Secrets and lies

Author: Norwalker

Part 1 of

Summary: Challenge fiction. The following is required to appear in the story:

While Willow was in England, Buffy wrote letters to her, confessing her true feelings for Willow. But she never actually sent those letters. Kennedy finds the letters and reads them. The rest is up to you.

Must have:

Buffy feeling guilty for not being the one who saved Willow.

Xander telling the SiT's about the yellow crayon and how he saved Willow. Buffy snapping at him.

Buffy telling Willow she failed her.

Rating/ Category: R for possible language

Spoilers: Season 6 and 7

Time Line: Season 7

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon , Mutant Enemy and Fox own them.


Feedback: Sure


Buffy was ready to fall asleep.

Xander was telling THE story. Again. For what must be the 400th time. It was cute enough the first 100 times or so, but now it nearly had her climbing the walls.

She, the SiT's, Andrew and Xander were for some reason in the living room. They were enjoying some 'down time' between training sessions. One of the girls( Kennedy, wouldn't you know it?) asked Xander to talk about Willow(gee, there's a surprise, huh?). Well, of course, that was the perfect opening for him to relate AGAIN how he'd saved the world, and Willow. She groaned inwardly. God, how many times am I gonna have to hear this?

"So, I ran to Kingman's Bluff. Willow had raised the Temple of Proserpexa. It didn't look good, not good at all. She was channeling the Earth's energy, ready to thrust it through the temple to the core, and in the process burning the planet to a cinder."
The SiT's gasp. This is the first time they've heard this story. It's like a thriller but involving someone they know. They look at each other, a little concerned.

"So I ran over to where she was channeling the energy, and stopped it from hitting the statue…she was more than a little pissed. She  hit me with an energy bolt. Man, I think that nearly fried me right then and there. But I wasn't going anywhere. I told her that, but she ignored me, trying to channel more energy. I got up, feeling like crap, and staggered over, blocking the energy again. She was angry. I think she could've torn my head off right then. But somehow, something inside her tried to warn me off again. She told me I couldn't stop this, and I said yeah, but if this is the end of the world, where else was I gonna be? I was kinda desperate, I knew I had to reach her somehow. But she was acting like she didn't want to be reached. But I kept at it. Told her that I know she was in pain…lots of pain…but there was no where else I wanted to be, if she was going to end the world. Cause she was my best friend forever. She was Willow" Xander pauses, winding up for the 'yellow crayon' bit.

Buffy winces a little internally. In the best bud category, she would always come second. She and Willow had been close for years( well, not lately…not like she'd like to be). But Xander…he went back way back with Willow… knew things about her that Buffy would never know. It shouldn't make her jealous, she knew that. But she couldn't help it. It did.

Xander continues his story.

" She was getting ready to hit it again, when I remembered something. Something I hoped would reach her. Something that would remind her of where she came from. Maybe that would get her to stop long enough to think about what she was doing.

The scene shifts. We're back to last year. Xander and Willow are on Kingman's Bluff. The temple of Proserpexa is in the background. Xander is standing before it, blocking Willow's access to it with Magic. He's in bad shape. Willow has hit him twice with mystical energy, and it's taken its toll. But still he stands there, trying to get through to her.

,,," I remember the first day of Kindergarten. You cried because you broke the yellow crayon. You were afraid to tell anyone. You've come a long way since then. Ending the world? Not the greatest idea. But the thing is? I still love you , Willow. I love yellow-crayon-breaky Willow, and I love scary-veiny Willow. So, if I'm going out, it's here. If you're going to end the world, start with me. I've earned that, Willow" Xander says, scared, but still hoping he can reach her

Willow , upset, replies " You think I won't?" She starts to mutter a spell.

"It doesn't matter, I still love you" Xander replies, not backing off.

"Shut up!" Willow says, angry

We're back to the house on Revello Drive.

The SiT's were rapt. This was so totally cool. They were on the edge of their seats( well, pillows on the living room floor, anyway) waiting for the next bit. Xander has them eating out of his hand.

Buffy, on the other hand, is rolling her eyes. Each time he told this tale, his role got bigger and bigger. It was driving her nuts. Bad enough having to listen to it til her ears were ready to fall off. But it kept getting wilder on each telling. Soon, she figured, he'd be flying in with a red cape and a great big "X" on his chest. Xanderman! Come to save the world from evil doers and mystical forces. Puh-leaasseee!!!! Save me!

Xander goes on with his tale.

"Anyway, I knew I'd gotten through, I could see it. Not saying it was over, not yet. She still was all veiny and scary, still ready to blow the world up. But … she was less sure of herself. She hit me again, this time with some magic that cut me. First on the face…man, it felt like claws. Then again, across the chest…that really hurt" Xander said. He opens his shirt, showing the scars left. "See?"

That was enough for Buffy. " God, Xander, please! These. These are young girls. What? You gonna do a strip for them next?" Buffy said, her voice a little acidy.

The SiT's all turn to look at her. They aren't amused. There are grumblings and whispers, like to the tune of what a bitch. God, get the stick out of your butt, and other such imagery. Xander looks at Buffy, annoyed and hurt.

"God, Buff. What's your deal? Why so hostile?" Xander says, petulantly.

" Not hostile, Xander. Just tired of hearing the story again and again. Each time you embellish it more and more. After awhile, it gets old" Buffy says. God, what IS my deal. Could I be bitchier? Don't think so!

" Not for us, Buffy. This is the first time we've heard it" Kennedy pipes up, annoyed(gee, another surprise). " If you're so bored with it, why not just leave and let us enjoy it?"

The other SiT's mutter in agreement.

"Yeah, you're right" Buffy says, repentant. She's sorry now she lost her cool." Xan, I'm sorry. I guess I'm just tired. Gonna take a nap". Buffy says, heading for the stairs. She hears the entire group chorus " PLEASE!!!" She starts upstairs.

Rona leans over to one of the other SiT's " God, I hope she manages to get that stake she's got rammed up her ass out too, while she's at it!".

The other girl giggles a little. They turn back to Xander and find him glaring right at them.

" What the hell is your problem?" he asks, angry.

"Hey! She was the bitch. I just commented on it" Rona says, defensive

"Yeah, Xander. She just like dressed you down in front of us. Why're you sticking up for her?" Kennedy says, irritated.

" Listen all of you. Buffy's got it damned rough right now. She's got all of you to keep safe, try to find some way to defeat the first, and deal with a houseful of rather ungrateful houseguests. She's had to do more to save this world than anybody in this room will ever hope to match. Including dying, twice! So, if she gets a little irritated about me repeating this story, it's no big. I'd follow her anywhere. She's that good. You'd do well to remember that. She cares about the bunch of you. Be nice if you could afford her a little respect" Xander says, clearly upset at the SiT's  words.

Buffy, hearing Xander's words from upstairs on the landing, feels about 1" tall. She looks down and thinks " No, Xan. You're that good. I think I kinda love you, guy" She smiles at him, turns , and walks to her room, feeling like crap for what she said.

The SiT's are still around Xander, pestering him to finish the story. He's kind of lost heart to tell it, because of the remarks they made about Buffy. But they won't let him go. Finally, he decides he'll give them the abridged version.

