by Alicorn

Copyright © 2006


Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Their not mine, I wish they were, but I know there not and nobody gets anything for writing or posting, except Wiffy goodness.
Distribution: The Mystic Muse: /mysticmuse.net
Feedback: Oh, pretty please. I live and die by the feedback I get.
Spoilers: None.
Author's Notes: After a brief relationship with Willow, Tara dropped out of college and went back to her family, so Willow is out to the Scoobies. Buffy & Willow sharing a College Dorm room. Giles & Anya (ex-demon & Xander's girlfriend) run the Magic Box. Faith is post coma!
Pairing: Willow/Buffy

Summary: Willow and Buffy body swap. A rose by any other name, still has thorns.

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5    Part 6    Part 7    Part 8    Part 9    Part 10    Part 11    Part 12    Part 13    Part 14    Part 15    Part 16    Part 17    Part 18

Part 1

Willow lay perfectly still, afraid to move. Okay she was a little, no, a lot confused. She was her, well her as in her personality and id, but in Buffy's body! Metaphysics, Applied Mathematics, Psycho-analysis, Advanced Magic's and Drugs would probably be required before long. All because of Faith.

So here she found herself trying to sleep, in Buffy's body. Knowing that just across the room Buffy was trying to sleep in her body. Willow was sure that any moment now Scully and Mulder would burst through the door, with the cigarette smoking man in tow.

When they had Scoobied together at the Magic Shop, to figure out;
a) what had happened,
b) how it had happened and
c) how to fix it;

Giles had cleaned his glasses and then buried his head in the books and watchers journals. Willow and Buffy had just seemed to spend ages staring at each other but not making eye contact. Xander spent his time sneaking side glances at the pair of them, when he thought they weren't looking.

Anya's attention however was focused on the till, which wasn't balancing and therefore endangering the money, in some way that only she understood. The whole, we've swapped bodies thing, did not rate above this as she observed they were still both alive and in no physical danger. Buffy and Willow didn't really mind that her attention was not on them, they had enough to deal with.

Willow had never felt this uncomfortable in her best friends presence, well with two exceptions. That whole Halloween thing, when Buffy had got her into that all too sexy for Willow outfit, she had wanted to vanish and then when her Vampy other dimension self had seemed all kinda Gay and come onto Buffy!

Buffy was going through her own private chastisement, recalling how Faith had so easily duped her into this situation. Guilt filled her as she realized that she had again put her Willow in danger. Willow now had her Slayer strength, but not her training or experience, whilst she was the guardian of Willows body.

Calling LA proved fruitless, no one was answering, except the answer machine. It seemed that Angel was indeed occupied.

Eventually at around 11pm, Buffy had decided they all needed to eat and that munchies were required, taking Xander with her, knowing that just like her, he was starting to get book weary, they drove to his apartment which was nearest.

"So Xan, is it Sandwiches or Dips & Chips?" Buffy asked.

"Sandwiches sounds good, how about Toasted, we can zap them in the micro, when we get back to the Box." Taking Buffy's smile as agreement, he continued. "I'll go do the manly burning of bread, you check the fillings. We need high calorie goodness."

"Point well made, color me a seeker of sugary goodness." Buffy replied, glad that Xan had stopped the strange looks. She heard him find the bread and load the toaster. Rummaging through Xander's cooler, she had found, cheese, ham, raspberry jam & some pickles. She grabbed three knives and started to open the jars, normally a total non-issue. But the lid to the pickles just would not budge, no matter how hard she twisted. Buffy's mind raced, 'this is what it was like to have normal strength, to have Willow strength'.

She was not impressed. Just when she was about to scream in frustration, a large hand reached past her, taking the jar and as she turned she saw Xander a little too effortlessly open the jar and place it back in front of her. He didn't even look at her as he did it.

Buffy stared at the jar, as if it was Xander. 'He's stronger than I am, right now. He just treated me like Anya! Like I was a little weak female, who needed someone big & strong to do things for them. Oh my god, did I used to do that' Buffy was lost in her thoughts, trying to remember if she had ever treated Anya or Willow as a weak and feeble female, until the toaster pinged and ejected all but one slice of bread, which it appeared according to Xander, was the price you paid to the toaster demon so that it did not burning all the other slices too.

As if a bell had gone off in her head, Buffy suddenly thought, 'I can't patrol like this, I couldn't dust a shelf.' Shaking herself, she ploughed into the making of toasted sandwiches.

When they returned to the Magic Box, everyone still had their heads down, Xander became Micro man and soon everyone was diving into hot calorie goodness. All except Buffy who had lost her appetite.

As time went on she realized that they were all leaving her to mention her slayer duties. She was so not in the mood, to own up to being just plain normal, non-slayer powered Buffy. 'Faith you are so, dead.'

But the more she thought about Patrolling, the more, who now had her power, fed her thoughts. 'Willow might have my slayer strength, but one whole session in the training room will probably only prove that Willow doesn't really have the physical co-ordination, experience or control to be sent out to dust vamps, so Patrolling will be cancelled.

With any luck Giles would then call it a night and they could all troop off to their relative beds, to re-group tomorrow. 'Yeah,' she thought, 'its set in stone, you need years of training to master my slayer strength.' Summoning herself she launched into the untouchable subject.

"So when are you going to start Will's training Giles?" asked Buffy, with all the innocence and this doesn't bother me attitude she could muster.

"Ahh, yes well. I suppose for all intents and purposes Willow is now our Slayer." Giles cleared his throat. "It would therefore be prudent to instruct her in the skills she will require to undertake your duties, until we can resolve this…issue." He finished lamely.

"Hey, Will you get to feel the force." Xander piped in. " Be careful not to be drawn to the dark side." He added in his best Obi-Wan voice.

"Please don't turn out to be my brother." Willow replied. "Do I really have to train?" Then she asked with obvious concern. "I'm not really big on the whole staking and witty one liner thing. I'm more back room girl."

Giles replied in his best Watchers voice. "It's not really a choice thing, Willow. With the Slayer Strength goes a history of responsibility. It's more of a calling really."

"Oh cool, someone else gets the speech." Buffy interjected, only to get an over his spectacles look from Giles. "It's a good speech." She offered as apology.

"Yes well. Willow, we can't let the Vampires and other lower region dwellers, think that the Slayer is on a break. That would put too many lives in danger. I think Buffy's right, we need to start your training as soon as possible."

With that he stood up and started to move to the training room.


"When better."

Buffy watched in disbelief as Willow showed not only aptitude, but a willingness to learn. Her slim and agile body took to the complex moves with little or no effort. Giles was in his element, he had a student who knew how to listen, digest ask intelligent questions and take instruction. It was almost embarrassing to watch his pleasure.

It turned out that Willow was as apt a physical student as she was a cerebral one. 'This is not going according to plan.' Thought Buffy, 'Will's learned in one hour, what it took me four months to learn.' Shamed at her thoughts and the possibility of being surpassed Buffy could do nothing but sit and watch. She should be happy that Willow was as good as she appeared to be. Yet fear was gripping her. But there was no one to fight, no one but herself.

So she just sat there, as Xander beamed proudly at his Willow, as she soaked up everything Giles gave her and Giles concentrated on his eager student. She felt as if she wasn't needed. It was a hollow feeling. 'What use am I now?' she asked herself. 'I don't have any Willow magic's, I'm not booky and no one even lets me drive car. I've become redundant.'

After two hours Giles called it a night. He thanked Willow for all her hard work and stressed that although she had done exceptionally well, he didn't feel that tonight should be her first patrol.

They had walked in silence back to their dorm room, the night air cleared Buffy's head. Willow was very conscious of every noise and didn't really relax until they got back into their dorm.

Not much was said as they prepared for bed. The awkwardness had returned, both had been unable to get over having to relieve themselves in each others bodies, showering was totally out of the question. They had changed into their pj's almost like 12 year olds on camp. Both trying to not get caught looking at the body they now occupied.

Both got into their relative beds and lay very still, so very conscious of how difficult it was to sleep when you had to watch where your hands were.

Willows mind was babbling in response to the situation. All her thoughts seemed to be about the body she now occupied and how she had often wondered if Buffy's skin was as soft as it looked, what it would feel like to touch, caress, kiss…'Bad thoughts, bad bad thoughts. Cos feeling would be bad…wrong…bad bad. Oh no…feeling…caressing…even worse. Naughty Willow, Bad Willow, No, no feeling' So she lay there staring at one spot on the ceiling, wishing for sleep to take her, but concentrating too hard to let it.

Early next morning, a ringing phone dragged Buffy into consciousness. Stumbling across the room she grabbed the handset from the cradle and grunted "Hi."

"Hey B, missing your Goldie locks? Have you checked out your new equipment yet?" A all too familiar voice added. "Is Red a natural red head?" Buffy could almost see Faiths smirking face, as her voice traveled down the phone line, which Buffy now held in a clenched fist. She was suddenly very awake.

"Faith. I am going to put you in a world of pain, when I catch you. Why did you do this to us?" Buffy almost whispered through clenched teeth, as she felt herself going red faced.

"Ahh, B you know I really have done you both a favor. Let's face it you were never going to get the courage to deal with how you feel, let yourself loosen up B. Just think of the possibilities." When she got no reply from Buffy, Faith bated her. "Yeah, you know what I mean."

Stealing herself not to respond, Buffy asked "What do you want Faith."

"Just checking in on you guys. Gotta keep an eye on my little experiment." Faith replied, laughing. "Believe me B, I'm doing this for your own good. Plus there's a whole personal buzz from seeing you and Red so jittery. So how you doing without the Slayer power, is it everything you hoped for."

"Faith, I don't know what your up to. But I will find out and then you will so pay." Buffy stated. "When Angel said you were trying to change. I was right to think you just had him fooled"

"You really do get off on the high moral ground thing don't you? Singing the song of the chosen one, your martyr to the cause lyrics are beginning to sound very old hat B. Do yourself and everyone else a favor, chill B and get on with living life, before it passes you by. Be honest with Red. Trust me regrets are a bitch." With those words the line went dead.

Buffy just stood there glaring at the handset and griping it tightly, as if it was Faiths neck. 'Why is this happening.' She thought to herself, 'Oh yeah it's my birthday, why else. Can't have a birthday without the whole world falling apart can I'. She slammed the receiver back into its cradle and glowered at it as if somehow her own will, could make it tell her everything she needed to know.

"Buffy" she heard herself say. Why was she calling herself? No not her, Willow. Willow was calling her name. she turned and saw, herself sitting in Willows bed with a very worried expression on her face. "Buffy?" She questioned.

"Faith, our little wayward slayer. Just checking in on her…experiment."

"What did she say?"

"Uhhh, Nothing really, just big with the hee hee's and innuendos. Pure Faith. When I get hold of her Will…" She clenched both fists in front of her and stared at them.

"Yeah, double that." Willow added for good measure. "So why did she do it?"

"According to her because she's doing us a favor." Buffy replied. "Of all the favors she could do us, like getting lost, she picks this one. Go figure."

"What exactly did she say Buffy?" Willow repeated. She had noticed the avoiding. "It might prove to be important."

"Hey, what's with the going all Gilesy on me, Will." She pouted. Hoping to put Willow off her question.

"Well it might be useful to know exactly what she said…Hey, I did not go all Gilesy. Just asking a question. Hey only me in here, no Giles! Well maybe I sounded a little Gilesy. But no...no more body swapping…this is me, well that is me in your body, me."

"Got it, the babbling proved it if nothing else…your definitely Will in the Buff Bod." She paused and raising her eyebrows in mock horror, she added. "Did I just say that…Buff bod!" She giggled.

Soon they were both in fits of giggles. Buffy went back to her bed and flopped.

"So what did she say?" Willow repeated when the giggles subsided.

"Not letting me get away with the avoiding, hey Will?"

"Nope." Willow said

"Somehow your resolve face doesn't quite work with my features. But I get it Will." Buffy sighed. She really had to figure out a way of saying this without letting Willow know that Faith knew about her feelings for the Wiccan. "Well she said – sorry Will, but well…" Buffy picked a point on the carpet to stare at whilst she continued. "She asked if you were a natural red head? How was I doing without my Slayer powers? Was it all I had hoped? Then she said she was doing us a favor, that I should loosen up. That I needed to get off my chosen one, high horse and get a life." She finished still unwilling to look her friend in the eye. "Yep that about summed it up."

When no response came from Willow, she looked up. To see her face a terrible shade of white and her eye's beginning to move from Hazel to Brown, which according to her mother was never a good thing. Willow was about to blow.

"Natural Red Head!! That coming from a natural Tramp." A deep sigh followed. "After all we did for her, all Angel's done for her, how could she? Why, I don't get it. And why call? To rub salt in I guess. How can she be such a bitch?"

"May I say, Meow re the Tramp line. But Will, don't let her get to you. Please Will. She's just trying to get a reaction from us." Buffy tried to calm her friend down.

"I…Buffy…I" Willow was at a loss to even babble. Not good. Buffy needed her focused. She could see tears in the near future, if she couldn't get her to focus.

"Yeah, with you all the way on that one, Will." Buffy smiled reassuringly at her friend. "I think we need to get it together, get over to the Magic Box and into research mode. We will soon have Faith paying for this and things back to normal." She looked her friend firmly in the eye. "Will. We're good, right? I need you to focus Will. You with me? No wigging out…OK?" Staring at her friend intently, she asked again. "OK?"

Willow looked at her and said "OK." Then Willow began smirking. "I get the resolve face now…Cool." She was back, if still a little wigged out. "Note to self. No more Gilesy questions."

They walked to the Magic Box in a little less than comfortable silence. When they arrived they found Giles already heavily into the books, Anya behind the counter and Xander eyeing the large box of doughnuts he had purchased along with a round of coffees. Everyone new this was major research mode; it was going to be long day.

"Hey, anything new?" asked Xander.

"Nope" replied Buffy. "Still in the wrong body. But Faith called this morning to rub salt in the wounds. So life's good."

"May I ask what she said? It might prove to be of relevance." Asked Giles, causing Buffy to smirk at Willow, who knitted her brows in annoyance.

"Mostly windy up stuff and that she was doing us a favor, that I should get off my high horse and get on with my life. Basic, Nah nah na na nah."

"She said she was doing you a favor?" Giles repeated.

"Yeah, well both of us actually, she asked if I was enjoying being normal. No Slayer strength and such." Buffy replied, as nonchalantly as she could.

"Mmmm, Willow the Vampire Slayer…missing the same punch." Seeing Willow pout, Xander added. "Sorry Will, but it is more Disney, than independent but whacky low budget cult." Seeing Buffy's now pouting face, he added. "Not that I mean low budget, as in cheap, just not Titanic, with a major CGI budget…I'll be shutting up now."

"Yes well, setting aside Xander's B Movie Title issues, I do think that we need to try and focus on how to undo what Faith has done." Giles said. "I think we have several volumes that may prove useful."

"Your thinking Spell? Couldn't it be a curse?" asked Anya. "Curses now that's where the real longevity is."

"Well yes, Anya you could be right. But I think researching spells is the best place to start. As you may know the removal of a spell is far easier than, fulfilling the requirements, to remove a curse."

"I think I speak for me when I say, Uhh" interjected Buffy.

Sighing Giles removed his glasses to explain. "If this was caused by a spell, then we simply have to find a counter spell. If however this is a curse, it is a bit like a contract, it has conditions."

Anya interrupted "What he's trying to say is every Curse has a task that must be completed to get it to end." She continued. "But as Faith is hardly likely to tell us what the conditions of her curse were, we better hope it's a spell."

Buffy let what Anya had said sink in and nodded. Turning to Xander she whispered. "It's just like the more I know, the more confused I get."

"I believe that's called growing up."

In a little voice Buffy replied. "I'd like to stop then. Okay?"

They settled down into research mode, cross referencing anything even remotely related to body swapping. Nothing seemed to stand out as matching exactly what Faith had done or the end result. As the day went on Buffy grew more and more frustrated.

Finally at about seven in the evening, having long closed the shop and ordered Pizza, they sat, no one wanting to say what had become apparent.

It was a Curse.

In a not so stage whisper Anya asked Xander. "When do we start looking at Curses?"


"What? Curses are not on the list you gave me of inappropriate public conversations, I checked. Okay their not fun, but last time I checked, they were option b)" She turned to Xander fully. "So when are we going to look up curses?"

"Anya!" Xander repeated. If a little half heartedly.

"No Xander, Anya's right." Giles replied

"I am?" Anya asked then smiled broadly. "Curses, now that's an area I know something about. I have placed a few in my time I can tell you and not of that beauty and the beast, frog prince kind, either."

"I never would have guessed." Muttered Willow.

Muffling her giggle at Willow's side swipe, Buffy spoke up. "This spell thing is obviously a bust. I didn't know my head could hurt this much from just reading." Buffy said placed her hand dramatically across her forehead, thus agreeing to the switch of focus.

"Me too, big on the bored with spells. And I'm the big old witch girl, well less of the old and more of the Wicca. Not to say that I'm bored with doing spells, or the looking up of spells. Its more bored with the whole not finding a spell, bored." Looking around at the others Willow added, "Okay I know you're all glad I cleared that up" and shrugged.

"Indeed." Replied Giles. "Well, I think we have to try and gather as much information from the actual event and your conversation with Faith, as possible. Then it's a matter of looking for clues."

"Clues, you mean we go all CSI? Sorry G-man, I mean Sherlock Holmes. Is that really going to work? Isn't it always the Butler, of which we're short one."

"I think it's the best point to begin from. And Xander would you please not call me by that infernal nickname." He frowned at Xander who just smiled. "Okay, lets start with the event itself."

Buffy, found herself gazing at Willow as she and Xander danced, from her spot at their table. Wondering just how Oz could have walked out on her Will. She was an incredible sweet woman, a fantastic loyal friend, shoulder to cry on and pocket fun genius. Imagining Willow the size of a pocket dictionary made her smile and Willow chose that moment to look her way and flash her a smile in response. Buffy's chest glowed with pride.

She was enjoying a floaty, thank the goddesses for Willowy goodness, my life's a good life, feeling, but it was squashed, when she recognized the face that moved into her line of sight as Faith. Leaning across the table Faith smiled knowingly, as she blocked her view of the dance floor.

"Hey B, still checking out Red I see. What 's holding you back?" She asked with a leer. "Don't get what you see in her, myself."

"So, not asking. What are you doing here Faith. Gotta wish to die much?" Buffy said, shooting Faith a steely gaze. "Didn't I make it clear at our last meeting, that you should stay away from me."

"I'm on a job for Angel, but I thought I'd just do some catching up. Touching base, with my home girl. No hug for your long lost?" She replied carelessly. Changing tack and the tone of her voice she continued. "So seriously, how you doing B? Scooby's look on a well deserved break. How's Giles?"

Buffy found herself suddenly very alert, Faith being chummy set her teeth on edge and her spider senses tingling. "Yeah, right. What's with the noticing others all of a sudden?"

"B, you wanna learn to lay back girlfriend, go with the flow." Faith threw her shoulders back and spread her arms, in a couldn't care less gesture. "Chill."

"If I go with my flow, your gonna be lying flat on your back pretty damn soon." Replied Buffy through clenched teeth. This was getting unfunny real quick. Faith was making her nervous

"Hey babe, whatever." She replied leaning forward to smirk at Buffy. "Not really here to push your button's, fun though that is. I have something to pass on from Cordy." With that she perched on the stool to the left of Buffy. Faith's brazen confidence in the fact that Buffy would not act on her instincts and punch her out, until she knew why Angel was involved, grated on the Slayers for different reasons. "You may wanna call in the Buffettes."

As ever was the case, Willow and Xander appeared, just as she thought of them. "Buff?" Xander asked, his eyes loaded with one question, what's up?

Buffy replied by moving her eyes, to indicate that they sit. Xander took this as a sign to partially relax. Buffy's explanation was brief. "Faith has a message from Cordy." With that Xander sat opposite Faith and waited.

"So why not a call?" asked Willow, as she chose the stool opposite Buffy. "I mean, how do we know they sent you?"

"It's more of a hand delivery item." Faith interjected. When no one was bated, she added. "Okay. Angel said to tell Buffy that this is 'from the one freaky thing in your freaky world that makes sense'. Look really not wanting to be here B, but Vision girl said it had to be done now, must be handed over to you two, by midnight." Everyone checked their watch it was ten to. "Dead Boy is otherwise engaged, something to do with…aw hell who cares. Angel said I had to do the delivery, protect it till it got to you. Got it?.... not wanting to be here clear, so back off with the attitude. Just tell me, are you taking delivery?" Faith waited for a response, Buffy said nothing, whilst Xander and Willow just continued to stare at Faith, taking that as backing off, Faith waited.

Xander piped up. "So hand it over."

"Sorry stud." Faith said looking at Xander. "Cordy said I had to give this to Willow and Buffy, I was to tell you girlies that…The goddess said…Hold on I need a mo, lot to remember. Grouchy girl wouldn't let me write it down. So hang five."

After several minutes of Faith staring at the table in silence, Buffy was loosing it. "Faith? Midnight!"

"Chill." Faith paused again. "Okay, I think I got it."

"A choice says the Goddess,
Give into nothing but temptation
Let inner passions light a fire.

Flowing in the heart of a maiden,
Now arising without the dawn,
To find a home and free desire.

Walk in the shoes of another
The fate of two souls entwined
Or secrets that burden and fester.

For Luna will turn her back
Until the hidden truth is seen,
Returning to fix them forever.

Only then will there be release.
Or bind the lies like the first,
Unrequited soul mates left to die.

For if she withers from her roots
And a single season be forgotten,
Such lives will weep and cry.

Finishing Faith slowly extracted a globe from her jacket.

Buffy and Willow immediately, ignored the really bizarre fact that they had just heard faith reciting poetry, as they both became mesmerized, by the soft yellow and amber light that emanated from the globe. They were drawn to it and both reached for the globe, as Faith placed it on the table and removed her own hand.

Willows hand touched it first and she smiled at Buffy, who was also reaching forward her hand. When Buffy touched the Globe, a surge of power shot between them and knocked Xander from his stool. From the floor he heard Faith say, "Job done, I'm outta here." Scrambling to his feet, he saw her exit stage left, looking back at Buffy and Willow he saw that they were out of it, heads resting on the table, hands still out stretched, but between them, no globe!

Torn between chasing Faith and a possible, no make that almost certain thrashing, he decided that calling Giles and staying with the girls was probably the right thing to do.

"I want you each to write down exactly what you each recall Faith having said. Word for word, please." Giles said, "You will probably all remember it slightly differently and we need to have the exact wording if possible. So if I compare all three, I will probably be able to get as close, to what was actually said, as possible without having recorded it. The trick with unraveling a curse is in the wording. Deciphering the hidden meaning in words, etcetera."

Having done their scripts, they handed them into Giles and a debate ensued, as the differences in their recollections, were set before them. Eventually about an hour and a half later, a large white board in the training room, displayed what seemed to be the en-mass recollection of the curse.

"Okay questions first:
Which Goddess?
What temptation?
Who's the Maiden?
What's the hidden truth?
What was the first lie?
What does it mean by fix them forever." Giles said as he started writing on the right side of the white board.

"Then there are the obvious things. The two souls, shoes of another, the withered roots and the single season all seem to refer to Buffy and Willow. Luna is the moon, so that's our timescale, a Luna month." Having half filled the right side of the board, Giles stepped back to stare at it, in the hope more would become evident.

Buffy sat numb, in her heart she thought she knew what it was all about, but her fear of being wrong prevented her from speaking. Well not only her fear of being wrong, but if she was honest her fear of being right. Instead her mind took over. 'I'm just seeing what I want to see, there is no way that Faith could seriously have been trying to help, it wasn't in her nature, despite what Angel thought and she was probably only seeing what she wanted to see. How would she know what's best for Willow, she has never said a kind word to her, no, it can't be me.' She scanned the words, finding other meanings. It was referring to a big bad, somehow Willow and her would be fixed this way forever. 'Faith if your on this planet, you are so dead.'

Willow, decided to dismiss Giles' approach and was busy scribbling the sequential letters of each word, then the secondary sequences. Searching for a numeric predictable pattern, a code. She liked the mathematical approach. She was also busy denying all the thoughts and feelings that the verse provoked in her emotionally, this was just another puzzle.

Anya spoke. "Did you say the globe had a Yellow light?"

Willow and Buffy nodded.

"I think you'll find the Goddess is Innana. She was a Sumerian High Goddess. In the days of the Christos when the sacrificial gods Tammuz/Dumuzi were consorts of the powerful Ishtar and Innana, men seeking to honor the Goddess entered the priesthood performing self castration as an act of contrition. To become closer to the Goddess they emasculated themselves in an attempt to be more like women, having a hole, instead of a penis. Then the church fathers emulated the attire of women by adopting robes as an emblem of their "holy" office. Seeking ritual debasement and submission to purge their day to day guilt, at being male. Ahh those were the days, devout monks beating themselves into a frenzy of zealous ecstasy. I cursed quite a few men with the worship of Innana in my time I can tell you." Anya beamed, apparently still unrepentant. "Oh yeah, their robes were always Yellow. The same color as the hair of their Goddess"

Xander, sat there too, but unlike everyone else, he wasn't looking at the board, he wasn't really listening to Anya, he was looking at his two best friends. Slowly his mind dripped the pieces of another puzzle into place. Willow and Buffy were not as practiced at hiding their thoughts and feelings, behind the faces they were now wearing. He had seen a few things that, well didn't sit as normal.

When what Anya was saying filtered into the puzzle, it came together in Xander's head and the light went on, he stopped breathing, in a vain attempt to stop laughing. Excusing himself, he left the room and headed out into the alley. Where he laughed loud and long. Then realizing, he had to say something, the funnies stopped. 'How the hell do I tell those two their in love?' He so did not want to be the one to have that conversation with them.

'Maybe if I just nudge them. Hold on that, what Faith is doing. I'll be damned. She really is trying to do them a favor! She's pulling a Kiser Soseh. I need some time, thinking time. Anya your gonna love this.'

It was two o'clock when they finally returned to their dorm room. They were both dog tired. Brains were pushing against skulls in protest. Buffy smiled a tired smile at Willow as she sighed, before opening the main dorm door. No one greeted them, it seemed all but the Twilight die hards in the TV lounge, had gone to bed. That seemed the norm, as at around Midnight, Xander and Anya had left Giles, Willow and Buffy to it. Anya had begun voicing needs and Xander hadn't put up much of a fight.

They climbed the stair well to their first floor room and unlocking their door both smiled at the thought of bed, as Buffy put on the light.

Their thoughts were again on bed, but this time for one and only one reason. There was only one bed in the room, one big queen size bed!! And on it a single red rose?

They both stared at the bed, afraid to look at each other.

'And how exactly did that happen?' thought Buffy. 'Not good, not good at all.'

'It's a spell, someone is doing a spell.' Thought Willow.

"Faith." They both said in unison.

"But why?" asked Willow, completely puzzled.

"Only she knows." Answered Buffy, hoping that she was right and that Willow had no idea how she felt about her. Faith was really trying it on.

"I, I think we should just get some sleep and tell Giles in the morning. He may find this new twist of interest. No point ringing now though, he's had a long day just like the rest of us." Willow walked to the Right hand side of the bed and started to take her shoes off. "It'll be like a sleep over, when we were kids."

"Yeah, cos we're so the adults now." She said grinning at Willow. "So is it Sushi pajama's tonight?"

"Of cause. All the best people wear them." Willow replied grinning.

They changed with their backs to each other, which was odd as this meant they were avoiding looking at the body they knew, not the one they didn't. But then again it avoided the possibility of seeing each other undressing and dressing their own body.

Willow was feeling particularly uncomfortable for all her apparent calmness. She had not shared a bed with her best friend since coming out to Buffy. Somehow she felt she should be making this as non-sexual and innocent as possible to help Buffy over any awkwardness. Not that she was embarrassed about her sexuality, but this was new territory to both of them.

"So Will, you want the left or the right?" Buffy asked, as she pulled up her pajama bottoms to leave no visible skin, between the top and bottoms. "Cos I have no preference, But, well, when you were seeing Tara I'm sure you had a preference and well…" Buffy dried up, she had mentioned Tara, something she had been trying to avoid for months now.

"I was always a right hand girl, myself. If that's okay with you?" Willow replied quickly.

"Okay" Buffy replied. Quickly she changed the subject. "Have you set your alarm? Giles was specific about meeting at the Magic Box by at least nine tomorrow. Don't wanna be late."

"Will do, how about half seven, time to shower, pick up Latte's and stroll in on time?"

"Sounds great, mines a mocha, gotta go for the choccie goodness."

Will smiled at her friend. Buffy wasn't looking at her and she could hear the spooked thing in her voice. Plus she had mentioned Tara, who's name had not passed her lips in months? "Buffy, are you spooked that your going to have to share a bed with me? You know what with the whole I'm Gay now thing."

"What Will. No Will. Why would I be spooked Will?"

"Buffy, That's three Will's in as many sentences. You are spooked."

"No Will" passing Buffy pulled herself together. "Trust me when I say that the thought of sleeping in the same bed with you does not freak me, spook me or otherwise cause a bad. You are by best friend, okay so your Gay, so what? I love you and will always do so." She made an effort to keep eye contact as she said. "We're good."

Willow rewarded her little speech with a smile. And with nothing else said on the subject they prepared for bed.

Part 2

Buffy hovered in the land of not wanting to open her eyes, she knew it was too soon, the alarm had yet to sound. Plus she felt warm and safe with her eyes shut. Slowly she recognized a new feeling, her rib cage felt heavy? She also felt warm all down her left side, she could feel breathing and it wasn't hers. No there was a weight on her chest. Slowly realization dawned.

Willows arm was across her chest and she was snuggled up to her side, it was her breathing she could feel. A thousand feelings fell over her, warmth, light headiness, fear, safety, rightness, wrongness, guilt, self consciousness and love. Her thoughts conflicting. 'Maybe if I just stay here very still, then…what, what do I want to happen? Do I want a sleep walking Willow to make love to me, so that only I would ever know it had actually happened. Ok not so crazy, that way I could keep her safe. Well I could just maybe hold her hand, maybe guide it…Just how pathetic are you? Lets face it if she wakes up holding me, she's going to have major wig gin's. I need to move her.'

Buffy slowly tried to roll out of Willow's hold, but her movements, just caused the arm to tighten around her, rising to just under her breasts. She could almost feel the latent Slayer power in her old body. 'Oh get real, isn't this hard enough already' her head screamed. She tried rolling backward, in the hope that this would place Willow on her back and allow her to be released, but she found the Wiccan an immovable object. Wishing for her previous Slayer strength, she cursed Faith not only for the body switch but for swapping their beds.

She sighed frustrated. 'C'mon think, there has to be a way to…' Then she heard Willow 'mmmm' and felt her gently squeeze her. 'Oh God. No' Feeling a slight stretch in the body behind her, she realized that her attempts to find release, had only caused Willow to wake up.

Buffy had felt the instinct to flee or fight before, but this feeling; 'flee or kiss the woman holding you', two choices no amount of Slayer training had ever prepared her for. Somehow she couldn't imagine the Slayer Handbook having anything useful to say on this subject.

As Willow stretched awakening from the most wonderful dream, she felt warm and content. She could hear her own heart beating, 'my goodness it's beating fast?' Then she felt something soft brush against her face, partially opening her eyes she saw red hair, the faint scent of…and suddenly she was awake. Opening her eyes, she never thought she would close them again. She was holding herself, no Buffy! 'How long have I been holding her? Oh God, please let her be asleep. Maybe I could just stay here for a little while…No, No Bad Willow.'

As she pulled herself away from Buffy, Willow was overcome with such guilt at her subconscious actions, that it fed the speed of her now Slayer strength movement. However Buffy still attempting to move away from that vice like arm, suddenly had nothing preventing her from rolling forward.

Two loud thumps, preceded their joint babbling as they both landed on the floor, either side of the offending bed. Much apologizing, feigned surprise, cursing of Faith and blushing followed. Until they both fell into silence. As if by agreement, they began to dress and prepare to leave their dorm.

Part 3

"How are my two favorite ladies?" Xander greeted them as they entered the coffee shop, placing an arm around each. "I feel like a rose between two thorns." Xander waited for the inevitable slaps, but they didn't come. Instead he could feel them both go rigid. Inside he was laughing his head off. This was going to be fun.

Xander turned to Willow with his patented lop sided grin. "Ready for the research fest? I am so ready to get doughnuts." Turning back to Buffy he asks. "So, are my favorite snuggle bunnies ready to face the books?"

Buffy smiled weekly and nodded, not feeling that it was safe to speak and slightly unnerved by Xander's greeting.

Willow was yet more afraid of what she couldn't say. She felt she knew that if she told Xander about last night, he would just go into fantasy mode, his eyes glaze over, maybe even roll around a bit in his head. She could hardly have a meaningful discussion with her friends on the subject of the feelings that were crashing in about her; like something out of The Birds, rather than the gaggle of Austin Powers a-go-go girls, Xander would have envisioned. It would take her too long to get his head back to earth. Re-entry was trickier than it looked with his imagination. She joined Buffy in the safe nodding.

Buffy extracted herself from Xander and headed to the counter to order their drinks. Leaving Willow standing uncomfortably beside her tall slightly chuffed looking pal.

Walking along to the Magic Box in relative silence, the girls were oblivious to the somewhat smug smile on Xander's face. His mind reveled in the possibilities before him, having the upper hand was a whole new experience, something he wasn't ready to give up just yet. 'Ahhh, the way power just sucks you in. I'm learning to have sympathy for Darth Vader. Well his outfit was way cooler, but the 40 a day voice? Nah'.

Xander yawned. Turning to Buffy he said. "Sorry, bit of a sleepless night, Anya stayed at hers and although I had all the covers, I missed her snoring. Your female, right?" Xander added as if it had just occurred to him. "How do you tell a girl she snores and hogs the covers? Without getting demon slapped. It's a serious problem." Suddenly pretending to realize he had asked the wrong person he turned to Willow. "Oops, guess it's the real Will I should be asking that one. Buffs not really with the sleeping with a woman thing, are you?" he threw over his shoulder, seemingly off the cuff.

"Yeah, Right." Buffy acknowledged, hoping that her face hadn't just gone blood red. She desperately wanted to look at Willow, to measure her expression. But, she knew that as lately, whenever she tried to briefly glance at Willow, she found herself staring at the wonderful, beautiful woman who she was blessed to call her friend, it was best not to give in to the desire to look at her. 'When had this started?' She asked herself.

"Your on your own there, Xan. Never had that problem, myself." Willow replied as light heartedly she could manage. Buffy hadn't exactly snored, but her breathing did have a little cute mumbling noise, when she was asleep. Realizing she needed to take control of this conversation and quick, she asked Xander. "Want me to look up an anti-snoring spell?" Putting as much eagerness as she could into her remark.

"They have those?" Xander asked, suddenly finding himself interested, just as he also realized that Willow was smirking ever so slightly. "Right" He laughed. "Sounded too good to be true. But, untapped market there - if you ask me."

Turning the final corner they came upon the Magic Box. Buffy took a deep breath and steeled herself for all that she knew was coming. This was going to be one of those awkward question and answer session, both she and Giles preferred to avoid.

Xander noticed the ever so slight stiffening of Buffy's back as well as the slight dipping of Willow's head. He realized that they were planning to tell all to Giles. 'Damn.' His fun was going to abruptly end. He had hardly gotten into his stride.

Entering the Magic Box, Xander made a b-line for Anya. He really had missed her last night; although in truth he had not suffered from a sleepless night – more a missing the possibilities of good hot sex.

"Any thing new?" asked Buffy, for once really hoping that overnight Giles had resolved everything and that a cure for the body swap was just awaiting their arrival. At least then the events of last night would become immaterial, no need for quizzing, that would be really okay with her.

"I'm afraid not. It seems our only option is to find a way to break the curse." Giles replied. "Have you remembered anything new?" He asked hopefully.

"Nope, no remembering." Replied Buffy. "But, something odd did happen when we got home last night." Buffy added, suddenly feeling that the temperature had risen.

"Really?" Giles questioned.

"Yeah, when we got to our room, our two beds had been removed and replaced." She paused, took a deep breath at the expectant look on his face. "With a double bed."

Giles took in her words and then 'Oh!' he took the words in again. His eyes shot wide open. Unable to remove his glasses for cleaning quickly enough, he dropped them and fumbled on his hands and knees, whilst mumbling. "Ahh, I see, very interesting." Retrieving his glasses, which he frenetically cleaned, he added. "Did anything else happen?"

Buffy suddenly went silent and a little red. She glared at him, 'he couldn't be asking what she thought he was – no', but she glared a little harder just in case.

"A rose was on the bed." Willow added, almost as a whisper.

"Indeed. Well we will have to consider this carefully. I'm not sure where this fits into the curse. But I'm sure that it's just a matter of applying our minds." He turned his back and replaced his glasses, somewhat puzzled by the sheer wave of discomfort he had felt coming from Buffy. "So do you have any thoughts?"

"Faith wants them to be orgasm buddies." Anya said, obviously sharing her immediate deduction. It seemed she had actually been listening. Then quietly almost to herself she added. "That's scary."

"Anya," Xander said, with as much surprise as he could muster.

"What, it's as plain as the mouth on your face." Anya responded, annoyed that everyone else seemed so blind, to what was actually going on.

