Gravity
.5g


I burst through the doors to Ops and call out "Will," sounding a little too excited. She turns to face me. The fact that she's less than ten feet away makes me feel that much sillier.

The cots are gone. They were much farther away, right? In the corner or something?

'Yes,' and self-justification—no matter how pointless and lame—is still one of my few strong points.

Will and Amber and another two other witches sit on the floor in a circle. I dunno what Amber did, but Will looks a whole lot better.

I smile, but as usual, any relief I feel can't last. I have to tell her. "That slayer—the one who kidnapped you—"

She says, "It's Warren," totally cutting me off…and stealing my thunder.

Why am I always the last to know?

At least, Molly looks amused. I live to entertain the people in Ops.

I have to ask, "Where's Satsu? She said she'd be here."

Will replies, "She's with Dawn."

"She's what? Of all the—"

I was working up a solid rant, but she just cuts me off again like it's nothing. "Buffy, if anyone can help, it's Satsu." The truly sad part…she doesn't even raise her voice that much. "The cure made her immune to the curse." When did she figure this out? "She's going to take Dawn somewhere safe and work on getting what we need to treat Xander. It's the best hope we have."

Well, she's right about one thing, getting Dawn out of here is good. They always come at me through my family. But there's a glaring flaw in her brilliant plan. I have to ask, "What makes you think Satsu can get anything out of Dawn? She's been…"

Will interjects, "I'm sorry, Buffy, but I really need to concentrate."

I finish my thought, mumbling under my breath, "…a real pain in my ass," as Will talks over me, stating the obvious, "We need to leave too." It's nice to feel loved.

She combs her fingers through her hair, probably searching for patience. Sure looks like it. "Honestly, I don't know for sure that she can." Why she tries to answer—? "All I've got are hunches, just like you. But I do know that if anyone's going to get through to Dawn, it probably won't be either of us." She shrugs. "She likes Satsu. It's a good plan. The best one we have. I was headed there when…"

I feel bad for interrupting. "What if Dawn pulls another disappearing act?" But it's not like she's still talking. She just kind of petered out and got all sullen. And it is my turn.

I need to know she's thought this through.

Who am I kidding? All she does is think things through. What I'm really after is peace of mind. That's what I need.

She mumbles under her breath, "I just hope there's time. I shouldn't have slept."

Yeah, and I don't think that was a choice. She pretty much passed out. But I doubt she wants my opinion, so I keep my voice down too. "You were exhausted."

She acts like she doesn't hear me…which of course, was the point.

The thing I still don't get is why she put Satsu before Xander. You'd think—

I'm not gonna ask. Her now-lifting gloom would probably become a permanent feature if I did. Besides, she still hasn't gotten around to—

"She won't." She sounds so certain. I don't see how, but I don't butt in. "Not unless she feels threatened. That was defensive. She wigged and the gorgon part of her took over. She went where her instincts told her it was safe. That happened because of us."

When she says us, I hear me. Dawn flipped out because of me.

Will shrugs again as if to say, 'it's no big.' It is to me. Anyone else getting hurt over my baggage just won't work for me. Especially when said 'baggage' is some ridiculous case of sibling rivalry that I don't even understand. I can't seem to say anything right around Dawn. I haven't been able to for years.

But maybe my problem's just people at large. Will's as much of a mystery or worse. Why she grins, looking suddenly all too amused—?

Clueless.

I'm not. Not even in the least.

She says, "Besides, I told Satsu to knock her out if she gets upset."

Oh, maybe that's it? Will picked the one who could actually stand up to Dawn.

That's as much of a 'would' as a 'could.' Xander would feel the same way I did. Hitting Dawn sucked.

And she'll be on her best behavior around someone she barely knows. Around us she's—

I don't want to think 'a bitch,' but that's the first thing that comes to mind. Sometimes, not always. She has her moments.

That actually makes total sense, especially if Will knew about the immunity.

Funny, it feels like she's waiting for me to catch up. When I look her in the eye to let her know I'm there, she says, "Don't worry. It'll be fine." Her expression turns sympathetic. "Dawn won't leave if she's having a good time. She won't have any reason to. And if something does go wrong, we'll know about it."

She's right.

Okay, one more question. "The gorgons: are they something we need to worry about?" The last thing I need is to add them to my list of problems. My list is fine without them.

She says through a laugh, "Uh, no…if we stay on our side of the fence, they should stay on theirs. But we need to try and keep the dog off their lawn from now on."