" Ok, ok , ok. There really isn't much more to the story. After that, her power grew weaker. I could feel that I'd somehow gotten through to her. She kept throwing those spells at me, but they weren't working anymore… she was losing her power. Seems her human side, the side that we all know and love, was fighting to get out. I kept approaching her, repeating over and over " I love you Will.  No matter what. I love you."  She started crying, pounding me on my chest. I knew then I won. I held her, and she turned back to Willow….no more black hair, no more black eyes. She collapsed in my arms, crying. And that's how it went down.


She sits on her bed, wondering why she took out her frustrations on Xander. She's really feeling down on herself, right now. Everything is just going wrong. The girls are all out of sorts because of the living arrangements. Then, the First had penetrated their circle more than a once, scaring them silly. Willow had been hurt trying to use her mojo on the first, and was afraid to try again. And she just didn't know what the hell she was doing. It was scary. She'd never faced something like this. She was scared to death, and couldn't tell anyone. She was afraid she was gonna lose this time, big time. She wasn't going to be able to save them, she was going to fail them. Just like she'd failed Willow last year.

That's why Xander's story bothered her. Not because she'd heard it a million times. That really didn't matter that much. Anyway, it was true. If not for him…well, the First wouldn't be much of a problem, cuz there'd be no world to save. He'd done it. He'd reached Willow like no one had been able to. He'd reminded her of her humanity, and the dark evil in her retreated. He'd been a real hero. He didn't have superpowers, like she had, or Willow had. He'd shown incredible bravery, he could easily have died. But that didn't stop him. And Buffy was grateful in too many ways to count.

But that doesn't mean she didn't have regrets. She had a lot of them. She regretted walking around in a daze for a year, not seeing what was happening around her. That she was alienating Dawn. That she was using Spike. That Willow was out of control with the magic. That the 'Trio', pathetic as they were, was a genuine threat. Especially Warren, who was just plain evil. It took nearly dying again, at the hands of her best friend, to realize that she wanted to live. That the happiness she would have here, on earth, depended on her own willingness to give back. To be part of it, instead of observing from the sidelines.

But what she regretted most, what haunted her to this day, was that she failed Willow. Her best friend. The one that meant so much to her. She failed her by not seeing what the magic was doing to her. She didn't reach out enough to help her, especially when she went out of control and nearly killed herself and Dawn. She didn't see it as a cry for help… though it was. She should've  kicked Amy Madison's ass from here to hell and back, for what she led Will into. She should've found a way to bridge the differences between Tara and Willow, bring them back together. They were so right together. Just as they were getting back together, just as they were going to make another go of it, Warren destroyed that dream.

But, could she really blame Warren? I mean, he was a misogynist bastard, true. It was his bullet that went through the window, and blew out Tara's heart, right in front of Willow… also true. But, wasn't it my own failure that really killed Tara? That's what she wondered.

' Why didn't I catch the bastard when I had the chance? Shut his ass down, and ship him to prison, where he deserved to be? Cause I was way too busy worried about Buffy. That's why. I was so involved in my own self-pity party, that I lost any chance I had to stop him before he … destroyed Willow's life, and destroyed Tara.' She berates herself.' Why wasn't I faster that day?' She continues, not sparing the lash.' I shoulda been faster. Just two seconds. I could've stopped him, the bullet never would've gotten  out of the gun. Or… I could have caught the bullet instead of Tara. I would've been dead. Ok…I can accept that. But Tara would be alive right now. And Willow would be happy. I hesitated, I was too slow, and I … ruined her life. How do I live with that? How do I go on each day, knowing that I could've done better, I could've saved them… and didn't? I don't know, I just don't know anymore'.

It sounds like, to the casual observer, that Buffy is obsessing and being self involved. But that's not the case, here. What happened, and the ensuing tragedy, goes to Buffy's core beliefs. The one thing she'd always been proud of was that she could protect those she loved. That afternoon in the backyard, when Warren burst in with a gun, and ran rampant, shooting Buffy and killing Tara, triggering Willow's descent into hell, shattered that illusion. She didn't save them this time. She was too slow, hesitated a fraction of a second too long…and everything went to hell because of it. It was her fault, that's how she felt deep inside. Her fault. No excuses, she didn't do what she promised herself she would always do, no matter what. The failure permeated her being like a foul smell.

That's why she was so driven now. Now she had a houseful of girls to protect. Against something she had no clue how to defeat. It scared her so badly, at times she wanted to run as fast and as far away  as she could. But she couldn't show fear. If she did, the girls would lose all hope… and that's exactly what the First wanted. Make them hopeless…they become easy victims. They'll run, split up, and be picked off, one by one. So, she covers her fear with a cold, steel shell. The girls think she's a tight assed, controlling bitch. Maybe she is, but she doesn't care. IF they hate her forever after, they have the chance to LIVE to hate her. That's what counts. That they live. No one's dying on her watch… not again.


You would think that alone would be enough to crush Buffy's soul. Enough of a burden to carry.

But that wasn't all of it. Not by far. Buffy carried a secret with her. One she could never tell anyone. A secret that if it got back to her would make Willow hate Buffy with her entire soul. The secret burned within Buffy. Like all secrets kept, it tended to fester on the soul. She had to pretend something she didn't want to pretend. Act against how she actually felt. She felt she was living a lie; but the alternative was worse, much worse.

She knew someday she'd have to come clean. Someday she'd have to reveal the secret she so closely guarded. She couldn't live this lie forever; not without twisting her soul. So it had to come out someday. But she didn't want to think about that day. It's too painful to contemplate. She knew that when she told Willow, things would change. They're relationship would never be the same. It would be gone, replaced by something else. Buffy feared it'd be something worse. Life without Will in it would be… it wouldn't be life. That was the scariest thought of all.

How could she ever tell her? It was bad enough that when Willow needed her the most, Buffy failed her. She'd been to slow, to indecisive to save Tara. Tara took the bullet meant for Buffy.  Buffy knew in her heart she, Buffy, was meant to die that day. Should've died that day. And then, when Willow lost control, when she went scary and veiny, Buffy failed her again. She only thought of how to knock her down, defeat her. She didn't think of how she could reach her. Let her know that Buffy cared about her, loved her, and would stick by her through anything. It'd taken Xander to see what was really needed. Xander always had a knack for that, seeing past the b.s. straight into the heart of things.

So, with her colossal failure, how could Buffy tell Willow the truth? How could she, without Willow thinking that she'd failed her deliberately(had she? Had the truth affected her ability to act?). She knew that Willow would hate her when she knew the truth. Willow would think(know?) Buffy let Tara die. Because she had reason to let her die. Because the truth was that Buffy loved Willow.

Buffy was IN LOVE  with Willow. She'd lied to herself for many years that it wasn't so. But she couldn't lie anymore. Not to herself. Not after this last summer.


Summer in Sunnydale could be brutal.

Thought it was located near the coast, it was situated just far enough off to have the inversion layer settle heavily over it during the warmest months. This kept the offshore breeze from coming in, and the temperatures often were in the 90's. Even overnight, the area didn't cool off much. This is one of the reasons the area had been known as Boca del Infierno before it'd been renamed Sunnydale in the  last year of the 19th century.

Despite the heat Buffy had enjoyed summer. She was a summer girl, loving the sun, and getting tan, and going to the beach. It wasn't unusual for her to organize beach expeditions with her friends, and she even loved the summer evenings with the long twilights, walking around the downtown area in the half light of the departing sun. It had a particular golden quality that pleased her.

