I Heard a Rumor
After Willow gives Giles a warm welcome after returning from England to Sunnydale, post-magic recovery, the gang believe the two had a love affair. Buffy is the only voice of reason until...(PG-13)
Making Sense
Set 10 years post finale, a brief encounter forces Willow and Buffy to look deeper into their relationship.(PG-13)
Making Plans
Spicier sequel to Making Sense with Buffy's thoughts on the 'morning after'. (NC-17)
Private Conversations
Set during season five, Willow and Tara do a little experimentation and magic in the bedroom, with unexpected results. (R) 
Anya's List
Convinced that D'Hoffryn is going to kill her, Anya makes a bucket list, but she needs Willow's help with number 8. (NC-17)
Tough Love
Tara becomes the victim of a gay hate crime and the scoobies get a glimpse into the not so rosy side of Willow and Tara's life. (R
Ice Cream Dreams
So what if Xander's dream didn't end when he crawled into the back of his ice cream truck in the season four ender. (NC-17; Pairing W/T/X)
Interview With A Vampire
Willow visits Angel after her 'black magic bender'. (PG)
You. Me. Formal Wear.
Xander is stuck for a date to his contractor's association so he turns to 'old reliable' with unexpected results (PG-13)
12 Weeks
Chronicle of Willow's collapse  in 'Grave' until her return back to Sunnydale in 'Same Time Same Place'. Warning contains difficult topics like death, suicide and other unpleasant feelings.  (R)
Virgin Sacrifice
Willow needs a virgin for a spell and Kennedy is more than happy to help. (NC-17
Karamel Sutra
Willow sends Kennedy on a mission for a little Ben and Jerry's. (NC-17)
It's What I Do
Set after season seven, 'Get it Done'. Willow and Buffy have a chat and Ole fashioned scoobie bonding. (PG)
Show Me
Tara's in a horny spurt and tries to convince Willow to blow off a class.  (NC-17)
Coming Out All Wrong
Will and Tara come out, stumbling, to one last person in the Scoobie circle. (PG)
Coming Out of the Bedroom
Tara decides her love life with Willow needs spicing up & smut ensues (NC-17)
To Those Who Wield 
Set during the season 6 breakup of Will and Tara, the two ex's must work together and do battle with their vampire alter egos who are threatening their existence. (NC-17)
Interlude
Set after Chosen and before our virtual season, Watchers. (PG-13)
 

Title: 12 Weeks

Author: CN Winters

Fandom: Buffy fanfiction; Willow fanfiction

Disclaimer: Joss owns 'em. I'm just borrowing them.

Authors Note: For those squeamish with the thought of suicide you might want to skip this story.

Synopsis: Willow's life and thoughts after the season six ender 'Grave' and her time in England.

Feedback: Of course, cnwinters71@yahoo.com Let me know what you think.

I paid the cab driver and looked at the house. It wasn't very lit but in the evenings it never was. Buffy was usually on patrol and Dawn spent most of her time in her room listening to her music.

I knew I had to walk up to the front door and knock right at this very moment. If I didn't, I knew I would chicken out and ask the cabbie to take me someplace else. Where? I didn't know. But any place but here sounded good. There didn't seem to be any movement inside as I climb the porch steps. I knock but no one is coming. The back door was usually unlocked so I decide to make my way back there.

As I expected, it's open. I take a tentative step inside, looking around.

"Buffy? Hello?"

Still no answer. It's pretty dark inside and it looks like nobody is home. I take to the stairs to go to my old room. I see Buffy's name on the door. My room is official gone now and maybe I am too. With an unsteady breath I open it and take a look around. No Buffy here either. As soon as my foot enters my mind remembers. I make my way over to the window and I see it's been repaired. My fingers trace the glass and I can hear it. I can see it. And I can feel it. All over again.

But I don't want to dwell on it. Focus on living Giles told me. Focus on living. Focus on living. I look around and I see Buffy's planner on her desk and I make my way over. I see all of Buffy's pictures with everyone over there. Well, everyone except me and it feels like the final nail in the coffin. I pick up the planner in the hopes of seeing where the gang might be.

