You get my admiration and praise for an excellent piece that was written in record time with no deviation from quality. Characterization was good up to the point where it became your universe and continued from there as I felt your extrapolations were accurate. The plot was compelling, the romance believable. Angst a little heavy but third-person past does have limits which you overcame, for the most part, well enough with letting us peek in their heads. Sometimes the shifting got a bit...dull, information overload but the plot was quick enough to not let that be a severe issue.

And, as I said, the story was strong enough and created skillfully enough that you used the Rule Breakers well and incorporated them into your story. So I'd say it was a quadruple success. You took on gender-flips, immortality, death and possible after life and it worked. – Mad-Hamlet

Author's Note: Mad-Hamlet wrote portions of the mayor's scenes. Specifically, the 'Gummy Bears' bit was him. Howard also wrote the majority of the Joyce point of view scenes, which was very cool. We got to work together.

Word Count: 123,566.

Commas Courtesy of: Howard Russell.

Pairing: Buffy/Willow.

Disclaimer: Another day, another…they don't pay me anything at all. I just do this to amuse myself and you. That's what allows me and mine to slip under the radar while playing with characters created by those more fortunate than us.

Depth of Life

Setting off at brisk clip, Buffy weaved between two tombstones. She put her hand to her mouth and a faint burp produced the same sickening-sweet, metallic aftertaste she'd been fighting all evening. The potion Angel had fed her earlier that day had been, in large part, the heart of a demon. It had been far more pungent than blood and she struggled as her stomach knotted and turned to lead again.

Buffy hated admitting that she'd actually tasted blood; the idea made her sick—it somehow brought her closer to what she hunted. She recalled cutting her teeth as a child.

But then who hasn't. Its part of the 'human' thing. Eventually you get hurt and the tasting just sorta happens.

In her case, the freshest memories were the result of getting repeatedly punched in the face. Tasting blood was an unwelcome side effect, but being able to compare the taste of the heart of a demon to her own blood made all of the sensations somehow worse.

I think slayers should get sick days. No such luck. The moment I'm not hearing the thoughts of every man, woman, and child in Sunnydale, it's back to the grind.

After pausing to scan the graveyard for movement and listen to her inner voice, she started off again toward the most remote parts. Zero tinglies—'spidey sense': total dud. With any luck I'm in for a boring night.

Y'know, it seems to me this whole slaying gig is missing an important element. Pre-slayer, whenever I had to do something I hated, some adult would tell me, 'it'll get better.' I'm sensing a distinct lack of peppy adult platitudes. Maybe I'll ask Giles to lie to me about how much better this crap's gonna get. It'd be comforting to hear.

The last lie I asked for went something like this, 'The good-guys are always stalwart and true.' Yup, comforting…like fuzzy puppies and warm soft blankies.

Buffy sensed movement behind her and pivoted to see a slightly overweight vampire with shoulder-length, dirty blond hair, dressed in a cheap, modern rendition of nineteenth century fashion. So much for the boring night. She smirked at the billowy ruffled sleeves of his white shirt, then the smirk transformed into a bright sunny smile. "'Kay, so…Ozzy Osborne or Lestat? The look's a bit vague." Producing a stake from her jacket sleeve, she gestured to indicate his lack of fashion sense and poised waiting for the funny to start.

Of course, that was before he lied to me for real, poisoned me and… OH GOD! Giles had sex with my mother!

And on that very disturbing thought, Buffy opened up on the blond vampire.

Trying desperately to be brazen and deftly sidestep the enraged slayer, the blond vampire spat, "How dare you speak to me that—" cutting short his diatribe when he discovered something had gone very, very wrong.

Why can't the 'adults' in my life just—I dunno—maybe…normal up?

Buffy ruefully shook her head as she stepped through the cloud of ash. Turning for the cemetery gates, she dusted herself off.

'The bad-guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats and we always defeat them and save the day.'

Not much in the 'day saveage' department, just one less annoying vamp parody. I'm so outta here.

"What I wanna know is why they can't ever want to be Louis?" Buffy grumbled as she passed through the iron gates and onto the street.

The old familiar path home passed along quickly and Buffy barely noticed the suburban streets. She'd made the trip so many times that the details were too much a part of her to care. She came to a halt at the base of the tree under her window and, as she started to climb, the last part of the 'lie' came to mind.

'Nobody ever dies…and everybody lives happily ever after.'

As she opened her window and slipped through into her room, Buffy mused, I'd settle for vague feelings of contentment. It doesn't have to be an 'ever after' either. Hell, I'd take one day. One day of feeling mildly contented. Is it too much to ask?

Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her bed, tossing and turning in the throes of a vivid nightmare. Her eyes flew open and she gasped. Finding herself awake, she leaned over on her elbow to look at the clock. Then she groaned pathetically and flopped back down.

I should so know better. Asking for better…only makes it worse. It's one of those things. Instead of wishing for some peace I should've asked for a day without abject terror, or— Still feeling uncomfortable, she made a face and wiggled her hips. Looking down, her eyes grew wide. Mortifying humiliation… Oh, no…no, no, no…

There was a sizable bulge in the sheet, right between her hips. The anxious voice of a certain redhead rang through Buffy's thoughts like some great bell, 'Was it a boy demon?'

No, no, no, no, no… It's just bunched up blanket. The denial sounded good. Buffy tried to believe it for a moment. She struggled to convince herself, but she knew it didn't feel like fabric. Hesitantly, she lifted the sheet with both hands and looked under it. The tent was still there, only now it was located in her sleep shorts.

Oh…no, no, no, no, no, no… This can't be happening! She shifted to hold the sheet up with one hand and slowly reached down to her shorts with the other.

I take it back. My life's great like it is. Just make this not true. She swallowed nervously and, with a trembling hand, slowly lifted the waistband. Her face blanched, turning as white as the sheets.

The house reverberated with the sounds of her screaming.

Joyce rushed to her daughter's bedroom and flung open the door. There she found Buffy sitting up in the middle of her bed, her sheet, blanket, and pillow pilled up on her lap. "What's wrong, honey?"