"Nose" said Giles, turning before he could stop himself.

"What do you mean scary." Asked an insulted Willow, before she realized what she had said. "Not that I want to be Buffy's…I mean, Buffy your great and all, but friends. But I'm kinda Gay, kinda enjoy the Orgas…buddy thing, so why did you say, scary?" Willow's back was well and truly up. 'Does she have to say everything she thinks, how does he cope?'

Xander suddenly wanted to be somewhere else. He hated it when they argued, no matter who eventually did win, he always managed to loose.

"Faith is evil right. So what she wants has to be evil or at least not nice. So if that's for you two to become orgasm buddies, you can bet it won't be enjoyable. Kinda Gay or not." Anya ended, pointedly looking Willow straight in the eye. "Maybe she's gonna watch you two, I know Xander always wanted to watch."

"Anya" Xander yelled again, this time not acting.

"Well you do." Anya glared at Xander. "Why is everyone pretending to be so upset by the idea. It's just sex and at least they don't have to do it with a stranger. Plus Willow is on her own turf, that should make it easier. Right?"

Silence fell over the room.

Part 4

The silence had been long and awkward. Buffy honestly began to wonder at one point, if she had gone deaf. She tried so hard not to look at Willow, who had finally stopped glaring at Anya and then Xander, and was now moving towards Giles' private book collection. She knew that they had to talk. Oh god, how she was dreading that. Where had all her self confidence gone? Willow seemed so much more in control. She realized just how much her slayer power, had helped to form her self-confidence. Without it, without knowing that strength was there, she felt lost, unsure of herself, full of doubt.

Slowly she moved towards the entrance to the training area, at the back of the shop. Even though she knew that Giles would eventually follow her, she was grateful that she was getting away from the not too subtle eyes of the others. Anya's words had laid her open, stripped away any camouflage she had felt was surrounding her feelings, hiding how she felt about Willow, so that anyone who really wanted to, could see her denial for what it was. Suddenly she felt herself wanting to cry but she swallowed and pushed it back down into her. 'Now is not the time for this.' She told herself.
'How had this happened? When had it happened? Why?' She shook her head, not ready to delve into the answers. Instead she moved towards the workout mat. She knew far too well that letting anything distract you from the battle could cause people to be killed.
Their faces suddenly filled her mind. Jenny Calendar, dead on a bed of rose petals; Her gypsy uncle, butchered with his blood used to scrawl a taunting message;. Kendra, her potential never to be realized; Theresa Klusmeyer, Doug Perren; too many. But the one that always made her question the cost of falling in love was a little salesgirl, whose beating heart Angelus had ripped out of her chest, as a Valentine's Day present for his beloved Drusilla. A life she had helped to end, because she had been so caught up in her love for Angel that she had lost sight of the battle while making that certain birthday decision. She couldn't let her feelings distract her - people could die.
Attempting to stick her handstand, she found herself unable to hold and lock her arms. Falling, she suddenly remembered, she was no longer the Slayer. Her decisions, her effect on the battle had been diminished by Faith's little game. Could she now take time? Take a risk? Sitting on the floor, where she had ended up, slightly winded by the fall, she stared at the wall, in sudden realization – I'm no longer the slayer – I can choose to have a life. Catching her breath, she began to smile.
'I could tell Willow how I feel. We could – be together. But what if she isn't interested?' Remembering her reaction to Anya's outburst, Willow had been quite clear that she had never thought of Buffy that way. Nerves got the better of her and she dropped her head, depressed at the thought of not having her feelings returned. 'Why would Willow want to have me? I'm no longer the Slayer. She is. What do I have to offer her?'
Feeling like a fool she suddenly realized something awful. 'Oh my god, now she's the one who can't take her eye off the battle ahead. I can't be the one to distract her - people could die! Buffy Anne Summers, you're a fool to think that 'the powers that be' could ever let you find Love.'

Willow reached out for Channings, Cristoller Garbentium, pulling the large leather bound book from its location. Opening it to the index, she quickly moved to the chapter on globes, even though she knew she had read it at least four times yesterday. She needed something to lose herself in. Something to make her forget what Anya had said.

Moving to the table, she sat and rested her chin on her left hand, pulling her hair back with her right. Slowly she began to read. But the words didn't register and she found herself reading sentences again and again, unable to drink in their meaning, as her mind kept dragging her back to what Anya had said. 'Could she be right? Why would Faith want to put Buffy, let alone her into such a situation?' Suddenly she found herself wondering what it would be like to make love to Buffy. Heat built up inside her. Then embarrassment. She felt dirty. How could she be having such thoughts about her best friend? 'Anya is just sex mad; she sees everything, as either about sex or money.'

"Will?", Xander said as he carefully approached her. She lifted her head to glare at him. "So, you're still angry?" he asked as he settled across the table from her, placing the donut box between them.

She glared at him again.

"I come bearing donut goodness. I'm not sure what the Goddess of 'really pissed off with your girlfriend' wants as a peace offering, but a guy's gotta try. You know the kinda guy I am. Hey I'm your oldest friend, the one that doesn't really do much of the planning stuff, but every now and again…I find the key to my brain, you know?"

Willow changed her expression to a half smile and closely followed it with a puzzled look.

"We had an idea." he explained, careful not to name Anya as part of the – 'we'. Taking a deep breath he sped on. "You know how Kendra once told Giles that her watcher had tried to get her to use a vision thingy." Willow's expression grew blank.

"You know - she talked about using a vision thing to help focus a Slayer's dreams."

"You mean using a vision rod to give her dreams clarity…but you can move a vision when you use a rod…be time specific…it would…it could allow a Slayer to change the focus on events either side of her dreams.", Willow replied, slowly beginning to grin.

"Yeah, that's it..." Xander enthused. "So, if the three of us try to focus on a vision of the cursing – you know, what happened with Faith. Since we were there, that should make it crystal clear – so then if we try to rewind the vision we might to see what she's actually up to?

"The fact we are having vision based on an event we were actually part of, should make rewinding easier, the vision clearer."

"Congratulations! You have just won a trip for three to 'deja-vu' land. It's just like looking for a hidden 'cookie', not the one that fell in the back of the couch but the one on a DVD.

Willow shook her head at him and Xander grinned back. They had a plan

At first Willow let her mind consider the possibilities of this idea working. Then something occurred to her. "Xander! Anya had this idea didn't she? How does she even know about Kendra? "

"Hey, I talk about stuff, I think about stuff." he protested. "What does it matter who had the idea? I know a good plan when I see one. Well okay, I know a plan when I see one. We can call it good if it works."

Willow raised a skeptical, but knowing eyebrow at him.

"The analogies were all mine." he stated defensively. "She spends a lot of time with the G-man. She works for him. You can't blame her for not coming out with it after your reaction to the last one". And then he quietly added, "It was a tough room."

Giles entered the training room, feeling that he had given Buffy long enough to pull herself together. He was slightly surprised to find her sitting on the workout mat, staring at the wall. So inactive. So still. He had somehow expected her to be pounding the punching bag.

Steeling himself, he approached her, concerned that he was about to enter into a conversation that no father ever wanted to have with his daughter. He had never really figured out exactly when their relationship had changed, when he had first realized his pride in her. His love for her went deeper than Slayer and Watcher. He just knew that he would give his own life to save her, without question, but also that he would do anything to see her grow up and grow old. The knowledge that another Slayer would be called should she die, that the world of the Watcher's would continue, did nothing to remove his need to protect her, to nurture her.

He had watched her grow, observed her life change in so many ways, witnessed her strength and her generosity. He felt that he had helped to raise this wonderful young woman. Each time he saw pain fill her, he fought against his watcher self to shield her. Yet he had also learned the hard lesson that he had to let her grow up, let her work through her pain, that she was no longer the young girl he had first trained.

Willow was now the Slayer and so he had begun to train the young witch, just as he had the young Buffy. But, Buffy would forever be in his charge, even if she never regained her powers. He had seen her struggling with the loss, trying to find the new her. He had seen her looking so lost at times. And so he approached her with some apprehension and the very strong need to help this young woman travel through the loss of her powers and regain herself. Unsure how their relationship would change, if they couldn't get her powers back and if he no longer had to think of her as his Slayer, he took a deep breath.

Coughing ever so slightly, he let Buffy know he was there.

The basement of the Magic shop was one of Willow's favorite places; she loved all the packed shelves, the smells of witch hazel, basil, gorem root, rosemary, the latent energy of the carved totems, talismans and gemstones. This place was made to bring her Wiccan senses awake, to bring them to the surface. She felt so alive, so like her old self. Magic, wasn't about physical strength; it was about nature, life, the earth, the sky. It made her feel a part of the world.

"Ouch.", Xander cursed the box of large stone pedestals he had just stubbed his toe on. "So need to spend a little less time in basements. It's not like I have the 'burn up in daylight' problem. Some large Xander-friendly windows are what's needed."

"The light switch is on your left."

"Yeah, right."

Xander turned on the light, and the dim half light from the quarter-size alley-level windows was replaced by the neon brightness of 100 watts. Now the basement looked more like the storeroom it was and less like the treasure trove Willow enjoyed thinking of it as.

"So what does a vision rod look like?"

"You have this whole plan, carefully worked out, but you don't know what one looks like?" Willow smirked.

"Hey, I don't know what this year's Miss World looks like, but I know it won't be anything like Aunt Maureen. Know what I mean?"

"Not really. And I'm not sure I want to."

Xander smiled, knowing he was about to have fun. "I could happily plan to set up, say, a brainy Wiccan friend on a blind date with the present Miss World, on the fairly good assumption that the view would be pleasant and that I would at least be able to guarantee the date would score in the high seven's." He gave her a goofy smile. "That's how I could put together a good plan, without knowing what someone or something looked like."

"Xander. You scare me sometimes."

"So if I could, you know set you up? Interested?" Xander asked, arching one eyebrow suggestively.

"I'm a bit busy, kinda trying to get back into my own body." Willow said, giving him a shake of her head. "Don't think Buffy would take too kindly to me taking this one out on a blind date." Willow replied, turning back to the shelf she was searching.

"Okay, so how about after we sort this?" Xander pushed on. "You need to get out there, Will, because alone is just that – lonely. The only man in your life says you need to be set up. I know you're not really out there with the 'butch', Will, let alone with the smooth pick up lines. I don't see long lines of women smashing down your door – their loss. You will need help." He turned his back to her and bent over to look in a large dusty tea chest.

"All of a sudden you know a bevy of Gay women?"

"Will, I work in the building trade. Do you have any idea how many female plumbers, carpenters, electricians and architects I come across in my line of work, who play for the other side? There's a whole customer base out there that prefers to have a woman working in their home, rather than some big burly sweaty guy. Can't say I blame them." He smirked. Giving up on the tea chest, he moved on.

"Okay, so you know some Gay women. What makes you think you could pick someone I would like?"

"Good point." Xander admitted. "So what kind of woman do you find attractive?" Inside he gave himself a slap on the back – 'smooth'. He knew she would describe Buffy. He just had to make her say it out loud.

"Oh you know." Willow said, suddenly at a loss. Pulling back a large box blocking her access to some shelves, she tried to think about what kind of woman she was attracted to.

"Nope I don't, that's the point.." Xander said.

Willow let her mind wander as she began to search the deep shelves in front of her, moving items out of the way, so that she could reach the back of each. "I guess I like the idea of being relaxed with someone, feeling safe with them, knowing I could be myself, not having to hide anything – a Willow safe zone. Someone who wasn't afraid of my brain or embarrassed by it, who wouldn't treat me like a geek. Someone who likes to spend an evening watching videos, curled up on a sofa, sharing the sugary goodness and the like. Someone who doesn't mind whether I babbled or sat quietly. Not into the Magic - don't think I could share that again." Willow found her mind taking her back to some of her happiest moments.

"What little stuff would you like them to do for you? You know, Anya likes me to rub her shop feet."

"Brings me a Mocha early on Saturday mornings and buys me sweet things, like silly pj's. Stands up for me when I'm at a loss for words. Someone who wouldn't laugh if I cried at the sad or sappy parts in movies. Gives good back rubs. Doesn't ask me every five minutes what I'm thinking – that's so annoying. Likes my cooking, even when it goes wrong."

"Personality?" He added.

"Likes to have her own interests, but respects and supports mine. Loyal, strong, funny, but also sensitive. Understands about my parents. Welcomes me into her home. Doesn't feel she has to explain us to people. Considerate, compassionate and caring, but decisive and secure in herself. Wacky sense of humor, great at one liner's and quips. Bigger with the actions than with the words."

"Appearance?" asked Xander.

"Slightly shorter than me – I've tried taller, its okay, but now I know – shorter it is. Physically fit, but no Annie Schwarzenegger. Lithe and agile, but not butch. Sleek with eyes that can say everything. A mane of hair that flows when she moves – oh and can she move. But with a sweet youthful, almost naive face, that nearly hides her wisdom. Not afraid of anyone; brave, fearless, but not foolishly so. Someone who understands how I choose to live. Someone who fits into my life and accepts it. Someone who wouldn't freak out about the bad guys. Someone who believes the good guys can win. Someone who would be a best friend too."

"Good. Now just let me think if I know anyone that might remotely describe." Xander said, smiling at Willow. Then he sighed as if having to think hurt and slowly turned away from her. But as he did he saw the beginnings of a worried expression starting to creep across her face. 'Ah, the penny is dropping.' He laughed to himself. How could his super intelligent best friend really be so dumb?

"I don't think you know anyone that perfect. Besides, we're rather busy right now. I mean we need to find that vision rod. Get my own body back first. So I wouldn't waste your time for a while." Staring at his back, Willow suddenly felt very silly. She had just described Buffy. Would Xander realize? Oh goddess, she hoped not.

Somewhat distracted, she moved to the next stack of shelves. 'Buffy is your perfect woman and you know it. Why not talk to someone about it?' Shaking her head, she almost laughed at the thought of talking to Xander about her feelings. He would just go into that male fantasy zone, that silly far away look would cross his face and she'd have to fight the desire to hit him – hard.

"Willow. I've got it!", Xander exclaimed.

Panic washed over Willow. 'Oh goddess! He knows.' She didn't want to turn around; she couldn't face seeing that spaced-out male fantasy expression. 'Come on Willow, you have nothing to be ashamed of.' She turned to him and met his eyes, a very self satisfied grin filled them. 'Oh yes he knows. Now what do I say?'

Then Xander raised his hand to show her the vision rod.

Giles replaced his glasses. "You have to admit that there is a very good possibility, all things considered, that Anya could be right. We have to consider that possibility and plan accordingly. This doesn't mean we stop looking for other possible meanings or ways to resolve our present predicament." He sighed. "I just feel that if we find no other alternative, Willow, she has…
certain experience, ahh hmm." He cleared his throat. "I mean knowledge that could…it could be helpful…you're friends. That should help."

"Oh, really? That's why Willow, my best friend was so freaked out by Anya's…theory. Being friends should help – yeah right! I'll tell you why it doesn't. This would change everything! Just think about it - if you and, say, your best friend at school, could only save the world by sleeping together and you had therefore slept together, do you think you would have remained friends? Would you still be talking to him say twenty years later? I don't think so. And I plan on talking with my Willow till the day I die! Plus there's the whole Freudian thing of being in each others bodies."

"Buffy I never had a friend like that. I wish I had. Maybe then I would never have felt the need to waste so much time; I would never have needed to be Ripper.", Giles said, opening up a part of his life he rarely talked about.

"I'm sorry Giles. I know you're just trying to help here. But, how exactly do you ask your best friend to sleep with you? 'Hey, let's go to bed and hump so I can have my body and powers back.' Nope? Too selfish? How about – 'Hey, I think we need to have sex because being in your body is freaking me out and it's really brain exploding that Anya's right, but I won't tell her if you don't. Oh and when we're back in our own bodies, none of our friends will know what we did.'", Buffy finished.

"I can fully appreciate the weirdness that could ensue if you and Willow have se…It's a very personal thing. But you girls truly care about each other. I see your loyalty. You are co-supportive - like sisters. You love each other far too much to ever let this end your friendship.", He moved away slightly. "You would be sensible. You would talk it to death, take whatever precautions were necessary to ensure that you caused each other as little hurt as little as possible. You would fix this by talking until the early hours of the morning, probably over something containing far too much chocolate and glucose." Coughing he added, "If it helps I, for one, never intend to mention this again, I can assure you. Xander however could probably be threatened with physical pain to such a degree that silence on the matter could be arranged and Anya…, well, okay I'll pay Anya."

Buffy didn't lift her head, but she smiled.

"I promise you that although Anya's theory seems to fit the curse's wording 90%, there is still the very good possibility, that Faith did not intend this as the 'get out' clause." Giles coughed. "That little lady, may throw sex around like breakfast menus, but the purpose with most things is to be at the center of them. I find it hard to believe that she would set a scene she couldn't take center stage in. I personally believe the curse has another solution. But we have to, at least, take the current theory on board. You and Willow have to talk about this possibility and soon." Giles looked with concern at the back of Buffy's head.

She had realized about halfway through this conversation, possibly the most awkward conversation, she had ever had in her life, that it was easier if she and Giles didn't actually look at each other. So she didn't look his way, instead she turned towards the weapon's board. "Okay, okay! So we say Anya could be right. Will's gonna be so not happy with that."

"Buffy, I didn't say this would be easy. Let's be realistic. Faith, the Faith we know ,wouldn't choose to make the way out easy. If this is the 'get out' clause…"

"I am so going to cause her pain; almost kill her to the point she wishes I would." Buffy promised. "And then I'm gonna hold her down so Willow can do the same."

Part 5

Willow had decided that Xander should explain the vision rod theory to Giles. She so wanted to see the Watcher's eyes grow wide. But with Anya unable to stop herself from helping Xander explain, it took a while for the idea to become clear. Although Giles was wide eyed, it was more concentrating to take it all in rather than being amazed at Anya and Xander's plan; that is until he realized just how good their idea sounded and how well thought out it was. He even managed to live with the several 'G-man' references that passed Xander's lips.

During the explanation Buffy sat sideways to the group. Her mind taking in what was being said but her thoughts were still fixed on how to begin the conversation that she knew she and Willow had to have. As much as she wanted to think that Anya and Xander's idea could help, she was more than a little skeptical. Somehow she just knew that lately fate was only interested in kicking her ass.

Giles listened, very impressed by the plan and a little overwhelmed by the sheer impact of all three talking almost at once. But when he realized how they excited were with the idea, he just had to let them go with it until they ran out of steam.

"So G-man, do we get the green light?" Xander asked after they concluded their explanation.

Giles looked in amazement - first at Anya and then at Xander. Oblivious to yet another 'G-man' reference, he turned to Willow and asked. "You didn't help with this?"

"Nope." She assured him, smiling the very proud smile of a best friend.

"Well, I really can't think why it shouldn't work. It seems fairly straightforward. Well done!" He said, "Yes, it could work. I see no reason why it shouldn't. Although how effective it will prove - we will only know by trying." He continued, a slightly amazed tone to his voice. "And there's no time like the present. Anya, would you close for lunch please?"

A smug smile crossed Anya's face and Xander gave such a whoop of joy that Willow thought he was going to break into the snoopy dance.

"Okay. 'I'm ready for the dream sequence Mr. DeMille'." Xander enthused, posing dramatically. "Have vision rod – will dream. Point me to the stage"

"I think the training room is best." Giles said. He looked at Buffy and realized that she had only been half listening. There was something about Willow's face that really couldn't keep a secret as well as Buffy obviously thought it could. "Buffy?" Her eyes met his. "We're adjourning to the back."

"Right." She replied and stood up to follow Willow and Xander into the training room.

Giles followed her. Concerned by what he had seen in her new face - self doubt.

The trio took up their places on the mat. Buffy sat crossed-legged holding the base of the vision rod with Willow and Xander, each, placing one of their hands above hers. Giles sat behind Willow and Buffy, a hand on each of their shoulders, while Anya sat behind Xander, her hand on his shoulder.

"We need to choose a point in time to concentrate on." Giles said, expecting someone to respond.

"Buffy was watching us dance before Faith arrived." Willow offered.

"All right. Buffy, concentrate on what you were thinking and doing as you watched Xander and Willow dance."

Buffy felt a slight blush fill her cheeks. 'Don't be silly. You were just thinking that Oz was a fool. There's nothing wrong with that.' She concentrated on that night, trying to recall what Willow and Xander had been wearing. What song had been playing? How warm was it?

[Very good.] Giles prompted with his thoughts.

[My shirt was blue.] Added Xander helpfully, shouting his thoughts.

[Xander!] Giles hissed.


Buffy regained her focus. 'I had a lemonade. The band had just broken into an upbeat number. I looked at Willow. She looked great. Oz is such a fool…' The pictures in her mind suddenly became solid. She was there. She could almost smell the stale air of the Bronze. She looked towards the dance floor and there were Xander and Willow. Her view was suddenly obstructed but she recognized the face that moved into her line of sight as Faith's. Leaning across the table, Faith smiled knowingly, as she blocked her view of the dance floor.

"Hey B, still checking out…"

[Okay Buffy, you've got us there. Now try to rewind slowly and follow Faith.] Giles instructed.

Glad for the interruption, Buffy tried to do just that. Suddenly she was watching everything back up. Inside she smiled as she saw Willow and Xander dancing – backwards!! [Hey!] She heard a female voice protest.

[Follow Faith.] Giles reminded her.

She concentrated and followed Faith back through her entrance into the Bronze. Somehow that leather clad swagger of Faith's seemed almost hypnotic backwards.

[If I wear leather you get a rash.]


[Well you do!]

[Buffy, ignore them. Follow Faith. And will you two shut up?] Giles spat in frustration.

[Sorry.] They replied.

Buffy drew herself back to Faith. But it was all so slow, too slow. She glanced at Willow on the dance floor, so happy, so safe and suddenly she remembered that this was why she was here. She hadn't been able to save Willow from the pain of losing Tara or Oz or from the constant abandonment of her parents but she could fix this. She could give Willow back her body. She just had to concentrate. She focused all her thoughts on rewinding time. The world seemed to shoot past her, accelerating, speeding almost into a blur.

[Buffy slow down.]

She focused and time slowed. Faith was climbing onto a bus.
[That's Sunnydale bus station.] She thought. [I need to go back further.] She focused and again time sped past. This time she seemed to almost lose control of it; her image went out of focus. She had no idea how fast she was rewinding.


She tried desperately. Slow, slow, slow…Gradually the image refocused.

As it did, a man appeared before her - below average height, wild hair, she tried to identify the slowly refocusing image and as she did - she realized that it was Oz.

[Oh No.] Buffy sighed.

He looked much the same as she remembered him, which couldn't be right. He entered a bar and nodded at an older woman who was sitting on a stool in the now empty bar. He moved towards the smiling woman. Buffy didn't recognize her.

"Cool set last night." The woman offered as praise. "Your gear is out back. Greg didn't seem happy with last night's gig."

"Greg thinks the base line on "cried out" needs adjusting. But I'm ok with it." Oz replied. She passed him a can of beer and he moved to stand beside her. "You alone?"

Buffy couldn't believe she had somehow focused her vision on Oz.

"Not now." She smiled. "It's been awhile since I've come across you guys. You still seeing the redhead with the cute smile?"

"Nope, that ended." He replied, as a shadow seemed to cross his face.

"That sounds recent. I thought it was serious." She smiled at him. "I've noticed you have a tendency to leave us mid sentence lately." Reassuringly she added, "I don't think your mother has spotted it yet. Was it serious?"

[She's family?] Buffy asked.

[Ramona, his Aunt.] Willow replied

"It was for me." Oz fell into silence and Buffy thought that was all he was going to say. The older woman also stayed silent. He turned to stare up at the stage and continued, "She was lying to herself about her feelings for someone else, someone I really like." He huffed and grinned to himself. "I loved her and she cared for me, felt safe with me. But she was never in love with me." He moved his gaze to the floor. "I didn't want to compete, to fight for her." He frowned. "Someone would have been hurt." Buffy knew he really meant that. Oz's fear of the wolf was real. "I'm not sure she realized but I knew. I had to give her the chance. Lets face it - once she figures out what she needs, guys like me – nada."

[Buffy, we need to fast forward. You've gone too far back.] Willow interjected. She really didn't want to visit where Oz was going.

"Sorry, sounds rough. Why?" Oz looked at her oddly. "Why didn't you compete? Who's that unbeatable?"

"A woman." Oz replied, almost laughing.

[How could he have known about Tara?] Buffy asked.

Slowly complete understanding registered in the older woman's eyes. She moved towards him, placing her arm across his shoulders. "You're an original, Oz. Not many men I know would care more about someone's future happiness than their own heart. Fighting the male ego stereotype." She squeezed his shoulders. "An original."

"Yeah. 'Original Guy'; the t-shirts are on order."

The vision began to blur as Buffy lost her focus, a thousand thoughts suddenly obliterating her concentration. Oz had only met Tara after he left Willow - so how could his liking her be part of his decision to leave?

[Buffy, focus!] Giles commanded.

She tried, but her mind was a mess.

[Buffy, follow Faith. We need to find Faith!] Giles again commanded.

Her mind somehow heard the voice of her Watcher, the voice of a man she trusted with her life, with Willow's life and she collected herself.

Drawing her mind back to Faith, images began to form again. She concentrated and as the image cleared she saw a room, a sofa, sunlight, welcoming colors, Mexican tiles and a large picture window. Standing, outlined against the window, was a woman with long black hair – Faith? No, she's wearing a dress. The woman turned and Buffy realized it was Cordelia.

"So Angel thinks he can help you, does he? Personally I think you're just playing him, like you play all men." Cordelia accused, raising her eyebrow to glare at the woman across the room.

"Yeah, figured that was your take on things." Faith replied. "So why you letting me crash here if you're not with the program?"

"Listen honey, I may know you're an evil, 'don't trust her as far as you can throw her', low rent slut but Angel wants to keep you around. He thinks you can change." She laughed. "So my choice was to either let you stay with him. Soooo not happening. All we need is you getting a slut itch and forgetting to care about the whole 'one moment of true happiness' thingy (not that you're really into that and I doubt happiness is your gift but who cares – not taking the chance); or that you might start feeling the other 'stake him, dust him' urge; or I let you stay here." She gave Faith a truly lacking in welcome smile and added. "There's no sluttish leather in my closet, so don't bother raiding it. The fridge is stocked – you go and get for yourself. Washing machine and dryer are in the back – don't mix your stuff in with mine." She turned her back to the Slayer. "I'm gonna take a bath."

"Want some company? Or is that self service too?" Faith asked. Buffy could hear the sexual innuendo in her voice.

"If you're gone when I get out? That'll be fine by me. I'll let Angel down gently." Cordy replied, ignoring her comments. "He'll get used to being betrayed by you, just like the rest of us."

[Way to go Cordy.] Buffy cheered.

"Queen C, I'm gonna enjoy disappointing you - by proving you wrong."

"I won't be joining the 'we think Faith can change' cheerleaders anytime soon. You hurt people I care about. You let Buffy down. You kidnapped Willow. You put her life in danger. You put all our lives in danger."

[Cordy cares about us.] Willow whispered in amazement.

[It's scary but true.] Buffy added, laughing to herself.

[Buffy, keep your focus.]

Cordy replied. "I won't wait till the end of the world for that one. Oh wait - been there." And with that she walked into her bedroom, closing the door.

Nothing happened for a while, so Buffy slowly wound forward. She saw Cordy go to the fridge, then back to her bedroom. Faith grabbed a glass of water and settled on the sofa. She sped up the 'fast forward'.

[Try and focus on the conversations about you and Willow.] Giles instructed.

[Can I do that?] Buffy asked, somewhat doubtful.

[Try.] Giles urged her.

Cordy reappeared from her bedroom. "I'm going out."

"Go for it." Faith responded, as if Cordy had asked for her okay. "I'll be right here when you get back."

"If the phone rings, don't answer. I don't want to have to explain to the Scoobies why you're answering my phone."

"You keep in touch?" Faith asked somewhat surprised. Buffy could see that Faith hadn't really imagined Cordy keeping in touch with the old gang.

"When we need to. That's what friends do. Not that you really stayed around long enough to learn that rule. Let alone anything else." Cordy replied as she closed the front door.

Buffy tried to remember the last time she had spoken to Cordy, except to ask for Angel. That made her feel really bad. She hadn't actually talked to Cordelia since her last visit to see Angel and that had only been in passing. [I should call her, catch up.]

[She called last week, needing help with a protection spell. We didn't really chat.] Willow offered, feeling like a bad person.

[I mostly speak to Wesley.] Giles added.

Quietly, everyone resolved to catch up with their old friend, and soon.

Fast-forwarding again, Buffy noticed that Faith had opened what looked like a spell book. She focused and slowed down the image. Faith was leaning on the kitchen counter, running her finger across the line she was reading. Her face showed that not only was she concentrating but also she seemed to be…smiling?

[Buffy try another angle. Get behind her.] Xander suggested.

Buffy slowly changed her focus, like a camera on a boom. She slowly moved behind Faith and lifted the image to look over her shoulder. Focusing on the text, she began to read. 'Separate the whites and yolks of six eggs. Grease a baking tray, approximately 4" by 8", then ...'

[No!] Buffy gasped.

Faith turned away from the book and opened the fridge, pulling out a carton of eggs and some butter.

[I'm in the twilight zone.] She stated, unable to believe her eyes.

Then she opened a cupboard. Reaching down she moved several pots and pans before emerging with a baking tray.

Buffy started to giggle at the ridiculous image before her; then she laughed; then she lost all control of her laughter as she realized that not only was Faith was looking at a cookbook and preparing to bake but she appeared to be enjoying it.

The vision blurred as Willow and Xander joined in the laughter.

[Buffy, concentrate.] Giles asked. [Please.]

[It's too – hic – much.] Xander hiccupped. She could hear him gasping for air. [Do you- hic - think she's making - hic - Angel Cakes?]

That was it. Buffy lost control and the image vanished. Slowly her hearing returned and she could hear the giggles and guffaws of her friends. She opened her eyes to find Willow and Xander rolling on the floor, no longer touching the vision rod, their hands clutching their stomachs as they laughed uncontrollably. Giles appeared to be trying to glare at them but his eyes were watering with the tears of held back laughter.

Anya simply looked confused by the whole thing. "I don't understand. Why is Faith baking cakes for Angel funny? I would think that's the least she could do." She said, seemingly oblivious to the ridiculous sight of a Slayer 'gone bad' in the role of Betty Crocker!

Buffy looked at her and then at her friends. Laughter erupted from her very core and she joined them, rolling on the floor, feeling lighter and younger than she had in a very long time.

Part 6

Anya had re-opened the Magic Box because Giles had decided that the next 'vision rod' attempt would be made after five o'clock. Xander left promising to return at five with coffees, donuts and other sugary goodness.

Giles and Willow decided to use the time to concentrate on her training. Buffy had stayed for a while watching her dearest friend go through the exercises she knew so well but eventually she just felt so useless that she decided to leave them to it.

Walking through the shop she acknowledged Anya with a "See yah later." She hadn't really expected a response; so when Anya did speak she was only half listening.

"She's really scared, you know. So are you." Anya offered her insight to the back of the Witch's body with Buffy's brain.

"What?" Buffy said, more than a little unsure as to what Anya was going on about.

"You're both scared. You're both freaked but you're not doing anything about it." She made an exasperated noise. "I've wreaked vengeance on many a man for being just this thoughtless and inactive; for just letting things fester. After all these years…" She shook her head from side to side before adding, "Women are just as bad." Anya thought she had explained matters quite clearly. But from Buffy's expression it was obvious that she might as well have actually spoken in another language. 'I have this same problem with Xander.' She sighed.

"Well, there's not really a lot we can do right now, is there?" Buffy replied.

"It's a trust thing. You're both pretending that everything is okay; that you're coping. Well, it shouldn't have to take a newly mortal and valuable member of society like me to tell you that you're both lousy liars." Anya huffed.

"We're doing okay." Buffy answered, defending both herself and her best friend.

"You are not. You're lost without your Slayer powers. Being a normal mortal doesn't sit well on you, Bullow. And Wiffy is riddled with guilt because she has your powers. But both of you are faking being fine with this. How honest is that?" Anya questioned. "Maybe Faith…"

"What did you just call us?" Buffy exploded at Anya.

This outburst shook the former vengeance demon a little. "Well you are Buffy in Willow – Bullow and she's Willow in Buffy – Wiffy. Helps to keep it straight – remembering who's in who. Xander thinks they're cute names." She added by way of defense. "He was gonna use name badges."

Buffy glared at the ex-demon but then she found herself smiling. "Name badges?"

"I told him that ogling your breasts for a name badge, whenever he had to check who he was talking to, would very quickly get him into trouble. I like him looking at mine. Besides you two would just get a pained look on your faces and threaten to hit him." Anya explained, somewhat relieved that Bullow was now smiling.

Buffy had to admit that Anya had a point. She often forgot that she didn't look like herself. She wondered how Giles was coping with remembering whom he was speaking to.

"Yes, well." Buffy really had nothing left to say. "See yah later." She moved swiftly to the door before Anya could return to her earlier topic.

Buffy sat in the park. She'd needed some space and alone time. She had begun to feel as though the walls of the Magic shop were closing in around her. She was so aware of everyone's eyes which felt so heavy upon both of them. And then there was Anya's brutal honesty. Here she could feel the sun warming her back, breathe in, stretch and be ignored by just about everyone who passed her. But she knew that in just two more hours they would try again.

The faint voices of people laughing down by the lake washed over her. Looking across towards the lake she noticed an old couple walking hand in hand. Sadness filled her. She would never be like them. She would never find someone to be with her for the rest of her life. But knowing that if she didn't get her powers back she could probably grow old made her feel suddenly very vulnerable. She hadn't studied for this. She wasn't ready for this. Surprise! Surprise! She had always lived with the fact that Slayers didn't get old. She had realized a long time ago that she was now far older than most of the previous Slayers.

In her self-imposed solitude her mind was flooded with images of Willow; her Willow. Now she was the Slayer; doomed to die young; doomed to never know love or happiness; never to be able to plan too far ahead. Willow had gained such control of her new found strength. But did she realize what baggage would come with it if they couldn't fix this body swap? Buffy's physical strength and power had seemed easy for Willow to deal with. Leaving Buffy with what? – Slayer dreams. 'Great all I get to keep is the title 'weird dream girl'. I never thought Cordy and I would end up in the same club. Who would have thought?'

She couldn't let Willow take on her very short life expectancy! She couldn't let that happen! Not to her Willow! Willow had been hurt enough already by the thoughtlessness of others. 'Oz' Buffy suddenly remembered what he had said. He had left Willow because she was falling in love with another woman; someone he liked. It made no sense. He hadn't even met Tara back then. She didn't move to Sunnydale until the start of the College year. Was there someone else? Someone who had first opened Willow to the 'I kinda like a girl, I'm kinda gay' thing long before she had realized that she was.

Who had Willow been friendly with back then? Okay there was Anya, former vengeance demon Anya, for a while – Oh right, because that had ended so well and she likes her so much. Then there was Amy [whose mother had wanted her to be a cheerleader]. They had been chummy – until she turned herself into a rat! But Willow still took care of her. Nah. In love with a rat? That's not my Willow. Buffy's brain ached as she tried to think of anyone that Willow had grown close to back then whom Oz had known and liked, and who Willow might care for.

How had Oz noticed while she hadn't?

For short periods of time Cordelia would be nice to Willow, mostly when no one was looking. Nah, they hardly talk now. Willow said so herself. But Cordelia had been extra protective of Willow with Faith and she had really wigged out over the whole Xander/ Willow kissing incident. Maybe that had more to do with how she felt about Willow than Xander. Willow had tried so hard to apologize to both Oz and Cordy – but she had always said that she didn't care what Cordy thought of her. Maybe Willow had changed only after screwing things up so royally with Xander. She used to do homework for Cordy, put up with her nasty remarks and she had seemed really pissed with Xander when he started seeing Cordy. Ahh Hah!!

Buffy wasn't sure if she had pinned it down but Cordy was the only person that made any sense. What really confused her was that this would mean that Oz had liked Cordy. Maybe he had seen something in her, something that the rest of them had missed, and something that would have indicated what she was capable of. After all she was now fighting the good fight with Angel – being vision girl and all.

Beyond the lake a truck approached an old building on the far side of the park. Pulling up, two men emerged in green overalls and proceeded to unload several large crates, carrying them up the broad steps to the main door of the building.

Nothing would have struck anyone as unusual about this scene – that is without the knowledge that each of the four large cases contained soil and a body…

After two hours of training Willow and Giles moved to the table in the shop, where she now sat engrossed in her laptop. Giles had installed an Internet connection there just for Willow. She had thought that so sweet of him at the time but she had later realized that although Giles disliked modern technology with a passion - he was no fool to the resources it opened up to him.

Willow found her mind wondering from the screen of her laptop. Giles had asked her to get in touch with various cyber covens in the hope that someone could assist with the translation of the curse. They had all been very supportive and eager to help but so far no one seemed to have a different interpretation from the one that Anya had voiced only this morning. This really did nothing to lift her spirits.

