She chatted some with Xander, and that managed to distract her enough from her troubles to help Xander with his homework, and to manage her own. She felt slightly better, or at least less worried by the time that Spike sauntered down the stairs. He settled beside her on the couch, sliding his arm around her, smiling as Willow leaned against him.

"Evening luv. What brought him over, or was it just math?" Spike sounded curious, having become somewhat friendly with Xander since they'd been introduced.

Xander looked up, and carefully put down the pen he'd been writing with. "Buffy. She seems to think that I should try to help split you and Willow up, which I have absolutely no intention of doing. Assuming that you and Willow left anything of me to be mad at, Amy threatened some very specific and painful sounding hexes. I figured that I'd best let Willow know what was going on. Probably good for you to know as well."

Spike growled slightly, his eyes flickering from blue to amber to blue again. "How does she figure you would break us up?"

Xander swallowed hard, suddenly seeing not Willow's boyfriend Spike but a ruthless angry vampire. "Ahhh... the how doesn't really matter that much, does it? I mean, I'm not going to help. You make her happy, and that's all I want for her."

Spike nodded, still quite unhappy and wearing his fangs. He pulled Willow onto his lap, his arms wrapped possesively around her. "I've been looking for someone this special for almost a hundred years. I'm not about to let some stupid slayer with her knickers in a twist split us up."

Xander looked at Spike, his eyes full of questions. "Almost a hundred years? Really?"

"Really. There was this special woman I met before I was turned... I wanted someone that special for my very own ever since then. Now I have someone every bit a special. My Willow. I can help her become every bit as confident as the woman I knew then, and my Red loves me. Just like I love her with all that I am."

"Wow..." Xander had no words to describe a bond that strong. To spend almost a century looking for the perfect someone... No wonder he didn't want to give her up for anyone.

Xander looked at Spike, and Willow who was contentedly curled in his lap. "If you do leave Sunnydale, will you at least write? Send me the occasional postcard? Wills has been my friend since we were in kindergarten, I'd feel like I was missing part of me if she was gone entirely."

Spike simply nodded, having no objection to Xander and Willow staying in touch. "It sounds like we're probably going to be leaving this town. There's a good chance that Angel and Dru will decide to leave Sunnyhell. I'm not to sure where they might go, but I'd bet good money on Ireland being in there somewhere."

Frowning slightly, Xander hesitantly asked 'What will that leave for defending the Hellmouth? I mean, I was never a fan of Buffy and Angel, but he was... he was pretty useful on occasion."

Spike shrugged. "I'm sure the Watcher will manage. Especially since his bird's got a bit of magic herself."

Xander sat there a bit longer before leaving to go home. He'd ended up with quite a lot to think about, and only part of it had to do with his math homework.

end 83.

Willow and Spike had managed to find Angel and Dru that night. The dark haired vampires had gone to see a movie that Dru had been interested in, an animated movie about a girl who might or might not have been the Princess Anastasia. Dru had been practically giddy with delight after seeing it, Angel had simply been smiling at Dru with amusement.

"She sweet-talked you into taking her to that cartoon about the girl and the little dog, didn't she?" Spike sounded amused and relieved.

"Yes." Angel sighed. "I suppose she'd been talking about it for a while now? You could have warned me that this would happen."

Spike shrugged, a wicked grin detracting from his air of innocence. "Who, me?"

Willow giggled at the interaction between the two. "Amusing as this is, we actually wanted to talk to you about something serious."

Dru looked over, her mood calming as she saw Willow. "The Yellow Dragon is growling? Is she breathing fire? Will the place burn and scream?"

Angel looked puzzled for a moment, and then apparently remembered that the last time Dru had been talking about a yellow dragon, she had meant Buffy. "Do you mean Buffy? What about burning?"

Willow nodded. "Yes, it's Buffy again... or still. We need to have a talk about that, somewhere that has fewer people. There are some touchy topics here."

They walked through the night, gradually leaving the groups of people behind. They finally reached a quiet little park, one that was often ignored due to its small size and lack of a playground. They settled at one of the picnic tables.

"What has you so worried?" Angel's question broke the silence.

"Buffy. I mean, I'm absolutely certain that she still thinks that you are hers, that you're sitting in a dark corner somewhere brooding and pining after her until she decides to take you back." Seeing the furious expression on Dru's face, Willow held up her hand in a 'wait a moment' gesture. "I didn't say that you should be, and I personally think that you and Dru are good together. But Buffy doesn't know that you and Dru are together, and thinks that you can't move on from her, even though she dumped you. Not only that, but she knows that I'm involved with a vampire, and she's not dealing with it at all. If she's not trying to lecture me about how 'vampires are evil, Wills' and 'he's just using you, vampires don't really care' then she's trying to throw human guys at me. I'm so frustrated by the whole thing that I could scream."

"Those two ideas don't go very well together. If dating a vampire is so bad, why does she still want me to be waiting for her?" Angel's voice held some amusement.

"Buffy has no logic. The fact that she had that thing with you should mean that if I want a vampire and he doesn't hurt me, everything should be cool. But no, I'm just 'little Wills the book-girl' and a big bad vampire is much to dangerous for me..." The sarcasm and frustration were practically dripping from Willow's words. "She thinks that Spike and I are just temporary, in spite of everyone trying to tell her about Claiming. She's only hearing what she wants to hear."

Dru giggled, apparently amused by something that nobody else had seen. "She wants to have tea and cakes, but she doesn't want to share. All fuss and noise but there won't be a party, no parties for bad girls. She has been a very naughty girl."

Spike sighed, knowing how long Dru's episodes sometimes lasted. "Well, the thing is that Willow and I were worried that she might try a few things that are even naughtier. Something like... trying to stake me. Or you, and especially Dru."

Angel frowned at Spike's words. He had cared for Buffy, and wanted to think that she wouldn't do such a thing. But he had also wanted to think that her claims of caring for him had strength behind them, and look how that had turned out. But this concern that she might do them physical harm was a very real worry, and it sounded like something that just might happen. He still didn't like it.

Dru gasped, looking at Spike as if he had just suggested some horrible social error. "But I have been a good girl! A very, very, good girl; just ask Angel. If I am good, she isn't allowed to hurt me."

