Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all associated characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Fox, and many other powerful entities. I am just a visitor in this world—please don't sue me.

AU from Season 2 Episode 6 and onward. On the night Willow stops playing ghost and struts her stuff for the first time, she finds herself drawn to a beautiful blonde girl riding through Sunnydale on a long board with a guitar case strapped to her back. Willow wonders, who is that girl? She decides that she has to find out. A Willow and Tara fic. )

Chapter One: Treading Water

The first thing she noticed was the wooden porch. The planks were uneven, digging into her bottom, her back. Willow raised a hand and a length of white sheet moved across her line of sight. It'd been one of the strangest nights of her life—which was saying a lot for a girl from Sunnydale. Halloween. It was supposed to be a safe day, a safe night, when demons laid low to pay their respects to old gods. Instead, she and her best friends, Xander and Buffy, had found themselves transformed into the literal versions of the costumes they wore.

Willow gave a little snort of laughter, felt her own warm breath dampening her ghostly sheet. Xander the soldier was kind of scary, so serious and so, well, gunny, but Buffy…Willow giggled again, hands rising from beneath the sheet to press the cotton of her costume against her mouth. Buffy as a tentative, shrinking violet, fainting at the sight of danger, now that was hilarious and Willow wasn't going to let her forget about it any time soon. She might as well have dressed as me for Halloween. The thought came fast, quick, stinging like a paper cut, in Cordelia's valley drawl.

"Maybe I won't tease her after all. It's more fun in theory than application. I ought to know," Willow sighed. She stood up on the porch, still a little wobbly from her hours spent in as a real, walk-through-walls ghost.

Willow took a step and tripped a bit on her costume. The cloth tugged down, pulling the headpiece over her eyes and leaving her in darkness. Willow pushed it back up so she could see, her eyes watering. She looked up at the sky, eyes still tearing and unfocused, and imagined she was under the ocean looking up at the sky.

"It's a beautiful night," she whispered. "But a little warm for layers."

Willow took a deep breath and pulled her sheet off, revealing, well, her revealing clothing underneath. With her head held high, Willow walked down the steps, down the sidewalk, and crossed into the street to find her friends. There was a car or a truck coming down the road toward her, she could see the headlights. They'll just have to wait, Willow thought to herself, feeling thrillingly rebellious as she strolled across the street. Cute girl walking.

As she stepped up onto the far sidewalk a horn blared. Willow spun around and saw a zebra-striped van swerve to avoid…to avoid an angel, surfing down the street. Willow's mouth dropped open. It was a girl, slim but curvy, very renaissance, with honey blonde hair that hung half way down her back, billowing in the night air. She was dressed all in blues—dark jeans, a tee-shirt that looked like a water color painting in a thousand shades of blue, even blue combat boots. Not an angel, Willow thought, feeling strangely giddy. A mermaid, I'm still under water, and she's riding the waves.

The young woman came closer, swaying from side to side so deeply that Willow was sure she would fall onto the road, but she didn't. The girl passed under a streetlight that set her golden hair blazing like a halo, and Willow could see that she was riding a long, wide skateboard. She had a guitar case strapped to her back.

Willow couldn't move. She was frozen there, on the edge of the sidewalk, watching this vision glide toward her. Willow's palms started to sweat and her heart was pounding. She found herself wishing that the girl would look up. As if answering Willow's wish, the girl slowed as she drew closer. When she rolled past Willow their gazes locked. Willow felt like she was being swallowed, devoured by eyes the color of the sky as it passed from twilight into night. A crooked grin spread across the girl's face and Willow's heart skipped a beat. Willow wanted to stop her, to call out to her and ask her name, but she couldn't speak, couldn't take her eyes off of the young woman.

The girl rolled past and Willow kept watching. She kicked off with one long leg and then, to Willow's amazement, she spun on her board, rolling down the street backwards. Still grinning that beautiful, crooked smile, the girl held up a hand in a silent farewell as she drifted into the night. Finally unfrozen, Willow held her hand up and waved.

"Wow," Willow said softly. "Who is that girl?"

