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Normal Is Just a Word by slaymesoftly
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Chapter Six

"Do you want to come in?" Buffy asked.

They'd formed the habit of having tea or hot chocolate with her mother one or two evenings a week if she was still up when Buffy got home. Joyce was becoming quite fond of the young man who was doing so much to keep Buffy out of her imagination and in the normal world.

"Not tonight, pet. I'm meeting Sean at some new club he found. He needs a wingman, so I said I'd come by when I got you safely home."


"I'll explain tomorrow," he said with a chuckle. He opened his door and was around to her side of the car before she could step out. Offering his hand, he helped her to the sidewalk and closed the door behind her. They walked slowly to her front door, suddenly aware that they would be saying "goodnight" on the front porch—a classic "should I or shouldn't I?" situation. Will stopped before the steps and stayed there while Buffy started up. She stopped and turned around, her position on the bottom step putting her face level with his. Their eyes locked and for a full minute they just stared at each other, neither one willing to risk tipping the balance.

Finally, with a "Bloody hell!" that seemed only too familiar, Will leaned forward and brushed his lips across hers. Before he could move away, Buffy grabbed his face and held it still while she planted a chaste but firm kiss on his mouth.

"Goodnight, Will," she said, quickly backing up the steps before he could turn the kiss into anything more. "Thanks for the ride."

"My pleasure, Buffy. See you tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," she promised, opening the front door. "Tomorrow."

She watched through a crack in the curtain as he walked back to his car and got in, not dropping it until she couldn't see the taillights anymore. She gave a guilty jump when she turned around and found her mother watching her.

"Is Will not coming in tonight?" Joyce asked with a smile.

"No. He's going to meet Sean somewhere." Buffy started towards the kitchen for an after-work snack. "Mom, what's a 'wingman'?"

Joyce blinked several times, then laughed. "I think it has something to do with picking up girls. The wingman's job is to... you know, I'm not really sure what his job is. But I do know that it's the man who needs the wingman who's on the prowl," Joyce said with a shrewd glance at Buffy's face. "The wingman isn't there to pick up a date. He's just a helper."

Buffy's shoulders relaxed and she opened the refrigerator. "Oh. Well, that's okay then."

"And it wouldn't have been okay if the wingman was picking up girls?"

"Well, no.... I mean, yes. Of course it would. Will and I are just friends, and he can— Are you laughing at me?"

Joyce shook her head and tried to hide her smile. "Not really. I'm just happy to see you taking an interest in such a nice young man. That's all."

"He is nice, isn't he?" Buffy said. "I think I like him." She shrugged and picked up her notebooks. "Which, considering who he reminds me of, is really wild. Spike would be so happy—" She caught a glimpse of her mother's suddenly tense face and quickly added, "If, of course, he was real. Which he isn't, so we don't care if he's happy or not. And I'm just going to...." She gestured at the hall and began sidling towards the escape route. "Goodnight, Mom."

"Goodnight, Buffy," Joyce sighed, sitting on a kitchen stool and fighting the urge to cry.

Halloween proved a bit of a challenge to Buffy's ability to put her delusional world behind her. The occasional costumed adult wandering through the mall sent adrenaline coursing through her veins at every glimpse of a distorted face or cheap, plastic fangs. She almost backed out of her agreement to accompany Will and Sean to a party that night—afraid she might lose it and try to stake one of the guests. However, Will had laughingly assured her that very few of the guests were likely to be wearing vampire costumes.

"They're mostly Sean's friends from work. Lawyer types. Scary enough all on their own, really," he said with a straight face.

"You're sure? I don't want to embarrass Sean by trying to drive a cocktail toothpick into the chest of one of his friends." She bit her lip and gave a worried shrug.

"You'll be fine. Just keep reminding yourself, 'Yes, lawyers are evil, but they are allowed to be so in this world. No staking or beheading is required'."

"Very funny," she muttered, punching him in the arm, then rubbing it in apology.
"I don't know why you put up with me," she sighed. "I'm sure you could have found a sane girl to take to the party."

"Got the girl I want, don't I?" he replied, giving her a small hug.

True to his word, he hadn't physically followed up on the gentle kisses they'd exchanged after her confession about her illness. They had, however, begun to act more like a couple and less like co-workers and friends. Tonight's party was their first venture out into a social setting at night. Until this point, their only contact outside of work and rides to and from the store had consisted of the occasional trip to the beach with Sean, or an afternoon watching an LA Galaxy game at the Home Depot Center with some of Will's soccer-loving friends.

