She's alone in the kitchen, feeling smaller than ever. It's one thing – everyone she cares about knowing what a loser she is, how weak, how pathetic. But now… Now it's Riley and his Special Forces Barbie of a wife and all her deficiencies have been laid bare before them and she wishes she could do that tabula rasa spell on herself right now because she hates how she feels and she wants to forget.

But she can't, can she? Nope. No more magic for Willow. Stupid, worthless, junkie Willow.

She meant what she said to Buffy – she's willing to hate Sam for all she's worth. It's just that now it's not just because she's married to Riley, who should still be pining over Buffy, the jerk, and…

Speak of the excuse-used-to-burn-her-former-sisters. "Hey," she says dispiritedly, unpleasantly surprised to see Riley in the doorway. Hadn't he and Lara Croft left to go find that Suvolte demon's eggs or something?

"I wanted to apologize," he says, as 'aw-shucks' and wholesome as ever and Willow feels as if she's choking on a corn cob. "I didn't know."

"How could you? You left." The words are spiteful, but Willow hasn't forgotten that Buffy's pain is huge and real and frankly a lot more righteous than her own. Maybe she's been mean enough to make him leave again – the room, at least.

Of course, Riley would take it the wrong way. "I'm sorry," he says again, his eyes boring into hers. "I should have said goodbye."

Oh great. Her night cannot get much worse. Riley thinks his departure made her sad? Yeah, right. The only part of it that made her sad was Buffy's pain. For her… well, she had Tara then and nothing hurt. Nothing at all. "Yeah, well, I'm not the one you did wrong," she says.

"Buffy," he says and she's about to say something sarcastic and offer him a cookie. Now could he please leave? But it seems he was just beginning a sentence. "She and Sam are out looking for the nest. I'm heading out to Willie's to see if I can get some information."

"Good. Well, goodbye then." He's leaving. Goody.

But no, she can't be that lucky. "I wanted to talk to you first." He approaches and her reaction time is too slow to keep him from taking her hand. "I mean it, you know. I am sorry. I guess I never thought… not you."

Yeah. That would make two of them, wouldn't it? Her eyes well up as she thinks about how arrogant she'd once been, how sure she'd been that it could never happen to her.

Before she can do anything to stop him, Riley puts his arms around her. He's hugging her. Oh goddess. "I think it's amazing. That you can give it up. Something so big and powerful. I'm impressed," he says and it sounds sincere and it probably is and she really, really hates him right now. "There were these two shamans with our squad… they weren't as strong as you. They're not… with us anymore." That sounds ominous and Willow can't help herself; she starts to cry.

It's so incredibly weird – crying in Riley's arms. He's being all comforting with the 'hey's' and the 'you're the strongest person I know's' and all she can think about – well, besides winding up being consumed and destroyed by dark magic – is that she's really, really not doing her duty as Buffy's best friend right now.

She can't help it though. She's not really all that strong, not when it comes to resisting the comfort of being told that she's not weak or a loser at all, that she's actually powerful and special and… "You're wonderful."

Okay. The word wonderful? That's Tara's word and she's so not supposed to be letting someone else use it, especially not a male someone else who was Buffy's boyfriend and is now married to an action figure and… She pulls back, one hand against Riley's chest and she looks up. Maybe not the best idea, because their eyes lock and…

And this would be much worse than letting him tell her she's wonderful. So much worse.

Because he's kissing her, or maybe they're kissing each other, except his arms are around her and hers aren't around him and that's the only thing that's keeping her at all sane right now. Her back is against the counter and he's still kissing her and it's… Oh god. This is too intense and something she hasn't felt in a long time is pressed against her and she feels like this is something he wants way too much and she's pretty sure the way one of his hands is moving to her breast clinches that.

She moves her other hand to his chest and tries to push him away but it doesn't work. Not even when his mouth leaves hers and he breathes, "Willow." She doesn't look at his face. She can't look at his face.

"Hey, Will, you up for some Monopoly?" comes a voice from the living room and at this moment she loves Xander with all her heart. He manages what she couldn't. Riley steps back from her. She's afraid to look down – doesn't want that visual confirmation – so she ends up looking at his face after all. She wishes she'd waited a split second, enough time to miss the flash of… something – something troubling and dark – before it disappears beneath 'gee whiz' confusion. He blinks now, as if he doesn't understand any of it. She could have believed that, if only…

"I better go," he says and she can't stop the far too vigorous affirmative nod with which she answers. "Don't..." It doesn't sound like an order, but she knows it is.

"I won't," she answers.

He smiles.

She pretends it's his wholesome, corn-fed smile.

Then he's gone.

He'll be back later and she'll pretend he was never with her in the kitchen.

She dreams of Lethe's Bramble for a long, long time.

The End.