Title: Within And Without

PART FIVE

Kennedy was sitting alone on the bench in the backyard. Willow walked over and stood right in front of her but Kennedy didn't look up.

"Hey. Mind if I sit here?" motioned Willow. Kennedy shook her head but didn't speak. Willow gingerly eased herself down on the bench next to her, leaving as much room between them as possible. Neither of them spoke and they each looked at the grass, the sky, the bench...anywhere but at each other.

"Okay, this is..."

"Awkward," finished Kennedy.

"Like a duck thrown from a car," said Willow. Perplexed, Kennedy finally did look at Willow, her eyebrows knitted in confusion.

"Not that I would. Throw a duck, that is. From a car. Even though they can fly. I wouldn't, you know...with the duck," stammered Willow. Kennedy tried not to laugh and shook her head.

"I like the way you talk," said Kennedy, more to herself than to Willow.

"See? I made ya smile," beamed Willow, though once again they each found something to look at besides the person they were sitting next to.

"Knew I shoulda baked cookies," mumbled Willow.

"Huh?"

"Nothing," answered Willow. She noticed a crumpled piece of paper in Kennedy's left hand. "What's that?"

"Well, I thought it was a cure to your...problem," said Kennedy, an empty smile on her lips. She handed the paper to Willow. "It's an ad for a detox clinic. They promise to give you your life back."

Willow smiled and shook her head.

"You managed to say that with a straight face," said Willow.

"Yeah. I'm a regular comedian," shrugged Kennedy. "So, how are you feeling?"

Kennedy finally focused on Willow's eyes and Willow smiled even more.

"Same old. My eyes are still a little sensitive to the light," said Willow, squinting. She began to say something else but changed her mind. "Thanks for asking."

Kennedy nodded but didn't say anything.

"Kennedy, I need to apologize to you."

"For what?" asked Kennedy just a bit too quickly.

"Well, the past day or so, I wasn't myself."

"Really? Hadn't noticed. How so?" replied Kennedy. Willow laughed and shook her head.

"Oh, mostly little stuff. You'd have to know me to even notice," sighed Willow, dismissing the idea with a wave of her hand.

"I noticed. That girl, back in the alley...the Willow I know would've taken her home, or at least made sure she was safe, even though she was a total stranger. The Willow I know is...passionate that way," smiled Kennedy.

Willow looked down at her hands and nodded.

"Yeah," she whispered. Then Willow looked up again and surprised Kennedy by reaching over and taking her hand.

"I shouldn't have led you on like that. I'm sorry," said Willow.

"Hey, it wasn't you, it was the vampire, the demon inside," said Kennedy.

Willow inhaled deeply and half-rolled her eyes.

"Not entirely," admitted Willow, blushing. Kennedy glanced at Willow, looked away for a moment and then, wincing, started to say something but hesitated.

"Oh," managed Kennedy. "That...that kinda makes this worse."

"I know," frowned Willow. "Did I mention the sorry part?"

"It's okay. It's the message, not the messenger, if you get what I'm saying," sighed Kennedy.

"I do. Really. See, I listen with my heart, not just my ears," smiled Willow. "But, Kennedy, there's someone in my life right now, and..."

"I know," nodded Kennedy. "I, uh, I knew, right from the beginning. But I was willing to take a chance. I mean, look at you! Who wouldn't?"

Willow smiled appreciatively and let go of Kennedy's hand.

"Oh, I should give you this back," said Kennedy, reaching behind her neck to take off Willow's cross.

"No, you keep it. I want you to have it," said Willow. Kennedy hesitated but smiled.

"Thanks."

"So, anyway, thanks for understanding. If things were different, which, of course, they aren't, I um..."

"Willow, I understand. And hey, I'm a lucky girl. I got a keepsake and a kiss," said Kennedy, forcing a smile.

"That you did," nodded Willow.

"Besides, the best things in life are the ones you wait for...and I'm a very patient girl," winked Kennedy. Willow raised one eyebrow, wondering how serious she was.

"So tell me, how did you break the spell?" asked Kennedy.

"I didn't," smiled Willow cryptically. "Someone else did." Not wanting to explain, Willow carefully and slowly stood up. Kennedy stood and grabbed her arm, helping her to her feet.

"Thanks," said Willow.

"Still recovering from what that spell did to you?" asked Kennedy, concerned.

"Might say that," nodded Willow, her face red. "Thanks. I gotta be somewhere."