Suddenly I hear the front door open and the planner falls to the floor but I don't bother to pick it up. I race down the stairs. Maybe someone's home.

"Dawn? Did I hear the door?"

I look around but there's nothing. No one. What the hell? Again Giles comes to mind. I might not be wanted but I'll be needed. They have to be here at some point so I might as well get comfortable, I figure.

As I lay down on the couch I didn't realize I was this tired and I close my eyes. Anxiety is draining and to be honest I've been anxious since I knew I was coming back here. I figured my wait would be over after I got off the plane. I would know where I stand as a scoobies, as family. Seems yet again I was wrong.

+ + + + +

When I wake up I notice the room brightly light. It's morning now but still no one seems to be home and if they are they didn't wake me. No. They can't be here. If someone came home I would have heard them. I wouldn't have slept that soundly. I wonder if Giles has heard anything. It would also be nice just to hear a voice. Home eight hours and I haven't seen a single soul. It's already getting lonely. I go to the phone and dial.

"Hello. I'm calling for Giles - ah Mr. Giles, Right. Council meeting all day. No, no. I know, he can't be reached there. Thanks. Bye."

I'm a bit concerned at this point. Someone must know where they are or at least what's going on. Maybe something happened. Giles said bad things were on the way. Maybe the bad stuff got here before I did. I consider my options. Xander is probably working but where was another question. Yeah the high school over the summer but his crew might have moved on. The only other person that might know. That's it. I take a deep breath and I square my shoulders. I need to get it over with at some point anyway. I go to the front door and head to the Magic Box.

It's a shorter walk than I remember. Or maybe I'm just dreading actually finding someone. Maybe I don't want to hear the news. Maybe things are really bad. Maybe things are beyond repair for me and they really are avoiding me by leaving town.

As I walk up I see Anya coming out with a box. Great! Someone is still here.

"Anya!" She looks scared and starts to back away. Shit. No wonder no one met me. Maybe they all feel this way. "Anya, don't! Don't run away."

She still looks unsure as she asks, "What are you doing here? I thought you were with Giles studying how to not kill people."

"I just got back."

"Just got back, as in you're all better, or just got back to bring about a fiery apocalypse of death."

"Neither," I confess. ",but I-I have been studying, working real hard. A-and I-I'm gonna be fine."

"Oh. Good. 'Cause I remember the last time you said that. I've spent a lot of time since then cleaning the debris out of my ex-livelihood. Stuff like that."

"Well, yeah, I wanna help any way I can with that. I-I feel really responsible."

Finally she's calm enough to walk toward me. Or maybe she's just pissed off and doesn't care. I watch her sneer grow as she comes closer. "You feel really responsible? You ARE really responsible!"

"I-I know I hurt you and-and everyone. I'm sorry." I wish I could give her more. But there really isn't any more I can do.

"Here's something you should know about vengeance demons: We don't group with the "sorry." We prefer "Oh, God, please stop hitting me with my own rib bones."

Well that would do too I guess.

"Go on. Say whatever you want. Rib bones and so forth. I-I deserve it."

"Then you won't mind?" All I can do is shake my head no. I really wouldn't and I do feel a bit overdue for a major butt kicking. And she certainly should be one of the first in line. "Well, then, that's no fun," she adds.

"Sorry," I say with a shrug.

I take a seat on the curb and I watch Anya give me a sigh and sit down, putting the box she's holding behind her. A horned demon skull catches my eye and I pull it from the box. I don't know why I'm so nervous. I don't think Anya would follow through on the rib bones comment but then again. Anyway having something to touch and divert my eyes seems to help. I'm having a hard time looking at her after what I've done.

"So, um, where is everyone these days?"

"Well, I'm back in my own apartment. And, of course, vengeance takes me all over the world. I was in Brazil yesterday. They love their soccer."

Suddenly the horn I'm touching breaks. Uh Oh. I wonder if she'll notice if I just set this back inside real gentle like.

"And the others? Dawn, and, uh, Xander, Buffy?"

Casually I try to put it back in the box but she watches my every move. Yeah I'm busted. I can't seem to do anything but destroy what's hers and I wait for the comment. But it doesn't come.

"You haven't seen them?" she asks.

