DISCLAIMER: Another day, another…they don’t pay me anything at all. I just do this to amuse myself and you. That’s what allows me and mine to slip under the radar while playing with characters created by those more fortunate than us.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Mad-Hamlet wrote portions of the mayor’s scenes. Specifically, the ‘Gummy Bears’ bit was him. Howard Russell also wrote the majority of the Joyce point of view scenes, which was very cool. We got to work together. Special thanks to him as well for all of the lovely commas.
ARCHIVING: A master list of my fiction can be found here. Please do not archive or distribute without my permission.
FEEDBACK: valyssia[at]gmail.com

By Valyssia


Chapter 1 - Depth of Life

Setting off at brisk clip, Buffy weaved between two tombstones. She put her hand to her mouth and a faint burp produced the same sickening-sweet, metallic aftertaste she’d been fighting all evening. The potion Angel had fed her earlier that day had been, in large part, the heart of a demon. It had been far more pungent than blood and she struggled as her stomach knotted and turned to lead again.

Buffy hated admitting that she’d actually tasted blood; the idea made her sick—it somehow brought her closer to what she hunted. She recalled cutting her teeth as a child.

But then who hasn’t. Its part of the ‘human’ thing. Eventually you get hurt and the tasting just sorta happens.

In her case, the freshest memories were the result of getting repeatedly punched in the face. Tasting blood was an unwelcome side effect, but being able to compare the taste of the heart of a demon to her own blood made all of the sensations somehow worse.

I think slayers should get sick days. No such luck. The moment I’m not hearing the thoughts of every man, woman, and child in Sunnydale, it’s back to the grind.

After pausing to scan the graveyard for movement and listen to her inner voice, she started off again toward the most remote parts. Zero tinglies—‘spidey sense’: total dud. With any luck I’m in for a boring night.

Y’know, it seems to me this whole slaying gig is missing an important element. Pre-slayer, whenever I had to do something I hated, some adult would tell me, ‘it’ll get better.’ I’m sensing a distinct lack of peppy adult platitudes. Maybe I’ll ask Giles to lie to me about how much better this crap’s gonna get. It’d be comforting to hear.

The last lie I asked for went something like this, ‘The good-guys are always stalwart and true.’ Yup, comforting…like fuzzy puppies and warm soft blankies.

Buffy sensed movement behind her and pivoted to see a slightly overweight vampire with shoulder-length, dirty blond hair, dressed in a cheap, modern rendition of nineteenth century fashion. So much for the boring night. She smirked at the billowy ruffled sleeves of his white shirt, then the smirk transformed into a bright sunny smile. “’Kay, so…Ozzy Osborne or Lestat? The look’s a bit vague.” Producing a stake from her jacket sleeve, she gestured to indicate his lack of fashion sense and poised waiting for the funny to start.

Of course, that was before he lied to me for real, poisoned me and… OH GOD!!! Giles had sex with my mother!

And on that very disturbing thought, Buffy opened up on the blond vampire.

Trying desperately to be brazen and deftly sidestep the enraged slayer, the blond vampire spat, “How dare you speak to me that—” cutting short his diatribe when he discovered something had gone very, very wrong.

Why can’t the ‘adults’ in my life just—I dunno—maybe…normal up?

Buffy ruefully shook her head as she stepped through the cloud of ash. Turning for the cemetery gates, she dusted herself off.

‘The bad-guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats and we always defeat them and save the day.’

Not much in the ‘day saveage’ department, just one less annoying vamp parody. I’m so outta here.

“What I wanna know is why they can’t ever want to be Louis?” Buffy grumbled as she passed through the iron gates and onto the street.

The old familiar path home passed along quickly and Buffy barely noticed the suburban streets. She’d made the trip so many times that the details were too much a part of her to care. She came to a halt at the base of the tree under her window and, as she started to climb, the last part of the ‘lie’ came to mind.

‘Nobody ever dies…and everybody lives happily ever after.’

As she opened her window and slipped through into her room, Buffy mused, I’d settle for vague feelings of contentment. It doesn’t have to be an ‘ever after’ either. Hell, I’d take one day. One day of feeling mildly contented. Is it too much to ask?

Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her bed, tossing and turning in the throes of a vivid nightmare. Her eyes flew open and she gasped. Finding herself awake, she leaned over on her elbow to look at the clock. Then she groaned pathetically and flopped back down.

I should so know better. Asking for better…only makes it worse. It’s one of those things. Instead of wishing for some peace I should’ve asked for a day without abject terror, or— Still feeling uncomfortable, she made a face and wiggled her hips. Looking down, her eyes grew wide. Mortifying humiliation… Oh, no…no, no, no…

There was a sizable bulge in the sheet, right between her hips. The anxious voice of a certain redhead rang through Buffy’s thoughts like some great bell, ‘Was it a boy demon?’

No, no, no, no, no… It’s just bunched up blanket. The denial sounded good. Buffy tried to believe it for a moment. She struggled to convince herself, but she knew it didn’t feel like fabric. Hesitantly, she lifted the sheet with both hands and looked under it. The tent was still there, only now it was located in her sleep shorts.

Oh…no, no, no, no, no, no… This can’t be happening! She shifted to hold the sheet up with one hand and slowly reached down to her shorts with the other.

I take it back. My life’s great like it is. Just make this not true. She swallowed nervously and, with a trembling hand, slowly lifted the waistband. Her face blanched, turning as white as the sheets.

The house reverberated with the sounds of her screaming.

Joyce rushed to her daughter’s bedroom and flung open the door. There she found Buffy sitting up in the middle of her bed, her sheet, blanket, and pillow pilled up on her lap. “What’s wrong, honey?”

Looking up at her mother, Buffy’s eyes betrayed her terror. “N-n-nothing. Uh, just a-a nightmare.”

“Oh, sweetie.” Joyce leaned her head against the door jamb. “Well, it’s almost time to get up anyway. Want me to go ahead and make some coffee?”

“Thanks, Mom.” She smiled gratefully at her mother, then suddenly shifted again, discomfort plain on her face.

Joyce smiled tiredly, “Alright, honey.” Noticing Buffy’s behavior, she stood up straight and looked concerned. The anxiety of the previous day returned, but she tried to push it aside. You’re being foolish, Joyce. She’s fine. They took care of her.  “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Plastering a cheery smile on, Buffy held still. “Oh yeah, just peachy.” Moments later, she realized her mom was still worried and shuffled to the edge of her bed, keeping everything in her lap. She steeled herself and met her mother’s skeptical gaze with her best impression of a reassuring smile, then offered, “Just gonna go wash up.”

Joyce stayed, keeping an eye on Buffy because of her uncharacteristic behavior. Something’s wrong. Her voice is thin and strained. She can’t still hear my thoughts again, can she? No, no, that’s silly. Rupert said she’d be fine.

With a sigh, Buffy brushed the sheet and blanket off her lap, wincing a little as she hit the new obstruction. Holding the pillow strategically, she stood.

Joyce noticed the grimace. “Buffy, did you get hurt last night?” She moved closer, looking Buffy up and down. Letting her go out after all that was foolish. I should’ve put my foot down. But after all the—after running away—I’m just not sure how. I hate this!

Holding her free hand out to stop Joyce from approaching, Buffy backed away. “No, I’m fine.” She started to edge her way to the door, keeping the pillow between her mother and herself. “Really. Just a minor bruise. Be gone by lunch.” She slipped out of the room into the hall. Rushing to the bathroom, she called over her shoulder, “Nothing to worry about!” She slammed the bathroom door shut behind her.

Joyce sighed and followed Buffy down the hall. Stopping outside the bathroom door, she called out, “I know you’re hiding something. Just tell me honestly it’s not serious.”

Buffy’s voice was thick with unease as she called out of the bathroom, “It’s really not. Just embarrassing.” She could feel her mother’s worried eyes fixed on the door. Eventually, she pleaded, “Just let it go, please?”

“Okay.” Joyce sighed. “I’ll trust you for now.” Shaking her head, she turned and walked away.

Trying to suppress the shivering and teeth chattering, Buffy quietly closed her bedroom door. This is just evil. I thought I’d seen true evil before. The master and the mayor—rank amateurs. Why won’t you go down? Guys—they’re supposed to wake up with umm…this, then they pee and it’s all better. I peed. One of the most traumatic experiences of my life, I might add. Where’s my ‘better’? Is there something I’m missing? The cold shower—other than just plain sucking…nothing. I can’t go out like this.

Mom’s wigged enough she might walk in at any moment. I need to cope ’cause her seeing—it’d be bad. The bulge alone might send her spastic. Buffy walked over to her dresser and started to sort through her clothes. I’ve gotta hide it. A plan quickly formed in her mind that she knew would be extremely unpleasant, but she was past caring. Underwear? She snickered and held up a pair of lacy panties with her index finger. Yeah, those look real useful. Restraining the urge to chuck the underwear over her shoulder, she dropped them back in the drawer and shoved it closed, opening another. After a few moments sorting, she pulled out a heavy pair of spandex exercise shorts and opened her robe.

Buffy glared down at the bizarre new addition and clenched her teeth. She shuddered as she slipped on the shorts and folded the offensive piece of flesh between her thighs. She wasn’t sure which aspect was more disturbing, aside from the pain. The fact that this new member was quite literally an inversion of what had previously been there was so startling that she’d nearly screamed again in the bathroom. The real lasting disturbance, the one that nagged at her even when it was so plainly out of view, was that somehow her nerve endings had not adapted to the transition. Feeling the pressure of the shaft bent between her thighs, but also having the sensations translated inside by her scrambled nerve endings was disorienting. It made her skin crawl.

She stepped over to the closet to inspect the effect in the mirror. There was still a bulge, but it would fade with the next phase of her self-torture. She removed a pair of tight, leather pants from a hanger and slipped them on, wincing when she zipped them up. Her stomach turned a somersault and she cringed. Suck it up, Summers! You’ve gone through worse pain wearing stylish yet uncomfortable shoes. The mirror said good things despite the discomfort. The bulge was almost completely unnoticeable.

Buffy took a step and winced. It occurred to her that she might actually hurt herself, but she decided she honestly didn’t care. More public humiliation after the events of the past few days was utterly unthinkable. Coupled with the concept that her mother might have another panic attack, Buffy was willing to do whatever it took to keep her current issue a secret. She quickly finished dressing, struggling to keep composure while she moved. When she gingerly sat to pull on socks, the sensations caused her to retch and choke. She quickly slipped on her socks, carefully raising each foot across the opposing knee. With the taste of bile in her mouth, she stood again and pushed her feet clumsily into the boots. Anything was preferable to stooping over.

I’ve gotta get my shit together. Mom’s already at full wig, what with ‘The Astonishing Buffy - Psychic Extraordinaire’ show. This would cause her to mentally crack an egg. This is Mom’s brain. Buffy visualized a perfect, white-shelled egg. This is Mom’s brain on Buffy. The musing rolled forward to a picture of her bouncing on the egg with both feet and squishing it into a puddle of goop. One more slip and I’ll end up—it’ll be bad.

After grabbing a handful of tissue out of the box on her desk, Buffy proceeded to squeegee the tears away. Focus past the pain, Summers. You gotta see Giles. She bit her lower lip. What am I gonna tell him? The truth? She almost snickered at the absurdity of her situation. Giles, umm…I think maybe you might wanna check the fine print on that ‘cure’ ’cause—well, side effects? This is not exactly drowsiness or an upset stomach. I’m not so sure the FDA would approve. Has to be it. Nothing else new and this is a pretty radical change. Not sure the changes get more radical. It sorta turned my innie into an outtie. She rolled her eyes as she visualized the puzzled expression her former watcher would wear. No, Giles, lower…

’Kay, so…here goes. I just gotta make it to the street and it’ll all be good. Yes, thick gravy goodness will be had. Taking a normal step, the seam of the tight leather pants pressed into the tender flesh folded between her legs and Buffy flinched again. By everyone else but me. Moisture had already soaked through the shorts she’d used to bind the new appendage partially in place. Great…news flash: Buffy likes pain. Thanks for the reminder. Needed that. Like I’m not feeling disgusted enough already.

