"So Xander really fought off Lothos' mind control?" Willow asked as she sipped at a grape soda. "That's just... Wow."

"Ditto," Buffy grunted in agreement as she spun a roundhouse kick into the pad Giles was holding.

"Indeed," Giles replied. "From everything I've read on Lothos his mind's influence is complete. There's no record of a human, or vampire for that matter, ever withstanding it."

"I did," Buffy said.

Both Giles and Willow looked at her in shock. They had learned not ask her anymore than what she offered, in the ways of information about herself. Buffy was glad. She'd had enough of talking about Lothos. Giles bit back a groan as he took the force of another blow and backed up a few paces when Buffy went to kick again.

"I think that's enough," he said putting the pad down. "Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to sit with an ice pack and hope my arms are still functional."

He wandered off toward his office and Buffy took a swig of water from her bottle. She sat on top of the table and wiped her forehead with a towel. Willow still sipped at her soda, but Buffy could feel her eyes on her. Buffy wasn't sure what to say to her. She'd already filled her and Giles in on the events of the last few days, minus her and Xander's two kisses. She was slowly coming to like Willow, but she didn't think she was ready for any sort of girl talk.

"So, how are you Buffy?" Willow asked shyly. "I mean, what you went through was pretty intense."

Buffy blinked at her for a minute. Willow had always tried to be friendly, even when she wasn't the most tolerable person to be near, the redhead didn't hold it against her. It was starting to make Buffy uncomfortable, all this friendly atmosphere. She really had the urge to bolt.

"I uh, don't want to talk about it anymore," Buffy mumbled.

"That's okay," Willow responded with a smile.

They were quiet for a minute before Buffy spoke again.

"Thanks for asking," she said quietly.

Willow smiled genuinely at her and finished off her soda.

"So when's Xander going to get here?" Willow asked.

"In a little while," Buffy replied. "He said he had something to do."

***

His feet felt a little strange as they walked across the lush green grass. The sun was out, shining its warm yellow rays across the landscape. He looked around at the few scattered people milling around the monuments, paying their own respects. It felt odd being in a cemetery during the day. Even in the sun he still listened closely for the small sounds of a possible attack. He lifted the bundle of roses he was carrying to his nose and inhaled softly. They smelled so sweet.

His back went rigid as soon as he stood before her grave. He couldn't stand to see her name carved into the marble. Not for the first time, he wished his name were next to hers. He felt his hands begin to shake and tears form in his eyes. He let them fall.

"Hey beautiful," he said brokenly. "I-I know I haven't come by to visit in... Well, ever. But I know you understand that I couldn't."

He sank to his knees and leaned the flowers against her headstone.

"Roses," he whispered. "Beautiful but with thorns. Just like you."

A lighthearted sigh.

"I dream about you all the time. Or at least I did. It's been a few days since its happened and I kind of have the feeling it won't happen again. Not like it used too. Anyway, when I dreamed, it was like you weren't really gone. I guess that's why I never came here. Because it was like you were never really dead. I just had to close my eyes and there you were."

A couple of kids running off in the distance distracted him for a second. He watched them and smiled sadly. He turned his head back to the tombstone.

"In my dreams you kept telling me that you were dead and I didn't want to believe it. How was I supposed to? It was so real."

Tears began to fall like rain and he sighed heavily.

"I believe it now Faith," he said. "I know you're not coming back."

He pulled up his sleeves, staring at the wounds he'd inflicted on himself.

"I'm not trying to join you anymore. I know that if I did you'd probably track me down in whatever hell dimension I ended up in and kick the crap out of me."

He lifted a shaky hand to the engraved letters of her name, caressing them softly as he would her cheek.

"I..."

His hand reached the end of her name and he let it fall.

"I've met someone," he confessed. "I wasn't looking for it. Hell, I didn't even like her when she first came around. But I guess that's kind of how we started wasn't it?"

A fragile chuckle.

"Her name is Buffy. She's a slayer like you. She was the one called after you... Died."

He moved to stand and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. He took a deep breath and looked to the sky for a moment.

"We aren't together," he admitted. "We're... I don't know what we are. I don't know if we're anything. But what I do know is that there's definitely *something* between us and... I want to see what it is. I don't know how to define it any better."

He kissed his fingertips and placed them atop her tombstone.