"Not so much."

"Huh, I guess they're still mad at you. They've been a little temperamental lately, just between you and me. We had this little mix-up a few days ago, and , "

I really don't want to talk about vengeance anymore. I need answers. "That sounds great," I say interrupting her. "So, um, where do you think they'd be?"

"Oh, at the new high school, probably. Everyone's all about the high school. Buffy's got some kind of job there helping junior deviants. Spike's insane in the basement. Xander's there doing construction on the new gym-."

"Wait. Spike's what in the whatment?"

"Insane. Base. Xander does construction. He likes to start early, so he's probably there by now."

I give her a nod. At least it's a start. They must be around someplace. "Look Anya. I've got to try to find them so I have to take off but I'll come by later a-and help you clean up or, something."

"There's nothing to clean. This is about the last of it. Building inspector shut me down. Guess they're afraid the roof may collapse on the customers. Silly, I know. It's only a few missing joces."

I give a sigh. Damn I feel horrible about it all. I reach out to stoke her arm, telling her so, but she pulls away slightly. Immediately after she looks uncomfortable.

"I'm sorry Willow you just... You scare me a little. You know?"

"I scare myself now and then," I tell her. "I don't blame you for feeling the same but I-I'd like to have the chance to make it up to you. To all of you... That's if I-I ever find them."

Damn it. This is turning out more difficult than I thought. My eyes shift to my boots. How am I gonna repair all this? What am I gonna do? I'm frustrated. I'm sorry. I'm scared. But suddenly, for some reason, I feel a pair of arms wrapped around me.

"Welcome home Willow," Anya says softly. "Now just don't go blowing things up again. Okay?"

What an Anya statement. I find myself starting to grin as I return the hug. "Thank you," I tell her sincerely. "A-And I promise no blowing things up."

I pull back and she has a slight grin on her face.

"I better get going," I nod behind me toward the street.

"Good luck finding them," Anya says as I start on my way.

"Thanks," I reply, giving her a wave in parting.

If Anya can try to forgive me maybe there's still hope. One down. Three to go.

+ + + + +

I walk toward what looks like a construction pit but there's absolutely no one there. I'm not sure where the gym was set to go but this looks like a good enough place as any I'm assuming.

"Xander? Xander, you down there?"

I spot a ladder and decide to get a closer look around. Maybe he can't hear me from up here with the traffic. Once I'm on the ground again I look around searching but nothing. How is it possible that everyone just dis- . . . Holy God!

After my shock of seeing the skinless body in front of me wears off I wonder if what I'm seeing is real or maybe just a figment of my guilty conscious. With no Xander around I figure my next best bet would be Spike. Anya said he was insane but then again Spike never really was playing with a full deck anyway. Not that I can talk after all. I've had my share of moments lately. Especially now if I'm seeing skinned bodies that might not be real. But if it is real, and I think it is, I have to find the gang. And fast.

I make my way inside the school and I seem to 'blend' with the students who are rushing about. There has to be a way to get downstairs. I see a door marked Basement. No Student Access. Yeah. No doubt. Crazy vampires live down there according to vengeance demons. With that thought I actually pause a moment to realize how bizarre my life truly is but I don't dwell on it. I push the door and go inside. I walk amongst the shelves and extra classroom equipment, looking for any signs of life... or undead.

"Out!" I jump at the sound but find Spike standing before me. "This is my place," he continues. "You need permission to be here. You need a special slip with a stamp."

Anya's right. He did flip. "Spike. My God... I-."

"You go off and try to wall up the bad parts and put your heart back in where it fell out. You call yourself finished, but you're not. Worse than ever, you are..."

How did he know? He wasn't even around then. Seems the scoobies are still talking to him at least.

He paces back and forth but then stops tilting his head as if he's listening to someone. But no one is around. He looks a confused for a moment and he's not the only one. I can't put a finger on what he's even thinking. He starts to talk again but he's not facing me.

"You went away. You've been gone since..."

"I needed to go," I tell him, still not sure if he's talking to me or not. "But I'm back now. And I found...There's a body."

"Tragedy. Is there blood?"