In through the mouth, out through the nose. Even, regular, deep—deep cleansing breaths. You’ll be calm, or you’ll suffer more. Welcome to the story of my miserable life. Breathe…calm. Now walk. Buffy took another step and pressed down the unnerving sensations her body was issuing. She took one last glance in the mirror. Long sweater to cover, rolled up sleeves, slightly off the shoulder—blue’s a good color, very causal look—white leather pants… And why not? It’s not like I’m looking to make the cover of Cosmo. Just trying to make it across town without looking like the freak I am. Makeup and hair: check. I have them and neither is too scary. Waterproof mascara for the win. You look nearly human. I pronounce you ‘ready to face the world.’ More Kleenex and books. After tossing the wadded tissues into the trash, she took to fresh ones and swept up her book bag.

By the time she hit the door to her room, Buffy was moving at full steam. She bounced down the stairs and called out, “Sorry, Mom, gotta jet, early Scooby meeting.” She never heard the answer; she was all about getting out of the house. She was pretty grateful when her mom didn’t follow. She’d half expected it.

Fixing her gaze on the sidewalk, Buffy moved along at a pace reasonable for a normal teenage girl in a hurry, containing the urge to push the limits. Each step was disconcerting enough, not to mention painful, that she breathed rhythmically to soothe the urge to flinch and collapse in a puddle. Tears streamed silently down her cheeks, but there were no accompanying sobs. It was literally like her eyes were leaking. She tried to control the response. The effort was entirely useless.She absently wiped her cheeks and stoically pressed on.

Speaking of cracked eggs—not doing so hot myself. Do I plan to try and go to class like this? Oh, that’ll be fun. Sign me up for the not. Mom will wig, but—well, maybe Giles will cover. It’s not like I never miss a class. Maybe I’ll just hide in the library. I’d technically be at school so that’s a good, right?

Fix this quick. Please, Giles! I can’t go through— I won’t make it a week like this. I’d rather die. A subtle sob shook her chest, but Buffy choked it down.

God, what would Angel say? Would he—? I just—I can’t see him. This is way worse than some stupid gypsy curse. At least we were still whole and sorta normal. Now? Normal? I don’t think I could stand to let him touch me. I’m a freak.

Buffy wiped her lower eyelids with the tissue as she moved. The journey was going well enough otherwise, except for the cold, sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, the constant discomfort between her thighs, and of course, the leaking. That was, until she brushed shoulders with a stranger on the street. She mumbled a hasty apology to the woman and noticed something odd. Either she’d really upset her, which was a strange notion since there weren’t any rude comments, or this woman had turned to check her out. Either way, she could feel the woman’s stare on her back. No big. Keep walking. Nothing to see here. She’s probably—I dunno—maybe gay and interested? I’m not on the menu and if I were…boy, would she be in for a shock.

Her goal came into view and Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. She skirted the edge of campus, making her way to the side door of the library, in vain hopes that the lower traffic approach would somehow lessen the trauma. I can’t do it. Seeing Giles is going to be bad enough. When she rounded the corner of the building, moving into the sunny courtyard, her worst nightmare was made flesh: Harmony Kendall. She pushed the annoying blonde out of the way without slowing down.

Harmony turned and intended to snarkily say, ‘Hey, rudo,’ but the words failed her. Instead, she found herself following the other blonde with no real clue why.

Oh crud. Buffy increased her pace, but she could hear Harmony’s heels clicking, matching her step for step. Shit! Reaching the side entrance, she knocked, desperate to get inside. Giles! Come on! What the hell does Harm want? God, I hope no one’s here but Giles. My head may explode if I have to deal with Wesley. Come on, Giles! Open up! Harm was closing the gap. Buffy could feel the other woman’s eyes traveling over her. Finally, Giles opened the door and she burst inside with Harmony right behind her.

SHIT! I can’t look. Yes, I can! Buffy swung around and glared at Harmony. “What’s your damage, Harm? Get off me!” the slayer growled menacingly. Her brow furrowed when she noticed the look on Harmony’s face. No, this is so not happening. Harm’s checking me out.

Buffy swung back around to make eye contact with Giles. She took in the perplexed look on his face and offered firmly, “If I hear the words ‘love spell,’ I’m gonna lose it, Giles.”

Harmony had started to circle the slayer, giving her that look that indicated she might be a particularly tasty piece of meat.

“Harm,” Buffy prompted, watching the blonde out of the corner of her eye.

Harmony batted her eyes as she scanned up the lithe form of the smaller blonde. It was like she was seeing Buffy for the very first time. Forcing eye contact, Harmony stepped in front of Buffy and purred, “I’ve never felt this way about another girl.”

Fuck it! I’ve had it.  “Southern California: not seriously lacking in superficial, self-absorbed drama queens, Harm. Give it five. They’ll find a replacement,” she growled and swept into a high kick, catching Harmony behind the head. While Harmony fell in a heap, Buffy landed gracefully, then collapsed to her knees in agony. The movement and her tight pants had brutally pinched the new member. Her eyes welled up again and she slumped forward, weeping. In that instant, she completely sympathized with every guy who’d ever been kicked in the groin.

Giles was at a loss as he glanced from one young woman to the other. The kick had come so quickly and without warning that he’d barely had a chance to react. It had been surgical. He’d never been in any danger, though, as the slayer landed, he had staggered back one step. He reached down to take Harmony’s pulse and found that she was alive and as well as one might expect. Then he stepped around Harmony and stooped next to Buffy. “What? Is there something I can—? What seems to be the trouble, Buffy?” he stumbled, cursing himself for nervously mincing words.

Clenching her jaws in an effort to steady herself, Buffy choked, “I—I’m not sure—I—it’s horrible, Giles.” When she was able to rise, the slayer climbed to her feet. Her brow furrowed when the semi-lucid thought she’d had earlier that morning hit her again like a sack of bricks. That’s it! Will— Oh shit! Will! You should know better. Tempting fate over the mouth of hell. Good plan! An exasperated sigh hissed through clenched jaws, then she remarked in a bland tone, “Giles, when Will gets here, tell her: ‘it was a boy demon,’ ” hints of pain caused her voice to crack as she spoke the final few words. Stepping over Harmony, she made her way to the door, ignoring Giles’ questions. She slipped outside and started running. Each step felt like an assault, but she just kept running.

Giles watched very closely for a sign of what might be wrong. He had dutifully taken Harmony to the nurse’s office, telling them that she’d fainted and hit her head. It had been a minor fabrication to protect his charge. To hell with Wesley. Worth every morsel of regret to see the expression on Harmony’s face when Buffy called her a ‘superficial, self-absorbed drama queen.’ Absolutely brilliant. On his return, Willow had been sitting in the library, attentively studying and awaiting the others. Buffy’s words had sounded like utter rubbish to him but, all the same, he had repeated them and now he was worried. The young hacker looked sallow and very nearly ill. She just glared at him, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed. He nearly jumped when she sprung from her seat.

“Giles,” Willow muttered through clenched teeth, then motioned him toward his office. She left her books and followed. Her mind was racing. She tried to calm herself against the inner babble that threatened to surface. Once they were safely behind closed doors and seated, she struggled to explain, “I made a comment. It was terrible. Actually it was the worst thing—the most horrible thing I could think of with Buffy in mind. The thing that would shock her the most. What does ‘aspect’ mean? The aspect of the demon? Could they be just a bit more cryptic? So my mind rushed through all the things it might be and—” she sighed “—that was the worst. If Buffy said that, then something’s gone really, really, really, terribly, horribly, awfully wrong. Completely wrong. I have to find her.”

“So, you’re trying to tell me—? You couldn’t possibly think that—? Dear lord,” Giles stammered. It was the second time that morning that he’d found himself sputtering like an idiot and it did nothing to improve his mood.

“I’m telling you that we—that is you and me—we’re the two people that Buffy chose to share this with. Imagine how you’d feel if you—if somehow suddenly your—” Willow blushed and lowered her voice, gazing anxiously at the floor. “If your, um, you know, got replaced with a—” She paused to collect herself, then stated, “You research. I’ll find her. If you tell anyone else— You can’t tell anyone else. I’ll get cranky!” She blanched slightly as she spoke. Threatening a teacher was not on her list of things to do today, but this was Buffy. “Giles, everything we are is shaped by this. It’s not something you—you just don’t—it’s a respect thing. I know it’d go faster with everyone, but Buffy, she’s gonna be completely wigged. I need to find her. Did she—? I mean, any ideas where she might have gone?”

“Of course, you’re right, Willow.” Giles nodded reassuringly and added, “I’m not certain where she would go. Perhaps to Angel?”

“That’s the last place, but I’ll look. She’d be freaked—way too freaked for…” Willow remarked, trailing off into thought. After taking a deep breath, she managed to gather a fraction of her resolve and suddenly it slipped away again as she uneasily reflected, stream-of-consciousness, “You can’t tell Angel. Ever. If you need him to kill something just give him a ‘what’ and a ‘where,’ but no ‘why.’ ” Buffy would die. She’d fall right over and—she’d crawl in a hole, pull the dirt in and she’d just die.

Giles watched the young woman bolt out of her seat anxiously. “You have my word that I will treat this matter with the utmost respect, Willow.”

“I’m gonna go, Giles. I’ll check back in when I—when I find her,” Willow stuttered as she rushed to the door.

As Buffy moved briskly through town, she noticed that the disturbing trend from earlier was not her imagination. She had prayed it was but, after Harmony, there was little mistaking it. She’d been on the whammy side of this effect before and she actually felt terrible for the women that were stopping to stare at her. I’ll be feeling sorry for myself soon if I don’t get off the streets. What is this, another love spell? I didn’t do it. If it was Amy, I’ll bury her.

Enough threats. I need to stop wigging. Trying to soothe the severe anxiety, Buffy ran her finger tips down her face from forehead to cheeks, pausing to massage her temples. Rational thoughts would be good. Planning would be better.

Taking a quick glance over her shoulder at the group of women that mindlessly followed her, Buffy stepped up the pace. If this is the same mojo, I definitely don’t wanna go home. Mom. That would be totally creepy. ‘Slayer-cest’…so not my thing. But why would it be girls? Makes all kinds of the sense that’s not. Unless you consider my current—


Buffy sidestepped a strange woman who exited a café and immediately gave her an appreciative stare. Will’s. Her parents are gone and, worst case… I can control. She’d forgive me. It might be weird, but Mom would be totally worse. Knocking your mom out for feeling you up? We’ll slide that one right off the list of traumas. Will would forgive me with the right amount of ice cream and mochas.

Finally abandoning the attempt to appear normal as an utterly failed experiment, Buffy ducked down an alley and broke into a full sprint. She didn’t stop running at top speed until she was at Willow’s. After fishing the emergency key from the base of a planter, she let herself in and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

Buffy was intensely uncomfortable, so she quickly went about remedying the issue. She stepped into Willow’s room and the leather pants hit the floor almost immediately after her book bag. She quickly shimmied out of her spandex shorts as well. A cringe, followed by a deep raspy gasp, accompanied the un-tucking of the abused, slippery piece of flesh. Once she was completely stripped, it took a great deal of resolve to not lie down on the bed and fondle the strange new member. Instead, she went to the bathroom and washed her hands, then returned to the room to find clothing to borrow.

Once she was dressed in a loose pair of sweat pants and an over-sized tee-shirt, Buffy picked up the phone to call Giles. This should be fun.

Willow spent the entire morning scouring Sunnydale for her friend. By noon she was cranky, tired, and hot. Feeling like a complete failure, stopped to call Giles. When he picked up the phone, Willow clipped off one word, “Anything?”

“Buffy called to say she’d taken refuge at your house,” Giles offered. Pausing briefly when Willow hissed into the phone, he quickly resumed, “I have nothing to report otherwise. It would seem a reasonable conclusion that the potion meant to cure the telepathy is to blame but, like the ‘aspect of the demon,’ there are no references to any specific effects.”