This summer was different however. Not that the weather was changed, but things were changed.

To say the time after Xander saved Willow, and the world, were chaotic would be understating it. First there was the murder of Warren Mears. How do you explain someone being flayed alive? Suspicion fell upon his former 'colleagues' Andrew Wells and Jonathan Levinson. The scoobies didn't bother to disabuse the Sunnydale police.

The destruction of The Magic Box raised some eyebrows around town. A few of the citizens, aware of the weird going-ons in Sunnydale, even if they didn't talk about them, said it was a kind of poetic justice. Others just couldn't figure it out. It looked like some huge creature had destroyed it from the inside. Anya of course, as owner, had been somewhat devastated by the event, and it led to a rift between her and Willow( who were never bosom buddies to begin with) which still is in force today. It was particularly hard on Xander… Willow was his best friend, and Anya, while they'd been broken up, there were still some feelings there(not always pleasant ones). It put poor Xander in the middle.

Buffy made good on her promise with Dawn. They spent a lot of time together over the summer, getting to really know each other. As she said, she no longer wanted to 'protect' Dawn from the world, She wanted to show how beautiful the world could be to Dawn. They traveled some, but mostly just hung out together, getting to understand each other better. They were closer than they'd ever been before.

Giles returned to England. He'd come to help with Willow, and now had to return home. It was a bittersweet farewell… Buffy always had a special place for her former watcher in her heart. He'd been more than a mentor for her. He'd been like a father, someone she could turn to when times were bad, and she loved him dearly. Watching him go again was achy. But he had to go. He took charge of Willow, who needed lots of help coping with what happened to her.

Willow was broken. She no longer seemed to be part of life around Sunnydale. She would respond when you spoke to her, but she was vague, kind of in a dream world. Mostly she just sat around, staring out into space.  The bright, energetic, always optimistic woman loved by the scoobies was no longer here. In her place was a quiet, moody woman who wanted little contact with the outside world.

The grief and agony of losing the woman she loved so much, whom she'd planned on growing old with, had driven her to a dark place in her soul she'd never realized existed. The guilt, shame and horror of what she'd become, how she'd murdered Warren and in the end turned on her friends, nearly destroying them, and the weight of how close she came to destroying the world, caused something essential in her snap. She was little more than an echo of who she'd been. Even with time, she'd never entirely be that friendly, kind and innocent young woman she'd once been. She'd lost her innocence, and had tasted the power of the dark side. To save her mind and soul, she temporarily retreated from life.

Buffy ached for her friend. She wanted nothing more than to hold her, comfort her and let her know she was loved and wanted. It broke her heart to see Willow this way. The bright, eager, friendly young woman she'd been a friend with for like…forever, was in so much pain. Buffy hated to see her like this. She remembered how bad it was when Oz had broken up with Willow. It'd been like Willow couldn't breathe. But this was infinitely worse. It was like she no longer wanted to breathe. She wanted to help Willow discover what she'd learned over the last year. That life, as painful and harsh as it could be, was better than the alternative. Giles, however, limited her contact with Will. Rightly or wrongly, he felt that Willow was in an extremely delicate mental and emotional state, and what she needed at the moment was space… lots of space. Time away from the memories and hurts she'd experienced here in Sunnydale.

So he arranged for Willow to accompany him back to England. He made contact with the Coven, a powerful Wiccan group in England that he'd had ties with. He arranged for her to stay with them, to learn how to cope and control the powers she unleashed in herself when she went dark. She was to be gone for the entire summer. Possibly longer if she needed it.

In her head, Buffy realized this was the best thing for Willow. She knew that Will was in a bad place. That she carried enormous pain and guilt with her. Learning about her magic, how it was connected to the whole of the earth, might in some ways help her deal with her personal issues. She might be able to learn to live with the loss of Tara, and with the guilt of killing another human being. She knew that Willow was strong, that given time and the tools, she would recover to some degree that former love of life she'd had. This was the best thing for her, Buffy knew. She was grateful to Giles to helping her best friend.

But while her head understood this, her heart was more selfish. For nearly seven  years the two women had been best friends. There had been an instant simpatico between them. They couldn't remember a time when they didn't care for each other deeply. Like all good friends, they'd shared everything about their lives: Boys, love, dreams, and desires. When  Willow realized she was gay, Buffy was the first to know. Willow, even in her own pain over her breakup with Oz, helped bring Buffy and Riley together. Willow was there when Buffy confessed to Giles that Angel had been cured, had regained his soul before she had to run the sword through him to stop Acathla, and effectively send him to hell. When Willow realized that there would never be anything between her and Xander, who she'd had a crush on for so long, Buffy was there to help her through it. When Oz left, Buffy comforted her friend best she could. When Riley left Buffy, Willow helped her through the pain. They had their down times; times when they were angry at each other, usually over misunderstandings. The last year a strain and distance had developed between them. But in the overall arc of their friendship, they were as close as two people could be. What was especially telling about their relationship was how comfortable they were with each other. They were happy hanging out, doing 'girly' things. They didn't have to talk, they were comfortable sitting together in silence. They grew to be more than friends, in all but in blood, they were sisters. It was one of those rare relationships everybody seeks, and so few find.

Buffy missed her friend terribly. She was going through changes in her own life. She was still learning to cope with life after death. The epiphany she had when the world wasn't destroyed opened new joy in living, but she still dealt day by day with the harshness and glaring inconsistencies of living. She remembered in her blood the perfect peace she'd enjoyed in heaven. She probably would for all her life. Dealing with Dawn had its ups and downs. They were bonding, becoming closer, but there were still differences in temperament, and the usual jealousies and angst siblings had. She also had to deal with her future, such as it may be. She had a destiny. That she couldn't escape. But she couldn't work at the Doublemeat palace forever. She needed to find what she was good at, something she liked doing, and make a career out of it. She had Dawn to take care of, and while Dawnie was proving to be quite the gifted student,  and probably earn a scholarship, there were still expenses associated with college to take care of.

Beyond that however, was the feeling Buffy had. That part of her, the best part of her, was missing. She was learning the hard way how much she needed Willow around. How Will was a more than a friend to her. She was a support, someone to cheerlead her, but even more, someone to partner her when she needed it. She missed the little impromptu chats they would have, the times when they would take walks, just enjoying being together. She missed movie nights, and going to the Bronze, seeing Willow there with Tara, and just having girl talk. Buffy often found herself in the room Willow and Tara shared, trying to recapture in her mind the sounds and scents of Will. She'd touch things because she knew Willow had touched them, and it was like she could touch Willow. Her wanderings often found her back at UC Sunnydale. Not so much that she had any business there, but because Willow had loved the campus. She even found herself volunteering to help Anya clean up the debris in the Magic Box. Simply because Willow had loved to spend time there. Even when she wasn't particularly in the mood for "massive sugary goodness" she would hang out at the Espresso Pump. She and Willow had reserved seats there, they spent so much time in the place. Together. Always together.