Willow wandered towards Buffy's house, sure to stay in well-lit areas filled with people. Better safe than sorry, since Halloween had already proven itself to be far more dangerous than Watcher records would admit. She felt like the people around her were moving in slow motion, arms and legs trailing after-images of shadow and light. Every child's laughter sent her into a round of giggles that left her stomach aching and her cheeks tender. She was skipping by the time she turned onto Revello Drive, one thought running through her head over and over again. What a night, what a crazy, scary, beautiful night.

As she came around the corner a pair of boys dressed as cowboys, kids that couldn't be more than seven or eight, pointed in her direction and laughed. Willow thought of the girl, smiling, letting her board carry her backward into the dark. She imagined trying to tell Xander and Buffy about the stir, the spark she'd felt when their eyes met. Would her friends shriek with laughter, like the boys on the corner? Willow stopped in her tracks.

"Okay," she murmured to herself. "I could say to play it cool, but cool is not the natural state of affairs for me. I don't know if it is the normal state of affairs for any Rosenberg. Can lack of cool be genetic?"

Willow began to pace back and forth. "I just can't think about her, that's all. I mean sure," she continued, "she was the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. And she smiled at me, and did that cool turny thing on her skateboard. She just looked so free."

She stopped again and threw her hands up in the air. "That's it. I'm stifled, I play it safe-I'm a player. Wait, no," she laughed, "Not a player. I play it safe when I want to take risks. I want to be like her," Willow said, looking up at the sky. "That's all. I want to be free." She realized the boys were still watching her, their mouths hanging open. "And, I'm babbling in front of strangers."

Willow ran the rest of the way to Buffy's house. As she came into sight of Buffy's driveway, Willow slowed her pace, consciously suppressing the bounce that kept threatening to surface with each step. She tried to relax her arms, they seemed to want to swing wildly of their own accord so she held them down by her sides, wishing her mini-skirt had pockets.

As soon as she took one step onto the driveway Buffy shouted, "Willow!" And she and Xander came running out of the darkness toward her.

"Are you okay?" Xander asked as the two of them enveloped Willow in a hug.

"Well, right now I can't breathe," Willow said, her face pressed tight against Xander's chest.

"Why?" Buffy asked, laughing as Willow squirmed. "That's not going to fix it, you know."

"Giant boy and slayer strength," Willow squeaked. "Reduce hugging force by twenty-five and fifty percent respectively."

"Oh," Xander said, taking a step back.

"Ew, sorry Will." Buffy relaxed her grip. "Anything bruised or broken?"

"I'm okay," Willow laughed. "It's nice to know I was missed.

"Of course we missed you," Buffy said, looping her arm around one of Willow's. Xander came around to loop her arm on the other side. "What happened?"

As they walked toward the house Willow fought the urge to giggle. She felt like Dorothy, and she was trying to decide if Buffy and Xander would make better Scarecrows, Tinmen, or Lions. She shook her head.

"When the spell broke it zapped me back into my body where we were trick-or-treating, so I had to walk all the way over here."

"Okay," Xander said slowly, "But what happened on the way here?"

"What do you mean?"

"You've got a serious case of Willow-grin." Buffy replied. "Something must've happened."

Willow felt a tiny flare of panic. She was grinning; she could feel a little burn in her cheeks. No skipping, no bouncing, arms down, check, but the grin, that girl

"Oh, it's okay Tinman and Scarecrow," Willow babbled, disengaging her arms to turn and face Buffy and Xander. "I'm just excited to be on our way to see the Wizard."

Xander and Buffy just stared.

"Oh come on guys," she continued. "With the loopy arms and the walking down the walkway, which is gray and not gold, but still? Wizard of Oz joke?"

"Willow," Buffy said seriously. "Did you take candy from a stranger? I mean, I know it's Halloween, but I don't mean a 'hi I have a nice house with kids and a dog' Sugar Baby candy I mean 'creepy old man in a trench coat who mixes drugs into homemade candy and hands it out in an alley' candy. Because druggy candy is bad, it does bad things to you."

"I think what Buff's trying to say is that you're acting a little foggy, Will." Xander said softly.

"Yeah, that," Buffy echoed.