Willow huffed for a few moments after Giles concluded, just trying to locate a reassuring tone to offer. Once she managed to find her composure, she chimed a little too eagerly, “Keep trying, Giles. There has to be something.” Damn it, Buffy! I checked every crypt in every cemetery in Sunnydale. Do you have any clue how long that takes? Of course you do. I even dusted a sleepy vamp. Yay me!

Willow parroted off the proper closing platitudes and hung up the phone. Her gaze fixed on the Espresso Pump just down the block as she set off in a rushed pace. Mochas and home. ’Cause when I’m stressed…there’s nothing like a little caffeine to make it better. Oh! But chocolate! Now that’s comfort food. And biscotti. Buffy loves those.

Worry etched deep creases into her features when Willow considered what to say. She was clueless about how to help but, in the same breath, desperate to. I’ll just be there. Let her know I care. It’s the best I’ve got. After stepping aside to let a couple of college students leave, she entered the Espresso Pump and made her way to the counter.

A faint clicking noise issued from the patio door. Buffy’s attention snapped toward the source of the sound just as it swung open revealing the bedroom’s usual occupant. The muscles in the slayer’s upper body instantly corded. After quickly snatching a pillow from under the comforter to cover her lap, she shot upright and grumbled, “Go away, Will.”

As Buffy took in the caring, bashful smile on the redhead’s face, the harsh ridge across her brow softened momentarily, muting the sharp appearance of her eyes. A faint ghost of a smile flickered across her face. Any hint of softening resolve vanished like an illusion when she perceived the start of movement.

Willow quickly crossed her room and set the mocha and bag of goodies she’d bought for Buffy on the nightstand. “Umm…Buffy, this is my room,” she replied, trying not to sound annoyed.

When the redhead approached, Buffy slid deftly across the bed, still clutching the pillow to her crotch. By the time Willow got to where the slayer had been lounging, she was on the other side of the room. She slipped out the bedroom door and ran to the bathroom.

Once she was safely locked inside, she leaned her back against the door. She slumped down and sighed despondently. After sitting on the cold tile floor, she clutched her legs and the pillow to her chest and rested her brow against one knee.

Willow glanced briefly at the ceiling then set off out of the room to follow her elusive friend. A slight flush enriched her complexion as she passed through her bedroom door. Lust? I can’t lust after— Well, I could, but how wrong would that be?

Willow squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her jaw. After several moments of focused breathing, she continued down the hall, gently placing her hand on the closed bathroom door.

When she sensed Willow’s arrival, Buffy looked up. Her gaze fixed on the maroon shower curtain. Hope you like the view, Summers. You may be stuck here a while.

Willow leaned in and offered in a temperate voice, “Buffy, I just want to help. I know that may sound stupid, but—”

As Willow spoke, tears began to flow down Buffy’s cheeks. She hugged the pillow to her face, weeping into the plush cotton surface to stifle the sound. Slight scraping noises and pressure on the door caused the slayer to bristle. She clenched her jaws to bite back the tears and grouchily mopped her face with the palms of her hands.

Eventually, Buffy growled into her hands in frustration, then mumbled, “You can’t help, Will. Remember that stupid love spell Xander got Amy to do?” When there was no answer, she continued, “Something’s up with me. Something just like that.”

Sitting with her back to the door, Willow appeared completely perplexed. “But, Buffy, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a girl.”

“Yeah and because my life just has to suck beyond the telling—girls are what I’m—what it’s working on,” Buffy replied in a raspy voice. She leaned forward, folded the pillow behind her back and slouched against it. The creases in her forehead softened when a faint rattling issued from the door. Wishful thinking almost won out. She thought Willow might’ve left when she didn’t answer. Buffy relaxed her jaw muscles. A soft sigh of relief slipped out as she sat up, removing her weight from the door and leaned her head back to look up at the ceiling. Sliding her hand behind her to brace her body, she arched her back to stretch.

After careful consideration, Willow reflected, “That was really weird though. It was really strong. I just had to be close to him. Like in the naked way. It was like I’d do anything. I don’t feel anything like that now. I just want to be near you. I know it sounds dumb, but I want to help you.”

As Willow’s soft, pensive voice resonated, Buffy’s brow furrowed and she leaned back against the door. Her gaze fixed on the offensive bulge in her clothing. After noting the faint moisture discoloring the gray fabric, she sneered with distaste.

Willow glanced down and saw fingers just under the edge of the door and reached to touch them. I love you, Buffy.

Buffy jerked her hand from under the door. A sharp gasp echoed the movement. Oh shit! Staring at her hand, she sat straight up and went utterly rigid, wide eyed and slack-jawed. This! Not this again. I-I can’t take it. As if recalling the need for oxygen, she sucked in a slow, purposeful breath.

Trembling, Willow placed her palm against the floor to steady herself. She gulped and swallowed thickly. Wide-eyed and hopeful, she prodded, “Buffy?”

Buffy’s facial muscles tensed. The deep lines of stress gave her an appearance that betrayed her years. After clamping her eyes closed, she pinched the bridge of her nose with the raised hand, then swept her thumb and forefinger across her eyelids. Slumping back against the door, she mumbled, “Yeah, Will?” then her hand fell useless at her side.

When no immediate answer came, Buffy hopefully stuck her fingers back under the door, focusing on the point where her fingers disappeared from view. A soft blush pinked her cheeks as she stared. Her free arm folded defensively across her stomach. That’s right, Summers, shun contact, then pine for it. And the psych profile says: raving looney. After several moments of nothing meeting her hand, a tear splashed down onto the white tile floor.

Willow finally managed to stifle the quivering and looked down to see that the fingers had reappeared. A deep sigh drifted anxiously across slightly parted lips and she glanced from her own hand that was located ever so close then back to the seemingly needy fingers. Her tone was thick with concern when she finally managed, “You gonna be okay, Buffy?”

A melancholy smile pulled at the corners of Buffy’s mouth as her friend caressed her fingertips again. I dunno, Will. I’m not sure what I’ll be if—if I have to spend another day like this.

The color drained from Willow’s face. Understanding that Buffy’s need for comfort, she struggled to not jerk her fingers away. Umm…this is pretty much wig-worthy, Buffy.

The tears ebbed and Buffy closed her eyes. This is how it is, Will. Cupping her forehead with her left hand, she traced the line of her brow and temple.

Willow slowly withdrew her hand. The caress had left her breathless. There was a faint dew of perspiration on her forehead and she raised the hand to wipe it away.

Buffy began to silently weep when contact was lost.

’Kay, so…lust. Big lust: the ‘I wanna rip your clothes off and be really naughty’ sort of lust. Willow sat silently trying to grasp the sensation. It’s not like—it’s not new, just deeper. I’ve always cared. Always felt, but—

Willow turned her gaze to see if the hand was still there. Upon catching a glimpse of the tips of nails under the door, she smirked and closed her eyes. Several moments slipped by as she strained with forced concentration. Rising to her feet, she asked gently, “Buffy, I’m gonna bring you your mocha before it gets cold, ’kay? Will you let me hand it to you?” She sighed and added, “Please.”

Resting her forehead on her knee, Buffy raised her hands to her neck and started to massage away some of the tension, then murmured, “Yeah, Will,” just loud enough for her friend to hear. Her expression was utterly dull and lifeless when she stood up, walked over to the sink, and turned on the cold tap, glancing at her face. “I look like hell,” she pronounced with marked authority. Cupping her hands under the faucet, she scooped up some water and splashed her face, repeating the process several times to reduce the puffiness around her eyes.

There was a knock at the door and Buffy blew out to clear the water, then replied, “Gimme a sec, Will.” She toweled dry and, finally satisfied that she wouldn’t look like a sodden mess, went to the door. After sweeping the pillow up, she opened the door and made eye contact with her friend. Compassion, that was the expression the redhead wore, not lust. When the cup was offered, Buffy took it, meeting her friend’s gaze. As their fingers brushed, she calmly reflected, I love you too, Will. The tension went out of her posture and she took a small sip of the mocha.

A bright smile warmed Willow’s face the moment they touched. She breathed deeply and prayed that Buffy wouldn’t shut her out again. At the same time the redhead felt her body flush for no reason at all. She struggled to push down the feelings of intense arousal. There was a subtle, musky smell in the air that was making her mouth water. It was intoxicating on a level she’d never experienced.

Buffy stood holding the cup and watching the response. When the smile finally faded from the redhead’s face, what was left was raw desire. After taking another drink of the warm coffee, the blonde’s eyes narrowed slightly and she tilted her head. Umm…wow! I got that she was pretty. Didn’t matter how she tried to hide it—well, unless it involved hiding behind a big ‘Boo!’—but umm…wow! She’s just gorgeous. How’d I miss that?

Buffy stood stock-still, peering into the bright green eyes of her friend for several moments. Finally, she stepped forward, directing Willow to move with her.

Willow followed Buffy back to her bedroom and stopped at the door, watching the slayer continue across the room to place her mocha on the nightstand. She shut the door and locked it, not knowing exactly what to expect. It was obvious that some part of Buffy’s resolve had fractured when they touched.

Willow awkwardly went to take a seat at her desk, turning the chair to face the bed. The chair squeaked as she sat down, causing her to recoil mid-action. Finally seated, she began to fidget nervously with the hem of her blouse. The color in her cheeks rose again. When combined with the fact that her attention was fixed on her lap, the overall effect caused her to look positively guilty. As the blonde turned, Willow met her gaze and stifled a flinch. There was something distinctly predatory about the expression on the slayer’s face.

Why am I wigging? This is Buffy, Willow chided herself. The one person I trust with my life. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather— I wonder what it’ll be like. Oh! She’s coming this way! I’m about to find out. Gosh, look at how she moves. It’s like… I wonder what it’ll be like to kiss her. I’ve actually thought about it. I’ve wondered. Soft, warm, tender… She struggled to stifle the trembling as the slayer moved across the room and straddled her lap.

When the blonde settled with her arms draped around Willow’s neck, she suddenly felt safe. She slowly slid her hands from her friend’s thighs to her waist, stopping to caress the curve of her hips. Then Willow looked up into the slayer’s eyes with an expression of complete adoration. The world around her dissolved, all except for the sunlight that shone in through the window adding to the warmth.

Their lips met and it was nothing like Willow had expected. Hungry, passionate, demanding, needy, desirous… A soft moan issued from her between greedy nibbles. The words, ‘and good,’ broke through the reverie and Willow felt a little embarrassed. I-I’d been wondering— The kiss deepened in answer to the thought.

Buffy withdrew slightly, tracing the curve of the redhead’s upper lip with her tongue. And how is it—to kiss me? Giving no opportunity for the answer to find voice, the slayer seized the object of her desire in a deep, ravenous kiss. A soft, scared voice echoed in her thoughts, ‘It-it’s perfect.’ Despite the perceived fear, fingertips traced the contour of her back, pressing into her shoulders. The bite of nails followed the tender caress, causing her to shudder.

Willow left the warmth of the kiss and a coy smile lit her features as bright blue eyes tinged with just a hint of green met her gaze.

I-I’m scared, Buffy.

Buffy swallowed thickly and pressed her moist forehead to her friend’s.

I know, Will. Do you trust me?

Willow closed her eyes. In that moment, in those arms, she felt completely safe.

More than anyone.

Buffy cupped the redhead’s cheeks in her hands and started to make gentle soothing noises.

Then just relax.

Buffy drifted gently in and out of sleep. Her senses gradually sharpened, taking in her surroundings. She was draped over the body of her friend as though she’d fallen asleep while they were making love. Soft bare flesh, so warm and inviting, shocked her. She struggled not to spring out of bed as the litany of memories cascaded through her mind. Oh shit! She took a long deep breath. The air was thick with the rich musk of sex.

The close contact of their bodies revealed one thing. Nothing. It’s gone. My body feels normal. It was dark in the room and a street light shown softly through the window, lighting the profile of her redheaded lover. It’s everything else that’s wrong. What did I do, Will? I’m so sorry. Buffy tenderly brushed a stray lock of hair from the pale skin of Willow’s cheek and carefully rolled away.

Willow mumbled something incoherent and turned onto her side, facing the blonde. A soft smile delicately curled the corners her mouth and she sighed contentedly. She reached out and caressed her lover’s skin, then slipped back under the thick veil of sleep.

