Disclaimers; Buffy and Willow are owned by Joss Whedon and subject to his whims. That's all there is, there ain't no more.

Spoilers; general sixth season, plus speculation on future episodes and Season seven.

Rating; R for sexuality

Archives; Let me know and spell my name right. Near Her Always, go for it.

Feedback; It's chicken soup for the fic writer's soul!

Summary; Willow faces the lowest point of her life, and is reborn. My answer to the Willow's Birthday challenge.

The Sun's Birthday
By Kirayoshi

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and for a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again this day
and this is the sun's birthday, this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings and the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how could tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
--e. e. cummings

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

After all that she had gone through, all the heartache, all the pain and struggle, the last thing she needed was another burden.

And that's what I had become.

My magic, the power I had used to help her, had turned against her. Against me.

And there was no one to blame for what had happened but myself.

I owed Glory pain for what she had done to my Tara and I unleashed my anger, my rage and hatred on her, fueling my magic with my darkest emotions. And it was so easy.

So easy to fall into the darkness.

When Buffy died, I didn't mourn. I didn't grieve. I planned. I found a spell to bring her back. And it worked.

It worked too well. I only succeeded in dragging her out of Heaven. And into Spike's arms.

She was disjointed, out of herself, unable to feel or even live properly. And each day away from Heaven brought her further away from us, from the Scoobs, from Dawn, and closer to Spike. And leave it to that manipulating bastard to take advantage of Buffy's emotional state to get into her panties. We didn't even find out about it until a few months later, but it still hurt us like hell. Like a kick to the gut.

And I didn't even notice what was happening to her then. I was too busy reveling in my new powers. But once the high of each new spell wore off, I felt emptier. When Amy hooked me up with the warlock Rack, it only got worse. It took my putting Dawn in danger that finally rammed it home to me; I needed to stop. I went on the magic wagon, and after the initial withdrawal wore off, things seemed to be getting better, for me and for Buffy.

About the time that Xander broke it off with Anya (making me feel sorry for the ex-vengeance demon for the first time ever!), Buffy finally started to come out of it. She made a clean break from Spike, started getting her life back on track, paid more attention to Dawn, even tried to play matchmaker between me and Tara again. I had my friend back, I had hope of winning Tara's heart again, and life was good.

For all of about three weeks.

Then it hit the fan, hard.

Warren and his nerd squad had been plotting something, we didn't know what at the time, and in the end it didn't really matter. Warren wanted to control the demon population of Sunnydale, and saw Buffy as his main obstacle. He tried to kill her, and he almost killed me. I don't even remember the precise sequence of events. All I remember was that he had a gun pointed straight at me, an ugly leer distorting his face, then I heard the shot.

When I opened my eyes and looked around, I remember feeling vaguely relieved that I was still alive. Until I saw her on the floor. Tara, her lovely blonde hair splattered with blood, her body sprawled to the ground like an abandoned puppet. And Warren with that satisfied smirk on his face. He was a human, but he had succeeded in something no demon or vamp had ever done before. He had killed one of the Scooby Gang.

He had killed Tara.

And like Glory before him, I owed him pain. And I paid him.

The dark magic screamed in my veins, and I let it course through me and out of me. I didn't know if anyone had been caught in the crossfire, nor did I care. All I could see was Warren's face as I blasted him with my hatred, my rage.

I felt another power join with mine, and didn't question it as our combined energies washed through Warren's body, desiccating it utterly. By the time I realized that I was drawing power from Rack, I was past caring. Past wanting, past feeling. Past doing anything except following Rack. Rack told me to attack Buffy and I did, without question.

The mighty Slayer didn't have a chance. I had her pinned against the wall, unable to move her arms in defense. Rack's voice in my mind ordered me to finish the job, to wrench Buffy's head off. But another voice, small and stuttering, made itself heard.

Tara's voice.

Don't ask me how it happened, or why, but I felt Tara within me. Forgiving me for my mistakes, encouraging me to turn away from Rack. I had no strength left to turn away from my own addiction, but Tara believed that I could. She believed in me, and reminded me of the person I was. And she gave me the strength to be that person, if only for an instant.