Willow sighed, hating the fact that she could now picture the blonde that had once been her friend killing her beloved, and her new family. "Those rules only work if everyone involved is following them. She hasn't been a very good girl lately. I was thinking that it might be safest to leave Sunnydale."

Dru looked sad, and a bit hurt, like a small child being told that someone doesn't celebrate birthdays. "She would really try to hurt us? Even Spike? But something happening would tear you up inside, turn everything to red pain and tearing walls. If the walls inside of you were ever torn away, there is a powerful darkness, fire fairy. Fire can warm and illuminate, but it can also devour the world if it burns hot and angry."

Willow managed a small smile. "I don't want anything bad to happen to you, not to any of you. That's why we had to find you, to warn you about it. Oh, and umm, Dru? Do you think we can figure out a spell to send letters from one place to another? Not the letter to Egypt spell, or the post office, but... I don't know, something else."

Dru sighed, looking thoughtfully at Willow. "I don't know any spells to do that, although I suppose we could look. Why do you ask me? I'm just..."

With a mischievous grin that even restored a bit of sparkle to her eyes, Willow interrupted. "Just a two hundred year old vampire that's dabbled in magical study and collection your entire unlife. Why would I think that you might have some idea..."

Smiling, the four left the park. The Slayer might be willing to hurt or kill them, but they still had each other. They could also still laugh, still smile at each other with amusement.

end part 84.

Willow and Dru had been trying to research some magical way to send letters. It would probably have been easier to just use email, but Giles and computers just didn't mix. Then, something occurred to Willow. "Wait a minute... why does Giles need a separate way to contact me? He's with Jenny... umm, Miss Calendar, and she can use a computer perfectly well. They would be able to get in touch that way, assuming we stay somewhere that I can get an internet connection. That's pretty easy to accomplish."

Dru had looked at her, an amused smile on her face. "The gypsy and her magic box. How did we forget that? Oh, boxes and books and more boxes... why does the Owl live in all the books? Do you think that he would like to do something different? Maybe he could have a nice tea shop."

Willow smiled at her friend, amused by the idea of Giles opening a tea shop. "I don't know about that. But he did say once that he'd wanted to be a shop keeper when he was young. Maybe he'll open a store when Buffy graduates... If she does. I mean, she's not exactly in a long lived calling."

Spike looked over, hearing the worry in Willow's voice. "Don't worry too much about Rupert. He'll do well for himself. As for the Slayer... it's not a particularly safe calling. That's why they get people like Rupert to watch over them. Helps keep them safe, as long as they listen to their watchers."

She smiled at him, knowing that he didn't really care about Buffy, but just wanted to make her feel better. "Thanks. I hope everything goes well for them, especially for Giles."

Meanwhile, Buffy was patrolling across town, in one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries. She had been hoping to find some violence, some safe way to vent her frustration. Willow was involved with a vampire, and that vampire had somehow convinced her to let him bite her. To do extremely unWillowy things with him. And Willow didn't want to hear any reasonable suggestions to get herself uninvolved while she still had a pulse. Scott, who was HER boyfriend now, had been talking to that little tramp Kelly. Oh, he said he'd just been trying to get the biology notes for the couple days that he'd been sick, but she'd recognized the look in Kelly's eyes. Kelly wanted Scott.

Scowling, she stalked through the rows of headstones, trying to sense vampires, or demons, or just about anything evil and dangerous. She could feel this little itching that spoke of vampires to the left. With a small smile of anticipation, she pulled a stake from her bag, and moved closer, hoping to figure out what the situation was before charging into the middle. As she got closer, she could hear voices.

"I mean, it has to be an improvement, right? That he's involved with a vampire now?" The speaker was hidden, but he sounded a bit slow, and rather whiney. He had to be a minion.

"Of course it's an improvement. Just about anything would be an improvement from the Slayer. It's just not natural, vampires and Slayers making nice with each other." This voice belonged to a woman, and she sounded a bit impatient, as if Whiney-boy was getting on her nerves.

"But what are they planning? I saw her, and she's... strong. Pretty too, in that long pale dress, all floaty and gauzy. She didn't seem like the sort to stay in the background." A new voice, a nice tenor, and obviously smarter than the first vampire.

Buffy stiffened as she listened. 'He' had been involved with a Slayer... that had to be Angel. But what had that been about him being involved with someone else now? Pretty, long pale dress... it had to be that loopy chick from the park. The one she'd had Willow help look up, Drizzle or something. What was her Angel doing with some demanding vampire? She would have to look into that. Right after she dusted those three vampires.

She attacked the vampires with hot fury running through her body. How dare they talk about Angel being with some other woman like it was a good thing? How dare they sound so appalled at the idea of the relationship that she and Angel had? And how dare Willow go so blindly into the arms of death? How dare Angel have some other woman, even a loopy vampire? How dare Scott stand there while Kelly made 'come-here' eyes at him?

Buffy practically snarled as she twisted, kicking and stabbing with the stake. This wasn't just about vampires, this was to release her frustration and anger at the world changing so drastically on her. The feeling that her friends would be there, a dependable predictable safety net was gone. Her Angel, the wonderful handsome guy that would never leave her was playing with some dead girl. She tried to ignore the little voice that whispered that she had thrown Angel away, that she had chosen Scott over Angel. The little voice that said if she could have someone else, so could Angel.

Finally, the vampires were nothing more than piles of dust spread over the grass. Feeling a bit disappointed that they were gone, she kicked at the dust piles, scattering them further. "Why does life have to be so complicated? Why can't everything be simple again?"

Where could she find out more information on this matter? Angel and this other vampire? Where did all the information normally pass through? Willie's Alibi, the seediest, most disreputable looking place that she'd ever seen. Willie would know something about Angel. All she had to do would be go and persuade him to share.

Buffy stalked off towards Willies, determined to find out what her Angel was up to. Surely, it would involve some big evil that she could fight, something big enough to silence that annoying little voice that was saying that she was jealous that Angel might be happy without her. Saying that since she had picked Scott, she shouldn't be so possessive of Angel anymore. That little voice was getting annoying, especially since it was probably right.

She was still not happy about any of this.

end part 85.

Willow had been dozing, Spike's arms wrapped comfortingly around her. Suddenly, she woke up, gasping for breath, trembling with fear.

