DISCLAIMER: The characters of BtVS belong to Joss Whedon, M.E. Production & other suit types I don't know. The original characters in this piece do belong to me. Also, we'll put this at an R rating for language and violence…maybe some sex between Buffy and Willow too…
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I had this thought moons ago about what happened after Sunnydale (this was before the comics). About who Buffy was and the way the Scoobs were left at the end of Season 7; how I really didn't like it. This is a story about reconnection and forming new bonds. Hopefully, it worked. As an FYI…given the canonical comics, this so A.U., but truthfully, I prefer this world as opposed to the one that Joss is painting for us. I at least let the Scoobs find a small amount of peace. This will eventually be part of a series. The second portion of this story arc is completed and will be a crossover with Dexter. The third and final portion is currently being worked on and is not even half way done. I hope that you'll get to read it all. This story was originally published back in '07. Due to some encouragement it has been worked over, steam rolled, red inked and re-edited to bring it up to a livable standard. When I first started writing, I didn't have a beta or a clue as to what the hell I was supposed to be doing. I've learned. I've grown. And I've gotten LOTS of help. I'm also still learning. So… =0) That being said, any mistakes are all my fault. Yell in my direction. Thank You's: Dirk for being my wonderful primary beta. Dennis for the moral support and the humor. Thumper for allowing her minion some alone time. Howard Russell for his spit and polish on the final touches. Lastly, Valyssia, who when this is all said and done, should probably get writing credit on it as well.
FEEDBACKGood, bad, I usually take it all…leave it here or drop me a line: whedonistic.tendencies@gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

One Last Shot
By Whedonist


Chapter 1 – American Heartbreak

A chilly breeze whipped through the city that night, so Buffy pulled her knees up to her chest to guard against it. High above the streets on a roof ledge, she sat reflecting while the city lights glared all around her. She watched the steady stream of traffic moving along a nearby expressway and a soft sigh passed through her parted lips. New York is pretty at night, but I miss the quiet streets of Sunnydale. Of course, I was responsible for the town's destruction, but hey, it was that or let the world go to hell. Some choices aren't really choices at all. Like, who I am. I had a choice to either reject my destiny or embrace it, but the rejection would have meant the annihilation of the human race and, with it, everyone I hold dear. So, choice? Not so much.

It's been two years since we took out my home. The Watchers' Council is up and running, there are over two hundred active slayers throughout the world and another one-hundred-sixty-three in a school designed to teach them to slay and have a life. I guess I'm not the Chosen One anymore. It's been hard to reconcile that fact. For years it was me and me only, even with Kendra or Faith. They didn't live on the hellmouth, but now, I don't either. Two years is a long time to drift through life.

I hardly see anyone anymore. I go to work, patrol a few times a week, and at night I try to cry myself to sleep, but the tears won't come. I haven't cried in over three years. You'd think that something would trigger some tears, but no. The last time I cried was in the arms of my friend's dead lover.

Since I'm being 'thought gal', I might as well be honest. I moved to New York to get away from the people I consider family. I look at them and all I see is failure. Xander, my sweet wonderful Xander, I look at his glass eye and I get nauseous. I can't seem to look at Giles either. He just makes me feel disappointment. He was like a dad to me once. Then, in the end when I needed him the most, he left. Don't think I can do the 'forgiveness' thing with him. Too hard.

Then there's Willow. That's why I'm here in the chilly night air and not in my warm comfy bed. She's coming to visit tomorrow. And sleep? What's that? Wish I could. She didn't say how long she'd be staying, but I hope it's not long. I'm not sure how much I can take. I don't know where to start. I see her and seven years of pain hit me. The first day I saw her, I think I loved her, but then there was Angel. Which at first was an excuse but then there was love. College proved to be too much for our friendship. I see my failure and inability to connect whenever I look into her eyes. After that, my fourth year in Sunnydale, I think of Willow and would rather die again than have to live through any of it again.

So yeah, she's coming to visit and I'm not sure how I'll deal. I guess I just will...somehow. There could be beer and narcotics involved. 'Kay, so…maybe just the beer…and probably not nearly enough… Jimmy would kill me. Suck it up, Summers…you're the one that wanted to be a cop. Totally weird, after that whole 'Career Day' nightmare, but—helping people—there was sense there.

I just hope Will doesn't bring anyone with her. She didn't say she was, but with her you never know. The last time I saw her was in Paris. The original gang met up there for a Christmas party. It was supposed to be the five of us, but she brought her current honey. Sara, Sally, Susie? Some 'S' name, that's all I remember. I never was one to remember names even when I wanted to. That's not the point though. I was excited that last Christmas to see her; that was before she introduced the girlfriend.

A week prior to leaving for Paris, I'd resolved myself to be 'action gal.' I was going to woo her. I was going to finally remove my head from my ass and tell the witch how I felt. I had bought this nice, black cocktail dress. It accentuated all the right parts of my body and I was going to make her fall madly in love with me. Then she showed up with what's-her-face and popped my balloons. I spent the week in Paris alone and frustrated. We haven't talked much since. I went back home and stayed the hell away from everyone.

Buffy twisted her wrist to view the face of the watch she had worn since joining the N.Y.P.D. Wow - look at the time. I gotta at least try the 'sleep' thing. I have to be at J.F.K. at eight a.m. Why she had to pick a redeye is beyond me. She knows I'm not a morning person. I wonder if she'll finally see me?

Sighing, Buffy hopped down off the ledge and landed gracefully on the fire escape. Making her way down three flights of stairs, she climbed back into her window. Lying down, she turned off the bedside lamp and eventually drifted off into a fitful sleep.

Too many hours spent waiting had taken their toll on Willow. She was anxious and it was beginning to show. An impatient sigh left a haze on the small window as she peered out over the vast city. How many times have I seen this same view? Paris, Rome, London, Rio, Panama, Sydney—all of these names mean nothing to me. I've spent the last two years of my life filling out three passport books rather than really seeing what's around me. I don't know if that's a good or a bad. Sure, traveling has its advantages, but I miss home. I miss Sunnydale.

Goddess, I thought I'd never say that, but it's true. I miss waking up in the morning to make breakfast with Dawn and Buffy, or when Tara was there, watching her make pancakes. I miss Tara. It doesn't seem to go away, this ache that started the day I pushed her away. I miss waking up and feeling her body curled into mine and the way she would tease me to wake me up. No one's ever done that except her.

I miss Xander. I haven't seen him in almost four months and I need him. He keeps me grounded. Instead, he's off with Faith training slayers in Cleveland. Buffy—jeez, I haven't seen Buffy in a year. Of course, it's to be expected. She really hasn't wanted anything to do with me for over three years. I try to remember why I insisted on the resurrection spell and I can't remember. Sure there's regret that I killed Warren Meers, but it's like a distant second anytime I'm around Buffy. I failed her more than anyone, even Tara. Regret is a hard thing to live with.

Of course thinking about Buffy always brings up more. If I'm honest, there's some longing. Pain, love, desire too, but it's not like I've expressed most of those emotions with her. I couldn't. Not when I was around her. There was always a role that she needed me to play. Ever the dutiful Scooby, I gave her what she needed.

The thing I can't really figure is when my love for her changed. It morphed along the way to a 'more than friends' type of feeling. Now, there's this physical pain whenever I see her and, after so long, it's hard to be around her for extended periods of time.

I'm not sure why I decided to visit. A break? A chance to reconnect? Can I really let her into my world again? Will she push me away and turn her back on me like she has in the past? I probably should call and tell her I can't come and go someplace else. Maybe Fiji? It should be nice this time of year.

Willow twisted in her seat and exhaled a tired breath. The man next to her gave her an annoyed look which she returned with a small, half smile. Great, annoying the other passengers. Suck it up, Rosenberg. You can't go anywhere. She placed her head back to its position against the small window and stared down at the Earth.


From this high up, that's the only thing that comes to mind. The world looks so small. Fragile even, but it's not. I know. I wish… No, I don't wish. No wishing here. Wishing leads to granted requests and fucked up realities. Not that this reality is any less fucked up, but I'm used to it. So I guess it's okay to be fucked up as long as you know it and are used to it? That doesn't make sense. Maybe it's good to recognize your screwed upedness and then try and fix it. That makes more sense. I'll have to ask Giles, maybe he can figure out. Goddess knows I can't.

I'm lying when I say I don't know why I decided to visit. I came to visit because I miss her. Simple, but not. I miss her more than I miss Tara, or Dawn, or Xander. She was my rock. Then my rock was crushed and I stumbled. I want her back. I want to rebuild and I want to hope. I haven't hoped for anything in what seems like forever. I want to hope that maybe, just maybe, I can lean on her while she leans on me. I've resolved myself to be 'action girl.' Buffy would appreciate that. She understands action. I'm 'think it through'-gal, she's 'must get it done now'-gal, and Xander's joke-guy. I could use a joke right about now.

"This is your captain speaking. Please return you seats and tray tables to their original and upright position. We will be landing in John F. Kennedy International Airport in ten minutes. The ambient temperature is fifty-six degrees and the local time is 7:45am. Thank you for flying United. Have fun in the Big Apple."

Why do they call it 'The Big Apple'? I need to look into that. Who in their right mind would nickname a city that? It's like naming a city 'The Fuzzy Peach.' Dumb, dumb, dumb. Why did Buffy have to pick New York City to live in? Couldn't she have picked Boston? It's a nice city—of course, it's colder then hell in the winter, but hey, it's only three months out of the year. It also doesn't have a stupid nickname that pilots use to annoy their passengers with.