There was no way, however, that tonight was not a date, and Buffy was nervous enough about that aspect of the evening without having to worry that a costumed guest might give her the flashback to end all flashbacks.

She gave Will a grateful smile and stood up straighter.

"I'll be fine," she said firmly as they arrived just in time to see Sean getting out of his car.

"Know you will, luv."

Will waved at Sean, who waited for them to catch up and walk into the party with him. He gave Buffy a friendly hug and said, "Try to see that he doesn't embarrass me, will you, Buffy? These guys wouldn't know a Battlestar from a Space Shuttle. If he starts talking geek at them..."

Buffy giggled. "I'll do my best. But you know how he is when someone asks him what he writes about..."

"My point exactly. Keep him under control. No aliens, no alternate dimensions, and for God's sake, don't let him tell them he writes Science Fiction."

The first time Sean had twitted Will about his writing, Buffy had become wildly indignant in his defense. Now, she was more comfortable with their tradition of exchanging insults, letting the barbs flow over her as they sparred about evil lawyers and UFOs.

She gazed around at the other guests, noticing that, as Will had predicted, the vampires, witches, goblins and other familiar creatures that she might have expected to see at a Halloween party were few and far between. Those guests who had chosen to dress up were usually costumed as historical figures or pirates. Only once had her heart rate sped up when a guest in a long red cloak spun around and leered at her, baring his very real-looking fangs.

Will's whispered, "Easy, luv," calmed her immediately, and she just took a deep breath and smiled at the man.

"Hey, there, Drac,' she said, her voice steady. "Long time, no see. How have you been?"

Without explaining herself, she turned away and let Will lead her across the room. He was chuckling to himself at the expression on Dracula's face and Buffy wrinkled you brow at him.


"Nothing, pet. It's just - I'll bet that's not a response he's used to." He looked at her quizzically. "So, Dracula, huh? I must have missed that entry."

"I'm not quite caught up to that, yet," she said. "But, yeah, Dracula. Pretty cliché, huh?"

"Yeah, actually. Got to say, I'm a bit disappointed in you." He grinned to take the sting out of his words and she laughed with him. The fact that he could get her to joke about her illness and the things she'd done in that imaginary world was just one more reason to be very glad that he had found his way into her life.

That night, when he took her home, the goodnight kiss they exchanged was still brief and chaste, but full of promise. Buffy went to bed with a warm, comfortable feeling in her chest that had nothing to do with the party, and everything to do with the man who'd brought her home.


After a busy Saturday night, when it seemed as though everyone in Los Angeles had decided this was the night they would look for that obscure book that they couldn't find at Borders, Buffy and Will pulled the anti-theft barrier down while they had a temporarily empty store. Telling customers that they were closing hadn't seemed to discourage anyone from begging for "just five more minutes", so Will had decided he would just prevent any more people from entering.

They collapsed into the comfy chairs in the center of the store, and breathed matching sighs of relief.

"Wow! I can't wait for Christmas time, if this is what it's like already!"

"It's just going to get worse," Will assured her.

"Wonderful. Is it too late to become a streetwalker? Oh wait, that'll make my feet hurt too... damn!"

He laughed softly and pulled her feet into his lap, gently massaging first one foot, then the other. She tried to muffle her moan of relief and pleasure, but what he was doing felt too good. Instead, she left her feet in his lap and slid down in her chair so that he didn't have to reach too far to continue his soothing motions.

She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, losing herself in the sheer sensual pleasure. Unlike what happened so often when she was completely relaxed, there were no unwelcome memories of another life intruding on her quiet enjoyment of Will's attentions. Her murmurs of appreciation were made almost in spite of herself as she basked in the attention. She was so relaxed it took her a few seconds to realize that the wonderful sensations had ceased. She opened one eye to find him flushed and staring at her.

"You stopped."

He took a deep breath and began to rub her toes again. "Yeah. I did. Sorry."

"No, it's okay." She sat up and gently pulled her feet back to the floor. "I didn't mean that you had to keep doing it if you don't want to, I just..."

Will shifted uneasily, then stood up and turned his back to her.

"I'll just get the money sorted and we can lock up for real," he said as he walked away. Buffy stared at him in bewilderment, turning bright red when she realized what was wrong with him.

Oh my God! He got turned on rubbing my feet. He's got an erection that he's trying to hide. I am soooo stupid!