Looking up at her mother, Buffy's eyes betrayed her terror. "N-n-nothing. Uh, just a-a nightmare."

"Oh, sweetie." Joyce leaned her head against the door jamb. "Well, it's almost time to get up anyway. Want me to go ahead and make some coffee?"

"Thanks, Mom." She smiled gratefully at her mother, then suddenly shifted again, discomfort plain on her face.

Joyce smiled tiredly, "Alright, honey." Noticing Buffy's behavior, she stood up straight and looked concerned. The anxiety of the previous day returned, but she tried to push it aside. You're being foolish, Joyce. She's fine. They took care of her. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Plastering a cheery smile on, Buffy held still. "Oh yeah, just peachy." Moments later, she realized her mom was still worried and shuffled to the edge of her bed, keeping everything in her lap. She steeled herself and met her mother's skeptical gaze with her best impression of a reassuring smile, then offered, "Just gonna go wash up."

Joyce stayed, keeping an eye on Buffy because of her uncharacteristic behavior. Something's wrong. Her voice is thin and strained. She can't still hear my thoughts again, can she? No, no, that's silly. Rupert said she'd be fine.

With a sigh, Buffy brushed the sheet and blanket off her lap, wincing a little as she hit the new obstruction. Holding the pillow strategically, she stood.

Joyce noticed the grimace. "Buffy, did you get hurt last night?" She moved closer, looking Buffy up and down. Letting her go out after all that was foolish. I should've put my foot down. But after all the—after running away—I'm just not sure how. I hate this!

Holding her free hand out to stop Joyce from approaching, Buffy backed away. "No, I'm fine." She started to edge her way to the door, keeping the pillow between her mother and herself. "Really. Just a minor bruise. Be gone by lunch." She slipped out of the room into the hall. Rushing to the bathroom, she called over her shoulder, "Nothing to worry about!" She slammed the bathroom door shut behind her.

Joyce sighed and followed Buffy down the hall. Stopping outside the bathroom door, she called out, "I know you're hiding something. Just tell me honestly it's not serious."

Buffy's voice was thick with unease as she called out of the bathroom, "It's really not. Just embarrassing." She could feel her mother's worried eyes fixed on the door. Eventually, she pleaded, "Just let it go, please?"

"Okay." Joyce sighed. "I'll trust you for now." Shaking her head, she turned and walked away.

Trying to suppress the shivering and teeth chattering, Buffy quietly closed her bedroom door. This is just evil. I thought I'd seen true evil before. The master and the mayor—rank amateurs. Why won't you go down? Guys—they're supposed to wake up with umm…this, then they pee and it's all better. I peed. One of the most traumatic experiences of my life, I might add. Where's my 'better'? Is there something I'm missing? The cold shower—other than just plain sucking…nothing. I can't go out like this.

Mom's wigged enough she might walk in at any moment. I need to cope 'cause her seeing—it'd be bad. The bulge alone might send her spastic. Buffy walked over to her dresser and started to sort through her clothes. I've gotta hide it. A plan quickly formed in her mind that she knew would be extremely unpleasant, but she was past caring. Underwear? She snickered and held up a pair of lacy panties with her index finger. Yeah, those look real useful. Restraining the urge to chuck the underwear over her shoulder, she dropped them back in the drawer and shoved it closed, opening another. After a few moments sorting, she pulled out a heavy pair of spandex exercise shorts and opened her robe.

Buffy glared down at the bizarre new addition and clenched her teeth. She shuddered as she slipped on the shorts and folded the offensive piece of flesh between her thighs. She wasn't sure which aspect was more disturbing, aside from the pain. The fact that this new member was quite literally an inversion of what had previously been there was so startling that she'd nearly screamed again in the bathroom. The real lasting disturbance, the one that nagged at her even when it was so plainly out of view, was that somehow her nerve endings had not adapted to the transition. Feeling the pressure of the shaft bent between her thighs, but also having the sensations translated inside by her scrambled nerve endings was disorienting. It made her skin crawl.

She stepped over to the closet to inspect the effect in the mirror. There was still a bulge, but it would fade with the next phase of her self-torture. She removed a pair of tight, leather pants from a hanger and slipped them on, wincing when she zipped them up. Her stomach turned a somersault and she cringed. Suck it up, Summers! You've gone through worse pain wearing stylish yet uncomfortable shoes. The mirror said good things despite the discomfort. The bulge was almost completely unnoticeable.

Buffy took a step and winced. It occurred to her that she might actually hurt herself, but she decided she honestly didn't care. More public humiliation after the events of the past few days was utterly unthinkable. Coupled with the concept that her mother might have another panic attack, Buffy was willing to do whatever it took to keep her current issue a secret. She quickly finished dressing, struggling to keep composure while she moved. When she gingerly sat to pull on socks, the sensations caused her to retch and choke. She quickly slipped on her socks, carefully raising each foot across the opposing knee. With the taste of bile in her mouth, she stood again and pushed her feet clumsily into the boots. Anything was preferable to stooping over.

I've gotta get my shit together. Mom's already at full wig, what with 'The Astonishing Buffy - Psychic Extraordinaire' show. This would cause her to mentally crack an egg. This is Mom's brain. Buffy visualized a perfect, white-shelled egg. This is Mom's brain on Buffy. The musing rolled forward to a picture of her bouncing on the egg with both feet and squishing it into a puddle of goop. One more slip and I'll end up—it'll be bad.