I wonder how she'll look. Did she grow her hair out? Are there any lines around her eyes or mouth? I hope she's doing well. The last email I got seemed to indicate all arrows to the positive, but she's cut us out of her life so much that I won't know until I see for myself. I wonder if I'll have the guts to see this through and reconnect with her like I want. Wonder if she'll finally see me?

Willow pushed her seat back up and made sure that her seat belt was fastened as she watched the ground rise up and meet the plane. It took twenty minutes to taxi in and then another ten to depart the airplane. Walking down towards the baggage claim, Willow groaned, squared her shoulders and resolved herself to do what she had intended to do on this trip. Walls, emotional baggage, and regret be damned. Hope you're ready, Buff. The metaphory gloves are off.

Buffy shifted anxiously in her seat as the cab crept forward through the traffic approaching the huge airport. Stupid taxis! It's a well known and on-going joke in New York. You can never get a taxi when you need one. Then when you do, you have to haggle with the driver to get six blocks from where you need to be. It's damn stupid.

Figures that I would get up this morning with extra time and still be late. I showered, had some coffee, and I even left myself time to find the non-existent taxi that needed to take me to the airport. But—and I mean 'but' with a capital 'B'—my time table was based on finding a cab in under ten minutes. It took me fifteen just to flag one down.

It has to be the most annoying thing in the world to stand with your arm in the air like your waiting on the teacher to call on you. And you know that said teacher sees you, but their doing that 'ignoring you 'cause they can' thing. Buffy growled softly as the cab driver allowed himself to be cut off by a Super Shuttle. The traffic picked up mildly and finally the cab came to a rest outside the Baggage Claim Terminal.

"You going in?" asked the driver.

"Yeah, keep the meter running and I'll be back," replied the blonde as she started to exit the cab. She saw the cabbie acknowledge the request. Shutting the door with gusto, she stepped onto the busy sidewalk. So, here I am, twenty minutes late getting to the airport. Hopefully, Willow will be late getting off the plane.

Her phone played a melody from inside her jacket pocket; she pulled it out and flipped it open to read the display. Text messages. These you have to love. I was never one to get into computers, so I missed the instant messaging craze, but this text message stuff is pretty damn neat.

Okay, so…Will's here in New York waiting on me. I'm nauseous. I've got butterflies and everything in my body is telling me to hightail it out of here and say, 'I got called in'. No! Bad brain! Can't do that to Will. We'll get through this; she'll go away; I'll continue my time-honored custom of pining, loneliness, and burying myself in my work. I'm good at that. I'll stick my head in the sand of the dead and the indigent and ignore everything else. Jimmy calls it 'focus.' That's a nice word for 'avoidy.'

Let's go, Buffy. Let's go meet Willow. Your oldest friend. Move. Stupid legs. They actually moved. Here goes nothing. Her expression reflected determination as she walked along the sidewalk in front of the massive glass-front terminal building. She paused to scan the people waiting in front. A familiar face stood out in the crowd. Plastering a smile on, she made her way to the witch.

Okay, so…you'd think that with all of the technology we have that somebody somewhere would invent a better, more efficient way to claim baggage at the airport. For Goddess' sake! Three geeks sat around in a musty basement and made an invisibility ray back home. How hard could it be? I hate, and I mean hate, those stupid rotating tracks. They go too fast and people are way too pushy. Some old lady nearly beaned me in my head with her purse as I stepped up to grab my luggage. I only brought two medium sized suitcases. Jeez!

I messaged Buffy let her know where I was. She's late, which was to be expected. Some things never change… Buffy's punctuality is definitely one of them. I remember Dawnie saying that Buffy would be late to her own funeral. Which under the circumstances is quite funny and true. I hope she put in for some vacation time. I want to be able to hang out and not see dead bodies. As a general rule, I don't like dead bodies, they smell and it's freaksome if they start to move.

Willow exhaled a deep, apprehensive sigh and rocked back and forth on her feet. I've been standing here for five minutes. I should probably move. You know, go meet Buffy at the entrance. I'm not sure if this was the best idea. I could call her and tell her that Xander called me and needed me in Cleveland for something. Nope, can't do that. Bad Willow! Get a move on. It's going to be okay. Here goes nothing.

Willow grabbed the cart that held her luggage and moved towards the doors. She stepped out into the tepid spring morning and saw Buffy coming to her from the left.

Wow. Let me just say 'double wow!' She looks better than I remembered. Her red mane is just that: a mane. It's down to the middle of her back now. She looks stunning. Damn it. Why can't she look homely? Why does she have to be standing there with that Willow-like grin and that body I could study for hours? Damn it! Moving up to the redhead, Buffy extended her arms and drew Willow into a gentle hug.

Shit. And let me add, poop. She looks amazing. Her hair is a good shade of blonde for her complexion and she still hasn't lost her California girl tan. She's Buffy. This is going to be hard. Look, she's smiling. That's a definite good. Smile face, smile now. Hmm…Buffy scent. I will never forget what she smells like. Lavender, sandalwood, and her own unique fragrance. Gods, I've missed that smell. Buffy body pressed into mine. Don't move, just enjoy. Willow squeezed a little tighter and let the moment wrap around her.

Realizing that they were both hanging on to each other, Buffy broke away and stepped back, nervously jamming her hands into the pockets of her jeans.

"Buff…Goddess, it's good to see you." Willow smiled.

"I missed you too, Will." Buffy returned the smile. Looking around at the crowd, she tugged on Willow's arm and said, "I vote we motor. I hate the airport."

Willow nodded then grabbed her cart before following Buffy to the waiting taxi.

A vacant, worried expression sullied her face as Buffy looked out the window of the cab. Gee, can silences get any more uncomfortable? I think not. Not now. This was a bad idea. I should have just turned around and gone home. She looks amazing though. The two years off the Hellmouth have been good for her. Maybe it was the travel. I wonder if she would freak if I grabbed her hand. We always touched digits. Would she think it's weird? Oh well…here goes. She cautiously slipped her left hand over Willow's. When the redhead didn't pull away, she closed her grip.

Soft—criminy her hands are soft. Mine never are. It used to be from holding stakes and weapons, now the calluses are from the firing range. Personally, I don't like guns for more-than-obvious reasons. Have to carry it even though I've never used it. Jimmy's surprised by this, but he doesn't know much about my past. I intend to keep it that way.

Willow hand. Hand of Willow. She likes it. She squeezed my hand back. Turn, smile, look away. God I'm a doofus. We've known each other for nearly nine years; it shouldn't be like this. If you only knew, Willow. I'm sorry.

Oh…Buffy hand. It's still callused, but boy, is it nice and—oh…tingles. I know mine are a stark contrast to hers, but it's not my fault. Even when I would help whittle stakes, my hands were always soft. It's a thing. Oh, she's smiling. Smile back, goof. Willow returned the smile.

Woot! Doing internal happy-dance. It's going to be okay. I can do this. I can turn our relationship around. It's time. It's been too long. I hope she understands. I hope that she can help me. I need her in my life. But saying anything? Way too scary. I didn't want to ruin 'us,' but there isn't much of an 'us.' More 'a her' and 'a me.'

Let's see what she does if I rest my head on her shoulder. Ah, much better. Oh…hair petting. That's good. Kennedy was right…about the flirting. With girls it's always in code, unless you're Faith. Then it's more like, 'I want to screw. You want to screw? Cool. Let's go be five-by-five together.' I still have yet to figure out what that means. What the hell is that? I'll have to ask Xander.

I'm still trying to convince myself this'll work. So much time—nothing's been said. Dawn told me she loved me, but I didn't believe her and then I asked Ken. We still talk. She's a good friend, but she left because of Buffy. Who knew? She told me later that was why. Let's hope Dawn and Ken were right. If only I knew. I'm sorry, Buff…sorry I took so long.

When they arrived at her apartment, Buffy gave Willow a quick tour and left her in the guest bedroom to unpack.

Coming back from the restroom, Buffy knocked on the guest room door and asked, "Willow?" in a tentative tone.

"Yeah, Buff. Come in."

Buffy slowly opened the door and stepped inside before asking, "I was just wondering what you wanted to do tonight. Or for that matter, the rest of the week. I had a gargantuan amount of vacation time, so I took the next two weeks off. Is there anything you want to do?"

Willow grinned. After shoving her empty suitcases under the bed, she took a seat on the bed and motioned Buffy over. "Well, let's see. There's like a bazillion plays that go on nightly. I bet someone, who shall remain nameless—not me, but someone who could be in this room—hasn't taken one day to see the sights of the city in which they reside."

As she spoke, Buffy crossed the room and took a seat on the bed. "Guilty. But that's why you're here, right? To help me find the fun, or maybe force me to… Speaking of the 'why'—not that it's not good to see you—but umm…why the visit?"

Turning to face her friend, Willow replied, "It seemed like the time. I talked to Dawn and Ken last week and they both said that you needed a vacation and what better way to force you to take a vacation than for me to take one myself?"

Nodding her head in understanding, Buffy laughed. "So this was all Dawn and Ken's idea?"

"Yes and no. I wanted to come see you. It's been—what, over a year since we saw each other? I know it's more my fault 'cause of being travel-girl, but still I should have made time. I didn't. I'm sorry about that, Buff," Willow answered in a guilty tone.