It came to her slowly. The long suppressed feelings she had for Will were coming to the surface. They had been so buried in her, she hadn't even realized they existed. Her relationship with Willow had been so close, so special over the years, she'd never consciously questioned if there might be more than mere friendship involved. It took being separated from Will, knowing that she couldn't see her at all, never mind whenever she wanted to, to make her realize that she needed Will. And not just as a friend. Her feelings blossomed under that summer sun. She found her body aching with need for Willow, like she was withdrawing from an addiction. A lot of mornings she woke up with a damp pillow, where she'd cried herself to sleep missing the red haired Wiccan. She longed to hear her voice, melodious and soft, brush against her ears in the way that quickened her heart. To feel the cool soft touch of her skin under her fingertips. To look into her soft green eyes, which spoke to her in so many ways. To smell the subtle scent of cinnamon and spice that was Willow.

She fought these feelings. It was crazy and insane. She, Buffy, wasn't gay. She liked boys, and all of their parts. But something deep inside her craved Willow more than she'd craved anyone. She began to dream of her, being with her. Then the dreams progressed to kissing and caressing, and to making love. It scared her, and thrilled her. She woke after some of the dreams wet, and needing to take care of herself. She didn't understand it. It was so different than anything she'd previously experienced. Loving…another woman wasn't in her lexicon. But here it was, and much as she wanted to deny it, she couldn't anymore. She loved Willow, She was  in love with Willow. And she had nobody she could tell. It was her little secret, and had to remain that way. Until she could at least tell her best friend. The one she wanted to become her lover. Can you say… Arrggh!!!

Buffy desperately needed to talk to Willow. But there was no way to reach her. The Coven was located in a remote corner of southern England. They had no phone, and little contact with the outside world. It was nearly monastic in their approach. So calling her was out of the question. The only thing she could think of was to write letters to Will. Do it in such a way as to build up to her current feelings.

So, that's what she did. She began to write to Willow. At first, her letters were just general gossip about what was happening in Sunnydale, and asking after Willow, how she was doing, getting along, etc. After each , she would stamp it, and carry it to the post box to mail. But something stayed her hand. She couldn't quite mail the letter. She would bring it home, and put it away, meaning to mail it at a later time. This went on for awhile, each letter becoming more personal, becoming more intimate. Finally, in the last letter she wrote, she confessed her growing feelings to Willow, explaining how she'd discovered after all this time that she was in love with Willow. Like all the other letters, she never mailed it off. Something inside her kept telling her it wasn't time, now wasn't the time to do this. So like all the other letters she'd written ,she put it in the drawer to be mailed another day. A day that never came.

Towards the end of summer, it came to her why she didn't mail the letters. Why she could never mail the letters. It was wrong. Wrong what she was feeling. She never should have these feelings for Willow. She'd failed her. Failed to save Tara, failed to bring Willow back from the brink of destruction. Even worse, it would look like she taking advantage of Tara's death, moving in on Willow in her grief. It might even be thought(oh God) that she deliberately let Tara die, so she, Buffy , could have a chance with Willow. All of this hit her at once, like a hammer hitting an anvil. She realized she could never tell Willow how she felt. It was wrong, simply wrong what she felt. She had to keep it a secret, one of the very few secrets she could never share with her best friend. And when that hammer hit the anvil, her dreams, and her heart were crushed.

Dawn was concerned for her sister. Over the summer, the Summers' girls had become closer than they'd ever been. They'd spent a lot of time together, finding out about each other. Had lots of laughs, and lots of fights. But it'd been all good, all great for Dawn. Because through it all , Buffy was right there. She was living, and the life vibrated off her. She was in the now, enjoying the moment. It was the best time Dawn could ever remember having with Buffy, and she began to love her sister even more. But towards the end of summer, a change came over Buffy. Nothing radical, to the casual observer, it would be unnoticeable. But Dawn saw it in Buffy's eyes. She began to withdraw again. Not like before, where she cut off everyone. But she definitely had a shell about her, a place apart inside her. It puzzled Dawn, because they seemed to be getting on better than ever. But something inside Buffy, some joy, some spirit, was lost. A small wistfulness replaced the joy, like something precious had been lost, never to be regained. At first, Dawn hoped it was temporary. Maybe Buffy was reminiscing over mom, wishing she could be here to share in their new found closeness. But as the days went on, and the melancholy in Buffy grew, Dawn knew it was not going away. She only hoped that Buffy wouldn't withdraw like she had before; It would break Dawn's heart to lose this closeness they shared to the darkness that had claimed Buffy last year.

So the days passed. Summer waned, and Fall began. Finally, in October, Willow returned. When Buffy first saw her, her heart leaped in her chest. As calm as she tried to be, Willow made her flustered and unsure of herself. For the first time in all the time she knew her, Buffy was uncomfortable and nervous around Willow. She did her best to suppress those feelings, trying to make Willow comfortable and happy to be home. But Willow picked up on the vibe(heck, she's a powerful witch, remember) but misunderstood them. She thought Buffy was still nervous and upset about her being dark and veiny and evil. She believed that Buffy's feelings had changed towards her. They had indeed changed, but not in the way she thought. Willow, a little hurt, withdrew from Buffy. Her guilt and pain put a barrier between them. Buffy, thinking Willow was still grieving(true) and needed space( not so true), allowed the distance between them to grow. She figured, in time, they'd regain their closeness. For now, she had to accept what was, not what she wanted things to be.

In the intervening months, the First arose as a threat. Giles, leading the first group of SiT's  to the house on Revello Drive, returned from England. Spike also had returned, with a soul, and a tortured mind. Things became busy, and there was no time for the slayer and witch to repair the damage to their relationship.

Kennedy, one of the SiT's, began to take a serious interest in Willow. Like Buffy, she knew what she wanted. Unlike Buffy, she wasn't shy about pursuing it. There was that weird spell Amy threw on Willow, which made her change into Warren Mears. It was triggered by the guilt Willow felt about kissing Kennedy, and wanting more. But that was overcome, and they soon became an acknowledged, if unofficial, couple.

Buffy bit back her words, watching this. She kicked herself for never taking the risk, expressing how she felt about Willow. She realized that she lost any chance she might have had to tell Willow how she felt. It would be worse now than before, because now it would seem that she was trying to get back at Kennedy. Buffy and Kennedy were like oil and water, they just never mixed. It could be that in some ways they were so alike, it was scary. They were both, at heart, bold, out front  and risk takers. They weren't planners or strategic thinkers, though in her years, Buffy had learned to do both. They were loyal to their friends, and scornful of those who didn't measure up to their standards. Buffy, however, over the years, had polished her rough edges, learning to do things that she didn't necessarily like to do. These days her warrior heart would be tempered by her brain, which would urge more caution. Kennedy, on the other hand was still green. She did what she did without thought to consequences. There are two kind of leaders: Strategic leaders( think, Giles) and Warrior leaders( think, young Buffy).  Buffy and Kennedy were both of the latter type. That's probably why they got on each other's nerves so much.

For Will's sake, Buffy did her best to get along with Kennedy. She knew she didn't have a shot with Willow, so she settled for the next best thing; supporting Willow in her happiness. She became the best friend again, trying to be there when Willow needed her, but not putting any demands on her time, or her affections. It killed her, because despite her efforts(or maybe, because of them, Kennedy mistaking kindness for weakness), Kennedy became more and more rebellious of Buffy's leadership, more of a burr under Buffy's butt. Whatever the reason, Buffy had to resist the temptation more than once to take Kennedy out back and teach her a lesson. Or 12. But she did her best, and lived with the fact that this was the girl that Willow wanted. Groan.

Kennedy for her part thought she was doing what was right for the SiT's. She thought Buffy was too full of herself, too damned content with her past successes, and now was doing the dog paddle while drowning. Her decisions seemed at times arbitrary and contradictory. It pissed her off when , asking Buffy a reason for a particular decision, she'd snap at her "Because I say so!". So the hell what if she was the slayer. Kennedy knew that if she were chosen, she'd be twice the slayer Buffy ever was. And certainly a damned sight better leader. It was only because Willow believed in Buffy that Kennedy even bothered to listen to the blonde one. If she, Kennedy, gave her, Buffy, grief, so what? If you can't handle the heat, move to Alaska. This was hers, and the other SiT's lives at stake. She had every right to question what she thought were specious orders.' Start being a real leader' Kennedy thought to herself,' and I'll start following you'.


When Buffy interrupted the Xander's story with rude comments, Kennedy had enough. She was tired of the Slayer's stick up the butt attitude, and she was going to let her have it. After all, the girls had little enough downtime, what with Buffy's rigorous training schedule and all. All of the SiT's had been enjoying the story. But could Buffy just sit back and relax? No, she had to make a big deal out of it. So, Kennedy was going to let her know in no uncertain terms that she was rude, and should come down and apologize to everyone. God, Buffy made her mad!

She followed Buffy upstairs. She figured that unlike Buffy, she'd give Buffy the respect to dress her down in private. She was about to barge in the door, but stopped. Buffy was on her bed, reading something. The expression on her face was sad and regretful. Kennedy froze. What was she reading? Did it have to do with us? She looked worried…and a little scared(in Kennedy's perception…Kennedy, like Buffy, doesn't always get it right). Great, just great. So typical She knows something, something that probably is important, and isn't sharing it with us. We got our lives on the line here, too. We should be aware of everything. And she's looking scared, so it can't be good. Well, screw her. No more little secrets. I'm gonna find out what she's reading, and pass it along. I'm tired of being out of the loop…all of us SiT's being out of the loop. We deserve to be kept informed.

Kennedy changed her mind, fading back so she could keep an eye on Buffy's room. She'd wait til the slayer left, then go in and find those papers and read them. She stood by the bathroom door, so if anyone asked, she could say  " Just waiting for the bathroom". Finally, after nearly an hour, Buffy left her room. Kennedy, not knowing how long she'd have, scurried into the slayer's room.

Looking around quickly, she couldn't see where the slayer had put those pages. She finally decided to look in her nightstand, figuring she keep them close at hand for perusal. Looking over her shoulder in case Buffy returned, she moved to the bed, and opened the nightstand drawer. On top were a series of envelopes, with hastily placed pages inside. These must be it. Not wanting to get busted, she took all of the envelopes, stuffed them under her blouse, and made for her and Willow's room. She knew Willow as out at the time, so she'd have some privacy.

She settled down on the bed, and pulled out the envelopes. She noted they were addressed to Willow, in England. Odd, she thought…but shrugged it off. She pulled out the first letter, and began to read it. After getting about half way through, she felt a flush hitting her cheeks, and she felt totally foolish. They were just letters. Obviously Buffy had written them last summer, when Willow was in England. There was nothing here about the threat they were facing. I should put these back.

But, curiosity overcame her natural reluctance to read other people's private letters. " Hey, they were addressed to Willow, after all. She meant to send them but forgot. Will's with me now. We share everything. So, I've got a right to read them". Talk about your twisted logic. Anyway, she continued reading the letter, put it back in it's envelope, and started on the next one. After the third or fourth letter, she noted the change in tone. Her eyebrow arched a bit. Something was going on here. Then she got to the final letter. She started reading it, and her eyes grew wider and wider, and her jaw dropped lower and lower. She stopped reading, and sat stunned for awhile.

" Oh—my—God!!!" Kennedy exclaims." She in love with Willow. She's got it BAD." Kennedy picks up the letter, and reads it over again. She shakes her head in disbelief. Now, you would think that one who has fallen  under the spell of the Wily Willow charms( The B's words, not mine) would have a natural empathy for someone else that was so enchanted. But, remember, this is Kennedy. " Loser! God, she had what? Seven years or so to make her feelings known? Even if she only realized it over the summer, it still gave her nearly 7 months before I showed up. So, what? She's going to wait for some signal from up above? C'mon folks, you snooze, you lose! Willow obviously chose the better woman" Kennedy chuckles to herself. Slowly a small grin plays over Kennedy's face." Well, can't give Buffy grief for hiding important stuff from the SiT's. But, it doesn't mean I can't give her some grief" She thinks to herself." I think it's time somebody brought the all-powerful slayer down a couple of pegs. Show everybody she's got feet of clay, just like the rest of us. A little humiliation is good for the soul." Kennedy snickers." And who am I to deny Buffy a good soul, huh?" Kennedy, forgetting about the letters, gets up off the bed. She wanders out of the room. Time to find Buffy, and have a nice little chat.


Kennedy catches up to Buffy down in the kitchen

Buffy had just grabbed a soda, and was going to go outside to watch the sunset. It always gave her a sense of peace to watch the sun go down. She loved the colors and the cooling of the evening breeze. Go figure. It just meant night approaching, and all the baddies coming out to play. But she still got some inner serenity from the light show. Right now, she could use some. Her stomach was in knots. The First was playing hardball, the SiT's were being troublesome, and she didn't have a clue how to handle either problem. And Xander's little story theatre just brought up all the feelings of failure she'd had over Willow. That sure helped things. Never mind the fact that her own emotions over Will were all over the map. She sighed. God, when does it get easier?

"Hey, Buffy" Kennedy calls out to her

Buffy groans internally. Obviously, not now. God, why do you hate me so, anyway? Buffy pretends like she didn't hear her, and starts for the back door.

"Buffy! Hey, Buffy! Wait up, 'k?" Kennedy calls after her. Buffy halts. She sighs. She so doesn't want to do this now.

"Yeah, Kenny? What do you want?" Buffy asks, her voice weary

" Hi, Buffy" Kennedy smiles at her." Can we talk?"

"Sure" Buffy shrugs. Why not? How much worse can it get? ( she had to ask, didn't she?) Wonder what she's gonna bitch about now? " Look, I'm goin outside to watch the sunset. Wanna come with?" Buffy asks

"Sure" Kennedy replies brightly. "Sounds great"

Buffy's slayer antennae begin to hum. Ok, she's being way too agreeable. What's up?

Kennedy goes over, grabs a soda out of the fridge, and follows Buffy out onto the back porch. She sees Buffy sitting on the step, and sits down by her.

They sit on the back steps, sipping their drinks, watching the sun make it's daily descent. Neither one speaks for awhile, both just enjoying the night. Kennedy watches Buffy, and notes how…sad she looks. For a brief moment, a spark of sympathy for the slayer enters her breast. ' She's got it rough' Kennedy thinks. Too bad it didn't turn into a flame. Cause in the next moment she extinguishes it with " but that doesn't mean she's gotta be all hard assed with us".

"Look, Buffy" Kennedy begins, sounding sympathetic." I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry if I give you a hard time, sometimes. I just get upset not knowing what's going on, and I'm concerned for the girls. I know you got it rough, so…sorry" Kennedy finishes.

Buffy nearly chokes on her soda. An apology, from Kennedy? What's the catch? She looks over at the SiT, but she doesn't see any mockery in her face. She looks like she really means it, Buffy thinks to herself. Hey, if she can be reach out, I can reach out too.