"Wha... Willow? What's wrong?" Spike was awake immediately, the scent of Willow's fear jolting him into awareness.

"Dream... very bad dream. I hope it was just a dream. I saw Buffy... and she was attacking Dru and Angel. Something about if she couldn't have him, nobody would, and then she was planning to come after you... oh God, it was such a horrible dream." She clung to Spike, trembling, tears spilling from her eyes as she put words to the horrible images.

"Calm yourself just a bit, luv. Dreams don't always come true. If it would make you feel better, we can call Angel and let them know about it, just in case." Spike was rubbing soothing little circles on her back.

Willow nodded, still trying to calm her racing heartbeat and rein back her frantic breathing. Surely Buffy wouldn't kill Angel? Surely she wouldn't stalk into Willow's home and try to kill the man that Willow loved? Buffy might still have a thing for Angel, but she couldn't be that unbalanced, could she? She didn't know anymore if she was trying to convince herself or uttering a desperate prayer. Please let it have been just a dream.

Spike had picked up the phone, dialing the number for Angel's apartment easily. They'd both had a lot of practice recently. "Hello? Angel, hope I didn't interrupt you two lovebirds over there."

"Glad to hear that. But... hang on, blast it! I'm getting there, just tried to be polite for once! Red had a bad dream, something about the Slayer showing up and staking the both of you. It's got her all upset and crying."

"No, no reason to think that it's anything but her own worry, but she said it would help her calm down if we let you know. Sort of a just in case warning."

"Yeah, be careful yourself. Don't really want to have a pile of dust in the family instead of you." Spike's voice was almost calm, with a hint of worry underneath as he hung up the phone.

Turning his full attention back to Willow, he pulled her up into a firm hug, holding her close enough that he could imagine his heart beating in time with hers. "I told them about the dream, luv. Can you relax a little bit now? Feeling any better?"

"S-sort of." Willow was still sniffling a bit. "Can we make hot cocoa?"

With a smile, Spike started the water heating for hot cocoa, wishing that he had the right things to make old fashioned hot chocolate, the sort with steamed milk and melted chocolate. That always tasted far better than any powdered mix. But sometimes you had to settle for what was available, and tonight, he had to settle for packaged cocoa mix. At least there were the little marshmallows.

Meanwhile, Buffy had been wandering the streets of Sunnydale, her mind spinning in strange spirals. She had gone to Willies, and persuaded the snitch to share his information on Angel's recent activities. She'd only had to kill this one huge snarling demon that had attacked her when she walked into the bar, and then Willie had been rather cooperative. Angel and Drusilla, together. Angel was having... with Drusilla. Not with her. Dru. Because she'd dumped him for Scott, who she wasn't having sex with. Who was flirting, or at least being flirted at by Kelly. She didn't like any of it.

The more she considered the situation, the angrier she became. Angel was involved with someone else, and sounded as if he might be happy. That little reasonable voice that sounded so much like her mom said that she should be happy for Angel. But she wasn't, instead she felt jealous that someone else had him, and she felt as if... as if something wonderful had been taken away from her, like a small child whose favorite toy had been stolen. Of course, that only made her feel even more upset, because Angel wasn't a toy, and she didn't want to think that she had ever viewed him as a possession. Thinking about Scott didn't help very much either. Yes, he was cute and seemed friendly and human, but... he didn't take things seriously, and she had no idea how much she really mattered to him. Sure, they were both human, so the whole nice house and kids thing was possible... if being a slayer didn't get her killed, if he didn't run off with a cheerleader, if... There were a thousand 'if's that could prevent her from having a normal happy future. She'd had someone who loved her, who would never betray her, and... and she'd dumped him for some cute high school boy.

Oh, God, she sounded so petty. It left a sour taste in her mouth and made her stomach churn with anger and frustration and dismay. She was actually more angry with herself than she was with Angel. She walked faster, her thoughts spinning crazily in her head. Angel was a person, with a past and feelings and desires, and she'd let him go - thrown him away . Since he was a person, and people weren't things to own, she had no reason to be angry that he had someone else, not logically. But she was angry, and hurt, and sad. Had she been that easy to replace? Had what they'd shared been of so little importance to him?

But those questions only made her squirm with the knowledge that she'd gone out with Scott the very day after she'd broke up with Angel. That she'd been spending time with Scott before breaking up with Angel. Behaving like that made a part of her wonder how much Angel had really meant to her, if she could move away from him so easily. She wanted desperately to understand, to know why her own choices were hurting so much.

She wanted to be happy, why was that simple desire causing her so much pain?

Buffy had so many questions, so much confusion on why her life was spinning into directions that she'd never wanted that it made her head hurt. Part of her just wanted everything to go back the way it used to be. Thing had gone into strange directions. Willow was dating, and all sorts of other things, a vampire named Spike. She'd broke up with Angel, and had started dating Scott. Angel was involved with Dru. Giles had a girlfriend - that was enough to really give her the wiggins right there.

Part of her, the part that had become the Slayer, wanted to take all of her friends and put them away, somewhere that the horrors of the night could never touch them, never hurt them. It was a minor complication that there was no such place, and they wouldn't have been willing to leave anyhow. That reasonable part of her mind was also telling her that she shouldn't be trying to interfere in Willow's relationship the way she had been. She knew that it was wrong to try to fix up someone with a date when they had a guy already. For the love of God, she'd even known that back when she was no more than a flaky cheerleader at Hemerly. Willow probably hated her now, considering the way she'd been an interfering busybody. Buffy wasn't even certain anyone would blame Willow if she couldn't stand her anymore.

There had to be a way to fix all of this. Something that she could do to make some of this pain and confusion go away. Sighing, she blew a lock of hair out of her eyes, and took a careful look at her surroundings. Maybe she could come up with a plan.

She was standing outside of Angel's apartment building. Perfect.

end part 86.

Willow was not calm. She paced along the hallway, worried about her dream. Part of her was insisting that the dream had simply been a reflection and visualization of her fears... you picked up a lot about dream analysis with a Psychologist for a mother. Another part was wondering in nervous dread if her new magical powers included some sort of precognitive or clairvoyant abilities, which might mean that the dream wasn't just her own fears. If there was no more than her fear, it should help that they were all planning to leave Sunnydale. Angel and Dru had decided to fly to London, and they'd arranged to leave next week. She and Spike were also planning on leaving, he'd promised a trip to Rome. So they wouldn't be in Sunnydale much longer, there would soon be no more fear about Buffy killing one of her new family in a fit of jealous rage.