Buffy lay still, watching the clock. Just after four. She clutched a hand to the restored flesh of her groin and wondered exactly what had happened. Guilt and self-loathing tore at her as she lay in wait. I was in control. I was and then I wasn’t. I’m so pathetic. How could I do this to her?

When Willow’s respiration and heart rate returned to a restful state, Buffy rose and quietly dressed in the clothing she’d arrived in. She folded the borrowed items and placed them on the desk chair. Grabbing a stake from the desk drawer, she stole out of the room and into the night.

After pausing to tuck the wooden stake into the waistband of her pants, Buffy strode down the dark street, silent tears streaming down her cheeks. I used her. I needed. I felt lonely. My hunger. My weakness. And what about Willow? What the hell did I do?

Cutting through a yard, Buffy hopped the fence of the Shady Acres Cemetery. Her mannerisms changed the moment her feet touched earth again. The tears ebbed and her posture stiffened. She moved silently between the rows of monuments, markers, and mausoleums erected to pay homage to the dead. She was just cresting the last small hill near the entrance when a voice rang out in the night.

“Does Oz know?”

She spun angrily to face Angel as he stepped from behind a large mausoleum. “What business is it of yours what Oz knows?” Buffy spat defensively. Her tongue flicked out, nervously running over her lower lip. The faint coppery taste of blood mixed again with the flavor of her lover’s flesh and her stomach clenched. A hint of bile caught in her throat as she recalled the faint traces of blood on her hand. Shame sullied her features as she met Angel’s gaze.

“I just thought—” Angel remarked then broke off. He tasted the air again. “You smell like a laundry hamper in a cathouse, Buffy.” He closed the distance between them, taking in the stunned expression on the blonde’s face. Jealousy welled up inside him while he continued to try and process the various smells. “I can smell her blood on your lips, Buffy. Did you defile her? Take her virtue? Steal it from the man she loves?” he hissed as he walked a tight circle around the slayer.

Buffy followed the movement around her, half-expecting an attack. Finally, when Angel moved back around to her right, she snarled, “Fuck you, Angel! What do you know?”

Angel’s face shifted to reveal the demon. He growled at the slayer and spat at her feet. “I know that you smell like a whore. Maybe I should treat you like one. You think I’d find happiness?” he chuckled coldly, “I think my soul would be safe.” He lashed out, striking her across the cheek.

Her mind reeled as Buffy flinched away. Why? Tears flowed freely down her face as Angel halted and turned to glare down at her with contempt. “Soul?” she stammered weakly.

Angel feigned movement and watched amusedly when the slayer recoiled. “What’s the matter, lover? Have a change of heart? We taken to defiling virgins and fucking the legions of hell now?” he crooned maliciously and moved to corner her against a crypt. When she stumbled over a gravestone, he seized the small blonde.

Struggling to gain control, Buffy blinked back the tears. As Angel pressed her back against the cold stone of the mausoleum and tore at her sweater, she seized his groin and clamped down. Her sweater hit the ground and Angel crumpled to his knees.

The next thing Angel knew, a foot was striking his temple, then a stake embedded in his chest. He fell back. His eyes went wide as he stared at the wood protruding from the right side of his chest.

Buffy clutched her hand to her breast. Glaring down at Angel with contempt, she hissed, “Leave or next time I don’t miss,” then ran off into the night.

Buffy didn’t stop running until she was at the base of the tree below her bedroom window. After quickly scaling the tree, she slid the window open and slipped into her bedroom.

Buffy stared down at her fingers and made a fist. Her mind was racing. Fragments of thought and pieces of memory flashed by. ‘Defiling virgins.’ In her mind’s eye hung the image of the hint of fear on Willow’s face when Buffy had pressed her perversion-of-self inside.

She had no doubt. This perversion had removed any of the classic arguments. When is virginity lost? Is it at the moment of penetration? Is it when the hymen breaks? If so, many a young girl loses her virginity to the odd accident with a bicycle, or climbing a fence, or…whatever… Doesn’t matter. This was the real deal.

The fear on Willow’s face washed away to a flash of pain, replaced by awe and wonder. Buffy studied the expression in her memory. The ghost sensations of scrambled nerve endings confused by their relocation briefly returned. Pressing in, pushing out were muddled, she knew what was happening, but her mind processed it backwards.

Willow’s face was replaced by Angel’s, that same look, without the fear. There was something more seasoned about Angel’s expression. There was no awe, no sense of wonder. These sensations had been felt before. It was only the love that made them different.

The face morphed again. Angel at the moment she ran the sword through his chest, sending her lover to hell to save the world. Funny, to save the world only to find yourself unable to live in it.

Another shift showed Angel’s expression tonight, the accusatory glare, cold and angry. He had every right to be angry. I led him on. Led him to believe that ours was the only love I’d ever—he was the only one I ever wanted to be with. Big love, big loss… A real Romeo and Juliet story. Romance and fairy tales.

And then I ran off and screwed my best friend. Effectively ruining three lives in one vulgar, efficient swing.

Willow has to live with the fact that she was tricked into having sex with her best friend. And it couldn’t just be lesbian sex. No, the hellmouth saw to it that this was the real deal. She lost her virginity to a freak. A perversion of nature.

Oz! Oh god, Oz! Oz will hate me! Angel was right. I stole something from him. Something that by every right should’ve been his. It wasn’t mine to take. Like a thief. I stole it. I even stopped to savor the taste. Buffy traced her lips with her tongue. Subtle hints of the blood remained. She cleared them away. The faintly metallic flavor filled her senses again.

Angel. I broke a promise to him. I know he said he wanted something else for me—something better. I tried. But every time I tried I could see the faint hint of hurt on his face. I wanted to be with him more than anything. What happened to that? Why would I betray that? It makes no sense.

Always afraid to go too far, to press, for fear my boyfriend would become a monster. Angel’s expression from earlier returned, the face of the demon. And look at me. I turned him into a monster without the ‘sleeping with him.’ All I had to do is screw my best friend and steal her virtue from the man she loves.

The lasting pained expression on Willow’s face from after she’d been caught kissing Xander came into view. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve hurt, cheated, stolen…

Buffy flexed and clenched her fingers. The impulse to hit, the need to destroy something grated against what was left of her reason. Buffy bit her lower lip and struggled to regain control. The taste of her own blood filled her mouth, mixing with the flavors of Willow.

I’m the monster.

The faint light of a new day gently warmed the room. Willow stretched and yawned, reaching her right hand over to caress her sleepy lover. When all that met her touch was the cold material of her sheets, she cracked an eye. Where? Why would she leave me? Her mother knew she was spending the night. It’s not like she had to go.

Worry began to well up and Willow struggled to suppress the unwanted emotion. She just went home for clothes. I mean, it’s not like she packed to stay over. It’s no big. I’ll see her at school.

Willow rose and pulled her robe from inside the closet. Slipping the garment on, she tied it and made her way to the bathroom. After turning on the shower to allow it to warm, she moved back to the sink to brush and floss while she waited.

Once she was done, Willow stepped into the warm flow. As she bathed her skin, a slight twinge of pain from between her legs washed away the anxiety and brought back memories from the previous day. I had no idea anyone could be that gentle and patient.

A vague shadow of sensation returned and Willow brought her hand briefly to her lips. She kissed me. Not the sort of tentative little smoochies you’d give to a new love interest, or the peck you might give a friend. Our first kiss. Our first kiss was…umm…passionate, filled with desire, hungry. I never wondered whether she wanted me. And she kept kissing me. It was wonderful. She gave us both just enough room to breathe. Tender loving caresses and passionate kisses that lasted for hours.

Wow it felt good. She loves me. Like, really loves me. Before I knew it, an hour was gone, then two. How long did she spend just touching?

The intimacy was unlike anything— We could hear each other’s thoughts when we touched. Soothing thoughts, loving thoughts, and the desire to protect… Above all…protect…keep me safe…from the hurt. I expected it to hurt. It didn’t. No idea how many orgasms I had from just the touching and the kissing. I lost count. It was like she was worshipping me. No one’s ever made me feel that way.

Willow dipped her head into the spray and reached for her shampoo. She poured a little of the thick, sweet-smelling stuff into the palm of her hand and began to massage it through her hair. The shower filled with the fragrance of toasted vanilla beans.

There was a tiny bit of pain, just a little. It was really weird, she stopped and looked at her hand. It was like she was scrutinizing something important—looking at the details.

Then shame. I could see it reflected on her face as plain as day. Conflicted thoughts—confusion. She wanted to taste me. I thought she was worried about me tasting. I told her I didn’t care. Tasting myself on her lips. It’s actually like a fantasy. Like the best fantasy.

That wasn’t it. I know that now. It was the blood. That very faint, metallic hint. She was worried. I didn’t understand, but now…it’s so plain. She thought, ‘But what does this make me?’

It makes her ‘the one.’ The one who changed me. Took me from one state of being to another. So loving, so patient…

Willow drew still for just an instant as she examined the emotions, then she rinsed her hair.

It doesn’t bother me that she stopped to— She marked the moment. Reflected on it. Actually, sensed it. I just wish she could’ve done it without the shame. There was no reason. The stopping…it made me feel special. Like this was actually a moment that really, really meant something important.

Willow stood under the shower just enjoying the heat and the steam.

She never let me see. I wonder what she looks like naked? She’s beautiful. She’s always beautiful—doesn’t matter. I tried to tell her it was okay, to reassure her, but she hid. I could feel her pressed against my thigh. It was the strangest sensation. I didn’t expect it to be wet, but— I do know, whatever happened—whatever it was—it was incredible.

I saw all I needed to. Her face. The expression when she finally—it was like she was looking into the face of the Goddess. I’ll never forget that. And the sensation. It was like—I’m not sure. Like being bathed in Buffy—like being completely filled with— So warm, so safe, so loved, in her arms.

As hellmouthy weirdness goes—this’ll always be my favorite. The one I look back on and—

Willow shut off the shower and stepped out, grabbing a towel to dry herself off.

I hope she’s okay. I need to talk to her. Anxiety washed over her again, sullying her features as she vigorously dried her wet skin.

I have to tell Oz the truth. It’ll hurt, but lying would hurt even more. After Xander, he deserves— Well, he deserves better than me. But I still love him. How’s that possible? I love Buffy and I love Oz. I’m not sure who more, or how, but— How can I hurt him more? But I have to. I have to hurt one of them, and now, after…it has to be Oz. How?

When Willow emerged from the bathroom, she looked as though the weight of the world rested on her shoulders.

I have to be honest.

A groan tore from his chest as Angel hit the hard stone floor of the Crawford Street mansion. The sound was muddled by the punctured lung. It gurgled out into the silent room. God, what have I done? His body smoldered with the dawning light leaking in through the garden doors.

I wonder what happened to her. Pheromones—pungent male pheromones mixed with… Odds are she didn’t even know what she was doing, or if she did, caring was the last thing—

Angel heaved himself to his hands and knees and started to crawl out of the light. I need to tell Giles. They won’t have any way of knowing and it might mean—

After discovering the safety of the shadows, Angel sprawled out on the floor. There’s no excusing what I did. As soon as I’m able, I need to throw myself at her mercy and beg her forgiveness.

I deserve to die after—


Chapter 2 - Something Deeper

Buffy trudged into the kitchen, still shaken by everything that had happened. She headed straight for the life-giving coffee maker as though seeking absolution. She poured herself a cup and took it to the kitchen table. Sitting down, she reached for the sugar and creamer. “Caffeine will make it all good,” she murmured.

She sat there for a moment, mixing the coffee to her taste, listening to the morning news program playing on the TV in the living room. She was so focused on the announcer’s voice, she never heard her mother enter the kitchen.

Walking in, Joyce took in Buffy’s agitated appearance. She headed over to get a fresh cup herself and asked, “Have a rough night?” from by the coffeepot. I really should be embarrassed, but I just worry. When I checked on her I completely forgot that she’d asked to spend the night at Willow’s. Of course, her room was empty. It took a moment to sink in that her absence was fine, to be expected. Seeing her now is even more surprising.

