Ghost of a Chance by Kirayoshi

Disclaimers; That which was not created by Joss was created by Aaron Spelling. I'm making no money off this. I don't own these people, and if I did, Buffy wouldn't have given Parker or Riley the time of day.
Archive; Let me know first.
Feedback; Please do. Jim_D_Means@prodigy.net
Summary; Sequel to "Together Again For The First Time". Willow faces the ghosts of her past. Can even the Power of Three save her and Buffy from a vengeful spirit?
Tonight's episode features music by DePeche Mode and Lauryn Hill. All rights reserved.

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GHOST OF A CHANCE

By Kirayoshi

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Your own Personal Jesus,
Someone to hear your prayer,
Someone who's there.

Your own Personal Jesus,
Someone to hear your prayer,
Someone who cares.

Feeling unknown, when you're all alone,
Flesh and bone, by the telephone.
Pick up the receiver,
I'll make you a believer.
Don't play second best, put me to the test,
Things on your chest you need to confess,
I will deliver,
You know I'm a forgiver.

Reach out, touch faith!

--

DePeche Mode
"Personal Jesus"

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San Francisco, August, 2009

"Who are you?" the fearful countenance shouted at his first slave. The slave stood his ground, defiantly, saying "I'm Eric!" The demon slammed his fist onto the slave's head, hard enough to kill.

The demon approached the next slave in line. "Who are you?" he demanded of the cowering girl.

"No-nobody," she whimpered. The demon nodded. Good answer.

The demon approached the third slave in line, a tall girl with long brown hair. "Who are you?" he demanded.

The girl looked at him; her eyes, her expression, everything about her shouting defiance. She smiled at the demon and introduced herself; "I'm Steffi. The Demon Killer. And you are?"

The brown haired girl then proceeded to fight her way through a horde of demon warriors, shouting to the assembled humans whom the demons had enslaved, "Anyone who's not having a good time, follow me!"

Buffy, Willow, and Cordy sat on the sofa of the Halliwells' living room, watching the videotape that Cordy had brought with her, as Prue, Piper, Phoebe and Leo looked on from their seats. Cordy watched with rapt attention, while Buffy and Willow covered their eyes in embarrassment, and the others just sat bemused.

"Geez, Buffy," Willow teased her fianc�e, "Did you really say that?"

"Hey, it sounded good at the time," Buffy defended herself. "I mean, the company that's producing Cordy's show hired me on as a technical consultant, at least let them get the dialogue right. Right, Cordy?"

"Shh, shh," Cordy hushed her friends. "Here's my favorite part." The final scenes of the third season premiere of "Steffi the Demon Killer" showed Steffi Winters returning home after running away from Shoredrive, away from the grief of having to send her beloved Dominic to Hell. As her mother opened the door, Steffi stood there, sorrow and penitence in her deep brown eyes. A troubled mother-daughter relationship was given a second chance. The two women hugged. Cut to black, and the executive producer's name.

Everyone else applauded, while Cordy took a bow. "Thank yew, thank yew," she said, hamming it up for all it was worth.

"Hey, Cordy," Willow announced, "Congratulations on another sterling performance as Steffi Winters, the Chosen One."

"Go Steffi, Go Steffi, Go Steffi!" Phoebe chanted along, moving her arms in a boogie rotation. Prue and Piper looked quizzically at their sister, who just shrugged. "What? I think it's a cool show. Good job, Cordy." The other Halliwell sisters chuckled at Phoebe.

"Thanks," the actress replied. "But I couldn't have done it without my technical adviser, Buffy." She nodded toward the retired Slayer, who just acknowledged her with an amused glare.

"You better believe it!" Buffy announced. When Cordy had approached her over two years ago with the idea of basing a television series on Buffy's experiences as the Slayer, she was dubious at first, but ultimately warmed to the idea. She had agreed to help develop the show on one condition; certain stories, certain events from her life, were never to see the screen. The world would never see either the more intimate encounters with Faith(named 'Hope' on the show), or the way Tara had betrayed Willow. Of course, Cordy had shown the original prints of the episodes to Buffy, shortly before they aired. She brought the season premiere with her to the party the Halliwells were holding for Buffy and Willow.