She was only thinking herself in big circles. She was afraid that Buffy would hurt someone, and the idea bothered her. They would all soon be leaving Sunnydale, which would make them safe. She had no idea if her nightmare had been a nightmare or a warning, and the very fact that she thought it might be a warning was enough to give her the wiggins all by itself. She was Willow, and she didn't think that she was one of the vastly powerful important people who was supposed to get warnings of the future.

"Luv, pacing and fretting won't change anything. Come in and have some cocoa." Spike's voice came from the kitchen.

"I know pacing won't change anything, but it helps me focus my thinking. Sort of keeps it on the same path, instead of going off on strange tangents like how do vampires shave with no reflections? Can vampires be photographed with the older cameras that use reflectives? What about the new digital cameras? How did the whole running water thing get started, because I've seen that it isn't true... I even babble in my thoughts." She sighed as she sat on one of the kitchen chairs, her hands arched around but not quite touching the very hot cup of cocoa.

Spike sipped at his thermo nuclear hot cocoa, wincing slightly at the temperature. "Guess I made the cocoa a bit too hot. I know you're worried. I'm a bit worried as well, but there's nothing else that we can do about the Slayer... unless you want me to try to kill her."

Willow sighed. "I'd rather not try to kill Buffy. It's important to have someone protecting the Hellmouth, but... why can't she just be happy for me?

Spike shrugged. "You're asking me to figure out the thoughts of a Slayer? One who's been juggling guys? I have no idea what's going on inside her head, and I'm not sure that I want to know."

Willow giggled a bit at that, a small smile hovering over her lips. "I suppose you're right."

Pulling her down onto his lap, Spike gave her a hug, not quite letting go. "I love you. No matter what, no matter what's happened before I came to Sunnydale, no matter who your friends are, I want you to know that. Forever and always. I might not exactly say the words all the time, but... they're there."

She sighed happily, and snuggled closer to him. "I love you too. It's just... I worry sometimes. I don't know what I would do if anything happened to you."

The only thing that he could do in response was wrap his arms firmly about her, murmuring words of love into her ear. They sat there until their cocoa was cold, simply holding each other. Two people that had found love, desperately hoping that their relationship would't be attacked by someone.

Across town, Buffy had entered the building, and she was standing in front of Angel's door. Her mind was full of questions and 'why's and emotional turmoil. She needed to sort out everything, and that would require dealing with Angel. Who was on the other side of the door... and he wasn't alone. She could feel two vampires on the other side, both giving a fairly strong vibe. It itched, and felt like something was shaking her bones, the floor shaking by a construction site. She had her hand on the doorknob, and was trying to figure out exactly how to handle this.

Angel wasn't her enemy. She didn't need to kick the door down and slay him and his new girlfriend, Drizzle. Maybe Drizzle wasn't the new girl, that book had said that she was his Childe... Maybe she could... no. It wouldn't help start a rational conversation with your ex to stake their current whatever.

But how could she just go in and make nice with the person who'd replaced her? The person who was so happy without her? Could she go inside and talk to him like a calm person instead of a raving jealous psycho? Buffy winced at the way she'd phrased that, even in her own thoughts.

Buffy had entirely lost track of how long she had stood there, trying to figure out how to talk to Angel. Her mind was still twisting and turning, making no progress when the doorknob twisted under her fingers, and pulled away as the door was opened from inside the apartment.

"Hello Buffy." Angel was there, looking at her. His expression was entirely unreadable, and he looked so handsome, wearing what looked like deep blue silk tucked into faded blue jeans.

Buffy shifted on her feet, feeling incredibly nervous. When she finally managed to speak, her words came out in a soft, tense whisper. "hi Angel." She paused, clearing her throat. "Can I... can I come inside? I think... I think we should talk."

"My Angel? Why is the taffy girl at our home? Shouldn't she be... Hmmph. I shall have to tell the little tree that she is hearing the stars." Dru was standing in the hall, looking in on them. She wore a floor length robe of dark purple silk, bits of gold lace at the cuffs and the throat. With luck, or another person, there might be something under the robe.

Angel looked over at Dru, and the look spoke volumes. Part of it was a warning to try to be civil, and part of it was a look of affection, and there was more that Buffy couldn't read. "Dru... Buffy wants to talk. Can you bring out some tea?"

Dru gave Buffy a suspicious look, and nodded. "I can get tea. Maybe the leaves will show me something happening to her. Nasty taffy girl... all sticky." Dru walked into the kitchen, muttering about taffy and things sticking.

Buffy frowned, feeling a bit nervous. Dru clearly wasn't happy that she was here. Angel didn't look very happy either. "Can we... can we sit down?"

Angel nodded, and walked over to the couch and chair in his room, and gestured towards the chair. "Go ahead, sit. We can try to be reasonable about this."

Buffy settled into the chair, feeling how supple the leather was. Closing her eyes for a moment and inhaling the scents of leather and Angel, allowing herself a moment of memory and wistful longing. Hearing a slight rattle, she opened them again, looking with a bit of suspicion at the other woman as she carefully placed a tray onto the coffee table.

Dru came back into the room, carrying a lovely tea set in her hand, three porcelain cups and a matching teapot, ivory with delicate golden swirls around the rims. She didn't look at Buffy, but instead poured the tea into each cup before setting the pot down beside the delicate creamer and sugar bowls. Letting one hand with pale slender fingers and gold painted nails rest on the silver spoon beside the sugar bowl, she looked at Angel. "We have sugar and milk both, if you want some in your tea, but we have no lemon."

Angel poured a small amount from the creamer pitcher into a cup, picking it up and holding it, the shadow of a smile on his face as his fingers curved around the delicate cup. "What did you want to talk about, Buffy? I thought that everything we'd had to say had been said."

She felt herself blushing, and spooned some sugar into her cup to try to hide her cheeks. "I... I'm sorry. I've made a mess of everything. I broke what we had... and now..." Her words trailed away. Buffy wasn't entirely certain how to put everything into words.