" Hey, look, Kenny. I'm sorry if I give you guys a hard time. I'm just concerned about you. The First is a really powerful baddie. I'll admit, I'm worried. This isn't going to be easy on any of us. I'm just trying to be sure you guys are safe and ready when you need to be" Buffy says, her tone a bit contrite.
"I know, Buff. You're doing your best" Kennedy says, patting Buffy's shoulder. Buffy nearly jumps out  of her skin. This is giving her a major case of the wiggins. Kennedy? Sympathetic and understanding? What next? The First invites us to it's coming out party…no, wait, we already got THAT invite!

"Hey, Buffy" Kennedy continues." Can I ask you something?"

"Sure" Buffy says. Oh boy, here it comes.

" Umm….look. You know Willow better than just about anyone here. Except maybe Xander" Kennedy says, putting in that tiny barb deliberately." But I'd kinda feel funny talking to him about this. This is more a girl to girl thing, ok?"

"Ok" Buffy says, a little wary." Shoot"

"Well, I just want to know" Kennedy says." What does Willow like?"

"Like?" Buffy asks, puzzled. What she getting at? Shouldn't she be asking Willow? "What do you mean?"

" Oh, you know Buffy" Kennedy grins, maybe a little mocking to it. " What makes her happy?"

Willow enters through the front door. She's had a long day, and it shows.

She looks more than a little frazzled, because she's been running around all day. First, classes, which considering all that's going on, seem a little pointless. Now, that's weird when you remember this is Willow, who loves school. Then she had to run around doing errands, trying to get things straightened out with various utilities. With all the attacks, no one remembered to pay the bills last month. Ever have a dozen girls in a house and no electricity, no water… ok, you get it. Not good, not at all good. She had to do some serious begging, but she managed to keep the utilities on. She sighs. Something else I gotta put on my to do list so we don't have to go through THAT again. After that, it was back to the campus to do research in their library…more history of Sunnydale, see if there are any similarities to current attacks. Then over to Giles to see what he's learned. Then shopping for the food…'I need a truck to feed this crew.' Now home. She enlisted the Sit around SiT's to grab the groceries out of the car, and to put them away(note to self. Check later. Some of the stuff may never make it to the cupboard).' Right now, this tired footsore witch needs to lay down. Nap sounds real nice. Even if Kennedy is laying naked on the bed, I don't care. I'm taking a nap! She looks around. Where IS Kenny, anyway? She should be home. Could use some cuddles while sleeping. Maybe she's already upstairs. Doesn't matter, I guess. Maybe she went with a few of the girls to the Bronze…if she could sneak past Buffy, that is. Buffy is being a bit tight on them. Ok, Will…off Buffy's back. She's doing what she can to keep them safe, ok?  Yeah, well, you listen to Kenny's bitches every night about Buffy. See if you don't get testy, huh? Damn, I wish those two would just make nice. Dream on, Will, dream on!'

Willow wearily makes it to her room…and notices the bed is covered by what looks like paper.

'Ok, what's she been doing up here now? I swear that girl is a slob. What is all this, anyway?' She picks up an envelope, and notices it's addressed to her. 'Hey, who said she could go around reading my mail?' Willow says, a bit ticked off. Then she notices the envelopes are addressed to her in England.' What the heck? I never got any letters in England!' She looks more carefully at the envelopes, and notices the return address " 1630 Revello Drive. Here? Who …wait… these must never have been sent.. but who wrote me from here? Dawn? Buffy?… Oh, well…they ARE addressed to me. Might as well check them out. See what they're about.' She picks up a letter, which happens to be the first letter Buffy wrote. ' Ok, pretty nice. Nothing special though…obviously from Buffy. Grammar, girl, grammar' Willow giggles. She loves giving Buffy a hard time on some of her more colorful interpretations of English.' Wonder why she never sent me these?' Willow asks herself. She's a bit puzzled, She knows she would've loved to hear from somebody back in Sunnydale while she was in England. She shrugs.' Guess she forgot.' Willow sighs. She picks up another one. This is the last letter Buffy wrote to her. She starts reading it…and her eyes go wide as saucers. She keeps reading , and her face blushes pink…then red. Her mouth hangs open just a little. Shock doesn't quite cover what she's feeling right now. She's not exactly sure what she's feeling right now. She does know her heart is beating faster, and it's all of a sudden stuffy in this room…she's having a hell of a time breathing. She puts down the letter, closes her eyes, shakes her head, and reads it again. ' Nope, hasn't changed' She thinks. She just doesn't know what the hell to do.

Reading Buffy's confessions of love to her is…well, frankly, something she never expected. She never even suspected Buffy might feel this way about her. Not that Buffy ever treated her badly, or anything. Or that Buffy had been cold or anything towards her( well, she was kinda distant last year, but that had to do with her being dragged out of heaven. Can you say…goddess I feel guilty as hell?).  But Willow never thought that Buffy might harbor any feelings for her beyond friendship. Willow had never felt any vibe off of her. Not in that direction, anyway. Certainly not since she was back…'though, she was awfully glad to see me when I got back. But hey, I was glad to see her too! But, thinking back, the hug she gave me at the airport was a bit extra long. And extra warm. But I just thought it came from missing me. Well, I guess she did, reading this! But, why didn't she tell me? Or at least, hint a little at it? Goddess, this is totally confusing!'

Her musings are interrupted by shouting from the back yard. ' Oh god, who's getting in it now?' She wondered. Tempers get so short in this place, since we've gotten a dozen extra bodies living here. She goes to the window, and looks out.

The sun is low in the sky, and there are long shadows in the yard, but Willow recognizes immediately who's down there. Buffy… and Kenny. And they look like their ready to start fighting!

" How dare you!" Buffy is yelling at Kennedy." What gives you the right to go rifling through my stuff? Those letters are personal and private!"  Willow looks at the bed, and puts 2 and 2 together…oh, boy.

" You're real big on secrets, Buffy" Kennedy yells back. " You don't let us in on anything. Newsflash, slayer: These are our lives, too! We have a right to know about what's coming at us! I just was trying to find out about The First, maybe prepare the others for what's coming. I came across those letters accidentally".

" And you just had to read them, right? You just had to stick your nose in my private affairs! Didn't you?" Buffy growls, her anger rising." The only time I keep stuff back from you guys is when it's something that'll only make you panic. Listen, Kenny, I've got 12 girls, plus Dawn, Willow, and Xander to watch out for. The last thing we need around here is PANIC. Look what happened when  Annabelle panicked. She died, because she left here in a panic, and the Turok-Han got her. What do you think'll  happen if all 12 of the girls panic? We might as well just give up now. I only do what I do to protect you guys."

"Well, you're doing a pretty lousy job of it. We've lost 3 other girls since then" Kennedy taunts her." You're record aint so good, is it slayer?"

"You think you could do better?" Buffy asks, her voice quiet. Dangerously quiet.

" Think? I know I could!" Kennedy sneers." My dead Grandma could do a better job than you!"

"Fine. You've been itching for a shot at me. Well, here it is , Kenny. Go ahead. Take your best shot. I won't even hit you back. I'll give you a freebie." Buffy says, her voice taunting the younger girl. Kennedy hesitates. Buffy smiles. "What's wrong, Kenny? Lose your nerve?"