"Actually, I've been butting heads with the network execs over the next season," Cordy admitted. "The fans and the suits want to get Steffi back together with Dominic, the good-guy vampire, now that he's got his soul back and isn't the evil Dominus any more. But my producer and I want to develop the relationship between Steffi and Laurel Silverberg, maybe even making it a romance. Hey," she defended herself against Phoebe's laughter at the notion, patting Buffy on the knee. "I've got the real Steffi and Laurel right here, not to mention the addresses of several Steffi/Laurel fanfiction web sites, to back me up on this one."

"Yeah, but who'd ever believe it?" Piper asked. "Especially after the way Steffi pined away for Dominic." Buffy rolled her eyes, wishing not to be reminded of her past with Angel. "Anyway, congratulations again. You've got a winner here."

"And, while we're on the subject of congratulations," Leo interjected, raising his wine glass, "congratulations, Buffy and Willow, on your impending nuptials."

"Thanks, guys," Buffy said, as the Cordy and the Halliwell sisters applauded.

"So, which one of you is the designated ball-and-chain?" Phoebe asked. Prue gave her a withering stare, but smiled slightly. Phoebe would never change, thank the Gods.

"Hey, seriously, guys," Leo, always the peacemaker between his sisters-in-law, changed the subject. "Who's going to come to the wedding?"

"Well," Buffy commented, "Mom and Giles, Willow's folks, Cordy, you guys, Angel, Oz and Amy-- Wills, didn't you say that Oz would play guitar at the service?"

"You mean Daniel? Yeah, and I heard him just yesterday. He's been practicing an acoustic guitar arrangement of 'Here Comes the Bride'. Sounds lovely."

"Great. Only, in this case, both of us are the brides."

"Hey, I'm just glad that Dad had agreed to give me away. It took him a while to accept that I'm gay, but now he and Mom are cool with it. How about your dad, Buff?"

Buffy fell silent, and Willow realized her mistake too late. "Oh, Buffy, I'm sorry, I didn't remember--"

"Hey, it's okay, Wills," Buffy hugged her wife-to-be for assurance. To the others, Buffy explained, "Six years ago, I confronted my dad about some of the decisions I made over my life. I didn't tell him about being the Slayer, or anything like that, but I did tell him that I loved women, not men, that I was gay, and he didn't take it well. I simply told him that this is who and what I am, and he could either accept it, or never cross my path again." She sighed deeply. "I think you can guess what he chose."

"Sorry, Buffy," Piper consoled her new-found friend. "I can't imagine any parent being so cruel to a child."

"It's all right," Buffy said, but the faraway look in her eyes told Willow that it wasn't. "He stopped being Dad long before that, he just didn't want the responsibility. His loss. Besides, Mom's found Giles, so she's happy now, and Giles has always been more of a dad to me than my father was." She smiled and added, "besides, I've got all of you, Mom, Daniel, Amy, and above all else, Willow," she gave the redhead beside her a squeeze, making Willow grin broadly, "hey, I'm blest to have this family."

"Then, to family," Phoebe announced, lifting her glass. The glasses clinked once more, then Buffy announced, "Well, Willow and I gotta go. Thanks for the preview, Cordy."

"You got it," Cordy said, as they saw Buffy and Willow off.

As Buffy and Willow strolled down the walkway, Phoebe shouted at them, "Hey, don't forget to swing by the P3 Thursday night. Lauryn Hill's playing there. Oh," she added, running back to grab something from the coffee table. "Willow, you forgot your purse --UNGGHH!" She suddenly doubled over, her head throbbing with an all-too familiar pain. Before her mind's eye, a movie played; Buffy and Willow being mowed down by a speeding car.

"Buffy, Willow! Stop!" she shrieked. The two girls turned their heads toward the young witch, as suddenly the screech of a tire skidding over asphalt filled the air around them. Acting on instinct, Piper stretched out her hand, and the car froze in its tracks, along with most of the rest of the neighborhood, stuck in time. Willow was immune to the effect of Piper's time-freeze powers, but Buffy was not; she was as stuck fast as the car.

Willow glanced around her, at the stopped car which would have surely killed both of them had not Piper intervened. "Oh Goddess," she muttered under her breath. "What happened?"

"I don't know," Leo admitted, as he approached the street where Willow and Buffy were standing. Taking Buffy by the arms, he said, "Let's just get Buffy out of the way, before Piper unfreezes the neighborhood."