"You can't have him back. My Angel isn't a toy, and you let him go, be free little bird... little bird found a new nest, not going back to sticky taffy. Stop pestering little tree and her pale tiger before she lets her tarnished knight kill the yellow dragon." She was glaring at Buffy, her eyes flecked with amber.

Buffy stared at her, blinking as she tried to decipher exactly what all of that had meant. The only part that she was certain of was that the vampiress didn't want to let Angel go. "Huh?"

Angel made a small noise, like he'd tried to swallow a laugh and failed. He reached one hand out, catching the fingers of his childe. "Ahhh, she means Spike and Willow. Dru was suggesting that you should leave them be about their relationship."

"Spike and... oh, Willow, tree, I get it now." Buffy sipped at her tea, trying to figure out why it felt so hard to see them together. She'd let him go, thrown him away, why wouldn't he move on? Why did it have to hurt? "I just... I want her to be safe."

Dru made a small noise, before looking at Buffy with a tiny smile. "Little tree lives over the mouth. There isn't safety over the mouth, too many things with legs and teeth and claws trying to eat the world... But Spikey would never hurt his tree. She is his Princess, his fire fairy, and she holds his heart. They are very happy, very often. Don't make the little tree cry. She can't control all of the sparkly power, and if you break the walls, there will be screams and pain... darkness instead of a fire fairy... It would be a very sad day, and the owl would cry."

"The mouth... you know about the Hellmouth. I guess that makes sense." Buffy was staring at Dru, still tying to make sense of the words. Fairies and power, and what was the whole connection to an owl? She looked at her cup, trying to make sense of things. "I've been feeling horribly jealous. I mean, I let you go, and you seem to be happier now, happier than you were when we were together. It hurt that you and Dru got together so quickly."

"It hurt... It hurt that Dru and I?" Angel's voice conveyed shock. "How could you tell? You were still with that mortal boy that you'd ALREADY BEEN SEEING! You went to a concert with him BEFORE you broke up with me. You had him on the side before you told me that we didn't have a future together. Or maybe I was the one you were keeping on the side."

Buffy stared at Angel, part of her mind trying to figure out how Angel had known about Scott, how he knew about the concert. Another part was feeling an intense mixture of pain and guilt, knowing that he had every right to be angry. She was also remembering Willow's words. 'Because if they find out your seeing someone else while being sorta whatever with them, you'd better believe they won't be happy.' Angel had found out about Scott, and he really didn't look happy. Her voice sounded very small and pitiful, even to her own ears. "Would it help if I said I'm very sorry?

"You're sorry..." He shook his head as he sank back against the couch. His next words almost didn't sound like Angel at all, they sounded harsh and sarcastic. "That just makes everything better, doesn't it? You're sorry. Thing is, you choose to see him, choose to be with him in the daytime instead of trying to work harder to have something with me. Now, you aren't happy with how everything's turned out, and there's Willow, with her very own vampire, and they're so damn happy together that it makes you green. You're jealous that Willow and Spike are happy, when you aren't with your high school boy. Get over it, Buffy. And leave them be, they've found happiness."

Buffy found herself almost wondering if he was still himself, or if he'd somehow been switched with an evil twin. "Emotions aren't that easy. I'm glad that she's happy, I am."

Angel nodded. "Good. You should be happy for her. That's what a friend does. Maybe, if you focus on what's between you and what's his name, you can be happy as well."

Buffy swallowed, feeling a lump of guilt, resignation, and something else, something almost like fear. He was right, and she knew that he was right. It was also evident that there would be no happy reconciliation between her and Angel. Reasonably, she hadn't expected it, but there had been a small corner of hope. "I guess... I guess there isn't anything else to say. Good night Angel."

She walked out the door, her eyes stinging with tears that she fought to keep from falling. He had been right, and it hurt. She had lost Angel. All she could do now was hope that she hadn't destroyed her friendship with Willow as well.

end part 87.

Buffy couldn't quite bring herself to call Willow, partly out of the idea that most people would be asleep at this hour. If she wasn't asleep... well, she didn't want to interrupt them if they were... busy. That certainly wouldn't be the best way to try to salvage... something with Willow.

She waited until school, slipping Willow a note that read 'I've been an idiot. Can you forgive me? We need to talk. -Buffy' All she could do was hope that Willow would talk to her, that there could be enough forgiveness in Willow to allow something like forgiveness.

Willow was waiting in the library at the last period, wearing a pair of close fitting jeans and a deep green shirt that had a square neckline and no sleeves, a sheer scarf in pale green concealing the bite on her throat, making it look like no more than a hickey. She didn't look like the shy, hesitant girl that Buffy had first met anymore. This Willow seemed older, more self confident about all sorts of things, and far more secure in herself and her place in the world. It pained Buffy, but it was obvious that Spike had been good for her.

"Willow. I... I'm sorry." Buffy made herself say the words, hating the fact that they were not only deserved, but long overdue.

Willow looked at Buffy, her expression cool and guarded. They had been talking less and less lately, and far less of it had been anything personal, mostly details of class assignments, and questions about the latest evil menace threatening Sunnydale. Which was why it wasn't such a surprise to see her looking so wary, but it hurt. "Exactly what are you apologizing for?"

Buffy winced, knowing that she deserved that question, hating that her own actions had been so horrible tot he person that was one of her few real friends. "For... a lot of things. For trying to fix you up with other guys when you had someone, for calling him evil... for not having the decency to let you have the same chance at a forbidden relationship that I insisted on taking."

Willow gave a small smile, one that didn't quite warm her eyes, but did make them sparkle a bit. "Does this mean that you won't be trying to talk me out of having Spike in my life? That you'll stop telling guys here at school that I need a man? Because, I have one, and I certainly don't have the time or energy for another."

"I'm... You're right, I have been doing that. I shouldn't have. I'll stop trying to throw guys at you. But... can't I worry about you? He's a vampire! I just... I just want you to be safe." Buffy's voice broke, and tears stung at her eyes. She blinked furiously, trying to keep them from falling.

Willow smiled again, this one feeling more real, lightening her eyes a bit. "Good. I understand the idea of worrying, but... Spike isn't going to hurt me. He loves me, and I love him. Everything will be okay."