After grabbing a handful of tissue out of the box on her desk, Buffy proceeded to squeegee the tears away. Focus past the pain, Summers. You gotta see Giles. She bit her lower lip. What am I gonna tell him? The truth? She almost snickered at the absurdity of her situation. Giles, umm…I think maybe you might wanna check the fine print on that 'cure' 'cause—well, side effects? This is not exactly drowsiness or an upset stomach. I'm not so sure the FDA would approve. Has to be it. Nothing else new and this is a pretty radical change. Not sure the changes get more radical. It sorta turned my innie into an outtie. She rolled her eyes as she visualized the puzzled expression her former watcher would wear. No, Giles, lower…

'Kay, so…here goes. I just gotta make it to the street and it'll all be good. Yes, thick gravy goodness will be had. Taking a normal step, the seam of the tight leather pants pressed into the tender flesh folded between her legs and Buffy flinched again. By everyone else but me. Moisture had already soaked through the shorts she'd used to bind the new appendage partially in place. Great…news flash: Buffy likes pain. Thanks for the reminder. Needed that. Like I'm not feeling disgusted enough already.

In through the mouth, out through the nose. Even, regular, deep—deep cleansing breaths. You'll be calm, or you'll suffer more. Welcome to the story of my miserable life. Breathe…calm. Now walk. Buffy took another step and pressed down the unnerving sensations her body was issuing. She took one last glance in the mirror. Long sweater to cover, rolled up sleeves, slightly off the shoulder—blue's a good color, very causal look—white leather pants… And why not? It's not like I'm looking to make the cover of Cosmo. Just trying to make it across town without looking like the freak I am. Makeup and hair: check. I have them and neither is too scary. Waterproof mascara for the win. You look nearly human. I pronounce you 'ready to face the world.' More Kleenex and books. After tossing the wadded tissues into the trash, she took to fresh ones and swept up her book bag.

By the time she hit the door to her room, Buffy was moving at full steam. She bounced down the stairs and called out, "Sorry, Mom, gotta jet, early Scooby meeting." She never heard the answer; she was all about getting out of the house. She was pretty grateful when her mom didn't follow. She'd half expected it.

Fixing her gaze on the sidewalk, Buffy moved along at a pace reasonable for a normal teenage girl in a hurry, containing the urge to push the limits. Each step was disconcerting enough, not to mention painful, that she breathed rhythmically to soothe the urge to flinch and collapse in a puddle. Tears streamed silently down her cheeks, but there were no accompanying sobs. It was literally like her eyes were leaking. She tried to control the response. The effort was entirely absently wiped her cheeks and stoically pressed on.

Speaking of cracked eggs—not doing so hot myself. Do I plan to try and go to class like this? Oh, that'll be fun. Sign me up for the not. Mom will wig, but—well, maybe Giles will cover. It's not like I never miss a class. Maybe I'll just hide in the library. I'd technically be at school so that's a good, right?

Fix this quick. Please, Giles! I can't go through— I won't make it a week like this. I'd rather die. A subtle sob shook her chest, but Buffy choked it down.

God, what would Angel say? Would he—? I just—I can't see him. This is way worse than some stupid gypsy curse. At least we were still whole and sorta normal. Now? Normal? I don't think I could stand to let him touch me. I'm a freak.

Buffy wiped her lower eyelids with the tissue as she moved. The journey was going well enough otherwise, except for the cold, sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, the constant discomfort between her thighs, and of course, the leaking. That was, until she brushed shoulders with a stranger on the street. She mumbled a hasty apology to the woman and noticed something odd. Either she'd really upset her, which was a strange notion since there weren't any rude comments, or this woman had turned to check her out. Either way, she could feel the woman's stare on her back. No big. Keep walking. Nothing to see here. She's probably—I dunno—maybe gay and interested? I'm not on the menu and if I were…boy, would she be in for a shock.

Her goal came into view and Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. She skirted the edge of campus, making her way to the side door of the library, in vain hopes that the lower traffic approach would somehow lessen the trauma. I can't do it. Seeing Giles is going to be bad enough. When she rounded the corner of the building, moving into the sunny courtyard, her worst nightmare was made flesh: Harmony Kendall. She pushed the annoying blonde out of the way without slowing down.

Harmony turned and intended to snarkily say, 'Hey, rudo,' but the words failed her. Instead, she found herself following the other blonde with no real clue why.

Oh crud. Buffy increased her pace, but she could hear Harmony's heels clicking, matching her step for step. Shit! Reaching the side entrance, she knocked, desperate to get inside. Giles! Come on! What the hell does Harm want? God, I hope no one's here but Giles. My head may explode if I have to deal with Wesley. Come on, Giles! Open up! Harm was closing the gap. Buffy could feel the other woman's eyes traveling over her. Finally, Giles opened the door and she burst inside with Harmony right behind her.

SHIT! I can't look. Yes, I can! Buffy swung around and glared at Harmony. "What's your damage, Harm? Get off me!" the slayer growled menacingly. Her brow furrowed when she noticed the look on Harmony's face. No, this is so not happening. Harm's checking me out.

Buffy swung back around to make eye contact with Giles. She took in the perplexed look on his face and offered firmly, "If I hear the words 'love spell,' I'm gonna lose it, Giles."

Harmony had started to circle the slayer, giving her that look that indicated she might be a particularly tasty piece of meat.

"Harm," Buffy prompted, watching the blonde out of the corner of her eye.

Harmony batted her eyes as she scanned up the lithe form of the smaller blonde. It was like she was seeing Buffy for the very first time. Forcing eye contact, Harmony stepped in front of Buffy and purred, "I've never felt this way about another girl."

Fuck it! I've had it. "Southern California: not seriously lacking in superficial, self-absorbed drama queens, Harm. Give it five. They'll find a replacement," she growled and swept into a high kick, catching Harmony behind the head. While Harmony fell in a heap, Buffy landed gracefully, then collapsed to her knees in agony. The movement and her tight pants had brutally pinched the new member. Her eyes welled up again and she slumped forward, weeping. In that instant, she completely sympathized with every guy who'd ever been kicked in the groin.

Giles was at a loss as he glanced from one young woman to the other. The kick had come so quickly and without warning that he'd barely had a chance to react. It had been surgical. He'd never been in any danger, though, as the slayer landed, he had staggered back one step. He reached down to take Harmony's pulse and found that she was alive and as well as one might expect. Then he stepped around Harmony and stooped next to Buffy. "What? Is there something I can—? What seems to be the trouble, Buffy?" he stumbled, cursing himself for nervously mincing words.

