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: The larger part of this series is available through my Dreamwidth journal or on Ao3. Please pay attention to the warnings before you start to read. It won’t be for everyone. Special thanks to Howard Russell for all of the lovely commas.
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FEEDBACK: valyssia[at]gmail.com

Therapy and Waffles
By Valyssia


“Willow, listen,” she says, decisive, cutting off the protests I make. “Always is the answer you’re looking for.” And any I might make.

I should be frozen. This is that sort of proclamation. I should be slack-jawed, stunned, incredulous…

I am. I’m just keeping up, locked in, frozen in motion, going through the motions, tagging along. She and her shadow… The biggest part of that is her. That force of personality she carries inside, flowing out, overflowing, affecting everyone around her. Her hand grips mine, feeling small and soft, but deceptively strong. It’s like she’s guiding me, urging me on. I wonder what would happen if I stopped. If I actually froze, I think she’d tow me along.

The morning sunshine beats down on my shoulders, carried by air heavy as water, laden with scents, a synthesis of civilization. Flowers and freshly cut grass vie with car exhaust and asphalt. And something smoky. I don’t know what. Cigarettes maybe or a cigar? Other unidentifiable, less pungent smells fill in and around. Cookies or cooking. French toast, pancakes, maybe waffles. Something that makes me hungry. It’s growing stronger. The chrome trim and rear windshield of the car we pass glints, reflecting pure prismatic joy. Pretty, but actually kind of blinding. I look away, shielding my eyes and see the small children playing in a neighboring yard. Their shrill cries offset the drubbing of our soles against the sidewalk. All seems right with the world.

‘Frozen’ isn’t a valid answer.

I glance left, toward her. She smiles with just her lips. The corners of her mouth crinkle. It’s meant to be reassuring. Trouble is, I don’t feel very reassured. Her statement’s inconsistent. It clashes with the knowns in my world. Like an ice cube in the desert that refuses to melt, it just sits there being all trapezoidal and crystalline, water, frothy at its core, held in suspense by unfathomable, incongruent cold.

“Always?” I say in hope that the repetition will inspire some explanation. I should know better.

She just says it again—the same word delivered resolutely—like somehow a change of tone might make it mean more. As I open my mouth unsure what to say, but sure I should say something—this ‘always’ business is getting us nowhere—she adds, “Like always.”

‘Always.’ I sigh. Always, always, always…

All ways.

We turn a corner and walk a little more, growing gradually closer to our goal. Which is good, I’m starved and this really isn’t helping. It can’t have been ‘always.’ I would’ve noticed had it been ‘always,’ wouldn’t I? Wouldn’t there have been some sign of the alwaysness?

I’m not sure. I didn’t exactly broadcast my alwaysness, or at least I tried not to. I wasn’t proud of it. I thought there was something wrong with it, or me. That it was wrong, and because of it, I was wrong. I knew better. I was better. I was flawed.

But then slyness never really worked for me. I tried to—

“There was a girl I liked at Hemery,” she says. “It didn’t really go anywhere. A few touches. A kiss. That much was nice. Then I came to Sunnydale. Sort of ended any of the past tense. I flirted with you. No score. You didn’t seem to notice. I figured it was better that way and dropped it.”

Most of that goes right over my head. Disbelief suspends it. Tosses it into a box for later review. It gets compartmentalized and I get the reprieve I so desperately need. Until that last part. That part hits me like a sledge. “You flirted?” I exclaim. When did she flirt and where was I? How’d I miss the flirting? There was flirting and no one told me?

She just laughs. That’s so mean. “Yeah, you do understand flirting?” she affirms, asks, bubbling over with giddy, silly mischief. “Y’know: body language, running your fingers through your hair, laughing at the right jokes, touching hands, holding the person’s hand if they’ll let you?”

This is just—

My world’s all askewy. I remember the hand holding. There was definitely the holding of hands. Her hand in mine. Mine in hers. That happened. It seemed strange that she’d want that, but she did. That was flirting? She flirted with me? I demand, “Why didn’t you—?” I feel cheated, but I can’t think what to say, so I just go with the truth—that one immutable fact that seems to be mutable after all. “I mean, Buffy, I thought you were the straightest girl in the world.”