Willow started to walk away but Kennedy didn't let go of her arm.

"Willow?"

"Yeah?"

"You should tell them," said Kennedy firmly. Willow hesitated, staring at Kennedy.

"It's not my decision," answered Willow softly.

*****

"Buffy?"

Spike rolled over, sniffing at the air before he opened his eyes. He was more than startled to see Willow walking down the stairs towards him. Sitting up on the edge of the bed, he watched her, eyes narrowed.

"Well, well, well," said Spike. "I was going to say welcome to the club, but since you seem to have acquired a heartbeat again..."

"Hey. Yeah, how 'bout that?" said Willow, awkwardly forcing a smile. "So. How are you feeling? Buffy told me about the chip."

"Okay, I guess, all things considered," answered Spike slowly. "What's that in your hand?"

"Oh. I thought you might be hungry. Post surgery snack, ya know? That hospital food, I mean, how can they get away with calling it food?" grinned Willow. "Besides, we seem to have a bit extra, now that I, uh, got this heart fixed."

She handed the coffee mug to Spike and he peered into the cup before nodding and taking it.

"Thanks. Room service isn't what it used to be down here in the basement." Spike put the cup down on the floor and lit up a cigarette. "Red...why are you really here?" asked Spike.

"Am I that obvious?" pouted Willow. Spike smiled.

"You're cute when you pout."

Willow's mouth dropped open but she quickly recovered.

"Okay, the thing is, I wanted to ask you, now that I have a new perspective on this whole, you know, vampire lifestyle..."

Spike raised an eyebrow at her.

"And maybe I should stop rambling and just...Spike, how do you deal with the sensory overload? I mean, everything is just so intense! The smells, the sounds, the colors. And let's not forget the touching," grinned Willow, though her smile immediately disappeared when she noticed Spike's inquisitive look. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, waiting for his reply.

"You know what they say. You don't know what you got 'til it's gone. Ironic, isn't it? Sometimes the dead are more alive than the living. All the insignificant small stuff...the important stuff..."

Spike shrugged and took another drag from his cigarette.

"Yeah. I get that now," said Willow softly. "And I understand something else, too. About you. Even more so now, because of your soul, I mean. You're alone, even more than Buffy. You're not in our world but...your really not in their world either."

Spike stared at her. Willow was the first to look away.

"Maybe that's the reason Buffy lets me hang around her but doesn't want me...if you get my drift," added Spike with a touch of bitterness in his voice.

"Oh, there's other reasons besides that," dismissed Willow.

Again Spike stared at her.

"Just saying," shrugged Willow, her voice a whisper.

"Any other questions?" asked Spike.

"Well, I was going to ask you about your dreams cuz I had some beauts! Really weird stuff, like something about Reese Witherspoon's chin being so pointy you could use it as a stake..."

Spike blinked and shook his head as if to see if he had heard her right.

"Uh, you know, nevermind," winced Willow. "Anyway, I'm glad you're feeling better."

Flustered, Willow turned to go.

"Red...Willow," corrected Spike, pausing to let Willow face him again. She did turn around but didn't say anything.

"You knew I'd recognize Buffy's scent on you. Is there something you want to tell me?" asked Spike very slowly.

Willow cringed...but then stood up straight and looked Spike directly in the eye.

"I thought you should know. You deserved that much," said Willow firmly but with a warmth that expressed sympathy. Spike nodded, an admission that conveyed not defeat but gratitude. He ground out his cigarette under his boot.

"Is she happy?" asked Spike.

"Um..."

"Oh, I don't mean stare-at-the-clouds-and-grin-at-the-warm-fluffy-puppies happy. If she ever decides to allow herself that I'm sure there'll be a bloody parade right down the middle of Revello Drive! I mean...is she happy with you?"

Willow swallowed and had to look away for a moment.

"I hope so," answered Willow.

Spike shook his head and smiled.

"Thought you said you had that heart fixed. Welcome to the club," said Spike. Willow simply nodded.

"You should drink that before it gets cold," suggested Willow, pointing to the cup on the floor. Not waiting for his answer, she turned and walked away.

*****

"Hey."

Willow looked up but her only response was a half-hearted smile. Buffy sat down next to her and opened her mouth to say something, hesitated but then pressed forward.

"Whatcha doin'?" shrugged Buffy.