Clenching her jaws in an effort to steady herself, Buffy choked, "I—I'm not sure—I—it's horrible, Giles." When she was able to rise, the slayer climbed to her feet. Her brow furrowed when the semi-lucid thought she'd had earlier that morning hit her again like a sack of bricks. That's it! Will— Oh shit! Will! You should know better. Tempting fate over the mouth of hell. Good plan! An exasperated sigh hissed through clenched jaws, then she remarked in a bland tone, "Giles, when Will gets here, tell her: 'it was a boy demon,' " hints of pain caused her voice to crack as she spoke the final few words. Stepping over Harmony, she made her way to the door, ignoring Giles' questions. She slipped outside and started running. Each step felt like an assault, but she just kept running.

Giles watched very closely for a sign of what might be wrong. He had dutifully taken Harmony to the nurse's office, telling them that she'd fainted and hit her head. It had been a minor fabrication to protect his charge. To hell with Wesley. Worth every morsel of regret to see the expression on Harmony's face when Buffy called her a 'superficial, self-absorbed drama queen.' Absolutely brilliant. On his return, Willow had been sitting in the library, attentively studying and awaiting the others. Buffy's words had sounded like utter rubbish to him but, all the same, he had repeated them and now he was worried. The young hacker looked sallow and very nearly ill. She just glared at him, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed. He nearly jumped when she sprung from her seat.

"Giles," Willow muttered through clenched teeth, then motioned him toward his office. She left her books and followed. Her mind was racing. She tried to calm herself against the inner babble that threatened to surface. Once they were safely behind closed doors and seated, she struggled to explain, "I made a comment. It was terrible. Actually it was the worst thing—the most horrible thing I could think of with Buffy in mind. The thing that would shock her the most. What does 'aspect' mean? The aspect of the demon? Could they be just a bit more cryptic? So my mind rushed through all the things it might be and—" she sighed "—that was the worst. If Buffy said that, then something's gone really, really, really, terribly, horribly, awfully wrong. Completely wrong. I have to find her."

"So, you're trying to tell me—? You couldn't possibly think that—? Dear lord," Giles stammered. It was the second time that morning that he'd found himself sputtering like an idiot and it did nothing to improve his mood.

"I'm telling you that we—that is you and me—we're the two people that Buffy chose to share this with. Imagine how you'd feel if you—if somehow suddenly your—" Willow blushed and lowered her voice, gazing anxiously at the floor. "If your, um, you know, got replaced with a—" She paused to collect herself, then stated, "You research. I'll find her. If you tell anyone else— You can't tell anyone else. I'll get cranky!" She blanched slightly as she spoke. Threatening a teacher was not on her list of things to do today, but this was Buffy. "Giles, everything we are is shaped by this. It's not something you—you just don't—it's a respect thing. I know it'd go faster with everyone, but Buffy, she's gonna be completely wigged. I need to find her. Did she—? I mean, any ideas where she might have gone?"

"Of course, you're right, Willow." Giles nodded reassuringly and added, "I'm not certain where she would go. Perhaps to Angel?"

"That's the last place, but I'll look. She'd be freaked—way too freaked for…" Willow remarked, trailing off into thought. After taking a deep breath, she managed to gather a fraction of her resolve and suddenly it slipped away again as she uneasily reflected, stream-of-consciousness, "You can't tell Angel. Ever. If you need him to kill something just give him a 'what' and a 'where,' but no 'why.' " Buffy would die. She'd fall right over and—she'd crawl in a hole, pull the dirt in and she'd just die.

Giles watched the young woman bolt out of her seat anxiously. "You have my word that I will treat this matter with the utmost respect, Willow."

"I'm gonna go, Giles. I'll check back in when I—when I find her," Willow stuttered as she rushed to the door.

As Buffy moved briskly through town, she noticed that the disturbing trend from earlier was not her imagination. She had prayed it was but, after Harmony, there was little mistaking it. She'd been on the whammy side of this effect before and she actually felt terrible for the women that were stopping to stare at her. I'll be feeling sorry for myself soon if I don't get off the streets. What is this, another love spell? I didn't do it. If it was Amy, I'll bury her.

Enough threats. I need to stop wigging. Trying to soothe the severe anxiety, Buffy ran her finger tips down her face from forehead to cheeks, pausing to massage her temples. Rational thoughts would be good. Planning would be better.

Taking a quick glance over her shoulder at the group of women that mindlessly followed her, Buffy stepped up the pace. If this is the same mojo, I definitely don't wanna go home. Mom. That would be totally creepy. 'Slayer-cest'…so not my thing. But why would it be girls? Makes all kinds of the sense that's not. Unless you consider my current—


Buffy sidestepped a strange woman who exited a café and immediately gave her an appreciative stare. Will's. Her parents are gone and, worst case… I can control. She'd forgive me. It might be weird, but Mom would be totally worse. Knocking your mom out for feeling you up? We'll slide that one right off the list of traumas. Will would forgive me with the right amount of ice cream and mochas.

Finally abandoning the attempt to appear normal as an utterly failed experiment, Buffy ducked down an alley and broke into a full sprint. She didn't stop running at top speed until she was at Willow's. After fishing the emergency key from the base of a planter, she let herself in and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

Buffy was intensely uncomfortable, so she quickly went about remedying the issue. She stepped into Willow's room and the leather pants hit the floor almost immediately after her book bag. She quickly shimmied out of her spandex shorts as well. A cringe, followed by a deep raspy gasp, accompanied the un-tucking of the abused, slippery piece of flesh. Once she was completely stripped, it took a great deal of resolve to not lie down on the bed and fondle the strange new member. Instead, she went to the bathroom and washed her hands, then returned to the room to find clothing to borrow.

Once she was dressed in a loose pair of sweat pants and an over-sized tee-shirt, Buffy picked up the phone to call Giles. This should be fun.