Jerking at the question, Buffy splashed a little coffee on the table. Frantically, she grabbed some napkins to sop up the spill. “Uh, well, it was okay,” she answered unconvincingly as she cleaned.

“I thought you were staying over at Willow’s?” Joyce asked pointedly. There’s only one reason I can think that she’d have Willow cover for her.

Buffy stumbled through an explanation as she finished moping up. “No—well, yeah. I mean, I was but I—”

“ ‘But’ what, Buffy?” Joyce took on a harsh, accusatory tone, “You climbed in through your bedroom window when you weren’t even supposed to be home! Why? Does Willow even know you left? Is she going to wake up and wonder where you are? Or did you just not spend any time there at all?”

The highly effective ‘Mom Glare’ was in full force and Buffy flinched under its assault. Part of her truly did feel guilty for leaving Willow to wake up alone, knowing exactly how that felt.

Joyce’s eyes narrowed at the guilty look on her daughter’s face. “You went to see Angel, didn’t you?”

Buffy flinched again when she heard her ex’s name. The memory of their last encounter was still too fresh.

Seeing a second flinch, she raged, “Dammit, why, Buffy? Hasn’t he hurt you and your friends enough? Why do you use lies like ‘sleeping over at Willow’s’ or ‘patrolling’ to sneak off and be with him?”

“It wasn’t like that!” Buffy protested.

“You saw him and he left you an emotional wreck yet again, didn’t he? I knew he was trouble long before I knew he was a vampire.” She repeated tightly, “A vampire!” After closing her eyes and taking a deep breath to center herself, she continued, “Most mothers only have to worry about their daughters falling prey to a predator two decades older, not two centuries.”

“It’s not like that! He’s not like that!” Buffy objected stridently, reflexively defending Angel despite everything.

Joyce sat down at the table, tightly reining in her temper. Softly, she asked, “Can you tell me the last time you spoke to him and weren’t upset after?”

Buffy opened her mouth to pop out a snap answer but was stymied. The many times she had been upset were what came foremost to mind. “Uh, er—” She deflated and seriously searched for an answer.

Joyce took her daughter’s hand. “Honey? I’m sorry. It’s just that I love you and hate seeing you hurt,” she said tenderly.

Giving her mom a weak smile, Buffy appreciated the sentiment.

“So that’s why I’m grounding you.”

“But, Mom!” Buffy almost shrieked.

The ‘Mom Glare’ returned. “You may legally be an adult but you can’t lie to me about where you are and go sneak off to see your boyfriend. Those aren’t the actions of an adult, so you’re grounded. I expect to see you in the school library at four p.m. sharp, understand?”

The sullen teen muttered, “Yes, Mom.”

Angel awoke to a gnawing hunger. The need for blood forced him to his feet and he staggered to his kitchen. He pulled a packet from the fridge and bit into it without hesitation. Quickly draining it, he tossed the empty into the trash, then pulled out another. This one he drained into a glass and he heated in the microwave.

While waiting for his meal to warm, he stripped off his blood-stained shirt. He used it to dab at the half-healed puncture wound in his chest. The pain made him growl. You deserved that for what you did last night. Hell, you deserved a lot worse. He ran the edge of the shirt under some water in the sink, then wiped off the dried blood around the wound. Pheromones are no excuse. Once he wasn’t quite so filthy, he pulled the glass from the microwave and sipped from it on his way to his bedroom.

He reemerged shortly, still damp from a shower, carrying an empty glass. When he reached the sink, he rinsed out the glass. He leaned against the counter and contemplated having a third. Before he could reach a decision, he became aware of a human presence within the mansion.

A woman’s voice carried in from the foyer, “Angel?”

He made his way to Buffy’s mother, noting that she was visibly distraught. “Joyce,” he greeted neutrally in reply.

Without preamble, Joyce launched right into Angel, forcing eye contact. “What happened between you and Buffy last night?” she asked harshly. She immediately waved the question off, “Never mind. I don’t need to know.”

“Believe me, I never meant to hurt her,” Angel said softly. He closed his eyes and mentally relived the previous night’s attack. “You have to understand that last night was a…special circumstance.” He looked at Joyce and pleaded with his eyes, “I’d never—”

“It’s always a ‘special circumstance’,” Joyce interrupted sharply. Shaking her head ruefully, she conceded, “I know you don’t really mean to, but the fact is you do hurt her.”

Grudgingly, Angel nodded his acceptance. “I-I know.”

Joyce folded her arms across her chest and countered bluntly, “Well, it needs to stop—you need to stop. And if that means you get out of her life, then so be it. Whatever it takes.”

“Joyce, I—” the vampire pleaded.

Ignoring the apparent discomfort in Angel’s voice, Joyce continued in a forthright manner, “No, Angel. I think you need to consider who you’re helping by staying here. And who you’re hurting. Buffy doesn’t deserve to be hurt by you anymore.”

Angel stood stunned, gaping at Joyce.

“It’s a big world, Angel. I’m sure you can find something—someplace else that needs your help. Buffy has family, friends…all the help she needs. But, most importantly, she needs a life free from you. She needs a chance to move on. With you here she won’t.”

Slowly, Angel nodded his grudging acceptance. “You might be right.” He closed his eyes for a moment and turned away.

Joyce stepped closer, softening her voice. “I’m sorry. I know I sound harsh, but I have to look out for my daughter first. Her happiness is all that I care about.”

“And that’s not me anymore,” Angel said sadly, turning back to face the blonde.

Joyce gave him a pitying smile and thought, It never was.

Buffy meandered into the library. Not making eye contact with anyone in the room, she listlessly took a seat across from Willow. Her gaze fixed on the heavy wooden table in front of her.

Wesley trundled around the stacks with a heavy book in his hand. His posture conveyed the authority that these young people denied him as he spoke in a crisp tone, “Right, good of you to come. Are we about ready to begin because Mr. Giles and I have some news?”

Willow was completely perplexed by her friend’s behavior. As she sat mutedly observing what was all-too-somber a display, Buffy raised her right hand to place on the table in front of her. Both of their attentions rested on the scrupulously manicured nails and deceptively delicate fingers. She really does have beautiful hands. I wonder what she’s thinking. ’Kay, so…I can guess, but I don’t get the moody.  “Umm…Buffy, I brought your books,” she offered bashfully, watching hopefully for a response.

Buffy murmured the word, “Thanks,” and continued the intense study of her right hand.

Wesley placed the heavy volume on the table and began to page through it as Mr. Giles ambled around the table to join him.

Xander blinked as he watched his two friends. What’s up with them? I mean, ‘strange’ is pretty normal, but this is abnormally strange. He found himself looking at Buffy’s hand too, wondering if he was missing the punch line to some sort of inside joke. He gave Buffy a sideways glance and considered, Oh…’kay…so…not a joke. More demon blood? Is her hand going to sprout spider legs, rip from her body, and crawl across the table? Oh! Maybe it’ll choke Wesley! That’d be funny.

As Giles stood next to Wesley, his attention shifted between the three teens at the table. Something of note has occurred within the group. He carefully studied their behaviors, ignoring Wesley almost entirely.

Oz entered the library, taking in the curious interactions at the table. Buffy’s hand, interesting thing to study. After pulling up a chair to seat himself next to Willow, he joined the examination and asked, “Did I miss anything?”

“Nothing much,” Willow mumbled absently, turning her attention to Oz who was trying to take her hand. She gently brushed off the gesture and a pang of guilt caused her to blush slightly.

Wesley stopped turning the pages of the musty book and gestured triumphantly. “The Box of Gavrok,” he announced authoritatively. His brow wrinkled with uncertainty when no one showed the slightest interest at all in what he declared.

Buffy squeezed her eyes shut while the others deliberated around her. She could feel Oz’s gaze and the intense scrutiny raised a flush to her cheeks. The warmth of her discomfiture seemed to radiate from her face. She wanted to place her cool hands on her cheeks to soothe the unease, but she knew this would make her appear guiltier. Instead, she sat rigid in her chair and struggled to drive away the unwanted emotions that threatened to betray her.

“The Council received word that an artifact of great import was making its way to Sunnydale,” Wesley offered hopefully, gesturing again to the book. His manner was gradually becoming more desperate and he chided himself for allowing these young people to cause him distress. The slayer is still the instrument of the Watchers’ Council, regardless what this arrogant girl might say. There are lives at stake and I will not be ignored!

Oz’s eyes narrowed as he studied Buffy. He analyzed the scents and actions of the others. There’s something wrong here. Not just a little wrong either. This is big wrong. He caught the faintest hint of the last thing he expected to smell, but the thing he had found he could, disturbingly enough, detect with the greatest sensitivity. Blood. Willow’s blood. His attention turned to his girlfriend and he tried to assess the injury. Blood mixed with— He slowly turned his gaze to Buffy and noted the faint hint of color in her cheeks. As the pieces fell into place, his curious gaze turned to an accusing glare. He was considering whether he dared challenge her when Wesley’s frustrated voice broke in.

“Do you people not care that the first pure demon to exist on this plane in thousands of years intends to ascend right under our very noses in a matter of days?” Wesley spat in dismay. He began to pace out of sheer frustration as he ranted, “Mr. Giles and myself spent the entirety of last evening observing City Hall,” he raised his hand, making a fist. “Why did we do this? Because the slayer, the one who is called upon to protect the world from exactly this—” he paused dramatically, “was busy,” then scornfully shook his head, “Mr. Giles refused to allow me to call her into service. He said she had ‘personal issues to which she must attend’.” His brow knit and he wheezed, “Personal issues?” Stopping to take a deep breath, he concluded, “This is absolutely unheard of!”

Buffy snapped her attention to Wesley, giving him the stare to make all other stares cower in fear, the dreaded ‘Mom Glare.’ She knew from all-too-recent experience that this stare could effectively peel paint if delivered properly.

Wesley gestured emphatically at a thick, musty book that lay open on the study table in the middle of the library. “I tell you this is it. We have here the key to defeating the mayor before his Ascension,” he offered the room in a heated voice, oblivious to the small drama unfolding around him.

Giles met Buffy’s gaze and took a step back. He placed a hand to his chin to conceal his amusement and fixed his attention on the floor at Wesley’s feet. I do hope the pathetic little ponce remembered to pay his insurance premium.

As Willow helplessly watched the exchanges going on in the room, she heard a faint rumble emit from the slayer’s chest. Uh-boy! She’s mad. Chancing a glance at Oz, she noted that his gaze had turned to his lap. A brief glimpse of Xander revealed a sudden and mysterious fascination with the book that was open in front of him on the table. You can tell that things are going straight to heck when Xander develops an interest in reading.

Abruptly, Buffy shot to her feet and rounded on Wesley.

At the same instant the slayer moved, Oz rose quietly to his feet and slipped out of the room.

Willow peered at the library door, watching it swing back and forth. Then she stood up and helplessly followed Oz. I have to talk to him. It’s pretty obvious he got it, so…asking Buffy—not so much necessary. I’ll come back and— Well, maybe she’ll talk. I mean she has to talk to me, right? Deep worry etched her face as Willow pushed the library door open and ran down the hall.

After shoving Wesley aside, Buffy glanced at the picture in the book and briefly read the description. Source of indescribable evil…blah, blah, blah… They could be talking about the Rubik’s Cube. Whatever. Big yawn. Her gaze fixed on her would-be watcher. If getting this stupid box will do anything, especially get Wimpley off my back for five…it’s a ‘good’ in my book.

Buffy snapped contemptuously, “So, you’re telling me that this box” — she pointed at the book — “this box has the power to bring about serious badness?” Perceiving a tentative nod from an intimidated Wesley, she prompted brusquely, “And the mayor has this box? You know that for certain?”

The blood seemed to drain from his face as Wesley reluctantly stammered, “Well, yes…umm…I do believe so. Faith delivered an object—” He cringed and cut short when the blonde bristled at the sound of the other slayer’s name.

Buffy charged for the library door, stating bluntly as she moved, “Then let’s go get it.” Serious badness is my specialty.

Giles watched the slayer leave and called after her, “One moment, Buffy!”