“See what you get for thinking?” she says, like that even remotely helps. “I’ve been telling you for years it’s a bad.”

So I was mistaken? What exactly does that mean? Is that—?

“It’s not girls, Will, it’s just certain girls. Just like it’s certain guys. Only less with the girls than the guys.” She squeezes my hand. I can tell that she’s grinning, though she doesn’t look and neither do I. We focus on the path—the sidewalk with houses and lawns on one side and swatches of grass on the other, the curbs beyond, parked cars and street. These things are normal.

“Would you’ve been happier if I’d made a play for Cordelia?” A giggle punctuates her question. It isn’t funny. I wonder if she actually thought about it. Was there consideration? Was there chemistry between them? “Or Harmony?” That’s even less funny. I glare at her sidelong. She doesn’t take the hint. It only makes her laugh harder and offer up another option, “How about Anya? Oh, now that’d be scary.”

I guess there weren’t many options. That’s what she’s saying, but it isn’t true. There were lots of girls. Girls who weren’t in our circle. Nice girls.

I let her drag me across the street like a lemming. We traipse through idle traffic waiting for the light. I hate this—all the heat and the closeness—the slick shiny surfaces, hard metal and chrome. But we’re almost to the restaurant. The sooner we get there, the sooner there will be people—too many of them for her to laugh and tease. I hope. As it is, she’s drawing attention. A man about my dad’s age gives her an assessing, curious look. A matronly woman much, much older than my mom glowers disapprovingly. I just look away. It’s embarrassing. About halfway to safety—the adjacent sidewalk—Buffy snaps sober for no reason at all. At least she doesn’t seem to notice them. There doesn’t seem to be a reason.

“’Kay,” I say, once the light has turned and we’re on safer ground. “I see your point.” Not really, but I guess I do. Capitulation is just easier.

“I hope so,” she responds, steering us down the sidewalk toward the diner. “It was you, Will. I thought you weren’t interested, so…”

I hear the ‘only.’ The thing she omitted. What goes unsaid. It’s as troubling as ‘always.’ I don’t know what to make of it.

We reach the right door, a glass door. All the doors are windows. She opens it and ushers me inside. The hostess greets us. I let her do the talking. I’m in no condition to deal with the trivialities of life. I want a waffle and I want to understand. I might be okay if I can have both before we leave here.

Buffy’s moving. I notice it a little late—a little after the hand. She clasps mine with hers. We hold hands. Is she flirting now? The hostess seats us—breaking us apart—sorting us into different sides of a booth next to a window overlooking the sidewalk and street. The walls here are windows too. She leaves us to do hostessy, waitressy things. A stranger walks by outside. A working man in dungarees, boots, a shirt and vest—all utilitarian. He might be a construction worker. Or a here to repair a phone line. Something like that. I watch him, not Buffy.

Why is it that that ‘working man’ means something so entirely different than ‘working woman’? That connotation. The stain of slang. ‘Working girl’? Why aren’t there any working boys?

They don’t take us seriously.

“Tara hurt,” Buffy says. “That’s why you got the disappearing act. Thing is, I think she was good for you. You two were great together. I want you to have that. That’s why I want to talk to Giles, if you’ll let me.”

My mouth drops open. The man’s gone. A car motors by—the ubiquitous white sedan—driven by a young Republican with a stubbly shaven head and crisp pinstriped suit. White collar and tie. I bet he’s taken seriously.

I still don’t look at her. I can’t.

“Lemme explain,” she says, seeing, perceiving, rushing to smooth things over, “See, I’ve been thinking.” I shut my mouth, get control, turn my head and glare. “Yeah, I get that I just told you it’s bad, but hear me out.”

And of course, the waitress interrupts. Buffy orders coffee, waffles and bacon. I do the same, except the bacon. I want a fruit cup instead. I ask if it’s fresh. It is. She and her slayery metabolism don’t have to worry about bacon, or waffles. She can eat whatever she wants. I try to be good.


She looks at me across the table as our coffee arrives. Our eyes actually meet. She seems concerned. And there’s compassion. That again. She’s worried about me. I focus on my coffee. It needs cream and sweetener. As I do that, focusing on the easier thing, she asks, “Remember when I didn’t want to be the slayer?”