The silence somehow lapsed into uncomfortable.



They both chimed together, "Sorry."

Willow put her hand up to stop the second apology and fell quiet again.

Buffy stopped talking and let Willow start.

"You talk, Buff. Then I'll go."

Buffy sighed then offered feebly, "It's just I don't know. It's strange for me with you here. I don't know what to say or how to act, but I think it's cool that you're here."

Willow scooted back on the bed resting against the pillows. Goddess I'm dumb. This big, gapping, gappy thingy that's here, between us. Where do I start? It's treacherous and I'm not—no, no more hiding. I need her. She needs me. Now, how do I get her to get that with all of our history? Lots to say and no words for me to say them with. I'd laugh if it wasn't so damn sad that babbler-extraordinaire Willow Rosenberg is unable to find the words.

Willow looked up and met her friend's gaze. Locking eyes with Buffy, she saw everything in them. What was it about faith I read? 'Faith is the presence of belief in the absence of proof.' I need that right now. I need to have faith in Buffy. Goddess, why am I such a doofus? We worked so hard at trying to protect each other that, in the end, we both shut each other out. The one person I needed the most I pushed away. Someone's gonna have to take the first step. I can't force her to do it...so here goes everything…

Scooting up so that she and Buffy were knee-to-knee, Willow grabbed Buffy's hands and held them in her own. "Buff," Willow whispered. It wasn't meant to be said so soft, but that's how it came out. "Buffy, I need you to listen to me and you can talk when I'm finished. Okay?"

Willow waited until she saw a subtle nod, then continued, "What I said about needing a vacation was true, but I need to be totally honest and let you know that I came here with ulterior motives. I did talk to Dawn last week and she said some things that got me thinking. Then I talked to Ken, and she said some things that made me think more."

"So, here it goes," Willow said, drawing in a deep breath. "Back in Sunnydale, we—you and I—tried so hard to be better for each other. I tried to protect you just like you tried to protect me. And doing that, we….we ended up pushing each other away. Then there was other stuff, you know? Like 'people' and 'saving the world' that—like our freshman year. After that, the you and I that was 'us' got damaged."

Willow sighed, struggling to find better words. "Until today, I thought it was irreparable. That 'we' couldn't be fixed. I've been—well, everywhere really and you've been here. What I want to do is, or what I came here for, is to try and fix 'us.' I need your help to do it. And I know this is probably a conversation that we should have had over some type of fermented beverage, but it seemed right to tell you now."

A sentimental smile warmed her features, and then Willow finished the thought, "I've missed you, Buffy. I've missed you so much and for so long that I've got this huge, Buffy-shaped scab over my heart where you're supposed to be. Dawnie, for some reason, ripped it off last week. I needed to heal it. I need you, Buff. I think you need me too, but you need to let me in."

Wiping a tear away, she shrugged her shoulders and concluded, "You don't have the world on your shoulders anymore. Remember? We had the retirement party for you. Faith baked the stake-shaped cake that said 'Happy Trails, Chosen One.' We had hats and kazoos and we got you Silly String. You're just Buffy Summers. You're the Buffy that befriended the shy, geeky Willow back in sophomore year. I know we've both changed, but the way I feel about you hasn't and it won't. There hasn't been a day that's gone by that I haven't thought about you at least once. So what do you say? You want to help me?"

The question hung in the air between them. She pulled Buffy's hands up to her mouth and placed light kisses on each one. Lowering them down to her lap, she looked up and locked eyes with a tear-stained slayer. Her friend's hazel eyes were magnified by unshed tears. Willow placed her hand on Buffy's cheek and caressed away one that trailed down her delicate cheekbone.

Tension settled thick over them, lingering with the unanswered questions. Willow felt compelled to act because of the promise she made when she stepped off the plane. She leaned in and placed a soft kiss on Buffy's lips then slowly backed away, awaiting a response.

I…she…wow. She looks scared. Do something…anything. Damn it, Will! Run…I should run away. What the hell do I do? Well, Summers, it's not like you haven't been kissed before…and this is what you've been wanting. Buffy pulled back to feel the wetness on her face. Her lips burned from the contact. Safe bet, she's not gonna wait all night for you to grow a spine. Smiling she leaned in capturing the lips again. Applying more force, she pushed forward and lay on top of Willow using her arms as support.

Willow gave into the sensation, letting the slayer follow her impulses.

I can't believe I'm doing this. I can't believe I'm kissing Willow. Yes! It's better than I fantasized. In fact, it's better than any sex I've ever had. How does this happen? Is this normal, or is it just me?

Breaking for need of oxygen, Buffy pushed away slightly and looked into Willow's eyes. They were a shade darker than normal and magnified by the tears yet to make their way down the witch's cheeks. Buffy's own tears rained down as she was unable to keep a lid on them.

Willow leaned up and kissed away each one that fell, then whispered, "So Buffy, will I take that as a yes? You need to know I love you. I always have. I'm sorry it took me so long to see. Forgive me?"

Buffy shook her head yes and sniffled. "I'm sorry too, Will. I should have said something years ago. God, Will, I….I do I love you, but I'm scared. What does this mean? You're not going to leave are you? Stay, please."

Willow pulled Buffy down on top of her, enveloping her in a hug. "I'm not going anywhere, Buffy. You want me; you got me. We'll work it out. I promise."


Chapter 2 – Tired of Waiting

This has got to've been the best four days of my life. She's absolutely amazing. I don't know what I was thinking. Sure, the terms 'fear' and 'rejection' spring to mind, but I should've known better. It's Willow. Buffy's thoughts filtered across her waking brain and she responded to the warm body lying next to her.

What got her to open her eyes were the strands of hair tickling her mouth. Spitting the strands out, she turned and was confronted by a grinning witch. She smiled back and placed a light peck on her lips. The blonde's voice was gravelly and thick with sleep when she asked, "Hey you, what time is it?"

Willow smiled cheerily and said, "Would you believe me if I told you it was six a.m.?"

Feigning pulling a pillow over her head, Buffy grumbled, "No, need more sleep. You kept me up too late. I'm usually in bed by midnight. Will, the sky is officially falling. You're a bad influence."

Her smile turned wicked as Willow let her hand trail down the blonde's thigh. Quirking her eyebrow, she bent down and laid a series of kisses across Buffy's jaw-line and neck.

As Buffy rolled over to straddle the redhead, a soft groan resonated through her parted lips. "Hmmm…Will, if you don't stop, I won't stop, and then there will be no stopping. An-and…we agreed didn't we—on the waiting?" She forced herself to sit up even though every nerve ending in her was body saying 'no.'

A disappointed sigh slipped unconsciously from Willow, then she met Buffy's gaze. Nodding, the redhead rolled her hips forward and pushed the blonde off. "You're right. That was evil. Forgive me?"

"Maybe later," Buffy teased, then a peculiar smile warmed her face before she asked, "How 'bout we get some breakfast?"

Willow nodded her head 'yes' and said, "I need to shower first. I'm all stinky after last night. What do you want to eat? I was thinking that deli down the block?"

Buffy rolled off the bed. "Sounds good. You shower first, 'kay?"

Getting up from the bed, Willow grabbed her toiletries and made her way to the bathroom.

Buffy extracted herself from the cooling bed and began to pace. Okay, so, maybe I'm a little too excited. I need to shower fast. I'm all drippy. How does that happen? One little nibble and I'm rip-roaring, ready-for-action gal. This 'waiting' thing is gonna be tough. Why did we agree to it in the first place? It's not like I haven't had sex before and I know she's had sex. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to do this whole 'taking it slow' thing. I think nine years is slow enough.

And god! Last night. When did she learn to dance like that? She was so damn sexy and confident. I should've taken her in a corner. That would have been fantastic. I could live off of last night for a good twenty years. She never used to move like that back home. She's definitely gotten more comfortable with herself. Which is of the good 'cause I'm definitely comfortable with her. I need her. I want her. I don't just want her…I wanna devour her. Shit, damn, and might I add, piss. If I explode, it's all her fault.

The shrill ring of the telephone interrupted Buffy's thoughts. Grumbling, she answered, "This is Buffy."

"Hey, Buffster!" Xander's excited voice came through the headset.

"Xander, what's the up? You usually don't call this early."

"I just figured I'd check in on you and the Willster. See how you guys were doing. She's still there, right? You haven't scared her off?"

"Xander…yeah, she's still here and what's that mean? Why would I scare her off?"

"Nothing, absolutely nothing."

"Hmmm…you lack credibility. How's Cleveland and Faith?"

"Things really couldn't be better. The SITs are less of a pain than they were in the fall…and for some reason we've had less than stellar activity with vamps. For Spring, it's kinda weird."

"Don't complain about downtime. Enjoy it while you can," Buffy chided wryly.

"I know, I know, but it's still worrisome. Every time things got quiet at home, we ended up fighting for our lives. I worry. Oh, is Willow around? I wanted to tell…to talk to you guys together."

"She's in the shower, but I can get her."

"Hmm…yeah, I have to be in the sumo suit in ten minutes. Tell me again how I ended up with the watcher credentials?"

"You asked for it. I think Giles has the official written request. You did this to yourself. Hold on." Setting the phone down, Buffy went to the bathroom door and knocked.