Willow caught up with Oz in the quad. Running at full speed, she called out, “Oz, wait! Stop! No, wait!”

Oz rolled his eyes, clenched them shut, then turned to glare at the redhead. “Let me go, Willow,” he replied in a low growl.

After clumsily sliding to a halt and nearly colliding with Oz, Willow replied in anxious defiance, “No. I mean, not yet,” through labored breaths. Meeting the irritated, dejected gaze of her now-obviously-former boyfriend, she offered honestly, “I’m not saying this to make myself feel better. Really, I’m not.” She sighed and worked to stifle some of the unrest, then stammered “I am truly sorry. It wasn’t—it wasn’t something. I-I didn’t mean—”

“Kind of a theme with you, Willow,” Oz snapped and started to turn away.

The harshness of his words cut her and Willow flinched. Seeing that Oz was trying to leave, she stepped in front of him and put her hands out in earnest. After quickly mustering her resolve, she leveled her gaze on Oz, forcing eye contact; the words tumbled out, “I’m not asking for any— No.” She swiftly raked her fingers through her hair, holding her hand at the crown as shook her head in frustration, then the blather resumed, “Nothing, Oz. Umm…another chance, forgiving—er, forgiveness, stuff… I’m not asking for stuff.” Her demeanor grew sullener and she whispered, “I know I don’t deserve it.”

Gently placing her hands on his upper arms, Willow quietly concluded, “I just need you to hear this: I’m really sorry I hurt you—that I disappointed you.” After taking a deep breath to try and stave off the tears, she released Oz and started off across the quad toward the entrance.

Buffy burst out the library door and bolted down the hall, slipping deftly around a corner. Partway down the main corridor Principal Snyder stepped out of his office. She braked, SHIT! slid, Ssshhhit! stopped, Shit, back-peddled, Ssshhit, turned, shit, and prepared to run, Crap. Dammit! Betrayed by my favorite tennies.

“Miss Summers,” the beady-eyed little man purred. A venomous smile curled the corners of his thin lips and he continued, “We’ve had this talk about wandering the halls between classes.”

Her eyes widened and Buffy stammered, “But I was—”

Cutting Buffy off, Principal Snyder offered delightedly, “While It won’t be nearly as satisfying as turning you over to the police—” After stepping in front of his favorite delinquent student and folding his arms, he continued, “I’m afraid you’ve left me no choice. I’m just going to have to call your mother.”

AH FUCK! Buffy waffled back and forth, praying that Giles wasn’t too far behind. Oh, that’s low. You slimy little weasel.

Giles rounded the corner, taking in the scene. Serves her right. After clearing his throat to draw their attention, he offered genially, “Buffy, one moment.”

Buffy glanced gratefully at Giles and stammered again. “I was…umm…”

Producing a scrap of paper from his pocket, Giles made his way to the impetuous teen’s side and said, “We’ll be requiring three of each of these as well.”

Buffy took the scrap of paper and unfolded it. After carefully reading over the penciled note that, much to her chagrin, was actually a list of book titles, or so it appeared, she smiled and replied, “Sure thing, Giles.”

Principal Snyder snatched the piece of paper and examined it.

“We’ve been doing some independent studies and, as Buffy” — Giles gestured to the blonde — “had this hour free, I asked her to assist me with acquiring a few items.”

Principal Snyder leveled his gaze on the Englishman and growled, “Students aren’t allowed to leave the property during school hours.”

Giles nodded. “Yes, yes, quite right… That is why I intended to accompany her. She just got a bit ahead of me. Eager, you know.”

After folding the note and placing it in her pocket, Buffy glared at Principal Snyder and lifted him by his lapels, setting him gently aside. She smiled warmly and tugged at his sport coat to straighten it, then growled, “If that’s all?”

Giles shrugged helplessly as Buffy tore away from the two them and continued to the front door. He glowered after the slayer and remarked, “Eager lass. Strong too, but not overly bright. Now, if you’ll excuse me?” After side-stepping Principal Snyder, he ran after his charge.

It wasn’t all and Principal Snyder knew it, but he found himself standing alone nonetheless. Staring after the peculiar Englishman as he ran from the school, Principal Snyder shook his head and stepped back into his office. After taking a seat at his desk, he glanced at the clock. Twenty-one days—another twenty-one days, six hours, and thirteen minutes, and she’ll be somebody else’s problem.

Gasping for air, Giles did his utmost to follow the now irate slayer as she tore off down the street. “Buffy, please slow down,” he implored breathlessly.

Buffy grudgingly slowed her pace so that Giles could keep up. Wesley’s right, I need Giles to disarm any mojo the mayor may’ve put in place. Besides, Giles having a heart attack on the way to City Hall…not exactly serving the greater good. She mumbled, “Sorry, Giles,” then paused to match his pace.

“Can I assume that the issue of yesterday has been resolved?” Giles asked delicately.

Buffy simply nodded as a means of affirmation, then gave her former watcher a sideways glace.

Giles took in the expression on the slayer’s face. It screamed ‘this is none of your concern,’ but he found himself quite troubled despite her guardedness. He had examined the facts of the morning meeting and drawn reasonable conclusions from them. His concentration now turned to what he knew of demonic pregnancies. This cure involved the heart and blood of a demon. The physical effects may well have been some bizarre means of procreation. It’s an unfortunate, yet not unreasonable leap in logic.

None of the things he knew painted a very pleasant picture, so he decided to keep them to himself and simply research independently. Upsetting an already volatile situation would serve none of them well. I will make a point of speaking candidly with Willow. It will have to be handled with the utmost delicacy. Though, she is typically much more open than Buffy herself. I’m not certain what I hope to find, but I must try. Willow may be in real danger.

After retrieving her notebook and textbook from her bag, Willow fixed her attention on the blackboard. Glancing at the empty chair next to her, she was once again overwhelmed with feelings of abandonment. How could she—?

Willow dipped her chin to hide the pain she knew reflected on her features just as the teacher said something about ‘homework.’ What class is this? Did I do homework? She glanced at the cover of the textbook. History. I think I did homework. After glancing at her neighbor across the aisle to make certain she had the right book, she searched through the notebook to find the correct page and removed it, handing it to the teacher as he walked past. Where’s Buffy? This is her worst subject. She really should be here.

Is she being avoidy? Running from me, or am I just overreacting—being too sensitive? She really should be here.

Why was she acting ashamed? Was it because of Oz? I’d get it if the shame was over Oz, but what if it was over ‘us’—the ‘me and her’ us? How could she be ashamed? It was the most wonderful, beautiful night of my life. Why would—how could she be ashamed?

Willow sighed and turned her attention back to the chalkboard, mindlessly transcribing what the teacher was writing to a fresh sheet of notebook paper. The lecture was so far removed from anything she actually cared about that this act felt like simply going through the motions. You’re overreacting. Buffy loves you. She said so. More importantly, she didn’t need to say so.

So, what do I do if she won’t talk to me? Who would I normally—? Willow didn’t need to finish the question. I can imagine trying to talk with Xander about this. That’d go well. I’d get to, ‘I had sex with Buffy,’ and his head would explode. She imagined it and a sad quirky smile curled the corners of her mouth. Well, not literally, but it wouldn’t be pretty.

A feeling of profound isolation came over her as Willow realized that the two people she felt comfortable with talking about anything this serious were too involved. Oz and Buffy… Oz won’t ever speak to me again. This was the last straw. I destroyed our relationship. She choked down the need to cry.

Willow closed her eyes tight to clear them. When they fluttered open, she tried to focus on what the teacher was saying for several minutes. Eventually, through sheer force of will, she began to take her usual, careful notes based on the lecture.

Then it all fell apart. Oh Goodness! What if she thinks we can’t make love without—? What if she doesn’t want to? I mean, eventually—sooner or later, a cure—and she’ll be normal. Could it be that, or was the whole thing—the entire thing—was it because of—? She couldn’t have just wanted to try it out? Take it for a test drive? No! No! No! That’s not Buffy! She’d never hurt me like that.

Willow took a quick glance at her entirely meaningless notes. Humiliation washed over her as a tear splashed on the page, distorting the ink. She cupped her face in her hands to hide her shame. Crying in class? Exactly what I need. She could hear the muttered jibes of her classmates before they began. ‘Did you see Rosenberg lose it in history? What a dork.’ Through gritted teeth, she whispered, “I don’t care,” as she sobbed into her hands.

“Stay behind me, Giles,” Buffy grumbled.

Giles heard the instruction and, as he was musing, I wouldn’t consider any other course of action, the doors to City Hall were nearly ripped from their hinges by the slayer. They creaked violently in with a loud crash of twisting metal and breaking glass.

Oops! Guess the doors opened out. My bad! Buffy smiled sweetly and turned to the guard on her left.

Before Giles could blink, a security guard was being physically thrown over the slayer’s head. Giles heard a loud grunt and he presumed that one guard had been used as a blunt object to bludgeon another. By the time he stepped past the mangled doors, Buffy was jerking the receptionist over the front desk.

Buffy watched in amusement as all the color drained from the petite, dark-haired woman’s face. As she suspended the receptionist at eye level, inches from her own nose, the slayer snarled, “I’m here seeking Faith.”

The receptionist wasn’t sure whether to be mortified or amused. The expression on the blonde woman’s face quickly told her that ‘mortified’ was the correct answer to her current dilemma. When the blonde growled, the receptionist managed to sputter, “S-she’s not in.”

“Good to know,” Buffy replied graciously and she heaved the receptionist the rest of the way over the desk, placing her gently on the ground. She pulled on the hem of the strange woman’s blouse to straighten it. Then without warning, Buffy struck the receptionist on the temple just hard enough to knock her out and guided her to the ground. “Sorry,” she whispered, then hopped the front desk and popped the door open from the inside.

Giles was bent over one of the guards, stealing his keycard, when the hiss came for him to follow. He quickly retrieved the piece of plastic and a ring of keys, then ran to the door Buffy was holding open.

While Giles slipped through the doorway, Buffy continued to press forward through a short hallway behind the front desk. He couldn’t help but recoil when the fate of the first two men was spelled out for him in graphic detail. After glancing ruefully down at the two fallen guards, he hauled them into the security office and made his way to the T-juncture where Buffy had halted and stood smiling.

Buffy turned to glance at the fire hose and axe behind the glass case in the wall, then winked over her shoulder at Giles. Using her sleeve to cover her hand, she wrenched the door open and noted, “There’re just certain things you see that really make you think bad things. I’ve always wanted to do this.” Then she giggled and grabbed the fire hose as the alarm sounded.

People came pouring out of the offices, shoving past Giles as he stood fixedly staring at the sign that said, ‘Chief of Police.’ Taking in the arrow, he peered down the hall at the slayer who appeared to be skipping while she towed the heavy hose through the departing throng. She’s lost her bleeding mind. He looked again at the sign and, before he turned back, Buffy was at his side. Glancing back down the empty hall, he noticed more unconscious men.

A charming smile lit her features and Buffy gestured to the valve. “Would you like to do the honors?”

It took about two seconds for the Ripper in Giles to say, Bloody right, I would! A wicked smile twisted the corners of his mouth and Giles pulled out his handkerchief and reached for the valve, using the cloth to avoid leaving any prints. As he turned the valve the hose began to flail around violently, taking chunks out of the drywall. When he turned around, Buffy had disappeared again. Seconds later, she emerged from a room just down the hall carrying two two-liters of cola. He quirked an eyebrow at her as she passed by, shaking the bottles.

Upon entering the security office, Buffy stepped over one of the unconscious guards. Twisting the top on the first two-liter, she pointed the spewing bottle at the surveillance equipment around the guard’s desk. A curtain of smoke filled the room as she hosed the electronics. When the first bottle was done foaming, she poured the remains on top of the stack and opened the second. Glancing over her shoulder, she winked again at her slack-jawed watcher.

“Something Will said a while ago. If you really want to screw up electronic gizmos: soda. The sticky never goes away. Then she broke off into a rant about keyboards with sticky keys and—well, I sorta stopped listening,” Buffy remarked as she emptied the bottle into the second rack of equipment and waved the foul smoke from her face. Pushing past Giles, she ran down the hall and stopped at the intersection. Prompting, “Coming, Giles?” she ducked into the stairwell and waited.