Giving Will the space and privacy that he obviously needed, Buffy pulled on her sneakers, collected her extra shoes, notebooks and purse. She walked over to the barrier across the front of the store and turned the key that would raise it. In the months that she'd been working at Books and Browsers, she'd fairly quickly picked up the important things to know. Although Will was still technically the store manager, he had taught Buffy how to do almost everything he did, giving her even more confidence in her ability to function in the real world. Sending a warm smile in his direction, she stepped into the mall and waited for him to join her.

They walked side-by-side to the employee entrance, Will apparently once again in control of his body as he brushed against her shoulder and teased her gently about having not had time to write anything in her notebooks. Buffy bit her lip, then said, "You know what happened when you were rubbing my feet?" At his panicked expression, she remembered what had happened to him and rushed on before he could stammer out an apology.

"To me! Do you know what happened to me?"

He shook his head dumbly, looking away from her and blushing.

"Usually, anytime I relax like that, I get flashbacks, or memories, or something. I almost feel like I'm getting pulled away. But, when you were rubbing my feet, all I felt was warm, and comfortable and really happy that you were touching me. No memories. No flashbacks to Spike. Just Will. Taking care of me."

"Always will—if you'll let me," he mumbled, still worried about his own reaction and wondering if she'd noticed it.

"I'd like that," she said softly, slipping her hand into his and linking their fingers. "You make me happy to be here."

"You weren't happy before?" He gave her a sharp look, as he squeezed her hand.

"Oh, yeah. In the 'I'm not crazy anymore and I can go shopping by myself' kind of way. But there was always...something. Those flashbacks—I'd worry about those people in the other world. They were my responsibility, you know? And I'm not there anymore. I feel... guilty, sometimes."

"Buffy...." He stopped, not really sure what, if anything, he wanted to say.

"But not when I'm with you," she went on as if he hadn't spoken. "When I'm with you, I feel... whole."

She dropped her head and let her hair cover her face as she felt him stop and turn towards her. He put a finger under her chin and tipped it up so that she had to look at him.

"Do you mean that?"

She nodded, never taking her eyes off his. With a groan, he pulled her against his body and dipped his head to meet the lips she was offering. Nothing in the light, chaste kisses they'd shared before had prepared her for what his lips and tongue were doing to her now. She felt her knees weaken and was sure only the strong arms wrapped around her so tightly stood between her and an embarrassing collapse to the sidewalk.

They'd been kissing for several minutes, oblivious to the last minute shoppers and other homeward bound employees hustling past them with looks ranging from benevolent smiles to frowns of disapproval. When someone finally yelled, "Get a room!" they broke apart with embarrassed laughter.

"Whoa! And wowie, wow, wow," Buffy said, blushing furiously and grateful that the parking lot wasn't as brightly lit as it could be.

Will laughed and took her hand again, pulling her along towards his car. "There's more where that came from."

Although Buffy, with advice from both Will and her father, had bought herself a used Honda, she didn't use it to get to work on nights her mother could drop her off. Joyce was more than happy to take Buffy to work as often as possible, knowing that it allowed her some extra time with the man who had clearly worked his way into boyfriend status.

They reached the car, and Will had just unlocked it when three teenagers ran up. While two of the boys pushed him away from Buffy and into the car door, the other made a grab for her purse. Without thinking, Buffy snapped out a kick, sending the boy to the ground holding his knee and screaming. She fell into a fighting stance, dropping her notebooks on the pavement but keeping her purse on her shoulder. As soon as she realized the boy wasn't going to get up to try again, she relaxed a little and switched her attention to Will and the two young thugs who had gone after him.

One of them was already on the ground, apparently unconscious, while Will threw the remaining, now terrified, boy against the car and drew back his fist. Buffy could hear his muffled curses as he prepared to take out his fear for her and his anger at having their moment interrupted on the easiest target. He'd only managed to hit the boy twice before Buffy grabbed his arm.

"Will! Will! Stop it. He isn't fighting back."

Buffy's frightened voice got through the rage that had taken over when Will thought she was in danger, and he let go of the frightened boy, watching dispassionately as he slid to the ground to join his friends. The one he'd knocked out was now struggling to sit up, throwing terrified glances at the two people glaring at him. Finally climbing to unsteady feet, he began to back away.

"Oi!" Will's accent suddenly became much more noticeable. "Take these wankers with you or I'll call the cops on the lot of you."