I dip my chin to indicate that I do. I remember and I heard her.

She doctors her coffee too as, sort of wistful, she says, “That feels like ages ago. So bourgeois. I was incensed about the injustice. My future had been decided. I wanted a choice, like everyone else.”

I sip my coffee and wait for the other shoe to drop. That’s what I need right now, another bombshell, another heavy work boot to stomp my toes, one more thing that’ll take me months to get over…and a side of therapy. I wonder if they serve that here.

She sips too. Her brow furrows. “When I saw you last night, something occurred to me,” she says. “I don’t think you have a choice. I think you are exactly what you are, like I am.”  She pauses for another sip…to contemplate. “I think you bit off too much with—” She lowers her cup. Her throat goes through the sluggish motions of a swallow. “With me.” She looks out the window, sighing out the words, “With bringing me back.”

Anxiety pours off her. It doesn’t last. She goes through a series of rabbit-like motions: looking down at her hands, at the cup; straightening up the discarded sweetener packets, the empty creamer cups. The trash goes into a little dish where the creamers were. She sips at her coffee and everything’s fine.

I wish I could do that.

Her attention turns to me again, oppressive in its kindness, intimidating, scrutinizing, knowing. “Nothing about our lives is normal, Will,” she says. “It makes sense that you’d push too hard. Then the horror and the badness. I don’t think it’s an addiction. That metaphor’s wrong. It’s closer to Xander’s sex metaphor. It’s part of you. Giles needs to help. Being avoidy ‘stuffy British guy’ isn’t gonna cut it this time.”

Therapy and waffles, yup. Exactly what I need. I fake a smile, just a little one, more of a grin. They’re easier to fake. “What makes you so sure, Buffy? It’s something I do, not something I am. It always has been. Just like the computer thing.” Obvious points, all.

“I kill monsters with a little piece of wood. Your point?”

Obviously not good enough. I look out the window. It’s safer out there. In here with her is getting a wee bit—

“Where’s the power come from?” she asks.

“The earth mostly,” I reply honestly, aloofly, intent on shinier things. Sunshiny things. Outdoor things. Mostly more people and cars.

She sighs. Her cup makes tiny clink as she sets it back on its saucer. I barely see it and hear it even less—what with all the commotion of the restaurant around us. It’s mid-morning so it isn’t all that busy. There are only about half a dozen people besides us, two waitresses who switch off hostess duty and the kitchen staff and someone else is coming in the door. A young woman with punk aspirations. Riot Grrrl intentions. Leather and chains in a less bikerish motif. A short leather skirt, ripped black stockings, a tee-shirt with rolled sleeves, pig tails, smeared reds and blues…sardonic and sneering. The obligatory muzak drones. Everything drones. There are clatters, rattles, muddled voices, constant motion, and lots of yummy foodie smells. I close my eyes and breathe in. I hope ours is almost ready. I think I see where Buffy’s going with this.

I don’t want to go there.

“So, anyone can do it?” she asks. “Like, if I wanted to do the pencil floaty thing, I could? ’Cause—lemme tell you—that’d be useful. You haven’t been holding out on me, have you?”

“’Kay, so…I see your point,” I capitulate, “but Giles?” A soft sigh slips past my lips unchecked. I reach for my coffee.

“Giles has been there,” she counters indignantly. “He’s just being a—” She stops short, unsure. Finally, she just says it, “He’s being a coward.” Or actually, she mumbles, like she isn’t certain.

But she is. I think she is. Therefore, I have to defend him. It’s a thing. A moral imperative. “Oh, Buffy, are you sure that’s fair?” That’s pretty harsh even for her, even if she was mealy-mouthed, hesitant, questioning…

She rattles off three simple words, “Mark of Izod.” So, maybe they weren’t that simple, but this is Buffy. I know what she means. Something I hadn’t considered: the Mark of Eyghon, Giles’ little foray into power acquisition. It didn’t go so well.

Buffy’s hands close around her coffee cup, cupping the cup. She levels her gaze on me. My backbone just kind of goes all noodley. I can’t argue. She’s right. And she just stares me down.