"Will? Xander's on the phone and he needs to talk to you. Can you come out here please?" Hearing the water turn off, Buffy saw the other girl come out wrapped in a couple of towels. Hmmm…wet Willow. Very sexy. Focus Buffy…focus…Xander's on the phone. "Here," Buffy offered, handing the phone to the witch.

"Xander? Goddess, it's good to hear your voice. Buffy said you had to tell me something? What's going on?"

"How's my bestest bud of them all? And yeah, I got an announcement. Does Buffy have speaker phone?"

"Hang on." Willow went over to the phone cradle and saw the speaker option. Pressing the button, she replaced the phone and said, "You're officially on speaker."

"Good. Buff, you there?"

"I'm here, Xander."

"Alright…now I'm not sure how to tell you guys and, umm… I just found out last night, but, eh… You two are the first to know that, umm… Well, Faith's knocked up. I'm gonna be a dad."

"How? What? How?" the two girls chimed in harmony.

Buffy stood stark still, trying to catch up, but her brain wouldn't accept the information. After puzzling for a moment or two, she repeated the fact internally. He just said he got Faith pregnant. A feeling of light-headedness swept over her. I don't feel so…

Willow glanced over at Buffy just as the blonde's knees buckled. She was able to lessen the impact of the fall and lowered the unconscious girl to the floor.

"Xander, you made the mighty slayer faint. Good work, boy genius," Willow commented reproachfully.

"What? Is she okay? Buffy? Buff, wake up," Xander's voice called through the speaker.

Willow leaned down and placed a kiss on her lips, hoping that would wake her up a little. "Xander, Congratulations! I'm excited. I can't wait to be Aunty Willow. Tell Faith I said good work. I'm gonna try and revive Buffy. Can I call you later?"

"Sure, call me tonight whenever," Xander offered cheerfully and hung up the phone.

Returning her attention to Buffy, she was happy to see her slayer was starting to come to. "Sweetie, are you okay?"

"Will, I just had the strangest dream and why am I on the floor?"

"What dream, baby?"

"Xander called, said Faith was pregnant and it was his kid."

"That umm… that wasn't a dream hon."

"What? Xander, Faith, pregnant? You're joking."

"Nope. You okay?"

"Yeah, the world's ending, but I'm good."

Xander? A father? My world is rotating backwards. With Faith!!! Oy, my head hurts. Buffy does look better though. Color's returned to her face since the fall. I can't believe she fainted. Of course, I probably would have too if I'd had more time to digest the info. Wow and double wow. Xander a dad—moreover, 'Faith' now equals 'mom'? I wonder if I'm in another dimension where things that aren't actually are and my dimension is missing me right now. Oh, Buffy's looking at me. Screw it. If I get looked at by Buff that way in this dimension, I'm sticking around.

"Will, you've got…" Buffy leaned over and, instead of wiping the offending cream cheese off the side of Willow's mouth, licked it clean. Willow turned a light shade of red and looked at the other customers in the Deli. No one seemed to notice, so she relaxed a little then eyeballed the blonde.

"Licking me in public now?" The words left Willow's mouth before she realized how it actually sounded. Dropping her eyes to the table, she repressed an apology and the severe embarrassment.

Buffy started laughing and said, "I didn't know you were an exhibitionist, Will, but if that's what you're into then…eh…sure I'll give it a try." The smile danced across her face as she said, "I can't promise we won't get arrested. And then I'd have to tell my boss. He seems okay, but he might get cranky over having one of his people arrested for severe PDAs of the X-rated variety."

"I..umm… It wasn't," Willow babbled sheepishly.

"Willow, it's okay. I get it. The Freudian slip was cute. How does that work anyhow? You come to town, we have a talk, and then 'wham,' I'm 'lust girl.' I was never 'lust girl'."

Willow raised her eyebrow and half-smiled at the blonde. "Might I recall a certain incident in a frat house with a strapping, Teutonic young marine from Iowa and a large number of ghosts? Buff, trust me, some days you and the raging hornies are two peas in a pod."

"Hey, I was under a spell. And can I make a small confession?"

"By all means, Detective."

"Most of the time when I was having sex with Riley, or Spike, or the other very-few men that followed, I was thinking about this certain redhead I know. Sure, I know it makes me the bad, but really, Will, you should meet this girl. Sexy, smart, funny, all the stuff people want in a partner. I think you'd like her."

"See, here's what gets me. I didn't know how you felt. I mean, sure there were lusting moments on my part, but I also lusted after Xander for a while and thought that it was normal. I did not know you were reciprocating the lust, albeit silently, but there was reciprocation, Missy. You could've clued a girl in."

"And what would I have said, Will? I have a thing. Do you maybe have a thing? How do you feel about Mexican? There never seemed to be an opportunity and the one time I was going to talk to you about it, you went and brought a girlfriend to a Scooby gathering."


"No, you goof! Susie? Sally? Whatever the hell the slut's name was at Christmas."

"Sharon?" A light bulb went on in Willow's head. "Wait a minute… Is that the reason you didn't say three words to me the entire week? Is that why you haven't talked to me, or asked me to come see you?"

Buffy saw the hurt on Willows face and looked down. Quietly she said, "Sort of. I…Will…I promised myself that I would talk to you. We were gonna be in Paris—very romantic city—it was Christmas. I finally convinced myself to tell you how I felt. You showed up with that girl and I was so hurt. Maybe I didn't have that right, but it still hurt." A tear slipped down the blonde's cheek.

Willow moved over to take Buffy's hand. "Buff? Hey, look at me. I didn't know. I thought you were just being avoidy. Didn't I ever tell you I can be dumb sometimes?" Willow tilted Buffy's head up to make eye contact. "Y'know, Slayer, I never understood. I am sorry. Here I thought I was the one with the issues, but you have them too."

Willow leaned in to kiss the smaller girl. It was soft, tender even, but Buffy got the message. Willow wanted her. It was also an apology from the witch that Buffy ached for.


Buffy barely heard her last name being called. Untangling herself from the world of Willow, she shook her head and looked up at Jimmy. Shit! Partner...work partner...cop… Making out with girlfriend in public… Wait! What the hell is he doing on this end of town?

"Jimmy! I…hi," Buffy stumbled over the greeting anxiously.

James crossed his arms and looked between the two women.

"So, Summers, you want to explain to me what's going on?"

Willow's posture stiffened. Who is this guy? Why is he looking at my Buffy like that and can I punch him? No-neck Neanderthal.

"Umm… Jimmy, this is uh…my friend, Willow. She's the one that was coming in from out of town. The reason for the vacation. Umm… Willow this Jimmy, James McAllister, my partner. Jimmy this is Willow. You want to sit?"

Jimmy pulled out the chair Willow had vacated and plopped down, looking over at the redhead. He nodded his head and gave a small smile.

Her manners took over and Willow reflexively offered her hand. "Hi, nice to meet you. Buffy's said some great things about you. It's nice to know you look out for her. So…umm…thanks."

Jimmy took the offered hand and gave it a brief, curt shake, making eye contact with its owner. Then he turned on Buffy as he scolded, "It would be cool to say the same thing, but she doesn't tell me shit. Then I come in for some coffee and find the two of you making out. No offense, Blondie, but what the fuck? You and I are supposed to be partners. Why the fuck didn't you tell me?"

Buffy was taken aback by the anger from her partner. She noticed his narrow set eyes and the vein that popped out in his neck when he was pissed. What the fuck? Why is he acting like this? Shit. This is going to end badly. Damn it, Jimmy! "Hey, Jim, calm down. It's a long story. Besides, I don't need to tell you anything about what I do after work. So chill…the hell…out," she retorted in a scathing tone.

"That's a load of horseshit, Buffy, and you know it. I get I'm not high on the totem pole of people you give two shits about, but it doesn't mean I don't give a fuck when some redheaded bitch is making my partner cry. I care damn it." Turning to Willow he jabbed a thick finger in her direction. "And you, whoever the hell you are… I could care less who my partner wants to suck face with, but in the year we've been together, I've never seen her bat more 'n an eyelash at anyone. Then you show up and you're all over her. To make it worse, she's crying. You hurt her and I bring you a world of pain. You feelin' me?"

Willow firmed up. Oh, oh, oh, he's upset because Buffy looks upset. Isn't that sweet? "Jimmy, is it? I can see how you might think what you thought, but really, it's okay and I've known Buffy a hell of a lot longer than you, so back the hell off. Thank you for your concern, but really it's not necessary."

"Hey, you two, I'm right here. Still present and not three-years-old. Willow, baby, relax. And, Jimmy? Can I see you outside for a moment?" Expecting him to follow, she made her way outside.

Jimmy came out a short moment later and mirrored her stance. Both had their arms folded tightly across their chests and both looked ready to strangle each other. She stepped up into his space. Poking a finger at the taller man, she started in, "A few things," she jabbed her finger, "First: you ever call Willow a bitch again and I break every bone in your body," a third jab, harder than the previous two, "Second: as much as I appreciate the concern for my emotional well being, do not go over-protective on me. I'm a big girl. I know how to handle myself," stab number four was softer as she wound down, "Third: and most importantly, my private life is just that: private. If I think you should know what I do off the clock—or on vacation—I'll tell you. We clear?"

Jimmy looked down at his feet. He hadn't intended to come off so harsh, but he had grown attached to the blonde girl in the time they'd worked together. He just came into Sam's for a cup of coffee and saw her crying. To say it'd shaken him would be a gross understatement. She'd never intimated she was interested in anyone—boy or girl—in the time they'd been partnered together. Then all of a sudden there's the redhead and it freaked him out. "Look, Summers, I'm sorry for the over-reaction, but I worry. I…fuck…I hate when you're pissed at me. Can we uh…maybe start over?"