There wasn't time to fight against Rack, he would have strengthened his hold on me the moment he felt me rebel. There was only time for one action. Reject Rack, reject his magic.

I channeled my mind into one single thought; to cast all magic out of my system, to completely cleanse myself of Rack's taint. Something must have happened, because all I remember was seeing a blinding light, and feeling like all my synapses were being flash fried. Then there was nothingness, followed by excruciating pain, as Xander lifted me to my feet, asking if I was okay. I said nothing. I looked around the battlefield, at the dead bodies of Rack and Amy, at the charred remains of demons, at the fallen figure of Buffy, being tended to by paramedics. I couldn't speak, I couldn't answer Xander's question. Okay? I wasn't okay, and I knew then that I'd never be okay again.

Tara was dead.

Warren was dead.

Amy was dead.

Rack was dead.

Buffy was nearly dead.

And I was the killer.

I let Xander guide my body to Buffy's house, to my bedroom. I was getting pretty good at letting others take control of my body, wasn't I? I mumbled assurances to Xander that I'd be okay, but he offered to stay downstairs while Buffy was being treated at the hospital. Dawn poked her head in for a moment, asking if I was okay. I murmured something to her. That seemed to satisfy her. I just lay on the bed, waiting for Dawn to fall asleep. Waiting for Xander to sack out on the sofa, watching Cartoon Network.

When I knew that they had fallen asleep, I threw a few things in a suitcase, grabbed my checkbook and credit cards, scribbled a goodbye note to Buffy, and tiptoed out the front door. I bought a bus ticket, hopped on the Greyhound to LA and didn't look back.

It was better this way, I kept telling myself. Get away from the darkness, the soul-swallowing abyss that was Sunnydale. After the hell I put her through this past year, Buffy would be glad to know I was out of her life.

When I went to some diner for a burger, I met a girl named Anne, and we hit it off. She seemed to be another lost soul, like me. But underneath the grubby exterior, she was sweet, caring and friendly. She put me up in her shoebox apartment, helped me get a job at the diner, and kept me company when I woke up crying out Buffy's name in the middle of the night.

We didn't talk about our pasts. We both agreed that our pasts were just that, past. No histories for either of us, we simply looked toward the future. We grew closer as the days turned into weeks. She didn't flinch when I admitted that I was a lesbian, she even gave me a kiss. And she didn't pull away.

For the next couple of months or so, we became kissing friends. We'd spend hours after work just kissing, maybe a little caressing. Her lips were sweet, and sometimes she'd become more daring and start fondling my breasts through my blouse. I got the impression that she wanted me, and was waiting for me to make the next move. But as much as I wanted to, as much as I wanted to strip this lovely young woman of her clothing and make mad passionate love to her, I didn't. I had lost Tara, and betrayed Buffy. There could be no one else.

My love was toxic. I wouldn't let anyone get that close to me again.

The first day of October was when it all ended. I had pulled a double-shift at the diner, which didn't bother me too much; Anne and I would have a little extra money after paying rent, maybe we could take in a movie. After helping close the diner, I headed out to the bus stop.

I didn't make it. A group of punks stepped out of the shadows and started leering at me. "Hey Sweetcheeks!" the lead punk chortled. "What's a nice girl like you doing out alone? Some strange shit goes down at night in LA, a girl like you's not safe alone. I'd better stick close to you." He tried to wrap his arm around my waist, but I pushed him off. I could smell stale beer and stronger liquor on his breath, and other, more foul odors coming from his leather jacket.

"No thanks," I pushed him away, "I'm not interested!"

The punks started laughing as I backed away. "Hey, Arturo," the head punk called out to the short punk at his left. "Did you hear me offer Sweetcheeks a choice?"

"No, Big," Arturo cackled. "I don't think I did!" The others laughed loudly in agreement.

Big turned toward me, eyeing me like a hungry man at a Thanksgiving dinner. "Sister," he growled lowly as he started to unzip his jacket, "I'd advise you to simply lay back and enjoy it. Who knows, maybe you'll see things differently!"