Willow spent the entire morning scouring Sunnydale for her friend. By noon she was cranky, tired, and hot. Feeling like a complete failure, stopped to call Giles. When he picked up the phone, Willow clipped off one word, "Anything?"

"Buffy called to say she'd taken refuge at your house," Giles offered. Pausing briefly when Willow hissed into the phone, he quickly resumed, "I have nothing to report otherwise. It would seem a reasonable conclusion that the potion meant to cure the telepathy is to blame but, like the 'aspect of the demon,' there are no references to any specific effects."

Willow huffed for a few moments after Giles concluded, just trying to locate a reassuring tone to offer. Once she managed to find her composure, she chimed a little too eagerly, "Keep trying, Giles. There has to be something." Damn it, Buffy! I checked every crypt in every cemetery in Sunnydale. Do you have any clue how long that takes? Of course you do. I even dusted a sleepy vamp. Yay me!

Willow parroted off the proper closing platitudes and hung up the phone. Her gaze fixed on the Espresso Pump just down the block as she set off in a rushed pace. Mochas and home. 'Cause when I'm stressed…there's nothing like a little caffeine to make it better. Oh! But chocolate! Now that's comfort food. And biscotti. Buffy loves those.

Worry etched deep creases into her features when Willow considered what to say. She was clueless about how to help but, in the same breath, desperate to. I'll just be there. Let her know I care. It's the best I've got. After stepping aside to let a couple of college students leave, she entered the Espresso Pump and made her way to the counter.

A faint clicking noise issued from the patio door. Buffy's attention snapped toward the source of the sound just as it swung open revealing the bedroom's usual occupant. The muscles in the slayer's upper body instantly corded. After quickly snatching a pillow from under the comforter to cover her lap, she shot upright and grumbled, "Go away, Will."

As Buffy took in the caring, bashful smile on the redhead's face, the harsh ridge across her brow softened momentarily, muting the sharp appearance of her eyes. A faint ghost of a smile flickered across her face. Any hint of softening resolve vanished like an illusion when she perceived the start of movement.

Willow quickly crossed her room and set the mocha and bag of goodies she'd bought for Buffy on the nightstand. "Umm…Buffy, this is my room," she replied, trying not to sound annoyed.

When the redhead approached, Buffy slid deftly across the bed, still clutching the pillow to her crotch. By the time Willow got to where the slayer had been lounging, she was on the other side of the room. She slipped out the bedroom door and ran to the bathroom.

Once she was safely locked inside, she leaned her back against the door. She slumped down and sighed despondently. After sitting on the cold tile floor, she clutched her legs and the pillow to her chest and rested her brow against one knee.

Willow glanced briefly at the ceiling then set off out of the room to follow her elusive friend. A slight flush enriched her complexion as she passed through her bedroom door. Lust? I can't lust after— Well, I could, but how wrong would that be?

Willow squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her jaw. After several moments of focused breathing, she continued down the hall, gently placing her hand on the closed bathroom door.

When she sensed Willow's arrival, Buffy looked up. Her gaze fixed on the maroon shower curtain. Hope you like the view, Summers. You may be stuck here a while.

Willow leaned in and offered in a temperate voice, "Buffy, I just want to help. I know that may sound stupid, but—"

As Willow spoke, tears began to flow down Buffy's cheeks. She hugged the pillow to her face, weeping into the plush cotton surface to stifle the sound. Slight scraping noises and pressure on the door caused the slayer to bristle. She clenched her jaws to bite back the tears and grouchily mopped her face with the palms of her hands.

Eventually, Buffy growled into her hands in frustration, then mumbled, "You can't help, Will. Remember that stupid love spell Xander got Amy to do?" When there was no answer, she continued, "Something's up with me. Something just like that."

Sitting with her back to the door, Willow appeared completely perplexed. "But, Buffy, in case you hadn't noticed, I'm a girl."

"Yeah and because my life just has to suck beyond the telling—girls are what I'm—what it's working on," Buffy replied in a raspy voice. She leaned forward, folded the pillow behind her back and slouched against it. The creases in her forehead softened when a faint rattling issued from the door. Wishful thinking almost won out. She thought Willow might've left when she didn't answer. Buffy relaxed her jaw muscles. A soft sigh of relief slipped out as she sat up, removing her weight from the door and leaned her head back to look up at the ceiling. Sliding her hand behind her to brace her body, she arched her back to stretch.

After careful consideration, Willow reflected, "That was really weird though. It was really strong. I just had to be close to him. Like in the naked way. It was like I'd do anything. I don't feel anything like that now. I just want to be near you. I know it sounds dumb, but I want to help you."

As Willow's soft, pensive voice resonated, Buffy's brow furrowed and she leaned back against the door. Her gaze fixed on the offensive bulge in her clothing. After noting the faint moisture discoloring the gray fabric, she sneered with distaste.

Willow glanced down and saw fingers just under the edge of the door and reached to touch them. I love you, Buffy.

Buffy jerked her hand from under the door. A sharp gasp echoed the movement. Oh shit! Staring at her hand, she sat straight up and went utterly rigid, wide eyed and slack-jawed. This! Not this again. I-I can't take it. As if recalling the need for oxygen, she sucked in a slow, purposeful breath.

Trembling, Willow placed her palm against the floor to steady herself. She gulped and swallowed thickly. Wide-eyed and hopeful, she prodded, "Buffy?"

Buffy's facial muscles tensed. The deep lines of stress gave her an appearance that betrayed her years. After clamping her eyes closed, she pinched the bridge of her nose with the raised hand, then swept her thumb and forefinger across her eyelids. Slumping back against the door, she mumbled, "Yeah, Will?" then her hand fell useless at her side.

When no immediate answer came, Buffy hopefully stuck her fingers back under the door, focusing on the point where her fingers disappeared from view. A soft blush pinked her cheeks as she stared. Her free arm folded defensively across her stomach. That's right, Summers, shun contact, then pine for it. And the psych profile says: raving looney. After several moments of nothing meeting her hand, a tear splashed down onto the white tile floor.