Taking a moment to think about it, Buffy nodded 'yes' and replied, "On two conditions: you go apologize to my girlfriend and we go out to dinner tonight?"

Jimmy smiled awkwardly. "Sure, that'd be fine, but I pick the place to eat. No offense there, kid, but you've got horrible taste in food."

Swatting Jimmy on the arm, Buffy led him back inside.

He smiled sheepishly at Willow. Extending his hand, he said, "Sorry about that, Willow. I…well…I can be an asshole sometimes. My partner here has requested that I make amends by taking you two ladies out to dinner. So, whaddya say, dinner on me? Again, I am sorry, but this one's special, I get concerned."

Smiling, Willow nodded.

Jimmy relaxed visibly and looked at his watch. "Shit! I gotta go…umm, how about I call you 'round six? With you gone, I got stuck with desk work. I fuckin' hate paperwork."

"That's fine. And, Jimmy? Can we uh…keep this between us?"

Jimmy suppressed a snicker and deadpanned, "Come on, Summers. Do you even have to ask? This is gonna make me a mint. Your bedroom proclivities have been one of the longest standing pools between me and a few of the guys for over a year. I'm gonna win that pool today and retire early."

Buffy's mouth fell open and she stared at him in shock.

Throwing his hands up in the air, he chuckled before amending, "Joke. It was a joke. The 'me winning money' bit, but there is a pool going on in the locker room. I'll be a gentleman though and only lay the rumors to rest." When he finished speaking, Jimmy headed for the exit before the girls could firm up again.

Buffy launched a half-eaten doughnut at him as he slipped out the door.

Willow sat on the living room couch, her laptop perched on the edge of the coffee table as she typed her email to Giles. Yesterday's events played through her mind and she couldn't help the smile that came over her as she remembered the evening spent with Buffy's partner. Poor Buffy, It's gonna be hard for her at work, but at least Jim seemed like a cool enough guy. He didn't have a problem with us being girlfriends and the dinner was really yummy. Who would have thought that they had such great Mexican food at that little hole-in-the-wall restaurant?

I was just hoping that Buffy would—that she would be more, umm…open? That's not it. I've been nudging and pushing since I got here and, sure, she's making with the merrier on the outside. But there's an undercurrent that I can't seem to get a read on. There was some bounciness when we went shopping. She even giggled like a school girl Might I just say that it was very sexy. The giggling part, not the idea of Buffy as a schoolgirl 'cause that would make me kind of pervy and, while I enjoy non-vanilla naughtiness, I do not enjoy schoolgirls.

The other thing that's bugging me is this 'waiting' thing. We agreed to not be too hasty with the physical stuff because—I say this now with hindsight of 20/20—it seemed like the thing to do at the time. Now it's – she steps into the room and it's all hot and bothersome. I'm literally on fire. Well, okay, not literally because 'ow', but figuratively as in the 'cheesy romance novel' type stuff, where my loins are all aflame and I find the need to pull a Scarlett and fan myself in an overly-dramatic, Southern way.

I'm not sure if it was the confession that brought about this change or if it was just the timing. Sure, there was lust before—I can admit that—but I was always able to control it. Maybe it's just 'cause I don't have to anymore—control it, that is.

Willow's sigh echoed through the empty living room and she flopped back against the couch. Running her hands through her hair, she waited for Buffy to finish her shower.

Buffy let the water cascade down her back. She knew she had been in the shower for longer than usual, but the need to decompress seemed to be a bigger issue than whatever her water bill would be at the end of the month. The air was steamy and thick as she moved lazily through her routine cleansing. Showers, they're good. They take away the smell of your sweat and they help you relax. Especially if you've invested in a detachable water massager that helps get those hard to reach areas.

There's this whole 'waiting' thing. It's killing me. It seemed right…at the time, but now, not sure how much waiting I can do. I think nine years is long enough. I mean, are we dating or are we in a serious relationship?

What does that mean, 'serious relationship'? Why is it serious? Does it involve marriage, kids, and a mortgage? Oh god, commitment! No, she can't be thinking that far in advance. Oh God, calm down. It's okay. I can handle that, if she wants it. I hope not. I can't keep a stupid goldfish alive. A kid, what the hell am I going to do with that? Dawn was already grown. I didn't need to do anything, just make sure she didn't get dead.

Buffy let the thoughts roll through her mind. The water hit a knot between her shoulders and she refocused her efforts to remove the tension. As the water pounded her back, she felt her shoulders loosen. Okay, the freak-out's over. I'll just have to talk to Will about it. I can do that. I'm an adult. Besides, the fact that it's not fair to start to freak out over things that no one has even brought up. Kids though, might be cool. Although, I'm not sure how that would work out, no one has man parts in this relationship.

Ah well…what to do today? Will said something about going to see the Monty Python musical. 'Monty Python' and 'musical' in the same sentence gives me a headache. I do love the crazy Brits, but still, musical. Do we all remember the last time Buffy was in a musical? It ended with me making out with Spike. I've yet to figure out that lapse of sanity. And to top it all off, the bastard called me from Rome last month. I should have staked him years ago. And how did he get my number? I'm not only unlisted, but there are about seven people in the known world that know I'm in the States. All of who would stake the bastard before giving him my number.

"So witch o' mine, what have you got planned for our day?" Buffy asked, bouncing in to the living room as she made one last check for her usual take along items. Slinging her purse over her shoulder, she waited on a response.

Willow looked up from her laptop and smiled. Buffy was wearing a free-flowing, knee-length skirt that showed just the right amount of leg and a top that left enough to the imagination to give Willow shivers. Get a grip. It's just Buffy. All yummy looking in the outfit, but she's always been yummy looking. Willow felt the blood rush to her cheeks so she dipped her head and went back to the computer screen.

"Will? Earth to the Wiccan," Buffy sat down next to Willow and squeezed her knee.

Willow's head snapped up and she squeaked a little. Swallowing hard, she answered, "Well, I don't know really. I was thinking of taking you for some good old fashioned adult fun." Her eyes grew wide. Blushing, she amended, "Like, shopping. Not like adult entertainment. No strip clubs or porn store—" She stopped herself and tried again, "We could go down to the village and check out some boutiques or we could take a long, luxurious walk through Central Park and feed the pigeons. Also the Met has some cool exhibits, but you might get bored."

"Well, the shopping doesn't sound like a sucky plan. Why don't we start there and then play it by ear?" Buffy tried for a reassuring smile. What's up with Will?

"Let me finish sending this and then we can go." Breathe, Rosenberg. Just breathe and ignore the bolts of electricity that are stemming from her hand.

"Oh, Will, what about this one?" Buffy asked excitedly.

"Buff? I'm not sure if that's even legal to wear. Don't you guys have laws about indecent exposure?"

"Yeah, but at the clubs, it should be okay I think. Besides it's not for me, it's for you."

Willow's mouth dropped open. The top in question was a light, glittery gray that would come to just above her belly button and there was no back. Just two strings that crisscrossed to hold it on. Shaking her head no, Willow turned a light shade of red from her neck to hairline.

"No way am I wearing that out or in. Buff, if you've forgotten, I do not wear stuff like that. You don't wear stuff like that. Faith might wear stuff like that, not me. Stuff like that on me equals 'big spaz' and 'shame'."

"Willow, Willow, Willow, you've got a rockin' bod, as Xander would say, and I would heartily agree. You should show it off. And if anyone starts to hit on you too much, then they get to deal with me. I want to show you off. Please, oh, pretty please. Besides the fact that I think you owe me."

"Owe you? Owe you what?"

"See, many moons ago I was able to convince you to wear a leather mini skirt and halter top, but someone decided to put on a stupid Casper outfit instead. Now, it may have been a while ago, but I still want to see you in something similar. Come on. We can let you wear a pair of leather pants that have lain dormant in my closet and some boots. It'll be very drool-worthy." To punctuate her argument, Buffy laid on the puppy dog face and began to whimper.

See now why does she have to do that? I can't resist that look. I've never been able to resist that look. Damn it, Buffy!

Grabbing the top, Willow huffed out and marched up to the counter. She heard Buffy clapping for joy behind her and she sighed.

The music was pulsating through the floor as Buffy and Willow entered the Centro-Fly night club. The music was a heavy blend of progressive house and techno and the lights from the rafters bounced around the club lighting up different sections and club goers. As the two women passed by the bar, Buffy steered her girlfriend around the throng of club goers vying for the four bar attendants' attention and made her way to an open couch at the back of the club.

Once they took their seats on the overstuffed couch, a waitress came up to take their drink orders. As Willow was ordering her cocktail, Buffy took a moment to appraise the outfit she had picked out for Willow. Black leather pants of the non-vampy variety look good on Will. And I knew I was right about that top. She may not have the most…most chest, but she fills the top out well. The silvery, gray looks good on her. Buffy herself was wearing a similar outfit. The halter top was less revealing than the one the redhead was wearing and black in color with Buffy's favorite red, leather pants that she bought back in Sunnydale.