"I, uh," Willow began. I think I'm kinda gay, she thought. "I think I'm just a bit woozy from my time as Casper's slightly slutty big sister." Her joke didn't even register with her worried friends. "Well," she said, taking a new tactic. "Do either of you feel strange? Any troubling thoughts or woozies from your dip into crazy costume-come-to-life land?"

Willow felt kind of guilty as Xander started to stammer and a blush crept up Buffy's neck.

"I was strategy guy," Xander murmured. "Everything looked like it was Apocalypse Now." He laughed. "Kind of funny since we're always worried about the apocalypse."

"And gunny," Buffy said. "Don't forget the gun."

"Well what do you remember?" Xander asked her.

"Things were scary," Buffy began, and then she paused. "But it's fuzzy. I must still be woozy."

"Yeah, we're woozy," Xander said, nodding to Willow.

"Hot chocolate?" Buffy said quickly.

"Yes, hot chocolate to recuperate us from the crazy night." Xander agreed breathlessly.

Willow giggled. "One cup, but then I better head home."

"Well come on then, Dorothy," Buffy quipped. The three of them locked arms again and skipped into the house.

Two hours of cocoa later Mrs. Summers dropped Willow off at home. The porch light was on, refracting on the cut glass front door that stuck out like a sore thumb in their neighborhood, but the house was dark.

"Thanks for waiting up," Willow murmured.

She stumbled over the doorstep and caught herself on the wall; stopping nose to nose with the long, prickly stalks her mother had stuffed in a vase and called décor. She felt a strange, quivery guilt at the realization that she wished she broken the vase, scattered those silly things all over the floor. Then she imagined the look she would get from her mother, the lecture, her father's—of course—unspoken disappointment.

"Look at me," she whispered as she crept up the stairs to her room. "The little player talks about freedom and it goes right to her head. I'm dizzy with the free."

Willow flipped on her bedroom light and groaned. So much for being free—her mother had cleaned her room, again, even though Willow cleaned it twice a week herself. She knew that Buffy and Xander thought it was funny that she was so tidy, but that was because they'd never had to deal with hurricane Sheila dropping a category-five cleaning storm on their rooms. In fact, the sight of Buffy and Xander's rooms would've probably been enough to give her mother a cleaning nervous breakdown.

She walked around the room, putting things back the way she liked them—she took the book she was reading off the shelf and put it back on her dresser for handy reading-in-bed-under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight distance, and took the food for her tropical fish out of her desk drawer and put it back by the tank. Lastly she pulled her SHEEP sticker out of the trash and pinned it back on her corkboard.

"Longest and lamest battle of wills in history," Willow sighed. "Well Mom, you're nothing if not predictable."

Willow turned away from her bed, the wicker headboard she'd dusted the day before was now so spotless and shiny that she wondered if it would glow in the dark. She was left standing in front of her bedroom mirror. Willow stared at herself for a moment and then shot a furtive glance around the room as if she was worried someone might be watching. But there was no one there, of course. Willow took a step closer to the mirror. She looked at herself, tilted her head to admire the curve of her neck framed by her upswept hair. Her skin, normally pale, was flushed, and her eyes sparkled.

She held her arms out and did a slow spin, admiring her trim figure. With the awkward bagginess of her mother's handpicked wardrobe stripped away, there was a curviness to her, a womanliness, was that a word? That Willow had never noticed about herself before. Willow stopped her spin and placed her ands on her bare midriff, shivering a bit at the warmth of her own hands. If nothing else, her stomach was nice and flat; she could feel the tickle of ribs.

"I'm pretty," Willow whispered, moving to stare at herself full-on in the mirror. She smiled broadly at the thought. Did she think I was pretty?

Willow imagined the skateboarding girl standing behind her. She could see those riveting dark blue eyes so clearly. The girl took a step closer, and then another, till she was standing right behind Willow, staring over her shoulder into the mirror. Suddenly Willow felt warm, soft hands brushing her back, sliding along her slides, to touch her ribs with feather-light strokes, finally wrapping around her waist.

The girl's fingertips would be the tiniest bit rough, Willow imagined, from playing the guitar. A slight, delicious friction on the skin. The girl moved closer, wrapping her arms more tightly around Willow's waist, until they were pressed together, with the girl laying her head on Willow's shoulder. She smiled her brilliant smile and mouthed, "You're beautiful—"

"Willow, what are you doing?"

Willow gave a little half scream-half squeak. Her mother was standing in the doorway, watching Willow stand in front of the mirror, arms wrapped around her own stomach.

"And what in the world are you wearing?"

"It's Halloween, remember, Mom?"

"Well that's no excuse for getting in so late," Sheila replied.

"Sorry Mom," Willow muttered, "Mrs. Summers gave us hot chocolate after we finished taking the elementary school kids trick-or-treating. I lost track of time." Because I was distracted by my fascination with a girl I don't even know. She finished silently.

"Well, I hope you'll be more responsible while your father and I are gone at the conference. Do I need to get Mrs. Crowley to check in on you?"

"No Mom, I can take care of myself," Willow insisted. "Besides, Mrs. Summers said she would check in, remember?"

"Of course." Willow's mother pulled her robe a bit more tightly around herself. "Is her daughter Bunny the one who gave you that…costume?"

Mom not amused, diversionary tactics required. "Uh…yeah, this was Buffy's costume last year," Willow lied. She'd seen Buffy wear the outfit to the Bronze a half dozen times. "She wanted to go as her favorite singer." Willow wracked her brain, trying to think of one of her mother's more distasteful music choices. "Paula Abdul!" Willow said in a burst. "It's a Paul Abdul costume."

"Oh, well, she's a good performer," she replied, nodding and relaxing her grip on her robe. "I think I even remember the video where she wore an outfit like that."

"Cool?" Willow replied.

"Well, there's money on the dining room table for you to buy food while we're gone. I didn't have time to go shopping."

"Okay," Willow nodded.

"You should get to bed, it's late." Sheila turned to walk out the door. "And don't spend all your food money on chocolate and coffee."

"I won't, Mom." Willow said, rolling her eyes. "Good night."

As soon as she heard the door to her parents' bedroom close, Willow shimmied out of her costume and threw on an oversized t-shirt. She fed her fish, watching the flakes tumble around, pushed and pulled by random currents.

Willow understood, because every moment since she'd seen the skateboarding girl she'd felt swept into the same type of motion. It was like a line connected from below her navel to some moving point out there in the world. The fish food bottle tumbled to the floor. Her hands were shaking. There was a part of her burning to sneak out, to go out into the night and find her. Instead Willow picked up the bottle, set it next to the fish tank, flipped off her bedroom light, and climbed into bed.

After a few minutes trying and failing to fall sleep, Willow curled on her side, staring out her window, pretending the glow of streetlights outside her windows were stars. She slowed her breathing, trying to quiet the trembling in her hands, her pounding heart. Just as she began to drift away, she heard the sound of the deep hum of skateboard wheels on pavement and flailed uncontrollably, waking with a gasp.

"Great," she grumbled. "Hypnic jerking. That's always a good sign." She paused. "Ugh. I shouldn't know that. I'm such a nerd."

She rolled onto her right side, away from the window. After some time counting breaths Willow slipped into slumber again, and dreamed. She was walking across the street in the lights of the oncoming van. The skateboard rolled past, and there was the blonde girl, but she wasn't alone. She was hugging a girl with short sandy hair, laying her head on the girl's shoulder. Willow realized who the new girl was, Grace Henlon, her eighth grade Physical Science lab partner. Grace was the first girl she'd ever dreamed about kissing. The two of them waved to Willow as they rolled into the darkness.

When they moved past, Willow could see that Buffy and Xander were standing on the other side of the road, pointing at her. She called out to them, but they just kept pointing.

"Stop it," Willow sighed, and realized she was lying on her back in bed, sprawled out with her sheets tangled around her legs. "Crap. This is going to be a long night."

I just have to ignore it. She thought to herself, carefully untangling her sheets and pulling them up to her chin. I like Xander. Nice, sweet, utterly unavailable, safe Xander. Willow felt tears trickle from the corners of her eyes. Even as she thought the words to herself she felt that tug, wanted to go and find her blue girl. She'd liked Grace, she really had, her humor and her mind, the spray of freckles across her cheeks. But comparing Grace to her mystery girl was like comparing a candle's glow to the light of a bonfire. Willow fell into a dreamless sleep with one thought echoing in her mind. How can anyone understand this when I don't understand it myself?


The next few days were torture for Willow. Every time she caught a glimpse of golden-blonde hair her heart gave a painful little leap, but it was never her blue-eyed girl. Two days after her nighttime encounter she was actually late for school because she missed the bus, she was too busy following a blonde girl through her neighborhood. By the time she realized she was freaking out the poor homeschooled kid that lived down the block it was too late. She had to walk all the way to Sunnydale High. Principal Snyder was there waiting for her, of course, cementing her even more thoroughly into his troublemakers club.

After thirty minutes of lecture on antisocial behavior and lack of proper respect for authority, he'd finally let her go. She got to class just in time to miss a quiz that she could only pray she'd be allowed to make up.

"Will, what happened to you?" Buffy asked, stopping her in the hall the moment class let out. "You're never late. And you're all flushed, and flustery."

"I missed the bus."

"You had to walk?" Willow nodded and Buffy grimaced. "Ouch. It's really hot out today."

"Yeah," Willow grumbled as they walked toward their second period room. "And Snyder was waiting for me."

"Double ouch. Detention?"

"A lecture."

"Ooh. Truly painful."

Willow just nodded, but then her head snapped around and she strained on her tiptoes, looking intently down the hallway. Buffy turned to follow her friend's gaze, but there was nothing there, just a bunch of other kids heading to class.

"Willow?" Buffy asked. Willow didn't answer, she was still staring off down the hall, her lower lip clenched between her teeth. "Willow, what's wrong with you?" She laid her hand on the redhead's arm.

"Huh?" Willow settled back down to her feet, blushing a bit under Buffy's stare. She'd caught another glimpse of blonde hair, but it wasn't mystery girl.

"I asked what was wrong with you," Buffy said solemnly. "You haven't been the same since Halloween."

"I—" Willow looked at her best friend. I could just tell her, she thought to herself. Buffy, I met someone, and I can't stop thinking about her… "Buffy, I," Willow began. Suddenly the world slowed, stopped, and Willow was the only thing left in motion. Buffy was staring at her, but every other student in the hallway was pointing at Willow. This isn't real, she thought to herself, screwing her eyes shut against the sight.

"Yeah Will," Buffy said. "What is it?

She opened her eyes again and everything was normal.

"You okay?" Buffy's eyes were wide.

Willow swallowed. "I'm just not sleeping too well. My parents are still out of town at that conference. It's kind of creepy being in the house all by myself."

"Oh," Buffy cried, slinging an arm around Willow's shoulder and steering her down the hall. "Why didn't you say so, Will? Come stay with me, we'll totally slumber party it. My mom won't mind."

"I don't want to be any trouble."

"Trouble-schmuble. It'll be fun. Besides," Buffy laughed. "Mom says you're a good influence on me and you should come over more often. Ooh, and we can hit the Bronze tonight. What do you say?"

"Sure," Willow said, smiling. "Thanks Buffy."

The thought of hanging out with her friends and having fun made the rest of the morning pass a little less painfully. In the afternoon she had the peace and quiet of the computer lab with Ms. Calendar, and then the library with Giles, Xander, and Buffy. She kept herself busy with programming, with books, kept herself distracted so she could ignore the feeling that she was just treading water, that her whole life up till now she'd just been treading water.

After school Buffy took the bus with Willow so they could go to her house and pick up some of her things.

"You better not put any books in that bag," Buffy told Willow sternly, taking a break from tapping the glass on Willow's aquarium, sending her tropical fish darting around wildly.

Willow was holding her gray backpack, fiddling with the rainbow straps. "I'll already packed my books in my other bag, you were watching."

"I know," Buffy quipped, "I just don't want you to bring any more than that. You're gonna collapse a disc or something."

"Well, and I do need some clothes to wear," Willow laughed. "I'm pretty sure the Bronze has an all-nude no-service dress code."

"Cheeky," Buffy exclaimed, bursting into laughter. "Like, with the figural and the literal."

"Hah hah," Willow replied. She swatted Buffy on the arm and slung a bag over each shoulder. "Come on, let's get out of here."

Both girls were drenched in sweat by the time they reached the Summers' house, but still giggly even though they were footsore on top of it all. There was a nice surprise waiting for them—Buffy's mom had left a plate of chocolate chip cookies on the counter with a note that Buffy and Willow should help themselves, and enjoy the fresh lemonade in the fridge.

"How did your mom know I was coming?" Willow asked thickly around a mouthful of cookie.

"I called her over lunch break," Buffy replied, stealing a chunk off of Willow's cookie and popping it in her mouth. "Told you she really likes you. Baking doesn't happen for just anybody, you know."

"Your mom is so nice," Willow sighed.

Buffy rolled her eyes and grinned. "Everybody thinks their friends moms' are nice. Remind me to have you over the next time she's grounding me."

"Buffy you know what I mean," she replied. "She runs that gallery all on her own and still finds time to bake cookies and make lemonade."

"I think the cookies were from a tube," Buffy began.

"Buffy my mom can't even be bothered to go grocery shopping for me before she goes on a trip. She just left me a pile of cash and told me not to spend it all on coffee and junk food."

"Poor Will," Buffy sighed, handing Willow another cookie. "Although, quite honestly, if I could choose between cookies and lemonade or a pile of money, I'd err on the side of money."

"Just so you could buy shoes," Willow replied. "And then you'd end up going hungry."

"Nah, you and Xander would feed me. Wouldn't you?" Buffy trained her most pathetic pout on Willow and it was everything the girl had not to snort lemonade and chocolate chip cookie out her nose.

"Buffy," Willow swallowed, laughing. "Not while I have a mouthful."

Buffy just turned about the pout another notch and stalked toward Willow, who backed away, still laughing, till she felt the kitchen counter press against her back. Buffy widened her eyes and batted her lashes, curling her hands up under her chin.

"All right," Willow cried, holding up her hands. "I give, I give. We'd feed you."

"Yea, I win!" Buffy celebrated with another cookie.

Willow washed her hands and rinsed her cup, placing it carefully in the top rack of the dishwasher.

"And that's why my mom likes you," Buffy laughed. She grabbed Willow's arm and led her toward the living room, her own cup of lemonade still sitting half-drunk on the counter.

"Your glass—" Willow protested.

"I'll take care of it before we leave for the Bronze. Waste not-want not, right? Come on, let's get ready."

"So much for being a good influence," Willow said, and let Buffy lead her upstairs.

"It's a quality overrated by moms anyway."

Buffy flipped on the light switch and revealed her room was strewn with clothes and shoes on every flat surface. Willow couldn't make out the top of her friend's bed, and only a few patches of carpet were visible.

"I had some trouble finding an outfit for today," Buffy muttered.

"I'll hang while you look for clothes."

"What about you?" Buffy asked, as Willow hung three shirts in quick succession and moved them to the closet.

"What's wrong with what I have on?" Willow looked down at herself. She was wearing a pair of loose denim overalls and gray long-sleeved shirt that made her look as curvy as a twelve-year-old boy. "Oh." She sighed.

"It's not that it's bad, Will—" She stopped when Willow looked up at her with one eyebrow raised. "It's not. It just doesn't make the most of your assets."

"I have assets?" Willow's voice was a high-pitched whisper.

"Hello," Buffy replied. "I think we proved that at Halloween."

Willow fought to keep a glazed grin off her face. Halloween. Just the sound of the word set her heart pounding. She could hear the hum of the skateboard wheels on the asphalt.

"Whatever you say," she squeaked.

They spent the next hour getting ready for their night out, Buffy going through outfit after outfit that Willow patiently hung back in the closet. When Buffy found the perfect look, they dug through Willow's backpack, but the slayer wasn't satisfied with what she found. Despite her protests, Willow found herself trying on skirt after skirt of Buffy's. They were all a bit too loose or a bit too short for Willow's comfort, and so in the end she ended up wearing some of her own clothes, despite the return of the Buffy pout. The girls stood side by side in front of Buffy's mirror. Buffy was stunning in a dark, rose pink tank top, black miniskirt, and knee-high boots.

Willow sighed. "Maybe I should try on that last skirt again."

"You look cute."

Willow had her hair pulled up on the crown of her head in a ponytail. She was wearing her white rubber ducky tee tucked into a pair of snug-fitting blue jeans and a pair of white sneakers.

"I don't know, Buffy." Willow replied, turning sideways. "These jeans don't leave much to the imagination."

"And thus the cute," she replied. As Willow opened her mouth to protest again the doorbell rang. "And saved by the bell." She pulled Willow out of the room and down the stairs.

The bell rang again. "Go ahead and answer it, Will." Buffy said, grinning. "I'm going to go finish my lemonade. See you are a good influence on me."

"Right." She opened the door and Xander was leaning against the doorframe.

"Ready to—" Xander's eyes widened. "Gah-yow. Nice jeans." He quipped.

"I blame Buffy," Willow said firmly. Sweet, safe Xander.

"Do I smell cookies?"

"You do indeed, Harris," Buffy replied, walking from the kitchen with a cookie in each hand. "It's getting late, you'll have to eat them on the way."

Xander's mouth dropped open. "Wow, Buff. Nice outfit."

Buffy pressed the cookies into Xander's hand and flashed an apologetic glance at Willow. "Thanks."

They went out the door and Willow gave a little groan. The heat of the day hadn't diminished much, if at all. It was going to be a long walk to the Bronze.

"Why don't any of us have cars?" Buffy wailed. "I'm going to look like Betty Davis in What Happened to Baby Jane by the time we get there."

"The parents say I'm too young," Willow replied.

"The parents are too poor." Xander said.

"And I'm a hazard." Buffy said matter-of-factly.

Xander and Willow just stared.

"No really," Buffy sighed. "My mother has documentation."

"Walking it is, then." Xander grumbled.

"Come on guys," Willow said, locking arms with her friends. "It won't be so bad. We'll get there, have some cold drinks, and the Bronze is always freezing. You know how you like shivery girls, Xander," she teased.

"That's true," he said, grinning widely.

"And maybe there will be some vampires you can kill on the way, Buff. That'll take the edge off."

"Our Willow," Buffy said, pulling her best friend close. "She always knows just how to cheer us up."

"Speaking of taking the edge off," Xander said, as they moved east toward the Bronze.

"Huh?' Willow asked.

He pointed. "What's with the crowd? That can't be good."

There was a large group of people on a corner two blocks down. Fifteen, maybe twenty people gathered together, looking toward the same hidden spot. Willow shuddered, suddenly freezing even in the hot, damp air. If they were vamps, or demons, there wouldn't be anything any of them could do, not even Buffy.

"Maybe we should go," Willow whispered. She looked over at Buffy and was surprised to see the slayer grinning. "Buffy?"

"Some joke we missed, Buff?"

"You guys can't hear that?" Buffy asked. Willow and Xander were dumbfounded. "Oh," Buffy said after a moment. "Slayer hearing."

"Well what is it?" Willow asked.

"It's a musician, she's good. Wanna go have a listen?"

"Sure," Xander shrugged.

Willow nodded, "Okay."

The trio moved forward, and within a few steps Willow could hear faint strains of guitar music on the air. It was beautiful, haunting. As they grew closer she could hear a voice, winding in and around the notes from the guitar, high and melodic. Willow sped her pace, walking past Xander and Buffy. As the music became clearer, somehow, impossibly, even lovelier, she started to jog toward the crowd. She heard Xander and Buffy call for her, but she didn't stop.

Willow reached the crowd and murmured apologies as she pushed her way through the press of people. In a few seconds she made it to the edge of the crowd and took a gasping breath. She could feel her heart leap, but it wasn't painful, it was sweet. The musician playing so wonderfully, singing so divinely, golden hair shining under the streetlights, was her mystery girl.