He started slowly toward me, his intent clear in his actions. Rapidly rifling through my purse, I pulled out my handy crucifix, and thrust it out in front of him. He just looked at it for a few seconds, and angrily swatted it out of my hand. He then pushed me hard against the wall, snarling, "What do you think we are, sister? Vampires?"

"No," a dark voice echoed through the alleyway, "that would be me!" A blur of fists and feet knocked Big away from me, allowing me to fall from his hand, and struggle to my feet again. Even if I hadn't caught a glimpse of his face, I'd recognize him from his voice, and the duster jacket hovering around him like a mantle.

Angel grabbed Big by his jacket, snarling in his full game-face. "I'll say this once, Big. The red-head's under my protection. Tell your buddies. Tell all the lowlife scum you associate with. Anything happens to her, I will find out. Get it?"

"Yeah, yeah," the suddenly very small Big answered. "I got it!" Angel dropped Big like a sack of potatoes, then turned toward me. "You okay, Willow?"

I tried to nod, to assure him that Big hadn't roughed me up too much. Before I could speak, I caught sight of Arturo from the shadows, a wooden stake in his hand. "Hey, Angel!" he shouted, throwing the stake at Angel.

Without thinking, I pushed the vampire out of the way, just as the stake connected with my head. A blinding fire inside my head, an all-consuming pain. The knowledge that soon I'd be with Tara again. Then oblivion.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

I was supposed to keep her safe, to protect her. But when she ran off after Tara's death, I couldn't contact her. I asked Angel to keep an eye out for her, but he hadn't heard anything for months. I really believed that I had lost her, that I was finally truly alone in the world. Anya had gone back to being a vengeance demon, Xander had concentrated on his position at the construction firm to get over his grief, while Spike was de-chipped and officially back on Big Bad status. I had Dawn, but I wasn't going to let her join me on my patrols.

Tara's death, and Willow's disappearance had managed to do what no monster could do before. The Scooby Gang, for all intents and purposes, was no more.

I still patrolled, still fought the good fight. That's what I am, ain't it? The all-mighty Slayer? Screw that, I hadn't felt even half-mighty since Willow left. I had finally started to feel whole again after my resurrection, but losing her was like being hollowed out all over again.

I kept remembering what Spike had said to me before. How Willow, Dawn, Xander, all my friends and family, had kept me grounded, stabilized between light and dark. Now I was alone, and I feared what I would become. A few weeks ago, while facing an especially vicious pack of vamps, I wanted that dark side of me to escape and run riot, to literally get medieval on them. I wanted to shed my humanity forever and simply be the Slayer.

But I couldn't, not while I still had Dawn to look after. And not while there was still a chance that I would see Willow again.

Then came October the first. Midnight. I had just closed the Magic Box, did a cursory patrol of the neighborhood, then dragged myself back home, relishing a hot shower and then entering a comatose level of sleep. Before the shower, the phone rang. I picked it up, ready to murder whatever telemarketer dared to disturb me at such a late hour.

"Buffy!" Cordy's voice cried out urgently. "Angel found Willow, and we've got her here at the office!"

She didn't have to say any more. I left a note for Dawn, hopped into the Jeep and drove off for Los Angeles.

Two hours later, I was standing in the lobby of the Hyperion Arms, being greeted by a shy young woman with a Texas accent. "Hi," she smiled at me. "You must be Buffy. I'm Fred. Short for Winifred."

"I came as soon as Cordy called. Where is she?"

Angel came down the main stairs, and nodded his greeting to me. "She's in one of the guest rooms, recovering. Local punks were planning on raping her when I showed up. Just as I put the fear of God in their leader, one of them threw a stake at me. Willow got between the stake and myself."

I felt myself going faint, vaguely aware of strong arms catching me. "Easy, Slayer," the strangely smooth voice (I later identified it as Angel's demon friend Lorne) assured me. "Your friend's fine."

"It turns out that Arturo didn't have any idea how to throw a stake," Angel explained as Lorne led me to an easy chair. "It just tumbled at me, clubbing Willow in the head. Knocked her unconscious."