She wondered what Buffy was doing. She had been concentrating on Giles' instructions earlier and had failed to notice when Buffy had left. Buffy had seemed so distant today; lost in her own world. Willow missed connecting with her. A simple eye contact, a smile and they would be in each other's minds. She was missing her best friend.

But this body swap had been hard on both of them. She had seen Buffy feeling frustrated and useless. She knew that having the Slayer's powers on loan was a heavy responsibility; a responsibility that she wished had not been given to her. But she didn't want to let Buffy or the gang down. She had played along with the training sessions, surprised at how much she had enjoyed them, hoping that if they could just keep everything normal – that's how everything would end, back to normal. But it wasn't working.

She had read and re-read the curse and each time her fear had grown that Anya was right. She and Buffy would need to sleep together to get back into their own bodies.
She wanted to scream; she wanted to hunt down Faith and put her in a world of badness, pain and then more badness. 'That's the Slayer stuff talking – right?' What had she ever done to deserve this?

Fear gripped her at the thought of having to make love to Buffy. Okay in her dreams was one thing. There it had always gone well, beyond well, so blissfully. But reality - so much more with the scary, freaky cold shivers and stuff. In her dreams Buffy had wanted her; had needed her touch. She was welcomed.

But the real true-to-life Buffy liked guys, even dead guys and had never shown anything but friendly love and affection towards Willow - let alone any other woman. Plus Buffy wasn't really into the 'touchy feely' thing. 'Let's face facts. You have shared a hug with Xander more times than you have Buffy'. She had bandaged many a knee and shoulder over the years, but there had been no closeness. Nope, no physical closeness; let alone comfortable physical closeness. 'You're not even used to her touching you'.

She must have had a strange expression on her face because Giles gave her his old hairy eyeball look. "Anything?"

"Nope." She replied, shrugging her shoulders. "Nothing yet."

Giles sat waiting for Xander who, as usual, was late. The young man somehow felt that turning up with food always excused him. Buffy and Willow were already waiting in the back room while Anya took Xander's delay as an opportunity to recheck her cash register receipts.

Meanwhile in the training room, Willow stretched her shoulders.

"Are you okay, Will?" Buffy asked her voice a little concerned.

"I'm okay. Too much laptop time I guess." She grinned. "You know, I have this sneaking suspicion that this body is really not used to the recognized study positions."

Buffy laughed. "I do most of my studying lying on my stomach or cross-legged on my bed. No desk-sitting for me."

"You should definitely try it – ergonomics and all that." Willow responded, stretching herself once again. Although she could feel some slight tightness she was pleased that she was in Buffy's body and not her own. She had serious doubts she would be anything more than a crumpled heap after just one of Giles' training sessions. Moving to the mat, she smiled at Buffy, noticing the slight stiffness in her own shoulders.

"You okay?" She said giving Buffy her 'serious face'.

Buffy looked confused. "Yeah."

"That was my 'serious, I know there's something on your mind' look." Willow explained, realizing that with Buffy's features she was unable to 'look' a thought. People just couldn't recognize them.

"Oh yeah. Right." Pausing, Buffy tilted her head down slightly. "It's not that I'm not okay; though not exactly big on okay until we get our bodies back - but coping. But…well…actually it's more something I know we really need to talk about. But now isn't the time for theories. That's what's on my mind." She raised her eyes to gauge Willow's response. "Will?"

Willow took a moment and then it clicked. "Ah huh…I see…right…well yes…that would be…aahh hmmm…something we will need to talk about. I can just see…well now isn't really the time to get into a discussion about…to talk about…private…yes it should be private…agreeing now." Willow finished her babble.

"I thought maybe that after this 'dream vision' stuff is done, we could have some dorm chat time." Buffy continued, hating herself for pushing to have a conversation that neither of them really wanted to have. But she knew that Giles was right. They couldn't go on not talking about this possibility. Faith's phone call, the bed, the rose, the wording of the curse left her in no doubt, no avoiding – this was bad.

"Okay." Willow replied her voice at least two octaves higher.

As if aware that their conversation needed to be interrupted and any possible awkward silence avoided, Giles entered the room.

"I see we're still awaiting Xander." Giles said with obvious annoyance. Looking outside Giles noticed that it had suddenly become very dark. He moved closer to the window. "Very strange. We seem to have somehow missed sundown and gone straight to night. Where was Xander coming from?"

"The Baristas Coffee Company near his apartment. He says they do great mochas. You don't think he would be stupid enough to cut through the cemetery, do you?" Willow asked, already fearing the worse.

Buffy stared out into the night "When did this happen? He always cuts through it during the day." Buffy confirmed. "But dark equals dinner bell. Will, we need to be out there now."

Xander ducked across the cemetery, mocha tray in one hand and donut box in the other, safe in the knowledge it was at least half an hour until sundown. However he noticed that dark clouds seemed to be gathering overhead. 'Great. It's going to rain.' He thought at first until he realized how very dark the sky itself was also getting. By now he was only half way through the cemetery. Rain and cheap t-shirt dye jobs became the least of his worries. 'Early for dinner time, something's up.' He began to run.

Buffy ran, her lungs bursting with her efforts to keep up with Willow. She could see Xander coming towards them and he wasn't alone. Behind him were two new vamps, their clothes still layered in soil.

"Willow. Hurry." She yelled somewhat unnecessarily.

Willow did, indeed, speed up and pushing off she flipped over Xander's head to land behind him; between her friends and the approaching vampires. Her movement seemed to sufficiently surprise the vampires who slowed their approach, looking questioningly at each other as they proceeded more carefully towards her.

Willow could feel her blood pumping, totally adrenaline-wired. Suddenly she felt in control, her senses taking in every movement of the approaching 'fangies'. 'This feels so right, fits like a favorite coat.' She mused to herself, wondering if she was becoming used to the role of Slayer.

Suddenly the vamps split to approach her from different flanks. "Watch out Willow!" She heard Buffy yell and her nerves said 'hello'.

Buffy was still running towards Xander and Willow as she saw the two vamps split. They were hoping to double team Willow. She had to get there; had to help. She was concentrating so much on reaching Willow that she ran straight into Xander's waiting arms. "Whoa there Buff. Will's got it." Xander said by way of explanation, as his other arm surrounded her, holding her back firmly. Both of her arms were pinned beneath Xander's apparent tree trunk arms.

Buffy strained for release as she watched the two vampires approach Willow, her heart in her mouth. "Willow!" She called. Frustrated and mad, the desire to maim Xander built within her.

"Buffy." Xander spoke into her ear, concern filling his voice, as if realizing how not happy his actions were making her. "Will has to do this herself. Stake her first - alone. Just like you." Xander reminded her. "Giles said we have to let her do this. So that she can believe in herself, get her chi Slayer thing going and all that."

Buffy could here the words but all she could see was her Willow. She knew that this was the way all Slayers were introduced to Slaying. But she hadn't liked it then and she definitely didn't like it now. That was her Willow, her dear sweet Willow, surrounded by two angry vamps. Again she tried to release herself. But Xander held her tight.

"Sorry Buffy. Orders from the G-man." Xander felt like a miserable heel. He knew the G-man was probably right; hell he hated that he was. Will needed this but doubt nagged at him. Xander understood that Willow would never believe in herself, that she could be the Slayer, until she dusted her first alone with no aid from the Scoobies. It seemed strange now to have to think of Buffy as a Scooby. But he also knew that in the same position he would hold Willow back. 'Okay so there are two vamps', he considered as he began to plan for involvement if at anytime his little Witch looked in trouble. Looking down at Buffy, he saw the helplessness on her face, the desire to save her dear friend, the sheer desperation in her eyes. 'Does she have any idea how she looks at Willow these days?' He wondered.

Willow tried to focus on her lessons with Giles as the vampires circled her, waiting for the optimum moment to attack. 'I need to concentrate. I can do this; no wiggin' out.' Clearing her mind of all else, she dipped into her knees slightly forcing her center lower. The vampires took this as their moment and both moved in.

Xander watched wide-eyed with pride as Willow shot out her left leg and her right fist. As they collided with the approaching vamps, she pushed and retracted her limbs. Judging that the one she had punched needed to be removed from matters for a while, she swiveled bringing her left leg through in an arch and launched to jump-kick him. He flew a good eight feet landing on his back across a tombstone.

"We're the back-up but only if she needs it." Xander said, trying to soothe the ex-Slayer. He knew too well, that just as she had with the Mayor, Buffy would do absolutely anything if it meant she had any chance of saving Willow from danger. Xander sighed with relief since it seemed that for now Will was in control.

Willow smiled and turning she saw the other vamp approaching her. Launching from one foot he leapt towards her, his game face leering with the anticipation of a sure kill. Willow side stepped, brought out her stake, fell to her knees and plunged the weapon into the still airborne vamp's chest just in time to see the shocked look on his face. Then dust rained.

"One down. Way to go Will." Xander yelled, unable to stop himself.

Buffy ignored him as she focused on the remaining vamp. He moved with more caution eyeing Willow suspiciously. Buffy saw the blood lust fill his game face. He moved in; raining blows at Willow.

Willow found her arms moving almost independently of her, blocking his blows until she saw an opening and shot her left palm up, pushing his chin and head back. At the same time she drew back her right hand. Reversing her pose, she plunged the stake into her retreating foe's chest area. 'Damn, missed.' The vamp smiled at her as if she was a silly child. Pulling her arm back she drove forward again but he had moved to her left.

"Will" Buffy called. "Duck roll."

Willow reacted instinctively to Buffy's instructions, ducking below his punch and rolling away from the vamp's subsequent leg kick. Regaining her feet, she turned. The vamp moved to follow her but instead of moving away from him she reached and pulled him into her and the awaiting stake.

As he vanished into dust, Buffy and Xander got a clear look at their friend. The stunned look on her face indicated that she obviously couldn't believe that she had just dusted two vamps. Her eyes grew wide as what had just happened sank in. She looked at her two friends questioningly.

Xander released Buffy, who left his arms with out a backward glance to run towards her Willow. Reaching Willow she cupped her face. "Will?" she questioned, searching her friend's face.

Willow smiled at her friend's concerned features. "I'm okay. Bit wired, but I'm good." She said placing her hand on Buffy's shoulder as further assurance of her 'okay' condition. "That was…different." Seeing concern still in the face before her, she added. "Good different, not bad different. Kinda cool different. Kick ass, bad ass Witchy Slayer different…in a 'hey look what I did' sort of way. I did good. Right?"

"Right. You did very good." Buffy replied. She was uncertain what else to say. She wanted to tell her best friend never to put herself in danger again; that she should have waited for her. But she felt foolish, selfish and lost as she realized Willow had done exactly what needed doing. Exactly what she would have done.

"Hey Will - dusting with 'slayertude'. Way to go!" Xander congratulated her, planting a mock punch to her right shoulder.

Buffy turned to him, refocusing her frustrations. "You held me back." She accused, anger rising within her again.

"Buff, You know Will had to dust her first alone. How many times have you pulled me back for putting myself in harm's way? I couldn't let you do it." He said backing off, Buffy was way wrong but right this minute she had Willow's really 'pissed off' face on and that scared him even at the best of times.

Buffy knew he was right but she had to vent. She moved towards him threateningly.

"Will's gotta get with the Slaying. So the bad guys don't think anything's changed. You know what that calls for." Xander said. Deciding to stand his ground he continued. "We would've been there if she needed us. But she didn't."

"Buffy." Willow said, stepping between them. "Xander's right. I had to do this alone; to know that I could."

Buffy looked from Xander to Willow just in time to catch a movement out of the corner of her eye. Instinctively she pulled Willow behind her as a massing swirl of black smoke appeared on the main path.

"What the…?" Xander exclaimed, moving to the side of Buffy and Willow, their problems forgotten.

Part 7

The smoke seemed to be forming into a figure and sure enough they were soon able to see the shape of a man. As the last of the smoke evaporated they gasped. Before them stood an incarnation straight out of an Anne Rice novel.

The pale faced male Vampire looked at first to Willow, evaluating her and then to Buffy, settling his gaze on her. In a deep mid-European accent he said, "A very impressive kill. I see that you are greatly missing your powers."

Willow, unnerved that this Vampire appeared to know who was who, moved to step in front of Buffy. The Vampire dismissed her actions. "We are not going to fight."

"You seem pretty sure of that." Buffy challenged. "Considering my friend, the Slayer here, is going to prevent you from ever worrying about sunburn." Buffy grinned.

"I apologize. Not for seeing through such simplistic magics, but for stating that I had. I see that you would have preferred to keep the game going; the illusion of a mystery. Interesting." Dracula seemed to smile at Buffy with affection.

"Talking of mystery - what's with the tall dark and mysterious?" Willow interjected. "Who are you?"

"I assumed you knew. I am Dracula." He responded without a hint of humor in his voice or facial expression.

"Get out! Let me get this straight. You're Dracula; 'the guy', the Count. He died…?" Buffy stumbled in disbelief.

He bowed slightly in acknowledgement. "I came to meet the renowned killer." He explained, casting a side glance a Willow who was still very much on edge.

Buffy responded "I prefer Slayer. Killer sounds so…"

"Naked? But that's what you are. A Slayer is a killer." Dracula said, the last word containing such intensity that she recoiled.

Willow moved forward sensing a threat to Buffy. Dracula vanished literally in a puff of smoke.

"We are not going to fight." Dracula said, as he reappeared behind the stunned trio.

"Hey, how'd he do that?" Xander exclaimed. As they all turned and took a very defensive posture, separating slightly to allow each other room to maneuver.

"I felt I should introduce myself. But seeing your situation for what it is; a foolish use of magic. Perhaps you are not what I have been seeking." He seemed to be re-thinking his plans. This unnerved the trio.

"Yeah, right. Searching the world for the Slayer - that's normal blood sucking behavior." Buffy said, hoping he would reveal more.

"Be still!" Dracula commanded gazing deep into the eyes of the trio. "I do not mean to harm you."

The Trio found itself unable to move, needing to follow his command - the command of those deep eyes and sultry tones.

He moved towards Buffy. "I have much to show you." He said surrounding her in his arms, he gazed into her eyes. "Be still." Turning to Willow and Xander he repeated this phrase. Then he and Buffy vanished.

Willow and Xander charged into the Magic shop gasping for air, fighting through the need to catch their breaths to explain what had happened.

At first Willow had totally blamed herself for losing Buffy. After all she was now the Slayer, having already proved herself in training and in battle. Despite what Giles had told her - that against Dracula and his thrall there was little or nothing that a new Slayer [because that was indeed what she was – a new Slayer] could have done, she still felt she should have done something.

She had practically run to the security of her laptop when they reached the Magic shop. They had to explain, research, plan. Eventually they had kicked into research mode and she found herself reassuringly tapping keys, surfing the Net for anything she could find on Dracula. At first all she came across were the usual sites dedicated to vampire movies and books but then she discovered that some of the online covens kept archives of folk lore, prophesies and myths. These proved far more useful.

She pushed the concerned face of her best friend, the way she had held her face, her touch, her eyes, to the back of her mind. They had looked so full of…'No!' she needed to keep her mind on finding Buffy, not on her lovelorn wishes and hopes. 'You can always see what you want to see if you look hard enough. That doesn't make it real.' She reminded herself.

Xander stared at his friend. Sometime over all these years, a core of personal strength had grown within Willow; she had become a strong, caring woman - someone he was proud he could still count as his friend. He had often feared that Willow and Buffy would leave him behind. As Joe Normal he wondered why they kept him around. Most of the time he was next to useless and he knew it – the 'Forest Gump' feeling often overwhelmed him. But when they would come to him with the normal stuff he felt useful, part of the team. Maybe he was there to ground them, connect them to the world, a world they lived outside of most of the time these days.

He recalled the shy self-depreciating young Willow he had once known; as afraid of her own shadow as he had been of his. 'I wonder if she would even recognize herself these days.' He had seen the look on her face during the fight. She had seemed so in control, confident, complete and then when she realized that Buffy was gone, it was as if she had lost a part of her heart. Devastation had filled her eyes but the strength had remained.

It had amused him at first that this swap was allowing him to 'read' both of his dear friends so clearly. But he soon began to realize that the things he was seeing had always been there. Nothing he had discovered over the last three days had really been that much of a shock to him. Okay there had been a little fantasy fest. 'Oz how could you walk away from this one, man.' He laughed to himself.

Since before the approach of graduation day, Xander had accepted that Buffy would never be more than his friend. He had stood by her decision to save Willow from the Mayor at any the cost. He had seen Will support Buffy, trust Buffy, forgive her for vanishing that first summer. He had been amazed and disappointed when Will, wounded and in hospital, fought to bring Angel back to Buffy, to make her happy. He had seen Buffy help Will when Oz left and then Tara, and support her when she had 'come out'.

Maybe he had always known how they felt about each other. Just like he knew that the sun would rise; that he would always lose a sock to the god of the clothes dryer; that Giles would forever clean his glasses when they began to speak about sex. Yet he was still in awe of their ignorance; that they had managed to avoid realizing how they both felt for so long.

He still couldn't get his head around the idea that Faith was good. It just didn't ring true. He had seen what little was left of her soft side in that motel room and although he had hoped to see it again - he had not. What he had seen had killed any hope he had had for her. Angel was the other reason for his doubt. Some things he just couldn't change and how he felt about Angel was one of them.

"He likes to live in style. Modus operandi is different from other vampires. He never just kills to feed. He'd rather have a connection to his victims." Willow summarized the results of her brief internet search. "He uses his mental powers to draw them in, to weaken their minds, to appear in their dreams. It makes sense. That stare…he just kinda…looked right through you…right?" She asked seeking confirmation from Xander.

"He wants an intimate seduction. It's not enough that he has a connection. His victims must yearn for him, burn for him." Giles explained.

"So he uses mind control? That's why all the chicks in those black and whites just did as he said?" Xander stated. "I thought it was just bad acting."

" 'Under the thrall of the dark prince' ." Giles quoted, in full "B"-movie speak and then shook himself, 'I'm spending way too much time with Xander!'

"He may be all 'prince of the dark and mysterious' guy. But thrall - Yech. He's not that good looking." Willow responded.

"Except for the 'tall, dark foreign accent and handsome' thingy. Oh yeah…Yech." Anya agreed sarcastically. "How quickly the 'kinda gay' forget."

Xander turned to Anya. "And how would you know?" He asked just as sarcastically as he could manage trying to prevent Willow from getting all pissed with Anya yet again.

"We hung out a few times back in my demon days. You know it was pretty cool from a whole evil thing point of view, which I'm not anymore."

Giles ignored Anya's comments, concentrating his gaze on Willow. "The trick to defeating him is separating the fact from the fiction. Vlad the Impaler research?" He finished looking at the gang expectantly. Willow and Xander nodded moving back towards the research area.

Anya lost in past glories continued to reminisce. "I don't think he'd remember me, I was just a silly young thing, about 700 or so. But he did say that this guy I cursed was doomed forever, which was pretty sweet. I think…"

"Xander. I know that I have a volume that may well be of use back at my apartment." Giles said, stopping Xander before he could respond to Anya's rant. "If you think you could make it there and back without visiting the cemetery and any dark alleys?"

"I could drive." Xander said. He didn't like being reminded of his part in losing Buffy but Giles had a point. He held out his hand and Giles somewhat reluctantly handed over his keys.

Emerging from Giles' car Xander moved up the path and into the courtyard. As if he wasn't feeling bad enough after getting caught in the cemetery after sunset…not that the sun had actually set…it had been more a case of clouds blocking the sun. When apparently to add insult to injury a familiar haze of black smoke gathered before him and Dracula materialized.

Stopping short, Xander shrugged in disbelief. "Great. Just perfect." He exclaimed, glaring at the vampire as if he was to blame. Little did he know how accurate he was. "You know what? You're not so big." Xander quipped moving backwards a little. "I bet one round of old fashioned 'fisty cuffs' and you'd fold like an old lady."

Dracula made no move towards Xander which unnerved the young man.

"Ok, let's do it and no poofing." Xander commanded as he started to hop from foot to foot in his best Mohammed Ali impersonation. "Come on 'puffy' shirt, you can pucker up and kiss your pale ass…"

"Silence!" Dracula ordered.

"Yes master…no that's not…" Xander silenced himself.

"You will be my emissary, my eyes and ears in daylight." Dracula commanded.

"Your emissary?" Xander questioned. Suddenly feeling the need to bow - he did.

"Serve me well and you will be rewarded. I will make you an immortal, a child of darkness, who feeds on life itself – blood." Dracula explained.

"Blood." Xander repeated, understanding. "Yes, yes, I will serve you." Again he bowed, wondering exactly what pose you undertook to grovel. "Your excellent spookiness." Lifting his bowing head again he saw the un-amused look on Dracula's pale face so he quickly corrected himself. "Or Master. I'll just stick with Master." Casting his eyes to the floor in subservience he awaited punishment.

Dracula looked at Xander "You are strange and off putting. Go now."

"But Master, how can I find…" Xander asked as he lifted his head, to see he was again alone. "Great. What an exit. Guy's a genius. Hee hee – hee hee."

Part 8

Entering her apartment earlier that day, Cordy had finally relaxed. Dennis, pleased to see her back safe and sound, had welcomed her back by drawing a bath for her and providing a good back rub. She had dressed and had moved back into her living room, collapsing onto the sofa.

"Dennis, any 'Faith Cookies' left?" Cordy asked. It had been such a 'parallel world/Twilight Zone' type surprise when, almost two months ago, she had returned home with Wesley and Angel to find Faith baking. The 'Slayer gone bad' had turned so many different shades of red that they had found it extremely hard to swallow their laughter but her 'pain is coming' facial expression had helped.

Cordy had become concerned a) that Faith didn't need her buttons pushed just now,
b) at what the cost would be to redecorate her apartment if the dark slayer lost it, and c) that they would all soon hyperventilate from either anger or laughter if someone didn't break the ice. So she had risked her taste buds and picked up a cookie. The biggest surprise had been that it just melted into her mouth with buttery goodness and that then she found a blissful moan leaving her lips.

Faith, who had at first provided graphic instructions as to where she was going to stick her cookies, calmed down quite a bit (although her cheeks took several hours to return to their normal color) once Cordy had declared her cookies as "Well - Yummy".

Much later when the guys had left and under much prodding from Cordy, Faith had explained that the housekeeper in one of the many foster homes she had lived in had introduced her to baking. At first she only did the cleaning up as a punishment. But later she had found that whenever she was really stressed and unable to focus her mind - she baked.

Knowing that baking didn't really go with her hard-boiled image, she had often openly referred to such 'housewifey' and domestic skills with such disrespect that no one would have ever considered she could possibly be a closet baker.

Cordy had laughed at the idea of Faith making clandestine 'drug style' raids into her local her local grocery store, wondering where exactly she had hidden the bags of flour, sugar, eggs and pats of butter in her usual tight fitting outfit.

Faith admitted she had once considered baking for the mayor but had chickened out because he was such a fussy eater.

Lying back on her sofa with a well-earned cup of coffee and a cookie, Cordy closed her eyes. Somehow over those two months she had come to know a whole different Faith - quiet, considerate, a good listener and most surprising of all – neat. It had been quite a revelation for Cordy who had at first hated the idea of having a roommate.

However for each step forward Faith paid with bouts of depression. Cordy had really come to feel something for Faith; she almost began to care about her. Not in a 'big caring for my best friend' way but more of 'wild stray' pet who had wandered into her home. But Cordy still expected her to turn all psycho, and in the same way that she was ready to stake Angel if 'Angelus' ever returned, she was ready to so kill Faith if 'Skank Bitch from Hell' ever reappeared.

When she had her dreadful vision about Buffy she hadn't even paused before telling Faith. And Faith had immediately wanted to help; something that Cordy was much less suspicious and more accepting of now, than she would have been had Faith expressed such an intention when she first appeared in LA. Much to Faith's surprise, Cordy had even backed up Angel in his decision to send Faith to watch over Buffy.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of her phone.

"Hello," Cordy said as she picked it up, wondering who would know she was back and could be calling her.

"Hi C. Back safe?" Faith greeted her. "Checking in as promised."

"Faith, where are you?" Cordy asked.

"Right where I'm meant to be – 'Glorious Sunnydale'," Faith replied, obviously still somewhat uncomfortable with having to return to the scene of some of her greatest mistakes and worst offenses. "Are the guys with you?"

"Nope, it will take them another couple of days to tie things up. Any news on the Scoobies?" Cordy inquired. "Seen anything of Spike?"

"No sign of the peroxide wonder yet. But I've given some preventative medicine to the lovelorn duo; something that should stop him in his 'bad hair day' tracks when it takes hold" Faith laughed, obviously very pleased with herself. "So far everything is five by five."

Cordy suddenly became very worried. Preventative medicine - what could she possibly mean by that? "Faith what have you done?" A cold shiver ran down her back as she felt that old fear fill her. 'Has Faith lost it again? Is the Skank Bitch back?'

"Don't freak out. It's all of the good. No badness. I promise C, I'm not losing it," Faith said suspicious of Cordelia's silence. "I had to do something. The idea of Buffy ever allowing Spike to use her like that…" She ended, a shudder running through her.

"Faith," Cordy said in her best 'mom is listening' voice. "I think you better tell me exactly what you mean by 'of the good'. What you have done to Buffy and Willow?"

Faith proceeded to explain about the body swap curse, which she had found in one of Wesley's books during a research fest last month, and how after hearing Cordy's vision and then watching the witch and slayer she had decided that this was the probably the only way to stop Spike. She had quite early on realized that as long as the duo refused to acknowledge their feelings for each other, they would always be susceptible to blackmail.

Cordy tried very hard not to laugh at the images that filled her mind. How was she going to explain this to Angel? Wesley was so never going to let Faith near any of his books again. But much as she tried to be annoyed with Faith, she could see the strange kind of logic behind her actions. Maybe she really was just trying to help.

"I just figured I'd 'end run' the 'Billy Idol' wannabe by helping to turn the duo into a couple. His power comes from knowing something others don't. A secret's only useful if you're scared of others knowing it. If you tell everyone then it's not a secret anymore and then it has no power," Faith said.

"Okay I get it. Kind of has a logic but Angel's gonna flip when I tell him. He may be way old and trying to be modern guy; deep with the feelings, cool ex-boyfriend guy but..."

"But he's male," Faith supplied.

"Yeah," Cordy agreed. "His Buffy choosing to replace him with a woman. I'm telling you there will be major brooding, much sitting in the dark and complete denial of ego issues," she said, fighting to keep the smile out of her voice. "So, are you coming out the baking closet anytime soon? Secrets and their power…y'know?" Cordy teased.

"Funny. Yeah I'm pitching a cooking show to NBC as we speak," Faith replied, the annoyance in her voice laced with a certain fondness for this woman who had the guts to tease her. "Could get you a couple of tickets if you can get a date who isn't a ghost. By the way how is D?"

"He's good. I think he's been lonely with both of us gone. I found a stash of your beers in the back of the kitchen cabinet that he's been hoarding for your return."

"Yeah, I kinda miss the back rubs. Say Hi," Faith said, somewhat touched that anyone even a ghost could actually be missing her. "Angel will cope," she assured Cordelia. "Can't be the first time in two hundred years he's lost a woman to another woman. Darla, Spike and Drusilla - I'm telling you that was one kinky bone-banging bunch. Know what I mean?" She laughed.

"Gutter mind, much?" Cordy replied. She could almost see Faith's leering look.

"Come on C, you gonna tell me you've never considered a visit to the other side of the velvet curtain," Faith teased. "You're bound to have had offers considering that hot 'bod' and all."

"Faith, you may have been willing to serve it up to anyone who asked and some who didn't. But I don't feel the urge to share with just anyone who calls," Cordy said evading the question.

Deciding not to call C on her avoidance, Faith changed the subject back to Angel. "C, if you get any trouble from Angel, you remind him of how well Doyle keeping his feelings from you helped. Heavy with the comparisons helps when talking to the big bad moody. Trust me."

"Thanks," Cordy said, surprised by Faith's insight into her past. When had Faith started to take an interest in a past that wasn't hers? Cordy wondered. "Hey by the way you didn't say - how is the gang?"

"Five by five. Giles is heavy with the books and our boy toy's gotta new babe."

"Really. What's she like?"

"Kinda weird, runs a magic shop, clings to him like a dog in heat," Faith replied knowing what Cordy wanted to hear - that Xander was okay, but that her replacement was no competition.

"And the duffus is cool with that?" asked Cordy.

"Seems to be. Why?"

"Oh nothing," Cordy replied, knowing that the one thing that Faith hadn't counted on was Xander. If she knew anything about her ex, it was that not much got past him concerning his Buffy and Willow. She was pretty damn sure he had more than a clue that something was up. "You okay?"

"Five by five," Faith said. "Gotta go. Pass on hellos when you see the guys." She felt that if she stayed on the phone much longer C would only try to draw her emotions out again. Much as she appreciated Cordy, Faith sometimes found the late night chats and all of the opening up expected of her to be draining. Right now she needed her head focused. Faith felt that having something good to do was helping her more than chatting about her feelings ever could.

But she was damned if she was going to let the boy toy take the lead in the matchmaking stakes. It was time to nudge things along a bit.

Giles looked up at the shop door as Xander entered. He gave him a questioning look and Xander pouted "Your car's fine. Man, protective much."

Giles ignored his comments and took the book and keys with a grateful nod.

"So, any progress?" Xander asked. Already feeling the anxiety of the group but not able to tell what it meant, he shook himself mentally.

"Nothing yet. We've exhausted most of our resources. Anya has asked some contacts in the demon world to keep their ears to the ground. But in the meantime Willow is going to try a location spell," Giles said, the frustration in his voice telling Xander all he needed to know about how far they had gotten in his absence.

"Okay," Xander acknowledged, hoping that 'His Spookiness' had been clever enough to shield himself from her magic's. "But what are we gonna do if she finds them?"

"Willow really needs to put in some more training before we can even consider confronting Dracula," Giles pointed out. He hated to point this out when all he really wanted to do was head out the door totally armed and find Buffy. But he knew that caution was required.

"Hey," Willow protested. "It was the thrall. I dusted those two vamps okay but the 'big bad with the thrall' I wasn't expecting."

"I know, Willow. You did exceptionally well with your first," Giles said offering the young witch his sincere praise. "I just feel that we need to focus more on your mental control. We need to be sure that you can overcome this mind control issue when you need to. We are beginning to collect a lot of information on Dracula that should help us to rescue Buffy. There's really no excuse for going in unprepared."

"You think knowledge and a positive mental attitude will be enough to fight the unholy master," Xander commented but upon seeing Giles' questioning look, he added. "bater."

Giles raised his eyebrows at the infantile play on words.

"It seems that Dracula isn't really into dark dank crypt real estate. He likes his mansions, bug eating minions and special soil," Willow explained. She had spent the last hour, driving herself crazy on the Internet while her mind screamed at her - 'Find Buffy. How can you just be sitting here? How could you let him take her?' Meanwhile she tried to focus on gathering the information that could help to save Buffy's life. She couldn't let her mind loose to wonder, to guess, to speculate about just what Dracula was doing to Buffy.

"Therefore, we have to assume he's going to be looking for an uptown residence," Giles added.

"Right. But he's smart enough to figure out we know that. So I'm guessing he's lying low," Xander chimed back.

"Dracula's really not the kind to be lying low," Willow replied, giving Dander an odd look.

"It's not working" Giles stated.

"I know. He must be using a shielding spell," Willow's voice exhibited the frustration she was feeling. Her magic was what she had brought to the Scoobies, her unique contribution, and her special usefulness. But now it was letting her down, letting Buffy down.

Giles watched a worried frown crossing the face of the new Slayer that he knew so well [though not as a Slayer]. For a moment he had forgotten who he was actually looking at and every time he did he felt foolish.

Willow looked at him oddly and, unable to decipher his expression, decided he was just worried for Buffy; something she could totally understand. "We'll get her back Giles," Willow assured him, placing her hand on his arm, wanting to convince both of them.

"Yes, we will," Giles agreed, patting the young woman's hand before he released himself.

The shop phone rang and Anya jumped towards it. "Hello?" Everyone fell silent, eager for something that might help; hopeful that this call was that something "Rees, slow down. I'm not a tape recorder." Covering the mouthpiece she commented to Giles "I think he's overdone the Red Bull again." She shook her head with annoyance.

Anya reached for a pen but found Giles had anticipated her need as he laid his notepad and pen before her." Okay now say that again – slowly," Anya began to nod as she wrote. "Rees if you don't slow down, I'm gonna feel seriously forced to curse you with the wrath of strawberry jam," She threatened. After pausing to listen, nodding she added, "That's better."

Xander found his mind distracted by her actions, wondering why people did that. The person on the other end of the phone couldn't see them. They knew that and yet they still nodded. Even Anya, his strangely appealing ex-vengeance demon girlfriend, had picked up this silly human quirk. The world deserves to be fed upon by the dark prince and his minions. It would then make sense.

"Great. Okay. Stop now," Anya finally stopped writing. "Yes, yes, I know. I would have thought that little help with the unwanted in-law would have put me in credit. A curse just doesn't go as far as it used to." Huffing she ended, "Okay. Next Tuesday. Bye." Anya placed the receiver down and turned to the waiting group. "1298 Parklands View. He moved in today - soil, sirens and all."

"Is that all he said?" Willow asked. She felt that the conversation had lasted longer than two lines of information.

"Basically, yes. The rest was that annoying 'look how clever I was to get you this info' and payment confirming rubbish. Rees likes to blow his own horn. That's what got him in so much trouble in the past. Never could just say things straight out," Anya huffed again. The fact that she obviously had very little respect for her source concerned Giles.

"Is he reliable? As a source I mean," Xander asked, hoping that he could somehow undermine Anya's source.

"He knows he only gets paid if his info is sound. So I'd say we're okay knowing how deep his greed runs," Anya replied.

"Good. At last we have a plan," Willow stated as she looked at her friends. Giles looked less than certain. 'He's not sure that we're ready,' Willow thought. This slightly annoyed her and undermined her newfound confidence. "Every second we leave Buffy under his thrall we risk losing her," she said throwing the accusation and reminder out, hopefully preventing any further cautious stalling tactics. She wanted Buffy back. She wanted this hollow feeling in her chest to go away. She wanted her best friend back.

No one responded. Giles couldn't really think of anything more that he could do to improve their chances, which were slim. Everyone knew what they were up against – Dracula but they also saw the look of sheer determination on the face of this new Slayer in front of them, perfectly reflecting how the witch inside her body was feeling. Willow's thoughts really didn't need translating.

"So we have a plan. Since when?" Xander asked, unable to hold the words in, somehow feeling braver than he normally would when faced with a determined slayer. "All I can see is a rag tag bunch of misfits hoping to beat the lord of all unholy darkness." His loyalty to Dracula surfacing at the same time as his own doubts.

Willow laughed, assuming Xander was trying to relieve the tension and soon everyone joined her, if somewhat nervously.

Xander smirked but inside his fuzzy mind sulked. 'The master is going to be mad. I'm pretty sure he hates uninvited guests.'

Faith watched the Magic shop comings and goings with much interest. The attic room above the dry cleaners had been cheap and it gave her a clear, if cramped, view of the Magic shop and side alley. The air that filled the room had a slightly musty smell to it, something to do with all that steam downstairs she presumed. But the place was clean, well lit and the skylight gave her a great view at night once the streetlights dimmed.

She hadn't seen Buffy in a while and having just finished her 'recon' on their dorm room she was itching to know how they had reacted to Xander's little bed swap. She laughed just knowing that she had gotten the blame for that one. It seemed the boy-toy was in on her game. She was slightly miffed that he had figured it out so quickly. But she had to give him points for the bed swap idea. She would have paid good money to see their faces last night.

Her Slayer senses had told her that although they had shared the bed, they had done nothing but sleep. This disappointed her; she really couldn't understand what was holding them back. She had given them the perfect excuse to sort it out. 'Was B really that dense?', she wondered. Maybe that was why she wasn't around - all the angst and such, plus not having her super human powers had to be getting to her.

She'd seen Xander and Willow return earlier after she'd called Cordy. Assuming that Buffy had also left the shop in her absence she now regretted keeping her promise to call. But D had rung her cell phone first twice, then four times to let her know that Queen C was home. She had longed for even Cordelia's voice; for someone to talk to; someone who would listen without a Buffy's 'what is Faith's hidden agenda' in every sentence.

She had considered bugging the shop but knowing Willow's fondness for protection spells she hadn't - something she was now regretting.

Two hours later Willow, Xander, Anya and Giles left the shop and headed for the park. Faith grabbed her weapons bag and left her attic room to follow them.

Buffy sat at the far end of a long and well-polished wooden dinning table. She was alone in the room. She had been since she had regained consciousness about half an hour ago. For some reason she couldn't move. She had exerted all of her will but not a limb had moved.

She had no idea just how long she had been unconscious. There was no clock in the room and she had tried to lift her wrist to look at her own watch. She'd even tried just twisting her wrist slightly but it had been no use. She had never felt so helpless. She knew the gang would be trying to find her, wanting to rescue her but that knowledge still made her the victim - something she found very hard to deal with. Anger grew within her. She envisioned killing Dracula – slowly, painfully and then making Faith wish she was dead, making her beg to die, making her whimper with apologies. She could feel the urge to slay building within her and yet she was like a chained animal – impotent.