Buffy felt something loosen in her chest, and it was as if a pressure that she had only partly been aware of had been released. "Do I have to like him?"

Willow actually giggled at that. "No. You don't have to like him, just like I don't have to like Scott, or anyone else that you might choose to date. But I won't try to convince you not to go out with them unless I have a good reason, like I think you could get hurt, and I have something to back it up with. By the way, the only thing I know about Scott is that he's dated around a lot."

Buffy sighed. "So, 'he's a vampire' isn't a good enough reason? But... he bit you. How can you say that he won't hurt you?"

Some sort of interesting memory caused Willow's eyes to become slightly unfocused, and her face to blush. "He wasn't... let's just leave it at this wasn't a painful bite. Think of it as a vampire engagement ring. Or try not to think about it if the whole thing bothers you. But it means that he won't be leaving me, and he won't be hurting me."

Buffy felt a pang of envy inside her. Willow seemed so certain that Spike wouldn't hurt her, wouldn't cheat on her or leave her. It was a certainty that she didn't have with Scott. The fact that the guy who made Willow go dreamy eyed and cherished her was a vampire made the envy even more bitter. Even though she already knew what Willow would say, Buffy heard the question come from her lips. "He really makes you happy?"

Smiling at her, Willow nodded. "He makes me very happy. All he wants is for me to be Willow, to love him with all that I am, and for me to accept him and let him love me. He doesn't care what sort of grades I get, or what music I listen to. My parents and their careers don't matter to him. Just me. It's a wonderful feeling."

"I guess... Scott doesn't look at me like that. I'm not his reason for being, and I'm not really sure where I stand with him. I'm jealous that you're so happy. Does that make me a bad friend?" Her voice held envy, regret, and a bit of fear.

"No, feeling jealous that I'm happy doesn't make you a bad friend. Trying to throw guys at me while I have one does. But... I'm glad that you figured out that you shouldn't, and I accept your apology. See you tomorrow in history."

Buffy watched Willow leave the library, certain that things would never be the same again. She had strained and cracked the bonds of their friendship, and she had no way to know if they would ever heal enough for them to be as casual and close as they had been before. On the bright side, Willow was still speaking to her.

A soft noise from the back of the library, the sound of a book being shelved told her that Giles was here. How much of the conversation had he heard? What did he think about her recent behavior. Buffy felt herself blushing as she imagined what Giles must think of her. Well, she might as well as him what he thought of her chances of mending her friendship with Willow.

"Giles? Will things ever be the same between me and Willow?" Her voice sounded almost like a small child asking their parent if there were really monsters in the closet.

Walking towards her, Giles shook his head. "No, Buffy. Things will never be the same as they once were, not with Willow, not with anything. You can only move forwards, not back into the past. That isn't to say that with effort and persistence you might not be able to rebuild the friendship that the two of you once had, but... even then things would be different."

"You know, sometimes the whole grown up honesty thing can be a bit painful." She tried to smile as she said the words, attempting to hide the worry and fear that nothing would be the same, that she would be alone except for an uncertain boyfriend, and that she would die at the talons of a cruel demon. That she would pass unmourned from life.

"I thought that you would want the truth." Giles adjusted his glasses, a sure sign that he was feeling awkward.

Fidgeting a bit as she stood, Buffy looked at him through her lashes. "Being a grown up is hard. Can I have a five minute break? A few minutes where I don't have to be reasonable, and don't have to think about the hard parts?"

He sighed a bit, settling into one of the chairs around the massive oak table that so often held stacks of books on demons and prophecies. "What would you want in that five minute break?"

She sat at the table with him, resting her chin on her hand. "Lie to me. Tell me that everything will be alright."

"Lie to you, tell you that everything will be perfectly fine..." He shook his head in amusement, chuckling slightly. "Well, Buffy, one day you will wake up, and you will automatically know right from wrong, and you will never again hit a red light or suffer... bad hair? You will be able to see the little labels that identify the good guys, and all the bad guys will have large horns, black cloaks, or badges that proclaim their evilness. The good guys will always win, everybody will live happily ever after, and you will be best friends with Willow and Xander forever."

She smiled at him, her eyes warm. "Liar."

Giles only smiled, opening a book that appeared to be nothing more ominous than poetry. "Perhaps there might be a bit of happily after for us all. Take a few moments for hope and optimism."

end part 88.

Willow was feeling a bit unsettled as she let herself back into the house. She kept thinking about what Buffy had said. How she'd said that she was sorry, how she wanted to repair their friendship. It sounded good... but how serious was Buffy?

"Welcome back, luv. What has you all thoughtful and nibbling your lip? I could do that instead..." Her Spike was there, his eyes sparkling with good humor.

Looking at him, she smiled as she wrapped her arms around him, pulling herself close and breathing in his scent. "I love you. But as for why I'm all thoughtful... Buffy wanted to talk to me today. She apologized for trying to fix me up with other guys, and said that she wanted to try to be friends again, like we used to be."

Holding her close, Spike simply said "ahhh."

Giggling a bit, Willow ran her finger over the small scar on his eyebrow. "I know, you aren't impressed with Buffy. You have no problems with me not being as close to her as we used to be. But... I keep wondering how sincere she was. I mean, she seemed upset, but... can she stay all accepting-Buffy?"

"I'm not going to pretend to like her, because I don't. But she made Angel miserable, and she hasn't been making you very happy lately either. It would be a lot simpler to just kill her... new Slayer, no old emotional baggage." His words sounded almost teasing.

Sighing, Willow let herself rest against him. "I know, she made us all miserable. But, no, I don't want you to kill her. Part of me wants to give her another chance, to get my friend back. But another part of me is afraid. I can't turn back time, we can't undo the things that she did. I wouldn't want things to go back to how my life was without you. It's just... I want my friend back, but I don't want to be hurt if she decides that it's too hard."

"Makes sense to me, everything but the part about wanting her as a friend." Spike grinned as he spoke, knowing that his words would distract Willow from her worrying.

Willow had laughed, and they had gone into the kitchen to find a light snack. The fact that Spike most likely intended to distract her from considering all things connected to school or Buffy and slaying was clear, and neither of them felt any need to mention it. It would be enough to act upon his intentions.