"Angel brought her here," Fred continued, "and the rest of us looked after her. She doesn't seem concussed, so she'll just wake up with a nasty lump on her noggin."

"Thanks, Fred," I answered weakly. "Can I see her?"

"Sure," Angel took my hand, and led me up the stairs. "She'll be a little groggy when she wakes up, but she should be up soon. Oh, and her roommate's up there with her."

Roommate? Who's this, a new girl in her life? I let Angel lead me down the hallway, to Willow's room. I saw a young woman sitting at her side, holding her hand and whispering assurances to her. "Hey," I said quietly. "Is she okay?"

"Yeah, just asleep," the brunette answered as she lifted her head to me.

I gasped when I saw her. "Lily?"

She smiled at me, saying, "Please, it's Anne now."

"Oh, right." I walked over to her side, my eyes intent on Willow. She looked so thin and pale, her red hair seemed muted, her face gaunt and stretched. And she was still as beautiful as a hundred sunrises.

"So, you and Willow were roomies?" I asked Anne.

"Yeah, we work together at the diner."

I looked at her for a moment. "Are you two-"

"Oh, no," she answered hastily. "Not like that." She paused and looked at Willow for a moment. "Well, we kiss a little. But that's it."

"You in love with her?"

She took one last longing look at Willow, and then turned to me. "Not really. I thought I was once. But she's still holding a torch for someone else, someone she thinks she lost forever."

I nodded at once. "Yeah, I know. Tara."

She glanced at me in surprise. "Whatever." She let go of Willow's hand, got up and walked slowly toward the door. "I'll be downstairs, and I'll tell the others you don't want to be disturbed for awhile." She gave me a strange smile, then whispered "Make her happy." She then turned away.

I started to wonder what she was talking about, but that's when Willow started to stir. I rushed to her side, as her head started to roll back and forth on the pillow. I heard little moans and strangled cries coming from her opened lips, as whatever nightmare she was reliving went through its final stages. "N-no, no," she moaned. "Buffy-Bu-bu-BUFFY!" She bolted upright, screaming my name. Her hair was matted with sweat, her breath came in short, shallow gasps. I immediately took her hand in mine, whispering to her, "It's okay, honey. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere." Instinctively, she grabbed my waist, clinging to me fiercely. I wrapped my arms around her, letting her grief wash over and through her, through us both.

It had occurred to me then that Willow never properly grieved for Tara. Just like I didn't have the chance to truly mourn for Mom. I like to think that while we were holding each other that night, we finally made our peace with the dead.

Finally, we both cried ourselves out, and were able to face each other. Willow gazed mournfully at me, saying "Oh, Buffy, I thought I'd never see you again."

"You ever disappear on me like that," I told her, gently but firmly, "and next time I won't forgive you."

Willow tilted her head onto my shoulder, still unwilling to let me go. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I just couldn't stay in Sunnydale anymore. Not after what I did."

I held her head in my hands and forced her to look me in the eyes. "You didn't do anything," I told her, "except scare me to death when you ran away. And since I've gone that route before, I can't yell at you too loudly."

I could see the anguish returning to Willow's face, as she cried out to me. "I killed Warren, Buffy! I let Rack corrupt me! I nearly killed you!"

"Willow," I had to talk a little more forcefully to drown her out. "You didn't kill Warren. Jonathan and I looked into what happened that night. It was Rack. Rack manipulated us all from the get-go. He set up Warren to kill Tara, hoping for just the response that you gave him. He wanted you mad, he wanted you so furious that you'd fall off the magic wagon and work that dark mojo on Warren. Everything else was Rack acting through you. He controlled you, he pulled your strings."

"I shouldn't have given him those strings in the first place," Willow answered ruefully. "Because I got into the dark stuff, Tara's dead, and you were nearly killed."

I snorted briefly. "Willow, I'm nearly killed at least once a month. It comes with being the Slayer." I took her hand gently, and continued. "What happened that night wasn't your fault. You're only guilty of being human. And I can forgive you for that. Most of the time."

