Title: Right In Front Of You
Disclaimers and stuff in part one.

PART EIGHT

Bleary eyed and still sniffing, Buffy stood in the doorway of Willow's room and leaned her head against the door. The weak sunrise was barely noticeable through the still drawn shades. Tara was asleep in a chair pulled close to the bed, her head at an odd angle and her mouth slightly open. Willow was on her side facing Tara, arms crossed in front of her, crossed at the wrists.

Buffy's gaze drifted down to her own wrist. She brushed her fingers over it, concentrating on the sensation...and felt like crying again. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and dropped her hands by her side. And when she opened her eyes again, Willow was staring at her. Buffy smiled and held a finger up to her lips, nodding towards Tara. Willow smiled in return and eased herself into a sitting position, patting the bed beside her with one hand.

Buffy sat down and for a moment and just smiled at Willow.

"You can see me?" whispered Buffy, nodding for confirmation but only half serious.

"Well, duh! Of course I can. You didn't doubt that I could do it, did you?" teased Willow, keeping her voice low.

"Doubt? Never. If anything I underestimated you. Um, not what you could do, but what you would do for someone else. Won't happen again," winked Buffy, putting the back of her hand to Willow's forehead. "Fever's gone. How do you feel?"

Willow held her hand out flat in front of her and wiggled it.

"Meh. Let's just say that if Anya was here and she started talking about money, I wouldn't have the strength to crawl away," pouted Willow.

"Not to worry. I'd drag you from the room myself," reassured Buffy.

Willow sighed, but then she looked at Tara and smiled. "Still, I've never been happier."

"That's great," answered Buffy, glancing at Tara so that she didn't have to look at Willow.

"Thanks for finding her, Buffy," said Willow, her eyes still on Tara. "I so needed her last night."

Buffy tried to say something but froze, seeing such complete contentment on Willow's face. Willow wiped a tear from her eye and smiled at Buffy.

"Will, you were pretty delirious last night. Do you...do you remember much?"

"Oh yeah," nodded Willow. "Tara and I, well, I think we're going to be okay. I really do. I, um, don't want to embarrass you or anything, but there's something to be said for make up sex."

Buffy looked away and took a deep breath.

"Buffy? Is something wrong?" asked Willow, scrunching up her eyebrows.

"No," answered Buffy a little too quickly. "It's just, well, you know...the fever and, and you were so out of it...you might be a little confused. About the remembering. And the confusion."

"No, it was all too real. My imagination isn't that colorful," said Willow, not smiling because she saw that Buffy still seemed uncomfortable. "Oh, I said something, didn't I? Is that it? Was I mean? Buffy, I wasn't mean, was I? It was the fever!"

"No, no. You didn't...Willow, Tara wasn't here last night. By the time we got her back here you were already asleep. The fever had broken."

"But...no. No, I couldn't have imagined...Tara really wasn't here?" asked Willow absently, slowing raising a hand to touch the side of her neck. She awkwardly lowered her hand when she notice Buffy watching her.

"Tara wasn't here," repeated Buffy, shaking her head.

"But, you didn't leave me alone, right? Faith was here to...to take care of me," said Willow slowly.

Buffy fought the urge to look away. She almost imperceptibly nodded.

"Faith was here. The whole time. She never left your side."

"Oh," answered Willow, glancing at Tara. When she looked back at Buffy her friend opened her eyes just slightly. And Willow's eyes slowly opened very wide.

"Oh!" repeated Willow, her hands pulling the blanket up a little higher to cover herself.

"Willow! Honey, how are you feeling?" asked Tara, suddenly awake. She leaned over and gave Willow a hug. Confused and nervous, Willow kept her eyes on Buffy and slowly raised her arms to embrace Tara.

"You know, right now I'm feeling great," said Willow. Tara pulled back and Willow smiled for her.

"Oh, Tara, I must look like I was dragged behind a car," winced Willow, pushing back her hair with both hands. Tara laughed, sat down on the bed next to her and kissed her on the mouth. Buffy politely looked away as the kiss lingered. Willow, hesitant at first, reached up and wrapped her arms around Tara.

"You look wonderful," laughed Tara. She looked back over her shoulder, her face slightly red.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Buffy. I, uh, well...you know," shrugged Tara. Even Willow glanced away, somewhat embarrassed.

"Hey, I don't mind! So yay for the smoochies. In fact, I'm a little jealous," smiled Buffy.

Tara and Willow both looked at her with eyebrows raised.

"Um, that didn't come out quite the way I meant it," grimaced Buffy awkwardly.

