..."

"You don't have to go in if you don't want to. We can sit and talk ..."

"I don't know ..."

"Come on ...what could it hurt?" Without waiting for an answer, he ushered her away to the lounge.

One hour later.

"...she just doesn't want my help anymore. I don't know what to do."

Willow had explained more or less, the problem she was having with Buffy. Avoiding all the vampire and prophecy stuff, she did a pretty good job of it.

"She's crazy not to want you around to help her all the time. If you were my best friend, I'd never let you out of my sight."

"That's sweet, Jeff." A thoughtful look washed across her face. "Maybe it wasn't such a great idea for us to room together after all. We have opposing personalities, she's messy and I like order, she loves to cut loose and I love to sit and read a good musty old book. Totally different." She sniffled and wiped a threatening tear from her eye.

"You could be right. Maybe you two just need some time apart. Chris and I decided not to room together ...best idea in the world. He just can't seem to keep his dirty socks on his own lamp." She chuckled a bit. "Yeah, you think it's funny ...do you have any idea what warm week-old gym socks smell like?" He crinkled up his nose to demonstrate the point.

Her mood lightened a little. "Thanks, Jeff. I really needed a laugh."

He put his hand on hers. "You should really do that more often. You have a great smile, you know."

She glanced down and noticed his hand. 'Now how did that get there?' She felt the color rise in her cheeks and tried to pull her hand away. "Jeff, I don't think this is such a good idea..."

He leaned in. "Do you know how cute you are when you get nervous?" He hesitated a moment then leaned in some more, just brushing her lips with his. "I think you're beautiful, Willow." He kissed her again with more determination this time. "And I intend to show you just how beautiful you are ..." The sentence was broken by yet another lingering kiss. It was passionate, desperate ...sensual.

Willow gasped at the invasiveness of his lips. Definitely not like kissing Buffy. Buffy was softer and more gentle. Not like Oz either ...he had more stubble. Suddenly, she realized what was happening. 'Kissing Jeff, kissing Jeff.....I can't be kissing Jeff!' She pushed him away at arm's length. "I can't ..."

"But you just did. Didn't you like it?" He was puzzled.

"Yes ...no, I mean, I can't. I'm ...involved with someone." She rose to go and he rose with her.

"Willow, wait... .please don't go." He reached out and touched her shoulder. "We were just getting started." He looked at her with a gleam in his eye.

She couldn't think ...couldn't respond. It was like she was crazy-glued to that spot and not even an earthquake was going to make her budge.

He took the opportunity to kiss her again. This time when she gasped, he took it as an invitation to deepen the kiss. He reached up and let his hand get lost in her silky hair. After a few seconds, he pulled her in closer and enveloped her in his arms.

As soon as she moved, she realized again what she was doing. She allowed him to pull her in and then suddenly planted her knee snuggly in his groin. He immediately fell to the floor and doubled over in pain.

"I don't know what you think your doing, but you won't be doing it again, mister!" She stormed off to her room.

He could do nothing but curse under his breath and try not to move.

She crept into the room, hoping that after all this time, Buffy was sound asleep. No such luck.

Buffy looked up when she heard the door open. "Hey."

Willow jumped a little at the sound of the Slayer's voice but didn't respond. She walked over to her bed and sat down with her back to Buffy and put her head in her hands.


'... .'

She got up and crept over to the bed and sat down behind the redhead.

'Come on, Will. I'm sorry.'

'... .'

"Damn it. Don't shut down on me, not again." Buffy reached out and touched her shoulder.

She bent a little under the Slayer's touch. All the words swirling around in her head were trying to force their way to the surface but she wasn't sure she wanted them to.

"Hey." Buffy tried again.

Willow let out a sigh. 'Hey, yourself.'

"No cheating, Will." Willow huffed a little at her choice of words. "Turn around and talk to me. I want to look into those beautiful green eyes when I grovel for your forgiveness."

She turned around slowly, unsure if she was really able to face her.