Willow glanced up at me again, a desperate hope in her eyes. "Wha-what do you mean?"

"There was only one time when you ever really hurt me, Willow," I told her sternly. "It was when you ran away. I lost my best friend. My center, my soul, my strength." I choked back a sob and steeled my resolve. I wasn't going to break down now that I finally was going to say what I had wanted to say for so long. "I've managed to get my life back in some semblance of order. When Anya went back to being a vengeance demon, Giles contacted me, and put me in charge of the Magic Box. And the shop's been doing some good business. But it's not the same anymore. Because you're not there. I need you, Willow. Don't you understand that?"

Willow turned away from me, collapsing again on the bed. For the longest moment of my life, I sat watching her, praying that she would speak to me. Finally, she rolled onto her back, looked at me and spoke; "I can't do it anymore, Buffy. The magic, I mean. It's gone. Literally gone. I tried some simple spells, basic stuff, Wicca 101. Nothing. I can't even float a pencil anymore. It's like I gave up all the magic I had to turn away the dark mojo that Rack fed into me." She sat up, tucking her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs. "And the craziest thing is, I don't miss it anymore. Whatever good I did with my magic before, I blew that out of the water with the mistakes I made this last year. But I don't know if I can come back to you, Buffy. I mean, it's still a good fight, but I don't know if I can still fight it?"

I looked intently into her green eyes. The spark that I missed for so many months was still there, faint but still glowing. I had feared that her spark had been extinguished for good after what Rack had done to her. But it was still there. "Willow," I smiled. "You have fought the good fight every day of your life! By being Willow. By not letting the monsters get to you. Please, Willow, I'm begging you here. Don't let me down now." I wrapped my arms around her shoulders, a little awkwardly because she was still hugging her knees, but she managed to open her arms, and place them so softly at my sides. "I'm not whole without you." As we held each other, I could feel her body pressing closer against mine. She managed to lower her knees so we were pressing up, body to body. I could feel her breasts pressing against mine. Her breath was warm and sweet against my neck. After a moment, I distinctly felt her hands tracing lazy circles over the back of my shirt, circles that started to reach lower and even lower with each stroke. Willow Rosenberg, you little tart, you're trying to cop a feel! Like you need permission, girl, feel away!

Willow and I just held each other for a moment that could stretch into forever as far as I was concerned. Just to savor the softness of Willow's arms around mine, the tenderness of her touch...Dear God, why did I wait so long to express my deepest self? Why...because I had a fear of being rejected, or locked up, that's why! Didn't I learn anything from that dream-scape where I was in a psych ward for telling my folks about my being the Slayer?

Willow gazed up at me, love and purest desire sparkling in her eyes. I nearly melted on the spot; I never dreamed that she would look at me that way, and now here she was, willing and needy. "Just answer me one question, Buffy," she said with a slight huskiness in her voice. "How did I manage to deserve you, after all we've been through."

I lifted her chin with my forefinger, bringing her mouth so close to mine. I could only echo the words I said to Tara just a month before her death. "Because once you fall for Willow Rosenberg, you just keep falling."

I still don't know whether Willow started kissing me or I started kissing her. In the end it doesn't matter, because at that very moment, our lips met and slowly started to move against each other. I felt the tip of Willow's tongue lapping at the crevice between my lips, and as I opened my lips her tongue started to touch my teeth. There was no other way to say it; I was getting turned on hotter than I ever had before!

She pulled away, and I tried to lean forward to maintain the connection, but she pushed me away. I must have done a lousy job of hiding my pain, because she suddenly looked at me with sympathy. "I'm sorry, Buffy," she explained, as her hands grabbed the hem of her shirt and started to pull it over her head. "I just can't kiss and get naked at the same time! Especially wearing a polo shirt!"

"Good point," I conceded as I began to undress myself. Willow, who now had divested her shirt and now sported a pale white cotton bra, placed her hand over mine, stopping me from going further. "Let me," she flashed me a Cheshire Cat smile, as she pushed me down on the bed. She placed her finger on her lips, got off the bed, went over to the door, and locked it shut. "Don't want anyone interrupting, do we?"