Is there blood? "Uh, I, Yeah, and I can't find Buffy or Xander or Dawn. And there's this thing killing people. And the victim was...skinned. What could do that?"

"You did it once. I heard about it."

Word does travel quick in this town. "Anything other-other than me?"

Spike starts to smile walking away from me again, talking to the door.

"Look at you...glowing. What's a word means "glowing"? Gotta rhyme."

He has official lost it. "Spike?"

"Oh, ah, no. I-I-I should hide. Hide from you. Hide my face. You know what I did."

"What you did? You didn't do anything...did you?" How could you? You're a vamp not a witch or, a vengeance demon... Maybe Anya...

"Everyone's talking to me. No one's talking to each other."

Spike turns to face me with suspicion heavy in his eyes. He's gotta help me here. I have to try to get through to him.

"Spike, please try to listen to me."

"Someone isn't here," he said confidently, pacing around. "Button, button... who's got the button? My money's on the witch." He turns sharply and faces me.

Does he think I did this? Oh Hell maybe I did do this? How I'm not sure but... No this is just crazy. Spike must be rubbing off on me and I realize this is fruitless. Anya was right. Nobody's home in Spike's head. I wonder what brought this on but I've got bigger problems to try to solve at the moment.

"I gotta find them Spike. I'll try to stop by after I get it all straightened out."

I turn and walk a ways down the corridor and I find him still pacing and talking. I shake my head. Maybe his attack on Buffy sent him over the edge. He had disappeared. I remember bits and pieces of conversation I heard before I left to go to England. Most of my memory of that time was bits and pieces but I do remember Dawn saying he left town according to Clem. Wherever he went it certainly seemed to have an affect on him.

I realized that I could do a locator spell. I could find the gang that way. I try first with Xander and Buffy using the dirt floor as a map and a photo of the three of us I kept in my jacket. I use my power to concentrate and when I open my eyes I find myself but no Buffy. No Xander. What in the world is going on?...I've got no choice. I've got to go to Anya again. If I can't find the gang then maybe I can find this demon.

+ + + + +

"I need help."

"I don't have any money."

"I don't want money," I say as I walk inside Anya's apartment without an invitation.

"Come in. Enjoy my personal space," she says shutting the door.

I don't have time to 'spar' with her. I need answers. "I found a dead body near the high school."

"Yes, that can happen," she nods.

"Something horrible killed a boy. Took his skin right off."

"Was it you?" we both ask each other. "No!"

"Well with the skin thing," Anya starts in on me. "They're definitely going to think it was you. Buffy is, anyway."

I nod slightly. "Yeah. I mean maybe she already does. I don't know. I just-I-I have to find whatever did this. I just-I need to do something right."

I've spent so long putting myself together and I don't want them thinking I'm evil again once I do find them. I have to find this thing first and lead them there.

"Oh, and so they'll think it wasn't you, right? I mean that has to be part of it. Maybe you're even thinking you kill this thing, they don't even have to know about it. Won't suspect you, even for a minute."

Damn. She's perceptive.

"No, I-I don't- When did you get all insightful?"

"I'm surprisingly sensitive."

Just lacking in tack I guess. "So, will you help me?"

"Is it difficult or time-consuming?"

So much for sensitive. "Not at all. Just a simple locator spell. But I-I need someone else to do a demon spell with me. Will you help?"

Anya gives me another sigh. "What do I have to do?"

Minutes later I've got the candles lit, the blinds closed and a map of Sunnydale between us.

"This isn't going to get all sexy, is it?"

I look at her, trying not to roll my eyes. "I'd be shocked." I reach for my supplies before turning back to her. "OK. Do you have your powder?"

"Oh, I ate that," she answers before giving a small grin and adding, "I have it." She shows me the bag and waits on my instruction.

"OK. We scatter it over the map, and everywhere there's a demon, a little light appears."

"Oh, pretty! Will it hurt the carpet?"

"No." At least I don't think it will. It never did before. "OK, scatter."

We dust the map and several glows fill in the map but there's a bright cluster located in the center.

"Hey look-that's me! Hello." Anya adds as she's pointing, "What's that huge clump?

"It's the high school. It's all hellmouthy underneath."