Buffy quickly enveloped her in a hug. She began to rub her back soothingly and play with her hair. "I'm so sorry, Will. My mouth runs away from me sometimes. I didn't mean what I said before. I wish I could take it back."

She couldn't take it. "Buffy I ...I'm sorry too, I didn't mean to..." Her voice caught in her throat.

Buffy pulled away to face her. "No, it was my fault. I never should have attacked you the way I did. You were only trying to help." Buffy looked at her questioningly. 'Something's different.' She leaned in and sniffed her shirt. "Will, you smell different. You smell like ...you smell like a guy!"

'Great, now she's a bloodhound.' Willow looked at her and couldn't deny it. She also couldn't bring herself to say anything yet.

Buffy saw the guilty look on her face and wasn't sure how to take it. "Will?"

"Jeff." She whispered.

Buffy couldn't believe what she was hearing. "What about Jeff?" She quickly got to her feet.

"I went to the Grotto ...I only wanted coffee ...he was there ...we talked and he ...made a pass at me here in the lounge. It happened before I knew it was happening! I didn't mean to do it, I swear. Before I knew it he was kissing me and ...and ..." She broke down and cried.

Buffy stood there for a few moments with her mouth open. "He what?! Did he hurt you . .did he, I mean ...he didn't ..."

"No, he just kissed me. Twice." She finally looked up and saw Buffy's expression. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to. He was being so nice ...a-and he apologized for everything he said...I didn't want to ...Buffy, please say something."

A few moments passed and Buffy broke out of her silence. She looked calm. Too calm. "I'll kill him."

Before she knew what was happening, Willow watched as Buffy became a blur running out the door.

"She looks a little miffed."

The were watching Buffy go to town on the masked opponent again. He got a few sucker punches in, but he soon found himself on the business end of a right-hook. He stumbled back a little dazed.

He looked over at his companion. "Still the king of under-statement."

"Long arduous hours of practice." He dead-panned.

Willow ran up the path and noticed Buffy fighting. "Buffy, be careful!"

Buffy turned at the sound of her voice and the figure jumped her from behind. They wrestled on the ground a little. He was on top of her and she brought up her foot to kick him back, but not before grabbing the ski mask and pulled it off. He fell backwards into the bushes but quickly recovered and was on his feet again.

Buffy got up and looked over at him in shock. "I can't believe it."

Willow ran over to where Buffy was standing and stopped cold in her tracks. "Jeff?"

He was crouched in a defensive stance and breathing heavily. He looked over to the redhead. "She doesn't deserve you, Willow. She's not good enough for you." He raised his hand in a beckoning motion.

She didn't know what was happening. She was walking slowly towards Jeff, unable to stop herself.

Buffy shook herself out of her reverie. 'Magic? Jeff knows the dark mojo? ' She quickly advanced on him and tackled him to the ground gaining the upper hand by getting on top of him.

He held her at arms length. "You don't want to fight me." He looked into her eyes. "You know she belongs with me."

Willow saw the fighting stop and saw Buffy freeze under his gaze. 'Two can play at that game.' She chanted a few words and suddenly Buffy was flung back off of him and at her feet. "He's using magic, Buffy. It's his eyes. He has will-bending contacts in. I've read about them but ...man, he must have paid a fortune for those!"

"Gotcha,' Will. Be right back." She advanced on him again. He'd scrambled to his feet and was ready for her. He rushed her but she side-stepped easily. He turned around and tried for a left hook but she ducked and slammed him on the back of his head as hard as she could.

Willow heard her make contact and saw two green sparks fly from his eyes. She chanted, raised her arms, and a red spark flew from her hands to where she'd seen the contacts land. As soon as the spark hit the contacts a large explosion occurred and both Buffy and Jeff were flung backward from the blast. Willow ran to Buffy's side. "Buffy, are you okay?"

She sat up. "Fine, Will. Remind me NEVER to make you angry." She looked over at the fire in the grass. "I don't want to find myself on the business end of one of those."

