Standard disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all such related things, © Mutant Enemy and many other people with big scary lawyers. We're borrowing them without permission, but you said you were done with 'em, so we're hoping you won't mind so much. Stories, images, characters you don't recognize, those are all by 4Paws. Yes, we'll take the blame.

Setting: Set in the continuation-verse, which picks up about three months after the end of "Chosen". So, spoilers for pretty much everything, including any "episodes" in this series that have come before it.

Notes: Here we go with my most ambitious 'fic project ... well, ever, basically. A virtual continuation of a show with a whole heck of a lot more story to tell. Since deciding to do this project I've discovered that there are, in fact, many Season 8's ... but this is the only one with the Jet Wolf Seal of Involvement, so that guarantees freshness. Or something.

Episodes are posted to www.btvschosen.com weekly, at 8pm EST on Tuesdays, all pretty and HTML'd with graphics and oo! Credits. We have credits, too. Eps will appear the following Friday or Saturday on ff.net. So if you don't want to wait all that extra time (and really, how could you?), the site is the way to go.

(16 June 2004)


The Chosen: A Buffy Virtual Continuation

Episode 7: "Inside Out"
Story by: Jet Wolf & Ultrace
Written by: Jet Wolf

Act Four

All the air was audibly propelled out of Faith's lungs by Buffy's full-force tackle. Somehow the pair managed to avoid all the trees and gravestones as they stumbled back a few feet. Finally the weight of the blonde Slayer brought Faith to the ground, and they landed with a thud. Taking immediate advantage, Buffy let loose with a punch across Faith's jaw, and the brunette responded by grabbing Buffy's arm and hurling her to one side. Almost simultaneously they got to their feet, several yards separating them as they regarded each other appraisingly.

Both were panting heavily, the fight obviously well underway by this stage. Despite that, however, neither seemed much the worse for wear, being largely unmarred, although Faith was sporting a nasty bruise on her left cheek and a trail of blood trickling from the corner of Buffy's mouth indicated that damage had occurred to her lip at some point.

Swiping a hand across her nose, Faith spared it a quick check for blood, her manic smile never faltering as she jutted her chin at Buffy. "Lookit all that pent up rage an' anger you got, B. I'm shocked. Didn't know you had it in you."

"Guess you don't know me as well as you like to think," Buffy replied tersely, rapidly closing the distance between them and landing another solid punch that snapped Faith's head to one side. "But then thinking never was your strong point, was it?"

"Nah, I'm more an action kinda girl."

There was no warning, no indication of the spinning kick that connected with Buffy's face, and in her momentary daze, Buffy failed to see Faith's other foot following up, taking full advantage of the force she'd gained from the swing. The blonde stumbled backward, nearly losing her balance entirely, but remained standing, prompting Faith to attempt a leg sweep. It was the obvious move, however, and Buffy easily leaped over it, lashing out with a kick of her own in mid-air, which caught Faith on the cheekbone in such a way that it was all but guaranteed to enhance the already vivid bruise.

Landing easily, Buffy brought her fists up in a defensive stance and flicked her head to toss the hair out of her eyes. "That enough action for you?"

"This?" Faith responded, still grinning broadly at Buffy. "No way. You know I like it rough."

"I aim to please."

True to her word, Buffy unleashed a hard and fast series of well-aimed punches. Her fists were moving with such speed they almost became a blur, which only made the fact that Faith blocked each and every one of them all the more impressive. Buffy pressed her attack, but was still unable to make contact, until finally Faith caught a fist in mid-swing, clenching it tightly in her own. Instinctively Buffy tried to jerk it back, but it was held fast, and Faith began to squeeze. A crunching sound was drowned out as Buffy gasped painfully, even as she thrust her knee into the other Slayer's stomach. This time Faith was the one to gasp as the wind was knocked out of her and she released her hold. Striving to take advantage, Buffy swung at Faith, who easily deflected the blow. Faith tried an attack of her own, but Buffy parried. Each Slayer struggled to gain the upper hand, but they were too easily matched, too in tune with each other's moves to do so.