Uh, no, that would not be a good thing. Especially since I'm so aroused that I can barely see straight. She climbed back on the bed and crawled over me, her movements slow and supple, reminding me of a playful cat. She grinned back at me again, saying, "Now then, where were we?"

The rest of the night she educated me. I learned about sensitive areas of my body that all my previous lovers didn't even bother to search. And I learned where Willow was sensitive, and took full advantage of that knowledge. With our bodies, and with words, we both pledged our love to each other. I never dared to recognize how much I truly loved her, how I cherished and desired her, depended on her for strength and hope. And I never even dreamed that she loved me a tenth as much as I loved her. That night, that wonderful, crazy night, dispelled all doubts, and laid all fears to rest.

After I calmed down from the most incredible series of orgasms I ever felt, I looked at Willow, as she lay snuggling in my arms. "Hey," I commented. "You know what day it is?"

"Uh," Willow furrowed her lovely brow in thought for a moment, then said, "October the second, right?"

"Yep," I answered. "One year ago today, you and the others brought me back from the grave."

Willow bowed her head sadly, murmuring, "You mean the day I dragged you out of Heaven, kicking and screaming all the way."

"Yeah," I admitted. "But you more than made up for it just now."

"I did?" Her puzzled look was priceless.

"Oh yeah," I drawled. "You just brought me to Heaven several times over!" Kissing the tip of her nose, I added, "I love you, Willow Rosenberg."

I could feel the splash of a tear on my breast as Willow looked up at me with watery eyes. "And I love you, Buffy Summers," she said solemnly. "With all my heart. From the moment we first met." We held each other for a few more minutes, just relishing the closeness that we had denied for so long, and would never deny again.

Oh God or Goddess, whoever's taking calls right now, thank you for giving me this second chance with Willow Rosenberg!

After hastily putting on our clothes we made our way downstairs. Cordy, Anne and Fred were waiting for us. "So," Cordy smirked knowingly. "When do I get the invite for the commitment ceremony?"

"Wha-how did you know?" Willow stammered.

"Well, for one thing," Cordy pointed at her top, "you and Buffy are wearing each other's shirts." I rolled my eyes at the realization; leave it for the former fashion queen of Sunnydale High to figure that out. Anne just gave me an understanding nod, while Fred was fighting valiantly to stop giggling, but in the end it was a losing battle. Soon her laughter spread to Willow and Anne, then to Cordy and myself, and we all ended up laughing loudly for a few minutes.

"Say," I asked as my self-control reasserted itself, "where's Angel and Gunn?"

"Charles is investigating a demon nest at the piers," Fred answered. "As for Angel, well, it's almost his bedtime."

"What?" I glanced at the clock, which read 5:45. "Omigod," Willow whispered. "How long were we up there?"

"Judging from the squeaking mattress springs," Cordy smirked at us again, "long enough."

"I guess this means you'll be heading back to Sunnydale," Anne observed.

"Yeah," Willow answered. "Sorry if I'm putting you on the spot or anything, Anne."

"Don't sweat it, Willow," Anne smiled. "I'll put an ad in the paper for a new roommate. I just hope she's open minded."

"You'll do fine," Willow assured her. She turned to me, and said, "I'll need a day or two to get things straight here. Tell the owner of the diner that I quit and all that. Maybe I'll re-enroll at U. C. Sunnydale."

"That's my plan," I told her. "I just sent my second enrollment letter to U. C. Sunnydale a few weeks ago, and hopefully this time I'll get in again." I looked out the window, seeing the first reddening clouds over the streets of LA. "C'mon, Willow," I grabbed her hand and led her out the front door. "Let's go see the sunrise."

"Our first sunrise together," Willow commented. I smiled hugely at the realization that this would be the first of many sunrises we would see together.

Ever since then, Willow and I both celebrate our birthdays on October the second. The day when Willow brought me back to life, and the day when we found our true rebirth in each other.

We sat on the front steps of the Hyperion, arms around each other, and celebrated the Sun's Birthday.