Part II

"My God, what have I done. . .what have I done?"

Giles and Jenny stood by helplessly as their young friend sobbed at the news about Angel, assuming that she was upset by the sudden return of old memories, not realizing that this was all new to her and that her feelings were of guilt, not just loss. They were spared the decision of how to deal with Willow's trauma when two new arrivals walked in. The young man saw who was crying and dashed over to the table, sat down next to Willow, and called out softly, "Hey, Will, what's wrong?"

Willow looked up and saw Xander's concerned face. Joy surged through her as she leaned over and frantically hugged her best friend. Xander was surprised by her vehemence, but went along with it, trying his level best to calm Willow down.

"Careful, Willow. That's what got you in trouble with Oz the last time." The voice was teasing, yet affectionate. Willow looked up and saw Faith, looking amused. She smiled back at the Slayer and remembered her cover story before replying, "Uh. . .yeah, I seem to vaguely remember that, though the details escape me. . .uh, Faith, right?"

Faith blinked in surprise when she perceived that Willow was not kidding, and Xander reacted in shock, whirling to Giles and demanding, "What's wrong with her?"

The Watcher explained briefly, and Xander and Faith both looked concerned, then relieved when it appeared clear from Giles' account that Willow's memories were returning, though Willow could still tell that they were still worried about her, for some reason she was not yet aware of. Giles looked over at Faith and requested, "Get Oz, Faith." The Slayer nodded and walked over to Xander, whispering, "Keep an eye on her. . .we can't have our badass Wicca wandering around as clueless as you usually are." Xander looked momentarily outraged, but was interrupted in his retort by Faith kissing him on the lips, hard. Faith withdrew, grinning wickedly, and left the library without saying another word.

Willow stared as Xander turned red, anticipating an angry outburst from a suddenly remembering Willow. She looked at him with a startled expression on her face, then shook her head in bewilderment as she whispered, "So. . .you and Faith? How did that happen?" Xander's stammered efforts to explain became quickly superfluous, as the events of the alternate timeline again began to reveal themselves to her:

*Buffy had been crushed at Angel's death, but her friends were completely supportive of her, and she threw herself into her work with an almost reckless abandon. Spike and Dru had already fled from the wrath of the vengeful Slayer, and Buffy and her remaining friends had almost cleared Sunnydale of ongoing and episodic menaces when Acathla was discovered. As before, the Sisterhood of Jhe arrived, and only with the aid of Kendra-resulting in her death-did they once again avert the apocalypse. Buffy's deep melancholy and recovery took up the summer, as before, and the only difference in that period was that Cordelia met someone else over her summer vacation, ending the mismatched relationship between Xander and herself. Xander had been rather annoyed with life in general when Faith arrived in town with Kakistos on her heels. When Kakistos had been dealt with, Buffy and her friends rallied to the cause of boosting the younger Slayer's morale, and part of that effort had involved Xander escorting Faith to the Homecoming dance. Both were looking for a change of approach in their love lives. . .and what had been at first a platonic date sparked something more. . .Willow saw it coming before they did, and was not thrilled, but she cared far too much for Xander to interfere with his dealing with Cordelia-rebound. Then Spike's foolhardy kidnapping of her and Xander had thrown them into a tension-charged situation that saw them in a passionate embrace when Oz and Faith burst in to rescue them. Both were angry, but Xander was shocked when Faith forgave him after only a little groveling. . .apparently she could sympathize with the emotional consequences of tense situations. Willow had been more than a little annoyed when she had to work considerably harder to get Oz back. . .*

Willow looked at Xander, who was still stammering out an explanation. She smiled at him and let him off the hook by commenting, "Never mind, Xander. . .I remember now, and I'm fine with it." Poor Buffy, she thought, I hope she found someone else. . .if I'd known he'd end up with Faith, I never would have made that stupid wish in the first place.

Oz and Faith came into the library quickly, and Oz quickly walked over to Willow and kissed her on the forehead before looking at Willow with concern and asking, "Uh, you know who I am, right?"

