"I don't know why you keep coming around," Willow said, taking another sip of her fruit juice. "My answer is still no."

Her companion flashed her a brilliant smile.

"Are you sure, Willow Rosenburg? Any time, any place, anywhere in the universe."

Willow smiled.

"You just love tempting me, don't you?"

"I live in hope that one day it'll work. A mind liked yours with potential like yours – you should be among the stars, not…"

"Helping the Slayer defeat evil?" Willow finished for him. "I can't leave her, Doctor, she needs me."

The Doctor shook his head.

"Evil doesn't have to be fought on such a small scale. One vampire at a time, one demon at a time. You and me, Willow, we could save a thousand universes. Think of all the good we could do."

"Think of all the trouble we could get into," Willow retorted.

The Doctor grinned at her broadly.

"That's half the fun of it! The Doctor and his ginger witch, travelling the universe and getting into trouble."

Willow laughed.

"Yeah, I remember last time. Kinda hard to forget."

The Doctor took a swig of his drink, shaking his head.

"I remember too. Burn holes don't come out of suits, you know, even when you have a sentient ship to do your laundry," he said severely.

"I'm a witch! I do magic!" Willow defended herself.

They both laughed at the memory.

"You use magic, I use technology. We both achieve the same ends," said the Doctor.

"If the same ends are to nearly blow up a solar system. It wasn't my spell that did that, was it?" Willow shot back.

"I fixed it in the end," the Doctor reminded her.

"See what I mean?" said Willow. "Trouble."

The two simultaneously took sips from their drinks.

"So there's really nothing I can say to convince you to come with me?" the Doctor asked, breaking the silence that had fallen between them. "I have a time machine. I could drop you off five minutes from now, no matter how long we've travelled together. They would never know."

"You know I can't," said Willow, her voice tinged with regret. "If I went with you, I would never come back. And Buffy needs me, not just as a witch, but as a best friend. I can't desert her."

The Doctor gave a heartfelt sigh.

"Well, I tried," he said.

From across the Bronze, a petite blond waved at Willow.

"Hey Wil, who's your friend?" she asked.

"Buffy, this is the Doctor. Doctor, Buffy," Willow introduced them.

Buffy shook the Doctor's hand with a surprisingly firm grip.

"Nice to meet you," she said brightly. Then, as Willow's words caught up with her. "A Doctor of what?"

"Isn't that the question of the hour," Willow said archly.

The Doctor smiled unassumingly.

"You might call me a doctor of time. It's nice to meet you, Buffy. Willow's told me a lot about you."

"I wish I could say the same," Buffy said, shooting Willow a sidelong look. "But I don't think I've ever seen you with her before."

"The Doctor comes and goes," Willow said. "I met him a few years ago. Or is it a few years from now?"

Buffy looked confused, but the Doctor grinned.

"Nonlinear, remember?"

"Right. Sorry. I always forget," agreed Willow.

"Buffy, your friend Willow helped me out of a tight spot a while ago. She's got the clearest head in a jam of anyone I've ever met."

Buffy beamed at the praise for her friend.

"She's the best, isn't she? That's why she's my bestest friend," she turned to said friend. "Wil, sorry to pull you away, but there's a powwow at Giles's place. You coming?"

Willow downed the rest of her juice, and nodded.

"Be right there, Buff."

"Nice to meet you," said Buffy to the Doctor, before walking away.

Willow smiled at the Doctor.

"See? They need me."

"I need you," said the Doctor softly.

Willow shook her head, her chin-length auburn hair shifting with the movement.

"Not like they do," she said, looking over her shoulder to see Buffy waiting impatiently by the door. "I've gotta go."

The Doctor raised his glass to her.

"Till next time, Willow Rosenburg, ginger witch, defender of the Earth."

Willow smiled softly, and slipped her purse over her shoulder.

"Till next time, Doctor," she agreed.

Then, she left him alone at the table to finish his tea in silence.