Buffy gaped because she didn’t know what else to do. She took a step towards Spike who stood slowly, as if tired, as if weary from the day’s events. He looked at her, perplexed. Most likely he didn’t understand why she was quite so scared to come face to face with Willow. Buffy wasn’t scared of Willow, not exactly. She was just scared to see what had become of her best friend, of how much she had changed.
“Buffy,” Spike murmured, voice soothing as he came to stand in front of her. He surprised her by taking her arm. “It’s just Willow. She’s still Willow.”
Buffy looked down at his hand on her arm. “She’ll be different.”
“We all are,” he slid his palm down over her hand, taking it. “But we still feel the same about you. Come on.”
The Slayer dragged her heels for only a moment before allowing him to pull her towards the door. She gripped his hand tightly, a zigzag of cowardice running through her, before dissipating. It was Willow and she was not the stuff of nightmares.
Spike cleared his throat and spoke loudly, “Who is it?”
“It’s me, you secretive vampire guy!” Willow’s voice crowed from the other side of the door.
Buffy was at least partly relieved that she sounded like the Willow she knew and loved.
He smiled in amusement before unlocking the door and opening it slowly to reveal the witch. The first thing that struck Buffy was the red of Willow’s hair, the Slayer had half expected to see some wizened old woman but then she realised her mistake. Thirty years had passed and that meant Willow was in her early fifties. Hardly over the hill. The woman who stood before her, agape, was still very clearly Willow – she looked essentially the same as she always had, except she held herself more confidently and there was a look behind her eyes that said she had lived. Also, there were some wrinkles.
Willow’s hair was tied up in a braid that trailed down her back and she wore a light summer dress and flip flops, sunglasses perched atop her head and large bag slung over her shoulder.
It was only when Spike cleared his throat loudly that both women blinked, realising that neither of them had said anything. The redhead shifted on her feet and opened and closed her mouth, unsure.
Buffy said the only thing she could think of. “Hi Willow.”
“Hello Buffy,” Willow replied, her voice hesitating around the name. As if it was a name long forgotten.
“No one goin’ to say hello to me?” Spike smiled wryly.
Willow’s eyes turned to him reluctantly, then her face grew annoyed. She smacked him hard on the arm.
“Ow!” He yelped, holding the arm. “That is not how to say hello to old friends!”
She dropped her heavy bag on the floor and gave him her ‘stern’ face. Just seeing it made Buffy want to smile. She was still Willow. It was such a relief.
“Buffy comes back from the dead and you don’t tell me!” Willow was indignant.
Spike gave her a look and shrugged with one shoulder. “She came back from the dead before and you didn’t tell me.”
Oh, touché. Buffy watched them squabble over her with a strange sense of detachment. She heard the slamming of a car door and the sound of feet on gravel. The Slayer turned her gaze over Willow’s shoulder to the man approaching. His head was ducked down to shield from the sun’s rays, he wore sunglasses and his hair was long and wavy around his ears. He wore faded jeans, boots, and a pinstripe shirt - untucked, slightly creased, sleeves folded halfway up his forearms. It was only when he looked up that Buffy saw the stubble dusting his chin and the thin strap of an eye patch peeked out from the sunglasses. Her lungs seized for a moment. Xander.
He came to an abrupt halt several steps behind Willow, his lips parted and he whispered something she couldn’t hear. The sunglasses made it near impossible to decipher his reaction but she guessed it was one of disbelief.
Willow turned around and Spike looked up at the newcomer. Xander wavered where he stood as if not in control of his body.
“Buffy…” he uttered, then as if a switch had been flipped, he bounded up the path towards them, pushing past Willow and scooping the Slayer up in his arms. “Buffy! You’re…here. God. You’re here!”
Buffy hesitated a moment before wrapping her arms around Xander. He felt solid, built, safe. He felt like Xander. His cologne was fresh and masculine and all very grown up. Which, she guessed, he was now. Grown up. His own man. He pulled away to look at her face, removing the sunglasses from his face. She could see, now that she was close, the crinkles by the sides of his eyes, the smile lines around his face. Just like Willow’s.