Giles had always advised her to practice some patience back in the days when she had her Slayer strength. Maybe that wouldn't have been such a bad thing to learn. This sitting unable to do anything was like having an itch she couldn't scratch. She had begun to believe she was going mad over the last few days. She had all the urges and instincts to fight building within her but was unable to use them or vent them. It seemed as though only the Slayer strength had transferred to her Witchy friend. She still had the dreams, the cramps when a vamp was near and the hardened aggressive mental attitude and training.

Buffy suddenly realized just how far Willow had been able to come without the mental training she had gone through, without the combat experience she had acquired. Giles had concluded that Faith had only swapped their physical bodies. All their mental skills had transferred with their minds resulting in the Witchy Slayer and the aggressive but frustrated woman she now found herself to be.

She had begun to wonder if maybe Dracula was right and that all she was - was a killer. Then into the room came the Lord of Darkness himself, seemingly graceful and aloof. She was reminded of a swan she had once seen last summer, gliding on a lake oblivious of everyone else, serene and seemingly immortal. 'Where the hell did that come from?' Buffy looked at Dracula suspiciously.

"Your mind is still strong I see," Dracula said, his voice deep and inviting as he moved to her side.

Buffy glared at him. "I exercise everyday," she replied, annoyed by his attempt to guide her thoughts. "You're slowing down old man. Having to use magic to pull the ladies... Then again I guess surgery's not really an option for you," she smiled. "Just how old are you?"

Dracula tilted his head to one side. "So you dread birthdays," he stated.

The statement unnerved Buffy but she chose to stay silent. As her mind began to remember every birthday since her awakening as the Slayer and how they had all been celebrated by a life or death event.

"Each brings you closer to the natural death of a Slayer," he smiled. "It is our fate to never grow old."

Her mind lurched but she pulled herself back. He was trying to guide her thoughts again. 'Keep on your toes Buffy,' she told herself.

"Mmm, you still have such fire. I like that," Dracula said almost in a whisper. His words washed over her mind. Unexpectedly he moved away from her towards the middle of the table. He spoke again his voice even softer. "Stand and come to me. I wish to view you."

Buffy found herself standing, leaving her chair and walking towards him.

"Turn!" he commanded.

She did. Her mid length skirt swirled slightly, revealing the bare skin above her boots.

"Beautiful," He uttered in an appreciative tone.

As Buffy turned to face him again he gestured her to him. It was only a few steps but Buffy walked towards him, fighting every step in vain. He gestured again and she stopped, mere inches between them.

"You are indeed a wild creature, drawn to the darkness within, drawn to the music of the night," Dracula whispered.

"Oh please! You gonna break into a song?" Buffy spat.

"I am going to introduce you to the fire within you. I can feel it burning inside you - the need to kill. It dances within you to music only those who kill for pleasure can know."

"I do not kill for pleasure!" Buffy almost shouted. "It's a calling, 'save the world, kill the Vamps, survive on four hours sleep a night, secret identity' kind of thing."

Dracula gestured and she found herself unable to speak. He simply smiled at the annoyance in her eyes as he placed his cold hand upon her hip. Taking her other hand he began to slowly lead her in a waltz. There was no music and yet Buffy found it easy to feel the rhythm to which they were moving.

"I see you can feel it, sense the music," Dracula said, his lips so close to Buffy's ear that had he been human she would have felt his breath on her skin, on her neck. Buffy felt something building within her, something new and chilling. She felt fear. There was nothing she could do to prevent Dracula from killing her. Nothing.

Her mind swam with the sheer realization that she was powerless. She hadn't felt so defenseless in years, so out of her depth. As Dracula swept her around the room like a mannequin, she almost wanted to laugh hysterically. How she wished she were able to fight him. She wished again and again to have some control. Never had she chosen to hand over her life. It wasn't right she should be able to fight.

"Ow," Buffy yelled as Dracula stood heavily on her left foot, which didn't seem to be following instructions. "Watch it 'lead foot'." Buffy cheered her willpower on for this small victory – 'Yay, my left foot.'

"You still fight me. How very foolish you are," Dracula said, warning and desire in his eyes.

"Yeah and you - such a smooth dancer too," Buffy quipped.

"Do not mock me Killer. I know you for what you are," Dracula reminded her. "You deny yourself."

"That's me 'denial girl'," Buffy smiled. "So if I deny you exist you should poof – vanish in a puff of cheap smoke, right?

"Enough. Be. Silent," He commanded.

"Did you forget to pay the thrall bill?" She asked, willing her hand to leave his.

"Be silent, woman," He commanded this time with such intensity that Buffy could feel the power washing over her.

"Who died and made you king of the wo…" Buffy made the shapes with her mouth but she just couldn't get the words out. Frustrated that he had gagged her again she lashed out with all her will, lifting her all-powerful left foot to try and stomp on his damn foot in revenge.

But Dracula simply stepped back from her slow moving attack, released her hands and smiled at her. "You are not the 'Killer' I sought. You are simply a foolish little girl trying to anger me."

Finally released Buffy raised her hand but unable to speak, made great play of biting her nails in fear. But inside she couldn't help wondering if he was right. Had she never been the Slayer? Had she been nothing more than a mouthy scared little girl? 'Is that all I really am?' She asked herself.

"Sleep," Dracula ordered, dramatically waving his arm with more apprehension than he normally showed. "Sleep little girl. For she will soon join us."

"We will finish our dance before your playmate joins us. Then you will realize your place. Your destiny and hers," He hissed. "Sleep, sleep, sleep."

Buffy's eyes grew wide with fear. 'Willow!' She fought to remain awake but Dracula's eyes did not leave her until she fell to the floor, lost to the land of slumber.

Moving across the park the group of four looked a very odd collection. Giles in his 'oh so British' attire, crossbow in hand; Willow in new age hippy student outfit, a nap sack on her back and stake in hand; Xander in blue jeans, Hawaiian shirt and his favorite axe; Anya in her shop girl gear, short sword and stake. They looked like escapees from a low budget horror movie as they wandered across the dark park, torches in hand. Thank goodness Sunnydale's police were possibly the lowest profile force on the planet.

Anya looked across the lake. "I know I've only been mortal in Sunnydale for a short while now. But you know what I've never noticed?"

"A big castle sitting just across the lake?" Willow provided.

"A big castle," Anya agreed

"Its magnificent. Fitting for the unholy prince." Xander commented, awe in his voice until he caught Willow looking oddly at him. "iple."

"Yes magnificent - for a tasteless pile," Giles agreed. "I thought the era of the mock Gothic palace had passed."

Trying to plan ahead, as she knew Buffy would, Willow spoke. "Okay we split up. Xander and I will take the front. Giles and Anya, you take the rear. We need to find Buffy and get her out of there," Willow commanded no waver in her voice and sheer determination in her eyes.

Giles felt a certain growing respect for this young woman, thrust as she had been into the role of Slayer. Finding no fault with her division of their forces he stayed silent.

They moved rapidly around the lake, separating into pairs as they reached the front of the mock castle. As Willow and Xander reached the front of the castle she paused slightly before opening the front door. The hall way was poorly lit and very dark. Ahead of them was a large staircase. Turning to Xander she said, "You try upstairs. Be careful."

Nodding Xander mounted the stairs. He was pleased that his master would not see him with this Witchy Slayer plus he knew he stood little or no chance against her. He would ambush Giles and distract his Anya, probably with sex, and seek out his dark master for further instruction. He would find his way to them. There had to be a rear staircase for staff, trades and such – he's seen Chatsworth Park- Anya's choices sometimes worried him.

As she watched him mount the staircase Willow removed her nap sack, pulling out a dark green crystal. Placing it in her palm she recited the enchantment she had researched earlier and hoped to the goddess that the failure of her earlier spell was only a fluke. She poured her very soul into her chant, pushing her will into the crystal.

Giles forced the garage door up and soon they were in. They found the door to the house unlocked so they proceeded into the castle and what appeared to be the dungeon! Their torches lit the way through a maze of corridors and stairs which soon had them completely disorientated.

Anya turned to Giles. "Well," She said with distain. "Where we are?"

Giles looked at the woman as if she was mad until he saw the smirk on her face. She was enjoying his failure. "Could you do any better?" he asked.

"Sure," she replied. "I could probably help us get even more lost." Anya said, laughing at him.

Giles huffed and moved off. There was something about Anya that got under his skin. Her bluntness was just so uncalled for, so lacking in finesse. But most of all it was what she got away with saying that he wouldn't even dream of saying, think it though he might.

His thoughts were broken as they reached a two-way split in the corridor and looking at each other; they shrugged as they each took a different corridor. He was somehow relieved to be separated from Anya.

Turning left he found a solid wooden door before him. He turned the handle, feeling the door move slightly and then stick. Instinctively he put his shoulder to the door and gave it another push, it moved a little further and stuck again. So this time he placed his whole weight behind the push.

The door flew open and Giles moved through it before he realized that there was no floor on its other side. He fell.

His landing was strangely soft and he looked about himself to see that the floor was covered in cushions. Looking behind him, he realized he had fallen at least 10 feet into a sort of pit. He could see the open door gaping, almost laughing down at him.

"Oh good stepping Giles. At least you didn't get knocked out for a change," he admonished himself.

Turning he caught a movement from the shadows of the pit. Three women appeared, each stunningly beautiful with tight firm bodies robed in almost see-through silk and smiling. In the half-light he could see their incisors, the grayness of their skin, their curves. Giles swallowed, "Ahhh yes – you would be the Three Sisters. Excellent. Yes. I heard you were a myth."

They moved towards him with quick smiling ease, leaning down beside him and reaching out to undress him and they sighed.

"Obviously erroneous," Giles added, as his skin became aflame at their touch.

They ripped his shirt open.

"Ahhh," Giles uttered, strangely mesmerized by the three women surrounding him, yet knowing he should be doing something else. "Ahh – Oh! That tickles," he pointed out as one of the women ran her tongue over his bare chest. "Ohh Ahhh." Then he was kissed until breathing became an issue. Regaining air he let forth a plea. "Oh. Dear God?"

Willow had now checked five rooms on the ground floor. Most had been completely empty, although one appeared to be furnished in the European style of a large study turned library, complete with a raging fireplace. She moved to the last door off the main hall and holding her breath, she turned the handles of its double doors.

Entering the room she was at once pleased and disappointed by the scene that greeted her. She had found Buffy. But the blonde was frozen in Dracula's embrace, their faces mere millimeters apart. Jealousy flared within Willow as she saw the way Buffy was staring deep into his eyes.

It took her a little while to control herself and realize from their pose that the two had been dancing when her spell had surrounded Buffy, slowing time. In their timeline they were still dancing. She now had to be very careful because unfreezing Buffy would also unfreeze Dracula.

Moving towards the eerily still couple Willow knew she was moving far too quickly for their eyes to see her. She considered her options. Should she try to disentangle Buffy from Dracula or try to stake him?

As she came to their side she realized that they were dancing so closely that she would have no way of piercing his heart from the front. Moving around to his back, the fall of his Bella Lugosi cape made it equally impossible to identify where to stake him. She moved back to their side, her mind racing. She had to think of something. She clutched the crystal within her hand as if wishing it would help her.

Willow suddenly realized that she must have stood still, in the same position, for too long because suddenly Dracula disappeared, leaving Buffy with her arms still in dancing pose but alone. Willow moved to her friend's side, her eyes and ears alert for Dracula's reappearance.

Buffy shook her head and gasped as she realized that Dracula was gone. But she could still feel a hand on her…Willow…She was here. Oh no. She scanned the room and sure enough a column of black smoke at the far end of the room heralded his return.

"Willow," she said.

Willow smiled realizing her friend was back in real time. Then she turned following Buffy's concerned eyes to see Dracula reappear. She moved to the left of her friend, allowing them room to maneuver as Dracula moved towards them. Realizing the crystal was no longer of use she dropped it.

"I knew you would both be with me eventually. This is as it should be."

"Oh yeah? Why?" Buffy asked.

"Cause we're under your thrall?" Willow asked. "Guess what pally…" Willow smiled lifting her stake.

"Put the stake down."

"Okay," Willow responded laying the stake on the table at her side. "Right. That was not you – I did that because I wanted to. Slayer sneaky stuff you don't yet know about." 'Maybe I should rethink that thrall thingy,' she said to herself.

"Indeed. Be still," he commanded as he approached.

They both found their minds unwilling to order their bodies to move.

"You are both magnificent," Dracula said, appearing to breathe them in.

"I bet you say that to all the girls before you bite them," Willow commented.

"No. You two are different – kindred."

"Kindred?" they ask in unison.

"Pull back your hair," Dracula ordered Buffy.

Buffy found herself following his bidding.

"This isn't how I usually fight. You waft in with your music video wind and your hypno eyes…" Buffy explained.

"I have searched the world over for the Slayer. I have yearned for her, for the one - but now there are two whose darkness rivals my own," he said his eyes falling upon Buffy's neck.

Willow recoils at these words. "Hey. No darkness here. Just Willow. Well Buffy that is. Kindred goodness."

Dracula turns his gaze upon Willow. "Do not fight. I can feel your hunger." He moved
towards her.

"Stay away from her," Buffy ordered.

"Are you afraid I will bite her before you? Slayer, that's why you came." He stated glancing at Buffy as he moved towards Willow. "Stop me, stake me. Do you know why you can't resist?"

"Because you're famous – it's over rated," Buffy said hoping to distract his attention from Willow.

"Because you want it too."

Buffy had no response.

"Others are coming." Willow whispered.

"They are here. They will not find us. We are alone. Quite alone." Moving in to whisper in Willow's ear, he added, "There's so much I have to teach you witch, your magic, what it is capable of. You have the potential for much darkness. Can you not sense it within you? Would you like me to show you?"

"Really don't want to know," Willow almost screamed. She felt the fear that he could be right rising within her.

"You want to know and you will have eternity to discover the depth of your magic's. But first a little taste."

"I won't let you." Willow fought his thrall with all her might, to no avail.

"I didn't mean for me." Dracula replied, a laugh shaping his mouth. Seeing the horror in her eyes he turned to Buffy.

Moving to circle behind her, he smiled. "All these years fighting us. With a power so near to our own and you never wanted to know what it is?" He finished coming to a stop in front of and between the two friends. Taking his left thumb he dragged his nail across his right wrist, smiling he did the same to his left wrist. Blood began to pool upon his wrists. "Time for a taste…" He said, offering his wrists to the lips of the two young women before him.

"If we drink that…" Buffy whispered, unable to draw her eyes from the wrist before her.

"It's not enough for you to change. You must be near death to become one of us…and that comes only when you plead for it."

"Not hungry," Willow stated, firmly closing her mouth.

"The craving goes deeper than that," Dracula explained. "You think you know, what you are, what's to come – you haven't even begun." He pressed his wrists to closer to their lips. "Feel it, the darkness, the power, the magic; your need to be one with the darkness, with each other, with me. Find your true nature."

Willow kept her lips firmly closed, although she could feel the warm wet blood against her lips, pushing, calling to her. She closed her eyes and focused on goodness, on love, but that just reminded her of her longing to be with Buffy. The way Buffy filled her heart, her life. Every fiber of her soul sought out the bedrock that supported her Wiccan beliefs. Her mind would have gone into meltdown had her eyes been open to see Buffy lean into Dracula's wrist, opening her mouth to drink…

Buffy drank, feeding the need she had felt, the need he described. Her mind swam with memories of the Slayers that had preceded her. Visions of battles; victories and apparent losses; of her friends; her family; her Willow; and the many innocents who had been lost in the battle with darkness. Lifting her head she considered the taste in her mouth. Shaking her head she made a decision. "No. That was gross." She said.

"You are resisting."

"Looks like," Buffy responded.

"Come. Drink," Dracula commanded again.

"You know what? I really think the thrall has gone out of our relationship – but I want to thank you for opening my eyes a little," Buffy said smiling.

Dracula turned to find Willow had opened her eyes. She was staring at Buffy in disbelief; her lips firmly closed.

"What is this? No other man can give you what you both need," He removed his wrist from before Willow, his face filling with exasperation at the behavior of these women.

"My true nature…," Willow stated. "Well, Mr. 'big, dark and mysterious', you can trust me when I say that you have no chance of giving me what I need. Kinda Gay here."

"Indeed?" Dracula smiled. "I have to admit that makes the possibilities somewhat more intriguing." He leered at Willow, his eyes laughing. He moved his questioning gaze to Buffy. "I will very much enjoy watching you two perform for me."

"Oh please. How unoriginal is that?" Buffy protested, a flush rising to her cheeks.

"No woman can resist the thrall of the dark prince. You will find your womanhood, your true natures. You will have no need to hide in the arms of another woman. This you will realize - what you really need, in my dark arms, a real ma…" Dracula halted his self-glorification at the sound of a window shattering and the feel of something against his – "No!" Looking down he realized that protruding from his chest was a stake.

Willow and Buffy released from his thrall instinctively threw themselves to the floor. Buffy glanced at the table as she dropped. Willow's stake was still there. "Who?" she questioned as another crash heralded the arrival of yet one more stake, which clattered to the floor, falling into the pile of dust that had been Dracula. Looking at it Buffy realized that it had something wrapped around it. Hesitantly she reached for it.

"Wait," Willow said pulling her back and bringing her close. "Giles?" she called out, assuming that it had been the watcher's crossbow that had dispatched Dracula and wanting to assure him he had hit his mark - so that he would stop firing.

When no one responded, they both looked at each other with concern. Someone was firing a crossbow and they couldn't be sure that Dracula had been the only target.

They lay on the floor, Willow holding Buffy to her side for what seemed like an age. Willow wasn't that concerned about moving anytime soon as she enjoyed the warmth of Buffy's body next to hers. Plus she wasn't too keen on discovering they were also in the sights of their mysterious savior.

She had almost lost her; lost Buffy. "Are you okay?" she asked, for some reason whispering.

"Yeah. Just a little rattled," Buffy replied. "Who do you think is out there?"

"I don't know. I thought it was Giles," Willow replied.

Buffy's eyes grew wide, "Faith."

Part 9

"Buffy, Willow, are you okay?" Anya asked and seeing they were she added, "Dracula?"

"Euro-trashed," Buffy explained. She stood watching a somewhat agitated Xander glare back and forth. Willow still had a protective arm on her and somehow that one small thing made her smile, made the fear of what could have happened less.

Xander had come careening into the hall, his eyes wide. "Where is he? Where is the creep who turned me into a spider-eating man-bitch?" Xander demanded.

"Apparently Xander was also under Dracula's thrall," Anya said attempting to explain his behavior. "Did I tell you that he's always had excellent taste?" she added because she had seen both Buffy and Willow hold back smirks at the idea of Dracula placing Xander under his thrall.

"No thrall," Xander clarified, in a voice a little louder than needed. "Emissary, Okay. No thrall. Just a bug-eating Emissary."

"He's gone," Willow stated.

"Damn it. You know what? I'm sick of this crap. I'm sick of being the guy who eats insects and gets funny syphilis. From this moment, it's over. I'm finished being everybody's butt-monkey," Xander said, his voice rising.

"Thrall. Told you," Anya stage whispered.

"There was NO thrall!" Xander yelled, glaring at Anya.

"Check. No thrall and no butt-monkey," Buffy interjected, trying very hard to ignore Anya and hoping he would too.

"Well, I was just saying I could have understood you choosing to give in to his thrall. At least you weren't all weak-minded and making time with the Dracula babes, like Giles here," Anya stated.

"I was just about to kill those loathsome creatures when – Anya interrupted me," Giles protested, somehow wishing Anya would go back to embarrassing Xander.

"Right, you were going to nuzzle them to death," Anya commented.

"Of course not. I was in complete – control." Giles blushed, something rarely seen. Quickly changing the subject Giles asked. "Willow, did the 'slowing time' spell work?"

"For a while." She replied, unsure if she wanted to let everyone know that she had found Buffy dancing with Dracula.

"Good, good. I was a little worried after the 'location' spell failed and considering your previous inability to resist his thrall. I mean, we never really had time to finish your mental training," Giles said, rambling on in his attempt to change the subject until he realized he was doing little or nothing to increase Willow's self-confidence.

"His thrall wasn't that hard to overcome once I realized something pretty basic," Willow explained, smiling slightly.

"Really?" Giles questioned. Curious at just how the young woman had managed to defend herself. "What?"

Buffy looked at her friend and a small smile played upon her lips.

"I'm 'Kinda Gay'," She said smiling.

Giles looked at her oddly and then he laughed. "Of course," he shook his head and dropped his jaw. "How simple," he stated somewhat annoyed that he had missed such a simple mental trigger. Then he smiled, wishing he had been there to see Dracula's face when he realized that he was facing a Sapphic Slayer. Realizing that Buffy was looking at him oddly, he opened his mouth to explain further but Anya interrupted.

"So he's dead," Anya asked somewhat disappointed. "You staked him."

Buffy and Willow fell into an awkward silence that was finally broken by Buffy. "We don't really know who staked him."

"Someone shot a stake through the window," Willow explained. "We thought it was Giles but it can't have been," she added.

"It was Faith," Buffy stated.

"How can you know that? And why would she be helping you?" Giles asked.

"The second stake had this wrapped around it," Buffy explained and passed the rolled up piece of paper to Giles.

Opening it, Giles read it aloud.
"'Babes in distress, in castle caught.
Standing sweetly, side by side.
New power, but no one fought?
Scared to deal, easier to hide.'"

"She's starting to enjoy this," Xander commented. Slightly disconcerted that Faith was still around, let alone watching them. There was the whole 'is she crazy possibility'? But then there was the cheesy poetry. 'Yep she's enjoying this too much.'

"Faith's still getting her jollies at my expense," Buffy commented, real concern in her eyes. She felt Willow reassuringly squeeze her shoulder and suddenly whatever Faith had in store for them, she knew that they would handle - together.

Faith had followed the rag tag rescue party across the park; at first wondering where the hell they were going. But one look at the big old castle and she figured that it surely didn't involve going on a fun filled picnic in the park. Then she really became concerned when she realized that B wasn't with the Scoobies. 'Damn! It's a rescue gig.' Guilt ran through her and she didn't like that much. This was meant to be her good deed, but it wasn't going five by five and if Buffy ended up hurt…

Kicking into Slayer speed, she raced around and ahead of the Scoobies. Reaching the castle she climbed up to an upper floor window. When she gazed in she saw something that sent a cold chill to her very core. Lying on the floor was Buffy and she wasn't moving. Faith jimmied the window and entered, moving swiftly to Buffy's side she gazed at the woman she had so often resented and envied.

Suddenly feeling very small and inadequate she reached for her neck to check for a pulse. It was there. She watched her nostril flair – 'She's breathing.' Relief washed over her and she beamed at the unconscious source of her happiness. She reached forward and brushed a stray hair from Buffy's face. Then she heard a slight murmur – she was – 'No?' Buffy was asleep?

'What the hell is going on?' she asked as she looked around the room. Then she heard a noise. Unsure where it was coming from and knowing that the Scoobies could burst in at any moment she retreated back to her entry point. Being found by the side of an unconscious Buffy wouldn't play very well with the Scoobies. She didn't like leaving Buffy but she wasn't going far. She lowered herself onto the balcony below the window and looking over her left shoulder she spotted just what she needed.

The tree gave her a clear view of the room. She retrieved her crossbow and bolts from her bag. She watched Dracula re-enter the room and keeping her bow trained on him, she watched as he danced with Buffy. 'Where the hell are the Scoobies?' She was beginning to think she had made a mistake when before her eyes the pair seemed to freeze and Willow entered the room. 'Magics', Faith determined. The witch was in the game.

She relaxed, watching Dracula perform before the pair, who seemed unmoved and unconcerned by his movements and then a small smile crossed her face she reached into her bag and penciled a little message for the dumb duo. She was going to enjoy this. When she looked back up, she was dumbstruck. They both appeared to be drinking from him. This had gone far enough. She took aim and, once she had a clear shot, she fired.

'Dusted! Some talents never fade.' A smug smile washed over Faiths face. She had just saved the love-dumb duo. As she watched them drop to the floor and she wrapped her hastily scribbled message around the next bolt and fired it into the room. "Guys, you are the dimmest 'love Muppets'. EVER!" she quietly exclaimed.

Willow had insisted that she take Buffy home, leaving Giles, Xander and Anya to return their weapons to the Magic shop. The Slayer/Witch had informed Giles in no uncertain terms that there would be no further attempt at the 'vision quest' tonight, because of what Buffy had just been through.

As they walked back to the dorm across the campus grounds neither one of them spoke. Willow kept a protective arm around the ex-slayer as they walked. Crossing the car park Willow thought that she heard something and turned just in time to see the large stone that struck her forehead, knocking her out. When Buffy felt the arm that had been around her fall, she turned and her heart sank as she saw Willow crumple to the floor. Coming towards her were three female vampires, attired as if from the Hammer extra's lot. 'The Sirens.' She focused all of her protective instincts and anger at the trio approaching her.

Instinct took over and Buffy took her familiar stance preparing for their attack. Then reality struck home. She had no slayer strength. She was no match for one vampire, let alone three. Glancing at her unconscious friend, fear washed over her, fear for Willow. 'How can I protect her?' Feeling the fear beginning to rise within in her, she shook it off with what remained of her will power. 'Willow needs my protection'.

The approaching vampires hissed as they moved towards her. Recognizing her stance they seemed to laugh before they commenced their attack. In a blur of movement too fast to observe, Buffy was suddenly surrounded by the three female vampires who treated her like a kitten would a ball of string, cuffing away her attempted blows with smiles and laughter, tripping her, punching her, slapping her and finally throwing her to the floor where she lay gasping for breath, her body and ego, bruised and humiliated.

The three left her to regain her breath, and although eager to play further with the ex-slayer, they instead to moved to surround Willow. But the sight of Willow, unconscious and vulnerable, surrounded by deaths minions simply helped to fire a fierce determination of will within Buffy. She felt a new unfamiliar power rising within her. It seemed to be building from her very core, aflame and yet it held an ice-like quality that centered and bound it to her will. She stilled herself and stared at Willow. Her very core seemed to re-align as if a magnet was focusing her will and drawing it out of her.

As the trio lowered themselves to Willow, Buffy knew they would not hurt her, they would not drink from her, they would not kill her. She would stop them. Buffy tried to move, to get to Willow, to protect her, all the while knowing that she would never reach her in time. She screamed within her very soul and involuntarily stretched out her hand as if to pass her help, her will, her strength, and her prayer to her secret love. A prayer that she, herself, should fall; that she should die - for that was her destiny, NOT WILLOW'S!

She felt her will leave her with such force, such ferocity that it seemed to burn her insides as it left her. She ignored the pain, forcing her anger, her rage, her will and the very soul of her need towards them. Towards those who threatened her Willow.

Somehow unsurprised, she saw a wall of fire rise to surround Willow, burning the trio of sirens where they stood. Their screams filled the air as they combusted, falling as dust to the ground. Then it died, its flames wilting, extinguishing itself, until all that lay before her was Willow. Her Willow. Safe.

Buffy felt something wet against her face, 'I'm crying?' She reached to her face to wipe the tears away but as she looked at her hand she saw not tears but blood, her blood. Her nose was bleeding? She became extremely light-headed as she tried to move towards Willow and thinking she had heard a noise, she lifted her eyes to look towards her dear, dear friend. Pleased, she smiled to see Willow's questioning eyes open. 'She's safe. Willow's safe. My Willow.' She thought with relief as she gave into the exhaustion that engulfed her. 'So tired. Just need to rest for a moment.' Closing her eyes, she decided to just rest her head for a while on her outstretched arm.

As Buffy regained consciousness she thought she was floating. But no. She was being carried. She was in Willow's arms, being carried with her own slayer powers. 'How weird is that.' And they were moving down a dorm corridor. She tried to raise her head to see exactly how much further Willow would have to carry her but she found herself unable to find the energy to do so. She murmured in frustration.

"We're nearly there, Buffy. It's okay, we'll be there soon…it's okay. Did I say that? As if getting pelted with stones could be okay." She huffed in disgust. Then seeing that Buffy was trying to move she advised her friend. "Give it a while. Don't try moving your head; its probably pounding. I know mine was. How many rocks did you get hit with anyway? You're covered in bruises," Willow stated, the concern obvious in her voice. She was certain that Buffy could have only been hit so many times if she had been trying to shield her. "If I ever get hold of those kids, those SOBs, those ignorant…I'll turn them sixteen shades of black and blue. Stoning! Hello; not in the dark ages. For heaven's sake we've landed on the moon, we have internet banking, female senators, cell phones, test tube babies, microwave pizza, bubble bath…Stoning a witch????? I'm so reporting this to the university board."

Buffy, smiled at the absurdity of the conversation Willow was having with herself; well to be honest it was more of a tirade, a babbling tirade. But smiling just made her face ache; so she stopped, deciding it was enough to smile inside only.

Willow obviously had no idea what had happened, what Buffy had done – 'Hey. I did magic!' she recalled. 'I did - oh my god, the switch – ohhh no.' Shock took over and the world faded away again.

In Los Angeles, two weeks earlier Cordelia was talking to Wesley, Angel and Faith -describing her conversation with a D-list starlet who had been silly enough to cross her path in last season's matador jacket.

"Any how, I told her…purple, so last season. If the cut didn't…Ow…hell!" Cordy cursed as her balance went, her sight faded and the scene before her blurred. With little warning she was thrown into a sequence of short scenes, snap shots, moving so fast in real time yet so slowly in her head.

Spike is sitting in the shade on a loading bay, as Buffy leaves the back door of the magic shop. He announces his presence. "I was gonna go inside, but I overheard you and the Super-friends exchanging a special moment and I came over a bit queasy."
Buffy wiped her hair out of her face but doesn't appear to be listening to him.
Deciding to bait her, he adds "Say, aren't you leaving a hole in the middle of some soggy group hug? Joining the Wiccan love fest and all that."
"I just wanted a little time alone," Buffy explained, finally acknowledging him. She walks over and sits on a near-by packing crate.
"Oh right then," Spike says standing. He starts to walk away but when he reaches the border of the shadow that had once given him access to the loading bay, he realizes it has moved and that he can no longer leave the alley without waling into the sunlight. He stops and squints at the sky.
Watching him, Buffy removes his problem. "That's okay. I can be alone with you here."
"Thanks ever so," Spike replies to the backhanded insult, passing her a rueful smile.
"Buff?…Slayer? Are you okay?" Spike asks, resuming his seated position.
She looked up, realizing Spike was still there. Uncomfortably she gets up and walks to the same shadow and sunlight divide. Pausing she answers him, never turning to meet his gaze. "Everything I feel, everything I want to have ... this is Hell. Just getting through the next moment…and the one after that ... Watching her ... being with her…knowing what I've lost... What I can never have." Buffy fell into silence.
Spike gave her a very knowing look. Sadness, resignation and understanding seemed to fill his eyes. As she turned she must have recognized his thought because she spoke with such conviction, such determination... "She can never know. Never."
Spike grinned and leered at Buffy. "We have to talk," he told her as she moved away from him.
"About what?" Buffy spat.
"Oh god, don't get all prim and proper on me. I know what kind of girl you really are," Spike responded smirking at the Slayer. " Don't I?"
"I'll just have to get my jollies fightin' demons," Buffy informed him in a very off hand manner.
Spike suggestively replied, "There are other ways…", presenting himself.
"And to that an extreme see you later," Buffy responded, walking away.
"You're a tease, you know that Slayer?" Spike yelled.
She rolled her eyes but continued.
"Get a fellow's motor running with secret sexy knowledge, put kinky pictures in his head, let the sexual tension marinate a couple of days, all big with the sharing, then bam. Crown yourself the ice queen," Spike added as she moved out of sight. "It's only a matter of time before you realize I'm the only one here for you pet. We both got tensions that need releasing. You got no one else!"
Buffy entered a bedroom where Willow was relaxing on the double bed. "Hey," She smiled. "How you doing?"
Willow sat up. "Oh. Uh…Okay."
"Yeah?" Buffy questioned planting herself on the bed opposite Willow.
"Yeah," Willow affirmed. "No parades and cotton candy but…okay."
"Will, um…Can I talk to you about something?" Buffy asked somewhat nervously.
"Of course," Willow replied.
"Right. Okay. Um…you know how we all make choices? And sometimes they're easy, and…sometimes they're…less easy," Buffy said, uncharacteristically stumbling over her words.
"Well, lately, I, uh…that is, I'm finding one choice…less easy," Buffy said, looking at Willow as if she should understand what she was talking about.
"Right... Slayer stuff?" Willow guessed. "Though not really a choice is it?"
"No well…"
"Look, I'm sorry, okay?" Buffy said sincerely to Spike.
"But..." Spike began to object.
"But…when I…you know I was thinking about Willow…Right?" Buffy said, trying to be as clear as she was able to be.
"You know, I always wondered about you two before you let on, " Spike said smirking.
"What?" Buffy questioned, suspicion in her eyes. Realizing he was teasing her - her look quickly turned to hatred. "You're a thing. An evil, disgusting thing."
Buffy kicks Spike and he flies into the living room. Spike stands as she enters the room. "Poor little lost girl." He taunts, jumping up to grab the chandelier. Swinging towards Buffy to plant both of his feet in her face. She goes down. "She doesn't fit anywhere. She's got no one to love her."
Buffy gets up and grabs him, throwing him against the staircase leading upstairs, smashing it to bits. "Me, I'm lost? Look at you, you idiot! Poor Spikey. Can't be human, can't be a vampire. Where the hell do you fit in?" She laughs. "Your job is to kill the slayer. But all you can do is follow me around making moon eyes."
"I wasn't planning on hurting you." Spike informed Buffy, as he lifted her up to look in her face. "Much."
"You haven't even come close to hurting me," Buffy retorted.
"Afraid to give me a chance?" Spike jibbed.
Buffy broke his hold on her throat, throwing him against a wall with such force that plaster leaves it in chunks. She grabs him as he tries to gather himself, pushing him against the wall. "You afraid I'm gonna…tell?" Spike says laughing ,"Just what's that worth?"
"You're evil…" Buffy began.
"Hello. Vampire!" Spike reminded her.
Buffy is in her bathroom wearing only a bathrobe. Spike stands smiling in the doorway. She yells at him to "Get out."
"We need to talk," he tells her.
"No. We really don't," she responds.
"This isn't just about you - - as much as you'd like it to be," he reminds her. "You should never have told me…but I think you wanted me to know…wanted me to have this over you."
"I wouldn't. Why would I want this?"
"Why?" he asked hopefully. "This way you can let me do stuff and it's not your fault. You like being treated like this."
"No I don't."
"Why do you keep lying to her? To yourself?" He looked at her, willing her to agree to his next statement. "You won't admit it but you need me…because you can't have her."
"I could never like or trust you enough."
"Trust is for old marrieds, Buffy" Spike replied, laughing at her denial. "Your great secret love has done nothing but hurt you. I think you like the pain. We could have passion, danger, something that burns and consumes."
"Until there's nothing left. That kind of thing doesn't last."
Spike moved forward to try and kiss her. She gently pushed him away. "Let yourself feel it…" he urges her, becoming more forceful in his approach, touching, stroking her. "Just what would she think, if she knew…" he threatens.
At his words, fear fills Buffy's face. He takes this opportunity to invade her robe with searching hands. "Stop it," Buffy orders him, batting away his insistent hands.
"You need me to hurt you…so you should fight just a little," he states, reaching between her legs. "I know you better than you know yourself."
"Don't," Buffy pleads, stumbling backwards. She reaches out and grabs the shower curtain to steady herself and stop herself from falling. But the curtain rings pop and its flimsy support is gone. She falls, hitting her back on the side of the bathtub. Gasping in pain she slides to the floor, hits her head on the edge of the bath and is dazed.
In that moment Spike is upon her, pinning her to the cold tile floor, oblivious to her pain. Forcing his kisses upon her. "Let it go…admit you like it. When I'm inside, you feel it too," he states.
"Stop it…please…stop." Buffy begs. She seems unable to stop him. And Spike doesn't appear to be listening to her pleas.

As she came back, Cordy couldn't believe what she had just seen. 'No! Oh my god.' Opening her eyes she saw two concerned faces, Wesley and Angel. 'Okay who caught me?' she wondered.

From behind her Faith asked, "C, you okay?" The dark-haired slayer was more than a little unnerved by the vision-fainting Cordelia. Okay so Angel had brought her up to date on the whole vision thing, but somehow the reality of the situation was not at all the walk in the park she had pictured for the Queen C.


"There was water? Sea? Lake? River?" Wesley asked eager to help.

Looking at him as if he was a fool she clarified her question. "No. A drink of water. Geez," Cordelia said irritably. Her head was still spinning and she was relieved that Faith was still holding onto her. She had no doubt that the moment Faith released her, her remaining upright body parts would simply join the rest of her on the floor.

"Ahh, yes. Sorry," Wesley said as he rushed off to rectify his mistake.

"Who was it?" Angel asked, recognizing the look on her face as concern for someone she knew.

"Buffy," Cordelia replied, pain and fear in her voice. She saw the immediate need to go to the Slayer in his eyes. "Some time in the future, not any time soon. I'm pretty sure about that. I think it was a warning of what could happen. We'll need to send someone to warn her. It's not the kind of thing you can talk about over the phone." Angel looked at her questioningly. "Girl stuff," She supplied, really hoping he'd let it go at that for now. She needed time to think about what she had seen. Angel's face relaxed somewhat but he didn't back down.