"I will love you till the day I die Faith," he whispered hoarsely. "But I've been dying inside long enough. I think that maybe its time I tried living again. It's been so long and I'm not sure if I even know how anymore. But I have to try."

A faint smile.

"For you I'll try."

He stared at the grave until his tears finally dried, keeping his body stiff, hands buried in his pockets.

"I have to go now," he said, finally turning his head away. "I love you."

***
She clicked off the TV and threw the remote down on the bed. There was nothing on and she was beyond bored. Xander had never come back from whatever he had to do and after a few more awkward attempts at friendly conversation with Willow she finally packed up her training gear and headed home. Her new hotel room was ten times nicer than her old one. There was no way she was ever going back to the old dive after Lothos tore it apart. At least this particular hotel didn't have a seedy reputation for ill repute. It was fairly clear of bugs as well. She was almost content here. Almost.

A light tapping on her door halted her train of thought and she moved to answer it. It was still daylight so she kept her stake tucked away in her belt. She opened the door and smiled faintly. His arms were around her before she had a chance to invite him in. The instinctual urge to shove him away faded with every second his arms lingered there. She rested her head against his chest and slowly let the warmth of him bury the urges to fight his affection. She tucked her own arms under his shoulders and rested them firmly on his back. He pulled her closer to him, his fingers clasping around the small of her back. Somewhere in the middle of the hug Buffy felt something shift inside of her. She didn't know how to explain it, but greatly reveled in the fact that she didn't want to. She stood on her tiptoes as her arms moved slowly from his back to wrap around the back of his neck. Her cheek was suddenly rubbing softly against his. Her lips moved to graze his cheek.

And softly, gently, her lips found his.

It easily could have been their shared kiss a few days ago. Her tongue invaded his mouth, deepening the kiss. She moved closer, pressing her body firmly against his. They tasted one another, nipped at each other's lips. She didn't stop herself. She let herself become lost in his touch.

And as suddenly as it started, her lips broke from his.

"Hey," he said smiling softly.

"Hey," she replied.

***

Willow sighed deeply to herself as she pushed through the doors of the library. It had been a long day. On top of having two reports due, she also had to keep up her assistant teacher duties in advanced computer programming. Ms. Calendar could be so flaky. It also didn't help that Principal Snyder called her into his office for a chat. He was a nice man, always smiling, always doing something for what he called "his kids." But sometimes he could just talk your ear off.

She looked around the empty library and her brows furrowed. She knew that Giles was in a staff meeting but Buffy and Xander were supposed to be training together. She walked to the big table and dropped her bag on top of it. She looked around the floor to see the sparring pads scattered about. At least she knew that they were here before. Maybe they had stopped for a break and a snack. She sat down at the table and turned on her laptop. The database was nearly complete, but after her long day of academic wonders she didn't feel like being brainy. She clicked on her Ms. Pac-Man game and played away.

It was two games later before she heard it. A small shuffle of feet from somewhere in the stacks. She paused her game and listened intently. She heard a small bump this time, like someone had walked into a bookshelf. Curiously, she rose from her chair and walked up the small steps toward the noise. Her head was tilted slightly, trying to zero in on the source.

She froze when she heard a stifled giggle. Someone was definitely back here. She stepped as quietly as she could along the carpet, not wanting to give her presence away. She had to bite her tongue to keep from shouting when she rounded a bookshelf and caught the site of the disturbance.

Buffy's arms were wrapped comfortably around Xander's neck, and his arms looked just as comfy bound around her waist. Their eyes were closed blissfully as they kissed. Buffy stood on her tiptoes to compensate for Xander's height but that didn't seem to be bothering her at all. Willow's cheeks flushed when she didn't turn away immediately. They looked happy. Something she hadn't seen Xander experience in months, and something she'd never seen Buffy experience at all. Buffy giggled softly, never opening her eyes and moving to kiss him again. Willow couldn't help the smile as it stretched across her face. It was good seeing them together looking so happy after both had been so bitter. She looked on a few seconds more before finally turning away.

The two kids who had thought there had been nothing left in life to offer. Both angry at the world for every horrible thing that had ever happened to them. Both so far tucked into themselves that they never let their true selves show. Keeping the people around them at bay. Had found something in each other that could wash all of the pain they'd ever went through away.

It was like something from a storybook.

One fucked up, depressing, twisted storybook.

The End.