Attempting another tactic, Faith aimed a fist at Buffy that was effortlessly avoided, but then suddenly her other arm appeared to come from nowhere and caught the blonde in the nose. Faith tried to expand on her minute advantage with a crippling punch, her eyes widening in surprise as Buffy ducked to the side and ensnared Faith, one hand clamped around the brunette's fist, the other around her forearm. With a brutal twist, Buffy stepped to the side and yanked hard, pulling Faith forward. Again Buffy kneed the other Slayer in the stomach, followed immediately by one to the face. Faith grunted involuntarily as the knee found its target, and Buffy released her grip, only to savagely jab Faith in the nerve point at the base of her throat. The brunette seized up for just a moment, but it was enough time for Buffy to throw all of her strength behind the punch that was driven into Faith's forehead, and the dark Slayer fell backward to the ground.

Not wanting to grant her opponent even a second of reprieve, Buffy approached Faith, but was taken by surprise when she discovered Faith was nowhere near as stunned as she had appeared. Lashing out with her foot, Faith connected with Buffy's knee, causing the blonde to stumble back, off-balance. With a high kick that seemed almost impossible to execute, Faith's boot impacted solidly with Buffy's head, and as the blonde staggered, Faith leapt to her feet. Grabbing a handful of Buffy's shirt, the brunette hammered two quick punches into the small of Buffy's back, then released her hold and just as quickly thrust her hand around Buffy's neck. In one smooth motion Faith tightened her grip, lifted Buffy into the air, and slammed her to the ground. Straddling Buffy's midsection, Faith brought her second hand up, both latching around the blonde's throat in a death grip.

"What, nothin' to say?" Faith taunted, peering down as Buffy's eyes widened and she scrabbled desperately at Faith's hands. "Where's all your self-righteous holier-than-thou crap now, huh B?"

The only response Buffy could make was a strangled gasp for oxygen, earning a grin from the other Slayer. "Huh? What was that?" Faith inquired mockingly, looking altogether pleased with herself. "Damn, if I'd known this was all it'd take to shut you up, I'd've done this years ago."

With amazing agility, Buffy bucked her hips, bringing up her leg to smash Faith in the back of the head. Faith's grip loosened just enough for Buffy to grab the other Slayer and throw her overhead. Rolling backward, Buffy straightened into a handstand, then tensed and sprung easily to her feet, facing the direction where Faith had gone flying.

"Blah blah blah," commented Buffy in a bored tone. "God do you even listen to yourself? And I'm the one with the 'talks too much' stigma," she added with an incredulous shake of her head.

Faith recovered just as Buffy's foot lashed out and caught her in the face, the brunette's head snapping violently to one side. "All this stuff you think you have, this life you're pretending to lead?" Buffy regarded Faith with undisguised contempt. "You may have fooled the others, but not me. I know you. This is just one more pathetic attempt to hide what you are."

"Hide what I am?" repeated Faith, venom in her voice and hatred blazing in her eyes. "I know exactly what I am. It's you that can't deal." Not attempting any movement, let alone stand, Faith sneered at Buffy with nothing but scorn. "You think life is what? Some fairy princess tale where you get to be all pretty an' popular, fight the evil and ride off into the sunset? Where you get a happy ending? It's crap, B, an' you know it. People like you an' me? We don't get happy endings."

Buffy remained poised and ready for any action Faith might make, but the blonde may as well have been a statue. Her fists remained tight and defensive, and as Faith rose slowly to her feet, Buffy's gaze never flinched.

"An' that's why you can't stand me," Faith continued, raising to her full height. "I'm the reality of what we are. You need me. I'm your shadow, I'm your reflection." She laughed once, a bitter but knowing sound. "I'm the you that you wish you were."

"I am nothing like you," spat Buffy, her teeth gritted painfully.