Jeff was kneeling in front of the fire. He got up and turned around to face the girls. "Are you nuts? Do you have any idea what I had to go through to get those?" He put his hands to his head in frustration. "Man! My dad's gonna kill me!" He got up and started to pace.

Buffy looked amused. "Um, your dad's the big creepy warlock that gave you those?"

"No, you idiot! My dad's the demon that made a deal to get those. Now he's gonna be enslaved to a succubus for the next 1000 years." His pacing increased. "I am SO grounded."

Willow gave him a look of shock. "You're a ...a demon?" She made a disgusted face and started to wipe her mouth. "Ack, eww ...demon fluids, demon fluids ..."

"I'm not a demon. He's my step-dad. Adopted me when I was two. A friend of my mom's . .you wouldn't understand." He stood still. "Why am I telling you this?"

Buffy couldn't resist. "Um, 'cause you're a big fat loser that needs magic to win people over?" She smiled. "Listen you little half-breed. I never want to see you near my Willow again. Do you understand me?"

"Your Willow?" he gave her a confused look.

Willow stepped up in front of Buffy. "That's right. I told you I was involved with someone." To demonstrate her point, Willow turned around and planted a very passionate kiss on a surprised Slayer.

"Yuck. Oh, man... I was just trying to get into your pants when I said . . " He realized they weren't listening. "Never mind. You two deserve each other." He turned around and started to walk away but stopped. "I don't know if I'm grossed out or really, REALLY turned on." Buffy glared at him. He raised his hands in defeat and Quietly slipped away.

"That does nothing but put a very interesting twist on things." He smiled to himself thinking about the display they just witnessed.

"I know what it is."

"What's that?" He looked up at the taller man.

"What it was I sensed on him before." He turned to face the blonde. "Jealousy. He was jealous of what they shared...so jealous that he went to great lengths to get what it was they have."

He contemplated the statement. "I see what you mean. Makes sense."

"They don't call it the green-eyed monster for nothing." He stood in silence a moment, choosing his words carefully. "I didn't recognize it before ...probably because I didn't want to admit to myself I'd felt the same thing." He looked in the direction of the two girls. "Maybe that's why we're here."

Now he was really puzzled. "How's that?"

"We're jealous. We now know exactly what we gave up. Maybe subconsciously we're lurking around hoping for another opportunity." He paused. "They'll be fine as long as they have each other."

"Yeah. We're not gonna get that chance." He gave his friend a defeated look then glanced over at the two girls who were retreating up the path. "Come on. I think we need to file this one under 'Hellmouth activity'."

They began to walk. "No, it's much worse than that, my friend." He paused a beat. "It gets filed under male ego...human emotion. They don't need us anymore and we didn't want to accept that." He smirked. "And I thought I'd learned every lesson there was in 243 years." He shook his head. "Go figure."

"...So, in the plus column, I didn't kiss Jeff willingly." She smiled at the blonde in front of her.

"I'm glad." Buffy smiled. "I never should have treated you the way I did earlier, Will. I'm so sorry."

Willow looked up at her. "We're both sorry, Buffy. I can't even begin to tell you how sorry I am." She paused a moment in thought. "I guess I was jealous of you a little bit." Buffy gave her a surprised look. "You're the Slayer, Buffy. You get to kick undead ass every night. It's a good fight and I wanted in. I mean, what can I do?"

"You do a lot, Will. You have no idea how much you help me. If I didn't have your support, mixed in with a little mojo, I can't even begin to imagine what could have happened to me by now." She reached over and touched her cheek lightly. "I'm jealous of you in a way too. I wish I could summon up powers and shoot sparks from my hands." She smiled. "Imagine the look on the vampire's face ..."

"Well, the lesson in all of this is that we compliment each other. I have my powers, you have yours. Together we make a pretty good team. Don't you think?" She turned her head and kissed Buffy's hand softly.

"Mmmm, I can think of something else we're good at too."

'You're bad.'

'That's not what you said last night.'