'Oh boy. Thanks. This is just what I need right now,' Cordelia thought, willing her thoughts to the powers that be. 'Tell broody his "ex" now bats for the other side. You couldn't just give this one to me, when he was…oh I don't know…somewhere else?'

Part 10

Buffy heard the call, the song, the laughter, the joy, the lure, the dream as well as the vain the fight to remain.

'To hover over awareness, yet never want it to be.
Heavenly slumbering, in hazy, cloudy, spring thoughts.
Fluttering, eyes gasping at the air, like wings mid-flight.

No discrimination against, no organization within.
Sleep lingers a while, then attempts to leave you alone.
Like a beautiful drug, its scent is left, an elixir in bloom.

Defying time, in the faded corners of untold dreams.
A beautiful fairytale, an untold gem, its light filters away.
Under the sudden canopy of light bright awakening, noises are felt.

Rolling, denial, diving back in, hoping for more.
But it is ended; it goes, leaving a vulnerable mind naked.
It will not come again, till night is drawn, on the striking sky.'

And so the bright light and awakening scratched at Buffy's eyelids but the silken warmth of her bed called her back to slumber. Buffy murmured in contentment, safety, peace and home, fighting its arrival. The warmth surrounding her seemed to reach into her heart and still its normally alert nature; thoughts of morning and waking up banished.

She felt so connected to the world. Everything around her seemed to be exuding some level of energy and she was bathing in it. The energy next to her seemed the strongest. It was welcoming, not overpowering, and somehow familiar to her.

Buffy didn't want to wake up. She liked this feeling of safety that surrounded her; the warmth and the peace. But she knew it was time. She couldn't hide any longer.

Memories of last night washed over her. She recalled saving Willow; the sheer force that left her; the drained feeling. And yet she had never felt so alive, so connected.

Moving into the waking world, she noted the weight of arms surrounding her – Willow's arms. She had slept in Willow's arms all night. A feeling of bliss came over her and more than ever she didn't want to awaken, she didn't want to move. She wanted to savor this feeling. Involuntarily she sighed and snuggled into the embrace, still half awake and, therefore, unaware of how her actions appeared. The arms tightened reassuringly around her. It felt so right.

Faith felt foolish; like a naughty child. The feeling amused her as she peeked down from her vantage point at the edge of the suspended ceiling. She had worked her body half way into the room with the center of her weight on the separating corridor wall, one tile slightly pulled back to give her the view she was now enjoying.

Anyone walking down the corridor would have seen her legs dangling from the ceiling tile she had removed to get to her vantage point. But she didn't care about the risk she was taking. It was still before eight and the dorms residents were enjoying their Saturday 'sleeping in'.

The sight before her was worth the risk. Willow was cradling Buffy in her arms; both asleep. She found herself smiling to herself with such satisfaction. But then she realized that they were still clothed. Nothing had happened!

'What on earth is it going to take to bring these two together?' Faith was stunned by how they could be so cowardly; so brave and yet so afraid. No wonder they were such an easy target for the underworld and all things evil. They wouldn't even acknowledge to themselves that they were each other's Achilles' heels as well as each other's 'one and only'. It was amazing they had both stayed alive this long.

These two were meant to be together. Any fool could see that. Besides how perfectly at ease they were with each other right now, there was the emotional connection they had had for years. But Faith was at a loss. What more could she do? What would break this stalemate?

Willow felt Buffy stir and although she thought to release her, as the blonde snuggled into her and sighed, Willow lost all desire to let go. She had slept only intermittently, waking up at each movement, afraid the nose bleeds would start again -- or the ramblings. She felt stupid. How could she have thought stoning could have done this? It was magic; only magic and its use by an untrained witch, unchained magic could have caused this. She knew that from experience. She remembered how Tara had held her, soothed her, held tissues to her nose.

She knew that beside her lay a large pile of blood soaked tissues. Buffy had moved in and out of reality, sometimes speaking, sometimes just staring off into the distance and then the blood would fall from her nose. Willow couldn't quite believe how terrifying this sight was to her. She had seen Buffy bleed before but never like this; never because of her.

It hadn't occurred to her that some of her magics could have transferred, no, stayed with her body. She thought that they were part of her, of her soul, her spirit, her mind. How foolish she had been. So much of the magic was in the blood. Her blood remained with her body, as it appeared some of her magic had and Buffy, not realizing this, had somehow tapped into that magic.

She listened to the object of her affection hovering at the edges of sleep, her face so peaceful and content. 'She belongs in my arms'

Buffy heard Willow sigh. Her half-awake disposition removed her natural instinct to stay silent. Without opening her eyes, she asked quietly, "What time is it?"

Willow stiffened at her words. The realization that she was awake and probably had been for some time disturbed Willow. "Around quarter to eight," she replied, somewhat pleased that even in Buffy's drowsy state she hadn't pulled out of her arms. She felt such a high at the knowledge that Buffy obviously saw nothing wrong with Willow holding her.

"Good. No reason to get up yet," Buffy said with obvious relief and then sighed re-settling into Willow's arms. "Thanks. S'nice," she mumbled.

"No problem," Willow responded. She was desperate to ask questions, to find out what Buffy was thinking but she also feared losing the moment.

Faith saw their lips move but couldn't quite make out the words. It was almost eight and the dorm would soon be awakening, Saturday or not. She wished she had packed a small camera. The fun she could have had with a photo of the dumb duo greatly amused her.

Pulling back the ceiling tile, she slowly maneuvered herself back over the separating wall and dropping down into the corridor. She stepped back up, using a well positioned trash can, and pulled back the ceiling tile.

As she moved off down the corridor, her mind planned and plotted, throwing out ideas as quickly as they occurred to her.

When Buffy and Willow finally decided to move they smiled shyly at each other. Somehow comfortable and yet at the same time slightly uncomfortable. Buffy had made a run to the bathroom and when she returned she noticed that Willow had made coffee for them.

"Thanks," she said taking her cup from Willow's hand.

"How're you feeling?" Willow asked.

"My head hurts; feels fuzzy and kind of heavy. But somehow I feel very alive," she said, her face asking if it was the magics.

"The magics," Willow agreed.

"Geez. You get this feeling every time?" Buffy wondered, somewhat envious.

"Nah. Well sometimes. Well usually only after a really big spell," Willow explained.

"So that 'far-away, happy with the world' look you get now and again is a magic hangover?" Buffy asked, somewhat amused. "Don't let Xander know. He would soooo wanna have a go."

"He'd only end up with a bunny's tail or ears or some such. Anya would be so not amused," Willow said, smirking.

It occurred to Buffy that she was a novice herself and she turned to look at her own rear, then raised her hand to check her ears.

"You're clear," Willow assured her, laughing. "You're in my body and it's used to doing the magics."

"Yeah, right," Buffy acknowledged somewhat less than convinced that she wasn't going to pay for using magic at some later time. "Phew, don't need anymore body changing stuff right now." If life with a witch had taught her anything it was that there was always a big price to pay for doing big magics. She put down her cup, pausing to smile in relief at Willow, and then moved to Willow's closet to find something to wear.

Silence fell as Willow watched to see what she chose. She had been mentally noting Buffy's choices, figuring Buffy was choosing the things that she liked to see Willow in; talk about a heads up. But once Buffy began to change she averted her eyes, allowing Buffy some privacy as usual. Having to wear each other's clothes had at first seemed weird. But they seemed to have long forgotten that particular weirdness amid the many others that had crowded around them after Faith's little visit.

Buffy thought about the night before -- her failure to protect Willow's body against Dracula, her failure to protect it against the sirens and Faith's silly little poem. She longed to return things to their normal order, to regain control of her body, to resolve the problem that Faith had raised before them. But to be able to protect Willow again; to be in control is what she wanted more than anything. She hated feeling like a dead weight.

Fully dressed Buffy returned to her cup of coffee. She knew that this was the perfect opportunity to talk to Willow but the words seemed to stick in her throat. She looked over at Willow, deep into the book she was reading. Strange though it was to be looking at herself she knew from the feeling within her whom she was gazing upon. She knew that she would lay down her life for this woman. One small, possibly uncomfortable, conversation was a small price to pay to keep her safe.

She knew the life of a Slayer and although she had to admit that Willow had more than risen to the challenge, she was not willing to let her best friend live with her life expectancy and the continual risk. To live with the constant typical challenges to have a normal life, to plan, to wish, to dream. She wanted all those things and more for her Willow.

"Willow, we need to talk," Buffy said, her voice somewhat shaky.

"I know," she replied automatically but none the less Willow didn't have a clue of just where to begin. "It's just so…weird."

"Weird?" Buffy said, trying to hide her hurt feelings.

"I mean…spooky weird…not icky weird…are we in the 'twilight zone' weird. I mean you were okay with the 'kinda gay' thing…well eventually. For that I was kinda relieved…I'd heard of some bad things happening when girls came out to their friends. But we were okay…we just never really did…detail. Not as in detail but…you know, the telling, the soppy stuff," Willow stumbled, unsure how she felt about even having this conversation. How could she keep from saying 'I will make love to you, not because I must but because I love you'?

Willow was so scared that the longer this went on the more danger Buffy's life would be in. She had seen Xander having to hold her back, her instinct to fight so great that sooner or later her urge would prove fatal. Then there was her uncontrolled use of the magics. She was willing to do anything to prevent Buffy being hurt further or killed which meant getting this slayer power back where it belonged.

"I didn't wanna pry into your private…you know," Buffy explained. She couldn't exactly say that just the thought of Tara being with Willow had driven her nuts; that she had only been nice to the girl to please Willow and from fear of losing her. Knowing that Tara was the detail to which Willow was referring made the old jealousy rise within her. She had avoided this talk for so long.

"You weren't freaked into not asking? I did wonder if that was an issue remembering how we used to talk when I was going out with Oz," Willow said with a very goofy smile.

"No Will," Buffy said. And as if a window had opened she realized that this was where to begin. "Well maybe a bit. It was all so new for you. I didn't have a frame of reference, no 'kinda gay' experience. Didn't know if the whole first date marshmallow stuff still applied…you know…with a girl; how the whole wooing thing worked. I was afraid I wouldn't know what to say, trip over my own tongue and say something stupid," Buffy finished, feeling very foolish as she looked back at how their friendship had changed; how after that first talk she had avoided all relationship talks with Willow.

"Oh Buffy, I didn't have anything to base it on either. And I didn't know how you would react. I was a little afraid that you wouldn't cope; that the detail was just a step more than you could deal with. You know 'hey I'm okay with you being gay, but don't rub my nose in it' kinda thing."

"Will!" Buffy exclaimed, shocked that she could have feared that response from her. "Nothing you could ever say or do could change how I feel about you. Honest. I am so not gonna judge…hello my scorecard."

"Thanks, I guess I know that now. Not the scorecard…I mean the…I understood yet still talking," She huffed, annoyed at her own babbling. "Back then I was as unsure of myself as I was of anyone else. I'd heard such horror stories. You know, about girls who came out…nasty stuff," Willow sighed. "It all seems pretty silly stuff now considering the 'scarries' we usually deal with but it…I was so afraid you guys would change."

"I'm sorry I didn't realize what you were going through. Maybe I could have been more supportive; asked possibly dumb but friendly questions."

"How could you have? I didn't give anyone an opening. I was busy winning an Oscar for the role of 'strong gay, out and proud girl' proving we're all pretty much the same. Not large with the pride marching and pretty much careful in public," Willow blushed at the thought of her innocence, what a 'walk all over me' wall-flower she had been. "No one knew how hard I found it – not even Tara."

Somehow that made Buffy felt much better as a friend but more sorry for Willow. "So what freaked you out the most?" She asked partially hoping to make up for her past failures as a friend and partially for herself. She needed to lighten the mood.

Willow laughed at Buffy's possibly dumb question and casting her mind back she replied, "Not being able to tell everyone I cared about…how great it felt to know what I wanted and yet how nervous I was. What it felt like, what I didn't enjoy, what I did. How unbelievably scary it was," She laughed. "How wonderful that first night felt."

Buffy felt her heart tighten sharply. She was so terrified. Her fear of having to compete with Willow's first night was tremendous. How could anyone hope to compete with a first night as obviously blissful as theirs had been? With a man she had been nervous enough about her abilities…but with a woman…with her best friend.

Gradually through much rambling and shy but careful questioning, they finally caught up and Buffy realized how hard it had been for her normally shy friend to live with so many people making assumptions, feeling that they knew who she was – that 'newly gay' girl. Having to find the strength to cope from within, feeling that it wouldn't be fair to ask your friends for support on the issue of her choice of lifestyle. Hiding what she was going through from her parents.

Buffy knew there was very little she could do about the past. She couldn't go back in time and fight that battle for Willow but she could listen and be there for her now and in the future. She made a vow to defend and stand by not only the body of her Willow but also her heart and soul. She would never let anyone make her beloved feel unwelcome, excluded or uncomfortable ever again. She would celebrate her Willow and all her choices and, damnit, so would the Scoobies.

Slowly the conversation moved to how different her new relationship with Tara had been to the one she had had with Oz. Buffy desperately wanted to ask about the vision but she felt sure that now was not the time. Needing to move the subject along before she let the question out Buffy asked, "So how different was it – sleeping with a woman?"

"It just…sort of flowed. No research, no books, you'll be pleased to know; though the books do exist. It just felt natural…to do what you felt. No strange other body to navigate. But pressure to know…what to do…'cause your female. That's big too. Like you know how yours works…so expert – not. I've still only slept with one woman…not like…no matter what Anya thinks…and then…you know, got well- read." Willow finished, needing to drop that landmine in plain sight as she remembered how Tara had reacted to the expectations she had had. There had been a long late night chat and she had left somewhat shame-faced.

Buffy laughed. She was kind of reassured by Willow's admission and replied, "I'm kinda relieved…not exactly large with the being well-read in that area…or the other…not my usual reading material. I've cleared that up right? Guess we'll just feel our way." Realizing how her choice of words sounded she blushed. "I meant take it easy…go with the flow…no pressure."

"Agreed," Willow said, greatly relieved. Angel was a 200 year-old man, well-read on the subject was a given. Competing was not her style. She didn't need the pressure. She'd had exactly two lovers from either side of the fence and she was now well-read enough to know that both had been pretty tame, even square.

"Will, I know that Anya's theory is just to do it. But talking and being honest – it helps," Buffy added very nervously. "Does the idea…of us…wig you out?" She could hardly look at Willow. 'God, you just asked your best friend, your best gay girlfriend, if she finds the thought of making love to you repulsive.' Freaking scared, let alone wigged, didn't even begin to cover how Buffy felt as she waited for Willow's answer.

"I know that even the on-line covens agree with her," Willow paused, considering how best to respond to Buffy's question. "Buff…many levels…you're my best friend. So I guess that given that…feeling kinda odd is probably normal. Plus there's the whole being in the wrong body spell thing. Therapy could become an issue for both of us. But no. I wouldn't say wigging. We have to fix this. Then we get to hurt Faith. Right?"

"Sooo Right," Buffy agreed, somewhat relieved by Willow's response.

"Are you wigging?" Willow asked, as her Psych 101 kicked in.

"My wigging out also exists on many levels – wrong bodies, no book reading, everyone knowing what we must have done if it works, the possibility of losing my best friend 'cause we get weird afterwards. Just your average stuff," Buffy ended and immediately wished she'd stayed silent. Willow looked wide-eyed with fear. Something she had said had sent her into a 'deer caught in headlights' face. "Will?"

Willow's mind raced. 'Everyone will know! Know what we did…what I did to Buffy! What if Buffy does go weird? What if I can't cope with just once? What if Anya asks me if Buffy was any good? Or if she asks Buffy if I was any good? Oh goddess,' she began to panic, fear of 'the what ifs' washing over her. Her breathing tightened and she began to gasp.

"Will?" Buffy, her voice filling with concern, "Talk to me. Will?" She could see that Willow was spooked by something she had said. "Breathe. Slowly." But what was it that she had said? She rewound her comments. 'Oh no,' she thought. "Will, I promise you that we will not go weird. Nothing will change between us. I wouldn't let that happen." Then something else occurred to her. "Not one stupid 'I know what you did last night' remark will be made. I promise."

"How can you promise that?" Willow gasped, her fear evident as she fought to regain her breathing. "That could be just why Faith's doing this. She must know it would change everything."

"Well then, she's wrong. You know how I feel about you. We have a bond. We have friendship and loyalty that binds us; closet contents and other 'never tell upon pain of death' secrets, you know. This would just be two dear friends, two very dear friends, helping each other as usual." She almost said, she wanted to say that it would be like a gift but that would have been too close to home. "Why would we wig out about a best friend helping her best friend? Let's face it – we'd get angrier if we couldn't help each other."

Willow smiled at that, recalling how pissed Buffy had been with Xander for holding her back. Never mind how annoyed she herself had been when Buffy had left that summer; how she had felt at not even being given the chance to help her. And their arguments about the side-kick issue.

"See," Buffy said, as she saw Willow accepting her words. "We can do this and there will be little, if any, wigging."

"Yeah, okay. But how do we get around the being in each other's bodies…not being funny…icky. The whole 'hey I know my way around' thing 'cause its mine…useful, but freaky much? How do we cope with seeing who, what we're touching?" Willow asked. She just knew this was going to get weird. She had dreamed of this, of making love to Buffy – but they had been in the right bodies, what belonged to who. This had not been an issue.

"No lights. We can't see if there's no light," Buffy suggested somewhat relieved that Willow had raised the issue. She had thought of the solution yesterday. Besides she was kinda way freaked at the idea of kissing herself.

"Okay, no lights. Yeah, that will help. What about, do's and don'ts?" Willows asked, feeling they were getting somewhere and suddenly wearing her 'this is a math puzzle to be solved resolvo' face.

"Like?" Buffy asked but Willows raised eyebrow answered her question. "Right…Yes, I see. Well, as I'm not sure exactly how…you know…what's involved in ... Look, you tell me."

"Oh, yeah. Right. 'Cause I took Anya, the mad sex originator of this theory, to one side and said 'excuse me Anya but could you please describe in detail the sexual acts that you think we would have to perform to break this curse'," Willow said dryly.

Buffy tried not to laugh. "Yeah, okay that would have been way weird." She tried to get her mind away from the very funny image playing in her head – Anya as Dr Ruth detailing the sexual positions required to fulfill her definition of 'orgasm buddies' to Willow. She bit her lip to hold in the giggle that was trying to escape.

Willow glared at her. "Look, I could probably email Kira in the Gia coven. She's really nice and understanding, and I'm pretty sure she'd avoid making me feel like a fool for asking," she offered. "Best we know as much as possible."

"And you said no reading up was required," Buffy said, a more relaxed smile spreading across her face. She now knew that they could do this.

As their discussion progressed, do's and don'ts were agreed upon, a time set and finally, with the use of Will's trusty laptop, a list of the 'orgasm buddy' top twenty qualifiers received. The sheer length and detail of Kira's list had made Willow blush. But Buffy had read it with a 'matter of fact' face that gave nothing away, identifying the items she could and asking for the explanation of those she didn't.

The nervous tension that this inevitably raised was somehow lightened when they came across two listed items that neither of them could identify or explain and Willow, somewhat relieved that the ignorance was not just hers, turned to the Internet to find the answers. This proved a big mistake because upon entering the words into Google and hitting "go" -- porn pop-up boxes filled her screen with images of naked women, posing and offering very private views of themselves. As Buffy leaned over her shoulder Willow panicked and slammed the laptop shut. "I'll email Kira. Later," Willow stated as her face became inflamed in blushes.

Buffy had checked in with Giles and then left Willow to email Kira. She was pretty sure that without her in the room, Willow would be saved further blushes. Plus she was a little less than comfortable herself since both eagerness and fear were building. She realized that there were things that she needed to get clear in her head.

She headed to a place that would have put a broad smile to Willow's face – the library. She needed peace, quiet and Internet access.

As she walked across the campus she saw Xander. He appeared to be heading towards the campus canteen. She prayed he wouldn't see her but her luck was not with her.

"Buff. Hey," Xander called, waving his whole arm at her. He lightly jogged towards her, hard hat in hand and his tool belt bouncing on his hips. She couldn't help but smile.
"Hey," She acknowledged.

"You okay?" he asked, coming to a stop in front of her. "Last night was a bit…" He spread his hands to display his loss for words.

"Yeah. You?" She asked eager to get him to talk rather than to question her.

"Yeah," he responded shrugging with obvious embarrassment. "Lost it there for a bit. But what with the bug-eating and mind control crap, I reached my limit. Had to blow…" He grinned his goofy grin and shrugged. "There you headed?"

"Can't say. 'Cause if you told Willow, I'd have to kill you," She replied.

He looked at her and then an amused grin crossed his face. "Library? Don't worry I won't tell. She just gets the marshmallow look when she thinks of all those books. How's Willow doing?" he asked, a bit more seriously.

"She's okay. Doing research," she responded, really wishing she could think of how to avoid talking about Willow.

Xander started to walk towards the library and Buffy fell in beside him. She knew that Xander would want to talk until she reached her destination. Her heart sank. Much as she loved Xander, she just wanted to sort things out in her head.

"Anya didn't mean to freak her out. She was just pointing out the obvious. You know that, right?"

Buffy simply nodded her head, unwilling to speak on the subject of his ex-demon girlfriend, afraid that she would just spill out her annoyance and hurt their good friend.

"Good. 'Cause lets face it, half the guys in the dorm wish you and Willow had something going." He looked at her and that apology for being male face filled her vision. "It's kind of a male college hormone requirement -- to wish that two hot girls were…Not having to draw the diagram here, am I?"

`Pretty much getting the mental flow," Buffy responded somewhat annoyed and a little amused at the same time. If only those guys knew what they had planned for tonight.

"So you ever considered, you know, jumping the fence?" Xander asked.

"Xander I really hope your not trying to ask…" Buffy threatened.

"So you and Willow haven't had the talk yet," Xander said, interrupting her well before the threat he knew was on its way.

"Did Giles talk to you?" Buffy asked her tone changing. Spooked that Xander was asking her about a conversation she had just had with her Ex-Watcher...

"Giles hasn't told me anything. It was right in front of my "Xander" face. Willow would do anything for you," He said honestly. "So my guess is she's waiting for the straight girl to raise the subject. Some kinda gay subject etiquette thing."

"Well…it's a bit beyond the normal best friend job description. It's not like doing…this could leave her with more than just a nasty nose bleed. There's…well…personal space…privacy…personal invasion stuff. It's not like 'hey can I borrow your jumper'. It's like 'hey can I borrow your lifestyle choice'," she said recalling all the things they had just covered.

"So you're gonna let her stay the Slayer. That could get her killed," Xander reminded her.

"It's not just my decision to make," Buffy explained pointedly. She loved how worked up Xander was becoming. Her chest filled with pride at his concern for them.

"Of course it is. Willow's not going to force you to walk into her realm. You gotta ask about borrowing the lifestyle choice," he explained, a little frustrated that Buffy hadn't seemed to realize this simple fact.

"Well, it's not fair," she pouted. She was really starting to enjoy this.

"Who cares if it's fair? In about three days Willow's going to be stuck with your calling, your life expectancy and all that entails for the rest of her life. Unless you, her best friend, do something to stop that from happening."

"What am I supposed to do? Beg her to…" she couldn't finish. Not telling Xander that they had already had the talk was getting harder as their talk continued. Holding back the laughter was becoming almost impossible.

"Why wouldn't you? To keep her safe. You can put all our lives in danger to save Willow from the Mayor but you can't put your pride in danger now?"

"I don't even know if she could…if she'd want to. I mean what if I lose Willow over this? I can't lose Willow. I'm not meant to be without Willow. I ..." she stumbled through her words, looking at the ground, to avoid having to look at the now somewhat worked -up Xander.

"Compared to her losing you, I think Will would risk a little pain. She's not just your side-kick, you know. I know how you feel about her. Lets face it Buffy, you got burned with Angel and then Parker showed up," he reminded her.

"I know the story, Xander," Buffy said suddenly not enjoying this so much.

"But you miss the point. You shut down, Buffy. You closed just about everyone out, your Mom, Giles, me – Okay we get to help with the Scooby stuff, college, the basic and general support," he said, with no offense or accusation in his statement. "But, your heart and soul, you've only ever let Willow near them. We all know that. Have you ever considered that there's probably a reason for that."

Buffy raised her face to look questioningly at Xander.

"You were meant to. Trust her Buffy."

Part 11

That night sitting on the bed opposite each other in the darkened room, neither Willow nor Buffy knew what to say? What to do? How to begin? They found themselves sitting in silence. Finally Buffy reached forward and found Willow's hand and with such sincerity she squeezed it before raising it to her lips to place a tender kiss upon the back of it. Kissing that was where they should begin.

Willow felt a small chill travel over the back of her hand as her skin reacted to the touch of Buffy's lips. Looking at the vague outline of Buffy's face and she was sure she could sense the same hesitation she was feeling.

Shifting her hand she led Buffy's hand towards her own lips to place a hesitant kiss on its palm. This elicited a slight intake of breath from Buffy. Willow was surprised that her palm was so sensitive.

The talk had been easy. The preparation of the room was much the same. Okay, the showering for what you knew was about to happen…that had felt, well…odd. Sensing that same awkward and lost feeling in Buffy was somehow soothing. Somehow it helped her.

Leaning forward Willow cupped her best friend's face in her hands. Tonight they had no sight to guide them. She ran her thumb slowly down Buffy's cheek and her friend leaned into her caress. Encouraged she leaned in to initiate their first kiss, unable to see the longing that would have set her heart aflame. 'Keep it slow and simple. This is no time to let your heart run away with itself,' she reminded herself as she leaned closer.

She recalled Buffy saying that Willow had tended to the Slayer's many wounds over the years and that there wasn't much of the Slayer's body that she hadn't already touched or looked at over those years. This should be no different. Willow had taken great pains to point out that it wasn't Buffy's body she was going to have to look at or touch.

They had therefore agreed that complete darkness would definitely be required to avoid the wiggins. But even with the drapes drawn and all the lights off, she could still see outlines, some shadow and a little color. So Willow had closed her eyes as she traveled the few remaining millimeters.

She felt her lips reach Buffy's; 'so soft, so warm.' Their contact was brief but electricity shot through Willow as she gently increased the pressure of her lips before withdrawing them.

After a brief breath, Buffy moved forward and brought her lips to meet Willow's. As they gently kissed, brushing their lips, slowly getting to know each other's style, they drew in the feelings, senses and emotions that poured over them. Buffy had placed her hands gently and carefully onto Willows shoulders to guide herself. Willow was still holding Buffy's face.

'Kissing is such a personal form of communication,' thought Willow as she was again invited to meet her friend in a way she never had before. No barriers but vulnerable, open and true. As they deepened their kiss she felt such warmth and so much trust that she was in awe, blinded by the shear strength and awesome tenderness she felt.

'This is going to be okay,' Willow thought, 'I can do this.' Then she felt her passion begin to rise. A need filled her. She felt the tip of Buffy's tongue trying to gain access to her and suddenly it became about need. Needing to give everything she had to this wonderful woman.

But she had to be so very careful. It wasn't that Willow was a screamer, but she liked to talk, sex babble, if you will. And much fear and angsty worry had been confronted this afternoon over this fear. But what terrified her more than the very weird position that she found herself in was the thought that she might say those three little words. Okay, they had agreed that any utterances or noises they might make were covered by the sisterhood act of 'no one other that us will ever know upon pain of death'. But none the less she knew she had to be careful.

She felt Buffy's hand reaching to her neck, which made her shiver slightly before pulling her into another kiss as if she needed the added persuasion. Her lips felt full and alive with every brush, each change in pressure a new heavenly feeling. Then a slight lick, a taste and Willow felt herself falling into a dream.

Buffy was so lost in the bliss of kissing Willow that all the burdens she normally felt as well as the need to keep hold of herself and to be in control fell away. She felt so safe - as if she had found her home. All she wanted was more, more contact, more skin. She found her hands moving to run up and down Willow's back. They pulled Willow to her as if of their own will.

She felt Willow's breath as she sighed. It pleased her that she was doing something right and that she had made Willow sigh. Her heart filled with pleasure. She deepened the kiss, tasting her Will. She heard and felt the groan and soon found her mouth invaded by the soft and tender foray of her love. It was as if someone had turned on all the lights in her brain. She began to feel a heat rise within her. Desire filled her and her abdomen clenched as she tightened herself with excitement. She wanted skin, bare warm skin, touching her, pressing against her. She wanted to feel Willow, to know her completely. The intensity of her desire, her need washed over her and her hands involuntarily found their way beneath Willow's flimsy top.

Willow swallowed, breathed, gasped deeply and very nearly choked as her back reacted to the very commanding hands that now touched it and seemed intent on traveling its sensitive land. Buffy had taken the lead. She had crossed the line, moving them beyond friendly but heated kissing into the land of touching and skin. Part of Willow was relieved another part anxious and finally a little miffed that she had to be led across that line.

Willow had wanted to control the pace; she needed to. But it appeared that Buffy wasn't going to play that game. 'She probably wants it over with as quickly as possible' she thought her mind suddenly flooded with insecurity.

Buffy realized that she had somehow shaken Willow but the need within her was so great, the touching such a relief. She knew Willow would take things slowly, gently, tenderly. But she wanted and needed to release her passion, the years of wanting, of dreaming.

"Will, are you okay?" she asked, releasing Willow's mouth. "Was that too soon? The touching?"

Willow heard the concern and doubt in her voice. "No, it's okay," Willow reassured her friend, moving back to her lips to reassure her with a kiss. "Nice," she added, feeling somewhat silly at having to admit that Buffy's touch was welcome.

At Willow's words Buffy relaxed. She felt almost as if a rhythm had been set and that the kissing, skin and touching hands could feel it as well. Willow's now full-blooded lips seemed to be playing music in her head, pulsing with a beat that she couldn't ignore.

All too soon many hands were traveling over and under clothing Heavy breathing and need obvious. Clothes became an obstruction. They were shed with mutual help and desire until they lay together with only their undergarments between them. Somehow this last barrier seemed the hardest for them both to overcome as they kissed and caressed each other, seemingly trying to push their bodies into one. "Willow," Buffy moaned with such a husky need in her voice that Willow's mind flew to the very spires of her heart. She could hear the thumping of her own heart in her head.

Willow ran her thumb over Buffy's lacy bra and the proudly protruding nipple, eliciting a guttural sigh from Buffy who arched her body and ran her hand down to Willows rear, raising her leg slightly as she pulled Willow's pelvis towards her.

Willow groaned and ground herself against Buffy, lost in a need so basic.

Realizing what she had done, Willow blushed a little. But a firm hand held her in place, letting her know this was okay, this was wanted. She felt empowered by Buffy's obvious excitement. Slowly she the pulled back the lace covering from Buffy's left breast and ran her thumb again over the now exposed nipple. It rose to meet her as Buffy arched to her touch. 'So hard,' Willow thought as her mind shrieked in warning that things were moving too fast, that she was losing control.

Buffy placed her hand behind Willow's neck and pulled her head down to her chest. She knew what she wanted - those lips, that mouth kissing, sucking, licking. Her head spun in anticipation.

Willow was amazed by her best friend's open display of her desire. Buffy seemed to be comfortable with her need. This both pleased and scared her. She was still trying to control her own need and yet this was supposed to be her territory. Shaking her ego aside, she let Buffy lead her lips to the very hard nipple she could feel beneath her thumb.

Willow considered gently kissing Buffy's excited nipple but upon reaching it she gave in to need, drawing the nipple fully into her mouth. She smiled at the sheer bliss of having such a wonderful gift given to her eager mouth and then the rage of passion filled her as Buffy arched forcing her breast into Willow's face. Soft warm flesh, hard needy nipple. Willow felt as if she had found heaven. She lost all fear, doubt and uncertainty as this small, needy and proud piece of skin told her everything she needed to know about where her friend's body and mind were. Finally she just let the beautiful madness take over.

Buffy pushed her thigh into Willow's pelvis as her chest became ablaze with Willow's passionate ministrations. 'So good, oh god it feels so good,' she thought as she felt Willow arch her pelvis towards her. 'How did I ever talk myself out of doing this? What kind of fool have I been,' Buffy gave into sheer instinct. For the first time in her life she knew what she was doing felt right - no doubts, no uncertainty. She let herself fall into the need, the want, the desire - accepting her feelings, her own body's voice.

They began to battle back and forth as Buffy twisted to gain a better position to reach, touch and explore. Rolling about the large bed neither thought to offer thanks to its provider. A single bed would not have provided for their passion so well.

Releasing Buffy's nipple, Willow turned her and with her left hand she undid the bra clasp, removing it effortlessly. The rush of air against her chest sent a thrill through Buffy. Realizing what she wanted to do Buffy moved her hands to do the same for Willow. But for some reason her fingers fumbled and failed in their task. A firm hand brushed hers aside and soon they were both topless.

Buffy took a deep breath as she felt Willow pull her forward. Surprised by each new level of pleasure as it washed over her, Buffy found herself calling out to her "Willow!" And then she heard her own name.


The corners of her mind screamed with joy and she wrapped her arms around her Willow, pulling her close, needing her close. She showered kisses upon the face and mouth of her love. Wasting no time she pushed her demanding tongue between those hot lips. The groan she felt travel from the back of Willow's throat only served to drive her on.

They became a medley of lips, hands, tongues, arms and legs…until only one boundary remained. As Buffy's teeth gently pulled at Willow's ear lobe, she felt hands traveling beneath her panties and a glint of anticipation lit her. Throwing her arms around Willow she rolled onto her back, pulling Willow to rest above her. 'Just helping,' she reasoned, 'Can't wait much longer'

Running her nails down Willow's spine she enjoyed the push of her pelvis as she arched into her. Her hand reached the band of Willow's panties. 'What's good for the goose…,' she thought as she slid her hand beneath the flimsy lace. No thought of wrong or right, unknown or familiar crossed her mind. She knew what she wanted, what felt right.

Willow pushed her pelvis into the Buffy, one hand supporting herself and the other slowly working down the panties that were impeding her. She could feel a fire building within her. She had never known the need to be so great, so forceful, almost beyond her, leading her, driving her. Every moan, groan and sigh, every arch, curl and clench that Buffy's body made simply stoked the fire, increasing the passionate blindness within her.

She felt the nails slightly digging into her back as Buffy's hand traveled down her back. 'Oh god, you are so gonna pay for that,' she promised herself. Working the panties down, just far enough, she gained entry and her hand cupped the mound that had pressed so insistently against her. Then she increased the pressure of her palm, just enough.

"Oh God," Buffy moaned unable to hold in her release as she felt Willow's hand against her. She shuddered. It felt as if she had suddenly been reminded of a thousand forgotten nerve endings. She tried to pull Willow towards her but she failed. Willow seemed resolute. She liked where she was. Looking up, Buffy thought she saw a satisfied grin crossing the face above her. She felt as if she was dangling over the edge of an abyss. "Willow," she pleaded.

Her mind rolled towards the abyss, blown away at the sheer control that Willow seemed to have over her. And yet she felt safe. She had never felt such a deep need to feel so secure in someone else's ability. Her heart burst as she felt years of unrequited love flow, demanding release. She had never wanted to give herself to anyone this much.

Willow battled to control the moment. She wanted this to be perfect. She could feel the need; the hunger within Buffy and her mind was ablaze with the knowledge that she was the object of this passion. She moved her fingers into the welcoming wet folds beneath her, seeking entrance just for a while. But as her fingers slid fully within, she felt her control waver, as muscles tightened to hold her within. "Buffy," Willow called, a vain plea as the last foundation of her control crumbled and she fell into the fantasy turned reality.

As Willow, at first, moved slowly within her, Buffy could have sworn the sky was falling around her. The fever rose within her and she arched, trying to hold and open herself all at once. "Oh my God," she groaned, "So good." Her words seemed to intensify the fire in Willow, as she felt the tempo of her movements increase. "Oh. Yes." She reached up to cup Willow's face. "Yes."

As Willow looked down at the outline of the woman below her, a swelling of pride and empowerment filled her. Her mind caught between the need to drown in the wet and warm heaven she had found and the many, many pleasures she needed to give her love. She pushed deeply within and held her hand. Then she raised her fingers slightly to stroke the red hot center of Buffy. She felt Buffy buck and writhe at her ministrations and she let out a groan of satisfaction.

As Willow plowed her wet center, Buffy could feel her climax building. At the same time her body seemed to turn to jelly as she fought to regain control of her muscles in vain. As Willow took control of her every movement, Buffy felt like a puppet, controlled by Willow's hand. As if the very strings of her pleasure were hidden within and only her Willow had somehow found them. It felt so right, so good.

Willow brought up her knees and sat back slightly, releasing her other hand. She pulled the panties down further and entering Buffy fully at this new angle she watched the body before her, soaking in every movement as if she was discovering a new and wondrous language. As Buffy's arch reached its height she brought the thumb of her now free hand into play, brushing it over the high and proud bud before her.

"Ahhhhhh…, " Buffy screamed unable to cope with the sudden rush of electricity that had flown from between her legs to explode within her brain.

Again Willow ran her thumb over this sensitive bud of nerve endings, building a slow rhythm, a counterpoint to the faster rhythm of her invading fingers. "Oh yes," she uttered as she felt Buffy tighten around her.

