Chapter 5
Return to Innocence

Love ---- Devotion.
Feeling ---- Emotion.


The battle was over. Tiamat, the dark god, was slain.

Buffy Summers, the Chosen One, the Slayer, had done her duty yet again. Fought the good fight, battled the big bad. Saved the world against unimaginable evil.

But at what price?

Joyce Summers, her mother. Xander and Anya, her friends. All three consumed in Tiamat's fire, until naught but ash remained.

And Willow Rosenberg, the woman who, just a few minutes ago, pledged her undying love to her, saving her from Tiamat's influence, lay dead in her arms.

Giles stood at her side, prepared to offer what little support he could, though his own heart was close to breaking. Over the years, he had come to regard both Willow and Xander as surrogate children. Watching them both die, his grief threatened to consume him. He summoned all his will power to hold down his grief. He knew that Buffy needed his support, as much as he needed hers. They were all they had left.

As Buffy still wept, the goddess Thespia approached her, and placed her small hand on Buffy's shoulder. The pressure on her shoulder didn't even register to Buffy. A small clear voice spoke to her; "You have saved your world once more. Tiamat is vanquished, and with him Marduk. They were not so much seperate beings, but different aspects of the same entity. Without one, the other would die. Your world is safe."

Buffy said nothing, she only wept for her fallen family.

Thespia removed her hand from Buffy's shoulder. "This will pass, Buffy Summers."

"How can you say that?" she cried out. "They're dead! They're all dead!"

"It was not meant to be this way," the goddess spoke in soothing tones. "Tiamat and Marduk transgressed the will of the Powers That Be by bringing you and Willow to this battle, making you their avatars. That is why I was sent here."

Buffy lifted her head, uncaring of the tear tracks on her face, and looked into the eyes of the person she once believed to be her sister. The depth of her eyes, accompanied by their warmth and serenity, amazed her. "Who--who are you?" she stammered.

"I am Thespia," she said calmly, and her calmness seemed to transfer to Buffy. "This reality was not meant to be, Buffy Summers. These tragedies were not meant to happen." She placed her hand over Buffy's forehead, and the Slayer's eyelids became heavy. She began to drowse off, and Giles beside her began to feel sleepy as well.

"That is right, my friends," Thespia smiled. "Let this world become nothing but a bad dream. Sleep, and when you awaken, your world will be as it was meant to be."

The Slayer and her Watcher began to sleep. And as they slept, reality faded away around them.

And Thespia began her true work. To reset the world and make it right.

Don't be afraid to be weak,
Don't be too proud to be strong,
Just look into your heart, my friend;
That will be the return to yourself,
The return to innocence.

November, 1999;

Willow hoped to meet Tara in the lounge after their encounter with the Gentlemen. After Tara had linked with Willow, their increased wiccan power had allowed them to move a vending machine in front of the door, blocking the Gentlemen from them. After that incident, she had hoped to get together with this new friend, to talk shop a little more. She cared for Buffy, she always would, but Willow looked forward to meeting someone who understood magic like she did.

But as the minutes became hours, Willow came to the realization that she had been stood up. Feeling a little let down, she got up from her lounge chair, and headed out to the Espresso Pump.

As she left, a young woman watched her walk away. Tara McClay looked longingly at Willow, but said nothing. As attracted as she was to Willow, Tara knew that the redhead's heart belonged to another. She had seen her with her roommate, Buffy. She could see the sparks between them. Maybe someday soon she and Willow could be friends. But first, Willow had to find her true love.

And if you want, then start to laugh,
And if you must, then start to cry.
Be yourself, don't hide,
Just believe in destiny.

January, 2000;

Willow heard the door open, and turned away from her computer to see Buffy standing in the doorway. "Hey," Willow greeted her roommate and best friend.

"Hey, yourself," Buffy answered, waving slightly.

Willow immediately saved the document she was working on and turned off the computer. "What is it, Buffy?"

Buffy sat down on her bed, her head looking at her hands as they clasped in her lap. "Riley didn't make it," she said simply.

"Oh, Goddess," Willow sat beside Buffy, and placed her arm around Buffy's shoulder. Buffy leaned into Willow's embrace, and let her friend comfort her. "I'm so sorry to hear that, Buffy," she soothed. "I know how much you cared about him."

"You did," Buffy questioned. "I'm not so sure I did care that much."

"Huh? What happened to 'when he smiles I smile'?"

Buffy dabbed lightly at her eyes, and answered her friend. "I guess I liked him and all, but after I learned about his involvement with the Initiative, I guess I didn't trust him that much. When I found out that he pushed you around like that, that was the final blow. I was going to dump him for that." She shook her head. "I guess that's all academic now."

Willow said nothing, she just held Buffy a little longer, allowing this contact to bond them further. There would be time enough to deal with the Initiative later. Now, her dearest friend needed her.

Don't care what people say,
Just follow your own way.
Don't give up and lose the chance
To return to innocence.