"Screw you, Slayer. It's not a fair fight." Kennedy says, starting to walk away." You'd beat me senseless"

" I'll make it fair, Kenny. I won't even punch you. I'll just defend myself. How's that?" Buffy says, mocking her." Think you can take me if I don't fight you back?"

" Damn you, Buffy!" Kennedy screams at Buffy, losing her temper  She rushed Buffy from the side, sending out a roundhouse kick. Buffy turns, blocks the kick and lifts, sending Kennedy to the ground on her butt. She smiles

"Again, Kenny?" Buffy ask." Or have you had enough?"

A voice from above stops them both, cold.

"I've had enough!" Willow yells down, her anger peaking." Both of you, on the porch. NOW!"

Kennedy and Buffy look up at the very angry Willow looking out of the window. They both get that " oh-oh busted!" look on their faces. Buffy reaches out to help Kennedy up, but Kennedy shakes her off, and stands on her own. She marches over to the porch, pissed off. Buffy shrugs, and walks to the porch, waiting for Will to come down and verbally kick her ass. Ouch!

Willow, looking at the bed, gathers up the letters and envelopes. ' This is between me and Buffy. Hasn't a thing to do with Kenny.' She thinks to herself. She's pissed off at both her favorite girls right now. Having gathered up all of the letters, she marches out of the room, and heads downstairs.


One very embarrassed slayer, and one penitent SiT are standing on the porch, waiting for Willow to come and give them the what for. Both stand like naughty children: hands behind their back, shoulders rounded, faces looking interestedly at their shoelaces. They have a temporary simpatico only children waiting to be punished ever receive.

One very pissed off witch comes onto the porch to give them hell. She's red faced in anger, and she's ready to let loose. Today hasn't been a great day, and the last thing she needed was Buffy and Kennedy getting into it like school kids.

" I'm very disappointed with the both of you" Willow begins." You two are supposed to be setting an example around here! We have 12 very frightened young girls here to deal with. What we need right now is unity. How do you think they're going to react when you two start fighting like a couple of children in the back yard? Aren't the nerves bad enough around here? Kenny! You're the oldest of the SiTs . The other girls look up to you. You're their leader, at least amongst the SiTs. Is this the kind of example you want to set for them? Buffy is in charge here, period. I've been watching all of you, and you've been like a snot nosed brat. If you've got a beef with Buffy, you do it in private. And like an adult. That means you talk about it. You don't come to blows over it. Clear?"

"Wills. We're all in danger here. Our lives are at stake. I don't like things being held back!" Kennedy protests.

"No one's holding back anything from you. Sometimes, until we check something out, we might not tell everybody. But that's only until we know the facts. We have girls ranging in age from 14 up. Not all of them are ready to take on undigested information straight from the source. This is only to keep them from bolting like Annabelle did. We're stronger together than apart. If we all go to the four winds, the bringers are only going to pick us off, one by one. So, you, being de facto leader of the SiTs, gotta keep them in line, and ready. Think you can do that?" Willow says, her voice not quite as angry as earlier.

Kennedy nods.

"Will? Before you go off on me? You're right, I was way outta line" Buffy says, apologetic." Kenny? I'm sorry I went all ballistic on you. Just a bad day. That doesn't excuse what I did, but I'm sorry"

Kennedy looks at Buffy in surprise. Buffy didn't rat her out. She could've easily told about her stealing her letters.

"Buffy, thank you. For apologizing. I know this is all been really hard on you" Willow says, quietly." But you can't afford to let your temper get the best of you. These girls look to you to lead them , and try to keep them safe. You've got to be mature at all times. I know it's rough, Buffy. Believe me, I know" Willow says, grinning a little." I know you had cause for going ballistic" Willow looks at Kennedy, with a very stern expression. Kennedy blushes and looks down." But, if you get this angry, come  to me first. We'll talk it out, ok?"

Buffy, ashamed of herself, nods. " Look , again I'm really sorry. I've got to agree with Will. You're the de facto leader of the SiTs, Kenny. You can be of some real help, If you're interested?" Buffy says, turning to Kennedy.

" What do you mean?" Kennedy asks, suspiciously.

" Well…you're a lot farther along than the other girls. I could use some help with the basic training. It's hard to do it all myself. Think you'd be interested? That way , I can concentrate more on the advanced stuff with the girls who're farther along" Buffy says." Believe me, I hate to admit it, but you're pretty good"

Kennedy is flabbergasted. She never expected this. Of course, being who she is, she pushes for more.

"Hey, I'm pretty good at weapons too, you know" Kennedy says, enthusiastically.:" I could…."

"Kenny, take the deal" Willow says, sternly." Buffy's being especially generous. Don't push it!"

Kennedy shuts up, immediately. But it's not quite over for her yet.

"Buffy didn't say anything , Kenny, but I know what you did. And frankly, I really pissed off at you right now." Willow says, turning to Kennedy. Kennedy finds her shoes very interesting at the moment." I'm so angry right now, I don't want to say anything I might regret later. Frankly, I don't want to look at you right now!" Willow says, her voice and anger rising.

"Will? Go easy. She made a mistake." Buffy said, jumping in to defend Kennedy. God, is she a glutton for punishment, or what? Kennedy on the other hand, nearly keels over in shock. Buffy, standing up for her? I know the world's turning backwards today.

" That doesn't excuse what she did, Buffy." Willow says." She invaded your privacy. She's way old enough to know better." She turns back to Kennedy." Here's the deal, Kennedy" Willow says. Now Kenny knows she's pissed…she only uses her full name when she's pissed off." I want you to take the girls out tonight. They need a break" Buffy and Kennedy both look at Will with a "HUH?" expression on their faces." Don't look at me that way, either of you. The girls have been cooped up here. They need a some time out. They're kids. They need some fun!" Willow says, exasperated." Morale around here sucks. Anyway, you're taking the girls to the Bronze. Get Anya and Xander to help you chaperone. That's right, you're on duty as Chaperone. That means you better not have any liquor on your breath when you get home. Neither should any of the girls. If they do, any of them, you're sleeping in the cellar with Spike tonight. Clear?" Kennedy nods, a bit chastened. Willow continues." You didn't really think I was going to let you party tonight, did you? After what you did?"  Kennedy shakes her head." Ok then. Get the girls together, and Call Xander. Oh, and take Andrew and Dawn too. Buffy and I need to talk over some things alone"

"Will, I don't like…." Kennedy begins, but Willow cuts her off.

" Really not caring what you like right now, Kenny" Willow says. Her voice is saying don't mess with me, you're in trouble, missy.

Kennedy turns and walks away, muttering something under her breath.

"What?" Willow says, sharply.

"Nothing" Kennedy calls back, walking into the house.

" Gee, mom, you're a little rough on her, don't you think?" Buffy says, jokingly.

Willow turns back to Buffy, her expression grim. She doesn't look at all amused.

" Elizabeth Anne Summers, don't think YOU'RE off the hook yet!" Willow says, her voice stern." We have a lot of talking to do"

Buffy feels her heart sink into her stomach. She can't ever remember when  Willow called her by her full name. Oh, crap!!!! She tries to bluff her way out of this.

"About what, Will?" Buffy asks, innocently.

Willow holds up a group of letters. Buffy closes her eyes in pain.