Willow finally managed to stifle the quivering and looked down to see that the fingers had reappeared. A deep sigh drifted anxiously across slightly parted lips and she glanced from her own hand that was located ever so close then back to the seemingly needy fingers. Her tone was thick with concern when she finally managed, "You gonna be okay, Buffy?"

A melancholy smile pulled at the corners of Buffy's mouth as her friend caressed her fingertips again. I dunno, Will. I'm not sure what I'll be if—if I have to spend another day like this.

The color drained from Willow's face. Understanding that Buffy's need for comfort, she struggled to not jerk her fingers away. Umm…this is pretty much wig-worthy, Buffy.

The tears ebbed and Buffy closed her eyes. This is how it is, Will. Cupping her forehead with her left hand, she traced the line of her brow and temple.

Willow slowly withdrew her hand. The caress had left her breathless. There was a faint dew of perspiration on her forehead and she raised the hand to wipe it away.

Buffy began to silently weep when contact was lost.

'Kay, so…lust. Big lust: the 'I wanna rip your clothes off and be really naughty' sort of lust. Willow sat silently trying to grasp the sensation. It's not like—it's not new, just deeper. I've always cared. Always felt, but—

Willow turned her gaze to see if the hand was still there. Upon catching a glimpse of the tips of nails under the door, she smirked and closed her eyes. Several moments slipped by as she strained with forced concentration. Rising to her feet, she asked gently, "Buffy, I'm gonna bring you your mocha before it gets cold, 'kay? Will you let me hand it to you?" She sighed and added, "Please."

Resting her forehead on her knee, Buffy raised her hands to her neck and started to massage away some of the tension, then murmured, "Yeah, Will," just loud enough for her friend to hear. Her expression was utterly dull and lifeless when she stood up, walked over to the sink, and turned on the cold tap, glancing at her face. "I look like hell," she pronounced with marked authority. Cupping her hands under the faucet, she scooped up some water and splashed her face, repeating the process several times to reduce the puffiness around her eyes.

There was a knock at the door and Buffy blew out to clear the water, then replied, "Gimme a sec, Will." She toweled dry and, finally satisfied that she wouldn't look like a sodden mess, went to the door. After sweeping the pillow up, she opened the door and made eye contact with her friend. Compassion, that was the expression the redhead wore, not lust. When the cup was offered, Buffy took it, meeting her friend's gaze. As their fingers brushed, she calmly reflected, I love you too, Will. The tension went out of her posture and she took a small sip of the mocha.

A bright smile warmed Willow's face the moment they touched. She breathed deeply and prayed that Buffy wouldn't shut her out again. At the same time the redhead felt her body flush for no reason at all. She struggled to push down the feelings of intense arousal. There was a subtle, musky smell in the air that was making her mouth water. It was intoxicating on a level she'd never experienced.

Buffy stood holding the cup and watching the response. When the smile finally faded from the redhead's face, what was left was raw desire. After taking another drink of the warm coffee, the blonde's eyes narrowed slightly and she tilted her head. Umm…wow! I got that she was pretty. Didn't matter how she tried to hide it—well, unless it involved hiding behind a big 'Boo!'—but umm…wow! She's just gorgeous. How'd I miss that?

Buffy stood stock-still, peering into the bright green eyes of her friend for several moments. Finally, she stepped forward, directing Willow to move with her.

Willow followed Buffy back to her bedroom and stopped at the door, watching the slayer continue across the room to place her mocha on the nightstand. She shut the door and locked it, not knowing exactly what to expect. It was obvious that some part of Buffy's resolve had fractured when they touched.

Willow awkwardly went to take a seat at her desk, turning the chair to face the bed. The chair squeaked as she sat down, causing her to recoil mid-action. Finally seated, she began to fidget nervously with the hem of her blouse. The color in her cheeks rose again. When combined with the fact that her attention was fixed on her lap, the overall effect caused her to look positively guilty. As the blonde turned, Willow met her gaze and stifled a flinch. There was something distinctly predatory about the expression on the slayer's face.

Why am I wigging? This is Buffy, Willow chided herself. The one person I trust with my life. I can't think of anyone I'd rather— I wonder what it'll be like. Oh! She's coming this way! I'm about to find out. Gosh, look at how she moves. It's like… I wonder what it'll be like to kiss her. I've actually thought about it. I've wondered. Soft, warm, tender… She struggled to stifle the trembling as the slayer moved across the room and straddled her lap.

When the blonde settled with her arms draped around Willow's neck, she suddenly felt safe. She slowly slid her hands from her friend's thighs to her waist, stopping to caress the curve of her hips. Then Willow looked up into the slayer's eyes with an expression of complete adoration. The world around her dissolved, all except for the sunlight that shone in through the window adding to the warmth.

Their lips met and it was nothing like Willow had expected. Hungry, passionate, demanding, needy, desirous… A soft moan issued from her between greedy nibbles. The words, 'and good,' broke through the reverie and Willow felt a little embarrassed. I-I'd been wondering— The kiss deepened in answer to the thought.

Buffy withdrew slightly, tracing the curve of the redhead's upper lip with her tongue. And how is it—to kiss me? Giving no opportunity for the answer to find voice, the slayer seized the object of her desire in a deep, ravenous kiss. A soft, scared voice echoed in her thoughts, 'It-it's perfect.' Despite the perceived fear, fingertips traced the contour of her back, pressing into her shoulders. The bite of nails followed the tender caress, causing her to shudder.

Willow left the warmth of the kiss and a coy smile lit her features as bright blue eyes tinged with just a hint of green met her gaze.

I-I'm scared, Buffy.

Buffy swallowed thickly and pressed her moist forehead to her friend's.

I know, Will. Do you trust me?

Willow closed her eyes. In that moment, in those arms, she felt completely safe.

More than anyone.

Buffy cupped the redhead's cheeks in her hands and started to make gentle soothing noises.

Then just relax.