April, 2000;

Buffy sat alone in her dorm. She looked at the clock on the wall for the tenth time in the last hour. Ten forty-three. Exactly three minutes since the last time she checked.

She wasn't sure how she would react the next time she saw her roommate. Would she even be her roommate anymore? Buffy had to admit it to herself, even if she never said it aloud to anyone else. She was hopelessly, madly, ass-over-teakettle in love with Willow Rosenberg. And now that Oz was back in town, she knew where Willow's heart would take her. Away from her.

She heard the door open. She turned around, and saw Willow standing before her, a large candle in her hand, its flame dancing brightly, setting off a glow in her face. "Hey, Buffy," she greeted her brightly. "No light in the window? I brought a candle, see, it's extra flamey."

"Willow," Buffy answered, surprised to see her. "I thought you'd be with Oz."

"Why?" Willow asked simply.

Buffy turned her head away from Willow, ashamed of what she was thinking. "You don't need to look after me, Willow. You should be with the one you love."

Willow placed the candle on the desk, letting its flame illuminate their bodies, as she took Buffy's face in her hand. "I am, Buffy."

Buffy blinked, not believing what she heard. "You mean--"

"I mean," Willow answered, smiling as she brought her lips to Buffy's. They kissed slowly, softly, but with building passion.

Breaking the kiss, Buffy glanced at the candle. She leaned toward it, about to blow it out. She then backed off, saying, "No, let it burn. I want to make love to you by candlelight." Willow grinned at the suggestion, as she took Buffy in her arms again.

That's not the beginning of the end.
It's a return to yourself.
A Return to Innocence.

Halloween, 2000;

"Okay, Mom, I'm coming down," Buffy called from upstairs. Buffy had moved back to her old home when Joyce wasn't feeling well. Tonight, however, Joyce had assured her that she was feeling better, and that Buffy should take Willow to the campus Halloween dance. Joyce, for her part, had grown used to the idea of her daughter being in love with another woman, and the fact that the woman in question was Willow put Joyce's fears at ease. She liked Willow, and could see that Willow cared deeply for Buffy. As far as Joyce was concerned, that was all that mattered.

Joyce stood at the foot of the stairs as Buffy descended. Her white dress shimmered in the light, and the tiara on her head was the perfect touch. "Behold," Buffy anounced, "the Princess Buttercup!"

Joyce looked lovingly at her daughter. "I've never seen you looking so radiant," she declared. "I hope Willow appreciates the look."

"I wouldn't worry about that," Buffy answered as the doorbell rang. "You should see her costume." Joyce chuckled as she opened the door.

Willow entered, showing off her black leather tunic and pants, complete with a mask that covered the upper half of her head. "Hey, Mrs. Summers," she smiled at Joyce, then approached Buffy. "Come, my lady Buttercup, 'tis I, the Dread Pirate Willow!"

"With pleasure, my sweet Wesley," Buffy dimpled as she took Willow's hand.

"Wesley?" Willow asked. "I thought he was in L. A. with Angel and Cordy." Buffy groaned at the reference to the former Watcher. "We're out of here, Mom," Buffy announced. "I'll be back by eleven."

"Buffy," Joyce assured her, "I'll be fine tonight, and you haven't been with Willow since you came back here. Go ahead and spend the night, just call me when you get to her dorm, so I'll know you made it okay. I've been feeling better, I can do without your nursing me for one night. Go, have fun. Just spare me the details."

"Thanks, Mom," Buffy went over to kiss her mother on the cheek. "Love you."

"Love you too," Joyce nodded happily to her daughter. "Take care of her, Willow."

"I always do, Mrs. Summers, 'bye," Willow answered as the two lovers left for the party.

"Say, Wills," Buffy asked her love, "are we meeting Tara at the dance?"

"Yeah," answered Willow. "She and Amy'll be there. Dressed as MIBs."

"Heh," Buffy chuckled as she recalled the happy day last month when Willow and her friend Tara finally found the spell to turn Amy from a rat back into a human. Since then, Amy and Tara had become close. No word from either whether it was love, but the signs looked good. Buffy looked at Willow's eyes, and sensed that she held no regrets for the way things turned out. Tara was happy. And so were they.

As Buffy and Willow reached the Student Union Building, they didn't notice that a young woman with dark brown hair and a green skirt was watching them. The young girl nodded as she saw the happiness that radiated from the two women.

It was right that they didn't see her, she thought. It was just as right that they had no memories of that terrible night. The night when both Buffy and Willow were turned into cold-blooded killers by evil gods, when they were sent to destroy each other, when Buffy watched helplessly as her mother, her friends and her love were killed by Tiamat. The work was done. Tiamat and Marduk would no longer plague humanity, their eternal war was at last over, called a draw. Now it was mankind's turn to take the world and make it their own.

As Buffy Summers pulled Willow Rosenberg to her for a brief but passionate kiss, the goddess Thespia couldn't help but smile at the sight. One last time, she stole a glance at the Slayer and her destined soulmate. She knew that this world was in good hands.

Before she departed for more ethereal realms, she smiled and said, "Ya done good, sis."