"Things have been stirring there lately. Is it getting brighter?"

Yeah it is and it looks like-Oh Shit! "Smoke!"

I jump to my feet and stomp out the fire with my foot. Anya bends down to see the damage and I cringe. This woman just isn't safe around me no matter what.

"Ah! OK! Remember our talk about the carpet?"

I examine the map trying to pin point a location. Well that and by looking at the map, it avoids the whole carpet talk conversation.

"Thi-this could be it. It's strong. It's near the body, and it's all by itself, hiding in the woods or-or maybe cave. There are a couple of good caves around there."

"I don't know. Sounds pretty thin to me."

"Well, that's why you teleport over there real quick like a bunn-." Don't say bunny. Don't say bunny. ",real quick and, uh, see if I'm right."

 

"No. Sorry. You damaged my carpet."

"Anya, you're a vengeance demon. Just teleport!"

"Well, as it turns out, teleporting isn't a right, it's a privilege. I withdrew a vengeance spell last week, and this is my punishment. I can only teleport for official business. I have to file a flight plan and everything."

"Oh. I'm sorry. That must be hard."

"Yeah, it bites a pretty big one. And the vengeance itself, i-it's not as fulfilling as I remember."

"Really?" I must say I'm shocked. "Cause I got the impression that you enjoyed, y-you know, inflicting."

"Well, causing pain sounds really cool, I know. But turns out it's really upsetting. Didn't use to be, but now it is."

"Is it like you're scared of losing that feeling again. And that having it be OK to hurt people. And then you're not in charge of the power anymore because it's in charge of you?"

"Wow, that was really over-dramatically stated, but, yeah, that's it."

"I get it. Believe me," I nod in support.

Anya purses her lips and tilts her head. "I'm sorry, Willow. I wish it were better for you."

"You too."

I watch as a playful smirk comes to Anya's face. "It did get a little sexy, didn't it?"

Hey, maybe I still got it. What the Hell am I thinking? This is Anya for Gaia's sake! "I have to find this monster," I tell her quickly, trying to make my escape. Anya and sexy just shouldn't mix.

I make my way to the door as she starts to speak. "Willow...um, isn't there another spell? I mean, you're trying to find Buffy and Xander. Couldn't we use a spell to do that?"

Damn. She's not giving up. She's still in pursuit here. "I did. I-I tried, and something went kaflooey, and it didn't work."

"What did it say?"

"It said they don't exist."

I exit and close the door behind me. No more spells. Not right now. No more Anya. Not right now. That was just... scary. And living on the Hellmouth I've seen some pretty scary things in my time. But that was... ewghh,

+ + + + +

I look inside the cave before I enter. There's a small light from a fire but I can't see much else. I slide into the small opening and look around when I hear a voice.

"All alone."

I continue to search but nothing. Absolutely nothing.

"Look at the shorn lamb. See how she trembles. Is it the cold wind? Or is it that the flock is nowhere to be seen?"

Okay I'm getting freaked here. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe I should have found Buffy first.

"Poor little lamb all alone."

Okay. Okay. I'm officially freaked out. I hear a noise behind me. "What's going on? Who's there?" Suddenly I watch the entrance being blocked off by rocks, sealing me inside as I race over. "No! Stop!"

I struggle with trying to free the rocks when I hear a cackle behind me. This is not good. This is not good. Okay concentrate. Concentrate.

"No way out now. No way out."

Okay. I spell. I need to do a spell. "Protect me, Goddess. In thy name, I supplicate myself. Take the powers from my enemy, and lay him lower than the lowest field."

"Gnarl loves spells. He keeps them as pets. They love him. And they leave him alone."

I try to push the rocks away with my hands and my mind but it's useless. They're too big and I'm not calm enough to move them through magic. I've gotta make a stand here.

"You may be immune to magic, but I've got more than that," I tell the unseen voice. "You wanna fight?"

"Your friends left you here. No one comes to save you. They wanted me to have you."

The singsong tone of his voice is unnerving but I try to push it aside. Be strong. Be strong. You can do this. You can do this.

"Did they leave you as a gifty for me? Are you a tasty little gifty?"

"Stop it!"

"Or did they just throw you away?"