With a fearful look at Buffy, who had begun bouncing lightly on her feet as he started moving, the one she'd kicked in the knee got slowly to his feet. He limped over to his friend and between the two of them, they managed to drag the still groggy third boy away from the car and over to the building. Mall security came driving up just as they reached the relative safety of the sidewalk, and Will walked over to explain what had happened. The security guard rolled his eyes in disgust.

"I know these guys. I've kicked them out half a dozen times. Do you want to press charges?" he asked hopefully.

Will shook his head. "No. They didn't get anything, and my girl and I have plans for the night. Don't want to spend it filling out papers and whatnot."

The guard nodded, disappointed but accepting. "I'll handle it then." He looked again at the subdued would-be purse snatchers. "Did you take out all three of them?" Respectful admiration colored his voice.

Will started to answer, then turned to look at Buffy with sudden realization. She had stopped bouncing once the boys were out of reach, but her posture still screamed "ready to fight" to anyone who was familiar with martial arts.

"No," he answered slowly, never taking his eyes off Buffy. "She did for that one." He pointed to the boy who was trying not to put any weight on his leg.

"Guess she really wanted to keep that purse," the rent-a-cop said with a smile.

"I guess so...." Will waved his goodnight and walked towards the car, watching Buffy visibly relax as the security guard put the boy she'd kicked in the back of his three-wheeler and ordered the other two to walk towards the mall office.

Buffy picked up her notebooks and smiled at him hesitantly. She hadn't missed the expression on his face as he told the mall guard about her actions.

"Kind of a mood-killer, huh?" she ventured, walking around to her side of the car.

He didn't answer, just slid behind the wheel and put his bloodied hands on the steering wheel. They sat in silence for several minutes before he turned to look at her. As he'd expected, she was opening her flashback book and searching for her pen. She seemed intent on her writing, so he started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, automatically turning towards her neighborhood.

They drove in silence, even when Buffy had closed the notebook and put it away. As they turned onto her street, Will finally spoke.

"So, which notebook did that go into, luv?" he asked, his voice tight. "Was it a flashback, another memory to add to the story, or did those gits remind you of somebody you knew?"

Buffy's head whipped around to stare at him.

"Are you... are you sorry that I kicked him?"

He sighed and pulled over to park several houses down from the Summers home.

"No, luv. I'm not sorry. It was bloody brilliant. But it was a pretty good move for an ice skater. And for a while there I wasn't sure who I was looking at—Buffy the college student, or Buffy the..."

"Buffy...the vampire slayer?" she asked, her whole body tensing up. "Do you think I wasn't... wasn't me?"

"Were you?" When he saw the sheer terror on her face, he reached for her hands and pulled her towards him. "I'm sorry, love. I didn't mean that. Of course you were you; you just accessed some information you probably never knew you had and you used it. It's like the other stuff you told me about. You probably watched a lot of martial arts movies while you were in hospital and you absorbed enough of it to be able to use it."

"I scared you," she said dully, her eyes down and her hands lying limply in his. "You were afraid of me."

"No!" he said with more force than he meant to. "I was afraid for you. That you might have slipped away from me, and it scared me more than I want you to know." He squeezed her hands tightly, as if he could force her to believe what he was saying.

"I didn't, you know. I didn't leave. I just suddenly knew what to do and how to do it. It would have been pretty cool, actually, if I hadn't seen your face and thought—"

"You didn't scare me, luv. I thought you were magnificent. Another girl would have screamed or cried; you just took him out with one well-timed kick and then waited for more action."

"But... what if you should be afraid of me? What if I do slip away and I think you're Spike? What if I try to hurt you, or stake you?"

"Not gonna happen, Buffy. You did a good job for a girl who has never studied the sport, but you can't hurt me. I could easily stop you before that happened."

"Huh! That's what Spike always says. Usually just before I kick his ass."

"I'm not Spike." He tried to keep his voice light, ignoring her use of the present tense.

"No. No, you're not. You're Will—and your hands are bleeding. Let's get to my house so we can clean them up."

He put the car into gear and eased down the street and into her driveway. "Maybe I shouldn't come in," he said. "It's later than usual and I don't want to frighten your parents by looking like I got into a fight."

"You did get into a fight. But you didn't start it, and we won, so yay. Anyway, Dad's probably asleep already; maybe they both are."

Without further argument, she got out of the car and started towards the door, glancing over her shoulder to be sure that he was following.

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