I must look confused because she tries to help the slow kid out. "They have their own realm, sort of like the 'world without shrimp' only with shrimp and gorgons too. There's lots of other nasty stuff there. It's not a nice place, even for a quick visit. But you got that."

Oh…'kay…so, I did. I picked up on the 'demon dimension' thing while we were there. It wasn't that hard. What I want to know is what's actually keeping them on 'their side of the fence'?

I don't bother to clarify. If Will felt that they were an issue, she'd tell me. So I guess we're just not that interesting. That's what's keeping them off 'our lawn.'

Why is it that I always have a hard time believing that demons don't find us interesting? It's almost insulting.

It's also stupid. I wish they'd all lose interest. My life would get a whole lot easier.

Crossing the room, I take a seat in the circle next to her and lay the scythe across my lap. "Let's get outta here," I say, offering her my hand. "Take what you need." I have no clue where we're headed, but it really doesn't matter. Not if the others are safe.

Molly walks over and passes me my backpack. As I hitch it over my shoulder, she says, "Have a nice vacation. Say hi to Mickey for me."

"Will do," I reply with a grin. The room goes blurry. I can't hold my eyes open. I feel all tingly and warm. It's so nice and comfy, I could go to sleep.

Gradually, the comfy fades and I open my eyes. I'm sitting alone on the floor in some strange living room. The place has a really homey feel, like Mom's did, only different. It's not at all what I expected. I'm not even sure what I expected, but it wasn't this. I thought we were running off to somewhere remote, not moving to the suburbs.

A refrigerator opens in the next room and Will calls out, "Want something to drink?" She shouldn't be waiting on me. Surely Amber told her to take it easy for a while.

"No, I'm fine," I reply as I check out the room. The stuff here's way more, umm…artsy than Mom's was. That's kind of a funny thing to think. Mom ran an art gallery. But I dunno, it's just got a really different feel. Less classic, more modern. Airy and uncluttered. I like it.

Will passes through the dining room. I lose sight of her when she rounds the far end of a large glass table. But I can still hear her. She's climbing a flight of stairs.

The real weirdness is the tree trunk that grows up through the floor between the living room and dining room. The house was built around it. I've never seen anything like it. I stand up to get a better look and see that it supports a second story loft. That's just nifty. And it explains the high ceiling.

This is her place. It has to be. It didn't occur to me that she'd actually have a home. I'm not sure what I thought, but now I just feel stupid. Like that's new.

She turns on a faucet upstairs. The sound is amplified by the acoustics of the room.

Where are we? Rounding the sectional couch, I go to one of the bay windows at the far end of the living room and pull back the sheer curtains. There's a large deck. But other than that all I see are tree limbs. We must be on the second story. I wonder what's below. Maybe a garage? That'd make sense.

Retracing my steps, I pass through an archway next to her entertainment center and into the foyer. I set the scythe and my pack next to the front door and step outside.

It's almost too much.

Butterflies of every imaginable color bask in pools of sunlight that shines through breaks in the leafy canopy. A breeze disturbs the tree limbs causing them scrape the edges of the deck as the sway. The breeze disturbs the butterflies too. They flutter around.

Except for the limbs, forest noises and bird song, it's ungodly quiet here. Too quiet. The air's crisp and clean. One thing's for sure, we're nowhere near a city.

A tingle runs down my spine. Something's wrong. No clue what. This place is almost too ideal. There's even a cedar hot tub built into the other end of the deck. What could possibly be wrong with that?

When I turn to go back inside, something bites my arm. I swat at it and a tiny voice cries out in pain.

I gasp and look around. My hand—there's a fine violet powder on it. It looks like pollen. Whatever that was, I hurt it.

A flapping sound fills the air. Colors swirl at the edge of my vision. When I look up, that's all I see. A flurry of brilliant color.

The air around me's thick with butterflies. They weave around me, frantically flowing in and out. It's beautiful, but I'm in trouble.

That was no butterfly. But it's impossible to make out what they are. Fairies, nymphs, pixies…is there any difference?

My arm stings, first one spot, then another and another. So fast.

I don't want to hurt them. But I don't know what to do.

I swing, batting the air, trying to make it stop.

My arms, hands, neck and face burn.

The door's here somewhere. Groping, I turn around, desperate to find it. But I find Will instead. I pull her close and she snaps, "Stop!"