Meanwhile, Angel and Dru were snuggled together on the couch. Angel felt better knowing that Buffy had realized how badly her actions had stung, and that she wouldn't be returning to the place in his arms, the place where his Dru fit so wonderfully. How had he ever deluded himself into thinking that he could be happy with someone that couldn't accept all of him? Someone that tried to deny the nature of what he was? Granted, he wasn't the ruthless killer that he had been, but sunshine was out, solid food was out, and he existed on blood. He wasn't human, and he couldn't do all the things that humans did.

Dru seemed to be feeling happier as well, although it was rather doubtful that it was from any measure of concern for Buffy.

"The yellow dragon spoke to the tree... she promised to stop trying to take away the tree's kitty, perched up in the branches. My Angel, do dragons keep their promises? Will we still be going away to see London?"

Angel looked at her, smiling as he brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. "I don't know if the dragon will keep her promise. But yes, we will be going to London. I know how much you said you wanted to see the big clock. The only thing for either of us that's in Sunnydale now is Spike and Willow."

Dru smiled, and her voice was low, as if she was whispering a secret to him. "The Flower sent a book of magic to the Tree... one day they will make me an auntie. Will you help me find them little soft boots and fuzzy blankets for the little kitten? Spikey will take her away from this place, the Mouth is not safe. They will make love under the moonlight of Greece, and watch the waves come in on the belly of the world..."

Angel looked at her, trying to make sense of Dru's words. It sounded as if she was trying to tell him about the future. Eventually, he concluded that it didn't make any sense to him, so perhaps he would have to ask Willow and Spike to explain. He was also trying to picture a kitten in soft baby boots and a blanket, and it was a most amusing image.

He pulled Dru closer, and felt peace flow through him, body and soul. "Then I wish them great enjoyment of the Grecian moonlight and the waves on the belly of the world. You make me happy Dru, being here with you, knowing that William... Spike is part of my family again. It's a good feeling. I just hope that everything lasts. Nothing this peaceful and this perfect seems to last very long."

"You mean like a holiday?" She had snuggled up against his side, one hand slowly brushing over his stomach.

Angel shifted on the couch, the position suddenly... not quite as soothingly comfortable as it had been mere moments before. "Yes. This rather feels like a holiday, and eventually, I'll have to go back to work."

With a sly grin, Dru whispered to him. "You're not supposed to be worrying about redemption right now, my Angel. Right now, you're supposed to be taking care of your Princess. We can go chase the nasty shadows away in the city of angels after we have a nice holiday away... we can look at the big clock and the giant birds. Then we can go to the city of Angels and you can work away your guilt."

Part of Angel's mind wanted to think about her words, certain that they were important. Another part of him, located distinctly lower than his brain wasn't worried with things over or after the summer. Especially not with her hand sliding over his pants like that... Best to 'take care of his Princess' now and worry about the future later.

end part 89.

The next morning, Willow decided to talk to Giles. He probably wouldn't be able to help her figure out if her relationship with Buffy could be repaired, but... The back up plan was to leave early to travel. If there was a chance that she might be leaving the country, she owed it to Giles to let him know. He was practically family by this point, far more than Ira or Sheila Rosenberg had ever been.

She found him in the library, and as she walked in, she noticed his quickly closing some sort of magazine or catalog and shoving it under a pile of papers, as if he was hoping that she wouldn't discover what he'd been looking at. Which was entirely odd, and not the sort of behavior that she would have expected from Giles.

"Ummm, Giles? There's something... I sort of felt like I should tell you some of the plans Spike and I have." She had been so startled by the magazine thing that she had forgotten her carefully planned words.

He looked up, an almost guilty startled expression being quickly replaced by somewhat nervous concern. "What sort of plans are these?"

Willow settled onto one of the solid wooden chairs, smiling as she thought of her Spike. "Well, we'd figured for quite a while now that after I graduate, we'll be leaving Sunnydale. The plan is for a sort of tour of Europe. I've always wanted to see Athens. But, umm... things with Buffy had been sort of... tense. She said that she wants to work on it. But she also used to say that she wanted to work on her relationship with Angel, and she gave him up because it was too hard. If she decides that it's too hard to be friends with someone dating... somebody like Spike, We'll just leave earlier than planned. I thought... well, you're more family than my parents are, I wanted you to know."

Giles smiled, apparently relieved by something. "I hope that you're always as happy with him as you seem right now. And I do hope that things between you and Buffy can be repaired." He reached over the desk for his teacup, accidentally bumping the stack of books that were covering the magazine. They didn't topple, but they shifted enough to reveal the corner of the... jewelry catalog?

Reaching over, Willow moved a few papers, revealing a bit more of the catalog. It was definitely a jewelry catalog, and she recognized the name from some of Cordelia's chatterings. They sold expensive, high quality gemstone jewelry. Was Giles considering... did he want to ask Jenny to marry him? The idea bubbled inside of her, and she couldn't help but smile. Hopefully, Giles could have some happiness as well.

"Actually, maybe I should just go... put some of the returned books back on their shelves. Your desk looks like it could use a de-cluttering." She slipped back out into the main section of the library, still smiling. Giles and Miss Calendar... which would make her Jenny Giles instead of Jenny... Janna Calendar. She just hoped that Giles actually got the courage to ask... unless she was reading things wrong and he was only intending to give her a pretty sparkly present. Maybe Giles wasn't considering engagement rings. But it was an interesting thought.

She was still smiling as she met Xander and Amy for lunch. They looked sort of cute together, and as they sat under the shade of the big oak tree in the courtyard, Amy leaned back against Xander, who wrapped his arms around her. Yes, they definitely looked cute. She could feel her smile stretching wider.

"What's so funny?" Xander's comment stirred up the calm.

"Not funny, sweet. You two look so sweet all snuggled up like that." Willow knew that she was smiling like some sort of demented elf, but right now, she was too cheerful to care. Life was good.

Amy just smiled. "Sweet, huh? I like the sound of that. And I like having my Xan to be my own personal snuggle-bunny."

Xander's ears went rather pink, making Willow wonder exactly how snuggly the two of them had gotten. But instead of commenting, he just pulled Amy close and placed a kiss on her head, with a silly grin on his face.