"I told you she's been staring at you a lot, Tara," said Willow, straight-faced. Tara nodded in agreement. "She hasn't been hitting on you, has she?"

"She did say she liked my top the other day," added Tara.

"Yes, that red top you were wearing, not...you know, maybe I'd better go. You two have some catching up to do," announced Buffy, standing up.

"Better put something over the key hole, Tara," whispered Willow, loud enough for Buffy to hear. Buffy rolled her eyes in mock horror and Willow finally laughed.

"Buffy, where's Faith?" asked Tara.

Buffy glanced at Willow. She was no longer laughing.

"Faith...left," sighed Buffy. Tara sat back down on the bed, making herself comfortable.

"Without saying goodbye?" asked Tara, glancing at Willow. Willow kept her eyes on Buffy.

"Uh, well, the thing is...we got into an argument. And it's all my fault. We...we just had a misunderstanding and kinda fell back into old habits. Let me tell you, we still know how to push each other's buttons," sighed Buffy. "I blew it. I really blew it. And Faith knew I would, too."

"Buffy, that's not fair. Faith was really trying with you. She wouldn't assume..."

"Willow, she had already packed even before we sat down to talk She knew," said Buffy, looking down.

"Do you think she'll come back?" asked Tara.

"I hope so. We said some really harsh things. I didn't get a chance to apologize," winced Buffy. She looked up when she heard Willow sigh.

"What?" asked Buffy.

"She didn't want you to apologize, Buffy. She needed you to forgive her. I think that, even more than her blindness, is the reason she came here," said Willow.

Buffy closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then nodded.

"Do you? Forgive her?" asked Tara.

Buffy looked at Tara and smiled.

"Guess I should've told her yes, even if I didn't know the answer."

"Why did you fight? What did Faith do?" asked Tara, confused.

Buffy glanced at Willow. Without Tara seeing, Willow twitched her head no. When Buffy answered, she kept her eyes on Willow.

"It's not what Faith did. That doesn't matter."

Buffy lowered her eyes and her voice.

"She wanted to help, she just wanted to make things right again. What's wrong is Faith listened to her heart...and I didn't understand that. I wasn't listening," said Buffy.

"Maybe she'll come back or, or at least call," offered Tara.

"I hope so. I'd like to at least say goodbye," said Willow.

"Maybe she already did," said Tara, reaching behind Willow. She pulled out a envelope that had been mostly hidden under the pillow. Tara held it up. Only Willow's name was printed on the front. She handed it to Willow but Willow didn't take it.

Willow stared at the letter in Tara's hand then looked to Buffy. Buffy looked away.

"You read it, Tara," said Willow.

"You sure?"

Willow nodded. Tara tore the envelope open.

"I was wrong. Some things are better left unsaid, if you know what I mean. But I couldn't go without saying thank you, Willow. You did more than give me back my sight. Maybe you won't understand, but you gave me hope back. Tara is a very lucky girl. Make sure she knows that. Don't piss me off by doing something stupid and lose her. Love, Faith."

Tara turned and smiled at Willow. Willow was staring blankly, lost in thought. She suddenly realized that Tara was looking at her. Reaching over, she took her hand and returned her smile.

"She...she signed it love?" asked Buffy.

"Yep," smiled Tara.

Buffy raised her eyebrows in surprise.

"You two need some time. And I think I'd better shut the door behind me on the way out," smiled Buffy, causing Tara to giggle.

"Any bad dreams last night?" asked Willow, concerned.

"No. Just a nasty hangover this morning," said Tara, rolling her eyes. She took a deep breath and frowned. "Willow, it's not the magic. I don't want to lose you. I can't. But you have to promise me something."

"Anything," whispered Willow gratefully. Tara leaned in and hugged her again.

"No more secrets, no more lies. I need to trust you. Okay?" asked Tara, almost begging.

Willow's eyes met Buffy's and they just stared at one another. Willow exhaled very slowly, puffing her cheeks out. Buffy softly shut the door behind her.

*****

Dawn stretched her arms out, reluctantly opening her eyes. Glancing at the clock, she groaned. She sat up in bed and turned around to flip her pillow over, determined to sleep for at least another fifteen minutes. And was surprised to see an envelope with her name printed on it. Dawn tore it open and peered inside, dumping the contents into the palm of her hand. It was a pair of gold stud earrings. She thought for a moment, trying to recall where she had seen them before and then realized they belonged to Faith.

Looking back into the envelope, she pulled out a note and read it.

Hey Dawn. I wanted you to have these. They were given to me when I was about your age, just before I was called to be - well, you know. I've managed to keep them all this time and considering how my life has turned out, I think that says something about what they mean to me. It's a connection to who I was before. So don't lose one like the other night! Keep an eye on your sister for me. And remember this - she might not tell you, but she needs you. Take care.