"About these, Buffy"



 It's about an hour later. The SiTs have taken off for the Bronze. Buffy and Willow are sitting at the dining room table. Willow has spread out the letters in order in front of her. She's reading each of them in order. Buffy is sitting across from her, fervently wishing that Mayor Wilkins, or the demon he became, would make a sudden guest appearance and swallow her up. But no luck on that front. So she sits there, watching Will as she reads each letter.

Buffy knows there's no place for her to run or hide now. And her dirty little secret is going to come out. All the lies she's been telling herself, the lies she's been living, are going to be revealed. She knows in her heart that Willow is going to hate her, once she puts it all together. How could she feel otherwise? After what she's done? She's dreaded this day. She'd hoped she'd never live to see it. Too late, Buffy. Way too late.

Willow finishes reading the last letter…again. She looks up at Buffy. Her face reflects puzzlement, and maybe a little hurt. Her brow is furled in the way it does when she's trying to understand something that seemingly eludes her.

" Buffy. I just don't understand. Why didn't you say something to me?" Willow asks, her voice confused.

" I couldn't, Will" Buffy replied, her voice contrite." I just couldn't. It wasn't …right". She looks down at her hands.

"Right? It wasn't right?" Willow asks, her voice a little hurt now." I didn't have a right to know how you felt?"

Buffy can't look at her. Her face blushes, and she feels like dog crap. She's ashamed and miserable.

"Buffy, please. Look at me" Willow says, softly." I'm not angry with you, just confused."

 Buffy looks up, her eyes haunted. She can't look at Will. She looks back down at her hand.

"Buffy, please. Look at me" Willow asks, almost begging." Don't turn away . Make me understand!"

Buffy looks up, her eyes shiny with tears. Her heat is thumping in her chest, in fear. She's so afraid she's going to lose Willow now, she can barely breathe.

"I'm so ashamed, Willow. After what I did, how can you stand to even look at me?" Buffy says, her voice trembling.

Willow is surprised by Buffy's reaction. It makes no sense to her. What she did?

" Buffy? I don't understand. What did you do?" Willow asks, her voice puzzled.

"It's.. it's my fault, Will. My fault. All my fault that Tara died!" Buffy says, trying to hold back the tears. It's a losing battle.

Willow looks at Buffy like she's gone insane. Maybe she has.

"Buffy? What're you saying? You're fault? That's… just stupid!" Willow says, upset." It was Warren that shot Tara…." Buffy interrupt she before she can finish

"If not for me, Willow, Warren never would've come to Revello Drive with a gun. If I'd caught him when I caught Andrew and Jonathan, none of that would've happened." Buffy said, her voice cracking.

" Buffy I remember I said something like that to you when I was all scary-veiny. But I never meant it. I was trying to hurt you, like I was hurting. I never meant it!" Willow says, her own tears starting. The guilt she feels just doubled, realizing her best friend had been carrying that around all this time. Oh Goddess I was so bad! So damned evil!

" Willow, don't you see? I failed you, I failed you!" Buffy cries, the pain coming to the surface." Why wasn't I faster that day? I hesitated. Just for a second, but that was enough. If I hadn't hesitated, if I'd been faster, I could've stopped that shot…or, I could've deflected the shot. I should've taken that shot. It was meant for me. I should've died that day, not Tara" Buffy starts to shake. " I should've died. You'd still have Tara, alive and well, if I'd only died like I shoulda"

Willow can't stand what she's hearing. It's hurting her worse than anything she can think of.

"Oh goddess, Buffy No! Don't even think that. Do you think I could stand it if you died again? I barely survived it sane when you died fighting Glory. I was…I …" Willow grows quiet. Very quiet. Buffy looks up, worried.

"What…Willow? What?" Buffy asks, getting frightened. She doesn't like the expression she sees on Willow's face. It's like …oh god..

" Buffy" Willow says, quietly, almost like in a dream." I … nearly killed myself after you died fighting Glory. If Tara hadn't found me in time, and called the paramedics I'd be dead. The pain I felt was so bad, I had to stop it. I… took pills. Lots of them. I had to make it go away… I couldn't stand living in a world where you didn't exist"

Buffy sits horrified. The thought of Willow, sweet loving Willow…so full of life…killing herself over her…just… shocked her beyond comprehension.

"Will… my god.. I never knew…" Buffy said, whispering.

"I didn't want you to know. I didn't want anyone to know. I swore Tara to secrecy." Willow said, quietly." So you see, Buffy, I had my own dirty little secret. I told my own lies."

"I'm so sorry, Will." Buffy said, quietly, shocked out of her own tears." I…I've hurt you so much. I've let you down so much. How…could you ever forgive me? I was so self centered, so concerned with my own pain, that I didn't see your pain. Didn't help you when  you needed help. I failed you so many times." Buffy said.

"Buffy, please stop. Please stop being so hard on yourself" Willow said. She reached out, and took Buffy's hands in hers. It still amazed her how this strong woman, who can beat up huge demons, is so small. She warmly grasped Buffy's hands in hers. She continued " I told you my secret Buffy, because I wanted you to realize that you're not the only one who makes mistakes. We all do foolish things, things we regret.  I know you feel guilty over Tara's death. But please believe me Buffy when I tell you , it wasn't your fault. No one could've stopped that bullet that day. It took me a long time to accept that. It was her time. No one could've changed it. Believe me, I called on the Gods to try to change it. But it was in the natural order of things. I hate it. I still hate it. It was cruel and vicious and mean. But it couldn't be changed. I went insane with grief, Buffy. I went over to the dark side, taking my power from a vengeance place. I said things to you that I still regret. But you didn't fail me Buffy, no matter what you think."

" But Will, I … I didn't try to reach out to you after you changed. I should've tried to make you understand that we loved you, and would always love you, no matter what. It took Xander to do that." Buffy said, She still can't forgive herself for that.

"Buffy." Willow said, quietly." I love Xander. Always will. He's been my friend forever." Willow stops." You're right, it took him to reach the human in me, but it wasn't him that stopped me. Not in the end."

Buffy looks at Willow, puzzled.

" Yes, he reminded me that I was human, and that I was loved. But I was still ready to destroy the world. That last time, when I cut into him, and he staggered, I was ready to start again. But I stopped. Want to know why?" Willow asked quietly

" Why?" Buffy asked.

" Because I realized that if I destroyed the world… you'd be gone, too." Willow said. " Couldn't take that idea".

Buffy grins , a bit ruefully. So, the secrets were out. The lies exposed…and no one seemed to be hating no one. But there was still the little matter of what she'd written in the letters.

"So, now what Will? " Buffy asks." Kinda seems that we're back to the letters. Seems pointless to pursue this discussion. Kinda moot, with you being with Kenny and all"

" I guess" Willow said, her voice having an odd tone. She looks at the letters, and then back to Buffy." I gotta know, though. Did you mean what you said in this letter?" She hands the letter to Buffy. Buffy doesn't need to look it over, but she does.

"Every word, Will." Buffy said, quietly.

Willow sat for a minute, looking at Buffy. Buffy returned her gaze, a bit puzzled. Without warning, Willow got up from her chair, and walked over to Buffy's side of the table. She put her arms around Buffy's neck, and leaned in. She kissed her lightly on the lips. Both felt the spark.

"I guess it's not moot after all, Buffy". Willow smiled, and kissed her again.