Point to her. I look down at my coffee. Time lumbers on. Eventually, she looks away too, watching out the window. Nothing really happens. Same old, same old…

“When did you get so insightful?” I ask, affecting about half of the annoyance I feel. “Can I get the old, oblivious Buffy back? She wasn’t nearly so scary.”

“Sorry, Will, you’re stuck with this one. At least till next fall when the new models come out.”

Movement beside the table interrupts my wry grin and her smug satisfaction. Thank the gods, goddesses, frilly little fairies and furry little minions. Our food is finally here. I lean back as our waitress sets my plate down. She forgot my fruit cup. I tell her so when she asks if we have everything we need. She goes through the ‘oh, right, sorry’ dance. I really don’t mind. All these little exchanges happen with rote courtesy and efficiency. She leaves to get that and the coffee to refreshingly ruin the mix in our cups.

I suppose I can’t really blame Buffy. It isn’t often that she puts something like this together. She’s always had more on her mind. Bigger things to distract her. Cat and mouse games. Hunter or hunted. There has to be some satisfaction in noticing and trying to be helpful. I’m not sure Giles will feel that way. Something tells me he’s going to be trouble, but all that will keep till after waffles.

The waitress brings us coffee and fruit. I thank her. Buffy’s already going to town on her waffles. She slathers them with butter and syrup. Lake Maple forms on her plate. We’re different people. A careful ritual takes place on my plate. I like just the right amount of butter and syrup. That’s what the holes are for. The wait is hard, but it’ll be worth it. I deposit a little butter in each one with my knife. The first ones are all melty by the time the final ones are done.

I look up as I reach for the syrup. Across an increasingly diminishing waffle, Buffy watches me, bemused.

“What?” I ask. She’s got her own food. It’s none of her business what I do with mine.

She just shakes her head, looks down, slabs another bite of the gooey mess. At least the bite is little. She’s still dainty, even ravenous and hurried. It’s a weird mix.

I pour little dollops of syrup into each of the holes in the first row. Just right, just enough. Waffles get so soaky if you drown them like that. They’re really sponges. I like it best if I can fill the holes with just enough, then eat it up before the syrup soaks in. Like eating cereal. That gets soaky too. Turns to paste in the bottom of the bowl. It’s icky. My way’s better. I section off the first bit, stab it with my fork, lift it to my mouth. It’s perfect. Next I have a little bite of fruit: a slice of strawberry.

Buffy takes a drink of her coffee. She must need it to clear the paste. “I’m sorry. I just—” She stops short, unable to finish her thought.

I move on to the next square of waffle, careful to cut the high point between the hollow. Holding it up with my folk, post spearing, I prompt, “You just what?” A little bit of syrup is trying to get away. It runs. I avoid the drip by being faster.

“Nothing,” she says.

I glower and chew. I can’t help that I like things the way I like them. And I’m not gonna let her off that easy. She was thinking something. She was probably thinking that I’m being—

“Okay, so…I think it’s cute,” she admits grudgingly.

Cute wasn’t what I had. I was thinking ‘obsessive,’ or maybe ‘tedious.’ I always imagined that’s what she thought about these things. She’s so carefree most of the time. I figured that if she wanted to be compulsive, she would be. She is about some things. She’s really compulsive about grooming, about clothes, about the image she projects…

Embarrassed, she turns back to her food. She’s right. I should’ve noticed.

It’s no wonder I didn’t. My attention never wavered. I was on the clock. I had to eat the first row up before it got icky.

I still do. I take a sip of my coffee, forgetting. The balance is off. I pick up a creamer and add half to put things right. A little shake of sweetener. Not much. About half a packet too. I stir. All is right with my world now.

Except for her. She steals my half creamer and my half packet of sweetener, adding them to her own coffee. “There’s something else I want to talk about, but we should finish first,” she says.

I look before I think. I hate it when she does this. She just baited a hook. My recognition is a nibble. She nibbles too. Her nibbling is literal. She’s holding a piece of crispy bacon. It’s shorter than the others. She’s obviously been nibbling. She nibbles again and I nibble too. This time literal, a grape I skewer with my fork. Grapes are better than bacon.

I’m not sure I can take any more of her insightfulness this morning. But I s’pose we should clear the air. Have it out. I did think I wanted to understand, after all. I still don’t. I don’t get how she could hide that from me. I don’t see how I could’ve missed it. It’s just—

I sigh. “If you’re gonna talk, you might as well,” I say. There’s one more left, a triangleish section of waffle on the outer edge with a syrupy center. I poke and cut, lifting it to my mouth as my eyes level on her. “I’m still trying to get over the first four epiphanies. Another one’s not so much. I’ll add it to the stuff I have to tell my new therapist.”

She laughs, but I can tell she’s nervous. She’s probably sorry she said anything. That’s how she’s acting. Antsy. “I don’t know,” she says, stalling.

I eat my bite and pour more syrup on my waffle. Careful, just enough, not too much. I’m in no hurry. Well, except for the fact that my food’s getting cold. It’s alright. I won’t finish it all. I never do. These Belgian ones are just too big. I put the syrup down, look up. She’s still nibbling on her bacon, dipping it in syrup. Salt, sugar, and fatty goodness, all in one. The perfect food.

I cut another section of waffle, studying her afterward while I chew. Another crispy end piece. I like them best. Maybe I should just—

“Is there a reason—?” she says, but her nerves get the better of her. She has to start over. “Could something have happened?” It’s weird to see Buffy all breathless, jittery. “I mean, I’m not the same.” She reaches down to her lap beneath the table to wipe her fingers on her napkin as she fumbles, trying to find the right words. Even her movements seem strained to me. “Things aren’t the same. Can you think of any reason why I wouldn’t be—something that might’ve changed?”

“The same as what?” I ask, but I think I know. I have to be wrong. I don’t see what would make her feel that way.

“The same as before,” she says and looks away.

She looks the same, sounds the same, feels the same. I hugged her. I know. Unless it’s on the inside. I ask, “Don’t you feel well?” It scares me that that might be it. I’m not sure what I’d do.

She says, “No.”

My heart skips, trips, falls…

And she says, “No,” again. “That’s not it. I feel fine.”

My head’s floopy now. It fills up, lighter than air. Weight lifts off my shoulders. My spine straightens. It shouldn’t. I still don’t know what she means. “So, what’s not the same?” I ask, afraid now to know. My fork drops to my plate. Suddenly, I’m not hungry anymore. My belly feels queasy.

She covers my hand with her own. “I’m not saying you did anything wrong. Please don’t think that,” she says gently, reassuringly.

I want nothing more than to run away. I don’t.

She doesn’t want to say what’s the matter. I can tell just by the way she looks at me. We hang like that locked together in silence for a little too long. Finally, she breaks the stalemate out of desperation, I think. “Spike can hurt me.” As an afterthought, she adds, “It’s just me. His chip still works.”

That’s useful to know, but not really helpful. Not when I’m sinking inside again. I want to know how she knows. I can’t imagine her and him. Did they fight? Would they fight? He was so hung up on her. It was weird. Bad in a way. The way he changed. The changes he made. Obsessive and scary with his sexbot. The bot was creepy. Not even remotely sexy. The antitheses of normal. He tried. He was good with Dawn. He has a heart, even if it doesn’t beat anymore. I can’t imagine him hitting Buffy. I mean, I can, but I can’t. The old and the new. The new wouldn’t hit, would he? I’d ask, but—

“I told you this could wait,” she says.

My hand is clammy. It sticks to the slick tabletop. I pull it from hers. She slips away. Her hand recedes beneath the table. Regretful.

I get control. Breathe in and out. Catch my breath. “How do you know?” I ask.

That was it. The question she didn’t want to answer. Everything changes. It’s like reading Buffy in code—the little drama that unfolds. Slowly, her face colors. Just a little through the cheeks. She looks down. Her fingers are laced in her lap. I didn’t notice when she did that. It’s like she was preparing. Preparing for what? For this I s’pose. This pose. This shamefaced, guilty little girl look that looks so ridiculous on her. Childish. I almost grin. Then it hits me. She’s actually ashamed. This isn’t an act. It’s real. I can’t think of why. Why would she be—? What could upset her so much? I mean she was better than fine a couple minutes ago. ‘In control’ doesn’t begin to describe it. Now she’s a mess?

I start at the beginning, ticking off this morning’s revelations. She’s attracted to me. That was the first one. The big one.