Love, Faith.

Dawn could only stare with her mouth open at the earrings in her hand.

*****

She let the water in the sink run to get cold, then filled her glass. She reached for the faucet to turn the water off but hesitated, suddenly fascinated by how the water spun, counterclockwise, swirling before it disappeared down the drain. She didn't know how long she had been standing there like that, but suddenly a hand reached over and turned the water off. Buffy's hand. Willow raised the glass to her lips and took a sip.

"Dry mouth. Another side effect from the spell. Not unexpected, just...unpleasant," shrugged Willow.

"How you doing?" asked Buffy.

"I'm alive," answered Willow, taking another sip of water so that she didn't have to look at Buffy.

"It's a start," shrugged Buffy. "Will, I wanted to ask you...those words you said, during the spell. What were they?"

"Well, the last one was intrare. It means enter. In layman's terms I was inviting in whatever was affecting Faith negatively, allowing her aura to balance. Not unlike inviting a vampire into your home, I might add," said Willow with half a smile.

"Oh. And the first word?" pressed Buffy.

"Um, combined with the blood ritual, basically it meant to bind. I needed a stronger connection with Faith. And...well, obviously it worked," frowned Willow.

"Obviously," nodded Buffy uncomfortably.

Willow took a deep breath and lowered her eyes.

"It worked a little too well. That was one reason I got so sick. I kinda took on more than I could chew. Shoulda learned that lesson by now," sighed Willow.

"I don't...Will, what do you mean it worked too well?" asked Buffy.

Willow looked up at Buffy and took another deep breath. Buffy raised her eyebrows.

"Remember when Faith told us how she felt in prison? How she, um, couldn't feel? Like...like she was dead?" winced Willow.

Buffy nodded.

"That was part of the total package. I mean, this was a really strong connection. It's hard to explain. But...I know. Not only what Faith felt, but what you must be dealing with now," said Willow, carefully watching Buffy, waiting for her reaction.

Buffy looked down, afraid to look at her.

"Buffy, I'm so sorry. I didn't know. I never would have...I'm so sorry for what I did to you," said Willow, her voice breaking.

Buffy still didn't look at her but wrapped her arms around her in a hug, settling her chin on Willow's shoulder.

"You know I can't forgive you, right?" whispered Buffy.

"I know...w-what?" stammered Willow, startled.

Willow eased away, pain twisting her face. Buffy reached down and took both of her hands into her own.

"Because there's nothing to forgive. I'm grateful. I'm alive because of you. Alive to be with my sister who needs me, alive to be with my best friend who obviously can't keep out of trouble!"

Willow closed her eyes and smiled but started to cry.

"Thank you. I really mean that," said Buffy, pulling Willow close again. "And I'm going to get better. I just need some time."

"And I'll try to stay out of trouble," sniffed Willow.

"Like that's going to happen," laughed Buffy. Even Willow couldn't help but laugh. Buffy eased away and caught her eye.

"What about Tara? Did you tell her?"

Willow's pained expression revealed the truth.

"Like Faith said, some things are better left unsaid," whispered Willow. "You can't change what happened."

"Willow..."

"Buffy, right now...it's just...things are going good again. And I'm trying to be so careful, you know? Like turning on a light by using magic instead of just flipping the switch. It's a habit, a pattern I have to break out of and, and I don't want to screw up again. I'm walking on eggshells as it is. If she didn't understand...I just can't deal with anything else right now," sighed Willow.

Buffy nodded.

"I'm a bad person," pouted Willow.

"No. You are not. You're just scared. And I'm the last person who should be giving advice on talking to people."

"But you're going to anyway, right?" smiled Willow.

Buffy opened her mouth, then reconsidered.

"No. I don't think I will."

*****

Willow opened the door and stuck her head into the steamy room, raising her voice to be heard above the shower.

"Tara, did you move that photo of us? You know, the one that was on my desk?" called Willow.

"No. Why?"

"I can't find it," answered Willow. Tara stuck her head out from behind the shower curtain.

"Honey, I never liked that one anyway. You were cute, but I didn't like my smile. Just find another one. We should put a new one out anyway," smiled Tara.

"'Cause we're starting over," smiled Willow. "You're right."

"Want to join me," invited Tara suggestively.

"You big tease! You know we don't have time. Now get going!" laughed Willow, shutting the door.