Stunned, I release her, but she doesn't let go of me.

My skin feels like it's on fire. It's like bad déjà vu. I tremble.

Wrapping my arms around her, I look into her eyes. She's angry, but so…

She's so beautiful.

My head swims from all the movement. I feel giddy. The burning fades, turning to tingling. She meets my gaze and growls, "I said stop and I meant it." But she's not talking to me.

As we stare into each other's eyes, her expression softens. It's clear, for the first time maybe, just how much she cares. She loves me.

The impulse terrifies me, but I have to listen. I'm so scared I'll screw this up.

Leaning closer, I search her face, giving her time to withdraw. I close my eyes when our lips meet. She doesn't resist. I gently caress her lips with my own.

Once.

It's wonderful. So soft and warm. Delicate. She doesn't push me away. My confidence builds.

Twice.

Harder, greedy for more, I tease her lips with my tongue, hoping she'll open up.

She shoves me away.

I stumble back.

Her face fills with disbelief. "What are you doing?" she asks.

Peels of shrill laughter fill the air.

I hang my head. I can't look. I mumble, "I'm sorry. I—" I struggle to find an excuse. There isn't one. I was wrong.

Tiny wings brush my skin. It seems like this should actually hurt. Not just emotionally. Not just embarrassment. But the stupid fairies leave me alone.

Will hangs her head. Shaking it, she snickers. But when she speaks, her actions and voice don't match, "Y'know, this is just like you." She's angry. "I get that you're confused. But you can't just latch onto the first thing you see and expect it to make things better. It doesn't work that way."

That's not what this is and she knows it. She's the one who's scared. Exasperated, I meet her eyes and fume, "That's not even what this is about. I saw—"

She snaps, "You saw what?" cutting me off again.

I'm sick of this! She thinks—

A gust blows the fairies away. They tumble as the wind circles around her, swirling into vortex. She bows her head. "You only see what I want you to see."

Wind is all I hear. Her lips move, but her voice—I don't actually hear it. It echoes through my mind.

Her hand covers her face. She combs her fingers through her hair, slowly looking up. The skin below her hand turns pale. Fine veins darken and rise. In the wake of her hand, her hair turns black. She opens her eyes. I expect them to be black too, but they aren't even there. Dark voids swirl in the spaces where they should be.

I blink and it all goes away. There's a smile on her face. She looks exactly like she did in my picture. She asks, "Is this better?" But it's clear that she's mocking me.

I clamp my mouth shut and grit my teeth. You fucking bitch!

Her smile fades. She fades. As the color drains away, I shout, "If this is all I mean to you, then why?" Gradually she becomes the Willow I saw in the fog last night.

She thinks I'm impressed by this shit?

I've wanted to ask this for years. The wait's over. It's time. "Why do you always have to save me?" I've never understood that. "Why can't you just let go? 'Cause I've been looking for a reason and I can't find one. I have no idea why I'm still here."

Her expression's completely impassive. She's the ice queen from some fairytale.

And I don't give a shit. I'm gonna speak my mind. "I don't get it. You don't want me, but you can't let me go. Make me understand why!"

She seethes, "If you just need some experiment," growing madder by the second. "If you just have to have some sort of Sapphic conquest for your list, there's this little Asian girl who's—"

Totally stunned, I exclaim, "Oh, my God," biting each word off like curse. So, that's what that was about? 'I hope it works out.'

Shit!

Satsu's in love with me. And from the sound of things, probably jealous of Will. Just what I need. More drama.

I take a sec to get my head together. That's so messed up. But I don't love Satsu. I mean, yeah, she's cute. I could have a fling. But that's not what I want.

Finally, I say, "That's what you think this is about? I couldn't care less about that. I mean, I'm curious, yeah…but you don't know shit." It's my turn to play with my hair. I'm afraid I can't put on some impressive show with mine. I sweep it out of my eyes. Making a fist, I pull just to feel the pain. It helps me focus. "If that's what you think, you don't know me at all." I let me hair go. "I love you, Will." My hand falls to my side.

She changes again. I'm not sure what to believe. She's right. She only shows me what she wants me to see. This time it's sorrow. She opens her mouth to speak and it's so weird. All she says is, "I can't." The white hair and pale skin make her look like some Hollywood rendition of an elf or something. The sullen act doesn't match.

She mumbles, "I'm so tired, Buffy."

I almost don't hear her. But it doesn't—

The smile.