Giles numbly followed the slayer, observing the chaos. Two men were trying to get control of the fire hose and it was going rather poorly for them. As Giles glanced that way, one of the men had the misfortune of being caught in the stream. The Englishman thought it looked very much like one of those terrible cartoons Xander was so fond of. I’m certainly grateful she’s on our side. Amused laughter poured from him as he followed his charge up the stairwell. Several people pushed past them as they ascended, causing him to sober.

Extracting a hair clip from her bag, Willow pulled her shoulder length hair back and coiled it around her hand, clipping it into a bun at the back of her head. She turned on the cold water faucet and peered at her tear-stained face in the mirror. “You look like hell, missy,” she commented with marked authority.

Time to play ‘rational girl,’ Willow reflected as she cupped her hands under the icy stream that poured from the tap. Last night was a weirdness, hellmouthy and severely wigged, regardless how you feel. Leaning over the sink, she brought the frigid water to her face to emphasize the point.

Placing her wet, cold hands on the back of her neck, she considered, Buffy might not feel the same. It might not be as easy for her to—she might not be as comfortable—as fluid… Scooping up another handful of water, she dipped her face into the chilly puddle, holding it for a moment. In fact, I know she isn’t. I’ve seen it. Faith had her freaked. She got more comfortable, but at first—major wiggage. As the water in her hand warmed slightly, she splashed it against her skin and reached for more. And major, grumpy jealousy from yours truly—not so much helpful on the open-mindedness front, she chided.

Another handful of cold water met her face and Willow brought her hands in a sweeping motion to the back of her neck. The chill felt good against her tight muscles. She started to rub some of the tension away as her face dripped into the sink. So what now, rational girl? She pondered this for a fraction of a second. Now, I guess, I give her what she needs. Buffy will want space to figure things out. Above all, I’m her friend. That’s first. I need to let her know, then—

Looking up, Willow met her own soggy gaze in the mirror.

It’s up to her.

“Way I’ve got this figured, Giles, it’s gonna be as far from the front door as possible. That means upper floor. From there, we look,” Buffy offered as she bounced up the stairs. Glancing back, she noted that Giles was looking very serious again. “If there’s a hose up here, I’ll smash, you grab. Use it as a weapon,” she instructed, quickly adding, “I don’t have to tell you not to—”

Buffy pulled a stake from her sleeve and kicked the door. It flew off its hinges and clattered into the opposing wall, carrying one of the two awaiting vampires with it. A feeble groan issued from behind the steel sheet as the second vampire gawked at the slayer. Buffy glowered and made a simple ‘come hither’ gesture with her free hand. When the vampire recoiled instead, she surged forward, whirling into him and smacking him so forcefully that she spun him back through the stairwell doorway. His body flipped over the railing and fell into the open pit. As he hit bottom, a plume of ashes dusted the concrete stairwell.

Buffy burst into the hallway and kicked the door again. A cracking noise and a pained grunt issued from behind the buckled steel plate. She whipped the door aside. It clattered down the hallway as the other vampire tried to crawl away. Reaching down, she jerked him to his feet, plunging the stake into his chest. After dusting herself off, she ripped the glass door open to the enclosure with the fire hose. “There you go, Giles. Have a blast. I’m gonna go find it,” she directed and ran down the hallway.

After opening several doors, Buffy was finally attacked. Must be getting warmer, she mused as she ducked a punch and drove the stake into the vampire’s chest, sending a cloud of ashes across a large table. She shoved the second vampire into an office chair, then kicked the chair and the vampire out the window. Not even bothering to watch, she ran back into the hallway and tried the next door. It was locked.

Do we have a winner? Buffy kicked the door in. On the table in the middle of the room was an ancient looking box. I’ll take door number six. She broke into a full run, covering the distance between herself and Giles in a few seconds. “Bingo, Giles,” she chirruped and ran back down the hall.

Giles looked over his shoulder as he tried to control the fire hose. He quickly wedged the hose into the doorway and followed the slayer. Once they arrived at the box, he took a pouch of powder and a piece of paper from his jacket pocket. After motioning for Buffy to stand clear, he quickly sprinkled the powder as he read the incantation, “Sis modo dissolutum exposco, validum scutum! Diutius nec defende a manibus arcam, intende!”

Buffy cocked an eyebrow while she watched the shield flicker. “’Kay, so…grab the box. Make sure it stays closed.”

Giles followed the instructions. A wave of apprehension overcame him. He didn’t like the slayer’s tone one bit.

“Got it?” Buffy asked. When she perceived a nod, she directed him to the window. “Just focus on the box. Keep it closed,” she added to reinforce the instruction. Then she seized Giles from behind and flung them both at the window. She hit the window first, pirouetting as she kicked off.

Time lingered. Spinning…aiming…revolving…guiding…falling…

Buffy landed underneath Giles on the hood of a squad car. The hood buckled. She felt her ribs crack. When Giles jerked to a halt, his head smashed into her face.


Glass rained over them and Giles held the box over his face to shield it. He faltered for a second or two before he rolled off the car. His knuckles were white where he’d been clutching the box for dear life. He staggered as he stood, peering back up at the broken window. His gaze fixed on the roof access ladder that was bolted to the building right next to their impromptu exit. Unsure whether he was gaping or grinning, he simply pointed.

Her vision spotted as Buffy blearily watched the clouds drift by, struggling to breathe.

Giles began to chortle manically as he pointed.

Finally regaining her breath, Buffy craned her head up and stared at the agitated Englishman. Her gaze traveled from his extended finger to the ladder. She groaned and floundered her shoulders back and forth, preparing to sit up.

Turning to shake his head at the slayer, “I do wish you would warn me—” Giles started to chide until he caught a glimpse of her face. Blood was pouring from her broken nose. He changed his tune, offering instead, “We should get you to a hospital.”

Rolling painfully off the hood of the police car, Buffy hit the ground with a grunt and started moving. A small crowd was already gathering to gawk and she wanted to be anywhere else but here. Sharp pain caused tears pour from her eyes, but she ignored them and wheezed, “No time. Let’s get moving.”

Awkwardly fishing into his jacket pocket, Giles helplessly jogged behind the slayer as she took off down an alley behind City Hall. Finally, he managed to extract his handkerchief.

“Headed to your place…a more Mom-free zone… Unless you’re still—” Buffy snuffled, intentionally cutting short the barb. “I’ll guard while you work on the destroying.”

Gratefully slowing pace to match the slayer, Giles passed his handkerchief off, then breathlessly answered, “That’s rather simple, Buffy,” he puffed, “I think the Breath of the Entropics is typically used for this sort of thing.”

Blinking the tears away, Buffy put a hand out to halt and scanned the cross street cautiously. Setting off again, she gingerly mopped the blood from the lower half of her face with the hankie and mumbled, “Whatever works.” The coppery taste returned as she licked her lips.

Buffy flopped heavily onto Giles’ couch and groaned, peering muzzily at the box on the coffee table. “You had better be worth it.” She’d reluctantly looked in the mirror when she went to use the bathroom. It wasn’t pretty. Both eyes were blackened and swollen. In short, she looked like a throwback from a Rocky movie.

Y’know…way I have it figured, if you can get the what-not-to’s down, you pretty much got a plan. It’s never really about what you do—course that’s important—but it’s always more about whatcha don’t wanna do. Like putting your hand on the oven door glass. Most of us ramp up on that being a major what-not-to pretty early on. I’m adding a new one to the list. This one’s important. Never, ever, ever, not even if your life depends on it, let an English librarian set your nose. The depth of the suckage is unquantifiable.

After turning to lie down, Buffy put a throw cushion under her head and shut her eyes. Not sure they’ll open again, but whatever. Slayer healing can kick in any minute now. I need to look decent by four or Mom will wig. That’ll be fun. Whatcha think the odds are? Wonder if Giles will run more interference? Trouble is, Mom has an avoidy cap. She hits her limit and it won’t matter. I’ll have to give up something. Right now, which bit of truth y’think Mom would handle best? Survey says: none of it.

Giles felt surprisingly good, considering the fall. His left calf was painfully bruised, but otherwise he had been mercifully spared by the slayer’s protective nature. The experience had been strangely reassuring, giving him hope that their relationship would one day be completely mended.

He limped into the library through the side entrance. Once inside, Giles made his way to the study table where Willow was sitting with her untouched lunch spread out in front of her, obliviously reading a paperback novel. “You should try to eat,” he offered in a soft, kindly voice.

Willow flinched at the sound of the voice. Turning to face Giles, she remarked sullenly, “I tried. I’m just not very hungry.”

After taking the seat across from the redhead, Giles nodded and said, “I’m not terribly surprised. If you wish to talk—”

Willow marked the page in her book and began to pack her lunch back in the bag as she replied, “Oh, I—well, I’m not sure I can, Giles. I mean, it’s really sweet of you, but—”

Watching the young hacker throw away her uneaten lunch, Giles met her gaze as she returned to her seat. Simply offering her a nod, he rose to being gathering the things he would need.

As she watched the Englishman limp around the library, gathering supplies, Willow stood up and asked, “What happened?”

“Our attempt to procure the Box of Gavrok was quite successful, however not without complications,” Giles stated simply as he searched through the supply cabinet.

Willow glanced up from packing her school bag and queried with marked concern, “Is Buffy okay?” Procure? They got it already? Umm…wow! That was quick. Buffy must’ve seen that thing about the mayor’s press thingy on the morning news. Slime ball taking one last chance to taste the babies—figure out which ones are yummiest, I guess. She should’ve been watching that with me. But I guess if she had, she wouldn’t have seen it, ’cause— The faintest trace of a smile flickered across her features and was instantly replaced with sadness and worry.

Giles looked over his shoulder to take in the troubled expression on the redhead’s face. Wanting to gloss the situation over, he simply offered, “She was injured as well, but she will make a full recovery.” He stooped to gather a few remaining items off the lowest shelf. Willow was crossing the room from the book cage with a box, when he painfully stood up and placed them on the counter.

As she started to pack the items Giles had selected into the box, Willow remarked, “I’m coming with you, Giles.”

When Willow was finished, Giles swept the box off the counter and replied genially, “Certainly, as you wish.”

Hastily collecting her cola from the table and Buffy’s school bag from behind the counter, Willow followed Giles out the door.

Once they were in the relative privacy of his Citroën, Giles started the engine and backed out of the parking slot. As they left the school parking lot, he began to speak candidly, “Willow, I pray you will forgive me for being so intrusive, but I feel I have little choice given the circumstances. I believe I bear a portion of the responsibility for yesterday’s occurrences. I should have voiced my concerns. Unfortunately, given the personal nature of the issue, I had difficulty doing so.” Spying a fairly secluded place to park, Giles pulled the car over.

“Umm…Giles, why are we stopping?” Willow asked nervously.

Giles removed his glasses and withdrew a handkerchief to clean them with before he answered, “This is a matter of some delicacy. I believe it best that we be afforded privacy. Willow, this morning’s exchanges left me with the impression that something might have transpired between Buffy and yourself.” After replacing his glasses, he turned to take in the gaping expression on his passenger’s face.

When nothing was offered in response, Giles continued, “I recognize fully that it is not my place to pry. Furthermore, it is easy to see how confusing this must be for the two of you. I do not wish to aggravate an already difficult situation, but I must impress upon you that occurrences of this nature are rarely without consequence.”

After a few scant moments of silence, Willow arrived at the conclusion that Giles was so skillfully avoiding. Her complexion went stark white. “But—umm—oh,” she stammered, trying to figure out how to tell the stodgy Englishman that there hadn’t been any ejaculation with Buffy’s climax. “Giles, umm…I…I’m not—I mean…not much with the knowledge…er…umm…definitely not ‘knowledge girl’…and the experiencing, but—well, I do know how—” An exasperated sigh slipped out. “I got that the stork’s a myth… See, thing is, there are things that are sorta supposed to happen and well…umm…” By this point she was completely convinced she wanted to die. Heat radiated off her face as she slouched gradually lower in her seat. Finally, she managed to sputter, “They sorta didn’t.”