Wait a minute! He saw them? "Were they here?" I ask. "Were my friends really here? I heard something."

The voice doesn't answer and an intense pain rips across my stomach. I stumble back against the rock wall. My feet can't support me any more and I fall to the floor. I look up and I see him now , green, rubbery and sharp black claws , ugly as sin. This is certainly not good. Not at all. He starts again with the singing, the taunting but my limbs don't seem to be moving. The slice caused some kind of paralysis.

"They were here. Here they were," he taunts. "And there they went... Gone, all gone, what a pretty song... They sealed you in with me. I love a gifty. Can't wait to unwrap it."

I see my blouse being moved away and he leans over starting to lick me.

"Gnarl makes a pretty picture. It's easy when you know how. It's easy when everyone helps. They helped me. Too bad there's no one to help you."

I watch as he tears piece after piece of my skin away, savoring every bite. There are lots of ways to die in Sunnydale but this has to be one of the worst. But I won't die. I'm determined. I've got amends to make yet. Yeah maybe they're mad but they wouldn't do this to me. They wouldn't.

"They wouldn't leave. They'll return," I try to tell the demon but it's not very easy when you can't move your mouth.

He starts to laugh. "They don't want you. Lock you in, nice white skin... And if they do return, where will they find you? Inside me, you'll already be... Aww... love it."

"No, no, no..."

It's not gonna end for me this way. It isn't. I'm going to see them again. All of them , Buffy, Dawn, Xander. I can't die not telling them, not letting them know how I feel. I can't and I won't. I moan again, trying to will my feet to move to defend myself. I begin to run through a list of spells in my mind. Something that might stop or slow the paralysis. I hear something but I'm unable to turn my head. I watch as Gnarl leaps up and a few moments later Anya is standing over me.

"She's right here. Can't you see her? She's hurt!"

Who the hell is she talking to?

"Your hand-it's going right through her. What's going on?"

Good question. What is going on?

"Behind you! Remember what I said. Get him in the eyes."

Finally, Anya leans over me. "Willow, I'm here. Wow, you're really hurt."

"What's going on?"

"Buffy's fighting the demon over there, see. But if they get too close, I'm gonna have to run."

"I don't see."

"But they're here. Buffy and Xander."

"They came? They didn't leave me?"

"No, they didn't leave you. They can't see you."

Oh God! Thank god! I feel myself start to tear up. "They're here. They're here. I'm not alone."

"Good. You're doing really good."

I watch as Anya looks toward the back of the cave before turning to me again. "Oh, Buffy killed the demon. It was gross."

"I can...I can move!" the paralysis is gone but so is the numbing effect. "Oh..." I want to grab my stomach but I can't. That would be bad. I'm not even sure I want to look at it.

"She's right here." I watch Anya say over her shoulder. "OK, stand back. You're getting your feet in her."

I watch her shake her head and rise to her feet. "She's hurt really bad, you guys. I'm gonna go get help."

I watch Anya leave the cave but I feel better knowing that Buffy and Xander are here even if I can't see them. I want to see them again. More than ever.

"If you can't see me then chances are you can't hear me either but I want you guys to know how sorry I am. A-And I'd give just about anything to see you again. I wasn't ready before but I'm ready now. I'm more than ready now. I've felt so lonely when I couldn't find you guys and I looked everywhere. And the demon said that you left me and," Suddenly Xander and Buffy materialize in front of me. "Oh, there you are. There you are! Don't go away."

"We're not going away," Xander says before looking at my stomach "Oh, God"

Oh, God? Oh God is not good.

Almost as if she sensed my unspoken hysteria Buffy adds, "It's gonna be OK, Willow. You're gonna be OK."

Yeah I am. And I know why.

"I know. You're here."

+ + + + +

When Anya had returned she brought Spike and Dawn with her. Buffy took my shoulders and Xander took my feet as they lifted me from inside the cave while Spike, Anya and Dawn steadied me out, making a human/demon gurney with their arms to slide me from the cave. It was tough going but I made it. Spike offered to carry me, or in his latest language, offered to give the bird a hoist because the sandman was coming. Whatever.