Faith's mocking grin spoke volumes of how much veracity she sensed in Buffy's words. "No? So you can't feel that buzzin' in your brain? That haze that's just hoverin', right on the outside, wantin' t' come in and blanket everything?" Closing her eyes, Faith tilted her head back. reveling in her emotions. "Tell me you don't feel the blood boilin' in your veins. Tell me you don't wanna feel my neck in your hands," she opened her eyes again, her gaze locking Buffy, "an' tell me they don't itch with the need t' keep squeezin' and squeezin'."

Slowly, like a tiger stalking its prey, Faith edged closer. The blonde remained stock still, her fists clenched so tight they were trembling, but yet she made no move to halt the advancing Faith.

"You want to." Faith's voice was low and intimate. "Right now you want nothin' more than t' just shut me up for good. T' kill that part of you that's me. Don't you?" Buffy didn't answer, and Faith edged closer still, her tone demanding an answer. "Don't you?"

"NO!!" Buffy screamed, channeling every ounce of defiance she could muster into that single word, as though its force alone would render Faith's words inert and meaningless.

-=-=-=-

"'Yes'?"

Wide-eyed and slack jawed, Kennedy gaped at Willow like she couldn't believe what she had just heard.

For her part, Willow appeared almost as surprised as Kennedy, but the word was out there now and she couldn't seem to help but expound further. "Yes!" she insisted. "You're right, everything else always seems more important because ... because it always is!" Her eyes dropped to her lap and her voice softened. "A-And I hate that it's that way." Taking a deep, calming breath, the redhead lifted her gaze to meet Kennedy's unflinchingly. "But it is."

"So I'm supposed to, what?" Kennedy demanded, throwing her arm out to the side. "Just sit around like a dog under the table waiting for a scrap?"

"No! You're ... we're ..." Trailing off, Willow stared at her hands again as she admitted, "I don't know what we're supposed to do."

This did little to placate the Slayer, and although her tone became less harsh, she still spoke decisively. "Well we've got to do something, because this? This isn't working. Not for me." Sighing heavily, Kennedy reached out and curled her fingers around Willow's hand, ducking her head to meet the witch's eyes, but her gaze remained elusive. "You're the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, Willow. When I go to sleep, you're the last thing I want to see."

Swallowing hard, Willow played with a loose thread on the blanket. "Maybe that's the problem?" she wondered aloud. "That's ... I've been there. Those feelings ... they're dangerous. When they're gone, when you realize never again ..." The witch shook her head sadly. "It destroys the world."

Kennedy squeezed Willow's hand more tightly, giving it a small shake. "We're not talking about the world; we're talking about you and me."

Slowly, Willow extricated her hand from Kennedy's grasp. She lifted her head to meet the Slayer's eyes once again. "The world isn't just about you and me, Kenn. You want me all to yourself, all the time. But there's more to life than that. I can't only be yours. I won't be."

"And I'd be okay with that if you were even a tiny bit mine, but you're not." The anger was creeping back into Kennedy's voice. "You call yourself my girlfriend, but it's really just a word, isn't it? It's a title you give yourself to make you feel ... I don't know. Secure? Not alone?"

Defensively, Willow protested, "It's not just a title! It's ... I ..."

"You know you've never told me you love me?"

The statement seemed to come out of nowhere, and for a moment, all the wind was sucked out of Willow's sails. She opened and closed her mouth several times, frowning all the while. "No, that's ..." she began uncertainly. "I have."

"You haven't," insisted Kennedy, then she laughed acerbically. "Believe me, I've been waiting. But I know you, and I know you won't say it unless you mean it." Pausing, the pieces slowly seemed to be slotting into place for the Slayer. "And I suppose that's what it comes down to. I want to hear you say that, so bad ... but you can't, and it eats me up every day."

"I want to," Willow whispered in a tiny, plaintive tone.

Kennedy regarded the redhead with open, unabashed need. "Then do it. Please."