Oh! My! God!

Again!

How'd she know?

My head spins. I reel to catch up.

That's it!

That's really it!

Shit! That's what she's been hiding!

She—

That thing with Satsu's weird. But maybe Will picked something up. Maybe she noticed something I didn't. She never was good at that stuff, but maybe she learned something new.

You never know.

But that picture? There's just no way. She couldn't know about that unless—

«Unless I could read your mind?»

Fuck!

You knew!

Unbelievable!

You listened to all that and you—?

«You think I wanted to? You think I didn't try not to? You know what this is like.»

My knees feel weak. I sink onto the deck and pull my legs up to my chest. I can't even bring myself to look at her. I stare at my feet instead.

Everything I thought was—

«I see the moon and the moon sees me.»

How could you possibly know how I felt and say that shit?

«The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.»

She slumps onto the deck facing me. I find the strength to look at her face. She just pisses me off. That's a mask. It's not who she really is.

Turn back! I'm sick of that face.

«Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.»

You say it doesn't matter. That you show me the face you want me to see. Well, show me another.

«Goddess bless the—»

"Stop it!" I shout. "I don't know what's up with that stupid rhyme, but I'm sick of it! I'm sick of the games! And the bullshit! And the lies!"

Tears flow down her cheeks as she mumbles, "I'm tired."

What do you mean you're tired?

She whispers, "I'm tired of pretending. I'm tired of being what everyone needs me to be."

Let me guess. You got in over your head and this is the price you paid?

She qualifies her statement, "What you need me to be," like she can put this off on me.

You talk about me like I'm so predictable. One little taste of power and you've gotta have it all.

«You're right. That's exactly what happened.»

"What'd you do?" I ask, twitching with fury.

"I loved you."

Three little words, that's all she has to say for herself.

That's all she needs to say to completely disarm me. I hate it when she does that!

But the four that follow are just too much. "I still love you." They completely piss me off.

I shout, "Oh no! You don't get to blame me for this."

Crossing her ankles, she pulls her knees to her chest and stares at her feet. "I'm not. You asked," she whispers.

I look at her feet too. I wonder where she got those sandals. They're cute. She'd think I was nuts if I asked.

But I guess I just did. She doesn't bother to answer.

I glance at her face. She's changed again. Now she looks like she did sophomore year. She probably did that to make things easier on me. I really wish she wouldn't.

She holds my gaze and asks, "Do you remember how this all started?"

I'm not sure which this she means, so I just shake my head.

She whispers, "It started when I ensouled Angel."

I return my attention to her feet. They haven't changed. It's sad, but they might just be the one real thing about Willow. At least they're pretty. She always has had pretty hands and feet. That's really rare. She never talks about it. They just always are. With me, that's a constant struggle. For her, it comes naturally.

She asks, "Do you know why I did that?"

And I state the simple truth, "Because you wanted me to be happy." Like everything else that got turned all around, upside-down and backward.

"We went on. Every time there was a new problem, I tried to fix it. I did what I could. And when that wasn't enough, I did more than I could. Do you understand what that is?"

I do. You were devoted to our cause. But we both know how Sunnydale was. We all had to do more than we could.

"But I could've walked away. Do you understand why I didn't?"

I think so.

"Oz understood," she whispers, taking my hand and extending my arm. It's covered in little red welts. She looks them over as she goes on, "He knew that I loved him dearly. But he also understood that I love you too. He had to share me." She stands up and helps me to my feet. Opening the door, she leads me inside. We walk through the other archway into the dining room and up the spiral stairs as she reflects, "But he thought it was different. He didn't really know how I felt. He got the devotion, but there was other stuff—"

He couldn't get his head around the idea of you as a lesbian. I know how that feels.

"Yeah, I kind of kept the naughty thoughts to myself," she admits with a snicker.

With the trudging, me in front and her behind…I try to picture her picturing whatever she pictured. Did she—?

That's so not fair! You've been thinking naughty thoughts and I—

We reach the top of the stairs. She pushes past me, giving me a sidelong glance. Her expression's just…

The picture gets worse. I mean, I didn't get to—

Umm…I mean, there was naughty thought having and I wasn't—

Oh, I don't know what I mean.

Yeah…that foot—the one that has a timeshare in my mouth—it needed a vacation.

This must be her study. I think she has more books than I've ever seen. It's intimidating. The mountain almost takes my mind off, umm…

"Then there was Tara. Oz finally got the picture when he figured that out." I'm not quite sure why she continues to talk out loud. She obviously doesn't need to.