Willow helped Leo lift her beloved onto the sidewalk, and nodded to Piper, who gestured again, and unfroze time. The car drove off, unheeding of its speed, tires screaming all the way. Buffy blinked and looked around her, asking, "Shouldn't I be closer to our car by now? I mean, I do understand the fundamental principals of walking--"

"It's okay, Buffy," Prue answered as she and her sisters gathered around the confused ex- slayer. "That crazy driver nearly turned you into Flatgirl and Ribbon. Good thing Phoebe had that vision about the car when she grabbed your purse."

"Whoa," Buffy breathed. Willow just nodded her head in agreement. "But we're okay, right? Just a near-accident."

"I don't know," Leo said ominously. "I thought I saw someone inside the car."

"Yeah, Leo," Cordy interjected. "That would be the driver. Probably a drunk driver, or road rage or something."

"No, it wasn't that," Leo replied. Piper stood beside her husband, her protector, her Whitelighter. She saw the look in his eyes, recognized the tone in his voice. "Is it something supernatural, honey?"

"It must be," Leo turned to his wife. "The driver looked human, but I couldn't make out a clear picture. Only a sense of what it was. And it was moving when you froze the car."

"Then it must be a demon or warlock, or some such," Piper reasoned. "Which means that someone may be out to get Buffy and Willow."

"Yeah," Buffy admitted. "It's happened before. Demons trying to peg the retired Slayer. Kinda like a dare, see who can get closest to me."

"Hey, Leo," Prue suggested, "could you recognize that vibe you got off of the car if you browsed through the Book of Shadows?"

"Could be worth a try," Leo agreed. He and the women headed back into the Halliwell mansion, and up to the attic, where Prue, Piper and Phoebe located their family grimoire, the Book of Shadows. It was this book that first brought the disparate sisters together all those years ago, revealing their heritage as the Charmed Ones, three mighty witches, one of the most powerful forces of good the world has ever seen. Buffy, Willow and Cordy watched on as the three witches and Leo looked through the book.

"Find anything, Leo?" Piper asked anxiously.

"Not yet," he said as he thumbed through a few more pages. "It didn't seem too powerful, just malevolent. Wait," he said suddenly as his eyes rested on a particular page and he read the words. "Here we are."

The Halliwell sisters read over his shoulder as Willow looked on. "A vengeance demon," Leo read. "Customarily these entities are former human beings, particularly mages, who have been wronged by someone. So great is their thirst for vengeance that they give up their mortality, and become demons who live to wreak vengeance against those who have wronged others the way they were wronged."

"Okay," Phoebe looked down, "So much for the sales pitch, how do we vanquish it?" Buffy had to smile as she heard that. It reminded her of herself as the slayer. Never mind the family history, Giles, just tell me how to slay it. Indeed, seeing Leo hunched over the Book of Shadows, Buffy and Willow were reminded of a young Giles.

"Looks easy enough," Leo answered. "Iambic quadrameter verse, recited by the three of you in unison."

"A power of three spell," Prue stated. "Nothing too messy though. What I want to know is why is a vengeance demon gunning for Buffy?"

"It's not Buffy," Willow suddenly blurted out. All eyes looked at her, and Willow started to feel a little self conscious. "It's me," she admitted timidly.

Cordy looked at her old friend, concern clouding her brown eyes. "You think it's Anya, don't you?"

"Anya?" the sisters asked in unison.

"Anyanka," Willow stated, "was a former vengeance demon. Buffy stripped her of her powers after she tortured Cordy with a twisted 'It's a Wonderful Life' scenario. She later tried to draw a vampire version of me from an alternate universe. After that, she changed her attitude, and became devoted to our friend Xander. In her own twisted, oversexed way, she fell in love with him. When he died, I think she blamed me," and she's not the only one, she thought ruefully, "'cause I was dating the girl who killed him, and she disappeared from the face of the earth. I guess she must have gotten her powers back and now wants me out of the way for Xander's death." Her eyes were hooded and her head was bent low, so none could read her expression.

None, except for her lover and fianc�e. Buffy had seen her in this state before, when she blamed herself for Xander's death by the magic of Willow's ex-girlfriend Tara. Buffy held Willow in her arms, and said, "Don't worry. You didn't do anything to hurt Xander. And if Anya tries anything against you, I'll show her what vengeance is really about."

Willow reveled in the feeling of Buffy's strong arms around her shoulders, but she still couldn't shake her own guilt. Did she kill Xander, by loving Tara?

And if Anya was targeting her, would she survive?

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Willow woke up the next morning after a fitful sleep. Once, the night before, she had bolted awake after a nightmare of Anya gutting Buffy like a salmon. Buffy had finally managed to soothe her lover and convince her to go back to sleep.

Willow reached for Buffy as she awakened, but felt a cold space in the bed next to her. That woke her up with a start, and she leaped out of bed, grabbing her robe. She rushed to the living room, fearing the worst.

The familiar sound of Buffy's "Hiaa!" assured her that her fears were groundless. Willow entered the living room to see Buffy in the middle of her morning exercises. She practiced several simple karate katas, in repetition, and then cooled down with a series of tai chi positions. The fluid grace of her body, clad only in a blue sports bra and panties, were enough to set Willow's blood racing, and help her put aside her night terrors. She sat down in her favorite easy chair, paying rapt attention to her lover's graceful movements. Her cat, Piawacket, lazily climbed the chair, and curled up in Willow's lap.

In the middle of a crane movement, Buffy glanced at the chair, and saw Willow sitting there, absently stroking Piawacket. She stopped, and smiled at her beloved.

"Hey, don't stop on my account," Willow said, "I was just getting warmed up."

"Hey, hacker," Buffy commented. "I'm the one doing the exercise, how can you be getting warmed up?"

"You're standing there wearing next to nothing, moving like that?" Willow answered, attempting her best sultry voice. "You've got to be kidding me."

"I aim to please," Buffy grinned as she moved toward the easy chair. "Scram, Pie," she growled humorously, shooing the cat, as she took the feline's place next to Willow. They cuddled for a few minutes, Buffy grazing Willow's left earlobe, Willow kissing Buffy's shoulder. Buffy stopped her nibbling to ask, "You sleep any better, Wills?"

Willow nodded, and passed a rueful glance at Buffy. "Not bad for a jinx," she muttered.

Buffy turned Willow's head to face her directly. "Oh, no, Willow. None of that. You are not a jinx."

"Yeah, right," Willow huffed. "Xander loved me, now he's dead. You love me, now you've got a vengeance demon on your tail."

"Oz loved you, now he's married to Amy," Buffy joked. "Merciful God in heaven above, what have you done?" She started to chuckle at Willow, who just glared at her.

"I'm serious, Buffy," she snapped at her fiancee. "If I hadn't gotten involved with Tara, Xander would be alive. I'm bad mojo. You get involved with me, you might as well wear a red uniform and join a landing party on Star Trek. I mean, who wears red military uniforms anyway, they'd stick out like a sore thumb! I mean, the Brits wore red, and the Colonies kicked their butts! Real lousy camouflage there--"

"Wills, you're babbling," Buffy observed.

"I'm babbling! And I'm a jinx! Buffy, if you had a brain in your head you'd run for the hills instead of marrying me!"

"Well, then, Miss Rosenberg," Buffy raised her voice, causing Willow to be silenced from her babble attack. "It's a good thing for both of us that I'm a complete idiot. Yep, I'm the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz!"

"Buffy, I didn't mean--" Willow started to apologize, but Buffy placed a finger on her lips, effectively silencing her.

"Forget it, Wills," Buffy said gently. "This Anya situation has us both on edge. But I want you to understand something right off. In three weeks from now, I am going to marry you, even if I have to hog-tie you and drag you to the chapel myself. You and I are going to be Willow and Buffy Rosenberg-Summers. I've loved you too long to settle for anything less. And nothing short of another apocalypse will stop us. You got it?"

Willow gasped in awe of Buffy's expression. And she thought she had a good resolve face. "Who am I to oppose the will of the Chosen One?" With a heartfelt smile on her lips, she vowed, "I'd better not miss the ceremony, then."

"That's my wiccan," Buffy murmured into Willow's neck. After a few more minutes, she reluctantly sat up, and said, "C'mon, Willow, let's get dressed. Piper said we should swing by their place and check on their progress in tracking Anya. And I could use a shower." Walking away, she turned her head toward Willow, and smiled knowingly. "Room for one more, honey," she whispered throatily. The redhead grinned lopsidedly as she followed the retired Slayer to the shower.

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"You failed me, little slave," the dark voice told her.

"I'm sorry, Mistress. Forgive me," the slave begged as she groveled before the one who had the power to forever banish her from the mortal realm. "I had no idea that their new friends were such powerful witches."

"Yes, the Charmed Ones," the Mistress mused. "I have heard of them. Many of my brothers and sisters were vanquished by their Power of Three. That's why I chose not to strike at her directly. No matter. The one who hurt us both will not see another sunset," she mused, almost to herself. "I've made arrangements."

The slave stood mournfully as her mistress was lost in thought. She had wanted revenge against the one who cursed her forever. But not like this, not if it meant the death of innocents. Her mistress didn't care who got caught in the crossfire. And if she were to raise a hand against the Mistress, her time on this earth would be over.

But would that be such a bad thing, compared to an eternity of servitude to a madwoman?

As the slave contemplated her fate, and her mistress planned her revenge, neither were aware of a third presence in their midst. This presence raged at their plans against Willow Rosenberg. She had been hurt enough for several lifetimes.

He knew that all too well. After all, hadn't he caused a great deal of that pain?

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"Buffy, Willow," Prue greeted the couple. "Come on in. We're just waiting for Leo."

"Good to see you, Prue," Buffy answered as she and Willow joined the sisters in the living room.

"Any word on Anya?" Willow asked pensively.

"Not yet," said Piper. "Leo had left to find out something. He should be back soon." Shortly after Piper spoke, a cascade of light coalesced in front of them, as Leo materialized in the living room. "Speak of the Whitelighter," Phoebe quipped.

Piper hugged her husband briefly, causing Buffy and Willow to smile; after seven years of marriage, Leo and Piper were still as passionate about each other as when they were newlyweds. Buffy took Willow's hand in hers, and prayed to whatever God or Goddess happened to be listening that she and her soulmate would be as happy in their life together.

"Well, I've got some good news for you," Leo said, as he put a paper bag he was carrying on the coffee table. "I can say that your antagonist is not Anya."

"Wha- hold it, Leo," Buffy interrupted, "Last night, you were sure it was a vengeance demon."

"A vengeance demon, maybe," Leo said. "It was a close thing, but I know it wasn't Anya in particular. Anya is still human, and didn't seem to have any interest in revenge."

"Wait a sec, bro-in-law," Prue rose to her feet as she questioned the Whitelighter. "You sound like you know her."

"Well, we just met," Leo admitted. "I looked up records from U. C. Sunnydale, and found her full name, then I tracked her to her current home. She lives here in San Francisco, believe it or not. Runs--well, a boutique in Haight-Ashbury."

"Yeah," Buffy muttered skeptically. "What a co-ink-y-dink!"

"Yeah, Leo," Phoebe admitted, "That excuse does sound as shallow as my last three dates."

"She doesn't have her powers, Phoebe," Leo asserted. "And when I mentioned that I was sent by her friend Willow, she just nodded. She asked if Willow had finally worn down Buffy. And she asked me to give you this," she handed the paper bag to Buffy, who could have sworn she saw the Whitelighter blush, "as a wedding gift."

Buffy carefully opened the bag, and produced a round plastic tub. She read the label; "Chocolate flavored body paint," Willow blushed almost as red as her hair. "Same old Anya," Buffy commented.

"Leo!" Piper cried in mock indignation, swatting her husband. "What kind of boutique was Anya running?"

"And that address again, Leo?" Phoebe chirped, only to receive a withering stare from Prue.

"I didn't stay too long," Leo admitted, somewhat embarrassed, "just enough to speak to Anya. She almost had to be reminded who Buffy and Willow were. I'm pretty sure that she's not our vengeance demon."

"Great," huffed Willow as she plopped down into the first available chair. "That means we're back to square one, with something trying to kill either me or Buffy."

"It really is great," Buffy countered her beloved, "because it means you're not the target. You're not a jinx, Wills, like I said." Willow smiled at Buffy's reassurances.

"As for who's targeting you now," Prue added, "you've still got the Power of Three on your side. We'll patrol around your townhouse, find out if you're endangered, then," she pounded on her left palm with her right fist, to illustrate the point.

"Hey, I can't ask you to keep us under surveillance twenty four/seven," Willow said, as she stood up and into Buffy's waiting arms.

"We won't have to," Piper brightened up. "We've got our early warning system, namely Phoebe." Phoebe looked at her sister, surprised, then the idea hit her and Prue simultaneously.

"Yeah, I see it," Phoebe said. "Buffy, if you have a personal item you can live without for a while, a lipstick or a hankie or something like that."

"What are you, Monty Hall?" Buffy quizzed as she fished through her purse. She withdrew a silk scarf, and handed it to Phoebe.

"The very thang," Phoebe drawled. She wrapped the scarf around her neck, and tied it loosely. "Whaddya think, girls. Be brutal, is it too gauche?"

"Lovely," Willow said, puzzled. "So what?"

"So," Phoebe explained, "with an object that Buffy owns on my person all day, any time your lives are threatened, I'll get one of my visions, and I'll call you. Don't worry, Willow. I've got your home number, your office number at Willtronix, the number at Buffy's dojo, and both your cell phones. You're covered."

Buffy turned to Willow, and saw the trust in her green eyes. Willow had known the Halliwells for nearly eight years now, since she left Sunnydale to make a new life for herself in San Francisco. She wanted to forget what had happened, to forget Tara, to forget Buffy. Prue, Piper and Phoebe were a comfort to her, but until she returned to Sunnydale for her class reunion, and met Buffy again, she didn't feel whole. Buffy was her center, her strength.

And Buffy looked upon Willow as her soul, her moral compass. She knew that if Willow trusted the Halliwell sisters, then they were worthy of trust. "Okay," Buffy nodded to Phoebe. It's a plan."

"So, Leo," Piper turned toward her husband, a mischievous grin splitting her face, "did you bring anything home from Anya's boutique for us?" Leo rolled his eyes in mock embarrassment, as the other girls enjoyed a stress-relieving laugh.

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Willow had finished her work on her home computer that night, as she prepared to call it a night. "Buffy," she called out. "You coming to bed?"

"Just a sec, Wills," Buffy answered from the bathroom. Having finished her evening relaxation exersizes, she took a quick shower, cleaning off the sweat and grime of her day. As she towelled herself dry, she glanced at the vanity, and noticed the tub of edible body paint. A wicked smile formed on her lips, as she considered the possibilities that this erotic treat presented. Willow came from a conservative background, and neither of them were into kink, but occasional play was something they both appreciated.

She lifted the lid off the tub, and sniffed at its contents. A rich chocolate aroma perked up her nostrils, and she had to whiff some more. She worked up her sexual appetite further imagining the flavor of chocolate combined with the taste of Willow's skin, her breasts, her-- "Whoa, bad Buffy!" she said to herself, grinning even more broadly. Oh, yes, the night was going to be interesting. She dipped her finger into the bucket, scooping out a dollup of the thick liquid, preparing to taste.

A sudden breeze startled her with its chill, as the light switch turned off. Buffy stood still in the darkened bathroom, as she gingerly groped for the light switch. The bathroom floor was wet from her shower, and if she moved suddenly, she risked tripping and injury. As she sought the switch, she tried to remember when she left the window open, when it hit her; she didn't. Soon, she located the switch, and turned on the lights.

A message had been written on the vanity mirror, a finger wiping off the steam. The message was one word; "Don't".

"Uh, Willow?" Buffy stammered toward the bedroom. As she spoke, she heard a telephone ring twice, before Willow answered it. She waited warily by the vanity mirror, afraid to touch anything, afraid to disturb the evidence of...what?

Shortly Willow entered the bathroom. Or rather, exploded into the bathroom.

"Buffy!" she screamed, "don't touch it!"

"I'm not, Willow," Buffy answered, confusion showing in her smoky blue eyes.

"No, no," Willow explained hastily, "don't touch the body paint! You didn't taste it, did you?"

"No, not yet," Buffy absently remembered the dab of body paint on her finger. "I was going to try it out on you tonight, though--"

"It's poison," Willow blurted out. "That was Phoebe on the line, she had a vision of you being poisoned by the body paint! Thank the Goddess I got to you in time--Buffy, what's that on the mirror?"

Buffy remembered the strange message. "I dunno, Wills. Just before I could taste the stuff, the lights went out for a sec, and when I turned them on, I saw this." Willow looked at the mirror, at the scrawled 'Don't', and calmly held out her hand near the mirror's surface.

"A ghost, maybe?" she ventured a guess.

"Seems like a possibility," Buffy answered, as she rinsed the paint off of her finger. She closed the tub, and said in a low voice, edged in dread, "but we've got a more pressing problem. The poisoned body paint means that Anya really is after us."

Willow's shoulders sagged at the realization. "You're right, Buffy. But why use poison, or try to run us over? And how could she have tricked Leo into believing that she was mortal?"

"A simple glamour, Witchipoo," an all-too familiar voice chimed around them. "A simple spell of illusion, fools even Whitelighters!" A thunderclap shook the timbers of their house, and Anyanka, vengeance demon, stood before them. "Who's ready to party, girls?"

Buffy stepped between Anya and Willow, defiance in her posture, anger in her eyes. "What the hell do you want, Anya? You've invaded our home, you've tried to kill us, you care to explain your anti-social behavior?"

"No need to explain, Buff," Anya smiled sweetly as she blasted Buffy through the bathroom door, and onto her back in the hallway. She then turned her attentions to Willow. "You killed Xander, bitch! You killed my orgasm partner! You must pay for your crimes! I will have my vengeance!"

"Have your vengeance on me!" shouted another voice. A small figure materialized before the startled demoness. "Willow didn't kill Xander, I did! I created an effigy of him, a voodoo doll, and stuck a pin in the effigy's heart!" The ethereal form's features defined themselves more fully, until Willow and Buffy were taken aback by the recognition of their ghostly visitor.

Tara's ghost stood before Anya, still small and weak, but gaining in strength with each word. "I blamed Willow for what had happened to me, Demon. You offered me vengeance against the one who hurt me. But you used me, enslaved me, so that the magic I controlled in life, you would control. But you don't have any more power over me. Because I finally realize that I've got nobody to blame for my death but myself!" Anya shrunk back at Tara's words, terror contorting her features.

"You--you killed my Xander?" Anya shrieked at the ghost. "I'll destroy you!" She tried to conjure a force, a weapon, anything to rid her of the ghost, but Willow pushed her back with a conjured gust of wind. "NO! No more! You'll hurt no one!" She pinned Anya down telekenetically, saying, "I lived in fear because of you. You made me think my love was fatal, that my loving Buffy would kill her. No more. You don't have the power to make me unhappy anymore. You're nothing, less than nothing!"

Just then, a shrieking car brake could be heard outside. Frantic knocking at the door alerted Buffy, who opened the door, permitting the Halliwell sisters to enter. Without preamble, Prue started to chant; "The Power of Three will set us free." Piper repeated the chant, and Phoebe joined in on the third round. Anya stood powerless before the wills of the three witches who surrounded her. The sisters then recited the spell from the Book of Shadows;

Hear now the words of the Witches Three,
As thrice times round our charm binds thee.
The one you would kill is not at fault,
Let your hatred cease and your anger halt.
Begone to the realm from whence you came,
And harm not the one who is not to blame.

Anya screamed as arcane energies engulfed her, suffused her, consumed her. Within seconds, her corporeal form was no more. The demon Anyanka had been vanquished.

Four witches and a retired Slayer drew a collective sigh of relief. "Well, that was fun," Phoebe broke the silence cheerily, "who's for Mongolian barbeque?"

Willow and Buffy didn't hear Phoebe's quip, their attention was riveted to the spectre standing before them. Tara's ghost now stood as tall as she was in life, but infinitely sadder. Her face was one who had borne all of her sins, willingly, if not gladly. She had killed, she had harmed others, she had taken a coward's way out by taking her own life, and now she repented.

"Tara," Buffy whispered. "It was you, wasn't it? You stopped me from trying the body paint. You wrote on the mirror."

"Yes," the ghost answered. "I had hurt Willow enough in my life, I could not let her be hurt for my actions now." She turned to Willow, saying, "I can't expect you to forgive me my crimes, Willow. But please, I beg you, by the love I felt for you then and feel for you now, don't blame yourself. Forgive yourself."

Willow nodded at the apparition. "I do. Both myself, and you." She held up her arms to hug her, then awkwardly remembered, "Oh, right, ghost. Sorry."

"You could stand to take your own advice," Leo said, materializing next to Piper. Another form stood next to Leo, and Willow nearly fainted in Buffy's arms. "Xander!" she shouted.

Her childhood friend smiled at her. "In the newly formed flesh, Willow."

Buffy smiled lopsidedly at Xander, saying, "Hey, Xand, great to see you, and don't take this the wrong way, I'm glad, don't get me wrong, to see you again, but--"

"I'm dead, right?" Xander gave his famous "Xander smile".

"Uh, yeah," Willow said for her fiancee. "No offense."

"Hey, I know what you mean. But I was dead. For a little while anyway. Leo's superiors found my soul after I died, and, well, do the math."

Prue pointed at Xander, the shock of epiphony hitting her. "You were reborn as a Whitelighter." she said, not an accusation but a simple statement of fact.

"Give the girl a Kewpie doll!" Xander quipped. "To be specific," he added, turning to Willow, "I'm your Whitelighter. When I first became a Whitelighter, I requested this assignment. To make up for being such a, well, a--"

"The southern end of a northbound horse?" Buffy suggested. Willow glared at her. Phoebe chuckled; she was going to have to save that one.

"Exactly," Xander admitted. "I guess I needed to watch my friend, and make sure she's okay. Willow, I'm sorry for the way I treated you. I didn't trust Tara, but I shouldn't take it out on you. Still friends?"

"Like you need to ask, you knuckleknob?" Willow embraced her longtime friend, and Buffy wrapped her arms around them both. After a few seconds, Xander quipped, "Uh, guys, oxygen becoming an issue!"

"And as for you, Tara," Leo said, approaching the ghost. "You've proven your readiness to atone for your misdeeds. If you wish, I can arrange for you to finish your penance." He smiled at the sad apparition, saying, "You'd make a fine Whitelighter." Tara smiled at Leo, nodding her assent.

For Tara, Xander and Willow, the time of recriminations was at an end. And for all three of them, their new lives began that evening.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Sometimes it seems
We'll touch that dream,
But things come slow or not at all.
And the ones on top,
Won't make it stop,
So convinced that they might fall.
Let's love ourselves and we can't fail
To make a better situation;
Tomorrow, our seeds will grow,
All we need is dedication.

Everything is everything.
What is meant to be will be.
After winter must come spring,
Change will come eventually.

Lauryn Hill finished up her show on the P3's stage, as the bachelorette party continued. Buffy and Willow were both suitably embarrassed by the various revealing lingerie they received from the Halliwells and Cordy, but both secretly harbored fantasies of seeing each other wearing them, followed by their not wearing them.

"Hey, Cordy, how's the first Hope episode of 'Steffi the Demon Killer' coming along?" Buffy asked, the wine going slightly to her head.

"Famously," Cordy answered. "And we may have finally convinced the suits to cave regarding the Steffi/Laurel subplot."

"Ooh, does this mean we'll see Cordy kissing a girl?" Phoebe teased the actress.

"I can give you some pointers," Buffy offered, only to have Willow playfully elbow her in the ribs. "Oh no you don't!"

Leo and Xander strolled up to the girls as the party was winding down. "Hey ladies," Leo greeted them. "Mind if I steal my wife for dancing purposes?"

"Dancing porpoises?" Phoebe giggled drunkenly as Piper took her husband's hand and allowed him to lead her to the dance floor. "Sounds like something you'd find at SeaWorld!"

"My kind of woman," Xander grinned. "Care for a dance, Pheebs?"

"Why, sir," she said in her best Southern drawl, "I'd be delighted." As Xander escorted Phoebe closer to the stage, Prue watched her sisters as they danced. Buffy, Willow and Cordy looked on wistfully.

"Where can I get a Whitelighter?" Cordy asked in a stage whisper.

"Forget it, Cordy," Prue growled. "The next one's mine." This brought a new wave of giggles among the ladies at the table. Buffy then stood up and asked Willow, "May I have this dance?"

"You may have every dance," Willow curtseyed to her beloved, as they headed for the dance floor. As they moved their bodies closer together to the thobbing rhythms, Willow's heart felt light. Within the last week, she had made her peace with Tara, and had renewed a friendship she feared lost forever. And in two weeks, she and Buffy would be married.

She had lain the ghosts of her past to rest, and now revelled in the prospect of her future. And as she lost herself in the circle of Buffy's arms, the light of her eyes and the heat of her body, she knew that Buffy was her future.

FINIS

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