A small nod was the only prelude as Willow licked her lips and, slowly, began to open her mouth. The room was blanketed in a thick, unyielding tension, Kennedy's every sense tuned to Willow.

The door flying open caused both women to jump in fright as Dawn and Giles burst into the room, both nearly trampling over each other in their rush.

"Willow, we need your help," Giles immediately began. "There's some sort of, ah, suspected mystical energy tha-that's twisting a-and causing everyone to- to—"

Rolling her eyes, Dawn elbowed past Giles and interrupted. "We think someone worked some mojo and now people are fighting." Noticing the Watcher's glare, Dawn allowed every ounce of frustration to make its presence known in a long, heavy, drawn-out sigh. "What? Your way, we'd be back to two Chosen Ones by the time you finished."

Willow was neither interested nor amused. "Uhm, guys?" she snapped, gesturing at herself and Kennedy. "Kinda in the middle of something here...?"

"Yes, and I'm sure it's fascinating," dismissed Giles impatiently. "Now can we please address the rather pressing issue at hand regarding, oh, the rampaging violence?"

"No! I-I'm sick of always putting stuff aside! You, wi-with your big 'Oh, I'm a Watcher, I know everything, I can just—'" The redhead stopped short and she furrowed her brow at Giles. "Wait, there's rampaging violence?"

The teenager nodded enthusiastically. "Big time. Half of Slayer Central's at each other's throats. And then there's us. Haven't you noticed it? Sort of like, you can't stop yourself from saying what's on your mind?"

Kennedy had been unceasingly glaring at the two since the moment they stepped inside the room, but now her expression changed instead into one of deep thought.

Shrugging, Willow agreed, "Tiny bit, yeah."

"It's freaky. A-And sort of liberating." Dawn caught the disbelieving expression on Giles' face and hastened to add, "But mostly freaky."

"And it's getting worse," pressed Giles with urgency. "With no restraints, we're being forced to speak our true thoughts and-and feelings, our—"

"What's in our hearts," Kennedy muttered softly to herself.

Glancing over interestedly, Giles frowned at the Slayer. "I'm sorry?"

Louder, she repeated, "Our hearts. We're seeing what's in each other's hearts."

Giles considered this thoughtfully, nodding his agreement. "Well ... yes. In a way I suppose we are."

That was all the confirmation Kennedy needed, and she rose to her feet, crossing her arms as she turned to Giles and Dawn decisively. "I know what's doing this," she announced. Surprised, three heads turned to the Slayer. She looked at each in turn.

"It's me."

-=-=-=-

The cemetery had fallen into peaceful serenity, no sounds of fighting, no sounds of evil. From their perch atop one of the many crypts that littered the graveyard, Buffy and Faith had a perfect view of their surroundings, which they surveyed casually while sitting on the edge of the stone structure, legs dangling over the side. The tension had somehow evaporated, and the two women seemed content to simply chat.

"It's just that you make me so crazy sometimes," Buffy explained. "And then with all the murders and the trying to kill my friends and the taking over my life thing ... I think there are trust issues."

"That's fair," conceded Faith with a nod of her head. "You though ... Damn, you gotta know you're freakin' infuriating sometimes. The way you walk around, like you're just the queen of everything ... An' that superior way you got of talkin' to people, makes me just wanna slap the sh—"

Subconsciously, Faith's voice had been gaining strength, and her right hand had balled into a tight fist. It looked for just a moment as though the battle would begin anew, when something passed over the Slayers and they both shuddered violently.

Searching around for some unseen assailant, Faith mumbled, "The hell?"

"Did you feel that?" Buffy gasped, a hand on her chest as she looked at the brunette.

"Yeah, felt like ..." Glancing down, Faith regarded her hand, still clenched in a tight first. Twisting it back and forth, as though seeing it for the first time, she observed it with wonder. "Huh. I still wanna punch you, but I don't. Which is ... good?" She turned the statement into a question, as though unsure of her word choice. "Unsatisfying, though. What's goin' on?"