Buffy drifted gently in and out of sleep. Her senses gradually sharpened, taking in her surroundings. She was draped over the body of her friend as though she'd fallen asleep while they were making love. Soft bare flesh, so warm and inviting, shocked her. She struggled not to spring out of bed as the litany of memories cascaded through her mind. Oh shit! She took a long deep breath. The air was thick with the rich musk of sex.

The close contact of their bodies revealed one thing. Nothing. It's gone. My body feels normal. It was dark in the room and a street light shown softly through the window, lighting the profile of her redheaded lover. It's everything else that's wrong. What did I do, Will? I'm so sorry. Buffy tenderly brushed a stray lock of hair from the pale skin of Willow's cheek and carefully rolled away.

Willow mumbled something incoherent and turned onto her side, facing the blonde. A soft smile delicately curled the corners her mouth and she sighed contentedly. She reached out and caressed her lover's skin, then slipped back under the thick veil of sleep.

Buffy lay still, watching the clock. Just after four. She clutched a hand to the restored flesh of her groin and wondered exactly what had happened. Guilt and self-loathing tore at her as she lay in wait. I was in control. I was and then I wasn't. I'm so pathetic. How could I do this to her?

When Willow's respiration and heart rate returned to a restful state, Buffy rose and quietly dressed in the clothing she'd arrived in. She folded the borrowed items and placed them on the desk chair. Grabbing a stake from the desk drawer, she stole out of the room and into the night.

After pausing to tuck the wooden stake into the waistband of her pants, Buffy strode down the dark street, silent tears streaming down her cheeks. I used her. I needed. I felt lonely. My hunger. My weakness. And what about Willow? What the hell did I do?

Cutting through a yard, Buffy hopped the fence of the Shady Acres Cemetery. Her mannerisms changed the moment her feet touched earth again. The tears ebbed and her posture stiffened. She moved silently between the rows of monuments, markers, and mausoleums erected to pay homage to the dead. She was just cresting the last small hill near the entrance when a voice rang out in the night.

"Does Oz know?"

She spun angrily to face Angel as he stepped from behind a large mausoleum. "What business is it of yours what Oz knows?" Buffy spat defensively. Her tongue flicked out, nervously running over her lower lip. The faint coppery taste of blood mixed again with the flavor of her lover's flesh and her stomach clenched. A hint of bile caught in her throat as she recalled the faint traces of blood on her hand. Shame sullied her features as she met Angel's gaze.

"I just thought—" Angel remarked then broke off. He tasted the air again. "You smell like a laundry hamper in a cathouse, Buffy." He closed the distance between them, taking in the stunned expression on the blonde's face. Jealousy welled up inside him while he continued to try and process the various smells. "I can smell her blood on your lips, Buffy. Did you defile her? Take her virtue? Steal it from the man she loves?" he hissed as he walked a tight circle around the slayer.

Buffy followed the movement around her, half-expecting an attack. Finally, when Angel moved back around to her right, she snarled, "Fuck you, Angel! What do you know?"

Angel's face shifted to reveal the demon. He growled at the slayer and spat at her feet. "I know that you smell like a whore. Maybe I should treat you like one. You think I'd find happiness?" he chuckled coldly, "I think my soul would be safe." He lashed out, striking her across the cheek.

Her mind reeled as Buffy flinched away. Why? Tears flowed freely down her face as Angel halted and turned to glare down at her with contempt. "Soul?" she stammered weakly.

Angel feigned movement and watched amusedly when the slayer recoiled. "What's the matter, lover? Have a change of heart? We taken to defiling virgins and fucking the legions of hell now?" he crooned maliciously and moved to corner her against a crypt. When she stumbled over a gravestone, he seized the small blonde.

Struggling to gain control, Buffy blinked back the tears. As Angel pressed her back against the cold stone of the mausoleum and tore at her sweater, she seized his groin and clamped down. Her sweater hit the ground and Angel crumpled to his knees.

The next thing Angel knew, a foot was striking his temple, then a stake embedded in his chest. He fell back. His eyes went wide as he stared at the wood protruding from the right side of his chest.

Buffy clutched her hand to her breast. Glaring down at Angel with contempt, she hissed, "Leave or next time I don't miss," then ran off into the night.

Buffy didn't stop running until she was at the base of the tree below her bedroom window. After quickly scaling the tree, she slid the window open and slipped into her bedroom.

Buffy stared down at her fingers and made a fist. Her mind was racing. Fragments of thought and pieces of memory flashed by. 'Defiling virgins.' In her mind's eye hung the image of the hint of fear on Willow's face when Buffy had pressed her perversion-of-self inside.

She had no doubt. This perversion had removed any of the classic arguments. When is virginity lost? Is it at the moment of penetration? Is it when the hymen breaks? If so, many a young girl loses her virginity to the odd accident with a bicycle, or climbing a fence, or…whatever… Doesn't matter. This was the real deal.

The fear on Willow's face washed away to a flash of pain, replaced by awe and wonder. Buffy studied the expression in her memory. The ghost sensations of scrambled nerve endings confused by their relocation briefly returned. Pressing in, pushing out were muddled, she knew what was happening, but her mind processed it backwards.

Willow's face was replaced by Angel's, that same look, without the fear. There was something more seasoned about Angel's expression. There was no awe, no sense of wonder. These sensations had been felt before. It was only the love that made them different.

The face morphed again. Angel at the moment she ran the sword through his chest, sending her lover to hell to save the world. Funny, to save the world only to find yourself unable to live in it.

Another shift showed Angel's expression tonight, the accusatory glare, cold and angry. He had every right to be angry. I led him on. Led him to believe that ours was the only love I'd ever—he was the only one I ever wanted to be with. Big love, big loss… A real Romeo and Juliet story. Romance and fairy tales.

And then I ran off and screwed my best friend. Effectively ruining three lives in one vulgar, efficient swing.

Willow has to live with the fact that she was tricked into having sex with her best friend. And it couldn't just be lesbian sex. No, the hellmouth saw to it that this was the real deal. She lost her virginity to a freak. A perversion of nature.