The blonde sat, leaning her head against the back of the couch, and let the music wash over her. The thump of the bass mixed with the din of all the people in the club wrapped around her in familiarity. She felt Willow's hand slide up her arm, coming to rest on her shoulder. Buffy cracked her right eye open and tilted her head to get a look at what her witch was doing. Willow leaned and placed a soft kiss on Buffy's cheek. Amusement danced in Willow's eyes as she leaned further in to give Buffy a more intimate kiss. She was stopped by the waitress handing her her drink.

They sat for a time enjoying the energy of the club. Buffy sipped at the drink Willow had ordered for her and cast a longing glance to the mass of bodies on the dance floor. Giving Willow time to finish her drink, Buffy took one last sip on her whiskey sour, then pulled Willow up, motioning to the dance floor.

The girls fell into an easy pattern. Willow was moving with Buffy, trying to let her lead. It felt and looked more like a mating ritual than a dance. Buffy's hips were grinding against her right thigh and Willow's center was mirroring the action of Buffy's. Her hand slipped around Buffy's shoulders pulling her in close. Their breasts mashed together and Willow began leaving bite marks along the blonde's neck. She hungrily sucked on an earlobe and, even through the pulsing beat of the music, she heard the moan.

Smiling in satisfaction, the witch let go of the ear and worked her way over to the un-ravished side of her slayer's neck. Repeating her actions, she added some hand work. Roughly stroking Buffy's back and then moving her right hand to trail to her front and kneading a breast through the fabric of the slayer's top. She felt Buffy arch into her touch and Willow's hips thrust forward more. The songs bled together as they continued to move in unison.

God, Willow. How'd this happen? You used to be so shy.

Buffy pulled back and grabbed the back of Willow's head. Crushing their mouths together, Buffy demanded entrance into the other woman's mouth. Teeth clicked together and tongues dueled for dominance. Not even breaking for oxygen, they moved faster and harder to the music. That was until Buffy felt someone tap her on the shoulder. Growling she spun around to yell at the moron who would interrupt her Willow-kissage.

The big, bald man smiled shyly and motioned the two off the dance floor.

"Sorry, ladies, but as much as most of the guys here wouldn't say 'no' to letting you continue, I need to ask you to tone it down just a bit."

Willow broke into a grin and took Buffy's hand before remarking, "Hey, it's cool. I think it was time for us to leave anyhow." She patted the large man on top of the head and dragged a shocked Buffy out of the club and into the cool night air.

Once she hailed a cab, Willow slid in after Buffy. They both sat impatiently as the cab took them back to the apartment.


Chapter 3 – Whiskey Sour

The hallway was unoccupied as Willow and Buffy stepped off the elevator. Seizing the opportunity, Buffy ran her hands down Willow's back, cupping her ass. She continued to grope the redhead as they made their way down the short corridor to Buffy's apartment. Crashing into the apartment door, Buffy tried to fish her key out of her pocket and run her hand up Willow's thigh at the same time. She managed to extract the key, but was finding it difficult to insert the key and get the door open while Willow sucked and nipped at the back of her exposed neck.

"Will, b-baby, wwwaiiittt. I nee-need to fffoccus," stammered Buffy.

Willow looked around into the flushed face of her soon-to-be lover and laughed. Waving her hand over the door, the locks released and the door swung open. Buffy grinned at her and then unceremoniously threw Willow over her shoulder. The redhead erupted into laughter as Buffy marched into the living room.

"Buffy! Hey, cave slayer, put me down. Before this goes any further, I want to talk to you," Willow struggled to get out of the slayer's grip.

Buffy grunted and beat her chest. "No talk. Touch."

"Buff, as much I appreciate the enthusiasm. Please?" pleaded Willow.

"Spoil my fun. Fine." Buffy placed Willow on the ground and looked into her eyes for reassurance.

"As much as I want to—and really I do, really, really want to—are you sure about this? We aren't moving too fast? It took us less than twenty-four hours to get together, but I'm trying really hard not to make mistakes. I'm not going anywhere right now. We can wait."

"Will, you suck at math right now. It took us nine years to get together. And I'm all gung-ho because you are. If you don't want…then uhm…we can wait. I just thought that with the touching and the nibbling you were giving me a green light."

The mood turned south pretty quick. The witch made her way to the couch and motioned for Buffy to follow. She slumped back into the couch when Buffy made no move to join her. Buffy's shoulders sagged as she relented and walked around the coffee table to sit at the opposite end of the couch.

Sometimes I just shouldn't talk. Damn mouth. She looks so small like that. Well there goes the mood. I didn't mean to upset her. I just needed her to understand that it just wasn't about the sex. Goddess, this is going to be harder than I thought.

Willow scooted over and tried to snare Buffy's hand, but the blonde shied away from the touch and stood.

"It's okay, Will, I get it. Uhm, I'm just gonna go to bed. Goodnight." The slayer turned to leave, but was stopped by Willow's cry.

"Buffy, goddammit! Wait a minute, will you?" Willow silently gave thanks that the slayer had stopped.

Walking up to her, Willow grabbed her hand and pulled her back over to the couch. Wanting to make sure that she was direct and clear, she forced Buffy's head up and looked into the hazel eyes of her girlfriend.

"Don't. Okay. No putting walls up, Buffy. Come back to me. I didn't stop because I don't want to. I stopped because I do and, as much as it's killing me not to have you, I want to do this right. If we go to bed together, what's to stop it from becoming just about sex? You're good at ignoring the emotions and going after the physical. I want to be more than a notch on your bedpost. Do you get that?"

It took a moment for Buffy to find her voice and when she did it was small. "No, not really. Why would you think that it would just be about sex? I haven't done anything to make you think that."

"Buff, we haven't been around each other in over a year. I'm here one day and all this emotional stuff is brought up and, sure, I initiated it, but I was serious when I said I want to do this right. I want no regrets with you. If this goes further tonight, I'm afraid you're going to shut me out."

She silently pleaded with Buffy to understand. Her eyes searched the blonde's face for any sign of understanding. When none came, she continued, "It's not like you haven't before. It's not like I haven't shut you out before. Sex is the easy part Buff. I want with you what Tara and I had in the beginning of our relationship. Trust. Understanding. Sure there were moments when we both could have throttled the other, but at the end of the day, we knew where we stood. I'm not saying we have to wait a long time, but I need to get to know you again. You're a bit different and I've changed some too. So I was hoping that we could settle on some making out and snuggles?"

The witch smiled at the slayer hoping to lighten the mood. Buffy nodded and let some tears slip down her cheek.

Swiping at her face, Buffy sighed, "I've cried more in the past week of you being here than I have in the last three years."

Willow smiled and leaned in to kiss the tears away once again. "Well, crying isn't always a bad thing. It seems like you're long overdue. When was the last time you cried?"

"Honestly, with Tara."

Willow nodded and pulled Buffy to her feet. "How about those snuggles now?"

Buffy nodded and they walked back to her room.

Willow looked down at the sleeping blonde and stroked her hair. Buffy had fallen asleep a while ago and Willow was still wide awake. Willow pushed herself further back into the bed. Mildly frustrated with tonight's turn of events, she absently stroked Buffy's hair and used her free arm to prop up her own head. A small sigh passed through her parted lips as she stared up at the darkened ceiling, listening to Buffy's soft snores.

Tare, if you're listening, some help might be in order. I don't know why I never saw it before. She's so lonely and shut off. I should have done something back in Sunnydale. Why didn't you ever tell me? Oh, that's right, you started to and then you died. I'm sorry I didn't listen more. I need to get through to her and I'm not sure how. I know sex isn't it, but I can only talk so much before I sound like a broken record. What do I do?

I see it there—the love she has—but the darker stuff…maybe it's the slayer part or maybe it's the remnants of a girl who's carried the world on her shoulders for too long. I need to make that go away. She doesn't have to carry that burden anymore. I think she still does to some degree. I remember a talk we had our freshman year about Buffy and the slaying and you said something then about her and the crap that goes along with the gig. I probably should have paid more attention.

I emailed Giles about taking up a permanent residence here in the city. I might take myself out of the game entirely. He gave me some nonsense about duty and such, but I just can't seem to care. I think I'm needed here more. My only problem is I don't know what I'm going to do with myself. Maybe enroll at NYU and hope for the best. It's been forever since I've thought about an actual career. The fall back could always be computers, but I want to do something that can make a difference in a non-mystical way. I'll have to look into my options. I'm not sure what they are at this point, but I have to start somewhere. If Buffy doesn't want us to live together, I need to find a place to live too.

I am staying close by. No more of this traveling crap. I told Giles and the rest of the council yesterday. He seemed resigned and I think he kinda knew it was coming. He should retire himself. The group they have now is good. With Xander, Dawn, Wood, Andrew, and Faith on the board, it should be okay. Then I'm not sure if Xander and Faith are going to want to continue with it because of the baby. Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Buffy stood under the hot spray of the shower and mused. Showers and thinking. Why do I do all of my thinking here? Water bill's gonna be of the costly this month.

I don't get what happened last night. We were so close, but she pulled back. Was it me? Did I do something wrong? Shit. Will, what am I going to do? What do you want from me? Am I so screwed up that she's starting to realize that I may not be good for her? Gods know I haven't been good for anyone else I've been involved with. Angel lost his soul and I sent him to hell. Riley: I don't even know where to start with him. Spike: I don't know who screwed over who more in that whole debacle. Then there was Justin: boy-oh-boy, that went well. He nearly died and never talked to me again. I didn't mean for it to go that far. Buffy sighed and turned her face into the spray of water.