Willow sat down at her desk and opened a drawer, thought for a moment, then closed that one and opened another. Reaching in, she withdrew a photo album. Flipping a few pages, she realized that this one wasn't the one she was looking for, but she smiled at the old photos and turned a few more pages. And she stopped, holding a page in mid-turn.

Homecoming. Someone, maybe Xander, had taken a photo of her and Oz. They weren't dancing yet. Maybe they were just talking but they were unaware someone was taking their picture. And there, in the background, stood Faith, staring right into the camera. She wasn't smiling yet she had a certain look about here. It took a moment for Willow to realize what it was.

Faith was confident, sure of herself. Willow hadn't seen that look on her when she was here. Not once. She ran her finger over the outline of Faith's dress and shook her head. And then Willow brought her finger slowly up and touched her neck, reliving a moment. She had seen that confident air before...last night, on Tara's face. But it hadn't been Tara.

Willow heard the shower shut off and quickly closed the album, slipping it back into the drawer with all those other memories that made up who she was. And then she pushed the drawer tightly shut.

*****

Faith watched the people as they walked by, more to keep herself awake than out of any genuine interest. Still, she deeply appreciated just being able to see them. The bus station was mostly empty at this time of day and she tried to avoid staring at any one person. A young woman, hardly older than Faith, eased herself down on the bench across from her. A very pregnant woman. She glanced at Faith and smiled, resting her hands on her swollen belly. Faith smiled back.

"When are you due?" asked Faith, still smiling.

"Three weeks," replied the girl, rolling her eyes.

"Wow."

"That about sums it up!" laughed the girl.

"You look great," nodded Faith sincerely.

"Thanks. It's been a while since anyone has said that to me," said the girl, though her smile lost some of its enthusiasm.

Faith tilted her head, puzzled.

"Oh, the father's out of the picture. I'm heading back home to have the baby. It's nice to have people there for you, when you need them," sighed the girl gratefully.

"Yeah. I get that," agreed Faith.

"Oh! She's kicking," grinned the girl.

"She?" asked Faith.

"Yep. Gonna be a girl. Um, you want to feel?" offered the girl.

Faith hesitated, reluctant to move but wanting so much to say yes.

"It's okay. Really," encouraged the girl. Faith smiled and quickly got up, sitting down next to her. She moved her hand towards her, unsure of what to do next. The girl took her hand and placed it on the side of her stomach. Faith's eyes lit up.

"Wow!" grinned Faith, shaking her head. "How do you sleep?"

"Like a cat. A nap here, a nap there. But I don't mind. Not at all," smiled the girl, looking down.

Faith awkwardly withdrew her hand.

"Thought of a name yet?" asked Faith.

"No. Can you believe it? Guess I should really get going on that, huh?"

Faith looked at her and then glanced down at her belly again.

"How about Willow?" suggested Faith softly.

"Willow," repeated the girl. "That's a pretty name. It's a tree, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. A tree that is much stronger than it looks. When it gets windy, it tends to bend but not break," said Faith, almost smiling.

"Willow. I'll keep that one in mind. Thanks," nodded the girl. "Um, excuse me, but I have to use the bathroom. Again."

She tried to get up but had a little trouble. Faith instinctively stood and helped her, lifting her by the elbow.

"Thanks," smiled the mom, gratefully. "Hey, it was nice talking to you."

"Yeah. You too," nodded Faith. "Good luck."

The girl waddled off. Faith realized that she hadn't even learned her name and felt a sudden compulsion to run after her and ask. And then she wondered why she felt that way.

Faith sat back down on the bench, watching the people around her. She exhaled slowly and slipped her backpack from her shoulders, unzipping it. Reaching in, it only took a moment to find what she was looking for. She held up the photograph, staring at it.

Willow and Tara, standing next to one another, holding hands. Such a simple yet touching gesture, thought Faith. They were both smiling but it seemed to her that Tara seemed a little sad. She ran a finger over Willow, tracing the line of her hair, recalling the scent of sweet strawberry shampoo.

For at least the fourth time that morning Faith looked at the pay phone on the wall. For a long time she just sat there, as if hoping it would ring. She forced herself to look away, wiping a sleeve across her eyes.

Faith tore the photo in half and turned it over, unable to look at it. She gripped the edge and raised it, about to rip it again, but she couldn't tear the paper. The other half of the photo fell onto the floor at her feet. Flipping the photograph over, she took one last look, sighed, then slipped the torn memory back into her backpack. Standing up, she zipped the backpack closed and flung it over her shoulder.

Faith headed for her bus, walking quickly, leaving Tara and Sunnydale behind.

THE END

Note - There wasn't much of Xander and Anya in this but they haven't been in season 6 much lately either.