In spite of her growing dismay at the results of her wish, Willow smiled and replied, "For some reason, I seem to think you're the world's cutest werewolf," and kissed him. Xander, lifting a line from Oz, commented "The judges will accept that as a yes." For a moment, everyone in the room relaxed, as Willow almost seemed to be back to normal. . .then the other shoe dropped. Willow turned to Giles and asked, "Where's Buffy? I need to make sure that I haven't forgotten anything important about her. . ."

Willow was interrupted by a choked sob from Jenny. She turned and saw that her older friend had turned away, and that Giles was comforting her. She turned to Xander and saw that his jaw was clenched with what she knew from long experience was a last ditch effort to suppress extreme emotion. She looked at Oz, and melancholy was clearly visible on his face. Lastly, she looked at Faith, and saw unshed tears glistening there. . .that display from the younger Slayer frightened her more than all of the other reactions combined. She locked eyes with Giles and whispered, "What happened. . .Giles. . .you have to tell me what happened." She waited for the memories to come, but they mockingly refused to come to her as they took her to the hospital.

They entered a room in intensive care where Joyce sat by a bed containing her daughter. She looked up with concern as the group approached, and her face grew sadder as Giles leaned over and whispered an explanation. She looked at Willow and her voice was full of forced composure as she whispered, "I'm so sorry you have to go through this again, Willow." She looked back down at Buffy, and a single tear rolled down her cheek. Willow looked at her stricken friend for a long moment, then abruptly the images began to flow again:

*Except for the absence of Angel, the second effort of the Sisterhood of Jhe to destroy the world had originally progressed as she remembered, with Xander off dealing with the bomb-building zombies while the rest of them dealt with the menace of the Hellmouth. However, without the formidable combat abilities of Angel to help them, Buffy, Faith and Giles found themselves increasingly hard-pressed by the multi-headed creature emerging from the Hellmouth. Willow and Jenny had almost finished the binding spell when Faith and Giles were both stunned by vicious attacks, opening a path to the two spell casters. Willow glanced over in the course of her chanting and saw a huge tentacle sweeping her way with terrifying speed. She was preparing to say goodbye to life when Buffy leaped in front of the oncoming menace; unfortunately, while she deflected the tentacle she was also thrown into a stone fixture, and there was the loud sound of breaking bone before the Slayer slid to the floor. Willow had to summon every ounce of discipline she had not to scream in horror rather than utter the last few syllables of the spell and send the horrid creature slithering back into the pit, screaming its rage. . .when it was gone, she ran over to Buffy and sobbed, "Buffy! Please wake up. . .please!" She was still in hysterics when Jenny and Faith gently led her away, both in tears themselves, as Giles called for paramedics to meet them out in front of the school . . .*

Willow blinked, bringing tears, as she walked over to Buffy and held her cool hand as she asked Joyce, "What do the doctors say?" Joyce looked sadly at her daughter's best friend as she replied, "They just don't know, Willow. The doctors are amazed at her physical recovery. . .people take years to heal injuries like these most of the time, but after only three weeks most of the physical trauma is gone. . .but the head injuries. . .sometimes people just don't wake up even when the wounds themselves have healed. They say she could wake up a minute from now, or years from now." She put her face in her hands and began crying openly as Giles, Faith and Jenny moved to comfort her.

Willow stood in total shock, her world in shambles over a momentary lapse in judgment. She backed away from the bed as the others watched her in open concern. Without another word, she fled as Xander called out, "Willow, wait! It's not your fault!"

But it is, she thought as she ran out of the hospital and through the streets, not caring that at any moment a vampire or other creature of the night might encounter her and end her miserable life. She had ruined everything. . .all because she couldn't deal with the happiness of her two best friends. She stopped in her tracks and screamed at the top of her lungs, "DAMN YOU, ARE YOU HAPPY NOW! MORE MISERY FROM THE PATRON SAINT OF MISERY!" She sank to the ground, curling into the fetal position as she whispered, "I just wish that everything was back the way it was," inwardly ridiculing herself at the futility of the wish. . .