It was odd really. He fluctuates between babble and making perfect sense, kinda reminded me of myself a few months before actually. I passed on his offer because staying upright seemed like a better, less painful plan. So leaning on his shoulder, as well as Buffy's, we made it out of the woods and to the road.

Dawn brought the Jeep. Buffy was going to chastise her for driving since she didn't have a license but I told Buffy I saw the way Anya drives and they did make the safer choice when all was told. We piled in, dropping Spike off at the school, who'd sat in the cargo hold talking about the need for butterflies to make their homes on fire hydrants. Again...Whatever.

I didn't pay it much heed. Each bump in the road was hell on my stomach. But Xander sat on left, Anya on my right with both of them stroking my hair, telling me we were almost home. Once at the Summer's house, Dawn went out back to unlock the front door as Buffy and Xander helped me out. I never realized how much higher the Jeep sat until I had to slide out with a little hop, the effects of which caused a shooting pain around my stomach and up my back.

Once inside Anya helped get my coat off while Dawn readied the couch. Buffy sent Xander upstairs for some antibiotics and bandages. This really wasn't how I was intending our first meeting to go but life on the Hellmouth never goes quite the way you expect. Leaning on Buffy I quickly sit down and lay flat on my back. I didn't want to take my time. It was going to hurt so I might as well just get it over with as quickly as possible.

Buffy pulls up my shirt and she acts like she wants to reach out and touch it, to make it better but she stops herself.

"Nasty huh?" I ask looking down. I can finally see it in the light. It's a beauty all right. At least my new skills and spell-casting abilities will come in handy later. I look back up to see that Xander's returned with first-aid supplies in hand.

"Maybe we should take you to the hospital Will?"

I don't know how it happened. I don't know why it happened. But I just start crying hysterically. A growing sense of panic seems to sweep over everyone in the room except for Buffy.

"She's not going crazy again, is she?" Anya asks. "She told me she wasn't all better yet."

"Maybe she's really not done being evil," Dawn mutters. Both she and Anya take a cautious step away from the couch.

Buffy totally ignores their comments or movements and brushes my hair behind my ear. "What's the matter? Is it your stomach? What's wrong Will? Talk to me here."

"You," I managed to get out. Buffy's hand darts away but I reach out and take it. "No," I tell her trying to calm down enough to speak. "You called me Will. I thought you'd never call me that again. I'm not upset. Well I-I am upset but i-it's happy upset, not sad upset. I didn't think you'd ever speak to me again to be honest."

"I know I didn't speak to you while you were in England but I,I didn't want to hurt you. I was pretty angry Willow. I won't lie. I was mad. But I never stopped caring. Not ever."

"But this week, when Giles told you I was coming back, I heard him. He asked if you wanted to speak to me, but-."

Buffy is already shaking her head. "I told him I wanted to talk to you face to face when you got in. Of course I didn't plan on all this," she says motioning to my stomach.

"Well, neither did I," I confess. "I'm just glad that you don't hate me, or worse, don't care about me. Because I love you Buffy. I love all of you and I did so much damage here. And I'm sorry. But I'm not sorry for me. I'm sorry for you. You believed in me. You all had faith in me and I destroyed that in the course of two days and I don't know if I'll ever get that back. I'm sorry for hurting you. I'm sorry for scaring you. I'm sorry for everything."

I'm on the verge of crying again but I stop as Buffy uses the back of her fingertips to wipe the tears that are already on my cheeks.

"We know you are," Buffy told me.

"Do you? Because Giles told me I might not be wanted here but I'll be needed. I went to my room , my old room, a-and all your stuff was there. A-And all your pictures and it shouldn't be a big deal but there's no pictures of me there anymore. A-And when I couldn't find you-."

"I didn't put them up when I moved in there. I thought we could pick them out together when you got back."

"So you want me to stay? Because I-."

"Willow," Buffy stopped me. "Your old room is set up. I switched because, well, I didn't think it was good to keep you in the room where it all started, or ended, Dawn and I took the things that were Tara's and we packed them , like her journal, some clothes, things like that. They're upstairs in the attic next to mom's stuff. We didn't want you to have to deal with it. I hope you don't mind Will we just-."