Buffy's eyes flew to the back of her head as she felt herself approaching the edge of her climax. "Oh no! Please. Willow. Yes," Buffy pleaded as she found herself begging for release. "I need…Oh God. You're incredible. I can't…Oh God."

"Yes you can, baby," Willow said encouraging her on and increasing the tempo.

"Oh Will, it's too much. No don't stop," Buffy cried, her mind a mess. "Oh Yes!"

"Yes, that's it. Come on," Willow entreated, feeling her own wetness, her own need building with every stroke. "You're nearly there. I can feel…Oh Goddess, you're so wet. It's beautiful," Willow stated and then she lost it, diving into Buffy, plunging into the wet and welcoming warmth…her own wetness began to flow but she could feel nothing except the pulsing beat between Buffy's legs, then the arch and ... Oh God.

Buffy felt herself falling over the edge, her head seemed to explode and the warmth between her legs gushed. She came so hard, so powerfully. It was as if the full force of a passion beyond her experience had knocked her from her feet. She clenched her teeth growling, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to hold on to the peak. She had never felt so joined, so alive and yet so naked.

Willow felt the flood cover her hand and then the tightening, and then her own tightness and release and the hold, the trembling. The power of Buffy's orgasm seemed to travel from her hands to her very core.

Slowly Buffy descended, regaining her breathing and control of her body.

Willow prepared to withdraw her hand, wanting to move to hold Buffy. But as she did she felt a slight tightening and a mischievous thought crossed her mind. She moved down to rest her head upon Buffy's stomach. Having done so she again tried to remove her hand but this time she changed direction to move slowly inwards and Buffy's hands suddenly clamped onto her head.

"Will, you have to be joking."

"Trust me," Willow said as she slowly moved her fingers in and out of the so wet entrance, this time hovering only at the beginning and edge of her.

"I don't think I can…"

"Trust me, baby," Willow repeated moving her head down, slowly kissing Buffy's stomach as she descended.

"I never knew you were so evil," Buffy accused.

"Not evil. You'll see. Besides, I have a list," Willow said as an excuse. And then she slowly curled her forefinger to stroke the roof of Buffy's entrance.

"Oh God! How did you…," Buffy shook and surrendered, "the list? Oh my God. The rest of the list!!" She felt Willow's facial muscles grin, as it traveled over her stomach, downwards, towards…'Oh!' Buffy's eyes flew wide as she realized exactly where her best friend's face was heading and what she intended. 'She's gonna kill me,' Buffy decided, 'But what a way to go.'

Part 12

They lay curled together in sweet exhaustion with Willow spooning Buffy. It was almost seven o'clock and neither had gotten any sleep, as Willow had approached her list with unwavering dedication. Buffy had never been so sated, so fuzzy and warm. The feel of Willow's warm body at her back offered such completion. Again she struggled to stay in the dream.

Willow noticed the stillness in Buffy. "You okay?" she quietly asked, afraid the weirdness was already taking over.

Willow's words drew Buffy back from the dream. "Yeah. Just coming back down to earth," Buffy said, grinning at the memories of last night. She didn't want Willow to let go of her just yet.

"Mmm. I know what you mean," Willow said as she absentmindedly squeezed her dear friend tighter. "That was…" Willow's mind searched for a word, a safe word to describe last night but none came to mind.

"Really…something," Buffy offered, feeling a little foolish. She couldn't remember the last time she had allowed herself to feel shy, vulnerable and nervous, yet it felt so right. "You knew…a lot more…than I was expecting," she admitted, feeling more like a giddy love-struck young woman of her age rather than the 'wise beyond her years' Slayer that she had to be in order to survive.

Willow felt the heat filling her cheeks at this compliment. "I don't think I was the only one – with the unexpected," she replied as she fondly remembered when Buffy had taken her turn.

Buffy giggled at the thought of the things she had done and, if Willow's reaction was anything to go by, had done well. "Yeah. Who'd have guessed?"

Buffy stared at the hand holding hers…her own hand. Suddenly her euphoria was drowned in cold water. She had been so caught up in the sheer pleasure of last night that it wasn't until now, as dawn peeked in through the curtains, that the truth became evident to her. This wasn't real, last night hadn't been real. She wasn't in her body and neither was Willow. A shiver of creepiness and sadness ran through her as she realized that the warm skin she had caressed last night, the body she had entered and tasted had been her own.

She so wanted to escape the image that was forming in her head, the memory of their actions. 'I've just made love to my own body. That's well like…Oh god!' All she had wanted was to live the dream…she tried to reclaim the dream for just a little longer. She loved the feel of Willow holding her but the knowledge of what they had both done last night and the danger they were still in overshadowed everything. Add on to that the realization that they had been in the wrong bodies during what had been a heavenly night and reality suddenly came into sharp cold focus.

Part of Buffy wanted to turn over and tell Willow how much last night had meant to her, how long she had dreamt of making love to her, how much she wanted to try to be what she needed. But the weirdness was kicking in. Willow had made love to her while Buffy was still in Will's body and…and it had been making love! Yes she was pretty sure she would have known the difference. But it hadn't really been her. She couldn't allow herself to believe it was anything more than the love of a dear friend who was trying to make an ordeal easier, trying to help fix something that was wrong.

She couldn't burden Willow with her needs, her wants, her fears, her wishes, her dreams. Willow had been so sweet, so wonderful, so giving because that was who Will was. That was her way and this was what they had to try…to do…to get their bodies back.

No matter how much she had wanted every touch and every moan to mean more, she couldn't allow herself to take advantage of Willow's giving nature. The possibility of telling Will how she felt and seeing that look of pity in her best friend's eyes while she explained that she didn't feel the same way…tore at her heart and courage. She wanted love not pity and she was far too scared to take the chance. "So how are we going to tell them?" Buffy asked, pulling reality back into their world.

"Tell them what?" Willow asked, concern evident in her voice. She suddenly had the very real fear that Buffy was expecting to debrief the Scoobies in detail. "Oh!" She had forgotten for a moment that this wasn't real, that last night hadn't been real. As that knowledge grew within her, she shook herself and thought 'What did you expect? Buffy's only letting you hold her like this because last night we had great sex last night. Nothing more.' She couldn't blame Buffy. She knew that her hopes for something more were her own problem. But that didn't stop the tears from welling up in her eyes.

"That it didn't work," Buffy explained. She had known the morning after was going to be hard but this was like having a thousand paper cuts and sitting in a bath of lemon juice. She either wanted this over or a few moments return of the mind reading power she had once had in high school. Anything but this strained conversation and the desire to run.

"Right. Oh yeah. They'll need to know. I mean Giles…" Willow said as she slowly removed her arms and released Buffy. "He'll want to review…the curse." She rolled away. The feel of Buffy's warm body had now become a torture as the tears silently filling her eyes testified. 'Last night was it' she decided. It was all she could ever have. Drawing herself in she tried to find her center; controlling her breathing; forcing the tears back that she would shed later…alone, she continued, "I mean we'll need to…look over the wording again and see what we missed." She stared at the ceiling and felt very small and alone. The desire to go and beat up something engulfed her. 'This is so unfair, so cruel.'

"Will, I really don't know…how to say this. I mean if there even is a right way to say this. So…you know ... (gulp). Thanks…for last night," Buffy ended somewhat uselessly. She wanted to say so much more but now that Willow's arms had released her she didn't seem able to form the words. Somehow she felt more monosyllabic than she normally did.

"Yeah. No prob," Willow responded lamely, wondering how long the polite period was…before you could get up, get dressed and run away.

Buffy lay still admonishing herself. 'What a lame way to say thanks for a night you will never forget.'

The shrill sound of their phone broke the need to speak further. Buffy shot from the bed, still naked and reached for the phone in desperate gratitude for the interruption. "Hi?"

"Buffy, sorry if I woke you. I know it's still early but I've just finished a telephone call from England and I believe that I should see you both immediately. It seems…we may have gravely misunderstood the curse," Giles said, the gravity of the matter evident in his tone.

"Okay Giles. We'll be there pronto," Buffy promised and hung up the telephone. She turned towards the bed but she didn't, she couldn't raise her eyes to meet Willow's. Her mind really wasn't ready to see the woman she had slept with last night in her own body. "Giles needs us," she explained, adding "Sorry." And with that inadequate apology for ending their post-coital talk, she turned to get dressed.

Willow lay under the covers for a moment realizing she was going to have to hold back her tears for even longer. All she really wanted to do was curl up under the covers and hide for as long as it took to forget last night.

Giles retrieved his cup of tea from the kitchenette counter, after having let in Buffy and Willow. Returning to his living room he saw that they had chosen to sit at either end of the sofa and so he moved towards his somewhat worn but favorite chair.

"It seems that either we have or Faith has (in her composition of the curse), misunderstood some of the references she was using and that if come the full moon we haven't resolved this curse, the world could be placed in a very serious situation," Giles explained to the two very silent and half-awake young women before him. "I received a rather unexpected call from a Watchers' Council intermediary early this morning. It seems they have become aware of the curse."

"Oh great - show and tell," grumbled a very fidgety Willow, preoccupied by the pain Buffy's words had caused this morning.

Giles looked at Willow, who appeared to be rubbing her fingers in vigorous aggravation.

"We're listening," Buffy declared attempting to distract Giles from Willow's obvious wigging out at the outsiders having any idea that they had or intended to sleep together. Yet she couldn't help but feel hurt that Willow was having such a bad time dealing with what they had done. She had thought it so special, so wonderful, a dream. It hurt to know that Willow didn't feel the same way. She almost felt as if she was seeing someone else, someone other than the person who had loved her so completely last night.

"Indeed. What I now have to explain may take some time and I must ask that you let me complete what I have to say before you bombard me with your usual list of questions." He paused for effect and then taking a deep breath he continued, "Fine then. As we know the Greek goddess of the moon was Selene, otherwise known as Diana, and she was worshipped by priests and priestesses with magical staffs made from willow. It is a matter of record that willow trees prefer to grow by running water and some believe that they are, therefore, influenced by the movement of that water and consequentially by the movements of the moon. Now interestingly Hecate who was the Irish goddess of both the moon and willow trees taught sorcery and witchcraft, and was a formidable divinity of the underworld. Again her priestesses used willow in their water magic and witchcraft."

Buffy was only half-listening. She so knew from experience that what she actually needed to know would come at the very end. That was just how Giles worked. Meanwhile, the other half of her mind dwelled on Willow. She wished she could still read minds. Specifically Willow's. Buffy was still somewhat freaked at the thought that last night she had caused her own body to orgasm, to writhe with pleasure, to flame with glowing heat. But in her own mind and deep in her soul, she knew that Willow was at the heart of that body and that it had been Willow to whom she had given pleasure. Surely Willow could realize that they hadn't just had sex, that it had been something more. She drew her mind back to Giles and his longwinded lecture. For once eager to let him ramble on, his words filling her mind and drowning out her anguish over last night.

"Willow trees are widely thought to represent renewal, virility, growth and immortality. Their wood is most commonly used for wickerwork - be that magical or practical. This was originally a trade only practiced by the priestesses of Hecate and Selene. Hence, the origins of the words wicker and Wiccan. It may be of interest to note that the Willow tree has unisexual flowers," he huffed slightly before continuing. "Willow trees are famous for their ease at surviving transplantation, fire, disease and pestilence. Many believe that this fact only served to add to ancient belief in the magical powers of this tree. Rosebay Willow, also known as Willow herb or Fireweed, rapidly colonizes burnt ground. During World War II and the bombing of London many of the derelict bomb sites were soon covered in fireweed, bringing color to an otherwise grim scene. The Greek goddess Selene was said to "exalt in her heart over the radiant bright haired Horai, the feminine hours, climbing the heavens to scatter sparks of fire."

Willow sat listening intently to Giles. She needed something to focus on, something to help hold back the tears. But uncalled for memories of the first time that Buffy had spoken to her invaded her mind. How the beautiful blonde had sat down beside her. The sheer buoyant feeling that had filled her when she realized that this wonderful, strong and lovely woman wanted her company. She had never thought she ever would regret the first spark of attraction that had lit within her that day. She wished she wasn't in love with Buffy. Maybe then all of this wouldn't hurt so much. She felt like a fool. She had known what last night would entail. She had promised herself that she wouldn't let it be anything more than just sex. And yet she had allowed a large part of her to dream that it would be so much more. Then she had allowed that part to of herself to escape into all that had taken place last night.

Giles took a sip from his tea, glancing at the unusually silent young women before him and noting their frozen expressions he smiled questioningly before continuing. "The Horai were represented by the morning star and it was said that 'The brightest of stars appeared, as most often heralds the light of early rising, whilst longing for the return of Luna, her partner in the night sky.' She can only raise the morning star if the moon is setting. Now you may be surprised to learn that the Greeks didn't recognize the season – Summer. They considered Spring and Summer as one season - Spring. They simply had three seasons, known as hours spring, autumn and winter. The guardians of these 'hours' were mortal. They were created by Zeus and called the Horai. For Winter, there was Irene or Carpo; for Autumn there was Eunomia or Auxo; for Spring there was Thallo or…Dike." Giles stumbled over the word, and sighing with relief that Xander was absent, he hurried on. "Spring was placed on earth by Zeus and charged as the goddess of moral justice. She ruled over human justice whilst her mother (Themis) ruled over divine justice. Born mortal, she struggled for an age upon the earth, fighting to keep mankind just. But Zeus ever watchful, and having seen that she did not retreat at the enormity, and in his opinion futility, of her task soon brought her to his side upon Mount Olympus, ending her mortal existence and passing her task to another."

Rising from his seat he moved away from Buffy and Willow, pleased that they were listening so intently for once. "Dawn, who was the Greek goddess of…well Dawn, heralds the arrival of Helios, the Sun. However she can only arise from her slumber at the heralding of the morning star. It seems that we are in danger of a lunar eclipse on the night of this coming full moon." He picked up a pen and proceeded to the flip chart that Anya had presented him with last month. "If we re-examine the wording of the curse," he said as he wrote the following:

"a single season forgotten" > Summer - forgotten by the Greeks; Spring the champion of justice, a short life on earth, then replaced. Source of the morning star.

"withers from her roots" > A willow tree that can not renew = a moon that can not be renewed once lost

"Luna will turn her back" > lunar eclipse = no moon = no morning star

"now arising without the dawn" > no moon = no morning star = no dawn = no sunrise."

Giles added, as if he needed to, "The Titans were all powerful Greek gods. They ruled and kept order in the ancient world. It was believed that without them the world would end. If the Moon and morning star do not follow each other, dawn will not arrive. If dawn does not arrive, the sun can not rise and if the sun can not rise…"

"End of the world as we know it…again," finished Buffy. "How long 'til the full moon?" she asked realizing that time may well be running out.

"Four days," Giles responded nodding at Buffy's statement. "Resolving your body swap has become of more import than we realized. I know that one possible solution…has been difficult for either of you to consider. But ..."

"It didn't work," Buffy interrupted.

"I feel that we have to…it didn't?…you've…how…are you sure you…well yes of course you are…when? No, I don't need to know that," Giles said taking in the ramifications of Buffy's statement. He looked first to Buffy and then to Willow before asking for confirmation. "It didn't work?"

Buffy simply shook her head while Willow stared at the floor. Silence filled the room, as they all took in the relevance of both Giles' information and the failure of their most recent attempt to fix the body swap. Buffy looked at Giles with a fixed if apologetic stare as she said quietly, "I think we covered everything on the list. There was a list."

"We must have missed something," Giles stated, unwilling to comment, ask or even think about the kind of list to which Buffy could have been referring.

"You think?" Willow added her tone unusually sharp. She looked at Buffy's face and seeing the hurt she added, "Sorry." This was the first time she had really looked at Buffy since they had risen. Buffy had chosen her green jumper, the one that she usually picked when she felt like hiding. It covered her in a kind of baggy non-descript way. Willow couldn't see any of the curves – the curves she had touched, licked and tasted last night; her own…'Oh my god…I did…to my own body…I dipped my fingers in my own wishing well.' Her heart rate increased and she felt heat at first rise to her cheeks and then drain from her until she became light-headed. She raised her hands to hide her face. Shame washed over her. How could she be all big with the 'why is Buffy acting so weird'? They had made love…done stuff to their own bodies. The reality hit hard. They had talked about it but somehow the creepiness of the reality was way bigger than she had expected.

"Will? Are you alright?" Buffy asked reaching over to place her hand on Will's knee. The Witch jumped as if an electric charge had gone through her. "Willow?" her best friend asked again, the concern in her voice rising.

Willow took a deep breath and opening her eyes she looked at Buffy, unable to say anything at first, with her eyes full of sorrow, horror and shame. "Sorry…I'm just getting the…it was a…body swap," she finally said gulping her way through the words in a very small voice as she looked at Buffy.

Seeing the sheer pained expression on Willow's face and realizing just what she was referring to, Buffy turned to the questioning face of Giles and looking him square in the eye, she shook her head firmly to prevent him from questioning or speaking. Willow really didn't need a Watcher's inquisition right now. She had obviously just been hit with the reality of what they had done last night. If the color of her face was anything to go by she had just received the same ice cold shower that Buffy had so not enjoyed earlier that morning.

Giles, somewhat mystified, stared at the young women before him. His radar was telling him that he would regret asking what this was all about but his Watcher's mind was eager to acquire any information that might help to extract them from their Faith-induced predicament.

Faith rolled over in her bed. She had been tossing and turning all night. Although she had enjoyed saving the dumb duo, she couldn't get past the realization that she had put B and Red in danger. The body swap had been her idea, her solution to getting the two to admit how they felt about each other -- not to getting them killed.

Her dreams (or rather nightmares) had been filled with images of Willow holding a dying Slayer in her arms. She had awakened in a cold sweat. Despite the urge to pick up the phone and ring Cordy, she had held back. She really didn't want anyone to know how royally she had messed up, least of all Queen C.

Throwing back her covers, she smacked the mattress in frustration. How had this become so complicated? That guy had made it sound so easy; his instructions had been simple enough. Okay the poetry had been a pain at first but she had kinda started to like the whole punning and rhyming thing.

Maybe she should have given Cordy the 'heads up' on her plan. She didn't regret not having told Angel. His whole vamp anger bordering on psycho 'I'll hunt him down and I'll stake him into the next millennium' kill Spike episode, which she had seen first hand in L.A. after Cordy had retold her vision to the group, left her in no doubt that when it came to the Slayer 'the big bad' didn't keep a clear head. Angel's face had looked just like you might imagine the God of thunder would look – pre-storm. She had sworn she could actually see his blood rising.

Cordy had been very careful to clearly point out that her vision was of distant future events, of possible events, of things that could be avoided, changed and that as far as everyone knew Spike and Drusilla were still in Mexico. But this hadn't done much to temper Angel's tirade. What it had prevented was the big broody guy from rushing back to Buffy's side.

Faith had thought this a good thing --- until now. Maybe Angel could have handled things better. She wasn't exactly able to talk to Buffy and Willow like he could have. As this thought percolated in her mind, she was caught between laughter and tears at the image of Angel as the Sapphic matchmaker. Maybe Cordy was right when she'd said "Guys, this one requires the feminine touch – girl chat." Maybe she should have just talked to them. It might have taken a while before they actually listened to her but at least she'd be sleeping now and the world would still have one of the most experienced and capable Slayers ever on the job rather than a newly trained witch.

She searched her mind for ideas, for some glimmer of a solution. Then remembering Cordy's reference to Xander obviously being aware of the situation, she could feel the gem of an idea forming.

Part 13

Xander really hated waking up this early. But being unable to settle back to sleep he dragged himself from a cozy bed filled with warm and welcoming Anya, which just didn't seem right. He questioned the logic of the world with a half hazy mind.

He shuffled across the cold floor of his kitchen in Anya's fuzzy bedroom slippers which were two sizes too small. This caused him to walk on the balls of his feet, like an escapee from Fantasia, to keep his heels from touching the freezing floor tiles. Taking the butter out of the refrigerator and moving toward the toaster, he happened to glance out of his apartment window and…"What the…" he dropped the butter and, moving instinctively towards his knife block, he pulled the largest knife free.

Turning to position himself between the balcony entrance and Anya who was still asleep in their bedroom, he forgot to look down. So fulfilling his role as the 'funny Scooby', he slipped on the fallen pat of butter. As if in slow motion he fell backwards, arms and legs flayed pointlessly in the air, wheeling around as if to gain traction upon the air itself. The resounding thump that was his body as it hit the floor was echoed in the "oooomph" he let out as any air left in his lungs escaped.

"Thank god. Some things never change," muttered Faith as she raised her eyes to the heavens and smiled before pushing open the balcony door and entering the apartment. "Whoa there, danger boy. Not here for a fight, fun though it would be to whip your butt. Seems you don't really need my help with that," she advised him as she closed the door and moved into the apartment.

Xander picked himself up, keeping the knife firmly in his hand, while removing the now flat pat of butter that he had landed on and was now totally stuck to his butt.

Considering the need to keep Xander calm, Faith turned her face from him to hide her smile as he completed the delicate operation involved in removing the butter from his butt. "Nice…complimentary color scheme. Anya, I presume," she commented as she looked around.

"Yeah, right. Your new job is interior decoration critic…I don't think so. What do you want?" Xander asked eyeing the ex-slayer with distrust while desperately trying to regain his dignity.

"I thought you might be able to help," she informed him. Suddenly not so sure that this had been such a good idea, she wondered if she had placed too much importance on Cordelia's insight.

"Okay. Checking the side and rear view mirrors here cause…since when was the highway of good intentions your road of choice?" Xander asked as he moved between her and the bedroom door.

"Chill, fluffy slipper man," Faith said, catching a glimpse of his footwear as Xander tiptoed out of the kitchen before moving into a very defensive position, blocking her possible access to the bedroom. "I'm not here to wake up your sugar and have an "ex" heart to heart. Good choice, by the way. The chick has balls," she said smiling. "I like a girl who knows what she wants. Seem to remember that was one of the things about us Slayer's that turned you on."

"Oh wait let me see…Nope, a psycho ex-Slayer roaming my apartment doesn't tend to bring out my 'host with the most' manners, let alone the need to walk down memory lane. So how about you say whatever you have to say and get gone," Xander said, trying to sound as forceful as he could, his insides forming that familiar jelly belly feeling he hated. Right now his major concern was Anya. He didn't want her to wake up and find Faith in their apartment…he just knew that these two meeting…would be nothing but bad.

Faith had a moment of clarity. "Listen, toy boy, I'm real impressed with the whole 'I've grown a backbone' thing. Guess I never brought that out in you but we don't have to get big with the reminiscing for this to work," she said, setting her shoulders back and opening her arms as a sign that she did not intend anything aggressive. "I just need for you to let the B and Red in on the whole big point. That it's not about the sex," she started to turn and leave, having said what she had come here to say.

"So you're here to tell me you placed a curse on them so that they'll figure out that it's all about the love. Forgive me if I don't get all 'woo hoo' and grateful. You want me to believe you've changed, with life-changing experiences? Then don't sneak up and curse my friends. Let me clue you in. Angel as your choice of 'Psycho's Anonymous' sponsor doesn't really score big with me. This just isn't really your style, is it Faith?" Xander said somewhat amazed at the calmness of the ex-Slayer. Faith wasn't rising to any of his baitings. She wasn't even glaring at him. And as she turned her back on him, he realized he had questions…many questions…well no, really just one. "So why?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Faith said as she opened the balcony door and turning back she offered Xander a small sincere smile before attempting to remove the frown that was now working its way to his forehead by adding, "Don't fret lover boy. We're five by five," before she quietly closed the balcony door behind her.

Xander stood for a moment not quite believing he had just survived a personal visit from Faith, let alone that she had actually been polite. Giving in to his Scooby instincts, he headed for the bedroom to awaken Anya. They needed to get to the magic shop, to Giles – to Scooby Central.

It was still very early in the morning and although the shop wasn't yet open for business, quite a lot of work had already occurred. As Xander and Anya entered they found Giles pouring over books but there was no sign of Buffy or Willow. Anya, unaware of Faith's early morning visit, didn't notice Xander's somewhat quiet behavior as they approached the ex-Watcher.

Xander was anxious to tell Giles about Faith's visit but couldn't figure out how without alerting Anya to the fact that Faith had been in their apartment. The possibility of Anya insecure and fretting really didn't appeal to him right now.

"Ahh, you're here. Good. Something rather important has occurred," Giles explained, in his usually vague manner. Gesturing them to sit, he proceeded to share the highlights of last night's revelations.

Xander sat half-listening while Anya, somewhat more awake, persisted in interrupting the explanation much to Giles' annoyance. Finally he reached the 'something rather important' part - "So no moon-set, no morning star; no morning star, no dawn; no dawn, no sunrise."

"Oh, great. Another apocalypse. This really doesn't help business, you know," Anya pointed out. "It's un-American. Why can't they just have sex and get their bodies back? Why is everyone making such a big deal about this?"

"It's not really that simple…" Giles attempted to explain only to be interrupted again by Anya.

"Oh, but it is. Women have been, you know, doing it with other women since the beginning of time. I understand it's quite fulfilling and produces many moments of bliss. I could help," she offered. Seeing Giles' eyebrows rise and Xander's suddenly very awake and interested look, she added "Now that sounded far more Lesbian than I intended. There are books I could order."

"Honey, this is kinda Willow's thing. I don't think she's really gonna be needing an instruction manual. Though I'd like to see…," Xander stopped remembering Giles was in the room. "Later." However, mentally he made note of a little idea he would mention to Anya later. Much later and alone.

"What I meant to say," Giles said, interrupting and throwing Xander his best headmaster glare, "was that it appears that our original…interpretation of the curse, apart from being less than accurate…could possibly have led us to believe that certain acts…that is a certain theory…which required personal acts…appears to have been less than…" He floundered for the words and removing his glasses, he pressed his fingers to his forehead for inspiration. This was not a piece of news he really felt comfortable sharing. But judging from the reaction Willow had had once Buffy had told him, he felt that he couldn't really expect them to go through it again with Xander and Anya.

"G-man, have you been overdoing the caffeine? Maybe you should stick to the tea," Xander advised, grinning at the ex-Watcher with simple pleasure.

Giles glared at Xander for using the "G" word in addressing him yet again. "Thank you for your concern but my caffeine consumption is not at issue I can assure you. It's just that having to have this whole conversation…somewhat less than comfortable," he paused again, replacing his glasses. "It appears that Buffy and Willow's attempt to…resolve the curse…That is to say…"

"Oh my god!" Xander exclaimed as it finally hit him. Unasked for mental images filled his head and a smile spread across his face. He found himself unable to hold back a rather high pitched giggle.

"They were unsuccessful," Giles concluded, desperately wishing that the earth would open up and swallow him.

"Oh my god…" Xander repeated. His mouth fell open as he lost complete control of his mind and his eyes glazed over as he surrendered to the images filling his head. "Oh my…"

Anya looked from her fantasy-ridden boyfriend to the somewhat blushing Giles and shook her head, "Thank you very much. It will take me hours to get that smirk off his face." She stood and moved towards the counter. Turning she asked, "Are you sure they did it right?"

Giles looked at her and for once he couldn't think how to respond. He looked to Xander for help and then shook his head in amazement. Turning back to Anya he said the first thing that popped into his head, "Apparently there was a list."

"There's a list?" Xander piped up, coming out of his fantasy at break neck speed. "Oh this just gets keeps getting better and better. Heh heh heh. What kind of list?"

"Xander would like to see the list," Anya said stating the obvious. "I would be interested to know if there are helpful diagrams. I foresee many nights of…"

Giles interrupted forcefully. "I really don't think that's going to happen and I would really appreciate it if this conversation could end now," Giles said his voice becoming quite high pitched. As he stood and moved to the back of the shop, muttering, "No Watcher has ever had to put up with this…why me?"

Faith switched channels desperately trying to find something on early morning television to grab her attention but her mind just couldn't seem to hold still. She'd followed Xander and Anya to the magic box, relieved and hopeful that maybe her decision to approach Xander hadn't been such a bad idea after all. She hadn't even attempted to go back to bed. What would have been the point? She watched the clock, waiting until it was a civilized enough hour to call Cordelia.

She found it a little unsettling that she was so eager to call Queen C to check in with someone who seemed to care…not the big mushy stuff but sorta trusting and who gave it to her straight. This was new.

If you'd asked her what she thought of Cordelia when she first met her that night years ago in the Bronze, she would have said that the girl was a cheerleader fashion bitch destined to join all the right clubs and do nothing more than spend her husband's hard earned money on plastic surgery and shoes for the rest of her lypo-suctioned life. What the devil she was doing with the scoobies let alone Xander had escaped her at that time.

Yet now that she knew the woman Cordelia had become, she felt proud and protective. C had been through the ringer. Okay she had survived her early years on the hellmouth – no mean feat in it's self. But the huge fall from financially secure grace…that had to have hurt. And with no Danielle Steele to write her comeback she'd had to redesign her own future. But what impressed Faith the most was that she hadn't just decided to take a different route to collagen luxury heaven as just about everyone had a right to expect she would. Nope, she went and changed her goals and her life completely…and the visions! Faith really couldn't understand how Cordy wasn't a bitter, neurotic, paranoid depressive woman on valium. The girl had backbone.

Faith now knew that Queen C's sharp tongue cleverly shielded her soft and sensitive hidden side and that she also had almost had much nerve as Faith herself. She really liked the girl and deep down inside she hoped, more than she thought she should, that Cordy liked her too. She knew that she didn't deserve to have anyone in her corner although Angel had been a huge, if more than welcome. surprise. The guy had his own crosses and masses of guilt to bear. And, oh boy, could he brood. But she really understood where he was. Hell, she was there too.

But Cordy was…well she was mortal…fighting the fight but still laughing at life. Not always big with the self searching like Angel but so much more fun to banter with and a little easier on the eye. She could take on the role of buddy and yet never be a side kick. She didn't make it easy for Faith but she did make it possible.

Faith had taken on this task to try to make it up to Buffy and Red because she owed them. But if she was honest with herself, there was a bonus. She could show Cordy that she was someone to be trusted, someone who finished what she started. She wanted Cordy to think well of her. It had become important.

Looking back up at the clock she saw it was just after eight. She rose, moved to the telephone, picked up the receiver and began to dial.

Giles had been hiding in the basement for about half an hour when he heard footsteps on the stairs and his heart dropped in fear that it was Anya. Turning, he saw Xander's builder's boots stomping their way down the wooden staircase. "Xander, I really don't want to talk anymore about…"

"S'okay, G-man. I'm not here to quiz you on the failed frolickings of Bullow and Wiffy."

"Of whom? Will you please stop calling me that?" Giles asked before he could stop himself. "Ahh yes I see. You mean Buffy in Willow and Willow in Buffy. Yes. It's some rather crude and no doubt intended to be humorous way of keeping who's in whom straight."

"You could say that," Xander agreed, although grinning he couldn't help adding, "Although straight? Who's in whom? That's the subject we're avoiding, right?"

"Exactly!" Giles commented, his temper rising at Xander's infantile comment.

"Sorry. Too easy," he apologized. "Seriously though, I had a visit from Faith this morning."

Giles' annoyance immediately vanished, "Really? Are you two okay?"

"Yeah, no blood shed. Anya was still asleep during my early morning nightmare so she doesn't know. Hoping to keep it that way," he added. "Faith wanted to get me to help her. Something to the effect of 'tell Red and Buffy that it's not about the sex'. At first I thought she was going on about something more important, you know. But I guess that was just me being hopeful guy."

"Did she say anything else? Give any clue as to why she's doing this?" Giles asked his brow furrowed.

"I did ask. All I got was some cryptic 'You wouldn't believe me if I told you' response."

Giles turned away from Xander and after a moment or two he began to 'tutt'.

"Hey, you know your making that noise, right?" Xander asked, somewhat puzzled by Giles' actions. He was used to the 'head in hand' pose, the running of fingers through thinning hair, even the continual glass cleaning, but 'tutting'…that was new. Years of scoobying had taught him one thing -- new normally meant bad.

"Yes, indeed. Xander, I need you to call Buffy and Willow. Get them here as soon as possible. I'm going to have to gather a few supplies."

"Are we tooling up for a Faith hunt?" Xander asked. He really was looking forward to returning her early morning call…with some back up, of course.

"No. There's no need for that. We have a far more powerful option available to us," he ended cryptically.

Xander looked at him expectantly. "We do?"

Buffy sat in Giles' well-worn chair watching Willow meditate. Her stillness was impressive. She had calmed down a lot once Giles had left them alone. Buffy had decided it was probably best if they didn't return to the dorm room so she had let Willow settle on the couch and moved to give her space. She hated that yet again she was the cause of pain for Willow. The guilt overwhelmed her entire being. She hated that she was getting so use to the terrible feeling.

It had taken a while for Willow to stop hyperventilating and Buffy had, at first, feared that there was something more wrong than just the cold shower of reality hitting her. But with the calmness had also come a silence that neither one of them seemed prepared to break. What exactly was the right thing to say? Someone should write a book entitled 'Awkward Morning-After Right Things To Say' or 'How To Avoid Being Stupid And Misunderstood' Buffy thought. She really could have used such a book this morning. Somehow she knew that what little she had said this morning had not only been inadequate but had probably hurt her best friend.

Buffy had wanted to talk to Willow to let her know that she too had suffered the cold realization that the bodies they had made love to had been their own. That the things they had done, they way they had felt was somehow all mixed up and nightmarish in its complexity. But she had no idea where to begin. So she had shoved all her worries and fears to the back of her mind as she so often did. Willow, however, didn't seem to be able to disconnect from things like she could.

She watched her Willow closely and did something she rarely did. She closed her eyes and quietly murmured "Please God, or maybe Willow's Goddesses, if Willow can't love me like I love her – I can live with that. But please, please don't let what we did last night ruin our friendship. I really need her and couldn't survive without her."

She thought about how in many ways before last night they had been strangers even though they had also been best friends. But last night they had shown each other a side of themselves that you didn't usually get to show your best friend or anyone else. She had been in Willow's body and had experienced its urges, all of her sensitive areas, the quiet verbal instructions and demands they had whispered and sometimes begged each other to follow. Caught up in the circular sharing that had taken place, Buffy's mind swirled at how much she had learned about her Willow last night, how much she had learned about herself. She imagined Freud sitting in the corner, busily scribbling down notes with sheer excitement, a thousand theories and explanations for female behavior flooding his over-sized brain.

The phone rang, breaking her rather strange train of thought. Willow didn't move an inch at the noise so Buffy stood and moved quickly to answer the phone's shrill demand.

"Buffy?" she heard Xander question.

"Hi Xan," she responded. She really hoped this wasn't going to be one of those long 'I'm like your big brother' phone calls Xander seemed to be specializing in lately.

"The G-man says that you and Will need to get over here. He thinks it's time for another Slayer 'Vision Rod' session. I know that may be the last thing you're in the mood for but I hear we have a clock ticking," Xander explained.

"Tell him we'll be over when we're ready," Buffy informed him, unsure if Willow was really prepared for another vision quest. "No deadlines okay."

"Okay, will do. You guys okay?" Xander asked, suppressing the eagerness in his voice as much as he could, the concern that his friends were okay coming before his natural curiosity as to how they were coping with the 'morning after'.

Realizing that by now Giles had probably informed the gang of their failed attempt to break the curse and that Xander had obviously moved past the male hormone fantasy zone he was sure to have visited, she kept her response brief. "We're getting there. See you when we see you."

Hanging up the telephone, Buffy took a deep breath. 'We are so gonna be an Oprah special.' She had hoped that they would have a little longer before a public appearance would be required. But Xander was right. The new development in the curse situation had set a clock ticking. This was no longer just about them.

Cordy pushed her empty yogurt carton into the practically overflowing garbage can and promised herself that she would do some spring cleaning this weekend. She'd been a bit of a slob lately. Having her apartment back to herself for the past few days had been great but having a roommate had made her tidier. She certainly hadn't expected that she would miss Faith. 'Go figure'.

As she placed her cup in the sink and reached to turn the hot tap on, her simple morning routine was interrupted by her telephone. She noticed the small wave of excited anticipation rising within her and it felt good as she dashed from the kitchen to the living room.

"Hi," she said somewhat breathlessly as she picked up the receiver.

"C, you okay babe? Did I interrupt something?" Faith asked adding just enough sauce to her comment to make it clear what she was referring to.

"Yeah I'm fine! I was just on the wrong side of the apartment when the phone rang," Cordy explained, now feeling somewhat foolish for running to the phone.

"Right. So…how you doing?" Faith asked lamely.

"Okay. How goes the matchmaking?" Cordy asked.

"Not too good," Faith responded suddenly feeling somewhat a failure. "Wrinkles being ironed, if you get me."

"I get you," Cordy responded.

"Guess you do," Faith commented before she could stop herself. 'Damn this girl's too good to be true,' she thought. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy, C, but I didn't realize how dumb the love struck duo was. It's like everyone else knows how much they mean to each other but they missed the memo. So…any news on the mission impossible squad?"

" Nope, nothing yet," Cordy informed her, adding "But I wasn't really expecting to see them for a while" to ease any fears Faith might be having.

"Cool. Well, I was just thinking…if you were up for a field trip…you know revisit the beginning…a Sunnydale reunion type gig?" Faith asked. "If you're getting fed up with the aloneness, that is."