Willow felt different, and she decided to open her eyes to see who had spoken. Anya was standing over her, the green necklace still clasped around her neck: she offered Willow her hand and Willow accepted the help in rising to her feet, her shock at the sudden change of situation totally disrupting rational thought. She looked at the clock on the classroom wall and realized that it was only a few seconds after the ritual ended. She took a few deep breaths, and calmed down while Anya waited patiently. Willow waited a few more seconds, then asked, "I don't suppose you'd like to tell me what just happened."

Anya smiled and replied, "But I would, Willow. . .it's part of the geas that I have to complete before I leave this place." Seeing that Willow still looked unenlightened, she continued, "One of the requirements of the spell is that I do no harm to the person helping me with it, and that I grant them what they most want as a reward for helping. Only after that are my obligations to you complete."

Willow was genuinely puzzled at this point, and expressed it. "But you granted my first wish. . .why didn't that discharge your obligation?"

Anya smiled again and replied, "Because that isn't what you really wanted, Willow. . .oh, you may have wanted Angel to be free of the dangerous side of the curse, and you may have wanted for Buffy to have stayed with him for more than one reason. . .but the bottom line is that this has all been about you and Xander, and the answer to a question concerning the two of you was what you most wanted."

Willow stared at Anya and asked, "What are you talking about?", although she was starting to understand what she was getting at. Anya looked at Willow and replied, "Willow, you love both Buffy and Xander, and you genuinely wanted them both to be happy. What you haven't been able to get over is the nagging sense that you should be with Xander, even though you are with Oz. But, even with Buffy out of the picture and Xander in a far less secure relationship than he was in the real world, you still chose to go back to Oz. . .because you love him. Xander will always be your friend, but you freely chose to let him go, and he is happy where he is. . .just as you are. You just needed to be reminded of it."

Willow felt an enormous sense of relief as the horror of the last few hours. . .or had it been hours. . .receded to bad memories. She felt at peace with the former turmoil of her romantic life, and was inclined to be somewhat grateful, even though she had been tricked by the demon and uneasily wondered what havoc she would wreak on the unfaithful. She was still puzzled by one thing, though: "Uh, Anya. . .a demon in your line of work can't be too empathetic. . .so how come you understand how I feel about this stuff?"

Anya scowled and replied, "It's part of the geas. . .and one I'm not too fond of. . .so, can you tell me that you're okay so that I can go back to work?. . .there's a big backlog of unfaithful men for me to punish." Willow winced at this comment, but managed to reply calmly, "I guess I'm fine now, Anya. Uh, thanks." She turned to leave and was stopped by Anya's voice: "Willow."

Willow turned back to see Anyanka in her full demonic glory. She smiled and commented, "Thank you, Willow. By the way, if Oz ever strays. . .give me a call. I know some great torments for bad werewolves." The demon grinned at Willow, who stared for only another moment before bolting from the room. Anyanka laughed and commented, "Probably won't be hearing from her again. . .oh well." With a flash of light, she vanished, leaving only the ominous echo of her laughter.

Willow slowed down when she realized that she was not being followed, and was enjoying the sense of relief that was settling over her like a comfortable blanket when Buffy and Xander walked up, greeting her. She restrained herself from hugging them both in relief and managed to calmly suggest, "How about us double dating on Friday? I hear there are some good movies out."

Xander and Buffy looked at each other in surprise before Xander turned back to Willow and replied, "Sounds good to us, Will. . .but are you sure you're okay with this?"

Willow moved between her two best friends, putting her arms around their shoulders as they walked down the corridor towards the library, replying, "I'm sure. . .it was just a matter of getting a little perspective, that's all." She laughed in joy and relief, and Buffy and Xander hesitated for only a moment before joining in. Willow's smile was one of deliverance as they entered the library.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired