Author's note: Before anything else, I need to present you with a warning. The story will feature adult themes. Sex, blood and death will be among them. If such things disturb you, do not proceed.

If not, I hope you enjoy what will be my Big Damn Story. Reviews are adored. :)


It was a day like any other for Willow Rosenberg. Up early, eat breakfast, shower, brush teeth and go to school with time to spare. But even though she was following the same routines that she had for many years and even though she didn't know it - yet - this was the day where a choice of hers would irrevocably change the course of her life. So far, though, everything was normal. The day was bright and sunny with a light breeze tickling her hair as she walked down the road to Sunnydale High.

She met Xander and Jesse in the courtyard but only had time to exchange a few words with them, seeing as they did not share their first class. Both her friends were ecstatic about the arrival of a new girl, who according to Xander was a hottie. He was probably right - his general taste in girls seemed to make sense. He never cast her a second look, that was for sure. Nor did Jesse. Maybe she was being stupid, especially considering she didn't like them as anything but friends, but was it too much for to ask for them to notice that she had curves (well, some) nowadays?

Settling down in the classroom and retrieving the French books from her bag, she turned her attention to the teacher, who was checking attendance.

She halted after confirming that John Sanders was indeed present and gave her list another look before querying

"Buffy Summers?"

Willow looked to the left and spotted a girl right next to her. A girl she'd never seen before. Blonde, perky and nervous-looking, definitely worth calling a hottie. Conclusion: Probably the new girl.

What kinda name was Buffy, though?

"Present - I mean, yeah."

The next student's name was called and attention slowly shifted back to wherever it had been previously. Not Willow's, though. She noted that the new girl lacked a book.

"Here," she whispered, waving the girl over. "We can share mine."

She felt genuinely proud of herself, not so much for the being nice part as much as the taking initiative and being social part.

"I'm Willow," she went on.

"Buffy." They smiled at each other, tentatively.

"You're new, right?" The blonde nodded.

There seemed to be a response on the way, but their teacher was about to return the tests they had done a week ago, which promptly halted their conversation.

Willow glanced down at her paper, worried like always that she hadn't done as well as expected… But, turning it over, she found A+ written in blue ink, then circled, at the top right corner. She blushed when she noticed Buffy peeking and quickly stowed the test down her bag.

They spoke a bit more over the course of the lesson, but mostly only on the topic of what they were studying. Buffy proved to be okay at French and though her grammar was appalling, her pronunciation was passable and positively adorable.

They moved to history next and the blonde got seated next to Willow again. Their teacher, Mr Finch, checked attendance, marking Xander's and Jesse's lateness with a stern look of disapproval and then moved on to start up a monologue on world war two. It was very obvious when looking at him that he wasn't the kind of teacher who'd allow conversation where conversation was not due. Buffy must have caught this because she didn't attempt to continue their little talk. After a little while, though, Willow spotted a small note on her desk. Making sure she wasn't being watched, she unfolded it and read.

The guy sure loves his wars, huh?

She glanced at Buffy, smiled and started writing below the messy hand-writing.

More than his children, I think. You should've heard him rave about Vietnam.

The blonde grinned in return and passed her the note again.

I have no idea what he's talking about right now, though Who's Molotov? Isn't that a bomb thingy?

Willow was about to write back and suggest that she could help her catch up, but Mr Finch choose that moment to direct his stern death ray of a gaze in her direction, which promptly put an end to her note-writing for the duration of that class.

Feeling a bit thirsty as they left the classroom for a thirty minute break, Willow headed to the water fountain and leaned over it. Being busy, she didn't notice Buffy staring at her lips with a distant expression on her face, or Cordelia waiting, hands on her hips.

"Willow… Nice dress! Good to know you've seen the softer side of Sears."

Cordelia, joy…

"Uh, well - well, my mom picked it out." Was there something wrong about her clothes again? She'd stopped trying to appease Cordelia's by dressing fashionably many years ago.

"No wonder you're such a guy magnet. Are you done?"

"Oh." Willow was just about to walk away from the terrorizing when she saw Buffy round on the brunette with a decidedly icy look.

"Hey, I'm just wondering…" The blonde's expression had changed rather suddenly to one of innocent befuddlement. "The tennis clothes." (And even Willow with her limited knowledge about tennis and fashion could tell that was what Cordelia was wearing.) "Is that because it's in fashion right now or because you have your hands on a lot of balls?"

With that, she stalked off, leaving a red-faced Cordelia behind. Not wanting to be near whenever Queen C regained her composure and wits, Willow hastily followed. She found Buffy sitting in the courtyard just outside, still fuming.

"Does she do that to you a lot?" she asked upon spotting Willow.

Willow shrugged and sat down too, a few feet from the blonde. She clearly wasn't happy with the answer she had gotten and kept on waiting until Willow finally confessed.

"She does sometimes. But not just to me, really."

"Not anymore she's not." It sounded an awful lot like a promise, but what could Buffy actually do about it?

"So… What do you do for fun around here?"


Willow sat by the bar counter, absent-mindedly nibbling on a cherry impaled on a toothpick while she waited for the three Cokes she had ordered to arrive. Xander was sitting in a corner, sulking at being rejected by some girl, and Jesse was dancing up closer to Cordelia and was thus well on his way to be shot down, as well.

They'd known each other for over ten years now and so far it had always been like she was one of the guys. It wasn't all that bad. Most of the time she preferred it that way, but she did wish that someone would notice. It was silly and insecure, of course, but as she thought it over, maybe those two character traits described her well.

It had even reached such levels of sad that she played with the thought of showing up dressed like Cordelia. But there was no way she'd be able to pull that look off. Her mom always said she thought her little girl was beautiful, but it wasn't like she was naïve enough to trust her on that. Still, it'd be nice if someone saw that she was something else besides the shy bookworm. Someone confident and beautiful, even, like B-

"Hey, Willow." Speaking of the devil… Startled, Willow almost knocked over the drinks that had arrived without her noticing.

"Hi!"

Eyebrows raised, the blonde regarded the cups on the counter. "Getting boozed up?"

"What? No, it's just Coke." Catching the playful smile on Buffy's lips a bit too late, she realized it had been a joke. "It's for Xander and Jesse."

Both her friends were wallowing in self-pity by the sofas now and she was in no mood to join them in the probable bashing of her gender.

Xander seemed to have recovered somewhat, though, and was waving, no doubt for Buffy's benefit.

"Your boyfriend?" the blonde wondered. Willow grimaced, then sighed.

"I think he's still wondering why I'm not in the boy's locker room before P.E."

Buffy was sweet enough to actually try to look surprised by that.

"He's blind, then," she stated after a few seconds. "C'mon, let's go open up his eyes." With that enigmatic comment and a small smile, she led a confused Willow to the dance floor.

"Is he looking?" Buffy asked loudly. Willow checked and nodded in confirmation.

And then they started dancing, Buffy moving closer and closer until their bodies kept brushing against one another's . To be honest, Willow didn't know what to make of the close contact, she just knew that Xander was staring openly and that it felt really good.

"Still looking?"

Trying to ignore how great the other girl smelled or how the hot breathing against her ear made Willow shudder and feel really warm, she nodded again. Spinning them around, Buffy took a look for herself.

"Mm-hmm. Eyes, among other things, bulging out," she remarked. Willow giggled. "Go get em', dancing queen. I'll be right back."

She disappeared up a staircase and with her head spinning, Willow all but tumbled into the couch in between Xander and Jesse, who were both staring at her in awe.

"That was so hot!" Jesse exclaimed. Success.

"How did you pull that off?"

"Man, that girl is yummy."

Willow shrugged, starting to feel disappointed. They hadn't noticed her at all, they'd been too busy drooling over Buffy. Not that she wasn't worth drooling over, of course -

Hang on. Freeze, backtrack and press frickin' play again. Why was she checking out her new friend? Her new female friend.

Sighing, she excused herself for some fresh air, needing to give all these new insights some thought. She was completely unaware of the creature stalking her, and the panicking slayer two levels above trying to make her way down to them.

Leaning against the cleanest part of the dingy brick wall she'd been able to find, Willow took in the cold night air with relish. She had only closed her eyes for a second and then it was there. It looked human, but it's face was deformed around the forehead and nose. The eyes were a bright yellow colour and the teeth long and sharp.

Willow tried to scream, but a hand at her mouth quickly muffled the sound. She tried to fight, but the thing was much too strong. All she could do was watch, as the long canines got closer and closer to the skin of her throat.

There was a flurry of movement and then, out of nowhere, Buffy was there. She grabbed the thing by the throat, one-handed and threw it almost two yards across the street into a pair of dustbins.

"Are you okay?" Behind her, the thing was getting up, shaking it's head gingerly, but Buffy was busy giving her neck a thorough look.

"I'm fine. Look out!" The thing had tried to jump at the blonde from behind, but stopped dead in mid-air when Buffy's foot caught it in the chest with bone-crushing force. Wasting no time, she got on top of it and jammed something into it's heart, which promptly disintegrated the entire body into dust. Standing up, she grabbed Willow by the arm and proceeded to lead her back towards the entrance to the Bronze.

"Buffy, what's-?"

"Shh. I think there's more of them around."

"And what are they - that? Besides someone really needing to visit the dentist!"

They stopped ten feet shy of the large man standing guard, Buffy looking seriously at her. She seemed so much older now, more mature and very much in control. "Please Willow. Stay here. I'll explain everything later." She gently led Willow inside and grabbed her by the shoulders. "I'll be back in an hour to take you home. Whatever you do, don't go anywhere with anyone."

The following hour was the longest of her life. She couldn't find Jesse or Xander and she needed answers. Or rather, needed an explanation, because she already knew what was going on. She had been attacked by a vampire and then seen a skinny little blonde kick it's ass. If it wasn't for the fact that she hadn't gotten to even touch her drink she would have reasoned that someone had drugged it.

When Buffy returned, she was sporting a shiner and a torn sleeve. She waved Willow over, lingering in the shadows where people wouldn't see the injuries unless they paid close attention.

"Have you seen Xander and Jesse?" Willow asked as soon as they were outside. Buffy shook her head and set off.

There was a slight limp to her step. She wouldn't answer any questions that night, other than to tell Willow that yes, it had been a vampire and to say that she had killed two more during the hour she had been gone. Finally, she had asked Willow to meet her the following morning and promised to explain everything then, if she was still interested in hearing it.

There was no answer at Xander's that evening. This wasn't all that unusual, though. Xander wouldn't wake for anything other than World War Three, and his parents would most likely have fallen asleep on the couch (Or possibly on the floor) long ago.

Jesse's parents answered, but said he hadn't gotten home yet. It was midnight.

Willow barely got any sleep that night, but dutifully went to school the next day all the same, needing to know. Struggling to stay awake during the first lesson, let alone pay attention to teachers, she kept shooting glances at Buffy, whose bruises were seemingly gone and who scribbled lazily on a piece of paper.

When the bell finally rung, Willow caught up with the blonde and wordlessly found herself being led to the library. True, it wasn't the most popular hang out spot at Sunnydale High, but it was quiet and Mr. Giles, the librarian would be there. Surely there had to be a better place…?

"Bu-" Upon spotting Willow, the Englishman cut off and cleared his throat. "Miss Summers. Miss Rosenberg. What can I do for you?"

Buffy cast him an impatient look. "You can cut the act, Giles."

"Some stupid vamp last night decided to finish his evening with something sweet." She issued at Willow, who managed a few vowel sounds and then felt a strong urge to go away.

Giles seemed to measure Willow up with a look and then nodded. "Very well, then. Are you alright?"

To be honest, she didn't even know what to say. Her safe little bubble of a world that revolved around her studies and few friends had been shattered brutally. She hadn't adjusted yet. In the end, she was saved the bother of formulating a reply, though, as Buffy stepped in.

"I dusted two vampires by The Bronze and one at the Restfield cemetery. The last I saw of her friends was chatting with this blonde girl - Could you get me that book, The Red List? I think I saw her in there before."

Willow could see Giles looking intently at the young blonde. Then, with an "Oh dear", he vanished into the stacks. When he returned a minute later, he was carrying a dusty old tome, which he handed to Buffy.

She flipped through the pages and being curious by nature, Willow couldn't help but to glance over her shoulder. It didn't take long for her to wish she hadn't, though. The book contained detailed descriptions of horrible acts of cruelty done by vampires throughout the ages. One had apparently fancied torturing people with rail road spikes. Then, at the end of the volume, Buffy stopped at a picture of a pretty blonde woman in an 18th century style dress.

"Darla," she whispered softly. Snapping the book shut, she put a hand at Willow's shoulder, who took this to be a bad sign. Giles got seated on the other side of the table, gave the library doors a quick glance and then addressed the two girls with a look of a man preparing to walk across burning coal.

"Perhaps it would be wise to hope for the best whilst preparing for the worst?"

Willow swallowed and blinked away the few tears that threatened to appear. She knew very well what the librarian meant, even if he didn't say it. In all likelihood, Xander and Jesse were dead.

"Has Buffy taught you anything about - er - vampires?"

"Run like crazy?" she suggested lamely, her mind busy showing her a reel of images, all gruesome depictions of her two best friends' dead bodies.

"A wise approach," Giles concluded. "When a person is turned into a vampire, the soul leaves the body and a demon takes it's place. It's essentially a shell that remembers it's past life, but the demon is in control. It is vital that you understand this, that they are not who they were, but what killed them."

Willow was crying softly now, unable to keep it back any longer. Buffy put a compassionate arm around her shoulder and through the tears fogging up her vision, she could see Giles looking guilty.

"I apologize if I came across too harshly. Buffy, perhaps it would be best if you give her the rest of the introduction to the undead."

Willow didn't see, but assumed the blonde had nodded in confirmation, for the man disappeared, leaving them alone. Buffy kept running her hands over the back of her neck. It felt nice.

"I'm sorry," she whispered finally.

"Do you think they're-?" She couldn't bring herself to actually use the word "dead".

"I don't know- They might not have gone with her. Maybe we'll see them at PE."

Willow nodded numbly. Buffy tried to sound as though there was hope, but it didn't feel genuine.

"You - you don't have to be afraid, okay?" Vampires can't enter any house owned by humans unless they've been invited first. You kill them by decapitation, with fire or by putting something made of wood through their hearts."

Willow nodded again. Abandoning the gentle caress, which the redhead found herself missing, Buffy put a stake, a crucifix and a bottle labelled Holy Water on the table. Standing up, she took the stake and put it in Willow's trembling hand.

"Put it against my heart," she instructed.

Nervously, the redhead complied, careful not to do too much inappropriate poking with the piece of pointy wood.

"Good. Run it through there and you've got nothing but a nice pile of dust left for company." She glanced at her wrist-watch and went wide-eyed. "We're almost late." She stowed all the items in her bag at dazzling speed and set off at a brisk pace. "I'll tell you more later, okay?"

They rushed to their lockers, got their bags and actually made it to the locker rooms with a few minutes to spare, even if Willow was panting with exertion as a cost.

Generally, she would change a row or two away from Cordelia and her perfect little friends, but Buffy actually went as far as taking the row furthest away where not even the fat girls would bother hiding from the looks and snickers. At first Willow didn't get it. Was it out of consideration for her? Or did the blonde possibly still have bruises from the night before?

Then the she pulled her shirt over her head and answered that question. The first thought to strike Willow once she was done with the staring part was that the girl really put the "buff" in Buffy. She looked like a professional athlete, but better - much better. Her body was pretty much only muscle, by the looks of it. Nothing extreme like those Ukrainian athletes on TV or anything, but definitely impressive… and kinda sexy.

"Sorry," Willow mumbled, cheeks flaming up even worse.

Buffy didn't say anything.

Buffy's encouragement about her friends showing up for gym had lit up a small sparkle of hope in Willow, but they never did. Even less motivated than she usually was, she got hit in the head by a football and spent the rest of the lesson holding a ball of toilet paper to her bleeding nose. Nose still throbbing somewhat, she followed Buffy to their isolated corner of the locker room, getting undressed so slowly that by the time she had the clean white towel wrapped tight around her, the others were already on their way to their next class, unaware and chattering happily.

Maybe she was being pessimistic, but some part of her was just sure that her friends were gone. As silently as she could manage, Willow started sobbing under the hot spray of the water. Wailing pained, meaningless words at the clinker wall, she hit it with small fists until her arms were seized from behind. Soon, she had been spun around and pulled into a decidedly feminine embrace.

"Shh… You'll hurt yourself." It was Buffy, of course. There wasn't anybody else left in the place.

"Wanna…" She struggled, but got nowhere, only tighter into Buffy's warm comforting arms.

"It's gonna be okay."

"No it's not."

"Yes- it is."

"When?" Willow wanted to shout, but didn't. She couldn't find the energy to do anything but bawl.

It wasn't until she stopped, over forty minutes later, that Willow realized the position she was in. She hadn't thought about it, but it was lucky that the lunch break followed this period or they would've had a class full of other girls filing in and interrupting them long ago… Which would've been somewhat embarrassing. The hot water was still running and she was looking up at the blonde, resting her cheek against her bosom.

"Sorry," she mumbled awkwardly, pulling away. This, of course, did not help things the slightest as she was now brutally reminded of just how naked they were. "Didn't mean to drool all over your- Er." She blushed and pointedly shut her mouth.

Buffy let out a snort of a laugh and helped Willow back on her feet. Willow reached for her towel and hastily wrapped it around her body.

"What are you?" she asked Buffy abruptly as they slowly got dressed.

The blonde frowned and Willow murmured an apology. The lack of response was making her nervous, worried that she had insulted her new (and possibly only) friend. She was about half a second from starting up in full babble-mode when the question received it's answer.

"I'm a vampire slayer."

This did not leave Willow feeling any wiser.

"There's always one. When one dies, the next is called." Willow felt rather guilty for the way she must've looked at Buffy when the blonde added. "I'm human - just - a bit different

"Wow." Was the extent of what Willow managed in response.

"Yep."

"So, you're, like… a superhero?" Sighing internally, she thought she'd really spent too much time as a member of the dork squad.

Buffy nodded. "With heightened senses, strength and speed - and with an average life expectancy of one year, six months, fourteen days, and three hours. Give or take."

"Really?"

"Yeah. Minus the stupid spandex."

One and a half years… That wasn't much. Willow felt like maybe she should comfort Buffy, but the other girl seemed calm enough and there was still some lingering embarrassment since the showers.

They left the building in silence, moved to the front of the school and got seated on the lawn under a large tree.

"You can't tell anyone," Buffy said after a little while, looking ahead, hands folded in her lap. "The police might want to talk to you. Don't mention vampires."

"'Cause they'll think I'm cuckoo?"

"Yep."

Drawing another deep breath, Willow lunged at the question she had been holding clutched tightly to her chest to her chest since the moment she had been told of the probability that her best friends were now vampires:

"Can I help?"

"No." The reply was immediate and sharp.

"But - "

"No."

"Xander and Jesse are - were - my best friends! If there's some thing using their bodies I owe it to them to stop it."

Buffy turned her head and gave her a sharp look. "You have no idea how lucky you were last night! That vampire might just have killed you, had it over and done with quickly. Or he might have felt like going extra-curricular, taken you to his friends and raped you half to death before either turning you or killing you!"

Willow jumped back a bit in fright at the harsh tone in the slayer's voice. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I didn't mean to-"

"No, I shouldn't have gone off like that." The blonde gave her an apologetic look. "It's just that you have no idea what I deal with every night. I don't have a choice in this, but you do…"

"It's too late," Willow whispered softly. "I can't close my eyes and hide under my bed, hoping for everything to go away, 'cause it won't. I- I can help you."

Buffy's eyes darkened again and her hand shot out and gripped the redhead's throat firmly. "Help? You'll die. If I squeeze just a little bit, you choke. What are you going to do about it? What if I were a vampire? Do something!"

For effect, she tightened the grip enough for it to actually constrict Willow's breathing a little. It was hard to concentrate with the adrenaline pumping through her. Willow fumbled a shaking hand into a pocket, pushing it to the very bottom in search of the item she needed, a gift received from her grandfather at her Bat Mitzvah.

Pushing the keys aside, she finally found the object which she sought, a Swiss army knife. Folding out the blade, she nervously put it, blunt-side, to the slayer's throat.

"Good," Buffy whispered softly, letting go. "Okay."

"Okay?"

The blonde sighed, but smiled despite herself.

"I think so. Just… Give this some thought, OK? Sleep on it or whatever, just- You're gonna get hurt."

"Alright." Willow had already decided, and when she set out to do something, she always did it all the way. But for Buffy's peace of mind, she could pretend to think it over. They did not speak about the subject any further that day. A glance at her watch informed her that class would be starting in five minutes. "We need to get going," she pointed out tonelessly.

"You sure, Will? Your friends being missing sorta warrants the day off."

Though she'd like nothing more than to go home, curl up and cry the afternoon away in bed, Willow decisively slung her bag over her shoulder and set off for history. The day dragged on, and having been reminded not to invite anyone in to her house by Buffy, she headed home.

After having a sandwich, she prepared the books she'd need for homework and got down on all fours on the wall-to-wall carpet. She took a few reassuring breaths, then shifted the weight from her knees to rest solely on her palms, braced four inches apart, flat on the floor and the tip of her toes.

Slowly, arms quivering increasingly, she lowered herself towards the floor. Brows furrowed at the strain and with her long red hair hanging in her eyes, Willow managed to get her arms at a ninety degree angle, but fell to the plushy carpet when she attempted to get back up again. With her cheeks tinted red in annoyance at herself, she shifted to her knees instead of her toes and finally managed to get a few push-ups done.

Her stomach aching along with much of the rest of her body after a couple of sit-ups, Willow settled on her bed with a groan. She would do this every morning, afternoon and evening. If she kept it up, the results would come in time. It'd just take patience and self-discipline, things she had in abundance.

Willow spent three out of the remaining four hours of sunlight studying, and the last one worrying. About Xander, Jesse, herself, Buffy - heck, even Sunnydale.

She tried calling her friends' parents, but none of them had seen their children. Not that Mr. Harris would have noticed, mind - he was so drunk Willow had to ask him repeat himself three times before she understood what on earth he was talking about

With nothing else to do, Willow opened up her most prized possession, a laptop.

Fire, sunlight, stake through the heart and decapitation. Unless artificial sunlight worked, she was out of luck on that count and she doubted that she'd be able to get close enough to shove a stake through skin, muscle and in between bones. She obviously had no sword, save for a lightsabre replica Xander had given her at age ten so they could have epic duels.

That left fire. Fire was easy to make - cavemen far less clever than her had managed it, after all.

Gasoline burned well, and alcohol, too. Unfortunately, their car was gone and if she stole any of her father's single malt scotch, which was older than she was, she'd be grounded until she graduated.

The computer wouldn't yield many good ideas, though. There was something about using hair spray that she decided she'd check out some time, but she didn't have any at home just now so it'd have to wait.

Sighing, she closed her eyes and leaned back on the pillow. The ring of the doorbell woke her up from sleep that had crept up on her slowly and unexpectedly. The clock was now 21:09 and the sun long gone.

Had Buffy already done the deed and come to share the news?

Opening the door, she was surprised at the sight in front of her. Her first instinct was to rush out there and hug him. She even raised her arms to do so before catching herself. Jesse looked different. He was standing up straighter and the smile he bore was calm and confident. "Hey, Will," he greeted her casually. "Can I come in?"

Fighting the tears back, Willow stared at the demon looking like her best friend. She shook her head.

"I can't?" Jesse wondered.

"I don't know. Can you?"

Tilting his head to the side with a good imitation of innocent confusion, Jesse looked at her.

"You're talking crazy talk, Will. I just thought your parents might mind. Is it okay if I come inside?"

"My parents are gone for almost a month and you know that."

They stood in silence for a little while.

"So…" Jesse tried.

"I'm not letting you inside!"

Going from calm to furious, from Jesse to an ugly thing in the blink of an eye, the creature snarled and lunged for her. The outstretched hand stopped short at the threshold where an invisible force seemed to repel it, but Willow recoiled, lost her balanced and fell.

Gingerly getting to her feet, she stared at the demon, who was clawing furiously at the barrier preventing him from entering.

She had to kill it, but how? If she went outside, she was dead. There were no weapons suited to do the job…

The answer to her question arrived in the form of a lithe blonde, landing clumsily with a thud behind Jesse.

There was a poof and Jesse vanished in a explosion of dust. Willow tried hard not to cry, but was quickly distracted when Buffy took a step forward into the light and became visible more clearly.

"Oh, God," she whimpered, catching herself wanting to rush out the door the second time that night.

Buffy's left eye had taken a nasty hit and had swollen up so badly it was doubtful whether she could see with it at all. Both cheeks were badly bruised, her throat had been clawed at and there was a shallow cut on her forehead which had dripped blood all over her face.

As the slayer limped the last few steps across the porch, Willow also spotted a small bloodstain under a long gash on Buffy's shirt in the area of her belly button.

"Hey, Will," the slayer said, grinning. "Do you think I could crash here tonight? Mom doesn't know." The smile was wrong somehow, and Willow could tell the slayer had difficulty focusing on her.

"Sure, of course, come in." The reply was automatic and she went pale (well, paler) when she realized what she had done.

Buffy didn't step forward, but clumsily navigated her hand inside her shirt to reveal a silver cross. "It's still me," she said, displaying her non-smoking palm to Willow, who stepped aside to admit her. But the blonde did not walk inside, but dashed to the right instead, fell to her knees and promptly vomited into her mother's rhododendron bush.

Despite promising to stay inside, Willow hurried across the lawn and settled next to the slayer. "Are you okay?" she asked, feeling slightly stupid. Clearly, she wasn't.

"Bastard gave me a concussion," Buffy moaned, before throwing up some more.

"D'you think you can move? 'Cause, sitting out here, not such a good idea right now."

The blonde nodded and managed to get to her feet.

"Good." Willow put her arm under the slayer's and began to lead her back in the direction of the house. "I'll help you to the toilet in case - " She left the sentence unfinished.

When Buffy was finally feeling a bit better- well, when she was done throwing up, anyways, Willow got her seated in her bed and put on some up-beat music. Unless she was mistaken, and all modesty aside, she rarely was, a person who was concussed wasn't supposed to sleep right afterwards. They needed some caffeine, but that could wait a little while.

"That book you read, where you found that picture, what exactly is it about?"

Buffy didn't respond at first, staring into space as she seemed to try to collect herself. Then, she shook her head a bit like a wet dog and apparently regretted it judging by how she winced.

"It's a list- a list of the baddest of the bad among vampires."

"What happened to you tonight?"

"Vampires - loads. Giles didn't have time to explain… He's in the hospital- there were so many of them - I don't know if he's gonna make it."

She was looking down at her hands, curled up into tiny fists in her lap.

Willow did try to keep Buffy up as long as possible that night and even brought some soda in hopes of keeping the exhaustion at bay, but what with getting very little sleep the night before and having a very tiring day, it didn't last.

She woke up late the next morning, feeling almost at once that something was out of place. She was fully dressed, for one thing, and her pillow felt strange. Cracking an eyelid open, she quickly caught up with what was going on. They must've fallen asleep without realizing it and then, sometime over the night, she had decided to use Buffy as a pillow. Thank goodness the blonde was still asleep. Putting some distance between them, she poked her new friend in the shoulder.

"Buffy?"

The blonde shot out of the bed as though it was on fire and stood there, muscles taut across her lithe body, looking at Willow and then the room as though wondering how the hell she had gotten there. Finally, she sighed and sat back down on the bed, avoiding eye contact.

"I'm sorry about your friends," Buffy whispered guiltily after a while.

Tears threatened to make an appearance, but Willow fought them back once more. It wouldn't do any good. A part of her wanted to blame Buffy for all the things that had happened in her life ever since she had come, but that would have been unfair. If anything, she would've been dead too, had it not been for the slayer being there.

"It's okay," Willow lied softly. It really, really wasn't.