No, that’s not what she said. Not how she said it. She was too intent. Too intense. It’s more. She loves me. Or not just loves me. I’ve always known that. She loves me in the Eros sense. Romantic love. It feels like a dream.

But she’s barely been home. Why—?

She looks up. Her eyes are glassy, filled with tears. Angry, she takes a swipe, wipes them away, then looks out the window. She can’t possibly be mad at me.

Oh. She slept with Spike.

It’s weird. The idea appears, dispassionate, unformed, from out of the blue. No connotations. For just a second, it’s like magic. I feel smart, in control. Then just as suddenly, I’m on my feet. Something’s crushing my chest—inside my chest, bearing down. My head feels hot, empty, throbby and numb. The clatter of dishes and cutlery sounds like cymbals near my ear. Voices rumble. People jostle me. They’re too close. Everything’s too close. I have to go.

I’m fumbling in my billfold for money. I don’t remember getting it out or opening it up. I don’t remember my purse, but it’s there, hanging over my shoulder. I drop my billfold inside it and slap the money down on the table. One or two bills. I don’t even look. I can’t. My eyes are blurry. Tears drizzle down my cheeks. I don’t know where I’m going. I just am. I burst outside. Daylight hits me like a slap in the face. It’s so bright I blink, more tears spill. I look down, turn and run. Air gusts past me.

It feels like every bad thing that’s ever happened to me just happened again. It feels like somebody died. My heart aches. My head hums, heavy with static, overburdened with nothing. I burn from the inside. I don’t understand. The sidewalk glares. People stare. I see them too late. Too late to understand that blur of streaky color is someone. They dodge. I bump. They holler after me, indignant. Not just once, but bunches. I try. I really do. I try to say I’m sorry, to be polite. I’m not. I push by, cut past, burst through. Car horns honk. Tires shriek. Another several someones I upset. My feet pound the pavement till they’re numb. I’m all numb. I run. 

They don’t understand. I have to get away. I turn again, round a corner, disappear from view. Or I hope I do. If I’m quick, I can hide. I won’t have to face— I won’t have to see. I run for blocks and blocks, looking down, barely avoiding, turning randomly, trying to get lost, to be gone. The street runs out, dead ends into another. I cross it. Now, I’m on the grass. It stretches out before me broken up by blotchy grayish squaresish things: picnic tables and benches; the long gray trunks of trees with their bushy, blurry leaves. I’m in a park. I have no idea which one. My head pounds with each heartbeat, each step I take. I’m getting farther away. I hear it in my ears, so loud. I have to slow down. I can’t catch my—

Someone catches my arm. I spin. They spin me. I stop, wobble, weave, almost fall. The someone holds me by the arms. Catch as catch can. Catch a tiger by the tail. Caught out. Caught on. Caught off guard. Time to catch my breath.

My eyes won’t focus. I wiggle free and see a golden blur. My hand comes up. It hits skin and bone. My palm stings. The golden blur blurs more. Buffy’s hair. It’s her. A ruddy spot. That must be her cheek. She’s breathing hard. Her hand comes up. Not at me. She rubs her face. The place where I hit her. She doesn’t back off.

“How could you?” I seethe, blink, breathe, see, understand and try to turn away. My fingers ache. I flex them.

It is Buffy. She catches me again, holding me, insisting that I face her. That’s the last thing I want. “Hit me again,” she says.

I focus on the part in her hair. That’s all she’ll show me. “What?” I say, not quite sure I heard right.

She barely mumbled the first time. This time she looks up, defiant. She demands, “Hit me again.” Almost shouts.

I study her for the moments before she hangs her head again. That isn’t defiance. Her cheeks are red…and I don’t think it’s just from crying or running. I think she’s really mortified. I think she really wants me to hurt her. Mortification of the flesh.

I tell her, “No,” and turn away again. This time she lets me. I start off resolutely. Except freedom doesn’t feel the way it should. I should feel elated. Pressure should lift. I should be pleased. I feel like dirt. I glance over my shoulder, wondering what she’s done to me. It’s her fault I’m like this. Her and Amy. I was okay. Not great, but good.

Okay, I felt like poop. I felt pooped, used up, hollow, scraped clean, unclean, unwell, unfit, ashamed, desperately lonely, explosive sometimes, like I might vibrate out of my skin. I felt—

I felt wrong.