"Beats me," the blonde replied. "But I know where to go when I need weirdness explained in big, slightly less weird words."

Swinging her legs out, Buffy leaped down from the crypt and headed for the exit. Faith followed close behind, staring at her fist with a puzzled expression. She made a few swings in the air in Buffy's general direction, as though testing to make sure it still worked properly.

Apparently heedless of the activity behind her, Buffy tentatively asked, "Guess we aired a few things, huh?"

"Know I been waitin' four years or so for a decent rematch," agreed Faith, increasing her stride until the Slayers were walking side by side.

A little sheepish, Buffy began, "About what I said ..."

Faith smirked and nudged Buffy with her shoulder. "Don't even try to pretend you didn't mean it."

"Oh, no, I meant it," the blonde assented. "Just that ... it's not all I meant. You do good here, Faith. You really do. More good out here than you would in there." She glanced at Faith. "I'm glad you're here." Rubbing her jaw, she added, "Maybe less so at this exact moment, true, but over all."

Carefully considering Buffy's words, the Slayer remained silent for a few seconds. "I dunno. I keep thinkin' I've made these great strides, that I'm such a different person. But lookit me. I mean whatever may be goin' on, sure didn't take much to shove me over the edge, y'know?"

"But you managed to rein it in all on your own," Buffy pointed out. "And it's the rest of the time that really counts. Not when some weird supernatural PMS thing's affecting us."

"I'll see what kinda comfort that brings next time you start jabberin' away 'bout honor an' duty an' rinsin' off dishes before you put 'em in the dishwasher, whatever the hell you latch on to."

"Sounds like a plan."

Neither spoke for a moment, each lost in thought.

"That 'bump you in the night' thing was a pretty good one," complimented Buffy.

"Thanks," Faith grinned, "I try."

-=-=-=-

Giles paced back and forth in the Scoobies' living room, his glasses off and in the process of a good cleaning as he spoke. Dawn sat in the center of the couch as Buffy stood by the mantle, her arms crossed. Faith leaned against the entranceway to the room, adopting a position similar to Buffy's.

"It was a spell. Kennedy cast it earlier this evening, some time after speaking with you, Buffy," Giles gestured at the Slayer with his glasses before slipping them back on. "Its intended purpose was to allow her to see into the hearts of others, to- to try and determine their inner, most true intentions. Somehow or another, a- a misspoken word or some such, she instead cast a spell that caused herself and those she came in contact with to ... speak their mind, to act upon their most base desires."

Buffy frowned, trying to fully understand. "So it was a truth spell?"

"Sort of," replied Dawn. "It's like, you know how you have a gazillion thoughts and impulses that run through your head all the time, but you know you'll never actually act on them?" At Buffy's nod, the teenager continued. "Well whatever it is that keeps you from saying what you're really thinking, this spell obliterated it."

"Why would she do somethin' like that?" Faith wondered aloud. "Seems the Brat usually don't got a problem speakin' her mind."

Ceasing his pacing, Giles addressed Faith. "Judith's attack on Willow shook her badly. She said she wanted to be able to ferret out any future turncoats long before they got another chance at her."

"It sounds good in theory," offered Dawn helpfully, trying to look on the bright side.

"Application left a little somethin' to be desired," Faith commented with a dark glance toward the stairs.

Buffy shook her head ruefully. "And they say honesty is the best policy. Whoever 'they' are, they're pretty stupid sometimes."

Settling next to Dawn on the couch, Giles continued, "At least the spell was easily reversible. Once we knew the source, a simple counter charm, and everything returned to normal."

As if on cue, the front door opened to reveal Xander and Andrew, both glaring at each other with open hostility as they entered the living room.

"So are you a full-time moron, or is this just a temp job?" snapped Xander.

With an astonished expression, Dawn needlessly jabbed her finger at Xander repeatedly while looking expectantly at Giles.

The Watcher seemed equally as surprised. "That's— I don't understand, the spell has been broken, its effects should have been reversed."

Buffy nodded slightly at Faith, and the two Slayers circled the boys carefully, ready to leap into action at a moment's notice. Xander wasn't paying any attention, his nose buried in the comic book bag as he dug around, searching for something.

"Okay, Xander? Andrew?" prompted Buffy in an overly calm tone. "Just back away from each other, nice and slow ..."

Having found what he was seeking, Xander pulled out the latest issue of Batman. Andrew's eyes widened in horror when he saw what the carpenter was holding and he lunged at the other man. "No! The last part of 'Hush'!" he wailed. "I haven't read it ye— Hey!"

Having interpreted the move as an attack, the Slayers had responded appropriately. Buffy laid a restraining hand on Xander's arm, and Faith had very deftly put Andrew in a headlock, pinning his arms behind his head.

"Okay, ow!" the blond exclaimed. "Back off, Chyna!"

"Buff, what's goin' on?" queried Xander with a confused expression.

Not answering immediately, Buffy instead turned to Giles, puzzled. "Do they seem kinda ... less grouchy than the rest of us were?"

"Xander, when did you last see Kennedy?" the Watcher inquired.

"Kennedy? Not since I left."

Turning to Andrew, Giles asked, "And you?"

"I haven't seen her all day!" he whined. "Now let me go, my hands are getting all tingly!"

Casting a questioning glance at Giles first, Faith released her hold on Andrew, shoving him forward and away just enough to make sure he couldn't turn on her immediately. With considerably less fanfare, Buffy simply released her grip on Xander's arm.

"Kennedy didn't cast the spell until after Xander had already left," stated Giles. "I'm guessing they were never infected. They simply appear to be ..."

"Complete and utter geeks?" Dawn finished with a smirk. "Yeah, well, we knew that already."

Xander smoothed down the wrinkles in his shirt as he glared at Dawn. "I resent that remark. Just for that, I'm keepin' my season six TNG DVDs all to my little lonesome."

And with that, Xander spun on his heel dramatically and left the room, Andrew on his heels, massaging his hands. "Oo, can I watch?" the blond asked hopefully. "'Tapestry' was just one of the best episodes ever, don't you think?"

The momentary excitement over, Faith resumed her lounging. "'nother day, 'nother disaster," she summed up casually.

A relieved Giles added, "Thankfully more didn't go wrong. This had the potential to become exceedingly ugly."

"Just as well you two didn't meet up, huh?" Dawn motioned at Buffy and Faith. "We'd probably still be scraping Slayer off the walls."

The two exchanged an unreadable look.

"Oh, I dunno," replied Buffy with a shrug. "I think that sort of thing's beneath us."

Nodding firmly, Faith was in complete agreement. "Yeah, we got an understandin'."

"Well I sincerely hope Kennedy has learned her lesson," stated Giles, unable to completely keep the irritation out of his voice as he glared at the ceiling. "Magic is not something to be toyed with, not even under the most noble of intentions."

"This is true," Buffy concurred in a chipper voice. "But at least there was no permanent damage ... right?"

-=-=-=-

Kennedy stood by the bed, gazing down at Willow with an expression that went beyond apologetic. The redhead refused to meet her eyes. She simply sat and stared at the blanket.

"I'm sorry. All that stuff I said ... God, I'm so sorry," Kennedy entreated, all but pleading for forgiveness. "I didn't mean it, and I know you didn't mean it either," she hastily excused Willow's words. "I just want to—"

"We did."

Her mouth still moved silently for a moment, but Kennedy quickly regained control. "What?"

Lifting her head, Willow's eyes were shining with unshed tears. Her expression was one of complete misery, but underneath it was firm, unwavering resolve. "We meant it," she clarified. "Every word."

"No," the Slayer denied. "No, Will. It was the spell. The spell made us—"

"The spell made us say what we were thinking," she continued sadly. "That's it. I-It took away our ... inner censor, the little guy in our head that throws up a red flag and keeps the inside stuff from comin' out." Staring intently at Kennedy with a gaze she was helpless to break, Willow spoke with utter certainty. "But it didn't put anything in our head that wasn't already there, a-and it didn't twist it, or modify it, or cushion it. It was all us."

It was obvious that the Slayer wanted to maintain her denial, to tell Willow that she was completely wrong, but the words wouldn't come. "...okay," she finally relented. "Okay, so maybe it was. But so what? So we have a few issues." Kennedy tried to laugh, but it was a weak and hollow sound. "Keeps things interesting, right?"

Willow didn't laugh, she didn't flinch. She simply continued to stare at Kennedy with an expression that spoke of inevitability.

"C'mon. It'll be okay," the Slayer urged, but she made no move toward Willow. "It's good this way. Now it's all out in the open, we can tackle it and beat it down."

Slowly, Willow shook her head. "I'm sorry, but we can't."

"We can. We will," Kennedy insisted with as much confidence as she could muster.

The redhead refused to be swayed. "We won't. We won't, because ..." Willow closed her eyes, sucking in a deep breath as she steeled herself. When she opened them again, they were steady and fixed on Kennedy. "Because I don't love you."

The words hung in the silence that ensued. Willow's eyes continued to shine, but no tears fell and she didn't look away. Kennedy's face was impassive, then just for a second, a crack appeared and her entire expression crumbled, threatening to fall apart. But the Slayer simply tore her eyes away, sniffing as she stared at the ceiling, and when she looked back, there was no hint of any emotion whatsoever.

Willow resumed, gently and full of compassion. "Not how you want me to. Now how you deserve me to. And I've tried. I think. ...Sometimes I try. Other times ..." Trailing off, Willow smiled sadly at the Slayer, who was obviously listening to every word but was otherwise a statue. "You probably saved me, y'know? You got me to open up again, to let go of some of the pain. I can't tell you how much that means to me. But you're right. Everything else comes first ... a-and I think it always will."

Shame now crept into Willow's face, and she hung her head as she spoke. "I think ... I think I've been using you. The way you made me feel ..." She chuckled, a short and self-depreciating sound. "...beautiful and desirable and special and loved. And I needed that, so much. But I wanted it on my terms. I wanted— I want it without having to work for it. I want it without going any deeper than we are now. That's not enough for you, and it shouldn't be."

Kennedy's voice was taut and strained. "Why don't you let me tell you what's enough for me?"

Lifting her head, Willow smiled, but it was an expression of sorrow. "You did."

Recoiling slightly, the Slayer found she had no answer for that.

"You deserve someone who can meet you on all levels, Kenn, not just the easy, surfacy ones. And that someone's just not me. I'm sorry." Willow gazed openly at Kennedy, speaking honestly and from the heart. "I ... I wish it were. I really do."

Breathing rapidly, deeply, Kennedy was fighting a losing battle to hold her composure together. "So," she choked. "That's ... that's it then?"

Nodding, her tears threatening to spill over, Willow softly replied, "Yeah."

"Just like that."

"Not just like that. I think we've both felt this coming, way deep down."

Unable to think of what else to say, Kennedy simply continued to stare at Willow, eyes searching, begging for something to hold on to, some sort of ledge she could snag to prevent herself from falling completely. But she found nothing.

"I'm sorry," Willow apologized with absolute sincerity.

"Yeah. Yeah, me too."

Kennedy's voice cracked as she spoke, and with a final pained look of yearning, she turned to the door, She opened it slowly, reluctantly, but didn't glance back as she walked through, closing it behind her with a soft click.

Willow watched Kennedy leave, finally allowing a few tears to trickle down her cheeks. But no more than that spilled. She took a deep breath, her sadness palpable, but her expression one of certainty and assurance. Reaching for the books of healing on her bedside table, Willow opened one and began to read.