Now I, on the other hand, should really take a vow of silence. Not that it would help. My brain should be quarantined. I may just need to face it. I'm not safe around telepaths. If I can't be stupid in my own head, where can I be stupid?

Uh…

Wait! Please don't answer that.

Thankfully, she ignores me. She's probably used to it.

We walk without incident through her bedroom and into the bathroom. She gestures to a stool. I sit down and she turns away to go through the medicine cabinet. "The day I came to tell you about her, I wasn't in love with her," she says. "Love's like that. It takes time, y'know? It starts with all those warm, fuzzy little feelings and then it just grows."

Taking out a jar, she sits at my feet. "It was you," she says, meeting my eyes. "And you didn't even notice me." Avoiding her is pretty impossible here, but I give it my best shot. "I needed you to notice." She removes the lid, setting the jar aside. But she holds onto the lid in her hand, gripping it loosely in her palm while she speaks. "I don't know what I thought." I stare at it, mostly because I can't face her. "Maybe part of me hoped that I'd admit to having a thing for another girl, you'd say you had a thing too and we'd go get Mexican." She sets the lid down. "It was naïve. Like something from a stupid romantic comedy. I just missed you so much."

Turning, she opens a drawer and reaches inside, pulling out a pair of scissors. She takes my right hand, cuts the bandage away and sets the scissors down.

I couldn't be happier to see something go. That bandage was filthy. Underneath it, there's a layer of delicate new skin where the wounds were. It's pink and raw. She touches it and it tingles. I have to stop myself to keep from pulling away.

"I was hurting and Tara saw me. She understood." She moves to my wrist and dabs a little ointment on one of my lumps. "I told you how I felt. And you wigged. You couldn't understand. So, I went to Tara and I'll never regret that decision." There are lots of lumps. I look like I was attacked by a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. She keeps going, putting a little ointment on each of them. "You were so busy chasing normalcy, you barely even saw me. But what I had to offer you was anything but normal. At least to us, at that point."

As she turns my wrist over in her hands, I whisper, "I'm so sorry." But she should know that. I thought about this earlier. I wonder what else I thought about. It can't be good. I bow my head as my face flushes hot. It's okay. My spots are way more interesting than the rest of me, even if there are only a few. She treats the ones on my inner arm and releases my wrist.

Taking my left wrist, she whispers, "I didn't. Not any more than I could help. That's what the nursery rhyme's about. I repeat it so I don't hear. It's the only thing I've found that helps."

I focus on our hands. I want to at least to put her at ease. Glancing up to meet her gaze, I say, "I remember how that was. I get why you wouldn't want anyone to know." But the truth slips out. "Even you treated me differently. It hurt." And I'm not sure that helped.

She nods and goes back to working on my arm. I don't see why. I really want a bath. It's just gonna wash off.

"It soaks in really quickly," she says, pointing at the first spot she did. I touch it and my skin's dry. "I want you to spend at least an hour a day in the hot tub. It'll help. I'll get you a suit when we're done."

I smile and say, "Well, that's a lot to ask, but I think I can manage. That is, if your little friends will let me."

"I'll talk to them. It'll be fine. They know you, or at least they know your name. They just didn't understand who you were," she says and moves on to my feet.

I slip off my sandals. Picking up the scissors, she starts to cut the bandage away, but stops when I slowly lift my foot. I just want to help her out. I think it'll be easier if I cross my legs.

Going back to cutting, she says, "You asked me how this happened. Really our relationships have almost nothing to do with that."

She puts the scissors down and carefully peels back the gauze. Lifting and turning my foot, she looks at the bottom. Her expression pretty much tells me that she's as happy with Bloody Mary's work as I was.

She sighs and moves on to the lumps on the top of my feet. "Things really started to fall apart right before you died. I was doing way more than I should have. Everyone kept trying to warn me, especially Tara. But I wouldn't listen. I didn't think I had much of a choice, considering…" She finishes my feet and moves on to my neck. "You were right, y'know? I do abuse power. I always have. I'm an addict. Actually, I'm the worst kind of addict. The kind that can never be clean again."

I look up and she dabs some of the ointment on my nose. My nose too? I wrinkle it and she says, "'Fraid so." She takes my chin in her hand and works on my face. That's just evil.

She grins and I ask, "How do you deal with that?"