"That's fine Buffy. Thanks for going through it for me."

"You're welcome and for what it's worth I'm sorry. I'm sorry for making you doubt you still had a home. You do. And all of your things are waiting for you upstairs. I hope you stay but it's your choice."

"Of course I want to stay. I didn't think you'd want me around."

"We've missed you Will," Xander tells me. "We all have."

"See?" Dawn says pulling out Xander's sign from the side of the couch. "We had a welcome all ready."

I look at it and a grin widely. "Yellow crayon."

"Told ya she'd get it," Xander muttered to Buffy.

"So I still have a home?" I ask Buffy.

"You still have a home Willow. And a family that loves you."

+ + + + +

I'm sitting in my comfy PJ's meditating or at least trying too. I feel her presence near me before I even open my eyes. I can feel her looking at me. Last night Anya gave me some painkillers with codeine that pretty much knocked me out. This morning I'm awake but not feeling much better. I sense Buffy start to move away from my door and I open my eyes.

"Buffy..." I call out making her stop.

"I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt."

"That's all I had left in me anyway."

She looks like she's not sure how to start the conversation but I give her time.

"I didn't realize meditating was such hard work."

"I'm healing," I tell her. "Growing new skin."

I watch as she walks deeper into the room. "Wow. That's magic, right? I mean, most people when they meditate don't get extra skin, right. 'Cause Clem should, like, cut back."

I grin warmly. Cute joke. She takes a soft seat on the bed being sure not to move it too much.

"It's magic," I tell her. "I'm drawing power from the earth to heal myself."

"We're on the second floor."

I chuckle. Practical Buffy as always. "You know Giles says everything's part of the earth. This bed. The air. Us."

"Explains why my fingernails get dirty even when I don't do anything."

"Plus you stuck your thumbs in a demon."

"True."

It feels wonderful to just be able to talk with her. To joke with her. Sure it's not a rip-roaring laughfest but it's a start. I close my eyes and lean back against the headboard, resting my eyes.

"You're wiped out. I-I should go."

"No. Please stay. I missed you so much when I couldn't find you."

"We missed you too. I missed you. Dawn's, uh, working on what caused the mutual no-see-ums, but so far we haven't- ."

"I did it."

"You did a spell?"

She starting to put on her lecture face and I know I have to explain. "I didn't mean to. I-I just remember thinking I wasn't ready to see you guys yet. I was afraid we wouldn't, you know, connect."

"So, you made it happen just by thinking it?"

"Guess I have a ways to go before I master my powers, huh?" I'm trying not to let my self-doubt show. Giles told me to be confident and the others might follow. I'm trying. I am.

"It's OK. As long as you're all right," she tells me.

"It's nice to be forgiven. Too bad I need so much of it."

Buffy gets quiet and I can see she's debating on her next words. "I have a confession to make," she starts. "I thought it might be you. With the flaying."

"I know," I answer with a nod.

"I wanna be the kind of person that wouldn't think that. Xander never thought it."

"He did, a little. Heck, I did a little. Xander has the luxury of not saying it, but you're the Slayer. You have to say stuff like that. It's OK. It's OK too if you still don't think I can recover from this magic stuff, 'cause, honestly, I'm not that sure about it either."

So much for confidence. But that's okay. Honest seems to fit me better and I'm still listening to that voice in my head. Now if only I could fix my stomach. Damn my stomach hurts. I'm wiped but I can't quit. I resettle myself and close my eyes.

"I thought you were too tired?" Buffy asks as she watches me start to meditate again.

I open my eyes and look at her. "It hurts too much not to try."

"I'm sorry."

"It just takes so much strength. I don't have that much," I confess. The last day has worn me out.

"I got so much strength, I'm giving it away," she grins.

At first I can't believe what I heard. She would be willing to give me a hand? "Are you sure?" I ask.

"Will it help?"

I grin. "Much."

Buffy settles herself across from me and takes my hands in hers. She closes her eyes and we begin to meditate together. Almost instantly I feel her strength surge through me as well as a sense of loyalty, devotion and warmth I imagined was long dead.

"Good," she says softly.

Yes it is good. It's good to be home.

The End

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV |

 

 

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