I quit moving. I was going. Against my better judgment, I look back. Buffy’s on the ground, on her knees, her fists planted in the grass, her head bowed, her hair hanging like a drape. The posed looks just like that: a pose. It’s something I feel like I’ve seen dozens of times in dozens of corny movies. The leading lady breaks down.

The thing is, she really is weeping. She really is sad. She really is sorry.

This isn’t some movie.

Her right hand leaves the ground. She scrubs her knuckles on her pant leg. Her eyes are next. Just like that. Like an assault. Like her eyes did something wrong.

I get there, reach her, reach down, take her hand, make her stop. This all happens before I consciously decide to move. I hate that. It feels like I’m not making the decisions. Decisions are being made for me. I’m not in control. Something else is. Some instinct takes over.

“I’m sorry, Will. God, I’m so sorry.”

Too late, I feel myself sinking. Really sinking, like I’m on the ground with her, in front of her, facing her. My heart gushes blood. It’s still inside my chest, a heavy, soppy, thawing thing, doing its duty, just like me. At least I can’t hear it anymore. Why am I mad? It’s not like we’re married. We’re not even coupley. We’ve never kissed or dated or…

Courtship rituals should be observed. It’s me. My fault. I’m disappointed and maybe—

She really cares. Like really, no joking, she loves me. Why else?

I reach out and place a finger under her chin. Stubborn as ever, she doesn’t budge. That isn’t an acceptable answer. I make her move by reaching out some more. It’s pretty hard to resist a hug when you’re miserable. She tries and fails, starting away, twisting away. It’s no good. I just hug her. There isn’t even any ‘eventually’ to it. She just gives in. Defeated.

I lift her head. I have to use my shoulder, but there’s success. There’s progress even if she doesn’t have to look at me. Something a little better happens. Her stiffness eases. She turns her head and buries her face in the crook of my neck. We find a way to fit together. She shudders out more tears.

I rub her back, astonished by how good I feel. I was a wreck. Now I’m fine. A little tired, but really

Something broke, and not in a bad way.

The sun beats down around us. We exist in a sphere that isn’t perfectly circular. The edges are irregular. The grass outside is yellow-green. It’s dark where we are. Sort of. The grass is Crayola green. We ended up in a little patch of shade, beneath a young tree. It wasn’t planned, but our choice that wasn’t a choice couldn’t have been more perfect. She feels warm and solid against me. I didn’t really understand how much I missed being held. I was too busy trying to—

I was too busy running. So was she.

She slips out of my hold, just a little, not completely. I glimpse her face long enough to register how upset she is. Her makeup’s all smeary. She sniffles. And suddenly she’s kissing me. I start—start to recoil, but don’t. I taste salt. Feel the warmth of her breath, her body, her mouth. Her lips slip between mine. Intangible, unattainable, untrappable. I try again. Try to hold onto—

She pulls away.  

Well, now I’ve committed the crime. Jealousy? Yup, that’s right where it should be.

She really pulls away. Her body stiffens. The way she moves says, ‘this was a mistake.’ “No, Will,” she says, several feet away from me now. “You don’t want me. I’m a nightmare. Everything I touch turns to—” She looks away. Her mind’s made up. “I can’t do that to you. I won’t. You should be with Tara. What happened was wrong. You traded love for power. Locked yourself away. It was a trap. A gilded cage.” She braces herself to stand. “Can’t you see how wrong that is?”

My hand darts out to stop her. Something snaps. I snap, “Tara left me. Don’t you see? She’s gone. She wants nothing to do with me. You say you’re a mess. Well, what about me?” That’s the thing I hate about Buffy. It’s always all about her. What she wants. What she thinks is right. What if I want this? I’m not sure that I do, but if I do—

I’ll have to think about it. Now’s not the time to go making any huge, life-altering decisions.

Funny thing, I think all that. It’s what I should do. Jumping into stuff is bad. But inside my heart’s swelling. I sigh. She’d better get a job. I’m gonna need that therapist.

She’s looking at me like I’m a stranger. Or she’s trying to figure me out. I’ve just done something very strange. It must be recorded, accounted for, clarified, filed away for future study.