Dipping her head back to rinse the shampoo from her hair, her thoughts churned and found voice in her head. Summers, you should just cut your losses now and tell her to go away, you weren't meant for the 'happily ever afters'. That's been proven time and time again. Spike was right. Darkness: it's what I am. Sure it sounds dramatic, but I can't explain it any other way. I tried to connect with her, but I can't. I can't let her see what's inside me. I can't poison her. Should I tell her today or wait. Wait for what? It's just going to hurt her more in the end. Sooner is best. I'm sorry Willow, but in the end you will see it's better this way.

Besides, I'm no use to her anymore. Protector of the innocent. Rrriiiggghhtttt… How can you protect something when it doesn't exist? I tried to protect Xander and Willow and just look at how that went. Xander left his fiancé at the altar, only to get back together with her, and then she died. Oh yeah, and he lost an eye.

Willow. When I met her she was sweet, pure. She was everything that was lacking in my screwed up world and then she had to go and be my friend. She wanted to help and I let her. I let her become addicted to magic because she thought she had to save me. She brought me back and the innocent Willow died. She died when I was resurrected. Then I was too wrapped up in my own pathetic excuse of a life to realize that I should have helped her. I should have been more. I should have been the friend she deserved. Instead I left her in the cold.

Some friend, some protector. What the fuck have I been thinking? Pipe dreams and fantasies. She needs an equal, not an emotionally crippled excuse for a retired slayer.

Shutting the water off, Buffy stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around her body. As she came out of the bathroom, she ran right into the girl who was occupying her mind.

"So that's it, Buffy? You're just going to cut me out? We're through? A good week and that's it, huh?"

Buffy looked into the cold eyes of the witch and what she saw frightened her.

"I…what are you talking about?" Buffy asked, genuinely scared.

Willow's words were tight and clipped, "I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but you were giving off some pretty harsh vibes. And then the words 'tell her to go away' filtered through and I heard the rest of it. So that's it, huh? You think you're, what, too evil for me? That's fucking lame, Buffy, and you know it. What the hell is wrong with you? Do I mean so little to you that you would just throw in the towel so quickly?"

Buffy's gaze was fixed on the bathroom tile; she couldn't seem to meet Willow's eyes.

"Answer me, Buffy. Tell me you don't love me. Tell me that you only wanted a quick fuck and that I was going to be kicked to the curb at the end of my visit." Willow was shaking. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop on Buffy's thoughts. She had been in the kitchen making coffee when a wave of what could only be described as remorse had left her breathless. Her stomach had turned somersaults as the emotions had threatened to cripple her and she had to find out where it was coming from. That had prompted her to probe the area and had resulted in her listening in.

"You can't, can you? I'm tired of this, Buffy. What do you want? Do you want me to go or stay? Or maybe just have a quick fuck, fly away, and come back in another year?"

Buffy shuffled her feet and was unsure of how to respond to Willow's accusations. The next few moments surprised her the most. She felt Willow's hands grip her upper arms, the redhead's nails digging into her flesh. Willow began shaking her and forced Buffy to look at her. The blonde raised her head and met the witch's gaze. Tears were streaming down the faces of both women.

"Say something!" Willow yelled.

Buffy pulled away, scared and upset. She had never seen Willow like this. This was beyond the magic-addicted, grief-ridden witch she had faced off with several years ago. This was a far different beast and she had no idea how to handle it.

"I-I—no—" Buffy stammered. Squaring her shoulders, she met Willow's gaze and defiantly held it. "I don't want that, but, Willow, let's be real about this for a moment. I can't be with you. It's too much. I'm not—you don't—shouldn't be with me," she said, struggling to find the words. If she came out with her true feelings, Willow would know. The witch would end up hating her for what she was feeling.

"What are you running from?" the witch asked, "What have you been running from?" her tone accusatory.

"That's rich, Will," Buffy snorted. "I've been here. Stationary for the past two years. Where have you been?" Buffy's anger finally coming through, she allowed it to build as she snarked, "Globe trotting. Not staying in one place for more than a week. I've kept tabs. I wanted to make sure that you were safe. What do you want me to say, Willow?"

Buffy stood defiant, tugging at her towel to secure its place around her body before continuing, "Do you want me to tell you that now that we've come clean about how we feel that everything is going to be okay? Do you want me to tell you that being the slayer hasn't damaged me?" Her hands dropped limp to her sides. "You don't need my shit and you certainly don't fucking deserve it. So just back the fuck off. If you were listening so damn close than you heard the hardest part of what I've got to tell you."

"And that would be what, Buffy?" Willow spat.

Placing her hands on her hips, Buffy snarled, "Go away, Will. I've done nothing but fuck up your life. You could have had some type of normal life without me there. You should try to do that now. So just go away!" Losing steam, she hissed, "You have for the past two years; might as well keep up the good work," her voice barely above a whisper as she finished.

She can't actually—how could she? Willow's eyes narrowed as she clenched her fist trying to get her anger under control. She felt the magic on the periphery of her senses. It crackled inside her. Keeping her voice even, she said, "I've been trying to find the SIT's that we created. You remember the spell that you asked me to do that changed the slayer line? I've been trying to clean up that mess."

As Buffy backed farther away, her hands dropped to her sides. She looked deflated and Willow felt some of her anger ebb away.

"Buffy, this isn't about me. We're back to square one for what? Last night? Here you are pulling classic 'defensive Buffy' crap," Willow said, inching closer to the blonde. Approaching her the way she would a frightened animal. "This is about you wanting to shut me out…again. So closed off and shut down you don't even see what I'm offering you. I've talked to Giles. I'm staying in New York. I'm not leaving. And another thing, Buffy, I'm not leaving you. You can try to shut me down and tune me out, but I'm staying so deal with it, Slayer. I'm not the sixteen-year-old girl that can't defend herself anymore. You don't need to protect me."

Willow's words sunk into Buffy's enraged mind and she used every ounce of control she could gather not to hit something, or worse: break down again. Willow's voice whispered in her ears as she felt her lover's arms wrap around her.

"Get over it, Slayer. I know you. I think I know you better than most and certainly better than you seem know yourself right now. So you're scared, big deal. That's one thing that hasn't changed. So am I, but I'm not going to run away. Anything I have is worth fighting for and you are worth more than that."

Buffy shuddered under the touch, the fear and self-loathing raging through her system.

Willow persisted, determined to get through to her, "If you want an apology, then it's yours. Things—" A short, hard laugh escaped her as she continued, "I'm sorry. For the way I brought you back. For virtually abandoning you. But I'm not sorry you're here. I'm done paying for bringing back the one person I couldn't live without. I'm glad you're here." Willow stopped speaking to wait on a response.

"You—there're things, Will. I've done. You don't know," Buffy's voice was forced and raw.

"I don't know what, Buff?" Willow relaxed her grip and sat both of them down on the edge of the tub. She can't be serious? "You think I don't know why you went to Spike? I'm not that naïve. Your tryst with him was what you couldn't have with Angel. It was dark and brutal and probably sated some long standing itch you've had since becoming the slayer."

Buffy looked up shocked at Willow's words. How did she? Stubborn, empathic witches.

Frustrated that Buffy didn't seem to be responding, Willow forged ahead, "If that's what this is, you should know he's not here, I am. I hope I'm the one you want. What is it that makes you think that I can't handle all of you, Buffy?" Willow's voice became harder, "Why are you pulling the 'I'm a Jedi knight that got a taste of the dark side of the force.' I don't understand. Do you think I'm too weak to handle it?"

Willow snickered, "If you want to do dark, try letting the god of the underworld invade your skin to get your best friend back. You're a warrior Buffy, the good and the bad are in all of us. It's your choice to give in to it or not. It's weakness, plain and simple. I never pegged you for weak. Me, I'm stronger than I look. Being the slayer's witch gives you a whole range of skill sets that you didn't think you could ever have."

As Willow continued her rant, the tension in the room built. Buffy wanted to run away at each word that was spoken, but her legs wouldn't move.

"Buffy, look at me," Willow prompted. Hooking her finger under Buffy's chin, she forced the blonde to look at her before continuing, "There's no more running. No more hiding. No pushing me away. You've done it for too long and I'm not taking it anymore. When it comes to me, I'm the boss. When it comes to us, we make those decisions together. You do not get to decide what's good for me. Nod if you understand."

Buffy's head moved a fraction of an inch up and down and Willow smiled. It was almost cold and predatory to Buffy. The way Willow was looking at her, she couldn't describe. This was definitely a new side to the witch Buffy couldn't have imagined existed. Briefly her mind flashed back to the vampire they had met wearing her friend's face and realized that maybe who she thought her friend was wasn't exactly the person who Buffy had always pictured. This Willow was a different animal and one that wasn't unwelcome in Buffy's world.

"Now since we have that cleared up. I have a few more ground rules to lay down."

Willow pulled Buffy to her feet and walked backwards, leading the other woman into the master bedroom. She spun Buffy around and sat her gently on the bed. She signaled the woman below her to scoot back so that she could straddle the slayer's lap. Willow ran her fingers through damp hair as she pushed Buffy's head back and leaned in placing a firm kiss on trembling lips.

Pulling back from the embrace, Willow smirked, "First and foremost: you and I are in this together. We do not get to shut the other out to try and protect one another from ourselves or the outside world. We can deal. After all, isn't that what being an adult is all about? Two: you do not get to go and sit in the shit that's in your head. You need to let it out. And if it involves dark and demented sex or other activities fine, but do not not come to me to scratch that itch." To make the point clear, Willow ran one of her nails up Buffy's back causing the blonde to shiver.