Oz! Oh god, Oz! Oz will hate me! Angel was right. I stole something from him. Something that by every right should've been his. It wasn't mine to take. Like a thief. I stole it. I even stopped to savor the taste. Buffy traced her lips with her tongue. Subtle hints of the blood remained. She cleared them away. The faintly metallic flavor filled her senses again.

Angel. I broke a promise to him. I know he said he wanted something else for me—something better. I tried. But every time I tried I could see the faint hint of hurt on his face. I wanted to be with him more than anything. What happened to that? Why would I betray that? It makes no sense.

Always afraid to go too far, to press, for fear my boyfriend would become a monster. Angel's expression from earlier returned, the face of the demon. And look at me. I turned him into a monster without the 'sleeping with him.' All I had to do is screw my best friend and steal her virtue from the man she loves.

The lasting pained expression on Willow's face from after she'd been caught kissing Xander came into view. That's what I've done. I've hurt, cheated, stolen…

Buffy flexed and clenched her fingers. The impulse to hit, the need to destroy something grated against what was left of her reason. Buffy bit her lower lip and struggled to regain control. The taste of her own blood filled her mouth, mixing with the flavors of Willow.

I'm the monster.

The faint light of a new day gently warmed the room. Willow stretched and yawned, reaching her right hand over to caress her sleepy lover. When all that met her touch was the cold material of her sheets, she cracked an eye. Where? Why would she leave me? Her mother knew she was spending the night. It's not like she had to go.

Worry began to well up and Willow struggled to suppress the unwanted emotion. She just went home for clothes. I mean, it's not like she packed to stay over. It's no big. I'll see her at school.

Willow rose and pulled her robe from inside the closet. Slipping the garment on, she tied it and made her way to the bathroom. After turning on the shower to allow it to warm, she moved back to the sink to brush and floss while she waited.

Once she was done, Willow stepped into the warm flow. As she bathed her skin, a slight twinge of pain from between her legs washed away the anxiety and brought back memories from the previous day. I had no idea anyone could be that gentle and patient.

A vague shadow of sensation returned and Willow brought her hand briefly to her lips. She kissed me. Not the sort of tentative little smoochies you'd give to a new love interest, or the peck you might give a friend. Our first kiss. Our first kiss was…umm…passionate, filled with desire, hungry. I never wondered whether she wanted me. And she kept kissing me. It was wonderful. She gave us both just enough room to breathe. Tender loving caresses and passionate kisses that lasted for hours.

Wow it felt good. She loves me. Like, really loves me. Before I knew it, an hour was gone, then two. How long did she spend just touching?

The intimacy was unlike anything— We could hear each other's thoughts when we touched. Soothing thoughts, loving thoughts, and the desire to protect… Above all…protect…keep me safe…from the hurt. I expected it to hurt. It didn't. No idea how many orgasms I had from just the touching and the kissing. I lost count. It was like she was worshipping me. No one's ever made me feel that way.

Willow dipped her head into the spray and reached for her shampoo. She poured a little of the thick, sweet-smelling stuff into the palm of her hand and began to massage it through her hair. The shower filled with the fragrance of toasted vanilla beans.

There was a tiny bit of pain, just a little. It was really weird, she stopped and looked at her hand. It was like she was scrutinizing something important—looking at the details.

Then shame. I could see it reflected on her face as plain as day. Conflicted thoughts—confusion. She wanted to taste me. I thought she was worried about me tasting. I told her I didn't care. Tasting myself on her lips. It's actually like a fantasy. Like the best fantasy.

That wasn't it. I know that now. It was the blood. That very faint, metallic hint. She was worried. I didn't understand, but now…it's so plain. She thought, 'But what does this make me?'

It makes her 'the one.' The one who changed me. Took me from one state of being to another. So loving, so patient…

Willow drew still for just an instant as she examined the emotions, then she rinsed her hair.

It doesn't bother me that she stopped to— She marked the moment. Reflected on it. Actually, sensed it. I just wish she could've done it without the shame. There was no reason. The stopping…it made me feel special. Like this was actually a moment that really, really meant something important.

Willow stood under the shower just enjoying the heat and the steam.

She never let me see. I wonder what she looks like naked? She's beautiful. She's always beautiful—doesn't matter. I tried to tell her it was okay, to reassure her, but she hid. I could feel her pressed against my thigh. It was the strangest sensation. I didn't expect it to be wet, but— I do know, whatever happened—whatever it was—it was incredible.

I saw all I needed to. Her face. The expression when she finally—it was like she was looking into the face of the Goddess. I'll never forget that. And the sensation. It was like—I'm not sure. Like being bathed in Buffy—like being completely filled with— So warm, so safe, so loved, in her arms.

As hellmouthy weirdness goes—this'll always be my favorite. The one I look back on and—

Willow shut off the shower and stepped out, grabbing a towel to dry herself off.

I hope she's okay. I need to talk to her. Anxiety washed over her again, sullying her features as she vigorously dried her wet skin.

I have to tell Oz the truth. It'll hurt, but lying would hurt even more. After Xander, he deserves— Well, he deserves better than me. But I still love him. How's that possible? I love Buffy and I love Oz. I'm not sure who more, or how, but— How can I hurt him more? But I have to. I have to hurt one of them, and now, after…it has to be Oz. How?

When Willow emerged from the bathroom, she looked as though the weight of the world rested on her shoulders.

I have to be honest.

A groan tore from his chest as Angel hit the hard stone floor of the Crawford Street mansion. The sound was muddled by the punctured lung. It gurgled out into the silent room. God, what have I done? His body smoldered with the dawning light leaking in through the garden doors.

I wonder what happened to her. Pheromones—pungent male pheromones mixed with… Odds are she didn't even know what she was doing, or if she did, caring was the last thing—

Angel heaved himself to his hands and knees and started to crawl out of the light. I need to tell Giles. They won't have any way of knowing and it might mean—

After discovering the safety of the shadows, Angel sprawled out on the floor. There's no excusing what I did. As soon as I'm able, I need to throw myself at her mercy and beg her forgiveness.

I deserve to die after—