"I try to make sure my motives are pure before I do anything. There's not much else I can do. Magic's a part of me now," she replies and turns to leave. "I'll get you a suit. Stay put." A few moments later, she leans in the door and places a blue bikini on the counter. "There's a robe on the door if you want it. I'll meet you downstairs."

I change as quickly as I can and put on her robe. After folding my clothes and putting them on the hamper, I exit the bathroom. Maybe I'm just being weird, but mixing my clothes in with hers seems rude. I find my way downstairs. There are huge holes in her story and I'm anxious to hear the rest.

She meets me at the door wearing a robe. As she leads me outside, her story resumes, "When you died, part of me died too. My entire world fell apart. I was willing to do anything to get you back. There was no price too high. I was so selfish, but I didn't see that until it was too late."

Walking around the hot tub, she whispers, "And I got you back. But the price I paid…" trailing off as she slips into the water. Once she's settled, she finishes her thought. "I lost you first. But when I lost myself, Tara finally gave up and I lost her too. We were trying to get that back when—"

I'm glad that she falls flat. She doesn't really need to explain. I was there.

I lower myself into the water as she says, "I know that." She stalls, waiting for me to settle in…and watching me just a little too closely. "I don't need to tell you most of this. But what I do need you to see is that this was a progression. It didn't just happen overnight. It literally took years. Each time I stepped over the line, I moved further away from who I was."

I ask, "And closer to…?" leaving her to fill in the blank.

"What I am now," she replies. Her answer's blunt, quick and cryptic. It doesn't really tell me a damned thing. I think she's trying to say 'less human.' I have trouble imagining that. She's still one of the most human people I know.

Well, that was eloquent. Good thing she helps me out. I need it. "It's not about less or more humanity. There are just certain powers that people shouldn't have." That makes total sense.

The water smells really funny.

Leaning back, she closes her eyes and says, "It's good for you. It's a mineral bath, sort of like a hot spring."

I wrinkle my nose and ask, "Is this like that tea?"

"Exactly like the tea. Only this is good for the outside, not so much the inside."

I snicker, but she picks up like she never left off. "I saw something no human being was ever meant to see that spring. That was my fault. It was the end of a very long spiral." When she falls silent, I wonder why I was smiling. Not just why, but how.

Her voice cracks when she says, "The only one who never lost faith was Xander…" tears leak from the corners of her eyes "…and I failed him when he needed me most. I was just so afraid that someone would find out what I am, I was willing to—"

I whisper, "It's okay, Will." Her eyes snap open and she glares at me. I backpedal, trying to make my meaning plain. "Well, not okay so much, but I understand. That's a really tough decision."

When she looks away, I feel like I've been pardoned. I close my eyes, try to clear my mind and just focus on the sound of her voice. "Remember when I returned from England? I tried to tell you then. Even after six months of struggling to learn control, I could barely function. You should've noticed. But even my Houdini act wasn't obvious enough for you."

I'm sorry. I was just trying to keep us alive.

Ignoring me entirely, she asks, "Do you remember what happened?"

I scoop up some water and splash my face before I respond, "I asked you for more." It still smells funny. But it does the job. The breeze cools it, taking some of the heat from my face. I feel horrible. But there were no other options. I didn't have a choice.

"I know you didn't," she whispers. That's cold comfort, but I'll take it. "That's why I gave you everything I had…" the glamour drops "…but this is what I am now."

Even in the sunlight, her eyes are hard to look at. I force myself. She's still beautiful, but it's a really different kind of beautiful. The sort of thing stupid people call 'exotic' because they have no idea what else to say. But she speaks and it's still the same old Willow. "I touched something that day that changed me. I've been using glamours to hide what I am ever since."

I think I get it now. Why she talks. She does it to feel normal.

I have to ask. "So, even right after—?" She seemed fine. Relieved even, just like the rest of us.

Closing her eyes, she replies, "I was relieved…" leaning back in the tub "…but there was more. I could hear all of you. It scared me. I thought I was losing my mind. But I played along and prayed it'd go away."

I follow her example. The water feels good. I'm even getting used to the smell.

Her voice is soft and sluggish. "I cast the glamour and played the part before Kennedy even left the room. I'm glad I caught it. I saw my reflection in the scythe and knew…" She stops to swallow and I have to look. She's crying. I feel like an ass, but there's nothing I can do. Just listen. "I knew she wouldn't leave if she thought something was wrong and you needed her. She was the only one who ever saw me like this. She assumed I changed back. And I never gave her a reason to think anything different."