Concerned and a little touched by Faith's invitation, Cordy asked "What's up? Is there something you need my help with? Has something gone wrong?"

"No, it's all five by five here," Faith responded, a little less certain of what she was saying than she liked to be. She wasn't really big with the idea of letting C know that smoothly didn't really describe how the plan was going. "Body switch all in play. Closeness visible. Touching kinda. They're on the road. The Orb thing was the hard part but that's over."

"Why do you think the Mayor left you that anyway?" Cordy asked.

"Guess he thought it would give me a new start. You know, steal someone else's life and live it big. He was never really big into the morality stuff that would hit with stealing someone else's body," Faith said, her voice becoming a little wistful. "Guess the new and improved me wasn't part of his plan."

"You threw a few people with that one," Cordelia confirmed, knowing that she too had been among the non-believers until quite recently.

"It's real you know," Faith said quietly, feeling the need to remind her.

"I know. I get it. Took me a while but do I get it," Cordy assured her. "So you're okay?"

"I'm dealing," said Faith, touched by Cordy's concern. It was nice having someone to worry about you.

"You sure? It's not like you to want a side kick." Cordy queried. She was still a little unnerved by Faith's invitation.

"Don't get all 'big sis' knickers in a twist' on me. I just thought you might like a little…some down time. Kinda got used to having you around. Weird, huh?" Faith laughed, brushing her invitation aside. "No big if you're not into going back to your roots."

"Okay. Nice to be asked though. Sorta missing you too. Mega weird," She stated feeling like she was back in high school all over again. "I had hot water this morning," Cordelia quickly added, changing the topic.

"Right. Bet you're pigging out on that yogurt crap instead of a proper breakfast. Don't know why you bother. Demon fighting --- pretty much the best cardio you can get," Faith said, lightening the mood of their conversation.

"Yeah, it's all the running away. Great for the tone," Cordy responded. "So you're good?"

"My tone's fine but thanks for asking," Faith quipped. "How's yours?"

"Good," Cordy replied, laughing. Everything Faith said seemed to have two meanings lately. If she didn't know better she would have sworn Faith was flirting but she knew that with Faith everything came down to sex eventually. The girl was a walking talking erogenous zone.

"Okay, catch you tomorrow," Faith said, closing the call down on a light note.

"Cool. Thanks for checking in," Cordy said, really meaning it.

"My pleasure," Faith responded a little more sincerely than she had intended before she replaced the receiver.

Willow was in her 'calm' place. Tara had taught her how to find it and for that she had never been more grateful. Last night had come into such sharp focus that she had almost had a way big freak-out heart attack. Images had crowded into her head showing her who had been who, who had done what to whom and how. She'd never been really big with the viewing porn and the pictures in her head really had done nothing to change that. 'How and when did it all go so wrong?' she asked herself.

Calling on her peaceful place she slowly revisited yesterday morning's conversation with Buffy. It had all seemed so logical, so safe. They had planned, talked about…well almost everything. She had even come back to read the list from Kira. Okay she'd been a bit quiet but that hadn't really worried Will. They had discussed getting the 'wiggins' over sleeping with each other and had even talked about the body switch aspect of it, if only briefly. Willow had hoped for a night full of legendary and beautiful memories that she could run to in her darkest moments of unrequited love. But now instead of the sweet memories that had visited her this morning, all she had was a very wrong mix of who had done what to whom. She remembered the wonderful taste of Buffy, something like strawberries but it hadn't been Buffy she tasted it had been…herself! She remembered so much, so many touches, licks, kisses but they had all been wrong…so very wrong. 'I'm bad – so very bad. I don't even think there's a bad that's bad enough to cover this.'

She felt her pulse beginning to race again. She reached for the core of her being, feeling like she was drowning. Holding on firmly to who she was, she was able to pull herself together. 'We were both very stupid to think that just turning out the lights would make it less weird and freaky…would make everything alright.' She had seen in Buffy's eyes confirmation that these very same thoughts and realizations had hit her too. That sort of explained her sudden coldness this morning. Only she seemed to be handling it so much better. 'I'm such a spaz. It's not that big a deal. So deal with it. If Buffy can do it so can I' she mentally yelled at herself suddenly feeling like a motivational speaker. She hadn't thought of herself as naive and unworldly since leaving high school but it all came rushing back at the realization that having touched and tasted .. well…herself ... was freaking her out the most.

Buffy had obviously anticipated the weirdness far more than she. But it suddenly occurred to her that maybe touching yourself wasn't as wrong or as a rare a thing as she believed. 'Maybe Buffy's already…you know…and that's not what actual wigged her. What if it was the whole sleeping with a woman 'wiggins'…that was why she looked like so upset.'

She really wished she could just forget last night, wipe it from both of their minds.

Part 14

Giles sat, supposedly, engrossed in his journal but his mind was truly elsewhere. Xander's early morning visit from Faith was weighing heavily on his mind. 'What is that silly girl up to?' he wondered. He rather wanted to believe that Faith had changed, that Angel's guidance had indeed helped. That she had rediscovered her place in humanity and, with it, the value of each human life. That she was choosing to seek a path to redemption. But his Watcher instincts couldn't allow him to take the risk of believing that the hidden curse within a curse wasn't her damaged mind's version of homage - possibly to the Mayor and his original plan for mankind. She wouldn't be the first person to consider ending the world as the only solution to their problems. So here he was re-reading his very first year's worth of entries.

He smiled at his some of his comments about Buffy having friends. 'God what a Council cloned prig I was.' He felt more than foolish that he had ever considered Willow and Xander as only an annoyance, distracting the Slayer from her calling. If he was to be asked today why Buffy had become the most successful and committed Slayer of her time, he would have no compunction in placing almost all of the credit on her decision to surround herself with strong, brave, big-hearted and faithful friends. They had, somewhere over the years, become a family and an army against darkness and evil. Acknowledging his love, pride and concern for his acquired family, he was also fully aware of the weaknesses that came with the strengths their group provided.

He had watched each member of the group grow and mature over years but he had to admit to himself, even though he never intended to say it out loud, that he had been the most surprised by Xander. Most people would have thought that was because he had seemed set to be a drop out and nothing more. But Giles had watched him becoming the big brother to both women, a role that fitted him like a glove. He had allowed them to remove him from part of their friendship with a chivalry beyond his years. Yet he was always within hearing when they needed him. Giles was amazed at how selfless Xander had been in his support of Buffy and, especially, Willow. He'd watched his childhood friend move from his side to become a potentially very powerful witch and sincere warrior in her own right. Giles was unsure he would have behaved as well had his peers surpassed him and left him behind in, oh, so many ways.

So it really shouldn't have been such a surprise to him when he saw that Xander seemed to be accepting of this new twist in their friendship. To see his best friends literally walking in each other's shoes, in fact in each other's bodies, and be able to take it all in his stride was truly impressive. He even seemed to understand the myriad of dimensions involved. Giles almost wanted to start a journal on Xander to try and figure out how he seemed to have all the qualities of an immature male and yet at the same time have such great potential, strength and understanding.

Even Faith had chosen Xander to approach rather than coming to him. 'Lets be honest old chap, you've never been really that comfortable talking about your feelings, let alone to pubescent teens. You set the tone years ago,' he chastised himself, feeling that he had indeed become his father despite his best efforts not to.

"Okay G-man. Job done. Buffy said they'll be here when their ready," Xander said, interrupting his thoughts. "I figure there's still mega post…you know…girl talk to be had."

Giles nodded and then against his better judgment he asked, "Xander, is there something about Buffy and Willow…that I should know?"

"What d'you mean?" Xander asked cagily.

"I just have this irritating feeling that as usual I've been left out of the loop on something relating to…arrhmm…something important. It seems you may be aware of factors that I'm…missing," Giles admitted, feeling somewhat uncomfortable but certain that there was something he needed to know. Staring at Xander's stony features he continued, "Something that you know, something that I should take into consideration before I determine how best to direct our efforts. I know you all enjoy reminding me of the generation gap by leaving me out of certain parts of your lives and most of the time I have to admit I'm more than happy to be ignorant of the lurid details. But I can sense that on this occasion I'm missing something important. In this kind of situation I firmly believe that important decisions shouldn't be made without all the facts or…mistakes may be made that we will all live to regret…or not," he finished.

"It's not so much a fact as kinda a 'two weeks' notice thing," Xander said cryptically. "There's a secret…sorta 'true lies' but without the airplane."

"Xander! You know I don't have a clue to what you are referring," Giles stated, somewhat annoyed that Xander was being so evasive.

Just then Anya, realizing that she was missing something potentially interesting, decided to join them by sitting down beside Giles with her annoying 'I know what Xander is going on about so let me bask here in my boyfriend's amazing wonderfulness' smile.

Xander smirked at the frustrated frown that he had raised on Giles' brow. 'This is fun.' And the worship of his Anya was always of the good. "It's kinda a big lie they're both telling…to themselves and each other – that they're just friends," he raised his eyebrows as if his words had explained it all. But what he got back was a completely blank look. "That all they are -- is best friends. You know?" he tried again a little more slowly.

"Quite clearly, I do not," Giles said, his tone becoming sharp.

"It's like they're all big with the denial and the blindness but from the outside it's obvious. You know how when you get real close to the TV all you see is dots. Well they're the dots. But I'm like TV-watching guy and I'm sitting far enough from the screen that I can see the picture the dots make," Xander explained, again receiving nothing but a frown from the Watcher. "I see the way they are with each other, the looks they throw at each other when they think others can't see them. But I see them. The little slips, the hidden thoughts on faces that don't know how to hide their thoughts. It's like subplot. It didn't really come into sharp focus…the picture I mean…until this body swap. But then…geez, you had to blind not to see it."

"Xander!" Giles interrupted in frustration. "Will you just get to the point? It must be patently obvious by now that I can not decipher your analogies. See what? What do you see?"

"They're in love," Anya stated unable to keep quiet any longer. But her words just seemed to make Giles' sharply turn his head and stare at her until his eyes became inordinately large. So she added, "with each other." Looking up at Xander she saw that oh too familiar 'glare'. "What?"

"Stealing my thunder, much?" he commented irritably

"He was taking too long to get it," Anya protested in her defense. Then turning back to Giles and she added, "Buffy doesn't think Willow loves her…that way and Willow thinks Buffy's straight."

Giles stared back and forth at Anya and then Xander, trying to take in what he had just been told. "They're…are you certain?" Giles asked before he could stop himself.

"As certain as I can be. Think about it," Xander advised him.

"Yes think about it. Xander likes to think about it," Anya advised. "But he knows he can only have sex with me."

"Anya!" Xander yelled, although you could see he didn't really expect her to understand why.


"I…but when…how did this…how could I have missed this?" interrupted Giles, before falling into silence and dropping his eyes towards the floor.

"It's not that surprising really. Remember when Willow was doing the slow 'Ellen run' up to her coming out scene? I mean no one guessed," Xander piped up, trying to soothe the Watcher's ego.

"I don't know why Willow thinks Buffy's straight. I mean in what twisted world would the "Powers That Be" make the good guys…okay good girls…a lesbian witch with a straight female who is more powerful than your strongest male best friend. I mean, professionally speaking, that sounds more like a curse to me," Anya said, changing the subject back to her earlier comments. "Hello --- and Buffy…there's all the black, and the way she loves her axe and the occasional leather. Oooh and stakes! Talk about a penis replacement. Talk about missing the sub plot here. I knew these two girls in Greece…back in the day…you wouldn't believe how long it took them to get…"

At this point Giles stopped listening to Anya and Xander. Instead he took their theory, now knowledge, and weighed it in his mind. It seemed real. None of his usual "this is a load of old twaddle" radar was going off. 'Oh my God.' He suddenly wished he hadn't asked. This was going to make matters more complicated than ever. It was as if he'd been watching a completely different story from everyone else. He'd managed with Buffy's teenage fixations on boys. He'd even resigned himself to Angel. But this…well he was out of his depth and drowning seemed almost acceptable.

Buffy followed Willow into the Magic Box. Their journey having taken place in relative silence, she still had little or no idea exactly what Willow was feeling about last night. This freaked her out more than anything else; even the knowledge that everyone in this room now knew what they had tried last night.

"Ahh, you're here. Good. We can get on with it," Giles commented offering both women a small smile. "It is imperative, in my opinion, that we take advantage of all the additional information we can ostensibly by using the vision rod. We need to know the exact origins of this curse or, to be more precise, the curse within the curse. Now recent events…aarhmmm…may have proved our past interpretations to have been…a little off the mark. But I don't think we can let this dissuade us from proceeding."

"Okay. Back to the magic stick we go," Buffy agreed, eager to do anything that involved not talking about last night. She watched Willow, out of the corner of her eye, sit on the stairs that led up to the restricted book section. She seemed so vulnerable, so hurt. Pain filled her heart and she wished with all her soul that she could go back in time and knock Faith out before all of this began. 'I'm gonna show you a world of hurt when I find you Faith. You will wish you were still in a coma,' she mentally promised.

Xander couldn't take his eyes off them. 'What the hell's going on here?' Wiffy was half herself and half an injured little girl, a somewhat familiar little girl. He had a sudden flash back to kindergarten when Willow had broken the yellow crayon and had been far too scared to tell anyone. What he was seeing on Willow's 'Buffy' face was that 'yellow crayon' look. However Bullow's anger levels were off the scale. That look on Buffy's 'Willow' face was just way too easy to read but she was holding something else in. He could feel it and even though she was at least six feet from Willow he could almost see the protective shield she was attempting to throw around her best friend.

Bullow's protectiveness made him feel slightly ashamed as he knew that part of the reason she was being so protective was her fear of what he or Anya might say. After Giles had updated them, his first thought had been of this moment, anticipating much humor, practicing of puns and innuendos but eventually he'd realized that some cheap shots were just that and nothing more. His earlier call to Buffy had really brought things home to him as her tone had kinda yelled 'I will not be bringing my sense of humor.'

He'd been so right to give Anya a very detailed social etiquette talk, especially emphasizing that there should be no questions, digs or side comments relating to last night's failed attempt to end the curse. At first she had protested, pointing out that sex was a natural human act and that 'to remove all sex talk or reference to it was un-American!' Feeling brave he had actually asked – 'why?' Anya informed him that the desire for sex, conversations about acquiring sex and research into acquiring sex were the main reasons many of her customers came to their shop. Xander at first did nothing but pull his goldfish face on [opening and closing his mouth without anything coming out] until eventually he recovered and pointed out that neither Willow nor Buffy were customers. They were friends. Anya agreed since they never paid for anything.

Willow could feel the weight of the silence as she sat on the stairs. She noted that Anya was avoiding all eye contact and that Xander seemed lost in thought, thoughts that seemed to be making him smile. She suddenly felt really annoyed. 'Couldn't he have got all his fantasizing done before we turned up?'

"So when do we start?" Buffy asked.

"Now seems as good a time as any. Anya can you mind the store?" Giles asked, somewhat eager to remove the ex-demon and her bluntness from the now somewhat delicate mix.

Part 15

Buffy sat stiffly on the training room floor. Three hours in Giles' arm chair seemed to have done something to her back. She cursed the swapping of bodies. Aches and pains usually only came after combat, not after something as simple as sitting quietly in a chair. She tried to maneuver herself into a more comfortable position with little or no success. 'If this is what I feel like after just sitting still how on earth do Willow, Xander and Giles even move after a battle?' she pondered.

"If everyone is sitting comfortably, I think we'll begin," Giles commented passing the vision rod to Buffy, who seemed wince slightly before taking the rod.

To her left was Xander and Willow to her right. She held the rod forward and slightly towards Xander so that his hand would be above hers. Remembering Willow's earlier almost painful reaction to her touch with sadness, she thought this best. Willow stared at the rod for a moment and then reached out to hold it above Xander's hand. Once the three were in place, Giles moved to sit on the other side of Willow and gently placed his hand on her shoulder.

"Buffy, I want you to concentrate on Faith and the Orb," Giles instructed.

Concentrating on her breathing Buffy began to meditate, forming the image of the Orb, remembering its distinct color, glow and size before she moved on to Faith. Anger filled her and the first image that came to her was of Faith with the knife she had used still firmly protruding from her gut.

[Oh…Oh god,] Willow thought.

[Sorry. Oh hell…] Buffy said as she was once more filled with regret at the thought that she had yet again failed and upset Willow.

[It's fine. I expected that. You have to shake it off, Buffy. Concentrate,] Giles told her, breaking through her mild panic.

She concentrated on her breathing and finally an uninjured image of Faith formed. Satisfied that she had her control back, Buffy made Faith pick up the Orb. Concentrating on this she let the vision rod guide her. A vision of Faith began to clarify, clearing away the created images, washing them aside. She was slouching in a black leather chair in the middle of what looked like an office.

[Very good,] Giles encouraged, as an image of Faith and her surroundings began to clear.

Her left leg hitched over the arm of the chair as she listened to the Asian man behind the desk. His eyes seemed unwilling to meet hers as he spoke. To his left stood a short brunette woman in a grey suit and to his left a large lump of a man in blue.

"I am glad we were able to assist you. Mayor Wilkins was a valued client of this firm for many years. I trust your journey was comfortable."

"Bitchin' limo," Faith replied. "So why am I here? Not that I don't mind leaving Sunnydale and its Wal-Mart pickings behind me," she grinned. "Kinda worn out my welcome there, if you get what I mean. So you another politician with a snake wish?"

He didn't seem to acknowledge her gibe or even miss a beat before responding. "I'm a lawyer, Ms. Lehane, and as my colleague will have explained, Mayor Wilkins was one of our most valued clients. Richard Wilkins the Third left very precise instructions should you ever regain consciousness. He seemed to feel that you could benefit greatly from our assistance and to that end our resources will be made at available to ensure the successful use of your inheritance," he finished, his tone somehow lacking in any emotion.

Faith studied him for a moment before asking suspiciously, "So what'd I get?"

"I believe that it would be best if I leave it to the Mayor to explain," he replied, and lifting a television remote control from the desk turned to his left.

His comments had obviously caught Faith by surprise as she sat up and turned expectantly.

[She thinks he's still alive,] Buffy commented.

A TV screen lights up to her right and on it a familiar image appears --- Mayor Wilkins sitting behind his office desk.

"Hello, Faith. If you're watching this tape, it can only mean one thing. I'm dead. And our noble campaign to bring order to the town of Sunnydale has failed ... Utterly and completely." He stands. "But on the other hand, heck! Maybe we won," he laughs as he moves around the desk to stand in front of it. "And right now I'm on some jumbo monitor in the Richard Wilkins Museum surrounded by a bunch of kids sitting indian-style and looking up at me, their small faces filled with fear and wonder," he chuckles and leans forward. "Hi, kids!"

Faith smiles knowingly at this. Wilkins' voice takes on a serious tone as he leans on the edge of his desk. "But the realist in me tends to doubt it. Now, Faith, as I record this message you're…uh . . . sleeping. And the doctors tell me that you might never wake up. I don't believe that. Sooner or later you will wake up and when you do you'll find the world has gone and changed on you. I wish I could make the world a better place for you to wake up in but . . . tough as it is to accept we both have to understand that even my power to protect and watch over you has its limits. See, the hard pill to swallow here is that . . . once I'm gone . . . your days are just plain numbered." Faith blinks at his words. "Now I know, I know you're a . . . you're a smart and capable young woman in charge of her own life. But the problem, Faith, is that, uh, there won't be a place in the world for you anymore. Right now I bet you're feeling very much alone. But you're never alone. You'll always have me. And . . ." He picks up a small black box from his desk and holds it up for the camera. "You'll always have this," he chuckles. At this point Faith caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. Sitting up quickly she came face to face with the same small black box, held towards her by the woman. "Go ahead. Open the box," the mayor's voice instructed her.

Faith picks up the box and looks at it as the recording continues to play. "Don't worry. It's not gonna bite. That's my job." Looking back towards the screen, Faith sees him motion to her with his hand. "Go ahead! Open it!"

Faith slides the panel of the box open and looks inside.

"Surprise! See, you don't get these in any gumball machine. When you've been around as long as I have you make friends. And some of them can get neat little things like the one you're holding right now," Wilkins explained.

Faith holds up the strange looking Orb to examine it. Then she glances at the screen.

"And here's the good news -- just because it's over for me, doesn't mean my Faith can't go on with a clean slate," he smiles proudly at her as if he can see her. "These people will be able to help you find a new place in this world. I'm just sorry it can't be the way we planned it."

[The world is really missing a big snake right now,] Xander commented.

Wilkins smiled at her one more time as the screen faded back to black.

Faith turned back to the Orb in her hand. "So how exactly are you supposed to help me with this?"

The Asian lawyer smiled, for the first time, before responding. "A felony arrest warrant from Sunnydale was issued in your name this morning. The physical description is quite accurate. The photograph, however, is . . . not flattering. You have a problem. Therefore we have a problem. This Orb will allow you to swap your body for another's, either temporarily or permanently. But as you can imagine that in itself will not solve all your problems," he paused for effect before adding, "I had a perfectly good murder case go up in smoke yesterday and you seem to . . . have a certain expertise in that area. So to make a long story short, I think if a service is rendered we can be of use to each other."

The large man to his right added, "We'll get you off."

Faith grinned before responding, "You don't know how many men have promised me that."

The grey suited woman interjected, "I'm certain you won't be disappointed in our performance."

"Who am I supposed to kill?" Faith asked cutting to the chase.

The Asian man leaned forward, "Please understand that we would never advocate the killing of another human being . . . His name is Angel. He's somewhat of a private . . . "

"No problem," Faith stated

The big man stepped forward, "Don't you want to know anything more?"

"Yeah. Besides getting me off, how much are you going to pay?"

The lawyer continued, "It might behoove you to know more about your intended. So, before we discuss remuneration . . . "


"Payment," the big guy explained stepping forward yet again and laughing. "I want to make sure you understand that this firm is in no way connected to . . . anything you do. It's my ass on the line here. I don't want you to make me look bad."

Faith moved like lightning and grabbed him by the neck slamming his face on the table. "How do you look now?" she asked, as she kept pounding his face on the table.

The Asian man turns to the grey suited woman with a smile, "She shows initiative." He then turned to use his intercom. "Jesse, I think you better make it three for dinner instead of four."

The vision faded as Buffy lost hold of the slim thread that seemed to be all she could grasp, while her mind took in what she had seen. Something had seemed to take the thread.

As the vision cleared again, Angel appeared before them. He was sitting on a set of steps overlooking a large lobby with Cordelia by his side. Angel was staring at the floor, his brow furrowed with frown lines.

"You're sure?" Angel asked without looking up.

"Yeah," Cordelia replied, throwing him a concerned glance. "Sorry."

Angel sighed and shook his head, "I can't believe it. How could I not know?" He looked up to stare off silently, his face awash with deep thoughts. Whatever was going on, it wasn't making him happy and there was something very personal about this in his expression. He looked like he had lost something very precious.

[Does the guy ever smile?] Xander asked.

[Shhh,] Giles hissed.

Cordelia remained silent. She didn't seem to want to interrupt him. Buffy was rather impressed by her self-control.

"But at some point in time he's going to hurt her if this isn't resolved?" Angel asked, a certain desperation in his voice as if he didn't want it to be true.

"Yes, at some point in the future. He'll use it to hurt her, abuse and generally make her life hell," Cordelia replied with such conviction that no one could have any doubt that she meant every word she was saying.

"I have to stop it from happening," Angel replied, turning to look at Cordelia. "Just how do I . . . " he trailed off at a loss for words.

"Big guy, I don't see this as an intervention that you're really . . . you know, going to excel at. Maybe you should leave it to us girls. Not that we're big on this kind of intervention but at least . . . you know," Cordelia suggested, smiling warmly at him. "I think throwing you into the mix would pretty much rekindle stuff that would just get in the way."

"Really?" Angel asked hopefully, searching Cordelia's face for confirmation. "I always hoped . . . "

Cordelia gave him a very stern look which stopped him dead in his tracks before she raised an eyebrow and added, "Angel!" in her best school ma'am voice.

"Sorry. But I mean . . . how did I . . . not know? You'd think . . . I mean I thought we were . . . close. I should have known," he rambled, almost muttering to himself raising one hand to place its palm to the side of his head. "You know how I feel about her."

"Who doesn't? But I'm pretty sure she's never felt . . . this way before," assured Cordelia before offering him a half smile in place of words she couldn't find. "She may not even know it herself yet."

[No!!] Buffy exclaimed, jealousy rising within her. Was Angel talking about Faith? The vision blurred as anger rose. How could he fall for . . . [No!!]

[Buffy?] questioned Giles.

[Faith! They're talking about Faith,] Buffy almost screamed. Visions of the time she had seen the two of them at the mansion exploded in her mind. How could she ever have been so foolish?

[Buffy,] Giles called to her again, desperate to break her away from this train of thought.

[That Skanky Bitch,] Willow stated, speaking for the first time.

[Will?] Xander exclaimed, somewhat amused by Willow's outburst.

[Will everyone just be quiet?] Giles almost boomed, before adding in a softer but strong tone [Buffy? Please listen to me. Will you try to concentrate? I know this is hard but we need to move past this vision. We need to move on.]

Buffy's mind flew back to the balcony of Faith's apartment. How had everything gone so wrong?

[Buffy,] Giles tried again. [You have to concentrate, take control. Concentrate on the Orb. Specifically how Faith got hold of the curse?] Suddenly inspiration came to him and he added [We need to know why she swapped you and Willow.]

[Willow?] Buffy asked, feeling herself drawn back, her mind slowly filling with the need, the desire and the promise to keep Willow safe. [Willow!]

[I'm right here,] Willow responded as if realizing that Buffy needed her to speak. [You need to concentrate on the curse and why she swapped us.]

At the sound of Willow's calmer tones she regained her composure allowing her to concentrate and focus.

A room appeared before them. It looked dank and cold. Standing in the middle of the room was a somewhat short man slowly rolling up what looked like a large scroll.

"And this will throw the seer a view of the future? If a somewhat tailored view?" a voice asked from the darkness.

"Indeed," confirmed the short man. "She will see just what you wish her to see and no more."

"Thank you. Now I need to speak to you about one of our clients who will soon be visiting you for help," the voice added.

"There is more? I was led to believe that this was all that would be required to secure the relic," the short man complained, turning to look into the darkness as suddenly a tail seemed to swish from under his long coat when he turned.

[Did anyone else just see that?] Xander asked nervously.

[Shhh,] Giles instructed.

"Plans change. It will not be enough to just mislead them about him. We need to ensure that events develop before he regains his soul. That will require something more," the voice explained.

"Has this been sanctioned by Holland Manners?" the short man questioned.

"This comes direct from the senior partner," the voice advised as he emerged from the darkness. It was the same Asian man who had dealt with Faith.

[What the hell is going on? Who is this guy?] Buffy asked.

"Be very aware that unless the senior partner's instructions are fully complied with, you will never see the relic," the lawyer threatened in an uninterested even-toned manner.

[I think I know who they're talking about – it's Cordy,] Willow offered [they're going to give her a false vision].

[Why?] Giles asked, [And what do Faith or the curse have to do with this?]

As their minds all flew to Cordy and Faith, the vision blurred and tilted. The colors seemed to lighten and soon a new scene unfolded before them.

Faith seemed to be carrying a pile of towels. Large white fluffy towels and a bottle full of bath oil. She was in Cordelia's apartment, standing just outside her bedroom door. "Okay, are you ready yet?"

"Just tell me I have hot water," Cordy replied.

"Yeah. Okay, all ready?" Faith asked, a slight annoyance in her tone. "Why do you feel you have to hide this from the guys?"

"Because it has nothing to do with them and you know it," Cordy replied as she opened the door and gave Faith a raised eyebrow look. "Okay?"

Faith nodded, if a little begrudgingly. "So you ready?"

Cordelia looked away and nodded. "You sure you're okay with this?"

"Babe, I'm five by five."

Cordelia shrugged, "Okay then. Did you get the right one?"

"Will you just get in the bathtub and shut up?" Faith grinned.

Cordelia laughed and moved into the bathroom closely followed by Faith. As she entered, she removed her bathrobe -- to reveal that she was wearing only a thong. She stepped into the bathtub facing the tiled wall.

[Oh!] Willow and Buffy said in unison.

[Oh, yes!!] Xander piped up, suddenly thankful that Anya was minding the shop.

[Xander!] Giles exclaimed, wondering exactly how you averted your eyes from a vision.

"Front or back first?" Faith asked, as she raised an aerosol can towards Cordelia.

[Front,] Xander pleaded.

[Xander!] exclaimed Willow and Buffy in unison.

"Back," Cordelia replied.

"Okay." Faith moved forward and raised the spray can. "How they haven't noticed that despite working mostly nights you keep your tan up…," Faith mumbled. "Detectives, my ass," she added as she began to spray the tan over Cordelia's back.

[Tan in a can!] Willow and Buffy yelped.

[What?] Giles asked.

[The faker!] Willow exploded. [Do you have any idea what I did to my freckles, trying to get a tan like that?] Willow moaned. [I looked like a giant "connect the dots" puzzle. I can't believe…the big phony!]

Part 16

Angel really wished he was anywhere else but in the middle of a dark damp swamp. He knew where he wanted to be, who he needed to see. But he also knew where he couldn't be.

Recalling how he'd fallen in love with Buffy on that first day when he had seen her happily leaving her school. She had been innocent of her future, unaware of the world she now lived in or of her calling. A part of him wished it had never happened; that he had never seen her. Then all this pain would be gone.

She was leaving him. Her heart destined for another and his soul ached. Although he knew they had no future together, that he could never grow old with her, raise children, make plans, he had allowed himself to hope, to dream. Someday in the future he had seen them together, when all the practical barriers would miraculously be removed. But now…?

He stared sadly at the blue-grey insipid water that seemed to reflect his future. 'Damn the Powers That Be. How could they allow this to happen? How could they let me feel about her the way I do? Knowing that she would only feel same way for a brief time? Knowing that she was destined to be with another? Wasn't the gypsy curse enough?'

"Willow?" Could it be true? Surely he would have known, noticed somehow? He felt foolish and strangely naïve. There must have been something there, even then. How could he have missed it? When had he become so blind? Then again maybe Cordy was right. Maybe Buffy didn't yet know how she felt.

He thought of Willow – quiet, self-contained, intelligent, caring, supportive and surprisingly strong. He tried to picture her holding Buffy, kissing her. He wanted the anger to rise within him, but it didn't!

"Damn it!" He liked and trusted Willow. She'd fought to re-ensoul him. For Buffy. He would trust Willow with his own life and he had. She had done everything she could to give Buffy what she believed would bring the Slayer a chance at true happiness. She had tried to give Buffy the person she thought that her best friend loved above all others – him.

Had Willow suppressed her own longings just to make Buffy happy? Ignoring her own dreams and desires, pushing them aside to do what was right. How long had she denied herself for Buffy's happiness? Wasn't that what you did for someone you loved?

"Blast." He knew the answer but he didn't have to like it. He didn't want to have to live up to it.

He recalled how Buffy had risked everything to rescue Willow from the Mayor against all their advice. And despite himself he knew that Willow would do the same for her. She had proved herself a loyal friend over the years. Who was he to doubt that Willow loved Buffy or that Buffy felt the same way? Looking back at events he wondered how it hadn't occurred to him before.

After all he'd been the one that had left. He had removed himself from her for both their sakes. Had he actually believed she wouldn't move on? He had told her to move on and he had honestly thought that he had been ready for her to do so.

Just not for a woman! He'd always thought it would be some boy; some juvenile college boy, immature and full of teen angst. Someone who could never hope to compete with a worldly wise vampire of his years; who could never share her battle with evil; who could never have their connection.

But Willow! She'd been there fighting at Buffy's side from the beginning. Supporting her, sharing the battle, the aftermath, the day to day living with Buffy's calling. She, who had from the beginning been there to treat Buffy's injuries, both physical and emotional, could always be by her side day and night. She'd become a powerful Witch, an ally. He respected her. How the hell was he supposed to compete with someone he respected? He wasn't even sure that he could win if it came down to it and that shook him to his very core.

'Oh God.' Something terrible occurred to him. 'What if Willow rejects her?' All of his protective instincts rushed forward at the fear that anyone could reject and hurt his Buffy. But she wasn't his any more! Cordy had said that they were soul mates. That Willow and Buffy were two old souls split apart by time, destined to seek each other out through every re-incarnation, every life time. She had used terms he had thought would only ever apply to Buffy and his love.

Okay this was the modern world; an era more open-minded than many of the eras he had lived through; than the era in which he had been raised. Buffy was hardly what you'd describe as a damsel, let alone a wench. As a young mortal he wouldn't have known how to woo a woman such as Buffy. His centuries weighed heavily upon him, as a dusty coat, reminding him just how old-fashioned he was at heart, what little had changed within him. True, he liked his women strong, confident, and even sassy but still very much in need of or attracted to his masculine strength. Darla, now there had been a wench of sass and fire, but she too had leaned upon him, deferred to him as he had come to expect his women would.

But modern women – they expected so much more of him. Insight, thoughtfulness, emotion, support, equality among other things. And so he had learned their ways, opening himself up to a side of his nature he had never known, would never have known without them. He had lapped up their lives, their wants and needs so that he could be as close as he could ever be to touching them, knowing their bodies through their minds until it had all led him to this.

What did Buffy need from him anymore? She had been the one to pull him back from the edge, to make him face his humanity, to activate his link to the world and to challenge his place in that world. She had never needed his strength. She had needed his understanding of her calling and the life she had to lead, his support, his belief in her and her abilities. But Willow could give her all of that and more. Yes, she most definitely could.

'Face it – you're out of your depth.'

And who was he? What was he? How could he be other than what he was born to be? – A vampire. He tried to wear a mask, to give others an illusion of something that he was not. It should have sufficed that he could live with the mask but he knew what lay within, what he held within him, forever fighting to escape. He listened to it, almost reaching to it; he had lived with it for so long. What others considered his usual brooding was often nothing more than an internal conversation with his inner demon.

And as if he had called it, he heard its voice. 'Don't do yourself such an injustice, my dear boy, by forcing yourself into these shoes of humanity that do not belong to you and that can never fit. You live a lie. Feel the essence of who you really are. Live it and breathe it. Life is there to be taken as you and only you can. You try to live the life others wish you to live. Life is and should be a dreadful adventure – there for the tasting. Enjoy, savor each drop of life that crosses your path. You can walk my path firmly if you remain true to the essence of your being, true to me. Walk in my shoes. You know them so well,' the voice suggested temptingly.

But Angel replied firmly, 'This path that I am on will contain lessons and obstacles you are incapable of appreciating but it is mine. My own life, without you, and the lessons I need the most can only be found by walking my own true path and not by walking in another's footsteps, especially not yours. Only I can find my truth. You cannot answer my questions for me.'

The voice seemed to laugh! 'Even when you try another's shoes on for size, to sneak into their lives and find out who they are and why they are the way that they are, you know, dear boy, that the shoes will not be theirs as such. You will adapt them to your own feet by turning the situation and adjusting it so that you can see it from your point of view. For your feelings are never going to match theirs entirely and who would want them to? You'd have to drown in all that love,' it almost spat. 'Fine – walk in another's shoes, but remember who you really are. And just remember that I'm here – waiting. You have walked in my shoes before making them fit you, using them happily. Together we could make her ours.'

Angel let the truth of his demon's words and the associated guilt sink in before he replied, 'Yours were a dead man's shoes. I walked in them but I was never able to alter them. You are not who I am. This path, this life I may adapt to my feet and I will still have a better understanding of humanity than you ever did. My perspective will never be the same as yours. That's what you're afraid of; that I will learn to love humanity more than I already do and that I will be able to hold you in place forever. You only want to make them feel pain and to enjoy it, not to relieve their pain or make it easier to bear as I must,' he accused it before becoming reflective. 'I used to think she felt exactly the same way that I still do, and I wish she still did but that's not the way it is and nothing can make it so. I used to think I knew her but I would have had to get inside of her toes and crawl up inside her soul to know her the way you would want me to. But that would have stopped her from growing. She would have had to alter, change herself to suit me. I knew that it would have suffocated her very being, made her life impossible and burdened by my many crimes. I had to let her be who she was meant to be and what she was meant to become. By being true to herself, by walking her own path, growing and developing as she should even if that meant she would have to walk her life with another…she would have a life, her true life, instead of living one for me.'

It laughed at him, long and hard. 'How stupid your pain is. It tastes like poison, sickly, selfless and sweet. You deny yourself what your very core wants.'

'No, what I do is to allow what her very core needs. That's how much I love her. You'll never understand,' he said shaking his head in despair.

Cordy was right. This was right. He finally understood. He accepted what had to be and his heart shattered as the tears flowed. Tears of sadness for what he had lost. Closely followed by tears of contentment at the knowledge that Buffy would now have what had always been missing from her life, what she needed to make her complete, what he could never provide. She would finally have the only person who could give all of this to her. And he allowed himself to be happy for her, because he knew that he would always love her and be grateful for what she had given him – love, humanity, friendship and trust.

As he let the tears fall, he accepted that he was ready to let her move on with her life and he felt content that it would be with the person he knew would always love her, would always take care of her and would always put her first – - Willow. He now knew that he would be ready, when the time came, to give them both his blessing and mean it. Then again, considering who and what he was maybe he would just give them his best wishes.