"Just enjoying the sunshine. I forgot how much I like the smell of the pavement after it rains and the sun comes out, what with the mist rising and all. It um, it takes me back," nodded Willow.

"To your childhood?"

"A little. But it's more about reminiscing, more about...a simpler time," replied Willow.

"Oh," answered Buffy, squinting just a bit, not exactly sure what Willow was hinting at. "So why did you want to meet here?"

"You don't remember this tree, do you?" asked Willow softly, not looking at Buffy. She slowly raised her eyes, watching Buffy for a reaction.

Buffy turned and studied the tree behind them, wondering why this was important to Willow and worrying that she would hurt her feelings if she didn't remember. Then her eyes lit up.

"Oh! I know! The first time you floated a pencil. It, um, ended up in that tree," laughed Buffy. Willow did smile this time.

"Yeah, but I was thinking about something else."

"Oh. Okay, um..."

"When I told you I was staying in Sunnydale to go to college, it was right here. Remember?" asked Willow.

"Well, now that you've told me I do. Why is that so important?"

Willow inhaled slowly but kept smiling.

"You were so excited, so happy that you tackled me. We rolled over...and just for a moment you held me. I didn't realize what I felt at the time, except that those warm fuzzy feelings were...nice. I mean, I just didn't know, ya know? But looking back?"

"Oh," said Buffy, raising her eyebrows in surprise.

"Yeah. Sometimes the obvious, being smack dab right in front of your nose, is so not obvious. I've loved you for a very long time, Buffy Summers," sighed Willow, adding a one shoulder shrug. "Just never understood how much...or for how long."

"Aw, Willow! That's...wait, is this an anniversary? Did I forget?" asked Buffy nervously.

"No, silly," smiled Willow. "I just needed to be out in the sun. And to have a picnic."

Willow twisted around and lifted up a blanket, revealing a picnic basket.

"Willow Rosenberg! Are you trying to seduce me?" grinned Buffy hopefully.

"I'm not one to dismiss the wonderfulness of foreplay, but I thought we'd just have a little time to ourselves. Alone. And where better to go than back to the beginning, back where it all started?"

Buffy shook her head and smiled.

"I'm so lucky to have you," said Buffy softly.

"Me too," beamed Willow. She was about to lean in for a kiss or at least a hug when she noticed Dawn walking towards them.

"Hey Willow," waved Dawn.

"Hey," smiled Willow, easing away from Buffy. Dawn sat down next to them.

"Buffy, why did you want to meet here?" asked Dawn. Buffy smiled and looked at Willow. Willow, confused, waited for Buffy's answer.

"Dawn, there's something I want to tell you," said Buffy. Buffy looked at Willow again and then reached for Willow's hand, slipping her fingers between Willow's fingers, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. Willow's eyes opened wide.

"Buffy? Are, are you sure?" asked Willow.

"I'm sure," nodded Buffy. She faced Dawn again and, taking a deep breath, smiled.

"Let me rephrase that. Dawn, there's something we want to tell you," said Buffy, holding Willow's hand just a little tighter. Willow sat there quietly trying her best not to seem nervous.

"Well, what do you..."

Dawn hesitated, focusing on their clasped hands. Raising her eyebrows, she looked at Buffy, then Willow and finally back once more at Buffy. She tilted her head slightly and began to say something but hesitated, again looking at their hands.

"You mean...wait, you're not just goofing on me, are you? You and Willow? Really?" asked Dawn doubtfully. Buffy looked at Willow and smiled.

"Really," nodded Buffy.

"What she said," added Willow. Dawn blinked, realizing that she had been staring at them.

"Wow," whispered Dawn. But then she smiled.

"Yeah. Wow," nodded Buffy, glancing at Willow.

"Hey, who wants to eat?" said Willow, letting go of Buffy's hand to open up the picnic basket. Dawn leaned over and gave Willow a hug and a smile, looking into her eyes but knowing she didn't have to say anything. She then turned to her sister and at first smiled but then shook her head and laughed, opening her arms to Buffy. They hugged and Buffy closed her eyes, holding Dawn just a little longer as she began to pull away.

"Whatcha got?" asked Dawn, peering into the basket.

Willow looked at Buffy, not taking her eyes off of her. Unseen by Dawn, she mouthed the words 'thank you' and found that she had to suddenly rub tears from her eyes. Buffy took in a deep breath, glanced at Dawn's back and then mouthed the word 'wow' in return.

THE END...for now