"Life is good. We're young, were in love, the weather's great... what could" Suddenly, Xander stopped his words with an almost audible click, and continued in a more subdued voice. "Let's not ever finish that sentence in Sunnydale, okay? I can't believe I almost jinxed us all like that."

Amy simply turned, giving Xander a look. "Maybe I'd best find a way to keep you from talking?"

Willow giggled and walked away as they kissed. Maybe she should give the love-birds some space. It was good to see them so very happy. Happiness was spreading like a rash all over the place. She settled on a bench, pulling out an apple to eat.

"They certainly seem... entirely unaware that some things aren't for public display." Cordelia's voice was unmistakable, although lacking the sharp tones of malice.

Willow glanced over, determining that Cordelia was meaning Xander and Amy, who were still kissing. "I think Xander's too busy to think about being on display. They're... sort of cute together. How are things with you?"

Tilting her head slightly, Cordelia looked at the couple. "Well, in a sort of unfashionably dressed sort of way, they are cute together. But I much prefer someone with a bit more style. I have a date this weekend with Percy."

Remembering her own talks with the athlete, Willow smiled. "He's not bad to look at. Rather nice guy as well. I wish you the best of luck with him."

Cordelia looked at her, one neatly shaped eyebrow arching. "Oh? How do you know if he's a nice guy? Don't you have your hands full with Spike?" Her words were accompanied by a gesture at the sparkling diamond on Willow's finger.

Willow simply smiled. "Of course Spike keeps me busy, and no, I don't have time for anyone else. But... for a while, I'm sure that you know Buffy was trying to split me and Spike up by throwing guys my way? Percy was one of them, and he actually said something to me about what was going on. So, he's a nice guy, at least if he tries."

Cordelia frowned. "Why would Buffy have a problem with you having your own boyfriend? Isn't she with Scott? Does that mean that hunk of salty goodness that she used to see is available?"

Willow giggled a bit at Cordelia's description of Angel. "Yes, Buffy is with Scott now, as far as I know. She broke up with Angel, but he's not available. He ummm... I guess you could say that he got back together with an ex of his. Her name is Dru, she's a friend of mine. Buffy's objections were more about Spike than the idea of me having someone."

Cordelia sighed. "Well... too bad. I'm sure I could have made him very happy. Why would Buffy not like Spike? Does she even know him?"

For a moment, Willow debated how to explain this to Cordelia. "Okay... I'm going to go for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Remember the dead students from before the Spring dance? They were killed by vampires. Angel is a vampire, and so is Spike. Buffy broke up with Angel because she couldn't cope with that, and I think she's jealous that I've got my vamp when she couldn't handle hers. She was saying that he might hurt me, which he would never do."

"Wow... you sure know how to go for the overwhelming... Angel's a vampire? But the good kind, right? Is there a good kind?" Cordelia's voice sounded a bit stunned, but it was clear that her mind was still working.

"Yeah... Angel's a vampire. He's also one of the good guys, and no, there aren't a lot of good vampires. It's too much work for most of them." Willow's voice carried a hint of amusement.

Cordelia looked thoughtful. "So... is your's actually going to marry you? Where will you be going for a honeymoon?"

Willow felt herself smiling. Cordelia certainly had a solidly established way to not think about scary things in the dark. "We've already Claimed each other. It's a vampire and supernatural thing. Basically, in the eyes of his people, we are already married. The ring lets normal human beings know that I'm not available. We're going to go to Europe, see Athens and Rome and Venice... And we might be leaving sooner rather than later, if... well, we don't know exactly when we'll be leaving."

"Wow. Athens, Rome and Venice? You realize that that's going to cost quite a bit, right?" Cordelia's voice held excitement and just a hint of jealousy.

With a small shrug, Willow smiled at her new... sort of friend. "We won't have money problems. He's got what you might call family investments."

"Sounds like you're going to go off and live happily ever after." Definite jealousy this time.

"I hope so. There's a lot of 'looks like happily after' going around." Willow's voice was filled with hope and joy. Hope for the future, and joy that so many of her friends were happy.

end part 90.

Willow had to admit that Buffy seemed to be trying. The Slayer was trying very hard to accept that Willow was involved with a vampire, and she'd actually managed to refrain from making any comments about it. But she wasn't happy about it.

Buffy was also rather upset that Angel was involved with Dru now. She'd been jealous, and had spent some time crying on Giles shoulder. Not the tears of someone who wanted him to fix it, but the tears that said it hurt, and she needed someone to listen.

It helped Willow's peace of mind to know that Buffy understood that Angel had every right to move on, considering that she'd broke up with him. Angel and Dru had every right to try to be happy. She also knew that they were planning to leave Sunnydale soon, for a visit to England and Ireland. She hoped they enjoyed themselves.

Xander and Amy were also very happy, except for the minor points of Xander's parents couldn't really stand Amy any more than they liked Xander, and her mother was certain that Xander wasn't good enough for her daughter, not quite mentioning the fact that Catherine Madison had always wanted her daughter to marry a witch or at least someone with magic in their family.

Cordelia and Percy were if not entirely blissful, still dating. Percy didn't put up with all of Cordelia's demanding whims, and Cordelia didn't give him the adoring glazed look that some of the girls did. The relationship had actually been good for their egos, deflating them a bit in a way that hadn't left terrifying emotional fallout everywhere. It was much too soon to tell if they would end up a long term couple, but for now, they were good together.

Giles had been watching Jenny with this hopeful, worried look, which had only increased Willow's suspicions that he'd been searching for a ring. She really hoped that they could be happy together.

Leaning back against a tree, Willow smiled as she worked on her history homework. Life was good. Her friends were happy, even Buffy was sort of happy. Buffy'd decided that she really should work on figuring out how things were between her and Scott, instead of worrying about Willow. Everyone had been relieved by that particular choice.

She and Spike had planned to take a small trip over the summer, to go and visit a few places that he thought she would find interesting. The additional fact that it would mean the two of them were almost alone quite often... and that Willow wouldn't want him to be bored and lonely all day, would simply be a delightful added bonus. Willow could hardly wait for the summer.

Yes, life was definitely good. She couldn't ask for anything better. She had someone that loved her, and would never leave her, and her friends had found happiness as well.

end part 91.

end Time for Blood and Roses.