The demon retreated in the face of his newly found resolve.

While the vision quest continued in the back room, Anya was relegated to the front of the Magic Shop where she moved the cheaper candles further back and the pricier candles to the front of the shelf. She hated it when Giles tried to help with the displays since he seemed to completely ignore her frequent advice on product placement. He had no idea that it was all about appealing to the laziness of the customer, where and when ever possible.

Giles said he was listening and he even asked the odd intelligent question but he wasn't really listening at all. He was doing that thing she had once seen a parent do to an annoying child – making noise in all the right places.

She'd told them that the curse was about sex but they had all tried to ignore her and even when they did get on board, no one said anything aloud. Xander had even given her a whole lecture on why talking about Willow and Buffy having had sex was another inappropriate topic of conversation. She was really getting pissed at the long list of things that she couldn't talk about. She'd thought that Willow, with all her new found Lesbian knowledge and sexual experience, would loosen up about sex, talk about it, revel in its pleasures and joys, but oh no – it was all angst, shy, blushing, babbling and still with the shocked looks every time she mentioned the subject.

It seemed no one ever listened to her, except possibly about demons, curses, evil and such. It was like a weird kind of phobia that they just couldn't get past. It really made her furious that everyone could forget or ignore the fact that Willow had been straight and was now gay, but oh no, they never forgot she had been a demon.

She occasionally wished she still had her powers, fondly recalling her first act as a full-fledged vengeance demon. Carloman, the King of Bavaria, was an old charmer who had little or no regard for the wife upon whom he so frequently cheated. D'Hoffryn had chosen her first charge perfectly. She recalled how the all-powerful king had whimpered and begged for her charge's [his wife's] forgiveness for his poor husbandry skills, for his dalliances. He had sought Anya's advice, her counsel to better please his spouse. He had tried every trick he had ever used to keep from having to pay for his behavior.

Anya had watched in amused satisfaction at the familiar look that had filled her charge's eyes. She had known he didn't mean it. She had heard all these words before many, many times.

After an hour of pleading he had turned to accusation, blaming his wife for all his failings, accusing her of foul deeds until her charge had finally snapped and wished he would go fuck himself.

The shock killed him.

Buffy watched the image before her in complete astonishment. 'Cordy trusted Faith?' She couldn't get this obvious fact out of her head. Even with Willow still ranting over the fake tan, her mind was running at sixty miles an hour trying to make sense of what she was seeing. 'I'm cool about my body but there's a real short list of people I'd trust with a secret like that one. Let alone a job like that one,' she stated to herself as she heard Xander calming Willow, as only he could. Suddenly her mind filled with images of her spray painting Willow. 'Oh no! Not now!'

"We need to concentrate," Giles said annoyance evident in his tone.

'Oh no we don't,' thought Buffy as she desperately tried to chase the image from her mind. 'Think Cordy. Think Faith. Think anything but this'

"Could we please try to focus? Thank you," Giles stated as Xander and Willow attempted to reconnect with Buffy and the vision rod.

'Oh please, please,' Buffy begged, her mind fearful of the vision that her thoughts could lead them to. 'I wish I could just go back in time before I knew, before I felt like this.'

(Concentrate please,) Giles reminded all concerned.

Buffy threw her mind back to high school reaching out to the simple days. 'Yeah, right!'

She saw a corridor begin to appear, a school corridor. Familiarity flooded over them as the corridor just outside the old Sunnydale high library came into focus. Peering in through the portholes of the library doors were two figures they immediately recognized – Oz and Cordy, who seemed to be making no move to enter the library.

(Why are they staying outside?) Xander asked.

(Xander!) Giles said, his tone becoming more strained.

"Leave them to it," Oz commented. Faint voices could be heard from beyond the doors.

"If it gets me out of the volunteer squad, I'm happy. My wardrobe is starting to suffer. Buffy should get a clothing allowance or something," Cordelia responded, without turning to look at him. "I don't know how she does it," she added, her tone serious.

Oz seemed to stare at Cordelia for quite sometime before he turned and cast a look into the library. "It's okay, you know," he commented.

"Huh?" she responded with an absent-minded shrug of her shoulders.

"It's easier here – on the outside. We'll never really be in the in, you know. Much as they might try to make us feel like they are including us. And being jealous – that's normal," he explained.

"I just…I am not jealous," Cordelia stated but as she looked at Oz she sighed. Turning back to the porthole for a brief moment she seemed to fix her gaze. "I see what she does…how much she gives up. But what can you do or say? She needs nothing that I can give her. Would I want to be her? No way. Do I look crazy? Who'd want to give up a future? Who'd want to have to hope that the friends and family you've got will stay with you…survive? Because that's all you'll ever have. And there's nothing I can do to make it any easier. Like she'd ever let me." Closing her eyes briefly she turned to look at Oz. "How do you cope? Hell, how do we cope? We're always going to be second string, stepping aside so they can help her deal with the new big bad. And we know we're doing it." She shook her head at the futility of her annoyance.

"Yeah, but saving the world. That sorta makes stepping aside a given," he pointed out.

"Well I think it sucks. Do you think they even realize? You know…how linked they are?"

"Nope…and I don't intend to make them look too hard at it," Oz replied in his casual manner. "I get to be close to her. That's all I can ask. If I made her choose…I'm not sure…" Oz ended looking back into the room.

"Yeah…" Cordelia responded, returning her eyes to the group in the library. "Some choices should be ours."

"But it will happen. Eventually we'll leave because staying and always being on the outside will just hurt too much. They won't mean to push us away but they will and we'll let them," he added.

"I'm not there yet," Cordelia replied. "But sometimes when I see the way they are with each other ... you know. You don't have to read minds to know…"

Oz gave Cordelia a side glance, his face briefly concerned. "So…we'll leave them to it," he said firmly, ending any further discussion on the topic.

"Yeah…I'm not really the hero type anyway. Anyone could tell you that. I don't even know what I'm doing here," Cordelia replied turning from the door and moving down the corridor. "Leave them to it."

Oz watched her go and quietly he mumbled, "Walking away seems easy. But we never really will." With that said, he briefly glanced into the library before turning to follow Cordelia down the corridor.

Part 17

(He never said anything. I didn't know,) Willow almost whispered her thoughts. (I wouldn't have…I mean…I didn't mean him to feel…Oh God! Did I do that to Tara too…?), the pain in her thoughts so acutely evident.

(Will. No, you can't think like that,) Buffy interrupted, disturbed by the sadness and hurt in her best friend's voice.

(But they left. They always seem to leave. Everyone leaves me…) Willow choked in response, forgetting that Xander and Giles were listening.

Buffy winced at the comment and the vein of truth that seemed to run through it. People did always seem to leave them. She responded quietly (I'm still here.) and then realizing who was listening she quickly added (We all are.)

(Too true. Let's face it – the one time I tried to leave I didn't get out of the state. Your stuck with me,) Xander piped up.

(Thanks guys, but you know what I mean,) Willow responded (Don't you?)

(Indeed I do,) Giles acknowledged his thoughts injecting a tone of grief they all knew far too well and acknowledged as his loss of Miss Calendar. That he had voiced his feelings surprised the rest of the group.

They sat in silence for what seemed like ages staring at the fixed vision of the empty corridor that seemed to sum up their lives so far; the area just outside of the Library, where their journey had begun. Unable to see inside at the moment, they all remembered how it was to become a stage of sorts upon which they would play out the failures and successes of their early adolescent lives; their defeats and their victories; some of their saddest and some of their happiest moments.

(Hey, I've got Anya!) Xander suddenly exclaimed, slightly ashamed that it had taken him so long to think of her. (If I can find someone to put up with the weird and wacky B-movie feature that is "Scooby Ville" and me, you guys can't give up hope. Can you?) Xander pointed out in a last ditch attempt to lift the ice cold feeling of despair that seemed to be overwhelming them.

Buffy found herself grinning. (He's got a point,) she quipped. (I mean if someone, even Anya, is willing, despite everything, to take Xander on…)

(You mean…you know…the dress sense, the strangely large forearms and stuff. I mean if you're into the construction type, sweat, hard hats…) Willow added, smirking and beginning to relax again.

Giles couldn't help himself (And lest we forget the left over odor of…hmmm…hyena or is that soldier…No. Ahhh, it could be…)

(Hey!!! And I mean – Hey!) Xander spoke up indignantly.

The mood lifted as the three giggled and Xander growled. The image of the corridor began to fade.

(Oh, no! Everyone concentrate. Think of the Globe, about the curse before we lose the connection,) Giles urged them. (I know we're all getting tired but we really must gather as much information as we can – now). He didn't want to explain that he really only wanted one more thing made clear, that he pretty much had it all mapped out.

Before them the vision's colors altered moving from the bright, clear tones that had filled the corridor to darker, colder, danker colors. As the image cleared, a dingy shop counter came into focus and behind it the short man they had seen earlier talking to that lawyer.

(What the…) Buffy muttered.

"Well my dear, you certainly seem to know all the right people," the shopkeeper said appearing to look Buffy in the eye. Willow found herself staring at his eyes unable to put her finger on why they were different but knowing somehow that they were.

"Yeah, that's me – know all the right people in all the low and wrong places. So can you do it?" Faith's voice responded, so loud that it seemed she was at their shoulder.

(Jeeze…) Xander jumped. (She's behind us, we're between them, you need to…)

(I'm on it,) Buffy responded willing the vision to step to one side and turn to look back. Slowly the vision shifted until she was seeing the scene as it should have been. Faith was talking over the counter to the short man.

(Right, that's better) Buffy said.

"Well it's no easy matter but I guess you know that. The most difficult thing to acquire will be an Amber Orb of Ishtar. They are extremely rare and expensive," he ended with a retailer's glint in his eyes.

Faith looked at him, turning her head slightly to get the measure of the man, and then she scanned the dingy dark shop with its book-laden shelves and grey walls. "Yeah right, what's so special about Izzy's Orb?"

The short man managed to place a slim but tight smile of annoyance upon his face before replying, "The Amber Orb of Ishtar is a valuable object; greatly prized for it allows you to walk in another's shoes. It is said that the Goddess Ishtar and her followers used it to punish her enemies by teaching them the joy, power and pleasure of being in a true woman's body and then returning them to an inadequate male body. I could make a fortune on the internet..." he smiled wistfully before returning to business. "Of course I'm sure that I could acquire it for a very reasonable price."

"No problemo. I already have Izzy's Orb; great paper weight," Faith stated smugly.

"Indeed," he commented, holding back his desire to question her further as to just how a woman who looked like she did had managed acquire such a valuable item. Then it was as if he had remembered just who had sent her to him. "But of course. Well my dear, that will make things much simpler. I have been advised briefly regarding what you wish to achieve and I must say it is quite a novel way to use the Orb. A very generous, unconventional idea or, should I say, gift?"

"You could say that. I need to help two very important people get exactly what they deserve. I owe them on so many levels," she stated with conviction. However the short man seemed unmoved by her words.

"And you feel that walking in each other's shoes for a time will bring them what they deserve?" he questioned.

"It has other advantages, but yeah. That's the general idea. I reckon a 'get out' clause that leaves no doubt would be good too," Faith said smiling.

"And how long would you like the timescale to be? Say a deadline of a month?" he ventured.

"Jeeze! No way should it take that long. How dumb would they have to be to take that long?" she asked raising her eyebrows. Then looking to her left she did some considering. "Then again…when you look at how dumb they've been so far…Yeah, a month sounds good."

"Okay. I can probably have something for you in about a day. I'll need their names and any other details you have."

Faith reached into her jacket and produced a folded piece of paper and handing it across the counter to the short man, she grabbed his outstretched hand. "Little man, this stink hole of a shop you have here doesn't fill a girl with mega confidence and neither do you but some guys who should know what's what pointed me your way. So I gotta figure you're like the wolf-in-sheep's clothing type, a rough diamond, you know," she stated smiling. Then with threatening eyes she added, "But…if anything goes wrong and I mean if anything…even remotely iffy, let alone anything bad happens – I will be back to collect your head…just your head. You get me?" She held his hand very tightly, staring intently into his eyes waiting for his reply.

"Clear as a bell my dear. I assure you I have a very valid reputation to uphold," he stammered, not quite looking her in the eye as he spoke.

"Getting this right means more to me than you can ever imagine, Pee Wee. Trust me when I say that this has to go five by five. I need to make it right. I owe them. Pissing me off with some half-assed curse will be a sure fire way to lose your head," she threatened before finally releasing his hand. "I'll be back. Have it ready," she ordered before turning and walking out of the shop.

The short man watched her leave and as the door closed behind her, he leaned under the counter to bring his telephone onto the counter and dialed. Raising the hand set to his ear he waited, still staring at the door.

(So that's how she came by the curse,) Giles commented.

(Why can't she just let it go? What do I have to do to get her to leave me alone?) Buffy exclaimed. Her mind awash with Faith's comments – her reference to giving them just what they deserved made a chill run through her entire being.

"Good, you're in. I was beginning to wonder," the small man commented. "She's a little feistier than I normally like and the death threat wasn't appreciated. I expect you to ensure that she will never able to deliver on it or the deal is off," he paused listening to the voice on the other end of the telephone. …"Yeah, I told her a day. I'll have it camouflaged by then. I have enough detail to make her read just what she wants to read."…"I'm a professional and I'm not used to having the quality of my work questioned."…"You'll just have to trust me. She won't be able to see it."…"Yes exactly as specified. It should be quite something. I'll await payment in the agreed fashion." With that he replaced the receiver and turned to look back at the door. "Well my dear, it seems that you and your friends will come to pay for the disrespect you have shown Eoin Maclay this day."

(What? What did he just say?) Willow asked, unsure if her ears had heard the shopkeeper correctly. A small part of her knew what he had said. But no! A larger part of her was sure that Tara would never have anything to do with this. She knew that they had parted as friends. 'Hadn't they?'

(His name seems familiar,) Giles commented and almost immediately realized why. Remorse filled him with the desire to crawl into a hole. (Ahh, yes well, I'm sure it's coincidence,) he offered weakly.

(I don't believe in coincidence,) Buffy pointed out.

(Okay, so there's the whole butterfly theory. But I mean…guys…surely Tara would never…) Xander commented hopefully. He was, however, becoming disturbed by the way all their exes just kept popping up in these visions. (Jeeze, is there anyone who doesn't have an issue with us?)

The vision began to fade; colors bleeding away before them until another picture slowly formed. And suddenly before them stood the object of Willow's ponderings – Tara.

She appeared to be standing on the campus, behind a tree, looking across the grass. She was wearing a long blue skirt and light grey t-shirt, over her shoulder an old army style bag, bulging to its extremes. Her arms crossed as she cast her eye over a group sitting on the grass.

(That's us,) Xander stated as if only he could see the vision.

(Will?) Buffy questioned, realizing that everyone knew roughly what was coming and rather annoyed that these visions seemed oblivious to the pain that they were going to cause her Willow.

(It's okay,) Willow assured her. She couldn't keep running away from this. She knew, on some unconscious level, that she had hurt Tara; that she had excluded her from part of her life, a very big and important part of her life, just as she had Oz. Ignoring this hadn't really helped. It had only filled her with more guilt, unresolved issues and self-doubt than any Wiccan of her young years should have to carry. She had had enough of feeling like a disappointment to herself and others. Breathing deeply, she steeled herself to watch the vision unfold.

Tara's face was so intense. All her energy seemed to be concentrated, as if she was bracing herself to watch. Then her eyes filled with such longing and pain until slowly tears seemed to form in the already red corners of her eyes. She took a deep breath, turning her eyes away from the scene before her, to swallow, wanting to push the tears down as if they could be held back. Raising her hand to her hair, she brushed a stray strand behind her ear before raising her eyes again.

Buffy was mesmerized by the woman before her. This was the first woman that her Willow had loved, the first person she had ever been jealous of. Buffy felt that she was nothing like Tara, who was soft, gentle, shy and yet quietly confident in her sexuality. She had an endearing stutter, the ample curves of a woman and a very feminine way about her. She recalled the first time she had met Tara; how easy she was to be with; how much she liked the girl. She searched for any small part of this woman that she could see in herself. Something about this woman had captured Willow's heart; had attracted her Willow. It was this 'something' that she wanted so much to have.

There before Tara's gaze sat Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles; engrossed in their conversation and oblivious to all around them. Buffy steered the vision towards them, rather interested in what it was that Tara was watching. As she did so, Giles appeared to turn and glare at Xander and a giggle escaped from Xander's mind, as he realized that he had probably just called him 'G-man'. Meanwhile a glance of amusement passed between Willow and Buffy.

Xander seemed to be attempting calm Giles down as Buffy leaned into Willow to whisper something into her ear. As she did so she paused closing her eyes before she spoke. Whatever was said, Willow threw her head back and laughed, playfully pushing Buffy away from her.

Giles seemed to have moved his attention to the now giggling Willow and Buffy, who reacted to this by huddling together and raising their shoulders and palms in mock fear. With this Giles stood, delivered a parting shot and disapproving look before he moved off shaking his head.

Xander, opening his arms and turning his palms up, shrugged in an act of all innocence before standing and following Giles. Willow and Buffy watched him chase after the watcher, all the while leaning into each other and giggling.

The vision seemed to move back allowing them to see Tara's face, as a single tear moved down her cheek and a look of longing and loss filled her eyes. Losing her rigid stance, she crumpled to the ground, never removing her gaze from the two figures on the grass. Shaking her head she nervously licked her lips, then breathing deeply she drew her bottom lip between her teeth.

Willow could see the sadness and despair filling her. She could see Tara was fighting it, refusing to give in. "Willow," she uttered.

(I'm right here baby) Willow responded, forgetting for a moment that this Tara and this moment had passed.

"Oh Willow," Tara mumbled as another tear fell, following the first on its slow journey down her face. "Goddess, how can she not know? Why do I have to know?" she asked in anguished tones, before pulling herself back to her feet. The tears were now flowing freely and her mouth had dropped open in sadness and resignation.

Taking one last look at the happy friends before her, she turned and ran blindly from the scene and almost into the path of some on-coming bicyclists. Swerving to avoid them, she collided with a tall male.

(Riley) Buffy said, identifying their Psych teacher's assistant into whom Tara had run headlong.

"Whoa there! You nearly had me," he stated, having gained a firm hold of her shoulders to prevent her from falling. Gazing at the tear stained face before him, he didn't release her and instead he asked, "Hey, are you okay? Mmm, it's... Sara, isn't it? Willow's friend?"

Riley's misspeaking her name and his reference to Willow just seemed to set off the tears again. Tara vainly attempted to release herself from Riley but he didn't seem to think that was a good idea. The concern in his face seemed genuine but none the less Willow felt the need to push him away from Tara.

"Hey. It's okay. I'm not sure what I said but I seem to have added to your pain and that I have to fix. How about you let me find you somewhere a little less public to vent, chat or just plain cry if that's what you need?" he asked quietly, smiling reassuringly at the tear stained woman before him. To everyone's surprise Tara looked him in the eye and, after a short pause, she simply nodded.

(Who is that guy?) Xander asked.

(He's a teacher's assistant, a home-grown Iowa farm boy. He likes cheese,) Buffy explained, rambling as she realized how little she really knew about Riley. She recalled that he had seemed friendly and approachable but too good to be true and a tad square.

(What the hell is he doing?) she wondered out loud.

Willow watched as Riley placed a protective arm around Tara and moved her towards the edge of the Campus grounds to a little café that she knew the vegetarian students frequented. Guilt and fear filled her. She knew that she wanted to hear what Tara was thinking but she wasn't sure that she wanted to know that someone who was still on Campus already knew. As much as Willow had grown to like Riley, she wished that he wasn't here for this. She tried to remember if he had been any different towards her lately but nothing came to mind. This didn't relieve her concerns since she knew she had been pretty self-obsessed after Tara left.

The vision began to fade as Buffy subconsciously released her grasp on it. (Buffy, hold on to the vision!) Giles exclaimed realizing, with embarrassment, that there was something about this that needed to be seen by both Buffy and Willow.

(Will, do you want me to go on with this?) she asked opening her eyes to look at her best friend, ignoring her Watcher's instructions. Willow simply nodded. Buffy nudged the time line along and decided in that moment that this would be the last damn vision.

"You need a drink? Some water?" Riley asked as he placed Tara at a quiet table near the back of the almost empty café.

"W-w-w water," she replied.

"Okay. I'll be right back," Riley stated reassuringly before he left her and headed to the café counter.

Returning to her with two glasses of water, he placed them on the table and took the seat opposite her. "So Sara…"

(Jeeze,) Xander exclaimed.

"T-t-t Tara," she said, looking up briefly.

"Wha…Oh hell, sorry. I've no head for names," he apologized, offering her an apologetic grin. "Sorta explains why I'm not majoring in History."

Tara almost smiled.

"So, I'm guessing it's not the Cubs losing by eight runs that brought you to tears," he began. "I've seen you in Psych with Willow and Buffy. I know that you're all friends. Do you want me to see if I can find one of them?"

"NO!" Tara exclaimed, for once losing her stutter in her certainty. "No, I just…this is f-f-f fine. I just…I let it all g-g-g get to me, that's all."

Riley's face made it clear he didn't have a clue what she was going on about. But he nodded none the less. "Yeah, that can happen," he agreed before adding "Trouble is…it can keep happening if you don't face it."

"I know," Tara responded.

(He's like mini Professor Walsh,) Buffy commented before she could help herself.

"So what are you going to do?" Riley asked.

"I d-d-don't know," Tara responded with a lost look in her eyes.

(We could have talked,) Willow offered sadly.

"I almost have what I want, but I…there are just some things I can n-n-n never change," Tara explained.

"I seem to remember some clever quote that says we should find the strength to change the things we can, the courage or something to know the things we can't change, but…oh yeah…the wisdom to know the difference," Riley responded.

Tara looked at him strangely and then she slowly nodded. "Yeah, I guess that's why I was crying," she explained. Seeing the questioning look on his face, she paused in thought before adding "I've just realized this is one of those 'know the difference' cases. Something I want to not to be true, so that I can keep what I have. But something that will always be true no matter what I do."

"Sounds tough," Riley commented. "So what are you going to do?"

"I don't really know. I c-c-c could try and learn to live with knowing that they…w-w-w with the truth," she said, her tone wavering with emotion.

"That doesn't sound like the easy option," Riley stated, apparently having picked up the change of tone in her voice.

"Yeah... But at least I'd have part of what I want," she responded in her defense.

"Would just 'part' be enough?" Riley asked.

"I c-c-c could make it enough. I mean…I know the truth but I'm pretty sure they don…I m-m-m mean as long as…s-s-s she's h-h-h happy," Tara stumbled.

Riley raised an eyebrow at her slip but apparently realizing that discretion was the better part of valor, and that an inquisition was the last thing Tara needed, he didn't comment except to ask "But would you be happy?"

Tara glanced at her still full glass of water in response and soon the tears were falling again as she silently shook her head.

Realizing that the answer to his question was no, Riley leaned forward. "The good things don't usually make someone nice like you cry. So I have to ask if this is really the best thing for you. I don't think you can cope with and I don't think that you should have to settle for having…just part of what you need. No one should."

Tara didn't respond and realizing that she needed time to think, Riley sat back and let her have the room she needed.

Part 18

Finally Tara spoke, mostly to herself and almost in a whisper. "But I see their auras. They m-m-m match," she sighed. "How can I ignore t-t-t hat? Despite what people think…you can't ignore how you feel about someone just because…others won't approve…others won't understand. Maybe they'll figure that out one day?" She shook her head and sighed sadly, "But it's not like either one of them has realized yet. They may never figure it out. I could be giving up everything for n-n-n no reason, couldn't I?" she questioned herself.

Riley's expression became strange as he realized she was talking about a relationship. His brow furrowed, as he appeared to be running back over the conversation, trying to spot clues that might indicate who she was talking about. He had never seen her with anyone but 'Buffy, Willow and that non-student guy…Oh, and the older English man…' His eyebrows shot up in concern at that last thought.

(Oh yeah, he's in the zone. I feel for the guy. Talk about being out of your depth,) Xander commented, not realizing the actual object of Riley's concern.

(Shh) Giles hissed, torn and wracked with guilt for wanting Tara to voice her fears, to say it out loud so that he wouldn't have to do it himself. But also feeling for Tara as he had grown to like her quiet ways and understated intelligence. He wished her no discomfort or pain, and truly hoped that they were misjudging Riley's reaction.

Tara fell into another momentary silence before adding, "But I'd know. It would be like cheating; stealing happiness that should not be mine but should belong to another; keeping something I should never really have had; that was never really m-m-mine. But Goddess, their auras…They tell me all I really need to know. Any half decent reader of auras could recognize it. Goddess, almost anyone could see it if they only bothered! But people just seem to close their eyes to this kind of love," she exclaimed, her anger and frustration evident.

Riley stared at her for what seemed like an eternity before he bit the bullet and responded, "I'm not quite sure that you feeling that you know something is going to happen means it's actually going to happen. Maybe this is more about your fear of it happening."

"No it isn't. I m-m-mean…okay…I'm scared…of c-c-course I am. I mean I could lose h…Loving someone is about wanting h-h-h happ-happiness, right?" she asked, staring at her glass of water. "And I'm m-m mostly happy. I know I am and I know I could go on being…m-m-mostly happy. It's just that I know I'm not the Ying and that's what I w-w-want to be, what I n-n-need to be. I want more." She looked up at Riley briefly before dropping her eyes again. "You know…Ying and Yang, the natural blending of two souls, two opposites? Well, I know I'm not the Ying and I think I kn-kn-know who is. We…we're like t-t-t two mostly Yangs. Oh, and it's knowing who her Ying should be, who it is, who it h-h-has to b-b-be."

Riley's expressions showed that he was amused by her ramblings but his expression quickly changed as he picked up on the gender that had been mentioned in that last comment. As a thousand thoughts seemed to cross his face, his eyebrows became more mobile than Roger Moore's during his entire incarnation as Bond. Finally his face froze as the pieces fell clearly into place – his eyes grew wide and a slight red tinge grew under his skin. He suddenly sat upright, his relaxed and welcoming posture gone. He simply nodded blankly in response to Tara's last comment, unaware that she wasn't even looking at him.

"I mean I was the foolish one who thought…you know, being the first meant…well, being the first. How stupid was that?" Tara said her anger rising at the unfairness of the situation.

"You…you're…Her? So you think…your…" Riley grappled for the right thing to say, "partner" almost whispering the word in case he had misheard her previous comment, "is cheating?" Seeing the look of anger that suddenly flashed across Tara's face, he quickly retracted "NO…you think…" His face desperately trying to remember what she had said "You think your…partner could have feelings…for someone else!" he finished, as he finally understood.

Tara nodded, as an unhappy mix of the anger and sadness fought for control of her.

"And you think you know who…your partner has feelings for? But you're not sure if it's real?" Riley faltered.

Tara again nodded.

"If it isn't…" he said moving on hesitantly, like a barefoot man walking on broken glass.

"Why can't I be her Ying?" Tara pleaded plaintively, ignoring Riley, talking mostly to herself and the glass of water, dropping all gender avoidance and transposition, seemingly forgetting Riley was even there.

Riley stared intently at Tara as she continued to talk to herself and the glass. His expression partially bemused, he seemed to be fighting some inner confusion. He shook his head slightly, then squinting he stared at Tara again before allowing a slight small stupid smile to cross his face.

(Oh boy, he's just hit oil,) Xander observed, complete understanding in his tone.

(Xander) Giles hissed again.

The smile turned to a smirk leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that Xander was right.

(Oh no!) Buffy exclaimed as all her own fears threatened to engulf her. She wanted to close her eyes, she wanted to spare herself, to spare Willow from seeing some sexuality- challenged Neanderthal use his size twenty-five homophobic feet to stomp on Tara's life choice. To subject her to his fantasy-riddled concepts of what two women together meant. She wanted to stop seeing herself as Tara; to stop hearing the words she knew would come her way from a thousand unsought advisors hell-bent on helping her to be normal. If only they knew.

"She doesn't know…she can't. She'd never do anything that cruel. No, no…" the blonde witch shook her head as she mumbled for a while, her voice below a whisper. "Oh goddess, please don't let her have chosen me knowing…I don't deserve this." The tears flowed again.

In a moment of apparent maturity, more than welcomed by the group observing this vision, Riley wiped the silly grin from his face, as he observed the tear stained face of the woman before him, allowing the gravity of what he had been talking about to sink in.

"After everything…all her…am I…aren't I…c-c-c could I be? S-s-s so left out of her life…the strange looks…awkward silences…unasked questions…chased by a werewolf…" Words failed her.

Riley's face became unreadable until his expression slowly evolved into something akin to a deer caught in the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler.

"Tara?" Riley called, "I have the feeling that I'm…well, I'm…Look, I don't exactly have a great relationship record myself," he pointed out; still sitting well back from the table he had previously been leaning across. He looked like he was ready to cut and run.

(Oh thank heavens,) Buffy said as she realized he'd got over the idiot smirk and mental fantasy attack that seemed to overcome any man the minute you mentioned two women.

"I love her. She w-w-w-would never…no…She c-c-can't know. Because if she knew…that would be evil. I could never forgive...," she declared, falling into silence. "What did you say?" Tara asked foggily as she suddenly realized that Riley had spoken.

"Look it's not like I have anything against…it's just I don't really know how…well I could guess ho…" He shook his head to remove the rest of that sentence. "Not that I've avoided or have any hang ups about…what two people choose to do in the privacy of their own…" he continued to ramble.

(Oh yeah, he's gonna say it,) Xander stated, sadly shaking his head.

"Look, some of the guys I tutor are gay…and that's fine by me. But I don't…I mean…If you thought I was being nice because…not that it would be bad to be…but I'm…I'm straight," Riley explained, his skin becoming paler and paler not to mention sweatier, as he spoke.

(Oh Jeese, he said it!) Xander exclaimed.

Tara looked at him as if he had grown a second head.

"I just think that maybe you need to find someone who…maybe has some experience in this field. You know…"

Tara's face showed that she was unraveling his comments, momentarily leaving her own thoughts. As she stared at him the recognition flew across her face…"Oh!"

"You seem a really nice girl…I mean I like you…I'm just not sure that…if you just think about it... you probably have plenty of friends who could…help. You know, be more understanding. Do a better job than…me," Riley offered.

"Sure. I'm sorry. I just n-n-n needed to unload a little," she responded, her cheeks reddening. "You seemed kind…I mean you w-w-w were kind…to listen. Sorry," Tara said, her shoulders sagging.

"You didn't do anything wrong. I just…I don't think I'm the right person to help you with this. If I was any help at all, but…" he responded apologetically. Standing, the relief at being let off the hook evident in his expression, he smiled at her, "You'll be okay?" he asked, his shoulders stiff and his posture rigid. It was obvious he didn't want to be told that he should stay.

"Yeah. It's okay," Tara replied, her tone flat and her eyes glazed.

Before turning and leaving her alone, Riley offered her another apologetic smile.

(Poor stupid schmuck,) Xander accused, understanding mixing with annoyance at the failure of a fellow male.

(How could he leave her like that?) Willow asked, hardly able to contain her anger.

(I think it's probably best he did. I don't believe that he was helping,) Giles commented sadly.

Willow wanted to scream at the scene before her. Tara was now sitting alone. At a table in a now practically empty café. No one to talk to…because of something she had done.

Lightning seemed to strike the vision as white became all they could see. They all flinched.

(Who the…? What the…? Tara?) Willow questioned, her voice filled with concern.

Buffy struggled to keep her hold of the vision so that as it slowly returned they saw him standing before Tara; a tall man in floor-length robes. Well, at least he looked male. Two horns atop his bald head and a whispy beard appearing from his jaw line, with two Japanese drops, plus the blue demon skin, which left no one with the feeling that his appearance was a good thing.

(Oh no,) Xander exclaimed as he recognized Anya's ex-employer. (That's D'Hoffryn.)

(Who?) Buffy asked, warily studying the ugly-faced tall man as he moved towards Tara.

(Anya's ex-boss. She pointed him out in a book once,) Xander explained.

(Oh great. Just what we need,) Buffy observed.

Tara sat back abruptly in her chair as the demon moved to stand before her. "Wha…w-w-w-what do you want?" she asked nervously.

"You have much anger and pain. Your magic is strong, but your pain – it's like a scream that pierces dimensional walls. We heard your call," he answered.

"I didn't m-m-m mean to…" she apologized, inching away from him.

"Do not fear me, sister. Our intention is not to quash your demon potential – quite the contrary," D'Hoffryn assured her.

"I…p-p-p potential?"

"Come now my dear. You must be aware that all in your family line have the potential that would allow them to join the lower realms. I have noted the pains you take to hide your demon potential; to fit into this realm," he stated, sounding irritated at having to even mention the subject.

"But…I'm g-g-g good…I'm not…you're wrong. I keep t-t-t that in check. No one knows…even she…I've n-n-n never…I would never…" Tara protested.

(She what? She's what?) Willow jumped in.

(Will, calm down. I'm sure it's not the way it sounds,) Buffy offered

"The pain and suffering you wish upon those you love, who have betrayed you, is inspiring. You have the potential to join us in Arash Ma'har," he stated with quiet confidence.

"No! No wishing! T-t-t-there has been no wishing," Tara assured him, a small amount of guilt and fear tarnishing the conviction of her words. "Oh, Goddess. But I didn't mean to! I didn't…I only thought it once," she admitted in a very small voice.

(Noooo!) Willow yelped in anguish. How could she have made sweet, caring Tara think…, let alone wish…? Bad Willow, she chastised herself internally.

"Indeed, you did. And your power brought that one painful thought to my ears. Quite a feat for one so young," D'Hoffryn praised. "You will make a fine vengeance demon. I feel sure that your first act of vengeance will prove very…enlightening. It will be a pleasure to assist you in vanquishing the two who cause you such pain."

"No, please!" Tara begged. "You can't…you d-d-d don't understand…"

"It is not my concern. You are my interest in this matter," he stated dismissively.

"I-I-I don't wish to…offend you. I mean, your offer is v-v-v very kind, but…I do not want you to hurt them," Tara explained emphatically, steeling herself to look at him as he towered above her.

"My dear girl, I heard your thoughts," he said, a patient tone entering his voice.

"That was just a moment's m-m-m madness; a loss of the spatial awareness. But to h-h-h-harm them – NO! They don't know," Tara explained.

"Do you truly expect me to believe that these two souls, so perfectly matched, are ignorant of their linked karmas; of their natural attraction? I have not kept my position for over 200 years by believing that such innocence exists. Mankind is by nature duplicitous," he protested. "If they have fooled you, then perhaps you are not the one I seek."

"But they honestly don't know. They may never know. They're not trying to fool me. If anyone, they're fooling themselves. I see the way they f-f-f fit, the lengths they go to, the things they risk, their choices, their commitment. The unspoken conversations," her eyes saddened as she spoke, "the unconscious looks and glances, the joy at meeting, the d-d-d- discomfort at parting. I've accepted it, but she doesn't know. Neither of them know," Tara finished.

"But she shares your tastes, my dear. Do you believe her so honest that she would not be with another woman?" he asked.

(I didn't, baby,) Willow whispered.

"Not in that way. N-n-n no. She would never…Willow…my Willow would never do that. I know her. I love her. I could never feel this way about her if I didn't believe…if I didn't know that," Tara insisted, fighting back the tears.

"And the other? Do you know her that well also?" he questioned.

"I know her aura, her calling. I know her. I…like her. She's…a…g-g-g good soul. And I know…she hasn't realized…it escapes her. And if she knew…" Tara floundered momentarily, "her own fears and her sense of honor would prevent her…"

"I see," D'Hoffryn said his tone somewhat disappointed. "It seems I have wasted my time."

"I'm sorry…truly…I am. But I only want her to be happy…a-a-a and if that means I have to let her go…if t-t-t that means I have to feel like this…"

"It will, my dear. Be assured of that. Every great sacrifice is painful. To waste such pain…oh well. Here is my talisman, if you ever change your mind." He held the talisman out to Tara who accepted it. "You can just give me a call. "

"Thanks," she said nervously.

D'Hoffryn started to leave but paused and turned to ask, "Are you sure?"

"Willow's in love with B-B-B Buffy…and I c-c-c can't fight that," Tara stated, in a hollow voice.

(Well finally…) Xander exclaimed, losing control of his thoughts.

(Xander) Giles hissed, lashing out to hit him across the top of his head.

(Ha…) Xander protested before realizing his faux pas and shutting up.

(Huh?) was all that Buffy managed, as her mind seemed to explode.

"As I said, the offer will remain open my dear," he offered, his tone sympathetic, as he turned and vanished into the pillar of smoke that had appeared to greet his exit. Leaving Tara alone again…

Willow released the vision rod as if it was a poisonous snake, jumping back from the group. Buffy had lost her already tenuous grip on the vision and, in her numbed state, made no attempt to regain it.

Xander gently removed the rod from Buffy loose grasp, placed it on the floor and turned to Giles. With the slight movement of his head, he indicated that they should leave.

Giles stared momentarily, still annoyed at Xander's outburst, before he realized the wisdom of the young man's suggestion. He nodded and stood to follow, the for once quiet and tactful, Xander back into the shop.

To be continued…

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