Buffy look at the two of them in turn.
Willow smiled. “I guess I should have done that. It was just…I thought the police had made a mistake and now you’re here and I…I don’t know what to say. Me. The rambler. Without anything to say. And yet, now I can see that I am rambling again. I’ll stop.”
“Please don’t,” Buffy smiled, a warm feeling seeping over her.
“What happened? How come you’re here?” Xander asked, hands still holding on to her arms. “How is it possible?”
She paused. “It’s…a long story. You should probably come in.”
The Slayer stepped back to make room for them to come in, Spike scooped up Willow’s bag and disappeared out of the room leaving the three friends standing in the living room in a triangle, silent.
“So, this story…” Xander’s eyebrows rose.
Buffy shook her head. “I can tell it later. I just want to look at you.”
“Would you like me to do a twirl?” He asked, corner of his lip quirking upwards.
“That would be good,” she grinned. “Been working out, Xand?”
His smile widened. “Way to flatter an old man, Buff.”
“You’re not old. You’re rockin’ the maturity.”
Willow tilted her head. “And you’re…not. How come? It’s totally unfair.”
Buffy looked down at herself. “Portal.”
“Hell dimension?” Willow asked, brow creased with worry.
“Hellish, yeah,” Buffy shrugged. “But not hell. It felt to me like I was only gone a couple of hours.”
Xander let out a breath. “Coming back to this…jeez.”
Spike stepped into the room and they turned at his entrance. He paused only briefly before walking slowly towards them, confident, his eyes sweeping over Buffy and Willow and resting on Xander.
“Harris,” he said.
Xander tucked his hands in his pockets. “Spike.”
It was all very manly.
“Bit of an old school reunion, eh,” the vampire noted. “’Spect you lot have a bit to talk about. I’ll stay out of your way.”
“No,” Buffy said, catching his wrist as he made to leave. “It’s your way too, you don’t have to stay out of it.”
Spike met her eyes, confused, then his gaze ticked to Xander and Willow as if to say your friends are watching. Like it mattered. Like it mattered if she touched his arm in front of them. It didn’t matter to her now. It was so small in the grand scheme of things.
She let go of his wrist but held his gaze. “Stay, please?”
“Yeah, Spike, stay.” Xander stepped up. “So I can kick your ass for not telling us Buffy was back.”
Spike snorted. “I’d like to see you try, old man.”
“Stop it,” Buffy demanded. “No one will be kicking any ass. I wasn’t ready to see you guys. I was dealing with…everything. Thirty years. Spike having a kid. Giles and Dawn…”
Willow’s bottom lip wobbled. “Buffy –”
“It’s been hard,” she acknowledged. “And it’s going to get worse. So, I guess now’s the time to tell me, guys. What big revelations do you have to make?”
“…I’m married…” Willow offered.
“Me too,” Xander reported.
Buffy waited a few moments. “Is that it?”
Xander chuckled. “We’ve always been the dull ones.”
“Hey, I’m a super powerful witch,” Willow protested. “A dull super powerful witch.”
“Work in construction, assistant manager,” Xander shrugged. “Own my own house in England. Live with Sarah, my wife. Got a dog. Oh, and a hamster.”
Willow’s turn came. “I live in Montana. Very Brokeback Mountain, I know.”
“Huh?” Buffy questioned.
“Oh, right. Never mind,” she laughed. “Anyway, I live there with my wife. Her name is Connie.”
Buffy looked at the light in her friend’s eyes. “At least the future got something right.”
Willow smiled and moved towards the Slayer, engulfing her in a hug which Buffy gratefully returned. It wasn’t long before Xander ambled in and they did the whole group hug thing. And it felt good. It felt right.
Spike moved around behind her and walked over to sit on the couch. Buffy walked over and sat next to him and Willow and Xander took that as a sign to sit in the armchair opposite, Willow in the seat, Xander on the arm. They all sat in silence, unsure of what was to come next.
Spike’s hand twitched next to the remote. “…Passions is on in five…”
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