"Third: quit blaming yourself for the decisions that Xander and I made. We knew the risks. We made the call. Sure I was young, but give me some credit. I knew what I signed up for, and between you and me, I would do it all over again. Now, since you've been compliant in all of this; I'm going to give you the first lesson of the day. Should I continue?" Willow pushed herself against the slayer, forcing Buffy to lay down.

Buffy gulped and answered, "Uh, yes." It was the only response that Buffy could manage. The blonde looked into the eyes of her girlfriend and swallowed hard. Right, so, agreeing? May not have been a good.

Willow slid off Buffy and situated herself between the girl's legs. Willow ran her tongue over Buffy's center. She felt the tremors pass through the woman above her and flashed a grin to her soon-to-be lover.

Wow. 'Kay, so that's pretty much all I got. Wow. What happens when you regress so far that the thought of 'Fire bad. Tree pretty,' makes your head ache? Buffy knew Willow wasn't sleeping, but her girlfriend was silent.

"Will?" Buffy prodded quietly.

"Yeah, Buff?"

"I get the anger and you're, uhm…well, yeah, what happened earlier."

"I hear a 'but'," Willow joked.

"Yes, there's a 'but.' I just…you know, it's hard. I don't think that, now—if you were to go—I don't think I could deal and you need more than what I can offer. You deserve better." Buffy let out a shuddery breath and felt Willow press deeper into the crook of her arm.

"Would it make a difference if I said the only things I want, you can provide? It's okay to be scared. It's smart, but don't cut me off because you think I won't like what I see. I haven't had time to prove to you that I'm gonna stay, but for now can you take me at face value?"

"I don't know," admitted Buffy.

"I can't guarantee the future, baby, but I know that I love you. All of you. The slayer part and the Buffy part. I've reconciled that one can't exist without the other and that makes me love them both. Why can't you? You like rough sex, big deal. A lot of people do. I like it when the timing's right. See for exhibit 'A': Faith's carrying Xander's kid so ya know he's not a vanilla guy. If Anya didn't tell us a million times, then his choice in mother to his child should. It's okay."

"Yeah, but it's different with me. I can hurt you. I wouldn't know what to do if I went too far. I have before."

"You'll have to trust me to let you know. I trust you."

"Will, there's stuff you don't know about. About Riley, Spike, and a guy you don't know. Things went too far with them."

"Well, you can tell me, but I don't need to hear it. The past can't be changed and something tells me you've learned a lesson."

Buffy lay silent processing the new information then asked, "Why are you doing this?"

"It's something I should have done a long time ago. Tara tried to tell me once—about you. She thought you had feelings for me. I got upset and told her she didn't know what she was talking about. I thought we were buds, the best of, but we weren't anything more. She did know there were moments I lusted after you but after a ginormous fight we had, she stopped bringing it up. I can be kinda slow sometimes. We should have done this a while ago." Willow smiled and found Buffy's hand under the covers.

Rolling her eyes, Buffy wiped at her nose trying hard not let her current bout of insecurity ruin what Willow just did for her. Check. 'Basket case Buffy' is in full swing. She was sore in places she forgot she had. Everywhere Willow's teeth grazed her skin was on fire and in pain. She loved the feelings that lingered. "Will, I don't know if I can do this."

"What 'this'?"

"This 'this': you and I—a relationship. I've never had any luck with them. What makes you think it's going to work?"

Willow rolled her eyes in exasperation and sat up against the headboard. And here I thought I thought too much, or is it 'think too much.' Shaking her head at her musings, she situated herself so that Buffy and she were at eye level. "Buff, sweetie, they have this saying about putting the cart before the horse. Do me a favor and learn it."

"Huh?" What's she talking about?

"Hmm, well, the way I look at it is this: the Scoobs never got much with the planning. I think the most plany I got was when I decided to stay in Sunnydale to go to school. So, why start now? I think we should take it as it comes. It's gotten us this far." Willow smiled and took a lock of Buffy's hair to twist between her thumb and forefinger as she teased, "We could be really wacky and start planning a week ahead of time. Oh, I could even go get some multi-colored pens and make a chart to put on the refrigerator. But I should warn you, planning leads to plans and maybe commitment. Your call, really." The joke had the intended effect as Buffy's smile forced itself past the tears.

Willow grinned and pulled the blonde closer to her. Buffy raised her lips to Willow and placed a soft kiss on her cheek. Whispering a small thank you to the redhead, Buffy settled snuggly into her witch's arms and drifted off to sleep.

Buffy awoke first. Willow was molded into her right side and had one hand firmly attached to her left breast. She smiled down at her lover and tried to remember how exactly she had gone from getting ready to tell Willow to go away to this naked entanglement she had woken up in. Holy Mary, Mother of God, I can't believe that happened. I'm sore—like just got my ass handed to me by the hell-godfather of all Turok-Han sore…and I like it.

Buffy caressed the side of the redhead's cheek causing Willow's eyes to flutter open. She smiled down and placed a kiss on the witch's temple.

"Thoughts?" asked Willow sleepily.

"Good, I think…there's just lots of stuff up here, Will. I don't know how to or even where to begin. Can you give me some time to sort through?" Buffy answered honestly.

"You've got as much time as you need Buffy. I'm here for a while."

"So you were serious, then? You're staying in New York?"

Adjusting their position, Willow sat up Indian-style and wrapped the sheet around her. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she answered, "Yep, I didn't want to tell you so soon, but there were circumstances beyond my control. I told Giles that I wanted to settle here with you. I didn't know if you would want to live together—and if you don't, that's fine 'cause I wasn't expecting you to want to be all domestic so soon—but if you want…or don't. So I told him that I would probably enroll at NYU or someplace else close…Columbia maybe. And if you don't want me to live with you I can find another place…that's cool. Although, I'm not sure if I'm goi—"

Her babble was interrupted by Buffy's lips. The kiss was light and soft. Its purpose fulfilled; Buffy broke away.

"Going to have to remember that," the blonde murmured.

"Remember what?" Willow pulled back, slightly stunned by the kiss. A sappy look infected her features as she ran her tongue over her lips, taking pleasure in the taste of the blonde.

"The new, constructive way I found to stop the infamous Willow babble."

"There are other ways," Willow said, running a hand down Buffy's side.

"Hmmm…we'll have to explore those as time progresses. Will, were you serious about the 'staying' and the 'living here' and the 'going back to school'?"

"As serious as I was about teaching you that lesson earlier. I want to be here. I'm tired of traveling and if I decide to stay and help with the council, then I can do it from here."

"What about school?"

"Well, I was just thinking that doing something in a non-magical way to help people might be nice. I can fall back on computers if it's absolutely necessary, but I would prefer not to."

"I think there was a time when I knew a Willow who seemed to love to teach. Ya know, the academic type stuff. What about that?"

"That has potential. I just need to finish my masters anyhow."

Buffy cocked her head and asked, "You got a four year degree when?"

"Well, officially I was in Peru, but the degree is legit and from Oxford. A double B.A in English and Math. The online classes were a hoot."

"I'm impressed, seriously impressed. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Hello; Peru. You weren't talking to me anyhow and then there was a horde of Zombies that Vi, Dawnie, and I took out shortly after I got the news. So the walking dead kind of overshadowed the graduation, but Xander did send me an e-card with a brain in a jar, very funny."

Buffy hugged her girl and said, "Well, then a graduation celebration is in order. We shall boogie down and paint the town red with glee. When do we get to move you in here?"

A crease formed between her eyebrows and Willow stammered, "Ah, what?"

Buffy gently smoothed the lines away with her fingers as she answered, "Well, we've lived together before. So you staying anywhere else just seems silly. We can either move you into the guest bedroom or you can move all of your stuff in here with me. I wouldn't mind either really, but I don't want you living anywhere else."

Willow thanked the blonde by running a tongue over a semi-healed bite mark. The action caused Buffy to shudder. Moving up, Willow placed a series of delicate kisses over the slayer's face ending at her lips before murmuring, "Thank you, Buffy."

"Hey, if I get thanks like that, remind me to do whatever the hell I just did more often."

"I mean it. This is huge and I'm prepared to maybe get an apartment close by if this is too much too soon."

"Nine years, Will…nine years is long enough. I haven't felt this way in—well, ever. What you did. I can't wrap my mind around how you did it, but thank you."

"Anytime, baby. Now, I think I'm mostly recovered. How about some breakfast?" Willow replied. Glancing at the alarm clock, she amended, "Or, you know, a late lunch?"

"Sure, let's get dressed and then I get to take you out."

Buffy got out of bed first and Willow saw the markings she had left on the blonde's small form. Resolving herself to not feel bad for what she did, Willow got out of bed. Buffy moved gingerly to the closet and began getting dressed.

"No shower, Slayer?"

Buffy turned around, a little red and mumbled, "If you want me to, but I kind of like smelling you on me."

"Me too. Smelling you on me, that is, not smelling me on you." Willow walked up and pressed into Buffy's back and rested her head on her shoulder. "It's okay, I get it. Let's just get dressed and go get food. My stomach is currently eating my ass I'm so hungry." Willow placed a kiss behind Buffy's ear and left to go get dressed.

My stomach is eating my ass? Where the hell did she come up with that? What am I going to do with you, Will?

Part 4

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