I don't want to push, but I wonder what happened to Kennedy.

"The same thing that was happening with you. She was suspicious. I can't be that close to someone and not—"

I open my big mouth and totally interrupt her, "But you said she died. Why would you say that?" Huge surprise, that doesn't go over well.

The water sloshes when she sits up. I can't bring myself to look. It's obvious that she's mad.

She takes a deep breath, slowly letting it go before she responds, "There are some things I'd like to keep to myself."

I swallow, feeling every bone and muscle in my throat move around the lump. It's not going anywhere. When I look up, the tears are gone. Her expression's completely neutral.

She meets my eyes and says, "One day, maybe. I don't even know why I said that. Everything was just so—"

I force a smile as much for myself as for her and whisper, "It's okay. I get it." I don't want to give her sympathy. I know how that is. She wouldn't want it. But I can show her some kindness. Maybe it'll work out. I can help her now that I know.

"Don't you see, Buffy?" she asks and looks away. "What kind of a relationship do you think—?" Her voice cracks. She stops to clear her throat. "We'd have no secrets. We can't have a relationship like that." She wipes her eyes. "You're too late."

She stops, but I hear the unspoken. There isn't a person alive she can get close to.

«Demons.»

The word makes my jaw drops. That's right. I remember now. It's like the mirror.

She giggles, looking truly amused.

"What?" I ask through a smile. Still infectious, dammit. She just told me we can't be together and I'm grinning like an idiot. What's worse, she couldn't come up with a better reason. I must be driving her crazy. All those absent thoughts—it's like hell. No wonder she kept knocking me out. I would've done the same thing back then if I could've.

Umm…

Without the violence.

Thing is, now I know how she feels—

Her stare becomes a glare. "You'll drop it," she snaps. I look up, on the verge of tears and her expression loses its edge. She whispers, "Please, try to find someone that makes you happy. If you can't do it for yourself, then do it for me. I need to know that you're alright."

I nod. But I can't even think. I can't—

"What was so funny?" I ask, praying we can change this. Maybe laugh again. It might be too much to ask. But I have to try.

She admits, "I actually tried to find a demon dimension I could be happy in." Shaking her head, she rolls her eyes. "Pathetic, I know. The funny comes in when you use those words in the same sentence."

I just can't stand it. I look away. 'Desperate' isn't anywhere close to 'funny.'

She whispers, "I know."

I stare into the tree limbs. The fairies are gone or hiding. We're alone.

Her voice finds strength. There's almost a trace of a smile in it when she says, "It's really desperate when you consider how most of them feel about me. They see me as every bit the monster that I see them. I created an army to destroy them."

Really alone. The rest of the picture comes into view. She's—

She murmurs, "I'm damned, Buffy." Her voice has this silky quality that makes my spine tingle. She laughs, but there's nothing happy about it. "All I can do is watch."

I turn to face her. Her expression's cold. I'm not even sure what to say, but I try to keep her talking. Maybe it'll help. "What do you mean?"

"Just what I said," she replies. The wind blows her hair. She reaches up to sweep it back. "I can't even take responsibility for what I've done."

"So, you watch?"

She shuts her eyes, bearing down. The muscles around them twitch. As she lets a little of the tension go, a harsh scowl hardens her face. "I watch you," she admits.

Her eyes flutter open. As she meets my gaze I remember the graveyard. That was just too creepy. I can't imagine her ever making me feel that way. That can't be it. But I have to ask, "That was you?"

"Yes."

"But I don't remember," I stammer, struggling to find a way to make myself plain. "There weren't any times before that, umm…like that."

Some of her sharpness gives way to worry. "There was something else," she replies. "Someone else." Her brow furrows. "I wasn't alone."

Oh, great! Well, that's peachy. Just my luck, I find out that I really do have a guardian angel, but she's just as clueless as I am.

She says, "I mean I wasn't the only one watching. I tried to figure out who else was there, but they were a big old chicken. Every time I got close, they ran away."

'Kay, so…no less creepy…but I shouldn't be surprised. I'm a celebrity in the underworld. You have figure there's gonna be paparazzi. It's my turn to scowl.

Anxious to change topics, I ask, "So, how'd you end up here?"

She whispers, "There are only so many places you can run."

Yeah, I hate my life.