Giles brow was deeply furrowed with confusion when the young hacker finished. “Willow, I’m not certain that I’m following you.”

Willow dropped her face in her hand and rubbed her eyes. Ever notice there’s never a huge rock to crawl under when you need one? Then she spied her soda and an idea took form. After rolling the window part of the way down, she shook the bottle and held it outside the car, carefully releasing the cap. The soda briefly sprayed the side of the car, then shot a stream out of the bottle. She pointed.

Appearing even more mystified, Giles watched the redhead drop her soda on the ground and shake her sticky hand. I don’t understand the fixation with shaking carbonated beverages. It seems to be something of a theme today. I do hope we move on.

Pulling her arm back inside the car, Willow looked around for a napkin. Accepting the handkerchief Giles offered her, she wiped her hands. When she eventually spoke, Willow sounded vaguely perturbed, “Put it in the context of the conversation we weren’t having, Giles. Please! I’m begging you.” Stifling the annoyance with another well placed sigh, she concluded, “It didn’t happen…and it sorta needs to.”

When Giles finally firmed up, he hastily replied, “Right then. We should be on our way.”

Thank Goodness!

Her body sliced through the lawn with practiced ease. Strong scales gripped the earth as she undulated left, then right. The sun beamed down, warming her cool skin. There was something liberating about the sensation. She felt completely free. All that mattered was the earth.

She flicked her tongue out to taste the air. With the action came a barrage of sensory awareness: she smelled the fresh cut lawn, the odors of humanity, hot tarmac, sweat, blood. She was hungry. A girl stepped over her, seemingly ignorant of her presence.

As the girl passed, Buffy flicked her tongue out again, barely brushing the hosiery that clung to the girl’s ankle. The girl continued on, oblivious to the gentle touch. Sweet, salty, warm, succulent skin lay under the fragile garment. Buffy’s pulse leapt with anticipation.

She followed the girl, watching her long, auburn hair sway in the gentle breeze. Buffy blinked as she moved. The awareness that she could see even with her eyes closed wasn’t new or shocking, though she momentarily felt it should be.

She watched the girl move. There was a nervous, guarded quality to the motion. The girl somehow knew she didn’t belong. Her plain attire didn’t match the bright adornments of her peers. It was dull, drab, and far too lifeless for such a vibrant creature.

The girl reached her destination. Taking a seat on a concrete bench, she lowered the bag she carried to the ground and opened it, removing a brown paper sack.

Buffy slithered under the bench, aware that the majority of her body should be plainly in view to the girl. Naked and trusting, she ventured forward. Again, there was no reaction. It was as though the girl couldn’t see her, or didn’t want to. Buffy looped back under the bench, slipping her body behind the girl’s ankles. The thickest part of her form brushed the underside of the cold concrete slab as she passed through this abbreviated maze.

Rising up to peer at the girl eating a homemade lunch, Buffy was struck by the beauty of this creature. The desire to consume, to destroy, was overwhelming. She pulled back, watching, waiting, then abruptly she lashed forward. When her jaws met soft, delicate flesh, she began to coil around the girl, looping, twining.

The girl let out a piercing scream that was quickly choked off by the strength of the cold coils that seized her.

Buffy snapped awake and screamed. A sharp pain shot through her chest. Disoriented by her surroundings, she struggled to open her eyes. When they refused to respond, her pulse raced. She curled into a tight ball and fell. Her body thudded, sprawling on the hard floor. Something connected with her arm, inflicting more pain. She gasped for breath.

The nightmare flashed painfully through her mind. In the black, her eyes welled up. The salt of her tears burned as it seeped past the thick shroud. As she flopped onto her back, cotton and denim clung to her clammy skin. Barely aware, she started to shiver.

She was suddenly stuck by the fact she couldn’t breathe—or maybe it was that she was breathing too much? She fought to gain control. Her chest tightened and burned. The nightmare vision continued to haunt her in the dark. She was cold and alone. Then, just as suddenly, she wasn’t.

Arms gently wrapped around her, propping her up. As they cradled her, soothing sounds broke through the terror. She was being rocked, held in someone’s arms.

A piercing shriek sounded from inside the apartment as they pulled up. Willow threw the car door open and jumped out before the car had entirely stopped. She staggered when her feet hit the ground, nearly collapsing to her knees. The instant her balance returned, she ran. When she got to the door, a feeling of helplessness briefly gnawed at her. She rattled the locked door, wanting to break it down.

Giles wedged himself between the desperate young woman and the door, inserting his keys.

Once the door was unlocked, Willow burst into the apartment and scanned what appeared to be an empty room. Quickly pressing on, she rounded the couch and gasped. After taking a hasty and remarkably clumsy seat on the floor, she pulled Buffy into her lap. I’ve never seen—oh God! She’s actually so scared she’s hyperventilating.

Making gentle hushing noises, Willow started to rock and caress to calm her friend.

“I thought you said ‘injured’? How could you leave her like this?”

Willow’s voice rang through the maelstrom and Buffy recoiled. No! The arms tightened around her as she began to struggle. I’ve got to—I have to get away. Don’t make me hurt you, Will.

“Buffy, it’s me. I won’t hurt you. Please don’t hurt me,” Willow said anxiously.

The word found voice and Buffy screamed, “No!” as she fought to get away. Breaking free, she scrambled across the floor until she collided with something. “I will hurt you! I did hurt you!” What? Wait? Hurt you? Umm… Suddenly, like a dash of ice water, it hit her how irrational her previous thoughts were.

“Willow, perhaps it would be prudent to allow her to get her bearings first?” Giles suggested in a mild tone.

“No, Giles. Would you mind—? I mean…umm…I know it’s your place and everything, but—” Willow replied bashfully.

“Certainly, but do be careful. I’ll just be outside should you need me.”

Willow ignored the exiting librarian and asked Buffy calmly, “You hurt me?”

The door opened, then shut, and the slayer was alone with Willow. Sensing movement, Buffy turned to face it and spat blindly in the direction of the voice, “I hurt! I used! I violated! I betrayed!”

Distress and confusion tainted her voice as Willow remarked, “That might all be true if…if I hadn’t freely offered.” An exasperated sigh hissed from her and she seemed to calm. Her tone was more level and forthright when she added, “Now settle down and let me see you.”

Buffy didn’t struggle when Willow tentatively closed a hand over her shoulder. As the gentle caresses continued, pieces of the nightmare vividly hung in Buffy’s mind. She felt the bones snap. The sound of Willow screaming filled her remaining senses. No! I gotta get a grip. It was a dream. Just a dream. A truly scary, really messed up…God, Buffy! Freud much? It was a dream. Course ‘not being able to see’—not helpful either. It’s like the blindfold: you can see, just listen.

In a tranquil voice, Willow offered, “Buffy, I know you need time to think, but I also want you to know: you’re my friend first and foremost. That means more to me than anything. If I have to, I can bundle up everything that happened yesterday and put it someplace safe. Hold onto it as a beautiful memory.” Taking a deep breath, she amended, sounding marginally terser, “And don’t you dare tell me it wasn’t beautiful, Buffy Summers. I couldn’t forgive you for that.”

Buffy didn’t struggle when Willow moved next to her and pulled her into a gentle embrace. The soft movement and soothing caress resumed. Tears leaked out again through the puffy flesh. Buffy winced. “A beautiful memory? How can you call it that, Will?” She raised her hand, asking to be heard out. “I took something from you—I stole something that should’ve been Oz’s. I don’t get you. Don’t you feel bad about Oz?”

The movement abated as Willow stiffened. There was an extended silence; finally, she replied patiently, “Of course I feel bad. Feeling bad—feeling horrible—it isn’t going to undo what happened. All the regret in the world can’t change it.” She sighed. “As to the stealing: you musta missed the whole ‘freely offered’ part of the speech. You can’t steal what’s freely given. It’s an impossible combination. It was mine to give. That wasn’t your choice or his and I refuse to regret an instant of it.”

While the calming motion continued, the lingering images of the nightmare faded, driven away by soothing touch and gentle words. It was just a nightmare. Me. My guilt. I guess if she doesn’t feel that way—which is totally wig-worthy. At least—I mean, I guess it is. I know that, after Xander put the whammy on me, what I really wanted most was to stuff him in a trash can. An image of Xander’s feet and head sticking out of a galvanized steel garbage can flickered into view. I was nice…actually kinda regret that. In her mind’s eye Buffy kicked the can on its side and sent it rolling down a hill. Let’s hear it for a healthy fantasy life. No ‘trash can stuffing’ for me. Nope. Instead she’s holding me—comforting me. Maybe— The tears calmed, but Buffy was afraid to wipe them away. Finding the strength to answer, she simply whispered, “I’m sorry, Will.”

“What for this time?” Willow teased playfully, obviously trying to lighten the mood.

“For leaving,” Buffy whispered.

“That you can be sorry for. The rest: you’re not allowed.”

Willow’s lips brushed Buffy’s forehead ever so gently and soft finger tips swept a lock of hair from her cheek. Her eyes burned from the drying tears and she struggled to think through the proverbial ‘salt in the open wound’ sensation. Gathering the remainder of her resolve, she commented wryly, “I’m just glad you’re not trying to stuff me into a trash can. ’Cause right now, you might have a shot.”

Willow gasped, “Huh?” sounding utterly mystified.

“Nothing really, Will. Just, with Xander, I felt used. I figured you’d feel the same,” Buffy replied weakly.

Willow’s tone changed, reflecting amusement as she responded, “That wasn’t a love spell, Buffy. Like I said last night, it wasn’t like I just ‘had to.’ I was there because I wanted to be. The only weird thing I felt was—I dunno—like really, really lusty. I actually thought about it and decided—made the decision to stay.”

“Oh,” was all Buffy managed to say. All of the pieces snapped into place and it was her turn to be mystified. She meant it—like really. Not an ‘I love you’ you’d say to a friend, but— Wow! She’s right. I need time. Umm…wow…lemme think. Fingertips gently caressed her jaw line. I’m an idiot.

Buffy could feel a smile starting to form and it hurt. Suppressing the impulse, she sighed at the mess she’d made. I did the same thing to Will that Angel did to me and got attacked by him for it. Didn’t deserve it, did I? Then for icing: I get grounded by my mother. Still utterly undeserving. I wigged over Oz and got pounded to a pulp. Me doing the badness to myself. There was a ladder? Signs might be helpful. Nightmares, horror, and pain, I give you: Buffy Summers. I’m an idiot.

“Let’s get you back up on the couch. I need to go see what’s up with Giles.”

Buffy moved from Willow’s lap and put a hand in the air. When Willow’s hand met hers, Buffy stood and followed the subtle cues. Feeling the couch behind her calves, she sat back and crossed her legs casually. She sensed Willow moving away.

Utterly blind, but strangely calm for the first time in days, Buffy began to seriously consider her reactions. Not a love spell? Harmony’s reaction was totally love spellish. Harmony’s also—well, when her IQ hits fifty she should totally sell. What about the others? Was I just tweaking over women checking me out? Were the ones that were ‘following me’ just walking—going somewhere—just like me? Maybe. Oh Christ, Summers! You are an idiot! Overreact much?

The front door clicked and swung open. Giles voice sounded from outside, “Ah...Willow, I was just about to knock. Very good. If you would bring the box, we can end this and get on about our lives.”

Willow returned, leaving the door open. Buffy could hear the crackling sounds of fire drifting in from the patio. The Box of Gavrok slid across the coffee table and moments later a hand met hers. Rising to her feet, she wrapped her arm around her friend’s slender waist and began to walk where directed.

“Sorry you can’t watch this,” Willow reflected in a soft voice.

The heat of a fire warmed Buffy’s tender skin. Giles muttered words that she didn’t understand and honestly didn’t care to. There was a sense of closure in the air as the Box of Gavrok thudded against a metal surface, starting to crackle and pop. As she listened intently, the slayer could swear she heard the sounds of stifled shrieks. Leaning close to her friend, Buffy murmured, “I’m watching, Will.” For the first time in days.

Chapter 3

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