Summary: This is the piece I wrote for a contest at WiffyForums in 2009.

The plot seed we were all handed stated that Buffy comes into the possession of a powerful magical item. This item is a ring. When worn, the bearer is able to manipulate the past or future in their sleep, effectively time traveling through dream. In this story Buffy has just awoken to find that she's restored something that has great importance to her using the ring called 'Aion.' Those of you who have a little Greek mythology under your belts will get the significance of the name.

Rating: FRC: General Audience: Content Suitable For All Ages.

Beta Reader: Howard Russell.

Word Count: 1,000.

Pairings: Subtextual Buffy/Willow.

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Footprints


Salt and pepper. That's what they call it when short, dark hair has flecks of gray.

But her hair isn't dark. Its auburn, just like it was when you first met. She stopped dyeing it years ago.

'Neither of us thought we'd even live to see this.' That's what she told you. She said she wasn't gonna hide it. That she was proud.

They should call this 'salt and cinnamon.' It deserves a name. As you pause to wonder if that sounds right, a warm breeze rustles the trees and her salt and cinnamon hair.

It's right.

When did we get old?

Morning light shines in through the patio screens. It casts golden highlights and soft shadows over her face. That face, so familiar and comforting. It's like something from a dream.

'We' didn't get old. You did.

It's the hardest thing in the world to take your eyes off of her. There's this niggling fear that she might vanish. It's totally irrational. Not to mention just plain silly. But you, you just have to struggle with it as you gaze into your coffee cup. You have everything you ever wanted, but you can't be happy. There just has to be angst. You can't feel complete without it.

Your reflection in the surface of the dark liquid doesn't seem that old. But age is as much a state of mind. It doesn't really matter how you look. Face it, you're old. You've made yourself that way.

Tears well up in your eyes. They cling to your lashes. When you blink, a single drop falls. It ripples the surface of your coffee.

"You didn't forget to take your pills, did ya, Buff?" she asks as another tear splashes. The sound of her voice tears your attention from the blurry image.

What? There aren't any pills and she knows it.

Well, a few vitamins, but—

Oh!

It's a joke!

As you peer into her reassuring face, you realize that it's actually an old joke. She's been saying that for years.

Then why does it feel so hollow?

That's dumb. You know exactly why.

She looks worried, so you muster a smile and lie, "It's nothing, Will. I'm okay." A little more effort and that might even seem sincere.

It's not okay. You can't even be honest with her. That's the first thing you've said to her in over eighteen years. Figures it'd be a lie. You always pushed away the ones you loved. It shouldn't surprise you that one day you woke up alone.

So many friends buried or gone…

One by one, you drove away the ones who didn't die because of you. It's impossible to come to terms with that kind of loss, especially when you caused it. You've been trying to for years.

A single night isn't gonna fix that.

She stands up and stretches. Her hand moves to her mouth and she stifles a yawn. It's so funny. Damned by years of self-pity and loathing and what does it take to make you smile?

Her in that awful, ratty blue house coat and fuzzy pink slippers. She looks so sleepy. Her hair's all rumpled. That's it, the key to melt your heart.

One night might not change anything, but maybe she can. It's not much, but at least there's hope.

Rounding the table, she puts her hands on your shoulders and whispers, "Look, I know you're not okay. I just wish I knew what was wrong. Maybe I could help."

More than anything, you wish you could share. But you can't. Telling her she was dead—

Uh, yeah, that'd go over well.

As she gently caresses the tension away, your eyes drift closed. Her touch is so familiar. It feels so right. But part of you remembers. It's been over a decade since anyone's touched you like this.

The two things clash and you anxiously fidget with the ring. Each of the twelve symbols presses into your thumb. You catch yourself and stop.

She can't notice this. She'd ask and you just don't lie that well. Not to her. This thing's just too dangerous. It needs to be destroyed.

Why Angel gave—

For the same reason you gave him the Gem of Amara. But he was stronger than you. He didn't use it.

In one night, with one dream…you changed almost thirty years of your life. Good thing the changes didn't cause another apocalypse. That'd be just your luck.

She would've been proud. You actually did your homework. But truth is, there was no one else to do it.

Freshman year was when it all fell apart. All you had to do was tell her that you loved her too. But it wasn't just that. You told her before. The problem was you didn't show her.

And that one little thing changed your whole life. It seems so simple looking back. But that's really the problem. In the present, when you're all wound up in what's going on, you can miss the obvious.

One night, one ring, one dream, two lives…and two sets of memories, both of them in the past. This could seriously drive you crazy.

The caresses stop. She leans in to give you a peck on the cheek and whispers, "I'm gonna go grab a quick shower and make some breakfast. Any requests?"

Her breath tickles your cheek. It makes you giggle. But then she has that effect. Your second life tells you that. As she walks away, you say, "Waffles?"

She pauses in the doorway just long enough to wink.

Grabbing both cups, you follow her inside. It feels kind of childish sneaking around your own house, but just this once it's necessary. Once the ring's destroyed, your lives can go on. You linger in the kitchen until the sound of running water tells you it's okay.

The truth seems so obvious now. She's like an answer to a prayer. If you let her, she'll wash away the bad, like footprints in the sand.