I roll my eyes. It’s not that strange. I can think for myself. Sometimes I even manage to make good decisions. All by myself. Without anyone’s help. “Why don’t you let me be the judge of what’s good for me? I’m a big girl. You don’t scare me, slayer.” I can’t help teasing. She’s just being so

And I’m being so

I have her by the arms. I push her back, running on instinct. I don’t care if it isn’t smart. She doesn’t fight me. Emotions are running high. They boil over, like a pot not watched. That’s the trouble with that. They say a watched pot never boils, but what happens if you walk away?

That’s what this is like—this thing that shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be able to pin Buffy. Her arms are above her head. I hold her by the wrists. She has this silly grin on her face. Emotions aren’t just running high, they’re all over the place, running all over the cooktop, into the oven, onto the floor. I give her a moment to decide. She can push me away. I sure hope she won’t.

She does the same thing she’s been doing, only closer. Her eyes move more. She studies my face, trying to understand.

Let her figure this out. Darn it.

This kiss is exactly the same, except that it’s totally different. It starts off the same with subtle caresses, sweet little smoochies, just barely brushing, tentative and warm. Smoochies are good. Good enough, until the different. That I feel all the way down to my toes. I don’t even remember losing control of her hands. I just have them. Then I don’t. Then they’re on my shoulder. Her fingers are laced in my hair, holding my head, pressing me down. Her tongue pushes into my mouth. Her hand moves down and down and down.

But that sounds so forceful. So rough. She isn’t rough. It’s like a pantomime, delicate, slow, careful, tender. She follows me. I follow her. Nothing’s forced. It’s all perfectly balanced, a symbiosis, move to countermove, intuitive, harmonious. Fervent. There’s longing her touch. Sugar in her mouth. The taste of syrup and butter. Her lips even start off a little sticky, just at the corners. That doesn’t last. We bend together, curling in, trying to touch more. More contact. More—

Sensitive parts get a little too happy. I should stop. I know I should. I don’t. The grass doesn’t feel like grass anymore. It’s usually itchy. I’m anything but itchy. Everything’s cloudy. Cloudy turns starry. My body hums with her, to her, for her…

I ache.

Lines should be drawn. I draw mine at public nudity. It just isn’t my thing. When I feel her hand on my back—my bare back—I roll away. That’s enough. There are people. I hear them. I’ve been hearing them in the distance. They call out to one another now and then. Sometimes they clap. They must be playing something. No clue. I didn’t exactly notice the people. For all I know I walked right through their field or court or whatever it is for whatever sport.

“Knew you’d see reason,” I say, breathless, panting, totally gone. I look up. The leaves above us glow, sunbeams breaking through the canopy here and there. Wisps of golden light cut the shade. It’s beautiful.

She laughs, patting the grass, searching for my hand. It’s nice to hear. She finds me, my arm, then my hand. Our fingers lace. She squeezes my palm. We lie lethargic, totally drained. Or I am. I don’t know about her. She’s kind of different.

I almost laugh out loud when she says, “I want to take this slow. That okay?”

Sure. Maybe she has a different definition of slow. Probably. Whatever she means, I run with it. “Yeah, actually it sounds nice.” It does, actually. “I’m still trying to get my head around this morning. It may take me a few days just to—there’s all this stuff.”

“Yup, piles of stuff,” she agrees, “We need to get it figured. Like my unemployedness. Not to mention your forced abstinence.” She giggles and rolls onto her side, propping her head in hand so she can look at me. I turn my head to face her. Arch an eyebrow. She’s already blushing, already scrabbling to explain, “Not the sexy kind. The other kind. The magicky kind.”

My tummy gives a little lurch at the thought of Giles. He’s going to be mean, even if she isn’t. That still blows my mind. I wish I knew what changed. It doesn’t seem like it could be so simple. What she said was too much that. It was too easy. I turn onto my side and mirror her position.

Her face is lit with a smile. I think she’s thinking something. I want to ask what, but she sobers. It seems like a gradual thing. It isn’t. Or at least I don’t think it is afterward. It seems like night and day. One minute she’s looking at me like I’m something special, she’s seeing something new. The next, she’s all serious and maybe just a little bit dour. I expect the worst, but all she says is, “I’m tired of hiding. It hurts.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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